Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Pic(k) of the week 9: AERIAL PHOTOGRAPHY - FUJIFILM X-H1

Aerial Photography - Even after all those years, watching the world below us, is without a doubt one of the best things about the flying job I do for a living. It really is the best office in the world! Needless to say, that I'm not clicking away while flying the plane but I love to Focus on the World below!

What all of us can do however, even as non-pilots, is rent a plane with a pilot for an hour (or less), in order to do a sightseeing/aerial photography trip. These trips are often much more affordable than what one initially thinks. Check with the company renting the aircraft, if photography is allowed and preferably rent a "high wing airplane" as it makes it much easier to shoot below. Make sure that you clearly brief your pilot before, about what you want.  

The San Francisco Bay Area is a great place to do such a thing. Several small airplane rental places organize Bay Tours (check out San Carlos and Palo Alto airports), which offers great views on things like the Golden gate bridge, city and airport of San Francisco and some interesting nature reserves on the East side of the bay. 

One of them is located just next to the Facebook Headquarters and close to the Palo Alto airport. As often is the case in my Aerial Photography, I was attracted to the interesting patterns; almost looking like the surface of Mars. 

As I'm not sure how exactly the place was formed, I would like to hear from anybody who has more info on the location. 


Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-H1 with the XF18-135 lens
  • ISO 200, f 9.0, 1/480s, 88mm 
  • Lightroom CC for RAW development 
  • Nik ColorEfex pro with Pro Contrast filter
This was the first time using the Fujifilm X-H1 for Aerial photography. Using a camera with IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) for aerial photography seems to be the way to go!

Time permitting, I plan on writing a more extensive blogpost about Aerial photography, hopefully by the end of March. Meanwhile more of my Aerial photography (all shot with Fujifilm Series cameras) can be found here

Last but not least, if you are interested in the new X-H1 camera, please check out my recent review here

Remember: "You haven't seen a tree until you have seen its shadow from the sky" - Amelia Earhart.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

FUJIFILM X-H1 - FIRST LOOK BY A PHOTOGRAPHER

On February 15, 2018, Fujifilm announced the X-H1; a brand-new "Hybrid" still/video camera. When comes to features, the X-H1 comes in at the top end of  the X-series line. 




I didn't have the time to do a proper full First look review on the day of the announcement, as I was away on a Street/Travel photography trip to Varanasi, India. 

By now there are plenty of great reviews online and I want to minimize duplication of information as much as possible. Two well respected reviewers I always check out myself are:
As an official X-photographer, Fujifilm Middle East kindly provided me with an X-H1 + Vertical Power Booster grip (Battery grip) for 7 days. The camera I tested was pretty much a production copy and had a 1.0 firmware installed; likely the same as when the camera will be available early March. Because, I don't call myself a videographer, I will only look at the X-H1 as a still photographer. 

One of the questions, I received the most since the announcement is, "Shall I replace my X-T2 with an X-H1?". Although it is a hard question to answer, in this post I'll be looking at some of the main differences between both cameras. Lets start with the one that has caused the biggest buzz...




IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization)

To me this is by far the most important feature of the new camera. With a sate of the art built in 5 axis image stabilization system, it provides up to 5.5 extra stops for shooting at slower shutter speeds. All of the non-OIS Fujifilm (and potentially all third party) glass now becomes stabilized while most OIS lenses do get a boost in stabilization. 

Notice that not all lenses get the full 5 stops of stabilization; with the XF10-24 lens being the lowest at 2.5 stops, all of the XF primes and 'red label" XF zoom lenses, do get the full 5 stops. Some like the XF35mm f1.4, even get 5.5 stops.

I still remember having a rant about the "missing OIS" in the XF16-55 lens I reviewed here. I should probably reconsider this argument now!

But how well does it work? While shooting the X-H1 I had a few interesting opportunities to test the IBIS and I must say I've been impressed! One of the more spectacular tests was a series of images I shot of the Northern Lights over Northern Greenland from an airliner flying close to 1000km/h at 37000 feet. 

Even using a high ISO of 12800, one still needs shutter speeds of around 1 sec at wide open apertures (f2.0) to get a reasonable exposure of this amazing natural phenomenon. Needless to say one can not mount the camera on a tripod for these, so a good handholding technique is the only way to get good results. Using the XF23mm f2 lens, this was the first time I was able to shoot decent Norther Light images from the air; largely attributed to the new IBIS system. 


With OIS lenses, one can flip the switch to OIS OFF (on the lens), disabling both systems. With non OIS lenses, a menu setting allows one to disable IBIS; something that should be done when using a tripod. I find it interesting that one can not switch off the IBIS system independently from the OIS built into the lens, but then again there is probably no real reason to do so. 

