A New Direction…

A7302847I’ve been a fan of Michael Kenna’s stark mono images for some time, and my recent trips to Gran Canaria yielded some images that suit this style of photography. To be fair, only a few of them were shot with mono in mind, and I’m pretty sure that composing and shooting for mono would yield better results, but it’s a start anyway! These are all digital images rather than film, and likewise, some were iPhone shots, so the image quality is limited.  Expect to see more images from me in this style, although it’s pretty clear I will never be able to match the quality of Michael’s work!

Not a Smooth operator…

Last weekend’s charity walk was a great opportunity to shoot some video on my iPhone, but editing it later, I couldn’t help but think it was a little shaky in places – my hands certainly aren’t as steady as they used to be.

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Zhiyun Smooth 4

I’d seen a number of reviews (mostly positive) about smartphone stabilisers or gimbals, so figured that £100 or so for one might be a good investment.  There were a huge number of rather superficial reviews for the DJI Osmo 2, but it did seem that Amazon customers in particular didn’t rate it too highly.  Further research brought up the Zhiyun Smooth 4 (same £129 price as the DJI Osmo 2) and that did get excellent reviews, other than for its apparent lack of compatibility with Android phones (not a problem for me of course). So one was duly ordered, and arrived yesterday. First impressions on opening the polystyrene carry case was ‘Wow! – this is big!” Although I’d seen photos of it, I kind of expected it would fold down to something that would fit in a modest man bag or sling type camera bag, but ‘noo!’ it doesn’t fold at all and is a good 40cm long.

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The Zhiyun ZY Play app

Undeterred, I downloaded the Zhiyun ZY Play app, which allows it to control focus and zoom on the iPhone as well as on/off and subject tracking.  Once paired, it maintained position very well indeed, and the zoom knob on the side of the handle controlled the phone beautifully. I was thinking that maybe I could overlook the jumbo proportions and just get a bag big enough to carry it around, when the first disconnect with the phone occurred; it took me several minutes to restart the app and then resync my phone with the device, and then it happened again, and again…  Seems that if the phone goes into sleep mode, it drops the connection, and then the app can’t reconnect.  On one occasion, not only did I have to close and restart the app, but had to restart my phone too. Fiddling around to get it started again (getting frustrated now…) I got a warning to say my phone was almost flat, even though I had only charged it a few hours before! So an hour or so of carrying the kit around, and literally just a few minutes of actual video shooting runs a phone down completely… Zhiyun helpfully provide a power out USB connection on the unit for charging phones from its own internal rechargeable battery, but a) I didn’t have the requisite lead, and b) the lightning charge port on the phone was blocked when the phone was put in the cradle.

61yEKlJ3E8L._SL1200_So a fail all round, and the stabiliser, while a nicely engineered item with some good features, will be going back. Regardless of the fact that it isn’t as portable as I’d hoped, something unreliable and that drains the battery in the phone is never going to work for me. I think I may try just a simple pistol grip and phone holder next – no active stabilisation or zoom control of course, but I’ve a feeling it will help keep the phone steady. Happy days…

The best ‘street’ combo yet?

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Fujifilm X-T10 and 35mm f2 lens

All photographers have their favourite cameras, and to be fair, their allegiance will often change over time.  Sometimes its a dissatisfaction or a bad experience with a particular model; sometimes its a case of ‘the grass is greener on the other side’.  But sometimes, a camera comes along which, for a particular use, is a real game changer. After years of shooting with Nikon cameras, I switched to Fuji – not because I was unhappy with the Nikons, far from it, but because my poor old back was no longer up to carrying a full size DSLR and its lenses. The Fuji X cameras work for me in pretty much every way, and are about half the size and weight.  Maybe if I was shooting sport, I would have stuck with the Nikons for their AF capability, but for my uses, Fuji cameras work perfectly.

