FROM THE ARCHIVES #10

Autumn has arrived here in the Calder Valley. It’s not quite at its peak yet, that will probably take the first frost of the year to bring on, but already the hillsides are peppered with yellowing leaves. Here’s a shot from back in 2012 of a particularly vivid autumn day in early November. This was shot on a 1st generation X100.

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Heptonstall Festival 2013

Heptonstall Festival 2013

On September 21st the West Yorkshire village of Heptonstall hosted a fantastic festival with various live acts and stalls selling local food. With my pro photographer friend Craig Shaw, I spent about 8 hours walking around taking photos armed with my X100 and X-E1. My go to lens for this kind of event is Fuji’s fabulous 60mm f2.4. It’s often maligned as being too slow to focus but I generally find it works a charm, especially with the most recent firmware update making it far faster. With its lovely smooth bokeh and decent reach, it’s ideal for capturing portraits. I’ve also been trying out the fabled 35mm f1.4, although I’m still not sure if it will earn a permanent place in my gear bag.

DSCF1819X-E1, 35mm f5.6, 1/640 sec

Heptonstall is the quintessential little Yorkshire hill-top village, with beautiful old buildings and narrow cobbled streets. Yet it has thus far managed to avoid becoming overly touristy like nearby Haworth. At the centre are two large churches, the oldest of which is now a well preserved ruin. That ruin formed the main stage for the days events.

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X-E1, 35mm f2.8 1/850 sec

With a strong family element to the festival, an Alice in Wonderland themed parade and Mad Hatter’s tea party were part of the lineup. There were performances from  local school children and CBeebies TV celebrity Mr. Bloom. Two actors enthusiastically portrayed the Queen of Hearts and the White Rabbit.

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X100 23mm f5.6 1/170 sec

Various musicians played for the crowd including several bands. The nice thing about small festivals is that you’re often able to get very close to the performers so you’re not reliant on monstrous zoom lenses or a press badge to get some of the action.

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X100 23mm f2, 1/320 sec

The X100’s 23mm  lens feels incredibly wide after you’ve been shooting with 35 and 60mm. It forces you to get much closer to your subject which can lead to more interesting compositions. I’m quite pleased with how this shot of guitarist James Paul turned out. The X100 actually performs very well wide open at f2 for portraiture.

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X-E1, 60mm f2.4 1/320 sec

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X-E1, 60mm f2.4, 1/1600 sec

The 60mm has lovely bokeh and avoids the fringing you see around highlights on the 35mm wide open. The 35 comes into its own in darker conditions like inside the White Lion pub where I took the shot below.

DSCF1926X-E1 35mm f1.4  1/100 sec

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X-E1, 60mm f2.4 1/70 sec

Dull lighting on the main stage during the day meant a bit of post processing was required to lighten performer’s faces and make things appear less flat.

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X-E1, 60mm f2.4 1/125

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X-E1, 60mm f2.4 1/100 sec

Nizlopi gave a rousing performance as it began to grow dark – a true test of the 60mm and X-E1’s autofocus system. Both performed well. The fairly dim LED spotlights didn’t do much more than add a bit of colour to the performers so quite a bit of brightening was required in post to make things pop. When shooting in these kinds of conditions I recommend switching over to manual or shutter priority and choosing the minimum shutter speed you feel will deliver you sharp results. With the 60mm I try and stay at 1/100 at a minimum.

The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff

There’s no denying that Fuji’s retro styled cameras are things of beauty as well as incredibly powerful photographic tools. With that in mind, when it comes to customising them to personalise and improve their ergonomics, it behooves us to complement rather than degrade that classic look.

The X100 Spoiled Me

I got my X100 secondhand on eBay, at the time for a very respectable sum of £659. It came with every accessory you could want – the leather case, the lens hood, soft release and even a Thumbs Up grip. After totting up the value of these accessories I was initially sorely tempted to put them up on eBay and just keep the X100 itself, but I quickly realised they really complemented the camera, not just visually but practically. The case protects the camera from knocks and scuffs and keeps off light rain. The Thumbs Up grip significantly improves the handling, making one handed operation much better. The lens hood is of course essential, especially with the X100’s lens being a little prone to flare. Although mainly it provides some protection to the front element and provides a useful 49mm filter ring. The only accessory I didn’t find myself using was the soft release, which has stayed in a drawer until recently finding a home on my X-E1.

As I got my X-E1 new I didn’t have the luxury of having several hundred pounds worth of accessories thrown in. Initially I tried my X100’s Thumbs Up on it as the top plate has basically identical dimensions. It fitted reasonably although needed to protrude a little further to mount properly. I quickly decided it was unnecessary. The bare X-E1 has better ergonomics than the X100 right from the outset and its larger lenses deter one handed use in my experience.

Half Case

When it came to getting a case I looked at some of the 3rd party half cases but decided to stick to Fuji in the end. The X100 leather case is lovely and very nicely made. Its main short comings are lack of a tripod mount and no access to the memory card and battery slot. The X-E1 half case fixes the most serious issue by making the memory card and battery slot accessible through a little flap. The X-E1 case also significantly improves the finger grip on the right side of the lens, giving you a better hold on the camera.

