Friday, 31 January 2014

FRIDAY TIP: Using the Photographic Standard

The standard lens is one of those photographic legends, it is a relatively cheap addition to your camera bag that gives more bang-for-buck than any other photographic purchase you will ever buy.

So what is a standard lens?  Well it is a lens that 'sees' the world with same field as vision as we do with our eyes. 


Fujinon XF 35mm f1.4R
In the film days this was a 50mm and this is the same today for full frame cameras such as the Nikon D800.  For crop frame sensors the standard lens has become the 35mm.  The advantages are they are relatively cheap to make because they don't need as many glass elements and they are a 'fast' lens with a wide aperture, usually f1.8 or f1.4 and some manufacturers have a f1.2, so they are great for shooting in low light.  They are also relatively cheap with Nikon and Canon 50mm f1.8 around the £100 mark brand new and dirt cheap second hand.

They were the standard 'kit' lens that all cameras were sold with until the arrival of the standard zoom lens, which covered 50mm and wide and telephoto focal lengths as well.  The 50mm fell out of favour as 'zoom' became the new thing but the payoff for this convenience was a maximum aperture that was a lot smaller (usually f3.5 to f4.5 at the wide angle end of the zoom). Even the big pro standard zooms 'only' have a max aperture of f2.8, which over a stop slower than the cheapest 50mm.  

However pro photographers would always have a 'nifty-fifty' in their camera bag and as zooms got bigger and heavier, the standard lens became fashionable again with its simple design and wonderful bokeh from that f1.8 or f1.4 max aperture.  

I have two standard lenses for my Nikon and Fujifilm X-Series outfits.  The Nikon is a 50mm f1.4 AF-D and is the older design with the autofocus driven by the camera body and comes with an aperture ring.  The newer AF-G has an autofocus motor in the lens and has been gelded so doesn't have the aperture ring.  Performance wise, according to the sites that do the in depth reviews, there isn't anything between these two lenses and I prefer the less plasticky construction of the older Nikkor and the AF is just as snappy on the pro spec D800, but it is a little noisier.


Nikon 50mm f1.4
The Fujinon XF 35mm f1.4R is stunning.  Like the Nikkor is is all metal contruction and has a quality feel which is match by the optical performance of the pro spec glass.  This is the lens I like to keep on the camera if the light is low as it is one stop faster than the Fujinon 18mm f2 I usual keep on the X-Pro1.

Now a zoom lens might be more convenient and the performance of most 'kit' zooms are good to excellent but try a standard lens on your camera and you'll spot the difference immediately.  A non zoom lens also forces you to think differently about your photography.  Like all prime lenses you have to 'zoom' with your feet and because you are moving around it makes you think of composition a lot more than you do with a zoom, which you makes some photographers lazy by doing the framing by standing in one place and then just twisting the barrel of the lens to get the framing right.

Don't get me wrong, zooms are great and offer many advantages over primes - I have three Nikon zooms and on Monday I will have one Fujinon zoom. But the primes get the creative juices flowing and get you out of that photographic rut by making you work for the shot.

So this Friday's Tip is to get yourself a standard lens and start taking your photography seriously

Here are some shots taken on the Nikon 50mm f1.4 and the Fujinon 35mm f1.4




Fujinon XF 35mm f1.4R

Fujinon XF 35mm f1.4R

Fujinon XF 35mm f1.4R

Fujinon XF 35mm f1.4R

Nikon 50mm f1.4

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Thursday, 30 January 2014

Silver Birch Close Up



The silver birch is a favourite photographic subject because of the contrast between the brightly coloured bark compared to the rest of the woodland surrounding our home here in southern Scotland.


This is a close up shot of a silver birch tree from the woodland near Ravensheugh Sands.  The sunlight was coming from the right through the trees, highlighting the side of the bark.  

Using the X-Pro1 and 60mm macro lens I captured this image showing the colours and patterns in the bark.


