It is an absolute age since I produced a video from one of my recces. Indeed, it’s a while since I did anything relating to video at all. So, this is overdue and no doubt suffering a little from lack of practice. Perhaps this should be called the “rusty” cut!
I have been aware of Elland Park Woods for many years and drive past them regularly but despite them being very close to home had not paid them a visit until last weekend. I haven’t yet full worked out the access points for the woods, but this time last year I saw an advertisement for a bluebell walk through the woods and noted that the meeting place was the crematorium car park. I was too late for that year but made a mental note which is why I was parking in the crematorium car park at 8.20 on a Sunday morning.
As you will see the bluebells are not yet out in force but [spoiler alert] the woods offer a lot of potential for me over the year in all sorts of weather.
I’ve taken several thousand images in the last month or so and looking back, if we exclude drone shots, all but around thirty were shot with one of my Fuji cameras. This morning then, when I decided to go and visit the bluebells, I consciously took the Nikon DSLR. I have to confess I almost popped the Fuji bag into the car as well but was strong and went out sans-Fuji.
I took the Nikon body, three lenses (14-24, 24-70 and 70-200), spare battery and a couple of filters. The first thing I noticed was the bag I needed was three times bigger than the one I’ve been using (with two Fuji bodies, four lenses and filters etc) and the second was the weight. Arriving at the car park and walking the short distance uphill to the woods I really noticed the weight. Now to be fair I would usually use a backpack with the Nikon gear so the large shoulder bag was always going to feel slightly less comfortable.
The lack of use showed very quickly once I’d got the camera on a tripod but happily muscle memory returned very quickly and I was soon shooting happily and intuitively. I even got the 14-24 f2.8 lens out for a spin too, something I haven’t done for a very long time it seems. After those first five fumbling minutes I settled quickly into the old rhythm and it’s fair to say thoroughly enjoyed the hour in the woods with just the Nikon and its “Holy Trinity” of lenses.
The 70-200 is probably my favourite of these three lenses especially for landscapes. Indeed, the 14-24, which I bought for landscape work, rarely gets used for those purposes these days as I’ve slowly adopted a more intimate approach to landscape shooting. I still shoot wider scenes but generally the wider end of the 24-70 lens gives me everything I need. When I sold my Canon gear, accumulated over twenty years or more, and moved to Nikon I was not in a position to replicate the system item for item. I needed therefore to carefully consider my purchases and ended up buying the three lenses already mentioned along with the D800E and D7100 bodies and a Sigma 105mm macro lens. To be fair this has proved to be more than adequate and although I have added a 300mm f4 to the mix I generally only travel with the two bodies and four lenses I originally purchased.
Looking at the images I took with the 14-24 this morning, apart from the ones of the tree canopy all the others are at 24mm which perhaps illustrates the point very well. For a day out I could manage nicely with just the 24-70 and 70-200 lenses in the bag. Where I use the 14-24 mostly I think is for urban shoots; but not street photography as it’s rather an eye-catching piece of glass.
Incidentally, you may have noticed that there is just a hint of the titular bluebells in these images. Two reasons, partly I was late going out so the sun was higher in the sky than I’d have liked but mainly because the bluebells themselves are only just starting to appear. It seems that the weather has put everything back a bit and it may be another week or so before the bluebells appear in the dense patches I enjoyed last year. When they do the macro lens will join the kit bag in place of the 14-24 as I have a few more creative ideas I want to try when the conditions are right.
One thing that always surprises me almost is when I get the D800E files up on my computer screen. At 36mp from a full frame sensor they are much bigger than the 24mp files from the Fuji X-T20 or the 16mp files from the X100t and X-T1 crop-sensor cameras. The detail is immense and each time I look at a well-exposed, properly focused and sharp image its as if I am seeing the detail for the first time all over again. It’s one of the reasons why I cannot yet relinquish my Nikon system despite the huge weight difference compared to my Fuji kit. For example, I can carry the 24mp Fuji X-T20 with three lenses covering 12mm-200mm (18mm-300mm in full-frame terms) along with the infrared-converted X-T1, spare batteries and filters and fit all these in my smallest backpack, a Camlink sling bag measuring just 40 x 24 x 23.5cm. Despite this, for as long as I am physically able to carry the Nikon gear I shall be keeping it!
As for the bluebells, I will return to this spot regularly over the coming weeks. For an overcast or misty day the perfect time will be around sunrise or just after at this time of the year, which means leaving the house at 5:45am. On a bright day I suspect that later in the day, around teatime or even towards sunset, will work best but I’ve yet to test this theory. The only issue with an evening shoot is a practical one; I park in the carpark of a local restaurant and whilst they have no objections first thing in the morning I can see them being less happy when I’m taking up a space that could be used by a paying diner! I shall take a drive down one evening though to test this theory out properly and investigate alternative parking.
To be honest, gimmick would have been my initial response, at least that was until this morning when I actually tried it out. I’ve shot RAW for many, many years and like having the maximum data available for later use if required. However, I’ve also started to use the SOOC JPEG files from the Fuji cameras recently, particularly for online use. Even if I do nothing else to the image though I still need to bring it into software to crop especially as I habitually shoot with a square crop in mind and sometimes a panoramic 16×9 format.
