The GFX topiary playground

Charlotte Molesworth in her iconic topiary garden, shot with the Fujifilm GFX 50S and 32-64mm lens

Charlotte Molesworth in her iconic topiary garden, shot with the Fujifilm GFX 50S and 32-64mm lens

Ever since I was a small boy I was fascinated by topiary 

Yes, I know it sounds a bit odd but the whole idea that people can make hedges into the most beautiful sculpture of animals, birds etc has always fascinated and amused me in equal measure

As a result it has appeared in my work more than once 

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The size, the shape and textures, the sheer ‘bonkers-ness’ of it and I mean it is bonkers labour of Love, some people spend decades crafting these creations often from seedlings

Japanese have the bonsai, the British have their topiary

The quirkiness of this art is one thing (and it really is quirky)but when you photograph topiary it opens up a whole world of possibilities that perhaps you’ve never really considered

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Yes, I know it sounds like a bit of a sweeping statement but you can play with the size the shape of the scale and the texture of the bushes particularly when you light

I did I say light too

I know lighting on such a large scale is a bit erm extreme, but when topiary is lit, it only serves to accentuate the most amazing textures and shapes

So when I was commissioned By the Daily Mail to shoot the series of topiary all over southern Britain I left the chance and I chose not to do it by halves

Not doing by halves of course means shooting the project on my beloved Fujifilm GFX 50S with the lovely 32 to 64 mm zoom lens - the perfect ‘multi role’ lens for this commission.

I don’t normally go for zooms on medium format but this one is very, very good indeed.

The GFX has many advantages over traditional SLR medium format digital cameras but shooting with big lights outside without high-speed sync is always going to be a challenge

Indeed it’s true then I shot my acclaimed ’Alice in Wonderland’ shot with a Hasselblad H1 which had leaf shutter lenses but there are lots of ways shooting flash in daylight which don’t involve leaf shutters

I have some glowing reports have a high-speed sync capabilities of the latest Broncolor or Elinchrom flashes but the orgy of spending has to stop somewhere right? (for the time being at least!)

With this in mind I shot with my existing Elinchrom ranger heads and packs.

I can honestly say I really enjoyed shooting at every location in this series and meeting some really lovely people but there is one which stands out photographically from all of the others

Charlotte Molesworth’s garden is a national treasure

In fact she has grown the entire garden from seedlings over the past 30 years, I have photographed lots of topiary all over the UK and I have to say this is special, very, very special indeed for it is the work of one woman

I like to think I always try my best but when such an opportunity presents itself you really go the extra mile to make the photo’s shine 

Learning my lessons from the ‘Alice in Wonderland’  series I did not go light on the lights

The key light was my go to modifier the Chimera medium soft box, the background lit by two bare bulb heads and kill spills.

It worked a little like this…

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I’m pretty pleased with the finished spread, I mean who doesn’t get a thrill out of seeing one’s work in print?

drew hedges.jpg

I see some people writing that there is little difference between the images taken on a 35mm DSLR And the Fuji GFX - one commentator even stating that because the DxO sensor score from other medium format cameras being only marginally better than a good DSLR, that this proved there was little difference between a good DSLR and a medium format camera.

Well, if the sensor score on the website was the only metric by which have got a camera is then we may as well pack up and go home as a camera is about so much more than just sensor performance…..

Indeed there is a certain sparkling quality about the Charlotte Molesworth image that you simply would not get from a 35mm in my eyes at least.

In fact I will go little further than that.

For more years than remember I have been using the latest and greatest medium format cameras on a daily basis whether that is the Hasselblad or Phase One and I can honestly say that for me the GFX50S is a better bet in that it delivers more accessible performance more of the time thanks to the dazzling array of technology, allied to years of camera and lens building experience.

Now that Phase One’s excellent raw processing software Capture One supports the GFX familyI can see little reason for ardent medium format fans to miss out on this compelling camera.

If you have enjoyed these images and you are interested in creating some of your own I am holding a workshop at Charlotte Molesworth’s topiary garden on Saturday 29th June.

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-garden-party-successful-location-lighting-workshop-tickets-61027452754


Why I did not buy a Fujifilm GFX 50R

If you have anything more than a passing interest in medium format cameras you’d have to be living on one of the moons around Mars to be unaware of the arrival of the Fujifilm GFX 50R. 

