Wednesday, July 27, 2016


Last week, I visited the China Aviation Museum, while I was on a 30hr layover in Beijing. Although I'm not a huge fan of museums that only have static (non-flying) aircraft, this one had been on my radar for a while...  Generally speaking, I much rather prefer "flying museums" like Planes of Fame and the Yanks museum in Chino, CA, which keep a number of aircraft in airworthy condition, but this one is definitively worth a visit. 


The biggest obstacle so far had been finding a reasonable way to get there! Given Chinese taxi drivers do not speak any form of English, explaining where one wants to go to, can be a challenge; especially since most people from Beijing are not familiar with the place.


Of all places, it was through a recent post on Tripadvisor, that I found a reasonable way to get there; hopefully without getting lost. It consisted of a one hour metro ride from the city center, followed by a 20min bus ride! First, one needs to find his way to the "SAHE" metro station on the Changping line (pink); a relative easy task. Take the B1 exit and then follow the main road to the right for about 500m. Take the 945 bus (2 yuan - no change) which has a dedicated stop close to the entrance of the museum but which is not announced in English. I suggest using an app like "CityMaps2Go"; to keep track where to get off using a off-line GPS moving map! From the bus stop, one can walk the 1.5km along the "taxiway" which connects the nearby military airbase with the museum grounds, or can take a 10 yuan "tuktuk" ride. 


On a side-note, on the way over there I could not find the place where to get on the bus and ended up hiring a tuktuk. Giving him directions through my iPhone app, he wasn't really pleased when we ended up on the highway with the three-wheeler! But we got there... On the return, it became clear that I didn't walk far enough after exiting the station at B1!

click on the map for a full size view

The museum consists of four main areas; 
  1. outside area with aircraft, missiles and artillery being displayed (free)
  2. inside museum with a lot of historic aircraft and relics (20yuan)
  3. 600m long tunnel through and adjacent mountain with aircraft parked on both sides (20yuan)
  4. aircraft graveyard (free)

1/ Outside area
On entering the museum, one immediately comes to a large open space which is covered with a large variety of aircraft. Some of the signs have some limited English translations, such as the one for this Mig-15 below.


Although I can pretty much recognise most of the Worlds military and civil aircraft, my plane spotting skills proved to be a challenge here! A lot of the aircraft are Russian (and even US) licence built and carry a specific Chinese designator.





2/ Inside museum
Typical for most aviation museums, they often want to cramp in too many aircraft in too little space; not great for photography. Although not different, it still proved to be worth paying the 20yuan (3,-USD) admission as there was a lot of interesting stuff on display. A Xian H-6A, license built Tu-16 bomber, dominates the scene. 


Although none of the signs inside the museum are translated in English, looking at the pictures, there seems to be also a bit of Cold War propaganda going on. Such is probably the case with the display of the remains of this 1960's US Lockheed D-21 drone, which crash landed on Chinese soil! 


3/ Tunnel
Probably the weirdest place of the museum is a 600m long tunnel with an entrance at both sides. During the Cold War, it was used to keep aircraft safe, deep underground. The contrast with the hot and humid (around 30C) weather outside with the cold air inside the tunnel, was quite dramatic. 


One gets to the eastern entrance, by walking between 30 or so parked fighter jets along a wide taxiway; a nice photo-opportunity!

Inside there is a large variety (estimated around 60-70) of Chinese, Russian and Western aircraft from a WWII Mark XVI Spitfire through a YAK-17 (early 1940's jet) to an Italian F-104 Starfighter. 


The tunnel is extremely dark and not really suitable for photography; even shooting at ISO 6400 it remained a challenge!


4/ Aircraft graveyard 

Likely the most interesting place is the graveyard to the North. It has about 20 to 30 aircraft in a different states of disrepair and given it is isolated, is not really known by most of the visitors. 

Most of the aircraft are easily accessible, such as this LI-2 (Russian built DC-3) which I climbed in. In wet weather this area does get very muddy; don't ask how I know please...


