The Joy of X – GFX

Fujifilm GFX with Vertical grip
Fujifilm GFX

I don’t really do excitement over cameras, they are just there to do a job. I don’t really go in for camera porn, unboxing videos or any such nonsense, frankly it bores me.

Also before I go any further I will say that I do work very closely with Fujifilm, but that doesn’t mean I just spout the PR line and be a puppet. My view here is my own, unbiased and an honest review of using a camera that I was loaned for a few days.

By now you will have all heard of the Fujifilm GFX, a 50 megapixel mirrorless medium format camera. I’m sure you’ll have seen the images of stunning quality by Wayne Johns and Damien Lovegrove plus many others.

You will have also noticed that most of these images are studio based, with excellent lighting.

I don’t do flash, I don’t really do people if I can help it, I do landscape, usually in the rain.

Also you should note I am not a pixel peeper or super techie geek, I go purely on feel and print quality. The camera has to be a subconscious extension of me, I don’t want to have to think about, feel or experience it in anyway. It can’t get in the way.

The warning from Fujifilm was “Don’t drop it or drown it!” . I smashed my X-Pro2 during testing, so they were understandably nervous of my reputation.

Given the short amount of time I was able to have to the GFX I literally set off straight to one of my favourite locations in Romney Marsh in Kent.

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The Fujifilm GFX50S dangerously close to getting wet!

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My first impression was that it was lighter and smaller than I had initially expected. The user interface is very much like every Fujifilm X-series camera.

You can add an angled viewfinder and an extra battery grip, if you so desire.

In reality I wouldn’t use the battery grip or the angled finder that both come as extras, the screen is massive, bright and very clear  – plus it is touch sensitive which you can turn off. The screen also articulates in the same was as the X-T2.

In fact if you gave the X-T2 a course of steroids, you get the GFX50s. Without the battery grip it weighs the same  – give or take a little bit – as the X-T2 with its battery grip.

The viewfinder that comes supplied can be removed from the hot shoe to give an even smaller profile.

The styling is nice, although in my opinion it’s not as pretty as the rest of the Fujifilm range, and some would argue that the other mirrorless medium format camera by Hasselblad is somewhat prettier, which is fair.

However the GFX has been designed to a tool, to be used and not to be put behind glass and fawned over.  In the hand it feels like a Mamiya 7, which was for me the perfect medium format camera.

Speaking of hands, all the knobs, dials and buttons fall easily to the fingertips, making it quick to use and the adjustments are positive. Yes there are locks on the shutterspeed and ISO dials to stop moving them by mistake.

The layout of the GFX is simple and intuituve
The layout is very similar to the X-T2 making adjustments to your exposure is simple and easy.

Finally Fujifilm have given us a low ISO – the GFX goes down to 100 and stretches easily up to 12800, with more if you need it.

Now the exciting bit – the shutter speeds go all the way from 1/4000 – 60 minutes, oh happy day, I worship at the feet of Mr Fujifilm and his team. Total bliss for someone like me who uses long exposure as an excuse for sitting in the sunshine!

It also has dual card slots, takes the regular RR90 cable release and shoots video too. You access the battery compartment from the side which means you don’t have to remove it from your tripod if the battery suddenly dies.

The batteries are bigger and specifically for the GFX, Fujifilm claim you’ll get 400 shots but in terms of real shooting I got two full days using long exposures before the battery died. My unscientific test included lots of reviewing images and leaving the screen on even while walking around Venice leading a workshop!

How does it fare in the rain? Well I left it outside in the rain – sorry Fujifilm – but someone had to!

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The GFX was given a little shelter at the start of the rain storm but I felt it needed to get wet in the end!

After a gentle introduction to weather (I allowed it to shelter under my Blunt Umbrella) I retired to shelter leaving the camera outside for half an hour – it worked, with no sign of leaks in the card slot, battery compartment or the cover that hides the USB sockets. All good.

The lenses I was able to use – the 32-64 zoom and the 120mm macro – were both excellent, razor sharp and both fast to focus. Frustratingly the macro doesn’t do 1:1, but there are ways around that.

The lenses also take filters in the normal way, my Lee 100mm system was perfect and no cut off was evident  – although I wouldn’t expect on the 32-64 anyway.

