No Tripod Allowed

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London Eye – Fuji 50-140mm

A combination of illness and family commitments means my Fuji cameras haven’t seen much action over the last month or two, but a couple of weeks ago I was booked on a Light and Land ‘Impressions of London’ workshop with Valda Bailey (Twitter – @tanyards) and Doug Chinnery (Twitter – @dougchinnery) and really didn’t want to miss it. Although I have been taking photos for over 50 years, and feel pretty confident with landscape and urban subjects, I’ve sensed my photography was in something of a rut lately and wanted to try a different approach. So off I headed to London, slightly intimidated by the joining instructions that stated that tripods were not allowed and would be ‘thrown in the Thames’! The reason for this became obvious fairly quickly – this workshop was all about experiencing different techniques like Intentional Camera Movement (ICM), Multiple Exposures and Zoom Pulling, and without the ‘straightjacket’ of a tripod, and the front-to-back sharpness that most photographers are programmed to produce, there would be ample opportunity for creativity and abstract impression. And, boy, was it a different experience!

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Tate Modern Café – iPhone 6

From the outset, it was clear this was going to be a great day; the weather was kind – mainly sunny with cloudy intervals; the location was great – the South Bank near Tate Modern; Doug and Valda were great tutors, and it was a small but enthusiastic group, keen to learn new techniques. After our initial briefing, where it became obvious that my Fuji X-T1 would have some shortcomings (more on this in a moment) we all worked individually to try and capture images that broke all the conventional rules, but still worked.The instructions were clear – experiment, take lots of photos, look for unusual angles, textures, colours and combinations.  Try to build up images from different elements that complimented one-another in some way.  Overlay patterns and abstracts on defocussed main images, and think about how images could then be further worked on via post-processing.

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Trees, South Bank – Fuji 16-55mm

So the start point for me was multiple exposure images and this is where the limitations of Fuji cameras compared to Canon and Nikon DSLRs became apparent.  Some of the Canon cameras can take up to 9 shots to create a single image.  Not only that, but each is created as a RAW file, the individual shots making up the image can be saved individually, and there are multiple modes for blending the images together (like the layer blend modes in Photoshop). The Fuji cameras (X-T1 and XT10 anyway) are much more simplistic – only 2 exposures, a single ‘general’ blend mode, and the only image saved is a JPG of the multiple exposure itself – no original files to go back and have another go with at home… Although this was clearly limiting on the day, I did nevertheless manage several multiple exposure images I was pleased with. Maybe more sophisticated multiple exposure options could feature in a future Fuji firmware upgrade?

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Millennium Bridge – Fuji 16-55mm

Next was Zoom Pulling – twisting the zoom ring during a shot. I found that exposures around 1-3 seconds worked best for this technique – too short an exposure meant there was little effect, while too long an exposure meant all detail was lost.  This is a pretty well known and often over used technique, so to my mind needs to be used with care. First time I think I’ve used it though, and some interesting results, especially with quite bold subjects.

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South Bank Apartments – Fuji 50-140mm

Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) is exactly that – moving the camera side to side, up and down, backwards and forwards, or twisting it, all during the exposure.  This can create weird and wonderful shapes, with these images used alone, or as part of a multiple exposure final image. One interesting thing I found was when using my 50-140mm lens with the image stabilisation switched on. During exposures of 2-3 seconds, providing the camera was not moving too quickly the IS would ‘lock on’ several times during the shot, giving the appearance of a multiple exposure – quite a pleasing result in some cases.

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Golden Jubilee Bridge – Fuji 50-140mm

These techniques (and Valda is a master) are becoming popular, as evidenced by the fact that this month’s UK photo press are carrying a couple of articles about it, so its definitely here to stay.  We were of course mainly shooting architecture and urban views, but I can see it would work equally well with landscapes, nature and even macro. What is rather good is that you don’t need to carry a complete bag of gear (as I did!) to capture these images – a mid range zoom lens is sufficient, and no real need for the highest resolution sensor either. I did find that switching filters to get the correct long exposures during changeable light was tricky – I think a variable ND filter would probably be quite helpful here.

So, I have several hundred images from the day – a few of which I am happy with as they stand, and a good number that can be worked on, either individually or combined in Photoshop.  I can’t wait to get out and try these techniques again – its not often you learn something new after 50 years of doing pretty much the same thing!

Thanks to Doug and Valda (and Light & Light for their great organisation) for a super day out, and a new creative angle for me to further explore!

