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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

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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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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