Travel-Scape: Palacio Nationale da Pena, Sintra, Portugal

It is difficult to remember today how it was so simple
, so available and so easy to travel before the sanitary Covid-19 crisis. Last year (September 2019), we had the chance to visit Lisbon in Portugal and although the historic city was fascinating by itself and deserve to be explore for days and weeks, we decided to take a break excursion to the Palacio Nationale da Pena at Sintra located not far north from the capital. The place and surrounding were gorgeous to photograph (and the weather was accordingly splendid). Looking back to these pictures as a gift to close this tumultuous 2020 year.

(Photo equipment) Obsolescence seen as a state of mind (Keep it, Use it, Enjoy it!)

The tungsten light that have permitted longer hours of human activities

It may appear obvious that every new technological small or big steeps is pushing the precedent one to obsolescence. And it is true to say that the lasts two or three decades of photo equipment development have totally change the way we use to do, to explore and to show photography. The ancient way to photograph by using analog film and printing, edit, enlarge or diffuse the final picture has been mutate into a digital recording manner presented into a multimedia different platform.

So, the bridge we have passed over the large river of changes is very extensive to an obvious none-returning point (except for the analog traditionalists!). Consequently, the digital science in photo equipment have followed a fast pace in its recent development. But since the very last few years, thinks are getting more peaceful in the photo gear planet. Many manufacturers are reconsidering their future development orientations with a more circumspect point of view.

Can we have reached a plateau in photo equipment technical advancement that will prevent us to discard too early good photo devices on the assertion that something new will be much better than its predecessors? That question has been answered by some prolific photo (gear) reviewers that have started to propose a longer maintaining of our present photo arsenal. And that can be a clever proposal as long the manufacturers can guaranty the hardware and software support of their past models of cameras and lenses. And because of that, it stays obviously an unstable situation for the long term of digital photo equipment use.

The hard recorded music supports have preceded the cloud now availability 
Material obsolescence is a plague of our present civilization. At a time that we are speaking about durable development, photo industry seems to be in a world apart simply ignoring the urgent task of environmental preservation. And the (camera-lens) consumers are participating directly to that contradictory tendency.

Even today, the pictures of the past are still a valid artistic expression of our visual (and virtual) world. They are history but they are also an art expression as we told of painting, or sculpturing, or writing, or theater, etc. So, it is true to say that is not the tools used to create pictures that are paramount to photography but, moreover, it is the picture representation by itself which is most important. Yes, the tools are a form of cultural testimony, but we have to not concentrate our mind on the means only but more importantly on the results produced by them.

Brace and bit: before the electrical power tool era. 
Yes, a beautiful design of a (highly) practical tool like the today’s digital camera is not only pleasant to use but it is also the expression of an esthetically functionalism. And many camera models can be classified as beautifully crafted photo devices which can be very inspirational for the users (mea culpa for myself!). But equipment durability must be part of the entire cycle of human appreciation as we do with older analog camera models. That material continuity is part of the evolution process that preserve our past heritage and giving the base of future (material) advancement
Books are now on recycle shelves (or into bins!) 
Some camera manufacturers may have already understood the importance of continuity like Leica, Fujifilm or Olympus. I hope others will follow that path. Because ingenuity is not only to start on a fresh blank sheet of paper but depend also how to reinterpret strong ideas of the past that can survive to the futility of a momentary and superficial mood.
Proclaiming obsolescence over many awesome photo devices from the past or even the very recent past is an easy critic to do, often without any real justification. The photo fundamentals didn’t basically change over the years except maybe in terms of enhanced performance versus a more lagging time of reaction of the older analogic camera models if you are speaking of light exposure or of autofocus accuracy for example. My only hope is that the responsible manufacturers will support their products further than only the first few years following their release.

The Fujinon "reframing" zoom lenses.

There is always be that dilemma of selecting between a classical fix focus lens and a more flexible vario-focal length zoom one. That debate will never end but you can simply look at the optic kit used by everyday photographers (amateurs, enthusiasms or pros) and chances are great that they are using the two categories of lenses. So it is not really a contest, it is simply a matter of convenience for each different use.

