Autumn Colours on the Trent and Mersey Canal

Recently I realised that although I spend a lot of time at Cannock Chase, I only ever see the mountain bike trails, and vowed to explore some more – ideally with my camera! This weekend I had to pick up an eBay purchase so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and have a photography stop on the way home – actually I killed three birds with one stone, as I gave my Toyota MR2 a good run out too! The weather even played ball, as it was one of those sunny, crisp autumnal mornings. The previous day I had mentioned to Jen that I thought the autumn colours were particularly pretty this year. Maybe it is down to the nicer than usual weather (or global warming)?

I stopped right at the northern edge of the Cannock Chase AONB, in a village called Great Haywood. I’d chosen the location because there were two canals, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and the Trent and Mersey Canal, in addition to the River Trent. The area nearest to where I had parked was actually the most photogenic, especially with the autumn colours reflecting in the water. It was a great way to break up a journey and something I am going to try to do again in future.

Softplay Portrait

I grabbed this photo of Owen in the softplay at Rock Up in Birmingham. Jen and I had taken him there so that he could show Jen his climbing skills. However, knowing that there was softplay and toy trucks that he could be playing with, Owen didn’t want to do any climbing and spent the session in the softplay.

At first Owen was the only child in the softplay so I took the opportunity to join him in the ball pit with my camera. This resulted in the photo above, which is one of my favourite portraits. I would love to say that I set up the lighting and coordinated Owen’s t-shirt to the walls, but once I had spotted the shot I just had to quickly crank the ISO up on my camera, as it was pretty dark, and capture the best expression from Owen.

Shot with: Fuji X-T2 and 18-55mm lens at 1/40s, f4.0 at ISO 3200, processed in Lightroom CC Classic.

Switching to Fuji – One Month On

It has been a month since I swapped from my Canon full frame DSLR to my Fuji X-T2 so I thought I’d put down some more detailed thoughts, incase anyone else is considering the switch.

The main point is that it has got me excited about photography again! This may just be the new kit effect, however the smaller/lighter camera is also opening up more options for me. There also seems to be a lot of excitement around mirrorless cameras at the moment, especially given the announcements at Photokina the other week – you know something is becoming mainstream when even the BBC is reporting about it!

The first real test for the X-T2 was the family holiday to Croyde, this gave me a great opportunity to shoot a lot and get to know the camera. Most of the photos I took were of Owen – it is handy having your own mini, almost tame, model that you can take around with you! This meant the auto focus mode got a lot of use! Going from 9 auto focus points on my old Canon, to 91 on the Fuji was simpler than it sounds, once I had got the hang of the various modes. At first I was using the wee joystick on the back to select individual focus points – revelling in the ability to place the focus point almost exactly where I wanted it. That was until I discovered the face detection setting – when activated the camera sets the focus point on the human face nearest to the centre of the frame. It seems pretty reliable and is certainly quicker than manually selecting focus points, especially useful when your subject is a wriggly two year old!

Before I was fully confident with the face detection setting I took the time to study the other autofocus modes and set the camera up as if face detection didn’t exist. I have set up the rear command wheel to choose the size of the focus area. The standard way to enter this mode it to press the joystick, then select with the wheel – I have set the press of the command wheel to enter the mode, to speed up this process. I have the rest of the autofocus settings allocated to three of the “D pad” buttons, as I feel that autofocus is one area where I will be changing settings frequently. I have also set the “AF-L” button on the rear of the camera to be “AF-On”, replicating the back button focus feature that I used on my Canon DSLRs. However unlike Canon, you cannot manually focus in autofocus modes; you can however autofocus in manual focus mode…

Since getting back from Croyde I have tried some still life photography at home, mostly borrowing Owen’s toys after he has gone to bed. This has given me a chance to experiment with manual focus. I have found the auto focus useful get focus into roughly right area before tweaking with the manual focus ring on the lens. Focussing manually is so much easier than on a DSLR, as Fuji have a few features to help you:

  1. Focus check – as soon as you move the focus ring (in manual focus mode) the image in the viewfinder/on the rear screen is magnified allowing you to check your focus in greater details. You also can use the joystick to move the zoomed in area around the frame, for when you are focussing on something away from the centre of the viewfinder.
  2. Digital split image – the viewfinder image is split in three, where they line up is the area in focus. This reminds me of borrowing my Dad’s old Nikon FM2, a fully manual film SLR, which to the day is still the best manual focus system I have ever used. Unfortunately the Fuji still isn’t as good as the old Nikon.
  3. Focus peak highlight – which highlights the in focus high contrast images in a bright colour in the viewfinder/on the screen. I find this easier to use than the digital split image, especially in combination with the focus check feature.
  4. Distance indicator in the viewfinder/on the screen – show you the distance you are focussing on, including a depth of field indication, which changes with aperture.

Having the camera mounted on the tripod for the still life photos gave me a chance to experiment with controlling the camera over wifi, using the Fuji app on my iPhone. Unfortunately the app isn’t as user friendly as the camera, and I found it pretty restrictive. For instance I couldn’t work out how to get from shutter priority to manual control and even with the drive mode switch for the camera set to “Bracket” it would only take one photo, instead of the three I expected it to take. In the end I switched the wifi off and used an old mechanical release cable I had left over from my film photography days.

The only other problem that has arisen from swapping camera system is that Lightroom, the software I’ve used to edit images since 2007, doesn’t work brilliantly with Fuji raw files. This is something that is well known, and was a concern of mine before switching, but I had done some testing and not had a problem. However when I was working on the photos from Croyde I noticed a few worm like artefacts, which weren’t present in the jpeg files from the camera. Capture One, an alternative program to Lightroom, has recently announced that they now support Fuji cameras, I’ve had a quick dabble and they seem to handle the raw files significantly better than Lightroom. However there are other downsides, so this is something I need to investigate further.

When I traded in my Canon kit it was only worth enough to swap for the X-T2 camera body and 18-55mm “kit lens”, which is actually a pretty good lens! However this left me lacking a fast prime, a telephoto lens and a flash gun. So I have been trying to sell things on eBay to fund at least a fast prime lens, ideally before a trip to London at the beginning of December (it turns out that shrinking my camera gear has made most of my camera bags redundant, including some very nice/expensive FStop Gear bags). I will probably go for the 23mm f2 lens, which should be ideal for fitting to the camera for bike rides. I also need to buy a bigger and faster SD card – the one I am using is almost ten years old. I got a shock when I looked up the price of the UHS-II cards recommended by Fuji, I’ll likely get a 32GB card, which makes me feel old – I remember buying a 32MB CompactFlash card  for my first digital camera – a Canon Digital IXUS v2. I wonder where that is now…

Switching to Fuji

After eleven years using Canon DSLRs for my photography, I have swapped to a Fuji mirrorless system. It literally was a swap too – I walked into my local camera shop with a bag of Canon kit and walked out with my new Fuji X-T2 and 18-55mm lens!

The main reason behind the change is that in the last few years my lifestyle and priorities have changed and a heavy DSLR camera doesn’t fit in with my life in 2018. I’m not going out on photography adventures with my Dad anymore, Jen and I aren’t travelling as much as we were and my motorsport photography days are long gone! The Canon Eos 5D which I bought as a “temporary stop gap camera” in 2010, just wasn’t being used. It was too heavy/bulky to carry around. Especially when I am on a bike or out with Owen, and other than working and sleeping that is all I seem to do these days!

On the rare occasions I was using my camera I was only taking the camera and 24-105mm lens with me, to keep both kit and faffing to a minimum. On checking my Lightroom catalogue I had only taken one picture in 2018 with my 70-200mm f2.8 lens. I had been looking a a more advanced compact camera to replace my Canon S90, but my long term plan had been to get a new full frame Canon DSLR. However, given the amount of use I couldn’t justify it. Then I started to notice a lot of my photographer friends moving to mirrorless systems. With both Canon and Nikon announcing new mirrorless ranges recently the tide seemed to be turning towards mirrorless, so I decided to ignore my misgivings about electronic viewfinders and do some investigation…

Sony seemed to be the popular choice; I liked the idea of full frame sensors, and had heard a lot of good things about image quality. Then I checked the price – way out of my league! The Canon Eos M series was more reasonably priced, but I got the impression that they were aimed at amateurs, especially the range of lenses, probably too much of a step down from my 5D and L series lenses. Whilst looking I came across the Fuji X-T2 and thought it looked good, compact and well built, but too expensive, especially for a cropped sensor camera. However the seed had been sown. My search then brought me to the Fuji X-T20 – the X-T2’s baby brother, and its cousin, the X-A3. They were more in my price range and shared the same sensor/auto focus system as the X-T2, but crucially were within budget! I read a lot of reviews and convinced myself that Fuji with manual control dials on top of the camera and well built lenses was the mirrorless system for me.

