Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 31: Toronto skyline at sunset

Last week was my first time visiting Canada; the 85th country I set foot on. With almost half of the world countries ticked off the United Nations list of 195, there are still a lot of exciting new places on the bucket list!

I spend two nights in Toronto, the most populous city in Canada and the provincial capital of Ontario. Especially, if I've new to a city, I always do a fair amount of pre-travel online research. A great tool for this is the Stuck on Earth app; a free Stuck in Customs product for iPad and Mac.

On my first night in Toronto, I jumped on a ferry to the Toronto Islands, one of the prime spots to photograph the great skyline.

The image below was shot just a few minutes before sunset, as the sun was disappearing behind the buildings. 

Toronto skyline at sunset

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 with the 10-24 XF lens
ISO 200, 17mm (25mm full frame equivalent), f6.4, 
5 exposures, different shutter speeds between 0.6 and 30s 
Lightroom 5.5 RAW conversion 
Merge to 32 bit HDR Pro in Photoshop CC 2014
Nik Color Efex Pro 4 for contrast and detail enhancement

As I'm also in the process of testing the new Fujifilm 18-135 lens, you can expect an in the field review somewhere end of next week.

More images of my visit to Toronto can be found in a dedicated gallery here.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 30: The little yellow aeroplane - Piper Super Cub

If one would ask me what I miss the most while living in Dubai, I don't have to think long... "Flying the little aeroplanes"! As an airline pilot, I get to fly the largest, latest and greatest, but that is only the job. To me, the real fun in aviation, is in what we pilots often refer to as; "General Aviation" (GA). Be it touring in a single engine aircraft over the amazing New Zealand's South Island landscapes, following a river bed in Oregon at a few hundred feet or just a 30 min local flight on a lazy Sunday afternoon; that is what flying is really about!

Over the years, I've been able to do some amazing flying adventures in places like New Zealand, Florida and the Bahamas, most of the Western US, and will continue to do so...

But just like a lot of airline pilots, we tend to eventually go back to the basics; a "low and slow" aircraft, like a Piper Cub, where one cruises at a leisurely 80 knots, watching the scenery go by from 500 feet! 

The Piper Cub, by most pilots often referred to as "The Cub", is a tandem two seat tailwheel airplane which over the years has trained thousands and thousands of pilots. It goes back to the grassroots and has become an icon for aviation. While the original Piper Cub design is pre World War 2, the aircraft has been in production till 1994 with more than 10.000 being built!

Last week, I got to fly a 60 year old "Piper Super Cub", at a small grass strip near London Heathrow. While the Super Cub is slightly wider and more powerful than the J-3 Cub, it still is very much a back to basics aircraft; no fancy instruments or complicated aircraft systems, just the pure joy of flight!

Like a Ferrari has to be Red, the Cub needs to be Yellow!

The Little Yellow Aeroplane

Because this weeks Pic(k) of the week, consists of a total of 4 images, I won't be bother giving you the full Exif data below...

Image details:
Fujfilm X-T1 with the weather resistant XF 18-135mm lens
RAW files edited in Lightroom 5.5
Print module in Lightroom 5.5 to make the 4 image template and then used the print to file function 

Bringing it back to photography; the Cub is also a great platform for aerial photography, as one can easily open the door in flight to avoid the nasty plexiglass reflections.

I'm off to Toronto Canada now, where over the next few days, I hope to do some more testing of the new 18-135mm lens and guess what... fly some more Piper Cub!

I like to finish with a little pilot story, I once heard and replicates a bit how I feel now.  Rephrased it in my own words. Here we go:

A pilot is taking his Piper Cub for a flight around the pattern on a lazy afternoon. He is number two behind a Beechcraft King-Air taking off ahead of him and thinks to himself; “Would it not be cool to fly a 10 seat twin engine turbo prop like this?” 
A little bit later the King-Air cruises at 29000 feet and the pilot starts day dreaming. A  twin engine passenger jet is overtaking him at 35000 feet. It is a Boeing 737 cruising at Mach 0.78. He thinks to himself, “one day I want to fly a passenger jet like this!”
Shortly after that, the Boeing captain hears an Airbus A380 checking in on the frequency at 41000 feet, flying Mach 0.85. “One day I want to move on to a wide-body aircraft like this" he says to his first-officer. 
As the A380 is cruising along the Florida coastline, ATC advises that a Space Shuttle is about to be launched of the left hand side. “Wow the A380 captain says. If ever I could become an astronaut!” 
Once the Space Shuttle is in orbit, they look down on Earth and see the little Piper Cub. “If only I could fly that little Piper Cub. That would be so cool the commander thinks to himself”.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 29: My tower is the tallest in Dubai !

