Another new toy has found its way into my kit bag. I only played briefly with it yesterday, the first proper test will come next week when I go to London for a few days. However, I had a blast with it despite only having ten minutes or so and here are the first few shots from this little gem.
The lens is a Samyang 8 mm F2.8 II Fisheye lens which I bought to pair with the Fuji X-T10. It is a fully manual lens which probably helps to keep the costs very low for such an item but they have not skimped on build quality or optical performance if my first few shots are anything to go by. I shall probably do a real-world user review in due course but as someone brought up on old manual film cameras using a fully manual lens is not an issue.
As the shot above shows real care is needed to avoid appearing in the frame yourself but I guess this is part of the fun.
As photographers we tend to try to make our images as appealing as possible on the whole, especially those of us with a leaning towards the pictorial. Let’s face it unless the images are part of a documentary-style story who wants to see the crummy face of town? I guess many of us therefore approach places with a “picture-postcard” mentality, looking for the attractive, quirky or quaint side of town.
Whilst I am at heart a pictorial photographer I have always been drawn to the less-glamourous face of the towns and places I live and work in. I’ve even been known to seek out the grimier side of town when on holiday or visiting somewhere new.
As I perambulated around the edges of Elland today (“Edgelands” – I’ll come back to that in another post) I was musing on how run-down the town is and initially started to wonder how I’d photograph it to attract visitors, say for a tourist information website. But then I thought, how much more interesting to document it as it really is. The plain, unvarnished truth rather than the glossy, beautified fiction of a tourist guide. In truth, I have lots of both types of these images already on my hard drive, particularly the less picturesque; the one above was taken two days ago for example. Thus was born “Elland – Unvarnished”.
Over time I aim to collect these together in a book format but that is to fast-forward to the end of the project. For now I’m going to make a conscious effort to document all of the corners of the town and share them here. I walk around the town a lot and always carry a camera, this will encourage me to walk untrodden streets as well as my familiar thoroughfares.
Today’s pictures (above and below) all have green as the theme. This was not a conscious decision whilst taking them but rather it struck me when I got home and sat down to write this post.
The edges of the town show the effect of the decline in industry, particularly textiles and allied trades, that has caused Elland to become run down over the decades since textiles ceased to be King in this part of the country. Surprisingly, behind some of these crumbling and dilapidated walls business does go on, albeit in far less skilled trades and far less grand surroundings.
From sunsets to baby’s first steps and from the commonplace to the spectacular, from family portraits to macro studies of flowers and from wildlife to architecture, all are subjects I am happy to tackle. For me photography is about documenting every aspect of our lives and surroundings. That is why I will just as happily photograph urban decay and neglect as the sunrise over a picturesque Scottish loch. Both have their places in my work and in all honesty one of them is slightly more accessible than the other!
Just a small selection of images from the Fuji X100t, continuing the exploration of Fuji’s in-camera JPEGs. This time seeing how the camera worked in a high-contrast scene with bright sunlight and deep shadows together with the challenge of shooting into the sun and on the whole it’s handled very well.
These were all taken using the B&W – yellow filter profile in its native state. I’m not unhappy with these straight-from-camera at all but they could do with some extra punch to my eyes so I’m off to find out how to customise these profiles to better suit my tastes.
Once again these are the in-camera JPEGs however I have had to lift the shadows a touch in some of them due to the very high contrast scenes. That said, the post-production work was simply that, a quick tweak to shadows or highlights and re-save. I spent less time processing and saving these eight images than I would normally spend processing just one RAW file. With a bit of tweaking these profiles are going to save me a lot of time at the computer in the future I suspect.
I have never made any public comment on the RAW vs JPEG debate mainly because like most such “discussions” they are rarely constructive and simply become another forum for the antagonistically inclined to vent their one-sided, narrow-minded views without engaging brain or debating anything (Canon vs Nikon is another “discussion” I avoid, to the extent of leaving groups where such topics are a regular ingredient). The other reason I’ve not bothered to comment is because I don’t think it matters whether you use one or the other; we are not talking life or death or even a “lifestyle” choice after all. Oh, and don’t try to tell me it’s just blokey banter as we all know that to the antagonists it is an article of faith … but I’m getting up on my soap box now!
