I recently acquired three “new” lenses, all M42 screw-thread, and all what are generally classed as “vintage” by amateur photographers. One, the Helios 44-2 58mm f2 is a bit of a cult classic and it’s odd to have one in my hands again after so many years. This is probably my fourth 44-2 as these lenses were the “kit” lenses of the day that usually came with the Zenith SLR bodies of which I’ve owned three in the past starting in the mid-1970’s. It’s ironic that a lens that I’ve always considered a little bit soft and couldn’t wait to upgrade from has become almost a talisman for the creative photographer in 2019.
So, the three lenses I purchased this week are:
Pentacon 50mm f1.8
Helios 44-2 58mm f2
Helios 44M-4 58mm f2
I chose to partner these lenses with my Fujifilm XH-1 using a cheap, generic adapter to mount the lenses. This is basically just a black metal tube with a female 42mm thread at one end and a Fuji-X mount at the other. It doesn’t allow for the lens to be focused at infinity but that was not an issue for the test I had in mind. I’ve bought these lenses for one reason, to see what bokeh effects I can get when photographing flowers and such-like in the garden. I’ve shot so many for my 365 Challenge over the last two years that I’m looking for something a little different.
Conditions were not ideal for flower photography, it was rather windy in the front yard but I was keen to see what potential these lenses had and wanted to play before the “perfect” conditions arrived so I knew which to grab first when/if such conditions arose.
The first thing I did was shoot all three lenses wide-open at their maximum apertures. The results are above. Remember I’m not looking for sharpness per-se but the overall effect and in particular the background bokeh. The ISO was set at 400 throughout the test and I let the XH-1 determine the shutter speed. The day was overcast with occasional, brief bursts of sun peeking through and for these first three shots the shutter speed ranged from 1/4400th sec to 1/7500th sec. I focused on the centre of the flower head as far as possible.
Which you prefer is a matter of personal taste and your desired aesthetic. At this stage I preferred the Pentacon and Helios 44-2, but there is not a lot in it.
The next thing was to stop the lenses down a little to determine what effect that had. The 44M-4 has an automatic stop-down controlled by a small plate in the camera body which moves forward when the shutter release is depressed to push in a pin on the lens mount which closes the aperture blades to the chosen aperture. Unlike the other two lenses this lens does not have a means of manually stopping down and as I didn’t want to mess around with gaffer tape I decided to omit it from the stopped down tests.
The f8 test shows a definite difference in the out of focus background and at this aperture, on this subject, the Helios 44-2 better suits my taste. Your mileage may vary of course!
I’ve included a few more images below but by way of a conclusion, for my taste and for what I want to achieve the Helios 44-2 58mm f2 will do a fabulous job I feel. It is sharp enough, not bitingly sharp, but sharp enough. The out of focus background at F2, f4 and f8, the only apertures I tested, are the most consistently pleasing and of course I can manually stop the lens down.
To finish, lens flare at f2. The leaf blew away slightly exposing the naked sun, I could not resist the resultant full-on, all-over, flare-fest. One for my textures collection!
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.
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 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.
Fuji’s commitment to ongoing improvements
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.
This was originally posted in June 2016. It’s taken around three years to move to a full Fuji system so to celebrate I’m republishing a couple of original articles. I am in the process of writing both an updated review of the Fuji X-T3 and also revisiting this post that firs appeared on davewhenhaphotography.com.
It may just be because of my recent researches but I’ve seen a lot of blog posts along the lines of “My journey with Fuji”, “My switch from [insert brand here] to Fuji” or “Moving to Fuji – my story”. So the virtual world probably doesn’t need another such post. But then again I figured that as my posts are read by approximately one and a half people each time perhaps it would be OK to slip this one in under the radar.
I was as it happens a very early “adopter” buying the Fuji X100 when it first came out and I instantly became enamoured by its retro styling and the way it forced me back into a way of shooting I’d last enjoyed thirty years previously.
That however was the honeymoon and whilst I continued to use the X100 regularly as shown by the images above it’s shortcomings and quirks finally led to it being left at home more and more until 2015 when, whilst switching my DSLR kit from Canon to Nikon, I finally decided to part company with the Fuji.
It was a difficult decision, in so many ways it was a joy to handle but it could be a frustration to actually use and despite its image quality (I won a club competition with an X100 image) the fact that it was spending so much time in the drawer meant I wasn’t getting any meaningful benefit from ownership. The major firmware update in late 2013 came too late for me, by that time the X100 and indeed Fuji were rarely in my thoughts and I completely missed the announcements. I did update the firmware before selling the camera but by then the die was cast. I cried quietly inside at how little I got for it but that’s another story.
