2022 Highlights

Now that 2022 has finished, I thought it might be fun to look back through all of the photos I took last year, and add all of my favourites into a blog post. I wish I had thought of this before, as it would be great to have a condensed archive of each year, and be able to view at a glance how it has changed year on year. Oh well, better late than never.

85mm Lens

An 85mm lens is great fun to use, even if you never shoot portrait (like me). The lens has a really unique look, which I really love.

The reason I wanted an 85mm lens, was for that super shallow depth of field. I always wanted more background separation. Without buying a full medium format setup, an 85mm lens seemed like the next best option for more blur. When I first started looking at lenses for my Sony A7 I was a little bit shocked. A lot of the lenses at this focal length are aimed at pros and come with pro prices. The Sony 85mm f/1.4 is £1,750, which is way way way more than I was looking to spend.

The choice was either an older manual lens with an adapter (Philip Reeve’s website is an absolute goldmine for information on older manual lenses) or a cheaper option from one of the budget friendly brands.

I’m terrible at making decisions, and will spend forever weighing up all the options before making a decision, then overthinking that decision and changing my mind again. I saw a used Samyang on ebay, impulsively made an offer, which was accepted, then breathed a sigh of relief that I can stop spending all my time reading reviews and watching youtube videos about different lenses. It can be fun to geek out about gear, but I find the obsession of technical details like MTF charts ends up boring me to tears.

The main thing I want to know about the lens, is it any good under normal everyday use? From a price point of view the Samyang costs about 10% of the price of the Sony, so even if it is just broadly fine, for the price that seems fair enough.

All the images in this blog post were taken with the Samyang 85mm, which hopefully that gives a good idea of what the final images look like. I;ve added a few zoomed crops, so you can slide between to see what it looks like at 100%. Personally, I’m really happy with it, it’s pretty basic, and definitely has it’s quirks, but I’ve really grown to love it, and can’t see myself ever replacing it as I have a real fondness for the type of images it produces.

Lets start with it’s quirks.

Fully manual – Manual focus only, plus there are no electronic contacts so it doesn’t communicate with the camera at all. Its basically a big dumb lump of metal and glass. Which suits me perfectly, I’m sure 90% of the features on my camera are wasted on me, as long as it has Aperture mode and focus peaking, that’s all I really need. My dream camera would be the A7r I have now, but with an iso & shutter dial, I’d never have dive into the settings ever again.

Sharpness – at f/1.4 it’s a little bit fuzzy, but step to f/2 and it’s it more than sharp enough. I treat it like an f/2 lens, and avoid f/1.4 completely.

Chromatic aberration/purple fringing, you will definitely notice this if you are used to a more premium lens. You can see an example of the purple fringing in the image below. I’m not looking for optical perfection, so I can live it.

Low contrast – none of the images are what I would describe as being ‘punchy’ even in midday sun. I personally like this look, and even push it a little further in post. But if this isn’t your thing, I can imagine being a little bit disappointed

It’s pretty big – the Sony mirrorless version is even larger than the version for SLR’s, it definitely sticks out lot; plus be prepared that none of your filters will fit the huge 77mm lens ring.

But on the list of positives, the background separation is everything I hoped it would be. It really is amazing how great it is at separating the subject from the background. Once you nail your focal point, the background just seems to slowly melt away. You can isolate objects that just wouldn’t be possible with a shorter focal length. The ramp in that photo above is roughly 3 metres, but even getting far enough back to fit it all in to the frame, you can still achieve that nice separation.

The downside to this, is when I first got the lens I was obsessed with shooting everything wide open, and just trying to get the background as blurry as possible. As fun as this was, it can start to get old quite quickly. So now I try to use it in moderation, when the photo (I hope) calls for some blurriness, rather than using it for every photo just because I can. It reminds me a little but of getting stuck in the HDR hole in the stages of photography diagram.

Another problem, is that if you want to get perfect front to back sharpness, this lens is not going to do that. Even stopped down to f/8, the depth of field is surprisingly shallow.

This isn’t really meant to be a review of the lens, but more a rough guide of what it can do, ad how it looks under normal day to day use.

Pembrokeshire & South Wales

Some photos from a trip to the Pembrokeshire earlier in the year. The plan was to drive over from Bristol, and make the most of a few days in the South West of Wales, by visiting Pemrbrokeshire, Haverford West and Tenby. 

I’m trying to get into the habit of blogging a little more regularly, blogs seem like a far more natural platform for posting a series of images, and you can have complete control of the layout, formatting and size, and you can view them full screen on a computer. 

Most of our time was spent visiting different beaches, this guide was really helpful to find all ones that were dog friendly in the summer.

Freshwater East & Freshwater West are both dog friendly all year round, and definitely worth exploring.

Dobbys grave on Freshwater West

Right by where I was staying was the Pembroke refinery, which you could see for miles around, and at night when it was still, you can hear sound from the burners.

