Life in 16:9
















All imagery shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro2 paired with the XF 35mm F1.4.


2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Going Nuclear with the X-Pro2

Who knew that someone who once lived in the communist bloc under the influence of the “Evil Empire” (Ronald Reagan) would one day visit a nuclear missile site on the other side of the Iron Curtain?!

While driving through Montana, Missouri, Wyoming and the Dakotas, the beauty of the Great Plains, open skies and the feeling of peace overwhelms your senses. What you may not know is that this quiet and grand land is home to one of the deadliest weapons human beings have ever produced.

Faced with the prospect of nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union, in the 1960s the U.S. Air Force implanted 1,000 Minuteman missiles capable of hitting targets in less than 30 minutes. The missiles could be deployed from underground launch facilities by crews stationed miles away. Each 1.2-megaton warhead held the explosive equivalent of one-third of all the bombs dropped during the Second World War (including both atomic bombs!).

Following the 1991 agreement and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, the majority of those sites were destroyed. However, there are still about 450 Minuteman III missiles deployed and ready to launch in the Upper Great Plains.    

During our recent trip we had the chance to visit one of those sites, now turned museum – The Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site Historic Park near Cooperstown in North Dakota.

Since most facilities are underground, the lighting was very poor. We chose AUTO ISO MAX 6,400 and let the camera do the heavy lifting. Most of the images presented here were taken with ISO 4,000 or 6,400 and they turned out very well. They were all shot with the XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 35mm F1.4 lenses (Classic Chrome film simulation).


The Oscar-Zero MAF consists of an above-ground Launch Control Support Building (LCSB) that housed an eight-person security and maintenance team and provided access to the underground Launch Control Center (LCC).





“Support personnel remained topside, in the LCSB. Two two-person security teams were on duty day and night. A flight security controller coordinated response to alarms at the remote LFs as well as controlling the security of, and permitting access to, the MAFs. Along with these security forces, there was also a facility manager on site, responsible for the care of the entire MAF. A chef singlehandedly fed hungry team members several times a day as well as visitors such as the large maintenance teams or high-ranking officers.”


Heading to the underground Launch Control Center (LCC).









The two-member crews monitored the missiles and awaited orders twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.






“The site includes the above-ground concrete blast door that originally covered the missile in its silo. In the event of a launch, the door would be blown off the silo by sliding horizontally along rails, which are still in place. The access hatch for crews to service the missile is still there, and the whole site is surrounded by the original eight-foot security fence.  The electronic surveillance system is also still in place.”




Thanks to the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile State Historic Site for providing access and information.


2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Out-of-focus thoughts about a new Fujifilm medium-format GFX 50S

Processed with Snapseed.

I decided to join the “hands-on” craze – from Vancouver!

I should have seen it coming. After all, we knew Fujifilm has been working on it for years (thanks to Zack Arias for pushing for it and Patrick of Fujirumors for such a great job providing us with all the pieces). And we knew it would be announced at this year’s Photokina. Despite these clues, titbits and mental preparation, it still hit me hard. In fact even the day after I still feel dizzy, sapped and out-of-focus – typical side effects of a G.A.S.* attack.

Today, I can gather my thoughts and I am finally able to hit the right keys on my keyboard. So here is my rant.

I am glad Fujifilm didn’t jump into the crowded and mostly boring full-frame (FF) market. Each time I visit my local photo store I see pricing wars on the full-frame cameras eating into already thin margins.

Over the last few years I have tried out different full-frame cameras and found the margin of difference in image quality between FF and the X-series line is so thin, if any in some cases, that I had zero interest in buying into the FF market. I am not even mentioning the fun factor while shooting with the X-Pro2 in comparison to the boring and uninspiring DSLR-me-too from Canikon.

In the meantime, the medium-format market was wide open for disruption. Pricing from Leica or Hasselblad has been sky-high (or as I like to view it – the pricing was right – it was just me that couldn’t afford it!).

Pentax’s attempts to disrupt the medium-format market failed miserably for two reasons: (1) they failed in design and, most importantly, (2) they didn’t or couldn’t deliver adequate glass to match the resolving power of the sensor.

