A September Newsbrief

So how have you all been? It feels like ages since I’ve spoken in a voice that was purely conversational—as opposed to the Story (capital S) inner monologue. I feel the need for a mea culpa: man did I let the blog fall by the wayside. I still have several essays to publish from the UK series as well as other more mundane episodes, stolen, as usual, from our everyday lives. Some of these have made their way to KAGE’s Chronicle 90 journaling project; others still sit on an external hard drive, waiting. It’s a common byproduct of summer months, to be scattered this way, but it seems to have been more intense this year: part fatigue, part busyness, part imposed secrecy. At some point it all blended together to create a—paradoxically—frantic standstill. Don’t even try imagining ;)

But Fall is here. On cue, the air is cooler and we can finally sleep under the covers again. And I can also share some bits of news I’d been keeping for myself.

PHOTOKINA

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Stoked about this: I’ll be leaving for Germany (via a short detour to Brussels) in a couple of weeks: I’m scheduled to speak at Photokina, on the Fujifilm Studio stage. This will be part talk, part live shoot. Very much looking forward to seeing friends out there again: it’s a really cool lineup and three of my KAGE buddies will be there as well so...beer? Perhaps a few.

If you’re planning to visit be sure to come and say hi if you get the chance.

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KAGE+DOMINIQUE SHAW

We have a new KAGE member too! Dominique Shaw has joined our ranks. We’re very excited to see her work in the months ahead. We’ve added her profile to the website and she’ll start publishing right after we end the Chronicle 90 project I just mentioned. 

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MEDIUM FORMAT MAGAZINE

Admittedly, the GFX has caused a minor seismic shift in my small corner of the universe: what began as a tentative experiment has since impacted much more of my photography than I initially thought it would. Medium Format is a new digital publication and website where, every two months, I’ll be exploring the topic through a column entitled Frailties.

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FFOTON.WALES

While in the UK last June for Kevin Mullin’s brilliant X-Weddings conference, I had the great pleasure of sitting down for an in-depth interview with Brian from Ffoton—a website and podcast based in Wales and dedicated to photography. Most interviews tend to happen through Skype these days—for obvious reasons—and there’s such a different dynamic to a casual, face to face conversation. Ideas and topics bounce off each other so much more naturally. A highly enjoyable encounter. Plus: if you’re looking to spend a few hours listening to photographers, this site will have you covered for days.

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BREATHE PICTURES

Oh and speaking of X-Weddings: that was an absolute blast. The events were a blast, the folks attending the conference and those on my workshop were a blast—and the invited photographers were...well yes, a blast. And crazy talented. This is where I met Dominique (and her brother Liam) but also Marianne Chua, Facundo Santana and Neale James. You’ll see more of these last two compadres when I get around to posting the Brighton pics...I will, promised. But I especially want to mention Neale’s new podcast: Breathe Pictures. Neale is a documentary wedding photographer, but he was once a BBC DJ. He sounds like a BBC DJ. He’s also a storyteller who has a hell of a knack for packaging shows that completely draw you in. Episode 1 is a wrap up of X-Weddings—complete with a few funny car conversations on our way to Brighton. But believe me, you’ll absolutely want to dig into the next episodes. Notably, episode 3 is with the late great Steve Shipman, who we sadly lost a few months ago.

I believe that’s it for the roundup.
Later guys

P.S We have a dog now. And a cat. Discuss...;)

Five & the Update Cornucopia

Man...We’re going to need an entire week just to get up to speed. I’ve rarely seen such an avalanche of releases back to back—new versions, new apps, firmware updates, the works. But before we take a look at all of it, I need to mention one little thing: KAGE is five years old.

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Hard to believe this project began in 2012 but here we are. We’ve seen ups and downs, lived through internal changes but what an adventure it’s been so far. I’m incredibly proud of every moment with current and past photographers. Our new issue is out today and I invite you to come hang out for a bit.

Right. On with the newness...

CAPTURE ONE 11

There’s a new version of Capture One every year. And every year the company raises the bar—with actually useful features. By that I mean stuff most of us will use on a daily basis. With recent releases, the contrast in philosophy between Lightroom and C1 has never been clearer: on one hand we have little more than a standstill, a trickle of improvements combined with, at best, a deeply confused message (don’t get me started again). On the other, an update that kicks serious $ss. I’ve gone all in with Capture One and I’m not turning back—not to Lightroom anyway. But the app’s speed was never it’s forte and it was one of those things I’d simply come to accept. Version 9 had promised improvements on this front, version 10 had renewed the claim…neither ever made much of a difference on my end. Capture One 11 however, changes everything. Browsing, editing, previewing and applying styles, switching views and workspaces, all operations are monumentally faster. Enough that it makes my iMac suddenly feel like a new machine. In Adobe land that would’ve been the big achievement—here it’s essentially a by-product of the upgrade.