Looking back this morning I am well pleased with some of the images I made with the X100. On those occasions when I could be bothered to wrestle with it’s idiosyncrasies I was usually happy with the results even if getting there was sometimes somewhat painful. I never used the Fuji JPEGS from the X100 but was always more than happy with the quality of the RAW (RAF) files it produced. From time to time though after selling the X100 I did regret the decision.
Recently however I’ve been looking again at the Fuji X100, now in its third iteration as the Fuji X100T. I initially started looking at classic film rangefinders with no intention of reentering the premium large sensor, fixed prime lens digital market. However, wherever I looked the Fuji X100T kept cropping up in articles, blog posts and discussion groups. Which naturally meant I followed the threads and dug deeper. And deeper. And yet deeper still.
So deep in fact that the X100T entered the house and I have very quickly embraced this newest iteration of the X100. The handling is the same but the user experience vastly improved. Using this style of camera needs a different approach compared to a (D)SLR, more akin to a traditional rangefinder, but as with everything the secret is in getting to know your kit and actually using it regularly. I’ve used the X100T daily since I got it and the mechanical side of things is starting to become intuitive; muscle memory is being formed and changing settings is becoming easier through repetition. I think that is the secret with any camera, practice, practice and yet more practice. Several of the buttons on the camera can be customised and I’ve been through three separate formations so far, each slightly more helpful to my way of working than before.
Getting to know the camera hasn’t been without its frustrations of course but I’m already feeling at home with the X100T and the quality of the images who I get it right make the effort very worthwhile. Two main things stand out art present. Firstly, the camera tends to under-expose to my taste in most situations, not a major problem as I now keep the EV dial on +1 most of the time but I do need to keep an eye on exposure. I will experiment further with exposure modes and see if that helps in this regard.
The X100T is great for candid photography and the image quality at ISO 6400, when exposed correctly, is superb. No complaints from me. The image above was shot at 1/60th second at f4 and ISO 6400 from a distance of five feet or so with the camera sat on my leg.
Which leads me to my other frustration, which I would stress is down to my handling and NOT the camera, and that is the number of blurred shots I acquired when street shooting due to the shutter speed being too slow. My bad as they say but I have been setting far too small an aperture for street candids I think. As a landscape photographer I am used to defaulting to f11 as my go-to aperture. When shooting portraits I often use f2.8 or even wider on occasions. Out on the streets of London last week I set the X100T to f8 or f11, auto ISO (with a maximum of 6400) in aperture priority and manual focusing. Looking at the images this morning far too many are blurry and when I dig deeper I’m seeing shutter speeds of 1/15th second or less. When moving on the street I suspect that even 1/30th or 1/60th of a second might be too slow. This is NOT a fault of the camera but it is something to be aware of and for me it is a case of getting used to a smaller, busier viewfinder and keeping my eye on the shutter speed.
Looking back through the images, an aperture of f4 would be ideal with the 23mm lens of the X100T when shooting candids or street photography. This was indoors and 1/100th sec at f4 ISO 1600 with camera to my eye.
Last weeks experiences on the streets of London have taught me a lot about this style of shooting and also given me the confidence that insofar as I am concerned the X100T is going to be the perfect tool for the job.
But of course, I didn’t stop at the X100T as you will know if you’ve read any of my recent posts. A flurry of activity online, selling my Nikon 16-35 lens and the entire EOS M3 kit amongst other items, has provided the budget for a new Fuji X-T10 and four lenses (8mm fisheye, 12mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm).
One thing I have been very conscious of more recently is the weight of my Nikon kit. It is less of an issue when out in the fells for the day with one of my photographic partners but for a day out with the family it is frankly a liability. However, spending five days away, as we did last week, I prefer to have some options other than just a DSLR and 24-70 zoom. But it is not practical, my full Nikon kit is bigger than the suitcase we use for a start! So, whilst researching the Fuji X-series I realised I could put together an excellent system which would mean I could cut down on bulk and weight without compromising on versatility.
Spoiler alert: I bought the X-T10 as my lightweight alternative to the Nikons and at this stage it is not my intention to ditch the DSLRs so don’t expect a “Road to Damascus” moment later in this post because there hasn’t been one … yet.
