Testing, testing…

On a whim I picked up a Canon rangefinder recently; it was being offered for buy-it-now at a sensible price well below the silly money I’ve seen some of these go for. Film-tested, it said, and recently CLAd, it also said, I decided to take a punt. I’ve used compact 35mm cameras regularly but have less experience with a rangefinder camera. Today was the day I popped a roll of film in and tested it out. Not very good light but I needed a walk anyway so off I went.

All images: AgfaPhoto APX 400 film developed in ID11(1+1)

The Canonet QL17 is a coupled-rangefinder, leaf-shuttered, fixed-focal-length 35 mm camera first manufactured by Canon in 1965 so whilst it doesn’t predate me it’s still a venerable age for a camera being used in 2021. Like me however, it is a bit stiff in the joints which hopefully is simply down to a lack of use. No battery was supplied and as it’s not a common type I’ve had to order one but as the camera still functions without a battery I simply popped a light meter in my pocket and set off.

All images digitised with a Fujifilm X-T3 & Nikkor 60mm macro lens

The Canonet G-III QL17 is arguably the more sought after model in the small Canonet range, born out perhaps by the price differential, but the QL is larger and I felt that it would fit in my hands better. I’ve certainly no complaints with the handling even wearing gloves. The focus lever has a fairly short throw which concerned me until I started using it. The short throw means that I can keep one finger on the lever and focus from close to infinity very quickly. So far, I have only used the camera this one time but already am focusing very quickly and effectively. Indeed, I think I can manually focus more quickly with this camera than any of my other cameras. A bold claim indeed!

It’s sharp! This was at f8

One thing that attracted me to the Canonet was the f1.7 lens which gets reasonably good reviews generally although that’s not the primary attraction for me. With the clocks having gone back, I have in mind a series of urban evening images using streetlights and the ever-present Yorkshire rain. With it getting dark by 4:15pm at the moment I can do some “night” photography before tea. A fast f1.7 lens will be a boon for this project as will the discrete size and shape of the camera.

The lack of a battery meant that I couldn’t test the auto exposure function nor could I assess the accuracy of the meter. I was pretty confident from my test firings however that the different shutter speeds would work without the battery – at least that’s what my ear was telling me! Working fully manually has never bothered me though. I decided to adopt the approach I often take when spontaneity is more important than 100% accuracy – meter once and use my nous thereafter. I started at f11 and 1/125th second and during the walk used apertures from f1.7 to f16 and shutter speeds from 1/60th to 1/500th. So, not quite the full range but enough to check if things are generally working OK.

Looks like the different combinations of shutter speed and aperture worked – as did my laissez-faire approach to metering

The film I loaded was one I hadn’t previously used, AgfaPhoto APX 400. Today wasn’t about testing a new-to-me film however, so I’m not going to comment further on that apart from observing that the negatives were not overly contrasty and therefore scanned very nicely. For the record I developed the roll in my old-faithful, Ilford ID11 which I diluted 1+1. Post-production was carried out in Snapseed on my tablet.

Too tyred to move …
Focusing was surprisingly quick even when held vertically

So, there we have it. My first outing with the Canonet QL and on the evidence of these negatives it won’t be my last. In fact I’ve already loaded it with a fresh roll of film ready for the next.

A tale of two cameras

I have a couple of fully automatic point-and-shoot cameras from the 1980s in my collection, as those who have read some of my recent posts will know. Both are well-respected members of the 1980s P&S community and both have produced some very pleasing results for me. But how do they compare?

I don’t propose providing the full technical specifications of these two cameras, that information is readily available on the internet for those who might be interested. I am going to consider how they have handled for me over a few different scenarios. If you are looking for test charts and graphs then I will save you some time and suggest you stop reading now; this post relates to my real-world usage of both cameras and I definitely did’t get my white lab coat out for this comparison.

Yashica – Kodak Tri-X

SCENARIO ONE: Both cameras loaded with bulk-rolled Fomapan 100 from the same batch. We were indoors with a toddler and a three-year old in a dimly lit room who’s play was mainly running around giggling interspersed with sitting on the floor. Both cameras kept up with what was going on and the leisurely pace suited them both. See also the section on Flash below.

SCENARIO TWO: Outdoors in a back garden, changeable light and four youngsters (aged three to nine) were playing on a makeshift water slide. Both cameras had 400 speed films loaded (one had Fomapan 400 the other Kentmere 400). In the event I mainly used the Yashica, given the overcast light I was forcing fill-flash to try to freeze motion and the fast refresh cycle of the Yashica proved a clear winner.

