If you have been following this blog recently you will already know that for a period of time I switched from black and white and started working in colour. A previous entry goes into more detail as to why I have now returned to my first love of monochrome.
In the circumstance I decided it would be a good idea to revisit a few of those colour images, re-process them in black and white and share them with you. So here is a small selection and I hope you enjoy them.
If anyone was to ask me to name my favourite Cathedral, it would be a choice between these three: Wells in Somerset, Chichester in West Sussex and St Davids in Pembrokeshire. Pushed to say which would come out on top and I would have to say Wells Cathedral. Why? It has a very special atmosphere born out of the quite majestic architecture and the extraordinary detail of its design. The history and its setting in what is a small city just adds to its appeal.
Last week my wife and I enjoyed a short holiday in Somerset. We were staying about 10 miles north of Wells so another visit had to be included in our itinerary of places we wanted to see. I have been fortunate to visit and photograph the cathedral previously, but this time round I decided to concentrate on some of the details, which to me tell a story about the building and sum up very nicely why it means so much to me.
I could spend hours and hours in the cathedral and never be bored finding other compositions so another visit is very much on the cards. Until then here are a selection captured last week and if you would like to read my other blog entries about Wells Cathedral here are the links are below.
I rarely write about camera gear but I thought I would make the topic of this post an exception. I never thought I would arrive at this particular juncture and I would like to explain how and why this came about. If you don’t think this is likely to be of interest to you then I would simply urge you to go the end of this post and read the final paragraph.
I think I should start at the beginning. Ten years ago having decided that black and white photography was my creative passion, I threw caution to the wind and totally embraced B&W by purchasing a second hand Leica M Monochrom together with two prime lenses – a 50mm Summilux and 28mm Summarit. I later added some additional primes – 90mm Summarit, 35mm Summilux and a Zeiss 18mm plus a Leica SL by way of a second body but with very different functionality. I was working then, earning well and photography was my hobby; it still is. Yes it was an indulgence, but no more so than many other expensive hobbies and nothing like as costly as having a classic sports car or small boat. As much as I love the Monochrom (and still do) it does have its quirks and limitations. Over the years this combination of equipment gave me the opportunity and inspiration to make some images which I will always treasure.
There are though occasions in life when the temptation to acquire another gadget is hard to resist. I don’t know any serious photographer who hasn’t suffered from GAS (Gear Addiction Syndrome) at one stage or another. I have to admit I am no different.
Two years ago just before the UK went into its first Covid Lockdown I bought a Fuji X100v. I had always wanted a smaller, lightweight version of my Leica Monochrom which still offered good quality RAW files. Its rangefinder form factor appealed to me as it is very similar to the Leica M. In addition to its sharp and fast 23mm F2 fixed prime lens (equivalent to 35mm in full frame terms) it offers the choice of an optical viewfinder as well as an EVF. I was also keen to try for myself the Fuji Film Simulations and in particular the Acros for B&W with the added choice of a red, yellow or green filters. You may wish to read some of my other posts about the X100v – Fujifilm X100v and Capture One first thoughts and The Fuji X100v has arrived – first outing.
I enjoyed using the X100v and it introduced me to the possibilities of colour. Fuji are well known for their colour technology and with time on my hands during Lockdown I familiarised myself with CaptureOne to process the RAW files.
At about the same time I wanted to explore the possibility of having a telephoto lens which would give me greater reach. I found the 90mm to be too limiting in certain situations. The Leica L Mount 90-280mm would fit the bill but not at a cost of nearly £5,500. At less than half the price (£2,600) Panasonic offer a 70-200mm zoom lens but whilst more affordable (just) both these lenses are large and heavy to lug around. The Leica SL camera is a heavy beast in its own right – there had to be an alternative. Not only was weight a factor but the lack of an articulating screen on the SL was a disadvantage when using the camera on a tripod, particularly at low level.
Having enjoyed the little Fuji X100v and knowing a number of people who were more than satisfied with Fujifim’s XT range of cameras I thought I would way up the pros and cons of changing to a lighter set up. After much research I bought a Fujifilm X-T3 and three zoom lenses – 10-24mm, 16-80mm and a 55-200mm. A holy trinity of lenses, all of which are weather sealed. If I only wanted to carry one camera and one lens, the 16-80mm (24mm – 120mm) was an ideal walk around/travel option. Given the APSC crop factor of the Fuji sensor I now had a reach of 300mm. This opened up many new possibilities when framing a composition. The Leica SL, 18mm and 28mm were all sold to help cover the cost.
Time marched on and whilst the three zoom lenses on the X-T3 covered most eventualities I missed using the Leica prime lenses I had retained. The 35mm, 50mm and 90mm. Being able to shoot wide open at F1.4 on the 35mm and 50mm lenses has its own creative charm not to mention the option of faster shutter speeds albeit at the expense of a shallower depth of field. To be frank I simply couldn’t bring myself to part with them. Besides I still had the Monochrom although it does need servicing.
