Photographing Wildflowers in my Garden

DSCF7336I like to joke that I’m part hobbit, because in addition to the often unplanned adventures that I find myself on, I also have a special fondness for things close to home like music, laughter, good food, beer and cheer, and things that grown in my garden. Plus I’m a little short.

Whether it be growing the greens and vegetables that we eat all summer alongside the salmon that we catch, I also love the random, freeform, whispy colors of wildflowers that grow in our yard. Few things at home bring me such visual comfort and pleasure as stepping out the door and seeing a mass of bright orange poppies or watching pollen drunk bees dart in and out of the borage.

Occasionally I delve in and try to capture these colors with my camera. A couple years ago I hauled a couple of speed lights and big softbox into the yard and got some very nice results! Often, I like to shoot them as closeups. My little Fujifilm X20 (which has just been updated to the X30) is perfect for this, because it has an incredible macro mode that focuses up to 1cm away. It’s by far the best built-in macro capability that I’ve ever seen on any camera.

Crouching down in the grass, I try to get as close as possible. However, if I get too close, sometimes I start to see the shadow of the camera on the plant and have to back off a little bit. I’m not using a tripod here, just handholding and doing my best to be sharp. That’s always tricky with macro, though, because focus can go in and out as your body sways the tiniest bit. I’m not too concerned, though I’m mostly just having fun out there. Photography just for the love of photography. Nothing more.

Here are a few of my favorites from this summer. I shot the sunflower and the bottom bee picture last year. Enjoy. I hope they motivate you to step outside and try some new creativity with your own camera.

If you’re interested in flower photography, I recommend checking out his very good book by Harold Davis called Photographing Flowers. I’ve got this book and it’s certainly inspired me to try different approach with this kind of photography.

DSCF7335DSCF7341DSCF7345S0197374

 

Full Review of the Fuji XF 18-135mm Weather Sealed Lens

_DSF7743_C1aA few weeks ago, I posted a first look review of the new XF18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS WR lens, which is Fujifilm’s first weather resistant lens. Although it can be used on any X-Series camera body, the 18-135 was designed in conjunction with the rugged, weather sealed X-T1, and it lets you shoot in out in the elements without having to worry about rain, heavy snow, water splashes or the spray from waterfalls getting inside your lens.

In addition to the 20 points of weather sealing which have been incorporated into the barrel, the 18-135 also features a special ventilation system that helps prevent dust from being sucked into the lens when you zoom in and out.

This is a really nice addition, because if you shoot in dusty conditions long enough, you’ll eventually see some of that dust work it’s way inside your lens. Believe me.

When I wrote my initial review, I was using a prototype version of the 18-135. I mainly highlighted the overall build of the lens and the usability out in the field. However, since that model wasn’t a final production version of the lens, I didn’t feel comfortable getting into too much detail about how well the it performs with regards to sharpness and autofocus.

I knew that Fuji was still tweaking the hardware and firmware before its actual release, and I wanted to wait until I got the real version in hand before I gave it a proper review.

Well, my XF18-135mm lens finally hit the doorstep last week, and after a few days of shooting a variety of subject matter with it, I’m excited to report that this lens definitely lives up to the hype.

With an effective view range of 27-206mm view when compared to full frame, the XF18-135mm is a full range zoom that goes from relatively wide angle to telephoto. This gives you a highly versatile focal length range for shooting a wide variety of subject matter without having to change lenses. This is key when shooting in wet conditions.

While it’s not quite as fast as your standard pro f/2.8 telephoto zoom, it’s quite a bit smaller and lighter, which makes it much easier to pack and travel with. The combination of weather resistance and relatively compact size makes it ideal for outdoor, travel and street photographers who want to head out with only one lens.

Let’s see how it performs.

Image Quality and Sharpness

_DSF7710_C1

Of course, the first thing we all wanted to know is if the new XF18-135mm would be geared more towards the professional end of the spectrum, or if it would fall into the realm of “cheap kit lens.” In other words, is it sharp? Will it get the job done?

Many kit zoom lenses show dramatic falloff in sharpness at different apertures and focal lengths, especially at the edges. However, from what we’ve seen, Fuji seems to have no interest in building cheap glass. Even their XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 is incredibly sharp for a “kit” lens. It even features an impressive OIS images stabilization system.

Built with 16 elements in 12 groups, including 4 aspherical elements and 2 ED glass elements, the new XF18-135mm is indeed a high quality lens that offers incredible sharpness. Testing it out on a few subjects, I was highly impressed with how well it’s able to record detail through all focal lengths and apertures.

Here are three photos which I feel clearly illustrate just how sharp the XF18-135mm lens is. The first is a wide angle frame shot at f/7.1. The second is zoomed most of the way out at f/18, while the third  one is the same view almost all the way open at f/6.4. The field of focus is very narrow, so it also gives you an feel for how well this lens handles out of focus subject matter. e.g, how well it does bokeh.

The images are all full size original JPEGS, so you can click on each one and pixel peep all the way across.

