Kathy & I celebrated the Christmas season by attending a choral concert by the Singers of Renaissance, a Charlotte based choir. Christmas music is part of what makes the season special for us, and a choral concert in a beautiful church with a lovely organ brought back a whole smorgasbord of memories.
One of the most amazing things (other than the music) is that I didn’t see a single cell phone during the concert. A very rare thing anywhere these days, even in church. I was carrying my camera and took just two pictures during the performance, but since I was sitting in the back row I didn’t feel too conspicuous.
My computer wallpaper was getting a little stale so I decided it was time for a change. That, along with a little nudge from a co-worker (lookin’ at you, Carlin! 😉 )
I took this photograph on our recent visit to Nevis. Kathy & I were walking on the beach one evening just before sunset, and I saw these four sailboats anchored offshore. The clouds in the background vaguely suggest a coming storm, but there was some nice color in the sky and there didn’t appear to be much in the way of actual storms around. The Rules of Photography might dictate that three boats would be more appealing, but the spacing of these four boats seemed just right to me.
The thought that went through my mind when I saw this scene was “All Tucked In,” but since there were people out and about on the decks I decided that wasn’t quite accurate. I imagined that they had just finished up with a day of sailing and were ready to settle in for the evening, or perhaps come ashore and visit one of the nearby beach bars for dinner.
Kathy & I have done day trips on these catamarans and always felt that it would be fun to take an extended journey on one. But we never seem to find a few more couples willing to share, so we haven’t been. Any takers? 🙂
Kathy & I attended a jazz concert recently with two of our favorite jazz musicians. Afterwards we were talking about the music and how different a live performance is from the recorded music that we listen to at home. When we’re at home we tend to listen to “quiet” music – light jazz but also classical, guitar, piano, new age-y spa stuff. And it’s almost always instrumental. We find that vocal music interferes with our ability to think, especially when we are writing or reading. And if a live version of a tune comes on, I often skip it or remove it from the playlist.
Of course when we go to a live show we expect to be entertained. A lot of the music we listen to at home would put us and everyone else to sleep if we were to hear it at a live show.
The explanation I came up with has parallels with photography. Most of us spend our photographic time as observers, looking outward to see what there is and responding to it. We’ll sometimes be participants, such as at a wedding or baby shower. That is a little different because we are part of the action, rather than being outside looking in. But we take on a different role when we are participating in the action, and people respond differently to us when we are obviously taking pictures as opposed to an anonymous observer.
When I listen to music at home, I intend for it to support whatever I’d doing, which is usually to fade into the background. I am an observer but not actively involved in the performance. When I photograph, I generally try to be a part of that same background, observing and recording but not participating. On occasion I will photograph an event, and in that case my role changes. I am then part of the “performance” and an obvious participant. And there is a recognizable difference in the photographs that result from the two roles, in many ways like the difference between a recording and a live performance.
Kathy & I recently celebrated our 35th anniversary by spending a week at The Four Seasons Resort in Nevis. It was a splurge for us, but 35 years only comes around once. In the end it was well worth it. I have a lot more words bottled up in my puny little brain, but for now I just wanted to share some photos.
There were several things that made Nevis an enticing destination for us. We had never been there except for a brief stop on a catamaran cruise from St. Kitts, The Four Seasons is known as one of the top resorts in the Caribbean, and almost no one we talked to knew where it was!
This was a non-photographic vacation in a very photogenic place, so I had to work hard to suppress the photographer in me. I did take a camera, of course, and did use it quite a bit. But many of the day-to-day photos I took were made with my phone. I’ll share those at a later time with some more words. For now this post will share a few of my initial favorites!
Technically, we don’t have a back door. But we do have a screened porch at the back of our house that overlooks the woods next to our neighborhood. Kathy & I spend a lot of time on that screened porch, it is our outdoor space where we relax and unwind after a long day or a long week.
This past weekend was just about the ideal weather here in Charlotte – temperatures in the upper 70’s on Saturday, low 70’s on Sunday. We spent a lot of time on the porch.
These trees are directly behind our porch, and this is the second fall since we moved in. They sometimes call my name, and the call got especially loud on Saturday so I got out my camera. Nothing special artistic-wise, but it was good to answer the call and take a few shots. In a couple more weeks the leaves will all be gone.
