This weekend I was shooting at Bearded Theory Festival, Derbyshire, and thought I would put my little Fujis through what I believe to be the biggest and most challenging test any camera can go through. Festival and Concert photography is the most challenging photography regarding lighting that any photographer can face. Sometimes we have to cover acts that have major back lighting, with no front up lighting, acts that are majorly energetic and a press pit full of photographers all aiming to get the same shots from the best position.
The 3 key features of the 5D mark 3 which I rely on for all festival and concert work are:
- Fast accurate continuous auto focus.
- The ability to change ISO fast.
- The ability to auto focus fast and accurate when there is major back lighting and no front lighting.
These 3 areas are (in my opinion) where the X-T1 far from shines. Changing ISO is no where near as quick as using the 5D mark III. Continuous focus is no where near what any DSLR can do (nor do I expect it to be), and finally, focusing on a high contrast subject that has very strong back lighting can really throw Fuji’s auto focus off, resulting in focus hunting and missing shots. These areas that I have mentioned, aren’t new to Fuji users, nor is it a criticism to the Fuji system. I believe that every tool has its purpose, and for me, I had to keep my 5D mark III for fast action photography, as when shooting for press or a client, I need to know that I won’t be missing shots, due to an autofocus system that was’t designed for that type of shooting (not until the X-T1 firmware 4.0 was announced).
Fuji kit that I took with me:
- Fuji X-T1
- Fuji X-E2
- Samyang 8mm f/2.8
- XF 14mm f/2.8 R
- XF 23mm f/1.4 R
- XF 56mm F/1.2 R
So why did I take my Fujis as well as my press gear? Firstly, we all love Fuji’s colours, and how they render images. The lenses are amazing and up there with the best pro lenses other brands offer (if not better). The main reason was lighting! The fact that the Fuji X Trans II sensor can capture a mixed lighting scene without mixing the colours, or swaying more to one than the other was something I really wanted to push to the max. At a concert or festival, they use every type of lighting, and every type of colour so I was really hoping my little Fuji’s would come into their own.
At a concert I generally always used continuous auto focus as my subject is usually moving. As I mentioned before, Fuji’s continuous focus isn’t the greatest (it will improve majorly with their firmware 4.0 for the X-T1), but thats where their single focus worked a treat. All odds were against the Fujis with very bright/harsh back lighting, where I expected the lenses to hunt for focus, but that did’t seem to faze them at all. Both the X-T1 and X-E2 focused perfect every time. I use all primes, but having tried the XF 16-55mm f/2.8, I know that that lens focus’s a lot faster than any of their primes in these conditions, so those who own that lens, would’t have any issues. Both the X-T1 and X-E2 focused on par, neither one better than the other.
Another feature that came very useful, which initially, a lot of “pro” photographers used to say was a gimmick when companies started using them more, was the tilt screen on the X-T1. I love that screen and on many occasions has come in more than useful, but at a concert/festival, adding a monopod, the tilt screen was a feature that I never ever want to be without again when shooting a festival. It allowed me to correctly compose crowd shots, high shots, fisheye shots, and shots I wouldn’t have been able to get without it. At a festival, you do not have time to be using wifi through a mobile device. You have 3 songs to capture all of your images, from each act, plus your crowd shots, then you’re done. If you missed your key shot in those 3 songs, then there is no going back. So for me the tilt screen was AMAZING, and allowed me to capture shots that no other photographer in the pits captured.
My most used lens was the 56mm f/1.2. That was because I tend to use 135mm to 200mm most of the time, and stay away from the bunched up photographers hunting for the “perfect pit position”. Only shooting primes with Fuji, I was limited to the 56mm lens, so that became my most used lens. As soon as the XF 90mm f/2.0 is released, that will be my final lens, which will cover all my Fuji telephoto needs.
The surprising lens of the bunch, which I only expected to take a small number of shots with was the Samyang 8mm f/2.8 fisheye. If you are considering going to a concert/festival, and you have an interchangeable lens system, take a fisheye! Out of the 20 or so other photographers that was there, only myself and 1 other took a fisheye, and I am so glad that I did. Fisheye distortion at a festival? No problem! in fact, I am glad it distorts as it really adds to the image. Usually I try and correct fisheye distortion, using a Hemi plugin for photoshop, but not this time. With the Samyang, you set the focus to infinity, aperture to f8 and you’re away, just point and click and everything is in focus.
So, are there things that I wish Fuji had that would have made the shooting experience better? Yes. Firstly, I am going to put a sticky pad over the ISO dial. The time it took to change the ISO, wasn’t long at all in normal world usage, but at a festival where you’re limited on time, and every second counts, that split second longer than using a DSLR really felt like a long time. Personally I wish they made the lock like the shutter dial. Where it locked at Auto then unlocked for all other values. In most situations this isn’t an issue, and many really love the lock, but for me, in the hectic pits with 3 songs limit, it was an issue.
Secondly, I would like to see an auto rotation points on the X-T1, similar to the 5D mark III. So when you’re shooting using 1 point in landscape, then switch to vertical, and change points, when you go back to landscape, your previous point is selected, again when going back to vertical, your last vertical point is selected. That is something that I believe many photographers that cover events would benefit from. This was’t a deal breaker regarding focusing in the press pits, but something that would have helped speed up my framing a lot quicker.
Continuous focusing will soon no longer be an issue, as Fuji’s X-T1 firmware 4.0 will address this. As mentioned by others in other articles, high speed sync is the 1 feature I need for press work, and the only reason I have to use my 5D mark III for almost every press job. The little Nissin i40 isn’t good enough or powerful enough for a lot of my press shoot needs, so high speed sync is a must for me, as with press, time is limited leaving none spare to attach ND filters. Thankfully at a concert, there is a strict “NO FLASH” rule, so having no high speed sync wasn’t an issue.
So finally in short: Is the Fuji X-T1 and X-E2 good enough for festival concert photography, on a professional basis? YES, YES, YES. Both bodies performed amazingly, and if used with either the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 or XF 50-140mm f/2.8, 2 lenses designed for faster focusing, I am 100% confident that their focusing performance would improve even more. I will be covering Y NOT Festival soon, and the 5D mark III, will be staying at home. My little Fujis have now replaced my DSLR in 1 more area. If and when Fuji include high speed sync, that is the last feature I need to be 100% Fuji.
Here are more images taken at the Bearded Theory Festival (click each thumbnail to enlarge). If you liked the article, don’t forget to subscribe to Fuji Love mailing list and check out the other articles. At the festival, I had an AAA (All Area Access) pass, so I was allowed to record a little video after the 3 songs limit. If you would like to see a short GoPro clip of the area I was shooting in, click here. Amazon links to all the Fuji gear I used will be at the end of the article. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments, and I’ll do my best to reply, or follow me on twitter @DeanMartinPhoto or Facebook.
Amazon Gear Links: