September 2018 – A return to FujiFilm, but with what…..???????!!!!!!!

Back to basics with the FujiFilm X-Pro 1.

From January 2018 I was using the following camera and lenses;

  • Sony A7R II
  • Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm f/2.8 MMJ
  • Contax Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 35mm f2.8 MMJ
  • Contax Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f1.4 MMJ
  • Contax Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f1.7 MMJ
  • Contax Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 85mm f2.8 MMJ
  • Contax Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 135mm f2.8 MMJ

In effect I am using the full frame 42mp mirrorless Sony A7R II purely as a digital back with these superb old manual focus lenses from the 1970s, 80s & 90s via various lens adaptors.

Prior to the Sony A7R II I used the FujiFilm X-series system.

I have no regrets at all since changing my D(inosaur) SLR system for the FujiFilm X-series mirrorless cameras and lenses. The image quality is superb, the smaller and lighter equipment is much easier to carry and there are other huge advantages for the landscape photographer such as the electronic viewfinder (EVF), focus peaking and depth of field scale in the EVF. Compared to the X-E1, the newer X-T1 has a much better viewfinder, and now improved autofocus system, but the old ‘XE’ is still an excellent walkabout camera and importantly has the same sensor resolution for consistent image file sizes. The original X-Trans sensor in the X-Pro 1 and X-E1 does however produce a much nicer more ‘organic’ looking JPEG than the over-sharpened files from the X-T1 and X-E2.

The Samyang 12mm lens is optically very good, very cheap and also the fast maximum aperture makes it ideal for night sky and astro photography as does the lack of coma.  Sadly the Fujinon 10-24 is too slow for this with a maximum aperture of f4 but it does render delicious sunstars from the 7 bladed aperture with minimal flare, it is however my least favourite lens as it is too big and very heavily weighted to the front making it unwieldy on FujiFilm X series cameras without the battery grip, the 72mm filter ring is also a real pain in the ‘derriere’, it is VERY easy to cross-thread! There is also a major design fault with this lens, at certain zoom lengths there is a gap between the front element and the surround meaning that sand and dust can just blow straight inside! It also proved to be very weak when my tripod blew over on a cliff top in West Cornwall onto soft grass and the lens literally broke in half! I never replaced it, although this lens made great images I was never happy with the handling. The Fuji 18-55 is way more than a cheap kit lens and gives superb quality images throughout the zoom range, albeit rather soft in the corners at the 55mm end. The similarly inexpensive (compared to SLR lenses) 55-200 is no superfast action lens but is a more than capable optic for intimate landscapes and a very versatile lens to have in the bag, read all about it here.

I considered a travel tripod when I ‘downsized’ to the Fuji X-series system but I have yet to see one that is either tall or sturdy enough for regular coastal work, the Manfrotto MT294C3 is a good compromise between weight and rigidity, I also use an old Vanguard aluminium tripod in windy conditions.

My Heliopan 77mm circular polariser has seen a lot of action and has a lovely brassy patina now that a lot of the black paint has worn off, it is about the only item that I have carried over from my old SLR kit.

You will notice there are no neutral density graduated filters. I did use them initially with the FujiFilm X-series cameras but found that the 100mm hard grad filters were too soft for the APS-C size sensor on the X-T1 and X-E1 and also the Lee Seven5 filters do not cover the whole lens on the 10-24. The simple fact is that the Fuji X-series cameras do not blow the highlights out like a DSLR does and as long as the RAW file is correctly exposed (slightly to the right) there is easily enough information captured without the need for a graduated filter. On the very odd occasions when there is too much contrast to capture in a single file, sunrise or sunset usually when the sun is in the frame, I make 2 or 3 bracketed images 1 or 2 stops apart and blend these together using either Adobe Lightroom’s Photo Merge or manually in Photoshop.

In addition to the polariser I now carry just 3 screw in solid ND filters. Having broken 2 Lee Big Stoppers and a ProGlass ND filter (as well as the bank!) in the past I have abandoned slot in filters and the cumbersome holders that go with them, there is no worry about light leaks using screw in filters for long exposures and as with the rest of my system there is now less to carry and it is lighter too. I was initially sceptical about the Haida filters but after reading a number of reviews online I took the plunge and purchased the set of 3 PROII Slim 77mm screw in 3 stop, 6 stop and 10 stop filters for less than a single Big or Little Stopper. They are made using Schott glass and have very slim aluminium frames meaning that I can stack 2 filters even at 10mm on the 10-24 without vignetting, so in effect I have the option of 3 stop, 6 stop, 9 stop, 10 stop, 13 stop and 16 stop filters from just 3! There is also virtually no colour cast, even when stacked, so I thoroughly recommend these Haida ND filters.

The set of step up rings, 58-77mm, 62-77mm, 67-77mm and 72-77mm means I only have to carry one set of filters and also the large 77mm diameter minimises the chances of any vignetting, often I stack the polariser as well as 2 solid NDs.

My iPhone SE does a great job as a sun position calculator, a tide table, a light meter, a weather station, a map, a navigation device, a torch, a night sky viewer, a camera, an image processor (Snapseed and Hipstamatic)….oh and a telephone as well…