Fuji XT1 and Yellowstone

Utah-43I just got back from a once of a lifetime trip out to Yellowstone National Park. I was actually in Utah visiting my son and his wife and their new baby girl. They decided to take me on the Yellowstone trip and I am so grateful for that gift. I had debated on what cameras to bring on this trip, my film or my digital. In the end I decided smaller and lighter would be better, especially since I am coming from flatland Illinois and would need to adjust to the thinner mountain air. The convenience of a smaller bag for airline rules wasn’t missed out on this decision either.

What did I bring? In a small Lowepro backpack, I was able to bring two Fuji XT1s, 50-140mm, 16mm, 10-24mm, 56mm and 35mm. A small Nissin I40 flash was also added along with the required memory cards, extra batteries, neutral density filters and chargers. In a small laptop bag I had my newly acquired 13 inch Macbook Pro with it’s chargers, a Wacom tablet, a portable hard drive for backup and some reading material. All of this was a breeze to carry on the plane and get through security. If needed I could have stuffed both bags under the seat in front of me but I tended to put the backpack in the overhead bin and the laptop under the seat. The whole kit gave me a wonderful, portable, fully functional studio for the road. I couldn’t have been more pleased.

So how did the XT1 perform? In a word, “fantastic.” I know the Fuji XT2 has just come out and yes I want one but the XT1 is no slouch and never will be. I tended to use the 10-24 and the 50-140mm the most. The 16mm was used third but mostly for shots of my beautiful new granddaughter. The only thing I may have wished that I had was a teleconverter but I was able to get plenty close to the wildlife with the 50-140mm.

The 10-24mm is a wonderful landscape lens. It allows for dramatic compositions and can really bring out the detail in your photographs. This lens combined with the tilting screen was used a ton! I feel that I was able to get some of my best landscapes yet with this combination.

One trick I utilized a few times was the use of a 10 stop neutral density filter for a couple of mountain stream shots. I had brought a small travel tripod in my check on luggage which worked well albeit a little short on occasion. Using this combination allowed me to smooth out the moving water even in the middle of the day with bright sun hitting the landscape. I did have an oh shit moment when I dropped the filter, which is glass, and heard the “chink” noise as it hit the ground. Luckily the Lee filter holder took most of the impact and the filter only got chipped in an area that is out of the frame. Whew! Now it has character I guess.

Would I use this kit again? Oh hell yeah! Did I miss not having film? Yes but mostly large format. It would have been fun to spend a day with that, but I don’t feel I was shortchanged in any way by using my Fuji’s. In fact I got shots I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.

Happy wanderings!Utah-77 Utah-68 Utah-53Utah-83 Utah-82 Utah-45Utah-81 Utah-80 Utah-158 Utah-156 Utah-150 Utah-147 Utah-123

Is it fall already?

Sorry for my absence the last couple of months. Since going freelance full-time I have been busy drumming up work and thankfully it seems to be “working.” This where they always say it’s all in who you know and it really is. From friends, to relatives to past business associates it has been amazing at the help that has come across my desk. It has either been in the source of direct work or names of people that may have work. It is a reality check in seeing that how you have handled yourself in the past with others can dictate what you may receive in return later. I am humbled.

I am learning how to schedule my day to day calendar and create this new way of working/living. I must say I do like the flexibility that freelancing can provide in your daily routine but I do try to at least have a plan for each week. If I deviate from it, that is fine but at least I have a roadmap to guide me through the week. One thing that I have been trying to do is make sure I leave some down time available. If you work all of the time you will quickly burn out. My downtime has turned into a mixture of photography and woodworking lately. Both bring me great gratification. With this post I bring you just some down time photography. Fall is my favorite time of year and I gifted myself with a couple hour walk in one of my favorite fall spots.

Enjoy!DSCF4642 DSCF4643DSCF4648DSCF4664DSCF4666DSCF4668DSCF4673DSCF4678

The craft of photography with the Crown Graphic

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crown graphicIf you thought that I gave up film after getting the Fuji XT1 I most certainly have not. It’s just that when you completely switch camera systems you need to run the new system through it’s paces so that you can discover the hidden quirks and get comfortable with the camera. Recently though my film cameras were calling my name. It was time to take a digital break and go burn some film.

