Photographing New York City

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New York City.   NYC.  The Big Apple.  The City That Never Sleeps.  The Empire City.  It doesn’t matter what you call it, there is no arguing the fact that New York truly is one of the greatest cities in the world.   It has beautiful architecture, it is rich in the arts, the people are amazing, and it holds a significant place on the world stage.  On a personal note New York holds a special place in my heart because it was where I honeymooned after getting married and, having spent a long time working as a paramedic, I feel a connection to the events of 9/11 and the brethren I lost that day when they were working to save people in the World Trade Center towers.

I know that it has been two weeks since I last posted on this site, but that is because I just returned from another trip to New York where I spent a lot of time shooting, showing the city to family that had never been there before, and visiting friends.  This post is part one of a new five part series featuring photography from New York City:

Every time I go to New York I feel like I just scratch the surface of the city, despite spending hours every day with a camera in my hand.  There is simply so much to see that it would take months to explore everything New York has to offer.  In this first post I want to share a series of images that gives a broad overview of the city, and in the next few posts we’ll talk gear and get more area specific.

Get ready for a lot of photos.  Wordpress doesn’t always render images well in the blog post, so please click any of them to view larger if you are having any problems.   That said, let’s get started and look through the lens of my camera at the beauty that is New York City!

The photo at the top of this post is the quintessential skyline shot of New York City.  Dead centre you can see the iconic Empire State Building.  Viewed large you can see the new Freedom Tower behind it, the Statue of Liberty behind that, the Brooklyn Bridge, etc.  This photo was taken from the Top of the Rock, a viewing platform at the top of Rockefeller Center.  I will have more on shooting from this location in a separate blog post.

When I teach my travel photography workshop I talk often about the need to walk a city, to explore, to get lost.  Here is a perfect example of that:  I was walking down 5th Avenue, looking south, when I saw the view seen in the photo below.  I love the architecture, the flag, and how the Empire State Building is framed with the blue sky behind it:

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Had I not been out walking I never would have seen this view.  You really need to give yourself time to shoot places like New York, and you need to be out walking.  I averaged 10-15km per day and wish I could have done more!

Not far from where the above photo was taken you will find the iconic Grand Central Terminal:

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I spent a lot of time shooting Grand Central this time, and it will have it’s own blog post later in this series.  If you haven’t been before it is hard to fathom how busy this terminal is, with 750,000 people per day passing through its doors.  Somehow, however, there is a calm amongst all of that chaos when you stop and take in the beautiful design of this building.

Keep going south beyond Grand Central Terminal and the Empire State Building and you will find the Flatiron Building, another beautiful example of the New York architecture I love so much:

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Continuing south, the National September 11th Memorial and Museum is incredibly moving to visit.  At street level the Memorial is dominated by two one acre reflecting pools that sit on the former footprint of the north and south towers of the World Trade Center:

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These pools and man made waterfalls reflect the loss of life and the physical void left by the destruction of the Towers.   The names of 2,983 victims are etched around the edges, representing those lost on September 11th and also in the earlier 1993 World Trade Center bombing.  This wide angle photo doesn’t pay respect to the scale of the Memorial.  For perspective though, all of those little dots you see around the edges of the Memorial are people.

The actual Museum is located underground.  I will have a separate blog post on my day visiting this location coming up in this series.

Go all of the way to the southern tip of Manhattan Island and you will find the Statue of Liberty:

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I have taken the typical shot of this iconic landmark before, and wanted to make a photo that was a little more original this time.  A trick to seeing the statue is to take the free Staten Island Ferry, which goes past the Statue of Liberty.  When I saw the rays of light bursting from these clouds I dropped back into black and white, boosted the contrast, and got a photo I was happy with.

Going north from Grand Central instead of south you’ll find Central Park, a place of quiet beauty in the heart of this insanely busy city.  This will sound like a strange analogy, but I equate visiting Central Park to going to Disneyland.  Disney has curated the experience of visiting their theme parks perfectly.   As soon as you enter one of their parks it is like the outside world ceases to exist:  The sounds are different, the sights are different, the feel is different.  I have the same experience when I go into Central Park, I find it quiet and calm despite the bustling city life that is happening all around it.

Here is an image taken in Central Park on a cloudy day, looking west towards the San Remo building on a cloudy and overcast day:

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And, an image on a bright sunny day of the famous Bow Bridge:

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In the park you will also find Strawberry Fields, a memorial dedicated to John Lennon:

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The entrance to the Memorial is at 72nd Street, directly across from the Dakota Hotel where, on December 8th, 1980, John Lennon was murdered.  His ashes were spread in this area of the park, and in 1985 Strawberry Fields was dedicated.

I have never been here when the Memorial was not surrounded by people either paying their respects, or fighting for the space to take a selfie.

Selfies.  Sigh.  Anyway…

Wherever I travel I love visiting old churches.  I feel at peace in them, and I love the architecture.  New York is home to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, located near Rockefeller Centre:

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So beautiful, and well worth a visit.

Near the Rockefeller Center are several other iconic images, including Radio City Music Hall:

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…and the Atlas Statue:

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These last two photos show that the name “The city that never sleeps” is well earned…. Daytime, nighttime, you can always keep shooting in New York and I was out late every night well after my family had returned to the hotel.

I spent an afternoon and evening in Brooklyn this trip, an area that I hadn’t photographed on previous visits.  On this day I spent a few hours on a photowalk through Chinatown, Little Italy, Soho and the Financial District catching up with fellow Official Fuji X Photographer Kale Friesen.  After our visit I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge:

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Funny story:  New York is quite famous for their epic, “appear out of nowhere” thunderstorms.  The Brooklyn bridge is about a mile long, so it is very easy and quick to walk across.  When I started crossing it the weather was about 35 degrees Celsius (about 95 degrees Fahrenheit), and the sky was blue as far as the eye could see.  By the time I reached the half way point, the sky was full of dark clouds that opened up on myself and the other people on the bridge.  We got totally soaked, and by the time we reached the end of the bridge the rainstorm was gone.  It was quite comical.  Moments like this are part of the fun of traveling!

Once across the bridge, you are in an area affectionately know as DUMBO, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.  This area is a treasure trove of photographic opportunities.  There is one famous spot where the Empire State Building is visible through one of the supports of the Manhattan Bridge:

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From the walkway along the Brooklyn Bridge Park you have wide open views of both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge.  Here is the latter:

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For my final shot of the evening I settled on a classic shot of the Manhattan skyline, framed with a row of pilings in the foreground.  While I waited for the right blue hour light I put a 10 stop ND filter on my lens and shot black and white long exposures:

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And, when the time was right, I grabbed the same shot with the city lights lit up against the evening sky:

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The photographic opportunities in New York are endless.  All you need are a good pair of shoes, your camera, and an appetite to explore and observe.

This trip really reinforced for me my love of shooting travel and street photography with my Fujifilm cameras.   I hope you enjoyed these photos, and I look forward to showing you more in upcoming blog posts.   If you have any questions or thoughts please feel free to comment!

Next up in this series will be a discussion on my camera gear pack for this trip.

Cheers,

Ian

Street Photography

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It has been a crazy summer so far, with the Official Fujifilm X Photographer announcement that happened at the end of June,  the new Fujifilm X-T2 that was just announced, the fact that it is travel season, wedding season, and of course the family is now off for the summer.  Add in the usual personal daily grind and I can’t believe it is July 13th already.

I am in the middle of several photography projects that will be featured on the site over the next few months, so for now I’d just like to post some street photos from the last month or two.  Street photography is one of those genres that you can always find time to shoot (and if you are a street shooter you should always be making the effort), and it has been great to turn off “the real world” for an hour or two here and there and just shoot for the sake of shooting.

I  hope you enjoy these images, and that you are having a great summer so far.  I look forward to posting a new travel series soon, as well as more work with the soon to be released X-T2.

Cheers,

Ian

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First impressions of the new Fuji X-T2

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I have been working with a pre-production model of the new Fuji X-T2 for the last couple of weeks, and I am excited to finally be able to share my initial thoughts on it.

First, a little historical perspective…

The X-T1, originally announced on January 28th, 2014, was a breakthrough camera for Fujifilm.  It had more of a DLSR style to the body, it was weather sealed, it had an articulating screen, and its electronic viewfinder was large and beautiful to use.  Over the last two and a half years since its release it has also had multiple firmware updates, bringing a host of new features to it.

Since the announcement of the Fujifilm X-Pro2 this past January many people have been eagerly anticipating the successor to the X-T1:   A new camera that not only incorporates the technology found in the X-Pro2, but also the many suggestions for improvements made by X-T1 users over the years.  Readers of this site know that I love using my X100t and X-Pro2, but after using a pre-production model of the X-T2 for a couple of weeks I have to say that those of you who have been waiting for this camera are going to be very happy.

In this “first look” we will examine the camera’s exterior and ergonomic design, take a look at what’s under the hood, look at some sample images, and we will discuss the new grip briefly.  I’d also like to comment on the inevitable “X-Pro2 versus X-T2” debate.  Please note that this review is based on a pre-production model that does not have the final firmware installed on it, so some things may change by the time the product is actively shipping.

I think it is also worth saying that I review gear from the perspective of an end user.  For example, it is not particularly important to me if a camera’s startup time is 0.001 seconds.  What I want to know is if I am holding the camera in my hand turned off and I see something I want to photograph, is it ready to go by the time it is pulled up to my eye.  Real world usage.   Having said that, my friends at Fuji Vs. Fuij and BigHeadTaco are excellent resources for those who are hardcore into the specifications.  I highly recommend you also check out their reviews.

With that said, let’s get started!

Exterior Design and Ergonomics:

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You can see from the photo above that the front of the camera looks very familiar to users of the X-T1.  The grip is slightly larger, and I think it feels excellent in the hand.  The overall size of the body is actually slightly larger, to accommodate a heat sink for the new 4K video capability.

Let’s move around to the side:USBSide-2The new compartment door feels robust.  When opened, you can see that the X-T2 now features a 3.5mm microphone input, a USB 3.0 port (which will allow for in body charging), a micro HDMI port, and a 2.5mm remote terminal.

On the back we can see quite a few changes:

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First off, the focus lever from the X-Pro2 has come to the X-T2.  The focus lever.  The joystick.  Call it what you want, I love this thing.  It makes life so simple for me as a user who is often adjusting my focus point and, after using it for 5 months since I first reviewed the X-Pro2, I find myself reaching for it all the time on cameras that don’t have it.  I am happy to see it becoming a trend in the X series.

You will also notice the focus assist button from the X-T1 has been removed (to accomodate space for the focus lever I would imagine).  The rear command dial is now a button, which will allow you to zoom in and check focus when in playback mode.

The rear eye cup is larger.   Your eye seals easily against it, allowing you to view the electronic viewfinder with more ease.

A common concern heard with the original X-T1 was that the D pad buttons were too shallow and “mushy”.  I find the buttons on the X-T2 a little more prominent, and I had no problems using them in day to day usage.

The read LCD screen (3.0″ in size, and 1040K) still articulates as before:

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But it also has a new feature that provides for 3 way articulation, allowing for use when the camera is held in portrait orientation:

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Another common comment heard from users of the X-T1 was that it was sometimes difficult to turn the ISO dial without accidentally adjusting the drive mode, or to turn the shutter speed dial without accidentally changing the photometry mode.

There have been two slight, but ergonomically significant, changes to the ISO and shutter speed dials and to the drive mode and photometry dials:

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The ISO and shutter speed dials are now taller, allowing for better grip to adjust them without accidently bumping the lower dials.  Truth be told I didn’t notice this until it was pointed out to me, but looking back I also didn’t accidentally bump the drive mode or photometry to something I didn’t want, which seems to speak to the effectiveness of this change.  This is an example of the small, but effective, changes you will find from the X-T1 to the X-T2.

The drive mode and photometry dials are now stiffer, again to prevent accidentally bumping them out of the desired mode.

Finally for our quick look at the back, you will also notice a 4th photometry mode has been added to the X-T2:  Centre weighted metering.  This was introduced on the X-Pro2, and is now found here on the X-T2.

Moving around to the other side, we see this:CardSlots-1First off, the memory card slot door is much more robust than the one on the X-T1 was, and it auto-locks when you close it.

Even more importantly:  DUAL CARD SLOTS!  This has been a much requested feature, was originally brought to the Fuifilm X series in the X-Pro2, and now can also be found in the new X-T2.  For professionals who shoot once in a lifetime moments (i.e. weddings, sports, concerts, etc) this is a welcome addition that many felt was lacking in the previous generation of this camera.  You now have the option of capturing duplicate copies of all images, capturing RAW on one card and jpeg on the other, or setting it to overflow so you don’t have to change cards.  UHS-II is supported in both card slots.

Finally, let’s take a look at the top of the camera:

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From a practical usage perspective the biggest change here from the X-T1 is the centre locking pins on the ISO and shutter speed dials.  These work differently from those found on the original X-T1.   Pushing them now unlocks the dial to allow for a setting change, and pushing them again locks the dial to prevent accidently bumping the dial and changing a setting.  Simple and effective.  I find that these new locking pins, plus the enhanced height of the dials, makes them very easy to use.

Also of note, the ISO dial now goes up to 12,800, and the shutter speed dial now goes to 1/8000th.  This is consistent with the new technology found in the X-Pro2.

You can see that the flash sync speed is now 1/250th.

There is no longer a video button on the top of the camera like there was on the X-T1.  Enabling video mode is now done via the drive dial.

We can see that the new exposure compensation dial found on the X-Pro2, which allows for up to 5 stops +/- EV, has come to the X-T2.

And finally for the top, there is now a threaded shutter release button.  I love this, but I’m a geek for things like soft shutter releases and threaded shutter cables.

Inside the camera:

As one would expect, the Fujifilm X-T2 features the new 24.3MP X-Trans III sensor with the X-Processor Pro technology that Fujfilm announced back in January.  This means the X-Pro2 and the X-T2 now share the same sensor and processor.

Lossless Compressed RAW is now available.  I have not had a chance to work with the RAW files yet from my pre-production model of the X-T2, but this is all I shoot on my X-Pro2 when I am shooting RAW and I am glad to see it here in the X-T2.

The new 2.36M-Dot EVF (electronic viewfinder) can refresh up to 100fps when the camera is in high performance (boost) mode (60 fps when in normal mode).  It is also two times brighter than the X-T1’s viewfinder.  It feels seamless, and is definitely the best EVF I have looked through.  When you recall the early days of electronic viewfinders, that often felt like you were looking through a little TV at your subject, you realize just how far this technology has come.

The autofocus system has improved yet again with the addition of more phase detection pixels. The X-Trans II sensor had approximately 40% horizontal and 40% vertical phase detection coverage.  The new X-Trans III sensor has 50% horizontal and 75% vertical phase detection coverage.  Additionally, the new sensor in the X-T2 has up to 325 autofocus points.  Other improvements to the autofocus system include a much shortened “black out” time when shooting in CL and CH, which means the camera has more opportunities to acquire focus when tracking and shooting  in burst mode.   It also switches much faster between the phase detect and contrast detect autofocus points, reducing the “wobble” that was occasionally noticed during tracking.  There are many other customizable features in the new autofocus system found on the X-T2, but I have not worked with them enough yet to review them fully.

The VPB-XT2 Battery Grip:

I am not a battery grip user myself, but the battery grip for the X-T2 is definitely a worthwhile investment for those who may benefit from it as it provides the following:

  • Three batteries on board the camera.  With an average of 350 shots per battery this could provide for a full day’s worth of shooting for most people (over 1,000 shots when fully loaded).
  • A shutter release button, a focus lever, AE-L and AE-F buttons, command dials, a Q button and a function button all easily accessible when shooting in portrait orientation.
  • Increased speed of shooting:  The continuous high mode on the X-T2 is 8fps, but this increases to 11fps with the battery grip attached.
  • For those excited about the new 4K video capabilities of the new Fui X-T2, the battery grip greatly extends your shooting time from 10 minutes per clip without the grip to  to 30 minutes per clip with it.

Sample Images:

Here are some images I shot over the last couple of weeks.   I had 4 opportunities to head out with the X-T2, shooting at a local marina, during a hike, and to shoot some street photography.  As the camera I was using was a pre-production model, without the final firmware installed, I am only going to show lower resolution jpeg images:

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X-Pro2 Versus the X-T2:

A question that is bound to come up from some people will be:

“Which is better, the X-Pro2 or the X-T2?”

My answer:

Neither is better.  They are different.

Fujifilm has rapidly grown their product line in the last five years, and by doing so have given us choice.  In 2016 two new and amazing camera bodies (the X-Pro2 and the X-T2) have joined the X series, both of which contain the latest and greatest in Fujifilm’s mirrorless technology.   “Which is better” is not the right question to ask in my opinion… the question to be asking is “which is better for me?”

  • Do you prefer a rangefinder styled body, with a beautiful hybrid optical / electronic viewfinder?  Then the X-Pro2 is for you.
  • Do you prefer more of a DSLR styled body, with an articulating screen and 4K video?  Then the X-T2 is more for you.

Both camera bodies are weather resistant, share the same internals (i.e. sensor and image processor), share the new focus lever, have dual card slots, etc.   Fujifilm has provided us with choice, and as I have said before that is an awesome thing.

Final Thoughts:

This was probably the easiest “first impression” review that I have written.  This is largely due to the following two things:

  • Fujifilm listened to their end users and delivered on many of the improvements that had been requested by users since the X-T1 was released:  An improved grip.  Improved shutter speed and ISO dials (including the locking pins).  Movie mode enhanced to 4K and moved to the drive dial.  Better D pad buttons.  An articulating screen that can be used in portrait orientation.  A 3.5mm microphone input.   The list goes on, and the way Fujifilm listens to their end users is one of the primary reasons their users are often so brand loyal.
  • Additionally, Fujifilm brought all of the new technology that we saw in the X-Pro2 to the X-T2:  The new 24.3MP X-Trans III sensor with the X-Processor Pro.  An enhanced autofocus system.  The new focus lever.  The enhanced EVF.  Dual card slots.  1/8000th mechanical shutter.  Native ISO of 200 – 12,800.  Etc.

Anyone who reads this site knows that the X100 series are my all time favourite cameras, and that the X-Pro2 stole my heart in January.  I am incredibly happy with my gear pack with those two cameras, but I can say with little hesitation that I think the X-T2 will be Fujifilm’s best selling camera to date.  It is a camera purpose built for professional use, and I look forward to working with a production model in the near future and putting the X-T2 through more rigorous testing.

Cheers,

Ian