Feeling “right”

Fujifilm’s latest X-series camera was released a few weeks ago to much fanfare and insofar as I can see much critical acclaim.  And for once in my life I find myself in the vanguard, an early adopter of Fujifilm’s latest electronic marvel even before Adobe have caught up.

Do I like it? Well, I sold the Fuji X-T20 within 48 hours of taking delivery of the X-T3 so confident was I after just one play that the older model wouldn’t get a look in unless I left the X-T3 at home; and why would I do that?

As always I will leave the technical stuff and a discussion of the cameras’s specifications to others. I’m an enthusiast photographer rather than a working pro and what matters most to me is that very nebulous quality of the user experience.  User experience. Easy to type but very hard to define largely because it will vary considerably from one person to another. 

A camera needs to feel “right” in my hand. I can’t write the exact feeling down but know it when I experience it.  The X-T3 is a little bigger than my now-departed X-T20 (a camera I really enjoyed using) although it is a form factor I’m familiar with as I already own the X-T1 which is my infrared/full-spectrum camera these days. With one of my primes attached or the 18-55 “kit” lens the X-T1 feels great in the hand. Not perfect but still very, very good. I knew therefore before I placed the order for the X-T3 that I’d be purchasing the battery grip especially if I intended expanding my focal length opportunities by buying a telephoto lens at some point in the future (spoiler alert: that future is now the past).

© Dave Whenham

The X-T3 body with my 35mm f1.4 prime does indeed feel great in the hand and I’ve been using this combination a lot recently. The 18-55 likewise balances well as do the two Samyang primes in my bag (12mm and the fisheye) although the Fuji 55-200 does feel a little front heavy although this was not unexpected. The battery grip though transforms the handling from good to great. It’s good also to have the choice of travelling very light with just body and a 23mm prime for example or putting on the grip for better handling with the bigger lenses and of course three times as much battery power. As an aside, I got 1,216 images (2,432 files as I shoot RAW+JPEG) from one charge using three batteries and the grip which is pretty much what is claimed by Fuji (1,170 from memory is the claim).

The auto-focus is not strictly something many would class as handling but it does contribute to the overall user experience as slow or poor AF can be very frustrating at best. On the X-T1  focusing with the Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 R can be slow and the lens often hunts especially in more challenging conditions. But keep in mind this lens is a venerable OAP in lens-terms having been first released for sale on January 9th 2012. I was therefore amazed and very surprised at the very nifty focusing achieved with the X-T3. It will never compete with more modern lenses in the speed stakes due to its older design and engineering but comparing it on the X-T3 versus the X-T1 does reveal a very welcome improvement in user experience.  Of course, this is my subjective view and I’ve not carried out any laboratory testing but at the end of the day it’s how the gear behaves in real life and not in a laboratory that really matter – at least to some of us!

© Dave Whenham

What I’ve not yet had the opportunity to do is a “proper” day out complete with a tripod, numerous lens changes and the deployment of filters but that should be possible next week fingers crossed.

So, all first signs are positive. I never expected to be an early adopter but having got caught up in the excitement as a fellow photographer anticipated the release of the “T3” I found myself swept along and with an order in the basket just the day before the official UK launch. I never expected to get it within 48 hours either.  With the 18-55 attached I set off for a few days in Northumberland to celebrate my birthday not really expecting much in the way of photography but nevertheless knowing that I had a pretty capable camera should opportunities arise.

Oh, and that telephoto lens? Our journey from Elland to Northumberland took us pass the Metro Centre in Gateshead and of course the Boss decided that would be an ideal opportunity for a coffee and a break from driving (not that she drives!).  Long story short – Jessops – a few secondhand lenses – Fuji 50-140 f2.8.  I tried it on an X-T2 body (the shop hadn’t any X-T3 bodies) and knew that I was about to take another irrevocable step into the Fuji-X system. I barely took the lens off the X-T3 for the following three days.

* All images Fiji X-T3 from JPEGs – just wish Adobe would get their finger out! Perhaps I should just move to Capture One 🙂

Customisation

I’ve always considered the facility to customise buttons on a camera to be slightly irrelevant and a bit of a gimmick.

Until I got serious about Fuji.

