Philip Sutton Photography: Blog en-us (C) 2011-2017 (Philip Sutton Photography) Sat, 17 Mar 2018 03:04:00 GMT Sat, 17 Mar 2018 03:04:00 GMT Philip Sutton Photography: Blog 90 120 Fujinon XF16-55 f2.8 – Dating the Prom Queen!! 'Stella' - candid street portrait, Western Australia, 2018.  Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 16mm @F2.8

I have written a lot about my different lenses over the years, and I even mentioned the 16-55 lens on my last blog relating to my seven year journey with Fujifilm.  I am currently halfway through writing my most recent blog regarding the new style of street photography that I have implemented using the flip out screens on my X-T2’s.  However, I have been so excited recently about my 16-55 lens that I have momentarily dropped all other projects, so I can write a long-term review on this wonderful lens.

My Quest

'Mason' - candid street portrait, Western Australia, 2017.  Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 16mm @F2.8

This will not be very technical – there are lots of other tech-heads out there doing a much better job of that than me.  This will just be my observations and photos from using this lens for over a year now.  I am not paid by Fuji nor do I have any affiliate links – methinks that I am not even a ‘fanboy’ – just practical observations from a contented user.  Also – unlike any of my other blogs I will not use any of my travel pictures as illustrations for this blog.  I have been working on a long-term project for over a year now - documenting the unenviable lives of the beautiful Aboriginal or Indigenous people who were the original land owners of this desert gold-mining wilderness that I call home.  It is in these last weeks especially – and in my own back-yard - that I have seen the true worth of my 16-55 really come to the fore.  It is my hope that perhaps some of these images will portray what I am actually trying to illustrate or where my bumbling words fail – the images will speak for themselves!

Request for Advice

I often get emails from people asking advice on Fuji’s lenses – based on my comments and observations from my blogs.  I have had two such enquiries just today.  I mentioned to the gentleman in my reply that what I have gone through is akin to the guy who is dating the girl next door.  She is a lovely girl, nice looking - faithful and sweet, they get on fine and he believes that he is perfectly happy.  Then through a set of circumstances he ends up going on a one-off date to accompany the local Prom Queen – then things will never the same for him again!

The Point of No Return

Darcy and Wife - candid portrait - streets of my town, Western Australia, 2017.  Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 34mm @ F4

I came back this time last year with an awesome set of images from my 5 weeks in Myanmar – all shot predominantly on my Fuji 18-135mm lens.  Those images still grace my website and I get many positive comments and enquiries for the use of those images – all great stuff.  That lens was wonderful to use and to the most part, fulfilled all of my expectations on what a good travel lens should be.  However – since that time I have embraced the 16-55 and 90mm F2 Fuji lenses – I have dated the Prom Queen and things will never be the same for me again!!

Even though most of the images from the 18-135mm were fine - at the 18mm length it was sometimes not quite wide enough.  I came from a background of cutting my teeth on a Nikon 24mm wide angle (shooting ‘Stock’ for years) - of course I longed for that slightly wider look.  Also, at the longer end – say over about 100mm – the 135 was quite soft.  Remember, when I talk about my lenses and how I shoot – I always shoot wide open.  I have zero interest in scenery or landscapes, so of course shooting people I want to isolate them from the background so I predominantly shoot all my lenses wide open.  If you shoot landscapes and always use an aperture of f8 or f11 – then these comments may not be applicable to you.

Taking the Plunge

'Prudence' - candid street portrait, Western Australia, 2017.  Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 22mm @F4

Having discussed fully in my last blog the shortcomings of my other lenses - and after much enquiry and reading - around a year ago I purchased the Fuji 16-55 and 90mm f2 lenses.  My Fuji 18-135 was put into semi-retirement and I have almost solely used those two lenses for the last year or more.  The subject of my last blog (5 week trip to Cambodia), and the subsequent images – were all taken on the Fuji 16-55 and 90mm f2 lenses.  Even since I returned back home in January to a very busy teaching schedule at school, and other family stuff, I have still been able to get out each weekend and continue my quest of photographing the Indigenous Community.

When I first researched the 16-55, some people colloquially called it the ‘brick’.  This kind of hinted that it was a heavy hunk of metal – almost defeating the purpose of getting a lighter mirrorless system.  The other thing that was lamented often was the fact that it has no OIS.  I mentioned in the last blog that we here in Australia are not favoured with the generous return policy that you folks in the States have – we walk out the door of the shop (online store), and you are stuck with it – whether you like it or not.  So it was with great apprehension that I parted with my hard earned ‘shekels’ and bought these lenses online – without even having held or seen them in the ‘flesh’.  They are wretchedly expensive here too (except for my hapless relatives in New Zealand – they pay even more), the 16-55 cost me over 1,600 AUD.

As I have slowly and carefully got to use this lens more and more – both home and abroad - these are my observations.

The Total Package Dog and AllDog and AllStreet portrait, my local beat, Western Australia, 2018

Dog and All - street portrait, my local beat, Western Australia, 2017.  Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 22mm @ F2.8

What I really like about this lens as compared to any of the other Fuji lenses I have spoken about in the past is that for me it is the total package.  Others would disagree because it has no OIS.  This was my original concern and I almost did not purchase the lens because of that.  However, after using it for over a year now, I can honestly say it is a non-issue and in fact I am very happy that it does not have OIS.  It would have been heavier and more expensive, and in some cases not as sharp.  I have taken thousands of images now over more than a year and I can say I have never wished that this lens had OIS.  You just adapt your style slightly, be very aware when you are getting down into the lower shutter speeds, and of course you can move your ISO up to suit.  My 90mm is a bit different.  I live with the fact that it does not have OIS, but I have still missed a few photos because of image blur. 

Also with a 135mm equivalent I really need to be using a shutter speed of at least 1/250 sec to secure sharp images – and this is not always possible.  However, with the 16-55 only having an 80mm long end, I can still seem to shoot at around 1/60th sec or even less and get sharp images.  However, most of the time I shoot that lens wide angle, so of course I can even go to 1/30th sec quite easily.  This lens is beautifully made, is weather resistant and of course extremely sharp wide open.  I also like it that once I choose an aperture it stays on that aperture, even when I zoom in and out.  That is what annoyed me about the 18-135, I would pick one aperture at one focal length, but of course as soon as I zoomed – that would all change.

What I also really appreciate is the build quality of this lens.  I am a bit accident prone and probably not the most forgiving photographer on my gear.  I do respect my gear, treasure it and look after it, but it must be robust and be able to last my gruelling trips each year to Asia.  The thing I detested about the 18-135 and 55-200 lenses when I carried them on my BlackRapid strap - by my side - after a while the lens would 'creep' down, and eventually the lens would always be hanging right out at the full length of its zoom.  This was so annoying and looked very amateur and the lens was also a lot more prone to knocks and bangs in this state.  I am very happy to report that I can walk all day with my 16-55 hanging down by my side - zoomed all the way in to 16mm - and it will stay like that all day.  Man I love that part and this is a really big deal to me.  For professional gear it must be good in every department - build, reliability, sharpness, weather sealed - the whole 'shebang'.  Little niggling compromises like that can eat out the joy of using the thing, and in the end you want to wrap it around a tree (not that I have sunken to that level yet - he he).  I can say wholeheartedly that this lens is a pro lens through and through and it will last a very long time.

Rendering - The Magic Sauce!

'Together'- friends offering support, streets of my town, Western Australia.  Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55 30mm @F2.8

This is very hard to equate or even put into words – let alone prove.  However, I think Fuji put some magic sauce in this lens that the others don’t have.  Even compared to my very sharp 35mm f2 lens, the images from the 16-55 have a beautiful depth and rendering to them that I don’t even see in my lovely 90mm - I just find when I take a portrait with this lens, it is something very special.  I have even been shooting some of my images with my Indigenous serious on my old X100s.  Sometimes I just need a little fill-flash, and of course we all know that magic leafshutter/builtinflash/NDfilter combo on that camera is second to none.  No matter what I do with fill-flash on my X-T2’s, I can never replicate that look.  Therefore my images come out great with the lighting on the X100s, but they do not have that magic sauce look that I get on the 16-55.  This is why I really believe it is the ideal portrait lens!

Being Satisfied

The 'Girls' - street candid, Western Australia, 2017.  Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 22mm @F4

This is something that we do not talk about much but I really think this has to be addressed.  I am as guilty as most with this gear acquisition syndrome that is spoken of – I just call it old fashioned hankering.  I have bought and sold so much photographic gear over the last 35 odd years that I could probably have put a deposit on a second house.  I have noticed that as gear comes and goes you usually just end up with the one or two cameras and lenses attached, that seem to do the bulk of the work.  I am buying a lot less gear now that at any time of my life.  I think it also helps with the new equipment of late that it is actually obsolescence proof.  I mean the cameras and lenses in the initial decades of digital progress were all building upon the knowledge and steps of the prior model – all becoming better and better with each iteration, but still usually lacking in some areas.  It has come to the point now that the latest digital gear is really so good you can hold onto it now and you are not missing out on a real lot if you don’t change models.

It makes me laugh of late – so many people only a few months ago were saying how wonderful the Fuji X-T2 was and the best camera ever made etc etc (particularly one fairly loud, aggressive character on his YouTube channel) - but now that the new X-H1 has been released, the X-T2 is sold off or forgotten and cast aside and now the best thing since sliced bread is this new Fuji.   I think it is the same for lenses.  As mentioned above I bought the 90mm f2 about a year ago.  It is a lovely lens, but at the time it was the only offering from Fuji that was in that focal length and it has no OIS.  Shortly after they introduced the new 80mm macro lens, which I think is a stop slower, much sharper apparently and does have OIS.  So what does one do now?  Do we rush out and sell the 90mm for a pittance and buy the much more expensive 80mm variant?  Same thing with the X-H1 – it just never ends. 

HomeHomeYoung Aboriginal child at play, Western Australia, 2018 It's still Home - Aboriginal child at play, my local beat, Western Australia, 2018.  Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 16mm @ F2.8

I can also see a lot of people falling into a big trap with this new X-H1.  You really don't have to be Einstein to work out what is going to happen.  We all know that Fuji is going to release their new X-T3 at the end of this year.  For all intense and purposes it should be available for sale in less than a year.  Folk don't realise they are being sucked into buying another interim camera (X-H1).  We also all know that the new T3 will have a new sensor.  Suddenly all those folk who at great expense shafted their perfectly good T2's to get the H1, will be thinking they are now stuck with a camera that has an 'old' sensor - and so the ridiculous cycle repeats itself again and again.   Folk don't realise that this is exactly what electronic manufacturers want us to do.  As far as sensors go too, I really think we are at a stage where we have enough.  As mentioned, I had the X-T1, and was perfectly happy with it, but it was the camera that got 'drowned' at Inle Lake last year, in Myanmar.  When I replaced it, insurance covered me for the equivalent latest model, so I was unable to get the T1, and had to replace it with the T2 - that is the only reason I now have two X-T2's. 

If you put a gun to my head (in most instances), I cannot tell which photo has been taken with which sensor.  Other than the 'magic sauce' thing I spoke about (which of course is the lens difference - not the sensor), the pictures from my X100s (same sensor as X-T1), are equally as beautiful and in some cases, even nicer than the ones from the latest sensor.  The 16-55 also falls into that category of not only being good enough, not only ‘future proof’, but it can be a wonderful tool and companion in the field for years to come.  I was never settled with the 18-55 or even the very sharp 55-200.  I spoke in my last blog about their shortcomings and why I sold them off. These, I always felt were lenses that Fuji made to just fill in a gap until something much better came along.  Well I feel that time has come.  For those of us who needed a workhorse lens that was bullet-proof, had a constant aperture, was weather resistant and tack sharp edge to edge wide open - please enter the Fuji XF 16-55 2.8.

