There is something profoundly beautiful and saddening in observing a creature knowing it is time to move on from this world, and for its family to celebrate their life and passing in a respectful and dignified manner.
This post covers the final day of a little Staffy called Buddha who was diagnosed with a very aggressive, advanced cancer around her organs, and as a result, was living in extreme pain and discomfort. The very difficult decision was made to have her euthanized in the most humane and respectful manner possible. My dear friend Nas sent me a message in the final few days of Buddha's life asking me to document Buddha's final day. Knowing full well how significant Nas's dogs are to her I felt privileged to be asked to undertake such a special task for her.
As I observed Buddha and the people who surrounded her at various points during her last day there were many ebbs and flows in her demeanor. She undertook all of her favourite activities this day, like going for a walk around her neighbourhood seeing all her favourite houses and people, having a bath, eating peanut butter, and getting pats from many of her friends. At times she would perk up like a puppy filled with life. During others, the pain of her sickness would overtake her and she would gaze outward, as if to look at something else waiting beyond for her to go to. I heard many stories from the people around Buddha that day and she was truly a people's dog. What was perhaps the most profoundly heart-breaking though was watching Buddha on her final return home take seat on the blanket that was laid out for her, as if to accept that her time had come and she was ready to move on peacefully, ridding herself of this corporeal pain.
The respect paid to Buddha's life was exemplary; filled with dignity that would be owed and justified for any living being.
She found peace.
It's not everyday I find myself trekking through the Blue Mountains of New South Wales, Australia, wearing suade shoes and black Levi's. However, when there's a great opportunity to be had, you work with what you've got. For this trip I packed an X100T that the lovely FujiFIlm Australia folks have loaned me, and my own XT-1 and XF90 for something a little different to add into the photo mix.
After flying up to Sydney to present at an educational expo on virtual reality, I had a spare few days up my sleeve to suss out a little more than just the local tourist attractions. A quick recommendation from an expert rock-climbing friend to checkout Wentworth Falls, and I was on my way. The 2-hour ride from Sydney's Central Station is very comfortable, picturesque, and best of all, extremely accessible and affordable for anyone. Simply put, if you're ever in Sydney, a day trip here is very easy to undertake and highly recommended.
I took the path straight out of town through Charles Darwin Walk, which in itself presents numerous photo opportunities with stunning creeks, mini falls and wildlife - don't be afraid of the numerous skinks running across the path though, but always keep watch for snakes.
I have seen a fair bit of Australia over my 30 years of life and living here, but it's quite possible that this moment, this place, and this experience at Wentworth Falls was my favourite one of all.
It's hard to capture the sheer mastodonic scale of Wentworth Falls. From it's highest point looking down, the colours, textures, and shapes of the landscape take you back in time leaving you wondering and in awe of how nature carves such beauty. It's the kind of place that when I'd look back up from my camera or my steps, I would immediately be stopped in my tracks by a different angle of this ancient place. As the afternoon slipped away the colours of the landscape became more diverse and intense, with beautiful shadows creating stunning contrast in the scenery. The only thing I regret was not packing sufficient supplies to stay on until sunset. I'll be back though!
I'm about to make quite an about-face opinion on my experience with the XT-1 and its ability to be used in fast paced sports photography with continuous focusing mode engaged. For those who are familiar with my previous posts I have been quite critical of the XT-1's ability to function well in continuous mode with the XF56 1.2 for sports shooting. Upon reflection I have been really quite biased in my evaluation of that combination given the size of the lens, elements/glass involved, and the crazy F1.2 aperture I was shooting in for most shots. After shooting the same circumstances except with the XF18 instead I can see why I was setting very unrealistic expectations for the XT-1. Heck, how many Canon shooters out there use the 85mm 1.2 behemoth for sports shooting with such an insanely shallow depth of field? Not many if any.
As per usual, let's talk shooting specifications. For this bit of casual shooting I was using the XF18mm in Continous mode CH burst, set to ISO1600, varying the shutter between 1/200-1/500sec, and mixing the aperture up between F2.8-F4. These were all shot in JPEG normal with my beloved Chrome setting followed up with some quick tweaks of my own and some radial filters. For a tiny lens this thing produces some darn sharp images that have a beautiful 3D pop to them and awesome resolution that allows for some pretty heavy crops.
So in case you're a bit new to focal lengths, aperture, and their effect on depth of field (DoF), let's look at a comparison of the XF18 and the XF56 and the average aperture I was using on each occasion, and why the XF18 performed substantially better for very logical reasons.
