Photography is all about the light and, as landscape photographers, we are constantly searching for the most interesting and evocative lighting conditions. Without it our pictures can be dull and lacklustre but when Mother Nature performs her magic, the landscape is transformed enabling us to capture some stunning imagery.
Some of my favourite conditions are shooting into the sun to capture those dramatic sunbeams, starbursts or beautiful back-lit scenes. Although this is counter intuitive to everything we are taught early in our photographic journey, this technique helps emphasise, shapes, lines and silhouettes to produce some striking images.
I’ve been shooting with the medium-format FUJIFILM GFX 50S since early April 2017 and have been more than impressed with its performance as a landscape camera. But for a camera to be truly usable by landscape photographers it has to be able to withstand the elements and, until recently, it would be fair to say that my GFX had had a fairly sheltered life. I was keen to see how it would perform in harsher environments, so took it with me on a recent trip to Iceland; this also gave me the opportunity to test its high ISO performance while shooting the Northern Lights.
I’m lucky enough to have visited Iceland on numerous occasions and it remains one of my favourite destinations for landscape photography; there really is nowhere else like it. On this occasion, I was co-leading a workshop and we were based on the south coast, beginning the tour near the town of Höfn and working our way back west. On this trip, we were able to include the ‘must-see’ locations of the Stokksnes Peninsula, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, the beach at Vik, with its dramatic rock stacks, and many places in between.
The weather in Iceland can be harsh, to say the least. On this trip we experienced winds which threatened to knock us off our feet and temperatures which dropped below minus 10. Perfect for finding out how tough the GFX is. Despite the unpredictable weather, winter remains my favourite time for visiting Iceland: changeable weather makes for dramatic conditions and the low winter sun means that there is a permanent ‘golden hour’ during the day.
The good news is that the GFX held up really well under some tough shooting conditions. The environmental sealing was given a severe test on a morning when there were gusts of wind so strong that we had to kneel down and cling on to our tripods to prevent kit from flying off into the distance. The wind whipped up the gritty, volcanic sand from the beach and sea spray coated all our gear. None of this bothered the GFX, which didn’t miss a beat and allowed me to grab some shots in between the gusts.
On the days when we were able to stand up, we were treated to some exceptionally good light – a fabulous sunrise on the famous ‘ice beach’ at Jökulsárlón and a colourful sunset at Vik. Fujifilm has an excellent reputation for colour and it goes without saying that the GFX captured beautiful colour on these occasions, but the sensor’s wide dynamic range was also a key factor in being able to make the most of the conditions, especially at Vik. Because of the shape of the cliffs there, it wasn’t possible to use a graduated filter to darken the bright sky; however, filtration proved to be unnecessary, as it was possible to capture the full range of tones without a grad.
The ability to set different aspect ratios in-camera is a feature which frequently comes in handy and it did once again on the Iceland trip. Not all scenes will suit the native aspect ratio of your camera, whatever it is, so being able to experiment and see different ratios in the viewfinder, rather than having to try to visualise them, is a real boon. I found, for example, that a square crop or 3:2 ratio made for a better composition at Vik than the GFX’s native 4:3.
Of course, one of the main reasons photographers visit Iceland is the Northern Lights. I’ve been lucky enough to shoot some really good displays over the years, but sadly, that was not to be the case on this trip as we suffered a lot of cloudy skies and low activity on the nights which were clearer. On the one night that we had a reasonable display, strong winds restricted our viewpoint to a sheltered spot where it was hard to get a good composition. However, this didn’t stop me being able to assess the GFX’s technical performance and its suitability for astro work.
The main things to be aware of when shooting the Northern Lights are getting enough light on the sensor to record an image while keeping the shutter speed short enough to avoid star trails. Depending on the focal length used, 15-20 seconds is usually a good maximum. This means that in order to get a usable exposure, you will need to use a high ISO and open up your lens to its widest aperture. Having a lens with a fast maximum aperture such as f/2.8 is desirable and as there are no native Fujifilm wide angles faster than f/4, I had considered adapting a third party lens for the trip. In the end, however, I decided to take the GF23mm and trust that the GFX’s high ISO performance would compensate for not being able to shoot wider than f/4.