I will not be looking for any other lens (or camera for that matter), for the long foreseeable future.  When I shot Stock for all of those years and used my trusty Nikons, I always had a 24 to 70 'something' zoom hanging off my camera.  That was the one focal length that you could do all things with.  The one lens if somebody said you can travel the world for a year but can only take one lens – it would be that focal length.  Until 3 or so years ago we only had the choice of the measly 18-55 or a few primes (60mm F2.4) to fill that gap.  Now after using this marvellous lens almost exclusively now for over a year, I can wholeheartedly say that Fuji has provided us with a worthy tool, to take amateurs and professionals alike boldly into whatever photographic genre we should choose.  Kudos Fuji!

'Mason 2' - Street portrait, Western Australia, 2017.  Fuji X-T2, XF 16-55, 45mm @ F2.8 












]]> (Philip Sutton Photography) aboriginal fuji fujix-t2 indigenous indigenousaustralian kalgoorlie westernaustralia xf16-55 Wed, 14 Mar 2018 12:14:03 GMT
Fujifilm - My Journey From Frustration To Competency  A Quick Overview

Dreams AloftDreams AloftNew Year Wishes, Taiwan, 2018 Dreams Aloft - Sky Lantern Festival, Taiwan, 2017

If you have been following my blogs over the years you will have noticed that my ‘journey’ with Fuji has been quite a protracted learning curve.  Without going over old ground too much - (you can go back and read all of the various stories in full detail on my old blogs), I first dabbled with the original X100 in 2011.  I liked the concept, but the camera was lacking in so many ways - I put it in the cupboard and left it there.  The following year I bought the X-Pro1, and with high hopes I sold off most of my Nikon gear and dragged the X100 out of the cupboard again.  After one of my extended trips to Asia - I was very disappointed with the performance of those two Fuji cameras - I unceremoniously sold them off with disgust, bought a Nikon D3X and I was up and running again.  

I loved the Nikon D3X just so much.  It is an incredible piece of precise engineering, and it never ever let me down.  However, it always churned over in the back of my mind how light the Fuji cameras were to use and how liberating they were.  After one particularly arduous, hot and strenuous trip to Laos and Cambodia in 2014, I returned home with brilliant images, but rather fatigued at having to drag that huge DSLR around in the heat of Asia, with the very big 70-200, Nikkor attached.  

I decided sometime in late 2015, to cautiously stick my toes in the water and just dabble back into the Fuji World again.  In November of 2016, I took my wife for a surprise anniversary trip to Bali for a week.  The only camera I took along was a newly acquired X-T1 and a 35mm F2 and 18-55 kit lens.  I was very impressed with the X-T1 and even though it had some limitations, I began to think that perhaps FujiFilm was coming of age.  I kept using the Nikon gear for local photoshoots, but I began turning more and more to the lighter system.  The acid test was 12 months ago - I had a long planned trip of over 5 weeks to Myanmar - which system would I take? 

I bit the bullet and bought one of the first copies of the newly released X-T2, ‘strapped’ an 18-135 to it, put the 35mm F2 on the X-T1, and I was off to Myanmar.  You can read in detail on my blog discussing all of my findings on those cameras, the lens combinations I chose and lots of other interesting stuff.  Suffice to say though (other than a few minor quibbles and the limitations of the X-T1), I was rather happy with the results from that trip and the reliability of my expanding Fuji kit.

Biting the Bullet  

Starting EarlyStarting EarlyBrick Factory Kids at Play, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018 Starting Early - Brick factory Kids at Play, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018

I also had to make a very hard choice - what was I to do with my Nikon system that was now gathering dust?  Recently, I needed to finance another camera and two new lenses, so I made the very hard choice of having to sell off my beloved Nikon D3X and the last of the Nikon lenses - I was in boots and all now!  

My lens ‘Journey’

Shopping SpreeShopping SpreeOld Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2018 Shopping Spree - St Joseph's Cathedral, Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam, 2017

This now brings us to the present moment.  After the trip a year ago in Myanmar, I planned my 14th trip to Cambodia at the end of 2017 to mid January 2018 – so here I am.  I had five weeks and this time I did a week in Taiwan with my wife and her sister (the Taiwanese are the most marvellous, friendly people I have met anywhere in my life), a week in Hanoi in the north of Vietnam with my wife, 10 days in Siem Reap, Cambodia (alone), photographing village folk, the Temples and other fun stuff, then I finished off the journey with my wife and her lovely folk in HCMC, Vietnam.

The big focus of this trip was perfecting my lens combination for my two X-T2’s.  I am a huge believer in never changing lenses.  I shoot in very dusty terrible places in Asia, and the last thing I want is to be fiddling around in dusty conditions, changing lenses and letting a load of crud into my sensor.  I have two cameras, a lens ‘glued’ on each one, and that is my full kit.  

Even though all of this is documented on my blog - I will recap here.  Over the years I have had 3 copies of the 18-55 kit lens.  I kept buying new copies because I thought the first one was a dud.  However, all the others were the same, so I came to the conclusion that this is a mediocre lens - at best.  I know others write glowing reviews about it (not sure why), but if you want to be really discerning regarding your images - you need the best glass and unfortunately this kit lens does not fall into that category. I sold off my last copy of this lens last year.  

I have written a complete blog documenting my thoughts on the 55-200 lens.  This was my love/hate lens.  This lens is just so unbelievably sharp.  Most people don’t realise that, and think that it is like the 18-55 - a cheaper kit lens.  This is not the case - this is an extremely sharp lens, and in some cases my copy was as good as the primes.  However, here is where the ‘hate’ part came in.  I have had two copies of this lens and both were identical.  The first thing that let me down was it is not a sealed lens.  Once again, my parameters (because of the dusty filthy conditions I shoot in Asia and often in the rain), I need a weather sealed lens (yes I knew this beforehand, so my fault).  The other thing I found niggling with this lens is that both of my copies were loose or kind of clunky on the lens mount.  When I zoomed to the longer end - the lens appeared to go very stiff (both copies), then it would grab a little and twist and clonk on the lens mount.  This did not feel good at all.  The third thing I disliked (like the 18-55), is that silly aperture selection ring that Fuji use on the cheaper lenses - it kind if just keeps turning around and around.  You can bump it and short of looking in the camera - you never really know what aperture you are in.  With all of that, I sold off my last copy of the 55-200.

I don’t need to say much about the 35mm F2.  It is a lovely little lens and though I don’t use it much - I will never sell it.  On the odd occasion I want to go light with one camera, it is a lovely small lens that is very sharp wide open.  The other lens I don’t use much now but will never sell is my 18-135.  I may sound contradictory here, but it is not especially sharp or wonderful at anything in particular.  I hate it that I can’t separate my subject from the background, because as soon as you go over about 55mm it goes to 5.6.  It is not fast enough to separate the subject like you can on a faster lens.  However, this is the lens I used mostly on my trip last year in Myanmar and I have some wonderful images from it.  Though I would never use it again as my main lens - and on paper it lacks in quite a few areas - it is one lens that I could never sell.  If you just want one lens for a day that is good enough, and can do lots of different things quite well - then this is your baby.  The fact that it is weather sealed allows me to keep it and then OIS is quite handy.  In case you are wondering – yes it is noticeably sharper at the 18 and 55mm focal lengths that any of my 3 copies of the 18-55!!

My Current position regarding lenses

Aquatic FairyAquatic FairyKids at play, HCMC, Vietnam, 2018 Aquatic Fairy - kids finding relief from the heat, Cong Vien Cay Xanh, HCMC, Vietnam, 2017 

Last year (2017), was the year when everything kind of gelled for me, as I prepared for this 5 week trip.  As I have just mentioned, you will see how I came to the conclusion that the lenses I had used in the past had to go or be retired, and I had some new decisions to make regarding what to bring on this current trip.  As I sat at my desk last year - with a camera cupboard almost completely depleted of Fujinon lenses, I started to research long regarding what to replace those lenses with.  Time and time I kept reading about something called ‘the brick’.  One particular character on DPReview, relentlessly bagged out this lens, and with a little ‘tongue/n/cheek’, stirred up the Fuji fraternity on that site.

I live in a small gold-mining town in the middle of the Australian desert.  There are no camera shops there, so I never have the luxury of trying a lens before I buy it.  My nearest shop is 600Kms away in Perth and we don’t go there often.  We have no return policy in Australia like you guys have the luxury of in the States.  When we buy something it is for keeps.  I needed a lens that was no compromise sharp, weather sealed, fast and went from wide angle to medium zoom, and preferably OIS.  The only lens that came close was fuji’s 16-55 F2.8 - yes ‘The Brick’.  The thing that put me off was the no OIS.  However, there were no alternatives so I bit the bullet and forked out my hard earned $1,600.  To cut a long story short - I love this lens. I love it so much I am seriously thinking of epoxy resin(ing) it to my X-T2 so it can never be taken off (joking of course).  It is a delight to use, equally as sharp as my 35mm F2, it handles just so beautifully - no clunking, no lens creep - just a magic magic lens.  Oh my goodness - when you compare a photo shot wide open on this lens, to one wide open on the 18-55 - they are poles apart.  Did I say it is tack sharp wide open.  

The one thing where I almost didn’t buy this lens - no OIS - matters not at all.  I have never once wished that I had it, have never got a blurry shot and I am actually glad now that it does not - it would have been even bigger and more expensive and probably not as sharp.  I have never ever thought it was a ‘brick’ or too heavy.  I carry it on a Neoprene strap around my neck and as they are springy and stretchy, they appear to make the camera weigh half the weight of what normal straps would do.

I always shoot with two cameras ‘deployed’, my main one being the wide angle to medium zoom (16-55), that is the one I use for most of my shots and it is always around my neck ready to be grabbed at a moment’s notice.  I now had one of my two lenses in the bag - which one for the second lens?  The second camera always hangs at my side on a BlackRapid strap.  I always have a telephoto or medium telephoto type lens on this camera, so I can zoom in on the subjects that are further away.  I don’t use this combo as much as the 16-55, but nevertheless it is a very important focal length – so I had decisions to make!  In Fujinon, there are not too many choices.  The 50-140 is way too huge and expensive, the 56mm lenses are too ‘short’.  The 90mm seemed about the closest fit.  Even when I had my Nikkor 70-200 – I very seldom ever used the 200mm length.  Around the 135-150mm, is about the longest I seem to need.  Without much deliberation, I purchased the 90mm F2.  Having looked at most of the photos now from my trip (I’m back home now), I have only missed a handful of shots, because of camera shake on lower light.  It would have been OK if it had OIS – but certainly not a deal breaker.  If you keep in mind that there is no OIS, and shoot accordingly, there is usually no problem.  This lens is very sharp and the images from it are beautiful.

Oh that Flippy Screen!!

That Which Was LostThat Which Was LostMusicians, Temples of Angkor, Cambodia, 2018 That Which Was Lost - Musicians, Angkor Temples, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018

In one foul swoop Fuji revolutionised the way I shoot, upped my keeper rate by ten-fold, and totally destroyed my favourite camera!!  I didn’t realise when I first bought my X-T1 that I was solving one of my worst dilemmas.  I almost 100% shoot street and people photography.  I have zero interest in animals, BIF, scenery, landscapes - the human race and all of their idiosyncrasies, is what really drives me.  The other morning at the sunrise over Angkor Wat, here were the myriads of people pressing in one giant throng, vying for the best position for their sunrise - I was over on the outskirts, photographing the human interactions - I had the place to myself.  

