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3rd June
2016
written by Joel Wolfson

X-Pro Tour (part 3)

Final and Best Days in France

This is a case of being in a place long enough to see your everyday surroundings in a different light, literally. I went to the boulangerie (bakery) every morning to get a fresh baguette. This is the facade of row houses, one of which I was staying in. Although windows and shutters are a popular subject for travelers to Europe, once you spend enough time there, the novelty wears off. Frankly this facade normally isn't that interesting. But on this morning I got some beautiful dappled clouds and sweet light on the facade- then I just waited for one of the birds flying around the dormer to hit a good spot in my frame. Voila.

This is a case of being in a place long enough to see your everyday surroundings in a different light. I went to the boulangerie (bakery) every morning to get a fresh baguette. This is part of the facade of row houses, one of which I was staying in. After a few weeks the town and neighborhood grew on me.  I wanted to capture that nice warm feel. On this morning I got some beautiful painterly clouds along with sweet light on the facade- then I just waited for one of the birds flying around the dormer to hit the right spot in my frame. Voila! I used the Velvia setting on the X-Pro2 with RF viewing. Fujinon 18-55mm zoom at 38mm (56mm FF equiv.) f8.0, 1/500 sec. ISO 400.

This is part 3 of my continuing X-Pro Tour of images from my travels, stories behind the photos, and my thoughts and experiences with the Fuji X-Pro2 (I posted Part 1 on May 13, and Part 2 on May 18th) In the captions I’ll provide the story behind the shot along with technical info (non-tech folks just ignore the part at the end of the captions.)

Au revoir to France for 2016. I was in France close to a month, staying in the same town, in a house in a residential neighborhood. After a couple weeks it became familiar and comfortable. My 3 ½ year old daughter referred to it as “our new home.” I always had my camera on me, no matter where I went. I developed some routines, like going to the bakery every morning for fresh bread and taking my daughter for hot chocolate while I sipped my noissette (espresso with a touch of milk, like a macchiato in Italy). What I like about staying in the same place is that I see things in different ways even if I pass by them every day, like the photo of the windows and clouds (above.)

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Just about every town in France seems to have a merry-go-round. Here 2 kids try to grab a bouncing tassel that they can turn in for another ride if they get it. X-Pro2 using RF and manual focus (pre-focused) with 18-55mm zoom at 20mm (31mm FF equiv.) f5.6, 1/170 sec. ISO 400

I find that travel photography is essentially a form of street photography with some landscapes and cityscapes, well on this trip, village-scapes, thrown in. At least that is my approach. In order to communicate the feel of the place I find myself shooting a variety of subjects including people, architecture, slices of life, the villages, etc. By having had my camera with me all the time I feel I was able to capture and communicate my experiences exploring and living day to day in this region of southwestern France.

A nearby park in the small town where I stayed. I took my daughter there for the playground but I loved the feel of it- parts of it almost like an enchanted forest. I got in the shadows and up close to a tree because I liked the dappled light coming through with the forest like trees changing to an urban background of people and an art museum in the distance. X-Pro2 in EVF mode with Fujinon 14mm f2.8 (21mm FF equiv) f8.0, 1/320 sec., ISO 1250

A nearby park in the small town where I stayed. I took my daughter there for the playground but I loved the feel of it- parts of it are almost like an enchanted forest. I got in the shadows to accentuate the dappled light coming through with the forest like trees changing to an urban background of people and an art museum in the distance. X-Pro2 in EVF mode with Fujinon 14mm f2.8 (21mm FF equiv) f8.0, 1/320 sec., ISO 1250

 

Enjoy the photos, please feel free to comment or email me with questions/comments. And now for the photographers…

Is the X-Pro2 the Ultimate Travel Camera?

I was lucky enough to get a tour of a private castle in the country in southwestern France. I included the window itself along with the shadows and shutter because I loved how the geometry and forms go with the view. Black and White seemed an obvious choice. X-Pro2

I was lucky enough to get a tour of a private castle in the country in southwestern France. I included the window itself along with the shadows and shutter because I loved how the geometry and forms go with the view. Black and White seemed an obvious choice. X-Pro2 EVF mode, Fujinon 18-55mm zoom at 39mm (60mm FF equiv.), f16 1/180 sec., ISO 400. Acros profile used with raw file in Lightroom.

The short answer is yes, it is very close. I don’t think any camera is perfect and it depends on your application. If I were to pick the two best reasons I liked this camera shooting daily for nearly a month of travel in France, they are: 1. It is both a rangefinder and mirrorless camera and pretty damn good at both. 2. It is compact and light enough to wear/carry all the time. These two general aspects go much deeper and there are many more aspects to this camera and its lenses. Overall this is one of the most versatile cameras I’ve ever owned. It’s really nice to have the rangefinder available at any time.

This lamp is attached to a somewhat decrepit looking part of the building, yet appears solid floating in the blue sky and bright sun. Along with the yellow blocks and blue shutters I believe it conveys the sense I felt at the time, on a gorgeous day in a beautiful village, of being grounded and happy. X-Pro2 using the EVF and Velvia preset. Fujinon 55-200mm f3.5-4.8 at 200mm (300mm FF equiv.) f8.0, 1/900 sec. ISO 200.

Over the years I got used to autofocus (D)SLRs and moved away from Leica rangefinders, especially for commercial work. Don’t get me wrong, I love the feel of the Leica, the exquisite rendering of their lenses and the rangefinder experience but that is all they do for their hefty price tag. If money were no object then one could own a Leica just for manual focus and the advantages of a rangefinder and have another system such as a DSLR or good mirrorless system. But the X-Pro2 is affordable, versatile and has superb lenses.

All that said, here are the cons of the X-Pro2 and a wish list at the end:

Physical lens designs are inconsistent:

1. Two of my primes (14mm f2.8 and 23mm f1.4) have focus rings I can pull back and instantly switch to manual focus. They also have depth of field scales. I LOVE this! BUT when my 56mm or 35mm primes are mounted I have to remember to take my hand away from the lens, move the focus mode selector to M, then put my hand back to the lens to focus. Side note: As pointed out by reviewers like Sean Reid the distance scales could use more marked increments to be really useful for zone/pre-focusing which is pretty important for this type of camera.

2. No aperture markings on 18-55mm or 55-200mm zooms. Although the aperture rings click they have no endpoints and there are no marked apertures. Because apertures are electronically transmitted you must look in the viewfinder or on the LCD to see where you are on the aperture scale. One would assume that because Fuji’s 2.8 constant aperture zooms have real aperture rings with markings that it may be a price/cost issue yet their most expensive zoom, the 100-400 at $1900, doesn’t have a real aperture ring either.

3. Aperture rings: Except for the 35mm f2.0 aperture rings turn too easily. The 35mm f2.0 has a nice stiff aperture ring so you don’t have to worry about it getting changed inadvertently.

Petanque, also known as boules or longue is a favorite sport in France. It seems to be dominated by elderly men though I did happen on to some games with young men and on rare ocassions a woman. This man was concentrating hard during a tournament at a local park. I may do a separate post of petanque in the future.

Petanque, also known as boules or longue is a favorite sport in France. It seems to be dominated by elderly men though I did happen on to some games with young men and on rare ocassions a woman. This man was concentrating hard during a tournament at a local park. I may do a separate post just of petanque in the future.

