Friday, August 29, 2014

Can the Fuji X-T1 really replace a full frame DSLR?

This week my Nikon D810 was in the shop having the thermal light spot issue fixed. I had been using it almost exclusively for my lifestyle photography as a result of its new improvements. Instead of going back to my mainstay lifesyle camera, the Nikon D4, I decided to use only the Fuji X-T1 instead. There were a few times when I had to resort to the D4, usually when I needed the super fast shutter speed, and also when I was using a Nikon SB-910 flash outdoors and I needed a high synch shutter speed.

One of the weaknesses of the Fuji X system is that it doesn't have the sophisticated flash units of pro level DSLR cameras. For instance, I have no trouble integrating a Nikon SB-910  into a bright outdoors setting with a Nikon camera because the shutter speed can synch at very high levels. When using the same flash -- or any flash -- with my X-T1 I have to resort to the maximum speed of 1/185 second, and that is with a low ISO of 200. This doesn't allow much in terms of exposure maneuverability. In these circumstances I am stuck compensating by stopping down, or, if I want to keep the lens wide open, of using ND filters.

Aside from this one weakness, however, the Fuji X-T1 came through with flying colors. The lenses I used with it were the 56mm f/1.2, 35mm f/1.4, 23mm f/1.4, 10-24mm f/4 zoom, and Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 macro. That was it.

I did use the X-T1 with the Nikon SB-910 flash units for quite a number of situations, triggering it with the Yongnuo RF-603NII  flash transmitters I tested with a Fuji X-camera in a previous blog post. The flash units will only work manually with the Fuji X cameras, but I normally use camera flash manually anyway so this was not a problem.

For this photo and the one below, the Nikon flash was placed behind the model's head and triggered remotely using the Yongnuo RF-603NII . For this photo the flash was hidden behind the model's head. In the shot below the flash was off to the left of the model and shining directly into the camera to cause the flare. Both photos were taken in a shadowy area of a parking lot, and all the bright light was supplied by the flash unit. And, yes, the motorcycle was stationary. 

It is obvious where the SB-910 flash was placed in the photo. It is shining directly into the camera lens, the Fuji 10-24mm zoom. 

Here I placed the flash unit in the refrigerator. The Yongnuo RF-603NII  had no trouble triggering it. Unlike using the Nikon flash units with a Nikon camera, line-of-site is not an issue. 

Yongnuo RF-603NII flash trigger for Nikon flash units sits on top of my X-T1. The Nikon flash unit is then mounted onto a second flash trigger. This system was used to fire the flash used to take all the photos above. The flash units only work in manual mode due to the limitations of the Fuji X camera. The system is relatively inexpensive at $35 for two units. Best place to pick these up is from Amazon where you can get immediate shipping. 

No flash used here, only a very strong back light. 

Extreme backlighting with no front fill. The X-T1 had no trouble focusing or dealing with the light in this harsh situation.
Bottom line results for this week's experiments is that I would have no trouble using the Fuji X-T1 as my principal camera. It focuses fast and accurately, and once you are accustomed to the nuances of working mirrorless instead of through the lens, some of the benefits -- like being able to actually see what how the exposure will look -- make up for the limitations.

Fujifilm has been doing a yeoman's job of supplying a new type of pro-quality mirrorless camera accompanied with exceptional optics.  Eventually, the company is going to have to turn its attention to the producition of a fully integrated flash units to round out the system.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Featured photographer: Paul Bowen and air-to-air images

While staring through the viewfinder of his Canon EOS-1D X, Paul Bowen is framing an image of a jet, only 50 feet away, coming towards him at 200 mph. While communicating with the pilot of the plane he is in, he maintains just the right distance to compose an exciting image of a plane integrated with its environment. It takes experience, dedication, and fortitude to pull off these shots while strapped into an open-air compartment of another plane pulling away at the same speed.

Corsair fighter

Paul is a professional photographer based in Wichita, Kansas with over 1000 magazine covers and countless ads to his credit. Over time he has won many awards for his considerable skill at creating dramatic air-to-air images of planes.

Paul often photographs from the open tail-gunner's position of a B-25 bomber travelling at a couple hundred miles per hour with the chase plane he is photographing coming straight at him and not far away. Here is where the benefit of the two Canon zooms come into play enabling him to create an exciting image due to the proximity of the chase plane. 

