X-Pro2

REALLY RIGHT (EXPENSIVE) STUFF

A tale of three ball heads. The Arca-Swiss, left, was expensive and too large, the Demon, right, was inexpensive and underwhelming, but the RRS BH-30, while not cheap, was just right.

A tale of three ball heads. The Arca-Swiss, left, was expensive and too large, the Demon, right, was inexpensive and underwhelming, but the RRS BH-30, while not cheap, was just right.

Right up front, this is not a complaint about the price of Really Right Stuff (RRS) products. Yes, RRS gear can be expensive. It is also quality gear and more than likely will last you a lifetime of photography.

My grandfather often said that you have to pay for an education. So it's natural for new photographers, after spending a significant amount of money on a camera and lens, to look for a bargain on accessories. Only after purchasing those bargain accessories do they realize that they have to now spend more money buying what they should have considered buying in the first place.

Which brings me to point of this blog. I've used several ball heads on my Gitzo Mountaineer series 0 tripod in the past, starting with the Arca Swiss Monoball B1. That is an expensive ball head, so it isn't always about the bargain for me, sometimes I just need to do more research. That ball head was overkill for my tripod, especially when I switched from a DSLR to a Fujifilm X-Pro2 for my landscape photography. In an initial effort to go lighter and smaller, I purchased the Demon DB-46 Tripod Ball Head. At around that same time, I also purchased my first L-Plate, the universal quick release L-Bracket. Both the ball head and the L-bracket worked fine, and for a total investment at the time of around $60, I guess it worked well enough for me to get by for two years. But it was my grandfather's advice that would come back to haunt me.

The RRS BH-30 Ball Head with the BXPro2 L-Plate for the Fujifilm X-Pro2.

The RRS BH-30 Ball Head with the BXPro2 L-Plate for the Fujifilm X-Pro2.

I was reading the new RRS magazine, Light & Shadow, and was intrigued enough to visit their website and check out some gear. The first thing that caught my attention was the RRS BXPro2-L Set L-Plate. The difference between this L-Plate and the knock-off I owned was night and day. Sure, the other L-Plate worked, but it always felt like it was just an accessory and somewhat in the way. The RRS L-Plate is custom made for the camera and in my case, fits the X-Pro2 perfectly. I can access the battery compartment and the connections on the side of the camera without having to remove or loosen it. After several weeks of use, it really is part of the camera, almost as if Fuji had added it themselves. Then during a recent trip to the Smoky Mountains I become frustrated with the Demon ball head. It wasn't smooth and I was never quite sure when turning the locking knob if I was tightening or loosening the ball head. Besides, it seemed like a crime using this really nice RRS L-Plate on a substandard ball head. So, when I returned home, I was right back on the RRS website and ended up purchasing the RRS BH-30 Ball Head with Mini Screw-Knob Clamp. I had to think a bit about the cost, $260.00, but again, after using this ball head for several weeks now, I'm glad I did.

The ball head is smooth, light and just right for my camera. A feature I really appreciate is the oversized spring-loaded locking T-lever that can be pulled out and repositioned. A nice bit of attention to detail. Even in the dark, with gloves on, there is no fumbling around when making adjustments.

I was lucky to get great advice from a mentor when I was purchasing my first professional camera gear in 1985. At the time I wasn't sure I really wanted to spend around $250 for a tripod, but guess what, I still have that Bogan 3020 Series tripod today. It's a little heavy and only gets used if I'm working out of the car, but the point is that it was money well spent.

So my advice is to do the research, buy quality gear and only buy it once.

FROZEN - PHOTOGRAPHING ICEBERGS

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/150 @ f10, ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/150 @ f10, ISO 200.

There are many things I have thought about photographing, a sort of bucket list of subjects. This list is not written down and if you asked me to name the subjects, I'd probably struggle a bit and surely would miss a few. Sometimes that's because I don't even know something is on my list until it's right in front of me. Like when I was in Fairbanks, Alaska, a few years back and realized I might have the opportunity to see the Northen Lights. Suddenly that was on my list and after three late night attempts, I was rewarded. 

