National Railway Museum

Back in May I visited the National Railway Museum in York, this is a wonderful place to visit, if like me, you’re interested in things like the industrial revolution, engineering in general or of course railway history. I took my X-T1 with me together with the XF35 f1.4, Xf56 f1.2 and XF18-55 f2.8-4 but I enjoyed using the 35mm so much I somehow completely forgot to use either of the other two lenses!
The National Railway Museum

I shot everything in jpeg fine only as I didn’t want to do any editing at all – I find I shoot this way more and more these days, it’s so liberating and something I could never do with my Canon DSLRs. Wherever I went and whatever I was shooting I always shot in RAW only and would then spend hours editing and developing which took all the fun out of what I was trying to achieve.

The National Railway Museum

I was also pretty much limited to ISO800 and below, rarely going any higher in an effort to keep images clean. The above shot was at ISO1600 and even though the conditions were very dark and dingy the areas in focus are crisp and clear. I’m no longer ‘afraid’ to bump the ISO up, ISO3200 is perfectly useable.
The National Railway Museum

I shot this detail of a coupling at ISO800 at f2 and was very pleased with the rendition and detail.

The National Railway Museum

I’m a sucker for beautiful engineering and the copper work here was simply outstanding. The skill and craftsmanship that went into this!
The National Railway Museum

I really loved the way the light filtered down through the roof onto these people, taking the weight off for five minutes.

The National Railway Museum

This area is what the museum simply calls “The Warehouse” and is stuffed with amazing things. I could spend many hours in there marvelling at the many thousands of items, including a working scale model of a Deltic engine:
The National Railway Museum

finally here is another high ISO shot on the footplate of a beautiful old loco

The National Railway Museum

You can see the rest of my images from the day here

National Railway Museum

Dandelions!

Manchester is known for it’s beautifully sunny days…no scrap that.  Manchester is definitely NOT known for sunny days.  It’s quite rare to get a dry day, let alone a sunny one! That said, we’ve recently had a record of three sunny days on the trot and so I was positively itching to take a camera out somewhere.  I haven’t had much opportunity though and rather than waste the nice weather I ended up experimenting in my back yard with my Fujifilm X-E1, Fujinon XF 35mm f1.4 lens and the excellent Raynox M250.  There isn’t a great deal going on in my backyard and so I took some shots of the many dandelions that thrive there.
Dandelions In case you haven’t heard of the Raynox, it’s a close up lens which fits into a special holder that then clips onto the front of your camera lens, a bit like the more traditional close up filters except the image quality does not suffer anywhere near as much, in fact I’ve never noticed a significant drop in image quality when using my Raynox. The only thing I would say is the adaptor that clips to your camera lens, whilst being quite versatile, is a bit clunky. In the long run I may have to find a step ring so I can screw the ‘filter’ directly onto the lens. The above image was shot in Velvia film simulation, and was deliberately under exposed, because of the very bright sun light I wanted to make sure I captured maximum colour saturation and also kept contrast, whilst also removing distractions from the frame by having the majority fall into darkness. This isolates the flower well, and you can just see the rim of the pot the weed is growing in, which creates a nice curve in the frame without causing too much of a distraction. The Raynox allows for autofocus but obviously because I was shooting so closely the depth of field was extremely narrow. This meant that keeping still long enough to take a sharp shot was quite difficult. I mitigated this to a point by stopping down my lens to between f11 and f16, and also keeping the shutterspeed as fast as possible. This was only possible really because it was such a bright sunny day. If it wasn’t I would have probably had to use flash. I will experiment with this alternative approach at a later date. One thing that always puzzles me is that you don’t often see monochrome macro shots. I love shooting close up in black and white. Dandelions
This shot was taken in a similar manner to the colour shot but this time I framed the image from the side, and narrowed the depth of field slightly. I used the B&W+Red film simulation (my favourite!) and kept the exposure more or less at about -1/3rd EV just to keep the details from blowing out in the strong sunshine.  I used spot metering, and set my exposure manually to keep things consistent.  I also used the viewfinder, shielding my eye with my free hand rather than try to quint at the rear screen.

Both these shots are Jpegs straight from the camera.

Dandelions!

Old School

It’s been a while since I posted anything, mainly because I haven’t had a lot to say or show for the last few weeks and I am not the sort of person who likes to make unnecessary posts about nothing in particular, at least not intentionally.  Anyway, today I’d like to talk a little bit about something I believe we’re in danger of losing, in this modern digital age.