This is a very special camera indeed if it were an album produced by band you would call it the breakthrough album.

The Fujifilm GFX 50R (the ‘R’ being for rangefinder as its styling resembles one) is such an appealing camera, smaller, lighter and much better looking than the GFX 50S this is camera for those wanting to get into medium format more affordably, some £1000 less that the GFX 50S is a complete no-brainer. 

So when finances finally permitted I had the chance to buy a GFX I decided not to go for the 50R but for it’s slightly boxy looking big brother the GFX 50S. 

Why on earth did I do this? 

My background is in photojournalism and I love a small and lightweight camera and this would seem to answer all of my questions.

In life though things are rarely quite straightforward as they seem.

Let me say right here right now to hordes of 50R owners I do not feel that you have made a mistake and indeed I do have a pang that I may not have jumped in the right direction

Here are my reasons

1. Top plate OLED

The GFX 50S has the beautiful OLED display on the top plate which means even with the camera off, just by glancing down I can see how many frames there are remaining and what setting the camera is on. It is customisable too.

I did not have to pick the camera up and turn it on to see the settings on the camera.

This doesn’t seem like a big deal and indeed it may not be for money but I love to see what my camera is set on. Added to this when I’m shooting my panoramas and gigapixel I can see in circumstances with high ambient noise when the camera is actually being triggered visually on the counter.

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2. Handling 

I often use the GFX with some pretty meaty glassware be it the stunning GF 250 mm lens for gigapixel images or some sizeable adapted Zeiss glass and while the GFX 50R’s svelte body may seem to be the answer to all my questions, particularly when using the neat and compact 63mm or the yet to be released GF 50mm F3.5 ‘pancake lens which isn’t a pancake lens’ with the ‘big glass’ handling does become a bit of an issue.

Single handed operation is possible with a GFX 50S (particularly useful when dismounting the camera from a tripod) something which unless you possess Gekko like skin is not really possible with the 50R.

I’m sure in time third-party companies will be making neat little handgrips home from faux Ocelot skin and petrified ebony etc which will overcome this problem but ultimately you’re adding size and weight to a lightweight camera which kind of defeats the object. 

Using the GFX 50S day in day out will I think be a much more comfortable proposition.

With substantial glass mounted the grip becomes rather important…..

With substantial glass mounted the grip becomes rather important…..

3. Controls

The input dials on the GFX 50S, to my mind at least, are super convenient and losing the four-way controller and the front command dial may not be a deal breaker for many and as neat as the solution is of having the ‘command collar’ around the shutter release it doesn’t suit me quite as well as that from command dial at the front.

The clever but ‘radical’ input dial on the 50R              The ‘old school’ input dial on the 50S

The clever but ‘radical’ input dial on the 50R The ‘old school’ input dial on the 50S


5. Viewfinder

Both have a 3.69 million dot viewfinder.

The GFX50R has 0.77x magnification, while the GFX50S has 0.85x magnification.

This is not a massive difference but particularly when one is shooting with adapted lenses at wide aperture’s you need every last bit of help to nail the focus, being the wrong side of 50 too I know my eyes are not improving with age either.

Add to this the 3 way articulation of the rear LCD which I use frequently with the camera in the vertical position

Once again this is a pretty small detail but it all adds to the overall usability of the camera

The extra articulation of the 50S might be more useful than you imagine

The extra articulation of the 50S might be more useful than you imagine

5. Expandability

I know for many this will not be an issue at all

However for me the fact that the GFX 50R cannot take a battery grip is potentially a problem in extreme circumstances

I frequently shoot gigapixels with GFX 50S indeed on my most recent gigapixel we utilised 734 images which takes the battery life very much to the limit on a single battery.

Adding the VG-GFX1 battery grip would give me double the shoot duration, yes I know I could switch them out but that is not always possible.

The GFX 50S also takes the handy EVF-TL1 tilt and swivel viewfinder.

I have no immediate plans to get one but if I were to be commissioned for a major long running food shoot (which I have been in the past it would be high on my list of priorities)

Once again might seem a little ‘niche’ but if you need it….

Once again might seem a little ‘niche’ but if you need it….

What will I miss about the GFX50R? (apart from the £1000 saving)

The looks! (seriously???)

The size and the the weight - useful savings to have but buy the time you have factored in the lenses one would be pushed to tell the difference in the context of a full bag.

