Fuji XT-3 and Lightroom, my perfect match

Hooray! Adobe finally caught up with the XT-3! I know for all you Adobe haters out there you're probably saying, pffft, C-1 did that a couple of weeks ago. Yeah, I know, but the best is always worth the wait. And again, haters just gonna hate.

I tried C-1 for Fuji. Sorry, but I didn't like it at all. The interface I could probably learn to accept, but it was the overall results I didn't care for one bit. Sharper, better clarity, color? If you say so, but I didn't find it to be true.

For me, Lightroom still works extremely well. Maybe it's because I know the program inside and out, I've been using it since it was in Beta. For my RAF files I know to reduce sharpening to 10 rather than the default 40. Huge difference, perhaps the hugest. Once that's set, I go on to tweak the file. For me, it's most often small tweaks. I rarely need to slam the sliders. The Fuji X cameras almost always nail it. Most often I make a slight curves adjustment, maybe a few points to the color balance and not much more. I like to work files in post production with a feather duster, not a potato masher.

Speaking of the XT-3, last night I shot a series of concerts at my favorite venue, GetHipRecordins. As always, I set the shutter speed to 1/125 and my aperture wide open. Using the 50 - 140mm zoom that was f/2.8. Because I added an LED flood light on the side, my auto ISO floated between 6400 and 8,000. No problem at all, Fuji handles high ISO better than most. The noise at that level is tight and organic looking. You could easily call it "grain" and get away with it.

The performers last night were folk artists, so their movement was pretty confined. Nailing focus with eye-track focusing to a particular eye was great. It was almost cheating! I set the camera to key in on the nearest eye and chose the continuous focus mode. Bang, bang, bang, one frame after the next in perfect sharpness. Because folk music is quite mellow, I set the camera to electronic shutter and turned off the sound. I was working somewhat close to the stage and didn't want the musicians distracted by the sound of my shutter. Another high five to mirrorless technology!

While the color versions of the images were just fine, I decided to convert them to black and white for something different. Monochrome just spoke to me with these folk artists given the soulfulness of their music.

  Eliza Edens

Eliza Edens

  Izzy Heltai

Izzy Heltai

How High?

How High is High Enough? Today, as high as you need to be to get to where you're going. Last night at GetHip Recordings on Pittsburgh's North Side, I pushed my ISO to a new record high. For the first time, I shot a project at 25,600 using my new Fujifilm XT-3. The Rockabilly Concert was going along just fine until the headliner, The Legendary Hucklebucks, asked for the lights to be turned lower.

I've never been that high. Never thought I would need that extreme. I've shot plenty of jobs between 6400 and 12,800 with great success, as I did throughout performances by the two earlier bands, The Marauders and Braddock Brothers, but 25,600? I always thought I would get nothing but a crumpled file of noise and ugliness. Well, I'm here to say, thank goodness I was wrong. With the new XT-3 that crazy ISO is usable!

Let's not get carried away. Believe me, using that ISO is still a "break glass in case of emergency" circumstance. It is noisy, and you will need some gentle massaging in post-processing to get the most out of the image. But, you can do it.

After my initial test Friday night I decided to change some JPEG settings. Don't get me wrong, the files were outstanding, but I noticed a few minor artifacts here and there when I pixel peeped. I knew Saturday night I would be pushing the ISO limits, so I decreased the noise reduction to -2 and the sharpening to -1. While Fuji's preset is in both cases 0, you have the option of going further. I strongly suggest you run experiments yourself to see where you like your JPEG files. That did the trick, and the JPEGS at the upper reaches of the ISO dial were much better straight out of the camera.

The bands I photographed are not kind to stand, strum, and sing into a mic. Rockabilly done right is raucous. And each group last night, did it right. But when the lead singer of the Legendary Hucklebucks requested the stage lights lowered, then proceeded to sing and vigorously interact with the fans from in front of the stage without even the minor benefit of the weakened stage light, I knew I was in trouble. It was time to break that emergency glass on ISO, 25,600.

Why so high? Because even at 1/125 of a second it was doubtful I could stop the action. Plus, to use that shutter speed I had to set the lens no higher than f/2. The next challenge was how to keep the singer in focus when he rarely slowed down and never stopped moving. I had no choice but to trust the face/eye tracking focus feature. I know it works fantastic for portraits, but could it keep someone continually moving back and forth in sharp focus in extremely dim conditions at f/2? The answer is a resounding YES! It can, and it did. I was blown away by the focus. Frame after frame after frame was dead-on sharp using my 16mm f/1.4.

Bottom line, this camera breaks barriers and delivers images that go beyond the imagination. Fuji rocks as hard as my rockabilly friends.

  Braddock Brothers @ISO 12,800

Braddock Brothers @ISO 12,800

  Braddock Brothers @ISO 12,800

Braddock Brothers @ISO 12,800

  Legendary Huckelbucks @ISO 10,000

Legendary Huckelbucks @ISO 10,000

  Legendary Huckelbucks @ISO 25,600

Legendary Huckelbucks @ISO 25,600

Fujifilm XT-3 first impressions

One use does not a full test make, but even still, first impressions are often lasting. And the first impression I got from the XT-3 can be summed up with one word: Wow.

I'm a RAW shooter but right now because Adobe needs to catch up all I can do is see JPEGS. Luckily Fuji's JPEGs are fantastic. The two pictures I'm showing here are straight out of the camera. You know, just like we use to shoot when using Kodachrome. I used auto-ISO in both cases. I love not having to think about everything when shooting on the street. I set a shutter speed or aperture, or both and go at it.

The first picture was captured just before sunset. People were moving back and forth through shadows while the lone figure was leaning against the restaurant wall. I loved all the lines and shadows in the picture, so I waited until the right character came into my frame. I set the XT-3 for 1/250 to stop the action and f/11 to provide adequate depth of field. My lens was the 18-55 f/2.8-4 "kit" lens set to about 33mm. The camera selected ISO 1000. The final file is totally noiseless. It looks as if I was once again shooting Kodachrome.

The second photo I made later in the evening in the street outside of the Benedum Center while waiting for the light show to begin. The two girls stopped for a quick selfie and were gone. This time I had my 56mm f/1.2 lens on the XT-3 set wide open. Auto ISO and auto shutter speed. I wanted to test how fast the camera could lock in focus in poorly lit conditions. It was instantaneous. No hunting whatsoever. The exposure was dead on the money, too.

Can't wait to test it more over the weekend. Further reports to come, but for now, the XT-3 is knocking it out of the park.

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Influencers

. No, not the social media kind, the old school kind, the kind that influences the only thing that matters, your vision.

We have all them in our lives and careers. Some are mentors, people we have had intimate contact, talking late through the night over many caffeinated or adult beverages. Others are people who we have a special affinity for their work. We've never met face to face, but their photography influences through a spiritual connection.

I've spoken a few times about my mentors, and those who have influenced my vision. The later is what I would like to discuss today. As a young photojournalist, it was W. Eugene Smith. His brilliant black and white photo essays moved me deeply, as they still do today.

One of the things I've strived to do in my photography is to work in layers. Foreground, middle ground, and background all coming together for a deeper and more complex image. I'm sorry, but I quickly weary of life at f/1.2. It's hard to tell a multifaceted story when everything beyond a person's eyelash is wiped entirely out of focus. However, in total disclosure, there was a time when I, too, was on the bokeh bandwagon and existed without the depth of field to keep a gnat sharp. It was fun, for a short time, then it got boring when every shot looked the same.

But I digress. My favorite visual storytellers are Alex Webb, David Allan Harvey, Constantine Manos, William Eggleston, and Ernst Haas. These are not my only influencers, only my current top of the top, best of the best. My full list is tremendously long and includes people of almost every genre. There's always something to learn.

  Recess at St. Edmund’s Academy, Pittsburgh

Recess at St. Edmund’s Academy, Pittsburgh

Photographing Faith

It was an honor and privilege to work on this story for Public Source.

 “Absolutely and unabashedly welcoming”: How some Pittsburgh faith communities embrace LGBT worshippers.

By using the silent mode of my X-Pro2 and X-T2 (sound off, electronic shutter on), I was able to work during the service and not be disruptive. Prime lenses (18mm, 23mm and 50mm) kept my X-Pro2 kit small and light, while the 50-140 on the X-T2 allowed me to get in tight from a greater distance. 

For the portraits, the 10-24mm was perfect to achieve the desired perspective and coverage. Godox TTL flash provided the right illumination to balance with the ambient light.

Without the flip screen on the X-T2, the exterior photo with the rainbow flag would not have been possible. To make that photo, I leaned over a row of prickly plants and framed the shot at a very difficult angle.

As always, my X System worked flawlessly and produced amazing files that needed almost no adjustment in post. 

  Rev. Shanea Leonard, the pastor of Judah Fellowship Christian Church, sings along with the congregation during worship. Anita Levels directs the worshipers in song.

Rev. Shanea Leonard, the pastor of Judah Fellowship Christian Church, sings along with the congregation during worship. Anita Levels directs the worshipers in song.

  Rev. Shanea Leonard delivers the sermon during worship services.

Rev. Shanea Leonard delivers the sermon during worship services.

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  Rev. Shanea Leonard gives a hug to three-year-ol Vivian Grey during worship services.

Rev. Shanea Leonard gives a hug to three-year-ol Vivian Grey during worship services.

  The Rev. Vincent Kolb is pastor at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill.

The Rev. Vincent Kolb is pastor at Sixth Presbyterian Church in Squirrel Hill.

  Yvonne Hudson and Lynette Asson in the sanctuary at Calvary United Methodist Church.

Yvonne Hudson and Lynette Asson in the sanctuary at Calvary United Methodist Church.

  A rainbow flag outside of Calvary United Methodist Church on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

A rainbow flag outside of Calvary United Methodist Church on Pittsburgh’s Northside.

It's all about the light

Sometimes you find the light, and sometimes the light finds you. Be ready. 

During an eight-day shoot in Italy, we stopped one afternoon in Siena. My knees were hurting, the mid-day light was bright and contrasty, and so I wasn't feeling it, but after a bit of mumbling and grumbling I trecked on. And wow, I'm happy I did! 

Walking through the narrow streets of this ancient city I discovered one visual surprise after another. The light bounced and reflected off surfaces as I had never seen before. Shadows cast with sharp definition and contrast formed complex compositions. Because of the orange tones of the buildings, all light in the open shade tunnel of the streets were void of the usual blue cast. It was bright, warm and soft light all at the same time.

Just when I thought it couldn't get better, serendipity stepped in for a grand surprise. We saw two women coming down the street, and my traveling companion recognized one of them as his cousin! What were the chances? Add to that the women stopped to greet us right in front of this fantastic reflection of light. Sometimes, the light finds you. Chiao!

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Silence is golden

Silence is not just golden but sometimes required.

Last week I photographed the opening night of the opera Arabella for the Pittsburgh Festival Opera. Usually, photography occurs during the dress rehearsal but due to an unforeseen circumstance that was not possible. The only option was to silently capture the opera as it happened from the control booth. 

Enter the Fuji X system!

Switching to the electronic shutter, and turning off all shutter sounds, made my X-T2 and X-Pro2 cameras entirely silent. No noise at all. Mission accomplished. Before the show, I asked the crew to listen for my shutter. Smiling, they confirmed there was nothing they could hear.

Because of the distance from the control booth to the stage, I decided to use my Fujifilm 50-140 f/2.8 lens on the X-Pro2 and a Nikon 300mm f/2.8 on the X-T2 via an adapter. The 300mm converts to a 450mm f/2.8 on the Fuji making it perfect for close-up portraits of the singers.  I locked my shutter speed at 1/125 and set auto ISO for 640 to 3200 to compensate for any light changes. The aperture on both lenses was 2.8. Both cameras were on tripods. I set the X-T2 and 300mm on a Manfrotto video tripod with fluid head and the X-Pro2 with 50-140mm on my Induro carbon fiber with a large ball head. Throughout the performance, I oscillated back and forth between cameras to capture the action on stage. 