Tenby was really nice, this is the beach with the converted lifeboat house that was on Grand Designs

It felt like I waited here for ages to get a shot clear of any people, even then I had to get handy afterwards with the clone brush to remove those final pesky elements.

I couldn’t leave without getting at least one shot of the refinery at night time.

Brymefys Estate

Roofs have caved in, windows nailed shut and houses swallowed up by trees and plants. 1

I’ve always been fascinated with abandoned locations (I’ve written a previous blog post about the lost village of Imber) there is something strange and eerie about places which have been deserted and just left to slowly decay.

When I saw a series of images from the Brymefys Estate posted by Ken Marten, I really wanted to visit, and take some pictures for myself. Unfortunately it’s a 4 hour round trip from Bristol – which is probably a bit far to drive, just to walk round a mostly housing estate and take some pictures – I also had the nagging doubt they might get torn down if I left it too long. Luckily it was only a small detour on our journey back from Pembrokeshire, so I finally got the chance to take a look.

The detour took us on winding roads through small Welsh towns, if you aren’t looking out for it, you could easily miss it. The turning is a sharp left off the B road, with most of it tucked out of sight from the road.

Parking up I was surprised to see some other cars parked on the road. I then noticed that even though most of the houses are abandoned, there are a handful which are still occupied, and carrying on as normal. Which made it feel even weirder, uncanny even. When I was there, a couple were outside in the garden mowing their grass. I always worry that people are going to ask why I’m taking photos, and get a bit funny about it, but they didn’t even bat an eyelid.

I have been having a look online to try to find out some more information about this estate, and get an answer to why it has been mostly abandoned. Unlike a village like Imber it doesn’t seem like there was one specific catalyst like a mandatory evacuation. It seems it was a slow gradual abandonment. Residents disillusioned with the lack of investment and opportunities decided they needed to move elsewhere. I imagine it has a knock on effect, once a few families decide it is time to leave, the prospect of living on a half abandoned estate becomes less and less appealing.

This article2 on the BBC website states that the decline began in the 1990s, which means the houses have been unoccupied for around 30 years by now. That seems odd to me, it is a short enough time, that there are people who have grown up on the estate, who must remember what it was like before the mass exodus. But it is long enough that the houses are probably beyond saving, and would require knocking down and starting again from scratch.

After making the detour specifically to visit Brymefys, I nearly lost every single one of these images. Heading home to Bristol, we stopped in at Swansea to have an wander round, before driving the final hour and a half back to Bristol
After parking up at home, I couldn’t see my camera bag on the back seat which was weird, so I checked the boot, and it wasn’t there either. I had a flashback to the car park, we parked in a super narrow space in the multi story. So narrow that I had to take my bag off, so I could squeeze through and put the dog in the back seat. I then got in the car, and drove away, leaving the bag just next to the wall where I carefully placed it down.


We decided to drive back to Swansea on the off chance it was still there, and I’m so lucky that about 15 minutes outside of Swansea, I get a call from a very very kind lady who had found my bag, and had dropped it off at the local police station.
I got home 3 hours later, tired, and still in disbelief at how stupid I was, and also how unbelievably lucky that my camera bag was found by such a kind honest person. They also politely refused any kind of reward, so thank you very much kind stranger!

  1. https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/forgotten-welsh-housing-estate-residents-16328619
  2. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-49985647

Flash

It’s been a while since my last blog post using the flash on the fuji, since then I’ve been craving a little more flash power, so decided to buy a ‘proper’ hotshoe mounted flash.

I was massively overwhelmed with all of the different makes and models of flash available. I just wanted a simple basic flash that would work with my camera. Also none of them have easy model names, it was only after reading this reddit post I managed to understand what all of the different numbers and letters meant. After spending way too long reading reviews and browsing photography forum posts I managed to narrow it down to the Godox line. I opted for the TT600 which Strobist reckons it is the best bang for your buck

There is no way I would have managed to illuminate this whole scene using the Fuji’s little built in flash

Quick bullet point review

Pros

  • More flash power than I will ever need
  • AA Batteries, cheap and easy to carry loads of spares
  • Adjustable angle
  • Coloured gels

Cons

  • It’s massive
  • No TTL metering – it’s all manual

It’s all plastic, so I wasn’t sure how sturdy it would be. But the build quality seems great. The first time I ever took it out, I accidentally dropped it from waist height onto the pavement, and apart from a few scuffs it was fine.  

Fill Flash

I’m always tempted to whack the flash up to full power, but dialling it down can be a nice way to just fill those shadows without going crazy and overpowering everything.

Gels

The most fun I have had with this flash is experimenting with coloured gels. It’s really fun playing about with different colours to see what works. I managed to lose the set which came with the flash, but this was a good thing, as you can buy a selection pack of A4 sheets for about £5, which I could then cut to size, and were way easier to keep stuck to the flash.

I even set up a dual colour gel, you can see my rickety set up in it’s full glory below.