Atlantic Puffin, Composition and Negative Space

In Praise of Thirds

Composition

When we take a photograph, we make a decision on how we wish to place our subject within the frame. This is the art of photographic composition at its most fundamental level.

We can further influence our composition with our chosen focal length, for example. Or, by changing our angle or position relative to that of our subject and any other elements we may wish to include or exclude.

These factors can introduce a huge variation into compositional possibilities. Add in the fickle nature of subjectivity, and for me as a wildlife photographer, the complexities of animal behaviour, it means there are limitless possibilities.

Crucially, there is never one composition which can ever be considered as the ‘correct’ one.

There are a number of established guides we can use which aid us in enhancing impact by using composition. For example, leading lines, golden ratio, golden spiral, golden triangle and the subject of this blog post, the rule of thirds.

Rule of Thirds

The principle of the rule of thirds is to imagine your frame divided into horizontal and vertical thirds. This produces a grid of nine small rectangles with four intersecting points.

It sounds more complex than it really is, so let’s take a look...

Rule of Thirds Grid (Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill)
Rule of Thirds Grid (Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill)

Early adopters of the rule of thirds were renaissance artists. They determined that most people looked around these intersecting points rather than being drawn in to the centre of an image. By placing key areas of interest on these intersecting points, or along the gridlines, we help the viewer engage with the photograph.

How I use Thirds

The problem with following ‘rules’ in our photography is the danger of limiting ourselves by stifling creativity. Especially if we do so with the absolute rigidity of the example above.

With this in mind, I use the rule of thirds as a general guideline which helps me consider my subject in relation to its surroundings. In practice, this means I prefer to place a subject loosely around the thirds areas and allow room for negative space.

Using Negative Space with Thirds

Negative space is the area around our main subject. It doesn't refer to something being bad! When deciding which of the thirds intersections or gridlines I wish to use, I’ll consider…

Which direction is my subject looking or moving towards?

Atlantic Puffin, Composition and Negative Space
Atlantic Puffin - Composition 1

 

Atlantic Puffin, Composition and Negative Space
Atlantic Puffin - Composition 2

This Atlantic Puffin was flying from my left to right. Both versions are from one photograph which I have cropped to give two very different compositions. I've loosely used thirds to place my subject away from the centre.

With both compositions, our eye is immediately drawn to the subject. In the first composition, the Puffin is moving towards or into the negative space. Because the negative space is in the direction the subject is moving in to, this negative space also becomes a complimentary part of the overall photograph.

In the second composition, the subject is moving and looking straight out of the right-hand side of the photograph. The negative space is behind the subject and no longer compliments the subject.

Which one do you prefer, and why?

What surrounds my subject?

I often look to photograph wildlife in the context of its habitat or with other animals, see my previous Fujiholics blog, here. When deciding how to compose a photograph I look the subject’s surroundings to determine if there is anything I’d like to include or exclude.

Elephant Savannah
Elephant Savannah - Fujifilm X-H1 & Fujinon 100-400mm.

I could have opted for a frame filling photograph of this Elephant in Kenya’s Masai Mara. Instead, I chose to zoom out to give a feeling of the vastness of the Savannah. I included the iconic African Acacia trees to provide habitat interest in the negative space as well as giving balance to the overall frame.

Lemek Lions
Lemek Pride Lions. Fujifilm X-H1 & Fujinon 200mm f/2.

Using fieldcraft knowledge, I was confident this Lioness was about to yawn and reveal the drama of her huge canine teeth. I placed her head as near to one of the intersecting thirds as I could without cutting her body from the frame. I included the out of focus male Lion in the ‘negative space’. My intention was that the male should compliment, but not distract from the focal point.

Kittiwake
Kittiwake. Fujifilm X-H1 & Fujinon 100-400mm

This photograph of a nesting Kittiwake was taken during one of my Farne Islands wildlife photography workshops. We were at sea photographing the the cliff-face nesting habitats towards dusk. I composed the Kittiwake towards the bottom right of the frame to give me space to include the habitat. The contrast of the dark dolerite rocks and the green algae, illuminated by the warm evening sunlight provides interest in the negative space.

Parting Shot

Using thirds as a compositional aid can work very well, but don’t let it stifle your creativity. There’s a great saying that once you know ‘rules’, you also know when to break them! Treat it as simple yet effective guideline and maybe as a springboard to explore how your subjects can be photographed to add impact and interest.

