Thursday, March 31, 2016

Fuji's holy trinity of XF zooms and Acros-R simulation -- a hot combo

Ever since the new west concourse tunnel opened into the Oculus structure of the World Trade Center, I have been wanting to go down to continue my photographic series that has been documenting the reconstruction of the area from the beginning. I had been waiting for a clear day with a cloudless sky because my plan was to create strong, dark, graphic compositions of the new architecture against a dark background.

This is my photo kit for this photo shoot: Fuji's holy trinity of fixed aperture zooms with an X-Pro2.

All of my earlier photos were taken with a Leica M for the quality level it produces. I have been so impressed with the results from the new Fuji X-Pro2 with its much improved 24mp sensor and processing engine that I decided to use it instead.  For the lens complement I decided upon the holy trinity of Fuji X zooms, which included the 10-24mm f/4, 16-55mm f/2.8, and 50-140mm f/2.8. I tossed the 1.4x teleconverter in my bag just in case I needed a longer focal length, but never used it.

The lens quality of the red dot Fuji zooms is as close as it gets to an actual prime lens. Combined with the improved X-Pro2 the combo is hard to beat.

For the film simulation mode, I chose Acros-R for the exteriors to darken the sky, and dialed in some additional darkening to the shadow tones. For the interiors I went with straight Acros.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Variations in the night sky

I have been photographing the top of the Empire State Building for a project I am doing to combine all of its color variations into a mosaic. Trying to achieve some variety in the same exact subject in similar circumstances can get to be a bit of a challenge. Incorporating the current weather phenomena helps to differentiate the shots.

Here are several I did over just the past few nights. All taken with the Fuji X-Pro2 and 16-55mm f/2.8 lens.

The Empire State Building lit up in Easter colors over the weekend. This is a straight shot combined with a time exposure of the blurred clouds. 

This image is a triple exposure combining a straight shot of the building with an out-of-focus shot, and then a lighter version for the moving clouds.

This is a single long exposure of 30 seconds to capture the fast moving clouds. A 9-stop ND filter was used to allow for the long exposure. 

Simple straight shot at dusk with moody clouds passing by. 

Double exposure of the Empire State Building combined with an image I took earlier of its facade reflecting the setting sun. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Rokinon / Samyang f/2.8 Fisheye II lens on a Fuji X-Pro2

Picked up a Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 UMC fisheye II lens to do some virtual reality shots with my X-Pro2 but decided to try it out on the misty night sky over the city last night. Wide open it was sharp in the center area with some softness on the edges, but closing down a couple of stops eliminated most of the problem. Really nice, honest color. Excellent for such an inexpensive piece of glass.

The only cosmetic addition to this lens that I do not like is the inclusion of the brushed silver ring around the base of the Fuji model. The design is a bit jarring and looks like an afterthought. I would have like to see this done up in black. 

The lens is completely manual on a Fuji X camera -- manual focus, manual aperture. This is not much of a problem with a fisheye lens considering the extensive depth of field of such a short focal length and the fact that it works best when stopped down a bit anyway. There are no electrical contacts to connect the lens to the camera so no lens data is passed along.  You can set your X camera to know what focal length it is using, but that's about it. 

The Rokinon is a Korean lens that also goes under the Samyang name. They both come from the same factory in Korea and are exactly the same lens. Sometimes they are priced differently so shop around. 


I suspect many photographers will use this lens for astro photography where a lack of coma is important. I did not use it to photograph stars, but did check the city lights in the extreme areas of the frame and saw no coma present, particularly when stopped down 2-3 stops. 

There is noticeable lack of vignetting -- something typical in many full frame fisheyes --  with this lens. This means you don't have to open up the exposure in the corners in post processing. Opening up shadows in post increases noise in those areas. So that is a plus for this lens.

This is a full frame fisheye with a field of view covering an extreme 180 degrees. It has the typical petal style lens shade commonly found on fisheye lenses. Since the shade is built into the main body of the lens, it necessitated a larger, cylindrical lens cap to cover it.

This is a tiny lens, easy to tuck into a remote area of the camera bag and pull it out whenever you get the urge to try something different.

I owned a Nikon 16mm full frame fisheye once and got rid of it after using it for astro photography and seeing the distortion mess it created in the edges of the frame. The Rokinon is a much better performer than that at a fraction of the cost -- well worth it for me.

Night view of Fifth Avenue with the Empire State Building in its Easter colors. 

The Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 USM Fisheye II lens can be purchased at:   BH-Photo    Adorama    Amazon
The Samyang 8mm f/2.8 USM Fisheye II lens can be purchased at:   BH-Photo   Adorama    Amazon

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Acros film simulation with the Fuji X-Pro2

Acros is a very fine-grained black and white film known for its rich, creamy tones, It now comes as an addition to the film simulation pack in the new X-Pro2. Acros, Fuji's latest film simulation is only available in the X-Pro2, and will not be available as a firmware upgrade to the rest of the current X camera line. This is due to the improvements in the new X-Trans CMOS III sensor and X-Processor Pro engine in the X-Pro2.

