Iceland (day 2)

On the second day of our trip we woke up in Lambastadir Guesthouse in Selfoss. We enjoyed a breakfast with hot waffles and nice jams; and I'm pretty sure we also tried Skyr this day. This guesthouse was really a highlight of the trip, but the beautiful golden light rushed us out of the door. 

This stretch of the Ring road is spectacular. On the left side there was a mountain wall, maybe 50 meters tall; on the right side a plane or a beach separated us from the ocean. Every few minutes we would see another waterfall on the wall of stone - big and small, free-falling or touching the stone. Passing the creeks and the rivers made by the waterfalls on the one-lane bridges we would see many little rivers on black volcanic sand floating down into the ocean. Great rocks a size of a house on both sides of the road in between large open spaces where Icelandic horses casually wander around.

The start of the mountain wall also hosts one famous waterfall - Seljalandsfoss - our first stop of the day. It's a single 60 meter drop can be walked around, thanks to a small cave behind it. The place is pretty popular with tourists, and we were happy to be there off-season and early in the morning. I was really happy that we came prepared - we've changed to our waterproof jackets on the parking lot. Half an hour later with my jeans completely covered in dirt and water and my camera out of three (!) batteries I realized that my preparations clearly weren't as good as I had hoped. Note to self: get waterproof hiking pants, get more batteries and maybe even a battery grip for the camera.

Following the road, we quickly arrived to our next stop: Skógafoss. Another 60 meters tall waterfall; this one has a convenient staircase that you can take to get to the top of the hill and see the Skógá river cascading down through multiple small drops into the spectacular final fall, going through the plane and finally reaching the black sand beach. The bottom part and the first 100 meters past the staircase were a bit crowded, but if you follow the path further very soon you'll find yourself alone by the river. We really enjoyed this feeling of being alone in this crazy beautiful place, and I think I'll return to this memory for a long, long time.

On the way down we went closer to the waterfall where I met a handful of fellow photographers who were clearly more prepared than I was - in wader boots, with raincovers for their cameras - they were standing there and waiting for something. At first I dismissed them as I thought they're doing long exposures, but very soon I learned what they were really waiting for. A beautiful golden light shined from the clouds and hit the mist from the falling water to create a beautiful, vivid rainbow. A feeling of childlike happiness overwhelmed me. This was a very special moment. 

The day was halfway over, but we managed to squeeze two more stops into it. We quickly drove to Sólheimajökull, resisting the urge to stop and see stuff around - I hope one day to have a lot more time in Iceland to stop just as much as I'd want. 

A short and winding road brought us to the Sólheimajökull glacier where you can walk on a glacier with a guide. Since we were running a bit late, we only walked to the foot of the glacier to see the melting ice with the volcanic ash. I was amazed by the thin crust of ice on the edge of the lake formed by thawed water. The wind from the glacier is cold enough to make the water freeze! 

At this point the lunch was long overdue, but we haven't seen any restaurants on the way. We were happy to find a small cafe near the glacier where we ate a bunch of Icelandic lamb soup (really good, fat, meaty stuff; perfect after a walk in a freezing place like Sólheimajökull).

From here we had two more things we hoped to do on that day - the WWII airplane on the beach and the black beach with the crazy volcanic columns. However we were running so late that it was clear that we'll have to choose one. We heard that the plane was not that special and that it wasn't worth the 30 minute walk (one way!); but we figured we'll be able to go to the beach early in the morning. So the airplane it was.

For reasons that we aren't sure of, part of the road to the airplane was closed for the cars. It used to be a minute's drive on a beach and a one minute walk from the parking lot; but now the parking lot has moved quite a bit further from the ocean (and the plane). This means that you have to walk this stretch. The walk was really weird - the road is absolutely straight, and all you see is rocks on the side of the road and the road cones.

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The sun was quickly setting, and we had to hurry up. After a brisk walk, we reached our destination, and obviously we walked on every part of the plane. Honestly, the plane wasn't worth the walk. But at least I can now be sure to skip it next time.

The walk back to the car felt surreal. It was pretty dark now that the sun had set; we saw almost no people. Now were were walking on an endless dark plane, and in the far end of it we could see the lights of the passing cars with a glacier on a mountain. The objects were so distant that for the first 20 minutes they didn't appear to move toward us. It was as if there were no end to this road. My brain started to play tricks on me - with so little stimulation from the environment and such great fatigue, it was in a weird, sleep-like state. 

