Photography / Hands-on Review

In the Field: Photographing Duke Riley’s 'Fly By Night' with the Fujifilm X-Pro2

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Note to fashion photographers everywhere: Pigeons make horrible models. Even with the snappy new Fujifilm X-Pro2 digital camera, I was constantly frustrated by the inability for even the most lethargic pigeon to hold his or her pose for more than a fraction of a second.


Fujifilm X-Pro2 Mirrorless Digital Camera


Fujifilm XF 14mm f/2.8 R Ultra-Wide-Angle Lens
Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 XF R Lens
Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R Lens
Fujifilm XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR Lens

Pigeons as art

I chose to test the new Fujifilm X-Pro2 at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, shooting Duke Riley’s latest (and largest) art installation, Fly By Night. Riley, a Brooklyn-based multimedia artist and pigeon fancier, has worked extensively with pigeons before—even training a squadron of 50 homing pigeons to fly from Key West, Florida, to Cuba to retrieve some cigars—and he has been raising them since he was a boy after rescuing one while he was a child, living in Boston.

 

For Fly By Night, Riley trained more than 1,000 LED-equipped birds—representing six different species—to fly above the East River at sunset and return to their temporary home on a retired US Navy helicopter-landing training ship, the Baylander. (The Baylander happens to be the first vessel on which I, and thousands of other student Naval Aviators, ever landed a helicopter.)


Daytime practice sorties from the Baylander

Most people think little of the pigeons of the world—annoyed by the presence of the unfortunately nicknamed “sky rat,” but pigeons have been bred and kept as pets for thousands of years. They have been raised in Brooklyn for more than 100 years. In fact, the US military had one of its largest pigeon centers at the Navy Yard, where the birds were trained to fly messages over long distances during World Wars I and II.

I asked one of the project’s volunteers why someone would choose a pigeon as a pet over another type of bird. “They are quiet and they can fly,” he said.



 


 

The X-Pro2

The X-Pro2, the latest and greatest from Fujifilm, is a direct descendant of the popular 35mm rangefinder camera—known for its usefulness and skill in the world of documentary photography and reportage. Photographing Riley’s project would be a great test for the camera since the documentary aspect would be right in the camera’s wheelhouse, yet the camera would need to do some duty as a telephoto action platform.

I was always mystified by the X-Pro1’s hybrid viewfinder—wondering how it could so seamlessly switch from an optical image to an electronic one. To me, this was like the yellow lines on TV during an NFL game—something magical that would bring on a migraine if I thought too much about it. The X-Pro2’s hybrid viewfinder is even better and more advanced than its predecessor. Pass the Motrin, please.


More daytime practice

Not having been raised on a rangefinder, I found myself using the EVF screen more than I used the optical window. But, if you have a Leica, Contax, or another classic rangefinder in your blood, you’ll undoubtedly love the experience of a contemporary rangefinder’s performance as produced by the minds at Fujifilm. Switching from optical to digital literally happens with the flick of a switch on the front of the camera. The camera automatically gives you precise frames in the optical viewfinder for whatever Fujifilm X-mount lens you attach.

Fujifilm has improved on almost every aspect of the X-Pro1 with the new camera. You can now use the top shutter speed dial to change your ISO—much like many classic film cameras and their dual-function dials. I found myself adjusting the ISO constantly as I photographed the pigeons in the fast-changing light of sunset in Brooklyn.


Pigeons in flight

There is a small “joystick” above the thumb pad controls that makes switching autofocus points much quicker and easier. This will be a welcome upgrade to the other Fujifilm X-series cameras we expect to see in the near future. While tracking pigeons in flight, this was a crucial upgrade to the earlier X cameras that required you to pre-program the thumb pad buttons to shift focus points. Press the joystick in, and the “cursor” returns to the center focus position.

I still wish Fujifilm would make a locking mechanism for the exposure compensation dial, but the X-Pro2 has an added custom setting that allows up to ±5 EV shifts—another boon for the documentary shooter trying to capture action in fading daylight.


Night launch

I had only one night to photograph Riley’s project with the X-Pro2, so I needed to make the most of it. Already familiar with the X-T1, using the X-Pro2 was akin to speaking a different dialect of the same language. The two cameras are similar, but not all the controls are in the same locations. Once the birds took flight, there was not an instant to waste looking at the LCD to see what I was capturing. I knew that I wanted to capture the birds with the highest possible shutter speed, and also let them streak through the frame with longer exposures. The X-Pro2 kept up with my changing needs flawlessly. I was quickly switching from tripod to handheld shooting, and aperture priority to shutter priority, all while shifting exposure compensation, changing ISO, using multiple autofocus points, and switching between the Fujifilm 14mm, 35mm f/1.4, 56mm, and 90mm lenses. Being a digital rangefinder with retro controls, the speed at which you can change shutter speed, aperture, or ISO is a bit slower than that of a modern DSLR with front and rear command dials, but the tactile feel of the Fujifilm dials rewards the user with a different experience.

One thing I missed was the secondary dial to control the exposure metering mode. On the X-T1 you can switch from matrix to spot or center-weighted metering with a flick of your forefinger. The X-Pro2 requires that you do some button pressing, and the process is slowed.

Overall, the X-Pro2 was a great camera to have for an action-packed documentary outing in fading daylight.

 
A nighttime dress rehearsal


 

 
Only a few LEDs on


 

A tool for art

The X-Pro1 became the standard bearer for the rangefinder camera of the digital age. Now, that standard has been passed to its much more refined and capable 24.3MP successor, the X-Pro2. If you loved your X-Pro1, you will love the new version. If you loved shooting film rangefinders, you will find the X-Pro2 is exactly what the modern rangefinder should be, all while being familiar to your hand and eyes.


