Photographing sparrow hawks (or not)

Quarreling jays

Two jays having a little quarrel over some food. Shot with Nikon D5 and Nikon 400mm f/2.8E FL @ 400mm ISO900, f/2.8, 1/1000

A couple of weeks ago I was at Dalen Villmarkssenter (Dalen Wildlife Centre), a great place for wildlife photography in Telemark, Norway. In the middle of the deepest woods in Norway you can find a vast number of animals here, ranging from a lot of different birds including eagles as well as foxes, beavers, pine martens, elk, deer and maybe even lynx if you’re very lucky!

When I was there sparrow hawks was the main attraction. Apparently it’s very active this time of year. I did photograph a bit of sparrow hawks in Finland, but then it was just a bonus. This time I was looking to give the birds my full attention.

I was there for two days. Day one I spent at the lake location. We got up bright and early and hiked for about half an hour. Supposedly, this place great for getting backlit shots of the birds and mirror images in the water. Unfortunately we had a lot of haze and fog on the water. The sun came just for short periods, so most of the photos turned out quite dull. Also we had no sparrow hawks. We had a massive amount of jays turn up, but no sparrow hawks. After about six hours in the hide we gave in and in stead traveled to the location by the stream to photograph squirrels.This turned out a great success and we got a lot of good shots of squirrels.

Day two we got up equally early and hiked to the hillside location. A good location for morning light and again sparrow hawks and jay the main attraction. The other team who had been here the day before reported a lot of activity and a lot of hawk, but today it was all quiet and no hawk to be seen. Meanwhile the other team now staying at the lake location reported of a lot of activity there, including jays, sparrow hawks and moose! You can’t control wild animals and sometimes it’s just not your luck. I got an excessive amount of images of jays and a whole a lot of squirrel, but not a single photo of sparrow hawk this time…

So, my gallery is not as spectacular as I had planned. Photographing sparrow hawks is not an easy task. Especially when there are no sparrow hawks around…

Photo tip!
When photographing fast birds like this or jumping squirrels you need high shutter speeds to freeze the motion and get sharp images. Probably 1/500-1/1250 depending on the bird. Also fast autofocus is an advantage, however if you lack fast AF, lock your AF at a point you know the bird will come to for instance a branch and be patient!

Fujifilm X-T2 at Le Mans Classic: First Impressions

Overtaking

I’m responsible for Fujifilm products where I work, so Fujifilm invited me to the European launch event for their new X-T2 camera!

Although I never got around to do a review/first impression of either X-T1, X-T10 (my preferred camera at the moment) or the X-Pro2, I feel I have to do one on the X-T2 because I got to do some extensive testing and have a lot of images (skip to the end for the gallery).

During my stay in Paris I got to spend a little over 12 hours with the brand new X-T2 at the Le Mans Classic car show. The cameras we used were, as far as I know, more or less complete with all features enabled. However, the firmware on our cameras was not the final version, so some things may yet change.

Whats new?
So, in case you’ve missed it the main features on this camera include the same processor and 24MP X-Trans sensor as the X-Pro2, new and improved autofocus, more frames per second, better EVF with higher frequency and shorter “blackout” between shots, tethered shooting, and 4K video.

Build and handling

Taking the camera for a walkThe camera has a solid magnesium alloy weather sealed build. It’s not much bigger than the X-T1, got a good grip and handles well. If you’re already familiar with Fuji cameras you’ll know your way around the camera in a matter of minutes. Everything feels familiar, but improved. Like the selector buttons on the back, that were a nightmare on the X-T1, are now much better and the dials on top are a little higher for better grip and can also be locked. I was a little dissapointed to see that the X-T2 did not get the same ISO dial as the X-Pro2, but a regular one. I really like the one they have on the X-Pro2. There are a couple of new buttons on the back (some of which didn’t work, but I suspect the beta-firmware is to blame there), but most notably the joystick used for changing focus point. Very handy!

