Destination Romania (On kit & food)

August 09, 2016  •  1 Comment

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.

 


Comments

achates(non-registered)
I really enjoyed your series on visiting Romania. Thanks for sharing what you have learned. I think I will stick to my plan for Greece this October, but I will definitely visit Romania in the near future. I have so far visited 6 countries in western Europe and Turkey with just the Fuji X100s and I have been very happy to be able to go without checked luggage. I was thinking about replacing the full sized tripod with a gorillapod. Seeing that you didn't even use the Pixi, may be I should go practice some sunset photos without any tripod?
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