Many have described zoom lenses as the best replacement for, let say, two or three different fix focal lenses ranging from wide-angle to small telephoto or from small to longer telephoto or even the summation of all these angles of view. For each of those complex optics their designers have calculated the best technical combination available in term of size, price point, maximum aperture, minimum focusing distance, etc. But something you do more with a zoom lens compare to a fix focal one is implicating some obvious compromises.

And many zoom lenses are chosen first for their extreme focal length setting … and often use exclusively that way! The manufacturers are aware of that way of using their vario focal length models and pay a more careful attention to the optical quality output observed at the very start and the final focal range of them.

But there is also an whole array of focal length choices between the two extremums of a zoom lens. We could call them the « lens-framers » of the photographer. There are very thoughtful optic tools that allows us to refine our picture composition on place with less quality loss compare to the post-processing reframing. Zoom lenses can be very proactive in a way that they are asking to the photographer to be more cautious about the selection, the position and the context of your subject.

Like we have said earlier the zoom lenses do compromise on others characteristics such as their maximum aperture, their weight and size, their minimum focusing distance, etc.. With a smaller maximum aperture your deep of field control will be diminished that can be partly compensated by selecting a longer focal length if possible. The zoom lenses size will result in a less discrete optic that can be more intimidating for your subject. A more distant minimum focusing distance can prevent you to be able to do easily close subjects.

Short and medium zoom lenses as for the extreme « traveler » zoom lenes are the most versatile in term of angle of view. Many photographers will adopt them as their « stay-on » everyday zoom lens for most of time. Casual, urban, close, travel photography are rightly served by these lenses. The better image output quality will be obtained by selecting the mid-range priced ones to the most expensive ones.

The long telephoto zoom lenses are more specialized optics. Portrait, wildlife, sports and action photography are their main domain. They are bigger optical devices that can ask you to pay more attention to their stability in order to counteract the photographer « blurry » effect by using a more sophisticated stabilisation arrangement from the camera (internal and/or optical stabilisation options, higher shutter speeds and/or ISO setting, tripod/monopod). Again their maximum aperture is smaller but usually at those focal lengths the deep of field is already shallowed.

Over the years I have worked with different combinations of zoom lenses and I am always appreciating them as a very valuable option not only for spontaneous photography but also for more composed subject. For general photography I have really enjoyed the flexibility and the compactness of the Fujinon XF18-55 F2.8-4 R and the respectable magnification factor and the optical quality of the Fujinon XF55-200 F3.5-4.8 both OIS (which is a nice feature considering that some of my camera models doesn’t have an internal sensor stabilisation functionality). Many examples of my recent work are illustrating these abilities.

For travel and urban photography, the Fujinon XF18-55mm F2.8-4 R OIS is sufficiently versatile for many usual photographic needs and moreover is enough discrete to be a full time lens. To know more about this trans-standard zoom lens model you can refer to this recent article of mine.

The Fujinon XF55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R OIS as for every other long telephoto zoom lenses is a different kind of beast. I call it a « bazooka » lens (especially with the lens hood mounted!). So it is not by far a discrete optic and you will surely impress your surrounding and probably intimidate some folks with it. The most intended purpose of these long telephoto zoom lenses is to isolate your main subject from its surrounding and compress its context. Careful off-center composition may be a challenge since we have a natural tendency to center a magnified subject.

There are several others options available from the Fujinon line of zoom lenses. The Fujinon XF10-24mm F4 R OIS and the XF100-400 F4.5-5.6 R OIS are very interesting options at each end of the optical spectrum. The same can be said about the « Pro F2.8 » line of lenses (XF 8-16mm, 16-55mm & 40-150mm). For entry-level Fujifilm models, the Fujinon XC series is giving you more affordable optic options. Fujifilm offer also their own version of an all-around zoom lens with the XF18-135mm F3.5-5.6 R OIS which is in fact a larger optical package that may be more appreciated by nature travelers particular. Lastly we have learn that Fujifilm will launch in mid-2019 a new Fujinon XF 16-80mm F4 R OIS WR zoom lens which can be a very attractive travel-urban all-around optic.

