Fujinon XF16mm F1.4 lens – the wide angle wonder

Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/200 at F1.6, iso3200

Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/200 at F1.6, iso3200

For the past 3 weeks I have had a prototype of the Fujinon XF16mm F1.4 lens on loan from Fujifilm to test, review and shoot sample images.

I use wide angle a lot in my work and I have been looking forward to the XF16mmF1.4 for a long time. I am a sucker for the wide shot and often in my music photography I need to create a dramatic look. Wide angle lenses and I were made to join forces in our quest for the epic. Fuji already produce some really nice wide angle lenses, but this one promised an aperture of F1.4 and I need speed in my nightclub photography.

I am not a technical reviewer, I do not go into all the technical specs of the lens nor do I shoot test patterns or studio shots. Actually I am not a reviewer at all, this is me working with the lens in real situations and my impressions after 3 weeks of use. Some of the images will be grainy due to io6400 as I used the lens in the dark environments I normally shoot in, not in perfect studio conditions. I have not specifically gone for shooting at F1.4 all the time (actually a few times I wanted to but accidentally moved the aperture ring to F1.6) but most of the images are all in the F1.4-F2.0 range – a range no other wide angle Fuji lens can do. On many of the images I have chosen to post the same in camera jpegs as I have delivered to Fuji – I continue to be amazed at how good the in camera jpegs are. Please, note that this is a prototype lens, not a finished product.

Music photography

I work as a commercial music photographer shooter, and I have used the Fujinon 14mm F2.8 lens very often when working music events and it is absolutely a great lens. But it is only aperture F2.8 and sometimes it is so pitch black in these clubs that I need F1.4 to capture what tiny bit of light there is. So the 16mm F1.4 promised to be the perfect music wide angle lens and obviously the first thing I had to do was test the 16mm in a nightclub.

Culture Box, one of the very best clubs in Copenhagen, very kindly allowed me access to shoot with the 16mm lens on a Saturday night in late March. The main room in Culture Box is appropriately called Black Box – it is close to a dark hole in the universe, bathed only in the slightest of red light. No problem at all because the 16mm lens really lives in this pitch black environment. Set the aperture somewhere between F1.4 and F2.0 and iso at iso3200-6400 and I have nightvision! The 16mm feels and operates is very much like the 14mm but the difference between F1.4 and F2.8 literally is night and day at times. The red light is difficult to capture but the dynamic range of the Fuji X-T1 and the fast 16mm lens makes it possible, the red shadows may be somewhat grainy (I happen to like grain) but the entire dynamic range of the reds are captured with no clipped highlights.

After using this lens at two club nights, there is no doubt for me. This is the perfect wide angle for music photography! It is super fast at F1.4, the pictures are extremely sharp and detailed and I highly recommended it. It will be a permanent lens in my bag whenever I go to work to capture beats in the dark.

The following is a selection of my work from Culture Box. I have chosen to leave the images as unprocessed straight out of the camera jpegs, the same images I delivered as samples to Fuji. It really is quite astonishing how good jpegs the X cameras deliver. Bear in mind this is a prototype lens, not a finished product.

Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/140 at F1.6, iso4000 - in camera JPEG

Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/140 at F1.6, iso4000 – in camera JPEG

DJ Jean Von Baden at Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/200 at F2.0, iso5000 - in camera JPEG

DJ Jean Von Baden at Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/200 at F2.0, iso5000 – in camera JPEG

Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/70 at F2.2, iso4000 - in camera JPEG

Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/70 at F2.2, iso4000 – in camera JPEG

DJ Jean Von Baden at Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/210 at F2.8, iso6400 - in camera JPEG

DJ Jean Von Baden at Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/210 at F2.8, iso6400 – in camera JPEG

Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/80 at F2.0, iso6400 - in camera JPEG

Culture Box, Copenhagen, Denmark. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 1/80 at F2.0, iso6400 – in camera JPEG

Astro photography

I am no expert at all in astro photography. But the 16mm F1.4 really is ideally suited for this so I wanted to do something special that included shooting a night sky. After returning to Perth, Australia, Charlene and I rented a car and headed for the excellent Nambung National Park. This place is rather alien looking and a great place to test the lens at astro photography. That is, if it would stop raining! Argh! Darn weather! It never rains in Perth right? Well it has been raining and raining. Every day I looked up at the sky and cursed the weather gods. Finally one Sunday, deadline running out, Charlene and I took a chance, headed north and were really lucky with about 3 hours of no rain and only some clouds.

