Snow in Pennsylvania

St Johns in Rockport ( Fujifilm X-T10, 18-55mm f2.8)

Snow is definitely a 4-letter word for many Pennsylvanians of my acquaintance.  An upcoming snow event creates great angst among my friends, who see no value or joy in the white stuff.

Though I don’t brag about it,  I have a secret. I like snow.

As a landscape photographer, snow is for me generally a welcome addition to the dreary brown landscape of the northeastern United States in November and December.  Also as a skier, my affection for the white stuff is obvious. I like to move snow around with my power equipment. I even have a snowmobile.

Still, in polite company around here, it is best not to sound too enthusiastic when storms bear down.  After all, most of our locals, particularly of my age, dream of having a winter condo in Florida.

Four Trees (Fujifilm X-T10, XF 18-55mm f2.8)

I  live most of the year in a TV and radio market that includes the Poconos, and thus multiple ski resorts. Despite this, our meteorologists tend to report an upcoming snowfall with disparaging tones.  I note the difference immediately for instance, when in the Adirondacks.  There, the prospect of snow is reported if not with glee, at least with no sense of dread.  This would seem sensible in an area where a fair number of people count on winter weather for their incomes. It has always irked me to see the cheery way our forecasters announce that the latest storm will pass too far north for us to get anything frozen, and what a relief it is.

It’s winter for heavens sake!

Now I know there are Pennsylvanians who embrace winter weather.  I see them out at our state parks after a snowfall unloading their cross-country skis or snowshoes from the back of their Subaru Outbacks and Foresters.  They’re just relatively rare compared to the people still at home, who pine for their golf clubs and/ or their powerboats..

I find that also ironic, but compared to my youth, road maintenance is better, our transportation is infinitely better (all-wheel drive, , antilock brakes, traction control etc…) yet we seem much less stoic about snowstorms than we used to be.  I also don’t understand the rush on bread and milk. Beer, wine, fondue and chili fixings make much more sense to me.

This year snow in the Northeast has been very late in coming.  It was sparse in Lake Placid, when I arrived there several weeks ago for a visit.  In fact for the first January trip in my experience, there was no cross country skiing for the first several days of my vacation (in fact I arrived in town as a thunderstorm came through).  Happily I understand that the North Country has whitened up nicely since.

Winter in my part of Pennsylvania has been brown and relatively warm, delighting many but depressing me.  Meaningful snow finally arrived overnight starting on 22 January in the form of the so-called winter storm “Jonas” as named by The Weather Channel.  I dislike this affectation, which seems to be a blatant attempt to hype snowstorms into quasi-hurricane status. This frightens people sufficiently so that televisions everywhere are set to TWC for the duration of the event.

Nescopeck Creek after the Storm ( Fujifilm X-T10, XF 18-55mm f2.8)

The storm was somewhat unusual, in the steep gradient of precipitation at its northern edge.  Towns as close as 20 miles apart might have a 2 foot difference in snow accumulation.  Parts of the Laurel Mountains in Southeast Pennsylvania received up to 35 inches of snow from the same storm.

In my area, on ridge tops just west of the Pocono plateau, we received between 9 and 10 inches of snow over bare ground.  This was fairly light and fluffy and with no frozen base below, not optimal for recreation.  24 hours later however,  the snow was starting to consolidate and things got a bit better.  I was able to ski quite nicely at a local state Park on a section of former farm fields which feature a network of wide grassy trails.  Such terrain is more forgiving of suboptimal conditions, than the rocky forest paths that are more common here.

Indian Run (Fujifilm X100t,TCL X100)

I find myself wishing that this is the beginning of an extended period of snow cover.  For the sake of my winter adverse friends, it will optimally happen in a number of small events rather than as crippling nor’easters.  For me, it is particularly pleasant to ski or snowshoe in the softer temperatures of late February and March, particularly after work, as sunsets begin to occur later in the evening.

Finally, perhaps in mid- March comes a moment when a good day of cross-country skiing can still occur up in the mountains, while in the valley floor 1400 feet below,  golfers enjoy the greening scenery and spring air for their first rounds of the season.
You need a good snowpack for that to occur.

I remain quietly (and covertly) hopeful.

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The X Pro 2, Some Initial Thoughts

 

Man in the Tree (Fujifilm X100t)

Well it’s finally been introduced.  Last Friday, Fujifilm released the long anticipated update of its original replaceable lens “X” camera, the X Pro 1, with a new model, the X Pro 2.   With this introduction, there have been a flurry of early reviews by photographers and writers, who have been given early access to the new camera.  I’ve been reading these with great interest. 

