First Impressions – 7Artisans 25mm f1.8

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I love a bargain. My X-M1 was only £89 and it performs as you’d expect a Fujifilm to – admirably, great for JPEGs and intuitively. So when I saw the 7Artisans 25mm on eBay for only £47, I decided it was worth the minimal outlay. I wasn’t actually looking at lenses, but a Canon lens adapter for X-Mount and having purchased a Viltrox one, the 7Artisans lens was a recommended purchase. With targeted advertising like that, no wonder I’m always spending! Giving a 37.5mm equivalent field of view, this little lens fits in nicely, as my widest native prime so far is a 35mm Nikon DX. I have a 30mm Pentacon in M42 mount, too, although I haven’t used it on my Fuji yet. Until I can justify investing into X-Mount – for the expected X-Pro 3 – cheap lenses and adapters fill a niche that I quite enjoy using.

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The soft corners and vignetting common to this lens are easily evident in this basic test shot, but my copy appears to limit them to the extremities so that is good. I think the colour rendition with the X-M1’s Velvia is pleasant, too. It was light outside and this was 4,000s at f2.8 (or there abouts – this lens doesn’t have preset aperture steps) so it did well to not completely blow the highlights beyond the very bottom of the teepee. Against M42 lenses with their character, I’m expecting this lens to perform similarly, just at a wider focal length. If the rendering holds contrast better against those lenses with further shooting, then I will be really quite pleased. After all, this is a £140 combo, which seems like very good value for money if you’re after a toy or to test the waters with a Fuji X camera.

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The build quality is fantastic for a budget, third party lens. Constructed from metal and quality plastic, I chose silver for the shine and how it accentuates the brass coloured ring around the front element. Having seen how striking it looks against the black Fuji body, I feel inclined to purchase Fuji’s own lenses in silver. Of course, it is manual focus only, but the smooth focal ring does a good job and they include an adhesive thumb rest for easier twisting if required. If there is one area where it betrays its modest price it is the lens cap. A generic affair with a simple, printed logo just lets the side down a little bit. Of course, this is a minor quibble and I can simply look for a more pleasant 46mm cap, but if this is the only real negative during a first impression, I’m onto a bit of a winner. Time will tell if this lens wins me over or is relegated to my gear cupboard, so stay tuned to here and my Instagram which is displayed on the front page.

Cheers, Matt.

The Point and Shoot Camera versus Thoughtful Photography

1000266-01Panasonic Lumix TZ70: Expressive filter.

Welcome back. It’s been several months since I last posted, but I haven’t stopped taking photos. Not one bit; in the intervening period I’ve taken some personal favourites and come to realisations about how I want to approach photography as a medium. Having not discovered my passion until the digital era, I don’t really have many recollections of the cheap, point and shoot 35mm camera era. I’ve bought a couple since and dabbled, but film isn’t really my thing. Being a 21st Century Digital Boy I cut my teeth on everything from Lumix bridge cameras to several EOS bodies and plenty more in between. Very early on with my beloved 20D I shot in RAW. As a Mac user, I was on board with Aperture for RAW conversion and workflow management. The dawn of the digital darkroom was a playground for drawing as much detail and oomph from the files before you exported it as a finished article.

This was all well and good, but after a decade, it become quite tiresome. Apple finished making Aperture – a bad decision from my perspective – and I had to revert to manufacturer supplied programs or Adobe Camera Raw. I now use Capture One and mighty good it is too. It wowed me the first time I put CR2 files from my 5D Mark II through it, a camera I have found to be underwhelming in the main. However, since buying my Fuji X100F last summer, I’ve become a JPEG, straight out of camera convert. Because of this, RAW editing has become anathema to me and I’ve found myself being very happy to just let the camera decide. A brief flirtation with a Sony RX100 III came and went and then a used Fuji X-M1 popped up at WEX for under £100 and I saw a chance to match the JPEG approach with interchangeable lenses. A post about this camera will follow in the coming weeks, but this entry will focus on my latest purchase – A Panasonic Lumix TZ70.

I received a trip to see Arsenal as a birthday present from my partner and wanted a small camera with a good reach to get close-ups of my favourite players. As a first timer at the Emirates Stadium, I wanted to be a total tourist and needed as much versatility from one camera as possible. My X100F would have been brilliant for external shots, but I would be stuck with a fixed focal length for 90 minutes. A last minute hunt online found the Panasonic and it was the 12mp sensor and 30x optical zoom that appealed. I didn’t read any reviews first, which is unusual for me, and trusted my gut instinct of older Lumix being great for their time. The TZ70 didn’t disappoint or cause any buyer’s remorse. The camera can shoot RAW, but Capture One doesn’t support this particular model, and manual mode was frustrating without direct controls. My recourse was to dabble with the Creative Effects mode, which offered the usual filtered images and here was a couple of surprises.

1000283-02Panasonic Lumix TZ70: Dynamic Monochrome filter.

Expressive mode gives the bright, punchy colours I love when using Fuji’s Velvia film simulation and Dynamic Monochrome ranks very closely to Acros in my affections. All but one of the featured images here were taken in these two modes; the wall of death picture was switched to Cross Process, which dialled back the saturation and white balance to a more pleasing level. Whilst I find myself adding a little tonal contrast and sharpening to these files via Snapseed on my phone, the workflow isn’t as convoluted as RAW can be, nor as time consuming. Essentially, I just set this camera into a very easy mode and worry more about seeing better and more interesting compositions and taking time on each image. As a photographer, I’ve simply had enough of making something simple, difficult.

1000294-01Panasonic Lumix TZ70: Cross Process filter.

Which brings me on to an important consideration. If we as photographers could stop chasing complexity and just practiced taking pictures in the moment, we might discover more about ourselves as photographers and offer up more satisfying images. Sure, I could walk to a stunning location and whip out £500 worth of glass filters just to kick the 5DII’s dynamic range up the arse, but then I’d be having to take time fiddling with files when I got home and I’m just so over that life. I could hand on heart say the last 9 months of hassle free JPEG shooting have been some of the most liberating times I’ve had behind a camera since I learnt to take photos on a DSLR. So, don’t write off a £250, point and shoot camera to be for rank amateurs, but instead, consider one as a way to kickstart your creativity in-camera, in the moment and stop worrying about how it will look in post. You might enjoy it.

1000259-01Panasonic Lumix TZ70: Edited to B&W in Snapseed, from original JPEG.

Living StatuePanasonic Lumix TZ70: Dynamic Monochrome filter.

The Apertura Wishlist – 1 Inch Sensor Smartphone

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At this time within the smartphone sphere, the camera is king. The pace of development is rapid and the number of lenses is a technological arms race. The variety of focal lengths allows the manufacturers to work around the limitations of a fixed focal length in a small body. Just recently we have seen Huawei add a wide angle lens to its Mate 20 Pro, whilst Apple used their second lens for a somewhat telephoto focal length. As a means to an end, dual, triple and soon to be quad camera arrays make sense. However, the sensors remain minuscule and although to their credit, IQ could be better still if the sensor grew in place of multiple lenses. I have cameras of multiple sizes, from full frame digital, to APS-C, 1:2/3rd of an inch et al. My everyday camera happens to have a 1″ sensor type, giving it an advantage over the usual size for compact cameras. The more light that can meet the sensor, the easier it is for the camera processor – an area where phones have really hit their groove in recent years.

So, what if a mobile firm decided to use this existing advantage to its advantage and paired one, larger lens opening with a 1″ sensor? Given the space required for three lenses and their processor, I can’t imagine the footprint would be significantly larger, especially with the size of current flagship phones. Given their work with Leica, I’d love for the inevitable Huawei P30 Plus to take a bold step and offer this set-up. A real giant leap in pushing mobile photography – which I genuinely enjoy – and one achieved with photography in mind. Sure, I’d miss the dedicated monochrome sensor, but it appears they have removed this in lieu of the wide angle already on the aforementioned Mate Pro. Using a larger lens and a sensor better equipped to gather light would provide enough comfort, however.

 

Cheers, Matt.

16:9 – The Widescreen Appreciation Post

South Devon Railway

Aspect ratios. Not a thrilling subject in themselves, but fairly important as a consideration when taking photos. We’re used to the 3 to 2 ratio of DSLRs, or 4:3 as can be found on compact cameras and Micro 4/3s. Instagram initially only offered a square ratio for posts, which would have been a consideration that made sense within the realms of the app, but they relented and offered a scalable space from anywhere between 1:1, 3:2 and 16:9. The latter is an interesting one, especially useful for emphasising the scale of your scene, or otherwise aiming for the cinematic look. Films are almost exclusively widescreen now; of course, this has little baring on stills photography, but it does mean the widescreen ratio is chosen less often.

As a photographer, it is one I like to use, in the same way I use 1:1 sometimes. By changing the aspect ratio, you are having to alter your composition and this is a good thing. By adjusting how you look at a scene, you are aware of what fits within the image, what detracts also. Photography is very much an art form that thrives within constraints. Where a painter can move something to enhance a scene, with a photograph, you can only capture what is in front of you. Sure, you can remove it in post, but there’s a joy in getting as much correct at the moment you press the shutter. It is why I like prime lenses, because you can only get what is directly in front of you in the scene. When I switch to the 16:9 ratio, I have to look to see that the top and bottom of the frame are exact. When using 1:1 you have to keep all sides in mind. It’s just another way to enhance the thought process behind taking a photo.

I’ve set my Sony RX100iii to 16:9 now, just another way to set individual cameras to individual purposes. The photo at the top of South Devon Railway at Buckfastleigh is one of the first I took in this way. Shot in RAW and processed in Photoshop Camera RAW, the scene offers a broad look at the trains in the yard. I shoot RAW with this camera because I find the Sony colour science to be appalling, certainly having bought into Fuji and coming from Canon and Nikon DSLRs, but that is a whole can of worms for another time.  Back to the image, I like that with this aspect ratio, there’s little sky to detract from the subject and the first carriage is very much in the foreground, but it also leads into the image; as do the rails, too. If I’d taken it in 3:2 ratio, then you’d have sky to contend with and the dynamic range would alter. For this scene, 16:9 suits it well. As a shooting choice, it definitely has its place and Instagram now displays it properly, to boot.

Cheers, Matt.

 

Prime Numbers -Why I Love Fixed Focal Lengths

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Taken on my Nikon D3300 with the 35mm f1.8 DX lens.

Zoom lenses are one of the more developed areas of modern photography, covering ultra wide angle to extreme telephoto and with increasing capability. They provide convenience and less compromise with each new version. This is to be applauded, more quality glass is always a good thing. I’m not without zoom lenses myself; I have the Canon 17-40L and 70-200 L F4 in my collection. However, my most favoured lenses have become primes. It all started with the Canon nifty fifty, that plastic, noisy lens that just happens to be good quality and at the bottom of their price range. Auto focus was loud to begin with, but stray sand got into the barrel to the point where it sounded like a robot with arthritis. So I began to manual focus it and I loved it. Prior to this, I often shot the Sigma 10-20 on my 20D and my style at that time was decidedly wide angle. That 50mm lens changed my style, for the better.

Shorn of bending perspective to my will, with results that don’t often look good to my eye a decade later, I was now shooting in a more standard way. Of course, that 50mm lens was 80mm in APS-C money, but I was now looking at potential images differently. More abstract, wooed by the fast aperture. More often stark, black and white to go with it. Primes made me change drastically from stock landscapes and long exposures, and 10 years later, had a bigger influence on my style. My next prime love was the Helios 44M. With a screwmount adapter for EOS, I was able to make use of a lens I’d idly collected when I went through a phase of buying cheap film SLRs. Wow, what a creative spark it ignited. On one trip with it I re-imagined a leaf as the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and the light between two tree trunks as the Hot Gates from Spartan mythology. I was thinking more about the final image, because I had one focal length and that was anything but a limitation.

Fast forward to this year and I bought the Fuji with its 35mm equivalent focal length. I also bought the Sony RX with its 24-70. It’s not that I’m zoom averse, but I just prefer the tactility of primes when manually focused. The reason I have so many different options is because I’d rather shoot with something designed for that purpose, more often. The Sony is perfect for my work bag, but unlikely to be my choice if going out specifically to photograph. This also ties in with my recent posts about smartphones and the fully manual Canon I wish existed; disparate notions, but both speak to my preferred approach to photography. That is, work within confines to boost creative thought and shoot manually as much as possible, so the act of taking the photo is all part of the experience. A good prime ties-in both of those ideals pretty well.

 

Thanks for reading. Matt.

