Since I got rid of my Nikon gear (and all my studio strobes) I’ve been looking for a good portrait replacement lighting system.  I’d already brought three Lumopro 180 speed lights to go with my fuji kit and they are excellent, but good lighting has more to do with excellent modifiers that soften the light, rather than a powerful flash of light (which is after all what you get from a speed light).

Now I have a few speed light soft boxes, including some Westcott Apollo’s and Lastolite EzyBox’s but neither really delivered on what I was looking for.  I really wanted something that was small and portable, easy to set up, delivered soft wrapping light, and was easy to control.  Then I found a review of the Westcott Rapidbox.

The Rapidbox comes in three flavors, there’s a 20″ mini-octor, a 26″ bigger octor and a small 24″ strip box.  The strip box being nice and thin is great for hair or back rim lighting and I sold my elinchrom strip with all my Nikon gear, so I liked the idea of getting a replacement.  I also liked the size of the 26″ octa, which would be great for single person head shots.  So I ordered both from Amazon.

Yesterday they both arrived so today I get them out to try out a quick portrait.  The challenge being, could I set up both lights and grab a nice portrait headshot in say 10 minutes.

So that’s what I tried to do.  Firstly I should call out that it took longer than 10 minutes – try 20, but that was more to do with learning how to set the lights up.  Now I know how to do it, I’m confident I can do this in the target 10.  I also asked Abi to pose for me and she kindly agreed – she doesn’t do that very often these days, and I grabbed a couple of shots.

Here’s my favorite:

I have to say I was really impressed with these modifiers, they delivered on the easy to set up and gave me the control I wanted to capture a nice portrait, they also come in tiny portable boxes.  So all in all I’m really pleased with my purchase.  These two boxes will definitely be part of my traveling lighting kit from now on.

Recently I pulled the trigger and changed ALL MY GEAR and went mirrorless. This is a topic I’ve seen pop up in many blog postings – hell it seems to be something being raised everywhere these days, so I thought I’d share what I did, why I did it and call out some of the things I learnt along the way. Finally answering the question, “Any regrets” and “Would I do it again”.

Before I start, I should call out what I like to shoot and what gear I had, as that was an interesting part of my decision making process.

Like most hobbyist photographers, I started out shooting everything. You name it I’d point the camera at it and try to make a picture. Over time though I found myself moving more and more towards landscapes. I do take the odd portrait picture – get asked by friends and family to shoot a High School Seniors or family gathering that sort of thing, heck I’ve even done some commercial headshots, but I guess my favorite thing to shoot involves a sunrise or sunset and (most importantly) something I don’t have to talk to :-).

So you’d think my choice of camera was pretty easy. Nice DSLR with lots of Mega Pixels. Oooo maybe a D800 or D800E, that would do the trick! However there was one subject that threw a wrench in the works. My daughter is a keen gymnast, and my wife wanted me to capture those scary hard shots of her jumping through the air or spinning on the uneven bars just before a dismount. Let me tell you sports photography is hard, then move it in-doors under really crappy lighting – YUK – it’s a nightmare! Nope, the D800 wasn’t going to do it!

So I opted for a D4. What the hell was I thinking???? $6,000 on a body for a sports capturing monster. I’ll tell you what though it definitely did the job! That thing would capture a fly doing summersaults, my daughter Abi in the gym was easy.

So you’d think life was good, fantastic camera (it really is amazing), beautiful glass – what’s the problem?

Well, start with trying to carry it around all day when you’re out shooting landscapes. Heck try blending into the background of a gym meet with a D4 and a 70-200 plus x2 tele on a mono-pod! Talk about “dad envy”. Then someone asks you to take their picture and you do a portrait shoot. Well if you’re not really strong at relaxing your subject, the D4 can really work against you. I’ve learnt the bigger the camera and lens, the more intimidating they become – I mean who really likes having their picture taken anyway? Put me with a monster camera and lens in your face it’s impossible to get a nice natural smile!

So for me D4 equaled Great Gymnastics shots, Crappy Portrait shots and back ache after a day in the field with perfectly “OK” landscapes – something was wrong!

Then over the summer I started to read in all the blogs how mirrorless was the future. How mirrorless cameras were lighter and had great image quality. People started jumping off the DSLR train and I started to wonder; “How often do I actually shoot my daughter in gymnastic meets?”, “Wouldn’t a smaller camera be easier to carry?”, “Should I move now while all my gear still has some value?” etc., etc., I’m sure you get the idea.

