Recently, I decided to buy a Lensbaby for my Fuji X-T2. I’m not really sure why, but I had this idea that I wanted to do some macro work with it. I’ve seen some great flower shots done with a Lensbaby in the past and thought, with all the nice weather it would be good to try my hand at some.
If you’re not familiar with Lensbaby, they started life selling a very simple lens which you can tilt. This distorts much of the image except for a sharp area which you can position. If you know about the Holga plastic film cameras, the effect isn’t too dissimilar. As the Lensbaby became popular they brought out more variants as well as serious lenses.
The model I purchased was the Lensbaby Composer Pro II with Sweet 35. The Sweet is the lens that has a sweet spot that you can move around the frame. What I like about the Composer Pro is that you can buy separate optics to use with it. That’s fortunate as I now think I would have preferred a 50mm lens rather than the 35mm I purchased. I also bought the macro adapter, so I can use the lens close for flower shots. This is a nice idea and is nothing more than a simple extension tube.
Did I do the right thing?
Currently I’m undecided. I realise it’s a gimmick and so needs to be used carefully. It’s well made but at the same time expensive for what it is.
I think ultimately what’s bothering me is that I have only been out with it once and it rained all day. In fact, since I bought the Lensbaby, the weather seems to have taken a turn for the worse and there’s no flowers out. Perhaps it will come in handy for photographing the heather.
After all my recent problems the Drobo is now back up and running. BUT, it only using three disks and not four.
In my previous post on the subject I mentioned that I had to return one of the replacement 3TB drives that had failed. To replace that drive, I ordered a new 4TB from Amazon. When this drive arrived, I tried to add it to the Drobo, but it didn’t seem to fit. It was actually loose in the drive bay.
After some head scratching as to the problem, I compared the drive to one of the old drives and realised it wasn’t as high. It wasn’t the standard size for a 3.5” disk drive. Checking Amazon there was nothing to indicate the unusual size but looking at the physical dimensions of the drive it listed the height as 2cm. Checking other 3.5” drives I realised they were all listed as 2.7cm.
So be warned, if you’re buying additional drives for your Drobo or NAS, check the height of the drive. There are now slimline disks on the market and they don’t fit standard drive bays.
I will pick up a fourth drive at some point, but I just wanted to get the Drobo up and running. I have now copied my backup onto the Drobo and recovered as many images as possible from my formatted memory cards. I’m missing a couple of hundred images but more annoyingly a lot of video I shot for a future YouTube posting. At least the bulk of my images are safe though and I hope you like this one.
Back in 2014 I had an ill-fated fling with a Nikon D800 camera, which I wrote about in this blog. It seemed that no matter what I did, I couldn’t shoot decent images with that camera and I disliked using it. Perhaps it takes a few years to get over something like that, but now I’m finding a few hidden gems in the old RAW files.
This image is two shots with the D800 that have been stitched together in Lightroom and then processed using Alien Skin Exposure X3. The processing applied in Exposure X3 used the Kodak Ektar film simulation. I then opened the shadows and cooled the image very slightly using the Exposure X3 controls.
What you may not notice in this image is the remains of the old packhorse bridge on the right of the image. This has been incorporated into the road bridge which covers it. If you didn’t climb down to the river you would never know it was there.
What I don’t like about the image is that the foreground rock on the right is soft because I didn’t have enough depth of field. Why? Because the lenses I was trying to use with this camera were poor quality and suffered from diffraction when stopped down Because of this I tended not to stop them down.
This image by the way was the final shot I took with the D800 before selling it.
Alien Skin Exposure X3 30% Sale
Whilst I was writing this post, an email popped into my in-box. Alien Skin are having a 25th Anniversary Sale with 30% off their products, including Exposure X3. Here’s a link to their blog announcement. But be fast if you want to take advantage, I think the 5th June (today) is the final day of the sale.
It’s been exactly 1 year today since I purchased and received this lens; I remember it well because of the terrible events of the Manchester Arena bomb.
I’ve been promising to do a real-world review of the lens for some time, so I thought what better time than after a year’s use. I should also explain what I mean by real world review. I’m not going to base my comments on charts and reading other lab reports from the internet. If that floats your boat, just google Fuji 18-135 Lens Review and I’m sure you will get your fill. This review is based on my use of the lens, the images I have captured with it and what I think are the strong and weak points.