Instead of shooting roll film I decided to shoot some 4×5 film. I wanted to immerse myself for a morning of full on photography. So I dug out my trusty Graflex Crown Graphic. I got this camera a couple of years ago and since then have put together a nice kit. I have three lenses for it, a bunch of film holders and some filters for black and white work. For those of you who don’t know what a Crown Graphic is, if you watch any of the old black and white movies where there is a cigar chomping newspaper reporter, holding a big camera with a bellows and huge bulb flash, it’s probably a Crown Graphic or one of it’s relatives.

The Crown was made for newspaper photographers. It was a sturdy box of a camera that when opened revealed a bellows/lens system much like a field camera. It shot 4×5 film (although there were smaller sheet film versions) that loaded into film holders and then into the back of the camera. It had a built in rangefinder system but you could also use the ground glass on the back for critical focusing. Just like a field camera you could change lenses if you had extras already mounted on lens boards. It had limited front movements. A good photographer knew their settings and exposures and could bang out photos using just the rangefinder system and bulb flash. I don’t work that way.

I use my Crown Graphic more like a field camera. I have my handheld light meter and take multiple readings with it. I look through the back of the ground glass on the camera and carefully compose my image. Speaking of looking through the ground glass, for those of you who have never done this, the image you see is upside down and backwards. It takes a bit of getting used to. For me it is one of my thinking cameras. There is nothing quick about using this camera and most of my time is spent on setting it up and composing the image before even taking one picture. There have been many times where I’ve got it ready to go and I decide what I am seeing isn’t worth using a sheet of film on and I close it up and move on to my next possible scene. It’s methodical, it’s slow and it’s very, very wonderful.

When I use this camera I feel that I am fully practicing the craft of photography. I only shoot black and white film with this camera so the craft continues when I get home and develop the film. It is a thrill to hold up a developed negative and see that you got a good image. The second thrill comes when I scan the film and really see if what I had in my mind at the time of exposure actually came through.

If you want to try a U.S. made camera that has some cool history behind it and be able to get some top notch photos from it, do yourself a favor and at least shoot one these once. You won’t regret it. I certainly don’t and I must say I have gotten some of my favorite photos from it.

Happy wanderings.

Iridient Developer 3.0, better than the big guns!

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I have been an Aperture user since it came out. Of course now in Apple’s infinite wisdom they are doing away with the support for their professional photo editing software. That is a huge disappointment for those of us who had a good workflow going with their system. I also use Photoshop but have not yet done the leap to Lightroom. Just about when I was considering the Lightroom jump I bought into the Fuji XT1 system.

There were many complaints online on how Lightroom did or mostly didn’t, handle the Fuji X-trans files. I don’t even begin to understand the differences between their raw format and other camera maker’s raw formats but apparently there is plenty. I am more artistic and not scientific minded so I will leave those technological readings to those of you who enjoy them. I just care if it works! When I shot Nikon I shot only raw files for the flexibility. All of the modern software “big guns” out their handled those files great. Fuji is known for their great JPEG files and they are awesome but I wanted to know if I could get more out of the Fuji files.

Enter Iridient Developer! I heard that it handled the Fuji raw files really well and better than the “big guns” in the photo software business. I don’t know if this guy works out of his house or has a small company but it sure feels like you are dealing with a real person who cares about bringing out the best product that he can. It’s not expensive by software standards either, I think I paid like $99.00 for it or something like that. The best part is it works!

Now their is version 3.0 and I got to try it out yesterday. I downloaded some images that I just recently shot in Chicago. The originals are in color but I decided that I wanted to see how Iridient handled them in black and white. Wow! I mean really wow! I was able to make fine tuned adjustments to my shadows and mid tones and impressively bring back some blown out highlights that I thought were unretrievable. The results were black and white images with great tonal range and clarity. I could make huge prints off these files. I am super stoked about how well this software handled my Fuji XT1 files.

