Vari ND Filters in Street photography

A Vari-ND filter is a filter made of two circular polarisers stacked one on top of the other. I bought the K&F Concept varied-nd which is advertised as and ND2-ND32 filter. I bought the 52mm diameter so it fits on my 35mm f/1.4 and 18mm f/2 lenses that I often use in street photography.

Light is an electromagnetic field which is emitted and travels with every angle from 0° to 360°. A polarizer or polariser is an optical filter that lets light waves of a specific polarization pass through while blocking light waves of other polarizations. It can filter a beam of light of undefined or mixed polarization into a beam of well-defined polarization, that is polarized light. (from wikipedia).

When a second polariser is stacked on top and in the same direction, it has little to no effect. However if the second polariser is rotated then it will cut out the light coming from the first polariser. The more it is rotated, the more light it cuts out

Maximum rotation
Somewhere in the middle
Minimum rotation

I can now control with a twist of the filter the amount of light that I let into the lens. I hear that these filters are not of a good enough quality for long exposure landscape photography. The light is too uneven across the frame and these filters do not give a good enough sharpness.

My idea is to put my camera in it’s lowest ISO setting (160 for the Fujifilm x-pro3). I choose quite a small aperture (from f/5.6 to f/11) and I twist the the filter until the shutter speed slows down around 1/6s or 1/3s. This will give me some blur in the photo.

35mm f/8 with 0.7s
35mm f/8 with 1/8s
18mm f/9 with 1/7s
35mm f/8 with 1/3s

The best street camera?

I bought a Sony a7r3 in 2017 and I have been using it exclusively since. It has had the Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 screwed on pretty much all of the time. I can truly say that it has been my main combo for two and a half years. The only other lens I have occasionally used is the Sony FE 85mm f/1.8.

A small camera for street photography

I have previously tried many cameras, bought or borrowed, from big DSLR cameras like the Nikon D700 and D800, the Fujifilm X-E2, X100T, X-T1 and X-T2, the Leica M240 and the Sony A7R more or less in that order. Out of them all, I loved using the Fujifilm cameras and the Leica was very special too.
I purchased the Sony a7r3 for a couple of reasons : the autofocus (including the face detection), the full-frame sensor and the very compact 35mm f/2.8
Another benefit is the battery lasts all day and more…

Face detection is great !

I quickly learned that the best setting for street is continuous auto-focus (AF-C) with the lock-on flexible spot with face detection on. This setting is fabulous. I do not have any more use for AF-S !
The face detection works very well for street photography, the camera picks up faces at quite a long distance and once it it locked on, it is like a pit-bull and doesn’t let go!

The green square is the flexible focus point. Once it locks on, you are good to go.

I have also put the camera in silent shutter mode to ensure perfect discretion and with the screen opened I can frame with the screen and shoot at waist level. People don’t notice me and don’t know I’m taking a photo. Perfect!

Looking at me, not the camera.

As I said, I have had the camera for a couple of years and hardly touched any settings for my street shooting. So where is the catch?
More recently, I have been having less fun taking street photos. I have been under the impression that I cannot create anything new or different. So I looked for another lens : a bit wider (28mm) or a bit longer (50mm). I tried a few vintage manual lenses adapt onto the camera like a Pentacon 50mm f/1.8 but manual focusing is less than ideal with this camera in fast moving situations. I have tried the Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 that has glowing reviews but after trying it a while, I never fell in love with it. I also find it too big.

I looked at the Sony 28mm f/2 but I have never tried it.

Then Fujifilm came out with the x-pro3. What a beautiful camera! I have kept the 35mm f/1.4 (50mm equivalent) and the 56mm f/1.2 (85mm equivalent) from my earlier Fujifilm days. I was very lucky to find a second hand model and after reading the reviews, I decided to buy it. It took me a while to set up but now I have used it for a couple of weeks, I have noticed that this great Sony a7r3 has made me very lazy. I will review the Fujifilm x-pro3 later but I can say that I am enjoying it hugely. I love the size of the lenses, the flip-down screen and obviously the film simulations. I have to put more thought into the way I want to take photos and I find myself doing much more that walking around, snapping off pictures as I walk. More of that later along with all the things it doesn’t do as well as the Sony.

Just walking and shooting.

If I had to recommend the Sony a7r3 for street photography then I would, without reserve. The autofocus is so great, I can walk and shoot in continuous autofocus without stopping or slowing down. I is the first camera I tried that could do this while locking on to my subject. The 35mm lens is very good, the pictures are sharp and clear. The 42 Mpx files are great with more than enough dynamic range. I have no intention of selling it any time soon and I will continue using it for macro photography and for my telephoto lens. Is it the best camera for street photography? Well, it is the one I have kept the longest!