I have large hands and one of the slight concerns I had with my move towards the Fuji system was the small size of some of the cameras and in particular the camera controls. The buttons on my Fuji X-T20 for example are tiny compared to my Nikon DSLR and it’s taken me some time to teach my muscles how to reach some of the buttons without nudging any of the others. It was a small inconvenience however compared to the very big benefits, which I’ve written about before.

(C) Dave Whenham

Scenes like this call for manual control – which I often facilitate through the exposure compensation dial

So it has come as a bit of a surprise to me to realise that one of the attributes of the X-T20 I have come to appreciate the most is the ability to personalise several of the buttons. Who would have thought! The four way selector on the back for example came preprogrammed for moving the focus point but I found I was rarely using these because of the touchscreen with its touch-to-focus ability which I use 90% of the time. So I reprogrammed the 3 o’clock button for image format and 9 o’clock became picture style for when I’m shooting JPEGs. The 6 o’clock is used to enter focus selection mode and until recently 12 o’clock was not used.

(C) Dave Whenham

Another image that called for manually adjusting the exposure

There is a function (Fn) button on the top plate next to the on/off switch and the exposure compensation dial. I use exposure compensation a lot, keeping the camera in aperture priority and using exposure compensation to manually adjust exposure settings. This button came programmed for wireless communication and as I do enjoy being able to transfer images to my phone/tablet I left it alone.

All was well with this arrangement until recently when extended use of the camera has meant I no longer need take my eye away from the camera to change the exposure compensation setting. This meant my right hand was barely leaving the camera body as I turned the exposure compensation dial with either my thumb or the edge of my forefinger. In the past few weeks I have inadvertently triggered wireless communication countless times as my forefinger has depressed the button whilst turning the exposure compensation dial.

Amused I have not been.

So, this evening I changed the Fn button so it now does – absolutely nothing.  It’s a shame to lose the use of the function button but with the Q menu containing most of the things I change regularly and with the four way selector customised to my way of using the camera, everything I need is to be found in that small area on the back of the camera. I moved wireless communication to 12 o’clock by the way, I just hope I can quickly get used to its new position!

So, bravo Fuji for making this lovely little camera so customisable, it does make a huge difference to this users experience!

Bluebells & Nikon musings

I’ve taken several thousand images in the last month or so and looking back, if we exclude drone shots, all but around thirty were shot with one of my Fuji cameras. This morning then, when I decided to go and visit the bluebells, I consciously took the Nikon DSLR. I have to confess I almost popped the Fuji bag into the car as well but was strong and went out sans-Fuji.

© Dave Whenham

Nikon D800E Nikkor 14-24 @ 24mm.

I took the Nikon body, three lenses (14-24, 24-70 and 70-200), spare battery and a couple of filters. The first thing I noticed was the bag I needed was three times bigger than the one I’ve been using (with two Fuji bodies, four lenses and filters etc) and the second was the weight. Arriving at the car park and walking the short distance uphill to the woods I really noticed the weight. Now to be fair I would usually use a backpack with the Nikon gear so the large shoulder bag was always going to feel slightly less comfortable.

© Dave Whenham

Nikon D800E Nikkor 14-24 at 16mm.

The lack of use showed very quickly once I’d got the camera on a tripod but happily muscle memory returned very quickly and I was soon shooting happily and intuitively. I even got the 14-24 f2.8 lens out for a spin too, something I haven’t done for a very long time it seems.  After those first five fumbling minutes I settled quickly into the old rhythm and it’s fair to say thoroughly enjoyed the hour in the woods with just the Nikon and its “Holy Trinity” of lenses.

© Dave Whenham

Nikon D800E Nikkor 70-200 at 105mm.

The 70-200 is probably my favourite of these three lenses especially for landscapes. Indeed, the 14-24, which I bought for landscape work, rarely gets used for those purposes these days as I’ve slowly adopted a more intimate approach to landscape shooting. I still shoot wider scenes but generally the wider end of the 24-70 lens gives me everything I need. When I sold my Canon gear, accumulated over twenty years or more, and moved to Nikon I was not in a position to replicate the system item for item. I needed therefore to carefully consider my purchases and ended up buying the three lenses already mentioned along with the D800E and D7100 bodies and a Sigma 105mm macro lens. To be fair this has proved to be more than adequate and although I have added a 300mm f4 to the mix I generally only travel with the two bodies and four lenses I originally purchased.