The images above were all taken with the Fuji X-T10 on a day spent in Kew Gardens, London. I used three lenses during the day, the Samyang 8mm fisheye, the Fujinon 18-55 “kit lens” and the Fujinon 55-200mm. As you will have worked out I had a full-frame equivalent of 27mm through to 300mm at my disposal (if you exclude the slightly more esoteric fisheye) which compares more than favourably to the 24-70 I would have restricted myself to if I’d brought the Nikon DSLR on this trip. Weight-wise I didn’t get the scales out but my shoulders reported no more strain from the Fuji and three lenses than it would have from one lens plus DSLR Nikon set-up.
It is too early to make any detailed conclusions about the X-T10 although I have already fallen for the quality of JPEGs from both Fujis. I used the X-T10 mainly on a walk along the South Bank one afternoon and for a full day in Kew Gardens. It was in my bag at all times though and so did get a brief outing in the West End as the image above shows.
First impressions are very positive though both in terms of handling and in terms of image quality. I was very happy with the Canon EOS M3 I was using recently but have to say that the Fuji experience has been far superior so far. That is not to say the M3 is poor, far from it I still rate it highly, but the Fuji’s have so far provided an even better user experience so I am more than happy with my recent purchases.
Whether or not it becomes a DSLR-killer remains to be seen. I am not even going to entertain the idea of ditching my Nikons until I have used the Fujis for a good six months, which takes us into 2017. I feel confident enough with the X-T10 though to have invested in a Lee Seven5 starter kit and will be testing the system out on my next couple of landscape shoots. If all goes well I will take both systems to Skye in November and use the Fuji for those days when the walking is mostly steeply upwards. But that is jumping head.
At present my introduction to the Fuji X-series has been a very positive one. From having mixed feelings about the X100 in 2011 I find myself in 2016 with an X-T10 and X100T feeling very positive about the system and looking forward to exploring the Fuji X-world further over the coming months.
Fujifilm’s latest X-series camera was released a few weeks ago to much fanfare and insofar as I can see much critical acclaim.And for once in my life I find myself in the vanguard, an early adopter of Fujifilm’s latest electronic marvel even before Adobe have caught up.
Do I like it? Well, I sold the Fuji X-T20 within 48 hours of taking delivery of the X-T3 so confident was I after just one play that the older model wouldn’t get a look in unless I left the X-T3 at home; and why would I do that?
As always I will leave the technical stuff and a discussion of the cameras’s 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.User experience. Easy to type but very hard to define largely because it will vary considerably from one person to another.
A camera needs to feel “right” in my hand. I can’t write the exact feeling down but know it when I experience it.The X-T3 is a little bigger than my now-departed X-T20 (a camera I really enjoyed using) although it is a form factor I’m familiar with as I already own the X-T1 which is my infrared/full-spectrum camera these days. With one of my primes attached or the 18-55 “kit” lens the X-T1 feels great in the hand. Not perfect but still very, very good. I knew therefore before I placed the order for the X-T3 that I’d be purchasing the battery grip especially if I intended expanding my focal length opportunities by buying a telephoto lens at some point in the future (spoiler alert: that future is now the past).
The X-T3 body with my 35mm f1.4 prime does indeed feel great in the hand and I’ve been using this combination a lot recently. The 18-55 likewise balances well as do the two Samyang primes in my bag (12mm and the fisheye) although the Fuji 55-200 does feel a little front heavy although this was not unexpected. The battery grip though transforms the handling from good to great. It’s good also to have the choice of travelling very light with just body and a 23mm prime for example or putting on the grip for better handling with the bigger lenses and of course three times as much battery power. As an aside, I got 1,216 images (2,432 files as I shoot RAW+JPEG) from one charge using three batteries and the grip which is pretty much what is claimed by Fuji (1,170 from memory is the claim).
The auto-focus is not strictly something many would class as handling but it does contribute to the overall user experience as slow or poor AF can be very frustrating at best. On the X-T1 focusing with the Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 R can be slow and the lens often hunts especially in more challenging conditions. But keep in mind this lens is a venerable OAP in lens-terms having been first released for sale on January 9th 2012. I was therefore amazed and very surprised at the very nifty focusing achieved with the X-T3. It will never compete with more modern lenses in the speed stakes due to its older design and engineering but comparing it on the X-T3 versus the X-T1 does reveal a very welcome improvement in user experience. Of course, this is my subjective view and I’ve not carried out any laboratory testing but at the end of the day it’s how the gear behaves in real life and not in a laboratory that really matter – at least to some of us!
