Wat Chedi Luang, Chaing Mai Thailand

Any visit to Thailand must include a tour of the Buddish temple of Wat Chedi Luang in historic Chaing Mai. Construction of the temple started in the 14th Century, and was not completed until the mid-15th Century. In 1545 an earthquake caused the collapse of the upper 30m of the 82m high structure. In the early 1990’s the Chedi was reconstructed financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government.

 

Yes – These are ‘typical’ tourist photos. There isn’t any human connection, just pictures of scenery. My only excuse is that this was at the start of a 10 month adventure, to Thailand, Cambodia, Australia, Nepal, Turkey, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.  The cultural differences between my native Canada and Thailand were, to say the least ….Enormous. At this stage in my adventure, I was simply overwhelmed – and did not have the courage (the ‘balls’) to interact with the local people. That did change – and within a few weeks I had the courage to photograph people on the street, and even to use hand signals – pointing at them, and then at my camera to indicate that I wanted to photograph them. Once I had this courage, my photographs improved, the image had life, had a personality.  

It just took a bit of courage…

 

All photographs taken using a Fujifilm X-E1 with XF14mm lens or XF55-200mm, and Fujifilm X-Pro1 with XF18-55mm

Two and half years with the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-E1

Welcome to a blog post about my experiences with a Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-E1 and X-mount lenses while traveling through 10 countries between September 2014 and July 2015. This is not a hands-on review – there are already tons of reviews online, and, both the X-Pro1 and X-E1 have already been replaced by the X-Pro2 and X-E2 respectively.

For the past 10 or so years, I have been a hard core Nikon gear user – with two full frame DSLR’s (D-700’s) and a range of lenses from ultra wide angle to 400mm. From experience, I always travel with a 3 to 5 lenses (or more) and when on extended travel, or to challenging environmental conditions – I always bring two cameras; one as a backup in case one is dropped, or malfunctions, and also the flexibility of a wide angle lens on one camera and a telephoto lens on the other camera. A year off work to travel changed all that.  The size and weight of even one DSLR and a range of lenses was too much, even carrying a single D700 with a 50mm lens is bulky and heavy – and does not allow the creativity of different lenses, or a second camera. There was simply no way that I could carry my normal camera gear for 10 months international travel.  Bottom line – I needed a smaller and lighter camera with near SLR capability.

 

Approximately 8 months before the start of my year off work, I started to look really closely at the developments in mirror-less technology.

My basic criteria included:
1) Small size and light weight.  I don’t want to look like a pro photographer with a couple of DSLR’s dangling from my neck. My goal was to be able to carry all my camera gear in a non-descript messenger bag.

2) Ability for inter-changeable lenses.

3) I needed a system that would provide excellent image quality.

After a lot of research at mirror-less system Olympus, Sony, and Fujifilm, I settled on the Fujifilm. At the time, the Fujifilm choices were between the X-Pro1 and the X-E1. I bought an X-Pro1 for the electronic and optical viewfinder, and since I did not have previous experience with electronic-type viewfinder.  The X-Pro1 with the large buttons and dials has the look of a vintage rangefinder film camera.  Still wanting a second camera as a backup – the other logical choices was the X-E1. The X-E1 is smaller and lighter than the X-Pro1 and doesn’t have the optical viewfinder. Both cameras use the same “X-Trans” CMOS sensor – so image quality is identical. The two cameras do have slightly different ergonomics – with practice I would learn how to automatically adjust the buttons and dials on each without removing my eye from the viewfinder.  

 

With the X-Pro1, and X-E1 my lenses included the XF 14mm, XF 18-55mm, and XF 55-200mm, which all fit easily into my Timbuktoo shoulder bag. All this gear (camera and lenses) was less bulk, and weighed significantly less than my Nikon D700 with a 17-35mm land and 70-200 VR1 lens.

