Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pic(k) of the week 38: THERE IS LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL - C-mine LABYRINTH

Earlier in the month, I visited C-mine, an industrial museum and creative hub housed in an old (closed) coal mine in the northeastern part of Belgium. In the early 1900's the city of Genk (not the same as the city of Ghent) had only a few thousand citizens. But when coal was discovered just before World War I, three mining sites where opened, giving a huge increase in population numbers (65000). While the mines made for a huge boom of the local economy, eventually they were closed down; 1986 was the last year coal was brought up to the surface at C-mine, then called the mine of Winterslag.

Today, the old industrial site which is open for visitors, attracts a lot of photographers. There must have been more than a dozen wedding photographers shooting images the Saturday I was there. One of the more interesting rooms, is the compressor hall; a large room full of compressors that provided air the miners up to 900 meter underground.

To celebrate its 10th anniversary, an outside 1km long steel labyrinth was designed by the art and design duo, Gijs Van Vaerenbergh on C-mine square. "Labyrint" is not a classic high wall labyrinth, but a structure that provides new viewpoints to the site in a very creative way. The 190 ton maze consists of a combination of cylinders, half and full circles, providing some see through parts as can be seen in the image below!


Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF18-135mm lens
  • 3 shot exposure bracket at 33mm with a variety of ISO and Shutter speeds
  • Lightroom CC Photomerge HDR to blend images together
  • Nik ColorEfex Pro for optimal contrast
More of own images of the C-mine site can be found here.


BJORN








Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pic(k) of the week 37: TWISTER AEROBATICS TEAM - SUNSET AIRSHOW SANICOLE

Last Friday, I attended the sunset airshow at Sanicole, Belgium; well it should have been called "the evening" airshow as the sun was 100% absent. The rainy weather together with very low light, made it challenging to say the least! It was likely one of the most difficult airshow conditions I ever shot in.

It was the 40th airshow at Sanicole, Belgium's only remaining civil airshow! Beside the Friday night airshow, there was also a full day airshow on Sunday; luckily for the organisers with much better weather! 

Photographing propellor aircraft, one needs to shoot at the shutter speed of maximum 1/200s, in order not to freeze the prop and have some prop blur. As I was shooting with my Fujifilm XF100-400 f4.5-f5.6 lens and the 1.4 Teleconverter attached at maximum focal length, my minimum aperture was f8; needing an ISO of 6400; not ideal but manageable on the X-T2.

It was definitively one of the conditions where a wider aperture lens like a 400mm f4 would have come in handy...

The resulting image below of the Twister Aerobatic Team is still pretty pleasing; the team consists of two Silence Twisters, flying a graceful display just at sunset, using smoke and pyrotechnics. 


Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF100-400 and 1.4TC
  • ISO 6400, f8, 560mm
  • RAW development in Lightroom CC
  • Nik ColorEfex Pro 4 for optimal contrast
  • Nik Dfine for noise reduction
More images of the Sanicole sunset airshow on September 08, 2017 can be found here.

Make sure to check out the image of a Belgian Air Force F-16 here, flown by demo pilot GIZMO; an award winning display pilot which finishing his 3 year display tour soon. The F-16 can be shooting some flare; these are not pyrotechnics, by flares used to confuse missiles being shot at the aircraft.


Remember: "When fears are grounded, dreams take flight"


BJORN


Thursday, September 7, 2017

FIRST LOOK REVIEW: FUJIFILM X-E3

Almost to the day, 5 years ago, Fujifilm announced their second interchangeable X-series camera, the Fujifilm X-E1. This was my first X-series and the camera that eventually would start my switching process from DSLR to Mirrorless. See an older post called Bye Bye Nikon, Hello Fujifilm for more.




Today, Fujifilm Japan, announced the brand new X-E3, a "Rangefinder like" camera which very much has kept the same retro look as the original X-E1, which I still own today. 

Meanwhile there have been other versions of the X-E series in between; the X-E2 was announced in October 2013; having a new CMOS II sensor (still 16MPx) and new processor, the camera also had a larger LCD. A substantial update!