The thing is, as digital technology advances and camera manufacturers endlessly release their latest models, we seem to be on a never ending quest for more – more megapixels, more sharpness, more image quality, more auto focus points, more more more.  We have forgotten to a large degree a few other aspects of photography that are just as important to the medium as those aforementioned things.  Things like story telling, emotion, feeling. The intangible things that can make a photograph appealing to a viewer.  Of course, for both professionals and amateurs alike ‘image quality’ is important but it is important not to get too hooked up on that thing alone otherwise your images will never live up to your expectations and your wallet will always be empty and you will always be lusting after that new bit of kit.  Just remember though, great cameras don’t make great photographs, great photographers do.

Dandelion

Dandelion

I had a look through an old folder of digital RAW files I had sitting in Lightroom tonight that I hadn’t really done anything with. Glancing through I suddenly remembered I had recently downloaded the excellent Nik Software plugin software and decided to have a play with some of the images. The files were all taken with my Canon 5Dmk2 and either a Carl Zeiss Jena 35mm f2.4 or the excellent Helios 44M-4 58mm f2, which are both old M42 mount lenses.

Autumn Leaf
Autumn Leaf

I suppose the reason I hadn’t done anything with the RAW files was they didn’t really do a lot for me. I may have been a little disappointed with the focus or image quality at the time but when I ran a few of the files through the Nik plugins I think I’ve found something else instead. Whereas these pictures are not of note technically I am nevertheless very pleased with them now. I have used various ‘recipes’ which are a little like Lightroom presets (only a lot better) and was looking for a vintage or classic look for each so as to emulate images from yesteryear, which is, for the most part, what Nik Software is all about.

Frozen Lake
Frozen Lake
Frozen Leaves
Frozen Leaves
Frozen
Ice Patterns

My favourite of the set is the following, for the tones and colours mostly but I also like the way the ‘recipe’ has brought focus to the subject which was lacking in the original file:

Fungus
Tree Fungus

I also love the tones and colours in this image, despite the grain:

Greens and Browns
Greens and Browns

As modern digital photographers we so often fret about “high ISO performance’ and I think this image perfectly illustrates how we should not worry so much, at least all of the time, over such matters. This next image is peculiar. The angle is way off, I straightened it and tried a similar shot that was level and neither had the impact this imperfect shot has

Light through Fountain
Light through Fountain
Spring Blossom
Blossom

I don’t normally like presets/filters. They often give an over processed look, and yes I guess these images have the same thing but I think in a much more pleasing way. What is most important is that previously unloved images have now got some life and I’m happy to share them.

Nik software is now free of charge and I urge you to download a copy and give it a go if you haven’t already.

 

 

Old School

A Few ‘Super-Macro’ Shots with the X10

Earlier today I had a little impromptu macro session using just the Fujifilm X10 set to ‘Super Macro’, which allows you to focus as close as 1 cm away from the subject.  These shots a simple things found in the back yard and kitchen only shot in available light, nothing complicated.  All images were shot as Jpeg only and I played about with them a little using Apple Photo.  I wasn’t concerned with editing Jpegs as all it is is a little fun.  No printing or pixel peeping was intended and I wasn’t worried about image quality, so I am more than happy with the results.

Fujifilm X10 Macro

This first shot is actually a close up of a cheap bottle of mineral water, the beads and droplets are on the inside of the bottle. Shot in B&W+R, cropped to 1:1 and a blue tint added.  If I use my imagination I can see all sorts of wonderful things in this picture, what looks a little like a sharks eye bottom right, a large cloudy planet with a moon orbiting it at the bottom… Photography doesn’t always have to be ‘off’ something, sometimes it’s good to get abstract and use your imagination. (By the way it’s alright if you don’t ‘see’ what I see in the above picture!)

Fujifilm X10 Macro

Here we have air bubbles suspended in hand sanitiser. I used the window light coming through the bottle and shot in B&W+R. Slightly more contrast added in post.

Fujifilm X10 Macro

Delicate moss growing on top of a wall.

Fujifilm X10 Macro

This little guy is growing out of the garden wall.

Fujifilm X10 Macro

And here it is in Velvia.

Fujifilm X10 Macro

Another “weed” growing out of the wall, shot in Velvia. I love the depth of the blacks the Fuji can produce! I haven’t altered any exposure values in any of these images at all, this is what you can get if you’re creative and think ‘outside the box’, the ambient light was very dull and grey (this is Manchester after all!) but in close you can really get dramatic light and because the Fuji screen will accurately reflect how the end picture will look it’s really easy to get the exposure you want.

 

A Few ‘Super-Macro’ Shots with the X10

Alkrington Nature Reserve

Alkrington Nature Reserve with Fujifilm X10
Alkrington Nature Reserve – Fish Pond

Earlier today I had to pop out earlier than usual, and for some reason I picked up my little Fuji X10.  It’s been sitting on my desk recently but not really doing a lot.  I kept grabbing it and trying out little experiments and what not but other than that it’s been pretty much neglected.  I was only taking the puppy to the vets for microchipping, and then picking up my daughter from school, and so I had no reason to believe I’d end up taking any pictures yet I had a strange feeling I should take it with me.  As it happened we had about an hour spare before end of school and so we popped into the local nature reserve for a quick walk around one of the lakes there.

Alkrington Nature Reserve with Fujifilm X10
Mossy Stump

Unfortunately I didn’t pick up any of my spare batteries and so I couldn’t take many pictures.  All the Fujifilm X series cameras seem to eat through batteries and it’s always advisable to have some spare with you but on this occasion I didn’t and so I knew I would be limited in what I could achieve.  That didn’t matter much though as I only had about an hour spare anyhow.

The weather was quite bleak, an icy cold wind blew across the water and through the bare trees and so I didn’t much feel like hanging around any one place for very long so I just snapped away, not really taking too much time to compose or think too hard about the images I was making.  I like to use my X10 a bit like an old film camera – I always shoot in Jpeg only with this camera for instance, the idea being I want to be free of having to edit endless RAW files and just enjoy the experience.  I like to see where the camera will take me in terms of composition, feel and tone.  I switch the film simulations quite a bit and so that’s what I set to the function button.  My favourites are the B&W+R, B&W+G and the Astia simulations.  I’m not often keen on the Velvia simulation but it does sometimes come out well and so I use that when the emphasis of a picture will be colour.

Alkrington Nature Reserve with Fujifilm X10
Fungus on Tree

Today though, for the most part I was happiest using B&W+G, even when I spotted the above fungus and went in for a closer look.  It’s a not so pretty brown colour but in monochrome I really loved the tones, especially where the light shines though it in the close up:

Alkrington Nature Reserve with Fujifilm X10
Fungus – Close Up

The super-macro facility of the little X10 is great for impromptu close ups when out and about.  Being able to focus so closely without having to bother with expensive macro lenses, tripods and the like is really nice. By the way if anyone knows what species this is please let me know!

A bit further around the path I spotted some mosses growing on the side of a tree in little round clumps and so I decided to have a closer look at these too.

Alkrington Nature Reserve with Fujifilm X10
Moss Clumps

I also tried a monochrome close up again

Alkrington Nature Reserve with Fujifilm X10
Moss Clumps in Black & White

And another mossy close up

Alkrington Nature Reserve with Fujifilm X10
Mossy Close Up

And finally I was struck by how the sky was reflecting on the water in an almost painterly way

Alkrington Nature Reserve with Fujifilm X10
Sky, Reflected

I guess the moral of the story is it is always worth having some sort of camera with you. The little X10 got a lot of bad press when it first came out a few years ago, anyone remember ‘Orb-Gate’? My X10 is a very early release, before the fix was offered by Fuji and I never sent it away. I sometimes get the white blobs but I don’t let that bother me. The camera is purely for my own enjoyment and isn’t one I’d use for photoshoots generally so it isn’t really an issue for me. These days they’re incredibly cheap too, you can pick them up second hand for peanuts – I saw one recently going for £60 on a photography forum!

Finally I would like just to say. this blog isn’t just about Fujifilm cameras, I know that my posts so far have generally been about X series cameras but it won’t always be the case. I still own a Canon professional set up, at least for the forceable future and I want to write about photography in general, it’s just that my recent photography inspiration has come from, or been influenced by these great little cameras.

