The web is full of of the exciting side of photography, cameras, lenses, photoshop, discussions about full frame vs mirrorless etc, etc
But few about the humble tripod which of course has a massive effect on our, well my, photography. Try long exposures without a tripod.
When I brought my tripod ;
I was loading 5×4 film into dark slides and using a 5×4 inch monorail camera.
All of those years it has received use and abuse but it has taken all that I have thrown at it and carried on regardless. What makes it more impressive is that I brought it used, well used, age unknown, but solid as a rock for £20. I chose a used Manfrotto over a same price new tripod because of their reputation for quality. Over the years all of my kit has been changed and updated except my tripod.
My Manfrotto 075 has been used in a huge variety of environments, power stations, the top of the Humber bridge, workshops, factories museums, nature reserves, the sea, mountains and endless constructions sites.
It has been hauled up and down miles of scaffolding and ladders, has been stood in the sea, rivers, snow, sand and mud.
It has fallen from scaffolding, braking the winding handle for the center column. Been run over by a dumper truck and attacked by my teething puppy.
Despite of all of this my Manfrotto tripod is still going strong, rock solid and sturdy. You could argue that it is overkill for my tiny Fuji X-T1 but I have no fear of the tripod being blown over and dumping my camera on the ground, It will take the camera high enough that I need steps or remote control to use it and still be solid.
I do not mind leaving the tripod/camera to adjust something in set, it will not move and it has enough presence for people to know that it is there.
Most importantly it allows pin sharp photographs even at very long exposure even outside in the wind.
Myself being supervised by Molly while testing the Ipad wifi link to the X-T1. Tripod fully extended. For scale I am 6ft tall.
Manfrotto 075 lowest height.
Missing gear teeth after an encounter with a dumper truck
Broken wind arm after a 30ft fall from scaffolding.
Intact locking levers on the left.
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Since switching from Canon cameras to Fuji cameras I have been looking for a flash solution that will allow me to use my Canon flashguns while transitioning to a new flash system.
I tend to use my flash in manual mode, off camera. Main uses are photographing interiors and model/clothing shoots. For an interior shoot the flash guns are placed (hidden) around the interior and then I trigger the Speedlites from the camera using the Canon IR trigger. But using the Canon transmitter on the Fuji only works a one thirtieth of a second or slower synch. I need faster shutter speeds when working with people, who tend to move.
My Canon flash system has dropped to two Speedlites, a 550ex and a 530ex so I need to add some more flashguns for use with my new Fuji system. I would like to control the power output of the flashguns from the camera position saving the back and forth time when setting the flash power settings on the flash itself and get faster shutter synch.
This did seem a big ask but after much research I discovered the Cactus system consisting of Cactus flash guns and transceivers. Amazingly the transceivers can control the two Canon speedlites including their power output. The Cactus RF60 flashgun can also control the V6 transceivers and vice a versa. This would give just what I needed.
As an initial batch I ordered two V6 transceivers and one RF60 flash gun to test the feasibility of the system. The experience of setting up the flash units and transceivers was easy for my Canon 430 EX as the V6 has a built in profile for it already built in.
When placing the The 430EX on the V6 all that I needed to do was select the profile for the flash, set it to group A and it was ready to receive.
For my 550EX the process was a bit longer as the V6 did not have a profile for it. But Cactus have a very useful system for this called the” learning mode”.
Simply put the Canon 550EX on to the V6 and then select “learning” from the menu and follow the prompts. The Cactus will then fire the flash at different powers and then create a profile for the 550EX which it will use from then on. To make this easy to use system even easier to use the V6 can send the profile to other V6s wirelessly.
It would be easy to miss how important this is, it means any of my old flash guns could be put back to use using the learning mode. For me however the Cactus RF60 flash gun which does all that the V6 can do as well as being a flashgun and being great value means that I will add more RF60s rather than V6s.
The first image below shows the room exposed for the exterior highlights with no flash, note the detail of the garden in the conservatory door. This leaves a lot of the main room too dark.
I used the two Canon Speedlites in the room to brighten the shadows, the Cactus RF60 I used zoomed to pick out the fireplace at the camera. Note the exposure has not changed I have just added flash. Given more time I could have worked on the shadow from the main beam but for this type of work it would have been overkill.
So how did the Cactus kit work out in the wild?
