Monday, 6 February 2017

Waste Not, Want Not!

About year ago I decided to simplify my off camera flash setup with my X-Pro1 and just go ole skool manual and do away with TTL remote control of my Shanny SN600c speedlights, after realizing that I couldn't hot swap them between Fuji and Canon systems. To save money I decided to see what I could cobble together from the recycle bin of old (and not so old) manual flashguns, which included a pair of Yongnuo YN560mk2 speedlights that I had purchased by mistake but couldn't be bothered to return and had sat unloved in the office, gathering dust, along with an old Jessop's  Canon ETTL flashgun I had inherited from a friend. These were to join my one and only dedicated Fuji X flashgun in my kitbag, the small and under powered Nissin i40. (More about the i40 later). This is all part of my push to do more on-site corporate head shots using less bulky equipment but maintaining the same high production values that I was getting with my Canon 5Dmark3 and 580ex mk2 flashguns.


The Holy Trinity of Off Camera Flash

Ghost of Yongnuo's Past

My original plan was to buy a set of Yongnuo RF 605c radio slaves, after I had seen them being used by Matt Widgery in his studio but then I came across a great deal on Ebay of someone selling a pair Yongnuo RF 603rx (for Canon) receivers and a single RF600tx transmitter for the bargain price of £20.00 all in. This meant that I could remotely radio trigger both of my flashguns instead of just one and before I knew it a small package was delivered to my door. Everything was going according to plan until, I set everything up and nothing worked. I ended up spending the best part of a weekend, changing (and charging) batteries and messing around with the channel switches but nothing worked. A quick e-mail to the seller resulted in a full refund but when I said I'd return the gear, the seller said that I might as well bin them and save everyone the trouble. Now, having been raised on a council estate, I'm reluctant to throw anything away and so I just threw the remotes in the back of my office draw and (kind of) forgot about them. A couple days later a brand new pair of Yongnuo RF 605c turns up at the door and moments after their delivery I was in OCF heaven with my radio slaves seamlessly triggering my flash. Alas this setup meant that I could only trigger ONE of four strobes, via a radio slave with the remaining lights being triggered optically or via the RF605's hotshoe sat on top of the camera. This worked great indoors but the moment I stepped outside it just fell apart (especially if I was shooting against the sun) where the optical slaves wouldn't trigger even they were in line of sight of the master flash and this inevitably brought me back to the two RF603's languishing in the draw. What could be done?

I had seen various "hacks" for the 603 on YouTube and a quick call to John "Mr Magic" Wright confirmed that my non functioning triggers could indeed be brought back to life, but it was all gonna take time and be rather messy in the making and given the time and trouble involved, the entire venture just didn't seemed to be worth it. So back in the draw they went......

Then something strange happened. While tidying up the main bedroom, ready for any Christmas visitors, I came across the original packaging for the Yongnuo 605's and decided to open up the box and READ THE MANUAL inside. It struck me straight away. Page one, opening line:


Read the manual


"RF-602/RF-603 communications mode RF605=RF602+RF603"

And immediately I thought, "OMG,  I've made a booboo!"

Five minutes later, the 603's were dug out of retirement and loaded up with fresh batteries and a RF605 set in "RF603 mode". Bingo, the Yongnuo YN560 strobe sat in the hotshoe of the 603rx fired without complaint. So just by reading the FIRST page of the manual I was able to turn one radio triggered flashgun into three (with a fourth gun in the hotshoe of the master 605tx sat on top of the camera) and all without  John having to perform open heart surgery on the 603's. So now I've successfully recycled all of my legacy speedlights and can radio trigger all of them Result!

The Nissin i40 and the little Magic Button.


