Thursday, April 6, 2017

Keeping it simple with the Fuji X-Pro2 and 18-55mm zoom

When I venture out with the Fuji X-Pro2 instead of the X-T2 it is usually because I want to keep my kit simple and unencumbered. Often this means outfitting it with the 23mm f/1.4 or, when I want a bit more versatility, the humble 18-55mm, the original Fuji X zoom.  This lens still has a comfortable aperture spread of f/2.8-4 and provides a practical equivalent focal length of 27-85mm.  Plus, focus is quick on the X-Pro2. The aperture is fast enough for some decent bokeh effects, which I needed for these photos I did wide open of rain on windows.  We've had a lot of rain lately in the city.

Basic though it may be, the X-Pro2 plus 18-55mm zoom is a great combo where you're pretty much limited only by your imagination.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Variations on an icy theme with the Fuji X-T2

My X-T2 was no sooner back from Fuji repair to fix some dead sensor spots, than I pressed it into service taking some photos of the ice blizzard that hit New York today.  Fortunately for me, I was able to take my photos from indoors. The ice patterns on the windows formed large abstract patterns, perfect to juxtapose with elements of the city view.  The scene below was one of my favorites taken from behind a large picture window where the ice had left an empty circle in the middle -- perfect for framing the top of the Empire State Building.

I used the Fuji 16-55m zoom on the X-T2 set for a mid range of about 40mm. I thought I might lose the background scene through the low contrast haze so I set the aperture to f/16 to keep both the ice and building in good focus. A good depth of field was also important because I had tilted the camera up to frame the shot. This would naturally put a plane of focus across only one part of the icy window had I used the aperture more open.

The top photo variation was taken with an B&W Acros setting, while the photo on the bottom used a Provia film setting. The blue tint was due to the cool color temperature from the heavy overcast.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Legends of photography -- The Contax II 35mm camera

The Contax II was manufactured from 1936-42 as a followup model to the Contax I. The Contax II and III -- the III had a light meter on top -- were the first cameras to combine the rangefinder and viewfinder into one unit.  This particular camera and its Zeiss Sonnar f/2 collapsible lens were both made in 1937, just before WWII.  The Contax II and III were introduced in response to the Leica rangefinder camera. Because Leica held many design patents, Contax had to re-invent many of its features. The vertically travelling shutter composed of metal one example of this. The advanced features and dependable design of the Contax II quickly made it one of the top choices of journalistic photographers, like Robert Capa.

Contax II with Contameter closeup kit. The closeup filter slips over the front of the lens and a corresponding lens is placed in the parallax correction apparatus that fits in the shoe on top of the camera. The down angle and off-center placement achieved the appropriate correction for parallax. It is show here set up for the closest focusing #20 filter. To use the other two 30 and 50 filters the apparatus was turned upside down to decrease the angle for the difference in parallax correction needed. 

Contax came up with an ingenious design for a close-up apparatus called the Contameter shown in the photos above and below. It allowed hand-held close-up photographs to be made at the set distances of 20” (1:10 magnification), 13” (1:6.5 magnification) and 8” (1:4 magnification). The device consists of a rangefinder with parallax adjustment to which one of three small prisms is attached and three close-up lenses that fit the standard 5 cm lens. With a prism and corresponding close-up lens in place the camera is moved backwards and forwards until the rangefinder image coincides. Measurement is done from the front of the mount of the supplementary. The lens is focused on infinity

Below are some sample photos taken with the Contax II, a collapsible f/2 Sonnar lens and the #20 closeup attachment on the Contameter. Photos were taken at f/5.6 on Kodax T-Max 400 film. 

The Contax had a great body of Carl Zeiss lenses designed for it. Below is the 5cm f/2 collapsible Sonnar. Collapsing the lens made the camera very compact.

Another ingenious design for the Contax II was the fold-out foot shown below. With the foot extended the camera would be balanced to stay straight. This allowed impromptu setup to steady the camera on a flat surface when a tripod was not available. 

The famous war photographer, Robert Capa with his Contax II camera. 

The lens shown below is the Zeiss Tele-Tessar 18cm  f/6.3 with matching viewfinder. This was quite a long lens for its day and added to the practical versatility of the Contax camera system. 

The photo below shows the vertically travelling focal plane shutter made up of metal slats. 

