This is a two part blog into the adventures of Tom Corban and his trip through North & Northwest India, if you missed the original post you can view it here.
As the trip went on and the temperature increased, I appreciated not having a rucksack covering my back. I began to realise that I was missing something. It was really brought home to me when we went north into the Himalayas to do some mountain biking. We were cycling downhill on a narrow bumpy mud track with a steep cliff face going up on one side and a sheer drop of over 1 kilometre on the other and I realised that there is only so much weight you want bouncing around on you, irrespective of how you are carrying it. I started fantasizing about my X-E2 with its kit lens, but more about that later.
One of the nice things about this trip was that it was a holiday. There was no pressure and no deadline for any images. This gave me the chance to experiment with the Fuji kit without worrying about making any errors. It may sound unprofessional to some people but I have been so impressed by the Fuji Jpegs that I now rarely shoot RAW files. I had not really explored the various film settings and tended to use the Standard and Velvia settings almost exclusively. Having now experimented with the film settings, I am developing a soft spot for the Black and white with a yellow (or in some instances red) filter and I have found that in the right setting the Chrome can be stunning. I had an almost childish delight in finding out what the camera could do.
We had decided to limit our travel to the north and north west of the country, travelling by train, bus and in the more remote areas, camel and 4 wheel drive. I was interested to see how the Fuji kit stood up to the rigour of travel and how it performed in some challenging environments. I was aware that my photography had already changed as a result of using Fuji cameras but it became much more noticeable on this trip. I made fewer images and I have become, on the whole, slower. This is not a bad thing as I find that I am getting the results I want with the Jpegs straight out of the camera.
Slower behind the camera and then less time in front of the computer suits me well. I have also found that I have fewer “technical” rejects. I find that the focusing on the X-T1 is not as fast as the Canon 5D mk 3 so in some circumstances I have more out of focus shots than I would expect. However, for me this is more than made up for by the fact that I have far fewer unsharp photographs caused by camera shake in low light settings because of the wider aperture of the Fuji lenses, the lack of a mirror and the vibration it causes and the ease of holding the camera steady.
Perhaps if I were doing a lot of fast action work I would be more tempted to use the full frame camera but as things stand the Fuji suits me fine.
In low light settings such as religious services in Varanasi, the Fuji kit showed its strengths. Wonderfully sharp lenses and a camera that I could hold in my hands at slow shutter speeds.
The weather sealing stood up well in some difficult situations with temperatures of over 50 C in the desert and below freezing in the Himalayas, as well as rain, sand and huge amounts of fine powder dye during the Holi celebrations in Jaipur. There was a little wear on the camera body and the rubber cover that protects the HDMI, remote release and USB sockets has become a little misshapen with the heat but it’s a solid body built to last.
Did I make the right decision to take the Fuji Kit with me on this trip?
Absolutely. It’s a joy to use. The full kit fitted into a small waist bag with the lens hoods still on the lenses, I had no difficulty keeping the sensor clean, the Jpegs were wonderful straight out of the camera and the film simulations are good (I mean really good). I can also hold it in my hands at low shutter speeds, the lenses are sharp and I had no trouble with chromatic aberrations.
With a kit that performed like that, what more could I possibly want?
Well my X-E2 with its kit lens really.
I said earlier that we had been lucky on this trip. Whilst that’s true, we did have some difficult times. We had a bag with my Fuji X-E2 and Jo’s phone in it stolen on a sleeper train from Varanasi to Agra. I had taken my X-E2 on a various trips around Europe during the past couple of years and was really fond of it. It was the sort of camera and lens combination that you could carry unobtrusively and I loved wandering around new cities with it. Heat, rain, fog – just tuck it under your jacket. As our India trip went on, I found myself wanting it as a second camera. I know that this sounds a bit excessive but the option of occasionally leaving the full kit in the hotel and just spending some time wandering around with a smaller, lighter camera and the kit lens was very appealing and certainly would have been useful when we were cycling.
