Fujifilm, Fo Guan Shan and a Mud Volcano.....
As much as I love my Nikon kit I have been looking for something lighter to use on travel assignments. As you may know if you have read my blog before I really enjoy my little Fujifilm X100, however there are a couple of niggles with it. I have the first generation X100 and it is slow to focus, sometimes painfully so, using it purely as a rangefinder is great, set the focal distance and learn to mentally measure the correct distance. Sounds hard but becomes second nature with practice. Although the glass is a delight on the X100, being fixed 35mm has run me into a few issues, Looking at how much I love the feel from the X-Trans sensor I figured Fujifilm was probably the way for me to go for my new travel outfit.
I got my hands on the Sony A7, undeniably a very capable camera, but I can't get over how lovely the images from the X-Trans sensor are. There is something that is just different and almost organic feeling about them, a bit like film. I also wanted to move away from an SLR feeling camera and keep it small, along the lines of my X100. The obvious choice in the Fujifilm range which offers me all I need and more is the Fujifilm X-E2. Having made up my mind I set about getting one and am happy to announce to all, that haven't figured this out from my Instagram posts and Tweets, I now have one and it is bloody awesome!
Every shot in this blog (except the photograph of my X-E2 which I snapped on my iPhone in a cafe) is made with my Fujifilm X-E2, it is with me all the time now. I have found only one draw, if I use the camera in a studio situation with flash then the live EVF (Electronic View Finder) is basically black. One drawback, which I can work around is nothing as everything else about the camera is all positive, and I have lots more to learn about it too.
I found myself heading to Kaohsiung and decided the best test would be to only take my Fujifilm X-E2. It is a good practice to enforce your restriction, what became apparent by doing this was that there are very few restrictions with the X-E2 and the 18-55mm kit lens as you will see.
First of course, the new tool. Say hello to my fantastic X-E2, pretty little thing isn't it.
Only taking this little Fuji, I felt the freedom to move. No more trappings of lens choices, speedlights and heavy bags full of kit, just me the available light this little camera. I felt a sense of purity, and also a bit odd leaving everything behind in the north.
Arriving in Kaohsiung and meeting Mrs. L at the hotel, I dropped my bag off and we headed out to our favourite Japanese beer house in Kaohsiung..
Ever since my old days of shooting 35mm film I was never the biggest fan of grain. I used Agfa 50iso film and Provia 100 mostly. I still shoot on Provia now, I guess I have been a loyal Fuji man for all my photographic life. My Nikons do ok at higher ISO settings but I still feel the noise is too much sometimes. The X-E2 is a revelation for me. I am happy to crank it right up and am not worried at all, it is amazing. In the cab here shooting at 2500iso hand held at 1/20th the Fuji takes the conditions in it's stride.
Scooters are the most common choice of transport here in Taiwan, it is mind boggling during rush hour as they stream along the roads, pavement, pathways, hell anywhere they feel they want to go, they just go. I had seen a few custom and trick scooters but this was the first slammed Rukkus I have seen here. With an 18-55mm lens I could open up the zoom and fit this all in, that would have been an issue with my X100 and it's 35mm fixed focal range.
The skilled Chefs, prep the tasty treats on the menu ready for a busy night.
Cold and refreshing, Orion on tap is the perfect choice to accompany the Tapas like grilled assortments on offer.
Good Sushi in Kaohsiung, but you'd expect nothing less in a Japanese restaurant in Taiwan's largest port town. Some places are better than others, this seared tuna salad was every bit as delicious as it looks.
Kaohsiung is beginning to remind me a bit of Brighton. The younger folk displaying a sense of their own fashion and style as an arty community grows in the town. I get the sense it is experiencing somewhat of a regeneration. Having enjoyed their meal, these Taiwan hipsters turn to their phones to socialise, a bit too typical a scene at the dinner table for my liking, maybe I am just getting old. One thing I really love about the X100 is how unobtrusive it is, the X-E2 follows in the same footsteps. It is subtle, quiet and allows you to go about getting shots without being too blatant or disruptive.
One last shot before before bed, and totally different conditions. The view from the 35th floor of the Grand Hi-Lai Hotel looking out over Kaohsiung.
The next day I decided I wanted to head out, having sorted my driving license and the sun being in the sky, it made sense to hire a scooter. The last time I was on two wheels was before I left the UK to move to Taiwan. However it was, as the say, just like riding a bike. Having had a little look about onine, I made my way to the Fo Guan Shan Temple (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fo_Guang_Shan). Having the freedom of the scooter meant that if I saw a sign or got curious then, as is my way I would just turn and head off along that road. I found myself very happily riding along next to the river without a care in the world.
My ride for the weekend, not quite the bike I am used to but it was a total joy just to be out on two wheels again. I hired this from Louis's Scooter Rental in Kaohsiung 24hrs for NT700 (http://www.scooters-kaohsiung.tw/). Louis is a nice bloke, he speaks English well and the scooter was in good order, i.e it did going and stopping both quite well.
About and hour after setting out from the shop I reached my destination, the huge and impressive Buddhist Temple.
Although it was a Saturday, and there were already buses arriving the Temple was still fairly empty. This had changed by midday as I was leaving. It seems that in Taiwan, if you want to avoid the crowds, arrive early and be heading away around lunchtime.
In the UK I never much enjoyed going to church, I always felt uncomfortable in those places, however I am quite happy in a Buddhist Temple. The atmosphere is tranquil and welcoming, here there was a constant soundtrack of chanting punctuated with announcements over the tannoy, but it wasn't overly intrusive. I am not a religious man, however if I were I know I would prefer progression to oppression any day of the week, for now though I will forge my own path.
