(Part II) Another I moved to mirrorless post

In part I of this blog post I identified three key appeals of the Fujifilm system from my perspective:

  • User experience
  • Fuji’s commitment to ongoing improvements
  • Soul

User experience I have already  discussed, so in this second and concluding post I want to concentrate on Fuji’s commitments to ongoing updates and that elusive element – soul.

First though, Fuji scores highly in my book for continually upgrading the capabilities of their cameras by releasing major firmware updates. Many of these updates add new features, not simply bug fixes so it can sometimes feel a little like getting a new(ish) camera.  With their X-series cameras therefore Fuji  keep releasing firmware update to make their more recent cameras better whilst still introducing new camera models with ever better specifications. Now, models don’t stay on this upgrade path forever however, but it is very pleasing to see new functionality trickling back to previous models where processing and physical capacity exists in the older kit.

© Dave Whenham
West End, London. Fuji X100T

Now some will argue that releasing new firmware for the cameras, not just every few years but sometimes within months of the last, is an admission that the camera was not fully finished on launch. The other snipe I have heard is that they use a few new features to hide the fact that the update is simply to fix previous bugs that slipped through the net.  However, they have also introduced firmware updates that have improved the performance of their lenses and enabled them to fully access the newer features in newer camera models.

It’s possibly over-egging the pudding somewhat to say that each time Fuji releases a firmware they essentially give you a new camera, however it certainly does give me a really good feeling about the company. Bug fixing, shrewd marketing or good customer service? You chose which axe you wish to grind and you take your pick!

As always I will leave the technical stuff and a discussion of the cameras’ specifications to others. I’m an enthusiast photographer rather than a working pro and what matters most to me is that very nebulous quality of the user experience – or in the case of these cameras “soul” I like to think.

The words user experience were very easy to type in the first part but were very hard to define in detail and not least  because it will vary considerably from one person to another.  Soul is even harder to define – even with a dictionary to hand!  For me, a camera needs to feel “right” in my hand. I can’t write the exact feeling down but know it when I experience it.  I now have four Fuji camera bodies and each feels a little different, each has its own characteristics and each its own personality almost. Okay, a bit too poetical I suspect! But soul emanates from this user experience.

When out with one of these cameras I feel at ease, confident in the technology and my ability to create images with it.  These cameras just perform really well for me and with them I can produce images that I am happy with and do it without stressing too much over technicalities. They just work. But as the saying goes your mileage may vary so this will not be the same for everyone. I just try to keep an open mind when I use any camera and having used Nikon and Canon extensively as well as various other makes in the last forty-plus years I can confidently say none gave me the same buzz as using these Fujis. That might sound a little fan-boyish but is not intended as such. I genuinely think that there is no such thing as a bad camera these days – just that some cameras fit better with our individual ways of working than others.

So, my five penn’orth to add to an already overcrowded “I moved to mirrorless” oeuvre.

365-2019

This years 365 Challenge is doing well with only one slight wobble so far and as we have just passed the 100th daily image for 2019 it is time to update my thoughts on the project. Now, I’m a bit of a geek and love numbers so let’s start with a look at what cameras I’ve used so far this year.

CameraCount Percent
Fuji X-T32931%
Fuji X100t2526%
Huawei P20 Pro2223%
Fuji X-E11112%
Fuji X-H177%
Mavic Pro (drone)66%
INSTA 360 ONE/ONE X22%

Unsurprisingly my Fuji cameras make up the majority of the 102 daily images year to date, I moved fully to the mirrorless system in March, although the ever-present Huawei smartphone is holding its own too. The Fuji X-H1 has appeared seven times but given that I’ve only owned the camera for ten days this represents a very high proportion of recent daily images.

