A quiet Sunday, a need to get out of the house, and a long time since I last went to Muriwai lead to a quick trip to check out the sunset. It started out promisingly, but a band of clouds killed off any real sunset opportunities. So I just ambled around the rocks at the base of the Gannet colony, checking out some of the interesting textures and the few people still out fishing. Quick post for a quick shoot, because I'll forget about it if I don't do it now..
Shipwreck Bay is on the outskirts of Bluff, at the bottom of the South Island. I spent part of a day with my friend Blaine walking around the bay and Bluff township. The bay is filled with wrecks of old steam ships, most of which have rotted down to skeletons and the odd piece of steel, or in one case a whole steam boiler sitting among the wooden spars. We also checked out the fishing pier and factory at Bluff, where I assume the famous oysters are landed..
Bluff town itself is pretty (very) quiet, but with a few interesting old buildings in various states of repair. I also took the opportunity while down south to check out the town of Riverton, and the adjacent rocky beaches of the Rocks and Colac Bay. The beaches themselves are pretty rough, which made for some interesting images with the surf crashing into the steeply sloped shores.
Last sunday was spent back down at Muriwai beach, one of my regular and favourite outdoor locations. But rather than shooting landscapes, nature or people on horses, it was Robbie and his Samurai Sword! Sven and I requested he come out for an afternoon and show us some moves - Sven to test a new Fuji lens (review and pics here) and me, well, for something new and interesting to shoot! Robbie is a keen martial artist and motorbike rider, quite the Kill Bill character.
I've been interested in swordsmanship for a long time, but never a practitioner, so it was really interesting to hear a bit about it, and the art of Iaido/Iaijutsu in particular. I don't know enough to critique Robbie's technique, but he looked very fluid and confident to me, and was a great portrait subject. These are some of my favourite and I think most interesting portrait photographs to date.
Muriwai was a good location yet again, although my favourite shots on top of the sand dunes were very exposed to the strong wind, which resulted in sand going everywhere through our camera gear, hair, clothes and eyes, hence most of Robbie's poses facing to the right and away from the wind! I think the wind made for great shots though, with his Hakama blowing around and sand clouds rolling through.
Thanks again to Robbie for his enthusiastic help on a cold, windy, and very sandy day!
The world's biggest mountain bike festival Crankworx came to Rotorua, New Zealand this year, for the first time in the southern hemisphere and one of only two locations outside of its home in Whistler Colorado. My shooting buddy Sven is a big MTB fan and was keen to get along and take some photos, so we made a two-day trip down to Rotorua on the Thursday and Friday event days, time to run back to Auckland to photograph a wedding on Saturday! I don't know much out MTB so it was interesting figuring out all the lingo and different events etc. The main parts we caught were the 'Speed & Style' and Downhill competitions, and practice sessions for the Slopestyle, Pump Track and Downhill events. As well as enjoying figuring out all the events, I also had an opportunity to try out some new gear from Fuji, being the new 50-140mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens, on the X-T1 body. The tele shots in this post are all with this combination, but anything normal-wide is on my Nikon D600 (18-35/50mm lenses). Not knowing much about the events, or looking for any particular riders meant that I concentrated just on finding interesting angles and graphic shapes in my shots - maybe not as useful for say advertising or MTB magazine use, but it kept me interested!
Fuji 50-140mm f/2.8 Lens Discussion and Review
The rest of the post is a basic 'review' of my experiences with this lens for shooting sports, which you will probably want to skip if you're not a camera person :) There are plenty of photos to come too, so don't miss that part!
I was very keen to try this camera/lens with the hope it might be a nice lightweight option for the equestrian sports I had been photographing, as the Nikon gear gets really heavy and painful over an 8hr day! Unfortunately I found the autofocus speed quite lacking, and in particular the focus tracking wasn't up to scratch, meaning that most shots really needed to be pre-focussed (i.e. choose a fixed point to focus on and wait for the target to come through the frame). The key metric here is probably my 'hit rate' afterwards - shooting sports with my D700 I get probably a 90% hit rate of properly focussed shots, but on this combo it might have been like 20% or worse. Taking a series of say 5-8 photos of each rider coming past might result in 1-2 sharp shots, even after 2 days of practice.