Talking of filters, because the shutter speeds go all the way down to 60 minutes, when you attach the Big or Super stopper you can still see the image on screen which means long exposure photography just got a whole lot easier for a number of people who struggle to work out the exposure time.

I also enjoyed being able to switch aspect ratios through from a proper panoramic 6×17 to a more common 16×9, 4×3, 3×2, 1×1. The film simulations are there too for those who want the Velvia or Acros experience while shooting superfine jpegs.

Shooting at night is something I really enjoy, the GFX handled sulking around in the dark without breaking a sweat. The two images below one made at 30 seconds the other for 8 minutes have zero noise evident in the shadows, I do shoot to the right to get as much information in the shadows as possible. There is nothing muddy about the way the shadows are rendered.

In fact the quality of the prints I have made has stunned me, the detail and crispness of the images has to be seen to believed.

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The 32-64 lens is very versatile with excellent detail and sharpness across the entire focal range.
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Eight minutes exposure, zero noise in the shadows and the detail recorded it staggering.

So does the bigger camera get in the way, was I conscious it was there, did it feel like a brick?

Honestly no, perhaps because I’m used to the way Fujifilm lay out their cameras the step up felt entirely natural. Strangely using the camera I slowed down even more than I usually, the larger screen made the camera seem invisible to me while I was working with it. In fact I had the biggest smile on my face and wanted to take more pictures.

As I have been an evangelist about switching to Fujifilm X-Series because of the lighter weight, it must feel like I’m being a bit contradictory. But I’m not, yes it is heavier than the current Fujifilm range, the lenses certainly are, but when compared with a DSLR the GFX still wins out, because you get a beautiful large file, housed in a relatively light compact body that doesn’t feel like you are holding a brick.

At around £6199 for the body and £2200 for the 32-64 it is going to make your pocket lighter but I have to admit that I have ordered one because for my photography, the size I reproduce my images it is a no brainer, my work is worth the investment.

Below are some images that I shot while testing the Fujifilm GFX50s.

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Shot using the 120mm macro lens

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It’s Christmas,treat yourself, be self indulgent, shoot a photography project and feel the joy.

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El Puro in his home La Josefa, Cuba.

As this year draws to a close and new one gets underway it’s a good time to take stock, assess where you’re at and whether you have moved on as a photographer or just sat in your comfort zone.

It’s very easy for all of us to find a formula or genre that works for us and just stick to it, ignoring all other styles of photography and sadly reaching a plateau of creativity.

I find myself struggling for inspiration at times, much the same as any creative person, it’s hard to keep the energy and creativity going all the time. I get stale, bored and tired.

What about you, ask yourself this simple question – Are you still shooting the same subjects in the same way as you did last year, or the year before?

If you answered yes, or maybe – and lets face it we all shoot to our strengths or inside our comfort zone. Then perhaps a little photographic self help is called for?

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions as I normally fail by January 3rd, but I do set goals and challenges for myself. I never say I’m giving up this or that but I challenge myself to try something new. These challenges take the form of projects or workshops in different genres of photography that terrify me.

A project can be invigorating, challenging and frustrating but do it, even if you do just one in the year try it, you will be surprised at how a simple project can open your eyes further in your preferred genre of photography.

If you challenge yourself in any aspect of your life you will get more out of it. By removing the security blanket and stepping outside of your comfort zone magic will happen, maybe not immediately but it will come, it always does. Try it, you won’t like it, it’ll feel like you are wearing your shoes on the wrong feet but you will benefit from it.

Now don’t think I’m talking about a 365, 52 or 12 shots a year project, I personally find those too much, and instead of inspiring me they have a negative effect on me.

I hate shooting people, street or portraits, it’s a confidence thing. So at the beginning of 2016 I vowed to myself that I would shoot a set of portraits to force myself into confronting my fear of talking to strangers and taking their picture.

I’ll freely admit that this idea had a few stalled starts and almost didn’t happen but I did get there in the end.

My project eventually actually came out of joke during a Light and Land workshop in Cuba, a street artist did a portrait of one of our clients, he gave her a few coins for the drawing. Shortly afterwards as a joke I took a picture of her skulking in a by a wall sketching her next victim, I printed the image from my Fujifilm X-T2 via my phone to my little Instax SP-2 printer – it produces an instant print, about the size of a credit card. The huge smile that crossed her face when I gave her the image really touched me and I knew that was how I would shoot my project.

