Was it Worth a Sweat? Visiting the Marble Mountain and off to the Street Markets of Hoi An.

Having just arrived to Da Nang, the city of golden bridges and few people speaking proper English, we decided to do something cultural.  “Marble Mountain” – a some kind of a marble hill, overlooking the city, adjacent to the marble market where you can literally buy anything made out of marble.

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The place was fantastic, but the humidity was whipping hardcore that day. Just being outside we quickly turned into some kind of sad, wet and stinky creatures. And the +35 C temperature… so as you can guess, we very quickly stopped looking presentable in the photos.

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At least the advantage of black and white photography is in the fact that you don’t see how red your face is.

It is also quite remarkable how much more resistant the locals are to this weather – you will never see them drenched in sweat, they are somehow just glowing with their bad-teethed smiles, or maybe their hearts just beat in a different rhythm… who knows.

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Not without a little bit of suffering, we made it up and touched upon a few temples, went down to a cave with a massive Buddha, fought with some kinky and loud Americans for the scenic outlook… watched the sunset, which was not really memorable in comparison with the state of our shirts’  moistness.

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One thing worth mentioning about climbing this mountain was that I was very, very much happy that it wasn’t raining that day, because all the stairs are made out of marble stones and it was quite a miracle that nobody broke any limbs on their way. Those stairs were not steady, straight or safe. But if they were also wet, this whole adventure would have probably had a nasty turn.

Ana Shtraus - Fujicolor 200 - AA008ASadly, most of those temples were too dark for photography, but definitely worth the visit alluring the tourists with foreign burning incense sticks smells and candle lit figurines with the donations.

We didn’t invest in any marble goods, and came to a decision that the rooftop swimming pool was a necessary visit after the profound sweating in the mountains.

Danang seems like a new city full of construction, young people and shiny bars and restaurants. But in fact it dates back to 102 AD, so not so new in the end. There is more than a million people living in there, but it doesn’t feel as crowded as other big cities of Vietnam, though also can get quite loud.

 

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Danang has a beautiful coast which felt quite deserted where we were. It was heavily used by Americans during the Vietnam war times to unload the new-arriving soldiers…

In just 30 minutes drive from Danang, there is an absolutely stunning little city called Hoi An – meaning a peaceful meeting place. It looks and feels like and old-school Asian settlement with plenty of small temples, bridges and lanterns all over the place.

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Most places would want a small payment to enter, but it is usually only 1 dollar per person. What can you seriously buy in your home country for 1 dollar? Here, you can literally touch the history. We visited one home where the Chinese guy told us he is the 6th generation living in this place since 1690 (and he was like 85 or older) and his house was made out of beautiful dark wood with lots of intricate carvings… not comparable to the kind of places we live in of course.

Went to have a late breakfast in an awesome restaurant called Cafe des Amis.

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The owner is playing majong with his friend. This guy (on the right) was a chef in Paris and made friends with a few french celebrities from the 60s and 70s. Their music still plays in his restaurant every day. And I must say I never had such a tasty tofu meal as in this place. Ana Shtraus - Fujicolor 200 - AA031A

These are the street vendors taking a break just outside the restaurant. If eating inside is too fancy for you, you can always grab something from these guys, or from one of those mobile cafes where everything is on one scooter – the stove, the serving station, the seats, the umbrella… what else do you need?

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Gotta say, I loved this little city. It was a delight for photographer to be there, and I shot a whole roll of film just in this place.

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Ah what a good coffee they make in Vietnam, so dark and so flavourful. We bought a bag of the most expensive coffee in the world for the price of 3 dollars… but for some reason it just doesn’t taste the same at home.

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There’s plenty of tourists in Hoi An, but it never feels too crowded.

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You can also take a boat cruise, which I believe is a nice thing to do, but we didn’t have enough time for that. Hopefully, with our next visit we will plan it better.

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You can also cheaply make any kind of outfit in the clothing factories in Hoi An. The choice of materials is quite extensive and the prices are way below your expectations.

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Hope you enjoyed a little trip around the central Vietnam with me… and stay tuned for the continuation of this party as we go to explore the night life of Da Nang.

