Mystic Port Moody Morning

The September-October period has always been my favourite time for photography. At this time of the year, places are often pillowed by fog, the sun’s rays are much more gentle and… I don’t have to wake up at 4:00 AM to witness a sunrise.

Today, I stopped by Rocky Point Park in Port Moody, British Columbia equipped with my Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 lens and the XF 14mm F2.8. 

Enjoy.

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2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

Olympic National Park in B&W

Olympic National Park in B&W

While our last few posts dealt with the brand new XF 90mm F2 lens and therefore portrait photography, we are now returning to our usual genre – travel, landscape and documentary in B&W. Here is a series of the images taken during our last trip to Olympic National Park, including incredible Rialto Beach.

All images were shot with the X100S and Fuji X-T1 paired with the XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 56mm F1.2.

We are now preparing for our upcoming photography trip across five states: Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. If you know of any less-travelled spots, interesting places or people, please drop us a line. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

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… and truly yours

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2015 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

One Out Of The Hat

One Out Of The Hat

This blog has argued repeatedly that focusing solely on the technical aspects of photography usually causes more harm than good. After all, emotions, state of mind, vision, light and composition are the most important elements of the image creation process. Gear should only come second. However, we admit that sometimes we experience moments of weakness. Today is such a day.  

There is a good reason for it. Patrick of Fujirumors.com has reported that Fuji is working on a medium format range-finder-style camera! As some of you know we have been longing for such a camera for a very long time. Our position is that the medium format camera market is ready for some disruption.

Fuji did a very good job with the X-series cameras (especially the lenses) and there is very little to gain for most photographers (including us) to move to full frame. However, a medium format camera priced right ($3.500-$5,000 range?????) coupled with some quality lenses (and medium format demands high quality glass!) would definitely cause a stir. The 100S/T would remain the always-with-us camera and a medium format Fuji would do all the rest. The possibility of shooting the Palouse or vistas of the Canadian Rockies with such a camera means we can’t stop smiling.

All right, enough of these sinful thoughts. It is time for some imagery. Here is some material we shot last weekend on the Sea-to-Sky highway – mostly near the Porteau Cove. All taken with our usual setup – the X-T1, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 56mm F1.2 and Fuji X100S.

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Copyright 2015 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Mankind and the Environment

Mankind and the Environment

With today’s rapid growth, many cities struggle to maintain a balance between nature and economic development. It is an especially important subject here in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Despite strong population growth, it is a place of a great beauty with a pristine ecosystem.

The recent oil spill in English Bay has angered many people and brought this subject to the forefront of conversations. With the theme “Mankind and the Environment” at the back of my mind, I went for a little visual wander one day. Here are a few images.

All images were taken with the Fuji X100S and Fuji X-T1 paired with XF 56mm F1.2 and processed in LR5 and NIK Silver Pro.

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Copyright 2015 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

 

Voyage, Voyage with the X100S

One of my favourite visual exercises is to venture out with the Fuji X100S. I usually do it on the weekends and in the early morning and it’s not only for the good light. You would be surprised how public spaces change when deserted. The lack of crowds and noise allows you to concentrate on the art of seeing, at least for me.

Why the Fuji X100S? We have written extensively about this gem of a camera and why, in our view, it is still the best digital camera on the market. The greatest appeal lies in its size, simplicity and fixed lens. I walk around looking innocent and people don’t even notice when I take photographs. Many view me as a non-threatening tourist with his little point-and-shoot.

The fixed lens, dedicated knobs and lack of camera bags let me focus on theme, light and composition! You may say that it is not a good idea to limit yourself but the longer I’ve been taking photographs, the more I think that constraint is one of the most important pillars of photography.

Constraint applies to equipment, size, the number of photos you take or the number of elements you fit into your frame. Somehow, this little camera has helped me to create most of my favourite photographs.

On this particular morning I decided to take on the cruise ships that visit Vancouver every year. The arrival of these huge vessels is usually quite a busy affair, also visually. The best way to tackle a busy scene is by elimination. It is quite a time-consuming and intense exercise but it can yield great results.

All images were shot with the X100S, converted to B&W using NIK Silver Pro.

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2014 © Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Vancouver in B&W

Last weekend we left home at 4:30 AM to capture Vancouver at its best. The hourly weather forecast was right and we encountered very contrasty weather conditions with stunningly rich skies and beautiful light.

All we had to worry about was composition. It is something we spend a lot of time working on in the field. This is especially challenging in an urban environment when you have so many elements competing for the spot inside your frame. Pre-visualization, positioning of the camera and a rigorous elimination process are essential.

