Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Day One at Spa

Tuesday is set up day at an FIA World Endurance Championship event and this week we are at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.  The structures in the paddock are starting to go up and some of the teams have started to arrive to begin the long process to get ready for the first track session on Friday morning.

The day was very grey, with light rain, but it stopped late afternoon and gave me the opportunity to get out into the paddock with the Fuji X-T1 and 55-200mm lens









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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Out and About on a Foggy Day

Contrary to what you see on this blog, the weather in this part of Scotland is not always sunny, but Dunbar is statistically one of the sunniest places in the UK.  

However we live near the sea and that means the occasional bout of sea fog.  Now some people put down their cameras on days like this and I think they are missing out on the opportunity to capture something different.



Landscapes look so different when shrouded in fog or mist as these two shots taken on the Dunbar coastal path show.  Taking them as dramatic mono images, adding a bit of grain to give that gritty edge to the images in post production, has given me a completely different view than when taking images from the same spots on a sunny day.



Cloudy or foggy days are also great for macro and close up images because of the diffused light.  Also on a misty or foggy day the plants are usually covered in water drops, such as this ivy growing on the wall on the coastal path.



So next time the weather isn't perfect, grab your camera and get out there.  There are some great opportunities for images with a different point of view because in Britain the weather isn't always sunny.

All images taken on a Fujifilm X100 and Fujinon 23mm f2 lens

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Monday, 28 April 2014

The Best of British - Two Days with an Aston Martin Vantage

Last month I posted some images of a feature I was writing for the FIA WEC Silverstone programme on the Aston Martin Vantage S V12.  Eight pages of the programme were dedicated for this feature and now that it has been published I can now share it here on the blog.

Two days with the Vantage S was spent near the Aston Martin HQ at Gaydon, Aston Martin Racing HQ in Banbury and then up to Silverstone.  Day two was spent in the Malvern Hills getting some great dynamic shots of the car on some magnificent country roads.  

John Rourke of Adrenal Media was taking the images while I was composing my prose while I drove the car around, but all of the shots here are ones that I took during a wonderful two days with an Aston Martin.


THE BEST OF BRITISH
Italy has Ferrari, Germany has Porsche and Britain has Aston Martin; these manufacturers are very much part of the national identity for each of these countries.  The Aston Martin brand, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, is the very essence of being British in the same way as is the Royal Family or Big Ben.




The Aston Martin Vantage is the latest in a long line of road cars that have taken to the track to race against, and beat, the best in the world.  The Aston Martin Racing Vantage V8 starts life on the same production line in Warwickshire as Aston’s other road cars and is then taken 14 miles to Banbury where it is worked on by the engineers at AMR to produce the car which will be seen on track in the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship.





The Aston Martin Vantage S V12
When you first sit in the cockpit of a road-going Aston Martin you know you are in a very special place and this top of the range Vantage S V12 is probably the closest you will get to the performance of the actual race car.

Now the Vantage S V12 is no light weight, stripped out, race car for the road.  This is the height of luxury with hand stitched leather on every panel, beautifully detailed instruments and controls that are exquisite to look at but are ergonomically perfect so as not to distract the driver from the whole driving experience.

For comfort, the electronically adjustable sports seats wrap the driver and passenger in style, climate control keeps the cabin temperature at a constant level and a Bang & Olufsen sound system is provided for in-car entertainment.



When you slide in behind the steering wheel the real fun begins: putting your foot on the brake and pushing home the Emotional Control Unit to bring the 6 litre V12 to life.  A primeval roar from the exhausts has you smiling like a Cheshire cat.  After selecting ‘Drive’ on the semi-automatic gearbox, release the handbrake, press the accelerator and you’re off. 

At low speed the Vantage is very easy to drive; this isn’t a snarling beast trying to pitch you into the nearest wall at the earliest opportunity.  In fact it is very smooth around town.  The suspension doesn’t crash over the notorious British pot-holed roads and also handled the traffic calming humps around Banbury with consummate ease. 



