It has been quite a while since I took any photos or even had the inclination or inspiration to do so. My wife and I sold our home this year, in the small desert mining town in Western Australia, where we had worked and resided for over a decade. We moved to Perth in Western Australia and I guess you all know what that would involve? Staying in pokey expensive rental accommodation while we found and bought another house, the interim storing of furniture. Finding new jobs, dealing with all the mundane things of life that revolved around such a shift. Then I had to do renovations on the house so we could move in and make it comfortable.
Along with still having to teach full-time. I had lost all energy for creativity and my exhaustion levels were only matched by the forlorn looks of my two X-T3’s, ‘peering out’ from their cupboard. I had arranged through a teaching contact to photograph shearers at a country town about 160 km’s S/E of Perth. We had it organised in the last school holidays (June/July), but Perth decided to have its wettest/coldest start to winter in recorded history. The sheep were all “….soaking wet”, saith the farmer, and that was that.
Move forward to now and we have just finished the two-week October school holidays. I had finally finished all the renovations on the house, and with the warmer spring weather, my energy levels and creative juices were beginning to flow again. I rang my contact in the small country town of Pingelly (Western Australia). Times and dates were set, and I started to feel excited all over again. This fact alone was brilliant, because during the full swing of this move, I had lost all interest in photography and was beginning to get quite concerned.
As you all know, I’ve been traveling and writing blogs and putting images on my website for many years. I used to eat, sleep and breath photography, so the thought of losing this was a real concern. However, I needn’t have worried. Once life settled down, and things returned back to normal, I was ready to roll again.
As you will know from my many blogs, and my decade long journey with Fuji equipment, that the very long process of buying, using and selling off gear, was finally coming to a close. I mentioned in my last few blogs about the joys of discovering the 16mm 1.4 and the 50mm F2. You’ll remember how I eventually settled on two X-T3’s as my cameras of choice. Incidentally, I just sold off my second X-H1 last week. Everything superfluous to my needs has now gone. My tried and proven kit is the two T3 bodies. The 16mm 1.4 ‘glued’ onto one of them and the 50mm F2 ‘strapped’ onto the other. That is the only gear I need now and all that I use for all of my work. This includes my street and events work (zero video of course). With the warmer weather now coming here in Perth, lots of events are coming up and I am getting ready for a very busy season.
As mentioned, I haven’t shot anything in ‘anger’ for quite a few months, but once I arrived at my destination and ‘festooned’ myself with cameras, nothing had changed. My equipment worked flawlessly and proved once again that these small, lovely little mirrorless cameras are all that one needs to take beautiful and memorable images.
One thing that I found very interesting was that my wife and I always use merino wool garments throughout the cold winter months. They are so beautiful against the skin as a wicking layer, they don’t stink after a while like polyester fibres do, and they can absorb 30% of their weight in moisture and still keep you warm.
When I arrived on the farm and my contact took me into the shearing shed, I was met by dozens of huge sheep staring at me. The shearer told me that yes indeed these were merino ‘wethers’ (males that have been neutered). They were much bigger than I ever thought, and the feel of their gorgeous, thick fleeces, left me in no doubt as to why I had been very warm this winter.
Shearing is a very skilful practice, and I was amazed how the men were able to manage those huge beasts and shear them so quickly. The men are paid over $3 per animal, so it is strictly a quota basis. In other words, the more sheep they can shear in the day the more they get paid. My contact (Jack), told me that most of his “boys” can shear up to 200 sheep per day.
After realising that the ‘boys’ got paid per sheep, I was very cautious as to not get in their way or slow them down. This was a slight problem for me and I was a little anxious at the beginning. As you will know, I shoot over 80% of all of my images with my wide angle 16mm lens. This thing was made for how I shoot. All of my street events and even my street photography with strangers is all up very close. I always get as close as I possibly can with the camera. This is so that the 1.4 aperture can do its work. I will have a full-frame/wide-angle view of the whole scene, but only the subject will be in focus, and the rest of the background will be blurry. This was hard to do on my 16-55, 2.8, but with this 1.4 lens, and the closer focusing distance, it is quite doable. I discussed with Jack, and he gave me a rough guideline on the floor boards as to just how close I should get, without getting chopped by the flailing clippers, or getting in the boys’ way.
Everything was very fast moving, once the shearing got underway. I did not take many photos on the 50mm, and I really didn’t lack any focal lengths or wished I had another lens. Once again, the 16mm 1.4 was fantastic, and it kept up with nearly all of the fast-moving pace. The only few images it did miss, was when the ‘rouseabout’ was tossing each fleece up into the air and onto the sorting table. The wool would cover his eyes, so of course the autofocus tried to follow the fleece and not him. In hindsight, I probably would have been better off switching to manual focus. I could have easily done this, because that particular 16mm lens has an autofocus clutch mechanism for this very reason.
I know that Fuji have now released new versions of their 35 1.4 (now a 33 1.4 WR), and the old 23 1.4 (now a 23 1.4 WR). I was never interested in either of these lenses, because I shoot in all kinds of dusty and wet conditions – particularly when travel back to Asia commences in the future. Now that these lenses are both weather sealed, I had wondered if I could incorporate them into my style of shooting. After consideration and looking at many images in my files, I discovered that those two focal lengths don’t really fit my style of shooting. When I used the wonderful 16-55, for all those years, I was mostly only ever using the wide-angle end, or the 55mm end. The only reason I sold it was because it was only a 2.8 lens. I was able to replace it with my two primes now (16mm and 50mm), and these are F1.4 and F2, respectively. So even though these new lenses look great and will suit a lot of shooters, my style of shooting in very close, or back at ‘portrait distance’, doesn’t really need a 35mm or 50mm equivalent. My interest was also piqued of late when Fuji introduced the GFX 50sll. This looks an awesome camera and is one of the cheapest medium format cameras on the market. I thought all of that extra image quality and dynamic range would be great, however when I looked a little bit deeper, things were not quite what they seemed.
Firstly, for that body and say their 32-64mm F4 lens – that combination here in Australia is just on $10,000 – ouch! Then, the whole reason why I sold off my Nikon D3x kit years ago was because of the size and weight. The combination of the 32-64mm lens on the GFX, comes in just on 1,700 grams. My X-T3 with my 16mm 1.4 is only 900 grams. That is getting up to nearly a kilo lighter than the medium format kit. However, the deal breaker for me was the autofocus. Many of you probably followed my blogs and learned how I struggled with the autofocus on my Fuji X-H1’s and X-T2’s. Shooting fast moving street parades and events. I was losing so many images because of autofocus. Once I swapped over to two X-T3’s, with the recent firmware updates, the autofocus is like it’s from another planet. If I miss any images now it is usually user error. Going by everything I have read, the autofocus on the new GFX 50sll, would not be any better than what I had on the X-H1’s. Buying that kit then would definitely be a step backward on many fronts.
As I said a little earlier on in this missive, Fuji’s lovely little crop sensor cameras are all one really needs to make beautiful images, and I think looking at other alternatives, only further cements this reality for me.
All in all, I had a great day and it was a fantastic way to blow out the ‘cobwebs’ - not having touched my gear for nearly six months. This is probably the longest period I have not taken any photos for a very long time. However, I am fine with that. Life has to go on and it is not all about photography. Sometimes we have to change vocations, or cities, or houses and these things take time. We are now settled into to a nice little house, a lovely city and we both found good jobs. Spring is literally in the air now - in Western Australia, and I am looking forward to the events that are coming up in the future. Of course, you will mostly find me with the 24mm 1.4 lens right up close, getting those dramatic images that I thrive on - those perspectives that lift an image from the mundane to something special!