Very well is the answer, I cannot over emphasise how useful it is to be able to adjust the power of the flash units from the camera position saving endless trips into the room to balance the light between the flashes. It also means I am not moving the camera and tripod to get into the room. The V6s are just as happy on the foot or on a lighting stand, moving them around is fast and easy and the tiny size means that they are easy to hide in shot. I had no miss-fires. The signal range seems to be ridiculously long I have tested it at 150ft with no drop in reliability.
An unexpected bonus is how low the power of the Canon Speedlites can be turned down. My 430EX can be set at one sixty forth but the cactus can take it down another stop to a one twenty eighth which is very useful.
Note, the V6 can control the zoom of the RF60 as well as the power output
I will be very happy to add more Cactus RF60s to my kit and using the V6s to trigger and control them.
Update, if you have the Nissin i40 (for Fuji) You can sit it on a V6, put the V6 on the camera and have ETTL pass through for the Nissin and still have manual control of the off camera flash, I have not tested the pass through as I do not have a Nissin (yet), this offers more amazing flexibility
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Is photography Art?
This question crops up a lot, I have been asked this today. I also see it debated on forums and blogs. Long rambling arguments and opinions for and against.
I may be missing something but to me the answer is simple.
Photography is a tool, the same as a paint brush is a tool, and can be used by an an artist to make art.
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The switch from Canon 5D11 to Fuji XT1 means that I now have Fuji cameras and Canon flashguns (Speedlites) opening up a can of worms.
My option when I had the Canon camera was to use a Canon flash Speedlite wireless transmitter ST-e2 which worked well in either manual or auto (ETTL) modes. I could set the flashguns up on light stands and reflect the light from them off of umbrellas or even walls, I could flash synch up to 250th of a second when triggering with the ST-e2 mounted on the camera. It was a good and very usable system.
So how does my Canon flash work with the Fuji XT1, not well sadly. Firstly there is no ETTL auto flash and the maximum shutter speed that I can use with the flash off camera and on stands triggered by the ST-e2 is 1/60th of a second.
To be fair this is fine when I am shooting interiors because I will be using long shutter speeds. Also I tend to use flash in manual mode so the ETTL loss is not a massive worry. But when I am shooting people or moving objects the 1/60th is just to slow.
I do have a Lastolight 10ft ETTL cord which connects to the hotshoe on the camera and the Canon flash connects to the other end, on the Canon Camera this offers auto, using the same cord on the Fuji with the Canon flash allows manual only but it does give me 200th of a second shutter synch, Hooray!
Well not quite, Canon in their wisdom chose not to include an optical cell in my flash guns!!!!!
This means that the cable will trigger one flash but that flash cannot be used to trigger my other Canon flash units, most other flashguns can be triggered by the light from any flash. I could add external optical flash slaves to my other Canon flash guns but that could get expensive, it is also another thing to go wrong and may weaken the fitting between the flash and the light stand.
So where next, I need to replace my Canon flash units but what with. New Canon flash are too expensive. Surprisingly I am considering flash units from manufacturers that were unknown to me until recently, such as Yongnou, Godox and similar.
I should add that the FujiX-T1 works happily with my Elinchrom Studio flash at 180th of a second.
I guess at this moment it is a case of watch this space
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Fujifilm Fuji X-T1
Since exchanging my full frame Canon kit for a Fuji XT1 kit I have made over ten thousand photographs. I now feel comfortable with the camera and very pleased to have made the change. As a professional I get to shoot a wide range of subjects, which is one of the joys of being a photographer. So how has the Fuji coped with the variety of work? See my conclusions much further down or follow the journey I have taken so far with this camera.
Below are my thoughts on working with models, products and buildings with the Fujifilm X-T1.
The first shoot was a test shoot with a professional model the aim being to test the camera under working conditions. I wanted to test the high ISO performance, the fast 35mm lens and the OIS in the 18-55 lens. Very unusually for me I left the the tripod and Elinchrom studio lights in the car.
Photographing models with the XT1
When using a camera it should be easy with no conscious thought of where controls are or what the camera is doing, therefore allowing me to concentrate on the model. The very good ergonomics of the XT1 really helps here, lifting the X-T1 I can see all the important settings straight away and my hands fall naturally on the important controls.
In this photograph above I can see;
It takes a brief glance when taking the camera out of the camera bag to be sure that the camera is correctly set and ready to go .
