Toyota Yaris

Meet the replacement for Jen’s Fiat 500 – a Toyota Yaris Bi-Tone in “Cyan Splash” blue! As much as we all loved the 500, or “Mummy’s white car” as Owen called it, Jen really needed something a bit bigger, with 5 doors. We were also a matter of months away from running three cars over ten years old. Cars which seem to have a knack for breaking down at the same time.

We did a tour of local garages, but as soon as we saw a Yaris identical to this one at the Toyota dealer Jen was smitten. The good news was that the Yaris ticked all the practical boxes – it feels bigger inside than my BMW, and fits Owen’s pushchair in the boot. I also discovered that in What Car’s 2018 Reliability Survey, the petrol Yaris got a perfect score – no owners reported any faults! The bad new was that the colour that Jen liked was only available on the top of the range model, which was over budget. It was only when we got home that Jen discovered that the dealer had a few pre-registered ones on the forecourt with less than 100 miles on the clock and priced nearer her budget.

The technology in the Yaris is a big step up from the 500 – most importantly for Jen it has DAB and Bluetooth music streaming, without me having to modify the audio system! However I think some of the spec choices from Toyota are a bit strange – auto dimming headlamps, but no auto lights for example. Even my fourteen year old BMW has that! I am glad that Toyota didn’t use their standard clock module, which seems to have been used on most of their models in the last twenty years – the one with the pointless “:00” button, that is in my MR2 Roadster. The controls on the Yaris seem very sensitive, I find it harder to drive smoothly than the 500, especially if I’ve just jumped out of one of my cars, which require far more input. The brakes are especially sharp!

We haven’t been on any adventures in the Yaris yet – for the first few days it was tucked away in my garage, so that I could give it a thorough detail and protect the paint with Soft-99 Fusso wax, and other than a trip to Blenheim Palace, we have just driven it locally. However now that we have a choice of cars for family outings I am sure it will get used more than the 500 was recently!

I had been meaning to borrow the Yaris for a proper shoot, however my lack of free time and shorter days have conspired against me. I was able to grab this shot whilst I was out in the car. I only had my Fuji X-T2 and new 23mm f2 prime lens with me, so it was a case of park up, frame the shot, click and drive off in a couple of minutes. I am looking forward to doing a proper shoot at some point though.

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…

Croyde 2018

Croyde, in North Devon, is one of my favourite places in the world! Ten years ago I visited for surfing trips with my mates, and fell in love with the village and beach. I have been back every year since. This year we visited again for a family holiday, with Owen and my parents. Owen has visited Croyde before, but Mum and Dad haven’t, so I was looking forward to showing them around our usual haunts.

Two years ago Jen and I drove down in the MR2, with minimal luggage, however this year the BMW was stuffed full of luggage, and a bike on the roof. I am going to need a bigger car! Traffic on the M5 wasn’t great, but Owen was a good boy, so the journey wasn’t too arduous. We met Mum and Dad at the holiday cottage, unpacked and formed a plan to head to Squires fish and chip shop in Braunton for dinner. The first of our regular haunts! After the long drive I didn’t feel like being crammed into the BMW again, so chose to ride over on my bike. I took the back roads to Braunton. It was a big climb out of Croyde, but the views down over Saunton Sands were worth it. The descent down to Braunton was fast. I was on the road, so without any tricky corners or rocks to negotiate I only had to slow down for a couple of cars coming the other way and made good time. I arrived in Braunton before the rest of the family, within twenty seconds of the time Google Maps had predicted it to take! I’m sure the fish and chips tasted even better than usual after riding over to get them! (I did wimp out for the return journey and got a lift back in the car – I didn’t fancy the narrow lanes in the dark).

We started our first full day in Croyde with a walk into the village, although Owen really wanted to go to the beach! Mum and Dad walked over to Saunton Sands, and Jen and I took Owen to the beach. He was in his element playing in the sand, digging and looking for shells! In the afternoon we walked up to Sandleigh tea room. Owen had fun exploring the garden and chatting to the scarecrow, whilst we enjoyed a lovely cream tea. Mum and Dad walked to Baggy Point, whilst Jen, Owen and I went back to the beach. As the tide was out we could clamber across the rocks from Sandleigh, rather than walking back along the road. At first Owen seemed a bit unsure, but he loved splashing through the rock pools and looking for creatures. However, he was even more excited to get back on the beach to dig some holes! In the evening he came up to me, gave me a huge hug and said “I love you Daddy” – the first time we’ve heard him say that. He is such a little charmer!

