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Rivers of Light – Review (no spoilers)

Rivers of Light is a new evening show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s currently most famous for having been delayed quite a bit since the intended opening date of April 22nd, 2016. It began public “invite-only” soft-opening shows on February 10th for anybody with a FastPass+ reservations or is an Annual Passholder or DVC Member who is able to collect a wristband. It lasts approximately 18 minutes, and is filled with projections, water cannons, water misters, boats, and floats.

I’ve seen it described by some as a longer version of the intermission scene of IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, where the globe floats to the center of World Showcase Lagoon. This is not an inaccurate description, but also not an entirely accurate one either. It joins nighttime rides on Kilimanjaro Safaris, Tree of Life projection shows, and the soon-to-be-opened Pandora: World of Avatar (which itself opens on May 27th, 2017) in expanding Animal Kingdom’s evening offerings. Like the Tree of Life projection shows, it does require you to bring some interpretation with you; it’s not always 100% clear what Disney is trying to get across. That last point, however, is one of the things I really like about Rivers of Light. Different people will see different things in it, and that’s fantastic.

There are no fireworks in Rivers of Light, which is necessitated by all of the animals in such close proximity to the performance area. But do not let the fact that this isn’t a Disney Nighttime Spectacular (TM) steer you away from Rivers of Light, it is still well worth viewing. The folks over at Walt Disney Creative Entertainment, and I imagine also Walt Disney Imagineering, have perfected projection technology on water. Moreover, they’ve been able to project on multiple mediums of water; there are heavy-mist “screens” in the back of the performance area, smaller spheres of mist that move around during the show, and finally greater areas of fog that are used to show moving images.

Floating lotuses and gigantic, illuminated animal floats join two boats, a “warm” red boat, and a “cold” blue one dance a beautifully choreographed dance around the Discovery River, supplemented by beautiful music and four live performers, two on each boats. One of each of those performers is designated the Teacher, and they help tell the story of Rivers of Light along with spirits of tigers, owls, elephants, and turtles, supplemented by projections and dancing jets of water that seem as if someone said “Have you seen the show in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas? We’d like to do that, but we want the foundations for the show to float on top of a lake and move autonomously.” It’s a remarkable thing, to be sure.

I quite enjoyed the show and the message behind it. It is a show that, photographically, rewards wide shots and tight shots, but not too much in between. Discovery River is gigantic, and the floats and boats use every inch of water that they can. As a result, things are very wide left-to-right, but not so much top-to-bottom. Be prepared to crop your shots if there’s a boring sky. Telephoto lenses will not suffer from this so much, but they’ll miss the scale and breadth of everything together. That isn’t a bad thing, however, as the floats and performers are so incredibly detailed that to not capture them close-up would be a crime.

Overall, I really enjoyed Rivers of Light. I did not take a lot of pictures during this soft open show as I truly wanted to experience the show fully, and I find I cannot do that with my eye up to a viewfinder. In doing so, I learned that this is a show I will keep coming back to, even without my camera, because there is so much going on that one truly cannot see it all during a single viewing. Thankfully, with a rumored three shows an evening during summer operating hours, 15,000 people a night will be enjoying Rivers of Light. It appears roughly half of those seats are reserved for FastPass+, so there are lots of opportunities to watch. I hope you take advantage of them, because it’s a show unlike any other on property. The soundtrack is amazing without being an earworm that sticks with you for months (I’m looking at you, Boo To You) and the technology and details are incredible.

Editor’s Note: Thanks Ben for going to the preview and giving us a taste of what the show looks like.  Extra special thanks for no spoilers. I can’t wait until the next time I can go to WDW to see the new show.  

Irix 15mm Ultrawide Lens Review

[DISCLAIMER ALERT: We contacted Irix requesting a demo lens for reviewing purposes, however due to high demand for the lens we were unable to secure one before the Peace on Earth and Global Countdown fireworks tags would have concluded.  Since these shows were to form a comparison point in this review, Ben purchased a copy of the lens out of his own pocket.]

I, like so many others, enjoy following PetaPixel on Facebook. A few months ago, I saw a posting about a lens that caught my eye. I hadn’t heard of the company before: a small Swiss company called Irix.

The Irix 15mm f/2.4 is an ultra-wide, manual focus prime lens. It comes in two styles, the Firefly and the Blackstone. It has a 110-degree field of view, 15 glass elements in 11 groups, all of various acronyms that describe the glass, 9 rounded aperture blades, the blades of which are controlled by the camera, and a minimum focal distance of just short of a foot. The more-expensive Blackstone is made of a magnesium-aluminum alloy and comes with engraved exterior markings painted in UV reactive paint, while the Firefly comes with a high-strength plastic exterior with printed markings. They both are weather sealed at three different points, the camera mount, the focus ring, and the focus lock ring (more on that later), while the Blackstone adds weather sealing at the front lens element, too. This review focuses specifically on the Blackstone, which retails for 695 euros on their website or $649 on Amazon, while the Firefly costs 475 euros on Irix’s website or $449 on Amazon. Both lenses accept 95mm filters on the front and drop-in gelatin filters in the back.

