#1322. Undestination: Iceland

By Mark Raugas | Travel Photography

Nov 11

This August I was able to visit Iceland on my way to Norway and was struck by the beauty of its austere landscape.  I live in the Pacific Northwest, where volcanic activity has developed large mountain ranges over time. In Iceland the volcanic activity is much more recent and the landscape is uniquely stark.  We spent time based out of Reykjavík and took several day trips before departing for Sweden and Norway.



Keeping this essay about an “undestination” I want to restrain myself from depicting standard attractions in the city, although those abound. I will focus on one compelling piece of modern architecture, viewed somewhat abstractly. The Harpan is a modern concert hall by the harbor and one evening its windows had various reflections that captured my attention from a LCD display in its lobby. I typically work in monochrome more than color but was drawn to the reflections as they changed.

Within a few hours drive of the capital city are many distinct landscapes.  There are several standard drives one can take; I appreciated how stark and open the landscape became as one headed south and east.  I struggled a bit with the number of tourists like us crowding the standard attractions and was happy to get out on day hikes that were less crowded.


My next time in Iceland, I hope to venture farther afield.   

In the picture above we can just see the edge of one of Iceland’s glaciers, north of Rainbow falls. Much of the terrain is rugged and requires off-road vehicles.

One of my favorite days was spent visiting the Westman Islands, a small chain of Islands off the southern coast of Iceland with recent volcanic activity, accessed by an electric ferry.  Small newly formed islands can be seen from their coast, including a UNESCO protected volcanic formation that some readers might remember from the 1970’s.  I especially enjoyed the opportunity to hike up a steep caldera from the inside.



These photos were taken with a Sony A1. On this trip I tried to pack light. I brought along the excellent Voigtländer 50mm f2 Lanthar APO in native E-mount and two Leica R-mount lenses: the 135/2.8 and the 180/3.4 APO. I also had the Leica R APO 2x teleconverter, which worked quite well with both.

I discovered a couple of technical limitations along the way…

My current copy of the 135 seemed maybe a little soft to me compared to a previous copy I had owned. Or maybe the 180 is indeed such a gem in comparison. I recommend the 180 highly and will need to look at the 135 more critically as I could have just been careless at times. Several years ago I had preferred the rendering of the Leica R 135/2.8 to a copy of the 135/2.0 Zeiss Zf.2 adapted to Sony I had rented. I noticed this trip in contrast I missed focus with the 135 quite a bit, or maybe that it was soft at infinity.

In shooting manually, I missed out on a lot of what the A1 platform offers in terms of autofocus, and I did not take advantage of high frame rate shooting, etc. But, the excellent viewfinder set to monochrome allowed me to compose in a mostly B&W workflow, which allowed me to seek out interesting textures and light.

I had a setting misconfigured in my Sony, and was shooting at 22mp instead of 50mp for my first few days in Iceland. Regardless, I really appreciated the dynamic range of the A1 and did not miss out in my opinion in stepping down from the 60mp offered by the A7R series. Having been with the A7R series since the beginning ( I remember upgrading the lens mount, and reading about brass plates and shutter shock but was so happy to adapt the 35/1.4 ZM Zeiss…), I greatly appreciated the responsiveness of the camera and the quality of the viewfinder in composing and focusing manually.

A difference between previous travels was the speed of cellular networks and having unlimited data while roaming allowed me to work on my photos periodically through the trip on my laptop instead of having to wait until my return. I appreciated this quite a bit as I found it relaxing to have a little quiet time to look through recent excursions versus being daunted by hundreds of images to process once I was back home.

More photos from this trip can be found at innercapture.com. Thank you Pascal for the chance to share some of these memories with the Dear Susan community.


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Thanks for sharing these pictures, Mark – gasping at the landscapes! – it’s obviously far more suitable for someone decades younger than I am now, so taking a “piggy back ride” across Iceland, using your camera instead of mine, is definitely more practical for me, these days!

    They tell me that, during winter, central heating in the houses in Iceland is a lot cheaper than in other countries – and incredibly long winter nights!