As any of my photographer friends who know me well will know however I have shot RAW almost exclusively for a long, long time now. I simply like having the control and making the main decisions myself despite the attendant downsides to RAW shooting. It has also been my experience that the RAW file often does have a little more detail in shadow areas that can be pulled out with sympathetic post processing and on occasions this can benefit the type of landscape images that interest me considerably. RAW files also, undeniably, take up more room on my computer, take longer to download from the cards, open slower and can take longer to process. The latter point is arguably less of an issue if you enjoy the post-capture creative experience. But my decision to shoot RAW rather then JPEG doesn’t mean that JPEGs are inferior, just simply that RAW fits my preferred working methods better and that decision has been made after having tried both approaches, having carefully evaluated the experience and considered the pros and cons of each.
It’s fair to say the availability of RAW is a major factor in any purchasing decision that I make. Even my wife’s camera, which she uses in auto-everything to shoot JPEGs, has the capability to shoot RAW. In fact, she doesn’t “shoot JPEGs”, she simply takes photographs – worth remembering! In any event, I’ve not yet used a digital camera where I’ve felt a need to reevaluate this decision from my own perspective.
I used to own the first edition Fuji X100 and whilst they have since considerably improved the camera with firmware updates (even after it was discontinued) I sold it in frustration at what could have been but wasn’t. 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) I found myself using it less and less. When I sold all my Canon gear for the switch to Nikon I added the Fuji X100 to the list to boost the finances a little. I cried quietly inside at how little I got for it but that’s another story.
Recently 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.
Until I found myself researching the Fuji X-series of cameras in more detail particularly their X-Trans sensor. One thing that cropped up time and again was how good the JPEGs were especially given the film simulation modes that are an important part of the X package. By the time I came across this video from Lee Varis entitled “Fuji Rethink RAW” I was already well on the way to seriously considering buying the X100T having been through the whole X-series comparing and contrasting.
Whilst I still spent a few days researching I can see in retrospect that it was at the conclusion of this video that I’d actually made the purchasing decision. I was just delaying to be sure it wasn’t too impulsive and that I wasn’t likely to be starting to look for a classic film rangefinder in a few months time. As many of you will know, purchasing a classic film rangefinder is not a cheap option at the moment.
So, the new camera is here. It’s been set-up to record both RAW and JPEG but it’s my intention at the moment to simply use the RAW files as insurance; I shall be relying on the out-of-camera JPEG. What are my initial thoughts?
Some of the JPEGs are a little underexposed to my taste in this selection but I’ve left them untouched for the purpose of this review. Not a big deal as exposure compensation is a doddle on the camera anyway. The Velvia of Zac shot indoors is too rich for my blood but the Classic Chrome gets it just right (and was the first image I shot with the X100T).
Trying the other film simulations I have to say the Classic Chrome does appeal. I wanted to dislike it as it seems to be the subject of much hype in the Fuji community but I have to say it has a certain “something” and it is likely to be my standard setting for this camera in JPEG mode moving forward.
I only shot a few black and white images this morning, playing with the Classic Chrome was more fun than I’d admit to I guess, and on the whole they lack contrast to my taste. That again is no issue though as the presets can be tweaked and customised to taste. Something I shall certainly be experimenting with on my next trip out with the X100T.
I did shoot RAW plus Fine JPEGs today – well a guy needs insurance! There’s a lot of talk in the Fuji forums about how poorly these X-Trans RAW files are handled by processing software. I imported via Lightroom but in the event processed the RAW file above using the Silver Efex Pro plug-in. I applied the Classic Chrome profile in Lightroom along with a -13 vignette and then simply opened it in SEFEX, applying one of my presets and exporting the resulting file. On this limited experience I cannot make a decision regarding how well the RAW files will perform but I’m less concerned than I had been earlier today.
