Thursday, February 22, 2018

Shooting Northern Lights with a Fuji GFX 50s

Fujifilm GFX50s GF 23mm
f/4 20-seconds ISO 2500
Singh Ray LB Color Intensifier

We recently spent a week in Alaska attempting to capture the Aura Borealis or Northern Lights.  While we did see them we were only able to capture them 2-out of 5-nights due to heavy cloud coverage.  We also learned that while January is okay the real show normally begins mid-February lasting until the end of March.  Needless to say we’re already making plans to return.
23mm f/4 20-seconds ISO 2500
Singh Ray LB Color Intensifier

The Northern Lights began to show close to midnight and lasted until around 3am.  The temperatures while shooting ranged from a high of -10 to a low of -25 degrees and one night the wind was in excess of 20mph with gusts where it made it uncomfortable to stand straight.
I used a combination of the Fujifilm GFX 50s and 2-lenses; GF23mm f/4 and a GF63mm F/2.8.  I also used a Wine Country Camera filter system with a Singh Ray LB Color Intensifier filter.  Samples where no filter was used for comparison are included.

23mm 10-seconds ISO 2000
No filter

I had no issues using the GFX50s with either lens. I made certain the battery was fully charged at the beginning and carried a spare kept warm inside my jacket and never had to change batteries during the 90-minure period I was outside shooting.  I would spend between 60 and 90-minutes outside at a time before going inside to warm up and return back for more punishment.  The first night I shot I changed batteries just as a precaution however the second night I didn’t.
63mm f/2.8 10-seconds ISO 2000
No filter
63mm f/2.8 10-seconds ISO 2000
with filter

The Wine Country Camera filter system worked well and was very easy to use.  The Singh Ray filter was in a 100x100 “filter vault” which slipped into the filter holder.  The vault system helps protect the filter while making it much easier to remove while wearing thick gloves.
63mm f/2.8 10-seconds ISO 2000
No filter 

There isn’t much more I can say about the Singh Ray LB Color Intensifier than I’ve already shared. I spent a couple minutes shooting without it and after seeing the results in camera I immediately decided to keep it in place.  I found that using the filter instantly produced richer colors.
63mm f/2.8 4-seconds ISO 2000
with filter

The average ISO used was 2000 to 2500 at anywhere between 4.0 to 20-seconds. I shot both lenses wide open using f/4 for the 23mm and f/2.8 for the 63mm.  Surprisingly my favorite lens turned out to be the slower GF23mm f/4.
While I’m disappointed at the lack of northern lights I am very pleased with what I was  able to capture.  I’m equally pleased with the performance of the GFX50s as well as the lenses.  I did other shooting while in Alaska last month with some of it in cold wet conditions just not at night and never encountered any difficulties.
I had tested the Singh Ray LB color intensifier prior to Alaska and was pleased with the results of shooting sunrise and sunsets. I figured if it failed to work with the northern lights I’d still be happy; however it works better than I could have hoped for.
23mm f/4 20-seconds ISO 2500
with filter
63mm f/2.8 20-seconds ISO 2000
with filter
I highly recommend the Fujifilm GFX with any combination of GF lenses. I also recommend using the Wine Country Camera filter system for your filters. And lastly I highly recommend giving the Singh Ray LB color intensifier filter a try as I believe you’ll be just as pleased as I am.

The following image is from the first night we saw the northern lights.  The temp was hovering around -20 with winds gusting to well over 20mph. This is a really quick capture at around 11pm using the GFX 23mm f/4 13-seconds ISO 6400 and the LB Color Intensifier filter.  The red lights are from our headlamps which I forgot to turn off due to the excitement of actually seeing the light show. There’s no processing done here other than converting to Jpeg and resizing the image.

There’s more to come so please stay tuned.
23mm f/4 20-seconds ISO 2000
with filter




Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Preparing the Fujifilm 50s for extreme conditions

I’ve begun writing this a couple days before Christmas hoping to set the ground work for what’s to come.

January 2018 will see us approximately 20-miles north of Fairbanks Alaska near Chatanika shooting the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.  We’re expecting temperatures as high as 2 as and as low as -12 and below.  Moon rise will be in the neighborhood of 7:21 am, setting by 1:27 pm with a new moon on January 16th which will be right in the middle of our stay.

