Monday, September 30, 2013

Alternative close-up photography with the Fuji X-cameras

The traditional method of shooting close-up photographs is with a macro lens mounted on the camera, and, no doubt about it, this method provides the highest image quality when this is what is required. True macro lenses focus from infinity down to a 1:1 reproduction and are noted for their high resolution and lack of distortion. Fuji has a 60mm macro in its line up of lenses and Zeiss is planning to add a 50mm to the mix shortly. For precision macro work, this would be the way to go.

Sometimes, however, I like to break the mold and move into some more innovative ways of shooting close-ups. The procedure is simple, but the results can often be visually interesting and, for me, more exciting creatively.

This close-up of a microscope lens and slide was taken with a Fuji 35mm f/1.4 lens on an X-E1. The lens was used at a fully opened aperture of  f/1.4. In addition a +2 close-up filter was added to allow me to get in tight for an image with extremely shallow depth of field and beautifully soft bokeh. A blue filter held in front of the lens provided the color.  
The first part of my equation is to use a very fast aperture lens, usually a normal of portrait focal length, although sometimes I have used an extremely long telephoto for even more dramatic effects. I use the lens wide open, typically at f/1.4. Used in close at this aperture the lens is going to produce an exceptionally shallow depth of field.

For the second part of the equation I add either close-up filters (+1, +2, or +4), or to get even closer I switch to extension tubes. One other advantage to extension tubes is that they do not add an any extra glass into the optical path. as a close-up filter does. That said, sometimes the edge softening of the close-up filters adds something creatively soft to the image. So I choose my close-up attachments according to the effect I want to achieve.

Here is my basic close-up kit, a Fiji X-E1 with 35mm f/1.4 Fuji lens used with an extension tube or close-up filter. With this system auto-focus and is still possible with the Fuji X camera.
This is a set of  Fotga extension tubes for $49.50 at Amazon. I One is 10mm, the other 16mm in length. They are pinned to transfer information between the lens and camera so auto-focus is possible with them. They are made in China, and with many of the adapters I have used from there, the quality control may not be up to exacting standards. The pins on the set I have do not always line up properly. Usually, a little jiggling realigns them and I am on my way without much of a hassle.

Addendum:  Some readers have reported the same problem I had with some Fotga adapters being too tight in their fit to the camera body. I tried loosening the four adapter mount screws by a half turn and found that this did the trick. It allowed the lens pass-through pins to be just a bit farther away from the camera body.
There are plenty of close-up filters available, many of them coming in sets like with one from Hoya containing a +1, +2, and +4 lens. They can also be combined for further magnification, but doing so begins to degrade image quality. Sometimes, though, this sort of softening is just what I'm after. The Fuji 35mm takes a 52mm filter. If you also want to use the filters on another lens, you can get them in a larger size and use a step up ring to adapt them down to the 35mm lens size.
This photo was taken with a +2 filter added to the Fuji 35mm lens.  The glass globe was lit with a single tungsten light from behind. I also placed a plexiglas prism in front of the lens to create some extra blur at the bottom.

This photo of a glass with white wine was also taken with the +2 close-up filter on the 35mm lens. In all these examples the aperture was left wide open at f/1.4.
Here the X-E1 is fit with a 16mm extension tube between it and the 35mm lens. This allows for greater magnification with less distortion that the close-up filters. By stacking the 10mm and 16mm extension tubes together a reproduction ratio of almost 1:1 is possible. Cameras with auto exposure also mean there is no hassle re-calculating the exposure due to light fall off from the added lens extension. Things are so much easier today in photography. 
This close-up photo of an early Leica camera was taken with the 10mm Fotga extension tube mounted between the lens and camera. Lack of optical elements results in a very sharp image, even when used at f/1.4 as it was here.

Close-up of an old type writer key also taken with the 10mm extension tube and f/1.4 aperture.

I usually carry at least a +2 close-up filter in my gadget bag just in case I encounter a scene like this one with an old gramaphone.  The close-up filter takes up much less space than a full macro lens and accomplishes much of I what I need anyway. I tend to prefer my close-up scenes to have a very shallow depth of field as this one does at f/1.4.

