All The Gear…….

All the gear - landscape photography- FujiFilm X-Pro 1

Having used Canon equipment since the original EOS 600 in 1989 I changed to digital in 2000 with the £1850 3.1 megapixel D30. Since then I have owned and used many Canon digital SLRs including various EOS 1D and 5D models plus 17-35 f/2.8, 16-35 f/4 28-70 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8, 24-105 f/4, 70-200 f/2.8, 300mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4.5 and 600mm f/4 lenses. All the gear in fact!

March 2012 saw the beginning of a torrid 14 month ‘fling’, Nikon D800 was her name and she had huge megapixels, 36 million to be precise! Although there is no doubting the amazing detail of the images, I had massive problems with dust spots (100s!) and oil spatter from the mirror mechanism, my D800 also suffered from softness on the left side of the image due to poor sensor alignment. A lesson learned here is never to buy a new camera on launch day, the badly aligned sensors have been well documented and it took Nikon until the D750 and D850 models to really sort the mirror box mechanism. Unsurprisingly, the D600, D610 and D800 cameras sell cheaply on the used market.

In May 2013 I moved back to Canon with the EOS 6D using various lenses including a 15mm fisheye, 17-40 zoom, 24-105 zoom, 100-400 zoom plus a number of Carl Zeiss, Nikon AI, Olympus Zuiko OM and vintage Tamron prime lenses with suitable adaptor rings. The Canon EOS bodies are great for using old manual focus lenses due to the short distance between the lens mount and the sensor plane of 44mm.

In 2014 I started to shoot film again, for the first time this century! Using a Mamiya 645 Pro TL camera with a selection of Mamiya lenses from 35 to 210mm exposing Kodak Portra 160 and Fujifilm Velvia 50 films. The Mamiya 645 lenses also worked really well on the Canon EOS cameras using a Photodiox adapter that I imported from the USA, superbly sharp with lovely contrast.

Other film cameras used include a 1950 Rolleiflex K4/50 Automat – Fun With Film  – Rolleiflex Automat K4/50, 1967 Hasselblad 500C, Bronica SQ-A, Olympus XA, Contax RTS, 137MA, 139Q, 159MM, 167MT, ST, RTS III & AX, Contax T & T2, Yashica Electro 35 GTN, T4 & Yashica MAT-124G.

From October 2014 I used the FujiFilm X mirrorless camera system, including a X-Pro 2, X-T1, X-E2 and X-E1 cameras plus Samyang 8mm Fisheye, Samyang 12mm, Fujinon 14mm, Fujinon 10-24, Fujinon 18-55, Fujinon 35mm, Fujinon 55-200 and Fujinon 100-400 lenses. The XF10-24mmF4 R OIS made fairly sharp images and nice sunstars but had the terrible 72mm filter thread (try screwing in a 77mm adapter ring in the cold or rain), plus it lets dust in through the gap between the front element and the filter ring. Ultimately it bit the dust when accidentally dropped from a foot or so onto soft grass and snapped in half, a very poorly designed lens and one that I had no desire to replace. The XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR was fairly sharp throughout the range for static subjects and the Optical Image Stabilisation worked well but in continuous autofocus the performance was terrible, it is no coincidence that FujiFilm used the WEC and Le Mans to advertise this lens, huge slab-sided cars are about all it is capable of focusing on. A back-to-back test with the X-T2 and 100-400 and an old Canon EOS 400D camera and the original ‘trombone’ EF 100-400mm lens sealed the fate of the Fujinon XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR…eBay came calling!

2018 saw a brief flirtation with the Sony A7R II, using it purely as a digital back with my collection of superb Carl Zeiss Contax fit manual focus lenses from the 1970s and 80s via lens adaptors. It was a camera I never really ‘clicked’ with, clinical, soulless images often with weird colour shifts, useful features buried deep in never-ending menus, also functions that had been on other cameras for years had to be purchased as expensive ‘PlayMemory’ app downloads (and then not supported at all on newer models) and finally, control dials and buttons that would not look out of place on Fisher-Price toys.

2019 saw a return to FujiFilm and my kit comprised of the FujiFilm X-T2 camera plus the Fujinon XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR, Fujinon XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR (superb cashback and part exchange bonuses over the 2018 Christmas period meant that I got the camera just about for free, update September 2019 – probably just as well given the current price of £599!) and Samyang 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS lenses plus a Heliopan Polariser and a set of 3, 6, 10 and 15 stop Haida neutral density filters. To be honest, apart from a bit more contrast (maybe), the difference between these Fujinon ‘pro red square’ lenses was negligible compared to the ‘standard’ XF lenses. Certainly not the noticeable improvement of a Canon ‘L’ lens over a consumer one. It is widely regarded that the Fujinon ‘standard’ XF lenses are very good, new lenses designed specifically for digital rather than decades old film camera lenses mildly updated. The Fujinon ‘clutch focus ring’ lenses such as the XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR, XF 23mm f1.4 R and the older XF 14mm F2.8 R are probably getting somewhere near the potential for small APS-C sensors, the ‘pro red squares’ are unable to exploit any real world improvements with the elderly Sony derived X-Trans sensors, despite what the MTF charts might say. The XF 16-55 also feels cumbersome to use and balances poorly, even with a battery grip on the X-T2. The XF 50-140 handles like a full frame 70-200 lens BUT its autofocus capabilities are way behind even something like the original Canon EF 70-200 f/4, let alone the f/2.8 or the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS.