Speaking of the versatility of the zoom lenses is not in any way unevaluating the virtues of the fix focal length optics that are smaller (discrete), have a larger maximum aperture and will give you very high quality image output and these advantages remain today.

A perfect fix focal lens or zoom lens that will fit for every photographic purposes is purely an utopian concept. So even with the add-on versatility of different focal length present of a zoom lens, it cannot respond for every specific need in imagery. But zoom lens do offer a very easy way of re-framing your subject on the spot and without asking you a greater mobility from your original picture taking position. In my sense this is one of the biggest advantage of all those vario-focal length lenses.

All pictures were taken with the Fujifilm X-T20 & X-E3 cameras and Fujinon XF18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS, XF55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS & XF50mm F2 R WR lenses.

Cubanitas with the Fujifilm X-T20

The Cayo Largo Island has been (and still is) a frequent destination for recharging your frozen batteries affected by our long Canadian winter season.

Located south of the main island of Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico, this idealistic place is share by people in search of calm, of nice long white sandy beaches and of friendly Cuban people.

Although many hotels installations are now more on the rustic side because the buildings are suffering a lot into the southern weather since the island seems not to have a lot of material resources to refresh them properly, vacationers from Canada and other countries are coming back year after year and some are paying visits for even a more frequent pace over the year!

We know now that there is very few probabilities that the island of Cayo Largo will be ever « americanized » in any ways in the near future. The Italian travel agencies seem to be the only ones really interested to invest on the island and have created a group of specific resorts strictly controlled and only available for their clientele.

I am particularly fascinated by the architectural point of view of many earlier buildings since they represent a kind of merging of the hispanic heritage blended into the Cuban modern way of building back in the 1980s and 1990s. And because it has not been reproduced in the last twenty years, it may be important to preserve some image temoignages of what may disappear in mid-term.

All the pictures of this article have been taken with the Fujifilm X-T20 camera and the Fujinon XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS lens.

The Fujinon XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS: (I’m) Not a kit lens!

How to compare the Fujinon XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS zoom lens from Fujifilm? I will be a bit controversial saying that this little first class optic can be put at the same level as the Leica MFT 12-60mm F2.8-4. I know that the Fuji XF 18-55mm R has obviously a less wider angle of view at its short end and is natively less powerful on its longest end. That stands for the focal length statistic comparaison between these two fine products but for the quality of their respective construction, their optic glasses, their control rings and their manual abilities, there are in the same league.

And there is something else very important. The maximum aperture of the Fujinon XF 18-55mm at F2.8-4.0 is an exception compare to what we see useably in the compact standard zoom lenses market. And that simple point make a big different especially for the lenses designated for their on smaller sensor format like the APS-C and the MFT. In that field the Fujinon beats the Leica although it seems they share the same maximum aperture because the effect is different between those two smaller format sensor zooms.

The Fujinon XF 18-55mm R LM OIS is remarquable because it has that maximum  aperture of F2.8-4 and the internal optical stabilization, but also because it is still a compact lens in regard of all these factors. It breaks the actual tendency for the lens manufacturers to design and produce more and more inflated (i.e. big) lenses with larger maximum aperture or with a wider range of focal variations.

When you will be introduced for the first time to the Fujinon XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS you may notice that it is an optic more oriented on the traditional design way. This is not a featherweight optic device and the zoom and focus control rings are more stiffer than many others zoom lenses. Direct access of an aperture control ring is another advantage of the Fujinon (as for all XF Fujinon lenses). Every bits of the XF 18-55mm R LM OIS is telling us about the quality of this zoom lens.

