Back to the Primes…(Malta/Sicily)

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The winter blues. Hits me every year  – I think it gets worse as I get older, actually. I can deal with anything right up until New Years day, but after Jan 2nd my mood plummets and pretty much stays pretty dank until the first daffodils of March. Even Christmas sucked this year, so that cant’ve helped either.

I shoot less. I eat more. I smoke a LOT. Work is quiet. And there is, I swear, little worse than a London rush hour, AM or PM, when its both dark and rainy, everyday. Screw that.

On the 23rd February I received a junk email from Easy Jet Holidays. On the 26th, I was in Malta. And it was sunny.

You may recall my last trip in September – to Skiathos – when I packed super light and took one body (X-Pro 2), one zoom lens (the xf18-55) and a super wide (the Samyang 12) and came back highly enthused about the whole experience (up to that point, I had barely used a zoom). I had pretty much decided that this would be my travel set up from now on. Yeah well, I lied about that.

I’ll be honest and say it didn’t take me long after coming back from Skiathos to realise I was still a prime shooter. I love that 18-55 still, its terrific, but hey – if I’m travelling alone again, with all the time in the day at my disposal, with some incredible Mediterranean light and vistas? Im gonna switch back, take my time, focus on pitch perfect quality, and get the shot that way…. so with that in mind I took the X-Pro 2, the trusty xf23 f1.4, the 12mm Samyang (fast becoming my staple for street work now), and the xf35 1.4.

xpro 1 debut

The 35 was the first Fuji lens I ever bought when I got my X-Pro 1 back in 2012 (the pic above was taken the very day of purchase)  in fact, its the lens I recommend most when people buy into the system now as its so good it really lets the new user know just how good Fuji X-Series bodies can be. Its gorgeous – sharp at 1.4, punchy as HELL at 3.5, and with really natural looking bokeh. Its clunky compared to some of the later lenses – but it works. Its a shame I rarely use it now, such is my love for the 23 and 12 – so I figured I would take it with me to see if it re-ignite something. Wistfully, I look at the images I took when I first got this lens, and they hold up so well…the 35 deserves another chance.

(Wistfully) this one below was taken not long after I got it. Its so sharp, with such lovely rendering…shot at f2.

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So, obligatory ‘from the plane’ shot coming up:

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Its the Alps, if you were wondering….

(click on all images for all settings, if you’re into that sort of thing 🙂 should take you to my flickr)

Malta – Ive never been before, and I’m kicking myself for not going sooner. This island is gorgeous. Avg temps were about 68-72 degrees (though the locals were wrapped up like it was 35…the side effects of living in a hot country, I guess), and searing sunlight that hurt my eyes on the first day. Add to this the friendliness of the people (having been a part of the UK until 1964, the Maltese drive on our side of the road, have the British power points and generally ‘get’ us too) and you have all the ingredients to help me get my energy and creativity mojo back. Day one was dedicated to getting my bearings and exploring the town and beach of Mellieah, where my hotel was based.

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and my new ‘local’ for the next few days…

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(I was in shirt sleeves – the locals, as you can see, were not…)

These were all taken with the XF23 – and Hoya C-PL on the front. Day two, I kept it fairly local again. I made a great discovery in that just around the corner from my hotel was the original movie set from the film ‘Popeye’ starring Robin Williams. Watching it now, its not a very good movie, but as a kid I loved it. Over 35 years later, its still standing, and is now a popular theme park. Here’s a clip of the film…like I said, its not all that. 🙂 But it shows parts of the film set…

Heres what it looks like now. This was a three image stitch processed in Lightroom, again with the XF23.

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Day 3, I got friendly with a local cabbie…lovely chap, and I told him I was interested in seeing the ‘real’ Malta – away from the touristy parts, I wanted to see the tucked away villages to see how people really lived. To be honest, I wanted to see if I could make my London street style  work somewhere where the pace of life was slower and less packed. We agreed on a price, and set off. I wish I could remember the village names, but it was a really interesting five hours exploring the real Malta. Again, the 23mm was bolted to the X-Pro 2, and even though I wanted to try out the other two lenses (and I did later) the 35mm equiv focal length just worked for now.

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(the one above was taken on the 12mm Samyang)

caged finch

(as was this one) Strange, and rather cruel,  practice/custom of capturing live finches and keeping them as pets. The locals carry them around in cages and hang them up outside cafes while they go in and have a coffee (like we would do with a dog, I guess). Odd custom – yes, their song is pretty, but also rather sad. I cant see how being couped up in a 12 inch cage can be an especially happy life.