What I’ve not yet had the opportunity to do is a “proper” day out complete with a tripod, numerous lens changes and the deployment of filters but that should be possible next week fingers crossed.
So, all first signs are positive. I never expected to be an early adopter but having got caught up in the excitement as a fellow photographer anticipated the release of the “T3” I found myself swept along and with an order in the basket just the day before the official UK launch. I never expected to get it within 48 hours either. With the 18-55 attached I set off for a few days in Northumberland to celebrate my birthday not really expecting much in the way of photography but nevertheless knowing that I had a pretty capable camera should opportunities arise.
Oh, and that telephoto lens? Our journey from Elland to Northumberland took us pass the Metro Centre in Gateshead and of course the Boss decided that would be an ideal opportunity for a coffee and a break from driving (not that she drives!). Long story short – Jessops – a few secondhand lenses – Fuji 50-140 f2.8. I tried it on an X-T2 body (the shop hadn’t any X-T3 bodies) and knew that I was about to take another irrevocable step into the Fuji-X system. I barely took the lens off the X-T3 for the following three days.
* All images Fiji X-T3 from JPEGs – just wish Adobe would get their finger out! Perhaps I should just move to Capture One 🙂
My first attempt at a long exposure wasn’t a resounding success but it provided some very useful food for thought and experience. It also provided a surreal moment as I woke on Sunday morning to find it featured in Flickr’s “Explore” section despite its obvious flaws.
My second attempt therefore was made on a slightly more open stretch of the River Calder although for the initial close-in shot, the trees on the left hand side and part of the front of the scene were still fairly close to the drone. Once again I am using the Freewell 10-stop ND filter.
I have visited this part of Cromwell Bottom a few times recently, shooting the weir from above as an incidental part of a wider scene as well as deploying the infra-red Fuji.
My aim was to keep the shutter speed to around 1 – 2 seconds increasing the ISO if needed in order to do so. In the event it was a bright sunny morning so I was able to keep the ISO at 100 and still shoot with the desired shutter speeds.
I was using the iPad with the drone for the first time and the larger screen was a boon in quickly identifying that movement was still an issue when the drone was just 14 feet up but as the height increased the stability improved. As I mentioned earlier there are a lot of dense trees to the left of this shot and immediately behind the little monitoring station. I had wondered if these would help shelter the drone perhaps from the slight breeze but on reflection wonder if they were once again swirling the drones own backdraft around? Whatever, once we clear the trees matters improved although that begs the question what would happen in a stronger breeze?
The four images above are straight from the drone and even at this size the motion blur in the first is very evident. I needed to reduce the exposure time for shot three but looking at others I took around 90 feet the thoughts on height affecting motion blur in this situation hold.
All of the images shot at between 1 and 2 seconds above tree height were very usable, and if the scene had been more photogenic would no doubt have been properly processed too for my Flickr feed and blog. However, this trip was about learning the possibilities and so I wasn’t precious about the actual view. The question remained though, could I salvage the first image, shot from just fourteen feet up? I took the unprocessed image into Photoshop and applied the Shake Reduction filter. I manually selected five areas to provide multiple traces for the software and as you can see above the end result was definitely usable.
I played with a few exposures between 3 and 6 seconds but wasn’t happy with the results of these on the day. It could be that such lengthy exposures are possible on very still days but that will need some further tests. For now an exposure time of between 1 and 2 seconds seems to give me a nice creative look to the image without too many problems vis-a-vis image quality. As with the first attempt I am very pleased with the neutrality of this ND filter too.
So, a successful morning, a few more lessons learnt and some more food for thought. I’m looking forward to shooting some 1 and 2 second shots above the Northumberland shoreline in the Autumn!
It’s ironic, but as I get further and further from my schooldays I get more and more prone to schoolboy errors. Simple things usually. I always leave my phone downstairs on charge when I go to bed as it means I have a fully charged phone when I get up the following morning. So, this morning, up with the lark, dressed, grabbed drone (always ready) and the new iPad and off out to see how well the iPad functions as a drone screen and whether it impedes flying at all.Minor inconvenience to find I’d forgotten to charge phone but that was offset by the fact that I was going to be using the iPad so no harm done.
Off to my usual test zone near the car, park on the roadside and walk the hundred yards or so. In short oder, drone set up, filter attached, controller turned on and iPad cable installed. New iPad in hand so all ready for the test. Apart from one minor problem – the iPad holder is sitting on the desk at home and there’s no way I can wedge this tablet into the controller.So, fall back on the iPhone – with 40% charge (which, incidentally, would be down to 8% by the time I got home). I had a pleasant twenty minutes or so, I find I’m regularly getting 23 minutes plus with a little juice still left in the batteries, but time was up and I left without seeing how the iPad works in practice.
