Many years ago, Ansel Adams photographed the Arizona desert in black-and-white. Many people might be unaware that he was a regular contributor to Arizona Highways magazine back in the day. Adams’ photographs of the desert have been an inspiration to me even before I captured a single exposure in Arizona. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not trying to compare myself with the legend. What I am saying is that Arizona and black-and-white photography go together like peanut butter and jelly. There’s something timeless about it that just makes me feel good on the inside. It brings me back to those classic pictures by Ansel Adams that I carefully studied back in the early years of my own picture-making. As colorful as Arizona can be, to me it looks best in black-and-white.
I’ve passed through Nevada many times, often only stopping for gas or lunch. It never seems to be my destination. I’m headed somewhere else, and I have to go through the Silver State to get to where I’m going. While I have stayed longer than a few hours, most of the time I’m through Nevada so quickly that it’s easy to forget that I was ever there. The photographs in this article were captured during those times where I just passed through, and didn’t stay. In fact, many of them were captured from inside my car. I hope that you enjoy this set!
Part Two coming soon!
The Asahi SMC-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 is a legendary M42-mount lens made by Pentax in the mid-1960’s through the mid-1970’s. There are four different versions of the Takumar 50mm f/1.4 that were manufactured. The first version is optically different from the three that followed. Versions three and four are Super-Multi-Coated and are slightly radioactive (version two might also be radioactive, but the first version is for certain not). My copy is the fourth version. Some say that the original version is better, while some say that versions three and four are better. There are endless debates, but, regardless of which Takumar 50mm f/1.4 lens you have, you can be assured it’s a great lens!
The Asahi SMC-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 is super sharp in the center at all apertures. Even at f/16, which is subject to diffraction, the lens is pretty sharp. Below f/4 there’s some noticeable corner softness, which is quite pronounced at f/1.4. There’s vignetting when wide open, but that disappears completely by f/4. From f/4 to f/11, this lens is “tack as a Tak” (as the kids used to say), and that’s where it optimally performs. I noticed some chromatic aberrations when wide open and focused close to the end of the lens. There’s a little distortion that you’ll only notice when photographing brick walls, and even then you’ll only barely notice. It’s a tremendous lens, no doubt about it!
A lot of people talk about bokeh, and it’s a misunderstood term. People get it confused with depth-of-field. The Takumar 50mm f/1.4, which when mounted to my Fujifilm X-T30 is equivalent to 75mm, has an excellent close focus distance of about 18 inches. That’s not quite macro territory, but when you combine the focal length with the close focus capabilities and the very small maximum aperture, it’s possible to get a super thin depth-of-field. This means that you can get a whole lot of the frame out-of-focus, which some people call bokeh by mistake. Depth-of-field is the amount of blur, while Bokeh is the quality of the blur, and it is subjective. Bokeh is pretty darn good on this lens, although in my opinion the Fujinon 90mm f/2 actually has better bokeh, if you want something to compare it to. Still, you won’t be disappointed by the blur, whether the amount or quality, especially at the larger apertures.
The coating on this lens, which controls flare only moderately well, has a yellowish tint that shows up in pictures. It’s easy to correct with white balance if you don’t like it, or perhaps it adds to the charm of the lens if you do like it. I personally like it. The lens has pretty good contrast. It feels solid and well built. It’s about average size and weight for a vintage “nifty-fifty” lens. You’ll need an M42 to Fuji X adapter to mount it to your Fujifilm camera.
The Takumar 50mm f/1.4 is an all manual lens, which means that you’ll have to adjust the aperture and focus yourself. The aperture ring and focus ring work very well on my copy. It may take some practice to get the hang of using it if you don’t have much experience with manual lenses. I used full-manual cameras for many years when I shot film, so I actually enjoy it, as it’s a bit therapeutic for me.
The Asahi SMC-Takumar 50mm f/1.4 is an excellent vintage lens! It really is something special. It’s not perfect from a technical standpoint, but it’s those flaws that make it special. It’s super sharp and will produce lovely pictures. This is one of those must-have lenses if you enjoy manual photography. Below are some pictures that I captured using this lens with a Fujifilm X-T30. Enjoy!
Every November my wife, Amanda, asks me to take some family pictures for the Christmas card. Actually, for several years now she’s been wanting to hire a photographer to capture our annual holiday portraits. But, you know, I’m a photographer, and I’m also stubborn and cheap, so I usually tell her that I’ll take care of it, no need to hire anyone. I know that it’s a big challenge to be both in front of the camera and behind it at the same time, but I’ve done it before, so no big deal, right?
