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One Camera, One Lens

I was lucky enough to spend some time in Iceland in the early spring – the trip of a lifetime, and the chance to take some photographs of the stunning landscape.

This was a photographic opportunity not to be missed, so I thought long and hard about what equipment to take with me. How many camera bodies, which lenses? A heavy tripod or a lightweight one? Or perhaps just a monopod? Which filters shall I pack, should I use a battery grip, and which bag will I put all of this in?

In the end I went against all this and decided to keep it really, really simple. My kit of choice was the trusty Fuji X100, with a wide angle converter attached to give an equivalent field of view of the classic 28mm. Nothing else, that’s it.

There’s something very refreshing about travelling this light with a single, fixed lens camera. Some people may find that they can’t get away without the flexibility of a zoom, but I’ve have always had a soft spot for primes. It’s just one less thing to worry about, one less distraction.

You look through the viewfinder and think more about composing your shot, and if you need to zoom in you move forwards, and move back to zoom out. Also, Iceland isn’t really the place to have to worry about taking a lens off a camera and fitting a new one mid shot. The weather can be particularly wild out there, and personally I’d look to keep the camera weather sealed at all times.

The Fuji wide angle adapter in particular is a stunning achievement by Fuji. Attaching this widens the view from 35mm to 28mm, but there’s no loss in quality and no loss in light – the maximum aperture is still a very useful f2. I attached the adapter before I caught my flight to Reykjavik, and it stayed on the camera permanently until I landed back in Edinburgh ten days later.

As a travel camera I can’t recommend the X100 highly enough. It’s well built and compact, but oozes quality, and produces results that match much larger and more expensive DSLR cameras. It also managed to capture all the features of the very different landscapes Iceland has to offer. It records all the detail in the highlights of the steam emitted from the volcanic fissures, and of the snow covering the mountains, whilst also not blocking out the shadows in the black volcanic beaches along the south coast. It handled everything that was asked of it with ease.

Here are some examples of the images I took, again all on the X100, and all with the wide angle adapter fitted.

Travelling Companion(s)

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My original ‘Travelling Companion’ blog post was written in May last year after a trip to Croatia, where I get all excited about the virtues of the superb Fuji X100.

It’s a six year old camera now, but this never worries me, as ultimately all I’m interested in is the image quality and the suitability for the job. It’s compact, sturdy, reliable and ultimately produces beautiful photographs, with vivid colours and that classic, film-esque feel to it, like the shot above. In my opinion it’s the perfect travel camera.

However, during this year’s trip back to the Balkans (Montenegro in fact) I’ve surprised myself. The Fuji performed with it’s usual aplomb and never let me down, but it was backed up by an unexpected assistant. My iPhone!

I’ve never been particularly taken to photography on smartphones, but I think that this is because up til now I’ve never really had one that’s been any good at taking photographs. I wasn’t bothered about it all, as I have a camera, and I’ll take photographs on that thank you very much!

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I’ve got to admit though, sometimes just whipping a phone out and grabbing a quick shot is very, very easy and convenient. The image above is an iPhone one, and although I have a version taken on the X100 I have to admit that the one above is pretty close to it, at least at screen resolution like on this blog.

If you zoom in to 100% you of course see the quality difference, and the iPhone can’t compete with the larger sensor and beautifully clear lens that the Fuji has, but print this at a reasonable size or post it on your social media accounts and you probably wouldn’t notice the difference.

Having said that, I would never use just the iPhone, as although the conditions in which the image above was taken were perfect for it, in situations where the lighting is a little trickier it tends to falter a little. It will blow out highlights which the Fuji will capture effortlessly, and if you want to blur out the background in your flash balanced night time portraits you’ve got no chance. As a companion to the Fuji though it’s a great little addition, and I’m quite impressed with what it can produce.

It’s often said that the best camera is the one you have with you at the time, and this has never rung more true than with the new generation of smartphones. People usually always have a phone with them, and as a result we’re taking more photographs then ever before documenting our lives, and that’s got to be a good thing.

The Bathroom Studio

I’ve already written a blog post on ‘The Kitchen Studio‘, where I look at how easy it is to set up an existing room for simple but good quality product shots. I’ve now taken that a step forward, and have added my bathroom to the list. Or to be more precise, my bath!

This is probably the simplest lighting setup you could wish for, provided that what you are after is a shot of a product on a white background – perhaps for something to go on eBay or another auction / selling site.

I tested this out by shooting my trusty old Nikon F801s. This is a favourite film camera of mine (and it’s definitely not for sale), and is a good test for the ‘studio’, as it’s black, and therefore we can see how well the white surroundings bounce light back into the shadows.

First step, get it in the bath! Why? Because you’ve got  a ready made studio in miniature already there (assuming your bath is white of course!). There’s a gently sloping white background, white sides on the left and right, and a polished white floor which even gives us a reflection. It doesn’t matter what colour your walls are (in this case I’ve got dark grey tiles on one side) as the light bounces around the inside of the bath, not the walls. You can always shoot in raw and correct the white balance later if it has any effect.

