Recovery and Rejuvenation

I had  spine surgery just about two weeks ago. The procedure went very well, and from here, the outlook looks positive. Aside from short & quick hops to the store, though, I have pretty much been stuck at home the whole time, just doing light errands around the house, playing with the cats, and writin' some articles on photography.  But, mostly, just living "slowly and gently", which is critical at this juncture in my post-op recovery. 

After being cooped up for weeks, though, I just had to get out of the house, if only for a couple of hours. So yesterday, I decided to get out and do a little photography, something to help rejuvenate the soul in the process of healing. 

I drove south on Hwy 680 from my home in Castro Valley, CA  to a little town between Pleasanton and Fremont called Sunol,  20 miles & 20 minutes from where I live, just to keep the car drive short and sweet. 

Sunol's been around since the late 1800s, and is best described as a "one-horse" town. It's most notable for having a very cool, restored narrow-gauge train/railway that does train rides through Niles Canyons from Sunol to Niles (Fremont

Right near the Sunol train station is Sunol Park. It's an interesting park because it's privately-owned park, but freely accessible to the pubic, and completely maintained by volunteers efforts and labor. Photographically, I decided I wanted to focus on one thing: just to start "seeing" again.  To keep things simple, I brought one camera and one lens, my much-loved little Fuji X100F.  

Walking around the park, X100F in-hand, something caught my eye: a vegetable and flower garden that was made by the local Sunol 4H students. The most important thing about this garden was that it was specifically grown and in memoriam to the 17 souls that tragically lost their lives at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Feb. 14, 2018.

Garden Memoriam.jpg

Wandering inside, I noticed a lot of sunflowers. The 4H students had planted 17 sunflowers, one dedicated for each soul lost at MSD High School. The sunflower is not the rarest flower, but it’s still a beautiful symbol of power for many cultures. Ancient and modern peoples associated the Sunflower with warmth, positivity, power, strength, and happiness since it bears such a strong resemblance to the Sun itself. Doing some reseach on the meanings and symbolism of sunflowers across many cultures, I came across this: 

"Feelings of adoration, admiration, and platonic love towards a person, such as a family member or friend"

So, here's my one of my two photos for the day: one of the sunflowers the kids planted in memoriam...


Wandering around a litttle more, I took notice of the flowers the kids had planted as well as the veggies, and came across this: 


I found this flower very intriguing because of the larger blue petals encircling the incredible number of much smaller, very intricate, multi-colored flowers in the center. Knowing very little about flowers, I asked my neighbor what it was and she said, "Oh, that's a hydrangea. They blossom one bloom at a time until it forms a full bouquet."  Then my scientist-brain kicked in and thought: "Imagine the reasons as to why it evolved in nature like that….why did it evolving that specific way give it a biological advantage?"

Viewed one way, there's nothing particularly special about these two simple photographs. They could be seen as pretty pictures, snapshots, or postcards. For me, though, they have meaning: I just chanced upon a wonderful memorium, some "souls as sunflowers", and some science. And, it's great to start "seeing" again. 

Rejuvenation: It's all good.  

Technical Notes: All photographs X100F, transmitted to an iPad and edited in Snapseed. 

Fujifilm announces two significant new X-system lenses

Today Fujifilm announced important two new lenses to be released around July, as well as their new lens roadmap, which continues to become more fully developed. 

The two lenses announced today will be the 8-16mm f/2.8 professional-grade wide-zoom and the much-anticipated 200mm f/2..  The 8-16 f/2.8  will complete Fujifilm's of professional-level zooms covering the "classic" 16-35, 24-70 and 70-200 "holy trinity" focal lengths, all at f/2.8 constant max apertures. These lenses all are  weather-resistant, optically superior zooms with fast linear AF motors, and bear the red PRO badge on the lens barrel. The 8-16mm and 70-150 lenses also have optical image stabilization. 

Of most interest to me, they announced their first, big, fast long prime telephoto intended for professional photojournalism, sports and wildlife, the fantastic 200mm f/2. 

