The Advantage of Mirrorless

Since mirrorless digital cameras entered the photography scene in the late 2000s, the question has been whether they could be a better option than DSLRs (Digital Single Lens Reflex). Since that time, the mirrorless system has grown in popularity, so it is clear photographers are increasingly making it their preference.

 

What’s a DSLR?

DSLR cameras (or digital single-lens reflex) use the design of old-school 35mm bodies, with light taking a path from the lens to the prism and then to the viewfinder, where you can see the preview of your image. As you hit the shutter button, the mirror flips up, a shutter opens and light reaches the image sensor, which retains the picture.

 

What’s a mirrorless camera?

The big difference with the mirrorless camera is that it has no mirror that flips when you open the shutter. Instead, light moves directly from the lens to the image sensor and the shot displays on your screen.

 

 

Which style is lighter?

Because mirrorless cameras do not need to store a mirror and a prism, they do not need to be as heavy or as large. If you like to travel with your camera or just enjoy a lightweight rig, then you may prefer the mirrorless system.

 

Which body has better focus?

Many years ago, DSLRs had the reputation of being the better – or at least faster – model for autofocus shooting. This is because DSLRs used phase detection, a quicker method that relies more on the camera’s electronic sensor, rather than contrast detection, the slower but more accurate system utilised in most mirrorless bodies. However, mirrorless cameras have since improved in this area. Now, many mirrorless bodies, including Fujifilm’s newer models, employ a contrast-phase hybrid autofocus system.

 

Which style is suited for continuous shooting?

If you want to capture fast-moving action, you may want a camera with the capacity for continuous shooting. Mirrorless cameras, with their simplified path for obtaining images, excel here. For instance, the Fujifilm X-T2, when photographing from its continuous shooting boost mode, shoots about 11 frames per second, well ahead of most other cameras on the market.

FUJIFILM X-T2

 

Which one shows an accurate shot in its viewfinder?

Mirrorless cameras also have viewfinders that display truer to what your photograph will become. Their electronic viewfinders allow you to see, in real time, adjustments to aperture and ISO, whereas the optical viewfinder found in DSLRs displays those changes only after you shoot the image. The mirrorless style has a big advantage here, as it saves you time from going back and forth between shooting and adjusting.

 

As with many debates over photography equipment, the choice comes down to your personal preference. If you find a camera that you handle comfortably and shoot naturally, then proudly make it yours and enjoy creating great shots with it!

 

For more Fujifilm camera options, download our 2017 Buying Guide.

The X-T2 gets a test drive with X-Photographer Damien Lovegrove

damien-lovegrove-profile-200x200Damien Lovegrove is considered by many to be one of the worlds most influential contemporary photographers. He is best known for creating portraits that make women look fabulous. He is a confident director and great fun to shoot with too. Damien’s lighting style is distinctive and his picture composition unique.

Damien is an official Fujifilm UK ambassador and a renowned Fuji X-Photographer.


It was in May 2012 that I ditched my SLRs for a Fuji X-Pro1 and the three prime lenses it launched with. From day one I utilised the mirrorless advantage to leap ahead of my competition. I had been using a Fuji X100 fixed lens camera for a year integrating it into my workflow alongside my SLRs and I loved the pictures I captured with it so the leap to mirrorless was a gentle one for me.

X-T2_BrochureImage_TopThe Fujifilm X-T2 is the camera I’ve been waiting for. It’s no surprise it’s here but what I love most is that the consultation period with X-Photographers has delivered a camera that is spot on mechanically. Everything that could have been improved on the X-T1 from the dial locks to the tilting screen has been perfected on the X-T2.

The Fuji X-Pro1 gave me mirrorless shooting and it rekindled my passion for photography. The X-T1 gave me the extra usability I craved, The X-Pro2 took the image file to the next level and brought the technical specification of the X system bang up to date. Now the the Fujifilm X-T2 has brought it all together and raised the bar again. The sum of all the tweaks and changes in this new camera make a huge difference and leave me not wanting more.