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Sick, healthy, and sick again

It was a dark couple of weeks here. Lots of rain and even some cold.

We’ve got a TV. Turns out, TVs are great! Ours is 4K HDR, and even being the smallest 4K HDR TV in the store, it feels like a cinema screen at home. I’ve added a soundbar to it, and it’s awesome. We’ve got out our Xbox One that was idle for 2 years and we’re playing Halo Reach. Feels like the good old days! And when it comes to movies, HDR is awesome. 

A wooden toy on our Christmas tree

A wooden toy on our Christmas tree

I was sick for a week before Christmas, working from home for a couple of days. I had to give up my plans for a nice Christmas dinner. Everything turned out ok, and I was even able to eat a little bit of KFC.

This week I was hyperproductive at work. I think even on the busiest day we were at 20% of people. Every possible deadline is either weeks away or long gone, so there was no distraction, nobody to nag me about a bug that needs to be urgently fixed. I was able to focus on whatever I wanted, and it was beautiful. I feel like just on Thursday and Friday I’ve achieved as much as in the past 2 months, and instead of feeling tired, I felt great.

Well, I felt great with one exception - I think I caught a cold! Hopefully I’ll be back to normal in time for the New Year!

Iceland (day 1)

October 2017

The adventure started right there on the plane. My research indicated that if we were to see the aurora, it’s gonna happen on the flight, since for the time we were in Iceland the forecast wasn’t promising and the cloud cover was non-stop for the entire trip. I’ve been instructed to sit on the right side of the plane. 

When we saw the green dancing streaks of light, I was happy as a child. 

When we saw the green dancing streaks of light, I was happy as a child. 

Driving for the first time in years turned out not to be a problem. Our red Mistusbish Outlander looked like a nice car. Ten minutes later we were in our hotel room in Keflavìk where we were to sleep until the morning. 

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Next morning we were greeted with a beautiful light from the low norhtern sun. It didn’t last - the weather in Iceland changes quickly. After a brief chat with the receptionist and pinning our home city - Novosibirsk - on the map of visitors, we headed out to the Golden Circle - a popular touristic route near Reykjavìk. 

Þingvallavatn, the largest lake of Iceland

Þingvallavatn, the largest lake of Iceland

On the way to Öxarárfoss waterfall

On the way to Öxarárfoss waterfall

Öxarárfoss

Öxarárfoss

View of geotermal activity in Þingvellir National Park

View of geotermal activity in Þingvellir National Park

The weather was great - we only encountered a short patch of mist and some clouds, but mostly we were bathing in the golden light.  

One of the geysers in Geysir area

One of the geysers in Geysir area

The geothermal activity here is a result of the tectonic plates drifting apart. I’ve never seen it so apparent before: geysers, hot springs, black volcanic sand, lava fields - everything in Iceland is a reminder of this power. How cool is that?

Boiling water in a baby geyser

Boiling water in a baby geyser

From there we headed to Gulfoss, the Golden Waterfall, although on a cloudy day we didn’t get to enjoy it’s color. But the power of the 100 tons of water per second cascading down a curved staircase is truly impressive even on a day like that. 

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Finally the sun was slowly setting, so we had to head to our guesthouse. Our last stop on the way was to pet the beautiful icelandic horses. 

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Anna petting a horse

Anna petting a horse

In the guesthouse we found a hot tub and a sauna. It was such a great end to such a long, beautiful day. The trip was off to a good start. 

 

Busy times

Towards the end of the year we all have our deadlines, right?

IPhone X

IPhone X

Since we came back from Iceland, my life boils down to work-gym-commute-TV. For a few weeks, there was essentially no sun, and I felt like I was in a hibernation. In fact, the only thing I was productive with was my work. I didn’t even find time to go through my pictures from Iceland, let alone writing a blog post about it. 

Fuji X100T

Fuji X100T

All of this is pretty unusual for me, but I guess it makes sense that when it’s raining and grey outside I can’t make myself do much. At least I know it’s gonna be over really soon - the longest night of the year is next week, and it’s only gonna get better from there.

IPhone X

IPhone X

I think I’m going to publish a day-by-day story about our trip to Iceland until the end of the year. I tried to come up with something more creative than a linear story, but it just doesn’t seem to come together very well.

Back from Iceland

So we went to Iceland for a week. It was a great trip, I really didn't want to leave at all. Iceland is beautiful. I will write more, right now I'm too busy unpacking and going through 1500 pictures and, you know, working my day job. 

