Landscape and Nature images from West Yorkshire with the Fuji S2.

by

 Ian Walker. United Kingdom.

(The Pennines are a range of hills that form the 'backbone' of northern England extending to the border with Scotland.
West Yorkshire is a county that encompasses part of the southern Pennines.)

Introduction.

   I have been taking pictures of natural landscapes close to the suburbs of a large town in the north of England (Huddersfield) for some time, originally with the Nikon Coolpix 4500. One particular thing I liked about the Nikon was the way the sensor behaved when introducing a red filter in front of the lens with the unit in B&W mode - some very interesting results were achieved which brings me to my first point.... always experiment. I have read several sources saying it is pointless using B&W mode in a digicam since it can all be done with Photoshop; this is not being creative, for one thing you are allowing someone else to influence your own ideas in photography and secondly using the camera in B&W mode with a camera like the Nikon Coolpix 4500 you are seeing in B&W, you may miss shots because you are running in colour. When introducing the red filter with the Nikon, the LCD shows a very accurate account of dramatic cloud formations which are not apparent if using colour. One point to note however depending on the CCD etc., some cameras will not work with a red filter, I know the Sony S75 does not, you simply get a completely desaturated image, try it yourself. My filter by the way is one of these plastic ones which fit into a carrier which screws onto the front of an SLR - I just held it in front of the Nikon 4500 usually with Nikon's polarizer also attached, but note you must use a wall or fence to brace yourself against since you will loose a lot of light coming into the camera.

 

Nikon Coolpix 4500 with polarizer and red filter, although these clouds are obvious here, as seen visually they were poorly defined, the LCD on the Nikon however gave the same well defined outlines as seen here, this is a crop from a much larger landscape image.

 

Notes.

Most of the images below were shot on the Fuji S2 originally at 1440 X 960 pixels TIFF, some are crops, others are resized. I have done tests with much higher resolutions up to maximum resolution with RAW, however I have found for my purposes of displaying images on a modest screen with 1270 pixel width, the 1440 X 960 setting gives very acceptable results. I think the main theme I am trying to pass on here is the creative possibilities of the camera, without the massive file sizes more suitable for large printed pictures.

With a similar resolution on the Coolpix 4500 the Nikon doesn't show as much detail as I can see on my Fuji TIFF originals, suggesting there is a lot more going on than absolute resolution.

To keep file sizes reasonable all the original TIFF images have been converted to JPEG with some compression and more than I would have liked, even then, with a poor connection you might have to be patient to get to the end of the article!

I am using a laptop that has been gamma corrected with Photoshop's utility program to get the correct brightness and contrast setting, some images may seem dark on conventional monitors.

One point to note when using Windows XP's image viewer - if the image is much larger than your screen size the viewer creates a very soft image which is only rectified if you select the 'original size' button.

 

Deciding on the camera.

   I arrived at purchasing the Fuji S2 by reading the excellent digital camera reviews on web sites such as DPreview, Imaging Resource and Steves Digicams whilst taking into account my own preferences for lenses which I would like to use. From many years ago I had access to [but don't own] three old manual Nikkor AI lenses and one Vivitar Series 1 lens so I knew I would like to get started with a digital SLR back which could accept these. Indeed I was very interested to see how well these old lenses would perform with a modern camera and I wasn't disappointed!

   The next step was finding images on the Internet that I could relate to in deciding whether the Fuji was the camera I was looking for.... I could find plenty from the great parks and reserves from the U.S.A. etc but the scenery and clarity is so good I thought it may be of interest for those contemplating buying this camera to see some images from a less spectacular area. This is why I'm writing this to hopefully give anybody not fortunate enough to live or travel to these places, a more suburban viewpoint and encourage you to go out no matter how unpromising your location seems to be.

 

Try stepping back a few paces from your monitor when viewing the larger images its surprising how much more integrated the details look within the picture!

 

Left - f9.5 1/250s 400 ASA, Right - camera manual mode1/360s 100 ASA, Nikkor AI 75-150 Series E Zoom

On the afternoon I took the left hand image I got soaked with rain a couple of times but was rewarded with several moody shots like this one. You can't help but see all the pylons and electricity cables, a major drawback with all the trans-Pennine supplies converging in this area. In the right hand larger image you can see one of the dust particles on the CCD near the brightest part of the cloud.

 Click images for larger versions, left image 1200 X 768 and right image 1250 x 827 pixels.

 

What I Like about the Fuji S2.

Simple playback menu and customise / set-up menu, there is nothing to get in the way of rapid operation in the shooting modes.

Instant start up and very quick to make changes to ASA , exposure modes, preset white balance and colour modes.

It's big, robust and easy to handle with good ergonomics, it's got wet a few times and never caused any problems.

Can use almost the full range of Nikon's older and new AFD lenses plus Sigma and Tamron ranges with Nikon mounts which include specialist macro and wide angle lenses.

Uses standard AA batteries. I don't use the additional lithium ion batteries which Fuji suggest you should only omit in emergency situations; save yourself pounds and just fit AA batteries - unless you want to use flash which I don't need when I am doing landscapes. I'm using some old 1300 mAh nickel metal hydrides and usually get an afternoon's shooting from them but always keep a spare set on me.

Smooth detailed images at higher ASA's, even at 200 ASA the Nikon 4500 suffers with blocky noise patterns in the shadows, the default ASA for the Fuji S2.

Images can be saved as TIFF at all resolution settings.

 

What I don't like about the Fuji S2.

AA battery compartment seems fragile.

100+ on RAW conversion software that the U.S. purchasers get free, [not purchased], I am not impressed with the results from the simple RAW conversion program supplied.

TIFF images are slow to load on the LCD screen in play mode.