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South Bank – Fuji 35mm f2

The 1940s Festival in Colwyn Bay

1604 colwyn bay 40s-23-EditPopped along last week to the 1940s Festival held in Colwyn Bay, North Wales. For two days over the weekend, the town embraced the look, sounds and even the smells of the 1940s, with many different displays, and hundreds of people dressed in period clothes. There were displays of wartime foods and rations, fighting vehicles including armoured cars and jeeps, and of course soldiers, sailors and airmen from Germany, France, Canada and the UK.  There was street dancing to ‘Glenn Miller’ style bands, a battle re-enactment and even a ball on the Saturday night (not that I stayed for that!)

1604 colwyn bay 40s-66There were some excellent photo opportunities, and it was great to meet up with friends and customers of Cambrian Photography, where our walk around the town started. I could only spare a couple of hours there, and concentrated more on the characters around than the static displays. It was pretty much my first outing with a new 50-140mm f2.8 lens on my Fujifilm X-T1 – an excellent combination for street portraits, and I particularly welcomed the ability to separate the subjects from the surroundings by using the lens wide open.

Mono seems to suit the occasion, although there are a few colour shots too.  Mono shots are JPG images converted using Nik Silver Efex, while colour shots are largely straight out of camera.

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Fujifilm 50-140mm f2.8 – first impressions

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Fujifilm X-T1 with 50-140mm OIS WR lens

Although this lens receives rave reviews, I’ve always held off buying one – until now that is… Fuji prime lenses are superb – no two ways about it, but sometimes the convenience of a zoom lens is what’s needed. Quick changes of focal length, or tricky conditions like salt spray or rain mean a zoom is just so much more practical, and to be fair, the image quality from Fuji zooms is not far off that of primes. But the 50-140mm is seriously big – almost 1kg in weight, and 176mm long – that’s almost twice the weight of my 55-200mm lens. The constant maximum aperture of f2.8, and reputed image quality have been a draw, but that bulk and weight have always put me off – not to mention of course a fairly hefty price tag!

But somehow, the 55-200mm hasn’t been working for me – the one I’ve been using is the second I’ve had, and despite the excellent OIS and its excellent reputation, shots I’ve taken have never been quite as crisp as I expected. I don’t think its a faulty copy of the lens – it just doesn’t match the sharpness of my other lenses. I also have the stunningly good 90mm f2 lens, but there are just times when only a zoom will do. I had the opportunity to look at and handle a 50-140mm lens during a recent trip to Scotland, and somehow it just felt ‘right’.

XT105771So, a combination of a bundled deal with the new 1.4x converter, and a hefty discount at last week’s Photography Show was too much to resist, and I came home with one! Unboxing it did reveal just how ‘chunky’ this lens is – it reminded me of my 70-200mm f2.8 Nikon lens, albeit still quite a lot smaller than that brute. Mounted on my X-T1 though (without the detachable tripod foot) it’s beautifully balanced, and the controls are so smooth. The effect of the image stabilisation is obvious even just looking through the camera viewfinder, and the focussing is really fast.

XT105782A combination of lots of other things to do, and poor weather this week means I haven’t been outside yet with the lens, but these are a couple of shots taken indoors. They are wide open (f2.8 of course), 140mm, and 1/125th sec, which is usually ‘marginal’ for getting a sharp photo at this focal length, but you can see just how sharp the images are.

So first impressions are very positive. I can see me using it whenever I am going out with  my ‘full’ kit, either for landscapes or events – it fits neatly in my ThinkTank backpack, or a larger shoulder bag. If I’m travelling and need to keep the weight down, then I may have to leave it at home and take the 90mm instead – I had thought I might sell that, but it really is too good a lens to sell! Hopefully some better weather later this week should allow me to get out and test the lens more fully, but so far, I’m impressed!

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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It’s all about the light…

A flying visit to the Lake District this week yielded a couple of hours to get out with my camera.  The conditions were not, however, very encouraging – although the forecast was for ‘sunny spells’, it was raining when I parked at the Silverthwaite National Trust car park just off the Ambleside to Langdale road, and it was blowing an absolute hooley (the aftermath of Storm Henry.) Still, boots on and kit in hand I headed down to the path running alongside the River Brathay to see what was possible.

1602 langdale-14I had planned to try a couple of long exposure images using my new Hitech filter holder, but it was clear it was far too windy for sharp pictures, even with my heaviest tripod set as low as possible. The tops of the fells were shrouded in mist/cloud, but there were some brighter patches in the sky (nothing to actually call sun though…)  Anyway, I found a nice view with a fence as lead-in, and set up and waited. After about 10 minutes, it had pretty much stopped raining, and I was rewarded with a few breaks in the cloud. The foreground was nicely bathed in sunlight – only for a few seconds, but enough to get a couple of frames including this one.

1602 langdale-4Wandering along looking for another view point, I spotted this family of ducks, and quickly set up.  Within a few seconds they had moved into the perfect position in the frame, and as luck would have it, another fleeting moment of sunlight brought the scene to life. Time for one shot only before the ducks had moved on, and the sun had disappeared again!

