Table Organics

I'm working through ideas for an upcoming portrait project, playing with various scenarios—lighting, focal length, colour—and the process has made me realize I miss managed shooting. I love chaos and get a thrill out of pure randomness, but there's also a rush to the deliberate crafting of a visual object. It's two sides of a same coin, both essential...but when left to my own devices I can easily favour one over the other. Shooting the GFX and anticipating how I’ll be using it has brought back a taste for control.

So I took an hour or so yesterday to just shoot a few purely aesthetic images in a controlled setting—one strobe with a grid, a couple of house plants on our dinner table. I used the venerable 60mm f/2.4 and MCEX-11 (on and off). I shot uncompressed raw and used the files to test Capture One Pro 10—yeah, I pulled that update trigger. I'm not about to do the Big Switch (yet again), but it's abundantly clear how superior this app is at extracting the most detail from raf files. The decoding is better but also the tools available—structure for instance. Version 10 adds local sharpening and very impressive output sharpening that can be targeted and previewed—way beyond what Lightroom currently offers. Adobe needs to get their $#@ together IMHO. I hate that Phase doesn't support lossless compression and the app is still no speed demon... but regardless, this update has me contemplating a mixed app scenario once more. Here we go again.

Have a great weekend all :)


Shot with the X-Pro2 and XF 60mm f/2.4


GFX 50S | First Impressions

Fuji Guy Francis Bellefeuille strikes a pose... 1/160 sec at f/7.1, ISO 5000 (GF32-64mm f/4.0 LM WR)

 NOTE: I confirm support from Capture One in this post—something that was picked up on a couple of sites. After verification, it appears this is NOT a done deal at all (and has turned into a bit of a saga with a lot of contradictory reports). Apologies for the very unintentional confusion.

I've mentioned my interest in the upcoming GFX 50S camera/system a few times (most recently during my interview on the Hit the Streets with Valerie Jardin podcast). Last week I finally had a chance to spend some quality time with it. Not a review by any means: just quick first impressions (keeping in mind this is still a pre-production unit).

WHY THE GFX?

Short answer: because I've dreamed of owning a medium-format camera for years. Longer version...in 2014 I sat in a New York City space with four other photographers as we were presented with Fujifilm projects in the works: the X-Pro2, X-T2 and a tentative medium-format system. When I say tentative I mean it: the engineers were asking questions, trying to find out what photographers wanted and if the idea was even worth pursuing. They had a few mock-ups that basically looked like smaller variations on existing Phase One or Hasselblad bodies—very square and blocky; eons away from what was revealed at Photokina last Fall. But shortly after the meeting I heard the project was possibly on hold...which really bummed me out. After salivating over the possibilities of a Fuji medium-format system, it was hard to let go and move on. So much so that at some point I came extremely close to pulling the trigger on a used Pentax 645Z. Like, very close.

But why the interest? Why consider a much bulkier kit after extolling the virtues of the X-series, their stealth nature and portability? Two words: different and complementary. Right or wrong, in my mind a medium-format system has always seemed like a logical extension to the X-series' philosophy: a similar deliberate approach, the organic characteristics of the images. Rationalizing G.A.S? Possibly. But it's been an enduring idea.

The key here is that I'm not replacing but adding—and it's a business decision first and foremost. The GFX is the reason I didn't get the X-T2 because for me THIS will become the workhorse camera, replacing how I had used the X-T1 for its battery grip, tilting screen, tethering etc in situations that needed it. Except you know...big ass sensor. No, not as big as Phase or top of the line Hassy but big ass nonetheless. And for my work this is more enticing and a much more important differentiator than the impressive AF tracking advancements found in the X-T2.

LOOKS VS MEGAPIXELS

Image size is good. Megapixels (of this quality) are great. But ultimately it's the look of medium-format sensors that I've always been interested in. Now, let's be clear: there's no magic gear out there. I remember stumbling on cat pictures while researching Phase One cameras a few years back and guess what? They looked like bloody cat pictures. Ultimately it's what we do with our kits that matters. The promise of the GFX is in the control it brings over dynamic range and the precision of the resulting images at much higher resolutions. Yes, sharpness but also a more natural gradation across tones. What I've seen so far looks quite promising.

