Several Species at Baltimore's MECU Pavilion (Formerly Pier Six)

As much as I’ve been writing about music stuff, I haven’t been doing much, if any, photography aside from cell phone snaps at work. Last night, I went to see Several Species, a Pink Floyd tribute band based here in the Baltimore area. As always, the put on a great show — better, in many ways, than an actual Pink Floyd concert. Like many venues, MECU usually has restrictions on what kind of cameras that the general public can bring in. The general rule of thumb is that the lens can’t extend more than 3 inches. So, I took along my Fujifilm X10 to use from my 12th row center seat.

The X10 is quite a few years old now, and it’s 12MP, 2/3 inch sensor, while excellent, is challenged in certain situations, like concerts. Still, I’m pretty happy with the images, despite the fact that some are pretty noisy, and that I missed/lost a few shots due to the slow auto focus.

What I’d really like is for Fujifilm to “grow up” the X10/X20/X30 series into a camera with a larger sensor — either 1” or APS-C — with an equivalent lens, for instance, an 18.5-75mm f/2.8-4.8 zoom for an APS-C sensor. Of course, that may make for a lens that extends greater than 3 inches…

2017 Chesapeake Bay Buyboat Show

We spent a wonderful, if wet, day yesterday at the Chesapeake Bay Buyboat Show at Somers Cove Marina in Crisfield, on Maryland's Eastern Shore.  In addition to the boat show, which featured a dozen or so restored and/or working Chesapeake Bay boats, there's a really neat little museum in Crisfield with displays showing the history of the town and its importance in the history of America's seafood industry, the Bay, and the region.

All photos taken with a Fujifilm X-E2 and XF18-55mm lens in JPEG mode with Astia film simulation applied, and then edited in Snapseed on an iPad Air 2.

We didn't take any pictures around town in Crisfield this visit -- I have in the past, and we'll probably go back down, but we were left wondering how much longer the "town" of Crisfield will survive. Many of the buildings on Main Street are vacant and dilapidated, as are a huge number of the residences. It's definitely not the quaint-if-smelly town I remember from when I was young, and you could still find huge piles of oyster shells around.

On the way from Crisfield to Berlin, we came across a really neat old building that we may want to go back and photograph. I did manage to grab a quick iPhone picture before "traffic" forced us to move on. I didn't even try to shoot that with the Fuji, because I was more interested in getting the geotag so we can go back -- the whole town there is begging to be photographed. 

Photo Plus Expo 2016 - After Show Report

Yesterday, I made my annual pilgrimage to NYC to attend at least a little bit of this year's Photo Plus Expo. As usual, there was much to see. Unfortunately, I only had about five hours to cover the entire show floor. I do think that I did pretty well. Honestly, it wasn't as much fun as it has been the past couple of years because I was just there for the day, and wasn't able to attend any of the workshops or classes. Although I took along my Fujifilm X-E2 with the 18-55mm lens, I didn't take as many pictures as I usually do, largely because I was rushing around, to and fro.

Of course, I did visit the Fujifilm booth, which was crowded with people who wanted to get to see all the latest cameras and lenses. I spent some time playing with the X-T2, and have to say that it's an amazing camera. As usual, I won't bore you with all the tech specs. You can find that at the Fujifilm digital camera web pages. What I will say is that the camera is lightening fast, and that for me, every control and component falls into place exactly as it should, and that I absolutely want one. Someday.

Fujifilm GFX 50S with six new system lenses

Fujifilm GFX 50S with six new system lenses

One thing I had really wanted to see was the new GFX medium format system. I was able to see it. Under glass. It sure looked pretty. Unfortunately, there were none to play with.

I think a lot of people were disappointed in not being of this camera, especially after knowing that there have been a few people playing with them in the real world after Photokina. I guess us mere mortals will have to wait just a little bit longer...

