Helicopters and Icebergs- Recap of My Knik Glacier Photo Workshop

_DSF2726

This past weekend, I led my Knik Glacier Photography Workshop here in Alaska and provided 5 people with an amazing photo adventure.

Run through my workshop company, Alaska Photo Treks, we based at the Knik River Lodge, about 50 miles east of Anchorage, where we began the weekend with a fabulous meal and a presentation designed to gear my participants up for the subject matter they’d face during our big glacier day.

On Saturday morning, after the helicopter safety briefing, we flew a few miles upriver to a gravel bar right at the base of the massive Knik Glacier. Running for about 25 miles, this 5-mile wide ice sheet is one of the largest glaciers in southcentral, Alaska.

Using this as a staging area, we spent the next few hours walking around on the ice, photographing the huge, jumbled icebergs that are stuck in the frozen glacier lagoon this time of year. And that wasn’t even the best part.

_DSF2592

Breaking into groups of 3, we did two hour-long flights over the ice with the doors-off heli. This gave everyone to capture photos the massive, jumbled blocks and cracks of the glacier up close, from vantage points that few people ever get to see. Not just a few photos, we’re taking hundreds of frames, from an extensive array of angles.

If you’ve even seen a glacier up close, you know the incredible variety of geometry, light, color, and natural chaos that make up these massive, often precariously perched ice sheets as they get pushed towards the edge by the unimaginable tonnage from miles of advancing ice, crack into wide fissures and finally break into enormous freestanding ice blocks.

_DSF2482

Our pilot Mark from Tanalian Aviation was awesome. Having flown over this area numerous times in my little Cessna, I knew what I wanted to show my clients and described to Mark what I had in mind. However, he went above and beyond, and lined us up with so many incredible viewpoints, distances and elevations.

And of course, whereas my plane can only fly so slow, the heli could move very slowly through the air, and even stop and hover wherever we wanted if we spotted an exceptionally cool formation.

All the while, I kept myself on hand to provide tips and photographic help to my 5 participants as they explored this utterly cool terrain. Although I feel I shot some really cool photos, my focus was less on my own photography than helping everyone else maximize their skills and photo opportunities throughout the course of the day.

_DSF2493_DSF2491In addition to some night sky photography and opportunities for sunrise/sunset light out at the lodge, on last day, we held a session to share and critique each other’s photos. This is always a highlight for me, because having watched everyone shoot photos during the workshop, this is my chance to actually see the results of everyone’s efforts.

I always find myself inspired by the critiques, because it helps me break out of my own sometimes tunnel vision when it comes to shooting certain scenes, and it exposes me to new ways of seeing. The learning never stops. Not for anyone. That’s one of the things I love most about photography.

Although I was very excited to such a cool opportunity for my students, what pleases me most is knowing how much fun everyone had during the trip. Here’s a testimonial from one of the participants:

This workshop went way above my expectations. The location was incredible. The entire trip was perfectly organized and orchestrated. Most importantly Dan Bailey made this an exciting adventure within a workshop. I found Dan to be a patient, open-minded instructor that gave us all an opportunity to up our game with an amazing location and professional guidance. I’m looking forward to another workshop with Dan and Alaska Photo Treks.

Overall this trip was a huge success and I’m fairly certain I’ll run it again next year. If you think you might be interested in a photo adventure like this, or any other workshop with me, sign up for my newsletter and you’ll be the first to know when I put together next year’s itinerary.

_DSF2695_DSF2687

Review of the Fuji XF 50-140mm f/2.8 Weather Sealed Lens

Fuji50-140
A camera system is only as good as its glass. This has always been the case with photography, even back in the days of film.

No matter what body you’re using at any given time, the lenses are what ultimately determine the quality and style of your imagery, and in many cases, whether you even get the shot at all.

As much as I love the X-T1, I wouldn’t have gone “all in” with Fuji if they weren’t able to deliver on the lenses, which for me, meant coming out with a fast 70-200mm-style f/2.8 telephoto zoom.

Last fall, Fuji finally introduced the XF 50-140 f/2.8 OIS Weather Sealed lens, which is exactly the tool I’ve been waiting for. As much as I like the slower but more compact XF 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 WR, my style of action and adventure photography depends on a lens that can handle lower light and fast breaking subject matter, and deliver edge-to-edge sharpness.