The weather forecast for Sunday was for rain, but we managed to get to the beach for an hour before the rain started. Owen did more digging and I flew my old Flexifoil Stacker kite. Owen had been captivated by someone flying a kite the previous week, so I thought he may be interested, but it was a bit too powerful for Owen to have a go with. The rain started just as we were walking home; we made it back without getting too wet, and spent the rest of the morning chilling out at the house. Whilst Owen had his nap, Jen and I escaped into the village on our own for a quiet cup of tea and a piece of cake! As we got back, Mum and Owen were heading out to the playground, so we joined them. It was good to get Owen out of the house and running around a bit. He also got to see the beach tractor – I don’t think it can get any more exciting for Owen than a tractor on the beach! We finished the day with Sunday lunch at the Manor House Inn, another Croyde tradition for Jen and I. The only problem was that due to it being a rainy Sunday the carvery had been hit hard. The roast beef, that I had been particularly looking forward to, had all gone. At least it gave me an excuse to try something else from the menu – the steak and ale pie was a good substitute! I thought it was funny that most of the other tables were also families with children and grandparents.

As I hadn’t managed to get out on my bike on Sunday, I got out on the Monday morning instead, before meeting Jen for breakfast at Blue Groove – our favourite cafe. I have already posted about my ride, so won’t fill a holiday post with bike talk. When we got back Owen wasn’t too keen on going for his nap. The weather wasn’t great either, so Jen and I took him out for a drive to Ilfracombe. Owen was looking forward to seeing boats and trains, even though I had explained that there wasn’t a railway there. We parked at the harbour, so saw the boats, then at the end of the harbour we saw a little road train! We had to go on it, even if it was just for a little tour of the town, most of which we’d seen from the car on the drive in. Owen was very happy with his train ride and it gave Jen and I the chance to scope out ice cream shops. Joey’s looked the best, so we put that theory to the test. My Bakewell tart ice cream was nice, however Owen ending up wearing most of his bright green mint chocolate chip ice cream. To work off our ice creams we took a walk around the Capstone Parade, a traffic free promenade around the Capstone, a small hill between the town and the sea. It was good to let Owen have a run around without needing to worry about traffic. I also got to do some photography, I was particularly pleased with the photo above, looking past St Nicolas Chapel and the harbour entrance. By the time we got back to Croyde the weather had improved, so we went straight back out to the beach with my Mum. Owen enjoyed more digging and filling his bucket with water from the rock pools. It really was great having the beach a five minute walk from where we were staying meaning that we could just pop down to the beach after whatever we were doing during the day. After dinner, I went back to the beach to try and do some golden hour/sunset photography, however the light was rubbish. I should have listened to my Dad, who had declined to join me – as he thought the light would be rubbish!

Owen was in a funny mood on Tuesday morning, the weather wasn’t great either, so we had a quiet morning. We popped in to Braunton to do some shopping, then I took Owen to the playground. After lunch Mum and Dad walked to Mortehoe. Jen, Owen and I drove there in the car to meet them. Then we all walked down to Morte Point. The walk was about a mile, but as it was over footpaths/parkland we couldn’t take Owen’s pushchair -this would be his first hiking experience! He did better than I expected, I only ended up carrying him for about two thirds of the way. When we got towards the headland the wind was incredibly strong – the back end of Storm Helene was battering the UK. Mum, Jen and Owen held back and looked for seals in the sea, whilst Dad and I continued to the end of the point. It was probably a good job that Owen didn’t go all the way down with us, as Dad and I were getting blown about by the wind and struggling to stay upright – Owen would not have stood a chance of staying on his feet! After all that effort we went to Bllly Budd’s for dinner. The plan had been to get pizzas, but none of us ended up ordering one. I had a massive bowl of nachos with pulled pork, which I struggled to finish! Owen seemed to enjoy his fish fingers, but playing on the playground was his favourite part of the meal. I was impressed that he’d learned to climb up a rope net to get on the slide – he is getting very good at climbing!

