The other week most of the photographs I took were of mushrooms, both in my local woods, and on bike rides around the city. The first ones, were a mountain of mushrooms in the “fairy village”, I had noticed them on a previous bike ride and thought it would be worth returning with the camera.
Whist photographing the mushroom mountain I noticed a tiny baby mushroom growing out of a log – I needed to use the macro extension tubes to get close enough. It is hard to tell the scale from the photo, but the lush green plants surrounding the mushroom is actually moss. The mushroom was less than one centimetre high.
After I got back from my photo walk in the woods, I went out for a bike ride, taking my X100V along in my rucksack. I am unsure if it is the weather, or if I am more attuned to seeing mushrooms, but they seem to be everywhere in the woods at the moment. The X100V is not the best camera for this type of photography, but it is the best one that easily fits into my bag.
Later on in the week, I went back to the woods with Owen and Henry, Owen was excited to see the mushroom mountain by the fairy village. It was even bigger than when I photographed it. Henry was just happy to be messing about in the woods, but I managed to get him to pose for about three seconds. Unfortunately I was too slow to capture my friends from Godiva Trailriders who rode past us on their Saturday morning ride.
When I switched camera systems to Fuji back in 2018 I thought that my sports photography days were in the past. However, I really enjoyed photographing the British Downhill Series at Llangollen last year, and a few other mountain bike races since. The only problem was that I felt I was being held back by the autofocus on my Fuji X-T2. When Fuji launched the X-H2S camera with a stacked 26 Megapixel sensor and improved autofocus my interest was piqued. Especially as they announced it with a mountain bike video! I did have some reservations, as the camera was aimed at hybrid (stills and video) shooters and hoped that Fuji would have carried over the new technology to the next X-T camera aimed at photographers. Instead, they went for a higher resolution, 40 Megapixel, sensor. My ideal camera would have been the sensor from the X-H2S, in the body of the X-T5, but sadly Fuji have not made that (yet!), so I have to choose between the high resolution stills model, or the fast hybrid camera. Luckily Fuji UK free 48 hour test drives, so I would be able to try both options. I decided to test the X-H2S first and booked the loan in to coincide with the first round of the Racers Guild Winter Series Downhill race at Cannock Chase.
My first reaction on unpacking the camera was that it is a chonky beast – I had not appreciated how much bigger it would be than my X-T2. After failing to attach the supplied strap, I threw on some Peak Design tethers, so I could use my Peak Design Slide strap. The strap lugs on the X-H2S are much better than on the X-T bodies which require metal rings between the camera and strap (or anchor in my case), it is only a minor point, but one that made me warm to the X-H2S. On my lunch break, I quickly dialled in some settings, and went for a walk in my local woods, to try and test the autofocus on some squirrels. I did not have much time, nor were the squirrels cooperating, but I did get a glimpse of what the subject detect autofocus was like. However the first real test was in the evening when Owen was at his karate dojo – Henry and I went to a nearby park. Henry was typically reluctant for photos, but I managed to grab a few shots with my 35mm f1.4 prime lens fitted to the X-H2S. This lens is known to be slow to focus, so I could not come to any conclsions about that, but chasing Henry around the play ground was a good test for the handling of the camera – such as quickly switching to a slow shutter speed for the photo on the roundabout. Upon getting the files in to Lightroom I really liked the Nostalgic Negative film simulation, which is not available on my previous generation Fuji cameras.
The race was on Sunday, but we also had a fun plan for the Saturday – Owen and I were going on a boys mountain bike trip with my friend Partho. The original plan had been a trip to one of the “top ten XC trails” with Partho, which was one of my goals for the year. However, Owen needed to come with us, so it changed to a boys trip to the Forest of Dean to keep the driving time down. Then we realised that there was a big event on there, and plan C formed – a return visit to Sherwood Pines for Owen to try and meet his goal of a 20km bike ride.
