(Part II) Another I moved to mirrorless post

In part I of this blog post I identified three key appeals of the Fujifilm system from my perspective:

  • User experience
  • Fuji’s commitment to ongoing improvements
  • Soul

User experience I have already  discussed, so in this second and concluding post I want to concentrate on Fuji’s commitments to ongoing updates and that elusive element – soul.

First though, Fuji scores highly in my book for continually upgrading the capabilities of their cameras by releasing major firmware updates. Many of these updates add new features, not simply bug fixes so it can sometimes feel a little like getting a new(ish) camera.  With their X-series cameras therefore Fuji  keep releasing firmware update to make their more recent cameras better whilst still introducing new camera models with ever better specifications. Now, models don’t stay on this upgrade path forever however, but it is very pleasing to see new functionality trickling back to previous models where processing and physical capacity exists in the older kit.

© Dave Whenham
West End, London. Fuji X100T

Now some will argue that releasing new firmware for the cameras, not just every few years but sometimes within months of the last, is an admission that the camera was not fully finished on launch. The other snipe I have heard is that they use a few new features to hide the fact that the update is simply to fix previous bugs that slipped through the net.  However, they have also introduced firmware updates that have improved the performance of their lenses and enabled them to fully access the newer features in newer camera models.

It’s possibly over-egging the pudding somewhat to say that each time Fuji releases a firmware they essentially give you a new camera, however it certainly does give me a really good feeling about the company. Bug fixing, shrewd marketing or good customer service? You chose which axe you wish to grind and you take your pick!

As always I will leave the technical stuff and a discussion of the cameras’ specifications to others. I’m an enthusiast photographer rather than a working pro and what matters most to me is that very nebulous quality of the user experience – or in the case of these cameras “soul” I like to think.

The words user experience were very easy to type in the first part but were very hard to define in detail and not least  because it will vary considerably from one person to another.  Soul is even harder to define – even with a dictionary to hand!  For me, a camera needs to feel “right” in my hand. I can’t write the exact feeling down but know it when I experience it.  I now have four Fuji camera bodies and each feels a little different, each has its own characteristics and each its own personality almost. Okay, a bit too poetical I suspect! But soul emanates from this user experience.

When out with one of these cameras I feel at ease, confident in the technology and my ability to create images with it.  These cameras just perform really well for me and with them I can produce images that I am happy with and do it without stressing too much over technicalities. They just work. But as the saying goes your mileage may vary so this will not be the same for everyone. I just try to keep an open mind when I use any camera and having used Nikon and Canon extensively as well as various other makes in the last forty-plus years I can confidently say none gave me the same buzz as using these Fujis. That might sound a little fan-boyish but is not intended as such. I genuinely think that there is no such thing as a bad camera these days – just that some cameras fit better with our individual ways of working than others.

So, my five penn’orth to add to an already overcrowded “I moved to mirrorless” oeuvre.

365-2019

This years 365 Challenge is doing well with only one slight wobble so far and as we have just passed the 100th daily image for 2019 it is time to update my thoughts on the project. Now, I’m a bit of a geek and love numbers so let’s start with a look at what cameras I’ve used so far this year.

CameraCount Percent
Fuji X-T32931%
Fuji X100t2526%
Huawei P20 Pro2223%
Fuji X-E11112%
Fuji X-H177%
Mavic Pro (drone)66%
INSTA 360 ONE/ONE X22%

Unsurprisingly my Fuji cameras make up the majority of the 102 daily images year to date, I moved fully to the mirrorless system in March, although the ever-present Huawei smartphone is holding its own too. The Fuji X-H1 has appeared seven times but given that I’ve only owned the camera for ten days this represents a very high proportion of recent daily images.

I maintain a spreadsheet with image details to complement the albums on my Flickr photostream

The least surprising fact from my little spreadsheet (see above) is that almost half (47%) of my daily images would be classified as urban images. The reality of a 365 is that we shoot images where we live our lives and whilst I’d love to fill my days with rural landscapes (14%) or coastal seascapes (2%) the reality is that I spend most of my time in an urban setting. Of the remaining images, a further 37% of them, whilst categorised differently, were also taken in or around my home making them essentially an urban capture too.

Tree bark - macro

One thing I have got into the habit of doing most days is my “insurance” shot. An image taken early on in the day, usually in or around the house, which I have in reserve just in case I am unable to get out with the camera later in the day for a more considered daily image. I rarely use them but it is reassuring to know they are there. This close-up of bark was a recent insurance shot which wasn’t used as I was able to spend time photographing one of my grandsons that day.

I wrote recently about the case of the disappearing mojo and in that piece I reflected on how the 365 Challenge can help keep the motivation alive. Undoubtedly, the challenge itself provides a strong creative energy and the further into it I get the more determined I am to maintain the daily image capture. Image 102 was posted yesterday but that was actually my 530th consecutive daily image since embarking on the challenge in October 2017. The completer-finisher in me helps keep the sequence going. There have been days though when I’ve not felt like bothering but they are getting fewer as the 365 becomes just a part of my normal daily routine. I get up each day and each day perform the routine hygiene tasks (washing, dressing, eating etc) without really considering them a chore and my 365 image has similarly become almost part of this hygiene routine.