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Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Cliff Top Walk in Dunbar

The cliff top walk around the Winterfield Golf Club has become a regular place for us to go for a walk to blow away the cobwebs.  Unless the weather is VERY inclement, we head off for a walk down to Belhaven Bay and if the tide is in, meaning the bridge to the beach is cut off, we'll head up the coastal path alongside the golf course.



This shot is taken from the cliff top looking east towards Dunbar Castle and the North Sea was reminding us of its power with plenty of breakers and white horses all along the coast.  Wonderful!  

The shot was taken on the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and Fujinon 35mm f1.4R.  The image was converted to mono in Silver Efex Pro2.

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Tuesday, 28 January 2014

River Ice

So far the winter in the UK has been pretty mild with no snow at low level or temperatures dropping below freezing for long periods.  I'm sure this will change but as a photographer the lack of snow or ice to photograph is disappointing. 

However in the Highlands there has been plenty of snow and ice and I captured some close ups of the ice that had formed in the River Etive a few weeks ago using the close focusing abilities of the Fujinon 60mm f2.4 macro on the X-Pro1.


The shapes and textures of the ice provided a great photographic subject and using the Slik tripod with the legs splayed out I was able to get down low to capture these images.



This image was captured on the Nikon D800 and Nikon 17-35mm f2.8

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Monday, 27 January 2014

The Big Guns in Dunbar


Situated on a small area of grass overlooking the North Sea and Dunbar is a 25-pounder artillery piece as used by the British forces during World War II.  

The 25-pounder had been in position at Edinburgh Castle, where it was used for firing royal salutes, before being acquired by the town in the early 2000s to mark Dunbar's close association with the artillery regiments of the British army stretching back hundreds of years.


Alongside the gun is a colourful information board which details this long history and the reasons for the 25-pounder being on display in the town.

The gun was removed and restored in May 2012 in time for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. CLICK HERE to see the article that appeared in the East Lothian Courier




Click on the image to view in a new window which you can zoom in to read the information




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Saturday, 25 January 2014

All Square in Glen Etive

Square images are a throw back to the 6cm x 6cm medium format cameras that were favoured by wedding and portrait photographers and also some landscape photographers.



Looking at the world in square is very different from the norm as we are used to looking at things in rectangular formats thanks to mainstream photography and TV / cinema screens.  It is usually 4:3 but widescreen laptops, PCs and TV screen has also introduced the 16:9 format.

I decided to compose my image in square to see if I could see the world differently and it works.  The beauty of square format is editors can crop the image portrait or landscape as the page layout dictates, but I quite like this image square - what do you think?


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Friday, 24 January 2014

FRIDAY TIP: Preventing the Photographic Shake, Rattle and Roll



90% of the time photographers are looking for an image that is sharp and in focus and the best way to acheive this is by selecting the correct shutter speed to ensure that the image is sharp. 

As a photographer who specialises in landscapes I use a tripod which allows me the freedom to select whatever shutter / aperture combination I need but a tripod is not always convenient.  So what are the different options available to the photographer.

Handheld Images - use the correct stance to support the camera
Most images are taken handheld, either at arms length a la mobile phone / compact camera, or with the camera up to the face looking through the viewfinder.  The 'arms length' method is the least stable because movement in your arms will be transmitted to the camera. 

With the camera against your face the photographer becomes a sort of tripod, especially if you stand correctly with your feet apart.  Supporting the camera with one hand under the lens also reduces the chance of camera shake.  Also stability can be further improved by leaning against a wall, tree, lamp post etc to give yourself that extra support.


The correct way to hold a camera with a viewfinder - whether it is a DSLR, CSC, Bridge or Compact. 
The minimum shutter / focal length rule
All these methods reduce the risk of camera shake.  There is a good rule for reducing the risk of camera shake further and that is to never use a shutter speed slower than the focal length of the lens you are using. 

