ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard: Blog http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog en-us (C) ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Sat, 21 Oct 2017 16:30:00 GMT Sat, 21 Oct 2017 16:30:00 GMT http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/img/s/v-5/u272206410-o882485468-50.jpg ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard: Blog http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog 120 80 Time for a Change; welcome the Fujifilm X-E3 http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/10/time-for-a-change-welcome-the-fujifilm-x-e3 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!!

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) camera fuji fujifilm photography x-e3 http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/10/time-for-a-change-welcome-the-fujifilm-x-e3 Sat, 21 Oct 2017 16:24:00 GMT
Romania 2017 http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/9/romania-2017 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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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) fuji x system fujifilm photography romania travel http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/9/romania-2017 Thu, 07 Sep 2017 21:56:04 GMT
Nikon 200-400mm f4 lens for sale http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/nikon-200-400mm-f4-lens-for-sale 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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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/nikon-200-400mm-f4-lens-for-sale Wed, 24 May 2017 19:12:55 GMT
It's all been a bit quiet on here! http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/its-all-been-a-bit-quiet-on-here 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!

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) HiFi Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista 600 PMC Pug Roksan Shiraz Xerxes loudspeaker music http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2017/5/its-all-been-a-bit-quiet-on-here Wed, 24 May 2017 18:50:22 GMT
To Spot or Not to Spot http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/12/to-spot-or-not-to-spot 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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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/12/to-spot-or-not-to-spot Wed, 14 Dec 2016 10:16:09 GMT
My Everyday Carry http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/11/my-everyday-carry 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.

 

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Camera Fuji Fujifilm Photography X70 http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/11/my-everyday-carry Tue, 08 Nov 2016 11:51:51 GMT
The Best of a Good Bunch? Fujinon XF 90mm f2 R LM WR http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/11/the-best-of-a-good-bunch-fujinon-xf-90mm-f2-r-lm-wr 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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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Fujifilm Fujinon Lens Photography XF 90mm f2 R LM WR http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/11/the-best-of-a-good-bunch-fujinon-xf-90mm-f2-r-lm-wr Sat, 05 Nov 2016 22:40:26 GMT
Autumn Wedding http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/11/autumn-wedding 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.

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Fuji Fujifilm Wedding X-System http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/11/autumn-wedding Wed, 02 Nov 2016 13:52:15 GMT
The First Outing With the X-T2....X Goes Drag Racing http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/the-first-outing-with-the-x-t2 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!

 

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Camera Drag Racing Fuji Fujinon Photography Santa Pod X-Series X-T2 http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/the-first-outing-with-the-x-t2 Wed, 21 Sep 2016 13:29:37 GMT
The X-T2 http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/the-x-t2 I actually delayed pre-ordering the X-T2 as I was not really bothered about getting a camera from the first batch, but my local dealer contacted me a few days ago to say that my camera would be available on launch day, 08th September 2016.  I have never had a camera on launch day before!  The only reason I pre-ordered was to get the £100 reduction if done with the grip.  With the Brexit fiasco in full swing, a weak pound and high demand for the camera, I cannot see a better deal happening anytime soon.

 

I had done a lot of research before deciding to get an X-T2.  For most of what i do I fund the X-T1, X-T10 and others perfectly suitable in terms of resolution and general performance, such as days out, travel, landscape, astro, portrait and wedding.

 

My only significant frustrations had been associated with autofocus for fast moving objects and especially tracking focus in continuous servo mode, which I found ineffective on the previous generation of cameras for what I used it for.  I have been getting some decent results in air show photography with the T1 and T10 but by working around the AF issues rather than finding them really effective.  I lost a whole sequence of shots to blur of a Typhoon hard-turning around me with vapour clouds bursting off it....very annoying.  I have also had the odd misfire in general use or at weddings, with the camera either failing to focus or focusing on the background.  I am so hoping the AF and far better refresh rate of the EVF in the new camera is a big action shooting upgrade.

 

The X-T2 looks very much like the T1 and feels almost the same to hold, which is no bad thing.  Once you switch it on and start to set it up, you really see how much has changed on the inside!  The menus are all completely different and are an improvement, using logical tabs to navigate sections of the menu.  There are more settings and options to set up, much more like a top end DSLR, including far more flash settings.  The familiar Q menu and custom settings are still there (a great thing) which means I have set it up in a familiar way to all my other cameras, to help with switching between them.  The menus are different enough to cause some modest confusion until I get used to it.

 

There is loads of customisation on the body with 6 function buttons and the AE-L and AF-L buttons too.  Now the AF points are joystick controlled, this frees up a D-pad button to add an extra function.  After a bit of consideration and fiddling, I quickly set up the function buttons, Q menu and custom settings.  For function I have  shutter type, AF mode, AF-C custom settings, Wi-Fi, Auto ISO options and face detect allocated.  In the Q menu, high up items are custom setting selection, flash type and compensation, timer, white balance and focus assist.  It will hardly be needed to enter the main menus during shooting, which is the object of the exercise in setting the camera up correctly.

 

The full number of AF points is staggering and the phase detect area is much larger.  I am hoping the higher resolution will help with cropping and in situations where it helps (landscapes).

 

Just looking at the design and seeing the modifications, tweaks and new options available, I can tell it should be a better shooting experience than the older generation bodies, which were already excellent.

 

Not all the grips ordered had arrived, so I am without at the mo.  I am looking forward to the boosted AF performance, faster EVF refresh and the convenience of being able to charge 2 batteries in the grip simultaneously.

 

I haven't even taken a single shot yet!

 

Here are a few pics after unboxing.

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Camera Fuji Fujifilm Photography X-T2 http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/9/the-x-t2 Thu, 08 Sep 2016 12:34:15 GMT
Destination Romania (On kit & food) http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/destination-romania-kit-some-other-thoughts I already explained how my kit on this occasion was limited by the type of travel I was doing and to be honest, I am so glad I did not drag a large camera kit about as I would never have had the chance to use it creatively or spend the time shooting to justify taking it.  Plus, just taking a lot of kit would have been a pain.  An easy-access shoulder bag with 2 small cameras was ideal.

 

As with most of my photography these days, I carried a Fuji X kit, which gives me excellent image quality in a small, light and easy to manage package.  For travel, it is also good to remain discrete so you do not appear rude or vulgar when shooting and so as not to attract the wrong kind of attention.

 

The X-T10 I have described before and therefore relatively little needs to be said.  It packs all the IQ and performance punch of the X-T1 into a slightly smaller package, that for the most part does just the same job equally well, at a much lower price.  I could have brought the X-T1 but decided on the X-T10, as the slightly smaller size does make a difference in a small shoulder bag and I did not think that weather resistance, or any of the X-T1's other advantages in spec would be an issue for my use in Romania.

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I love the 35mm f1.4 lens.  With all the firmware updates to both body and lenses, it now focuses perfectly fast enough for all normal shooting needs.  It makes a fantastic, sharp portrait lens wide open and sharpens fully across the field by f5.6.  The approx 50mm FL may not be one thing or the other in terms of wide or long, but it can do almost anything.  That is why I took it in favour of the X100T, which would have limited me to only wider options.  I also think the out of focus rendering of this lens is something special.  Compared to something like the Nikon 50mm f1.4G it is no contest....the Fuji is much sharper wide open, has far less longitudinal CA and does not suffer from a major PITA (pain in the arse!) focus shift at f2.8.  It's a great lens for the few portraits I took and for cropping into street scenes/landscapes where I wanted to eliminate crowds and clutter.

 

The only irritation with the 35mm is the rubber lens cap that fits onto the nice, metal, rectangular lens hood.  It can be dislodged very readily and sure enough it fell off one night when trying to get my over-tired child into a taxi in Sighisoara.  I found it next day when I returned to the spot where I reasoned it must have got lost, but it had been run over in the dust and even after a clean I was not happy to use it again.  Replacing it will cost some no doubt!  Not the best design.

 

Now to the X-70.  When this camera came out I was not overly excited and reasoned that  Fuji was trying to wring some life out of its soon to be succeeded X-trans II 16mp sensor.  However, I remained open minded and read some interesting reviews by photographers I respect like Jonas Rask and Kevin Mullins.  They are absolutely right....you shouldn't compare it to what has gone before and complain about it for what it lacks (e.g. no EVF, f2.8 etc), but treat it as a different tool with different advantages.  The camera has a very sleek and uncluttered appearance, which is remarkable considering the degree of direct control accessible on the body.

