A Fresh Start

As I said in my previous post, it had been a long time since I’d made a post here. I decided I wanted to get back to regular blogging again, however also knew that I wanted to focus my efforts upon my photography.

With this in mind it seemed like a good time to start afresh with a new blog aimed specifically at photography rather than to continue here with a bit of this and a bit of that. I might well post non photography related posts here in the future but for now I’m concentrating my writing efforts over at the new blog which can be found at christweedphoto.uk .

I’d be happy to see you over there!

In With The Old

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Helios 44M 58mm f2 attached to my Fuji X-Pro1.

Yes, I’ve let my blogging stagnate for a while. I was shocked to discover that the last time I posted anything was in May of last year. I may not have been blogging but I’ve certainly been busy.

Something I’ve enjoyed in the past is shooting with “vintage” lenses attached to my “modern” camera bodies. Why? All kinds of reasons, the main one being it’s a lot of fun! But there’s also the different look that each lens creates, different renderings of colour, distortion, weird “bokeh” (the out of focus portion of an image). Plus it’s possible to pick up some really very capable old lenses for not very much money at all.

I recently took the plunge and bought a Soviet made Helios 44-M 58mm f2 lens, manufactured in 1978 and snapped up from eBay for around £30 (and that was one of the more expensive ones on offer).

Why was I interested in the Helios? Well, I’ll come clean : it was mainly about the bokeh. These lenses have a reputation for producing a “swirly” effect in the bokeh which certainly can add something of a different look to your photos.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve done this kind of thing before with the Super Takumar lenses which my aunt passed on to me. I loved shooting with them but I did find it rather a hit or miss affair to focus accurately using my DSLR. These lenses were made when it was common to have a split image view finder and hitting focus without that sort of aid is trickier than you might think.

And then I remembered that my Fuji X-Pro1 has “focus peaking” (added in firmware version 3.00 released in July 2013). This feature highlights the area of sharp focus when manually focussing and makes the process much easier.

So I ordered an M42 lens to Fuji X mount adapter for a few quid and this afternoon I got the chance to head out and shoot with the Helios 44M mounted on my X-Pro1 for the first time.

I was very impressed with both the focus peaking feature of the camera and with the performance of the Helios lens. I found that I could quickly and easily place my focus anywhere within my field of view. I’ve become so used to finding an autofocus point somewhere near to where I want my focus to be and then using the “focus and recompose” method – it felt liberating to focus manually, not having to think about autofocus spots at all.

Fair enough I didn’t land any particularly amazing shots today but that would only have been a nice bonus. I was getting used to the lens and getting used to the focus peaking feature. I didn’t really capture much of that “swirly bokeh” but then you need to be shooting a subject at a certain distance and with a certain background which is also a certain distance behind the subject in order to get the most out of that. Plus I was shooting on the X-Pro1 which has a smaller sensor than my EOS 6D so the bokeh effect would be less pronounced anyway.

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Not going to win any awards for wildlife photography, but not bad from a lens which never expected to be connected to a Fuji X body.

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Dead tree stump in Bradgate Park, Leicestershire.

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Stone head to be found by a window at Newtown Linford church, Leicestershire. I was particularly impressed at how accurately I managed to focus this shot when I got home and “saw it big”. I was quite close to the carving and shooting wide open at f2 (as I was for all the photos shown in this post). Focus peaking nailed it on the eye.

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A lost glove awaiting a reunion with its rightful owner.

But you know what? Swirly bokeh or not I really enjoyed shooting with that lens this afternoon. It didn’t come off the camera once (although I did also nab a few shots with my X100T whilst I was enjoying the February sunshine). I can’t really believe that a lens that I paid so little for could produce such excellent results when shot wide open and even before I’ve really got to know the lens well.

I’m really looking forward to the next chance I get to go out and shoot with this combination.

