Friday, December 19, 2014

Night photography of the Flatiron Building with the Nikon D810

I had done this shot several times before, but mostly in the summer time. I wanted to do it again in the late autumn or winter when the sunset is much earlier and the office lights in the buildings are still lit. Last night I was able to photograph between 4:30 and 5:00pm, perfect timing for the city lights.

The next part of the shot involved the streaking lights from passing vehicles, and in the 4:30-5:00pm envelope there was plenty of mid-week traffic to accomplish that.

The Flatiron Building is not lit at night, which means its details go dark very quickly after sunset. If you wait too long to photograph it, it becomes a black tombstone. There needs to be a perfect balance in capturing the detail and outline of the building and the traffic lights in the same exposure. The best shot of the building balanced with the traffic lights turned out to be a half hour after sunset.


I positioned myself on a divider in the road so I could capture the lights of passing traffic from both the left and right. Of course the traffic itself never fully cooperates, and it was necessary to combine the traffic patterns of four images to create the results I wanted.

For this image I used the Nikon D810 for its exceptionally high resolution, which will allow me to maximize the size when making prints. The lens was the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom set to 35mm and f/6.3 for a 4 second exposure. At an ISO of 64 the detail with the D810 the detail is amazing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Create your own retro camera bag

I ran across these messenger style bags on eBay and thought they could work nicely as camera bags with the right divider insert. The bags are made of canvas and leather and come in large variety of colors including Coffee, Kakhi, Black, Army Green, Brown, Blue, Gray, and several other variations.

This bag can be found on eBay here for $24.50. The bags are made in China and are sold through many different distributors. Check out some of the links that accompany the bags on eBay for variations in price, delivery time, and colors. Prices vary from $24-32 dollars so shop around.


Size WHD:  13.3" (34cm) x 10.6" (27cm) x 4.3" (11cm)





The bags are have only one side, zippered pocket inside so to make them suitable as camera bags an insert divider needs to be added. I found several of these also on eBay.

This insert can be found here for $14.49.

This insert can be found here for $18.38..

This insert can be found here for $15.99
The insert sizes don't have to be a perfect fit, since most of them are malleable. You might even want a smaller insert to leave space in the bag for other incidentals.

There is a large variety of inserts available on eBay so you might want to do a search on "camera bag insert" to find the one that suits you best.  You could even acquire several different models to fit different camera outfits, or even remove the insert to use the bag as a simple shoulder bag.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Back to basics -- Chasing light and shadow with the X-Pro1

After a week of rain and clouds, we finally had one of those crisp, late autumn sunny days with a low, bright light causing deep, sharp-edged shadows. Not having any definite plan, I dusted off my X-Pro1, recently dressed up with a new Tap & Dye leather strap, put on the original 18-55mm zoom and headed out for a walk. The X-Pro1 is one of my favorite cameras. I don't use it much anymore because of the advancements in the X-T1 model, but today I had nothing specific planned and though the X-Pro1 would add to the fun of discovery. I didn't get very far before I began playing with black & white square compositions of light and shadow.



With the leaves now completely fallen from the trees the silhouetted branches lend themselves to intricate compositions, especially when the trees are in deep shadow and stark black with no detail. Exposing for the brightly lit steeple of the Empire State Building allowed the foreground shadows to go completely black.


For this view of the top of the Flatiron Building taken from Madison Square Park I moved into the side of the park that was in shadow so the trees would go completely black.  I wanted to have detail only in the building and use the black trees as abstract forms


With the sun so low on the horizon as we approach the first day of winter the shadows are quite long even in mid-day, and I used them to compose an abstract composition.with the chairs and gravel. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

What a difference a day makes

In direct contrast to my last studio lifestyle shoot, today the sun was shining, and ISO ranged from 100-400 indoors with shutter speeds fast enough to work hand held without blurring. Images taken with the Nikon D750 and 85mm f/1.4 lens.



This scene is exactly the same setup as the one with the little boy in yesterday's post, but a huge difference in available light meant that today we had to cut some of the ambient light falling on the model to balance out the Christmas tree lights. To do this we put up a large, black "V" flat made by taping two 4' x 8' foamcore flats together and positioned it to keep the window light from falling in the area of the model. This removed enough ambient daylight that the ISO had to be boosted a couple of stops to 800. 



Thursday, December 11, 2014

Dealing with low light

In my last post about the unusual nor'eastern storm that hit New York,  I was not looking forward to photographing a lifestyle shoot in our daylight studio that day. I was right to be worried. Normally, I can shoot at an ISO of 100-400 on normal days with occasionally having to go as high as 800. This time I ended up working in an ISO range of 1000-1600 for most of the day. I was shooting with the Nikon D750, a camera that should have no problem with this speed. There were some things about the situation that made it more difficult, and a few things that made it easier.

