Vacation time: A bunch of new galleries!

I just got back from vacation to the USA, more specifically Atlanta and St. Simons Island on the coast of Georgia. I spent two weeks visiting with friends and taking lots of photos – all taken with my beloved Fuji XE-2 of course (with some iPhone photos thrown in). Since it is a ton of images, I have separated it into a gallery for each main location – please go and check them out!

Moving from Aperture to Lightroom

I’ve been using Apple Aperture pretty much since its initial price drop (with version 1.5) and while I have tried Adobe Lightroom from time to time I never got comfortable with the workflow in it.

The End of Aperture & the beginning of something new

Last year Apple announced that they were going to discontinue Aperture and iPhoto and bring out a new, unified, photos app called Photos. This new app looks a lot like their app on iOS but will have more advanced features on the Mac, inheriting some capabilities from both Aperture and iPhoto. While this will be great for a lot of users, this is not a good solution for the mess that is my photo library.

I have almost 100,000 images in total spanning from around 2000 to the present – already in way too many Aperture libraries because the main library got too big to handle. Photos takes away some of the organization capabilities that Aperture had due to projects so I don’t feel comfortable putting my whole library into it.

The alternative: Adobe Lightroom

So the other alternative is moving to Adobe Lightroom. Adobe was quick to announce that they were working on an Import Tool for Aperture (and iPhoto) users to move their libraries more easily to Lightroom. The catch though: You need to be a subscriber of the Adobe Tools to use it, simply buying the stand-alone version of Lightroom won’t get you this plugin.

Since I needed to update my Photoshop version anyway (I was still using CS3) and Adobe decided to keep the special deal for photographers around long term (Photoshop and Lightroom as one subscription), I bought that and began familiarizing myself with Lightroom.

Starting fresh

This happened just before my vacation to Madeira, so I decided to not import my Madeira pictures into Aperture but use Lightroom full time for this for the first time to really get a good sense of working with it. Since it was a vacation (yay) I also had time to read – which meant I bought the excellent Lightroom book by Scott Kelby and read it cover to cover. I cannot recommend it enough when starting out with Lightroom! It helped me a great deal in coming to grips with the differences in how to work with it compared to Aperture.

Importing the past

So now I had my new photos in there but what about the old ones? In October or so Adobe released a first version of the import tool. It imports your images with the star ratings and tags intact (stacks do not get transferred). To get your adjusted images across you have to generate high res previews in Aperture of those images (smart albums to the rescue!) since Lightroom cannot import the list of adjustments you made (they use completely different processors), so you have to import a “final” version of the adjusted version you had in Aperture – but of course you also get your original RAW or JPG version of the image.

Sounds peachy, right? For small libraries it is indeed this simple. But the problems started with my multiple libraries and with the behemoth that is my old master library (750GB of images). The easy part: Multiple Library import – the Aperture import in Lightroom generates a collection set called “Aperture Import” – this will give you an error if you import a different library. Simply rename the collection set and you can import another one. Problem one solved.

The bigger issue was a rather unspecific error message on my big library. The first version of the plugin imported about 30% of the library ok and then it just stopped and didn’t do anything anymore. In the newer version apparently they check for whatever it is that caused this issue before the import (setting up the import takes around 10 minutes for my big library due to that) and doesn’t let me import.

Breaking my library down into smaller pieces

Since there hasn’t been an update for the plugin in a couple of weeks (maybe Lightroom 6 will bring a new version) I decided to try again – with the same result. So I finally broke down and started breaking the big library apart into smaller pieces. In Aperture you can chose a Project or a Folder of projects and export them as a new library. So I started exporting my main folders (I am still in the process of this).

In the process I realized what some of the issues were:

* I had some RAW files I had imported before Aperture supported them, it never realized it supports them now

* I had some images that it didn’t realize it had anymore, they were black with an exclamation mark and also do not export in Aperture.

Aperture Export App for harder cases

The library with the first type of images did not import into Lightroom, even though I could export the originals from Aperture just fine… For this case I bought Aperture Exporter on the App Store, a small utility allowing you to export all images in a library to folders with their meta-data and more advanced options on how to to the versions for adjusted images. I applied this to that library and then imported from the folder into Lightroom.

For the second type I ended up deleting them from the Aperture library. Because, really, what do you want to do with them? Those smaller libraries imported much quicker which is also a nice side effect of all of this since I have to have to external drives plugged into my laptop to do all of this.

Like I said, I am still in the process of doing this but I am hopeful to get everything over this way. But then I realized something else: due to the multiple failed imports (and maybe also due to my unwieldy Aperture library chaos of the last 10 years) I had multiple copies of images in my Lightroom library. Not just the adjusted versions I created on purpose but also a lot of duplicates of the RAW images!