Lord only knows why Nissin chose to hide the HSS function on their i40 speedlight but it is there....
At the time I picked up my Fuji X-Pro1 from Donal at Fixation, the Nissin i40 speedlight was the ONLY Fuji XF dedicated speedlight worth swat! It was also the perfect form factor for the X-series of mirrorless digital camera's, being small and nifty, with an almost industrial strength build quality. Alas all good things come at a price and in the case of the i40 that meant a major lack of power and a rather low Guide Number of 40 compared to my usual Canon/Yongnuo workhorses of 58. So what you've really got with this little Nissin is more of a fill-in  daylight speed-light than a main light. Using this flashgun as your sole source of illumination is a very bad idea, you either have to back it up with the sun or another speedlight, in my case the Yongnuo YN560mk2. Paired together this works really well in most circumstances but there is one hidden trick that the i40 has that make this flashgun a must-have for all Fuji  X lovers. You wouldn't know it but the tiny tweeny "Pilot/Test Button" located on the rear of the flashgun also doubles as the High Speed Sync button. Press and hold this button for more than four seconds and all of a sudden your flash sync speed moves from a pitiful 1/160th sec to a blistering 1/4000th sec. This then opens up a whole can of possibilities especially if you're looking (like me) to make nice head & shoulder portraits with flash balanced against the sun and your lens wide open for that tell tale narrow depth of field, out of focus background but to overpower the sun you need power and that's the one thing the i40 hasn't got! So what I needed to find out was could I get my non HSS manual Yongnuo YN560 speedlight to successfully sync with my hidden HSS Nissin i40 via the Yongnuo 603 and 605RF radio slaves. It took me and my neighbour Emin, less than 30 minutes to find the answer.


Fuji XF 60mm @F2.5,1/250th sec 100ASA
The above photo of my mate Emin was shot in his back garden and the resulting jpeg came out of the X-Pro 1 as is, untouched. A Nissin i40 set in HSS mode was fired on camera via a Yongnuo 605RF radio slave (in 603 mode). A secondary Yongnuo YN560mk2 was placed on a lighting stand and shot through a shoot through brolly via a Yongnuo 603 radio slave, subject left. The sun was the backlight, over the right shoulder. Both the 560 and the manual was in i40 was in manual mode.

I'm gonna do a bit more testing with this but I'm very encouraged with the results so far. For some unknown reason the more powerful but none HSS Yongnuo 560mk2 is syncing perfectly with the naturally aspirated HSS enabled Nissin i40 via the Yongnuo radio slaves (admittedly only at 1/250th). We repeated the same shot with the HSS turned off and it didn't sync. Also note, that the Fuji XF 60mm macro is pin sharp wide open........Come on Matt, when are you and your XF56mm gonna come out to play?

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Learn something New.........Everyday!



The long awaited Fujifim X-Pro2. Thanks but no thanks!

It's been sometime since my last post, almost four months, in fact, which as seen Fuji finally launch their new top of the line replacement for the X-Pro 1, the X-Pro 2. So lets' get straight to the point. Will I be upgrading to the new kid on the block! Ummmm, no! Why? Well, for once it's got nothing to do with the PRICE! There are some sweet deals to be had on a brand new X-Pro2 (as I write this post, WEX UK are pushing out body only deals for £1349.00 inc vat with 2 year interest free credit). OK, in these cash strapped times, that is still a lot of money to be shelling out but it doesn't come anywhere near the arm and a leg that a Leica would demand, which is the X-Pro2's nearest competitor.  No! The number one reason why I won't be upgrading any time soon is that I'm still having too much fun with the original Mack Daddy, the X-Pro1. And I'm still learning how to adapt the camera to better suit my shooting needs and style. In fact, every time I put the cameras to my eye, I end up learning something new. I have yet to get my hands on a X-Pro2 so I can't write a review on one (YET),  of which there are already plenty available online. With the arrival of the new top of the range Fuji, I think it's going to be the perfect opportunity for those photographers with a limited budget to finally dip their both toes into the pond of mirrorless digital photography, without the fear of getting financially burned. So, with that in mind. what follows next is strictly for the X-Pro1 massive. This is my current X-Pro 1 setup sheet.  (Some of this may also apply to the X-Pro2, but my advice on both counts, is to test, test, test, until satisfied). Enjoy!

The Back Button.

The X-Pro 1's AE-L/AF-L back button. Also take note of the green review button.



I've already mentioned in a previous post the importance of getting to grips with the X-Pro1's back button focusing. When the X-Pro1 and any attached lens has been installed with the latest firmware, hitting the AE-L/AF-L button transforms this camera into a low light, quick focusing street fighter. Alas, all this midnight fun comes at a price but the amount paid depends on your own personal shooting preferences and if that as been accurately replicated in the way that the AE/AE-L button as been setup in the user profile. I learned this lesson the hard way when I went to cover the public reaction to the death of David Bowie, in Brixton (his place of birth), mid January 2016. I had setup the back button to lock focus and continue to hold focus as long as the button was pressed down and there lied the rub. Pressing the AE/AE-L back button can be problematic at the best of times but when it's cold to freezing, continued pressing quickly turned a labour of love into a labour of hate. Try as I might, I couldn't hold focus.  I managed to screw up a really nice shot of a painted face outside the Ritzy Cinema this way and was determined to find a better auto focusing workflow  thereafter.


