Sunday, November 30, 2014


A few days ago, I got back from a two week photo-adventure to Myanmar (Burma). Even though, I still have a lot of editing work to be done on the +3000 images I shot, I don't want to delay my in the field review of the Fujinon 50-140 f2.8 lens I took on the trip any longer.

First of all I would like to start with a big thank you to Fujifilm Middle East, who provided me with a copy of the lens ahead of the official launch date. Even though, I was told was a pre-production copy, I suspect it will be very close if not identical to the final version. The lens firmware used was 1.00.

Rather than going into pixel peeping mode, I prefer to give the readers a practical review of how I used the lens over the last few weeks. 

As expected for a constant aperture 2.8 telephoto zoom-lens, the lens is relatively heavy; however at 995grams (2.2lbs), the lens is still 33% lighter than the 70-200 2.8 I used to carry around during my Nikon days! Shooting the lens for more than 12 hours on most days, it felt far less tiring. As a comparison, my Nikon D800+70-200 2.8 weighted 2.5kg while the Fujifilm X-T1 + 50-140 weighs 1.4kg.

The overall build quality of this mostly metal made lens is superb; the friction of the aperture ring (thanks for installing a marked one Fuji!) feel just right. The zoom ring is the smoothest I've ever felt! The manual focus ring which is about 1/3 the size of the zoom ring, sits ergonomically in the right position and has a very large throw. This allows for extremely precise fine-tuning of the focus if the situation dictates. Overall for somebody with "average" male hands, all controls fell in place where one expects them to be.

I especially like how the rubber bands on the zoom-ring are installed; one of the weak elements on all of the of the Nikkor (Nikon) zoom glass!

When I initially unboxed the lens, I was somewhat sceptical about how it would balance on the compact X-T1 without the battery grip. Most of the images however were made with the MHG-XT metal handgrip (see image above) and it felt just right. Without the handgrip it was still easy to shoot handheld, however it did not feel as balanced. About 20% of the time, I had the VG-XT1 battery grip installed and felt handling to be very similar to using the MHG-XT. There is definitively no need to buy the more expensive battery grip specifically for balancing reasons!

The lens has a tripod foot, which can be easily removed to save weight without the need for additional tools. Unlike other Fujifilm accessories like the MHG-XT, the bottom of the tripod foot does not have the Arca dovetail plate design that is compatible with quick release plates from Really Right Stuff and others. Because of its slightly conic shape and depending where  one exactly clamps, there can be some play in the up and down axis when the lens is mounted on the tripod. I suspect third party lens plate designers might be in for a new accessory pretty quickly! Why the camera manufacturer does not do this straight away is beyond my understanding...Especially knowing most serious photographers are using Arca style plates and clamps. To be fair to Fuji, both Canon and Nikon do unfortunately exactly the same.

Otherwise, I found everything well balanced on the tripod both with the battery grip and with the MHG-XT. 

Lastly one minor point; when shooting handheld in the vertical orientation with both the vertical grip and the lens foot installed, one needs to swivel the foot to the side or top, in order to be able to get a good grip. Looking at the first image of this post, will probably explain this better. 

The provided lens hood does the job of increasing contrast and minimising lens flare just fine. 

What I really like however, is the fact that one can remove a little piece of the lens-hood when shooting with filters. This way the filter can be turned, while keeping the advantages of using the lens-hood. I since discovered that Canon has even a better way, of having a sliding door; maybe Fuji should have gone the same way. 

The first Fujnon lens where I noticed a remarkable improvement in the OIS was the 18-135 which I reviewed here. Fujifilm claims 5 stops of reduction in shutter speed to a get consistent sharp images. The image below was shot handheld at 1/4s at 140mm (200mm full frame equivalent) which is a clear illustration that this is an actual fact rather than sweet sales talk.

ISO 200, 140mm, f11, 1/4s 

It is the first lens, where I can visually see the difference in camera shake through the EVF with the OIS in the ON and OFF position before making the image. The fact that Fujfilm has some excellent stabilised binoculars used by the military, is probably no coincidence!

After the 18-135, this is the second Fujinon lens that has been weather sealed. Together with the weather sealed X-T1 this makes for a great combination when shooting in harsh outdoor conditions. Having been soaked with splash water on a small longboat and working in very dusty environments during the Myanmar trip, the pair never missed a beat!  

Inle Lake fisherman at work at sunset
ISO 800, 140mm, f5.6, 1/1250s

Because of the large amount of glass installed in the 50-140 lens, Fujifilm elected to install triple linear autofocus motors. Off-set by 120 degrees, they make for a very snappy and quiet autofocus. There is a very soft, low frequency, background noise as soon as the camera is powered up. 

