Spring at Hardcastle Crags with the X100T

A stone path through sun dappled woodland with bluebells.

On a warm and sunny spring day there are few nicer places to be, than wandering the trails that criss-cross Hardcastle Crags. A beauty spot just north of Hebden Bridge, that has drawn visitors from far and wide for over a century. The landscape is rugged and interesting, having been carved over eons by the fast flowing Hebden Water. A good mix of deciduous and evergreen trees provide shelter from the scorching sun and shade a carpet of bluebells and other wild flowers. The estate is managed by the National Trust so the paths are kept in good order and there’s no litter or other blight to spoil the views. It’s a great place to put a camera through its paces and have a thoroughly enjoyable day out. As it happens I have a new camera that I’ve been eager to acquaint, or perhaps I should say “reacquaint”, myself with. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to do a quasi-review and share some images of this beautiful place.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/125s  ISO 200 

My first Fuji X camera was a 1st generation X100. It was a camera I really adored and got great use from, but which fell out of favour after I got my first interchangeable lens Fuji, an X-E1. While I loved the versatility and 35mm equivalent lens, the old 12 megapixel sensor and clunky, slow performance (even compared to the X-E1) eventually led me to sell it. Since then I’ve often lusted after its replacements, first the X100S and then the X100T – but I’ve always had other things to worry about spending money on, so it had remained a pipe dream. That is until a few days ago, when I came across a bargain priced X100T with barely 100 shots on the clock on eBay. I’m now the proud owner of that camera!

Since it’s now been around a year and half since the X100T was introduced, it’s at what I’d consider a good price range on the secondhand market. The S can be had for a bit less, but not at enough of a discount to make up for its shortcomings in my opinion. There’s also still a sliver of hope the T might get a firmware update with some new features or performance improvements whereas that’s generally considered to be completely off the table for the S model. Either way, at least the T is sufficiently close in terms of performance and features to cameras like the X-T1 and X-T10 to feel very familiar.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/125s  ISO 400 

As with every generation of X100, the handling out of the box isn’t great, especially for one handed shooting. To make this camera really shine, it benefits massively from a hotshoe mounted thumb grip and a half case makes it more comfortable to hold while providing some protection against knocks and scrapes. A lens hood and filter adapter are also must haves. Thankfully cheap 3rd party alternatives are now readily available as Fuji charges an insane premium, especially for the filter adapter and lens hood. Unfortunately good quality thumb grips are still quite expensive, and getting one designed specifically for the X100T is important due to the placement of the drive button and command dial. It’s also best to avoid ones that offer no bracing against the camera body as they put a lot of strain on the hotshoe. I’d recommend either the Lensmate or Match Technical models.

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 ƒ/2  23mm  1/3000s  ISO 200 

The X100T performs very nicely in use – I wish I had a 1st generation X100 on hand to compare it to, as I’m sure the difference would be night and day. In terms of general operation I’d say it’s more or less equivalent to my X-T10, which makes sense as they share the same basic hardware and the firmware versions aren’t too far removed, with the exception of the major autofocus changes Fuji made last year. Speaking of autofocus, in general it’s very good, although it won’t be setting any speed records. Things do slow down a bit in lower light and outside of the phase detect area in the centre of the frame, but I think it’s nothing a competent photographer can’t work around.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/125s  ISO 800 

After going for three years sans-X100, I perhaps looked back on some aspects of it with rose tinted glasses. I’d forgotten for example, how much of a challenge it was to achieve decent subject separation with its 23mm f2 lens. You might think that’s obvious from the focal length, but given Fuji’s 18mm f2 is quite capable in this department and is even wider, it’s a shame the X100 lens falls down here.

The biggest limitation of the lens is the hazing it produces at very close subject distances when shot at f2. This necessitates stopping down to at least f4, and that really mitigates the shallow depth of field advantage you get from being close to your subject in the first place. Bokeh at mid distances is also a mixed bag. It can be quite harsh with the wrong background, to the point where in many cases it’s safer to just stop down and get everything crisp and use some other technique to draw the eye.

The lens also seems to exhibit more field curvature than I’m used to seeing with Fuji glass, where focusing at some distances can leave the edges of the frame softer than they should be – even when stopped down to moderate apertures. I think this is probably slightly more pronounced on a 16 megapixel sensor than it was on 12, so stopping down a little more than strictly necessary can be a good plan. You’ll notice I shot most images here at f8 to mitigate this issue.

