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

Doors…

X10A5728Our little village in France (Montréal, near Carcassonne, in the South West) has a history dating back over 1000 years to Cathar times, and has a pretty eclectic architectural heritage. The Collégiale, or main church, dates back to the late 13th century, although it is thought a primitive church existed here several hundred years before that. Much of the surrounding village was burned to the ground by the Black Prince in 1355, and the next 400 years saw the village repeatedly attacked as a consequence of the religious strife that dominated this part of France. As a result, many of the older houses in the village date back to the 17th and 18th centuries and these sit alongside houses that have been modernised since, often in a haphazard fashion.  There are barely a handful of completely new houses in the main part of the village – all the new development has been carried out further afield.

X10A5653The somewhat diverse architectural styles in the village are reflected in the doors – not just to the Collégiale and the grand houses in the village centre, but all the smaller houses too. Every time I walk around the village I marvel at the sheer variety of styles of door on show, so for a bit of fun decided to do a mini photo project, recording as many of the different doors as I could. Camera used was (as it often is these days) the Fujifilm X-T10, this time with the 18-55mm zoom. No special technique here – just walk up, select a nice view of the door/doorway – often from the side as the streets are too narrow in some cases to use even the 18mm front-on. Photos are all RAW images, imported into Lightroom with a little ‘punch’ added, and some judicious cropping and further adjustment where needed. Here are a few of my favourites from my mini-project.

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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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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