SCENARIO THREE: Urban wanders in Salford (Nikon) and Elland (both). This is my main photographic activity at the moment. Wandering the urban environment making images of whatever takes my eye has since the pandemic been the mainstay of my photographic output. Both handle very well for this type of photography. The automatic exposure on the Yashica particularly impressed on its first outing whilst the Nikon performed consistently and reliably. The filter thread on the Nikon would make it my preferred choice for B&W work (see below) but that would be my only reason for choosing the one over the other in this scenario.

Nikon – Kodak Tri-X

In terms of handling then there is very little to choose. Both have a decent grip, both feel comfortable in the hand and on both the few controls that they do have all fall easily to an appropriate digit. The speed of the auto-focus was generally OK although pre-focusing and recomposing was a big feature as both use a single, central focus spot. The Nikon didn’t miss a beat focus-wise although the Yashica only missed on a couple of occasions. The shutter release is fairly sensitive on the Yashica whereas the Nikon needs a very definite push downwards. Not a major problem as you know about it so can adapt, however, if using both cameras simultaneously its easy to forget and I’ve several “premature exposures” from the Yashica as a result.

Fomapan 100 – handheld

Batteries – being fully automatic cameras both need batteries to enable them to function. No mechanical fall-back either – it’s either working or it isn’t. The Yashica uses the 2CR5 6v battery, not something I tend to keep in the drawer whereas the Nikon uses two AA batteries which I not only keep in the house but are also readily available in all sorts of shops. I use rechargeable AA batteries which helps with cost but all told the Nikon is cheaper to set up; what I don’t know yet is how this works out longer term as I’ve not used other for long enough to judge. The manufacturer claims 1,000 exposures for the Yashica (500 with and 500 without flash). The Nikon manual claims around 100 24 exposure rolls without flash or 10 with constant use of flash. My crude calculation equates this to around 1,320 frames on a 50/50 like for basis compared to the Yashica’s 1,000. Even if they were the same the Nikon with its AA batteries would be more economical to run however.

But there’s another side to the battery equation – flash recycling times. As I mentioned in scenario two above the Yashica’s bigger battery and faster recycling times proved a real winner when the flash was being used for very image. This might be a consideration when deciding which camera to take with me therefore depending on what I think I will be photographing. I think I’d chose the Yashica for a family get-together over the Nikon for example.

Fomapan 100

Flash – the Yashica tended to bring the flash into play much quicker than the Nikon especially in the indoor scenario one. So, it was helpful that the 6V battery enabled almost instant recycling on most occasions; meaning that I wasn’t waiting for the camera to catch up with me before taking the next image. The same couldn’t be said for the Nikon sadly.

Several times I forced the Nikon to use the flash to give me some comparison images but looking back at the scenario one negatives the Yashica fired the flash on EVERY frame. As was to be expected from small, onboard flashes the results were nothing special although on a couple of occasions the Yashica managed a nicely balance image (bottom left in the grid below). The top two images are from the Nikon, with the lefthand one being flash-free. The bottom two are both Yashica and both used flash. Image-wise there’s little to choose however when using flash indoors although on the whole I don’t really like the results from either camera in this situation!

Fomapan 100
Yashica – Fomapan 100

The little storage area above was very dim, with very little light penetrating the gloom. The Yashica did a sterling job with the help of its flash. This was a “grab and run” as I was leaving the cafe.

In the second scenario I was photographing the kids coming down a water slide in a back garden. I forced the flash to fire during this experiment. The recharging speed of the Yashica meant that I favoured it in this instance – however, when I looked at the negatives the Nikon had captured the kids more sharply, more often relative to the Yashica which surprised me. There was a fair bit of motion blur evident in some of these images.

Now, filters, particularly coloured contrast filters, are primarily of concern I guess to black and white workers but it’s something that I certainly look for. You’d look in vain for one on the Yashica although the proper 46mm filter thread on the front of the Nikon lens will be a delight to those who use contrast filters in particular. For an urban photographer, with a tendency to keep a yellow/green filter in place, this one facto alone makes the Nikon the first choice for urban or even landscape photography.

Fomapan 100 – YG filter on the Nikon and I believe the Yashica fired the flash!

I have been more than happy with the quality of the negatives from both cameras. The first roll from Yashica for example scanned very easily and responded to a gentle Curves adjustment very nicely too. I’ve not yet printed from any of the negatives in the darkroom as that’s a Winter occupation for me. Negatives have been sharp though showing the quality of both lenses. I’ve used a variety of films both 100 and 400 iso and I’ve developed them in both my go-to Ilford ID11 and Kodak HC-110.

Nikon L35AF & Kentmere 400
Yashica T2 – IlfrdFP4+

I’ve used both cameras a lot over the last couple of weeks putting a dozen or more films through them during this time. With little to choose between them its fair to say that either camera would be worth looking at in my view.

But, which is best?