So, what I pondered if I shot in-camera at the required format (1×1 or 16×9) and didn’t need to take the JPEG into any software? As I’d finished what I’d set out to photograph and was walking back to the car with no time pressures I decided to have a play. It was just as well that there were no time pressures because I spent another 45 minutes trying it out!
Long story short, I found it so much easier to “see” the compositions with the camera already displaying the desired format in the EVF. I was also able to frame up accurately thus avoiding that sometimes painful choice back at the computer when you have to crop out something on the edge of the frame because you’d not quite composed properly in the field.
The final surprise came when I got home and found the RAW files had the full scene captured (see screen grab from ACR) thus meaning that any small mis-framing in the field can be tweaked back at base.
I did remember to put the camera back to the native 3×2 format before I put it back into my bag but I can see me using this feature quite a bit in future.
So, to answer my own question – it’s a very useful feature especially for those of us who usually shoot with a pre-determined image format in mind. The safety net of having the full-sized RAW file was an unexpected bonus (perhaps if I’d read the manual it wouldn’t have been a surprise, but I’m a man and how many men read manuals first?) and makes it an even more useful feature for the dedicated RAW shooter. In fact it might be said that this feature is reason enough to shoot RAW+JPEG on a permanent basis (something I do anyway given how cheap memory is these days).
Over the past weekend I managed to abdicate most of my domestic responsibilities and get out with my cameras. Over the two days I shot bluebells on my Nikon cameras with a macro lens, sweeping views of the bluebell carpet with a wide angle lens and more intimate landscapes with a 300mm telephoto. Some informal portraits of the grandsons with a 105mm lens occupied the period between the bluebells and a walk along the canal with the X-Pro1 (“pick me up!”) and the 23mm prime lens.
Day two saw me shooting urban landscapes in challenging light (lack of) with a full frame Nikon, an extreme wide angle and mid-range (24-70) zoom lens. A momentary panic at the start of the shoot when after my third exposure the camera returned an “ERR” message which I could not immediately resolve but other than that a pleasant stroll even if we weren’t blessed with much light.
So, just a taster of two days shooting mainly with the Nikon D750 and D7100 but with the Fuji X-Pro1 and Fuji X-T1 sneaking in the bag too. Final shot is of Dave’s drone capturing a birds eye view of Elland Bridge.
If there is one thing which initially put me off sharing my thoughts on the move to incorporate mirrorless in my set up it was the “I sold all my dSLR kit and moved to mirrorless and never regretted it” stories that abound both on the internet and even in the real world.
I did sell some of my Nikon gear to finance the foray into Fuji-X-land it’s true but I kept a fully featured Nikon kit (one full frame and one cropped sensor body with five lenses covering 14mm – 300mm) and I still use it, even if it is used less frequently than in the past. My decision to give the Fuji-X series a try was centred around having a lighter option which made for more portable and relaxing photography especially on family trips or days out. It is fair to say that the experience of using the Fuji-X kit has far exceeded my expectations and I cannot see me returning to a DSLR-only set-up. It has fully met the brief in terms of weight and portability and the Fuji have exceeded my expectations in terms of image quality and the sheer enjoyment of using the equipment.
All of which does not mean that the Nikon DSLRs have suddenly become terrible cameras nor that I’ve suddenly stopped enjoying using them. For macro work and indoor work such as my water-splash photography the Nikon D750 with Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens is still my go-to option, the Fuji kit I have simply cannot match this set up for flexibility to even usability.
The other area where I feel the Fuji system still has limitations is with regards to wildlife photography. I am not a regular bird photographer but when I do I use the D7100 with a 300mm f4 prime lens and a 1.4 converter which gives me just over 600mm in full-frame terms (300 x 1.5 x 1.4 = 630) and the combination produces sharp, crisp images which are perfectly good for my use. The focus on the crop-sensor Nikon is very responsive and with appropriate care I’ve had some good results. From everything I read, whilst Fuji are making strides in this direction they haven’t got there yet.
I had a good conversation today with a friend of mine who has followed a similar path to mine, albeit he is six months ahead of me. Long story short he came to the same conclusions as I have and currently runs two systems. He finally loosed the shackles of full frame and has kept a Nikon DX camera with a 50mm prime and the three telephoto lenses he uses for wildlife. For everything else he uses a Fuji X-T2 and X-Pro2. Whilst the exact make-up of our kit differs he has basically adopted the same dual-system set-up that I am tending towards and it works for him. I think it is going to work well for me too.
As the images here show I was out yesterday with two Nikon DSLRs, three f2.8 lenses and a hefty tripod. As always a delight to use and I’m well pleased with the results. My shoulders and back however reminded me this morning what I had been carrying yesterday.
So, if I had one, I guess my mantra would be “I sold some kit, made the move to a part-mirrorless/part-DSLR system and I am not regretting it”.