Monte very astutely observed in my last post that all of the photos I posted had people in them, and what a departure that was for me. And it’s true – people who don’t know what kind of photography I do frequently ask me if I do weddings, and I almost always reply that I don’t take pictures with people in them.
On our recent visit to Asheville, however, I took way more pictures of people than I ever do. After Monte’s comment I realized that, for me, Asheville was all about the people.
A lot of places tend, for me at least, to be about other things – buildings, architecture, historical landmarks, nature, etc. But even though most of those other things can be found there, Asheville was mostly about the people.
I think the thing I enjoyed most about shooting there was that no one really paid any attention to me. Here in Charlotte, a person with a camera is often looked upon with suspicion, especially by the rent-a-cops that stand in front of (“guard” would be a misuse of the word) the bank buildings. A few people cast a sideways glance, but it seemed like for the most part I was just another tourist, and one who happened to have a camera.
I did find that using a wrist strap on the camera instead of a shoulder strap helped me be more spontaneous, and to a certain extent it made the camera a little less apparent to the people I was aiming it at. All in all it was a fun experience, and one I hope to try again soon!
In all the time we have spent in Western North Carolina, we have spent comparatively little time actually in Asheville. Everyone knows Asheville, some people know about Brevard, but relatively few people know about places like Waynesville, Sylva, Bryson City and others.
Most of our previous visits to Asheville have been for specific purposes – a visit to a museum, meeting with a photo editor, or a quick stop on our way to somewhere else. But Asheville is much more than just a place to pass through. In many ways it is far more cultured than the pseudo-culture of Charlotte, although admittedly there are places in Charlotte that are pretty darned interesting as well.
I have spent virtually no time in Asheville with a camera, so on Sunday afternoon we decided that it was high time we do some exploring. A quick check of the calendar confirmed that Octoberfest was the previous day, so other than the usual Sunday tourist crowd we figured we’d be OK. And were right, although the “usual tourist crowd” was still a bunch of people!
We had a nice few hours in town, checked out a few of the highlights but left plenty of places yet to be explored. We’ll definitely have Asheville on our short list for places to go back to soon. It’s even a pretty decent day trip from the Big City, so we just have to make a go of it in the near future.
This past weekend, Kathy & I made one of our periodic visits to Waynesville, North Carolina. Waynesville is our favorite mountain town to visit for a weekend, because it is easy to get to, there is a nice little motel right in town that we like to stay at, and there are a number of excellent hometown restaurants that we enjoy checking in at.
As it turned out, Saturday was supposed to be a craft fair, where they close Main Street for the day and fill it with vendors and craftspeople. Unfortunately this year’s show was a bit of a washout, although I understand the craft vendors did very well in spite of the rain, but the food vendors didn’t fare as well because no one wanted to eat standing in the rain. Can’t blame them!
I did manage to take some photos around town, and on Sunday we drove to Asheville for the afternoon. That will be the subject of another post, because I have a completely different set of photos. So for now, here is a little taste of fall from Waynesville, North Carolina, courtesy of me!
This may not be of interest to many people, but I’ve gotten several questions regarding my impressions of the Fuji XT1 and figured that summarizing my thoughts would be potentially interesting. I’ve rather enjoyed the process of choosing, buying, learning and setting up a new camera. It’s a lot like buying a new house or car, just on a much smaller scale. I’ve enjoyed the little bit of customizing that can be done to personalize the camera. There isn’t a lot you can do with a camera other than straps and covers, but that’s enough for me.
The first decision to be made was which lens to buy. When I decided to buy the camera I was figuring that it would be primarily my travel camera until I decided to part with my Canon gear. For travel my choice was between one of the two excellent “kit” lenses, either the 18-55 f2.8-4 or the 18-135 f3.5-5.6. I had rented them both when I was trying out the XT1 earlier in the year and liked them both. The 18-55 is small and compact, and the f2.8-4 aperture range lets in a lot of light. I opted for the 18-135 because of the range of focal length. I really like to have that much “reach” in a single lens, and the slower f3.5-5.6 aperture was less of a concern, because most of the “walking around” photography I do is at f5.6 or smaller in order to have plenty of depth of field.