I used the camera most of the time with the vertical grip attached. The grip actually gives you improved and deeper grip in the horizontal position as well as improving handling in the vertical position of course. The grip has dedicated buttons in vertical position (like you would expect of a vertical grip…), and improved handling when used with big zooms like XF100-400mm or XF50-140mm. With the big lenses the set up became more balanced with the grip. On my Nikon D800 I would never use a grip as I felt it would be too big and bulky, but even with the grip the X-T2 is still not a big camera.

Another major update to the X-T2 is the EVF. It’s brighter, faster and better than before. It’s a joy to use and it’s 100fps means you’ll have no problem using it on fast moving subjects. I did experience some troubles with the eye sensor, it didn’t always activate properly, but again this could be a firmware issue.

The screen is mostly the same as before, but with the added tilt upwards when shooting in the vertical position. To me this is not a very big deal, but I do see the use for some, particularly when shooting portraits. However, a traditional sort of tilt screen would be more flexible, especially when it comes to video.

Autofocus

Close raceAutofocus have been dramatically improved on the X-T2. Both speed and accuracy, but also performance all over. There’s a reason they took us to Le Mans to test this… It’s fast. They also introduced a set of new AF modes that specifically lets you fine tune the AF to the situation. The idea is to make the camera predict the subjects motion to improve the AF. You can even make your own preset, specifically design for the situation you’re in. I tried a bunch of them to see if I noticed a difference. While the difference is there it’s may not always be obvious. The standard auto mode is actually pretty good for most uses, but it’s clear that they try to approach the demands of a professional sport/action photographer with this feature.

Image quality

The X-T2 have the same image quality as the X-Pro2 and then some. Better firmware (which will be available for X-Pro2 as well) means better image rendering and quality. The 24MP X-Trans sensor delivers wonderful images! When combined with the high quality Fujinon XF lenses this camera delivers a stunning image quality and very rich details. If you’re used to high-resolution files from Nikon D800, this is not far behind.

A quick ISO test to see what this camera can do.

A quick ISO test to see what this camera can do. Shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and XF16mm f/1.4 @ ISO8000, f/4,

I didn’t shoot on the far end of the ISO range, but I did some shots on ISO 8000 and 12800 and it delivers a very good result. There are much less noise and much more detail in the images shot on ISO8000 with the X-T2, than images shot on ISO6400 with the X-T10. I printed some of the ISO8000 shots in 30x45cm and they look great! There are of course noise, but it’s that nice Fuji-noise.

Combine the amazing image quality with the excellent film simulation Fujifilm offer and you get amazing looking images straight out of the camera. In fact most of the images shown in the gallery at the end are straight out of the camera. Not because Lightroom doesn’t support the camera yet, because it does, but because they look so darn good! I really like the new Acros simulation. That alone is a reason I’m seriously considering an upgrade from my X-T10!

Video mode

It’s clear Fuji is finally breaking into the video marked with this camera. The X-T2 got a new video mode. It’s selected on the same dial as you select continuous shooting and bracketing. In the menu, they’ve put in a new video shooting menu.

Unfortunately I did not get the chance to test the video properly. I’ve seen some 4K footage shot with the camera and it certainly looks very promising, as does the specs. The 4K uses a 1.8x oversampling and new features include 3.5mm jack input for microphone (they finally got rid of the useless 2.5mm…), you can adjust sound input levels during shooting, 4:2:2 8-bit F-log out the HDMI, 100 Mbps internal recording and of course 4K! They finally deliver som very interesting specs.

Another cool feature, dubbed “Quick 4K” by the Fuji-guys I talked to, is the possibility to use the film simulations on video! This means if you know what you want and have a proper set up with lights and stuff you can get really good-looking footage straight out of the camera. A cool feature for a lot of photographers out there starting to do video, but not wanting to do all the heavy post production.

Their video feature is still made up of some compromises, though. You really need the vertical grip to get a proper video setup. The grip will give you a 3.5mm headphone jack, increase the recording time from 10 to 30 minutes and give you an AC-adapter.