I’d briefly tried out he 50-140 at PhotoPlus back in October, but last month I finally got one in hand. Here’s my review.

DanBailey_50K_2015-00121

 

Build Info

Equivalent in view to a 76-213mm lens when compared to full frame, the XF 50-140 f/2.8 R LM OIS offers weather resistance with regards to dust, water and low temperatures, a triple linear motor for ultra fast AF and Fuji’s latest OIS image stabilization.

It also has an internal zoom mechanism, which means the barrel doesn’t move when you zoom the lens in and out, like it does on the XF 18-135 and XF 55-200. The lens body and focus rings are metal, although there’s some plastic in there as well to make it lightweight.

Constructed with 23 elements in 16 groups, 5 ED elements, one Super ED element and Fuji’s High Transmittance Electron Beam Coating, the 50-140 is able to produce incredibly sharp imagery with minimal chromatic aberration, ghosting or flare.

The aperture diagram features 7 rounded blades, which produces very smooth, circular bokeh. Combined with the Lens Modulation Optimizer that’s built into the X series camera bodies, the 50-140 f/2.8 is able to produce incredibly sharp images across the frame.

It has a numbered aperture ring with a decent amount of resistance. Some people don’t like how loose the rings are on some XF lenses; this one feels really solid. You won’t accidentally turn it.

Size and Weight

The Fuji XF 50-140 f/2.8 is by no means a small lens. Without the removable tripod collar, it weighs 2.2 lbs. It’s a tiny bit bigger than the Nikon 70-200mm f/4, but it’s a full stop faster.

Compared to the equally fast Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 lens, though, the Fuji comes in at 1.2 lbs lighter and over an inch shorter.

The bladed lens hood is pretty long, but it’s not unmanageable. I wish it were a tiny bit shorter because I always keep my hoods on, but it’s hardly a deal breaker.

Of course, the first thing I did was take the tripod collar off, because for most of my work, I’m using it handheld. The collar, while extremely sturdy, definitely adds weight and bulk. That said, it’s nice to have the option when you need it.

 

Balance and Feel

Given that the Fuji X cameras are quite a bit smaller than most DSLRs, the question I’ve been asked by many people is “how does this lens balance on the X-T1, X-E2 and X-Pro1?” As you can see in the photo above the lens is big compared to the body, and while it’s a little front heavy, it’s not overkill. I can imagine that it feels even better with the X-T1 battery grip, but I don’t have the grip, so I can’t accurately comment.

Even sans grip, the 50-140 balances well enough without overworking your forearm muscles. It complements the compact quality of the X-T1, and the weight savings makes it a versatile lens for a wide variety of shooting situations. It’s also pretty rugged.

I’ve biked quite a bit now with the X-T1/50-140 combo around my neck/shoulder, and while you wouldn’t do a long ride with the lens out like this, it’s light enough to keep out and ready when you’re moving around and looking for good light. I’ve even been able to ride on single track trails and snow with it slung like this.

DanW50-140

 

Performance

All that aside, what makes this lens a real winner is how well it performs out in the field. So far, I’ve given the 50-140 a pretty good run through in wintertime Alaska and sunny California and I’ve gotten a very good feel for how it handles. Here are the main points I feel accurately describe it’s strengths.

_DSF1733

1. This lens gives me the look I want.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s the number one thing with any focal length. Does it match your shooting style? This lens gives crisp, sharp subjects set against a soft, out of focus background. That’s why anyone uses glass like this. Whether I’m shooting action or portraits, the real benefit of a long lens is bringing subjects up close and isolating them against a suggested environment.

The XF 50-140 f/2.8 does that with flying colors. It locks right on your subject and makes them pop against a delicious background. Also, since it’s a fast lens, you have much more leeway when shooting fast moving subjects or when working in lower light. No matter what your situation, this lens lets you grab the shot you want.

_DSF1138

2. It has Excellent Autofocus

As an adventure photographer, I depend on fast, accurate AF. Combined with the predictive autofocus system on the X-T1, the internal focusing motor locks onto the subject and stays locked, even when shooting in CH at 8 frames per second.

Is it perfect? Hardly. No lens is. There are sometimes when it gets confused or loses the lock, but given what I’m used to with my gear and the subject matter I shoot, the 50-140 gets the job done in a big way. AF technology combined with the it’s fast maximum aperture, I’m confident taking this lens into any situation where I’m shooting fast action.