 

Alan Hewitt is a freelance wildlife photographer, writer and photography holiday tour guide. He can often be spotted on Northumberland’s Farne Islands but migrates to warmer climates to help people point their lenses at wildlife across Europe, Asia and Africa.

www.alanhewittphotography.co.uk


Two is company, three is a crowd!

Context in Wildlife Photography

Introduction

Wildlife photography is often associated with large telephoto lenses allowing us to capture intimate frame filling portraits of animals. Huge focal lengths, often 500mm or more, combine with wide apertures to create a shallow depth of field and the resulting blurry backgrounds place a strong emphasis on the (hopefully!) pin sharp subject.

Eurasian Hoopoe
Wildlife portrait, Eurasian Hoopoe. Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter (f/8 at 560mm).

Before I continue, this article is not aimed at disparaging the art of the wildlife photography portrait. I will always enjoy and continue to photograph wildlife this way. But, like any photographer, I try to evolve, and I constantly think about context when I photograph various species.

Context?

In itself, that “context” word can be a bit of an enigma. When I first began to photograph wildlife, if somebody mentioned context, I would had have looked back at them rather cluelessly!

Here are some examples of what context in wildlife photography means to me (feel free to add some ideas in comments!):

  • Photographing a species and showing its habitat;
  • Man-made structures and wildlife habitats;
  • Relationships with other species, conflict, symbiotic relationships, for example;
  • How a species may impact upon its environment;
  • How environmental pressures can impact upon species;
  • Anything that strikes us as being unusual for a species.

These examples have an overall ecological theme, but context can also include aesthetic elements too, such as including a dramatic landscape or sky. The examples are not exhaustive, and, in many cases, context could be a combination of many elements put together.

Grey Seal & Longstone Lighthouse. Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm lens (f/6.4, 133mm)
Grey Seal & Longstone Lighthouse. Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm lens (f/6.4, 133mm)

The Longstone Lighthouse, situated on The Longstone, is one of the iconic sights of the Farne Islands on the Northumberland coastline. I've long wanted to photograph one of the resident Grey Seals and include this lighthouse in the background. However, this can only be photographed from a boat and tidal conditions can make it difficult to sail around this side of the island. I'd never get both the seal and the Lighthouse in the depth of field with a telephoto lens so I opted for a fairly wide aperture knowing the structure would still be recongnisable but the shallow depth of field would keep the emphasis on the subject. I also used a Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra 3 stop grad to hold the exposure of the sky. Sometimes you need to think like a landscape photographer!

Depth of field can be personal taste but may also be restricted by focal length. Regardless, I maintain that is it possible to photograph wildlife with context and still have a shallow depth of field. Crucial elements may still be blurry in the background of foreground but can still be recognisable and contribute to the story without being a distraction.

Two is company, but three is a crowd! European Bee-eaters in conflict. Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter (f/9 at 560mm).
Two is company, but three is a crowd! European Bee-eaters in conflict. Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm lens & 1.4x teleconverter (f/9 at 560mm).

 

Yellow-billed Oxpecker & Cape Buffalo. Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm lens (f/5.4 at 335mm).
Yellow-billed Oxpecker & Cape Buffalo. Fujifilm X-T2, 100-400mm lens (f/5.4 at 335mm).

 

Arctic Tern Fujifilm. X-H1, 100-400mm lens (f/5.6 at 177mm).
Arctic Tern. Fujifilm. X-H1, 100-400mm lens (f/5.6 at 177mm).


(Above) Yellow-billed Oxpeckers are often spotted clinging onto Cape Buffalos. It's a mutualistic relationship between the two species, the Oxpecker feeds on ticks and other parasites on the Buffalo. I framed this shot to get the bird central within one of the male Buffalo's key features, the 'boss' where the two horns meet. The main subject is the Oxpecker, not the host Buffalo. In situations like this, I'm not concerned that much of the Buffalo is excluded from the frame, but I do like to include elements which make it recognisable or identifiable.

(Right) Arctic Tern on the Lighthouse wall, Inner Farne, Farne Islands. I composed this photograph to include the storm clouds gathering in the sky above. We knew from marine weather forecasts that the weather was about to decimate some of the breeding seabirds' new born chicks. Sadly, we were correct. I chose this photograph as the bird's position was looking upwards towards the gathering clouds.