Update September 2019
Both the unnecessarily large and heavy Fujinon 16-55 and 50-140 lenses have now gone.
Common sense has prevailed with an easy to carry mirrorless outfit, I am now using the following equipment;
FujiFilm X-T2 – Although the ‘guts’ are the same as the X-Pro 2, this camera just feels cheap and is nowhere near as satisfying to use. Autofocus is worse than the earliest DSLRs from the beginning of the century, apparently good for video though which is all that seems to matter to the manufacturers these days.
FujiFilm X-E1 – The Best Digital Camera Under £150
Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS – Very capable ‘kit’ lens, handling is way better than the bloated 16-55 and optically I couldn’t tell any difference other than the extra 2mm at the wide end. Make sure you get the earlier Japanese made version.
Fujinon XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS – 15 Months with the Fujinon XF 55-200 lens
Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R – The original and the best. Pair this with an X-Pro 1 and you will have a £500 combination capable of producing the most ‘filmlike’ digital images you have ever seen. Like a Leica except you won’t need the sensor replacing after a few years.
Samyang 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS – The only Samyang lens I’ve ever had that gave a decent and consistent performance. Having said that, I’ve had at least 6 of these lenses and only 1 was ever any good, the other 5 all had quality control issues, most often they were decentered (soft on the left or right). Cheap for a reason, lacking in contrast compared to even the cheapest Fujinon lenses plus some weird colour shifts sometimes. Very easy to focus though, infinity is never anywhere near the stop, you basically work out where the hyperfocal distance is for f/2 (astro work) and f/5.6 (daylight images) and mark these points with paint or tape on the focus ring. There is no reason to use any other aperture or focus point or goof about trying to manually focus.

All the gear - landscape photography- Nikon Z7

Gear List Update November 2019
Nikon Z7 – Makes very nice if rather plastic looking, ‘processed’ images, there is so much trickery going on with modern cameras that even RAW files have lots of corrections baked in. A very ugly camera with a ‘Frankenstein forehead’ plus some nasty quirks like the hideously expensive XQD cards and weird terminology in the menus, if you have used Nikons for years it will probably seem ‘normal’ to you. Build quality issues as well, paint started to rub off after a few weeks (I’m possibly the most careful person there is with handling cameras), rubber grips started to go white very quickly, surprising considering the Z7 is made in Japan.
NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S – A very decent lens sharpness and contrast wise, again the camera is doing lots of tricks, handling is awful though with the ridiculous collapsible mechanism and plain stupid 72mm filter size. Pretty good astro performance too, especially when used with a tracker.
Nikon FTZ adaptor – A truly terrible piece of junk that protrudes lower than the bottom of the camera and clashes with almost any tripod mount or L-bracket. Only allows recent Nikkor AF-S, AF-P and AF-I lenses to autofocus and you get none of the Z7 ‘tricks’ with these lenses so the resulting images are disappointing.
NIKKOR AF-S NIKKOR 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR – OK between 200 and 400mm, woeful at 500. In fairness this lens works pretty well with a D500 and OK with a D850 so probably just isn’t suited to the Z series and that hateful FTZ adaptor.
Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC (for night sky and astro photography only)…….and to be honest it was pretty terrible at that!

Gear List Update February 2020
FujiFilm GFX 50R – Why The FujiFilm GFX Didn’t Work For Me
Fujinon GF23mm f/4 R LM WR – A stunner! (Even this wide for best results you need to focus bracket/stack). My sole criticism is that the maximum aperture of f/4 never lets enough light hit the sensor for astro images, even at very high ISO.
Fujinon GF100-200mm f/5.6 R LM OIS WR – Not as sharp as the 23mm but a very good GF zoom, still way better than any full-frame lens.

Gear List Update March 2020
Sony A7R III – Decent enough images but totally lacking in any kind of character, menu system better than previous models but still far too many screens to scroll through, still has Fisher-Price buttons and dials. Not a camera that makes you want to go out and take photographs with.
Sony FE 24-105 f/4 G OSS – Sharp enough but devoid of any other praise.
Zeiss Batis f/2.8/18mm – Didn’t live up to expectations, no real ‘Zeiss look’, felt hollow, plasticky and cheap, OK for astro photography but no better than that.