365-2019-102: Another grubby grandson pic! Samyang 100mm macro at f4, the IBIS in the X-H1 allowing my shaky hands to get away with 1/40th second. This is the image that supplanted the bark shot above.

There is no doubt therefore in my mind that the 365 Challenge has helped to keep me creatively motivated, especially now that we’ve got past the initial months where it was a new routine and it is now firmly embedded in my daily routines; it has become a way of life, or at least a part of my everyday life.

365-2019-101: I deliberately tilted the camera to catch the lens flare, I’ve shot this scene many times before and wanted something a little different today.

I also believe that the challenge of trying to find a new image, and bear in mind half of all my 365 images are taken within a mile of my house, has sharpened my eye and I see compositions and creative opportunities more readily as a result. Image 101 (above) is a case in point and is less than a mile from my back door. I’ve shot this scene many times but wanted to do so again because I liked the glow along the left hand side of the frame – but how to make it a little different? Lens flare was what popped into my head and with the rising sun sitting naked in the sky I only had to tilt the camera slightly to cause the extremely bright source to flare and create some colourful streaks. Flare is something I usually avoid even shading the lens with my hand at times but on this occasion it seemed to fit the image nicely. In fact I liked it so much I made it my daily offering eschewing the other more traditional images I captured on that walk.

So, there we have it. The 365 is an ongoing project and one that I intend to keep going for as long as I am able or for as long as I have the inclination. Each month I set up a folder on Flickr for that months offerings and the March 2019 folder can be found HERE.

Panoramic woodland

Panoramas are often seen as a landscape photographers tool but they have many other uses and I like to use them in all sorts of settings, not least in woodland. Two or three vertical images stitched together can make for a very detailed 1×1 image for example and whilst the resultant image does not look like a panorama as we know it the methodology is exactly the same.

The image here though takes a more traditional approach and stitches multiple images to create a super wide panorama without the need to crop out a large chunk of the image top and bottom which would have been the case if we’d used a super wide lens to capture everything in one frame. Indeed, this particular image is a 180° panorama and even a fisheye would have been hard pressed in this instance!

For less ambitious stitched panoramas I will typically shoot 4 or 5 frames, overlapping each by around a third and using the camera handheld. Practice has helped me in this as the camera needs to pivot around the same point (on all axes) to avoid large alignment shifts which result in having to crop deeper into the stitched image. Given that I was looking at a 180° panorama for this image I shot my frames with the camera firmly mounted on a carefully levelled tripod. The initial image (below) was created using the merge function in Photoshop and is shown exactly as produced. Note the blank areas where no data was captured and how small they are; this means that the tripod was allmost levelled perfectly but not quite!

The panorama is made up of 13 individual files as can be seen here and Photoshop has applied masks to each so that the final image is comprised of a little of each individual frame. You can see the progression of the lens as it was moved between each shot.

Once I was happy that it was properly aligned I simply flattened the file to create just one layer with the raw panorama ready for processing in the ordinary way. As I set white balance, aperture, ISO, focus and shutter speed manually I tend to stitch the files first and post process afterwards.

Levelling the tripod is important as it means that you maximise the usable area of each frame. Overlapping each sequential image by between 35% and 50% gives the software the maximum material to work with and creates a better stitch. I always shoot an extra frame either side of my intended area – if my intended scene extends from B to E for example I’d shoot frames from A to F inclusive to ensure that my intended outer edges of the image are fully covered.

(yet) Another I moved to mirrorless post

How many “I moved to [INSERT BRAND]” blog posts or videos have you seen over the last couple of years? If you are like me it is dozens and if like me you’ve made or considered the switch then it’s likely to be multiple dozens. So, with no excuses for a lack of originality here is my five penn’orth.

7Artisans 55mm f1.4 lens at around f4
Fuji X-E1 with 7Artisans 55mm

Unlike many I wasn’t drawn towards mirrorless because of size or weight. For me, at that time, size didn’t matter [pause for the sniggering to stop] and nor did weight. For me it all started with an unusual example of being a relatively early adopter (albeit unwittingly) when I bought the Fuji X100, a quirky mirroless, rangefinder style camera with many irritating shortcomings that drove me initially to distraction and ultimately to selling the camera. That should have been it really but it left behind an itch.

I should perhaps out at this point that I bailed out before the firmware update that addressed many of these issues. At that time I knew little about Fujifilm apart from Velvia and Provia film and was not aware of their business model which continues to support camera models even after people have bought them. As a Canonikon user for over thirty years the concept of firmware updates that provided new or improved functionality was alien to me.

Fast forward three years after abandoning the X100 and with the itch seemingly pushed to the background, I chanced upon a review of the Fuji X100s which was it’s replacement. It was a much improved successor it seemed although I was reading an old review because the X100t had hit the streets by then. Perversely, despite its irritations I still missed the experience of using the X100 and, long story short, in the way that things can escalate when browsing the interweb I ended up putting a used Fuji X100t in the shopping basket. That was May 2016 and the X100t has been a constant companion ever since.