    • Mark Raugas says:

      Thank you! What is interesting about the landscape is how majestic it is even right off the motorways. So, lots of interesting things to take in even without hiking around.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    It’s nice to see Icelandic views of other than the over-photographed iconic sites. The more intimate landscapes allow the viewer to really explore the details – which I appreciate! I hope you get a chance to return – the end of September is much less crowded, which allows for better access to wonderful photo opps. Of course, the weather can be brutal (horizontal rain, fierce winds). I’m also from the NW, so I can handle whatever the weather throws at me wherever I go – I’m sure you feel the same way. Kudos, Mark! Thanks for sharing – hopefully we’ll get to see your images from Norway & Sweden.

  • PaulB says:


    I really like your B&W work. Iceland is a location I would think to capture in color, but your images capture the tones in the landscape and the clouds that there is more than enough to view without needing color.

    Don’t place a lot of fault on your 135mm lens just yet. I have done a lot of trials adapting lenses to mirrorless cameras, and the cause of your softness with this lens may be your adapter. It very well may be that the adapter is holding the lens too far away from the sensor when the lens reaches the infinity stop. I have this issue with two of my M lenses on my Leica SL2.

    The easiest way to check for this is to focus the lens at a close distance rather than at infinity. Pick one of the engraved distance numbers on the lens barrel, 5 ft for instance. Using a tripod and tape measure, position the camera (sensor symbol, or the lens mount) at the distance selected from an object and focus the lens on the object. Use zoom focus with live view to get the best focus you can. Now read the distance to the object on the lens. If the distance reading on the lens is less than the actual distance to the object, your adapter is holding the lens too far away from the sensor.

    Another factor that can play into this is temperature. The focus properties of Extra Dispersion (ED), Low Dispersion (LD), and Fluorite (FL) glass changes with temperature. If you had a cold day, and a long-ish adapter, the induced focus shift may have been too much for the focus adjustment to compensate for. While on a warm day the lens may focus as you expect.

    A work around for this situation is to focus the lens on an object near the maximum focusing distance for the lens and stop down to have depth of field cover your true subject. Since your R lenses were designed for film, a rule of thumb for maximum focusing distance is about 300x the focal length, or 135 ft for a 135mm lens.

    PS. I also live in the PNW.


    • Mark Raugas says:

      Thank you for the tips. I wonder if temperature might have had something to do with it. The lack of EXIF data makes it hard for me to know precisely which lens I was using at all times and I did have some very good captures I believe was with the 135, but those were at medium distances.

      I have a small Leica laser rangefinder tool and I have used it to calibrate optical rangefinders (my old Mamiya 6 especially, which has a simple screw adjustment) and will pull it out to check the 135 with the adapter and see how the focusing works at a fixed distance. I think the 135/2.8 might not be an APO lens like the 180 and the 50 I brought with me, at least it isn’t marked as such. It feels very nice on the camera and I do enjoy shooting with it.

      • PaulB says:


        Great minds think alike!

        I also have a laser rangefinder that I use for photography. I use it to verify distances to objects when I use the technique I mentioned above. It really helps when you are looking for something 100+ ft away.

        Though, I did not think of using it as a tool for range finder adjustment.

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    In defense of the imperfect.

    Sharpness is an overrated concept that is often treated as a religion, especially in photographic societies.

    Ask yourself , when was the last time you looked at a great photograph and said, “Wow that is one sharp image”.

    Then again ask yourself , when was the last time you looked at an image and said , “That image is so over sharpened it looks artificial and jars the senses”.

    Embrace wabi sabi and work with it.

  • John Wilson says:

    Mark – I’m a big fan of BW landscapes, landscapes with clouds and reflections. You tick all those boxes. I’ve never been to Iceland, and at my advanced age will probably never get there so its always gratifying to see well done images from there especially off the beaten path. Nicely done Sir and like Paul and Nancee, I’m also from the PNW, just on the north side of the border.

    Looking forward to seeing Norway and Sweden.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Thank you, Mark,
    for sharing these!

    You don’t only find landscapes – you *really* catch them, in atmosphere and in depth!
    I’ll certainly come back to these quite a few times.

    And when you come to Sweden, try to pass also through Bohuslän – the landscape along our west coast between Norway and Gothenburg. It’s a very mixed landscape with a coastline of steep and undulating rock polished by ice age glacial ice.
    Höga Kusten on the northern east coast is also special (but rather more well known).

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