The night photography almost ruined my vacation – A cautionary tale

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February was a gear heavy month on the blog, predominantly focused on pre-release shooting with the new Fuji X-Pro2.   I wrote my 5 part review series on the X-Pro2, and also published an interview with one of the official Fuji Guys.  It was a great month and I am so thankful for my relationship with Fuji Canada.  Now that the X-Pro2 is out in the wild I’m really looking forward to getting back to talking about the art and craft of photography for a little while.

Readers of this blog will note that March has been light on content.  This was mostly because I travelled to Amsterdam for a week of photography.  I am editing the photos from that trip right now, and will have a 3 part series coming in the next few weeks from that amazing city.  Before that, however, let’s talk about one specific evening I was out shooting in Paris last summer, and how my love for the art and craft of photography almost ruined what was, up until then,  a perfect vacation.

I should point out as we start that this night was an anomaly for me.  I lead an incredibly fortunate life, full of amazing travel and photographic opportunities.  I work with people I love, use gear I love, and get to share my work with family and friends.  I am incredibly thankful.   Consider this a cautionary tale then on the importance of maintaining perspective, because when you lose perspective it usually works against you.  Let’s get started…

The photo at the top of this post was taken from the  Pont Alexandre III in Paris, looking out toward the Eiffel Tower shortly after sunset.  I love this photo, to me it speaks to the romantic beauty of Paris.  When people view it they often comment any how beautiful that part of Paris is, how peaceful it must have felt to stand on that bridge that night, and how it must have felt amazing to be all alone and watch the tower light up.

Photography can be an illusion though.  A skilled photographer makes photographs, not just takes them.   The actual experience of taking this photo was very different from the experience described above, and that’s what I’d like to talk about.

On this trip to Paris one of the things my wife and I wanted to do was to have a picnic on the Champ de Mars, the grassy strip that runs below the Eiffel Tower.  As we drank wine and ate bread we would watch the sun set behind the tower and I would occasionally click the shutter to grab a beautiful image.  This picnic was also going to be held on my birthday, so it was going to be even more special.  I had a plan.

Due to some low clouds and rain early in the trip we had to postpone this picnic, so when we finally went it was toward the end of our stay.  We got off the Metro and I was totally excited for this night, which I knew would be full of awesome.  I could see it all in my mind.  I had a plan.

Walking up to the place where we were going to sit I was immediately caught off guard by the fences running around the entire area, by the grass that no longer seemed to be there, and by the large festival tents that were erected.  Indeed, the entire area was closed to prep for an upcoming event.

…I was crushed.

I had this whole evening planned and had anticipated it for so long that truth be told I was frustrated by this turn of events.   Now, I love photography.  It brings me joy, and my portrait subjects will tell you that I laugh non stop on my shoots because of that.   As I watched the sun fall though, for what was bound to be a perfect sunset, I found myself scrambling in my mind to pick a new location to shoot before “the night was wasted”.   From my pre-trip research I thought of the  Pont Alexandre III, and set off on the 20-30 minute walk at what could only be described as an angered pace… dragging my poor wife along with me.

It might surprise you to hear this, but artists can take themselves way to seriously sometimes.

Shocking, I know.   Let’s look at the facts for a second though…

I was still in Paris.  I was still with my beautiful wife.  I still had a bag of amazing gear over my shoulder.  There was still a beautiful European sunset falling right in front of me, yet I had fixated so much on one specific plan for the evening that I disregarded all of that when the plan fell apart.  This night reminded me that taking ourselves and our art too seriously almost always ends in failure.  I am human of course and we all have bad days, so I am ok with the fact that it happened and I’m not shy about sharing this story with you.

Back to the story…

Walking fast, I’m sure I went past at least a dozen beautiful photo opportunities along the way:  The Eiffel Tower framed between buildings, a garden, street photographs, beautiful people who I would have usually asked to make a portrait of, etc.  I was in damage control mode to try to save this evening and still get my “trophy shot” for the night.  I stopped seeing as an artist.

We arrived on the bridge, I set up on a tripod and got the photo above framed.  I felt better, and it  was now merely a matter of waiting for the right light as the tower lights came on and the light in the sky fell.

It turns out though that I wasn’t the only person who knew about this bridge and this view.  Amazing, I know, that other people in the most visited city in the world would also know about a scenic vista.  I’m actually talking about hundreds of people.  By the time the light was perfect I had to obsessively ask people to hang back out of the way while I clicked frames.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes they ignored me completely.  I think I got 12 decent frames and that was it, we were overwhelmed and I gave up.  And, let’s not forget that my poor wife, the amazing rock that she is, was waiting patiently the whole time while I destroyed our evening trying to get the perfect photograph.

This should have been a hilarious evening full of calamities (which, in hindsight, it was).  My frustration over the loss of my initial plans made me completely forget why I create art though…

Because it is fun, it is joyful, and it brings pleasure to my life.  Being an artist is such a gift.  I create because I love the process.  Every now and then it is good to be reminded of that.

Since that night 7 months ago I have travelled to Seattle, Las Vegas, and Amsterdam for the purposes of travel photography.  I have shot weddings and portrait sessions.  I have shot a lot of street photography, and that night has been a good reminder to always love the process… ultimately it is just as important as the final product.

Next on the blog, a three part series from Amsterdam.

Until then,

Ian

 

Fuji X-Pro2 Review Part Five: A Month With the X-Pro2

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Note:  This is part five of a five part review series on the soon to be now released Fuji X-Pro2:

The Fuji X-Pro2 is now shipping and I am loving the posts from people on social media who are receiving their new cameras and sharing their views and photos.  The anticipation leading up to the January X-Pro2 announcement was significant and having had the pleasure of using one for a month before its launch, I can say that it lives up to expectations in almost every way.

In this post I’ll summarize what I love about this new camera,  a few things some people may perceive to be downsides, and a few thoughts on the current and future direction of the X series cameras.

The Bottom Line, right up front…

I have written before about how the X100 series changed everything about my photography.  It brings me joy and makes me want to go out and take photos in ways that my Nikon cameras never did.  I gigged for years as a professional musician and found the same thing… certain guitars spoke to me and inspired me to play and write more than others.

The X100t is my go to camera, but my work often necessitates different focal lengths so I also use an X-T1 with the usual assortment of lenses.   The X-T1 is a great camera, which I have written about elsewhere on this site.  It is a camera that has benefited from multiple firmware updates, getting better and better with age.  I also reviewed the X-T10 last summer and thought it too was a  great camera…one that I have recommended to many, many people over the last year.  With these cameras I have shot weddings, portrait sessions, travel, landscapes, cityscapes, street photography, live gigs and personal work.  They have performed well and I trust them 100% to deliver.  Having said that, for me they have never had that special “something” that my X100t does.

In this review series I’ve talked a little about the technical aspects of the X-Pro2 , but the reason I am going to be upgrading my X-T1 to the X-Pro2 is not because of technical specifications.  It is because the camera inspires me.  There is something about rangefinder-esque camera bodies that I prefer and there is something about the way the X-Pro2 feels in my hand that I love.  It inspires me like my X100t does and that means so much more to me than talking about the technical specifications of the camera.

here’s What I love…

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The thought that keeps coming to my mind when I think about the X-Pro2 is that it represents a maturation of the X series.  Many of us spend so much time with these cameras that it is easy to forget that 5 years ago they didn’t exist.   The original X-Pro1 was announced in January 2012….only 4 years ago.   Over that time Fuji have made huge strides forward, have had a few stumbles, have listened to their end users and have continually upgraded their product line through firmware releases and new hardware releases.   When you step back and look at the current Fuji line up the growth in such a short period of time is remarkable, and the X-Pro2 represents another milestone for the X series.

So what do I love about the Fuji X-Pro2 the most?

The Ergonomics and Build Quality:

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When I first held the X-Pro2 in my hands it felt so much different than my X-T1.  It has a different shape.  It is a little bit bigger.  It is a little bit heavier.   I wasn’t an X-Pro1 user, so the fact that it felt so amazing in my hands came as a surprise to me.

Ergonomically, I love the layout of all the buttons along the right side and the layout of the dials…especially the new ISO dial:

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From a nostalgic point of view,  I love that the threaded shutter is back too.

The Joystick:

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This is one of those “why didn’t they do this before?” things.  It seems so simple, but it is one of those “day to day use” game changers.  It sits right where my thumb rests.  Holding it down rapidly moves the focus point.  Double tapping it returns the focus point to centre.  So simple, so fast.  It also frees up the other function buttons for other tasks, providing you with more options for customizing your camera.

Fuji’s new 24.3mp sensor, the X-Trans CMOS III:

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When the new 24.3mp sensor was announced, people instantly started talking about what the image quality would be like.  There is always a risk when you pack more pixels onto the same sized chip that  the high ISO performance could take a hit.

In my experience this did not happen.  In fact, I actually think it has improved.  The new sensor resolves beautifully;  I am quite comfortable shooting ISO 3200 to 6400 (I personally have no need to go higher) and I have more options for printing large or cropping.

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The X-Pro2 is also very responsive.  There is no detectable shutter lag and the write speed is very good.

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Dual Card Slots:

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Peace.  Of.  Mind.  That’s about it.

I have never had a memory card fail on me, but when I am shooting gigs like weddings I have always preferred having dual card slots and the peace of mind that I have multiple copies of images that capture once in a lifetime moments.  This is another example of how the X line up is becoming a serious contender in the professional photography world.

Acros Film Simulation:

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Confession time:

I have never shot film.  I entered the photography community in 2004, as digital started taking hold (I believe my first digital camera was a 3mp Fuji if I recall correctly).

With that said, I cannot comment on Acros other than to say it is a beautiful addition to Fuji’s film simulations.  Much like Classic Chrome changed colour photography for many Fuji shooters, Acros has done the same for black and white.  Fuji has written that Acros is only possible on the new sensor and it makes me a little sad that I won’t see it brought to my beloved X100t.

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are there any downsides to the X-Pro2?

There are 3 things that have come up in conversations with other people reviewing the X-Pro2:

Viewfinder Size and Eye Relief:

Let’s put it right on the table, the viewfinder in the X-T1 is gorgeous.  It’s huge and it’s bright.  When you look through it you feel like the image is right there.

On the X-Pro2 the viewfinder feels slightly smaller, and it feels set back a little bit.  It is gorgeous, the refresh rate is fast and of course it has the beautiful optical viewfinder too.  It definitely has a different feel to it than the X-T1 though.  Not worse, just different.

No Articulating Screen:

This one isn’t a “thing” for me, but some people have really come to love this feature.  If it is a deal breaker for you I’d say the X-T2, whenever it arrives, will be the camera for you.

The Position of the AF-L Button:

My friend Take, from Bigheadtaco, just wrote about this on Fujilove and I have to agree with him that the position is not optimal.  I back button focus often with my X100t, but I still haven’t gotten used to the placement of this button on the X-Pro2.

Final Thoughts:

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The most common question I have been asked over the last month is this:

“Should I get the X-Pro2, or wait for the not yet announced or released X-T2?”

I struggle with this question, because it implies that one model will be better than the other and I don’t think this will prove to be the case at all.

It is a safe bet that the new sensor, the Acros film simulation, possibly the joystick, possibly the dual card slots, etc will come to the X-T2 when it is released.  I think at that point it will simply be a matter of personal choice and ergonomic preference.   Do you want a rangefinder like experience?  Go with the X-Pro2.  Do you want a DSLR like experience with an articulating screen?  Go with the X-T2 when it arrives.

Bottom line:  Go with whatever gear inspires you to get out there and shoot.

This is exactly the maturation of the X series lineup that I mentioned earlier in this review.  As Fuji releases one high quality product after another, what we are really getting is choice and that is an awesome thing.

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For me, my bag will now hold the X-Pro2 and the X100t.  I have two camera bodies that inspire me and that is really what it is all about.  This year I have trips booked to Amsterdam, Seattle, and New York so far, and the X-Pro2 will be getting a lot of use.

One final note:  February was a crazy busy month on this site, with 65,000 views and hundreds of comments and emails.  I’d like to thank all of you for visiting the site, for your insightful comments and for your kind thoughts on my work.

Cheers,

Ian