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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

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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My Everyday Carry

November 08, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

When the Fuji X70 was first announced there didn't appear to be anything too exciting about it in terms of specifications and it seemed to be missing some key photographer's features such as a viewfinder.  However, after a serious think and a bit of research I took the plunge and got one back in March 2016.

 

I have already posted a bit about the camera in my Romania blogs a few months back, so will not simply repeat what I said there. Instead I will post a variety of images taken with the camera, comment briefly where relevant, then give a brief summary of its pros and cons at the end.  

 

Suffice it to say the camera has become my day to day carry-around camera of choice, either on its own or as an addition to another body.  It somehow seems to be more than the simple sum of its parts as a photographic tool and I really love it.  Although I have an iPhone and do value its camera, I somehow have never gelled completely with the mobile phone shooting experience, although I can understand why they have all but replaced small-sensor compacts that offer few advantages.  I instead tend to gravitate automatically to a "proper" camera, where I can dial in the settings I want and take images with IQ that stands real scrutiny.  The X70 is my mobile camera and just gives me that satisfaction in use.

 

Of course an obvious use for the X70 is travel.  With the native lens, wide angle converter or by stitching images into a pano, I have a versatile little camera and am not lugging around thousands of pounds worth of heavy, expensive kit.  I can keep the strap loop on my wrist and place my hand and the camera in a jacket pocket, making for a secure and easy shooting experience.  Either that or it just goes in a small shoulder bag (Ona Bowery) to supplement an X-T1/10/2 with a prime mounted.

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Another obvious use of the camera is for documenting family life.  It's such a small camera there really is no reason not to take it or have it handy on days out, walks or whatever.  Despite the wide angle lens, it is possible to achieve some subject isolation by focusing close, where the lens is stellar.

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When a dragonfly emerged from our pond back in early Summer I had the X70 to hand just before the school run and it was fitted with the wide angle conversion lens.  Although it would normally be my last choice for this kind of shooting, I actually rather liked the resulting snapshot for its really unusual perspective and context.  The tilting/touch screen made it relatively easy to reach out, compose, focus and shoot at arm's length!  I printed it at A4 for Theo to take to school and the detail was staggering.  The lens with or without converter really is excellent close up.

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It is a great little camera to try some abstract or simple architectural compositions using Fuji's great mono film simulation modes.  These were shot at the Imperial War Museum, Duxford.

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These were shot during the FIA European Drag Racing Finals and Flame & Thunder events at Santa Pod, around the pits and display areas.  Lots of interesting machines and characters to shoot at this great venue.

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Lovely colour pop and rendering at a local fair back in the Summer, where the discreet camera did not attract attention.  Zone focused.

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Zone focus means the moment is not lost to the need to select an AF point or for the camera to achieve AF, which makes for a compelling street shooting tool.

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The X-70 was a great camera to take coast walking in Cornwall this Autumn, where it was in my pocket or in my hand, ready to use.  I propped it on the rear screen to take the snap of Theo and I together and used it on my Siriu ultra light tripod with a 10-stop screw-in ND to take the sunset image below.

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I can highly recommend use of a wrist strap with this camera.  It is so small that a neck strap will add too much bulk to the camera. I use the Fuji half case, which offers protection, a slightly larger grip and includes a wrist strap, all in a nice leather that looks great with the camera.

 

You will see I have a lens hood fitted as well.  The camera profile is shallower without it, but if you hand-hold it a lot I think a hood offers some protection to the somewhat vulnerable lens, as well as reducing flare.  I use the  JJC one which is cheap and faultlessly made.  The screw-in ring that forms the first part of the lens hood assembly also allows you to attach screw-in filters, so the JJC hood is a good double-duty buy.

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Plus points:

Small and easy to take along in a small bag or coat pocket and easy to keep at the ready in the hand.

Solid build and quality feel.

Intuitive analogue dials and controls.

Analogue primary controls mean you can see camera settings without even switching on or when shooting away from face level.

Great Fuji family imaging pipeline with lush jpg output and film simulations.

Touch screen....amazing how much you miss touch focus on other cameras once you have used it!

Absence of viewfinder and use of tilt screen makes you think differently about shooting position and style.

Big customisation options for serious shooters with custom settings, Q menu and function buttons.