Take it onto the open road and you find yourself in charge of the perfect GT car.  The Vantage S is perfect on the open road and is the embodiment of the Grand Tourer which could be driven down to the Cote d’Azur or the Italian Riviera in style.  There is even a decent sized boot, easily big enough for luggage for two – Aston Martin Nubuck leather holdalls, of course.

Press the ‘Sport’ mode button and the gear changes are made higher up the rev range and the exhaust note changes above 4000 rpm.  Taking charge of the gearbox by flipping the paddles behind the steering wheel, you are now the master of your own destiny and the car encourages you to change up later as the glorious engine note rises.  Even the downshifts are aurally dramatic as the engine blips the revs as your speed drops off – that key is well named!



Driving the Aston Martin Vantage S V12 was a motoring experience like no other and the link between the road car and the race car is there for all to see.  The Ferrari 458 Italia and the Porsche 911 RSR would undoubtedly provide a similar motoring experience, and this is why the LMGTE class in the FIA World Endurance Championship continues to engage the fans around the world. 




The Le Mans Prototypes are beautiful and are technologically the ultimate in endurance racing machinery.  However the Aston Martin, Ferrari and Porsche GT cars provide an equally beautiful,  tangible link to the cars seen on the road which fans can aspire to own and drive.   











Images taken on a Fujifilm X100, Nikon D800 or Fujifilm X-Pro1
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Sunday, 27 April 2014

REVIEW: Nearly Two Weeks With the Fujifilm X-T1

When Fujifilm announced the X-T1 in February I wasn't sure if it was the camera I wanted to complement my existing X-Pro1 and X100 because of it's DSLR layout.  Yes, this is a full on X-Series Compact System Camera, but it is the first with a central EVF (Electronic View Finder) and a DSLR, rather than Rangefinder, design.  Fast forward and on Tuesday 15 April  I purchased the X-T1 and VG-XT1 grip and now here is my first thoughts on owning and using the latest pro level camera from Fujifilm.



Ever since getting the X-Pro1 in October 2013 I have been struggling with the reasons to keep the full frame Nikon D800 and four lenses (I sold the D700 and two lenses to pay for the X-Pro1 and four primes).  

Don't get me wrong, the D800 is a stunning camera and it's 36mp full frame sensor produces the goods when I can be bothered to pack it into the camera bag.  And that's the rub, the weight of the Nikon and its associated lenses, are not worth the hassle when I can get the quality I need from the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X100.  

So this led me to Park Cameras in London, the retailer I bought the X100 from in October 2012 which began my move to Fujifilm, to actually try out the X-T1.  I was immediately smitten - it is so small!  Without the grip the X-T1 is smaller than the X-Pro1 and not much bigger than the X100.  Add the VG-XT1 battery grip and the profile of the camera changes and it is much taller than the X-Pro1 with the hand grip added but it is still a small, lightweight CSC.


Side by Side Profile Comparison - X100 / X-T1 (without grip) / X-Pro1 (without grip)

Before I proceed further with this initial review I need to clarify that the X-T1 is not, and never was going to be, a replacement for the X-Pro1.  The two cameras compliment each other perfectly.  Having a second body allows me to shoots two focal lengths at the same time without having to keep swapping lenses.  

It also isn't a reason to sell the X100 because that camera is my go anywhere camera, something I have with me at all times.  Also the X100s leaf shutter is perfectly silent where the X-T1 and X-Pro1s focal plane shutter do make a noise when the shutter release is pressed.  Each of the three Fujifilm cameras bring something to the party and I wont be selling any of them.