Here's a picture of my favourite place, Jökulsárlón

Black volcanic sand and chunks of iceberg hit by the ocean

Black volcanic sand and chunks of iceberg hit by the ocean

Switching from iPhone to Fuji

Everyone seems to write about switching from Canon, Nikon, or Sony to Fujifilm X cameras. But no one seems to talk about switching from the most popular camera in the world to Fuji. 

 

iPhone 4 

  • 5 MP
  • f/2.8
  • 1/3.2” sensor

I started with iPhone photography in 2010 - that is, with the iPhone 4. It had a 5MP autofocus camera with an LED flash. With a tiny sensor, it had a pretty modest dynamic range, somewhat facilitated by a then-new HDR mode. It also had a touch autofocus. I loved it.

Lopez Island, iPhone 4

Lopez Island, iPhone 4

Before the iPhone 4 I had a digital point-and-shoot, but it was so crappy I never really used it. I had no interest in photography. Getting a camera that was so easy to use, always with me, was a revelation. I was also lucky enough to get it right before a road trip to the US, which I saw then like a distant wonderland that I could only dream of visiting. Needless to say, there was no shortage of inspiration. 

Sunrise on Lopez Island, iPhone 4

Sunrise on Lopez Island, iPhone 4

Sure, even at the time I could see some shortcomings in it. It had no zoom, and in low light things would get blurry pretty quickly. In the good light, however, it was insanely good. Seeing my pictures on the retina screen, I couldn’t imagine why I would possibly want to view my pictures on anything else: the pictures were breathing!  

Somewhere in the USA - iPhone 4

Somewhere in the USA - iPhone 4

Of course, viewing these photos on anything bigger than a modern iPhone screen reveals pretty terrible noise, and the colors of all of the shadowy pictures are all wrong. Did I care? Not in the slightest. I shot moving subjects at night, I shot straight into the sun, and I shot with the built-in flash. The results were hit-and-miss, but I am incredibly grateful I had that iPhone. I have so many pictures to remind me of the good times I had. 

Cold frost and sunshine - Russia, iPhone 4

Cold frost and sunshine - Russia, iPhone 4

Nexus 5 

  • 8 MP
  • 1/3.2” sensor
  • f/2.4 lens with OIS

I kept this phone around for a long, long time, until I broke the back glass for the second time in 2013. I’ve sold it and got a Nexus 5, the “value pick“ of the time. It was a flagship phone for half the price of an iPhone. Camera-wise, it was quite an upgrade, too! It sported higher resolution, HDR+, a brighter flash, and fun features, such as Photo Sphere and Lens Blur. Finally, the Auto Awesome feature created gifs, fake snow, twinkling lights and other cute effects that made me laugh and appreciate that phone even more.

Nexus 5X + Google’s auto awesome. Russia.

Nexus 5X + Google’s auto awesome. Russia.

iPhone 6 Plus 

  • 8 MP
  • f/2.2 lens with OIS
  • 1/3.0” sensor

Unfortunately, its cheap plastic body didn’t last long : a year later I picked up an iPhone 6 Plus. With same 8MP resolution, OIS, better autofocus and an f/2.2 lens, it was a modest improvement over my Nexus. It was a HUGE phone though - very uncomfortable to carry around with me, and thanks to a non-ergonomic slippery aluminum body, quite a nightmare to handle, even in a grippy case. Compared to iPhone 4 and Nexus 5, the noise performance seemed quite a bit better - I don’t see much noise when viewing uncropped pictures on a regular-sized iPad. 

Tuileries Garden, Paris, iPhone 6 Plus

Tuileries Garden, Paris, iPhone 6 Plus

X-T10 

  • 16 MP
  • APS-C sensor
  • Kit lens - 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6

Around that time, I was following Ash Furrow’s blog. He was shooting with a Fujifilm X100. I loved his pictures, and I loved his camera, so I decided to get it myself as a Christmas gift. However, after reading a few articles, I’ve convinced myself that I’d rather get an X-T10 with a kit XC 16-50 lens: I thought I’d get more flexibility with a zoom lens, and more upgradeability with an interchangeable lens camera. 

I loved the camera, but I had to sacrifice tons of iPhone’s useful features, such as: 

  • Built-in HDR
  • Touchscreen autofocus
  • Instant editing/sharing
  • Built-in backup

Needless to say, getting a real camera gave me some huge benefits, too: 

  • Improved image quality
  • Interchangeable batteries and memory cards
  • Optical zoom
  • Viewfinder (readable in bright conditions) 
  • Real shutter (for long exposures)
  • Real aperture (for depth-of-field control) 

A real camera comes at a price, and it’s not just the money I’m talking about.