Charlene was testing her new Fuji video rig, and she discovered just how good her new Cineroid video light also served as a light source for our night shots. All of these pictures are basically lazy me sitting behind the tripod on my ass (a behind the scenes post is forthcoming!) and Charlene coming up with a lot of cool shots. I particularly love the first one where Charlene is holding a star in her hand!

These pictures are all unprocessed in camera jpegs, I want to show you the sample images straight out of camera. Again, bear in mind, this is a prototype lens.

Charlene at Nambung National Park, Australia. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 5sec at F4.0, iso400 - in camera JPEG

Charlene at Nambung National Park, Australia. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 5sec at F4.0, iso400 – in camera JPEG

Charlene at Nambung National Park, Australia. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 30sec at F1.8, iso250 - in camera JPEG

Charlene at Nambung National Park, Australia. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 30sec at F1.8, iso250 – in camera JPEG

Charlene at Nambung National Park, Australia. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 20sec at F1.4, iso400 - in camera JPEG

Charlene at Nambung National Park, Australia. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 20sec at F1.4, iso400 – in camera JPEG

Nambung National Park, Australia. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 20sec at F1.4, iso500 - in camera JPEG

Nambung National Park, Australia. Fujifilm X-T1, Fujinon 16mm lens, 20sec at F1.4, iso500 – in camera JPEG

Macro

I know very little about macro photography, but I was just goofing around with the lens and discovered that I can focus on objects only 5cm away! Actually, the minimum focus distance of the lens is 15cm but since the lens itself is about 8cm long and the lenght of flange back is 2cm then you can focus on your Boba Fett keyring standing only 5cm from the lens. The bokeh is really rather nice on this lens too and it is quite amazing how much out of focus you can get the background on a 16mm lens.

"He is no good to me dead". Best image I have ever shot, period! 16mm lens, F2.8

“He is no good to me dead”.  Boba Fett on my Macbook. Best image I have ever shot, period! 16mm lens, F2.8

Charlene and the infamous lens 35mm hood! 16mm lens, F1.8

Charlene and the infamous lens 35mm hood! 16mm lens, F1.8

I have no idea how I got this in focus! 16mm lens at F2.8

I have no idea how I got this in focus! And wow my sensor is dirty. 16mm lens at F2.8

Some other pictures

A small selection of random images I made during the 3 weeks where I have carried and used the 16mm lens every day, shooting over 800 images.

Copenhagen at night. 16mm lens, 17 sec at F11.0

Copenhagen at night. It was freeeeeezing cold making this shot.  16mm lens, 17 sec at F11.0 – in camera JPEG

Charlene with her awesome video rig at Nambung National Park, Australia

Charlene with her awesome video rig at Nambung National Park, Australia. 16mm lens, F4.0

Charlene at Greens cafe, Leederville, Australia.

Charlene at Greens cafe, Leederville, Australia. 16mm lens, F1.8

Australia is the land of upside-down!

Australia is the land of upside-down! 16mm lens F1.8

Summary of my impression of the Fujinon XF16mmF1.4 lens

  • Image quality. We have come to expect great things from Fuji lenses and this lens delivers. It is extremely sharp and detailed. Even at F1.4 details are very finely rendered. Colours are as you can see in the Culture Box shots very vivid and has detail. It is a lens totally on par with the best of the Fuji primes, the image quality is everything I would expect and hope from a Fuji lens. There is not too much wide angle distortion either.
  • Build quality is also as we have come to expect from a Fujinon lens, extremely high. It is build very much like the 14mm and the 23mm.
  • The lens features the clutch focus ring which works well enough. I must admit to not quite being a fan of the clutch though and I never quite figured out why some lenses (35mm, 56mm, 16-55mm etc) have one type of focus ring and others have the clutch.
  • The autofocus is generally fast and very reliable.
  • Size. Well we all want every lens to be the size of the 18mm right. I know I do. But, have to respect the laws of physics. I want F1.4 at 16mm at super image quality from this lens so that requires a certain amount of light to get through and a certain amount of glass. It is about the size of the 56mm lens and I never felt the 16mm was too big or heavy when working with it.
  • This is the perfect wide angle lens for shooting music photography, and will be a permanent lens in my bag. I also feel it is great for astro photography, any kind of night time wide angle work like street or documentary photography at night.

Thanks

Thank you very much to Fujifilm Japan, Fujifilm Nordic, Culture Box in Copenhagen – and the most magic of all, Charlene Winfred.

Finally, a picture of yours truly and the 16mm wideangle wonder. Picture by Charlene Winfred.

Me and the 16mm. Picture by Charlene Winfred.

Me and the 16mm. Picture by Charlene Winfred.