Reduced focus speed and responsiveness is still to-be-expected on a mirrorless body compared to an SLR, but an issue which I hadn't seen mentioned much before, but actually turned out be the deal-breaker, was the long viewfinder black-out time - if you're trying to track a moving object, shooting at up to 8 frames per second, the viewfinder stays black just about the whole time, and with significant lag, so you actually can't follow your subject! Even after you've pre-focussed and composed, you're still shooting blind once the rider enters the frame and you hold down the button. I did also try this lens out on slower-moving horses the next weekend, and it was still equally difficult then. BUT the news is not all bad, which I'll cover in the next paragraph :)
For moving subjects and sports, I absolutely would not recommend this combination as I tested it - BUT of course the new v4.0 firmware just came out last week, which promises significant upgrades in focus speed and tracking. No idea if it improved the blackout time, but I can only recommend trying it out with new firmware before making any decisions on this combination. The other good point is that image quality is great, nothing to complain about at any focal length or focus distance that I tried, and was sharp all over the frame. The weight is also much less and much more pleasant to use for an extended period than the old school 1kg+ full frame f/2.8 zooms, as well as physically taking less space in my bag and having decent IS for handholding at lower shutter speeds - but do remember that IS isn't useful for sports where you need high shutter speed to stop subject motion anyway. So, overall a mixed bag for this combination. The lens was all good, but the system itself couldn't keep up with fast-paced subjects in more ways than one - not sure how much comes down to the body vs. the lens, but I expect this will be greatly improved in the next generation of Fuji bodies. For my money, it's just not quite ready for prime time, so I'm stuck using the heavy lens for sport for a while longer yet - but I suspect a mirrorless future for me is not too far off!
A break from weddings and portraits and back to my roots of rust and steel, dark colours and textures.
Okay, we discovered the location while scouting for a wedding, but it was so promising we came back with our tripods one afternoon to shoot the trains and engineering works inside the big dark building. This is the Mainline Steam depot out the back of Parnell, Auckland. It has four train lines entering a large building containing at the time I think 8 locomotives in various stages of repair. Mostly steam trains, with one electric, and a few pieces of rolling stock. The location unfortunately had its lease terminated by Kiwirail and has already begun the long process of moving out, so we got in just in time. A lot of the workshop and trains seen here are already gone! The trains and equipment here are being split between the Glenbrook Vintage Railway and a depot near Papakura, but will hopefully have a permanent home again soon. Either way, it was great to find Mainline steam in time to get in and take photos before the opportunity was lost.
Mainline Steam are also seeking donations towards this move and the cost of a new permanent home, and all the relevant details are on their page here.
Behind the Scenes
The big idea was to head out again to the 'wild' west coast, to Muriwai beach, one of our regular and favourite locations, in the afternoon before Cyclone Pam was due to strike NZ. We were hoping for dramatic skies, and both Sven and I had dreams of long-exposure landscapes with clouds streaking across the frame. This was not to be, unfortunately, as Pam veered out to sea a bit and hardly touched NZ. After giving up on our first plans, we instead played around in the sand dunes and also the edges of Woodhill forest.
I had a good time playing with a recent acquisition - a 1970's era Nikon 50mm f/1.4 AI lens, which as well as being dirt cheap is also excellent for shooting video due to the smooth and direct manual focus ring. Most modern lenses are terribly difficult to manually focus, and are not at all repeatable shot-to-shot when filming video, so collecting vintage lenses is both very worthwhile and significantly cheaper than modern options. Even though I bought it for video, it still takes quite an admirable image in still photography too. It is a bit soft wide open at f/1.4, but very sharp from f/2 onwards, and even the soft vintage look wide open can be fun sometimes too.
Lens geekery aside, it is always good to get outdoors and explore places with a camera, even when it's a location we've visited many times before. This time we pushed a bit further up the beach onto the horse tracks, and around the edge of the forest in parts we'd quickly walked past before. Just goes to show there is always something new to see if you look hard enough, which is not always easy to do in familiar locations.