(Below) Sub-adult Martial Eagle. Here, the subject represents a very small part of the frame. We had taken some closer shots but it flew away and landed in one of the trees arising from a dry river bed on the Masai Mara Savannah.

I resisted the temptation to get closer, zoom further in or add a teleconverter. Instead, I zoomed out to use the surrounding habitat foliage as a frame on the bottom and right hand side. The focal length was still enough to compress the perspective and pull the background landscape of the Kileloni Hills (highest point in the Masai Mara) closer in. I took a few shots and used this one where the Eagle is looking back in the frame towards the negative space.

Popular to contrary belief, it is possible to photograph wildlife where the key subject occupies just a small part of the frame. It is about composition and bringing the contextual elements together.

Ask yourself, can you tell a story or add more interest by giving more consideration to surroundings by utilising different focal lengths?

Like any other form of photography, your focal length will depend on the subject distance, intended composition, the surroundings you wish to include or exclude and an often-overlooked characteristic, perspective. Wildlife in context is not intrinsically linked to wide angle or shorter focal length lenses.

Martial Eagle
Martial Eagle. Fujifilm. X-T2, 100-400mm lens (f/5.6 at 261mm)

Conclusion

Frame filling portraits are not the be-all and end-all of wildlife photography. Think about the subject and the surrounding landscape and activity and how you can use it as part of your photograph. You may be pleasantly surprised by how you can tell a wildlife story.

Alan Hewitt is a freelance wildlife photographer, writer and photography holiday tour guide. He can often be spotted on Northumberland's Farne Islands but migrates to warmer climates to help people point their lenses at wildlife across Europe, Asia and Africa.

www.alanhewittphotography.co.uk


Zone Focussing while panning with a fast moving subject using a Fujifilm X-T2 and 50-140mm f/2.8 lens.

Fujifilm in the Wild

Introduction

Modern cameras and lenses are packed with features designed to meet the diverse needs of a range of photographers. Many photographers who specialise in a specific genre may find they only use a small proportion of their camera’s features for most of their photography. As a photographer specialising in wildlife, I certainly class myself as one of these.

This Fujiholics blog post looks at the key features I use for wildlife photography. It’s not a review of every customisation or setting I use for my cameras, just those that I feel are key to succeeding with wildlife photography. So, I’m not going to talk about how long you set your image review for, raw or jpg, colour spaces, custom button functions etc. There are six main areas, exposure modes, autofocus, continuous shooting, shutters, focus limiters and boost mode.

Currently, my main camera body is the fantastic Fujifilm X-H1 with the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 lens. For this blog post, I will be sharing and explaining how and why I set up my X-H1 for wildlife photography. I also use a X-T2, mainly with a 50-140mm f/2.8 and although the feel of the camera bodies differ greatly, I can still set them up in an almost identical way.

Before I continue, I don’t intend this to sound like it is the only approach. I believe it is an efficient and intuitive approach which I use most of the time as it provides me with the most consistency. There will always be exceptions in any situations and other set ups or methods do exist!

Atlantic Puffin in flight, Fujifilm X-H1
Subjects like Atlantic Puffins fly incredibly fast and can be difficult to exposue correctly. A subject like this needs all of the techniques I describe below to be pulled together. Oh, and practise!
(X-H1, 100-400mm - 1/3500, f/5.6, ISO400, 400mm)

Exposure Modes

Like many wildlife photographers, I avoid full manual control of exposure. It requires too much constant ‘tweaking’ which also needs to be done very quickly. In most cases, quicker than we can react when photographing unpredictable wild animals in their habitat. Especially while also concentrating on composition, panning and focussing at the same time.

There is a popular misconception that most wildlife photographers have a preference towards using shutter priority. Most wildlife photographers I know, including myself of course, prefer to use aperture priority.

Aperture priority allows us to maintain creative control over the depth of field we require in a photograph. The camera’s light meter will read the light and provide a shutter speed which we can influence by increasing or decreasing the ISO when required. I always try to use the lowest ISO value that will give me the shutter speed I require.

Furthermore, we still maintain control of the exposure by using exposure compensation. More often than not, this will be a necessity. The camera meter may get it right but this might not be our creative intention, so intervention is required. In aperture priority, negative exposure compensation will underexpose by increasing the metered shutter speed and positive exposure compensation will overexpose by decreasing the metered shutter speed.

