So… What kind of camera do you use?

Me? The one that works best for what I like to do.

I’m not attached to a brand -nor am I very sentimental.

Something comes along, and I think it’ll work better for me? I’ll seriously look into it.

Just like in my guitar playing days. When I was recording in the studio, I wouldn’t hesitate to borrow or rent a different guitar, or amplifier if I thought it would get a sound that fit better with what I was trying to do. (The last time I bought a guitar amplifier -about 15 yrs ago, I went to my local music store, tried a bunch, and had narrowed it down to two. To me, they both sounded very good. How did I decide? I placed both on either side of me, stepped in-between, and picked them up. I bought the lighter one!)

Like-wise, I don’t really care what it says on the front of my camera -so long as it does what I need it to do.

Over the years, I’ve used Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Pentax, Panasonic, Fuji, and probably a couple of others that I forget. For various reasons they all seemed like the right thing to use at the time.

A few years ago, I switched to Fuji, and here’s why:

I got old.

They’re smaller and lighter, so walking around for a couple of hours with a camera and lens slung around my neck, isn’t the chore that it once was. Prior to owning my current main camera, I had a Nikon D700. Amazing camera, but pair it with a 70-200 f2.8, and after an hour of walking around, you might find yourself with a bit of a slouch. You (or at least I did) find yourself, almost sub-consciously, making excuses why you shouldn’t go out for a walk with your camera. Not good.

Plus, my eyes have weakened with age. The diopter wouldn’t ‘rack out’ far enough to make things sharp in the view finder.

Time for a change.

I started looking around online, and oddly enough, for some reason, I was distracted by a review of the Fujinon 16, f1.4. I went downtown to a local camera shop, and, suffice to say, was VERY impressed. 16mm, (With Fuji’s cropped sensor) or 24mm, in 35mm terms has always been my favorite focal length. Plenty wide, and if you’re careful, you can avoid ‘converging parallels,’ and wide angle distortion -or, you can use them for effect.

I went home, thinking ‘Hmm… I wonder what the bodies you attach that thing to are like?’

More online research.

I saw that the recently released Fuji X-T2 was getting sparkling reviews. 

Back down to the camera shop, a couple of days later.

I bought both. The body was smaller, and lighter, the electronic viewfinder was sharp and crisp, and because it’s electronic, I can see in focus again. But most important of all, It produced images that I really liked.

My Nikkor lenses went on Kijiji, sold quickly, and covered most of the cost of my new camera and lens. I kept the D700 body, and one 50mm lens, because the body is somewhat banged up, and as the English like to say, ‘I couldn’t be arsed’ to sell it, as I probably wouldn’t get much for it anyway.

After a couple of days of testing, and shooting, I noticed another pleasant surprise: With a little care, and occasional tweaking, I could get really good images right out of the camera. That’s important to me. I’m not one of those people who likes to fool around in Lightroom, or Photoshop to make adjustments on their images after they’ve taken them. Usually, I’ll still have to do a little, but shooting with the X-T2, I can keep it to a bare minimum.

(There’s always a big debate when it comes to shooting jpeg vs. shooting RAW, and to be sure, I have some strong opinions about it, but that’s for another blog post, later on.)

Now, let me tell you some things that my camera isn’t:

-It doesn’t have the fastest autofocus. Make no mistake about it, it’s VERY fast -plenty fast for me, but if I was a photojournalist covering sports, say, I’d probably be looking into offerings from Canon, or Nikon. But then I’d be back with the weight problem.

-It’s not full frame. If extreme detail of large files is your thing, or you’d like to severely crop, you’d probably do wise to look elsewhere. However, I have, just across the room from me here, a landscape shot that I took in High Park in the fall a couple of years ago. I printed it at 24” X 36”, or whatever the dimensions are with Fuji’s sensor size -one side is 36,” and it’s perfectly tack sharp, and crisp.

-It doesn’t have the fastest frame rate for burst shooting. I think in ‘boost’ mode, I can get 8 frames per second. But, come on, do most of us really need more than that? Even half of that?

-Certain software companies offer limited, or no support for files produced by Fuji cameras. I like to think of them as ASSHOLES. I get along just fine with ACDSee Photo Studio Ultimate. (More on this later. Rest assured, there’s a colossally vitriolic blog post coming soon…)

-Apparently, Fuji is not a leader in the field of video. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never shot a video with any of my cameras. Not one.

There are a few other things that other manufacturers do better than Fuji, but that are quite inconsequential to me. The X-T2 does what I need it to do. I know how to use it in various circumstances. And just as important, I know what I don’t need.

These days, once you reach a certain price point, every camera is going to be very good. The market is so competitive, camera manufacturers can’t afford to offer something that lags. Other components of their ‘systems’ are what a lot of people are looking into.

How’s the lens lineup? Are the optics great?

How’s the flash system? Is that important to me?

Etc., etc.

Paramount, is ‘What am I going to be shooting?

For most of us, and I was no exception here, when we’re beginning, the answer is probably something like ‘a little bit of “x”, and a little bit of “y”, and then just about everything.’  We start out running around shooting everything, and as we progress, we tend to gravitate toward certain subjects, and styles.

If you have a better understanding of what you’re going to be shooting, you have a better chance of getting it right the first time.