_DSF2211_DSF1970

3. The OIS Image Stabilization Rocks

I’ve been impressed with Fuji’s OIS image stabilization every since I started using their X cameras. Even with their long lenses zoomed all the way out, I’m able to handhold shutter speeds down below 1/30 second and still get sharp photos. Things have come a long way, because I remember trying this with my first zoom lens 20 years ago and having very blurry images.

No more. With a high performance gyro sensor and preprogrammed algorithms inside the lens’s CPU, this lens is able to detect and cancel out camera shake and give you 5 stops of stabilization. Again, combined with the fast f/2.8 aperture, this lets you shoot without a tripod in very low light.

This shot below was taken after sunset, handheld at 1/18 sec.

_DSF2238

4. It’s Weather Resistant

Fuji had this all planned out from the beginning. They knew that a rugged, weather sealed outdoor camera like the X-T1 would only be so good if they didn’t have lenses to match. Like the XF 18-135mm WR lens, the XF 50-140 f/2.8 R LM OIS has a sealed barrel, which keeps out dust and moisture, making it the perfect companion to the X-T1. It’s also rated to withstand low temperatures of -10 degrees C (14 degrees F), but I can report that it works fine in temps colder than that.

5. It’s Really Really…REALLY Sharp!!

I left this one for last, because although those other things do matter, if a lens doesn’t produce crisp, sharp imagery, it’s not good enough for pro use. It’s that simple. Fortunately, that’s not even an issue here. The Fuji XF 50-140 f/2.8 is so freaking sharp, it’s scary! When it comes to straight image quality, this is one serious lens.

The secret weapon of the Fuji X camera system is the X-Trans sensor. With no optical low pass filter, cameras like the X-T1 and X-E2 are able to render images with an incredible level of detail and resolution, some that even rival full frame. The optical design of the 50-140 is built to match this capability, and it does an amazing job capturing images that are sharp, vibrant and full of detail.

_DSF2232

_DSF2232

This is a zoomed version of the shot above. Click to see enlarged detail

_DSF1487

Moon

Click to seen enlarged version.

Overall

With this piece, Fuji has elevated the X camera system into a new realm. Clearly aimed at pro photographers, the XF 50-140 f/2.8 OIS Weather Sealed lens is a very special piece of glass. It’s a high end tool in every regard. That said, with a price tag of $1,599, and given it’s size and weight when compared to the XF 18-135mm WR lens, it’s not for everyone. If you want something compact and less obtrusive for travel, street photography and all around shooting, this is probably more than you need. The XF 18-135 is actually a great lens and if you haven’t checked out my review, you can find it here.

However, if you make a living with your Fuji X camera, if you shoot commercial work of any kind, if you shoot fast sports and action, portraits, landscapes or if you simply want the best possible quality and versatility for shooting in all conditions, and if you don’t mind carrying a little more glass, then you should take a serious look at this lens.

Yes it’s bigger, but it’s not TOO big. I’ve done all day rides with it and carried it in my pack for hours and I can attest that it does feel WAY lighter than a traditional DSLR style 70-200mm f/2.8 lens. For as good as it is, I would take this on multi-day adventures and even biking and hiking trips.

I’ve always been willing trade a little bit of weight for a maximum quality, and with the X-T1 setup, I’m already WAY lighter. Add this in it’s not a huge gain, even though it’s definitely bigger and somewhat bulky if you’re used to a small setup. Find the right pack, though, and you’ll manage it fine. (I like the Lowepro Flipside Sport AW packs and the F-Stop Kenti.)

For me, the 50-140 is the final piece in the puzzle and I now feel like my photography transformation to Fuji is complete. There’s no looking back. How exciting is that?

Support this site: If you’re thinking about buying this lens, or any piece of gear, please consider shopping through these links. You’ll still get the lowest prices available and it will help me out with a small commission from the merchant. It’s like your way of saying “thanks” for the time and effort it takes me to compile reviews like this.

_DSF1484

Denali Backcountry Adventure Photography Trek – July 19-25, 2015

Learn Photography Online with the Pros

AK-LND-102

I’m excited to announce the latest offering in my 2015 photography workshop schedule. Join me this summer for my Denali Backcountry Adventure Photography Trek, from July 19-25.

