I am very excited to announce that the image above of Savannah Cummins climbing the super classic route Scarface (5.11) in Indian Creek, Utah has been chosen for inclusion in the 2020 Communication Arts Photography Annual, which will be published in the July/August 2020 issue of Communication Arts (CA). The CA Photography Annual is one of the most exclusive photography competitions in the world. The Communication Arts Photography Annual competition has been held for the last 61 years making this one of the oldest photography competitions in the World. From the Communications Arts press release, “Of the 2,511 entries to the 61st Photography Annual, only 121 were accepted, representing the work of 112 photographers, making the Photography Annual the most exclusive major photography competition in the world.”
For those not familiar with Communication Arts, here is a description from the press release of the magazine, which is more like a high-end book than a magazine: “Communication Arts is a professional journal for designers, art directors, design firms, corporate design departments, agencies, illustrators, photographers and everyone involved in visual communications. Through its editorials, feature articles and the annual competitions it sponsors, CA provides new ideas and information, while promoting the highest professional standards for the field. With a paid circulation of 25,000, CA has a rich tradition of representing the aspirations of a continually-growing and quality-conscious field of visual communications. Now in its 61st year, CA continues to showcase the current best—whether it’s from industry veterans or tomorrow’s stars—in design, advertising, photography, illustration, interactive and typography. Everything is reproduced with printing technology and attention to detail unmatched by any trade publication anywhere.”
For me personally, getting the email that another one of my images made it into the Photo Annual, and especially this image in particular, is a confirmation of how we knocked it out of the park on this assignment for FUJIFILM North America. [My first image to be included in the Communication Arts Photo Annual was in 2016 and my second was in 2018.] When I got the news I was overjoyed as this image is from one of the best assignments I have ever had–and it was very exciting to be a small part of the launch for the incredible FUJIFILM GFX 100. Along with the notice, I also received an email that I could announce that my image was included in the Annual, even though the July/August issue is yet to be published.
The above image was shot for FUJIFILM North America. It was widely published to promote the FUJIFILM GFX 100. This image was created during Project Hermes, which was described in detail in the Summer 2019 Newsletter. This image was created using the GFX 100 with a GF 23mmF4 R LM WR lens and one Elinchrom ELB 1200 strobe with an HS Flash head. The strobe was placed above Savannah at the top of the route and was held by my assistant on this shoot. To see the rest of the images from this assignment check out the Fujifilm Gallery on my website. For a behind the scenes video detailing this assignment check out the behind the scenes video entitled Pushing the Limits with the GFX 100 produced by Fujifilm.
My thanks to FUJIFILM North America for giving me the opportunity on this major assignment, especially to Victor Ha, Director of Marketing at FUJIFILM N.A., and Justin Stailey, Senior Manager of Product Development for North America at FUJIFILM N.A., who helped put this shoot together. Also, my sincere thanks to Communication Arts and the jurors who chose the winning images: Ayse Bali – Rafineri, Jason Baron – BBC Creative, Dilip Vishwamitra – photographer, Marc Gafen – Capture Magazine, Cameron Gibb – Blackwell&Ruth, Lisa M. Lewis – Lisa Lewis Design Collective, Janet Michaud – Janet Michaud Design, Christine Ramage – AMC Networks, and Mark Zibert – Method Inc. And finally, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the crew who worked with me to create this image and all of the other images for the launch of the GFX 100 including Savannah Cummins, the rock climber in this image, her belayer Angela VanWiemeersch, and Ted Hesser my assistant on this portion of the assignment. The entire crew worked incredibly hard to help us create an amazing set of images for Fujifilm.
Note: Of course, at the moment with the Covid-19 virus virtually everywhere and all of us on lockdown I am not traveling at all. All of my assignments have either been cancelled or indefinitely postponed as they should be. I have had this blog post in the hopper for a while now and thought that it might be of interest to some–and entertaining for others. I hope this finds you all doing well, staying healthy and staying home.
In April of 2019, Justin Stailey, the Senior Manager of Product Development for FUJIFILM USA, flew out to New Mexico to hand deliver a prototype FUJIFILM GFX 100 and help me get to know the camera. I was set to shoot a major assignment with the GFX 100 a few weeks later for the launch of the camera and was also flown to Japan to attend the launch event and the 2019 Fujikina conference as well. When I returned home from Japan, I received one of the first GFX 100 camera bodies in the USA–long before it was actually available on the market. Since shooting that assignment for the launch of the GFX 100, and getting my own production version of the GFX 100, I have barely even picked up my Nikon D850 or my relatively new (at the time) Nikon Z6. There have only been a handful of assignments this last year where I needed something specialized (like f/1.4 lenses) for any of my assignments. Even if I needed slightly faster glass or a specific camera to pull off an assignment, the GFX 100 went with me on every single assignment last year and was used for both stills and video. Here in this blog post I thought I would present some of my thoughts on the GFX 100 and the Fujifilm GFX system after using it for a full year.
It wasn’t my intention that I would fully switch over to the GFX 100, and I am still grappling with which camera systems to take on which assignments–and how to transport multiple camera systems when flying. The image quality produced by the GFX 100 is so mind-altering that I have worked hard to maximize the performance of this camera for use on a wide range of subjects including action photography, which is typically not the genre associated with medium format photography. See my earlier post on Setting up the FUJIFILM GFX 100 for Action Photography.
Even landscape photography is a bit more involved than one might think with medium format cameras (and here the GFX 100 is no different than the Hasselblad and Phase One offerings). The shallow depth of field created by the larger sensor means that even at f/11 (on the cusp where diffraction starts to lower image quality) it is not possible to get a full landscape with close objects completely in focus from near to far as it is with a full-frame (35mm) or a smaller APS-C sensor. Hence, I have to use focus stacking and take multiple images to get everything from a few feet to infinity in focus. This is commonplace with medium format systems though not all of them have a focus stacking feature like the GFX cameras have. Regardless, the image quality is so phenomenal that doing a three-to-five image focus stack is worth the effort and the post-processing is fairly easy.
The Long and Winding Road of Adapting a new Camera System
When Nikon and Canon release new DSLRs, like the new Canon 1DX III and Nikon D6, they purposely don’t radically alter the design of the camera. Having shot Nikon for nearly 35 years now, I know my Nikons–and the nuances on how to eke out the best from them–incredibly well. Even the new Nikon Z6, which I have had for over a year, feels quite familiar and there was very little for me to learn to get up to speed with that camera. By contrast, over the last year with the GFX 100 I have had to really dive in deep and scour the menu to learn everything I could. It has not been a difficult path to get to know the GFX 100 but it is a complex camera with incredible capabilities and if I want to get the best out of it then I need to know how I can dial it in to get the best possible results. Even one year later, I am still finding new menu items that I have seen before but never really explored.
As an example, setting up the camera to use High Speed Sync or Hi-Sync flash techniques with my Elinchrom strobes is quite a bit more complex than with my Nikon D850. This is partially because the GFX 100 is a mirrorless camera and I have to go in and turn off the EVF preview so I can actually see the subject and also because there are considerably more flash settings to deal with in the GFX 100 menu as well. As another example, when using one of my older Hasselblad leaf-shutter lenses with the Fujifilm H-Mount Adapter G, there are several menu changes that have to be made to get the camera to use the Leaf Shutter. None of these are that difficult to set up, it is just educating yourself to know how the camera works and what is required to get the desired result. It would be the same scenario if I switched to Canon, Sony or any other camera brand. I remember years ago shooting with a Canon DSLR on one occasion and I couldn’t even figure out how to turn it on at first.
What I have found is that the GFX 100 has just about any and every feature you could ever want in a camera. Lots of people that test this camera out for YouTube camera reviews never spend enough time (and by that I mean months and months of shooting with the camera) to figure out how to squeeze the best possible performance out of the camera. I have heard too many reviewers say that this is not an action camera–and it definitely is not the camera for shooting the NFL, NBA or any other major league sport–but it does have impressive autofocus capabilities if you set up the AF for fast action. I am not saying it will then track action on par with the best sports cameras but it will do far better than most might imagine. I shot the Red Bull Rampage, which is a fast action downhill mountain biking event, with this camera last year and it held its own.