 

During the 10 months of travel, we experienced high humidity in Thailand and Cambodia, dusty and hot conditions in Western Australia, experienced cold temperatures on the mountains of Nepal, were blasted by sand storms in Dubai, snowed on in Turkey, and chilled on the damp beaches of Normandy (France), and in Holland. The X-Pro1 and X-E1 and my and X-mount lenses performed without problem – mostly. The X-E1 had a hate relationship with the XF 14mm, the rear LCD screen would flicker and then the camera would lock up. Only after pulling out the battery would the camera cooperate – until you pressed the shutter – and then it would lock up again.  I didn’t have any problems with any other lenses. Mysteriously, the problem was “cured” after dropping the camera on the street. The X-E1 worked fine (even with the XF 14mm lens), though the XF 18-55mm lens didn’t fare so well (it has since been repaired by Fuji Canada).

 

Now, almost 15 months after starting the year-long journey and nearly two and half years since I bought them, both the X-Pro1 and X-E1 are showing signs of wear and tear. There are small dents, and in some areas the black paint is worn off. There are a couple of flakes of dust on the sensor, even some inside the lenses  – nothing major. The cameras and lenses are still working well. During the travels, they were not ‘babied’ – simply dropped into the messenger bag, lens caps were never used, and even at times, the lenses were changed in less than ideal conditions. I have taken tens of thousands of images X-Pro1 and X-E1, and by now can speak comfortably about the positives and negatives.

Like most cameras, the X-Pro1 and X-E1 do have little quirks that could be annoying. My only major negative comment is the slow focusing. Actually, focus speed sucks.  Do remember that focus speed has been significantly improved in X-Pro2 and X-E2.

Other quirks are the all-too-easily turned exposure compensation dial, and the fly-by wire Fuji XF lenses that do not remain set to a specific focus distance after the camera has been turned off and back on again.  

 

  • I do like the large buttons and dials for adjusting the aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation.
  • I also like that the X-Pro and X-E1 are small and compact, and do not spook or intimidate the subjects as much as a large DSLR, giving me more freedom and access than if I had a large DSLR around my neck.
  • I bought the X-Pro1 for the electronic and optical viewfinder originally thinking that I would not get used to the electronic viewfinder. Instead, I hardly ever the optical viewfinder, only in low light situations.
  • I also really like the fact that the eyepiece is not centered as in DSLR (and X-T1). Instead, the viewfinder is on the left side of the camera. My nose is not squashed against LCD screen.  My right eye in viewfinder, left eye is not blocked – and can view the scene.
  • I also like that the cameras look retro, or old-school. Many people have asked me if the camera was an old range-finder type film camera, or a Leica M9 !. Although the Fuji’s do use the Fuji-X lens mount, with adapters I can attach old film camera lenses (M39 and M42 lens mount) along with Pentax, Canon and Nikon lenses.  While in Holland,  I bought a couple of old manual focus russian lens (Industar, and Helios). Their optics are not nearly as good as the Fuji-X lenses, though they do have a unique look.
  • I also like the build quality, image quality and weight of the Fuji-X lenses – especially the 14mm, 35mm and 55-200mm.
  • I love the quality of the images. Even though though the X-Pro1 and X-1 are now several years old, compared to newer cameras, the quality of the images is still amazing. Images straight out of the camera are sharp with bold vibrant colors.

 

So – will I sell my DSLR camera gear ?

The Fuji X-Pro1 and X-E1 are unique cameras, and not necessarily for everyone.

There are some things that the Fuji X-Pro1 and X-E1 simply do not do well. As any artist knows, it is a matter of using the right tool for the job. Photographing things that move quickly; children, wildlife or trains – are easy with a large DSLR, and is a challenge for the X-Pro1 and X-E1. The X-Pro1 and X-E1 are great for static subjects, or where you need a lightweight and more discreet camera for street and travel photography. Back at home, I can use my X-Pro1 and X-E1 for studio work, with my (for Nikon) Pocketwizard Mini TT1 and Flex TT5 controllers.

Finally, my experience is biased, since I have not yet tested the newer X-Pro2, X-E2 or the X-T1.  

 

Dynamic Amsterdam

One of the disadvantages of photography is that it is a snapshot in time based on the shutter speed. As photographers, we can choose freeze time by using a very fast shutter speed, or slow down time by using a slow shutter speed.
This is a composite image, of three sets of three photos (slow, medium and fast shutter speed ie: HDR) all combined together into one.

