A Guide to Vietnamese Coffee

A little known fact is that Vietnam is a huge coffee producer, ranking second in the world for coffee exports. The Vietnamese have a great coffee culture, if a little different from more conventional coffee fans. This love of coffee was originally introduced by the French, but today is truly unique.

Vietnamese coffee is typically a coarse ground strong and flavourful coffee. If you like strong coffee go to Vietnam, it’s the strongest coffee you will ever have. In the old days, the French colonists could not get normal milk, so condensed milk was used instead. Today you can get a range of coffees in Vietnam, from egg coffee to fruit coffee, weasel coffee to yoghurt coffee.

I took a few photos of how we prepare Vietnamese coffee (Ca Phe Sua). This is how we have learnt it from the locals, and certainly not the only way. You will need the following:

  • Vietnamese coffee, we use Trung Nguyen
  • Vietnamese coffee filter
  • Glass or cup, depending on the type of coffee made
  • Hot water
  • Condensed and sweetened milk (for Ca Phe Sua)
  • Tea spoon!

Step 1

Take out the top filter in the Vietnamese coffee maker. Add 2-3 tea spoons of Vietnamese ground coffee.

Step 2

Use the top filter to compress the coffee a little. You do not need to apply a lot of pressure. Leave the filter press on top of the coffee.

Step 3

Put the coffee maker on top of a glass or cup. Pour in a little hot water, just enough to moisten and swell the coffee. Wait 20 seconds, before filling up the entire filter. This delay is to allow the coffee to expand and prevent the water passing through the coffee too quickly. Failing this step can lead to poor taste.

Step 4

Monitor the progress of the water, and when all the water has filtered through the coffee is ready. If you like a white coffee then add one tea spoon of condensed milk, and stir up. If you like black coffee then drink as is, however black coffees are enjoyed cold in Vietnam. Typically the filtered coffee is poured into a glass filled 50% up with ice cubes.

Step 5

Enjoy!!

 

 

Carl Zeiss Milvus 18mm 2.8

Carl Zeiss Milvus 18mm 2.8 (Photo credit: http://www.zeiss.com)

The search for the perfect ultrawide angle prime lens

Over the last year or so I have been wanting to upgrade my ultrawide lens, the 16-35mm 2.8L II. This was a difficult task, as the 16-35L II has been a real dependable workhorse for me. It has netted me many good photos. There was a lot to like about it, but its age was beginning to show. More than that, as a prime lens shooter, I felt that the zoom was making me lazy with composition. For the most part, I used the lens at 16mm where it has maximum effect. I also use the excellent 24mm and 35mm 1.4 Sigma Art lenses and sometimes I’d be lazy and use the zoom at those focal lengths. The 16-35L II really does not excel wide open at 35mm so I was missing out. Apart from inviting laziness, the 16-35L II also has weak corners and a bit of distortion at wider focal lengths. Really, I can’t complain too much, its been a great lens, and I have got a lot of great images from it. I feel like nowadays with the 16-35mm f4L IS lens, everybody has a 16-35 and that just doesn’t appeal to me. I like to be a little different.

So, the search for a good alternative started long ago. I was hoping to find a great prime lens 18-21mm. Like all photographers in the internet age, I looked up sample images on the various photography sites. Zeiss of course is famous for its manual focus prime lenses which really excel for landscape and architecture. And while browsing the many internet galleries, you occasionally see Zeiss images which possess that special ‘Zeiss’ character. I started to wonder if a manual Zeiss lens could really work for my style of photography? In the end I had four good possibilities:

  1. Carl Zeiss Milvus 18mm 2.8
  2. Carl Zeiss Milvus 21mm 2.8
  3. Sigma 20mm 1.4 Art HSM
  4. Canon 16-35mm 2.8L III

Always go shopping with a list of focal lengths! I needed a lens 18-21mm. Zeiss offers two good lenses here. I thought the 21mm might be too close to my existing 24mm 1.4 Art, which I use a lot. The Milvus 21mm 2.8 lens also uses the older 2008 launch 21mm 2.8 Distagon optical design, just wrapped up in a new lens body. While a potent formula, the brand new Milvus 18mm 2.8 was more appealing, also in regards to the focal length. The Sigma 20mm 1.4 Art was a top contender, and the image quality is great. But I wanted to use conventional screw-in filters and you can’t with the 20mm Art. It also has a bit too much distortion at 2.5%, but its f1.4 and represents excellent value. The new version of the 16-35mm 2.8L was also an amazing option, which offers so much compared to a manual focus Zeiss lens…

 

The 18mm 2.8 Milvus VS the Canon 16-35mm 2.8L III

In absolute terms, the 16-35mm 2.8L III offers so much more than the Milvus 18mm 2.8, so why the hell did I choose the Zeiss? Both lenses are tack sharp corner to corner. Its amazing that the Canon is so good. Its sharper than most prime lenses. The build quality and general use in the field are also top notch. Both lenses are weather sealed, and if a filter is fitted you have a rig that can be used in all conditions. Both choices have excellent colour and contrast. It was really a difficult decision.

