The Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway are one of my favorite places in Europe. My last three trips to the Lofoten were all winter trips. Since I also wanted to have some summer images in my portfolio I decided to book some flights from Munich to Leknes and spend a long weekend there.
This was also my first real test for my new Sony equipment. More on this later.
The day I arrived there, was also the first day of the year where the sun stayed above the horizon for 24 hours. This means you have 24 hours of daylight for lots of shooting. But this also means you won’t be able to shoot aurora, starscapes or even twilight scenes. And it also means the nicest light will be during the night and if photography is your main concern you have to sleep during the day (or not at all). On the four days on the Lofoten, I never slept more than 3 hours continuously. And on nearly all days I was shooting non-stop from 8 pm to 8 am.
Since I had expected this, I hadn’t booked any hotels but instead rented a station wagon and just slept in the car. On some days on official campgrounds and on other days just on parking lots at remote beaches. This worked out pretty well and as a nice side effect reduced the costs for this trip significantly.
It was pretty clear in advance that this would be an exhausting trip with not much sleep. Therefore I decided that it’s better to do this trip alone and not take my daughter with me.
But I was not long alone on the Lofoten. On my first evening, I met three girls from Vancouver in a restaurant in Hamnøy: Nikkie, Karin, and Leathia.
We spent most of the next two days together doing two hikes to Reinebringen und Kvalvika.
The hike from Reine to the mountain Reinebringen is not very long but very steep, muddy, slippery, and exhausting. It takes about 1.5 hours one way and you are really happy when you finally reach the top.
But the view from there is absolutely breathtaking and definitely worth the effort.
Two days later when the girls had already left the Lofoten I did the hike to Reinebringen a second time to spend some more time shooting from the ridge during the night.
I also wanted to shoot my first timelapse video. Therefore I took two tripods on my second hike to the top of Reinebringen and one of my A7RII spent the whole night on this second tripod shooting about 1800 images of Reine. You can find the result here:
Since this is my first timelapse video and also one of my first videos ever any feedback is really appreciated.
The other hike I did together with the girls from Vancouver was the trail to Kvalvika beach. This beach has recently become very popular due to the surf video North of the Sun, which won several awards on outdoor film festivals throughout the world.
North of the Sun is available for download from iTunes, Vimeo, and several other sites. On their website northofthesun.no you will find links to some of the download options.
Here are two teasers which give you a good impression of the idea behind the film:
It’s, in my opinion, the best outdoor film of the last years with a great story, great mood, cool people and a really crazy idea. Highly recommended to watch this movie.
Even without this background story, the hike to Kvalvika is a must-do on the Lofoten. It’s a lovely beach with spectacular surroundings. And contrary to the trail up to Reinebringen it’s an easy walk of about one hour each way.
Besides these two hikes to Reinebringen and Kvalvika I visited several of my favorite places of the Lofoten like Å i Lofoten, Sørvågen, Moskenes, Hamnøy, Reine, Nusfjord, Ramberg, Storsandnes and Henningsvær.
Altogether I prefer shooting at wintertime on the Lofoten. Especially some of the beaches and also the snow-covered mountains look much more spectacular in wintertime. But it was a nice trip and I’m happy with the outcome. I think these new summer images complement my winter images of the Lofoten in a positive way.
I’ve added the best images of this trip to my Lofoten gallery.
As written above this was also the first real test for my new Sony equipment.
I took the following equipment with me to the Lofoten:
- 2x Sony A7RII with RRS plates and lots of batteries and SD cards
- Zeiss Batis 2.8/18mm
- Zeiss Loxia 2.8/21mm
- Zeiss Loxia 2.0/35mm
- Zeiss Loxia 2.0/50mm
- ND filters and polfilters
- Gitzo series 2 tripod with Acratech head
- charger, cleaning stuff, cable release, notebook, etc.
The Loxia lenses are really remarkable. Image quality, especially slightly stopped down is really great of all three Loxias. Even the 35mm, which has a bad reputation, is stopped down to f/5.6 very good. Only the last few pixels in the corners are never getting really sharp, similar to the Zeiss 50mm Makro Planar. In most images this just doesn’t matter. The small size, mechanical construction, and haptics of the Loxias remind me of the Leica M lenses, which says a lot. For me, the Loxias are at the moment the best reason to switch to Sony.
I also really enjoy the significant size and weight reduction of the A7RII with Loxia lenses compared to the D800E with Otus and ZF.2 lenses. Especially on difficult or demanding hikes like the trail up to Reinebringen, you can really feel the difference. And in some situations, it can make all the difference whether you will be able to reach an interesting place or not.