We rode the full length of the red-graded “Outlaw” trail, which was not quite long enough for Owen to meet his goal, so we added on another short loop, starting on the blue-graded “Maid Marian” trail, then rejoining the last few sections on the “Outlaw” trail. Before heading out for the second loop, I swapped my hydration pack for my camera bag, to get some shots of Owen and Partho on a new section of the blue trail. I chose a berm, with good lighting, set the X-H2S to 15 frames per second high speed shutter, activated the “bicycle” AI focus mode and called for Owen, and then Partho to drop in. I felt like I got good shots of them both railing the berm, then quickly packed up my bag and chased them down the trail. It felt great to be riding at my pace on a fun section of trail, even if I had a heavy camera bag on my back. As I caught up with the others Partho even managed to get a photo of me airborne over a jump.
We completed the loop, and celebrated Owen achieving his goal with some lovely brownies that Partho had brought with him. The excitement only lasted until we were back at home and I had downloaded the images to Lightroom: none of the eleven frames of Owen were sharp, and only one out of seven of Partho were sharp – the one above. The shutter speed, 1/500th of a second, should have been fast enough, so it could only have been missed focus. Disappointing when I had such high expectations for the autofocus on the X-H2S.
Not feeling fully convinced with the autofocus on the X-H2S, I decided to also take my X-T2 with me to Cannock Chase, just in case it was needed (thankfully, it wasn’t). After walking down the track I found a good corner to shoot from, but again, the AI autofocus was struggling, so I started going back up the track to try a few more angles. For the last few runs of practice I was shooting head on, as the riders came down a long chute – and the AI autofocus was working well. It seemed that it needed to see the rider for a bit before tracking then – maybe this is something that I could have tweaked in the advanced settings, but would need more time with the camera to be sure. Another option would have been to disable the subject detection autofocus and to just use a single focus point, like I would have done on the X-T2, but in the heat of the moment I did not consider that option.
Now knowing how to play to the camera’s strengths, I stayed at the bottom of the chute for the first race runs. The photos were nicely in focus, and I had been able to get a shot of most of the riders. However, they were not what I was hoping for, they were lacking in dynamism, execept for the riders that were jumping.
For the second race, I went back to the first corner I had scoped out. I had come up with a plan to work around the autofocus limitations I had experienced earlier – I would switch the camera to manual focus (I missed the SCM focus switch from the more traditional Fujis) and pre-focus on the exit of the corner. The 15 frames per second burst mode would allow me to pick the sharpest frame. As well as being better for photography, there was more of a party atmosphere at this corner, as it was towards the end of the track, next to the biggest drop. Riders were finishing their runs and gathering around this area to watch the faster racers coming down on their runs. Once again I was reminded just how fun it is to watch mountain bike racing in person, even at a grassroots level, the fact that I was able to photograph it was the icing on the cake!
When I got home, I had some issues importing the files to Lightroom, I do not know if this was a hardware or software issue on my MacBook Pro, or anything to do with the Cfexpress Type B card used in the X-H2s. I tired importing both from the card reader Fuji had sent with the camera, and by connecting the camera directly by USB, but both had issues. It is something that I would need to investigate more in the future, but I would not rule out the camera based on this. As I understand it, the Cfexpress Type B card is part of the reason that then camera is so fast in use, but I thought that it was worth noting the import issues. Otherwise, I was happy with the image quality, it is the quality I would expect from a Fuji X camera.
My preconceptions of the X-H2S were that I would love the autofocus, but hate the handling, I was wrong on both counts. I was underwhelmed by the autofocus, although I expect that with more time, tweaking of the settings and learning how to work with the camera I would be happier with it. Experienced camera reviewers believe that the autofocus on this model is pretty much on a par with Canon and Sony’s high end cameras, so will have to trust them on that. After initially thinking that the camera was huge, I grew to appreciate the size and handling – I even managed to forget to take a camera strap with me to the bike race, so held the camera all day – I am not sure that would have been as doable with my X-T2, which is a much smaller body. I was shooting in shutter priority mode all weekend, but adapted to the different “PASM” controls easily – I thought this would be a deal breaker for me, but I think I could manage.