A +4 close-up filter begins to add some optical distortion especially when the lens is used wide open as it was here. You can see some of the effect in the gold coin on the bottom. I happen to like this effect, but it might not be to everyone's taste. For the photo below the same combination was used except that the lens was stopped down to f/7.1 because I wanted to see more detail in the old coins.

Both of the coin images above were taken in the same lighting setup. For the top photo I added some warmth to the color temperature setting later when bringing the RAW image into Photoshop from Adobe Bridge. For the bottom image of silver coins I did the opposite by increasing a cool blue color temperature instead.

This is very typical of the softness effect that often occurs with the higher magnification close-up filters -- in this case a +4 -- used with a wide aperture lens setting. 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Speed and accuracy of a Nikon D4 for capturing fast paced lifestyle

In my last post I discussed the importance of speed and accuracy of focus in a pro camera like the Nikon D4 for capturing fast moving sports, particularly when the action is moving directly towards the camera. Today I want to illustrate a similar need but on a less obvious subject, a lifestyle situation. At first glance it might not seem like the sports and lifestyle situations are comparable, but consider that the concept behind the lifestyle situation was to create a spontaneous burst of fun energy with all the models laughing and moving at the same time. Just like the swimmer scene from the last post, the action is coming rapidly towards the camera.

The models were given a signal to burst out in laughter, and when they did their bodies would rock rapidly forward. To compound the problem, the lens, a Nikon 85mm f/1.4, was set to its maximum opening of 1.4 leaving very little room for error at the distance of only a few feet. The tolerance at that aperture and distance is only a scarcely a few millimeters. The camera motor was set to 9 fps meaning it had to change and refocus every 1/9th of a second. As I always do when shooting lifestyle, I put the focus point on a models eye. In this scene it was placed on the eye of the girl in the middle of the frame.

The whole trick to a scene like this is to make it full of energy that looks spontaneous and real. What appears to be a simple grab shot is a staged scene that was repeated over and over until we were sure we had it. The attitude of the models had to be right and the camera had to freeze the action and deliver a pin-point focus. Making this situation even tougher I placed a 1000 watt tungsten lamp behind the models and had it shining directly into the camera lens to create a flare. A strong back light, such as this, is going to substantially reduce the contrast in the foreground scene making it even more difficult for the camera lens to grab focus.

Shooting situations like this and the one from my last post illustrates the importance of matching the right camera to the job, and why for a job like this I choose a Nikon D4 and Nikon lenses. Very few cameras can deliver such a consistently spot-on performance.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Using the Nikon D4 to capture a fast moving subject

Yesterday we did a shooting session with a high platform diver/swimmer. It is the type of sports situation that requires a camera/lens combo that can focus extremely fast and accurately, as you only have a split second to capture the peak of action that is most definitive of the event. We were working with a professional model and were able to repeat the action. Even so, it was important to capture each scene quickly so we could move through our shooting script without totally exhausting the swimmer.

The camera of choice was a no-brainer. We used Nikon D4 cameras set to shoot at 9 frames per second, and coupled them with the long Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 and 80-400mm zooms.  We had two camera angle set ups on every scene.

Having a fast moving subject coming directly towards the camera is the most difficult situation for a continuous focus camera and lens to follow. The first time I ever tried a photo sequence like the one above was still in the age of manual focus cameras and lenses. I was working with a film Nikon and 400mm fixed lens and would pre-focus the camera at a fixed spot hoping the swimmer would hit it with the right expression and attitude. Needless to say, the absence of  digital review also made this a real hit-or-miss opportunity. We would repeat the scene over and over again just to be sure that we had at least one shot in focus.

With a digital D4 and any of the fine Nikon pro teles, this type of shot is now a piece of cake. Set the camera to continuous focus, place one of the focus points on the swimmers face and let the camera do the rest shooting continuously at 9 fps.

Capturing lateral movement like this is much easier because the subject stays along the same focus plane. The main trick here is to capture that one split second when the diver is in the perfect attitude. This is where an extremely high speed camera motor drive is important. If the motor is too slow, there is a good chance the photographer will miss that split second of peak action. In the era before fast motors the photographer would have to time the shot, hitting the shutter just a fraction of a second before the peak action so the camera would go off at the right time. 
As you can see from these two frames taken before and after the one above, a fraction of a second too early or a fraction of a second too late and you miss the peak of action. Since the camera is shooting at 9 fps, there is only 1/9th of a second difference between each of these two photos and the one above them.  Timing is everything.