I plan on using the Fujifilm GFX 50s with a combination of the GF23, 32-64 and 63mm lenses.  I’m also planning on using a Singh Ray LB color intensifier filter.  The LB combines a combination of a warming polarizer and color intensifier into one filter.  This filter will control glare and reflection while boosting shadow detail, color contrast and saturation of reds, greens and warm tones.  All in all this filter should be perfect for capturing the Northern Lights.  The filter will be attached to the lens using the Wine Country  Camera filter system and will be easy enough to manipulate if needed with heavy gloves.

I’ve been trying this combination of lens and filter for sunsets in the southwest and have been very pleased.  Time will tell if this filter is needed or will work well in capturing the Northern Lights.

The above is a sample of a “before and after” using the Singh Ray LB color intensifier filter.  The top image is the red sunset without the filter while the bottom is with the filter attached.  The same settings were used for each. GF 63mm f/6.4 1/13 ISO 100. 

The image above is what it looks like after processing in Adobe ACR and Photoshop CC.

I did run into one slight issue.  The weight of the filter system added to the front of the lens of the GF63 made the lens hunt for auto focus.  Turning auto focus off and shooting manual focus fixed the issue.

Wine Country Camera filter system with Singh Ray LB color intensifier filter attached to the Fujifilm GFX 50s.
Switching lenses to the GF 23 I found the issue of autofocus was fixed; likewise with the 32-64.
GF23mm f/4 1/80 ISO 250
Processed in Adobe ACR and Photoshop CC
Shot inside looking out
GF23mm f/4 1/5 ISO 400

Needless to say I’m very pleased with the Singh Ray LB color intensifier filter.  I’m equally pleased with the overall performance of the Wine Country Camera filter system, and looking forward to using both in Alaska.
Here’s one last test of the filter prior to Alaska.  Seeing as how Singh Ray advertises this filer as a color booster, intensifier etc., I decided to see what it would do on a cloudy sky.

Once again, a before and after shot with the GF 32-64 at 64mm f/4 1/160 ISO 100.  Top is without filter and bottom is with.  No processing has been done other than to resize and convert to Jpeg.
Next stop Alaska




Wednesday, November 1, 2017

My Fujifilm GFX 50s update

It’s the first of November as I sit and write this and I’ve had the GFX 50s for 8-months.  During this period I’ve brought, used and still own the following lenses. The GF23, GF32-64, GF63, and the GF120 Macro.  I have also used and still own an older Mamiya 200 APO using a Fotodiox adaptor and a  Vivitar MC 2x tele converter I picked up off E-bay.

GF63mm f/2.8 1/200 ISO 100

GF63mm 1/10 ISO 100
GF63mm f/4 1/10 ISO 100
I’ve used the combination of lenses to capture small bugs, landscape, nature and wildlife.  The camera has been used in wet conditions with rain, snow and very cold as well as hot, humid, windy, blowing sand. I can’t forget that I’ve used this in dark environments such as interiors and shooting outside capturing lightning.  I haven't had any problems or concerns with the GFX or lenses the entire 8-month period. Except for the stupid strap design; no matter the strap I place on the GFX it always ends up in a knot. 
GF 120mm f/8 1/4000 ISO 1600
shot handheld
Mamiya APO 200mm with 2x converter
1/3200 ISO 1600 cropped to taste
shot handheld

Processing the files from the GFX can be challenging.  I have settled into making a choice of either processing in Adobe Bridge then Photoshop CC or taking the much longer way of converting the files using a combination of Adobe DNG Converter and Exif Pilot so I can open and process in Capture One 10.  I’ve found the circumstances of the shoot dictate which method of processing I use.  Normal landscape and some wildlife and I’ll use a straight Bridge, Photoshop method.  If I’m shooting in a darker environment I might be more apt to use a longer method of conversion to use Capture One.
GF 23mm f/8 1/640 ISO 100

The following image was captured by leaning into the rear window holding the camera in one hand and using the shutter button with the other hand.  Think of standing on your head while juggling and attempting to do anything else.  Not easy however the lightweight of the GFX helped.
GF23mm f/4 1/160 ISO 800
shot handheld
I’ve been doing this long enough to understand that there simply isn’t a 100% perfect system.  That said, if Fuji fixes the issue of the strap connection and somehow work out the differences between Phase One and themselves so that Capture One can be used (without the added steps) then we’d be seeing as close as possible to a perfect system.

