Friday, April 21, 2017

The Time Spent Post-Processing Photographs

My photograph "Red Chairs" in the editing process.
Almost every photographer spends time editing their pictures, some more than others. A couple years ago I read an article about a photographer who spent two weeks post-processing one image. Not just an hour here and an hour there, but two solid weeks of sitting in front of a computer editing one single image. Crazy, huh?

Some people really love Photoshop and computer manipulation. Personally, the less time I can sit looking at a computer screen the better. I view post-processing as a necessary evil, and I limit it as much as I can. I find shortcuts. I might even delete an image altogether if I feel it might take too long to edit.

But I still find myself spending lots and lots of time in post-production. In fact, I find that every hour of capturing means two hours of editing. Sometimes it's less and sometimes it's more, but on average it is a two-to-one ratio. The hours spent digitally manipulating pictures can add up quickly!
The Morning Window - San Simeon, California
This is a photograph that I spent a significant time post-processing, starting from a RAW file. 
This isn't a new phenomenon to the digital age. Back when I shot film I would spend hours and hours in the darkroom. I can recall days (in the winter months) starting in the lab before sunrise and not finishing until after sunset, working straight through with no breaks. Post-production has always been a part of the photographic process.

What I like about photography is the capturing and the finished product. It's the in-between stuff that I could do without, if only I could actually do without it. I have to post-process in order to get the polished images that I want.

Actually, the pendulum swings. There have been times where I spent significant amounts of time editing RAW files. There have been times where I used straight-out-of-camera JPEGs. And everything in-between. It's all about what you want to compromise.
Blue Umbrella At The Lake - Antelope Island State Park, Utah
This is a camera-made JPEG that I should have probably given a light edit to.
And no matter what there are compromises. Don't want to compromise any on the image quality and final look? Well, something's got to give, and it's going to be your time. Don't want to compromise your time? Well, something's got to give, and it's going to be the photograph.

I try to find a good balance where I'm compromising the least amount possible of both quality and time. My time is valuable and there are so many things that I'd rather be doing than editing, including capturing more pictures and spending time with my family. I want to use my time wisely because it is a limited resource.

To speed up my workflow so that I'm not in front of a computer too long I use presets (pre-programmed settings within my software that give a certain look when applied). I don't mess with curves or anything like that (well, sometimes I do, but I try not to) and I try to keep the customization of each image to the absolute minimum required to achieve the desired look. I also shoot JPEGs instead of RAW (thanks to Fujifilm's excellent in-camera JPEG processing), and try to get as much as possible correct in the field.
Birds On A Vase - South Weber, Utah
This is an example of doing just enough post-processing to achieve the desired look without using up too much of my valuable time. 
Something else that I try to do is delete every exposure that doesn't immediate strike me as being good. It's easy to think that an image is good because of an emotional attachment to it, when it is in fact not all that great. It's easy to think that a little editing can make a mediocre image shine, but that's an illusion.

I've spent a lot of time over the years post-processing exposures that should have been deleted. Looking back at these images I wonder why I thought of them as worthy of my attention. They were a waste of time! I don't want to repeat that mistake, so I aim to be especially critical when reviewing my exposures. Keep the good ones. Delete the mediocre ones. Time saved.

The time spent post-processing photographs adds up to a ridiculous number of hours. It's an investment that needs to be made in order to make your photographs look the best that they can, but it's easy to spend too much time at it. You have to make some compromises. You have to find shortcuts. You have to know when good enough is good enough. Avoid being unwise with your time. Know when there are better things that you could be doing, and find a way to do those better things instead, because you only have so many hours in your day.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Bonneville Salt Flats - A Place Straight Out of Hollywood

Dusty Desert - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
I had an opportunity this last weekend to visit the Bonneville Salt Flats in the far west deserts of Utah for the first time. The salt flats are just inside the Utah border not more than a few miles from Nevada. In fact, Wendover, Nevada, is visible from the salt flats.

The image that I had hoped to capture was the sky and mountains reflected in the shallow water that covers the Bonneville Salt Flats in the spring. Someone told me that April was an excellent month to go. I wanted the evening light so I didn't leave my house until mid-afternoon.