The 200mm f/2 is of particular interest to me as a motorsports photojournalist, because, when Fujifilm was in discussions with their base of professional photographers about whether they should make an f/2.0 or f/2.8 200mm prime, the Fujifilm engineers formally stated that building the 200mm f/2 would "require an entirely new camera body". That camera body is the recently released Fujfilm X-H1. You can read my comments about the design brief of the X-H1 and why Fuji designed and built it in the way they did in my last blog post here:

And... here it is: the new Fujinon XF 200 mm f/2.0 with Broadcast-grade optical specifications, and will provide 305mm focal length equivalent to 35mm format. and optical tolerances to < 0.1µm ( thats less <1/10th of a micron). Whoa.

200mm f:2.jpg

This bad boy will weigh 5 lbs, which is specifically one of the reasons why the X-H1 was designed and built with the  2X stronger and much stiffer frame and significantly stronger, stiffer and more robust lens mount discussed in my blog article. The lens will sell with a newly designed 1.4X Extender specifically designed to accomodate this lens' speed that will provide equivalent focal length of 427 mm in 35 mm format.


Price: $7000. 


Fujifilm launches a new line of professional APS-C X-cameras

Having read all of the written and almost all of the introductory videos on the advent of the Fuji X-H1, it's become clear to me that the X-H1 is the first model in an entirely new line of of cameras for Fujifilm, hence the designation "1" after the letter H. Everyone thought the "H" stood for "hybrid", but in Fuji's own promotional content, Fuji uses the term "Hyper", Fujilfilm marketing-speak for "High Performance". 



It's important to think about how a camera system is developed from a systems engineering persepctive. The Fuji X/XF line of cameras and lenses has acheived considerable consumer and professional success in a little over 5 years and an represents a very impressive engineering and product development acheivement. 

But, Fuji knew that if it was going to truly be able to penetrate the "hard-core" professonal ranks, it would have to develop a completely new series of products, e.g. "long, fast, prime" telephotos; equivalents the to the 300, 400mm f/2.8, etc. pro telephotos used universally by photojournalists and sports photographers, as well as products able to support professional video applications i.e., with their new line of Fujinon MK Cine lenses. 


Here's an example to put things into context from a systems engineering perspective: when asked back in early 2017 whether they would make a 200mm f/2.0 or f/2.8 lens, Fujifilm engineers replied that specifically making a 200mm  f/2.0 lens would “require an entirely new camera body”. Fujifilm ultimately decided to develop a 200mm f/2 and, as can be seen, this is a big, bad boy:

Fuji XF 200mm.jpg

This meant, as they stated back in early 2017, they would need to develop a considerably more robust and professional stills camera platform, as well as one for suitable for professional video use with their newly launched line of MK Cine lenses (which have been getting rave reviews from videographers). 

The result of that is the X-H1. This engineering diagram (diagram 1) from Fuji shows how much stiffer and stronger the X-H1 body is than an X-T2, while minimizing the impact on increased camera size. 

X-H1 Stiffening.jpg

I would say the operative terms for the Fuji X-H high performance line is "professional, rugged and robust", which is confirmed by this quote from Fujifilm engineers:

The product planner requested the developers to make the body more robust so that new devices could be installed and the expected camera performance could be realized. In order to make the body more robust, the frame, which is made of magnesium alloys, needed to be strengthened by adding extra thickness. The frame is 125% thicker for X-H1, meaning that the frame has almost doubled in volume (1.25 x 1.25 x 1.25 = 1.95). The strength of the frame is almost twice as strong.

In addition to the increase in size to accomodate the IBIS subassembly, Fujifilm engineers additionally increased strength of the frame and mounting area for mounting long, fast prime telephotos also required additional reinforcement to the diagram shown above. As can be seen in the figure below, Fujifilm added ribs for additional torsional stiffening (see bright areas in diagram 2)

X-H1 body.jpg

The additional stiffness that is required cannot be overstated, because as can be seen in diagram 3, the new 200 f/2 will exert a lot of leverage on the camera body and lens mount. 

