Fujifilm’s 90mm Makes a Colorful Splash on the Set of Indian Summers 2

 

The lush focus drop off of the new Fujifilm XF 90mm f/2.

The lush focus drop off of the new Fujifilm XF 90mm f/2.

 

 Every image in this article is shot with the FX 90mm f/2 (With the exception of the image of the lens it’s self.). To view the EXIF data for ech image click the image.

Fujifilm has a history of producing amazingly sharp prime lenses in their lens lineup. The latest is the newly announced Fujinon 90mm f/2. Like all of my lens reviews, I will not pretend to know more than I do. No focus charts or color bars. I wouldn’t know what to do with them once I photographed them. Frankly, pixel peeping is all fine and dandy, but the real question is how does the lense perform. But there’s a catch: I was given a “pre-production” lens. To be fair, this limits what I can say. Here is how I am going to address this dilemma. I can comment on the looks, the construction and the focal length and hopefully help you decide if you really need this lens.

f/2, 1/1600 sec, at 90mm, 400 ISO, on a Fujifilm X-T1

Indian Summers 1st Block Director of Photographer (DP) John de Borman gets pushed down a camera track. Tatjana Jakovleva the Assistant Director (AD) watches on.

 

So to put this lens through its paces I brought it to the set of Indian Summers, season 2, the British (Channel 4) period-drama filmed here in Penang, Malaysia. You may recall I was the Still Photographer for the series last year and I’m back for the first block this year. Sadly, with my return to the USA this summer I’ll miss the final two blocks of shooting.

 

DP John de Borman, himself a Fuji X-T1 shooter is also the President of the British Society of Cinematographers since 2010.

DP John de Borman, himself a Fuji X-T1 shooter is also the President of the British Society of Cinematographers since 2010.

 

NEWS FLASH: for all my American readers, Indian Summers, season 1 will be released in the U.S. in Sept’ on PBS. Also, check out the new cast list HERE. I asked Channel 4 if they would let me release a few behind-the-scenes shots and a few cast portraits (all using the new Fujifilm 90mm f/2) and to my delight and amazement they said yes –  as long as they could vet them. We wouldn’t want any spoilers would we? But enough talk, let’s get on with the photos and a look at the 90mm.

 

Often my shots happen during rehearsal such as this one. Note the car in the background. During a take the traffic will be stopped.

Often my shots happen during rehearsal such as this one. Note the car in the background. During a take the traffic will be stopped.

 

The official title of this lens is the “Super EBC XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR” with a ∅62. What the heck do all those letters mean? Good question. “Super EBC means Electronic Beam Coating” that eliminates flares and ghosting. I guess this is good, but frankly, I love a good sun starburst at f/16 or f/22. I happen to know, so does the crew shooting Indian Summers. I’ve seen  them set up a shot just to get a nice lens flare. Moving on… “XF” means it’s a lens made for their X series of cameras and generally means they have metal barrels and wider apertures. Read “pro level lenses.” “R” simply means it has an aperture ring. This is one of the main reasons I shoot Fuji X. You may think I am a little nuts, but I like having the aperture ring where it’s suppose to be – on the lens – not buried in a menu somewhere. Now, with that said, this is not a mechanical aperture, it’s an electronic aperture. If you remove the lens and move the ring nothing happens. But this is good, because with an electronic aperture you can use the remote app on your phone or iPad and control the f-stop. If it was mechanical, that might be rather difficult. “LM” means Linear Motor used for lens element movement during autofocus. Interestingly enough this lens is alike the ATV of Fuji lenses as it has a Quad Linear Autofocus Motor. This new quad linear motor is suppose to be fast, quiet and accurate, using four magnets for higher torque (or so Fuji says). Lastly “WR” stands for weather resistant so this lens features a weather-and-dust-resistant structure with seven seals on the lens barrel. It can work in temperatures as low as -10℃.

 

Fujifilm EBC XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR

Fujifilm EBC XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR

 

Let’s move on to the lens construction. Remember, this is an XF lens, so we expect the metal barrel and Fuji does not disappoint. This lens, like all of the XF lenses’s made like a tank: solid and well constructed. The aperture ring is tight, but not too tight to move easily with well defined clicks between stops. The lens is said to have 11 elements. I just have to trust that is so. How the heck would I know short of taking it apart? The maximum aperture is f/2 and the minimum is f/16. Speaking of aperture, it has 7 rounded aperture blades so the bokeh should be nice. I can confirm it is pretty stinking nice! Officially it weighs 540g or right at 19 oz. I have quit saying this lens is light or heavy or big or small as it is all subjective and I always get challenged on it. Frankly, I expected a bigger lens over all so when I saw it’s relatively compact size, I was pleased. Below you can see it compared against the 56mm f/1.2, and the 50-140mm f2/8.