X-Pro2 body niggles:

1. No articulated LCD- This is the most glaring should-be-there omission on the X-Pro2.

2. No focal length parameters for shutter speed when using Auto ISO. I can’t think of a good reason Fuji doesn’t provide a minimum shutter speed based on focal length like every other serious camera on the market. In fact most allow you to bias it on a scale from slow to fast or use some factor of the focal length. The X-Pro2 provides what amounts to a work-around by allowing you 3 different sets of auto-ISO parameters where you can set a minimum shutter speed but then you have to remember to change it when you change lenses or zoom your lens. Also I don’t see why they can’t take a shutter speed parameter setting one step further and provide an option to take into account whether or not a lens has OIS- especially considering very few of their lenses have OIS. Fuji, how about including this with a firmware update?

3. Exposure compensation dial is well placed but a little too loose and can be changed accidentally- It would be nice to see it be a little stiffer.

4. No bulit-in flash. Even if they put a tiny one on it like Sony’s RX cameras, so as not to increase the size of the body, it would be really nice to have for fill flash.

5. Face detection w/eye detect will not work in continuous focus mode but this is when it’s most useful because people tend to move around.

6. AF-L and AE-L are disabled if you have Face detect selected. This just seems silly with no apparent rationale.

7. Eye detection only works on humans- I don’t know the algorithms behind it though I assume the white of the eye is involved- but why shouldn’t eye detection work on animals? Whether it’s your canine pet or wildlife we still want the eyes in focus. OK, maybe this one is nit-picky but just sayin’

Wish list:

I would like to see more compact prime lenses like the 35mm f2.0. Why not a 56mm f1.8 or 2.0? Or a 23mm f2.0? The compact size would allow an unobstructed view through the OVF, especially with wider focal lengths. The X-Pro1 and 2 are pretty bold statements of commitment to the rangefinder experience from Fuji so lenses like this would make good sense.

The X-Pro Tour Continues

I will continue to use the X-Pro2 in other situations and types of shooting. Stay tuned as I will be providing more photography, feedback, and insights.

Go to PART TWO
Go to PART ONE

A bientot,
Joel

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Joel Wolfson is an internationally published photographer who loves teaching as much as shooting. He shares his 25+ years of experience as a working pro with other photographers and enthusiasts by way of his workshops, 1 on 1 training, webinars, articles, blog and speaking engagements. His technical articles have been translated for use in more than 30 countries yet he is best known for his artistic images of nature’s fleeting moments and unexpected views of everyday places around the globe. He is one of the pioneers of digital photography having conducted digital photography seminars for Apple and other corporations starting in the early 90s.  His roster of notable clients includes numerous publications and fortune 500 companies. He currently works with great affiliates like Topaz Labs and Arizona Highways to have more avenues for working with those wanting to pursue their love of photography. His goal is to make learning and improving one’s photography easy, fun and rewarding.

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18th May
2016
written by Joel Wolfson

X-Pro Tour (part 2)

Villages of France

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Rails are as much a part of southern France as periwinkle colored shutters and doors. I liked the interplay of the door panels and rail and how the perspectives converge and seem to be simultaneously 2D and 3D. Because I wanted to use a longish lens to compress the shapes and forms I needed a fair amount of depth of field to hold everything in focus. I used the Fuji 18-55mm zoom at 55mm, f16.0, 1/160 sec., ISO 1250, X-Pro2 in EVF mode, manual focus with peaking and Velvia preset as a visualization aid.

This is part 2 of my continuing X-Pro Tour of images from my travels, stories behind the photos, and my thoughts and experiences with the Fuji X-Pro2 (I posted Part 1 on May 13) In the captions I’ll provide the story behind the shot along with technical info (non-tech folks just ignore the part at the end of the captions.)

I flew to Europe on Mother’s Day with my wife and 3 1/2 year old daughter. Ten hours on a jumbo jet is not exactly what Barb had in mind for Mother’s Day so the other day I tried to give her a bit of a break and keep an eye on our daughter so she could enjoy our travels to some nearby villages and have a chance to look around and shoot some of her own photos.

This is my first overseas shooting venture where I had to shoot with one eye while keeping my other eye on my 3 1/2 year-old. Not to mention the challenge of holding her hand with my left hand and shooting with my right. This sure made having a zoom lens very handy as changing lenses just wasn’t an option in many cases. I found myself using the 18-55mm lens quite a bit on our alternate “Mother’s Day.” Luckily one handed shooting is feasible with the X-Pro2 though not my preferred method. On subsequent days Barb was kind enough to watch our daughter when I needed to shoot.

This is a wonderful village on a river in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France. I was surprised how little tourism there was in this gorgeous village. The fisherman kept moving his boat so I waited patiently and eventually he was in an optimum position for my shot. I don't think there's much of a shot here without the fishermen and boat. Although this scene could be nice in color I think black and white has the feel I want. Other than bringing up the highlights for contrast, no real changes from the Acros + R preset in Lightroom. For a broad scene like this I used the Fuji 14mm f2.8 lens (21mm FF equiv.), 1/480 sec., f10, ISO 400 on X-Pro2 in RF mode.

This is a wonderful village on a river in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France. I was surprised how little tourism there was in this gorgeous village. The fisherman kept moving his boat so I waited patiently and eventually he was in an optimum position for my shot. Not that he knew it but I was grateful because I don’t think there’s much of a shot here without the fishermen and boat. Although this scene could be nice in color I chose black and white for the feel I wanted. Other than bringing up the highlights for contrast, no real changes from the Acros + R preset in Lightroom. For a broad scene like this I used the Fuji 14mm f2.8 lens (21mm FF equiv.), 1/480 sec., f10, ISO 400 on X-Pro2 in RF mode.

Uses for X-Pro2 Processing

(this section for the photographers- if you’re not one, feel free to ignore the next three paragraphs and just enjoy the photos)

I’m finding that using the X-Pro2 is allowing me to re-live some useful aspects of my photographic life from the film age such as shooting transparencies and black and white on a rangefinder…but with a modern system.

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I fought a little with this one because I was limited on where I could physically stand and compose it. I always love finding abstracts in everyday places. I used the Fuji 18-55mm zoom and processed the RAW file using the Provia preset in Lightroom. I also had Provia processing set on the X-Pro 2 which helped me visualize when I shot it. 43mm, 1/160 sec., f8.0, ISO 1250, EVF mode on X-Pro2

For all the years I’ve been shooting digitally I’ve mostly shot RAW + JPEG but admittedly rarely use the JPEGs except for reference or occasionally if I need something ready to go for emailing or posting online. But as Ansel Adams said “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance” These days the RAW file is the negative so that’s what I use for printing. Although JPEGs are processed images I still end up tweaking them to communicate what I intend, the best I can, even for posting online. I should point out that I feel that posting photos online is a two edged sword. It allows me to communicate but at the same time I hate the fact that photos posted online are pathetic compared to what I can communicate with large prints.

I was intrigued by the combination of shapes and forms with the massive walls of this perfectly intact medieval fortress. 18-55mm zoom at 21mm (32mm FF equiv.) 1/160 sec., f11.0, ISO 800, X-Pro 2 in RF mode.

What does all this have to do with the X-Pro2? Now I’m using in-camera JPEGs to help me visualize. Here’s my method: Much of the time I’ll leave the X-Pro2 set for Acros (black and white) but if I’m in a situation where color is integral to the story I’ll switch to Provia or Velvia. I find this helpful because I tend to get in a particular mode where I’m visualizing in either black and white or color and the film simulations on the camera help with the mental switch.