Usability

Most people take their phone with them everywhere and charge it every day. This is because it is an indispensable tool for social communication as well as a great personal computer. 

Taking your phone on a hike is a no-brainer. Would you hike up here with a DSLR? – Swiss Alps, X-T10  

Taking your phone on a hike is a no-brainer. Would you hike up here with a DSLR? – Swiss Alps, X-T10  

An iPhone is a size of a small filter pouch. 

An iPhone is a size of a small filter pouch. 

A camera is huge. My X-T10 is a smaller brother of a “compact” X-T1. Here it is next to an iPhone 4. Just the plastic lightweight lens weighs 195g, vs iPhone 4 at 137g. It certainly won’t fit into your pocket, unless you detach the lens from the camera. This means you’ll need a bag to carry it around, and it is going to take a considerable part of said bag. 

On the other hand, a camera gives you countless improvements in ergonomics. Any camera is more comforable to hold than any phone; and all the switches, dials, and buttons actually work in gloves, unlike your phone. You also get the interchangeable batteries and SD cards, which is great! However, this also means that you’ll have to carry a charger for your camera when travelling. 

Image quality

New York, X-T10, XC16-50, 30s

New York, X-T10, XC16-50, 30s

It’s tempting to say that the camera is always better than a phone. Certainly, a larger sensor of a camera and a bigger, brighter lens gather more light; the larger pixels mean give you a wider dynamic range, lower noise in high sensivity and so on.

But what the cameras are lacking in is software and CPU power, and this is when the smartphones are miles ahead. A camera manufacturer typically assumes that the user will use their computer and some high-end processing software to get the best out of their image, and this certainly gives you great results; but when it comes to straight out-of-camera capabilities, my iPhone 4 made better HDRs in-camera than my 2016 Fuji X-T2.

Paris, iPhone 7, built-in HDR, no post-processing

Paris, iPhone 7, built-in HDR, no post-processing

In my opinion, you always get better results on a camera if you take your time with post-processing. Straight out of camera though, iPhones are above and beyond. It is also worth noting that unless you print your pictures or view them on something larger than an iPad, the image quality difference isn’t that big. 

Utility

Some of the ways your phone is more powerful than your camera. 

Some of the ways your phone is more powerful than your camera. 

Obviously, it’s not a fair comparison, because an iPhone is much more than a camera. Even in photographic department, it gives you direct printing and sharing and some high-quality post-processing tools. And thanks to downloadable apps, you’ll never have a problem of “not having a timelapse feature” on you phone. 

A camera gives you interchangeable lenses, DOF control, external flashes, long exposure capabilities and many more.  But in my experience, cameras are much dumber than phones when it comes to auto white balance, autofocus, and autoexposure. Sure, I can control them all myself, and I can fix some of them in post, but I’d really much rather have this done for me most of the times. 

Auvergne, France, X-T2 + Samyang 12mm f2

Auvergne, France, X-T2 + Samyang 12mm f2

Conclusion

Gear doesn’t matter in most situations and for most people. I have two boxes full of lenses, bodies, tripods, brushes, filters, and batteries, and I still carry my phone with me every time. I spend considerable time processing my pictures, I have bags dedicated to carrying it around, and in many ways this gear is a burden. Thanks to two years of practice and a small fortune invested into photographic equipment, my photos are less noisy and mostly in focus. I enjoy the process of photography very much, and I evidently am willing to sacrifice a lot to practice it; yet I still love pictures taken on my iPhone 4 back when I had no idea about the rule of thrids.

I’ve learnt to be a better photographer thanks to a real camera. I had a lot of fun in the process. I’m probably not going to stop using a dedicated camera in next 5-10 years. But it’s a real shame that camera manufacturers pay so little attention to software and user experience: just imagine how awesome would it be to have iPhone-quality JPEGs from your camera appear on your phone moments after you press the shutter button. 

But at the end the only camera that’s always with me is my iPhone.  

 

 

 

Woke up for sunrise

This whole summer I was too lazy to wake up in time for sunrise. Today it was at 7:30, early enough for me to get up and get out. I'm feeling a bit sleepy, but it's totally worth it. 

I've decided to meet the sun at Notre-Dame, because I've never taken a tourist-free picture of it before. I think it looks beautiful in the first light of the day.