Landscape

Fall Rhapsody at the Willson Carbide Mill

Mary Anne and I made our way to the Willson Carbide Mill in Gatineau Park the other day. Neither of us had ever been there before but we figured we both had our iPhones, GPS and our beloved mutts with us. So despite the bear warnings we set off via Trail number 36. It was a beautiful fall day. The colours just somewhat past their prime and a bit cool but not too cold. At the end of the trail we were rewarded with the Thomas Willson ruins from the late 19th century. Willson (1860-1915) no relation, was a paranoid inventor who learned how to produce Calcium Carbide and set up his own home and mill near Meech Lake around 1911. To make a long story short a fortune was made and lost, he irritated his neighbours by artificially raising and lowering the water of Meech Lake during his experiments and he eventually died of a heart attack in 1915 on a street in New York city while seeking to raise venture capital for his next project.

Anyway, just over 100 years later it has become a popular destination for tourists and photographers. For myself, I found it a great opportunity to put my IBIS Fujifilm XH1 body to the test under trying conditions: bright sunlight, waterfalls, no 10 stop filter etc. For the waterfall images I used ISO 100, F22 and 1/2.5 second handheld. I was quite impressed with the results.

All images photographed with Fujifilm XH1 and XF16-55F2.8 and processed in Capture One 11

Ice Storm

It is supposed to be spring.  I must admit the weather here in Ottawa is leaving a little bit to be desired.  It is going up and down like a yo-yo.  At the end of February it was positively balmy and now that it is mid April we have been getting snow and freezing rain.  In Yellowknife, it is predictably freezing cold for much of the year.  But with a good coat and a pair of mukluks, you are pretty well set for venturing outdoors.  

Today it was so crappy I could barely take Saydee for a walk.  Schools were closed, power lines and tree branches were down and many homes were without power.  I literally had to drop my poochie off at the park and waited by - no hung on to the car as the wind was gusting at about 60km hour.   I did, however, think it was beautiful.  The trees were all glistening with ice as were the roads.  A good day for a photo shoot then.  So off we went in search of beauty amidst the chaos.  

I probably could have used Fuji's new XH1 with in body image stabilization as I wasn't too sure on my feet. 

Here are some of my favourites. 

North of 60 with Fuji's GFX50s

A couple of years ago when Fujifilm had asked us if we had interest in a Medium Format camera, my gut reaction was a decided no.  In my mind, I had just downsized and replaced my heavy Nikon D800 and lenses for the Fuji XT1 system with money left over to boot.  I had the perfect system and when they launched the Fuji XT2 I was even happier.  I couldn't imagine it getting any better. Sigh.  

Then the GFX was launched and everyone who is anyone in the Fujifilm world was having a go at it.  Even friends who were decidedly not going that route, preferring instead the sleek pocket XF100F which is generally the preferred camera for street photography, were trying it out and writing reviews.  Everyone was blown away by the files.  They were saying that the images shown on Facebook or Instagram simply did not do them justice.  To make a long story short, and against my better judgement my curiosity got the better of me and I asked Fujifilm Canada if I could try it.    I explained that we would be moving south soon and the Aurora season was just about to start up again and I was hoping to do some portraits of some Northerners. I say against my better judgement because I sensed that I was going to really like this camera.  

Fujifilm Canada graciously agreed and sent me the GFX50s, the GF23, 32-64, 63 and the 120.  It arrived about a week later.  

The full kit.  GFX50S, GF23F4, 63F2.8, 32-64 and the 120F4

My first thought when I picked up the camera was that it fit so comfortably in my hand with the grip and that it wasn't as heavy as I thought it would be.   I was also pleased to see that Fujifilm had beefed up the camera strap hardware.  Coming from the Fuji XT2 I found the dials, buttons, and menus quite familiar and was able to quickly navigate around the menus. 

Unfortunately, the EVF didn't work at all which was a bit disappointing.  There seemed to be a problem with it as it kept shutting off.  Rather than send everything back I simply learned how to shoot solely with the LCD screen.

Since I've had this camera I have photographed a Dene First nation wedding, several portraits, landscapes, urban and of course the Aurora Borealis. I too was blown away by the image quality. I had never seen anything quite like it.  What was it about these files?  The colour, the nearly impossible dynamic range and the tonal quality and creamy bokeh noticeable even with the GF32-64mm F4 zoom lens!  

Almost every bride in Yellowknife wants to have their portrait done at the top of Pilots Monument under the usually bright sun.  I brought with me the GFX50s to see what it could do.   I used also a  bit of Fuji's EFX500 fill flash as well.  I probably could have used an off-camera flash with an umbrella but it was pretty windy up there.  I was pretty happy with the results anyway.  

GF32-64 ISO200 F6.4 1/1250 SEC. 

The photographs seem to have a 3-dimensional quality almost as if you are stepping inside the scene.  I also liked its native 4/3 ratio especially for the Aurora as you can get more sky in the frame.  I was also impressed with the battery performance as I worked the entire time with only one battery.    

The camera has a few quirks though.  The zone focusing routinely gets stuck in a bottom corner requiring you to turn off the camera and reboot it.   I don't think this is a serious issue though as Fujfilm has an excellent reputation of fixing these little quirks in future firmware updates.  

Also, it isn't the fastest camera around and it certainly isn't designed for sports or wildlife shooters.  Although it wouldn't surprise me to see some sports and wildlife photography done with this camera as I was able to capture my beloved Saydee full sprint in the park with the GF23mmF4.  

GF23MM ISO 100 F4 1/640 sec.

In addition to the files being exquisite, they are rather large.  Raw files are about 115mb each so I hardly minded cropping this one of the husky relaxing on the roof. 

 GF63mmF2.8 ISO 100 1/450 sec

GF63mmF2.8 ISO 100 1/450 sec

I have to say the camera along with the GF23F4 really nailed it for the Aurora Borealis.  The files were clean and crisp with hardly any noise at ISO3200 F4.  Also check out the Time Lapse at the end of this post. 

For portraiture I used the GF32-64, the 63F2.8 and the 120mmF4 and I have to say I like them all. I wish I could be one of those people who shoots only one kind of thing one way with one lens.  It would make things more affordable.  However, I do enjoy variety and sometimes I feel like making an environmental portait and at other times I want to zoom in.  

So much detail! 

This camera however, at $8,124 for the body only, is not to be taken lightly.  However, in comparison to a Hassleblad at $11,000 Canadian it would be more within reach of the serious photographer.  It would be an excellent camera for those commercial, landscape or studio portrait photographers who demand the very best for their clients and can command a good price for doing so in the marketplace.  

To conclude, I would love to have this camera and I can definitely see adding it to my gear bag in the future.  Since I plan to focus my photography more on portraiture and selling fine art prints when I return to Ottawa, I would start with the GF63F2.8 and the GF3264 for my nature urban images followed by  the GF120mm.  

Huge thanks to Fujifilm Canada for allowing me to spend my last month in Yellowknife with the GFX.  I'm only sorry I'll miss shooting in pristine winter wonderland with the GFX. 

A time lapse of a G2 Aurora Storm in Yellowknife, NT September 27, 2017.

 

 

Travelling to Jasper

Travelling to Jasper

Most recently we have returned from a week long trek to Edmonton and Jasper.  The purpose of our trip to Edmonton was to have some car maintenance done which can't be done where we live in Yellowknife.  Also my Epson 3800 printer needed some repair.  It is a two day drive to Edmonton, which is the nearest major city where these kinds of services can be had.  Since it is hardly worth driving two days just to get car and printer repairs done, and we had a bit of time before Eddie had to get back to work, and with Jasper being just another four hours drive away, we decided to go to Jasper for a mini three day holiday.  

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Fujifilm XT2 - Reporting from Yellowknife - July 7th, 2016

I am proud to to announce that I was one of five Canadian and 100 Fuji X-Photographers worldwide chosen to review and test what is Fujifilm’s new flagship camera: the XT2. This is the camera that is intended to sway professional dSLR camera users over to Fujifilm. It will be the camera you can take to work or not.

