Chasing The Sun – Part 2

Corn
Field of corn, Aurora Nebraska. Phone snap. (this was taken from the shuttle bus as it left the viewing event after totality. The weird lighting is a combination of tinted windows and the fact that the eclipse is ongoing – the sun gradually being uncovered following totality – at the point I took this the sun was a crescent again).

 

Continued from Chasing The Sun – Part 1

 

Corn. Mile after mile of corn. I had been to The Cornhusker State previously but it had been 23 years before and at an earlier time in the year when the corn was less apparent in the fields.

After our concerns about “carmageddon” on the roads due to crazy eclipse crowds we actually had a very smooth journey from Thornton, Colorado to Hastings, Nebraska. We had a hotel room booked for the night before the eclipse and the plan was then to continue on the little way to the town of Aurora next day to watch the action – or if carmageddon occurred we would most likely stay put at Hastings.

After the dry air of Colorado the humidity in Hastings came as a bit of a shock and the skies were almost totally clear – a good omen for the following day. We had most of a day to kill so we looked around the campus of Hastings College where my wife had studied back in the day. I had visited here myself on one occasion and that was during my previous visit to Nebraska all those years before. It was amazing how clearly I remembered the place. We also had a wander around the town and the market stalls which had been put up as part of “SolFest“, the town’s celebration of the solar eclipse. It was a great atmosphere and expectations were running high for the following day.

August 21st dawned, the day of the eclipse. There was quite a lot of cloud about. We had two choices – drive around trying to find clear skies or head to Aurora as we had originally intended – and just hope we would be lucky. You could spend all day driving around trying to find the perfect conditions and still be defeated by the weather and my wife had friends (Dan and Tracy) who were running the Aurora eclipse viewing event – they were staying put and hoping for the best so that was what we did too.

The event had been organised at The Leadership Center, Aurora. Some folks had camped overnight but for those driving in on the day a free shuttle-bus service had been arranged, running from a nearby ball park where we left the car. Arriving at the Leadership Center we chose our spot in the shade of a couple of trees and I got my camera ready. I have to say I was very impressed with the event planning. Dan was providing a commentary during key phases of the eclipse but not so much that it detracted. Food and drink was available to buy at a very reasonable price with the proceeds making a contribution to the funding of the event. There was no charge for use of the shuttle bus and no charge for entrance to the event.

Solar filter.
Solar filter in action shooting the eclipse.

We still had concerns about the clouds. At first we had a clear view of the sun but that was something which was constantly changing, we would just have to hope. It seemed like we had been there for quite a while before I noticed the first sliver of the sun had been eaten away – first contact. From then on I was taking shots at regular intervals. I was bracketing my exposures to try and make sure I got at least something. The filter was working well and I was getting a good view of the ever diminishing solar disc but the clouds were quite variable and although most of the time we could make out the sun behind them I was having to adjust my exposures quite dramatically to compensate. It was difficult to notice the light levels dropping around us, it was so gradual. At one point I noticed that the cicadas had started chirruping as they do in the evening, a sure sign it was getting darker.

Weather Balloon.
A weather balloon being prepared for launch. Measurements being taken of atmospheric changes during the eclipse.

 

We were very lucky. Just moments before totality was due the clouds cleared enough for us to get a really good view. It was amazing just how bright it was right up until totality and then suddenly the light level fell to something similar to twilight as a “black hole” appeared where the sun used to be. I really don’t think any words, photographs or video can possibly do justice to the beauty and other-worldliness of witnessing a total eclipse. I felt like I was in a science fiction movie or a surrealist painting. We were in the shadow of the moon, the sun was a black hole above us with a rim of glowing plasma, stars and planets were visible in the sky during daytime and there was a 360 degree sunset extending all around us.

During totality there is no need for protective glasses or for my solar filter over the lens. I slid it off and carried on shooting whilst also trying to take in every moment of the experience.

It was true that no photo could adequately convey what it felt like but I had come all this way and I was prepared the best I could be so I fired away with my Fuji X-T1 and did the best I could. Yes, I needed a longer lens. A much longer lens. In hindsight maybe I would have been a little better off taking my EOS 7D with me just for the eclipse. That would have given me an effective 460mm (ish) instead of 300mm. What I really needed was a telescope. But I had what I had in terms of photographic kit, that decision had been made weeks before we left England and the most important thing was to experience the eclipse first hand, try to remember everything about it as clearly as I could.

I’m delighted that I was able to capture the photos below, inadequate as they are, I had to crop quite heavily due to my short focal length (click to see them larger). They are part of my memory of a unique event. It would be wonderful if I got the chance to see another total solar eclipse but I feel so fortunate to have witnessed one during my life and to have managed to capture anything at all on camera is a bonus. I was delighted that my DIY solar filter worked so well, much better than I ever expected it to.

Solar eclipse 2017.
Before the eclipse started, a complete solar disc.

First contact.
A tiny sliver of the sun is missing – first contact.

Eclipse 2017.
Very obvious now, but the clouds are evident.

