Travel

Rattle & Hum Car Show With The Sigma SD-H

Many moons ago I was a car magazine editor. As such, you might say I have a certain appreciation for a fine automobile, plenty of which could be found at the 2019 Rattle & Hum car show at Castle Hill RSL. I decided to go along with the Sigma SD-H and 50mm 1.4 to see if I could hunt down some abstracts. The results came up nicely. Can you guess what models of car these are?

As this was an Australian vintage car show, you might not be familiar with some of these models, but there was plenty of American muscle on hand as well. I’ve found with this style high key-like photography I’m into these days that direct sun on your subject works best when it comes time to process. A subject in shadow can prove difficult to get the effect right on.

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This is something I’ve be keen on shooting for quite a while, so I’m thinking about expanding it out to air and truck shows when I get a chance. If nothing else, it’s a great way to get the kids out exploring what everyone got around in back in the ‘olden days’.

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Here’s the full gallery:

Tin City, Stockton Beach With The Sigma SD-H

I have many fond memories of the Stockton Beach growing up. Located about an hour-and-a-half from Sydney, access is 4WD only. It’s one of the few beaches along the coast where you can drive along the sand and, to a smaller extent these days, the dunes.

Amongst the dunes is a strange settlement of ramshackle structures known as Tin City. At first, rising from the sand, you expect to see a Stormtrooper and a droid, perhaps an Interceptor, but it’s actually the last legal squatters settlement in Australia.

The ‘city’ started in the early 1900s as tin shacks for shipwreck survivors. In the 1930s it grew out to around 36 huts, around 11 of which stand today, and yes, people were here the day I visited. As I understand it, the huts cannot be sold, but are sort of passed down from generation to generation. Since my last visit 20 years ago, many had been repaired and added upon, some looked pretty well sorted! Fishing seems to be the predominant pastime.

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It didn’t stop raining all day, which meant we did have the beach to ourselves, but it did make photography difficult. I was initially disappointed, hoping for blue skies and strong light for the high  key style I use these days, but on reflection I like the way the rain added an ethereal mood to the images. It actually gels very well with the subject matter—lone buildings left out in the elements.

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I also shot some of the dunes, focussing on some timber fencing that had fallen (read: been run) over. I like the minimalist feel of these images and hope to return to take more. Of course, the famous wreck was another shoot hot spot but it was, drum roll, underwater when we arrived. Next time.

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Check out the full gallery:

New Zealand With The Sigma SD-H

I’ve decided to title this latest series Long White (all images here), not after New Zealand itself, but the cruiseliner we travelled on. I was born in Auckland, have returned many times over the years, but I found travelling this way offered a new and unique perspective. It also provided the opportunity to visit many ports and cities I otherwise would never have seen, such as Port Chalmers, Dunedin, Picton, Akaroa and so on.

Milford Sound offered mood in spades. It’s a South Island must-see.

Milford Sound offered mood in spades. It’s a South Island must-see.

Once more I aimed to look for the unique in the ordinary and seemingly banal. I’m constantly trying to refine my compositions down, to really simplify them to their most essential elements. It was an interesting journey. In fact, I found a lot of material in the ports themselves, the higher vantage point offered by our balcony provided a sort of aerial view.

There was plenty of visual interest in the ports, the cruiseliner we sailed on offering a high perspective.

There was plenty of visual interest in the ports, the cruiseliner we sailed on offering a high perspective.

Of course, a cruise is also the perfect way to see the sounds of the South Island. We travelled through Milford, Dusky and Doubtful. They are, as you would expect, extremely scenic, especially layered in mist and cloud, the sun breaking through sporadically. If you have never been to New Zealand, and especially the South Island, do make it a priority. There’s endless photographic material.

Finding a way to show the scale of Milford Sound and its towering peaks can be difficult.

Finding a way to show the scale of Milford Sound and its towering peaks can be difficult.