So here we are July 7th, 2016 and Fujifilm has just announced the XT2 and I can now reveal what I’ve been doing with it for the past couple of months. We were sworn to secrecy and had to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Fujifilm Japan. A pre-production unit arrived in Yellowknife, NWT in a nondescript black x camera box with my name on it. Getting it to Yellowknife, NWT was no small feat in itself. It arrived about 10 days after my colleagues got their cameras. The camera logo was covered up in black tape so no one would really know what I was shooting with. My job would be to take photographs, primarily landscape and wildlife shots and provide feedback. Billy the Fuji Guy tells us that “This will be a game changer! It will be a complete professional system with all the advantages of a DSLR without the disadvantages” and after a couple of months with Taurus - XT2 I believe him.

This is not a technical review with stats, charts and comparisons as I’m not really technically inclined and quickly get bored of numbers. I think its better to leave that up to those folks who are really good at it. Also, this isn’t a lengthy review. Being the eldest daughter of a Navy Captain I was raised to keep things brief and I believe a review should be about the kinds of pictures the camera can take. Anyway, you can get all the specs from Fujifilm here but I would like to however share my first impressions and some sample images that I’ve taken over the past two months. Please note that all photos in my report are taken with a pre-production unit and so are only offered here in low-resolution.

FEATURES AND FIRST IMPRESSIONS

Essentially this is an XPRO2 sensor and software placed into a slightly revised XT2 body and more. It shares the same new 24.3MP X-Trans CMOS III image sensor, a 4x more powerful processor, 1/8000 sec focal plane shutter, focus joystick, faster synch speed at 1/250th sec up from 1/180th sec on the XT1 and the LCD screen now tilts 3-ways making it easier to shoot vertically.

It is a substantial camera and a little bit heavier than the XT1 but not by much. They increased the size slightly to accommodate the dual SD card slot. I love that they heightened and put a locking mechanism on the ISO and shutter speed dial. I think I might even be able to operate those dials with mitts on during the winter. The torque on both the Metering and Drive dials have been tightened which is great because they always used to slide around a bit on the XT1. They have extended the Phase detection and the tracking of moving subjects is much better. You can even customize the tracking depending on how erratic your subject is moving. The Across B&W film simulation has been added as well they did something with the On/Off switch to make it easier to turn on. When it is -30C below and you have to take your mitts off to turn the camera on, that is an important detail. And like the XT1 it is weather and dust resistant.

I love the feel of this camera and I love its ability to be almost anything you want it to be. If you pop the new XF35F2 on it or even the pancake 27mm lens you can probably carry it with you in your pocket. It wouldn't be much bigger than the X100S. Alternatively if you need to show up at a clients fully equipped you can add the Vertical battery grip which does a whole host of things including boosting the performance of the camera, increase the time you can take a video and I think makes a better platform for the larger lenses i.e. the XF50-140, XF16-55 and the new XF100-400. And speaking of video it has 4K video and an F Log coming soon giving me something else to learn. I think the way the market is going for photographers, acquiring video skill is hugely important.

IMAGE QUALITY

Fujifilm really has something special going on with image quality. I thought the image quality of the XT1 was fabulous with its 16mp sensor. But my goodness, there is just so much more detail now visible with these files. And the EVF is stunning (Magnification ratio 0.77x, Shutter time lag 0.005 sec, 100fps live-view). and is now my preferred place for framing my shots. Essentially the XT2 is everything I loved about the XT1 only better.

WILDLIFE WITH THE XF100-400

Shortly after receiving my Taurus camera Eddie and I set out to Edmonton and Jasper. At this point I’ll admit the camera was very quirky and not stable to put it mildly. I had Billy the Fuji Guy helping me sort out something to get it going again literally just a few minutes before we encountered these mountain goats. I was ecstatic that it worked to capture these beauties. They seemed to be saying “No way, is that a Fuji XT2 you got there!?” Actually, I learned that there was a wild cat lurking behind me at the time.

JASPER NATIONAL PARK

I normally like to use the Camera Pro Negative High film simulation. 

THE NORTH

A camera should help you tell your story. The story I like to tell is primarily about Canada… it’s land, people and culture. I feel that the XT2 camera system has everything you need to tell your story. Unlike the Rangefinder XPRO2 which seems more geared for the street or documentary photographer with more discreet prime lenses, the XT2 is geared toward the portrait, nature, wildlife and sports shooter and now the photographer who wants to shoot video as well.

I might add that with each firmware update the camera is very near its potential and at this point I hardly want to shoot with anything else.

TRACKING WITH THE XT2

Other than in the local park with my dog running alongside a tourist kid from Texas, I admit that I didn’t really have the opportunity or confidence to try out the AF-C Tracking much.  

It was just with the last few firmware updates where I felt the camera was stable enough to even try. It wasn’t until the Yellowknife Airshow where I was able to really give it a workout. 

VIDEO

I was able to track former Snowbird pilot Brent Handy's performance in a Pitts Special.  I really appreciate that they've added the vide to the drive dial.  It makes it so much easier to switch back and forth from shooting video to photography.  I do need to learn more about editing video but this gives you an idea of what an amateur can do with this camera. 

 And finally good night... or good morning wherever you are. 

 A Yellowknife Sunset 10:45 pm  XF50-140 F2.8 ISO200 140mm F14 F1/125

A Yellowknife Sunset 10:45 pm  XF50-140 F2.8 ISO200 140mm F14 F1/125

Cross Canada Road Trip

“If some countries have too much history, we have too much geography” Former Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King

For quite some time I have wanted to head back to the Northwest Territories to revisit and photograph some of the places where I grew up particularly the culture, the land and its people. Last January while out on assignment for the Government of Scotland, I was photographing the Sir John A. MacDonald annual Kilt Skate on the Rideau Canal in -30C weather. We dropped into the Shaw Centre (formerly Ottawa Convention Centre) to warm up and visit the Spectacular NWT exhibit. I had asked if they needed any photographers up north but it seemed they were more in need of Chartered Accountants which is what my husband does. To make a long story short, Eddie was offered a good position in Yellowknife, NWT! The offer was to good to pass up and what an adventure it would be!

I might have preferred to fly there though as we could be there in four and a half hours via Air North. However, we were reluctant to ship our beloved Saydee as cargo in the belly of a 737, it would be too expensive to ship our car more than 5,500 kilometres and Eddie had never crossed Canada on land before. On the other hand, I thought it would be a great opportunity to photograph the beautiful and expansive landscape that we call home. And since I might be the only Fuji Photographer in Canada north of the 60th parallel, I asked Fujifilm Canada if they might be interested in sponsoring me on this journey. They agreed and provided me with a brand new Fuji X-T1 Graphite Silver Edition and the new XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR lens so that I would be equipped to capture the Aurora Borealis! I was thrilled.

So we set out, packed our belongings, loaded the car and headed out for what would be a 10 day drive across Canada. We left from Ottawa, Ontario and drove via the Trans Canada Highway with scheduled stops in Sault Ste. Marie, Thunderbay, East Braintree, Moose Jaw, Banff, Jasper, High Level and finally Yellowknife, NWT. In total we drove 5,825 kilometres, driving on average 7.5 hrs per day. We could have taken more time to get through Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan and made more touring stops but I was motivated to spend a few rest days in the Rockies before heading north to Yellowknife.

DAY ONE - TO SAULT STE. MARIE 794KM

We left on October 7th which was just prior to peak season for the fall colours, however we did notice some fall colours setting in as we travelled north-west. We were happy to discover that the hotel I booked was located right beside the Elsie Savoie Sculpture Park - a great place to walk Saydee and admire some of the sculptures at the same time.

DAY TWO - TO THUNDER BAY 701 KM

On day two, we left Sault Ste. Marie along the Trans Canada Highway and made our way to ThunderBay, Ontario. For much of the drive we would be hugging the coastline of the rugged shores of Lake Superior. We stopped at Rossport Coastal Trail for a small photo break. It was wet, windy and cold but beautiful anyway. I always feel energized when I’m near the water.

I certainly could have stayed longer. 

DAY THREE - TO EAST BRAINTREE 584 KM

On Day three we made our way to East Braintree, Manitoba. Taking the advice of my brother-in-law we stopped at Kakabeka Falls Provincial Park. The Kakabeka Falls are 40 metres high and is the second highest waterfall in Ontario.

It took us three days to leave Ontario and I learned that there isn't a Tim Horton's coffee franchise every 100 kilometres or so!  We stopped for a coffee and a muffin at Rubin's Burger Scoop.  Soon after we found a place where you could shop for Wild rice, moccasins and fudge. 

We arrived at my sister Julie's house around 3:00 pm.  Depite having an authentic turn-of-the-century jailhouse on the property, her home was warm and inviting.  Julie had prepared a lovely thanksgiving dinner for us.  