Eclipse 2017.
Nearly a Pac-man moment.

Solar eclipse.
Maybe two thirds gone.

Solar eclipse.
Crescent sun.

Solar Eclipse.
Just a toenail clipping left now

Solar eclipse.
Last moment before totality.

Totality.
Totality. Note the prominence to the top right.

Solar Eclipse.
Totality without the cropping. This is what I saw through my viewfinder.

Solar eclipse.
Last moments of totality.

Solar eclipse.
Diamond ring.

Solar eclipse.
Diamond ring without the cropping.

Diamond Ring
Diamond Ring glowing brighter, a moment later it would be over.

Chasing The Sun – Part 1

Totality
Totality as seen from Aurora, Nebraska. 21st August 2017.

Towards the end of 2016 we received an invitation to attend the 50th wedding anniversary celebrations of my parents-in-law over in Colorado during August 2017. Nine days after the anniversary party a total solar eclipse was due to sweep over the USA from coast to coast with the path of totality passing within a “reachable” distance of my in-law’s house in Thornton, Colorado. My wife studied in Hastings, Nebraska and still has friends over there, two of whom were involved in organising an eclipse viewing event in Aurora, Nebraska. So back in December of 2016 plans were hatched and a hotel room was booked in Hastings (a short drive from Aurora) for the night before the eclipse.

I had seen partial eclipses before but I had never been lucky enough to see a total eclipse. Back in 1999 there had been a total eclipse which passed over SW England but at the time we were on the Isle of Lewis in NW Scotland and got to watch that one as a partial eclipse from Callanish stone circle. That was an amazing experience but it wasn’t a totality.

If I was going to find myself in the path of totality then I was sure as heck going to do what I could to try and take some photos of it but I didn’t want to spend a fortune in the process. I’ve already spent quite enough money on photographic equipment over the years and I didn’t want to spend loads more especially for an event which could be wiped out by the weather. After doing a bit of research I decided to make my own solar filter using Baader AstroSolar Safety Film and some cardboard.

I decided to travel with my Fujifilm cameras as they are smaller and lighter than my Canon rig, easier to transport. There was also the factor of them being mirrorless which I saw as being an extra layer of safety to prevent me from burning out my retinas. I would be looking only at an electronic viewfinder, never a view directly down a lens. The flippy out screen on my X-T1 was also a small factor in favour. This decision being made I then started construction of a filter to fit the longest lens I had for my Fuji cameras, the 55-200mm. This would give me an “equivalent” of a 300mm lens which I knew would be “too short” but I didn’t want to spend thousands just for this one event. I do have the Canon 70-300mm and my old 7D body would make that an equivalent of around 460mm but I had decided to take my Fuji kit and not my Canon kit. The rights and wrongs of that could be debated for ever – the decision had been made.

Solar Filter
Making a solar filter from cardboard and solar safety film.

The solar safety film cost me about £20 for an A4 sheet. A ready made solar filter would have cost me several times that and this was way more fun anyway. The cardboard (as you can see) came from the delivery carton used by my favourite coffee suppliers. In addition some double sided tape and a glue gun were used. Two rings of cardboard were cut and the solar film sandwiched between them then more card was used to create a short tube which would fit over the lens hood of my chosen lens.

Solar filter.
Expertly crafted rings of finest cardboard covered in double sided sticky tape waiting for a layer of solar film to be stuck between them.

 

Solar filter.
Solar film in place between cardboard rings, tissues used to prevent scratching the solar film during construction.

 

Solar filter.
The finished filter in place on my camera.

I completed the construction of the filter one wet Saturday about three weeks before we were due to fly out to the USA. British Summer being what it is, there wasn’t a sunny day when I was off from work between when I finished making it and when we were due to fly. I did take it out one evening when the sun was behind a layer of clouds and I got at least the idea that it was blocking light. Any other testing would have to wait until we reached Colorado.

Over in Colorado anniversary celebrations were enjoyed, extended family was met, ballgames were watched, mountains were experienced and then we had a couple of quiet days before the journey out to Nebraska for the eclipse. I took the opportunity to set up my camera on a tripod in the garden, pop on the filter and see how it worked. Or how it didn’t.

Sunspots.
Sunspots! Shot with Fujifilm X-T1, 55-200mm, 1/500th at f16. Thornton, CO. 19th August 2017.

Phew!

It worked. And to be honest it worked a lot better than I was expecting it to. At first I thought the splodges were sensor dust. Mirrorless cameras are more prone to suffering from this as when you take the lens off the sensor is directly exposed rather than having a mirror in the way. I was also shooting at f16 which would accentuate any dust on the sensor. However, I moved the sun around in the frame and took more shots as I did so and the splodges stayed put. Sun spots! I couldn’t believe that I was seeing sun spots with my tiny lens and my DIY, bodged together solar filter. I was already excited by the prospect of just seeing a total eclipse. I was now also contemplating the fact that I might be able to capture a set of photos of my own of the event.