Yashica T2 – Ilford FP4+
Nikon L35 AF & Kentmere 400

Well, as ever, it depends. Indoors or at family gatherings the Yashica definitely gets my vote largely due to the speedy flash recycling. This means I’m not left waiting before I take the next frame – important when your subjects are grandchildren! There is a “no flash” option too if needed which is worth knowing given the Yashica’s tendency to pop the flash whenever it fancies (it even did it outdoors yesterday).

For general outdoor use however then the Nikon wins hands down for me simply due to that filter ring. I am a traditional black and white worker and the use of contrast filters is second nature to me. Given that both cameras produce lovely images out of doors then the choice comes down to what some people might consider minor differences but which to me are of some importance.

I hope that my ramblings are useful to someone, somewhere and if even one reader finds them helpful then my job is done. Thanks as ever for reading this far (unless of course you’ve simply skipped to the end – in which case shame on you! 🙂

FOOTNOTE: I used both cameras with home-rolled Fomapan 100 from a bulk roll. I put two rolls of each through each camera and on one occasion the wind-on motor of the Yashica ripped the film straight out of the cassette. It cannot be rewound in that situation and unless you have the means of providing a completely dark space (I use changing bags) it is impossible to rectify without losing the roll. Mind you, if you’re rolling your own you probably have a changing bag at least but I thought it prudent to mention it.

The 37 Club

I’ve been digging around on the internet for background information on the Nikon L35 AF that I was using in Salford Quays recently. Lots of opinions on the noise the camera makes, vignetting of the lens and the lack of manual controls. But none mentioned a big positive in my eyes – 37 frames per 36 exposure roll! I’ve just developed five rolls of black and white film, four Tri-X and one Kentmere 400, and every roll has 37 frames. Bargain! Did some of the other reviewers not get through a whole roll I wonder? [takes tongue out of cheek]

On the subject of vignetting, yes, there is a slight vignette but its not obtrusive and in my case I often add a more obvious vignette myself. The image below is un-processed apart from inverting the “scan”. There is a slight drop off in light at the edges but it isn’t objectionable to my eye.

“RAW” image
Processed – I enhanced the vignette for effect

Another thing that gets mentioned, albeit generally positively, is the +2 exposure override function. As I’ve mentioned previously its easy to use and the lever is well positioned. With the benefit of hindsight I found that in most cases it wasn’t needed, even though I made liberal use of it. I suspect that for portraits, especially closer in than I typically get, this function will repay its deployment but for the urban photography I practice it’s simply nice to know that it’s there. Overall I found the cameras exposure to be pretty good. Possibly a tad over at times but none of the negatives from this trip are problematic and as I’ve already noted my “scanning” might be a factor. Certainly the negatives look fine on the light pad.

Left – metered negative and conversion
Right – +2 negative and conversion

In the example above the automatically derived exposure is pretty close whereas the +2 is definitely over-exposed. In both cases though the negative would be usable, especially in a hybrid workflow. My take-out from this is that for general scenes such as these I really don’t need to bracket as I was doing last week on occasion.

The other thing mentioned regularly is the filter ring. This point and shoot accepts proper screw-in filters and automatically adjusts the exposure accordingly. Neat. I only had a red filter with me but left it on for the whole of one roll to see what happened. The camera didn’t miss a beat and I’ve a nicely exposed sheet of 37 negatives … did I mention 37 frames from all five rolls?

Red filter doing its stuff

So, there we go a few more thoughts on the Nikon L35 AF, and another blog post squeezed from a two day trip with one point and shoot camera and a pocket full of 35mm film.

Travelling light

The wife and I recently took a 35-mile trip up the motorway to spend a couple of days at Salford Quays. The agenda was a wander, some retail therapy (not for me sadly – no camera shops), a coffee and later an evening meal and a few beers. A plethora of camera paraphernalia was definitely not on the agenda. So I packed very light, just a small(ish) point and shoot camera and a few rolls of film.

I’ve owned the camera for a while now but until this week have only ever used it for short walks and only ever used a single roll at a time. This was to be the first trip with just the camera, a red filter and half a dozen rolls of film in my bag.

Spoiler alert: I had a blast!

Did I mention filters? Yes, the L35 has a proper 46mm filter ring – a real boon for a black and white photographer who enjoys using contrast filters. The observant however will wonder why a red filter and not my habitual yellow or yellow/green filter. I couldn’t find it amongst the disorganisation that is my gear cupboard is the truthful and slightly embarrassing answer.

It turned out a good choice though as I found a roll of Washi Z in the bottom of the bag and I’d intended using it with a red filter so that was a bonus. Together with this rogue roll I took five rolls of Tri-X and a single roll of Kentmere 400.