Where the X-E1 case falls down, is the supplied strap. To put it bluntly, it’s a piece of crap. The leather backed part is far shorter than the X100 version, the backing is cheap, plasticy and rough edged. I decided I needed to find a 3rd party strap to replace it almost immediately.

Neck Strap

I learned about Gordy’s Camera Straps from the excellent Fuji X Files blog. They custom build leather camera straps, letting you pick the exact length, colour, neck pad and lug covers. I was impressed with how reasonable the price was and decided to order myself one. I’m glad I did because it’s an excellent strap. Thick leather, very nicely finished. As with all leather goods it takes a little while to break-in, but after only a few photo walks it’s already becoming nice and supple.

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Soft Release

As I previously mentioned, I didn’t find the soft release necessary on my X100. The shutter button is big and comfortable enough to use unadorned. However the shutter button on the X-E1 seems slightly smaller and something about it doesn’t feel quite as sure beneath my finger. The soft release nicely corrects that and provides a big concave surface to rest my fingertip against. The shutter button is such a critical part of a camera getting the right feel is important.

Other bits and pieces

As a former Nikon shooter I’m used to having scuffed bits of plastic screen protectors on my cameras. With the X100 I didn’t bother, the full case keeps the screen well protected and I’ve yet to put the slightest mark on it. With the X-E1 I’ve not been quite so lucky and managed to put a slight scratch on the screen after just a couple of months. I’ve since bought a Swido Diamond Clear hard screen protector that is doing an admirable job of protecting it from further damage.

The other must have accessory for your Fuji camera is a bit less glamorous but critically important – spare batteries! The Fuji’s like to chomp through batteries at a speed that will shock DSLR owners who are used to weeks if not months between charges. I’ve got several generic spares for my X100 and a single spare for my X-E1. You can buy official batteries if you like, but I’ve not had any problem with generic ones.

Project: Alexandra Shed

Project: Alexandra Shed

Shed is rather a diminutive term, but Alexandra Shed was the last remnant of Hawksclough Mill. A large cotton (or woollen) mill on the edge of Mytholmroyd on the bank of the Rochdale Canal in West Yorkshire, that had stood there since the mid-1800s. When I saw it was starting to get demolished I realised I had a unique opportunity to preserve a little bit of West Yorkshire’s industrial heritage through my photography. All shots taken from public rights of way.

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X-E1, 18mm f5.6 1/550 sec

The mill from the canal side, showing the oldest part of the remaining mill building. The part demolished chimney just pokes up above the roof at the rear. The old mill chimney had been taken down while the building was still in use, presumably for safety reasons.

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X100, 23mm f4 1/80 sec

From the road side you could look in on the part of the building that saw the most recent use with what appears to be a little old stock left behind from the former blenders and slitherers.

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X100, 23mm f5.6 1/90 sec

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X-E1, 60mm f5.6 1/40 sec

The view further back in the building is revealed as the demolition crew work back from the road side. That rear wall is part of the original 1800s mill building. Note the old windows and doors had been blocked off.

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X100, 23mm f5.6 1/40 sec

From the canal side at the base of the chimney where part of the rear wall had collapsed. Note the old pulley wheel on the collapsed wooden framework.

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X-E1, 60mm f5.6 1/240 sec

I’d hoped they might repurpose the old mill building once the more recent part had been stripped away, but sadly it too came down brick by brick.

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X-E1, 8mm f8 1/150 sec

The building had been derelict for quite some time and part of the back wall had collapsed, allowing nature to start to reclaim the land.

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X-E1, 60mm f5.6 1/125 sec

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X100, 23mm f5.6 1/90 sec

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X-E1, 60mm f5.6 1/125 sec

With the middle of the building ripped away the well worn staircase is in plain view. Note the fold down side boards that presumably made it possible to raise or lower carts without needing a lift. You can see a mangled cart in one of the early shots above.

Today nothing of the old building remains apart from a 1 story high wall composed of the old mill’s rear wall. Where it had collapsed its been repaired with reclaimed stone. The old windows and doors all bricked in. Now Alexandra Shed is just a memory for those who once worked there and who passed it in their daily travels. If you know anything more about this old mill I’d love to hear from you, get in touch.

Armley Mills

Armley Mills

Spinning Mule, 23mm, f4, 1/20 sec

 This past weekend I had the opportunity to explore Armley Mills, an industrial heritage museum on the outskirts of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England. With a plethora of old machinery preserved inside including the amazing spinning mule, pictured above, the mill is a treasure trove. It was fairly dark inside and with bright sunlight streaming in through the windows, exposure was a little challenging, that said the overall light was wonderful. The muted colours inside and strong contrast lent itself beautifully to black and white. All pictures were captured with my X100.

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Bobbins, 23mm, f2, 1/125 sec

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Working the Mule, 23mm, f2.8, 1/125 sec

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Empress Works Pully, 23mm, f2.8, 1/60 sec