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Welcome to my blog where I post on my photography experiences, techniques I use and review some of the equipment or services that I use.  These are not technical reviews, just the observations of a real photographer using the kit for work and pleasure.  I hope the reader will find it an interesting and useful resource and I would encourage anyone to contact me with feedback, questions or advice.

Becoming a keen photographer has made me look at light in a different way.  Without good light of some kind an image can never be great.  To me it is undoubtedly the most fundamental element of photography.  All we have to do is capture it in an interesting way!  

Cliff

Time for a Change; welcome the Fujifilm X-E3

October 21, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I have been shooting a good many years now and using the Fuji X system since it began, so I have decent experience with the system.  I have become a bit more ruthless and less prone to keeping gear because I am attached to it, plus I am more in touch with what is actually benefitting me.  This has seen me make a significant change in the camera department.

 

I really liked my X-T1 as it was the second Fuji body I bought and brought a truly professional grade camera to the system that had very clear performance enhancements over the X-E1.  It served me well and totally reliably, through a number of weddings, client shoots, air shows and motorsport events.  Fuji's firmware updates saw it evolve constantly and what I just sold was ironically a far better camera than what I bought back in 2014!

 

Somehow the X-T1 had found itself getting used less and less and not in any way because it was a bad camera.  I was just finding that for specific photography purposes I was choosing other cameras instead of it.  If I shoot an airshow or drag racing, I want the best possible AF and EVF tracking performance, so the X-T2 gets chosen.  If I want a small, lower cost travel camera to take on holiday or walk the streets with, I choose the X-T10 or X-70.  That left the X-T1 in a slight limbo.  It was still a great wedding camera, but I was finding that using it alongside the X-T2 was causing me ergonomic frustrations when I flitted between bodies, mainly in the selection of AF points....joystick or D-pad?!  Compared to the X-T2, it was similar but was feeling like a "Beta" version of that camera.  Despite improvements I do feel that AF was significantly weaker than the newer cameras, even in static conditions.  I felt the sensible option was to sell while it was still worth significant money.

 

When the X-T20 came along I was tempted but decided it was a no go as I already had the X-T10 as a smaller travel camera/backup and would rather save the money for when the next full pro spec X-T came along.

 

Then the X-E3 was announced and I couldn't help myself being very interested.  In some ways I had always loved the sleek form factor of the X-E1 that allows it to easily slip into small bags and the left-mounted EVF that keeps your nose off the screen, makes controls accessible with the camera to your face and makes for a very quick lift to shoot response.  I was especially taken by Fuji's evolution of the control system that seemed to lose nothing significant but gained interesting ideas.  I love the touch screen on the X-70 and this looked more advanced.  Losing the D-pad seemed to be an excellent idea as all people do is criticise the feel of the buttons and frankly, it is a slow way of accessing stuff, especially focus points.  It has had its day.  Here was a camera with all the imaging power and response of the X-T2 in a really small form factor, which offered a different user experience, while being easy to integrate into multi body shooting due to menu and control similarity.  For travel and street shooting it looked like a dream and I really wanted another camera with the X-Trans 3 imaging system.  I am now a completely happy EVF shooter and find only advantages, so the lack of an optical finder was not significant.

 

I put the X-T1 on Gumtree and got a great price as it was in beautiful condition.  I ordered the X-E3 kit with the 23mm f2 lens as it represented a great saving on the lens and I wanted to add it to my collection due to the great difference in size between it and the f1.4 prime.  I have fallen for the f2 primes for street and travel shooting as they make a huge difference in what can be carried in a small bag.  My only gripe is that Fuji don't include the nice little felt lens pouch in the kit, which I thought was a bit mean!

 

Here is the camera alone and compared in size to the X-T2 and X-T10.  Striking is how "clean" the lines of the camera are. It is simply smaller than the X-T2 everywhere and similar but with less height and fewer "sticky-out bits" compared to the X-T10.