The menu and the two options for setting up AF&AE locking functions

So the first thing I did as soon as I got home was go back into the camera's menu and change the AE/AF-L option from "AE&AF when pressing" to "AE&AF on/off switch, which meant that I only had the press the back button once for it to hold and lock focus. Then I checked to make sure that there was still clear blue water between the function of the main shutter button which dealt exclusively with metering and the back button focusing button which did exactly what it said on the tin and nothing else. Truth be told, I still do not understand why pressing the shutter would have reactivated the auto focus, when I had deliberately set it up not to? My advise to you is to play around with the settings and see what best works for you and then test, test, and test again to make sure everything works the way you want it to. All I can say, is that I missed some cracking good shots that night because of my inability to hold focus on a primary subject and recompose. For me, setting the back button as a on/off switch just suited me better. One press, bang, job done!


The mural to the great man himself, in focus.


The Default Settings.


Now the default factory settings of the X-Pro 1 straight of the box are more tailored towards the semi-amateur than the experienced pro shooter and this can inevitably lead to problems. By default the X-Pro 1 is set to display a review either in the viewfinder or the rear screen each and every time a photo as been taken. In a studio, this really isn't a problem but take the X-Pro 1 out on the street where following the action is key and this "review" while on, will stop you and the your camera dead in it's tracks, because you will NOT be able to track the action or take a photo during the length of the review. This was another harsh lesson I learned while I was in Brixton, along with the fact that nothing drained a battery of a X-Pro1 faster than these reviews constantly popping up on. Now, I've setup the camera to only show me a review at my command (just by hitting the review button and scrolling) and not the other way round. Happy daze!


The default review made taking this photo real hard work.


OVF vs EVF (and why it's a false choice).


One of the great advantages that the X-Pro 1&2 has over a average DSLR is it's hybrid Optical and Electronic View Finder, which quite frankly has put this camera into a league of it's own. Alas, this as also provoked a fair amount of debate about which viewfinder is the best, Optical or Electronic?  Personally speaking,  I think  it's a false choice and I'll tell you why?


1. The one thing that you won't see in my Fuji kit bag is a light/flash meter because with a Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) I don't need one. The EVF on the X-Pro1 works on the simple principle of what you see is what you get (WYSIWYG). It's "liveview plus" you might say and boy does it work. Used together with the camera's internal metering and the histogram and what you've got is a almost bulletproof method of accurately determining your exposure, on the fly. This now has implications on the kind of light you can now employ to light your subject. More and more mirrorless photographers, such as Paul Rodgers are now lighting their sudjects with continuous LED lighting instead of flash which was practically unheard of back in the days of the DSLR. With the EVF,  it is now dead easy light in real time. As long as it looks good in the EVF,  you are more than half way home. Alas, it does come with a couple of caveats and it is here that the Optical View Finder (OVF) comes to the rescue.


2. The power management of a X-Pro1 while in EVF mode is truly terrible and if unchecked will suck a battery dry in double quick time. Also and this is going to sound counter intuitive given the real time compositional properties of the EVF,  I found following and anticipating action using the EVF was difficult to say the least and nigh on impossible during fast moving events. This I found out in Dalston, East London, while I covered a church service for clowns and it was here that the Optical Viewfinder came into it's own. With it, I could just follow the action seamlessly without anything coming in between me and my subject matter and because the field of view was wider than that offered up by the EVF,  I could anticipate sooner and faster both what was coming into my frame and what was leaving it, while making my composition.


The clowns managed to lead the OVF of the X-Pro 1 a merry dance.

And because it is so easy and quick to flip from one to the other and back again , I've ended up getting the best of both worlds. For me the X-Pro1's hybrid OVF/EVF viewfinder is one of the best examples of how with the proper setup , you can have a win-win without compromising functionality of the camera (or yourself for that matter) as well as extending the working life of those poor batteries. Just please be aware that when the battery does begin to fail, it will do so at the drop of a "clowns hat",  leaving the performance of your camera to drop right off a cliff. So always carry spare and make sure that they are handy. My thanks goes out to Sir Simon Callow................For giving me the time of day and allowing me to change batteries.

 Rapid Fire ISO/ASA

A small button with major implications.