18_135_Test-118_135_Test-218_135_Test-3As you can see, the XF 18-135 definitely gets the job done. Fuji has not compromised sharpness on this lens at all, and even judging from these quick tests, I would have full confidence to shoot a professional job with it.

Even when zoomed all the way out, the 18-135 retains a high level of sharpness out at the edges, which is a testament to how meticulous the Fuji engineers were with their designs. I’m not an engineer, but the way I see things, if it were easy to build a lens that’s sharp, edge to edge, every single zoom lens would be that way. As we all know, this is not the case.

Color and clarity from this lens is very good too. Images are crisp and brilliant. Straight JPEGs look awesome when shot with my X-T1, and RAW files processed with a RAW developer that plays nice with Fuji, such as Capture One Pro 7 and Iridient Developer look even better, especially when shooting in tricky light. (I processed the glacier image at the top with Capture One Pro 7.)

By contrast, the image below is a straight JPEG.

AK-LND-CHU-02374

OIS Image Stabilization

I’ve been really impressed with Fuji’s OIS Image Stabilization system. Through the use of quartz oscillators, special algorithms and high precision gyros that are built into the lens, the XF18-135 offers 5 stops of image stabilization performance. I haven’t tested it down to extreme levels yet, but based on my experience with how well it works on my other XF lenses, I’m confident that this new lens performs in a similar way.

This makes the 18-135 great for shooting landscapes, street scenes, architecture or travel when you want to go light and fast and travel without a tripod. It also helps make up for the slower maximum aperture of this lens when shooting stationary subjects or when photographing in low light.

Awesome Autofocus Performance

Amy Sebby descending Pepper Peak, Eklutna Lake, Chugach Mountains, Alaska

The new XF18-135mm pairs extremely well with the X-T1, which does continuous, predictive AF at up to 8 fps. Even though it’s not an especially fast lens, it’s built with a special lightweight, linear motor and inner focusing mechanism, which allows for surprisingly fast, nearly silent AF performance.

It outperforms the XF 55-200 in a big way, and in fact, it’s noticeably more quiet than the 56mm lens. Gauging from my tests, it’s even faster too. For how much smaller and slower and less expensive this lens is compared to something like a big f/2.8 pro tele zoom from Nikon or Canon, the Fuji 18-135 holds its own in a way that you wouldn’t even imagine.

I did one quick test the other day and was impressed at how well the lens locked on a tracked a quickly moving subject across a number of frames. As with any lens, it won’t do as well in extremely low light, but it’s no slouch. In my carefully calibrated “shooting inside my closet test,” I’ve seen DSLR bodies and zooms that take longer to focus than this camera lens/combo.

18_135AF_Test-118_135AF_Test-218_135AF_Test-318_135AF_Test-518_135AF_Test-518_135AF_Test-618_135AF_Test-7

Usability and Overall Thoughts

Honestly, when I first heard about the new XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS WR lens, I wasn’t sure how it would fit into my arsenal. I figured the weather sealing could come in handy on occasion, but for the most part, I’m a fixed lens guy, so I didn’t think I’d find much use for it.

After trying it out, though, and especially after getting the final production version in my hands, I’m sold. Hands down, this is a fantastic lens. Granted, it’s not terribly fast with regards to aperture, but it’s got a versatile zoom range, it’s very well made with solid construction, (it’s a bit more rugged than the 55-200) and as you can see above, it’s really sharp.

As a fast moving outdoor photographer, I like to travel light. While this isn’t quite as compact as my favorite Fuji lens, the XF 14mm f/2.8, it’s way more versatile, and it’s certainly lighter to go with just this lens than if I were to take along two lenses, like the 14 and 56mm f/1.2 or 55-200mm, which I usually do. In many applications, it’s worth it to trade a little speed for the convenience of carrying just one lens.

In fact, if you had an X camera and only one lens, this would be a pretty good choice; it’s durable, versatile and it’s a nice size. It will do landscapes, people, sports, adventure, travel… you name it! Unlike some bigger heavier zooms, this is light enough to shoot with one hand. In shot, this is a lens you can take anywhere and have lots of fun.

_DSF7748

 

The weather sealing is a big plus for me. It makes this lens a perfect match for the X-T1 and it gives me protection and piece of mind when I want to shoot out in the elements or in the backcountry. We all know that the best adventure pictures often happen when you’re in the thick of a rain, snow or dust storm. I’ve already shot in some pretty wet conditions with this lens and it did just fine.

 

Plus there’s the whole changing lenses thing. Sure, I’ve been swapping glass in these kinds of conditions for years, but when shooting in wet weather, having a weather sealed lens zoom will let me get different views without having to expose my X-Trans sensor to harsh elements.

_DSF7797

Do I have any bad things to say about the XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS WR lens? It’s not very fast, but we’ve already covered that. Plus, the Fuji cameras do a great job with higher ISO speeds. It makes your nice small X camera a little heavier, but it’s a solid piece of glass on there, so I’ll take that tradeoff. It’s still smaller than most DSLR/zoom combos. It’s not quite as wide as I would have liked, but a 27mm angle of view isn’t very far off from my trusty Nikon 24mm f/2.8, so I can live with it.