Why not use colour?

When I first started out in photography, I had my fathers Praktika and a 50mm lens. I shot black and white film mostly but as I was a student, I didn’t do much film photography and after a while stopped photography altogether. When I bought my first digital camera (a Canon EOS 400D), I shot family and holiday snapshots in colour.  I started doing more and more photography in different genres : landscapes, long exposures, macro, portraits, high-speed, street… I think I have tried almost everything! Street photography has been growing on me since 2012, slowly but surely. I haven’t really consciously thought about it really but all my street photography has always been in black and white.

My inspiration has come from the French photographers Henri Cartier Bresson, Robert Doisneau, Willy Ronis,  Jacques Henri Lartigue, Sabine Weiss… all who photographed in black and white and often for a good reason!


As I spend time on the internet, I realise that a lot of street photographers use colour for their work but at the same time, that the colour of my own photographs isn’t as compelling or as powerful.

I have put a lot of time and effort into pre-visualising my photos, trying to see the light and the contrasts at the same time as imagining the photo I am about to take, looking at the people around me and trying to predict where they will be and what they will do… Phew! Exhausting!


I need to add to all that to be aware of the colours :  contrasts between colours, complimentary colours…  Even so, when I get in front of my computer and I look at my images, the colours are flat and rather lifeless. Raw files tend to be that way, but I have enough practice now to get a decent black and white image. I know where to go in the software, what to do. I have used Lightroom and now use ON1 photo raw quite a lot and in all honesty, the adjustments are the same, the methods are the same.


To come back to colour, a good starting point seems to be colour grading. There are a lot of useful videos on YouTube that explain what it is and how to do it. Any decent software with a curves adjustment is enough. By shifting separately the red, green and blue curves, it is possible to make subtle changes to the hues in the shadows and highlights that completely change the way the photo looks. I’m not saying that it is enough but it is a start. I have tried and consequently excluded using presets or LUTs to change the colours because I don’t feel I have much control on what I am doing and I don’t think I will learn much.

Queue for luxury

In the photos in this post, I have followed this method. I have also masked out sometimes parts of the photos to keep the original colours and this can make some areas pop!

Queue for luxury

So which do you prefer : the colour version or the b&w version?


It is a path to explore … the only way is forwards!

Why ON1 Photo Raw may be for me.

In the list of photo management and editors, ON1 Photo Raw has been under my radar for a while. Although I disregarded it for years when it was still called Perfect photo suite because it lacked any kind of photo management (DAM) and raw processing, in 2017 the company released its first version of the Photo Raw software. There has been (and still is) a lot of publicity around the software, many reviewers criticised the bugs, the slow speed and the lack of features that left it clearly behind the industries standard editor which is Lightroom.

Fast forward a year and a half, I read that the Photo Raw 2018.5 was a usable piece of software so I gave it a try.

Testing these new programs has enabled me to think about was I need and expect from my photo editor. I have used Lightroom/Photoshop for years and have a nice workflow in place. I still can’t use photoshop very well, and to be honest I have very few ideas on what to do to transform my photos. I watch videos on youtube from time to time to learn and I see people take a drab landscape to a 500px winner in what seems to be a lot of time and a lot of steps… I couldn’t do that, I lack the imagination I think and anyway, all the landscapes on 500px look the same…

So what photography do I do and what do I need? I encourage you to think about this as well, it can help to simplify and streamline the processing and save time as well.

  •  I take street photography mainly but on my memory card I will also have some family photos and some other genres depending on my mood and the places I go to (architecture, macro, travel photography…). I want to import all my raw files and keep them together but export my family photos in a separate place from my personal photography.
  • My street photography is in black and white. The software I use needs to do that properly : I want to modify the colour response and contrast globally, manage the structure, dodge and burn locally, add a vignette and odd little things.
  • I need little for my family photos, some quick adjustments, straighten and crop.
  • I used the Nik Software/Google plugins from photoshop for a long period and that covered anything I needed for my landscapes, portraits and architecture : some precise contrast adjustments, adjusting colour contrast is fabulous etc… I never really learned how to do this in photoshop without plugins so I need to have some kind of equivalent if I want to replace photoshop/lightroom.
  • My street photos go on Flickr, Instagram and google+, I sometime publish to 500px as well.