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If you missed the first part of the Vietnam adventures, you can find it here:

Hustle and Bustle of Saigon, Vietnam.

Vietnam part 2: Mui Ne, Train Adventure, Why do We Play Flip Cup?

Love,
Anna

Taking It To The Next Level with Level 43 Dubai.

Good evening, my good friend and thank you for tuning in.

Today I had an amazing opportunity to go do what I love to (shoot cityscapes, sunsets and blue hours) with a bunch of like-minded individuals. Thanks goes to mr. Mohammad Azizi aka Alphaspotting for organizing, and to Nikon ME who were kind enough to lend gear to people who wanted to try different things to shoot.

Yes, I’ve been to this location before. I’ve seen shots from this location before. Many, many, many times. But I still love the glitter of the big city lights and the unbeatable futuristic vistas this terrace provides.

While in the beginning the weather looked promising for the sunset and there were even a few clouds there was not good enough material for long exposure shots that I love so much. And the sunset was dead, it was so dead, that I had to colour it all myself and I wish it was looking like it does in my shot, but in reality it didn’t. But hey, I am a visual artist and that’s how I see the world.

What I loved most about this meet-up was the unity of like-minded photo geeks. Some are old friends, always pleasure meeting someone new. Some of us are more geeks than the others, we all have different cameras and different techniques, but we all love fiddling with those buttons, pointing our lenses in different directions and most importantly sharing our love of photography with the world.

Thanks for the inspirational evening!

Also, big thanks goes to Four Points Sheraton and Level 43 for the yummy sushis and warm welcome from their team.

One love,

Anna

 

What You Should Consider Before Going on a Photo Mission to the Desert.

Hello dear curious friend, tell me, are you fascinated by the desert?

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It is a place full of wonders, and obviously sand. But people who think that there is nothing in the desert couldn’t be more wrong. Recently my wonderful relationship with Gulf Photo Plus brought me to an opportunity to teach a class in landscape photography to someone who is not from here and haven’t ever really been to the desert. Of course I was super excited to be able to share my knowledge with someone who is genuinely interested in the subject, plus making a bit of money on the side is always a great idea.

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My student, Brian, was visitng his brother in Abu Dhabi, and was given a gift voucher for anything in GPP, so he decided to exchange it to a private class in landscape photography. Thank you for giving me a chance, Brian, you are a very talented photographer and I am sure you didn’t need half of my directions, but it was fun shooting together with you.

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However, when I woke up the day of the class, there was a bad sand storm even in the city. Bad to the point that when I went out of my building, I had troubles keeping my eyes open, and the outside temperature was at least 8 degrees hotter than it was the day before. Well, that’s gonna be fun, I thought to myself, but you never know how the weather would change in a few hours. I packed flip flops, a cap, water bottle and took a camera that I didn’t care so much to be sanded because that would happen no matter what you do.

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GPP booked us a proper 4×4 desert safari driver, who was very much insisting on selling us any kind of tourist entertainment (camel riding, dune bashing and so on) and couldn’t believe that all we wanted was to take beautiful pictures of the desert. But I have to give him credit, once I asked him to stop the car next to a tree or a bush, he figured that it was indeed what we had interest in and started proposing to take us to other landmarks (rocks).

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When we stepped out of the car first time, the desert was amazingly calm. It was quiet and no piece of sand was moving, but those of you who have been to the desert before can imagine how fast this situation can change. And indeed, in just 10 minutes we saw a big dark cloud coming out of the dunes, and the never-ending shower of sand started pouring on our heads. One other thing is, when you are out there, you don’t notice how hot it is (especially with a bit of wind), and all that sand ends up covering you completely in a thin layer that blends you in with desert even more.

