Riley J.B. - Photographer & Alchemist


Calgary photographer, Riley JB, writes essays, photo stories, reviews & tutorials in his photographic Journal.

Everything that Matters:: NYC | X100s | X-Pro1 | The Streets

In this blog I discuss my first real go at street photography, the Fujifilm X100s & X-Pro1 and stories from my recent trip to New York City that has definitely changed me as a photographer. Travelling to NYC has always been a bucket list destination for me and my wife. For me it is Mecca for photographers. And for my wife.. the Mecca of shopping. Win/Win.

The Gear - X100s & X-Pro1

I really went back and forth and back and forth on what I was going to bring. I had bought the Fujifilm X100s to replace my X100 i sold in January. Then a great deal came along on a Fujifilm X-Pro1 that I could not pass up. I had initially bought the X-Pro1 about a year ago when it just came out to take to Maui instead of my dSLR gear.. but I returned it hastily when I developed cold feet about not having a dSLR there.

X100s, X-Pro1, XF 35mm 1.4R & XF 14mm 2.8R were loaded into a Thinktank Retro & and I was good to go. That is, until a week before, when again I started getting worried I would miss a shot. What about making tilt-shift photos? What about a focal length wider than 21mm?? What if it rains the whole time and I need my gear to have weather sealing!!?? I packed my Thinktank Airport Airstream with a Canon 5D Mark III, EF 17-40mm f4L, EF 50mm f1.2L, EF 24-105 f4L & a TS-E 24mm f3.5L. A weighty carry-on bag. I also brought a Gitzo Traveller tripod, Gorillapod Focus, and all kind of Lee Filters for both my dSLR and the Seven5 system for my Fujis. I was a little worried that customs would question whether this was a vacation or if I was going there to work but there were no problems at that point. Which is almost more concerning as all that stuff going through an x-ray machine looks like some kind of complex explosive device.. cylinders, wires and all that. They are the pros I guess.

The only part of NYC my dSLR saw was the inside of the hotel room. I never had it out for the whole trip. And I never felt the need or urge to. I don't think I missed any photos leaving it behind. There are so many dSLRs painfully strung around necks in NYC. I think the Canon Rebel and kit lens is the official camera system of the NYC tourist. Of course there were the people like I used to be. A 5Dmk3 hanging from their necks, with a large zoom attached and a heavy backpack full of other glass. I always smirked when I saw them, glad that it was not me.

He is getting a great workout in wearing dozens of pounds or gear.

He is getting a great workout in wearing dozens of pounds or gear.

My walk around setup was pretty simple. X100s on one side. X-Pro1 with either the 14mm or 35mm attached on the other side. Attached to a Holdfast Gear MoneyMaker strap. I never felt neck or shoulder fatigue and it never weighed me down. And I wore it for about 8 hours a day walking the streets of NYC. If I wanted to go even lighter I took the X100s and a Blackrapid Snapr 35 strap (minus the bag that comes with that.. it's long gone). A light camera kit that does not sacrifice image quality.

This was what I wore while walking the streets of Manhattan

This was what I wore while walking the streets of Manhattan

The Good & Bad of the Fuji X's

Carrying two camera bodies with two different prime focal lengths that weight less than my 5dmk3 & 1 lens was phenomenal. In the streets I could take photos of people and be close to them without them knowing because the shutters of both the X100s & X-Pro1 are quiet. The X100s is pretty much silent and the X-Pro1 has a classic mechanical shutter sound that went unnoticed.

Now the bad.. or I guess it is more of the inconvenient.. using two different (albeit similar) camera bodies did cause me to miss some moments. The main difference being the AF point selection. On the X-Pro1 I have to move my left thumb to the back of the camera and into a weird position to hit the AF button then use my right thumb to pick the point I want. And on the X100s I just use my right thumb to hit the top of the command wheel then pick a point. So much quicker. But when I would switch between the cameras I would hit where the AF button is on the X100s on the X-Pro1 and get jammed up with the Macro function. Usually by the time I had it sorted and changed the AF point what I wanted to photograph had moved on. And while I do like where the AF button is on the X100s I do not like the little command wheel that it is on. I found it hard to landmark the command wheel when I had the camera in portrait orientation and my eye in the viewfinder. I would sometimes be pressing in no-man's-land between AF and flash or pressing the Flash button. With practice I will probably limit those mistakes but it definitely was a pain.

If Fuji could release a firmware upgrade to the X-Pro1 that allowed me to move the AF selection point to the function(Fn) button near the shutter release I would be a very happy camper. In fact if it could be programmed to that on the X100s too then I would be even more happy. Right now I have Fn button on both cameras as ISO.. but the auto ISO is so good I typically do not need to switch it much on the fly. The AF selection would be a much better use and would really make it easier to use both bodies together without getting mixed up.

Speaking of Auto Focus I found both cameras to be champs. Rarely did I miss a photo because the AF wouldn't lock on to what I wanted.

One addition I will be making to my Fuji kit is variable neutral density filters so I can shoot wide open in the day light. The X100s has a built-in 3-stop filter but with the max shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second at f2 even with the ND on I would still need a stop or three in bright sunlight.

A few times it rained while I was walking around. I kept the Fujis on at my side and they were partially covered by my jacket while I walked but I still used them in the rain and they got wet. And neither had any issues. I wouldn't dip them in water but I am not afraid to have them out in the rain.

How many batteries should you carry? At least one replacement while out and about for the X100s & X-Pro1. I did not feel battery life was that bad. Both cameras were pretty much 'ON' all the time I was out. One battery would last about 3/4 of the day and then I would pop the second one in. Twice I drained both batteries before dinner during the week. The real problem I faced was the grossly inaccurate battery life indicator in both cameras. Basically it would show the battery as being full.. then 3/4 full.. and then completely dead. No in-between. If the big red dead battery icon flashed on screen I would turn the camera off.. and if I turned it back on it would show the battery 3/4 full again and a few seconds later show the flashing red battery of death. I am fine with how long the batteries last but I really wish the life indicator was somewhat accurate.

Another advantage of the Fuji's over a big dSLR was night shooting. I only made 1 photo with the GorillaPod tripod and I did not really need it to make it. I can handhold these cameras at 1/4 of a second. Coupled with the excellent high ISO it was perfect for night shooting. I could selectively motion blur subjects this way to add motion to my shots. It was really handy. I seem to get motion blur with my Canon trying to handhold at about 1/30th of a second. Maybe I should just hit the gym more.

The Street

I have never really been into street photography. Looking at it on 500px & Flickr I never got into it. It was not until walking around NYC did I develop my eye for interesting street images. And then I was addicted. At one point my wife was making a photo with her P&S and was waiting, waiting, waiting.. she told me she was waiting for people to move out of her frame. I too was like this. Hated anyone in my cityscape photos. Now I wait for people to enter the frame. It was a great awakening within me and I think it will shape my photography from this point on. Finding cool juxtapositions and characters in the street is like hunting. The satisfaction when you *click* and capture it is big. Chasing interesting light, architecture and faces and putting it together is a fantastic exercise in creativity. Will I find the same thrill on the streets of Calgary? It will be more difficult but I think I will be able to.

The Photos

On this trip my goal was to come back with 10 or 12 great photos. After reviewing all of my work I found more keepers than I ever thought I would. Here are what I feel is my best work.. with the EXIF info and a little paragraph about the photo so you can get into my mind. These are in no particular order.

1. 1930s Manhattan

iPhone 4 | 3.85mm | 1/640th | f/2.8 | ISO 80

I know this is a iPhone photo and not even with my Fuji's. I took it to tweet out onto my feed as I wouldn't be able to do that with my Fuji photos since I was not travelling with a laptop. It was processed in VSCOcam. It looks like it could of been taken back in the 1930s. I love the look of the different buildings. The textures brought out by the black & white.