Opening night with all the LEDs operational, shot with the Fujifilm X-T1


 

Fly By Night

Duke Riley’s project runs in the Brooklyn Navy Yard on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, from May 7 to June 12, 2016.

For more information and tickets, head to the Creative Time website. For more about Duke Riley, click through to his website here.



 

Discussion 19

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Hi 

I came to this post because i'm really interested on moving from Sony A6000 to Fujifilm, but i'm still struggling with the specs. 

I don't like the low light performance on my A6000, and i'm trying to get a camera that will give me a better performance on ISO, sharpness and focusing. I mostly shooting documentary series, Street Photography and some projects that requires some slower and methodical work (artistic). 

I'd like to buy the X-Pro 2 or the XT-2 along with the 35 mm F2 as starting kit. But i really can't decide if that cameras will give me the "pro" quality, for example for large prints.

I like so much the X-Pro 2 design but my concern is the relation between price and performance. I need a pro camera, but i'm done with Sony (i think) 

Will the X-Pro 2 will can give me that "Pro" performance?

Hey felipe,

To answer your last question, "Yes. I believe it will."

Every photographer is different in style and how they employ their tools, but the X-Pro2 is designed with the street shooter in mind and, if you look at the portfolios of those shooting both the X-Pro and X-T cameras, you will see some really great imagery (http://fujifilm-x.com/photographers/).

The X-T2 will give you more of a DSLR experience, and the X-Pro2 is the rangefinder. The hybrid viewfinder is really an incredible piece of technology. You can shoot that 35mm f/2 lens through an optical viewfinder with framing lines, or slap the X-Pro2 on a large telephoto (I put it on a Leica spotting scope), switch the viewfinder to digital and shoot away. Truly the best of both worlds.

A Navy buddy of mine used to shoot Leica rangefinders. I turned him onto the X-Pro2 and he is loving it and taking great images almost daily.

As far as print size, you should be easily able to go past 20x30" with the 24MP images...likely way past that. I have printed X-T1 shots at 13x19 and they looked fantastic.

Let me know if you have other questions. Thanks for dropping by!

what focal settings did you use?

Hey J R,

I only used prime lenses on this shoot...the Fujifilm 14mm, 35mm, 56mm, and 90mm. 

Thanks for reading and thanks for your question!

How did you find the 35mm f/1.4 prime?  I am reading lots of mixed reviews, about it. 

Hi Mars,

That lens lives on my X-T1 90% of the time. The optics are perfect, but the auto focus is a bit slow and noisy when compared to the latest Fujifilm offerings. The 35mm f/2 is a sweet lens, but I will keep using my f/1.4 as my workhorse.

I hope Fujifilm updates that lens in the future with some of their latest electronics, but there will be a massive protest and riots if they touch the optics!

If you dont believe me about the lens, read this reviewer's comments on the 35mm f/1.4 and have your credit card ready! 

Let me know if you have more questions. Thanks for reading!

Whatg a great article.  As an old brooklyn boy and I mean old, I remember the days of walking under bridges and through old building carefully ant not always successfully dodging bird dropping bombs.  As I moved around the country I realized that they are everywhere and are just one gigantic family of a type of birds, all releated somehow.

I love your test project and will have to head into the closest pidgeon city near me and that is in Washington DC where people getted pooped on every day and not just by pidgeons :)

Thanks for the great idea, which will take me, my xpro2, and my 3 lenses, like yours into the bombing zone.

Hi elliot!

Good luck with your outing! Luckily, I never got bombed on this shoot, however, I figured it was a risk. 

Thanks for reading!

Nice pictures, but you forgot to mention one of the nicest things I like about this camera is the ability to remote control it via a smartphone or tablet.  Got some great Northern Lights pictures sitting in a nice warm car, with the camera sitting on a tripod in 15 degree Alaska weather.

BTW, the X-Pro2 is AWESOME. 

Now you remind me :)

Hi Steve,

Great point. Actually, most modern digital cameras have that feature—even the older Fujifilm models. No need to get inside a car for this photo shoot as it was pretty dynamic at times!

Thanks for reading!

One day we will be able to speak pigeon.

I think there is a Rosetta Stone program available for that. Thanks for reading!

Todd,

Gammy & I love these photos! Our grandchildren--my Agnes and her Ronnie, Lonnie, and Bonnie--are having a joint birthday party. Oh we'd be just over the moon if you photographed it! What do you say, Todd? Of course I'd make my famous Shepherd's pie and you could even have seconds and thirds! Oh, we'd just be beside ourselves, and little Aggie would be soooo excited! 

Mrs. Swartz,

Thank you so much for inviting me to photograph your grandkids' birthday party and for the generous offer of Shepherd's pie. Unfortunately, B&H keeps me too busy to take on these side jobs, as enticing as they may be.

Perhaps you could ask my colleague, John Harris. He has been known to photograph kids birthday parties around New York City.

Thanks and sorry to send regrets!

I just showed this to Mrs. Swartz in 3B. She has three grandchildren Todd. Three.

Thanks for sharing the article, Gammy! I hope Mrs. Swartz enjoys it as well. Thanks for reading!

Great article, Todd!!! Loving the X-Pro2 and thanks for turning me on to it. Wasn't expecting to see IX-514 as a supporting cast member in a photo article! 

Thanks, Tim!

I am glad you are enjoying yours. Great pics being posted! I'll give half of the credit to you, and half to the X-Pro2!

Yep, IX-514 lives down the street from me. I guess she missed me! I was unaware that we made such a connection with those 6 bounces!

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