Wednesday the 19th September was mine and Jen’s third wedding anniversary – time has shot by! Owen woke himself up coughing before 5:00 – I thought it was going to be an early start, but by the time I got back upstairs with the Calpol, he had fallen back asleep and didn’t wake up until 8:00! Thanks for the anniversary treat Owen! My Mum had offered to look after Owen all day, so Jen and I could have a day out – Jen wanted to visit Dunster Castle, so that’s what we did! I’m not normally a fan of stately homes, but fortunately Dunster Castle is a bit different! The sun was out when we arrived, so we had a walk round the gardens, taking a selfie on the Lover’s Bridge. Then we visited the working water mill, which was milling flour. It was great to be able to not only see the mill working, but be able to clamber around both inside and outside the building to get a closer look at the whole system – from the channels taking water from the stream and over the wheels, to the gearing inside powering a variety of machines, in addition to the milling stones. Naturally we couldn’t leave without buying a bag of the flour we had seen being milled. After the mill we visited the tea room and had my favourite holiday lunch – a Cornish pasty followed by a cream tea! As the weather was now turning, we decided to head inside and check out the castle. First stop wast the crypt, to learn about the life of the servants in Victorian times, and the resident bats. We had hoped to do the Victorian kitchen tour, but it was fully booked – if you’re planning on visiting Dunster Castle, make sure you call at the castle reception and book on as early as possible! Instead we did the self guided tour of the castle, which focussed mostly on its heyday, around 100 years ago. I particularly liked the dining room and adjoining blue 1950’s kitchen with views over the Bristol channel to Wales. When I heard that you could try billiards, I instantly thought of a photo opportunity with Jen looking down the cue and was pretty happy that I was able to pull it off, especially given I am still learning my Fuji camera. It seemed like we had missed the worst of the weather, as back in Croyde Owen and my parents didn’t even make it to the beach – they had to turn round as the wind from Storm Ali was whipping sand into Owen’s face. They went to the playground instead, ironically it was too windy to fly the new kite that Dad had bought Owen. In the evening Jen and I went back to Blue Groove for an anniversary dinner, just the two of us. Both of us had our usual dishes, chilli beef burrito and moules frites.

The weather was rubbish for our last full day in Croyde, after Storm Helene and Storm Ali rained on us we had Storm Bronagh. I’m not sure what we did to deserve three named storms on our holiday week! Dad and I braved the rain and walked to Blue Groove for breakfast and that was it for the morning! The weather hadn’t improved much after lunch, and Owen was in a funny mood, so we decided that there was only one thing for it – soft play. Jen found Quince Honey Farm in South Molton, which sounded more interesting than normal soft play and would give Owen a chance to nap on the drive there. At the honey farm we learned about bees, their hives and tried some different types of honey. When we got to the soft play area we were the only ones there! This meant I didn’t feel too guilty about taking Owen on the big slides etc. Once again he got to show off his climbing skills and graduated from sitting on my lap on the slides to racing me down! We had saved The Thatch for our final evening in Croyde and all had a good meal, making up for the miserable day. Owen was on top form, eating most of his dinner and charming the staff.

Packing the car back up seemed to be quicker than in Coventry and we were on the road fairly early. Even more unusually the traffic past Bristol was fine! There was a bit of traffic on the M5 as we got back to the Midlands, but we were still home by early afternoon. As we were driving back Jen and I reflected on our week and both felt that Croyde had somehow lost its sparkle, it could have been down to the weather, familiarity, staying at the other end of the village to normal, the seeds sown by watching a programme on TV about how Croyde is being ruined by holiday lets earlier in the summer or simply that our needs are different now that we have to think about more than where we are going to go for dinner! We still had a great time, but the chat in the car was more about where are we going to go on holiday next year, rather than what are we going to do when we visit Croyde next year. I’m sure we will be back though, as it is such a special place to us, but maybe next time it will be a romantic weekend away just the two of us…

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!