Sep 022014
 

A Fuji X100S report

By Lachlan Burrell

I’ve been using the Fuji X100S for about 16 months now, and I believe it’s one of the greatest digital cameras ever made! Obviously not everyone is going to agree with me on that, but here’s why I think so highly of this little camera:

Firstly, I’m a die-hard film shooter, and lover of traditional manual cameras. I learnt the ropes on great 1980’s era SLR cameras like the Olympus OM1 and Nikon FM2, and I still find the direct manual controls and simplicity of these kind of cameras such a joy to use, not to mention the wonderful tones and colours I get from film. So I was never quick to jump into the digital camera market. I got some very nice results from Nikon DSLR’s like the D200 and D3; both were and still are great cameras, but were a very different beast to the old film cameras that I loved.

Then along came the X100 and really caught my eye. Could this be the missing link between nostalgia, classic design and a practical, digital tool? Not one to rush into the latest thing, I waited to see how this camera would be received and how it would perform in the real world. Turns out there were some issues, as there often is with the first generation of any product. When the highly anticipated X100S was announced, I thought it was about time I took the plunge.

It didn’t take very long to warm to this little camera, most of the controls were very familiar and intuitive. I started playing around with the RAW files in Adobe Lightroom using VSCO (Visual Supply Company) Film presets that I had tweaked a little. It was then that I started getting a bit excited! Not only was this a beautiful camera to use, with traditional controls I was accustomed to, the images were the closest thing to film I’d seen come out of a digital camera. I’ve used the VSCO Film presets on the Nikon D3, but I’ve never been able to achieve a film look like I can with the X100S. There’s something about the Fuji sensor that lends itself to the tonality and feel of film. Some might argue, why bother trying to make the images from a digital camera look like film? Well that’s fine if you’re happy with a digital look, but to me digital often looks a bit “plastic” and surreal compared to a film image, and the colours don’t always appear to be rendered naturally. For those of you who are interested, I’ve outlined a few key changes I make to the standard VSCO preset settings in Lightroom. I don’t make any drastic changes, but as a general guide using the Kodak Portra 400 preset, for example, I add about 5 points more Saturation overall. Then I go to the HSL panel and into the individual colour saturation I nudge up the reds, oranges and yellows by 5-10 and knock the green down by about 5. In the hue settings I also nudge up the orange hue by 5-10 points, and knock the yellow, green and purple hues down by 5-10 points. In the luminance panel I knock the yellows and greens down a bit and nudge the purple and magenta up slightly. This all helps achieve a more natural creamy-warm skin tone. Another important adjustment I make is in the Split Toning. As a guide I set the highlights hue at about 40, saturation 5, and the shadow hue at about 210, saturation 5. This really gets close to emulating true negative film tonality. Play around with the grain settings to your own taste; for Portra 400 I have it set at 30, 30, 40. I use the Portra presets for most of what I shoot, but I’ve also customized presets for Kodak Tri-X black and white, Fuji Velvia, Fuji Astia and a couple of the Polaroid presets, which can be very interesting and moody. It really comes down to individual taste, but having shot film for so many years, I have a visual target to aim for when customizing the presets.

As far as my personal camera setup goes, I never use the accessory case, it just adds bulk and gets in the way. I also ditched the lens cap and attached the accessory filter adapter and a top quality B+W UV filter, primarily to protect that beautiful front element. I never use a lens hood, as lens flare isn’t an issue for me…I actually like the effect, and the Fuji lens doesn’t seem to suffer from it excessively.

In addition to the beautiful image quality the X100S can achieve, there are other things about this camera that just rock, in my opinion!

1. The exposure metering is superb; it nails it almost every time. And the rare times it doesn’t due to very challenging lighting, the dynamic range of the RAW files is huge, allowing highlight and shadow detail to be easily “rescued” later. The highlights don’t tend to blow out harshly, but fall off very gradually and naturally, something I haven’t experienced with other digital files.

2. The hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder is just lovely to use. I used to be a little irked by electronic viewfinders, but this one has changed my attitude. I still prefer the optical for general everyday shooting, but there are times, particularly when framing is critical or when the lighting is dim, that the electronic option really shines. The ultimate would be to have a true optical rangefinder with manual focusing, like so many popular consumer cameras made in the 60’s and 70’s. I don’t believe it has to remain the exclusive domain of Leica with a price tag to match. I wait in hope for a manufacturer to break the mould!

3. The compact size and near silent shutter is just perfect for travel and street shooting! I don’t believe there’s any other serious competitor for this camera, i.e. compact, light, full manual control, classic styling and design, delivering professional results.

Is this the perfect camera? I don’t think there is such a thing, because the needs of photographers are so diverse, but this comes close for a travel/street/documentary shooter. If I could change one thing about the X100S what would it be? The fixed 35mm equivalent lens can sometimes seem a limitation, but it’s also what gives the camera its unique appeal. I’ve often felt that a 40mm or 50mm standard would be more useful; I’m not a big wide-angle fan. But now with the option of 28mm and 50mm conversion lenses, I think Fuji have it covered quite nicely!

Lachlan Burrell

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Aug 132014
 

A Pair of Fujis in Paris

By James Conley

France’s importance in the history of photography cannot be overstated. Some of the most significant documentary images in the history of photography were made in Paris, and it was the home of photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Doisneau. Today, the city is full of commercial galleries dedicated to photography. During any given week there are dozens of elaborate exhibitions and public displays of images. Photography is respected as an art, and it is actively promoted. Indeed, France is home to Jean-François Leroy, the founder and sponsor of Visa pour l’Image in Perpignan. Paris is at odds with itself, however. It’s an easy city to shoot, but a frustrating city to shoot in.

~First, the backdrop.~

Paris is divided by the Seine. The right bank is to the north, and the left to the south. The left tends to be rather rich (read: touristy) and the right bank tends to be more artsy (and frequently seedier). The right has interesting places like the medieval-streeted Marais, and the left was Hemingway’s stomping ground. The right is hillier, the left flatter.

Regardless of where you go, though, Paris is a victim/beneficiary of Georges Eugene Haussmann. Until the middle of the 1800’s, Paris had the same structure as it had during the Middle Ages—small, interwoven streets and cramped buildings. In 1794, under the influence of the miasma theory of the day that the tight quarters were the cause of illness, a Commission of Artists came up with a plan for redoing the streets. Nothing happened with the plan until Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte became emperor in 1852. He wanted the government to better control a capital where several regimes had been overthrown since 1789, and wanted wide avenues through which to move troops.

Napoleon III tasked Haussmann with reurbanization, and gave him broad powers to implement the plans. Haussmann used that power to seize property, require owners to make changes to building facades, and to completely level and rebuild parts of the city. Haussmann defined the maximum height of buildings, and their features—including balconies and roof pitch—was mandated. Neighboring buildings had to have floors at the same height, as well as matching exterior lines. Quarry stone was mandatory along the avenues. Wide boulevards, landscaped gardens, and monuments were designed to frame France’s imperial history. The plan and its result made the city look like an extensive palace.

What all this means from a photographer’s point of view is that the city provides a fetching backdrop for almost any picture, no matter what part of the city you’re in. It also means that no matter what part of the city you’re in, it runs the risk of looking remarkably like any other part. The buildings are beautiful in their own way, but they lack individuality. It’s as though Disney had the power to reface a major city.

Paris has some of the worst traffic of any major city. Cars are numerous, but mopeds and motorbikes are a close second. They are everywhere. Vehicles clog the streets and they park in any available place. Because of the chaos of so much traffic, Paris has placed a seemingly infinite number of three-foot tall poles to block walkways from vehicle parking. Parking on the streets is relatively unlimited, however, and there is almost no street that doesn’t have cars or mopeds lining it. This means that nearly every street scene will be blocked by either a pole or a vehicle.