IMG_1292The downside? It can be tricky getting everything lined up if you’re using an SLR without a ‘Live View’ LCD panel, but after a little trial and error you can usually get it all in the right place. Using a camera with a panel makes it nice and easy though, so my X100 was perfect for the job.

Next, how to light it. It’s really simple. Do you have a white ceiling? Then simply bounce a single flash off it and you’re done – that light will diffuse beautifully and spread around everywhere. I used my Lumopro on full power, held a couple of feet above the subject (so as not to overspill direct light into the bath and give hot spots) and fired with a remote trigger on the hotshoe of the X100.

The result can be seen in the image in this post, and it’s pretty good if I do say so myself! Lovely soft light, even illumination and filled in shadows, and all from a single flashgun. And a bathtub!

 

The Perfect Camera?

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My little Fuji X100 amazes me every time I use it. It’s quite an old camera now in technology terms, there have been two models that have superseded it (the x100s and the current model the x100t).

1524659_1025229974158213_5955181392400240162_nI originally bought the camera to use when travelling, as it’s compact and lightweight but very well built with excellent image quality. It was perfect for that task but it’s also great to just have with you for when a photographic opportunity presents itself.

In the case of the bee above I quickly put the camera into ‘macro’ mode and moved in close to get a few images. The bee stayed still long enough to get the shot above. I set the aperture to f4 to get the bee sharp but to completely blur the background, and I like the way that the focus drops off from the front of the allium (the allium has a dome like head so the effect is a nice, gradual blur).

An ordinary compact wouldn’t have got this shot. It wouldn’t have been able to focus close enough, and the sensors are too small to allow you to minimise the depth of field. My Nikon DSLR would have been able to do this no problem, but it’s now a question of which camera you want to carry around with you all the time in anticipation of these opportunities.

For me, the X100 is the camera I’ve been waiting years for – it’s almost perfect in every respect.

The Kitchen Studio

A studio is just a room. It’s how you set it up that determines whether it’s a studio or not.

mgs-4853If you want an easy to access studio for shooting food and products, then you often don’t need to venture any further out than your own home. In this case I’ve used my kitchen.

My kitchen is quite useful as a studio because the ceiling has been painted white. This instantly gives me a huge light source from above, which is perfect for lighting products. I usually bounce a couple of flashguns off it, and have them on light stands high up above shooting level. This pretty much eliminates any danger of lens flare caused from stray light from the flash heads.

In this case I’ve used two flashes, just so that I can have them on half power and don’t need to worry about recycle times or changing the batteries, but a single one will do the job too.

My kitchen walls aren’t painted white, but this doesn’t matter as I’ve built a hinged tabletop out of chipboard that lets me drape over a roll of white paper for a background. I’ve also bought a few A4 white foam board pieces which I’ve taped together to provide me with some cheap, portable but very effective reflectors. I’ve also taken a sheet of glass out of an old picture frame and used that as a base in order to get a reflection of the products I’m photographing.

mg-4878WThats pretty much all you need, and the results you get are surprisingly good. There’s no dependency on ambient light at all, it’s a completely consistent setup regardless of time of day, and it can all be assembled ready to go in less than 15 minutes.

What’s also important is that because it’s so simple you’ve got consistency across different days of shooting. Images that you shoot using this ‘studio’ in January will be under exactly the same lighting conditions as those that you do in June, and this is important if you are doing work for catalogues or websites where products are continuously being added or updated over time. They should all look the same.

All in, including the flashguns, light stands, tables, paper rolls and cards I reckon you could set this up for under £200. It’ll pay itself back very quickly.

Travelling Companion

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I’ve recently been on a trip to Croatia, which was naturally a great opportunity to take some photographs from a new place – somewhere different from my usual haunts.

I thought for ages about which camera / lens combination to take with me. At first I was fairly settled on taking my Nikon DSLR with a fixed wide angle lens. If I don’t attach the battery grip or use a bulky zoom lens this is actually a fairly compact setup, but you would still need a bag of some kind for it, and it still is quite heavy for a travel camera.

1524659_1025229974158213_5955181392400240162_nSo instead, I bought one of these. It’s a second hand Fuji X100, and it cost me around £350 from MPB Photographic. I wasn’t sure at first whether to buy second hand, but the worry and guesswork is pretty much taken out of the equation if you buy from a reputable dealer.

I think that it was the best decision I ever made with my photography, and the little Fuji has quickly become my favourite camera. It’s solid, well built, easy to use and takes beautiful quality images (as good as a DSLR). That fixed 23mm lens is a real beauty, and I found the lack of a zoom wasn’t an issue at all.

You can also pop a leather cover / case on it and then pretty much chuck it anywhere – so in a bag, over your shoulder etc. This makes it so easy to carry around but available at a moments notice, which is an absolute necessity when travelling.

Here’s a quick gallery of a selection of some of the images from my trip, all of which were taken on the X100.

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