No longer ‘anti-zoom’…

(or how I stopped being a pompus ‘prime’ addicted ass and decided to pack light)

There is no shame in admitting you were wrong. There is, equally, nothing wrong in changing ones mind. I’m about to do both.

Having said that, I still believe X-Pro bodies are best suited for prime lenses between 18 and 60mm. They are rangefinder style cameras, and like the classic Leica M’s and Contax G’s this combination offers the user a classic style, tactile operation and a compactness that lends itself well to the kind of photography rangefinders are best suited to – street, reportage, travel and journalism, to name a few.

The original trilogy of XF lenses that came out with the X-Pro 1 are quite brilliant, by the way. The 18 (compact, snappy, sharp), the 35 (cool bokeh, optical excellence) and the 60 (sharpest lens I own, and good AF with the new bodies) should easily satisfy any photographer who uses either X-Pro. Of course, G.A.S soon takes over and I find myself the owner of the 27, 23 (my favourite), 56 APD (wish I hadn’t spent the extra), a couple of Samyangs (brilliant value) and – here we go – the 18-55 and 55-200 zooms.

I never use zooms. I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve taken either out on a shoot. I used the 55-200 at the Zoo once, and it was great (see below). Maybe the odd other time. Its actually a terrific lens – optically superb at either end, really quick and smooth AF, a great performer. It just never felt right on the the X-Pro. It made the whole experience front heavy, a bit of a burden. I sensed a certain ‘cack-handiness’ looking through a viewfinder on the left. I imagine this lens works way better on the XT’s… I believe its what it was originally designed for.

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The 18-55, on the other hand, was proving to be a bit of an enigma to me. I bought it cheap off Ebay, as I figured it might come in handy one day. ALL the reviews were good, and they were right – this lens is WAY too good to be called a ‘kit lens’ – but again, it felt a bit wrong on a rangefinder style body. The difference this time was it was mainly psychological rather than physical discomfort in any way. The lens isn’t that big, no bigger than any kit lens. I shoot street mainly, and it just felt like I wasn’t a valid street shooter using a zoom lens. It made me lazy, I wasn’t getting physically close enough anymore, I was just ‘zooming’ instead….nah, this wasn’t right. Not right at all. I also like shooting wide open – I like subject separation, especially on London’s textured streets – and I wasn’t always getting that. I put the zoom lens away – I’m a prime shooter.

My girlfriend, a busy portrait and wedding photographer, uses zooms almost exclusively for her work. Her images are consistently superb – I know Im biased, but they really are – and we always discuss the merits of each piece of glass we own. She’s a full frame Canon shooter for her business, and a Fuji X shooter for everything else. Her Fuji lens of choice is the XC 16-50. The cheapest lens Fuji does. Go figure. Admittedly, she gets some lovely images from it….

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Like she always says, zooms serve a purpose (and I should probably stop being a closed minded ass)…

With this ringing in my ears, I got to packing for our summer vacation – to Skiathos, one of the Greek islands. Normally, I would pack a body and at least four primes. Normally. I also wouldn’t normally have a beach holiday – I like cities and the history that goes with them – but the thought of going with a bunch of glass, changing lenses in hot sandy/salty conditions made me rather concerned. The X-Pro 2 is weather sealed, of course, but not when removing glass – leaving an exposed sensor. And none of my glass is weather sealed either. In addition, I wanted to pack light – discount airlines dictate this after all – and just try to relax and enjoy my vacation. So I bit the bullet. XF18-55 and the Samyang 12. Sod It. It’ll be fine…first time ever with no Fuji primes. One body with the zoom attached, the 12mm and a bunch of batteries and filters. Certainly felt lighter…

It sure was a revelation. THIS is what a zoom is for, to me (and maybe to you as well). Convenience and quality. Was it as good as a prime? Nope, not always – but it was WAY closer than I thought it would be. I came away both surprised and really happy – this was the perfect piece of glass for a vacation like this.