It’s not as burly as my Nikon 80-200mm f/2.8, but it’s a whole lot smaller and lighter, so again, I’ll take it. What it does give you is awesome sharp photos, the ability to shoot in extreme conditions, and the convenience taking a single lens in the outdoors.

Usually with slower lenses, we tend to see lower quality, but not here. Fuji has apparently dispensed with that notion. My guess is that they designed the 18-135 this way to make it more appealing to outdoor, adventure, and backcountry photographers, who are the target market for this lens and for the X-T1. A smaller and lighter lens is more appealing when you’re shooting in the outdoor, and even though the scarified speed, they didn’t sacrifice quality. Essentially, they’ve built a solid, pro quality optic that pairs perfectly with the X-T1, although it can be used with great results on any of the X cameras.

I didn’t want to like this lens, but now that I’ve seen what it can do, I see exactly how it will fit. I’ll still use my 14, my 27 and all my other XF lenses quite a bit, but if there’s a chance I’ll end up shooting in bad weather, this one’s got me covered. Or if I just want to go light with one lens and I know that the itty bitty 27mm pancake or the ultra wide 14mm won’t cover my long range needs, I’ll take this one.

Since it arrived last week, the XF 18-135mm is the only lens I’ve been using. I don’t feel as if I’ve been missing anything, though. I haven’t felt limited with my creativity and I’ve been happy with all of the images I’ve shot.

What more can I ask of a lens?

I have to hand it to Fuji to design a camera and lens system that’s especially made for outdoor and adventure photographers. They’ve done an excellent job with the X-T1, and now with this lens as well. The street and portrait guys have had all their fun with the X-series cameras for a few years, now we get ours.

Support this site: The XF 18-135mm lens is in stock right now. If you’re thinking about buying it or any piece of gear, please consider shopping through these links. It won’t cost you anything extra, you’ll still get the lowest prices available and it will help me out. It’s like your way of saying “thanks” for the time and effort it takes me to compile reviews like this.

_DSF7799 _DSF7737

Save 15% On all Ian Plant eBooks and Videos

Learn Photography Online with the Pros

IanPlant15off

Landscape photographer extraordinaire and Outdoor Photographer contributor Ian Plant has just created a brand new online store for all of his eBooks and video tutorials. To celebrate, he’s offering a 15% off sale on everything through the end of August. (Use code NEWSTORE in your shopping cart to get the deal.)

I follow a lot of photographers on the web and Ian is without a doubt one of my favorites. If you’ve ever seen his imagery, you know that Ian has an incredibly creative eye and a masterful sense of composition, color and form. He has an amazing ability to isolate eye catching subjects and match them with gorgeous light.

Ian Plant is also one of the best teachers and photography eBook authors around. He’s certainly a motivating source for me as a writer. His books are all well designed, they explain topics with clear and insightful ideas and, of course, they contain stunning imagery. In fact, I consider his ambitious 287-page book Visual Flow to be a tour de force manual on photography composition.

He’s also got a series of mini guides, a free book of basic photo tips, location photography guides to places like Iceland, Price Edward Island and Patagonia, and a series of video tutorials on post processing and Lightroom. A few of the titles in Ian’s store are collaborative works that he’s either written/produced with other photographers like Michael Frye and George Stocking, and some of them are titles that he’s published for other shooters.

With the great variety of price points and subject matter, there’s something for everyone in Ian’s Deamscapes store. If you’re a nature and outdoor photographer and are looking for some summer inspiration, then take advantage of this limited time special offer.

Remember, if you do buy one of his books or videos, be sure and use the discount code NEWSTORE to get the limited time 15% off discount applied to your checkout.

Here are a few of the titles you’ll find in his collection. Note, there are a lot of titles that are not featured on the home page, so be sure and browse through the CATALOG link in the menu bar to see all the books and video tutorials that he has available.

 

 

New Photo: Sunset Over the Cook Inlet, Alaska

_DSF7614_C1full

I shot this photo the other night during one of my Sunset Photo Safari workshops with Alaska Photo Treks. We’d been searching for good light throughout the evening, and with predominately overcast skies, the majority of our time was spent shooting … Continue reading

Comparing the Fuji X Cameras. Which one is Right For You?

X-T1c

In just a few short years, Fujifilm has built an impressive camera system from the ground up. Starting with the introduction of the X100, which they launched in September 2010, they’ve since expanded their lineup to include a number of highly advanced interchangeable and fixed … Continue reading

Get Sharper Fuji RAW Files with Capture One Pro 7

Sunset through the grass

I’ve used the Fuji X-T1 almost exclusively for most of 2014, and during that time, I’ve been in love with how well it has performed in every shooting application that it’s been thrown into. The X-T1 tracks moving subjects with surprising accuracy and speed, … Continue reading

3 Bestselling Portable Hard Drives

LaCiedrive

Small portable hard drives are considered essential tools for any photographer today. Combined with the slim size and high storage capacity that the latest drives feature, they fill a number of important functions for shooters of all styles. A small USB drive … Continue reading