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In terms of photography, desert is a tricky place to shoot. Being an ultra-wide angle shooter, it is especially tricky for me since one needs to find some point of interest in both the foreground and the background to make it work. If you manage to find cool patterned dunes, plus the mountains in the background and the clouds as a bonus – then you are in the money. But… in the UAE you have to be incredibly lucky to have all those elements lining up in front of you. So, if you are shooting the local desert, I would advise to go for mid-range lens, or even try a telephoto and really look for those patterns and geometric alignments. Most of the time you are in the desert, there will be sun (so don’t forget your hat), but in our case the light was actually quite flat because of that cloud. And though it added some interest in the skies that we didn’t even hope for, the sunset was completely non-existent.

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If you are out shooting the sunset in the desert, here is one piece of advice for you – find your angle, set up the tripod and wait for the moment when it is about 20 minutes before the sunset. Take 3 shots focusing on:

  1. front (foreground),
  2. half-way (middleground),
  3. and infinity or close (background).

then wait for the sunset to happen.

I will tell you why you should do it this way: when the sun is still high, the sand looks nice and textured, but it is quite washed out in colour because of the bright sun (that it reflects).  When the sun is not far from setting down, the sky starts turning red and orange, and these colours reflect in the sand making it the most colourful you ever going to have. However, when the sun is setting already, it is now too low to cast any light on the dunes and they turn grayish already (and stay like that throughout the blue hour). So be wise, and plan to blend your image if that’s what you would normally do.

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Being in the desert with Brian, I felt like a scout – running up and down the dunes, hunting for angles for him, telling him to shoot lower, to isolate, to follow the lines… and it was a challenge for myself too. I have never been to this particular location, and the weather was bad, the light was not amazing… but I think we nailed it. I am happy of the fact that I was able to shift my focus and look for patterns and textures instead of endless wide-angled compositions.

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What wasn’t so much fun though, trying to get that sand out of my bag, my hair and my zoom lens… but hey, you can’t have it all!

Thank you for reading and see you soon.

Much love,
Anna

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Why Would Anyone Shoot Film Today?

Good day everyone roaming around,

On all things photography topic today is: is shooting film making a come back?

Being an avid pixel-peeper, I was always laughing at people who told me they are still shooting film. Why would you shoot film in the times of digital, and also you can make any of your digital photos look like film with one click of a filter? Then I met one girl who was my age and she never in her life shot with a digital camera… oh that’s proper hipster stuff, one would say, but there’s something about it, I thought, and decided to give it a try.

Today you can buy plenty of film cameras on ebay or amazon for pretty cheap, or you can buy a super expensive Leica and feel very exclusive on the streets of wherever you are. Or maybe you’re lucky enough to just take one out of your parents’ attic. In my case, my parents camera rewinding mechanism was not working, so after ruining two films, I gave up on that one and got a cheap-ish Pentax K1000 which is also easy to use for those who don’t know what they are doing in terms of film photography and settings as it has a pretty accurate exposure meter.

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Thankfully I don’t even have to bother about thinking where to get 35mm film because it is for sale in my office plus I also get staff discount on it. The variety of film nowadays is pretty impressive, and a lot of those companies who gave up on making film are coming back in business. So far I shot mostly Kodak film, but I also tried some of Fuji…. and Ilford black and white which still needs to be developed (which I am hoping to do one of these days in my bathroom when I have a few free of nonsense hours).

So I shot two rolls of film for fun to try it out before moving to anything serious and a few photos came out very nice, some other not so great cause I accidentally opened the back of the camera and there were some light leaks… but so be it.

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We have at least one studio that does film developing and scanning within 24 hours for a reasonable price. It’s hard to wait for us, digital shooters, we need everything right this moment, we need to post! But good things come to those who wait.

Recently I went on a roadtrip to South Africa, and although that place is full of fantastic photo opportunities for wide angle and long exposure shooters like me, but I didn’t have time to do any of that because I wasn’t alone on that trip… so instead, I decided to have fun and shoot film.

