Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 38: Beech 18 at the Canadian Warplane Heritage museum

The Canadian Warplane Heritage museum has been in the Aviation news quite a bit lately... Their main asset, one of only two airworthy Avro Lancasters, is presently over on a six week trip to the United Kingdom, where it is joining its sister ship from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight on the UK airshow circuit. 

Just as the Canadian Lancaster was being prepared to fly across the Atlantic, I was at this great Aviation museum at the Hamilton airport, about one hour Southwest of Toronto. One of the images shot that day can be found here.

As it has been over 50 years that two of these mighty World war II bombers have flown in formation, it is definitively Aviation News worthy!

My Pic(k) of the week however is of a 1946 Beechcraft Model 18S; one of my favourite smaller vintage prop-liners. Just like most of the museum collection, it is fully airworthy and ready to take to the skies!

I particularly like how the ambient light falls on the hundreds of rivets that hold together the structure of this World War II transport aircraft. To me, it was an image that was screaming to be converted into Black and White!

As the image was shot at ISO 2500 (handheld), with minimal noise, it shows how good the Fujifilm X-T1 is in a low light environment.

Beech 18 at the Canadian Warplane museum

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 with the 10-24 f4 Fujinon lens
ISO2500, 1/100s, f8, 24mm (36mm full frame equivalent)
RAW file converted using Lightroom 5.6
Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 for Black and White conversion

All Aviation geeks who are close to Hamilton, make sure you don't mis the Canadian Warplane Heritage museum in Ontario! All images of my visit can be found here.

Remember: " You wanna fly; you gonna give up the shit that weighs you down" - Toni Morrison 


Monday, September 8, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 37: Eiffel Tower anno 1905

When one thinks about Paris, one of the first things that come to mind is probably the Eiffel tower! Shooting such an iconic monument in a way that hasn't been done before is a challenge. And that was precisely what I was after, on my visit to the French capital a week ago...

While I was in Paris on a 24 hour layover for the flying job, I gave myself the challenge to photograph the 125 year old building in a way that could have been done at the start of twentieth century; no cars, no people, no modern buildings, in Black and White!

Given it was the last weekend of August and the end of the Summer holiday period, leaving the people out was probably the hardest challenge. 

Eiffel tower anno 1905
The image above was made under the Bir-Hakeim bridge, a few kilometers to the Southwest of the 324m monument. This bridge over the Seine river, dates back to 1905, 16 years after the Eiffel tower was finished, and has been used in several movies like "Inception" and "last tango in Paris".

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 with the XF 14mm 2.8 Fujinon lens
ISO 500, f11, 14mm, 1/400s
RAW development in Lightroom 5.6
Nik Analog Efex to give the Black and White vintage film look

One of the things that always surprises me is that the height of the Eiffel tower is almost exactly the same as that of the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai (324m versus 321m). 

Remember: "For all that all lost, there always will be cities that feel like home" - Simon Van Booy


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Fujifilm X-T1 tripod setup: MHG-XT handgrip + BH-30 RRS ballhead + MeFoto BackPacker tripod

Over the last few months, I've been on a mission to loose as much weight as possible... not for myself (maybe I should!), but on my camera gear! As part of my "Bye Bye Nikon, Hello Fujifilm" switch from the heavy DSLR to the compact light weight mirrorless gear, I've now also revisited my tripod set-up.

Over the last few years, I've used a very sturdy Gitzo G1257 6X carbon fiber tripod together with a Markins Q20 ballhead. Although they both work great with the X-series Fujifilm cameras, it was clearly a bit of overkill. 

Shortly after I bought my first mirrorless (Fujifilm X-E1) camera, I picked up a  lightweight MeFoto Q0350 tripod. Since then, MeFoto has re-branded their tripods and it is now called the BackPacker series. As of today, it will set you back a very reasonable 150,-USD. Folded, under 30cm (12inches) long, it is perfect as a travel tripod and offers great stability with the X-T1 and 55-200 lens; probably fuji's heaviest camera/lens setup for the time being.

The MeFoto tripods come with its own detachable ballhead (image above, left) but I find these a bit too flimsy to deliver quality work with the heaviest of my mirror-less kit, especially in windy conditions. Now I must say that I did not have the opportunity to use the lasted versions of the MeFoto ballheads, as mine is over a year old and improvements have likely been made. 

Anyway, it was time to look for a higher quality ballhead with about the same size and weight as the MeFoto one. Likely the best place to look for ballheads is Really Right Stuff (RRS) and it quickly became clear that the BH-30 LR had my name on it! At 275,-USD these things are not cheap, but they are extremely well made. Like fine-art machinery if such a thing exists!

Lastly I wasn't entirely happy with the "one size fits all" camera plate provided with the MeFoto ballhead neither. I came close to buying a full size RRS L-bracket for the X-T1, but eventually have settled on the MHG-XT (large) handgrip made by Fujifilm. 

