Category: Photography

Switching from the Nikon D800 to the Fuji X-T1

“Okay, I know this sounds crazy, but I swear I’ve thought about it a lot first.”

My words to a photographer friend a little over a week ago, before telling her I was getting rid of my Nikon D800 and DSLR gear and switching to the Fuji XT1 mirror-less system.

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What?! *tires screech to a halt*

It’s okay. The elephant is in the room. I can see it right there. Let’s talk about it.

Why?

I wanted something smaller and more travel-friendly. I also realized I had a lot of money tied up in photography gear, and realized I’d be happier shooting on an iPhone in India than on a D4 with a 70-200 at home.

I had to stop asking myself what the best gear I could afford was, and start asking myself, “What is good enough? What serves my purpose in the best way at this time?

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How?

I printed out a list at home of everything I wanted, then I went to the camera store with that list and picked it all up (except for a couple things they had to order in).

The next day I started putting together my Nikon and studio gear for sale on eBay and Kijiji.

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Despite my conviction, it was still nerve-wracking at first. Inside my head there was a voice going, “Oh I’ve made this terrible mistake and no one will ever take me seriously as a photographer now. What have I done?”

It was hard to trust the Fuji XT-1 at first because it was new and unfamiliar. I’d been through a lot with my Nikon gear, and we’d built up a certain amount of trust. I knew how far I could push it. I had NO IDEA what the Fuji was really capable of, beyond the photos I’d searched on Flickr that made me think I could give it a go.

I felt like a baby photographer with its dials – I didn’t know where the focus point controls were, I didn’t know it had to be put in macro mode in order to take advantage of the macro lens attached, and so much more.

(actually, a firmware upgrade that came out on June 29th makes you not have to press the macro button anymore, as well as improved the AF in so many sexy ways. Looks like I jumped onboard at the right time! Click here to read the full list of improvements)

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It was pretty humbling and reminded me of shoshin, a zen buddhism concept meaning ‘beginner’s mind’. You may have heard the concept phrased as ‘approach everything as a beginner’. It was nice to know nothing about a system, and it was humbling figuring it out.

The 56mm 1.2 (equivalent 85mm 1.2 on full frame) blew me away with its amazing work over the first couple days. I had never even owned a 1.2 lens before.

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Shot with the 56mm 1.2 <3

The camera also feels good to hold. This is actually very important. You need to want it in your hands at all times.

It’s weatherproof body is good to -10˚ and is made of solid, die-cast magnesium. The X-series lenses feel like a solid Zeiss construction. Arguably, they make some of my expensive Nikon lenses feel like plastic by comparison.

Despite the solid construction, the Fuji X-T1 is very light. There’s a noticeable size and weight difference when I’m carrying it around, and I feel comfortable pulling it out on the street without attracting a lot of attention. I also have intermittent back problems, so less weight means more happy for me.

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One of the things that helped me get up the guts to do move down from my 36 megapixels D800 to the 16mp Fuji was to think of all the great images I loved that I had shot with the Nikon D300s, a cropped-sensor camera with only 12 megapixels. I at least know it won’t be any worse than that, and I loved that camera. I assured myself.

It turns out, it wasn’t any worse at all. In fact, it’s pretty awesome.

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Some Good Stuff!

More lenses for less money! I picked up the 23mm 1.4 (35mm equivalent), 56mm 1.2 (85mm equivalent), and 60mm macro (90mm equivalent). Some of the lenses cost only half as much as their Nikon counterparts.

There is an option to use an electronic shutter for taking photos without the shutter click, which is great for weddings and other intimate moments where a camera sound can be intrusive. This is something I’ve never been able to do before, except on my iPhone.

AND, after all the buying and selling of old gear, I’m still going to come out on top with a few extra thousand dollars in my bank account. Hello plane tickets, so nice to see you.

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There are definitely things I’ll miss about the Nikon D800:

Dual card slots, snappier autofocus,  higher iso tolerance, the video capabilities.

…and some things I won’t miss:

The weight, the large file sizes and slower load times, the more expensive accessories and lenses.

So I’m waving a a fond farewell to gear that has served me well, and looking forward to getting to know this new system even better.

The quick and small X-T1 paired with my iPhone 6 plus for video are a dynamic duo that will help me get the shots I want published quickly and beautifully. The smaller size of the Fuji means I’m always carrying it with me, increasing my use and ultimately (hopefully) making me a better photographer.

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In Closing

I switched systems because I wanted to. Sometimes its nice to make a change. Learn a new system, take a risk.

This was the right choice for my scenario, and people can talk about the pros and cons about purchasing new and different equipment until they’re blue in the face and there’s no air left on earth (I’ve seen it – I used to work in a camera store).

This is not meant to be a comparison of all the technical minute differences between the two. There are lots of websites (like DPReview) where you can do that.

If you’re thinking of making a change in your gear, what I do recommend is not dwelling on it for too long. Think about the differences for a little while, but don’t drive yourself crazy.

When I used to work at the camera store, people would come in all the time with printouts and lists, comparing cameras’ abilities, and would slow themselves down by thinking that they had to choose the ‘perfect’ camera. They would really stress and suffer over it.

There is no such thing as the perfect camera.  It’s a wild goose chase, an objet petit a, the holy grail, a fantasy.

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Gear is such a small part of what we do.  Photography is and will always be, more about the relationship between the subject and the photographer than the gear you’re shooting with. A talented photographer will do more with an iPhone than a talentless photographer will do with the most expensive setup.

I’m really excited to have made this choice for myself, and I’m posting this in case anyone else having similar thoughts might find my anecdote useful.

Has anyone else ever made a big gear switch? Maybe something that surprised people? Please share your camera stories in the comments below.

Happy shooting,

Mel

p.s. all images in this post were taken by me with the Fuji X-T1, except the featured image. For the featured image, I took a picture of  each with the opposite camera, and then put them together in Photoshop. Tricks!

p.p.s. Fuji does not endorse me in any way, and I paid for everything myself. That being said, I would love to work with them in the future!

How to Take Better Cherry Blossom Photos

Who doesn’t want to take better cherry blossom photos?

Strike a pose that recalls Sailor Moon-level coolness while the dreamy petals drift around you. Now, how do I get these camera settings right?

So here’s the thing: I take a LOT of cherry blossom photos.

When I was traveling through South Korea last spring, my boyfriend got used to traveling very slowly as I crept from tree to tree with my camera.

He would tell people who stopped to look that I was on an important Canadian mission to document every cherry blossom tree in the country (I didn’t really stop at every one… just every third or fourth, really. So dramatic.).

Know How to Use Aperture to Your Advantage

As a disclaimer, all your photos will get better if you learn about ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, plus all the functions and buttons on your camera (but I digress).

To understand aperture, think of it as the pupil of your camera. When you’re adjusting your aperture, you’ll be doing it in terms of F-Stop (“What’s your f-stop?” = “What aperture are you using?”), a.k.a., the number that comes after the ‘___mm’ part of your lens. ex: “50mm 1.4 lens” means that that the widest aperture you can use is 1.4 (the smaller the number, the wider the pupil). When people refer to shooting “wide open”, they mean they’re shooting with their aperture at the lowest possible number. What does this mean for your photo?

Aperture controls your depth of field (“DOF”). Your DOF is the amount of photo that’s in focus at any given moment. A ‘shallow depth of field’ means that there’s not very much in focus. A ‘deep depth of field’ means that a lot is in focus. You may want to use either of these techniques to make your cherry blossom photo. The important thing is that you understand how to use each. Using a low F-stop (or shooting ‘wide open’) will give you a shallow depth of field, like this (Shot at F1.4):

Shooting with a higher F-stop will give you deeper DOF (‘more stuff in focus’), such as this (Shot at F10):

DOF can also be controlled by altering your distance from the subject (closer = shallower; farther = deeper).

The other thing aperture does is let light into your camera. The wider your pupil, the more light gets in. Think cats at night. If you’re shooting in really dim conditions and already have your ISO pretty high, and don’t want to risk getting a grainy photograph, you can open your lens up wide by using a lower F-Stop and take a brighter photo. This can be to or against your advantage, depending on your shooting conditions.

Here’s an example of one problem you might run into with using a wide aperture:

You’re outdoors, on a bright, sunny day. You crank your F-Stop down to F1.8 to get a nice, shallow DOF. Your ISO is at 100. Your shutter speed is around 200. You take the shot… It’s completely washed out and overexposed. You don’t want to change the aperture, since you want a shallow DOF, you can’t lower your ISO any more, and even when you crank the shutter speed up to 4,000 (the max, for most DSLRs), the photo still comes out overexposed. It’s just too bright out.

One fix: Try shooting at a different time of day, or from another angle

Another fix: Try shooting with a neutral density (“ND”) filter. ND filters are great for allowing you to shoot wide open in bright light scenarios (they’re also amazing for long exposure photos, but that’s a whole other post). ND filters essential add ‘darkness’ (density) to your photos, so you can shoot without overexposing. They come in all different densities. Personally, I have this one that I can twist to fade from lighter to darker, so I don’t have to carry more than one.