Many would say light is the most important element of photography, but I disagree. For me, composition trumps all else, and while great light is nice, it’s not essential to making an interesting photograph. Unfortunately, composition is one of those elements of photography that’s hard to learn, hard to teach and ultimately in the eye of the beholder. I don’t think even in the space of a lifetime you could master it.

My favourite image of the trip, taken in Dunedin. The city itself was full of art and life.

My favourite image of the trip, taken in Dunedin. The city itself was full of art and life.

In terms of equipment, I took the Sigma SD-H with the 50mm f1.4 ART and left the 24mm at home. I didn’t find I had need for a wider focal length, so I think the ‘one body, one lens’ idea will carry through from now on. I prefer it this way, getting used to the one focal length and not having to change lenses, to remove one more barrier or choice, of thinking, during a composition. The more I can minimise my gear and photography to its most essential elements, the better.

As usual, the Sigma performed extremely well. The weather sealing on the SD came in useful. For the first time I had to raise ISO during our trip through the sounds owing to the dark, wet, and windy conditions. It was a real test for both photographer and camera.

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A tight crop of the image above showing the impressive detail the Sigma SD-H is able to capture.

A tight crop of the image above showing the impressive detail the Sigma SD-H is able to capture.

I also find myself watching a lot of film channels, such as William Verbeeck’s, Negative Feedback and so on, and idolising many film photographers as well. I’m still tugged towards film from time to time, the tones and feel, so perhaps the next trip I will take both the Mamiya RB67 and the Sigma SD-H, to compare and try to settle this once and for all.

The colours here really say New Zealand to me, the green and black and white. I think the fact this crop means the word parlour has a sense of ambiguity about it.

The colours here really say New Zealand to me, the green and black and white. I think the fact this crop means the word parlour has a sense of ambiguity about it.

Am I happy with this series? Yes and no. With Broken there was only ever one type of weather: real damn hot and bright as can be. In New Zealand, you could have four or five different weather systems in the space of an hour, the darker and moodier of which don’t work well with the usual post-processing treatment for these images. As such, I worked on the more traditional landscapes as if they were just that.

I guess cohesion is the issue. I wanted a cohesive look to the images, but they seem to be in two camps: modern minimal and LOTR eat-your-heart-out. Still, I’m happy with many of the final compositions. This observational style of photography has really opened up a world of possibility for me, because you don’t need to chase light, so to speak, nor seek out grand landscapes. You’re simply looking for anything of visual interest.

Where to next? I have no immediate plans, but stay tuned. You never know where I’m likely to pop up.

There were plenty of compositions to be found on the ship itself.

There were plenty of compositions to be found on the ship itself.

These striped pedestrian crossing poles are unique to New Zealand (I think), but it took me a while to find a suitable background for one.

These striped pedestrian crossing poles are unique to New Zealand (I think), but it took me a while to find a suitable background for one.

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Outback NSW With The Sigma SD-H

A few weeks I flew out to Broken Hill, driving back through White Cliffs and Cobar. It was clear to see the effect the drought is having on both the land and the people. It’s an extremely unforgiving environment, and I’ve tried to impart that in this series of photos I’ve titled ‘Broken’. It’s also uncompromisingly Australian, and again, I hope that cultural quirkiness shines through.

The lunar landscape that is White Cliffs, NSW.

The lunar landscape that is White Cliffs, NSW.

This also marks a new direction in my landscape photography, one more aligned with why I was drawn to the medium in the first place. It places emphasis on composition and minimalism, influenced by photographers like Christian Fletcher and artists such as Jeffrey Smart. It’s a far more observational sort of photography, turning the trip into a sort of photographic treasure hunt. There’s no more getting up at the crack of dawn or using a tripod. In fact, these kinds of photos work best in the glaring right on the midday sun. It’s almost the complete opposite of traditional landscape photography.

Old tanks at the Junction Mine in Broken Hill. The texture the SD-H picked up is incredible.

Old tanks at the Junction Mine in Broken Hill. The texture the SD-H picked up is incredible.

And I loved it. Every. Moment.

This is the first trip I’ve taken with the Sigma SD-H after my DP1 gave up the ghost. I took the Sigma 50mm f1.4 ART and also the Sigma 24mm f1.4 ART, though I only used the 24mm for a few shots. Both lenses are excellent, as is to be expected, but I did find the 50mm length (which is slightly tele on the cropped SD-H sensor) was better suited to this work and probably all I need.

I haven’t had this much enjoyment from photography in a long time. It’s definitely a move in the right direction.

I haven’t had this much enjoyment from photography in a long time. It’s definitely a move in the right direction.

The 50 1.4, as great as it is, though, is HEAVY. The biggest benefit of the DP Quattros was their small form factor. They are so light and transportable, but the 50/SD-H combo is much more in line with a DSLR. Coming from a Phase One, even the RB67, however, it felt like a feather!

Few things weather well in the Australian outback. This was a disused fuel tank.

Few things weather well in the Australian outback. This was a disused fuel tank.

I was really impressed with the SD-H. It improves on the Quattros in many important areas, notably AF, dynamic range, focus peaking, EVF etc. It’s still a niche product that won’t be useful to 90% of photographers, but for this kind of work it’s almost unbeatable at this price point. It’s not ‘medium format in your pocket’ any more, but it does provide medium format-like results at a fraction of the cost—the detail and tones are just that good.

My main focus these days is minimalism. It’s harder than you would imagine to find clean, uncluttered compositions.

My main focus these days is minimalism. It’s harder than you would imagine to find clean, uncluttered compositions.

Yes, the software still sucks, and yes, it’s slow, but it’s always worthwhile when you open up the files and see all that juicy information on offer. Scrolling around the images at 100% I was amazed how much I’d missed taking the shot in the first place-a treasure hunt within the treasure hunt, so to speak.

The side of a charity clothing bin—Not your usual subject fodder

The side of a charity clothing bin—Not your usual subject fodder

I did start to get overheating warnings with the SD-H, though it was around 38 degrees Celsius in the sun, nor did it probably help I’d left my camera back in the back of a cooking car for a few hours. I haven’t had the same issue since.

Trip-wise, I’d never been to the outback before, so this was a real eye-opener. The textures and colours on offer were wonderful. Even the most banal and mundane subjects provided unique photographic opportunity, and I’m certainly looking forward to finding more in 2019.

See the full gallery HERE.

There were some impressive murals spotted during our road trip. There’s a lot of artistic talent in the outback.

There were some impressive murals spotted during our road trip. There’s a lot of artistic talent in the outback.

This brickwork has such a distinctly Australian feel to it. It’s a common sight around the country.

This brickwork has such a distinctly Australian feel to it. It’s a common sight around the country.

Simple, as they say, is often best.

Simple, as they say, is often best.

White Cliffs offers up an alien landscape perfectly suited to this kind of photography.

White Cliffs offers up an alien landscape perfectly suited to this kind of photography.

This solar farm was once at the cutting edge of solar technology.

This solar farm was once at the cutting edge of solar technology.

Lord Howe Island: Mamiya 7 Film Photography

I’ve been wanting to visit Lord Howe Island for quite a while. Only a few hours from Sydney, it’s a true paradise. I recall reading an interview with someone who had travelled to every country in the world. Their favourite place of all? You guessed it, Lord Howe.

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We were lucky enough to stay at Pinetrees Lodge, voted by Tripadvisor as the number one hotel in Australia. It’s not hard to see why when you arrive, given the wonderful food and service on offer. It’s on another level. Of course, the epic surroundings help, and they’re easy to find.

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I took the trip in the middle of a gear conundrum. When my Sigma DP-1 died, I finally decided to jump into a P-series Phase One system. I’ve been lusting after a Phase One for as long as I can remember, but never quite had the funds. Funnily enough, I soon as I started to use it I knew it wasn’t for me. I think I expected to point and shoot and only get magic in return. The results were great, but given the size and bulk of the system, the dual batteries, the cumbersome AF and glitches, I couldn’t do it.

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Impressed by the results I was getting from the Mamiya RB67 and looking at the work of Patrick Wack, I decided to go all-in with film and purchase a Mamiya 7 with 65mm f4 lens. It wasn’t cheap, but it’d done my homework and subsequently decided ‘this is the camera that will make my work great!’.

Many people call the Mamiya 7 the best camera ever made. Using one, it’s easy to see why. They’re just naturally fun (and easy) to use. There is little clutter to get in the way of process. It really helps you get on with the job. It’s also beautifully designed and feels great in the hand. I used Porta 400 exclusively, running through about a roll a day for the half-week we were there. I was having a blast on the island using the Mamiya. It seemed like this would be ‘the one’, even if it was a bit nerve-wracking getting the film through the airport.

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The results, as you can see, are fine. The 6x7 format works, the tones are wonderful and it gives a real, soft sense of the island. So, why did I sell the Mamiya when I returned home? I was excited to get the files back when I got back. I processed the whole lot in about an hour, but every time I zoomed in I was disappointed. The edges weren’t as sharp as I was expecting, the grain was more prominent… It sounds ridiculous, but I missed that clinical cleanliness of my digital files and the latitude for post-processing. The expense of processing and developing also played a factor (around $5 a shot AUD), so I made the hard decision to give the Mamiya up. I still have my RB67 to personal work, preferring its ability to focus closely over the 7 as better suited to portraits.

If you are considering a Mamiya 7, I’d go for the Mamiya 6 instead, which is more or less the same thing but with a square 6x6 format and a hell of a lot less in terms of cost. There are only a couple of lenses for the Mamiya 6, but I think this is actually an upside in many ways. Many 6 owners have the full set. Either way, there are both wonderful cameras and probably the pinnacle of rangefinders. If film is your thing, you’d be hard-pressed to find better. For me, it’s back to Sigma.

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As for Lord Howe itself, I’d love to return. It’s hard to beat a BBQ by the beach, Mt Gower looking on, pristine water ahead with barely a soul around. Then again, I’m pleased it remains a hidden secret of sorts.

While I got around to most of the island’s iconic locations, including the hike up Mt Gower, I never got to the one I wanted to see most: Ball’s Pyramid. This giant sea stack alluded me all trip. I could see it out there on the horizon but could never get close enough given the conditions. There was not a boat on the island willing to go out. I even tried to charter a plane, to no avail. But as the hotel staffer told me, ‘You have to leave something to come back for, right?’. Hopefully next time I’ll get to see it up close and add it to my Icons series. Time to get saving again then, I guess…

Some more images for you:

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Western Australia's South West With The Sigma DP-1

In late 2017 a friend and I made the journey to south-west WA. I’ve long wanted to visit this part of the country, and it did not disappoint. After a day in Perth, we drove down to our base of Dunsborough from which to explore everything this region of Western Australia has to offer.

If you’re looking for pristine, postcard-like beaches, rugged coastlines and more, this is it. It’s a wonderful part of the world ripe for landscape photography. We visited Christian Fletcher’s gallery in Dunsborough for inspiration and I was blown away by the work on offer. It’s a must-see if you’re ever down that way (with a great café next door to fuel up).

Not the actual Sugarloaf Rock, but uniquely impressive in its own right come sunrise.

Not the actual Sugarloaf Rock, but uniquely impressive in its own right come sunrise.

If it is drama you are looking for, the South West coast of Australia does not disappoint.

If it is drama you are looking for, the South West coast of Australia does not disappoint.

We tackled the usual spots, including Sugarloaf rock, driving around the region and getting as far as Cape Leeuwin. A big ol’ python managed to find me in one of the bush toilets, which was fun, but most the wildlife was to be found in the second part of our trip to the Sterling Ranges.

The Sterling Ranges are reasonably remote. I think we saw maybe a couple of cars the whole time. There’s a single café and… that’s about it. It is a unique landscape in constantly changing weather. In a word, dramatic.

Fremantle offered so many photographic opportunities. This is actually my favourite image from the trip. It’s where I want my photography to head.

Fremantle offered so many photographic opportunities. This is actually my favourite image from the trip. It’s where I want my photography to head.

While there are many hikes you can do in the park, we stuck to the most popular—Bluff Knoll, ascending in an hour or two. Bluff Knoll has its own microclimate, so what started out as a sunny day at the beginning of our hike soon turned into a complete gale-force whitewash at the top where you could barely see in front of you. It was still a great walk, though, and highly recommended no matter the conditions.

We stayed in the very unique Dakota DC-3 plane accommodation at The Lily in the Stirling Ranges. It’s an odd sensation sleeping, and showering, in the interior of a plane, but it’s a great story to tell when you back, and the owners are fantastic.

A rainbow near Bluff Knoll in the Sterling Ranges of Western Australia

A rainbow near Bluff Knoll in the Sterling Ranges of Western Australia

There’s plenty of vineyards in the region… and plenty of great food to match. Here I was aiming for a more painterly approach

There’s plenty of vineyards in the region… and plenty of great food to match. Here I was aiming for a more painterly approach

Throughout the trip I used my Sigma DP-1. It still looks pretty amusing in that giant backpack I have, but it performed admirably, waiting until our very last day to die to finally give up on me (I couldn’t lock in a fixed aperture). I don’t imagine the sea spray and general wear and tear I’ve put it through helped, but hey, at least it was an excuse to go shopping for a new system. More on that soon.

In short, if you can get down to Western Australia’s south west, you’re in for a treat. Don’t miss it. Here are some more images from the trip.

The mighty Sugarloaf Rock is such a striking formation. I thought black and white would serve it well.

The mighty Sugarloaf Rock is such a striking formation. I thought black and white would serve it well.

No photographer can resist a lone tree in a field.

No photographer can resist a lone tree in a field.

I could have shot in Fremantle for hours. There was just so much to take in the general public no doubt passes on by.

I could have shot in Fremantle for hours. There was just so much to take in the general public no doubt passes on by.

The famous Quindalup boat ramp.

The famous Quindalup boat ramp.

This was such an iconically Australian coastal scene I simply had to take a shot.

This was such an iconically Australian coastal scene I simply had to take a shot.

The microclimate of Bluff Knoll means you never know what you’re going to get weather-wise. It can change in an instant, and does.

The microclimate of Bluff Knoll means you never know what you’re going to get weather-wise. It can change in an instant, and does.

Boranup Forest with its towering trees is another must-see.

Boranup Forest with its towering trees is another must-see.

A few days wasn’t enough to take in all the Stirling Ranges had to offer.

A few days wasn’t enough to take in all the Stirling Ranges had to offer.

Landscape Photography In The Warrumbungles: A Year With The Sigma DP1 Quattro

I recently spent a weekend in the Warrumbungle region, which apart from having the greatest name ever for a national park, is also ripe with photographic opportunity. We stayed at Coonabarabran, roughly a half hour from the Warrumbungle National Park. Coona itself is five hours from Sydney, so not too bad in the scheme of things. This trip also marked my Sigma DP1’s first birthday, but we’ll get to that later.

The big draw is the Grand High Tops circuit, a roughly four-hour loop that takes in all the famous peaks the park has to offer. The rock formations themselves are remnants of an eroded volcano active 13-17 million years ago. The volcano itself was estimated to be 1km high and 50km wide, so rather large. Standing up there, you can certainly picture it.

