Camera? What Camera?
Here I am once again, holding a new camera in my hands and felling a little silly. Did I really need to buy this thing? Last year at approximately the same time I had decided that my trusty Nikon CP 5700 was too bulky to be carried around everywhere. I wanted something smaller, something I could clip to my belt and not notice anymore. Back then I bought a Canon PS 95 and all the time I have been very happy with it.
So why am I sitting here with a new camera again?
It happened right after I had bought the little Canon. Everyone of my acquaintance suddenly decided it was time for an SLR camera. My sister bought a Pentax, a colleague of mine exchanged his digicam with a Canon EOS20. And I was the only one to claim that megapixels didn’t matter anyway – hold the camera in your hand and try to do a 280mm zoom shot. Everything will be blurred. So let them lug their lead bricks around with them! And a tripod for those zoom shots...
A couple of weeks later the first pictures started rolling in. My sister spent a winter vacation on Corsica and came back with beautiful nature shots and some exciting sunsets. My colleague bought a macro objective and started crawling around in his garden. He came back with incredibly crisp insect shots. You could see the single facets of the bee eyes...
My resolve started to vanish when another colleague started discussing SLR cameras with me. He had weighed the matter for several months but somehow wasn’t able to decide. I explained all my reasons for not buying an SLR-camera but we ended up comparing prices and objectives. I found out that there are anti-shake mechanisms for lenses and camera bodies.
In an unobserved moment I ordered a Konica Minolta Dynax 7D with two zoom lenses!
Where to Go?
Götzenfels and Rotenfels as seen from the south-west.
So I’m sitting here with that new camera – I’m as excited as can be. Manuals are strewn around me and the batteries are loading. I even have got me a bag for the camera already. So where do I go to get some test shots? Naturally I would prefer to go to some mountain range to shoot there - but the nearest mountain is 500km away and I wouldn’t get there before sunset anyway. It is mid December so the days are short at our latitude of 50°. It needs to be a short drive…
The only mountain-like feature we have around here is Rotenfels, a large cliff carved out of a bend of the Nahe River. Rotenfels is some 30min away by car so I quite naturally decide on going there. The only other alternative, the Rhein River Valley north of Bingen is so narrow that the low December sun won’t be able to get right down into it. Rotenfels on the other hand is open to the south.
Rotenfels would be just like any other of the hills in the surrounding hill country, some 400m high, forested with oaks and pines. If it weren’t for the Nahe River which flows to its south, that is. The river – before breaking through a narrow gap – meanders through a broad valley. The last of the loops takes it to Rotenfels and there for ages it has been eating away the slopes laying bare the quartz-porphyry inner structures. A few landslides and aeons later what remains is a curved structure of vertical cliffs. Actually – if you exclude the Alps – this is the highest cliff in Germany, reaching up to 250m.
Having been there before I decide that this is the best location for a camera test – long and short distances, high walls, pinnacles and spires and maybe even some climbing action shot from afar. I might even compare with the shots from the other cameras. Guess where they had been tested…
There is a parking lot right on top of Rotenfels but when I reach it I barely find a slot for my car. I have never seen it so crowded. There are climbers laying out their ropes but most of the visitors seem to be tourists. I learn later that the local section of the German Alpine Club hold a presentation in their building right above the cliffs.
I head out the remaining 500m to the cliff and encounter a kestrel hunting right beside the trail. It explains to me why there are so many climbers out here today. It is probably the last fine weekend day of the year and after New Year the cliffs will be closed to climbing due to the peregrine falcon nesting season.