While I have no picture, I was able to have a bit of play with Hasselblad's new X1d mirrorless medium format camera. And, while its firmware is definitely not ready for prime time yet, the camera is definitely something pretty special. It handles superbly, the touch-screen-based user interface is incredibly well thought out, and the image quality appears to be excellent. It's amazingly usable for a big camera, and generally feels good in the hand. There will be three lenses specifically for the X1d at product launch (a 30mm f/3.5, a 45mm f/3.5, and a 90mm f/3.2), and an adapter to allow use of a select group of H-series lenses. For the price of a nice car, you too can be a Hasselblad shooter, once the system ships.

A more traditional (and more affordable) digital medium format is still the Pentax 645Z. I'd never bothered to pick on up before, because I've never really been interested in making any move to a larger system. But, I thought that since I had time, and I was there, I might as well take a look. Plus, I wanted to see what excited my friend Bill Wadman so much that he decided to sell off all is Canon gear and buy one. I have to say that for such a large camera, it was surprisingly agile, and the pricing is pretty competitive, especially if you pick up a used on in good shape like Bill did. Firing the shutter causes the camera to make a really pleasing sound as it records what seems to be a stellar 50MP image. You can get a nice "comprehensive starter set" from B&H that includes three lenses for less than the price of a compact car. If you go used, you can be well set for less than the price of a Canon 5Ds setup.

I also made the rounds of all of the rest of the mirrorless camera manufacturers. That meant venturing into the Canon displays to see their new M5. Having had the little (tiny) beast in my hand, I can quite certainly say that there's absolutely nothing for anyone to complain about with this camera, except maybe the price. $980 for the body is, in my opinion, a little steep. But, it does have a lot to offer -- wickedly fast and accurate autofocus, 9fps burst shooting, a big tilting touch screen, 5-axis image stabilization in-camera, Canon's latest Digic 7 image processor, and a lot more. For a Canon user heavily invested in glass, it actually looks like a pretty good way to move to mirrorless.

While there are only a handful of "consumer-oriented" lenses available now, Canon are probably planning some better glass down the line. In the mean time, an adapter offers full compatibility with all Canon EF and EF-S mount lenses (and probably those of Tamron and Sigma as well). Canon, it seems, smartly chose to keep the lens contacts and communications protocols the same when developing the new EF-M lenses.

Over at Olympus, everything was pretty much status quo. And, the new Pen-F is a darling. The Olympus viewfinders are still the best in the world of mirrorless. The little tiny cameras have gotten a sensor boost on some models, to 20MP. But, at higher ISOs, the recorded images still didn't stellar on the back of the camera. Maybe I was expecting too much, but my Fujis always look better.

Panasonic had some nice gear, too, most notably the DMC-GX8, which is the logical upgrade of their DMC-GX7 rangefinder-styled body. I had wanted to try out the DMC-G85, but I couldn't find it. It may have been there, but Panasonic's booth was horribly laid out, and it was nearly impossible to get close to anything.

Sony was showing the new Alpha 6500, and it's a pretty spiffy little camera. It's the camera the 6300 should have been, with 5-axis image stabilization, a touch screen, yada, yada, yada. I also looked, briefly, at the new A99II, the A77II, and the A68 (which I wrote about back in January). I found them all to be pretty run-of-the-mill. Sony's clearly just about giving lip service to folks who want to remain in the A-mount camp. I'd actually buy an A7II and the rather expensive A-to-FE-mount adapter (the one with the AF motor to actuate the autofocus on my old Minolta lenses) before I'd by an A99II.

Back to the world of Fujifilm ... the Rokinon/Samyang folks are now offering all of their manual lenses in Fuji mount. If you don't mind manual focus, and manual or aperture-preferred metering, these lenses offer really nice, inexpensive options. And, they're beginning to make autofocus lenses as well, though they're currently only available for Sony FE-mount.

In the flash world, Metz have quietly made Fuji-specific versions of nearly every flash they make, and they support high-speed-sync on some Fuji models. Nissin also offers several flashes for Fuji now, and most include a built-in receiver for their new 2.4GHz wireless control technology.