The image quality of the A7RII files is comparable to the D800E files. The dynamic range of the D800E is slightly better. Recovery of underexposed image parts is as good with the A7RII as with the D800E but it’s a bit easier to recover clipped overexposed highlights with the D800E. With the A7RII in these areas often the color information is lost or at least much reduced and can’t be fully recovered in PP. This was most obvious in overexposed parts of the sky (sunrise/sunset situations). Therefore be careful with the A7RII with the rule ETTR (expose to the right of the histogram, if you don’t know what this means, just google for ETTR). In high contrast situations, it is often better to underexpose an image even more than you would normally do with other cameras like the D800E. Since I haven’t done any tests with other settings, these observations are only valid for shooting with uncompressed RAW and in 14-bit mode.
Battery life was much better than I had expected. When I shot the timelapse video one battery lasted for more than 900 images. Even in normal shooting situations where I used both the display and EVF (electronic viewfinder) a lot, I always got around 400 images out of one battery. Not as good as with the D800E but much better than for example the Sigma DP2M and definitely not a deal-breaker for the A7RII. Especially since spare batteries for the A7RII are both small and cheap.
Another surprising fact for me was how useful the EVF really is. Before the A7RII I had absolutely no experience with an EVF and was rather skeptical whether I would miss the OVF of the D800E. But to be able to easily switch between a magnified view for precise manual focus and an overview of the image and being able to do this both with direct sunlight and when it’s dark has proven to be extremely helpful.
It reminds me of my first experience with a live-view camera. First I thought: why should I get a camera with LV? When I had used the Canon 5DII for a couple of days I really loved this feature and missed it later in my Leica M9. Some features you have to really try out for a couple of days to be convinced of their advantages.
But not everything is perfect with the Sony A7RII.
One problem at the moment is the lack of great super-wide-angle lenses. I tried five samples of the Voigtländer 15mm lens and all five suffered from really bad unsharp corners. I know that good samples exist (see this thread), but after returning five samples and probably annoying several vendors in Germany I decided to give up with this lens for now. I really hope that Zeiss will release a 15mm Loxia lens in the future. As a substitute, I decided to get the Batis 18mm instead. But 18mm is not 15mm. Since my next focal length is the Loxia 21mm, a 15mm lens would fit much better. But the difference between 18mm and 21mm is significant enough to justify carrying both lenses. The image quality of the Batis 18mm is very good. Center sharpness and colors are maybe even slightly better than the fantastic Loxia 21mm. But where the Loxia 21mm really shines is edge/corners sharpness and the beautiful rendering of sun stars (or other point light sources). In addition, I’m not really happy with the focus-by-wire feeling and the much larger size of the Batis 18mm. If a Loxia 15mm with similar IQ would exist I would immediately sell the Batis 18mm.
Another problem with the A7RII is that the camera often doesn’t react if you use the self-timer and want to shoot another image immediately after you took the first shoot. It seems that you are not able to trigger the camera as long as it is still writing the image to the memory card. Since this doesn’t happen if you are not using the self-timer it seems to be rather a firmware bug than a hardware limitation. This bug is annoying but not a deal-breaker for me. There are two possible workarounds: either just wait until the writing is finished before you trigger the next shot or use a cable release or remote control instead of the self-timer if you shoot from a tripod.
The biggest problem for me with the A7RII is so far that the sensor gets dirty very easily and very often. Since there is no mirror (like with DSLRs) or shutter (like with the M9) in front of the sensor when you change lenses the slightest amount of dirt in the air will sooner or later get on your sensor. This means you have to be extremely careful when you change lenses. It’s best to turn the camera upside down. But this slows down the process of lens changing and if for example, the light is changing very quickly this can lead to missed images. And even if you are extremely careful after a couple of lens changes you will definitely have dirt on your sensor. Therefore it’s necessary to use a blower at least once a day to clean your sensor. On my trip to the Lofoten, I even had to do a wet cleaning after two days. With my D800E this wasn’t necessary for more than 10000 images and probably hundreds of lens changes.
In addition, the coating of the sensor surface (more precise the coating of the surface of the cover glass/filter on top of the sensor) of the A7RII seems to be rather delicate. There are several stories on the internet where the coating has been damaged by cleaning with too much pressure by using the wrong cleaning liquid. Sony gives the advice to never wet clean the sensor by yourself and always send it to a Sony service center, which is just not practicable. Especially not with a sensor that catches dirt so easily.
My guess is that either I will get used to the regular necessary cleanings soon or it will be a real annoyance for me.
So far I don’t regret the change from Nikon to Sony. The biggest pros are clearly size, weight, EVF, and the Loxia lenses. The only real con is the dust and dirt sensitivity of the sensor.
The next big test for my Sony A7RII and the Loxia lenses will be a trip to Iceland in summer.