Shortly after arriving at Thule, Air Force Base in Greenland, I noticed icebergs and suddenly photographing them was at the top of my list.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/160 @ f11, ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/160 @ f11, ISO 200.

Thule AFB is the northernmost U.S. military installation, located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 947 miles from the North Pole on the northwest side of the island of Greenland. I was on assignment to photograph the deployment of oceanographic buoys over the North Pole. Cool assignment, right? However, since I had several days until the aircraft from which we would drop the buoys from arrived, I had plenty of time to explore and photograph the incredible landscape located all around the base.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 16mm, 1/480 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 16mm, 1/480 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

My first real view of the icebergs came while I was photographing Wolstenholme Fjord at sunset. I've photographed so many bodies of water, so many sunsets, and I've even photographed glaciers before. But what makes Wolstenholme Fjord unique is that it's fed by four large glaciers and that was the picture I was trying to make. But it was the icebergs floating throughout the fjord that I found most interesting. I also began to wonder if there was a way to get closer. 

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/340 @ f8, ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/340 @ f8, ISO 200.

What I didn't appreciate at the time, photographing from high above the fjord, was just how big those icebergs actually were. When I finally had an opportunity to get close to them, it just blew me away. 

Once I started taking pictures, I no longer felt the cold, didn't hear the voices of the others in the 15-foot skiff or care that it was almost seven o'clock at night and I hadn't eaten dinner. I was focused on icebergs, shooting, changing between the Fujifilm XF 16mm (24mm full-frame equivalent) f/1.4 and the Fujifilm XF 50mm (70mm full-frame equivalent) f/2 lenses, and shooting some more. 

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 16mm, 1/210 @ f11, ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 16mm, 1/210 @ f11, ISO 200.

As we approached each iceberg I began to realize how different each one was. From a distance, they all look pretty much the same, but seeing them from sea level, up close, you appreciate that each one is unique in shape, size, and color. As we neared each iceberg I would begin taking photographs and just when I thought I took every photograph possible and lower the camera, something would change and I would find myself shooting again. 

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/500 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 50mm, 1/500 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

The icebergs actually seem to change color as you move around them. Going from white to blue, and all shades in between. From a distance, they had a monochromatic look, but up close it was evident they were anything but. To make it even better, the sun setting (something that seems to last forever at this time of year in Greenland) and the clouds hung in the sky and provided a nice contrast to the icebergs.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 16mm, 1/680 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, 16mm, 1/680 @ f5.6, ISO 200.

In total, I had a little over an hour to photograph as we moved from iceberg to iceberg. I could have spent two hours capturing more icebergs or probably spent the whole hour on just one iceberg.

COMPOSE THE SCENE, THEN WAIT

1/1800 @f4.0, ISO 200.

1/1800 @f4.0, ISO 200.

The title of this blog comes from something Sam Abell* said during his presentation, The Life of the Photograph, at OPTIC 2017. I have watched and rewatched that presentation several times now and there is no doubt that I will watch it again.

During the presentation, Sam takes us through his thought process when making a photograph. But this idea of finding a scene, composing the image and then waiting, really stuck with me. I struggle sometimes with the patience that is required when photographing on the street. Why can I sit for hours waiting for just the right light when photographing landscapes, but while walking the streets of a city, I move as fast as the pedestrians around me.

1/1600 @f4.0, ISO 200.

1/1600 @f4.0, ISO 200.

As I set out to photograph the 187th Indepence Day Parade of Churches and Sunday Schools in Roxborough, Philadelphia, I decided to test out the idea of just staying in one place, with one lens and let the parade pass me by. Not a real stretch I know, but it was the idea of finding the right background and light and then waiting for the uncontrolled action to pass in front of my camera.