We can considerer it as the introducing zoom lens of the Fujifilm NMARX X-series lens models (None-Marked-Aperture-Ring-X-Series-lens i.e. NMARX) (the other ones are the Fujinon XF 10-24mm F4R, the XF 18-135mm F3.5-5.6R and the XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8R all OIS).

There is a lot to say regarding the obvious optical quality results obtained by the XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R. Many tests done over the Web by specialized photo test sites will tell you about its optimal definition compare to other products. I leave to them to give you a complete technical information.

A full exposure stop gain at 55mm focal length is one the most appreciated strength that I have experimented with the XF 18-55mm lens. It qualifies the zoom lens to an upper class compare to all others products that give you a max. aperture of F5.6 or more at their longest end. I wont pretend it can replace a « pro » zoom lens (with a constant max. aperture of F2.8) but it certainly is certainly far more compact optic.

On the purely none-objective side, we can already appreciate the image output of the XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS both in JPEG and RAW files issued from a Fujifilm X-camera.

With an angle of view of 79 degrees at its widest focal length, the XF 18-55mm R LM OIS is doing just a little bit better than an usual 28mm equivalent to 24X36mm format (FF). So contextual photography into cramped areas can be a real challenge especially in interior photography. But that angle should be manageable if you take time to carefully select your angle of view and the distance from your subject. The Fujinon XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS is an enjoyable urban lens with a lot of flexibility. If you can afford to not use its dedicated lens hood, the lens become very discrete and non-intrusive

At 55mm you have just sufficient magnification to partly isolate medium range subject with success. This is not a true face portrait lens  but the Fujinon XF 18-55mm can produce good full-body (or partial) portrait.

For sure we have access to any intermediate focal lengths available on the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f2.8-4 R LM OIS. Popular focal setting include 23mm and 35mm that replicate their fixed focal length counterparts. Close focusing is on the average and this Fujinon is not a genuine macro optic but it can perform with subjects like flowers or mid-sized objects (or parts of) with competence. The XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R OIS lens doesn’t have a special close focusing setting to activate to get its nearest focusing distance, an advantage for detail photography on the spot.

I am not really found on the special function switches way and I prefer the solution used by Fujifilm on most of the others XF lenses with an « A » position on the aperture ring (this way you can preset your aperture value without looking at the viewfinder/screen like with the shutter control dial). If you are a frequent user of the Fujinon XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS (maybe as your first lens) you will probably assimilate the reflex to activate/deactivate that switch…

Optical Image Stabilization (OIS) is in fact a commun « must be » with standard zoom lenses. Its advantage is obvious in particular when using slow shutter speed for less lit subject. Switching from a non-OIS lens, the Fujinon 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS will guaranty you a better rate of success by preventing micro blurs on the contours of your in-focus subject(s). The presence of OIS must not prevent you to still apply the best support you can give to your camera-lens. The OIS functionality can be shutdown for video or macro or tripod photographic situations.

A last a word regarding the dedicated lens hood that came with the lens (a nice though from Fujifilm). Using it will prevent flare no question about it as the lens hood offer an additional protection for the front of the lens. Without it as already mentioned the Fujinon lens is becoming more discrete, less protuberant for your subject. So the choice is yours. It can be inverted for transport but the inverted accessory is covering the vital focusing and aperture control rings.

Filter accessory size is 58mm a commun one available for a lot of filter combinations. It is up to you to use or not a protective filter. I do but the filter should be made with high optical quality glass that wont introduce more glare or  glass distortion in my picture. Many people don’t bother anymore about that and I respect their choice. Being a retired professional that have encounter many adverse conditions I have always preferred to change a filter than a complete lens…

What to say more about the Fujinon only to qualify it as an « all-going » standard zoom lens of an higher level optically and with a more than average quality of construction. Fujifilm produces lenses in the upper standard that perform well over the years and offers products that in my sens surpass many big competitor counterparts. So try it and eventually own it with confidence. Since I am not in any ways paid or attached to them my only raeson is to encourage manufacturers that still have respect for photographers…