A brief introduction. I am a Melbourne based street photographer who loves his city. Now that I have found my feet with photography a lot of people ask me why I took it up. Why does anyone start an art form? For me, I took up photography when my wife passed away rather quickly from an aggressive cancer in 2013. Photography was my way of looking at the world without it looking back. It was a form of disguise for me. I got to watch the world and look at all the beautiful and tiny details of life that others seem to take for granted. It gave me an outlet to leave home safely and face reality for short bursts whilst sporting a rather nasty wound created by grief.
I was broken. Very, very broken. But without photography I would not have stepped outside. I would not have looked for the beauty that still existed in the world now that my love was gone. I would not have seen that life goes on and on and on in some form or another. I found my way of processing reality and loss. A bit like someone snorkling on a tropical reef. Kind of.
Let’s get on with the story. I originally moved from Canon to a Fujifilm XT-1 mid 2015. Just prior to my first trip to Tokyo for a solo photography holiday. Best decision ever. My Canon gear was just too heavy and cumbersome to carry around for any decent amount of time no matter what style of photography I was doing. The Fujifilm did not intrude upon my ability to carry almost all of my gear at a fraction of the weight. I also used this amazing camera on my return trip to Japan in September 2016 where I travelled to Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima. Again this was a solo photography adventure. And whilst I did take photographs of landmarks and temples, my primary focus was on street photography. I love to capture and document the human experience.
More recently I attending the first night of the Queen Victoria Summer Night Market here in Melbourne. I had attended before but it had been at least a year ago. This is one of Melbourne’s most famous markets and has a long and interesting history. It was originally established as a market in 1878 and is currently schedule for a renewal and modernisation project. The market itself occupies a hug piece of land sitting at the edge of the CBD, most of which is covered by long metal sheds that stretch out as far as the eye can see. The Sunday market is very popular with tourists whilst locals use the market during the week days to do their regular shop.
I had spent that whole day in various locations around Melbourne capturing street shots. My kit was fairly minimal. My recently acquired Fujifilm XT-2, the Fujinon XF 35mm F1.4 and the Fujinon XF 23mm F2 – this last one was a very recent purchase. A couple of extra batteries and some loose change for street performers – never hurts to drop a coin or two when photographing street performers. It is good karma. I work on the street. They work on the street. All of this fitted nicely into my Manfrotto Street Series Small Messenger bag. A neat little number that does not look much like a camera bag at all and has enough pockets for the bits and pieces we tend to carry with us – phone, wallet, headphones, etc.
I picked up the XT-2 not long after my return from my second Japan trip in September 2016. The reviews for this new mirrorless system were all favourable and not just with the Fujifilm diehards. Articles were popping up all over social media about the move people were making from Canon, Nikon and Sony to the Fujifilm XT-2 or the slightly older Fujifilm X-Pro2. What made the decision for me to upgrade was the improved performance of the new sensor, faster Auto Focus, the increase in image quality thanks to the 24 megapixel sensor and the dual SD card ports. Add to this a raft of other great features – many of which were ported across from the XT-1 which I adored. I was sold.
This unique camera has a retro feel about it and is compact and lightweight compared to many of the DSLR cameras out there. Add to this the capacity for either mechanical or electric shutter control and you have a perfectly silent camera. The camera body is weather resistant. That’s right. You can stand in a pretty decent rain storm, snow or even a dusty windy location and feel confident in the safety and usability of your camera. Finally, the camera has a multi-directional tilt LCD screen. Great if you want to hold your camera at hip level and look down at the LCD or hold the camera above the heads of a crowd and look up. The tilt also allows for portrait oriented shots to be taken in the same way – great for unique angles in street work. This all makes for a very discreet camera that does not intimidate or alert unsuspecting pedestrians that a photographer is amongst them. Subterfuge is essential in street photography.
But what about the lenses? Well, this is an area where Fujifilm have also exceeded the expectations of many users. Fujifilm make exceptional glass. I found their lens range to be limited in the early XT-1 days. But now they have a stable of primes and zooms to cover most photography needs and activities. And they are all brilliant. When I originally bought my XT-1 I also picked up the XF 16mm F1.4 WR and the XF 23mm F1.4. The WR in the 16mm F1.4 stands for Weather Resistant. Again a brilliant addition for this lens which I have used for landscape (thanks to its wide-angle) and also for street. Both lenses are quick and sharp and produce exceptional images. Whilst they are much lighter than most prime lenses made by Canon and Nikon, they are still solid and well-built lenses. Exceptional quality really. And when paired with either the XT-1 or XT-2, are well-balanced and look well suited to those camera bodies.
These two had been the main lenses I have carried with me no matter what I shoot. I have taken them both to Japan twice and they performed amazingly and produced images that I am very proud of. Then whilst in Japan in 2016, I picked up the new Fujinon XF 50 – 140mm F2.8 WR OIS. I blame the Asahi…It is a much bigger and heavier lens, but this gave me a great level of reach for travel shots and even for street work if I really wanted to get in close to the action without disrupting it. More on that lens in another blog. But I now had some wide lenses and of course the new zoom at the other end of the scale. But the in-between focal length was lacking in my kit. I wanted a lens that could be part of my condensed street kit and meet that missing focal length. I also wanted something to perform well in low light and be great for portrait work. I needed a 35mm.