The first thing I noticed about Acros images is the very smooth transitions between tones making it perfect for landscapes, portraits, commercial still life, or any use requiring an extended, detailed capture. From the base setting the results can be punched up by adding extra shadow density and opening the highlights, all with little loss in detail in those areas.

In the sample below the top image starts with the base Acros setting. Switching to the red filter Acros setting darkens the blue sky and lightens the warm-toned building, For the bottom image I wanted more density in the sky so I boosted the shadows to an extreme +4 setting for the bottom image. This still holds details everywhere while providing much more contrast.

In this sample the top photo was done in straight Acros film mode. The middle photo was Acros plus red filter, The bottom photo was Acros plus red filter and +4 shadows.

Acros is a very fine grained film, and the simulation version on the X-Pro2 brings out exceptional subject detail. The film has a wide latitude and in the samples below there are no blown highlights or completely blocked up shadows. This is a black and white mode suitable for large, monochromatic prints that really do look like they have been shot on film.

If you enjoy shooting black and white film, especially on rangefinder type cameras, you're going to appreciate the experience of using the Acros mode on the X-Pro2. The experience is more than just converting a color image to black and white. It really provides the experience and characteristics of a specific film, and puts the fun back into shooting black and white on a digital camera.

Straight out of the camera Acros jpg. Amazing because the background was completely blasted out and still retains some tonality. 


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Night and day photos with the Fuji X-Pro2

I have been using and testing my new X-Pro2 for the past two weeks and shortly will be preparing a full hands-on review of it. In the meantime it is quickly becoming part of my normal photography workflow, replacing my X-T1, which has been in the shop for a much needed over-haul during this time.

Here are a couple of photos I took, one after sunset and the other at dawn, with the X-Pro2 over the past two days.

This image is a composite of two horizontal photos taken of lower Manhattan using the Fuji 100-400mm zoom just after sunset when the light would be dark enough to maximize the lights in the building, but still light enough to maintain some sky detail. The new 24mp sensor in the X-Pro2 is showing its stuff in composites like this. The results are much higher resolution than I was able to achieve on my X-T1. And the IQ performance of the Fuji 100-400mm zoom continues to prove itself to be simply fantastic. 

This silhouette of the Chrysler Building was taken through a window curtain at dawn. The yellow glow on the curtain is from the direct sunlight hitting it. The photo was taken with the Fuji 16-55mm f/2.8 lens set to 55mm and f/5.6. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Creating a sphere in Photoshop

I've been attending a meeting in LA over the weekend and was unable to add any new posts. Just before I left I created this image of New York while waiting for my ride to the airport. Last time I posted one of these sphere photos I was asked how I created the sphere in Photoshop so I'm including the steps on this one. I do make some variations on them, but this is generally how it's done.

Step1: Make a circular selection over the area of the bottom image you want to include as a reflection in the sphere, and create a new layer with this selection.

Step 2: Move the sphere to where you want it to be and re-select the sphere by placing your cursor over the image in the layer and use the menu to "select pixels".  Use the "Filter>Distort>Spherize" command to create a sphere with this selected image. Just use the default Spherize settings for this.

Step 3: Do another re-select of the sphere circle as above; create a new layer with it: and fill the selection with black. Use the "Filter>Render>Clouds" command to fill it with random clouds. Now perform a Gaussian blur on these clouds to make them softer to taste. Use the "Filter>Distort>Sphereze" command on this, then change its layer mode to "Screen". (I sometimes us a photo of real smoke for this layer.)

Step 4: This is a step that I sometimes skip. Do the same re-select of the circle, create a new layer, and fill the circular selection with 50% gray. Create a small circular selection within this circle of gray in the spot where you may want a highlight. Mine is in the upper left of the sphere. Blur this circle with a Gaussian blur and change the layer mode to "Hard Light".

The intensity of any of these layers can be controlled to taste by adjusting the opacity of the layer.

This is how the hot spot in step 4 looks before the layer is converted to  "Hard Light".

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Fuji 100-400mm lens -- a hands-on review

One question that often pops up when other photographers see me using a Fuji X camera system is "Why would I recommend Fuji"? Aside from the fact that it is a really good camera, the most important component of the Fuji system is the available optics. A camera system is only as good as the glass it mounts on the front of the body, and I am convinced from my many tests and extensive use of the Fuji X that its optical system is one of the best in the world, ranking right up there with Leitz, Zeiss, and maybe even nudging out Nikon. This comes as no surprise, as Fuji has been making exceptional pro-quality lenses for many years.