In the time left, I managed another couple of shots, but as before it was a case of finding something interesting, setting up, and then waiting (and waiting…), and hoping the light would come good.  I had quite a few strange looks from walkers passing by, and even a few comments about me just standing there waiting – everyone expects a photographer to be shooting all the time, but there’s absolutely no point if the light isn’t going to make the shot work. Sometimes waiting until the light is right pays off, but so often its a case of returning when the conditions are better. Patience is rewarded (but only sometimes!)

Here are a couple more I managed that morning.  All photos taken on my Fuji X-T1 camera with 16-55mm lens, Hitech filter holder with 0.9 ND grad filter, and Manfrotto 055 tripod. RAW images processed in Lightroom, and Viveza 2.

Fujifilm X-T10 – the ‘pocket rocket’

91npjD2GO8L._SL1500_When the X-T10 camera was launched in late 2015 it was dubbed by many as a ‘cut down X-T1’, stripped of many of its features.  Having bought one a few weeks ago, that seems to be far from the truth!  Sure it is smaller, it doesn’t claim to have the weather proofing that its big brother has, and both the LCD and viewfinder screens are a little smaller, but it really is an exceptionally good camera, at around half the price of the X-T1!

The autofocus is very good indeed, better than the X-T1 at the time the X-T10 was launched, although the X-T1 autofocus has now been brought up to the same level.  The sensor and processing is virtually the same as the X-T1 and other current Fuji cameras so img_main03no issues there – the image quality is identical. There are the full range of image quality and shooting controls, a tilt LCD screen, face detection and continuous AF, and even a built-in flashgun. Apparently the time to store a burst of photos is slower, but as I see it that is really only an issue if shooting sport or similar.

What I really love is just how tiny the camera is – put one of the smaller Fuji lens on it, like the new 35mm f2 or the diminutive 27mm, and the camera is little bigger than a compact – yet offers full ‘DSLR’ type performance and image quality. It’s now my ‘everyday’ camera, and will definitely be my first choice for street photography as it is so inconspicuous.  Nice one Fuji..

Here’s one of my first ‘serious’ photos taken with the camera. I’ll be adding more images in due course.

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Fuji X-T10 with 10-24mm lens

Why I love Fujifilm….

I switched to Fuji around two years ago after being a near-lifelong Nikon photographer. The reason why? Well, it was mostly about the bulk and weight of the new generation of DSLR cameras. My (extremely good) Nikon D800 weighed almost 2kg with its zoom lens, and all the other lenses I had for it were pretty big too. I found I was increasingly reluctant to go out with – it was just too heavy to want to be bothered with if I was going to be any distance from the car. If I was taking ‘people’ photos, this bazooka sized camera and lens was often off putting – discrete photography was out of the question.  I wasn’t ‘knocked out’ with the quality of some of the lenses – sure the camera itself was awesome with its 36 million pixel sensor, but both my zoom lenses distorted horribly and were not good for landscapes.

91npjD2GO8L._SL1500_Mirror less cameras seemed to offer a good alternative – much smaller and lighter, and ‘good enough’ image quality, and I was impressed by the reputation Fuji had, so decided to take the plunge with an X-E1 and lens.  Weighing only around 550gms, it was a delight to carry around and certainly not intimidating to potential subjects.  Sure it was a different experience – a fully electronic viewfinder and far less capable autofocussing, but the image quality from the 16Mp sensor was, and still is, outstanding. Everyday JPEG images are sharp and contrasty and the colour saturation is amazing. With some post processing in Photoshop or Lightroom, the RAW images rivalled the photos I was getting from the Nikon, all from a camera a fraction of the size, and far less expensive.  I’ve invested in several more lenses (all superb, and a fraction of the size of Nikon) and now have 2 camera bodies and flash units etc…… I don’t claim it’s a perfect system, but it works for me, and it’s restimulated my love of photography. I rarely go anywhere these days without a camera, and now take far more photographs than before. I’m exhibiting a selection of photos for the first time, and have another exhibition planned later this year – I couldn’t have envisaged this a year or two ago.

But there’s one more thing that really sets Fuji apart from the other camera manufacturers, and turns my enthusiasm into real love, and that’s it’s support for the model range. With Nikon (and the others..) you buy a camera and that’s it. It never gets any new features or improvements – you wait a year or so and then there’s a new model that makes yours obsolete.  Fuji is different.  Very different. Every few months there’s a free firmware update that makes performance improvements and adds new features. And this isn’t just for the latest model – Fuji provide these updates (to the extent they can) on models that are several years old.

img_main01Today Fuji announced a radical upgrade to the auto focus system of the X-T1, which will address many of the requests users have asked for to make their cameras function more like a conventional DSLR camera.  Chief of these is the implementation of dual Wide and Zone tracking modes which will allow better focussing of moving subjects.  Also included is Eye Detection AF which will detect and focus on human eyes, a major benefit if using wide aperture lenses that have limited depth of focus. Other features/improvements include Auto Macro Mode, better Movie AF, improved shutter dial operation, and additional Exposure Compensation capabilities.