B&W Straight Out Of The Camera

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I’ve been on an occasional quest since I got my original X100 a few years back to obtain black and white photos I’m happy with, straight out of the camera with no or minimal processing.

I say “occasional” because I tend to shoot raw most of the time, shooting raw and jpg makes my Lightroom catalogue feel somehow cluttered. So I shoot raw and convert to black and white in Lightroom – which seems a shame because Fuji’s X Series cameras have a wonderful jpg engine built right in.

I took a family trip out to Lyddington Bede House today. It’s a place I visit quite frequently as we’re English Heritage members and live fairly nearby.

I knew I’d be taking my X100T with me and I knew there might be some chances to shoot with contrasty light coming in through those medieval windows so I set my camera up with the old quest in mind : raw and jpg, black and white with a red filter, sharpness +1, highlight tone +2, shadow tone +2, noise reduction 0.

I’m pretty happy with the results and will save these settings as a preset. All of these have been loaded into Lightroom and exported from there. However the only processing done has been a slight crop to straighten some of them and they were output from Lightroom at a more web friendly size. (More than a slight crop for the square format shot of my daughter at the top of the page).

Other features of the X100T I particularly appreciated today were the ability to meter from the point of focus when using autofocus and also the speed and ease of manual focussing. The focus peaking and zoomed in view make manual focussing with this camera a joy.

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Low Light Performance of X100T

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Bellatones performing at The Musician, Leicester. Saturday 3rd January 2015. X100T 1/100 f2.8 ISO 3200.

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I enjoy taking photos at small local music venues. In the past I’ve shot them with my various Canon EOS bodies, 20D, 40D, 7D and latterly the 6D. The lenses I use most for this are the 70-200mm f4L and the 100mm f2.8 macro. The 70-200 has pretty nice reach and I appreciate the wider aperture of the 100mm macro. Sure, I’d like something longer and brighter but as we all know long, bright lenses are the ones which cost the big money.

I did invest in a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 about a year ago following my falling in love with the X100. It’s a great camera, and I have three wonderful lenses to use with it, the 18mm, 35mm and 55-200mm. I took the X-Pro to Rome with me last year and it performed superbly whilst giving my back and shoulders an enjoyable holiday at the same time.

However I couldn’t seem to get the X-Pro 1 to perform the way I would like at these local gigs. Low light and musicians bouncing around the stage didn’t seem to be a combination the auto focus system was particularly at home with. This seemed a shame as that body puts out nice clean files at high ISO and the image stabilisation and reach of the 55-200mm lens might prove handy.

So I returned to using my 6D for shooting these gigs. Good low light focussing on a moving target and low noise levels combined with the fact that I drive to these venues and don’t have to worry as much about the weight of the equipment made using the Canon system my de-facto choice for those occasions.

And then I was at a gig at The Musician in Leicester on Saturday night. I decided to take my X100T along just to see how it handled the low light. I knew that most of my shots would be taken with the 6D and 70-200mm, but I was sat very close to the stage so that 35mm equivalent point of view would be just about right for a stage wide view.

I set to work with my 6D and occasionally brought out the X100T for those wider shots. I was immediately impressed with the autofocus performance under those challenging lighting conditions. It locked on quickly without any noticeable hunting around and proved to be very accurate. Meanwhile my 6D with that L glass was doing pretty well but it was occasionally hunting for focus and I missed a few shots due to this.

I mostly shoot in raw and process using Adobe Lightroom. I know that Lightroom has picked up a reputation for not being the best solution for processing images produced by an X-Trans sensor but I’ve been happy enough with it and as I shoot with lots of cameras I don’t really want to fragment my post processing to two different packages depending upon what camera I’ve been using.

All of the shots I’ve put up here were from the X100T and processed using Lightroom from raw files. I’m thinking that I might load some of them back onto the camera to see what I can produce in the way of jpgs using the camera’s own raw converter. I know that the Fuji cameras do turn out excellent jpgs, I just always feel “safer” shooting raw somehow. I’ve yet to process any of the shots taken with the 6D.