As these three motors need to be powered by something and the camera battery is the only way to do so, I was initially worried that it might negatively effect the battery life. I did however not observe a noticeable reduction when using the 50-140 on my X-T1. 

Auto-focus speed is very fast in normal lighting conditions. In very low light there is the occasional focus hunting; nothing more pronounced than on the other Fujinon glass however.

BOKEH (quality of the out of focus area)
When one is investing in a large aperture lens, a question that naturally comes up straight away, is "How is the Bokeh?". After all this is one of the main reasons we are paying the big bucks for this type of quality glass! 

On the look-out at Ubein bridge
ISO320, 50mm, f4, 1/250s

However, there are a few misconceptions that I would like to clear up first: some people tend to compare it to a 70-200 2.8 lens mounted on a full frame camera body. The bokeh is obviously going to be different because we are using a cropped sensor body. Secondly I've heard comments such as, "The bokeh seems to be not as good as the 56mm 1.2". Well, duh... an f1.2 lens is obviously going to give a shallower depth of field and therefore a different bokeh.

The girl with the hat, Mandalay, Myanmar
ISO800, 102mm, f3.6, 1/250s

Now, "how is the bokeh on the 50-140"? Overall I'm very pleased with the quality of the bokeh. When shooting a very contrasty background, it can at times be a little harsh, but that is as expected when accepting the above misconceptions.

Last but not least; this is really where this lens shines! Although I did not do any specific sharpness comparison shots between different Fujinon lenses, I can clearly pick the images shot with the 50-140 from the ones shot with the 18-55, without referencing the Meta data. 
Feeding monkeys

ISO320, 129mm, f3.2, /250s

The fact that the 18-55 is a pretty sharp zoomlens to start with, makes this even a stronger statement!  
Non for life, Myanmar
ISO320s, 140mm, f3.6, /250s

Well you probably noticed by now that there are very little! Yes, it would have been nice to see the lens ever so slightly smaller and lighter, but I guess we would have to compromise on image quality.

The only thing that I really would have liked to see different is the design of the  tripod foot. Given both Canon and Nikon make the same mistakes, I was hoping Fujifilm would be ahead of the game here...

Will I buy this lens? Short answer, YES! I had barely taken it out of the box, before the decision was made. Having now extensively tested it by shooting more than 2000 images on my trip to Myanmar (Burma) over the last few weeks, the decision has been re-enforced!

While a 70-200 2.8 on a full frame camera, is a bread and butter lens for most pro's shooting people, the Fujifilm 50-140 2.8 will do the same for your X-series body. I feel the image quality of the lens is very close if not slightly better than the Nikon 70-200 2.8, while its built quality and smoothness of operation is clearly better.

Just like with the 70-200, I've also found myself often using the lens for landscape photography. The combination of the compression at the longer focal length with its extreme sharpness, makes for some strong images!

While I'm still in the middle of editing over 3000 images from the trip to Myanmar, one can already check out the new Myanmar gallery here. Over 80% of the images in this gallery are shot with the 50-140 lens. New images will be added daily. To see if the image is indeed a 50-140 image, click on the little "i"  icon on the bottom right of the image, to see the EXIF data; all images in the 50mm to 140mm range are indeed shot with the XF 50-140 2.8.

All images in this blogpost are shot with the 50-140.

Sleeping on the circulr train, Yangon
ISO320, 83mm, f2.8, 1/250s

Ordinary class, Circular train, Yangon
ISO200, 50mm, 2.8, 1/340s

Ready for work
ISO200, 102mm, f3.6, 1/400s

Novice stuyding at Mandalay monastry
ISO3200, 124mm, f2.8, 1/40s

Chilly powder at the market
ISO1000, 140mm, f3.2, 1/250s

Young novice at old Kalaw monastry
ISO320, 50mm, f4 1/250s

Back to basics playing in Myranmar
ISO200, 98mm, f4, 1/2400s

Tribal man at Aungpan market
ISO1000, 140mm, f3.2, /250s

For the ones interested in the specifics of my Myanmar (Burma) photo-adventure, expect a multi-blogpost series over the coming days.

Happy shooting,

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 48: O-14; Swiss cheese building, Business Bay - Dubai

When one mentions Dubai to an outsider, one of the first things that often comes to mind is its amazing Architecture! Be it the worlds tallest building, the 828m Burj Khalifa or the amazing 7 star Burj al Arab hotel, there are plenty of examples of fine Architecture in Dubai.

One of the more recent examples of its modern Architecture, is the O-14 building; a relatively low, 23 floor high-rise, in Business Bay. Sometimes referred to as the "Swiss cheese" building, it has a 40cm concrete shell with more than 1000 large and medium large holes. 