So I started to do some research.

I read everything I could, I drove to camera shops to test out gear; how did it feel, what was it like to look through an electronic view finder (EVF), what features did I like, what didn’t I like? This went on for some time.

I also started to challenge the desire I had for a “full frame sensor”. Why did I need it? What did it really give me? And most importantly, could I tell the difference in the end result?

Ironically, the two manufactures that were considered to be the “Best” in the pro-sumer market (Nikon and Canon) have been failing in the mirrorless arena. The Nikon 1 was getting terrible reviews and the Canon EOS M wasn’t doing any better.

So I started looking elsewhere – Oh my god was I really going to move away from Nikon?????

Top of the heap were Olympus and Panasonic and fighting their way up was Sony.

So what did I look at? Well I played with:

  • Olympus Pen E-P3
  • Olympus OMD E-M5
  • Panasonic DMC-GX1
  • Sony NEX 6
  • Sony NEX 7

I also spent a lot of time pixel peeking (examining images really close up) at images on http://500px.com at images captured with these cameras.

So what did I find?

First and foremost, Image Quality was great. Sure if you want to shoot 10 frames a second at 128,000 ISO none of these cameras were going to do the job. But who does that – REALLY WHO DOES? I’ve never shot at over 6400 ISO and I rarely go to high speed drive, I mean who wants to view hundreds of pictures when you get home that are all arguably the same!

Next I found I LOVED the size and I found the cameras fit in the hand really well – then just felt comfortable, and when around my neck felt almost invisible – remember I’d been carrying a D4 with a 28-300 lens with a 16-35 lens in my pocket! BIG DIFFERENCE.

Finally I loved the price. The cameras their lenses and accessories were all cheaper – are you listening Nikon?

So I started asking myself, why not? Why don’t I change?

The answer of course was fear – terror – self-doubt that I was making a terrible mistake. I found I’d become so familiar with my Nikon gear, that I was truly scared that changing it would result in terrible pictures and a lot of wasted money.

To help evaluate mirrorless camera’s I purchases a small fujifilm X20 compact camera and took it on holiday with the family to Disneyland.  Oh sure I also took the D4 (I was still heavily dependent on my Nikon gear), but a couple of day’s while there I left the D4 in my hotel room and went out with the tiny X20.  I have to say I was totally shocked as the pictures looked great.  Sure it didn’t have the capabilities of my big Nikon and wasn’t really a replacement camera, but it definitely confirmed that mirrorless may be the way for me to go.

Anyway this fear to replace my Nikon gear lasted a LONG time. Heck new cameras kept being announced and I kept changing my mind. The goal posts kept moving and all the time I carried my Nikon gear with me when out for a shoot.

The Panasonic GX6 was announced. The Olympus E-M1 was announced and then the Sony A7.

I was SOOOOO confused. At one point I think I had placed orders for each new camera. Adorama must have thought I was nuts as I kept changing my mind.

For a long time I was going down the Sony A7 route. I thought that was the camera for me, it was mirrorless, had a great sensor for landscapes (full frame and loads of pixels). The only problem was the lens choices were really poor and then I saw the 70-200 they were recommending for that camera. It was exactly the same size as the one I had with my D4 – the change started to make no sense.

I also started to question whether I needed a full frame sensor, I mean the images I got in the x20 were really excellent.  The other question was how many pixels did I really need?  I had friend who used to own a Nikon D800 and he had loads of issues with the camera.  He found the camera very “unforgiving” and many images came out slightly blurry.  He found the high number of pixels would amplify any hand shake and if he didn’t shoot at 1/125th of a second or place the camera on a tripod his images were useless.  Add to this the image sizes were enormous!

Again more research, this time coming to the conclusion that full frame wasn’t a necessity and 16-20 mega pixels was more than enough.  This meant that the Sony A7/A7R was probably the wrong camera.

Then I saw the announcement for the Fujifilm X-E2. This was a little strange as despite buying the x20 I’d missed the Fuji’s off all my investigations. I think the reason for this was that I’d played with an original X100 and was pretty disappointed. The focus system was unreliable and while the image quality was fantastic, more often than not it appeared that you didn’t focus on what you wanted.

But this X-E2 looked interesting. Then I looked at the lenses available and the roadmap. This was REALLY impressive and covered everything I wanted. Further investigation suggested that the X100 was now fixed and working really well in the form of the X100s. So I brought one.

After a few days of play I realized I’d found my camera manufacturer. The X100s took amazing pictures. It’s focus was pretty quick (quick enough for me anyway) and the image quality was just fantastic. Fuji had removed the low pass filter (anti-aliasing filter) as they created a different kind of color array which didn’t generate any moiré pattern’s. This actually made the images fantastically sharp.

Once again I hit 500px and was blown away with the images I found. The X-Pro1 and the X-E1 delivered fantastic results. Also as both cameras had 16MP sensors they would produce file sizes almost exactly the same size as my D4.

So, having found my gear I started to plan my switch. I ordered everything I wanted on B&H and Adorama and put my Nikon gear up for sale. The ironic part of all this was that I would comfortably cover the cost of the new gear with the sale of my old gear! Nuts I know.

In the end I sold the D4, three Nikon speed lights and the following lenses; 16-35 f/4, 35-70 f/2.8, 70-200 f/2.8, 105 f/2.8 macro, 50 f/1.4 and a X2 Teleconverter.

And I purchased the X-E2, three LumoPro LP180 speed lights, and the following lenses; 14 f/2.8, 35 f/1.4, 60 f/2.4 Macro, 18-55 f/2.8-4, 55-200 f/3.5-4.8.

As I mentioned above the costs of the new gear (including two bodies X-E2 & X100S) was less than the money I made from selling my Nikon gear.

So what’s it like?

Last month I went on vacation to the UK and took the opportunity to leave all the Nikon gear at home and just take my Fuji equipment. This for me was a scary prospect as I was forced to use new gear with no ability to fall back on familiar Nikon camera.

I’d love to say it was completely plain sailing but I did make a few mistakes along the way, but over all I was delighted with the results. The cameras are a DREAM to use, they really take you back to a more mechanical time where you have aperture rings on lenses and exposure dials on the camera.

I found the image quality to be FANTASTIC, the lenses were amazingly sharp and satisfied my every need. At no time did I say “If only”.

I did find I had to go “slower” than usual as I really had to think about each shot. It’s funny how quick you can be when you know your gear really well. As this was all new it took time, but even that was fun.

The EVF on the X-E2 is really great, it has a refresh frame rate of 50fps so there was very little lag. The focus speed of the camera was also impressive as the sensor now supports phase detection auto focus, so I never missed a shot.

My bag size dropped considerably as well and instead of the Thinktank Retrospective 30 I used to carry, I walked around London with a Thinktank Retrospective 5 (which is around 4 times smaller).

So I can honestly say no regrets.

If you got this far you might be wondering “what about the gymnastics sports shots?” Well my plan is to try the Fuji at my daughter’s next meet. If it’s no good, I’ll just rent a body and lens for the day when I need it. The bottom line is I’m not going to let three or four shoots a year impact the rest of the year’s shooting.

Every now and then I get asked to get my camera out and shoot someone. These requests usually come through Lisa’s huge network of friends and being keen to get more experience (and please Lisa) I invariably say yes.

Usually it’s a person or family portrait, but a couple of months ago Lisa was asked if I would take some pictures of a business. This was a first and I happily said yes. What was also cool was that it was a business I had visited.

Redmond School of Glass is a glass blowing company where you can visit their store and just purchase some pieces or instead go along to their factory for a glass blowing lesson and make something. This is a really cool date night out and Lisa and I went there last year and made some large glass balls. There was nothing special about what we made but it was a great date and a load of fun and Lisa still has the balls on display.

Of course while there Lisa took the opportunity to buy some really nice pieces that were made by someone who knew what they were doing :-)

Anyway, the company wanted some shots of some of their newer pieces and also some pictures of their employees making some art. Their plan was to use the images for brochures and their website.

So I went along on a Saturday morning to take some pictures. Chris Pearson (a friend from work) came too and helped with lighting.

We had a great time and took a load of pictures – I’ve included a few here. There was a class on while we were shooting and I took some of the people blowing glass, but as I didn’t get a model release I’m not sharing those here.

We were there for around two hours and captured around 300 images, some of which came out really well, others, well they weren’t so good. I’ve provided all the images to the owners of the business and hopefully there are some there that they like.

The images below include some of their pieces from their store and a few shots of the glass blowers doing their thing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every year Lisa asks me to take some pictures of James and Abi for our annual Christmas Card.

Now you would think that this would be a fun task, I mean, I like taking photographs and I love my kids right? Well yes both are true but wow do they not go together.

For many years getting a smile out of James was a major challenge, these day’s he’s miles better, but still capturing shots of my kids that look nice for a card is a major challenge for me.

I’m really bad at “keeping my cool” and “being nice” and have found myself losing it a little which really doesn’t help the shoot.

So that’s how it usually goes anyway. This year however was a surprise. James had a shower (he’s always showering he’s the cleanest teenager I’ve ever met – but he never does this kind of thing for me when I ask) and put on a nice shirt. He smiled when asked at all the right times and I got some nice pictures of him.

Abi also played along, she smiled also when asked and even posed in different locations around the house.

At the end we got some lovely shots – even got one of James and Abi holding the Dog!

Maybe the bad years are behind me and things will be better from now on :-) – yeah right!

Here are the four pictures we picked.

 

 

 

It’s been a few years since I’ve visited the UK, so this year I decided to head back and spend some time with the family. I decided to go back for my Dad’s birthday (so that meant November) and also decided to visit on my own.

Taking both James and Abi out of school is never a good idea, especially for James as he’s a junior in high school. Add to that the fact that a UK trip for the kids is not a real vacation. For them a vacation requires a pool and (usually) nice weather. Visiting family and friends houses and drinking tea doesn’t really count. Sure they’d like to see the family (grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins etc.,) but I can’t afford two major vacations a year so they didn’t come. Not too bad for them but crappy for Lisa who I know would have loved to visit family. Oh well.

So once I had the date I needed to decide what I was going to do – who to see and when. This is slightly complicated by the fact that my family all live in different parts of the country.

Amazingly my first attempt at an agenda was accepted by all and saw me doing the following:

  • Meet my sister Jane at the airport and spend the weekend with her in the Cotswold’s
  • Drive to Wokingham in Berkshire to spend some time with Nikki, one of Lisa’s sisters
  • Drive to London and get some pictures in the city (1 day of selfish photography)
  • Drive to Royal Tunbridge Wells in Kent to spend some time with my Dad
  • Drive back to London to spend some time with my younger sister Kate

What made this itinerary great was that my whole family was going to join me at Kate’s for Dinner on my last Sunday, and my brother Alex was going to accompany me on the entire trip, taking a week off work himself.

This was going to fantastic!

I should say here (as my family will read this :-) that this was a family visit. Any opportunity to shoot was purely a bonus; it was family first, pictures second.

That said, everywhere I went everyone said, “Let’s go and take some pictures I know some great places”

So how did it go? Well I have to say I had a blast, it was lovely seeing my family face to face – sometimes Skype (while good) just isn’t enough. I won’t bore readers of this blog with sloppy family stuff but needless to say I’d been away too long and it was good to visit everyone.

On a pictures front (that’s what people really come here for) I had a load of fun. I’ve never really been to the Cotswold’s and I have to say it totally lived up to its beautiful reputation.

Going into London was also a lot of fun and I got some cool pictures there too.

When visiting my Dad’s house in Kent, we also drove down to Hastings for the day and I got some great pictures there (even found time to get some proper British Fish & Chips and cup of tea in a “chippy” – took some pictures of that too :-)

My last day with the family ended with some family shots that I’ve included here so they can download some copies.

This was a 10 day trip and I took a LOT of pictures, I’m posting here just my fav’s, and to show you where each image was taken I’ve broken the images up into location categories.

Some of these are just fun pictures for me, but there are some nice shots of the UK (for those who haven’t visited).

Hope you enjoy viewing these as much as I enjoyed taking them.

A small aside before you view the images, I should call out that just before visiting the UK I made the bold (very scary) decision to change all my camera gear. I’ll be posting what I did and why, but needless to say, ALL these pictures were taking with a mirrorless 16MP APS-C camera. If you want to find out more, check out my (soon to be posted) “Going Mirrorless” posting.

Enjoy

P.S. For some reason my Blog won’t let me post a posting with 50 images :-) – what a surprise – so this posting contains Family Pictures, other postings contain images from places I visited in the UK.

Family