Care is needed when using positive exposure compensation as the decreasing shutter speed may require countering with an increase in ISO depending on subject movement.

To the unfamiliar, this may seem like a complex process but in practice, it’s actually a lot more intuitive than it may sound.

Whichever exposure mode you use, it is still important to understand the overall principles of full manual exposure. Knowing how the aperture, shutter speed and ISO are working together will allow you to maintain control and correct exposure quickly when it isn’t going to plan.

Fujifilm X-H1 Aperture Priority
Fujifilm X-H1 set to aperture priority. I have exposure compensation set to the rear command dial.

Autofocus (i) The Fundamentals

There are three fundamental focussing methods, single shot, continuous and manual. In AF-S (single shot), the focus locks once the shutter button is pressed halfway. Re-focusing requires you to release and half-squeeze on the shutter again. It is rarely suitable for anything moving as the subject will very quickly move out of focus during this process.

I always have my cameras in AF-C. This is a continuous autofocus mode which means as long as the shutter button is pressed halfway (or use AF-On / back button focussing), the camera will be constantly evaluating and changing the focus as I move or my subject moves. Even if my subject is stationary, I always use AF-C. I work on the basis that if my subject can move, it is likely to move.

I very rarely use manual focus in wildlife photography.

Fujifilm X-H1 Focus Mode Selector set to Continuous
Fujifilm X-H1 Focus Mode Selector set to Continuous.

Autofocus (ii) Next steps

Once we are past the fundamentals of AF-S and AF-C we have to look at the more advanced AF modes. These are accessed via the MENU / OK button > AF/MF SETTINGS > AF MODE.

Depending on your camera you will see SINGLE POINT, ZONE, WIDE/TRACKING and ALL

Fujifilm X-H1 AF Modes
Fujifilm X-H1 AF Modes.

My default is a single point. I’ll use this for stationary subjects or anything which is moving but not too fast or erratically that I can’t keep a single AF point on the key area of interest, often an eye. The single point frame has 6 selectable sizes which can allow incredible accuracy for the focal point. I tend to use these sizes when my subject is stationary and I’m taking a close-up portrait type of wildlife photograph. When using a single point, it is important to consider moving the active point around the viewfinder to match your intended composition.

For the maximum amount of compositional versatility I make 325 AF points available for selection rather than the reduced 91.

Using a single AF point to photography Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on a Hippo's back.
I always look at exploring the relationships between species. To photograph these Yellow-billed Oxpeckers on top of a Hippo's back, it was important to place a single AF point right over one of them.
(X-H1, 100-400mm - 1/550, f/5.6, ISO1000, 400mm)

If a subject is moving too quickly or erratically and I can’t accurately keep it on a single point, I progress to zone focussing. When focus is achieved in the centre of one of three different sized zones, the camera continuously tracks the subject as it moves across the AF points within the zone.

Zone focussing offers three different sized zones, 3x3, 5x5 or 7x7. Just like my approach to the transition from single point to zone, the size I decide to use is based upon my ability to be able to keep the subject in the zone. It is very much led by experience, panning ability and the behaviour of the subject. A good rule of thumb is to use the smallest you can and work upon improving your own panning technique at the same time. Also, just like single point we can move the zone around the viewfinder for composition purposes.

Zone Focusing while panning with a fast moving subject using a Fujifilm X-T2 and 50-140mm f/2.8 lens.
Zone Focusing while panning with a fast moving subject using a Fujifilm X-T2 and 50-140mm f/2.8 lens.
(X-T2, 50-140mm - 1/1400, f/4, ISO320, 115mm)

Autofocus (iii) Custom AF Settings

This is where it gets a little more complex. Dig in!

Auto Focus Custom Settings
Auto Focus Custom Settings.

The autofocus settings can be further customised down to how our subject is moving and how any obstacles should be treated. There are five ‘presets’:

1. Multi-purpose - A bit of a one size (nearly) fits all approach,
2. Ignore obstacles & continue to track subject - This is particularly useful if we are panning with a moving subject and something else in the landscap, like a tree, for example, gets in between us.
3. For accelerating and decelerating subject - For subjects prone to rapid changes in their velocity
4. Suddenly appearing subject - Subjects that appear abruptly or when rapidly switching between subjects
5. Erratically moving and accelerating or decelerating subjects - Subjects that are moving very erratically.
6. Custom - Set preferences for tracking sensitivity, speed sensitivity and zone switching

This level of customisation is useful but I find in practice it takes too much time to adjust when presented with different subjects moving in different ways.

