Dyed 1777

It’s difficult to make out the surname on this gravestone in Rossinver Graveyard, just off the R218 in County Leitrim (54°23’46.5″N 8°07’05.3″W). I haven’t been able to find listed in a grave search any John who died in 1777.

The images below were taken in the same graveyard. All 3 were captured handheld with a macro lens.






Slieve Binnian 20/6/17

A quick and imperfect camera-stitched panorama of a view from the middle of Slieve Binnian. From left to right you can see Doan with Slieve Loughshannagh behind, then Slieve Meelbeg, Slieve Meelmore, Slieve Bearnagh, Slievelamagan, Cove Mountain, Slieve Commedagh, Slieve Donard, Rocky Mountain, Chimney Rock Mountain, and Annalong Wood.



This is a 100% crop of a JPEG captured by the Fujifilm X-T1. The plant was in direct sunlight.

ISO 200

Standard film simulation
auto white balance
-1 2/3 exposure compensation
+1 saturation

RAW processing, or a TIFF from it, may benefit from subtle localised sharpening. But I wanted to share the camera’s impressive JPEG. Tap or click on the image for the 100% cropped file.

Shooting Video with the Fujifilm X-E2

Some time ago I picked up a used Fujifilm X-E2 for my still photography. One way or another I ended up with the X-T1. So rather than going through the hassle of trying to sell the X-E2, probably for a pittance, I decided to experiment with it for video.

Until the X-T2, video on a Fujifilm camera was a bit like having a hoof pick on a Swiss army knife — something you’d never use but included anyway because it’s the done thing. But when you think about it, the X-E2 can capture high quality still images through reputable lenses. So why not video?

Several years ago in answer to the question “How important is video to your customers?” Fujifilm told us: “It’s becoming more important. For example we’re speaking to professional photographers who are telling us that their clients are demanding more and more video as well as stills.”

Can the X-E2’s 2013 technology and its most recent firmware (device-embedded software) deliver quality HD (1280×720 pixels) and Full HD MOV files? Full HD is video recorded at 1920×1080 pixels. In the X-E2, MOV is an H.264 MPEG-4 video format. It was originally developed by Apple. The X-E2 will record HD continuously for 27 minutes before it has heat issues and Full HD for half that time. It’s unlikely the average amateur would need to record for that long. The X-E2 can’t record 4K video (4096 x 2304).

I’ve now captured enough X-E2 video to know the quality I need is there. However, there is one intractable issue: auto-exposure during shooting. It’s very useful of course to have the camera adjust exposure automatically in many contexts, especially when hand-holding outdoors, but there are times when it ruins a shot altogether. It would be wonderful if the AE-L button could be programmed to lock the exposure for the duration of a recording to increase your chances of capturing more usable frames overall.

For example, I set the camera on its back to record light wispy clouds passing overhead against a blue sky.  When more cloud entered the frame the camera adjusted the exposure. Then, of course, it opened it up again when the cloud had thinned. This affects colour density and brightness and can’t be fixed.

It’s true that locked-in exposure may result in blown detail when brightness increases, but deliberate slight underexposure would definitely have given me more to work with when editing. I can manually override exposure but the camera still auto-adjusts within that setting. Even walking past the camera during recording can cause the exposure to flicker briefly. It looks naff. Other cameras can be set up to work around this and some lenses offer smoother transitions. Could it be fixed by a firmware update? I’m no expert, so perhaps not. See Justin Brown’s very helpful video below offering top tips for video-shooters.

Apart from this auto-exposure problem I found in practice it was best not to trust the camera in continuous focussing mode. Every now and then it would slip in and out of focus regardless of my autofocus settings. That might be a hassle for the more typical vlogger but my style of shooting relies mainly on manual autofocus using the AF-L button. This locks the focussing on a single point. I didn’t experiment with other lenses. A wide fast prime may do better.

If you’re using the X-E2 hand-held you’ll likely want to have a stabilised lens attached to make things a bit smoother. But turn it off again when the camera’s on a tripod. If there’s no switch on the lens it can be done in-camera by finding “5: IS Mode” in the menu. There’s one big lesson I’ve learned while shooting video and it can be summed up in just three words: tripod, tripod, tripod! Action works well occasionally, but a solid support makes a big difference to the presentation. If you shoot action camera-style with a DSLR or a mirrorless camera make sure you go as wide as you can. That helps.

