Being a photographer going into my 30’s, it is almost compulsory that I had to contemplate my mid-life crises. The problem is I don’t have that much money and I don’t have a driver’s license. There won’t be any two seater Porsches coming anytime soon. What I do have is a motorbike and a map of the world – I think my agenda is sorted. Fast forward 4 years and it’s today (roughly). I packed the GFX, the X100F and my trusty X-Pro2 into my Peli case and bolted it to the back of my Honda. I was ready to explore.
Motorbikes are not the first choice of travel for a photographer – in fact, if you made a list of qualities that a vehicle must have for a photographic trip to a rainy country, none of them would make you think motorbike. However, if you ride, you get me, there is a bit inside you that knows the challenge is part of the trip, sometimes it’s not the getting there, but the going there that keeps the adventure alive. Keeping me and the cameras safe are the two most important concerns. It didn’t take long to work out that the only way I could keep the cameras safe was to fit my Peli case on the bike. These cases are tougher than trying to explain why Alaska had two Fridays in a row once. Peli produces the only hard cases I trust, combined with the TrekPak system, I could travel, stop, shoot, then jump back on the bike and ride again. I ride a Honda Deauville, while it’s not the sexiest bike in the world, it is built well for what I need & attaching the Peli 1510 was simple and straight forward. In short, I attached the back plate to the bike, then the case attaches to the back plate. This means the case is removable and I can still use it as a roller as intended. No holes are drilled into the case keeping all the structure of the case intact. I did a full article about how I made the amendments on my own blog – check it out here. (edit: just as I was finishing up this blog, Trekpak announced that they are now going to produce a deeper TrekPak for full-size Alu topboxs. I think I still do prefer the 1510 over the Alu-Touring box’s that companies like Touratech produce, especially when it comes to carrying sensitive kit.
Bermingham Cameras asked if I wanted to head over to Dublin and do a seminar for their Fujifilm users. Why not pack the bike up and ride over I thought. If you like motorbikes and cameras, you will like this article, if you ride and have had to hide under a tree for an hour until the torrential rain has stopped, you will really be able to understand my mindset. Birmingham to the Atlantic coast was the idea, taking in Dublin, Wicklow, and as much of the Wild Atlantic Way as I could.
The Deauville is pretty small in the shape of things (700cc) but does have plenty of storage built in. The side panniers are great & they have a space that reaches right through the bike – one side to the other. A fully packed Hadley Pro fits the side panniers perfectly, which made it the perfect camera bag for this trip. I did look at a few bags such as the Domke bags but the Hadley Pro fitted in super snug that it was the most logical idea. The other side of the bike had a dry bag with medical supplies, tools, warm clothing and food etc. The pillion seat had another bag with more supplies as I knew I had aqueous week ahead, dry clothing was important. The tripod I took was a simple straight forward choice. Steve from 3 Legged Thing has been my go-to for a while. Steve works great as a lighting stand and as a tripod & monopod. When traveling light, an element of duality has to appear in all the kit that travels with me, these tripods are light, strong & compact when you need it to be. Each camera had a Swiss Arca mount put on before I left so that any camera could be fitted to the tripod without any messing about in the field.
Which cameras to take.
I own the X-Pro2 while the GFX and X100F had been rented from Hire-a-Camera for this trip. Since the launch of the GFX & X100F these cameras have been interesting cameras to me but, I never had the chance to take them for a real test. Reading a gear review is just not the same for me as a real world, multi-day adventure with the cameras. This trip would be a great chance to spend time with them both.
A few years ago I did a trip to the USA with three cameras. The D800, the 5DM3 and the Fujifilm X-Pro1. The interesting thing about that trip, was which cameras I ended up using when, how and what for. All three cameras were great and yet all three cameras had strengths in different areas. No camera is perfect for every occasion and it would be wrong of me to suggest that.
I loved the X100F, but I could not justify buying one, here’s why. I own an X-Pro2, with a ton of amazing lenses, I have an X30 which almost gets daily use. Between these two cameras, I am not sure where the X100F would fit? It’s not going to remove the X-Pro2 from my kit bag, nor is it a replacement for my X30. They are just different cameras, better or worse does not come into it. If anything, being less worried about damaging the camera can open up to more use of the camera, which is why I love the X30. Having the X100F as a pocket camera would be a waste. However, If I owned a GFX, it might change the dynamic a little, likewise, if I had the money, I would get it for sure, but I don’t and I would rather put the money into a lens for my X-Pro2. The choice in my head would be the X100F or the 100-400mm. The thing is, choices like this are going to be totally different for each person depending on what you shoot & how you shoot and why you are shooting. (edit: I now have rented and tested the 100-400mm, I stick with my idea that I would prefer to add the lens to my collection rather than add the X100F). If you are new to the Fujifilm system and looking for one camera for travel and the odd landscape you can do far worse than the X100 range. Since the original camera, the X100’s have been wonderful, but I have always wanted the reach and range that the full system can offer. This being said, during my trip to Ireland, I only used the X-Pro2 once. This could be something to do with the fact that I only had the X100F for 21 days or the fact that I also had a GFX with me. I took the 50-140mm, 56mm APD and the 16-55mm with me with the 35mm f1.4 traveling somewhere in my clothing bag, I could never leave home without it.
The GFX, where to start… if this was a review, I would say the normal stuff everyone has said before… it’s great, dynamic range is great, sharpness is great etc… We know the camera is great, in fact, we know it’s insanely amazing, we know the sensor is class leading and the glass is too. With this in mind though, we expect this from Fujifilm, ‘great’ should be the minimum standard in my view. My questions is, is this camera groundbreaking, like the X-Pro or X100 was back in the day? Well, yes and no. Let’s deal with why it is first.
The X-Pro1 was introduced to my kit bag alongside the D800 about 6 years ago, later switching up to the X-T1. When the X-Pro2 came out, that bumped out the D800. When clients needed it, I used the 645z to produce extra file size. For the last few years, I have been shooting with a pair of X-Pro2’s but at times really missed that extra punch that MF can deliver. The GFX does outfox the 645z, and already has a good range of lenses, not forgetting the H Mount lenses which are ready to go. Many people have described the GFX as a big version of the X-T2, but it is worth remembering that the GFX has a standard bayer sensor and not an X-Trans sensor. This means it comes ready to rock and roll with all the refinements of the X-T2. It’s a landscape photographers’ dream just as much as a portrait photographers’. It’s not a leaf shutter design, but quick work-arounds from companies like Cactus & Goddox also give you HSS at the usual cost of a few stops of light. I liked the little things, like being able to shoot up to 15 mins exposures from the camera, the tilt screen, the large EVF etc… The little things were done so well. Most importantly, the combination of the G mount Fujinon glass and the sensor are class leading in it’s genre & build quality is near military grade. I don’t own this GFX, it is in-fact a rented camera, but after this trip, I was thinking that I possibly could go back to the ‘big and little’ D800 & X-Pro style set-up that I had years ago. The idea being the GFX would be the camera for the ‘pre-planned’ or more considered shots that have the time and production elements leaving the X-Pro2 to cover the more reactionary images. It’s a perfect combination. In reality, I think in time the GFX and X100F combination could prove the perfect marriage depending on how the lens range for the GFX evolves. For now, I prefer to carry the lenses and the X-Pro2 and not pick up a GFX. On the bike, storage is super tight, tough choices with kit have to be made.
Back to the trip…
Birmingham to Dublin, a short dash down to the Wicklow Mountains then a race across to Galway to set up base camp. 3 nights exploring the Wild Atlantic Way driving south from Connemara to County Claire before a motorway dash to Dublin and then back to Blighty via Holy Island followed by a day exploring Snowdonia before heading to Manchester via a pit stop in Birmingham. All sounds simple and to be honest, it really was. The bike was faultless, kit was great but the weather was awful. It was the low cloud, windy, sideways rain that makes your home shower look like a dripping tap. More than anything, it was almost unsafe to ride in, still, this was a solo trip with a heavy bike, there had to be a little danger to make it fun. These things shouldn’t be too easy.
Getting up and out early on day one was fine, the bike was loaded the night before and Stephie made me breakfast, coffee and waved me out for my trip to see Sarah Jones at Cambrian Camera in North Wales. The bike was packed well with a nice balance and all things went to plan. A pit stop and more coffee was drank, then I headed to Holyhead Port. I had never put a bike on a ferry and was hoping for a smooth crossing. As I got near to the port the number of bikes really started to build up. I found myself riding with near 50 riders all headed for the ferry too, pretty fun! I wish I had my go-pro working, but the battery had ran out by the time I caught up with all the bikes. They did make for a fun photo when we took up the whole length of the ferries upper deck and the sound when we all started up to get off the ferry was something else too. During our wait to get on the ferry, a little discussion broke out as to whether it was safer to use the side stand or the center stand on the ferry, but we were put right when the ferryman made us use our side stands. Another good tip is to carry a thin towel or rag over the seat will protect the leather from the oily strap.
With bikes locked safely away I just tucked the X100F into my pocket and had a walk up to the upper decks. The ferry ride over was super foggy, but quite calm leaving for some pretty interesting photos of the sea. The X100F was the perfect camera for wandering around the ship. Its quiet nature yet wonderful sensor must make this a street photographers dream. The image below is pretty much right out the camera – it does a great job of pulling out the subtle shades and tones in the skies. Both the images below are taken from the X100F. During the crossing, a third of my time was spent taking pictures and exploring with the other two-thirds of my time was spent wondering how much rain was going to fall in the next week.