Speaking of flash, my favorite item at the show was a new item from the folks at Sunbounce. They've got a very simple gizmo called the Bounce-Wall, and it looks to be fantastic for event photographers who need to be able to grab quick head-shot or upper-body portraits quickly.

The purpose of the Bounce-Wall is to get the effective light source up and away from the lens axis, and also to provide a larger, softer light. It generally places the effective light source at a 45 degree angle above and beside the camera. An advantage to the design is that your flash stays on the camera hot shoe, which makes for much better balance than having the flash out a the end of the arm, like the old-fashioned Stroboframe. The fellow in the picture, an Italian/German wedding and event photographer (whose name has unfortunately escaped me) was in the Sunbounce booth, and showed me how easy it is to use. The result, depending on the reflector you have mounted (there are six different snap-in reflectors available), is not entirely unlike a beauty dish. Unlike a lot of other solutions, switching from horizontal to vertical requires no adjustment. Just tilt the camera, and shoot.

The Bounce-Wall bracket sells for under U$65, and the reflectors run between U$20-$25 each. Or, you can get a the "pro" set with the bracket and all six reflectors for about U$160 at B&H. It's a few dollars more from Adorama. The demonstration was with a Yongnu0 YN560-IV on an Olympus OM-D EM-5 Mark II with the Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 lens, and the setup just worked. Of course, being manual, aperture or flash output needed to be adjusted slightly, depending on distance between the camera and the subject.

Here's a really fun video from the Sunbounce web site. It's a time lapse video showing a photographer with one assistant shooting 88 portraits in just about nine-and-a-quarter minutes. The first couple minutes show how the photographs we made, and starting two minutes into the video are the resulting portraits.

88 perfectly lit Portraits shot by LINDA KOEHLER-SANDRING in only 9 minutes and 16 seconds, made possible by THE BOUNCE WALL by SUNBOUNCE.

Obviously, Ms. Koehler-Sandring has had some practice using the Bounce-Wall. But I was able to get good results on a first try (once I got used to the very sensitive shutter button on the Olympus camera). The portable background the assistant was using is a Sun-Mover reflector with a Tight-Fit Screen, also from Sunbounce. Any portable background would work as well.

Otherwise, I had wanted to look at Tenba's new messenger bags, but I never did find their booth. In fact, the expo hall was a bit smaller than last year. Well, it was in the same space, but there seemed to be some exhibitors missing. Or, maybe I just missed them trying to get the whole show done in just a few hours. I was also disappointed that, unlike past years, there were not a lot of smaller-yet-necessary accessories for sale at the show. I specifically needed to buy a sensor cleaning kit to get some schmutz off the sensor in Donna's camera, but there was no place to buy it. Part of that may have been that this years show took place during Sukkos, but usually companies like Hunt's, Unique, and Samy's do have such items for sale.

As I said at the top of this article, I only took a very few pictures at the show. All of them were at the Fujifilm booth. For what it's worth, here they are. All were taken with the X-E2 and the 18-55mm kit lens. All post processing was with On1 Photo 10.5. Click to view larger images.

What's This? Mirrorless Digital Medium Format? At a Reasonable Price?

The "big two" players in the digital camera space have got to be scrambling at this point, seeing their market being decimated by the likes of Fujifilm and Olympus and Sony and Panasonic. Fujifilm will soon be shipping their latest DSLR-killer, the X-T2, which I commented on Sunday evening.

Yet, as enticing as the X-T2 is, I'm more intrigued by the rumor of a Fujifilm mirrorless medium format camera. And Hasselblad have been quietly busy, and recently thrown down the gauntlet in this space with their announcement of the X1D digital mirrorless medium format camera with a street price of just under $9,000 for the body (one of the two bargains in the digital medium format market). Word on the street is that a Fuji product could be considerably less expensive than that.