Bluetooth connectivity - a big step forward but I don’t use it quite often enough

USB C port - I love any device which brings USB C to the table but I am not plugging the camera in for a speedy download very often (ever?)

So that you have it that’s my take on it and I could very well be wrong but to be honest this is such a personal choice 

For many shooters the 50R will be perfect choice.

Just not for me.

I think.

The New York Times and Williams F1 project

The 2016 Formula 1 season saw the quickest pit stop ever seen in motor racing, in June the Williams F1 team set a record breaking pit stop of 1.92 seconds. Let’s just think about that for a moment, the 21 man crew takes less than 2 seconds to jack the car into the air, remove and replace the 4 tires and let the car down again. So, with the support of Sports Illustrated we went to the Williams HQ in Wantage to film these incredible pit stops.

The Fuji GFX 50S - what is all the fuss about?

I was lucky enough to be at Photokina last week to experience all the sights and sounds of a photographic industry in a considerable state of flux (something I will be talking about in detail in my next post). Of all the brands which made announcements there was one which stood out head and shoulders above the rest. Fuji and its unveiling of the GFX 50S was nothing short of a show stopper.

Sports Illustrated Olympic Rowing Team Project - Behind-The-Scenes Video

Last month we flew to America to shoot a very special project for Sports Illustrated. We were commissioned to shoot an interactive 360° image; a high-quality portrait; and a 360° video of the USA Women's 8s Olympic rowing team. As part of the project we shot a 'behind-the-scenes' video to give you a peek at all the work that went into shooting this project...

Creating ground breaking 360 content for Sports Illustrated

I have worked with Sports Illustrated previously, but my latest project for them was by far the most ambitious yet. I was commissioned to carry out a special shoot of the USA Olympic Women’s 8s rowing team.  It was certainly no ordinary photoshoot.  Let me explain: in years gone by a shoot for a magazine would be limited in scope to simply shooting a super high quality still image. So I had to shoot one of those.

Sports Illustrated 360 video - U.S. rowing team

In June 2016 we were commissioned by Sports Illustrated to produce a ground breaking 360 degree video of the women's eight U.S. Olympic rowing team on one of their training sessions. Shot on Lake Carnegie, the GoPro multi-camera rig required a specially constructed carbon fibre support to minimise vibrations from the boat. The 360° video is ground breaking material as it provides the closest experience of riding on-board with an Olympic rowing team in full flow. The resulting footage provides a unique and dynamic perspective for the viewer.

Mounting 360° camera rigs has become something of a speciality for the Gardner Creative team; we have had huge success with our unique mounting system which allows the viewer to access places where no human can go. The 360 video from the boat illustrates just how powerful a tool it is for storytelling. You’re actually ‘on’ the boat when Coxswain Katelin Snyder gets the news that her fiancé Nareg Guregian and his team mates Anders Weiss have been selected for the USA team rowing pairs at Rio. This was not a setup it was totally spontaneous.

In addition to the 360° video we produced an interactive 360° image and a stunning portrait of the team. The interactive 360° image puts the viewer in the incredible boathouse surrounded by the rowing team. On each team member is a hotspot which the user can click on to see a video interview – a ground breaking piece of 360° content for Sports Illustrated. Never before have users been able to get so close to the crew and the boats, and get a real insight into how the team prepares for the Olympics. Click here to view the 360° interactive image. The portrait, which is being used for the Sports Illustrated magazine and as a lead-in image for the online article, features all of the Women’s Eight rowing team. Click here to view the full article and see how all three content pieces feature in the online article.

You can read about how this project came together in our recent behind the scenes blog post.

The 360° video, combined with the 360° interactive image, represent the future of storytelling. Creatively using a combination of these different mediums we were able to give a unique behind-the-scenes insight into the team. We really ‘pushed the boat out’ with this project; delivering something that simply cannot be achieved using traditional techniques.

Through the Tunnels of Southeast London with Crossrail

Our latest 360° video Crossrail takes you on a Journey though the tunnels of Southeast London.

This  360° video gives viewers an unique opportunity to explore Crossrail’s tunnels and track installation progress in the southeast section of the route.

The video was shot from the rear carriage of Crossrail’s concreting train as it travelled along the new permanent tracks from Plumstead railhead through to Victoria Dock Portal.

360 Steel making

The very future of the Steel industry in UK is a pretty hot topic at the moment with thousands of jobs at stake. Before SSI steel closed in Hartlepool I was lucky enough to shoot a 360 panorama inside the steel works of steel being cast. The heat was so intense it really is difficult to convey just how hot it was(made all the more unbearable by the thick wool safety clothing we had to wear, the plastic surfaces on the camera were getting  tacky and the cables were becoming worryingly 'floppy'.

Photographing a Legend with a Legend - Tom Watson for Sports Illustrated with the Zeiss Otus 85mm

I have to admit I’m not a huge fan of Golf but when the picture Editor of Sports Illustrated called to see if I was interested in shooting a portrait of Golf Legend Tom Watson at St Andrews in Scotland I leapt at the chance.

It is one thing to take an assignment like this on but when you are commissioned by one of the biggest names in the magazine World to shoot a high profile portrait which will accompany an article where he will be announcing his retirement from the Masters you do feel the pressure.

Sitting on the 'The future of the Media' panel at Warwick University 'Festival of the Imagination'

It may have passed you by but a couple of weeks was back to the future week Or to be precise the date that Marty set on the DeLorean time machine for his trip into the future. October 21st 2015. I was invited to sit on a panel with Peter Salmon head of BBC studios and Phillip Collins, no not of Genesis fame, but a columnist on 'The Times' who was formerly Tony Blair's speech writer.

We were invited to imagine what the future of the media would be.

Zeiss Milvus lenses - Just how good are they in the real world?

New lenses are released all the time by manufacturers. Zeiss in many ways is 'King of the the hill' with unimpeachable quality which dates back to the dawn of camera lens production - in fact Zeiss celebrate their 125th anniversary this year.

I have been lucky enough to be working with Zeiss for the past few years and therefore I tend to get the occasional question from shooters I have met along the way.

But I cannot recall anything like the level of interest from fellow shooters, getting many message - from as far away as Africa and they all ask the same question.

Just how good are the Milvus ?

I do intend to answer that question in full and post a series of real world images some of them shot in an exciting but quite high pressure situation in part two of this post.

Milvus - What's in a name? On the face of it Milvus does seem to be an unusual name but if you have followed the last few lens releases,by Zeiss you will know it is just the latest in line of families of lenses named after birds, Otus is an owl, Loxia is a finch, Batis is a flycatcher and Milvus is a Red Kite a majestic and agile raptor. Whether you approve of the naming strategy or not it does give a clue to,the fact that Zeiss is not your run off the mill manufacturer - Zeiss is a thinker.

But why do we need the Milvus? What was wrong with the ZE and ZF lenses?

I could baffle you and myself by referring to lens data sheets  so I will give you my, concise I hope take on it.

Let me state right here right now there is nothing 'wrong' with the ZE and ZF lenses, which are now referred to as the 'classics'

It really all is about the march of time and as excellent and joyous the Classics (still) are to use they are from another time - a time before increasingly high density and unforgiving seniors came into being.

Camera are so good these days and capable of delivering such remarkable detail they will expose any weak link in the chain and often that can be the lens.

With this in mind Zeiss revisited the ZE and ZF range and today we have the Milvus range.

Some of the lenses in the Milvus range feature and entirely new optical design - notably the 50mm F1.4 and 85mm F1.4 and some of the designs were just tweaked with new coatings and minor enhancements.

The result being cutting edge lenses cloaked in 21st century dust proofed housings which are a delight to use.

As a stills lens range I can attest to just how,good they are but there is more than just a little 'nod' to video shooters with all the Milvus family being colour matched, meaning no battle with color correction in post if shooting with different focal lengths, the ZF lenses capable of having the aperture ring 'declicked' by the user(a la Loxia)

I was lucky enough to use the Milvus 50mm F1.4 and the Milvus 100mm F2.0 in a real world assignment ahead of launch. In appearance they could not be more different to the Classic Zeiss lenses i have used for some years now. Very modern and contemporary bringing the physical appearance of the lenses bang up to date.

The all new 50mm has an interesting optical design quirk - the front lens lament is actually concave   , not convex which I had not previous seen before.

How did they fare? How did I manage manual focus in the fast moving and sometimes dramatic scenario Festival of St Felix in Vilafranca in Catalonia where teams to compete to build the remarkable human towers?

Just how good are they in the real world?