Watch this  video made by Fujifilm to get a better technical grasp of the IBIS system. 




SHUTTER BUTTON 
Almost equally important as IBIS to me is the new shutter button, which is installed on a system of 5 springs, making for absolutely no vibration to be spread across the body once pressing the shutter.

This brand-new system is initially something that turned out to be one of my "hate" items, but one that did quickly become one of my favorites a couple of days later. At first sight, the new shutter button is very sensitive; smooth like butter, one will initially take images well before you think you pressed it. But don't worry, you will adapt and will likely love it just like I did! While I do add a soft shutter release button on cameras like the X-T2/X-T20, this is really the next step up! 

Now time will tell if this new shutter button is degrading faster than the classic system due to its spring design. I think it is fair to say that all springs loose tension over time. Not something we will hear about until the cameras have a least well over 100.000 shutter applications I think, but for now I love it!  

The sound of the shutter is much more damped as well. For the ones familiar with both cameras, the sound level sits somewhere between the X-T2 and X-100 series, the latter being virtually silent. 

The video below shows a comparison of the X-T2 shutter sound compared to the   Mechanical shutter and the new EF-E, Front Curtain shutter (like on the GFX 50S) shutter of the X-H1. The EF-E is recommended to be used for shutter speeds lower than 1/2000s and allows for further reduction in EVF blackout time. As one can see/hear, it is even quieter than the Mechanical one. 



One can choose from a variety of Shutter type options in the Shutter menu; my preferred one offers the best of all three worlds; the new EF-E used till 1/2000s and then Mechanical shutter till 1/8000s with the Electronic shutter taking over till 1/32000s. 

Although the X-T2 is not loud by any stretch of the imagination (compared to noisy DSLR's), the much quieter X-H1 (especially in Front Curtain shutter mode) will definitively by appreciated by wedding and street photographers; although the last category might not be fan of the larger form factor. So Fujifilm, please provide us with the same shutters on all future X-series cameras. 

In my DSLR days I consistently used the back button focus buttons and now we have a dedicated, well positioned AF ON button. it is a bit more recessed than the one next to it, so it can be easily found without looking. Well done Fuji! The classic shutter button is however such a joy to use that I must admit that the majority of my shooting was done without back button focus. 

SIZE AND WEIGHT
Although some people do prefer heavier and larger cameras (often for different reasons), the fact that I switched to Fujifilm from a Nikon DSLR system almost 4 years ago, (see Bye Bye Nikon, Hello Fujifilm) was mainly because of the smaller/lighter form factor. As this argument still stands today, for me this is the main drawback with the X-H1. 



Although width and height have not increased by that much (about +6 to 7mm), the main difference is the depth of the new camera which has more than doubled. This is largely due to the extended grip, which obviously will be a welcome addition for some shooters. I personally do not mind the X-T2 grip. 

The new extended eye cub is especially good for photographers wearing glasses, but does add to the larger form factor as well. It also avoids nose marks being left on the LCD. Storing the camera without lens (or with a small prime lens) in a camera bag now takes a lot more space.

Weight has gone up from 507gr to 673gr; the one third increase is considerable and is not to be underestimated when carrying a camera all day long. While it is slightly higher than one of its rivalries, the Sony A7R II, it is however still significantly lower than most DSLR's.

I do realize that both the IBIS system and the need for a larger heat sink (to allow for the advanced video functionality), needs more space, but I personally would have loved to see the same in a X-T2 form factor (X-T3?). As I did take the camera on extended photowalks (average 20km per day hike), towards the end of the day I did notice the heavier and larger size.

BYE BYE EXPOSURE COMPENSATION BUTTON
This is likely the most talked about difference between the X-T2 and X-H1 but it is one that I'm personally OK with. As a frequent user of exposure compensation, I don't like the idea of having to push a button (yes, I know this is how it is done on most DSLR's) while turning a wheel. But the menu option of having ON/OFF functionality in the Fn button chosen for Exposure compensation, is by far my preferred method.

Personally I did not use the "labelled" exposure compensation button next to the shutter button, but just programmed the clickable back command dial to do it all. One stop shopping. 

Occasionally my manual exposure dial on my X-T2 gets twisted while handling the camera; something I didn't experience with this set-up. 