 

Alkrington Nature Reserve

Another ‘Why I Switched’ article

Julia on Laptop by Ste Manns on 500px.com

 

If you trawl the internet looking for information about Fujifilm X series cameras, particularly the X-Pro or X-T1, you will find dozens if not hundreds of articles from professional and amateur photographers explaining to their readers why they have ‘switched to Fuji’, some even have the highly coveted and frankly mysterious ‘Official Fujifilm X Series Photographer’ title.  How did they get that? I often wonder, did they ask for it, were they invited?  Whatever.  Fujifilm obviously has a great marketing tool in them and good on them, it works and to be quite honest the hype and ‘froth’ they help create is for the most part genuine, so far as I can see. Nothing wrong in any of that.

Much more relevant to the vast majority of photographers is the stuff written by other amateurs or professionals who don’t hold any title given to them from on high, in my opinion.  The reason being is these people who take the time (their own time) to write articles about their favourite camera brand are not being paid.  These are people who have a genuine interest in telling others all about how wonderful that camera body or lens is, in their opinion.  There isn’t anything in it for them, they won’t ever get a penny for explaining to others why they love their camera or why they switched brands.  This makes what they say important, I’d argue more important, than what the rock and roll stars on Youtube say.
So, with all that said, I decided to write my own little article about my Fujifilm X ‘switch’.  It all started for me when the little X10 came out.  I bought one very early on, and instantly fell in love with it.  At the time I wanted a small compact style camera I could keep with me most of the time for my own personal enjoyment.  It didn’t quite work out that way as it turned out, I hardly use it if I am completely honest but that isn’t the fault of the camera. I just don’t find myself in situations where I have it with me at the ready all that often. Anyway, the point is I had now been drawn towards the brand, it was my first taste of that special something Fuji put into their cameras.
Fast forward a little, and I’m shooting portraiture and weddings, and I’m using Canon 1D series cameras. If you’ve ever seen one of these things, you will know just how big they are.  They are the Sherman Tank of the camera world, and their Nikon equivalents are much the same.  You can hammer nails in with them and they won’t stop working.  Their toughness is legendary, you get the picture.  I am also using ‘L’ series lenses, which are also large and heavily built.  These are supposed to be the professional industry standard, and they are good, no doubt about that.  But heavy. And big.  My wedding kit, that’s two camera bodies, a 70-200 f2.8, a 24-70 f2.8 and a 50mm f1.4, spare batteries etc etc in a Thinktank Streetwalker HD weighed more than my six year old daughter!
Whenever I use artificial lighting for portraiture, even in the studio, I have always preferred to use Speedlites over ‘big lights’, they are convenient, flexible (you can’t hang a 600 ws flash head upside down on a clip from the ceiling) and light.  Coupled with a decent radio trigger system they allow great creativity yet don’t take up huge amounts of room and are not cumbersome so if I’m lugging kilograms worth of camera kit around on trolleys and loading the car boot up with gear to go on location, it’s a distinct advantage to be able to fling a small bag in there and be done (in terms of lighting).  Are you getting where this is going yet?
Not long after it came out I also bought myself a Fujifilm X-E1, together with the ‘kit lens’.  I’ve used this, again, purely as a personal use camera.  I was sold completely on its looks and how it beautifully blended that old camera feel and usability with fantastic digital convenience and modernity.  However I never really looked at it as something I could use on a job.  It wasn’t the image quality or that I felt it lacked anything.  A lot of reviews said at the time it came out how it was slow to focus and the electronic viewfinder was slow and ‘laggy’.  I’ve never ever felt these things would bite me on a professional shoot but yet somehow I never thought to use it in a portrait session, all the same. It was, in my mind, purely for me to take with me on trips or photowalks, a good street camera but nothing more.
More recently, I had begun to notice I wasn’t taking any camera out with me very often.  My Canon gear was way too heavy and cumbersome and it often felt a chore to have one of them hanging around my neck.  However I did find it quite liberating recently to go out with just a Canon 5Dmk2 and my 50mm f1.4 on a shoulder sling, and nothing else.  In fact it was lovely and I shot more photographs that way that I liked than I ever did when I was out with a full kit.  I began to wonder if this was the way to go in terms of professional shoots too.  I already used small compact speedlites instead of big heavy mains lights for my lit work, why not have the same approach to my camera and lenses?  Something smaller and lighter but with amazing image quality would fit right in.
This brings me back to all those ‘Official X Shooter’ videos and reviews.  I began to look at more and more of them, and in particular I was more and more interested in the X-T1.  Probably one of the most persuasive videos I saw was this one.  In fact it was quite an eye opener, as I’d never in a million years thought about using one of these cameras in this way before.  I just had to get myself one of these cameras! So, I put my Canon up for sale, and ordered an X-T1.  I found myself a couple more lenses on Ebay, a 35mm f1.4 and a 56 f1.2. Both these lenses together cost a lot less than one of my ‘L’ lenses (they would have done brand new never mind second hand!) I want to get myself a few more lenses but for now I’m happy with what I have.  I’d like a wider prime, something I can use in environmental portraiture, street photography and at weddings.  I can still use my kit lens at its widest 18mm for now though, for the price they go for it’s a simply stunningly fantastic lens.
The photograph at top is one of the first images I took with the X-T1 and 56mm lens.  It was shot wide open and at ISO 800, I shot it in RAW and edited in Photoshop CS6.  All I have done is add a very light (10% opacity) colourised radial gradient set to ‘colour’, just to enhance the already beautifully soft light coming through the window.  It took me a couple of minutes to edit and it’s already one of my favourite recent images of my little girl.
I’ve briefly mentioned before how Fujifilm X series cameras have something hard to pin down that just makes them special, and I’m afraid I still can’t put my finger on it for you, but it is there.  If you are looking to buy into the Fujifilm X series, I can’t recommend it enough, you will not be disappointed.  Apart from the obvious weight/convenience/size differences, they also have something I feel is lacking in the ‘other’ manufacturers offerings.  I can’t comment on other mirrorless systems as I haven’t used them but I have used lots of Dslrs and all of them, even the 1D’s or 5D’s, lack the soul that you get from a Fujifilm X camera. They’re just tools. They lack a feel and special quality, it is strange as both the ‘big guns’ used to have this back in the good old film days, but in the advent of digital they seem to have lost it. Fujifilm X cameras have it in spades.  In my humble opinion anyway.

 

Another ‘Why I Switched’ article

A Bee Flying

Wasp on Lavender by Ste Manns on 500px.com

Again I have been looking through old Fuji .RAF files and I came across this picture, taken a couple of years ago with my Fujifilm X-E1 together with a very old (£3!!) Helios 58mm f2 lens, using a cheap M42-X mount adaptor.  I originally over edited this image on an uncalibrated rubbish screen and had never been happy with the result.  The original shot wasn’t spectacularly  sharp to begin with considering it was a handheld shot using a manual focus lens, but it wasn’t bad.  Today I stumbled on the original RAW file and decided to have another go at editing to see if I could improve on my previous result.

Firstly, if you would like to make pictures like this, I have found the best way to do it is as follows:

  •  have as fast a shutter speed as is possible
  •  pre-focus your lens (if you are using an auto focus lens make sure you switch it to manual focus otherwise the lens will ‘hunt’ trying to find something to focus on)
  • focus by moving your body closer and further away
  • take lots of shots.  This technique is very hit and miss.

This way of working takes lots of patience and you won’t get many keepers – in fact you’ll find, if you’ve never done it before, you’ll need to practice moving in and out and holding your position when you find focus.  Don’t try to hold your breath as you’ll find you’ll never get it right.  What I do is time my shutter press to coincide with the moment I naturally pause breathing in between breathing in and out, it’s fine to try to hold that moment a split second but holding your breath fully will introduce ‘stress’ which then makes it harder to stay absolutely still.

I also find sometimes for fast moving subjects such as the bee in this case, a high speed continuous shooting can help, although in this case I shot in single shot mode and got away with it!

Back to the processing.  This time around I have only used Lightroom 5.7.  I haven’t done a lot, except brought the Blacks down slightly, added a small amount of Clarity (+20).  I gave the colour of the Lavender a very slight boost in saturation (+3) and my sharpening was as follows:

  • Sharpening : default (25)
  • Radius : default (1.0)
  • Detail : 100
  • Masking : 30

I have found these settings the most pleasing for Fuji .RAF files in general, I use other settings depending on the subject and how I want the final image to look but you won’t go far wrong with the above settings, in my opinion.

Finally, I created a virtual copy and converted it to black and white, just to see what it would look like.  I adore monochrome images and tend to try it for most of my images.  I like to have different ‘versions’ of images so I don’t have to decide on one particular look.  I also find clients like to have that choice too.

 

Wasp on Lavender by Ste Manns on 500px.com

 

 

A Bee Flying