So, in short I have enjoyed this first trip out with the X100T and whilst sixty frames is not enough experience on which to base a sensible review I feel that I am going to love this camera. I need to invest some time now in tweaking the monochrome JPEG presets to my taste and in setting the camera up exactly how I want it. However, I have a feeling that for a large proportion of images captured with the X100T I shall happily use the straight-from-camera JPEG.
I’ve not seen enough yet to convince me to turn of the RAW safety blanket but for the first time in a long while I have turned on the RAW plus JPEG option and I can see it staying that way with this camera for some time to come. Whether or not I eventually lose the RAW safety blanket remains to be seen but I am feeling very positive about the time-saving potentials that these Fuji JPEGs present.
Back in love with JPEGs? Maybe … watch this space!
Just recently I’ve done a lot of walking around my local patch as part of a personal campaign to return myself to full fitness after a year plagued with various different and debilitating ailments. I am a photographer so it was logical that where I went my camera(s) went too. My smartphone goes everywhere with me but when I say camera I mean just that; a “real” camera that has no ability for texting or making and receiving voice calls.
Initially, I prefaced each days walk with a period of indecision debating not which route to take or how far to walk but what camera gear I should take. If like me you’ve been a serious photographer for many years you will no doubt have acquired various pieces of kit over the years. If, also like me, you shoot both film and digital and are not wedded to one brand then you’ve probably acquired more kit than could feasibly be carried on one trip. So, what to take for my walk along the canal? Or through the woods? Or up the very steep hill to Pinfold Lane? Decisions, decisions. I invariably ended up with a bag full and equally as invariably ended up using just one camera and one lens.
But all that changed last week when I had a minor photographic epiphany. It was raining and I did not have a lot of time because I needed to get back to collect the grandson from school so I grabbed the nearest camera on my desk and legged it. What an eye opener! I hadn’t even stopped to decide what lens to use. I had a DSLR with a “standard” zoom lens and nothing else. Despite the rain it got used and when I got back home I realised that I didn’t have aching shoulders from lugging a bag full of metal, plastic and glass for a couple of hours.
So last week I went out with ONE camera body and ONE lens. Admittedly on the day I took the infrared-converted DSLR (still with a single lens) I also slipped the EOS M3 in my pocket as I did on the day I tested a newly purchased Canon EOS 300 film camera. But in general the one-on-one approach has been the order of the day.
I did think I’d be plagued with thoughts along the lines of “if only I’d brought the fisheye/wideangle” or “why didn’t I bring the macro/telephoto” but after the first hour I started to embrace the challenge and by the end of the first week I realised I was looking at things differently. On the day I took the macro lens I actively sought suitable subjects and on the day I armed myself just with a 300mm prime telephoto lens I found myself looking ahead more for landscape scenes that would benefit from the impression of a compressed perspective. In short I made myself work with what I had and forget what I didn’t have (which was mainly a lot of extra weight).
The beauty of walking locally, literally doorstep back to doorstep, is I can always return another day. For example, I have walked the Hebble Trail three times in the last ten days. The first day I went out with a DSLR and standard zoom capturing general views and the wider context. I noticed however several decent patches of bluebells including some atop a wall which I could get underneath and shoot with the sun behind them. Rather than bemoan the fact my macro lens was at home I made a mental note and went back two days later when the weather was similar taking just the macro lens this time. I also ended up going back a few days later with an infrared-converted DSLR having realised the potential of photographing within the woodland that lines the trail.
I’m going back next week with a Nikon F80 and a few rolls of FP4!
So, will I now abandon my full kit when out for a full days photography on Skye or in the Peak District? Absolutely not! Although I will think more carefully about whether or not I really need everything I’ve packed; my back is after all enjoying the lighter packs. But for my local wanders it has proved to be not just more comfortable but also has made me look harder for compositions and I think has also led me to be more creative. The photograph of a dappled, sunlit bend in the canal with a 300mm prime lens for example probably would not have happened if I’d been using the 24-70 on the camera even if the lens was in my bag.
I’d previously tried the advice of photographic magazines to spend a day with just a 50mm lens on the camera and never really quite got the point. Ten days however of repeatedly doing just that, albeit with different cameras and lenses, has been an eye-opener and for my daily walks over the coming months it’s the way I intend to continue.