Then it dawned on me – we were off on holiday in a few weeks time, a week in Croyde would be the perfect opportunity to get to know a new camera system! I sent details of my current kit to a dealer to see if the numbers would work – fortunately they did! Now all I had to do was decide which Fuji camera to buy, I preferred the layout of the X-T20 but the features of the X-E3. The only way to make a decision was to get to a camera shop to try them out. Whilst waiting for an opportunity to visit a camera shop, Fuji announced the X-T3. It looked perfect, except it was way too expensive for me, and in any case wouldn’t have been available before my holiday. However, it did mean Fuji reduced the price of the X-T2, just about bringing it into my budget! I now had three cameras to decide between. The main attraction of the X-T2 was the better build, including weather sealing and even simpler controls than the smaller X-T20. The downside was that I would only be able to afford one lens initially. By the time I got to the camera shop I had pretty much decided on the X-T2, deep down I knew that I if went for the cheaper model, I would either end up wanting to upgrade or breaking it whilst out on my bike. Therefore buying the more expensive X-T2 was actually the cheaper option. The camera just felt “right” in my hands, I didn’t need to try the X-T20, I was taking the X-T2 home!

As is usually the way with these things, I didn’t get to use it over the weekend, I certainly didn’t want to risk taking it to the Peak District with me. Especially as I haven’t got any protection for it – all my existing camera bags are set up for full frame DSLRs, so the little Fuji is just rattling around it them. Other than a few test shots at home, my first proper go with it was taking some headshots at work – no pressure then! After eleven years using Canon DSLRs I can change anything on them instinctively, and whilst the Fuji controls are intuitive, I struggled a bit. The zoom ring being the opposite way round to Canon, is going to take some getting used to. However, the electronic viewfinder was awesome, I could see what the photo was going to look like before I took it and the shooting information was all there too. I really don’t know why I was so against them previously!

Since then, I have been tweaking the settings to my liking and practicing on my tame(ish) model – Owen! Jon Caz’s guide was a particularly helpful starting point for settings, as there is a lot more to configure than on my old cameras and to be honest I am still getting used to them. We took Owen to get his haircut in Rugby, so I knew we would be going to the GEC recreation ground after – Owen loves the sandpit and mechanical diggers there! With Owen entertained, I was able to concentrate on taking some photos of him and trying out different settings. I particularly liked the one at the top of the post because of the expression on his face. Jen even used the camera to get some good pictures of Owen and I playing on the mechanical diggers, she noted how much lighter the Fuji is than my old set up.

I had read about people having issues processing Fuji files in Lightroom, this was a concern for me as moving away from Lightroom would be a much bigger change for me than changing camera system. My friend Graham sent some raw files from his X-T2 for me to try in Lightroom, I was able to get results I was happy with. However it has highlighted that I need to revisit some of the new features in Lightroom, especially the “Profile” section of the Develop Module, but also the sharpening controls. I had the same experience with the photos of Owen, I’ve been able to get photos I like, but possibly not as good as they could be.

The main thing though is that switching systems has got me interested in photography again! Instead of finding excuses to leave the camera at home, I’m finding reasons to take it with me!

Canal By Night – Throwback Thursday

Canal RoundaboutAnother post inspired by the #throwbackthursday hashtag on Twitter. This photo was taken exactly four years ago, from the NIA in Birmingham. I’d actually forgotten about it, until a night photography thread popped up on PistonHeads, so when I found it and noticed it had been taken exactly four years ago I had to post it to my blog.

 

Rugby Cement Works

Cement Works

These cement works dominate the skyline of Rugby and over the four years I’ve lived here I’ve grown to like them, when returning from a long journey, seeing them on the horizon is a sign I’m nearly home.

I can see the cement works from my kitchen window and had been wanting to take a long exposure photo of them lit up at night for quite some time, but as it is so near to home I was waiting for the perfect sky, (slightly lighter and less cloudy than in this image) but sometimes you just have to go for it! I’m glad I did as I am pleased with the result and will certainly have a print of it on my wall when I move away from Rugby!

Cholmondeley Pageant of Power: Vintage Motocross

Vintage motocrosser at Cholmondeley Pageant of Power (Lewis Craik/Lewis Craik Photography)

It wasn’t just cars at Cholmondeley, there were boats, planes and bikes too. During a break in the track action we wondered over to the vintage motocross circuit, which actually looked like organised chaos, but was fun to watch. The rider above caught my eye, he wasn’t the fastest there (possibly due to not wearing goggles!!!) but his look and demeanour in the pits gave off the impression of a lifelong passion for motocross.

While I was writing this post I also came across this vintage motocross video on the Drive Network on YouTube, which is a must subscribe for petrol heads, it’s like Top Gear, but with the banter to cars ratio reversed, so it is a lot more car focussed!