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

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.

 

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.

beacon hill march 2016-1
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.

beacon hill march 2016-2
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.

beacon hill march 2016-3
Tenacious Tree. Beacon Hill, Leicestershire.

A Quick Play With Fuji’s Arcos Film Simulation

acros-example-3
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.

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100% crop of Fuji’s Acros film simulation – no added grain.
crop2
100% crop of Fuji’s Acros film simulation – added “weak” grain.

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.