Currently I have only used it on landscape and city scape files but am eager to see how it would handle portraits. Stay tuned for that one. So don’t feel that you always have to buy from the “big guns” to get what you need. There is some great things coming from smaller companies with big ideas!

Happy wanderings!

Fuji XT1, the romance continues

In my last post I documented my transition from Nikon to Fuji, specifically the XT1. I’ve now had more time to play with the camera and also use it on some photo jobs. Am I sorry that I made the switch? Not in the least! Heck for Christmas Fuji gave us XT1 users new cameras by way of firmware upgrades! I love this camera in fact I wish I had two. I will need to get a second body for back-up purposes and it remains to be seen if it will be another XT1 or one of Fuji’s other bodies but it will be Fuji. In fact this camera has been such a joy to use that my film cameras have been sitting on the shelf way too long. I will need to rectify that but the camera is that good and that much fun to use. I like taking it everywhere and that my friends is how you get the good pictures.

Speaking of taking it everywhere, It took the XT1 out for an hour hike in one of my favorite woodsy places. Normally I take my film cameras to this destination but decided to travel light and just bring the Fuji. I walked away with more keeper photos from that hour than I would or could have with any other camera that I own or have owned. Why you say? Because of the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) operation of this camera. I run this camera on full manual, no auto anything and it is the perfect camera for that. Adjustments are fast, especially once you get used to the layout, but then you see in the view finder what your adjustments did before you every take the photograph. I don’t need to take a dozen photos to make sure I got it right. I adjust my settings on the spot and can see if I got it right! One shot and onto the next subject unless I am trying to work on the angles and composition more. That is fantastic!

Another thing I have been playing with is using old Nikkor pre-AI lenses on the XT1. You see I didn’t totally get rid of all of my Nikon gear. I kept a couple of old film cameras one of which is an F2 for which I have a set of pre-AI lenses to round out the package. The Fuji with an adapter allows me to bring these early lenses to use in the digital world. Now some people would say why bother when the Fuji glass is superior and in some ways that would be correct. The Fuji glass is fantastic but don’t rule out old glass because it has a certain look and feel that you just might enjoy. I was surprised with the quality of the images that I got using some of these lenses. Some of the images in this post were shot with the old glass and I bet you can’t tell which ones.

The image quality from this camera continues to amaze me. It holds it’s own against a lot of full frame cameras but in a much smaller package. I have been using the JPEG files right out of the camera a lot but if I want full control of the image I have been using Iridient Developer for my raw files. That software is amazing in how it handles Fuji files, especially landscape images where you want all of that fine detail.

The XT1 allows me to shoot in much lower light without the need to pull out the flashes. Speaking of flashes, I have previously posted about my Cactus V6 transceivers and that is what I am using with the Fuji. I also picked up a Cactus RF60 flash and this with the transceivers and my old speed lights make for a killer setup that is quick to set up and very reliable to use. Love it!

One discovery or correction from my previous post where I questioned the tracking/fast focusing abilities of the XT1 especially in low light. I had been reading that if you put the camera in high performance mode that it helps. Well indeed it does. The XT1 sounds like a little machine gun going off and tracked very well in a hockey stadium. I wouldn’t call this low light so that still remains to be seen but in decent light it was not a problem.

So what is the biggest thing that I have had to get used to by making the switch to Fuji? Carrying a much smaller kit to do photo sessions. Even my wife is amazed at how much less gear I have to take. It’s a wonderful thing!

Happy wanderings!

Chasing the light with Ektar 100

Photography by it’s very definition is painting with light. As a photographer it seems that we do a lot more chasing of that light than painting with it. Landscape photographers are always chasing the sunrise and sunsets. I’ve done my fare share of that. For me great light can happen anytime and anyplace. The light can me made by nature or man made. I have created the wonderful light myself when it didn’t already exist in the situation being photographed.

They say the golden hours are the best time for photos and to some extent those time tables can certainly put the odds in your favor for getting beautiful light. In this case it was morning but it was already getting past what is considered the golden hour. On this day I was chasing the fog as much as I was the light. I needed the sun to be a little higher in the sky for the dramatic look I was hoping to capture.