Let us just dwell on that lone roll of Washi Z. It’s the lone sour note in an otherwise fabulous two days. I decided to load it on Friday morning as the route we were taking had plenty of greenery amongst the urban. It was the only part of the Quays that we were not traversing more than once too so these images would be unique. I spent a happy hour using all 24 frames, started up the automatic rewind and popped the camera into my bag. It takes 20-30 seconds to rewind and I used that time to get another roll out of my pocket and consult my phone. When I took the camera out of my pocket it had stopped whirring and so I popped the back to remove the roll.

You guessed yet? Yup, it hadn’t rewound. Roll ruined. Back at home I was to find, by measuring, that only one frame had been rewound. However, stood outside the BBC Studios, my immediate concern was do I load another roll? I did, it wound on correctly, and I proceeded to the wharf side to capture some gorgeous clouds. Click. Whirr. Click. Whirr. A vertical and a horizontal composition. So far, so good. But, on the next attempt the shutter wouldn’t release. There was the hint of movement in the focus indicator needle but other than that the camera was locked solid. On a hunch I popped fresh batteries in.

Click, whirr and the third frame was exposed.

So, the thing this episode taught me is that the batteries will become exhausted without warning. I always carry spares so wasn’t in a spot but that didn’t make me feel better. My take out from this is that in future I will keep the camera in my hand whilst it rewinds as there’s no warning when it runs out of juice.

Worried about the 35mm Nikon f2.8 lens and sharpness? Don’t be.

Now, whilst this isn’t a camera review it would be remiss of me not to talk about how the camera handled and frankly how much fun it was. It’s a bit of a boxy, brick-shaped camera and not quite pocketable. I could slip it in my fleece pocket, just, but there was no chance it was going to fit in the pocket of my shorts like my usual “travel-light” camera, the digital Fujifilm X100T. It does have a neck-strap so I was able to walk hands-free when required.

All the images here were edited with Snapseed on an iPad

Camera-handling is difficult to nail down in a sentence or two, not least because it is such a subjective and personal experience. I have bigger than average hands and this camera sits very nicely whether carrying or using the camera. There are very few controls on this mostly automatic camera but ergonomically they all fall easily to an appropriate digit enabling the camera to be used without removing it from the eye. Despite only using the camera occasionally I didn’t miss any images through fiddling with controls. The +2 exposure switch is easily found on the side of the lens and holding the flash down to prevent it firing is easy to achieve with just a slight shift in the way I hold the camera.

Around a 50% crop

This is basically a fully automatic point-and-shoot 35mm camera albeit with a superb little f2.8 lens. Creating images with minimal depth of field is at the mercy of the prevailing light as the camera makes all the decisions regarding aperture, shutter speed, even focus point. However, it is possible to force the camera to focus where you want it to by placing the focus point over the desired object, half-pressing the shutter release to achieve focus, keeping the release half-pressed you can then recompose and complete the exposure.

Shallow depth of field is achievable with some thought

Similarly, there is a back-lit switch which, when held down during the exposure, will add two additional stops to the chosen aperture/shutter speed combination. I used this a fair amount.

In conclusion, the camera delivers some lovely crisp images and is very easy to use. The control freaks won’t like the very limited amount of control they can exert but it is possible to be creative with some thought. However, if you are a fully manual kind of photographer this camera is best avoided. If, like me you enjoy photography and at times need to make life easier in order to preserve domestic harmony then this camera needs to be on your shortlist.

Rather flat light which was a shame but we work with what we have

The proof of any camera’s worth though is the pictures made with it. Despite rather “meh” light over the two days it performed well. Five rolls, 180 frames, and it didn’t miss focus once. Exposure is perhaps a tad over but well within the latitude of the film I was using and could even be down to my scanning technique. It even handled the red filter well. Some people have mentioned a slight vignette but I didn’t find that a problem. There is a very faint drop off around the edges but it isn’t that noticeable and in fact I add a stronger vignette to many of my images.

With added vignette!
Friday morning, 7:30am and for thirty minutes we enjoyed the best light of our visit.

Finally, and incredibly, this is the fifth blog post that I’ve squeezed out of our mini-break. However, all of the images here are from a single roll of Kodak Tri-X that I exposed on Friday morning. With another four rolls of film to work through don’t rule out another blog post or two!

My semi-stand week: FT12

Well, somewhat belatedly, the final part of my semi-stand series has finally made it into the ether. The last, but not least, of the films that I am going to talk about for my semi-stand week series is FT12. It was the first roll of film I used during the week and because I’m a contrarian I’ve left it to the end of the series. This was a completely new-to-me emulsion that I bought on a whim from the good folk at Nik & Trick.

So, I spotted the film on the website of Nik and Trick in Folkestone. The blurb states that “Replacing Eastman Kodak’s fanatically loved SO-331 … we think that this lush 50asa film – that was not originally intended for photographic purposes – is better!!” Two exclamation marks, how could I resist. Especially as they went on to claim “… incredibly high contrast negs with a good range of mid-tone detail and amazing sharpness with near zero grain…”. They recommended rating the film at 50 ISO and stand developing in Rodinal for forty five minutes. The semi-stand week was born.

