Normal service will be resumed …

… when we work out was normal is. Well who can resist adapting a Douglas Adams one-liner in the morning?

Blogging has been a bit erratic recently due to an unusually heavy load of domestic commitments followed by a two week holiday but normality, whatever that is, is slowly returning. I’m sat in a backstreet cafe in Halifax with a small black coffee awaiting my scrambled eggs and pondering on matters photographic. This should be the “blue hour” but is rather a dismal “grey-several-hours” so a spot of breakfast is called for.

©Dave Whenham
Fuji X-T10 Classic Chrome preset

The main thought occupying my mind is Fuji vs Nikon. And not the brand wars crap indulged in by so-called enthusiasts that I hate with a passion; both systems are brilliant and to my mind each has a separate place in my kit bag. Or at least that’s what I’m starting to think. I used Canon for over thirty years before deciding to have a change and switched to Nikon for no other reason than I wanted to experience more than just one system in my lifetime.  I think both systems are fabulous and for the large part equal to each other. I miss my Canon 24mm tilt and shift lens and the 5x macro lens but am having great fun getting acquainted with a new system and the 14-24 f2.8 lens is a photographer’s delight. The [insertbrandhere]-haters should try using a different system for a year or more, it should make them ashamed of such pettiness.

But, not for the first time, I digress.

When we packed for this two week holiday, visiting friends and family in Wales, England and Scotland, I decided to pack light photographically. The Fujis were the logical choice and I managed to pack all three bodies, all five lenses and my filters in a small photographic backpack that long ago got banished to the cupboard for being too small for my DSLR kit. Most days I just took a small shoulder bag out with me containing two bodies, two lenses and my filters and on several occasions just the X100T in my coat pocket. For those days when a tripod was called for I either took a small table-top Manfrotto tripod or a travel tripod made by MeFoto.

©Dave Whenham
Fuji X100T B&W[r] preset
The bottom line I think from two weeks travelling is that at no point did I feel I’d compromised on kit or that I had missed a shot. Arguably in fact there were shots I did get that I would never have attempted with a big DSLR, such as the portrait of the young couple taking a selfie in Bourton-on the-Water. I challenged myself over the two weeks to work differently, to use less kit and to think differently. That day in Bourton-on the-Water was one such example. I took the X100T and a spare battery. Nothing else. Just me, the camera and a location. It’s a tourist hotspot even in October and I practised my street skills. The X100T is superb for this, something I had already found out in London but reaffirmed last week in a different location. I still shoot RAW+JPEG but the RAWs are just for insurance really as the out of camera JPEGs continue to astound me. The fact that the RAW file can also be processed in-camera using the same JPEG presets is a fabulous bonus and I was able to shoot in B&W[R] knowing that I could produce a colour JPEG to post to Facebook if the mood took.

Fuji X-T10 Standard preset

The bulk of the landscape work was done with the X-T10, the 18-55 “kit” lens and the aforementioned MeFoto tripod. In keeping with the travelling light ethos I took a Lee Seven filter holder with a two-stop hard graduated filter and a Little Stopper with me most days although on the days when I packed the Samyang 12mm lens I also took a full-sized Lee filter holder and three 100mm filters as I’ve found that the smaller filter kit vignettes even given the 67mm filter thread of that lens. I initially thought that restricting myself to just one body and at most two lenses would inhibit my shooting but in actual fact it made me work harder and I’ve come away with some images I might otherwise have missed.

© Dave Whenham
Fuji X100T – Sweep Panorama (ND grad added in post-production)

One function on both the X100T and X-T10 that I’d overlooked was the sweep panorama. I found it unexpectedly useful and with a little practice could even anticipate the composition and predict the final image. It only produces JPEGs and I’ve not yet looked at them on the computer but those on my iPad look just fine. My guess is that they will be good for blogging or posting to Facebook but may not stand up to scrutiny when printing or displaying at larger sizes but I’ve not tested that theory as yet.

The third camera I took was an X-Pro1 that I picked up shortly before leaving for the princely sum of £150. It has been a revelation, images shot with the 35mm f1.4 were so sharp I almost cut myself on them [OTT Alert!].

Prior to using the X-Pro1 I was lusting after the newly released, SLR-styled X-T2, but no more. The X-Pro1 feels so much more natural in my hand than any other camera I’ve ever used (I know, that’s a very bold statement). During our holiday I met up with a friend who had the X-T2 with him. With the battery grip attached and the 10-24 lens it is an impressive piece of kit with the dials laid out perfectly at first glance. But in terms of size and weight the body plus grip is not materially different to my Nikon D750 and certainly compared to the X-Pro1 it’s a relative brick. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great camera and at first look it seems to me that it would be a great DSLR replacement for someone wanting to downsize slightly and there’s no doubting the image quality from the images that I was shown that day. I just felt with the two cameras in my hands that for me the form factor of the X-Pro1 suited my style of shooting better. I now need to get my hands on an X-Pro2 although I suspect that when I do my X-T2 lust will be replaced by X-Pro2 lust!