For example if you are shooting with a 60mm lens then you use a shutter speed of 1/60 or higher, adjusting the aperture / ISO rating to ensure the shutter speed stays at the level.  

This is not a hard and fast rule, especially in these days of image stabilisation and lightweight cameras, but as a starting point I have always found this to be a good thing to remember. 

Camera supports
Tripods: The obvious camera support is a tripod and these range from small travel tripods up to the big studio based beasts that your wouldn't want to take any distance due to their weight.  Always get the best tripod you can afford and then look after it.  Your tripod is your friend when you want to take pin sharp images. 

Find local support: The cheapest support is free and this is the nearest wall or gate or other solid object you can rest your camera on.  These are brilliant but you are stuck with the location of the object as they are usually not moveable.  But use them if they are available.

Small Tripods, beanbags, monopod:  There are a number of items on the market and two of the best are the Gorillapod tripods and the beanbag.  The Gorilla pod fits in the top of my camera case, it can be used as a normal tripod or the flexible, sectioned legs can be wrapped around railings, poles or other solid objects to provide stability and a little height if necessary. 

The beanbag can be used to provide stable support on rocks, walls etc and also over car windows when using your car as a portable hide.

Monopods are seen as the preserve of the sports photographer who needs the support for the massive telephoto lenses.  Monopods are useful for all sorts of photography and provide great support when working.  Obviously they are not as good as a tripod but when working in tight areas a monopod can be invaluable when shutter speeds are low.

Other Items for reducing camera shake
A cable release is one of the most useful items a photographer can own.  It can reduce the risk of camera shake by negating the need for the photographer to actually touch the camera to release the shutter.  The cable release can also be used to hold the shutter open when taking extremely long exposures. 

The longest shutter speed most cameras have is 30 seconds.  By selecting 'bulb' the photographer can keep the shutter open as long as the shutter release is pressed.  It isn't possible to keep you finger on the shutter release for a long time without introducing camera shake.  This is where the cable release comes in and by locking it when the shutter is pressed you can keep the exposure going until you want to close it again.

TIP: If you don't have a cable release you can use the camera's self timer function to trip the shutter so you don't have to press the shutter release yourself.  The only problem with this method is you are limited to the cameras longest shutter speed, you can't use 'bulb'. 


Some DSLRs, like the Nikon D800, have a Mirror Lock Up facility
Mirror Lock Up
Some DSLRs have a 'mirror lock up' facility.  this is very useful for long exposure pictures.  By selecting this option when you press the shutter the mirror moves up out of the way and then you press the shutter release again to take the image.  There is a risk of vibration when the mirror moves up out of the path of the light when the image is taken.  By moving the mirror up before the image is taken, this risk is minimised.  However the downside is the fact the viewfinder goes dark so you need to compose the image on a tripod or other support before you select the mirror lock up.

Live View is the same as mirror lock up as the mirror is moved out of the way of the light path. This is a good alternative to the previous method as you can still see the image on the live screen.

Of course mirrorless cameras such as the Fuji X-Pro1 and X100 don't have this issue as the name suggests.

Conclusion
There are plenty of time honoured ways of supporting your camera and I have listed just a few of the methods I use. 

When the available light dictates that the shutter speeds drop to a level that might introduce camera shake, resulting in an image that isn't pin sharp either provide the camera with some support, open up the aperture to allow more light in or if both these methods are not available, or you are at maximum aperture, then push the ISO up a few notches.  This will introduce noise to your image and some cameras are better than others at controlling noise. 

But remember it is better to have a sharp, if slightly noisy image, than a soft image.  Noise can be cancelled out to a degree in post processing but a soft image is usually only fit for the recycling bin.

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Thursday, 23 January 2014

Another Sunset in Belhaven Bay

The Bridge to No Where across Biel Water in Belhaven Bay is proving to be a popular subject for my camera lens at the moment as it is only a 5 minute walk down to the bay from our house in Dunbar.