Back to the model…
We set to work I have the camera set to show a preview of the exposure which is a great feature as you can see the exposure, in the viewfinder, changing as you make adjustments, seeing a live histogram also speeds things up. I usually have the screen set to show me the exposure I have made show on the screen/viewfinder for 1.5 seconds, useful sometimes but not today as for once I want to keep up with the model as she changes poses, so I have turned this off. I have not used noise reduction in the post process on any images in this post.
My initial thoughts after the test shoot.
The shoot went very well, the X-T1 is a joy to use handheld and the high ISO noise and colour performance is very good. The high image quality from the 18-55mm lens is very impressive for a zoom lens. The 35mm f1.4 has exceptional optical performance and is a match for any lens that I have used. Having a “proper” aperture ring on the lens is welcome and suits the way I work. The auto focus on the 18-55 was good as was the OIS, the 35mm had occasional problems with very bright back light but nothing that could not be easily dealt with.
Handling, the camera is very comfortable and despite the small size it felt secure in my hands. All the controls are easy to reach and use, I have set all the four-way controller buttons to activate the AF point selector this means that I can activate the AF selector and move the AF point very quickly.
To move the focus point right, press the right buttton once to activate, again to move the point.
The viewfinder is amazingly large even after using full frame cameras for years, having the exposure linked to the viewfinder so I can see on the effects of changes on the viewfinder is very useful. I tend to make a lot of upright images so having the info in the viewfinder rotate as I turn the camera is also very helpful.
I am very happy with the camera and the photographs, I was ready to use it as my work camera. I have a commission from Fox and Rose to photograph a large range of lingerie, it will only be a one day shoot which will mean working quickly but the XT1 is well up to the task.
Shoot for http://www.foxandrose.com
The shoot was in a local house and we shot 700 photographs in six hours, I say we as there was a model, MUA and my client. The XT1 performed very well and I did not have to give it much thought while working which is the way that it should be. We worked quickly and I used the X-T1 hand held and rode the ISO where needed.
Because I was working handheld I set a minimum shutter speed and allowed the camera to set the aperture, I then added compensation where needed. This worked well and when I ran out of light I moved the ISO up. I used two lenses, the 18-55mm for flexibility and the 35mm for it’s light gathering and exceptional sharpness.
Battery life was good, a full day’s shoot of 700+ images needed one battery change, the second battery was not completely used up.
The more I use the X-T1 the more I like it, it reminds me of cameras I used years ago especially my Hasselblads. I know it looks nothing like a ‘blad but all the controls are where I expect them and it works at the same speed as I do.
Most importantly my client is happy.
Photographing products with the XT1
Talking of clients I had hampers to photograph for the Champagne and Gifts company. The plan was to shoot the products on a white background lit by my Elinchrom studio flash units, we did shoot some images this way but the garden and sunshine beckoned. I worked fully manual at base ISO of 200. Working from a tripod I used the 55-200mm for a few shots and I was very pleased with the results. I am tempted to try the 60mm macro for products, when time allows. I do miss camera movements for photographing products where the control of geometry is very useful.
Between the garden and pop-up studio we made 700 images, (a few below). The X-T1 performed well with the Elinchrom flash units.
Photographing buildings with the XT1
I used to work for architects but photographing exteriors in British weather is a pain. Weather forecasts are vague and I have often set off full of hope only to be washed or clouded out. So I sold my tilt/shift lenses and moved to more predictable work.
But I have just been asked by a local property agent to photograph their larger, more expensive properties. Being local I can react quickly to the weather so I agreed to take on their work. Fuji do not make shift lenses so any corrections would have to be made in Lightroom. I decided to shoot the first property as a test before committing to more because I was worried about quality, compared to my 5D II with shift lenses the X-T1 seemed a bit under powered.
The first shoot went well using the X-T1 with my off camera Canon strobes triggered by a ST-e2 for the interior photographs, I could only synch at a 60th or slower but for interiors this was fine.
Once back to the PC I opened the first image (to be used A4 as A4 on the cover). I corrected the converging verticals using the tools in Lightroom, when printed it was fine, the client was over the moon with the images, phew. So happy that they sent me more work, lots of work. During a run of good weather I have been flat out photographing buildings.. I did buy a 10-24mm lens for this work and it is a fantastic lens and used carefully I can create wonderful interior images.
A few interior and exterior photographs below.