Admittedly I chose a fairly dull day when there was little or no interest in the sky but even I was surprised by how contrasty the negatives were. They certainly delivered exactly what the folk at N&T promised!

The conditions were probably not ideal for such a simplistic camera as the Horizon S3, with limited control over exposure and no local exposure options such as graduated filters. My usual urban compositions which typically look in two directions at once, as in the image above which looks down the main road to the right and the cobbled back lane to the left, just weren’t working when I got the negatives on the light pad. I was able to crop (see below) but whilst that helped with tonal balance it spoilt the composition to my eyes.

To summarise, FT12 is a slow (50 ISO) film – that was not originally intended for photographic purposes! I believe it is intended for sound recording. Based on this one roll, it certainly produces incredibly high contrast negatives with a good range of mid-tone detail and amazing sharpness. To be fair this is exactly as promised! Whether or not it’s the film for you though is a matter of personal preference. It has definitely taken me out of my comfort zone for sure.

So, there we have it, a week of semi-stand development in Rodinal and a week in which I found a new respect for this venerable old developer. Would I do it again? Indubitably! Do I keep Rodinal on my shelf at all times? Absolutely!

Rollei Retro 100

Nikon FM2n with out of date Rollei Retro 100 shot at box speed and developed in Rodinal (1+50)

It’s not often I shoot 35mm film these days despite a drawer full of film and twenty-plus 35mm cameras to chose from. However, on a whim, I picked up the Nikon FM2n over the weekend and noticed it had a part exposed roll of film in. It was also fitted with a 24-70 zoom lens I had been sent aa while back but not yet tested so I decided to finish the roll.

Nothing formal however, the live-in grandsons were playing in the back yard, in and out of their paddling pool, so I took a few snaps of them first. When they saw what I was doing they both wanted a go too, so that used a few more frames. Harry then decided to pose; composing a fast-moving, naked subject so as to preserve everyone’s modesty was a challenge. That the lens was manual focus with a sloppy focus ring just added to the fun!

Reaching the end of the roll I decided that, as everyone was outside and the kitchen therefore empty , this would be a good time to develop the film and see what I had. The first surprise was that I had loaded Rollei Retro 100 in the camera. Why that had been so I couldn’t decide and having now seen what the first few frames were I still don’t know why I had a 100 speed film in the camera. I’ve been using Perceptol a lot recently, mainly because I’ve been shooting mainly Ilford PanF+ and FP4+ in my Bronica ETRS but reached for the Rodinal, mainly because I wouldn’t have to make up a new batch of Perceptol rather than any aesthetic choice on this occasion.

After consulting my notes I settled on 13 minutes at 20 degrees C in Rodinal diluted 1+50. The result was, as expected, good negatives with a reasonable amount of contrast. I left them hanging to dry in the bathroom and later in the day cut and sleeved them ready for a proper look on the light pad the following day.

As soon as I placed the first strip on the light pad I knew that all was not well. I had a good range of tones and the negatives were not overly contrasty so I was confident that they would print well in the darkroom. They also scanned well it turned out. Even from inspecting the negatives however, I could see immediately that the lens was, to say the least, a little “soft”. Excluding the frames ruined by camera shake (due to the low shutter speeds the 100 film required) and the erratic mobility of my subjects, very few of the images were the crisp, sharply focused negatives I had expected. That was disappointing especially as there appeared to be some nice images at the first glance of the still-wet negatives the afternoon before. But not the fault of the film.

Thumbs up!

So, frustrations with the now-discarded lens aside, what did I make of the out of date Rollei Retro 100 (also known as Agfa APX 100)?

Despite the film being out of date, I made no compensation in respect of exposure, mainly because I didn’t know what film was in the camera and the ISO dial was set to what I realised afterwards was box speed. I liked the “look” of the images from the film, although defining “look” is a futile exercise as it will vary from person to person. The grain is very apparent in these negatives but I don’t mind that at all; as someone who used to regularly shoot Kodak Tri-X at 6400 ISO in the 1970s I’m used to a bit of grain! Purely digital shooters with no history of working with film will probably be horrified at all the “noise” however.

It‘s a thumbs up therefore from me. I shoot mainly 120 film and my emulsions of choice are Ilford PanF+ and HP5 but I would not be averse to putting a roll or two through the Bronicas if the subject was right.

Samyang 12mm and SRB Elite

You may have noticed that in my “Going Back” series I’m exclusively using the 12mm Samyang on either the Fuji X-T20 or the full-spectrum X-T1 with a single ND graduated filter in the bag for use when required. That ND grad is from the SRB Elite range which I wrote about briefly in Aparil 2017. So, an ideal time to update the post.