The Exposure compensation dial has now been replaced by a small 1.28 inch Sub LCD monitor, which can be set-up to your liking for both Still and Video; a nice add on which I found useful when working in the dark; Yes it can be lit when required. 
BUTTONS AND BUILT QUALITY
When the X-T1 came out, there was a lot of critique (well deserved) on the buttons and how difficult they were to press, especially by larger hands or when wearing gloves. The X-T2 radically improved on this with much better clickable buttons but the size of the buttons pretty much remained the same. The X-H1 has gone a step further now, with larger convex buttons which feel more substantial. 

Unlike the X-T2, where if one turns the ISO dials, the Drive mode is often changed with it, the X-H1 does not suffer from this fault. This is likely because of the slightly different form factor of both combined dials. 

I do however have two drawbacks. First one being the fact that the D-pad (4 way controller) is unchanged from the X-T2. As more space is available, I would have loved to see a slightly larger D-pad; again useful when operating the camera with gloves. 

Secondly, the buttons on the Vertical Power Booster Grip (VPB-XH1) are too small; I find them to be exactly the same size as on the X-T2 grip. Make them larger as well please! On top of that the AF ON button on the grip is exactly the same as the AE-L button next to, which makes finding the right button without looking, a real challenge. 

As a pilot I'm used to having different button shapes on my flight-deck, this is done in order to find items in the dark (or in smoke scenarios). The same should apply to camera ergonomics!   

The overal built quality definitively feels a step up from the X-T2; Fujifilm has said that the body material (Magnesium alloy) is 25% thicker. Whatever they say, I did find the camera feeling more sturdy. 

ELECTRONIC VIEWFINDER (EVF)
The LCD on the X-H1 is the same as the X-T2, the EVF got an upgrade. While I find the X-T2 EVF near perfect, the bump in resolution from 2.36 to 3.69 million pixels is noticeable, especially when zooming in. The X-T2 only provides the full 100fps refresh rate when in Boost mode, the X-H1 however does always do so. 

The extended eye cub is a welcome addition, although it does take a bit of space. I guess you can't have it all!




BATTERY LIFE
When I first heard about IBIS I was afraid that the battery performance would suffer from this technological wonder. Although Fujifilm states a slight reduction in battery performance from 340 to 310 frames under test conditions; I did not notice a real difference. One of the batteries I shot till it died, provided me 430 shots; granted not under very cold conditions, but with a fair amount of using the LCD and menu system (new camera syndrome). 

Talking about batteries; although the camera does still take the older NP-W126 batteries, it does now come with an on screen warning (+ battery symbol turns yellow), that battery performance will run down quickly. One shall really use the newer NP-W126S batteries for optimal performance. My own experience has told me that three charged batteries using the Booster grip, will provide me with enough juice to go through a full shooting day. 


AUTOFOCUS
Fujifilm has stated that the X-H1 has better autofocus tracking due to a better phase detection AF range from 0.5EV to -1EV. During my testing period with the camera, I had only limited opportunity to test real life autofocus tracking; the only one being some large bird photography in Dubai. During the tests I did do, I did not notice a large difference in AF tracking speed. The shots I made of the flamingos were sharp and showed reliable AF performance. 


XF100-400 with 1.4TC - ISO 800, 1/4000s, f8 , 560mm

XF100-400 with 1.4TC - ISO 800, 1/2000s, f11 , 437mm
Some of the great Fulfillm glass that is a few year old by now, is not known for its lightning fast Autofocus speed in low light. The XF 56mm comes to mind? Well this is were the updated X-H1 autofocus system shines. With lenses like the new XF23, 35 and 50 f2, the autofocus feels on par with the X-T2. The difference with the older ones is however definitively noticeable in low light. In normal daylight one can't see a difference.

Now something a bit controversial... Just like any image stabilization system I personally believe, one should switch it off when using high shutter speeds. I personally do so at shutter speeds of 1/1000s and faster. Like OIS in the lens, IBIS needs a fraction of a second to stabilize and this in a way will reduce the autofocus time, especially in AF-C and might affect your keeper rate.  

For further testing, I would like to take the X-H1 to an airshow in a few months; my ultimate AF tracking test for shooting long glass at slow shutter speeds (typically 1/125 to 1/250s)! This is needed not to stop the propellor of aircraft in flight as it doesn't look natural and pilots hate stopped props! While doing so, I will use IBIS in this case. 

OTHER STUFF
Although the built in Diopter (eye-correction in EVF) is stated as being the same as on the X-T2; I don't think it actually is. While my eye-sight needs two clicks back from the maximum (+ side) on the X-T2, I need to bring it back 4 clicks on the new camera. This is obviously great for people like myself who need eye correction. Not sure if it has anything to do with the technicalities of the EVF, but this is what I found out in practical application. 

