Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill summit panorama
The summit of Beacon Hill, Leicestershire. 20th March 2016. Stitched panorama shot with Fuji X-Pro2 and 18mm f2 lens at f8. Click for a slightly larger version.

Leicestershire is a “green and rolling” area of England. It doesn’t have the breathtaking splendour of Cumbria or Derbyshire and consequently the highest point in the county stands at just 912 feet (278 meters) above sea level (Bardon Hill). However 700 million years ago Leicestershire was volcanically active and to the north west of the city of Leicester traces of this Precambrian past are still in evidence around Charnwood Forest. It was in this area that the fossils known as Charnia were first discovered (and named after their location and discoverer). Before this discovery it was thought that the Precambrian era was devoid of a fossil record.

One part of this region which is easily accessible to the public is Beacon Hill, the second highest point in the county of Leicestershire at 814 feet (248 meters) above sea level. The hill features many outcroppings of Precambrian volcanic rock and was the site of a Bronze Age hill fort. Now it is a part of “Beacon Hill Country Park“. On a clear day there are excellent views all around so it’s a place I often visit when I need to “clear out the cobwebs”, take a walk up the hill, stand at the top, admire the views, take a few photos.

This is exactly what I set out to do on Sunday 20th March 2016. The weather was reasonable and I decided to head to Beacon Hill, primarily to shoot a panorama of the rocky outcrops at the summit. I wanted to see how Adobe’s new “boundary warp” feature in their panorama stitching module of Lightroom (and Photoshop) worked. The result is at the head of this post. I did also think I might shoot a time lapse, however the clouds were moving quite slowly and although I did take a 240 shot sequence it didn’t really amount to anything worth watching.

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Threatening clouds. Beacon Hill, Leicestershire. 20th March 2016.

However I was glad to have a chance to get out there and shoot at all. There are two car parks at Beacon Hill, one just below the summit and one right at the bottom of the hill. I had planned to park up at the top car park, not out of laziness (honest!) but because as I approached along the road I could see the light was lovely over the summit area and I just wanted to get to work on it as soon as I could. However the top car park was fenced off and closed with a notice saying it would reopen the next day. So I continued along the road and down the hill to the lower car park – only to find a huge queue of cars backed up because the payment barrier wasn’t working. I drove on for a while trying to think where else I could head to as an alternative. By the time I’d turned around I’d decided I’d head to Bradgate Park which is not far away and would also offer some good panorama shooting scenery. But then as I passed the lower car park for Beacon Hill again on my way to Bradgate I noticed that the payment barrier was fixed and I could return to my original plan.

As the afternoon wore on the clouds became darker and more dramatic but there was still some pleasant early spring sunshine to enjoy so carried on snapping away. It was at this point that I happened to turn and face to the west and saw shafts of sunlight striking down out of the clouds right behind the trig point on the summit. There was a curious lighter patch in the clouds which seemed to fit the trig point so that it stood out in silhouette and I needed no further prompting.

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Trig point at the summit of Beacon Hill, Leicesteshire.

I think I’d like to work on this image a bit more, bring out some more detail in the clouds, particularly the area to the right of the shot which just looks a bit too solid and heavy.

By now the afternoon was wearing on and the cloud cover was becoming more complete. There was still this dramatic patch of light bursting through the clouds to the west so before I headed back down the hill and home I tried to work a little more with that. I found another outcropping of rock a little way down from the summit which had one small tree clinging to the side of it and shot that in silhouette with the rays of sunlight bursting out behind.

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Tenacious Tree. Beacon Hill, Leicestershire.

A Quick Play With Fuji’s Arcos Film Simulation

Acros with red filter, no film grain – reduced in size for blog posting. Click to see larger (but not full size)

During my trip to Stamford with my X-Pro2 last weekend I shot in raw and processed everything through Adobe Lightroom, as I normally do. However, one of the strengths of Fuji’s X System cameras is their in camera jpg production. So why don’t I shoot jpg more? I’m sure there are several reasons. One is that I want to make sure that I retain the raw data from the sensor which provides me with everything I need to process the image in whatever way I want. Another is that maybe I’ve got too used to fiddling around with raw files? I now seem to see this as an essential part of the production of “A Photograph”. I have been shooting raw for about 11 years now, maybe I’ve got a bit stuck in a rut?

Every now and again I’ll go through a stage of shooting raw + jpg but I invariably end up messing around with the raw version and not touching the jpg. Maybe it’s time I revisited jpgs straight out of the camera? The X-Pro2 offers dual memory card slots so I can shoot raw to one and jpg to the other.

I’ve also had a long term quest for obtaining really nice contrasty black and white photos straight out of the camera. I’d got to a point where I was happy enough with the black and white settings I was using on my X100T. But now Fuji have also given us the Acros film simulation to enjoy on the X-Pro2.