Fujifilm GSW-690iii medium format rangefinder camera with 90mm lens

Fujifilm GSW-690iii medium format rangefinder camera with 90mm lens

Hasselblad have started development of a completely new lens lineup for the new camera, and will offer an adapter to allow use of their existing H-series lenses.

I would suppose the Fujifilm would take a similar approach, although they have some considerable experience with making short-flange-distance medium format film cameras that filled big frames -- 6x7cm, 6x8cm or 6x9cm, depending one the model. While these cameras had fixed lenses (typically a 65mm wide angle or a 90mm normal lens) it's possible that they could look back to those designs in a digital offering, though the resulting camera would be positively huge.

In each case, these could be medium-format digital cameras that are both smaller than a high-end DSLR (the Hasselblad is smaller), and come in at similar price points -- or lower (Canon's 18MP 1D-C body is $8,000 at B&H)! With these kinds of innovations in the mirrorless space, companies like Canon and Nikon really are going to need to get their collective heads out of their asses and get on the stick if they intend to survive, let along continue to dominate the market. It's no secret that Nikon is struggling, and while Canon is a larger, more diverse company than Nikon, they certainly can't be in a comfortable place right now.

I wouldn't count Ricoh/Pentax out in this arena, either. They're already the price leader in the more "traditional" digital medium format arena with their excellent $7,000 645Z, which was the first digital medium format camera to employ a CMOS sensor. Similarly priced bodies do not include a digital back, which add thousands to the price tag. Since Pentax also have a mature system in place, they could easily swoop in with a low-priced, mirrorless design and be up-and-running quickly, although I think it would take them longer to develop a lens line-up for such a camera.

Of course, while much of this is out of the price range of most mere mortals, it's all interesting food for thought.

Fujifilm's X-T1 and 50-140mm f/2.8 - My Thoughts

I was hired to shoot a very major fundraising event last night, but since switching to Fuji, I had not had occasion to purchase an f/2.8 tele-zoom, and I knew that as versatile as the little XC 50-230mm lens is, it wouldn't be up to the task. I was also concerned that my X-E1 would let me down auto-focusing in poor lighting (I had no such qualms about my X-E2 with version 4 firmware). So, I rented the 50-140 and an X-T1 body for the shoot to work alongside my the X-E2 and the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4. Unfortunately, I won't be able to share any example images from last night's event, as they're for a client and I don't have a release to do so. I had wanted to shoot a little bit of a local duo performing last Friday night, but I didn't have the energy when I got home from the day gig to go out for the evening.

Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8 lens. This is some fancy kit, so I felt it deserved a posh, paisley background.

Anyway .... The box of goodies arrived right on time from the rental house, and I proceeded to unpack the gear. The company sent the body, battery, charger, and "pop-up" flash in a small camera bag, and the lens in a snug-fitting lens pouch, all wedged into the box with foam and air-pouches. When I took the camera bag out of the box, it was so light, I thought at first that they'd forgotten to put anything inside it! In fact, the camera and lens combined weigh less than a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS! Including the shipping box, camera bag, and pouch, the weight for the X-T1 package is 2.85 lbs. That Canon lens alone weighs in at 3.28 lbs.

Once I was over my initial "scare" that the box was empty, I set the X-T1 up to match, as closely as possible, the control and custom settings I use on my other X-series bodies, after making sure that the latest firmware had been loaded (the rental house I use is very good about this kind of thing, but I always like to be sure).

As usual with my "reviews" of products, this will not be a scientific article with loads of tests and numbers. It will be a very short description of my experience with the gear. Take that for what it's worth.

Fujifilm X-T1

Not a shot of my hands holding an X-T1, but it does illustrate the top-panel layout, and where all the controls fall. Of course, there are buttons and switches on the back and front of the body as well.

Not a shot of my hands holding an X-T1, but it does illustrate the top-panel layout, and where all the controls fall. Of course, there are buttons and switches on the back and front of the body as well.