Whenever people talk about Dubai, the words "biggest", "largest", "tallest"; are commonly used superlative adjectives.

Even though there is clearly no shortage of large shopping centers in Dubai, The Mall of the World", the worlds largest mall, has just been announced. The worlds tallest tower, Burj Khalifa, dominates the Dubai skyline with its 820m height. 

The image below of one of the many electricity pylons on the edge of the dessert at sunset, dwarfs the worlds tallest tower! The kind of image I've been on the lookout for...

My tower is the biggest in Dubai !

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 with the XF 18-135 f3.5-5.6 weather sealed lens
ISO 200, 83mm (125mm full frame equivalent), f8, 
Handheld 3 image shutter speed bracketing between 1/450s and 1/1800s
Photoshop CC 2014 for 32 bit HDR conversion 
Lightroom 5.5 for development of the 32 bit file
Nik Color Efex 4 for contrast enhancement

The image was shot with a brand-new 18-135mm Fujinon lens, which I'm presently testing for Fujifilm Middle East. As I have planned a few international shoots with the new lens over the coming weeks, one can expect an in the field lens review, early August! 

Followers of the blog, might remember a similar "Pic(k) of the week" image I took two years ago, titled "Power of Dubai".

Lastly, thank you for all of you who have been sharing the blogpost, "BYE BYE NIKON, HELLO FUJIFILM", which quickly made it to the top of my most popular posts ever! 

Remember: "Always look for the extraordinary in the ordinary" - Mathew Knisely


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 28: In Memoriam C172 I-SIPI - Aero Club Como (Italy)

It was a peaceful morning in early June at the Aero Club Como. Pilots were waiting for the morning low clouds to clear, to start another great flying day at the worlds oldest seaplane operation. 

One of the docked aircraft was Cessna C172N I-SIPI; a four seater recreational aircraft, which was equipped with floats in order to allow for take-off and landings on the beautiful Lake Como. 

Little would I know that a week later, on June 9th, three people would loose their life in this aircraft (I-SIPI)... The aircraft had taken off from the Lake Como airport (LILY) and for a reason that is not clear to me (rumours about suspected engine problems), crashed into a mountain side North East of Como.

May these aviators, that undoubtedly were looking forward to a great flying day,  Rest in Peace!

In Memoriam C172 I-SIPI - Aero Club Como, Italy

Image details:
Fujfilm X-T1 with XF 18-55mm Fujinon
ISO 200, 33mm 949mm full frame equivalent), f 9, 1/220s
RAW development in Lightroom 5.5
Nik ColorEfex Pro 4 for contrast and detail enhancement

Remember: "To most people, the sky is the limit, to those who love aviation, the sky is home"

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Bye bye NIKON, Hello FUJIFILM !

It's been 25 years, since I first clicked the shutter of a NIKON film camera. Over the next two decades,  I remained loyal to the brand and bought a wide range of digital cameras from the Japanese camera maker but it looks like the time has come to move on... What is below is not about a change of camera company, but much more about a change of mentality; all in the interest of creativity! 

Wide-angle view on Abu Dhabi Grand Mosque


My last NIKON DSLR was the 36.3 million megapixel D800 beast which I ordered the day it officially launched in February 2012. Probably a bit of an impulsive buy, but after all it looked great and the resolution was supposed to be top notch! So why not?

After staying on the waiting list far too long, I eventually got my D800 shipped to my home in Dubai. As I started using it, I witnessed something special happening with my photography. The images I shot per month, compared to previous years, steadily reduced. I blamed it on the huge files the D800 was spitting out. Even the yearly figures were down; I mean really down! From well over 10.000 yearly keepers pre-2012, to less than 6000 in 2012! 

Beside a great solo photo-adventure around Iceland in the Summer of 2012, I found that the quality of my personal photography was also on the decline. How could I get the  inspirational juices flowing again? After all, I just got a great new camera!