Until I got this camera I just did all this in my head and although not necessary it sure is nice to have these options. I still end up using RAW files but with the same film profiles built into Lightroom I just make a virtual copy in LR and apply my Acros, Velvia or whatever profile is appropriate. This alone might be reason enough for me to keep using Lightroom in spite of its inability to keep up with modern sensors and file sizes.

More photos, travels and X-Pro thoughts in a few days!

A bientôt,
Joel

Go to PART ONE

Go to PART THREE

13th May
2016
written by Joel Wolfson

X-Pro Tour (Part 1)

London, France

Having just arrived in France via London I’ll be using these travels to launch a new series of photos along with captions and a little writing from various locations on my blog. I’m calling the series X-Pro Tour (also available via XProTour.com ) There are a few reasons behind this series, not the least of which is sharing my images and travels with all of you. If that is your main interest then please enjoy the photos I post and feel free to email me or leave comments.

Raining in London? Imagine that! We only had a day in London so one must make the most of it. I shot this from the London Eye, a giant ferris wheel on the River Thames. I wanted to capture the feel of a rainy day looking out the window on London. I chose black and white so color wouldn't distract from the texture, especially the raindrops. With a quick flip of the lever I used the EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) for two reasons- very wide angle lens and to double check that I was holding focus and the scene and still be able to clearly make out the raindrops. Fuji 14mm f2.8 1/60 sec f16  ISO 2000.

Raining in London? Imagine that! We only had a day in London so one must make the most of it. I shot this from the London Eye, a giant ferris wheel on the River Thames. I wanted to capture the feel of a rainy day looking out the window on London. I chose black and white so color wouldn’t distract from the other visual elements, especially the raindrops. With a quick flip of the viewfinder (VF) selector I used the EVF (Electronic Viewfinder) for two reasons- very wide angle lens and to double check that I was holding focus in the scene while being able to clearly make out the raindrops. X-Pro2 with Fuji 14mm f2.8 (21mm full frame equiv.) Manual focus, 1/60 sec f16 ISO 2000.

On the photography side of things I will also be providing my thoughts and experiences using the Fuji X-Pro2. For those not that familiar with it, it is Fuji’s latest incarnation of their professional rangefinder camera that also functions beautifully as a conventional mirrorless system. This is backed by a wide array of useful lenses of superb quality. In the captions I’ll provide the story behind the shot along with technical info (non-tech folks just ignore the part at the end of the captions.)

Toulouse airport

After our one day visit to London we arrived in Toulouse. There is this pretty cool hallway on the way to the rental cars. I saw this in my mind’s eye as a black and white but once I saw the color version I vacillated a bit on whether to go with color or black and white. In the end I found the brightly colored signs farther in the scene drew too much attention away from the architecture and side lighting on the woman walking. I guess it’s that whole thing about your first instinct. In any situation where I can use the rangefinder, I do. You can’t beat it for anticipating a key moment because you never lose sight of your subject and you can see what’s going on outside of your lens’s view. This simply isn’t possible on anything but a rangefinder. I shot this with the Fuji 18-55mm f2.8-4.0 which one might assume to be a “kit” lens but the amazing quality belies such an assumption. X-Pro2, zoom at 18mm (27mm FF equiv), 1/60 sec. f4.0, ISO 640

It’s difficult to convey the experience of using a rangefinder if you’ve never used one and are used to a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Those of you from the film age, like me, may remember using their grandfather’s rangefinder but unless it was a Leica it’s a whole different ball game now. Once prolific, rangefinders have all but disappeared with the exception of Leica which has always thrived among an avid user base. But even for many pros the price point of a Leica system is hard to justify. In 2012 Fuji introduced the X-Pro1 and the game began to change.

The machine to clean the streets was almost as intriguing as the man running it. In light of the fact that my French is virtually nonexistent this man was very accommodating when I asked to photograph him. This is in the town of Gaillac, our home for the next 3 weeks. Thanks for letting us stay at your house Michael!! Fuji X-Pro2 Fujinon 35mm f2.0 1/160 sec. f8.0

The machine to clean the streets was almost as intriguing as the man running it. In light of the fact that my French is virtually nonexistent this man was very accommodating when I asked to photograph him. This is in the town of Gaillac, our home for the next 3 weeks. Thanks for letting us stay at your house Michael!! Fuji X-Pro2 with Fujinon 35mm f2.0 (52mm FF equiv) 1/160 sec. f8.0

For me the X-Pro1, although intriguing when it arrived, wasn’t quite there. Among other things I sell very large prints and the 16MP file size was a limitation. So I waited patiently for the X-Pro2 and during that time many more lenses were introduced to go with it.

The London rain followed us to Gaillac but I don't let the rain stop me from shooting. I shot this on the way to a restaurant where I experienced yet another amazing French meal. I'm always hard pressed to decide whether French cuisine or Italian is my favorite in the world! I used the Fuji 23mm f1.4 lens which is a great all-around slice of life lens. 1/60 sec f4.0 ISO 320 with X-Pro2 in RF mode.

The London rain followed us to Gaillac but I don’t let the rain stop me from shooting. I shot this on the way to a restaurant where I experienced yet another amazing French meal. I’m always hard pressed to decide whether French cuisine or Italian is my favorite in the world! I used the Fuji 23mm f1.4 lens (35mm FF equiv) which is a great all-around slice of life lens. 1/60 sec f4.0 ISO 320 with X-Pro2 in RF mode.

I will continue to make X-Pro Tour posts as I log more time on this system. So far I love it! For those of you that read my initial review, Fuji X-Pro2, A Love-Hate Relationship, you found out that in spite of my enjoyment using this camera I had to change my workflow due to Lightroom moving at a snail’s pace when processing the X-Trans files from the X-Pro2 and Adobe’s inability to extract the amazing detail contained in the files. I am now at peace with my new workflow using Photo Mechanic for fast culling and Iridient Developer for getting all that great detail…and using down time to import into Lightroom.

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Here’s a somewhat abstract view of the London Eye. Shapes, forms, and rhythm being the main visual elements here, I stuck with tried and true black and white. Well, OK, the London Eye in the rain is pretty much monochromatic anyway. X-Pro2 with Fuji XF 56mm f1.2 (85mm FF equiv) at f11.0, 1/160 sec. ISO 2000

You may have noticed I posted more black and white than color. Of course many of you know I just love black and white. Another part of this is specific to the X-Pro2: I’ve always advocated setting your camera JPEGs to monochrome to help visualize images for black and white (see my Black and White Photography- Top 10 Tips.) But the X-Pro2 has a huge advantage- namely that its manufacturer also makes film and they’ve built in some really great profiles of their films, my favorite being Acros + Ye (yellow filter.) I find myself leaving it set there frequently- then if I want a quick affirmation or comparison of what I see in mind’s eye for B&W I just flip the VF selector.

More next week!

A bientôt,
Joel

Go to PART TWO

13th April
2016
written by Joel Wolfson

Fuji X-Pro2, A Love-Hate Relationship

A Pro’s Story of the New Fujifilm X-Pro2

 

I really didn't have very high expectations for auto focus speed and focus tracking but was pleasantly surprised by the X-Pro2. Not only did it track the elk jumping the fence but it will shoot at 8 fps and has a large buffer for bursts of this type. 200mm (300mm FF equiv) f10, 1/320 sec.