Light is also an issue. Paris is a very northerly city. It is on a latitude similar to that of the U.S./Canadian border. In the autumn, this means that the sun is low in the sky, but it’s very bright. Shadows are strong, and highlights are glaring. Dealing with the contrast is not an insignificant challenge. Partly overcast is a friend to the limited dynamic range of a digital sensor.

Most of the traditional sites are worth seeing, even if their inspiration to make images is low. The Eiffel Tower is impressive. The Louvre is stunning. (Outside, at least. I think the Met is better curated, regardless of the difference in volume.) The city’s elaborate gardens are interesting and relatively attractive, if a rigid approach to horticultural design appeals to you. The streets are obtuse and there is no grid, which makes for convenient backdrops. The Latin Quarter and Ile Saint Louis stand out as particularly photogenic. As discussed below, however, many of the sites aren’t accessible to photographers. For example, Sacre Coeur doesn’t allow photography inside, nor does the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. The Louvre, however, does. Most storefront businesses do not allow photography—including of the street. Most people out on the street will wave you off if they see you taking pictures.

~Second, the law.~

Contrary to France’s very welcoming approach to photography as art, it is also the home of two laws which restrict it: Droit d’image and La Loi Vie Privée. Basically, a French citizen can sue a photographer for using any image which includes the citizen or his property in the picture.  So, for example, you see an interesting farmhouse in Versailles. You snap a picture, and then want to use it on a blog which has advertising from which you profit. Unless you have the written permission of the owner of the property, under French law you can’t use the image. And what if the property gets sold later? That’s right—you have to get the new property owner’s permission.

The law against using someone’s likeness commercially is not particularly different from the protection other countries provide: you can’t associate someone with a commercial product without a model release. The French people, however, generally fail to understand that taking pictures of someone in a public space and using it for an artistic or editorial purpose is allowed. The French assume they have the right to interfere with all photography.

This confusion has led many photographers to avoid France, and to not publish their work in France. Whether or not these laws would be enforced against a particular photographer with a particular image, it certainly casts a pall over the desire to make images.

~Third, the people.~

Paris is a busy city. The streets are full of a variety of shops. People live in the city, and despite their cars, they shop very locally. The Haussmann design leaves little interior space for working at home, so people are out and about. Cafe tables are plentiful, and people loiter for hours working or talking. Pedestrian traffic is heavy, as is bicycle and motorized transport. Shops tend to close around 6 p.m., but cafes and restaurants are open later.

Despite (or because of) the number of tourists, people tend to be fairly aware of photographers. More so than in cities like New York, Parisians seem to be constantly on the lookout for someone taking a photo. There are few smiles in Paris, and even fewer when a camera is around. Shopkeepers will confront you if they even see a camera. They’ll also come out of the store if they see you taking pictures in the street. Signs forbidding photography are everywhere.

Outside of stores, the people on the streets are less confrontational, but it’s wise to be aware and not push the issue. It’s best to follow the fancy footwork of Cartier-Bresson and blend blend. He was a master at taking photos fast, with his subjects unaware they were being photographed. Zone focusing and the use of the rear LCD display on cameras so equipped is required practice. Waiting in the right spot for the right time is also handy—people get used to your presence and pay less attention.

~The Fujis~

I took an XE-1 and an X100s to Paris for two weeks. and racked up over 100 miles of walking around the city and its environs. I shot with two lenses on the XE-1: an 8mm Rokinon and 18-55mm Fuji. The X100s has a fixed 23mm. I found the Fuji X cameras to be very adept at the kind of speed required for Parisian street photography. The small bodies go unnoticed, and as mirrorless cameras the Fujis are quiet. The X100s is particularly easy to adjust for zone focusing and is virtually silent. The rangefinder style X series in general are well-suited to be quick to the eye, making stealth shooting easier.

Like any city, the best way to approach Paris as a photographer is to walk. There are opportunities for images on the plentiful buses and metros, but the action (as always) is out on the street. Having lugged 35mm and DSLR equipment for more years than I care to remember, the small and light Fujis are much easier on the shoulder and the back for extensive city walking.

Paris is a great city. The air and the water make delicious pastries and bread. The streets are picturesque, and there are interesting places to see. The art is impressive and ubiquitous. It’s worth a visit to the galleries and museums. But it’s a tough city to work in. The people are not friendly to photographers, and the traffic and poles make it a challenge to find a clean foreground, much less a background. The pollution is horrendous, and the noise is incessant. The most photographed places are the most accessible, which means being original is not just a challenge—it’s risky. Having a street confrontation in a foreign language does not a good trip make. But Paris is worth the challenge, and forewarned is forearmed.

website: fjamesconley.com
twitter: @Philatawgrapher

—James

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A woman on the Paris Metro reads among a plethora of geometric patterns.

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Waiters take a break outside a cafe in Paris.

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Jul 022014
 

Shooting The Palouse with the Fuji X-T1 & X100S

By Olaf Sztaba

Brandon and Steve,

Thank you for sharing our previous submission with your readers. It is a truly great experience to be a part of your growing community of passionate photographers. Recently, Kasia (my wife) and I travelled to the Palouse.

The Palouse is an agricultural region in southeastern Washington, which produces mostly wheat and legumes. We couldn’t find the origin of the name “Palouse.” Some sources claim that the name comes from the Palus tribe, only later converted to Palouse by the French-Canadian fur traders, which means “land with short thick grass.” Later the name was changed to the current Palouse.

It is a land like no other. The abundance of shapes, patterns and colours produces dream-like visuals, which might overwhelm your senses at first. However, if you cut yourself off from the noise of your everyday life, turn off your cellphone, disconnect from the Internet and let your senses wander, you will find yourself in awe. Rolling yellow fields against the blue sky, whirling patterns of cut hay and huge expanses of sand dune-like hills are all a feast for the eyes. While well-known parks like Yosemite or Yellowstone have their own mega-popular spots, the Palouse offers you the unknown. Every dirt road hides a visual gem for you to discover and this is what makes this place so special. We photographed this visual paradise with the Fuji X-T1, Fuji X100S, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 OIS lenses.

Here are a few images, mostly JPEGs (Velvia film simulation) straight from the camera (only minor contrast adjustments). We have also included some photos using the new Fuji film profiles in Lightroom 5. They are identical to what the X-series cameras produce, but offer some extra room for adjustment.

Regards,

Olaf Sztaba

www.olafphotoblog.com
www.olafphoto.squarespace.com

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Apr 262014
 

Turkish fisherman with the Fuji X100s

By Howard Shooter

I must be strangely attracted to fisherman:

The last post of mine you very kindly published was about the fishing town of Aldeburgh in Suffolk, England. In stark contrast I now find myself relaxing in a wonderfully self-indulgent week of all-inclusive heaven, in Dalaman, Turkey with my wife Karen and my three gorgeous kids. What I needed was ironically a week of no photography and some serious “R and R”, after an enjoyably punishing work schedule.

As a food photographer, I decided to leave the beloved Leica M240 at home, with all the lenses, filters etc, I needed a break from manual this and aperture that… Instead I took just a small Canon (for the kids shots), and my conflicted Fuji X100s. My Fuji conflicts with me because I am magnetically drawn to out-and-out quality over everything else and I was thinking of flexing the plastic, one more time to invest in the Sony RX1R. The quality of the Sony is Leica-esque and it’s cheaper than the 35mm Summilux. or Summicron. But the story doesn’t end there; the Fuji X100s must have been designed by a photographer. It just works beautifully. I would argue that the Fuji is more ergonomically designed than the Leica in some respects, mainly the exposure compensation dial, and it is a total pleasure to use. The quality, once stopped down by a stop or two is lovely, could be sharper, with a better dynamic range, but the information is there if you want to fiddle and faddle. (I made the word faddle up btw). On an all-inclusive I expected the usual anonymous beaches, impeccable cleanliness and lack of soul or character, hence no reason to Leica up… The hotel we’re staying at is wonderful and is more than we could have wished for actually.

