Talasnal - Mountains of Love
Talasnal is one of the existing schist villages of the Lousã mountain range, in Portugal. Located on a hill, the narrow, sloping streets form a labyrinth among the houses that are impeccably rebuilt. There are only a few that haven't yet been recovered, but the vast majority was rebuilt respecting the original trait, but with the amenities required by modern times.
As soon as I arrived to the village I noticed that the original inhabitants have long departed and all these houses are either hostels / guest houses, restaurants / bars or even stores of traditional products. And in spite of the cold, there are several visitors who are slowly arriving to spend a quiet afternoon, to breathe the fresh air of the mountain and visit the village.
The use of schist creates an austere but beautiful homogeneity. The stone of the walls, the wood of the doors and windows and the red clay of the tiles are the only building materials visible from the outside. These earth coloured warm tones invite you to pick up the camera and photograph.
With me, I brought two pieces of equipment with apparently similar characteristics, but they are actually quite different. Both are mirrorless cameras and equipped with a fixed focal length lens equivalent to 50mm.
Fujifilm X-E3 + XF 35mm f/1.4
I have been using the Fujifilm X system for a few years now. First with the X-Pro1 and, more recently, the X-E3. These beautiful cameras combine a retro design with the modern functions of a digital camera. The shutter time is set via the speed selector and the aperture of the diaphragm by the aperture ring on the lens, just like in the old analog cameras. Of course, all this can be fully automated or used the semi-automatic modes, as aperture or shutter priority.
I could compare this set to one of those cars that we buy more by emotion than by reason. My previous (and still existing) X-Pro1 had its share of problems, and this X-E3 is not perfect as well. For example, the controls on the X-E3 don't all offer the same level of resistance to touch. While the front and rear selector wheels easily rotate at the slightest touch, even inadvertently, the on/off switch on this camera requires such a use of force like I had never seen in any previous camera.
As for the small XF 35mm f/1.4, with a focal length equivalent to 50mm (more precisely 52.5mm due to the 1.5x multiplication factor of the APS-C sensor), it was one of the first lenses to be launched for the Fuji X system, along with 18mm f/2.0 and 60mm f/2.4 in 2012. And it has always been known for slow and noisy focusing.
However, this very compact set is a real pleasure to use! Small and light, the simple looks hide the full potential that it has. The XF35 is one of the best lenses I've ever used, with an extraordinary sharpness. And in terms of image quality, the sensors used by Fuji live up to its fame. For those of you who want to use Jpeg directly from the camera without editing the Raw files, you just have to choose one of several film simulations and you will get impressive results, ready to print or publish on social networks.
Despite the less flattering considerations about the build quality of the X-E3, I should point out that the X-Pro1 is quite different. The apparent build quality, the way the camera feels in the hands, is undoubtedly far superior on the X-Pro1.
Olympus OMD E-M5 Mark II + m.Zuiko 25mm f/1.2
Despite the similarities: mirrorless camera with a retro look and a lens equivalent to 50mm, this little Olympus has nothing in common with the Fuji.
I started using Olympus more recently and despite having a completely different buttons layout and menu system from everything I used in the past, it took me just one day and a few visits to the instruction manual to make everything work as intended. Contrary to the Fuji X-E3, this Olympus is a camera that is bought by reason. This is a beautiful piece of engineering, that almost seems to be made of a block of metal that transmits a solid feeling to the touch. Everything is firmly assembled, with buttons and dials that respond promptly, in a perfect balance between smoothness of use and sufficient firmness so that nothing is done without intention.
If the previous lens - the Fuji XF35mm, is one of the best lenses I have used, this Olympus m.Zuiko 25mm Pro is undoubtedly the best. With a fully metal construction, the generous front element with a filter diameter of 62mm is needed to achieve the extraordinary aperture of f/1.2.
Recognized for their resistance to atmospheric elements (rain, dust, cold), Olympus cameras gained reputation as being robust. And this E-M5 II set with the 25mm f/1.2 Pro is no different from the rest, transmitting a feeling of extraordinary robustness in the hands.
Moving on with compliments to the Olympus, does it have any weaknesses? We can say that yes, it has. It's not exactly a disadvantage, but a feature. In all its mirrorless cameras, Olympus uses the Micro-Four-Thirds (M4/3) sensor technology which, with a 2x multiplication factor, are smaller than APS-C. As a result they offer a lower resolution than APS-C and Full-frame, lower dynamic range and worse performance at high ISOs. If on paper the differences of the M4/3 sensor for the others are significant, in practice and in actual real-world use, they are hardly noticeable.
Returning to Talasnal, wandering through its narrow and steep streets, it's time to take some photos.
It brought the two cameras equipped with a 50mm equivalent focal length lens (35mm*1.5 on Fuji and 25mm*2 on Olympus) for comparison purposes. The Fuji I already know it very well and will serve as a reference to measure the behavior of the latest, the Olympus.
With this focal length I have to think about the approach that will be possible to do. I had as initial plan to photograph the inhabitants of the village in their daily activities, so a fast 50mm lens would be perfect for making some portraits. It turns out that there are no longer any inhabitants in the village, at least the original ones. We will only be able to meet the visitors and the people who run their tourism related business. I must redo the plan. A wide-angle would be perfect for photographing the amazing architecture of the village. But being limited to 50mm, I can only capture a few tighter frames, so I decided to wait for the beginning of the night in order to photograph the streets with its lights on.
If your goal is to find a remote location, with the original inhabitants and make a series of portraits of its people and customs, this village is not Talasnal. In fact, neither Talasnal nor any of the others that make up the network of Schist Villages. But if you wish to take a retreat, breathe the fresh air of the mountains and be comfortably hosted in a house full of tradition and charm, be sure to visit Talasnal. It's perfect for a 2 or 3 day getaway, strolling through the various trails and tasting the local delicacies.
Fuji or Olympus?
Hard choice! I haven't yet decided to use just one system. While on the one hand the Olympus is an example of precision and attention to detail, technology-packed and weather-resistant, the Fuji is a please to use with its "analog" commands and produces extremely flexible and workable files, allowing you to recover enough information in both the shadows and the highlights.
With the Olympus it's necessary to expose a bit more carefully, looking not to clip the shadows or the highlights. However, the Raw files from Olympus are also quite workable. Not as much as the ones from Fuji, and much less than Sony's files. But yes, it is possible to recover a lot of information from the photos coming out of this E-M5 II, especially the highlights.
I must then continue to use the two systems in different situations until, unconsciously, one of them starts to get out more often than the other. That camera system, whether one or the other, will be the one.