XF18 @F2.8 at a subject distance of 8 feet = 8.23 feet of depth of field
XF56 @1.2 (because that's what you buy the lens for!) at a subject distance of 8 feet = 0.29 feet of depth of field
These two distinctively different levels of DoF explain a lot, particularly why I found continuous focusing mode to be so frustrating in the past. The XF18 didn't hunt around like the XF56 because it didn't have such a dramatically shallow DoF to work with so naturally continuous focusing mode is going to perform considerably better. That said, the XF56 did work well in single shooting mode and even if I shot at an aperture of F2.8 I'd only be getting a DoF of 0.69 of a foot = struggle town for focusing.
Something else that I found quite remarkable though when using the XF18, which probably has a lot to do with how much glass had to be moved around or rather not, is that with 619 photos on a single battery, the indicator hadn't even dropped to the less than 50% remaining mark!
Read that again!
619 photos on a single battery! And plenty more to spare.
After a solid browse through the 619 photos I took, I also noticed that the across bursts the XT-1 DID NOT miss focus mid shot. Amazing!
So why can't the Fuji perform well for sports shooting at wide apertures like my Canon 6D and 135mm F2?
The Canon 135mm F2 L has been my go to sports lens for a while now and was the first lens I owned on my 7D and continued to use on my 6D as well for various purposes. It's well documented that the 135mm F2 L is an exceptional fast focusing lens, and the most underrated piece of L series glass around, so naturally, comparing a Fuji XF56 lens to it is probably unfair. I know from experience that the 85mm 1.2 won't keep up with the Fuji though. I guess I'll just have to wait until the XF90 F2 arrives and see if it'll be the Canon killer!
My recent experiences with a borrowed XF18 lens (sorry Luis! I'll get it back ASAP!) have convinced me yet again that Fuji are making an exceptional product that meets all my needs as a photographer. The fact that I can walk around the streets with the XT-1 and XF18 inconspicuously yet use it to shoot close-quarter sports like Muay Thai, MMA, and BJJ demonstrates its versatility. It's truly hard to fault it as a camera system, particularly being able to use the EVF to get real-time exposure previews across different settings. I think it may be time to sell my X100s to fund a second body with my own XF18 lens or similarly wide lens.
Metal - It's a huge part of my life and has been with me for the majority of it. It's been there during the good times, the bad times, the crazy times, and through many travels around the world.
The concept of jumping into a mosh pit (or whatever the kids call it now) let alone with a couple of grand's worth of camera gear isn't everyone's idea of a good time. For me though, in my limited live shooting experience, it's a place for capturing raw rhythmic energy, played by some of the most hard-working, talented, and genuine people on this planet.
What better place to run another Fuji XT-1 test?
A little background to these handsome figures that grace your screen. These are two top-notch metal/tech/death/thrash bands - Psycroptic and Goatwhore. Tip top names. I've not had the chance to hang out with the guys from Goatwhore, but the boys from Psycroptic are some of the nicest Aussies you'll ever meet and I'm lucky to call them friends. These guys put on a hell of a show and they're certainly not slugs on the stage. They move quickly and often unpredictably, thus giving you a heck of a set of circumstances for your camera and skills to be tested to the EXTREME!
Let's talk kit!
Most of my shots were done with the ever awesome XF56 1.2 strapped to my XT-1, with the occasional use of the XF18 F2, which I'm yet to return to the ever lovely Luis Ascui of www.mediaculture.com.au. I shot primarily at ISO 3200, F1.2, 1/180 sec for the higher production gig at HiFi Melbourne, and ISO priority at the smaller venue. I'll make sure you know what's what. All photos were shot as JPEGs with the Classic Chrome setting and exported in Lightroom using my usual tweaks and output at 55 quality.
I feel like I'm repeating what I've said in other blog posts about the XT-1 but here it goes.
Yet again, the XT-1 met my expectations and provided me with great image quality in some pretty unforgiving circumstances - low light, fast movement, and some less than desirable colours from the lighting rigs. That said, the same ugly issues reared their head - battery life and continuous focusing.
I'm consistently impressed by how well the XT-1 and XF56 focus in low light. They're a responsive combo that react quickly enough and make the mark at a rate I'm more than happy with. At times it will hunt, just like my Canon gear does and that can be worse than the XT-1, but after shooting a full wedding on it (blog to come soon), a number of live shows, a fair few low-light settings, and some fast acting Aussie fauna, it's a system I can rely on in most ways.
There's no denying the JPEGs that the XT-1 produces are great, particularly in high ISO settings. I love the Classic Chrome setting and I'm considering selling my X100S just to get it on the X100T, as well as Wi-Fi! There's an undeniable unique sharpness to the XT-1 and XF56 combo and I have received a lot of compliments from people since converting to it. I love what I've been able to produce in terms of colour tones from these live shots. There's none of that awful colour bleeding like on my Canon system at high ISOs and the noise is simply different on the Fuji's; far more pleasing to the eye.
About that battery life...