In this post we would like to share with you B&W images shot with the Fuji X-T1 coupled with XF 14mm F2.8 & 56mm F1.2 lenses. We also worked with our Fuji X100S.

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We are currently evaluating Lightroom Fuji film simulations such as Astia or Velvia, among others, which work very well if you are shooting RAW and you are aiming for the Fuji look. Of course, Velvia is the one with the serious colour punch. We will share some images, JPEGs straight from the camera, as well as some using Lightroom Fuji film profiles.

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This weekend we are leaving for Palouse in Eastern Washington. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Watch this space.

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All Rights Reserved.

It’s the lens, stupid! – Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R review

In the days of film, serious photography was the territory of either professional photographers or dedicated amateurs. Nowadays, everyone is a photographer, often with themselves as the subject. In fact, the Oxford Dictionary’s most popular word of 2013 is “selfie.” But we don’t look to selfies for great quality. It’s not always about composition, light or subject – very often it is all about the camera.

We all fall into this trap sometimes. In the pre-digital era it was normal to use the same camera for years or even decades without needing to buy a new one. The digital revolution changed all that. Almost every year a hot new camera comes along that makes all the previous gear irrelevant. We get pumped up when we get the latest device, only to want one with new features a few months later. For example, have you got a panoramic ball camera yet? 

However, there is one thing that hasn’t changed since the days of film. Those who have been true practitioners of this craft know that it is not the camera. To paraphrase a famous election slogan, it’s the lens, stupid!

In the last few years the rise of mirrorless cameras has meant that several new camera systems have appeared on the market. The design of cameras differs but most photographic gear offers similar image quality. The main difference between the systems is the quality of lenses. Yes, you read it right. Those who sing the praises of their newest toys in online forums should first take a look at the quality of the lenses. The lens is as important (if not more so) than the camera or sensor. How often do you see an expensive camera bonded with a cheap, poor quality lens?

As you know, I have used Canon and Nikon for many years but about two years ago I switched to Fuji X-system cameras. There are many reasons for this change of heart but the main reason was that I wanted the superb calibre of Fujinon lenses.

It all started with the Fuji X100, a game-changing camera with a premier, built-in lens. Then we got the Fuji X-Pro1 with new line of lenses – all of them very bright and super sharp. Despite their relatively young X-camera system, Fuji has already introduced two standouts – XF 35 mm F1.4 and XF 14 mm F2.8. We own them both and consider them one of the best lenses on the market. It is not that the rest of the Fuji lenses are not good but these two are just extraordinary pieces of glass.

The latest addition to the X-series line-up is the XF 23 mm F1.4. The first thing that struck us about this lens was its size. It is even larger than a wide-angle XF 14 mm. When attached to the Fuji X-Pro1 it feels bulky but solid. Its build quality is superb with all-metal mounts and a high-grade barrel. The focus ring is nice and smooth. The only let down is a plastic hood, which feels cheap.

One of the most important features of this lens is the traditional aperture ring on the lens barrel. This attribute allows a photographer to have a special connection with the lens when shooting. It not only enriches the photographic experience but let’s you indulge in the process of image creation. Kudos to Fuji for going this route!

While physical attributes may or may not appeal, image quality is something everyone wants and this lens delivers! Attached to our Fuji X-Pro1, this lens produces razor sharp, three-dimensional imagery. We have been shooting with the best professional-grade glass from Canon (L) and Nikon (ED). We are familiar with Zeiss and Leica lenses. But this Fuji lens is among the best. If you own the Fuji XF 35 mm F1.4 you already know the potential of this lens in the right hands.

Like other Fuji X-series lenses, it is corrected for distortion. The resolution is great at 1.4, gets very strong at 2.0, and becomes heavenly between 5.6 and 11. For me personally, the 23 mm focal length is a sweet spot. If I were to choose one focal length to shoot with, that would be it. Not only does it allow you to capture beautiful landscapes and work on documentary photography and streetscapes but you can go ahead and take some creative portraits with it.

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We own the Fuji X100s, which sports a lens with the same focal length. The question arises – if you already own the Fuji X100/s should you get the XF 23mm lens?

If there were no financial constraints – our answer would be YES and YES again. The beautiful bokeh (blurring) produces gorgeous, creamy images; extra light allows you to shoot in a much darker environment. However, if you have already spent thousands on your gear and for the sake of a happy marriage you need to pause, the small portable Fuji X100/s with a capable F2.0 lens should do the job.