Now, what about using a different camera each day for a year? Might be time to hit eBay!!
Yes. Two gear reviews in two days! Although in my usual fashion I’m publishing both on the same day but there we go.
Although I am primarily a landscape photographer these days I do still photograph wildlife occasionally so when a close friend recently bought a new Nikon 200-500mm lens I once again toyed with the idea of adding a long telephoto to my kit. However, at £1,200 that wasn’t going to happen any time soon so creative thinking was required.
Alongside my full frame DSLR I also have a crop sensor DSLR which got me thinking. A 300mm prime lens for example would become a full frame equivalent of 450mm on my Nikon D7100. Include a 1.4x converter in the mix and you have an equivalent 630mm lens. If I could find a good quality prime lens of 300mm or perhaps 400mm on the secondhand market at the right price I might be able to go “longer” on a budget. It would need to be good quality glass though especially as it would also be used with a converter at times. Time for some serious online research.
Fast forward several weeks and the arrival of a Nikon 300mm AF f4 ED lens in excellent condition. Oddly enough it’s a lens I’d been looking at for a while but whenever they came up for sale on that well known auction site the price always soared above my budget. But some things are meant to be and I found the lens via an online dealer at the right price and without the influence of the idiots who think they actually win when buying from an auction site rather than pay I was able to secure the lens at a fair and reasonable price. Indeed, it cost almost a quarter of the price of the modern equivalent.
So, I was warned to expect slow autofocus, especially compared to modern autofocus lenses, a fiddly automatic to manual focus change and a quirky lens cap. The reviews were right.
Compared to the newer breed of lenses this one does autofocus slowly. But, within a day of shooting with it (fast-moving little British birds, not my comfort zone at all) I was able to autofocus more quickly simply by taking the time to learn to anticipate how the autofocus would respond and adjust my approach accordingly. Pre-focusing helped tremendously as did back-button focusing especially when allied to a gentle approach with my thumb. As an aside, if you’ve not tried back-focusing then it’s worth checking out. It took me a week to get used to it and I went from hating it to using it exclusively. Indeed I would not buy a camera now that could not be set up for back-button focusing.
Once I was in the swing of it I missed very few shots through slow focusing issues although clearly I would have expected a higher hit-rate from a modern lens. Considering that this lens was made between 1987 and 2000 it is at best sixteen years old and possibly almost thirty I was very pleased with how well it worked.
So what about the fiddly automatic to manual focus change? I have to admit that it is great to be able to just grab the focus ring and take control from the camera, as you can with the modern AF-S lenses. With this lens there is no full-time manual override and moving the lens into manual focus mode needs two separate actions. Firstly moving the AF switch on the lens to “M” and then changing the AF/M switch on the front of the D7100. The reviews I read suggested this was clunky and awkward; it is. They further implied that it was a big hassle; it isn’t. I have always taught myself to carry out the most common changes to my camera without the need to move the camera away from my eye. I simply took the same approach with this lens and with a bit of practice it works well.
The quirky lens cap? It’s a fake-leather sock with a drawer string. Very funky and no doubt cherished by many but I’ve just ordered a generic 82mm snap-on cap for day to day use.
Whilst handling is important the acid test for any piece of kit though is image quality. Practice can make the way a lens handles easier to cope with but nothing can improve poor quality optics. Well, the good news is that I concur totally with everything I’ve read about this lens. It’s image quality is superb. Crisp, sharp images with a very acceptable bokeh, I have been very pleased with the quality I achieved even on my first outing with the lens. I photographed birds handheld at Cromwell Bottom, bluebells from a monopod in the woods and a few handheld landscapes on the Calder and Hebble Navigation for good measure. The lens was a delight to use and more importantly it was a real delight to look at the files on the computer back at home.
One final point, the filter thread is 82mm which is not the most common. That said the only filter I’m likely to use with this lens on a regular basis is a polariser. I use a 105mm filter thread polariser and already have an 82mm – 105mm stepping ring which literally cost pennies as part of a set. This works fine although the built-in lens hood cannot be extended with the stepping ring attached. Sounds like a small point but given that the sun is likely to be to one side of you when using a polariser it may be something to consider in bright sunshine to avoid flare.
