Thursday, 10 December 2015

A Star is Born!

Let's start at the beginning. It's been a open secret that both on and off camera flash was a bit of a after thought to those boffins tucked away at Fujifilm HQ back in Japan which has left many X-Pro photographers scratching their heads looking for a better alternative than what was officially on offer from Fuji. A couple of months ago I came across this YouTube video from a Cambridgeshire based photographer, Matt Widgery and I was perplexed by his conclusions regarding the X-Pro 1 and the Yongnuo RF 603c single pin radio trigger as regards off camera flash and the X-Pro 1. Simply put, poor Matt couldn't get any of his YN setup's (either Canon or Nikon) to work with his X-Pro 1 and I could. So I posted a comment and before I knew it, I was invited to appear on his show:  

From there on, things progressed at lightning speed because I had also been doing my own laboratory testing of various OCF combinations with my X-Pro 1 which included the Canon 580mk2's, the fully dedicated Nissin i40 and the Shanny SN600c speedlights, along with my set of Yongnuo YN622c/TX and RF603c radio triggers and various makes of eTTL off camera flash cables, when I struck GOLD with the Shanny speedlights and the Yongnuo 622c/TX. 

What I had found was that I could not only successfully trigger my Shanny flashgun and fully remotely control it's power, ratio,  flash

compensation and zoom settings from a YN622tx sat in the hotshoe of the camera, set in manual mode, I could also do exactly the same thing (and here is the kicker) in TTL mode. I had discovered the X-Pro 1's OCF holy grail. So with this in hand I set off down the A10 to a Cambridgeshire village, stuck in the middle of nowhere to do my first YouTube broadcast. 

Let me tell you, making a video is bloody hard work (just remembering your lines takes it's toll) and Matt did a wonderful job of taking me step by step through the process and showing me what was going on in terms of lights, camera (sound) and action. One day, stretched into two but eventually everything was shot, rendered and uploaded. Here are the results!  I am now in the process of publishing my own and first YouTube but more on this later. Enjoy......

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Fuji X-Pro 1 (Pimped)

Last week, I turned 52! Nine weeks before my birthday, I (with some help from Donal at Fixation) decided to "buy" myself a early birthday present, which came in the form of a boxed quality used Fujifilm X-Pro1. Now, I have to admit it, I've been hankering for the X-Pro 1 since it's launch and first got my hands on one at Fujifilm's South African HQ in Johannesburg two years ago, when I was still using my a Canon G7 compact as my go-anywhere digital camera. That camera, the G7 had been "pimped" within a inch of it's life, both internally (in the form of a third party firmware namely the CHDK hack) and externally with various accessories from a company called Lensmate, which included a extra finger grip and a lens extension tube.

The trusty Canon G7 compact digital camera (un-pimped)

I intended to do exactly the same thing with the X-Pro 1. Alas, (and as previously mentioned) I was overtaken by events, which included sending back the camera to Fuji's service department in Northampton for an extensive repair and replacement of it's main board and lens mount. Yep, I had managed to dodge an very expensive bullet. My advice to anyone considering buying a 2nd hand X-Pro1 is to be very, very careful before parting with your hard earned cash. As the saying goes "buyer beware!" There are loads of bargain basement X-Pro 1's doing the rounds on Ebay, fleabay and elsewhere at the moment and many of them, dare I say, are too good to be true. If your cheap as chips X-Pro 1 doesn't come with at least a six month warranty,  I'd think again and save a few more pennies because if it goes wrong, your bargain will quick turn into a very expensive non functioning doorstop. Lucky for me, I brought mine from a trusted source (Donal from Fixation) and the guys and girls at Fujifilm did a bang up job repairing my X-Pro1 and I now have something that is as close to resembling the  performance of the upcoming Fujifilm X-Pro 2  that money could buy. So, having  established a solid baseline with this new reborn beastie, I declare, let the pimping begin.

Step 1: Firmware Upgrade. 

The first thing you should do with your X-Pro 1 after fully reading it's user manual,  is turn it on and check which firmware it's currently running, then visit Fujifilm camera support here, where you will find the latest firmware upgrade for your camera and all free of charge.