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James Cull performing at The Musician, Leicester. Saturday 3rd January 2015. X100T 1/110 f2.8 ISO 5000 (they’d turned the lights down a bit at this point in the night).

Having seen the results and having experienced the performance of the camera throughout the night I was left with two main thoughts :-

  1. I should have shot way more with the X100T that night.
  2. Having experienced the autofocus system of a more recent X System camera I’m now wondering how something like the X-T1 or X-E2 might cope with more challenging lighting conditions. If they’re as good as the X100T then maybe I could get the 55-200mm back into work at a gig.

Plus it might just have convinced me to give the X-Pro 1 another go, see if I can work around the issues I was experiencing. If there’s one thing I’m absolutely sure of it’s that Fuji have been turning out some quite wonderful lenses for the X System. I’d like to see what the effective 300mm reach of that 55-200 could do at a gig. But might I need to bolt it onto the front of an X-E2 or X-T1 to make the most of it?

Edit – After publishing I’ve just remembered one thing which I really should have mentioned here. The new feature in the X100T firmware (new to me having used the X100 for the last three years) of having the spot metering follow your selected point of focus is absolutely fantastic in these lighting situations. Pop the camera into spot AE mode, move your point of focus over a face and – click. Of course with the X100 series of cameras it’s a very, very soft click indeed – but you get what I mean. It’s fantastic in contrasty lighting situations and that is the lighting I love.

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Abandon Her performing at The Musician, Leicester. Saturday 3rd January 2015. X100T 1/60 f2.8 ISO 1600.

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Initial Thought performing at The Musician, Leicester. Saturday 3rd January 2015. X100T 1/105 f2.8 ISO 5000.

Toying With Time Lapse

Time lapse sequences were something I had long wanted to have a go at. I finally had a bit of a stab at it last summer, rigging my EOS 6D to an app on my phone via wireless. It worked pretty well considering the price difference between said app (DSLR Controller by Chainfire) and a Canon intervalometer (only allows up to 99 shots?). The app worked well and was easy to use but it was a bit of extra faff and it rankles that Canon are so obviously “on the make” when such a feature could easily be built into the firmware of the camera in the first place.

Fuji take the opposite approach with firmware. For example the changes they made to the firmware of the original X100 made such a positive difference to the camera that I didn’t feel the need to upgrade to the X100S when that was released (not that I was really in a position to upgrade anyway). And now with the X100T there is an integrated intervalometer feature in the firmware. I’d just been waiting for a chance to try it out and I headed out to Bradgate Park yesterday with this in mind (and a good supply of batteries and memory cards in pocket).

I’m a complete beginner at time lapse as I’m sure the examples below will make all too clear but now that I have a camera which is so easy to use for this purpose I should be getting quite a bit more practice. Both sequences were 360 photos, shot 2 seconds apart in raw to allow quick and easy adjustments in Lightroom (not that I did much adjusting). I also felt that shooting in raw could prevent some inconsistencies between the in camera processing of a jpg which would show up as flickering in the end result. I then imported the Lightroom exported jpg files into Adobe Premiere Elements 12 for rendering as a video file.

The first is Leicestershire landmark, Old John : a beer tankard shaped tower which sits atop the highest point in the park (and one of the highest points in Leicestershire). The second is the war memorial which is located just a couple of minutes walk away from Old John on the next hill to the south-west.

 

The Camera Always Lies

Isn’t that the whole point of photography?

Well, maybe not quite, but in composing and framing a photograph you are abstracting from “real life” in so many ways. You are capturing a fraction of a second in time for a start. Or maybe you’re taking a long exposure with things and people blurring as they move around. The framing of the photograph might exclude certain things which could radically change the perception of the captured scene. Point of focus, colour treatment, lighting – all are chosen to create a certain feeling and draw attention to or away from particular aspects of the image.