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I have fitted the latest Peak Design Cuff strap to the camera and it looks and feels great.  Brilliant news is that we no longer need any bodges or work-arounds to use these straps as the latest V3 anchor links fit easily through the Fuji eyelets.  It is easy to detach the cuff and use a shoulder strap that attaches to the same anchor links....a very neat system.  The termination that the anchor clips into is a little on the large side for small bodies but is very light and you soon get used to it.  Part of me is tempted to use the leather strap that came with the free Fuji leather case (pre-order promotion) but I think the Peak Design option will be more versatile.  The below image also gives a good idea of how small the camera is in the hand and my hands are not huge!

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As I already have an X-T2, setting up the camera was fairly painless with a few tweaks needed due to the slightly different availability of physical buttons and dials.

 

I absolutely love the concentration of buttons on the right side of the camera as everything is in reach for one-handed control and with the camera raised to the eye.

 

Although the X-E3 has similar shooting capabilities to the X-T2, it of course lacks the weather sealing, dual card slots, articulating screen and battery grip, which are a trade off for the smaller size and much lower cost.  Although technically very capable for frame rate and AF, it would probably feel rather small and unbalanced when used with the bigger Fuji zoom lenses.  The smaller primes in particular will suit it just perfectly, and the f2 lenses are a perfect match.  For my use case for this camera I will happily trade a flexible screen for the touch screen.  Ironically, until the other bodies get the latest firmware in November, the X-E3 theoretically has the best AF performance of any Fuji X camera!

 

There is only 1 physical function button to the right of the shutter release.  However, this is backed up by 4 virtual function buttons that operate with finger swipes across and up/down the screen.  It really works and does not take long to adapt to.  There are AE-L and AF-L (AF-on option) buttons too and the rear command dial can be pushed to access a function.  It defaults to review at 100% zoom and I am happy with that.  More good news is that ISO is still easy to access despite no dedicated dial.  A simple push on the front command dial allows scrolling through the options. Overall there are slightly fewer function buttons than the X-T2 but this means an uncluttered body and that everything is easy to reach.

 

I have currently set photometry, face detection, AF Mode, AF-C custom setting and WiFi to the function buttons and set the AF-L button to AF-on. 

 

The control joystick is present and is great for both accessing focus points and navigating menu options.  Miles better than a D-pad!

 

I know lots of people don't like change but I really see the control interface as a maturing of the ergonomics that loses nothing of the retro appeal of direct access dials and control rings, but brings usability bang up to date.

 

The EVF is plenty good enough.  It's a bit small compared to the huge X-T2 magnification, but comparable to the X-T10/20 and bigger than the X-pro 2.

 

As with all Fuji cameras there are 7 custom settings presets within which you can set the various parameters that dictate how your jpeg files look.  I love Fuji Jpegs and they are one of the reasons I love the cameras so much overall.  A bit of time spent setting them to your preferences means you can shoot pretty much anything with a variety of appearances and get great results.  Here is a table showing my setup which is the same as for the X-T2 due to the identical imaging pipeline, except for the ISO setting because the X-T2 is dial driven and does not have an ISO option here.

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Obviously preferences here are very personal.  I do not use the Velvia simulation as I find it too gaudy and too prone to blocking the shadow detail.  I turn noise reduction to the minimum -4 as I actually like the film-grain like Fuji noise and prefer to do noise reduction after shooting if need be.  The other adjustments are mostly tweaks of the contrast curves, lifting shadows where I feel they tend to clip too early and trying to preserve highlights. I turn grain off as a nice film like grain appears at higher ISOs and I found it a bit too much with this on as well.

 

My set up of the Q menu gives me access to those things I would like to have access to but would not fit on the function buttons....Kind of second tier priority.  This is similar to the X-T2 again but includes the shutter type as I ran out of function buttons!