I’ve found the easiest option which gives me the most consistency is to keep it in the first multi-purpose setting for most subjects but when I know I am photographing birds in flight I opt for a custom setting:

Tracking sensitivity: 0 - Optimised for subjects which move quickly across the frame.

Speed tracking sensitivity: 2 - Optimised for subjects which move at a steady speed.

Zone area sensitivity: Auto – Continues to track the part of the subject first focused on.

It is a good idea to experiment with all of these settings so you can confidently make changes when required.

Autofocus (iv) Back Button Focus

Back button focus is something which regularly crops up in discussions about auto focus tracking. There is a popular misconception that using a dedicated AF-On button to activate autofocus is the holy grail of subject tracking perfection. Well, it isn’t!

Using a dedicated AF-On button or assigning AF to another button such as AE-L disengages AF from the shutter and assigns it to the ‘back button’. In practice, this means we can focus and recompose as we would in single shot AF mode (AF-S) while we are in continuous AF mode (AF-C).

I used to use back button focus a lot but now that I have cameras with AF points which pretty much cover the whole viewfinder area, I’ve found there is little need to use back button to focus and recompose.

Electronic or Mechanical Shutter

I always think this is a difficult option as there are so many aspects to take into account which will depend on the situation you find yourself in. As a result, there is no clear or definitive answer as to what is the most appropriate.

Using the electronic shutter gives the benefit of silence, increased frame rates (see below) and remarkably faster shutter speeds. However, the rolling shutter effect can produce problems when photographing fast action and as a result, isn’t recommended. For me, this makes the ‘speed related’ advantages redundant anyway.

The Fujifilm X-H1 mechanical shutter is very quiet anyway and I’ve never found the X-T2 an issue either. Frame rate is slightly reduced but is still excellent (see below) and there isn’t much wildlife which needs a shutter speed of more than 1/8000 second. Not that I can think of anyway! More importantly, we do not experience the adverse effects of the rolling shutter. In practice, I rarely use electronic shutter, but this is something you may benefit from experimenting with.

Continuous Shooting / Burst Mode

If you are trying to capture action, your chances of success are greatly increased by using your camera’s burst mode. In a nutshell, this means that as long as you keep your finger pressed on the shutter button, the camera will take photographs continuously until the buffer fills up. As the buffer fills up the frame rate will slow down.

Fujifilm X-H1 Common Tern on Continuous High Burst Mode
Common Tern, As Terns hover before plunge diving it is easy enough to use a single AF point. Using a Continuous High burst mode made it easy to capture the moment the wings were at their highest point revealing more of the underside.
(X-H1, 100-400mm - 1/4700, f/5.6, ISO400, 373mm)

That is the simple explanation! As we would expect, there are a few different ways we can customise continuous shooting to give us more control. But there are limitations too.

My camera is nearly always on continuous high (CH) burst mode, this gives me 11 frames per second with a mechanical shutter when using the additional VPB-XH1 battery grip with boost mode enabled (see below). We can reduce this to 8 frames per second if desired in the DRIVE SETTINGS menu. In CH mode, we are limited to a more central selection of available AF points.

Fujifilm X-H1 drive dial set to CH, Continuous High
Fujifilm X-H1 drive dial set to CH, Continuous High.

I always caution against an indiscriminate approach to continuous burst modes and high frame rates. Having the benefit of 11 frames per second isn’t about assuming a machine-gunners ‘spray and pray’ approach. In fact, I rarely use this for more than a second, it’s not about maxing out the buffer, more the ability to capture 5-6 frames in half a second or so. This is where we capture the interesting qualities of wildlife action.

Focus Range Selection

This isn't something you'll find on your camera. Some lenses, notably the Fujinon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 and 200mm f/2, have a focus range selection switch.

When a camera's autofocus system can't lock on to a subject it will 'hunt' through the focus range looking to detect detail. When photographing wildlife we often know that our subject is unlikely to come too close to our position. By using the focus selection switch we can tell the camera and lens to ignore the closer range. This improves the speed of focus and the accuracy. We have two options with the Fujinon 100-400mm lens, off and 5m to infinity. By selecting 5m to infinity we are ignoring the closer range, i.e. 5m to the minimum focus distance of the lens, 1.75m.