 

Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8, XF 90mm f/2 and the XF 56mm f/1.2

Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8, XF 90mm f/2 and the XF 56mm f/1.2

 

Being a 90mm or in full frame speak a 135mm means you have a very narrow angle of view.  This is a focal length favored by portrait photographers. Why is this important to mention? Because in many way this will define how you will use this lens. The focus fall off on this lens is dramatic and the bokeh is impressive. For portrait photographers who want to isolate their image by cutting out the amount of busy background this lens works hard at that. Its narrow angle keeps little outside of the subject in the frame and what is there drops off into a milky mess, as seen in many of these images.

 

This beautiful young lady is on of the "Indian" extras on the set. She is a local here living in Penang. The color is from the day we shot a holi celebration.

This beautiful young lady is on of the “Indian” extras on the set. She is a local here living in Penang. The color is from the day we shot a holi celebration.

 

However, with that in mind, this lens is not a versatile lens. It is a prime (aka a fixed focal length). There is no zooming except with your feet. For the style of photography I do, it was very limiting. Using a 90mm on the set the day we shot indoors at the “Viceregal Lodge” was almost impossible. To get the shots I wanted I needed to be 10 to 15 ft away from my subject and there just wasn’t enough room with the crew running around doing their job. However, once we shooting moved outdoors, things changed. I now had the space to move around and move forward and backward to get the frame I wanted and in this situation, the lens came into it’s own. Thus has less to do with the lens specifically, it must be noted, and  and more to do with  the focal length of it.

 

f/2, 1/210 sec, at 90mm, 400 ISO, on a Fujifilm X-T1

Actor Nikesh Patel on the set of Indian Summers 2 between takes. Check out the fall off of focus on the 90mm at f/2.

 

I never owned a 135mm when I shot my Canon 5D or 1Ds so I can’t comment or compare how this lens stacks up. I will say, I am impressed with the short focus distance I can achieve with the 90mm. I am finding I can get around 2ft (ish) from a subject before it can’t focus. This lens is not a macro lens, but it can get very close. I shot this image of my lunch and the drop off was amazing. I think this lens would work very well for food photographers – using a tripod. The one thing that surprised me was the lack of OIS (image stabilization). f/2 isn’t exactly slow, but it isn’t exactly fast either. One of my frustrations with this lens was shooting in low light. Even shooting wide open at f/2 I still needed to crank up the ISO up to 1000 to get a shutter speed that would keep things sharp. When I shot at 400 or 800 ISO I was getting shutter speeds of 1/40th and 1/60th of a sec. It will be next to impossible to keep a 90mm lens sharp at any of these shutter speeds.

 

f/2, 1/110 sec, at 90mm, 800 ISO, on a Fujifilm X-T1

I think the Fujifilm XF 90mm will be a great lens for food photographers.

 

The XF 90mm f/2 could find it's way onto the camera of food photographers.

The XF 90mm f/2 could find it’s way onto the camera of food photographers.

 

To remind you, this was a pre-production model so I’m not going to comment on the sharpness of this lens. Other photographers I know swear this lens is among the best of the best in Fuji lenses for sharpness. One issue I did have was focusing in lower light but again, the lens I used was a pre-production sample.

 

Actor Blake Ritson new to the cast this season.

Actor Blake Ritson new to the cast this season.

 

Actor Henry Lloyd - Hughes plays the lead character, Ralph.

Actor Henry Lloyd – Hughes plays the lead character, Ralph.

 

Actor Art Malik plays the Maharajah this season.

Actor Art Malik plays the Maharajah this season.

 

Who would use this lens? It is always the case of “the right tool for the right job”  As I said earlier, this focal length has been favored by portrait photographers for years. A photographer using this focal length needs to be able to place his subject at a distance and be able to move forward and back without running into walls or other people. I can see it being used in a large studio for portrait work. I think it is perfect for portrait/fashion photographers. By portrait photographers I am not talking about the street photographer who shoots in tight places or does environmental portraits. This focal length would not work would well for these types of images. The angle of view is so narrow that to get any environment into the frame you would have to be standing in the next county to achieve this. However, it would work very well for food photographers. Most food photographers want to isolate the dish they are shooting and drop off the background to a milky pleasant blur. This lens will do that perfectly.

 

f/2, 1/320 sec, at 90mm, 1000 ISO, on a Fujifilm X-T1

The 90mm’s weather resistance comes in handy.