Shoot With the Light (The Light is Your Friend)

Imagine a river. The current flows away from the source. You could jump in and swim against the current, but it would be a lot of hard work. Or, you could flow with the current and have it pleasantly carry you along. In a way, light works the same. Imagine the sun as the source of your light (cuz, y’know, it usually is). Light flows from it in a certain direction.

You’ve likely taken this photo before: where your subject’s back is to the sun, and all you can see is a silhouette with no detail and wonky exposure.

That’s not to say you can’t get some cool results from shooting into the sun, but it’s always worth paying attention to your light source. It’s a good idea to move around and take a couple test shots so you can see where you like the light. I promise, after you do this long enough, you’ll know exactly where to stand without even taking any test shots. You’ll find the light by reading it from doors left ajar, overhead windows, a diffused curtain, and synthetic sources.  You’ll be able to ‘see the light’.

Against the light =

With the light (diffused through the branches) =

Try Shooting in Different Kinds of Light

Cherry blossoms at dawn vs. cherry blossoms at noon vs. cherry blossoms at dusk are all very different things. Try ’em all and see what suits you.

NIGHT NIGHT

NIGHT NIGHT

DUSK DUSK

MIDDLE OF AFTERNOON MIDDLE OF AFTERNOON

MORNING SUNRISE MORNING SUNRISE

BEFORE SUNRISE BEFORE SUNRISE

Don’t Think You Need a Fancy Lens or Equipment

It’s crazy how many people don’t think they can take a good photo before they even try.  I’ve actually heard people say ‘I need a macro lens to take really good cherry blossom photos’. Most of the ones here I took with a 50mm or 85mm lens, and I’m pretty happy with how they turned out.  Cherry blossoms up close, far away, seen from an average distance, they can all be great. Don’t feel limited by your equipment. You are only limited by your mind.

I’ve seen photos taken with an iPhone look nicer than one taken with my D800. If I had to give a number to this entirely un-empirical experience, I would say that 97% of the enjoyment of a photo is composition and reading light. This applies to all photos, not just cherry blossoms.

Know How to Use Your Camera’s Focus Points

Focus points are one of your biggest allies in the fight against out-of-focus photos.

The beautiful thing about focus points is the freedom to choose exactly what you want in focus.  Most of the time, people use their autofocus by holding down the shutter halfway, waiting until their camera fixates on something (usually whatever stands out, or is in the  in the middle of the frame), and then take the shot.

My friend, if this is you, then using focus points will help you take the leap to becoming a composition master.  Choosing a single focus point is especially useful when shooting cherry blossoms because when you point your camera at a large mass of tiny, moving pink petals, it has a really hard time figuring out what exactly you want it to focus on.

Depending on what camera model you have, switching to single-point focus mode will be a bit different (but hey, that’s what Google’s for).  Moving the focus point is usually toggled by the D-pad or arrow keys on the back of your camera body.  Move your focus point around until it’s resting on exactly the cherry blossom that you want.  You win.  Bam.  Get that flower in focus.  Every.  Single.  Time.

In the photo above, I’m focused on the blossom in the upper right quadrant. It would’ve been a lot harder to nail if I’d had my camera on general autofocus, and praying my camera knew where I wanted it to look.

Have Patience (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Photographer)

Cherry blossoms move so easily in the breeze. It is more than likely you’ll have to adjust your settings, re-focus, try again and again before you get one shot that’s really ‘perfect’, or at least ‘good enough to satisfy me for now’. Take your time, go on a walk by yourself with the sole intent of photographing a really good cherry blossom.  Take a break, grab a coffee from a nearby café, come back and try again.

One does not become a cherry blossom master overnight. Don’t beat yourself up if the photo you’re taking doesn’t match your expectations. Lower your expectations. Know that you are getting better with every photo. The pursuit of the perfect cherry blossom photo is a lifelong one.

Remember, as Ken Watanabe says in the penultimate scene of The Last Samurai while collapsing against Tom Cruise on the battlefield,  staring into the swirling zephyrs of cherry blossom petals surrounding him, “they are all perfect.”


Have any camera questions? Shoot them my way in the comments below. Ways you think this tutorial could have been even better? Also put it in the comments!

ps. All these photos are mine, and now you know that my dirty dark secret is that I’m addicted to wasting my vacations taking flounciful cherry blossom photos while my boyfriend rolls his eyes at me and drinks lattés. There. Now you know. I am catharsed!

pps. My boyfriend’s biggest man-crush is Ken Watanabe. This is his Twitter, if you want to create fake Ken Watanabe accounts and tweet him love notes, be my guest.