If you want to test your photography skills while having a bit of fun, then ePHOTOzine’s weekly photo challenges over in the forum will be right up your street.
Those who visit/read the forums regularly may have seen the weekly challenge threads popping up but if you only read our reviews or peruse the gallery, it could be a whole lot of fun you’re missing out on.
Each week, there are two friendly challenge threads; Sunday is the ‘Macro’ photography challenge while Wednesday is ‘Black and White’ themed. There are no prizes, as much, but the winner does get the opportunity to set and judge the following week’s challenges.
To take part, all you have to do is get an entry in by the closing time of 8 pm on the day the challenge is taking place. Results are published around 8-10 pm on the same day so you’ll need to be available at that time to judge or check if you’ve won the honour of setting the next challenge (this goes live the following day but a great degree of allowance is included for international participants.)
It’s all good-humoured and entertaining and these challenges are a great way to make you capture images outside of your usual favourite style/genre. They’re also a great way to interact and meet fellow photography fans as you can chat in the forums.
To take part and to learn more, click the button below.
As you progress in landscape photography, you might find yourself wondering how others get everything in focus within their images. In this article series and video, I’ll go over how to focus stack while in the field and what to do once you sit down to process your images.
Focus stacking could be considered a more advanced technique within photography, but many times, it’s not all that difficult to accomplish. Within this article, we’ll go over what I consider to be a more complicated edit than your standard focus stack, but I will include resources at the end for other types you might encounter. Focus stacking is relatively the same in execution, but you might find different challenges depending on the image you’re trying to create. Here are a few I’ve personally dealt with:
Gradual focus shift: This is what you’ll encounter the majority of the time in landscape photography. Imagine you’re shooting with a wide angle lens in portrait orientation. You’re placed relatively close to your foreground subject, but you’d also like to have the background in focus. The focal plane from the bottom of the composition to the top moves gradually as the distance of subjects moves farther away from the lens. This is typically the easiest type of focus stack to edit together.
Large focus shift: The composition includes foreground elements with a large distance between the background. This large distance causes a big shift in focus between your foreground and background that is difficult to blend together. This is the type of focus stack we’ll be editing within this two-part series. The biggest challenge is getting a cohesive edge between your elements that looks natural.
Object separation: This is typically a mix of the above two scenarios. Imagine you’re taking the same shot as the gradual focal plane example, but it’s of a tree with many branches sticking out in the composition. This causes large separations of focus between branches and background and can be extremely challenging to edit, but there are options to make our lives easier.
Understanding that you’ll encounter different types of focus stacks is important, and I highly recommend starting out by trying to find a composition similar to the one described in the gradual focus shift to get your feet wet. Speaking of, let’s get our feet wet and jump into what you’ll need to do in the field.
In the Field
As with many techniques in landscape photography, you’ll definitely need a tripod and access to either a cable release or a self-timer on your camera. Unlike exposure bracketing, you can’t really get away with a quick handheld focus stack, as you’ll be shifting the focus between each image yourself. As for your in-camera settings, it will vary depending on your model and camera. That said, you’ll want to shoot at the lowest ISO your camera will go, an aperture between f/8 and f/16, and your shutter speed shouldn’t matter as long as you’re on a tripod and there isn’t anything moving in your composition. You might need to adjust your ISO accordingly if you need a faster shutter speed to capture something moving, like flowers.
You might be wondering why I don’t strictly recommend f/16 as your aperture to get as much in focus as possible in a single shot. Every lens has a sweet spot at where it is the sharpest and that typically falls within the range I recommended. If this isn’t something you know, just stick with f/11 and you’ll probably never notice the difference.
How Many Shots Do You need?
Once you have your composition set up and you’re ready to start taking photos, the biggest question you’ll encounter is just how many shots you need to take. Data is inexpensive, so you can never take too many focal points, but sometimes, you might end up taking so many that you overwhelm yourself in editing. The best way to decide roughly how many points you need is to focus on your foreground subject, whatever the closest object you want in focus is. While using live view on the back of your camera, you should have a magnification tool to zoom into the image. Once you have zoomed in, navigate through your image to where the focus starts to visibly fall off and refocus to that point and take a shot. Continue to do this through your image, mentally noting where you shifted focus while taking shots through the process.
The shots you just took likely won’t be the images you use to do a final edit because there may be too much time in between causing shifts in light, but it’s good to take them to refer back to. What is important is knowing a rough estimate of where you shifted focus and how many points you’ll need. Once you know this, you can go back through your image quickly with very little time in between shots to help prevent any changes in your environment.
The example we’re using throughout this tutorial could have used an extra focal point. Actually, it could have used three more if I wanted to get every single element in focus. I wanted to take as few images as possible to get the edit as simple as I could, but in the end, I should have taken at least one more image, which you’ll see in greater detail in part two of this tutorial once we get into edit the image.
All that’s left to do is take your photos. I’m assuming most readers here have a camera that has autofocus and live view, but it’s entirely possible you might be using a manual focus lens. If you’re using an autofocus setup, all you’ll need to do is navigate through your image by either touching to focus on live view or moving the focal point with your camera’s controls if you don’t have a touch screen. Do this as quickly as possible through your image, as sudden light shifts can make blending much more difficult.
If you’re shooting with manual focus, you’ll just need to use the magnification tool in live view and move through the image just like you did when you were finding all your focal points in the step above while manually focusing on each point. Keep in mind because you’ll be touching the lens, you might have more movement between images, which can be even more exaggerated at longer focal lengths. Do your best to shift focus without moving the framing of the shot.
That wraps up what you’ll need to do in the field to capture a focus stack. Thankfully, no matter what type of image you’re trying to focus stack, the methods in the field remain the same. Post-processing is where you’ll encounter different obstacles, as you’ll see in part two of this tutorial.
I’d love to know if you have any other tips when you’re in the field, taking images you plan on stacking later on. Or, simply share the images you’ve already captured. As always, thanks for reading, and be on the lookout for part two of this tutorial next week!