Do the research. It’s all out there all over the ‘net. And like everything you read online, CROSS REFERENCE IT. 

The best thing about the internet is that anyone can say anything.

The worst thing about the internet is that anyone can say anything.

Everything I know about photography, I learned from photographing trains.

Sounds like I’m being facetious, but I’m not.

I’ve easily spent more time taking pictures of trains, than anything else. Whenever I’ve gone on holiday, I’ve always tried to make time to take some railway related shots. I’ve got pictures of locomotive engines, or ‘front end power,’ ‘motive power’, or just ‘power,’ as the hard core guys like to call them, from plenty of places in Canada and the US, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, England, Ireland, Scotland, and probably a couple of other places that I can’t remember right now.

Why? Perhaps it’s because a locomotive hauling a couple of dozen cars, blasting by, shaking the earth, and so loud that it’s hard to hear a person standing next to you, is the biggest moving vehicle most of us will ever see.

Perhaps it’s because when I was a little boy, I lived at the top of a cliff that overlooked a sorting yard in Saint John, New Brunswick.

But most likely, it’s because for me, it’s a solitary endeavor, that I equate with fishing. 

Lots of standing, or sitting around waiting, followed by brief moments of high excitement as the train appears, and passes.

Plenty of times you don’t even get a bite. (Of the hundreds, and hundreds of hours I’ve spent photographing trains, I’d guess 75% of the time I don’t get anything -and that’s probably low-balling the percentage.) 

Getting a half decent shot isn’t too hard, but to be able to get something that stands out requires some thought, some knowledge, and some luck.

Where is the light source? What do the shadows look like? What’s in the frame? Have I got a fast enough shutter speed to stop any motion? How’s the exposure?

All of these things need to be considered to get a good shot -just like almost every other type of photography.

Then there’s the element of luck. 

You can’t change where the sun, and clouds are in the sky. You can’t just magically summon a train when the light looks great.

Today, I went out for a little walk just to get out of the house. Of course, I had my camera with me. I went over to the nearby ‘grade crossing’ (railroad speak for a place where a road crosses some tracks) but as it’s a holiday today, I really didn’t expect to see anything.

Surprise! A westbound freight was up the line waiting for a signal. (Second image, above)

I had plenty of time to adjust the settings on my camera for what I thought was best, while I waited for his light to go green. The light was fantastic! One of those times where the sun was about 50% on the horizon, occasionally popping through intermittent clouds. And because the background where I was pointing my camera was cloudy, the scene presented to me was of that somewhat rare occurrence where the ground is brighter than the sky!

I had my camera set, and then I started looking up at the sky to where the sun was. I was really, really hoping that the slight breeze wouldn’t blow an approaching cloud in front of the sun to alter the light. 

The two minutes, or so, that I waited for the train to start moving, and build up speed seemed to take about an hour. 

I kept going back and forth between looking through the view finder on my camera, to glancing up at the sun.

Success! The engine got close enough so I could fire off a few frames, and those mischievous ‘clouds that lour’d upon our house’ were stymied by invisible breezes.

Favorite photos of the year? Decade?

After a cursory, half-assed perusal through some of the thousands, upon thousands of pictures I have taken over the last decade, 
I came up with these three. Actually, I had pretty much made up my mind earlier, while lying in bed.

The first, for my favorite picture of the year, was taken on a Portobello Beach in Edinburgh -something most visitors wouldn’t normally equate with Scotland. Highlands, Scotch whisky, castles, haggis… sure. But beaches? Not so much.

However, there are miles of lovely beaches all over the country, and with my camera, and a couple of tins of lager packed into my bag, I took the time for a few leisurely strolls along a couple of them.

Typically, for that time of the year in the UK, (autumn) if it’s not already raining on your head, you’re about to be rained upon, or you have just been rained upon. The weather changes constantly. Quickly.

Makes for some dramatic light, and interesting skies though.

The second, for my picture of the decade favorite, was taken just a few minutes after I had purchased the lens used to take it.

I was walking up Yonge st. here in Toronto, firing off lots of test shots so that I could check the lens’ performance once I got home.

I was about to snap a shot of something across the street, and just as I pressed the shutter release, this amazing looking character stepped into the frame, and amazingly, the autofocus picked her out. I couldn’t have gotten this shot even if I had tried!

I consider it a self portrait, of sorts. She more or less took her own picture. I was just holding the camera!

And because I own this website, I get to make the rules -so I included a second favorite picture of the decade.

My wife, Pamela, taken a couple of years ago, posing in some stacked slabs of granite here in Toronto’s Trillium Park.

There’s a passage at the end of Anthony Bourdain’s ’A Cooks Tour,’ where, after travelling the world in search of the perfect meal, he comes to the conclusion that (I’m too lazy to look it up, and quote it verbatim) the perfect meal isn’t just about the perfect food.

It’s about having great food, in great company, in an ideal setting.

Same as photography. The above pictures aren’t necessarily award winners. That’s not the point.

They make me happy. I was happy when I took them, and I still get a little happy when I look at them.

The first, I was on holiday.

The second, I had just bought some new shit.

And the third is my wife. No explanation needed.

Happy New Year! 

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