Duplicates – Duplicates for everyone!

For this I bought another Lightroom plugin called Lightroom Duplicate Finder 2 which does what its name implies: it searches your Library for Duplicates. It is very fast about it (which I did not anticipate) but unfortunately – or thankfully, depending on your viewpoint – it does not delete the images. It simply flags them and creates a smart collection with all versions it suspects of having duplicates so you can mark one of them as rejected (which is way faster than deleting from the collection, just hit x – there is a command to delete all rejected images). You can also customize which fields it should evaluate for duplicates. My current selection gave me 30,000 images to go through… So this will take a while unfortunately but after that and some general house cleaning in Lightroom (generating collections and adding tags to images I never tagged) I should finally have a coherent library again that is useable!

Best of 2014

The same procedure as last year? The same procedure as every year!

Yes, it is the time again for the end of the year review of images and selecting my favorites of the year for Jim Goldstein’s annual blog project. I’ll try and be shorter this year than in years past. If you want to look at older entries, you can find mine from 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008.

This year was a big change for me, I switched from my beloved Canon EOS 7D to a Fuji X-E2 as my main camera and as the collection of images show, I’ve also been doing a lot of long exposures this year (and will probably do some more before the year is through).

The images are in no particular order – all of them were either taken during my vacation to Madeira or in Frankfurt during the Luminale

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Short rest

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My absolute favorite for the year

 

Returning to Madeira

Two years ago I went for a vacation on Madeira (you can find some impressions in german here & the galleries here and here) and absolutely fell in love with the island. For those who might not be sure where it is, it is a small island in the Atlantic Ocean near Africa but belongs to Portugal (it was discovered in 1419 by Portuguese adventurers). The island was created due to active volcanos – so its got a very rough look to it but this also causes it to have ample vegetation.

Last time I had my trusty Canon with me but this time of course I took the Fuji X-E2, which was my first serious test case of multiple days of shooting (or rather non stop shooting for two weeks) and it performed incredibly well and when we went for a walk from 1,600m up to over 1,800m I was glad for every gram of gear I wasn’t carrying!

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I’ll probably be posting more in-depth posts about the individual days of the trip (we alternated between days of activity and days of lying at the pool) but for now I wanted to share links to the images with you and show some of my favorites. As the galleries show, I haven’t been able to really narrow it down.

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Images in and near the capital of Funchal

Images from our ferry trip to the neighbor island of Porto Santo

Images from my mountain hike

My catch all album for the different gardens we visited, a lot of images but very diverse!

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The Fuji X-E2 for Macro photography especially with the Fuji 60mm

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When I decided to pick up the Fuji X-E2 I was most skeptical about its macro capabilities. For me macro, especially flowers and insects, is one of my main photographic interests, so any change in camera has to be able to support this. The Fuji (when I bought it) only offered one native macro lens, the 60mm f2.4 macro lens from Fuji itself with a second macro from Zeiss already announced.

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I decided to go test the lens in store before deciding to actually buy the camera (and the lens). I did some tests in a store, though they only had the X-E1. The macro capabilities worked fine while the auto-focus was rather slow and clunky – i was hoping though that this was more due to the X-E1 and not the lens.

Focussing

These last few weeks I actually went out into our gardens a lot more than I had done in recent years with my Canon, mainly to experiment with the macro lens. One of the first things I found was that, when I am shooting macros, I should also engage the macro focus mode the X-E2 has, which shifts the auto focus so that it expects objects to be closer to the lens when focussing. The auto focus is still not the fastest, especially if you are trying to focus on very small objects close to the lens (in which case it might not be able to lock the focus on it) but it is a working alternative.

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The real advantage though of a mirror less camera with macro photography comes into play when you shift into manual focus mode and use the highlights mode for focussing. In this mode the object that is in focus will get moving lines around it (since the latest firmware update you can chose from a variety of colors to best match your eyesight and objects you are photographing). This works especially great for macros since you will often want to focus on minute details or be working with a very shallow depth of field for which it is hard to be super certain that your focus is correct when you are working with a DSLR (or my eyesight isn’t good enough). With the highlights in both the display and in the view finder and the added ability to switch to a  100% view of any preselected part of the image, I can be pretty certain to get the focus where I want to have it. I think this is an awesome tool to have for macro photography and is also something that works with old manual lenses which you can use on the Fuji with an adapter.