Although I am yet to try the X-T5, the X-H2 has overtaken it and is now top of my wish list for my next camera. However the reason I use wish list is that there is a big price jump from the X-T5, especially when you consider the need for a Cfexpress Type B card and that there is no “kit” package with the 16-80f4 lens available for the X-H2S. However, my main takeaway from the weekend is that I probably need to prioritise a new telephoto lens, rather than a new camera body. When I bought my Fuji 55-200mm lens I liked the compact size and versatility, but after a few years I am coming into its limitations – the autofocus could be better and I either use it at the wider end or maxed out at 200mm for wildlife, where it is not really long enough. So an upgrade to the Fuji 50-140mm f2.8 lens is in order, and my aspirations for wildlife photography will have to be put on hold. 50-140mm is the Fuji equivalent of the 70-200mm lens that I used on Canon for many years and is the go to focal length for sports photography. So even though my expectations for the weekend went out of the window, I still feel like I have come out of it with some clarity on what camera kit I will purchase next.
I could not make that angle work, partly because I was lower than the riders coming through, and the wide-angle lens on my Fuji X-T2 was struggling to focus. During a break in the racing, I crossed the track, found a better viewpoint above a switchback corner, switched to my telephoto lens and was getting some better images.
I then noticed a better position to shoot the jump I had started at, so walked down the track to that. The angles didn’t quite work for the jump, but I could get a nice clean shot of the riders coming down the chute after the jump, so stuck there until the end of the first runs. The weather was overcast, which was both a blessing and a curse, it meant that there were no strange shadows to deal with, but also that it was pretty dark in the trees. With lots of riders coming straight towards me, I took the opportunity to experiment with some of the different focus modes on my camera but came to the conclusion that placing the smallest focus point where I wanted the rider’s face to be in the frame, then tracking them was getting better results than any of the more “intelligent” focus modes. This is the method I have been using since my motorsport photography days (fifteen years ago!), however, I would like to try the new bicycle tracking mode on the latest Fuji cameras though.
After lunch it seemed like everybody went back up to the top of the hill, so I joined them. This was a bit of a rookie error – as I was the only photographer to do this. All the others seemed to have shot the first race runs from the bottom of the hill, and then come up the hill and got themselves set up with good viewpoints for the second runs. I considered going to the bottom of the hill, but took the lazy option and returned to the switchback I had shot earlier in the day. Lesson learned for next time though!
Concentrating on one corner was a good exercise in getting the best angle and in the end I managed to settle on a “BOGOF” angle – capturing a full rider shot exiting the previous corner (photo above) and then a much tighter image of the rider going through the corner in front of me (photo at the top of this post). I would not normally go for such tightly cropped action images, but I liked how I was able to capture the rider’s expression, even behind a full-face helmet and goggles.
Even though it was “only” a local race, the standard of riding was high – the elite riders looked particularly fast, pedalling everywhere they could, rather than solely relying on gravity. There was also a surprisingly big crowd which meant there was a good atmosphere. Racers Guild has another race at Stile Cop planned for the autumn and I hope I can go because it was a great day out!
I am not a morning person, or should I say, I am not a getting-out-of-bed person. On the rare occasion, I do get up early, I love it. And today was one of those days. The Coventry Photography Meetup group had arranged a sunrise photo walk in the War Memorial Park – starting at 6:00, and as the forecast was due to be nice first thing, I set my alarm clock and joined them. Unfortunately, the weather forecast lied – it was a grey morning, but not quite misty enough to be atmospheric.
The first frame I took was of these daffodils in front of the war memorial, the flowers added a well-needed splash of colour. Moving down towards the skatepark, I switched to my 55-200mm lens, as there are usually plenty of squirrels there. I got a few photos of them, but 200mm is not really long enough for wildlife photography – I feel like it is a good jack-of-all-trades lens, but not really great at anything.