Before shooting you might want to experiment with various settings to see how it impacts the files’ colour, contrast and sharpness straight from the camera. For example, sharpening after the fact may not be as helpful as the sharpening values that are applied by the camera before the file gets written to the card. Some experts suggest lowering contrast values before shooting so you have more control in software. Some cameras can be set to produce very muted results with precise grading in mind. I’m content shooting Astia/Soft with +1 colour saturation. To avoid all those weird white balance shifts I use the Shade setting all the time outdoors regardless of conditions. I’m also experimenting with 60fps. Not entirely sure why yet, but I am…

All things considered then the X-E2 records HD and Full HD video that looks very good to me, especially on my smart TV. I’ve linked to two of my somewhat amateurish X-E2 videos below, one of them totally hand-held, both using the lightweight XC 16-50mm OIS II lens. Bear in mind that thanks to additional compression and all the sinister dark magic that goes on in the background, uploaded files typically won’t look as good as our originals. In my opinion this seems to be more of an issue for the little guy on YouTube than on Vimeo. If I’d 10,000 YouTube subscribers would I fare better? (Are YouTube “views” videos that have been watched the whole way through? It’s misleading if they’re not.)

Finally, I’ve also linked to a couple of videos you may find of interest if you’re planning on shooting movies with the Fujifilm X-E2. Be sure your camera/lens combination has the latest firmware installed and keep this in mind when you’re watching Will Crockett’s video. It was made a number of years ago.



To the Top of Slieve Binnian (video)

Tap or click on the picture.

I left the foggy car park at 5:45am on my hike to the top of Binnian in the Mourne Mountains, Co Down, N Ireland. By the time I’d reached the top of the lane the fog was slowly breaking up into patches on the lower slopes. As you can see in the video I was soon looking down on it.

For me early morning in clear conditions is by far the best way to experience the mountains, especially for photography and shooting video. That’s not always possible of course.

I didn’t catch them on camera but I was lucky enough to see a fox and a few hares. Can’t wait to go back.

The Cost of Amateur Photography

It’s a fact that many like to gear-up very expensively. It’s nobody’s business but theirs how much gets spent or why, but it doesn’t do any harm to sit back and think about how much money an amateur can effortlessly waste. I know from hard experience that it’s all too easy to buy into more than you’ll need—even long-term. Overspending happens, even among those on more modest incomes.

Something that’s got under my skin over the decades are the exaggerated claims made about top quality gear, lenses in particular. “Great shots need great lenses,” is an ideology that has more to do with opinions on photography forums than the tangible results amateurs can get in the real world. Here’s a classic example: “We’ve compared photos back and forth many times and it does take top of the line lenses to make The Photo happen.”

Someone else commented: “You will find that better lenses do help take better pictures.” In some specific contexts he may have a point but generalising is unhelpful, and common. Someone else said, “It’s generally held that DSLRs need the best quality lenses to produce the perfect results.” And a pro wrote in a photo magazine: “…many amateur photographers forget that great shots need great lenses” (Digital Photography User). How about this from lens manufacturer Sigma? “A photo is only as good as the lens it was taken with.” Really? What’s the balanced criteria for such statements and how will it affect those on a tight budget? It’s exactly what the manufacturers of expensive big-aperture lenses want dedicated amateurs to believe.

So we’re left with the feeling that if we can’t have great lenses, pro cameras and software, we can forget about getting “great” results. The truth is, advice like this can be a significant blow to the hobbyist’s morale. Of course it would be ridiculous to claim that it’s wrong to prefer and buy pro lenses. If you can afford the best gear and honestly believe you’ll use it to its fullest potential, go ahead.

It’s a fact that many amateurs, especially those shooting within financial restraints, don’t need top quality glass. They can get great images and prints and online presentations more cost-effectively. Are you an amateur photographer shooting on a tight budget? How much do you have to spend to get quality prints? Is it possible to create impressive images using less expensive equipment? Yes, it’s possible, although much depends on your goals and even your style of photography.

Over the years I’ve come across examples of photographic elitism, with inner circles within inner circles where you’ll find talented pros (and somewhat deluded amateurs) who have spent a fortune on equipment. Too many amateurs are needlessly referring to detailed charts, graphs and the associated ins and outs of MFT testing. They get hung up on sharpness, contrast, colour correction, relative illumination, spectral transmission, distortion and lp/mm. Don’t worry that you don’t know what some of these terms mean exactly—I don’t either. And I’ve no reason to care.

My current Fujifilm gear.

Let’s consider the advanced amateur who buys a very expensive top quality high resolution prime lens. By consistently using a tripod, mirror lock-up, and mid-apertures he should be able to enhance his small format SLR image resolution. But in the real world we should ask ourselves, how much of this improved “fine detail” will actually give the image content more impact? Will it even make it through to the print? Printing standards vary, both at home and commercially. On each and every photo forum, top quality lenses engender excessive praise and irrational longing in equal measure.