This was our first use of a camera housing on the Sony RX100 II. The photo was taken by my son, Daniel, from a position  underneath the swimmer. The little Sony performed admirably with very accurate focus and a motor fast enough to capture several variations of each pass of the swimmer.
At the same time Daniel was photographing the swimmer with the RX100 II from his position under water, I was taking this series above with the D4 and 80-400mm lens.

During our shoot the sun was off to the right but out of range of my camera frame. It cast a strong light that outlined the diver, and created deep shadows over the rest of his body. I opened the shadows in post-processing, but decided to enhance the bright sun by substituting a different sky I had on file that included the sun itself and its actual flare. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Recording retro music with a retro camera

A wedding I attended this past weekend had a retro DJ playing music from the early 1900's on mechanical gramophones. I had the Fuji X-E1 with me and did a series of photos of his equipment. Nothing like shooting retro with retro.

All of these images were taken with one lens, the Fuji 35mm at f/1.4.  A  normal lens with a fast, wide open aperture is one of my favorite methods for shooting close-ups.  It is unlike the straight effect of a true macro lens in that it gives a particularly soft look to the scene along with an extremely shallow depth of field, enhanced even more as you move in closer with it.

For this shot I added a +2 close-up filter to the 35mm lens.  

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Dream -- a mix of clouds, coffee, and Photoshop

Today's blog post photo began with the cloudy sky that greeted me this morning when I awoke. The clouds were very soft and dreamlike and the sun had yet to break through.  After pouring a cup of coffee I grabbed my Fuji X-E1 and took several variations of the clouds. Next I sat down to my computer and began playing with one of the cloud shots in Photoshop by combining it with some other images I had on file. The photo above is the result.

The images below are what I used to create this assemblage. Afterwards the image was softened and then color was harmonized using a split-tone filter from Alien Skin's Exposure 5.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Shooting the Fuji X-E1 with long lenses

In my last blog post I editorialized about the need for long telephoto lenses in Fuji-X mount to expand the pro capabilities of the system. To explore this theme, over the past few days I have been using the Fuji X-E1 and the Fuji 55-200mm zoom, and adapting some long Nikon telephotos to gain some super-tele effects.

I used the Fuji 55-200mm zoom alone to do these stark compositions of some of New York's bridges in black and white.

Abstract detail of the Manhattan Bridge shows how really sharp the Fuji 55-200mm zoom really is.
Abstract composition of cabling on the Manhattan Bridge

The Brooklyn Bridge framed by highway girders. In this shot and the one below I blasted out the sky by increasing the contrast to provide a high contrast graphic composition.

The Manhattan Bridge framed by some highway support girders.

The Brooklyn Bridge
Shipping cranes along the East River  frame the Verrazano Narrows Bridge off in the distance

Continuing with my theme of shooting long lenses on the X-E1, I used a Nikon-to-Fuji-X G-lens adapter to mount a Nikon 80-400mm lens plus teleconverter to photograph the full moon we had over Manhattan.

Taken with the Fuji X-E1 and Nikon 80-400mm zoom with a 2x converter.

This image of the full moon with a passing airplane was taken with the Nikon 80-400mm zoom plus a 1.4x converter mounted on the Fuji X-E1

For comparison, this is the same scene with the Fuji 55-200mm zoom set to 200mm focal length.
 Using long lenses on something as small as the X-E1 was quite comfortable, and convinced me even more that some third party lens options would be a welcome addition to the Fuji-X system.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Editorial: Fuji X series -- Where should it go from here?

This past week I concentrated on using my Fuji 55-200mm zoom more often when I went out. Like several of my friends, I found that I had been leaving it out of my kit because it seemed a bit too large and heavy to carry. After writing my blog article on a dream Fuji X-series travel gadget bag kit, I began thinking more about the Fuji X as a pro system in and of itself, and not just as a supplemental camera for casual use when I don't want to lug around a heavy DSLR. As I proceeded down this line of thought, I began to ask what would have to happen to the Fuji X system to expand its usefulness in this way.

