Earlier this month I took a much needed break on the Scottish island of Islay, which is situated just off the west coast, a two hour ferry ride from the mainland. Whenever I go away for a weekend with my family I try not to overload the bag with camera gear. There is a compromise to be made when deciding what to take but at least with the X-Series the compromises are not that hard as every camera and lens is top quality. I decided to pack my X-H1, because I was going to shoot a video of the trip using a GoPro fitted with the Karma stabiliser grip and the X-H1 could provide some great video footage as well thanks to it’s IBIS system.
For lenses I decided on the Fujinon XF16mm f/1.4 as my go to lens for the weekend and the XF50-140mm f/2.8 and 2x converter for any wildlife we spotted. That was all I was going to take to Islay apart from some spare batteries and memory cards, a set of Formatt-Hitech Firecrest Ultra filters, with the 67mm adapter ring for the 16mm lens. I also packed the Phantom 4 Pro drone, but that turned out to be redundant as the wind was too strong to fly apart from one flight on the first day.
Now, the 16mm f/1.4 might be a strange choice to some readers, especially as I have the superb XF16-55mm f/2.8 and XF10-24mm f/4 zooms available to me. I will explain why I chose the prime lens over the zooms.
I like to challenge myself every so often by limiting my choice of focal length.
I also love the look of the images the 16mm produces, especially at f/1.4 or f/2. I have the same love affair with the 90mm f/2. As I said earlier, I have the 50-140mm f/2.8, which covers the 90mm focal length, but the prime is just so good that I ended up with both the prime and the zoom in the camera bag. However the 90mm was left at home on this trip.
Anyway, back to the 16mm. I also love the 83 degree field of view of the lens, it is wide but not too wide. I know a lot of photographers favour the 23mm f/1.4 or f/2 lenses for travel but I find the 35mm equivalent field of view too limiting for my style of photography.
I also have the diminutive 18mm f/2 lens, which I consider to be the most underrated Fujinon lens, but the 16mm is my favourite prime for it’s flexibility for shooting landscapes, architecture and people. The fast aperture also makes shooting in challenging light a doddle and the bokeh is to die for when you get in close to your subject.
The four Fujinon zooms (100-400mm, 50-140mm, 16-55mm, 10-24mm) are my go to lenses when working as a sports photographer as they are bitingly sharp and the variable focal lengths mean I can work quickly and efficiently in the fast moving environments I find myself in most of the time. However zooms can make you a little lazy. You have to think more creatively with a prime and you have to also ‘zoom’ with your feet rather than twisting the barrel of the lens.
So we packed the VW camper we hired from Open Road Scotland in Glasgow and headed up to Kennacraig in Argyll and Bute to catch the ferry over to Islay, which is a short 2-hour crossing away.
Islay is 600 square kilometres and boasts 130 miles of coast line with white sandy beaches and surrounded by crystal clear blue seas.
After checking into our campsite, we headed off to Machir Bay on the island’s west coast, with Canada the next landfall if you headed west across the Atlantic Ocean in a boat from the beach.
Like most beaches on the island the sand is pristine, the bright blue sea crashes onto the shore and there is hardly anyone else in sight, just a few dog walkers and hikers.
Using the 16mm I took some shots of the beach from the shoreline and also from the path leading away from the beach at the southern end. This path headed up into the hills and looking back gave some great views across the bay. On the beach I opened the aperture up to f/1.4 and took some images of seaweed and some jelly fish that were lying on the tide line. The wide aperture throws the background out of focus giving me that classic look by isolating the subject in the images.
The AF on the 16mm is quick and precise but when using wide apertures with a very shallow depth of field it is easy to switch over to manual focus to make sure the focus point is spot on. By pulling the focus ring back towards the camera manual focus is engaged by half pressing the shutter release. I have focus peaking (RED HIGH) selected on my cameras so I can see immediately where the focus point is within the image.
The next place on our itinerary was the Bowmore Distillery. Islay is famous for its single malt whisky and has eight working distilleries. Established in 1779, Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay and they still produce their famous whisky in a traditional manner, with some modern technology to help the production process.
We went along for a tour of the distillery and then got to sample the 12 year old, 15 year old and 18 year old whisky at the end. Two bottles of Bowmore were safely stowed in the camper for the trip back home to Dunbar.
The fast f/1.4 aperture really came into its own in the gloomy conditions inside the warehouses, enabling me to get the shots I wanted without pushing the ISO too high or resorting to a flash gun, which I didn’t pack anyway as the results from on camera flash are invariably unflattering, so I prefer to work with the light that is available for more atmospheric images.
After the whisky tour we headed to Kildalton on the east side of the island where the Kildalton cross is located. The stone cross is one of the finest early Christian crosses in Scotland. Despite being over 1300 years old the carvings on the 2.65 metre cross are still clearly visible. It seems incredible that this artefact has survived the driving winds and rain, as well as the turbulent human history, since the 8th century when it was carved.
I took some wide shots of the cross and the ruined chapel and then got in close to the carvings, using the f/1.4 maximum aperture to good effect. The lens minimum focusing distance of just 15cm allows you to get in close to your subject and gives a maximum magnification of 0.21x.
There were several more stops over the next two days and the 16mm was rarely off the front of my X-H1. The only time the 50-140mm was fitted was when we spotted some Highland cows, some seals in the harbour at Portnahaven and for some closer shots of the Rhinn Lighthouse just off the south coast of Islay.
The weather sealing of the 16mm also came in handy as the fickle Scottish weather meant it would inevitably rain at some point during the day. So it was comforting to know that the camera and lens would be able to shrug off the rain should we be caught out in a heavy shower during the weekend.
The Fujinon XF16mm f/1.4R WR is possibly the best lens in the Fujinon line up, well the second best now that I have tested the soon to be released XF200mm f/2. The 16mm is light enough at 375g and is not too large on any X Series camera, including the X-E3 and X-Pro2. The quality of the images it can produce are second to none and the fast f/1.4 aperture means you can get that beautiful shallow depth of field or shoot in near dark conditions with ease.
When I travel around the world with the FIA World Endurance Championship, the four Fujinon zooms are in the camera bag, including the XF16-55mm f/2.8, but so is the XF16mm f/1.4. The fact that the focal length is double up over too lenses doesn’t matter, the 16mm prime has earned its place in my lens line up!
For more information on Islay visit www.islayinfo.com.
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