Therefore, with my Nikon system my greatest dilemma was trying to be discreet.  Every time I lifted my camera to my eye to get the shot, people would freeze, wave, smile, say no - whatever they did I had lost ‘the moment’.  When I got the flippy screen on the T1, I really knew I was onto something.  My keeper rate has gone up ten-fold now and my street shooting experience is sooo much more enjoyable.  This is how I operate now.  I dress kind of Goofy on purpose - to be a bit of a mystery.  I always wear black leather gloves - keeps my greasy/sweaty paws from destroying the nouveau leather on my cameras - believe me they last much longer.  I wear a bandana over my face.  I have two small ThinkTank bum packs around my waist - on their patented strap.  My X-T2 hangs over my shoulder with the 90mm on the Black Rapid strap, and the other T2 over my neck, resting lightly on top of the ThinkTank bum pack.  

I walk slowly along looking pleasant and friendly, but always scanning for my shot.  The flippy screen is opened out horizontally on the X-T2 with the 16-55.  Here is the kicker - I Never Ever make eye contact.  If you make eye contact you have already ruined most of your chances – because they now know that you know that they know.  In other words, once they know that you have zeroed in on them with your eyes, they are aware that you have singled them out – stalking them for a shot perhaps?  The fact that you know that they now know – just changes the balance in the whole scenario.

Back to my MO (Modus Operandi), when I see my shot I walk slowly toward that area - looking down now, into my screen.  I am watching everything now through my flippy screen - not looking at the people/person.  I always appear to everybody that I am just fiddling with my controls, looking down - but never directly at them.  I slowly swing the camera in their direction, when it is lined up, whammo - my shot is in the bag.

This is a magic system.  Over 90% of all my shots are done this way now.  I hardly ever lift the camera to my eye - I nearly always shoot from the hip.  Ninety odd percent of the time people never even know that they have been photographed.  I always get my moment, because I am just a stranger wandering by, I am not talking, interacting or even making eye contact.  They never stop what they are doing, the ‘moment’ never changes, and I am usually always able to record it without being an imposter, or altering their world.  It also has the added benefit of my photos being taken at a different perspective.  A much more pleasant shot from waist level rather than high up from the eye looking down on people (a bit like the old Rolleiflex).  

Take for example the photo above of the musicians.  I saw from a distance the photo I wanted.  I needed the guys to be serious - almost a little sad, and the man in front - I needed him looking down at his prosthetic leg.  However, I stood back and observed for a while.  As the other tourists went past and stopped - then lifted their camera to their eyes, the man in front would smile and wave, then he would pose with the two finger sign like they always do in Asia.  A great record shot but good for nothing else.  If that was the only photo I could get I would not have even bothered.  I then did my normal thing - I slowly wandered by, making no eye contact - just looking down and apparently fiddling with my camera controls.  I had the image I wanted before anybody had even realised I took a photo.  I did not disturb the musicians, they did not need to pose or interact with me - they just carried on as if nobody was there - and best of all, the image was already in the bag!!

It makes me laugh so much when I read so called experts on YouTube giving ‘advise’ on how to be a good street photographer.  They tell you to smile, interact, chat, and the worst thing of all - ask permission - oh my goodness!!  Yes, you will probably get your permission, but your moment is gone.  People will then be self-conscious, they will pose and smile -you’ll get a nice record shot - but that’s about all.  I am so excited about this new method of shooting that I’m going to dedicate a whole blog to the subject - stay tuned!

You can imagine how I was totally mortified and bewildered when Fuji introduced the new 100F WITHOUT a flippy screen - were they stark raving bonkers???  This is supposed to be their ‘street’ camera - why on earth in their infinite wisdom would they leave out the flippy screen?  I have the older 100s, and it has always been a favourite.  However, since I have developed my much more successful system for street photography, this camera is now totally obsolete.  I even tried to use it in Siem Reap recently, and I got ‘sprung’ every time, lifting the camera up to eye level.  They either waved me on, or put the two fingers up sign like they do in Asia (a friendly gesture), or froze or whatever they did, but my ‘moment’ was well and truly gone.  So I am very sad to announce that my favourite little camera is destined for ‘fleabay'!  What I mean is that I would have to sell it anyway and replace it with the X100F - but what's the point, it has no flippy screen!

Inle Lake

The GunThe GunChildren at Play, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018 The Gun - Kids at play,  Preay Ang Chek, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018

You would have read about this in my blog a year ago - in all its terrifying, horrific detail.  However, as this is one year on I really want to mention this again.  In the very early hours of the morning - almost in total darkness, I walked off the end of the jetty at Inle Lake in Myanmar.  I had my full camera kit strapped around my waist!!  My poor hapless boat driver was getting things ready, and it was so dark the water looked the same colour as the wooden jetty - and I unceremoniously walked straight off the end of the pier.  I went fully under, and like a drowned rat I popped back up.  The driver grabbed me by the scruff and hauled me - like a limp rag-doll - back onto the jetty.  My X-T1 was sitting in the bottom of my camera bag, with no lens on it.  As bad luck would have it I had lost the body cap, so the camera filled up with water and was ruined immediately.  You can see why now my policy is to ‘glue’ one lens on to each camera and leave it there.  

However, my X-T2 had the 18-135 attached, both of these items are weather resistant.  The ThinkTank with the T2 and lens attached was fully half filled with water by the time I got my camera out.  The camera and lens were totally soaked - water seemed to be pouring from every orifice.  To cut a very long story short - and this is now over 12 months later - I still have that very same X-T2 and the 18-135mm lens.   I am very happy to report that both are working perfectly.  They were never sent in for repairs, the lens never got any condensation inside and the camera works exactly the same as its new counterpart.  I am very happy to report that Fuji’s WR system really really works.  You can see why I will never use a lens or camera now that does not sport the WR insignia. 

Where to next?

Early DistractionsEarly DistractionsBoy Soldier during military demonstration, Royal Palace, Taipae, Taiwan, 2017 Early Distractions - Boy Soldier putting on a demonstration, National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan, 2017

I am feeling very satisfied right now with my current setup.  I can honestly say that in over 35 years as a photographer, I am in the least ‘hankering’ mode for new gear, than I have ever been.  Even in the film days with my Nikon F3, f4, F5 etc, I was always longing for another motor-drive, a different lens or just something to ‘perfect’ my gear setup.  Having just been back a week now from my trip, and having waded through some of my 12,000 odd images, I can say I am very happy with my setup, and really need to change nothing for my next trip later this year.  My same two lenses will remain ‘glued’ to each of the X-T2’s, and the poor sad 18-135 and 35mm F2, will probably stay in the cupboard and be barely used.  This has been a long, sometimes frustrating journey, of over 7 years, but it is great to say that the current Fuji products are up there with the very best of today’s modern DSLR cameras, and just maybe – sometimes – even better!!

Just as one final point though, remember that newer does not necessarily mean better.  The only one piece of equipment that I really miss a lot is my X-T1 (the one that ‘drowned’ in Inle Lake).  This is hard to quantify, I really can’t tell you why or show you any examples – but there was something about the images from my X-T1, that I really miss and can’t seem to exactly reproduce in my X-T2’s.  These are not just my observations - there is a guy called Eric who posts on Youtube as 'Finding Middle Earth'.  He has both cameras and says in one of his latest videos that he prefers shooting with his X-T1!  I did miss some shots on the T-1, because the autofocus tracking was not as refined as it is in the newer model – but except for that one fact, I could just as readily go and shoot all day with an X-T1, as opposed to either of my X-T2’s.  There is something about the files from that 16mp sensor that just looked so beautiful and smooth.  This is not a criticism of my current cameras, only an observation.  Many of the images I have brought home are amazing, and the T-2’s are great cameras – but newer does not necessarily mean better.

Kissing the Guitar

Temple BelleTemple BelleTa Prohm, Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018 Temple Belle - Ta Prohm, Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2018

I love to listen to quiet reflective music - music of good quality by some of our most iconic artists - two of whom are Mark Knopfler and Van Morrison (showing my age now).  I recently watched a fascinating documentary on YouTube of Mark Knopfler talking about six of his most iconic/famous guitars.  It was a wonderful story - talking about the first guitar his dad bought him for ‘fifty quid’, some of the iconic guitars from the Dire Straits days, and one or two of his most expensive, unique guitars.  The interviewer went on - after asking him about each of the five guitars - Knopfler picked up his favourite.  You could see that look in his eye.  He is in his mid-sixties now, but he was like a kid filled with zeal and enthusiasm for his craft and his passion for his equipment.  Then without warning and totally spontaneously - he kissed his guitar.  I instantly thought “whammo - that’s it, I’m not totally bonkers after all”!!  Back in my Nikon D3X days, I had sometimes been so filled with excitement and love and passion for my equipment and their images, that I would find myself spontaneously kissing my D3X - now of course not in the presence of my wife.  She thinks I am totally nuts about my photography (it gets me into lots of trouble) - if she caught me kissing my camera then she would have me clinically ‘Certified’.  However, I had never kissed my X-T2.  It (they), had never really given me the same experience as I had with my Nikon D3X.  However, I am very happy to report, that on this current trip - and may I add, more than once - I kissed my X-T2.  Oh Fuji - I think you may have finally arrived!

Temple LightTemple LightCleaner, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 2018 Moments - Cleaner taking a break, Angkor Wat, Cambodia, 2018



]]> (Philip Sutton Photography) cambodia fuji coming of age fuji x-t2 fujinon 16-55mm f2.8 fujinon 90mm f2 Sun, 21 Jan 2018 11:40:37 GMT
The Pleasure and Pain of Fujifilm Lenses!                                               

Red 'Bulls...'Red 'Bulls...'Sad to see this r.. poison has hit the shores of beautiful Myanmar already. Stunned commuters, Yangon Circular Train, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017

Everybody - once in their lives - should ride the circular train in Yangon.  There is no experience like it! Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.  X-T1 and 35mm F2 lens!

When I harken back to the dim dark ages when I was a young wastrel, I can remember some of the silly old ‘good news, bad news’ jokes that were floating around at the time.  The prison warden stands aloft the exercise yard and castes his gaze toward the assembled throng of disheveled, motley prisoners.  “I have good news and bad news, he roars”, silence befalls the boisterous crowd as they await with bated breath – he continues – “The good news is that you will all get a change of underwear today ....”.  A gigantic roar erupts from the hapless throng – “…… the bad news is that group A will change with group B ............”.  A muffled silence envelopes the assemblage of miserable creatures. 

The news or announcement of a new Fuji lens is akin to this story.  A whisper or hint will come out on FR or some other website.  There is a big figurative cheer over the net as optimistic fanboys and others wait with bated breath.  Then as the technical data is finally released with the details of the lens, a blanket of silence spreads over the ether as fans realise here is another lens that could have been magical. 

Before I continue any further, I wish to add a small disclaimer in here.  These are only my thoughts and may not be reality for other Fuji users.  I am very very happy with my Fuji setup and these observations are in no way a complaint – in fact they are kind of a back-handed compliment because Fuji lenses are so good that there is a lot of ‘crossover’ between them and one is often confused as to which lens to use in which situation.  Please don’t berate me for being critical – I am hoping these thoughts may help others when spending their hard earned dollars on their next piece of glass.


My current setup       

I currently own 4 Fuji XF lenses – they are the 18-135, the 16-55, the 55-200 and the 35mm F2.  I have only recently purchased the 16-55, so that is still at the tail end of being evaluated.  However, I have taken several thousand photos with this lens so a clear picture (pardon the pun), is starting to form in my head.  I had thought about the 50-140, but only for a few seconds.  The 55-200 is so good and the weight of the 50-140 is actually more than the 70-200 F4 Nikkor that I recently got rid of because it was too heavy – I would be mad to jump back onto that bandwagon again.  Talking about Nikon – though my D3X was a marvel and I think there will never be a camera that will come close to the joy of using that thing, it was a mighty brick.  However, I did find that Nikon’s selection of lenses were more cut and dried than what Fuji offer.  I only ever used two Nikon lenses and they satisfied exactly my needs and I was never confused or perplexed as to what and when I would use a particular lens – not so with Fuji.