Amanda likes to pick the location and our clothes. Actually, location scouting is a joint venture; Amanda has an idea in her mind of what she wants, then I help her find it. Last year I photographed our family at Antelope Island State Park. The year before we went to downtown Ogden. This year she wanted a tree-lined road, and we found a good location not terribly far from our house. You wouldn’t know from the pictures that we were actually in the city, right behind a restaurant.
Everything was set, we were all dressed and ready to go, but I had already encountered a problem: one of my tripods was missing. I discovered in past photo sessions that I get the best results when using two cameras. I have a primary camera that I shoot using a remote, and I have a secondary camera offset to the side, which has the interval timer set to snap a random picture every five seconds. The primary camera captures the staged portraits, while the secondary camera captures the natural moments in-between. This setup has worked well for me, but without the second tripod it wasn’t going to happen. After much searching without success, I found some step-stools and books to stack onto each other to form a makeshift tripod, which was far from ideal but better than nothing.
Upon arriving at the photo-shoot location, I encountered another issue. The plan was for our family to be far away from the camera to make us smaller in the frame, but I discovered that the camera remote range was not large enough. I was too far away from the camera to remotely activate the shutter. After trying a few different things, and after much frustration, I settled on ditching the remote and using the camera’s interval timer, set to snap an exposure every three seconds. This is like spray-and-pray to the extreme. The wheels were beginning to come off, but we put on a smile and pressed forward.
I’m not a family portrait photographer. I’ve done it before a few times, but it’s really not my cup of tea. Trying to get everyone to look good simultaneously is nearly impossible. There’s inevitably always someone with a goofy look on their face. And even if you think an exposure looks good, one of the adults (usually but not always the wife) will find something insignificant to nitpick about. It seems like, as the photographer, you just can’t win. Maybe some of you have better experiences than me, but I just don’t find much joy in family portrait photography. Still, doing it myself is better than paying someone, I told myself.
In my family, the two youngest children, ages five and two, are the goofballs, and they also don’t follow instructions well, sometimes defiantly so. If you’re behind the camera, you can observe their behavior, and offer some words or bribes (candy works well) to get them to pose appropriately. When you are in front of the camera and not behind, it’s much more difficult to catch them in the act, and so you’ll get a bunch of shots where they don’t look good. The ten-year-old tries much too hard to smile, and often looks as unnatural and uncomfortable as possible. Only by telling funny jokes can you get him to loosen up. The 12-year-old thinks that she’s the boss of the other three, which sometimes causes unnecessary conflicts. The challenge is somehow getting all of this under control at just the right moment when the shutter clicks. And it’s clicking every three seconds on one camera and every five seconds on the other.
It’s actually a tiny miracle that any of the pictures turned out decent. The light was rapidly changing. At one point the sun found a place between the clouds and the trees, and put a bright hazy flare right through the middle of the frame (and not the good kind, either), and during this time someone walked through the scene. I couldn’t see this because I wasn’t behind the camera. As the sun got lower the temperature rapidly dropped, as did the spirits of those being photographed. It was all a mess, beginning to end. We did it anyway, determined to have a nice picture on the Christmas card. Afterwards we had some hot cocoa to warm us up.
The primary camera was a Fujifilm X-T30 with a Fujinon 90mm f/2 lens attached to it, set on a tripod. The secondary camera was a Fujifilm X-T20 with a Fujinon 35mm f/2 lens attached to it, which was set on top of a stack of stools and books. I used the Provia film simulation, DR400, Grain Weak, Highlight 0, Shadow +1, AWB +1R & -2B, Color +2, Sharpening +2 and -4 NR on both cameras. This is a new recipe that I created for these pictures.
This article would not be complete if I didn’t share with you the outtakes. Below are the pictures that were failures, where things didn’t go as planned, and the pictures are far from the “good” photos that we had hoped to capture. These are the “bad” and “ugly” images that show what really happened during our family holiday portrait session; not what we wanted, but certainly real life.
I love Arizona! It is perhaps the most beautiful state in America. Some might disagree with that sentiment, thinking that the desert is dull and brown, but I find it to be a colorful and diverse landscape. Others might consider California, Colorado or my current home state of Utah, or perhaps another state like Maine, Alaska, Hawaii, etc., to be more majestic, and they are each certainly majestic, but to me Arizona is at the top of the list, and my heart belongs there.
My family and I like to travel to Arizona whenever we can, which is usually once or twice each year. A few weeks ago we visited some family of ours in Phoenix, and of course I brought my Fujifilm X-T30 along, with a Fujinon 35mm f/2 attached to the front. I appreciate this setup for travel because it’s small and lightweight enough to not get in the way, yet can produce some stunning pictures. The film simulations I used were Velvia, Kodachrome 64, and “Classic Negative” (for Quit My Job). This wasn’t a photography trip, but as always I captured a number of pictures. I hope you enjoy!
Many of my film simulation recipes call for faux grain, in order to achieve a more analog aesthetic. The picture above was captured using my Kodachrome 64 recipe, which requires Grain set to Weak. Fujifilm cameras with X-Trans III or IV sensors have a faux grain option, which can be set to Off, Weak or Strong (the X-Pro3 has additional grain options). The Acros film simulation has built-in grain that increases as the ISO increases. I have often said that X-Trans digital noise is also grain-like in appearance. But all of this is hard to see, especially when viewed at web sizes, so it can be tough to know exactly what the different settings are doing to pictures. I thought it would be helpful to take a closer look at the grain on Fujifilm cameras. For this post I used a Fujifilm X-T30.
Let’s take a closer look at Blue Winter Sky, the picture at the top of this article. Here are some crops:
You likely can see the grain in the bottom crop, which has Grain set to Strong, but the middle one with Grain set to Weak is a little more difficult to notice. It’s subtly there, but the difference between Grain Off and Grain Weak isn’t huge by any stretch, and you have to look very closely to find it. Even Grain Strong isn’t particularly obvious, but it’s certainly noticeable upon close inspection.
Let’s look at some massive crops from another picture:
This example is a little bit deeper of a crop, and so it’s also a little easier to spot the differences in grain. Still, there’s not a huge distinction between Grain set to Off and Grain set to Weak. Grain set to Strong stands out from the others, but again it’s still not especially obvious.
Can you spot the difference between Grain set to Weak and Grain set to Strong in the two images below?
I think if you study the crops above long enough, you can see that the bottom one has a stronger grain, but just barely. It’s not obvious whatsoever, even when viewed this closely.
Can you spot the differences between the two crops below?
The top image is ISO 400 with Grain set to Weak. The bottom is ISO 6400 with grain set to Strong. You could probably tell that the top image is slightly cleaner and crisper, but it is very subtle, and not something you’d ever notice without closely comparing crops side-by-side.
Now let’s take a look at some Acros crops. Can you spot the differences?
There’s not much to notice, but there’s (once again) a subtle difference between ISO 400 with Grain set to Weak and ISO 6400 with Grain set to Strong, and you’re not likely to spot it without closely comparing crops. In real life, nobody does that.
The conclusion is that the faux grain options on Fujifilm cameras aren’t especially obvious without a close study. Grain Strong stands out much more than Grain Weak, but neither are particularly noticeable without a close inspection. Even the difference between ISO 400 and ISO 6400 (with or without grain) isn’t all that big, especially if you aren’t viewing the pictures large. The more you crop, the more you zoom into the image, or the larger you print, the more you’ll notice the differences. For internet viewing, you’ll have a tough time even noticing. It’s perfectly fine to set Grain to Off if you don’t like it. I personally enjoy seeing the grain, even if it’s not immediately apparent, because I first learned photography in the film era and I love grain. I look forward to someday trying out the new grain options that Fujifilm has included on the X-Pro3, and I hope it’s added to the X-T30 via a firmware update, but in the meantime I’m happy to use the faux grain that’s currently available to me in my camera.
I recently purchased an Asahi SMC Macro-Takumar 50mm f/4 lens from Fuji X Weekly reader Tony Reidsma. I love Takumar lenses! Generally speaking, they are super sharp and have great character. There’s something special about them. They are often quite affordable, so you can add a bunch of Takumar lenses to your collection without going broke.
Asahi was the original name of Pentax. Up until the mid-1970’s when they switched from M42 screw-mount to K-Mount, Pentax used the Asahi brand name for their lenses. Asahi called their lenses Takumar in honor of the founder’s brother, Takuma Kajiwara, who was a famous photographer and painter. Asahi Takumar lenses require an M42 to Fuji X adapter, which can be found for cheap, to attach them to your Fujifilm camera.
The Asahi SMC Macro-Takumar 50mm f/4 is, no surprise, a macro lens. It has a 1:2 magnification ratio, which is not as close up as some macro lenses. An earlier version of the lens (without SMC) does, in fact, have a 1:1 magnification ratio. This SMC Macro-Takumar has a similar close-focus capability as the Fujinon 60mm f/2.4 Macro, which is good-but-not-great.
What I love about the Asahi SMC Macro-Takumar 50mm f/4 lens is that it’s very crisp. There’s some corner softness at f/4, but the lens is edge-to-edge super sharp at f/5.6 through f/11 (diffraction begins after f/11). I haven’t noticed much distortion, vignetting or chromatic aberrations. This lens has excellent contrast and controls flare very well. Bokeh is pretty nice, too. The lens is made of metal and feels very solid. It was a quality lens when it was new, and all of these decades later it is still a quality lens.
The Macro-Takumar is an all-manual lens. You’ll have to manually set the aperture and manually focus. The aperture ring on my lens is a little stiff, but otherwise works as it should. The focus ring is super smooth and accurate. Because it’s a macro lens, it takes a little effort to get from the close end to infinity, and the lens will actually focus just past infinity, which isn’t entirely unusual.
On the Fujifilm X-T30, because of the APS-C crop factor, the 50mm focal length is equivalent to 75mm. Essentially the Asahi SMC Macro-Takumar 50mm f/4 is a mid-telephoto prime that’s very sharp but with a maximum aperture of only f/4, which isn’t especially fast. It doubles as a macro lens, and it’s quite good at that, just as long as you’re not trying to get really close, as the magnification ratio isn’t particularly impressive. There are certainly shortcomings with this lens, but it has the “it factor” when it comes to image quality, producing especially lovely pictures. If you find this lens for a good price, be sure to buy it, because it’s worth having around. The technical specs of this Macro-Takumar lens won’t knock your socks off, but the images that it produces very well could.
Fujifilm’s Fujinon Super EBC XC 50mm-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS II lens is a budget telephoto zoom option for X series cameras. It has 13 elements in 10 groups with seven rounded blades and a maximum aperture of f/22. This lens accepts 58mm filters. Because of the APS-C crop factor, it has a full-frame focal-length equivalence of 75-345mm. The only Fujifilm lens that has a longer focal length is the Fujinon 100-400mm, which retails for about four times as much.
The Fujinon 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS II is mostly made of plastic. It doesn’t feel especially sturdy, like it would probably break if it took a big fall, but it’s super lightweight at about .8 pounds. This lens is fairly small, at between 4.4″ and 7″ depending on the focal length. For how telephoto this lens is, it’s impressive how light and small they were able to make it!
There’s no aperture ring, which is expected since it’s an XC series lens, but a bummer because the aperture ring is something that I appreciate about Fujinon lenses. There’s no doubt that this is a cheap lens when you look at the body. Manual focus is electronic and pretty good overall. Auto-focus, which is very quiet, isn’t especially quick, but it’s also not super slow. I would say that it’s sufficiently snappy for most purposes, and probably too slow for quickly moving subjects.
The lens has a maximum aperture of f/4.5 at 50mm and f/6.7 at 230mm, and variously in-between at other focal lengths. That’s not especially large, which means this isn’t a good lens for working in dim light or trying to achieve shallow depths of field. The close focus distance isn’t bad, though, so if you use the largest aperture at the closest focus distance you can get a nice out-of-focus background. When you do, bokeh is decent enough, but not particularly great.
The Fujinon 50-230mm lens is equipped with optical image stabilization, which Fujifilm claims will give you four stops extra. The math calculation I learned many years ago for achieving sharp hand-held pictures is the shutter speed should not go any slower than the focal length. That means, using good technique, you would expect to get a sharp hand-held image at 50mm with a shutter speed of 1/60, and at 230mm you should not go slower than 1/250. While Fujifilm says you get four stops extra because of the image stabilization, the reality is that you don’t, and even three stops might be pushing it. I would avoid going slower than 1/30 at 50mm and 1/125 at 230mm, although you may be able to get a little slower than that if you hold the camera really steady. The optical image stabilization is a nice addition, though, especially considering that the maximum aperture of this lens isn’t especially large.
There’s pretty much no distortion on the Fujinon 50-230mm lens. There’s a tiny amount of vignetting when wide open, especially at the further focal lengths, but that goes away as you stop down. I haven’t noticed any chromatic aberrations. Lens flare is well controlled. There’s very little negative to say about the optics.
This lens is surprisingly sharp for how cheap it is. It’s not as sharp as a typical Fujinon prime lens, and that’s to be expected, but it is more crisp than I thought it would be, especially considering that it’s a budget series lens. It’s better than many budget zooms I have used from other brands. While it comes across as cheap on the outside, the glass on this lens is clearly Fujinon, and it delivers the image quality that you’ve come to expect from that brand name. Sharpness is a highlight of this lens!
The Fujinon 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS II lens is lightweight and sharp and optically sound. With an MSRP of $400, it’s cheap, and some corners were cut to make it cheap, but none of that relates to image quality, which is excellent. It’s easy to recommend this lens. If you are a sports or wildlife photographer, you might find some aspects of it to be frustrating, such as focus speed and maximum aperture, and you should consider the 50-140mm or 100-400mm instead. Otherwise, this is an excellent addition to your Fujifilm X glass collection.
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Example photographs, all camera-made JPEGs captured using the Fujinon 50mm-230mm lens:
See also: Fujifilm Gear