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!

 

 

 

3 Months In: Fujifilm X-Pro 2

Is it worth all the fuss?

Yeah, it probably is….probably.

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Phew! 3 months already…actually, its probably a couple of weeks less than that, but who’s counting. Anyhow, its plenty long enough to see what the long awaited Fujifilm X-Pro 2 is all about. And for the most part, its really good.

BAD STUFF FIRST.

Firstly, this is my second body. The first one gave me hideous noise at low ISO’s, and so I took it back to my mates at CameraWorld. Instant exchange – they’re good lads there.

Secondly, I am still FAR from happy with the Lightroom RAWS from this camera. They’re actually pretty shit, and neither Adobe or Fujifilm UK are willing to tell me why. Adobe advise me to post about the issue on one of their forums – which is next to useless – and Fuji tell me to edit my RAWS in Silkypix. Clearly, no one at Fujifilm has used Silkypix. Silkypix is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Its slow, complicated, and yeah, REALLY slow..

Now, I KNOW the files I have are beautiful in camera. Gorgeous. In fact, the two points above are not criticisms of the camera per se’… but Adobe and Fuji really should get their relevant s**t together on this – as I’m tired of looking at beautiful files through a (admittedly beautiful) viewfinder rather than on my Mac/PC…

OK, that is about it when it comes to negatives on the X-Pro 2. Which, when you think about it, ain’t bad…

NOW THE GOOD STUFF:

Thankfully, the bods at Fujifilm saw fit to NOT mess around with the form of this new beast. It is still, by some margin, the sauciest little minx on the market right now:

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Told ya…

Its a tiny bit bigger and a tiny bit heavier than the X-Pro 1 – but that is no criticism. Quite the opposite – in my review of the X-Pro 1, I suggested build quality as being an area which needed looking at. It has. This camera feels more ‘pro’ now…beautifully so. And its weather-proof too.

Overall, there are so many improvements over the original that its tough to know where to start.I guess focussing, as this was our biggest gripe on the X-Pro 1.

Yes, Auto Focus is good on this camera – its way snappier if you have some of the older XF primes, and positively speedy on the newer ones. For example, the 60mm Macro is totally usable now, the 35mm 1.4 is still noisy, but WAY faster, and my two zooms (18-55/ 55-200) are quiet, efficient in all lighting, and REALLY fast. I’m not a zoom guy, but I really enjoyed using these lenses on the X-Pro 2. All my other primes are much improved – there is not much that out foxes this AF now, and the ‘wide tracking’ feature is good too. I’m still a creature of habit (focus and re-compose) but I did find myself trusting this new feature.

I guess I should mention all the added focussing points (273), more phase detect points (face detect/eye detect – not actually that great. Kinda works when it wants to) etc etc too…but I’m sure you’ve read about all that elsewhere. Simply put, the auto focus should not affect your decision to buy into the X-Series system now. That does not mean the X-Pro 2 is a sports camera. It is not designed for that type of shooter – but the XT-2, when it comes, will DEFINITELY be a sports camera….

Manual Focus? Terrific – focus peaking on X-Pro 2 is near perfect. There is no need for anything else for manually focussing. There is a split image feature, but peaking works WAY more efficiently. This was taken on an old Zeiss 90mm (G) lens. Super quick, even in less than good light:

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The View Finder.

I never thought I would say this, but as awesome as the new OVF is, I’m now using the EVF way more than I ever did.

The OVF is a definate upgrade – no question – and the ‘picture in picture’ is great fun, at first, but MAN – that EVF is something else. There is no lag, it is pristine to look through, it is bright, it is big (though not the biggest) and I cant really see a reason to use the OVF now. Quite surprised to hear myself say that – but it is THAT good, amazing detail. In fact, if I wasn’t such a big fan of the X-Pro’s design, I’d probably wait around for the XT-2. Never thought I would say that either…

The ISO dial is a great addition. I’ve read plenty of negative remarks about this, but the truth is, I’m pretty sure this was from users who have always used a menu when it comes to ISO. I haven’t – I’m an old school film shooter, and ‘pull up’ dials like this are a doddle to use. I understand if you don’t like it, but I’m fairly sure this will be one of the first features to have an amend when the second round of firmware shows up (probably when the XT-2 comes out..). But I’ll still be using the dial.

