The Stages

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Bert shot with a bag full of Ikea items—a salad bowl as beauty dish, a shower curtain, an artificial plant...I don’t think he ever found a way to use that toilet brush though. Zack showed off the mood of light, Sara wrapped her model in fabric and Mindy revealed the world of Forbidden Tattoos. Elia took us around the globe, Kevin brought us home and Ruddy made us think about it all. Jonas, of course, made us all feel like underachievers: how the hell can this guy also be a doctor? Bloody hell. And then there was Ines and Jan and Anushka and Peter and Elke...what moves me most about Fujifilm’s presence at Photokina is this focus on photographers and their work. We all get to learn so much from everyone that returning home is almost a letdown; Jonas spoke of withdrawal in his Chronicle post this week...it’s not a bad analogy.

My set was half/half: I told a couple of stories about commercial jobs and the importance of visual exploration—then I switched to studio mode with the help of Fabian, our male model. The idea was to create five different looks, using nothing but the small Profoto A1 strobe and the included Dome Diffuser. No softbox, no umbrella...this was all about positioning the light and subject to achieve different results. Although I did cheat on the last day by bouncing it off the white wall—I wanted a different take on the cinematic look I’d done in the previous sets. Sue me ;)

A few of those images below, all processed from GFX 50S raw files using the brand spanking new Capture One Pro 11.3. Side note: Am I excited about this? Oh dear god, you have no idea. It doesn’t just work: it works WELL. Still waiting on the upcoming film simulations support, but this is already like waking from a long slumber. Any concerns I had about C1 have now evaporated completely. More on this eventually...


VARIOUS MOODS AND GRADINGS (PROFOTO A1+GFX 50S+CAPTURE ONE PRO)


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Montreal Workshops | P2

I want to apologize for my rather slow response time when it comes to comments and/or email replies. Truth is it’s a very busy summer, with unforeseen projects piling up on top of others. I’m looking at the calendar and realizing this is shaping up to be the summer-that-never-was. August may change that, with a week planned with the family in the wilderness, away from it all. But that’s two weeks away and looking at what needs to happen until then...it may as well be in 2018.

I only booked two workshops this year—well, for the summer months anyway. These are from yesterday’s outing with Helmut and his wonderful wife Gerhild, navigating our city under siege, buried under concrete and bright orange road signs. We’re living in a chaos that defies description, believe me. Still, if you look around, there’s peace to be found within a few milliseconds.

Btw: this is P2 because it was workshop #2. Workshop #1 happened last week...all shot in Acros and coming up next. Linearity? Bah! Humbug...;)


Shot with the X-Pro2 and XF 35mm f2 R WR


Signal 9

We've always experimented, an approach perfectly in line with Miriodor’s music—iconoclastic and intricate, a mashup of avant-rock, electronics and virtuosity. Rock in Opposition, alive and well and kicking like crazy. 

One light, cigarettes and mirrors...mood over function. These are a few of my favourite images from our latest shoot. Their new album—Signal 9—is out today on Cuneiform Records. More info here


Shot with the GFX 50S and GF 63mm f.2.8 R WR


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.

Take a walk on the wide side...

When Fujifilm Canada asked if I'd be interested in shooting images for a book project (an internal publication I believe), I said sure. When they requested street photography? Awesome. With the XF 14mm lens?

Uh oh.

The XF 14mm f/2.8 R is fantastic—a lot of photographers have shot the hell out of this lens and wouldn't be caught dead without it in their bag (my friends Bert and Flemming have both done some seriously amazing work with it). But I tend to use it very sparingly, only in very specific situations: when I need a larger field of view (obviously); when I want to accentuate lines and play with geometry; close-up, using distortion as a visual statement of some kind. When it comes to street however...It's never been in my toolbox.

This has to do in part with habit—shoot long enough with any one focal length and you begin to see the world through that field of view—but mostly, it's about subtext. Focal lengths have distinct voices in my mind: at the wider end they clamour, like town criers, making bold announcements for all to hear. At the longer range they whisper in our ear or scream us out of the room, either intimate or invasive. I tend to lean towards the conversational tone of an extended normal range—35-50mm equivalents (23-35 APS-C). In trying to understand why that is, I've come to the conclusion that it has to do with anonymity: these are fields of view that go unnoticed, that don't call attention to themselves. Raise a wide angle or telephoto lens to your eye and you suddenly have superpowers—the world is an entirely different place. That angle of view, because it's so foreign, becomes part of the subject, for ourselves AND for the viewer. Less so with a telephoto because compression can be harder to notice, butthe impact is certainly present for the shooter. With the normal range there isn't as much of a disconnect—which means the capture isn't "tainted" by effect. I mean this as a purely optical fact, and not at all as a negative. In many ways it's a deeply philosophical difference between reality and augmented reality, something I believe can be felt to a certain extent.

All that being said, I'd been planning on forcing myself to shoot street with the 14mm for a very long time, if only to shake things up a bit. This assignment gave me a reason to finally go out and do it.

On a shoot for Lexus: the 14mm gave those images the right feel by accentuating the converging lines.

EMBRACING THE SUPERPOWER

I've always maintained that the X100 series cameras were my natural, go to bodies for street and travel photography. I still believe that. But my almost constant use of the X-Pro2 and XF 35mm f/2 over the past months has slowly shifted my eye towards a tighter field of view, making even the 23mm feel almost too airy lately. So you can imagine the shock of the 14mm: it took me a good half-hour to get acclimated and settle in.

This has to do with pre-visualizing: when I'm shooting—in any circumstances—I often frame in my mind first. This is a reflex really. Even when I don't have accessto a camera, I'll be taking mental pictures pretty much constantly. But for this to work, what you see in your mind needs to conform to what the camera sees...otherwise you start over each and every time and lose that advantage. It's why I prefer prime lenses over zooms: I know what to expect and I can rely on it. In this case, I basically needed to let go and accept the big, shiny new playground.


Shot with the X-T1 and XF 14mm f/2.8 R


A VOICE

I had fun with this assignment and I'm happy with the results. If I'm perfectly honest however, it does feel like a different conversation in a way—one that isn't on the same level of...intimacy, for lack of a better term. I shot some of these from the hip, using zone focussing (which I rarely do) and there's a randomness to this that I very much enjoyed. But—and this may sound very strange—it feels like I was wearing a disguise for a few hours.

I think there's a reason why so many of the masters mostly kept to a single focal length during their career: it's part of the foundation of our visual voice. This doesn't mean we should limit ourselves, but I think at some point there's an optical aspect to how we interpret the world, a natural point of view that develops over time and allows us to bridge everything together.

Still...it's nice to try on new shoes once in awhile, right?
Now back to those good 'ol boots.