 

The Fuji X-T2 features that I love the most:

•    The locking buttons on the ISO and Shutter speed dials combined with the higher profile work perfectly. Being able to lock the dials in any position is genius.

•    The bi-directional tilting screen is wonderful. It’s a must for a portrait photographer.

•    The camera size and weight are spot on. The ultra reliable and compact W126 battery has been retained. The weight of the camera in the hand is really important to me. I never want my photography to feel like a chore again.

•    The media door has a newly designed latch that is really secure.

•    The joystick to move the focus position makes the shooting process faster.

•    The 1/250th second flash sync is welcome and is the new setting for all my studio flash working.

I team the Fuji X-T2 with the fast primes because I love a shallow depth of field combined with absolute resolution. A prime lens is lighter on the camera than the equivalent zoom and this suits my way of shooting well. I have the XF16mm f/1.4, XF23mm f/1.4, XF35mm f/1.4, XF56mm f/1.2, and the XF90mm f/2 lenses. There are times when a telephoto zoom is the perfect lens for a shoot and I use the XF50-140mm or the XF100-400mm lenses depending upon the assignment. The zooms offer optical image stabilisation and this really comes into its own at longer focal lengths.


And the results?

I had planned this first sequence of shots about a year ahead of the shoot. I bought the dresses from an Asian manufacturer via the internet and I transported them to the USA in my luggage. The location is in the high deserts of Arizona, USA. I used the XF100-400mm and XF50-140mm lenses to compress the perspective. These frames were all lit with natural sunlight.

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I spent 12 days touring the USA and in that time I shot about 5000 frames on the Fuji X-T2.

Arielle down on a farm in Utah. There were snakes keeping us company as we shot a wonderful sequence of images. XF50-140mm f/2.8 at f/4
Arielle down on a farm in Utah. There were snakes keeping us company as we shot a wonderful sequence of images. XF50-140mm f/2.8 at f/4
Arielle sits by a cattle coral in Arizona. The dust on the wind has turned the sky a shade of pink. This figure in the landscape style is one I want to further develop in the coming months and the extra resolution of the Fuji X-T2 really comes in handy when making big exhibition prints. XF50-140mm f/2.8 at f/5.6
Arielle sits by a cattle coral in Arizona. The dust on the wind has turned the sky a shade of pink. This figure in the landscape style is one I want to further develop in the coming months and the extra resolution of the Fuji X-T2 really comes in handy when making big exhibition prints. XF50-140mm f/2.8 at f/5.6

Since then I’ve added another 4000 frames in Europe to my camera testing routine. The camera feels just right in the hand and there is nothing I would change about the mechanics of the build.

 

Discover creative resources for photographers written by Damien Lovegrove at Prophotonut and Lovegrove Photography

 

 

Is the Fujifilm X system ready for motorsport?

Recently we were lucky enough to spend some time with four professional motorsport photographers at the 6 Hours of Fuji event at the Fuji Speedway in Japan. All four of these guys have been shooting with Fujifilm X series cameras and lenses as their main systems for a varying number of years so we asked them about their experiences.

If you are thinking about making the switch and are not sure if the system is ready yet, check out these videos below!


John Rourke from the UK


Dirk Bogaerts from Belgium


Andrew Hall from Australia


Jeff Carter from the UK

Iceland, a most curious island – Part 1

By Danny Fernandez

I could not help observing with interest the mineralogical curiosities which lay about me as in a vast museum, and I constructed for myself a complete geological account of Iceland, [a] most curious island.
— Jules Verne, A Journey to the Center of the Earth


Iceland; a place which I had never considered visiting before, became the destination of my most recent, and most beautiful venture.

Why Iceland?

The reason I had never considered visiting Iceland was due to a lack of knowledge of this magnificent country. The name ‘Iceland’ conjured images of Björk, vikings and ash clouds. However, around 1 year before the trip, my girlfriend (who had been to Iceland 6 years ago) suggested that we visit. As I began looking at google images of Iceland, I soon realised that there would definitely be much more to see than Björk, vikings, and volcanoes (I acknowledged that the likelihood of seeing the first two were slim.) I reacted to the image search by quietly saying colourful profanities under my breath. It was at that point that my mind was made up, and soon after our flights had been booked.