'The Child''The Child'Young child in the crowd of worshipers at Istana Tampak Siring Holy Spring Water Temple, Bali, Indonesia, 2016 XF 35mm F2 - oh what a gorgeous lens this is!

Thinning the herd!

Like most of us - somewhere along the line - I ended up with the ubiquitous 18-55 ‘kit lens’.  I used it off and on but was never particularly blown away by its performance.  I usually always only ever shoot wide open on all of my lenses, no matter exactly what I am photographing at the time.  I have no interest in nature photography, landscapes or scenery at all.  I must have lost some brain cells along the way that form that creative part of our brain.  I come from New Zealand originally, and it is the most beautiful, scenic and clean country I have ever been in.  However when we go back home each year to see folk, I always head out chasing people around with my camera and have no interest in the gorgeous scenery around me.  My Vietnamese wife thinks I am absolutely bonkers!

I am sure if I was more interested in photographing landscapes and scenery, half of the problems I am facing with my ‘Fuji Dilemma’ would disappear. Meaning I would not have to shoot my lenses wide open – I would mostly be shooting around the F8 – F16 – for the maximum depth of field that this genre requires – thus eliminating some of the issues that are present when shooting a lens wide open.  However, shooting people photography in all its different forms, I am always shooting wide open – getting the least amount of depth of field as possible to isolate my subject from the background.  Here is where the problem lay with the 18-55. It was quite soft wide open at the 18 and 55mm ends – where I used it most often.  Around the time that I was struggling with these issues, I planned to take my wife to Bali last November for our wedding anniversary.

I am very familiar with the rigors of travelling in Asia.  I have been on the road for the last 12 years (off and on), shooting images all throughout Asia for my website.  I know that I am always shooting in very dusty and dirty conditions.  On top of being disappointed with the quality of the 18-55, I did not want a lens on my new X-T2 that was dragging dust onto the sensor each time I zoomed.  I therefore started doing some research into the 18-135.  I wasn’t too excited about the slow aperture of 5.6 when at its longer zoom range, but it was a WR lens and it did have OIS.  I live in a small gold-mining town deep in the desert of Western Australia.  We are over 600kms from the nearest City Center with any kind of camera shop (Perth, WA).  I never have the privilege of being able to try before I buy.  So I had to bite the bullet and order the 18-135 online.  Once it arrived I set about doing some very in-depth comparisons between it and my much-maligned 18-55.  To cut a long story short, after thousands of images of real life shooting and much pixel peeping and eye straining, I came to the very resounding conclusion that the 18-135 (wide open), is significantly sharper and has better resolution, than the little sister.  Specifically, the biggest differences between the two were when they were shot at the 18mm focal length and the 55mm focal length.  In the type of photography that I do, I use those two focal lengths a lot.  I often shoot around the 18mm to get a bigger group of people into my image, and as I do a lot of environment portraiture, the 55 (85mm equivalent), is used often.  It was at these two focal lengths, and wide open that I found the 18-135 significantly superior to the little sister. 

The Circus 'Rigger'The Circus 'Rigger'I took this photo in my town. I'm a teacher and the kids at school talked all week about the Circus coming to town. I decided to tag along with my trusty Fuji's. I'm glad I did. I don't think anybody would want to mess with this lady. (Kalgoorlie Western Australia).

'The Circus Rigger' - Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, 2017.  Oh that XF16-55 magic!

I particularly noticed this at the 55 end, when looking at eye brows and eye lashes – they were always much sharper and more defined from the big lens than the baby sister.  Added to this the fact that the 135 is really not that much heavier or bigger (I really didn’t notice too much difference when walking around with each lens on both of my X-T2s), and that it covers a much greater focal area, it was a very easy choice to quickly get rid of the 18-55 on ‘fleabay’.  I breathed a huge sigh of relief, because I had eliminated one of the variables in my lens ‘equation’.

In-field observations

I believe that we can sit at home and evaluate our lenses by poking them at our poor hapless wives and kids, or pointing them at brick walls until we become red in the face, but there is nothing like using them in real world situations - this clearly shows the men from the boys.  You can read my earlier blog on my website about our trip to Bali last year.  I only took the newly acquired 18-135, and my gorgeous 35mm F2 on that trip.  I came back from that trip singing the praises of the 18-135.  It had behaved beautifully and reeked of quality.  I was worried about buying a lens made in China, but I can see no difference in this lens to my other three that are built in Japan.  The lens handled nicely, kept out all of the salt-spray, rain and dust that nature could throw at it, and delivered some lovely images that went into my portfolio.  That trip was only the first trip as well that I took the 35mm lens on.  This lens is peerless and has to be one of the sharpest, fun lenses that I have ever used in over 35years of photography.  It is as pin and tack sharp as any of my Nikkor lenses were and it is so light on the Fuji cameras that it really makes using that setup a real joy.  The photos from this trip taken on the 18-135 were decent and infinitely useable, however, the images taken on the 35mm lens just leapt off the screen.  I ended up using the 35mm whenever I possibly could (around mid-range zoom length equivalent), and only using the 135 when I needed more reach or something wider.

'Onion Boy''Onion Boy'Flower/produce market, streets of Mandalay, Myanmar, 2017

"Onion Boy' - River flower market, Mandalay, 2017.  XF 35mm F2!

Some discontent creeping it!

I have to laugh so much when I see camera magazine people or online bloggers grab a lens or camera for the weekend and head out for an 'in-depth' evaluation of that particular piece of equipment.  There is no way that anybody can offer a very informed and unbiased written evaluation of that equipment when only taking a few hundred photos.  When we were in Bali I had to remember that it was our wedding anniversary and not my normal boot-camp photographic trips that I do alone (up at 5am every morning, and collapsing in my hotel at dark).  We men all know what the girls are like when it comes to feeling appreciated at anniversary time and special occasions – my darling is no exception.  I would have ruined the trip if I had been banging around our hotel at 5am and heading out alone to get those magic morning photos.  I had to make it look like it was her special occasion, but also managing to slip in as much photography as possible.  It was a bit of a balance but I think I pulled it off. 

For two years prior to that I had been planning my third trip to Myanmar in January of this year (alone – great stuff, boot-camp style).  I had been reasonably pleased with my two-camera setup and two lens setup for Bali, so I headed off to Myanmar with the two bodies and the 18-135 with the 35mm F2.  I have been traveling Asia and shooting its wonderful people for well over a decade, and as I am not 20yrs old anymore, any excess weight is really noticed.  I therefore only ever take two lenses and two bodies.  The filthy places I end up shooting in (often dirty work factories, farmers ploughing in the dust, monks sweeping dusty yards etc), I never want to be changing lenses on the run and letting rubbish onto my sensor.  That’s why the two lenses stay glued on the two bodies and that's it.

What I am saying then is that on the Bali trip because I was with my wife and I had to balance things, I think I only took about 1,300 images.  However, on my month this year in Myanmar I took over 13K images – ten times more than in Bali.  That is how you really evaluate your equipment (not the quicky weekend style) – and true to form some cracks started to show in my setup that hadn’t been apparent on the Bali trip.

Herein Lies the Dilemma!

When I was evaluating and processing some of the images taken in Bali on the 135, I began to notice two things.  Anything shot wide open much over about 100mm, did not have the definition and sharpness that the images had when shot around 55.  So much so, that after around 120mm, to me they were too soft to be useable.  I don't often shoot at the longer focal lengths, however when I have to, I need to know that my gear is going to give me usable images.  However, the biggest problem (and I was aware of this when I swapped over to mirrorless), was that it was very difficult to separate the subject from the background – even when shooting wide open.  More so on this lens because once I start getting around the 60-70mm, then it is on 5.6.  This still is a great lens and it really does all that it is supposed to do – be a general all-round lens, fairly small and light, weather resistant with very useable image quality, in most cases.  Was I expecting too much?

ContentmentContentmentCandid Street Portrait, streets of Western Australia  Candid street portrait, streets of Western Australia!  Now my favourite lens - the XF 16-55!

Enter the 16-55

I had never wanted to get this lens because I was aware of how expensive it was ($1,600 here in Australia), and I knew it was a huge brick – exactly what I was trying to get away from.  However, my wife and I have a trip later this year to Vietnam (up North in the beautiful Sapa), then a while with her folks in the South and then onto Taiwan.  The question was should I just bring the same setup as I did on my last two trips with mostly useable images, or try and tighten things up by experimenting with another lens?  I leapt out in faith and bought the 16-55.  I have taken several thousand images with this lens now and I am becoming more familiar with it.  It has quality that almost matches the magical 35F2, is extremely sharp wide open to the edges – all the way through the zoom range.  It has wonderful WR, so I can drag it around all of my disgusting factories and places of work in Asia.  The lack of OIS is becoming less of an issue as I am becoming more aware of the shutter speeds that I really can’t go below.  I was out shooting today in my local town – I was using the 18-135 and the 16-55 – I had an X-T2 attached to each.  I was just looking at them on LR, and they are kind of all mixed up in the thumbs on the screen.  I only have to look at the image (without checking any metadata), and I can immediately tell which has been taken on the 16-55 – they kind of leap from the screen.

Young ModelYoung ModelIn the studio The 55-200 in the studio.  This is a great studio lens!

What about the 55-200?

This lens is probably my greatest frustration of them all.  I really love this lens.   I think that it is the most underrated lens of all the lineup in Fuji’s glass.  It is absolutely tack sharp wide open – in fact it is ridiculously sharp.  It is as sharp at 55mm as my 16-55 is.  It is a reasonably fast lens so I don’t have too much problem (unlike the 18-135), in getting the subject to stand out from the background.  It is such a versatile lens that I use it in the studio.  Shooting portraits at around F8, the images are very sharp and render beautifully.  So what’s the problem – NO WR.  I don’t think this worries many people, but as mentioned above, because some of the places I shoot at in Asia are so dusty, I have to put on an industrial face mask just so I can breath (much to the amusement of the hapless locals).  Can you imagine zooming back and forth and sucking all that crud into your sensor?

ModelModelOutside shoot More of the 55-200 (wide open this time).  My poor longsuffering wifey playing model again!

The Equation

So here we have it – four fantastic lenses that in their own right are really great.  So what is the problem – I only need two lenses when I travel and not all four!  Surely I could choose two out of them that would be perfect for the job and satisfy all my needs.  Here is where I refer back to my title.  Fuji lenses really are a bit of a dilemma.  They each one almost make it, almost fulfill everything they are designed for, but Fuji very slightly missed the mark with each of them (except the 35mm – it does exactly what it is designed to do), which brings me back to my dilemma.

#35mmF2 – this lens does exactly what it is designed to do.  The only problem for me is that being a fixed focal length you are locked into that 50mm equivalent.  Of course there are no complaints here with Fuji – it is the same for any standard lens of any maker – it is a fixed 50mm and they usually do their job very well.  Just for me, because I only travel with 2 lenses – unless my other lens can properly cover the wide angle and tele end, then the 35mm is not able to make up the difference.

#18-135 – As already mentioned this is a great all-round lens and does exactly what it is designed to do.  However, for me it leaves me somewhat wanting for more – I need that sharpness at the tele end and a faster stop would help to define the subject from the background. For me to take it again as my main travel lens – I am not sure that now I can live with these failings.

#16-55 – This is a smashingly brilliant lens -  the biggest problem – it is a brick. Also - doesn't worry me particularly - but many folks say this lens should have had OIS.

#55-200 – This is Fuji’s most unsung lens – the best kept secret.  It is just very sharp, reasonably small and light, and has brilliant OIS.  For me to decide to use it on my next trip, I have to suck up the fact that I will be spreading grime throughout my camera and sensor.  Oh Fuji – why didn’t you put WR on this beauty?

'Cherub''Cherub'Small child having Thanaka paste applied, Mandalay Hill Temple, Mandalay, Myanmar, 2017  Another gorgeous rendering from the 35mm F2.  This was taken on my X-T1 - don't even bother buying the X-T2 (I have two of them), for the life of me I can't see any discernible difference between photos from the T1 or T2.  In fact if I had my time over again I should have got two X-T1s!