A street artist holds an Instax print of a picture I shot of her working
My first street portrait victim, the image itself wasn’t the best but the inspiration it gave me kickstarted the project at last.

For the next ten days or so I stopped interesting people took their portraits and then gave them prints, they instantly got excited and started showing their friends, the laughter and joy they all shared was incredibly inspiring and gave me the confidence to approach random strangers and shoot in a way I have never done before.

In a strange way it reinforced why I am a photographer, because i get great joy from taking pictures and sharing them with other people. Yes I pontificated over asking people – my Spanish is poor, my self confidence low, I always worry about being annoying or appearing rude. But somehow the anticipation of sharing those tiny photographs helped me overcome the fear.

Whatever project you choose the key is to set a challenge that tests you, however to make it a success set yourself some rules.

Be disciplined about the shoots. Perhaps write yourself a brief and list your ideas for it, imagine that you have to deliver the images to your worst critic – YOU!

If it goes wrong don’t give up, talk to other photographers you know, ask for their help if you are struggling. Also share your thoughts and fears with a friend in your club, perhaps make it a club challenge too, certainly it makes a great talking point.

Don’t worry if others don’t like it or understand your motivation for it, that really doesn’t matter, you don’t even need to share it with the world.

The most important thing to remember is that photography is fun, you should be able to look back admit (with hindsight) that you have enjoyed the challenge and improved as photographer.

Good luck!!

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Eduardo crocodile conservationist
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Mario drinks salesman
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Me sharing images in a bar
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A family in Trinidad laugh at their photograph
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Davide Onion Farmer
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Clara Railway station controller
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Jorge shoe shiner
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Aluminara cleaner

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Lasara
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Carlos barber
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Mosi and Brasilia share their instax portrait
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El Flack and family
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Ernesto former soldier
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Iralme greengrocer

A Game Changer – the Fujifilm GFX

Fujifilm GFX with Vertical grip

 

Fujifilm announced at Photokina that they intend to launch a mirrorless medium format camera, aimed at professional studio, fashion and fine art photographers.

The Fujifilm GFX is certainly something to look forward to when it hits the shops next year, boasting 51.4 megapixels, the mirrorless body and beautiful design have been careful thought through to give the best of the now trademark lightweight body, with exceptional quality images and a new range of lenses.

However it was not the size or shape , number of pixels or any of the technical information released that excited me.

It was the one line in the press release that accompanied the launch yesterday afternoon – “a camera is a tool for producing artwork,”

This is the Fujifilm philosophy and one that I fully believe in.

Fuji has a long history of producing the finest papers and films, but also its pedigree in medium format cameras and lens is second to none.

If you look back at the medium format cameras Fuji have produced in the past they are all simple, un-cluttered, they are designed to aid the photographer get the very best image they can without getting in the way of that creative process.

The GFX is designed with the same core value, it doesn’t scream look at me, it’s not huge or flashy, it is simple and understated  – it’s a tool for a job.

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There is a demand for high quality images commercially and in the art world, Fujifilm have listened to the photographers advising them, they have taken on board exactly what the working professional and fine art photographers need in a camera and they have delivered it in a simple yet beautiful body.

In my opinion there is too much stuff on most cameras, modes, functions, custom functions, more is made of the technical specifications than image quality sometimes.

Since I switched to Fujifilm cameras and began working closely with them the thing they care about most is the images produced on their equipment, it is all about the image. Yes they make cameras and want to sell lots of them but the overriding philosophy is that it’s the image that matters most – and to me that is what really sold me on Fuji cameras and lenses.

We know that the new sensor will be of the most incredible quality, Fujifilm know a thing or two about getting the best out of their electronics and image processing. The 51.4 megapixel sensor will be capable of delivering the finest details and unbelievable texture to the images created with the GFX.

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The electronic viewfinder will be removable and have an optional mount to allow the positioning of it in the optimal place for the shoot you are doing. I just love that Fuji have understood how photographers work!

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No matter how good a camera is, or the sensor within it, the glass in front of it makes the biggest difference. Fujifilm have made the most incredible optics for years, their large format lenses are some of the very best ever produced, the dazzling array of X-series lenses delivering sharpness, colour and contrast rendition of the very highest standards will naturally be expected and furthermore delivered by the six new G mount lenses.