Our ideas for exploring the island changed throughout the year leading up to our departure. Limited to time (15 days) and budget, we quickly decided that we wanted to explore at our own pace and freedom, so any type of tour was out of the question. Our original plan was to cycle and camp around the island (thank god we changed our minds. It would have been an incredible, but incredibly challenging experience.) We then decided that a car+tent combination would be better, but after hearing stories of gale-force, tent-destroying winds, plus the expectation of a lot of rain, we finally decided to rent a camper van. For our needs, the camper van (from KuKu Campers) was perfect; giving us our own freedom and shelter, and being able to wake up and travel at a moments notice. Our camper was modest (more like a builders van with a mattress in the back) but it did the job perfectly!

In preparation for this trip, I had decided to prioritise our own travel experiences above those of photography. This wasn’t, after all, a dedicated photography tour of Iceland, but instead (probably) a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I like to remember special moments as myself being in the moment, and not just being a witness to the moment through a viewfinder. Also, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a landscape photographer, and there is no way I could compete with the thousands of awe inspiring images of Iceland, so once I had taken the pressure off myself of trying to get the best images of Iceland, I was left to enjoy the journey for what is was; an exceptionally breathtaking one.

That being said, I did try to plan as much as I could, and some resources which I found invaluable were: The lonely planet (my ‘go to’ for guide books), an ebook called ‘Photo guide to Iceland’ by Hawk and Finn (http://www.icelandontheweb.com/articles-on-iceland/travel-info/photo-guide-to-iceland) and The Photographers Ephemeris (a website and app which allows you to view the sunrise/sunset time and direction from any point in the world. I bought the app so that I could use it on my iPad without internet connection.)

The gear

Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (36)

I spent a long time (as always) deliberating what camera equipment to bring. Having a van meant that I didn’t have too worry (as much as normal) about travelling lightly. I wanted to have as much versatility as possible. I decided to bring:

X-T1 + grip.
XF14 prime.
XF10-24.
XF16-55.
XF55-140. (the zooms were generously on loan from the friendly guys at Fuji Spain).
X100S (I kind of saw the X100s as my ‘personal documentary’ camera while the X-T1 was the workhorse. It would also serve as a backup if I dropped the X-T1 in a volcano).
Haida 10 stop ND filter (plus step up rings so I could use it on all lenses).
Manfrotto BeFree tripod.
A remote timer (for exposures longer than 30 seconds).
A bunch of batteries (along with car charger).
And my MacBook Pro/Hard drive (so I could add photos to Lightroom/Backup on the road).
All of this was packed inside a Billingham Hadley Pro bag (which holds all the essentials plus fits on as cabin baggage on the plane).

Other important items included a Moka pot with damn good coffee, a notepad, and a miniature dancing hula girl. All the essentials.

The experiences

I’m a road trip newbie (Iceland being my second; my first was in New Zealand several years ago), but picking up our van instantly reminded me of the huge sense of freedom that comes with road tripping. The van was to become our carriage, our kitchen, our restaurant, and our penthouse for the next 11 days.
Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (35 of 35)
Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (21 of 35)
Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (34 of 35)

With a fully loaded iPad and tank of petrol, we hit the road with an electrical level of excitement. The industrial area surrounding the car pickup location quickly opened up into a wide expanse of green mountains. I couldn’t stop smiling at the landscapes and was amazed at how ‘big, open and beautiful’ everything was. My girlfriend looked at me, and with a soft laugh said “This is just the tip of the iceberg”. And she was certainly right, as what we saw during those first 30 minutes (although incredible) paled in comparison to what we would see during the following weeks.