However, when the sun eventually popped out from behind the clouds, my eyes were drawn to the backlit tree at the edge of the park, and the 55-200 was definitely the right lens for the job. To make the image I knew I would just have to wait for someone to walk (or ideally ride their bike!) along the path into the frame. Even better was a jogger, his visible breath showing how cold it was, adding to the story. I knew straight away that this would be my favourite shot of the day (and is the shot at the top of this post). A few minutes later a cyclist rode past but the light had already gone.
I borrowed a Fuji X100V over the Easter weekend, and this was my favourite photo of the weekend, and also my favourite photo of Henry from 2022 – and there were a lot of choose from! I feel like it captures his personality well – he always wants to be dressing up, in this case Jen’s sunglasses from when she was a little girl.
After trying out the X100V, it did not take me long to buy one – the main reason being that I can easily fiti it into my regular hydration pack to bring along on bike rides. It came along with Owen and I when we hit two trail centres on the hottest day of the year. I love the colours on this photo, applying the Fuji “Classic Neg” profile to the raw file faded the background greens and blues out and made the orange on Owen’s jersey pop. The photo also reminds me of a great day out with Owen, and has probably been my most shared photo of the year.
Another great day out was when I photographed the British Downhill Series mountain bike race in Wales. This photo of Ethan Craik (no relation) was my faviourite of the day, as he was on a different line to everyone else (riders right, down the grass). Unfortunately he had a crash further down the track, which was a shame, as he was on course to set a good time. I was pleased to see him placed seventh is the Canadian MTB World Cup round later in the year.
We had a good trip to Staithes in North Yorkshire, staying in our friend’s holiday house – I really need to finish my blog post about it! This is the quintesential Staithes photo, taken from the viewpoint on Cowbar headland. I had taken the same photo earlier in the week, on my X100V, but I felt like the light was better on this one, which was taken on my Fuji X-T2.
Another from the Easter weekend, with the X100V, but everyone loves a sausage dog. This was particularly evident as Partho, Otto and I walked around Birmingham, we had to stop every few minutes as someone wanted to fuss over Otto. This was another photo that brings back memories of a good day. And if you thought Otto is cute – later in the year he got a little brother, Leo. The boys love Partho’s dogs and we spent a lot of time with them in 2022.
We are lucky enough to have some woods at the top of our road, and regularly head up there for a walk – as we did today. I decided to fit my Fuji 35mm f1.4 lens to my X-T2, not a combination I would usually take on one of these walks, as the autofocus is too slow to capture the boys running around. However, I am really pleased with these photos, and am not sure I would have got these with any of my other lenses.
After barely leaving the house the last few days, it was great to get out into the woods. The boys had fun climbing trees, and I even managed to get them to pose for me. On our way back, we met up with Jen on her way back from the hairdresser. It was a lovely way to spend an autumnal afternoon.
Part of the reason I switched camera systems to Fuji back in 2018 was that I wanted a smaller set-up. I thought I had achieved this when I bought the 23mm f2 Fujicron lens. I loved the quality of the lens and found I used it more than the 18-55mm “kit” lens and the 35mm full-frame equivalent quickly became my favourite focal length. However, it was still a “camera bag” camera, rather than a “pocket” camera, which meant I was not taking out as much as would have liked, especially on bike rides. This planted the seed in my mind about getting a Fuji X100V camera (Amazon affiliate link) and seeing the size comparison on camerasize.com convinced me – the camera with lens is smaller than my X-T2 and 23mm f2 lens. To make sure it would be the right decision, I used Fuji UK’s free loan service to borrow one for a weekend. To maximise the loan period I borrowed it over the Easter weekend, meaning I got a four-day loan, instead of two, Fuji also sent the camera a day early, so I had it for even longer.
My first trip out with it was for a bike ride and some street photography in Coventry city centre. I used it an excuse to check out the new Nauls Mill linear park, which is a nice way into the city centre – hopefully they will do a similar job at Spon End, which is our usual route. Photographically the trip was not that successful, but the camera was great – so small and discreet. I just needed to work on my street photography courage. I did get a nice bike portrait though in the revamped tunnel under the ringroad.