Add the grips to the X-T1 and X-Pro1 and the profile of the two cameras change
So what does the X-T1 do better than the X-Pro1?  
  1. Well image quality is the same from both the 16mp X-Trans sensors and, while I shoot tend to shoot RAW, the JPEG files from both cameras are excellent and usable with minimal tweaking straight out of the camera - the same can't be said for the Nikon JPEGs.  The X-T1 JPEGS seem to have more punch with the same settings but the difference is minimal, if anything at all, and I suspect I want to see the X-T1 X-Trans II producing a slightly better image than the older X-Pro1.
  2. The X-T1s Electronic View Finder is the best ever!  This has been said on many reviews in the photographic press and other respected photographers and I have to concur with this.  I love the Optical View Finder on the X-Pro1 and X100 but I have been using the EVF more and more on both these cameras.  The EVF on the X-T1 is a revelation and you have to remind yourself that you are actually looking through an electronic view finder, it is that good!
  3. The autofocus is also an improvement on the older X-Pro1.  It's not massive but it does lock on quicker and easier than the XP1, especially in low light.
  4. The image quality is much better at high ISO.  I tried some pictures at 12800 ISO (see test shot at the bottom of the page) and was very impressed with the quality. It is very usable and on a par with Nikon's full frame sensor output at the same level.  When pushed to 51200 ISO the quality does drop off but again if needs must it is still there to use.
  5. I have already reported on this benefit in an earlier blog that the X-T1 can use an external microphone when shooting video.  The 1080P 30fps video is good but not quite as good as Nikon or Canon but for what I use it for the quality is more than enough and the ability to use an external mic is a huge plus in the X-T1s favour.
  6. 8 frames per second and a continuous AF that actually works are great for sport and wildlife.  One of the things that bugs me about using the 6fps facility on the X-Pro1 is the fact that when the burst is finished, the 'wheel of death' appears in the viewfinder while the images are processed by the camera, making me wait to use the camera again.  The X-T1 still has this 'wheel of death' but it disappears in less than 0.5 seconds, even when a two second burst has been used (16 frames).  A huge improvement.
  7. WiFi capability - now this is something I like the look of but haven't really tested it fully yet.  The ability to control the camera from my mobile phone or android tablet via the Fujifilm app is amazing.  Change the settings on the camera remotely, switch from stills to video and also download the images from the camera to the phone / tablet and then send them out.  This is a great facility and I will be testing this function and reporting back in a later blog.
  8. The tiltable rear screen is fantastic.  Usually seen on enthusiast level cameras, this facility is usually sneared at by users of high end DSLRs as the mark of a 'hobby' camera.  For me that is a stupid attitude and anything that makes it easier to compose an image from a low vantage point or above my head gets the thumbs up from me!
Tilt screen is very useful when shooting low down or above my head.
WiFi allows connectability between the camera and smart phone or tablet via the Fujifilm App
What would I change about the X-T1?  
Not a lot really but I will report back as I get to know this camera better over the coming weeks because nothing is ever perfect.  

  1. The battery power issue is still a problem as it is with the X-Pro1.  The good news the X-T1 uses the same battery packs as the X-Pro1 so that makes things easier when packing the camera bag.  Also the additional battery in the grip also extends the shooting time of the camera to over 600 shots.
  2. Maybe I would like a larger sensor (18 or 24mp for example) but this isn't a deal breaker as the 16mp X-Trans sensor outputs stunning images.
  3. A longer focal length than 200mm in an XF lens would be welcome.  Long lenses aren't as welcome on the X-Pro1 but the X-T1 is crying out for a 300mm (f4?) prime with a 1.4x converter for the sport and wildlife photographers.
The X-Pro1 is still getting as much use as the X-T1 because the rangefinder styling is still useful when shooting street photography.  Nobody bats an eyelid because it looks like an overgrown compact camera.  The X-T1 looks like a mini DSLR, especially with the grip attached, but I have not yet found this to be a problem when out shooting.



IN THE BAG
Currently my X-Series kit comprises of -
Fujifilm X-Pro1 + grip
Fujifilm X-T1 + VG-XT1 grip
Fujifilm X100 Black
Fujinon XF14mm f2.8R
Fujinon XF18mm f2R
Fujinon XF35mm f1.4R
Fujinon XF60mm f2.4R macro
Fujinon XF55-200mm f3.5/f4.8R OIS
WCL-X100 Wide Angle Converter for X100
Fujifilm EF-20 flashgun

FOR SALE - NIKON D800 + LENSES
In the next few weeks I will sell off my remaining Nikon kit with the exception of the Nikon 80-200 f2.8 + 1.4x and 2x converters to allow me to use them on X-T1 via the fotodiox adapter.  This is until Fuji bring out a longer focal length lens of an 80-200mm f2.8 equivalent with some suitable converters.