Doing a road trip in Iceland is very easy, as there is one ‘ring road’ that goes around the circumference of the island. The recommended time to do the ring road was about 7 – 10 days. We had 11 to do the ring road so were sweet. This also gave us time to deviate from the ring road and explore as much as we could. Our first decision was in which direction to drive. We decided to drive anti-clockwise as by the time we were on driving the northern stretch, there would be a higher chance of seeing the northern lights (a lifelong wish of ours). On average, I would say we spent between 3 – 6 hours a day driving/stopping to take photos.

If you’re thinking of doing a trip around Iceland, I would strongly recommend a camper van (if on a budget), or renting a 4×4 and staying in accommodation (if you don’t mind splashing out). Having a 4×4 would have been a big advantage for taking photographs as you are able access many places which you are unable to in a van. But saying that, the ring road (accessible by all vehicles) leads you to an uncountable number of stunning places.

This was our route:

Roadtrip-route

Reflecting on the trip, it is very difficult to put the experience into words. I hope that my photos can somewhat evoke the sense of natural beauty and magnificence in you (the reader) that Iceland did on me. I will do my best to share some experiences.


TO BE CONTINUED..

Check out part two where Danny takes you right into the heart of Iceland and shows what it really has to offer..

Iceland Fuji blog Danny Fernandez Photography (14 of 35)

 

Interview with Mr. Takashi Ueno from FUJIFILM Tokyo – “Why do FUJIFILM not make full frame D-SLRs?”

Excellent colour reproduction is the charm of the X series by FUJIFILM, a company with its
roots as a film manufacturer. With beautiful images and sophisticated design, the number of X series users are on the rise in recent years. You may wonder “how does the X series achieve such high image quality in APS-C format? Are they going change for full frame to achieve even higher image quality?”

Amazon Japan met with Optical Device & Electronic Imaging Products Manager Takashi Ueno to follow up a previous interview, and talked about the reason why the X series will not go for the full frame format.

Who is Ueno-san?

ueno-sanTakashi Ueno worked for the Professional Film Photography Division from 1996 to 2011 as a manager as well as a lecturer of workshops and galleries to promote the fun of shooting with film. He now works as a product planner for the X Series of digital cameras. He has been taking photographs since the age of 7 and is a certified photo master expert.

Chapter 1: “X series” – compact and lightweight cameras that excel in image quality

Amazon: It has been a year since the last interview, and X series fans have significantly increased. We can see that the Fujifilm X fanbase is expanding, and as a result, we’re starting to hear comments like:

“FUJIFILM is well regarded for its color and image quality, but why are the FUJIFILM cameras APS-C mirrorless instead of full frame DSLR?”

Generally speaking, when we hear the words “high image quality”, we tend to think of full frame D-SLRs, but why are the X series interchangeable cameras APS-C mirrorless?

Mr. Ueno: First of all, when the company started developing its own interchangeable cameras, there was nothing that we had to drag from the film days. For example, SLR manufacturers kept the same lens mount when they shifted from film to digital in order to make their already existing lenses compatible for both formats. FUJIFILM had already withdrawn from the 35mm film SLRs in the early 80s, so we were able to start everything from scratch. This was a huge advantage.

Amazon: Starting from scratch was a huge advantage. Why so?

Mr. Ueno: Building an interchangeable lens camera from scratch meant that we could choose any sensor size from full frame, APS-C, to Micro Four Thirds. We gave a lot of thought to this, and reached our conclusion that APS-C is the best format for the optimum balance of body size and image quality.

Amazon: Generally speaking, I think many people believe that the bigger sized full frame sensors capture more light and therefore can achieve higher image quality. But why did you choose APS-C?

Mr.Ueno: Yes, higher image quality can be achieved with full frame sensors, but in order to maximize the use of the sensor size, the lens will be very bulky and heavy.

As you know, the size of full frame sensor, 24x36mm is exactly the same as the size of 35mm format analog film. But how they each receive light onto the imaging surface is completely different.

x-mount

Firstly, the angle of light that film and imaging sensors can receive differ from each other. Film can receive light at the slanted angle of up to 45 degrees without any problem, but in case of the digital camera, the light needs to be as perpendicular to the sensor as possible. Slanted angle light causes mixed colors and therefore the real colors sometimes cannot be reproduced. In order to receive the light perpendicular to the sensor, it is important to make the rear glass element on each lens as big as possible to put the light beams parallel from the outlet of the light to the sensor. Finally, the back-focus distance should be shortened as much as possible to eliminate the degradation in image quality.