Performance Boost Mode

I'm keeping the most straightforward setting until last, Performance ‘Boost’. This is another setting I always have set. It increases the performance of the autofocus, increases the viewfinder display quality and viewfinder frame rate. Battery life takes a hit but for me it makes the camera a lot more responsive.

Final Words...

By bringing all of these settings, features and techniques together you should be able to increase the consistency and quality of your wildlife photography. But there is still a lot more you can do on top of this too. Knowing your subject's behaviour and habits as well as your camera's features can help you predict behaviour and stay one step ahead of the action. I'll be talking more about the benefits of fieldcraft in a future blog post.

Alan Hewitt is a freelance wildlife photographer, writer and photography holiday tour guide. He can often be spotted on Northumberland's Farne Islands but migrates to warmer climates to help people point their lenses at wildlife across Europe, Asia and Africa.

www.alanhewittphotography.co.uk


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My Fujifilm Journey…

Just over a year ago, my mid-range Nikon zoom lens developed a significant fault. As always, the options were not only plentiful, but also bewildering.

As a wildlife photographer, a wide angle / mid-range zoom lens isn’t one of my most used lenses. But, I am using them more and more as I try to evolve my photography to be more contextual, like including a species’ habitat or elements of their landscape.

While weighing up the various replacement options against the unknown costs, the hassle and longevity of a repair, all while being increasingly conscious that every gram of weight and inch of space in my camera bag is becoming increasingly precious, something else caught my eye. Something smaller, lighter. Dare I say it? Something that looked like a proper camera! The Fujifilm X-T2 and 18-55mm f/2.8 – f/4 lens.

Straight away I couldn’t help but appreciate the fusion of retro-design and modern photographic technology. An aperture ring on the lens, engineered dials instead of buttons, a real throwback to a more vintage style of camera which offered a much more tactile and enjoyable user-experience.

Shortly after purchasing my X-T2 I began working on a new editorial commission for Digital Photographer magazine. I was keen to use the X-T2 and 18-55mm lens as part of this and upon publishing, delighted and encouraged to see one of the first shots I took as the main image of my latest feature.

Alan
'Pro Photo Secrets' feature in Digital Photographer Magazine, issue 196.

Despite this immediate love affair with the X-T2, I wasn’t quite ready to hand in my Nikon cameras and telephoto lenses. I was of course curious about pushing the capability of the X-T2 a lot more, especially with autofocus for photographing wildlife in action. This wasn’t something I could easily achieve with the (fantastic) 18-55mm kit lens, but a friend very kindly loaned me his Fujinon 100-400mm and 1.4x converter.

A trip to a local nature reserve provided me with some suitable subjects, a few Greylag Geese regularly flying across the pond. They aren’t the fastest or smallest subjects I photograph, but I was pleased and surprised with the focus tracking accuracy of the sequences of shots using zone focussing for the first time, especially considering the negativity I had heard and read about autofocus capability.

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Greylag Goose, Fujifilm X-T2, 100-400mm - 1/680, f/5.6, ISO400, 400mm.

I was also very pleased with the overall quality of the 100-400mm lens. It hit the spot with sharpness, the optical stability was very effective, and the build quality felt excellent. It also felt very liberating to be able to wander around with a much lighter camera and lens compared to whichever DSLR I was using with my 200-400mm Nikon lens.

As I mentioned above, I was also loaned the Fujinon 1.4x converter. At first, I ignorantly brushed this aside as my experiences with the Nikon 1.4x converter and 200-400mm had been terrible. While in a woodland bird hide photographing small birds, I found 400mm a little short so on went the converter. After all, it would have been silly not to give it a try!

Together, the combination offers a focal length of 560mm with an equivalent field of view of 840mm on the APS-C sensor. As I expected, autofocus took a bit of a hit but I was left amazed with the clarity and sharpness. Unlike my previous teleconverter experiences, it left me feeling that this really was a useable combination in the right circumstances.

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Nuthatch, Fujifilm X-T2, 100-400mm & 1.4x - 1/400, f/8, ISO800, 560mm.