 

I am certain, even though I only have the pre-production version, Fujifilm has another winner on their hands. If paired with the right subject and location this lens will be a killer option.

 

Alan Finlay a local "British" extra.

Alan Finlay a local “British” extra.

 

Indian Summers season 2 Director for block 1 John Alexander. He's got great taste in hats. ;-)

Indian Summers season 2 Director for block 1 John Alexander. He’s got great taste in hats. ;-)

Director John Alexander and Producer Dan Winch discuss the day's shoot.

Director John Alexander and Producer Dan Winch discuss the day’s shoot.

 

Focus Puller Justin Brokensha shoots his personal photos on the set with his Fujifilm X-T1.

Focus Puller Justin Brokensha shoots his personal photos on the set with his Fujifilm X-T1.

 

Young Syed Jasim Reza Ali plays a short but significant role early in season 2.

Young Syed Jasim Reza Ali plays a short but significant role early in season 2.

 

"Boy 2" Mohammad Faiq

“Boy 2” Mohammad Faiq

 

Syed Jasim Reza Ali, Mohammad Faiq and Padmessh Kalyan Kumar run through the bazaar.

Syed Jasim Reza Ali, Mohammad Faiq and Padmessh Kalyan Kumar run through the bazaar.

 

Another local Indian extra.

Another local Indian extra.

 

Sudarshan Chandra Kumar aka Sergeant Singh

Sudarshan Chandra Kumar aka Sergeant Singh

A Podcast: A conversation on the Fujifilm X System with Piet Van den Eynde #02

Piet and I checking out the menus of the X-E2 and X-100s.

Piet and I checking out the menus of the X-E2 and X-100s. © René Delbar

 

Last year after the Rajasthan Photo Trek, Piet Van den Eynde and I decided to take a few minutes to talk about our experience with the X-series cameras in the field. Piet is a brand ambassador for Fujifilm Belgium, an Adobe Lightroom Guru and an e-book author with Craft & Vision. More importantly he is my co-leader of the Digital Trekker Photo Treks. Last year after our first Photo Trek together Piet and I thought it might be fun to do a podcast about the Fujifilm X-Series gear we used. You can listen to that conversation HERE. That podcast turned out to be one of my most listened to podcasts and quite a few people had asked for a sequel… So, always eager to provide the content that people want, we though it might be fun to do this again… sort of a part two. This year, after the Photo Trek was officially over Piet and I huddled under a blanket together – no really it was the only way to deaden the sound in our cheap concrete day-rooms – and recorded this podcast. We talk about the latest gear and how we have been using the X-system since our last podcast. I hope you enjoy this conversation. Continue reading

The Lamayuru, Ladakh Barley Harvest

 (Best Viewed Full Screen)

I have been working on this very short (2:06) SoundSlides multimedia on the Barley harvest in Lamayuru for two reasons. The first reason is I am creating a SoundSlides example for an On Field Media Project workshop I am leading in Medan, Indonesia the first week of Dec. The other reason was to use it as a sort of teaser of coming attractions; The 2014 Ladakh Photo Trek. It is very short and frankly, it has no real plot or theme it is meant to be a peak at the harvest. A “day-in-the-life” type of thing. Instead of keeping it to myself, I thought I would share it with you.

By the way, we still have a few spots left on this amazing workshop/tour. Learn more about it HERE and come join us.

A Rocha Kenya, More Than Birds

Dr. Bob Sluka, Director of Marine Research A Rocha

 

This is the last post on A Rocha Kenya, at least for a while. As you can see, I was very touched by this organization and its efforts to blend together their Christian world view, views on conservation efforts and their calling to help the poor. I think it is because these three things are very similar to what I am all about. The video below is a very simple promo piece I did for my friend Dr. Bob Sluka to use as an introduction to A Rocha for his audience. It is not fancy, it is not overly emotional. It is simple, direct and to the point. Frankly, I was frustrated by my lack of underwater imagery of Watamu Marine Park. The marine park is where A Rocha Kenya has started it’s marine program. But I was saved by Benjo!  A hearty thank you goes out to Benjamin “Benjo” Cowburn for the use of some of his underwater images in this piece. Benjo is the on-site marine biologist working for A Rocha Kenya (He also writes a fun blog called “Benjo in Kenya“. Check it out!)

Marine research is new for A Rocha as an organization and Bob has been the driving force behind it. He is passionate about these same three points and sees A Rocha as outlet for expressing these with integrity. One thing I was impressed by was I never felt Bob, Benjo or anyone at A Rocha was preachy. Not about their faith, nor about the environmental or conservation issues. They know they have to live it out – walk the walk, rather than just talk it. I hope I captured this over these past three posts.