So yes, maybe now is a good time to start shooting raw + jpg again.

Another very handy feature of the X System cameras is the ability to copy a previously shot raw image file from your computer back to a memory card, pop said memory card into the camera and then use the camera’s built in raw converter to create a jpg. This is what I’ve been playing with a little this evening.

I took some photos of a monument in a church in Stamford which felt might benefit from the Acros film emulation. I copied the file back to the camera and fiddled with the raw conversion settings. I was particularly interested to see how the “film grain” effect looked so I processed the photo twice with the same settings but added some “weak” film grain to the second version.

It’s interesting to see how much of a difference there is in file size when you add film grain. There’s more “detail” in the image so the jpg can’t compress so well. Straight out of the camera the version without grain was 6.36MB, the version with grain was 15.1MB.

A scaled down copy of the version without grain heads up this post. I would have uploaded the full sized versions but WordPress kept reporting an upload error. I suspect the files were larger than some limit set somewhere in the system.

However I’ve also produced a couple of 100% crops from the original jpgs, just to show the film grain effect and these can be seen below. I’m quite impressed with the film like grain structure and I’m looking forward to having more of a play with the Acros simulation. It certainly produces the kind of high contrast black and white that I enjoy so much.

And do you know what else I discovered? I really do actually prefer the jpg straight out of the camera to the one produced by me sat tinkering in Lightroom for… however long it took. I think there might be a lesson in there somewhere.

100% crop of Fuji’s Acros film simulation – no added grain.
100% crop of Fuji’s Acros film simulation – added “weak” grain.

An Afternoon in Stamford

Town Bridge, Stamford
Town Bridge, Stamford, Lincolnshire.

A sunny Sunday afternoon prompted me to get out and about with a camera. As I’d not long had the X-Pro2 I was very keen to give it a try in normal daylight conditions. The only serious time I’d spent shooting with it so far was at the gig at The Donkey the previous Thursday evening.

Stamford is a large market town in Lincolnshire, about an hour’s drive from home for me. I’ve visited quite a few times before but it had been a while and I couldn’t remember the last time I’d looked around in such lovely weather. A bit of sun on the honey coloured stone commonly used for building around here really helps to give it a warm glow. Stamford is an ancient town, tracing its routes back to at least as far as Roman times. There are lots of interesting old buildings to enjoy with many intriguing narrow lanes twisting between them. The town has retained much of it’s older heritage which has been so sadly depleted in my native Leicester.

I packed my X-Pro2, all three of my Fujinon lenses and also my Helios 44M along with my X100T – plus the usual array of spare batteries, memory cards, mini Manfrotto tripod etc. With Fuji kit I’m always amazed at just how much I can carry for so little encumbrance.

St. Mary's Passage, Stamford.
Stamford seems to be full of interesting narrow passages and lanes. This one is opposite St. Mary’s Church and is named accordingly.

I didn’t set out to do anything adventurous such as time lapses or long exposures. The afternoon was just for me to start to get used to the camera. Yes, I’d had years of experience with the X-Pro1 but the second incarnation of the X-Pro body has made quite a lot of changes. The two things which seem to keep catching me out more than anything else are hitting the D-pad buttons instead of reaching for the new focus point joystick (this I can put down to the way I shoot with my X100T) and rather curiously finding myself lifting the shutter speed dial and thus changing ISO when I intended to just change the shutter speed.

However I was soon lost in my own little world, enjoying what the town had to offer and getting into the flow of the new camera.

One feature I really like on the X100T is the ability to move your spot metering along with your selected focus point. Years back, not long after I bought my original X100 Fuji sent out a survey asking users for features they would like to see in future versions of the camera or firmware. I’d voted for this feature and I’ve made a lot of use of it with my X100T. It’s great to have the facility available on the X-Pro body too now. I enjoy contrasty lighting, objects or people picked out in a shaft of strong light when all around is darkness. Using this feature I find it very quick and easy to achieve the exposure I want by just plonking my autofocus point over a bright subject. This is how I shot the memorial statue shown below, located in St. Martin’s Church. I felt that there was a decidedly Roman look about this tableaux of (presumably) husband and wife.

St. Martin's Church.
A monument to members of the Cecil family, St. Martin’s Church, Stamford.


The church yard at St. Martin’s, Stamford is also the location of the grave of Leicester legend Daniel Lambert. I did go and locate the grave but I didn’t take a photo as the lighting wasn’t right. For anyone interested to find the burial place – turn left as you walk out of the south door of the church, turn left and follow the path along the length of the building. When you reach the gate look to your right and you’ll see an extension to the church yard. Daniel Lambert’s grave is in there. Just walk through the gate and on a few yards and I don’t think you’ll be able to miss it. Although this is primarily a photography blog, I am very keen on history so at some point Daniel Lambert might well pop up in another post. Meanwhile here’s a bit of information about him from Wikipedia.