I’ve visited The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford many times. It’s a real treasure of a place, crammed full with all manner of fascinating and beautiful objects from all over the world. Following my first visit I remember I was flicking through the thumbnails of the photos I’d taken there and was somewhat bemused for a few seconds by one particular photo. It appeared to show a figure holding an erect penis in a rather provocative manner. I was baffled as I couldn’t remember seeing any particularly explicit figurines during my visit.

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Oh, that looks interesting!

On a subsequent visit I re-shot the figurine in question to more clearly illustrate the circumstances. Above is shown a crop from the full photo. During my original visit I’d taken a photo of just the head and shoulders of this figurine and this was the photo which had caused my consternation. It showed a slightly wider (rectangular rather than square) view very similar to what can be seen here.

However if you take a wider view of the same figurine all is made clear, with some relief – and not of the kind which the crop above might appear to be promising.

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Ah, of course! Now I see…

I’m still not quite sure what he’s holding in his right hand. Some kind of mace, a symbol of authority maybe? However it is clearly not a penis.

This particular example might only be a reflection of my filthy mind, but it serves to illustrate my point : the camera always lies and that is one thing which makes photography such a compelling art form.

 

 

 

Fuji X100T : Initial Thoughts

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Original X100 (left) and the X100T. Ideal travel companions.

My Fujifilm FinePix X100 has been my favourite camera ever.

That’s quite a statement when you consider the number of cameras I’ve owned and used over all my years as a photographer, film and digital. I’ve owned an X100 for about three years at the time of writing. I was drawn to the original release mostly by the manual controls, the hybrid viewfinder, the relatively large sensor size and the excellent, versatile 35mm equivalent f2 prime lens. All of this packaged in a compact and lightweight (if not quite pocketable) format.

The X100 proved itself to me over and over again. It was the perfect camera to obtain great image quality without having to lug around a heavy rucksack full of equipment. I think it really won its place in my affections during a family holiday to Rome in 2012. I decided to take only my X100 rather than all my DSLR kit and it performed superbly, making the holiday more enjoyable into the bargain as I only had a small, light camera with me.

Yes it had quirks. Yes it had foibles. Yes it had idiosyncrasies. But it was also enormous fun to shoot with.

When the X100S was released I’d had my X100 for about a year. It seemed too soon to be updating and to be honest I just couldn’t justify the outlay regardless of the improvements made to the camera.

And now the X100T has been released offering even more new features and the timing was right for me. I pre-ordered one and I’ve had the pleasure of using it for a couple of weeks or so now. And no, I couldn’t bring myself to sell my beloved X100 in order to fund the purchase of the new model.

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Statue of Richard III outside Leicester Cathedral.

It has been a fortnight of chomping at the bit to get out and about and shooting with the camera. This is not the easiest of things in late November and early December in England. The daylight hours are short, the weather has been pretty foul and the best of it has been occurring when I’ve been sat in the office. I finally had a long weekend this weekend, a chance to get out for some proper photo walks! But no, I came down with the dreaded “man ‘flu” and spent most of my time recovering.

However, I do feel that I’ve used the camera enough to know that I’ve fallen in love all over again.

There were several much vaunted new features of the X100T :-

  • An Electronic Range Finder (ERF), a new feature of the X100’s hybrid optical / electronic viewfinder which pops a small electronic frame into the corner of the optical finder to aid manual focussing.
  • Wifi. Enabling remote control of the camera and wireless image transfer to phones, tablets and computers.
  • The new “Classic Chrome” film emulation for straight out of the camera jpgs (and also available as a camera calibration within Adobe Lightroom if you shoot in raw).
  • An extra couple of stops of exposure compensation (now +/- 3EV rather than +/- 2EV).
  • Option to use an electronic shutter with a maximum speed of 1/32000.