 The Electronic Level that can be selected in the Display set-up remains a single axis roll indicator like in previous X-series cameras. One can however also dedicate an Fn button to Electronic level, which then provides the photographer with roll and pitch (2 axis) information. Maybe it is the pilot thing in me, but I love to see both axis!

The Eye sensor is much faster (0.15sec i.s.o. 0.4sec) in becoming active compared to the X-T2 (or X-T20, X-Pro2). While I normally see initially a bit of a black-out when bringing the camera up to my eye, this lag is now gone.

Like the X-E3, the camera is equipped with Bluetooth in order to establish a faster connection through Wifi; yes it is still a Wifi connection. In my X-E3 review I was hoping that Fujifilm provided a real life Geotagging function. Till today I was not able to make the Geotagging work like it should; i.e. update the position constantly without having to transfer the geotagging information whenever one moves. I presently don't own an X-E3, but can anybody do this on an X-E3 now? I certainly couldn't on the X-H1, but there is always a chance that it was finger trouble. 

I tend to not use the straps provided by the manufacturer, but Fujifilm has finally provided us with a "useable", wider padded strap. 


Eterna, a new Film simulation has been added, called Eterna. To be mainly used for video, it is of course also available for still photography. Eterna is a less contrasty version of Classic Chrome. See the two images below of a high contrast scene for more. 


ETERNA

CLASSIC CHROME
IMAGE QUALITY
While the sensor and image processor are the same as on the X-T2, X-T20, X-Pro2 and X-100F, theoretically one can expect a virtual identical image quality. An IBIS system normally degrades the image quality ever so slightly, but this is not something I could detect. When comparing sharpness test images shot on a tripod (1/50s) and handheld (1/800s); even at 200% I could see no difference in sharpness and image quality between images with and without IBIS.

Obviously images shot at a slow shutter speed, benefitting from the IBIS system were vastly sharper with IBIS; after all this is why we have an IBIS system in the first place!

Below are some images showing a variety of scenes, shot in RAW and converted in Lightroom CC, all with IBIS ON. These are not meant to be used for pixel peeping (please look somewhere else for that) as they are downsized in order to not reduce the loading time of the blog.

XF50 f2 - ISO 200, 1/600s, f8

XF50 f2 - ISO 200, 1/680s, f8

XF100-400 with 1.4TC - ISO 640, 1/4000s, f8.0 , 560mm

XF100-400 with 1.4TC - ISO 250, 1/400s, f14 , 219mm

XF18-135 - ISO 6400, 1/20s, f11 , 31mm

XF18-135 - ISO 200, 1/480s, f9.0, 88mm

XF23 f2 - ISO 6400, 1/2s (handholding), f10


XF23 f2 - ISO 1000, 1.4s (handholding!), f10
VIDEO
Notice that I hardly mentioned the word video before. I understand the camera is without a doubt the best X-series video camera but since I'm not a video guy, I would rather leave the honors to others. Two good reviews for video guys can be found here:

CONCLUSION
At the start of the blogpost I wrote that I wouldn't do one of my classic reviews; well we are not far off are we? 😉

Final question: will I get the X-H1? Not for now. I could definitively see a X-H1 fit in my gear list for my Aerial and Airshow photography but would like to do some more testing on the Autofocus tracking before committing. I'm also still on the fence about its extra size and weight. 

If you still have an older camera like the X-T1 and don't mind the slightly larger form factor, then the X-H1 is a great upgrade. I'm sure a lot of X-T2 users will likely upgrade as well, but Fujifilm has made it no secret that the X-H1 is not a direct replacement for the X-T2; it is a new camera line.

I'm confident that this is however the camera that will make some more hardcore DSLR shooters switch to a mirrorless system; and why would you not?

It will be very interesting to see if Fujifilm will be able (or wants?) to add the IBIS to the X-T3; sorry I have no inside info here. To me two main attractions to the X-H1 are of course the IBIS and the new Shutter button (+AF ON Button) as a close second!

At 1899,-USD (2199,USD with the grip) I think the camera is well priced. It should be available early March in most places; that is if you can get a pre-order in! 

Remember that pre-FEB 15 the X-T2 was a great little camera; well guess what? It actually still is! 

Feel free to share this review on social media and blogs; no prior permission is required. All images copyrighted to Bjorn Moerman Photography.


BJORN
   

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Pic(k) of the week 8: THE RED DOOR AND THE COW - VARANASI, INDIA

After attending Vineet Vohra's "How to Street" workshop as part of the Xposure photo-festival in Sharjah last November, I knew I had to go to Varanasi, India. Vineet, like many other Indian Street Photographers, has done a lot of great work in Varanasi, the Northeastern city along the holy river Ganges (Ganga in Hindi).