Field curvature concerns aside, the overall sharpness of the lens is excellent, especially in the centre of the frame where it’s outstanding.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/125s  ISO 1250 

All lens complaints aside though, I’ve completely fallen in love with the 23mm (35mm equivalent) focal length again. I really like Fuji’s 35mm lenses (50mm eqiv.), particularly the 35mm f2. They are great for many things which the X100’s 23mm lens is bad at (see above), but I often can’t shake the feeling that they feel too tight for a lot of general shooting. The 23mm lens just offers that bit of extra flexibility in composition, without throwing up all the challenges that 18mm and wider focal lengths do with controlling the scene or dealing with converging verticals. It’s a shame that the only current 23mm lens for the interchangeable lens Fujis is a bit of a behemoth. Hopefully rumours that a 23mm f2 akin to the new 35mm f2 prove correct.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/125s  ISO 1000 

I’m making a concerted effort to make more use of the optical viewfinder in the X100T, and after shooting with purely electronic viewfinder based cameras for quite sometime now, it’s a refreshing change. Whether I end up mostly using the EVF again, like I did with my 1st generation X100 or not remains to be seen of course. But there’s something really nice about being able to see beyond the frame you’re capturing and it’s interesting to contrast what your eye sees unaided with what the camera captures when the preview pops up.

The big new feature in the hybrid viewfinder of the X100T, over the previous models, is the little tab you can activate that gives you a live preview of what the camera is seeing at the selected AF point. If you’e a manual focus fan wanting to use the optical viewfinder, this will be a major boon and lets you get closer to a true rangefinder experience. Personally I’m not entirely sold on its utility for focus confirmation in conjunction with autofocus, but perhaps it will grow on me.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/180s  ISO 200 

Overall I’m delighted with the X100T. It’s a much better camera than the old X100 that made me first fall in love with the Fuji system. It still shares some of the quirks and oddities from that first generation model as it’s built around the same lens, but overall it’s a very refined and polished camera. To get the most from it you will need to get some of the essential accessories I mentioned above, but the payoff is worth it. You get a very small and light camera that can tackle a huge range of subjects with aplomb.

Most of the X100T reviews I’ve seen have been heavily focused on street photography, obviously an area where this camera excels. But it’s also great for landscape work and hopefully the images here demonstrate that and provide a different perspective to your usual gritty street scenes.

As usual, if you like my writing and would like to help support me and the site, please consider buying a print on my on-line store or through Etsy.

 

Queen Street Mill

Looking up at a lightly smoking, red brick mill chimney with a cloudless blue sky behind.

Since moving to the former heart of the Industrial Revolution, up in the North of England, I’ve become fascinated by our industrial heritage. Where I live in the Calder Valley, the hollow remnants of old mills still dot the landscape, but there’s little sense of what these places were once like in their heyday. Worse still, this important link with history is fast vanishing; forgotten ruins crumble away out of sight in wooded valleys. Industrial buildings left standing in cities are turned into empty apartment complexes by developers seeking to capitalise on ever spiralling house prices, or are simply flattened to make way for bland modernity.

So when I learned there was a steam powered, working textile mill in the form of a museum just across the border in Lancashire, I jumped at the opportunity to go photograph it while I still could. Inevitably I suppose, George Osborne’s axe looms large over the place – it’s destined to close in April 2016, as local government funding is diverted to try and keep essential public services operating. I’ll avoid delving too deeply into politics here, but this kind of shortsighted cultural vandalism, forced by the Tory obsession with gutting the state, makes my blood boil frankly.

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 ƒ/5.6  14mm  1/125s  ISO 1250 

If you’ve seen historical pictures of old mills you’ll have no doubt come across scenes like the one above. Rows of ungainly looking contraptions with masses of drive belts criss-crossing above them. It’s an impressive sight – even more so when the line shafts above your head start to spin and the room full of century old machinery springs to life in a deafening din.

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 ƒ/2  35mm  1/100s  ISO 250 

The museum employs a number of skilled crafts people, who demonstrate the weaving looms and various pieces of supporting equipment. They even still make a few items which they sell in the museum shop. You can see some part woven “terry towels” below along with a loaded shuttle, the thing that noisily gets whipped back and forth to supply the horizontal threads.

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 ƒ/2.8  14mm  1/280s  ISO 200 

Beyond the grandiose machinery, the mill is packed with fascinating, authentic details. An utter delight for a photographer – or indeed anyone wanting to get a flavour of the past, not sanitised by our modern health and safety obsessed culture. No glass display cases or signs warning of trivial and obvious dangers to obstruct your view. Most of the equipment on display is still working and in situ, just waiting for the appropriate switches and leavers to be pulled to bring it back to life.