A Rocha Kenya – More than birds from Matt Brandon on Vimeo.

Multimedia: The Cobbler of Penang

The Cobbler Of Penang from Matt Brandon on Vimeo.

 

I love featuring my daughter’s work. Not because she is my daughter. Ok… that is part of it, but also because I think she is very good. I can hear you saying the same thing I said about my wife in my last post, “You are her father, you have to like her stuff.” If you have ever been in one of my classes or workshops you will know that is not true. Continue reading

Multimedia: Food Heaven

This post is a treat for me. This is my daughter, Jessie’s first multimedia production. She produced it for a class at school called “Digital Media”. Jessie shot the images and mixed the audio. I helped her edit the selections and with Soundslides. I hope you enjoy this hard hitting bit of photojournalism from my 15 year old. 😉

The Mamas of Chowrasta

This is a multimedia essay by Nate Watkins and myself. We have been working on this for months. We first approached this essay thinking we wanted to help preserve two dying trades among the Mamas in Penang, butchering and fish mongering. Through the process of making this we found out that, while we may have felt sad that these trades are dying out, this current generation is content to be the last. Their children are the first generation to become professionals among them. As a result of the time shooting these images and footage we have made lasting friendships with many of these men.

Check out more of Nate’s work HERE:

Thaipusam: The Fruit of Hard Labour

The workshop is officially over. As with most workshops, we took time to view each student’s completed projects. Every one of our students made memorable presentations. The focus of the week was story telling and the unique aspect of this workshop was that we were able to embed our workshop participants into local families. Below are two shows that illustrate off how well this approached worked. Gavin Gough and I are very proud of our students.

The first show was by Tim Steadman a photographer based out of New Delhi. Here is what Tim had to say about his piece.

“Nicholas and his family were kind enough to allow me to join and photograph them during the 2012 Thaipusam festival in Penang, Malaysia. It was a pleasure witnessing how values such as tradition and devotion flow directly from Thaipusam into the creation and sustenance of a strong family.”

 

The next show is by Victoria Finlay. Victoria was able to enter into the lives of Jay and Shri our models. She was able to capture the strong devotion that their family has to their faith.

We also gave several assignments given throughout the week. For the last assignment, students were challenged to find a short piece of music and then go out and shoot a story that fits the music – a real challenge. Here are two examples. The first one from this challenge is from Tim Steadman again and the second is from another Penang resident, Dave Ray. Both Tim and Dave took an extremely creative approach to this assignment. I think you will be as impressed as Gavin and I were.

Again, we would like to thank the sponsors of this workshop for providing gear and resources that students were able to uses, play with and even walk away with at the end of our time together.

Then, last but not least we want to thank our hotel the Campbell House, in Penang. If you ever get a chance to visit Penang and you are not staying with Alou and me, you have to stay at the Campbell House in historic downtown Georgetown. Owners Roberto and Nardya make your stay comfortable and relaxing. The stay is professional and accommodating. It feels like staying with family, but without the fights. 😉

Multimedia: The Pull Rickshaws of Kolkata

f/2.8, 1/40 sec, at 16mm, 1600 ISO, on a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III

Last week I returned from Kolkata ( the city formerly known as Calcutta ), India. I actually didn’t go for an assignment or even to take photos. I accompanied with my wife who had business there and while in Kolkata we visited with some friends.  Yet, if truth be known, a photographer never goes anywhere without somewhere in the back of his mind the intent to take a few photographs. But,  photos were not the primary intention and thus have to take a back seat to other things this time. I did not go to Kolkata with the intent of creating a story on the rickshaw pullers, if I had, I would have spent more time developing a different angle on their life and work. Given my limitations I was still able to bring you this somewhat limited look at their unique lives. I hope you enjoy it and find it informative.

Please note: I have had several questions recently from some prominent photographers about why I choose to use SoundSlides Plus rather than some other software for bringing you these multimedia presentations. There could very well be something better out there and in fact, if I was incorporating video I would use something other than Soundslides Plus. Yet, given the fact that I am only using still images with audio I feel this is the best available at this time. Why? Because, it gives you, the viewer the option to simply view it as an automated slideshow or if you choose you can also view the show at your own speed using the left and right arrow buttons. You can also view each image using the gallery button. Soundslides Plus gives you the option, as with most video players, to view the slide show in full-screen. However, unlike any video, you can toggle the captions on and off.