At the end of the night, I had exposed hundreds of frames but made not a single sound. Mission accomplished!

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Concert photography

I've said many times before; I haven't had an assignment yet that my Fuji cameras could not perform exceedingly well and produce top professional results. Monday night was a prime example. 

Photographing live music of any kind poses many unique challenges. Lighting variables, movement of the performers, color balance and access limitations can turn what sounds like a fun job into a nightmare. Monday evening I had the pleasure to photograph country star Kelsey Waldon at Club Cafe. It was a laid-back performance in an equally laid-back venue. Of course, that doesn't mean there weren't unique obstacles to overcome, primarily, lighting, or rather, lack of it. The spotlights were not set to illuminate the entire band. One spot was on Kelsey, and the others seemed to be where ever they happened to be, mostly aimed at the floor. Oh, and the main spotlight was very weak, too. 

Many would have shuttered at the conditions, but I knew my X-Pro2 could handle the situation without a blink. First, I always shoot in RAW no matter what the job. After that, I selected my auto ISO #3 setting which gave me a range of 3200 to 12,800. I wanted to keep my shutter speed at 1/125 as much as possible, so I set that manually. The light color varies tremendously I set the camera to auto white balance, expecting to custom white balance in post. Knowing my prime lenses are razor sharp it was with great confidence I set them at f/2. Because it was a concert, I wanted my camera to be nearly silent. No problem, select electronic shutter (es), then go into the sound set-up menu and change the audible levels of the shutter. I could have set the camera so there was absolutely no sound whatsoever, but I like a very faint click to help me in timing. Also, so my presence was minimalized, I selected EVF only on view mode and turned off the image review. Now my LCD screed would remain dark and therefore, less obtrusive. With everything set, I was now free to make pictures at will. 

I knew I would be able to photograph the entire concert, so I packed prime lenses for the job. I always prefer primes whenever possible. My selection included the following: Zeiss 12mm f/2.8; Fujifilm 18mm f/2; Fujifilm 23mm f/2; Fujifilm 35mm f/2; Fujifilm 50mm f/2 and Fujifilm 90mm f/2. If this had been a typical concert where you can photograph the first three songs, I would have instead carried zooms, so I didn't have to take the time to change lenses. Thankfully I didn't have that restriction. 

In the end, my shutter speed varied from 1/125 down to 1/15 depending on who in the band I was photographing and where they were standing. My ISO ranged between 3200 and 12,800, the latter being most predominant. 

I could stop right here, but that's not the end of the story. Once back at the office I uploaded my images into Lightroom CC. Yes, I use LR for my Fuji processing. There are a couple of methods I've learned that have eliminated the crazy wormy grain effect seen from LR in the past. First, LR CC is not the same LR from before. They have improved the program significantly. But, in the last update, the "default" sharpening setting is now at 40. That is much too high for Fuji RAF files. So the first thing I do after editing my selects is to adjust the sharpening from 40 to 10. An ISO of 12,800 is going to be slightly noisy. So when shooting at this extreme, I apply a LR noise reduction setting of 22 to 27. I batch the entire shoot with these two corrections right away. The noise reduction is just enough to take the edge off the noise but not significantly soften the image. From here I proceed as usual and color correct, adjust tone, contrast, exposure, and shadows. Most of the time very little needs to be done. Fuji is like that, almost dead on, right out of the box. 

 ISO 12800 | 12mm Zeiss Touit

ISO 12800 | 12mm Zeiss Touit

 ISO 12800 | Fujifilm 23mm f/2

ISO 12800 | Fujifilm 23mm f/2

 ISO 6400 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

ISO 6400 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

 IS0 8000 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2

IS0 8000 | Fujifilm 35mm f/2