VPB-XT2: Vertical Power Boost Grip

Gare Montparnasse

Shot with Fujifilm X-T2 and XF16mm f/1.4 @ ISO800, f/2, 1/3500, Acros

I’ve said a bit about the grip already, but it’s worth to sum up what this grip actually is. It’s not just a grip it’s also a performance enhancement. On the grip you can actually flip a switch called “boost” to enhance a couple of features. This include 11 fps continuous shooting, 30 minutes of 4K shooting, faster AF, higher update frequency in the EVF as well as shorter blackout between shots and a 3.5mm headphone jack. In addition it is of course a vertical grip with better ergonomics and an extra set of buttons when shooting in the vertical position.

The grip can hold two batteries and you can have one in the camera, giving you a total of three batteries that improves battery life a lot. The official number is 1000 exposures with this setup, but during my day at Le Mans I shot almost double that and still had some power left at the end of the day. You also get a AC-adapter with the grip. Plug it into the grip and it can power the camera from an AC power source or it can use the grip as a dual battery charger and charge both the batteries in the grip simultaneous and in record time.

So should you get the grip? If you shoot video it’s a no brainer. Also if you shoot events or  work long days and shoot a lot of pictures, then the extra power is nice. If you do wildlife, sport or action and need the extra speed and performance then you should definitely get it! However, if you do street, journalism, portraits or travel and want to keep the size to a minimum and don’t need the extra enhancement, then you can safely drop the grip and still have a very good camera.

Conclusion

Fujifilm X-T2 certainly is a very interesting camera. It was a bit of a disappointment handing it back in and going back to my X-T10. When I decided to get the X-T10 I also tested the X-T1 and build quality aside, the X-T10 does not lack anything. Until now. The X-T2 is a big step up in every way. The image quality is very good and the image quality when shooting on high ISO-values is vastly improved. As is the autofocus.

So worth an upgrade? Should you get it? Well, I’m seriously considering it myself. Now I’m not saying it can compete with a Nikon D5 or a Canon 1D X II. If you’re using one of those cameras you probably do a lot of low light, fast autofocus, high-speed stuff, like wildlife or sports. While the X-T2s performance is dramatically improved in all those three areas and can probably handle much of it very well it’s not quite there yet. However, if you’re upgrading from a Nikon D300 or D7xxx or even a D800 or a Canon 6D or 7D and looking for a smaller set up and a good all-round camera then the X-T2 is a serious contender. Street photography, journalism, portrait, weddings, events, landscapes and the occasional wildlife and sports, the X-T2 can handle it!

Check out the gallery below for images taken with the X-T2. Most of these are straight from the camera, no post-processing. I mostly used Acros and Classic Chrome film simulation.

Photo tip! Try panning fast moving subjects by slowing down the shutter speed and follow the subject in a panning motion as it moves by. It creates a nice blurry background.

Long exposures in the night

Summer nights is Norway can be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you look at it. The sun sets late and rises early leaving the summer nights almost as bright as day. This is great can be great for photographers as you can continue to shoot with ease long into the night!

I took these photos on a cabin trip last weekend because I was curious to see how the Fujifilm X-T10 handled long exposures and I wanted to do a little test. I didn’t have any ND-filters so I decided to wait until the sun had set and the moon came up. So, when the others went to sleep, I went out and set up my camera.

I took these photos at about 1.30 in the morning. I used a tripod and up to 30 seconds long exposure time to capture the liquid motion of the sea. I also stepped down to f/16. Partly to get good depth of field and partly because it allowed me to use longer exposure times.

It was not a planned shoot, so the set up lacked remote and the tripod was a bit wobbly, but I got a few nice shots and I’m pleased to see that the X-T10 handles long exposures very well!

Arctic Adventures

This was the entrance to the ice cave. Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 24mm, 1/800sec, f/5.6, ISO 100.