2. Mister Softee

X100s | 23mm | 1/40th | f/2 | ISO 1250

My wife and I were walking in Times Square and these Mister Softee trucks were peppered throughout the touristy areas. We definitely enjoyed a few cones during our week. When I initially saw this ice cream truck the proprietor appeared to be yelling at someone on his phone. Sleeveless shirt, shaved head, goatee, neck tattoo.. his hard, tough look inside an ice cream truck with "Mister Softee" written above his head. Too great! I took a few quick shots but I was a little far away. We continued walking around. I was reviewing some photos on the LCD and looking at the few I took of Mister Softee and knew if I did not go back and try to get closer I would not forgive myself.

We circled back and he was serving a few customers. I took some shots of that but I preferred the look of him in the back window with "Mister Softee" on the windows. After serving the customers he began to text and I thought it was the perfect opportunity to walk up and take my shot. As I started to walk up with the X00s in my hand he looked up at me and stared. He looked less than impressed with me for whatever reason. I stopped and brought the camera to my eye with Mister Softee watching and looked up above the truck at a building.. pretending to make a photograph of that. His attention returned to his phone. I levelled the camera, half pressed the shutter, locked focus on him and as I was about to fully press he looked back up at me as the shutter opened. I pulled the camera from my eye and looked at the top as if I screwed the shutter speed up. Returned the camera to my eye and back on the building and again pretended to click the shutter. I then faux reviewed my building photo, actually looking at the Mister Softee photo to check focus. I got it.

I continued on as Mister Softee returned to texting.

3. My better 7/8ths

X100s | 23mm | 1/40th | f/2 | ISO 3,200

My wife generally does not like me taking photos of her. But I could not help myself in this instance. This is at our table in Da Marino restaurant in Hell's Kitchen. She looked amazing in the soft light in the restaurant while looking at the menu. I shot wide open @ f/2 not only due to the low light but also to drive the background into bokeh. I could see that the background would be too busy to some people but I like that coming through. The restaurants in NYC are awesome with how busy and happenin' they are.

A great meal. After making this photo of course set the camera down so that we could just enjoy each other's company. A very important thing to do while on vacation.

4. A City Within

X100s | 23mm | 1/400th |f/5.6 | ISO 200

The is construction everywhere in NYC. And it gives us tourists a little glimpse into the city that is underneath the city that we know. What I like about this photo is that it appears that underneath the city is just as chaotic as what is happening on the surface of the city. The shot this while driving by on a tour bus. I think it was the 2nd time we had passed by in as many days. The first time I saw it at last minute and thought it was neat but couldn't fire in time. I converted it to B&W because all the lines and the texture of the dirty and asphalt really came alive in monochrome.

After taking a photo of a street scene like this I find other stuff I had no idea was in the frame. Like the fellow in a striped shirt on the bicycle in the upper left corner. A construction scene is required gawking for men. I also particularly like the hard hat and ear protection hanging on the barricade in the lower right. All kinds of gems.

5. 30 Rock

X100s | 23mm | 1/40th | f/2 | ISO 320

After a day of rain the night became foggy. I really felt like I was walking the streets of Gotham. Rockefeller Plaza was a favourite hangout for me. I love the buildings, the atmosphere is busy, some of my favourite TV shows are made here.. a great place for me to be. The building is lit from all kinds of angles and mixed with the low New York fog made for some stunning photos. The thing with unique atmosphere is that I am sure there are a million photos of this building taken from the very spot I was standing. But the addition of the fog mixing with the light on this evening really shifts it to being a more unique shot.

This photo required very little post processing. It is pretty much an in-camera shot.

6. Trump World Tower

X-Pro1 | 14mm | 1/125th |f/22 | ISO 200

What drew my eye upwards at this building was the little portions of the window that were open. It gives a little randomness to the predicable lines that run up the building. I had already taken a lot of photos looking up at buildings, keeping the building in the centre of the frame. I wanted something different and really liked the offset building in this. It is only shot at f/22 because I did not notice until after that I had knocked the aperture ring on the XF 14mm lens into that position. The aperture ring on this lens does not take much force to move around. Luckily resolution robbing defraction is not too bad on this lens.