© Dave Whenham

Nikon D800E Nikkor 14-24 at 24mm.

Looking at the images I took with the 14-24 this morning, apart from the ones of the tree canopy all the others are at 24mm which perhaps illustrates the point very well. For a day out I could manage nicely with just the 24-70 and 70-200 lenses in the bag.  Where I use the 14-24 mostly I think is for urban shoots; but not street photography as it’s rather an eye-catching piece of glass.

© Dave Whenham

Nikon D800E Nikkor 70-200 at 200mm.

Incidentally, you may have noticed that there is just a hint of the titular bluebells in these images. Two reasons, partly I was late going out so the sun was higher in the sky than I’d have liked but mainly because the bluebells themselves are only just starting to appear. It seems that the weather has put everything back a bit and it may be another week or so before the bluebells appear in the dense patches I enjoyed last year. When they do the macro lens will join the kit bag in place of the 14-24 as I have a few more creative ideas I want to try when the conditions are right.

© Dave Whenham

Nikon D800E Nikkor 70-200 at 122mm.

One thing that always surprises me almost is when I get the D800E files up on my computer screen. At 36mp from a full frame sensor they are much bigger than the 24mp files from the Fuji X-T20 or the 16mp files from the X100t and X-T1 crop-sensor cameras. The detail is immense and each time I look at a well-exposed, properly focused and sharp image its as if I am seeing the detail for the first time all over again. It’s one of the reasons why I cannot yet relinquish my Nikon system despite the huge weight difference compared to my Fuji kit. For example, I can carry the 24mp Fuji X-T20 with three lenses covering 12mm-200mm (18mm-300mm in full-frame terms) along with the infrared-converted X-T1, spare batteries and filters and fit all these in my smallest backpack, a Camlink sling bag measuring just 40 x 24 x 23.5cm.  Despite this, for as long as I am physically able to carry the Nikon gear I shall be keeping it!

As for the bluebells, I will return to this spot regularly over the coming weeks. For an overcast or misty day the perfect time will be around sunrise or just after at this time of the year, which means leaving the house at 5:45am. On a bright day I suspect that later in the day, around teatime or even towards sunset, will work best but I’ve yet to test this theory. The only issue with an evening shoot is a practical one; I park in the carpark of a local restaurant and whilst they have no objections first thing in the morning I can see them being less happy when I’m taking up a space that could be used by a paying diner! I shall take a drive down one evening though to test this theory out properly and investigate alternative parking.

In retrospect – August

In Flying High I reflected on the number of different projects that I’ve embarked upon this year and in particular the new techniques, in terms of both software and hardware, that I’ve been adding to my tool kit. One thing I’ve not touched upon in any detail recently has been my ongoing move from Nikon to Fuji. I’ve gone a long way down the path, reducing my Nikon gear and purchasing further Fuji products, but have not yet made that irrevocable step and “gone mirrorless”.

As ever, this blog post is largely a transcript of my ramblings in the video, link below.

…made that irrevocable step and “gone mirrorless”

That sounds dramatic, and in a sense it is. Without a salary coming in every month the opportunities for purchasing new kit are of necessity limited. I’m happy with that as the alternative would be to return to being a wage-slave, and at my age that is not a pleasant prospect. The reality is that if I want to purchase the remaining items that would provide me with a “full” Fuji kit I will need to sell the Nikons with little realistic chance of being able to purchase them again if I change my mind at least in the near to medium future.  So it’s kind of a big deal – albeit a first world “problem”.

If you consider that only two weeks ago I was processing images from 2015 and wondering if I’d done the right thing in selling my Nikon D800E rather than the D750 then you will appreciate that I’m probably not “there” yet and I had a long conversation on this very subject with a fellow Nikon/Fuji photographer very recently.  He took three ŷears from purchasing his first Fuji camera to selling his full-frame Nikons. However, even now he still has a top-quality crop sensor Nikon DSLR which is his go-to for natural history and wildlife subjects.  He has been trying the Fuji X-T2 for wildlife but in his words the jury is still out on that one. The telling comment though came ten minutes later when he mentioned he was looking to upgrade his current crop sensor Nikon DSLR for a newer model. I think that tells us what we need to know about the practicalities of going fully mirrorless using Fuji cameras if wildlife photography is a serious part of your output.