That is it .
I don’t need much from my software then.
Lightroom/Photoshop with plugins cover my needs.
Photo raw 2018.5 is the first piece of software that can do this on its own.

Let’s edit a photo and I’ll make a few comments on my workflow, the things I like and the things that are missing in Photo Raw. All the images here are screenshots so the definition will not be that of the real files.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.19.11

The importing is simple enough and I can do the same as in Lightroom : I put all my photos in subfolders classed by year/month/date. I rename the files starting by the name of the camera then the capture date and time. Lightroom uses a more flexible editor and I can get a name like : Sony-A7r3-2018-08-16-10h01min51s.arw
The same file in ON1 will look like Sony-A7R3-20180816-100151.arw
The extra hyphens, min, h, s are missing and I don’t see that I can add them in.

Once the photos are imported, you can get to work pretty fast. Here is the original file I’m working on. The raw conversion is very good. Highlight and shadow recovery work very well.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.21.44

The picture was taken quickly as I was walking past, it is not straight. Lightroom will have an auto correct that works really well. In the develop module of Photo Raw, there is a transform module. I used the keystone feature.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.24.44

I clicked apply and cropped the result a little.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.30.02The result is pretty convincing. The niggle I have is on the crop tool. By default it is in “Freeform” but I like to keep a 3:2 ratio for 99% of my pictures. You have to select the “original” mode to keep the crop aspect.

In the develop panel there is lens correction module that recognises my FE 35mm f/2.8 lens (one of the first lenses ever created for the sony a7 line) but it does not have a profile to correct for the vignette, distortion and aberrations.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.43.01

How bizarre… lets carry on then. I did very little in the develop module : a slight boost in exposure, a small adjustment in the white/black points and a bit of sharpening.
The adjustments in the black and white points in Lightroom are great. Stay pressed on the option/alt key and the screen goes black to let you adjust with precision. In Photo Raw, you press option/alt J to see the underexposed pixels in blue and the overexposed pixels in red. Not fancy but it works.

The magic happens in the Effects panel, which for me replaces the round trip to Photoshop and its plugins.

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 12.57.31

The black and white conversion tool is very good, you can control the colour response, add grain, control the overall exposure, shadows, highlights and contrast without going back to the develop module. You can also do split toning to change to sepia, cyanotype…

I added a vignette and a bit of contrast with the dynamic contrast tool.

There are local adjustments possible too like in Lightroom with very good masking tools and what they call a “perfect brush” which is the same as edge detection in LR. You can make gradients, ovals, and a luminosity mask.
In this photo, I just added a bit of exposure to the faces. It was quickly done.

The last thing to do is to export. I make a jpg copy of my edited pictures in the same folder as the raw files and a copy to another drive. There are lots of options for the export (file type,size, location, sharpening…) which you can save into a preset like LR.
I’d like to export quickly using the right mouse button but it doesn’t work.  Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 13.05.40

I can export to Flickr from Photo Raw which is cool but there is nothing for google+, 500px or Instagram. I now use the website (If this then that) to publish from flickr to 500px and Googe photos but I need to upload to instagram manually.
LR manages the publishing better because you can see all the photos you have already uploaded and you can put them in the appropriate service but publish them later.

The effects panel has quite a few additions. I haven’t used them all yet. To each his own!

Screen Shot 2018-09-07 at 13.11.01

There is one last Panel I’d like to mention. There is a layers panel where you can add layers that have different processing and merge them with masks. You can also merge different photos (like sky replacement). If my understanding is correct though the process is done in a tiff or psd format and you lose the non-destructive workflow. I think I need to watch a few tutorials before I try.

Conclusion : likes and niggles.

I could use this software!

  • It is fast enough (comparable to editing in Lightroom).
  • It is being improved regularly so features are being added and niggles are being improved.
  • The image quality is very good.
  • Using a single application is very comfortable and the effects added to the photos are in the non-destructive workflow. This is a big improvement on using photoshop plugins. No more tiff files hanging around!
  • I’d like a better import module that gives more flexible file renaming.
  • I’d like a better export module that gives a one-click export using several recipes (like in Capture one) and that keeps track of what photo I have uploaded to what service… and I need more social media services.
  • The masking features are very good, and complex enough to make me want to learn more to use them better.
  • There are blending options like in Photoshop for each effect and local adjustment. I feel I can learn how to use this software whereas photoshop seems too complex.
  • I don’t understand the pricing. I have seen offers at 49.99€ up to 129.99€ for a pro plus plan with free updates. On the site, they say it is a non subscription program but it is only written “perpetual licence” on the the pro plus plan. Yearly updates seem to cost about 70€. Adobe LR/Photoshop costs 11.48€ per month that is 137.76€ per year.
  • I have had a few crashes, it is annoying. LR has not crashed on me for a very long time.
  • I don’t understand the advantage of cataloging a folder under photo raw. I used the browser to edit my first photos then I catalogued my raw files folder. I can’t see the difference. If I take a photo in b&w on the camera, the embedded jpg is b&w. It therefore appears in b&w in Photo Raw. When I open the develop module, it turns into colour because it is reading the raw file. This takes about 5-10s (quite long then). I’d like an option to render my raw files when catalogued for them to open faster in the develop module. I could launch this at night maybe if it need to take a long time.