By way of background, this is the second Fuji 18-135 lens I have owned. The first I purchased second hand and after a lot of frustration, it was eventually traded for other equipment. The problem with the first lens was that it was soft and didn’t focus correctly across the frame. The performance was hit and miss, which also seemed to be exaggerated by Adobe Lightroom “smoothing” the finer details in the Fuji RAW files.
It was then only after another 6 months of experience with the Fuji X-T2 that I decided to try a new example of the lens. This was quite a decision for me given my previous experience, but the idea of the 18-135 focal range was so compelling I thought it was worth the risk. A single lens that covers this focal range and will produce a good image is very attractive. It makes the lens ideal for travelling as well as trekking, when you don’t want or don’t have time to mess about changing lenses.
Since buying this lens, my Sony RX10, which was my previous trekking camera, has only been out a handful of times. The focal range of the Sony RX10 is 24mm – 200mm in full frame terms. This compares with 27mm – 202mm for the Fuji 18-135. In terms of coverage, the Fuji lens is similar although I do sometimes miss that first 3mm of the RX10 at the wide end. Where the Fuji 18-135 makes up for this is in being weather resistant and the Fuji X-T2 producing wonderfully clean images.
In terms of weight and size, the Fuji 18-135 lens is what I would term a medium-sized lens but quite light for the size.
Here’s a quick comparison of the Fuji X-T2 against the weight and size of my Micro 43 outfit. This was the kit that I tended to use for travel photography because of its size and weight.
Olympus 12-40 lens 382g – This is my main lens and although doesn’t have the reach of the 18-135, tended to stay on the camera 80% of the time. If I want the additional reach on the Micro 43 kit I would need to use my Panasonic 45-150mm (a great little lens by the way).
Fuji 18-135 490g – About 100g heavier than the Olympus but with the benefit of additional reach.
Olympus EM5 425g – As well as being lighter, this is also smaller than the X-T2 by a couple of cm. The only downside is that I need to use the body with the additional Olympus grip as the body alone gives me cramp in my right hand after around an hour’s use. This takes the combined weight over that of the X-T2.
Fuji X-T2 507g – Slightly larger and heavier than the Micro 43 body but still sufficiently compact.
Both kits will fit into a single small shoulder bag.
The Fuji 18-135mm lens has a 67mm front elements which allows me to use the Lee Seven 5 filter system when I want to be compact, although there is a small amount of vignetting when the lens is wider than around 23mm. The lens works fine with the Kase K8 filter holder and system, although this is bulkier and heavier than the Lee Seven 5.
The bugbear in my mind with the Fuji 18-135 lens is image quality, but I believe this is largely psychological and based on my earlier problems. I think when you constantly look for problems with the images from a specific camera or lens you will find always find something. It also makes you much fussier about image quality. If I compare the quality of the Micro 43 kit (probably unfair as it’s a few years older than the Fuji X-T2) those images aren’t as sharp or detailed and they carry more noise. The images are also smaller at 16Mpixels compared to the Fuji’s 24.3Mpixels, which does come in handy for commercial work.
There are though a few weak spots in the Fuji 18-135mm lens:
In very bright conditions and with the lens at the wide-angle end of the focal range, I do notice some Chromatic Aberration or colour fringing in images. This though is easily removed during RAW conversion.
When processed using Adobe Lightroom, the RAW files captured with this lens seem to be more prone to their fine details being “smoothed out” by the conversion. I don’t know what causes this, but I notice it when I compare the images with other RAW converters.
When used at 18mm, the extreme edges of the lens sometimes go off a little in terms of sharpness. To illustrate this, I have included an example below with sections of an image magnified to 200% and only limited/default capture sharpening applied. You do seem to be able to improve this to some degree by stopping the lens down further. And if you can use a slightly longer focal length the lens starts to perform very well indeed.
