Prime Lenses & Bagels: Fujifilm X-T2, Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company

12Share

Several years ago, a news article in the satirical newspaper, The Onion, stated that every resident of New York City had spontaneously decided to leave immediately. The article stated, “… living in a dingy, grime-caked apartment while exhaust fumes from an idling truck seep through your bedroom window isn’t worth slightly bigger bagels.” Well, if you go to one of Brooklyn Bagel and Coffee Company’s (BBCC) locations in Queens and Manhattan, you will find that the hassles and inconveniences of New York City are a small price to pay for their gigantic and delicious bagels.

Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp

Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company’s Chelsea storefront. Fujifilm XF 90mm lens; 1/2000; f/2.0; ISO 200

BBCC’s bagels have graced many “Best Bagel” lists—often at the top—by NY1, BuzzFeed, New York Eater, Thrillist, Gothamist, and more. But, fair warning, with great bagels come great lines. Sometimes, the line can wrap around a New York City block.

The line forms here. Fujifilm XF 35mm lens; 1/60; f/2.0; ISO 500

B&H Photo braved the queue of bagel lovers and put the Fujifilm X-T2 and a battery of prime lenses through their paces in an attempt to make photographs that look as good as the circular Brooklyn Bagel masterpieces taste.

Bagels. Fujifilm XF 90mm lens; 1/60; f/2.0, ISO 800

Brooklyn Bagel History

Civil engineers Panos Voyiatzis and John Rocchio founded Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company, in 2002, after leaving the heavy construction business. Voyiatzis’s family has a history in the restaurant business, reaching back more than a century—the tuna and chicken salad they sell at the stores today is a family recipe from his father. Voyiatzis and Rocchio met at New York Polytechnic University, as classmates, after Rocchio’s service in the US Navy as an aircraft mechanic.

Bagels. Fujifilm XF 90mm lens; 1/2000; f/2.0; ISO 200

Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company started with the first storefront, on Broadway, in Astoria, in the borough of Queens. Today, the operation consists of one commissary that makes bagels for their five stores. The bagels are hand-rolled daily in the commissary and then delivered to the shops. Every single bagel they sell was formed by hand and, because of this, the Brooklyn Bagel logo gives a glimpse into the process.

There is usually a line here. Fujifilm XF 14mm lens; 30 sec.; f/8.0; ISO 200 with a 6-stop ND filter

The idea for kettle-boiled bagels, according to Voyiatzis, comes from the original process that Polish bakers used many years ago. Boiling the bread before baking gives it the signature texture of a bagel, when compared to other breads.

Hot and fresh bagels. Fujifilm XF 35mm lens; 1/60; f/1.4, ISO 320

How are they made?

Voyiatzis describes the Brooklyn Bagel-making process from start to finish. First, he says, “It all starts with procuring the best ingredients available for the product you are creating for your guests, neighbors, friends, and family. This is by far the most important step.” With the ingredients, they make the dough—what he refers to as the “gestation period” of the bagel. “This step must be handled by the most experienced and professional eyes available to you. During this stage, constant examining occurs over a specific time in a controlled environment.”

Uncooked, plain bagels. Fujifilm XF 35mm lens; 1/110; f/1.4; ISO 200 and 1/60; f/1.4; ISO 250

The dough is then hand-rolled and stored at a cold temperature for a period before baking. “I consider this the character-building step. Much of the bagel's flavor and texture is developed in this stage,” says Voyiatzis.

Cinnamon raisin, uncooked. Fujifilm XF 35mm lens; 1/60; f/2.0; ISO 250

Then, the bagels are dropped into the boiling water of a large stainless kettle, right next to the oven. “This is the step that traps all the beauty our bagel has to offer, inside our bagel, so it doesn't escape during baking.”

Kettle action. Fujifilm XF 23mm lens; 1/40; f/2.8; ISO 800; and Fujifilm XF 35mm lens; 1/600; f/1.4; ISO 1600

After a bit, the bagels are fished out of the kettle with a stainless basket and readied for the oven. This is where the toppings like poppy and sesame seeds are applied by dunking into a pool of seeds. Voyiatzis says that the plain bagel is “by far” the most popular. [As a plain bagel fan, you all (coworkers and family) can stop making fun of my choices now!]

Stirring the pot. Fujifilm XF 35mm lens; 1/170; f/1.4; ISO 1600

The ovens are custom-made for bagel cooking. The boiled bagels, still steaming, are put onto single-row trays and placed on a shelf in the revolving tray oven that takes the bagels for a ride on the world’s hottest Ferris wheel. After a lap or two, the trays are flipped—flipping the bagels—and then pulled out and reloaded with the next batch as the newly flipped bagels continue their oven tour.