I probably could have stopped there and would have had a lens to cover 90% of everything I shoot. But once I decided to make the XT1 my only camera, I wanted to be sure and have lenses to cover the other 10%. Once I knew how much I was going to get for the rest of my Canon gear, I realized that I would be able to buy a few more lenses. I was tempted to opt for the 16-55 f2.8 and the 50-140 f2.8 because they are the so-called “pro” lenses in the Fuji lineup. But they are nearly as large as the Canon lenses they would be replacing, the 16-55 lacks the amazing Fuji IS, I hardly ever shoot at f2.8 and with the 18-135 I pretty much already had that range covered. So for about same money as one of those two lenses, I opted for the 55-200 f3.5-4.8 and the 10-24 f4. The best part? My camera and three lenses fit neatly into a little shoulder bag that I can take anywhere. No more backpacks!
I did decide that I “needed” a prime lens to round out my kit and have ordered a 23MM f1.4. It arrives later this week.
My one complaint when I first tried the XT1 with the 18-55 lens was that it was pretty small for my hands. The larger 18-135 helps with that a lot for the left hand, but there still isn’t a lot for the right hand to hold on to. To correct that problem I ordered the Fuji grip, opting for the larger version, and a thumb rest from Lensmate. The thumb rest doesn’t help as much as I thought it would while shooting, but it does give me a comfortable place to rest my thumb while I’m carrying the camera. And the grip is great! It provides a nice gripping surface for my right hand and doubles as a quick release plate to work on my RRS ballheads. The only downside of that grip is that it is not an L-bracket, and I use an L-bracket a lot for landscapes. I don’t much care for the RRS L-bracket and it is pretty pricey, so I have ordered one from Photomadd in the UK. It is currently enroute and I’ll report on that once I have it and have tried it out.
I went round and round about straps. I really like using a wrist strap, but there are times when a shoulder strap is a better option. So I was looking for a system with easily interchangeable straps. I considered a number of options and finally decided on the Peak Design system. It is a very nicely designed system with quick releases that you can actually work one-handed, and they sell a kit that has both a wrist strap and a shoulder strap, along with some extra quick releases so you can use it with more than one camera. It was a little tough to thread the quick releases through the little holes in the strap lugs, but I found that a piece of dental floss helped to thread the needle. I can carry whichever strap I’m not using in a pocket or fanny pack and change it out easily whenever I need to.
The camera comes with a little accessory flash, which is probably OK for occasional fill but is not something I would want to use for paying clients. So I bought Fuji’s EF42 flash but I haven’t used it yet. I’ll definitely get it out and work with it before something important comes along!
Batteries! The only downside I’ve come across so far is that the camera eats batteries. I bought two extra ones when I ordered the camera, and recently added two more for a total of five. Even with the EVF turned to auto and the back screen off, it still eats power like (choose your analogy), and I can get maybe 200 shots on one charge. There are times when I’m not sure 2-3 batteries will be enough, so better to have more than less. I thought about the battery grip, but it’s big and expensive. Plus I don’t think it would eliminate the need to carry extra batteries.
The thing that most attracted me to the XT1 is the quality of the files. I can’t really put a technical finger on it, but I think a lot of it is due to the excellent quality of the lenses. The colors, the contrast and the sharpness are “just right” to me, and have a feel to them a lot like what I saw from my Mamiya 7 using Velvia slide film.
I’ve read a lot about how finicky Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw can be in processing the RAW files, especially sharpening and noise reduction. I’ve found this to be pretty much a non-issue. I have set up a couple of Develop module presets using Adobe’s version of the Fuji film styles with a few of my custom tweaks, and find the files to be excellent. I have been shooting RAW+JPEG in order to have the JPEG files as reference, and am about ready to switch over to RAW only. The good thing is that I could easily shoot in JPEG only and would have very usable files, perhaps with a bit less of the exposure latitude I can get with RAW files. I’ve never had much success with Black & White, and admittedly don’t have much experience with it, but I find that the Fuji B&W profiles are very appealing to my limited aesthetic. The camera’s dynamic range is very good, and I have had very few issues getting what I want out of a file. One thing I have not done yet is make prints, and it will be interesting to see how the Fuji files translate to paper. Soon, I hope!
Controls and Menus
I haven’t had a chance to do much customization, but in general I’ve found the controls to be well laid out and easy to use, and there are a lot of menus but the navigation is not too difficult. The Fuji allows for a lot of options for the functions of various controls. As far as exposure goes, at first I found myself shooting in Auto mode a lot and with Auto ISO, because I was interested in seeing what the camera will do. It works great for outdoor shooting, but indoors or in low light, I find that the camera is biased toward larger apertures before it cranks the ISO, and there are times when I need a smaller aperture. Even though it is a so-called “crop sensor” camera, the APS-C sensor still provides for pretty shallow DOF at larger apertures. I’m looking forward to seeing what the 23MM 1.4 can do!