This was promised for yesterday, but other things cropped up. Life getting in the way of the important stuff! To recap, I suggested that practice was the way forward with images of wildlife and in particular with birds. So, a few years or so after the first batch of images, have my pictures of birds got worse, stayed the same or got better? You can let me know, please do! This batch are from the last year or two, as even this year Coronavirus hasn’t stopped birds flying, only silver ones.
Lenses as before, usually a 75-300mm fairly inexpensive zoom lens on full frame. It’s all enjoyable though, even freezing in the winter in some draughty hide has its compensations.
Welcome to the second part of our major accessory round-up, this time focussing on higher price points, and including a wide range of tripods, printers and other essentials.
Essential Film Holder Kit, £90 If you regularly shoot film with the intention of digitising it, or have a load of old slides and negatives that you’d like to copy, this simple but effective film holder might be a godsend. It’s designed to hold 35mm negatives or 120 roll film above a lightbox for copying using a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a macro lens. It makes light work of copying strips of negatives, and is very much faster than using a scanner. A holder for 35mm slides is an optional extra.
Vanguard VEO 2S AM-264TR, £80 This has a different design to most other monopods, with three foldable legs at the base that are designed to provide a tri-stand platform. They’re linked to the four-section aluminium-alloy leg via a ball joint that allows smooth panning and tilting motions. With an extended height of 1,630mm, a folded length of 565mm and a maximum load capacity of 6kg, it’s about as feature-packed as monopods get for under £100. It even includes a smartphone mount.
Kaiser Slimlite Plano 22x16cm, £91 Lightboxes are essential to film users for examining and digitising negatives and slides, but they can also be used creatively as light sources. LED technology means that they’re no longer the bulky devices of yore, with this example being just 8mm thick. Unlike cheaper devices, it has a built-in rechargeable battery, a daylight-balanced colour temperature of 5000K and a high CRI rating of 95 for accurate colour.
Metz M360 flashgun, £99 If you’re after a great entry-level flash unit, look no further. Weighing just 190g, the M360 is extremely compact and easy to use. But with a guide number of 36 at ISO 100, it’s surprisingly powerful for its size. Features include a power zoom head, a swivelling reflector with an extendable reflector and an integrated wide angle diffuser. Powered by two AA batteries, it’s available in Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Sony and Olympus/Panasonic/Leica versions.NiSi NM-180 Macro Focusing Rail, £105 For close-up shooting, macro rails allow you to reposition your camera precisely, without having to move your tripod. The NiSi NM-180 is probably the best you can buy right now, providing super-smooth and precise adjustment through an 11cm range. It’s fully compatible with the Arca Swiss quick-release system, with a camera clamp that can rotate through 360°, and even comes with a set of feet for desktop use.
Fujifilm Instax Mini Link, £110 There’s a lot to be said for making small prints to carry in your wallet or give away, and this is where Fujifilm’s Instax Mini Link excels. Powered by a built-in rechargeable battery, it connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth and is controlled using an attractively designed and intuitive app. It’s small enough to slip into a coat pocket or bag, and most importantly, delivers gorgeous little prints on Instax Mini film, with fine detail and vivid colour.
Formatt Hitech Firecrest 85mm Starter Kit, £119 A decent filter set-up is essential for serious landscape photography. But while 100mm-wide systems are widely recommended, they can be overkill for photographers who don’t use ultra-wideangle lenses. Formatt Hitech’s latest 85mm system offers plenty of high-end features at a more affordable price, including geared adjustment of a polariser from behind the camera. The kit contains all you need to get started, including a 77mm polariser and adapters for lenses with 58mm to 77mm threads.
Vanguard Veo Select 49, £119 If you’re forever trying to choose between a shoulder bag or a backpack for carrying your kit, then this cleverly designed bag might just be the answer. It comes with both a backpack harness and a shoulder strap, and can be switched between the two carrying modes quickly and easily. There’s room for one or two cameras and 3-5 extra lenses inside its spacious interior, along with a separate compartment for a 15in laptop and a tablet. Smaller and cheaper variants are also available, with all models coming in a choice of green or black.
Lowepro PhotoStream RL 150, £139 A roller case is a great option when you need to travel with a large amount of kit. The Lowepro PhotoStream RL 150 features an armoured exterior and a flexible interior to protect your valuable gear in transit. Its streamlined design makes it carry-on compatible and it’s large enough to accommodate one or two DSLRs with a 70-200mm f/2.8 attached, plus up to eight additional lenses. A tripod can also be strapped on the side. The construction and materials are second to none, so it should survive many years of heavy use.
Manfrotto Advanced2 Travel Backpack, £142.99 This versatile backpack can swallow an impressive amount of kit, while providing convenient access on the go thanks to its side-opening design. It’s large enough to accept a full-frame DSLR with a vertical grip and 70-200mm f/2.8 lens attached, along with at least three more lenses. There’s also space in the padded back compartment for a 10in tablet and laptop up to 15in. But the standout feature is a clever full-height side pocket that can hold a compact travel tripod. WD MyPassport Wireless Pro, £150-£240 This handy device lets you back up your pictures from your camera to its internal hard disc without the need for a computer. Simply pop your SD card into its built-in reader, and press the copy button. A USB 2.0 port means you can also back up Compact Flash, CFexpress or XQD cards using plug-in readers. Its hefty 6400mAH rechargeable battery will last for hours, and it can even be used as a power bank to top up your other devices. It comes in capacities from 1TB to 4TB.
Sirui Traveler Ultralight T-025SK with B-00 Head, £155 This fantastic travel tripod provides impressive stability given its diminutive dimensions. It folds down to just 32cm and weighs less than 1kg, yet extends to 128cm thanks to its five-section carbon fibre legs. The two-section centre column is removable to enable low-level shooting. The superb ball head employs an Arca Swiss-type quick release and enables precise camera positioning. While it’s best suited to mirrorless cameras or smaller DSLRs, it’ll support a surprisingly substantial load.