It seems the unusual design was originally mainly for astethic purposes, but to the surprise of the design office, the space between the concrete shell and the office building wall, creates some kind of a vacuum. While the cool air filters through the holes, the hot air is forced up and away from the inner tower, reducing the energy costs by up to 30%!    

O-14 building Dubai Business Bay

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 with the XF 10-24mm f4 Fujinon lens, handheld
ISO 3200, 14mm (21mm full frame equivalent), f8, 1/340s
RAW development in Lightroom 5.6
Nik SilverEfex Pro 2 for Black and White conversion
Photoshop CC 2014 for local contrast 

More architectural images from Dubai can be found here.

Remember: "Logic will take you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere" - Albert Einstein

Happy shooting,

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 47: A wide view on Dubai Marina

When I first arrived in Dubai early 2002, "Dubai Marina" was non-existent. The project of building the Worlds largest man-made marina had been announced and the digging of the vast U-shaped excavation had just started, but the only buildings were a few of the original beachfront hotels. Some of them like the Hilton, Ritz Carlton and Sheraton, can still be seen in the foreground of the image below, while others like the Oasis Beach hotel had to make place for newer buildings.

Over the last 12 years, Dubai Marina has become a city within a city; accommodating more than 100.000 people, this concrete jungle, consists of more than 200 high-rise buildings with a large selection of hotels and hundreds of restaurants. 

The 414m (1358ft) Princess Tower (highest on the left), was the worlds tallest residential building until it has been overtaken by the 426m  (1397ft) "432 Park Avenue" building in New York city last month

The panorama of the Dubai Marina skyline, was made from the Palm Jumeirah; a man-made island in the form of a Palm tree of the Dubai shoreline.

Dubai Marina - panorama

I like to invite the readers to click on the image in order to do it justice and view it at its full size. The amount of detail in this almost 20.000 pixel wide image, is quite astonishing! In order to avoid loosing too much space after stitching, the panorama was shot in a vertical orientation and consists of 11 images.

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 with the XF18-55 Fujinon lens
Mounted on a MeFoto tripod using the BH30 from Really Right Stuff 
ISO 200, 55mm (83mm full frame equivalent), f13, 4sec
RAW images stitched using Photoshop CC 2014
Lightroom 5.6 for further image editing

Remember: "Memory is the fourth dimension to any landscape" - Janet Fitch

Happy shooting,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

FUJIFILM X-photographer goes to MYANMAR (BURMA)

Tomorrow, I'll be leaving on my next photo-adventure; a two week trip to Myanmar, former Burma. Since I already received a few emails asking what I'll take on the trip, I elected to do a quick; "what's in the camera bag?" blogpost.

First, apologies for the low quality of the images below... There is only so much one can do with an iPhone 5!

The two week trip will be mainly about people and general travel photography; starting at Yangoon we will be visiting Mandalay, Monywa, Bagan, Kalaw and Inle Lake.   

So what am I taking to Burma?
  • Fujifilm X-T1 with the VG-XT1 battery grip as my main camera body
  • Fujifilm X-E1 as my backup and secondary camera body
  • Fujinon XF 50-140mm 2.8 lens pre-production sample
  • Fujinon XF 18-55mm lens
  • Fujinon XF 10-24mm f4 lens
  • Fujinon XF 14mm 2.8 lens (might be left behind, still debating)
  • Fujinon 23mm 2.8 lens
  • MHG-XT grip  for X-T1 (to be used as a camera plate, when shooting on a tripod)
  • Polariser filters (58mm and 72mm)
  • 10 stop ND filter (58mm and 72mm)
  • MeFoto Roadtrip tripod with RRS BH-30 ballhead
  • Gorillapod SLR zoom with MeFoto ballhead
  • EF-X8 mini flash for X-T1
  • Remote release Hongdak RS-60E3
  • Giotto Rocket blower
  • Arctic butterfly 724 sensor brush
  • 4 extra NP-W126 Fujifilm batteries 
  • 2 Fujifilm battery chargers
  • 1TB WD My passport external hard drive 
  • 4 SD cards (1x16Gb, 2x32GB and 1x64GB), all Sandisk class 10
  • Macbook Pro Retina 15inch with Lightroom, Photoshop and all Nik Software plugins

All the gear except for the tripod and computer, fits nicely in my Thinktank StreetWalker Pro and weights exactly what is allowed for my domestic flights inside Myanmar; 7kg! What a difference compared to my travels prior to the switch from Nikon to Fujifilm; 15 to 17kg with only one camera body were no exception in those days! 