This is one camera where I highly recommend reading the User Manual. I have to say that I am only now starting to feel like I know the GFX 100 camera really well after a year of using it. It has taken a long time to learn about all the various shortcuts and settings and I now feel I have command of the camera and can change settings quickly and efficiently.
The GFX Lenses
The GFX lenses are superb. In fact, across the board they are so good that I am a bit spoiled and find many of my Nikkor lenses wanting in comparison. Compared to the extremely expensive Hasselblad lenses I had for my H5D 50c WiFi, I have found the Fujifilm GF lenses to be even better than those legendary lenses. I have a wide array of the GF lenses and none of them are weak. I also just shot an assignment for Fujifilm with the new GF 45-100mm f/4 lens (see the ice climbing image below) and that is another stellar addition to the lineup. My biggest issue these days is figuring out which lenses to take on assignments as I can’t fit all of them into my f-stop backpack.
At this point, I am not really wanting for any new lenses, though I will admit the new GF 30mm f/3.5 and GF 80mm f/1.7 that were announced a while back do sound exciting. If anything, I can see how a super wide 17mm tilt-shift lens would be really exciting for landscape photography and it would also negate the need to focus stack. On the other end, it is fun to think about a medium format super telephoto–something like a 500mm f/5.6, even though it would be a giant lens. Other than those dream lenses, the GF lens lineup is very well flushed out.
Using the GFX 100 with Hi-Sync & High Speed Sync Flash
The GFX 100, like the GFX 50s and 50r, work very well with my Elinchrom ELB 1200 and ELB 400 as well as the ELB 500 TTL. The Fujifilm cameras are a bit more complex to use with Hi-Sync and High Speed Sync as you have to make a few key settings in the cameras Flash menu, i.e. setting the flash mode to “M” (for Manual) and also setting the flash sync mode to “FP”. I have also found that I have to set the Overdrive Sync (ODS) setting on my Elinchrom Transmitter Pro to 1.2 or thereabouts to get the best light output when using Hi-Sync. On both the camera and the transmitter these key settings are by default reset to TTL on the camera and an ODS setting of zero on the transmitter every time you turn them off, which makes sense but is somewhat frustrating in use. It is the same with most other cameras as well (aside from Nikons since they do not need any ODS setting adjustments). Regardless, the results are excellent–as shown below in this portrait captured using HSS with the Elinchrom ELB 500 TTL and the new GF 45-100mm f/4 lens on the GFX 100.
I have also used the GFX 100 with the FUJIFILM H Adapter G, which allows one to mount the Hasselblad H series leaf-shutter lenses onto any of the GFX cameras. Using this adapter and the Hasselblad leaf-shutter lenses allows one to sync the flash at any and all shutter speeds (up to 1/800th second), which is a nice option for studio portraiture. This essentially gives us the best of both worlds for syncing flash via normal flash sync speeds with the Fujifilm lenses, using Hi-Sync (HS) and High Speed Sync (HSS) with the Fujifilm lenses, and also working with leaf-shutter flash techniques via the Hasselblad lenses. I have done a few portrait shoots using the Hasselblad HC 50-110mm f/3.5-4.5 and the adapter. Even though this technique forces you to use manual focus on the Hasselblad lens, in a portrait scenario this is not that big of an issue to overcome.
During my last portrait shoot I also found the flip-out rear LCD to be extremely useful with the camera on a tripod. With my subject seated and the Face Detection and Eye AF engaged I didn’t need to look through the camera viewfinder and could just look down occasionally to make sure the Face Detection was still engaged on his face. This allowed me to interact with the subject and not have the camera in front of my face, as photographers used to do with the waist level viewfinders on the old-school Hasselblads.
File Size and Hard Drives
No doubt, the GFX 100 image files are massive. That has to be taken into account when purchasing this camera as you will blow through hard drives like there is no tomorrow. I have the latest Apple MacBook Pro and it seems to have no trouble working with the GFX 100 image files in both Adobe Lightroom Classic CC and Capture One Pro. Of course, once I work up the raw image file and then save it as a layered-PSD file in Photoshop the file size often balloons to 1.5 GB or larger. In the last year, I added an OWC 84TB Thunderbay 6 RAID array to my desktop to go along with the other three giant RAID hard drive arrays I already had. It will obviously take me some time to fill that giant hard drive array up but it just goes to show that high-resolution stills, just like high res 8K video, requires huge amounts of storage.
In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS)
The IBIS built into the GFX 100 is hands down the most useful feature in this camera–aside from the astounding image quality. Without that IBIS system, the GFX 100 would be quite difficult to use and get sharp images at normal shutter speeds. I never turn the IBIS off. Even if I have the camera on a tripod, which is normally where camera manufacturers tell you to turn off the IBIS, the GFX 100 helps stabilize the image even in high winds. I have done testing with the IBIS both on and off and I have not seen any reason to ever turn it off. For such a high resolution camera this feature alone allows for a much wider shooting envelope in terms of shutter speeds–and it makes the GFX 100 a handhold able camera whereas the Hasselblad and Phase One 100 MP and 150 MP cameras would be very difficult to use handheld except at the highest shutter speeds–and still get sharp images.
The GFX 100 is not only a stellar still photography machine but the video output from this camera is also quite incredible. It hasn’t been widely discussed but the look and quality of the video output is (in my humble opinion) only a hair’s breathe away from a much more expensive Red Digital Cinema camera–at a quarter of the cost. I have tested the camera using my Atomos Ninja V recorder so that I can output the highest quality F-Log and/or 4:2:2 10-bit footage and while this setup (shown below) is a bit of a beast the footage is remarkable. Of course, the GFX 100 is not set up like a pure motion camera so it is a bit ungainly but it is a great rig when you need to swap back and forth between stills and video, especially since the mode dial on the top left side of the camera allows you to switch between stills and video easily and it retains your exact settings in each mode.
As shown above, I have my GFX 100 setup with a SmallRig cage, handle and wooden grip (hard to see as it is on the far side of the camera in the above image) to help carry the setup when shooting handheld. With the Atoms Ninja V on top, a microphone and headphones this is a big and heavy system. For handheld work I have found the IBIS is sufficient for stabilizing the camera. But of course for really high-end work, stripping down the camera and putting it on a gimbal (with a small- to medium-sized lens) would be the best option. Stay tuned for more on the motion capture capabilities with he GFX 100.
In short, the GFX 100 has set a new bar in image quality and functionality for medium format cameras. The autofocus is beyond anything ever seen in the medium format genre. And after a year, I have a good handle on the complexities of this camera and how to get the best results from it in a wide variety of situations. I am sure there is still more to learn. The good news is that I don’t see this camera being eclipsed anytime soon. The 50 MP medium format sensor used in the other GFX cameras, Hasselblad’s X1D II and Pentax’s 645D was released in 2014 and it is still going strong and still produces some of the best image quality of any camera out there. As with many medium format cameras, they are not replaced nearly as quickly as their smaller format brethren. I foresee the GFX 100 having a long life as a top-end camera.
The upshot here is that I am completely spoiled now. Are there things I want added or changed about the camera? Sure, a few items here and there but overall those are small quibbles. No camera that I own is perfect. I do look forward to the new lenses and hopefully a super-wide tilt-shift lens at some point but otherwise even one year later I am still incredibly impressed by what Fujifilm has created in the GFX 100. Having spoken at length with the Fujifilm engineers and knowing how incredibly difficult many parts of this camera were to build (like the crazy tolerances of the IBIS mechanism) the fact that they can mass produce something of this caliber is an engineering miracle. Kudos to Fujifilm, from one year on, for creating such a ground-breaking camera system.
Last fall, I had an assignment working with the Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), also known as Marine Raiders, to create a series of images alongside a video shoot out at Camp LeJeune near Jacksonville, North Carolina. The Marine special forces are the most elite of the Marines and it was fascinating to spend a week capturing images mostly during the night with the Marines fully decked out on a mock mission. The images and video that were created are being used internally to encourage the top-end Marines to apply for MARSOC. These images have been held back until they could go through a series of approvals by the US Military to make sure nothing sensitive was pictured in the images. As such, because this is an unusual shoot for me and the subject matter includes a lot of sensitive topics I will keep my remarks here on the technical details of the shoot rather than give a chronological account of how the assignment unfolded.