I maintain a spreadsheet with image details to complement the albums on my Flickr photostream

The least surprising fact from my little spreadsheet (see above) is that almost half (47%) of my daily images would be classified as urban images. The reality of a 365 is that we shoot images where we live our lives and whilst I’d love to fill my days with rural landscapes (14%) or coastal seascapes (2%) the reality is that I spend most of my time in an urban setting. Of the remaining images, a further 37% of them, whilst categorised differently, were also taken in or around my home making them essentially an urban capture too.

Tree bark - macro

One thing I have got into the habit of doing most days is my “insurance” shot. An image taken early on in the day, usually in or around the house, which I have in reserve just in case I am unable to get out with the camera later in the day for a more considered daily image. I rarely use them but it is reassuring to know they are there. This close-up of bark was a recent insurance shot which wasn’t used as I was able to spend time photographing one of my grandsons that day.

I wrote recently about the case of the disappearing mojo and in that piece I reflected on how the 365 Challenge can help keep the motivation alive. Undoubtedly, the challenge itself provides a strong creative energy and the further into it I get the more determined I am to maintain the daily image capture. Image 102 was posted yesterday but that was actually my 530th consecutive daily image since embarking on the challenge in October 2017. The completer-finisher in me helps keep the sequence going. There have been days though when I’ve not felt like bothering but they are getting fewer as the 365 becomes just a part of my normal daily routine. I get up each day and each day perform the routine hygiene tasks (washing, dressing, eating etc) without really considering them a chore and my 365 image has similarly become almost part of this hygiene routine.

365-2019-102: Another grubby grandson pic! Samyang 100mm macro at f4, the IBIS in the X-H1 allowing my shaky hands to get away with 1/40th second. This is the image that supplanted the bark shot above.

There is no doubt therefore in my mind that the 365 Challenge has helped to keep me creatively motivated, especially now that we’ve got past the initial months where it was a new routine and it is now firmly embedded in my daily routines; it has become a way of life, or at least a part of my everyday life.

365-2019-101: I deliberately tilted the camera to catch the lens flare, I’ve shot this scene many times before and wanted something a little different today.

I also believe that the challenge of trying to find a new image, and bear in mind half of all my 365 images are taken within a mile of my house, has sharpened my eye and I see compositions and creative opportunities more readily as a result. Image 101 (above) is a case in point and is less than a mile from my back door. I’ve shot this scene many times but wanted to do so again because I liked the glow along the left hand side of the frame – but how to make it a little different? Lens flare was what popped into my head and with the rising sun sitting naked in the sky I only had to tilt the camera slightly to cause the extremely bright source to flare and create some colourful streaks. Flare is something I usually avoid even shading the lens with my hand at times but on this occasion it seemed to fit the image nicely. In fact I liked it so much I made it my daily offering eschewing the other more traditional images I captured on that walk.

So, there we have it. The 365 is an ongoing project and one that I intend to keep going for as long as I am able or for as long as I have the inclination. Each month I set up a folder on Flickr for that months offerings and the March 2019 folder can be found HERE.

Panoramic woodland

Panoramas are often seen as a landscape photographers tool but they have many other uses and I like to use them in all sorts of settings, not least in woodland. Two or three vertical images stitched together can make for a very detailed 1×1 image for example and whilst the resultant image does not look like a panorama as we know it the methodology is exactly the same.

The image here though takes a more traditional approach and stitches multiple images to create a super wide panorama without the need to crop out a large chunk of the image top and bottom which would have been the case if we’d used a super wide lens to capture everything in one frame. Indeed, this particular image is a 180° panorama and even a fisheye would have been hard pressed in this instance!

For less ambitious stitched panoramas I will typically shoot 4 or 5 frames, overlapping each by around a third and using the camera handheld. Practice has helped me in this as the camera needs to pivot around the same point (on all axes) to avoid large alignment shifts which result in having to crop deeper into the stitched image. Given that I was looking at a 180° panorama for this image I shot my frames with the camera firmly mounted on a carefully levelled tripod. The initial image (below) was created using the merge function in Photoshop and is shown exactly as produced. Note the blank areas where no data was captured and how small they are; this means that the tripod was allmost levelled perfectly but not quite!

