In late April, Mike Gardner and I made visit to the old graveyard at West Northfield, Massachusetts (south of the junction at East Northfield on the old Boston & Maine), to photograph Amtrak 56 (the Vermonter) on its way to St Albans, Vermont.
Light cloud softened the afternoon sun, which was slightly back-lit at this location for a northward train. To make the most of the old stones and put the entire train in the picture, I opted for my 12mm Zeiss Touit lens.
I made minor adjustments to the RAW file in Lightroom to present better contrast in the JPG image presented here.
There used to be a philosophy discouraging photographers from shooting into the sun.
Some types of older equipment (without decent flare control systems) tended not to produce appealing photos when looking toward the sun, while many films didn’t have adequate dynamic range for capturing the contrast range from direct sun to inky shadows.
I’ve found that by using a very wide lens, with a tiny aperture setting, I can get some interesting and satisfactory results by looking directly into midday sun.
Years ago, I’d accomplished this with my Leica and a 21mm Super Angulon on black & white negative film (Kodak Panatomic-X ISO 32 was a good choice).
In more recent times, I use my FujiFilm X-T1 digital camera fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Tuoit, set at its smallest aperture (f22), which leads to the starburst effect as result of diffraction from the very small polygon opening.
I work in RAW, and then digitally manipulate the files in post processing using Lightroom. Specifically, I uniformly lighten the shadow areas to partially compensate for the extremely contrasty setting.
It helps to partially block the sun, as in this image near Forge Village in Westford, Massachusetts.
Alternatively, I could call this Tracking the Light post, ‘28N at Millers Falls.’
Whichever you like.
So what do you do in a situation where a train is coming directly out of the midday sun?
1) give up.
2) go for a sandwich.
3) take up plane spotting.
4) all of the above.
Or you can try something different.
The other day at Millers Falls, Massachusetts I exposed these views looking timetable west on the old Boston & Maine. Train 28N is an eastward autorack destined for Ayer, Massachusetts.
Using a super wide-angle 12mm Zeiss Touit, I set the aperture to the smallest setting (f22), which produces a sunburst effect. To make the most of this effect, I positioned an autumn branch between the camera and the sun.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Touit Distagon, I exposed this evening view at Limerick Junction.
At right is the down train from Dublin Heuston destined for Cork Kent Station, on the left is the shuttle train to/from Limerick .
I imported the camera-RAW file into Lightroom, and made nominal adjustments to the contrast while lightening shadow areas. Significantly, I cooled the colour temperature to compensate for the harsh effects of sodium and fluorescent lights to make for a more natural appearing colour balance.
In yesterday’s post (Unexpected Surprise: Stumbling on to one of the Rarest Railway Operations) I wrote of how we found the Battenkill local freight at Eaglebridge, New York.
It was sunny at Eaglebridge, but ominous clouds were rolling in from the west.
On one level the clouds benefitted our photography, since we’d be fighting the sun on a northward chase.
I opted for something different. The sky was a textured tapestry of clouds and light. The technique I’m about to describe isn’t really bold, nature and architectural photographers use it all the time.
I fitted my FujiFilm X-T1 with a Zeiss 12mm Touit (previously described) and a moveable Lee graduated neutral density filter (with a 2/3s of a stop range).
This arrangement allows me to better balance the exposure differential between the bright sky at the top of the frame and the inky dark shadows toward the bottom of the image. The Lee system allows me to rotate the filter and adjust it up and down.
You can make similar adjustments in post processing using a digital applied graduated filter, however by using the filter on-camera I’m allowing the camera sensor to capture greater amounts of data, thus expanding the dynamic range of the image.
Specifically, I can adjust the filter to expose for the sky to the point where highlight and shadow detail are adequately captured which allows me to lighten the shadow areas at the bottom of the photo.
In some situations, the image will not require any post processing. However I found it was still necessary to make some post processing adjustments to make the image appear better to the eye. I fine-tuned my exposure and contrast using Lightroom.
All four images in the sequence below were made using my FujiFilm X-T1 with a Zeiss 12mm Touit Lens. (However, the introduction photo at the top of the post was made with a 18-135 lens, unfiltered.)
Now, is this a fair comparison? Pat Yough lent me his Carl Zeiss Touit f1.8 32mm lens to test on my Fuji X-T1. So I made two similar photographs at the same spot of successive MBTA PCCs at Cedar Grove (first stop west of Ashmont).
A more conventional comparison would have taken a more scientific approach by perhaps mounting the camera on a tripod and photographing a static subject with constant light.
And that would be a good test, its true. But that’s not what I was going to do.
Lens in hand (or more precisely, attached to my Fujifilm X-T1 digital camera), I wanted to see what the lens could do as a working tool. How does it handle? How quickly does it focus? What is the color like? Does it seem sharp?
I was comparing it against my ‘catch all’ Fujinon Super EBC XF 18-135mm zoom. At the moment this is the only lens I have for my Fuji X-T1 and I’ve been using it for just about all the photos I’ve made with the camera.
First I used my Fujinon lens of PCC 3262; then 8-minutes later the Zeiss of PCC 3260.
While the 18-135mm is a great lens, it has two drawbacks. It’s bulky and relatively slow (f3.5 –f5.6 depending on the focal length). The Zeiss lens by contrast is lightweight and very fast.
But the really important point of this exercise is the end photos. Which is better overall?
The Fujinon image was made with a slightly wider focal length. Well that’s the advantage of a zoom-lens, right, the ability to adjust the focal length on the spot.
However, one of the unspoken advantages of a prime lens (a fixed focal length lens, such as this Zeiss 32mm) is that it forces the photographer to work within the limits of the given angle of view. Sometimes this makes the photographer (me) work a little harder when composing the photograph.
I found the Zeiss to be fast-focusing, very sharp and it provides excellent clean color. On the downside, the field of view is slightly narrower than I like.
Using the Zeiss 32mm on the Fuji camera reminds me a lot of my old 50mm Leica Summicron (which owing to my use of it with a traditional 35mm-film Leica M, provided nearly the same field of view as does the Zeiss on my X-T1.). The 50mm Summicron always seemed a bit too narrow, but the results I got from the lens have really stood the test of time.