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Here it is shown with an optional alloy lens hood from JJC (great quality, great price).  This adds depth to the camera so is best left off when pocketing or sliding into a well-packed bag, but it does offers some flare and knock protection.  I also got the Fuji leather half case which has a wrist strap and adds some protection and better grip at an insignificant penalty in size/bulk.  I love it and it stays on all the time.

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So what are the advantages of this camera:

 

Firstly, it is truly the first pocket-sized camera in Fuji's X system.  Sure, not a tight trouser pocket, but easily a jacket or bellows pocket.  It is surprisingly small, especially when you realise that it packs essentially the same imaging pipeline as the other 16mp APS-C sensor fuji cameras. 

 

At first the lack of an EVF was not an appealing part of the spec, but of course this actually works for the camera when you think about it.  If you want an EVF with its extra cost and size, then get one of those cameras such as the X100T.  You soon learn to use the camera in a different way, using the touch and tilt screen to frame and focus and to shoot from elsewhere than eye level.  It is actually very refreshing and soon you do not miss an EVF.

 

It has a touch screen.  The implementation is fairly simple (no menu navigation etc) but it is surprising how useful it is to touch to select the focus point....I miss it on my other bodies now I have it here. 

 

One of the most compelling aspects of the camera is that the small, discreet size and the lack of a finder makes it look like a typical tourist camera, so the photographer goes almost unnoticed among the phones and compacts being waved about.

 

It has a leaf shutter that is silent and will sync at high speed with flash.

 

What about the lens:

 

The fairly wide 18.5mm (FF 28mm equiv) lens is perhaps not as versatile overall as a 35mm, but is genuinely useful and a wide tends to be good for travel.  The tiny lens is not as razor sharp overall as some of the Fuji primes and actually seems at its very best close up, where the good close focusing distance can lead to some interesting compositions.  This is opposite to the X100 series, whose lens is weak close up.  Wide open at f2.8 it is sharp centrally but softens further toward the corners.  The central area of sharpness extends upon stopping down until it reaches its technical max at perhaps f8.  The very extreme corners remain a little softer than the perfection of some of the primes, but this has little effect on real world images.  I am not sure if some of the in-camera jpg processing algorithms are slightly different on this camera, or whether it is simply the lens, but I found that upping sharpness to +1 gave me the sharpness I wanted in my final images.  In short the lens is good enough for what most people will use this camera for and the small "pancake" size of the lens makes the camera compact after all.

 

The native lens takes 39mm filters, which are the same as the X100T, so this is useful if you own both cameras.

 

When I saw the WCL-X70 wide conversion lens at a very good price, I ordered one thinking the X-70 would make a wicked street and travel camera with the choice of its native 28mm and also 21mm effective FL lenses.

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It's a diddy little lens, with some heft from the amount of metal and glass in its construction, and screws on beautifully smoothly to the threads surrounding the native X-70 lens.  It does not change the max aperture of the lens or the close focus distance, contains 4 elements and has the EBC coating.  I cannot see any detrimental effect on image quality when the WCL is attached and the lens retains is characteristics of a sharp central area, with some weakening into the corners that improves on stopping down.  I sometimes think that images actually look sharper taken with the WCL and it does not seem to introduce any nasties like colour fringing or CA.  Obviously the camera is no longer pocketable with the WCL fitted but it cosmetically blends seamlessly with the camera body, being a match in colour and finish.  it can be unscrewed in moments and is easy to stash, with front and rear caps fitted, in its little felt pouch.  It comes with a rubber type lens hood, which seems to work and offers some knock protection.  The only downside is that it attracts dust and lint as such materials always do.

 

A bit of an annoyance is that when you attach the lens you have to manually enter the menu and tell the camera that the WCL is fitted so it can apply the optimum optical corrections for the lens profile.  Of course, if you take it on and off a few times you soon forget to do this until you have taken a few images, so they will appear a bit more more distorted than usual.  An automatic setting that detected when the WCL was attached would be a great idea.

 

While the X-70 may seem a bit expensive in some ways, when you add the WCL-X70 you have a complete camera package with 28 and 21mm equiv lenses for a similar price to the 14mm f2.8 prime lens.  That is actually a lot of imaging power and versatility for the money.

 

Here is an image taken with the WCL at f8 to give some idea of IQ and angle of view.  Botanical gardens at Cluj....a nice place to visit by the way.

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Focus:

The X-70 boasts the same focus system as the X-T1/X-T10 with the newer zone and wide tracking modes.  In Theory it should give the same performance as the other cameras and sometimes it does.  In good light and where the focus groups do not have to travel much, it seems the same.  However, to me it seems slower in low light or when changing focus between distant and close objects for example.  The most annoying thing is that the occasional Fuji tendency to back focus or fail to focus on lower contrast or backlit objects is more pronounced.  Occasionally I have given up trying to get focus on backlit objects altogether.  For the most part focus is good enough but it does lose the occasional image.  I have not used AF-C or tracking focus as it doesn't fit with my shooting style with this camera and I don't think it would be especially compelling based on normal AF performance.  What does work well is using manual focus to zone focus for very discreet and street shooting, as at f5.6 and f8 you have quite a deep depth of field.  You can override it with push button AF too, should you suddenly want to use AF.  A useful technique is to use push-button AF to focus on an object that is at the approx shooting distance of your subject, to set the focus, then shoot away freely at your real subject without needing to focus.   Manual would tend be my choice for street shooting and I used it to get this shot.

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Control/settings:

The X-70 would be familiar to anyone used to Fuji cameras and has the usual blend of metal build quality with easy-access dials and buttons.  It has a lovely aperture ring with 1/3 stop steps, shutter speed and exposure compensation dials.  The Q menu, custom settings and function buttons can all be set to individual preferences and I have set it inline with my other Fuji cameras so I can switch seamlessly between them.  This includes the amazing film simulation modes.  For this trip I occasionally shot jpg only but more often like to shoot RAW and jpg to give me options. I often shoot jpg mono with RAW alongside, like I do for weddings.  I really favour the Classic Chrome simulation for places like Romania, as it tends to accentuate the aged or weathered appearance of many subjects.  This was one example of an image I liked in both mono and colour, so here is the mono to compare with the colour one on the "Trains" post.

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The only niggle is that one of the control pad buttons is a little close to the edge of the rear screen and finger access is slightly obstructed by the screen protruding out a bit.

 

The X-70 has all the usual benefits of allowing remote control from a smartphone, image transfer to a smartphone and direct printing to the instax printer.  Overall I think it is a great little camera, especially for someone who already uses the X series and wants something that offers a different approach to shooting to supplement their existing cameras.  As a keen photographer, I am not sure I would want one as my only camera (X100T more so) but as a camera within a system it is fantastic.  More casual shooters used to iPhones would perhaps see its design choices as either too complex (control dials etc) or too limiting (fixed lens) and choose a compact camera with smaller sensor and zoom lens, but for serious shooters it is hard to beat.

 

I did not do any serious street shooting in Romania.  I simply didn't have the opportunity, having non-photographers and a young child with me much of the time.  Also, people seem to be somewhat shy and often offended when a camera is pointed at them and I take no pleasure in upsetting elderly people, however interesting their portraits would be.  Even market traders, who usually are totally indifferent in many countries, would look away or cover up.  On a future occasion I may try a more direct approach, perhaps offering a print from the Instax Share printer as an incentive.  One thing I will not ever do is give money to take an image as I think that sends the wrong message.

 

When I think of the subjects I shot, the way I had to travel and the opportunities I had, I think the Fuji X system gave me the perfect blend of technical capability, with ease of carry, access and discretion on this trip.  A larger system would have hindered my shooting and my day to day movement and travel while offering no compelling advantage in IQ.  In that sense I think the APS-C sensor size is a great choice, as it gathers a decent amount of light for good sensor IQ, while retaining compact dimensions for bodies and lenses and a good ability to blur backgrounds where needed.

 

I also found using my iPhone very convenient and often shot with it, especially from the train when I was only going to get rather low-fi images anyway.  While many people may think photo apps are cheesy, I actually love using Hipstamatic and for me that is my default way of shooting with the phone.  While the iPhone imaging pipeline is surprisingly good for what it is, I still think of it as almost like using a toy camera and therefore the analogue style of Hipstamatic fits perfectly for me.

 

Any other thoughts on Romania?

 

Well, of course, yes.

 

Everyone has their own ideas and opinions about food and national pride often comes into it too, so what follows is just my opinion based on travel to many countries over the years.  I must admit that I remain significantly disappointed with the food in Romania.  I am a vegetarian and I know that choice will be limited in that regard, but it's much more than that.  Each time I go back I keep hoping that Romanians travelling and receiving visitors will generate more variety and ideas but I see little evidence of that so far.  Let's be honest....40 years ago, eating out in England was a boring, inconsistent and limited affair much of the time.  Then people started to travel and also to embrace the foods of our immigrant groups such as Chinese and Indians.   Things improved fast and service, variety and quality is now very good indeed.

 

Romania is very much a meat-eating country and I was once asked quite sympathetically if I was ill when I declared that I was a vegetarian!  So meat is not my bag, but that's fine as long as there is some balance, imagination and healthy eating involved.  However, from what I see, dishes are rather bland and batter fried schnitzels and french fries often dominate.  When I look around me at private or public tables there is often hardly a vegetable in sight.  Yes, there are lovely big tomatoes and bell peppers on offer, but there are relatively few attempts to make tasty and simple salads like you get in Greece for example.  You often have to order at least 3 different "salads" to get any variety at all.  A tomato salad will be sliced tomato, an onion salad, sliced onion, a cabbage salad sliced .....you get the idea!

 

Lots of food is fried, the amount of salt used can be nauseating (I simply could not eat some food this trip) and other foods (e.g. polenta) are often covered in a  salty rather tasteless cheese or cream.  The amount of processed meat like salami, ham and sausages is incredible and some of it looks so fake I have my doubts it ever saw a sheep, pig or whatever.  When eating out you never see carrots, broccoli, sweetcorn or similar vegetables.  Ironically the fields are full of corn!  Excessive amounts of dill are used in many types of food.  This has never been my favourite herb and it really does not go well with many foods.  At one time I could tolerate it, I now am absolutely done with it!  Food is often served almost cold, even things which are at their best piping hot.  Food sometimes seemed tired and over-cooked and sometimes pre-cooked and warmed up.  

 

There is no real consistency....for example, I ate in quite a smart hotel, which ended up being mediocre, but in a budget hotel where I stayed in Sighisoara, the food was really tasty.  In one restaurant in Brasov the only suitable main course I could find on the menu was unavailable, so I reluctantly ordered baked potato with sautéed peas...literally all there was for me.  The peas were otherwise ok but smothered in dill (WTF!) and the "baked" potatoes were actually fried, diced potatoes that were so salty one taste was all I could take.  I almost gave up eating and later went into a McDonalds feeling hungry (always a sign of defeat!)  Predictably they had no vegetarian meal options but they did do a large and remarkably tasty greek salad which went down very well.  High 5 for Maccy D's....it's not often I say that!

 

Healthy eating it is not.  I shared meals with people over 4 days during which some individuals never went near a vegetable or bit of salad!  Schnitzel, chips, ice cream!

 

Sometimes meals were a success.  Some mixed salads were really nice (the only downside being that very few places have olive oil and balsamic).  I ate pizzas at least 3 times, when I could find nothing else, and all were pretty decent with plenty of fresh veg atop, through they never put tomato paste on the base for some reason.  When I could find pasta dishes that were not laced in cheese and cream, most of those were fine too.

 

In the supermarkets there were no vegetarian foods or deli type quiches, bakes or similar.  Certainly nothing like a chilli, curry or Mexican meal is to be seen anywhere.  The sausage counters are bloody enormous mind you!

 

At the other end of the spectrum, we visited some lovely people who had a house outside Iasi.  They took pride in growing lots of their own fruit and salad in the garden and we had it with our meal.  The villagers who live off their land also grow their own plants and animals for food, which is about as organic and unprocessed as it gets.  A big contrast with what tends to be on offer in many eating establishments.

 

Romanians are generally very nice, welcoming and generous people who seem very keen to tell you the truth of who they are rather than what outsiders may think they know.  They seem genuinely interested in learning about you and where you are from.  In terms of businesses, many are very pleasant but some have yet to learn the concept of customer service, as we found when complaining at a restaurant and trying to get on a minibus.  They can quite rudely argue their case and the restaurant dragon in Brasov even accused us of eating most of the potatoes (barely touched) before complaining!  Avoid the Gaura Dulce in Brasov unless you fancy sodium chloride and attitude poisoning.  Apparently it means "sweet hole" in Romanian....Another kind of hole somehow springs to mind!

 

As for costs, well it isn't seriously cheap as you seem to be handing money over in dribs and drabs wherever you go and in the tourist hot spots you will pay more for everything. However, it is relatively cheap compared to what we are used to in the west, but standards (e.g. meals and accommodation) tend to be somewhat lower too.

 

Examples; well for 4 of us (2 adult, 2 kids) travelling on each 400km plus train journey, it was around £40-55 all-in, which is pretty cheap.  Budget hotels were the same, about £40-55 for all of us in a "suite" or apartment type room and a main meal for 4 was typically about £24 including sides and a drink each.  Beers were great with local draught for around 6 lei (just over £1) for half a litre.  For travelling alone or in a pair, I reckon some of the little "Pensions" (guest houses) look great. The hotels were fine...hardly luxurious but somewhere to sleep, shower and wash a shirt just fine.

 

Overall, I really enjoyed my trip and am hungry (maybe not the best choice of words) to see more.  If I dare brave the roads, hiring a car would be a great way to access some places otherwise hard to get to.  The best of the country isn't actually in the very touristy areas but more in seeing the real country and how the people live and the train is a great way to se this.  Romania has some amazing wild places with the largest areas of continuous forest in Europe and wildlife such as bears and wolves long gone from many countries.  While I would welcome at least some more interesting food, I think it would actually be a real shame if  traditional farming started to change and the trains got clean, fast and smooth.  There are some truly unique sights and experiences in Romania and it makes a huge change from the usual package holiday.

 

Highly recommended as a fascinating destination if you go with an open mind and a bit of patience.

 

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Fuji Fujifilm Photography Romania Travel WCL-X70 X-70 X-T10 http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/destination-romania-kit-some-other-thoughts Tue, 09 Aug 2016 19:30:48 GMT
Destination Romania (Trains) http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/destination-romania-trains One of the best experiences I had in Romania on this visit was travelling around a substantial part of the country on the train over 3 nights and 4 days.  Be aware that at least some of the images in this post were iPhone snaps taken from moving trains or through windows, so I apologise for sometimes less than ideal compositions.

 

Starting out in Iasi, I went to Cluj Napoca, followed by Sighisoara, Brasov and back to Iasi.  I was with my brother in law, his daughter and my son Theo.  I travelled light with all the stuff for Theo and I in my Lowe Alpine bag, which was nowhere near full.

 

Shortly after leaving Iasi at 0612 the sun came up as we "raced" along.

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Old man at the back of the train

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Travelling on trains in Romania is an interesting experience to westerners used to fast, safe and modern railway systems.  What the Romanian railways lack in pace, technology and cleanliness, they make up for in masses of character and a window on the world you cannot get any other way.  In short, train journeys are  destinations in themselves.  Suitable for fast business travel they are not....they are grindingly slow, dirty, hot and smelly, but they are people's trains, for use by ordinary people to get about in a land where many older and rural people do not have cars.

 

I worked out from the tickets that I had travelled 1132km on the train in 3 journeys and it took a total of nearly 23 hours.  That is an impressively low average speed of around 30 miles per hour!

 

I have travelled on trains in Romania before on various journeys so i knew what to expect, although some of the oldest rolling stock I had been on before does seem to have been retired.  However it all still looks pretty old, tatty and dirty with doors and latches that sometimes don't work or close properly.  The locomotives are awesome machines, being built by Electroputere in Craiova during the 1970s and 80s.  They are weathered and bear the scars of years of use and you have to respect these machines for reliably serving on often rough track, mountainous routes, and operating in snow, heat and dust, all year round.

 

This was the awesome, weathered loco that took us on the Cluj to Sighisoara leg of the trip.  Its metal manufacturer's plate proclaims it was made in 1975.

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Here is what I presume to be a shunting and freight loco, also at Cluj.

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Perhaps the greatest surprise for anyone used to western railways is that there is effectively free access by foot all over the railways and platforms.  In fact at many stations the only way to get from platform to platform is by walking over the tracks.  Platforms often consist of old, uneven and low rows of concrete blocks and it is a steep climb up steps into the carriages, which is hard for older people.

 

What fascinates me is the amount of old rolling stock just abandoned at railway stations or in sidings near major junctions.  Nothing ever seems to get scrapped, it just gets left to melt into the scenery.  I love exploring and photographing abandoned vehicles and industry, so this place is a goldmine.  At Cluj I just wandered about looking at the old rolling stock.

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In one place I saw a row of carriages so old they had been completely consumed by undergrowth that had crept over the train, leaving only one end of the last carriage exposed.

 

At and in the area of some stations you see views that have changed little in 70 years, like this one at Iacobeni.  The system is so old school that a traditional guard waits at every station to welcome the train and signal the driver when it is safe to go.  Even where the train does not stop, a guard comes outside to see it past.  Where leaves on the line and a variety of other maladies will stop services in a flash on western railways, it is routine for large plants to grow all over the railway.  Some sections of track are very uneven and cause a lot of bouncing and lateral lurching, so the trains have to be tough.

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There is a guard on every train.  You may say he is perilously close to the door....I would say he is perilously close to the toilet!

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I was fascinated by all the large and small stations the train called at, some little more than a hut near a tiny village.

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The views of traditional Romania you get from the train are amazing, as is much of the scenery.  here is the dramatic climb into the Carpathian mountains on the way to Cluj.

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...and some traditional rural views of communities and farms, all seen from the train.

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Back in 1991 I read an article in National geographic about a small town in Romania that was blighted by almost unbelievable pollution.  A non ferrous metal smelter belched out hideous amounts of toxic metals while a carbosin plant smothered the valley in some 10 tons of carbon soot per day, creating a dark, monochrome world. I was so intrigued that I kept the magazine to this day and have always wanted to visit the place.  It lies on the line between Cluj and Sighisoara and although I was not able to get off the train I did get a few minutes to look from the railway.  The place is Copsa Mica.  Now of course it at least looks clean, aside from carbon blackening some of the telegraph poles and similar things, but there are still pollutants present.  The old smelter and carbosin plants are falling into disrepair and stand as a monument to the utter disregard of the environment and the people under the communist regime.  I will have to go back and explore properly.  What an interesting place.  On one side of the tracks is a dead industrial monstrosity and on the other a village with an incredibly charming little church.  Talk about contrasts.

 

Excuse the quality of these iPhone snaps from the train but hopefully they give an idea of the derelict industrial area.  The huge smelter stack dominates the area.

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These were taken at the station looking back toward the plants and upon leaving. 

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In all honesty, anyone who still thinks that Communism is a good idea, really needs to visit Copsa Mica and another city called Onesti, where outdated heavy industry (now also dead) and ugly buildings abound.  I can only imagine what the quality of life was like for people in those places when they were working at full capacity so Ceausescu could build his palace!  The regime is widely acknowledged to have been among the worst and most oppressive of a bad bunch.

 

During the trip I visited Sighisoara, one of the best preserved medieval cities and a world heritage site.  Aside from the dirtiest, hottest and smelliest taxis I encountered, there really are some gems here within the old walled city.  Perhaps my favourite part is this old tower of the city wall.

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The old clock tower is impressive too and the old houses have a nice mix of colours.  Taking images without including lots of Dracula tat outside souvenir shops and too many people is quite tricky in the summer. 

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This old passage into the old city that leads under the clock tower, is very atmospheric.

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A view from the clock tower, which you can climb up and visit the museum inside.

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Sighisoara railway station is pretty run down in appearance but has bags of character.

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Sighisoara is well worth a visit as it is in an unusual state of preservation and has some lovely old architecture.  They would do well to totally eliminate traffic from the old walled city and regulate some of the souvenir shops, but those are relatively minor ills.

 

Brasov has got much busier since I last visited.  Inevitably it gets a lot of tourists and there are lots of eating and drinking outlets, plus souvenir shops around.  Explore the alleyways, back streets and main square and it is a nice place to visit, as you will find gems like this little tower of the old city wall.

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Main square.

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Interestingly, in respect of my previous rant on road safety, maybe somebody is interested.  A travelling exhibition is making its way around showing people case studies of serious/fatal car collisions, by displaying the seat and belt of the occupant, along with a description of what happened.  It was in Brasov when I visited.  Take heed people!  You know it makes sense.

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Sadly, as with many busy places (e.g Luton airport!), the taxi drivers at the Brasov rail station will try to rip you off by charging 3x what they should, if you are unaware of what to expect.  If they are not running their meters, don't feed the greed....walk away and call a reputable company.  Taxis are usually a cheap and easily accessible way of getting around at about 2-3 Lei per km and you will get details off a business card, poster or by asking a local.

 

On the last leg of the trip from Brasov back to Iasi a lady sat in our compartment who was clearly of traditional orthodox religion.  She was very kind and blessed a little framed picture of a Madonna, which she gave to my son, then she blessed him.  He was very intrigued of course!

 

During this journey we stopped at a station called Adjud, where the Locomotive had to swap ends.  it was here that I took one of my favourite images of the trip.  It was roasting hot and my brother in law went to grab us a beer from the station shop (I use the term loosely).  I gave the can to Theo and took some images on the platform.

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While travelling by train is in many ways charming there are some things you need to be aware of.

 

Journeys can be long...8 or 9 or even 12 hours.  Rarely is much or any food available on the train.  Occasionally you get a buffet car with a limited stock of snacks but more often a man comes through the carriage selling stuff from a basket, so take some food and drink.  It will be hot in summer and stuffy in winter. At worst there is no aircon at all and even if it does work you will still be hot, as it just takes the edge off the Summer heat.

 

Finally the sanitation is pretty awful.  When you enter a toilet you simply do not want to touch anything!  Pack the hand gel and wet wipes.  Some of them smell so bad it spreads along most of the carriage.  One of the best quotes of the trip from Theo was , "Daddy, is that real pooh!?"  "Yep, afraid so!"  On the positive side there was running water and soap.  This was a pretty dirty one, but not the smelliest. Nice eh!?  Taking kids in there is not fun.

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It was a tiring few days but what a great experience.  It has made me want to get off at the places I had to pass by.  Maybe another time.

 

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Fuji Fujifilm Railway Romania Train Travel http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/destination-romania-trains Mon, 08 Aug 2016 15:08:02 GMT
Destination Romania (On buildings, mountains, monasteries and being scared)) http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/destination-romania-on-photography-travel-people-food-railways-and-toilets Equipped with my minimal but hopefully effective photography kit, I went forth to explore.  This was not an exclusively photographic trip.  Much of the time I was with non-photographers and looking after my 5 year old, neither of which is conducive to thoughtful, patient, time consuming photography at the best times of day.  It was more a case of snatching what opportunities arose as and when I could.  Well that is my excuse for the images I took!

 

Even on my initial arrival in Romania and driving from the Airport, I sensed that things had improved somewhat since my last visit.  I mean that in the sense that Iasi at least looked a bit tidier, a bit cleaner, the number of newer cars from both east and west had increased markedly and some nice buildings had been restored.  There was a sense of moving forward, more dynamic ideas and progress, rather than the post-communist rut that inevitably took time to get out of.  More people seemed to be out enjoying this, having a coffee or beer with their friends, which was good to see.

 

Visitors from western countries have varying reactions to Romania when they first arrive, but I am now over those of course.  When I first came (to Oradea, not Iasi) I got off a bus and stood among rows of frankly hideous communist-era concrete apartment blocks. I instinctively clutched my wallet and tensed up, feeling on edge....such areas in England tend to be linked with high crime, drug use, social problems and the like.  However, I was soon to learn that in Romania, these blocks are home to the vast majority of town and city dwellers; normal, working people with kids, who feel lucky to have somewhere to live.  To my eyes, if someone told me to design the most hideous building possible, I couldn't better some of those I have seen in Romania. They are often tatty with unappealing surroundings of worn concrete and weeds.  However, high crime areas they are not.

 

Here is a post-sunset view from an apartment in a typical residential area of Iasi, to give an idea of the style of these buildings.

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A wider daytime view.

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Here are some other areas of the city showing the bleak, concrete architecture of the communist era.  It actually makes for good black and white photography subjects.

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I was pleased to see some of the restored buildings of historical and cultural significance in iasi, including the Palace of Culture (Museum), the Theatre and some of the churches.  IMHO the theatre is a beautiful building with a tasteful and subtle architecture and colour palette.  Thank goodness these buildings survived the communist-era taste vacuum and are being looked after!

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This is my favourite church in Iasi, with its dramatic copper roofing and wall engravings .  

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This monastery can also be found in the city.  It can be a challenge (as in many western cities) to isolate such buildings from the surrounding unsympathetic architecture in photographic compositions.

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A trip to the roof of the tower on the outer wall gives us location context reality and an interesting juxtaposition of old and newer, many examples of which you find in Romania.