© Dave Whenham
Samyang 12mm with SRB Elite holder and ND graduated filter

At the time I said:

So long as the filter holder is ABSOLUTELY square then there is no vignetting visible in the viewfinder. When the filter holder is turned even slightly off-true then there is a little bit of vignetting but I sense that it would be very easily corrected in post.

Looking at the RAW files on the computer there is a tiny amount of corner vignetting visible, more so with the lens wide open than stopped down but it is nothing to be majorly concerned about in my view – if needs be I might frame a fraction wider than I need and crop in later.

Caveat: I’ve not properly tested this “in the field”; this was a “quick and dirty” visual inspection stood in my front garden pointing the camera at a bright blue sky

Well, having now used the combination over the last three days I can report that my initial findings were spot on. I’ve mainly been shooting at f8 and with care I’ve not encountered any problems. Trying to change orientation quickly and realign the filter can be problematic, and I have several darkened corners for my troubles, but so far when I’ve taken time to line the holder up properly and check the corners of my frame I’ve not had any major problems.

© Dave Whenham
Top left and bottom right (hidden by shadow) show what happens when the filter holder is not aligned exactly.

My original thoughts, that I would use the Lee 100mm filter system for any extended outings with the Samyang 12mm lens hold true. I’m cautious however about using the full sized graduated ND filters as the small surface area of the Fuji-X lenses means that the larger graduation on the bigger filters can be problematic.

Had I chosen any of my Fuji-X fit  lenses other than the Samyang 12mm then this brief review would I suspect have had no reservations as I’ve found that the build quality of the SRB Elite system is very good and it is very easy to use. The circular polariser screws into the centre of the filter holder (as does the ten-stop ND filter)  and having played with it a bit more I’m finding it easy to fit and remove now I’ve got the knack. 

© Dave Whenham

Incidentally, I mentioned before some reservations with using the ten-stop ND filter with ND grads. Well, I have made a very quick experiment this evening and by opening the lens up to f2 and fitting the 10-stop Elite filter I can see enough of the image on the Fuji X-T20s EVF and LCD screen to align a graduated filter. Given the depth of field with this lens when its closed down to f11 focusing is not really an issue but as a matter of course I would focus before adding filters anyway and the focus ring is firm enough to stay put when changing apertures.

© Dave Whenham
Samyang 12mm lens with SRB Elite polariser

All in all I think the SRB Elite range is an affordable alternative to some of the more expensive filter systems on the market which I can use without reservation with my Fuji kit and with care it can even be used with the ultra-wide Fuji-fit Samyang 12mm.

First Impressions

So, as I wrote in my last post I’ve taken another step along the path to a fully mirrorless existence. Unless “Senior Management” wins the lottery I can’t imagine I will ever be in a position to replace the Nikon D800E that I sold this week but I have no regrets (yet?). As well as the X-T1 I have also been able to purchase a Samyang 85mm f1.4 and most excitingly the Fuji 23mm WR f2.  The Samyang arrived yesterday and seems very sturdy and whilst I’ve not tried it in earnest as yet I have high hopes for this manual focus lens. The second generation Fuji 23mm arrives tomorrow … watch this space!

© Dave Whenham
Literally the first shot with the XT-1. 18-55 lens at 20mm 1/20th sec f7.1 ISO 400

A hospital appointment Wednesday morning was the unlikely opportunity to try the X-T1 for the first time. For flexibility I added the 18-55 “kit” lens and arrived at the hospital an hour early so I could wander down some of the back streets to have a play. Not particularly inspiring conditions but it gave me a taster and I found that the camera handled well and was as intuitive to use as I’d hoped.  I popped a Lee Seven5 graduated filter in my pocket too and found that the EVF was more than up to the job of helping me line up the filter.

Back button focusing worked well although it’s going to take a while for muscle memory to find the button first time every time. It is small and positioned slightly behind where my thumb naturally rests but given time it will be fine I think. I’ve ordered a third-party hand grip for under £20 to see if that helps (sorry Fuji at £129 you’ve priced yourself out of the market for that accessory).

© Dave Whenham
18-55 lens at 55mm 1/60th sec f6.4 ISO 1000

Late-afternoon Wednesday and after picking the Nipper up from school it was pleasant enough to play in our small front yard.  Zac is quite speedy on the bike and truth be told the 18-55 was struggling to keep up. With hindsight I would have put the 35mm f1.4 on the camera as that is no slouch in the focus department but hindsight is such a wonderful thing. Those shots where I nailed the focus though made up for the failures and I learned a lot from the experience I think.

© Dave Whenham
18-55 lens at 46mm 1/25th sec f4 ISO 400 indoors

I’ve saved the best for last though. Still with the 18-55 attached (I have now removed it) I photographed Ted on Thursday as he ate his breakfast. Not at all shabby in my view and after just a small time I am already feeling very comfortable with the new toy.

