Londoners - A Film by Oliver Astrologo

There’s no place on earth quite like London. Truth is, it’s such a hard city to capture on film with its diversity of culture, ethnicity, architecture, lifestyle, and more. It’s a city best experienced in person but if you haven’t been, filmmaker Oliver Astrologo does a bang up job of giving you a glimpse.

Filmed over a two-year period, Astrologo calls this “one of the most demanding and challenging projects” of his career. He gets up close and personal with everyday Londoners and really captures the grittiness and the frenetic pace of life in the British capital.

I’ve always admired the attention to detail in Astrologo’s editing, especially his use of myriad cuts and bringing in native audio and sound effects. It really pulls you into the city he’s exploring. He also manages to capture the feeling and uncertainty that exists around Brexit by bringing in current news footage and using bluer, cooler tones that evoke a coldness to the opening sequences.

The simple narrative that is almost hidden throughout the whole film really makes for a satisfying look at life in London.

You can find more of Oliver Astrologo’s work on his Vimeo page here or on his website here. Check out some my personal favorite films of his on Japan here and Venezia here.

The Fuji X-T3 in New York City: A Travel Camera Review

For the last few months, I've played around with a Canon A-1 film camera to help gain some insight into the analog method of taking and developing pictures. The prism focus mechanism and the manual turning of knobs made me feel liberated, like I was the one creating the final product. That feeling can get lost in the hyper processing power of modern day DSLR and mirrorless cameras but shooting with the Fujifilm X-T3 is the closest thing I've found. From its vintage stylings, a hallmark of most Fuji cameras, to its ability to digitally recreate prism focusing, the X-T3 puts the fun back into shooting digital images.

Fuji X-T3 with 27mm lens. ISO 2500, f/3.2, 1/40sec.

Fuji X-T3 with 27mm lens. ISO 2500, f/3.2, 1/40sec.

Going All In With Fuji

In late 2017 I switched from a Nikon D750 system to the Sony a7Rii because it was a smaller system that came with better video options. I also owned a smaller Fuji X-T20 that I used for street photography, and in 2018 I began to enjoy taking more photos with the Fuji than the Sony. Since I already owned a few Fuji lenses, I sold my Sony a7Rii and bought the new Fuji X-T3.

Fuji X-T3 with 27mm lens. ISO 3200, f/3.6, 1/250sec.

Fuji X-T3 with 27mm lens. ISO 3200, f/3.6, 1/250sec.

The Fuji X-T3 in NYC

I recently took the X-T3 for a spin on the streets of New York City during a trip with our friends from Boozing Abroad. For most of the trip, I used the Fuji 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens, one of the best travel lenses you can own for street photography. It's light, tiny and takes sharp images, especially in the f/5.6 to f/8 range. Unlike the smaller X-T20 that we've had in the house for over a year, the X-T3 feels substantially more like a professional camera. It sports dedicated knobs for ISO, shutter speed, and exposure compensation that compliment the super quick autofocus system. The Fuji 27mm lens doesn't come with the traditional aperture ring that most Fuji lenses sport due to its small footprint, but the front and back scroll wheels of the X-T3 stand in quite nicely.

To turn the X-T3 into an even more digital/analog hybrid, I tend to turn off the screen and only use the electronic viewfinder (EVF), so I'm looking through the viewfinder, changing ISO, shutter speed, and the aperture through manual controls, and even focusing manually at times.

Fuji X-T3 with 18-55mm lens. ISO 3200, f/4.5, 1/250sec.

Fuji X-T3 with 18-55mm lens. ISO 3200, f/4.5, 1/250sec.

APS-C or Full-Frame?

I first chose Sony because of the a7Rii's full-frame sensor and video capabilities, but over time came to find that in the shooting that I like, full-frame isn't as big of a factor. The Fuji X-T3's APS-C sized sensor (a smaller size, compared to a full-frame 35mm sensor) is more than capable of providing a shallow depth of field.

Another perk of an APS-C sized sensor is that the lenses usually cost less than there full-frame counterparts. I picked up the 27mm pancake lens used for only $270 and just got a used Fuji 35mm f/2 lens for $350. Up and down their lens lineup, Fuji lenses cost less because it takes less glass to cover a smaller sensor area.

Fuji X-T3 with 27mm lens. ISO 250, f/7.1, 1/60sec.

Fuji X-T3 with 27mm lens. ISO 250, f/7.1, 1/60sec.

Functionality

One of my biggest complaints about the Sony a7Rii was the battery life or lack thereof. With the X-T3 I can get well above the 300-350 shots per charge that it's rated for and only changed the battery once while out shooting all day in New York City. It's a small camera, so the battery is still pretty small, but the key is to make sure you're powered off between uses. A great new power feature is the X-T3's ability to charge over USB-C, even while in use. This comes in handy when filming 4k video without the optional battery grip.

One thing the X-T3 does lack is in body image stabilization, which can make shooting video handheld a little hard. For most of what I do, it's not a problem, but it lags behind the competition in this area.

Fuji X-T3 with 27mm lens. ISO 500, f/2.8, 1/40sec.

Fuji X-T3 with 27mm lens. ISO 500, f/2.8, 1/40sec.