At this point I admit to finding myself in quite a quandary. A quandary that lasted weeks, rather than days, and I am sure many other photographers have found themselves in the same situation. I really wanted to explore the Fujifilm system a lot more, I wanted more lenses, another camera body! I wanted to travel with it and use it a lot more in the field. As I researched my options, it was painfully obvious I could not afford to invest in a second system. Plus, it’s not practical to carry two camera systems when flying abroad, especially in Africa. Despite being incredibly impressed by the Fujifilm gear, my Nikon gear was my security, much like a comfort blanket.

I spent a few more days using the X-T2 and 100-400mm combination, with and without the teleconverter. I dabbled in the more detailed AF settings, experimented with the power boost mode and enjoyed looking at the film simulations.  The more I used it, the more I enjoyed it. I felt I was using a camera again, not just taking photographs. In comparison, my Nikon bodies just felt like tools. I know cameras are just tools but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy the user experience, does it? My reliance on my Nikon security blanket was slowly but surely sliding away.

After a lot of thought, hesitation and even more research, that was it, a moment of bold decision! I packed up all of my Nikon gear (apart from my broken mid-range zoom), headed to my local camera shop (thankfully they do still exist!) and traded it all in. My small collection of Fujifilm gear was boosted by a 50-140mm f/2.8, my own 100-400mm and 1.4x teleconverter, a power booster grip for the X-T2 and a deposit on the then upcoming X-H1 and grip.

Let’s wind the clock forward a few months. As I write this I have been using the X-T2 for little over a year and the X-H1 and various lenses for around 9 months. My schedule has taken me to the Isle of Skye, South Africa, Kenya, The Bavarian Forests, Northumberland’s Farne Islands and a lot more in between. I’m delighted to say that my love affair with the Fujifilm system has not only continued but has flourished. It has even re-kindled my passion for a spot of landscape photography. Shedding kilograms from my camera bag has allowed me to carry a more versatile range of gear and when I was on the Isle of Skye, I did enjoy having my wide angle lens and filters to tinker with the astonishingly beautiful landscapes before my eyes.

Interestingly, I was told over and over again that my photography was just not compatible with current mirrorless system technology. “Forget your Puffins in flight”, I was told. Never one to shy away from a wildlife photography challenge I not only accepted, but also disproved!

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Atlantic Puffin, Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm - 1/3000, f/6.4, ISO400, 373mm.

I also headed out to South Africa and Kenya to guide wildlife photography safaris. Travelling through the Kruger with my lightweight bag felt liberating and I continued to enjoy using the system and also the results. I lost my light bag advantage in Kenya when Fujifilm UK very kindly offered me a loan of their medium format GFX50s and GF250mm f/4. How could I refuse? It was great to use medium format with some of the larger slow moving mega-fauna.

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Lions post mating 'spat', Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm - 1/750, f/5.6, ISO800, 280mm.

 

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Giraffe, Fujifilm X-H1, 100-400mm - 1/500, f/5.6, ISO400, 243mm.

So, I think we can safely say that I am absolutely happy with my transition to the Fujifilm system. I have no regrets whatsoever and I am looking forward to acquiring another couple of lenses. Sadly ‘Black Friday’ passed without a £5k cashback offer on the 200mm f/2! But I did get to use a pre-production model for a brief period and…. ‘wow’, I was absolutely blown away. It is probably one of the best lenses I have ever had the privilege to use. That in itself is quite a statement to make. The superfast f/2 autofocus, sharpness and beautifully smooth bokeh of the out of focus elements were astonishing. I’d love to get my hands on one again for future use, especially for somewhere like Africa.

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Great Grey Owl (captive species), Fujifilm X-H1, 200mm f/2 (pre-production model) - 1/1600, f/2, ISO2500, 200mm.

Before I end my Fujiholics blogging debut ("Phew", I hear you say!), I’d like to add my appreciation of Fujifilm’s ‘Kaizen’ philosophy. Throughout my ownership of the X-T2 and X-H1, Fujifilm have pushed out several firmware updates. Not just bug fixes, but real functional and measurable improvements. It’s great to know that there is a real commitment from Fujifilm to continuously improve the capabilities of their cameras and lenses where it is possible to do so.

I’m looking forward to writing a few more wildlife photography related articles centred around the Fujifilm system for Fujiholics. Please do feel free to add your thoughts via comments, social media or get in touch with me.

Alan Hewitt - Wildlife photographer, writer, photography tour guide. www.alanhewittphotography.co.uk