So I've got a new camera. It's a Fujfilm X-T10, one of their mirrorless range. And, since I got it at the end of November, the weather in Northern Ireland has been rubbish. Seriously bad.
Apart from one Sunday, a few weeks back, just after storm Desmond had wrecked his havoc on the British Isles. After the cloud and torrential rain, the skies cleared and we had a brief (and I mean brief) window of opportunity to get out.
So off to the Mournes I headed, my new toy in hand, to see how it would perform. Here are my initial thoughts.
1. New perspectives
One of the reasons I've gone mirrorless is that it's a different kind of camera. And I'm hoping it will open up new creative options to me that the DSLR doesn't offer (or at least not as readily). For example, I mostly shoot with my Nikon from near head height, and at apertures that create as big a depth of field as possible. That keeps my foreground interest in focus, as well as that far distance.
But the X-T10, being smaller, lighter and with a tiltable view screen, should allow me to try new points of view. Including ones like this. Given the amount of rain the previous few days, there were plenty of puddles for me to splash through on the way up from Carrick Little car park. What would it be like if I were to get down low, I thought. I tried it with a few puddles, creating the impression of the large mountains being reflected in huge ponds of water.
Then I came across a rather nice little stone in one puddle. What if I experiment with a wide open aperture, I thought. What if I were to create a really shallow depth of field?
This is a very different kind of photo for me. And it gives me a flavour of how the Fuji camera can open new possibilities for me.
2. In-camera visualisation
The X-T10 doesn't have an optical view finder. You are totally reliant on the digital screen. But what this allows you to do is to make the most of the old film simulations that the Fuji X range includes. Seeing these appear on your screen as you shoot helps with the visualisation of the shot. And again I found it pushing me to take some photos I might otherwise have overlooked.
Take the mono settings for example. There are various film settings to choose from. And selecting one of them as I looked around helped me to visualise this shot of the trees in Analong Wood. There are a few dead trees there that are wonderfully sculptural in shape and with great contrasts of tone. Shooting at f/2.8 put the background slightly out of focus, drawing more attention to the tree stump in the foreground.
I only scratched the surface with my experimenting with the film simulations. But being able to see them in real time on the screen, certainly helped me visualise the final shot I was after much more easily. For instance, it was fun trying out the different films with the great cirrus-filled sky that cast the mountain ridge into silhouette.
3. In camera bracketing
My experiments with this function were decidedly experimental! But I was impressed how, without the use of filters, the camera was able to handle the considerable contrast between the bright sky and the textures of the mountain side in shadow.
The DSLR is big and bulky enough that, when you're out hiking, there are times you'll not want it dangling around your neck, especially if you're mid trek somewhere. But the X-T10, light beast that it is, sat quite happily around my neck for the entire hike of around 4 miles that Sunday. And for large chunks of that time, it quite happily had a travel tripod attached to it as it hung around my neck.
That meant that it was always at hand, ready to snap whatever view caught my eye during the walk. The rains from the storm meant that the streams along the path were in full flow. And the wee Fuji and I skipped over some rocks to get into position for this long exposure shot with Slieve Lamagan in the background.
It's this handiness which is one of the main reasons I went mirrorless. Again, the DSLR could have taken this shot. It was just easier with the Fuji. And if it's easy, it's much more likely that I'll grab shots like this in future trips.
5. Low light capabilities
The high ISO capabilities of the mirrorless range are well documented. But I was keen to see how it would perform as the light dropped. Having made my way up to Buzzard's Roost in between Binnian and Lamagan, I headed back on the long trek to the car. Darkness was falling, and I thought I'd try something down by the Blue Lough. I carefully picked my way over the boggy ground to the lake's edge. Not much chance of finding a secure footing for the tripod here. So I cranked the ISO up, opened the lens to f/2.8 and shot hand held.
I was amazed at the result in the darkness of deepest twilight. Again, a shot I simply would not have attempted with the DSLR.
Back at the place where the river became the stream, I stopped again, this time with the aid of the tripod, and did another long exposure on the river in the dark.
I clearly have much more to learn about this cracker wee camera, and no doubt the journey of discovery will be wonderful. But my first impressions are very positive. As I hoped, it has opened up new possibilities for me.
I'm never one to say that your vision should be limited by your gear. Vision is always the most important skill and photographer must have. But, having said that, there is in a sense a symbiotic relationship between vision and gear. And new equipment can indeed unleash new creativity.
Here's to more fun exploring the land of Fujifilm - if only that horrible weather would clear up...