The GFX acquitted itself really well; high ISO noise is impressively low and the nature of the noise fine-grained and therefore easy to deal with in post-production; a fast wide angle lens is certainly desirable but you can live without one and I’d certainly have no reservations about using the GFX + 23mm f/4 combination on my next Iceland trip. Another important point to bear in mind when shooting the night sky, is being able to find true infinity focus – not always straightforward with modern autofocus lenses. Using the distance scale in the EVF meant that this was a simple matter with the GFX and GF23mm – another point in its favour.
Iceland is always great fun and I’ve never failed to come back with interesting shots. This trip was no exception and there was the added benefit of my gaining increased confidence in the GFX system.
The FUJIFILM GFX 50S delivers the world’s best image quality. It combines outstanding resolution of 51.4 megapixels with exceptional tones, advanced color reproduction and high-performance lenses. This level of image quality is purely motivational. The world around you changes the moment you hold this camera in your hand. Appreciate all that can be achieved with Fujifilm’s new medium format mirrorless camera system, GFX.
I’ve been using the Fujifilm system since its inception back in 2011. My very first Fujifilm camera was the Fujifilm FinePix X100 (remember when it was still called the FinePix?).
I’ve been honoured to be a part of theX-Photographer community since those early days and even after nine years or so find the X Series range of cameras the tools that I still use for all my work.
As the system has grown from the embryonic MLC that was the X100 to the high-resolution machine that is the GFX 50S, I’ve witnessed a system that has taken its first baby steps to winning platitudes and awards every year.
Going right back to the FinePix X100, this was one of the first images I took with the camera:
I was smitten with the camera, but I think it’s fair to say that the original X100 definitely had some teething problems.
When I was shooting with the FinePix X100 I felt a deep assimilation with the JPEGs that the camera was producing. However, trying to achieve focus, especially in low light situations, proved challenging.
And then something quite unheard of happened… a firmware update. Not only did the firmware update fix small bugs, it made the whole camera more responsive and even added a feature or two.
This was the sign of things to come, of course, and I think one of the things that define Fujifilm’s success is their unwavering support for the photographic community via firmware updates.
Ironically, according to my Lightroom Catalog, the last personal photography I took with my FinePix X100 – which I still have (I never sell a classic camera!) is this shot of it’s successor, the X100S (note, FinePix no longer in the name):
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been trawling through my archives of personal family snaps that I’ve taken with the X100, the X100S, X100T & X100F.
I had over 10,000 images that I considered good enough to keep.
Of course, these are family snaps, nothing particularly arty about them and absolutely the most important thing is the memories for me and my family.
Anyhow, here are the 100 family snaps, taken with my various Fujifilm X100 Cameras and in chronological order. I have a huge debt of gratitude to the original X100. It’s the camera that made me realise photography is fun rather than just for work. Here is my little homage to the X100 and all its incarnations.
This was really when things started changing with the little X100 format cameras, but before the X100S came out, we were bamboozled by the X-Pro1.
Now, my introduction to this camera was somewhat forced. I was writing a monthly business column for Professional Photography magazine when the editor asked me to review the camera;
Him: “Would you like to review the new Fujifilm X-Pro1?”
Me: “Well, not really, the reason I love the X100 is because it’s fixed lens and I don’t want to invest in another interchangeable lens system as I still have my Canon cameras”.
Him: “We’ll pay you £200 for the review”.
Me: “Oh, go on then….”
Fast forward five weeks and I have to take the review copy back to Archant House in Cheltenham. As I hand over the review packages to them, the editor asks me what I thought. I showed him a copy of my order email from WEX where I’d just pre-ordered the X-Pro1 and the three launch lenses.