With my camera backpack in hand I headed off to a nearby forest where I knew the sun would break through the fog with a cool effect. On the way I passed this cemetery and instantly went to plan B, which required a U-turn on my part a race back to the cemetery. As a photographer if nothing else you need to be flexible.

I had never explored this cemetery so I had to scout it out quickly before I lost my light. I knew this event wouldn’t last long. I drove to the back end of the cemetery and there the light was just streaming through the trees like you see in these photos. It was amazing! I loaded my camera with Kodak Ektar 100 in the hopes for more saturated colors but I was worried if it would have enough latitude to capture everything. I ended up really liking the look. I shot off one roll in less than 30 minutes and the light was gone along with the fog.

While I was taking these photos a woman walking her dog came up to me and asked “what are you taking photos of?” Probably curious as to why anyone would want to shoot in a cemetery. With what must have been an incredulous look on my face I stammered “well the gorgeous light of course!” She looked in the direction I was pointing and her eyes widened and she said ” oh my that is amazing!”

This morning I chased the light and received it by the bucket full. I was looking for things that other people would walk by and not even notice. Beautiful things.

Happy wandering.

All photos were shot on a Mamiya M645 and the film was developed and scanned by Indie Film Lab.

The nectar of Ektar

I cheated on my family vacation. Yes I confess I tried a different film other than my beloved Portra films. If that wasn’t bad enough I cheated within the same family, the Kodak family that is. The allure of the vibrant colors that one was supposed to get from Ektar made me stray from my more plain and quiet film Portra. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Portra and always will but it was time to try something new.

All kidding aside I do love the portra films. I almost always get the results I want shooting that film. In this digital world of over saturated color, I have found the Portra films to be more realistic in what I see color wise. If I want a bit more color out them I just bump the saturation a bit on the post processing side, but not by much. The exposure latitude of these films are amazing. I tend to over expose them a bit and usually meter for the shadow  or shaded areas. For Portra 160 I rate it at 120 and for Portra 400 I rate it at 320.  Some photographers take it farther than that but I am not looking for pastel colors I am just looking to open up the shadows a bit. Portra is known for just that, portrait photography, but I have been using it for landscapes as well and love the results. It makes my photos feel like the old Master’s paintings of the american landscape.

Enter Kodak Ektar 100. I only shot one roll on vacation and the rest of the time stayed with my tried and true Portra. I rated the 100 speed film at 80 and then metered the same way I meter for Portra.  Above you see some of the results. All and all I really like the film. It certainly does have a different feel to it. It reminds me more of slide film and has a bit less exposure latitude than the Portra films. With that said though, I metered incorrectly for the deep woods shots and over exposed them quite a bit. I was able to pull them back in with my post processing and still get a nice photo. Impressive. What I was most amazed with was the sharpness in detail. Wow! Big prints would not be a problem with this film at all. It gives digital a serious run for it’s money with the amount of detail recorded.

I’ve read people having trouble scanning the film and getting good colors from it. All of my film goes to Indie Film Lab and they did an outstanding job of the processing and scanning. One thing I did notice, which was no fault of the lab, was that the blues have a heavy cyan look to them. Your really see it in your skies. It looks a bit fake. More internet research revealed that a lot of photographers feel the film needs to be used with warming filters to help get the correct color. That information was too late for this roll so I added a 81a filter tone to them in photoshop. Sure enough it helped pull the cyan back into reality. My 81a filter is now packed with my other filters in my camera backpack.

So will I cheat on my Portra film again? Let’s just say the nectar of Ektar will become very attractive around the fall season.  Happy wanderings!

Oh my Mamiya!

“Say hello to my little friend!” My Mamiya m645 1000s. I’ve been shooting with a pair of these for about a year now. They are a wonderful little metal cube of a camera. No plastic here, that appears in the later/newer versions. Because of the lack of plastic they feel very substantial in your hands. They are rather handsome machines with the black leatherette and chrome trim, maybe not Hasselblad handsome but no troll either. Mamiya produced a wonderful line up of manual lenses for this camera that can really deliver beautiful images on modern films.