This was the entrance to the ice cave. Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 24mm, 1/800sec, f/5.6, ISO 100.

The beginning of April I was invited to go to Svalbard with Canon Norway. Svalbard is a Norwegian archipelago in the Arctic Ocean. It’s main city, Longyearbyen, is the northern most city in the world with over 1000 inhabitants (there are settlements further north, but they are small and/or not inhabited all year round).

One of many abandoned coal mines near Longyearbyen. Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 50mm, 1/200sec, f/8, ISO 200.

One of many abandoned coal mines near Longyearbyen. Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 50mm, 1/200sec, f/8, ISO 200.

Svalbard was discovered in 1596 by Dutch explorers. However, it’s mentioned in Icelandic texts as early as the 1194. Early on whaling was the main industry around Svalbard, but in the 20th century it was transformed into a coal mining community. Till this day, Russian and Norwegian mining companies continues to the quest for coal in the mountains, however tourism and research are emerging as new important industries for the island. The University Centre in Svalbard is the northernmost institution for higher education in the world and Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened in 2008 and now contains a collection of 840 000 seeds from 4000 species!

The dog sleigh guide warned us not to take photos, because there's a risk the camera will be yanked out of our hands if we hit a bump. I could, however, not resist this beautiful view and just had to get a shot! Dog sleigh riding in Svalbard in this weather is quite the experience! Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 24mm, 1/1000sec, f/18, ISO 500.

The dog sleigh guide warned us not to take photos, because there’s a risk the camera could be yanked out of our hands if we hit a bump. I could, however, not resist this beautiful view and just had to get a shot! Dog sleigh riding in Svalbard in this weather is quite the experience! Shot with Canon 5Ds and Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM f/2.8 @ 24mm, 1/1000sec, f/18, ISO 500.

I spent three days up north in this fascinating location. I went on a dog sleigh expedition, snowmobile expedition, got to visit an ice gave, an old huntsman lodge and a glacier. Well, almost a glacier. The fjord was not frozen so we could not get across. We had to admire the glacier from a distance this time.

All in all it was three busy days! The only thing missing was a chance to photograph polar bears. Except for the sleigh dogs I didn’t get to do any animal photos, just landscapes. Don’t get me wrong the landscapes up there are amazing and very unique. I guess I will have to come back some other time for the polar bears!

For those of you interested in the equipment used for these photos: I decided to travel light. I only brought a Canon 5Ds, 24-70mm f/2.8L USM II and a 17-40mm f/4L USM. I was expecting to mostly do landscaped and travel photos and for that this was a great combo. I guess I could have managed just with the 24-70mm, but the extra wide angel was nice to have for some of the impressive landscape. Canon 5Ds and the new 24-70mm is a killer combo. Love the high-resolution for landscapes, but it lacks a bit on the ISO, and so things got a bit difficult in the ice cave.

See more images in the gallery below!

Den store kroppen

Earlier this week I was contacted by performance artist Sidsel Christensen. Last year I did a job photographing her performance called “Christine Schriber utenfor rammen”. This time she had another performance called “Den store kroppen” and wondered if I could take some photos.

Being a little short notice I didn’t get the time to scout the location before hand. It turned out it was a dark room lit only by a projection. Low light and harsh lighting was hardly the best conditions, but it’s all about making the best of it.

The performance, named “Den store kroppen” or “The Big Body”, was a performance art piece that brought the viewers on a journey from a cellular to a cosmic level.

This was also the first time I tried my new Fujifilm X-T10 with Fujifilm 23mm 1:1.4 lens for a job. It was actually a great kit for the job because the 23mm is very sharp at f/1.4 making it a great combo in low light. The X-T10 is also a lot smaller and discreet and more silent than the my Nikon D800. Unfortunately 23mm (or 35 full frame equivalent) was not the best focal length for this job. Most of my shots was either wider, like 24mm, or closer to 70mm.

Despite the low light challenge, it was a fun shoot and a good performance. Check out some of the images below!