First, sharpness. I believe this lens to be sharper at its widest setting than the prime equivalent. There is not a lot in it, but its sharper than the XF18. There is a smidge more barrel distortion, which one barely notices (and correctable anyway), and of course half a stop of light (2.8) but this zoom cries out to be shot at 18mm. Suits me fine, I love to shoot on the streets nice and wide. And in aeroplanes too…

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(check out the corner to corner sharpness too. For a zoom, its excellent)

AF Speed – REALLY fast on the X-Pro 2. It isn’t a slouch on older bodies either – the linear motor is very good on standard single point-to-point focus  – and continuous focus is OK in good light, but thats mainly down to which body you use rather than a fault with the lens. Continuous AF on X-Pro 2 is actually pretty good, and is getting an upgrade in October 2016. Looking forward to that, but the X-Pro is not a sports camera and I hardly ever use C-AF.

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Currently, the 18-55 is the only lens I have with OIS. Never been much bothered with it as the primes I have are pretty fast and ANY X-Pro body is great at high ISO’s. But I did enjoy using it on this trip, as I didn’t have a tripod and you know, four stops worth of IS is pretty neat to play around with at times –

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(that bottom mono image was shot hand held at 1/6th of a second. Pretty good I would say)

The tele end (55mm) is pretty good. The downside to this is not optical performance – the sharpness is still pretty sweet, edge to edge – its the losing of two stops of light, and virtually no subject separation. This isn’t always a disaster, but F4? I cant remember the last time I deliberately shot at F4🙂 ….

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Here’s a few more random images…

trepidation and shrinkage.

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the long haul.

To summarise, would I recommend getting one of these lenses for travel? Oh hell yeah. I’ll still use my primes for doing what I normally do on the streets of London – but even now, I still have not taken the 18-55 off yet. I’m still enjoying it that much and took some pics of a rainy London when I got back from Skiathos:

off Oxford St

Same as the Old Season....

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I do miss my 23 F1.4 though. Maybe normal service will resume this weekend.🙂

I paid about £285 for my lens a couple of years ago. Not bad – it was mint, and from a really good seller. I see them for less than that, and a bit more, but if you’re looking for something really high quality that you can take on holiday – I don’t think you’ll need more than this.

As always, thanks for reading – please feel free to stopover to my instagram and say Hi –

https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/ – ill be back to taking pics of Londoners again soon!

And there is always my Flickr page – which features more Skiathos pics as well as a bunch we shot on 35mm film. They came out lovely – if I was loaded I would shoot analog more often:

the long haul.

Cheers All.

Be back soon!

 

 

Zeiss Planar 45mm F2(test with X-Pro 2)

A few months back I procured the well regarded Zeiss Sonnar 90mm F2.8 (G fit). I was suitably impressed with this somewhat small marvel and the review is buried on this site somewhere! It was small, well made, EXTREMELY sharp – and ultimately convinced me that buying the Fujinon XF90mm may not actually be necessary. I’m not saying it was better (it likely wasn’t/isn’t) but seeing as that focal length is not really what I use anyway (I do mainly street stuff and use the 23mm nearly all of the time) I figured the £600 I saved by not getting it could be put to better use. So I went to Whitstable for a few days with my bird…had a great time.

I have always been a fan of the Contax G1/2 – I worked in photo retail for many years, straight out of school, in fact, and this titanium tank still has a huge following today. One of the reasons people bought these beauties (and still do) was the lenses available. The most popular of which was the Planar 45. Years later, as bench tests became more advanced and sensors started to out perform film emulsion etc, this optic became something of a star, especially in the digital mirrorless world. Swedish website ‘Photodo’ actually declared it performed better in terms of overall sharpness than the Leica 50mm Summicron, and many others have it ranked the 2nd or 3rd best production lens of all time. Not that it matters THAT much, of course (as someone recently pointed out to me, sharpness isn’t necessarily the the be all and end all when it comes to a great lens) but I’ve always wanted one – especially now, as I truly believe the Fujifilm X-Trans III sensor found on the X-Pro 2 is an incredible chip – and one recently came up going for a song, so I took the plunge….

The 45mm, in APS-C terms, is 67.5mm equiv. A short tele, and most certainly what I would not normally use for street work. In addition, its obviously a manual focus optic on the X-Pro 2, and adaptors, especially the cheaper ones are not what I would call user friendly. Fotodiox do a decent one, but its £85, and I cant really justify that on a lens I wont use a lot, so I battled through using a £25 version I already had from my 90mm.