A rare bird was this Nanchang Y5-C; a Chinese floatplane variant of the Russian Antonov An-2.


There is also a nice collection of Russian helicopters on display, next to the graveyard.


Visiting the China Aviation Museum, which is the largest aviation museum of Asia, turned out to be a great photo-adventure; something I would recommend to any Aviation Geek and/or photographer! One can easily spend 4 to 5 hours browsing through the different areas and I unlike myself I would recommend staying away from visiting during the hot and humid summer months (July-August). In any case, wear comfortable walking shoes, as one will easily walk +10km, if you check out all of the 300 or so aircraft on display. 


All of the published images of my trip can be found in the China Aviation Museum gallery.

Although better maintained, the museum has a lot of similarities to the Russian Air Force museum in Monino, close to Moscow. A link can be found here.

For you gear heads, all of the images were shot with the new Fujifilm X-T2; reviewed here

Happy shooting,

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pic(k) of the week 31: DUBAI CREEK SUNSET - (Lightroom for X-Pro2 / X-T2 RAW files)

The much higher potential for recovering highlights and shadows, through a single RAW file on both the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and now also the X-T2, is something that came somewhat as a surprise to me! Although I was never unhappy with the potential dynamic range of the previous Fujifilm cameras (X-T1 and X-T10), the new 24.3Mpx X-Trans III sensor, really pushed this to the next level! 

The image below of the Dubai skyline, shot from The Terrace - Dubai Creek sales center, was the very first image I shot, 2 hrs after I picked up my pre-production copy of the X-T2 on April 21st. 

While I have made several bracketed exposures of the scene, I ended up using only a single shot as the basic exposure settings in Lightroom produced a very natural and satisfying result. 


Image details:
Fujifilm X-T2 with the Fujinon XF18-135 lens
ISO 200, f16, 1/25s (on MeFoto tripod with RRS Ballhead), 46mm (70mm full frame equivalent)
Lightroom CC for ALL editing
No colour added, use of a few gradient  masks in LR

As an illustration and comparison, I'm posting a low resolution "before" image of the original RAW file with no editing done to it. 


Overall, I feel Lightroom deals much better with X-Trans III (X-Pro2 and X-T2) files, much better than the with the previous X-Trans II files. It looks like I'll be using other RAW file editors like Iridient Developer, less with the new cameras. 

By the way, I'm almost always shooting Lossless Compressed RAW, as I struggle to see any differences with the double size uncompressed files.  

More of my Architectural work shot in Dubai can be found here

For the ones that missed it, my two part X-T2 first look review lives here:

Remember, "you don't take a photograph, you make it" - Ansel Adams


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Pic(k) of the week 30: C A M E L R O A D, U.A.E.

Since I received my preproduction Fujifilm X-T2 end of April 2016, I've accumulated a backlog of unpublished images... Given the UAE landscape photography scene is at its yearly low due to the soaring humidity and temperatures, it is a perfect time to start releasing them!

Todays Pic(k) of the week, is an image shot while on a road trip in the central part of the UAE a few months ago. I had been looking for interesting photo opportunities for most of the day, when I eventually decided to head back home without any keeper images...

That was until I saw a group of camels coming out of the desert and taking a left onto the road towards me. The sun was setting on my right hand side and provided me with some dramatic evening light. Right place, right time, I guess!

Image details:

  • Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF100-400 lens
  • ISO 200, 1/280s, f7.1, 347mm (521mm full frame equivalent)
  • Lightroom CC for RAW file development
  • Nik ColorEfex Pro with Pro Contrast and Brilliance and Warmth filters

I'm really enjoying shooting the XF 100-400 lens together with the latest X-series body (X-T2); especially with the Power Booster (Battery grip), it makes for a great duo!

For the ones that missed it, my two part X-T2 first look review can be found here:

More images of the Nature of the UAE, can be found here.