Some more samples below taken with the Contax II and the Contameter closeup attachment. They were taken hand-held and focused by moving the camera in and out on the subject. The system worked quite well to achieve the selective focus and tight crop I wanted. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Still life with the Zeiss Touit 50mm macro, X-Pro2, and Classic Chrome

Nothing really beats the nostalgic look of muted colors, and deep contrast of Fuji's Classic Chrome. For the set of still life images below I used the back-lighting from a soft window light and no fill that further enhanced the dark contrast. All were taken with the Zeiss Touit 50mm macro and a wide open aperture of f/2.8 to achieve some selective focus. The only post-processing was to add some selective vignetting to surround the main subjects.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ghost City - Fuji 10-24mm zoom

Last night a dense fog rolled through the city. It swirled around the top of the Empire State Building and at times was thin enough to allow some of the lights to shine through providing a ghostly apparition of the top of the building floating in the sky above the city.

This is one of the many exposures I took as the changing intensity of the building lights dipped in and out of the fog. I liked this one because of the way the top of the building barely revealed its outline through the fog. My camera was the X-Pro2 fit with the Fuji 10-24mm f/4 zoom. I shot wide open at f/4 with the camera set to a square crop and Acros simulation.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Global views

The other day I receive a financial prospective in the mail. It contained pages of just numbers and gave me the idea of combining the numbers in a still life image with a glass globe to convey the concept of global finance and trade.

My setup for this was quite simple. I used daylight from a window combined with the light from a single, small LED source. The camera was a Fuji X-T2 fit with a Zeiss Touit 60mm macro, which I used wide open at f/2.8. In the top photo I shifted the color temperature towards a cool blue. In the second photo I sought more of a pure, bright, white light. I also used some of the white solar bursts from my Sunshine Overlays package to brighten several areas on the images.

The bottom photo was more of a complex setup. Here I used two small LED lights and different globes photographed against a black background. I took several views showing the different continents. Later I placed three of these views in Photoshop as layers on top of one another. Since they were photographed against black I was able to use the "Screen" layer mode to allow seeing through to the layers below. "Screen" mode will make everything black disappear. Next I added two more layers of blurs taken of out-of-focus lights. One of these layers was changed to "Soft Light"; the other remained "Normal" but the opacity was dialed down. This gave me a total of five over-lapping layers. Finally, I added layer masks to several of the images so I could paint out some of the overlapping areas where they interfered with one another.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

New York snow with the Fuji X-T2

My X-T2 is no sooner back from Fuji repair as a result of my fall in the last New York snow, when I took it out again on an even worse snowy day. This time I visited the Brooklyn Bridge down by the water's edge. I used one of my favorite techniques for photographing snow, a flash to pop out the white flakes.

I used the Fuji 16-55 f/2.8 for most of the photography, resorting to the wider Fuji 14mm for one scene where I wanted extra coverage.

My first shot of the day was this one with the gull. It's easy to include flying gulls in your shots because they roost right under the nearby highway and are constantly flying by. It's just a matter of patience and timing. 

For the photo below I switched to the wider Fuji 14mm f/2.8 lens because I wanted to capture some of the snow-covered shore line.  

The technique for capturing the snow flakes with the flash requires a bit of trial and error, and is often dependent upon the scene and time of day. I varied the flash at both full and 1/2 power and tried to keep the lens aperture on the open side, ranging from f/2.8 to f/4. The more open the aperture, the larger the flakes in the foreground. Of course this also depends upon the focal length of the lens. compare the bottom photo taken with the 14mm and the one above it taken at 25mm with the 16-55mm zoom. The longer focal length results in larger flakes. The other important control for fine-tuning the balance between the brightness of the scene and the flakes is by changing the ISO.  During the day I varied the ISO from 200-400 in 1/3rd stop increments. This allowed me to fine-tune the balance for light from the flash and the actual daylight.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Adding a backlit sunshine look to a photograph - overlays in Photoshop

I just completed a brief tutorial on how my new "Sunshine Overlays" can impart a sunrise/sunset back lighting look to a photograph when applied in Photoshop. The photo below is the result of three of these overlays -- sun burst, colorcast, and sun rays -- applied together to a photograph taken in mid-day. The video below that is a demonstration of how these overlays were applied to a couple of portraits to give them a sunny, backlit look.