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I’ll be honest – its a ballache to focus. Even with peaking, you are by no means assured of a sharp image. I consider myself pretty good at focusing by hand, and the X-Pro 2 accounts for this better than any previous X-series camera I’ve ever had, but its still….not perfect. The focus ring is almost flush with the camera body too, which doesn’t make life easier, so if you rely a lot on AF – especially the new and awesome AF found in the later bodies – think carefully before blowing some fairly serious bones on this lens.

So this morning, I got on the train to London and jumped on the Victoria Line to Brixton. I went to this part of South London because, quite simply, its a street photographers dream. I never have to work too hard to get some half decent shots, so I figured, even with less than snappy focus at my disposal, I would at least get out of there with SOMETHING worth showing you. And I did….AND I had fun too.

There are no focus distances inscribed on this lens, which makes it practically impossible for hyper focal shooting. Therefore pretty much everything was shot from eye height – I’m a deceitful bugger when it comes to street shooting and much prefer a stealth approach as I prefer capturing natural behaviours. This wasn’t possible this time, so I had to pretend to be a people person. This was tough. I cant stand people. I know, right? A street photographer who doesn’t like people…

In addition, I shot pretty much all of these wide open at F2 (occasionally 2.8) as I wanted to see what the bokeh was really like. Anyway, this is how it went:

This lens is incredibly sharp (please note WordPress compression isn’t the best. Go to my Flickr below for full res). I was actually shaking my head when I was editing the images. These were all RAW images, converted in Lightroom with minimal post. I barely needed to adjust anything, but I am a ‘contrast’ whore – its just how I like my shots to look. Sorry if you don’t like them. Bokeh? Not as awesome. Its OK – my 35mm 1.4 is way better at this – but its passable. For me, this lens is all about the sharpness. Holy CRAP, its sharp. Its hard to use, but the rewards are most certainly there. I’m going to stick my neck out and say its sharper than my XF60, which up to now was the sharpest lens I owned. This is a 100% crop:

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(from the Bowie memorial – he was a Brixton boy)

As for as colour reproduction? Not much to say really – the RAWS look like they do from any of the Fujinons. Maybe slightly magenta, but I don’t see how this matters much.

What would I use this lens for? No idea – definitely NOT street, its not user friendly and it doesn’t have AF – but I felt it did a lovely job on some head and shoulders portraits. It focuses pretty close, so maybe a lens for copying? It certainly brings out the detail! Anyhow, if you want to see more images please feel free to visit my flickr site:

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or better still, stop by my Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/capitalfaces/ – Im posting like a demon on there, and could do with some followers!

As always, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it, and if you have any questions, I shall always answer them.

Cheers!

 

No eye contact.

By no means do I consider myself an expert on street photography – but as many of you have realised by now, this is what I mainly shoot. I shoot daily, at least on my way to work and back again, so its become second nature to have my camera at the ready, and with the new and super responsive X-Pro 2 I am getting more and more shots that are ‘keepers’.

I’m not saying the previous generations aren’t suitable for street – they most definitely are – I am saying the advances, especially in AF, made in the later models have made shooting that little more ‘sure’ and flexible.

One of the keys to good street photography is, amongst many things, being able to predict the shot. Like a good motor cyclist, one needs to be able to see ‘what happens next’ before it actually happens. And by this, I mean looking ahead 20-30 feet at your next potential capture – having time to prepare, most importantly – and making good on this prep by getting the shot.

Case in point:

As alluded to in previous posts, I have no issues taking images of the homeless. I don’t shoot them because they’re an easy target (they most certainly are not anyway) I shoot because this is a growing issue in London, an important one to discuss, and I wont pretend it doesn’t exist just because a few dissenters find it uncomfortable to see. Fuck that. A camera records the truth. Its what it was made for – moments of truth. Amen. If you don’t like it, ask McCullin, and walk away…

I spotted the legs of this ‘moment of truth’ as I was taking my daily walk up Regent Street. He’s a regular that beds for the night outside ‘Superdry’ (ironically, I tagged the brand on this shot for Instagram, and they ‘liked’ it…odd.) and at the same time every morning he’s on his first fag of the day, and polishing off a quart of milk. I’ve tried talking to him before, and he’s not receptive to chit-chat, but he’s an interesting character all the same and I wanted to record the first moments of his day.