Wide angle lens (with or without WCL-X70 conversion lens) makes manual zone focus easy.

Performance with wide angle converter is at least as good as without, with excellent IQ.

Discreet, compact appearance means a serious photographer blends in with the crowds of smartphone and compact users, which is awesome for street/event photography.

Excellent close focus performance.

Leaf shutter means using flash at high sync speeds can be interesting.

Can be propped up using rear screen to stabilise it, to take self portraits or long exposures.

Fuji App means you can trigger the camera remotely while looking at your phone....again can be useful for street photography as well as long exposures.

Trash button can be used as function button outside of playback mode.

Battery can be charged via USB from any USB source including a power bank.

Uses same battery and same sized filters as X100 series....useful if you have both.

 

Minus points:

Older 16MP X-Trans 2 imaging pipeline lacks Acros film simulation and benefits of newer sensor (However 16MP is otherwise perfectly adequate for this camera's use case)

Autofocus is a little on the slow side when the lens group has to travel significantly to gain focus.

Tendency to back focus or miss focus in backlighting situations (Seems slightly worse than other X-Trans 2 cameras here)

AF hunting in low light.

4-way controller button at 9 o' clock is slightly obstructed by protruding LCD screen.

Camera does not detect automatically when wide angle conversion lens is attached to implement lens profile corrections.  This has to be set manually and is easy to forget!

Native 18.5mm lens is very good but not stellar.  Sharp even at f2.8 in central area but IQ diminishes further out.  Optimum across field at f5.6-f8.

Flash partly obscured by lens hood or WCL-X70 wide angle lens

Uses different batteries to X series interchangeable lens cameras.

 


The Best of a Good Bunch? Fujinon XF 90mm f2 R LM WR

November 05, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Since adopting Fuji's X-system as my go-to camera system for day to day and paid work, I have collected a large number of the XF lenses. On this system I tend to have a preference for shooting primes but do use the zooms where I need the reach or for travel.

 

I have to say that I have been incredibly impressed by the construction quality of the lenses, the handling and optical performance.  They seem to have a biting sharpness over the frame at optimum apertures that was pretty hard to achieve with full frame DSLRs, even on some of the very best lenses.  The primes especially, seem to have very pleasing rendering of out of focus elements and transition from sharpness to blur.  Being old-school to some extent, I do love the aperture ring that can simply be turned when holding the camera in a shooting position.  Also, one of the best things about the analogue style controls on the camera/lens system is that you can sanity check and see your settings before even switching the camera on.

 

In my opinion, one of the best ever lenses I used on my full frame Nikon cameras was the amazing ZF.2 Zeiss 135mm f2 APO Sonnar.  It has stunning sharpness, colour, out of focus rendering and handling.  I was therefore attracted to the Fuji equivalent, the 90mm f2, so I bought it back in 2015.  It has what I would call the "maturing" Fujifilm build quality, with water resistance and more defined and firmer aperture ring than the earlier lenses.  As with most Fujinon lenses, it feels lighter than you imagine it should, but has lovely build quality with considerable use of metals.  It is big by the standards of this system but not huge.....like a somewhat longer 56mm, and somewhat narrower than I thought it would be.  When the lens is detached or the camera is off, a lens group, which I assume is a focus group, slides about inside like a weight sliding up and down a tube.  When the lens is live the electromagnets of the linear motors must hold it in place.  It feels a bit weird at first but focus is fast and deadly accurate.  Here is the 90mm alone and on the X-T1 for scale.

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I took this lens with me to Cornwall in October when I went camping with my son.  I hadn't taken many decent images of him recently and really wanted to try and get a few....they grow up so fast!  I thought it would make a change from the 56mm to have some extra reach.  This is a lens which you can use as a conventional portrait lens; you just need to be further back than with the 56mm, but where it is also superb is a bit further back still where you can shoot a whole body portrait at wide aperture.  The sharpness in the focal plane and relatively rapid fall-off into blur makes for great images with interesting perspective.  

 

Sharpness at all apertures is astonishingly good.  I have no way of measuring it objectively but I can see from viewing images at 100% that it is the sharpest of the Fujinon lenses, and they are all very good to excellent.  This really is a lens where you base your choice of aperture purely on the depth of field you want.  You do not have to consider spherical aberrations, focus shift, weakness at widest aperture or any other image degrading issues.  It is so sharp wide open that there really is no discernible difference in IQ when stopping down.  Perhaps technically it maxes out at f2.8 but there really is no real world difference, even on the pixel-packed X-T2.  It really is very similar to the Zeiss.