So, I ended up trying out the iPad/controller combination in my back yard.Six feet off the ground with the sensors constantly complaining I was very near an obstacle (house, shed, trees) wasn’t ideal but it gave me a feel.I will need to fly it properly in the open to see how the larger size and weight affect my flying and manoeuvring. It felt a little clumsy this morning, nowhere near as well balanced as the iPhone and I found it slightly more comfortable to angle the bracket so the edge of the iPad rested on my wrists. I don’t need to see the joysticks and my thumbs still rested happily on top although not quite as true as before, tilting very slightly outwards but I think I will get used to this.
The considerably larger screen though was a joy. As someone who wears different glasses for distance and reading I find juggling two pairs of specs whilst trying to read thedetail on the iPhone screen and also maintaining visual contact with a drone at four hundred feet an interesting challenge.With the larger screen I could read most of what I needed to see without the reading glasses. At the end of the day the iPad screen provides almost four times the real estate of the iPhone so that was to be expected.
The one piece of data on the controller screen that I have got accustomed to using all the time is the altitude readout and whilst this also appears on the iPad screen I found myself constantly looking for it. I often swipe up on the phone screen to give me an uninterrupted view of the scene without the usual visual clutter, it makes composition more precise, and having the basic data on the controller too was very helpful.
So, it will take some getting used to in terms of weight, balance and learning to work without the controller readout but my initial thoughts on this mornings experiments are positive. I cannot see me using it exclusively, the iPhone is always with me and the DJI experience seems to have been built around its form, whilst the iPad is bulkier and also doesn’t fit in the little bag I carry the drone around in.So, on a stroll along the beach with the wife, where I always carry as little photography gear as I can get away with, I will use the phone. However, if down there on my own, or with another photographer, I will usually have a larger bag anyway and the iPad will slip nicely into the front pocket without really adding to the bulk I’m carrying.
Not my best photography ever but I learnt a lot from this mornings mini test on the footbridge over Woodside Locks.
Part of the reason for venturing out this morning was to scratch an itch and also to test a new filter. It had to be done very early (I was out well before 7am) to ensure I didn’t get in anyones way as this towpath is popular with cyclists, joggers and dog walkers at almost all times of day.
I fully understand the concept of ND filters for the drone, especially in controlling shutter speeds for smooth video, but have been surprised to see advertisements for ten-stop ND filters which can extend exposure times into the seconds even in bright sunshine. As drone photographers we tend to keep our ISO at the lowest possible setting but even at 100 ISO and on an overcast morning in the shade of some trees I was getting eight seconds this morning. I could have pushed the ISO up and reduced the shutter speed but the purpose of today was to learn rather than create an image for the wall.
As you can see from the image above, the drone was no more than seven feet above the bridge over the lock with trees encroaching to within the same distance from above, behind and the right. The morning breeze combined with the downdraft from the drone in such a confined space meant it was struggling to remain perfectly still; indeed I was surprised at how buffeted I was stood below and slightly to the drones right.
An eight second exposure was probably a lot to ask in these conditions! I knew it would be tight under the trees, I’d even put the drone into Tripod mode to ease it gently in to the space, but had not really appreciated quite how much wind turbulence there would be.
A healthy dose of the shake reduction filter in Photoshop has produced an image that confirms the filter is neutral, and that given the right circumstances it should be more than practical to use slow shutter speeds in daylight to achieve a perfectly acceptable long-exposure from the air. To be fair I could have increased the ISO and thereby increased the shutter speed to 2 or 4 seconds for example, but this was after all just a quick experiment to see whether the new filter lived up to the good reviews I’d read online and to prove that the drone could hold still enough for a longer exposure.
I’m convinced that in a better environment I will be able to capture some interesting and creative images with the drone. I probably need to avoid hovering in what was effectively a wind tunnel next time! Mind you, that won’t stop me trying this again with a shutter speed of 2-4 seconds to see if that helps.
The filter I was using this morning is a Freewell FW-MAV-ND1000 Filter. It fits snugly and easily and is also straightforward to remove afterwards yet still feels very secure on the lens. Drone start-up and gimbal calibration was not affected and the files have no appreciable colour cast in the test shots I took this morning returning an image with the same colours compared to shots from the same basic area and height but with no filter attached.