X-H1 lens.jpg

Its clear that the X-H1 is not a line extension of the Fujifilm X-T seres, but is the first model in Fuji's new fully professional line of cameras. This is why it resembles the GFX more than the X-T series; why the grip is larger: to accommodate larger, heavier telephotos and Cine lenses. It has a completely new leaf-spring based shutter button and mechanism to improve shutter responsiveness, 100 frames/second EVF and an electronic first curtain shutter to reduce viewfinder blackout times when shooting sports or in the studio. It has IBIS to allow stabilization for video and stills photography when using non-OIS pro lenses like the 16-55 f/2.8, etc. It has a submonitor on the top deck in place of the exposure comp dial, just as on the GFX, because in, professional applications and use scenarios, its much more important to have a display that can be specifically configured for stills or video-specific information. Regarding the comment of “only 15 minutes of recording time"; that's true for the base body, but the X-H1 is really designed to be used with its battery grip, which triples the battery capacity and can be configured in Boost mode to considerably increase camera responsiveness and performance (if you've never used an X-T2 with it's Vertical Power Booster grip, you've not experienced at all what that camera is really capable of). 

So, its clear to me now that the X-H1 is not, as originally thought, a "hybrid X-T2”, it is very clearly the Canon 1DX of the Fujifilm mirrorless line. 

Fujfilm has now created three fully differentiated and distinct XF-mount lines of cameras in exactly the same manner as Canon: 

1) the X-H1 is equivalent to Canon 1D series, 

2) the X-T series equivalent to the Canon 5D series

3) the X-T20 equivalent to the Canon 80D series

I don't think that users that like the form factor and features of the X-T series need worry: the line of X-T-series bodies will continue as it has, and X-T3 scheduled to be announced/launched some time in Q3/Q4, 2018. 

In summary: not everyone needs a Canon 1DX-level camera, in fact, most people don't.  But, many professionals do, and the new X-H1 is Fujifilm's new camera line and peripherals solution for "hard-core, working pros".


First impressions of the Fujifilm GFX 50S

Fujifilm reps were at Samy's Cameras in San Francisco today, so I had a chance to play and "shoot" with the much-anticipated medium format (MF) Fujifilm GFX 50S. 

As the camera was a pre-production model, we were not allowed shoot any images on our own cards, but regardless,  I came away with some vey useful first impressions. 

The GFX is everything that you’d expect a medium format professional camera to be; it's clear that its extremely well thought-through and is executed to a very high engineering specification. In the hand, it is about the size of a Nikon D810 or Canon 5D-series. As you may have read, it is surprisingly light, but it is also very well made and robust-feeling; the fit and finish are excellent, The front grip and thumb are comfortable and nicely textured, and provide excellent purchase for a secure grip, and if you're an Fuji X-camera user, the now-classic X-camera knobs and dials will immediately feel right at home. The menu system is clearly-laid out and identical in organization and interface to the X-Pro2/XT-2. In use, given that the sensor supports contrast detection-only autofocus, I found the AF to be surprisingly fast, at least as fast as a Fujifllm X-T1. The EVF and LCD are gorgeous, bright and clear with neutral, accurate color and the EVF has a very fast refresh rate with no perceptual lag.  Having the joystick was very useful not only for AF point selection, but also for scrolling around the LCD when reviewing images or when zoomed in with manual focus to check critical focus. Something that I found notable was the shutter is quite specical:  upon actuation, it is very quiet and smooth and has “feel” that is to die for. Most importantly, it feels very well damped, you can tell that shutter shock is not going to be an issue with this camera.

Given the size of the lenses, they are suprisingly light, bright, and exude a very high level execution and fit and finish. The autofocus performance is fast and quiet with no discernable aperture blade chatter. The aperture rings have just the right amount of stiffness in rotation, and the manual focus and zoom rings feel very nice, smooth but with just the right amount of resistance that allows you to precisely set the adjustment exactly where you want to. The overall impression is that the lenses are extremely well-made with superb functionality. The sales rep said that the next two lenses in the series likely be available in the late Q2 2017 time-frame.

The strongest impression that comes across from using the Fujifilm GFX 50S is that it is a real workhorse and a serious "photographic tool".  This is not a camera, though, to replace Nikon D810, Canon 1D or 5D-series cameras designed for sports, photojournalism, or for the lack of a better term, "general purpose" enthusiast photography. After holding, using, and shooting with the camera, it's clear it’s primarily intended for seriously "hard-core" advertising, portrait, editorial, commercial, automotive, and fashion medium format photography of the highest professional standard, as well as expert enthusiast outdoor, travel, or landscape photographers who truly understand what working with a MF camera really means, and know how to get the camera to deliver it.

Given Fujifilm’s excellent track record of fully “thinking things through” and a very high level of execution, the GFX will become the hub of what looks to evolve into a very, dare I say extremely, capable system for demanding professional and expert photographer applications. While the term "game-changer" is bandied about all to often, in this case, I fully expect it will apply with the new Fujifilm GFX system. 

There was a lot of interest in the new Fujifilm GFX 50S at Samy's Camera, San Francisco

Whither the X100T?

The Fuji X camera forums and rumor sites are presently all a-flutter that the venerable Fujifilm X100T is about to  be replaced by the fourth generation X100,  ostensibly designated the Fujifilm X100F (F standing for "Fourth", as "T" stood for "Third"). And per the usual rumors, speculation, and brouhaha that inevitably accompanies forum dialog, there's a lot of discussion about "stuff": a new lens, specs, LCD touchscreens, weatherproofing, joysticks and the like. Lots of discussion, in particular, about whether Fuji will re-design the fixed 23mm f/2 lens that has been a mainstay in the camera design for the last three models. Lots of folks have whinged about this lens, but personally, I don't understand why. I've found the camera and lens to be capable of producing exemplary images, and at the end of the day, that's all that matters.

I dabbled with the original X100 and X100S  with two week rentals of each model. I loved the design, the whole Leica M4 gestalt they brought, and I certainly loved the image quality, which was gorgeous, but neither camera really clicked with respect to being a value proposition compared to the X-Pro1 I was using extensively at the time.  I remember having the X100S with me for an entire vacation in the Tetons along with my Fuji X-Pro1 (which had just received the big firmware update), and while I liked it better than the original X100, I found my X-Pro1 to be faster and more responsive, which was saying something, because the X-Pro1 was never regarded as "snappy" in use. Like the original X100, the X100S just didn't click enough for me to want to buy one. 

The X100T was an entirely different experience, however. The first time I handled one was in December, 2014 at the recently dearly departed Keeble & Schuchat in Palo Alto.  I found it to be much better camera than it's predecessors, and in particular, I liked the refinement of the controls (even down to the improved knurling on the dials and aperture ring), the improved autofocus, body shape, and button layout and the Classic Chrome film sim. Moreover, the camera seemed much snappier in real-world use than the first two models. I was sold, and bought one a month later. It's been my constant companion ever since, and goes with me everywhere, part of my EDC (essential daily carry). 

But I'm on the fence regarding the forthcoming X100F. Yes, it will have improved "specs" and more megapixels, not that more megapixels is important to me, as the X100T had enough.  Most likely it will have a joystick. It might even have a "better lens" (though I doubt it). But, will it be a value proposition? Tough to say.   For me personally, the X100F will have big shoes to fill, as I happen to think the X100T is one of the best cameras for what it was designed to do that I've ever used. Time will tell, but all I can say at this point is I love my X100T. 

Meantime, enjoy a couple of X100T images...for posterity's sake. 


Scottish Sea Eagle
Who says you need a big lens to do bird photography?&nbsp;  Scottish Sea Eagle at Gauntlet Birds of Prey raptor sanctuary, Knutsford ,&nbsp; UK  Fujifilm X100T, Continous High-Speed Autofocus   

Who says you need a big lens to do bird photography? 

Scottish Sea Eagle at Gauntlet Birds of Prey raptor sanctuary, KnutsfordUK

Fujifilm X100T, Continous High-Speed Autofocus


It's been a long time coming...

but  the Racing the Light website is finally here. 

I started designing Racing the Light back in May, 2015, got in the way.

My cat, Lucky, got sick with kidney problems around this time and life's been very challenging since, the majority of which has been concerned with caring for the health of family members, not the least of which has been Lucky. 

He's been doing pretty well of late, and while it may be a while before things are completely calm on the caregiver front, I took this opportunity on a quiet Thanksgiving holiday to finish the website. 

This blog will be primarily about photography, with a strong emphasis on the wonderful Fujifilm X System, which compteley rejuvenated my passion for photography. There will likely be the occasional digression into high-end audio, watches, and motorsports. 

Feel free to participate and enjoy the journey. 

- Stephen

the cat in question....Fujifilm X-Pro1 and Fujinon XF35  f /1.4. Processed in Capture One.&nbsp;

the cat in question....Fujifilm X-Pro1 and Fujinon XF35 f/1.4. Processed in Capture One.