The line-up includes;

1. Standard prime “GF63mmF2.8 R WR” (equivalent to 50mm in the 35mm format)

2. Wide-angle standard zoom “GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR” (equivalent to 25-51mm in

the 35mm format)

3. Mid-telephoto macro 1:0.5 “GF120mmF4 Macro R LM OIS WR” (equivalent to

95mm in the 35mm format)

4. Fast aperture mid-telephoto “GF110mmF2 R LM WR” (equivalent to 87mm in the

35mm format)

5. Ultra wide “GF23mmF4 R LM WR” (equivalent to 18mm in the 35mm format)

6. Wide “GF45mmF2.8 R WR” (equivalent to 35mm in the 35mm format)

The 120mm macro is high on my list of desirables as is the 23mm, I do hope they will look at the feasibility of tilt-shift lens for the the GFX, I think this is a system where that type of lens will warrant the R&D.

I am more excited about the release of the GFX than any other camera. For me, being able to get back into using a medium format camera, that is lightweight and designed simply to help me create my images without getting in the way, will be a joy that underlines the reason I am a photographer.

 

Fujifilm X-T2 unveilled

Today Fujifilm have announced the much anticipated and over leaked X-T2. So finally I can say that truthfully this camera is out there and is wonderful to handle.

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The camera has all the good looks of its predecessor but has been redesigned based on photographers feedback. The magnesium body has weather resistant sealing to suit rugged outdoor conditions, this professional body is slightly larger than the Fujifilm X-T1 due to improved control dials that turn easily with or without gloves.

In the hand it feels chunky but not over big, it also feels less flimsy than the X-T1, the buttons and dials all have a very positive action so there is less chance of accidentally knocking the settings.

The design of the body has been altered to fit more comfortably in the hand, I really like the new feel, it feels like a professional camera, and when the new grip is added it really has the feel true photographers camera.

The very impressive 24.3MP APS-C X Trans CMOS III sensor, featured on the X-Pro2, has already proved its worth to photographers but now with the addition of 4K and 2K video formats opens up the incredible range to professional videographers too. When filming video expect incredible sharpness and low noise when recording up to a maximum of ISO 12800.

One thing I am overjoyed with is the new screen, now it tilts three ways, which means that when you are shooting in the vertical format as well as the horizontal orientations you can flip out the screen for easy viewing of your subject when working at low angles or above head height.

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Of course Fuji being Fuji don’t stop there. The X-T2 features an electronic shutter with a limit of 1/32,000 second, an Intelligent Hybrid Phase detection AF,  a 2.36 Million dots Electronic Viewfinder and dual SD UHS-II memory card slots that will capture up to 14 frames per second with the Performance Boost Mode turned on.

The new vertical power booster grip adds performance too, as well as holding two extra batteries (these too have been redesigned) the VPB-XT2 will increase frame rate to an incredible 14 fps and decrease the shutter lag when shooting video.

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When shooting at 14fps you can record up to 42 jpeg or 28 RAW files before the camera needs to catch up. You can of course select a slower shooting rate which will extend the shooting and recording rate before the buffer kicks in.

The new Intelligent Hybrid Phase detection autofocus will allow you to select up to 325 autofocus points allowing for precise focus. What this means is no matter whether the subject is within the frame, the camera will autofocus very quickly to pick up the subject.

The autofocus is fully customisable too, allowing you to adjust the tracking to your preferred style of shooting depending on the subject you are tracking.

From my limited testing of the X-T2, action photographers are going to love the faster focussing and active tracking, it really is fast and accurate.

The X-T2’s ISO range of 200 – 12800 (RAW shooting) is exactly the same as the Fujifilm X-Pro2. When recording at high ISO like 3200 or 6400 photographers will find images and video to be very clear resulting in smooth graduation and deeper blacks.

The X-T2 can also be used to command up to three flashes – Fuji have also announced the EF EX500 flash – not being a flash user I can’t comment on this. However it will be nice to have a dedicated flash system that really works.

I only had a limited time using the X-T2 and because of all the leaks, I wasn’t even allowed to take it away from the office but I was seriously impressed with it. I will be testing one in the very near future so expect a full in detail update from me soon.