So, from 30 or so feet down the street, when I first spotted he was awake, I lowered my camera to just above the waist (in vertical position), ensuring it was as level as possible (this is incredibly hard actually, and I’m still no good at it after all this time and still use the rotate tool in L/R) and nonchalantly walked past, clicking as I reached the shop doorway. You can see my reflection – I didn’t even turn my head, as that would’ve gotten a reaction that wasn’t natural, and would likely have pissed him off, understandably.

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Its not 100% sharp, I know that. But its a capture I really like – and highlights how lucky I am, how blessed WE are and how empathy, kindness and a little generosity can make a difference to someones day. Believe it or not, this is a mutual exchange. Yes, I got my shot on this occasion, but on others he gets a cuppa, or a few quid or sometimes just a ‘Good Morning’.

Pretend he’s not there? Not me, pal.

(please visit my Instagram: ‘capitalfaces’ –  Cheers!)

 

Regent Street….

…is the street on which I work. I like it – its like Oxford St, but posher. And by that I mean LOADS of shops selling luxury goods rather than LOADS of shops selling sports clothes and tat.

I walk up from Piccadilly Circus as its less packed than Oxford Circus – and its a nice walk, especially when the sun is out. Its fairly quiet, but I’ll normally see some characters. I’ve taken to using my XE2 for daily use – its faster than my X-Pro 1, and smaller than my X-Pro 2, and with the XF18 bolted on it makes a nice and snappy carry camera rig.

So here’s a few from my daily walk up Regent Street. Its sure to end being a huge collection, as I do this walk every day…

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As ever, thanks for reading. I’ll be updating every month or so now – I have so few readers on here – but if you want to see more of my work you can always drop by my instagram, also called capitalfaces…..would be great to see you.

Stay well!🙂

 

Chestshooting….

Forgive me for not writing much on here in a while – I have been shooting, a lot, and becoming more intimately involved with the X-Pro 2. I shall write up my additional findings at a later date – and thanks, so much, for the kind words on my original review – but in the meantime, I have discovered a new way (for me) to shoot street. I call it ‘chestshooting’….let me explain.

Ever since the dawn of street photography, people have been looking for more and more discrete ways to attain true candid and intimate shots of individuals who don’t know they’re being shot. This is, I believe, the essence of genuine street photography. Of course, if you’re Bruce Gilden (or aspire to be), and you don’t have a problem with shoving your camera in someone’s face and firing a flash from 2ft away – well, fill your boots. I happen to appreciate Bruce’s work (as I do Eric Kim’s and Charlie Kirk’s) but I also know that this confrontational style is not for me. I have no wish in imparting a negative impact on somebody’s day via the trivial act of taking their photograph. It just doesn’t seem cool.

I have no problem asking to take an image of someone either. Sometimes it works better to have your subject pose a little if their look lends itself to that kind of posture, but mostly, to me, street photography is a dark art of deception. It is one of the few forms of original camera craft left – lets face it, every view, every building, every attraction, in every country is shot to death, daily, millions and millions of times (seriously, why watermark them?). I shoot those images too – but with good street photography, you are capturing a unique moment. It will never be repeated, and it belongs to only you. And that is the attraction. Stuff like this:

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(you can see my reflection🙂 )

With my old X-Pro 1 (gloriously clunky though it is) it was very much ‘shoot and hope’ when it came to street. It was slow to focus, and would often miss the point of subject if it was off centre, so it was either set hyperfocus (which gives me no subject separation, which I dont like) or sheer bravery/stupidity/invisible cloak/telephoto lens. The latter worked most of the time, but when it didn’t? Well, let me just say it made China Town really unpleasant…

The point is, I had to face my subject, eye to camera, and shoot. I was quick, and got away with it 90% of the time, even in China Town:

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But simply put, my camera’s limitations did not allow me to shoot street how I wanted to shoot street.

Cartier-Bresson, probably the best of all, was full of tricks. He would hold his Leica flat against his palm, the lens peaking over his cuff – or better still, have the camera around his neck, lens pushing through his overcoat with one button un-done and pushing a cable release in his pocket. Nice one, Henri…

The arrival of the XE-2 certainly did help matters, especially after the last round of firmware. Face detect worked ‘OK’ but only really when the subject was facing the camera. Wide tracking focus too, combine the two and you definitely had potential…but shooting from the hip, still, was way too hit and miss for me:

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see what I mean?