The pictures above and all others in this post were processed from the GFX 50S Super Fine JPEG files. I can only imagine the control we'll get from raw images once support is added to both Lightroom and Capture Pro One—yes, I've been told it WILL be supported by Phase One. In fact, this may justify an upgrade to the new version, depending on how both apps compare (Adobe is again dropping the ball on LR, with tons of extremely annoying new bugs appearing and lingering since last fall). I could envision Capture One Pro as my dedicated GFX 50S processor...as long as they don't cripple it with a bunch of " function isn't supported for this file format" crap. But I digress.

These web versions don't do justice to the images, but here are 100% crops of those two images:

Sure, individual eyelashes are razor-sharp. But what has me most excited is the overall smoothness of the image. It's very hard to explain but when I compare to similar images shot with previous cameras, there's less edge, more fluidity. And the most immediate effect of this is that my initial reflexes were wrong and I later found myself processing differently, even from the JPEGs. It's now clear I'll be creating very specific presets for this camera when using the same film simulations.

PHYSICAL ASPECTS

Ok, it's bigger...and I'm sure by now you've all seen and read how it compares to full-frame DSLRs, how it's essentially a larger X-T2; it is and feels all the more natural because of it—in fact I'd say the design is even more successful for me at this size. The only missing link is a dedicated exposure compensation dial which has been superseded by what Fuji calls the sub monitor (a customizable always-on display that sits on top of the camera). This was a little jarring at first but a quick trip to the settings mostly fixed the issue: you can access exposure compensation from the rear-dial after either pressing (holding down) or clicking (on/off switch) an assigned button that sits next to the sub monitor. I say mostly fixed because the pre-production firmware version I was working with would reset the button anytime I left shooting mode (such as using playback to review images). In my opinion this is just wrong: unlike AFL-AEL, the function should be locked once it's been set. Otherwise it can quickly break the flow when shooting in shutter or aperture priority in the field.

But I was most impressed by the design of two accessories I had initially written off for my own use: the battery grip and the articulated viewfinder. Because when you combine the two, the GFX 50S transforms into a fully reversible camera—meaning it feels exactly the same whether horizontal or vertical. I wasn't expecting this and only understood it once I held the actual kit in my hands. It also makes shooting at waist level very comfortable.

Another aspect I had mostly written-off: touch. Gimmick right? Weeellll...turns out it's pretty damn natural post-iPhone to review images by tapping, swiping and pinching. Two minutes in and I was sold. Which sucks because I know I'll now be reaching for the screen on my X-Pro2 and X100F. Stupid tech reflexes. I didn't try using the screen for focus selection but I can see it being useful in certain situations.

I really barely scratched the surface with the camera: we had planned on a city shoot but a dead car battery messed it up. Huge thanks to Fuji Guy Francis Bellefeuille for driving over and accepting to model :)

In terms of lenses I'm still undecided between the 63mm f/2.8 and the 32-64mm f/4 zoom. The 120mm macro is stunning but a little too big and heavy for my taste. I am however very impressed by the zoom's performance and leaning towards the wider range it offers. I'd complete it with the 110mm f/2* (which I have a feeling will be a defining lens for this new system) giving me an equivalent range of about 24mm to 85mm when all is said and done. Pretty versatile.

New territories, new frontiers...these are definitely exciting times to be a Fujifilm photographer.
In any format.

*I previously said this lens would be released in May. Turns out it's mid-2017...sorry about the confusion.

The dull, the smeared...

My bag was much heavier than usual when we left on saturday morning. Not that I had anything specific in mind...I only felt this need for something else that I couldn't pinpoint. It happens, in times of emotional uncertainty...an impulse to expand and retreat all at once. To forget what I know and escape into chaos.

In it was a very old friend, one I've now repurposed, just for these moments of mental fatigue: my X-Pro1, fitted with a cheap Nikon adapter and the Lensbaby Edge 80. Slow-food for the eyes, baby.

Inside, outside...nothing to do but react to the smeared landscape and melted rooms. Smudges to dull my senses
as we all waited for signs of the incoming storm.