Nissin i40, £160 A compact flashgun that’s designed for use with mirrorless cameras, the i40 stands out for its high specification, compact size and ease of use. Its auto-zoom head covers a 24-105mm equivalent range, and there’s a 16mm slide-out wide panel. With a powerful output that belies its size, built-in LED video light, and support for advanced functions such as wireless flash control and high-speed sync, it’s available for Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Sony and Micro Four Thirds cameras.
Datacolor Spyder X Pro, £99 If you’re a serious photographer who likes to manipulate your images on a computer before printing or sharing them online, then you need to be sure that your monitor is showing colours accurately. Datacolor has designed the Spyder X to calibrate your display faster than ever before, with the whole process taking about two minutes to complete. For the majority of photographers the more affordable Pro package will probably make the most sense.
Benro 3-way Geared Head GD3WH, £179 For photographers who demand precise control of composition, a geared head can be a godsend. Benro’s GD3WH is a relatively lightweight, portable and precise example that incorporates an Arca Swiss-type quick release. Three large control knobs, one for each axis of movement, drive the camera directly in the corresponding direction. With its sturdy magnesium alloy construction, it’s rated for a 6kg load.
Gitzo Adventury 30L, £189 This sizeable backpack can accommodate pro-spec DSLRs and mirrorless cameras with a 70-200mm lens attached and a second body plus up to four lenses. In addition, its expandable roll top provides plenty of space for personal items, while a pair of padded compartments will hold a tablet and 13in laptop. Most importantly it feels comfortable to wear when fully loaded and offers first-class protection for your expensive kit on the move.
Kase Wolverine Magnetic Circular Filters Kits, £220-£395 In a brilliant re-imagining of how filters should work, these kits include circular polarising, 3-stop and 6-stop neutral density filters that snap magnetically onto adapters that screw onto your lens. This considerably speeds up the process of using filters. Kits are available in 77mm and 82mm sizes, with adapter rings available in all sizes from 49mm upwards for £12 each. The Pro kit adds a 10-stop neutral density filter.
Manfrotto 190 Go! MT190GOC4, £224 For photographers in need of a sturdy yet versatile tripod, Manfrotto’s 190 Go is difficult to beat. With 4-section twist-lock carbon fibre legs that can each be set to four different angles, it achieves a maximum height of 147cm while folding down to 45cm, and weighs 1.35kg. But its party trick is a centre column that can be flipped from vertical to horizontal, allowing overhead or low-level shooting.
Epson Expression Photo XP-970, £229 This impressive multifunctional unit provides A3 printing ability while retaining a compact footprint. Along with a conventional USB connection, it can print over Wi-Fi from a laptop, phone or tablet, or directly from an SD card or USB stick, controlled using the excellent 10.9cm colour LCD touchscreen. Other handy features include a 4800 DPI A4 scanner and double-sided document printing. Keen photographers in need of a compact but high-quality all-in-one printer need look no further.
Billingham Hadley Pro 2020, £239 The latest model in an iconic line of British-made satchel-style bags includes some nice updates, including a detachable shoulder strap and a strap on the back that allows it to be slipped over the handle of a suitcase. It’s impeccably constructed from premium materials, including Billingham’s signature waterproof triple-layer canvas, and is available in a variety of colours including a fetching new navy blue and chocolate leather combination. It’s pricey, but will last for decades. Smaller and larger variants are also available. X-Rite i1Studio, £349 This kit enables photographers to adopt a completely colour-managed workflow, from capture through display to print. It allows you to profile the colour characteristics of cameras and scanners when recording images, of monitors and projectors when displaying them, and of printers when outputting your finished work. It works with both Mac and Windows computers, and crucially gives really good results. It’s a great tool for any photographer looking to take complete control over their colour management.
Gitzo GK1555T-82TQD Traveler Tripod Kit, £549 This superb travel tripod features 5-section, dual-angle carbon fibre legs that reverse fold around the head, providing a compact folded length of 35.5cm while extending to a maximum height of 148.5cm. The twist lock legs include O-ring seals to stop sand or grit from getting in, and the rubber feet can be replaced with optional spikes. A short centre column is included for low-angle work, along with a handy carry-strap. It’s superbly made and easily capable of supporting a full-frame DSLR.
Epson FastFoto FF-680W, £549 If you have a box full of prints that you really ought to digitise, this might just be the answer. It takes up little space on a desk but can batch scan up to 30 photos of varying sizes in as little as 30 seconds. It can also crop, rotate and straighten, boost colour and contrast, remove redeye and even scan any handwritten notes on the back. It’s super-simple to use, and can be controlled using either a USB or Wi-Fi connection. It’s a transformative piece of hardware and the more prints you have to digitise, the more of a bargain it becomes
However good your camera or lens, quality accessories are also a really important part of the photographic equation. Here are our top 50 favourite accessories for a range of budgets – you may find some items are further discounted as part of Black Friday week deals. With Christmas coming up, accessories can make great stocking fillers too, or a well-deserved present your yourself. Here is part one, with accessories ranging from £7 to and £76. we will be running part two tomorrow.
NiSi Clever Cleaner for square filters, £7 If you’re a regular user of square filters, you’ll know how it easy it is to get them covered in fingerprints from sliding them into the holder and removing them after use. This handy device springs open to reveal a rectangular felt cleaning pad, to help keep their surfaces clean and in perfect condition. Packed up it measures just 8x4x1.5cm, so will slip easily into a pocket in your bag.
Spudz Microfibre lens cloths, from £8 These high-quality microfibre lens cloths are available in a large range of patterns and sizes. The cloth is attached inside a small neoprene pouch that comes complete with its own hook for attaching it to a zipper in your camera bag. Well suited to cleaning lenses, they’re also great for sunglasses and LCD screens, and can be refreshed by washing in mild detergent. The smallest 6x6in examples start from £8, while 10x10in cloths are around £14.
Think Tank CF/SD + Battery Wallet, £9 Keep your camera refuelled and ready for action with this handy dual-purpose pouch. On one side there’s a pocket that will hold most types of camera battery, while on the other you’ll find a clear slip pocket for a spare memory card that’ll hold SD, Compact Flash or CFexpress. It also sports a handy loop for attaching it to a bag or strap using a carabiner. Olympus E-M1 series users should note that the BLH-1 battery won’t fit.