As you can see my camera is currently running firmware V3.41 and the battery is fully charged.

I cannot stress just how important taking this first simple step can be in giving you the camera you deserve (and that Fuji intended) and here I must give credit, where credit is due. Three years after it's launch Fuji has continued to fully support this camera, primarily through a series of firmware upgrades which have utterly transformed this camera into a totally different beast from that of it's launch. Three years ago,  it was a open secret that the X-Pro 1 couldn't focus for toffee. Now (as long as you separate the function of metering and focusing and learn the benefits of back button focusing) a upgraded X-Pro1 can focus in near darkness. And it's not only the body that can be given the full firmware magic treatment, Fuji's series of X-mount lenses can also be upgraded. Perform both and you should end up with a X-Pro1 which is both fast and responsive. Doing a firmware upgrade is a win-win, no brainer. Do it and do it now! Trust me, you won't regret it. 

Step Two: Protection 

The Fuji X-Pro 1 is fundamentally a street camera and as such it should be afforded some form of protection both from the elements and YOU! I have always adhered to the rule that if you look after  the tools of your trade, your tools of work WILL LOOK AFTER YOU. So with this in mind I wrap both body and lens in  neoprene pouches, keeping them nice n cosy while in transit in my canvas bag.  I call it my "ragga" look.

My X-Pro1 Bag and it's neoprene protected contents
Then there is the X-Pro 1's rear LCD screen which is a thing of beauty but very exposed to being damaged. The previous owner of my camera had had the good sense to apply a hardened glass protector over the LCD screen and judging by the amount of scratches it's taken, the screen has already proved it's worth.

Step Three: Military Grade Pimping and Sports Car Handling.

My X-Pro 1 fitted with a "Arca" style handgrip L shaped plate.

The Fuji X-Pro 1 has always been a good looking camera, even dare I say, "Leica" like which if truth be told was part of it's appeal but the addition of a quick release "Arca Type" L plate hand grip, takes the X-Pro 1's retro looks to an whole new level. The plate has other advantages too. It's base and vertical plate are 100% compatible with RRS lever-quick release clamp system which means you can easily and quickly mount your X-Pro 1 body onto a suitable "arca" type tripod head. It's extra chunky handgrip is great for people like me with big hands and fat fingers and when used together with a "Thumbs Up" grip offers up superb handling to any and all photographers employing this combo. All in all this bracket offers rock solid protection to both the bottom and the side of the camera from the daily knocks of working life but let's be clear it turns the X-Pro 1 into one bad looking gangsta camera. 

Step Four: Off Camera Flash.

The off-camera flash system for my X-Pro 1 is made up by three main components.

1. The Yongnuo "Canon" ETTL off camera flash cable.
2. The Nissin i40 "Fuji X" iTTL speedlight and finally
3. The Nikon SK-7 off camera flash bracket.

Now it's been common knowledge amongst the X-Pro 1 community that there is some kind of link between Canon and Fuji in the way they have implemented their ettl flash protocol. I chose the Yongnuo cable over that of the OEM one made by Canon because quite frankly, the Yongnuo worked better. I couldn't tell you why exactly this is the case. I've tested both the Canon and non generic Canon OCF cables and to date only found the Yongnuo cable to be fully up to the task. It don't figure. With this combo, I can use the Nissin i40 both in manual and ittl modes with the cable enabling seamless communication between the X-Pro body and the Nissin speedlite. More importantly, the flash is moved from the top of the camera to the side of it, which works fine for me as a dyed in the wool "Strobist".

My X-Pro1 as viewed from the top with the Yongnuo OCF cord in the hotshoe connected to the Nissin i40 flash.
Step Five: Full "Pimp" Custom

Henry Ford once said of the Model T that his customers could choose any colour they liked, as long as it was black. The boffins at Fujifilm (and others) have taken a rather different tact with the X-Pro1 although you wouldn't know at first glance.