That last line is the real reason I took such an eye to the lens. I love my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, but because of the construction of the lens and glass, there is no way to mount filters without a $250 kit, plus the cost of the filters themselves. I tend to use my Nikon 14-24mm only at the 14mm end, anyway, so one millimeter narrower with six degrees less field of view was, for me, a decent trade-off for easy mounting of filters. That’s it for the background – time for the review.

Please don’t confuse this review with that of a seasoned professional. It does not contain any charts that show the distortion of the lens, or how harsh the vignetting is, or things along those lines. Photography is a hobby, as is writing, and my review reflects that. It will contain sample images, some you may have already seen, and my opinions of it from use at Disney. That being said, this lens has me seriously considering selling my Nikon 14-24mm. Considering how often I spend with it set to 14mm, I’m not reaping the benefit of the full range of focal lengths. I spend a lot of time shooting landscapes, where having instant auto-focus is not super important. For the situations I have used it in thus far, some daytime handheld, some nighttime off of a tripod, and some fireworks pictures taken with an ND filter, the Iris has met or surpassed my expectations in all regards.

First, the unboxing process. I didn’t expect to include this as part of a review when I first bought the lens, but I have to say, this is a treat! My previous Nikon lenses come into a big, gold cardboard box. This is an exciting box because it means a new toy, but once you pull back the flap on the top, your shiny new lens is in a cardboard box, suspended in foam and cellophane. When I removed the cardboard outer box when taking out my Irix lens, I was greeted with an inner metal box. I was greatly impressed with this box, especially the fact that it was also embossed on top. Inside this metal box was the lens’ hard case, a feature unique to the Blackstone version. The Firefly includes a soft case. There was also another surprise inside the box, under the lens: a second rear lens cap! In a world where every bit and bobble is an added extra, including a second rear lens cap was a treat. Unboxing this lens was a treat, and the process truly was made to feel special with the attention to detail Irix paid.

As a prime lens, it retains the wonderful sharpness that comes with not worrying about retaining sharpness across a range of focal lengths. As you will see in the below image, the Eiffel Tower remains clear when taking a picture from the bridge closest to the United Kingdom. You can also see the low amount (in my opinion, your mileage may vary) of distortion in the shot. And as far as the aforementioned vignetting is concerned, I don’t notice any in that shot.

Having to manually focus a lens does take some getting used to, coming from all autofocus lenses. The more I use it, however, the more I’ll get used to it. Thankfully, the camera body does report whether or not the shot is in focus using a series of arrows and a dot in the lower left corner of my eyepiece. Along the lines of the focusing system, however, Irix did not skimp on the manual bells and whistles. For the street photographer crowd, they included their Focus Lock Ring, which when turned, works as advertised. Spin this wonderful little ring at the front of the lens and it locks the focusing ring into place, allowing you to run and gun without worrying that you have accidentally brushed the focusing ring and will have to refocus at your next location. Additionally, there’s a great little feature when you’re focusing and hit infinity. As you are rolling through focus, there’s a tiny little click when you reach infinity. It isn’t big nor does it intrude if you need to head past infinity in either direction, but it’s fantastic in darkness where you can’t see the markings on the lens, or when you’re looking down the viewfinder.

For night photography, I am very happy with this lens. I haven’t noticed any flaring issues, night or day, but this is especially important for me at night, as Disney likes to put bright lights in the oddest places. The lens is wide enough to make a good sky with clouds seem epic, and also to capture almost all of the highest bursts in the IllumiNations: Peace on Earth tag while still getting a good amount of crowd at the bottom of the frame.

You can find a Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens direct from Nikon on Amazon for just under $1,900. The Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone retails for around $1,200 less than that. It does not come with autofocus, and it does not zoom in to 24mm. But as an ultra-wide prime lens, this is a cracking piece of kit to add to your bag. It weighs less than two pounds, doesn’t take up much room, and does a great job taking landscape photos. I find it to be sharp lens, and I feel confident taking it out in the rain due to its weather sealing. As I mentioned before, the unboxing was an experience that I did not expect to enjoy as much as I did. All of that leads me to say that this is a fantastic value for the money, even more-so if you don’t need the full weather-sealing and purchase the Firefly version of the lens, which saves you an additional $200.

[Editor’s Note:  Another great post from Ben.  From the review and the images he’s posting from the lens, the Irix seems like a great lens at a great value.  For those of you who shoot Canon (like me) Irix has a version of the lens with a Canon mount for the same price as the Nikon one Ben has.]

Advent Calendar – Day 24

 

The Main Street Train station has to be right up there with Cinderella Castle in terms of most photographed spots in Walt Disney World.  There is always a crowd standing in front getting their picture taken there, so Cory had to work HARD and stay late to make sure that there was nobody else in the park and in the shot.  Great work Cory.

There’s only one day left until Christmas.  Do you have all of your presents taken care of?

Don’t forget the 2017 Photo A Day is up on the App Store.  If you already have the app, please leave a rating in iTunes.

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Advent Calendar – Day 14

Another ghostly image of holidays gone past from Cory today.  This shot of Main Street at night with the garland / wreaths draping across Main Street.  Those had to come down with the larger floats of the Festival of Fantasy parade, but we can always remember the way things used to be.

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