Eneloop Pro rechargeable batteries, £14 (pack of 4) Fed up of having to buy packs of fresh batteries for your flashgun, triggers or other photo equipment? Eneloop Pro batteries are ideal for devices with high power consumption and can be recharged up to 500 times – great for protecting both your wallet and the environment. Available in AA and AAA sizes, they’re known for their low self-discharge rate and can be topped up using a standard NiMH battery charger.
Canon Remote Switch RS-60E3, £15 You might wonder why we’re highlighting a remote release that’s been on the market for 30 years. But with many manufacturers now adopting the same 2.5mm connector, it’ll fit a surprising number of cameras, not only from Canon but also Fujifilm, Olympus and Pentax too, including many of this year’s top models. It’s small and cheap, and the cable is designed to wrap neatly around the unit when it’s not in use.
OpTech Envy Strap, £15 Ignore the ridiculous name: owning this strap probably won’t make you the envy of your fellow photographers, but it might just make your neck and shoulders happier. It features a non-stretch design with generous memory foam padding, which means it’s extremely comfortable to wear for extended periods. Its low-profile design is ideally suited to the latest enthusiast-focused mirrorless cameras. The neck pad can even be unclipped to allow use as a hand strap.
Camera cufflinks, £13.29 Look sharp and express your appreciation for cameras from the past with a pair of smart camera cufflinks. We’re partial to these TLR-shaped designs from Onyx Arts, but others are available celebrating SLRs, rangefinders or even old 35mm films. You can also get some natty camera badges.
VSGO Imp, £13.50 Bulb air blowers are invaluable for keeping your camera’s sensor clean of dust, which will otherwise leave unslightly blobs on your images. This 10cm tall version counts as a particularly fine example, thanks to a range of unusual features. Firstly it filters the air that it draws into the bulb, and the filter can be easily removed for cleaning. It also employs a soft silicone tip, rather than plastic or metal, so it shouldn’t damage your sensor. A weighted base means that it always stands upright, which also helps keep the tip clean.
F-stop Gear Dyota Ag+ Ion Mask, £19.50 The coronavirus pandemic has turned life on its head this year, but it’s now clear that wearing a mask is one of the best tools we have for reducing transmission. The Dyota mask from camera bag maker F-stop Gear is a cut above most others you can buy. It employs a triple-layer construction with a water-repellent outer, dense non-woven middle layer and soft liner, making it unusually comfortable to wear for extended shoots. It’s available in a choice of three sizes and eight colours. SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO UHS-I SDXC Card, £24 With high-speed UHS-II SD memory cards becoming more popular, there are some great deals to be found on older UHS-I versions. If you’re after a reliable SD card, but your camera doesn’t support UHS-II, or you’re not worried about shooting long, fast bursts or 4K video, then you can’t go wrong with SanDisk’s 64GB Extreme PRO UHS-I SDXC card. It offers a write speed of up to 90MB/s and read speed of 170MB/s. It’s also available in larger capacities all the way up to 1TB.
Pixel Oppilas RW-221, £25 If you’d like to be able to fire your camera wirelessly from a distance, for example when wanting to include yourself in the shot, this simple radio-frequency unit will do the job with the minimum of fuss, operating over ranges of up to 100m. Both the transmitter and the receiver run off pairs of AAA batteries, with single-shot, continuous, timer and bulb modes available. If necessary, it will also work as a short wired release. It employs interchangeable release cables and is available for almost any brand of camera.
Hoya Ultra-Pro Circular Polariser, £27-£179 Hoya’s premium range of circular polarisers is available in 13 sizes from 37mm to 82mm. These filters boast the toughest glass and use 16 layers of anti-reflective coatings to provide excellent light transmission. They’re also designed to repel water and oil while being scratch and stain resistant. An ultra-thin aluminium frame prevents vignetting when used with wideangle lenses. If you’re on a tighter budget, it’s worth looking at Hoya’s more affordable NX-10 range.
Think Tank Emergency Rain Cover, £30-£55 There’s a lot to be said for having a camera cover that you can pull from your bag to protect your gear in a sudden downpour. This example is designed to fit DSLR or mirrorless cameras and is available in three sizes to accommodate a wide range of lenses. It features a large window to view your camera’s screen and controls and compresses down into a compact carrying pouch for convenience.
Benro Arca Smart 70, £40 This clever dual-purpose device can act as either an Arca Swiss-type quick-release plate for your camera, or as a clamp for holding your smartphone on a tripod. With a neat folding design, it’ll securely hold phones from 5.5cm to 9cm in width, which covers pretty much any sensibly-sized device. It even has a miniature cold-shoe for attaching a small video light or microphone. Fold the clip down and you get a 7cm-long camera plate.
NiSi Compact Filter Kits, £42-£85 Users of compact cameras have rarely had the option to use filters creatively, so it’s great to see NiSi address this with a specially tailored and inexpensive range of kits. They’re available for Fujifilm X100-series cameras, the Sony RX100 VI or VII, and the Ricoh GR, GR II and GR III. The starter kit includes a holder, polariser and Neutral Density gradient filter for just £42, while the Pro kit adds Neutral Density and Natural Night filters for a £11 premium.
RØDE VideoMicro, £55 RØDE is well known for its high-end microphones. Its VideoMicro is a directional microphone that primarily picks up sounds from in front of the camera, and is designed to match small mirrorless cameras. It’s short and light, at 8cm and 42g, thanks to its use of ‘plug-in power’ that’s supplied by most cameras, rather than an internal battery. It’s supplied with a Rycote mount to suppress any handling noises, along with a large furry windshield.
Wacom Intuos Small, £69 If you spend a lot of time editing your images and want to take more precise control of the cursor, a graphics tablet can be an invaluable accessory. This entry-level model provides a battery-free pressure-sensitive pen and represents amazing value for money.