I am hoping this has not been too verbose and that I have actually said what I set out to do.  Nikon lenses seemed to be more cut and dried.  I had two that met all my photographic needs and there was nothing I had to be disappointed about or wish that it had.  However, with Fuji, that is not so.  I would love to take the 18-135 on my next trip, but not sure I can live with the slower aperture (too much depth of field), and the softer images at the tele end.  The 55-200 is magical in every aspect – but oh how I wish it were a sealed lens.  The 16-55 seems to only have one problem – it’s a brick.   That is really not its fault and I am aware enough to know that Fuji really could not have made it any other way.   It is brilliantly sharp wide open and to the edges, has a constant aperture all the way through – because it is a brick.  However, with each of these lenses Fuji did not get it quite right!

What will I take on the next trip?

Well I have a few more months to ruminate before we head off.  I am at least halfway there and have decided that notwithstanding the weight, I am going to lug around the ‘brick’.  It is just such a brilliant lens, I could not be satisfied with the images from a lesser lens in that focal length now.  The other half of my equation is not so easy.  I could sell the 18-135 and buy the 90.  That would give me f2 and would definitely give me subject isolation.   However, here again Fuji has created another masterpiece that almost was.   Why on earth does a lens of this focal length not have OIS?  I am not the steadiest of photographers, and for that focal length in lower light, I would definitely get fuzzy images with this lens.  That leaves me the two options – take the brilliant 55-200, and just have to get my camera serviced when I get back to get the dust removed, or take the 18-135 and only use it up to about 100mm (150 equivalent), where the images are just reasonable.  The court is out on this last part of the equation at the moment.  I find it fun experimenting and working on these problems, so I am sure when the time comes to fly out, I will be able to make some more Fuji magic with their beautiful lenses.

Last Minute 'Touch-up'Last Minute 'Touch-up'Model touching up her makeup, Songkran Festival celebrations, Hyde Park, Perth, Easter 2017.

One last image taken on the XF 16-55 - did I say I really love this lens?  Adjusting the makeup, celebrating the Thai Songkran Festival, Perth WA, 2017

Happy 'shooting'

















]]> (Philip Sutton Photography) fuji xf lenses fujifilm which fujifilm lens xf 16-55 xf 18-135 xf 355 f2 xf 55-200 Mon, 24 Apr 2017 05:10:56 GMT
Fuji XF 55-200 revisited, the 18-135, and Other Musings! As you would have read on my last two blogs, I had recently sold off all of my Nikon gear over the last year or so and replaced everything with Fuji equipment.  I have extensively used my 18-135 lens and the marvellous little 35mm f2.  The 18-55 I never liked (not sharp or very useful wide open at the 18 or 55 end), so that was sold recently on ebay.  However, the 55-200 kind of sat there in no-man’s land and never really got used.  I did a commercial shoot last year where I had to shoot over 25 models for our local TAFE (Technical and Further Education).  The girls were graduating from their Makeup and Beauty Course, and I was asked to photograph the models for their portfolios.  Of course the 55-200 was the perfect choice for that occasion.  The photos looked great and everybody was very pleased with the results.

After that - I kind of popped the lens back into the camera cupboard and forgot about it.  I had thought long and hard about the lenses I would take on the month trip to Myanmar at Christmas, but because the 55-200 lens was not sealed, it did not even get on the short list.  I ended up specifically purchasing the 18-135 because of the weather sealing.  I had been to Myanmar on two prior occasions and I remembered how unbelievably dusty and dirty it can be over there (especially Mandalay and Hsipaw).  I just took the 18-135 and the 35mm f2 – and they did their jobs well.  I never really hankered or wished for anything different whilst I was over there in Myanmar.  As it turned out (you can read in my blog on the trip to Myanmar), I ended up falling into Inlay Lake with all of my camera gear attached.  The only thing that got ruined was the X-T1 because it had no lens or body cap on at the time.  However, the 18-135 and the 35mm F2 and my X-T2 were and are still fine.  Just as well I opted for the sealed lenses!

Bridal ShootBridal ShootIn the studio One of the models photographed last year using the XF55-200 Fuji lens.

However, after being back home now for well over a month, and having had time to process a lot of my pictures, I am beginning to evaluate things a little bit differently.  My wife and I are planning our next trip now for later this year – we think it will be China.  I am thinking a lot about how I could improve on the lenses that I took and what I could do to make my images even more powerful!  The 18-135 really is a marvellous lens.  I have spent countless hours now on Lightroom gazing at images taken with it from my recent months trip to Myanmar.  From these hours of gazing and evaluating, here is my conclusion.  Before I start nothing I say is a criticism of this lens - it really is a great lens for what it is – but we can’t ask too much from it.  From wide angle up to about 80-100 (150mm equivalent), it is really very sharp wide open and quite useable.  The thing that swings in its favour is the great image stabilizing.  Many of the images I took would not have been possible without image stabilizing.  However, after that focal length and right out to its max of 135mm (200mm equivalent), it is really quite soft and disappointing.

For me this is the kicker.  I did a run down on the focal lengths of all the useable shots (so far), from my trip.  It turned out that 85% of them were all under 80 mm (120mm equivalent).  It was only that last 15% of shots taken at around 135mm (200 equivalent), that were not very good because of the softness issues of this lens.  So we have a marvellous little lens for most situations, but I am really unable to use it for the really longer shots.  What do I do now?  Remembering that I had shoved the 55-200 in the cupboard because it was not a WR lens, therefore not considered for the dusty Myanmar trip, I whacked it on one of my X-T2’s and headed off to the beach with my wife.  She is very photogenic, but gets quite bored with all of my “carry-on” about photography.  She is not interested in photography in any way at all.  However, with some sweet talking I managed to get her to pose as my model for the day (she is pretty and also comes free – ha ha), so I was able to take some meaningful shots with the 55-200 on the X-T2 so I could test out my theory. 

BriannaBriannaPortfolio shoot, 2017 A black and white photo from the same studio shoot using the Fuji XF 55-200 (it is actually an ideal studio lens).

When I got a chance to have a look at the images on L/R and process some of them, I was amazed at the sharpness of the 55-200, and the beautiful colour rendering – seems better than the 18-135.  It is blistering sharp (wide open), right out to about 180mm (270mm equivalent).  It is only the last bit that it loses some of its punch.  You will see there is a photo of my wife taken at 181mm and it is still very sharp.  There is another taken at full focal length (300mm equivalent), and you can just see some softness creeping in.  This is marvellous news because I shot with Nikon for over 30yrs and always used an 80-200 or a 70-200mm lens.  I never needed anything longer, so I am sure on the 55-200 I will be able to keep all of my shots under the 270mm to maintain maximum sharpness.

In the midst of all my pontificating over my lens setup and fine-tuning it for the upcoming trip, I purchased last week the 16-55 XF 2.8 lens.  This is a giant honking lens, but after all of my years of shooting heavy Nikon gear, it is still actually quite light on the X-T2 and infinitely useable.  However, the sad thing is I am unable to test it - to throw the results into the mix - to report about it on this blog.  I have the lens, but my Pro1 Hoya 77mm filter has not arrived from ‘fleabay’ yet, so I am unable to take the lens out and use it (I never use a lens without a protective filter up front).  I am assuming it will be very sharp wide open – hopefully much sharper than the 18-135 – up to 55mm.   

ModelModelOutside shoot A photo of my wife on the XF 55-200 wide open, at 180mm (270 equivalent).

Here is what I am hoping will be able to happen.  In normal shooting situations and for my travel trips to Asia, I am hoping to have the 16-55 glued on to one of my X-T2’s and the 55-200 glued onto the other.  Though the 16-55 has no stabilization, I am envisaging this to not be a problem.  I used the 35mm F2 lens extensively in Myanmar and never had a problem with camera shake or wished that it had stabilization.  For the 55mm end, if stabilization is needed, then of course I can pull out the 55-200 and use the 55 end for stabilization.  I am hoping the 16-55 will be just as sharp at 35mm as my 35mm F2 lens.  I only lose one stop (F2-F2.8), so if this is the case then this small lens may have become obsolete and will end up with the 18-55 on ‘fleabay’. 

I will definitely not ever sell the 18-135mm, it is still a marvellous little lens.  If the 16-55 had WR, and the 55-200 was sealed, then it would probably go.  However, for times when it is just too dusty to take out the 55-200, then that 18-135 will be used.  This coming weekend I am shooting our local Motocross Championship round.  We all know what dust is around at a motocross, so I will not be taking the 55-200.  I hope my filter will he here by then for the 16-55, and I will have the 18-135 on the other camera for longer shots.

When the filter arrives and I can use my 16-55, I will do another full test with it and compare it to the 18-135, 35mm F2 and the 55-100.  By everything I have read and heard it should stack up really well.  However, I am extremely surprised at just how sharp the 55-200 is.  I had the Nikon 80-200 IFED 2.8 lens, then later the new 70-200 AFSg F4 lens.  These were both extremely sharp lenses and just brilliant wide open.  I used them for years and still have many marvellous images shot on both of those lenses.  After comparing results, I can honestly say that my 55-200 is just as sharp as these wide open.  At the longer end (say 200 mm equivalent) it is just over F4 – so really loses nothing in speed to the F4 Nikon lens.  Even though the image stabilization was good my on Nikon F4 lens, I think OIS on the Fuji is even better.

ModelModelOutside shoot Another photo of my wife with the same lens but at max length (300 equivalent) - you can see a little softness creeping in.

These are really great times to be in photography.  Though it can be a little frustrating at times because we all want that one perfect lens (my 16-55 to have OIS and go up to 100mm), I really enjoy the experimenting and evaluating of my lenses to find what works best for me.  It really doesn’t cost too much - I always get back about 80% of what I paid for a lens from ‘fleabay’.  The bit that I lose I look at it as a ‘rental‘ for having the opportunity and ability to test the lens and compare them.  I am sure in the next few weeks I will work out exactly what my lens choice will be and keep the 3 or 4 lenses that will take my photography into the future.  I have a feeling at this stage it will be the 16-55 the 55-200 and the 18-135.  Though the little 35mm F2 lens is wonderful, if the 16-55 proves just as sharp at 35mm, then the F2 lens will be sold off and sacrificed on ‘fleabay’.  I hate lenses sitting around and only getting used once a year or something.  I would rather them go to a good home and I can put that extra money toward our travels.  Stay tuned for the next installment.  Please chime in and comment too – I would love to hear from others with the same lenses or having a similar re-shuffle to me.






]]> (Philip Sutton Photography) Mon, 27 Feb 2017 12:51:00 GMT
Fuji X-T1 and X-T2 - a new perspective on Myanmar in 2017 'Chinlone''Chinlone'Apprentice Monks playing Chinlone - early morning, Hsipaw, Myanmar, 2017  Monks playing 'Chinlone', early morning, Hsipaw, Myanmar, 2017 (Fuji X-T2 and XF 18-135)

Myanmar Today

As I sit reflecting on my just completed photographic expedition, it’s been quite an amazing experience having spent a month photographing the wonders of Myanmar.   I think for me the huge difference has been (compared to when I was there last five years ago – or especially 12 years ago), everybody now has a device in their hand.  For weal or woe change is coming quickly to Myanmar.  The changes are obvious as people rush to catch up to the rest of the world.  It’s a shock to see everybody with a device in their hand – in a country where the average wage is only $2-$5 per day (sim cards and devices must be very cheap there).  I preferred it to how it was on my last two visits but nobody can blame them for wanting to catch up with the new millennium.  However, for now it’s still a very special place.  I am not sure how long that will last, but at least for now I leave with some very special memories and 6 times 64gig SD cards filled with the evidence of those experiences.

I have travelled Asia now extensively for over a decade shooting street and environmental portraits.  Even having been to Cambodia over 12 times, and countless times in Vietnam and other places, I can still say that Myanmar is the most special in all of Asia.  I think it’s the combination of the lovely friendly people, the gorgeous little kids running around with the Thanaka paste on their faces, the men spitting their disgusting beatle-nut everywhere, and the gorgeous light – oh that light.  It seems that every corner one walks around or every step one takes, another photo opportunity presents itself.  Where I live in Australia is like a moonscape (photographically speaking), compared with the photographic opportunities in Burma – no wonder my cameras stay locked in their cupboard for most of the year!

Do your own thing

I had planned this trip over 2 years ago and made sure that I did all I could to maximize my opportunities here.  With my wife’s holidays at her new job she was unable to come for a month, so I travelled alone.  Though I missed her I think it was a blessing.  My photographic holidays are really no holiday at all – they are boot-camp on steroids – especially for somebody like my darling who cares not a tittle for photography . 

Unless one is as focused on photography as I am I would have driven them nuts banging around in the hotel at 5am every day – horrors, aren’t holidays supposed to be for sleeping in?  In the month there I never had one sleep-in.  I really needed it after a year of teaching Western Brat teenagers, but how can you sleep in when so much photographic potential is waiting outside your hotel door.  I was up every morning by 5 or 5:30, and I’d hit the streets in the dark.  You have to maximize those magic moments at dawn.  I’d shoot till around 9-10 then back to my hotel to eat and charge batteries.  After lunch I’d head out again and shoot until dark.  As one famous photographer penned “… you aint gonna bag any magic shots laying on your back in the hotel room”.

Misty MonkMisty MonkElderly Monk heading off to gather food for the day, very early morning, streets of Myanmar, 2017 Monk setting out early for the day's collection of food, Hsipaw, Myanmar, 2017 (Fuji XT2 and XF 18-135)

No Tour Guides Please!

I always keep well away from the tourist destinations - those shots have all been done ten thousand times before.  You must get way out to catch the real pictures that the tourists miss.  I never hire a local guide or waste money on tour groups or package deals.  I always hire a motorbike from my hotel.  Don’t hire from down the road, because if something goes wrong the hire companies can be ruthless.  However, the hotel is more likely to look after you.  They want a good rating when you fill out your survey – so they are not going to screw you thousands of dollars to buy a new bike if it got stolen (yes I’ve heard these horror stories from other travellers – their passport was held so they had no option).

I never worry about getting lost.  Take the card from the hotel and get the girl at the desk to write down in the local language where you want to go.  I just head out for the day and stop at villages or places that are not on the tourist route.  I can tell by the reactions from the locals on this trip that I was a rare commodity in that region.  The look from the kids was kind of like “look dad, the Martian has arrived”.  However, stick around until they get used to you a bit, then they will get back to the flow of whatever they were doing – then you will get your magic shot.  When it comes time to head home at the end of the day, I just stop and show folk my destination that is written down in their language – they just point in the given direction.  I drive a bit more then show somebody else.  I have always returned home to my hotel and have never been lost.  This works in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and everywhere else I travel. 

Twilight MeditationTwilight MeditationApprentice Monks, early morning, Hsipaw, Myanmar, 2017 Apprentice Monks, early morning worship, Hsipaw, Myanmar, 2017 (Fuji X-T2 and XF 18-135)

Believe it or not you actually get better shots being out as a stranger (without a tour guide), in places where they have never seen a Foreigner.  On the odd occasion over the years that I have taken a local as a tour guide, it has always backfired on me.  You can be communicated with through your guide and you can be told not to go there or not do this or that – then you miss your valuable shot.  When I go alone I just smile and point to the camera, and permission is usually always provided.  If you have to negotiate through an interpreter it will work against you.

I usually never pay money for my photos.  Though Steve McCurry is my hero, you can tell that a lot of his shots are posed and set up by the ‘fixers’ that he speaks so often about.  Over the years I have only ever paid the odd bit of money here or there if I think I have taken too much of somebody’s time.  I refuse to set up any of my shots – my whole modus operandi when I travel is to shoot the spontaneity of life.   I could easily pay a ‘fixer’ to get some local Monk boys and pose them in front of the temple twilight with 12 lit candles, holding their little umbrellas – but that is not life as it really happens.  I always rely on serendipity to let me to be at the right place at the right moment to snag that magic shot. 

Give Back

It was a bit of a pain to lug around, but I took over a huge bag of gifts this trip for the children.  I bought lots of little good quality model cars for the boys (all sealed up in an individual box), and hair bows and ribbons for the girls, bags of natural lollies (none of that sugar crap with artificial colour), and various other things.  The kids are always so delighted when you spontaneously pull something from your bag of tricks and hand it to them.  The adults are delighted too.  These people are so lovely and gracious, and the smallest thing (because they have so little), is always accepted with the greatest of enthusiasm.

Quiet DignityQuiet DignityHomeless mother, streets of Yangon, Myanmar, 2017 'Dignity in the face of adversity' - I photographed this beautiful young mum, destitute, living on the edge of a dirty highway - yet she still had a peace and dignity about her that belied her surroundings.  Streets of Yangon, Myanmar, 2017 (Fuji X-T2 and XF 18-135)

Pigeon Poo and Feral dogs

Just as a warning, one of the most annoying things is the ubiquitous feral dogs that seem to plague Myanmar.  With obviously no way of stopping the breeding, the place is riddled with half starved, diseased, mangy looking mongrels – everywhere.  I can’t stand dogs at the best of times, so for me this was a bit of a pain.  Several times I counted up to 15 dogs in a group, wandering around making a nuisance of themselves.  Some of them were very territorial so I spent a large amount of time – most days – whacking at dogs nipping at my heels.  I was never bitten and I’m not scared of dogs, but just be prepared to always be  looking behind to see what is snapping at your heels.  The other perennial nuisance is the feral pigeons. 

For some strange reason they are encouraged (especially in Yangon).  They have feeding stations everywhere, where the locals buy a bowl of grain and feed the pigeons on the street.  There are literally tens of thousands of the brutes everywhere.  They poo on you from above and make it really smelly under their roosting spots.  This was an unusual sight for me and took a while to get used to.  In Australia – or at least the town where I live – we call them ‘rats of the air’ and shoot and exterminate them whenever we can.  They foul water tanks, bring disease and especially at the school where I teach, make a real mess around the children’s sitting areas.

However, this is not a complaint.  I wasn’t there to change the way they do things, and in a funny way the pigeons and dogs kind of added to the chaos of the place.  I just say this to be aware if you go there you will be greeted by lots of pigeons and dogs.

Yes, I'm watching!Yes, I'm watching!Young girl hauling heavy loads, banks of the Irrawaddy River, Mandalay, Myanmar, 2017 Hauling the load, young woman carrying heavy containers, Irrawaddy River bank, Mandalay, Myanmar, 2017 (Fuji X-T1 and XF 35mm F2)


We are inundated on the news with lots of woeful things about the changes in Myanmar.  About the “emerging economy”, “long time civil unrest”, “brutal military regime”, “..democratic change”, “..cruelty to the Muslim minority Rohongya ..”etc.  I don’t know enough about the facts to comment too much on these things.  However, after spending many months in this country over a period of 12 years, I can say I have never felt more safe in a country.  My wife being Vietnamese – we spend many weeks of the year in her country.  I love Vietnam and I even own my own motorbike and keep it at her dad’s house.  I always head off into the ‘blue yonder’ to get my photos, each time we go there.  However, I am always very nervous about leaving my bike in isolated areas whilst photographing in Vietnam.  I even had a guy attempt to stone me in Vietnam when I wandered in an illegal gambling den.  I don’t always feel that safe in some of the isolated places that I go to.  The same in Cambodia and Laos etc – I’m always advised not to leave the motorbike unattended. 

However, I never got such a feeling in Myanmar.  I hired motorbikes extensively throughout this month’s trip and left them at every imaginable isolated destination – unlocked.  I wandered the streets of Yangon and Mandalay late into the night and in dark alleys.  I would NEVER do this in my so-called privileged country of Australia.  I feel very unsafe in the town where I live from drug addicts, junkies, the unemployed, robbers and local thugs.  No such deal in Myanmar.  The old joke there is if you see somebody running after you in a dark alley – it is to hand back the wallet that you just dropped!

I would have photographed hundreds and hundreds of people on this trip.  I think I got about maybe 3 or 4 ”no photo” – the rest were met with smiles and laughter.  It has gotten to the stage in my country that I only ever bring out my cameras onto the street on very special occasions.  I have been yelled at, sworn at, threatened and accused on many occasions.  It was such a wonderful experience to photograph such beautiful people in such a beautiful country.  I felt so safe and never once was I ever threatened or taken advantage of.  Take if from me as one who lives in the ‘advantaged West’, this is a marvelous thing and I hope it lasts.

Red 'Bulls...'Red 'Bulls...'Sad to see this r.. poison has hit the shores of beautiful Myanmar already. Stunned commuters, Yangon Circular Train, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017 'Red Bulls..t' Sad to see they sell this rubbish even in Myanmar.  I guess that's the price they pay for 'coming of age'.  Yangon Circular Train, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017 (Fuji XT-1 and XF 35mm F2)

The important part – how did Mr Fuji stack up?

I won’t ‘flog a dead horse’ here because I wrote a blog especially to deal with the new purchase last year into the Fuji system.  Check out the blog on my website – it’s called ‘Fuji X-T2/X-T1 – Recce in Bali’.  My wife and I went there for a week in November last year.  I trialed my two new cameras and tested everything in preparation for this trip to Burma.  I can tell you I was very nervous, after shooting with Nikon for over 30yrs - I felt very ‘underpowered’ with my two tiny little Fuji cameras and just two lenses.  However, you will read on there that the trip was very successful and it was with increased confidence I headed off to my month in Myanmar with the Fuji X-T2/1 and the XF 18-135 and the 35mm F2 lens – that was it.

I can now categorically say, after shooting over 13 thousand images on this trip, that I definitely have the right two lenses for my shooting needs and style.  If Fujifilm opened up their coffers to me for an hour and offered me to go in and select any two lenses from their range – I would stagger out clutching the 18-135 and the 35mm f2.  These lenses were brilliant – absolutely brilliant.  Dust sealed, water-proof (oh yes – more on this shortly), the 35mm – brilliantly sharp with gorgeous rendering, and the 135 – such a magic all-round lens.  Oh boy – did I say I love this lens? 

I had the 135 ‘glued’ on the T2 and the 35mm stayed on the T1 most of the time.  When I needed wide, tele, or very slow shutter speeds (brilliant stabilization), I used the 135mm.  For everything else – especially my close up shots of people – I used the gorgeous 35mm lens – always shot wide open on f2.  Believe me after lugging around the amounts of gear over the years that would make a Sherpa weary, it is so liberating to have two small cameras with two small lenses.  No fiddle fluffing around, no decisions on what lens to take or what to change to, no changing in the field with dust coming into the camera – this is the way it should be. 

I wrote about this on my Bali blog – but I have the two lenses mentioned and the 55-200 and the 18-55.  As mentioned on that blog (and now I’m even more convinced), that the 18-135 and the 35mm f2, can stand proud compared to the other two lenses.  My 55-200 is sharper at the longer end than the 135, but it is not weather sealed and has lots of play at the lens mount (wobbles and clonks sideways when I zoom), I hate this and it feels very junkie and does not reek of quality like the other two lenses.   The 18-55 is definitely not as sharp wide open at 55mm as the 18-135, and is even more lacking wide open.  In fact it is outstanding at just how much sharper and better the 18-135 is all around when compared to the baby sister.  I think baby sister was hiding behind the door when the quality stakes were being dished out!  I am afraid baby sister is destined to hit ‘fleabay’ in the not too distant future.