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Shooting

The focus will be very similar – apart from the speed of the auto focus – with any lens but the differences come in the depth of field (bokeh), the focussing distance and the reproduction scale.

Let’s get into the technical details first, the reproduction scale of the Fuji 60mm unfortunately is only 0.5, meaning that a 1 cm object will only be able to cover 0.5cm of the sensor. Ideally you want 1:1 or sometimes higher (The Zeiss has 1:1 afaik). I was hesitant about the lens due to that, because both of my Canon Macro lenses offer 1:1 but while using it so far it has not done much of a difference for me – of course I sometimes would like to get in closer but the results are great like this, too. This brings me to the focussing distance, which is 26.7cm officially which works out pretty well, though I sometimes would like it to be closer but you cannot have everything…

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Now on to other technical details: the Fuji 60mm has a maximum aperture of 2.4 which is wider than both of my Canon lenses, which end at 2.8. This increase in aperture is very good in this case since the sensor of the Fuji is smaller than the crop sensor of my Canon which, in theory, takes away from the depth of field at the same aperture. I have to say, I am really in love with the depth of field at 2.4 and also with the bokeh you get, which is really creamy and does not look like you took this image with a “small” camera. As for the sharpness – the Fuji lenses are just absolutely amazing in terms of sharpness.

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Enjoying

I think after reading the last few paragraphs you can already tell what my overall impression of doing macro images with the Fuji is. I was afraid of not being able to take the same type of images as with my Canon but that fear was unfounded. Thankfully! The image quality is great and while it will take some getting used to the focussing distance that is just a learning process to be done while being out shooting. I definitely don’t regret the decision and am thinking about picking up an old manual macro lens for a closer focussing distance and different focal length. Additionally I am saving up for the Zeiss 60mm Macro but that will take a while. But it will only be as an improvement to an already great experience!

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Catching lights at night

Last week we had a bi-annual art exhibition in Frankfurt in which art students and some international artists showcase art pieces based around light in the city. I always love this opportunity to do some long exposure images, even if it is a lot of guessing and testing for me.

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Long exposure: when your automatic modes will hinder you

First things first: here you really will want to have sturdy tripod. Long exposures mean no hand-holding the camera because the exposure times will be just too long. Additionally, if you have an image stabilized lens, turn off the stabilization – with a tripod it might actually cause unsharpness. Also, you should definitely turn off your flash.

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After you have done this, it is important to understand that you will definitely want to step outside of your automatic modes for this. Most automatic modes I have encountered will try to make your image as bright as possible (since it will be relying on the histogram) – which you will not want in most instances. This unfortunately also means Aperture Priority is out. Shutter priority usually will not work either because you will be stuck with the widest aperture the lens has. This is also due to the fact that the automatic modes will always try to get a setting that you can still hand-hold – it doesn’t know you are shooting on a tripod. So it is time to go full manual!

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ISO Speed, Aperture and Shutter Speed – find the right mix

When you go into manual mode you have several things you can play with: ISO Speed, Aperture and Shutter Speed. Since you will be shooting on a tripod, set your ISO Speed to 100 or 200 (Fuji recommends 200 for its camera lineup since apparently you lose color vibrancy at ISO 100 with their cameras, with most others I would go with ISO 100). This will give you nice sharp results without noticeable noise in the image (the little off-color points you will see in a lot of your hand-held night shots).

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This of course means that you will have to take longer exposures and/or open up the aperture more to get the same amount of light into your image (higher ISO needs less light). So now we are down to two factors: your aperture and your shutter speed. Keep in mind for this discussion, that a low f number means a wider aperture. A wide aperture has two effects: more light can come into the camera (since it will be open) but also you will get a shallower depth of field – meaning less of the image will be sharp (though at long distances this might be unnoticeable in some instances).

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If you are taking images involving lights, you also need to be aware that a small aperture will lead to “sun-stars” – which are a matter of personal preference. I really enjoy them but a lot of people dislike them.

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So the smaller the aperture you chose, the longer your exposure time will have to be. This can get tricky with colored lights at night: the longer you expose them, the higher changes are that they will loose their color and turn white – especially if they change color. Also longer exposures might mean a moving light will form a line of light and people will “vanish” from your images since they are pretty dark and don’t leave enough light in the image to stay in it (which can be a blessing 😉 ).Which is the moment in which experimentation enters the picture: take a bunch of images at different combinations of aperture and shutter speed to see which gives you the best results.