Edit, when shooting interiors it can be difficult to match the indoor light with the outdoor light leaving blown out highlight in windows. I have noticed that a lot of highlight detail can be recovered from the XT1 raw files, a lot more than I have been used to. The image above shows a large room not lit directly by sunlight, outdoors is very bright, there were clear blue cloudless summer skies. The difference in the light between indoors and outdoors was huge and I was surprised and pleased to recover as much of the outdoors as I have.
The Fujifilm X-T1 is one of those cameras that just feels right, it suits the way I work and the large variety of work that I do. I do not shoot sport or wildlife but I would be happy to tackle most other work with the X-T1. Some cameras encourage the photographer to make photographs, for me the Hasselblad, Sinar P2, Linhof 6×9, Mamiya 7 were such cameras and I would add the X-T1 to this list. I take the X-T1 most places with me even when not working. I have made more photographs for the joy of it than I have for a long time and of course the image quality from this camera is very good
Handling is excellent I had to change my grip a tad as when working in portrait as the pad of my thumb would move the drive dial. I will try the battery/portrait grip sometime as it will allow me to work longer and change batteries faster. Using faster SD cards makes a big difference, the camera is fast when using 95MB/s cards, it goes into supercharged mode with the 280MB/s cards.
Battery life is better than I expected, I seem to be averaging just over four hundred exposures per fully charged battery, not bad from such a small battery.
The tilting LCD screen seemed like a feature that I would not use but for the product photography and the architectural photography it got used a lot, it aids composing and it was a good way to show clients what was happening. The quality of the LCD screen is excellent.
The stand out features of the XT1 for me are;
Image quality which is very high.
The EVF which is huge with clear, easy to understand displayed information, the displayed information rotates when I turn the camera to portrait and back. The live histogram is very useful. All of this means that it is easy to use the camera quickly ie keeping up with a model as she changes poses.
Being a mirrorless camera means that when focusing I am seeing the image direct from the sensor not an image on a mirror thus ensuring accuracy.
When shooting products or buildings I tend to use the LCD screen, the benefits of this are the large display and the screen folds out making it very versatile. I have the camera set to give me an instant view of the image on the screen or in the viewfinder as soon as I have taken it. I like focus assist , zooming in to check focus I use this a lot.
Weight, the weight of my camera bag has dropped considerably since switching form Full Frame to the XT1, this leads to less fatigue during a long working day or when up and down scaffolding and ladders.
Highlight recovery is excellent.
The indefinable “something” that theX-T1 has, the something that makes me enjoy the process of making photographs.
The high quality of Fuji lenses comes from their long tradition of optical excellence, Fuji make some of the best digital HD motion picture lenses available, they also make the lenses for Hasselblad.
The lenses that I have so far;
Fujinon XF 18-55mm f4, some call this a kit lens but it should not be under estimated. Optically it is very good, the stabilisation works well and it is well built but small and light. I like this lens as a walkabout lens but it also performed well during the lingerie shoot mentioned above.
Fujinon 35mm f1.4, this is tiny, solid but lightweight. This lens is a tad slow in autofocus performance but I will forgive it anything because of the optical performance. The resolving power of this lens is high and it reproduces fine detail beautifully.
Fujinon XF 55-200mm, a quality lens which I have mostly used for shooting stock library images and products.
Fujinon XF 10-24mm, this lens lives on my camera, it is large and heavy compared to the other lenses but its range and optical quality makes it a must have (must use) lens.
I should say what I do not like about the camera but I have not found anything that interferes with image making or annoys me.
Is there anything missing from the XT1?
1) yes I would like dual card slot for those shoots that have be right and cannot be re-shot because of a card failure. Some shoots that I am involved in have products that are only available for the day of the shoot, expensive models, makeup artist and hair dresser have been booked. The client does not want to hear that the images were lost on a duff card.
2) A good flexible flash system.
3) Fuji missed a trick with their app. It is able to run the camera remotely, changing exposure setting and focus point works well and at a good distance. It is also possible to select an image on the camera and send it to my Nexus via wi-fi. It was simple to set up the wi-fi to my Nexus. But I would like to use the camera and have low resolution photographs sent straight to the tablet as I make the exposures. Clients like this as they can see what is being shot. I would like this option even if it needed a cable ie tethered shooting.
The question I get asked most is “would you go back to a Full Frame DSLR” the answer is no.
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