If anyone is interested in buying any of the following please email me at photo@macleanphotographic.co.uk 

Nikon D800 (12,830 actuations) with 11 months remaining on 2 year UK warranty + 3rd party Battery Grip + 2 x EN-EL15 Nikon batteries, electronic remote release + 2 x San Disk Extreme CF memory cards(1 x 16gb + 1 x 8GB). - SOLD

Nikon 17-35mm f2.8 AF-S (mint - condition) - SOLD
Nikon 50mm f1.4 AF-D (mint- condition) - SOLD
Nikon 28-105mm f3.5/f4.5 AF-D (mint- condition) - SOLD

WHAT'S NEXT ON THE FUJIFILM SHOPPING LIST?
Next on my wants list is the Fujinon XF10-24mm f4 OIS wide angle zoom to replace the Nikon 17-35mm f2.8.  The Fujinon 14mm is a great lens but having the facility to go wider for landscape work is something I am missing on the Fuji system and this will be rectified this summer.  The only other lens that I would like to add is the 56mm f1.2 but I do need to try that lens first.



IN CONCLUSION
I wasn't sold on the idea of the Fujifilm X-T1 when it was announced in March but the reality is this is the best X-Series camera made by Fuji so far and it is the perfect complement for the X-Pro1 and X100 I already own.  

Will I regret selling my Nikon gear after 18 years a Nikon user? Only time will tell and I will be commenting on this is the coming months. But for now I am finding that the launch hype surrounding the X-T1 is well deserved and I for one am not regretting my decision to add one to my camera bag.

Here are some samples shot on the X-T1 in the past couple of weeks.

Autoworld Museum, Brussels
Dunbar's Lifeboat in Action

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond MSP in Dunbar.  Taken with the tilt screen above my head

The large crowd in the pitlane at Silverstone for the FIA World Endurance Championship
 
12800 ISO test shot.
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Surveying Dunbar Harbour

This was taken on Easter Monday during the John Muir Festival. I spotted these two walkers standing on the bank above Dunbar Harbour and took the shot on the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and Fujinon 14mm f2.8 lens.


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Saturday, 26 April 2014

Dunbar Castle Kittiwake Colony

Dunbar is home to the most accessible Kittiwake colony in the UK, with 600 pairs nesting in the ruined walls of the castle that dominates the western end of the harbour.  




Kittiwakes nest in colonies, usually on the edge of sheer cliffs, which is why Dunbar Castle is an ideal site for the birds with its high, sandstone, walls that are weathered and worn over the centuries to form ledges that the birds can build their nests of mud and vegetation.


Kittiwakes get their name from the ringing clamour they make.  CLICK HERE for more on the Dunbar Harbour Kittiwake colony



All the images were shot on a Fujifilm X-T1 and Fujinon 55-200

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Friday, 25 April 2014

Candid Portraits in Mono

This week I have been able to capture some candid portraits at two events.  The first was the John Muir Festival in Dunbar on Easter Monday and the second was the press conference for the FIA World Endurance Championship at Autoworld in Brussels.

I prefer to remove the colour from portraits like this to give them a reportage feel.  I suppose this harks back to my days as a newspaper photographer when images like these had a harder, grittier edge in mono.  Of course we used to shoot on film and then develop and print the images ourselves.  For these shots I used Silver Efex Pro 2 software to create the look I wanted, which is much easier than it was in the darkroom.

The first four images were taken in Dunbar High Street on Monday during the John Muir Festival (see blog on this event HERE)





The second set of four images were taken during the FIA WEC press conference in Brussels on Wednesday (see blog this event HERE).





All the images were shot on a Fujifilm X-T1 or Fujifilm X-Pro1 and either a Fujinon 55-200 or Fujinon 35mm f1.4

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