It had never been an option before as there was never anywhere secure that was large enough to lock up my full frame camera and lenses and, as a result, I would carry everything with me all the time. You do get used to it but it’s an ongoing nuisance and wonderfully liberating when you get home and don’t have to carry a heavy bag everywhere. To my delight, I found that the small safes that hotels all over the world use was large enough to fit all my Fuji kit in and still leave room for a backup hard drive and a few other odds and ends.
It’s a real game changer as it gives me the option of going out with the full kit or just the X-E2. Well it would give me that option if someone had not stolen the X-E2! I will clearly have to replace it. Mind you I have not seen the X Pro2 yet but it certainly looks good on paper and the reviews are encouraging. Now, back in England, I find myself wondering if the X Pro2 will be the camera that finally makes me sell my Canon kit and move to Fuji completely.
It spread through the air like static electricity, conducting from one person to another. Fear truly is contagious.
Everyone was running away from the rather skinny looking snake. Skinny or not, the guides and camel tenders were visibly frightened. You could feel the fear in the air.
We had just spent our first night in the Thar desert close to the border with Pakistan, sleeping on the sand dunes with four other travelers we had met the night before. The blankets we had been sleeping on had been piled up ready to be put on the camels. It was then that the snake was spotted.
Armed with sticks, shovels and an axe, the camel tenders returned. One of them went forward and nervously lifted the corner of the top blanket. No snake. He lifted it higher, then pulled it off the pile as he quickly backed away. The others moved in with clubs and axes ready to pounce. Still no snake. They retreated again. This process was repeated four times before the snake was found. Each man swung his stick or axe clubbing the ground wildly before running away, looking back to see if the snake was chasing them. The snake however had disappeared into the sand. We asked Mulla (our guide) how dangerous it was. “It’s a Lundi snake, very dangerous, very poisonous” he said. The men, armed with shovels, moved in. I thought they were just going to chase it away but the process of digging, hitting and running away continued until the snake eventually received a blow from a stick and a man with an axe moved in to finish it off.
When we got back, we looked up “Lundi snake”. Lundi is the Urdu name for a sub species of Saw Scaled Viper. It is described as a very fast moving snake that strikes quickly & repeatedly, with reports of it chasing its victims relentlessly, and in India alone, it is responsible for an estimated 5,000 human fatalities a year.
Once the snake was no longer a threat, the camels were saddled up and our companions from last night started on their way back to Jaisalmer.
Jo, I and Mulla set off in the opposite direction, further into the desert. There are many things one can do on a camel but being comfortable is not one of them, well not at first anyway. It also seems a slow way of traveling but before you know it you have covered a considerable distance and things that were on the horizon are now beside you. It’s a bit like traveling by canal boat in Britain but with more pain and less tea. It was scorching by the time we stopped for lunch and took shelter from the sun as it was far too hot to move when the sun is at its height. Even at 5pm when we stopped at an oasis to water the camels, it was still 42.9 C degrees in the shade. We finally stopped for the night on a small group of sand dunes. As Mulla made us tea, we watched 8 Desert Eagles circle in the thermals above us. Eventually they lost height and settled in a tree from where they kept us company till the morning. We spread the camel blankets out on the dune and looked at the stars till we fell asleep. Even though we woke many times during the night, each time the night sky was stunning.
The next morning Mulla said that there had been a lot of Lundi snake activity during the night and there were snake tracks around the camels. He said that he was relieved that the camels had not been bitten as it would have killed them. We showed him some tracks where something had come up the dune to where we had been sleeping and passed just over a metre away from where my head had been. “That Lundi snake” he said. “A big one”. “But we were sleeping there!“ we exclaimed. “You very lucky” he said.
We were very lucky a lot on this trip. We had started off in Delhi before going to Varanasi, Agra and then Ranthambore National Park near Jaipur. We were told that you should book at least 6 safaris to stand a good chance of seeing a tiger. We booked 6. We saw 8 different tigers including a mother and her two 9 month old cubs.
We met funny and generous people who went out of their way to look after us and show us around. We were accepted into an Indian family to experience the Holi festival with them in Jaipur.