Adaptability

A few weeks ago I picked up a K&F Concept adapter that lets me use my old manual Canon FD lenses on the X-T3. I haven't gotten to do a lot of shooting with it yet, but early results are encouraging. I've found it very satisfying using an older lens on a new camera, especially in street photography. The Canon 50mm and 28mm FD that I use are small and blend right into the camera's vintage aesthetics.

Fuji X-T3 with 18-55mm lens. ISO 160, f/5.6, 1/210sec.

Fuji X-T3 with 18-55mm lens. ISO 160, f/5.6, 1/210sec.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a small camera that takes stunning pictures and has all the new video features that you crave, I recommend the Fuji X-T3. From its vintage look and feel to the ease of taking pictures that look great straight out of the camera, you won't be disappointed. Don't let the smaller sensor fool you; this camera has excellent depth of field and works well for landscape, portraiture, travel, and more. Plus, at only $1399, you'll save some money over the full-frame competitors and be able to afford some more lens options.

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Mini Berlin

When you’ve never been to a place, everything about it seems small and dreamlike. As a child, I used to go to Six Flags - Astroworld in Houston and was overwhelmed by the enormity of it. Flash forward ten years and walking across the entire park only took 15 minutes. Not only had my height changed, but so had my perspective of the world, even though Astroworld stayed the same.

As we prepare for our trip to Berlin later this year, that same feeling has hit me. Every bit of Berlin I’ve experienced has been second hand through books and film. The thing is, I’m eager to keep that childlike wonder about me as I roam Kruezberg and Potsdamer Platz. Sure I’ve been to other places in Europe, so the scale of the city won’t surprise me, but I want other things to.

I ran across this new video from filmmakers Efim Graboy and Daria Turetski that uses tilt-shift lenses and photography to picture a mini Berlin, people teeming about like toy models. It reminds me of watching a Wes Anderson movie and only makes me want to visit the city sooner.

You can see more from Efim Graboy and Daria Turetski here.

Slowing Down in a Digital/Analog World

There's a romanticism around old things. Film cameras. Record players. Mid-century modern furniture. Things our grandparents owned. Some of the nostalgia comes from a burgeoning digital world built on smart devices, notifications, instant gratification and whatever I want on demand. It's almost too easy.

With the advent of Apple's new Screen Time feature and even a way to track your Instagram habit, in-app of course, there's a growing feeling that maybe all the screen time we currently enjoy isn't good for us. The question is, haven't we been here before?

In his short film "Peripheral," cinematographer Casey Cavanaugh tells a story entirely through the viewfinder of a Hasselblad 500C/M camera. It touches on themes of being present in your life and the time-tested mantra of "pic, or it didn't happen."

I struggle with taking too many photos of big events, especially while traveling. There's a fine line between documenting your life and living it that is hard to straddle most days. Smartphones haven't helped the matter, but they are just another piece in a long line of addictive tech and behavior that can take us out of the world around us.

One of the reasons I like film photography is for its ability to slow down the process and make me think about what is going on around me. With only 36 exposures and the rising price of film and development, each shot seems more precious, thought out. I tend to talk more about what I'm shooting with the people around me since I can't just show them on the screen after the fact.

I’m currently reading Henry David Thoreau’s “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” (which is an excerpt from his book ‘Walden’ published in the Penguin Great Ideas series) and I’m struck by his tone of indifference to the world around him. In the chapter on the economy, Thoreau lays out his reasons for choosing Walden as his site of retreat from the world and of his mistrust of people and common life. I’ve always wanted to live a simple lifestyle but not at the cost of abandoning those around me.

I believe that the people around us shape who we are and how we live our life. Sure we may have to course correct every once in a while, but I’d rather live with people at the moment.

So whether it's an old hobby or a new-tech experience, remember that we live life with the people around us and that all the other things are meant to enhance that, not take away. When you're traveling or just out to dinner with friends, put that smartphone, old camera or whatever it is, away for a second. Live deeply. That should give you plenty to take photos of later.

Making Pictures: Street Photography

When I worked in downtown Houston, I would use my lunch break to walk around with my camera. Most of the time I used my trusty little Fuji X-T20 with an 18-55mm f/2.8-4 lens that is pretty small and doesn’t scream, “I’m taking your photo!”. To be honest, I’m not good at taking photos with people in them. Not really from a technical standpoint, more from an introverted one, so the X-T20 is perfect because it has a small footprint and doesn’t look like a professional style DSLR.

The fun of street photography is that you will rarely ever see the same thing twice. Cities are living beings that continuously move and change, a veritable photographic feast every minute of the day.

In his video on street photography, Sean Tucker walks around Rome (also with a Fuji X-T20) and gives tips on how to create stylized shots without being obtrusive. His use of contrast, shadow and framing really provide a good base for a beautiful picture.

He also gives practical advice on taking pictures of people and what to do if someone doesn’t want you to take their picture. I ascribe to the “delete if necessary” philosophy because the last thing I want to do is make someone uncomfortable by taking their photo. Regardless of the law, I would rather be respectful of people’s right to privacy, and if they ask me to not take their picture or delete the one I’ve taken, I’ll happily oblige.

Below are some of my photos from walks around downtown Houston using the Fuji X-T20.

Street photography can be a great exercise to improve your skills, as well as a great way to document a different side of a trip. These simple tips from Sean Tucker will help you develop your own street style and come home with some great new images.