X Pro 2 (Fujifilm image)

X Pro 2 (Fujifilm image)

I have had some contact with Fujifilm marketing recently, opening the possibility of obtaining testing samples: I have made inquiries already as to when this new camera body may be available. In the meantime, like many Fujifilm X shooters, I need to decide whether this new camera would be a logical addition to my equipment bag, or a $1700 trophy acquisition.

I did a wishlist article on this camera some months past. Time to see whether I was “on target”.

Fujifilm had a reputation for releasing what were essentially “beta” products and then updating them into their final form while in the customer’s hands.  Many of us have praised the company’s dedication to improving their products with firmware updates, but others have rightly criticized the company, for releasing immature products. This criticism I think was certainly valid for the original X100, as well as the X Pro 1, both of which were somewhat underdeveloped at their release, but were significantly improved by the time of their final updates. One can make the argument, that companies like Sony whose cameras are  infrequently updated, get away with this because they tend to introduce more completely developed/featured products that do not require such ongoing attention.

More recently I think, Fujifilm has paid a lot of attention to their initial offerings.  Their latest camera releases, have performed well right of the box, with firmware improvements that are more a matter of “icing on the cake“ rather than fixing obvious deficits.  Certainly cameras like the XE-2, the XT-1 and the XT-10 fall into this category.

The four-year gestation period for this camera, is unusual for Fujifilm.  I suspect the company was eager to get this one, billed as their “flagship”, right  from the start.

There are a lot of places on the web to read about the specific improvements of this camera vs. its predecessor.  I wish to highlight the ones that I think are important, and might compel me to upgrade.

Most strikingly, there is a new sensor.  This continues to use the unusual X-Trans color filter arrangement.  It is now 24 megapixels (versus 16 in the earlier cameras. One wonders whether waiting for Toshiba/Sony? to produce the new sensor caused the delay in introduction of the new flagship.

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The Sensor (Fujifilm Image)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now I’m not sure the extra resolution is that important to me, as I can already print nice 20 by 30 inch prints with the current sensor.  Certainly the extra cropping ability would be useful.

Water Tank, Hickory Run (Fujifilm X100t)

Far more interesting to me is the possibility that the sensor has increased high ISO capabilities over its predecessor. I’ve read several reports that the X Pro 2 has roughly one stop higher ISO capabilities, meaning that ISO 6400 in the newer camera looks the same as ISO 3200 in previous models.  This would certainly be worthwhile.

The X Pro 2 unlike its predecessor, is weatherproof.  It certainly makes sense, given that the XT-1 which is now further down the pecking order, has the same attribute. This I think is important to a camera that will clearly be marketed to professionals.  Though weatherproofing has not been important to me up to now, I start to get interested given the development of the fairly inexpensive weatherproof XF 35mm f2 lens now available.  I also appreciate the despite the weather-sealing, it retains a threaded shutter button for use with a cable release.

Fujifilm seems to be continually improving their auto-focus systems and the X Pro 2 is no exception. It now has many more auto-focus detectors available (273) with 77 phase detection points on the chip). This would seem to make it potentially more useful for action photography, especially given that it can shoot at 8 frames per second with a deeper buffer. Whether speed and sensitivity are improved from the already excellent XT-10 remain to be seen.

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Camera Back (Fujifilm Image)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The X Pro 2 also has the Wi-Fi capabilities of several of its predecessors. This can be quite useful. Also welcome is the front control dial, and the rear joystick dedicated to controlling focus points. This would spoil me for my other Fuji bodies.

 

Fuji made several small improvements that seem trivial, but mean a lot to us long time “X” shooters. First, they centralized the tripod mount, moving it away from the battery door. Second, they took the memory card out of the battery compartment, created a second card slot, and placed both on the side of the camera. The dual card slot operate much like my Nikons, with the capability of changing them from sequential storage, to duplicate storage, to sequestering files by type (raws to one card, JPGs to the other).This will be huge for wedding shooters. For me I can now keep a tripod shoe on the camera without having to remove it to change memory cards, or batteries. If we could just get two-button card formatting, also like Nikon bodies, I’d be in heaven.

And finally, like every other bloody viewfinder equipped X body, the X Pro 2 has an adjustable diopter control. Whoever omitted this from the X Pro 1 should have been severely  disciplined.

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Viewfinder (Fujifilm Image)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, thank you to Fujifilm for using the exact same battery they have used for their interchangeable lens cameras since the X Pro 1. This is really a loyalty inspiring move.

Despite all of this, I think that as I am generally happy with my current Fujifilm bodies (a seldom-used X Pro 1, a XE 2 and an XT-10) and my decision to acquire the new camera prior to the period when it is discounted (a year or so if history repeats) will depend largely on the improvements in the new sensor.

In the meantime I will watch for raw files available for download, and for raw support availability for both Photoshop and Capture One. Hopefully I can snag a body for review.

Let’s see what this new camera can do.

 

As always you can view these images on my Smugmug site located here. They are located in the Fall-Winter 2015 Gallery. Clicking on the image will also display it in a larger format.

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Christmas 2015

 Christmas, for me, is a time to reflect back at the waning year, and to thank the almighty for the many blessings he has bestowed. It’s also a time to express gratitude to those important people in our lives whether family , friends,  or co-workers.

In my case, that includes those of you kind people who visit this site from time to time. This was a particularly good year for us with a steady increase in viewership. It is especially gratifying that so many people took time out of their busy lives to offer supportive comments.

It would be kinda hard to send fruit baskets to all of you faithful followers. So I present here a couple of yuletide confections I have culled from the vast landscape of YouTube.

First is a lovely contemporary carol performed by the a cappella group Pentatonix:

 

Next is one of my favorite “Christmas” songs (though there’s no mention in the lyrics  of the holidays at all). Written by Frank Loesser, it has been sung by many couples. This version, performed by two incredible talents:  Sara Bareillis and Seth Mac Farlane, is a current favorite (also check out this slightly quirkier one with Ms. Bareillis and Ben Folds).

 

Finally, I offer  a glorious Celtic treatment of one of  my favorite sacred carols:

 

To all, a Merry Christmas and  Happy New Year

 

And also, thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gear that I Use: The Manfrotto Beefree Travel Tripod.

 

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Small Impoundment (Sony RX100 Mark III)

Even the most beautiful scene, captured with perfect exposure, can be ruined by “camera shake”. In most situations, proper camera stabilization leads to better images.

I have written about this in the past. These days most of the images I capture involve the use of at least a monopod, and often a tripod.

The problem is, when I open the trunk of my car, and grab my camera bag, I have had to decide whether to also grab also one of my fairly heavy duty Gitzo tripods. More often than not I don’t, basically because I’m lazy. Even carbon fiber tripods are bulky and sometimes make a casual hike feel more like an expedition. But big sturdy tripods  are necessary for  the digital SLRs I have carried for so many years.

This is because DSLRs  tend to have more “camera shake” due to their robust shutter mechanisms, and the swinging mirrors.  I still use my big Gitzos when shooting my Nikon bodies, particularly the D800E.

But so often now, I head out with a much smaller but still very high quality cameras. Tripods in this setting can be significantly smaller and less robust.  Up to now, I really haven’t owned a high quality small “travel tripod”, but several months ago I looked over the market and settled on a Manfrotto tripod/head from their Beefree  line.  This is a nice tripod with I think, an awkward  name.

Image by Manfrotto

Image by Manfrotto

 

I acquired for roughly $180US the aluminum version which weighs roughly 3 pounds, and folds to a little over 15 inches in length (there is also a carbon fiber version at 2.4 pounds and 2x the cost.). It comes with a very stylish, if somewhat form-fitted case. This is nicely designed for airline travel, but less useful in the woods.

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Image by Manfrotto

The reason for this is that in order to fit the tripod in the case, it has to be collapsed to its minimal length which involves extending the center column, and then reversing the legs. Doing this repetitively while hiking and shooting is rather tedious. I ultimately have solved the problem by buying a small Op/Tech tripod strap which allows me to carry the tripod in its operational configuration,  and distributing the weight in such a way that it is literally no burden.

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Bee Free (Fujifilm X100t)

The tripod legs extension is locked with flip style levers.. These are plastic, which makes them light in weight, but suspicious in terms of durability. With the legs extended and the column retracted (which is the proper way to use a tripod) the tripod head comes about to my chest. The tripod legs are quite rigid and stable (it is said to support 8.8 pounds). The legs move from the normal in-use position, to a more splayed position, or even reverse themselves by manipulating small lock at the top of each leg.

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At the Tree Farm (Fujifilm XT-10, XF 23mm f1.4)

I chose this tripod in part because of the tripod head. Now I know the Arca Swiss-style heads are in vogue, but over the years I have invested in a variety of Manfrotto heads, which all use the ubiquitous 200pl tripod plate. I now have so many of them in my bags that I am reluctant to switch to another system. Plus, they work fine.