First the easier part: We were doing some Christmas scenes with tree lights on. With the available light so low in the studio the intensity of the tree lights was balanced with it making that job easier.

Now on to the hard part:

Working in dim light means using f/1.4 fast aperture lenses very wide open. Additionally, the low light necessitates a low shutter speed to compensate. Problem is that the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 and 85 f/1.4 lenses do not have any vibration reduction. So, even though I am able to keep the ISO lower by using a very open aperture, I was still not able to achieve a shutter speed fast enough to stop the action in a lifestyle shoot where the models are constantly moving about and I am using the camera hand held to quickly change my composition. This is when I sometimes wonder if using an f/2.8 zoom with 3-5 stop VR might be a better option. I would lose one to two stops on the aperture, but possibly make up for it with the higher VR.  I'm going to have to experiment with this a bit.

The other problem was when, even with the ISO set to 1600 I under exposed some of the shots, in some cases by a full stop. Having to open the shots up on post-production was pretty much the equivalent of working with a noise level of 3200 or higher anyway. Not a whole lot of fun dealing with that.

Finally, the high speed aperture causes another problem with focus. When in tight on the subject and working between f/1.4 and f/2 with the focus placed on the subject's eye, only the eyelashes are in focus. The shallow depth of field in tight like that means the rest of the face is out of focus. To complicate things the subject is moving about in the dim light. This puts a lot of strain on the camera to quickly adjust the focus point. Thankfully, the new Nikon D750 is very good at this and delivered a high percentage of usable shots in focus.





This scene was fairly easy at an ISO of 1000. At that speed the D750 is barely breaking a sweat. 


The warm glow of light on the wall from the reflected tree lights was one of the benefits of working is such a dimly lit situation. It kept both the ambient light and weak tree lights balanced.

Today it's back to the studio for another lifestyle shoot. Fortunately, the sun is shining.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Nor'easter hits New York City

This morning the city was hit by the driving rain from a nor-easter storm passing through. I grabbed the shot below early while the city lights were still visible but there was detail in the sky providing a background for the rain drops on the window.

The camera was a Leica M 240 with Leica 28mm Summicron f/2 lens used wide open to keep the rain in focus but the city soft in the background. ISO was 1000.

Unfortunately, we have a lifestyle shoot scheduled this morning in our daylight studio. Looks like we may be hauling out the lights and improvising.


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8 zoom -- a Hands-on review

Ask most pros and you will probably find they have a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens as one of the two main staples in their DSLR lens kit. This focal length, along with a 24-70mm f/2.8, covers the majority of situations we are likely to encounter. Such lenses by Nikon and Canon are legendary for their quality optics and semi-fast, fixed aperture. A pro who shoots weddings or lifestyle probably relies on an f/2.8 long zoom. Photographing animals, sports, or even travel, same thing. Since its inception in the 1980's, an 80-200mm (now 70-200mm) zoom lens has been a required item on any equipment list.

 Fuji's addition of these f/2.8 zooms to the Fuji XF lens lineup demonstrates its intent to raise the X-series cameras to true pro-grade use.

Seems like most of the time I spent outdoors testing the new Fuji 50-140mm lens this week with my X-T1 the weather contrived to help me also test the weather resistance of both. At the end of the week both lens and camera continued functioning normally, which says it all. I once trashed an X-E2 camera body (non-weather resistant) in far less rain than I encountered this past week. 

As you can see from the photo above, I decided to trust the weather resistant claims for this lens and took it out to test in the rain. The lens has 20 weather seals across the barrel to offer protection from moisture and dust. It is also claimed to be operable in conditions as low as -14°F (- 10°C) -- something I (thankfully) did not have to test. 


A Nikon D750 with 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom lens sits on my studio equipment cart next to a Fuji X-T1 with the 50-140mm f/2.8.. The photo illustrates the overall size difference of camera+lens. 

There has already been talk of the bokeh of this lens not being on par with the Fuji primes, such as the 56mm f/1.2 and perhaps not even equal to that of full frame f/2.8 equivalent lenses. That is going to be a given coming into this. Photographers who need exaggerated bokeh need to use fast aperture primes. Period. Plus, bokeh is dependent upon other factors as well as aperture. Distance from the subject, distance of the subject from the background, and focal length are also important. Rack this lens out to its full 140mm extension and get in tight for a head shot and the bokeh of this lens at f/2.8 will be quite pleasing. As good as the 56mm at f/1.2? Of course not. That is why pro photographers will often have both types in their lens kits -- a fast prime for extreme low light and bokeh, and a long f/2.8 for the speed advantage of being able to switch focal lengths on the fly in fast changing situations. Plus, when you consider the big price difference between the Fuji lens and its full frame rivals, you have enough left over to pick up a fast prime as a bonus.