Why did I choose these particular cameras instead of say… a Hasselblad or Pentax or Bronica system? To be honest cost was a huge factor. These cameras can be found for cheap prices and yet they are professional equipment, all be it from the past. I would love to try a Hassie or a Pentax 67 but that is not in the realm of my budget. With that said I have never felt shortchanged with my Mamiya system.

This camera system suits how I work photographically. It’s portable and that is a big priority for me because I tend to hike with my system in a backpack. I can fit two bodies, my three lenses (55mm, 85mm and 150mm) into a small Lowepro pack along with filters and film and off I go.

Even more important than the portability is the quality of image that I can obtain from these machines. They are medium format film cameras that use the 645 image size. This is basically a cropped 6×6 format and allows for fifteen images on a roll of film. There is still plenty of resolution to be had in the images and in my opinion this is what 35mm should have been. In fact I shoot very little 35mm film because of these cameras. The transition in tones and the shallow depth of field that can be obtained is glorious.

Some people insist that the 6×7 format is the only medium format to go with. Well for me I can  get close enough with my Rolleicords if I feel a need for that size. Plus the cameras and lenses become a lot bigger and heavier once you make the move to 6×7 and as stated earlier, portability is important to me. No my cameras don’t have removable backs, they have film inserts, so no mid roll changes for me if I want to switch from color film to black and white film. My solution, two cameras. Like I said earlier, they are cheap. One of my cameras always has black and white film in it and one has color film in it. Problem solved.

Oh by the way, these are considered old cameras (from the seventies…ouch) and might need a CLA. That service might very well cost you more than the camera body did  but once done the camera should operate for a very long time. One more thing, for those of you who might get an odd shaped band of overexposure in some of your photos, this is not a light leak. It’s your shutter hanging up and it can be fixed. Ask me how I know! It will only occur at the higher shutter speeds. This is the only hiccup I have had with these machines. They do use a battery to operate the electronic shutter and my batteries seem to last a long time. The PDS viewfinder I have meters very accurately. I also have the waist level finder which of course requires a hand held meter for exposures.

With my Mamiyas I have been happily going from portraits to landscapes and anywhere in between and have been thrilled with the results. Oh did I mention I have a third one on the way and did I tell you they were cheap?

Happy wanderings!

Mystery roll

It has felt more like fall than spring lately but that isn’t why I am posting fall color photos. These are my surprise photos from a roll of film that didn’t get developed for quite a few months. It’s kind of like that roll you used to leave in the camera for a year or more and couldn’t remember what was on it once you got it developed. This roll wasn’t quite that bad. I had hung on to it because I hate sending only one roll of film to the lab to be developed so I wait until I have at least a couple of rolls. I knew what was basically on the roll of film but there were those pleasant surprises in the frames that I had forgotten I had taken. Those surprise frames from that mystery roll during a whole different season.

See the magic, shoot some film.

Rolleicord as a landscape camera

Landscape photographers love their wide angle lenses and rightly so. When used correctly the wide angle lens can provide the extra expanse needed for landscapes. I indicated in an earlier post that one of the limitations of the Rolleicord is it only has the one size lens which is a 75mm. With medium format film this lens would be more like a normal size lens on a 35mm camera, maybe a hair wider. Some landscape photographers would find this way too restricting. So does that make the Rollei a poor landscape camera? Absolutely not!

When shooting my Rolleicord, instead of looking for expansive landscape shots, I look for landscape chunks. What I mean by this is I look for pieces of the landscape that I find visually and graphically interesting. The waist level viewfinder is very helpful with this. I will walk around an area, looking through the viewfinder, without even taking a shot. During this time I am visualizing through the viewfinder. I’m looking for something visually interesting. Since I can’t shoot expansive shots I will instead look for different points of view by crouching down to ground level or anywhere in between. The waist level finder works brilliantly for this.

Once I’ve found something that I like, I will further compose the image to make it graphically interesting as a square image. Then it’s a simple matter of taking your light meter readings and making your photograph. Be creative and think beyond the restraints of your camera. In reality, the only restraint is your imagination.

Happy wanderings!