My readers can use the promo code TOMGRILL25 to apply a 25% discount to the purchase of this set of "Sunshine Overlays" from MCP Actions.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Arca type quick-release tripod mount for Fuji 50-140mm and 100-400mm lenses

I had always wished that Fuji would have made the tripod feet on the two long ]zooms with an Arca-Swiss type mount, just as the did for the body grips for all the X-cameras. But they didn't. I knew it would only be a matter of time before someone else would recognize the opportunity and manufacture a replacement quick-release foot. Now someone has, and this time it wasn't someone in China. The replacement mounts are made in the USA.

The 50-140mm zoom shown at the top of this photo has two options, a tall and short version of the tripod foot.  Below is the 100-400mm zoom with the foot attached. 
There are two mounts made for the Fuji zooms, a typical tall mount and a shorter mount. Personally I preferred the shorter mount, since it allowed the lens to fit comfortably in my camera bag with the foot attached. The photo below shows the two Hejar Photo release mounts for the Fuji 50-140mm zoom compared to the bulky contraption of a standard Fuji mount on the right fitted out with an auxiliary release plate. 

The Fuji 50-140mm zoom fitted with the short version of the Hejar Photo quick-release mount. All the mounts, including this short version, allow the hood to be attached backwards on the lens for storage. 

On the left is the foot that comes with the Fuji 50-140mm zoom. I added an Arca adapter to it so I can use it on my tripods. It does tend to bulk the whole thing up. On the right are the two quick-release feet that are made by Hejar Photo with the Arca adapter milled into them. They are also longer making it easier to balance the camera plus lens on the tripod. 

Short version of the quick-release mount on the Fuji 50-140mm zoom. 

The foot of the plate is quite long, but this allows the camera and lens to be perfectly balanced on the tripod, as it is here with a Fuji X-Pro2. Were I using a Fuji X-T2 with a battery pack, the outfit would have to be mounted further back to achieve perfect balance. 

On the left is the standard stubby tripod mount for the Fuji 100-400mm zoom fitted out with an auxiliary Arca mount to adapt it to my tripod -  a bulky contraption and not stable enough for such a long lens. On the right is the Hejar Photo release mount for this same lens -- larger but much more stable. 

This photo also shows a comparison between the replacement Hejar Photo quick-release mount and the standard Fuji mount with added adapter. 

The low mount for the 100-400mm zoom still allows the lens hood to be attached for storage and fit more compactly in a camera bag. 
I particularly like the low profile replacement for the tripod foot on the 100-400mm zoom. I had always felt that the standard stubby foot that comes with that lens is was much too small for the size and weight of the lens. Both of the Hejar Photo replacements for this add much more stable gripping power to the foot.

The plates are fitted with two safety stops to prevent accidentally sliding off the tripod mount. The are finely machined from aluminum with a black anodized surface. They are all 3.725" long. 

The Hejar Photo quick-release mounts for Fuji zooms are available directly from their web site at Hejar Photo.  They are also available on Ebay. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Fuji announces the new medium format GFX 50S camera

Just in case you missed the point at the New York black tie gala to announce the new Fuji GFX 50S medium format mirrorless camera, you were greeted at the door with an enthroned display of the camera and its complement of lenses.

This is a major new camera for the Fuji arsenal, and after my initial inspection of the samples they had on hand it looks like it's going to be a real winner. The camera is comfortable to handle, the heft feeling more like a full frame DSLR than a medium format camera.

At the heart of the GFX camera system is a 43.8 x 32.9mm 51.4MP CMOS sensor capable of 14-bit stills with a 14-stop wide dynamic range as well as a broad sensitivity range of ISO 100-12800. When coupled with the X-Processor Pro image processor, it produce files with extremely wide dynamic range and high resolution, as well as an extended sensitivity range of ISO 50-102400. Apparently, the X-T2 will remain the video flagship for Fuji, for the video in the GFX can record only up to full HD 1080p/30.

A variety of new aspect ratio formats have been added to those found on the other X camras. These include some of the traditional medium and large formats, such as 4:3, 1:1, 65:24, 5:4, 7:6, 3:2, and 16:9. I miss the square format of my old Hasselblad 120mm film cameras. So, for me, the 1:1 on a large sensor camera is particularly attractive.

Anyone already familiar with using one of the current X cameras, like the X-T2, will be right at home with the controls on the GFX. Even the Q-menu looks exactly the same. 