… and then my family, after a day of rain, went to look at the views on the beach. These Turkish fisherman were so friendly. I approached them today and just took about ten shots of each man over a three-minute period. The Fuji performed incredibly well. It’s so unobtrusive that I didn’t feel like I was violating their private space. The dual viewfinder is just perfectly implemented and the 35mm is such a flexible focal length. The shutter lag is almost non-existent and the camera feels very intuitive and responsive. Suffice to say I don’t feel so conflicted now. I shall be putting my plastic to better use. The Fuji is an excellent companion and probably got me more hits than if I would have had the Leica with all those nets flying around. Oh well… the buffet beckons!

The shots were taken in raw and have been converted to black and white in Lightroom and the blue channel has been increased just a little.
Many thanks for looking.
Howard Shooter

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Feb 202014
 

Shooting with Fuji

By Olaf Sztaba

It is not common in the days of big egos and anonymous message boards that a great photographer and hugely popular blogger stands back and allows other photographers to share their work on his own website. I applaud you for such a generous approach.

This is our first submission to your website, so a few words about our philosophy. We believe that as we have all been taking photographs for over 100 years, we are experienced enough to go beyond portraits and landscapes to take photography into the artistic realm. Capturing the emotions you feel as you look at people and landscapes is another level of photography, as is capturing the essence of a person or landscape.

Having said that, we put a lot of effort into the visual and emotional quality of the photograph; only after that do we strive for technical perfection. Our photo trips usually take us into unknown and forgotten places, some of which may seem obscure and rusty at first sight but somehow they interest us more than what’s new and pretty. I had my first camera at the age of four and ever since my eyes have been searching for the perfect composition, light and subject. My wife Kasia and I are based in Vancouver, British Columbia.

We are currently shooting with the Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji X100S cameras and Fujinon XF lenses, which fit our style of photography well. With the basic gauges at our fingers, we can focus on what’s important: our subject, emotions, visuals and light. We believe that every photographer has special needs and preferences, so I don’t want this post to be about equipment.

After all, a strong, artistically beautiful image, even if it is technically imperfect, will always triumph over a technically perfect but dull image.

Thank you for the opportunity.

Olaf & Kasia Sztaba

www.olafphotoblog.com

www.olafphoto.squarespace.com

 

Image #1: Fuji X100S

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Image #2: Fuji X100

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Image #3: Fuji X-Pro1 & XF 14mm F2.8

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Image #4: Fuji X100S

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Image #5: Fuji X-Pro1 & XF 14mm F2.8

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Image #6: Fuji X-Pro1 & XF 14mm F2.8

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Image #7: Fuji X-Pro1 & XF 14mm F2.8

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Feb 202014
 

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Fuji X100s User Report

By Nicola Bernardi

I finally had the chance to lay my hulking hands on the beautiful Fujifilm X100s, the camera over which I have been drooling night and day for the last year or so. The camera that I always wanted but couldn’t absolutely afford (25 years old freelance photographer here, remember?). The camera that one of my favorite photographers of all times, Zack Arias, described as the “DSLR killer”.

The camera that would surprise the hell out of me, but of course I didn’t know it yet.

On January 9th, Fujifilm Italia agreed to be the main sponsor for my next big project, unCOMMON:Wheels , and I’ll be using only Fujifilm cameras while biking from the southernmost to the northernmost point of Japan starting from March 5th. They also agreed to send me a Fuji X100s a couple of months in advance for me to get acquainted with their system and cameras. Needless to say, I felt like a kid on christmas morning: the freaking happiest I could ever be! And with this new toy in my hands, I did the only thing someone can do when they are in such a hype : take selfies in public toilets with it!

Kidding aside, I’ve been using the Fujifilm X100s for almost a month now, and these are my thoughts about it.

  • This camera is BEAUTIFUL. I mean, I’ve always had a thing for cameras, but this one brings it to a completely new level: it’s the kind of camera that makes you turn when she passes next to you, the kind of camera you go home and tell everyone about, the kind of camera you would invite out to dinner, fall in love with, marry and have wonderful camera babies with. Seriously!

 

  • They say dogs are men’s best friends and most loyal companion. Well, they lie. Truth is, the fujifilm X100s is a man’s best friend and most loyal companion! In the last month, not only have I never left home without it, but I have hardly left the ROOM without it! It’s so light, compact, practical and ready to shoot away at all times, that it becomes a natural extension of yourself. You wouldn’t leave the room without, let’s say, your arms, would you?

 

  • It’s so damn versatile: it doesn’t care whether you are in bright sun, in a candle-lit pub at night, or in a club shooting a concert. For as long as the camera is by your side, it will make you shoot wonderful photos.

 

  • Last and most importantly, it’s FUN. It MAKES you wanna capture the things around you, the people you are with and the life that surrounds you in every moment. It was a feeling that, I have to admit, it was long lost for me.

 

  • But, as weird as it sounds to me now (where I got completely used to shooting with this camera only, when it’s not commissioned work), it wasn’t love at first sight. In the first week especially, I had a hard time getting used to its fixed 23mm ƒ2 lens (35mm equivalent) as it is the ONLY lens range I NEVER USE. With my Nikon, i bounce pretty easily between my fixed 20mm and my fixed 50mm and having to get used to such a range proved itself to be though work. So in the beginning, I was unhappy with the photos I was taking not because of the camera, but because I couldn’t get my eye to “think” and compose for that focal length.

The second reason I was VERY UNHAPPY with the first days worth of photos, is that the raw files of this camera are different from what I normally work with. Don’t get me wrong, the X-Trans sensor produces very good files, and handles the colors, highlights and shadows in a great way! The problem was that I found myself processing the raw files in the same way I usually do with my Nikon files, and the results were noticeably different. It took me some time, but in the end I started to realize that it was my workflow that wasn’t correct for the camera, not the opposite.

Since then, and a few more dozen hours spent shooting with this camera after, I can now say that I fell in love with it and that I completely understand why Zack Arias said “this is the first camera with a SOUL”. Being a portrait photographer, I obviously tried shooting portraits with it and the results are extremely pleasing, granted that 35mm is (in my opinion) NOT a good lens for tight portraits, and it’s suited for a more environmental portraiture. I’ve never been much of a black and white guy, in fact, most of my portraits, concert photos and street photos are densely colorful, but this camera makes me wanna shoot in black and white: it renders shadows, midtones and highlights in such a great, detailed way!

Final Verdict:

The Fuji X100s really has something inside of it that makes you wanna take more pictures, that pokes your creativity. It takes away the burden of carrying a heavy camera and leaves you with all the freedom in the world to shoot anything you want, at any time! I really, REALLY like this camera! And here’s some other photos for you to check. Obviously, all shot with none other than the Fujifilm X100s

www.nicolabernardi.com

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Feb 102014
 

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Concert Photography with Fuji X

By Piao Yishi 

My name is Piao Yishi ( aka “Park” ). I’m an amateur photographer based in Hangzhou, China. The genre that interests me the most is environmental portrait and photojournalism. My curiosity constantly drives me into the exploration of people’s lives. And photography paves the way.

I’m a Fuji fanboy. I’ve been shooting with a Fuji x100 ( my first serious camera ) for 16 months and added an X-E2 with 18-55 lens to my arsenal just two months ago. Oh, I also own two legacy fast telephoto lenses, namely Nikkor 105mm f/2.5 AI and Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED AI-s, both of which are over thirty years old. Despite the age, they managed to contribute most of the pictures in this article.

In the hope of capturing interesting people in interesting environments, I shot a lot of events in the past months, including parties, alumni gatherings and stage performances. They’re great. But none is better than a symphony concert. Why? A symphony concert involves many people ( several dozen performers and many hundred audiences ) in strong emotions, and you don’t see one in town every day. ( Not sure if it’s the same case in Austria though. ) That is why I got really excited when I was offered an opportunity to shoot the New Year Symphony Concert in Hangzhou, performed by the Wenqin Orchestra of Zhejiang University.