The X-T1 body really feels good in my hand. As with the rest of the Fuji products I've used, everything pretty much falls under my fingers just the way an old fuddy-duddy like me expects it to. All of the controls operate with solid but smooth clicks or positive button presses. I didn't notice any of the issues others have mentioned with the weather-sealed buttons being hard to press or feeling spongy. The X-T1's electronic viewfinder is astounding. In fact, I'd rate it to be every bit as good as the EVF on the Sony A7-II-series cameras, which many consider to be the best EVFs on the market. With that said, because of my glasses, I still can't see all of the corners of the frame all of the time. The only camera I've tried in the past few years that has a viewfinder I can see all of is the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

I played around a bit with the X-T1 and my XF 18-55mm lens, and it's a fantastic walk-around combination. About the only thing that might be better for a walkabout might be the XF 18-135mm lens, except for 1-stop disadvantage that lens has over the 18-55. Of course, the "darling" combo lens for the X-T1 might be the XF 16-50mm f/2.8. Anyway, X-T1 and 18-55 make a nice, light, easy-handling combo. Of course, so would the X-T10 and the 18-55, for good bit less money.

Image quality from the X-T1 is identical to my X-E2, since the sensor and processor are exactly the same. And, in fact, the images are so good that although I shot raw and JPEG images, I didn't use any of the raw files when editing the pictures from the event.

So, what didn't I like? Typical of all "hump in the middle" DSLR-style bodies, the LCD (which, BTW, is excellent) falls right under my big, greasy, nose, and that means it gets smeary and slimy after shooting for a while. Once I get going and know I'm in the ballpark on a shoot, I don't chimp a lot, but when I do, I don't want to have to clean the LCD to see clearly. With my "rangefinder-style" X-E1 and X-E2 bodies, my nose never touches the back of the camera, so that's never a worry.

For the X-T1, Fuji have moved the SD card slot to the side of the body, and out of the battery compartment. While I like that they moved it, I don't like the cover. It's an odd "slide-and-fold" arrangement, and I'm not sure how sturdy it is. It feels like it might break easily.

I also don't like that there's no "pop-up" flash. Believe it or not, I use the micro-flashes on the X-E1 and X-E2. They don't provide any serious illumination, but they are sufficient to fill in eye-socket shadows and put a catchlight in the eyes if needed. The X-T1 ships with a little flash that slides into the hot shoe. It works just fine, but it's not as convenient as pushing the little flash button on the back when you need that little pop of fill-flash.

Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR

Moving on to the lens, which is officially called the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR. That's a serious bit of alphabet soup, but then, this a serious lens, people. It's Fuji's answer to using an image-stabilized, weather-sealed, pro-grade 70-200mm f/2.8 lens on a full-frame body. It means business, and it feels like it. It also weighs like it. While, as I mentioned earlier, it's significantly lighter than a comparable lens for a Canon on Nikon, it's still heavy when compared to other Fuji lenses. I think the only heavier Fuji lens is the 100-400mm, which is their lens for serious wildlife photogs (it's apparently also an excellent lens for motorsports).

To say that the 50-140 is a sharp lens is an understatement. It's razor sharp, and focus is generally quite zippy on both the X-T1 and the X-E2. I didn't try it on the X-E1, though I suspect it would fare reasonably well on that camera as well. With that said, it did, on occasion, get lost. In a few cases, it would hunt before locking in, and in a couple of instances, I simply couldn't attain focus automatically. This is where lenses with focusing motors driven by the focus ring can be a both a help and a hindrance. While I could grab the ring and override the auto-focus without having to turn the automation off, the focus ring is not direct drive, and it's electronically "geared" such that it could take a lot of turning to get where I needed it to go. I subsequently missed a couple of shots. With all of that said, I don't think that the problem was any worse than any other system, and in most cases, the Fuji lens/camera combinations performed as well or better than our Canons did with the 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS lenses back when we used them to shoot weddings.

The 50-140 is an image-stabilized lens, and although I didn't perform any scientific tests, I did play a little bit to see how low I could go with the shutter and still get a sharp image. I was impressed, nay amazed, that I could easily hand-hold the 50-140 on the X-T1 down to about 1/30th of a second at 140mm, and when I actually applied myself, I could go down as far as 1/8 second. If you use the standard 1/(focal length * crop factor) formula to determine a safe minimum shutter speed for a lens, that means I should have to shoot at about 1/250. So, being able to shoot easily at 1/30 means I was getting 3-stops with ease, up to about 5 stops of image stabilization.

I started to mention that the 50-140mm is a relatively heavy lens, especially as compared to the body, and on occasion, I felt like the setup was a little nose-heavy, both on the X-T1 and the X-E2. It was never hateful, and it was never at all tiresome. But it sometimes felt just a little off-balance. And, any instability on my part was easily taken care of by the OIS function.

When am I going to buy one?

So, you're all wondering what the bottom line is, aren't you? How soon will it be before I run out and buy an X-T1? Honestly, unless I can find a barely-used one in near-mint condition for $500-600, I feel no particular need to own an X-T1 right now. I still generally prefer the rangefinder-style of the X-E1 and X-E2, and unless they drop that line, that's probably what I'll keep buying. I would, however, definitely rent the X-T1 again if the situation warrants.

The same holds true for the 50-140mm lens. It's not something I regularly need. For the vast majority of what I do, I don't even need the XF 55-200mm lens. The inexpensive XC 50-230mm still works just fine for me most of the time. I could become interested in the XF 100-400, were I to start shooting a lot of wildlife again. But again, for me, rental is my friend unless I find a really crazy good deal.

I should also mention that Donna tried the camera/lens combo for a few minutes and had to put it down. She was particularly impressed with the size and weight of the package, and she already knows about the image quality attainable with the Fuji cameras. She prefers the more DSLR-like styling of the X-T1 over the rangefinderesque X-E or X-Pro models. I think she was fighting urges to leave her Canon behind, at least for a moment (she actually started asking questions like, "how much does this cost?").

So there you have it. My impression of the Fujifilm X-T1 and XF 50-140mm lens. Really nice kit. If I were still shooting weddings, I'd say that Fuji cameras are close enough to ready for prime-time for me to use, with one exception. So, let's talk about that for a moment before I let you go.

Pop goes the flash! Or not.

Last night, I used my trusty, old, Nikon SB-800 flash on the X-T1, and the Fujifilm EF-20 on the X-E2. The SB-800 worked great in combination with the X-T1 and 50-140 lens. Plenty of power, as it always had. And, since it has the ability to work like an old Vivitar 283 "auto" flash, so as long as I was paying attention to what I was doing I could even get good results with automatic flash exposure. Unfortunately, I have to do this because Fuji still has yet to ship a truly professional speedlight. I've held on to the SB-800 for all these years specifically because it's relatively easy to use in almost any situation, with almost any camera.

Fuji have delayed their XF-500 flash (it's now slated for sometime this summer, instead of late this month), which is supposed to finally address the need for a professional flash system for select Fujifilm cameras.

Nissin's i60 flash features high power, TTL/wireless remote, and very simple controls, and works with Fuji's TTL flashes. There's also manual control, when you want it.

In the mean time, Nissin's i60 flash is expected in late June, and the price looks reasonable. If it works as promised, it could offer a better alternative to Fuji's offering, if for no other reason than it will work with other Nissin flashes equipped with their "2.4GHz Air" wireless communications system. Really, working TTL auto flash with an appropriate amount of power is good enough for me, and I'll very likely buy one in the late summer or early fall. I have other gear to use if I'm doing studio-type multi-flash setups.

Of course, the little EF-20 worked perfectly on the X-E2 with the 18-55. Every exposure was spot-on, just like on the X-E1 and on the X10 before that. I was really able to let the camera and flash make their own decisions, freeing me to worry about composition, which is as it should be.

Okay, with that out of the way, you're allowed to go read something else. Cheers!