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What I loved about the process:

  1. It teaches you patience. Instead of clicking like a maniac, you tend to wait for that moment when everything aligns before the click.
  2. The photos though not perfect in terms of colours, sharpness or depth, do look like real memories. No one has memories with sharpest details, they are pretty hazy and dreamy and the colours tend to fade.
  3. Using manual focusing and choosing shutterspeed and aperture for each shot teaches you to be a better photographer. After a few messed up shots, you will learn how it works for sure. I swear, I used to be scared to use manual focus on my digital camera thinking I’d never get is as right as the camera itself, but now I am less stressed about it. And in the end if it is not perfectly sharp, it is still ok… nobody’s gonna die.
  4. There’s no need for choosing the filter or editing really, and that’s such a breather because I tend to not post anything straight out of camera and in this case I can.
  5. It’s just fun do it, go around with one camera, one lens and a certain film in mind and capture things that will be kept inside your camera until the day you release them into real life. It’s almost like doing magic. And it’s a great tool for ice breaking in a party, just show up with a film camera and guaranteed you’ll find someone bugging you about it.SAtrip-50.jpg

It honestly almost feels like a therapy to me, to get away from shooting 55 photos of one pair of shoes until the client is happy with it. It feels great to roam the streets, and just imagine how the photos will come out (because you never know, they might not come out at all)… and it is very much going back to basics.

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My favourite 2017 images (a year shot with Fuji)

Everyone is tempted to draw a certain line at the end of the year, which I guess provides a certain psychological closure on a pathway to a better newer you… at least in theory.

Last year was quite an amazing year for me professionally and in terms of my personal photography as well. I met so many great people, some of who turned into good friends.

I went to Berlin, Sri Lanka, Iceland, California, Italy, Norway, New York, Moscow, Mauritius… maybe not so-o-o many places but definitely good memories.

Went to a few rooftops in Dubai that I didn’t think I’d ever make my way to, thank you amazing friends again.

I am going to add a bunch of my favourite pictures I took this year to this post, so maybe one day I can look back and see how I improved (or not :))

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Though a fantastic view and a terrific company, the day was just so hazy that it wasn’t so pleasant to shoot. Fujifilm XT2 // 10-24 at 10 // F4 // 0,5 seconds  // ISO 200 //

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A shot from short weekend trip to Sri Lanka. That place has fantastic sunsets… and is always so fun and so relaxing to be there. A random couple was just at the right spot at the right time. Fujifilm XT100T // F8// 0,5 seconds  // ISO 200 //

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Iceland, my beautiful small Reykjavik sunrise that nobody else came out to shoot but me. I might have been shaking for an hour after I got inside, that cold I was,  but it was all worth it. Fujifilm XT2 // 16mm // F16 // 1/30 second  // ISO 200 //

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Iceland, near Budir Church. This dog just walked into my shot and stayed there for a moment. Other photographers were quite annoyed that the dog is ruining it, but I thought it actually makes the picture rather more interesting, so thank you Dog! Fujifilm XT100T // F8// 1/60 of a second  // ISO 500 //

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There are many, many pictures of Iceland I’d include here, but I chose just a few. Jokursarlon, another of my most favourite places in the world for it’s uniqueness and everchanging beauty. Not the most easy place to photograph, but always so captivating. Fujifilm XT2 // 16-55 at 48 // F4 // 1/200 seconds  // ISO 200 //

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Currently my phone background picture. Such a beautiful sunset, such a wild place… a piece of my heart is still there. Fujifilm XT2 // 16-55 at 20 // F8 // 1/15 of a second  // ISO 200 //

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For the love of silky water, this is a shot of the stream that goes down from a fantastically looking waterfall… but i chose to look in the opposite direction, and again, no regrets there. Fujifilm XT2 // 10-24 at 10 // F10 // 6 seconds  // ISO 200 //

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Perhaps not the most impressive picture of bears ever, but we saw bears! Real furry fluffs in Sequoia National Forest. Fujifilm XT2 // 100-400 at 400 // F5,6 // 1/125 of a second  // ISO 200 //

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So many beautiful spots in California, and so hard to photograph them because of their scale. Death Valley is such a gem. Another paradise for photographers. The sunset was behind the mountains, but it was still quite epic.  Fujifilm XT2 // 10-24 at 10 // F4 // 0,5 seconds  // ISO 200 //

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We’ve got enough desert of our own in UAE, but these dunes are impacably photogenic. Woke up at 5 am because of jet lag and because we were too hot, and went to explore and get sanded. Fujifilm XT2 // Samyang 8mm  // F10 // 1/60s of a second  // ISO 100 //