Well, how do I shoot such a grand event? Google didn’t have a lot of articles on that topic. There are some good suggestions in them, but my biggest takeaway was “it’s a rare opportunity, you better get ready”.  So I packed my equipments tight and hoped for the best. Here are some of the key learnings from my first symphony concert shot.

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Arrive early.

If you arrive at the venue before audiences are allowed inside, you’ll get shots of a clean stage with all setups and some of the bigger instruments on it, you’ll learn where each instruments are located on the stage. With some luck, you’ll find the conductor sitting alone somewhere off the stage and you’re the only photographers to find it.

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Well, how do you get inside before audiences are allowed to? Be resourceful, talk to the organizer, be nice to people but don’t be shy, and hope for the best. In my case, I was refused to get inside early by one of the staffs that day. When I tried another guy five minutes later, however, I got the greenlight and a badge.

If there’s a rehearsal or a pilot performance prior to the main concert, do everything you can to get inside and rehearse your shots. How do you get in? Same as above.

Talk to people.

The better you know your subject, the easier and more profound your shot is likely to be. How do you know a bunch of performers to whom you are a complete stranger in a symphony concert? Talk to them whenever you feel they will not be disturbed. Your camera is your passport. The retro looking Fujis makes me look more of an safe fanboy and less of a hard nosed journalist. ( Sorry, DSLR guys. ) But at the end of the day, it is you who’s gonna open the mouth and talk to people.

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When I saw the conductor sitting alone far from the stage that day, I went to him without hesitations, showed one of the pictures I took him during the pilot performance two days before ( Go to rehearsal or pilot performances, and keep your best pictures in your phone! ). And guess what, he liked it and asked me to send it to him. So I knew he’s Russian and his name’s Mik. Then I asked if I could take a posed shot for him and a friend of mine who’s a gorgeous looking girl. He happily accepted. During that shot, I saw what a humorous, romantic and interesting man he is. Knowing him in person made possible some close shots of him later that day. And understanding his personalities helped me capturing the best moment of him on stage.

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Another story happened in the back stage when I was trying to photograph a college boy who plays the flute. At first, he was a bit shy and didn’t know what to do in front of a camera. I said to him, when I was in college, my “Venus” was a flute girl, but she never played in front of me, which was why I stopped at him and wanted a shot of him playing that beautiful shiny flute. Then immediately, he started playing without the slightest hint of discomfort. There you see the shot.

Go to the back stage.

Having access to the back stage will give you two advantages.

First of all, during the play, the conductor will be facing his orchestra and therefore backstage all the time. Unless in the rare moments he turn back and say thank you to the audience, you won’t get front facing shots of the conductor if you physically shoot from off the stage. And shooting from there is a big annoyance to your fellow audiences around you. It’s not a rock concert! Symfony fans are not likely to swear to or attack you, but don’t spoil their evening and let them hate you. Plus, you’ll like the beautiful side light falling on players’ heads if you shoot from either side from the back stage!

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Then, you’ll witness plenty of interesting stories in the back stage when performers are anxiously waiting for the prime time. In that tense atmosphere, you’ll see their personalities written all over their faces. And it’s a great place talking with your subjects.

Just don’t skip the back stage if you can get the access.

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Fast long lens, ISO 6400 and a monopod.

We all know a good picture is NOT about the camera. When you take pictures in a challenging situation, however, some features of equipments will make your life much easier. Photographing a symphony concert is the most challenging job I ever did, because:

The stage is relatively large  and you can’t go anywhere you want ( e.g. on the stage, or in front of the first row off the stage ). It’s difficult for the photographer to get very close or very high physically.

Ambient light can be dim. And you are not allowed to use flash. The lighting conditions can vary wildly among different venues. In the pilot performance, with f/2.8 and 1/160 seconds, I was able to get away with ISO 800 most of the time. In the real show however, I constantly needed ISO 6400 for similar shots on the stage. Without a light meter, the performers confirmed they felt the same. I heard one of the venue staffs saying they intentionally dimmed the lighting to prevent details blown out on players’ faces.

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The stage is extremely crowed. With limited point of view options, it requires good observation and creativity to get interesting compositions unless you have shot such events numerous times.

On the stage, you’ll make a few wide angle shots, but not too many, because you can’t get close. Telephoto lenses with big aperture are your friend. Use more than one focal lengths for varying FOV and potentially more interesting shots. For the stage shots, I used the two legacy lenses mentioned earlier. Their 35mm equivalent focal lengths are 158mm and 270mm. They’re all sharp enough wide open. ( In my bag, Nikkor 180mm f/2.8 ED AI-s’s main use is astrophotography. ) I felt they were adequate for the stage that evening. I’m sure there will be larger or smaller stages so adjust accordingly. A 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom will do a better job if your wife plays ball.

And a camera body with usable ISO 6400 is highly recommended. Fuji XE-2 does that very well. I used a shutter speed of 1/200 seconds whenever lighting conditions permit when shooting the stage. In the pilot performance, I found that 1/160 seconds couldn’t freeze the conductor’s fiercest hand motion completely.

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Even if you have all the low light equipments recommended above, you’ll still find occasions where the shutter speed drops below 1/200 or even 1/50. ( I used Fuji’s auto ISO feature. ) I found a monopod extremely useful for such a job. It helped stabilizing my shots and making my arm and shoulder less stressful. Most importantly, it gave me a pivot for experimenting different composition ideas and pull out the best one.

With my legacy lenses, I had to live with manual focus. I didn’t find it a huge obstacle though. Fuji X-E2 has a usable focus peaking feature. ( But add more color options to the peaking pixels, Fuji! ) And during the play, your subjects don’t generally move towards or away from your camera, but remain in more or less the same focal plane no matter how fast they move. Auto focus lenses are definitely more convenient to use. But with those legacy lens, I was able ( and forced ) to shoot more slowly and care for every detail without breaking the bank. A compromise I have to live with, and perhaps a good one. Some of the my pictures ended up not in perfect focus for pixel peepers, but overall most of them are acceptable, IMO.

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Oh, the Fuji X100 always stayed on my neck. This beautiful non-threatening creature is still my best friend for storytelling in those behind-the-scene shots, all of which I shot one-handed. And when I need a wider field of view, I used Fuji XE-2 with 18-55mm on 18mm.

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Shoot long lenses with a wide-angle mind.

For a whole year after I stepped into the world of photography, Fuji X100 was my only camera. It’s a small camera with a fixed 23mm f/2 lens ( 35mm in full frame equivalent ). I had to live with its fixed and wide view of the world, which turned out to be a good thing. It taught me to observe, care for and make use of the connections between subjects and the background. It’s just too wide to ignore the background or the connections between things and just point and shoot.

Back to the super crowded symphony stage, yes, you can play with that shallow depth of field. What you cannot do, however, is simply ignoring, blurring or blackening out all the surroundings of your subject, because they’re too close together, lighted too evenly and you can’t get your camera very high.

Fellow violinists playing together covering each other’s heads? Notebooks in the front blocking your view of the subjects on the other side? None is gonna make a good solo composition. But who said solo compositions are better? Think about how to live with and make use of all things in the field of view. Search for the connections between them. Capture eye contacts between the conductor and his players. Search for moments when the conductor’s baton and violinist’s’ bows point to the same direction. Use the darker audiences as a backdrop for players at the edge of stage, even if you can only see her back. Don’t be afraid to crop tight and try out impossible ideas when composing the shots. Be creative and bold.

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Looking at the show through those long lenses, I felt a sense of similarity and familiarity, because it felt so much like viewing though my X100’s 35mm lens. If you didn’t take good care of the background and connections among different things, you’d spoil the shot. But If you did, you’d be blessed with a chance of getting a more interesting shot than most 85mm f/1.4 portraits.

Leave late and get to know the performers.

The performance lasted more than two hours before the audiences stood up and applauded with the Radetzky March. It was time to pack the bag, right? I didn’t think so. There must be interesting stories going on after the show. And I really wanted to get to know the performers better, get their contact information and send them their pictures the next day.

It turned out they appreciated it. A flute player who has played the new year concerts for seven consecutive years later told me, that all flute players were grateful for the pictures featuring them, because on the stage they sit in the back and normally don’t get much attention. And the violinist who got her back captured said she was very excited to see her picture on the homepage of a local website, even if it was only her back.

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All players are college kids. It was the peak of their life so far so they overreacted, didn’t they? Well, I know a professional model who, after seeing my pictures of those kids’ symphony concert, told me that she was moved and regretted how few pictures she had kept for her own performances. She said normally photographers didn’t care to give the pictures to her after a show. It may or may not be a license thing.

Those kids have stories. The more I know about them, the more I’m confident that I can take my storytelling and photography to the next level in their next performance.

As a storyteller, I’ll make sure I can give away my pictures to my subjects, because what I did is merely freezing, capturing and presenting a split second of their lives. They own their lives. The more they feel the pictures are important to them, the more successful I am as a storytelling photographer.

Park

Jan 252014
 

Fuji’s X100(s) series, What else?

By Renaud Perez

Hello Steve,

A while ago, I’ve already sent some posts to Steve about the Fuji’s X100 and X100s. I took some time to write a bit more and share, on this fabulous website, more of my thoughts on this camera series, as I’m using it exclusively for 2 years already. I’m not going to talk about camera’s performance but more about how I’m using this system and try to explain why I don’t see the point right now to have anything else. Actually I’m going to speak as an “X100s” since I did the upgrade 8 months ago and this is the only camera I own right now (+ the wide angle converter WCL-X100).

 1/70 f8.0 ISO-400. WCL-X100. Converted from RAW.

Sun set, south west of Koh Kood island, Thailand,

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After two years shooting with this series (both camera are more less the same on the outside) I can say that I feel it has the perfect from factor, body + lens. It’s small of course but not too small and I they fit 100% right in my hands. In term of from factor, it has something a lot of people forget while comparing camera size… the thinness. I can strap my X100s on my shoulder, have it under a very light jacket, nobody will never ever figure out that I have a camera one me. Only the pana 20f1.7 on a small m43 body could give you the equivalent, for the rest of the lenses, I mean prime’s people are often talking about, just forget about it. That’s the fixed lens advantage (other X-mount do not offer this either!).

I consider the source of both X100/X100s mojo’s to exist due to 3 reasons;

 #1) The Hybrid viewfinder. What did Fuji here is magic, it gives you both of the 2 worlds. EVF is a great technology improvement over the past years, it gives you the possibility to manual focus more accurately than you could through an OVF. It’s also better for a perfect framing and gives you a good overview of your real exposure, WB and color rendition. On the other side it’s a lot of tech’ adding “filters” between you and the real scene. If you shoot RAW, you do not really care about your color rendition, WB or exposure since all this can be adjusted during later on post processing. One remark on focusing, for those who never used an X100/X100s, since it’s not a ranger finder, you cannot manual focus using the OVF. Then comes the OVF, and that for me is a very very very important part of the photography experience. When I’m using an OVF, I’m slowing down. I take time to look around and concentrate on the instant trying to catch interesting things and just simply enjoy! Add to this the LCD screen of the X100/X100s that you can just leave displaying the most important info, focus point, metering, AF-mode etc… No live view and go out for a RAW shooting session, never reviewing any of your photos during it and you will enjoy a classic photography session!

 1/30 f2.8 ISO-2500. Converted from RAW.

Self-portrait at Bangkok airport,

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By the way, I keep wondering how Nikon missed this one on the Df? If this Df would had integrated such an hybrid system, it would have been a real killer! Come on, the designing and engineering team could not manage to insert an additional mirror switch mechanism to give you a great EVF in the viewfinder, allowing you to manual focus old school lenses perfectly? This would have been a real statement from Nikon that compact Full Frame DSLR are here to compete with the mirrorless FF offer (A7/A7r).

#2) The controls. Controls as they are designed today are nearly perfect to me, giving you access to the shutter speed, aperture (on the lens) and exposure compensation in a very intuitive way or I would say and old school way, back to basics! The only thing I wish is to see coming in next version(s) is an ISO dial, giving you direct control over the 3 mains photography parameters, Speed / Aperture / ISO. I also would like to see one more Fn button in the right bottom side of the camera front, close to the lens. For me this one would be fully dedicated to the ND filter, leaving the Fn button next to the exposure dial for other things. I think it would be a much better ergonomic in this way since you could with your left hand control the aperture + ND filter without having to go back to the rear part of the camera, leaving your right hand dealing with shutter and exposure compensation while holding the camera.

 1/2000 f4.0 ISO-200. Converted from RAW.

Phra-Si-Rattana-Chedi, Grand palace Bangkok.

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Holding the camera is also leading to the debate, is inner camera stabilization necessary? In the X100/X100s concept I would clearly answer NO! But of course if cameras maker’s competition is bringing this inside, I would not refuse it ;-) No, simply for the reason that you do not need it during day time, due to the X100/X100s 35mm eq fixed focal, no telephoto super zoom here! And for night time shooting, using the auto ISO between 200 and 6400 paired with a minimum shutter speed of 1/30 (for those who don’t know, a good rule of thumb is to choose a shutter speed that is one over your focal length to ensure no camera shake due to hand’s movements), is sufficient for you to get crisp looking photos. The only situation where it would be useful is for a night scene without any moving subjects (important), and where you would need to keep ISO 200 for later on post processing, so having to use a long exposure. But for that very kind of shots, It’s possible to plan them a bit in advance bringing a tripod and if not, you can still use other elements around you to set-up a support for the camera (since night scene + long exposure does not require any “instant” capture and rush). Finally, do not forget that there is no mechanical vibrations issue with the X100/X100s. Which brings me to the last part of the X100/X100s magic.

 1/750 f2.0 ISO-200. Converted from RAW.

Golden portrait, Grand palace, Bangkok.

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#3) The leaf shutter. What is a leaf shutter? It consists of a mechanism with a metal leave which pivots to let the light going on the imaging element (film or sensor). It offers lot of advantages, no any noticeable inner vibrations (camera shake due to the focal plane shutter curtains impact) and is dead silent (i.e. some complain about these issues on the A7/A7r). It is so quiet that you can discretely shoot a guy you are talking with and he will not even notice it. This added to the camera size, and you get a system which is not intrusive at all, so it does not interfere in people’s interaction. Usually when you talk to guy, furtively give a try to a “lucky” shot and the camera gives you a loud click-clack, you interlocutor will pause with the kind of expression in his eyes saying “hey, what are you doing here?”. You camera will simply have broken the moment and that’s not what we want! There are of course hundreds of other situations where having a silent camera is a golden gift. Of course the sexy retro compact look helps a lot, the camera not being intrusive, even giving interrogation to people and being a discussion starter, I’m not going to say more on this since everybody know how beautiful are looking these cameras.

 1/60 f4.0 ISO-3200. OOC Jpegs, B&W+Green filter, Highlight & Shadow tones +2.

My mother’s emotion after the birth of our baby girl, furtive catch

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Finally I will end with things I discovered using the X100s.

About the X100/X100s sensor rendering, as Steve and others mentioned I also found that OOC jpegs can be flat, it mostly appear when the light is not there but IMO that’s just internal jpegs processing, since the RAW files of the X100s are very rich and with a RAW you can pimp your picture as you want.

If you are shooting RAW with the X100s, I strongly advise you to set your DR to 100%, do not use the auto DR. The principle of this DR feature is to upper the ISO to get more details out from the shadows. So basically if you are in auto DR and that the camera says you need a 400% DR (which is the maximum), you will have to be at least at ISO 800. It‘s well known that Fuji X-Trans is great at high ISO but if you are working on extracting details from a RAW, you’d better stay at ISO 200. If you go for a jpeg session, just leave the DR in auto, it’s doing the job very well.

 1/2500 f5.6 ISO-200. Converted from RAW.