We then went on to Spiti valley where we met the Lama of the Kee Monastry who showed us around, unlocking rooms and ushering us in as he went. In one room there was a metal encased Stupa about 10 ft high,decorated with emeralds and other precious stones containing ashes of the 6th to the 13th Dali Lamas. Afterwards he took us into his private room and gave us tea and cake before giving us his blessing and waving us off.
On previous trips through Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia I had taken my Canon kit. It had worked well but it was heavy and took up a lot of room. On the Nepal trip for instance, we had hired an extra porter as we were going into the Annapurna Sanctuary. It’s a long walk if you are carrying heavy gear and are not used to the altitude.
In practice this meant that I could carry the complete kit with ease in a waist pack. It was a bit of a tight fit when everything was in it, but when I was using the camera it was easy to change lenses or get the flash out. I found it much easier to manage the Fuji kit than it was to manage the Canon 5Dmk 3 with its lenses, where I needed a much bigger camera rucksack. Although the Fuji lenses I was using are not much smaller than the Canon Lenses, the X-T1 is significantly smaller than the Canon full frame. This meant that everything fitted into the waist bag even the lens hoods! The lens hoods may not sound like a big deal, but to me they are. Previously I had tried everything I could think of to accommodate lens hoods for my Canon lenses, ending up with collapsible rubber ones that I would keep in the top part of my camera rucksack and put on when I was using a particular lens. It was less than ideal. Changing lenses would usually require taking the rucksack off, opening the bottom compartment to change the lens and then opening the top compartment to get the lens hood.
With the X-T1 body and the Fuji lenses with the lens hoods fitted, all within the belt pack, changing lenses became much easier. It was certainly a lot safer when changing lenses in crowded environments where there were warnings of pickpockets operating.
The other thing that is worth mentioning is that although in practice there was not much difference in size and weight of the Fuji lenses compared to the Canon ones, the Fuji ones have an aperture of f2.8 as opposed to the f4 on my Canon lenses. As a travel kit, I found it worked wonderfully. I had a good range of focal lengths and a comparatively wide aperture when I needed it.
Part 2 of Tom Corban’s adventure through India can be found here.
I went down with a crash. Almost immediately the mud started to seep through my trousers which were already soaked by the rain. I had cradled the two X-T1s in my arms as soon as I felt my feet sliding away from me. The rain had no affect on them, it just collected into droplets and ran off. The rain that fell on me however seemed to go into my bones. I sat up and looked around. I was surrounded by thousands of people all bent on having a good time – and succeeding. I looked down at the rain soaked cameras, it was then that I realised what I had become. How on earth did this happen?
But first, a bit about me.
I first became interested in photography at the age of 8 or 9. My parents bought me my first camera as a birthday present shortly afterwards. As my interest grew I went to the public library to learn about processing and printing. I managed to acquire a second hand enlarger, a developing tank, some dishes and had managed to blackout my bedroom by hanging all the clothes I possessed over the window. This was well before the days of central heating, and I had a wall mounted infra red heater that glowed red which I used as a makeshift safelight when printing. Surprisingly this rather makeshift approach worked and the experience of seeing a print gradually appear as it was gently rocked in the developing tray was magical. I still have that sense of wonder when I look at prints today. The technology is different but the magic of creating a record of a moment that makes up life’s experiences remains. It gets even better when I can create an image that goes beyond straightforward recording something and which connects with other peoples emotions from when they saw or experienced something similar. That’s the reason I love combining travel and photography. It creates so many privileged situations and I find it increases the possibility of creating the types of images I love.
I continued to dabble with photography into my 20’s but life gets busy and a career in Public Service refocused my priorities until much later in life. Now with that career behind me (and contrary to public belief Public Service can have high job satisfaction and be fun) I have reengaged with photography and am now building a second career.
Why indeed. To be honest it all came as a bit of a surprise to me as I considered myself to be a Canon shooter. I did buy an X100 when they first came out. I was seduced by the look and feel of it. The handling reminded me of and old Leica I used to own. I loved the simplicity, the clear controls and small size.