Mophie Powerstation XXL, £70 With most cameras now capable of charging their batteries via USB, a portable charger can be really useful for making sure you don’t run out of juice. This hefty example packs a 20,000mAH capacity, which should be sufficient to recharge most camera batteries ten times, and can charge three devices at once.
Novo Mantis T3 tripod, £70 Small tripods can be really useful for low-level macro shooting, or when you simply don’t want the inconvenience of carrying around a full-size set of sticks. This latest model from Novo weighs just 500g and folds down to 21.5cm, but thanks to its 2-section carbon-fibre legs can reach a height of 27cm. It pairs perfectly with the MBH-25 ball head (£60), while the optional ET25 extender column can add another 35cm height for £30.
Hähnel ProCube2, £70 This dual battery charger is built around a sturdy metal shell, with interchangeable clip-in plates that each accept a pair of batteries. A backlit LCD display on the front helpfully shows how much charge has been fed into each battery, while an in-car adapter makes it easy to top up your batteries when you’re on the road. It even has a high-power 2.4A USB output for charging phones or tablets once the camera batteries are full. It’s available for Canon, Olympus, Nikon, Sony, Panasonic and Fujifilm batteriesPixel G1S RGB LED light, £70 LED lights have progressed remarkably quickly over the past few years. This smartphone-sized unit offers an adjustable colour temperature over a huge 2500-8500K range, but can also output coloured light covering the entire spectrum. Its powerful rechargeable battery promises 2.5 hours of use, while a folding arm support allows it to be positioned either above the lens, or off to one side revealing a cold shoe for a microphone. It even offers an array of special-effects lighting modes.
Cullmann Rondo 460M RB8.5, £71 If you want a fully featured tripod kit on a budget, this is a great choice. Four-section aluminium legs deliver a maximum height of 159.5cm, while packing down to 43.5cm. It’s rated to support a 4kg load, weighs 1.46kg, and one leg can be detached and combined with the centre column to form a monopod. The head adjusts smoothly and locks down without shifting, while the legs are remarkably stable, even with the column extended. Vanguard Veo Range 36M, £74 This might look like just another traditionally styled canvas bag, but it stands out for its sheer versatility. Thanks to a full-width fold-down horizontal divider, it allows a travel tripod up to 33cm long to be carried internally, with enough space above for a compact mirrorless kit. Alternatively, the bag can be reconfigured to carry a larger DSLR setup, with a tripod strapped on front. There’s also space for a 13in laptop, while a pair of foldaway end pockets can accept a water bottle or umbrella. BlackRapid Delta Camera Sling, £75 Cross-body sling straps are the most comfortable way of carrying a camera while providing instant access for shooting. BlackRapid leads this field, with its Delta model sporting a large shoulder pad with a symmetric profile that works equally well over either shoulder. The camera connector screws into the tripod socket and attaches to the strap via a carabiner, with a secondary tether provided to give additional peace of mind.
Vallerret Markhof Pro2 Photography Gloves, £76 While you can use any gloves you like when out taking pictures, if you find yourself shooting in cold winter conditions there’s a lot to be said for specialist ones that let you use your camera’s controls easily while keeping your hands warm. These superb gloves boast magnetically secured fold-back tips for your thumb and forefinger, along with non-slip grips. The water-resistant shell is complemented by a comfortable Merino Wool liner and a warm Thinsulate mid-layer.
Yesterday, I spent an hour in a Zoom meeting taking remote pictures of Vampire Princess: it worked rather well, I think. Its important that she is techie-minded, and understands what shes doing with the Zoom link, so that I didnt really need to. Because shed shot remotely before, she was right on top of her technology, and had her Canon camera linked to her computer: all the controls were available on my screen, and I was able to adjust the camera with the aid of my mouse.
Yes, theres a delay with everything, but with a good model like Kay it isnt a big issue. And the delay isnt great, in reality. Most people dont shoot terribly fast, in any case More thought, fewer frames is a pretty good maxim.
I shot at a rate of slightly more than one frame a minute, and thats fine: I was learning as I went. And I feel that with several really good frames in the bag, my costs were well justified. But I would normally take rather more frames, with slight variations. For direct comparison, a one-hour shoot with VP in June, at an outdoor location, gave 141 frames, even after deducting walking time from cars to the location and back.
The wonders of modern Broadband meant that I had the RAW files downloaded around 20 minutes after we finished shooting. In some ways its a disadvantage shooting with a strange camera and lens, of course: VPs Canon is rather different from my Alpha 7, though working with live view reduces the apparent differences.
VP was shooting in her bedroom, which has the advantage of black walls at least, its an advantage for my preferred sort of low-key work. Lighting was a single Rotolight, supplemented by a little daylight for most shots. With the camera on a tripod, the necessary slow shutter speeds arent a big deal. Speedlights complicate matters, as you cant see the effect youll get, though studio flash with modelling lamps will rock it (as they usually do).
My usual style of shooting relies on fine adjustments of camera angle and focus point: obviously, thats not possible with a camera on a tripod. It was necessary to allow a larger dead area all round the subject though I caught myself out once or twice, and have sub-optimal framing in one or two shots.
A big issue could have been that I was shooting with an 18mp camera and a standard zoom, and Im used to using a 42mp camera with an 85mm lens on the front. Did it matter? To be completely honest, not really. Most pictures succeed or fail on the basis of their content, rather than absolute technical quality: and while I reckon 24mp is where film starts to lose out to digital, once cameras reached 12mp, quality was usually perfectly adequate for any shot that doesnt require fine detail to be beautifully sharp.
One thing I missed until we altered the setup if youre using a relatively weak artificial light source like a Rotolight, its important to kill all other light sources. The drama of our setup increased markedly when I saw that the curtains were open, as the daylight was providing a significant additional light source!
Would I do it again? Yes, I would. Should you? Very possibly: though you need to be sure what youre getting in technical terms. The deal I had meant that I got RAW files rapidly, and with virtual links that worked well: I can vouch for the Zoom/Digicam combination. And its worth being sure that your model understands what shes doing with her kit, and that you are happy with whats on offer. I know of at least one other model offering similarly sophisticated hardware and an incisive mind of the sort this needs at the models end to make it work.