Finally, I hear some people complaining about the price. I found the camera to be quite a bargain for what you get. In the last few years, there has been a tsunami of new lenses, especially for mirrorless cameras. Unfortunately, most of the lenses are very poorly made, slow and poor quality (I guess the price is right). Therefore I am very glad that Fuji decided to put a lot of effort and dedication into equipping the Fuji X-series cameras with superb quality lenses. Those who really care about photography will cherish the lens for many years to come. Cameras will come and go but exceptional lenses will stay.

After all, it’s all about the lens, stupid!

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When I started writing this review, I wanted to deliver a technical Grand Tour with charts and technical data about this lens. I found there are already plenty of technical reviews, really well done, on the Internet (here, here, here and here). Therefore, I decided to spend my time shooting with the lens to show you what it does. All images in this review were taken with the Fuji X-Pro1 paired with the XF 23mm F.1.4 R lens. 

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and some from the Vancouver Christmas Market.

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

From the set of “Double Bill”

Shooting a movie involves many elements of photography. Composition, lighting and subject are the most common. I am privileged to be able to work with a team of talented individuals under the direction of Thomas Kampioni – independent screenwriter and director.

Working on the set allows me to apply my photographic knowledge and contribute to projects but I can also observe and learn some techniques that I find an extremely useful in my own photography.

During our last filming session I took a few photos I would like to share with you. All images were captured with the Fuji X-Pro1 and XF 35mm F1.4.

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved

No Colour Necessary

With the surge in digital imaging technology, nearly everyone has gained access to the world of photography. One would think that the elimination of cost barriers, ease of use and abundance of processes would yield a large amount of exceptional work.

Quite the opposite! Photography has become a form of visual “fast food.” You don’t need to look far to find an avalanche of images: barbeque photos, birthday photos, parties, flowers, sunsets, sunrises etc. The majority of snapshots are taken without much thought and without any artistic or visual effort – just for the sake of taking them. After all, it is so easy to press the button, again and again and again…

But this is only a half the problem. Then, all these photographs are being constantly uploaded on the Internet – not for private viewing – they are there for others to enjoy too. Blurry photos are not a problem, ten of the same photo of a barbeque, not a problem. After all, you might want to see the grill and the meat on it from all angles. I guess you get my point.

What is the solution to this hysteria of snapping and sharing? Unfortunately there is none. There is, however, one area of photography that has remained relatively unaffected by this epidemic – it is a black and white photography. Why has black and white photography remained relatively immune to this problem? Because it requires some effort!

I was lucky enough to start my photographic life journey with black and white film not by the choice but through necessity. Back then in communist Poland it was difficult to get film – black and white was the most accessible and cheapest. Stripped from the distraction of colour I had to focus on the importance of light, my subject and emotions.

Even today with all the wonderful tools at our disposal, I believe the best way to learn the art of photography is by starting with black and white imagery.

Black and white is both the simplest and most sophisticated of photographic disciplines. When there is no distraction in terms of colour you are forced to compose, search for the right light, experiment and focus on the subject and its emotions. You take light and transform it into lines and shapes. You wait for a decisive moment and start arranging or eliminating the elements to create one whole – your vision. Brainless snapping has no place in this process. Ted Grant said, “When you photograph people in colour, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in black and white, you photograph their souls!” I could easily extend this line of thought to other genres of photography. Look at Ansel Adams’s landscape masterpieces. Just shades and lines – it’s raw, it’s honest, it’s beautiful. No colour necessary!

While colour has its place, in the hands of a photo snapper it can become a masquerade or visual fast food. Have you ever wondered why there are so many ads with sunsets? They are easy to consume!

Don’t get me wrong – I like colour and there are many brilliant photographers that use the colour palette with stunning results. In fact, the majority of my own work is in colour.

At the same time I found colourful photographs are easier to take. Sometimes the lack of composition or a weak subject could be masked with spectacular colours. You don’t need to indulge in a photograph. You don’t need to connect intellectually and visually with the photo – it is just there. Very often you hear people say, “What amazing colours!” The rest is not important.

It is very different with a good black & white image. Colour, your main distraction, is out of sight. Your senses immediately awaken to search for something more, something deeper and more profound. You look for forms, shapes and lines. You start de-coding the message. It takes effort to process the photographer’s message, to interpret those lines and shapes. It is a much richer experience.

So each time you find yourself at an artistic crossroads or feel a lack of inspiration, go back to seeing in black and white. You will be amazed how much better your photographic vision will get. Even your colour work will gain a new perspective and freshness.

All images but last two taken with the Fuji X-Pro1.

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© Olaf Sztaba. All Rights Reserved.