So, in conclusion, I paid just under £400 for this lens, a “saving”* of around £1,200 compared to the modern equivalent. Aside from being arguably more difficult to use (I would argue it isn’t, you just need to learn to use it properly) I would put it’s real world performance as being comparable with the best of modern lenses. It’s all-metal construction makes it considerably tougher than modern plastic lenses too which is a real bonus. At a time when far too many of us rush around like busy little bees snapping away at anything that moves and anything that doesn’t it is good to slow down, get to know a piece of kit very well and shoot fabulous images.
* Why the quotation marks? I prefer to say I spent £400 but my wife would say I’d “saved” by buying this lens.
It’s rare for me to bother with reviewing an item of gear; they either fit with my way of working or they don’t. However, I’ve made an exception for my latest purchase, the Canon EOS-M3 which is a replacement for the original EOS-M that I’ve owned for a while now.
Read any of the reviews and you will hear all about the lack of a viewfinder, slow burst rate or the problems that the original M in particular had with focusing speed etcetera. However, these need to be placed in context with what you are going to use the camera for and why you bought it in the first place. I am principally a landscape and portrait photographer although I do dabble in other genres from time to time including macro and wildlife. Would I use this camera for such specialist activities as macro and wildlife? Absolutely not. I have the appropriate tools for these jobs and why would I not use them? Likewise for portraits, I have specialist lenses and use a full frame DSLR on these occasions. So why did I buy a CSC? Simply because I wanted something pocketable and light to take on my walks which would offer me RAW capture, full manual operation and good image quality.
The original M gave me all these and given that 95% of the pictures I take whilst walking are landscapes the burst rate, focus speed and lack of a viewfinder were never a major issue. It was also great fun to use. So when I saw the specifications of the M3 and the improvements to all aspects of its performance I was immediately interested although I have deliberately delayed my purchase until I was able to pick up a pre-owned copy in near mint condition. I’m a pensioner on a budget after all.
I took the M3 along with two native EOS-M lenses, the 18-55 “kit” lens and 22mm pancake lens, and a Canon EF-S 10-18mm lens with an adapter to fit the lens to the M3. I also took a small carbon fibre tripod. So that’s a camera, three lenses and a tripod in one small shoulder bag with room to spare and the whole kit weighed considerably less than the Nikon D800E with 24-70 f2.8 lens I sometimes squeeze into the same shoulder bag. So in terms of portability and flexibility this set up scores well for me. On a three-hour walk, especially one involving a fair bit of uphill walking, I really appreciated the lack of noticeable weight.
The M3 is also great fun to use. As a lifelong Canon user I find their menus intuitive and familiar. The M3 has several additional dials compared to the original M and these make changing shutter speed or aperture for example much quicker. The touch screen can also be used to make adjustments to camera settings and all in all the ease of control is excellent. The tilting screen is also great for shooting from waist level or lower and I found it particularly useful as it enabled me to hold the camera over walls to include more interesting foreground interest for example. My grandson and I also had great fun tilting the screen right up and taking selfies but that’s another story!
The tilting screen makes it easy to hang over walls to create interesting foregrounds
One area where I struggled at times was composing without a viewfinder, particularly with high contrast scenes when I myself was in bright sunlight. This is less of a problem when working off a tripod as you can more easily position yourself to shield the screen from sunlight for example. This was probably exacerbated in my case as my eyesight is poor and I need separate pairs of glasses for distance and close-up work; I need one or the other at all times and can often be seen with both pairs on my head at once. Not everyone will have the same problems though and the occasional difficulty was not sufficiently annoying for me to consider spending the £200 or thereabouts for the optional EVF. Sure, Canon should have incorporated a viewfinder but they didn’t and I knew that when I bought the camera so no point complaining now!
The focus peaking is a fabulous improvement that I hadn’t fully appreciated until trying it in the field. With a choice of red, yellow or blue it coped with most circumstances and by adding the menu item to My menu I could change the overlay colour quickly and easily when needed. For difficult scenes I found that changing the Picture Mode to black & white (not a problem as I shoot RAW so still have the colour file) made it easier to see the colours especially with a lot of grass in the shot.