Gear List Update April 2020
FujiFilm X-Pro 1 – The original and the best. I keep coming back to this camera, although lacking in modern features it just makes great images. There is certainly some ‘magic sauce’ in the first generation of the X-Trans sensor, also used in the X-E1, images are not oversharpened, the highlights don’t blow out, there are smooth graduations between dark and light tones, in short, it looks like film! White balance can be a bit on the blue side but this is easy enough to correct. Made in Japan and it shows. Only real issues with the X-Pro 1 can be dust in the optical viewfinder and delamination of the rear LCD, nowhere near as bad as a year old Sony though!
Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS – Simply the best all-round lens for the FujiFilm X series, I’ve owned 5 of these now over the past few years and never had a duffer. Make sure you get the made in Japan version.

So, what is next?

Frankly, I have no idea!
Without a doubt the FujiFilm GFX 50 is capable of producing sublime images with a ridiculous amount of detail, but for landscapes, only when using the tedious focus bracketing/stacking method. An easy to use intervalometer and a 60 minute maximum (minimum depending on your view!) shutter speed mean there is no need for any external clutter. Maybe the GFX system needs revisiting at some stage in the future, the new firmware updates are enough for most manufacturers to introduce a ‘Mk II’ camera…..

FujiFilm X-Pro 3 or X-T4? Other than the built-in intervalometer and 15 minute shutter speed I see no reason to buy either of these cameras. Too many small pixels squeezed onto a tiny APS-C sensor and 15 frames per second, maybe great for ‘spray and pray’ snappers but of no use for any kind of ‘real’ photography. The X-Pro 3 even has a hidden rear LCD so you can pretend you are shooting film or with a Leica M-D or M10-D. Should you wish to review your X-Pro 3 images on the rear screen it hinges out like the huge air brake on a McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle fighter, almost doubling the height of the camera…genius!

Sony A7R IV? Umm no thanks! Less is more when it comes to pixel density on a sensor and 61 is simply too many ‘megas’. Also, Sony’s lenses continue to grow in size and weight but the A7R body has kept more or less the same form through its 4 iterations, the larger grip of the A7R IV still doesn’t really right with a 70-200 or 100-400mm lens. The rear LCD is also not a patch on the Nikon Z7s screen, the A7R is showing its age in several areas now.

Sony A7S III? Not likely at the £3799 launch price, but if this 12 and a bit megapixel light devouring monster is as capable at high ISO as its predecessors it is probably the gold standard for astro and night sky photography, especially when paired with either the FE 24mm f/1.4 GM or FE 20mm f/1.8 G lenses. This is really a video camera that also takes stills, also features my pet hate – a shutter speed of only 30 seconds…when will they learn?!

Leica M10R? It would appear that only a handful of Leica’s most mega-expensive lenses are actually suitable for this camera to deliver its full potential! At least the shutter speeds go up to 16 minutes though and commendably this is one of the very few cameras available now that only shoots still images, ie. designed to be used to take photographs.

Canon EOS R5? ‘The Game Changer’ so they say? Not for me, the shutter speeds still only go as far as 30 seconds, so completely useless for long exposures and tracked astro photography. This means having to use a cable release and timer or something like a CamRanger and iPad combo….ie. cumbersome and hopeless in the dark. I haven’t tried an R5 yet (had hoped to at the Photography Show in March) but the images I’ve seen, even from some trusted eminent photographers, look ordinary and indistinguishable from say an EOS R or RP. That means there is nothing at all wrong with them BUT compare them to a GFX 50 image and you will see what I mean. Even the Nikon Z7 and Sony A7R III and IV have a bit of that “I was there” 3D look to the images, but not the R5. David Noton mentioned that the R5 is enjoyable to use though and that for me is one of the most important things about any photographic item. If it is a chore to use (Sony A7R series, Nikon Z7 and in some respects the FujiFilm GFX for example) then you are never going to realise your creative potential.

Hasselblad X1D? One of the best looking cameras ever made but still in ‘Guinea Pig’ mode, be nice if they ever get round to finishing it.

Phase One XT? 151 megapixels, integrated camera movements, automated frame averaging, surely this is the ultimate landscape camera system? The downside is the price, to buy the camera, IQ4 digital back and the 4 currently available lenses (2 more are on the way) is more than the total cost all of the cars I’ve ever owned in 40 years of driving……….my recent £25 Premium Bonds win was most welcome but will barely even buy a lens cap for one of the Rodenstock lenses.
Paul Reiffer explains this stunning system in great detail here.

Film? Possibly, fellow Skye resident Marcus McAdam’s excellent Photography Online series has certainly rekindled my interest in shooting film, especially medium format.

All the gear - FujiFilm G617 panorama film camera


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