There has been much debate about the integrated ISO/Shutter Speed dial on the X-Pro2 (personally speaking, I don't like it but each to their own). Anyway, getting back to the X-Pro1, by default there are two ways to access the camera's ISO settings, either through the camera's main menu or by hitting the "Q" button which gives you access to the camera's "quick menu". Now you would have thought that would be the end of the story but there is a third hidden way that you can access the camera's ISO function and that is by assigning the X-Pro1's Fn button solely and purely to ISO duties. This will bring you to an totally separate and dedicated ISO menu and it is this that has sped up my X-Pro1 workflow no end but don't take my word for it, try it yourself!



The Last Word


There are two other settings that are worth a mention and that I use where and when the need arises. The X-Pro1 is the first digital camera where I've felt comfortable enough to leave in both Auto White Balance and Auto ISO, where in effect the camera goes it alone, without any direct input from big ole me. As always I will keep a wary eye on where the auto pilot is leading me, just in case it's taking me down a blind alley but on the whole the "fly by wire" functionality of the X-Pro1 is nothing short of amazing, especially if you're like me and you only shoot jpegs. Now this is NOT going to be everyone's cup of tea and when you come right down to it,  handing over creative control to a micro chip isn't what good photography should be about. Alas in situations where speed is paramount, these two settings can work wonders in enabling the X-Pro1 in capturing moments that would otherwise be missed.


This photo is a mixture of daylight,  flash  and halogen done "on the fly".


Thursday, 10 December 2015

A Star is Born!

Let's start at the beginning. It's been a open secret that both on and off camera flash was a bit of a after thought to those boffins tucked away at Fujifilm HQ back in Japan which has left many X-Pro photographers scratching their heads looking for a better alternative than what was officially on offer from Fuji. A couple of months ago I came across this YouTube video from a Cambridgeshire based photographer, Matt Widgery and I was perplexed by his conclusions regarding the X-Pro 1 and the Yongnuo RF 603c single pin radio trigger as regards off camera flash and the X-Pro 1. Simply put, poor Matt couldn't get any of his YN setup's (either Canon or Nikon) to work with his X-Pro 1 and I could. So I posted a comment and before I knew it, I was invited to appear on his show:  


From there on, things progressed at lightning speed because I had also been doing my own laboratory testing of various OCF combinations with my X-Pro 1 which included the Canon 580mk2's, the fully dedicated Nissin i40 and the Shanny SN600c speedlights, along with my set of Yongnuo YN622c/TX and RF603c radio triggers and various makes of eTTL off camera flash cables, when I struck GOLD with the Shanny speedlights and the Yongnuo 622c/TX. 

What I had found was that I could not only successfully trigger my Shanny flashgun and fully remotely control it's power, ratio,  flash



compensation and zoom settings from a YN622tx sat in the hotshoe of the camera, set in manual mode, I could also do exactly the same thing (and here is the kicker) in TTL mode. I had discovered the X-Pro 1's OCF holy grail. So with this in hand I set off down the A10 to a Cambridgeshire village, stuck in the middle of nowhere to do my first YouTube broadcast. 

Let me tell you, making a video is bloody hard work (just remembering your lines takes it's toll) and Matt did a wonderful job of taking me step by step through the process and showing me what was going on in terms of lights, camera (sound) and action. One day, stretched into two but eventually everything was shot, rendered and uploaded. Here are the results!  I am now in the process of publishing my own and first YouTube but more on this later. Enjoy......





Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Fuji X-Pro 1 (Pimped)

Last week, I turned 52! Nine weeks before my birthday, I (with some help from Donal at Fixation) decided to "buy" myself a early birthday present, which came in the form of a boxed quality used Fujifilm X-Pro1. Now, I have to admit it, I've been hankering for the X-Pro 1 since it's launch and first got my hands on one at Fujifilm's South African HQ in Johannesburg two years ago, when I was still using my a Canon G7 compact as my go-anywhere digital camera. That camera, the G7 had been "pimped" within a inch of it's life, both internally (in the form of a third party firmware namely the CHDK hack) and externally with various accessories from a company called Lensmate, which included a extra finger grip and a lens extension tube.


The trusty Canon G7 compact digital camera (un-pimped)

I intended to do exactly the same thing with the X-Pro 1. Alas, (and as previously mentioned) I was overtaken by events, which included sending back the camera to Fuji's service department in Northampton for an extensive repair and replacement of it's main board and lens mount. Yep, I had managed to dodge an very expensive bullet. My advice to anyone considering buying a 2nd hand X-Pro1 is to be very, very careful before parting with your hard earned cash. As the saying goes "buyer beware!" There are loads of bargain basement X-Pro 1's doing the rounds on Ebay, fleabay and elsewhere at the moment and many of them, dare I say, are too good to be true. If your cheap as chips X-Pro 1 doesn't come with at least a six month warranty,  I'd think again and save a few more pennies because if it goes wrong, your bargain will quick turn into a very expensive non functioning doorstop. Lucky for me, I brought mine from a trusted source (Donal from Fixation) and the guys and girls at Fujifilm did a bang up job repairing my X-Pro1 and I now have something that is as close to resembling the  performance of the upcoming Fujifilm X-Pro 2  that money could buy. So, having  established a solid baseline with this new reborn beastie, I declare, let the pimping begin.