The panorama is made up of 13 individual files as can be seen here and Photoshop has applied masks to each so that the final image is comprised of a little of each individual frame. You can see the progression of the lens as it was moved between each shot.

Once I was happy that it was properly aligned I simply flattened the file to create just one layer with the raw panorama ready for processing in the ordinary way. As I set white balance, aperture, ISO, focus and shutter speed manually I tend to stitch the files first and post process afterwards.

Levelling the tripod is important as it means that you maximise the usable area of each frame. Overlapping each sequential image by between 35% and 50% gives the software the maximum material to work with and creates a better stitch. I always shoot an extra frame either side of my intended area – if my intended scene extends from B to E for example I’d shoot frames from A to F inclusive to ensure that my intended outer edges of the image are fully covered.

(yet) Another I moved to mirrorless post

How many “I moved to [INSERT BRAND]” blog posts or videos have you seen over the last couple of years? If you are like me it is dozens and if like me you’ve made or considered the switch then it’s likely to be multiple dozens. So, with no excuses for a lack of originality here is my five penn’orth.

7Artisans 55mm f1.4 lens at around f4
Fuji X-E1 with 7Artisans 55mm

Unlike many I wasn’t drawn towards mirrorless because of size or weight. For me, at that time, size didn’t matter [pause for the sniggering to stop] and nor did weight. For me it all started with an unusual example of being a relatively early adopter (albeit unwittingly) when I bought the Fuji X100, a quirky mirroless, rangefinder style camera with many irritating shortcomings that drove me initially to distraction and ultimately to selling the camera. That should have been it really but it left behind an itch.

I should perhaps out at this point that I bailed out before the firmware update that addressed many of these issues. At that time I knew little about Fujifilm apart from Velvia and Provia film and was not aware of their business model which continues to support camera models even after people have bought them. As a Canonikon user for over thirty years the concept of firmware updates that provided new or improved functionality was alien to me.

Fast forward three years after abandoning the X100 and with the itch seemingly pushed to the background, I chanced upon a review of the Fuji X100s which was it’s replacement. It was a much improved successor it seemed although I was reading an old review because the X100t had hit the streets by then. Perversely, despite its irritations I still missed the experience of using the X100 and, long story short, in the way that things can escalate when browsing the interweb I ended up putting a used Fuji X100t in the shopping basket. That was May 2016 and the X100t has been a constant companion ever since.

The Jaws of Borrowdale
Fuji X-T3, 50-140mm

The rest as they say is history as I slowly but surely become more deeply immersed in the world of mirrorless and more specifically the Fuji X-series camera system. My move from a long term SLR/DSLR user to a purely mirroless shooter has taken two months short of three years. As already mentioned I’ve been using X-series cameras however since 2011. There was no “Eureka!” moment however, just a gradual shift which culminated with the sale of my Nikon D800E in late March 2019. In the space of the last seven years I’ve moved from Canon, a brand I used for over thirty years, to Nikon DSLRs and now the Fuji X-series. I’ve spent more than I’d ever admit to myself let alone the wife! I’ve also lost a small fortune on part exchange, but financial considerations aside I have enjoyed actually using every piece of kit I’ve ever owned.

So why did I settle on the Fuji X-series? I think there are three key reasons, none of which are weight or size.

  • User experience
  • Fuji’s commitment to ongoing improvements
  • Soul

 

Not really a techy, geeky list it? Let’s take experience first. For someone like myself who took up photography in the 1970s with a Zenith E, a Russian-built tank of a camera, Fujifilm’s retro styling appeals to me both visually and practically. Having physical dials and knobs harks back to simpler times and on a practical level I really appreciate being able to see my key settings without having to squint at an LCD screen especially in bright sunlight.