On the Saturday, I met my friend Partho, and his trusty hound Otto, for a photo walk around Birmingham. It was liberating only walking around with a tiny camera and as Partho also shoots Fuji I was able to lend him my 23mm f2 lens. As usual, Otto stole the show, we had to keep stopping for people to fuss over him.
I felt like I was getting more confident with street photography, the little X100v certainly helped – I can see why they are so popular. However, my favourite photo from the walk was this lamp. There was so much more to explore in Birmingham, so in the future, I will try to fit in some evening photo walks after I finish work on my office days in Birmingham.
In addition to specific photography excursions I also wanted to see how the X100v fitted into my life as a dad – it had to be good for taking photos of the boys! Of course, it was! The picture quality is better than my X-T2/23mm f2 lens combination, the autofocus is more reliable and it is such a small and portable package. When I am about and about with the boys I can just shove it in a pocket when I need to attend to a little fall or snack request etc. The photo of Henry at the top of this post is one of my favourite photos of the year so far.
The only problem with the X100v is that I cannot buy one anywhere! After trying it out, I had decided I would buy it as a reward for passing my next AWS certification exam (which I hope to take in the next few weeks), but I think that if I find one in stock I just need to buy it! I have alerts set up in loads of places and I am top of the list for one at my local camera shop. It would be great to have it for some trips we have got planned over the summer.
Yesterday was the summer solstice – so I decided to go out for a walk with my camera, with a vague idea of capturing the sun going down for the shortest night. I was walking between Coventry and Balsall Common and could not find an interesting view to the west. However, I did like this shot of a lone tree in the golden light.
Usually, on a warm summer evening, I would be out on my bike, but with my knee still not right after my ride to Hatton, I have been enjoying getting out for walks with my camera instead.
Last weekend I successfully managed to combine my interests in mountain biking and photography with a drive out in my MR2 – the third round of the 2022 British Downhill Series was in Llangollen and I drove over to spectate/photograph.
I started early, and rather than going straight to the race I drove past Llandegla and over the Horseshoe Pass to Llangollen, stopping for breakfast at the Ponderosa Cafe at the top of the pass. Most of the other customers were motorcyclists, but the breakfast was good (and sensibly priced) – somewhere I will be returning to! After breakfast I called in to the Oggie Shop in Llangollen to pick up some Oggies to take home. Oggies are like Cornish pasties, except the filling is organised in layers, rather than mixed together. For over twenty years I have associated Llangollen with Oggies, because of the Oggies Shop, so could not pass without stopping.
When I got to the race I did not know what to expect – would there be five spectators? Or five thousand? it seemed fairly busy, with spectators lining the whole track, but not such that it felt crowded. Spectators could walk up one side of the track, but it was steep and rough! Walking back down the hill at the end of the day, it was actually easier to walk down the track. Whilst the riders were doing their seeding runs, I walked the length of the track and scoped out a few viewpoints to shoot from. I settled on a series of tricky corners towards the top of the track to watch the race runs.
The timing of the race was such that the junior categories came down first, with each category getting faster and watching all of the race runs from the same allowed me to see just how much faster the elite men were. A lot of riders in the lower categories were struggling with the loose, blown-out corners, with some pretty spectacular crashes. However, the top elite riders made it look so easy, I was particularly impressed with Ethan Craik”s (no relation!) sneaky line down the grass, although he crashed later in his run, missing out on what was likely a podium spot.
For me, a real highlight was seeing Steve Peat, a true legend of the sport, returning to racing. He was in the “veterans” class but still put in a good time. It was a good day for his Santa Cruz Syndicate team, as Laurie Greenland won the elite class, setting the fastest time of the day.
Photography-wise, I loved being back out shooting sport, especially as access was much better than when I used to shoot motorsport. However, I did miss my old kit – the autofocus on my Fuji X-T2 and XF-55-200 lens, is no match for my old Canon 1Dmk2 and 70-200f2.8 lens, and I lost quite a few shots dues to them being out of focus. I also found out that one of my batteries has died. I think that there will be some changes in my camera bag in the coming months, as I definitely want to do more MTB race photography going forwards.