© Dave Whenham
X-Pro1 – standard jpeg

I might write about Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) another day!

So, a very enjoyable two weeks despite all the driving. I managed to spend some quality time with my Fuji kit and am pleased to say that it never once disappointed and often surpassed my expectations. Using the X-T10 handheld in a storm photographing waves crashing over the sea wall was exhilarating and whilst I was careful to keep it as sheltered as possible it handled the conditions well. In fact it’s diminutive size meant that I was able to cover most of the camera and lens with my two hands whilst shooting, a benefit I’d not anticipated. I always carry a tea towel in my shoulder bag and dried the camera and lens immediately after I’d finished shooting.

I’m away to Skye in a few weeks and will be taking the full framed Nikons along with the stunningly sharp trio of f2.8 lenses I saved so hard for (the so-called Holy Trinity of 14-24, 24-70 and 70-200). My fellow traveller that week is also a Nikon shooter and we often share gear plus I enjoy using them and whilst I still have the strength to carry a larger load I will do so. I sense that the weather will call for heavier tripods too so we definitely won’t be travelling light! Following the success of this trip though I shall find a place for at least one of the Fuji cameras and may even take a small kit with me to see how it feels working alongside the bigger cameras.

Watch this space as they say!

Cold hands and warm colours

Six-fifteen am is not an unfamiliar time for me, although I’m usually sat on the settee with a cup of tea and the iPad and not tiptoeing down a hotel corridor with tripod in one hand and camera bag in the other.  But that is exactly where I was this morning.

(c) Dave Whenham
The evening view from the hotel room

We are staying in Swansea for a few days and our hotel is on the waterfront. I had already taken a couple of pleasing images the night before but retail therapy was planned for the new day and therefore serious photography would be confined to before breakfast and/or after dinner. It was chilly to say the  least at that time of the morning but as I stepped out into the morning darkness I noticed the sky to my left just starting to infuse with some lovely warm colours. Was my early start to be rewarded? It certainly looked as if it might.

We are away for a couple of weeks, visiting family mainly, and as part of my ongoing exploration of the Fuji system I have travelled very light. The Fuji X-T10 is joined on this trip by the newly acquired Fuji X-Pro1, the 35mm f1.4 and the manual Samyang 12mm lens. I have packed the two “kit lenses” along with the 8mm Samyang fisheye but these stayed in the hotel room this morning.

(c) Dave Whenham
I wasn’t tempted to take a dip!

This is the first time I’ve used the MeFOTO RoadTrip tripod when the sun hasn’t been shining and I have to say that whilst it’s an excellent piece of kit my ungloved fingers struggled slightly with the twist locks in the morning cold. Not a major issue but I will need to ensure I have gloves with me I think when I use it tomorrow morning. The tripod is smaller than my usual Manfrotto but considerably lighter. Fully extended it provides a very comfortable working height and in particular it was high enough to enable the camera to clear the railing around the tidal lagoon.

(c) Dave Whenha
Sunrise and silhouettes

The images here are all JPEGs with final tweaks done on an iPad using the Snapseed app. Both cameras handled well and I’m looking forward to getting the RAW files home in a couple of weeks.

(c) Dave Whenham
A promising start

The colours of the sunrise were largely confined to a strip along the horizon but were very intense, enhanced by the Velvia setting on the X-T10 which I had forgotten to reset to Classic Chrome when I put the camera away the previous day. The onboard RAW processing of the X-T10 however means that I can produce alternative JPEGs on the fly which is a very useful feature.

(c) Dave Whenham
I can never resist a monochrome

Post-sunrise however the light show was curtailed, the blank, featureless sky lacked the drama pre-sunrise and I therefore explored the area further. Walking back to the hotel I remembered the Little Stopper in its tin nestled in the bottom of the bag. I can never resist black and white for long and after thirty minutes of working with the  pre-sunrise colour I slipped easily into mono-mode. The light turned out to be very nice for black and white work and I returned to the hotel with very cold hands but a huge smile on my face.

(c) Dave Whenham
Swansea Marina

So, I am very happy with the image quality from this mornings exercise. The JPEGs looked fabulous and I have the pleasure of playing with the RAW files to come.  I mainly used the X-T10 and on the whole it handled very well. Focusing with a manual lens in low light was a challenge but the focus  definitely helped. I set the JPEG mode to B&W(yellow) which seems to provide better clarity and of course by shooting RAW+JPEG means I still have the colour information, which was vital for such a fiery sunrise.

All in all a positive experience, the first time I’ve shot with the Fuji’s in the dark and cold of an Autumn morning. I’m not quite ready to give up the big Nikons but I used my full-sized graduated filters with the Little Stopper very happily and as with the big DSLRs practice and familiarity will make things easier.