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Church of St. John The Baptist, Stamford.

I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon in Stamford. I’m sure I’ll be back again a little later in the year. Hopefully I’ll be able to spend a bit more time wandering aimlessly around the streets. It would have been nice to have the company of another photographer. I always feel it’s better to either go alone or with a one or two other photographers. Taking non-photographers along is usually a recipe for disaster unless they are very patient people.


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A doorway just inside the porch of the Hospital of William Browne which was founded around 1483.

X-Pro2 Meets “Status Trio”

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It’s not that many music venues where you have to cope with a standard lamp on stage.

I’ve written before about my enjoyment of shooting at local music venues (see Shooting Musicians on my previous blog). It’s something which combines two of my loves (music and photography) and often provides a meet up with some friends as I’ve come to know quite a few people in the Leicester music scene over the years.

Up until now my gig photography had been the one thing which seemed to require me to lug around my Canon EOS 6D and a big, heavy L series zoom. I prefer shooting with my Fuji X cameras but whilst my X100T is certainly up to the job in terms of low light performance – both in image quality and autofocus reliability, the focal length is probably not ideal for the job unless I can actually get up on stage (which doesn’t happen).

My X-Pro1 would be more suited to the task as I have the 55-200mm zoom but I found it frustrating to autofocus in the extremely challenging lighting which most small music venues offer. Yes there was the option of manual focus but that can also be tricky to get right when musicians are hopping around a stage.

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This was shot at ISO 3200 which was the lowest I got all night, shot at f1.4 on the 35mm. With the 55-200mm I was up at ISO 6400 and 8000.

When Fuji announced the X-Pro2 I knew that I just had to have one. I already have way too many cameras but the X-Pro1 is a camera I have enjoyed using so much that I knew I simply had to have its successor if I possibly could. Could I justify the not inconsiderable cost of the new camera? Yes, of course I could – photography is one of my main pleasures in life and a body like the X-Pro2 will give me several years of shooting fun. Life is short and if I had the money then I certainly should spend it on something which I will enjoy so much.

My X-Pro2 arrived on Sunday March 6th and I did a little local photo walk, despite the awful grey, flat light here that day. I then noticed that there was a local gig on Thursday which might be a good chance to get out to, take some photos and give the X-Pro2 a bit of a trial.

I ended up packing both my X-Pro2 and my EOS 6D and headed down to The Donkey on Leicester’s Welford Road to enjoy a night of mainly improvised music provided by “The Status Trio” and whoever wanted to get up on stage and join them. My plan was to start off shooting the X-Pro2 and if I got frustrated with autofocus issues I would have the 6D there to fall back on.

The 6D never left the bag all night!

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55-200mm reaching all the way to the back of the stage for this shot of Neil Segrott on bass. ISO 8000, 1/125 at f4.8.

The X-Pro2 exceeded my expectations in every way. Autofocus was just as quick as my DSLR and I think more accurate. All the more impressive as none of my Fuji X mount lenses are ones which are regarded as particularly snappy in the focussing department. I took most shots that night with the 55-200mm, it has the reach to get in close for a head and shoulders of a musician on the stage and the image stabilisation really helps, especially in low light situations. I also had my 35mm f1.4 with me for wider shots. I didn’t take my only other X mount lens, the 18mm and I kicked myself for that. I spent most of the night sat or stood right next to the stage and the 18mm would have been very handy to grab some overviews of the whole scene.

I did have to fall back to manual focussing at one point as I tried to get some shots of the drummer who was sat in such a gloomy spot I think the 6D would have struggled to autofocus too. But this is where the mirror-less camera wins out, it’s very easy to focus manually with a camera which provides focus peaking and digital split frame focussing.

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Some people just look like they were born to be a drummer. 1/125 f3.5 ISO 8000.

I didn’t try anything too fancy, I’m still familiarising myself with this camera so I didn’t play with the continuous focus tracking. One for another occasion.

I ended the evening feeling incredibly positive about the X-Pro2. It performed incredibly well under what are likely to be the most challenging lighting conditions I’m likely to throw at it. It feels solid, positive, reliable and seems to be everything I was hoping for in an update to the X-Pro1.


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We even got to enjoy a bit of French rap. My language skills were not up to translating much of it but it was a great improvised performance.

The X-Pro1 and X100/X100T have been my favourite cameras to shoot. There’s this thing as a photographer when your camera feels more like an extension of yourself than just something you’re holding in your hand and all of my Fuji cameras feel like that to me. Shooting with them becomes a more organic process. It feels simple, natural and flowing.

As I write this I’m really looking forward to trying the X-Pro2 in as many different shooting scenarios as I can. And when I do I’ll be sure to write about it here.

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I just can’t quite believe this was shot at ISO 8000.