I tried the filter out using both my X-Pro2 and the X-T1 (normally I shoot with the 10-24mm on one and a longer lens on the other if I have both bodies with me). I decided that the extra resolution of the X-Pro2 didn’t outweigh the flippy out screen of the X-T1 plus in the event of an accident the X-T1 was bought as a used body and was older technology. Basically I would cry much more if my X-Pro2 got killed during this process. Sorry X-T1 but those were the cold hard facts.

We were due to drive out to Nebraska very early on the morning of Sunday 20th August. We were trying to minimise any issues with busy roads and in the couple of days before we traveled there were indeed stories on the TV news of huge traffic jams and even gas stations running out of fuel. This very nearly put us off the journey. It was a six hour drive each way to our destination in order to see 2 minutes 31 seconds of totality. If we stayed right where we were we would get something like a 90% eclipse without all the driving and the risk of being stranded and out of fuel on the Interstate in the middle of a Mad Max like scenario where rip-off merchants could charge whatever they liked for fuel, food, water – the chance to live on in this cruel, harsh world…

Fortunately our sense of adventure won out and we headed off at 4am on 20th August to drive along I76 and I80 to Hastings and a hotel room we hoped would still be held for us.

 

Continued in Part 2

Flash and X100T, Lessons Learned (so far)

Angel
X100T, 1/1000th at f2, Nissin Di866

 

Yeah, I know I said I’d give the angels down at the cemetery a rest, I know, I know!

But I learned from my previous attempt and I wanted to go back and see if the things I thought about this were indeed so. There being no shortage of cloudy days around here I headed back to Welford Road Cemetery and put my theories and “learning” to the test.

I had come to believe that although my flash was indeed firing when using my wireless flash trigger and I was certainly obtaining some flash light in my photos, I wasn’t “getting the full benefit”. I suspected that I was wrong about my wireless flash triggers being able to fire a flash in sync with my shutter at 1/1000th of a second. I was catching some light, but not the strongest burst. By trying again and comparing wireless triggers against the flash being attached to the hot shoe of the camera I think I can put that one to bed. The X100T will indeed sync with a flash right up to 1/4000th of a second but my el-cheapo wireless flash triggers aren’t able to cope with that.

Which is fair enough!

I continued to shoot with my flash on the hot shoe but naturally I missed the creative possibilities of being able to position the flash independently. I do have a PC Sync cable (that’s Prontor Compur” not Personal Computer!) and my Nissin Di866 flash unit has a PC Sync socket but the X100T doesn’t. The wireless triggers will still have their uses but not for when I’m trying to beat back sun light by shooting at a high shutter speed with the X100. I think I need to invest in a hot shoe extension cable and will need to do some research into my best option for the equipment I’m using (Fujifilm camera with a Canon compatible strobe…).

Next we come to a couple of the features of the X100T itself and how they relate to this quest for sun defying flash.

Firstly that leaf shutter. Yes, it will sync with my flash all the way up to 1/4000th of a second, but there are some limitations inherent to this shutter to consider. With or without flash there are limits to the fastest shutter speed which can be used according to the size of aperture selected.

At f2 it’s possible to shoot at shutter speeds of up to 1/1000th of a second.

At f4 it becomes possible to shoot at up to 1/2000th of a second.

At f8 it becomes possible to shoot at up to 1/4000th of a second.

Now remember I’m using the shutter speed to reduce ambient light whilst trying to keep my aperture as wide as possible in order to maximise the effect of my flash. So it becomes a balancing act – as is generally the case with photography. I can block out more ambient light by selecting a faster shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second, but in order to do so I would need to close down my shutter by four whole stops to f8. This makes the difference between my flash being blinding and just a barest glimmer of light.

Thus I find my “sweet-spot” for what I’m trying to achieve is to shoot at f2 and with a shutter speed of 1/1000th, using faster shutter speeds requires the aperture to be closed down too much to make the best of the power of my flash. I could shoot 1/2000th at f4 but that only reduces the ambient by one stop whilst reducing the flash sensitivity by two stops. Similarly going from 1/1000th at f2 to 1/4000th at f8 reduces the ambient by two stops whilst reducing the flash sensitivity by four stops. It could be done but I would need a flash four times more powerful than my Nissin.

Secondly the X100 series of cameras has a unique and very useful feature – a built in three stop neutral density filter. This is very useful when considering the aforementioned limitations of the leaf shutter. If you’re shooting in bright conditions but want to use f2 to blur the background then you can only shoot at up to 1/1000th of a second, you’ll probably be way over-exposed. No problem with the X100 series – push a button and the built in ND filter activates reducing the light hitting your sensor by three hole stops. And yes, it is a physical filter built into the body of the camera not an electronic work-around. This has made my X100T a favourite camera to use for long exposures. I have a Cokin 10 stop ND filter but by combining that with the ND filter of the X100T that can go up to a massive 13 stops at the touch of a button.