Getting There
Delle Bus Door - Delle, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.
The Bonneville Salt Flats are a little more than 100 miles west of Salt Lake City on Interstate 80. Once you leave the suburbs there is not a whole lot in-between. It's a boring drive, and it seems to take forever, despite the 80 M.P.H. speed limit.

I did make one stop along the way. There is a little town roughly halfway between Salt Lake City and the salt flats called Delle. There's not much there except for a gas station and an abandoned motel. It seemed to be a popular stop for ATVs and dirt bikes and such.

The reason that I stopped in Delle was to photograph the abandoned bus that's been left out in the desert. The bus was easy to spot from the freeway and not too much trouble to drive to. People go out and spray paint it and vandalize it. It's Utah's version of Cadillac Ranch, I suppose (but much less cool). It's a popular spot to take pictures.

I always attempt to create unique images. I don't always succeed, and it might be impossible at some locations (such as Yosemite or the Grand Canyon), but I still try. I thought going ultra-wide-angle would be my best bet, and so I attached a 12mm lens to the camera. I made a few exposures, then hit the road to get to my destination before sunset.
Inside The Savage Bus - Delle, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.

Bonneville Rest Area
Salt Covered Rock - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.
I was given the advice that the best place to see the Bonneville Salt Flats is from a rest area right off the westbound interstate freeway. As I'm approaching the salt flats, signs point to a rest area ahead, and so that became my first picture location. And, boy, was it disappointing!

What I saw was not what I was expecting. I think because the winter was so wet, the salt flats were a salt lake, probably eight inches deep. That might have been alright except that the wind was blowing, and the lake had plenty of ripples and not much in the way of reflections. So much for capturing the picture I had in my mind! Time for plan B.

I still took some time to photograph this location. There were a few picture opportunities, and I kept my eye out for them. But soon it was time to move further down the road. I think at certain times of the year this would be an excellent stop, but I was there at the wrong time.
Pilot Peak Behind A Salt Lake - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Salty Shallow Lake - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Foot Wash - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Leaning Public Phone - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.

Along The Interstate
Self, Evening Stroll - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.
There were a handful of parked cars along the I-80 about three miles beyond the rest area. By this point the lake was dry and a dozen or so people were out walking on the salt flats. Even though it is illegal (not to mention dangerous) to non-emergency park on the freeway shoulder, I followed the crowd and did the same thing as them. I suppose if they had jumped off a bridge I would have, too. Oh, well.

What I experienced was the classic salt flat scene. Flat. Dry. Desolate. Cracked lines snaking across the desert. This is what the entire salt flats look like in the summer, and what you probably envision when you think of places like this. It looks almost like something created by Hollywood--in fact, a handful of movies have filmed scenes at the Bonneville Salt Flats.

I didn't spend much time here. I get a few interesting pictures, but the sun was getting low and I had one more stop planned. So I got back in the car and continued down the road.
Line In The Salt - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.

Bonneville Salt Flats International Speedway
Blowing Dust Over The Salt Flats - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
A few miles beyond where I pulled over along the interstate I found an exit for the Bonneville Speedway (the very next exit after the rest area). There's a gas station right when you exit, but there's nothing else along this paved road. I followed the road north (and then east) for about five miles (following the Bonneville Speedway signs) until it ended in a cul-de-sac in the desert. There were several cars parked and a few people out with their cameras.

When you think of "international speedway" you probably don't envision an empty desert. I don't, anyway. But in the dry summer months people come from all over to drive really fast here. In fact, the Bonneville Salt Flats are where a number of world land speed records have been set, including several in excess of 400 M.P.H.

I arrived just at the right moment. As soon as I got out of the car a dust storm kicked up and it was back-lit by the low sun. Perfect! I snapped away. It was an amazing sight that lasted only a couple moments, and was gone as quickly as it came.

I made several more exposures at this location until the sun went down. The salt flats looked (mostly) dry here, but it was actually muddy and slippery. You couldn't walk out on them very far at all. I got what pictures I could.

The sunset wasn't particularly spectacular, but I watched it anyway. Afterwards I made my way to Wendover, Nevada, which is maybe 15 minutes from the cul-de-sac. I grabbed a burger and something to drink. Then I headed back in hopes of getting a picture of the stars over the salt flats.