As to that “slow” focusing system all I can say is that it was very fast out in the local countryside. We’ve all seen the YouTube reviewers trying to focus on a swinging yo-yo from two feet but in reality when am I likely to need to perform such a feat on one of my walks? I sometimes wonder if some online reviewers ever take their cameras out of their house but again that’s another story.
Day two of the review was meant to test the handling when using filters for landscape photography but came to a halt prematurely when the battery level started flashing red after nineteen shots. Now, this, it has to be said, was a schoolboy error on my part. I know from the spec sheet that Canon rate the battery life at around 250 shots and up until last night I’d taken 300 shots on a single charge so really should have charged the battery especially as I know from the M that the meter doesn’t give much warning before it conks out. I’d already taken an additional nineteen frames and took the pragmatic view that returning to base and heading out again later in the day with a recharged battery was the wisest course. Note to self, buy a spare battery!
Instead, once I got home and recharged I had a play with the other adapter I have for the M which allows me to use Nikon G lenses. As my main DSLR-based system is Nikon this gives me a further set of opportunities. The Fotodiox adapter, at £27, is fully manual with a slider to adjust the aperture. The M3’s on-screen histogram was very helpful here in judging exposures when in manual mode on the camera too. There is no EXIF data as the camera doesn’t realise there is a lens attached and apertures are guesses rather than precise but all in all it worked. It would not be practical in situations where speed of operation was called for but off a tripod and with time to play it all works very well. As ever, horses for courses.
A small niggle and one not uncommon with these types of cameras is that the battery/card compartment is not accessible with a tripod plate in place. That said, and I’ve said as much before, these small limitations are known before you buy the camera and seasoned photographers in particular have no real justification in complaining after the event.
So, with a spare battery now in my pocket I set off for what has become Day Three of this quick review.
With the M3 on a tripod I was able to use my large Lee filters without any issues. I was using them on a Canon EF-S 10-20 lens as I have no adapter rings small enough to fit the native lenses I have for the M3. Positioning of the graduated filters was a breeze, especially as the screen tilted so I did not have to crouch to peer at the back of the LCD screen. The camera was even able to “see” through a six-stop neutral density filter and still display an image on the screen and when in manual mode I was still able to use focus peaking. All in all I am confident that for general landscape work the M3 and my Lee filters will work well together.
In conclusion, whilst I’m not yet ready to ditch my heavy and cumbersome DSLRs and lenses I have to say that I am really appreciating being able to carry a full kit without compromising on image quality and without needing back surgery. A simple, relatively small shoulder bag holds the M3, three lenses and the lens adapter, a Lee filter holder with filters and spare battery (yes, I have a spare now) with a lightweight carbon fibre tripod and I am not really conscious of the weight. Oh and I can get my hat and gloves in the bag too!
The Canon EOS-M3 may not be the most popular CSC on the market but it does me proud.
Not a typo. Just referencing a new iPad App I’ve been introduced to. It’s a free storytelling app which lets you create photo and video stories with an emphasis on design. Simple to use, intuitive and great fun – almost addictive lay so!
In the first week since discovering Steller I’ve pulled together six of my own stories, one of which was shot and conceived specifically for the app. It is a great way to harness my photography, iphoneography and experimenting with the iPad as a post processing tool.
I’ve been trying out a new way to light floral studies today using an A3 light panel and three off camera flashes. I’m away for a few days now so processing the images will need to wait but I was keen to have a quick look so downloaded a handful to the iPad.
I was pleased with the outcome from this experiment (see above) and am looking forward to processing and printing the images next week. In the meantime I had a bit of fun on the iPad using a couple of Apps that have become my go-to apps for processing on the go. Snapseed is used for basic processing and then for some images I open the image in DistressedFX to apply a texture as I did in the case of these floral images.
This provided me with some amusement this afternoon, making for a pleasing half hour diversion from my domestic chores. I hope you enjoy them too.