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.

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.

Fuji – the monochrome shooter’s colour camera.

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What is it that makes monochrome photography so alluring? The street masters shooting Leica? The chance to see the world in a way our eyes cannot? Or is it simply because capturing light and shade is so darn aesthetic it’s almost impossible to not love it? For me personally, it’s definitely the latter two reasons. I don’t practice street often and I certainly don’t have the confidence to take candid portraits more or less against the subject’s will, but that’s just me; power to those who create the compelling images I could not. My Huawei phone has a black and white sensor, which feels liberating – not having to shoot colour and desaturate afterwards. I definitely make regular use of Monochrome because of that feature.

My Fuji X100F has the Acros film simulation, with colour filter options and whilst it is not a B&W sensor, the camera has been engineered to capture light and shade in a most beguiling way. I find it difficult to shoot in colour with this camera, because the pull of Acros is so strong. The contrast, the dynamic range. Even with grain effect set to weak these are lovely images. I’ll attempt the odd street shot, I’ll point it at daytime clouds. I’ll find quiet nooks with beams of light, just for the heck of it. It’s just the perfect digital camera for mono photography.

However, colour is useful. Colour can inspire emotions just as well as black and white. More upbeat, vibrant emotions. A sunset in mono would be wasteful of all that natural splendour. A tropical sea would be rendered in fifty shades of grey with none of the Moana charm. So with Velvia and Astia film simulations, Fuji cameras offer colours that really pop. Colours perfect for the occasion. I prefer Velvia, as it is saturated but retains the clinical look of monochrome. Astia smooths in the way the film might, which would be nice to try on a misty Autumnal morning no doubt. In Velvia, I have a camera setting that pulls me from mono, but in essence, offers everything I enjoy about black and white. The tonality is there, the contrast. The rich, hard to quantify appeal is there. Some people would call it micro contrast, perhaps. Whatever it is, between Velvia and Acros I have found the camera that inspires the creativity in me as much as my old EOS 20D with Sigma 10-20 did a decade ago.

Cheers, Matt.

One Hundred – A Tale of Two Cameras Part 2

As I wrote in the first part of this article, there are cameras I admire and those I truly love. In the Canon G10 I had one that really sparked my imagination and was dependable for a long time. It was an extension of my creative process almost, as I would use it every time I didn’t need the Sigma 10-20 on my trusty EOS 20D. They were great times, a one-two punch from the Canon camp that offered me everything I needed. Fast forward a few years and my aging gear was joined by a Nikon (gasp!) and thus started a slippery slope of upgrading that has now blossomed into a real eclectic arsenal – but more on that another time.

This process of upgrades led me to purchase the Sony RX100iii to replace the G10 as my work camera, because I didn’t want to compromise too far and it seems a lot more impressive than the Canon offerings (a similar feeling that saw me get the Nikon D3300 when I needed a new, budget friendly DSLR). It’s well built, has decent Dynamic Range and a modest zoom that doesn’t interfere too much with my prime lens sensibility. It also shares part of its model name with my one true love – the Fuji X100F.

Is it a coincidence two solid, attractive and somewhat compact cameras share a larger sensor and a good reputation? Of course it is, but humour me. The Fuji joined my collection only a few months ago, but it instantly ingrained itself in my affections. It is built like a tank, takes beautiful images and looks like a Leica but better, in my humble opinion. Of course, I went for all black rather than the silver option, because the Zenit Soviet chic is way more aesthetic. I genuinely can’t find fault with it.

And this is something of a problem in itself, as there really aren’t any cheap alternatives with fixed focal lengths on sale right now. I know Fuji make one, but it’s still nearly £500 and because it isn’t an X100F I would only cast it in a harsher light. So I chose the Sony for my work bag and I appreciate that it’s capable and I accept I’ll never love it, and that’s OK. It performs a role and means I don’t risk the Fuji. That is the kind of balance I look for when buying cameras. Every one has a purpose.

One way they do share a similarity is I shoot JPEG only on them both. For the Sony, it’s for convenience. On the Fuji it’s an aesthetic choice and I’ll touch on that in another post. However, its refreshing in 2018 that we have reached a point where JPEG is just fine and RAW isn’t a necessity. It’s very freeing.

If you own either camera and enjoy them, feel free to comment and start a dialogue. Thanks for reading. Cheers, Matt.