During this special 7-day backpacking adventure photography workshop, I’ll take you on a journey through the biggest and most rugged mountains in North America.

We’ll be dropped off by float plane in the heart of Denali National Park and the Alaska Range, only 17 miles away from the highest and most massive mountain on the continent, (Denali, at 20,320′), and spend 5 days exploring and honing our outdoor photography skills in the most authentic setting possible.

Paced for intermediate backpackers, yet challenging enough for seasoned wilderness travelers, our 30+ mile route includes 5 days of overland travel along mountain ridges, right next to massive glaciers, over tundra and through remote wilderness that few people ever get to see up close. There’s a good chance we’ll even see some Alaska Wildlife!

With unparalleled views and rugged terrain, this remote wilderness trip is set in a virtually unexplored part of Denali, and it provides the ideal setting for a true adventure photography workshop. I’ll be right there with you during the entire trip, and since we’ll be a small group, we’ll be able to learn and practice together and taylor to the techniques YOU want to learn and talk shop in camp every evening.

We’ll have incredible photo opportunities each day, and a variety of lighting conditions for capturing the scenery around us. We can take advantage of the midnight sun and catch Magic Hour on the Alaska Range, and we can even practice shooting “adventure subjects” by setting up scenarios with each other and our willing guide.

We’ll begin with a photography presentation before heading out into the backcountry, and when we’re out in the mountains, our small group setting will allow you nearly constant one-on-one opportunities for mentorship and instruction with me during the entire trip. This is as close as you’ll ever get to shooting in the remote wilds of Alaska, because you’ll actually be there doing it in person with me!

This is as real as it gets!!

To make this special trip happen, I’m working closely with Alaska Alpine Adventures, who is the premier small-group adventure travel company in Alaska. With a 16 year history, they’re a recognized leader the industry for providing award-winning itineraries and guiding safe trips that give people the chance to enjoy and explore Alaska’s great parks away from all the crowds.

Alaska Alpine Adventures will provide us with a knowledgable and experienced guide, as well as all the necessary logistical support, including tents, cooking gear, awesome backcountry meals, satellite phone, GPS, maps and medical kit, although you’ll be required to carry a portion of the group gear.

Although you don’t need to be an expert outdoors person or a pro athlete to enjoy this trip, good physical conditioning is essential. We’ll be backpacking with 30-40 lb. packs over steep, hilling, uneven terrain and covering an average of 5-7 miles each day. That’s not a huge distance, and we’ll have plenty of downtime, but we may encounter sections of thick vegetation, as well as wind, rain and possibly some mosquitos.

However, the trip is at the end of July, so you have lots of time to prepare for this awesome, once-in-a lifetime adventure! (Two months of pre-trip conditioning should be enough for most people.)

Whether your interest lies with landscape photography or action adventure styles, this workshop trek promises an intensive setting for you to learning advanced outdoor photography techniques in a truly remote Alaska environment.

I did a workshop trek with Galen Rowell back in 1993 and so it’s a dream for me to be able offer a trip like this to my own followers and students. There are only a few spots available on my Denali Backcountry Adventure Photography Trek, so if you’re interested, please visit the trip page at Alaska Alpine Adventures where you can read the detailed itinerary and book your reservation.

I hope to see you out there with me this summer. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Preorder My Outdoor Action Adventure Photography Book

_DSF1453

After months of writing, selecting images, editing and proofing, I finally got see a printed version of my first book. I just received an advance copy of Outdoor Action and Adventure Photography, which will be published by Focal Press on April 14, … Continue reading

New Alaska Snow Biking Photos

BIK-SNO-AK-01485-1a

We’ve had some great weather here in Southcentral Alaska lately. Mind you, not quite enough snow, but at least the skies have been cold and clear. I’ve been taking advantage of the great winter light to shoot some really cool … Continue reading

Cradoc Photo Business Software – fotoQuote and fotoBiz

fotoQuote-stock

Once you start shooting professionally, whether full or part time, you quickly realize that actually shooting photos is the smallest chunck of time you’ll spend in a given day, week or month. The majority if your time is spent with organizational tasks, such as … Continue reading

The Joys of Shooting in Special Light

_DSF0385

You never know exactly what you’ll get when you head outside with the camera, especially when shooting landscapes. Sure, you often have preconceived notions about specific subject matter; you might even have ideas about how you plan to frame it. Perhaps you’ve … Continue reading