I am an enthusiast photographer so it is important to me that I enjoy using my kit. With less than perfect eyesight too, having the information on the camera body is a boon. For me, the Fujifilm system allows for a very tactile experience and the fact that when shooting I can set everything on my X-T3 without touching a menu or looking at an LCD screen really adds to that experience and thus to the enjoyment.

In part two I will look at Fujifilm’s firmware update approach and try to put into words that final nebulous bullet point – soul.

The Case of the disappearing Mojo

Loch Maree
Loch Maree, Scotland

How to define “mojo”? Well, the dictionary on my desk says:

“… a magic charm, talisman or spell”

Which is all well and good and accurate etcetera but not quite how we tend to use it as we tend to define that peculiar lethargy that robs us of the inclination to create as “losing my mojo”. Clearly, for me that means photography but I think it can be interpreted much more loosely and be used to encompass not just creative activities but other less creative pursuits.

As an aside, mojo is also the name given to several spicy sauces originating in the Canary Islands. But I digress (and not for the first time).

I do try to stay creative and full of energy and my 365 Challenge has proved very effective in keeping my enthusiasm alive but even so there are the odd days when it is more of an effort. I wrote this piece on one such day as part of my daily fifteen minutes free-writing exercise. I was supposed to have been in Manchester indulging in some street photography but, long story short, I’m at home through no fault of my own. Perhaps the sudden removal of something I’ve been looking forward to all week has contributed to this lack of enthusiasm?

I’ve just taken the grandson to school, something I do most days, and slipped my Fuji X100t in my pocket intending to wander down to the canal for a walk and to take a few snaps. Instead, I went straight to my favourite local cafe and had breakfast before heading home. I did listen to a podcast on my phone whilst at the cafe so not all was lost – but still I avoided using the camera!

I’m not the first and won’t be the last to lose their mojo and in fact this wasn’t even my first such case of a disappearing mojo but nevertheless it is worrying whenever it happens. Sure, history shows that I will get over it … but what if?

The good news is that disappearing mojos have a knack of returning especially with a lit bit of gentle coaxing. The first thing I do is put the camera away and if practical take a walk (without a camera) or sit with a coffee and a (non-photography) book. Sometimes just forgetting about creating for a while can help to clear the negative log-jam that is holding your creative juices back.

Another thing that often works for me is tidying up my desk. Sounds odd but simply handling the photographic detritus on my desk and putting it back where it belongs can often reignite an interest in doing something. That fisheye lens buried under a pile of papers that hasn’t been used in a while … now I wonder … It’s a bit like buying new kit without the costs involved; new kit is a sure fire way for many of us to get out with a camera and regain that enthusiasm but it’s not always economically viable.

If that doesn’t work I take a look back through my archive and remind myself of the many “wins” in a bid to remove negative thoughts. Sometimes seeing an old image can rekindle an interest in a particular technique or subject leading me to have another try.

If there is one thing that my own experience has taught me however it’s that I shouldn’t panic. The “lost” mojo is not gone but merely stood out of sight for a while, it will return and sometimes stressing about it only makes things worse.

Droning on – the vlog

One of my main photographic interests is creating audio visual sequences, AV for short. In this second vlog I ponder the current progress of an upcoming AV entitled Droning On which is built around a sequence of still drone photographs. I currently have a very incomplete narration written and wondered if putting the sequence into a vlog and recording my thoughts as I watched it would help.

In the event it did, but not in the way I envisaged. I’d set about the vlog thinking that it would free up the creative juices and I’d be able to come up with the additional three or four minutes worth of narrative I needed. In the even I decided to reduce the amount of narration to just an opening sequence, comprising most of what I’d already written and also a one or two sentence close.

It’s worth pointing out that the AV sequence is not complete; the sequence of images is how I intend it but the fades and timings will change when I settle on an accompanying musical track. The one used is YouTube friendly whereas the final version will likely use a piece allowed by my IAC licence but not necessarily allowable on YouTube.