How is this of use in terms of sun conquering flash? Well I found that I could use the ND filter to reduce the ambient light quite a lot whilst not making such a huge reduction to the apparent power of the flash. Yes, the ND filter will be reducing all light coming through the lens but the flash is incredibly bright and only travels a short distance. So I can use the ND filter to make the sky look considerably darker whilst not appreciably diminishing the very much brighter light reflecting flash from my subject a few feet away. That is the best I can explain it. It seems counter-intuitive to use an ND filter to make my flash light more powerful but it’s “more powerful compared to ambient” that I’m after.

So now I really will give the angels a rest for a while, at least until I get myself a hot shoe extension cable.

Angel Angel
Angel Angel
Angel Angel

 

Flashy Angels

Angel 1.

The Easter weekend now feels like a distant memory but at least I was able to dedicate some of the free time to photography. I did make the decision not to take a camera to a gig I attended on Thursday evening which was probably just as well because it turned out I just wasn’t in the mood and went home early.

I did go for a short photo stroll in one of my usual rural locations but didn’t really “spark”. So the most successful photo activity of the weekend for me was taking a flash gun to a cemetery! Does it get any more fun that this? Actually, I enjoyed it so much the first time that I went back to do some more. During my first visit I was concentrating my efforts on one statue, for the second visit I was looking for more subjects.

It has been a long time since I’ve done anything at all with a flash gun. I always had one handy (a Nissin Di866), just in case, but it has always been something that comes out only when I have to. The most “into” flash photography I have ever been was during my Project 365 a few years back when using a strobe expanded my possibilities for getting a shot taken during the long winter nights.

At some point during that time I actually invested in a cheap second strobe – a Yongnuo YN460, some bargain basement radio flash triggers, a couple of umbrellas and some light stands. I even made a couple of DIY snoots, just out of folded paper, crude but they sort of did the job. However none of this became something I enjoyed – maybe because every time I used this kit I had to set it all up and take it down again. No space for a dedicated “studio” here. I have pretty much been “The Anti-Strobist” for all of my journey through photography (and that goes back right to primary school days).

So despite having owned first an X100 and then an X100T and loved shooting with both of them, I had never really taken advantage of their leaf shutters for flash work. For some the ability to sync a flash at 1/4000th of a second would have been the chief selling point of the X100. For me the appeal was the compact body with all manual controls, housing an APS-C sized sensor behind a great little versatile lens.

So right now, after 5 years of owning an X100 (or derivative model) I am just starting out in using flash with one. This has been one of the little projects which has helped to lift me out of my Photographer’s Block and I’m looking forward to learning more – which I most certainly need to do.

So why all the angels and moping around in cemeteries? Am I just morbid? I don’t think so although I will admit to a certain gravitation towards “The Dark”. I guess I’d much rather be taking photographs of models in interesting places but for that you need a willing model and these lumps of stone will stand in the same pose all day for me without having to pay them a penny. So, yes I know there has been a lot of this type of thing lately, time to give them a rest for a while now, but I have enjoyed it.

I took my Yongnuo YN460 along for this shoot and in hindsight I think I should have taken my Nissin as that is the more powerful flash. I didn’t even consider the output of the two flashes I owned, I just grabbed the most basic one which also has the advantage of a metal foot which seems to fit my cameras and triggers better than the plastic foot of the Nissin. It became evident that the Yongnuo was fine if I could get the flash gun quite close to the statue or if the statue was of a lighter, cleaner, more reflective stone. I think the Nissin would have done better but I can easily go back and try again with that. It’s not like we have a shortage of cloudy days here.

However, my main goal was to try and capture detail in the statues whilst at the same time retaining detail in the clouds and this I have done for the most part (although a couple of the shots don’t have much in the way of clouds and a couple of the angels are bit on the dark side).

Angel 2. The Angel

Angel 3.
.
 
   
   

Digging Myself Out

As I said a couple of posts ago, I felt like I was suffering from Photographer’s Block. I’ve taken a few steps to try and resolve this and I think it’s working.

Sovetskoe Foto
Sovetskoe Foto

Firstly I decided that I would spend more time looking at other people’s work and that I have done – in magazines, in photo books and online. The latter of these is a huge advantage we have today, there is such a wealth of photography to see online. One unexpected online avenue I found was a complete online archive of a Soviet era Russian photography magazine, “Sovetskoe Foto” . Sure, I couldn’t understand any of the writing but I’ve been enjoying looking at the photos.

Wistow
Across the fields behind Wistow church.

Next I decided I needed to simplify. Instead of heading out with two or three cameras and six or seven lenses I would make sure I would regularly go out to shoot with just one camera and one lens, not limiting myself in this way all of the time but regularly. Sometimes this has been my X100T, other times my X-Pro2 with the 35mm f2 lens (the f2 over the f1.4 mainly for the weather resistance – I am based in the UK after all). Isn’t it strange how as photographers we spend so much time debating new lenses to buy (“invest in”…?!) and yet having less options actually seems to increase creativity? Plus instead of spending so much time wondering whether I might be better using the 90mm, the 55-200 or maybe I should get in really close and add some drama with the 10-24… well, I only have the 35mm here with me so let’s see what can I do with that, eh?