There are tons of big and small improvements (a new colour engine for one), but the tent pole feature IMHO is an overhaul of local adjustments—which are now called layers. All editing tools can now be applied to layers, adding levels, colour balance and all the modes of the clarity and structure sliders. Not only that: styles can be applied to a layer AND all layers now include an opacity slider. Think about that for a second; yup, it’s huge. It means an entire set of adjustments can be throttled up or down in seconds. I definitely need to write a more in-depth look at this software.

If you’re already using Capture One check out the demo. I think it’s killer.

PIXELMATOR PRO

I moved away from Photoshop a few years ago—basically before I signed up for the CC photography plan. And when I did I chose Pixelmator as my replacement. Honestly, although it was much more powerful, moving back to Photoshop after that stint (had to justify the monthly expense) was painful. Not that the app couldn’t do the job—it obviously could—but the UI made me feel like I was going back 5 or 6 years in time.

The new Pixelmator Pro makes Photoshop look like Windows 98.

I wrote about this not so long ago but it still impresses me: what all these new, small companies have in common is a deep understanding of the API’s Apple has built into MacOS. They’re leveraging Metal 2 and machine learning and Coreeverything in ways that allow them to focus not only on features, but also on re-imagining how we interact with software. This is profoundly changing the landscape and the tools we now have at our disposal. Little guys can now hang with big guys. Take something like Adobe’s highly touted repair tools for instance (magic a few short years ago): initial repair tests with Pixelmator Pro were not only on par, in most cases they did a better job of it than Photoshop. That’s a serious leveraging of the playing field. Of course Photoshop is still a beast: if you’re working in CMYK or in need of any of its highly targeted tools, chances are this won’t work as a replacement. But in my case it does.

I’m not 100% sold on all the UI decisions in Pixelmator Pro but I have little doubt they’ve laid a foundation that holds a heck of a lot of promise.

FUJIFILM FIRMWARE UPDATES

These had been announced already so no surprise here. For most cameras we’re looking at compatibility with the new 80mm lens (update released on Nov 21). The Nov 30 updates feature support for third-party flashes (think Profoto and Elinchrom triggers), as well as the new Fujifilm X RAW Studio app. They also add functionalities on the X-T2 (new AF tracking algorithms) and the X-T20 (touch panel operation). If you have a GFX 50S the V2.00 also fixes an exposure compensation bug (it’s not listed but I can attest that the bug is gone). A similar X-Pro2 update is scheduled for mid-December. All of these are (or will be) available here.

FUJIFILM X RAW STUDIO

Which brings us to the brand new baby I just mentioned: Fujifilm X Raw Studio. This is an interesting and quite novel piece of software—I’m not aware of any other camera manufacturer doing anything similar. It’s basically a desktop version of Fujifilm’s raw conversion function found in both X-series and GFX cameras. For those who’ve never used it: this allows a raw file to be re-baked in-camera by using custom settings tools and film simulations. On the X-series it results in a new JPEG file; on the GFX there’s a choice of either JPEG or TIFF. The big deal here is that the app can do batch conversions (a much faster process) AND it uses the camera’s processor to do its thing: a camera needs to be tethered via USB in order for the software to work. Strange? Definitely. Quirky interface? Totally. But…I’ve fiddle with the app very briefly and I’ve already identified an important aspect to it: for anyone at all interested in creating in-camera custom settings, ladies and gents this is our new playground. I really wasn’t expecting it, but this is a great tool to understand how the Fuji processor works, how it affects the images we shoot. When using X Raw Studio we’re seeing the camera work in real time—we’re seeing the curves being applied, the effects of one simulation next to another, all of it. You can even compare Adobe RGB to SRGB in various scenarios, or see the effects of Lens Modulation, Colour Chrome Effect (on the GFX 50S) etc.

So while I doubt I’ll use this to convert images, what I intend to do is input all my custom settings into the app and experiment with various tweaks to see how it all reacts. As far as I’m concerned this is like a free course in X-processing.

As I said earlier: there’s a lot here to digest. If you share any of my geek tendencies however, it’s like an early Christmas. Speaking of which: it’s donut baking time this weekend. Let the season begin...