I didn’t have high expectations for auto focus speed and focus tracking but was pleasantly surprised by the accuracy and speed of the X-Pro2. Some elk came through my yard and I grabbed the X-Pro2. Not only did it accurately track the elk jumping the fence but is capable of 8 fps and the large buffer allows for more than enough raw frames for a burst of this type. X-Pro2 set on continuous auto focus and wide/tracking with Fujinon XF 55-200mm f3.5-4.5 zoom at 200mm (300mm FF equiv) f10, 1/320 sec. ISO 2500

This is a brief bottom line story from my perspective as a full time professional photographer. I won’t go into every feature and setting as there are many solid reviews out there covering this. I want to address some aspects of real life use of the camera and especially aspects I haven’t seen addressed much in other reviews or profiles of the X-Pro2.

I have always loved using rangefinders. Though mostly Leica, I’ve owned and used  many rangefinder cameras over the years. The Fuji X-Pro2 is an absolute pleasure to use. I love the OVF (optical viewfinder) when using lenses up to 56mm (85mm full frame equivalent.) And you can’t beat the ingenious “ERF” (electronic rangefinder). This is a small picture-in-picture window with a magnified view of the focus area in the lower right for critical focus.

It’s amazing and wonderful to be able to instantly switch to the EVF (electronic viewfinder) for a more conventional mirrorless viewing experience with longer lenses or just if you want to. This is one of the few digital cameras I’ve owned (I’ve been shooting digital since the early 90s) with useable JPEGs and I especially like the Acros option. This option is a digital simulation of Fuji’s renowned black and white film of the same name.

But wait, there’s more. The Fujinon lenses are exceptional, even the zooms. I’ve tested six of Fuji’s XF lenses in the studio and in the field as well used them for everyday shooting. I have the XF 14mm f2.8, 23mm f1.4, XF 35mm f2, XF 56mm f1.2, XF 18-55mm zoom f2.8-4.0, and XF 55-200mmm 3.5-4.8. I got a bad sample of the 35 and am awaiting a replacement. Although the first sample of my 18-55 performed well for the most part, it was de-centered enough to be a problem so I exchanged it. My replacement is superb. I got an exceptionally good sample of the 55-200 (or perhaps it is just an exceptional design.) All the rest are stellar too. I have to admit they are a bit neutral for me in character (rendering) compared to Leica or Zeiss lenses but I’ll take the fabulous quality. I should note that getting a bad sample of a lens doesn’t alarm me. I’ve found at least as much sample variation in Canon and Nikon lenses. I wish all these companies were more consistent but all the ones I’ve mentioned still have less variation than some third party manufacturers.

The Fuji X-Pro2 system is one of the best thought out systems with versatility second to none. It’s fun to use and is capable of outstanding quality, even when compared to full frame systems. But…

Two Edged Sword of the X-Pro2

Fuji’s use of their innovative “X-Trans” sensor is both a blessing and a curse. The nature of the X-Trans files it produces, combined with the (now) larger 24 megapixel file size can make workflow with more than a handful of images in Lightroom untenable. If you don’t import large numbers of images and don’t use Lightroom or don’t care about the interminably long import times then you should be fine. However, I use Lightroom for managing my 100,000+ digital images.

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This is my field test scene. Abeit, a boring photo but full of fine detail and variety of textures and tones to help me evaluate lenses and cameras in the field (I also do resolution tests in the studio.) See below for 100% details of what’s in the orange boxes to show the effect of using 2 different RAW conversions of the very same raw X-Trans file from the X-Pro2.

The other aspect of this is the lack of detail extracted from Adobe’s LR/ACR (Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw) or even SilkyPix which is Fuji’s official software. If you want to avoid the now infamous X-Trans artifacts sometimes referred to as “worms” and “parquet” then you must use something like Iridient Developer. I haven’t tried Capture One or Photo Ninja for X-Trans files but have heard they retain the detail without the artifacts as well. How obviously these artifacts appear is subject-dependent. If you only shoot people, it probably won’t be a big factor unless you want to see detail in every eyelash and pore in the skin. I have only seen occasional artifacts in people shots and mainly with areas of contrast such as rim and back lighting. Without Iridient Developer or comparable raw converter, expect to get the “worm” artifacts instead of fine detail, especially in trees, grass, pine needles, leaves, or other greenery. Below I show examples of how using two different types of software for raw conversions affect the same file. The comparison is using the exact same raw file, one using Lightroom and the other using Iridient Developer.

This is a 100% detail (orange box above) from my test scene using Lightroom to process the raw X-Trans file. Notice how it renders the pine needles like worms or perhaps impressionist brush strokes. Compare this to the conversion using Iridient Developer from the very same raw file.

100% detail (orange box above) from my test scene using Lightroom to process the raw X-Trans file. Notice how it renders the pine needles more like worms or impressionist brush strokes. Compare this to the conversion using Iridient Developer (below) from the very same raw file.

Here is the same 100% detail as above from the very same X-Trans file of the X-Pro2 but using Iridient Developer to process it. I first had to convert the file to DNG because it was compressed and currently ID only processes the uncompressed files.

Here is the same 100% detail as above from the very same X-Trans file of the X-Pro2 but using Iridient Developer to process it. Notice the more clearly defined detail in the pine needles and branches. Note: the X-Pro2 offers the option of shooting lossless compressed or uncompressed raw files. I first had to convert the file to DNG because I chose compressed and currently ID (Iridient Developer) only processes the uncompressed files. There is no difference in quality, only space on your memory card. Iridient told me they are working on an update to handle the compressed version of the raw X-Trans files.

I wouldn’t use JPEGs to make my large prints but it’s interesting that Fuji’s in-camera JPEGs exhibit similar artifacts and lack of detail to those you see from raw X-Trans files processed with LR/ACR (vs something like Iridient Developer.) I’ve been told that these similarities are purposeful and stem from Adobe working with Fuji to emulate Fuji’s in-camera processing. I can’t verify this goal but it makes sense and would explain the artifacts. It seems counterproductive for both Adobe and Fuji but it wouldn’t be the first time groupthink occurred.

To keep all this in perspective, I commonly print and sell very large images. If you make smaller prints you are far less likely to see the artifacts. I did a comparison with a Sony A7 II (also 24MP but full frame) against a comparably outfitted X-Pro 2. In a 30×20 print you can see the difference if you look closely. When you go larger, especially if you up-res your files, the problem is exacerbated. For discerning viewers of fine detail in large prints, LR/ACR or SilkyPix won’t cut it.

100% view showing other types of fine detail and texture such as the rocks, dead wood, and grass

100% view from the Lightroom raw conversion showing other types of fine detail and texture such as the rocks, dead wood, and grass. Compare this to the ID (Iridient Developer) conversion below. The wood, ponderosa trunks in the background, and foreground grass all look pretty good in this one but see how you get a bit more detail in those areas from the ID conversion below. Though not as pronounced with this subject matter, this LR conversion still exhibits the worm effect in the boulder and to me the boulder and rocks in general have a plastic/artificial look to them. The ID conversion (below) is better in this regard.

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Here’s the 100% view of the Iridient Developer version. A little more subtle than the pine needle details above but you still get more detail in the boulder, wood, and ponderosa trunks, and even the foreground grass. One minor thing is if you look at the left-most grass strand running horizontally off the frame on the left, you’ll see it is clean and free of artifacts in this conversion but above there are some rainbow effects from the LR conversion.

