WOMAD: Rain, Sun, Rain & 50-140

As mentioned in my last post, I spent the weekend at WOMAD where it tipped down for one day, was sunny the next and finished with more rain on the third. I was covering it with my Fuji kit plus a borrowed 50-140/2.8 and in these conditions they got a thorough workout!

First up, apologies for mixing monochrome and colour images in the same post – it’s something I hate but they do all demonstrate points.

The thing about festivals is they really do feature a very wide range of photography; from covering artists on stage, to posed portraits out and about along with unposed “atmosphere” portraits and general views. Add to this mix the weather and the weekend was a real test: for both the kit and myself!

Unpacking kit on my desk. The most important item for Friday was the chamois cloth!

Unpacking kit on my desk. The most important item for Friday was the chamois cloth!

One of the great things about switching to the Fuji system is I can totally fit my “out and about” kit on my Think tank belt. I use 2 “Skin Body Bags” filled with an 2 X-T1’s with the 56mm on one and the 55-200 on the other. Additionally I carry the 35mm in the pouch and the 14mm attached to a x-1Pro. For the weekend I replaced the 55-200 with the 50-140. Unzipping the pouches to their full length enables the camera and lens to sit inside perfectly with the hood fitted, ready to shoot but with the flap closed and fully sheltered from the heavy rain.

Rain is always worrying, we (press photographers) have no choice of the weather conditions we work in, we can’t wait for perfect conditions (& in many cases – the conditions are an important part of the story). Like many others I have had cameras get too wet, refuse to work, flash systems blow up, buttons and dials refuse to work so it’s always a worry when the conditions are as they were.

Waiting in the rain. X-T1, 50-140mm.

I’m pleased to say, the cameras did not miss a beat. Seriously, not a hitch. I was obviously careful, as I would be with any kit, making sure they were covered as much as possible, leathered down as much as possible when under cover but when out in the rain, they got wet, they got very wet but carried on working, focusing and enabling me to get shots such as this. I can’t say I like working in the rain but it can produce wonderfully atmospheric images.

Saturday was the opposite, lovely sun and clouds. The morning consisted of the usual walking around, capturing the atmosphere before heading to the stages in the early afternoon.

Ester Rada on the main stage. X-T1, 56mm @ 1/17000/F1.2!

Ester Rada was very photogenic but did not venture too far from the mic stand. Having the job in the bag in the 1st song (on the long) I thought I would break out the 56 and see if F1.2 would isolate her from the mic stand. With my cameras permanently set to MS+ES mode, opening the lens wide just means they switch to the electronic shutter and use what can only be described as daft shutter speeds. The fact is that the distance produced too great a depth of field even at F1.2 but the mic is (just) out of focus and she is sharp! A side effect is that the ES  produced an effect on the electronic backdrop, one that I quite like and which adds to the picture I think.

As the evening arrived the light was fantastic and just screamed “atmosphere” so a colleague and I headed out to chase the light.

Climbing Trees. Manual Focus 56mm @ F1.2

I wanted to isolate this boy climbing in the trees. It was tricky and the AF system could just not get a lock on his face. I switched to manual and as I twisted the focus the EVF automatically zoomed in (I did not know I had that set up – I just thought it would focus-peek) that with the peeking enabled me to isolate him very quickly.

Picking other images from this walk-around is just so difficult. The light was glorious and we both had a whale of a time picking the locations and shots, shooting into and across the sun… A couple of my favs (one mono, one colour).

Chair-O-Planes. So much in this image, the detail, the expressions, the light! X-T, 56mm.

The 56mm again. It handles shooting into the light quite well. X-T1, 56mm @ 1.8 & 1/22000

Sunday and it was back to the rain!

Wet! X-T1, 50-140 @ 140mm/F2.8

I’ve not really mentioned the 50-140. Basically it was faultless. The first thing I did was remove the tripod mount and I have to say it was still a bit front heavy on an X-T1, something I think will be countered by adding the battery grip to the body. The zoom ring is really smooth and overall it just worked (which is all you can wish for), the AF was fast and as you can see above, the image quality is great with lovely rendering of out of focus areas.

Tashi Lhunpo Monks. X-T1, 50-140 @134mm, F16 & 1/30th OS.

With the monks I wanted to capture their stillness whist adding the movement of the drums. Shooting from the side I engaged the OS and dropped the shutter to 1/30th. The monks are perfectly sharp whilst the drums are blurred. Exactly what I wanted and I’m very impressed with the OS.

Overall, I was vey happy with the performance of the cameras and especially the 50-140. As always happens, I did get one or two comments from other photographers about the fact that I have switched to using only these cameras but when they saw the results… well, the results speak for themselves.

More soon…

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Starting at the beginning: Journey to Fuji (s)

Maybe the best place to start this new blog is at the beginning. Why did I start using Fuji’s and what has led me to this point.

I’m not going to try to explain why these cameras are able to produce such high quality images from what seems comparatively small bodies and lenses, if you want to know that, read this interview with Optical Device & Electronic Imaging Products Manager Takashi Ueno. This is just a potted history of how I came to switch from DSLR’s to Fuji mirrorless cameras.