I have left the best till last because this option should only be considered by those of us who truly want to turn their X-Pro 1's into a urban fashion statement. Fujifilm will, for a price, give your understated ordinary looking black X-Pro a total custom makeover. Fuji calls it their "Signature" re-skinning service and trust me when I tell you that your camera will be un-recognisible by the time they finish with it. Alas I live in North London and this would attract the wrong kind of attention but if you're living in Chelsea........

A Fuji X-Pro 1 sporting Arsenal colours 

PS: There are three other things I'd recommend which will enable you to get the most out of your X-Pro1. First off, if you can and budgets permitting, get the fastest SD memory cards that money can buy (note, I said "fastest" not largest). The second and third amount to the same thing, batteries! The energy consumption of both the X-Pro1 and the Nissin i40 speedlight is HUGH and they both eat batteries. From my limited experience the original Fuji battery that came with the camera is the best option but that alone will not last a full days shoot and that's why I'm about to order three more direct from Fuji. As for powering the Nissin, the choice is easy. A fresh set of fully charged Sanyo Eneloop AA rechargable batteries will be the order of the day. Trust me, these batteries are the lick! Get a spare set, just in case but you won't be disappointed. 

Anyway if you want to check out "What's in my Fuji X-Pro 1 bag?" go to my YouTube channel and see for yourself. 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Back from the Dead......

Me and my Fujifilm X-Pro1 back together again. If only life could be so sweet!

Last week I finally got my beloved Fuji X-Pro1 back from the dead (and Fixation) after almost two weeks away having open heart surgery at Fujifilm UK HQ in Northampton. To be precise, it had both it's main board and lens mount replaced as new, along with a new battery and though the work didn't come cheap, it was beautifully done. My honey bunny now is a marvel. Boots up is mega fast, (back button) focuses like lightning and it's low light performance is just stunning. Alas, all this goodness is useless if you DON"T READ THE USER MANUAL, because this camera also comes with quirks that will stop it,  stone cold dead! So even though I had messed around, taking pictures of the house and re-familiarizing myself with it's various controls, in the short time the camera had been away, I had forgotten it's caveats. So last night, I set out to London Town, with my camera tucked inside my satchel, where I was to meet my friend and colleague, Paul "Ducky" Rodgers and his assistant Anna, on one of their many "jobs" covering a large Asian wedding, with the intention of giving my new assistant, Ales,  a bit of "on the job training". Well that was the plan anyway. The event was running late and we boys ended up watching Wales V South Africa play in the Rugby World Cup on Paul's iphone 6. When I did eventually pull my baby out of my bag, it was to follow Paul into the main hall where the reception was taking place and snap a few photo's of the set tables, etc, etc......All without flash. The hall itself was dimly lit and very atmospheric and presented a perfect opportunity to test the focussing and low light capabilities of my Fuji. I was blown away! The damn thing just worked.....But I didn't! I was rusty.....

1/3th of a sec, F4 @800asa handheld.

Then I decided to pull out my Nissin i40 Fuji Speedlight to take some photo's in and around Paul's studio and immediately things started to go wrong.  First the camera jammed solid and refused to fire and all of a sudden I remembered that I had forgotten the "caveats". First, I went into the camera's menu and set the camera to "forced flash". No joy! Then I switched the drive mode from "C" continuous to "S" single but still no joy. I was stumped to what to do next, until I spotted another photographer with a Fuji XT1 with the very same Nissin i40 sat in the hotshoe. God is good and god is great. My camera was in "silent mode" and with this final adjustment, I was back in business. Alas the batteries inside in flashgun were on their last legs and I had forgotten to bring any spares.  Why oh why does this camera and anything attached to it, just sucks the life out of batteries in double quick time? Fuji, are you hearing me?  Longer extended battery life wouldn't go amiss in the new upcoming X-Pro2. And so I plodded on to see what I could get....

1/125th sec F2.8 @800iso, manual flash set a 1/8th power bounced into the ceiling.
Ducky in the Dark. 1/60th sec F2,8 @ 800iso. No flash!