Pinhole photo.
The Knoll, Leicester Botanic Gardens. Fuji X-T1 and homemade pinhole body cap. 1/2 second exposure.

As I wrote earlier I’ve also made myself a pinhole body cap. I’m not one hundred percent happy with it yet but it did give me something new and different to try. With a bit of tinkering about in Analog Efex Pro 2 I’m getting the kind of look I was hoping for but I think maybe my pinhole is still a bit too wide or maybe not smooth enough. I would like to achieve something with a little sharper rendition. I can keep working at that, it’s fairly quick and easy to make another pinhole to go into the body cap.

I also realised that it had been a while since I’d really shot with a flash. I do tend to regard myself as an “available light” photographer. Sometimes I’ll feel a bit sniffy about the idea of introducing non-ambient light sources – it’s cheating. Other times I just simply can’t be bothered – it’s yet more kit to carry around and more batteries to charge, cables to tangle, wireless triggers to faff about with. So meh – I don’t bother.

The Angel
The Angel, Leicester Welford Road Cemetery. Fuji X100T, 1/1000th of a second at f11.

Today I did bother. I fished out my el-cheapo Yongnuo YN460 strobe and my equally el-cheap iShoot radio triggers and took them along to shoot my favourite angel down at Welford Road Cemetery. Yes, THAT angel. Yes, again. Yes, I know… But with the flash I got some rather different and dramatic looking photos of her that I was fairly pleased with.

The Angel
The Angel, Leicester Welford Road Cemetery. Fuji X100T, 1/1000th of a second at f8.

I was using my X100T for this as the leaf shutter of that camera allows for flash sync at silly shutter speeds. With a flash directly connected to the hotshoe or with the little built in flash it will sync right up to 1/4000th of a second. Using my radio triggers it was working just fine at 1/1000th. Shooting flash at that kind of shutter speed lets you really block down the ambient light and the cheap Yongnuo was powerful enough for me to shoot at f8 or f11 if I held the flash up close to the statue. This way I was able to take advantage of the dark and stormy looking clouds in the background whilst shooting the angel in what was actually pretty bright light (I took a couple of shots using the 90mm : 1/1600th at f2 without the flash). Maybe I’ve processed these a little too much on the dark side… But the main thing was I was out and enjoying taking photos.

Lambs
Lambs near Wistow church, Leicestershire. Fuji X-Pro2, 35mm (actually the f1.4 on this occasion).

Above all I’ve been trying to not force things when I’m out shooting. I’ve found it most enjoyable to go on a wander with my one body and one lens and just take uncomplicated shots, concentrating on simple compositions. If there isn’t a photo there then no amount of trying and forcing myself will make one happen. Move on, see what else I can find. Okay, sometimes I’ll wish I had a different lens with me, I couldn’t get any closer to these lambs for fear of scaring them away but it is so refreshingly simple to just work with what you have.

Through simplifying, slowing down, not forcing things and trying out a couple of new things I feel like my mojo might just be back again. Or maybe it was just a matter of waiting? Either way I’m happier with my photography now than I was a few weeks ago.

 

Making a Pinhole

Pinhole
Pinhole body cap mounted on X-T1.

If you like your photos nice and sharp and don’t like blur or softness then this might possibly not be the blog post for you. You have been warned.

With World Pinhole Photography Day approaching and seeing as how my previous post was all about feeling like I was stuck in a rut, I thought it might be an idea to make a pinhole to use with my Fuji bodies. It would be fun to do the make and having a pinhole to shoot with would offer some extra creative possibilities. I’d never made one before so it would be a fun learning experience too.

As I predominantly shoot using Fuji X Series cameras these days I decided to make the pinhole to fit my Fuji interchangeable lens bodies.

A pinhole is just that – a small hole through which the light enters the camera. There’s no means to adjust the focus and the aperture is determined simply by how large or small you make the pinhole. It’s very primitive stuff but there’s often a great satisfaction to using simple methods.

I decided I would make my pinhole using a spare body cap. I didn’t want to mess up an original Fuji supplied cap so I bought a cheap third party one from Amazon. It came as a set of body cap and rear lens cap for £3.99 including delivery.

Body cap.
Fuji X Mount body cap.

I was expecting to have to wait a few more days for delivery but the caps arrived way sooner than expected on Saturday morning (today as I write) meaning I had the free time to get on with this little project.

The first thing I did was to drink some beer!

beer
Beer!

This is usually a good idea anyway of course but I needed some metal that would be easy to work. The aluminium of a drinks can would be ideal. I will grudgingly admit that you can scrape by with using a soft drink can but the best results will always be obtained from a beer can… 😉

Having drank my beer and rinsed out the can I used a can opener to take off the top end and then a pair of scissors were employed to snip out a panel from the can. Looking at the interior space of my specially acquired body cap I thought a roughly 2cm square of the metal would do the trick.

The next thing I needed to do was to find the centre of the body cap as I would need to drill a hole through it. I marked out three chords over the circle and then drawing lines at 90 degrees from the middle of each I marked the centre of the body cap. You may want to look up a proper explanation of this method of finding the centre of a circle if you want to have a go at this yourself. I don’t think I did a very good job of it.