I walked most of the parade route and finally settled on background that was fairly uncluttered and in the shade. There was also shade on my side of the street which meant the foreground would be in shadow as well. That provided natural framing if I exposed for the light that would fall on the parade goers. 

1/2200 @f4.0, ISO 200.

1/2200 @f4.0, ISO 200.

With the background picked, I finished off the composition by selecting the Fujinon 50mm (75mm equivalent) f2.0 lens attached to my Fujifilm X-Pro2. This focal length meant I had only one or two shots before the subjects passed by. The benefit of a parade, of course, is that you can see what's coming and know they are not going to change their course. The downside is that you can't control who will plant themselves on the opposite side of the street to watch the parade. Or that it would be the one July 4th parade-goer who wore bright orange instead of red, white, or blue.

In deciding what to photograph, I looked for color, flags, and enthusiasm. I did choose to present all the photographs in black and white, and not just because of the previously mentioned, man in orange, but I liked how the contrast of light and shadow, put all the emphasis on the subject. 

1/3000 @f4.0, ISO 200.

1/3000 @f4.0, ISO 200.

This parade is not like a typical parade made up of marching bands, fire trucks, and floats, but consists of parishioners from all the churches located in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, 15 participated this year. There are a few classic cars or perhaps a band made up of from the congregation, but it is really just a way to start Independence day before they head to their church for a picnic.

I'm happy with my results although I keep wondering if I should have chosen an alternative spot as a backup or would it have been better to pick an interesting group and follow them along the parade route, however, I think as an experiment it was best that I just stayed put.

* Sam Abell is an American photographer who has worked for the National Geographic Society since 1970 photographing more than 20 articles on cultural and wilderness subjects. In addition to numerous books, he lectures on photography and has exhibited his images to audiences around the world.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN WITH MIRRORLESS CAMERAS

Carol Cannon, with Allison Tsai on piano, perform at the Centre Street Performance Space, part of the Johns Hopkins Peabody Institute, in Baltimore, Md. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon 50mm, f2. 1/160 @ f2, ISO 1250.

Carol Cannon, with Allison Tsai on piano, perform at the Centre Street Performance Space, part of the Johns Hopkins Peabody Institute, in Baltimore, Md. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon 50mm, f2. 1/160 @ f2, ISO 1250.

While reading the recent release announcement of the Sony a9, something buried in the article caught my attention. It wasn't that it was full-frame or that it was capable of 20 frames per second or even how this could finally be the mirrorless camera to cover sports, but that because of its electronic shutter, a photographer could get shots like never before.

Okay, the electronic, or silent shutter, is not new. In fact, I've written about it before. I just wondered why all of a sudden I was reading several articles about this new Sony camera extolling the fact that we could now have a mirrorless camera capable of shooting sports while not making any shutter noise. Was it all about making photos of golfers in their backswings we'd see now?

I took these photos from my seat while the event's official photographer, with two Nikon D5 cameras, who was sitting right in front of me could only watch. The soloist never knew I was taking these pictures. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon 50mm, f2. 1/160 @ f2, ISO 800.

I took these photos from my seat while the event's official photographer, with two Nikon D5 cameras, who was sitting right in front of me could only watch. The soloist never knew I was taking these pictures. Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Fujinon 50mm, f2. 1/160 @ f2, ISO 800.

The reality is for those of us that shoot both mirrorless and DSLR cameras, the benefits of that electronic shutter is well known. During meetings, performances, or being discreet on the street, any time that the clunk of a shudder would draw attention or break the mood, the electronic shudder wins. And, yes, it even has its place when covering sports.

I understand the mechanics of why a DSLR makes noise and often use the quiet shutter-release mode on my Nikon D4s. While it is sometimes the better option, it still isn't silent. And because shutter noise can be distracting, get you noticed, or worse, get you kicked out of a room, it is nice to have the option of an electronic shutter.

Silence is golden, which is why my default setting on the Fuji X-Pro2 is silent, all sounds muted or turned off. I even go as far as to cover the indicator lamp with gaffers tape.