In case of SLRs, there is also the mirror box, it is very difficult to design an ideal lens especially for wide-angle and standard focal length lens. It is physically impossible to shorten the back-focus distance. As a result, many of the high image quality lenses for SLR bodies are designed with extended forefront and are of the larger diameter. You can see that by looking at the SLRs lens lineup.

Amazon: Yes, I see. The lenses are bigger for brighter and high performance lenses. It also is a burden for users to use larger sensors and lenses.

Mr. Ueno: Yes, if you attach the large and heavy high performance lens to the full frame DSLR, then you will certainly get high image quality. The combination will maximize the potential of the full frame, but if you have to carry the bulky lens everywhere to achieve the high image quality, then this is not what FUJIFILM is aiming for.

With the X series, we wanted to create a camera system, like the 35mm format in the analog era, that combined the elements of high enough image quality, portability and photo expression, and that are best suited in the field of snap shooting and portraiture, or reportage and documentary for the professionals.

We aimed for the system with the optimum balance of high image quality and compact lightweight body  that professionals can use. With that idea in mind, we came to the conclusion that the APS-C mirrorless system is the way to go as opposed to full frame D-SLR.

Amazon: OK, Smaller and lightweight body can be achieved with APS-C but how about the “High image quality” part?

Mr. Ueno: The technology of the FUJINON lens has a lot to do with that. With the power of FUJINON lens, we can achieve the full frame image quality with the APS-C sensor. We have the technology at the FUJIFILM. FUJINON lenses are widely known within the industry for their TV and Cine lenses and they are even used for satellites. They were already well regarded as high quality lenses in different fields. APS-C is certainly smaller than full frame. We learned that the disadvantage can be recovered with the lens performance through various simulations.

Amazon: The technology of FUJINON lens is that great.

Mr. Ueno: Here is an example. It is generally believed that the lens performs at its best with 1 to 2 stop down from the maximum aperture. We tried to break the norm. Because if there is such belief, then the lens is very unlikely to perform at its best from corner to corner with the aperture wide open. But if we can break the norm, then we will achieve bokeh and sharpness that is equivalent to that of a full frame with 1 to 2 stop down. We can achieve the image quality that is equivalent to that of full frame.

Which is better? An f/1.4 lens on a full frame sensor and then used 1 stop down to prevent degradation in the image quality in the corner or an f/1.4 lens on an APS-C that see no degration in the image quality at its maximum aperture value?

You cannot really see the difference in bokeh between the APS-C wide open and the full frame one stop down. However, if the APS-C is wide open, then the shutter speed will be twice as fast as the full frame resulting in be less blur caused by hand shake or subject movement. If the picture becomes blurry, then the high image quality becomes meaningless.

Amazon: I see. The Image quality of large and heavy “Full frame body + High performance lens” can be achieved with “Small APS-C body + High performance lens”. This is very unique to FUJIFILM.

Mr. Ueno: Yes, we can only do this with the FUJINON technology. Some may think that the system stands at halfway between of everything, but we believe it has the best balance of everything. And this is why we chose the APS-C format. Of course, this is not only achieved solely by the FUJINON technology. We cared about the lens, so we had to consider about the sensor and processor carefully, too.

Chapter 2 :Expanding the lens lineup that meets the performance of “X-Trans sensor”

Amazon: FUJIFILM also looked into the sensor.

x-trans

Mr. Ueno: Yes. The first X100 used the bayer patterned sensor. Later, when we were in the process of creating a new interchangeable lens camera, we planned on using the “16M X-Trans” sensor that had a unique color filter array, as opposed to the 12M bayer sensor that the original X100 had. Through various simulation, we learned that the 16M X-Trans sensor had the potential to rival the resolution of a 24M bayer sensor.