Marking the centre
Marking the centre, ready tp drill a hole.


I used a 6mm drill bit and it was handy to have one with a point on it like this as I could use that to poke a small centre point hole before I actually drilled the main hole. Once the hole was made I used some 600 grit “wet and dry” paper to smooth the edges of the hole leaving something looking like this :-

hole drilled
6mm hole drilled through the body cap.

The next task was to make the actual pinhole through the square of aluminium taken from the beer can. I held a needle using a pair of pliers and pushed down through the metal. I had read that it’s best not to poke a hole right the way through but just push down enough to make a dimple and then sand the dimple down to form the actual hole. I guess I pushed down too hard and made an actual hole. Oh well, nothing about pinholes is really an exact science so I decided to go with it. I then used the 600 grit wet and dry paper again to sand down both sides of the aluminium. Once I was satisfied it was all smooth I washed it under the tap and then used some rubbing alcohol to make sure that everything was really clean.

pinhole
Pinhole made, sanded and cleaned.

Next I used some gaffer tape to secure the aluminium within the body cap, ensuring that the pinhole was positioned at the centre of the larger hole in the body cap. The end result is shown below :-

Pinhole ready
Pinhole taped into place.

I might want to paint that little bit of uncovered aluminium with some black paint to stop light bouncing around too much but this will do for now. Pinholes are all about serendipity so a bit of bouncing light doesn’t bother me too much. The pinhole is shown mounted on my X-T1 at the top of this post.

Having spent maybe 45 minutes to an hour making the pinhole this afternoon I wanted to pop out and try shooting with it. I took my tripod as the pinhole creates really quite a small aperture and I was sure that the end results would be blurry enough without adding camera shake to the equation. I was right on that score. The photos I took were quite a bit softer than I expected. I think maybe I need to try to make a smaller hole. Buy hey, this is all part of the fun and if I want to put a different pinhole into the body cap then it won’t be too difficult as it’s only taped into place.

I decided to go with the flow and edited this photo in Analog Efex to add some “distressing” – dust, dirt and a wet-plate look. When I feel like having another go I’ll see if I can make a smaller pinhole.

Wistow Church.
Wistow Church, Leicestershire shot using my pinhole.

 

Edit : Evening of Sunday 19th March.

I just had to try creating another pinhole. With the body cap already prepared it took much less time. All I had to do was cut some more aluminium, make the hole, sand it down, clean it and stick it in place. I took a quick test shot of the kitchen table using the new hole and it appears to be sharper. I won’t really be able to tell properly until I get out and shoot somewhere with it.

Auto ISO

Auto ISO settings
Auto ISO settings on the X-Pro2.

Dear Fujifilm,

The usefulness of having an “Auto ISO” setting became very clear to me during one of my visits to Rome several years ago now. I was shooting only with my X100 because I wanted to liberate myself from lugging loads of camera equipment around a hot (by my native British standards) city in July.

I loved the way that I could be outside in the bright sunshine of a piazza one moment and then step into the darkened interior of one of The Eternal City’s many beautiful churches and the X100 would automatically up the ISO as needed. Head back outside again and the ISO was automatically reduced appropriately. Wonderful. Thank you. I could carry on shooting without missing a beat in radically different lighting scenarios.

What really helped this to work so well was that the X100 had a prime 35mm equivalent lens. I could set the minimum shutter speed the camera would permit before it increased the ISO for me to something that fitted the old formula for shooting to reduce the chance of camera shake – ie 1 / <focal length>, so maybe with the X100 1/40.

Applying this to shooting with my X-Pro2 is a bit more… painful. Why? Because I have a bunch of different lenses all with different focal lengths. 18mm, 35mm, 90mm, 55-200mm. If I’m using the 18mm lens I might set the auto ISO to 1/30, switch to the 90mm and now it needs to be maybe 1/125 or 1/160. Pop on the 55-200mm and… well, you get the picture. Ok, on the X-Pro2 you give me 3 different Auto ISO settings I can select, which is great – but that only allows for three different lenses assuming I wanted to use all three settings in this way.

Fujifilm, when I pop a Fujinon lens onto my X-Pro2 surely the camera knows which lens it has attached? I know it does because the optical viewfinder does all kinds of clever things to adjust the framing lines according to my focal length.

So… How about giving us the option to have an Auto ISO setting of “FL” – which would set the minimum shutter speed to something fitting the old rule of thumb 1 / <focal length>? You have the communication between camera body and lens to be able to work this out for me, so how about it?

And on the zoom lenses you could set that 1 / <focal length> minimum shutter speed intelligently as I zoom in and out, yes?

I’m going to overlook that the lens might have OIS which would change the formula considerably. Yes, your image stabilisation really is very good but for the purposes of this suggestion I’m willing to ignore it.

Sure, keep all the fixed shutter speeds there too, I might want to use one of those if I have a stabilised lens attached or I have some other requirement.

Would this really be too difficult to implement?