Have a great one :)

Friday Tidbits: interview, simulations etc

Is it the weekend again? May in few short days? Boy...this is one fast frikin' train isn't it? Time for a Friday tidbits/mishmash post.

STREET FOCUS INTERVIEW

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by photographer Valérie Jardin earlier this week, for her Street Focus podcast. Valérie and I had been in touch since before the holidays but the timing was finally right and we had a really lovely conversation. I'm quite impressed by Valérie's focus and success at managing what has become a worldwide workshop business. We talked about storytelling in the context of commercial projects, about street, approach...shooting the breeze really. It's online now and you can check it out here: STREET FOCUS 84: VISUAL STORIES WITH PATRICK LA ROQUE

FUJIFILM FILM SIMULATIONS FROM...FUJIFILM

I read this article few days ago and really wanted to mention it: Film Simulation, Revolution by Continuous Evolution. As most of you know, I'm a huge fan of the X-Series JPEG engine and the results I can get from its various film simulations—which have grown into something much more serious than nostalgia-based marketing. To me they're actual tools, just as much as everything else these cameras offer. I already knew, from conversations with engineers, about the complex background behind Acros. But this article goes into the science of the simulations as a whole, the role of the new processor etc. I actually find it too brief— I'd love to hear more about this. Still, quite fascinating.

NATE GATES

I love giving one on one workshops and I have quite a few coming up in the next weeks/months, which is great. It's a chance to share but it's also a two-way conversation that's always surprising and rewarding. Nate Gates came over from Newfoundland some weeks ago and we spent a couple of days together as part of my three-day Shadow Workshop. Nate is originally from the US but he now runs a successful photography business in Newfoundland with his girlfriend and partner Nicole. They also hold workshops of their own.

And that's where it becomes interesting: how do you teach someone who's pretty much there already? We had talked beforehand via email about what he was looking for and hoping to bring back from our time together, but it's always a challenge to find that one small element that might be missing from the mix, that might be just enough to push someone a little further in. It becomes about shaping the path as opposed to building it...it's very subtle.

But I think we got there and Nate was kind enough to post about the experience on his blog so I thought I'd share: In the streets with LaRoque.

B-DAY

Not mine—although that one's coming up way too fast. But today happens to be my KAGE buddy and Tokyo accomplice Bert Stephani's birthday so I couldn't let that pass without a mention. Besides, I've been promising him a spiffy suit shot for months now so here goes...classy stuff my friend ;)

Have a great weekend everyone!

From Leo to Revelation | Not an X-Pro2 Review

As I write this post—on January 7 2016—I still have the X-Pro2 prototype on my table, right beside me. It's been two months since the day I picked it up and I've never stopped shooting with it. Needless to say I'm smitten. In a few days I leave for Tokyo and intend on documenting my trip with this camera, along with the XF 35 f/2 that's been its almost constant companion since day one and feels like a natural extension. Nothing else.

So what is it about the X-Pro2 that makes it so compelling? It feels right. For me this means it feels like a documentary camera, something made to disappear and embrace its surroundings—just like the X100 series. The immediate reflex will be to compare the X-Pro2 to its older sibling the X-T1. We ARE talking flagships here after all. And it's obvious to everyone that this crown will probably be passing from one line to the other for the foreseeable future; but these are two very different cameras, philosophically speaking. I know it's a strange thing to say about gear where spec sheets are pondered over and the minutiae of technology tends to supersede everything else. But there's no other way to express it: the X-Pro line differs from the XT line in its aura. And in turn this changes our relationship with it and with the world we intend to capture.

Obviously, the X-Pro2 is now the king of the X hill in terms of performance. That's a given. This is a beast of a machine that, despite its deceivingly similar looks, has seen a complete overhaul of technology under the hood: new 24.3 MP sensor, new X Processor Pro image processor, new 1/8000 sec focal plane shutter (on top of an electronic shutter option)...the full laundry list is here. What this all amounts to is incredible image quality that builds on the organic nature of the X-Series line. Just in terms of low-light performance, the company has managed to considerably lower the signal to noise ratio while raising the megapixel count—which isn't usually how things go. There are laws of physics at play that tend to push the other way.