 

Cut to February 2016 – and I am now a proud owner of this:

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As mentioned in my review, pretty much every issue I had with the X-Pro 1 and XE-2 has been ironed out with the X-Pro 2…taking out the total ballsup Lightroom does to my files, this is pretty much my perfect camera. I bloody love this thing…

Biggest improvement? AF. No question – and THIS is what has allowed me to up my game when shooting on the streets. Still finding shooting from the hip somewhat limiting and too speculative, I have taken to shooting from the chest – what I now call ‘Chestshooting’…its very simple:

Set camera to – ‘Wide Tracking AF’ (although, honestly, Im not that sure it makes a difference when combined with – )

‘Auto Face/Eye Detect’

Other settings are dictated by your shooting conditions, but I try to get as fast a speed as possible shooting at F2 or F2.8. Do not set electronic shutter though…1/8000 is surely fast enough, no? E/S makes stuff look ‘bendy’ if your shooting on the move….

Lastly, position your camera. Lets say, you’re a right handed shooter like me – place the camera in the centre of your chest, about 10 inches below your chin, with the lens facing left. Just make sure any items of clothing aren’t flapping in the way of the front element.

Now, WALK.

Coverage is WAY better shooting from chest height, you capture much more emotion and expression, and if you wear dark clothing on your top half – no one notices. And even if they do, make no eye contact and keep walking. They’ll probably think you’re shooting video….

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In no way will I be shooting 100% this way – not everything I want to capture will be to my left – but this has sure been a fun way to street shoot and end up with more keepers.

The exciting thing is, X-Pro 2 will only get better. I cant wait – firmware days are like Christmas for me….🙂

Happy Shooting, and as always, thanks for reading.

Added 01/06/16 0r if your American🙂 06/01/16….

Just to elaborate on the new AF capabilities on the X-Pro 2, I shot these in a similar style on the XE-2 (+ the snappy 18mm F2) this morning on my way in to work. As I was dealing with an 18 instead of 23 this time, I rested the camera on my left collarbone, again lens pointing leftwards also. Here’s what I got:

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Valiantly though the XE-2 tried, it clearly missed focus point and face detect when set to ‘wide tracking’…however, it got it spot on with the one below:

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She’s not a real girl, bro…

This is not taking anything away from the XE-2, its a terrific camera and still a huge step up in AF from the 1st generation cameras, but I feel way more confident shooting with the X-Pro 2.

Again, thanks for reading. Cheers!

Daaaaaahn to Margit….

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OK, first things first – after that header – you need to watch this:

You can stop after a minute if you find it too painful.🙂

In the UK, you’re never further than an hour from the sea. I like that. Of course ‘the sea’ covers a whole multitude of sins – it could be somewhere beautiful, like Ilfracombe (my favourite seaside town) or Brixham, or somewhere a little less classy – like Margate. That’s not to say its not a great place, because it is. The people are fabulous, and there are characters everywhere – its an hour and a half from the centre of London and its a terrific place to shoot. It may not be the capital, but this is a popular place for Londoners to come to relieve the stress of a working week. The beach is actually gorgeous here…the town is run down, and downright scruffy in many areas but when the sun comes out on the first hot weekend of the year? Who cares…its the seaside.

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Funny what you can miss on a first pass…

…this was taken in July last year!

I was meeting a friend for a short walk around Canary Wharf (a very photogenic, but rarely visited area), not expecting to capture much, and shot this:

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Don’t know how I missed it! His laces, watch and glasses almost match the foliage – and it brings some of the ‘newness’ and unspoiled elements that this relatively new part of London has into frame too. I really like it.

Almost a year later, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, I gave this folder another ‘pass’ just to see if I missed anything from what I now only recall as a fairly uneventful walk last summer. Clearly, I did.

And another image – not a face – but something that caught my attention:

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Sometimes it pays for us go back a ways to see what we could’ve missed. If you’re like me, and want to edit (and post) the MOMENT you get home from a shoot, I can pretty much guarantee there’s a nugget or two that you’ve overlooked… I’m going to do this sort of ‘backchecking’ more often.

These two images were shot on the Fujifilm X-E2 + Fujinon XF 56mm F1.2 APD. An unusual combo for street style, but one I may well go back to more often.

Thanks for reading!