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We managed to get to the medieval walled city of Mdina, which was beautiful and had a gorgeous harbour where I was able to relax for a while.

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(another stitch in Lightroom and taken with the 12mm for extra width. I like how it came out.)

Day 4 was a big (and tiring) one. At 4am I was picked up from the hotel to get to the harbour for five and aboard a catamaran to the island of Sicily. I’m a huge fan of The Godfather films, and Sicily is a real ‘bucket list’ place to visit. I wanted to stay longer than a day, I wanted to visit Corleon too, but the island is huge and I only found time to ‘climb’ the most active volcano in the world (Mount Etna) and visit the Unesco world heritage town of Modica. To be honest, both were incredible. As was the Sicilian sunrise:

Sicilian Sunrise.

I was woefully underprepared for Mount Etna. Not only was it highly active at this point (it erupts every two weeks these days, and this was a real humdinger that made the British news the day before) but it was also BLOODY COLD and so windy we couldnt take the cable car but instead went up in a maxed out Jeep with crawlers. I was in shorts and Converse. It was Minus 9. But I did it.

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(though I have to admit, coming down was a little more bearable)

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Etna was amazing, incredible – to be so close to an erupting volcano, almost 3000 feet up with the clouds (and booming explosions) was something I’ll never forget. I hate to get slushy, but if you cant be moved after that you may as well give up. My head became as clear as the air, and I’ve not been the same since. Life defining. Do try and do it if you can. (But dress properly….)

A couple of hours later I was in the beautiful town of Modica. A protected UNESCO city and one where I hummed the Godfather theme the whole time I was there. Out of peak season, the town was quiet and eerie in places, but that just added to the magic of it. It also gave me some quality time with the wonderful Samyang 12mm F2, a lens that is fast becoming my lens of choice for street work. Its freakishly sharp, wonderfully forgiving and being manual focus there is no lag at all – it takes an image instantly. I set it to 1m (roughly) and as wide open as the conditions will allow, and just go for it. You need to get close, but honestly, its so quick that no one notices. And if they do, just don’t make eye contact and keep walking….

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Such a long and glorious day. Went to sleep happy that night, and kind of bummed that Day 5 was my last full day. I really didn’t want to go home.

Day 5 – Valletta.

Valletta, the capital of Malta, took up my last day. I was in two minds on wether to go or not. I was still exhausted after the excitement of the previous day, but I knew I would regret not visiting a city where EVERYBODY told me was buzzing and full of life. And, apparently, amazing ice cream.

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They were right about that.

I even managed to take ONE PIC with the 35mm. I really let myself down, I know, but at least it was a pretty good one:

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I think the xf35 is an amazing lens. But I just have to accept is just doesn’t suit my style of shooting anymore. Im not getting rid of it (its great for portraits), but I guess Im a wide shooter these days. Who knows, that may change in the future – I hope it does – but yeah…

So everything else was snapped on the Samy 12. Of course it was.

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(four image Lightroom stitch)

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As quickly as it came, it was all over. My trip to Malta, much needed, cheap as chips and as glorious as anywhere I’ve ever visited was coming to an end. I felt sad, that final evening, looking out from my hotel window and deciding, there and then, to come back in the Autumn and do everything I missed this time around.

one last look.

Do I really need to mention the camera and glass at this point? I mean, yes, I should, thats why many of you are here after all… but for fear of repeating myself (there are articles on this site going into some depth on the gear), can I just say that other than letting myself down with the xf35, everything worked great. Better than ever. In fact, the camera was secondary this time – the experiences came first. I really should have taken more shots, but I was so busy looking with my mouth wide open, I forgot I had it a lot of the time. But I guess thats the whole point.

What I should be telling you is – go to Malta. Climb Etna. Visit Sicily. Eat Ice Cream. Sleep a lot. Chill. Smoke fags. No one gets out of here alive anyway, so do stuff last minute. Get a great camera like the Fuji X-Series (any one of them will do, honestly) a couple of primes, and record it. If you want to.

Aaaand…we’re back in room. 🙂 I would love it if you stopped by my Instagram –

https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/

Im back in London now, obviously, but I’ve tried to mix it up a bit recently. But its back to faces again… As ever, thanks for reading. Any questions, I’ll be glad to answer below.

Cheers.

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2 comments

  1. Vic Chapman · March 11

    Another interesting article with useful advice.

    Like

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