The combination of FUJIFILM color reproduction, the X-Trans sensor, and the FUJINON lens technology, allowed us to create an interchangeable lens camera that could rival the image quality of full frame D-SLR in the APS-C format.

Amazon: We can see the advanced technological level of FUJIFILM not only by the lens, but also by learning the process of developing its own sensor. How do the X-Trans sensor and lens performance relate to each other?

Mr. Ueno: If we make a cheap low performing lens, then the degradation in image quality is more apparent for the X-Trans sensor than a typical sensor. X-Trans sensor requires high performance lens.

When we made our first kit lens with the X-E1, the image quality that this lens created was completely different from the other ordinary kit lens.

x-e1
Fujifilm X-E1 with XF18-55mm “kit” lens

Amazon: X-E1 kit lens – you mean the first zoom lens of the XF lens XF18-55mm?

Mr. Ueno: Yes. The maximum aperture of XF18-55mm is F2.8 at wide and F4 at telephoto. A typical kit lens is F3.5-5.6, but that wouldn’t create enough bokeh nor photographic expression for an APS-C sized sensor.

We made it f/2.8 to achieve both brightness and high image quality. Consequently the cost would be higher, so there was the problem with the price even though we wanted a wider range of people to use our product. This is why we then created the XC lens “XC16-50mm” and “XC50-230mm” as the beginners’ model. The only difference is the material used for the lens exterior. The inside is the same optical design and technology as the XF lens.

Amazon: I see. The XF lens lineup is further expanding now, especially for the zoom lenses.

Mr. Ueno: Yes. During the first three years since our launch of the first interchangeable lens camera in 2012, we mainly targeted the first year on the short prime lenses that are best matched with X-Pro1 which had optical viewfinder. The second year, we focused on the practical lenses that allowed users to expand the focal range. And the third year we developed high spec lenses for the professionals and enthusiasts.
The result are the XF50-140mmF2.8mm in September 2014 and XF16-55mmF2.8mm in February 2015. I think we have a lineup now that covers a complete typical shooting range.

XT1_front_left_50-140mm_VerticalGrip
XF50-140mm mounted to a Fujifilm X-T1 with Optional Vertical Battery Grip

Amazon: The XF50-140mmF2.8mm and XF16-55mmF2.8mm are your “red badge” series?

Mr. Ueno: Yes, the red badge series are the zoom lenses intended for the professionals.

Amazon: Where does the XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R lie? It is a kit lens for the X-T1 that many professionals use.

Mr. Ueno: The versatility is the first priority for XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R. We understand that the image quality is not quite the same as the f/2.8 constants, but still good enough so that the user doesn’t need to change the lens while shooting. We design each XF lens to have highest image quality possible for its presumed usage and purpose.

Another example of this is the minimum working distance of 70cm on the XF56mmF1.2, We sometimes hear customers demand a shorter working distance such as 40cm. As you know, the image quality in the peripheral parts are reduced when the distance gets shorter. The XF56mmF1.2 is a lens designed for portrait and snap shooting, so we believed that  shortest distance of 70cm would be enough.

If the minimum working distance had been 40cm with the compromise on the image quality on the peripheral parts, then we had to extend the focus lens movable range. And as a result, the lens will be bigger and autofocus speed will be slower.

Our priority was to create a lens that has high resolution from corner to corner and that has adequately fast autofocus, so the minimum working distance became 70cm, which is enough for portrait photography – its presumed purpose.

If you want to get closer, then we have the XF60mmF2.4 Macro, which is another great lens. We make it so that beautiful description of each subject will be delivered to the maximum potential.

This is the fundamental idea of X series.

Amazon: I understand well now. Which lens do you recommend for those that want to get into using the
X series?

Mr. Ueno: I would recommend the XF18-55mmF2.8-4 as the gateway to the X series. As I said earlier, although the lens is a kit lens for starting out, it doesn’t mean that the image quality has been compromised. You can actually experience the high image quality of the XF lens and it covers the standard shooting range. We would recommend to use the lens, and then search for other lenses that satisfies your need 100%.

The start is easy, and the goal is endless. This is the charm of the XF lens.

 

This interview was originally conducted in Japanese and published on Amazon Japan’s website. It was translated into English by Fujifilm Japan for use here.

Desert Road Trip – California and Nevada

by Ian Boys

I’m a people photographer normally – portraits, the odd wedding and so on. But on this trip I decided I’d give landscape photography my first serious attempt ever, after 25 years of shooting. Of course, I’d taken landscapes before when I happened to come across something that looked good but this was different: I’d make sure I got to the right place at the right time for the best light even if it meant sleeping (or failing to sleep!) in the car.

Before I went I researched my route using Flickr and Google maps. The latter was especially helpful not just for seeing if a mountain would be lit at dawn or dusk but also to see what other images had been taken nearby. This pointed me towards quite a few fascinating sights that I would never have come across otherwise. In the very bottom right hand corner of a Google maps screen is a double up arrow that reveals scenes you may not otherwise have considered.

A08

Dear reader – I even bought a tripod. Many of you will wonder what the big deal is but it went so against my usual style of shooting that it felt like a jet pilot shopping for a submarine. But as it turned out it proved invaluable.

One last act of preparation – I looked at the absolutely stellar landscape work shown on the fredmiranda.com landscape forum and learned about things like focus stacking and night photography, things I vaguely knew about only in theory. One night before I left I went out and practised the techniques, with terrible results. But that’s how I learn.

Why the Desert?

In 1993 I worked in Somalia during the war there and travelled and lived in the northern desert communities. I fell in love with the open spaces, the peace of the evenings and the huge skies. Since then I’ve visited other deserts, notably on the India-Pakistan border and Arizona. I like the open road, the small communities and the sense that in the desert everyone can just be themselves. It is the polar opposite to the metropolitan posing of modern cities. In England I live in a small village on the doorstep of the Peak District National Park. Manchester is very close but I rarely visit.

I wanted to shoot the road, the space, the ghost towns, the mountains and the night skies, with a detour to Yosemite. There are so many fantastic wilderness parks on the Nevada/California border that going to LA or San Francisco was never an option. One tip though – when they say don’t walk in parts of Death Valley after 10 am they mean it! I once walked out at night and got back to the car at 0845 and it was already so hot. Those pictures of graves aren’t put there for your amusement.

A05

Kit List

For the last several years I have travelled only with a Fujifilm x100 series camera – Hong Kong, New York, Volgograd, Sri Lanka and elsewhere. The x100 series are superb, not only because of the results but also because of their size and weight. But this time I’d need a bit more choice in lenses.

I decided to take the X-T1 and the 14, 23 and 56mm lenses. These are widely recognised as the best primes available (although the new 16 may have usurped the 14, I don’t know for sure yet). The 23mm would be my standard landscape lens, the 56mm would give me the extra reach one sometimes needs to isolate part of the scene and the 14mm would be perfect for night sky photography as it allows a 25 second exposure under the “600 rule” that governs whether stars are rendered as points or streaks.

The 18-55mm was under consideration but although it’s good, these other lenses are fantastic. The difference does really show.

I also took my new Manfrotto 055 tripod, 4 batteries and a remote cable release as well as a charger that allowed the batteries to be recharged while driving. Definitely a bonus for this kind of trip. I also took a big LED video light that allowed me to get set up in the moonless desert night and sometimes to light paint foreground rocks. Backlit dials and controls would be nice but are probably impractical in a small camera.

Technical Notes

Although I shot everything in JPG+RAW, all the final images except the night shots were actually from the in camera JPG’s. I used the Astia setting for all of them – it helped keep the set coherent and provides great colours without the overblown look that Velvia brings. In particular Astia renders skies very well, better (to my taste at least) than any of the other settings.

A15

In general, I shot in Aperture Priority and used the Exposure Compensation Dial to give me the look I wanted. For some shots, especially those shot in the evening or at night I used manual exposure. One morning I rode the shutter dial all the way from 2 minutes to ¼ second as the sun rose over a freezing mountain lake. I was inside an aluminium shelter bag loving every minute of it as the light changed. The shots were terrible, as you’d expect from someone who has never done that kind of shot before. As I say, I’m not a landscape photographer but I’m so glad I saw it.

Some things did work better than expected though. Focus stacking involves sticking your camera on a tripod (weird!) and gradually changing focus so that over the course of a dozen shots or so you have focussed on all parts of the shot. You then combine them automatically (or manually, for the masochists) in Photoshop. The 14mm is absolutely perfect for this as the manual focus “pull clutch” allows you to gradually work the focus through the scene at an optimum aperture for sharpness of f5.6. In combination with the tilt screen and focus peaking (Red High for me) of the X-T1 it really couldn’t be easier, certainly much easier than with the optical viewfinder of a standard DSLR. Because it was a new technique for me, I also took a “safety shot” at f11 in case the intricacies of the procedure were beyond me but actually it is simple and the results were very much better than with the single high depth of field shot. It doesn’t matter how many times you read about it, doing it in the field is the best way to learn it. Here is a focus-stacked shot from Death Valley:

A06

Another technique that worked well was ultra high resolution patchwork shooting with the 56mm, where I’d take perhaps 20 shots of a scene in rows and columns and stitch them together afterwards. I’m not really sure what I’d need a 200 megapixel file for but it’s nice to know it works really well and that you can zoom in one the tiniest detail from miles away. One day I’m sure I’ll find a use for it and now that I’ve done it, it’s a technique in my arsenal. Sometimes though it was more practical to use the sweep panorama feature. In this particular shot I tried both techniques (a 4 shot manual blend and the in-camera panorama) and the in camera stitch was smoother, although lower resolution. At 6400 pixels across, it still has plenty enough for me.

A13

Night photography was fantastic in the desert: there are few lights to begin with and in Death Valley those that exist must be shielded from the sky. This was my first ever attempt at a Milky Way shot (thank you Youtube!) and as laughable as it might be to the more experienced night shooters, I’m rather pleased with it.

A02

Notes on individual shots

This shot was actually taken on Aperture Priority from the driver’s seat with -2 stops exposure compensation dialled in. I was using the 23mm at iso 1600. The extraordinary EVF of the X-T1 let me ensure that there was still some light visible on the ground while at the same time allowing me to make sure the highlights weren’t blowing out. The high dynamic range of the X-T1 kept it all together.

A09

This is a stitch of two horizontal shots taken at Mono Lake. There’s not a stack more to say about it except that a single 14mm shot would have looked quite different. Modern tools make this kind of stitching quite easy, even for a landscape novice and the methods are a simple search away.

A26

This was a ten second shot of my hire car. I had stopped for a sunset but frankly I’ve seen better. I did like the way the car looked though and with the interior light on and a long enough exposure to lighten the sky and ensure passing traffic left pleasing trails and illumination I think the shot works. It was also shot with my 56mm lens, perhaps an odd choice but something I’ll bear in mind to try again next time. I love that lens.

A19

Here’s a very different kind of car shot, a quick snapshot as I crossed the street. This old Mustang matched the sky and worked well with the yellow lines. It is (clearly) a quick grab shot – I was on my way to get a burger after several hours shooting one searingly hot morning – but it is a testament to how quickly the X-T1 will react if necessary. It starts up quickly, focuses quickly and fires without shutter lag. That’s what I want in a camera.

A24

OK, two last shots before I’m told to knock it off! Nevada’s an odd place. But I’d never have found either of these without doing some research before I went.

A20

A27

So in summary – every camera is a compromise. But the X-T1 offers high quality, superb lenses, light weight and bulk, accurate focus, exposure and white balance, a tilting LCD that is way more useful than I thought and a very high chance of getting the right photo on the first shot thanks to the excellent EVF with its exposure preview, focus peaking, colour rendition and other features. I use it for all my more serious work, together with the x100T. But the X-Pro 1 still has a piece of my heart.

You can see more of Ian’s images on his Flickr page here.