In the previous section of this review, I looked at the physical qualities and autofocus capabilities of Fujifilm’s brand new XF 50mm f/1 R WR. In this second piece, I’ll be looking exclusively at its optical characteristics. There’s a lot to unpack here as well. So, let’s get started with the juicy stuff!
The XF 50mm f/1 is a sharp lens, really sharp. There is a lot of detail rendered from corner to corner, even wide open. Unfortunately, contrast is a bit lower, and other aberrations like coma mean that it doesn’t quite perform at peak sharpness when used at f/1, but we expect that. From f/1.4, however, things improve significantly, and by f/2, it is sharper than both the XF 50mm and XF 56mm at the same aperture. In many situations, I’ve found myself keeping the wide-open shooting for when you want the mood this lens produces and then stop down, even just by one stop, for extra detail when needed.
Let’s take a quick look at a crop of the face to see what I’m talking about above. As you can see, there is a slight amount of coma around edges such as the eyelashes that give the f/1 image a bit of a softer feeling. The second image was made at f/2 and is about as sharp as you’d need an f/2 image to ever be. Aside from this slight issue, there really isn’t much to fault this lens for when shooting a portrait wide open.
The vignette produced by this lens is significant. At f/1, it makes its way from the corners almost all the way into the center of the frame. The far corners lose a little over a stop of light, and this gradually fades towards the middle. By f/1.4, it improves significantly, and by f/2, it is all but gone.
Personally, I have really enjoyed the pulling power that this vignette has towards centered subjects. It draws the eye in nicely without the need for any post-production. For images where the vignette is not required, it is easily corrected in software.
As we expect from lenses with extreme apertures, there are plenty of longitudinal chromatic aberrations to be found in the images that come from this lens. Purple and green fringing is extremely noticeable at f/1.
In comparison to the 56mm f/1.2, the fringing from the 50mm is slightly more significant when used wide open. However, by f/2, the lenses are almost equal in the amount of fringing they show, and by f/4, it is almost completely gone in both except in extreme circumstances. This is certainly not an area of large distinction between these two lenses.
If using either of them, cleaning up CA is easy with software like Lightroom, but Capture One’s tools for fringing are much less aggressive, so keep that in mind. It may be an extra step in other software to correct for this if you’re a Capture One user.
When working wide open, small light sources such as street lights in a cityscape or stars do not render clearly with this lens. As you can see from the example below, the point sources are surrounded by a halo and have points extending towards the corners of the frame. This clears up completely at f/1.4, and the lens begins to produce its characteristic sunstars around lights slightly from this point on.
I tried really hard to make this lens suffer. I put the sun in every position I could try to elicit some flare or ghosting. On several different occasions, I tried shooting right into the setting sun, placing it in the corners of the frame, and placing it just outside of the frame. All of this was done without the hood to see what I could do to break the will of Fujifilm’s lens designers. The lens is very well corrected, especially considering its extreme aperture. With anything less than the blazing bright sun, it controls flare and ghosting almost completely.
When flare does occur, the reduction of contrast is pleasant, much like that of my favourite Nikkor lens, the 58mm f/1.4. The ghosting that can be produced, on the other hand, behaves much like the XF 56mm f/1.2. It produces somewhat obnoxious red circles with green trails protruding from them. If you can place these in an area of your frame where they can easily be cloned out, you can still shoot towards the sun. However, it is best to avoid shooting towards the sun altogether if that’s not something you’re willing to do.
I was pleasantly surprised the first time I saw the sunstars that came from this lens. They are much smoother and more defined than the ones I usually see coming from Fujinon primes and I feel like they could be used effectively in both night scenes and for having the sun in your frame (while being careful of that pesky ghosting, of course).
Now that we’ve got through all the boring stuff, it’s time to talk about the feature that really makes you want an f/1 lens: the bokeh. This is a complex topic for this lens, especially when we’re considering its value proposition over existing lenses in Fujifilm’s lineup. Rather than presenting you with how I feel about the rendering, I have decided to give you several samples (including some comparisons to the XF 56mm f/1.2) for you to judge it for yourself.
First and foremost, since we’ve had some beautiful autumn foliage while I’ve been testing this lens, we’ll take a look at how a natural scene might render. This would also be my primary use for the lens as I’ll likely use it with couples and families most frequently. From the same camera position, it produces a smoother rendering than the 56mm f/1.2 wide open. In fact, I’d say it looks a lot more like what you’re likely to see from the equally priced XF 56mm f/1.2 APD. Edges of out-of-focus foliage show up in a much more defined manner with the 56mm lens.
As a real-world example, here you can see the lens in use at a recent family session. Autofocus performed well for a scene like this, and I didn’t have to worry about missing moments, even though this was shot before the sun crested the mountains surrounding our location. Looking at the bokeh, however, you can see that there is still some definition that is reminiscent of the above 56mm shot. But, for most of the frame, it is smooth and what some might call “buttery.” This is certainly a great lens for working in nature and giving a beautiful look to foliage in the background.
In a night scene, such as the one below, we start to see some interesting and perhaps undesirable characteristics. While the highlighted edges of the “bokeh balls” that were a feature of the XF 56mm f/1.2 aren’t present, there is a significant onion-ring effect on city lights such as these. If you looking for huge, perfectly smooth bokeh balls like those from some extreme telephoto lenses, this may not be your choice for making those happen.
This lens has quite a complex value proposition, and that is why I titled this view “The Emotional Lens.” Technically, while it is extremely good, it’s not the best optical performer. There are several aspects of the way it renders that might not appeal to those looking for optical “perfection.” It also doesn’t have the fastest autofocus and won’t appeal to those looking for a small and light mirrorless setup. It does, however, produce beautiful images when used in circumstances that play to its strengths rather than expose its weaknesses.