In this building you can rent a studio apartment that is 589 square feet for only $3,150 a month. The mortgage on my 2,800 square foot house located not in NYC is $1,500 a month.

7. Two Birds

X-Pro1 | 14mm | 1/3500 | f/4 | ISO 200

The dynamic range of the Fuji sensor is awesome. The detail in the buildings and in the sky are exceptional.

Prior to pressing the shutter on this photo 3 other birds had made the same line across the frame. I lifted the camera to my eye hoping that more birds would follow. I pre-focused on the building where I thought they had come out of and I waited. A few seconds later I saw two more enter the sky and a fired the shutter capturing this. I believe I would of liked this photos without the birds as the buildings and the light reflecting onto some from others held enough interestingness for me. But the birds really add something else to this photo.

8. Money Counters

X100s | 23mm | 1/40th | f/2 | ISO 800

We walked around Central Park (our favourite part of NYC) and into Bethesda Terrace. It was packed with people and buskers and a girl that smelled horrible and would write a poem for you for $5 while a Jesus-esque man looked on. It was here actually that I was approached and asked about my Fuji cameras I had hanging at my side. Another slave to the dSLR trying to be set free while just sightseeing.

Three buskers were counting boxes full of $1 bills.. the spoils of their day. I see a guitar but I missed their performance so I could not say exactly what they were doing. I feel that this is my best street shot of the trip. The wall, the floor, their faces, the money, the light.. it all really came together and made a fabulous photography I am proud to have made. I took a few shots of them and I think this is the strongest.

If Riley from the past were here instead he would of waited until they left to take a shot of the wall. "Booring" says present me.

9. On Guard

X100s | 23mm | 1/40th | f/2 | ISO 800

This photo was made at the same time as #5. The difference is that the guard is what I wanted to be the main point of interest and not the fog. I waited for a while hoping that he would move about 7 feet to his right so that he would of been lit better. It just did not happen.

While he isn't as lit as he could be he is standing on guard underneath the US flag. Ol' glory draws the eyes down to the guard for me. And that is good enough for me.

10. 24 5th Avenue

X-Pro1 | 14mm | 1/45th | f/2.8 | ISO 200

It is the little details of the city that I love. Not just the towering skyscrapers. This brass revolving door caused me to stop dead in my tracks while walking in between the East & West Villages. The detail is awesome and the way the 14mm lens renders the image is unreal. The look of the door makes this a favourite. I shot it wide open to have a bit of separation from the foreground columns which I believe I achieved.

Of note.. a 1-bedroom apartment in this building is $4,950! Now I know why is has such a fancy door.

The Future of the dSLR

I tweeted while I was in NYC that if anyone was looking to buy a dSLR kit mine would be available shortly. I felt that as I was writing it. Had someone approached me with the right money I would of handed it over without blinking. I did not need it for this trip at all. I don't think using it would have given me much better quality photos. Likely because I wouldn't have really brought it everywhere like I did the Fuji's. Had I wanted to just go to a location for the sole purpose of making photos I would have taken a tripod, lee filters, 5Dmk3, TSE24mm and went for an afternoon. That was not something I wanted to do as my wife is not at all interested in standing around while I try to perfectly tilt and shift a lens. And I am not interested in making her do that either. In NYC I had to be moving. Go, go, go. That is what I liked about it.

So will I be selling my dSLR and only using my X00s + X-Pro1? Yes! I cannot wait to move to this smaller and capable kit.

I am very excited with what is upcoming with Fuji. I am very excited for the 10-24mm f/4, 56mm f/1.2 & 23mm f/1.4. These are at the top of my list for wanting to try out. I am planning my next trip and also planning some shoots with the Fuji that I will blog about.

Hope you liked my NYC stuff.. let me know which photos you like and why in the comments below or stories of your experience with NYC.