Shot with the X-Pro1 and Lensbaby Edge 80


Quick Tidbits on a Cold Thursday

It's freeeezing this morning...which is apparently always the case anytime I hang around with Fujifilm Canada's Francis Bellefeuille. From now on he's Mr. Freeze. There, serves him right. I'll be testing the GFX50S and two lenses: the 63mm f/2.8 and the 32-64mm f/4. I'll have more about the GFX in the near future but let's just say I see this new system as a very targeted workhorse—hence my interest in the general purpose zoom as opposed to the 50mm equivalent prime. BUT: results are important. I'm interested in sharpness, sure, but I'm much more interested in a look. This'll be the deciding factor. Of course, I should have images to share in the coming days...snowmen and ice queens ;)

AN INTERVIEW

Had the pleasure of chatting with Valérie Jardin on her new podcast. It's always fun but the current circumstances and events forced a more serious conversation, questions on our role as creatives in the current landscape. This is episode 21 and it's entitled In Tumultuous Times (iTunes link). 

STREET HUNTERS

I have to mention this: I'm on a short list for Most Influential Street Photographer for 2017 as compiled by streethunters.net. Huge honour and a big surprise. The deadline for voting is midnight February 10th. Tons of ridiculously good photographers and friends there so...good luck to all :)

HASHTAG: A SERIES OF DREADFULLY COMMON INSTANCES

I've been playing with Instagram a lot more in the past months—trying to post on a more regular basis. My love of photographic essays and series has always made that platform less of a pull for me, almost the antithesis of what I drives me. But I'm now trying to see it as an ongoing project as opposed to just one-off image posts. To this end, I've started a series under the hashtag #aseriesofdreadfullycommoninstances. Because...why make it simple when you can add as many letters as possible? The idea is basically an extension of what I've always done, focusing on ways to view the mundane in new light. I'm listed as laroquephotogram if you're around.

Two more things I want to mention:

-My friend Ian McDonald wrote a brilliant and very personal post entitled ON CREATIVITY, PERSPECTIVE, AND ACCEPTANCE.

-Olaf Sztaba—another talented Canadian colleague—has just launched an educational platform called Simplicity in Seeing.

Wish me luck in our arctic world...Now a few random images for good measure (Héloïse was home sick, poor kiddo).
Later.


All images shot with a pre-production X100F


resistance.foundation

I know this isn't why most of you come here and when I first mentioned this project, I said I didn't want to dwell on it for too long. So here we are: done. This album is homemade and imperfect but I'm glad it was essentially one quick impulse, entirely built on the back of urgency; because I needed it to be completed in a hurry—for fear of seeing it turn into a silent killer, poisoning my bloodstream.

There's a deliberate thematic arc from beginning to end, a bit like a short story, however abstract and obscure. This is something I've rarely (if ever) tried with music: sirius rider is about the rise of intolerance and wish for escape; an escape into the corollary is essentially a narration, a man navigating the new reality; & we howl (aquarians) is the rebellion; foundations is about hope. You can listen to the entire album here or check out the two songs video preview below.

resistance.foundation
FREE DOWNLOAD

Why do this at all? Call it an exorcism for one, but also a clear marker: I want to be on record for opposing the gross misconduct and dangerous rhetoric of these times. And I'm willing to accept any consequences. I grew up with the knowledge of horrors men had fought and died to oppose; with a threat of nuclear proliferation that ultimately led to a certain world order, each side realizing the danger this posed for the human race and coming to its senses. I remember the fall of the Berlin wall and what it represented. The fall of the wall. As imperfect as our world still is, there has never been a more peaceful time in our history. And yet a handful of individuals now threatens to throw everything into chaos, in the name of personal glory and racist agendas—using made-up threats and fictional visions of carnage, empty promises that prey on hopes for a world that no longer exists. We are witnessing first hand how easily humanity devolves into herd mentality when riled up by demagogues, how democracy hinges on fragile principles that can only survive as long as we are willing to uphold them.

But there IS resistance. In fact, I can't remember mobilization at this level, from all corners of society and in so many countries at once. Social media is a double-edged sword bitch. Seeing journalists (yes, REAL journalists still exist) finally standing up to lies (yes, FACTUAL and VERIFIABLE lies also exist); seeing judges, attorneys and other civil servants on both sides of the aisle willing to put their jobs on the line; ordinary people defending their neighbours and taking to the streets...I have to believe love will destroy hate in the end, as corny and simplistic as it sounds. And if this all seems like a lot of grandstanding on my part then so be it—sometimes we need to.

This project is free to download, free to share, free to whatever the hell you want to do with it. All I ask is that you play it really, really loud... ;)
Now, enough sidetracking...back to photography.