I intended for the Fuji system to augment my full frame Sony system which is based around the incredible A7R II. I have no intention to replace the Sony gear but I love using rangefinders. In spite of the A7RII being 42MP files, the files get imported into LR at about 10X the speed of 24MP X-Trans files. I even tried copying the files first to my internal SSD drive in my souped up Mac but Lightroom slowed to a crawl with the Fuji files. The files are even incredibly slow just to render as thumbnails in the LR Import module before you even import.

So now I’ve had to modify my workflow, adding more software, steps and time looking something like this:

  1. Photo Mechanic for faster rendering and culling (this step actually cuts a lot of time)
  2. Schedule a time for importing the Fuji files into LR such as when I leave my studio or at night
  3. Use Iridient Developer for raw extraction of my “selects” that I need for large prints.

Although motivated by the Fuji system, I’ve come to like using Photo Mechanic because overall it really speeds up important aspects of my workflow, even with Sony and other files. I can do my culling, keywording and image rating/selection far more quickly than in LR. No more waiting for previews to render when magnifying images either. The thumbnails and 100% views happen nearly instantaneously with Photo Mechanic.

BOTTOM LINE: There you have it. I love shooting with the X-Pro2 and its beautiful resulting files but I’m not crazy about the extra time and inconvenience of the X-Trans workflow needed to work around Lightroom issues.

Epilogue: For now I’ll continue to enjoy shooting with the X-Pro2 and put up with the extra work involved with extracting the exquisite detail from the camera and its wide range of superb lenses. I’ll do a follow-up down the road with my impressions after using this system for several months. In the meantime I’m hoping Fuji and Adobe will up their game in terms of the fine detail extraction and workflow end of the image files. While working through the new workflow, I have found support from both Camera Bits (makers of Photo Mechanic) and Iridient (makers of Iridient Developer) to be excellent. I also got some good feedback on this camera from Sean Reid of reidreviews.com (it’s a paid subscription but IMO worth it.)

Happy Shooting Everyone!

Joel

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Joel Wolfson is an internationally published photographer who loves teaching as much as shooting. He shares his 25+ years of experience as a working pro with other photographers and enthusiasts by way of his workshops, 1 on 1 training, webinars, articles, blog and speaking engagements. His technical articles have been translated for use in more than 30 countries yet he is best known for his artistic images of nature’s fleeting moments and unexpected views of everyday places around the globe. He is one of the pioneers of digital photography having conducted digital photography seminars for Apple and other corporations starting in the early 90s.  His roster of notable clients includes numerous publications and fortune 500 companies. He currently works with great affiliates like Topaz Labs and Arizona Highways to have more avenues for working with those wanting to pursue their love of photography. His goal is to make learning and improving one’s photography easy, fun and rewarding.

10th March
2016
written by Joel Wolfson

Bokeh in Perspective

Why all the Hype?

Although this shot isn't about bokeh it is OF bokeh and therefore one might be concerned about the actual bokeh and whether the relative aesthetic quality of bokeh does or does not affect the purity of the message. Naturally this type of image is not only abstract but relatively rare.

Although this image may not be about bokeh it is of bokeh and therefore one might be concerned about the actual bokeh and whether the relative quality of bokeh does or does not have an impact on the effectiveness of the image. However, I believe images where bokeh is a main subject, being created for artistic purposes (as opposed to lens reviews) are relatively rare. [Nikon D800ENikkor 28-300 at 68mm, 1/80 f5.6 ISO 12,800, noise reduced with  Topaz DeNoise 6]

So what the heck is bokeh and what is all the hype over it? First, let’s define it. Bokeh refers to the aesthetic quality of out-of-focus areas in an image*. Usually it means the specular highlights although I’ve seen bokeh used to refer to any area that is out of focus. To be specific it only refers to out of focus areas, not any other kind of blurring like motion blur.

Why is there so much hype over bokeh? My best answer is that it’s an obsession of photographers and others in the photography industry. If you’ve seen a lens review in the last several years you’ll see lots of attention, even special sections, dedicated to discussing and showing the bokeh of a lens at various apertures and in different situations. I recently ran across a new line of professional lenses from a major manufacturer proudly touting that one of the 2 main design goals is pleasing bokeh.

If you look at the big picture (pun intended), especially from the perspective of the non-bokeh-aware population who buy or view photography you might conclude this is over the top. After all, would you buy a high performance car based on how comfortable it is to sit in the trunk? As long as manufacturers aren’t compromising more important aspects of lens design over their concern with bokeh, it’s hard to blame them for catering to those who review or buy their lenses. So it’s our responsibility as photographers to consider this one characteristic of lenses in perspective. Here’s why.

Viewers and buyers don’t notice

I make my full time living selling fine art photography to a wide range of patrons from serious collectors to the average consumer and everyone in between. I’ve sold thousands of images over the years and have yet to hear a single comment about the bokeh in an image, even from photo savvy collectors.

Visual Design and Composition

One of the key principles of visual design is that of having the most important part(s) of your image in focus, hence drawing attention to those areas and by default, out of focus areas don’t have attention drawn to them.

If you are scrutinizing the bokeh in the background of this simple portrait then you have missed the point of the image- a simple portrait of a little girl.

One could point out that there is nice bokeh in this image BUT if you are scrutinizing the bokeh of this photograph then you have totally missed the point of the image. As a side note I gave no consideration to bokeh when purchasing the lens used to make this photo and didn’t think about bokeh when I shot it- I was too busy concentrating on my subject. [Sony A7R II, Zeiss Batis 85mm f1.8 1/250 f2.5, ISO 10,000 no noise reduction]

Another principle of visual design is that our eyes tend to gravitate to the brightest part of an image. Therefore, a very bright part of your image, such as out-of-focus highlights that are not part of your main subject can distract the viewer and simply shouldn’t be in your image if your image is to be as successful as possible. Why do I mention this? Because this is one of the few scenarios where a viewer might even notice bokeh. And then does it really matter if a viewer starts pondering whether the bokeh is smooth, nervous, circular, has fringing, or any of the other characteristics talked about in lens reviews?

The only people looking at bokeh, especially those scrutinizing it, seem to be photographers. And only a select subset of photographers that place importance on bokeh. From what I can find out the term “bokeh” was coined in 1997 but over time there has been a growing fixation with it. It is now part of nearly every lens review you see.

Unless you are a lens reviewer or perhaps one who regularly shoots abstracts where your main subject is purposely out-of-focus areas, you may be misplacing your priorities to worry too much about bokeh or to make a choice about buying a lens based on its bokeh characteristics. If you are in a situation when you are shopping for lenses where there are two with virtually the same quality and cost but one has nicer bokeh, then by all means use that for the tie breaker.

However, as serious photographers, we really need to keep this concern over bokeh in perspective.

*Because bokeh is really an english word taken from a Japanese word there isn’t a clearly defined way to pronounce it but most people pronounce it like bow (rhymes with oh) – keh (like the Ke in the name Ken)

Happy Shooting!