Well last week, I finally managed to tick off Varanasi of the bucket list. I spend almost an entire week by myself, shooting the colorful streets and riverbanks of the Ganges. 

Once I complete the review of the recently announced Fuifilm X-H1 camera (check out my Instagram for more), I will be dedicating an entire blogpost to this amazing Street/Travel photography adventure!  For now, lets have a look of one of my favorite images of the trip which was shot the very last day...

The image below was shot midday (who says you can't shoot in harsh light?) in a narrow alleyway. As I approached the street corner, there were two other photographers who were clearly also drawn to the exciting light and the red door. After a brief chat, they both left but I decided to stay a bit longer. I could see there was definitively some potential at this place. 

When a cow appeared at my left, I knew I had to act fast. I especially like how the cow is looking at its own shadow and how the person walking in from the right, adds to the composition. It also adds to the urban myth that bulls and cows are attracted to red. Well, it seems completely wrong as all cattle is colorblind to red anyway. Don't ask me how they found out but this one remained calm!


Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF23 f2 lens
  • ISO 200, 1/1000s, f4
  • RAW development in Lightroom CC using the Classic Chrome camera profile     
  • Photoshop CC 2018 to straighten the door frame a bit
While waiting for the extended blogpost about my visit to Varanasi, please visit the link here

Remember: "Street Photography is like fishing, you never know what the catch of the day will bring".

BJORN







Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pic(k) of the week 7: CASA MILA - LA PEDRERA BARCELONA

Often referred to as the "city of Gaudi", Barcelona is without a doubt one of my favorite European cities. Before he devoted all of his attention to completing the Sagrada Familia, ingenious architect Antoni Gaudí's last private residence was Casa Milà.

Popularly known as La Pedredra (open quarry), the house was completed in 1912 and is a prime example of Catalan Modernism architecture. 

The history of this house begins like the history of every residential building. At the start of the 20th century,  a couple named Milà, decides to build a house on their 2,000 square metres large property on the noble Passeig de Gràcia. It was supposed to become a special house, which stands out in the modern Eixample district. 

Not visible in the image below is the highlight of the building which is without a doubt the roof. Not only the outstanding view over the city attracts attention to the many visitors. But the chimneys, ventilation shafts and staircases do it with their imaginative colours and shapes. Some chimneys look like medieval knights guarding the roof! Check here for images of the roof.

As the first building of the 20th century, Casa Milà was included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1984.

Beside the roof, one of the other photographically interestingly places is the central courtyard seen below. 



Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T20 with XF14mm f2.8 lens
  • ISO 1600, f8, 3 bracket shots between 1/80s and 1/1250s
  • Photoshop for RAW development and to blend the 3 images together
  • Nik ColorEfex Pro 4 for optimal contrast
After my final edit of the image above was completed, I had a look how much shadow and highlights I could recover from a single RAW file (middle exposure). Not surprisingly the end result was virtually identical, with only a little more shadow detail hidden in the shadows. Proof to the amazing recovery possible with the 24Mpx X-Trans III files of the latest Fujifilm X-series cameras; X-100F, X-Pro2, X-T2 and X-T20.

Whenever you are in Barcelona, make sure to visit La Pedrera. More info here.

Remember: "There are no straight lines or sharp corners in nature, therefore buildings shall have no straight lines or sharp corners" - Antonio Gaudí


BJORN



Thursday, February 8, 2018

Pic(k) of the week 6: FLANDERS FIELD PATTERNS - Aerial photography with the Fujifilm X-T2

Last week I spend a week in my home country Belgium and although the weather wasn't the best, I still managed to shoot some new Aerial Photography work from my 65 year old Piper Super Cub; often referred to as the little yellow Flying machine

One of my favourite shots from the latest trip was the image below of a manmade canal around a new large hospital complex just outside the city of Roeselare. I'm not entirely sure what the main purpose is of the waterway, but it definitively looks visually appealing! Long time blog-readers, probably know that I'm always drawn by interesting patterns in my aerial photography. 

While typically aerial nature photography is often best in spring and fall, winter scenes can also be interesting because of the lack of foliage, making patterns even stand out more.


Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF 18-135 lens
  • ISO 800, 1/900s, f8, 79mm (118mm full frame equivalent)
  • Iridient developer for RAW conversion
  • Nik ColorEfex Pro 4 for optimal contrast
More of my Aerial photography can be found here

Remember: "The single most important component of a camera is the 12 inches behind it" - Ansel Adams