The Focus Point Nipple (lets call it the ‘FPN’ ) is wonderful. It might just be my favourite new feature….it allows me to ‘fine tune’ my focus point, in size and area, and just WORKS. I’m a re-composer, as mentioned before, but even I’m doing this less now as this little marvel is so efficient and easy. I don’t think any other mirrorless has this…I can see that changing soon. People will buy this camera because of the FPN.

My other favourite new feature is the 1/8000 mechanical shutter, and 1/32000 electronic. I’ve yet to go that fast (32’000) as I live in England, but having the freedom to shoot wide open, in ANY conditions is actually very liberating. ND’s are fine – but I would rather avoid using them if I can unless its for a specific subject. Now, I don’t have to…and its one less thing I have to worry about.

The in-built eye correction dioptre (which I thought would be good) is actually a massive pain in the arse. It moves too easily, and I find myself having to reset it before pretty much every shoot. Its actually one area of the camera that is poorly designed. A nice thought, sure, but its turning in to a ballache in practice.

Dual Card Slots rule. Such a bonus to have one for RAW, one for JPEG. Yup. I love that added extra. I can use the speedy UHS II’s too, in slot one. Sweet. Awesome.

OK, there are a ton of other features I’m missing, I know – you can ask me about them below, of course, but ultimately what good are they if the all important image quality isn’t up for the job?

Let me start by showing you a picture:

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This is 5000ISO (my beautiful girl, shot on my beautiful 23mm) – and I think its excellent. The Underground is dingy at the best of times, and this is DEFINITELY better than what I could ever get from my X-Pro 1 and XE-2. Now, due to my ongoing issues with Lightroom I have had to work out a formula to enable me to shoot at high ISO’s and not get utter crap. Believe me, its easy to get utter crap with these files – and the key, I’ve found, is in noise reduction. Have it turned down to its lowest in camera, then make adjustments in Lightroom. It helps, but still, I am far from 100% happy with L/R. I see Iridient in my future…

Here’s another – this time shot at 2500ISO:

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Again, I think its spot on – better than I could have got on my other cameras, and from what I’ve seen elsewhere, this is probably as good as it gets for APS-C sensors. The quality of glass is a given, of course…(this was from the 35mm 1.4 and shot at 1.4. Terrific) – obviously, we are looking at 24mp now too – a clear step up in resolution, but to my eye, this has not translated into worse low light performance. Quite the opposite. 5000ISO, as you can clearly see, is definitely more than usable….its super clean.

Perhaps, more importantly, I was finding I wasn’t missing ANY shots now. This was a revelation. I am a street shooter, and capturing (mostly) candidly is the only way for me. I need to point, compose, focus and capture in as short space of time as possible, and with this camera, I can. Brilliantly.

 

(Some of these have had grain added too. Another feature I really like, and yes, JPEGS are as good as ever…its a 50/50 split for me right now)

The X-Pro 2 is undoubtedly a terrific camera. It has kept the spirit of the original, while improving ALL the things we didn’t like about it the first time round. Its fair to say (and I am wildly thankful) that the filmic characteristics we liked about the first generation of X-trans sensors have been largely included in the the third version seen here. I am really glad about that. Image quality is outstanding. Truly, it is breathtaking at times. But then, it NEEDED to be – the X-Pro 1, for all its quirks, set the bar really high.

I’ll finish by saying, in all honesty, the Fuji X-Pro 2 is the best camera I have ever owned. Is it perfect? For me, yes, almost, its damn close. There will always be niggles – battery power (or lack of it) is still one, for example – but I seriously can’t put this beast down. Its my constant companion – nestled against my sandwich box, every day, waiting for action.

Here are a few more images:

If you have any questions about the X-Pro 2 – as I know I’ve missed out so much – do please ask me in the comments section below. Thanks, as ever, for reading.

Cheers!!

For more of my work, please head over to my Flickr page: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mattjerrams/