Perhaps the biggest practical test of the Fuji 18-135 lens was my recent trip to Italy. After agonizing for some time over which lenses to take, I decided to travel lights and use only the 18-135. Reviewing the images now, I’m very happy with the quality and I was completely happy to work within the restrictions of the focal range. This is a very versatile lens and I’m happy to rely on it for future travel trips, especially when I want to travel with limited equipment.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been in Italy. Much of the time was trekking in the Cinque Terre but I also spent time in Genoa, Florence and Pisa. Technology proved the usual problem with my email playing up frequently and sometimes not being able to access the websites I needed
Before I left, I had the difficult decision as to which camera and lenses to take. In the end I went with the Fuji X-T2 as it’s great for trekking, but I agonised over lens choice. When I’m walking I hate changing my lens, so the 18-135 is ideal. The only problem with this lens though is that I worry about performance.
The 18-135 has never been known as a great performer and it’s possibly one of the weakest lenses in the Fuji line up for sharpness and resolution. The first copy of this lens that I owned was quite a poor example. Although the next one which I purchased new is much better, I still feel a little nervous with just this lens.
Eventually, I decided to take the 18-135mm lens and used this exclusively. What changed my mind was rather surprising and something I’m going to share in a future post. But for now, it’s nice to be back home and dealing with the emails and queries I couldn’t answer whilst away.
But the problem I have with the Lee filter holder is that it vignettes quite badly when using wide angle lenses. This always frustrated me and is caused by the large polarising filter ring on the front of the holder. Attach a polarising filter and the problem gets worse. Being able to use a polarising filter is important so I was keen to find a solution.
The K8 filter holder is a recent release from Kase and is an improvement on the already good K6 holder. The advantage of the K8 holder is that the polarising filter attaches magnetically to the filter ring. This allows you to easily pop it on and off; much better than fiddling around trying to screw and unscrew filters. Especially when it’s cold.
The K8 filter holder kit comes with two metal adapter rings, a 77mm, and an 82mm. These adapter rings screw to the front of your lenses allowing the adapter to attach. Also included in the kit are a 72mm to 82mm and a 67mm to 82mm stepper ring. These are standard stepper rings and you can easily purchase other sizes cheaply from the likes of Amazon and eBay. This means you should be able to accommodate most lenses up to 82mm. Beyond this size, you would need to consider using the 150mm filters as opposed to 100mm.
Attaching the Holder
The filter holder locks onto the adapter ring using a tab which holds it very firm. The tab is moved into place using a screw on the side of the holder. In the past I have experiences filter holders popping off the adapter ring, but I can’t see that happening with this holder.
The filter adapter ring that attaches to your lens also has a geared or toothed edge. This interlocks with a geared wheel on the side of the filter holder. You can then use the wheel to rotate the polarising filter to give the desired level of adjustment. All this happens whilst the filter holder stays still and locked into position. It’s very well designed and easy to use.
The holder itself is made from aluminium and the face has a foam gasket attached. If you are using a long exposure ND filter, this will minimise the risk of any light leaking around the edges of the filter.
The filter slots are made from plastic and attach to the front of the holder. Slots can be removed and changed using a small screwdriver that’s also provided. Additional slots and screws are provided in the kit. I have configured mine to accept three slot-in filters of 2mm thickness. That’s in addition to the polarising filter.
As most filters from other manufacturers are 2mm thick, you can use them with this filter holder. I have tried the Lee 100mm filters and they fit just fine, although I don’t think I will be using them again. The only Lee filter that doesn’t fit is the 10-stop because it has a gasket glued to it, which catches on the gasket in the Kase holder. You can easily overcome this by turning the filter round, so the gasket faces out.
In the Field
At the weekend I headed out with the Kase holder to try it out. Attaching it was very easy and just like Lee holder except that it takes a second longer. That’s because the lug on the side screws firmly into place where the Lee holder is spring loaded.
Once in place, I was able to attach the polarising filter and slot in the Kase Wolverine square filters without a problem. Removing the filters was also easy except for the polariser. It sat so far inside the holder that I couldn’t reach it. Then I realised I could remove the filter holder and the polariser is still attached to the adapter ring and lens. This is a great design feature and means you can use the 86mm polarising filter with just an adapter ring and you don’t the filter holder on the lens.
Removing the polariser from the filter ring is also very easy. Because it’s magnetic you can just pop it off and then back on again. It’s very secure but you do need to be a little careful that you mount it onto the ring properly so that it sits flush all the way around.