Above – Leaving England
Below – Arriving in Ireland
This is a little lighthouse, that seems to have no light, so maybe it’s just some kind of lookout point. Either way, the cool thing about this photo is something in the left side of the image. There is a brave soul getting ready to surf along with the waves created from the ship – also a pretty decent amount of detail from an insane crop. I did wish I had a longer lens though…. It raised a question with the X100F. I was happy I had the photo as I normally would not of had a camera with me, but also, if I had the X-Pro2 I would have had a longer lens, or maybe not. Is there a perfect camera? I know for a fact I would not of been walking about in the rain with the GFX. The X100F was the perfect camera for walking about and grabbing some images of the boat.
After almost dropping the bike on wet tram lines a few times and battling Dublin’s insane traffic at rush hour, not being able to park anywhere near the hotel – which was next to a strip club, it was late and I needed to get some rest and plan for the morning’s seminar for Bermingham Cameras. Maybe my attention was elsewhere or I was more excited about the rest of the trip, I just didn’t take any photos of Dublin aside from this one below of the car in the rain, Dublin is an odd place for me, it’s a bit like London in a way. It seems very dis-representative of Ireland. Just like any major city is not always a direct representation of a country. I arrived, dodged some manic drivers, went to Supermac’s after a fine Guinness with Brian from Bermingham Cameras and went to bed.
After a wonderful day talking about all things Fujifilm and going through the X Series system, I rode down to the Wicklow mountains. It was near dark when I arrived, so I found a pub and did as the locals do. The Guinness count was on about 6 when I went to find some food. If you ever find yourself passing through Newtownmountkennedy, drop into the Golden Village Take Away. They reopened just to cook me dinner and lunch for the next day. Delicious!
Next day was planned to be a nice ride through the Wicklow Mountains and a full day shooting with the GFX. The weather started positively after a light rain shower had passed early in the morning, leaving clear blue skies. I hit the road in jeans and leather jacket ready for a sunny ride in the hills. 20 mins later, I was stopping to put my full wet gear on near Sally Gap. I changed my plans to explore the local area, put Galway into the sat nav and put some miles down. My plan was to stop if the rain stopped but to avoid a long drive in the dark and wet. No more shooting only the motorway in thick rain and fog until nightfall. Riding at night, in the rain and alone in such remote areas is not a wise idea to say the least. For this reason, I knew I was not going to be able to shoot any sunsets or sunrises on this trip. If I was riding with a partner, then this would be different of course. In a car or van, these things are not even a worry as you can just get inside and turn the heating on if there is rain. On the bike, being cold and wet can bring about a loss of concentration. On these roads, that can be a fatal mistake to make. Since, I knew that I would be shooting mostly in the middle of the day or evenings, finding other ways to work with the landscape became a thought in my mind. The logical ‘golden hour’ images were out, so I took along the Super Stopper from Lee Filters. Anytime I didn’t have a sky to work with, I would simply make something out of the movement instead.
Passing through Sally Gap was the first chance I had to really get into photographing what I had traveled to see. I was riding West and the weather was coming East, I spotted a potential image on the map, so headed to a stretch of road I thought might get some images of the rain clouds coming over the hills. At first, the clouds fell behind all the hills, so I poured a little coffee and waited for the clouds to slightly pass over and create some depth between the hills. This was also the first real chance to use the GFX out in the field. I found the camera very easy and fast to learn and using the camera with my thick bike gloves was not a problem.
The image above is actually a stitched image from three images. It was starting to rain a little, so rather than switching lenses to the wider zoom, I stuck with the 120mm. It worked out quite well and I really love the flatness that shooting landscapes with longer lenses can give. This image worked out at about 12k pixels wide in the end. It’s been soft proofed for the Smooth Cotton paper from Fotospeed but not printed yet. This image does remind me of a larger question, is there a right lens? As I mentioned before, I really do enjoy photographing landscapes with long lenses and I would be the first to admit the 120mm GF lens is not really a long telephoto, it’s not really a wide angle either. What it is though is a tack sharp, crystal clear lens with near enough no problems that I can flag up as a concern. If I had to only take one lens with me for the GFX, it would have been the 120mm over the 32-64mm, mostly as the longer reach of the 120mm would have worked better for the later parts of the trip when I photographed Maddie in Manchester.
My First Morning in Galway
The first morning in Galway, I was up and out early. The rough route I had planned looped from Galway down to the Cliffs of Moher then back through The Burren, however, the gale force winds made it clear I was not going to get anywhere near the cliffs that day. The wind had got so bad that the Cliffs had been closed off and riding was quite the challenge. Instead, I turned the sat nav off and I ventured around some green lanes after photographing Dunguarie Castle in Kinvara.
The good thing about the Irish weather is also a side effect from the negative. The weather can change on the turn of a ‘Euro’. On the way to the coast, I passed through Fahee North, the clouds limited the view to about 50 meters, making the landscape a little different than what I had hoped to shoot. However, on the way back I found myself on the same road and found a chap walking near the same area I stopped before. We shared a coffee, sat for a bit and shared some stories, as we did, the weather changed and brightened up for me to take this image. For a couple of days, this was as sunny as it was going to be.