As can be seen in the images, for the most part we were working at night under moonlight with a little help from various low-power LED lights pulled in by the video crew. The Marine Raiders were in full kit at all times and my assignment was to capture stills (and some video clips) while the crew was filming and in between takes. This was extremely challenging from a technical perspective as we were moving so fast I had to catch images on the fly . All of the images you see here were captured handheld without tripod.
For this shoot, I needed the fastest lenses I owned, which meant I was working with my trusty Sigma ART 24mm f/1.4 and Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G lenses for pretty much the entire assignment. Since I was working at crazy high ISO settings ranging from ISO 6400 up to ISO 12800, I chose my Nikon Z6 as my main camera body since it has the least amount of noise of any camera I own at super high ISO settings. The Z6 also has incredible In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) which allowed me to capture images handheld at extremely slow shutter speeds in the range of 1/10th to 1/20th of a second. For a good portion of the entire assignment I was working wide open at f/1.4, 1/10th second shutter speed and at ISO 6400 or higher. These were some of the toughest lighting conditions I have ever faced while on any assignment–at least in terms of the lack of light. The idea was to keep the shoot as realistic as possible and closely aligned with what Marine Raiders actually do. Hence, the nighttime images in this blog post.
I also had the privilege of working with an incredible crew on this assignment including Jon Long (Director), Gary Lorimer (1st AD), Alex Fostvedt (DP), Lane Stevens (1st AC), Ben Cowan (2nd Unit), Tal Black-Brown (2nd Unit AC). What these guys were able to pull off in terms of the video was astounding. The video was captured using a Red Gemini and Blackmagic 4K Cinema Cameras–all mounted on stabilizers. They captured a lot of footage with nothing but the moon lighting the subjects, which was mind-blowing from a technical standpoint. In between takes I would jump in and capture stills–and because I was using such slow shutter speeds most of my stills required the subjects weren’t moving.
As shown in the first image in this post, we were also working in and around the Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which is one of the most complex aircraft in the world. MARSOC utilizes various aircraft in training, and while forward deployed, including the MV-22B Osprey, which was used to capture them sky diving out of at night during this mock mission. Not many civilians get to fly in an Osprey so it was a special honor to jump in and capture images as the team exited the aircraft. Myself and another cinematographer sat on the open back exit ramp of an Osprey capturing images of a second Osprey flying behind us, which is how the daytime images of the Osprey in flight were captured. We did some practice runs in the daylight in preparation for the night jump. Note that we had to be especially careful while capturing images of the Marine Raiders in order to protect their identities.
All in all, I have to say I was quite impressed by the entire MARSOC team. Even though this was just a mock mission, it was incredible to see them at work and see what they go through just in training. At one point while we were set to shoot images of the snipers I showed up a few minutes after they got set and asked “Where are they?” One of the crew pointed down right at my feet and there was a sniper all set in the grass just below me. Looking down at him I couldn’t even see him until he moved his finger. Needless to say I was pretty blown away at their ability to camouflage themselves. With the help of a little green tinted LED light we made the image below.
My grandfather was a Marine Sniper in World War II, and much of his career was so secret that we only learned of his whereabouts during the war after his death. He was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bombed the base, then was sent all over the Pacific to many of the largest battles. He also received a Purple Heart, among many other medals, and was handicapped for 70-plus years after being hit by shrapnel at Okinawa four years after he enlisted. As with many World War II vets he never spoke of the war, but he did speak about the Marines often. It was clear the respect he had for the Marines superseded the respect he had for the government. The MARSOC team I worked with were all super smart, dedicated and honorable men who did their job to the best of their abilities.
Technically, this assignment pushed the limits of what is possible with modern digital cameras about as far as I have ever seen. I was blown away by the handheld images we were able to create at such shockingly low shutter speeds. The lighting employed to get any detail in the soldiers was comical at best (in terms of its brightness). I also used the FUJIFILM GFX 100 for some of these images and for capturing 4K footage for the motion component of this assignment. The GFX 100 would have been my main camera but I need faster lenses than were available for the GFX system–specifically a fast wide angle lens. Hence, the Z6 stepped up the plate and performed incredibly well.
As someone who has not spent much time around the military or military bases this assignment was quite interesting and the images we produced are quite frankly like nothing I have ever captured in my career. A few of the images–especially the second image in this blog post–look like they were captured on a modern day Apocalypse Now film set. As an adventure photographer, I have seen a lot but this assignment was out there in a completely different way knowing that the team we worked with could and most likely would be sent out on a real-world mission at any moment. My thanks to Nathan Simpson for this assignment, and also thanks to Becca Newman and the entire MARSOC team for working with us deep into the night for an entire week.
I have heard many camera testers say the FUJIFILM GFX 100 can’t track action very well. In my experience, it certainly isn’t a Nikon D6 or Canon 1DX III, but if set up right, the GFX 100 can deal with action much better than most might imagine. The GFX 100 is a complex camera which has quite a few settings that need to be dialed in to get the best results. Figuring out the autofocus and all the various settings that affect autofocus speed takes some serious time and experimentation. Having worked with the camera over the last year, and having tested the autofocus in a wide variety of situations, I have found the settings that allow me to get the best possible AF results out of the GFX 100. I realize this blog post is only going to be interesting for a small number of photographers, who a) have a GFX 100 and b) need or want to photograph moving subjects, but nonetheless I thought I would post this for those trying to push the envelope with this stunning camera.
Here are the settings required to make this camera track a moving subject as reliably as possible:
A) Choose the right lens. The early primes, like the GF 45mm f/2.8 and the GF 63mm f/2.8, are not the swiftest lenses when it comes to their autofocus speed. They are not meant to be speed demon lenses, they are meant for the studio or portraiture–and they are plenty fast for most everything else save for action photography. The three zooms, including the GF 32-63mm f/4, GF 45-100mm f/4 and GF 100-200mm f/5.6, all perform very well for action. I have also found the GF 250mm f/4 lens (shown in use below) to be a standout and have incredibly fast AF. The image at the top of this blog post was captured with the GF 250mm lens and the GF 1.4x teleconverter. The rest of the action images shown below were all captured with the GF 100-200mm lens.
B) Turn the camera to Continuous AF mode using the AF mode selector on the back of the camera just to the right of the EVF. “C” is the middle option between S and M.
C) Push the Drive Mode Button (top left, next to the EVF) and select “CH High Speed Burst,” which automatically puts the camera in the 5 frames per second mode and also shifts the bit-rate down to 14-bits.
D) Make sure the camera is set to use the Mechanical Shutter and not the electronic or first-curtain shutter. If the GFX 100 is not using the Mechanical Shutter then it drops the frame rate down to 3 fps.
E) Set the “AF Mode” found in the AF/MF menu to “ZONE” or “WIDE/TRACKING”. Setting the camera to one of these options will automatically cut down the maximum number of AF points to 117 from the full 425 AF points. For most subjects the ZONE AF Mode is the best setting but for subjects appearing out of nowhere or subjects that are moving across the frame the WIDE/TRACKING mode might work better. Note that if you set the AF Mode to “ALL” you can simply push straight down on the joystick and then scroll through all of the AF modes quite easily and never again have to go into the menus to find these modes–this is yet another very useful shortcut built into the Fujifilm cameras. Below you can see what the ZONE and WIDE/TRACKING AF Modes look like. The ZONE AF Mode is on the left and the WIDE/TRACKING AF Mode is on the right.
F) Additionally, we need to boost the autofocus by selecting the appropriate “Boost Mode.” There are a couple of ways to do this, one is to tap the top front button (the Fn3 button) right next to the lens mount until you see “PERFORMANCE BOOST/AF” show up on the back LCD. The other way to set this is to go into the Set Up menu (it has a wrench icon), then select “POWER MANAGEMENT” and then “PERFORMANCE” and then “BOOST” and then finally select “AF PRIORITY.” That second methods seem ridiculous as the thing you want is so far down in the menu so the first method is much easier. Note that I pretty much always have the AF in BOOST mode so this is not something I worry about.