The Jaws of Borrowdale
Fuji X-T3, 50-140mm

The rest as they say is history as I slowly but surely become more deeply immersed in the world of mirrorless and more specifically the Fuji X-series camera system. My move from a long term SLR/DSLR user to a purely mirroless shooter has taken two months short of three years. As already mentioned I’ve been using X-series cameras however since 2011. There was no “Eureka!” moment however, just a gradual shift which culminated with the sale of my Nikon D800E in late March 2019. In the space of the last seven years I’ve moved from Canon, a brand I used for over thirty years, to Nikon DSLRs and now the Fuji X-series. I’ve spent more than I’d ever admit to myself let alone the wife! I’ve also lost a small fortune on part exchange, but financial considerations aside I have enjoyed actually using every piece of kit I’ve ever owned.

So why did I settle on the Fuji X-series? I think there are three key reasons, none of which are weight or size.

  • User experience
  • Fuji’s commitment to ongoing improvements
  • Soul

 

Not really a techy, geeky list it? Let’s take experience first. For someone like myself who took up photography in the 1970s with a Zenith E, a Russian-built tank of a camera, Fujifilm’s retro styling appeals to me both visually and practically. Having physical dials and knobs harks back to simpler times and on a practical level I really appreciate being able to see my key settings without having to squint at an LCD screen especially in bright sunlight.

I am an enthusiast photographer so it is important to me that I enjoy using my kit. With less than perfect eyesight too, having the information on the camera body is a boon. For me, the Fujifilm system allows for a very tactile experience and the fact that when shooting I can set everything on my X-T3 without touching a menu or looking at an LCD screen really adds to that experience and thus to the enjoyment.

In part two I will look at Fujifilm’s firmware update approach and try to put into words that final nebulous bullet point – soul.

The Case of the disappearing Mojo

Loch Maree
Loch Maree, Scotland

How to define “mojo”? Well, the dictionary on my desk says:

“… a magic charm, talisman or spell”

Which is all well and good and accurate etcetera but not quite how we tend to use it as we tend to define that peculiar lethargy that robs us of the inclination to create as “losing my mojo”. Clearly, for me that means photography but I think it can be interpreted much more loosely and be used to encompass not just creative activities but other less creative pursuits.

As an aside, mojo is also the name given to several spicy sauces originating in the Canary Islands. But I digress (and not for the first time).

I do try to stay creative and full of energy and my 365 Challenge has proved very effective in keeping my enthusiasm alive but even so there are the odd days when it is more of an effort. I wrote this piece on one such day as part of my daily fifteen minutes free-writing exercise. I was supposed to have been in Manchester indulging in some street photography but, long story short, I’m at home through no fault of my own. Perhaps the sudden removal of something I’ve been looking forward to all week has contributed to this lack of enthusiasm?

I’ve just taken the grandson to school, something I do most days, and slipped my Fuji X100t in my pocket intending to wander down to the canal for a walk and to take a few snaps. Instead, I went straight to my favourite local cafe and had breakfast before heading home. I did listen to a podcast on my phone whilst at the cafe so not all was lost – but still I avoided using the camera!

I’m not the first and won’t be the last to lose their mojo and in fact this wasn’t even my first such case of a disappearing mojo but nevertheless it is worrying whenever it happens. Sure, history shows that I will get over it … but what if?

The good news is that disappearing mojos have a knack of returning especially with a lit bit of gentle coaxing. The first thing I do is put the camera away and if practical take a walk (without a camera) or sit with a coffee and a (non-photography) book. Sometimes just forgetting about creating for a while can help to clear the negative log-jam that is holding your creative juices back.

Another thing that often works for me is tidying up my desk. Sounds odd but simply handling the photographic detritus on my desk and putting it back where it belongs can often reignite an interest in doing something. That fisheye lens buried under a pile of papers that hasn’t been used in a while … now I wonder … It’s a bit like buying new kit without the costs involved; new kit is a sure fire way for many of us to get out with a camera and regain that enthusiasm but it’s not always economically viable.

If that doesn’t work I take a look back through my archive and remind myself of the many “wins” in a bid to remove negative thoughts. Sometimes seeing an old image can rekindle an interest in a particular technique or subject leading me to have another try.

If there is one thing that my own experience has taught me however it’s that I shouldn’t panic. The “lost” mojo is not gone but merely stood out of sight for a while, it will return and sometimes stressing about it only makes things worse.

Droning on – the vlog

One of my main photographic interests is creating audio visual sequences, AV for short. In this second vlog I ponder the current progress of an upcoming AV entitled Droning On which is built around a sequence of still drone photographs. I currently have a very incomplete narration written and wondered if putting the sequence into a vlog and recording my thoughts as I watched it would help.

In the event it did, but not in the way I envisaged. I’d set about the vlog thinking that it would free up the creative juices and I’d be able to come up with the additional three or four minutes worth of narrative I needed. In the even I decided to reduce the amount of narration to just an opening sequence, comprising most of what I’d already written and also a one or two sentence close.

It’s worth pointing out that the AV sequence is not complete; the sequence of images is how I intend it but the fades and timings will change when I settle on an accompanying musical track. The one used is YouTube friendly whereas the final version will likely use a piece allowed by my IAC licence but not necessarily allowable on YouTube.

