Capturing Nature with the X-Pro2

What? Nature Photography with a Rangefinder?

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 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.

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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.

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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

 

  1. 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.
  1. 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.

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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.)

  1. 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.

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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.

  1. 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.)

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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!

Joel’s X-Pro 2 Series

 

Joel Wolfson is an Instructor with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops

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I have Lightroom and Photoshop – Why Do I Need Plug-ins?

Author:  Joel Wolfson

I spent 5 minutes using Topaz Glow to augment the sense of wonder by this child in a museum. This requires at least one hour in Photoshop with advanced expertise to accomplish a similar look.

I spent 5 minutes using Topaz Glow to augment the sense of wonder by this child in a museum. This requires at least one hour in Photoshop with advanced expertise to accomplish a similar look.

The title of this article poses an excellent question. If you aren’t familiar with plug-ins, they are mini imaging programs that work in conjunction with Photoshop, Lightroom, Elements, and other mainstream programs to accomplish various common and creative tasks.

Photoshop can pretty much accomplish anything with an image and Lightroom also has a lot of adjustments available for editing an image. I have been using Photoshop  and Lightroom on a daily basis since their very first versions. My level of expertise is high with both of these and I can do just about anything I want with these two programs whether precise adjustments with luminosity masks, conversion to black and white, special effects, or just everyday raw processing.

Why I Use Plug-ins

The short answer to why I use plug-ins is they’re efficient, save time, easy to use, and can encourage creativity. This provides some critical benefits: They leave me more time to spend behind the camera or with my family, instead of being in front of the computer and still accomplish the tasks I need or want to without the extra time in Photoshop. I also like experimenting with the one-click presets in plug-ins because it sparks new ideas and is a quick way to see different treatments of an image.

In 8 minutes using Topaz Adjust, Clarity and BW Effects I converted a raw capture and created a black and white image with depth, shadow detail and accentuated clouds for drama in the sky. The equivalent in Photoshop requires advanced expertise and takes about an hour.

In 8 minutes using Topaz Adjust, Clarity and BW Effects I converted a raw capture and created a black and white image with depth, shadow detail and accentuated clouds for drama in the sky. The equivalent in Photoshop requires advanced expertise and takes about an hour.

Efficiency in Learning

The other thing to consider is that the learning curve on most plug-ins is shorter than the amount of time you have to invest in attaining a similar result in Photoshop.

For example, if you learn one Topaz or Nik plug-in it’s easy to learn another that accomplishes a completely different task. Let’s say you start with learning Topaz Adjust, which does an amazing job equalizing exposure. You can go to B&W Effects plug-in, see a familiar interface and tools and do great black and white conversions. Similarly, fire up Topaz Clarity and add a sense of depth to your images. Accomplishing these 3 vastly different tasks in Photoshop would require learning a number of different advanced techniques. Add to this the fact that plug-ins tend to have dozens of presets (one-click shortcuts) with which you can accomplish the task you want plus some fantastic results you never dreamed.

It took me about 12 minutes using Topaz Adjust, Clarity, and Detail to process this raw image to one with proper detail, a sense of depth and a natural feel. It takes 45 minutes for a similar result in Photoshop (expert level in Photoshop)

It took me about 12 minutes using Topaz Adjust, Clarity, and Detail to process this raw image to one with proper detail, a sense of depth and a natural feel. It takes 45 minutes for a similar result in Photoshop (expert level in Photoshop)

Hands On Workshop for Plug-Ins

Because I get a lot of requests to go beyond my one hour webinars on using plug-ins I’m offering a two day hands-on workshop with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops in November. It’s called Capture to Masterpiece Workflow: Picture Perfect with Plug-ins. I’ll take attendees through the whole process starting with a photo shoot in the Superstition Mountains through final results incorporating plug-ins. We’ll learn how to optimize raw images, add a sense of depth, convert to black and white, and create some images that are just pure fun where your imagination is the limit!

Take a look at the examples in this post and read the captions for the time it took using plug-ins versus the time to get a similar effect in Photoshop. Most of the Photoshop work would require an advanced to expert level.

This is a preview mode for looking at a collection of presets in Topaz B&W Effects. As you scroll you see dozens more options. There are also numerous collections of these presets, all of which offer one-click processing of your image.

This is a preview mode for looking at a collection of presets in Topaz B&W Effects. As you scroll you see dozens more options. There are also numerous collections of these presets, all of which offer one-click processing of your image.

Happy Shooting Everyone!
Joel

headshotJoel Wolfson is an Arizona Highways instructor/photographer. Here is Joel’s bio.
Subscribe to Joel’s email list and Be The First to Get the Latest on his workshops, articles, blog posts, tips, and more
Joel’s blog has additional articles about photography and travel.
Website: www.joelwolfson.com
Email Joel info@joelwolfson.com

Sony A7R II Sealed The Deal

Author: Joel Wolfson

My Preference for Mirrorless over DSLRs

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I shot this stunning coastline on the Na Pali coast of Kauai (Hawaii) from a helicopter using the Sony A7R II. 24mm @ f8.0 1/800 sec.

It was a “Wow!” moment. I don’t say it very often when it comes to camera gear- in fact only about once a decade over my 30 year photography career. I had just finished doing an aerial shoot from a helicopter in Kauai. I had an absolute blast doing the shoot. I was a little nervous beforehand wondering how I would like using my new A7R II on a demanding shoot. I was thoroughly familiar with the camera and controls on it (I had been using the nearly identical A7 II for months.) The A7R II ended up handling everything I gave it on the shoot so then it came down to the performance of the camera and how it would translate my vision for the images.

Then I took my first look at the images and said “Wow!” out loud. This has only happened twice before: The last time was looking at 6X7 transparencies from a shoot in Italy and France from my Mamiya 7 II and the first time was looking at Kodachrome slides from my first Leica rangefinder. So that’s my average of about once a decade for a camera to really wow me.

I’ve found the Sony A7R II also renders very beautifully in black and white. 240mm f8.0 1/250 sec.

I’ve found the Sony A7R II also renders very beautifully in black and white. 240mm f8.0 1/250 sec.

I’ve found the Sony A7R II also renders very beautifully in black and white. 240mm f8.0 1/250 sec.

How I arrived at the Wow moment

Due to a hand injury a few years ago I started using Micro 4/3 mirrorless cameras and lenses until my hand was rehabilitated and I could hold and use my much heavier Canon DSLRs again. Micro 4/3 spoiled me as I was able to carry around so much gear that weighed so little. As much as I loved the form factor, light weight and the outstanding optics of that system, at 16 megapixels, it couldn’t meet my requirements for making very large prints.

Large fine art prints are an important part of my business. Although the 21 megapixel sensors in my Canon bodies were usually adequate there were times I wanted higher resolution to have the leeway for cropping and still make very large prints. Enter the Nikon D800E with a 36 Megapixel Sony sensor without a low pass filter. I bought it along with a complement of Nikon lenses. This was not an easy decision having been a diehard Canon user for decades. But much to my disappointment, Canon at that time, was on a path of lowering the resolution of their sensors, presumably for better low light performance, faster frame rates, and their assumption that pros and consumers didn’t want or need higher resolution then their top end of 22 MP. I think they were caught off guard by the number of pros like me that switched to Nikon for the higher resolution. It turned out that Nikon, with Sony’s sensor was able to produce astounding quality with no compromise in dynamic range or low light. I know some people would argue that the 5D Mark III is better in low light than the D800E (later replaced by the D810) but in practical terms, like making prints, it was more of a tie and the obvious advantage of higher resolution on the D800E.

The detail that the 42 megapixel sensor (no AA filter) in the Sony A7RII can render is impressive. For a 100% view of what’s in the blue rectangle, scroll down. 194mm @ f11.0, 1/320 sec. ISO 100.

The detail that the 42 megapixel sensor (no AA filter) in the Sony A7RII can render is impressive. For a 100% view of what’s in the blue rectangle, scroll down. 194mm @ f11.0, 1/320 sec. ISO 100.

The detail that the 42 megapixel sensor (no AA filter) in the Sony A7RII can render is impressive. For a 100% view of what’s in the blue rectangle, scroll down. 194mm @ f11.0, 1/320 sec. ISO 100.

Sony announced their first full frame 36 megapixel camera in the fall of 2013, the A7R, about 8 months after I bought my Nikon system. I read about it with great interest but there weren’t enough of the right lenses available for my use and using adapters for my Nikon lenses (or Canon for that matter), at that time was cumbersome. As innovative as it was, there were naturally a few problems with the A7R being the first of its kind. I followed Sony’s progression knowing it was only a matter of time before I might have the best of both worlds: The compactness of a mirrorless body with the high resolution and low light capabilities of a top notch full frame sensor.

Even after using the Nikon system extensively the cameras never really felt like a natural extension of my hands like my Canons did. I got used to using the Nikon gear and there was a feature or two I liked that my Canon gear didn’t have. However, Canon definitely has much better ergonomics and intuitive controls. Sort of like using a PC after being spoiled by the elegance and intuitive design of a Mac- only without the price difference. But whether I stayed with Nikon or went back to Canon I would have to deal with very large and heavy cameras.

Blown up to 100% here from the blue outlined section of ocean photo above, this is only a tiny fraction of the image. There is a ton of information captured with the Sony A7R II sensor.

Blown up to 100% here from the blue outlined section of ocean photo above, this is only a tiny fraction of the image. There is a ton of information captured with the Sony A7R II sensor.

Blown up to 100% here from the blue outlined section of ocean photo above, this is only a tiny fraction of the image. There is a ton of information captured with the Sony A7R II sensor.

The game changed two years later when Sony started shipping the A7 II. I bought it along with some lenses. Thus began the Sony trial. At 24 megapixel the A7II was a slight downgrade in terms of resolution compared to my Nikon D800E but this was an experiment and my opportunity to try the highly improved second generation Sony A7 series bodies and by now they had some lenses in their line I could use professionally. Sony has always had outstanding optics. Along with their association with Zeiss and their acquisition of Minolta they have a great basis and history for premium optics. I’ve always loved Zeiss lenses and owned several over the years. Now I could use them on a compact full frame mirrorless body.

Naturally there are some things I’d like to see added or changed on this camera but not enough that I want to go back to DSLRs as a main system. The Sony A7R II is really a revolution in digital cameras. I think it’s quite possible that Sony could achieve their 5 year goal of knocking one of the giants, Nikon or Canon out of the top spots.

Watch for my next post about the mirrorless experience with the Sony A7 system.

Aerial of a large waterfall on the island of Kauai. It’s often necessary to use high shutter speeds from a helicopter- when combined with a polarizing filter and exposing for the shade you can end up with commensurately high ISO even in daylight. The Sony A7R II handles it with aplomb! Here I used 1/800 sec, f9.0 at ISO 10,000.

Aerial of a large waterfall on the island of Kauai. It’s often necessary to use high shutter speeds from a helicopter- when combined with a polarizing filter and exposing for the shade you can end up with commensurately high ISO even in daylight. The Sony A7R II handles it with aplomb! Here I used 1/800 sec, f9.0 at ISO 10,000.

Aerial of a large waterfall on the island of Kauai. It’s often necessary to use high shutter speeds from a helicopter- when combined with a polarizing filter and exposing for the shade you can end up with commensurately high ISO even in daylight. The Sony A7R II handles it with aplomb! Here I used 1/800 sec, f9.0 at ISO 10,000.

Happy Shooting Everyone!

Joel Wolfson is an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop instructor/photographer. Here is Joel’s bio.

Subscribe to Joel’s email list and Be The First to Get the Latest on his workshops, articles, blog posts, tips, and more

Joel’s blog has additional articles about photography and travel.

Website: www.joelwolfson.com

Email Joel info@joelwolfson.com

 

Is The Mirrorless Honeymoon Over?

Author:  Joel Wolfson

I shot this with the Sony A7 II while conducting my Villages of Tuscany workshop in Italy. 240mm f11 1/250 sec. ISO 125

I shot this with the Sony A7 II while conducting my Villages of Tuscany workshop in Italy. 240mm f11 1/250 sec. ISO 125

My last mirrorless post was about my “Wow!” moment with the A7R II and why I switched to mirrorless after decades of using DSLRs. It’s been about a year and now that the honeymoon is over, do I still like using my mirrorless system? Short answer: Yes. Like any successful relationship, there are challenges along the way but I still enjoy day to day life with my Sony A7 system. I recognize the flaws but overall the pros outweigh the cons.

Now that I’ve been using the Sony A7 full frame system for nearly a year (A7 II and A7R II) and using a variety of lenses (3 Zeiss, 1 Sony) it’s a good time to point out the pros and cons. Because I’ve owned both Canon and Nikon DSLR systems they are my basis for comparison. Your own mileage may vary.

 Pros:

 Lightweight and compact: This was a major factor for me, particularly because I travel a lot and it’s really nice not to have to carry as much weight and bulk around. In spite of the small size and weight you still get a full frame 42MP sensor with spectacular dynamic range and low light capabilities.

 No chimping required: The eye level electronic viewfinder (EVF) essentially allows you to see a preview of your final image before you fire the shutter. Yes, you can use live view on your Canon or Nikon but you have to pull the camera away from your eye yielding an unsteady grip or necessitating a tripod and it’s very slow and clunky.

If your exposure or other settings are incorrect, even way off on your DSLR, you won’t know it until you take it away from your eye and look at the review image on the LCD (aka “chimping”). In the ideal world we should check our settings every time we pick up the camera. But in the real world we sometimes see something cool, grab the camera and shoot before we realize we had the exposure compensation, white balance, ISO or something else set for a completely different situation from the last time we used the camera.

 Depth of field preview: Although you can allegedly “preview” depth of field on many DSLRs the viewfinder can get very dark as you stop down, especially if you’re in low light. With an EVF you can see it all through a bright viewfinder and previewing depth of field is much easier.

 Low light: Although some DSLRs are spectacular performers at high ISO in low light, it can be difficult to see through the viewfinder, especially if you’re using a slower lens (eg. Canon 24-105 f4.0 L or Nikon 24-120 f4.0G). The EVF on the Sony allows you to see in the dark with a bright viewfinder even in very low light. Add to that trying to see the effect of depth of field with the lens stopped down and a DSLR viewfinder becomes useless.

 Manual focusing: Because the A7RII has focus peaking indicators and instant magnification in the viewfinder you can manually focus easily, precisely and in low light compared to DSLRs which are more difficult to focus manually through the viewfinder. The focus peaking indicators aren’t super accurate though still useful.

 Rendering quality of Zeiss lenses: Sony has had a long relationship with Zeiss and many of the lenses made for Sony cameras are Zeiss. Of course the technical performance of Zeiss lenses is stellar but there’s also a quality or look to how they render on the A7R II that is beautiful. Interestingly that distinctive rendering isn’t as obvious on the A7 II body. I can’t explain that but it may be due to the fact that the A7R II has no anti-aliasing filter and the A7 II does. The standout favorite of my Zeiss lenses is the Batis 85mm f1.8. Not only does it render beautifully but is one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever used (Nikon’s 85 1.8G is comparable technically but doesn’t have the distinctive rendering)

I’m not privy to Zeiss’s influence on Sony’s own designs and manufacturing but the Sony lenses I’ve used also have very nice rendering on the A7R II. In my mind, photographic equipment is merely a set of tools to communicate something meaningful to me as an artist and also to the viewer. So although not as tangible as features or specs the rendering can be an extra tool of communication, particularly when trying to convey a sense of something more subtle (but still very important) like beauty or warmth.

Other pros: In-body 5 axis stabilization means you still get stabilization with non-stabilized lenses. There are also numerous lens adapters so you can use your Canon, Leica, and other lenses on the A7 bodies. Although I no longer have my Canon gear, the Metabones EF adapter is highly regarded because it allows full autofocus capabilities with Canon lenses.

Not a deal breaker but the built in wi-fi and corresponding smartphone apps make it very easy to transfer images to my iPhone from the camera so I can send off a lower res version right away. I can also use my iPhone to control the camera.

Sony A7 II and Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2.8 lens. The rendering is still classic Zeiss and beautiful but the Zeiss lenses render even nicer when used on the A7R II. 1/250 f9.0 ISO 100

Sony A7 II and Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f2.8 lens. The rendering is still classic Zeiss and beautiful but the Zeiss lenses render even nicer when used on the A7R II. 1/250 f9.0 ISO 100

 Cons:

 Menus: They are kind of a mess with little logic to the order or access. Especially annoying is placement of the format option which I use frequently. Also no place (eg. “My Menu”) to store frequently used options. It’s possible Sony will update this via firmware as they’ve made other significant upgrades this way.

 Autofocus Tracking: Although much better in the A7R II than previous models, if your main interest is sports then don’t give up your Nikon D4/D5 or Canon 1Dx. Granted these are very different cameras but one camera can’t do everything and the Sony A7 bodies are simply not made for super fast AF tracking.

 Battery life: There are settings you can use to help conserve battery power (eg. turn on “Airplane” mode) but in general the battery life is poor compared to Canon or Nikon DSLRs. It’s not a huge deal but still annoying because it requires more frequent changing of batteries.

 Eye sensor: There is a built-in sensor in the eyepiece that switches from the LCD display on the back to the viewfinder when you put your eye up to the camera. It’s handy but too sensitive with no way to reduce the sensitivity enough. If you are using the handy flip-up LCD to shoot video, for instance, your image blacks out every time you get the camera close to your body because it trips the sensor. This may not affect many people but I find this to be an oversight on Sony’s part.

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Sony A7R II from a helicopter at 80mm f8.0 1/400 sec. ISO 400 with polarizing filter.

After using the Sony A7 system in a variety of situations for a year or so, I’ve come to the conclusion that I still like using the system for the reasons cited above under “Pros” and in my previous article. I continue to keep my eye on developments in camera technology but there would have to be pretty compelling reasons for me to switch systems at this point.

Happy Shooting Everyone!

Joel Wolfson is an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop instructor/photographer. Here is Joel’s bio.

Subscribe to Joel’s email list and Be The First to Get the Latest on his workshops, articles, blog posts, tips, and more

Joel’s blog has additional articles about photography and travel.

Website: www.joelwolfson.com

Email Joel info@joelwolfson.com

 

Cool New Plug-in from Topaz Texture Effects- Quick Look Review

Author: Joel Wolfson

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In addition to a Basic Adjustment layer I used Edge Exposure, Dust/Scratches, and Texture layers within Texture Effects to create this vintage look reminiscent of a tintype. It only took a few minutes. Historically tintypes and early methods of creating round bales of hay do overlap. I’m not entirely sure the hay bales looked exactly like this but I like the timeless feel I was able to achieve in Texture Effects.

Texture Effects, Topaz’s latest plug-in (also operates stand-alone) is the easiest way to add textures and a whole lot more to your images. It’s a huge time saver over creating textures in most other programs. In addition to hundreds of fantastic presets, you can also customize them or make your own.

One of the nicer aspects of Texture Effects are the hundreds of presets that come with it. You can use them to spark ideas or as a starting point. In this case I used the “Color Burst” preset to accentuate my image of these tiled stairs and rail. The image was already colorful and the wall textured but it needed a little punch. Although I tried changing various adjustments I liked the preset as is and was able to get what you see above with just one click.

One of the nicer aspects of Texture Effects are the hundreds of presets that come with it. You can use them to spark ideas or as a starting point. In this case I used the “Color Burst” preset to accentuate my image of these tiled stairs and rail. The image was already colorful and the wall textured but it needed a little punch. Although I tried changing various adjustments I liked the preset as is and was able to get what you see above with just one click.

It has a great interface that builds on the innovation they showed in Glow and Impression. It’s really easy to add adjustments and effects via layers, each with its own mask. You can add as many layers of adjustments or effects as you want and save off any combination as your own preset.

Here's a before (left) and after (right). I started in Topaz ReStyle. In ReStyle you can choose your color palette so I used it to get vivid purple and yellow. Then I hopped into Texture Effects and used a Texture layer to create the corrugated metal look for the wall and a Light Leak layer to make it look like a spot of sun is reflected on the wall. I used the masking (available in each layer) to isolate the "sun" reflection. In the end I used only two layers plus a Basic Adjustment layer and a few minutes of my time to make this image.

Here’s a before (left) and after (right). I started in Topaz ReStyle. In ReStyle you can choose your color palette so I used it to get vivid purple and yellow. Then I hopped into Texture Effects and used a Texture layer to create the corrugated metal look for the wall and a Light Leak layer to make it look like a spot of sun is reflected on the wall. I used the masking (available in each layer) to isolate the “sun” reflection. In the end I used only two layers plus a Basic Adjustment layer and a few minutes of my time to make this image.

Topaz has also set up a community cloud that allows you to share or download presets with the click of a button right within the program.

Here I was going for a Polaroid transfer look. I used a Texture layer for the overall mottled look and a Dust/Scratches layer for the peeling marks. I was even able to add the bluish tint of the peel marks right within the layer. Then a little Edge Exposure for good measure. I'm really impressed by the intuitive interface.

Here I was going for a Polaroid transfer look. I used a Texture layer for the overall mottled look and a Dust/Scratches layer for the peeling marks. I was even able to add the bluish tint of the peel marks right within the layer. Then a little Edge Exposure for good measure. I’m really impressed by the intuitive interface.

Topaz obviously worked very hard to come up with a really intuitive interface. This combined with the hundreds of presets that come with Texture Effects and thousands more via the Topaz Community cloud, really makes it easy and quick to produce great results with your images. Not to mention a lot of fun!

Hope you enjoyed this quick review.

Note: For a more in depth look at how I created these images go to my workshop page, scroll down to “Free Webinars” and click on “Travel Through Time with Texture Effects” for a link to the webinar.

Happy Shooting!
Joel Wolfson is an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop instructor/photographer. Here is Joel’s bio.

Subscribe to Joel’s email list and Be The First to Get the Latest on his workshops, articles, blog posts, tips, and more.
Joel’s blog has additional articles about photography and travel.
Website: www.joelwolfson.com
Email Joel info@joelwolfson.com

Photography The Bastard Art

Author: Joel Wolfson

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Photography is sometimes called the bastard art. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that everyone owns a camera or smartphone and considers themselves capable of taking a picture. We’ve also been a bit brainwashed by decades of advertising from Canon, Nikon, Fuji and many others with the message that all you have to do is use their camera, lens or paper and your images will “look” professional.  This is akin to saying if “you buy a Stradivarius violin you will play like Itzhak Perlman.” Owning a great camera doesn’t make you a photographic artist any more than owning the best brushes, paints and canvas makes you a fine painter.

When I first started shooting pictures in the early 1970’s people would marvel at the fact that my images were razor sharp, well exposed, and possessed a wide range of tones.  They may not have known these terms but would say things like “your pictures are so clear.” These are all merely technical aspects of photography and were more difficult to master with cameras of several decades ago versus now. Today one can buy a consumer camera that will usually provide a properly exposed, in-focus picture with the press of a button.

Of course photography as an art form isn’t much different from others in that it is both left and right brained. To be a superb painter or sculptor you must be a master of technique as well as employ creativity. Assuming one is both creative and a master of technique, the other main ingredient is experience. All of these combined form a synergy that allows a photographic artist to “see” a photograph in their mind’s eye within the everyday world, capture it and present it in a form that elicits an emotional response from the viewer.

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One of the best compliments I received was from a mentor of mine when he said “Wolfson, you see different.” This really meant something because it signified the next major step in my development as a photographic artist; a recognizable way of communicating with my images, distinct from other photographers.

An expression I’ve heard several times when discussing images from various travel destinations is “you can’t take a bad picture there.” Typically, what people actually mean is that they were overwhelmed by the beauty of the place and they have never seen anything like it before. Consequently whatever snapshots they took, no matter how good or bad they actually were, remind them of this beautiful place. And that is fine for the traveler seeking to remind themselves of what they enjoyed on their trip.

Living in Arizona, Sedona and the Grand Canyon are in my back yard and I have photographed both areas since the mid 1980s. My standards for great photographs of these areas are far different than a tourist who is seeing it for the first time, awed by their magnificence and how photogenic they are. I find places that millions have already photographed to be a particular challenge and will pass up what other people might consider great photo opportunities in favor of creating an image that will convey the sense of being there the way I felt it.

©Wolfson_BLOG_Bastard_Art_500px_03There are too many elements that go into making fine art photographs to do it justice in one article. In fact I find even at the end of conducting my multi-day workshops there is always more that can be taught and learned. Knowing the technical aspects, direction and quality of light, line, shape, form, texture, color, perspective, rhythm, composition of these, design, and presentation are all just scratching the surface of photographic art.

Although some consider it the bastard art, I just hope the next time you think of photography as simply pushing the button on a camera you might “see” it differently.

Joel Wolfson is an Arizona Highways Photo Workshop instructor/photographer. Here is Joel’s bio.

Subscribe to Joel’s email list and Be The First to Get the Latest on his workshops, articles, blog posts, tips, and more.
Joel’s blog has additional articles about photography and travel.
Website: www.joelwolfson.com
Email Joel info@joelwolfson.com

Capture Your Moment: Travel Photography: Domestic and Abroad

Joel Wolfson will be presenting two learning sessions at Arizona Highways Photo Workshops’ 30th Anniversary Symposium.  Here’s more about his “Travel Photography: Domestic and Abroad” session.

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Most of Joel’s best selling work is travel photography.  He faces special challenges when traveling, and those who also travel to capture images are familiar with these challenges. One of the biggest ones is that we are limited on time in any one place so we don’t have the luxury of ideal lighting or weather. Add to that the differences in language and culture when traveling abroad, and you have your work cut out for you to capture top notch images.

One of the best ways to deal with this is research ahead of time.  Make use of bookstores, libraries, the internet, appropriate exhibits in your area, or any other means of familiarizing yourself with your destination. This way you not only have an idea what there will be to photograph and how you might tell your stories, but it will also give you inspiration which is a key element for a creative endeavor like photography. For overseas travelers, having researched the culture and knowing a few words of the language will greatly decrease frustration and equally increase your success rate of great images.

Look for a future post about Joel’s second learning session, “Essential Plugins for Post Processing” and for more information on the individual sessions visit our “Capture Your Moment” page.

For more information on Joel and to subscribe to his email list, click here.

Joel Wolfson is a photographer and instructor for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

For more information and to register for sessions like these visit the AHPW’s 30th Symposium website.