Unfortunately it did not work out for me. I found the focusing too slow and the camera stayed in a draw for a few years. In time the X100s was released but I was still not tempted. Eventually someone told me that Fuji had released updated firmware for the X100. It took me another few months before I downloaded it and gave it a try.
What a difference! It became the camera I thought I had bought in the first place. What impressed me more though was the fact that Fuji made the firmware available for the X100 rather than withholding it in order to get more people to to buy the X100s.
I thought that it was remarkable that a company would show such loyalty to its existing customers, especially in this day and age where incentives are only offered to new customers. I was so impressed with the improved handling that, when the X100t came out I bought one. I took it with me that same day when I took the dog out for a walk with the intention of trying it out. Nothing spectacular, just a nice shot of sheep and lambs in the sunshine on the Dorset coast with the sea as the background.
I was wondering if I could use the WiFi app to simplify my news workflow so, just to test things out, I used the Fuji app to put an image on my phone and from there uploaded it to the news agency. It was only when the license fee arrived some months later that I realised that the image had been published on the Telegraph Online website before I got home. I love the simplicity and size of this camera, and unsurprisingly, my Canon 5D large and heavy by comparison.
I had a trip to Spain coming up and I really wanted to reduce the weight of the gear I was carrying in the backpack, so I decided to buy the X-A2 with the kit zoom lens and the 10-24 f4 lens. Although there were clear limitations compared to using the 5D kit there were also wonderful benefits. It was not just the weight either, I was less “visible” as a photographer. I could hand hold at lower shutter speeds, the electronic screen was wonderful in dark environments, the lenses were sharp and significantly I found that I was using the Jpeg files with little or no tweaking rather than the RAW files which resulted in less time in front of a computer screen. The GPS tagging via the Fuji phone app helped enormously when it came to captions and keywords. Overall a considerable saving of time.
It’s a slippery slope. I went and tried out an X-T1 with the idea of trading in my 5D mk 2 but keeping the 5D mk3. The logic being that I would have a lightweight travel kit and shoot news stuff using either the X-A2 and the X-T1, or the Canon 5D mk 3 and the X-T1 depending on the circumstances. On trying the X-T1 out, I found I loved it as much as the X100T, and it has the same WiFi capacity. I also found out that Cactus make some speedlight triggers that will allow Fuji cameras to use canon speedlights using the Cactus transmitter to control the power of the flash. That was it then, I bought one and a 50-140 f2.8 lens. I was intending to use it and the Canon 5D mk 3 a couple of weeks later at the Glastonbury Festival where I was one of the team of accredited photographers. As I prepared the kit for the event I wondered if those nice people at Fuji would lend me another X-T1 and a couple of lenses so I could cover the festival using only the lighter Fuji gear. Well-they can only say no.
They said yes, which is how I came to be sitting in the mud in the company of 175,000 festival goers, countless volunteers, specialist staff, police, performers and somewhere on the site, that nice Mr Eavis. As I wiped the rain off the cameras and checked them for damage I realised I had become a “Fuji shooter”.
So how did it go?
Well it all went rather well, which was pleasantly surprising considering that the X-T1s were a new camera to me. The firmware in the cameras was 3.11. I had been hoping that version 4.0 with the significantly improved focusing would be available by the time the festival began. Unfortunately it wasn’t. Despite that, the focusing on the X-T1 was better than I expected. In most conditions it worked well and was accurate. I struggled with it a little in low light though and it was too slow for some fast moving situations. Having said that, I changed my technique over the course of the festival and my results improved.
Shooting the Pyramid Stage at night was the most difficult environment because of the rapidly changing lighting and the continually moving musicians. I ended up using continuous focusing, with the pre focusing switched on and the drive set to continuous fast. I also ramped the ISO up more than I would normally do and stopped the 50-140mm lens down a bit rather than using it wide open. To keep the speed up I shot Jpegs. With this combination, the number of sharp images increased dramatically. Unfortunately so did the overall number of images shot resulting in taking considerably longer to edit them. Up until then I had been shooting Raw and Jpegs intending to use the Jpegs and have the RAW files for anything where the Jpegs were inadequate. It’s a credit to Fuji’s technology that, despite some challenging lighting conditions the Jpegs remained superb throughout. With exquisite bad timing I picked up an email as I walked out of the festival on the Monday morning saying that Fuji just released the significantly improved version 4 Firmware!