The simple answer is that I wanted to try something different, and it boils down to personal choice. I have wanted to try a Zeiss lens for a while. I get satisfaction using well crafted instruments, and the Milvus 18mm lens is a pleasure to use. I also love primes, there is something very satisfying about nailing a good image with a prime lens, rather than merely zooming in on something. The popularity of the Canon ultrawide zooms today is also a bit off putting to me. The Zeiss lens is lighter, smaller and simpler than the Canon lens, and it gives a certain exclusivity as only a handful of people use it. The Zeiss has better colour and less distortion than the Canon. It also focuses closer at 18mm than the Canon. Sure it has its down sides. Its manual focus for one thing, by far the biggest problem. But I have the 24mm 1.4 Art and will have the 14mm 1.8 Art lenses to back up the Milvus.

 

Initial impressions

So what is it like? Well, its very well made, its compact and feels very nice to use. Its tack sharp corner to corner from 2.8 to f16 and even f22 looks good. The files are punchy and the colour is typical Zeiss. There is a lot of vignetting at 2.8, but that does not bother me. Regarding the manual focus (people leaning forward), its really easy to get sharp focus. Unlike other lenses I have used manually, the Zeiss appears to have a ‘flat spot’ of sharp focus, rather than a difficult to hit peak. I use the AF confirm light, and get good results. I have also tried liveview, but don’t see added sharpness compared to using the AF confirm light.

Carl Zeiss Milvus first shots. Canon 5D Mark III | 18mm 2.8 Milvus | f4

 

Carl Zeiss Milvus first shots. Canon 5D Mark III | 18mm 2.8 Milvus | f2.8

Its is early days, but the image quality is far better than the old 16-35mm 2.8L II. The colour and micro contract is very nice. As is typical with Carl Zeiss, the lens renders blues and blacks in a very unique and rich way. Most of the images I have taken have been in very harsh light, as the weather has been awesome in the alps lately. I look forward to also using this lens in softer light, but haven’t had the chance yet. The manual focus thing does not seem to be a problem, especially at this focal length. I really could not have asked for a better ultrawide for landscape and architecture. It is complemented in my case, by the 24mm 1.4 Art and in the future I will add a 14mm lens as well.

Happy Shooting!

Gallery

Chamonix & Mer de Glace

Hello everyone! I finally processed some photos from last Autumn where my wife and I went to Chamonix. As ever, living south of Munich means you don’t have to travel far to see some of Europe’s best sights. Chamonix is located in France, at the base of Mont Blanc, Europe’s highest mountain. It is not only a cosy town but Chamonix always has a feeling of adventure. This time we dropped by Zurich in Switzerland on the way.

The next day we did a bit of hiking, and took the train up to the Mer de Glace glacier. It is a magnificent place surrounded by towering peaks with the vast glacier curving its way through the valley.

location

On this trip I took the following lenses; 24mm f1.4, 35mm f1.4, 85mm 1.2L II, 135mm f2L and 100-400mm 4.5-5.6L IS II. The primes are great for taking photos in the town, and the telephoto lenses are great for getting good photos of the mountains. Here are some of the keepers from the weekend! Hope you enjoy.

Happy Shooting!

Gallery

Retirement time for a dependable workhorse!

I am going to do some tweaks to my photography kit. Over the coming weeks I will be selling some lenses, and buying a couple of replacements for the wide end of my photography kit.

I will be saying goodbye to the Samyang 14mm 2.8, Canon 16-35mm 2.8L II and Canon 45mm 2.8 TS-E.

Why the change?

Certainly without a doubt the 16-35mm 2.8L II is a great lens, a real workhorse. I have got a lot of great images from it. Its been with me around the world, a few times in fact.  It’s typical Canon L, reliable, dependable and well made. I like its metal body, constant length, good image quality, weather sealing and its versatility. The 16-35mm range is great for all wide angle photography.

I have had the lens since I got it new in 2012. I do think it’s time to move on though. We now have a different market, more competition, and some very good unique offerings. The Tamron 15-30mm 2.8 VC, 16-35mm 2.8L III, 16-35mm 4L IS. Sigma 14-24mm 2.8 Art and Sigma 12-24mm f4 Art lenses are strong alternatives, which really show the older lens is getting long in the tooth.