Tales of a First-time vlogger

With a rare free afternoon recently and none of the usual domestic responsibilities as we were away from home I headed off into the Wiltshire countryside; we were visiting family down south and I wasn’t required that Friday afternoon! My aim – to shoot my first video clips with the Fuji X-T3 and more importantly to stick myself in front of said camera. In other words, and despite the denials forming in my mind, it was the creation of a vlog that was vaguely running around my head. I have in the past compiled a few mixed stills/video pieces with the Fuji X-T20 using voiceovers rather than talking to camera. I think my hands featured a couple of times in these efforts (operating the tripod-mounted camera) and on one memorable occasion I ambled into shot, put a filter on the lens and shuffled off again!

So what I was planning was, for me at least, rather heady stuff!

To skip to the conclusion, the end result is OK I think and I enjoyed the whole process BUT there is tons of room for improvement. So what were the key take-outs from this first vlogging experience?

  • Script – use one
  • B-roll – shoot loads then shoot some more
  • Chose locations for taking to camera more carefully
  • Syncing audio is the way to go
  • Try not to start every sentence with “So”
  • Look AT the camera
  • Shooting both stills and video is challenging

Script

Despite what I’d read previously and indeed written in my free writing sessions I did not prepare a script. I do reference this omission in the vlog as I realised ten minutes in that despite having a vague idea in my head the lack of any sort of prompts meant I rambled at times and found it difficult to hold a train of thought. Luckily I was able to remove some of the talking and leave it on the cutting room floor, but there are a couple of occasions when I repeat myself and even niftier editing wouldn’t have been able to save me. The loose idea in my head was to record the elements for the vlog whilst chuntering in real time about my experiences. In the end one entire idea got cut because I wasn’t happy with the flow of words. So, a script, even one comprised of just bullet points would be useful. Personally I like the idea of writing a full script, even if I don’t deliver it verbatim, as this will also give me the raw material for my blog. To be fair though, the loose aim was to reflect as I experienced my first vlogging session so at least what I have produced is reflective of my original aims.

An opportunity just as I was leaving for some drone footage was a godsend in terms of B-roll

B-roll

What can I say? I did not record anything like the amount of b-roll footage I needed. This meant that what I did shoot had to be stretched out more than was ideal for the free flow of the visuals. Thankfully I was able at the end of the session to get the drone out which gave me some B-roll but even then I was scratching around as I did no want to overdo drone footage of rapeseed crops. So, shoot some b-roll, shoot some more than shoot some more again!

Locations for recording to camera

I had my locations sorted in my head before I set off, but three of the four I chose were by the roadside. Initially I hadn’t anticipated this as an issue as I knew the roads quite well, they were all B roads and typically when I’ve been there in the week they have been quiet apart from when folk were going to or from work. For some reason it was like Piccadilly Circus last Friday! I have lots of discarded A-roll where I am either waiting for vehicles to pass or being drowned out by them. Nothing more to say really, except be a little more choosy in future!

Zoom H1 and Rode Lav mic

We will gloss over the shameful scenes at the first location when I forgot to put the lav mic on. Again, I do confess to this in the vlog. After setting both the camera and the recorder running I clapped my hands together sharply providing both a visual and an audible cue for later syncing in my editor. The resultant spikes on the waveforms enabled me to extremely quickly line them up and replace the cameras audio with the external track. I cannot imagine doing it any other way after this experience.

Watch your words

Years ago on a business leaders course I was video recorded for the first time. On viewing the resultant footage I was horrified at how often I said “um” especially whilst thinking of what to say. Well, I am pleased to say that I have largely cured myself of that these days. BUT. There’s always a but isn’t there? I have a new verbal tic. So, can you guess what it is? It will be obvious if you’ve watched the vlog – at one point I started three consecutive sentences with the word “so”.  I had to comment via a caption – another learning point identified.

Eye contact

If talking to the camera was weird, and I mention that too, then looking at it was even weirder.  Fortunately none of the clips are too close-up on my face so it doesn’t show quite as much as it might have done and there is actually one sequence when I managed it quite well but it is definitely something to be improved upon.

Mental gymnastics required

I am a very experienced stills shooter and a very new video shooter. One of these I can do without conscious thought and the other needs 100% of my attention. I found that because I was concentrating so much on how to record the video and set the camera for that aspect then I basically forgot to take any stills or those that I did take were rather hurried. I have no true keepers from the day even though in those conditions I should have been able to have come away with at least half a dozen, especially in the woodland or rapeseed fields. This will get easier with practice I’m sure but I am also going to see if taking two cameras will help. Using one for video and one for stills will hopefully help with the mental adjustments as I won’t have to make any physical adjustments to camera settings. I have a lot of stills taken at 1/50th second for example!

So, in summary, this is only my first experience of recording and producing a vlog and there were other things that cropped up either on the day or in post production. These points here however are the key ones and give plenty of food for thought.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience and got some satisfaction watching the vlog grow on the timeline. I have identified lots of room for improvement (and some not documented here) but I am looking forward to addressing each area as I move forward and also to identifying further ways in which to improve my vlogging skills.