I’m really looking forward to this upgrade, due for release in June – it will be like having a new camera!

Travel tripod mini-review

My Manfrotto tripods have served me well over the years, and with their height, stability and quick release ballheads, were perfect for my DSLR cameras. Moving to a smaller camera system (to reduce the strain on my back!) has highlighted just how heavy these tripods are, and increasingly I’ve not wanted to carry a tripod at all when out walking. So perhaps it was time to look for something smaller and lighter, and I was attracted by the new style of travel tripods weighing around 1kg and folding down to just 30cm (12″) or so long – small enough to go inside a backpack.

There are at least 6-7 brands that all look quite similar – they all have legs that fold back on a centre column, a small ballhead, and are typically around 130cm tall when fully extended. Prices run from about £80 to £140. The first I tried was the MeFoto Backpacker at £119 from Amazon. It had received very good reviews so seemed a good buy. First impression was indeed very favourable – 1-2kg in weight, 130cms tall extended, a fixed centre column with a rising inner column, a ballhead with an ARCA-Swiss style quick release, and twist lock legs.  There is a hook in the centre to hang a bag or weight for extra stability, and it all comes in a carry-bag.

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Hahnel Triad C4 Tripod

Considering how light it is, it was remarkably stable, and easily took the weight of my Fuji X-T1 with zoom lens.  Several observations from the outset –

1. The centre column is fixed in position, so there is no option to use the tripod with the ballhead sitting immediately on top of the legs – its most stable position. This also means that if you want to carry the tripod on the side of a backpack, it is around 50cms tall with the legs retracted, but in the unfolded position.  Likewise the column cannot be reversed for ultra-low shots.

2. There is no means of retaining the legs closed together, so any tripod holder needs to take account of this. Also, with 4 sections to each leg, that means a total of 12 twist actions to both unlock, and then relock the legs – miss just one when you are retightening the legs, and the tripod will collapse to one side. I prefer the flip locks on my larger Manfrotto tripod.  There are only two ‘in use’ positions for the legs, a fairly upright position, and the usual very splayed position for low level work.

3. By far the biggest problem for me was the camera mounting plate – fitted to 714053c8qaL._SL1500_my Fuji X-T1 it obscured the access to the battery compartment, so when out shooting in a muddy field I had to remove the camera from the tripod, then remove the plate and re-attach it, just to change a battery. This isn’t a fault of the tripod/ballhead – it occurs on all quick release heads because of the proximity of the battery compartment to the tripod bush on the Fuji.  I tackled this issue by getting a Fuji X-T1 Small Grip Plate – essentially a flat plate that screws onto the bottom of the camera (but doesn’t obscure the battery compartment) and provides an ARCA/Swiss style dovetail mount which fits perfectly on this tripod.  Problem solved!

However, the points above caused me to look around, and I dropped on an Amazon ‘lightning deal’ for the Hahnel Triad C4 Tripod and Head, for an amazing £39.99 (usual Amazon price £72.00, and on sale at Wex for the RRP of £99.99).  What a steal! This is so similar to the Mefoto tripod it’s untrue – one is definitely a copy of the other. Given the much lower price, I wasn’t expecting much, but its equally good (with one exception below…)  The height and weight are much the same, the centre column is adjustable and removable, so great for low level work, and slightly better stability in the fully ‘down’ position.  There is also an intermediate position for the width of the legs – great on a windy day, or or uneven ground

The problem however is that the ARCA/Swiss ‘style’ camera plate is some 5mm wider than the standard 37/38mm standard for these.  No problem if you just use this plate, but remember I now have the special camera plate – you guessed, it doesn’t fit this ballhead. Not great. After trying a different ballhead,  I sourced a replacement plate and clamp to fit the original Hahnel ballhead for approx £5.00 (from China).  It needed a new 6mm countersunk bolt to fit it, and a little Araldite to take up some slack in the mount, but it really works a treat.  So, job done, and total cost of this new setup  is just £45.00.  What a bargain!

Bottom line is that for a very modest price, it’s possible to buy a lightweight tripod good enough for most travel shots, and that weighs less than half of a conventional tripod. Definitely a good investment…

EDIT: This tripod is very much my ‘trekking’ tripod – if I’m close to the car and don’t mind the extra weight and bulk, one of the larger Manfrotto units is clearly more stable, but this one definitely has it’s uses.