Saturday Market, RevelEncouraged by attending a couple of excellent workshops and photo walks with Matt Hart of Fujiholics, I have been doing much more ‘street’ photography. For me this means candid photos, mostly of people going about their daily business, and generally in mono. The key here is that whatever camera I use has to be discreet – no good toting a full-on DSLR with zoom lens – you are not going to melt into the scenery with one of those!  It needs first and foremost to deliver exceptional image quality, but must have decent AF, be small, and certainly as quiet as possible so as not to draw attention to yourself.

Saturday Market, RevelShooting at street markets in France is a case in point – French people, in my experience, are not at all keen on candid photos.  Whether its a national sense of privacy, or because some of the traders at the markets are working ‘on the black’, I don’t know, but be prepared for some hostility if you are seen overtly photographing them!

So enter my current weapon of choice, and probably the best camera I have ever used for ‘street’, the mirrorless Fuji X-T10 paired with the new 35mm f2 lens.  Image quality from the camera is excellent – on a par with the larger Fuji X-T1, but in a surprisingly small package – quite the smallest SLR style camera I have used.  The focussing of the new 35mm lens is so much faster than the ‘old’ f1.4 lens, and its a fair bit smaller too as well as bitingly sharp.  The whole camera/lens package weighs just 550gms and is so discreet its not true.

Saturday Market, RevelI took this rig out this weekend to shoot the lively Saturday market in Revel in the Haute-Garonne in France. Using the LCD screen tilted at 90deg I could shoot pretty much at waist level, and with the electronic shutter activated, the camera was virtually silent.  Of the 50-60 photos I took, only this one guy realised I had taken a photo! AF was set to zone focussing, ISO was auto 3200 max, and the aperture either f5.6 or f8.  I would say that focus was spot on for 90% + of the shots I took, exceptional given that I was mostly shooting from the waist and there was little opportunity to refocus or recompose each shot. Generally I use the RAW images from the camera and convert them using Silver Efex Pro, but with so may to process this time around, these are from the in-camera mono JPG images.  A little bit of cropping in some cases, and the clarity and contrast pushed a little in Lightroom, but pretty much as the camera produced them. I’m very happy with these photos.

I have to say I am really enjoying this setup for street photos – all the required quality and performance is there, and its in such a neat unobtrusive package. The lens is newly introduced, so still around the £300 mark, but the X-T10 body can be had for about £450, and there is presently then a £50 cash back offer from Fuji which makes it extremely good value for money for a camera, which to my mind, beats anything else out there.

Here are my favourite photos from the day.

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A tip: if you plan to go to Revel for the market, do get there quite early – it was in full flow at 1030-1100am, and by noon was thinning out.

At last, a Fujifilm Trouser-Pocket Camera…

To quote an old saying – ‘the best camera is the one you have with you’. For most of us the camera we usually carry around is the one in our smartphone, and to be fair, they are pretty good these days. But for us self-styled photographers, the tiny sensor and limited functions in smartphones just don’t cut the mustard.  We want a sensor that will support at least a high quality A3 size print, a superb quality wide aperture lens, RAW file capability for editing, and of course high ISO sensitivity without image noise that looks like marbles. And a few other features would be nice too… No smartphone offers all this – the tiny sensor and limited space for processor chips just makes that a no-no.

Sure, there are plenty of compact cameras that offer the larger file sizes and options, but find one that has the required image quality, and is still genuinely pocketable? No – either the image quality isn’t there, or they are just too big to slip in a trouser pocket… so they get left at home. There are so many occasions when I wished I had a decent camera with me instead of it being on a shelf at home.  For me, the closest to this elusive beast is the Ricoh GR Digital (actually, in days gone by, I had a GR film camera and that was truly special) but I was put off buying a GR because of their reputation for dust ingress – no point in having a super-pocketable camera if you have to keep it in a bulky case all the time to protect it is there?  I had a Fujifilm X100T camera for a while, but  it was just a little too big to be properly pocketable, so again, it frequently stayed home.