The Apertura Wishlist – Cameras I wish existed (Part 1)

Canon M

There have been many cameras throughout the modern era, from mainstream hits, to obscure, fascinating oddities. Something I love is obscure and fascinating things, so naturally they pique my interest. One of my favourites – and one I’d love to own – is the Canon EF-M. Before this became the acronym for their mirrorless lens mount, it was used on an export-only, manual version of the EOS 1000 35mm SLR. Without an LCD screen or typical mode selector dial, this was a manually operated, manually focused SLR from a company who had made a concerted effort to embrace auto focus with their EOS line. The wiki article here will fill in more detail for you if you’re unfamiliar with this particular Canon.

Since discovering the EF-M, I’ve often wished Canon would engineer a modern, digital equivalent. Leica can create monochrome, display-free bodies almost at will and given their following, surely Canon could stand to do the same thing too. If nothing else, it would be an alternative for purely stills shooters who don’t necessarily need the 4K, mic-input trappings of a 5D Mark IV; however, they would very much benefit from DIGIC 7 and some of the better lenses out there, all of which have a manual setting.

By removing some of the features, it could also lower the price. This I feel is an important consideration. I’d always buy just enough camera you need, so I could spend more on lenses. With a £1000 full frame, manual DSLR, you could spend the extra £1000+ an EOS 5D model would cost on more lenses, of which Canon has the most varied line-up of all. A niche product that would still drive their lens business? Sounds fairly low risk, but potentially headline grabbing work, eh Canon?

Whilst I appreciate it is not a camera for every photographer out there, that’s fine – they are already very well catered for. Sure, you could just shoot everything manually on your DSLR, which I often do, but the change in handling, to include some of that Fuji tactility could make it a really sweet product. As can be seen in my mock-up (pardon the Photoshop, it’s been some years since I last dabbled) there are two selector dials. On the right you have ISO, with a Drive and WB button familiar to the EOS range. On the left, your shutter speed dial with a range from 1/4000 to 30 seconds and Bulb mode.  The  right-hand jog wheel that normally functions to alter shutter speed is now the Exposure Compensation. Otherwise, no bells or whistles. My perfect Canon digital camera.

 

Thanks for reading, cheers. Matt.

Pocket Photography – why is the smartphone so heavily stigmatised?

The above image is similar to the header of this site – no coincidence as they were shot on the same day. The B&W was taken on my Fuji X100F, whereas this colour shot is taken straight from my Huawei P10 Plus with the Leica Dual Lens set-up. At 28mm it’s a little wider than the Fuji at 35mm, but the composition is similar. However, I read a lot of negativity about smartphone cameras and it’s something I feel quite strongly about.

“Want to get a decent image, buy a DSLR” – yeah, my 5Dii with the 17-40 L slips so readily in my trouser pocket. “They’re toy cameras” – at £700-£1000 the latest top models are expensive toys, then. “Pros use full frame only” – is that why billboards and magazine covers have been shot with iPhones? Honestly, the rhetoric you see against camera phones is asinine. Sure, it might not have the print fidelity, but I’d say it’s professional enough if you’re seeing them on billboards and covers. The funniest line I see is “get a real camera” – to which I always think, why would I use my Canon Ixus that takes less satisfying images than my phone?!

The rate of development in this corner of photography should be celebrated, not decried because everyone happens to have one. That’s a good thing. The more photos taken, the more drive for innovation, the higher chance this hobby continues to grow and develop. If you’re a professional photographer worried about these phones eating into your market, up your game. Don’t belittle these cameras just because they’re social cameras. Be glad you can capture usable images in a highly convenient way. It’s not as if ‘back-up’ cameras haven’t found an audience with hobbyists and pros and those haven’t always been the ultimate in image quality, either.

And on a significant point, if you consider a smartphone to be inferior to an interchangeable lens camera because it lacks features, or optical zoom etc, then how about embracing the limitation to inspire your creativity? The fixed focal length means you think more about the image. Heck, if operating a decent camera manually wasn’t so enjoyable, I’d set my camera to auto and just focus on the composition – something I have done with the aforementioned crappy Ixus. The only limitation that truly matters to any camera is the user, be that full frame, mirrorless or the smartphone.

As a parting shot, one of the most pleasing colour photos I’ve taken in a long time is the one below. Straight from the Huawei, inside the rainforest Biome at the Eden Project. Cheers, Matt.