 

Why ?. The advantage of combining image is to record the static (non-moving objects) and the blur of objects that moved based on the the speed of movement.

 
All photos taken with a Fuji X-E1 and XF14mm, at various shutter speeds with a Hoya 8xND and Hoya Polarizer, and processed in PhotoMatrixPro. Click on any image in the gallery to see it bigger, click on the small black arrows to scroll to the next image.

 

Amsterdam – a ‘soft’ Gallery

Amsterdam. Yes, the photos are all a touch soft (‘blurry’), maybe even a bit over or under exposed. Does it matter – you decide. To me, they show Amsterdam in a new way, without the insane sharpness of a modern autofocus lens. The slight blurriness seems to bring out the atmosphere of a classic Amsterdam ‘Coffee shop’, where you are handed a menu with drugs of the day. All photos were taken with a Fujifilm X-Pro and Russian made Helios 44-2 58mm manual focus lens.

 

Around the World with Fuji-X series (X-Pro & X-E1)

A post about camera gear.

I’ve dreaded writing this post for fear of being ‘labelled/classified’ as one of those camera gear – type people.

This post in reply to the emails and Facebook messages lately asking what camera gear I am using while travelling around the world for 10 continuous months. I have both the Fujifilm X-series X-Pro and X-E1 cameras, and the answer to the other question. No – I am not selling my Nikon camera gear. There, two questions answered !.

Those that know me, know that I have a large collection of Nikon camera gear. So – why not bring my usual Nikon gear ?. Travelling for 10 months to foreign places is the ultimate photo opportunity. By experience, I have learned to always carry two camera bodies – each body with a different lens; one body with a wide angle lens, and the other body with a telephoto lens. Having two bodies, also provides the security of a backup if one camera breaks (lesson learned). Although the D700 and with a (14-24mm /17-35mm) wide angle lens, and (85mm / 70-200mm) telephoto lens combination is absolutely fantastic, I did not want to be burdened with the size and weight of all that camera gear. I wanted to travel relatively light, and not be overly noticeable as a photographer with camera gear dangling from my neck, or carried in a specialized camera bag that seems to advertise ‘steal me / rob me’.

Based on the anticipated use during the travels; predominantly street, with some landscape and general travel documentary photography, and after researching other brands, I settled on the Fuji X system since these cameras are an excellent compromise between size, weight, features, and quality. As per usual I bought two cameras – the (at the time flagship model) X-Pro, and the X-E1. Between the X-Pro and X-E1 there are a lot of similarities; both use the same sensor (I cannot see any difference between the images taken using the X-E1 or X-Pro), both use the same battery and flash, the camera controls are almost the same, and both cameras are roughly the same size and weight (although the X-E1 is a little smaller and lighter). The biggest difference is that the X-E1 has a tiny (but effective) pop-up flash, and the X-Pro is slightly larger and has a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder.

For lenses, I brought the Fuji 14mm f/2.8, 18-55mm f/2.8-4 and 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8. I would have loved to have brought the Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 as well. Enroute, bought a Samyang 8mm fisheye mostly for panoramas and street photography (this lens is manual focus; whereas Fuji lenses are all fly-by-wire and re-set each time the camera is turned on/off). Compared to the Nikon lenses, the Fuji (and Samyang) lenses are light-weight. The two cameras fit in a non-descript, black Timbuk2 saddle bag with room to spare for one extra lens, extra batteries, extra memory cards, filters, lens cleaning cloth, a water bottle, notepad and pen, water bottle, sunglasses other smaller items …and a 6-pack of beer !.

