Above & Beyond - Flight over Manhattan with the Fujifilm GFX
I am a Fujifilm X-Photographer. They loan me gear to try and I provide them feedback and photographs to use in my gallery on their global website. They don't pay me or even ask me to write blog posts and they certainly don't dictate what I write in them.
I went for my first door-off helicopter flight over Manhattan one morning in September of 2015. When my wife and I booked our trip this past August to return to NYC I couldn't help myself but to book another one. This time it was a sunset flight.
A few weeks before departing east I kindly asked my friends at Fujifilm Canada if I could borrow the new Fujifilm GFX for the flight. They obliged and I had a rugged suitcase (suitable to transport plutonium that your Doctor friend stole from some Libyans) at my door a few days later.
When I arrived at the heliport the light was perfect.
Just prior to flight the sun went behind thick thunderstorm clouds that were on the far west horizon. I was not a little worried that I would be working with a f/4 zoom lens.
I again flew with the good people at FlyNYON. If you want to take a photo flight I highly recommend them. They are set up perfectly for it. And they didn't pay me or give me a discount to say it.. although I would happily take either *wink, wink*.
I am not an expert on aerial photography, but what I do know is that I am sitting in a large vibrating aircraft that is flying through the air. I have to combat both vibration and the wind by keeping the shutter speeds reasonably high. I shot wide open at f/4 because I needed the light and the GF lenses don't seem to suffer from the issues other lenses do when shot wide open. No colour fringing and very sharp. The trade in was that there wouldn't be infinite depth of field.
Our pilot knew the best angles to capture the city from and he kept us steady and at a good speed. We were in constant motion because the flight is only a 1/2 hour and we want to see as much as we can.
The main issue I had with the GFX was the in viewfinder image review. I use this on my X-Pro 2. Take a snap and see a 0.5 second review of the image in the viewfinder. In the case of the GFX I take a snap and the viewfinder goes black which feels like for a second. Then the image comes up for 0.5 seconds. Then it returns to live view which starts very blown out and comes back to being properly exposed. It was about a few second process each time I pressed the shutter.
So of course I go into the familiar menu and I turn off the image preview. But the image preview doesn't turn off. It says that it is off but it keeps showing the image. I turn the camera off and then on. Same thing. I pop out the battery and pop in a fresh one. Same thing. Try as I might I wasn't able to get the image review to turn off for this flight. So I did feel that I missed a few shots due to the delay. Luckily this is an issue that can be fixed via firmware and us Fuji users know that the cameras only get better over time with the continuous releases.
In the air my composition is dictated by the zoom range, my position in the helicopter and the pilot. As there were photographers on both sides he turned to give us all a fair shake as some great views. This also gave the opportunity to take some Brooklyn photos. Everyone is all "Manhattan.. Manhattan.. Manhattan".. Brooklyn is pretty nice too.
The challenging light & shooting conditions that I found myself in caused me to underexpose and then bring up the exposure in Lightroom. I found that there is less noise this way than just using a higher ISO.
Prior to using the GFX the most megapixels I have used is 24 in my X-Pro2. I was very caught up in the novelty of being able to zoom in and see such detail. In the stock photography world I have to remove any copyrighted material or identifying marks from the photographs before I upload them to Stocksy. For my first flight over Manhattan I was using a Fujifilm X-T1 and its 16mp sensor. There were visible logos on buildings but a lot of them weren't recognizable if they were a certain distance away.
I found myself having to remove a great deal more identifiable logos in these 51mp GFX files. I could even see phone numbers on cube vans on the streets and recognizable faces on billboards!
By the end of the flight the sun had fully dipped into the horizon and it was pretty dark. I started at ISO 800 and quickly crept up to 1600, 3200, 4000, 6400 and ended at 12800. They get pretty noisy at that point and the images aren't suitable for stock, or so I am told. But the noise is fairly pleasing to me especially when edited as a black & white. Even in these dark conditions the contrast-detect auto focus performed pretty well. If the building had some lights on inside it easily locked on.
If I was going to enjoy the majesty of flight with the GFX in the future I wouldn't do so on a sunset flight. The light disappeared way too fast. I would love to take it on a morning flight.
The photographs here & more can be licensed on Stocksy United. (Use code RILEYJOSEPH20 to get 20% off your first order).
I will be sharing more from the GFX on here and on my Instagram so be sure to follow me. If you have a question or comment write it below or on Twitter and I'll try to get you an answer.
I couldn't stay in the air for long so go and read my post 'On the Ground' in NYC with the Fujifilm GFX.