A Winter Walk around a Zoo with the Fuji 35mm f/1.4

I was stunned by her suggestion – I mean, who wouldn’t be surprised by an invitation to spend one’s birthday meandering through a zoo… in New England… in January. Up until that moment, I had never given much thought to the state of a menagerie during winter, but after a few reassuring statements from my sister, we departed for the Roger Williams Park Zoo.

The Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 lens is a piece of glass I owned briefly some eleven months ago. I ultimately sold it for a number of reasons, first and foremost, because I felt that it did not live up to the hype. You know what I’m talking about. Many photographers have spoken highly about the lens, perhaps none more so than Zack Arias, and my assumption was, that I too might experience this so called “magic.” That was not the case. Like many things, my expectations did not line up with reality, and I quickly moved on. Now, a year older, and a little wiser, the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 is back in my bag.

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Wedded to the X-Pro2

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56mm – f/1.2 – 1/550

In order for me to properly shoot a wedding, I need a camera that is capable of these three things (in no particular order). First, it has to be a pleasure to shoot with. If you don’t relish the feeling of the camera in your hands and savor the shooting experience, how are you expected to pay the bills with it? Second, it must have exceptional image quality. It doesn’t matter how many flashy features a camera has if fundamentally the final photograph you’re left with isn’t any good. And third, it has to be a camera that accepts excellent caliber lenses. As I am sure most of you know – glass is key. I am happy to say that after two months of owning the Fujifilm X-Pro 2, all of those boxes have been checked.

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Rethinking Micro Four Thirds

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In the photographic world, bigger is generally accepted as better.  That’s regarding the sensor, of course.  Larger formats, such as the forthcoming Fujifilm medium format camera system, will yield better results than the 35mm full frame sensor which beats out an APS-C cropped sensor which exceeds a micro four thirds one which is better than a compact camera sensor which…

Sure.  Most imaging tests will bear this out.  Bigger sensors allow for better light gathering ability and, simply put, that translates.  If you make your money on producing big prints and someone can clearly recognize these advantages, you’d be a fool to not shoot with the largest sized sensor either you can afford or carry (bigger sensor generally means bigger and heavier bodies and lenses and that can be an important practical consideration).

But then there are the smaller sensor apologists who shoot with, let’s say micro four thirds bodies, and who contend that you can get professional results just the same with those systems.  Good technique, better than average lenses and sound processing technique can go a long way to closing the gap with bigger sensors.  Oh, and the sensor keep improving all the time, blah blah blah.  It’s worth pointing out that a goodly number of those apologists are sponsored by the camera companies and so you’d be wise to take what they say with a grain of salt.

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Fujifilm X-T2 Goes to Abu Dhabi and Dubai

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I had no idea whether I would even have 10 minutes to photograph while in the United Arab Emirates given that this was a business trip and my itinerary was laid out carefully and well in advance.  Still though, you don’t get over to places like Abu Dhabi and Dubai without a camera of some type, so I grabbed the Fujifilm X-T2 and two lenses: the 14mm and 23mm (21mm and 35mm equivalents).  Note that the 23 was the 1.4 version, not the 2.0 one.  My primary objective was to have a small and light yet highly capable kit with me at all times and certainly one that would not interfere with my primary task, that being the business meetings I was there for.

Well, photographic opportunity did knock twice.  Before dinner one evening, I had a chance to walk around the stunning Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi for about an hour and then on my last day, after the business objectives had been conquered, I took a quick stroll around the Spice Souk market and port area in what is called Old Dubai.

I have been shooting nearly exclusively with the fine Fujifilm X-Pro2 over the past several months and so this was an opportunity to test its top of the line sibling, the X-T2.  Under the hood, these are essentially the same camera though the X-T2 allows for customization of autofocus tracking and limited 4k video shooting (shorter bursts unless you equip it with a battery grip).  The sensor is the same as the X-Pro2 which can reportedly shoot 4k as well but heat dissipation issues precluded it from the final version.  I have always found the HD video of the X-Pro2 to be excellent and so I’ve never missed not having 4k.

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Ten Reasons Why I Photograph

Perhaps it is because the year now draws to a close and the skies grow more ashen.

Perhaps it is because I’m in a more self-reflective state these days given the declining health of loved ones.

Or perhaps it is simply because I have been asked this more than once and have never felt as though I offered a complete or compelling enough response.

So… here are the reasons I photograph.  There are ten of them altogether.

I begin by noting with vigor one of the reasons I do not photograph and that is to make money, to put food on the table, to advance a career.  My means of sustaining myself and my family lies elsewhere and so photography is diversion, relief only.  I have had moments when the thought did cross my mind… but I’ve suppressed the instinct, declined the opportunity to let it fester.  Why?  Because I have always feared the loss of respite… and so I’ve protected it.

Why then do I photograph?

1. It helps me see.

Family, job, volunteer activities, plus an active Walter Mitty imagination.  That’s me.  I can get up into my own head and travel through space and time without actually seeing anything.  My visual acuity is sufficient enough to allow me to operate a car, traverse through busy city streets, accomplish all of the necessary activities of daily living, but rarely do I notice, rarely do I truly see.

When I am carrying a camera, I look through the viewfinder or onto the back LCD screen and observe, carefully so.  I notice contrasts, vivid colors, the textures within shadows, the places where light illuminates or washes over detail.  I notice.  Photography does that to me, even if I never press down on the shutter button.

2. It affixes me to a moment.

My mind wanders to points on the distant shore.  I don’t profess to be particularly adept at it, but I constantly consider chess moves on the board in front of me, thinking through implication and consequence, action or its opposite.  When I lift a camera to my eye, not only do I see but my mind ceases all forms of time travel.  I plant myself in a particular moment and after I observe, I exhale and then I just simply am.

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Chasing Waterfalls… or, My Dalliance with a Full Frame Nikon DSLR

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Cue up ’90s hit “Waterfalls” by TLC.  Or if you’re a bit older, ’80s breakthrough chart topper “Tempted” by Squeeze.  In addition to being two fantastic sing-a-longs, they were both on my mind yesterday as I drove from Eastern Massachusetts out toward the Berkshires in pursuit of waterfalls.  I had four of them in mind: Glendale, Campbell, Race Point and Bish Bash.  It was to be a long day of driving, hiking and shooting.  As such, I was on the road a few minutes before 5AM and parked at the drive-through of our local Starbucks while they were still turning the lights on.  And so… off I went.  But this time, there was something markedly different.

I’m a proponent of mirrorless camera kits for all the traditional and obvious reasons: lighter weight, smaller size, more technical gee-whizardry.  A long time Nikon DSLR shooter, I was happy to abandon the heavier weight as I’ve matured (aged) and… until now, have not looked back.  My camera mount of choice is Fujifilm X having shot extensively with an X-T1 and more recently with the superb X-Pro2.  The sublime X100 was my entree point.

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