When it came time to test the new Fuji 100-400mm zoom, I went into the project expecting the very positive results I always see with Fuji optics. It didn't disappoint. I have tested this focal length zoom type from a number of quality lens manufactures, and can confidently say, this is as good as it gets.

On location with the Fuji 100-400mm zoom on an X-T1. 

My impression upon picking up this lens for the first time was how small and comfortable it is for a lens of this genre. Super-tele lenses, while practical to use, can be a bulky addition to any camera system. This one balances well on any of the Fuji X camera bodies, and is even comfortable to carry and use hand-held, something that extends its usage range.

This photo of the setting sun was taken with the Fuji 100-400mm zoom lens plus 1.4x teleconverter delivering a total focal length of 560mm (840mm equivalent). This is a very powerful telephoto lens, and when the new Fuji 2.0x teleconverter comes out will further extend the zoom range to and 800mm, for a mind-boggling 1200mm full-frame equivalency.  I can't wait to shoot sunsets with that!

This full frame view of the moon show what can be achieved with a 560mm (860mm equivalent) focal length of the lens plus the 1.4x teleconverter. 

Fuji's recently introduced 1.4x teleconverter is made to fit both the XF50-140mm f/2.8 zoom and this 100-400mm. My tests show that use of the teleconverter did not noticeably impair lens sharpness, but did significantly  increase the range of both zooms significantly. At full extension the of 400mm with the 1.4x attached the focal length is an impressive 560mm, a full-frame equivalenttv of 840mm. That is impressive, especially considering the accompanying sharpness of the combo.

While the lens is exceptionally sharp with any of the Fuji X cameras, it really gets to show off its stuff when combined with the 24mp sensor of the new X-Pro2. This is one of the main reasons I waited to write this review. I wanted to see how it would perform with the new sensor.

Other features of the FUJINON XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens:

-  It is weather-sealed with 13 water and dust seals in 12 places.
-  The optical elements contain 5 extra-low dispersion elements and 1 super extra low dispersion element making this lens almost impervious to unnecessary flare and achromatic distortion.
-  The aperture is a 9-blade rounded
-  A nicety of the lens hood is the sliding window it has for easy access to a polarizing filter without having to remove the hood.
-  The flouring coatings are water-repellent fluorine coating
-  It has an optional lens plate (MLP-75XF) with an Arca Swiss type mount.

One of the prime uses of a lens like this is in wildlife photography, where the zoom aspect provides a more spontaneous change in composition for rapidly changing subjects situations.  Download a high res version of the file here

The auto-focus is everything you would want, fast, responsive, and accurate. Combining this with the new joystick focus point movement control makes this an ideal lens for fast moving subjects, like animals, and sports. The XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lends itself to handheld shooting with a 5.0-stop image stabilization system and twin linear motors.

One of the main draws for me of long telephoto lenses is the squashed perspective look they impart to distant scenes, compressing everything onto a single plane. Download a high res version of the file here

There are several downloadable sample images here to see the sharpness range for yourself. It is sharp at all apertures even into the corners, but shines especially in the center. The photo shown here of the moon placed in the center of the frame is the sharpest image I have ever achieved of this subject.

The Fuji 100-400mm zoom on an X-Pro2, and a 1.4x teleconverter off to the side. This is a perfect super-tele kit. The larger X-Pro2 body makes this a more comfortable package.

Photograph of the top of the Chrysler Building at 400mm extension and f/9.   Download a high res version of this file here. 

This is a shot that will demonstrate both the center and edge sharpness of the lens. Download a high res version of the file here

The excellent OIS system of this lens makes it convenient to use even hand-held, as it was here.  Download a high res version of this file here. 

An example of the space compressing characteristics of such a long lens where the bridge in the background is over ten miles away, and the near building facade on the right is only a few blocks from where I took this photo. This is the sort of composition characteristic I love about super-tele lenses.


If it's a comfortable to use super-tele zoom with a high degree of image sharpness you are looking for, there is no need to look any further than the Fuji 100-400mm lens. It is very well made with low to no distortion and delivers a corner-to-corner sharpness that is hard to beat. Images are especially crisp with the improved 24mp sensor of the X-Pro2, and the OIS system makes it a dream to use even hand-held.    

Missing still from the Fuji lens lineup are some fast-aperture teles. In the interim, the 100-400mm zoom fills the super-tele gap with a convenient package with no trade-off in image quality.

It fills an important gap in the Fuji lens lineup moving the Fuji X system one step further to dominating the APS mirrorless camera choice. A camera is only as good as the optical system it supports, Currently, Fuji lenses are second to none making the Fuji X cameras the number one choice for professional use among APS-sized camera options.

The FUJINON XF100-400mmF4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR will be available in February 2016 for USD $1,899.00 and can be ordered now from:  BH Photo   Adorama   Amazon

It can also be ordered as a specially priced kit along with the 1.4x teleconverter for $1999.00 from:
BH Photo     Amazon