The Covered Passages of Paris.

The covered passages of Paris are a early form of shopping centres. They were built in the early part of the 19th and at one point Paris boasted over 150 of these passages. The architecture generally consists of a steel and glass ceiling, beautiful geometric floor tiles and shops one either side. These passages were pierced through other buildings and connect the streets on either side of a block. It would have been possible in the 1850’s to cross a great part of the right bank of the Seine through these passages.
Nowadays few remain, some are in a state of disrepair, others have been taken over by cafés and tea rooms or antique shops. One of the passages, Passage Brady, has quite a few Indian, Pakistani and other wonderfully exotic shops.

The challenge for a street photographer is finding an interesting spot, a street scene and good light. I spent a day walking through all the covered galleries but unfortunately the sky was overcast. In most of the galleries however, the light is diffused at best or quite dark if the glass roof doesn’t cover all the passage. Some passages don’t have a glass roof and are lit by lamps.

Here are some of my better shots from that day, all taken with a sony a7r3 and the sony 35mm f/2.8 lens. Edited in Lightroom and Skylum Tonality.


In a café

A stationary shop

Le Gardien

The passage

Walking past.
Walking past.


Pigs and books
Pigs and books

Phone call
Phone call

Quick break
Quick break




From the Fuji X-T2 to the Sony A7r III

I have a quick story here to tell about the switch I recently made from Fuji to Sony. I had been using the Fuji mirrorless system (x-e1,x-T1, x100T and x-T2) since 2012. The camera bodies have slowly improved over time giving fast and precise autofocus, a joystick (on the x-T2) to change focus point, a great picture quality and most of all easy access to all the necessary controls : shutter speed, iso, aperture… I must also stress the quality of the lenses, the XF16mm1.4, XF35mmF1.4 and XF90mmF2 are stellar prime lenses and the XF50-140 is a great zoom, sharp at all apertures and all focal lengths.

So why  change ?

Well, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence of course… I won’t try to convince anyone or try to justify myself (I’ve had so many cameras and lenses over the years, I gave up on that). I thought it might be interesting to show why the sony a7r III can help me move forwards in my photography and why I now think it is the ultimate (as of today) street camera.

But I like to think I am a little bit rational even if G.A.S is always a factor. First of all, image stabilisation is something that has creeped into a lot of systems and it is not a gimmick. I do a lot of street photography and I also use my macro lenses quite a bit. I own a Nikon 105 AF-D lens, which can be adapted on any mirrorless body, fuji or sony. There is no stabilisation in the lens so the in-body stabilisation is a great thing to have. The difference is huge between a stabilised and a non stabilised lens. I could have gone for the new fuji XF80mmF2.8 macro lens, but I really like my Nikon lens and I also have the laowa venus optics 60mm macro lens in Nikon mount which is really very good.

In street photography, my dream is to be able to walk around, shoot without stopping, getting anything I want in focus. I often pre-compose the picture before shooting, but I need to be lightning fast to put the focus point in the right place and shoot. This is where the Sony A7r III really shines, and where the A7r II does not work for me. The new joystick to place the focus point is a direct copy off fuji. It works well, but is often not fast enough in the street. The touch-screen allows me to place the focus point much quicker.

Sony a7r III +35mm f/2.8 @ 1/500s + F/2.8 + ISO 100

Now a bit of sony magic : when the screen is tilted out, the viewfinder detector is deactivated. Let me explain : on all the other camera bodies I have used, when the rear of the camera is too close to your body, or when you move a finger in front of the horizontal screen, the screen switches off… and you lose your shot. Not on this Sony camera. A simple thing to program maybe, but whereas I have been very critical of the ergonomics and haptics of the sony a7 series so far, I must admit this is brilliant.