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Palace of Culture....a grand building now tastefully combined with a large shopping complex nearby at a lower level.

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Aside from some of the architecture, another shock to westerners are the people you see rifling through the big litter bins and dumpsters in built-up areas, using their bare hands to pick stuff from the stinking mess.  Many people are still extremely poor.  You see gypsies regularly begging and occasionally kids, who ( I am reliably informed) they have deformed for purposes of begging more effectively.

 

On the other hand there are now lots of new houses being built outside cities like Iasi, where professional couples are breaking away from life in apartments.  Some significant foreign companies are investing in factories and modern IT based industry to replace the dead, communist era heavy industry.

 

Interestingly, as a foreigner, when you engage in conversation with many Romanians, they are especially anxious to point out that Romanians are not gypsies.  They feel very aggrieved that the perceptions and expectations of Romania and it's people are based around the negative impact that Gypsies from Romania have created over Europe since open borders allowed free movement around the EU.  They appear upset and worried that this perception leads to prejudice against Romanians generally, especially now the Brexit vote is a reality and that they could be excluded from working and living in the UK, despite upholding hard-working and decent lifestyles there. 

 

In the first few days my sister in law kindly took us on a 3 day road trip up to the north eastern corner of Romania, into the Carpathian Mountains and to the Bucovina area, which I rapidly decided was one of my favourite areas of the country.

 

The Carpathians have defined much of the physical and human geography of Romania, being a crescent-shaped range of mountains that effectively divide the country and occupy a lot of area.  I have seen the most rugged areas further south, but up here the mountains are more gentle with sometimes steep but graceful, rolling profiles, clad in fir trees with some rocky outcrops.  The valleys are farmed in very traditional ways, with small fields occupied by wooden hay lofts, traditional hay stacks and hay drying racks.  Hay is routinely cut by scythe and tossed onto stacks or horse carts by pitchfork.  It is amazing to see this way of life still in existence as it has been gone from most countries for decades at least.  People in rural Romania still grow their own food on subsistence farms and it is a totally different lifestyle to that found in the cities.

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On one occasion I stopped to photograph a nice rural scene and these two happened by, painting a picture of hardship.

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Bucovina is famous for its painted monasteries, which are very interesting to visit.  Far from being curiosities or museums, many people are to be seen practising religion at these locations and they are still occupied by nuns as living, working monasteries. I was fortunate to see one of the most cherished, due to it's highly regarded paintings, this being the Voronet Monastery founded by Stephen the Great.

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We visited the large Sucevita monastery on a sunday and it was amazing to see so may ordinary people of all ages visiting in reverence, some in traditional dress.  The place had a real atmosphere with the nuns chanting prayers from within and so many followers paying attention outside.

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On the way back from Bucovina we passed through the rather amusingly named village of "Clit" where a Romanian wildlife icon was to be seen in fair numbers. To those not used to seeing storks they are quite interesting, being large birds that build really big, conspicuous nests atop telegraph and power cable poles.  They are often to be seen following tractors or farm workers hoping for an easy meal and there were often 3 or 4 birds in a nest, presumably parents and youngsters about to fledge.  I didn't have a lens with much reach so this was the best I could do.

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Now for the scary bit!  At this point I would point out that I do not scare easily.  30 years of police work, age and a 2nd dan in Tae kwon-Do mean that I feel fairly safe most of the time and know what real risk is.  However, I remain truly horrified at the standard of driving I see in Romania and yes, it does scare me, for the sake of my child and others I see using the roads.  I do feel qualified to comment as I was a traffic police officer for 20 years, have been trained to police advanced level and spent 10 years as a forensic collision investigator within the police.

 

The lack of hazard perception and degree of risk taking I see on Romanian roads I find hard to comprehend sometimes, so I am not surprised to see that they have about the highest fatality rates in Europe per head of population.  Drivers routinely travel at speeds way above the posted or national limits but lack the vehicle handling and observation skills to do so with any degree of safety.  In villages and built-up areas (50 kmh limit) I routinely saw vehicles travelling at 90-100 kmh, their drivers apparently oblivious to horses, children playing, elderly pedestrians and the like, many of whom are in the carriageway due to lack of footpaths.

 

Most driver's observation outside the vehicle seems to extend to a radius not exceeding about 15 metres, so they fail to react to even obvious hazards they are approaching until it becomes a full-on emergency.  There is absolutely no evidence of defensive driving, where a driver thinks for other road users and tries to eliminate risk by planning for the actions of others.  It is totally reactive rather than proactive driving.

 

Insanity like forcing a closing gap, overtaking on blind bends or brows, using phones, not wearing a seatbelt and charging headlong into danger is routine.  It actually surprises me there are not more accidents.  In 2 weeks I nearly had at least 3 accidents in taxis and private cars (as a passenger, I would add!)  At best progress is lurching, involves lots of acceleration and braking and erratic steering.  Epic fail Romania...start looking after each other on the roads.  It would be so easy to improve things a lot but there is little evidence of enforcement or of drivers trying to better themselves. I wondered if the legless man I had photographed in the mountains had lost his legs in a vehicle collision!

 

The road infrastucture does not help things, the worst offenders being the newer highways between major towns/cities, which are single carriageways but with a kind of "hard shoulder" to the nearside of each traffic lane.  Drivers use them as 4 lane roads (which they clearly are not) making slower cars travel wholly or partly in the hard shoulder and forcing overtakes, often in the face of oncoming vehicles.  It is all rather tight and you can see how major head-ons occur.  The hard shoulder is often interrupted by low concrete bridge parapets that intrude partly into its width and is normally bordered by deep drain channels.

 

The standard of driving is one reason I often prefer train travel in Romania....there are others too, but more of that next time.

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Bucovina Iasi Road safety Romania Travel photography http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/destination-romania-on-photography-travel-people-food-railways-and-toilets Mon, 08 Aug 2016 09:59:01 GMT
Destination Romania (Packing) http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/destination-romania This little write up was inspired by a recent trip to Romania and in the next few posts I will try to share my insights on what to see, the people, the infrastucture, food, travel and anything really that I was able to form valid observations upon.  Of course, it also includes what photography and other essential travel kit I took and how I got along with it.

 

I would point out at this stage that my views on Romania are not based on one fleeting visit. I have been to Romania perhaps a dozen times since 2003, for periods that varied between a month and just a few days.  My wife has family there, so of course our visits tend to be centred around spending time with them.  However, I have seen enough of the country to get a feel for it, plus the bug for exploring more in this destination that remains little known to many westerners and loaded with often incorrect preconceptions.

 

I just visited Romania again with my wife and 5 year old son, Theo, during July-August 2016, after a gap of about 4 years.  As with most travelling these days I go with my photography head firmly attached and I actually find that this makes me more observant to what is around me, whether I shoot anything worthwhile or not.  It also keeps a fidgety and easily bored person occupied!  On this trip I knew I would have to travel light.  We were flying on a Budget Airline called Blue Air and I was toting a carry-on bag only.  It's a good idea to read the small print as the depth dimension of carry-on bag allowed on Blue Air is around 5cm less than typical, at 20cm, which rules out many bags, although the 10kg weight limit is not unreasonable.  In this I had two pack all my clothes and photography kit.  I am experienced enough at travelling to know that excess kit is tiring, distracting, detracts from enjoyment and makes you more vulnerable to theft or losses.  

 

The starting point was therefore the wonderful Lowe Alpine Lightflite 40 carry-on pack.  Its a tough and capacious bag that can be carried by 2 handles, a shoulder strap or by completely concealable backpack straps.  The bag only weighs 0.8 kg empty and has great versatility, including 2 compartments and both internal and external compression straps, while remaining sleek and free of any excess features. It lacks features that would make it a good choice for long trekking with heavy loads but is purpose designed to carry the most kit possible in the smallest and lightest package and to be easy to handle during transit.

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Aside from what clothing was hung on me, in went a total of 3 Karrimor and Rohan travel shirts, an extra pair of shorts, a vest top, a pair of long Rohan trousers, 3 pairs of socks, 3 underwear, a lightweight coat and thin fleece.  I would add that the choice of clothing is so important....these lightweight, easy care, non-iron, shirts/trousers are awesome, packing down to almost nothing, yet can be washed and dried out in a hostel or hotel room overnight.  Try that with jeans and cotton T-shirts!  

 

A Rohan travel vest has become a trusted companion to me too as I have 12 pockets at hand that hold personal items securely, but it can always serve as temporary storage for lenses or other items if the cabin bag gestapo are having an "off day" at check in! 

 

As for the camera gear, well that and its own bag had to fit within my carry-on!  The ideal candidate here was the Thinktank Photo Mirrorless Mover 25 shoulder bag, which fitted neatly inside the top part of the main compartment of my carry-on bag.  It seemed a good choice as it is easy to carry and has a zip closure which adds security and keeps Romanian dust out! 

 

In this went the Fuji X-T10 with 35mm f1.4 lens and Fuji X-70 with the WCL-X70 wide angle conversion lens.  I took 2 spare batteries for each camera and had to take the charger for the X-T10, whereas I relied on USB charging (very convenient) for the X-70.  For this I use an Olixar 4xUSB travel charger that has various clip on plug heads so it can be used anywhere.  It charged my phone, my X-70 batteries and my mini power bank.  I was thinking of taking the X100T, which would have made sense in many ways (common batteries with X-70), but decided to go with the 35mm, which gave me a lens better capable of portrait shooting and a bit more reach to crop into scenes.  I therefore had effective focal lengths of approx 21mm, 28mm and 50mm in a tiny package.  I also had my iPhone which is ridiculously convenient and lets me have fun with low-fi shooting in Hipstamatic.  I packed a Manfrotto Pixi tripod and single 49mm 10-stop ND filter but actually never used either.  I also packed 3 extra SD cards as I had no means of external image storage on the go.  

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Here is the Thinktank bag inside the main bag, along with a couple of shirts to give an idea of scale. The Lowe Alpine bag will expand to a depth of 25cm but in this case I under-packed it and used the compression straps to make it 20cm deep, in order to comply with Blue Air carry-on rules.  It takes loads of kit and for anyone travelling alone carries more than enough.

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My carry-on bag weighed about 7.6kg, which was impressive really for 2 weeks away.  My travel motto is....why carry dirty washing around?....just wash it and re-wear!  It really is so much hassle taking more than you need in sweltering, busy places.

 

Having travelled on Blue Air from Luton to Bacau in Romania previously, my expectations were not very high.  On that occasion check-in was a lengthy hassle with staff meticulously measuring carry-on bags and causing all kinds of fuss (no doubt to raise extra revenue by causing bags to be checked in at extortionate rates) and arrival at Bacau was chaotic, hot and cramped, to be followed by a 3 hour road trip to Iasi, our destination.

 

On this occasion I readied myself to to travel with the thought that I would expect it to be complete shite and therefore could only be pleasantly surprised if it wasn't!  Actually, it wasn't too bad at all and basically did what it said on the tin.  No frills, but polite staff, slightly tired but OK 737 jet, arrived on time etc.  The new route, Luton to Iasi, was great as it placed us 20 minutes from our destination rather than 3 hours of near-death experience on Romanian roads.  Nothing is perfect however and our one checked bag went missing, full of around 3 tonnes of goods for relatives plus my wife's and kid's clothes!  It did turn up about 2 days later mind you.

 

It was hot as always in the summer, with temperatures in eastern Romania around 32-36 Celsius, so being a Brit, this would not really be my choice of time to travel there, but school holidays and family issues decided it.

 

Stay tuned for more about the trip.

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Fuji Fujifilm Lowe Alpine Lightflite 40 Romania Travel http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/8/destination-romania Mon, 08 Aug 2016 09:11:35 GMT
A Totally Fuji Wedding! http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/5/a-totally-fuji-wedding I just shot my first completely Fuji wedding following a couple of others where I had taken along Fuji X cameras to supplement my Nikon gear.  A combination of my own improving confidence in the system, the inspiring content of X-shooter Kevin Mullin's website and a recent live presentation by the man himself, pushed me into making the decision to just do it with Fuji!

 

It definitely made a difference to the day from my perspective.  In practical terms it saved my back and the frustrations of lugging big, heavy bags of DSLR gear about all day.  The smaller cameras made it far easier to get into the intimate action of the day without being noticed in a negative way.  Shooting was enjoyable and liberating, working with just an X-T1, X-T10, X100T and 56mm f1.2, 16mm f1.4 and Samyang 12mm f2 lenses from a compact ThinkTank Retrospective 6 shoulder bag.

 

This time I decided to go for a shooting style much closer to documentary, just capturing real moments as they happened and not driven by the photographer.  As part of the unobtrusive process and moving with the flow, I shot largely with available light, using the wide aperture excellence of the Fujinon lenses and accurate autofocus to get decent IQ in dimmer light.  Any group shots I took were driven by the subjects themselves just grabbing each other spontaneously and letting me get the shot rather than me making requests.  I do still like to do a few posed couple shots as clients do like these.  On this occasion the weather was grey cloud and windy so it was unlikely to lead to any appealing images outside.  Instead we did a few bedroom shots for which I used a single Profoto B1 and 2 foot octabox.  Losing the luxury of TTL with the Nikon system I soon got the exposure OK in manual mode.  Moving faster outdoors I would miss the TTL, but in this fairly fixed environment it was OK without.

 

For the first dance I prefocused the wholly manual Samyang 12mm f2 lens at a modest aperture of f5.6-8, shutter 1/15th sec and used the nice little Nissan i40 speed light held out high to the side on a low-cost JJC TTL cord.  It worked great in firing a pool of light onto the subject in the dark environment.

 

The most liberating thing of all was the way the cameras worked in the social environment.  I went unnoticed a lot of the time and where anyone did pose for the camera, this moment was fleeting and they soon disengaged, allowing me to get the real shot.  Sometimes using the LCD to compose while interacting directly with the subject worked really well, with no camera covering my face.  Nobody at all, and I mean nobody, looked away from the camera as if bothered or threatened by its presence, which says a lot for the benefits of the system in a people environment.  This was especially true of kids, who often get shy with a big camera pointing at them.

 

I love Fuji Jpg files and do not value computer time.  I also think many wedding images are far more emotive and effective in mono, so I shot in mono plus yellow filter with RAW alongside, as clients want a few shots showing the colours of their outfits and any flowers.  These can easily be done using my favoured Classic Chrome or Pro Negative film simulations tweaked from the Lightroom presets in the software camera calibration panel.

 

Compared to a DSLR system the Fuji cameras have advantages and disadvantages with focus.  They tend to be slightly slower to focus, but when they do it is truly accurate, even at f 1.2 and f1.4, which is confidence-inspiring compared to the shotgun approach of DSLR accuracy.  I do not generally trust the AF-C  and where subjects are moving I tend to prefocus and try to capture the shot as the subject enters the focus zone.  

 

For weddings especially, I am now tending to use back button AF to prefocus so I  can take a succession of shots with the focus locked.  This avoids forcing the camera to refocus before each individual shot, so I can better wait for a decisive moment to trip the shutter and I can avoid the risk of the camera failing to find focus.  

 

Using manual focus and an EVF is far more accurate and easier than an optical finder, especially with focus peaking.  Manual focus also allows me to use back button AF in riskier situations such as dark shadow or weak contrast.  If the AF works, all well and good....if it fails to lock or gets close but not spot-on, I can simply tweak the focus manually to get it right.  I lost perhaps 2 shots to focus issues and one at least was my fault because I released the AF lock button and forced the camera to refocus on a low contrast area, which it failed to do.  Rather than complaining about the system, it works fine if you take the time to make the best of how it works and use it accordingly.  I just love the focus accuracy at the widest apertures and that is one of the biggest things for me that makes this system better than a DSLR system.  I am happy to shoot f1.4 and f1.2 on the Fuji system, whereas I would tend to stop down to f2.8-4 on a DSLR for critical shots to negate any focus issues, thus losing the theoretical performance advantage of the larger sensor system in low light.

 

Here are a few from the day.

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/5/a-totally-fuji-wedding Tue, 24 May 2016 12:21:18 GMT
A Dual -Themed Shoot With Lucy (and why I am fed up with phase detect DSLR focus!) http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/a-dual--themed-shoot-with-lucy-and-why-i-am-fed-up-with-phase-detect-dslr-focus Time for another shoot with Lucy, who we have met before on this blog.  As always it was a pleasure to work with her in 2 separate locations and two diverse themes, one using a slightly sombre fairytale theme and the other a youthful, edgy look.

 

Gear for all the shots was the same...a Nikon D800 DSLR with Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lens and a single Profoto B1 flash with the new OCF beauty dish in white as the modifier.

 

Location wise, the first shoot was in a quiet area of public garden in Poole where some willows were overhanging the Bourne Stream and daytime sunlight gave backlighting.  

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The second location was a large cemetery in Bournemouth.