After my last photo-adventure to New Zealand, this is the second trip where I'll travel exclusively with lightweight Fujifilm gear. 

I'll be testing the brand-new Fujinon XF 50-140 2.8 weather sealed lens on the trip. Because of the limited (if any) internet access in Myanmar, I won't be able to post a lot of images during the trip, but expect a full review on the lens and trip-report by the end of this month!

"When you travel remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable, it is designed to make its own people comfortable" - Clifton Fadiman

Happy shooting,

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 46: Baking bread in Deira, Dubai

Last Friday, I spend the Friday morning out in Deira, nestled along the East side of the Creek, this old part of Dubai is perfect of Street Photography. Some of you might not be aware, but Friday in the UAE (and the rest of the region) is pretty much the same as a Sunday in the Western world; it is a day off work for most people.

While strolling through the narrow streets of Deira, I normally don't have a specific goal in mind; trying to get lost on purpose is not uncommon and easy to do!

Leaving the camera bag at home and going out with single camera and lens is definitively the the way to go if you want to easily blend in with all the people around you. Even though most don't realise shops only open up after lunchtime on Fridays, there is always a fair amount of tourists wandering around Deira; people in search for the real Dubai... Even though I do my best not to look and act like one, I applaud that they come to this part of Dubai. It is a nice change from wandering around the many large shopping malls and staying in a great 4 or 5 star hotel!

Around noon, I stopped at a local bakery and bought some Pakistani Naan bread; after having paid one dirham (quarter of US dollar/Euro) to the vendor, I asked if I could make a few photos of the guys baking the bread. The image I liked the most is the one below; typical for people of this part of the world, they often tend to look very serious when their picture is being made... 

Pakistani Bakery, Deira - Dubai

Image details:
Fujfilm X-T1 with the XF18-55 Fujinon kit-lens
ISO 2500, 18mm (27mm full frame equivalent), f11, 1/20s
RAW development in Lightroom 5.6
Nik ColorEfex Pro for contrast adjustment

End of this week, I'm leaving for a two week for an exciting photo-adventure to Burma/Myanmar. As I probably will not have an internet connection while travelling, I've scheduled a few Pic(k) of the weeks over the coming two weeks. Needless to say, that a full report on my travels to this beautiful Southeast Asian country, will follow somewhere around the end of the month!

Remember: "All the technique in the world, does not compensate for the inability to notice" - Elliott Erwitt 

Happy shooting,

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 45: Millennium bridge & St Paul's cathedral

It's probably fair to say, I'm pretty familiar with most major capitals around the world; yes, I haven't been to Canberra (Australia) or Ottowa (Canada)!

Even though, I've been to the capital of the United Kingdom multiple times, London is a city I really don't know that well. Until a few days ago, I didn't even have a dedicated London gallery on the Travel part of my website. Well, that has changed now; here it is!

On my recent visit to London last week, I concentrated on photographing the "new City" on the south bank of the river Thames, between the Blackfriars and Tower bridge. There is some very interesting modern Architecture in this part of the capital! 

Having said that, I was especially interested in the newest of the many bridges over the Thames; "The Millennium bridge", a 325m pedestrian bridge, which first opened on June 10th 2000, to be closed only two days later! 

The natural sway motion of people walking, caused small sideways oscillations, which in turn caused the people to sway in step making the problem even worse. In the end the design office Arup, needed 18 Months to sort out the resonance problem by installing additional damping. Getting rid of its nickname "The Wobbly bridge" was not easy, but I checked it out and it feels pretty stable to me!

One of the best places to photograph the Millennium bridge is from the Southbank, with the St Paul's cathedral in the background. The image below was shot just after sunset on a beautiful Autumn day. I was somewhat disappointed in the weak lighting of the bridge which didn't really stand out until it got dark completely.

St Paul's and Millennium bridge (West side)

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 with the XF18-55 Fujinon lens
ISO 200, f11, 53mm (79mm full frame equivalent)
Exposure bracketing, 7 shots between 1/2s and 27s
Merge to 32 bit file in HDR Pro in Photoshop 2014 CC
Development of 32 bit file in Lightroom 5.6
Nik ColorEfex Pro for final contrast adjustment

I remain astonished how sharp the XF 18-55 "kittens" is. Together with the great sharpness of the X-Trans II sensor of the X-T1, it delivers a quality image!

I've recently changed my sharpness import settings for Fujifilm RAW files to what Pete Bridgwood explained in his blogpost here. If you are shooting on a X-Trans Fujifilm sensor, make sure you check it out!  

Remember: "What makes photography a strange invention, is that its primary raw materials are light and time" - John Berger

Happy shooting,