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There is a good "My Menu" feature to list the most useful/used menu functions and I have set this up the same as the X-T2.

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Early days but so far I love the camera and was excited by getting it due to having the great X-Trans 3 processing engine in a such a small, clean body that would give me a different use case compared to the X-T2.  In no time at all I have adapted to the ergonomic changes and can really see the logic behind them.  I may find a few niggles along the way and I certainly agree that if one could have only one camera then weighing up the pros and cons of the choices would be hard indeed!!


Romania 2017

September 07, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I visited Romania for 8 days in August 2017, starting in Iasi, then hiring a car and driving west to the Carpathians, where we stayed in Predeal for 3 nights.  Following that it was a long drive back east to the village where my wife's parents live about 36km south east of Vaslui.  After visiting them, it was back to Iasi so I could come home with Theo, leaving my wife there for a while longer.  Sadly her father was terminally ill and died a few days later.  He must have been very uncomfortable for many months and palliative care isn't exactly great there, but he lived his last few weeks without making a fuss.  He was certainly a character and of a generation the likes of which won't be seen again as Romania modernises. I was really grateful to have seen him and pleased that he spent time with his English grandson just days before he died.

 

Strange though it may seem, it was actually an enjoyable trip in many ways.   I am quite used to the various frustrations that can make visiting Romania a little unconventional and I really love seeing the real country.

 

Being subject to the same restrictive carry-on baggage as last year's trip, I again took my Lowe Alpine Light Flite 40 rucksack, packed and compressed conservatively to maintain the onerous 20cm depth required.  I easily packed a couple of pairs of shorts, some easy care travel shirts and a pair of Crocs, plus of course my camera gear.

 

Camera gear list:

Fujifilm X-T10

Fujinon 35mm f2

Fujinon 50mm f2

Fujifilm X-70

WCL X70 wide angle conversion lens

 

My daily carry was a small Tamrac shoulder bag similar in size to the Ona Bowery but lighter in weight and a taller shape.  I like it as a small and handy travel bag.  My only real gripe is that access is a bit fussier than the Bowery as you have to fold a flap back then unzip the main section and being a zip access, it's a bit narrow to get stuff out near each end.

Driving for the first time was an interesting experience which I rather enjoyed, but more for the challenge than the relaxation!  We had a nice Skoda Octavia hire car to do battle with the sometimes dire roads and the drivers that varied from inept to suicidal.  I went on about it a lot before, but I have no idea why drivers there would choose to take risks that even a non-driver would see as obvious.  You are put under pressure by impatient driver behind to speed blatantly through villages.  For several miles I was driving with an artic in close proximity.  I overtook him sensibly and safely on the open road and when I slowed within the next village, he followed me clearly frustrated and near the end of the village limits, overtook me (in an artic!).  As we left the limits into the 90kmh section, I overtook him again.  What nonsense was that!?  Several times drivers closed right up on trucks to overtake, missed the overtake when it was on and then went for it when the chance had gone due to blind bends or a brow, but that was no deterrent.

Anyway, enough.  Here are some images from the trip.

I love the Carpathians.

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This is Rasnov fortress

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I am constantly staggered by how awesome the iPhone's pano mode is....it just works!

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I am a sucker for the old loco's in Romania and can't get enough of photographing them.  We took the train from Predeal to Sinaia for a day out, both to avoid the traffic and to experience the train.

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Peles Castle, Sinaia

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Pelisor Castle, Sinaia

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We took the cable car up to the Ski area above Sinaia.  It was wonderfully cool and lovely.  In the iPhone pano, Sinaia is in the valley below.

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Theo got a little wooden boomerang toy that a few men were selling near the castles. He felt rather exuberant in the cool, fresh air, after the heat and dust of the east.

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Colourful market, Sinaia

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Loco and driver, Sinaia

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Waiting for the (late) train, Sinaia

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The train back to Predeal.