Mamiya APO 200 with 2x converter
1/320 ISO 100
shot handheld
GF32-64 at 64mm
f/4.5 1/320 ISO 100

Auto focus as well as manual focus has been no problem using this system.  The ability to use the toggle switch to move focus points have proved to be a great tool shooting in either auto or manual focus..  The dynamic range of the GFX is outstanding and constantly surprises me.

The following are examples of how well the Mamiya APO 200mm works with the GFX.  These were captured using manual focus and a combination of with and without the 2x converter.

Mamiya APO 200mm with 2x converter
1/1250 ISO 125
Mamiya APO 200mm with 2x converter
1/1600 ISO 125
Mamiya APO 200mm
1/250 ISO 100
Mamiya APO 200mm
1/640 ISO 320
cropped to taste
Mamiya APO 200mm
1/320 ISO 1250
Mamiya APO 200mm
1/250 ISO 1600
Remember, the previous 6-images were all captured using manual focus.  The last 3-images were all also captured using a burst mode as the subject matter was not standing still.
My wish list for improvements is simple.  I want a longer lens and am eagerly awaiting the release of the 250 and converter next year. Change the strap attachment.  While I can continue to process files as I have been I’d like to see the ability to use Capture One as it is intended to be used; and yes I understand that Fuji may not have any say in the issue.   That’s my “instant” wish list.  I’d also welcome a full frame sensor and as nice as the 50s is I wouldn’t mind seeing a 100 megapixel.  
GF23mm f/8 1/125 ISO 200
cropped to taste
shot handheld
GF23mm f/8 1/400 ISO 100
used a wine country filter system for capture
How does the GFX 50s compare to my Phase One XF, 100-megapixel IQ1-100?  We’re talking a difference between a mirrorless (GFX) and DSLR (XF) type of systems.  There is also a difference between the full-sensor IQ1-100 and the crop-sensor of the GFX (80%).  The easiest way to interpret the difference is that if I were using a 200 mm lens on each, the lens would be a “true” 200mm on the XF and 160mm on the GFX.  
Shot the interior of this bar by holding the camera above my head while poking through a broken window.  The ability to move the rear LCD helped me knowing what I was shooting.
GF 23mm f/4 1/125 ISO 400
shot handheld
So how well do I like the Fujifilm GFX 50s?  If anyone had said I’d be doing this a year ago I’d laugh and walk away.  However, things change.  The Phase One system as good as it is comes with a huge weight difference.  Mount a 40-80 lens (same focal length as the GF32-64) on a Phase One XF and add the digital back and you reach very close to 8-pounds compared to 4.4 pounds of the GFX 50s and 32-64.
GF 23mm f/4 1/250 ISO 100
I recently shot the interior of Murphy’s Gun Shop in Tucson using the GFX and the GF23mm.  All images were shot on tripod and at an ISO of 125.
GF23mm f/8 0.8 ISO 125
GF23mm f/32 f/8 ISO 125
processed entirely in Capture One 10
Yes, there is a difference of having a full-frame 100-megapixel (or less depending on the digital back) versus the crop-sensor of the GFX.  There’s also the difference of being able to capture wildlife using a burst mode of the GFX compared to a much slower rate of capture with the XF.  You need to understand the tradeoffs of each system and make your own decision.   In the end I have.  As of this blog I have made the decision to sell my complete Phase One system and continue using just the Fujifilm GFX 50s.
While I’ve sold my Phase One I have no problem in recommending Phase One or my good friend Dave Gallagher at CaptureIntegration.  While sadly you can’t purchase a Fujifilm GFX 50s from Dave, you can however from another good friend, Anthony Festa at Fotocare.
Thank you as always for allowing me to share my experiences.