Air-to-air photography involves capturing aircraft in action in mid-air, from the close proximity of a second, airborne aircraft. To photograph an aerobatic pilot as she loops and corkscrews her way through the air in a vintage P-51D Mustang called "American Beauty," you strap yourself into a second P-51 Mustang and prepare yourself for a wild ride, complete with the requisite 4 Gs. At least that's what you do if you're Paul Bowen.

A-26 Invader

Bowen's shoots with a Canon EOS-1D X, and two Canon EOS 5D Mark III cameras. His favorite lenses are the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM and 24-105 f/4L IS USM zooms. The longer zoom enables him to create strong graphics, while with the shorter zoom he can better relate the plane to the over-all background scene.

Paul's favorite lens is the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom. With it he can create more dramatic images of the planes at close-up distances that make for a more exciting image than if the photo had been created from the safety of a long distance with a telephoto. As Robert Capa put it: "If your images aren't good enough, you're not close enough." A wide angle lens used in tight on a dangerous subject delivers a feeling of excitement readily understood by most of us today, a  learned experience from our constant exposure to and familiarity with dramatic imagery. 

Selecting the perfect shutter speed is a balance against achieving the right interpretation of a moving propeller while maintaining sufficient speed to capture a sharp image from a vibrating, moving plane. As Bowen explains it: "If you're shooting a propeller-driven airplane, generally speaking, based on the rpm, you will get a full prop arc at 1/80 of a second or slower. If you really want to be safe, it's 1/60 of a second," If you're in a vibrating, moving-around, bouncing airplane that's pretty slow, the thing you don't want to do is stop the prop or it looks like it's about to crash."


For photographing propeller driven planes Bowen uses a working shutter-speed range of 1/60 to 1/500. This slower shutter speed will let the propeller make part or all of the rotation, creating motion and, in some cases, a full disk on the nose of the plane. This is where Canon Image Stabilization comes in handy, allowing the target plane to remain relatively stable in its position to Bowen's lens, while the relatively slow shutter captures a very graphic and unique disk from the rotation of the propeller.

P-51 Mustang

The other key issue Bowen deals with is the sheer temperature in which he is forced to photograph at such altitudes.

Dealing with shooting in the cold at high altitudes in the open air creates its own problem. In Bowen's words: "The other problem is the cold; it gets colder by about three and a half degrees for every 1,000 feet you go up. So if you're doing a sunrise shoot and it's 50 degrees on the ground, and you go up 10,000 feet to shoot, all of a sudden its 30-35 degrees colder and you're in some pretty cold air. You've got the doors or the windows off, so now you've got a wind-chill whipping around inside the airplane and it's below freezing. It's a very uncomfortable environment. Add the vibration and motion to the whole thing and that just compounds the difficulty."

"As far as the equipment is concerned, I give up before the equipment does." Bowen explains. "The real problem is that the cameras get cold-soaked, just like the airplane gets cold-soaked, and I don't care if you're wearing gloves or not, you're holding on to a big block of ice and your hands get really cold."

Lear jet with vortex cloud shape behind

Bowen has developed a popular shooting technique he calls his "vortex images".  This technique has yielded breathtaking images of aircraft shooting out of cloud tops leaving a trail of wing tip vortex cloud shapes behind them.  As Bowen recalls, "That really happened by happenstance—I was in the tail of the B-25, and we were off the coast of California; they have the marine layer [low-level clouds] there that is very smooth on the top and there's nothing underneath as you're out over the ocean. So we started dipping down on top of it, with me in the tail of the B-25, we're going about 200 mph and the target plane is a jet that is just kinda wallowing, almost like a boat that hasn't quite gotten on step, it's just kinda hanging back there, nose high, plowing along the top of the marine layer. I thought, 'wow, this is cool... let's get down a little lower and see what's happening,' and that has become my signature shot."


Gulfstream IV

P-51 Mustang

P-51 Mustang

Want to see more? Visit Paul Bowen's website here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fujifilm releases new “Classic Chrome” Film Simulation mode

Fuji has released its latest addition to the film simulations of the X-cameras. It is called Classic Chrome and is supposed to deliver the tonal depth required in documentary and street photography. The Classic Chrome simulation will make its debut in the new Fuji X30 camera.

According to the Fujifilm announcement:

"In order to simulate the deep finish from a color reversal film printed on Deep Matte paper, Fujifilm developed a new algorithm that incorporates soft gradation, rich details in shadows and full-bodied tones to avoid saturated blues, greens and reds. Classic Chrome perfectly complements the story-telling functionality of Fujifilm cameras and will be phased in to models starting with the X30."

Here is a sample from the Fujifilm press release:

I expect it is only a matter of time before Classic Chrome finds its way to the rest of the Fuji X-camera lineup via a firmware update.