Sony a7r III +35mm f/2.8 @ 1/800s + F/2.8 + ISO 100

The nail in the coffin for my Fujis is the way the sony can autofocus for my street shots. I have been a long time user of the af-s, flexible spot focusing for all my photography. Af-c has been for specific shoots : my dog, some cars and not much else because I don’t do a lot of wildlife or sport. The sony a7r III (and some other bodies before this one) have a flexible spot lock mode in af-c. Watch a video on you tube if you need to but I’ll explain briefly. When you press the shutter half way down, the small flexible spot focuses on the subject it is on and then stays locked on even if the subject moves around the viewfinder. Forget AF-S and use this! You see a subject in the street, put the focus point on it with the touchscreen, press half-way on the shutter and wait for the subject to get into the position you want, compose while you are doing this and them click! Photo done! Everything tack sharp, even if you are moving because that stabilised sensor really works. I use a shutter speed of 1/250s on my 35mm and it works fine. 1/500s if the subject is moving really close to you.

I have often said that the superiority of full-frame is over-rated, and I keep this opinion. It is an added bonus to have full frame because I can use my 50mm vintage lenses again at their intended focal length. The fall-off between the sharp in-focus areas and the out of focus parts in really smoother with full frame. I don’t give a damn about the number of pixels on the sensor, I really don’t. 16MP was enough, 24MP was great. 42MP is what it is at on the sony, so be it. The raw files by the way are slightly smaller than on the fuji X-T2 which is a bit strange and the rendering on Lightroom is noticeably faster.

Taken with the Nikon 105mm on the sony. I can see a beautiful transition from sharp to out of focus. Better than app-c here for me.


Where I stand to lose is on the size, weight and quality of the lenses. I now own the 35mm f2.8 and the 85mm f1.8 lenses. The 35mm is very compact and light. I bought it second-hand so it wasn’t too expensive. It lives on the camera body, it is a great lens, but if someone makes a compact. f1.8 or f2 lens, I’m on it straight away. Full frame is all about subject separation is it not ? The 85mm is sharp but has strange bokeh. In my mind the 56mm f/1.2 fuji lens is better quality. I think I could make a quick article on that later.



Weekly challenge: Waiting

I found out today that wordpress offers a weekly photo challenge here. This comes to me today as an idea for working on themes especially in street photography where inspiration comes sporadically.

These three photos come from my archives but I think I’ll try and give these challenges a go and try to publish at least one photo taken in the week.

Light and shadow
Fuji X100T @ 1/4000s + F/4 + ISO 200

This first photo was taken in London in the Canary Wharf area. I liked the contrast between the light of the sun and the shadows of the buildings around. I also liked the smiley bag. I took a first shot, the lady saw me so I went up to her to explain why I took the picture. She didn’t seem offended so I pushed my look and asked her if I could take another. I wasn’t sure the first one was framed properly because I took it so quickly. She accepted and you can see that she is smiling and relaxed.

Sitting around
X100T @ 1/640s + f/2.5 + ISO 200

This was taken in front of our local library. The dark box on the left hand side of the photo is a post box to return your books when the library is closed (which is most of the time in my opinion). I had the camera linked to my phone through the fuji app so this is a sneaky photo taken ninja style. The guy was looking peaceful and I thought the geometric lines would make a nice photo. When using the app, you have to stop to take the photo because there is quite a lag between pressing on the shutter in the app and the picture being taken. It is no good for moving subjects, they are out of the frame before the camera reacts… unless you can anticipate, which I’m trying to learn how to do.

Rest in the shade
Fuji XT-2 + XF90mmF2 @ 1/250s + f/2.8 + ISO 200


This third and last one is from Lumpini park in Bangkok (the one with the Komodo dragons). It was very hot that day and this lady was sitting in the shade. I love the shape on the table and benches with the lady making an asymmetrical composition.

The “waiting” theme is a great one for anybody starting out in street photography. Walk around any town, city or village and you will see plenty of people just hanging around. I often wonder what kind of life people I see in the streets live and that is what is great about street photography. When you go home and look and the photos you took, you can take the time to choose the best ones and erase the poor ones but when that is done, take the time to think about the people in the shots.