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Moving on to Norwegian adventures… can you tell it’s end of June? Fantastic nature and lots of streams and waterfalls left and right, just as I like. Fujifilm XT2 // 16-55 at 17 // F11 // 30 seconds  // ISO 200 //

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Another absolutely crazy waterfall spot we discovered by accident. So much power in that water that if you slip, there is no chance of getting out of there alive. As much as I love silky water, I felt like the power of this place is better shown in short exposure. Fujifilm XT2 // 10-24 at 24 // F11 // 1/100 of a second  // ISO 100 //

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Moody view of a fjord with the softest moss in the world. Fujifilm XT2 // 10-24 at 10 // F14 // 0,5 second  // ISO 200 //

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Ah the midnight sun, how pretty you are giving us no rest. Lyngenfjord, Finnmark. Fujifilm X100T // 23mm // F5,6 // 1/150 of a second  // ISO 200 //

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New York, New York! We stayed in a place with a bad-ass view and a rooftop to chill. Wasn’t very high, but we are spoilt in Dubai, I guess. Fujifilm X100T // 23mm // F16 // 8 seconds  // ISO 200 //

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Mauritius. A place with beautiful clouds. I was a lazy photographer there, didn’t photograph much, although these clouds call for experiments with long exposures. Fujifilm XT2 // 10-24 at 10 // F11 // 1/125 of a second  // ISO 200 //

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Another picture from Mauritius. I forgot to switch on shooting in Raw after making some time-lapses so what I thought in my mind I’d recover, turns out I can not. But somehow I still love this sunset shot as it is. XT2 // 35mm // F5.6 // 1/125 of a second  // ISO 200 //

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And last but not least is a gift from my lovely Dubai – a week of fogs, and a rare occasion of a sunset fog. Such a spectacular view. I am planning to write another post about our rooftopping weekend, so check in a bit to see more amazing images of December in Dubai. This one is a screenshot from a video shot on Canon EOS 6d with a Sigma 12-24 lens.

Happy New Year My Friends. Hope you enjoyed the images and wishing you all the best and tons of inspiration in the newly born 2018.

Love,
Anna

This World Has No Limits. #GPP17

Salut adventurers!

Today’s story is about how we went to the desert to photograph a conservation project with Benjamin Wong as a part of his workshop for GPP17.

The idea behind the project is that desert kills trees, and we need to help planet by planting more trees. So Benjamin and GPP teamed up with a charity company that plants trees. He found really cool looking trees in Sharjah desert as well as an artist who created absolutely incredible costumes of deadly creatures.a_s_dsf3142-2

The whole team behind the project is talented beyond measure… and what I love most is that it was done for a good cause.

Initially we planned to go to three locations to create 3 images, but unfortunately with the usual Dubai organisation we only managed to do 2 trees. Nevertheless Ben took 3 shots that I am sure going to be mindblowing when finished. I saw one almost finished, and it is really impressive.

I had a really funny driver in our 4×4 who was:

  • looking like a rock star from 90s.
  • in fact British, but spoke with Indian accent.
  • had a problem with his neck but refused to go to the doctor saying that Jesus will help him.
  • promoting eating camel meat and drink camel milk even after I told him I was a vegetarian.
  • was singing songs about Jesus the whole time we were driving *and we had an Emirati lady sitting in the back of the car.
  • asked me if I want him to model for my fashion shoots.
  • and was thanking Jesus every time we made it over the dune.

I also met a guy in this workshop that I have been following on Facebook for a while but I didn’t realize it was him. Only after he complimented my Fuji, the whole puzzle came together for me to figure out who he was. Pleasure to meet you, Waleed.

What I saw in the shoot is that Ben is just like me, always does everything himself. There are plenty of people to help, but we still have to do everything with our own hands. 😛

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Apart from seeing the magic in the action, we got lost in the desert, got stuck in the desert, got rained, blown away by the wind… my camera got so sanded to the point that shutter speed won’t press any more. Thankfully there was free camera cleaning service available during photoweek.