In the foreground a Fuji X-E1 with Fuji 55-200mm zoom lens. Behind it a Nikon 300mm f/4 with Nikon G to Fuji X adapter. A 300 or 400 mm fast aperture lens would be a perfect long telephoto length to expand the usefulness of the Fuji X system into sports and wildlife by providing the equivalent of 450-600mm lenses. A dedicated Fuji telephoto would be more compact than the Nikon shown here because it would only have to cover the area of the Fuji's smaller APS-C sensor, and of course it would be auto-focus on the Fuji, which the Nikon is not.
The Fuji X was born into the conceptual line of sophisticated rangefinder cameras, such as the Leica M. Cameras of this type were always associated with shorter lenses due to the impracticality of viewing anything much longer than 135mm through a finder frame. The advent of the EVF (electronic view finder) made it a new ball game, as it enlarged the image to fit the frame. But old habits die hard, and I think many photographers, myself included, were simply not accustomed to using lenses longer than 135mm with a rangefinder style camera. It was for that exact reason I forced myself this past week to use the Fuji only with long lenses.

Of course there are some inherent limitations with an EVF finder that dampen the typical use of long lenses in areas such as sports and wildlife, meaning fast-moving, distant subjects. The two most important drawbacks are speed and accuracy of focus, along with the inherent image-drag problem of EVF finders. A photo like the one below taken with a Nikon D3s and 340mm focal length of a flying bird would be difficult to accomplish with a Fuji X today. It takes a camera with speedy focus, a very fast motor, and the accuracy to change and hold a continuous focus as the camera pans quickly with the bird. With the drag of an EVF finder it is doubtful that you would be able to even see the action well enough to keep the camera focused on the bird. Of course, all that may be changing with the next crop of cameras coming out early next year.

One rumor is that Fuji will be adding a double processor to the EVF finder image in an effort to speed up the refresh rate. If this is true, it will go a long way to extending the practical  ability of these cameras to follow fast panning subjects.

Improving the capability of the cameras is only part of the solution. For the systems to expand, we are going to need a new crop of long focal length lenses made either by Fuji or forth coming from many of the other lens manufacturers. In particular we will need to see fixed focal length teles with fast apertures along with a quality zoom that can extend out into the 300-400mm range. Once that happens, cameras like the Fuji X series will finally come into their own as stand-alone systems capable of replacing full DSLR systems.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Legends of Photography -- The Minox Riga camera

The Minox Riga camera became the iconic symbol of a a spy camera because its tiny size coupled with the fact that it was born in pre-WWII Latvia in 1937 made it a natural for covert uses by both Axis and Allied forces during the war with its use later extending into the Cold War era.

The Minox was invented by Walter Zapp who partnered with a Latvian radio company, VEF, in Riga. During the war years, Latvia fell under first Russian, then German occupation making the early years of the Minox company very difficult. With the aid of post-war US support in 1945, it finally moved to Germany where it was established as Minox Gmbh.

The main camera pictured here is an early Riga model made of stainless steel. Later post-war models were made of much lighter aluminum. The camera took 8x11mm pictures on film that was about a quarter the width of the recently introduced 35mm film type used by Leica. The camera measured only 3 1/8 x 1 1/8 x 5/8" (80 x 27 x 17mm) in its closed position, and weighed only 4.7oz (134g).

The original Minox Riga is shown in front with a couple of later, more modern models and accessories placed around it. On the lower right is a slip-on attachment that allowed for surreptitious reflex viewing through an angled mirror.  On the left side is a distance chain with its measuring beads for precise setting of  close focus distances. 
The lens was a Minosigmat 15mm f/3.5 Cooke triplet coupled with a parallax correcting viewfinder. The mechanical shutter had speeds from 1/2 - 1/1000 sec, plus T and B. Focusing from 8" (20cm) to infinity was accomplished by turning a dial on top of the camera. Early Minox cameras came with an 18" (460mm) chain that had precisely spaced beads on them to allow precise close focus distance measurements. A sample of such a chain is shown on the left side of the photo above.

Film was advanced and the shutter cocked each time the camera was closed and opened again. So you wasted a frame if you did not take a picture each time the camera opened. This mechanism was changed on later models so that the film only advanced if the shutter had been depressed.

Above the viewfinder is a bar that slides to place a filter in  front of the lens. Originally green or orange, it was later changed to ND.