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The rather lovely view from our hotel window toward Poiana Brasov.  Traffic noise was spectacular, as of course nobody would consider slowing down, not screeching the tyres etc at night!

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Theo loved spotting storks.  Many had "grown up" babies with them

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The following images were shot in Crestesti De Jos, where my wife's parents live.  I love the character and colours of some of the old houses.

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The tomatoes are awesome!

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As with most kids, if there are animals about, Theo is happy all day!

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Sadly the old railway that ran right past the village was closed a few years back.

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Back in Iasi

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Nikon 200-400mm f4 lens for sale

May 24, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

I have finally had the courage to put my Nikon 200-400mm f4G VR zoom lens up for sale.

 

As any reader of my blog will know, I have been rather captivated by the Fuji X system for my work and other photography pursuits.  I find it works for me for the way I want to use it.  As a consequence, I have been selling off my Nikon gear to let others get some use from it, to clear the decks and to raise some funds for other projects.

 

Selling this lens is not an easy decision as replacing it would involve ludicrous cost that now puts it out of reach.  However, being realistic, I never now use it, so it really has to go and release those funds for other things.

 

It is an absolute minter, unmarked and with all accessories including front soft lens cover, rear cap, clear drop-in filter, semi-soft lens case, protective screw in front element, tripod foot, carbon lens hood, manual and original box.  It is a professional grade lens with superb engineering and would suit sports, airshow or wildlife shooters.  Heck, if you want a lens like this you already know what it does!  I have used mine almost exclusively for airshow shooting.

 

The Version 2 of this lens added a nano crystal lens coating and an extra stop of stabilisation in the VR, but is otherwise identical. It will set you back a minimum of £4800 currently at one dealer, but normally they are £5800.

 

Anyway, it's yours for £3000 and is currently up on Gumtree too.  Email me if interested.

 

Here are some shots so you can see how pristine it looks.

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It's all been a bit quiet on here!

May 24, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

Yes it has!

 

Firstly, I have been busy with various jobs I do and haven't had so much time to think about photography.  There are a couple of weddings coming along, so best I get back in the groove!

 

Secondly, inspired by the opportunity to upgrade my Hi Fi amplifier on an exceptional deal, there was a bit of a chain reaction and I spent considerable time (and money!) upgrading my 2 channel audio kit, which hadn't had much done to it for 15-20 years.  Here is the new beast that almost gave me a hernia moving it about (35kg); the Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 600 with its little glowing valves in the preamp stage.  Wonderful amplifier.

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I find that many photography enthusiasts seem to be equally enthusiastic about listening to music on a good home system.   It's probably the common aspects of tech and art in both that tweaks our curiosity, fascination and love of beautiful things....who knows?

 

I love playing music on vinyl LP and always have done....it is no fad.  I have had record players since setting up my own home in the mid 80's and pretty good ones too.  Sure, it is an old format and on the face of it, it appears rather crude and primitive, but when you hear a half-decent mastering and pressing played on a half-decent set up....wow, the sound is amazing and truly engaging.  Take it up a notch to high end and wow again!  We hear in analogue sound waves and the source is analogue, which kind of makes sense.  It has taken a couple of decades for the sound of CD and digital sources to sound truly good, probably because we have been trying to make what is fundamentally a "stepped" source sound analogue.  It is only recently that the best CD players got good enough to really challenge vinyl IMHO and ironically when the CD medium is probably in its twilight years.  However, CD will never challenge the tactile feel of an LP and its artwork, or the ritual of playing a record.  Playing LPs has another great advantage;  You tend to listen to a whole album as the artist intended, rather than skipping through tracks.  I think it inspires a deeper listening experience because of this.

 

It still intrigues me how the tiny movements of the diamond stylus are transmitted up the cantilever where they move magnets or coils to generate a tiny electronic signal.  This then passes to a phono stage which greatly amplifies and applies an equalisation profile, whereby it goes to the line level input of an amplifier. In principal a relatively simple process that would seem to have no right to sound amazing, but the finesse involved and the sheer result is mind-blowing.