The electronic shutter allows for a certain amount of stealth, even when it is obvious you are taking pictures. But without shutter noise, it's easy for the subject to forget you are there, allowing you to blend into the scene and truly capture the moment.

 

 

DOES THE FUJINON XF50 LENS COMPLETE MY KIT?

Cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., taken with the Fuji X-Pro2 and a Fujinon XF50mm F2 R WR lens at 1/80 @ f2.8, ISO 200.

Cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., taken with the Fuji X-Pro2 and a Fujinon XF50mm F2 R WR lens at 1/80 @ f2.8, ISO 200.

I recently purchased the Fujinon XF50 F2 R WR lens, my fourth Fuji lens since I purchased the Fujifilm X-Pro2 mirrorless camera in March of 2016. Why should you care?

First a little history of my Fuji lens purchases. I initially purchased the Fujinon XF35mm F2 R WR lens at the same time as I purchased the X-Pro2. That lens decision was mostly based on using the 35mm f/1.4 for seven days with an X-Pro1 in New York City which I wrote about here. I liked the 53mm equivalent focal length and on this f/2 version, I was drawn to the smaller form factor and weather resistant features. 

Well, it didn't take long for me to realize that I wanted something a little wider. I was leaning towards the Fujinon XF16mm F1.4 R WR lens but at the price, it wasn't going to be an impulse buy. However, when I received an offer for $300.00 off, I couldn't resist. I wrote about the 16mm (24mm equivalent) here, and while this a super lens, it is just too big for everyday carry. It does get used as my primary landscape lens, however.

Fujinon XF50mm F2 R WR lens at 1/500 @ f3.6, ISO 400.

Fujinon XF50mm F2 R WR lens at 1/500 @ f3.6, ISO 400.

You may see where this is going. After a year shooting with these two lenses, something was still missing and I couldn't put my finger on it. I really liked the X-Pro2 but just didn't seem as satisfied with my photos as I when I was using the Fujifilm X100s. Could it be as simple as the focal length of the lens? The X100s has a fixed 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens and I just never missed having another focal length when carrying that camera.

In August of 2016, Fuji released the Fujinon XF23mm F2 R WR lens and I thought that would finally be the answer. In fact in my previous blog post, 'Did I Finally Find the Perfect Fuji X Lens?', I attempted to answer that very question. And I think I did a pretty good job of justifying that purchase. And if that lens had been available when I initially purchased the X-Pro2, I probably wouldn't be writing this blog post now.

In January Fuji released the aforementioned 50mm (70mm equivalent). This is a focal length I didn't think I would need or want. However, after several outings with it, I'm convinced that it will get used second only to the 23mm.

Fujinon XF50mm F2 R WR lens at 1/17 @ f2.8, ISO 200.

Fujinon XF50mm F2 R WR lens at 1/17 @ f2.8, ISO 200.

It also completes what I'm calling the trifecta of lenses, the 23, 35 and 50mm. Others refer to these lenses as the 'Fujicron' line-up, a play on Summicron, a term Leica uses to designate lenses that have a maximum aperture of f/2. Whether you refer to them as the trifecta or 'Fujicron', they are all f/2; lightweight, but solidly built; small and compact; weather resistant; sharp and all match perfectly with the X-Pro2.

Another real bonus is you can own this trifecta for around $1200.00 total and that makes a real nice set of glass to couple with whichever Fuji camera system you shoot with.   

My only complaint is the lens shades that Fuji ships with the 23 and 35. The 50mm lens hood is acceptable, but I did break down and buy the Fujifilm Lens Hood for XF35 from B&H. At $59.99 it is a little pricey, but the good news is that it also fits the XF 35.

So, why should you care? Don't make the mistake and impulse buy lenses. Take the time to think about the type of photography you do and what a new lens will add. I would be perfectly happy with just the 23mm and the 50mm if I could do it over again.