My journey started in November 2011 and the original X100.

The earliest ‘commercial’ image in my library taken on the X100  – A sing-a-long of Grease at the Prince Charles Cinema in London

The first big step with it was a trip I made to Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo 2 months later in January 2012. It was a trip to document some of the work by CARE International in the region and I traveled with DSLR’s as well as the X100. Of the 496 images I came back with, 83 were from the X100. Considering how long I had owned it and how “raw” the camera was, the quality and type of images I came back with from it was a revelation.

X100. 23/01/2012: 2 children hold each other on a street corner in Goma, DRC. In 2002 a volcanic eruption destroyed approximatly 30%% of the city. Many buildings and roads are built upon the lava flow.

This trip led to me giving a talk in Brighton later in the year where I was introduced to the X-1Pro. I could see it fitting in but could not really see what it would offer me over the X100 at that time. After all I could not really see either camera being anything other than a lovely tool for personal work, occasional ‘stock’ and maybe adding some value to client commissions as an ‘Alternative view’. I finally succumbed a year later, in Sept 2013 I purchased an X-1Pro along with the 35/1.4 and 18-55/2.8-4.

I shot my first gig on it in the October. Katie Melua plays The Roundhouse on 02/10/2013.

I continued with these 2 Fuji cameras supplementing the work I carried on on my Nikons. In the summer of 2014 I took a look at the X-T1. It was clear from the first time I handled it that it was not a replacement for the DSLR’s – It was not fast enough, but it was faster then the X100 & X-1Pro and it handled more like an SLR. Hmmm.

In 2014 I covered 6 main music festivals and the last one was planned to be Festival No.6 at Portmerion, a place I know and love. This festival is quite laid back and I had agreed that our cover of it would be more quirky, more laid back, more documentary style. Hmmm.

I managed to lay my hands on an X-T1 along with a wide range of lenses from 14mm to the 55-200. I did pack a Nikon but left it in the car knowing it was there if all failed, planning to cover the festival with only the 3 Fujis. You can read about my weekend here and see the a sample of the work.

X-1Pro, 3200ISO, 14mm.28. Drumming Corp SPARK! perform amongst the crowd .

Basically I was hooked. No it was still not fast enough, there was the flash issue (a later blog), focusing was not the best, but the colours and the quality of the files. “That was one of the best sets of images this year” (from one of my Picture Desk editors).  It took 3-4 months to convince myself that the X-T1 was a viable proposition and at the beginning of this year I purchased one along with the lenses I used most at No. 6: The 14/2.8, 56/1.2 & 55-200.

Roll on to June this year and the update to the X-T1 known as Firmware 4.0. With this firmware the focusing became ‘almost’ as responsive as my DSLR’s. Yes there are knacks and yes it needs practice as well as carefully setting up but this was the nail in the coffin for my DSLR’s. By switching I could carry more options (lenses and lights) due to the size and weight, I could fit the kit easily in my scooter, built in WiFi enabled fast social media posting and sending for the clients to whom this was important! Yep it was time to change and a second X-T1 was purchased.

Thats the history lesson and us up to date.

This weekend it’s WOMAD and I have managed to lay my hands on a 50-140 (80-200 equivalent) to test (I always test new kit on a job before buying). More to follow….

Why??

Not another site or blog on Fuji X-Cameras? Surely the world has enough of them?

Maybe yes, maybe not.

Many of the existing blogs that feature how-to’s of these cameras are by Wedding Photographers or “Street” shooters. I’m neither of these, I’m a press photographer; a genre where we are often led to believe only DSLR’s can do the job, well to be honest, I’m fed up with carrying two (very) heavy SLR’s along with the associated big “glass”. I’m also fed up with paying the  prices dictated by Nikon & Canon for there designated “Pro” cameras.

My main business website contains a blog of my work but I wanted to keep this separate. That site is really for my clients and prospective clients to learn about me, how and why I shoot and what I produce. This is purely a technical blog for photographers and I do not think the 2 can be mixed.

Arcadia at Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm on 27/06/2015 at Worthy Farm, Glastonbury. A couple stand back, arm in arm and watch Arcadia at dusk.

I’ve owned Fuji’s for a few years now, starting with the original X100 (which I still carry around in jpg only, mono mode) but it’s only with the latest firmware (Version 4.0) for the X-T1 that I have decided these cameras are (almost) up to the job and I am going to switch. I say “almost” because there will be problems and issues; The focusing may be sorted but the flash system certainly isn’t and so this blog will detail my findings, musings and settings.

What is without doubt though it the image quality these cameras offer. If that had ever been in doubt there is no way I would have come to the decision I have. Image quality has always and will always be paramount. By designing a new system from the ground up Fuji have managed to get phenomenal image quality out of these smaller bodies, lenses and sensors, something that the other manufacturers have not been able to do, mainly because they were not willing to walk away from their old lens mounts and systems (and existing customers would not let them).

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama at Glastonbury Festival at Worthy Farm on 28/06/2015

I’ll try to keep this a place of serenity but I’m sure there will be times that it is not.

In my next entry I will try to explain why these units produce images comparable to the Full Frame DSLR’s I am leaving behind.