Kingsgate Bridge

This is underneath Kingsgate Bridge, the Grade I listed reinforced concrete structure that spans the River Wear at Durham. Time has tempered it beautifully. The photo is overexposed and the lens is suffering from flare, but I like it.

Kingsgate Bridge, Durham, May 2015
Kingsgate Bridge, Durham, May 2015

An English Wedding

Photographing a Marriage Day With 3 Fujifilm X Cameras

A while ago my brother asked me if I would like to record his wedding day. I asked who the professional photographer was going to be so that we could discuss not getting in each other’s way. He replied that there wasn’t going to be one, and that he preferred a candid approach to recording the day, and that him and Alison agreeed that the gig was mine and mine only. “Great!” I thought to myself, quickly followed by “Oh shit!”.

I have photographed weddings before, back in film days, but putting it mildly, it was a while ago. I needed to get my act together to do the best I could on the day. Questions sprang into my mind. What lenses and cameras to use? What challenges does the venue present? Do I need to fill any gear gaps? In short, planning was required.

The Venues

I knew one of the venues well; my brother’s house. It is spacious, airy and bathed in light most of the day. I knew where the guests at the reception would be hanging out and any potential challenges, most of those being backlighting, and then low light as evening wore on.

The other venue, the Archbishop’s Palace at Maidstone, was totally unknown to me. Unfortunately, it being in Kent, and I being in Hartlepool, popping over to do a ‘recce’ was not possible before the day. Instead, I found out what I could about the specific room the ceremony would take place in, namely the Solar Room. The name was encouraging, and indeed I found out that the room was well lit in one direction only by a huge window. I could live with that.

The Equipment

At the time of being asked to photograph the wedding I owned a black X100s and an X-Pro1 with a Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 lens and the versatile Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 lens. That was it. I figured that Paul had asked me to record the day because he liked my images, which are commonly made with 35mm and 50mm equivalent lenses. I had those focal lengths covered with the X100s’ wonderful 23mm f/2 lens and the 35mm f/1.4 on the X-Pro1.

Then I mused that something of portrait focal length but faster than the zoom might be useful at the palace for both light gathering power and throwing the background out of focus. My mind immediately turned to the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2, but even the non-APD version made me choke on the price. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think it is hugely expensive for the superb lens that by most reports it is. I was just questioning the purchase of a lens that I would probably make little use of after the wedding, unless I suddenly developed a taste for portraiture.

Fujifilm X-T1 Graphite with Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4
Fujifilm X-T1 Graphite with Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4

So after much forum haunting and article trawling, I purchased a vintage Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58mm f/1.4, attached to a Minolta X-GM for a very reasonable amount, plus an adapter to attach it to the X-Pro1. I reckoned stopped down to f/2 or f/2.8 I could avoid the worst of the softness wide open and still keep an advantage over the 18-55mm. That was the idea anyway. Trying to manual focus the lens on the X-Pro1 proved to be rather challenging for me, even with the focus peaking and magnification aids. I had roughly a 50/50 ratio of images correctly and incorrectly focussed. This wasn’t good enough.

Talking Myself Into a Purchase

While I was mucking about with the vintage glass, a couple of photographer friends had picked up on my praise for the X system and had bought X-T1’s. They were raving about the EVF. The moment I picked Tom’s X-T1 up and looked through the viewfinder I understood why; a smooth and detailed finder, perhaps a touch dark, but large. Not Olympus OM-1 large (note, that’s the classic film camera), but full frame large. Large enough. Probably large enough for focussing a manual lens. I switched the camera to manual focus and turned the barrel of the 18-55mm. The plane of focus shimmered red and moved forward and backward as I twisted the focussing ring left then right. Yes, that’ll do nicely.

How I Used the Kit on the Day

My pre-performance nerves settled quickly at the venue. Finally I could get a handle on the place for a few minutes before the start of the wedding. In the Solar Room I mainly used the Rokkor 58mm on the X-T1 and the 35mm on the X-Pro1 for the extra light gathering ability and subject isolation. Outside the venue as guests mingled to chat, offer congratulations and throw confetti, I used the 18-55mm for its versatility in quickly changing circumstances. Back at the house I used the X100s almost exclusively, dangling unassumingly around my neck and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

Settings

For all cameras:

  • Auto ISO to 6400
  • Minimum shutter speed of 1/125th second
  • RAW only
  • Aperture priority

So, how did it go?

It went well for the most part.

The sloth-like but accurate focusing of the X-Pro1 didn’t hamstring me. I nailed focus with the wonderfully smooth manual focussing ring of the Rokkor 58mm on the X-T1 every time, but the Rokkor was average in performance. I accepted that this lovely lens wasn’t going to be anywhere near the sharpness of any of the XF lenses, and for portraits, that was fine by me.

I was somewhat disappointed by its willingness to flare, even with a whopping great rubber lens hood screwed on, but with a huge window bathing light on the couple from the ‘wrong’ angle, I was always up against it. It illustrated just how good even the cheapest modern kit lens is in comparison, both in flare resistance and sharpness. The Rokkor is not short of charm though, being both a ‘looker’ and so well made. It is a case of sussing out its strengths and weaknesses and using it accordingly. As for the X100s, it is just a bloody great little camera. It never let me down the whole day.

As the evening wore on, the remaining guests gathered round the house bar. Inevitably, the J├Ągerbombs came out. I partook of course, and still managed some non-blurry photos afterwards. Unprofessional? Maybe, but hey, I’m family.

 

Save the NHS

I now believe there is only one political party with the conviction to save the NHS from being carved up by the Conservatives and their private healthcare business owning buddies, and that’s because the Labour Party created it.

Save the NHS
London Underground, January 2013