Willy Ronis : what I learned

Photo by Vercoquin on Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I visited an exhibition featuring the work of Willy Ronis yesterday.  It is not the exhibition that is featured on the above but I didn’t’t anticipate needing photos for a blog post (I’ll do better next time!) Willy Ronis is a French photographer (1910-2009) whose main body of work was street and documentary photography in and around Paris but also in the south of France. He also did some nude photography. He joint the Rapho photography agency just before the second world war with Brassaï, Robert Doisneau and Ergy Landau. As a left wing sympathiser, he photographed the strikes in the Citroën factory and focused on everyday life for the working classes.

There are no reproductions of photos by Willy Ronis in this article because they are not free of rights. I took a couple of photos to give you an idea of what I saw.

Walking around the exhibition, there were several comments on the photos made by the artist concerning the manner the photo was taken or how it should be printed. These comments can give us some insight and inspiration for our own work. There were three commentaries I took notice of particularly. They were written in French so I’ll give you a quick translation.

“Rue laurence-savart Menilmontant, Paris. 1948”

Have a look at the largest photo.

“A glazier was walking slowly up Rue Laurence Savart , backlit in this winter afternoons sun. His voice had made me leave Rue du retrait where I was looking for a subject and I ran towards him. When a photographer has time in his hunt, he searches for the best place to wait for the unexpected. In the same way, it is necessary, when something appears suddenly to look around the environment quickly to integrate into the frame the  elements that will best enhance the subject. Here it was the reflection of the puddle on the pavement and the stream which balances with the sky and the glass our man was carrying. The print is relatively easy. Don’t over compensate the top to keep a dazzling effect”.

Can you imagine yourself changing pace when you spot a good subject to catch the light ?
Do you take the time to look around the edges of the viewfinder to incorporate or take away some elements of the scene. In some ways a traditional rangefinder has an advantage over the electronic viewfinder or reflex viewfinder because it allows the eye to see out of the frame. If the viewfinder is on the left hand side of the camera and not in the centre, you can take photos with your two eyes open. The fuji x-pro 2 enables this as do the x100 series and also the Leica cameras. On the other hand, the electronic viewfinder gives the exposure and an idea of the contrasts in the photo in real time.

An exercice for the next time I’m out: Use my eyes before using the viewfinder to include interesting elements.

“Place Vendôme, Paris. 1947”

“Place Vendôme, Paris, on a rainy day, probably in the first months of 1947. I was hanging around. Maybe I was coming home from Rapho, the offices were very close. I must have seen a lady striding over the puddle and noticed the reflection of the Colonne Vendôme. By luck it was lunch hour and a group of young girls were leaving their work in the sewing houses nearby. I took several photos of strides and this one is the best. It is a good example of a previsualised photo. For the print, it is useful to keep the upper parts of the street quite light and to darken the blacks of the clothes.”

There is a myth in street photography about the “decisive moment”, a term coined by the American editors of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The original term though is “Images à la sauvette” : “Images on the fly”.  Many people would think that the only way to make street photography is to be in the right place at the right time and press on the shutter in an instant. Obviously, many photographers have practiced this technique with great success.  Willy Ronis shows us that a “decisive moment” may not be unique. He saw the possibility of a photo when he saw the lady step over the puddle but did not walk away. Instead, he waited and found a way to turn the opportunity into a photo. Maybe he tried this method many times and he probably went home empty handed most of the time. His legacy shows what he achieved, not the failures.

An exercice for the next time I’m out:  Look out for the interactions between people and the environment. If something can happen once, it can happen again. Then I can take some time to find the best light and composition before waiting for something to happen.

“Le Béguinage à Bruges, 1951”
Look at the photo on the left.

Copyright Vercoquin. Licence creative commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic.

“It was a grey morning and we were going to the Béguinage of Bruges (it is  house for members of a lay sisterhood). All of a sudden I heard a light and continuous crunching sound. I turned around and it was the sound of a company of Béguines going home after church. I ran. They weren’t far from their house and I wanted to keep some space in front of the group. I even had time to include a tree in the foreground on the left to balance the values and suggest different planes of depth. Needless to say this type of decision is made without thinking.”

Some photos taken with a 35mm or longer lens have a tendency to be flat. The subject appears but there is often little to give a sense of depth unless you are in an open space or looking down a street. The inclusion of an element in the foreground can help achieve this even if it is out of focus.

Parting comments.

Many of the photos I saw were not street photography per say. He took many photos on assignment for news magazines (Life, Regards…). He was also employed for commercial shoots. He also photographed his family in a documentary fashion. I have tried to highlight in this article some insights concerning the days Willy Ronis roamed the streets with his camera as many aspiring street photographers do. It seems important then to underline how many photos he must have taken on a daily basis.

