Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Fuji X-E1 In The Field - Part 2

Photo #1
Working the Harley Owners Group (HOG) Toy Drive was my second Fuji affair, although the camera’s limitations would become a serious shortcoming. First off, there was the slow synchronization speed (1/180 second). Second, the Fuji’s focusing speed is somewhat slower than a DSLR. But again, the lack of weight of my full kit overruled these performance concerns.

Photo #2
Over the years, I submitted a variety of shots for this holiday event without resorting to a picket fence shot. One year, I submitted a shot of a Santa-capped award recipient being honored by his fellow HOGs (Photo #2). And once, I actually submitted a shot showing a “Hog” member with a young child (Photo #3), but only after I spoke at length with her Grandmother. She had just received a brand new Hello Kitty backpack filled with school supplies, a gift from the HOGs.

Photo #3
As I mentioned in several earlier posts, photographing young children requires more care. Your child subject may be involved in a custody battle, where any publicity could have some serious consequences. Always, ALWAYS get permission from a parent or guardian before submitting a shot like this, especially when the subject is so easily recognizable, as this happy young lady was in this shot.

Since so many of my earlier efforts had been made indoors, I wanted to try to get something outside, perhaps with a great sky and some fleecy clouds in the background. Here's where the Fuji's shortcomings began to show up. First off, the maximum flash exposure speed was 1/160th of a second. If I wanted any detail in the sky, I'd need an aperture setting of F16, with an ISO of 200. This is very close to the Sunny Sixteen setting often prescribed in the pre-light meter days. Pushing against that tiny aperture, my flash would need full output at every shot even when used at distances between 7 to 10 feet.

Photo #4

B&H Photo
The flash was held at arm's length overhead, and as an experiment, triggered wirelessly using a Wein Sync-Link. This little gizmo would blow  a "wink" of infrared light toward the subject, which was detected by the forward-facing optical trigger on my Younguo 560 with surprising consistency. I can't say it was 100% reliable, since the flash often failed to fire when it hadn't reached full charge, something resulting from a lot of shooting done  in a short period of time, which obviously something that can't be blamed on the Wein.

The beam spread of the flash was narrowed a bit, and aimed to the left to favor  the closer subjects. The system worked reasonably well, except for the fireball reflection from the flash in the mirror in the foreground (Photo #4). We'll, at least I knew that if I maintained a constant distance from my subjects, my exposures would be pretty consistent.

Photo #5

 When young Alex stepped up to the join the others, I knew I had the shot. Placing myself squarely in front of him, I started shooting (Photo #5). Granted, this was a pretty ugly looking box, but the shot served to confirm that my exposure was in the ball park. Now I had to wait for something visually interesting.

You can see some of the dangers of "choking up" on the beam angle. There is some definite light fall-off on the lower half of the box, something that I wish I could have avoided. But there wasn't time to worry, so I kept shooting, waiting for something more interesting.

Photo #6

This shot had some promise (Photo #6), but with everybody looking camera right, the shot fell apart. Again, just keep shooting!

In the end, I settled on the lead shot (Photo #1), as it had most of the visual elements I needed. The shot isn't perfect: There's some light fall-off at the lower edge, and Alex's face is a bit overexposed for my taste. But this final effort did have my blue sky, and lots of details in the shadows without any blown highlights. It would have been nice if  more Hogs faced forward so that their jackets could lend some context to the shot.

In retrospect, this two-day experiment pointed out limitations of the the Fuji, insofor as working with flash is concerned. The low flash synchronization speed is a major handicap when trying to face down a subject partially illuminated by hard daylight. I'm not going to discard my mirrorless system any time soon, but will need to think long and hard about how to address the Fuji's shortcomings. Granted,  a conventional DSLR would have faced the same problems, but the capabilities of, say, the Nikon iTTL system gives the shooter flash flexibility that the Fuji will never touch. Granted, I don't fit the Fuji user profile, which is to say that I'm not emotionally tied to the rangefinder form factor of the Leica years. The placement of the controls were copied from an analog archetype, where form may not have followed function, but instead was dictated by the engineer limitations of the time.

I have to remind myself that Fuji did create the X100 camera with a leaf shutter that could have provided the synchronization flexibility of my beloved Nikon D70s, and my own copy remains relatively unused. I might be better off replacing one of the X-E1 bodies with the X100, but that must wait for another time.