As Arnie said: “I’ll be back!”

Droning On

The second anniversary of my Mavic Pro drone purchase will soon be upon us (as I type this) and in order to supply copy for a Club photography magazine recently I got to thinking about what I’d learnt.  Incidentally, if you’ve been following recent drone product launches mine is the original Mavic Pro; the newer Pro2 is apparently a big step up in image quality.  

In truth much of the learning came in the last six months of 2018 as I was not well enough to take the drone out over the 2017/18 winter months and prior to that I was still really nervous about the whole flying a camera thing. But practice is really paying off and even the quality of my images has improved considerably.

I am first and foremost a photographer, so, what does this photographer take from his first full year flying?

90 feet above the weir at Cromwell Bottom on the River Calder with the damage done by the floods a couple of years ago still very evident. A one-second exposure, courtesy of the 10-stop Freewell ND filter.

Importantly … 

Get used to flying it; to taking off, landing and generally moving about the sky. If you are a first-time flyer, then forget about photography for a few flights. Yes, it will be hard to do and a little frustrating, but practise flying in all directions, squares, circles, backwards, forwards, side-to-side. Get to instinctively know when pushing right on the stick will move the craft left and when it will move it right – it’s easy to forget especially if things go a little awry. The one time I crashed (see below) was exactly due to that confusion. With the drone pointing towards me and drifting to my left towards the trees I instinctively pushed the stick right to take evasive action. Except this was the wrong thing to do as it took the drone to ITS right and directly into the branches I was trying to avoid. I always try to watch the drone too when manoeuvring rather than the screen as I can more quickly spot if its drifting in the wrong direction.

Needless to say, I didn’t follow this course of action (to be fair no one suggested it) but in hindsight waiting just a little longer to take photographs would have meant better pictures from the start and a more comfortable flying experience.  Do as I say not as I did might be another way of putting it!

Exposure is critical

Hovering above the beach at Newborough. Sometimes exposing to the right means that you still have to leave the shadows as silhouettes!

The Mavic Pro has a much smaller sensor than many enthusiast photographers will be used to and therefore has less tolerance to noise. Indeed, whilst the stated ISO range is 100-1600 I rarely move it from 100 and indeed I’ve not seen many bloggers or vloggers suggesting using the higher ISO.  These days with live histograms on most cameras it is relatively straightforward to “shoot to the right” and the Mavic Pro is no exception. I have the histogram up on the screen at all times and watch it carefully. I aim to keep the graph pushed as far over to the right on the screen without “clipping” into the highlights.

Exposing to the right (ETTR) is a well-used photographic technique and means adjusting the exposure of an image as high as possible at base ISO (without causing unwanted saturation) to collect the maximum amount of light and thus get the optimum performance out of the digital image sensor. It is easier to pull down exposure in post-production than to pull detail out of the shadows. With the tiny 12mp sensor on the Mavic Pro I want to start with as much detail captured right from the start, hence ETTR and RAW (DNG) capture is my go-to approach.

Nail the composition

Here is one very good reason why you want to learn to fly and position the drone with as much accuracy as possible.

So nail the composition!

You only have a relatively small file to play with; 3992×2992 pixels (typically giving  a 23mb file) compared for example to my Fuji mirrorless camera’s 6000×3376 (48mb) or my Nikon D800E’s 7360×4912 (72mb). Having to crop into the file throws away precious pixels and of course if you then need to enlarge the image for printing you are further degrading the image quality.

Try to get composition spot-on to avoid cropping later. Be patient, rotate the drone and take it higher/lower, left/right, back/forward as needed to really get the framing as near to your vision as possible. Swiping up on the display screen to temporarily remove all the data and information displayed upon it can help and don’t forget to check the corners of the screen too. There is no doubt that in this situation the iPad screen beats my iPhone but that’s a discussion for another day.

Do keep this in perspective though, I recently printed an image from the drone at A3 and was blown away by the quality. A bit mushy sometimes in the corners but fabulous in the middle of the frame. For small prints and on-screen usage, the files can take some tight cropping but to my mind it makes total sense to maximise every pixel available and careful composition at the time is a huge help in this regard.

Exercise restraint

9 frame panorama, DJI Mavic Pro at 65 feet above the River Calder at Cromwell Bottom

When processing your images (I shoot RAW and process in Adobe Camera Raw) try to avoid pushing the sliders too far – less is definitely more and over-zealous use of the sliders will seriously degrade the image veryquickly in my experience (remember small sensor). Once again, getting the exposure right and nailing the composition also help here. I have found that skies generally need some gentle noise reduction, but again don’t go overboard and if you are able to do so I would suggest just selectively de-noising the sky and not the more detailed parts of the image which can quickly turn to mush.

Height isn’t everything

You don’t have to shoot everything from 400 feet up! Just because you can doesn’t mean you always have to. I have included height information in the image captions and you will see there are successful compositions shot from 65 feet up for example and even from head height.