As important as the initial stages of the bagel-making process are, the baking is crucial to the success of the bagel, as well. Brooklyn Bagel’s bakers are veterans of the industry. One has been with the company since the first day the company opened. The bakers, says Voyiatzis, “know precisely what final product our company wants to achieve and offer to our customers.”

The sample platter. Fujifilm XF 35mm lens; 1/750; f/1.4; ISO 1600

In the Chelsea location, Brooklyn Bagel uses a Picard Oven, made in Canada. The oven has been going strong for 11 years. As happy as the company is with the Picard oven, Voyiatzis fondly remembers the Cutler rotating tray ovens of years past— “the Cadillac of bagel-making ovens,” he says. Unfortunately out of business, Cutler’s hallmark was consistent reliability and low maintenance. “This is the oven that I believe most current companies strive to be like,” he says. Brooklyn Bagel’s most recent ovens are made by Fish, in Illinois, and they are happy with the product.

Picard oven. Fujifilm XF 35mm lens; 1/200; f/1.4; ISO 1600

Why Brooklyn in name but not in location?

If you looked up Brooklyn Bagel’s five locations, you may have noticed that there are not any storefronts in the borough of Brooklyn. Why “Brooklyn Bagel,” then? Voyiatzis says that the Brooklyn mention in the name is “a way to pay homage to the early Jewish settlers that brought over with them what became the ‘New York City’ bagel—some people believe it all began in Brooklyn.”

Bagel and lox and sunny-side-up bagel. Fujifilm XF 35mm lens; 1/450; f/2.0; ISO 1600; and 1/2700; f/1.4; ISO 1600

The Photography Gear

For the Brooklyn Bagel shoot, I employed the Fujifilm X-T2 APS-C mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera and a small battery of prime Fujinon lenses—XF 14mm f/2.8 R, XF 23mm f/1.4 R, workhorse 35mm f/1.4 XF R, XF 56mm f/1.2 R, and the XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR.

The small size and diminutive weight of the X-T2 is ideal for documentary work in tight spaces. The Chelsea location of Brooklyn Bagels is their largest but, even though I was trying to stay out of the way, the area behind the counter and near the oven was tight. Sure, I could have managed with a bigger camera, but smaller is better, in this case.

Dramatically lit to showcase the bagels and cream cheese, it is a bit dark in the shop, and the counter and kitchen are far from the storefront windows. I know from experience that the X-T2 can easily produce virtually noise-free images at ISO 800 and for the “action” shots, I even bumped up to ISO 1600. I was also impressed with the X-T2’s autofocus performance. I had a few misses here and there, but likely not more than I would have with a DSLR. The face and eye detection worked very well throughout the shoot, although some bagels make faces that only the X-T2 sees.

There is something about the Fujifilm X system that makes me want to shoot prime lenses. As nice as the XF 18-55 f/2.8-4 R LM OIS lens would have been for this shoot, with the less-than-bright lighting, I knew I wanted to have a few more stops of aperture available for light gathering, forgoing the 18-55’s image stabilization. Also, shallow depth of field seems to be the rage in most food photography, and I wanted to be able to go wider than f/2.8 when needed.

Most lens manufacturers claim terrific “wide-open” performance and sharpness. But, in real life, we all know that sharpness suffers when the apertures are dialed to their maximum openings. Fujinon lenses are no exception to the challenges of physics but, in my experience, they are as sharp as any given lens when opened up and they ditch that limited softness very quickly as the aperture is clicked down a stop or two. You can see some great wide-open center sharpness in some of the images illustrating this article.

Bagel and coffee. Fujifilm XF 35mm lens; 1/1250; f/1.4; ISO 1600

B&H Photo would like to thank the owners of Brooklyn Bagel & Coffee Company and the employees of their Chelsea, New York, location for their generous hospitality.

Some of the BBCC Team. Fujifilm XF 35mm lens; 1/80; f/2.0; ISO 1600

12 Comments

This looks not very much like Fuji gear testing but public relations (advertizing) for a Queens (NYC) bagel company.

Please avoid using the New York Times Style section as a model for what a camera/lens test in the real world should be.

Hi Jay,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the article. I personally prefer the camera/lens tests where I am not looking at mundane photos from a stroll around the neighborhood and an afternoon spent with a test target. It is my belief that documentary-style food photos and portraits make for a pretty good "real world" test.

We are always open to other ideas and methods at Explora, so definitely let us know your suggestions for camera and lens tests.

We appreciate you visiting Explora and taking the time to comment! Thanks for shopping at B&H!

TK,

Right, the photos are fine, good, as examples of what the camera/lenses can do in a real world interior.

But the text is straight out of a thinly veiled marketing piece published in the New York Times Magazine or Style Section as an article.

Hi Jay,

TV...not TK. :)

I certainly hear what you are saying and take the comparison to the NY Times as a sincere compliment. Here are my thoughts:

B&H Photo is in New York City and not all of our customers (or Explora readers) are in New York—with many hoping to visit someday. And, everyone knows New York has huge skyscrapers, overcrowded streets and subways, amazing pizza, and the world's best bagels.

My objective in this article was not just to show the performance of a camera and lenses, but to give folks who don't get to work and live near awesome bagels a little "taste" of New York City.

If I seem excited about the bagels and appear to be promoting them, it is because 1) they are awesome bagels and 2) the Brooklyn Bagel team was incredibly generous to let me spend several hours behind their counter to get these shots. Photography for Explora is considered "commercial photography" and it is surprisingly difficult to get access to photograph around the city.

Thanks again for stopping by!

TV:

“I certainly hear what you are saying and take the comparison to the NY Times as a sincere compliment.”

It’s not at all a compliment. The NY Times is awful at this kind of lifestyle piece; such writing is the frequent basis of Times real estate reporting. 

(Some months ago the Times went so far as to allow the cringe worthy assertion–made by a famous “architect”--that Zabar’s is a bagel place; it’s not of course. Zabar’s sold Columbia bagels for years, now the source is unclear.)

“My objective in this article was not just to show the performance of a camera and lenses, but to give folks who don't get to work and live near awesome bagels a little "taste" of New York City.”

It reads a PR for a particular Queens bagel bakery. By all means if you want to review bagels for ChowHound or MenuPages do so, such a review would have little to do with this Fuji. Albeit of course one could use this Fuji to document said bakeriers.

As a general rule of course for food in NYC, a place that proclaims Brooklyn X, especially if it’s based in Queens, won’t get serious credibility for food.

Hey Jay,

Happy Monday! Thanks again for writing in.

Yep, not a fan of Zabar's either...but I once had some kind of chocolate swirl cookie there that was amazing, and I haven't seen it since. #sad.

Your objection to the content is noted and I have informed my editor and manager of your position.

Have a great week! Thanks again for reading Explora and shopping at B&H Photo!

TK:

Oh, I don't object to Zabar's, I object the the New York Times publishing the complete mischaracterization of it. It's not a bagel store. It will sell you some other store's bagels. It's a store for things one would put on bagels.

As background, note the difference between restaurant reviews and technology reviews in the NYTimes and Style and Real Estate section PR pieces, sometimes they're for new restaurants too. Unfortunately, your essay comes closer to the latter type.

Hi Jay,

TV...not TK.

You are correct, Zabar's is definitely not a bagel shop. It's a bakery.

Regarding the NY Times...I will take your word for it. Maybe they are getting into the "advertorial" business a bit to help them out financially. Who knows?

Thanks again for stopping by!

I enjoyed a real life review. Thank you for doing the research and writing something informative. I have a New York style bagel shop in a little Ohio town near me and they approach their product the same way. This makes me want to do a photo spread on their shop. Thanks for the approach you take. I find it refreshing. And I fully agree that there is something about the Fuji system that makes me want to shoot primes, as well. And something about Nikon that makes me want to use zooms.

Thanks, Carl! I very much appreciate the kind words and I am glad you enjoyed the article.

Thanks for reading Explora! Enjoy your Ohio-style New York bagels :)

Todd:

Zabar's is NOT a bakery. (Just as BH Photo is not really a print shop.) Zabar's is fundamentally a deli, with a housewares department. Yes, the NY Times most certainly publishes PR as articles, though in the cases I'm thinking of the NYT wouldn't be directly paid.

Setting that all aside, I had some further thoughts on this essay, not so much the photos. When one looks at real world photo samples from websites like DPReview (Amazon) or say the independent Imaging-Resource, many times there are photos taken in places like restaurants. Almost always there are raws to download from galleries. There are rarely essays telling the story of the restaurant or event. There are a few captions, perhaps remarking on how useful the camera is to shoot a wedding party indoors.

Hi Jay,

I stand corrected on Zabar's. I think I have only been there twice, and was trying to catch a train, so didn't really scope the place.

Here is my counter to your comment regarding DPReview and Imaging Resource:

I certainly could stroll around town, take photos (getting model releases from every person on the image and permission from every private establishment to perform commercial photography), and write a review of the lenses and/or camera that would probably read very similarly to the reviews you just read on DPReview and Imaging-Resource. But, what new information would my review bring to the table aside from my personal perspective on the gear? There are dozens of camera and lens review websites and plenty of places you can look at test target photos and spec sheets.

I would rather shoot something that I find interesting, do research, and then pass that information to our readers along with photographic illustrations and my perspective on the gear instead of just adding one more standard camera review to the internet.

Thanks again for your thoughts! We certainly appreciate the feedback.

Close

Close

Close