But the big question for me was would this solve my vignetting problems. I decided to try the filter holder using the polarising filter and a 0.6 ND grad. It was perfect. Not a hint of vignetting even on the Fuji at 10mm (15mm equivalent in full frame). I also found the rotation of the polarising filter very easy using the wheel on the side of the holder.
Later I also tried out the holder for some long exposure shots. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my Lee 10 stop ND filter and so had to improvise with the Kase Polariser and 3 stop ND filter. By stopping down the Fuji lens to f/16 and setting the ISO to 100, I was able to achieve shutter times of around 3 seconds. Looking at the resulting images the quality is good, and I can’t see any evidence of light leaks or reflections.
Overall, I’m delighted with the K8 holder. I think this is going to allow me to use a polarising filter much more frequently in the future.
Last year I made the decision to switch filter systems. At the time I was using the Lee 100mm system and the Lee Seven5 system for smaller cameras (I still use the Seven5 with Micro43 cameras and my pocket camera because of the size). I had been a long time Lee Filter user and had been happy with the filters. What changed my mind was the cost of the filters when you consider how easily they scratched. And it wasn’t just large scratches that I’m talking about, it was micro scratches on the surface of the filter. Often you couldn’t see these until you started to shoot into the sun, when everything became obvious and the photos would often be ruined by flare.
Because of my experience with the resin filters I had been considering a switch to using glass. At the time Lee didn’t offer glass filters other than the big and little stoppers. And my experience with those had been poor due to a strong blue colour cast but also having smashed a couple of them when they popped off my camera; I still have no idea how. This experience had left me wary of using glass filters although I knew in my heart that it was probably the way to go.
Then I had an experience which made up my mind in an instant. I tried a friend’s glass Nisi filters and the results were amazing. It was as if someone had wiped my lenses clean, but I didn’t switch to Nisi. Instead I switched to Kase; that’s because the Kase filters are shatterproof and scratch resistant and I think that’s a big deal.
Now these glass filters aren’t cheap (but I honestly believe they are worth it) so initially I bought a couple to try them. I also didn’t want the added expense of a filter holder so decided to use my Lee 100mm holder and switched the filter holder inserts that hold the filters in place. The standard Lee holders aren’t strong enough to hold the slippery, heavier glass filters in place and they can easily slide through.
With the new filter inserts in place the Kase filters worked fine, and I quickly realised the Kase Wolverine filters were what I had been looking for. I bought a couple more and then a few more, but I continued to use the Lee 100mm filter holder with them. But, there was one niggling problem remained with the Lee holder and that was vignetting.
The design of the Lee holder is such that the add on ring for the polarising filter sits on the outside of the holder. Despite this being a large 105mm diameter it can still cause vignetting with wide angle lenses, even without the polarising filter attached. Add the polariser and you suddenly restrict the field of vision considerably. The Kase filter holder by contrast has the polarising filter built into the holder and it sits almost flush to the face of the lens, in line with the filter adapter ring. Result – no vignetting.
When I recently visited the Photography Show in Birmingham I called by the Kase stand to take a closer look at the Kase filter holder. The vignetting issue with my Lee holder was becoming a major problem and had prevented me from taking some shots that I felt sure would be great. When I looked at the Kase K6 holder I was immediately impressed. It’s well engineered from aluminium, it’s smaller than the Lee holder (but still takes 100mm filters), it’s lighter and most importantly it’s thinner. By thinner I mean that it doesn’t protrude as far from the lens so the risk of vignetting with ultra-wide lenses like the Fuji 10-24 is minimised. In all the excitement at the show though I forgot to place an order.
Fortunately, when I did place an order the Kase K6 holder had sold out as there had been so much interest at the show. I say fortunately because Kase has just launched the new K8 Magnetic filter and when I heard I switched my ordered that instead. One of the benefits with the K8 holder is that the polarising filter attaches to the filter holder magnetically. This allows you to pop it out rather than unscrew it if you don’t want to use a polariser. This may sound minor, but when it’s cold and your fumbling around outside, it can be a significant advantage.
I’m planning on heading out with the new holder in the next few days and hope to be able to share a full review on the blog next week.
For the sake of openness and honesty I should tell you that I do sell Kase filters through my website. This came about after I bought my first set of Kase filters. If I didn’t think these were great filters, they wouldn’t appear on my website. I only recommend what I use myself and truly believe in.