Finding Carl Jensen

With Christmas just a day away, I feel it is the perfect time to share this story. It is going to be rather long but it is a story I love deeply. The story of how I reconnected with the history of my great uncle Carl, who immigrated to the US in 1912. The story of how we found his grave. How we met and became friends with wonderful people who remembered him well and could relate many stories. And it is the story of how I got to play ping pong with a 72 year old cowboy.

Carl Jensen 1892 – 1967

Carl Jensen

Carl Jensen

My great uncle Carl (born Karl) was born in 1892 on our family farm, the same farm I grew up on 80 years later. For reasons not entirely known to us, he immigrated in 1912 to the USA. I am sure wanderlust had a big part in it, wanting to travel, to find a new life. He arrived in the US via the ferry and made his way to a small northeastern part of South Dakota, an area where many Norwegian and Danish immigrants had settled in the homesteading days.

After a while in South Dakota, he traveled around the US working on farms in several states. But he wrote that he always felt South Dakota was his home and he didn’t really know why he ever left South Dakota. He returned to live in Lake City, South Dakota in 1960 and lived there till he died in 1967.

He returned once to Denmark, for a year, in the early 1950s. My father has told me many times the wonderful story of how they’d heard rumours for a few months he might be on the way on the ferry. One rainy day, my 7 year old father saw a man get off the bus and start walking down the gravel road towards our farm. “He’s here, he’s here” my father cried out. My grandfather stepped outside the house. Then follows a magic moment described by my father as “they just stood there in the pouring rain, two brothers, shaking hands, not having seen each other for three decades”.

Carl hung around the farm in Denmark for a month (edit: a year) but I guess he missed his spiritual home and his friends in South Dakota, and one morning he was gone. He didn’t like goodbyes. He sent a postcard later that he was on the ferry back to the US. He never returned to Denmark again.

My dad was 7 years old at the time and only remembers little about him. My aunt was a few years older, but tells me she was to shy too talk much to him. So we do not know much about his life in the US, except through the letters he sent back over the years.

My aunt has done extensive research on his life in the US, and that is how we know where he lived his last years and where he is buried. We also knew he worked for the Damgaard family on their farm. For years, we have talked about how interesting it would be to actually get to South Dakota and see if the gravestone is still there and what else could be learned about his life. I have been to the US many times over the past 5 years but South Dakota has always been a bit too far away from where I was and I never had the time.

This time, for our 3 months US road trip starting in September 2014 Charlene and I made it our mission to get there. To drive halfway across the country from Los Angeles to Britton, South Dakota. To see if we could find traces of Carl.

Britton, South Dakota. September 2014

I gave up counting how many miles it is from Los Angeles to Britton, but Google Maps say around 1,700 miles. We took our time getting there, as the road is peppered with amazing sights such as Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore. On the last day, driving from Rapid City to Britton, it felt like we would never get there. South Dakota is a lot of never ending farm land, you drive straight for an hour, turn 90 degrees, drive straight for another hour etc. Even shouting “Jooooooohn Deere” every time we saw a John Deere (many many!) got old. But, our direction proved true and our excitements high when we passed this sign:

Jensen Road in South Dakota

Jensen Road in South Dakota

Finally, the miles could be counted on two hands and then one (I wasn’t driving, so I could DJ and count miles!) and we arrived at Britton around sunset. We walked around the small town extremely excited, we had made it! The population of Britton is around 1,200 but not a soul was around on the Sunday evening we arrived. We soon learned why, as an armada of mosquitoes chased us around town until we found refuge and some insect repellent at the gas station.

The main road of Britton in dusk light. Sunday nights are quiet.

The main road of Britton in dusk light. Sunday nights are quiet.

Britton Library

We kicked off Monday morning at Britton Library. A few weeks earlier I had emailed them and Peggy from the library immediately replied with what proved to be essential information: She put me in contact with Neil Bien, grandson of the owner of the farm my great uncle worked for – more about this later. She also told us to drop by, she had the old newspapers on microfiche.

Peggy welcomed us at the library and found the old microfiche. I donned my reading glasses (those letters are small for old eyes!) and after intense searching I managed to find the eulogy in the Britton Journal from december 1967. This was a big moment, and it was to be just the very first of special moments during our 3 incredible days in Britton, South Dakota.

Even Jedi's need reading glasses to read a micro film! (Image by Charlene Winfred)

Even Jedi’s need reading glasses to read a micro film! Image by Charlene Winfred

Carl’s gravestone

High on the success of finding the eulogy, we drove a few miles outside of town to the Britton cemetery. After consulting the “directory” in the small chapel at the cemetery the correct lot was easily found. And I then found family history:

Found: Family history. The tombstone of my great uncle Carl.

