Hello Again…

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Neil Diamond’s song ‘Hello Again’ from the Jazz Singer film is an expression of enduring love – a need to keep restating loving emotions.  My relationship with the Fujifilm X100 series is more of an on/off love affair – an itch I can’t stop scratching, and here we are again…

I bought my first X100 camera, an X100S (’S’ for 2nd generation) back in 2014, largely as a result of seeing Todd Gipstein’s wonderful 1 Mile, 1 Year, 1 Lens video presentation. His 15 minute monochrome picture show was, as the title suggests, a series of photos all taken within the space of a year, and within a mile of his home. I suppose I thought that with a camera like that, I should be able to shoot great photos, unencumbered by lenses and filters and stuff – what I may just have missed is that Todd is a brilliant photographer, and the location for his photo set is the very varied and photogenic New England coastline…

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X100S – Poppies, London

Nevertheless, even with my much lesser talent, I did take some photos I was pleased with, and it was a very portable option when I wanted to travel light.  I kept the camera for about a year, then let it go when I wanted to get a wider range of lenses for my then Fuji X-T1. After about 6 months, I really missed that little camera’s portability and relative simplicity, so picked up what was then the latest 3rd generation X100T. Looking back, I see I only kept it for a couple of months – I had in mind that having a second body that I could fit my lenses to was going to be more useful than a fixed lens camera, so it got traded in.

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Colwyn Bay – X100F launch day

Fast forward a year or so, and all the Fuji gear had gone, and been replaced with Olympus – a mistaken belief that I could get similar image quality from a smaller camera and lens collection. I got talked into going to the launch event for the new 4th generation X100F in early 2017, and although I rather liked it, wasn’t really tempted to spend the £1200 or so it was priced at. Then in 2018, having dumped most of the Olympus kit in favour of Sony, I borrowed an X100F for a family holiday in France – I was still looking for the best possible quality in a camera smaller than my Sony A7iii with it’s rather large lenses. The X100F was marginally better than the Olympus Pen-F I still had, but rather than get the X100F, I went with the nearest Sony equivalent, an A6300 with a couple of lenses – logic being that these Sony lenses and bodies were all interchangeable up to a point.

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X100F – Ibiza

And that’s more or less where I was until a few weeks back when I realised that this search for a ‘perfect’ setup of larger camera for landscapes and ‘serious’ photography, and a smaller more portable system for travel was taking away all the enjoyment I was getting from photography – I was acquiring more and more gear, and then stressing about what to take with me (my previous blog post highlights this…) I was definitely heading for a complete photographic meltdown and it really was time to get a grip…

So decision made, and hopefully one I will stick with – I’ve slimmed down the Sony A7iii kit to the minimum, and will be keeping that just for landscapes etc, and particularly for locations where I am close to the car – it all still weighs a fair bit!  The A6300 and lenses has gone now, and in its place is (you’ve guessed it) an X100F!  Nearly new, it came at a good price, and is complete with filter adapter and a rather nice leather case. With a couple of spare batteries and a polarising filter, it’s a great everyday/travel option.

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X100F – Shrewsbury

I took it to Ibiza last week (and left the A7iii at home) and was more than happy with it. It’s definitely portable, and the results are very good indeed. I’m getting back into shooting mono and street photography, and really enjoying it – who knows I may yet sell the Sony full frame system and indeed revert to being a ‘one camera, one lens’ guy – not so much a ‘photographer’, more a ‘man with a camera’.

That’s quite an appealing thought!

 

 

Looking Back…

As we approach the end of 2018, I’ve been looking back over my photography and also picked a few of my favourite photos from this year.

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Perch Rock – E-M1ii & 12-40mm

I started the year with a couple of Olympus cameras – a Pen-F, and an OMD E-M1ii – both excellent cameras with amazing features.  The E-M1ii was probably the best-handling camera I’ve ever used, and the arsenal of lenses I had acquired over the previous year or so were all excellent. Despite this, somehow the results I was getting didn’t really make me happy.  I tried every which way to get the result I wanted, but there was always something that didn’t quite work for me.