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I do not often shoot with DSLRs much any more, having found the joys of mirrorless and finding that the advantages of mirrorless generally outweigh any disadvantages.  Despite using a pro grade DSLR and lens I found that phase detect focus was very hit and miss and even at f5.6 I could not get reliable results lots of the time.  I had fine tuned focus (as with all my DSLR lenses) at 200mm where the effect is more obvious, but at focal lengths under 200mm I was getting inaccurate focus.  This is an exercise in frustration when working with other people and I found myself trying to work around it by moving way back to shoot at 200mm.  This is one of the reasons why DSLRs are rapidly becoming a niche tool for me.  Niche because the Nikon still offers full high speed sync and TTL with the Profoto B1 flash system.  I can no longer think of many other advantages for me, unless I need the huge resolution of the admittedly lovely D800 files.  Canon and Nikon really have to wake up as they have completely failed to acknowledge the advantages of mirrorless cameras for most types of photography.  Although people still buy DSLRs due to brand loyalty and lack of knowledge of what is available, the average shooter would be far better served by a good mirrorless system.

 

While the X system is not perfect, in every day use it throws up far fewer frustrations...on sensor accurate focus even at f1.2, tiltable screens for low angle compositions, EVF with focus aids for manual focus, remote control from an iPhone...not to mention I can carry a 2 camera system with lenses that weighs less than the single SLR with lens.  It would be awesome if Fuji and Profoto offered full compatibility one day....I live in hope!

 

Despite the frustrations with focus, enough images came out well to put together a bit of variety for Lucy to take away.

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) D800 Nikon OCF Beauty Dish Profoto Profoto B1 http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/4/a-dual--themed-shoot-with-lucy-and-why-i-am-fed-up-with-phase-detect-dslr-focus Tue, 26 Apr 2016 11:48:59 GMT
Oh dear, here we go again! http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/3/oh-dear-here-we-go-again The spectre of sample variation has reared its ugly head yet again!

 

I am disappointed to say that the first copy of the Fuji 100-400mm  OIS zoom that I was eagerly awaiting, has proved to be an unacceptable example and I have already returned it to the retailer.

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While I am unable to do scientific tests on lenses I can complete enough tests to identify fairly obvious optical issues such as uneven performance around the frame that can indicate decentering or tilting of elements.

 

I put this lens through my usual new lens process of shooting real-world images and some more careful test images to check for issues.  When I did the first shots of the moon I posted about previously, I did notice what appeared to be more softness on the left half of the frame and some slight "double-imaging" of the contrasty left edge of the Moon.  I hoped this was down to the VR or some atmospheric effects but the more I shot the lens, the more I felt there was an issue on the left side and a very significant issue in the upper left corner.  

 

The optical issues manifested at max zoom, which was critical to me as I am likely to use the lens at or around 400mm much of the time and will use the teleconverter too.  The latter only seemed to aggravate the lens issue, as one might expect.  I therefore did not test formally at all focal lengths as the lens was never going to be a keeper if it didn't perform at 400mm.  I did however take a few test chart shots at 200-300mm and the issues were still present.

 

To test, I placed the lens on a tripod, VR off, levelled in pitch and roll with a spirit level and aligned the camera as carefully as I could on an A2 test chart mounted on foam board.  To ensure alignment issues did not affect the tests, I broke down and repeated the setup a number of times to average out errors and even rotated the camera 180 degrees.  I also shot with 2 bodies to minimise the possibility of lens mount issues.  I used remote release with both manual and electronic shutter.

 

The weak left and left upper corner were very obvious even at normal screen viewing sizes and no pixel peeping was needed.  Worse still, the issues remained a stop down from maximum at f8.  On a relatively slow lens like this it really has to achieve even performance across the frame a stop down.  A disappointing result and not consistent with comments/reviews I have read concerning the performance that can be expected from this lens.

 

The following are some of the images.  I know they are small due to the blog format and this may mask the issues somewhat, but the lack of resolution, smearing, loss of contrast and bleeding between black and white should hopefully be visible, even here.  Imagine how it looks at 100%!  A £1400 zoom lens simply has to perform better than this else it is not fit for purpose.

 

The tilted or non-central chart positions exist because I was more concerned about camera/lens alignment than exact centering on the chart.

 

Here the 1951 chart and star at upper left is weaker as is the left side overall.  This is at f8!

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On this one note the low contrast of the small star at upper left in particular.

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Here the small star at upper left is weaker and there is smearing/contrast loss on the left side of the large star.

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I have now had reason to send back 3 Fujinon lenses for QC issues (my first copies of the 23 f1.4 & 18-55), which is a worrying hit rate, even though I do have most of the XF range.  This is a shame when so much design effort has gone into the theoretical performance of these lenses.  Let's hope that things improve and the assembly quality starts to match the design quality!  I know these big zoom lenses must be a QC nightmare with huge numbers of elements, OIS system, zoom and focus groups and extending barrels, but it shouldn't be a lottery on this scale.

 

I await a second copy and just hope!

 

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Camera Defect Fuji Fujinon Issues Lens Optical Photography QC http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/3/oh-dear-here-we-go-again Fri, 04 Mar 2016 13:46:58 GMT
Some Reach http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/some-reach I was looking forward to extending the reach of my Fuji X system in the hope of making it truly useful for air show and wildlife shooting, so I went on the pre-order list for the new Fuji 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 super telephoto zoom lens.  There was an offer including the 1.4x TC for £100 extra (normally £325), which I thought was a good deal for when it is needed and it also fits the stunning 50-140mm f2.8 lens too.  I really wanted it before the air show season kicks off and I could imagine it being back ordered for a while.

 

I have just received the lens but have only had time for a brief evaluation.  It is big for a compact system camera lens, but very manageable for anyone who has shot with any full frame super telephoto lenses.  I would have no issue shooting an air show hand-held all day with this lens on an X-T1 body...around 2 kilos is very good for such a reach.  It balances well and does not feel very nose heavy.  It is a sensible enough size that I would take it with me on holiday if I thought there would be chances to photograph wildlife.  It's a similar size and weight to a full frame 70-200 f2.8, like my Nikon example.

 

Overall construction, appearance and ergonomics seems to be pretty much par for the course compared with other XF lenses, with a nice finish, tight tolerances and smooth actions.  Much of the weight feels like it is in the glass.  I hesitate to state that it is a step down in build quality from the best XF lenses, but there are definitely more plastics in the barrel components here than on some other lenses (notably the 50-140), most probably to keep weight down to sensible levels, but these plastics are of nice quality.  The aperture ring has firm clicks although it is not marked due to the variable aperture.

 

Some of the below images show the lens mounted on my X-T1.

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The teleconverter is really diddy!

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The large hood adds considerably to the length but should stop flare effectively and clicks on nicely with a proper release button.  It is a step up in design from many of the other XF hoods.

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I have not done any serious evaluation of the lens yet in an effort to see if I have a decent copy, but a few test shots indicate that it has the potential for good performance throughout the range and should be very usable wide open.  Stopping down to f8 at the long end does make a slight but visible sharpness and contrast improvement.  Colours and contrast are usual XF quality and continue the family rendering style.

 

Two features seem rather outstanding...firstly the OIS, which Fuji claims is 5-stops.  In practice it is easy to shoot hand held at well below the normal safe shutter speed and I certainly shot at 1/125 @ 400mm (600mm FF equiv) for many shots, all of which were sharp.

 

Secondly, in almost all shots the fall into blur and quality of defocused areas seems excellent and much better than the fussy, ugly bokeh of other slower tele lenses I have used.

 

For a simple and fun experiment, I popped the teleconverter on and went outside to shoot the almost full moon at maximum reach of 560mm (853mm FF equiv).  The first image shows the actual size of the moon in the frame.

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Wide open at f8 (the teleconverter means a loss of 1 stop) IQ is decent enough as shown below in the first image , but stopping down 1 stop to f11, in the second image, definitely makes a difference when viewed at 100%, as you would expect.  Both images cropped to 2500 pixels and processed identically from RAW files.

1/200, f8, ISO 200

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1/200, f11, ISO 400

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Fuji Fujinon Moon XF 1.4x TC WR XF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/some-reach Wed, 24 Feb 2016 22:32:29 GMT
A Little Head Shots Project http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/a-little-head-shots-project I have known Lucy for quite a few years and was really happy to help when she contacted me about getting some headshots done for some upcoming auditions.