To accommodate the use of these Leica lenses I decided to look into the possibility of buying an M Mount lens adapter which would allow me to use these primes on the Fuji X Mount. I was delighted to discover that Fuji themselves made such an adapter and I did some research to establish which lenses were compatible. Whilst not specifically listed I came to the conclusion all three lenses would work. I kept in mind the crop factor which made the 35mm a 52mm in full frame terms, the 50mm a 75mm and finally the 90mm a 135mm. They are of course all manual focus only but that doesn’t bother me. This is how I have taken images for years and I enjoy this style of photography. I like having control particularly when shooting wide open. In fact I regard myself as a manual shooter rarely relying on the camera to work out the exposure or point of focus for me.
There is one final part to this tale. The Fuji rangefinder form factor is my preferred choice of camera body style. However the X100v has a fixed focal length of 23mm. The X-T3 allows me to change lenses but is a larger camera. Combine the best of both worlds and what do you get? A Fujifilm X-E4 or X-Pro3. The X-E4 was the more attractive choice, the X-Pro3 being much larger and more expensive. So I bought the X-E4 earlier this year and also opted for the accessory kit. It provides a handgrip and built in arca swiss compatible tripod plate and together with a thumb grip, the handling is much improved. More to the point this camera is a great combination with the Leica primes. The X-E4 is very similar in size to the X100v, so these lenses do make the set up a bit front heavy, particularly the 90mm, but the combination works well for me and the results are superb. Aesthetically it looks great too. I might even apply some black duct tape over the make and model inscriptions – to make it even more discreet!
Over the last two years I have invested in quite a lot of new kit, but I have now arrived at a place where I am lucky enough to have all the bases covered and to me the best of all worlds. The camera bodies are all Fujifilm. I am more than happy with the quality of the RAW files. I am not the type of person always on the hunt for more megapixels. 26.1MP in all three cameras is a good sweet spot as far as I am concerned.
The Fujifilm zoom lenses are all excellent and whilst they are not that fast, they are sharp at their respective price point and serve a very definite purpose which is why I chose them.
Talking of lenses the Leica primes are absolutely superb. Build quality, sharpness, and speed are second to none. They are just a pleasure to use and all the time the Monochrom needs servicing the X-E4 is a first class substitute. If ever I tire of them, which I doubt, they hold their value well too.
The X100v has its place in the line up as well. Compact, it’s an ideal take anywhere camera. It also gives me a 35mm equivalent prime lens, to compliment the Leica primes having allowed for the 1.5x crop factor of the sensor.
Whilst there are some differences in the controls and functionality of the X-T3, X-E4 and the X100v, there are broad similarities so I have spent some time customising the function buttons of each camera so that the differences are kept to a minimum. This helps me when swapping from one camera to another. I suspect the X-T3 will largely be used with the zoom lenses whilst the X-E4 will best suit the Leica primes plus its a useful back up body to the X-T3 should it ever fail unexpectedly. The X100v will be in a pocket or on a wrist strap when I just want to go out and take a camera with me without compromising on quality.
There is one other key advantage. As each camera shares the same sensor, work flow and processing will be consistent irrespective of the camera used.
So there it is. A very happy marriage in my opinion of Fuji bodies, their zoom lenses and renowned Leica glass. Have I switched camera systems, well no, not exactly!
I hope you have enjoyed this rather long post and if you have any comments or questions do use the comments section, and I will be pleased to respond as helpfully as I can.
Thanks as always for reading and getting this far.
I would like to finish with one final point – a quote by Ansel Adams.
“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”
So whatever camera gear you own or choose to buy, do remember the gear is simply a means to an end. The acquisition of new or more equipment might enhance the pleasure of releasing the shutter and open up new creative opportunities, but the camera equipment on its own will not make you a better photographer. As Ansel Adams so succinctly put it in the quote above – when it to comes to making a great photograph, it is the creative skills of the person behind the camera that really matters.
I am very fortunate. Retired, I no longer have the restrictions of a busy working day. My wife and I have recently moved to a beautiful part of Dorset, and the countryside on my new doorstep inspires me. When the light is right and the weather conditions favourable, there is every chance I can drop what I am doing and within a few minutes be in a place where I know there will be some good compositions.
A few days ago I posted ‘My heart is in mono…..and the countryside’. I wrote about the reasons why I have returned to making images in black and white. I also wrote about going out with photographic intent, and not just to head out for a walk with a camera on the off chance a picture might reveal itself.