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The new Fujifilm X70

So yesterday,  Sarah from Cambrian Photography loaned me the newly launched Fujifilm X70 camera to try for a few hours while we wandered around Liverpool on our Fujiholics Photo Walk. The camera has been described in the photo press as a ‘cut-down’ version of the X100T, and it definitely has Fuji genes – it does indeed show a marked similarity to the X100T, but in a smaller form factor and without the viewfinder.  All the other Fuji X-series hallmark features are still there though – the superb APS-C sized sensor that powers the X-T1 and X-T10, combined leaf and electronic shutter, processing engine and AF from the excellent X-T10, a newly developed 18mm f2 lens, and Fuji’s excellent build quality. It feels like a Fuji camera. Ah, and did I forget to mention, that LCD screen on the back can flip right round to 180° AND is a touch screen – not only can you adjust the AF target point using the touch screen, but you can fire the shutter too – very handy. This isn’t a detailed review of the camera and all its features so I won’t bore you with the whole specification – here is the link to the Fuji website.

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Cool but still retro – a black X70

I have to say my first reaction when I handled the X70 was a little muted – it wasn’t quite as small as I had imagined it was going to be, and the first few times I shot with it, I raised it to eye level before realising it didn’t have a viewfinder – just the LCD screen on the back. Not sure how my less than perfect eyesight was going to manage that (there is an optional optical viewfinder that fits in the accessory shoe, but I didn’t fancy that). It definitely fits in jeans or jacket pocket though… But, it felt good in the hand, all the controls and menus felt familiar, the AF is quick, very quick, and like all Fuji cameras, when it does find focus, it is deadly accurate. Even reviewing my first few shots on the screen, I could see they were going to be sharp.

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Happy chappy!

The Photo Walk in Liverpool was all about street photography, capturing those little cameos of people and the city but without drawing attention to yourself, and I found I was increasingly reaching for the X70 rather than the X-T10/35mm combo I had with me. I could reach into my pocket, switching the camera on at the same time, and be ready to shoot immediately. I found I took quite a few shots from waist level, using the flip screen, and that too worked well.  For some shots the 18mm lens of the X70 was a little wide, but mostly I preferred it to shooting with a longer lens, and with 16Mp, there is the option of cropping and still getting a great image. (The camera has a ‘crop’ image option, but I didn’t try that on the day..) Another feature I loved was the electronic shutter – switch to that and turn the other camera sounds off, and its completely silent – great for close-up candids.

Of the 60 or so shots I took during the day, there wasn’t one where the exposure was significantly wrong, and the 3-4 shots that weren’t sharp were down to subject movement  or me ‘snatching’ as I took the photo. All the images (I didn’t even change the base settings on the camera, so all were colour JPEGs) were bright and crisp and useable straight from camera. The lens is definitely very sharp, and there is no obvious vignetting or quality fall off at the edges. With that lens, sensor and processing engine, any images are clearly going to be of comparable quality to those from an X-T1, X100T or X-T10 so no compromises there. Handling of the camera is great, and while the lack of a viewfinder may be a problem for some, the flip/tilt LCD screen is a very useful feature. The field of view of the 18mm lens is incredibly useful, and the ability to focus as close as 10cm is great too.

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Girls out on the town

So during the day, the camera grew on me, and I went from ‘nice, but not for me’ to ‘when can I have one’. The launch price of £549 is pretty much to be expected for the quality and features on offer, but I would expect some softening of the street price over the next few months. Expect to see it at maybe £475 to £499 by the end of this year, at which its a definite purchase for me. Don’t forget to carry a spare battery though – the battery in mine was flat after a day’s shooting.

Here are some more images from the day (and BTW, I’d definitely recommend trying one of the Fujiholics Photo Walks – great fun, great company, and FREE – and you don’t have to use a Fuji camera either, although you’ll probably end up buying one afterwards!)

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