After more than a month with this lens, I feel like it begs to be used wide open all the time. It is a lens that you feel a little dirty for stopping down. It pushes you to make interesting rather than perfect photographs. It invites you to play and explore how it can render scenes in its own unique way. Once you stop it down, however, you snap out of this reverie and wish for the XF 50mm f/2’s tiny form and feather-light weight.
This is a lens for those who want to make images wide open and don’t mind about the aberrations that come with that. It offers a less-than-perfect image that doesn’t try to compete with Fujifilm’s other offerings but instead throws its own unique character into the mix.
My Personal Conclusion
For me, personally, this lens is still sitting on the fence waiting for me to invite it into my kit or send it back the way it came. It’s a tough call because with my heart, I know I want to keep it and break it out for those times when I really want to add a little secret sauce to a given composition. However, with my head (and my back, let’s be honest), I know that 99% (a perfectly accurate figure) of the time, it won’t make a difference to the images I make at this focal length.
The other question I have is how much my clients will even notice. I’d be kidding myself if I believed someone would notice the difference between the 50mm f/1 and the 56mm f/1.2 on a family shoot. Even if they did, it wouldn’t be what concerned them in the final images. Why should it? The reality is, all of the optical elements I mentioned above are really only applicable to photographers when they compare lenses. So, again, we come back to whether or not these characteristics can form an emotional attachment that outdoes Fujifilm’s other excellent lenses.
As the pandemic situation here in Korea improves, I will have more opportunities to work with this lens on engagements, at corporate events, and editorial shoots. If there is anything more to report or if I have a massive change of heart when it comes to my current indecision about this lens, I will be sure to report back here. As it stands, however, the jury is still out on this lens for me. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Is this a lens you’d consider adding to your Fujifilm arsenal? Why or why not?
Things I Liked
Ultra-fast aperture gets you that 85mm f/1.4 feeling we know from full-frame systems
Bokeh is very smooth in most situations
Heavy vignette can work very well for centered subjects
Fujifilm recently released the XF 50mm f/1 R WR, a lens they are affectionately calling “The One.” With its extreme maximum aperture of f/1 and a price tag to match, it has been dividing comment sections ever since its release. Is it worth the extra cash? What does it offer over Fujifilm’s existing fast lenses? What does it give up? Let’s find out.
Since this is quite an interesting lens with plenty of details that may make or break your decision to purchase it, I have decided to split this review into two shorter (although still quite long) pieces. In this first section, we’ll look at the lens’ physical properties and autofocus performance. In the second section, we’ll spend quite a bit of time on the optical characteristics of the lens. Let’s dive in!
What Actually Is This Lens?
There has certainly been plenty of hype around this lens being the world’s first autofocusing f/1 lens for mirrorless cameras. Thanks to Fujifilm’s clever use of clarification here, they are certainly correct. While that in and of itself is quite an achievement, what the lens actually translates to in 35mm full-frame terms is a 75mm f/1.4. This is worth considering, perhaps, if you’re choosing between APS-C and full frame cameras.
While the certainly gathers f/1 worth of light, the depth of field is not quite as shallow as some of the faster f/1.2 or f/0.95 lenses for full-frame systems. That’s not to take away from this lens, but to put it into perspective. This is Fujifilm X-System users’ entry into the full frame depth of field and ISO performance. The extra light means lower ISO values and, as such, lower noise. The ultra-wide aperture gets APS-C cameras in the realms of full frame 50mm or 85mm f/1.4 lenses when it comes to depth of field. More on this when we consider its value proposition.
Fujifilm produces premium-feeling products, especially at their high end, and the 50mm f/1 is absolutely no exception. With all that metal and glass in hand, you’re certainly going to feel like you’re holding a $1,500 lens. Both the focus ring and aperture ring have somewhat less resistance to turning than some other high-end Fujifilm lenses, but both still feel of excellent quality. If you plan to manually focus, the throw is extremely long and allows for precise manual focus despite the fact that it is a focus-by-wire system. As we’ll see below, you may never even need to manually focus this lens.
The lens itself is made up of 12 elements in 9 groups to deal with all the aberrations that come with an aperture of f/1. We’ll talk more about autofocus performance below and image quality in the next installment of this review, but for now, I want to mention one thing. Fujifilm’s bodies do a quick cheap as you switch them on, and that involves moving around a few lens elements. In this case, starting the camera up is actually significantly slower than with other Fujifilm lenses. This equates to about 1.5 seconds before the camera is useable, unlike the sub-one-second times for most other lenses. No big deal, but something to be aware of if you’re planning to switch the camera off and on between shots while hoping to catch moments.
Size and Weight
When I first saw this lens in the hands of a few photographers at the Fujifilm presentation, I was instantly turned off. It looked like something Sigma might produce for a full-frame system (not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly bulky and heavy). It looked far too big and heavy for the Fujifilm bodies. However, after holding it for myself, I found that it is not nearly as bulky or heavy as it would initially seem when mounted on the camera. Certainly, it’s not a walkaround lens for one-handed photography, but that’s not where its strengths lie.
For those concerned about balancing the body and lens, just as with the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 or XF 8-16mm f/2.8, an X-H1 or a gripped X-T body will make your right hand more comfortable. As for me, I support and carry larger lenses with my left hand anyway, so the extra weight on the front end hasn’t really been noticeable in day-to-day shooting.
The one thing that did bother me a little was that this lens doesn’t fit well into many of my bags. Since switching from Nikon DSLRs to Fujifilm X cameras, I have downsized much of my kit, including my bags. I was expecting it to fit where my XF 16-55mm sits, but alas, with the hood attached, it can be a difficult lens to squeeze into smaller shoulder bags like the Think Tank Photo Retrospective 6.
Accurate focusing is crucial for a lens with such a shallow depth of field, and the good news is that it doesn’t disappoint. So far, I haven’t seen the lens miss focus at all, even with the smallest focus points that are needed for pinpoint focusing. Of course, if the camera or the subject moves, all bets are off, but the lens itself does a great job.