Once screwed to the bottom of the X-T1, the battery can still be easily changed which is a huge plus compared to some of the earlier X-E1 grips. Beside the MHG-XT (large) adds a nice grip which is perfect if shooting the longer lenses such as the 55-200. I picked one up for 109,-USD at my favourite Fujifilm retailer in the UAE; Gulf Photo Plus. By the way, the "small" version of the MHG-T1 is identical expect that it doesn't have the rubber grip on the front. 

Even though an L-plate is great for shooting verticals (including panoramas), I eventually didn't buy one because I found it too bulky (and ugly, sorry RSS). Some issues that have been reported when using cable releases also made me revise my decision. 

As one can see in the image above, one is still able to shoot good verticals with the MHG-T1, by flipping the camera on the ballhead.

Adding everything up, MeFoto tripod, MHG-XT handgrip and the BH-30 ballhead; set me back just over 500,-USD; quite reasonable for a high quality but very lightweight travel tripod setup! 

While the total weight for the original setup without the camera was over 2.2kg, the new setup totals at 1.3kg. As I'm in the process of preparing my next photo-adventure to Burma/Myanmar next November, I know what tripod kit I'll be taking along! 

For the ones wondering, the tripod still fits inside the MeFoto carrying bag with the BH-30 attached.

Last but not least, I did find a great use for my now unused MeFoto ballhead; installed on my GorrilaPod SLR ZOOM it makes for a great combination for places where tripods are not allowed! And my Gitzo carbon fiber tripod; no its not going anywhere for now, as it is still regularly used on jobs closer to home and/or from a parked car...

Remember, "Wherever you go, there you are".
Have a great weekend!


Monday, September 1, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 36: Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles - a Frank Gehry building

While the Summer temperatures here in Dubai are still well above 40C (104F), my Architectural photography in the UAE has been put on hold for a while...

I did however have the opportunity to photograph an interesting project by one of my favourite Architects, Frank Gehry; who by the way, a few months ago, was a passenger on my flight from New York to Dubai.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles (CA, USA), got its name from a large donation given by the Disney family. Although the project started in 1994, the concert hall, which can seat 2265 people, opened in 2003 after a delay due to lack of funds. 

Its shape reminds me a lot of another Frank Gehry design; the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Northern Spain. 

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles - a Frank Gehry building

Unfortunately there was a large Food festival next to the building the Friday night I was there, limiting me to detail shots. On a positive note, it gives me the opportunity to return...

An interesting side story is that unlike the majority of the matt finish of the building, part of it (Founders room) was initially very shiny. With some neighbours complaining about excessive glare and heat; similar to the effect of a parabolic mirror, the solution turned out to be lightly sanding the panels causing the problem!

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 with the XF 10-24mm f4 Fujinon lens
Mounted on a MeFoto tripod + Really Right Stuff BH-30 bullhead
ISO200, 16mm (24mm full frame equivalent), f11, 
3 images shutter speed bracketing between 1.7s and 1/35s
Merge to HDR in Photomatix 5
Nik ColorEfex pro 4 for contrast enhancement

More images of this amazing building can be found in a brand new Los Angeles gallery.

To quote Mr. Gehry; " An architect is given a program, budget, place and schedule. Sometimes the end product rises to art - or at least people call it that way".


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Wings over Camarillo 2014 pre-show

Last Friday I spend the afternoon at the Camarillo airport near Los Angeles, where the fine folks of the Commemorative Airforce (CAF) were preparing for their yearly airshow. 

Curtiss C-46 China Doll at Camarillo, CA, USA

The CAF is a non-profit organisation, dedicated to restoring, preserving and showing historical aircraft all over the US and Canada. Originally known as the Confederate Airforce, the CAF has several "wings" with the main South Californian one being based at Camarillo.

Curtiss P-40N Warhawk at Camarillo, CA, USA

As I wasn't able to attend the show during the weekend, I did the next best thing and flew a single-engine DiamondStar DA40 into Camarillo the day before. Photography wise it turned out to be a great, as unlike during the air shows days itself, there were no restrictions on where one could shoot from.

Pre-airshow days come with a great atmosphere, which I remember from my days helping to organise the airshow at my home airport Moorsele in Belgium. 

P-51A Mustang at at Camarillo, CA, USA
There were a fair amount of rare birds at Camarillo, such as the one and only flying P-51A Mustang flown in from Chino, CA.

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this P-63A King Cobra that flew in from the Palm Springs Air Museum,

A6M Zero at Camarillo, CA, USA
and an original Mitsubishi A6M3 Zero based at Camarillo. I especially like the contrast between the American "Budweiser" advert and the Japanese aircraft. Let's all be friends now!

World Record altitude breaker Long-Ez, Camarillo, CA, USA
It wasn't all warbirds however, with a fair amount of GA and Experimental aircraft like this Rutan Long-EZ ex altitude record holder. And yes, as an ex-owner of the Rutan aircraft, the Canard designs are still very close to my heart!

All images were shot with the Fujfilm X-T1, with either the 55-200 or the 10-24 Fujinon lens.

C-47 duo at Camarillo, CA, USA

More photography at Camarillo can be found here.