Twice as nice..

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One of the issues we as photographers have is never quite having a long enough lens for the shot we want to achieve.

There are three options open to us;  move closer, buy a longer heavier lens and carry it around on the off chance it may be needed or buy a two times teleconverter.

Sarah Jones at Cambrian Photography asked me to review the new Fuji 2x teleconverter.

Fuji have just launched their 2x converter, for those not familiar with these little bits of kit they lock on to the back of your telephoto or telephoto zoom lens – in my case the 50-140 f2.8, – and then the camera body attaches to the converter, transforming your 50-140 in to a 100 – 280mm, with a subsequent loss of 2 aperture stops so the 2.8 becomes 5.6.

 

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With converters you are adding glass at the back of the lens, the problem that some manufacturers have is that the additional glass between lens and body affects image quality adversely.

Fuji have worked hard to maintain the high optical standards their X series lenses are known for, and have managed to keep any colour, contrast and sharpness issues to a minimum, certainly with the 50-140, I haven’t tried it on the 100-400. The overall feel of the converter is really nice, when I lifted it from the box it was heavier than I thought it would be but 170g isn’t  much to add to my bag.

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The shot at the top of this page is the remains of Herne Bay Pier, it was taken as the sun was going down to the left of the frame, it’s made up of 8 vertical frames stitched together. The camera settings were 2 min 43 seconds exposure and the lens was set to f2.8, with the converter attached. The image is made from the jpgs out of the camera and stitched together in Lightroom.

The converter performs well, there is a little loss of contrast as you shoot more towards the light but it is a crisp as I would have expected it to be.

Back at home I ran my usual sharpness test…

I attach a page of a newspaper to the bedroom door and with the camera mounted on a tripod I shoot the page of newsprint and blow it up to 1:1, it’s not very scientific but allows me to see how sharp the lens or converter is and what the overall contrast and sharpness is like.

Here are the comparison images, they wont be the most exciting pictures you will see. All are straight from the camera, unsharpened with no retouching just cropping in Lightroom.

1; 50×140 f2.8 uncropped at 140mm

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2; 50-140 F2.8 cropped 1:1

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3, 50-140 plus 2x converter uncropped at 140mm (effective focal length 280mm) at F2.8

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4, 50-140 plus 2x converter at 140mm (effective focal length 280mm)and cropped to 1:1

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5, The same image but taken at F6.3 and cropped the same – notice the sharpening of the edges of the text.

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You can see the slight drop in contrast with the converter and the slight loss of sharpness when used with the lens wide open but as soon as you stop down the converter performs really well.

The converter is priced around £350, weighs in at 170g and is weather resistant too. As a lightweight addition to your camera bag I can really recommend this little fella.

If you want a really technical look at the 2x teleconverter and understand the lens performance graphs then please visit :

 http://www.fujifilm.com/products/digital_cameras/x/fujinon_lens_xf2x_tc_wr/specifications/

Money, money, money must be funny…

Having been a professional photographer since 1988, and I can say this industry has been good to me. I’ve seen amazing places, experienced history as it is made and met some inspiring people while working alongside some of the world’s best photographers. All while being paid to do it. I’m lucky, yes I know very lucky.

Sadly the industry I love is slowly being eroded as the mass appeal of photography drives down the price of the service, images and skills that many photographers offer.

Many people are happy to accept a by-line for an image published by a newspaper, organisations are keen to get reader/user generated content because “everyone can take a picture”. Sadly Because of this desire for content the value put on those who make, create and generate images professionally is at an all time low.

I regularly get emails asking me to speak, write or run training courses and workshops for companies. Recently the number of emails I get that tell me how much they like my work, are impressed by my industry credibility, have heard how I can teach photography in an easy to understand way and how my talks have held audiences in rapt silence – all very nice – then comes that sting, we would love you to come and do whatever it is you do but we don’t have the budget.

Today I had four emails back to back, all asking roughly the same thing and all stating that they didn’t have the budget but how they could see the value of what I have to offer to their clients and colleagues.

So what’s in it for me? Selfish, it’s all about me!

A talk takes on average about around two days to prepare, yes some are rehashed but even they take a day of re-editing, scripting, building and checking running times.