That brings us back to Fujifilm. While we are all excited about the new GFX 50S medium-format camera, its appeal and success will depend on its lenses. The medium format’s sensor puts so much demand on lenses that there is no room for imperfection (it’s already a problem with the Nikon D810). The resolving power of the sensor requires almost perfect glass, which is not easy or cheap to deliver. Fujifilm said that their GF lenses were designed with a 100MP sensor in mind so I assume they will deliver on this front (after all Fujifilm produced lenses for Hasselblad). Also, with six lenses available in the first year, including a rare (and difficult to design and make) wide-angle, for many people this may well be the sealed deal.   

The second factor is the mechanics of the camera. The key reason why we shoot with the X-series line is its photographer-friendly design. Many photographers feel connected to their X-Pros1/2, X-T1/2 in a way they couldn’t with other cameras. Let’s see if this new camera also fits into this “fun” category.

The third factor is the price. Given the Leicas and Hasselblads of this world, the suggested price tag for the new Fujifilm sounds promising. For those who go after the ultimate image quality, top SLRs along with a couple of top-notch lenses (Zeiss Otus line) would approach the price of a new GFX 50S camera plus one or two lenses – and that in itself is a huge temptation.

However, there is more. Please remember that Fujifilm usually starts with perceived-to-be premium pricing (X-series) and then offers discounts to get people in. Eventually such discounts will arrive for the GFX 50S camera and lenses. This is when the full-frame crowd will start getting curious and itchy.

Finally, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony, and others, jumped on the bandwagon and put further pressure on the pricing. While I am not a big fan of Sony’s design choices (I find their cameras generic and cell-phone like) I commend them for trying new things.

In short:

I give kudos to Fujifilm for not being afraid to step into the medium-format market. While at the start some people may put their medium-format aspirations on hold due to out-of-reach pricing, in time I see professionals as well as dedicated semi-professionals jumping ship from top-of-the-line full frame to a medium format. 

For those of you displeased and offended by this gear-manic post, I assure you that this episode of G.A.S. is almost over. I have taken some TUMS and I should be fine soon. To ease your concerns about my wellbeing, I would like to share with you a few images from our ongoing project R-A-I-N, all shot with the X-Pro2. 






 * Gear-acquisition syndrome    



2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Parallel Seeing

The leaves have already started falling. The summer display of fake smiles, exaggerated colours and sunburned thoughts is fading away. A much more subdued, desolate and harsh time is coming.

I have always liked this time of the year. This is when my seeing comes alive and I don’t really know why. Maybe I like the cooler misty mornings, which put a grey tarp over all visual rubbish that surrounds us. Maybe it is the change in the rhythm of our daily lives or a return of realism hijacked by the masquerade of summer affairs. Or it may well be just that my personal seeing clock strikes twelve.

Whatever it is, the summer days when my camera and I shared silent days are long gone. My list of projects has grown in every direction at frightening speed. I am not complaining, not at all. Somehow this burst of ideas and energy prompted by my Muse works for me.

There are two distinct but parallel routes.

One route is the cyclical flare-up of seeing and creating. You never know where it will take you. I learnt the hard way not to resist this force, to allow it to steer me all over the place. There will be a lot of “whys” but I know that answers will eventually come at the right time.

Then there is the official route. Professional projects, which must be taken care of and taken right on. Somehow, I enjoy this route as much as the other one. This year especially a major new mega project is approaching its premiere (stay tuned for details).

In the meantime, I would like to share with you some recent images. Some of them have already found their home and they will be part of some exciting projects. Others are the fruit of the aforementioned burst in seeing. They came to life from wandering around. Don’t ask me for details – they’ll come later.

All imagery shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro2 paired with the XF 35mm F1.4 and the XF 14mm F2.8. Classic Chrome (CC) and ACROS (A) film simulations.









and some in colour…









2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

“Strong & Free” with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS

When I leave home for an event or for street shooting I often take my Fuji X-Pro2 and one lens. It’s usually the XF 35mm F1.4 (50mm in FF). However, this time I decided to grab a lens that goes into my bag only when we hit the road – that is, the XF 50-140m F2.8 OIS.

It is the “beast” lens – the one with which I have a tumultuous relationship. It is heavy and big in comparison to my other lenses – all primes. It doesn’t balance well on the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and my hands ache after extensive use. Don’t get me wrong – it is still much lighter than its Canikon siblings. (After shooting exclusively with the Fujifilm X-series for the last few years, everything else feels heavy and burdensome).

