Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Chimping Allowed: First train chase with the Fuji X-series


 W. of Mustang Creek:1/1600 f6.4 55-200mm @ 200mm ISO


I've had my Fuji X-E2 camera system since December, but really hadn't had the opportunity to take it out on a true "hard core" train chase trip until last week.  Until then, I'd not had too many chances to try out the camera's continuous focusing ability on moving targets (no, I wasn't about to stand on the shoulder of the highway just to satisfy my curiosity!).

The Fuji acquisitions began with the first X-E2 body and "kit" 18-55mm 27-80mm 35mm equivalent) zoom and the 55-200mm l(80-320mm 35eq) long zoom. I added an 18mm f2 (27mm 35eq) prime lens in January, and last month, Fuji ran a very good sale on certain lenses, including the 27mmf2.8 (43mm 35eq) for over half off. And I added a second X-E2 body, used, at a very good price. So there's a good kit in the bag: two zooms for light travel, two primes for even lighter urban photography.

It's been a busy year for photography so far, partially inspired by the new gear, partially inspired by wanting to learn how to use the new gear. A mirrorless camera with electronic viewfinder is a different beast than a digital single lens reflex: 30 years of using SLR's for film and digital photography has trained my reactions to that kind of gear, and it is a learning curve to learn how to unthink using an SLR and retraining myself to the ways of the electronic viewfinder.

The transition has gone pretty good, but there's a lot to learn with the X-series cameras; I'm more than pleased--tremendously pleased--with the files these cameras produce: though I've been shooting everything both JPEG and RAW, I've not processed any raw files through Lightroom, so impressed have I been with the quality of sharpness and tonality (color and black and white) of photographs directly from JPEG files. I've shot a fair amount of documentary-style photos, "street" photos, graphic compositions--I'm very happy with the results. And I've put a bunch of them on my gallery site, www.bkooistra.smugmug.com.

But the one thing I hadn't tried with the X-E2 that was a staple of my years of SLR photography was the action railroad photograph. The digital Canons, incommon with all medium- and high-end DSLR's, are tops in continuous follow-focus: This is why professional sports photographers prefer DSLR's to, say, rangefinders or even mirrorless cameras. It's been a struggle for mirrorless camera producers to match the ability of the DSLR's to stay in focus while following a fast-moving subject. And while the typical moving train is certainly not the equivalent of a race car or tightly-focused athletes moving through the viewfinder, I was not fully convinced that the X-E2 could handle the task passably.

So, the Sunday afternoon meet-up with fellow rail photographers Dan Munson and Chris Palmieri would be my first test of the Fuji's train-chasing ability. Now, friends well know my aversion to any contemporary BNSF or Union Pacific locomotives, so the opportunity to chase old-school EMD conventional cab locomotives on the Fort Worth & Western Railroad was not to be missed.

We followed the four old EMD's--a pair of SD40's and a pair of GP38/40 types--out of Fort Worth on a trip along the former Santa Fe to Cresson. The day was beautiful, and after around 90 minutes waiting for the train from atop a parking garage on Fort Worth's near west side (i.e. "Seventh Avenue"), we jumped ahead an began a run-and-gun chase the last 10 miles or so across rolling prairieland into Cresson.

How'd the X-E2 do? I was curious, of course, so if Dan was giving me shit for "chimping" my LCD after each train runby, I plead guilty by explanation: I wanted to see if the Fuji was up for the task. And it was! It actually reacted quite similarly to the Canon DSLR's by wanting to search for a focusing target when encountering headlights or ditchlights, so in that respect the experience was the same. The camera kept up with the train with regards to continuous re-focusing. I didn't miss any shots due to shortcomings of the camera.

So, I'm ready for a longer trip now--carrying a MUCH lighter camera bag!

Herewith the gallery (click for full-size files):


 Passing Montgomery Plaza, Fort Worth--18-55mm @ 24.3mm, 1/800 f/8 ISO400


 W. of Mustang Creek--55-200mm @ 200mm, 1/1700 f6.4 ISO400

 Nearing Cresson--55-200mm @ 200mm, 1/1900 f6.4 IS400

 Nearing Cresson--18-55mm @ 48.4, 1/1000 f9 IS)400


Nearing Cresson--18-55mm @ 40, 1/1100 f9 ISO400 (B&W conversion)


 Arriving Cresson--55-200mm @ 200 1/1800 f6.4 ISO400


 Arriving Cresson--18-55mm @ 18 1/800 f10 ISO400


Dan Munson: "Get The Shot." 55-200mm @ 156 1/750 f/7 ISO400


 At Cresson--55-200mm @ 190 1/1000 f/9 ISO400
At Cresson--55-200mm @ 104 1/640 f/9 ISO400

At Cresson--55-200mm @ 141  1/110 f9 ISO400 (B&W conversion)


5 comments:

Andrew Hamblyn said...

Those photos - so sharp!

Awesome. Bet your happy?

Nick Fotis said...

I am glad to see these Fujis are up to the task of continuous focus.
So, no Canon for you anymore, I suppose?

I have been very intrigued with the newly announced Sony α7S - getting ultra high sensitivity from 'enough' megapixels is an attractive prospect. And 12+ high quality Megapixels should be more than enough for most printing purposes.

(my old laptop just manages to process 12.3 Mpixel files from my ancient 5D using Picasa - going to 20+ Mpixels may kill it...)

At what speed were these EMDs running? And how did you focus on the landscape photo?
The B&W conversion was done in-camera?

Cheers,
N.F.

Nick Fotis said...

Also, I wonder if these shots had some HDR processing? (the lettering around 'Montgomery Plaza' seems to have some halo around it, which makes me suspecting some processing).

In general, I like that the Fuji (and Olympus) have very nice JPEG files, without the flat linear response from the sensor, but a more film-like feel.

N.F.

Nick Fotis said...

Another question: can someone use these Fuji mirrorless cameras outdoors with their screens, or the sun reflection is so harsh that you use mostly the viewfinder?

N.F.

B. Kooistra said...

Nick, thanks for that catch on the Montgomery Plaza shot--reedited it. .

And, yes, I've gotten rid of all the canon stuff. I shot everything JPG+RAW, but I did the B&W conversions in photoshop. Max speed of the train were photographed was maybe 25 mph. I've had no more problem in the sunlight using the Fuji than I have the canon. I use the viewfinder when shooting, just use the LCD on the back for chimpin', just as I did in the Canon days.