Well, there's no arguing it, the batteries for these cameras are somewhat frustrating to deal with. They don't last particularly long (~500-600 shots on a full charge) and I had one die suddenly on me at a peak point at a wedding (spare in pocket!) and was also a little too shutter happy on the way into this gig, which meant I didn't quite get the number of shots of the headline band that I wanted. I made the rookie mistake of not checking my spare on the way out and learned the hard way to always check. That said, these batteries are much smaller than traditional DSLR batteries and they're constantly powering an EVF. OH THAT GLORIOUS XT-1 EVF!
Edit 4 April, 2015: I have had a much better experience recently using the 18mm F2 and Continuous Focusing. Will post about it soon.
Typically when I'd shoot fast paced stuff on my Canon I would use continuous focusing mode, which works reliably and can handle sports and action stuff extremely well. I simply can't get along with continuous focusing mode on the XT-1, despite using all the tips and tricks out there. Single focus mode is pretty darn good though and I used this mode solely for these shots after getting immediately frustrated with it when I first tried using at this show.
Below are some shots of Psycroptic at a gig I found myself attending unexpectedly last minute. It was a tight space and featured very minimal lighting; certainly not to the same standard of the gig the week before. The XT-1 did struggle a bit more in this situation with focusing, simple as that. I had a lower keeper ratio than usual, which I attribute to there not being much fill-light on the guys as they played. I came mainly for the music this time around though and only had about 25 minutes to shoot, so keep that in mind when compared to 90 minutes from the prior show.
Minor apologies for this post being somewhat relaxed in its approach and relatively uninformative for the photography purists out there. I hope it serves as an example to others though of what this camera system can do and do exceptionally well.
It's rare to come across a new piece of gear that not only surprises and impresses, but also exceeds expectations. Oh, Fuji, you've won me over yet again and more than any other piece of camera equipment ever has.
Before I go on about my first day with the Fuji XT-1 and 56mm 1.2 lens, let's get a bit of background info out there so you all know where I'm coming from. I'm primarily a Canon user (7D/6D + Sigma 35, Canon 135 L, and other odds & ends gear) who bought into the Fuji game for the first time late in 2013 with the original X100, which was eventually sold off to fund more Canon gear. Fortunately I had the good sense of grabbing a Fuji X100s in the middle of 2014 and found myself gradually drifting towards the mirrorless side of life.
My first experience with the X100 and now the XT-1 are like chalk and cheese. Where the X100 felt confusing, slow, and way beyond my skill set at the time, the XT-1 has blown me away and made my Canon gear feel like it's a decade behind in terms of features, size, and aspects of performance. The X100s has been a staple part of my shooting for the past 6 months and comes with me just about every time I walk out the door. It's so beautifully portable, unimposing, hip, and produces outstanding images on my favourite focal length.
I've had the XT-1 and 56mm 1.2 for roughly 36 hours at the time of writing this and used the first day to charge batteries, update the software, configure the camera as I'd like it (previous Fuji experience really helps here) and catch up on some sleep after flying back from the west coast of Australia to moody ol' Melbourne.
I was interested in a few key elements on my first day testing the XT-1; AF performance, general image quality, sharpness at F1.2 (most if not all shots in this post are @ F1.2), and overall performance and usability, particularly with the new features from V3.0 firmware. Testing involved some shots from home, local streets, and then a full-blown concert by my favourite Brazilian artist, Seu Jorge!
I will say this to spare those of you wading through my writing for key info - The XT-1 performed and outperformed on just about all fronts. If you're sitting on the fence with your 'typical' DLSR gear thinking 'should I try this hyped up mirrorless Fuji stuff?' get out there and buy or hire one. Make sure you get the 56mm 1.2 though, it is a GLORIOUS piece of glass.
My first test shots were of my trusty 'benchmark' objects and creatures - guitars and my feline, Winston. As expected with relatively stationary things, the Fuji performed exceptionally with a responsive AF in filtered window light. One thing was clear though. At F1.2 this camera was SHARP and didn't display the light fall off and vignetting commonly seen at widest apertures in most other lenses and camera systems. Having such incredible focal isolation and none of the drawbacks that typically come with it is something I've never experienced. At this point in my day I had also setup the D-pad on the XT-1 to be focus point select (no mushy buttons on mine!), which made the whole experience a fluid joy.
Once the heavy rain started to clear up I took a trek out to my local barber and shot a bunch of random things along the way just to see how well the XT-1 handled midday light at F1.2. Being able to shoot at a maximum shutter speed of 1/32000 of a second (not used to that extent on this day) is incredibly useful and I found on a couple of occasions with motorized + electronic shutter engaged I was getting beautifully exposed images at F1.2 1/10000! Phenomenal! I can't wait to test this at an evening sunset shoot or even a midday beach shoot!
How about that AF? What kind of AF am I used to as my standard and how did the Fuji compare?