Once you swallow the weight pill, however, this lens really delivers. The XF 50-140mm is tack sharp. As one reviewer put it: “It forgot it’s not the prime.” Indeed, once you look at the imagery on your computer you are immediately confused. Your subjects are so sharp and clear that you start checking which lens you shot with. Yes, it is a zoom!

Then comes the OIS – or the Optical Image Stabilization system (Fujifilm says that the linear motor technology checks camera shake 8000 times per second!). You can handhold this thing at 140mm at 1/30 and still get sharp imagery. While shooting events I tend to be so involved with my subject, the light and the composition that I get carried away searching for a new visual perspective and move my camera around a lot. But when shooting with this lens I always get tack-sharp imagery. In fact, you can be drunk and still get sharp images, so they tell me!

Last weekend I took this as my only lens to the 3rd Annual “Strong & Free” Show & Shine event in Vancouver. It’s a busy event and visuals bombard you. I wanted to be selective and make sure that only essentials remain in my frame. I also wanted to observe my subjects from a distance so they continued their activity without posing. The XF 50-140mm helped me to do just that. The XF 50-140mm F2.8 will not be in your bag every day but once you reach for this lens for a particular job – it will deliver, big time!

Here are the images, all shot with the X-Pro2 and the XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS.


















and some in colour…







2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

There is something about mountains…

This post was supposed to include more imagery shot on the street. But hey, who wants to do things as planned? I was going through our imagery this morning performing my favourite editing activity – that is, deleting – and I was attracted to some photos shot in the mountains.

It struck me there is something about mountains! They have such different DNA from the sea. Towering peaks are blanketed by fast-moving clouds, the light fighting hard to get through. The roughness of the terrain, the roaring wind, the cold, heat … it’s all beauty and struggle together! This is a place where human masks are ripped away. This is a place where my senses calm down, my inner compass re-calibrates and new feelings emanate.

Somehow I always see mountains in black and white, even when I am not taking photos. Sure, I sometimes go for popular, colourful, low-hanging fruit but a visual hangover always follows. Too often I end up with a headache when I follow this route.

Below please find some new imagery and some you have seen before – so have I!

There is something about mountains…








All images shot with the X-series cameras and lenses.


2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

From Idle To Full Of Vim – Vancouver Visual Excursions

The ease of digital photography, with its side effect of compulsive photo snapping and the peer pressure to perform, has created a situation where massive amounts of imagery are being pumped into all channels of our visual lives.

This flood of work is especially evident in the genre of street photography. I encounter individuals posting hundreds of images per week shot on the street. Don’t get me wrong. I am sure there are plenty of photographers who can produce an amazing body of work in no time. One thing is for sure – I can’t do it! 

Based on my personal experience and from observations of the best people in the field I know that street photography is much more difficult than it appears. In contrast to common belief, a photo taken on the street is NOT automatically street photography. A complete street photograph is a great finale of a lengthy and deeply immersive process of seeing, connecting, using creativity, thinking and risk-taking. Such a state is not something that can be awoken automatically by pressing the shutter button.     

It is not uncommon for some photographers to come back from their shooting sessions with nothing. I mean zero – no imagery! A dry spell or creative blockage like this is quite normal among photographers and artists.

There is a plenty of advice on how to overcome this state of non-seeing. Some people force themselves into shooting, while others beat themselves up. Daniel Milnor, a great documentary photographer and writer, has said in one of his interviews, “I might not have come back with anything but I came back with an idea of where I might be as an artist somewhere down the road.”   

This happens to me on a regular basis. I spend days walking around the streets of Vancouver only to come back with a full card of data but no photographs. However, what I do come back with is my photographic ego highly contained, my senses elevated and, strangely enough, my path to seeing much clearer.   

No, I don’t force myself into “seeing.” I just put the gears into idle. Each time I start seeing again, I am able to expose myself, to take risk. And that may well be a very find road to be on.

Here is imagery shot on the streets of Vancouver, following very valuable idling time. All shot with the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and XF 35mm F1.4, the Classic Chrome (CC) film simulation.















Next time:


Here is the image of Nick from preparing his installation at the Vancouver Mural Festival. More images next time.


One of the street artists at work.


2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.