A workshop can easily take up to a week to put together so that people can turn up and – weather permitting – be taken to wonderful locations and shown how to shoot them.

Apparently I’ll get exposure to people who may buy my images, meet interesting like minded people and have an enjoyable time doing it, oh and there’s tea and cake. There’s always tea and cake!

I think I am partly to blame for some of this, as Picture Editor of The Times I was forced by the budget constraints to acquire images as cheaply as possible. Delivered to some photographers that because I couldn’t afford them I was having to let them go and shot a picture of a courgette in the office to avoid paying the £25 required by one agency.

I do occasionally work for nothing, the church I go to –  I’ll happily shoot for them for free, there are certain charities I have provided images for free as a way of supporting them. I know that perhaps this go against the grain of some, but we each have our way of dealing with things that are important to us. From time to time I’ll exchange my skills with those of some one else – my barber, he got shots for his website, I get haircuts, a plumber I know, he repaired a small leak I did a portrait of his daughter.

What offends me most of all though, is the people who fire off an email asking for me to work for free are usually on a payroll, rock up at 9am, leave at 5pm and get paid for their holidays or sick leave. But they seem to think that exposure or a nice time with tea and cake will pay my mortgage or my bill at the supermarket.

I don’t have a huge bank balance or wastefully dine on swans, I live a fairly simply, just wanting a fair day’s pay for the work I do, the value these people acknowledge but object paying for.

To add to the insult when I mention that really there should be a fee, they react as if I have punched them on the nose!

Genuinely I love what I do. It’s my choice to be a photographer, it was my choice to work hard, long hours gaining the experience that has allowed me to follow my dreams and my heart to shoot the work I do.

I am a photographer, I have a value, my time has a value, my experience, and creativity has a value.

Please don’t ask me to work for free unless you, your boss and the entire staff work for free and provide free products to the public for their own enjoyment – then yes I’ll work for free or at least a skills exchange.

 

 

The New Generation X

I converted to the Fuji X series system two and half years ago and I can honestly say it suits my style of photography. I like my cameras small and light – unobtrusive but with incredible lenses.

For me photography isn’t about the technical, pixel peeping or my kit is bigger, faster than yours. It’s solely about being able to produce the images that work for me.

My X-Pro1 and X-T1s have done a fantastic job. However I had always wanted a slightly bigger file size, maybe slightly faster focussing perhaps a wider ISO range.

My prayers to the Fuji fairy were answered in the X-Pro2

I’ve been very lucky and since November I have been field testing the X-Pro2 or Leo as it was secretly known!

The camera itself is very similar in feel to the original X-Pro1, design and weight haven’t changed too much, it retains that classic look that we all love.

But it boasts a lovely new X-Trans III  sensor that delivers a 24MP file.

The hybrid viewfinder is better laid out and the information displayed is customisable both in optical  (OVF)and electronic (EVF) modes. Personally I prefer the EVF which allows you to monitor white balance and see the subtle changes in exposure.

The shutter is new too, allowing up to 1/8000th of second plus a flash sync of 1/250th.

The clever chaps a Fujifilm have managed to squeeze more focussing points in too, up from 49 to 77. It’s easy to change the focussing point too with a simple flick button on the back which requires a positive movement by the user.

It even features dual SD card slots.

What I really like is that all the key controls can be operated without taking your eye from the viewfinder. 

The iSO dial has been moved so that it sits with in the shutter speed dial, the exposure compensation can be expanded to +/-5 stops too. The ISO sensitivity runs from 200-12800 but can be expanded in jpg from 100 – 51200.

Fuji have added a my menu so you can add up to 16 commonly used commands for quick access.

The body is tough and feels incredibly robust, however I can say that I have the dubious honour to be the first person to write one off!

While testing the X-Pro2, and to be honest falling in love with it, I was shooting in Lyme Regis on the south coast of England in high winds and rain – the camera is very weather proof – but when high winds and waves batter the tripod the camera was on to the point of knocking it over, I can report that when it falls from about 6 feet on to solid rock it does dent the body and bits did fall off – mainly filters and the lens!

Sorry Fuji, I didn’t mean to test it to destruction!

If you want a small light camera that delivers on everything then look no further than the X-Pro2 it is an incredible piece of kit, I love it.

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