The camera’s handled well and sat in my hand nicely with most of the controls easily accessible. It was a bit tricky at first to change the focus point with the function buttons on the back, but that improved as I got used to the camera. Even so replacing the OK/Menu button with a joystick control that would perform both the OK/Menu control and move the focus point would be wonderful. Like all these things though, its about getting the right balance and I am aware that such a change may not be possible without compromising the size and style of the camera body.
Having the shutter speed, the ISO setting, the drive and the exposure compensation easily accessible via dials on the top of the camera was wonderful. Perhaps it was because I spent my early life using cameras with that sort of arrangement but I took to it immediately and it felt more natural that having to go through a menu system, especially with the ISO setting. This ease of access combined with the Electronic Viewfinder meant that I could accurately assess difficult lighting conditions and make the necessary exposure compensation without having to take a shot and play it back on the LCD to check the histogram.
The combination of one body with the 16-55 f2.8 and the other with the 50-140 f2.8 worked really well. Most of the images were created with these two lenses. It made working fast and easy. Given small size and low weight of the kit it also made swapping between cameras fast and easy. I don’t like changing lenses when I am working in this sort of environment as I have to work fast and upload news pictures soon after they are taken. Dust on the sensor slows down the processing stage enormously. When I did change lenses though, I did not get any dust problems, or if I did the built in sensor cleaning mechanism got rid of it. I don’t know if I was just lucky of if the design of the Fuji sensor made a difference but it was a refreshing change.
After a couple of days using the cameras, when I had got to the stage of not having to think about it I began to really enjoy them. The fun and experimentation of photography seemed to be coming back and I really enjoyed using the tilting LCD screen which made it easier to shoot from unusual angles. I also was not getting the aches and pains I was used to in these sort of environments. Given that I was on my feet and working from about 7:00 am to 1:30 am the next morning (with a short break sometime in the afternoon) I felt remarkably relaxed.
As I enjoyed this new found freedom it all went wrong..
I had found somewhere to sit and have a coffee. As I stood up I realised that I had lost a camera. As the knot in my stomach formed my mind tried to work out where I had been and where I could have left it. My pulse rate went up as I started to take straps belts and bags off so that I could find out if I had lost my camera or the one Fuji had loaned me. Neither, they were both still there. So what had I lost? I checked the other lenses, the Speedlight, the other accessories. They were all still there.
All that had happened was that I had got used to using the cameras and had forgotten about them. I had stood up, and being used to carrying two Canon 5Ds with L series lenses attached, the load I was carrying was so light that I thought I had lost a camera. This happened a few times over the subsequent days, that sudden feeling of panic followed by a feeling of relief, then foolishness.
One final thing worth mentioning is the viewfinder. Its fabulous.
One of the reasons I bought full frame cameras in the past was that I had used the C type sensors and was not impressed with the size of the image in the viewfinder. The X-T1 viewfinder with its magnification factor and “Full” mode is a joy to use. For me it was a game changer.
So in summary, as I said earlier, it all went rather well. In a couple of heavy downpours the cameras, the 16-55 f2.8 and the 50-140 f2.8 were unaffected, It seems that the weather resistance really does work. The X-T1 is a joy to use, handles well and is robust & light. The lenses are sharp and considering the max aperture, remarkably light. The combination of the 16-55 and 50-140 were used most of the time (although I must confess to having a soft spot for the 10-24mm). The focusing with the 3.11 firmware is not up to the speed of a DSLR but the version 4 firmware seems to be a considerable improvement.
So what next?
Well I have just started the planning for a 6 week trip to India and its definitely the Fuji camera’s that will be coming with me. And, if you would like to see more of my work please visit me at: