Fuji X-Pro2 digital camera

Long Term Review: 16 Months of Weddings with the X-Pro2

My FujiFilm X-Pro2's landed the first week in March 2016 and have been in constant use ever since. So, sixteen months on, how are they coping with heavy use from a full-time wedding photographer?

Firstly, why am I writing a 16-month review when 12 and 18-month are more conventional? It's simply because of my workload, I was too busy at 12 months and 18 months is right in the middle of wedding season. So, here it is, 16-month review.

As much as I loved using my XT-1's, when the X-Pro2 was announced promising faster autofocus and even better high ISO performance I pre-ordered two. Right out of the bag (box) the improvements over the older XT1 were not subtle, the XT1's never let me down but X-Pro2 is the next generation and just inspired more confidence (as it should).

In true FujiFilm style, the X-Pro2's have been subsequently improved via firmware updates so these cameras genuinely do keep getting better.

Wedding photography on the streets of Liverpool

Focusing

As someone who photographs live action, often in low light, focus speed and accuracy are very important to me, the X-Pro2 really delivers on this requirement. The focus speed really suits wedding photography, easily coping with aisle precessions and dancing. Even wedding cars driving at speed don't trouble the X-Pro2's servo-focus.

Church weddings in Liverpool

Let's talk about accuracy. I've found the X-Pro2 to be highly accurate, more so than any other camera I've owned. It might be a little slower than my previous pro dslr but it's definitely more accurate, especially when shooting wide open at f1.2 and f1.4 (apertures I dare not use with my pro dslr's).

Unlike my old dslr cameras and lenses which seemed to deteriorate and need calibrating every year. Sixteen months in and my X-Pro2's focus accuracy hasn't changed. (the XT1's had been exactly the same). Week in, week out, rain or shine these cameras just work. My lenses are coming up to four years old and are as sharp now as they were new.

I use the 23mm f1.4 and 56mm f1.2 for most of the day, they give me a natural point of view, I love their fast apertures and their positive focus.

Fun journalistic photograph

If I want something more dramatic I use the 16mm f1.4 and if I need more reach I have the excellent 90mm f2. I wish I used the 90mm f2 more often, it's a stunning lens and so sharp you could cut yourself on it.

The first dance can be a testing time, the light is usually very low and the subject is moving, sometimes quite fast. It is a testing situation for any camera, again, the X-Pro2 impresses.

Firmware has seen focus speed improve, become more positive and receive more options including a smaller focus point selection and customisable servo-focus sensitivity.

I particularly like the customisable servo focus sensitivity, it means you can match how your autofocus reaction to your subject. You also have various ready made presets if you don't want to customise/make your own.

bride attaching earing in mirror

ISO Performance

To me, higher megapixel sensors mean more noise, so increasing from the XT1's 16mp to 24mp worried me. I needn't have worried everything about the new sensor exceeded my expectations. It's not just the low noise of this sensor, the colours are even better than before and getting the white balance correct seems easier. The ISO range and performance are perfect for me with my fast prime lenses.

The files are as beautiful as ever, I love the ACROS setting for black and whites which was first introduced with the X-Pro2.

Wear and tear

Despite (almost) shooting one and a half full wedding seasons, these cameras still look, feel and work like new. Admittedly, I do look after and respect my cameras and lenses but I don't baby them. The X-Pro2 deserves its pro body status, it's build quality is top drawer. They are an excellent tool and true pro workhorses. The cameras have had the odd knock etc. however their compact size allied with prime lenses makes them less exposed to the knocks and bumps larger cameras with huge f2.8 zooms attract.

Wedding photography

Does any camera make you a better photographer? Obviously not! Cameras are just tools but it's a fair argument that choosing the best tool for any job will have an impact on the final result, after all, you can knock screws in with a hammer.My photography style relies on me being discreet and going unnoticed, from the whisper quiet shutter to the unassuming appearance of the X-Pro2 which is pure black with not even any branding on the front, this makes it perfect for my style of photography.

bride helped into her dress by mum and sister

My photography style relies on me being discreet and going unnoticed, from the whisper quiet shutter to the unassuming appearance of the X-Pro2 which is pure black with not even any branding on the front, this makes it perfect for my style of photography.

I'm getting closer to my subjects than ever before whilst remaining discreet and undetected. Since I discovered FujiFilm mirrorless cameras and my work has taken on a more up close look, for the viewer it feels like they are there and part of whats happening.

Conclusion

So there you have it, the X-Pro2 is an even better camera than it was at launch (firmware). Its performance continues to impress, it does everything I ask of it and copes supremely well in tough lighting conditions. The X-Pro2's build quality is right up there with the very best and can easily take the heavy use of a full-time professional photographer. It has, and continues to perform flawlessly and shows no signs of failing.

Rob Sanderson
Liverpool and Cheshire wedding photographer

Alpine Party Plug Ear Protectors

For the last few months I have been testing Apine Hearing Protection PartyPlug ear protectors at gigs I have been covering. Alpine were kind enough to send me a couple of pairs quite a few months back. One pair I gave away in a little quiz I had at my gig photography workshop. The other pair I had with me at a couple of gigs until along with all my gear they were stolen. Once the good people at Alpine (Big thanks to Susanne) heard about this they had another two pairs in the post to me straight away. Now that’s great costumer service for you right there !

Anyway I have now used these ear plugs and quite a number of gigs over the last few months and can write about them here in this blog.

The first thing I can say is how comfortable they are, you honestly forget that you have them in. In fact on more than one occasion I have found myself driving home from a gig still with them in my ears!

One thing that other cheaper earplugs do is distort the actual sound of the band. Now I know im usually at a gig to photograph the band or artist, but I do also like to hear the music they are making too. Alpine Partyplug ear protectors let you do this thanks to their unique “Alpine Acoustic Filters” which filter out the damaging frequencies thus protecting your ears but letting you listen to the music at the same time. So if you are one of these festival goers who get right to the front of a gig next to the PA systems, these are the ear protectors you need.

The other thing is that you can hear and have normal conversations with these ear plugs in.

Alpine PartyPlug ear protectors have a Noise Reduction Rating of 16.5 – 21.5 Decibels.

So would I recommend these ear protectors to other Gig/Live Music photographers ? The answer to that would be a big fat YES. For the price, quality, comfort and protection Alpine PartyPlug give you they are a great buy. The come together with an applicator to help you fit and take out the plugs and a handy Minibox to hold them in when not in use.

Highly Recommended !

Warren

 

Alpine Hearing Protection
https://www.alpinehearingprotection.com/


Manfrotto Lumimuse LED Lights Review

The Lumimuse LED light range Manfrotto bring a perfect balance of portability and power to your lighting accessories. The compact design is made from robust, lightweight aluminium which ensures that they are able to withstand the rigors of pretty much all you can throw at them.  Built-in rechargeable USB Li-Pol batteries negate the need for you to carry spares, freeing up valuable space in your camera bag. The supplied hot shoe mount also includes a standard 6.4mm thread allowing you to attach the lights directly to a tripod or lighting stand. The snap-fit filter mount and accompanying filters let you choose how to modify your images. You can change the diffusion of the LED light as well as the colour temperature. Various effects can be achieved by using up to three filters at the same time. Also available to buy separately are a range of coloured filter inserts which should afford no end of artistic license. All the filter kits and mounts come in their own carrying case which again is small and portable enough to fit in your camera bag without taking up much space at all. Whether you are capturing stills images or video footage these lights are a great option for increasing your artistic flair.


Lumimuse LED LightsLumimuse LED Lights

 Specs at a glance: Art

Weight 4.83 oz 137 g
Collection/Series Lumimuse LED Lights Lumimusee LED Lights
Battery Type Built in Lithium Built in Lithium
Beam Angle 50 50
Certification CE ; FCC ; KCC ; RCM CE ; FCC ; KCC ; RCM
Colour Temperature 5600 5600
CRI (Colour Rendition Index) >92 >92
Product - Depth 1.1 in 2.8 cm
Dimmable 3 step dimming 3 step dimming
Product - Height 2.36 in 6 cm
Product - Length 2.99 in 7.6 cm
Lux@1m 440 440
Mounting Method Hot-shoe and female 1/4`` Hot-shoe and female 1/4``
Number of LEDs 6 6
Power Supply mini USB mini USB
Battery Life 60 min 60 min

 

Specs at a glance: Play

Weight 744.83 oz 7474 g
Collection/Series Lumimuse LED Lights Lumimuse LED Lights
Battery Type Built in Lithium Built in Lithium
Beam Angle 50 50
Certification CE ; FCC ; KCC ; RCM CE ; FCC ; KCC ; RCM
Colour Temperature 5600 5600
CRI (Colour Rendition Index) >92 >92
Product - Depth 1.1 in 2.8 cm
Dimmable 3 step dimming 3 step dimming
Product - Height 5.32.36 in 5.35 cm
Product - Length 2.99 in 7.1 cm
Lux@1m 440 22022220
Mounting Method Hot-shoe and female 1/4`` Hot-shoe and female 1/4``
Number of LEDs 6 3
Power Supply mini USB mini USB
Battery Life 60 min 60 min

 

The Manfrotto Lumimuse LED lights are ideal for adding a little bit of fill light whilst shooting outdoors. They are also very handy in the studio for product photography. There are three sizes in the range; the smallest is the Lumie Play which features three LED’s, the Lumie Art which has six and the largest in the group, the Lumie Muse, which features eight LED’s. It goes without saying that the larger the unit and the more LED’s results in greater power output. Regardless of size option all the lights in the range utilise Manfrotto’s super-bright surface mount LED technology which results in fewer but larger and brighter LED’s than their Spectra range.

For the purpose of this review I have been playing around and testing the Lumie Play and the Lumie Art lights with three and six LED’s respectively. Both lights are similar in design and only differ slightly in size and weight. The Play comes in at 28 x 53 x 71mm and weighs just 73g compared to the Art which weighs in at 137g and has dimensions of 28 x 60 x 76 mm. Each of the units within the range have a three step dimmer (the Muse has 4) operated by simply depressing the power button to scroll through each step and the lights all illuminate at 5600K colour temperature.

Lumimuse LED Lights

I tested the Lumimuse LED lights in the studio for some product images and was surprised at just how versatile they can be. The three step dimming allows for creating some great lighting setups and coupled with the filters open up even more scope. I had the each of the units set up on light stands with adjustable hotshoe mounts which gave me the most flexibility. It is worth mentioning here that the included mounts supplied with the Lumie range are basic at best, I would have liked to have seen a better designed mount which allowed some degree of angulation. Whilst testing the lights they were on continuously for around 55 minutes when they suddenly switched off. I did notice the units felt quite warm to the touch so I put the auto switch off down to them over heating before realising they required recharging.   Another point worth noting; there is no low battery indicator. Not sure why but I doubt it isn’t too hard to implement by way of a flashing LED or the LED turning red to indicate the battery level is low. One option would be to turn the units off between shoots or setting up shots but this isn’t always viable when you are adjusting the lighting to create a desired effect. The units are charged via a USB port and again a couple of points worth noting. The USB rubber port protector is tiny and detaches completely from the units which is inevitably going to result in them being lost. Also the USB cable supplied is very short at around 170mm long, not too much of a problem as the plugs are standard so I just used a longer cable from another device.

Lumimuse LED Lights

In conclusion these Lumimuse LEDlights are a no brainer if you require a light weight compact lighting solution which is portable and offers flexible options in a number of situations. Small enough to keep in your camera bag for those ‘you don’t know when you’ll need them’ moments, and they are equally at home tucked into a pocket. They offer good value for money and quality is superb for the price point. They are versatile when used in conjunction with the filters and mixing different models within the range offers numerous lighting setups which should cover most needs. There are however a few minor niggles with them. The USB port protectors will get lost. The lack of battery level indication could also have a detrimental impact on a shoot if you aren’t careful. The short charging cables are fairly restrictive but do their job. The static hotshoe mounts are limiting but again probably just me being too picky. Irrespective of these minor niggles I can honestly say these lights are brilliant, they do the job well and should be more than adequate for most needs. The little bits I am being uber fussy over are not deal breakers in the least and are more of a ‘why didn’t they do…’ observation really. Would I recommend them? Quite simply, yes.


Manfrotto Befree Messenger Bag Review

First and foremost there is no such thing as the perfect camera bag! That’s simply a fact. There are numerous options out there which are brilliantly designed and manufactured but the fact remains that none are ‘perfect’. I have a number of camera bags ranging from cheap canvas Chinese imports through to higher end branded ones. Whilst each of these are reasonably good none of them suit my exact needs, which change depending upon what and where I am shooting. Browsing the camera bag section of the global supermarket that is eBay a particular offering from Manfrotto repeatedly kept cropping up. The Advanced Befree Messenger bag. Hailed as ‘the perfect solution for photographers wanting to have all the gear they need with them, including the Manfrotto Befree travel tripod’ could this be the Holy Grail I was in search of?

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So brings me to my review of the Manfrotto Advanced Befree Messenger bag. According to Manfrotto’s website; “The bag‘s internal compartment is customisable according to the user’s needs. Removable padded dividers enable it to carry all types of equipment from a pocketable mirrorless camera to a full pro gear configuration. The top access feature makes this bag the perfect choice for photographers wanting to be ready to capture every shot quickly and easily. The bag holds a laptop up to 15” in a special padded compartment. It has multiple zipped pockets for accessories and media devices and a smart sleeve for documents. The Befree messenger becomes an everyday bag by removing its internal photo gear protection padding. It features an adjustable shoulder strap with an anti-slip shoulder pad so you can comfortably carry it everywhere. It also comes with its own rain cover.”

High claims indeed which certainly sparked my interest. At this point it is only fair to express that Manfrotto UK kindly offered to send me a bag (to be returned) with the sole purpose of testing and trying it out to determine its suitability for my own needs.

The bag is as you would expect for a messenger bag in terms of shape and styling, I won’t bore you with the technical specifications as these are readily available from Manfrotto’s own website. My first impressions however were that of surprise. Pleasantly surprised I might add. The quality and feel of the bag struck me straight away, the materials used feel, well, just right. The quality is as you would expect from a company with such standing as Manfrotto, it’s very high. The capacity of the bag is huge given its deceptive size. The internal layout of the bag is something which the designers have obviously put a great deal of thought into. It’s apparent that they have attempted to squeeze in as many storage options as possible to meet a varied range of usage and scenarios. I couldn’t help feel that this ‘one bag for all’ design approach was beneficial as a photographer’s bag alone due to the limited options for storing camera equipment within. The dividers are few and so reducing the layout configurations, which is something I feel is a big downside. That said, I am probably expecting too much from any bag let alone the Befree! For weddings I usually take my Peli 1510 case with pretty much everything I need for a full days shooting (and then some). The arrival of the Befree Messenger coincided with a wedding that weekend for which I was acting as second shooter. This gave me the ideal opportunity to try out the bag by filling it with my gear for the few hours I was at the wedding. I tried in vain to pack the bag with a gripped XT1 with 50-140 lens, an xPro1 with 18mm lens, an X100T a couple of spare batteries and a 35mm lens. I also take my laptop to every wedding for the purpose of backing up images. I shall be honest I struggled to find a layout which worked for the amount of gear. The laptop fitted perfectly in the dedicated compartment but it was the camera gear which proved to be a problem. In the end I fitted the padded bag insert from my cheap canvas bag and ‘et voila’ almost perfect! The Befree Messenger in conjunction with the insert was ideal for my needs. The only downside was access to some of the internal zipped pockets was rendered almost impossible but this wasn’t a problem because I wasn’t using them on this occasion anyway. The capacity of the Befree bag is huge! Considering the amount of gear I was carrying it never felt cumbersome or too heavy and I attribute this to the excellent shoulder strap, which it seemed distributed the weight evenly. The external pouches and pockets are very easily accessible and ideal for storing spare batteries and memory cards or other smaller ancillary items. One thing I did find brilliant was the zipper fitted into the main flap of the bag which allowed easy access to your gear quickly and without the need to un-buckle the whole flap.

I started this review by saying there is no such thing as the perfect camera bag. I still stand by that. There simply isn’t. The Manfrotto Advanced Befree Messenger bag however is very close to the ideal based on its ‘dual purpose’ intentions. Granted I had to use another internal insert to get all my gear in but that’s not too much of a bad thing, the bag did the job and it did it well. I can live with having to use the other insert, it’s not a deal breaker because it means the bag is far more functional than perhaps Manfrotto intended, albeit unintentionally. Although I have only been using the bag for a week or so I have taken quite a liking to it. It is very well made and the features which the Manfrotto designers have incorporated are excellent, even if my unconventional adaptations may temporarily limit their usefulness. Even when heavily loaded the bag feels comfortable to carry over the shoulder and the weight is distributed evenly. Having the capacity to carry a laptop is just brilliant, my only other option for this aside from the Peli case is my huge camera backpack which is not ideal and only ever comes out if I am travelling. Being able to take my laptop in this bag will make it so much easier for when I am travelling to do workshops and training courses for me this is when it does become a ‘one bag does all’ solution. The other clever little design feature which drew my attention was the built in Tripod compartment which is best suited to the Manfrotto Befree travel tripod. I have the carbon version of this tripod and it fits in the bag perfectly which is a huge tick on the requirements list. The bag also has its own rain cover which stows neatly inside, making it weather resistant.

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Overall despite not being ‘the perfect bag’ it comes exceptionally close! It is well designed and made with more than enough layout options and configurations to suit most everyday needs. It feels and looks good and it carries very well as a shoulder bag. The huge capacity is far more than many other bag options in the same class and also benefits from the high quality standards you would expect from a company with such a pedigree as Manfrotto. For the price point this bag is a definite contender and should be a serious consideration for those who are looking for a high quality camera bag. I would recommend it without doubt!

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Fujifilm XT-2 - The perfect wedding camera?

I’m not much of a gear head, but when I was given the opportunity to try out a pre-production X-T2 I couldn’t resist. I’ve shot this entire wedding season on the fantastic X-Pro2’s, the image quality and high ISO performance of the latest X-trans sensor is phenomenal. The focusing system of the X-Pro2 was also a huge leap forward from the XT1 so I had high expectations of the X-T2 and it didn't disappoint.Read more


Manfrotto BeFree Carbon Tripod - Review

I think Manfrotto is probably one of the biggest names in the tripod-ing world.

I was asked to write a review on the new Manfrotto BeFree Carbon tripod and I’ve spent a good month using it so that I can share my wisdom with you. I should add that I usually have a bit of a hate-hate relationship with tripods – they get in my way and just don’t allow me to ‘be free’. So, being asked to review a tripod with ‘BeFree’ in the title was something I jumped at – could there finally be a tripod to suit me? The box itself says: “Compact and light, easy to transport during your travels, fast to use once you need it to take the right shot” – not exactly the catchiest of taglines but the point is made.

I’m quite a tough nut to crack when it comes to impressing me with a tripod… so here goes…

Specs

Weight: 1.1KG
Size when folded: 40cm
Size when extended: 142cm
Max weight: 4KG
4 sections
Warranty up to 10 years
RRP – around the £250 mark (at time of posting)

Right away this appeals to me, it’s small in size and light in weight.