However what I have enjoyed most so far is the overall feel of the camera in use. Everything just feels far more positive than my original X100, from the autofocus speed to the feel of the buttons, dials and switches. All the features of the original are still there, plus lots of extra new ones and it all just works beautifully.

Having controls which feel more positive makes the shooting experience more intuitive and organic. The camera feels more like an extension of myself rather than something to be battled against to get the shot I want. Everything is right where I want it to be. I have several function buttons which I can set along with the Q menu which was a feature of the X100S but not the original X100. Even the Q menu can be configured to show the items you want to have appear there.

Only once so far have I had any problems focussing and that was when I had accidentally left the camera in “macro mode”, so hardly surprising and rectified within a second of realising what I’d done (one function button press without having to take my eye away from the viewfinder).

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Walking through the fields towards Wistow church, Leicestershire.

One feature I’m particularly enjoying is one that I remember I voted for a couple of years back when Fujifilm were asking registered owners about potential new features for the X100 – the ability to have spot metering follow the selected focussing point. I’ve used that a lot over the last couple of weeks.

Another new feature I’m happy to see is the built in intervalometer. I started to experiment with time lapse earlier this year so I’m keen to make use of this. I had been using a phone app to perform this function on my EOS 6D, the built in intervalometer of the X100T will be a lot less trouble to use.

The only quibble I have with this camera so far is battery related, It’s not so much the actual battery life but the amount of warning you get that the battery is getting low. Just like the X100 and the X100S before it, the X100T employs a little battery graphic which essentially has only three bars. As a result you can find yourself very suddenly running low on power. It’s a little enough thing to gripe about, but I do wish that Fuji would do something about that battery level indicator. If I’m out with the camera for an extended period then I will always have a spare battery or two on me, but there is always the potential for a missed shot because you didn’t get enough warning that the battery was critically low. This is a feature of both the X100 and the S which I would have liked to see improved on the T.

Oh and the camera is still quite happy to let you pop the battery in the wrong way around. If you are suddenly “caught short” and scrabbling to pop a fresh battery in to get shooting again as quickly as possible it’s something you might fall victim to. You won’t do any damage but it can be a little frustrating to think you’re all good to go again, flick the power switch and then realise what you did. Fuji – the battery does have a curved corner. Is it really beyond the capabilities of excellent Japanese engineering to use that curve as a key to prevent the user from putting the battery in the wrong way?

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Porch of one of the gate lodges at Abbey Park, Leicester with a welcoming light at night.

I would have liked the addition of an analogue ISO dial, like the X-T1 has. Auto ISO works well and it is quick and easy to change ISO settings using either a function button or the Q menu. It just seems a shame to have analogue controls for aperture and shutter speed but not ISO. It’s true that I’m not sure quite how Fuji would have found the space for it on the top plate of the camera but I thought I’d mention it.

A couple of suggestions for future “Kaizen” there maybe?

One last thing to note is not directly about the camera. I finally got around to buying a Gordy’s wrist strap. I’d been intending to get one ever since I got my original X100 but somehow never got around to it. I found a UK reseller and it arrived the day after the camera landed in my hands. It feels such a natural way to carry a camera of this size and weight. The strap goes around my right wrist and I clutch the end of the camera so that my finger is poised right over the shutter release. It feels much more comfortable to me than a neck strap, I never liked having a camera bumping around against my torso and somehow it feels far less fuss to bring the camera up to my eye to shoot.

Fuji seem to have really hit the mark with the X100T. They’ve corrected just about all the niggles from the original X100 (yes, I’m thinking of that battery gauge when I say “just about”) and added practical features which enhance the shooting experience. This is an update which seems to be more about the ease and pleasure of use than about improving the final image quality (same lens, same sensor and same processor as the X100S). The X100 range has always been a camera for photographers to enjoy using and with this third release of the camera I hope to have a lot of photographic fun ahead.

( top photo taken with Fuji X-Pro1, all others taken with Fuji X100T)