A bit of a deeper self-analysis, lead me to the following; unlike in the earlier days when I never left the house without my DSLR, I often found excuses to leave the camera behind. I needed another camera; a smaller one! Being very ware about the common trap of just buying more new gear when getting in a creative rut, I started looking at the mirror less market. It was right around that time that famous HDR photographer Trey Ratcliff, made his controversial post:  "The DSLR are a dying breed". Something that always stuck with me after the first time I saw the post.

2013 Pic(k) of the week 28: Subway ghost in Munich

It was US based photographer Zack Arias who put the Fujifilm X-series cameras on my radar after a presentation he held for Fujfilm Middle East. The next day I decided borrow a Fujifilm X-Pro-1 with three prime lenses (18mm, 35mm and 60mm Macro) from the Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) guys in Dubai. Little did I know that this would change my photography forever!  Even though the autofocus was a bit gimmicky at times, I really enjoyed the three days with the X-Pro1. So much, that I bought a brand new Fujfilm X-E1 with the XF 18-55 lens from GPP a few weeks later

When I picked up the Sexy-1, as I like to call the X-E1, its main mission was to be the camera that is always on my side. Ready to document my travel around the world. It was through this Street Photography, that my personal photography got its much needed boost!

The camera was so light and unobtrusive, that it allowed me to go into places where I would be kicked out with the DSLR in no time!  

Shisha Cafe in Deira

Even though I kept on shooting the heavy Nikon stuff for my Pro photography, the fun I had shooting the little Rangefinder style cameras was beyond comparison!

Breakfast time, NYC

I even started a special gallery section on my site, dedicated to my new love; of Street Photography.

As the X-E1 matured more and more with some very important firmware updates, I started pushing it harder and harder... The 14mm 2.8 and eventually the 55-200mm Fujinon lenses were added to the lens arsenal. Where was this going to end?

Sydney Opera House by night from Farm Cove

End of last year, I was given a pre-production model of the brand new Fujifilm X-E2 by Fujifim Middle East. As I was about to go off on a two week photo-adventure to the South island of New Zealand, this would be the perfect test to see if I would miss the heavy Nikon gear. 

Bench at Lake Tekapo, NZ

Moeraki boulders

The most famous tree of New Zealand, Wanaka, New Zealand

It turned out, I didn't! One of the things that was most noticeable on this trip was the fact that my backpack was that much lighter; 7kg for two camera bodies and 4 lenses, compared to more than 17kg for a single DLSR and three lenses.

Coming back from New Zealand, I was just about ready to exchange my Nikon DSLR's system to the Fufjilm X-E2. But there was one caveat; the auto-focus did not have a focus tracking feature; essential to photograph fast action like air shows...

X-T1 the camera that changed it all!
When Fujifilm announced their new top of the line X-T1 in January 2014, their two main selling points were "weather-sealing" and an "enhanced auto-focus system" which included the focus tracking system which I was lurking after. 

The road to the Milky way (UAE)

As soon as GPP Dubai had an X-T1 in stock, I was on my way! I didn't take long, before my Nikon D800 and 4 expensive lenses went up for sale on the second hand photography market. After all they had been used so little since the start of 2014, that they really deserved some new ownership.

The sun is setting over Riomaggiore – Cinque Terre

So is the X-T1 perfect? Obviously NOT! No piece of technology is... I don't like how the 4 way buttons feel at the back, even though I slowly learned to live with it. Battery performance is really nothing to write home about; especially since it is known to drop from being fully charged to being empty in just a few shots. I travel with a minimum of 4 batteries where ever I go. I do however like the camera. It has something which is very hard to describe; like falling in love all over again!

Is the Nikon D800 better than the X-T1? Hard to define what the definition of better is, I guess... Well two things are clear, it weighs double and it costs more than double. Especially when trekking up a steep mountain path the weight is a great advantage for me.  After all the facts that all the gear was getting so heavy, was the main reason I was shooting less and less images for my personal work! Needless to say the image quality is great. That is if one can frame a sharp image without tripod in the first place... To me the D800 had really become a "tripod only camera"; adding to the whole weight issue even more. And then there were the problems with some of the focus points on the side not being fully accurate. Trying to take it in for repairs in the US (where I bought it!) within 6 months, I was told my warranty was not valid as I had asked for the camera to be shipped outside the US! Really?#$%ˆ*& At that time, I started asking myself the question if loyalty for Nikon was going to last...

Manarola at dusk

Very common for all large technology companies, my Canon friends have told me similar stories, I'm under the impression that they really do not care what their customers have to say. Something that can't be said about the smaller companies like Fujifilm where the client (photographer) feedback comes before anything else. The frequency and the quality of the firmware updates of bodies ( and lenses!!!) is a good example of this. When was the last time Nikon or Canon came out with a brand new camera feature on a camera that has been out more than 12 months? They would rather have you buy an entire new camera body right?

When I took the pre-production X-E2 for its two week testdrive to New Zealand, the fine guys of Fujifilm Middel East invited me to give them feedback and guess what... most of the remarks have now been addressed. Obviously not only due to my comments but because of what the worldwide Fujifilm users were saying. Keep on doing this Fujifilm!

When one makes the big decision of changing camera systems, two size related items keep re-apprearing;

1/ Down-sizing the resolution from 36 to 16 megapixels. Is 16 million megapixels sufficient? Obviously I can only speak for myself, but I have no problem printing my Fujifilm work large; I mean as large as this 1m10 wide canvas print and clients seem to still love it...
Misty morning over the Himalayas

2/ Is the camera not too small? Does it look professional enough? Personally I like the smaller form factor. When using longer lenses like the 55-200 Fujinon lens, I tend to use the optional X-T1 battery grip for added stability. When it comes to what the client thinks... Well I've been into this long enough to know that if a client has a problem with this, that he or she is probably not my type of client anyway. Enough said?

I've been vocal about this a few times, but I sincerely believe that by 2020 there will be hardly any new classic DSLR's being sold. Whoever asks me advise about which first camera they should be buying (yes, they seem to be out there every week!), I have over the last 12 months always pointed them towards the mirror less system. What makes it a hard sell to some of them, is the fact that the two largest camera companies turn a blind eye to the whole mirror less market... Wake-up Nikon and Canon or you'll miss the boat, if that is not too late already!

Meydan bridge, Spaceship or bridge?

NIKON, it has been a pleasure working with you, but the future has now arrived. Bye Bye Nikon! Hello Fuji!

PS: In case you are wondering, all images above have been shot on the Fujifilm X-series system. An entire gallery with X-series images ONLY can be found here.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 27: PV-2 Harpoon Navy bomber, 1944 or 2014?

When asked what their favourite US made World War bomber is, very few Aviation Geeks, would probably name the Lockheed PV-2 Harpoon Navy bomber...

The aircraft is a direct descendant of the civil Lockheed Model 18 Lodestar; which on itself was a direct competitor to the first "real airliner" the Douglas DC-2. The PV-2, flew for the first time in 1943 and turned out to be only a mild success with 938 being built. Of these only a handful are still around today...

One of them is the aircraft in the image below, N7483C, which presently sits outside the ramp at the Chino airport, California where it is in the process of being restored. The owner seems to be the world renown vintage aircraft buyer, Kermit Weeks, of Fantasy of Flight. He had an amazing museum Northeast of Lakeland, Florida, which unfortunately closed its doors to the public a few months ago. As Kermit seems to have plans on eventually re-opening under a new formula, I sincerely hope the restoration of this great bird will go ahead as well!

PV-2 Harpoon Navy bomber: 1944 or 2014 ?

The image was shot last month (so yes 2014!!!), on a brief stop while I was flying a single-engine aircraft around the LA bassin. While Chino airport was a training base for the Army Air Cadets during World War 2, literary hundreds of military aircraft were disposed at Chino after the war. Beside all of the amazing photo opportunities on the ramp, Chino also house two great aviation museums; one of them "Planes of Fame", which I blogged about here

Back to photography; the vision I had for this image, was one that could have been made in 1944. Using Nik Analog Efex Pro 2 allowed me to simulate that old "film look", including obvious film grain, scratches and light leaks. As always, I'm interested in what "you", the reader/viewer, thinks!

More about Analog Efex Pro 2 can be found in last weeks Pic(k) of the week

Image details:
Fujfilm X-T1 with the XF 10-24mm f4 Fujinon lens
ISO 200, 15mm (22mm full frame equivalent), f6.4, 1/800s
RAW development in Lightroom 5.5
Nik Analog Efex Pro 2 to create the film look

Similar images can be found in the dedicated "disused aircraft gallery"

Lastly, for the ones interested how a completely restored PV-2 Harpoon looks like, please click here.

Remember: "You wanna fly? You gotta give up the shit that weighs you down!" - Toni Morrison