Not too long after I took delivery of my X-Pro1, XF35mm, XF60mm and XF18mm lenses I sold off all my Canon gear.
At this point, we were then beginning to see new sensors and later, new Film Simulations too but really, what everybody in the photographic world was realising was that these new breeds of mirrorless cameras from Fujifilm were: smaller, lighter, cheaper and crucially, performed very well compared to what we had been used to using.
Of course, there are still some rare situations where a DSLR might be a better option for a particular shooting style, but with the emergence of the X-H1 I think even that is becoming mitigated and the Fujifilm system is catering more and more for all types of photographers. It’s not true that Fujifilm cameras are “only for Street Photographers”.
At some point in 2013, I was in Tokyo and I was using another new Fujifilm camera, the X-M1. The X-M1 used the same X-Trans CMOS sensor as the X-Pro1 and X-E1 but didn’t have a viewfinder. It had a tilt screen and was actually the first camera to have Wi-Fi too.
To be totally honest, I never really got on with this camera. It was too fiddley, and I really missed the viewfinder. I’ve never been a huge lover of tilt screens, and I’m pleased Fujifilm continue to pacify people in both camps with cameras that have tilt screens and cameras that don’t.
The camera did yield me an image on that trip to Tokyo which went on to win SWPP Landscape photographer of the Year award though.
When the X-T1 arrived, the game changed for many people. The X-Pro1, X100S where good cameras, but they were perhaps not quite sharp enough for many to consider for professional work.
However, when the X-T1 came along with its continuous focus and high-speed shooting, this was when I first started seeing a big influx of shooters coming to the Fujifilm stable.
Some of my favourite images to date have come from the X-T1:
And of course, later came the X-T2 and the X-Pro2 and little curve balls such as the X70.
The X70 remains one of my favourite cameras; despite what I said about the X-M1, the X70 is also an LCD only camera and it has ergonomic issues too, but that camera has so much character and is so small that it is still one of my most use cameras when shooting. I shoot with my X70 at weddings as well as personally and I really hope there is a future for that line of camera.
And, as we come to the end of this whistle stop tour of my time with the Fujifilm X Series of cameras, I can’t possibly leave out two of the new guys in the stable; the GFX 50S and the X-E3.
For me, the GFX is all about prints. I use in mainly in my family photography business which is prints only and I find it incredible that I can shoot with a medium format camera, handheld, in a candid way.
It’s a big camera of course, and that’s why it’s not really suited, for me at least, for fast paced shooting, but anything where the pace is slower, and the images may end up in print, then the GFX is the way forward. I can’t wait to see how this branch of the series matures.
Here is a little snapshot of my own summer, all shot hand held with the GFX 50S:
The Fujifilm system is now at a stage where the last lenses needed to make it, in my opinion, a ‘complete working photographers system’ are on the roadmap and set for launch at some point this year. With the recent announcements of the FUJIFILM X-H1 and the MKX lenses, the system can really cater for a wide variety of needs. One of the lenses I had been missing, until its launch in 2017, was the XF80mmF2.8 Macro OIS.
I regularly work in close proximity to my subjects. In the past I have used the Fujifilm extension tubes to get up close and personal. These were super, ‘get out of jail’ add-ons for lenses like the XF56mmF1.2 and XF50-140mmF2.8. You can find a blog I did on these handy accessories, while working as a researcher in Costa Rica here.
As well as these lenses, I have also been using the ever adaptable XF16mm F1.4 for close up wide angle shots. This truly is one of my favourite lenses. I have used it to photograph lightning storms and stars, elephants in rainforests and the release of baby turtles. I find it incredibly adaptable; one of the reasons for this is down to its incredible close focusing distance. So, when I had the opportunity to spend 24 hours in the Black Mountains of South Wales, I grabbed some zooms and my three favourite primes: XF16mmF1.4, XF35mmF1.4 and the XF80mmF2.8 then headed off.
I spent the night in the mountains in a remote cabin, which was made all the more remote by a fair sprinkling of snow.
It was a relaxing trip so had to stay hydrated and cosy…
When daylight hit, I went for an explore around the surrounding valley, taking in the magical scene. All the while I was looking for suitable circumstances to test out the XF80mm. Then, tucked around one of the many hills, I stumbled across a small waterfall with natural steps built into it. I thought this would be a good place to start.
Macro photography usually requires large amounts of light as you often have to use large F-stops to ensure a decent depth of field, which is proportional to the distance from the camera. To compensate for this, I added an extra level of creativity, I brought along two mini portable LED lights. These allowed me to illuminate the icicles whilst keeping the background dark.
The bokeh of the XF80mmF2.6 lens is really pleasing. Even when stopped down to F8, the light glistening off icicles in the background was beautiful.
I deliberately underexposed the above image to keep the light subtle on the air pockets, highlighting the tiny but beautiful detail of this icicle. The XF80mm had so much to give, the issues I experienced were down to me! I was hand-holding this set up, camera in one hand, LED light in another, whilst my feet were slipping on the rocks as icy water flowed over them. Health and safety would have had a field day! But the camera/lens combo was easy to handle. Because of my instability, I had to use very fast shutter speeds. The autofocus was snappy, which is not usually a strong feature of macro lenses.
At one stage I put the LED light in the water (thankfully completely waterproof) and was able to brace for some slower shutter speed images. I was very impressed. With the addition of the X-H1 (can’t wait to pair these two together) the potential to go even slower is very exciting!
Being able to get two different macro perspectives from two fantastic prime lenses was fantastic. Here is a shot taken with the XF16mm F1.4 showing how the focal length makes a huge difference to the image, despite the close focusing.
All in all, I am very impressed with the XF80mm F2.8 OIS Macro. I think it will replace the XF56mm F1.2 in my backpack. X-T2, X-H1, XF16mm, XF35mm, XF80mm, XF16-55mm, XF50-140mm, XF100-400mm, plus accessories like some lights, batteries, etc makes for a fantastic set up which is still suitable for airline carry on. The prospect of the impending XF200mm F2 OIS makes the set up near perfect for me. I can highly recommend the XF80mm, I’m sure it will make for a brilliant portrait lens too.
The first 1.0x magnification mid-telephoto macro lens for X Series
This lens features a focal length equivalent to 122mm (on a 35mm format), a maximum aperture of F2.8, and 1.0x magnification factor, a first in the X Series interchangeable lens range. By achieving high resolving power at the focus point and beautiful bokeh, this lens is optimal for shooting flowers and nature photos. Combine this lens with Fujifilm’s unique Film Simulation such as Velvia, for truly stunning close up images.
Being a London local, Oliver Wheeldon was extremely excited when the Lumiere Light Festival, a show of over fifty artistic light installations, came to town. Not only was Oliver able to capture some stunning shots of the lights transforming the city at night, he was also able to push the X-T20’s high ISO capabilities to the limit to capture the city streets after dark.
Depending on who you speak to or which forum you frequent, long exposure photography can be defined as anything longer than half a second to more than 30 seconds and into minutes or even hours. The effects that you will achieve with longer exposure times will all depend on the speed of the moving elements within the frame and, like everything in photography, there are no hard and fast rules. When creating a long exposure image all the usual considerations of composition and light apply but we add in the element of time. We will create an image that the eye itself cannot see and this requires some vision. Whether you want to record dynamic moving clouds, swirling waters, to record or even eliminate moving people in a busy place, shoot light trails or go completely minimalistic, the possibilities are there for us. Personally, I use long exposure in my landscape work.
In order to create long exposures you need to practice and perfect your technique. Here are some considerations you should think about:
1. Carry your tripod everywhere
A tripod is a must. In long exposure photography, be it light painting, light trails or long exposure in landscapes, the shutter is open for more than a second so it is imperative that you have the ability to keep the camera absolutely still.