75 feet up – Newborough Beach

Be open to shooting each scene from different angles and differing heights. I will often take the drone to 400 feet and then slowly bring it down tweaking the composition and taking a series of different images as I drop back down to around 80 feet. Other times I will watch the screen as I slowly rise into the air looking for the optimal point at which the composition seems complete.  There is no zoom lens on the Mavic Pro I use (although a zoom version has just been released along with the aforementioned Pro 2 with its larger sensor) so, just like using your feet to “zoom” a prime lens on your stills camera, you need to use the joysticks to “zoom” around the composition with the drone.

Of course, I’m not saying don’t take it up – 390 feet, Blackley Top

The hardware

Whilst I’m not intending to review the hardware some comments are pertinent as the choices you make here can have a big bearing on success or failure. 

Ringstone Reservoir. It can be a little disconcerting putting the drone up into mist for it to temporarily disappear but it gives an angle I could not get otherwise.

Let’s start with what for me makes the whole process workable – the viewing screen. The Mavic Pro doesn’t have a screen supplied with the controller, so I purchased an Android smartphone to fulfil this function. Turns out that this was not my smartest choice as the minute I plugged the “smartphone” into the Mavic controller it went “Oh, goody! A big battery!” and proceeded to draw power from the controller. Unsure as to whether this was normal or not, or indeed if it was expected, I decided to change and use an iPad mini instead. I figured the bigger screen would make it easier to read the display so parted with a few more hard-earned pennies to buy the small iPad and a sunshade to keep the glare off the screen. This worked much better apart from one niggle, it kept sending out a warning message that it was running low on memory even though I was only running the DJI app. Nervous that this might cause me to lose sight and/or control of the drone I switched to using my iPhone whilst I investigated.

Long story short – I never did get around to investigating and now simply use my iPhone. The only compromise is that if I’m going to be out all day I take a power bank to top the phone up for normal use if required after flying the drone although to date I haven’t needed to use it. I put the phone in Airplane mode whilst using the drone to prevent calls or messages interfering with the flight.  I need to wear my reading glasses AND my distance glasses simultaneously however; the former on the end of my nose to view the screen and controller and the latter above them so I can maintain line of sight with the drone. I must look slightly odd, but such is old age.

Flying the drone and keeping it safe in the air was always going to be my biggest concern and I have to say I’m very glad I opted for a premium model as I quickly got to grips with the basics and whilst I was in no hurry to step out of beginner mode when I did take the plunge I was pleasantly surprised. If in doubt, I can let go of the joysticks and the drone will hover where it is until I get myself sorted! The requirement to maintain line of sight means that under my control the drone never gets remotely close to the maximum distances it can technically achieve but I cannot see why people want to fly their expensive kit in places where they cannot see it. 

“Bamburgh Sunrise” DJI Mavic Pro at 102 feet above the beach at Bamburgh

As already mentioned, I have crashed the drone once, in Snowdonia, on the first occasion when I had someone with me whilst I flew the drone. Thankfully it was less than twenty feet off the ground and the branches I flew it into helped cushion the fall. I had the drone pointing towards me which means that right on the controller means go left as far as the drone is concerned. A mistake I make very rarely now but still, no harm done apart from a few scratches to the drone and a dent to my pride.

So, whilst flying the drone is still an adrenalin-fuelled experience I do now feel confident in flying the machine and am starting to produce some pleasing results, particularly with still images which I capture using the DNG raw mode and process in Photoshop. I have found that I need to apply sharpening and clarity a little more aggressively than I am used to and that I have to be extra careful with regards to noise in the image. I usually take the drone out early in the day and have not yet shot extensively in the brighter part of the day but when I have I find the files a lot cleaner, especially with the sun behind the drone.

Conclusion

So, I have made good progress with flying, have settled on using my iPhone as a screen and am starting to get some good still images from the drone. Whilst there is still some work to do with image quality, or perhaps more accurately consistency, I am now producing usable and pleasing images from every flight.

I’ve a few other things to mention, including my experiences with filters shooting panoramas and the various built-in shooting options but will leave those for another day.  

Ringstone Reservoir on a brighter morning. As with all branches of photography looking for something a little different to the norm can result in striking images

To recap my conclusions from this exercise, learn the basics (flying), remember to squeeze as much from the little sensor as you can and exercise restraint when sat at the computer.

This is one purchase I have never regretted for a single moment.

Audo Visuals – an update

A quick reminder of some of the audio-visual slideshows I have produced over the last couple of years


#11 The Dark Art

A chance to see some of my black and white photography and hear of my influences. Audio-visual sequence created in Pictures to Exe on an iMac running Parallels.


#10 Autumn 2018

It’s been an unusually wind-free autumn up here this year and so, in the very week that the colour started to wane, I put together this celebration of Autumn 2018

Autumn 2018 (AV) from Dave Whenham on Vimeo.


#9 I want to go back.

A work in progress, produced using Pictures to Exe on a Mac running Parallels. I have uploaded this to go with a blog post and it will evolve as my skills in producing audio-visual sequences progress. All images and words including the poem “I want to go back” are my copyright. “Scottish Rhapsody” by Ronald Binge.


#8.  A little something I produced using mixed media for the Postal Photographic Club to promote their online circles.