Oddly though, it is the 16-35mm’s versatility that is its undoing for me. I think zoom lenses make you lazy, and I enjoy working with prime lenses. The range of the 16-35mm meant that I was often using it – too much. I also think that nowadays every man and his dog has a 16-35mm lens which just makes it less appealing to me somehow. I like to be different. You are not going to stand out if you do what everybody else does!

I will be selling the Samyang 14mm 2.8 lens which I got a couple of years ago. Fun inexpensive lens on fullframe. It gives you access to 14mm on fullframe for little money, and also has good image quality. But the mechanics are horrible, and it just isn’t nice to use in the field. The all manual lens has no AF confirm chip, which make it difficult to use on the run. The distortion profile is also horrendous! Just unacceptable. It was fun for a bit, but I personally will not be missing this lens.

Finally, the 45mm 2.8 TS-E also must go L. I really like this lens, even with its quirks. I will miss this lens, it’s a lot of fun to use, and unlock creative possibilities that are truly unique to tilt-shift lenses. I need the capital for other lenses, and besides, there is a new 50mm 2.8L TS-E Macro lens announced which will drive down the prices of the 45mm version. The 45mm was released in 1991… and it does show. The mechanics are fantastic, and it’s a pleasure to use. However, the optics are not perfect. It’s sharp at close distance from f2.8-16, but at medium and far distances, it’s not that strong a performer. It also does not focus close which the newly announced 50mm version will fix, increasing its appeal and usefulness.

So what are we getting!?

I am going to boost my wide angle coverage and get the new Sigma 14-24mm 2.8 Art and 18mm 2.8 Zeiss Milvus. These lenses offer excellent mechanics, build quality and optics. Both are sharper than my 16-35mm 2.8L II was and offer less distortion. The Zeiss Milvus 18mm 2.8 lens will be great for landscape and architecture, and offers amazing image quality. There is a certain look to Zeiss images, their colour and rendering are truly unique. The Sigma 14-24mm 2.8 Art is a brand new option, which will back up the 18mm 2.8 while giving easy access to 14mm.

I plan to buy the 50mm 2.8L TS-E Macro some time in 2018, likewise, I might get the 12mm 2.8 Laowa or 11mm f4 Irix lens for some extreme wide-angle fun.

I look forward to playing with the new lenses, and I’m sure they will offer a lot of great pictures! Of course its not about the gear, but more the dedication to photography, experimenting and learning. One belief I have though is that you should invest in the lenses, and buy the best you can. Bodies and sensors come and go.

Happy shooting!

First trip to Laos!

Hello all! I am proud to add a collection of photos from Laos to my website! It was been a goal for a while – to complete the French Indochina set. We flew in from Hanoi to Luang Prabang and mostly explored the area of Luang Prabang and the surrounding areas. Unfortunately, we did not make it down to Vientiane on this occasion.

Luang Prabang, Laos. 5D Mark III | 35mm 1.4 Art

Laos. 5D Mark III | 24mm 1.4 Art

The feeding of the Monks. Luang Prabang, Laos 5D Mark III | 85mm 1.2L II | iso 3200

Interesting pig transportation system.. Luang Prabang, Laos. 5D Mark III | 35mm 1.4 Art

Luang Prabang, Laos. 5D Mark III | 35mm 1.4 Art

There is lots to see, and after spending some time in town, we rented a motorbike for a few days and went around exploring. We also rode out to Kuang Si Falls. Its kind of a mini version of Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. Cool place! They need to do more to protect the sight from tourists. But this is typical of developing countries.

Kuang Si Falls, Laos. Canon G7X

Awesome Kuang Si Falls, Laos. Canon G7X

We decided to do an elephant trip, but wanted to go with a good Eco-friendly company. Someone what protected and cared for the animals. Elephant Village fits the bill. They were awesome so check out their site in the link. My ‘operator’ below, was a great guy. If you look closely, you can see my elephant stepped on a landmine years ago.

Our awesome “drivers”, Somewhere on the Mekong River, Laos. Canon G7X

To get back to Vietnam, we took an over night bus through the mountains to Vinh, VN which was interesting! Had a great trip to make sure you check out the full album here!

Full Album

 

Con Dao Island

I haven’t posted anything in a while – very sorry. Has been a very busy end to 2017 and a busy start in 2018. I have also changed jobs in that time which was a little intense. The good news, and also a cause to the lack of posts is that Vanessa and I had a good long trip to Vietnam (again). So there should be plenty of new material coming up. As we are also on the brink of spring, I hope to grab some nice spring shots too soon.

The beach in front of our resort. 5D Mark III and 24mm 1.4 lens.

So I have decided to break down our trip is sections, and this part is about Con Dao. These are remote islands about an hours flight south of Saigon. The islands are known for their prisons during the Vietnam War, which is a bit depressing. However, they are also home to Vietnam’s best beaches, nice wilderness, and six senses resort.

We took a flight from Saigon with Vietnam Air Services Company (VASCO). It was a windy landing and one to remember, but the airline is fine and ATRs are always bumpy. We stayed at a Vietnamese 3 start resort just out of town. Con Dao Resort is walking distance from the main town. But the best way to get around is by motorbike. We rented a bike for a couple of days.

VASCO flies regular flights from Saigon to Con Dao with ATR-72s. 5D Mark III with 35mm 1.4 lens.

The islands are pretty quiet, and the people are surprisingly laid back for the Vietnamese. There are not that many roads, and not that much to see, but the place is very relaxing. We checked out the local temples, beaches and the main town the first day.

Roads are pretty quiet on the island. 5D Mark III with 85mm 1.2L II lens.

Local shrine was very picturesque. 5D Mark III with 24mm 1.4 Art lens

The markets in Con Dao are well worth a visit. 5D Mark III with 85mm 1.2L II lens.

The beach just in front of the airport is also quite nice. Its also a good place to see incoming flights which go right overhead. Taken with a 5D Mark III and 12mm 2.8 fisheye lens.

The second day we looked at a lot of the prisons from the war period. Some were built by the French for political prisoners, and some were later built by the Americans. All offer horrific conditions. It was hard to understand why such measures were needed, but good to see them.

Walking above the cells in the French built prison. An incredible place which asks many questions. 5D Mark III with 24mm 1.4 Art lens.

To prevent the prisoners from climbing up the walls and escaping, the guards would break arms and legs. 5D Mark III with 24mm 1.4 Art lens.

The American prison was obviously made on a tight budget with no concern for human life. The clammy, dark, and cramped interior is just a disgusting place to be. 5D Mark III with 24mm 1.4 lens.

The next day we rode up to the start of the national park. You need a special permit to enter the park, but it’s easy to get at the park office. We then took a hike to the other side of the island. On the way we traveled through dense jungle, and encountered a bit of wild life including monkeys. Finally we made it to a very remote little beach. It was quite rocky, but very nice in general. There are coral reefs just off shore.

One of the locals, Con Dao National Park. 5D Mark III with 100-400mm 4.5-5.6L IS II lens.

Somewhere in the national park. 5D Mark III with 24mm 1.4 lens. Polariser.

An interesting fellow, a couple of kilometers from the water. 5D Mark III with 100-400mm 4.5-5.6L IS II lens.

Nice to be off the beaten track. It did not look like there were many visitors to the park. 5D Mark III with 24mm 1.4 Art lens.

The rest of the time, we just hang around town. There are some nice cafes and restaurants. I would recommend Con Dao to anyone visiting Vietnam. It’s a welcome change from the usual rush. I think it has Vietnam’s best beaches, and easy access to nature. There is still not too many tourists there, and the remote parts are very authentic.

Same old fantastic Vietnamese food. 5D Mark III with 35mm 1.4 Art lens.

Sitting on the sidewalk, waiting for our dinner. 5D Mark III with 35mm 1.4 lens.

The mandatory beach photos! Con Dao. 5D Mark III with 85mm 1.2L II lens.

Location:

Gallery:

Magic of Croatia

Yes, we have been on the road again! We went for some warmer weather in September, and headed to Croatia. Our first trip and certainly not our last. When we were in Slovenia earlier this year we went temptingly close to the boarder with Croatia, and I always wanted to go for the awesome coastline Croatia has. So we took the car and blasted through 4 countries and our first stop was at the Plitvice Lakes National Park. Please check out my post about that part!

Plitvice Lakes National Park, G7X w/ waterproof case.

It rained all the way from Germany, into Austria, and from Austria to Slovenia, and from Slovenia to Croatia, so it was quite a drive, but we found some cosy inexpensive accommodation outside the national park. After a couple days there we headed to the trendy town of Split. A very culture rich city, Split has a lot to offer.

Split, Croatia. 5D Mark III | 14mm 2.8

Finally we took the ferry over to the island of Hvar. A real highlight, Hvar is a great place for a holiday. By this time the weather had also improved substantially! We stayed in a remote kind of nature camp Kamp LILI. Here we could set up our tent right on the edge of the cliff, 20m from the sea, was amazing.

Camp LILI, Hvar Island, Croatia. 5D Mark III | 16-35mm 2.8L II

 

Had a blast, so check out the full image gallery from our trip here!