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Loch Lomond – E-M1ii & 12-100mm

I’d tried a Sony A7Rii previously, and although I liked the image quality, I just wasn’t sure about going back to a full frame camera with it’s bigger lenses etc;  one of the things that attracted me to the Olympus had been it’s compact size and much lighter weight. When the new A7iii came out with it’s superb image quality and better handling, auto focus, viewfinder and battery life than the ‘old’ models, a change was inevitable… I realised that convenience was never going to be a match for image quality.

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Ramshaw Rocks – Sony A7iii & 16-35mm

Rather than risk the uncertainties of eBay, I sold all my Olympus gear to mpb.com – not the absolute best prices, but fair enough, and of course a risk free and speedy transaction. This bought me an A7iii body and a couple of decent prime lenses, to which I’ve added the superb 24-105mm ‘everyday’ zoom, and the super wide 16-35mm f4 Zeiss lens. I’m certainly happy with what this camera can do – the RAW files are truly amazing, and there is no significant image degradation even with fairly heavy post-processing. (By contrast, the Olympus files would ‘break up’ under even modest processing, with nasty artefacts and excessive noise.) No such problem with the Sony camera.

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Double Trouble – Sony A7iii & 55mm

To be fair, I haven’t used the camera to it’s full potential – in fact I haven’t used it a lot as yet, but every photo I have taken with it so far has exceeded my expectations. The images (especially those taken with the prime lenses) are razor sharp, and the massive 15 stop dynamic range means that shadows can be recovered in post-processing without creating excessive noise. So much so that I think I’ve only once needed to use my graduated filters – I’m seriously thinking of abandoning them altogether, which is a fair weight saving when walking.

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Lichfield Cathedral – Sony A6300 & 20mm

I did dally with a Sony A6300 for a while – I figured it would give me an additional more portable option than the A7 kit, and at a pinch would do as a backup body, but it just complicated matters.  The image quality, although great, just wasn’t quite as good, and I found myself always wondering which camera to take when I went out, so in the end let it go. Too many complications! Just having one ‘proper’ camera makes life much simpler…

With the improvements over the last few years in the cameras in smartphones, they are at last a viable alternative to a dedicated camera for everyday use (holidays, walking, family occasions etc). So when the A6300 kit went, I got myself a new iPhone XR, and haven’t looked back – for social media posts and general family photos it’s plenty good enough, and of course it’s with me all the time. I’ve just acquired a wide angle lens for it, and that opens up more photo options. Telephoto lens next maybe?

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Plas Power Woods, Wrexham – Sony A7iii & 24-105mm 

So what does 2019 have in store?  Well, I’m certainly planning to get out more with my Sony camera – I’ve already booked to go on a couple of one-day events – not so much photo workshops as ‘opportunity days’ – the chance to shoot subjects that wouldn’t otherwise be as easy to access.  I’ve realised that I don’t really get much from traditional group photo workshops; they tend to be quite expensive, and with up to 12-14 attendees it can be rather limiting – all standing in line to take the same shot. So I’ll mostly be going it alone…

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Peatswood – iPhone XR & Moment w/a lens

I’m also super-excited about using my smartphone for ‘off the cuff’ photography – there are so many photo opportunities in everyday life, and having a half-decent camera with you all the time is definitely the way to go.  This photo was taken on my iPhone while on a family walk, and entirely processed using Lightroom Mobile & Snapseed on the phone itself.   It obviously takes longer to ‘process’ a RAW image from the phone than it does to use the standard JPG file that phones capture by default, but it really does open up some interesting possibilities.

I don’t think I will ever give up having a ‘real’ camera, but who knows!

Pen-F does Keystone Compensation

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Image without correction – note how the room is distorted

Funny isn’t it, how our brain interprets what we see, but a photograph needs some help? When we look upwards at a tall building, the top is further away than the bottom, so appears smaller, but our brain compensates for this, and it all looks ok.  Take a photo of the same scene, with the camera tilted upwards, and in the 2D view we see, the building looks like it is toppling backwards – our brain only sees what is in the photo, not what it ‘wants’ to see.  This is called ‘keystoning’ and even a slight camera angle will show this effect. It’s the same in the horizontal plane too if we take a photo where the right or left of the scene is further away than the other. It’s even more ‘odd’ if the camera is pointing slightly downwards, as shown in this example.

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Image corrected but not cropped

Photo processing software like Lightroom has a tool for ‘correcting’ this keystone effect – it ‘bends’ the image so the verticals appear upright, and all looks natural again. It works pretty well, but you then need to ‘crop’ or trim the image to remove the white space at the corners, and so you lose some of what you photographed at the extreme edges. Specialist lenses have been available for years that can deal with this effect in camera, but they are hugely expensive, and pretty tricky to use.

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Image corrected and cropped in Lightroom

Enter the Pen-F with its ‘keystone compensation’ feature.  Activate this, and you can actually then do the compensation when you take the photo, so ‘what you see is what you get’ afterwards. Hold the camera to get the angle and composition you want, and twiddle the rear control knob until the verticals line up, and press the shutter button.  It takes a second or so to process, but then ‘voila’ – there is the corrected image on the screen. Its a bit easier to do if the camera is on a tripod as you can more readily make fine adjustments, and the camera only produces a keystone-corrected JPG image rather than RAW file.

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JPG image corrected in camera, with minor adjustments in Lightroom

So maybe the image quality isn’t as good as shooting an uncorrected RAW file and correcting it afterwards in Lightroom, but if space is tight, you don’t want to risk losing a critical bit of the photo when processing. Going back and shooting the shot again isn’t always an option. Also, the time saved can be better used to make some final ‘tweaks’ or adjustments to enhance the image.

For shooting architecture etc, this is a ‘killer’ feature, and currently unique to the Olympus OM-D and Pen-F cameras.

It’s been a while….

Well, here I am again after a lengthy time since last posting.  Other priorities (mainly family) took over most of last year, but at least I have found time to take a few photos, so lets have a little update and take it from there…..

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Colwyn Bay Promenade – Fuji X100F

In terms of photo gear its been all change – I started 2017 using Fujifilm kit – X-T2 and X-T10 bodies, an IR modified X-E1 body, and most of the Fuji X series lenses then available. To be fair this was overkill, and I couldn’t sensibly carry it all around (too heavy), and then couldn’t decide what to take each time I went out…. Not an unusual photographer’s dilemma! I needed to simplify things – one main body, a backup which would also do for travel/family when I wanted to travel light, and just a couple of good quality general purpose zoom lenses. So the search was on for a more compact kit that would still deliver the quality I was used to.

Until then I’d been looking at getting an X100 series camera again (I’d had 2 before) and while on a touch and try day at Cambrian Photography (see the photo I took using the X100F) I got to also try an Olympus PEN-F. Instant attraction! It does pretty much everything the X100F does (and some more too), but has interchangeable lenses, so I could pop a small prime lens on and have a really portable camera.

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Sunrise – Bassenthwaite Lake

So, PEN-F and 17mm lens bought, and all my Fuji gear moved on… simple eh?  Well, not quite.  I still needed those zoom lenses (much more practical for landscape photos) and after a couple of false starts, ended up with the amazing Olympus 12-100mm Pro lens, and the PanaLeica 8-18mm super wide zoom. Both incredible lenses, but they don’t sit very well with the diminutive PEN-F body, which of course isn’t water resistant either – a bit of a worry when I was out in the rain.  So that resulted in the purchase of another Olympus body – the pro-spec E-M1 mkii.  What an incredible camera! – fast, tough, great quality images (despite the tiny sensor) and so many features its taken me a good few months to master all the options. Other than the occasional ‘wobble’ when I wonder if a full frame camera would give me better images (probably not, and too many other issues to contend with) this is my ultimate camera for landscapes. To be fair, its not a small camera, and my full kit with lenses, tripod and filters is still as much as I can manage, but at least there are no compromises.

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Duke of Sutherland Boathouse, Ullswater, Lake District NP

Still have the PEN-F, although I’m still pondering what lenses work best for me – the small primes are neat, but don’t have the flexibility of a zoom, and the ‘travel’ zoom I currently have (the 14-150mm) does have a few limitations, so watch this space…

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Roach End – Peak District NP

Despite time constraints, I have been out and about quite a bit with the camera in the last few months – I’ve been on several photo workshops and a ’tour’ in the Lake District, and discovered that the nearer parts of the Peak District are close enough to pop along for a few hours shooting, as is the North Wales coast.  I have images from both areas I’m happy with.  With more time hopefully available in 2018, visit plans include Cornwall, Scotland and Ireland, and maybe some more photos from Southern France, so watch this space!