Remember, "One camel does not make fun of the other camel's hump" - 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pic(k) of the week 29: BIG IN JAPAN - WWII Zero fighter plane and Fujifilm X-T2 camera

A few days after I was given a early pre-production Fujifilm X-T2 camera (then still called Taurus), I attended the Planes of Fame airshow in Chino, Southern California. It would be its first real life test at an international airshow and it didn't disappoint!

One of the other stars of the show, was a recently restored Mitsubishi Zero fighter plane. The aircraft did its first flight a few days before the show weekend and is one of only a handful in flying condition all over the world and is the only one still flying with the original Japanese Sakae engine. A very rare bird!

When the Mitsubishi Zero first came out in 1940 it was feared by a lot of the Allied pilots in the Pacific war scene; much lighter than its counterparts, it had great firing power and was very simple to operate... Reminds me of the just released Fujifilm X-T2 camera; light, lots of firing power and easy to use!

Planes of Fame airshow 2016, Chino, CA

Image details:
FUJIFILM X-T2 with the XF10-24mm f4 lens
ISO 400, 1/600s, f7.1, 19mm (29mm full frame equivalent)
RAW development in Lightroom CC
Nik ColorEfex Pro with Pro contrast

More images of the 2016 Planes of Fame airshow can be found here

For the ones that are interested in the latest and greatest Fujifilm has to offer, make sure you check out my blog here:


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Pic(k) of the week 28: EID MUBARAK - Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi (Fujifilm X-T2)

EID MUBARAK to my muslim friends all over the world! Now that the crescent moon has been sighted, it marks the end of the yearly Ramadan; a yearly month where most Muslims are fasting from dawn till dusk. Eid-al-Fitr, the feast of breaking the fast, is an important holiday celebrated by Muslims around the globe. 

But today was a double special day; it also marks the launch of the brand-new Fujifilm X-T2, which has been launched on July 7th! In case you missed my review, make sure you check it out on this blog here.

The image below was shot at the Sheik Zayed Grand mosque in Abu Dhabi, a beautiful piece of architecture that can hold up to 40.000 worshipers. More images can be found in my Architectural Abu Dhabi gallery.  

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF 10-24mm f4 lens
ISO 400, f7.1, 1/15s, 16mm (24mm full frame equivalent)
RAW file development in Lightroom CC

- "I came to Fujifilm for the size, but stayed for the quality" - 


FIRST LOOK: FUJIFILM X-T2 camera review (part 2)

In Part 2 of my First look review of the Fujifilm X-T2, that has been released today, we will have a look at the image quality of the latest X-series camera! At the end I will give my  initial thoughts and conclusions. Part 1 can be found here.

IMAGE QUALITY (click on the image for full screen view)
Since I picked up my "pre-production" copy of the X-T2 end of April 2016, I've been taking the camera to a lot of different places over the world. But one of the first shots I made, was this post-sunset shot below from a new project called "The Terrace- Dubai Creek Harbour" at the end of Dubai Creek. 

ISO 200, f5.6, 1/250s, 140mm on XF 50-140 f2.8 lens
A second image where three images were blended together was this one of the Burj Khalifa during the blue hour from the Palace Hotel. It was made by using the new 2 stop Exposure bracketing, which a lot of photographers have been asking for, for a long time!

ISO 800, 3 different shutter speeds, f11, 11mm on XF 10-24 f4 lens

The dynamic range and especially the RAW file potential of the single files is excellent as well. The image below of a tree in Mauritius is made by adjusting shadows and highlights of a single RAW file in Lightroom. Something that definitively would have been more difficult in the previous generation of X-Trans sensors. If I have to choose, I would rather slightly underexpose and recover in post than the opposite.
ISO 200, 1/100s,  f9,  XF16mm f1.4 lens
I've really enjoyed using the new XF100-400 lens when shooting the X-T2; especially with the new battery grip where the combination is really well balanced. Below are a few sample images from a wildlife flamingo shoot in Dubai. Look at the sharpness! 