DAY FOUR - TO MOOSE JAW 773 KM

The trip to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan was rather uneventful. The prairies are rather flat. Except for the odd grain silo, you can expect to see flat wheat fields and blue skies. It was an unusually warm day and it read 29 degrees Celsius when we arrived in Moose Jaw. Fortunately, an Ice Cold Beer could be available if we wanted it.

DAY FIVE -TO BANFF 830 KM

It was another full day of Prairie landscapes and what seemed to be an endless ribbon of highway on our way to Banff. We did encounter a fierce windstorm with winds up to 100 km per hour. This made it a bit more challenging to drive as we had to continuously adjust our cargo bag straps on the roof of the car and dodge the tumbleweeds that kept blowing across the highway. Apparently it is always windy on the Prairies.

Boy were we excited when we finally got a glimpse of the Rocky Mountains! 

DAY SIX - VISIT TO MORAINE LAKE AND LAKE LOUISE

We decided at the last minute to take a trip to Moraine Lake as it was the last day it would be open for the season. We were there once before in 2008 and recalled how beautiful and serene it was. Moraine Lake is famous for being the site where the image that graces the Canadian $20 bill was taken. Even though it was cold and foggy, the colour of the lake was still the vibrant turquoise that I had remembered.

After hiking around Moraine Lake, we made a short stop to the popular Lake Louise. 

DAY SEVEN - TO JASPER 288 KM

Ok, I’ll admit that I was sorry to leave Banff. I wish we could have stayed a few more days as there is so much to see and do. On the way out, we drove up to Mount Norquay which had an amazing view. Saydee didn’t mind getting out of the car to explore the mountain slope. We had to keep her on the leash though as she would certainly have run towards the herd of female Elk that were grazing on the slope. It was really nice of the Alberta government to leave behind a couple of cozy red Adirondack chairs. It could only have been better if we had brought with us a thermos of coffee.

We saw more beautiful mountain vistas along the Columbia Icefields Parkway.  I concluded I would never tire of them.   

DAY EIGHT - VISITING MALIGNE CANYON AND JASPER AREA

This was a much needed rest day. We decided to go for a hike around Maligne Canyon which is over 160 feet deep and has a few waterfalls and streams. I took a few photos along the way and wished that I had brought my tripod, but then again it was a rest day. The Bull Elk seemed to agree with me as I saw him resting across the street from our hotel in the parking lot.

DAY NINE TO HIGH LEVEL 860 KM

Two more driving days to Yellowknife. Eddie was a bit concerned as it would be quite a long day and he wanted to make certain we arrived at our destination before it got dark as he had been hearing about Elk, Moose and Bison on the roads. For part of the trip it seemed that we were in the Prairies again.

DAY TEN - TO YELLOWKNIFE 716 KM

We started early in the morning. At -3C it was cold out but we were excited that we had only one more day to go.

Fuji's XF16mm - Amazing Lens!

Thanks to Fujifilm Canada I was able to borrow their new 16mm F1.4 lens and bring it along with me to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories and Nova Scotia this summer.  I actually didn't want to give it back, I loved it so much.  And yes I'm considering buying it.  (I might even trade in my 23mm F1.4 for it!)  I think I prefer the 16mm focal length (24mm full frame equivalent.)   I noticed that when I use the 16-55 most of my images are shot at either the 16mm focal length or at 55mm.  I liked how light it was in comparison to the 16-55 and could easily use it as my walk around lens.  For me it trumps the 23mm because of its 15cm minimum focusing distance and the added weather sealing.   Robert Capa once said that "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough."   Well the 16mm certainly lets you move in close!  Incredibly you can be six inches away from your subject and it will focus!  And with a fast 0.11 second autofocus speed, it is lightning quick too!  This I think is a huge advantage for street photography because no one expects you to take their picture when you are standing six inches in front of them.   It is also great for environmental portraiture as you can be close to your your subject while capturing their environment and giving the viewer the feeling of being there as well.

'For what I like to shoot: beautiful places, spaces, fast moving subjects, inclement weather, and environmental portraits, it is the perfect lens for me. Here are some favourites:

Street Photography

Portraits

Yellowknife

The East Coast