Joel

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Joel Wolfson is an internationally published photographer who loves teaching as much as shooting. He shares his 25+ years of experience as a working pro with other photographers and enthusiasts by way of his workshops, 1 on 1 training, webinars, articles, blog and speaking engagements. His technical articles have been translated for use in more than 30 countries yet he is best known for his artistic images of nature’s fleeting moments and unexpected views of everyday places around the globe. He is one of the pioneers of digital photography having conducted digital photography seminars for Apple and other corporations starting in the early 90s.  His roster of notable clients includes numerous publications and fortune 500 companies. He currently works with great affiliates like Topaz Labs and Arizona Highways to have more avenues for working with those wanting to pursue their love of photography. His goal is to make learning and improving one’s photography easy, fun and rewarding.

29th January
2016
written by Joel Wolfson

Photography: The Bastard Art

by Joel Wolfson

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Photography is sometimes called the bastard art.  There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that everyone owns a camera or smartphone and considers themselves capable of taking a picture.  We’ve also been a bit brainwashed by decades of advertising from Canon, Nikon, Fuji and many others with the message that all you have to do is use their camera, lens or paper and your images will “look” professional.  This is akin to saying if “you buy a Stradivarius violin you will play like Itzhak Perlman.”  Owning a great camera doesn’t make you a photographic artist any more than owning the best brushes, paints and canvas makes you a fine painter.

When I first started shooting pictures in the early 1970s people would marvel at the fact that my images were razor sharp, well exposed, and possessed a wide range of tones.  They may not have known these terms but would say things like “your pictures are so clear.”  These are all merely technical aspects of photography and were more difficult to master with cameras of several decades ago versus now.  Today one can buy a consumer camera that will usually provide a properly exposed, in-focus picture with the press of a button.

Of course photography as an art form isn’t any different from others in that it is both left and right brained.  To be a superb painter or sculptor you must be a master of technique as well as employ creativity.  Assuming one is both creative and a master of technique, the other main ingredient is experience. All of these combined form a synergy that allows a photographic artist to “see” a photograph in their mind’s eye within the everyday world, capture it and present it in a form that elicits an emotional response from the viewer.

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One of the best compliments I received was from a mentor of mine when he said “Wolfson, you see different.”  This really meant something because it signified the next major step in my development as a photographic artist; a recognizable way of communicating with my images, distinct from other photographers.

An expression I’ve heard several times when discussing images from various travel destinations is “you can’t take a bad picture there.” Typically, what people actually mean is that they were overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and they have never seen anything like it before. Consequently whatever snapshots they took, no matter how good or bad they actually were, remind them of this beautiful place.  And that is fine for the traveler seeking to remind themselves of what they enjoyed on their trip.

Living in Arizona, Sedona and the Grand Canyon are in my back yard and I have photographed both areas since the mid 1980s.  My standards for great photographs of these areas are far different than a tourist who is seeing it for the first time, awed by their magnificence and how photogenic they are.  I find places that millions have already photographed to be a particular challenge and will pass up what other people might consider great photo opportunities in favor of creating an image that will convey the sense of being there the way I felt it.

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 There are too many elements that go into making fine art photographs to do it justice in one article.  In fact I find even at the end of conducting my multi-day workshops there is always more that can be taught and learned.  Knowing the technical aspects, direction and quality of light, line, shape, form, texture, color, perspective, rhythm, composition of these, design, and presentation are all just scratching the surface of photographic art.

Although some consider it the bastard art, I just hope the next time you think of photography as simply pushing the button on a camera you might “see” it differently!

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22nd January
2016
written by Joel Wolfson

Is the Mirrorless Honeymoon Over?

A Year With The Sony A7 System

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I shot this with the Sony A7 II while conducting my Villages of Tuscany workshop in Italy. 240mm f11 1/250 sec. ISO 125

My last mirrorless post was about my “Wow!” moment with the A7R II and why I switched to mirrorless after decades of using DSLRs. It’s been about a year and now that the honeymoon is over, do I still like using my mirrorless system? Short answer: Yes. Like any successful relationship, there are challenges along the way but I still enjoy day to day life with my Sony A7 system. I recognize the flaws but overall the pros outweigh the cons.

Now that I’ve been using the Sony A7 full frame system for nearly a year (A7 II and A7R II) and using a variety of lenses (3 Zeiss, 1 Sony) it’s a good time to point out the pros and cons. Because I’ve owned both Canon and Nikon DSLR systems they are my basis for comparison. Your own mileage may vary.

Pros:

Lightweight and compact: This was a major factor for me, particularly because I travel a lot and it’s really nice not to have to carry as much weight and bulk around. In spite of the small size and weight you still get a full frame 42MP sensor with spectacular dynamic range and low light capabilities.

No chimping required: The eye level electronic viewfinder (EVF) essentially allows you to see a preview of your final image before you fire the shutter. Yes, you can use live view on your Canon or Nikon but you have to pull the camera away from your eye yielding an unsteady grip or necessitating a tripod and it’s very slow and clunky.

If your exposure or other settings are incorrect, even way off on your DSLR, you won’t know it until you take it away from your eye and look at the review image on the LCD (aka “chimp”). In the ideal world we should check our settings every time we pick up the camera. But in the real world we sometimes see something cool, grab the camera and shoot before we realize we had the exposure compensation, white balance, ISO or something else set for a completely different situation from the last time we used the camera.

Depth of field preview: Although you can allegedly “preview” depth of field on many DSLRs the viewfinder can get very dark as you stop down, especially if you’re in low light. With an EVF you can see it all through a bright viewfinder and previewing depth of field is much easier.

Low light: Although some DSLRs are spectacular performers at high ISO in low light, it can be difficult to see through the viewfinder, especially if you’re using a slower lens (eg. Canon 24-105 f4.0L or Nikon 24-120 f4.0). The EVF on the Sony allows you to see in the dark with a bright viewfinder even in very low light. Add to that trying to see the effect of depth of field with the lens stopped down and a DSLR viewfinder becomes useless.

Manual focusing: Because the A7R II has focus peaking indicators and instant magnification in the viewfinder you can manually focus easily, precisely and in low light compared to DSLRs which are more difficult to focus manually through the viewfinder. The focus peaking indicators aren’t super accurate though still useful.

Rendering quality of Zeiss lenses: Sony has had a long relationship with Zeiss and many of the lenses made for Sony cameras are Zeiss. Of course the technical performance of Zeiss lenses is stellar but there’s also a quality or look to how they render on the A7R II that is beautiful. Interestingly that distinctive rendering isn’t as obvious on the A7 II body. I can’t explain that but it may be due to the fact that the A7R II has no anti-aliasing filter and the A7 II does. The standout favorite of my Zeiss lenses is the Batis 85mm f1.8. Not only does it render beautifully but is one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever used (Nikon’s 85 1.8G is comparable technically but doesn’t have the distinctive rendering)

I’m not privy to Zeiss’s influence on Sony’s own designs and manufacturing but the Sony lenses I’ve used also have very nice rendering on the A7R II. In my mind, photographic equipment is merely a set of tools to communicate something meaningful to me as an artist and also to the viewer. So although not as tangible as features or specs the rendering can be an extra tool of communication, particularly when trying to convey a sense of something more subtle (but still very important) like beauty or warmth.

Other pros: In-body 5 axis stabilization means you still get stabilization with non-stabilized lenses. There are also numerous lens adapters so you can use your Canon, Leica, and other lenses on the A7 bodies. Although I no longer have my Canon gear, the Metabones EF adapter is highly regarded because it allows full autofocus capabilities with Canon lenses.