The sensor on this medium format camera is a bit smaller than other medium format brands resulting in a lens conversion factor of 1.27.  For instance, the 63mm f/2.8 being released with the camera is equivalent to a 50mm full frame lens.  Along with the 63mm two other lenses will be available at the same time:  The Fujifilm GF 32-64mm f/4 R LM WR (25-51mm 35mm Equivalent), and GF 120mm f/4 Macro R LM OIS WR (95mm 35mm Equivalent)

The top of the camera looks a lot like a larger version of the X-T2 with the added benefit of a read-out screen. 

Looks like Fuji has created a real winner with the special formatted camera -- a perfect balance of sensor size with handling, cost, ease of use, and practicality. It could easily become the new standard to which other manufacturers will subscribe.

The Fuji GFX 50S mirrorless camera is scheduled for release in February or March at a price for the body alone at $6499.  While expensive, this puts it at the lower end of prices for digital medium format cameras. 

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

The Fujifilm GFX 50S camera body can be ordered from:  BH-Photo    Amazon    

You can also order the camera in New York from the pro shop of FOTOCARE

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Creating a real snow effect in Photoshop

There are several ways of creating an artificial snow effect in Photoshop. I have done a number of these and keep a supply of just snow images in what I call my "Utility Images" collection for whenever I need to quickly pop some snow into a shot. The thing that makes the scene below interesting is that the snow is not artificially created, Instead I used images from the actual falling snow scene I was photographing. When you think about it, achieving a shot like this in one go with a flash is really just a balanced exposure, in-camera double exposure of the flashed image over a regular image of a scene. This time around I decided to take the exposures separately and double-expose them in Photoshop.

Both images below were done using this technique. Once scene darker than the other because they were taken at different times as darkness was falling over the city.

 I had been attempting to capture this scene of snow falling over the city by using a flash to bring out the white snow flakes in the foreground.  I liked the way the accumulated snow on the water towers echoed the white circles of the falling snow. Problem was that the background scene was so low in contrast that the snow flakes over-powered it in most of my shots, and you couldn't see the subtlety of the snow-covered water towers on the roofs of the building. I kept trying to capture the scene with variations between the scene exposure and flash exposure, as well as trying different aperture settings to alter the size of the flakes. Working that way was a bit too serendipitous and I kept ending up with shots where the flakes were too large, too small, or in the wrong place.

I already knew how to add falling snow in Photoshop by creating a layer with a black background and the putting white dots of varying sizes and shading all over it. Once this layer was placed over a snow scene and its layer mode changed to "Screen", it gives a very realistic interpretation of falling snow. I am working on a new set of actions and overlays for MCP Actions, and had been creating a set of snow images to include so that adding snow to an image is as simple as drag-and-drop. 

The photo above of the city is what the scene looked like when photographed while the snow was falling. Although the snow was heavy, it did not record with a straight exposure of the scene until I added a flash. The idea occurred to me that perhaps I could split the exposure in two -- one of the scene and one of the falling snow -- and then combine them later in Photoshop by over-laying the snow on top of the actual scene. This would give me far better control over the size and positioning of the white flakes so that they no longer obliterated the scene below.

Here's how I did it:

The image of the city was a straight photograph with normal exposure taken with a Fuji X-Pro2. (My X-T2 is still in the shop as a result of my last snow photography catastrophe!) Next, I mounted a Nikon Flash on the same camera and began taking photos of just the snow. I knew from experience of making these combinations that I needed a black background for the white flakes. To achieve this I simply raised my shutter speed to 1/250 second. The scene was already dark and this speed rendered it black. With the flash on full power and the lens used mostly at wider apertures, I was able to obtain sufficient contrast between the snow and background. I experimented with different lenses, a short zoom set to f/4 or 5.6 for smaller flakes, and a 23mm or 35mm prime where I varied the aperture setting between f/1.4 and f/2.8 to achieve really large flakes.

For shots where the contrast was not quite sufficient I simply added some more in Photoshop with a Levels adjustment layer where I squeezed the left and right sliders together until it looked right. Changing the snow layer mode to "Screen" makes the black disappear leaving only the white snowflakes over the scene below.

The interesting thing about this technique is that it is really just a double exposure of the actual scene done in Photoshop instead of in camera, and, if you save a collection of these snowflake photos and vary the flake sizes by changing apertures, you will be able to add snow to any scene the same way. For the photo below I combined a couple snow shots of varying sized flakes to achieve the effect in a scene where there was no falling snow. One of the nice things about adding the snow this way is that you can easily eliminate distracting flakes by using a layer mask and painting them out of areas like the model's face.

I will be including a full set of varying snow sizes in the next set of overlays I am preparing for MCP Actions.