Take-away point : Practice and train your eye. Take photos as often as possible. The cost is next to nothing with digital cameras nowadays but don’t shoot blind. Be aware of composition (The framing and the elements you choose to include or exclude), light and contrasts.

Willy Ronis started with a Rolleiflex (medium format) camera but changed for a rangefinder Foca. The reason he invokes in an interview I saw was that he didn’t want to change film every 12 frames. By the way, what we call “full frame”, the 24×36 sensor, Willy Ronis calls “small format”. (That is for the full frame snobs!). In 1980, he chose a Pentax reflex camera with a zoom. In his life he only used 3 cameras. How many photographers nowadays change camera regularly expecting their photography to improve.

Take-away point : Know your camera! Use the same camera and same lens as often as possible. In that way, the framing of a scene will become more automatic and you can change the necessary settings in the flash. The time you save knowing your camera will be time saved to use your eyes before pressing the shutter button.

Fuji vs Leica : a street photographers dream.

This is a short article to address the question of what camera to choose for street photography without taking cost into consideration. I own and have used fuji cameras for street photography (I currently have the x-pro 2) and I recently tried a couple of leica rangefinders : the M240 and the new M10.

Many would say the comparison is unfair or that these two cameras and completely different beasts in philosophy and in use. I now disagree with this since the salesman at the leica store in Paris gave me the same arguments to buy the leica as those I gave to myself to get the x-pro2. I’ll be going through these arguments.

Argument number 1: The Leica M10 is compact.

Yes, it is a feat of engineering to get some much into such a little package. Here is a view from the site . I have on the left the fujifilm x-pro2 with the 23mm f/2 lens attached. I bought this lens because of its comact size compared to the 23mm f/1.4. The package weighs 675g. On the right is the leica M10 with the summilux 35mm f/1.4 On this view it looks about the same size but in reality the leica looks smaller. It weighs more though at 980g. Compact but heavy! The is quite a lot of brass in the leica body whereas the fuji has an magnesium shell. The construction of the fuji is very good but the leica is like a brick.


If you sacrifice the f/1.4 aperture to go for the summicron 35mm f/2, the size difference is greater still.


In conclusion for this part, for the same focal length and same maximum aperture, the leica is more compact. The explanation is twofold. First of all the leica lenses are manual focus so there are no motors or focusing mecanisms in leica lenses. This makes them thinner. Secondly, the sensor in the leica is deeply recessed into the body whereas it is closer to the lens in the fuji. This makes the lens designs shorter for the leicas. I’ll get into comparing the sensors later. Bear with me!

Argument number 2: You can change/check the settings without switching on the camera.

Here is the second reason I like fuji cameras. The lenses have aperture rings, there is a shutter speed dial and an iso dial. (This is new on the leica m10 compared to the previous digital models.) The fuji has a small advantage here with the exposure compensation dial being on top a verifiable. The leica has a wheel for the exposure compensation on the top right hand side of the back of the body, easily accessible with the thumb.

Argument number 3: The image quality is sensationnal.

Well I tested both cameras and I have to agree. The fuji images a great, I love the colours and the x-trans sensor gives very acceptable photos up to 12800 iso. The pictures that come out of the leica are better. Many would argue that the lenses are very special that there is some leica magic. I do not dispute this although I find it difficult to test. The fact of the matter is that leica puts a larger sensor in a smaller camera and with a lens that has a larger aperture, the difference can become huge. Just think of it : f/2 on the crop sensor x-pro2 gives more or less the same depth of field as f/3 on a full frame (that is just over 1 stop). With a summilux f/1.4 lens, that is another stop. Where it is difficult to get a good background blur on the fuji 23mm for a subject at 5-10 metres away, the leica can manage. Lets look!

Fujiflm x-pro 2 with 23mm f/2 at f/2 at 1/950s at ISO 200.


Leica M10 with summilux 35mm f/1.4 at f/1.4 and 1/500s. ISO 100


Notice the better subject separation in the second photo, what they call the 3D pop?

Question number 1 : What about focusing?

I have used a manual rangefinder camera twice in my life for a total of 30 minutes. I find it great fun but difficult to nail exact focus. The two previous photos were taken out of a shop window with people walking across the frame.

With the fuji, I frame first, place a focus square where I want the passer-by to be and then wait and shoot. The advantage is that the fuji x-pro2 focusing very fast and accurately. The difficulty is choosing the focus point correctly. Although the little joystick is fast and easy to use to move the focus point, in the heat of the action it is not fast enough. Here is a 100% crop:


With the leica, I focused on a spot of the pavement at a distance I estimated a person would walk through. Then I composed the photo and waited. The difficulty is choosing the right distance to focus. The advantage is that you can take to person wherever you like in the frame, the focus is already correct. Here is a 100% crop.