The Grand High Tops walk is impeccably maintained. There’s a paved track for a fair heft of the way, new staircases and plenty of rest areas. It’s far from the bush track it used to be. Even the camping facilities down the bottom are first rate. Just make sure you remember where you parked your car…

About 15min into the walk I realised I was going to get some serious blisters trying to break a new pair of boots in, but I pushed on. Suffice to say, make sure you’re prepared with not only proper footwear, but water, food and warm clothing, as it gets quite cold after sunset.

I didn’t realise that the region is dubbed the ‘astronomy capital of Australia’, but at night it soon became clear why. I have never seen so many stars so vibrant in the sky. The Sigma, with its lack of high ISO prowess, doesn’t do astrophotography, but if you have a camera that does, you’re in for a treat.

The main attraction in the Warrumbungles is the famous Breadknife, a thin (surprisingly thin) blade of rock that juts from the earth like something out of Jurassic Park. Rock-climbing is prohibited, but if you’re a crag fiend, fear not. There are plenty of other peaks to scale.

We headed up for sunset the first day where I shot the Breadknife from the top lookout, leaving Coonabarabran the following morning at 2:30am to catch sunrise back at the Knife at 5:30am. A word to the wise, camp at Balor Hut and save yourself the hiking.

Sunrise gifts you with golden light smacking the side of the Breadknife, but you have to be careful, as during certain times of the year the sun is blocked by Belogery spire to the right. I wasn’t aware of this, the sun only making it through by metres, enough to light half of the rock during the best light directly after sunrise. I don’t mind the look, however, as it provides shape to the dome in the background.

At the top lookout you can turn in any direction and find a mighty peak. Here’s Crater Bluff, an imposing peak that looks ripe for climbing. It was lit with the most magical light during sunset, but I wanted a comp a little out of norm. The result is actually my favourite image from the trip.

While the Grand High Tops is great, there are so many other peaks around the area that seemingly go missed, such as Timor Rock right next to the road. One morning we waited for sunrise and drove madly shooting all the peaks we could in the good light. Although the bushfires a few years ago were terrible, what they have done is remove the vegetation from many of these peaks, giving them an alien, spiny look. The lack of trees really allowed you to see the shapes and structures of the peaks unhindered. The new growth coming through is also photogenic in its own right.

Often I find the journey to a destination is just as interesting as the destination itself. The ‘Golden Highway’ is alive with expanse fields and rolling hills, but I was particularly drawn to abandoned structures, such as the motel and train station below in Dunedoo. I took these images handheld and they are perhaps the least processed of any of the shots I took during the trip.

A perfect stop on the way back to Sydney is Lake Windamere with its haunting trees. I could resist a quick long exposure (read: 30sec).

So, what are my thoughts on the Sigma DP1 Quattro after a year then? It truly has been a game-changer for me, putting me much closer to the kind of images I want to take. The detail and dimensionality continue to blow me away, but it is not without its faults. My biggest gripe is dynamic range, especially when the Sony sensors offer so much. I’m hopeful the new SD-H might address this, and a few other issues, such as a viewfinder and exposures longer than 30sec. It will be interesting to see how it compares.

Perhaps the greatest part of travelling with the DP1 has been its portability. It really is a pocket camera, taking up barely any room in my bag but delivering files that rival medium-format. Given its lack of high ISO usability, average screen and so on, it’s very much what I imagine using an older Phase One P25 would be like. I’d love to do a side-by-side some time.

People still look perplexed when I pull the DP1. Sitting next to a Mamiya RB67 on my shelf here it looks very, very small indeed. Honestly, I don’t think fellow photographers take it very seriously at all. Their loss, I say.

As for the Warrumbungles, get there ASAP if you can. The walks are super-accessible and I dare say the view from the top of the Grand High Tops is one of the best in the whole country. It’s ancient, mysterious and complete cat-nip for photographers. Go and see why.