 

Here are a few from the recent trip, from top to bottom; f2.8, f2, f2.8, f2. 

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It also makes for a landscape lens when a bit more reach or compression is needed.

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Probably the only negative thing I can say about this lens is that it seems a bit more prone to flare than other telephotos I have used, even with its big lens hood, but for me this isn't a major issue and it is fairly easy to avoid.

 

Here is an example with a straight out of camera jpg from a +EV exposure bracket that shows a green flare.  

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Some complain that it should have image stabilisation....I would rather take the lighter weight, smaller size and less complexity of a non IS lens in this class.  I agree it is very useful on the likes of a 70-200 equivalent.

 

An obvious question would be how does it compare to the 50-140 f2.8 at 90mm.  I haven't carried out side by side comparisons but I have that lens and it is definitely outstanding for a zoom.  Aside from being a stop slower in aperture, the zoom doesn't have quite the IQ across the image field (still great though) and the bokeh is quite different most of the time.  The zoom has a slightly busier, more swirly bokeh with tighter bokeh balls or bubbles, which is arguably not quite as pleasant as the smoother wide aperture rendering of the 90mm.

 

While it is not a macro lens, it performs very well at or near minimum focus distance and works well for flowers, destroying complex backgrounds.

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Two to finish.  First a portrait at f2.  While this wouldn't be my normal choice for any street photography due to the way I like to shoot, it does make a compelling lens for isolating a subject or cropping into a busy scene.

 

Overall, an amazing lens.  It may not be a focal length everyone can make use of, but if you can it surely must be be the current IQ champion among a range of outstanding lenses.

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Autumn Wedding

November 02, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Back in October I shot a wedding in Bournemouth and for the second time used exclusively Fuji kit.

 

In a Peak Design Everyday Messenger 13 I had my X-T2 with 56mm f1.2, X-T1 with 23mm f1.4 and X-T-10 with 16mm f1.4 and later the 12mm f2.  In its original rectangular carry case I had one Profoto B1 light and in that case fitted a few extras like chargers, Nissin i40 and spare batteries for the flash.  A really nice, light and simple way to work a wedding.  I much prefer to work with multiple bodies and prime lenses, which is much easier that changing lenses and minimizes the risk of losing moments or dropping kit.  The smaller Fuji kit allows me to do so without breaking may back and struggling with a ton of gear....bravo.  

 

This bag is great, being light, with excellent folding dividers, useful accessory spaces and quick and easy magnetic clasp.  Peak also have some great strap and clip systems to allow easy working with multiple cameras, as I am just discovering.  It really is super quality gear that has been designed with real thought and a modular concept based on anchor loops that quickly connect to different straps and tripod/capture plates.

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To simplify my workflow and retain options I shot RAW plus mono jpg files to each camera.  On the X-T2 with its 2 card slots I was able to configure slot 1 for RAW and slot 2 for jpg, a useful backup!

 

Here are a few observations on the day, the shooting process and the kit.

 

Firstly, I used Acros film simulation for the X-T2 mono jpg files.  When I first played with the camera and took some files I was not overly sold on Acros, but that has changed.  Acros does give a quite different rendering style to the existing mono modes that much more closely matches the rendering style of film.  The new "Grain" setting is on by default and I turned this off, which for me made the files more to my liking.  Having shot it a lot now I can instantly tell an Acros file from one shot with the normal mono modes.  There is a very subtle grain structure which varies across the different tones from shadows to highlights, rather than a one grain fits all processing style.  There is also a gentle and more subtle rendering of tonal change.  Having blown up some film scans to view at 100% to compare to the jpg files, the effect from the Fuji jpg files is incredibly similar.  For certain work Acros looks fantastic.  For other work, perhaps very gritty street scenes for example, I may still prefer the original mono style, but it's great to have a choice.