The speed of the autofocus, on the other hand, does leave a little to be desired. While it is certainly good, it has a couple of downsides that definitely need to be considered if you’re thinking of purchasing the lens.
Overall, in a single focus (AF-S), the lens focuses reasonably quickly in most light. To my eye, it’s almost on the same level as the 56mm f/1.2 or 35mm f/1.4 on the current crop of bodies like the X-T3 and X-T4. If anything, it is a little slower to acquire final focus than those two lenses. While not quite up to the lightning-fast standard of the red-badge zooms or small f/2 primes, it is still fast enough for most applications.
The lens does hunt back and forth quite a bit before locking focus, even in the best light. This may mean the difference between hitting and missing a shot when working wide open. Even a slight subject movement will be enough to throw things out of focus, so you’ll need to be extra careful. Hopefully, the pulsing is something that can be improved with autofocus algorithms in firmware, as we’ve seen in some of the older lenses.
When it comes to continuous focus (AF-C), I have not found a single perfectly reliable setting for use with this lens. While I certainly wasn’t expecting the continuous focus performance you’ll find on the lenses with linear motors, I was expecting a little better at this price point. Even in Fujifilm’s own marketing materials, you can see the limitations when using AF-C with this lens. The pulsing never really goes away.
For my simulated tests, I set the camera up on a tripod to give the lens a stable base from which to focus and set my drive to CH on the X-T4. I ran the tests several times with differing AF-C Custom Settings. In the end, Set 1 (General Purpose) and Set 3 (Accelerating/Decelerating Subject) were most effective. Remember that you’re rarely going to have a subject continuously walking towards you and want to photograph them at f/1 in any sort of real-world scenario. This is a stress test to see what the lens is capable of.
When used wide open, the lens is able to keep up with a subject walking at a casual pace towards the camera reasonably well at longer subject distances where the lens doesn’t need to move the glass quite so far. I found that while using AF-C and eye detect AF, I was able to get around 9 out of 10 images in acceptable focus with the subject at 2-5 meters from the camera. As they got closer than that, the hit rate dropped to around 5 out of 10. Again, keep in mind that this is basically the worst-case scenario for a lens.
When stopped down to f/2 for that little bit of extra leeway in terms of depth of field, the 2-5 meter range got me a 100% hit rate. Again, closer than that and the lens can’t move the glass accurately and quickly enough to keep up. I was back to about 50% in focus.
I did the same tests with face detect turned off and used Fujifilm’s Area AF setting with a 3×3 focus box set up. With these settings, results were much worse than with face detect turned on for the human subject. However, in another test, these worked very well to track a truck coming at full speed down our local main road. When less than pinpoint accuracy on an eye is required, good results can still be achieved with these settings.
Using this lens in the real world, I found these results to be fairly comparable. At a family session, I was able to use AF-C to track a family slowly walking towards me, but the lens failed miserably when it came to tracking fast-moving children. For that, even the 56mm f/1.2 does a better job, but realistically, you’d want to use a lens with a linear motor like the f/2 lenses or the red-badge zooms.
This is a lens that I had honestly expected to hate by this stage in the review. I figured it would be a large, clunky, slow, hulking beast of a lens and I was pleasantly surprised by how Fujifilm managed to pull all these extreme elements together into a lens that, while large and heavy, still feels like it belongs on a tiny X-T4 body. This is just the beginning of the story, however, and we’ll look at optical performance in the second half of this review. So far, it’s a great lens.
When you look at today’s images of my Pentax MX-1 it will be immediately obvious that Pentax designed it to mimic some of the lines and contours of the original Pentax MX – the sister camera to the ubiquitous ME Super. The advertising obviously told us was a great product this was – and actually it has proved to be so and is still in full time use, all the way through from its purchase in 2013. I have made A3 competition winners with this compact, so in the performance stakes it is no slouch. But look at those lines, the angled corners, the design of the MX name, the brass top and bottom plates, and the gorgeous black paint finish. So far so good, but then, Pentax being Pentax and not being afraid to make products that look different, they also claimed that the finish would wear just like the black finishes of the Spotmatics as well as the M series, with the paint eventually rubbing and tantalisingly revealing the brass beneath. This is called “brassing” and some photographers would wear the gentle brassing of their cameras with pride, a sort of proof that they were out in the real world, doing real, tough photography, and here was the wear and tear to prove it…..a world that Douglas Adams might describe as when men were real men, women were real women and blue cuddly monsters from Betelgeuse were real blue cuddly monsters from Betelgeuse……
So here we are, some years later, and you can judge for yourself whether that brassing was worth the wait. Meanwhile, the pictures suggest that I had better go and give the MX-1 a thorough clean. Where did I put the Zeiss wipes?
Unknowingly to many Apple iPhone users, the company slowed down devices as the phones got older. A class-action lawsuit sided in the customer’s favor and now the tech giant is paying out. Submit your claim today to avoid missing out on your cut of a $500 million settlement.
Apple customers who purchased certain iPhone models can now submit claims as part of the company’s settlement of a class-action lawsuit. If you are or were a U.S. owner of an iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6s, 6s Plus, 7, or 7 Plus then you may be entitled to a share of the payout. With many of these claims, there are usually a few hoops to jump through including the dates you were using the phone and which particular iOS you had installed on the device.
The process to make a claim is fairly easy although you will have to be quick as the clock is ticking. Both mail and online claims must be made no later than October 6th, 2020. The site where you can submit a claim states that your legal rights are affected whether you act or don’t in this lawsuit. For this reason, it’s best to read the notices included and take legal advice from a professional. How much you are likely to get in a claim will vary, but if you and your household had several of these qualifying phones then your slice of the $500 million settlement may be quite healthy. Will the compensation reach to buying you a new phone? probably not, but you could always use the money towards a smartphone lens kit and take your iPhone photography to the next level.
Financial benefits aside, it’s important that these big companies are held to account for their actions, and lessons are learned. Hopefully, customers will benefit as a result of this going forward.
Lead image by QuinceCreative via PixaBay, used under Creative Commons.
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