Thursday, April 30, 2015

Vacation lifestyle with a Fuji X-T1 kit

It didn't take much to convince me to take my Fuji X-T1 as my main lifestyle camera on location to Miami. I have been working with the camera so much that I now have total confidence in it to deliver the goods in most lifestyle shooting situations.

Below is a set of images taken in a hotel room using my favorite triumverate of indoor, available light lenses -- the Fuji 56mm f/1.2, 35mm f/1.4, and 23mm f/1.4.  Two gold/silver combo reflectors provided a bounce fill from the window light, and that was pretty much it.

The blur in this photo was acieved by shooting past two hand-held champagne glasses placed near the lens in the foreground. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

From sunrise to sunset

There hasn't been much opportunity to capture any serious photography this weekend. I've been in meetings most of the day. The sunrises and skies have been somewhat nondescript but I did attempt a few photos anyway.  Below is a sequence from sunrise to sunset all taken with the Fuji X-T1 and 18-135mm zoom except for the bottom image, which was captured on a cell phone.

Sunrise with the sun behind a thin layer of clouds. The dynamic range of modern digital cameras can keep the shape of the sun as a circle,whereas in the past the its brightness would have completely blasted out the shape. 

Here I tried to work the sunrise into a Mondrian-like composition by framing it with some foreground glass partitions.

With skies so clear the sun is very intense. I tried to capture that intensity with this high-key,  blasted-out shot of the morning sun reflecting off the sea.

Just one tiny cloud on the horizon in late afternoon.

Captured this tree silhouette against a sunset cloud with my cell phone. I've been playing with cell phone shots recently to see what techniques can be applied to improve their quality. 

Ten second night time time-lapse exposure taken with the Nikon D750 and 21mm f/1.8 lens at f/2. 
A beautiful tropical storm blew through here and was gone in less than an hour. Taken with the X-T1 and 18-135mm lens at 18mm.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Miami bound with my X-T1

I'm heading down to Miami for a weekend conference and two days of shooting lifestyle, one day in a hotel, the other on a sailboat -- assuming the weather cooperates. I spent the last week debating what camera to take as my main system, Nikon or Fuji. My confidence in the reliabilty of the Fuji X cameras to deliver the goods has increased a lot since I've been adding it to my normal shooting workflow. despite what I recounted in my blog post yesterday about going back to my trusty D4.

The Fuji X-T1 won out for the trip, although I am also carrying a Nikon D750 body as backup, since I know I can borrow the lenses for it in Miami, and I never like to travel without a backup.

I will be shooting both indoors and outdoors.  For me that means different lens sets. I like to use fast aperture primes inside to shoot mostly available light, or available light boosted with a fill light.  For this I packed my favorite lifestyle trio: Fuji 56mm f/1.2, 35mm f/1.4, and 23mm f/1.4. For outdoors, I included the 50-140mm f/2.8 and the 14mm f/2.8. And of course I'll have my go-everywhere 18-135mm zoom because I also plan on doing a lot of personal photography. Sounds like a lot of gear, but it all packed into one small camera bag. This mirrorless sytem is a whole lot less than I used to carry for on a DSLR trip.

A couple of Nikon SB-900 flash units with a set of  Yongnuo RF-603NII-N1 Wireless Flash Triggers and Gary Fong Lightspheres are included for fill light along with a few collapsible reflectors. A small tripod completes the package.

I expect to be able to post to the blog while travelling so stay tuned.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Sometimes I just need my Nikon D4 to do the job

Today we did a simple lifestyle shoot in the studio of a mother and her baby. We were using real people rather than models because the trend lately has been for more of a "real life", candid look to successful lifestyle images. I had the Fuji X-T1 out with my usual assortment of lenses for indoor lifestyle, the 56mm f/1.2, 35mm f/1.4, and 23mm f/1.4.

With any shoot involving a baby or toddler, the photographer is completely at the whim of the child. It the child who is really directing the shoot. The little guy we had was an Energizer Bunny of energy moving around the set -- lot's of energy, lots of good expressions, but darting about so fast that my camera could not keep up with him, and when it did, the lens often did not achieve focus. To top it off, I was working the aperture around f/2 to keep the depth-of-field as shallow as possible.

I can usually time my shots and go for what I call the "peak of action". After two scenes I realized this was not going to work and we just were not going to capture the right mix of spontaneous action expreessing a real moment in time. With the child changing expressions and positions every fraction of a second I decided to switch over to a Nikon D4, which can work at 10fps with an almost limitless buffer. I also set it to 3D-autofocus so the focus point could track the child darting about,

Success. As simple as they look to me now, the scenes below, along with many others, would not have been possible without the D4. Nothing like the right tool for the job.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Photography for blogging -- keeping it fast and simple

In addition to running her own successful lifestyle photography studio, Jamie Grill Photography, my daughter, Jamie, also produces an almost daily blog called, Chasing Saturday's, with her blogging partner, Marisa. The two of them keep creating recipes aimed at making Saturday a week long event. Running a blog like this requires a lot of photography, and doing it frequently means no time to dawdle -- get in, set up, get the shots, get out. A workflow like this is best served by having a simplified routine for producing quality images.

The photos are taken mostly in a daylight studio or at home. With no lights to manage except for an occasional tungsten accent lamp, window light is one key to keeping things simple. In the studio, Jamie works with one camera, a Nikon D4, and one lens, a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 used fairly wide open. At home she relies mostly on a Nikon D5300 with a 35mm lens, and sometimes a 60mm for tighter close-ups. With the equipment needs kept to a minimum Jamie and Marisa can concentrate on the image concept, propping, and composition.

A by-product of all this blog photography is that Jamie can add the images to her successful stock photo collection, which helps to ammortize the time and expense of running the blog.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Simply the sun

One thing I love about modern digital cameras is their extensive dynamic range. The ability to capture light from its brightest to its darkest in one image is definitely an improvement over the film age. This morning I we had a sky with fast moving cloud cover and the sun occasionally peeked out from behind the thinner layers of cloud. I grabbed my trusty Fuji X-T1 with the 16-135mm on it and snapped away. The top photo below is the result, a white-on-white, minimalist treatment with subtle detail everywhere.

Below that is a couple of my old favorite "shooting-the-sun" shots. One was taken in the Badlands as an early morning mist was clearing the area, and the other is a reflection of the sun in a glass partition against the sky.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Day 2: The Sony A7II meets my Fuji X-T1

What began as a one week trial is going to have to be put on hold for awhile. The Sony A7II died on me in day 2 when I received a "Camera error: turn the camera off, then on" message. Nothing worked. The camera is essentially a doorstop at the moment. I am going to have to wait for a replacement  model to continue my tests. I'm not holding anything against the camera. It is a test camera, after all, and probably subject to a lot of abuse.

One funny thing that happened is that I kept mistaking my X-T1 for the A7II. I keep my X-T1 handy near my desk, and the two cameras do have a similar profile so it was easy to confuse the two. Once, I even tried to mount a Fuji lens on the Sony and was annoyed that it didn't fit, until I realized my mistake and laughed. As I looked at the two cameras next to each other, if gave me a chance to think a bit about the differences in ergonometrics of the two. No question that I prefer the Fuji with its clear-cut and accessible dials. The Sony works more from a menu. The menu layout is quite similar to that of the Sony RX-100 so I am familiar with it, but I did find the X-T1 a much easier and quicker camera to use.

Note that I am not making any comparison of image quality, just physical characteristics. For that, the Fuji is hard to beat as a mirrorless system.

The two cameras are similar is size with the X-T1 being only slightly larger. In this photo my X-T1 has a hand-grip on it which raises it up a little. 

Sony could take some lessons from the Fuji top control layout. Everything you need to control exposure is sitting right there in a top view of the camera. With a lens mounted on the X-T1 even the aperture control is accessible with a control ring with the apertures stops visible on many of the lenses. This is retro design at its best -- i.e. most intuitive and convenient.

The whole point of my A7II test was to determine if it would make a good second body for a Leica M system. I chose the A7II over the A7r so I could also test the efficacy of the in-body vibration correction with the lenses. If I do decide to add the Sony to my Leica kit, I will probably wait until an A7r II model comes out so I could have both the higher megapixels and the vibration control. 

I only had time for a few preliminary test shots before the camera conked out. I'll have to wait until I recieve a replacement before continuing the testing. 

Here's a sample image taken with the Voigtlander 15mm lens and an ISO of 100. Click here to download the high res version.

Taken with a Leica 50mm Summilux lens. 

Taken with the Leica 135mm APO telyt on the A7II

Friday, April 17, 2015

Preparing for the week ahead testing the Sony A7II

Over the next week I will be running some tests on the Sony A7II with Leica lenses. I want to determine if a Sony A7II or A7R would make sense as a second body for a Leica system. Aside from the tremendous cost difference between the camera bodies, the A7II has image stabilization built into its body. This could be a major benefit when working with Leica M lenses, which have none.

The idea of using an A7r body with its 36mp sensor is also intriguing. Combined with the superiority of Leica optics, it may make one of the best full-frame combos out there in terms of QC. The A7r doesn't have the built-in image stabilization, but the next iteration, an A7rII, probably will and it is expected in the not too distant future. One rumor out there even suspects it will be come with a 50mp sensor. Think about that with Leica optics.

I started laying out the set up of seven lenses: 135mm APO teleyt, 90mm Elmarit, 50mm Summilux, 35mm Summilux, 28mm Summicron, 21mm Elmarit ASPH, and my new 15mm Voigtlander III. All will be attached to the Sony via a Voigtlander Leica-M to Sony-E mount adapter. Nice thing about this adapter is that it has a built-in extension feature that increases the near focus ability of attached Lieca lenses. 
The Sony body just arrived this afternoon, and I couldn't resist taking it out for a little walk to get a feel for the kit I put together. Tomorrow the real testing begins. One thing I'm going to have to become used to is the lack of full dial controls, like on my Fuji X-T1. The Sony is more of a menu-driven machine.

This is one of my favorite framed views of the Empire State Building, a perfect subject for the Voigtlander 15mm..

Another 15mm Voigtlander photo of the city at dusk.