 

Normal black and white plus yellow filter

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Acros plus yellow filter

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Using all the cameras alongside each other made a few points very clear.  Overall the X-T2 files do have significantly more detail, but for wedding work, in all honesty, the 16mp sensors of the older cameras are more than adequate and I would just as happily use them.  By coincidence, the X-T1 had the 23mm f1.4 attached and this proved to be the most used focal length, so it did the lion's share of shooting. 

 

The X-T2 has a high ISO performance edge, but it is only a real issue towards the limits of the ISO range for wedding work.  The AF joystick control is a godsend when working fast and repositioning the focus point, so the older cameras felt at a significant disadvantage here.  The Focus performance of the X-T2 was definitely more assured, but all were adequately fast for this work.  Where I feel it may help, I switch to manual focus and use push button AF from the AF-L button to lock focus so I can shoot repeatedly without forcing the camera to AF before each shot.  Even the X-T2 failed to focus in any useful sense in the very dark dance area, but so would almost all cameras.  In this scenario I use manual zone focus anyway.  I often find that on the X-T1 I knock the metering mode dial onto the incorrect setting by accident when I adjust shutter speed.  I didn't have this issue on the X-T2.  

 

The main deal with the Fuji system is that it lets me get right in amongst the action, more like a guest than the photographer.  I can chat, laugh and just mix in while shooting, often holding the camera away from my face, which is critical to normal human communication.  This cannot be underestimated in value at weddings where the main thing is capturing the day as it unfolds naturally.  No-one showed a negative reaction to the cameras during the whole day....they are simply not intimidated, annoyed or put off by them.

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For most colour work I favour classic chrome for weddings and render this to the RAW file using a modified Lightroom process version as a preset.

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The only exception at this wedding was indoors when in the dance/reception area, the colours the bride had chosen rendered much better using Provia.  For the dance floor shots I favour getting in close and using the Samyang 12mm f2 zone-focused and the little Nissin i40 flash held up to one side on a TTL sync cord.  I set ambient exposure to set the scene by preserving some of the ambient light.  I also "drag the shutter" and use rear curtain sync some of the time, to get some motion blur.  I try to use an aperture of around f5.6 to get a decent depth of field and to render nice light stars from the disco lights.

 

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As for flash.  The little Nissin i40 is a great TTL unit for direct flash.  I do find it lacks the power to do good bounce flash in the same way as My Nikon SB900.  I therefore ordered a new Nissin i60, which does have the power and can be triggered and controlled fully off the camera by a commander unit.  Unfortunately it arrived a few days after the wedding.

 

I also took my one serviceable Profoto B1 and used it outdoors to add a bit of pop and catchlights to the group shots.  Whatever anyone may say about TTL, in my opinion it is marvellous and you notice just how good it is in lighting like I had to work in that day.  The brightness level was constantly all over the place due to drifting cloud of varying density and sunny bursts, so exposures constantly needed changing.  With Fuji my only current option is manual and it worked until the light got too up and down, at which point I stopped using it as it was affecting the flow of the shoot.

 

I am not a big fan of group shots in general as a photographer, because they lack spontaneity and feel a bit like running a production line, but I do understand why clients want them and am more than ok with doing them, if they do want them.  The main recipe for success seems to be using any ushers to help organise and ready people, working fast so people don't get bored and stare away or talk, and catching them before they have taken on too much alcohol!

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A few more from the day.

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I know people will argue all day that a full frame sensor will give better IQ because it gathers more light.  In theory that is true, all else being equal.  However, even disregarding the other advantages of mirrorless cameras, there is more at play in the real world of shooting a wedding, than tech specs would suggest.  Issues such as focus dependability, off centre lens performance and usable depth of field all affect the actual exposure settings it is practical to use.  I have used and still have the option to use, a full-frame DSLR setup for weddings, offering 36mp of truly excellent IQ, but now choose not to.  In terms of IQ alone why is this?

 

In terms of IQ do the Fuji cameras deliver the goods?  Sometimes we have to take a step back and consider how the images are going to be used and the output sizes required.  I won't argue that given perfect conditions, my Nikon D800 will produce amazing images that can be output very large indeed.  Most clients view their images on a computer screen, post them on social media and have some printed in a photo book and for the wall.  Images shot on the 16mp Fuji sensor will print to 16 inches at 300dpi, so you can put your nose on the paper to see every grain of detail, even at that print size. This rises to 20 inches from the 24mp sensor. For more distant viewing and using interpolation, much bigger wall prints can successfully be made.  This is just fine. 

 

We also have to remember that output will be affected by the need to use higher ISO values, where we introduce noise, lose dynamic range and colour.  Thus the way the camera deals with noise, dynamic range and preserves colour become very important.  I feel that the Fuji sensors and the X-trans array can benefit detail and rendering in certain types of shooting, to push them closer to full frame performance.  They already have more dynamic range than the sensors of a certain major DSLR producer, which is a big deal when dealing with deep shadows.  The noise is random and pleasing and not the hideous banding I have seen from some more expensive cameras.  Other equivalence factors come to play too.  For example, due to my absolute confidence in the accuracy of the Fuji hybrid AF system and IQ of the lenses, I will happily shoot in low light at f1.2, f1.4, f2 etc.  My lens is therefore admitting a lot of light to the sensor.  On a  DSLR system, the tiny depth of field rendered at f1.4 may not be desirable, lens performance is not always satisfactory and the accuracy of the focus can be frustrating to say the least, especially using off-centre points.  This means it can be wise to stop down a bit, thus equalising or often losing any light gathering advantage compared to the Fuji system.  For me I can get the subject isolation and depth of field I wish from the Fuji system and do not feel I am missing anything significant.  That is my opinion based on how I shoot but others may feel differently.

 

Post-shoot workflow is a big deal too.  While I always shoot RAW only on any DSLRs, I find the lush jpg output of the Fuji cameras to be wholly suitable for the final image.  I shoot in mono jpg together with RAW, so this gives me the option to do colour versions later.  I have developed simple presets for both the mono images and RAW files, which really speeds up my workflow.  Big win. 

 

An interesting moment in this wedding concerning camera performance manifested itself as I was having my usual chat with the registrar to make sure I knew any rules she had for the photographer's conduct.  She stated that one of her pet hates was noisy camera shutters as she had experienced some weddings where it disrupted the ceremony significantly and one venue where the sound really echoed in the otherwise silent building.  She was amazed when I told her that I switch all my Fuji focal plane shutter cameras to electronic shutter during the ceremony and I demonstrated it to her by asking her if she noticed I had just taken a photograph of her.  She was definitely sold on the idea!  It really does take some stress off the photographer, not having to feel that guilt each time the shutter snaps!

 

So in simple terms, IQ is plenty good enough and the advantages in size, weight, handling, subject reaction and communication seal the deal.

 

This experience reinforced my belief that shooting weddings with the Fuji system is technically and practically right for me.


The First Outing With the X-T2....X Goes Drag Racing

September 21, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

Merely 3 days after getting this camera I was due to be at the European Drag Racing Finals at Santa Pod in Northamptonshire.

 

This seemed like an ideal opportunity to give the camera a bit of a test and start to get used to the differences between it and my previous X-system bodies.  Unfortunately, I was not and am still not in receipt of the VPB X-T2 power booster grip, which increases performance for action shooting in several key areas, including frame rates, EVF refresh rate and AF-C performance.  The booster grips are due in any day, so hopefully I will have it soon.  Obviously any results from the shoot at Santa Pod are based on the camera without the grip but switched into "boost" mode via the power management menu.  I consider a grip almost essential for shooting with big tele lenses as it makes the camera more balanced, steady and easy to hold.  Without a grip it can feel like a fag packet camera stuck on the end of a bazooka lens!  Manageable but not ideal.

 

Using a big lens requires a rethink in straps too.  The normal, thin and small mirrorless straps are not really up to it.  A Peak Design Slide Light has therefore made its way into my inventory.  Using the capture plate provided, it can be screwed into the lens tripod foot for a sturdy carrying solution that does not stress the lens mount.

 

I used the camera exclusively with the 100-400 zoom during the 2 days I was there.  Due to awful, wet weather on Saturday, there was no racing, but on Sunday the conditions were superb and great for very fast runs.  As always with telephoto lenses, atmospherics from heat, moisture and smoke affect IQ, especially over longer distances.  Dragsters throw out a lot of heat and vibrate like crazy when that engine cuts loose, so pixel level sharpness is not always perfect.

 

I was there with my 5 year old son, enjoying the show and shooting from normal positions within the crowd, so this was not only a photography trip, but nevertheless, I did do enough to have a good play with the camera and form a few initial opinions about its performance.

 

Drag racing is of course only one form of motor sport, but it is the fastest motorsport on earth!   There are many classes of vehicle from barely modified cars right up to the exotic top fuel funny cars and dragsters. To be honest, it is hard to explain the experience of watching a top fuel race without actually taking someone along to see for themselves.  Top fuel is the fastest class of all, with rail type dragsters powered by V8 combustion engines that knock out 10,000 (yes that's 10K!) horsepower.  The secret to this is the use of exotic nitromethane fuel, huge superchargers and equally manly fuel pumps and ignition systems.  A top fuel race is an all-body experience, not  just a visual spectacle.  The instantaneous explosion of power as the cars launch, washes over like a shock wave and is all-consuming of your attention.  The ground shakes and the sound punches down your ear canal painfully.  Wearing hearing protection is strongly advised.  Just as incredible is the amount of traction the cars get off the line.  They reach 100mph in around 0.8 seconds, in twice their body length and were completing a standing 1000ft (302m) run in 3.6 seconds at 312mph.  They don't do standing quarters any more as the terminal speeds were getting too fast.  Anyway, it's awesome and everybody should see a race at least once.

 

Back to the X-T2.  I wanted to enjoy the racing and didn't try to pan with the top fuel dragsters....they are too fast and zooming and keeping them tracked would be very tricky unless you were in a favourable position set back from the track.  I took a few shots as the machines launched off the line, trying to react as soon as the drivers nailed the power.  You don't get much time to react on the shutter button before they are gone!  In reality you actually have to press the shutter in anticipation of launch as the top fuel monsters accelerate so fast they are at least partly out of the viewfinder in your reaction time! (that 0.8 secs to 100mph statistic again springs to mind) 

 

The X-T2 is a complex camera, with many setting options to consider.  I wanted a sensible frame rate that gave me a continuous option with AF tracking, while not filling my HDD with tons of crap to delete later. CL at 5fps seemed to be a good option without the grip as I wasn't going to benefit from the full boosted performance offered by the grip.  I used mechanical shutter and set image quality to record RAW to SD card 1 (fast UHS 2 card) and jpg fine to SD card 2.  I set the AF system to AF-C in zone mode, with a 3x3 focus zone and in preset mode 5 (erratically moving and accelerating/decelerating subject)....no shit...acceleration doesn't get more extreme!  With the choices of mode available, it could be argued that maybe mode 3, which ditches the erratic part, could have been suitable or even better.  The cars do go straight, but of course the distance between them and the camera varies hugely and very rapidly during a run observed from the spectator bank.  More experimentation would be a good idea.  I was using the shutter button both to focus and release the shutter and mostly manual exposure mode with auto ISO, setting the aperture and shutter speed I thought I needed.

 

The AF points were illuminating responsively as the cars waited to launch, with no significant hunting or searching through the focus range, which was reassuring.   I was quite pleased with this one which shows the awesome release of power as a top fuel dragster launches.  Note the flames leaping from the exhausts and the raised front wheels!  The sheer blast of sound and awe of the moment can make one forget to press the shutter button!

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Here is a top fuel burnout and a top fuel funny car launch.

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I did try tracking focus on a variety of other cars and bikes.  Bear in mind these are fast machines....I mean seriously fast.  Some of these vehicles are knocking out standing quarters in 5-7 seconds at over 200mph.  Most of the time the AF system tracked really well with the AF points dancing reassuringly within the focus zone as I tracked the vehicle in the finder.  If it acquired the target it seemed to stay locked on.  One may think this is a simple AF test for a camera, but I actually disagree.  Think about it....when a car is waiting to go the camera is basically tracking focus on a static object surrounded by other things, some of which are moving.  People, posts, barriers are in front of, level with and behind the cars.  When the car launches, the AF system has to acquire the target and track a ridiculously fast object.  It was certainly a challenge for a photographer, especially from the public banking where you get heads in the way, restricted movement arcs with the lens etc.  Lots of misses were undoubtedly down to me not following the subject properly or shaking too much and being out of practice with panning.  Anyway, here are some tracking shots of cars and bikes ripping along the strip.

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Occasionally the AF sensibly switched to another target once the original had fallen behind or from view.  This switching is a setting that can be selected or adjusted within the 6 AF-C custom settings provided.

 

Slower subjects like this wheelstander car and jumping monster truck were no trouble at all for the AF system.

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I was actually impressed how the 100-400 superzoom lens stood up to the significant increase in sensor resolution compared to the earlier X cameras...24 v 16 MP.  It really is very good indeed, especially below 400mm and absolutely stellar at 100mm.

 

We had a nice, low flypast from the Battle of Britain memorial Flight Lancaster.  The X-T2 tracked this really confidently against the bright sky.

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So what was my overall feeing about the camera after this shoot;

 

Well, it retains all the good features of the earlier X cameras that makes them such a delight to shoot with slightly refined ergonomics, some of which make a big difference.  The AF joystick is one of those.  It's a fantastic idea and so fast to use compared to the traditional 4-way push button pad.  The auto ISO implementation is better, with 3 customisable presets to choose from.

 

Resolution is a big step up, which is very nice to have anyway, but very useful when cropping too.  Any artefacts such as noise, more easily disappear at a pixel level.

 

Image quality is fantastic, being more of the same as before.  We have the wonderful film simulations and customisable jpeg settings.  Images are packed with detail, have great dynamic range, with easily recovered shadow detail.  I was amazed by the noise performance, which I would subjectively rate at a stop or so better than before.  Using higher ISOs in daytime conditions for action shooting, made no perceptible difference to IQ.

 

Overall responsiveness of the camera is much better.  Gone is that somewhat "elastic" "boing" when the shutter button is pressed and the camera reacts to gain focus.  

 

The AF system really does seem in a different league to be honest.  There are up to 325 AF points available that cover a huge area of the frame, much better than DSLR cameras and lots of these are the faster phase detect sites too.  Whereas before I personally really struggled to get meaningful results with AF-C in real world shooting using the X-T1/X-T10, now I would use it without hesitation and it seemed as good as most SLRs I have tried, if not better.  I also experienced much more confident focus in any mode with a backlit subject, something I have had issues with before on the earlier cameras.

 

Assisting with tracking and continuous shooting is the viewfinder.  The one in the X-T1 was awesome and this is a refinement of that, being notably brighter and having a faster refresh rate, even without the booster grip, such that I did not have difficulty tracking objects.  Before, I would totally lose sight of my subject after firing a burst.  With the 100fps refresh using the grip, VF delay is hopefully almost insignificant.

 

The way I used the camera...AF-C activated lots of the time, powering a big, heavy image stabilised lens with no additional battery grip and regularly reviewing images, was clearly a torture test for batteries.  Unsurprisingly I did get through 3 batteries during the day and onto a 4th.  I have little doubt that in normal use it will do much better.  As always with mirrorless cameras, the smaller size means small batteries.  No big deal....get some third party ones and take plenty.

 

Any negatives?  Nothing serious so far:  

I do feel that the rear command dial that you now have to push to zoom in on an image, is a bit too small and recessed so it is easy to mush it without properly pressing it.

 Also, when I have been in the main menu to adjust something or save a setting, when I exit and then go back into the menu, the camera has always defaulted back to the "my menu" section.  While this is ok most of the time, when you are setting things up or expect the top level menu, it means more menu navigation.

Despite the number of function buttons I still want more!  There are so many useful settings that it is hard to prioritise between them.  

I am not sure if it is just my expectations based on using other previous Fuji or non-Fuji cameras, but I did struggle to find a couple of things in the new menu system (card format for one!) and actually found myself heading to the manual to get my head around a couple of things.  I guess it is just a result of having so many features to organise within the camera menus and no two designers will have exactly the same idea as to what should go where!

Despite the new choice of 3 auto ISO settings, I do think that an automatic system based on the focal length of the lens attached, with the option to customise the shutter speed to a lower or higher threshold, is still a better idea. 

 

When I get the chance I will take it for another outing to do something different.  However, it was good to get a reassuring performance from the camera in an action scenario, as that was what I wanted the investment in this camera to achieve for me.  Something I can happily shoot airshows and the like with.  It is complex enough that experience using it and its various options will undoubtedly improve its performance further.  It feels like a mature product and a compelling overall camera that could turn its hand to anything confidently.  So far so good!