If I was to choose the best light for landscape photography a bright and showery day is almost impossible to resist. This is particularly true late in the afternoon when the sun is lower in the sky, casting long shadows and side lighting any subjects in the frame, accentuating form and texture. The passing rain clouds are of course full of texture and interest too. There is nothing very photogenic about a clear blue sky.
Reinvigorated to make black and white images again, I watched the skies yesterday and witnessed potentially ideal conditions taking shape. As the afternoon progressed the skies to the south were clearing, whilst looking in the opposite direction there were shower clouds aplenty. With the sun setting in the west any composition looking north had the makings of a good result. I knew where to go, grabbed my camera and a couple of prime lenses, and took our dog with me too. He’s quite happy to wait for me to compose the shot and press the shutter. Well most of the time anyway!
Growing familiarity with my home patch is a huge advantage. The four photographs you see here are all compositions I have shot before but at different times the year. For me yesterday’s conditions and this light were nigh on perfect. But days like this are not that common and there is always the risk of getting drenched in the pursuit of a few strong images. Definitely worth it though.
This experience has further enhanced my feeling that ‘My heart is in mono…..’ It’s good to be back making images in shades of grey again, sharing them with you and writing about my thoughts and the story behind the pictures.
In the latter half of last year I made a conscious effort to make images in colour and not in black and white. Monochrome had been my default creative choice for many years, in fact for nearly a decade. Whilst some of the images I made in colour pleased me, I was finding it increasingly hard to motivate myself to make more colour pictures. As a consequence the past few months have proven to be a very lean period. I even had one kind follower asking me if I was okay? Rest assured I am fine, but photographically speaking I can only admit to being in something of a creative rut.
A change of tack was required. In more recent weeks I have been out in the countryside near our home in Dorset with the sole intention of making black and white images. Whether overcast and dull, or bright and sunny, the camera has recorded what has drawn my eye. I had no high expectations. This was not about making prize winning pictures, nor even ones which would be added to one of my galleries at a later date. Quite simply this was an exercise to teach myself to see the world in shades of grey again, and in the process to make a few images which might rekindle my love of photography and in particular the genre which has been the core of this site.
Was it a success? 100% yes. I not only immersed myself in the beauty of the countryside but I made images which in all likelihood had they been in colour would have done nothing for me. In life you have to try new things and although I can still see myself making some colour images, if I am being completely honest with myself, my heart is in monochrome. The creative medium I discovered back in 2011 which has given me so much pleasure ever since.
Why monochrome I ask myself? Is it the timeless quality of mono? Almost certainly. Is it the greater freedom of creative choices? Again yes. The removal of colour instantly renders an image unreal, an abstraction of the world from how we normally see it. Different processing techniques can evoke feelings and expression in a way which may not always be possible in colour. That’s not to say that colour doesn’t have advantages over B&W, it certainly does but for the most part it’s not for me. Colour is a distraction and if I look at two images of the same subject, one in colour the other in black and white, almost invariably I will find the monochrome version more pleasing. It’s all down to personal preference as we all have different tastes. Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we all liked the same thing?
What else did this experience teach me? Whilst I have often advocated, but not always practiced, the maxim ‘always carry a camera’, in the hope that something might draw my eye, there is really no substitute for going out with the intention of making photographs. Yes of course some days will be more productive and rewarding than others, but looking isn’t the same as observing and to find strong compositions in good light takes time and concentration. Sherlock Holmes famously said; “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” There is another benefit to this more considered approach to image making – I appreciate the beauty of the countryside so much more. I stop to not only observe, but also to listen and absorb the very nature of my surroundings. I am all too aware that I can miss photo opportunities if always on the move.
There is another advantage to being out and about with a camera to take photographs as opposed to going for a walk and taking a camera. There is clearly a priority of purpose. It might also be deemed to be practicing, which doesn’t always make perfect, but I do strongly believe practice can enhance your good fortune. It has been said many times before, but the saying “The harder I practice, the luckier I get” holds true for many pursuits in life.
Similarly Henri Cartier-Bresson said – “The first 10,000 photographs are your worst”. In this digital age that number could easily be increased 10 fold. Not only will practice increase your chances of a successful outcome but you will become more familiar with your camera, lens choice and other equipment, further enhancing your technical skills. I will freely admit having to re-learn which actions I had assigned to certain function buttons when I went out the other day!
I doubt that Ansel Adams would have gone out for a walk in Yosemite with his view camera and large tripod purely in the hope that a scene worthy of capture might appear in front of him. After all he wanted to make images, to indulge himself in his love of photography and to fully appreciate the majesty of the world around him. I think it entirely appropriate to say that he was a photographer first and not a rambler with a camera!
I have enjoyed writing this entry whilst sharing some of my thoughts and recent images with you.
From now on, it’s back to my first love of monochrome, and images of the countryside which I am very fortunate to experience.