The focus is not bad but not spot on. The photo was taken at 1/500s, plenty fast enough to freeze rhe action.

The question is : does precise focus matter? The more I take photos, the more I feel that focus and noise are not important. The main factors that make a photo are the composition and the subject. Depth of field comes into the composition, colours do too. How many photos from the masters of photography like Henri Cartier Bresson do not have the exacting focus digital cameras give us now? What do we get out of pixel peeping? I think that good focus is important, exact focus is not. But I’m not a professional photographer and I don’t do fashion.

Question number 2 : What else ?

The leica doesn’t do video, I don’t either. The lens frames in the viewfinder go from 28mm to 135mm. I like the 24mm lens for landscapes and I use the 50-140 f/2.8 zoom occasionally (for concerts and portraits for example).  The x-pro2 has extensive menus enabling Multi / Spot / Average / Center Weighted exposure control. It has an hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, it has manual shutter up to 1/8000s and electronic shutter up to 1/32 000s which is great in bright light. It has dual SD slots, a very wide selection of focal lengths for the lenses you can mount with zoom lenses that leica does not provide. It is a complete package that works extremely well and provides the controls for a very varied number of situations. In street photography, I use a simple setup and few of these bells&whistles but I like keeping my options open.

The leica, although not a one-trick pony (you can mount a wide angle lens and use liveview), is an exercise in restrictions. But restrictions can be liberating can’t they? Is less more?

I tried out a summicron 50mm f/2 recently too and I’ll post a comparison with the fuji 35mm f/1.4. The results should be about the same shouldn’t they?



The Streets of London with the Fuji X100T.

The X100T is small lightweight camera with a fixed focal length of 23mm on an aps-c sized sensor. This is equivalent to the 35mm lens on a full frame camera. The same focal length Henri Cartier Bresson used… But he had a Leica and he was a better photographer…

This doesn’t stop me from trying so here are a few street photos. As usual, I use the electronic viewfinder most of the time and I set it in black and white. I prefer looking at a scene in black and white, I see the contrasts better.

Some indoor photos first. This is taken in the British museum. The camera goes to ISO 6400 with raw files so I’m pleased to now own the x-pro2 that goes to ISO 12800.

Lost in a museum
Fuji X100T @ 1/60s + f/2 + ISO 6400.

This one was taken inside the National Gallery. I enjoy having a small camera, it is discrete and nearly silent. No one gives me a second look, except for when I take a photo (sometimes).

Fuji X100T @ 1/125s + f/2 + ISO 5000.

A photo in a small pub south of the Thames. I focused on the lady who owns the place. You’d think we were 30 years ago. The place had cats everywhere.

Fuji X100T @ 1/105s + f/2 + ISO 6400.

A French barber in Kingley Court off Carnaby street, London. Great guy!

Mr Ducktail
Fuji X100T @ 1/125s + f/2.8 + ISO 6400.

Now for some shots on the streets.
Who said telephone boxes were useless now?

Phone box
Fuji X100T @ 1/500s + f/2.8 + ISO 200.

This is Canary Wharf, I settled down in a corner, turned the exposure way down and waited for someone to appear.

Fuji X100T @ 1/420s + f/5.6 + ISO 200.

Another example where I turned the exposure way down to get all the details in the highlights. The lady saw me the first time I took the photo so I went up to chat and she let me take a couple more. This is the last one I took. I like her smily bag.

Light and shadow
Fuji X100T @ 1/4000s + f/4 + ISO 200.

Still in Canary Wharf, it is lunch time and people are lining up at regular intervals along the pavement to eat, drink and phone.

Luch break
Fuji X100T @ 1/1600s + f/4 + ISO 200.

Important call.
Fuji X100T @ 1/850s + f/4 + ISO 200.

Phones are everywhere but times will change and one day these photos will look very dated.

Fuji X100T @ 1/50s + f/8 + ISO 200.

The old shell game is still a popular scam on Tower Bridge. Photographers are not welcome. Discretion is a necessity to grab a photo.

Shell game
Fuji X100T @ 1/550s + f/4 + ISO 200.

All in all I really enjoyed using the X100T, but the x-pro2 with the 23mm f/2 lens is faster and more accurate to focus while remaining discrete and quiet.