When the X-E2S came out in January 2016, a lot of X-shooters thought of it as being a less important update; main differences being the addition of the electronic shutter, Hybrid AF system with Zone and Wide Tracking modes, a slightly increased ISO range and few other minor items. 

Since its early days, the X-E series has always been the smaller brother of the X-Pro line; a little more compact, without the Optical Viewfinder (OVF) and significantly cheaper; like the X-Pro line, it is also a "Rangefinder like" camera, unlike the X-T series (presently X-T2 and X-T20) which are much more DSLR like.

When there were no announcements of an X-E2S replacement for more than 12 months after the X-Pro2 was announced, some became quite vocal about the lack of a new X-E series! Well I guess today the waiting is over!

As an official X-photographer the fine guys of Fujifilm Middle East, lend me a pre-production copy of the X-E3 in late August for one week. As usual these reviews always come with a disclaimer that especially the firmware will likely not be the the same as the one I tested. I will have a more in depth look at the new firmware functionalities somewhere in the near future; likely in October 2017.

So, what do we do know already?




OVERALL LOOK - QUALITY - SIZE - WEIGHT
The X-E3 still very much feels like the original X-E1 but the top-plate is now more rounded, giving it a nice elegant look. My preproduction sample carried a Made in China label; I'm not sure whether this will be the case with the production units. In either case it feels very solid and definitively not cheap. 

At 337gr, its weight is 23gr less compared to its predecessor. It is ever so slightly smaller than the X-E2(S) in width (8mm less) and height and has few millimetres more depth. The X-E3 will be available in Black and Silver.




BUTTONS AND DIALS
X-series cameras are known for there functionality through mostly well thought out buttons and dials, rather than having to go keep into a menu system. 

One of the biggest changes at the back is the fact that all of the buttons on the left have moved to the right side of the LCD; making it perfect for single hand operation, something we also saw on the X-Pro2 last year.

The camera has the same clickable joystick (officially called the Focus Lever), which we've also seen on the X-Pro2, X-100F, X-T2. It's main functionality is to change focus points, something that is very intuitive, but I find it also easy to browse the menu system.

But what sticks out straight away when looking at the back of the camera, is the absence of the 4 way controller, officially called the D-pad which is found on virtually all X-series cameras since day 1. Well, the D-pad is not on the LCD screen but is part of the LCD touchscreen on the X-E3; something that I wasn't wild about at first sight, but that has gradually grown on me during the week I used the camera. Since the "joystick" has been introduced on the X-Pro2, I must admit that I do find myself touching the D-pad far less than before and that is probably why the Fujifilm engineers went this way. More info about its functionality under LCD screen below.




Because the D-pad is gone, a lot of free room has been created where the lower part of your thump rests. It feels very clean and more minimalistic. 

I did find that the AF-L and Q buttons stick out a bit more that on the older X-E models, leading to the occasional involuntary button pushing, especially when using a hand-strap. A thump rest (which will probably be available soon after release from third party providers), will sort this problem, if you even encounter it. Might just be my own way of carrying the camera.

The position of the delete button has moved to the top section; something that initially feels strange, but since I personally do encourage not to delete images on the camera, I seem to be fighting against my own preaching.

Like the X-100 series, the X-E series now got a front dial; the button is clickable but at the time of testing, it acted as an ISO control wheel. To change the ISO, one clicks and then turns to change it; click it again to lock the setting. Not sure if it will eventually be turned into a full function button.

The top plate of the camera has seen the least mount of changes. The pop-up flash is gone and the camera now comes with the mini EF-X8 Flash the same as on the X-T1/2. Although the light quality of this tiny flash is not bad for such a small unit, it is a shame that it can not be used to bounce of a ceiling; unlike the small built in X-E1/2 flash which could be manually held back, to bounce light of a ceiling. 

The camera has now the same Auto mode button included in the ON/OFF switch, similar to the X-T20, it allows for full automatic shooting using 58 presets (e.g. Landscape, Sunset, Portrait, etc...), but not something I ever would use. Guess it is nice to have in case you hand over the camera to a friend/family member who has no clue about photography but still wants to take a decent shot.