 

I have always been a fan of the design principles behind the Roksan Xerxes record player and in fact owned the original version for many years before upgrading to the X (10) model.  It skilfully avoided existing design ideologies of either mass loading or sprung chassis. Instead it used a relatively rigid rubber blob type suspension between the various layers of base, sub plinth and outer plinth, with carefully placed cuts in the structure, to isolate the key components from external and internal sources of noise/vibration, while allowing them to best read the record. It has design finesse and interesting solutions to the engineering problems, which means that parts are neither over large or over heavy, but do their jobs superbly.  A good example is the beautifully engineered aluminium, 2 part platter.  A large part of the mass is concentrated at the outer circumference where it is best placed to aid inertia and speed stability, rather than making the whole thing simply heavy.  This in turn means the bearing can be much finer and smaller than on many turntables.  The design has a fast, punchy musicality with tight reproduction of notes and no lazy hang-over or bloom.  It has long been very highly regarded by the HiFi press and those that love the way it plays.  

 

I recently had mine upgraded by Roksan to close to 20 plus spec, and had a new Pug tonearm and Shiraz cartridge fitted.  It is a superb record player that makes me want to listen for hours.  I have the Caspian DX2 chassis which houses the motor power supply and Roksan reference phono stage, both powered by their own power supplies.

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My original speakers served me very well for nearly 20 years but went on Gumtree and were replaced by PMC's fantastic Twenty Five.24, which deliver masses of clout but with real finesse.  The bass delivery technology on these speakers is incredible.

 

If I can I try to fit in an hour of listening a day....it is my default relaxation, rather than TV.

 

So now you know my other vice!


To Spot or Not to Spot

December 14, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Like many photographers I guess I have usually been guilty of leaving my cameras in matrix, evaluative or whatever other clever metering options the camera makers give us in the interests of getting a good and safe overall exposure.

 

This is often a sensible option for many general types of photography and if shooting fast where you don't wish to miss moments.  The idea is that the chosen exposure will try to capture highlights but also preserve shadow detail to give a safe overall exposure without clipping tones at either end of the histogram.  Of course, I understand metering and will use spot metering for example, if I am trying to get skin tones correct against a bright background, but there is much more opportunity that beckons with spot metering.  

 

As photographers, maybe we should think more about what we want to show in a particular image and sometimes stray away from the safe ground of these clever metering modes.  I have recently thought a lot more about this while shooting weddings, street photos and daily family shots with my little boy.  Some photographers manage to get richer and darker tones, more tones across faces and dramatic use of shadows that would otherwise look insignificant if a "safer" exposure was used.  The way that photographers I admire like Jonas Rask and Kevin Mullins use dramatic lighting contrast to make their images stand out is very clear.  It can really enhance images of people or where you want to highlight a subject and simplify a composition by making other elements fall into darkness or near darkness.  I am not suggesting it should always be used or even be the main method one uses, just that it is worth considering.

 

A technical point is that with the Fuji X cameras you can link spot metering to the selected focus point rather than just the central area of the frame, which makes spot metering very useful in off-centre compositions, which is what most are after all.

 

Here, I wanted to really highlight differences in shadow and light and expose more for the highlight tones, to deepen shadows and make people stand out on the "edge" of the light.  Apart from the main subject, exposure was set so that people in the background would appear from deep shadow too.  I used spot metering on the skin tones of passers by and locked exposure with the AE lock button.  I zone focused to allow instant shooting and avoid delays in waiting for AF to work. 

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Here the background was busy and I wanted a greater range of skin tones so I used spot metering on Theo's face.  The detail there is in the shadows still gives context but detracts less from the obvious subject and the image has the lower key look I was seeking.

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Similar here, same place, same day.  I just wanted a lower key look with bias on the skin tones.

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