Fujiholics Monfrotto BeFree 07Design

Manfrotto is Italian and I think this always shows through the sleek designs that Manfrotto use on their products. This tripod is no different. With hints of the Manfrotto red and white graphics against the black frame, I can’t really fault the aesthetic design. The tripod also offers very sleek movability. The Italian style really comes through.

What was different for me was the angle selection legs. It really is quite clever and means that the legs lock into places at different angles. You have 3 options: folded, normal angle, and wide spread. The catch clicks into place well and seems very sturdy.

As always with Manfrotto, the legs are locked with a lever style plate as opposed to others that use the twist locks. I know some people have issues with lever locks due to them becoming loose (you can tighten them) but I’ve had more issues with twist locks. This is a preference thing but, for me, I prefer the lever style – I find it much easier to use and quicker to extend the legs. The lever locks on the BeFree Carbon are very sturdy. Another point to Manfrotto!

There’s no weight hook under the main column – which I know will be a downfall for many photographers. But I think, for this tripod, it is ok not to have one. The aim is to keep this as a lightweight and compact piece of equipment for easy portability – adding the usual gimmicks just adds to the weight and bulk – which isn’t what I want in a ‘travel friendly’ tripod.

The feet are fixed with no spikes. Again, another preference thing. It doesn’t bother me too much, it is nice to have a spiked option I guess, but I won’t lose sleep over not having this option on the BeFree Carbon. Again, it’s a traveller’s companion – spikes on tripods and airports have caused us all issues, yes?

My sum up of the design is that the work of the Italians shows through with the stylish graphics and sleek portability. Everything is kept neat and compact. It’s built to be travelled with.

My score: 5/5

Fujiholics Monfrotto BeFree 02Head

The important part to any tripod is, of course, the head.

The head on the BeFree Carbon is in no way the best I’ve ever seen or indeed the strongest. You can remove the head if you wanted to use a different one or if you wanted to place it on a slider.

But it done the job well - at least for my Fujifilm XT1 mirrorless camera. Using it in portrait mode was absolutely great with the XT1 also.

Again, it’s a traveller’s tripod and it ties in very nicely with the mirrorless era of lightweight and compact. I’m not convinced it would be so secure with a full frame DSLR but I’ll base it on how I used it.

The plate and adapter are quick release and I can’t fault this. It snaps into place quickly and releases quickly too – no qualms on that front.

My score: 3/5

What's In The Box

As mentioned, the tripod is complete with head (ball, adapter and quick release plate). It also comes with a wee case too - in no way is this a protection case for the tripod because it doesn’t have any padding but it is a nice carry case. But, if you’re anything like me, the case goes away into that place where all the lens caps go… the deep unknown. I did use the case for the sake of the review though and can report that the tripod is still taking home in it!
It also has an Allen key (Hex key) to tighten the levers on the legs if they start to loosen - which, is a nice thing to include. Instructions and warranty are also included in the box.

My Sum Up

For someone who doesn’t ever get any enjoyment out of using tripods, I actually found this very easy to work with and it didn’t ever become a ‘chore’ to use. I used it as an LED light stand on 3 location portrait shoots and as a camera tripod by the sea and on windy hills. So I have put it through its paces. It has been out in all weather conditions with me and has remained intact. It is extremely light. I was at a coastline this week and climbed a few large rocks with it and barely noticed it was there. The Manfrotto BeFree Carbon is very much a portable tripod and, for me, is targeting the mirrorless market. The photographers who are doing away with the weight and bulk in exchange for lighter systems will love this tripod for its size, weight and cool design.

In my opinion, Manfrotto are trying to target a specific market with this tripod and that market is very much the mirrorless one.

The Manfrotto BeFree Carbon tripod is remarkably compact and did indeed allow me to ‘BeFree’.

Overall Score

4/5