Step 1: Firmware Upgrade. 

The first thing you should do with your X-Pro 1 after fully reading it's user manual,  is turn it on and check which firmware it's currently running, then visit Fujifilm camera support here, where you will find the latest firmware upgrade for your camera and all free of charge.


As you can see my camera is currently running firmware V3.41 and the battery is fully charged.

I cannot stress just how important taking this first simple step can be in giving you the camera you deserve (and that Fuji intended) and here I must give credit, where credit is due. Three years after it's launch Fuji has continued to fully support this camera, primarily through a series of firmware upgrades which have utterly transformed this camera into a totally different beast from that of it's launch. Three years ago,  it was a open secret that the X-Pro 1 couldn't focus for toffee. Now (as long as you separate the function of metering and focusing and learn the benefits of back button focusing) a upgraded X-Pro1 can focus in near darkness. And it's not only the body that can be given the full firmware magic treatment, Fuji's series of X-mount lenses can also be upgraded. Perform both and you should end up with a X-Pro1 which is both fast and responsive. Doing a firmware upgrade is a win-win, no brainer. Do it and do it now! Trust me, you won't regret it. 

Step Two: Protection 

The Fuji X-Pro 1 is fundamentally a street camera and as such it should be afforded some form of protection both from the elements and YOU! I have always adhered to the rule that if you look after  the tools of your trade, your tools of work WILL LOOK AFTER YOU. So with this in mind I wrap both body and lens in  neoprene pouches, keeping them nice n cosy while in transit in my canvas bag.  I call it my "ragga" look.

My X-Pro1 Bag and it's neoprene protected contents
Then there is the X-Pro 1's rear LCD screen which is a thing of beauty but very exposed to being damaged. The previous owner of my camera had had the good sense to apply a hardened glass protector over the LCD screen and judging by the amount of scratches it's taken, the screen has already proved it's worth.

Step Three: Military Grade Pimping and Sports Car Handling.


My X-Pro 1 fitted with a "Arca" style handgrip L shaped plate.

The Fuji X-Pro 1 has always been a good looking camera, even dare I say, "Leica" like which if truth be told was part of it's appeal but the addition of a quick release "Arca Type" L plate hand grip, takes the X-Pro 1's retro looks to an whole new level. The plate has other advantages too. It's base and vertical plate are 100% compatible with RRS lever-quick release clamp system which means you can easily and quickly mount your X-Pro 1 body onto a suitable "arca" type tripod head. It's extra chunky handgrip is great for people like me with big hands and fat fingers and when used together with a "Thumbs Up" grip offers up superb handling to any and all photographers employing this combo. All in all this bracket offers rock solid protection to both the bottom and the side of the camera from the daily knocks of working life but let's be clear it turns the X-Pro 1 into one bad looking gangsta camera. 


Step Four: Off Camera Flash.

The off-camera flash system for my X-Pro 1 is made up by three main components.

1. The Yongnuo "Canon" ETTL off camera flash cable.
2. The Nissin i40 "Fuji X" iTTL speedlight and finally
3. The Nikon SK-7 off camera flash bracket.

Now it's been common knowledge amongst the X-Pro 1 community that there is some kind of link between Canon and Fuji in the way they have implemented their ettl flash protocol. I chose the Yongnuo cable over that of the OEM one made by Canon because quite frankly, the Yongnuo worked better. I couldn't tell you why exactly this is the case. I've tested both the Canon and non generic Canon OCF cables and to date only found the Yongnuo cable to be fully up to the task. It don't figure. With this combo, I can use the Nissin i40 both in manual and ittl modes with the cable enabling seamless communication between the X-Pro body and the Nissin speedlite. More importantly, the flash is moved from the top of the camera to the side of it, which works fine for me as a dyed in the wool "Strobist".