This is another image from the other evening and was shot with the Fuji X-Pro1 and 60mm f2.4 lens as the sun was setting behind the Lammermuir Hills.


The image was taken on the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and Fujinon 60mm f2.4 lens - 1/1400 @ f8 ISO400

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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

The Bench


This is a shot across Belhaven Bay from Winterfield Golf Course.  The bench on the headland is very popular as a place to just sit and contemplate the world. 

I have found out from a Dunbar resident that the bench is in memory of a local lady called Jane Baird, who used to walk her dog Sula on Belhaven Bay every day. She was a  familiar figure to lots of people and always had a kind word.  The bench is her memorial and what a view it has. 


The beauty is this bench is a 5-minute walk from our house in Dunbar and I have to pinch myself every so often to make sure I'm not dreaming as Dunbar is such a beautiful place to live.  We are very lucky!

The image was taken on the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and Fujinon 60mm f2.4 lens

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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

REVIEW: Three Months with the Fujifilm X-Pro1

It doesn't seem possible but it has been three months since I started with the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and four prime lenses. in that time I have shot 5000 images in Japan, China, Bahrain, France and Scotland.  So what do I really think of Fujifilm's premier Compact System Camera? Well here are my thoughts - the good AND the bad.



As many readers of this blog will know I bought a Fuji X100 Black Limited Edition in October 2012 and this camera immediately changed the way I approached travel photography.  Fast forward a year and I had the opportunity to try out the Fujifilm X-Pro1, which is essentially a blown up version of the X100 with interchangable lenses.  That maybe a simplistic view of the XP1 but it is how I best find to describe this camera. 

I certainly wasn't disappointed with the handling or the performance of this premium digital range finder or the four prime lenses that I obtained to go with it.  The 14mm f2.8, 18mm f2, 35mm f1.4 and 60mm f2.4 offer a good range of coverage (equivalent of 21mm to 90mm in full frame terms) and all are pin sharp across the range.  The 60mm is also a macro lens, so its close focusing ability is also a useful asset. 

I also added a Fotodiox Fuji to Nikon lens adapter so I was also able to fit my Nikon 50mm f1.4 and 80-200mm f2.8 lenses to the camera and these lenses produce some excellent images on the Fujis 16 megapixel sensor.


So what are the bad points of owning the X-Pro1?
Well this list is going to be short and the points raised are, in my opinion, all very minor. 

Handling: Well the X-Pro1 is no Nikon D800 in the handling stakes, but I don't mean that in a bad way. The AF is slower but after the latest firmware upgrade the auto focus has been significantly improved. However this is a camera that is half the size of the Nikon, even without the MB-D12 battery pack, and is discreet when shooting in the street. 

Manual Focus: MF is still fly by wire but it is a lot better than the original X100 and even that has improved significantly with firmware updates from Fuji.  Manual focus no long holds any problems for me.  The selector switch on the front of the camera is a big improvement over the fiddly selector switch on the X100.

Shutter Noise: the focal plane shutter does make a noise when operated, unlike the leaf shutter on the X100 which is virtually silent.  Again the XP1 shutter is not intrusive when operated and is certainly a lot quieter than the D800s full frame shutter and mirror box.



Position of the Q button: The Q for Quick Menu button is situated by my right thumb and I find myself hitting the Q button by accident and bringing the menu up on the screen or in the viewfinder, which is annoying when you are trying to compose your shot.

External Microphone: There is no provision for an external mic when shooting video.  I do use my cameras for shooting driver interviews and the lack of an external mic is a big drawback for me.

Compensation Dial:  The position of the compensation dial is very good when using the camera as it is located by my right thumb.  But on more than one occasion when putting the camera away the dial gets knocked round to -2, so the next time I get the XP1 out of the bag the exposure is wrong.  It's not a problem as I usually check the setting before shooting but I have had a couple of under exposed images when I have taken the camera out quickly for a grab shot.  It's a shame it doesn't have a locking mechanism like the shutter dial.