“Fretless” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/


#7. Still working with Picture to Exe, this time trying out some more “advanced” techniques. For example with the two images where the boat merges into a previous image, which was also shot on the River Tay, I aligned the two images in Photoshop so that the boat appeared where I wanted it to. I’m also working with controlling the animation within each frame, particularly the time when items appear and then fade from the screen relative to others.

“The Forest and the Trees” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/


#6.  A brief look back at the first half of 2017 using a selection of square images.


#5.  Continuing to learn the basics of Pictures to Exe


#4.  My first look at the newly refurbished Piece Hall in Halifax. Shot on a Fuji X-T100 and slideshow created in Pictures to Exe Essentials v.9.0.11 on a Mac running Parallels.


#3.  I purchased PTE last year but haven’t used it owing to an extremely slow Windows laptop (I run an iMac for my desktop machine). However having now installed Parallels on the Mac, upgraded PTE to the latest version and bought some tutorials I am now getting to grips with this amazingly powerful program. This is the 3rd attempt, again using stock images from my files.

Music: Procession of the King, Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/b…. and A Quiet Place licensed from beckhamdigital.com.au


#2.  I purchased PTE last year but haven’t used it owing to an extremely slow Windows laptop (I run an iMac for my desktop machine). However having now installed Parallels on the Mac, upgraded PTE to the latest version and bought some tutorials I am now getting to grips with this amazingly powerful program.

Music licensed from http://www.beckhamdigital.com.au


#1.  I purchased PTE last year but haven’t used it owing to an extremely slow Windows laptop (I run an iMac for my desktop machine). However at a loose end today I installed Parallels on the Mac, upgraded PTE to the latest version, bought Barry Beckham’s starter videos and have produced a very simple AV to get me started.

Music licensed from http://www.beckhamdigital.com.au

Not another Fuji journey!

This was originally posted in June 2016. It’s taken around three years to move to a full Fuji system so to celebrate I’m republishing a couple of original articles.  I am in the process of writing both an updated review of the Fuji X-T3 and also revisiting this post that firs appeared on davewhenhaphotography.com.

It may just be because of my recent researches but I’ve seen a lot of blog posts along the lines of “My journey with Fuji”, “My switch from [insert brand here] to Fuji” or “Moving to Fuji – my story”.  So the virtual world probably doesn’t need another such post. But then again I figured that as my posts are read by approximately one and a half people each time perhaps it would be OK to slip this one in under the radar.

© Dave Whenham
The start of my Fuji “journey”. Fuji X100 Winter 2011.

I was as it happens a very early “adopter” buying the Fuji X100 when it first came out and I instantly became enamoured by its retro styling and the way it forced me back into a way of shooting I’d last enjoyed thirty years previously.

Coffee-and-Conversation-by-Dave-Whenham
Coffee and Conversation. Fuji X100.
© Dave Whenham
Misty Morning. Fuji X100 Winter 2013/14
© Dave Whenham
Images from a photo essay 2013. Fuji X100
© Dave Whenham
Curves. Fuji X100 2014

That however was the honeymoon and whilst I continued to use the X100 regularly as shown by the images above it’s shortcomings and quirks finally led to it being left at home more and more until 2015 when, whilst switching my DSLR kit from Canon to Nikon,  I finally decided to part company with the Fuji.

It was a difficult decision, in so many ways it was a joy to handle but it could be a frustration to actually use and despite its image quality (I won a club competition with an X100 image) the fact that it was spending so much time in the drawer meant I wasn’t getting any meaningful benefit from ownership. The major firmware update in late 2013 came too late for me, by that time the X100 and indeed Fuji were rarely in my thoughts and I completely missed the announcements. I did update the firmware before selling the camera but by then the die was cast. I cried quietly inside at how little I got for it but that’s another story.

Looking back this morning I am well pleased with some of the images I made with the X100. On those occasions when I could be bothered to wrestle with it’s idiosyncrasies I was usually happy with the results even if getting there was sometimes somewhat painful. I never used the Fuji JPEGS from the X100 but was always more than happy with the quality of the RAW (RAF) files it produced.  From time to time though after selling the X100 I did regret the decision.

Recently however I’ve been looking again at the Fuji X100, now in its third iteration as the Fuji X100T. I initially started looking at classic film rangefinders with no intention of reentering the premium large sensor, fixed prime lens digital market. However, wherever I looked the Fuji X100T kept cropping up in articles, blog posts and discussion groups. Which naturally meant I followed the threads and dug deeper. And deeper. And yet deeper still.

© Dave Whenham
West End, London. Fuji X100T

So deep in fact that the X100T entered the house and I have very quickly embraced this newest iteration of the X100. The handling is the same but the user experience vastly improved.  Using this style of camera needs a different approach compared to a (D)SLR, more akin to a traditional rangefinder, but as with everything the secret is in getting to know your kit and actually using it regularly. I’ve used the X100T daily since I got it and the mechanical side of things is starting to become intuitive; muscle memory is being formed and changing settings is becoming easier through repetition. I think that is the secret with any camera, practice, practice and yet more practice.  Several of the buttons on the camera can be customised and I’ve been through three separate formations so far, each slightly more helpful to my way of working than before.