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So grateful to have been a part of this unbelievable experience. Left tired, but motivated and inspired to dare to dream bolder.

Getting stuck in the sand 15 times on our way back maybe wasn’t the best experience ever, but we made it out alive with or without Jesus’ help.

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Loved being a part of it. Thank you Ben, Valentina, Kashyap, Bernhard and each of the students. You guys rock!

Hugs,
Anna

Sony 7Rii

Hello world,

Long time no see.

A lot of travels happened, a lot of pictures taken, but today I wanted to talk a little bit about that Sony camera that everyone is obsessing about these days. That Sony 7 R ii.

As a matter of fact, I am a Fujifilm shooter these days, and I can’t be happier with my choice. My old good friend Canon, after being fixed, is collecting dust in a cupboard, but not completely forgotten. So why even looking Sony direction, you might ask? Well, you know, photographers often get so gear obsessed, that just by watching another youtube video they think they absolutely need that thing in their lives. That is not what happened to me. I have to teach a class during a photography week event and that class is sponsored by Sony, so I can’t shoot with anything but Sony. And I have no idea how to operate it, so I borrowed one for the weekend.

I also got 24-70 2.8 lens, which is so big and heavy that it kind of defeats the purpose of “lightweight” mirorrless camera, but anyway, few of us actually pick up camera gear considering the weight factor.

When I turned on this baby, it said right away – Running on NTSC, which I had to ask my friend to explain why is the camera panicking about this and thinks I need to know this as the first thing when I turn it on.

Then came the fun of trying to find anything in this menu. It is not such an easy menu to familiarise yourself with. I guess no menu is perfect, it took me time to get used to Fuji, and some things on Canon menu I discovered like 3 years later. haha… but the first thing that Sony menu proposes is to turn on zebra. Really? The first thing? And when you’re not in the know, what the hell is Zebra? I mean when you start turning it on you figure out that it is highlights clipping feature, but why would it be the first thing on the menu?

Right, then let’s find out how do we change focus points? Took me 25 minutes until I found the way to do this. So … so much easier when you have a “nipple” or “joystick” to do that, but I guess when you get used to this, it’s a viable way of operating the camera. Yes, you can download a manual from the Internet, and it will somehow save you some time, but what about being user-friendly?

Anyhow, I borrowed the camera from my office, they gave me a very nice lens, the only thing was that I didn’t have a photographic project, so I just went roaming around looking for something to shoot._dsc1916

My husband was on a car meeting, and this guy just came in the frame perfectly.

I don’t like the shutter sound of Sony camera at all. In my Fuji you can choose out of 3 different sounds, the one that you prefer. In Canon or Nikon, you get what your manufacturer offers you. In Sony it’s somehow this squeaky sound that doesn’t sound appealing at all. But you can switch it off and go to silent mode. The bitrate of the photos goes down a touch, and some features are not available, but how beautifully it works for the scenes like above. People still see you with the camera of course, but you become so much more discreet.

I also loved the feeling of the camera in front of my face. It kind of separates you from your subject like a shield. It is not the same feeling as with Fuji, because not your full face is covered by it. People still see your face, but in case with Sony they don’t. Weird fact, I know.

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Everyone is talking about Fuji colours, but I always shoot in raw, so I adjust colours afterwards anyway. I like how the colours came out in these photos.

A couple of times in the bright sun, the camera would show me that the exposure is okay on my subject, but the final images turn out way overexposed. I don’t know why is that. It was the case both for spot-metering and for center-average.

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I got lots of likes for the photo of this desert on Instagram. Beautiful separation, and here you can feel the power of the full frame.

I also managed to make this kind of creative shot – reflection of the coffee cup in my husband’s phone at F 2.8._dsc2037

The battery life by that time was going down so quickly that I was kinda stressed to shoot anything else. I have the empty battery phobia, I always charge everything all the time. I always have 2 extra batteries for my Fuji, I always have extra batteries for the flash and my phone has a battery in its case.

So I started with the rejection of the camera, but finished with thinking that I could live with it.

Do you love it?