Portrait lens on a budget

Have you recently ditched your bulky DSLR gear for a mirrorless compact system camera? Are you considering it? Some people go all in right away selling everything, bodies, lenses, the whole farm. Others will hold on to a body and maybe a lens or 2, it’s hard to let go. For those of you who want to keep a few lenses I’m here to tell you that you’re making an excellent decision.

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Most mirrorless cameras use a proprietary lens mount system. In order to simplify this post I’ll be focusing on one system, Fujifilm’s X Series. The basic premise of this post will apply to most mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras systems. You’ll have to figure out your crop factor depending on your sensor. Here’s a handy chart.

Nikon, Canon and Pentax DSLR owners probably have a huge assortment of lenses that they’ve acquired over the years. “Nifty fifty’s” to zooms and everything in between. These lenses are great quality and in a lot of instances are more affordable than their mirrorless system equivalents. If you already own them they’re practically free!

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Those nifty fifty’s, 50mm lenses with an f/2 or larger aperture, make outstanding portrait lenses on apsc sensor and smaller sized cameras. They give an equivalent focal length of 75mm on apsc cameras. Mounting them to your mirrorless camera is a simple as picking up an adapter. Adapters are available for almost every lens mount ever made and they are very affordable. I have 2 in my collection. One for mounting M42 screw mount lenses and for Sony/Minolta AF mount to my Fuji cameras.

One of the drawbacks of shooting with adapters is you lose auto-focus and auto-aperture (auto anything) functionality. Manual focusing with Fuji X cameras is very good though, I use focus peaking set to high with red highlights. The results are always true to what I see in the viewfinder. If you have lenses with manual aperture rings you’re going to get better results. Fuji’s meter very well with manual lenses. Without the aperture ring you have to shoot wide open which is good for portraits but you lose depth of field control.

Another drawback is the loss of data when looking at your files. No lens, focal length, or aperture data is recorded. If you really want to know what you shot a particular picture with use a notebook or a smartphone to keep track.

If you shoot still life or portraits you shouldn’t need to worry much about those minor drawbacks.

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Here’s an example of the price difference between using a 50mm lens from another system versus Fujifilm’s lovely 56mm f1.2. The Fuji lens is $1000 CAD at the moment. It’s on sale and normally costs $1150. It’s a marvelous lens. Gorgeous bokeh, blazing fast f1.2 aperture, and impeccable build quality. The closest setup I have to compete with this lens is a Pentax Super Takumar SMC 50mm f/1.4 on a Photodiox M42 to X mount adapter. The SMC 50mm 1.4 is highly regarded for image quality, sharpness, and colour. I picked mine up a year ago on eBay for $60 CAD. Since then the prices have gone up as people rediscover this little gem. They’re now between $100-$300 depending on quality and timing. The adapter costs anywhere from $12 to $100 but I have yet to see any difference between the cheap ones and the expensive ones. Worst case cost is $400 but you can easily get both pieces for under $200 total if you do some digging. You can go crazy with Leica lenses too if you have a few thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket, the possibilities are nearly endless.

There’s something magical about old glass and Fujifilm’s X trans sensor. The fact that you’ve achieved these results on a shoestring budget compared to buying a $1000 lens is the icing on the cake.

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The most unexpectedly great M42 mount lenses in my lineup is a Pentax Talumar 135mm f/3.5 which belonged to my grandfather. It produces gorgeous portraits like the one above even with its full frame equivalent focal length of 200+mm.

Hang on to the lenses that you love when you make the mirrorless switch. You’ll love the results and you’ll have some extra money in your wallet to buy batteries (that’s a post for another day…).

Please share, and follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

Scott.

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Project Pocket Camera Is Finished!

I’m sure most of you know I’m a camera hoarder. I prefer to think of myself as a rescuer of vintage cameras. I have some wonderful old film cameras that get used and appreciated instead of ending up in a landfill. Film is a bit of work, it is getting expensive to buy and process, and it sucks to travel with. My digital lineup used to include a Pentax DSLR but late last year I sold it and committed to the Fujifilm X series. My first “real” camera was the Fujifilm X-A1, an interchangeable lens mirrorless camera with an APS-C sized sensor. It was the camera that sparked my interest in photography. It had its limitations, the biggest being the lack of a viewfinder. After I picked up my Pentax DSLR the X-A1 didn’t see a lot of action. When I sold the Pentax I bought a Fujifilm X-T10, the little X-A1 was always around though. It was a gift and I couldn’t bring myself to sell it.

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A few weeks ago Fujifilm announced some new hardware. The XPro 2, the X-E2s (I also owned an X-E1 briefly which I loved), the X70, and the XF 100-400mm zoom lens. The X70 got me thinking about my X-A1, I could essentially make a pocketable fixed focus camera with similar specs for a lot less money. Project Pocket Camera was born. I purchased the Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8 pancake lens from London Drugs and stuck it to my X-A1. It fits in a coat pocket and takes fantastic photos. The X70 is $899 new, my X-A1 setup is around $200 less. $250 for a used body, $399 for the lens, and $50-$60 for the optical viewfinder I found in the Ukraine. Do you need the viewfinder? No, but it sure is cool.

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The image quality this package delivers is outstanding. The 27mm focal length works out to 40.5mm in full frame terms given the crop factor of the APSC sensor. I’ve seen a few people complain that this lens doesn’t have an aperture ring. It would be nice but the rear control dial does the trick in aperture priority mode.

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Granville Street at night
The f2.8 aperture is fast enough for most low light situations. The X series is decent up to ISO 6400 with minimal noise, even when shooting jpegs.

Yukon Blonde at The Commodore.
Yukon Blonde at The Commodore.
I have a few X series lenses, the 16-55mm kit zoom, the XF 35mm f1.4 (which is dreamy), and the 55-230mm zoom. The 27mm is impressive and versatile, it is well suited to travel and street photography, and the autofocus is fast and accurate. The X-A1 is a prefect companion for this lens, the rest of my lenses do the heavy lifting on my X-T10.

Winter in Vancouver.
Winter in Vancouver.
To be honest if money was no object I’d have bought an X70 instead. This setup is a compromise but the results have exceeded my expectations and my X-A1 has found a new purpose.

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Stay tuned for more photography related pieces in the future. When the weather clears up I have some projects I want to tackle. I have a trip to the Canadian Grand Prix coming up and I’m hoping to get into the heart of the BC back country this summer.

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Be sure to follow along on Instagram @wflbc.

Scott.

WFLBC Goes To New Zealand – A Mirrorless Adventure

Ya, I made a logo and a hashtag for my trip...
Ya, I made a logo and a hashtag for my trip…

As most of you know I’m off to New Zealand in November. As a photography enthusiast I’ve been having a hard time deciding what kind of gear I want to bring along. Film was out right away because that’s too much work. It was down to my Pentax DSLRs or my Fujifilm X-series mirrorless cameras. When I really thought about what I wanted to accomplish in New Zealand the choice was easy, mirrorless all the way.

What's in my bag?
What’s in my bag?

My X-series cameras offer the same sensor size and resolution as my DSLRs but take up a lot less space which is a big consideration for air travel. A DSLR body, a prime and a zoom lens take up the same space as 2 mirrorless bodies, a prime, and 2 zooms. That means a smaller camera bag that can be your secondary piece of carry-on baggage. My editing/sharing tools are an iPad mini and a Chromebook. Both are light and compact and if they get lost, stolen, or damaged they’re not worth a ton of money.

The Fujifilm X-series is a fantastic camera platform. My little X-A1 (now replaced by the X-A2), the black camera pictured above, is a perfect starter camera for anyone who wants to get better shots than a smartphone or a point and shoot can produce. My X-E1 (now replaced by the X-E2) is aimed at more advanced shooters with greater manual control and a slick electronic viewfinder. I have 3 X-series lenses. A 35mm prime lens for portraits or street photography, a 16-50mm zoom for wide angle and general shooting, and a 50-230mm zoom for wildlife and telephoto shots.

Most days I’ll just carry the X-E1 with either the 35mm or the 16-50mm on it. I don’t want to pack a bag around unless I think I’ll want more options depending on my destination. I’ll pack a tripod in my checked bag just incase. Taking 2 bodies isn’t 100% necessary but if one body breaks of malfunctions I have a backup.

Mirrorless in New Zealand, That’s what’s for lunch.

Scott.

Editors note – My flag logo will be out of date soon as New Zealand is currently in the public consultation phase of picking a new flag.