Now don't get me wrong, I will first need to return to the user manual for the umpteenth time before I can fully master this camera, as well as practice, practice, practice. And here I give nuff thanks to the miracle that is the internet for ONE very good reason. The X-Pro 1 is almost four years old and so alas is it's user manual. Since it's launch, it's undergone several firmware upgrades which have both addressed most if not all of it's early shortcomings (such as poor focussing) and transformed it into a totally different beast. This is NOT reflected in the manual, which has remained the same from day one. Here, both Google and YouTube come to the rescue. If you are like me and a newcomer to the Fuji X-Pro 1 system, my advise would be to let your fingers do the walking and check out the many reviews and tips to be found on the interweb, the first being FujiFilm's own website, where you can download and install the latest firmware upgrades for both your camera and lenses, as well as reading up on the latest info. Irrespective of it's age, make no doubt about it, this camera ROCKS!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

First Light of the Lonely I.

It's been three years since I lost my Sharon. Three long lonely years of living in limbo and soaking my savings. In that time my health has gone south for the winter, my right knee is shot to pieces and my blood pressure has gone through the roof. Yet, three years later, something has changed! I can't really put my finger on it but in the last three weeks, I've started to live, as opposed to merely survive. I'm back on my mountain bike ( and soon back in the pool), venturing out into the world and watching movies with perfect strangers. More than anything else though, I'm starting to enjoy my photography. And this is the weird thing, to the best of my knowledge, this change of fortune is all down to a non functioning Fuji X-Pro 1.

My Fuji X-Pro in better days!
I have owned this camera now for less than a month and from the beginning it wasn't right. A quick trip to Fixation and a firmware upgrade later, saw a vast improvement in performance (especially with regards to back button focusing). But the camera itself was still flaky and freezing at any given moment rendering it useless for day to day shooting. So a week later I returned it to Donal and as I write this, my honey bunny is having open heart surgery at FujiFilm UK HQ in Northamptonshire. In the very short time I've had the pleasure of using the X-Pro 1, it has made me realise, like never before, just how lazy I've been with my interactions with the average DSLR. This broken down, mashed up, non functioning paper weight has forced me to re-think the way I make pictures and learn again the mechanics and science behind it. Truth be told, I've been a lost soul for a very long time, long before Sharon's passing. For too long, mentally,  I've been in a bad place and Sharon's illness and subsequent death didn't help matters. I have become a man out of place and out of time. Part of my loathing for all things digital came from the bad experience I had with the Nikon D1 and my time at Trident Communications which quite frankly, sucked! Alas, even I have to admit the modern D.S.L.R has grown and matured in ways inconceivable in the 14 years since I left their employ but for me, it was all too little, too late, the damage was already done. How could I work with a technology that I didn't trust?

Far from my beloved South Africa and the death of a loved one does strange things to a man, trust me. Alas, it seems that God does indeed have a sense of humour and giving me a broken X-Pro 1  was just one of his jokes. It's been quite a journey, just to get here, reading manuals and watching YouTube. Hearing the penny drop! How could this be? I can only put it down to the fact that the X-Pro 1 is a throw back to the good old days of film, my first love, before Billinghurst. The X-Pro 1 is tactile and mechanical and ole skool familiar and though I didn't fully understand it, it instilled in me trust instead of fear. It is NOT a modern take on an DSLR come rangefinder (aka Leica) but more like a digital reboot of a familiar friend. A trusted friend.

So my health is work in progress, work in slow to non existent  and finding an reliable, honest 1st assistant has proved to be one of the worse experiences of my professional life (more about this later). Truly I would not wish this upon my worse enemy (apart from a certain lowlife cretin from Worcester) but slowly and surely I'm working my way through it, one problem at a time, which brings me nicely to a lady called Alessandra.