Temple of dawn, Bangkok

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If you are in a light situation where the output goes flat, and do not want to bother with post processing, what I usually do is I quickly tune the highlight and shadow tones levels to +1 or even +2 (both) and then I get the punch back.

I found that the internal B&W filters are working quite well. I’ve started to use it a lot recently, using the B&W+Green filter and setting the highlight and shadow tones to +2 since I like a lot punchy and contrasty B&W images.

 1/240 f4.0 ISO-400. OOC Jpegs, B&W+Green filter, Highlight & Shadow tones +2.

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 1/30 f2.0 ISO-250. OOC Jpegs, B&W+Green filter, Highlight & Shadow tones +2.

Fail to catch her – baby pics are a real challenge

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 1/60 f2.0 ISO-640. OOC Jpegs, B&W+Green filter, Highlight & Shadow tones +2.

Jeanne

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Jeanne,

Finally, the WCL-X100 is really the best convert I ever used. Actually I did not notice any loss of image quality compared to the original lens, I get wider and still keep the max f2 aperture. So IMO it’s just like changing the lens on the X100/X100s. It gives you a 28mm eq perfect for landscape (I found the 24mm to be difficult to fill). Just keep in mind the WCL-X100 is huge and the camera loses one of its advantages, as I mentioned previously, using it. When I say huge, I mean the camera cannot go under your sweater anymore, but it’s not bigger than the Pana 25f1.4 (to give you a better reference).

 1/350 f4.0 ISO-200. WCL-X100. Converted from RAW.

From my office, Beijing

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My wish list for Fuji. Through firmware upgrade;

- AF performance and the OVF framing lines, to me there is still some improvement to be done here.

- I would like also to see the ability to configure the AE/AF-L button to a Macro mode selection quick switch. Press it, you go Macro, re-press it, back to normal mode. When you are shooting during weddings, anniversaries, parties and so on… You are all the time in situations where shots need to be taken at distances varying from 3m to 0.5m this changing randomly at a high rate. I’m struggling and losing too much time with the current Macro mode selection, it should be faster to give time to the AF to re-adjust.

- In AF mode, the ability to use the manual focus ring to parse the AF points and select the one you need. Turning the ring, you can parse AF points from the upper left to the bottom right in line order.

 1/180 f4.5 ISO-200. Converted from RAW.

Street shooting, the spring roll factory, Bangkok’s China town

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For future version(s), I will not talk about sensor size here (even if nice rumors are talking about FF), but IMO it should be a least;

- Weather sealed. This camera concept as it is should be a life time camera. In a recent trip to Thailand, using it at the beach, I had the feeling that it would not last so long if I were staying there for some months. This camera should be rugged to support anything, having it with you all the time, everywhere.

- Battery life. This is a joke on both X100/X100s. Using it in real conditions, with performance mode set on maximum, reviewing some pictures with my wife or friends, I only manage to take a hundred shots, no more, on one battery charge (I always take two to swap but still… it’s not acceptable).

- On the rear part Fuji should add a rubber element for your thumb, like on the X20.

And after, of course, keep what makes this series so unique and improve the hybrid viewfinder, sensor, lens etc…

 1/18 f2.8 ISO-6400. OOC Jpegs, B&W+Green filter, Highlight & Shadow tones +2, NR to -1.

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At the end, I do not see any camera / camera system, which could give me more than what the X100s does end of 2013. I’m limited to wide angle (WCL-X100, 28mm eq) and the 35mm eq focal which is, anyway, what I would own if I had an interchangeable lens system. The only thing which is missing is an 85mm eq for portrait, here the X100/X100s have to admit, it’s out of their capabilities. Apart from this, what else?

 1/125 f5.6 ISO-200. Converted from Jpeg.

My wife & me, shot by our tour guide at the Grand palace Bangkok

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I wish to you and everybody all the best for the coming year and I’m sure that you guys will have a lot to do with all new stuff coming from camera makers ;-)

Enjoy, thx for the website and all the efforts and energy you guys put inside.

1/40 f2.0 ISO-400. Converted from Jpeg.

The Lying Buhdda, Bangkok

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Renaud.

Jan 062014
 

Fuji releases the X100s in sexy black  - Ships in Feb.

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Woohoo! For all of those waiting for the super sexy black X100s, your wait is almost over. In fact you can pre-order the camera NOW at B&H Photo for $1299, the same cost as the silver version. While not a special edition like the X100 black version was, no need to pay $1500+. So for many, this is a good thing. The X100s will ship in February. You can also pre-order at Amazon HERE. PopFlash has it HERE.

Jun 292013
 

1 Year with the Olympus OM-D and 1 Month with the Fuji X100s by Vianney Taufour

Hi Steve,

After reading your blog for more than 1 year now, I decided to send you a mail to share my positive experience.

I sold my D700 and bought an Olympus OM-D exactly 1 year ago … I guess it’s a good opportunity for me to review what happened in 1 year :)

First I would like to congratulate you for this blog which is really pleasing to read. I really like your way of talking about photography making the right balance between technical stuff and the pleasure to use gears to take pictures. Keep on going! Sorry for my english (I’m french). I’m used to read reviews but may not be so good at writing in english ;)

As I told you before, I decided to abandon my full frame DSLR just one year ago. I used to make portrait photography with models but started missing time. I had fewer opportunities for shooting but was still making some pictures of my family and wanted something light, fun and qualitative enough to continue.

After reading few reviews on the OM-D, I decided to go for it and I’ve been really impressed by this camera and quickly adopted it!

I’m a “fixed focal guy” so I started with the Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 and Oly 45mm f/1.8. Both lens are really good. The 45mm is just amazing … After reading you review (and others) I also decided to buy the PanaLeica 25mm/1.4 which is now my favorite lens for this camera!

The first picture attached called “Circus” was taken with the OM-D + 25mm when we went to the Circus with my kids. The OM-D is very discrete and the tilt screen is really useful to keep the camera on your chest and frame your pictures. I relied on the highlight clipping info to set up the appropriate exposure (I love this feature).

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Additional pics of the Circus here.

 

I also had the opportunity to test the OM-D during a live concert. In such condition, the AF speed of the OM-D was really helpful as well as the exposure simulation in the EVF because the lights are always changing during live concert.

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Additional pics of the Concert.

I was so pleased with this OM-D that I decided to get the Voigtlander 17.5mm f/0.95 for Christmas (a bit before since I couldn’t wait). 35mm (Full Frame) has always been my focal of choice. Thanks to all the customization available on the OM-D, using a manual lens like the Voigt. is not a problem at all. Once again the EVF is really helpful with picture magnification to set up the focus. I also tried the “fake focus peaking” trick that works great.

Despite all it’s qualities, I had some difficulties to use the 17.5mm with the OM-D because it’s really heavy and I could not let it mounted by default on the camera. About 1 month ago, I decided to sell the 17.5mm (sniff) to buy the much-anticipated Fuji X100s. I hesitated to go for the Zuiko 17mm f/1.8 but was really curious about the Fuji.

I had the opportunity to make my first trial during a business trip to HongKong.

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Additional pics of China.

This Camera is a real joy to use. The ergonomic is as simple as you would expect from a camera and the look is damn sexy. Many things have been said on this camera, so I won’t go into more details. Anyway I can’t stop thinking that the Fuji would have been perfect with the OM-D Firmware and AF!

For the moment I plan to keep both the OM-D (with lenses eq. 28mm, 50mm, 90mm) and the X100s (eq. 35mm). Both look really “complementary” to me :)

I hope you’ll keep on writing on all those new mirrorless camera to come … this year looks quite promising!

Best Regards,

Vianney

 

Jun 102013
 

Dear Steve,

A few times ago I sent you a small post telling you that I was waiting to replace my old X100 by the new S. I got one mid-April from a friend who went to Japan for business trip since it was totally impossible to find in Beijing at that time.

