What? Nature Photography with a Rangefinder?
Sometimes in the fall the best images are right at your feet, literally. I had just watched a leaf spiral to the ground and I wanted to convey the feeling of being atop that leaf. The technical part of accomplishing this was to use a slow shutter speed (1/15 sec.) and spin the camera just enough to get the feel of the motion while keeping the red leaf centered and sharp. For this I used the LCD on the back of the camera for viewing so I could grip the camera on both sides to have the best control of the purposeful motion. I used the XF 18-55mm f2.8-4 at 55mm. I shot at f16 to maximize depth of field as I was shooting fairly close to my subject. Because of all the vivid color in the scene I used the Velvia setting in-camera for a quick preview. I also used the Velvia camera calibration in Lightroom when processing the raw file. ISO 500.
Now it’s time for something different. Because I love to shoot many types of subjects I decided to tell you about using the X-Pro2 with one of my favorite subjects, nature. This isn’t something that comes immediately to mind with a rangefinder type camera, but with a capable EVF (electronic viewfinder) and sensor I was pleased by the overall experience.
This is part 5 of my continuing X-Pro Tour of images from my travels, stories behind the photos, and my thoughts and experiences with the Fuji X-Pro2 and Fujinon XF lenses in many different situations (I posted Part 1 and Part 2 in May, Part 3 in June and Part 4 in Sept ) In the captions I provide the backstory of the shot along with technical info. It started with my original Fuji post Fuji X-Pro2, A Love-Hate Relationship
I’ve blogged about how it works for travel in big cities, little villages, and how adept it is with people and even at my local county fair. Although these have covered a lot of different types of shooting, a lot them are really variations of street photography.
I like shooting in northern Arizona during monsoon season because there are invariably interesting and dramatic skies. This vantage point is in the San Francisco Peaks around 10 or 11 thousand feet (approx 3500m) I liked the layering and tonality and how the shapes of the clouds are almost like another set of mountains in the sky. The color from the sunset is really ancillary. In fact I also like this image as a black and white though it has a different feel that way. I used the XF 55-200mm lens at 190mm (FF = 285mm). Because I envisioned this originally as a monochrome image I was using the Acros +R film simulation for viewing. I knew I could always use the raw file as a color image too. That’s the beauty of shooting raw + jpeg. Interestingly the camera profile I liked best and used for processing the raw file was my custom profile of the X-Pro2 that I created with an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. It provides a neutral profile specific to my X-Pro2 body. Normally I would favor Provia or Astia for an image like this but the neutral one worked out best this time. 1/320 sec., f8.0, ISO 3200.
So, how is the X-Pro2 with nature?
I tested this out by using the X-Pro2 to scout for a couple workshops, exploring the nearby mountains for some great nature locations for my participants. These scouting missions were for my See The World in Black and White and Autumn in the San Francisco Peaks workshops I did earlier this year for Arizona Highways. This covered a lot different types of locations and situations from small details to broad scenics.
Scouting is when I get to do my own shooting. Once a workshop starts I’m dedicated to spending my time in the field with participants so I can rarely shoot. When I have the time I like to be deliberate and meditative with my nature photography. I love being outside, in beautiful places and the process can be just as rewarding as coming back with a meaningful shot. Not that the process isn’t enjoyable with other types of photography, just in a different way.
I sometimes take my workshop participants to the sites of old fires because of the nice juxtaposition of the snags and new growth. It’s especially nice for black and white. I was scouting during our rainy (“monsoon”) season off a remote dirt road in the San Francisco Peaks. The clouds started building earlier in the day than usual so I was treated to a really nice dramatic sky. I was imagining that the fire that burned here twenty years ago could easily have started on a day like this. In fact I made sure to get out of there before any real lightning started. In this case I used the OVF (optical viewfinder) to compose and then looked at the Acros +R film simulation to confirm what I was visualizing for a monochrome image. The EVF also helps for more precise framing. I should note that as helpful as these film simulations are, they still require using visualization. EVFs and LCDs on any camera are imperfect. The film simulations are a great starting point but after 30+ years of visualizing black and white my mind’s eye tends to serve me best. I think this is why I found myself using the OVF for several situations shooting nature. Of course with a conventional DSLR you would also be using optical viewing- just without the rangefinder advantage of being able to see outside the frame. XF 18-55mm f2.8-4.0, 1/210 sec., f16, ISO 400.
Here are a few things I noticed about shooting nature and landscape with the X-Pro2
- Ahh, An Optical Viewfinder I found myself switching back and forth between EVF (electronic viewfinder) and OVF (optical viewfinder.) You might wonder why I would even try to use the rangefinder when accurate framing tends to be important with nature and landscapes. The answer is twofold: First, it’s a quick way to remind myself what’s outside my composition, a luxury you don’t have with a DSLR. Secondly, it gives me a quick reference to compare whatever film simulation I’m using against the scene. I can make both of these comparisons without having to take my eye away from the viewfinder- just a quick flick of the lever.
- Contrasty EVF I noticed the deficiencies in the EVF. Don’t get me wrong, the EVF is great but not quite as good as my Sony A7R II. The X-Pro2’s EVF is a little too contrasty, hiding shadow and highlight detail that is really there. One can cheat this a bit by adjusting the processing parameters- you can decrease contrast, saturation and sharpening. Of course you sacrifice your JPEGs to benefit EVF viewing.
Sunrise at the same site of an old fire as the black and white above. The morning sweet light on clumps of grass made for a great foreground to tell the story of regrowth against the background of charred stumps and then behind them, more green forest in the background mountains. I used both the OVF and EVF on the X-Pro2, handheld, with Velvia film simulation, both for viewing and applied to my raw file in Lightroom. XF 18-55mm lens, 18mm (FF = 27mm) 1/160 sec. f8.0, ISO 1250.
Personally I prefer my method above switching to OVF or just plain looking at the scene in front of me. This way I can take advantage of the built-in film simulations for my JPEGs (I generally shoot RAW+JPEG.) With a sensor this good I’m pretty confident of capturing detail in a broad range. If necessary I switch to spot meter and use the good old fashioned zone system to double check the most important parts of the scene will render properly (a topic for another blog.)
- What? No Tripod?! I’m surprised by how little I use my tripods these days, even for nature. I find myself using it more to slow myself down so I can enjoy the process and that meditative zone I get in when concentrating about what I’m feeling, communicating, and capturing. On the technical side one can go to very high ISOs and still make big enlargements with lots of detail.
It was early on a cold, wet fall morning. I had planned to shoot the mountains and fall color reflected in a pond. The conditions just weren’t working so I was scanning the horizon and saw this lone red aspen off in the distance. It was quite far away so I used my Fujinon XF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 with the 1.4X teleconverter. I shot this at 560mm (Full Frame equivalent = 840mm) Naturally I was using the EVF and to help aid in visualizing color I used the Velvia film simulation in camera. 1/320 sec., f8.0, ISO 400.
- Ergonomics…Grip or No Grip I am currently working on another article about essential accessories but because I used the XF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 OIS WR for some of the shots in this article I wanted to mention how this behemoth handles with the X-Pro2. The short version is that Fuji’s MHG-XPRO2 grip, although not very beefy, adds just enough extra bulk to wrap your fingers around and hold the 100-400 quite comfortably and steady. With all my other Fujinon lenses I prefer the camera without the grip. I was amazed at how slow I could go with the shutter speeds and handhold this lens, even at 400mm with the 1.4X. I don’t have a particularly steady hand but the combination of the image stabilization and the grip allowed me to shoot sharp images handheld down to 1/30 sec at 400mm (FF = 600mm) and 1/125 sec at 560mm (FF = 840mm.)
Without the early morning fog augmenting the fall color in these mountains I would not have had much of shot with this composition due to an otherwise boring gray sky. The fog also provided nice dappled lighting throughout the scene adding some nice dimension and tonality. The mist was moving fast so I shot quickly and handheld with the lens that was already mounted on the X-Pro2. It was the 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 zoom at 100mm, f11, 1/500 sec ISO 800. I used the EVF for viewing set on the Velvia film simulation.
I should mention that for most of the shots in this post I used aperture priority and auto ISO, but making use of the shutter speed/ISO presets. Consequently I’m generally shooting at specific apertures and shutter speeds. It’s not that much different than shooting in manual except for moments when I have to shoot very quickly, then the floating ISO helps as a time saver. The X-Pro2 works well at high ISOs but when I have the time I prefer to be careful about highlight detail by shooting at a more nominal ISO range, which on this camera is in the 400-800 range. It has a nice low noise floor so shooting underexposed from the meter reading and boosting it in post capture yields nice detail from shadows through highlights.
The Bottom Line
A rangefinder doesn’t come to mind when thinking about shooting nature. However, the X-Pro2 with its EVF, LCD, superb 24 megapixel sensor and great film simulations as visualization aids, defies the usual rangefinder mindset. I really enjoyed shooting nature in all kinds of situations with this camera. I’m beginning to wonder why I still have my Sony A7R II system but that’s an article for another day.
The X-Pro Tour Continues (and other topics for future posts.)
I’m working on several articles for future posts including Is Fuji my new Leica? What about my Sony?, Will Microsoft Unseat Mac as the Photo Computer of Choice?, Essential Accessories for the Fujifilm X-Pro2, and more. And of course more about the Fuji X system as I continue to use it in other situations and types of shooting. Stay tuned for more photography, feedback, and insights!
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