I first met Ales via the free online dating app "Plenty of Fish" a year ago and we have been on and off friends ever since, with me trying my hardest to get her to work for me. In the meanwhile poor ole Ales has had her own issues to deal with, which lead us to meetup in Shoreditch for a catch-up brunch, whereupon she told me about a small photography project she was involved in. A friend of hers needed a few "fashion" shots taken for her fledgling business and Ales offered up herself and her humble Canon EOS 550D and Sigma 70-300 telephoto to the task. And I offered to come along for a easy afternoon, carrying her bags and my Strobist kit (and a 5Dmk3 and a 24-70L, just in case). The next day, saw us in a small council flat in Hornsey with a nervous one woman business owner, a amateur model and a collection of clothes and that was it! It didn't take too long for me and Ales to get into our groove but whereas Ales wanted to just press the shutter and hope for the best, I slowed down and my mind started to think and my eyes started to roam. What I soon realised was that even though my X-Pro 1 was far away having it's guts ripped out, it's spirit was here with me in a cream coloured living room, in North East London. We had beautiful diffused light, a low white ceiling and a black model, so out came a single Shanny SN600c speedlight, a Yongnuo YN622c radio slave and a stand, with the speedlight being bounced into the ceiling.  We then underexposed the ambient light by about a stop and let the flash do the rest. Ales was in her element. The picture below was shot with a single bare off camera flash, bounced into a low white ceiling, camera right and that was it! Keeping it simple, really does have it's advantages. 

Not a bad effort at all from OUR Ales and her Canon consumer DSLR.
Me, I was looking for something else and I found it in the lobby and soon we had the poor model shuttling between the two locations. This time I wanted the light to be a little more directional, so I placed my speedlight into a umbrella box and stood it as close to the model as possible. Maybe a little too close, as I later discover that some of that light had spilled onto the artwork. A small mistake, easily fixed in post production in Photoshop ( or pre-propduction by the use of a flag ). Can't wait to get my Fuji back though........All in all in was a good afternoon's "work".

All of the shots here were taken with a single off camera flash, either bounced into a low white ceiling and dressed in a umbrella box

This was taken in the public lobby area and I hope you agree it made for a perfect backdrop. All of the photo's here were taken with a single (off camera) Shanny SN600c speedlight, remotely triggered by a pair of Yongnuo YN 622c Radio Transceivers.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Fly Me to the Moon.......

There are certain global events which happen from time to time that grabs everyone's attention and the blood red lunar ellipse  of the "Super Moon" was one of them. So last week, I found myself on the pavement just outside my house, looking up into the night sky with my Sigma 120-300mm attached to my Canon 1DmkIV. Alas I couldn't get the whole rig to sit right on the pan and tilt head of my manfrotto tripod. It was like stirring mud. Every move I made, the tripod countered it. However much I tried, it simply refused to work. And then this happened:

This is the second of two shots I managed to grab of the plane "flying to the moon".

Lucky for me,  I had consulted google before setting out on this particular night time adventure because until then I had no idea how I was going to photograph a full moon. I've said this before and I'll say it again. Knowledge is power. If you don't know how to do something, ASK! So the first thing I did, even before setting up my camera, zoom telephoto upon a unruly tripod was to focus, frame and set my exposure.  This alone took a few minutes and was very hit and miss but once I was happy, I locked in all the settings and was just about to move my eye away from the viewfinder, when I spotted it!. Something was moving fast across the face of the moon and in that instant, I tripped the shutter, twice. The rest was pure instinct and luck! I was in the right place at the right time and with the right equipment. And thank you Sigma for the miracle that is Optical Stabilization. Words cannot describe how happy I am with the results. I didn't set out to get this shot but the opportunity came along and I grabbed it. I really wanted to shared  my happiness. Alas unbeknown to me,  my neighbour and keen amateur photographer, Emin, was busy across the road in his back garden doing the same thing and pointing his camera skywards. So when I phoned to inform Emin of my good luck, he told me to come round pronto! We spent the rest of the evening, enjoying each others company but still I couldn't  get my tripod to work and so off came the Swiss Acra plate that I had fixed onto the tripod mount of my Sigma Bigma. Still no luck! Then we swapped tripod's to see if that would fix the problem, only to discover that it wouldn't. This moon was quickly driving me to madness. Time flies when you're having fun and soon it was time for Emin to go bed and for me to return home but the night had only just begun and 3.00am in the morning saw me making my way to up the hill to Alexandria Palace for a better view of the moon turning red. I was far from alone. Here I met Canadian, Kevin Skeoch and his family with his Nikon prosumer DSLR and I was flabbergasted by what I saw on the back screen of his camera compared to mine. 