Not a deal breaker but the built in wi-fi and corresponding smartphone apps make it very easy to transfer images to my iPhone from the camera so I can send off a lower res version right away. I can also use my iPhone to control the camera.

This is with the Sony A7 II and Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2.8 lens. The rendering is still classic Zeiss and beautiful but even better on the A7R II. 1/250 f9.0 ISO 100

Sony A7 II and Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2.8 lens. The rendering is still classic Zeiss and beautiful but the Zeiss lenses render even nicer when used on the A7R II. 1/250 f9.0 ISO 100

Cons:

Menus: They are kind of a mess with little logic to the order or access. Especially annoying is placement of the format option which I use frequently. Also no place (eg. “My Menu”) to store frequently used options. It’s possible Sony will update this via firmware as they’ve made other significant upgrades this way.

Autofocus Tracking: Although much better in the A7R II than previous models, if your main interest is sports then don’t give up your Nikon D4/D5 or Canon 1Dx. Granted these are very different cameras but one camera can’t do everything and the Sony A7 bodies are simply not made for super fast AF tracking.

Battery life: There are settings you can use to help conserve battery power (eg. turn on “Airplane” mode) but in general the battery life is poor compared to Canon or Nikon DSLRs. It’s not a huge deal but still annoying because it requires more frequent changing of batteries.

Eye sensor: There is a built-in sensor in the eyepiece that switches from the LCD display on the back to the viewfinder when you put your eye up to the camera. It’s handy but too sensitive with no way to reduce the sensitivity enough. If you are using the handy flip-up LCD to shoot video, for instance, your image blacks out every time you get the camera close to your body because it trips the sensor. This may not affect many people but I find this to be an oversight on Sony’s part.

Sony A7R II from a helicopter at 80mm f8.0 1/400 sec. ISO 400 with polarizing filter.

Sony A7RII from a helicopter at 80mm f8.0 1/400 sec. ISO 400 with polarizing filter.

After using the Sony A7 system in a variety of situations for a year or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I still like using the system for the reasons cited above under “Pros” and in my previous article. I continue to keep my eye on developments in camera technology but there would have to be pretty compelling reasons for me to switch systems at this point.

Happy Shooting Everyone!

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Joel Wolfson is an internationally published photographer who loves teaching as much as shooting. He shares his 25+ years of experience as a working pro with other photographers and enthusiasts by way of his workshops, 1 on 1 training, webinars, articles, blog and speaking engagements. His technical articles have been translated for use in more than 30 countries yet he is best known for his artistic images of nature’s fleeting moments and unexpected views of everyday places around the globe. He is one of the pioneers of digital photography having conducted digital photography seminars for Apple and other corporations starting in the early 90s.  His roster of notable clients includes numerous publications and fortune 500 companies. He currently works with great affiliates like Topaz Labs and Arizona Highways to have more avenues for working with those wanting to pursue their love of photography. His goal is to make learning and improving one’s photography easy, fun and rewarding.

11th November
2015
written by Joel Wolfson

Awesome New Plug-in from Topaz

Texture Effects- Quick Look Review

NEW: Topaz just updated Texture Effects. They revived their $20 OFF (29%) promo. Click here and enter code EASYTEXTURE at checkout. Good through Jan 31, 2016.

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In addition to a Basic Adjustment layer I used Edge Exposure, Dust/Scratches, and Texture layers within Texture Effects to create this vintage look reminiscent of a tintype. It only took a few minutes. Historically tintypes and early methods of creating round bales of hay do overlap. I’m not entirely sure the hay bales looked exactly like this but I like the timeless feel I was able to achieve in Texture Effects.

Texture Effects, Topaz’s latest plug-in (also operates stand-alone) is the easiest way to add textures and a whole lot more to your images. It’s a huge time saver over creating textures in most other programs. In addition to hundreds of fantastic presets, you can also customize them or make your own.

Although there are numerous great presets to use as a starting point I did this one from scratch. In the texture layer I adjusted the size of the texture (oval shapes that mimic the balloons) as well as moving it to highlight the face. Again it was very quick and easy to create this. I saved it as a preset in case I want to use it again.

Although there are numerous great presets to use as a starting point I did this one from scratch. In the Texture layer I adjusted the size of the texture (oval shapes that mimic the balloons) as well as moving it to highlight the face. Again it was very quick and easy to create this. I saved it as a preset in case I want to use it again.

It has a great interface that builds on the innovation they showed in Glow and Impression. It’s really easy to add adjustments and effects via layers, each with its own mask. You can add as many layers of adjustments or effects as you want and save off any combination as your own preset.

Here's a before (left) and after (right) where I started in ReStyle. In ReStyle, a really fun plug-in, you can choose your color palette so I used it to get vivid purple and yellow. Then I hopped in to Texture Effects and used a Texture layer to create the corrugated metal look for the wall and a Light Leak layer to make it look like a spot of sun reflected on the wall. I used the masking available in each layer to isolate it. In the end only two layers plus a Basic Adjustment layer and a few minutes to make this image.

Here’s a before (left) and after (right). I started in Topaz ReStyle. In ReStyle you can choose your color palette so I used it to get vivid purple and yellow. Then I hopped into Texture Effects and used a Texture layer to create the corrugated metal look for the wall and a Light Leak layer to make it look like a spot of sun is reflected on the wall. I used the masking (available in each layer) to isolate the “sun” reflection. In the end I used only two layers plus a Basic Adjustment layer and a few minutes of my time to make this image.

Topaz has also set up a community cloud that allows you to share or download presets with the click of a button right within the program.

Here I was going for a Polaroid transfer look. I used a Texture layer for the overall mottled look and a Dust/Scratches layer for the peeling marks. I was even able to add the bluish color right within the layer. Then a little Edge Exposure for good measure. I'm really impressed by the intuitive interface.

Here I was going for a Polaroid transfer look. I used a Texture layer for the overall mottled look and a Dust/Scratches layer for the peeling marks. I was even able to add the bluish tint of the peel marks right within the layer. Then a little Edge Exposure for good measure. I’m really impressed by the intuitive interface.

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Topaz obviously worked very hard to come up with a really intuitive interface. This combined with the hundreds of presets that come with Texture Effects and inevitably thousands more via the Topaz Community cloud, really makes it easy and quick to produce great results with your images. Not to mention a lot of fun!

Until January 31st, 2016 Topaz is running a 29% Off Promotion. Just use this link they provided and the code EASYTEXTURE to take off twenty bucks, bringing it down to $49.99. You can also use it for 30 days as a trial before you buy- but don’t wait too long test driving it or you’ll miss the promotion.

Hope you enjoyed my quick review.

Cheers,
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3rd October
2015
written by Joel Wolfson

Sony A7R II Sealed The Deal

My Preference for Mirrorless over DSLRs

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I shot this stunning coastline on the Na Pali coast of Kauai (Hawaii) from a helicopter using the Sony A7R II. 24mm @ f8.0 1/800 sec.

It was a “Wow!” moment. I don’t say it very often when it comes to camera gear- in fact only about once a decade over my 30 year photography career. I had just finished doing an aerial shoot from a helicopter in Kauai. I had an absolute blast doing the shoot. I was a little nervous beforehand wondering how I would like using my new A7R II on a demanding shoot. I was thoroughly familiar with the camera and controls on it (I had been using the nearly identical A7 II for months.) The A7R II ended up handling everything I gave it on the shoot so then it came down to the performance of the camera and how it would translate my vision for the images.