ISO 400, 1/750s, f11,  347mm on XF 100-400 lens 
ISO 400, 1/250s, f13,  400mm on XF 100-400 lens

Especially for my Aviation photography, the new advanced focus tracking is the biggest improvement compared to the X-T1. Although the firmware was still not final when I shoot the Planes of Fame airshow end of April, I came home with lots of great images!
Planes of Fame airshow 2016, Chino, CA
ISO 200, 1/140s, f9,  360mm on XF 100-400 lens

Planes of Fame airshow 2016, Chino, CA
                                                  ISO 200, 1/450s, f13,  153mm on XF 100-400 lens

I shot the camera in harsh desert conditions; strong winds with blowing sand and temperatures over 40C, with absolutely no problems. 

ISO 320, 1/160s, f14, 55mm on XF 16-55 f2.8 lens
I'm not a pixel peeper, but have really been impressed with the amount of detail the X-T2 files reveal; both with the in-camera jpegs and with the RAF (RAW) files. It looks like Lightroom CC deals a lot better with the X-Pro2 and X-T2 files than with the classic X-Trans II files.
ISO 200, 1/400s, f6.4, 23mm on XF 18-135 lens
ISO 400, 1/160s, f10, 400mm on XF 100-400 lens

The previous generation X-Trans II sensor images, with a lot of foliage, could sometimes be a challenge to develop to its full potential in Lightroom. The new sensor does not seem to suffer from the same problem. Check out the aerial image below to see the amount of detail. 

ISO 1000, 1/3800s, f5.0, with XF90mm f2.0 lens

When the X-Pro2 was announced in January 2016, some photographers were sceptical about the high ISO performance of the higher megapixel sensor. In my X-Pro2 review, I concluded that the X-Trans III sensor has about one stop advantage over the X-Trans II and that seems to hold true as well for the new X-T2 sensor.  I will happily shoot at ISO 6400, even 8000 with the new camera as long as the image is correctly exposed. 

ISO 3200, 1/160s, f11, 100mm with XF 100-400 lens

ISO 6400, 1/350s,  f5.6, 16mm with XF16-55 f2.8 lens
Especially when shooting with the smaller lenses like the XF35 f2 or 27mm f2.8, the X-T2 makes for a great street photography camera! I love the tilt screen when hunting for these decisive moments. This is by far the number one reason, I don't own an X-Pro2!

ISO 400, 1/60s, f5.6, XF 35 f2 lens
ISO 400, 1/800s, f5.6, XF 35 f2 lens (Acros R)

ISO 200, 1/120s, f11, XF10-24 f4 lens (Acros Y)
The First Look review of the X-T2 has been largely based around the differences between its older brother. It is important to know that the camera has many more features that are not mentioned here; items like the built in WiFi or great film simulation modes have been part of the Fujifilm X-series for a while. 

Negative points on the X-T2 were very hard to find; there were a few smaller items with regards to the battery grip (see part 1 Battery-Battery grip), which I suspect will be solved by the time the cameras becomes available. Yes, a touchscreen would have been nice, but that would have undoubtedly increased the price point. Beside the new "joystick" is working great, almost making a touchscreen just a gimmick. Still on the LCD, I have liked to see the screen rotate to the 180 degree mark, something that video shooters love.

I stated before that the camera I used for the review, was a very early pre-production copy, which I got more than 2 months ahead of the announcement date.  Given the firmware was not final when writing the review, I was not able to go into detail of the new updated autofocus tracking system and other new features. I will therefore blog again about the missing items before the camera becomes available in September 2016.

What I do know is that I really believe the X-T2 will be another "high flyer" for Fujifilm. No, I'm not paid to make that statement, but I'm confident that this camera will pull even more DSLR shooters over to the mirrorless camp. Even without having seen the full potential of the X-T2, I'm sold. For 1600,-USD I want one! 

ISO 200, 1/100s, f5.6,  39mm on XF 16-55 f2.8 lens