Speculating on the new Nikon D750 camera

Nikon is expected to announce a new D750 camera to add to its professional DSLR line-up. Speculation and leaks have already begun fleshing out what the new camera will be. It is expected to have a 24MP full-frame sensor, and (hopefully!) a 51-point focus array, same as the D4s and D810. Most likely it will also sport a fast motor drive in the 7-8 fps range. It should also have the same EXPEED-4 processing engine and improved auto-focus as the D4s/D810 with a longer buffer rate.

At this stage of camera development, considering what is already available in the market, built-in WiFi would be a must. I would love to see a WiFi remote control APP similar to what is available for the Fuji X-T1, where you can completely control the camera from a remote device such as a smart phone or tablet.

What remains to be seen is what improvements, if any, will be made to the video capabilities. The camera will probably have a tilting view screen, but is a coin toss as to whether or not it will come with an anti-aliasing filter.

With specs like these, the D750 is beginning to look like the perfect, all-around pro camera. The Df was crippled by having the 39-point AF of the D610 instead of 51-point AF of the D4s/D810. Also, the Df is a specialist camera built to be more about nostalgia than practical use. The D610 with its 24MP sensor is a fine camera, but without the advanced features of the top pro models. The D750 appears to be the re-incarnation and update of the popular D700, able to define its own slot in the Nikon pro camera line-up. Price? More than likely in the $2500 range to position it between the D610 ($1850)  and D810 ($3300).

All of this is speculation, of course, but it gives us something to dream about while waiting for the next photo assignment.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Leica introduces a new model -- the Leica M-P 240

Leica has announced a new model to join its flagship M 240. It is the M-P 240, and adds some professional changes to the standard M model -- the "P" in the name standing for changes appealing to "professionals".

Cosmetically, the iconic 'red dot' in front of the camera is missing. Taking its place is a big, black screw head that sits in the middle of the front plate just above the lens. Now we know what the red dot has been concealing all this time. I'm not sold on this being a design improvement. The screw head sticks out like a sore thumb. The top plate is now engraved with the Leica script logo.

Something I have missed on the M 240, the frame selector lever beneath the viewfinder window, has been restored. It brings up frames in focal length pairs of 28 and 90mm, 50 and 75mm, 35 and 135 mm. This is a very handy item when you are thinking about switching to another lens but want to know how it will look. 

A scratch resistant sapphire crystal now covers the LCD display to add an almost indestructible surface. An anti-reflective coating added to both sides of the cover glass should improve image viewing, even in difficult lighting conditions.

The biggest improvement to performance it an increase in the buffer memory to 2GB. This is twice as large as the M 240 and should result in a considerable increase in processing speed by allowing shooting up to 24 frames at 3.7 fps. The 7 frame buffer at 3 fps on the M 240 has been a big impediment for any kind of speedy shooting. 

The Leica M-P in silver will be available towards the end of August, and the black-paint version in September. The Leica M-P is not a replacement for the M. Both cameras will be available. The price of the M-P increases to $7950, which is $1000 more than the M. 

In the past, Leica has made some of its improvement available for prior models. No mention has been made of this, but it would be nice it some of the upgrades could be added to the current M model. 

The Leica M-P can be pre-ordered now and will be available in silver by the end of August and in black later in September. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Zeiss Touit 50mm macro -- 1:1 with the Fuji X-T1

For yesterday's blog post I did some close up still life photos of herbs. This morning I decided to use the Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 as close as it would go, which is 1:1. All of these images were taken with the aperture stopped down in the f/11-f/22 range. I used soft window lighting with the camera on a tripod.

Mostly, I used manual focus because I knew I wanted to be as close as the lens would go so I racked it to its closest focus point and moved the camera towards the subject until it was in focus. For the few shots where I did turn on the auto-focus the lens was very responsive and accurate -- a real pleasure to use compared to other macro lenses I use.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Close-ups of herbs with the Zeiss Touit 50mm macro on the Fuji X-T1

The Zeiss Touit 50mm macro lens is such a pleasure to use that I find myself looking for any excuse to put it to work. This morning, while at the farmer's market, I picked up some fresh herbs just so I could shoot still life images with it on the X-T1. The lens is really perfect optically and seems to be just the right focal length for studio macro work. Plus it's one of the few macro zooms I can actually use set to auto-focus all the time.

Everything was photographed with soft window light at f/2.8, except for the down shot of the group of herbs, which were taken at f/5.6.

Here are a few images from the session: