Improvising in Zion

Yesterday I had the good fortune to find myself back in southern Utah for a quick journey to Zion National Park. I had been keeping an eye on the weather all last week and was a bit leery of the weekend forecast. Sure enough when my alarm went off at 5am I could hear the pitter patter of rain drops slapping against my hotel room window. It would have been quite easy to turn the alarm off and go back to bed vs driving an hour to Zion, but good photos certainly don't take themselves. Some of my favorite photos have been in inclement weather conditions which can add a sense of drama and besides, blue skies are kinda boring. The morning's adventure could prove to be another great lesson in being flexible and letting the creativity flow. Improv hat on.

So I let my feet hit the floor, quick shower, stopped at the St. George Starbucks (thanks for being open so early) and hit the dark & rainy road northeast toward Zion. I only had about 3 hours to be in the park before I needed head to back to work so time was critical.

The plan was to do the short & easy hike to the Canyon Overlook and be in place for sunrise. After driving through the mile long Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, I made it to the overlook just before the sun came up for golden hour, but alas there would be no sun. Only clouds, rain showers and a peculiar but friendly Englishman taking photos. No matter, the view is always gorgeous and I'll certainly be back for more opportunities. After exhausting my creative ideas at the Overlook, I decided to skip some of the park's more famous aspects in favor of going further east toward the Checkerboard Mesa to see what else I could find. 

Photo Lego Dude was also disappointed with the clouds - Fuji X-T1 

Once I made my way east I quickly decided to shoot in black and white with my Fuji X-T1. With the drab skies and flat light it would make the photos come alive and enhance the landscape. In deciding to focus on the details of the park vs. trying to shoot epic landscapes in drab conditions my morning went from disappointing to reasonably productive. So don't give up when the weather doesn't seem to cooperate, be flexible, improvise and let the creativity flow!

The roots of this very old fallen tree caught my eye - Fuji X-T1

A little bit of color didn't hurt, I'm sure these flowers popped wide open as soon as the sun came out - Fuji X-T1

Details of the ancient landscape - Fuji X-T1

Mesas & Clouds - Fuji X-T1

Virgin - Fuji X-T1




Montana & My Fuji

A few weeks back as I sipped my coffee driving east toward a sunrise location on the snowy backroads of Montana I came to sudden realization. I was about to celebrate one year of making images with my Fuji X-T1. The last year of making images with my new camera system has been a bit of a revolution and creative awakening. As I've mentioned before, I was a bit nervous about switching camera systems from the more traditional digital Nikon DSLR that I had been shooting for a decade. It had served me well, but the bulk and heavier weight were starting to wear me down for my travels. As I started to research lighter weight systems I realized the mirrorless technology has come a long way and performance specs were up to snuff with DSLR for a fraction of the weight and bulk. 

This last year has proven I can get the images I want with a far more portable and lighter system. In fact, for this trip to Montana I didn't even carry a camera bag. I simply put my Fuji XT-1, Fuji 18-135mm and Rokinon 12mm lenses in my standard Timbuk2 messenger and called it a day. My tripod fits nicely into my standard rollerboard bag and a few other accessories such as filters, extra battery & charger fit easily as well. 

My Fuji XT-1, filters & accessories fit nicely in my daily messenger.

Tripod, filters, charger & accessories snugly fit into my rollerboard bag.

I usually carry a small point & shoot (Nikon or Sigma) with me each week when I travel, but I've realized I can easily throw the much more capable XT1 with a single lens in my bag instead for virtually the same amount of space. Though it isn't quite the 'everyday carry' camera either. I'm looking forward to another big year traveling with my Fuji system and making some great images. Have you changed your camera system or thinking about it? Comment below and let me know what you think!


Photo Lego Dude checking out the surrounds.

Goodnight to a hazy Helena.

Paris, two primes and the Fuji X-T1

Imagine walking the streets of Paris, or any other city for that matter, with a light weight & compact camera system that is both subtle in looks and impressive in performance. Imagine being able to smartly & quickly change settings, blend in to the crowd and get the results you want. What does this camera look like? I'll cut right to the chase and state it's the Fuji X-T1.

Having recently switched from shooting Nikon DSLRs to Fuji mirrorless I was admittedly somewhat apprehensive taking a photo intensive trip without my trusty DSLR. I'd grown quite accustomed to shooting Nikon for nearly 10 years and wasn't quite comfortable yet with the X-T1 before hopping on our flight to Paris. This trip would be an excellent opportunity to both further my familiarity with the X-T1 and determine if it really is a replacement of the tried & true DSLR. I brought along two prime lenses, the Fuji XF 23mm f/1.4 and the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 for going wide. The simplicity and sharpness of shooting with only prime lenses would prove to be a great test of the camera's abilities.

There are several good reviews out there for the Fuji X-T1 so I won't spend time rehashing what you may have read already, listing boring specs or worry about pixel peeping. Instead I'll focus on what my main concerns are for real life shooting, favorite features and whether or not the X-T1 qualifies as 'professional' in my book. And perhaps more importantly, is it really the DSLR killer?

Handling & Aesthetics

Much of the hoopla and draw to the X-T1 has been its retro styling and more importantly its light weight, small size, and ease of use (actual dials on the outside!). The more rational side of a photographer of course should fancy the latter bit of qualities but I'm a sucker for good aesthetics and design. I must admit when I first got my hands on the X-T1 it was love at first sight. The mixture of superb design, metal body, and thoughtful use of the various metal dials felt like pure picture making magic in my hands. 

It really is a beauty - iPhone 5S

From the ISO dial to the comfy grip to the programmable function buttons this camera invites the user to be confident and just take good photos. All this without the need to dig into complex menus for various settings which you hardly ever use. 

Flippy Screen

Granted the 'flippy screen' has a technical name of 'tilting LCD', but I still like referring to it as the former. I was admittedly apprehensive and thought the flippy screen was a bit of a gimmick that was more deserving of a cheaper camera not of a pro-caliber camera. Well, I was wrong. The ability to rotate the LCD screen and use live view whether you are lifting the camera up high or down low to compose a shot is actually quite handy. Beyond handy actually, I'll call it superbly useful. Gone are the days of having to lie in a mud puddle to get that fresh perspective or grasping to a fence to get a better view and hoping you get the shot. Simply rotate the LCD screen the desired direction, frame your shot and take the picture. While not earth shattering or always useful I have really enjoyed using this feature.

The usefulness of the 'flippy screen' shined for this composition as I had to reach above a fence to make this shot. Fuji X-T1, XF 23mm 

Image Quality & Performance

The ability (or lack thereof) of the Fuji X-T1 to keep up with traditional DSLRs was one of my biggest questions going into this transition. Could it replace a Nikon or Canon DSLR (full frame or APS-C) for my style of shooting? Like many before me, my journey of learning who I am as a photographer has spanned many genres of making photos. I've shot cycling races, various action sports, weddings, portraits, landscapes, travel etc. Nowadays I fancy myself a pretty decent landscape & travel photographer that is focused and ready to make good on my past experience. So does the X-T1 meet the criteria I need? 

Music in the Metro | Fuji X-T1, XF 23mm

In short, yes. The ISO performance is nothing short of amazing up to 6400 (who really needs more?). The RAW files have the detail and depth I need to push & pull shadows/highlights or print big. The in camera JPEGs (when exposed properly) are simply amazing straight out of the camera. I no longer have any reservations and image quality and overall performance for my needs. Professional level indeed.

Weather Sealing

I'll keep this section short, but the fact this this camera is so very well sealed is a nod to Fuji's engineers & attention to detail. Combine this with one of the Fuji weather sealed lenses and you can operate in some gnarly conditions without worrying too much about ruining your gear. This camera is apparently so well sealed that projects such as shooting in the Oneonta Gorge in Oregon could be done quite comfortably. I wouldn't dunk it or shoot in a heavy rain storm but it should hold up well in most situations.