Hauling Cement bags, late evening, banks of the Irrawaddy River, Mandalay, Myanmar, 2017 (Fuji X-T2 and XF 18-155)

A ‘Dumping’ in Inle Lake

I can now say (unfortunately), that I have the final word and the last say on the weather sealing properties of these new cameras and lenses.  Nobody can argue the toss with me or try to say this or that about Fuji’s weather sealing properties – I know the real deal – categorically so.  There was some guy who recently wrote a thread on ‘that forum’, complaining how he got a sprinkle of dust on his T2 in the Grand Canyon or something.  Upon returning he sprinkled some water from his drink bottle over the top of the camera – and the thing ended up fried and into Fuji for extensive repairs.  Well, I wasn’t there so I can’t comment on that story, but it certainly does not inspire confidence in one regarding the weather sealing properties of our new cameras.  Well, not until I came onto the scene anyway!!

I had booked the boat very early next morning for my sunrise shots on Inle lake.  To cut a long story short, in the very dim dark twilight (whilst supposed to be boarding my little boat), I slipped off the end of the jetty and disappeared under the water (yes baby – we are talking total immersion).  As I re-surfaced the poor hapless boatman, grabbed me by the scruff and hauled me onto the jetty – before I went down the second time, perhaps never to be seen again.  I had my gear in two bags around my waist.  They were the two smaller bags in the ThinkTank system.  The Hubba Hiney and the next one down - a bit smaller.  I quickly took them off and unzipped both bags.  The cameras were dripping wet.  The X-T1 was ruined and will be up for an insurance replacement – but that was my fault because I had lost the body cap so the T1 was sitting flat and pointing up at the bottom of my bag – of course the water and mud just went straight into the lens opening. 

However, and here is the marvel – the X-T2 and 18-135 attached – a much different story.  Though they were in the wet bag only a matter of perhaps a minute or so, the T2 was sitting on its flat (screen down), with the lens poking up.  It of course was actually slopping around in about an inch of water at the bottom of my camera bag.  I honestly thought they were ruined.  I got back to my hotel like a drowned rat and toweled everything down.  I took off the lens and there was water around the lip of the lens mount (body and lens), but the rubber seals had done their job well – not a drop inside.  Though water was coming out all over the place around the screen – as I flipped it out – there was not a skerrick of moisture in the battery compartment, SD card department, or the other little door.  Water was coming out of the little wheel at the back of the camera – when I blew with my blower brush.  There was definitely nothing in the lens because I sat it in the warm sun and if there had been moisture inside, there would have been condensation inside the lens.

"What about Me"?"What about Me"?Boy and Dog, early morning, Hsipaw, Myanmar, 2017

Boy and Dog, early morning Hsipaw, Myanmar, 2017 (Fuji X-T2 and XF 18-135)

However, now writing this several weeks later and many thousands of shots later, I can say my T2 and 18-135 are completely normal.  I have been watching for the slightest change or glitch, because these were all insured and could be claimed on.  I am certain now that the seals all did their job very well and this is a marvelous testament to Fuji engineering.  I am not sure about our little friend with the drink bottle and his few splashes of water, but I make no exaggeration when I say the T2 with lens attached got a thorough drowning and was dripping wet all over when I pulled it from the camera bag


Some Glitches

Prior to the ‘drowning lessons’, the T2 and 135 did develop a problem that I am not very happy with.  For no reason, on any given occasion (when I turn the camera on after its little sleep, turn it on from off, or change back from ‘playback’), the LCD and EVF flash off and on and off and on.  It does this crazy little ‘dance’ and can do it up to 10-20 times before it will stop.  It was so damned annoying because I would see my shot, touch the button to turn on, and then the crazy little ‘dance’ would start.  I would have to stand there like an idiot until it finished before I could take my shot – alas, of course it was well gone by then.  I did lots of searching online, asked lots of questions and nobody could help me.  I reset the camera several times.  I tried shooting for a couple of days with the 35mm f2 lens on there and it was perfect.  As soon as I put the 18-135 back on the T2, the crazy little ‘dance’ would start again.  I am pretty mad that my new camera is doing this.  I obviously couldn’t do anything in Myanmar and just kept using it best I could whilst on the trip.  Now that I am back in Australia I will have to contact Fuji and try to sort this out.  However, this has nothing to do with the drowning in the lake – it was doing this long before I decided to take a pre-dawn swim.  Other than this my gear was great and I certainly have no regrets shooting Fuji.  They are lovely cameras, well made, inspire one with confidence (well, normally), and the images are delightful.


This may be my last great trip for a while. I missed my wifie too much to travel that long, alone, again.  We will go back to Vietnam this year to see her parents, and I’ll get out again on my old motorbike and head for the out-blocks where no Westerners go.  I think she then wants to go to Taiwan for a few weeks or something.  I’ll be happy to tag along and just make the most of the opportunities that come.  However, this was a special trip.  I was able to just concentrate on photography for a whole month.  Daylight till dark – boot-camp style.  Keep checking my website, because though I have a few new shots up now, there are well over 13,000 photos that I have to process and wade through.  I love this part – all the hard work is done, all those damned horrible early mornings are over, now time to relax over the next few months and play around on Lightroom with the lovely memories of Myanmar.


Check me out here – and on instagram at fineartfoto

The Real 'Little Cowboy'The Real 'Little Cowboy'Small boy showing the cow who's boss, Mandalay, Myanmar, 2017 A real Cowboy - Gutsy little kid showing the cow who's boss, banks of the Irrawaddy River, Mandalay, Myanmar, 2017





]]> (Philip Sutton Photography) environmental portraits fuji xf 18-135mm fuji xf 35mm f2 fuji x-t1 fuji x-t2 street photography Sun, 22 Jan 2017 07:18:09 GMT
Fuji XT2/XT1 - Recce in Bali                                                                                        Fuji XT2/XT1 - Recce in Bali


'The Moment''The Moment'Mother and Daughter waiting to be 'Cleansed' - Istana Tampak Siring Holy Spring Water Temple, Bali, 2016

A cataclysmic shift

I had a cataclysmic shift in my photographic equipment this year.  As many seem to be doing now (after dipping my toes in the waters over the last few years), I bit the bullet and sold my beloved Nikon D3X and lenses, and swapped fully over to Fuji.  I won’t bore you all with the minutia of the details - but suffice to say it was a very big emotional and financial endeavor.  I have been shooting Nikon for over 30 years now – starting with the Nikon F3 and worked my way up through all the models, ending with the D3X.  My wonderful Nikon F4 served me so well for many years of shooting ‘stock’ in the heyday (90’s).

However a few miles under the belt and a few creaky bones later, I was finding it increasingly difficult to lug my huge D3X and Nikkor 70-200 around in the tropical heat of Asia.  My wife and I live in a small gold-mining town in the Western Australian desert.  It is the most boring forsaken place on the face of God’s earth.  However, with stable paying jobs and other reasons we choose to live here at the moment.  However, because there is nothing to photograph here, my cameras sit locked in their little cupboard most of the year.  Fortunately travel to Asia from Perth airport (not counting the 8 hour drive to get there), is cheap and not many hours flight.  We go to Asia a lot and that is where I love to photograph. 

Cutting to the chase – having sold all my gear this year and switching over completely to Fuji, I was very keen to fire all my new gear in ‘anger’.  I have shot a few race days here (horse racing carnival) and a few other things, but I never consider my gear fully tested until it has done the rigors of the heat and dust and grime in Asia.  I always hire a motorbike and head off by myself.  The banging around on dusty roads on motorbikes is all part of the test my cameras must endure.  I have a 4 week trip booked next month, to go back to Myanmar for an extensive trip.  I was a bit anxious to head off there with my new acquisitions without having them properly tested first. 

New Horizons


The Little FishermanThe Little FishermanYoung boy playing near the Holy Spring Water, Istana Tampak Siring, Bali Indonesia, 2016

Suddenly I had a bright idea - it was my wife’s birthday in November so I told her I would take her to Bali for a week.  She loved the idea, so we headed off mid-November on our new quest.  My wife is Vietnamese, and we have been to Vietnam many times.  I have been to Cambodia 13 times now over the years, and not counting Laos, Thailand, and many other countries – Bali was a totally new experience for us both.

It really is the easiest way to taste Asia for people who don’t want to get too far out of their comfort zones.  The people are the most placid, lovely generous people in all of Asia – by far.  We had no confrontations over bills and other things like we often get in the rest of Asia.  The traffic if very calm and peaceful and I don’t feel like I am ‘running the gauntlet’ like I feel each time I get on my motorbike in Vietnam.  The photographic opportunities are marvelous and the place is very cheap to travel in compared to the rest of Asia.  Myanmar is very expensive so I am expecting a hefty bill there this Xmas.  However, Myanmar is the most awesome photographic experience in all of Asia and not to be missed. 

The Gear

After trying and testing lenses and reading everything I could, I decided on the Fuji XF 55-200 and the XF 18-55.  Having tested them on my new X-T1 and X-T2 around home and any local happenings – these were my conclusions.  To me (and only my opinion – you are welcome to disagree) the 55-200 is an extremely sharp and wonderful lens.  Particularly up close and to the mid-zoom range it is very sharp wide open.  It is actually a fairly fast lens and reasonably light considering it is basically an equivalent to a 70-200 (and beyond), in the 35mm arena.  I was a little disappointed with the 18-55.  It is reasonable up close, but I shoot a lot around the 55mm mark (80-90 portrait) and it is disappointing at that focal length wide open.  However they both have great image stabilization.


'The Blessing''The Blessing'Worshiper at Tanah Lot Temple, Bali, Indonesia

The big disappointment

The one major factor that started to dawn on me as I got closer to going to Myanmar was the fact that these lenses are not sealed.  It really started to get to me as I am very particular with my equipment.  The places I go to and particularly Mandalay, are the filthiest places one could imagine.  I will be there in January and that is the beginning of the dry season.  With the smoke from the burning and the dust from the many unsealed roads, visibility gets down to a few hundred meters sometimes.  I have to wear an industrial particle mask whilst on my motorbike just so I can breath.  However, it is the dust and filth that creates the amazing light that one can only find in Myanmar.  The thought of sucking all of this into my camera each time I zoomed, was not comforting.

New decisions

I started reading a lot about the 18-135 mm lens.  I loved the fact that it is sealed.  There was no way I wanted a lens that was as slow as 5.6, but I didn’t have much choice.  No way I wanted to lug that 1kg 50-140 monstrosity around.  That being the case I could have just kept the Nikon gear.  I bit the bullet and purchased the Fuji XF 18-135.  I already had the 35 f2 that I had hardly ever used.  With that being also sealed – it was an easy choice to choose the two lenses which were going to Bali – the precursor to my trip to Myanmar.  I ‘glued’ the 18-135 onto the T2 and the 35mm onto the T1, and with these in tow we headed off to Bali.


'Completion''Completion'Worshiper bathing in the Holy Spring Water Temple, Istana Tampak Siring, Bali, Indonesia, 2016


Right from the outset I loved the feel of my new equipment.  The T1 with the battery grip and 35mm lens is just magic to carry around.  The 18-135 endeared itself to me very quickly with its ease of use, lovely quality feel and small size.  The more I used it the more I thought this could be the answer for my dust problem in Myanmar.  I have two small bags from the ‘Thinktank’ system.  They live on the belt that comes with that system.  I carry them around my waist.  When I’m ready to shoot, the T1 goes around my neck on a strap.  It is so light I could carry it all day.  The T2 with the bigger lens is a bit heavier so it goes over my shoulder and dangles upside down on my ‘Black Rapid’.  Oh man – what a perfect system.  I can walk all day with this gear deployed for action, or tucked away in their bags around my waist.  Boy oh Boy – when I think of that heavy Nikon with the big 70-200 in its ‘Thinktank’ holster dangling from one side of my waist all day long.  It twisted my back and gave me pain and it was such a nuisance because it hung very low – and on the motorbike it used to bang and hit things.  The size and weight and feel of the Fuji gear has revolutionized the way I shoot and has given me such fresh enthusiasm and enlightenment for my photographic career.


