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.
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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.

 

Keeping It Local

Alley next to Sainsbury’s, Wigston Magna, Leicestershire. Fujifilm X100T. The Sainsbury’s store is to the right of this shot and occupies the land which was the site of Bell Street School.

I was born and have always lived in the same house in the suburban sprawl which lies between the “village” of Wigston Magna and the city boundary of Leicester. Despite having quite a rich history Wigston is perhaps not the most photogenic of places. Sadly many of its more interesting and attractive buildings were lost to the town planners of the 1960s and 1970s. However at the heart of Wigston are still some of the lanes which people of the village have used since medieval days.

I don’t often venture out with my camera so close to home (something I will talk more about at the end of this post) but today I decided to walk the old lanes and alleys of Wigston Magna with my Fujifilm X100T. At this time of year the sun never really gets very far above the horizon here so I had some extreme lighting to contend with but I think it was worth an hour or so of my Saturday and it was good to get out in the sun at all.

Plaque set in the pathway at the centre of the medieval lanes of Wigston, the junction of Chapel Lane and Long Lane. Fujifilm X100T.

 

People still frequently use the lanes. Here two shoppers on their way home along the northern section of Long Lane. Fujifilm X100T – with characteristic lens flare 🙂
Chapel Lane leading down from Long Street by the side of the United Reformed Church to meet Long Lane down near the allotments. I need to get back here on the next foggy night we get. Fujifilm X100T.
Un-named stretch of alley between Blunt’s Lane and Moat Street. I’m tempted to christen it Chapel Lane South until I can discover otherwise. Fujifilm X100T.

 

It is often the case, with photography as with other disciplines, that we overlook the places closest to us. They seem less interesting, less exotic than far-flung locations. In my case my home town of Wigston is rather unlovely and yet there are still photographic opportunities if I go out and find them. But it’s not just a case of overlooking what is closest to me. As I found today and on previous occasions when I have shot so close to home I seem to feel more self-conscious and conspicuous when I’m within a short stroll of home. I don’t think it’s because I feel I might meet somebody I know, that would actually be quite a nice thing to happen. It’s not that everyone knows everybody else in a town of this size either, Wigston has a population of over 30,000 so I’m as much of a stranger to most of them as I would be anywhere else. Maybe in my case it’s because the place where I live just isn’t really all that photogenic so I feel that people will be questioning my motives for walking around the place taking photographs. As I write I do feel that this latter reason maybe hits the nail on the head. If I was in some picturesque corner of The Cotswolds then people wouldn’t even stop to wonder what I might be pointing my lens at. As it was I took my rather unobtrusive Fujifilm X100T along for this walk and that was all but I still felt like I stood out like a sore thumb. I’d be interested to hear what others think about this.

 

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.

 

York With The X100T

Back in October I spent a couple of nights in the city of York armed only with my Fuji X100T. I really enjoyed the lack of lots of kit. Having only one camera with a fixed prime lens meant far less time faffing over which lens to use and more time spent enjoying my holiday and my photography.

I particularly wanted to walk the tour of the alleyways of York and I’ve documented the walk using Adobe Spark.

Adobe Spark Page