No mirror lock.

Easy to get dust on the CCD sensor which are visible on your images.

 

f8 1/125s 400 ASA.

Old cart in the evening sunshine, here the sky is just taking on the warm pinks so typical of this time of day, click image for larger version at 918 X 629 pixels. The 'jaggies' on the diagonals of the cart are due to resizing on the small and larger images and are not on the original TIFF.

 

The Present Set-Up.

   Currently I am using the Fuji S2 with a Nikon 28-105mm f3.5-4.5 AFD zoom lens for all pictures together with a Hoya skylight filter and polarizer. I don't use a tripod. There's one thing we're not short of in Yorkshire and that is dry stone walls and old gates - I use these all the time for steadying me and the camera and if necessary 'up' the ASA on the Fuji - I've used it up to 800 ASA and beyond and been pleased with the results. Pictures taken at higher ASA are desaturated compared to the default 200 ASA and you get noise but this is more like film grain noise, not the blocky patterns you get on cheaper digicams.

f8 1/500s 400 ASA.

Glider in the sky, showing acceptable noise levels at 400 ASA.

 

   A note on early Nikkor AI lenses. I've used the 75-150mm f3.5 Series E zoom lens quite a lot in the early days of the camera and found it gives excellent contrasty sharp images at all apertures and zoom range - I really like this lens together with the 50mm f1.8 Series E standard lens which also gives very sharp images. The reason for buying the new 28-105mm was to prevent lens changes in the field. Note that you will get no exposure metering with the AI lenses on the Fuji, you must use an external hand held exposure meter together with the camera in manual mode. I use a very old Leningrad 4 meter which works fine for all normal outdoor shots, I also like the 'purity' of this method and still use the manual mode sometimes with the new lens.

   From using the AI lenses and changing lenses in the field I have now got several pieces of dust on the sensor which are visible on my pictures. At present I am using Photoshop Elements to remove these since trying to clean the sensor yourself should not be undertaken lightly -  it's possible you will make matters worse. I think Fuji and others should be looking more carefully at this problem.

 

Natural Landscapes From Suburbia - The Problems.

   There are problems taking landscape pictures just outside large cities.... the biggest is clarity of light. Where I live in the north of England I have pollution coming from several  major urban areas together with local pollution from motorways. I have lived at my present location long enough to estimate there may be only 1 in 30 days that are of very good visibility and less than this of excellent visibility. All is not lost however, you can select horizons and features with a telephoto lens which are at medium distances of say less than 3-5 km or use the haze [dust + pollution] to give the effect of shooting at greater distances. One advantage interestingly is that you can achieve some great sunsets because of the pollution and dust particles trapped in the lower atmosphere.

Cows in the sunset, when taking a shot like this I try not to have the animals overlapping each other otherwise you can get strange shapes.

 

f8 1/250s 400 ASA.

Sunset, here the lack of graduated filter and exposing for the sky has caused the distant hills to become silhouettes, however it has also removed all the pylons and other clutter in the valleys between me and the hills, click image to see larger version at 950 x 646 pixels.

 

Natural Landscapes From Suburbia - The Problems.

   The second problem is traffic, from the sheer quantity of vehicles on the road you may have difficulty finding any location you can find a peaceful vantage point for taking pictures. I don't use a car, I tolerate the traffic for the first few kilometres and then find quiet lanes which are free as possible from cars except for farm vehicles etc. There are several advantages in cycling or walking from your house, the main one is slowing you down, you will notice a lot more possible pictures and I can get to places cars just couldn't use.

 

f8 1/750s 400ASA.

Jets in a moody sky, I was lucky to capture this shot especially when the rear planes 'created smoke' for only a few seconds, a graduated filter would have improved the detail in the hills by equalizing the brightness of the sky and ground, click image to see a larger version at 1250 X 833 pixels.

 

The Map.

   One of the most useful items to have is a large scale map for your area - typically 2 inches to the mile, these are invaluable for finding rights of way, footpaths etc that the casual walker might miss and also help you decide which of your pictures will be taken to advantage with regards to the sun in mornings and evenings. I also use the map to accurately record the names of places for the images I've saved. [In the United Kingdom the Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure series is excellent.]

 

Shooting Pictures In Average Weather Conditions.

   What do I mean by average conditions? From my location most of the time - hazy sunshine or slightly to moderately overcast with average or poor visibility, this doesn't include foggy weather which can be excellent photographically. All is not lost however, I've been surprised how well black B&W can work in these conditions, you can use the Fuji S2 in this mode or if you prefer the choice of shooting in colour you can change to  B&W with your image editing software but note that some conversion processes are better than others.   

Sepia converted from colour, the sky was quite poor in the original colour shots but shows more detail when converted and the subjects lend themselves well to B&W, click images to see slightly larger versions. 

 

Shooting Pictures In Average Weather Conditions.

   Another area of photography in these conditions is macro and general 'close-up' work where much sunnier conditions with strong direct light on your subject can cause loss of highlights.  

 

f4.2 1/60s 200 ASA.

Strange plant!

 

f5.6 1/500s 200 ASA.

Lichen, overcast day, click image to see larger version.

 

f4.8 1/250s 200 ASA

Comma butterfly, here I got the depth of field wrong - the wing tips are out of focus, the weather was changeable with the sun coming and going.

  

f4.8 1/250s 400ASA

Water droplets on grass, the dark background on the original TIFF is beautifully smooth considering the ASA rating, something the Fuji is very good at.

 

'Field study', click image to see larger version.

 

the end.

Comments to the author, Ian Walker, are welcomed.

 


 Hosted with permission on the Microscopy UK web site, with its monthly online magazine Micscape, to which the author is a regular contributor.

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