I had been considering shooting the festival of St Felix in Vilafranca in Catalonia for a little while and when the chance came to try the new Milvus lenses at the event I made the decision to shoot the event entirely on the Milvus 50mm F1.4 and Milvus 100mm F2.0 macro, an easy enough decision I hear you say but there is the small nagging matter of focusing - I'm 51 and my eyes are not as good as they were and it is quite a while since I have shot action in a live news situation. No matter how brilliant a lens is if you can't focus it accurately then it is all for nothing. Let's just say my palms were sweating just a little more than they would have normally been - even though the mercury in the thermometer was pushing north of 30 deg C (86F)

I was pleasantly surprised - very pleasantly surprised.

My palms may have been sweaty but the new focusing ring, is smooth rubber (a la Otus) not milled metal was a treat to use.

I'm not sure what, if anything, special Zeiss has done to the focusing throw on the the new Milvus range but my focusing hit rate was better than I dared hope - by my reckoning 9 out of ten shots razor sharp in fast moving situations too. I was doubtless assisted by fitting the specialist Canon eg-S focusing screen to my Canon 6D but I believe there is more to it than that. I can't recall getting that many sharp shots on a 100mm in a high pressure situation. It is almost like it is easier to judge the focusing with the beautifully damped and calibrated focusing mechanism.Whatever they have done I am massively grateful. While we are on the subject of Zeiss lens 'hocus pocus' I want to talk about the look and feel of the images. I use a Zeiss Otus 55mm and 85mm lens and one of the defining qualities of this family is that is has a certain 'pop' of sharpness and contrast, an undefinable almost 3D quality which until the Otus family I had never previously seen in images from a DSLR and some savvy clients have commented on (yes, really)

Well the good news for those of us who cannot quite financially stretch to the Otus range is that the  Milvus family posses it too, if my experiences are anything to go by, the images having an indefinable sparkle which makes them stand out.

While we are the small matter of resolution what impressed me greatly was even though I was using a Canon 6D with a 'mere' 20megapixels was just how well the images held together at 100percent.

Firstly the Zeiss Milvus 50mm F1.4

Zeiss Milvus 50mm 1/1600 sec f4.0 ISO 320

100 per cent crop Zeiss Milvus 1/1600 sec; f4.0 ISO 320

0666 1:1000 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

0666 100percent 1:1000 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

0672 1:800 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

0672 100 percent crop 1/800 sec; f1.4 ISO 100

Canon 6D 1/800 sec; f1.4 ISO 100

1060 100percent 1:800 sec; f:1.4; ISO 100

Now for the Zeiss Milvus 100mm F2.

 

977 1:2000 sec; f:3.5; ISO 500

977 100percent 1:2000 sec; f:3.5; ISO 500

960 1:800 sec; f:2.0; ISO 100

0960 100percent 1:800 sec; f:2.0; ISO 100

938 1:640 sec; f:5.0; ISO 200

938 100percent 1:640 sec; f:5.0; ISO 200

06 1:250 sec; f:7.1; ISO 200

06 100 percent 1:250 sec; f:7.1; ISO 200

024 1:1600 sec; f:4.0; ISO 500

024 100percent 1:1600 sec; f:4.0; ISO 500

 

Conclusions

Firstly is shows what you can achieve with just a couple of well chosen prime lenses of superb quality - which allow you to crop deep into images and still hold up beautifully, even if it is 'just' a 20megapixel camera.

Should you buy one?

That is really down to you but if you are a Canon or Nikon shooter you could do an awful lot worse than to check out the new Milvus range which are significantly more affordable than their 'big' Otus brothers while delivering remarkable and useable image quality, something that you might like to bear in mind if you are about to upgrade to something like the Canon 5DS.

One thing I have not mentioned is video - and that is only because I did not shoot any video with the lenses - but if you do shoot video you might like to give these lenses even closer consideration as Zeiss had one eye on video shooters when they made the Milvus range which is colour matched and has a usefully long focus throw.

 

 

 

Catalan Castellers

We were commissioned to shoot a 360 of the "Human Towers" in Catalonia for the Telegraph Witness the incredible tradition of the Human Towers in this breath taking and emotional 360 still and video. 600 people of all ages take part in an attempt to create one of the most difficult towers not successfully achieved since 1881. A masterpiece of solidarity and cohesion.

In 2010 UNESCO declared the tradition ‘A Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.

The video is best viewed on a smartphone or tablet using the Youtube app. Alternatively use Chrome or Firefox.

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