First impressions then are very favourable. The X-T1 handled well although I do need to adjust to the smaller form compared to my D800E. Ironically, the slightly smaller body of the X-T10 never gave me the same issue but I think that is largely down to expectations; I bought the  X-T10 as an additional camera whereas in my mind the X-T1 is replacing the Nikon, a camera with which I am very well acquainted. I will post further impressions over the coming weeks as I get out with the X-T1 more.

Incidentally, all of these were processed in Luminar, the relatively new image editing software from Macphun. It works very differently to Photoshop but after viewing a couple of introductory videos from the vast collection on Macphun’s website I’m finding it simple to use. Given time I may have found a far more cost effective alternative to the Adobe behemoth. They are posted in the order I processed the RAW files too, I think I could make a better fist of the railway line if I reprocessed the file today.

Lee Seven5 Filter System

I am fully conversant with the benefits of using filters, particularly neutral density graduated filters, standard and extreme neutral density filters and polarisers, having used them extensively over the years for landscape photography. However, I watched a short video recently from Lee extolling the benefits of using filters in an urban setting  that got me thinking. Given how much I like the JPEG files that come from my two Fuji cameras wouldn’t it be useful to utilise the power of filters to reduce the need to compensate for over-exposed skies; making the out-of-camera JPEGs truly one-stop solutions.

© Dave Whenham

Fuji X-T10 and Samyang 12mm lens

As a result of this train of thought I recently bought into the Lee Seven5 filter system specifically designed for compact camera systems such as the Fuji-X range. My initial impressions are very positive but it has to be said that in some instances, such as when using the 12mm Samyang lens with three filters stacked together  (above), it is better to use the full-sized Lee system. However, for less extreme lenses and for portability the Seven5 system is proving hard to beat.

I recently spent part of the day at Scammonden Water (post to follow) putting the Fuji X-T10 and Samyang 12mm lens through their paces using the full-sized Lee filters with neutral density graduated filters and both the Big Stopper and its sibling the Little Stopper. The Seven5 system is so light and small however I popped that in the bag to use with the Fuji 18-55 that I also planned to use on the X-T10 that day.

First, a simple comparison shot taken using the Fuji X100T both without and then with the Lee Seven5 0.9 hard neutral density filter. It says everything that needs to be said about the benefits of using graduated neutral density filters for landscape work.

© Dave Whenham
Scammonden Water and the M62 which is actually the dam wall. Fuji X100T no filters

© Dave Whenham
As above but with a Lee Seven5 3-stop graduated neutral density filter fitted.

In this example I think a third of a stop additional exposure might have been appropriate but I still refer the overall look of the second image. Whilst mentioning the X100T I should point out that I use a third-party hand grip which makes the camera a lot steadier in my experience. However, because of the very flat profile of the built-in 23mm lens I found that with the filter holder attached I could no longer grip the camera properly and indeed removed the grip for these shots.  Not a deal breaker but something to be aware of when using the filter system on the X100T.

© Dave Whenham
Looking down on Scammonden Water

The image above was taken with the Fuji X-T10 and 18-55 lens at 18mm. This was handheld and utilises two Lee Seven5 filters. Across the top is the three-stop neutral density filter to hold back the bright sky. I also reversed a very subtle warm-up graduated filter in the holder just to give the foreground a little bit more warmth.  Looking at both the with and without versions in Lightroom I was pleased with the choice; the effect is only subtle but has been effective.

© Dave Whenham
The filter tower and M62 beyond

At present I have just three of the Seven5 filters – the three-stop hard graduated filter, the 81b graduated warm-up filter and a Little Stopper. With a full set of the 100mm Lee filters I wasn’t keen on spending too much on the more compact system until I’d had a chance to test it properly.  The image above utilises the graduated neutral density filter with the addition of the Little stopper which enable an exposure time of 2 seconds. The X-T10 was able to judge the exposure time through the filter although I did check that it agreed with my calculation before pressing the shutter.  The effect of the Little Stopper is subtle and with hindsight I should have popped the full sized set on and used the Big Stopper but the purpose of the exercise was to test the Seven5 system.

© Dave Whenham

All of the images here are out-of-camera JPEGs, it would miss the point of this test  to have processed the RAW files and added additional tweaks. Whilst the Little Stopper image was shot from a tripod the image above was hand held. If the system is to work for me in an urban setting then nine times out of ten it will need to be used hand held rather than on a tripod.  I found positioning the filters very easy using the Fuji X-T10’s EVF and looking at the files back at home was pleased to see that everything lined up exactly as I saw it in the viewfinder.

© Dave Whenham
Rain heading my way!