 

Lucy is not only a lovely young lady but is a very talented one too with energy, focus, passion and an infectious enthusiasm for the performing arts.  She has been very busy studying in college and is working hard to promote herself and get auditions for the fast-approaching time when she will be graduating. I have great confidence that she will go far and the opportunity to help in any small way is always a pleasure.  One of the many things I love about photographing her is that she can morph through many different looks by quickly changing her hair and gaze...formal, informal, innocent, confident, soft, dramatic....

 

For portrait photography my love is for on-location shooting for the challenge of seeking out a suitable set-up in very ordinary surroundings and the opportunity to use a mix of both ambient and flash light.  I brought along my 2 Profoto B1 off-camera flash lights.  These are wonderful lights for a photographer working alone as they pack the power of studio strobes but have a clip-in battery good for well over 200 flashes, thus doing away with external battery packs and trailing cables.  They are therefore dead easy to set up and move around on lighting stands.  The B1s also offer high speed sync (HSS) with Nikon compatible TTL air remote, which is awesome for this kind of work, as it means I can shoot at wider apertures to blur distracting backgrounds and use a faster shutter speed to reduce the ambient light exposure instead of stopping down the aperture.  Many shooters scoff at TTL flash but I love its flexibility and the way it enables me to work faster and keep the attention of my subjects without constantly making adjustments and manually metering.  It's reliable and makes life easier....what's not to like!?  In any case, it is easy to dip in and out of TTL and make any minor adjustments direct from the air remote on the camera. 

 

Much of my recent shooting has been with the wonderful Fujifilm X-system cameras that I steadily seem to be migrating to, but that system still lacks a little something....namely the ability to shoot TTL or high speed sync flash with the Profoto B1s, so out came the Nikon D800 and Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 VR2 lens.  This is a pretty stunning combo for this kind of shoot as I can crop into the subject and use the telephoto/wide aperture combo to make simple or distracting backgrounds pleasing.  The Bokeh of this lens is not buttery smooth at all times, but I rather like the specular bokeh balls it produces and optically it is up to the D800's high resolution.

 

This time I met Lucy at home and we did the shoot outside in the garden.  It was a bright sunny day but chilly and due to the timing, we had midday sun to deal with.  Lucy has lovely, curly (big!) hair, so backlight had to be the way to go for at least some shots.

 

For outdoor shoots now I tend to use the robust Manfrotto 1005 stands as they comfortably support the B1s on less stable ground or if there is a breeze.  For key light I used the Profoto OCF 2' Octabox.  This is a great soft box for my way of working.  Yes it's quite small, but when working alone, it's less likely to get toppled, it packs down to almost nothing, is double-baffled to eliminate hotspots and gives nice rounded catchlights in the eyes.  For the softest light, I got it as close as I could to Lucy, which is easy to achieve when shooting cropped-in with the telephoto.  The only caveat here is that when shooting in HSS the lights will only shoot at an energy level of 8-10, which is quite a high output, even in HSS where efficiency is reduced.  If images are overexposed, it means having to shift the light a bit further away from the subject until it is ok.

 

We started using the sun as a backlight and with a single B1 in the Octa from the front.  Here a high shutter speed was needed to control the bright ambient light, so HSS was used.

1/500 f5.6

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1/1000, f4.  A breeze kindly livened her hair up a bit!

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We then tried some in the shade against a short section of brick wall.  Normal flash sync here with the soft box very close, which gave a very soft light indeed.

1/250, f4

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1/250, f4

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We then tried a 2-light recipe for the last part of the shoot.  Using the same B1 in the Octa for the key light, I added a second B1 to the rear.  For the first shot here it was set at a slight angle to the rear to cast light on Lucy's hair and the side of her face, as this can often add more depth.

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For the second shot shown below, the light was directly behind to backlight her hair more dramatically.  Although Lucy was in the shade, I wanted the sunlit background to register in this exposure.

1/250, f5.6

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As always, Lucy was a gem of a model and this fun shoot showed the effectiveness of the Profoto B1 lights in getting great light in any location.  Not only that, but their portability and TTL allowed me to work faster and get far more variety of shots than if I had used a fully manual set up, which was a real bonus on this chilly day....I didn't want to freeze Lucy even more than she already was, as she may not want to use me again! 

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) B1 D800 Nikon Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 VR2 OCF Octabox Off Camera Flash Profoto http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2016/2/a-little-head-shots-project Sun, 21 Feb 2016 20:44:56 GMT
The Mighty Atom http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/12/the-mighty-atom I was out with the little one a couple of days back in the gloomy, very mild and wet winter weather we have been having this year.  We were at one of our usual outdoor haunts, Kingston Lacy, where we can go for a decent walk and he can play on some toy tractors they have for the kids.

 

As he played I popped the photographic kit I had taken with me on the table.  I was immediately struck by what amazing imaging power we now have available and how small and convenient it can be.  Gone are the days when I would pack a backpack of DSLR gear to go out for a walk with the possibility of taking a few family snaps or a few landscapes.

 

I thought that the Fuji X100T must be one of the most versatile and powerful photographic tools out there in proportion to its size, when all is considered and especially when partnered with a few simple accessories.

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Yes, it has its limitations; it has a fixed focal length lens, battery life is modest, focus is decent but not the fastest.  

 

But....look what else it offers for its compact size.  It has a large APS imaging sensor which can really perform well, a fast (f2) decent lens, which has arguably the most useful and versatile focal length, a clever and very versatile EVF/optical hybrid viewfinder, a quiet and discreet leaf shutter, high speed flash sync, very comprehensive custom settings and function buttons and a great jpeg processing engine.  Personally I love the ergonomically sound shutter speed and exposure compensation dials and the aperture ring, all of which work intuitively and give an easy visual reference to settings without looking at screens or menus.  To me these are like steering wheels in cars....they just work simply and effectively and therefore there is no need to change them or complicate them. 

 

With a tiny Manfrotto Pixi tripod and a 49mm Hoya ProND1000 (10-stop) filter I have a long exposure shooting kit which can be taken to an amazing 13 stops by adding the built-in 3 stop ND filter!  I got the very cheap but excellent quality JJC filter ring and lens hood for glare protection when needed or for using filters.

 

I don't even need to bring significant extras just to trigger the camera.  It has an old-school shutter button thread for a cable release or, I can just use my iPhone and the Fuji App, or in this case my iPhone and a TriggerTrap cable.  3 simple ways to release the shutter which makes it versatile and gives a degree of redundancy.

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I love how easy it is to use fill flash from the built-in little flash unit.  I leave the camera in aperture priority mode and auto ISO, dial in a stop or so of negative exposure compensation and pop in a bit of flash.  Due to the high-speed sync ability of the leaf shutter, this works a treat even at wide apertures in daylight.  I have flash and flash compensation in the Q menu for easy access in case tweaks are needed.  With the electronic shutter and built-in ND filter you have a couple of options for shooting at wide open aperture in the brightest of sunlight.

 

The Fuji film simulations give some great options for shooting depending on how you want to render the scene.  First image below shot in Astia with fill flash and the second rendered in Classic Chrome with fill flash....it was really gloomy in the forest.

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The little camera even does very respectable high ISO shooting.  There is a bit of (natural looking) grain at high ISO and some softening of detail, but overall its really plenty good enough for day to day shooting and I would not hesitate to use it at a low-light wedding venue for example. 

 

ISO 3200 in very dim evening light.

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All that power comes in a camera that you can carry in a bellows style coat pocket, hang around your neck or carry on a wrist strap, so its always there, easy to access without getting a backpack off.  I tend to carry mine in my Ona Bowery, which will easily fit another small camera (commonly an Instax or other Fuji X body, plus my phone, spare batteries, filter and mini tripod when needed.  Sometimes I just carry it alone in the Fuji leather case.

 

Of course you can even get accessory screw-on lenses for the X100 series to add to versatility.  As I already own ILC X cameras there is no need for me to have these and I keep my X100T minimalistic.

 

It's a lovely discreet camera too so people tend to react favourably to its benign presence when it's pointed at them and you can shoot without drawing attention.  It is an ideal travel, street and family snap shooter, with a lot of less obvious attributes for the skilled and keen photographer who will invest the time setting it up.

 

I am sure it will be superseded by a later, greater model anytime soon, but the X100T will remain a fantastic overall camera and a very powerful imaging tool that hides behind its small size and retro appearance.

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cliftonbeard64@gmail.com (ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard) Camera Fuji Manfrotto Ona Bowery Photography Pixi Triggertrap X100T http://cliftonbeard.zenfolio.com/blog/2015/12/the-mighty-atom Mon, 28 Dec 2015 18:01:44 GMT