© Dave Whenham
Oxford Street, London. Fuji X100T

Getting to know the camera hasn’t been without its frustrations of course but I’m already feeling at home with the X100T and the quality of the images who I get it right make the effort very worthwhile.  Two main things stand out art present. Firstly, the camera tends to under-expose to my taste in most situations, not a major problem as I now keep the EV dial on +1 most of the time but I do need to keep an eye on exposure.  I will experiment further with exposure modes and see if that helps in this regard.

© Dave Whenham
Kings Cross, London. Fuji X100T

The X100T is great for candid photography and the image quality at ISO 6400, when exposed correctly, is superb. No complaints from me. The image above was shot at 1/60th second at f4 and ISO 6400 from a distance of five feet or so with the camera sat on my leg.

Which leads me to my other frustration, which I would stress is down to my handling and NOT the camera, and that is the number of blurred shots I acquired when street shooting due to the shutter speed being too slow. My bad as they say but I have been setting far too small an aperture for street candids I think. As a landscape photographer I am used to defaulting to f11 as my go-to aperture.  When shooting portraits I often use f2.8 or even wider on occasions. Out on the streets of London last week I set the X100T to f8 or f11, auto ISO (with a maximum of 6400) in aperture priority and manual focusing. Looking at the images this morning far too many are blurry and when I dig deeper I’m seeing shutter speeds of 1/15th second or less. When moving on the street I suspect that even 1/30th or 1/60th of a second might be too slow. This is NOT a fault of the camera but it is something to be aware of and for me it is a case of getting used to a smaller, busier viewfinder and keeping my eye on the shutter speed.

IMG_1625
“Now it’s your turn”. Fuji X100T

Looking back through the images, an aperture of f4 would be ideal with the 23mm lens of the X100T when shooting candids or street photography. This was indoors and 1/100th sec at f4 ISO 1600 with camera to my eye.

Last weeks experiences on the streets of London have taught me a lot about this style of shooting and also given me the confidence that insofar as I am concerned the X100T is going to be the perfect tool for the job.

But of course, I didn’t stop at the X100T as you will know if you’ve read any of my recent posts. A flurry of activity online, selling my Nikon 16-35 lens and the entire EOS M3 kit amongst other items, has provided the budget for a new Fuji X-T10 and four lenses (8mm fisheye, 12mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm).

© Dave Whenham
An iconic skyline. Fuji X-T10 with 55-200mm lens

One thing I have been very conscious of more recently is the weight of my Nikon kit. It is less of an issue when out in the fells for the day with one of my photographic partners but for a day out with the family it is frankly a liability.  However, spending five days away, as we did last week, I prefer to have some options other than just a DSLR and 24-70 zoom. But it is not practical, my full Nikon kit is bigger than the suitcase we use for a start!  So, whilst researching the Fuji X-series I realised I could put together an excellent system which would mean I could cut down on bulk and weight without compromising on versatility.

Spoiler alert: I bought the X-T10 as my lightweight alternative to the Nikons and at this stage it is not my intention to ditch the DSLRs so don’t expect a “Road to Damascus” moment later in this post because there hasn’t been one … yet.

The images above were all taken with the Fuji X-T10 on a day spent in Kew Gardens, London. I used three lenses during the day, the Samyang 8mm fisheye, the Fujinon 18-55 “kit lens” and the Fujinon 55-200mm. As you will have worked out I had a full-frame equivalent of 27mm through to 300mm at my disposal (if you exclude the slightly more esoteric fisheye) which compares more than favourably to the 24-70 I would have restricted myself to if I’d brought the Nikon DSLR on this trip.  Weight-wise I didn’t get the scales out but my shoulders reported no more strain from the Fuji and three lenses than it would have from one lens plus DSLR Nikon set-up.

© Dave Whenham
The Art of Conversation. Fuji X-T10

It is too early to make any detailed conclusions about the X-T10 although I have already fallen for the quality of JPEGs from both Fujis. I used the X-T10 mainly on a walk along the South Bank one afternoon and for a full day in Kew Gardens. It was in my bag at all times though and so did get a brief outing in the West End as the image above shows.

First impressions are very positive though both in terms of handling and in terms of image quality. I was very happy with the Canon EOS M3 I was using recently but have to say that the Fuji experience has been far superior so far. That is not to say the M3 is poor, far from it I still rate it highly, but the Fuji’s have so far provided an even better user experience so I am more than happy with my recent purchases.

Whether or not it becomes a DSLR-killer remains to be seen. I am not even going to entertain the idea of ditching my Nikons until I have used the Fujis for a good six months, which takes us into 2017.  I feel confident enough with the X-T10 though to have invested in a Lee Seven5 starter kit and will be testing the system out on my next couple of landscape shoots. If all goes well I will take both systems to Skye in November and use the Fuji for those days when the walking is mostly steeply upwards. But that is jumping head.

At present my introduction to the Fuji X-series has been a very positive one. From having mixed feelings about the X100 in 2011 I find myself in 2016 with an X-T10 and X100T feeling very positive about the system and looking forward to exploring the Fuji X-world further over the coming months.