The Befree has a  lightweight ballhead which is compatible with my current plates. It is cleverly designed, with cut outs designed to allow the tripod legs to fold completely parallel to each other with the column extended. Though certainly not as robust as some of my other gear, it is more than adequate for my intended uses.

Having a lightweight tripod is wonderful when using mirrorless cameras, such as my Fuji’s, or even my Sony RX100 mark III. All of these cameras fall well within the weight capacity of this little tripod. The combination of this tripod, with the little Sony creates an extremely light and versatile system photo/ video system.

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XT 10, beefree: Ready to shoot (Sony X 100 Mark III)

In addition, the Fujifilm “X” line, particularly the  X100 series cameras, with their soft leaf shutters and built-in neutral density filters work nicely here. It no issue to grab this tripod, along with a small camera bag, for low light and/ or moving water shooting. Using either the 2-second self-timer, a cable release, or the remote control smart phone app, you can trigger the shutter without causing camera movement and thus obtain sharp images in low light/slow shutter speed situations.  I find the tripod able to easily deal with the smaller cameras. Even with multi-second exposures, one can still produce razor-sharp images.

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The Last Ferns (Fujifilm XE-2, XF 14mm f2.8)

 

I honestly haven’t tried it yet with my Nikon DSLRs, though given its published weight capacity, it ought to work, at least for less demanding situations.

There are few things  missing from my bigger tripods. One is a separate “pan” control for the ball head, an omission which makes adjusting the camera angle slightly fussy. Also absent is a weight hook on the center column which would be useful on this light tripod in windy/unstable conditions. I solved this problem with an “S” style carabiner attached to the tripod strap.

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Carabiner (Samsung Galaxy G5)

 

So now when I look in the trunk, grabbing a tripod is now an easy decision.

Photographically, it’s usually a great decision.

 

As usual these images an others, can be viewed at Henrysmithscottage@smugmug.com

 

 

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The Gear that I Use: The Fujifilm XT10 review

Cattail (Fujifilm XT 10, XF 18-55mm f2.8)

There are times, when something or someone looks unattractive on first glance, but becomes much more attractive upon making your acquaintance. I think of my wife’s first impressions of me when we were in college. Apparently over time, I kinda’ grew on her.

Thus it was with me, and the new Fujifilm XT10.

I remember seeing the announcement on Dpreview back last May as “a smaller and lighter version of the X-T1”. Now having handled and shot an XT1, I knew that camera was already quite modest in size and frankly could not figure out why Fujifilm would’ve developed what looked to me like a watered-down version.

XT10XT10 back

Then I began to notice the reviews. Inexplicably there were multiple photographers were absolutely smitten by this particular product. I remained unimpressed and uninterested.
Then while in Seattle, I  had the opportunity to shoot multiple products with movable LCD screens. Particularly for “street shooting”, I found the feature very useful in obtaining unusual angles, and viewpoints. I began to think that it it might be nice to have a Fujifilm body with this feature.

I thought first of the XT 1. I then however began to compare it to the newer XT 10. I got to handle both cameras at PIX 2015 in Seattle. I was impressed particularly with the smaller body. Still I weighed the options.

Obviously the XT 1 is weather sealed, the Xt-10 not. But my lens collection includes no weather sealed lenses, and I have no burning desire to update my current lenses, as they are excellent. Also the fact that the XT 10 is not weather-proofed allows it to have a threaded shutter button so that I may use a mechanical remote release rather than purchasing an electronic one.

Three Birches in Lehigh Gorge (Fujifilm XT 10, XF 18-55mm f2.8)

The XT 1 has a larger buffer. With my style of shooting however, this is not a problem to me. Plus if I shoot sports, I’m using a different camera system anyway. Plus the XT 10 has the best auto focus Fuji film offers, something the XT 1 will get in a firmware upgrade.
Both cameras offer a tilting LCD screen. The view finder is larger and brighter in the XT 1, but the actual LCD including the refresh rate are the same. I like the idea that the XT 10 is smaller, given that I often use the Fuji cameras while hiking and backpacking.
And given my penurious ways, I could not help to notice that the XT 10 significantly cheaper ($699 vs. $999US on Amazon as I write this).

So predictably, I placed an order for the XT 10.