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If you want to see mine, see my three albums from this year experimenting with light. If you click on the image, you will see some of the exif info for them so you can check the aperture and shutter speed settings I used. Here they are: Winterlichter, Luminale in the Palmengarten, Luminale in Frankfurt

New Gallery: A visit to the zoo in Frankfurt

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This weekend we had super stunning weather and I took the chance to test my Fuji X-E2 even more and took my new 55-200mm lens with me (which is ideal for taking pictures in the zoo) and also the 60mm Macro for images inside the aquarium and to exotarium.

I’m still getting used to the Fuji but I really enjoyed using it for the day and not feeling the weight of the second lens in my bag felt really great. It felt like I didn’t have a camera with me at all in terms of weight and I am starting to customize the buttons to fit better with my needs, which the Fuji lets you do very easily (you have 4 programmable buttons).

You can find the whole set in the gallery.

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Does size matter? First impressions of the Fujifilm X-E2

DSLR cameras get bigger, the more high end they are. In some respects this is great: larger hands have a better grip on a big camera, for example, but at the same time that size often comes with an increase in weight, too. Add to that the sie and weight of your lenses and your travel bag becomes heavy just from all of that stuff already. Some of the mirror-less cameras have become very interesting. Some offer great picture quality and low light results that are inching every closer to the results of a big DSLR, especially if you are not shooting full frame (FF). I’ve been especially interested in the Fujifilm cameras that are taking a different approach and also favor a very retro design that I just adore. For a long time I was debating if and which Fuji to get. Last summer I decided to get the X20 as an addition to my DSLR and really enjoyed the results. This winter I decided to take the complete plunge:

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I bought a Fuji X-E2, which only has an electronic viewfinder (EVF). Something I was very hesitant about but after working with it for a bit, I have to say: I really enjoy using it even though it feels a bit like cheating at times… With the Fuji you have an eye sensor which is used to switch between using the back display for framing your shots and using the EVF to frame your shots. This feels much more natural when you come from a big camera since you are used to an optical view finder. The EVF shows you the results as the camera sees them and interprets them. The X-E2 EVF is pretty fast and accurate and absolutely adequate for my needs (the new X-T1 has an even better one). Now about that cheating: The first night I went out for a night shoot and this is an instance where an optical viewfinder is really not helpful at all. Sure you see everything through the viewfinder but it gives you no info on how you should do the exposure. The EVF on the other hand changes the view based on your settings…Of course you still have to deal with shutter speed and such but I was shooting with the 35mm f1.4 lens from Fuji and this gave me really great feedback on when i still had enough light for a shutter mode or needed to switch to Bulb. Bulb here is great, too – while you hold the shutter button, a timer will appear on the display letting you know exactly how long you are exposing your shots. Pretty nifty.

The Fuji is also all about manual controls – of course you can do everything on Automatic but you can also do everything manually very easily. Much easier than on my Canon 7D at least. You have a dial for setting the exposure compensation, as well as a dial to set the shutter speed and each lens has a manual aperture ring on it, giving you the full possibilities of doing everything manually without having to go hunt into menus or using two or three buttons at the same time to change something.

In addition you can focus manually and this is the area where I really like the Fuji: You have three different manual focus modes. Do it yourself without digital help, like you would on a DSLR, or you can use the Phase Detection Focus Mode where you will see flittering lines surrounding the part of the image that is in focus and as a last option they have included a view that is reminiscent of Rangefinder Cameras: in the middle of the frame you get three grey blocky lines which only align when the object you are focussing on is in focus. I think this might come in especially handy in Macro shots where the Phase Detection might not be precise enough.

Of course you switch focus modes with a manual dial, too. These manual focus modes also work with older manual lenses, so i have bought adapters to use my old Canon FD and M39 lenses with the Fuji, giving me more options from the get go.

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One area where I was concerned before picking  up the camera was the Macro capabilities of the Fuji. Smaller sensors usually produce not as shallow a depth of field as larger sensors and the Fuji currently only offers one Macro lens (the 60mm f2.4 Macro). So before buying the Fuji and lenses I decided to test the Macro in a store. The Auto-Focus is very slow on the lens but the results are okay for me and I am saving up on the Zeiss Touit macro that is coming soon which hopefully should give me even better results.

Another cool aspect about the Fuji cameras: they do a ton of firmware upgrades, both for the camera and the lenses. This also brings some of the flagship features of newer models onto older models meaning that your camera will be up to date for much longer than it might be traditionally. For example the X-T1 has much higher continuous shooting results than the X-E2 but since both run the same processor and such, Fuji has already announced that they will bring this feature to the X-E2, too.

So far I have only been able to play around with some lenses for short bursts of time but I have been really enjoying both the camera and the results (especially the sharpness) and cannot wait to really take it out for a longer photo shoot.

 

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