My go to 'speed' combo for action and fast AF is either my 7D or 6D mounted with the Canon 135mm F2 L lens. During the school year I shoot active kids a lot, and if you've ever watched a game of Australian football (AFL), which my kids play a lot, then that's what I'm used to capturing.
I'm yet to test the Fuji in an action setting but so far I can say that the XT-1 and 56mm 1.2 definitely meet my standards for consistent and quick auto-focusing. As you'll see in the pictures further down of Seu Jorge, the lighting was very typical of a live show and as a fairly active performer, the Fuji's AF performed exceptionally well.
That said, I'll get it down for some shots of my fellow martial artists and fighters during the week and let that be the proving ground for all you sports photography nuts.
In order for the Fuji to really meet and surpass my standards it had to perform well in low-light conditions with a fair bit of movement, as well as produce usable high ISO images. I realise that ISO 6400 isn't exactly 'high ISO' nowadays, particularly with the incredible stuff Sony has on their mirrorless cameras, but 6400 for me is about the cut-off limit for 'usable' or image without getting horrible colour bleeding and noise, at least when it came to my Canon 6D.
Yet again, the XT-1 and 56mm 1.2 met and surpassed my expectations for focusing in low-light and the few images I did take at ISO 6400 were of a much cleaner standard than what I was used to with my Canon 6D. Honestly, I didn't expect the Fuji to focus as quickly and consistently as it did at the concert. What I loved about it was when taking photos in succession, the camera re-focused quickly and didn't do the usual shuffle in and out that I was used to from my Canon rig. I didn't even have the face-recognition switched on. I did run into a very stupid user-error around 1/3 of the way into the concert. I'd only brought an 8gb card and had it in RAW and JPEG mode! Yep. Real rookie mistake right there, but then again, I didn't plan to shoot this performance at all. Fuji's RAF files are pretty darn big! Thankfully I had a few shots from earlier in the day I could delete and shot the remaining part of the concert in JPEG only with Classic Chrome on. Oh boy I love that film mode!
To say that the Fuji XT-1 has impressed me is an understatement. It has truly blown me away.
My Canon kit has certainly served me well and it was a tough call breaking my rule of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it', but the Fuji approach has brought in a different level of joy and confidence to shooting.
Sure, it's early days and I could find myself eating my words (highly doubt it), however I'm more than willing to go out on a limb after yesterday's experiences. Fuji simply have a much more modern approach to photographic equipment. The electronic viewfinder is outstanding and going back to the 6D's optical viewfinder seems dated. It's more than just that though. There's an overall tremendous amount of flexibility to be had in the Fuji system, and I can understand why that freaks Canon and Nikon users out - it's different and requires a bit of retraining and familiarization.
Rather than ramble on with different adjectives and 'OMG Fuji' stuff, I'll finish up with some pointers, big positives and some niggles.
When getting into the Fuji XT-1 or Fuji system for the 1st time:
- Switch on 'high performance' mode.
- On the XT-1, if you want to save battery, switch it so it only uses the EVF and make it so it only illuminates using the eye-sensor. That way it's off at other times when not in use!
- If you love the AF point selector stick on the 7D/5D/1D series, change the rear D-pad buttons to AF-select points. It's incredible being able to focus to any point on the frame AND have have spot-metering match that point.
- Don't be afraid to shoot in JPEG only. They can take a fair bit of editing/tweaking and more importantly look incredible straight out the camera.
Big positives about the Fuji XT-1 and 56mm 1.2 combo:
- It's light and small! ~850g with the 56 1.2. I'm not even going to bother to find what a 6D and 85mm 1.2 Canon lens would weigh in comparison, but it sure as hell wasn't fun when I had one.
- The EVF is simply awe-inspiring. Get to a retailer and try it out.
- Silent mode is just as useful to me as it is on the X100S. Can't wait for my upcoming wedding shoots!
- The combined motorized + electronic shutter mode is brilliant! No ND-filters needed to shoot at F1.2 in daylight.
- The Wi-Fi connectivity is fantastic! I loved it on my 6D and Fuji made it even easier and more reliable.
- Split-screen manual focus mode... dear God/Fuji genii, what a magnificent innovation.
The very minor negatives so far:
- Occasionally when changing the ISO I also knocked the shooting mode out of place since the dial sits directly below it. No biggie.
- Battery? Not sure if this is an issue yet with the way I've the camera setup. I managed to fire off 459 shots and still have the battery indicator at 3/4 full.
I've a pre-wedding shoot with a lovely couple coming up this weekend in some Victorian bushland. I think a nice small sling backpack with my XT-1 and X100s will suffice. I'll keep you posted.
Massive thank you to Seu Jorge and his band for putting on an incredible show! I never imagined seeing you guys in my home country and of the four times I've been to Brasil, I always managed to miss you guys playing by a day or so! Muito Obrigado!