My X-Pro1 as viewed from the top with the Yongnuo OCF cord in the hotshoe connected to the Nissin i40 flash.
Step Five: Full "Pimp" Custom

Henry Ford once said of the Model T that his customers could choose any colour they liked, as long as it was black. The boffins at Fujifilm (and others) have taken a rather different tact with the X-Pro1 although you wouldn't know at first glance.

I have left the best till last because this option should only be considered by those of us who truly want to turn their X-Pro 1's into a urban fashion statement. Fujifilm will, for a price, give your understated ordinary looking black X-Pro a total custom makeover. Fuji calls it their "Signature" re-skinning service and trust me when I tell you that your camera will be un-recognisible by the time they finish with it. Alas I live in North London and this would attract the wrong kind of attention but if you're living in Chelsea........



A Fuji X-Pro 1 sporting Arsenal colours 

PS: There are three other things I'd recommend which will enable you to get the most out of your X-Pro1. First off, if you can and budgets permitting, get the fastest SD memory cards that money can buy (note, I said "fastest" not largest). The second and third amount to the same thing, batteries! The energy consumption of both the X-Pro1 and the Nissin i40 speedlight is HUGH and they both eat batteries. From my limited experience the original Fuji battery that came with the camera is the best option but that alone will not last a full days shoot and that's why I'm about to order three more direct from Fuji. As for powering the Nissin, the choice is easy. A fresh set of fully charged Sanyo Eneloop AA rechargable batteries will be the order of the day. Trust me, these batteries are the lick! Get a spare set, just in case but you won't be disappointed. 

Anyway if you want to check out "What's in my Fuji X-Pro 1 bag?" go to my YouTube channel and see for yourself. 

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Back from the Dead......


Me and my Fujifilm X-Pro1 back together again. If only life could be so sweet!


Last week I finally got my beloved Fuji X-Pro1 back from the dead (and Fixation) after almost two weeks away having open heart surgery at Fujifilm UK HQ in Northampton. To be precise, it had both it's main board and lens mount replaced as new, along with a new battery and though the work didn't come cheap, it was beautifully done. My honey bunny now is a marvel. Boots up is mega fast, (back button) focuses like lightning and it's low light performance is just stunning. Alas, all this goodness is useless if you DON"T READ THE USER MANUAL, because this camera also comes with quirks that will stop it,  stone cold dead! So even though I had messed around, taking pictures of the house and re-familiarizing myself with it's various controls, in the short time the camera had been away, I had forgotten it's caveats. So last night, I set out to London Town, with my camera tucked inside my satchel, where I was to meet my friend and colleague, Paul "Ducky" Rodgers and his assistant Anna, on one of their many "jobs" covering a large Asian wedding, with the intention of giving my new assistant, Ales,  a bit of "on the job training". Well that was the plan anyway. The event was running late and we boys ended up watching Wales V South Africa play in the Rugby World Cup on Paul's iphone 6. When I did eventually pull my baby out of my bag, it was to follow Paul into the main hall where the reception was taking place and snap a few photo's of the set tables, etc, etc......All without flash. The hall itself was dimly lit and very atmospheric and presented a perfect opportunity to test the focussing and low light capabilities of my Fuji. I was blown away! The damn thing just worked.....But I didn't! I was rusty.....


 
1/3th of a sec, F4 @800asa handheld.


Then I decided to pull out my Nissin i40 Fuji Speedlight to take some photo's in and around Paul's studio and immediately things started to go wrong.  First the camera jammed solid and refused to fire and all of a sudden I remembered that I had forgotten the "caveats". First, I went into the camera's menu and set the camera to "forced flash". No joy! Then I switched the drive mode from "C" continuous to "S" single but still no joy. I was stumped to what to do next, until I spotted another photographer with a Fuji XT1 with the very same Nissin i40 sat in the hotshoe. God is good and god is great. My camera was in "silent mode" and with this final adjustment, I was back in business. Alas the batteries inside in flashgun were on their last legs and I had forgotten to bring any spares.  Why oh why does this camera and anything attached to it, just sucks the life out of batteries in double quick time? Fuji, are you hearing me?  Longer extended battery life wouldn't go amiss in the new upcoming X-Pro2. And so I plodded on to see what I could get....

1/125th sec F2.8 @800iso, manual flash set a 1/8th power bounced into the ceiling.
Ducky in the Dark. 1/60th sec F2,8 @ 800iso. No flash!