My first shots are a bit disappointing. It has nothing to do with the camera – I’m looking south-west directly into the low December sun. Also with all the crowds some of my favourite lookout spots are off limit. Leaving the trails always causes a lot of fuss up here though it’s not forbidden. I head around Kanoenrohr Gully, a steep ravine dividing the central wall and the Bastei face and end up on the Bastei lookout. Some shots here – an improvised three shot vertical panorama – still I’m not convinced of the lighting conditions. Still I get more comfortable with my new machine…
One of my favourite spots is the top of Götzenfels, Rotenfels’ little south-western brother. Again you have to circumvent a deep gorge and traverse a forest of young oaks. Quite suddenly you come out right on top of Götzenfels – a lookout spot which used to be quite hazardous. In recent years railings have been set up here so that the spot is “tamed”. I’m not sure if it is for better or worse.
Now I finally have the sun to my side and get a couple of good shots of the Bastei and Sputnik faces. Unfortunately the rock composition makes the features almost indistinguishable from the rocks in the background. The rock is structured in bands and ledges which blend in with any actual features of the faces. A polarizer helps a bit but still it is not the correct lighting position (see pano on top). The polarizer shots turn out too dark.
Now I slide down the worn out path towards the shoulder beneath Götzenfels. When I had seen the cliff for the first time ages ago the first thing I noticed was an orchard right on top. I pass it to its right heading down to the vineyards below. You need to get used to this passage. It is wet and the worn out trail is slippery. I have seen people slip and fall over each other in this section…
The Nahe River Meadows
After crossing the train line between two tunnels I head for the wooden Nahe River Bridge to cross over to the other side. At its centre I stop to take a shot of the river heading directly towards Götzenfels. It is quite a nice composition though the trees and meadows are too barren at this time of the year.
On the southern bank of the river I immediately leave the trail and head for the meadows directly close to the river. I get real close beneath the towering faces though river, train line and road are still in between. Now the time has come for some real testing. Zoom in – zoom out – pick up some feature – head back for the overall view. I lose a lot of time in the place twiddling the controls of my camera. The sun starts to set which enhances depth on the faces. Long shadows appear and pronounce the features. Moreover the cliffs live up to their name and turn bright orange and red.
When I reach the centre of the Nahe River Loop I see a climbing party on the central wall. Another is about to top out on Wiesbadener Wand, a high (popular climbing) structure to the east of Rotenfels. I play with zoom, anti-shake system and sensitivity, trying to get as close to the climbers as possible. Everything turns out quite fine though afterwards I see that the shots have gotten too dark again. Maybe the polarizer is to blame? Also geometry gets the better of me: my wide angle shots appear to be vignetted by the polarizer, something to keep in mind in later shots.
I return across the Ebernburg Bridge towards the northern bank of the river, again taking a shot from bridge-centre, this time towards Bastei and the central wall.
Trying to Return in Time for the Sunset
Though I’m only halfway done with my hike the sun gets real low now. I hurry through Bad Münster am Stein which already is lying in deep shadow. One shot of Rheingrafenstein and then I head up the slopes east of Rotenfels. I always stay close the shadow line and though this is one of my favourite parts of the hike I hasten on. No time for enjoying the seemingly mediterranean pine forest - I figure that if I’m lucky I may see the sun setting just across the Rotenfels Cliff…
When I reach the plateau the sun is still above the horizon, but barely. I position myself a little east of the Kanonenrohr Gully and wait for things to evolve. To my left a waxing moon rises above Rheingrafenstein (another object for a camera test), in front of me the sun settles behind the hills on the opposite side of the river. After some ten shots I finally give up and head for my car. Hastening up the slope I have started to sweat heavily. Now up on the plateau I’m standing in a freezing wind – after all it is December. Better get back to a shelter.
In the end…
… in the evening after I have analysed all pictures I’m quite happy with my new camera. It is very fast, enabling snapshots that were almost impossible with the other two. As for the use of the objectives and the polarizer I still have a lot to learn.
You have to keep in mind that the weather was different on both days and that the sun was much lower when I shot this year. Moreover on both occasions I didn't know my new camera yet. And I was much closer to the wall this year...
|Canon PowerShot 95A (Nov 20th 2004)|
|Konica Minolta Dynax 7D (Dec 11th 2005)|