The image above was taken “on the run” as I moved to get under shelter from the pending rain. It was a useful test however as it reassured me that positioning the filter through the EVF was very quick to achieve.  Likewise, the image below uses both the neutral density graduated filter and a reversed warm-up graduated filter and was taken whilst walking back to the car.  In terms of being quick to set up whilst hand holding I am very pleased with how the Lee Seven5 works.

© Dave
The final view of Scammonden Dam and the M62 as I head back to the car

So, the acid test. Will I be investing further in the Lee Seven5 system?

Unequivocally YES!

Whilst they are less useful for the Samyang 12mm lens they are perfect for the X100T (without hand grip!) and for using on the fly with the Fuji X-T10 and 18-55 lens. For urban or street photography these are likely to be my go-to options as the extremely wide-angle and the manual control of the 12mm lens are less useful in these situations.  I found the small size of the system a positive advantage – the 100mm system which I’d been using takes up a third of the small  camera bag I use for the Fuji system! In practical terms the EVF of both cameras is perfectly good enough to enable accurate positioning of the filters which is particularly import given their small size. Looking back at the files in Lightroom there are no examples of poorly aligned filters both amongst the handheld and tripod-mounted images.

My only gripe with the system is the cost but Lee are able to charge what they do because the system is so good and therefore photographers are willing to pay the premium.

My Lee Seven5 wish list comprises a Big Stopper, a two-stop soft graduated filter and the phenomenally expensive polariser.  Thinking about how I use the larger Lee system on my Nikon DSLRs this would give me the most-used combinations certainly for landscape photography. I often stack a three-stop hard with a two-stop soft graduated neutral density filter, use the polariser a lot and the Big Stopper more than I should I suspect.

All images © Dave Whenham

That Velvia Moment

I’m still getting used to the Fuji X-T10 and when the opportunity arose yesterday for a few hours on Marsden Moors I grabbed the camera, the Samyang 12mm and my Lee filters and headed for the moors.  Let me firstly say that it was freezing and windy up there. It was warm and still when I set off and therefore I was in shorts and a fleece but fortunately my old coat was lurking in the boot of the car as when I stepped out on Buckstones Edge (also known locally as Nont Sarah’s) it was anything but warm and still.

If I was cold I suspect the paraglider were colder

To my mind it takes a brave soul to leap off Buckstones Edge to go paragliding but when I arrived there were four such hardy individuals in the air. With a 12mm lens I was never going to capture action images but they do add a sense of scale (above).

© Dave Whenham
March Haigh Reservoir – I used a polariser to take some of the glare off the reservoir

I had previously experimented with using the Lee Seven5 filter system on the Samyang 12mm lens but found that the full-sized 100mm Lee filters were less problematic particularly when stacking filters.  Even so, when using the polariser (above) there was slight vignetting in the corners. Not a huge deal as it could be handled in post-production but nevertheless worth remembering. Another way around the problem is to frame the scene a little larger than you need in order to crop out the corners I guess.

So despite the user being rather cold the Lee 100mm system acquitted itself well up on Buckstones Edge and the smaller size of the X-T10 and Samyang, compared to a Nikon D800E and 14-24 f2.8, was not a problem in any significant way. I did need to get my reading glasses out at times to check the screen information but I do that with my Nikons too.

I tried some long exposures with both Little and Big Stoppers but the sky was coming out mainly white with few streaks of colour so gave that up for another day and headed down to Scammonden Water to try my luck there.

The vegetation around the beck, indeed around the whole of the area was particularly lush and verdant and so I did something I’ve never done before and switched the shooting mode to Velvia. I am a big fan of Velvia transparencies but have never been convinced by Velvia simulation modes on cameras or indeed plug-ins for post production. However, in the spirit of getting to know the X-T10 I turned it on safe in the knowledge that I was shooting RAW+JPEG so had a safety net.

© Dave Whenham
Lush vegetation – JPEG from camera using Velvia setting

As I think the image above shows, the “Velvia” JPEG, this is straight out of the camera, did a pretty good job overall. Velvia was noted for highly saturated, vivid colours and the X-T10 simulation delivers just that.

© Dave Whenham
A polariser helped reduce some of the glare although I did not fully polarise the image as I wanted some of the highlight to balance the composition

I work mainly in black & white but have to say that the richness of these JPEGs means that I have lost my aversion to Velvia simulations. I was already a fan of the “Classic Chrome” simulation on the X-T10 but in the right situation I think that the Velvia option is worth using too.

© Dave Whenham
Fuji X-T10 Handheld – “Velvia” JPEG – Lee Seven5 0.9 ND graduated filter

So, my “journey” with the Fuji’s continues to be very positive and I am starting to really appreciate how this system can complement and work alongside my larger Nikon DSLR-based system.

All images © Dave Whenham