Now don't get me wrong, I will first need to return to the user manual for the umpteenth time before I can fully master this camera, as well as practice, practice, practice. And here I give nuff thanks to the miracle that is the internet for ONE very good reason. The X-Pro 1 is almost four years old and so alas is it's user manual. Since it's launch, it's undergone several firmware upgrades which have both addressed most if not all of it's early shortcomings (such as poor focussing) and transformed it into a totally different beast. This is NOT reflected in the manual, which has remained the same from day one. Here, both Google and YouTube come to the rescue. If you are like me and a newcomer to the Fuji X-Pro 1 system, my advise would be to let your fingers do the walking and check out the many reviews and tips to be found on the interweb, the first being FujiFilm's own website, where you can download and install the latest firmware upgrades for both your camera and lenses, as well as reading up on the latest info. Irrespective of it's age, make no doubt about it, this camera ROCKS!

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

First Light of the Lonely I.

It's been three years since I lost my Sharon. Three long lonely years of living in limbo and soaking my savings. In that time my health has gone south for the winter, my right knee is shot to pieces and my blood pressure has gone through the roof. Yet, three years later, something has changed! I can't really put my finger on it but in the last three weeks, I've started to live, as opposed to merely survive. I'm back on my mountain bike ( and soon back in the pool), venturing out into the world and watching movies with perfect strangers. More than anything else though, I'm starting to enjoy my photography. And this is the weird thing, to the best of my knowledge, this change of fortune is all down to a non functioning Fuji X-Pro 1.

My Fuji X-Pro in better days!
I have owned this camera now for less than a month and from the beginning it wasn't right. A quick trip to Fixation and a firmware upgrade later, saw a vast improvement in performance (especially with regards to back button focusing). But the camera itself was still flaky and freezing at any given moment rendering it useless for day to day shooting. So a week later I returned it to Donal and as I write this, my honey bunny is having open heart surgery at FujiFilm UK HQ in Northamptonshire. In the very short time I've had the pleasure of using the X-Pro 1, it has made me realise, like never before, just how lazy I've been with my interactions with the average DSLR. This broken down, mashed up, non functioning paper weight has forced me to re-think the way I make pictures and learn again the mechanics and science behind it. Truth be told, I've been a lost soul for a very long time, long before Sharon's passing. For too long, mentally,  I've been in a bad place and Sharon's illness and subsequent death didn't help matters. I have become a man out of place and out of time. Part of my loathing for all things digital came from the bad experience I had with the Nikon D1 and my time at Trident Communications which quite frankly, sucked! Alas, even I have to admit the modern D.S.L.R has grown and matured in ways inconceivable in the 14 years since I left their employ but for me, it was all too little, too late, the damage was already done. How could I work with a technology that I didn't trust?

Far from my beloved South Africa and the death of a loved one does strange things to a man, trust me. Alas, it seems that God does indeed have a sense of humour and giving me a broken X-Pro 1  was just one of his jokes. It's been quite a journey, just to get here, reading manuals and watching YouTube. Hearing the penny drop! How could this be? I can only put it down to the fact that the X-Pro 1 is a throw back to the good old days of film, my first love, before Billinghurst. The X-Pro 1 is tactile and mechanical and ole skool familiar and though I didn't fully understand it, it instilled in me trust instead of fear. It is NOT a modern take on an DSLR come rangefinder (aka Leica) but more like a digital reboot of a familiar friend. A trusted friend.

So my health is work in progress, work in slow to non existent  and finding an reliable, honest 1st assistant has proved to be one of the worse experiences of my professional life (more about this later). Truly I would not wish this upon my worse enemy (apart from a certain lowlife cretin from Worcester) but slowly and surely I'm working my way through it, one problem at a time, which brings me nicely to a lady called Alessandra.

I first met Ales via the free online dating app "Plenty of Fish" a year ago and we have been on and off friends ever since, with me trying my hardest to get her to work for me. In the meanwhile poor ole Ales has had her own issues to deal with, which lead us to meetup in Shoreditch for a catch-up brunch, whereupon she told me about a small photography project she was involved in. A friend of hers needed a few "fashion" shots taken for her fledgling business and Ales offered up herself and her humble Canon EOS 550D and Sigma 70-300 telephoto to the task. And I offered to come along for a easy afternoon, carrying her bags and my Strobist kit (and a 5Dmk3 and a 24-70L, just in case). The next day, saw us in a small council flat in Hornsey with a nervous one woman business owner, a amateur model and a collection of clothes and that was it! It didn't take too long for me and Ales to get into our groove but whereas Ales wanted to just press the shutter and hope for the best, I slowed down and my mind started to think and my eyes started to roam. What I soon realised was that even though my X-Pro 1 was far away having it's guts ripped out, it's spirit was here with me in a cream coloured living room, in North East London. We had beautiful diffused light, a low white ceiling and a black model, so out came a single Shanny SN600c speedlight, a Yongnuo YN622c radio slave and a stand, with the speedlight being bounced into the ceiling.  We then underexposed the ambient light by about a stop and let the flash do the rest. Ales was in her element. The picture below was shot with a single bare off camera flash, bounced into a low white ceiling, camera right and that was it! Keeping it simple, really does have it's advantages. 