It got dark and cold fast. The wind was still blowing at a good clip. The tripod kept slipping in the mud. It wasn't great conditions, but I did come away with a night photograph.

Satisfied with my adventure (except that I wasn't able to capture the image that I really wanted), I headed back home, arriving around midnight. It was good to climb into bed.
Dust In The Wind - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Rock On The Salt Flats - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.
Peak Beyond The Salt Flats - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Black Mountain - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Blowing Dust - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Desolate Desert - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm.
Stars & Salt - Bonneville Salt Flats, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm.

Friday, April 14, 2017

News: Fujifilm Rumored To Release X-E3 In Fall 2017

Fujifilm X-E1
One of the first X-series cameras that Fujifilm released was the X-E1 (nicknamed Sexy One) in 2012. It was just the second interchangeable-lens camera to feature an X-Trans sensor. And it was a big hit (stores couldn't keep it in stock), at least for a moment. People loved the design and retro rangefinder aesthetics. It was plagued with programming issues that quickly gave it a bad rap. Fuji later resolved these problems with firmware updates, improving the camera to what it was intended to be.

In 2013 the X-E1 was replaced by the nearly identical X-E2. It featured the updated X-Trans II sensor, and had a few other small improvements, but was essentially the same exact camera as the previous model (without any of the issues that gave the other camera a bad name). It didn't fly off the shelves at the same pace that the X-E1 did when it was first released, but was overall a good selling product.

The X-E2 was replaced by the X-E2s in 2016. The "s" added to the end of the name most certainly stood for "same" because the differences between the two models are very tiny and insignificant. This camera didn't sell particularly well, partially because it wasn't really any different than the original X-E camera from 2012 and partially because the much-anticipated X-Trans III sensor would come out just a few months later.
Fujifilm X-E1
It was rumored that Fujifilm had intended to discontinue the X-E line. There were some credible sources that said Fuji had no plans for an X-E3. But then customers took to the web and made their voices heard. There were a lot of people asking Fuji for an X-E3 with the new X-Trans III sensor. And Fujifilm listened.

The current rumor floating around is that the X-E3 will be released this fall, just in time for Christmas shopping. Not many details have been revealed, except that it will be slightly smaller (yea!) than the previous three X-E models. And it will, in fact, have an X-Trans III sensor.

I'm excited for this because I would like to give the new X-Trans sensor a try. My X-E1 is five-years-old (although I've only owned it for about nine months), and so it might be getting close to time to relegate it to "backup camera" duties. I love the design of the X-E1, so I want to stay within the X-E line. In other words, the only camera that I'd want to replace my X-E1 with is the X-E3.

And by replace, I mean that I would keep the X-E1 but just wouldn't use it as my primary camera anymore. I can envision pairing a vintage lens with it and keeping it in that configuration. It's a good camera that creates good images, so I don't think it will sit on a shelf collecting dust. At the same time it has more than a few clicks on the shutter and it won't last forever, and if there is something that's the same except a little better, that would be the ideal successor.

Monday, April 10, 2017

State of the Photographic Industry 2017

What is the state of the photographic industry in 2017? Where is it headed?
I've been asked to comment on what I believe the state of the photographic industry is in 2017. I have no special insights on this, just my own knowledge, experiences and observations, which probably aren't worth a whole lot. But since I was asked I'll give my two cents.

The question can be divided into two departments: gear industry and photography industry. These are two very separate things within the photographic sphere, and I'll talk about both.

State of the Camera/Gear Industry
The Wonder of Film Photography - South Weber, Utah
It's no big secret (even though some companies have tried to make it a big secret) that camera and photographic gear sales have been in decline for a couple years now. People just aren't buying new equipment at the rate that they had in years past. The sales decline is found in almost every category and subcategory of gear.

There are a couple reasons for this. First, digital camera technology has reached a point where everything is pretty darn good and at the same time there aren't enough new innovations to lure upgrades. Very recently a photographer confided that he was disappointed his brand new $2,000 camera wasn't all that much better than his five-year-old camera. He asked, "Why did I just spend two grand on this?" And that's the industry right now in a nutshell. People aren't sure why they should buy that new gear and so they don't. What they already own is more than good enough.