And how about your other interchangeable lens cameras?

I’m thinking this is such an obvious thing that surely people must have asked for it before so I’m guessing it actually must be too difficult to implement?

By the way, loving your cameras! The last time I shot with a Canon body was well over a year ago now.

 

Kind Regards,

Chris

Welford Road

Welford Road Cemetery
Using my Helios 44M. 1/10000 at f2.

I had a brief window of opportunity to get out with a camera on Saturday afternoon. Not having a huge amount of time before I needed to be back again I headed a couple of miles north of home to Leicester’s Welford Road Cemetery. This oasis of tranquillity is somewhere I find myself strolling around on a fairly regular basis. It was opened in 1849, is still in use and is (according to the leaflet produced by Leicester City Council) the third oldest municipal cemetery in the country.

I have been taking photos of some of the monuments here for quite a few years now. My favourite by a long way is the angel shown at the top of this post which stands over the grave of one Sarah Ann Palmer Cox (died 1912 aged 52) and her husband John Thomas Cox (died 1920 aged 77). She is sadly now missing her right index finger which was in place when I first started taking her photo but I still find her to be serene, sombre and a wonderful work of art.

I decided that I hadn’t been making much use of my Helios 44M lens so I shot with that for a while. I need to make sure I take it out with me more often, I do love the swirly quality of the bokeh using this lens. I’ve recently switched from using the “focus peak” function of my X-Pro2 to the “digital split image” method for assisting with manual focus. I think the digital split image is more like the focussing systems I grew up using and whether because of this or for some other reason I seem to be finding it’s the more accurate method for me.

I also wanted to try taking some long exposures. I had my Cokin Nuances 10 stop ND filter with me and set up my tripod for a couple of shots. It soon became clear that there wasn’t enough movement in the clouds to make anything particularly interesting but hey, if you don’t try…

Handy mobile app tip : Lee Filters, Stopper Exposure Guide available for free (at time of writing) for Android and IOS.

Welford Road Cemetery
A 30 second exposure at f11.

At the other end of the spectrum I was also making use of the electronic shutter of the X-Pro2 at times. I was shooting wide open with f2 lenses in bright light and the lowest native ISO setting of the X-Pro2 is 200. The physical shutter fires at up to 1/8000 but there were times I was shooting at 1/10000 or so. I was shooting in aperture priority so I was a little surprised the first time the electronic shutter activated. Totally silent shutter release. I’m more often shooting in very dark locations so I forgot all about having configured this feature.

I know that some people think I’m excessively morbid and can’t understand why I would want to wander around a cemetery with my camera. I’m not morbid, I find that there is an abundance of art on display in an old cemetery like this and history is all around.

(More photos I’ve taken at Welford Road Cemetery over the years can be found in this Flickr album).

Another making use of my Helios 44M.
Welford Road Cemetery
Using the 55-200mm to reach up to this rather eerie face on an obelisk.
Welford Road Cemetery
Shot using the Fujinon 90mm f2.

Pi Bar 27th January 2017

The Whiskey Rebellion
The Whiskey Rebellion performing at Pi Bar, Leicester. 27th January 2017 (Fujinon 90mm, 1/250 at f2, ISO 8000).

Friday evening found me heading out through the cold and wet of an English winter evening to the snug comfort of Pi Bar on Leicester’s Narborough Road. It had been a while since I’d last shot a gig and it was time once again to crank up the ISO, select my fastest lenses and see what developed on-stage.

Christopher Moody and the Underground Kings
Christopher Moody and the Underground Kings at Pi Bar, Leicester. 27th January 2017 (Fujinon 55-200mm, 1/60 at f4.8, ISO 6400).

I started shooting with the Fujinon 55-200mm which has the advantage of giving me image stabilisation in addition to a good long reach. However, image stablisation is only half the battle when the light is low, you also have movement of the subject to consider and musicians have a tendency not to have their feet nailed to the floor (excepting Steve Rothery). After a little while I decided it would be better to break out the 90mm f2, trading the OIS and longer reach for some extra stops of light.

Bellatones
Bellatones performing at Pi Bar, Leicester. 27th January 2017 (Fujinon 90mm 1/250 at f2, ISO 8000).

I did mention cranking up the ISO didn’t I? At many venues I’m often shooting around ISO 3200. Here at Pi Bar I started off at 6400 and soon decided that I needed to up it to ISO 8000. Dark? Hell yes, it was dark. So many of these small venues really could do with better lighting but I guess they’re not really too interested in making life easier and more interesting for photographers. A few well used spots make such a difference, giving me the kind of high contrast look I enjoy and making subject isolation easier.

ISO 8000 is maybe a notch higher than I would generally like to go and it does show in the graininess of these pictures. Having said that I do find the grain produced by my X-Pro2 to be more pleasing and reminiscent of film grain than that produced by my EOS  6D (or other previous Canon bodies). Usually I would much rather have a grainy photo than a blurry photo (unless the blur is intentional). Yet again I was very impressed at the low light performance of my X-Pro2’s APS-C sized sensor. If Fuji can make a sensor perform like this at APS-C then what is the new Fujifilm GFX 50S medium format camera going to be capable of? (Sadly I won’t be getting the chance to shoot with one of those unless I win the lottery).