Not a bad effort at all from OUR Ales and her Canon consumer DSLR.
Me, I was looking for something else and I found it in the lobby and soon we had the poor model shuttling between the two locations. This time I wanted the light to be a little more directional, so I placed my speedlight into a umbrella box and stood it as close to the model as possible. Maybe a little too close, as I later discover that some of that light had spilled onto the artwork. A small mistake, easily fixed in post production in Photoshop ( or pre-propduction by the use of a flag ). Can't wait to get my Fuji back though........All in all in was a good afternoon's "work".

All of the shots here were taken with a single off camera flash, either bounced into a low white ceiling and dressed in a umbrella box

This was taken in the public lobby area and I hope you agree it made for a perfect backdrop. All of the photo's here were taken with a single (off camera) Shanny SN600c speedlight, remotely triggered by a pair of Yongnuo YN 622c Radio Transceivers.





Thursday, 1 October 2015

Fly Me to the Moon.......

There are certain global events which happen from time to time that grabs everyone's attention and the blood red lunar ellipse  of the "Super Moon" was one of them. So last week, I found myself on the pavement just outside my house, looking up into the night sky with my Sigma 120-300mm attached to my Canon 1DmkIV. Alas I couldn't get the whole rig to sit right on the pan and tilt head of my manfrotto tripod. It was like stirring mud. Every move I made, the tripod countered it. However much I tried, it simply refused to work. And then this happened:

This is the second of two shots I managed to grab of the plane "flying to the moon".


Lucky for me,  I had consulted google before setting out on this particular night time adventure because until then I had no idea how I was going to photograph a full moon. I've said this before and I'll say it again. Knowledge is power. If you don't know how to do something, ASK! So the first thing I did, even before setting up my camera, zoom telephoto upon a unruly tripod was to focus, frame and set my exposure.  This alone took a few minutes and was very hit and miss but once I was happy, I locked in all the settings and was just about to move my eye away from the viewfinder, when I spotted it!. Something was moving fast across the face of the moon and in that instant, I tripped the shutter, twice. The rest was pure instinct and luck! I was in the right place at the right time and with the right equipment. And thank you Sigma for the miracle that is Optical Stabilization. Words cannot describe how happy I am with the results. I didn't set out to get this shot but the opportunity came along and I grabbed it. I really wanted to shared  my happiness. Alas unbeknown to me,  my neighbour and keen amateur photographer, Emin, was busy across the road in his back garden doing the same thing and pointing his camera skywards. So when I phoned to inform Emin of my good luck, he told me to come round pronto! We spent the rest of the evening, enjoying each others company but still I couldn't  get my tripod to work and so off came the Swiss Acra plate that I had fixed onto the tripod mount of my Sigma Bigma. Still no luck! Then we swapped tripod's to see if that would fix the problem, only to discover that it wouldn't. This moon was quickly driving me to madness. Time flies when you're having fun and soon it was time for Emin to go bed and for me to return home but the night had only just begun and 3.00am in the morning saw me making my way to up the hill to Alexandria Palace for a better view of the moon turning red. I was far from alone. Here I met Canadian, Kevin Skeoch and his family with his Nikon prosumer DSLR and I was flabbergasted by what I saw on the back screen of his camera compared to mine. 


The Blood Red Moon taken from Alley Pally, North East London.


We were both shooting at 6400asa, except the files coming out straight out of his camera were smoother, had more detail and little noise compared to what I was getting.  The difference was stark and clear for everyone to see. Canon, when are you going to finally get your act together and give us a prosumer DSLR that I can actually use in Low light? WHEN? Thank you FujiFilm for the miracle that is the X-Pro 1. The low light performance of this revolutionary digital rangefinder camera puts that of the 1DX into a cocked hat. Just a shame that mine is in for repair...........Oh and the next time I point my Bigma skywards for a bit of night time fun under the stars, I'm going to be using one of these things:


The best accessory for mounting a Sigma 120-300 onto a tripod, the Wimberley Gimbal.