Otherwise the top plate is virtually identical to its predecessors; it does not come with a combined shutter speed/ISO dial like the X-Pro2 and X-100F; something that some people either seem to hate or love. I'm personally not a great fan of it, beside the fact that it is just nicely machined. 

The maximum manual shutter speed remains at 1/4000s; the electronic shutter takes you much higher; i.e. 1/32000s. Lastly the maximum flash sync speed remains at 1/180s compared to the 1/250s of the X-Pro2 and X-T2. I guess it just one of several items you pay the extra bucks for in the X-Pro2.




LCD screen
The 3 inch (3:2 aspect ratio) LCD screen has the same 1040K dot resolution as most current X-series, except for the X-Pro2 which at 1.62M dots comes in higher. With regards to the LCD there is both a good point and unfortunately, at least for me, a disappointment. 

Lets start with the good news; yes it is touchscreen, and it comes with extra functionality compared to the X-T20 (and X-70). Beside the touch to focus, shoot and area functions, it can now also be used as a Smart touchscreen; the Q menu is touchscreen interactive and the old D-pad (4 way controller on the back), is now integrated in the touchscreen by allocating specific functions to a left, right, top and bottom ship. In Playback mode, one can also double tap to zoom in on the focus point to check for focus accuracy or zoom in and out with two fingers; very much like on a tablet/smartphone.

The Touchscreen works in combination with the EVF; in order to do so effectively, it is possible to set the range of the touch panel to the full screen, left half, right half or Off. It takes a bit getting used to, but this might turn out to be a game changer. Time will tell...

Interesting direction Fujifilm has taken as it is the first camera that combines a touchscreen with the joystick. Although I was initially a bit sceptical about the practical use of a touchscreen, I now really miss it on cameras that don't have one; i.e. X-T2 and X-Pro2. Although I see this as a good point, I do realise that not all will agree. 

Then there is of course the tilt screen debate; something the X-E3 does unfortunately not have! I guess they wanted to keep the consistency between the X-T line who has it and the X-Pro/X-E line which doesn't. I know, it is an argument I don't really support neither as I personally believe in having a tilt screen for Street Photography. But then again, I've come across quite a few photographers which tend to think differently. On a positive note, the lack of tilt screen does make the camera more attractive and slims it down quite a bit. 

EVF
One of the main differences between the X-Pro and X-E line, is the fact the the latter does not have an OVF (Optical Viewfinder). Something I personally don't really miss since the EVF's have become so good over the years. The Electronic Viewfinder feels very similar to the one in the X-T20. 

The 2360K dot OLED color viewfinder has a magnification of 0.62; just like the one on the X-T20. At the time of publication I wasn't sure what the EVF refresh rate was, but I suspect it is the same 54fps as well. 

Just like its predecessors, the viewfinder eyecup is limited in depth; given the design I doubt Fujifilm can made an accessory "extended eyecup" like on the X-T1 series; an item I would really appreciate when shooting in bright daylight.




BATTERY - EXTERNAL DOORS
The battery compartment sits virtually in the same position as on the X-E1/2. and takes one NP-W126S battery; the new standard of batteries now used in all recent X-series. Don't worry if you still have older NP-W126 batteries left, they will just work fine in your X-E3. 

The SD memory card lives snugly together with the battery in the same compartment. At the time of publication it looked like the camera does not take the full advantage of the newer SD UHS-II cards; these cards will work but you won't have the higher speed benefit in the camera.



The tripod mount sits unfortunately close to the battery/SD card compartment and is not mounted on the lens axis. Whenever you have a camera plate on the X-E3, you will have to remove it before you can access the battery or memory card. But there is good news... The new MHG-XE3 hand grip sold by Fujifilm, add a full size camera plate (Arca Swiss style) and centres the tripod mount. Be careful in buying the existing MHG-XE, as this is not compatible with the new camera. 




On the left hand side, one finds a 2.5mm headset jack, which can also be set up and used to control a wired remote trigger (menu setting). There is also a Micro USB-2 port, which can be used to charge the camera; a great add-on. Lastly the compartment also has a HDMI Micro connector (type D).




SENSOR - PROCESSOR - AUTOFOCUS
As this is the third interchangeable lens X-series camera being released with the 24.3MPx X-Trans CMOS-III sensor and X-Processor Pro processor, there is not that much new on the table. By know most Fujifilm shooters are very familiar with the files; if you new to the Fujifilm system you will not be disappointed and remember not to discard the 15 amazing jpeg Film Simulation files. The X-E3 now also has the Acros Film Simulation. 

For the ones that worry about the extra hard drive space required with the larger megapixel files, there is good news; one can shoot in Lossless Compressed RAW and have smaller files than the older 16MPx RAW files without loosing image quality. Something I exclusively do with my X-T2 and X-T20 all the time.

The camera has a maximum of 325 (13x25) autofocus points but can be downgraded to 91 points (7x13) if you feel overwhelmed or in case you want faster focus point changes.

The maximum frame rate is 8fps with the mechanical shutter and 14fps with the totally silent electronic shutter, bot with high speed predictive focus tracking functions.

Autofocus speed on the camera I tested is at least on par with the X-T2 in AF-S mode. I shot a little bit of fast action at the Prater amusement park in Vienna and the Autofocus tracking seemed to be doing a good job. It has the 5 AF-C Customization modes like the X-T20. The camera has a newly developed subject recognition algorithm which is supposed to track moving subjects twice as fast. More extensive testing will be done in the near future.

MENU 
The Menu system is virtually identical to the other recent X-series. If you are upgrading from the X-E1, you will definitively see a vast difference. As stated before the Q menu can be used through the touchscreen, while the newer My Menu is also available. 

The camera also has the latest Exposure Bracketing functionality; allowing for a maximum of +/-9 frames with a step setting of max +/- 3 EV; plenty for your HDR or High Dynamic Image blending needs.

I also noticed a few new functions (compared to the latest X-series like X-T20) such as the Live View Highlight alert in the display setting.

The biggest change is probably in the Wireless menu where there is now an added Bluetooth connection option. This will allow people to remain connected to their internet wifi signal (wifi or data), while still being able to transfer images across; through Bluetooth. Since the new Camera remote app was not available at the time of testing, it did not yet see it at work. I'm slightly optimistic that we might see a better Geolocation (GPS through the BlueTooth) integration as the the present one is pretty useless. It looks like the BlueTooth transceiver is of the low power type, so hopefully it won't drain the battery too quickly. Once again, I'll report more as soon as I have my second look at the camera.

VIDEO
Well, I almost forgot... I doubt that this will be a camera that will be frequently used for video (no articulating screen!) but it is definitively "video capable"; 4K video is available at 100Mbps continuous recording up to about 10min; Full HD (1920x1080) at 36Mbps for about 15min and finally HD (1280x720) at 18Mbps for 30min. All 15 Film simulation modes can be used for video as well, which saves a lot of editing time for the ones that want faster output.

IMAGE QUALITY
High ISO performance is on par with the X-Pro2, X-T2(0) and X-100F. Compared to the X-E2(S), one can easily shoot a full stop higher in ISO for the same image quality. I personally do not hesitate to shoot at 6400; I will increase that up to 12800 if the available light is really low. I did not test the extended ISO range, which on this camera is up to 51200; this is something I tend to stay away from unless really desperate.

Below is a series of real life images shot with the X-E3 to give you an idea of the image quality. The images are lightly edited (as I'm after all a photographer) and were shot in compressed RAF (Fujifilm's RAW format). Exif data sits below the image. 

In case you are wondering, I changed the camera type to X-T20 in an Exif edit app, in order to be able to open them in a RAW converter as at the time of writing there were none working ones available; something that is typical for pre-release cameras and that shouldn't influence the end results as both sensor and processor or the same. Adobe and the others will have a RAW converter available for the X-E3 as soon as the camera is available for purchase.

Images have been downsized to 3000px wide, in order to keep this blogpost reasonably snappy. Click on the individual image to have a full size view.

XF50mm f2 - 1/320s,  f8.0,  ISO 250

XF50mm f2 - 1/320s,  f8.0,  ISO 500

XF50mm f2 - 1/320s, f5.6, ISO 400

XF50mm f2 - 1/320s, f5.6, ISO 1000

XF50mm f2 - 1/320s, f5.6, ISO 250

XF50mm f2 - 1/250s, f10, ISO 200

XF16mm f1.4 - 1/250s, f11, ISO 250

XF16mm f1.4 - 1/300s, f9, ISO 200
XF16mm f1.4 - 1/180s, f9.0, ISO 6400

XF16mm f1.4 - 1/250s, f14, ISO 200

XF50mm f2 - 1/500s, f5.6, ISO 5000
XF16mm f1.4 - 1/320s, f5.6, ISO 6400
XF16mm f1.4 - 1/60s, f3.6, ISO 6400
XF16mm f1.4 - 1/25s, f5.6, ISO 12800
CONCLUSIONS
The question I always ask myself in the last part of a first look review, is "Will I order this camera"? Well, I've recently picked up a X-T20, which I presently use for the majority of my Street and Documentary photography work. As stated in the review, I do like the touchscreen and hope the X-T20 will receive the additional functionality as seen in the X-E3 today. Not having the joystick on the X-T20 makes the selection of focus points a bit more cumbersome... So will I order? Likely not straight away. I would like to give the X-E3 a second Street Photography workout to see how much I miss my beloved tilt screen, before deciding. 

Now, who is this camera for? The camera will mostly appeal to Street, Travel and Documentary photographers and it might also interest some of the wedding/event shooters.

The X-E series has always had a group of die hard X-E lovers. If you have a X-E2 (or even X-E1) upgrading to the X-E3 is probably a no brainer. The ones coming from the X-E2S it is probably a bit harder to decide; unless of course you really want the higher 24MPx files and Touchscreen; both items are of course substantial upgrade features.

Secondly I really see it as being a great starter camera for those new to the X-series; especially for the ones that like the "Rangefinder like" retro style.

I can see some Pro's that shoot a lot of primes, picking up an X-E3 as a backup/second body. Given the files are exactly the same as the X-Pro2 and X-T2 ones, it is definitively a viable choice. 

Last but not least if you are a left eye shooter (like myself), the Rangefinder style might not be ideal as your nose will be smashed against the LCD while shooting. In this case you might be better off with the X-T2 or X-T20 which has the viewfinder in the middle top section.



Although it will obviously work with the longer glass such as the 50-140 and 100-400 lens, balance is not optimal, especially with the longest lens of the two. I do however see this camera a perfect candidate to be paired with the new f2.0 primes; 23mm, 35mm and 50mm. 

The X-E3 will be available in three different packages:

  • body only for 899,-USD
  • with XF 18-55 lens for 1299,-USD
  • with XF 23f2 for 1149,-USD

Although the second option with the XF18-55 lens, will probably be the most popular one, the X-E3 with a XF23 f2 lens is my preferred set-up; almost like an X-100F but with interchangeable lens system. 

I hope this First Look review was useful. As always no permission is needed to share this blogpost, as long as credit to the original link at Bjorn Moerman Photography is given. 

Click below for my latest reviews on other X-series cameras:

BJORN









Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Pic(k) of the week 36: GRASSROOT FLYING TOUR OF BELGIUM

Last Sunday was a flying day to remember... As a way to celebrate my 30th anniversary since my first solo flight in 1987, I planned a special flight for early September; "The Grassroot Flying Tour of Belgium".

The Tour which took just under 11hrs (stops included) and six hours flying time, took me all the way around the borders of Belgium, only landing at the smaller grass field airports; very much how it all started for me 30 years ago and vastly different from the A380 I fly for a living! A perfect opportunity to say thank you to some of my instructors and reflect back on some of my most interesting flying adventures.

Given the cost involved, I initially had planned the tour to be flown by a single aircraft, only using our own 1954 vintage Piper Super Cub. Soon after publishing my plans, several friends however stepped in and wanted to participate with their own aircraft; something that I of course happily accepted as it was meant to be a celebration of "flight and this would just make the event so much more visible! 

The full Tour consisted of 6 enroute stops (all on grass strips) and took around 350miles (650km).

As I set off on my first leg on Sunday morning, three other aircraft got airborne from other airports in Belgium and joined up at the first stop; Hoevenen, North of Antwerp. Two more flew in to the next stop at Hasselt, making it a great team of 6 fellow minded Aviators with their enthusiastic passengers! Thank you guys, you know who you are!

The image below is of the three (mine being the front one) participating Piper Cubs in the morning sun at Hoevenen. Although the windmills and nuclear power plant in the background give it away, this scene could almost be shot in the late 1950's on a small grass airfield. To me it shows the beauty of flight and the joy aviation has brought me, over all those years.

GRASSROOT FLYING TOUR OF BELGIUM 2017


Image details:
  • Fujifilm X-T2 with XF18-55 lens
  • ISO 250, 1/500s, f11, 24mm (36mm full frame equivalent)
  • RAW file development in Lightroom CC
  • Nik ColorEfex Pro 4 for optimal contrast
When I first started the idea of flying a Grassroot Flying Tour of Belgium, I had three main objectives in mind; 
  1. motivate people to (re)start taking flying lessons 
  2. motivate young airline pilots during their training and job-hunting
  3. motivate present airline pilots that lost the passion of flying, to go back into General Aviation 
As long as I can influence one person in every category, I'm a happy camper (read pilot!). 

I turned out a very busy day, but boy were my batteries charged after I got back! Finally a warm thank you to all who participated in the flight and to the ones that specifically came to greet us at one of the enroute stops!


Remember: "The bad news is Time flies, the good news is, your are the Pilot" - Michael Althsuler

BJORN





Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Pic(k) of the week 35: SLEEPY CITY IS WAKING UP - Swan Bells, Perth

When I first visited Perth, the capital of Western Australia more than 10 years ago, I saw a large city with a small city feel. It was very quiet after dark and didn't really have a lot of modern architecture, except for one, more later. 

Still being the fourth largest city in Australia after Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, Perth has seen a huge change over the last 10 years. With an expected growth rate of almost 200%, it is forecasted to overtake Brisbane in 10 years from now. 

The start of the "new Perth" was the Swan Bells building, also often referred to as "The Bell Tower". Being one of the worlds largest musical instruments, it houses 18 working bells, of which 12 are very historic 18th century bells;   donated by the British government at the end of the previous century. They used to hang in the  St Martin-in-the-fields church in Trafalgar Square, London.

Given that boat building used to be a major activity at the Barrack street location, it is no surprise that the architects (Hames Sharley) gave the Bell tower a noticeable nautical theme. Its copper sails reflect Western Australias link with the water and mining industry. Swan Bells was named after the nearby Swan river, and saw completion a few weeks before the new millennium was born. 

I find it interesting how some people initially were against the tower as it obviously wasn't cheap. Modern architecture does however often give a great boost to a city; Perth being a prime example of this! 




Image details:

  • Fujifilm X-T20 with the XF16mm f1.4 lens
  • ISO 400, 1/340s, f8.0
  • RAW development in Lightroom CC using the Vivid Camera profile
  • Nik SilverEfex 2 for Black and White conversion
I find it really a shame that Google is discontinuing the Nik Software collection; to me it is still one of most powerful plug-ins for Black and White conversions... I guess, I'll need to look for an alternative soon. If anybody has a specific recommendation, I would like to hear from you!

Time permitting, I will try to blog about some of the other interesting project in Perth in the near future. Meanwhile, more Architectural images shot in the capital of Western Australia can be found here

Remember: "All architects want to live beyond their deaths" - Philip Johnson.


BJORN