Complete list of camera gear:

  • Fuji X-Pro (with hand grip)
  • Fuji X-E1 (with DIY hand grip)
  • Fuji 14mm, 18-55mm, 55-200mm lenses
  • Samyang 8mm lens
  • Fuji flash X20
  • 5x batteries, and charger
  • UV filters for all lenses, except 8mm
  • Hoya 8xND and circular polarizer
  • Manfrotto tripod head (494RC2), Cullmann tripod (Nanomax 260) – carrying it almost got me shot !
  • MacBook Pro + 2x external hard drives
  • Lowepro soft lens case
  • Lowepro hip pack (fits inside the Timbuk2 bag)
  • Timbuk2 shoulder bag
  • SD card reader, lens cleaning cloths, Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaning brush

Thus far, at 7 months into the journey my camera gear has travelled through humid jungles of Thailand, high altitude mountain treks in Nepal, in the hot and dry Australian outback, dropped in sand on a beach in Turkey, and my camera bag has been thrown aboard busses, trucks, trains, rickshaw, and on the roof of taxis (not even tied down). I have leaned a lot about how well the X-E1 and X-Pro perform in these diverse environmental conditions – for the most part they performed well, although not without flaws. On a couple of occasions gigantic blobs of dust appeared on the sensor, and could not be removed by the built on sensor-shake-cleaner, requiring a cleaning with an Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaning brush. Autofocus is slow, though this has been greatly improved in X-E2 and X-T1 – so do not plan to use the X-E1 or X-Pro for sports or nature (e.g. flying birds) photography. Both the X-E1 and X-Pro have EV-compensation dials that are easily rotated off ‘0’, resulting in over or under exposed images. Neither cameras weather sealing (X-T1 does), so use a clear plastic bag when photographing a water ballon fight (e.g. Holi – Festival of Color in Nepal). Burst shooing at six frames/second ? – forget it, unless you want your camera to lock up for several minutes while the camera writes the images to the memory card. The weirdest glitch is between the X-E1 and 14mm, they are simply not compatible !. With the 14mm lens, the X-E1 camera locks up, the LCD goes black and flashes. When the camera is turned on/off it repeats. I removed the battery, upgraded the firmware on both lens and body, no effect. I just plan to not use 14mm on X-E1 !.

Using a Fuji X-E1 or X-Pro is unlike using a DSLR; the entire process and feeling is different. Simply- you have to enjoy using the cameras, and know what you are doing, and adjust your photography technique. Read other blogs, and read that some people have a ‘Love Hate Relationship’ with their X-E1/X-Pro. For me, it is the right tool for the job; I love the size, I love the weight (or lack of weight), I love the ergonomics of the X-Pro (whereas my D700 feels like a 5 pound brick), I love the colours of the photos, and I love that the images do not need much post processing. An added advantage of the smaller X-Pro and X-E1 cameras is that they are far more discrete that a full-size DSLR, I never stood out as a photographer, and blended into the role of tourist giving me far more freedom and access than if I had a large DSLR around my neck.

Will I sell the Fuji cameras when I get home and go back to Nikon DSLR, or keep the X-E1/X-Pro and sell the Nikon ?.

Neither – I will keep both the Fuji cameras and the Nikon. My style of photography is quite diverse; ranging from landscape, portrait, sports, wildlife, private and commercial work. Both the large Nikon and small Fuji are capable cameras, though both are completely different in capabilities. Choosing one or the other depends on the requirements of the situation. One blogger even referred to the “thoughtful” shooter – that is, you take the time to compose your image properly, check your settings, etc.

Should you buy a X-E1/X-Pro ?.

No – I’d recommend getting either the X-E2, X-T1 or waiting until the X-Pro2 is released.

Bottom line. I am very happy with my Fuji cameras and lenses, they may not be the ‘best’ travel cameras – though they are significantly smaller, and lighter than large DSLRs, and produce beautiful pictures time after time.

 

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

This collection of images were taken at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (the capital the United Arab Emirates). Architecturally stunning and large enough to accommodate 40,000 worshippers, the mosque was constructed from 1996 to 2007. There are 82 roof-top domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers, and contains marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics. and the world’s largest hand knotted carpet. Photo technique: All photos were taken handheld (tripods are not allowed), with the camera braced against a wall or column. Three long exposure photos (-1, 0, +1 exposure) were combined to ghost the other visitors. Photos combined in PhotoMatrix Pro. Fuji X-E1 with XF 18-55mm lens.

Click on an photo to make it larger, and use the arrows to move to the next photo.