So while I dipped my toe in the water early, I quickly decided to jump in head first! I have a lot more room in my closet, have several backpacks that I may or may not use, and have a really nice ThinkTank rolling bag that I may have to convert to regular luggage! 😉
We all get attached to our equipment in one way or another, and the more we use our cameras and get familiar with them, the more attached we become. But over time our needs change, technology improves and we end up making a switch. Sometimes making that switch can be hard, sometimes it can be easy.
I tend to be a pretty loyal guy by most standards. Kathy & I will be celebrating our 35th anniversary later this year, although that probably says more about her willingness to put up with me than it says about me! I tend to drive cars much older than most of the people I know, and I wear clothes until they are hopelessly out of style. I used Canon digital SLRs from my first one in 2005, and my first digital camera was a Canon G5 point & shoot. Over the last 4 years I have owned 4 Canon bodies and a bunch of lenses.
Full-sized and full-frame SLRs have become the standard for a lot of photographers. While there are and have been real and demonstrated advantages to larger sensors over the years, a lot of the so-called conventional wisdom has been as much marketing driven than anything. And that marketing was very effective, because the quality was very good, and because none of us wanted to be left behind. Over the years, the price tags of these big cameras and their accompanying lenses got bigger and bigger. The cameras themselves didn’t get bigger, but new lenses added to the collection and didn’t replace anything. Old bodies became backups or converted to infrared, and our camera bags and our closets kept getting more and more full.
A lot of people have more camera equipment than I used to have, and some of them actually use it all! But once the gear I was using stopped fitting into a big Think Tank rolling bag, I knew it was time to make a change. The big bag was hard to get in and out of the car and took up a lot of space. Traveling by air with a lot of equipment is no treat, as it is physically a pain and can be challenging with all the security rules. I knew that the airlines were very unlikely to let me take my rolling bag onto a plane, so I got what I could into a backpack and carried it on.
Our recent vacation to Colorado was probably the turning point for me. I had already been contemplating a move and had rented an Olympus OMD EM1 and a Fuji XT1, which I actually rented twice and was pretty sure I wanted to buy. The trip to Colorado proved to me that if I was going to continue to travel the way I want to, I was going to have to make a choice, and that choice was probably going to result in carrying less stuff. That combined with the fact that the next Canon camera was likely to render all of my ancient lenses obsolete, it made sense to start making the change now rather than waiting.
My original plan was going to be to sell off just my surplus gear and replace it with the Fuji and a single lens. I would continue to use the Canon 5D Mark III as my primary camera and would have the XT1 as a backup, instead of the old 5D. Made sense and I was ready to roll. I had previously decided to just sell my stuff to B&H, because I didn’t want to mess with Ebay or Craigslist. I did offer my stuff to a few select friends that I thought might be interested, but getting no takers I filled out the online form with B&H, liked the prices they were offering and sent off a box of old gear to the B&H used department. About two weeks later I had a gift card worth enough to pay for the Fuji, a lens and some extra cards and batteries. Sweet!
Back to that loyalty thing again – I’ve never been fond of owning different types of cameras and always having to decide which one to take with me and which one to leave at home. My philosophy has tended toward buying a camera that best suited my needs and using it for everything. Why bother with a camera that isn’t my best camera? That way I never have to worry about it – I always have my best camera with me, so if there is a shot worth taking it is worth having the best camera for. Despite our best guesses, there is no way to know ahead of time what kind of photographs will present themselves and whether the camera I chose to take with me was suitable. If I only have one camera, I always have my best one with me!
So between processing the Colorado photos from my Canon cameras and waiting for the Fuji to arrive, I started looking back through the photos I had taken with the two rental Fujis. I was and am very impressed with the quality of files out of that camera. I think before the UPS package even arrived I had decided not to wait. I did wait, but decided that I was going to sell the rest of the Canon gear and buy as much Fuji stuff as I wanted. And as it turned out I sold off all my Canon gear, bought the XT1 and four lenses and still have a little money left over!
So there’s that story. I know the real questions are about how I feel about the XT1. But that will need to wait until my next post. Fear not, though. It is mostly written, so I just need to come up with a few more photos!