G) Finally, go into the AF/MF menu again and make sure the “AF-C CUSTOM SETTINGS” are set according to the subject you are trying to track. For example if your subject suddenly appears off the top of a jump then set this to Option #4. If the subject is moving erratically and also accelerating and decelerating, as with a tennis player, then Option #5 is a better setting. Learning which of these modes to use in which situations takes time. You might even need to go in and set up your own Custom AF-C setting, which is possible with Option #6 in this menu. Note that I have my GFX 100 set up so that by swiping right on the LCD screen this menu shows up right away and I don’t have to hunt for it–this is a key shortcut for making the most of the GFX 100’s AF-C options.
Note: The settings I have outlined here are also the same settings to squeeze the best AF performance out of the FUJIFILM X-T4, X-T3, X-H1, X-PRO 3 and all of Fujifilm’s other cameras as well.
Ok, that’s it. Now the camera can track subjects much more accurately than would be the case when just flipping the AF switch to AF-C. Of course, for most of us, having to change all of these settings every time we wanted to photograph something that moves would be a royal pain. Luckily, the GFX 100, like all of the Fujifilm cameras have a plethora of custom settings for various buttons on the camera body. Since I have the Boost mode set for AF all the time and have a quick shortcut to access the AF-C settings (with the finger swipe detailed above) all I have to do to switch over the AF for tracking subjects is move the AF Mode dials to C, kick the frames per second into high gear via the Drive button and then select ZONE or WIDE TRACKING.
It would be great if Fujifilm could incorporate a custom settings menu that would allow us to set a wide variety of parameters, including all of those listed above, so we could just flip one switch and be in action mode or portrait mode–or any mode we want to set up. That would make for a very simple transition on the fly. Of course, in most situations, you are probably shooting a fairly predictable subject and have time to tweak the camera as needed.
As shown below, I photographed the Red Bull Rampage last fall with the GFX 100. The action was happening all over the place and for a lot of it I prefocused the lens and then switched to manual focus, which is also how all of my fellow pro photographers where shooting with their Nikon and Canon DSLRs. But in some situations, I let the camera track the action–as in the image just below this paragraph. In this image you can see that the camera tracked the rider even though he was at the top of the frame and there was a lot of clutter in the foreground. I used the WIDE/TRACKING mode and the AF-C option #4 to get this image. I will admit that the keeper rate is lower than a top-end DSLR, but the GFX 100 did hit focus about 65% of the time.
Above is the kit I carried to capture images of the Red Bull Rampage, which included the GFX 100, the GF 23mm, GF 100-200mm and the GF 250mm lenses. I also had the GF 1.4X Teleconverter as well, which I used several times that day with the 250mm lens. It would have been great to have two GFX 100 camera bodies but that would have really been a heavy pack to carry with the extra clothes, food, and water I already had in my f-stop Tilopa backpack.
When I was testing the autofocus last year, I worked with a motocross rider (shown below) to see just how far I could push the camera and how well it would handle an extremely difficult autofocus situation. Before I had all of the settings dialed in, the AF struggled. But once I figured out the best settings, I got a fairly high hit rate—especially when considering the rider was flying through the frame at 40- to 50-mph. This scenario was a fairly severe autofocus test but shows that when the settings are dialed in, the GFX 100 can track even ridiculously fast moving action. For the most part the default AF tracking mode works great but for the motocross shoot I found AF-C Option #4 to be the most reliable since the rider suddenly appears in the frame when he boosts off the jump.
Above you can see a few of the motocross images I captured with the GFX 100. The top images are the full-frame versions and the images just below are the same images zoomed to approximately 100%. Of course as these images are resized and compressed JPEG screenshots these are not completely representative of what the images look like at 100%. Also, having photographed a fair bit of motocross at the same MX track, I know that images captured with shutter speeds below 1/6,400th second can exhibit some motion blur, making those images look slightly soft or completely out of focus depending on the shutter speed used. Since the GFX 100 mechanical shutter speed tops out at 1/4,000th second, we are very close to the cusp of motion blur wrecking the tack sharp focus we were trying to achieve. Regardless, with the right settings, it is impressive to see the GFX 100 keep up with such a fast paced sport. For extremely fast moving sports like this, the GFX 100 would not neccisarily be my first choice though it is still a capable camera if your aim is the ultimate image quality. Tech Specs (All Images): FUJIFILM GFX 100, GF 100-200mm f/5.6 lens, 1/4,000th second at f/5.6, ISO 800.
For those situations where I want the best image quality possible, it is good to know that the GFX 100 can track focus. If I can control the action to some degree that allows for using a camera like the GFX 100 and for the ultimate image quality. Someday maybe we will have a medium format camera that can track focus with the same astonishing speed as a Nikon D6 but for now the GFX 100 is already far ahead of anything that has ever existed in the medium format sphere. Pretty much all other medium format cameras can’t even track a person walking slowly towards the camera, so the fact that the GFX 100 can track the subjects shown above is pretty impressive.
The Winter 2020 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter is now available for download. If you’d like to sign up for the Newsletter just drop me an email and I’ll add you to the mailing list.
This issue includes an editorial entitled Time Off, a full review of the brand new FUJIFILM X-Pro 3, an article detailing my recent assignment covering the Red Bull Rampage, an editorial entitled Work-Life Balance, and much more.
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Disclaimer:I have a working relationship with Fujifilm, and as many of my readers already know I shot some of the marketing materials with their flagship GFX 100 camera last year. I originally tried out the X-Pro 2 in May 2018 while speaking at the launch for the GFX 100 in Japan. While working with that camera, I grew to love the smaller form factor and eagerly awaited the X-Pro 3. Over the last month, I was loaned an X-Pro 3 prototype and took it to the Himalayas on a climbing expedition to test it out. I was not paid for this blog post or to try out the camera. My thanks to Fujifilm for loaning me a camera and a few lenses.
The FUJIFILM X-Pro 3 is a departure from my normal cameras. Most, if not all of my cameras have been chosen specifically to capture fast-action or for their ultra-high-resolution sensors. While the X-Pro 3 does have very respectable AF capabilities (identical to the venerable FUJIFILM X-T3) it is a different kind of camera that blends an old-world form factor with a modern mirrorless camera design to create a unique, elegant and more considered style of camera.
The X-Pro 3 is also an aesthetic choice, much like the Leica M series rangefinders. While the X-Pro 3, like the Leica rangefinders, are designed for photojournalists and street photographers specifically, it also performs exceptionally well in outdoor adventure situations where a lightweight, tough-as-nails camera can lend itself to storytelling and also keep the photographer somewhat inconspicuous. I have been eyeing the FUJIFILM X-Pro series of cameras for years now–long before I ever started working with Fujifilm on the GFX 100. The old-school look and feel of the X-Pro series cameras, paired with an incredible optical and electronic viewfinder makes for a very unique feature set offered by no other camera manufacturer. I think many photographers drool over the Leica rangefinder cameras (both the older film models and the new digital versions) but few of us can afford them and also if and when you actually use one with the manual focus lenses you realize fairly quickly just how slow and limiting those cameras actually are to use compared to modern digital cameras. By comparison, the X-Pro series seems like a modern update to the manual focus rangefinder cameras and it is eminently easier to use than any manual focus rangefinder.
I realize many might be asking why would I work with an APS-C camera like this one–especially considering the other cameras at my disposal, notably the FUJIFILM GFX 100 and the Nikon D850. As a working pro, the X-Pro 3 may not be my main working pro camera but there are certainly times when I want to take a smaller, lightweight camera on a shoot (like on my recent mountaineering trip in Nepal). I could have easily taken my Nikon Z6 along with a small 24-70mm mm lens with me but when you are cutting of the end of your toothbrush and counting the ounces in your pack, no full-frame 35mm mirrorless camera can compete when it comes to weight versus image quality to a high-end APS-C camera that is dialed in to this level. With that said, choosing the X-Pro 3 isn’t just about having a lightweight, small camera. When you pick it up, there is an immediate tactile feeling and responsiveness that makes me want to go out and shoot with this camera. That is hard to explain but there are only a few other cameras on the market that share this effect.
Similar to other rangefinders the main feature and overriding design element is an optical viewfinder on the left side of the camera. On the X-Pro 3, the viewfinder works as both an optical and an electronic viewfinder depending on your preference–and in large part depending on what lens you have attached to the camera. The optical/electronic viewfinder is one of the main reasons I love this camera so much. It gives me both options and the choice to go back and forth or stick with whichever one suits the situation and the lens I have on the camera. At the same time, I can still see the histogram in both the optical and the electronic viewfinders, which is a key element of a mirrorless camera. With the X-pro 3 you also have the option to use the Optical viewfinder and have the electronic viewfinder visible down in the lower right corner so you can see what the image will look like. This versatility is incredibly useful.
As shown below, the camera is stealthy. For the most part, the top and back of the camera are home to most of the critical control buttons, knobs and dials but notice that it is a simple layout, which helps keep the focus on the image and not on the camera itself. I much prefer the X-Pro series Fujifilm cameras over the X-T and X-H series of cameras because the X-Pro cameras simply have fewer dials and buttons to mess with. For the way I work, it just feels like I can get to the right exposure settings faster with the X-Pro series cameras. I love that Fujifilm gives us varying options for the style of camera that works best for us as photographers–and even various styles that might work best in different scenarios.
Of note, as has been hotly discussed on the internet, the rear LCD screen is by default hidden and can only be viewed when folded down. Having shot a fair bit with the X-Pro 2, which did not have a hidden LCD screen, and now for several weeks with the X-Pro 3 I have to say that at least for me it is a non-issue. In use, the hidden LCD just means that you aren’t distracted by the LCD screen or tempted as much to chimp on the back of the camera. Instead, you stay focused on what is in front of you. In reality, the EVF is so much higher resolution than the LCD (this is the same on most other cameras as well) that you can simply push the play button to view the images in the EVF without having to flip down the LCD screen. With your eye to the viewfinder, the “PLAY” button is easily visible so that you can push the right button and no matter which viewfinder mode you are in (optical or EVF) the EVF will appear with the last image you captured. For those that shoot with the camera at arms length and use the LCD screen most of the time to shoot images then this may not be the camera for you. Maybe I am old-school but I find holding a camera away from my face and composing the image with just an LCD screen on the back of a camera to be difficult at best. There are certainly times when that works, as in low or high angles but for the most part, I do use good handholding technique and a huge part of that is having the camera viewfinder pressed against my eye.
Also of note, I have purchased the X-Pro 3 along with the Metal Hand Grip (MHG-XPRO3), as shown above attached the X-Pro 3 in the lower right corner. I really like the way that grip improves your purchase on the camera. This may be more a matter of having large hands than anything else, but it definitely helps to balance out the larger lenses like my XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR lens. It is such a lightweight camera (at least compared to my other giant cameras) that I often carry it without a big camera strap and the grip just makes it easier to hold.
Depending on which lens I have on the camera I tend to go back and forth between the EVF and the optical viewfinder. With a 23mm or 35mm lens, I usually go for the optical viewfinder because the square box outline inside the viewfinder (showing what will be contained in the image) is relatively large in the viewfinder and also allows me to see what is coming into or going out of the frame. When using wider lenses like my 16mm f/1.4 lens and anything longer than 50mm (or a zoom lens) then I opt for the EVF. In both cases I have the histogram visible at the bottom of the frame.
In this age of full-frame cameras (technically a misnomer for 35mm cameras as no camera is really “full-frame” these days), anytime you pull out a camera with a smaller sensor the camera geeks–of which I could call myself one–recoil in horror at an APS-C sensor. Have no doubt, my main camera these days is the FUJIFILM GFX 100 so I am a total convert to huge megapixel cameras and I love getting as much detail as possible so I can make giant prints. But not everything has to be shot with larger, heavier and higher resolution cameras. The X-Pro 3 has a 26 MP sensor, which for most folks, including most professional photographers, is more than enough resolution. 26 MP is well beyond the resolution of 35mm film. It is likely approaching the resolution (or beyond it) of medium format film.
In my testing the image quality on offer in the X-Pro 3 is as good if not the same as that offered by my Nikon Z 6, which similarly has a 24 MP sensor. I was curious how the brand new X-Pro 3 would compare on several specs compared to the Z6, which has very clean noise at high ISO settings. To test out and compare the high ISO noise, I shot still life images at every ISO setting with both the Z 6 and the X-Pro 3. I also tested the FUJIFILM XF 16mm f/1.4 WR lens against my Sigma ART 24mm f/1.4 lens at every aperture from f/1.4 up to f/11. My Sigma ART 24mm lens has consistently been a wicked sharp go to lens for me over the years so the Fujifilm lens would be up against one of the sharpest lenses I own.
The upshot is that wow, the X-Pro 3 holds its own in terms of noise at high ISO settings. I couldn’t really see much if any difference up to ISO 3200. At ISO 4000 and above the Z6 seemed a little smoother but even so it was very difficult to see much of a difference. It seemed that the noise just looks slightly different on each camera. Once I applied noise reduction to the raw image files, the X-Pro 3 looked ever so slightly better than the Z6 at ISO 6400—or at least I liked the way the noise was dealt with better. I remember testing a FUJIFIM X-E1 against my Nikon D4 years ago and being pretty shocked at how well the X-E1 did compared to the D4. So I wasn’t totally surprised by this finding. Folks seem to get all worked up about smaller sensors and how they can’t keep up, especially when it comes to noise, and this showed me at least just how dialed in these sensors are in X- Series Fujifilm cameras. Also, the two different lenses seemed roughly comparable. That FUJIFILM XF 16mm f/1.4 lens is a beauty!
The biggest difference I noticed between the formats is the depth of field. The smaller sensor has slightly more depth of field at every aperture setting, which is to be expected and would be an advantage for landscape photography. Other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference in image quality. Of course, if you wanted a higher resolution camera then you would have to step up to a larger sensor like the Nikon D850, the Z 7, one of the Sony cameras (like the new A7R IV), or a medium format rig like the GFX 100. And note that I have all of those options (save for the Sony) and still I sometimes opt just to take the smaller and lighter X-Pro 3.
As usual with Fujfiilm cameras, the color output is excellent. If you shoot jpegs then these cameras are very hard to beat as they produce some of the best jpegs from any manufacturer–as you would assume since they were (and still are) one of the largest film companies in the world. I pretty much always shoot in raw, but even in raw mode the X Pro-3, like my GFX 100, outputs excellent color. For portraits I really love the Neg Standard color mode and for everything else I stick to the Standard color profile (Provia). Regardless of the camera setting, this can be adjusted in post when working with raw images.
In terms of output resolution, I have made prints up to 24×36 inches from a 12 MP camera, and they still looked quite nice. I have made prints up to 17×22 inches from the X-Pro 3 and they are gorgeous. I wouldn’t really print images larger than 30×45 inches from the X-Pro 3 but that is already quite large. Would a 20×30 inch print look better if it is was shot with the GFX 100 versus one captured with the X-Pro 3? Well, yes, if you want to walk up to it (like a lot of photographers do) and check it out from three inches away but from standard viewing distances the X-Pro 3 prints will hold up just fine.
AUTOFOCUS & FRAME RATES
Similar to the Fujifilm X-T3, the X-Pro 3 can blast away at up to 11 fps using the mechanical shutter and up to 30 fps using the electronic shutter. The buffer depth using the mechanical shutter is approximately 42 lossless-compressed raw images or 145 jpegs. In the 20 fps or 30 fps mode the buffer drops to around 35 lossless-compressed raw images before the camera slows down, which means you have about one second of shooting time. When engaging the 20 fps or 30 fps modes using the electronic shutter there is a 1.25X crop, but even so the fact that this little camera can blast through that many frames is quite remarkable. Of course, as usual, the read and write speeds of the memory card plays a huge factor in just how fast the camera can operate and how quickly it can clear the buffer. My favorite SD cards these days are the Sony Tough 128 GB SD cards, which also happen to have the fastest read and write speeds of any SD card I have seen.
I have not fully run this camera through it’s paces yet in terms of the continuous autofocus, but I have used it in all of the different autofocus modes. The X-Pro 3 has the same autofocus algorithms as the X-T3, which is to say it has exceptional autofocus capabilities. In AF-C mode it can track subjects at frame rates up to 11 fps, which is faster by a large margin than my Nikon Z6 can manage. I haven’t tested it fully yet but the camera autofocus specifications say the X-Pro 3 can continuously track a subject in the 20 fps mode as well. Most people are not talking about this as a sports camera–and it might not be the one I reach for when I have an action assignment–but it is still a very capable camera in that department. In the image below I tracked focus on my two friends as they walked down main street in Lukla on our way into the Khumbu valley. While this isn’t fast action, the camera nailed focus on every image in the sequence.
The X-Pro 3 also has Face Detection and Eye AF, which is very useful when photographing people. It seems to work quite well. At f/1.4 it nails focus on the eye quite effectively. It is not as fast or as accurate as the Sony A9’s Eye AF is these days, but at this point no other camera manufacturer has Eye AF that can match what Sony has developed. For a camera like this, meant for photojournalism the Eye AF is more than good enough. For faster moving subjects, where having the eye sharp isn’t the issue, I would suggest switching into continuous AF and using the Wide Tracking focus mode along with the appropriate custom AF-C setting. For even faster AF and better focus tracking I highly recommend setting the camera to Boost mode in the Power Management menu.
The X-Pro 3 can also autofocus down to – 6 EV, which means it can grab focus in near pitch black darkness. My Nikon D850 can only autofocus down to – 4 EV and at that low light level it isn’t what I would call fast. The X-Pro 3 might be the best autofocus camera in low light of any mirrorless camera on the market. In dark situations where I am having serious trouble seeing anything the camera (using the EVF) picks up focus no problem, which is rather incredible for a mirrorless camera. This low-light autofocus capability is not something I have heard a lot of folks talking about but it makes the X-Pro 3 a great camera for those situations where this comes into play. The X-Pro 3 does not have IBIS (In-Body-Image-Stabilization), which would pair up quite nicely with this low-light AF capability but the small size of the camera does allow for handholding the camera at relatively low shutter speeds. I have gotten sharp images all the way down to 1/15th second while handholding the X-Pro 3.
DURABILITY & WEATHER RESISTANCE
As Fujifilm’s top-of-the-line X-series camera, the X-Pro 3 is incredibly durable and weatherproof. It also comes in three different flavors. As shown below there is the standard black (left), Dura Black (center) and Dura Silver (left). All three have Titanium top and bottom plates but the last two options have a “DuraTect” coating that makes the camera nearly impossible to scratch. I opted for the standard black option as I wanted the least intrusive camera possible, but I tested out the Dura Silver prototype in the Himalayas. The Dura coating definitely makes the finish a fair bit tougher. It also holds onto finger prints and grime that comes into contact with the top and bottom plate–but that is easy to wipe off. The Dura Silver was beautiful but I just prefer a more understated camera that will fly under the radar while using it. It just comes down to personal preference–though I will note here that the Dura versions are an extra $200 more expensive than the standard all black model. Regardless of the color, they all have the same features.
Titanium has been used on occasion to manufacture cameras but normally in special versions of a camera model like the Nikon F3/T back in the 1980s. Titanium alloys are a difficult material to work with but they have incredible corrosion resistance and a strength-to-weight ratio that makes them stronger than a similar piece of steel. What this means for the X-Pro 3 is that it is an incredibly durable camera, especially when taking into account the weather sealing that Fujifilm has incorporated into this camera as well. I would not say they are “waterproof” but the X-Pro 3, when used with a WR lens, can handle pretty much any weather without the need for a rain cover. The X-pro 3 is a camera I would have no qualms working with in rough weather, which also makes it perhaps the perfect mountaineering camera as it is tough as nails, lightweight and small enough to take on pretty much any climb–and have it hanging off your pack strap on a Peak Design Capture Clip.
The small NP-W126S Li-Ion battery used by most of the latest Fujifilm X-Series cameras has been a point of complaint for many users. In use, I have not found the small battery in the X-Pro 3 to be an issue. Using the optical viewfinder definitely helps to save on battery power, and also having the hidden LCD saves a lot of battery power as well since you are likely chimping less than with a normal camera. The reality is that you just carry backup batteries–and they are so light and small that it isn’t that big of a deal. I am easily getting 400 to 500 images per battery if not more when using the optical viewfinder. That is significantly less than what I get with my Nikon Z6 but those batteries (in the Z6) are almost twice the size.
The reality is that if they made a bigger battery for a small camera like this then it would be a larger camera body. Hence, there is a give and take and I would prefer to have the smaller camera body. I always have a few accessories with me anyway like an extra memory card, a lens cloth and a few other items so tossing in one extra battery is not a big deal.
Having used a wide variety of the XF lenses (and all of the GFX lenses) I am consistently amazed by the quality of Fujifilm’s lenses. Fujifilm doesn’t seem to make second tier lenses like most other manufacturers. Even the kit lens that comes with a lot of their cameras, the XF 18-55 f/2.8-4 lens, is remarkably sharp. Fujifilm also has an extensive lineup of APS-C lenses for their X-series cameras because they have been making the mirrorless X-series cameras for quite some time now. There are also quite a few lens options with both faster primes and slower primes in the lens lineup. Depending on your needs one can opt for the lighter, smaller and typically faster focusing f/2 or f/2.8 lenses or if you want better low-light options there are also fast f/1.2 or f/1.4 lenses in every focal length up to 56mm.
I do not currently have a wide selection of lenses for my X-Pro 3 as I just bought into the system. I only have two prime lenses for it at the moment–those being the XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR and the XF 35mm f/1.4 R lenses. I will definitely be expanding my lens selection in the next year or so but this is not the camera I feel the need to put a longer telephoto lens on (like the XF 50-140 f/2.8). Like the Leica rangefinders of yore, this is a camera where a 56mm (85mm full-frame equivalent) lens seems giant mounted on the front of this camera. Hence, at least for the moment, I am looking to keep the lenses I use with the X-Pro 3 within the 10mm up to 56mm range. If I do opt for larger lenses, then at that point it might be time to put those on the X-T3 or X-H1 camera bodies for the optimum balance and ergonomics relative to those longer, heavier lenses.
The idea behind the X-Pro 3 is that the camera frees the photographer from distractions and helps them “stay in the moment” to capture the image. Does it actually achieve that? After a few months with the camera I have to say that the X-Pro 3 does help you stay in the moment and concentrate on the image–or at least that is my opinion and experience so far. To be sure, one would have to work with the camera for a significant amount of time to get to know it and understand its layout so that everything becomes second nature (as with any camera). Given the simple layout, the Face Tracking capabilities and the hidden LCD it does provide a platform that helps you to concentrate on the image. The X-Pro 3 has fewer dials and controls on it than any of my other cameras and the layout of the camera is conducive to quick, on the spot reactive situations–which is a big part of why I purchased the camera.
The X-Pro 3 is one of those rare cameras that gets me excited to go out and create images. Most of my other cameras are tools to get the job done, which is no slight against them, but the X-Pro 3 has a special something that really makes photography fun and fluid. The distance between what you want to capture and the act of doing so is a design feature that most photographers don’t think about that much–but I am sure engineers and designers of the cameras think about this a lot. Sure, this camera has a lot of features available in the menu but in reality, once you have it set up, all you need to concentrate on is the composition and the exposure, which makes the process quick and easy when on the run.
All in all, the X Pro-3 is an excellent camera. In fact it is so good that it has me wondering if I even need a “full-frame” camera in my kit. Perhaps working with smaller APS-C cameras like this in tandem with my GFX 100 medium format kit is all I really need. To be sure, just typing that out here in this review is a big statement. I’ll need more time to figure out if that will work. A huge part of my hold on the 35mm format is legacy–I have been using that format since I started shooting with film back in the early 80s. Regardless, having a smaller format camera with incredible image quality is really going to work well for some of my adventurous assignments.
Summing up, this is a camera I won’t be selling ever–even when Fujifilm releases a new, better version in three or four years. That is about as high a recommendation as I can make for this beautifully made camera.
2019 has been a phenomenal year. I have had some very successful assignments and photo shoots as well as several career highlights this year, like my assignment to launch the highly regarded FUJIFILM GFX 100, working on the Red Bull Supermoon project with the Red Bull Air Force and getting an assignment to document the Red Bull Rampage to name a few. This year saw a wide variety of assignments, everything from big wave surfing to studio portraits to huge advertising gigs. This year assignments had me traveling for nine months of the year. It was by a big factor the best year of my career both financially and creatively.
I know that these “Year in Review” blog posts are a dime a dozen – and I have seen a lot of them over the last few weeks – but I hope you find this blog post at least entertaining. If you have been following along this year then you have seen most of these already but there are a few new images here that I haven’t shared anywhere. Hence, without further ado, here are what I consider to be the best images I have created this past year and a few career highlights as well.
Yellowstone National Park Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming — USA
For the last several years, I have had the opportunity to travel with some good friends to fairly remote locations specifically just to have fun photographing landscapes, wildlife and various adventures without the pressure or demands of a specific assignment. Several of these adventures have been with my good friend Richie Graham, who is an amazing photographer using his skills and influence to make a difference for the environment. Earlier this year in late January, while driving back from an assignment Richie and I were talking and he told me about an adventure he had planned in Yellowstone. Richie graciously let me tag along and in several days we both created an incredible array of images–both of the wildlife and the landscape. Below are just a few of my favorites from that trip.
If you would like to see a wider selection of these images check out the Winter 2019 Newsletter. My sincere thanks to Richie for letting me tag along and for making that trip possible. Yellowstone is a magical place in winter, and if you can get into the center of the park it is a completely different experience (with relatively few people) than at any other time of year.
RED BULL SUPERMOON Los Angeles, California — USA
When I got the call from Red Bull for this assignment it was immediately apparent they had already been planning out this audacious project for several months. Having worked with the Red Bull Air Force on several assignments they are good friends at this point and they are also true professionals. It is always a huge honor to work with them. This assignment was no different. As can be seen in the images below Jon DeVore, Andy Farrington and Mike Swansons created quite the stir. Below, the middle image is of Jon DeVore and Andy Farrington and the top and bottom images are of Mike Swansons.
The idea behind this shoot was to have the Red Bull Air Force athletes wing suit through downtown Los Angeles with the last Supermoon of the decade behind them–just as it rose over the LA skyline. Sadly, mother nature had other ideas and there were low hanging clouds on the horizon behind the Los Angeles skyline. Luckily, the clouds stayed low and the Supermoon rose shortly above them–and Mike Swansons was in tune enough with the film crew to swerve over towards the moon so that I could create these images from four miles away with a giant 800mm Nikkor lens. This all happened during rush hour as everyone in LA was driving home on the freeway. So, as you can imagine, from a distance–not knowing what was happening–it appeared as if a meteor (or two) had just fallen into downtown LA. This made national news 20 minutes after it happened and we rushed back to the Red Bull headquarters to put out a social media blast explaining what everyone just saw.
One of the other fun parts of this project is that Red Bull had four helicopters in the air, and a crew of fifteen or more cinematographers running around LA and all at different vantage points to capture the action. Additionally, Red Bull hired two still photographers, Keith Ladzinski and myself to capture the action. Keith was in the helicopter and I was on top of an eight-story building four miles away from the action. As usual with wing suit flying and skydiving you literally have a few seconds to capture the action and this assignment was no different. I had two cameras firing away with two different focal length lenses (300mm and 800mm) so that I could get two different perspectives of the action. The top image here (just below) is definitely up there as one of the best images of the year–if nothing else it is surely one of the most unique images I produced this year.
My thanks to Red Bull (yet again) for bringing me in on a such a wild assignment and for doing all the research to make this happen. As always it is a total blast working with Red Bull and especially with the Red Bull Air Force. My thanks as well to Jon DeVore, Andy Farrington and Mike Swansons and the rest of the Red Bull Air Force for making it all happen.
EYLEA (BAYER) California — USA
One of my largest assignments of the year, both in complexity and scope, was for the pharmaceutical giant Bayer to create imagery and motion content for a new drug named “Eylea” that helps those with macular degeneration. The image below is a composite of several images and was the brainchild of the ad agency The Bloc. While it was relatively simple to create the images for this campaign, the pre-production was extensive and the post-processing on both the stills and motion components required extensive retouching, which is where the well-known and highly regarded post production house Happy Finish came into play. Over a period of four months Happy Finish worked closely with the ad agency to dial in the images and the motion footage so that it fit perfectly into their advertising.
For this production we had a crew of forty or more people working on set. It was a big production with Hollywood level support for the motion component of this campaign–including a giant grip truck, a process trailer, multiple grips and lighting techs, two RVs, production assistants, digital techs, Director of Photography (DP), Assistant DP, Drone Techs and of course the client and the ad agency. These larger productions are intense but also a lot of fun. When you bring a crew of people together who are all incredibly good at their jobs–and bring an agency with a lot of creativity–then magic can happen.
My sincere thanks to Bayer and The Bloc for entrusting me and our team with this production. Additionally, my thanks to the entire crew for pulling together and bringing these images and this content to life–especially my extraordinary producer Rebecca Schatten of Arpen Productions without whom I would not have been able to pull of this off.
FUJIFILM GFX 100 Indian Creek, Utah — USA
Every once in a while, an assignment comes along that is a full-on dream assignment. I have wanted to create images for the launch of a top-tier professional camera for as long as I have been a pro photographer. I worked with Nikon for many years as one of their “Legends Behind the Lens” and I even shot the launch of a few of their point and shoot cameras, but never for the pro bodies. Enter Fujifilm. Last year, I tried out a huge range of Fujifilm cameras and liked them quite a bit but at that point it just didn’t work out. Earlier this year, seeing that the FUJIFILM GFX 100 was going to launch at some point, I got back in touch and the stars aligned where I was one of the lucky few chosen to capture images with a few prototype GFX 100 camera bodies.
The GFX 100 was not a secret. Fujifilm announced the development of the camera in the late fall of 2018 and there were plenty of images of the camera all across the internet. Exactly what sensor the camera would use and how it would all come together was the big question. Having shot with medium format cameras for decades, both in the film era and the digital era, the GFX 100 piqued my interest. I was dreaming of a medium format camera with fast autofocus that could work for my brand of adventure sports photography.
At this point in my career, I was aware of how big a deal this assignment actually was while I was creating the images. That realization made it even sweeter to be a part of the launch and also to join the Fujifilm executives, engineers and designers in Japan for the launch of the camera. I have enormous respect for Fujifilm not just as a camera and optics manufacturer, but also as a corporation. Their passion for photography and the way they treat and honor their customers is apparent both in person and with every free firmware upgrade for their cameras.
Below are just a few of the images from the GFX 100 assignment. This was by far the most successful assignment of the year for me so it is hard to pick out the best of the best as there were quite a few stellar images both from the rock climbing portion of the assignment and the downhill mountain biking portion. My sincere thanks to the amazing athletes and the crew that came together to help create these images including Savannah Cummins, Angela Van Wiemeersch, Ted Hesser, Carson Storch, Dusty Wygle, and Dave Gardner. Also, a huge thank you to Justin Stailey, Senior Manager of Product Development for FUJIFILM North America, who was the tech guru helping me dial in the camera all throughout this assignment.
My sincere thanks to FUJIFILM USA and FUJIFILM Japan for entrusting me with this prestigious assignment. It was a great honor to be a part of this campaign and also to be there in Japan for the launch of the camera. It is also incredible to see how it has been received in the six or seven months since its launch. Fujifilm really did shake up the market–especially the medium format genre–and show what is possible when engineers are let loose to create a dream product. To see more from this assignment–and to read the full behind-the-scenes story–check out my Summer 2019 Newsletter. Lastly here, A big thank you to Elinchrom as well who supported this assignment with the latest battery-powered strobes allowing us to light up the athletes from near and far.
Note: A good portion of the rest of these images in this year end review were captured using the GFX 100 since it has become my main camera.
