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.