The Blood Red Moon taken from Alley Pally, North East London.

We were both shooting at 6400asa, except the files coming out straight out of his camera were smoother, had more detail and little noise compared to what I was getting.  The difference was stark and clear for everyone to see. Canon, when are you going to finally get your act together and give us a prosumer DSLR that I can actually use in Low light? WHEN? Thank you FujiFilm for the miracle that is the X-Pro 1. The low light performance of this revolutionary digital rangefinder camera puts that of the 1DX into a cocked hat. Just a shame that mine is in for repair...........Oh and the next time I point my Bigma skywards for a bit of night time fun under the stars, I'm going to be using one of these things:

The best accessory for mounting a Sigma 120-300 onto a tripod, the Wimberley Gimbal.

Friday, 25 September 2015

The Scream

Me at the Emirates Stadium with my Canon 7D, Tamron 170-50 and my 580mk2 flash.

Three hours after this photo was taken of me screaming pitch-side at Arsenal's Emirates Stadiums, in North London, I kissed goodbye (and screamed for real) as over eight grand of my "sports" equipment was stolen right off the doorstep just outside my house, on returning home after covering a charity football match. That was the last time I saw this:

1.Canon 1DMk3 Body
2.Canon 7D Body
3. Canon 70-200 L F2.8
4. Tamron 17-50mm
5. Sigma 1.5 Lens Extender
6. Canon 560EX Mk2 Flashgun
7. Godox External Powerpack
8. Various accessories including spare batteries.
9.  Eight CF Cards of various sizes and speeds. 
................But that wasn't all because the scumbags also managed to grab this:

My beloved Sigma 120-300 F2.8 HSM OS Mk1 Telephoto Zoom
It was the first time in more than 30 years of professional photography, that I had been the victim of such a crime and let me tell you, it hurt like a bitch but it didn't hurt nowhere near as bad than the day the life of my wife, was taken from me. Gear can be replaced. Human beings can't! Alas it was still a painful lesson learned. In Tottenham, (or anywhere in the capital for that matter) you NEVER let your guard down. I did and in less than 90 seconds, it was GONE, the only thing "they" left behind being a Manfrotto monopod. It is times like these when you find out who your friends are and my very best friend and neighbour, Charlotte, set about calming me down and sorting things out, like the insurance and here again it was Sharon who came to the rescue. Before she died Sharon had insisted that both the house, it contents and all of our event photography equipment be fully insured and placed on a rolling direct debit. In all the commotion of her passing and me loosing the plot in the aftermath of her death, I had plum forgotten about this. It wasn't until the morning and a call to my insurance broker, Adduki and a visit to my bank that I confirmed to my immense relief that this was indeed the case. So panic over,  I set about, over a space of almost nine weeks and the help of Ray Flitchett (Sigma UK) and Donal Ogilvie (Fixation), replacing all of my stolen kit and first up, was the Sigma 120-300 OS Sport which Ray managed to source for me at DPB Photographic in Brighton. Apart from a Think Tank Airport V2 Roller Case (again from Ray) all the rest of my gear was sourced either via Donal at Fixation or my online friend, Ebay. And here it is:

Finally done and dusted! My "sports" kit which now includes a Canon 1DmkIV instead of my Canon 7D and a Canon 17-40 F4L & Nifty fifty instead of the Tamron 17-50 F2.8.
Since the robbery, I've had a state of the art CCTV system installed and my home alarm system renewed because these days it is better to be safe than sorry. This hasn't been a pleasant experience and it really did knock me back but with a little help from my friends (which includes three members of the Metropolitan Police), I managed to get through it but NEVER AGAIN! Has for the lowlife scum who did this to me, I sincerely hope that what goes around comes around and that they get theirs.