WIFI Connectivity

Along with the the aforementioned 'flippy screen' I wondered why or when I might utilize such a feature before trying it out. Turns out, it is darn handy. Fuji's iOS app is well thought out with the ability to remotely capture pictures and change multiple settings with ease. I do wish that it could function in bulb mode, though that should be a fairly easy software/firmware update down the road. Otherwise I can imagine myself working on a new set of street candids while operating the shutter from my phone vs. being behind the camera itself. Not to mention you can wirelessly transfer images from the camera to your mobile device to quickly share on whatever social media platform you choose.

A pleasant picture of a Mini taken with my 'mini' X-T1, assisted by using the in-camera level grid - XF 23mm


As you can likely surmise to this point, I'm a fan of this camera. Yet I do need to point out a few flaws that should be addressed in the next flagship iteration: 

  • The D-pad on the back of the camera honestly sucks. Others have pointed this out and I agree. The buttons are too small and not easy to utilize. Especially with gloves on. I haven't used the X-100T but from what I hear Fuji should have stuck with that setup. Why they changed it I have no idea.
  • The sensor. To this point I'm impressed and ecstatic on the performance Fuji has squeezed out of a 16MP crop sensor. Though I wouldn't complain about more performance to be honest. Fuji is rumored to be working on pushing the X-Trans sensor to higher performance while not necessarily going full frame. I'm ok with this, in fact excited that Fuji isn't resting on their laurels and not caught up in full frame mania.
  • Autofocus is actually very good, though it remains a bit below top end DSLR performance. If you are shooting sports or weddings you might still want a DSLR setup though several working pros are having great success with the X-T1 in these areas. All of my sports shooting now is geared more toward environmental type shots where the athlete is a part of the scene and not dominant in the frame therefore I don't need hyper-speed focusing. Simply using pre-focus is always an option with X-T1 if you are having trouble shooting fast moving subjects.
  • Battery life is fairly short, but simply carry an extra battery or two and you should be set for most daily shoots. I do hope Fuji refines the battery meter at some point as once it starts to go downhill you get little warning.

View from the Sacré-Cœur of the Eiffel Tower | Fuji X-T1, 12mm Rokinon

The small stature of the X-T1 helped me look like a hapless tourist more so than a 'photographer' to capture this candid shot. Fuji X-T1, XF 23mm

Charlie Hebdo | Fuji XT-1, Rokinon 12mm

On the Metro | Fuji XT-1, XF 23mm

Final Thoughts

So it the DSLR killer as I'd hoped? Mostly yes and just a wee bit of no.

Yes, to the point that for my needs & desires it fits the bill and then some. For landscape, street and travel photography I have yet to feel I need 'more' camera. Sure, higher megapixels on a full frame could help in printing huge images but few working photographers actually need such a thing. My own work consists of images for magazines, printed fine art and digital media. You can easily push a Fuji RAW file to over 50MB for some impressive viewing results & sharpness if needed. There are many other goodies that I didn't cover such as the Q menu, film simulation modes, countdown timer for long exposures, amazing EVF, phenomenal auto white balance, the list goes on. 

No, to the point that it wouldn't quite be my go to camera for shooting sports on the sidelines or working a big bike race. Also Fuji's lens lineup isn't quite 'mature' yet though it's getting very close. Once the XF100-400mm and XF120mm Macro come out later this year the lineup will nearly be complete for most professional and amateur photographers alike. 

If you've been hesitating to make the switch to the X-T1 or purchase one to supplement your DSLR setup, hesitate no longer. You might even find your DSLR spends more time on the shelf than you ever thought possible. Professional level indeed.

Crested Butte with my Fuji X-T1

Along with other photographers around the world, I've recently decided to ditch my DSLR kit and switch to a mirrorless, or CSC/ILC setup. After much research and internal debate I ultimately decided on the Fuji X-T1 after a brief rental & test period proved it was worthy.

As a photographer who travels a quite a bit (or am I frequent traveler who takes lots of photos?) I wanted a camera kit that was light, compact and yet didn't compromise on image quality. Fuji's flagship X-T1 with their impressive lineup of sharp and high quality lenses honestly made the switch from my Nikon DSLR kit a comfortable decision. I'll plan to write a more thorough review with real world thoughts soon. For the moment, I'll let one of my first images shot with the X-T1 speak for itself.