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 ƒ/2.8  35mm  1/80s  ISO 2000 

Being a true old textile mill, rather than a purpose built museum with a few immaculate specimens preserved in some metropolitan centre, the grime and cobwebs are real rather than stage dressing.

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 ƒ/4  27mm  1/125s  ISO 2500 

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 ƒ/5.6  35mm  1/125s  ISO 2000 

The stationary steam engine that powers the mill is an incredible thing to behold, especially when it’s running. All that separates you from it is a friendly warning sign and a strip of black and yellow tape on the floor.

I was surprised at quite how musical it sounded, producing various beats and thumping rhythms as it came up to speed. The vibration of the massive piston shaking the floor beneath my feet as it flew back and forth with a curious mix of engineered grace and violent force.

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 ƒ/4  14mm  1/60s  ISO 500 

Beyond the engine itself, the engine room yielded some lovely details – like the tool shelf and plaque pictured below.

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 ƒ/5.6  35mm  1/170s  ISO 200 

Of course to work that engine needs steam – a lot of steam. That is produced in the boiler room downstairs, in the last working Lancashire boilers in the world.

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 ƒ/2.8  35mm  1/60s  ISO 2500 

The fireman feeding the boilers with coal needs to keep a constant eye on the water level and pressure. Both being critical to the safe operation and longevity of the equipment. The boilers themselves were state of the art in their day, employing many tricks so as to be as economical and efficient as possible.

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 ƒ/2.8  35mm  1/60s  ISO 400 

The shot below shows the view from above the two massive boilers and the snaking pipework that feeds the steam out and fresh water in.

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 ƒ/5.6  14mm  1/100s  ISO 1600 

I had high hopes for the Queen Street Mill and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. That it’s closing so soon is a real tragedy. I really hope somewhere down the line it gets reopened to the public and isn’t simply left mothballed until it falls too far into disrepair.

If this kind of thing interests you at all, I strongly recommend taking this last chance to go see it in person. You can find the opening times and directions here.

All images were shot on my new X-T10 with mainly the 35mm f2 and 14mm f2.8. As usual, if you like my writing and would like to help support me and the site please consider buying a print on my on-line store or through Etsy.

From the Archives #7

I’ve finally parted with my beloved X-E1 after three years and many thousands of images. In its place I’m now the proud owner of an X-T10. Wow what an upgrade in performance this is! I’ll do a full write up soon and why I chose the X-T10 over an X-Pro 2 or X-T1. In the meantime here’s another shot from the archive.

One Wrong Step

One Wrong Step

 ƒ/8  60mm  1/420s  ISO 200 

I’ve never done that much macro, mostly because I find it very fiddly and don’t have the patience when I’m out walking. But on this particular day I spied some lovely water droplets on some cobwebs and was determined to try and capture that ‘micro-lens’ effect you get from the droplets. Then what do you know, there’s a little fly on there with one leg stuck on the web! Now admittedly this is quite a heavy crop because the 60mm being a 1:2 macro lens only gets you so close, but I still really like this one.

Winter’s Gloom

I loath wet winters; where it’s mild but grey, gloomy and the defining feature of most day’s weather is the amount of rainfall. Unfortunately the winter of 2015-16 has thus far matched that description here in the UK. To make matters worse, a seemingly relentless series of storms has caused untold misery through devastating flooding, including in the valley where I live. So on top of the terrible weather, the quaint little shops and cafés who’s warm glowing lights would at least offer some cheer, are largely shuttered, dark and show high tide marks from filthy water.

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 ƒ/5.6  14mm  1/200s  ISO 320 

The shot above shows the ruins of the White Sands travel agent in the village of Mytholmroyd, the River Calder behind it having torn its way through at the height of the flooding. This is the second major flood to hit this area in the last four years, although this is generally agreed to be the worst seen in many decades if not the last century.

Still we have been blessed with the odd day where the clouds have given us something other than rain. We’ve only really had one decent snowfall, and even that was light for this part of the world, but what a difference a carpet of pristine white makes, however brief its appearance. The valley transformed for a time at least into a snowy wonderland.

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 ƒ/8  105mm  1/200s  ISO 250 

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 ƒ/5.6  27mm  1/640s  ISO 200 

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 ƒ/8  105mm  1/220s  ISO 200 

If you’d like to help support the victims of flooding here in Calderdale, please consider making a donation.

Merry Christmas

Just a quick post to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas and a happy new year. It doesn’t feel very festive here in the UK given the warm, wet weather but at least London looks pretty with all the decorations up. This shot from Oxford Circus was taken on Christmas Eve at twilight.

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 ƒ/2.8  27mm  1/55s  ISO 1600