Bellatones
Bellatones performing at Pi Bar, Leicester. 27th January 2017. (Fujinon 90mm, 1/250 at f2, ISO 8000).

I have to say that in these murky conditions the 90mm f2 did seem to provide a superior auto-focus experience than the 55-200. This is probably only to be expected as the 90mm is the more recent lens by a good couple of years and it’s also a prime. What I lost in reach I gained in consistent results.

During the evening I enjoyed music from three different bands : Christopher Moody and the Underground Kings, Bellatones and finally The Whiskey Rebellion – all of them excellent. More photos from the evening can be found in this album on Flickr. I’ll be keeping an eye on future events at Pi Bar as it’s not far from home and I find it a welcoming, relaxing venue – even if the lights could do with turning up a bit on the stage.

Iridient X-Transformer

1:1 crops : default Lightroom import on the left, same file processed with Iridient X-Transformer to the right. Click to see full size (X-Pro2, Fujinon 10-24mm f4 – yes, I know – not a “portrait lens”!)

I use Adobe Lightroom as my raw processing software of choice and I have done so since it was first released. Back then I was a Canon shooter but for the last several years I’ve been shooting more and more Fuji to the point where as I write I’ve not shot using my Canon gear for over a year.

As a Fuji shooter I have been aware of the raw processing software “Iridient Developer” for quite some time. I have often been astonished by the apparent difference in the rendering of Fuji raw files between Adobe Lightroom and Iridient Developer. Iridient seemed to create cleaner, clearer, sharper renderings of the same image. This seemed all the more remarkable as Iridient Digital is a “small” company, indeed to the best of my knowledge a “one-man band”.

Impressed as I was by the results I was seeing being obtained using Iridient Developer it was sadly not for me. The software was only available for Mac OS and I switched back from Mac OS to Windows several years ago now. As a keen amateur photographer (ie – not somebody who makes a lot of money out of photography) I was not going to switch back to using Macs again just to be able to run Iridient Developer, no matter how much better it might make my results.

Last year I read rumors that Iridient were working on “something for Windows”. This was exciting news for me as I found it galling that despite much improvement over the last couple of years Lightroom still didn’t seem to render Fuji raw files as well as Iridient did.

I had been checking the Iridient Digital web site for any further news of a Windows release for several months and then just as it seemed like nothing was ever going to happen I seem to have missed the notification by about a week.

Iridient X-Transformer isn’t a full-blown raw processing package. What it does is de-mosaic the Fuji raw file and store it as a dng (Digital Negative) file. Once X-Transformer has produced the dng file you are free to import it into any raw processor you like which supports the dng format – for example Adobe Lightroom.

Over the last year or so I had been thinking that Lightroom had caught up a lot and maybe there wouldn’t be a whole lot of difference between X-Transformer results and a native Lightroom import.

I was wrong!

The comparison I posted at the head of this post shows very clearly just how much of a difference there is (click on the image to see the full size version). This is a photo I took of my daughter during a visit to Bolsover Castle on December 27th 2016. It just happened to be one of my favourite portraits of her for quite a while so it was foremost in my mind and I thought that the catch-lights in her eyes along with her eyelashes and eyebrows would give X-Transformer a good test. Lots of fine detail in the shot.

The original Lightroom import to the left looks almost like there’s something over the top of the image which makes it less distinct, although at the time I took it I was pleased enough with the photo. The eyebrows and lashes almost seem to smear together, the catch-light just isn’t crisp.

Looking at the X-Transformer processed version to the right is like putting on a pair of spectacles.

And when I say “processed” both of these images are before I’ve done any actual edits on them. The only processing has been importing into Lightroom and in the case of the X-Transformer version being converted to a dng and then importing into Lightroom. Everything is set to “default” for both versions.

The results appear to be so clear, so crisp and so sharp that I think I might need to tone down my homemade Lightroom preset for sharpening X-Trans files.

The image shown in the comparison was produced with X-Transormer before I paid to register it – an event which happened very shortly after I carried out the comparison! It cost me around £32 to purchase the software and this seems like very good value for money to reveal the true brilliant performance of all of my Fuji X-Mount lenses (and my X100T).

I intend to add X-Transformer into my Lightroom workflow by pre-processing all of my Fuji shot photos though it before importing the batch to Lightroom. X-Transformer can also be used from within Lightroom as an “external editor” (once configured according to the instructions included in the help file) – right click a photo in Lightroom and send it to X-Transformer.

It seems that X-Transformer is very aptly named. It really does transform your X-Trans photos if you’re used to the results Adobe Lightroom produces.

 

Edit : A bit of an oversight maybe not to show the whole of the image I used for the comparison in this post. This is after processing in Lightroom but not shown at full size.

My daughter Michelle at Bolsover Castle. Fujifilm X-Pro2, Fujinon 10-24mm f4.