Fujifilm offer two versions of the XF 35mm lens. The first and original is the Fujinon XF 35mm F1.4. The second and more recent is the Fujinon XF 35mm F2 WR. I tried out the F2 version but found that it didn’t meet my needs as it was not as responsive in lower light situations. It just didn’t tick all the boxes for me personally. It is a beautiful lens and very compact. The F1.4 version however gave me the extra stop of light and was a well-respected member of the Fujifilm lens family even if it was one of the older primes available. And it came with a funky square metal lens hood. Good look if you ask me.
The last lens I picked up, just prior to attending the night market, was the new Fujinon XF 23mm F2 WR. I had hesitated for some time about this lens as I already owned the original 23mm F1.4. And that is a sexy beast of a lens. I bring that out on special occasions. But in designing the new XF 23mm F2, Fujifilm have taken a whole new design approach – as they did with the newer 35mm. The lens is lightweight, tapered and compact. The functionality of the lens is exceptional. It is weather resistant – a feature that I hope Fujifilm stick to with all future lenses. It is super quick on the auto focus even in low light situations. And pairing it with the XT-2 makes it lightning quick. I rarely miss a shot even if I turn quickly and see something to capture out of the corner of my eye then lift and shoot. It is rare that I have an out of focus image to cry over. A lot of reviewers and users are saying that this lens looks better on the new X Pro2. But I think it still looks just as great on the XT-2. To me it fits the design elements of the camera. So together they look great, perform exceptionally well and are a lightweight combo. Just brilliant.
So back to the Queen Victoria Summer Night Market. I had only realised part way through the day that it was the first night of the market for the season. The day was really hot in Melbourne. Mid 30’s and very sunny. I decided to stay out shooting and head to the night market when it opened at 5pm. Being the first night, I expected it to be quiet thinking that not many people would be aware that it was on. Boy was I wrong.
When I arrived at 6pm, the market was in full swing and in every area of the market people and visitors of Melbourne were out and about making the most of this fantastic event. The night market has an incredible selection of street food from all over the world. Melbourne has such a diverse and multi-cultural population. Every vendor had BBQ style grills running, smoke and steam billowing towards the ceiling and the queues of people were growing by the minute. There were stalls selling home style drinks like lemonade and chilled teas and of course multiple stalls selling a variety of beers and summer punches. The smell was mouth watering. My senses were alive.
There are entertainers both on stage and roaming around the crowds. And of course an eclectic mix of stalls selling a variety of wares from beautiful woollen fedoras to jewellery. The energy of the place was incredible. The sounds of happiness. The smells of the world’s yummiest foods. People were meeting with friends, families were out together enjoying a meal and of course there were photographers. It seems in Melbourne now that there are always photographers around. It is a streetsy kind of place. I was spoilt for the opportunity to take street shots that night. The lowering sun, the golden hour(s), natural backdrops and city skylines in the background and people enjoying themselves in a natural and expressive way. The world around me was alive and humming. As it turned out I took a little over 1,000 shots. And it was tough to choose a few to share with you here.
The Fujifilm XT2 and the Fujinon lenses performed exceptionally well. I honestly could not fault them. Regardless of the lighting, be it full and direct sun or deep shade, it was able to capture crisp and clear images with great image quality. The camera was never an encumbrance as given its size it was easy to quickly tuck back into my bag without having to dismantle it. And switching between the two lenses was just as easy and had none of that anxiety associated with exposing your sensor to the world while you juggle lens the size of beer bottles. I didn’t get any fatigue from carrying my little bag and I actually had my camera in hand, with a light wrist strap, for the whole event.
All of the photos I took that night were shot in RAW and later edited in Lightroom. And to be honest the editing was rather minimal. The 23mm and 35mm focal length are, in my opinion, perfect for street so the perspective of my images was pretty spot on. Keep in mind that the Fujifilm cameras use a crop sensor so any focal length needs to be multiplied by 1.5. So for example the 23mm lense actually has a 35mm focal length. The 35mm is closer to 53mm in focal length. It makes little difference as focal length and what you see when taking a shot are all so personal anyway. I applied Fujifilm presets in Lightroom with all of my images overlaid with the Fujifilm Classic Chrome film simulation.
Attending the Queen Victoria Summer Night Market was just one example of yet another amazing event that we have here in Melbourne. And capturing it on my Fujifilm street kit was a joy. There is always something to do and see in Melbourne and I feel incredibly fortunate to live in such a place. I love my city and love the opportunity it affords me to walk its street and document the experiences and interactions that take place. If you live in Melbourne or are visiting during the summer then I highly recommend that you attend the Queen Victoria Summer Night Market. It is on every Wednesday night from 5:00pm to 10:00pm. Happy shooting.