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. 

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 * 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.

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and some in colour…

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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.

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and some in colour…

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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…

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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.

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Next time:

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

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One of the street artists at work.

 

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

The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had (Part 2)

Ten years ago I received a lifesaving kidney transplant from Madeleine. The gift of these ten healthy years meant I could travel, take photographs and share my writing with you. Without Madeleine and her generosity there would be no olafphotoblog.

During these years, I have spent a lot of time thinking why this woman found so much courage to save one man’s life. Where did her strength come from? What triggered this decision? Why was I so fortunate?

Kasia and I always knew we wanted to meet Madeleine’s family to get to know her history and visit her place of birth. This year, we did just that. 

Please make sure you read the first part of this series here.

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Madeleine took me to her classroom, now a museum. She sat down in her chair and put her hands on the desk. I just had to take this image. People’s hands tell so much.

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We visited a few more rooms, each one revealing more stories about the town of St. Pierre Jolys and its people.

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A rosary caught my attention. Who did it belong to? Was it prayed on?

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Then I ventured into one of the rooms and found dusty old Brownie camera, sitting on a top shelf.

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For some strange reason, I started to ponder about my road to seeing.

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The last ten years have been especially rewarding, as this gift of life allowed me to take a new path. Seeing has become my way of communication in this world. I found that doubt, struggle and vulnerability pave the way to creativity and self-discovery. How telling! Who knew that the old Kodak Brownie on a dusty shelf could spark such musing?!

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In fact, I have to give credit to Madeleine who has been pushing me toward the world of seeing. Both Kasia and Madeleine have been my motivators and judges.

Once we left the museum, we decided to visit the grave of Madeleine’s grandfather. It is one of a few places where the ashes of Madeleine’s father, Rene Mulaire, were scattered.

Cecile and Madeleine walked in silence.

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We all could feel the presence of Madeleine’s grandfather and father. What incredible men! Who knew that their grand/daughter would be standing here with a stranger whose life she had saved.

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The same day, Madeleine’s family organized a lovely dinner for Kasia and me. We could both feel the warmth and genuine kindness all around us.

The following day we started our drive home. Over the course of the long drive we thought about Madeleine and her family. The beauty of the Glacier National Park provided a great visual background for our contemplation.

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I realized once again that without Madeleine I wouldn’t be here to feel, connect and see. Strangely enough, the dramatic visuals only underlined this belief. I took out my camera and started seeing. It was my thank you and it always will be.

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If you have enjoyed this personal series, I have a favour to ask of you. There are thousands of people waiting for an organ transplant in North America. In the meantime, most people die each year taking their organs with them.

Could you please find a few minutes today to make the decision? Consider becoming an organ donor after your death. Please let others know your decision and register at BC’s Organ Donor Registry https://register.transplant.bc.ca. In the United States http://www.organdonor.gov.

You can find similar programs in your country.

Think about it. You can save as many as eight lives just by signing on. No effort is required. And if you’re lucky you can help your new friend take photos after your death (:

Still not convinced? Then watch this.

 

All images taken with the Fujifilm X100S, Fujifilm X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

 

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

The Sister I Didn’t Know I Had (Part 1)

Ten years ago I was yet again a dying man. Regular dialysis kept me alive but drained my body of precious energy so I paid almost weekly visits to the Emergency department. I felt tired, depressed and very sick.

This physical and emotional end-of-the-road exhaustion came exactly three years after my multi-month stay in an intensive care unit. That was when I was dying the first time.

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It all started one ordinary Sunday afternoon when I was playing soccer with my friends. During the game I suffered a small scratch on my leg – one that you would probably ignore. So did I!

However, within hours I started to feel unusually weak. That evening I knew something was horribly wrong. By the time I got to a hospital and got a diagnosis, deadly flesh-eating bacteria had already eaten a great chunk of my leg. Who knew it would be just the beginning?

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I spent the next six months in an intensive care unit fighting the impossible. With the help of every known piece of life-sustaining machinery I was kept alive. However, with the C-difficile, numerous bouts of pneumonia, blood poisoning, septic shock and another long list of medical hazards, the verdict was in. The doctors didn’t think I would make it.

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For some unknown reason and to the great surprise of the medical personnel, I survived it all. However, I couldn’t go back to a normal life. For the next three years I had to have dialysis to keep me alive.

After each session of dialysis my body grew weaker and weaker. Almost weekly visits to Emergency due to numerous complications drew on my stocks of physical and emotional energy.

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The only way out was a kidney transplant. Given the average waiting time for a kidney transplant and my deteriorating health I knew that the prospect of receiving a kidney in time was nil. The only option was to find a living donor. I was incredibly lucky, as most of my family members immediately volunteered to help. Unfortunately, my unique blood mix quickly reduced the number of candidates to zero.

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To my amazement a few people I barely knew tested their blood to see if they could help but without much success. That’s when I gave up but my wife, Kasia, did not. She kept fighting and spreading the news about my situation.

And then, after months of stress and despair, we met Madeleine. I remember our first meeting. After years of suffering, disappointment and setbacks I had little hope, but the first time I saw this Frenchwoman I felt there was something different about her. Her strong and peaceful persona spread a calming tonic in the air – a feeling I hadn’t experienced for a long time.

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After months of medical tests, I was born again on November 28th, 2006. Madeleine had saved my life and become my other sister.

This year we will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of our transplant. During these ten years I could travel, take photographs and share my writing with you. Without Madeleine and her gift there would be no olafphotoblog.

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In these years, I have spent a lot of time thinking and debating why a Frenchwoman found so much courage to save one man’s life. Where did her strength come from? What triggered this decision? Why was I so fortunate?

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Kasia and I always knew we wanted to meet Madeleine’s family to get to know her history and visit her place of birth. This year, we did just that. This photographic essay is all about Madeleine and her family. This is a story that must be told – over and over again. It is a story of real courage.

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When we told our friends that we were heading to Winnipeg, they quipped, “Why would you go there?” It’s super hot (or cold), it’s flat and there are mosquitoes everywhere. After just two days spent with Madeleine and her family, Kasia and I fell in love with this super hot, flat and mosquito-ridden land. Why? Because you cannot separate the land from its people. And what people they are!

Upon our arrival, Madeleine and Raymond (Madeleine’s husband) had an entire apartment ready for us. Here is what we found on the table.

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The next day we headed to St.Pierre Jolys where Madeleine was born and where she went to school.. Her school was run by nuns but is now a local museum and that was the first stop.

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Madeleine showed us a statue on which her father, Rene Mulaire, had worked for years. She gently put her hand on the figure. We all could feel the warm and calming presence of this great man.

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Madeleine and her mother Cecile leafed through some documents and old books. The page with an image of Rene and his employees in front of his pharmacy caught our attention.

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Another room in the museum was dedicated to a character created by Madeleine’s mother, named Bicolo. Cecile ran a page in a francophone newspaper dedicated to children all about the character Bicolo. Here is Cecile and the character she created.

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…to be continued.

 

All images taken with the Fujifilm X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4 and  XF 50-140mm F2.8.

 

 

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