Now, unlike Richard I am not a regular wildlife photographer (he is and is excellent at it too) but I do like to dabble, plus of course the longer lens does have uses for landscape work.  The longest lens I’ve used on the Fuji is the 55-200 “kit” lens. It’s OK, nothing stellar, but used carefully it’s perfectly adequate for landscape work. For the number of times I actively seek out wildlife subjects it simply isn’t appropriate to splash the cash for the Fuji 100-400 for example. For my purposes it falls neatly into the “nice to have” category.

With my Nikons however I have an f2.8 70-200 Nikon lens, a 300mm f4 prime Nikkor with a 1.4x converter both of which provide much better quality for landscape use compared to the Fuji 55-200.

Looking back over the last twelve months the majority of my photography has been with one of the Fuji bodies. On the surface a clear indication that perhaps the time is perhaps right to move over fully. But further analysis (harking back to my working days) reveals something more fundamental. If we ignore the occasional wildlife photography then broadly speaking my camera usage is actually fairly genre specific:

  • Travel – Fuji
  • Street – Fuji (mainly X100t)
  • Landscapes -Fuji (mainly X-T20 or X-T1)
  • Macro/insects – Nikon D7100 with Sigma 105mm macro lens
  • Astrophotography – Nikon D750 with Nikkor 14-24 f2.8
  • Video – Fuji (specifically the Fuji X-T20)
  • Timelapse – Fuji X-T20
  • Urban – Fuji
  • General pottering – I always carry the Fuji X100t if nothing else
  • Portraiture – no clear split

To me the conclusion is fairly clear. For most of my photography the Fuji system gives me everything I need. However, like my friend Richard, there are a few specific subjects where I rely on the Nikon kit given the choice.  I say given the choice as I do not carry both sets of kit unless I know that I will need them both.  Like many others I still feel that whilst the Fuji system can be everything to some photographers, those of us who are more generalised or indeed the wildlife or sports focused amongst us, are still not fully catered for specifically in terms of long telephoto lenses and of course macro.

So, for the time being at least I think I will be staying as I am, using Nikon kit alongside the Fuji. On the one hand it feels like a cop-out, a mere pandering to an irrational emotional attachment to some lumps of glass and metal perhaps? However, on balance I think the bottom line is that whilst for some purposes it is a complete solution Fuji has not quite got there in terms of a full kit for the enthusiast photographer.  I have tried using my 105mm Nikon-fit macro lens on a Fuji body with an adapter but whilst it works it is unwieldy; the small bodies need small lenses! Likewise, I have attached my trusty old 300mm f4 Nikkor to the Fuji bodies and unless it’s on a tripod it is just not an easy combination to hold steady in my experience. But that might just be my age!

So, for anyone who has been following my “Fuji journey” this brings the story up to date. I am still anticipating going fully mirrorless at some stage in my future, if only for the weight reduction. However, as I can still carry the bigger, heavier kit and it does still have some advantages photographically then that date is still some where in the future.

The Recce: Goit Stock

Harden Beck is a stream that flows from Hewenden Reservoir to the River Aire in Bingley, West Yorkshire.  The beck flows through Goit Stock Wood, which is known for being a good example of broadleaf woodland and cascades over Goit stock waterfall which is 20 ft high.  The waterfall was known as Hallas Lumb until the early 1820s when its name was changed to Goit Stock.

I’ve been to the waterfall half a dozen times in the last few years always approaching from the north via a lengthy walk up Harden Beck. Invariably by the time I’ve got there the sun has been well up which creates problems with blown out skies above the falls.  Sometimes I’ve spent so long photographing along the beck that I’ve not had much time at the falls themselves before staring the walk back to the car. So I was very pleased to discover recently that there is somewhere to park south of the falls that is just a fifteen minute walk through the woods to get to the falls. There is still the chance to photograph along the beck, albeit a much shorter stretch but most importantly you pass the smaller falls above the main Goit Stock falls and these are well worth photographing.