The Three EntrepreneursThe Three EntrepreneursThree little 'Hustlers'. Boys at Bali Temple, Indonesia, 2016

‘A picture tells a thousand words’

I won’t bore you with all of the details about where we went and what I shot.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking.  It was a marvelous experience using the two Fujis.  The autofocus on the 18-135 never let me down and was so snappy and fast.  I even used that very silly, piddley little flash that comes with both cameras.  I stuck it on and used it for fill flash on many occasions and it was wonderful.  The gear felt so solid and reeked of quality.  I even used them in some light rain showers, near the ocean with salt spay splattering everywhere.  Each night I would clean them down in the hotel and they never missed a beat.

Crunch time

When I travel by myself (Myanmar), I always take the laptop and download my pictures in the hotel at night.  It was my wife’s birthday and I had to spend quality time with her.  I didn’t want to encroach on that by fiddling with pictures at night.  For the first time I took a handful of memory cards and no laptop.  I could only see the pictures on the back of my screen and I knew I would have to wait until I returned to Australia to really find out how things went.  Would the pictures shot from my favourite destination (Asia) come even close to the magic I used to get from my D3x?  When we finally got back and my images popped up on my big 27” Mac screen – I was blown away.  Oh boy – Fuji magic.  I also thought I may be disappointed with the older sensor from the T1, but I think it stands up admirably to its newer sibling.  To me, the images from the T1 still have that gorgeous look and there is still plenty of room there to pull up the shadows and crop.  Perhaps that was because I only used the magic 35mm f2 on that camera.  With all the dozens of Nikkor lenses I have used over the years, I can honestly say that lens is right up there with the very best and sharpest from Nikon.

The Big Question – how did the 18-135 perform?


The 'Class Clown'The 'Class Clown'There's one is every crowd!! Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, 2016

I can say with certainty (because I have taken many thousands of shots now to compare), that at all focal lengths – wide open – my 18-135 is noticeably sharper than my 18-55.  This is marvelous news.  The majority of my shooting is wide open wide angle (27mm equivalent) up to around portrait length (90mm equivalent).  This is where the 18-135 really shines.  It is still sharp wide open up to about 135mm (equivalent), but beyond that – right out to 200 mm (equivalent) it is not as sharp as the 55-200.  This is a little bit disappointing.  However, just like everything else in life like relationships, colleagues that we are forced to work with, the way we look - and our cameras – everything is a bit of a trade off.  We must decide what we can accept and what we can’t.  We filter the good and bad bits and hopefully are happy with what is left – what we can live with.  This is the 18-135mm.  I don’t shoot all that often out to its full telephoto length, so I can live with it not being as sharp there.  However, where it really counts – where I will use it the most – it is beautiful.  Happily it has rendered my 18-55 obsolete – the 18-135, being so much better, I really have no reason to use the smaller lens.   However, the 55-200 is much sharper than the 18-135, so I will explain a bit further on where I will be using that lens.

The Big Bad News (The kicker)!

It’s like the old good news bad news jokes.  The bad news is usually so terrible that the good news pails into insignificance.  Not so in this case, but there is one major minus I have inherited with this new Fuji system – compared to my Nikons, and I’m having trouble living with it.  The major lack of ability to isolate the subject from the background, has changed the way my images look.  I was well aware of this like everybody else.   We all know that full-frame isolates the subject better and has less depth of field at an equivalent focal length than does an APS-C sensor.  However, I didn’t realize to what extent.  With the 18-135 being a fairly slow lens – even shot wide open – I am usually around f4-f5.6.  At this aperture and the common focal lengths that I am using, I am not getting the beautiful soft blurred backgrounds that I am used to with my Nikons.  It is hard to imagine but even at only 50mm (the 35mm lens), I am getting more blur in those backgrounds with that lens at f2 than the bigger lens shot at around 135mm etc but on f5.6.  This is the only disappointment with my new system and I have no answers on how to fix it! 

In the studio


Bridal ShootBridal ShootIn the studio

Two days after arriving back from Bali I had a studio booked to shoot over 25 models.  Our local TAFE (Technical and Further Education Centre) has a Hairstyle and Beauty section.  The girls sitting their course have their annual assessment at this time of the year.  Each student has to provide three models and do a ‘beauty’, ‘bridal’ and third choice makeup on them.  Then they are shipped off to the hairstylist.  I was then asked to photograph each model – which will go on the student’s portfolio.  Of course I had each girl sign a model release, so I can use their photos at my discretion.  I was really hoping to have tried out the T2 in the studio before testing it on a professional paid shoot, but I said yes with confidence.  I could have used the T1, but some of the girls wanted B&W, and I was keen to use the new Acros simulation.  I certainly was not disappointed.

Of course no dust issues here so the 55-200 was perfect.  I shot it at around 100-120 mm equivalent and around F9.  As you can see from the samples the shots are beautifully sharp.  Consequently, my 18-55 will be sold off and I will be keeping the 35mm and 18-135 for travel and use the 55-200 for studio and other stuff locally.

I just found the T2 a real joy to work with in the studio.  I had so many models to shoot, it took from 9am till 5pm, with barely a break.  I took around 600 photos and used less than three batteries.  The lights in the studio had optical slaves on them, so (yes you guessed it), I triggered then with that pissy little geeky Fuji flash that comes with the cameras.  I placed it on ‘commander’ mode and it worked perfectly.  I love it that they take no batteries – you only have to use one set for camera and flash – well done Fuji.  The camera never got hot at any time or missed a beat. 


Creative ShootCreative ShootIn the studio

A Few Niggles

There are a few niggles that no firmware update in the world is going to fix.  When I did the studio shoot (and outside as well), the wretched aperture wheel on the 55-200 kept getting bumped.  It doesn’t matter outside so much because I always shoot automatic on ‘aperture priority’ – if it is bumped then it may effect the depth of field, but the camera will still meter correctly.  However, in the studio, because the camera is on manual – and I metered to the chosen aperture – when it is bumped, then of course it makes a difference.  I was aware of this but of course when you have to talk to the models and direct them, things can happen without one knowing.  I would suddenly notice it and adjust – but boy it was so frustrating.  I noticed now that I am post processing all of the photos in Lightroom, some are slightly out because of this.  That is why I love using the 35mm because it has a proper aperture ring with lovely clicks – it has never been bumped once.  Unfortunately the lens I will be using the most has that silly wobbly ring like the 55-200 (18-135).

My other bugbear (and this annoys me 10 times more than the first one) is the silly diopter switch on the T2 moves sooo easily.  I shoot with glasses so I need that thing cranked way the hang up there just so I can see properly.  It can be up to 5-10 times a day I have to stop and adjust the wretched thing – because everything has become blurry again.  In fact the one on the T2 is worse than the one of the T1 – Fuji actually went backwards on this!!@#!!  As I said, no amount of firmware updates can fix this.  Looks like I am stuck with this silly thing for a very long time.  The one on the D3X was an engineering marvel.  One had to flick it out with the fingernail and then adjust the diopter, then with a click it would return back in and lock.  With years of using that camera it never had to be altered.  ARE YOU LISTENING FUJI?

Final Word

In spite of my few niggles I mentioned on here, I am really stoked swapping over to Fuji.  Not that my photography was stagnant before or I was lacking inspiration, but my whole photographic experience has reached new vistas.  The small size of the cameras, their ease to travel with, their utterly gorgeous files, and the consistent updates from Fuji to make them even better - really makes for a marvelous all round experience.  Even though I doubted at the beginning, I now have no doubts whatsoever that I did the right thing swapping over to this new system.  The trip to Bali was a fantastic experience and when I see those new files on my website, it tells me that there will be many more to follow from the wonders of Myanmar.  



If you wish, check out more of my shots here - or on instagram at fineartfoto







]]> (Philip Sutton Photography) (sacred bali) bathing Sun, 27 Nov 2016 13:58:02 GMT
Which camera should I use? Quiet CherubQuiet CherubYoung child in quiet contemplation, Railway Slum, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2014 I see a lot of talk these days about which camera to use.  I see guys turning themselves inside out on forums, discussing and arguing the minutiae of this camera versus that one.  Others buy and sell at the whim and vagaries of the digital market (which changes models almost as much as we change our underwear), and they wonder why they are nearly broke and their photography has not improved. 

The above photo is one of my favourites and was taken with my current camera - my Nikon D3X.  This is a marvelous high pixel camera that I like so much, and the results from it are so outstanding sometimes, it nearly blows my socks off.  Some say to never shoot it above ISO 400, but as you can see in this photo, which was taken at ISO 1600, the results are still very pleasing.

Here's another photo to illustrate a point.

HarmonyHarmonyWomen Monks, Sagaing Monastery, Mandalay, Myanmar, 2012 This I think is one of my all time favourite photos.  Not just for the look of it, but how I got it and the marvelous day I had exploring on my motorbike the wonderful sights of Sagaing, near Mandalay, Myanmar.  I stumbled across a Monastery for nuns or lady Monks.  They kindly showed me around and invited me upstairs to look around.  While my guide was trying to communicate with me in broken English, I noticed one of the ladies moving toward the window to join her friend.  As she approached I sensed something was going to happen, so I grabbed my Fuji X100, lifted it to my eye, and pressed the shutter - the rest is history. 

My point is this.  The Nikon D3X will blow the little Fuji out of the water, when it comes to resolution, colour fidelity, dynamic range, that 'hidden' factor of a beautiful image that words can't explain.   However - in this case - does any of that matter.  The fact was that the little Fuji was right there around my neck, it was so quick to grab it, lift it up and hit the shutter - all in the blink of an eye.   By the time I had reached for the Black Rapid, found my D3X dangling, and got it ready, the shot would have been missed.   More than this though.  If I had to choose the camera to take the perfect image with - the best resolution, the best dynamic range, colour rendition etc, of course I would choose the D3X over the Fuji X100.  However, at the end of the day when that magic image is on your wall, winning the photo contest, or bracing your website - does it really matter which camera it was taken on.

I have always been a bit of a gear nut as well, fixating on this or that model as the best, buying and selling until my wallet was fatigued, but my photos never improved.  Now I don't worry about that, I have two cameras which are really different, but both serve me well, and I just use them to harvest the images that best represent my style, passion and what I stand for.  Some of the nicest photos on my website, those that have had nice comments and people enjoy, invariably have been taken on my little Fuji.

I suggest just use what you have at hand.  Get out and use that camera to take pictures that surprise and delight, not worrying about its resolution or what other people think of it, or is it the latest model?  My hero in photography is Steve Mccurry.  I look at his stuff every single day to get more inspiration and to see what he is up to next.   If I had to be honest, I am even a bit jealous of his lifestyle.  However, one thing I notice in every interview or whatever way he is asked - he cares little for this model or that, or which is the current camera of the month.   He obviously has certain technical requirements in a camera, but after that is met, he cares not about models or this one or that.   In fact he won't be drawn into a discussion on which camera is best or focus attention on what he is using at the moment.  His whole MO is about his images.   That's all he cares - his images do the talking, not the camera.

Get out there guys and take that magic picture - using whatever camera you have.

Tell me what you think?



]]> (Philip Sutton Photography) Fuji X100 Nikon D3X my favorite picture which camera is best Tue, 01 Sep 2015 13:51:33 GMT
Pagan Promise Pagan PromisePagan PromiseSunrise over ancient Temple, Bagan, Myanmar, 2012

Sunrise over ancient Temple, Bagan, Myanmar, 2012

]]> (Philip Sutton Photography) Sat, 08 Aug 2015 14:38:15 GMT