So what is good about the X-Pro1
Well just about everything.  

Sensor: The 16mp sensor that produces such great jpeg images straight out the camera or RAW files that you can really work on the get the best images possible, 

Lenses: the beautiful prime lenses, 

Body: the cool looking retro rangefinder body that is totally functional as well as beautiful. The build quality is second to none with the all metal construction.

Handling: A lightweight camera that is half the size of an DSLR and built like a tank.  No body bats an eyelid when you are out and about taking images.  You can blend into the background when using the X-Pro1 - great for street photography.

Viewfinder: The hybrid viewfinder - EVF and OVF that was first seen on the X100 and is one of the joys of using this camera.  I find myself using the Electronic View Finder when using the 60mm macro as the guidelines in the Optical View Finder are quite small but for the rest of the lenses the OVF is fantastic, though I am not shy of switching to EVF around 50% of the time.  

The list goes on and I find myself using the X-Pro1 more and more each day as my camera of choice.



The lenses
As I said I have four primes - 14mm, 18mm, 35mm and 60mm which are a good selection covering moderately wide angle to short telephoto.  

I will be adding the 55-200mm f3.5/f4.8 zoom next month and I will be looking at the 10-24mm f4 wide angle zoom this summer.  

But for now the coverage from the four prime lenses is more than adequate for my landscape work.  If I need a longer reach I have the Fuji to Nikon adapter and put my Nikon 80-200mm f2.8 with 1.4x or 2x adapters to increase the telephoto coverage.

Here are four images that show the coverage of each of the four Fujinon prime lens -

Fujinon 14mm f2.8R (equivalent of 21mm f2.8 in 35mm terms)

Fujinon 18mm f2R (equivalent of 27mm f2 in 35mm terms)

Fujinon 35mm f1.4R (equivalent of 52mm f1.4 in 35mm terms)

Fujinon 60mm f2.4R  Macro (equivalent of 90mm f2.4 in 35mm terms)
Each of these lenses are pin sharp at all aperture settings across the whole frame and the images they produce are perfect quality every time.  I swap these lenses around as and when I need them and I don't really favour one above the other.  But I find myself using the 18mm f2 as my default lens when walking about as the 27mm equivalent coverage is a good starting point for landscapes or street photography.

Conclusion
Three months into the ownership of the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and lenses and the quality of the this camera still amazes me.  I've been reading blogs and reviews about how photographer X and photographer Y ditched their DSLR systems for Fuji and I have to confess I was a little skeptical, even after owning the X100 for a year.   However after 3 months of this camera I can see a time when the big Nikon D800 will be sold to pay for a second Fuji body and the wide angle zoom and that will be journey to the Fuji nirvana complete.

For now I can say, with my hand on heart, the Fujifilm X-Pro1 is the best digital camera I have ever owned and I might go as far as saying the best camera I have ever owned and I include the Nikon F5 and the Bronica medium format cameras I owned in the 1990s in that statement.

If you are in the market for a small, lightweight mirrorless system camera that produces professional quality images time and time again, look no further than the Fujifilm X-Pro1 or any of the X-Series Compact System Cameras.

Further Reviews of the Fuji X-Series



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Monday, 20 January 2014

Surf's Up

Walking down to Belhaven Bay this evening in some glorious winter sunshine (see it doesn't always rain in Scotland) to grab some test shots for my blog on the first three months with the Fuji X-Pro1 we spotted this kayak surfer paddling out from Biel Water to catch the waves as the sun set across East Lothian.

The images were taken on the Fuji XP1 and 60mm f2.4 lens and then cropped slightly in PSE11.

Kayak Surfing in East Lothian
Paddling out to catch another wave for the ride back to the beach
Timing it right to catch the wave
Big waves in Belhaven Bay this evening
You can make out the conoeist in the surf as the sun set on Belhaven Bay
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