FUJIKINA 2019 Tokyo — Japan
As I mentioned in the last section, being a part of the launch of the FUJIFILM GFX 100 was a major career highlight this year. After submitting images from the assignment I was shortly thereafter on my way to the launch in Tokyo, Japan at FUJIKINA 2019. Fujifilm rolled out the red carpet at the launch and it was great to be there and see how the camera was received by the press. Following the launch was a full weekend open to the public and the press where they could come to touch and feel the new camera and also try out any of the Fujifilm products. On one floor was an active video shoot with the GFX 100, above that was a giant gallery (as shown in a few images below) showing off images shot with the GFX 100 for the launch, another floor with the cameras and tech reps to answer questions and also areas for photographers like myself to give presentations on our experiences with the GFX 100.
The gallery was quite amazing–and for me one of the coolest parts of the entire Fujikina gathering. Seeing giant prints in a huge open space–and my images among them–really was the icing on the cake. All of the photographers that shot with the camera really knocked it out of the park and produced some stunning work. In addition to the prints, Fujifilm had a few of the behind the scenes videos running in the gallery as well, which were mixed in right next to the images. On the far wall they had a giant video playing on a wall to show just how incredible the footage out of the GFX 100 looked on the big screen.
After the Fujikina event, my girlfriend and I took some time off and went down to the Kyoto and Nara region to explore Japan a bit more. We spent the next week at some of the most famous tourists sites (as shown below) and also out in the country in more remote areas, which had few if any tourists. Japan is an incredible country–perhaps one of the most civilized countries in the world. We had a great time exploring small temples and shrines, remote tea farms and under the radar restaurants. After a great experience in Japan, I am very happy to be headed back there next year to lead a photography workshop “Japan: The Art of Motion” with the wonderful Japanese photographer George Nobechi.
NEW ZEALAND INSTITUTE OF PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHERS (NZIPP) CONFERENCE Wellington and Queenstown — New Zealand
I have wanted to travel to New Zealand for a long time. It has always been touted as a magical place and man, it lived up to the hype! I was invited by the NZIPP to speak at their annual conference. The NZIPP annual conference is similar to the Photo Plus Expo here in the USA. Hence, it was a great honor and a wonderful way to visit such a spectacular country.
The conference was a blast! The conference takes place in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. I made some great connections and met some incredible photographers. Everyone was so welcoming and enthusiastic, it really started my trip to New Zealand off with a great experience. I am not sure there is anything like the NZIPP conference here in the USA, which is a shame because that is an incredibly tight community and seeing how they honored the best work of the year was enthralling. Also, seeing that they judge the images from prints was very cool–they basically created a gallery of prints with the best work of the year.
After the conference, I flew down to Queenstown on the South Island. That flight, on a cloudless day was like watching an endless array of incredible mountains stream by out the window. Straight away I headed up to Mt. Cook. As a climber, heading to the big mountains was a must. Sadly, I didn’t have climbing gear or a climbing partner with me but just being able to see the landscape gave me the impetus to go back and climb a few of those peaks one of these days.
This was another trip this year where I was free to roam around and explore a new country without the constraints of an assignment. At every turn in my travels there was yet another incredible vista, a frozen pond, or any number of magical locations. No wonder the Lord of the Rings movies are predominantly filmed in New Zealand. It does almost feel like another planet. I can’t wait to go back!
My sincere thanks to the NZIPP community and leadership for bringing me out. It was an honor to be a part of the annual conference and explore your wonderful country. There are too many people to thank, but I have to give a huge thank you to the photography community there–especially the incredible photography couple Mike Langford and Jackie Ranken who took me in, let me stay with them and with whom I had some great diners, as well as Andy Woods who set me up with a Milford Sound flight on the only decent weather day to see it at the end of my trip.
MARSOC Camp LeJeune, North Carolina — USA
This past summer, I got a call inquiring about a project with the Marine Special Forces, also known as MARSOC (Marine Forces Special Operations Command). Photographing for the military isn’t my normal gig as most of my readers will know. I was on the fence as to whether I should take this assignment but opted to do it because the images were only going to be used for internal recruiting use–you have to be pretty elite within the Marine Corps already to even apply to MARSOC. I was incredibly impressed with the MARSOC staff and of course with the soldiers as well.
We got some incredible images–some right up there with the best images of the year actually. But at this point, I have not gotten clearance to share those images. So, stay tuned. Once I get clearance to share a few I will put together a piece here on the blog or in the Newsletter.
MAMMOTH PHOTO FESTIVAL Mammoth, California — USA
In the last several years, speaking at photo festivals has become a new thing for me. They are always a great time to meet new photographers and also hang out with my peers. The Mammoth Photo Festival was definitely a good bit of fun. First off, it was great to see several of my peers including Christian Pondella, Corey Rich, Krystle Wright, Savannah Cummins, Pete McBride and many others. It was also great to meet some legends who have inspired me for decades like Cristina Mittermeier and Frans Lanting. As freelancers, it isn’t often that we get to hang out with our peers and compare notes, swap stories and hear the juicy gossip from the photo industry. These photo festivals definitely create a space for that over a beer or a group dinner each evening.
It was very nice to see Corey Rich again since we started out at around the same time–and we haven’t seen each other in a long, long time. We had a great moment reflecting back on how our careers developed as they have. Corey gave a great presentation showing his work and images from his new book Stories Behind the Images.
It was also great to see my good friend Christian Pondella and to be able to go out and shoot with him a few times while teaching seminars for the photo festival. As can be seen below, we ventured down to the Buttermilks just outside of Bishop, California and had a sunrise session with some local climbers. Christian is in my mind one of the most unique adventure photographers working today in that he is a world-class athlete himself. Take a gander at his ski photography and realize he had to ski the same lines as the pro skiers but with a 40-pound backpack! He could have easily become a pro skier. There are very few of us working in the adventure sports genre that have his talent as an athlete and as a photographer.
My thanks to Kevin Green, Joshua Cripps and Christian Pondella for creating and putting on the first Mammoth Photo Festival. Over the four days there were a wide variety of informative and inspiring talks and seminars. If you love photography and want to go out and shoot with some of the top pro photographers working today put this festival on your calendar for October 15-18, 2020.
RED BULL RAMPAGE Virgin, Utah — USA
For the last decade or more I have wanted to photograph the Red Bull Rampage. In all that time Red Bull has had a tight crew photographing the event–and there was no way to get on that crew–until this year. As the newbie on the team it was a big challenge and a major learning experience. I was asked by Jorge Henoa, the Director of Red Bull Photography, to photograph the event using a medium format camera, which meant I shot the event with my FUJIFILM GFX 100. As can be seen below, the GFX 100 came through with flying colors–literally.
It was an honor to join my peers to cover this event. There is so much going on that you can’t be everywhere. Hence, a crew of the top adventure sports photographers that cover downhill mountain biking is a must to get a wide variety of images and actually cover the event. Some, like Christian Pondella have been covering the Rampage since it started, and the rest of the crew including Peter Morning, Garth Milan, Paris Gore and Long Nguyen have been covering it for several years. Getting the images requires hiking all over a steep desert hillside running here and to with a forty-pound backpack. The fine red dirt seems to get into everything. Your cameras and lenses are coated with it–and your backpack requires a full-on shower after the event is over.
My thanks to Jorge Henao, Marv Watson and the crew at Red Bull for bringing me in on this assignment. Fingers crossed I get to photograph it next year as well. To see some of the best images from the event check out the Red Bull Rampage 2019- Best of Article on the Red Bull Content Pool. That article also has a short interview with me on my experiences photographing the event.
This year, like last year has continued to be a year of transition–working more with mirrorless cameras than I ever have and also working on more video projects than ever in my career. I realize none of the video content is shown here in this blog post but it is forthcoming. As my readers know, I am on the never-ending search for tools that help me push my photography to the edge of the envelope technically. With the GFX 100, I am still riding that bleeding edge (as are my hard drives) and it is a fantastic time to be a photographer.
So long 2019. My thanks to Red Bull, Fujifilm, Bayer, National Geographic and all of my other clients with whom I worked this year. As I said in the beginning, it has been a remarkable year. Of course, there are a whole lot of other excellent images from this year, but for some reason these shown above have resonated the most for me.
Thanks for taking the time to check out some of this years highlights. Feel free to comment on any of these images and tell me which one you think is the best of the best from this year. Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year to you all. Here’s hoping your 2020 is filled with adventurous travels and amazing experiences!