I’ve been fooling around with it since and what I can tell is that I highly confirm all reviews / comments I’ve read on the net. The camera, in its price range, is really the best available on the market right now! Fuji has fixed all main quirks from the previous generation and I totally agree with you that the S stands for Speedy. For the rest of improvements, X-Trans sensor and so on… I’m not going to say anything since there are plenty of reviews out there and all I’ve read to make my final decision to upgrade was true.

For me, the main issue on the X100 was the AF. Fuji knew it, worked on it and came back with real improvements. It is now faster, more accurate and able focus in the dark (but be careful it is still not perfect and can hunt in some situations). What I can say is that I’m now CONFIDENT into it and for the event which was coming, AF was THE go no go for my choice because… my baby girl was on her way and she is born 10 days ago!!!

If the AF was not there I would never ever have purchase the cam’. Why? I was able to calm down with the X100 for my personal shots but I knew deep down that missing my baby’s first moment would have driven me crazy. I can guaranty that this time I had no any issue due to this, the X100s just simply does the job. I you are still hesitating to upgrade or to get one, don’t! It’s a masterpiece of camera and really worth its price.

This time Fuji really did great job, the feel, the size, the sensor, in camera jpegs, the AF, the OVF/EVF, external controls & ergonomic… everything is there, works well, no more struggle, this camera is vanishing in favor of photography! I enjoyed so much having it with me to capture all these memories, quietly and discretely.

Plus, to my personal taste, I love the film simulation Fuji is giving us combined to the OOC jpegs quality. I’ve recently felt in love with the PRO Neg. Std/Hi film’s simulation for portrait, especially for my baby girl’s, skin tones rendering is as smooth as her skin… Love it~

Now no more talk, just let me introduce you the little Jeanne (悠然).

For the first picture, I took it on my way to the hospital, impossible to find a taxi at that time so I used the old school Chinese tricycle (the custom electrical version), going as fast as we could, in the small streets near by the forbidden city, to reach the hospital.

Enjoy Steve and thanks again for your great website!

Renaud Perez.

(All pictures are OCC jpegs, using film simulations PRO Neg. Std or Hi, NR set to -1, Sharp +1, Auto ISO to 3200 with min shutter speed 1/60 – no post processing right now, no time for this, but I keep the RAW ;-).

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Join the Forum discussion on this post

Apr 152013
 

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Easter in Sicily with the New Fuji’s

By Colin Steel

(From Steve: Enjoy this superb article and photography from Colin Steel. Colin once again proves it is not about the gear at all..but about skill and vision. Thanks Colin! BTW, if anyone out there wants me to feature their own article or guest post or user report, send me an e-mail HERE. Thanks!)

Hey folks, I am just freshly returned from my two-week trip to Sicily where I photographed the Easter festivals and celebrations. For the Sicilians this as an extremely important and often very emotional event for them and it culminated in following and shooting the highly charged 24 hour procession of twenty-four alters through the regional town of Trapani. Just to add a little fun for me I managed to purchase the new Fujis (X20 and X100s A really useful review by Steve Huff) specially for the trip and I will share my thoughts on them for this type of event based documentary photography. As anyone who has read my posts before will know, what I wont do is dwell on the image quality and technical aspects of the cameras as I find that most cameras nowadays can produce acceptable technical quality results and, given that all of the shots had some post processing in SilverEffexPro, the differences become largely redundant for my purposes. What ‘image quality’ means to me is how effectively can I create interesting photographs with these tools ? Not what do the files look like at 100% enlargement of stamps, bottles or walls. For that reason I wont even say which shots were taken with which camera (mainly because I can’t remember and can’t be bothered re-checking each one :)

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Before I go into some background on the shooting and make some observations about the cameras, I think it would be good to mention something important that emerged in my approach to some of the photographs. Never having been to Sicily before or having previously attended an event of this nature, I was taken by the iconic imagery of the paintings and statues within the churches and halls that I was shooting in and I tried my best to imitate that look whenever it was appropriate. I did that by watching for the right light and compositions where I could remove background distractions and create a ‘painterly’ appearance to the photographs. I also used the Tri-X film simulation in silverefexpro2 to add to the feel of the images (more on the editing and PP later)

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Background

I have been very lucky to meet many fantastic people on my travels and a few of them have become very good friends despite being from extremely diverse locations such as Costa Rica, Chicago and Geneva. As we share a joint passion for photography and travel we decided to try to meet up this year at a location that none of us have visited before. Also, having previously enjoyed attending workshops hosted by knowledgeable photographers whose work we admired, we decided to combine both and attend an Ernesto Bazan workshop in his home country of Sicily. This turned out to be an inspired decision and I will talk about the workshop experience later as I am beginning to think that, when wisely chosen, these are the best single photography learning and educational investments you can make to improve your skills and style.

The context for Ernesto’s Sicily workshop was to locate everyone in a gorgeous traditional villa by the seaside and near to the town of Marsala as a base and then make the short trips to shoot the various processions and festivities that took place over the Easter week. I think its fair to say that Ernesto’s approach is to encourage the search for emotional and poetic inspiration and as we all know, that is not so easy at the best of times and even more difficult when you are shooting in throngs of people with myriad distractions and ‘shot-killing’ elements. To this end he set a very high standard for everyone and immersed himself with us in trying to interpret the events as we individually and uniquely saw them.

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As I said earlier, my own main focus was to try to use the light as best I could to create the iconic, painting look that I had observed in the many churches we visited. Additionally, it appeared to me that there was somewhat of a ‘dark’ and mysterious side to Sicily that I also wanted to try to incorporate without becoming cliched. Given this approach that emerged as to my interpretation of sicily and these festivals, how did the equipment I used help or hinder in achieving the results that I was looking for?

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The Cameras (X20 & X100s)

Firstly, as readers of previous articles will know, I have been shooting in a square 1:1 crop and in Black and White for some time now. I am at a loss to explain the square crop other than that I like the tightness and symmetry of the results I get. Although it could be argued that it is more suited to portraits and still life, for me (and many more superior photographers than me like Vivian Maier, Diane Arbus and any of the TLR users) it is not difficult to adapt to documentary style photography although you do lose the undoubted advantage of the 3:2 narrative style. Anyway, I have settled on this format in the meantime and now find it extremely difficult to frame outside of that and this is one of the major benefits of these cameras and in particular the delightful X100s, let me try to explain. The X100s has a marvelous optical viewfinder that frames like a rangefinder and when 1:1 crop is selected the frame lines adapt to a centered square with lots of space around the lines so that you can tighten your composition just like in a Leica or other rangefinder. I appreciate that the vast majority of people shoot 3:2 and the frame-lines are nearly as good in that format and are reasonably accurate. Additionally, the X100s now has an extraordinarily good manual focusing system that is deadly accurate. At first when I read about this feature I thought it was a bit gimmicky but believe me, this is the real deal. If, like me, you like to shoot with a lot of depth of field whenever possible, this manual focusing system is fantastic and lends itself very well to zone focusing at set distances. If you have ever used a split screen to focus (as in old film slr’s) this is based on a similar principle with the added benefit of enlargement to aid and also a ‘focus peaking’ type shimmer on the focused area. I used this a lot and found the best way was to aim and press the AF button which is very conveniently located and then fine tune if needed via the light focusing ring on the lens. For my purposes I find this much simpler, easier and quicker than trying to change AF points and I found that I could get very nice tight results even in very low light.

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Having praised the manual focus which I used a lot, the auto focus on the X100s is also vastly improved as well although, despite Fuji’s claims and what I have read, I personally did not find it to be as fast as the Olympus OMD or Nikon V1, but it is more than adequate. On that subject, I still don’t find this camera to be a speed merchant in any area however, I did find that for the type of shooting I do it worked an absolute treat and I was extremely happy with it’s all round performance. I wont bore everyone by re-iterating the key selling points of the Fuji X range but suffice to say that this is one extremely well made camera with exactly the type of manual controls that photographers who concern themselves with the final image rather than playing about with endless mode settings and menu trickiness will value. The ability to have a clear optical viewfinder with superb frame-lines, just the right minimal amount of shooting information required to make a shot and the ability to use the nicely weighted exposure compensation dial with your thumb when you know the meter is going to make a mistake, is all that I can ask from a camera so well done Fuji, this is a classic. Of all of the camera manufacturers these are the guys that are really homing in on what real photographers want and need.