The Minox Riga in open position ready for taking a picture. The lens is located in the center with the viewfinder off to the right side. The knurled bar above the viewfinder can be used to slide a filter in front of the lens.

The Minox Riga in closed position.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sony filter adapter for the RX100 and RX100II cameras

The filter adapter for the RX100 and RX100II is now available at most camera stores. I decided to try one out so I could mount 49mm polarizing and close-up filters on my RX100II.

This photo shows the filter adapter in place on an RX100II with a 49mm polarizing filter attached.
The filter mounting kit comes in a box with instructions. It mounts a ring over the lens which then holds a filter adapter so you can mount a filter like the polarizing filter shown above.
"A" in the photo is the actual attachment ring that must be mounted onto the camera around the lens opening. "B" is a guide for placing the ring so it is centered perfectly around the lens. "C" is the actual filter mount that clips onto the adapter ring "A". "D" is a set of pull rings for removing the filter adapter ring if you decide you don't want it. Once removed, it cannot be remounted.
The first step in the process is to clean the mounting area around the lens opening. I used a lint-proof cloth lightly dampened with white vinegar to remove any dirt or oil that might be there. Notice I said "lightly dampened". You only need the cloth to be moist, not soaked. White vinegar is a light acid that is a safe way of cleaning areas that might have grease or oil, as from fingerprints for instance.

The next step is to place the plastic guide, "B", around the lens. After that, you remove the paper backing from the adapter ring and center it in the guide so it sticks to area around the lens. I used some light pressure to make certain I achieved good adhesion. Now you can remove "B" and discard it. Its job is done. The instructions mention that it is best to allow the adhesion between attachment ring and camera to set over-night. Sounds like a good idea to me. This is going to be the something I am going to have to keep an eye on. It protrudes in front of the camera and might be knocked off if you brush the camera up against something or while putting it in your pocket. After I've had it on for awhile, I'll report back how it is doing.

The left photo shows the circular guide in place around the lens and the adapter placed in the center of it. On the right the guide has been removed leaving the attachment ring mounted on the lens mount. 
If for some reason you need to remove the adapter ring, you place the string around it and give a pull using the two finger rings. Once removed, the adapter ring cannot be reattached as the glue would be to weak to hold it securely.
Here is the camera with ring attached around the lens. On the right is a 49mm polarizing filter screwed into the larger filter mount, which clips into a groove around the adapter ring. 
That's it in a nutshell for attaching the filter adapter -- a fairly simple procedure. Now to see how well it works and holds up over time. I'll let you know in a later post after I've tried it for awhile.

Putting it to use:

Following are some sample photos using filters on the RX100II. A small camera such as this has special lens characteristics that are different than a full frame camera and can be used to achieve different looks.

For this image and the two that follow lit my early morning window light I used the Sony filter adapter to mount close-up filters onto the RX100II. Due to the small sensor, the lens is more wide angle resulting in more depth of field. The photo of the key was taken with a +2 close-up filter at f/11.

For this closer view of the watch I switched to a +4 close-up filter, but used an f/2.2 aperture setting for a shallower depth of field. All of these photos were taken at the 10.4mm focal length setting, which is equivalent to ta 28mm wide angle lens on a full frame camera.

The perspective distortion of the glasses shows the effect of using such a wide angle lens for close-up photography, and at f/11 everything is in focus.
Of course the other obvious choice to use with the RX100 would be a polarizing filter, as used here to darken the blue sky, or as in the situation below where I wanted to convert the image to an infrared black and white look and needed a dark blue sky to dramatize the effect.

If you are planning on purchasing this camera or lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Sony VFA49R1 Filter Adapter for DSC-RX100 series can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Amazon  


In response to a comment below I did some research on a wide angle adapter to fit the RX-100 and came up with the one below. I have not seen or tried the actual item and cannot really say how well it works. If anyone has tried it, please let me know what you thought of it.

There is an auxiliary wide angle lens plus macro attachment made to fit the Sony RX-100.  I have not tried this and cannot vouch for its quality, but you can see it here:  Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II 0.5X High Definition Super Wide Angle Lens w/ Macro   The Sony VFA49R1 has a 49mm filter thread so you many need a step-up ring to use this accessory lens.