Then I took my first look at the images and said “Wow!” out loud. This has only happened twice before: The last time was looking at 6X7 transparencies from a shoot in Italy and France from my Mamiya 7 II and the first time was looking at Kodachrome slides from my first Leica rangefinder. So that’s my average of about once a decade for a camera to really wow me.

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I’ve found the Sony A7R II also renders very beautifully in black and white. 240mm f8.0 1/250 sec.

How I arrived at the Wow moment

Due to a hand injury a few years ago I started using Micro 4/3 mirrorless cameras and lenses until my hand was rehabilitated and I could hold and use my much heavier Canon DSLRs again. Micro 4/3 spoiled me as I was able to carry around so much gear that weighed so little. As much as I loved the form factor, light weight and the outstanding optics of that system, at 16 megapixels, it couldn’t meet my requirements for making very large prints.

Large fine art prints are an important part of my business. Although the 21 megapixel sensors in my Canon bodies were usually adequate there were times I wanted higher resolution to have the leeway for cropping and still make very large prints. Enter the Nikon D800E with a 36 Megapixel Sony sensor without a low pass filter. I bought it along with a complement of Nikon lenses. This was not an easy decision having been a die hard Canon user for decades. But much to my disappointment, Canon at that time, was on a path of lowering the resolution of their sensors, presumably for better low light performance, faster frame rates, and their assumption that pros and consumers didn’t want or need higher resolution then their top end of 22 MP. I think they were caught off guard by the number of pros like me that switched to Nikon for the higher resolution. It turned out that Nikon, with Sony’s sensor was able to produce astounding quality with no compromise in dynamic range or low light. I know some people would argue that the 5D Mark III is better in low light than the D800E (later replaced by the D810) but in practical terms, like making prints, it was more of a tie and the obvious advantage of higher resolution on the D800E.

The detail that the 42 megapixel sensor (no AA filter) in the Sony A7R II can render is impressive. For a 100% view of what’s in the blue rectangle, scroll down. 194mm @ f11.0, 1/320 sec. ISO 100.

Sony announced their first full frame 36 megapixel camera in the fall of 2013, the A7R, about 8 months after I bought my Nikon system. I read about it with great interest but there weren’t enough of the right lenses available for my use and using adapters for my Nikon lenses (or Canon for that matter), at that time was cumbersome. As innovative as it was, there were naturally a few problems with the A7R being the first of its kind. I followed Sony’s progression knowing it was only a matter of time before I might have the best of both worlds: The compactness of a mirrorless body with the high resolution and low light capabilities of a top notch full frame sensor.

Even after using the Nikon system extensively the cameras never really felt like a natural extension of my hands like my Canons did. I got used to using the Nikon gear and there was a feature or two I liked that my Canon gear didn’t have. However, Canon definitely has much better ergonomics and intuitive controls. Sort of like using a PC after being spoiled by the elegance and intuitive design of a Mac- only without the price difference. But whether I stayed with Nikon or went back to Canon I would have to deal with very large and heavy cameras.

Blown up to 100% here from the blue outlined section of ocean photo above, this is only a tiny fraction of the image. There is a ton of information captured with the Sony A7R II sensor.

Blown up to 100% here from the blue outlined section of ocean photo above, this is only a tiny fraction of the image. There is a ton of information captured with the Sony A7R II sensor.

The game changed two years later when Sony started shipping the A7 II. I bought it along with some lenses. Thus began the Sony trial. At 24 megapixel the A7II was a slight downgrade in terms of resolution compared to my Nikon D800E but this was an experiment and my opportunity to try the highly improved second generation Sony A7 series bodies and by now they had some lenses in their line I could use professionally. Sony has always had outstanding optics. Along with their association with Zeiss and their acquisition of Minolta they have a great basis and history for premium optics. I’ve always loved Zeiss lenses and owned several over the years. Now I could use them on a compact full frame mirrorless body.

Naturally there are some things I’d like to see added or changed on this camera but not enough that I want to go back to DSLRs as a main system. The Sony A7R II is really a revolution in digital cameras. I think it’s quite possible that Sony could achieve their 5 year goal of knocking one of the giants, Nikon or Canon out of the top spots.

I’ll be doing more posts about the mirrorless experience with the Sony A7 system.

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Aerial of a large waterfall on the island of Kauai. It's often necessary to use very high shutter speeds from a helicopter- when combined with a polarizing filter you can end up with very high ISO even in daylight. The Sony A7R II handles it with aplomb! Here I used 1/800 sec, f9.0 at ISO 10,000.

Aerial of a large waterfall on the island of Kauai. It’s often necessary to use high shutter speeds from a helicopter- when combined with a polarizing filter and exposing for the shade you can end up with commensurately high ISO even in daylight. The Sony A7R II handles it with aplomb! Here I used 1/800 sec, f9.0 at ISO 10,000.

 

Happy Shooting Everyone!

Joel Wolfson is an internationally published photographer who loves teaching as much as shooting. He shares his 25+ years of experience as a working pro with other photographers and enthusiasts by way of his workshops, 1 on 1 training, webinars, articles, blog and speaking engagements. His technical articles have been translated for use in more than 30 countries yet he is best known for his artistic images of nature’s fleeting moments and unexpected views of everyday places around the globe. He is one of the pioneers of digital photography having conducted digital photography seminars for Apple and other corporations starting in the early 90s.  His roster of notable clients includes numerous publications and fortune 500 companies. He currently works with great affiliates like Topaz Labs and Arizona Highways to have more avenues for working with those wanting to pursue their love of photography. His goal is to make learning and improving one’s photography easy, fun and rewarding.

11th September
2015
written by Joel Wolfson

Sneak preview of my seminars

Arizona Highways Symposium Nov 7, 8 2015 in Phoenix

Here’s a sneak preview of the two seminars I’ll be conducting at the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops Symposium on November 7th and 8th

Essential Plug-ins for Post Processing
November 7th, 10:45AM – 11:45 AM

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The idea behind plugins is that they will save you time and/or allow you to refine your image in ways you can’t do it in Lightroom or whichever main processing program you use. “Post processing” can be a bit of a misnomer because some plugins we might use in the first steps of processing an image so they might even be considered pre-processing. For example virtually every image requires capture sharpening which you could do with a plugin like Topaz Detail or Nik Sharpener RAW, both of which I think are often better choices than what is available in Lightroom.

This begs the question: “What are the most useful plugins and how do I incorporate them into my workflow?” The best response is to join me for the one hour answer at my Symposium seminar in November.

Travel Photography
November 8th, 10AM – 11AM

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Most of my best selling work is travel photography. I face special challenges when traveling and those of us that travel to capture images know this. One of the biggest challenges is that we are limited on time in any one place so we don’t have the luxury of ideal lighting or weather. Add to that the differences in language and culture when traveling abroad and you have your work cut out for you to capture top notch images.

One of the best ways to deal with this is research ahead of time. Make use of bookstores, libraries, the internet, appropriate exhibits in your area, or any other means of familiarizing yourself with your destination. This way you not only have an idea what there will be to photograph and how you might tell your stories but it will also give you inspiration which is a key element for a creative endeavor like photography. For overseas travelers, having researched the culture and knowing a few words of the language will greatly decrease frustration and equally increase your success rate of great images.

Hope to see you at the Arizona Highways Photo Workshops Symposium!

Click here for details and registration

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