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Just to round out on the X100s, like its older variant the X100 the lens is fast and sharp and the silky aperture ring around the lens is a joy to use. For what its worth my preferred set up for the camera is to use the square format, aperture priority, optical viewfinder, B&W film mode with yellow filter and manual focus. As I mentioned earlier, this gives me complete manual control of all of the critical photo making aspects of the camera as a creative tool and it all becomes extremely intuitive and very fast to use. The only other point worth mentioning is that I shoot RAW plus Fine JPG and this gives me the margin for error with the crop in the 3:2 RAW file if I need it (which isn’t often thankfully) I hope you begin to get a sense of how much I enjoyed this camera and the pleasure I got from its ability to get out-of-the-way when I was looking for interesting light, form and content to shoot.

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The Fuji X20 is a very different but complimentary camera to the X100 (and nearly any other camera I can think of) for a few very key reasons. Like my much-loved X10 before it, it is stunningly well made and is essentially manual in control of the key creative photographic functions. As you will all probably be aware, Fuji have updated the sensor and processing engine and critically added shooting and focus information to the optical viewfinder. This transforms the camera into a superb, compact shooting tool and I found it even faster than the X100s in practical shooting use as it seemed to me to focus more quickly. Although I very much liked the viewfinder improvements I still found myself shooting more with the rear screen on this camera to compose and this allowed me to shoot from higher or lower angles when I needed to.

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When the action was getting faster at the end of the parades, I found myself using the two cameras in tandem by using the X20 when I had to do something fast and reactively and the X100s when I had more room and time to compose. I also sometimes used the X20 at 50mm equivalent on the odd occasion when I couldn’t get as close as I needed for the X100s’ 35mm equivalent. Did I need two cameras to do this? Of course not but I did find that the similarity in controls, function and results meshed very nicely to the extent that I can unreservedly recommend these as a delightful and highly usable pairing for anyone in a similar shooting situation.

I don’t want to go over all of the aspects of this camera that I liked again as they are identical to the ones I mentioned in the previous X10 article but the manual switch on and zoom which I can now guide to 35mm or 50mm by touch is exceptional and the exposure compensation dial which is similarly placed and functional to the X100s completes the control package. Because of the family similarity of controls and menus these cameras make using them together a very simple and attractive proposition. On that compatibility advantage, because I was unsure of how the lighting conditions would play out, I took along the wonderful Fuji EF-X20 flash unit which is a beautifully built but tiny marvel that works equally well on either camera. I did use it very sparingly but once or twice it got me shots that would have been impossible to light otherwise.

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I know this will get me in deep trouble with the strobist community but I am personally very fond of the flat, shadowy, frontal look of camera mounted flash and that is exactly where I used this little marvel as it added so little size or weight to the camera. I kind of like the almost grotesque, paparazzi look that can be achieved with it. If anyone is interested in how this style can work as show by a master creative photographer, have a look at Jacob Aue Sobol’s work with the Leica MM where for almost every shot he took he used on camera flash. I had the very good fortune to meet Jacob in Singapore and he explained to me that he had a very unique, high contrast processing style for film which up until that point he had used exclusively and to get similar contrasty results with digital he had to use the on camera flash.

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I think by now you can all tell how pleased I was with the Fuji cameras and the ultimate functionality and simplicity of using them to make photographs. To finish off on the X20 my preferred set up is again RAW plus fine JPG in square crop (the square crop does not show in the X20 viewfinder but it’s not difficult to judge) B&W film mode with yellow filter and aperture priority.

Post Processing

Every shot shown here was processed in a similar fashion and here it is: Although I set up for fine JPG in B&W I tend to use that more for review to make sure I am getting the look I want and the actual PP images are taken from the RAW files. The process I used is ultra simple as I hate spending time on the computer. As the RAW files are presented in square in Lightroom, unless I need to change the crop slightly (and that is unusual thankfully) they go straight into silverefexpro2 where I normally apply the Tri-X film look filter and occasionally selectively darken or lighten a distracting area with the simple to use control points. I generally then add a little vignette using the lightest option unless something a bit more severe is required for the mood and that’s it. If it takes more than a few minutes something is very wrong and I usually give up on the shot at that point. Despite never having shot film, I have become a huge fan of the Tri-X 400 look and the contrast and grain is gorgeous. In one or two of the low light shots here this has become pronounced and I love it as it creates exactly the look and mood that I am after. It never fails to astonish me how simple the modern processing tools have made it to achieve this look and this is the reason why I think conversations about the sensor quality and output in modern cameras are pretty irrelevant. To my mind the files output by both of these cameras are very robust and they seem to adapt to the Tri-X look beautifully. I would imagine that if you are a fine art or salon type photographer the X100s could be a dream for you with its sexy smooth looking images.

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Photography Workshops

This has been the longest post I have written in a very long time as I completely lost enthusiasm and felt that I had run dry on photography as a subject. I feel the need to change topic here or I will talk to much about equipment rather than the creative photographic art and that is exactly why I lost enthusiasm in the first place !! :) A couple of events changed my life in many ways last year and they were both photography workshops with people who I consider to be at the absolute top of the game for the type of photography I like and it has now happened again this year and I consider it critical to share this with anyone who is reading this that has the drive and passion to try to improve their photography to both better understand humanity and express their uniqueness in their own style. As regular readers will know, I love travel and out of that developed a love of photography however I began to feel that the type of travel photography I was doing (even though it was commercially successful) was very unsatisfying and clearly not expressing any of my personality or thoughts on the world. I still wanted to travel to unique places but also wanted to learn from photographers who to me were credible and whose work I admired. With this in mind I travelled to Sicily, where these photographs were taken, to a workshop with Ernesto Bazan having researched his work and found myself admiring his work on Cuba very much. This turned out to be a completely inspired decision and the environment that Ernesto created and his out-and-out humanity, openness and passion made this a truly life enriching experience. I know some of you may think I am getting carried away here but it’s very true and I think any of the 10 other students would say the same. I am beginning to form an opinion that if you are open to it these type of workshops somehow give you better insight into yourself both from a human and personality perspective and from this comes moments of insight into the gorgeous diversity of this world and the endless visual richness that light reveals to us. Personally, I feel that it is this combination of personal insight and increased sensitivity to visual possibility that transcends technical competence and conventional structure to allow you to be more creative and to express yourself in your own way, this is what Ernesto enabled for me.

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In conclusion then, if you are thinking of a photography workshop I would advise going through the following simple thought process before you make your choice; firstly, select a location or event that interests you a lot, this is more important than you may think, secondly, look at which photographers run workshops there (I will add links of my favorites at the end), thirdly extensively research their work, it is vitally important that you admire their work greatly. I think if you follow these simple steps you will find the workshop to be the single best investment that you can make to improve your photography. Forget about new equipment, on-line training and college classes as a properly chosen, minimum 7 day workshop with a real creative artist will reward you with greater satisfaction and development than all of these put together.

If anyone is interested, I have a simple way of funding my passion to learn and develop (and to buy the equipment that I am addicted to….) and that is that I simply stick $50 every time I think on it in my Starbuck mugs that I have collected from the cities I have visited. I am continually amazed at how this accumulates and finances my photography :)

I am sorry if this has been a bit too much of a ramble for any of you but there was a lot in my head that I wanted to get out and writing doesn’t come easily to me so apologies for any grammar, spelling and structural errors :) I do hope that you have found at least something of interest in here and even more hopefully, something that helps you to enjoy photography more.

the links:

Ernesto Bazan

Peter Turnley

Nikos Economopoulos

Best Wishes,

Colin

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