 

Beyond the big tech highlights however, there are small features that, in my mind, add quite a bit to the more refined experience:

  • No refocussing. In AF-S mode the camera maintains focus between shots if the shutter is kept half-pressed. Yay You say? You bet your sweet whatever. Hell yeah. I wan't this on all my other cameras. Now.
  • 1/250 sec flash syncing. 'Nuff said.
  • -+5 EV compensation. As an AV mode shooter this comes in very handy.
  • Expanded in-camera settings. You can dial down sharpness to -4 or push shadows to +4...New possibilities.
  • Button layout. Metering is a little far for my not-very-big hands (and easy to confuse with AE-L without looking) but other than that, it feels perfect and very natural. I took to the new layout immediately. On our prototype units the AF-L is a bit too recessed but this will apparently be fixed on production models (I've also suggested something for back focussing...we'll see if that pans out in a future update).
  • My Menu. Yes, it's been available for eons on other systems but we now have this as well. Good thing.
  • The Focus Lever. Otherwise known as that-joystick-thingy. LOVE this. Plus it frees up the other buttons to be used for FN.
  • No more fumbling. Battery goes in ONE WAY. Yay!
  • Diopter adjustment. Finally. This seems like an easy and obvious feature but remember we've got a hybrid VF here, with built-in lenses for different focal lengths. I'm guessing the engineers had to think about this one.   
  • Power management. This came in late so I haven't tested it yet, but there are now three levels: Economy, Standard and High Performance.

And of course: dual-card slots—sequential, split or backup mode. And lossless compressed raw...but that's a big feature. I could go on.

"Fantastic!" I hear you say, "I'm selling my X-T1!"
Well, perhaps but: it doesn't have the huge XT-1 EVF, or its tilt-screen; it doesn't offer a vertical battery grip, doesn't have a dedicated metering dial. In essence, it's simply not the same machine—and in my opinion that's ok. What probably began as an experiment with the X100 has evolved into a system that's now much more clearly defined, at least at the top end of the spectrum:

  • X100 line: fixed-lens rangefinder style. Perfect documentary and travel camera.
  • XE line: same form factor as X100 but with interchangeable lenses.
  • XT line: DSLR-style. High performance, weather resistant. Huge EVF.
  • X-Pro line: rangefinder-style. High performance, weather resistant. Hybrid viewfinder.   

I'm comfortable with this. I've been using every camera on that list (except for the XE line) either alone or concurrently, in a two or three body setup (rarely three but it's happened once or twice. Yes, I look...err...weird) and they all make sense. I could live with any one of these.

Bottom line: the X-Pro2 is the proud and worthy successor to the X-Pro1, the camera that first signalled the birth of the system, and it's incredibly fitting that its launch coincides with Fujifilm's 5 year X-Series anniversary celebrations. If you've been waiting for it go ahead, there's nothing here that will disappoint.

This is a classic, reborn. 


MORE X-PRO2 CONTENT

Speaking this weekend... And other news.

A very quick post on this cold December morning. It’s been a great two weeks, filled with shoots I’m rather proud of — some for a long term project I’ve yet to talk about. I did a studio session on Monday with my friend Pierre Labbé, a double exposure exploration for his next album that I’ll be sharing with you guys as soon as it’s possible to do so. Used the X-Pro1 for those because… Raw. More on that once we get to it.

Last weekend was our traditional donut-making fest, marking the official launch of the holiday season for our little family. The kids have started counting down the days. And Christmas came early for me: Mr. Purolator rang my doorbell yesterday, handing me a brand new X100T. Excited? Hell yeah.

I’ve barely touched it but I’m already blown away by the refinements I’m finding in every nook and cranny. I’ll have a full review once I’ve had a chance to put it through its paces — of course, I’m not on the starting line with this one but hopefully I’ll manage to add a modicum of valuable info. In the meantime you may want to check out my friend Bert Stephani’s extensive video shot in beautiful Leuven.

If you’re feeling the urge to part with even more hard earned money money (’tis the season!), my other KAGE buddy Derek Clark takes a first look at the XF 50–140 f/2.8. I’ve had a chance to examine several sample images and bloody hell… Fuji has again managed to push the envelope. Bigger? Yes… Unavoidable; optics are optics. But Derek’s post title It Thinks it’s a Prime says it all.

While I’m on the subject of KAGE… If you haven’t already seen Vincent Baldensperger’s first story for the collective you’re missing out. L’art et la matière is an absolutely gorgeous visual essay. It’s also beautifully written. Worth the detour.


Last but not least: I’m speaking this coming weekend at Lord Photo in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu. It’s a 3 days Fujifilm event and Fuji Guys Billy Luong will be joining the party as well. It’s totally free and you can sign up right here. I’ll be hanging out for awhile too so if you feel like shooting the breeze… Come on down ;)

Donut-fest images below — Holidays here we go. And btw I didn't just take pictures: I mixed most of that dough. Hard work people, hard work.
Later.