Consumer and mid-range equipment in the hands of someone who’s a good photographer and image-editor will result in strong image content that’s been properly manipulated. Excessive colour and unusual tones can of course be part and parcel of Artistic Expression—whatever that term may mean—but it’s an exception to the rule.

In actual practice a big bag of top lenses can add up to very little. Keen amateurs should take note that there are pros and too many amateurs working with top equipment who fail to make the most of their investment primarily because their image-editing skills are lousy. You may well find examples on their websites of garish colours, inappropriate sharpening, poor contrast, drab B&W conversions, and so on. Their prints could be interesting! You can see this anomaly for yourself on photo forums when some ‘more experienced’ photographers share their images or try to help newcomers with their editing skills. Shooting is only the first part of the digital SLR story.

Falling at the last hurdle can make a total nonsense out of expensive preparation:

1) Buy a very good pro or semi-pro camera and the “best lenses you can afford” that have reassuring lpmm and excellent spectral transmission and contrast qualities.
2) Use outstanding technique: tripod, MLU, commendable DoF, metered exposure…
3) Be sure to always use the RAW format so you will have maximum control over tonality, noise, colour-correction and colour strength.
4) Invest £/$ heavily in Photoshop and Lightroom, etc, etc, so that anything’s possible.
5) Process images until they’re inappropriately sharpened, inordinately saturated and tonally imbalanced.

It happens…

All the software I need, hopefully:
Adobe Lightroom
Corel Paintshop Pro
SILKYPIX Developer Studio
Corel VideoStudio
I also use MoviePlus for video editing and Acoustica for audio work.

I’m not belittling those who need top gear for their trade, but in too many cases pro equipment doesn’t guarantee impressive results. In my opinion a lot of wedding photographers produce humdrum work, though they have to be commended for having the guts to do it. And I’m reminded of a pro medium format photographer who took a family group photograph and gave us shots that were focussed on the tree behind where we stood. It’s very significant that nobody noticed but me. Seriously, on the day I could have produced equally acceptable and better focussed results with my amateur gear.

Some time ago I was paid to regularly shoot glass objects, and it was usually very demanding. But I’ve seen the work of a professional who spent several hours photographing glasswork and charged an absolute fortune for rubbish shots. And I do mean rubbish. I dearly wish I could share them here. To crown it all I recently I saw a pro scenic calendar with a landscape shot that included a large cardboard box in the foreground.

Let’s not get carried away here: we must remember that beyond doubt some lenses from some manufacturers in some contexts are best avoided. Struggling with them simply adds disadvantages the amateur photographer could well do without. Similar amounts spent on another brand may well produce better quality. Generally however, many less expensive lenses can deliver very good results even in larger prints, particularly after the careful application of excellent SLR techniques in the field and the use of corrective image-editing tools at home.

Ok, it doesn’t take an Einstein to work out it’s all relative. I’m not qualified to give professional advice, but in my opinion I believe amateurs shouldn’t feel left out because they can’t afford or justify pro glass and the top-end SLRs we hear mentioned daily on the photography forums. Don’t be browbeaten into thinking that you must have costly accessories and unbelievably expensive software others espouse. (And incidentally, images aren’t “Photoshopped”—they’re edited in whatever software you can afford and need.)

May I humbly suggest a better overall plan? Get out there and work on your technique like a person possessed. Depending on your style, you probably don’t need to shoot hundreds of shots week in, week out. Take your time and hone your skills. Use your equipment to its fullest potential, and there’s no doubt that if you have a photographic eye, you’ll soon be delivering results that others will genuinely admire.

There was a time I could have spent a lot on gear. That’s definitely no longer the case so I have to be more careful. Several years ago I switched to Fujifilm from Canon and while I’m pleased with my images I’ve a niggling doubt I might have stuck with my EF lenses and simply upgraded the EOS camera. (But I still own and occasionally use the Canon gear.) Ah well, it’s all water under the bridge. Whatever the case, I didn’t at any stage in the changeover overspend recklessly.

I’m enjoying the results from the Fujifilm gear. The software programs (including plug-ins) which I’ve built up over time give me the options I need. I edit on a reasonably capable custom-built computer and mid-range Asus monitor. Nothing high end here, but gets the job done with no hassle. As you can see in the image farther up the page I’m shooting with a modest range of XF lenses on the Fujifilm X-T1 (bought used) for stills, and using a single XC zoom lens with my X-E2 (also bought used) for video. Job done.

Why Gear Doesn’t Matter by Ted Forbes.