The second reason that gear sales are in decline are cellphones. A big chunk of camera sales used to be pocket point-and-shoots. Even though "professional photographers" weren't the ones typically buying these, the big profits helped support the development of higher-end gear. But cellphones, which now have sufficient image quality across the board, have significantly eaten away the market for pocket cameras. People decided that they didn't need to have two cameras on them, so they chose the one that also allowed instant editing and sharing (among other things).

It makes me wonder why Canon and Nikon and others have not ventured into the cellphone marketplace. Why aren't these camera companies making Android phones designed with photography in mind? They should be leading the way on this! Instead, Google, Apple, Huawei, Samsung, Sony and others have been the innovators. It seems like such a lost opportunity.

It's not all doom-and-gloom. There are some areas where sales have been growing. Two areas in particular are fascinating to me because many had left them for dead.
Three Cameras With Stripes - South Weber, Utah
One is digital medium format. When the full-frame Nikon D800 came out (followed quickly by the D800E and then the D810), which had tons of resolution and dynamic range and pretty darn good high ISO capabilities, some thought that this was the beginning of the end of medium format. Why spend three or four (or more) times the money on something that's only marginally better, if better at all? Sony and Canon weren't too far behind with full-frame cameras that had even higher resolution. Added to this was a tiny trickling of new medium format gear.

Yes, digital medium format was going to be a memory and nothing more. Except that's not what happened. I don't think many would have guessed two years ago that medium format would be booming today, but right now it is! This is one of the big areas of growth within the photographic industry, with Fujifilm and Hasselblad leading the way.

The second area where sales are unexpectedly growing is film products. Film died in 2002, right? Not exactly. Film products of all kinds are significantly on the rise, and the growth seems to be largely with young people who had no prior experience with film. Go figure!

What I'm about to say is a little off topic, but this seems like a good place to insert it. I have a great idea for a camera. I think it's the next million-dollar photo product. But I don't have the money or skills required to bring it to market (not even close on both accords). If you are a camera company executive and reading this, contact me. I'll pitch the camera idea to you and see what you think. I believe there is a real money-making opportunity. Anyway....

Camera gear is always in a state of fluctuation. There are ups and downs. Right now things are largely down, but don't expect that to last very long. Soon there will be a new hot product, a new innovation, a new trend, that will drive the next great wave of sales.

State of the Photographer
Two Photographers At Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park, California
What's the state of the industry like if you are a photographer? Are opportunities abounding or shrinking? How easy or hard is it to break through in 2017? Do photography jobs still exist?

I believe that there are three basic tiers of professional photographers: low, mid and high. On the low end you have those who earn a part-time living from photography. The middle tier are those who are full-time photographers whose household income comes mostly from photography, but aren't exactly earning the big bucks. At the high end are those making a really nice income from photography, somewhere well above the average national income level (roughly $75,000 annually or more, just throwing a figure out there).

The low tier is significantly over-saturated with run-of-the-mill talent. Everybody has a camera and everyone's a photographer. An entry-level DSLR (which is capable of more than sufficient image quality) is easily affordable, and a website and business cards are cheap. It doesn't take much to begin earning something. But because there are way more photographers than there is a demand for low-budget photography, most of these people will never move up from this level.

A side effect of the low tier being over-saturated is that it requires more talent to move up out of it than it used to, even compared to just 10 years ago. There are a lot of talented people that just get lost in the overwhelming crowd. And being talented with a camera isn't enough. You have to be just as good at the business side of things as the photo side of things.

All the while the over-saturation of the lower tier has made the work available for the middle tier significantly shrink. Access to sufficient quality images has become much easier and cheaper. What once required a middle tier photographer doesn't anymore. So it's become more and more difficult to make a full-time living from photography. You are just as likely to get squeezed out of the middle tier as you are to move up to it from the lower tier.
Today's Girl Photographer - Barstow, California
The upper tier, which is where you want to be, has plenty of work. The demand for this tier is just as great now as it was 10 and 20 and 30 years ago. But it takes much more to get to this tier. The skill level and business acumen required is much higher than it used to be. Whatever genre you are in, you have to be one of the best of the best.

In a sense it has never been more difficult to break into the photographic industry. And in another sense it has never been easier. There are so many resources and so many avenues, any old Joe with enough photographic and business talent can quickly make it to the top. There is so much right at your fingertips. The right person under the right circumstances can have mega success, and it might even seem to the outsider as if it were easy.

Once upon a time not all that long ago, if you didn't go to the right schools, or intern for the right photographers, or hang out with the right crowds, it was difficult to get discovered. It was more about taking the "right" steps than anything else. Often it was more about who you knew. All of that has been tossed out the window.

So whether or not the industry is better or worse, easier or more difficult, growing or shrinking, it all depends on your perspective. Because it is all of that and more. So you have to forge your own path and make your own success. You can do it, but don't expect an easy path.

There's another large group within the photographic sphere that I haven't mentioned: the hobbyist. These people aren't in it for the money, although they certainly have an impact on all aspects of the industry (to one extent or another). But it is hard to figure out exactly what their place is in all of this (except that hobby photographers spend lots of money within the industry). These are exciting times for the hobbyist, with gear becoming better and more affordable every year, and with plentiful platforms to share one's images. For these people, the industry has never been better, and next year holds even more promise.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sharpness Is Overrated - Don't Pursue Perfection - or, My Visit To Ikea

entrance - Draper, Utah
"There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept." --Ansel Adams

"Sharpness is a bourgeois concept." --Henri Cartier-Bresson

"Sharpness is overrated." --Keith Carter

In today's digital "pixel-peeping" world it is common to agonize over sharpness. We'll pay twice as much for a lens just because it scored a point higher on some chart sharpness test. We'll spend extra to not have an anti-aliasing filter, so that our photographs will be just a tad crisper (although nobody can tell without comparing massive crops side-by-side). 

We want maximum sharpness. We want the lens to nail focus at a precise point in our image and we're disappointed when it's a millimeter off. If an image is even slightly fuzzy it's deleted.

But what if sharpness is overrated? What if perfection is something we shouldn't pursue? What if technical flaws--such as soft focus images--are actually better?
One Bold Step - Draper, Utah
In his quote at the top, Ansel Adams didn't mean that an image should or shouldn't be sharp. He simply meant that given the choice between a fuzzy image with a sharp concept and a sharp image with a fuzzy concept, he'd pick the fuzzy image every time. The concept of an image is much more important than the technical qualities.

Worry more about the concepts of your photographs, and worry less about the technical qualities. It's photographic vision that matters most, not image quality.

Something that I find interesting when studying many of the great photographers of the past is that there were plenty of technical flaws in their pictures. There are tons of examples of "fuzzy" images and other imperfections. But the photographs are great because of what they speak to the viewers.

Photography is ultimately a form of communication. There are millions of examples of photographs that might be technically perfect, but are boring and don't really speak anything. You want photographs that say something meaningful to those viewing it. That's what makes a photograph great!
Forget a Diaper? - Draper, Utah
It might be that a soft image is what best communicates your message. Consider impressionist painters. They weren't interested in including every detail. Instead they purposefully left out fine details to convey certain feelings. If a soft and flawed image is what best speaks your message, then it would actually be counterproductive to pursue perfection. A soft focused picture convey's a different feeling than an ultra-crisp picture.

What about the photographs in this article? This last week my wife tells me that she wanted to go to Ikea (an extremely large retail store) to buy some things. I don't really like shopping. I prefer to get in and get out quickly (something that's not possible at Ikea). I don't like looking around at everything. Just get what's on the list. Even better, shop online. My wife is the opposite.

The message of these images is how I feel about shopping. I reluctantly do it. Ikea is a great place to get trendy-looking items at a reasonable price, so it's good to go. But in my brain I really don't want to. I'd rather be someplace else. So I wanted to communicate that somehow. I didn't want bright and happy pictures, but photographs that somehow seem a bit off. I wanted the images to be imperfect.

I used a Fujifilm X-E1 camera with a Rokinon f/2 12mm lens attached. I purposefully "missed" focus just a little to make them a little soft. I post-processed the photographs using Nik Analog Efex to make it look more film-like, perhaps like expired color film shot with a Diana camera. I wanted the pictures to look cohesive so I gave them all a similar treatment. 
It's OK To Change - Draper, Utah
Art Event - Draper, Utah
Everyone For Everyone - Draper, Utah
Wind Chime Shadow - Draper, Utah
Sunshine Entrance - Draper, Utah

Monday, April 3, 2017

My 5 Favorite Lenses For Fujifilm X-Trans

Yashica Minister-D & Fujifilm X-E1
I've been a "Fuji Fanboy" ever since I purchased a four-year-old Fujifilm X-E1 last July. Prior to that my experience with the company was with their great film products, and Velvia 50 was my favorite of the bunch. But I'm a pretty new convert to their digital cameras.

What's great about my X-E1 is the experience of using it. I've never really loved the design of a digital camera until I used this one. It's setup like a classic film camera. The controls are where they were always meant to be. There's no PASM dial, and you realize right away how dumb and completely unnecessary the PASM dial is. The controls are simple. There's no fumbling through menus to change the essential functions of the camera. It all makes perfect sense to old-school film shooters.

The unique X-Trans sensor (which is an ordinary Sony sensor with a different color filter array on it) allows Fujifilm to maximize dynamic range and high-ISO capabilities. Fuji has also created the best in-camera JPEG processing, which produces results closer to what one would expect from post-processed RAW files and not camera-made JPEGs. There's plenty to love about Fuji cameras.

And then there's the glass. Lenses are just as important, if not more important, than the camera body. Fujinon lenses are highly regarded and well respected within the industry. Some people rate them just below Leica and Zeiss. Fuji has great glass!

But great glass comes at a great price. And by that I mean Fujinon lenses aren't cheap. They're not as expensive as you might guess based on their quality, but you'll definitely fork over some large dollar bills. Because of this I only own one modern Fujinon lens: the "kit" 18-55mm. Now this is a very good lens, sharper and faster than any other 18-55mm zoom that I've used from other brands. Mostly, however, I use older lenses and/or other brands.

I get asked frequently what lenses I recommend for Fuji X-Trans cameras. I'll answer this by telling you which lenses I use the most. These are the lenses that work for me, and maybe they'd work for you, too. They might even work for you even if you don't own a Fujifilm camera. Below are the five most used lenses on my Fujifilm X-E1 camera.

#5 - X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM
X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM lens
The Space Between The Peaks - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM, double-exposure photograph.
Even though this lens was sold by Fujifilm, it's not a Fujinon lens. It was actually manufactured by Nitto Kogaku for Fujica cameras back in the early and mid 1980's. And even though it says Fujinar, it won't work on your Fuji X series camera without an adapter (X-Fujinon-mount to Fuji-X-mount).

The X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM is a good-but-not-great lens that gives me telephoto versatility. It's a little big and heavy. The lens is manual focus and it can be difficult to nail focus. It has a few flaws. But it delivers pretty good overall image quality. And its 120-300mm equivalent focal length certainly comes in handy sometimes, so it's good to have around.

I picked up this lens at a flea market for $30. About 8% of my exposures over the last two months were captured using this lens, so I only use it occasionally. When I do need it I appreciate having it.

#4 - Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm
Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm lens
Tricycle In The Woods - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm.
The Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm lens is a Soviet Union reverse-engineered Zeiss Jena Biotar f/2 58mm lens from the 1920's. Mine came attached to a Zenit-E SLR from the 1970's. It's M42 screw mount, so it requires an adapter to work on a Fuji X series camera. The 58mm focal length is equivalent to 87mm on a full-frame camera.

What I love about this lens is that it is imperfect, but in the most beautiful ways imaginable. It has a swirly bokeh. Lens flare can get wild. There's just a quality and character about it that you won't find with any modern lens. It's not something to use all of the time, but in the right situations it can produce magical results.

My lens was a gift, but you can pick up a Helios 44-2 lens for typically around $40-$50. It's worth the cost to get one, and it's a heck-of-a-lot cheaper than the Zeiss lens that it's copied from. I used this lens for approximately 15% of my exposures over the last two months.

#3 - X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM
X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM lens
Clouds & Wasatch - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM.
Fujinon lenses are known for being quality glass, and a lot of people think that this is a recent phenomenon. But Fujifilm has been making great lenses for a long time now. The X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM is one of those lenses, made for the Fujica camera system back in the early and mid 1980's. I paid $45 dollars for mine. It requires the same adapter as the X-Fujinar-Z lens.

The lens is very sharp and has few flaws. The manual focus wheel is a bit sensitive and it can be a little tricky to nail focus. I also wouldn't mind if the maximum aperture was a little wider than f/3.5. But otherwise it's an excellent telephoto option that delivers great results.

Even though the 135mm focal length is covered by the 80-200mm zoom lens that I own, this lens gives superior image quality, so if I can use this lens instead of the zoom I will. The 202mm equivalent focal length seems to be a good sweet spot for telephoto photography, so I find myself using it fairly often. Over the last two months about 17% of my exposures were captured using this lens.

#2 - Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS
Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS lens
Playing Large - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS.
The Rokinon f/2 12mm NCS CS lens is the most recent addition to my camera bag. It's the only X-mount lens on this list (meaning it doesn't require an adapter) and the only lens that can be purchased brand new. I paid $300 for mine.

This is an ultra-wide-angle lens that has an equivalent focal length of 18mm. Even though it's a new lens, it's manual focus only. The lens is fast and sharp and overall pretty good. It does have its flaws, despite being by far the most expensive lens on this list.

The Rokinon 12mm lens is challenging to use because it requires you to shove that glass right into the scene. You have to get very close. You can't be timid while using it. But the results can be very dramatic. The challenge can be highly rewarding. Over the last two months (in which I haven't owned this lens the entirety of) I have captured about 25% of my exposures using the Rokinon 12mm lens.

#1 - X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM
X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM lens
Birds On A Vase - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM.
The lens that I have used the most over the last two months is an X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM. It's a "nifty fifty" that is equivalent to 75mm on a Fuji X-Trans camera. Since the lens was made in the early 1980's for Fujica cameras, it requires the same adapter that I use for the other X-Fujinon lenses. The lens is sharp and fast and has virtually no flaws. The lens is fairly small and lightweight. It's just really great!

The X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM is a solid prime that's an example of great Fuji engineering. The lens just creates beautiful pictures. It's a joy to use. If I were restricted to just one lens, this is the one that I'd choose. 

This lens is my favorite to use, but it's also the cheapest. I paid only $20 for it. That's the best twenty dollar bill I've ever spent on photography! Over the last two months I've used this lens to capture approximately 30% of my exposures.

Coffee & Camera - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM.
I have other lenses besides the five above, and I occasionally have used those over the last two months (about 5% total). Going through my exposures and adding it all up, there are two lenses that get used far more than the others. The X-Fujinon 50mm and the Rokinon 12mm are the lenses that are most frequently attached to the front of my X-E1.

If I wanted to lighten my gear load, I would keep only the top four lenses and get rid of the rest. I could live without the other lenses, no problem. I could live without a single auto-focus option, as manual focus and Fujifilm X-Trans go together like peanut butter and jelly. I think simplicity is better. A few prime lenses will do.

No need to spend thousands of dollars on glass. Most people are on a tight budget and can't afford a bunch of high-end lenses. $500 will get you all of the lenses mentioned here plus the necessary adapters. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Wasatch Window Update

Clearing Storm Over The Ridge - South Weber, Utah
Almost two weeks ago I published Photoessay: Wasatch Window - Capturing Utah Mountains From My Backyard. Then, just one week later, there was an amazing evening with a clearing storm right at sunset, and I captured some more images of the Wasatch Mountains from my backyard. These photographs would have been included in the original post if I had just waited a week to publish it.

I used a Fujifilm X-E1 camera with an X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM lens attached to the front of it. They were all captured within five minutes of each other while standing on my back patio. I used Nik Color Efex and Silver Efex to post-process the images.

One great thing about living in Utah is that great views abound. I feel fortunate that I'm greeted daily by a wonderful mountain vista. Enjoy!
Peak Contrast - South Weber, Utah
Wasatch Snow In Monochrome - South Weber, Utah
Clouds & Wasatch - South Weber, Utah
Utah Evening - South Weber, Utah