There was a fun instillation of these fellows on both sides of the almost symmetrical approach to the temple itself. Hopefully you can get an idea of how huge the statue of Buddha on top of the temple really is.
He really is a big lad.
Remember to look up when you are visiting these places, the ceilings often hold impressive features like this glorious lotus flower centre piece light.
I can only wonder at the amount of hours/years of work that went into this amazing carving made in one piece of tree.
Zooming in with the Fuji 18-55mm lens I can show you a better impression of the detail in this carving, stunning isn't it.
Having spent a couple of hours or so it was time for lunch and so I made my way back to the scooter. On the way I passed a display of lanterns. They took their inspiration from modern and traditional themes. Above a scene from "Finding Nemo" and below the more traditional influences.
"Humanistic Buddha Land".
"A thousand prayers voiced. A thousand prayers answered."
Grilled Sailfish at Pasadena Bouchon.
Mrs. L and I both enjoy eating out when we can and discovering new places is always good. On the cards this evening, Pasadena Bouchon, a French influenced restaurant. The food was good, as was the wine and service, however the seating was a little more lounge than restaurant. I'd say it is worth checking out though if you are down this way and fancy something a bit posh.
A good travel camera has to be versatile, you can see from the shots above I have already used the X-E2 in a multitude of different and challenging conditions. Food photography is one of the most challenging. Obviously I didn't have a chance to set up a studio to make this and had to rely on my knowledge of settings and the camera's capability to create the shot I wanted. One of the most important things with food is to get the colours correct, the auto whiteblalnce performed well in tricky, mixed lighting conditions to produce a pleasant food photograph. Again having confidence to raise the ISO (2000 here) really helped in the dimly lit environment of this stylish restaurant.
Obviously wanting to get the most out of my NT700 scooter I was up early the next day and ready for an adventure. My friend Michael had suggested I make the trip to the "Wushanding Mud Volcano" as it isn't too far from Kaohsiung. What fantastic visions the thought of this place created, hot bubbling mud spewing from giant open craters like huge open wounds to the Earths core, clouds of rising steam creating an atmosphere of the land that time forgot...(cough) we'll come to that.
Don't forget I am running my new camera through it's paces here, so first thing first. What good is a travel camera if you can't grab shots quickly as they present themselves? Street photography is a huge part of travel work, well for me anyway.
If you enjoy making street photography then do yourself a favour and get a camera from the Fuji X range. My X100 rangefinder performed well, as I said the autofocus is painfully slow. The newer generation X100 cameras, the X100S and X100T have addressed this and are fast and accurate. I wanted greater lens options, other than when using flash I have become a fan of the live EVF. It is really good to see exactly what you will get when you press the shutter release and the exposure compensation dial makes adjustments instant and easy. I am so impressed that I expect sometime down the line I will invest in an X-Pro (sharing lenses with the X-E2 is a bonus) and maybe even the XT range from Fuji too.
"Ok ok we get it, you love the Fuji gear, but what about this incredible eighth wonder of the world, the mud volcano?" I hear you ask, well......
I had got into the scooter, having had it for a day or so and I can tell you the road to this place was brilliant fun to whizz up with the throttle pinned. How you ride is your choice, I am not in anyway responsible for anyone else's actions. That is my disclaimer made, to enter the volcano zone, you too will have to sign a waver on the way in. Having signed my life away it was with some trepidation I walked past the sign above and onwards to the prehistoric landscape ahead of me, what monsters laid in wait at the end of the path?
Bravely I peered at the active monster towering above me, mud flowing freely from the crater at the summit
What lay beneath...a giant mud octopus perhaps...
Or just a lot of hot air, gently bubbling up in a really placid and laid back manor.
(I am not a videographer, this is filmed on my X-E2 using the built in mic and cobbled together roughly on Windows Movie Maker...I may make more videos though, I am thinking about a fashion thing somewhere along the line.)
OK, so it wasn't the violent expulsion I had imagined, it turned out to be a bit of a hillock with some very relaxing bubbling gurgles, more a meditative experience than a shock and awe one. Am I complaining, not in the least bit. If you are in the area, go and check it out. If you are on two wheels, then this is the perfect contrast to the maniacal road up to it which is worth the trip in itself.
Off this road lead a few slightly less well manicured affairs (dirt tracks), like a moth to a flame off I set. Hell, I am on a rental so as you know, you gotta ride it like you robbed it. Don't tell Louis, but I got air haha..
This panoramic from up on top of the hill near the Mud Volcano was made in camera using the stitched panoramic mode, pretty impressive. There are many great features built in this panoramic mode is not new to me, it is also in the X100, it has been refined as you'd expect. What is new to me is the wifi connection and in-camera processing you can do. It is perfect for behind the scenes captures and direct posting to instagram (obviously via my phone), I love this.
Finally I will leave you with this, a beautifully painted old single story house in Kaohsiung. I spotted walking to the station to head back up north to Taipei. With my X100 this would not have been possible to make, using the 18-55mm on my X-E2 it was a breeze. This is exactly what I wanted it for. Little did I realise that I would be able to use it for so much more. I had planned on writing about a few other things my new partner and I have been up too, I think this is a long enough blog for now though so I'll leave it until next time. Lots of very interesting things have been going on, I have been super busy, the busiest I have ever been and hopefully that will continue.
As ever, thank you for taking the time to look at my work, please go ahead and share it, leave a comment or ask a questions you may have.
Should you need a photographer feel free to get in touch anytime, I am always happy to hear from people around the world regarding any work they would like to talk about. You can reach me here or through my website: www.duncanlongden.photography
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The next blog will be in a couple of weeks, so until then, have fun and don't be a stranger.