A size comparison to two other Fuji XF zoom lenses. On top is the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 weighing 1.08 lb (490 g) , middle the 55-300 f/3.5-4.8 weighing 1.28 lb (580 g), and bottom the 50-140mm f/2.8 weighing 2.19 lb (995 g). On the left the lenses are in their shorter, closed position; on the right their longer open position. 

Initially, I kept checking the lens to see if it was focusing.  After awhile I realized the reason I was doing this was because the lens was so silent. The 50-140mm has a Triple Linear Motor (world's first) autofocus system. It delivers a smooth, pretty much silent performance. Anyone shooting video or working in quiet locations will appreciate this.

I'm sure there will be complaints about the appropriateness of the larger size and weight of this lens on a smaller, APS-sized mirrorless camera. But, if Fuji is going to move its X-camera system to where pros can not only use it, but can replace DSLR cameras with it, they need to include a lens such as this. It is the workhorse of many pro photographers,and the size is simply what you get when you add an f/2.8 fixed aperture to a lens of this focal length.

Actually, I did not find this lens to be too bulky for the camera. Quite the contrary, I found it to be quite comfortably balanced and much smaller than I expected it would be. In fact, I found myself considering adding this zoom to my carry-around travel outfit where I could benefit from the extra aperture speed.

The 50-140mm zoom uses an optical construction comprising 23 glass elements in 16 groups, with five ED lens elements and one Super ED lens element comparable to a fluorite lens. This maximizes the reduction of chromatic aberrations and delivers high resolving power. On top of this Fujifilm's HT-EBC (High Transmittance Electron Beam Coating) is applied to the entire area of the lens surface and ensures ghosting and flare are minimized or eliminated. Also, a newly developed Nano-GI (Gradient Index) coating technology, which alters the refractive index between glass and air, further controls ghosting and flare by effectively reducing diagonal incident light.





The lens is sharp everywhere -- center, corners, and all apertures. The Fijifilm MTF charts on it are really impressive, among the best results I've ever seen. Is it as good as the rival, full frame equivalent zooms from the big two. Easily, and maybe even better.

The tripod collar is removable with two thumb screws. One thing that surprised me was the shape of the foot. I am so used to Fuji thinking of everything and including Arca Swiss plates for its cameras, I thought for sure this foot would have had at least an inch of the Arca mount before it tapered off in the front. No such luck. Third party companies are probably already at work on a replacement for this foot, just as they have done for Nikon and Canon. 
The vibration control mechanism has an enhanced gyro sensor and unique algorithms to minimize camera shake and enable sharper imaging when working with longer focal lengths and/or slow shutter speeds. It claims a 5-stop vibration reduction. The image of New York below was taken handheld at 1/10 second. I did employ my normal slow-shutter technique of holding down the release for several exposures to ensure one of them will come out sharp, and this helped. Nonetheless, shooting at 1/10th of a second with a zoom of this focal length is an impressive accomplishment.  I wouldn't even try it with the 70-200mm on my Nikon.

Flat Iron Building and lower Manhattan shot hand held at 1/10 second and ISO 1600. Click here to download a high res version of this file.
Below are some images to download as full res versions and judge the lens ability for yourself.

Click here to download a high res version of this file.

Click here to download a high res version of this file.

Click here to download a high res version of this file.

Sunset reflection on the Chrysler Building, a handheld  shot at full 140mm extension and f/5.6. Click here to download the high res file.

Click here to download a high res version of this file.

Bokeh is more that just a fast aperture. For a shot like this I used the lens at a long focal length, wide open at f/2.8, and in close to throw the foreground and background out of focus while still retaining story telling detail.  Click here to download a high res version of this file.

This image was taken under ideal handheld daylight conditions with the X-T1 set for ISO 200 and the lens aperture at f/8 and a shutter speed of 1/450 second. Very little was done in post-processing.  Click here to download the high res version of this file.


Conclusion:

With this lens Fuji puts the pressure on decision-time for anyone who has been sitting on the fence wondering whether a mirrorless camera could truly replace a DSLR system. Not only does the Fuji 50-140mm meet the optical and build quality of the big two DSLR zooms, it does so with mechanical improvements that put it squarely in the lead of the race. 

Is it larger and bulkier that other, similar zooms Fuji already has in its lineup? Certainly. Don't expect the light weight carry-around package of a variable aperture zoom. That is not what a fast aperture, long focal length zoom is all about. The extra bulk goes with the territory.

At $1599 it is at the higher price end of Fuji lenses, but when compared to comparable full frame zooms it is quite a bit less. 

Bottom line: this lens does exactly what you would expect from a zoom in its class and in some cases even goes beyond. And when you consider the big price difference between the Fuji lens and its full frame rivals, the results are even more impressive, although, admittedly, it is less expensive to achieve f/2.8 when the longest focal length is capped at 140mm instead of 200mn -- but isn't that what going mirrorless is all about?

Click here to download a high res version of this file.
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