It arrived in typical Fujifilm packaging (I do miss the premium packaging of the original X100 and X Pro 1). It came with the usual stuff, including the little plastic thingy that helps you put the metal loops on the strap lugs. I ignored the included neck strap and purchased an inexpensive one from Amazon that converts into a wrist strap if needed.

I mounted a lens, and was again impressed with the workmanship and apparent heft. For a   supposed “budget” camera body, it feels extremely dense, with a very rigid body, beautifully assembled .There is a small soft rubber handgrip on the front, with a clever rubber thumb grip in the rear. All the materials seem first-rate.

Ruins at Ricketts (Fujifilm XT 10, XF 18-55mm f2.8)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The LCD screen tilts roughly 90° upward, and perhaps 45° downward. The mechanisms feels quite sturdy.

This camera body is small. It is significantly smaller than my XE2, and certainly the X Pro 1. In fact has roughly the dimensions of the X100 series (though it will usually have a larger lens attached).

Button placement on the back is slightly different from previous Fujis, given that the movable screen precludes having buttons on the left side of the back of the camera. Instead they are scattered about the camera back. The drive functions move from a button on the range finder style cameras to a dial on the top of the camera. It lacks the XT1’s dial to control ISO, but this function is easily controllable through the “Q” menu, available with a press of the button on the camera back.

There is now a rotating dial on the front of the camera, with a programmable push-to-click function. The dial on the back is also push-to-click, which is defaulted to ”image magnification” for manual focusing. Many of the buttons  can be “purposed” with a long press which brings up an appropriate menu on the back screen.

The LCD features the new “transparent” display style, first seen on the X100T. Also like that camera, the view finder information rotates so that it can be read when shooting either portrait or landscape. It has the same excellent implementation of Wi-Fi, and controls nicely through my Android phone. I especially like the touch screen focusing which I wish Fujifilm had implemented for the camera’s own LCD. It’s a bit time-consuming to connect the camera and the phone however, which limits the utility of this otherwise excellent smartphone app.

The Jamison Road (Fujifilm XT 10, XF 18-55mm f2.8)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also notice that on the displays, when shooting, there is displayed a bank of yellow crosspoints in the middle of the frame. I these apparently signify the cross-point focus receptors on the imager. I have not seen this on any of my other Fuji cameras.

For the first time on a Fujifilm body in my collection, the viewfinder sits behind a faux pentaprism that also contains the flash, classically located in the top center of the body. I had a surprising amount of trouble adapting to this which is odd, especially as I also shoot DSLRs with the finder in the same place. I kept putting my eye to the upper left corner of the camera, as though it was my XE2 or my X Pro 1. I’ve since adjusted.

Auto focusing is absolutely the quickest and most reliable of any Fujifilm body I have. In good light, it feels as fast as the Sony “A” bodies I shot in Seattle. I can also now lock focus on dark, low-contrast scenes where my XE 2 and my X100T fail. I understand this autofocus upgrade is coming for the XE2 later this year. One hopes the X100t will also receive it, as it shares technology with the newer camera.

Oak and Wagon (Fujifilm XT 10, XF 18-55mm f2.8)

Image quality remains the same as the other X-Trans-sensored cameras, which is to say extremely good. Like the other recent Fuji X cameras, the raw files are 14 bit, giving one a bit more latitude in manipulation without posterization. It is also reputed to have slightly better JPEGs than earlier cameras particularly in regards to low light images. As I don’t shoot JPEGs, this is largely immaterial to me.

So what is it about the XT 10 that is attracting all of the rave reviews? Certainly all of the improvements are appreciated, particularly the autofocus, and the rapid response viewfinder, but I think it is the intangibles that are driving the appeal of this camera. The camera is light,  yet there is a feeling of solidity and quality, that along with the operating speed, really make it truly enjoyable to use.

Stone Walls at Frances Slocum (Fujifilm XT 10, XF 18-55mm f2.8)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been using it both on and off a tripod. I love having a Fujifilm camera with a movable view screen which means that I can shoot from unusual viewpoints without straining to see the LCD (though with the camera supported, the smartphone app is another way to do this). Also the camera’s small size, even compared to the XT 1, makes it less intimidating to use in crowds.

Quite honestly, I don’t need any more cameras than this. If on a rare occasion I have to shoot in the rain I will throw a camera cover on it. If I want to shoot a football game I’ll take one of my Nikons. But I suspect that along with my X100T, this will be my most utilized camera going forward…

… At least until the upcoming X 2 Pro is released.

 

 

As usual, these images and more can be viewed on my Smugmug site

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