Found: Family history. The gravestone of my great uncle Carl. Picture by Charlene Winfred.

Carl’s gravestone was in perfect condition and found on the Damgaard family lot. Apparently Carl and the Damgaards were very good friends as well, Carl’s stone is right next to Godtfred and Jensena Damgaards gravestone.

I had never given it any thought, how I would react when I saw the gravestone. Standing there, kneeling down, looking at Carl’s name and our family name Jensen. It was a moving moment. I always felt a certain connection to Carl, not that I knew him of course, but I connected to the stories about him. The wanderlust, traveling to the USA, looking for a new life, new adventures. All feelings I relate to. The gravestone was physical proof I had found Carl. I had found family history. But the days in Britton were just getting started.

The Damgaards and the Bien family

Peggy from the Britton Library kindly pointed me towards the Bien family, she mentioned they were descendants of the Damgaard family. One of the first nights on the road after leaving Los Angeles, I call Neil Bien. After just mentioning Carl’s name, Neil immediately says “oh yes I remember him, he was a wonderful man”. I was stunned, I had actually found a person who remembers my great uncle, something I just never had imagined possible. Neil immediately invites us to visit when we get to Britton.

Ben Steals The Show

Lyle Bien taking us on a tour - his dog Ben stealing every shot, and everyone's hearts!

Lyle Bien taking us on a tour – his dog Ben stealing every shot, and everyone’s hearts! Picture by Charlene Winfred.

Lyle Bien is the brother of Neil and the first of the Bien’s we meet as Neil is out of town on the Monday. Lyle has prepared a wonderful tour for us of the whole countryside around Britton, a tour so awesome I really believe Lyle could start a tour company.

Lyle brought his dog Ben along, and well, in 2 seconds he took over and stole the show for the rest of the day. Ben is gorgeous and a movie star, as he perfectly poses himself in every shot. Ben is charming, in a heartbeat Charlene falls in love and wants to adopt Ben. Lyle – and Ben – takes us around to where Carl’s house used to be:

Standing where Carl's house used to be.

Standing where Carl’s house used to be.

 

Carl in front of his house

Carl in front of his house and car.

Looking at over the fields from across where Carl's house was. The landscape is amazingly similar to where I - and Carl was born - in Denmark. It feels so familiar.

The following day, me looking at over the fields from across where Carl’s house was. The landscape is amazingly similar to where I – and Carl was born – in Denmark.

We spend the next 3 hours learning about the history of The Damgaards, the Biens and a lot of other families in the area. Lyle is a treasure trove of amazing stories and I could listen to him for days. All of this history, of which my great uncle was a part of, become very much alive through Lyle. One thing that strikes me is how similar the landscape looks to where I grew up. This would have looked very familiar to Carl. Through Lyle’s perfect timing of his tour, we end on the highest peak in the area to witness the sun set.

Ben steals the show again and is the best looking guy in the picture!

Ben steals the show again and is the best looking guy in the picture! Picture by Charlene Winfred.

I look out over the rolling hills and wonder how many times Carl stood here

I look out over the rolling hills and wonder how many times Carl stood here. Picture by Charlene Winfred.

Two days later, Neil Bien is back in town, so we are excited, we get go out to the Bien farm and meet Neil and his wife Muriel. Neil is the oldest of the grandchildren of Gotfred Damgaard and therefore remembers Carl well.

We start the day with a little tour of the ‘museum’ on the farm. The Bien’s have collected a lot of stuff over the years from days past including an impressive collection of vintage John Deere tractors! I get to try my hand at using a cream-milk-seperator machine, the very same machine Carl used! My years of training in growing up on a farm comes in handy here, observe the expert in action:

My great uncle Carl used to use this machine every day.

My great uncle Carl used to use this machine every day. Picture by Charlene Winfred

Neil poses with his grandfather's old leather saddle. Picture by Charlene Winfred.

Neil poses with his grandfather’s old leather saddle. Picture by Charlene Winfred.

Neil and Muriel takes us on another fantastic tour of the area. The Bien farm itself is quite a tour, 1500 cattle and 8,000 acres. We even get to taste the cattle! For dinner we have home grown angus steak burgers, that are absolutely fantastic. After dinner, it’s time for a little game of ping pong and pinball as the rec room in the house is very well equipped. I am fairly ok at ping pong but Neil turns out to be really good. I have to work really hard, and I only beat him as I am a bit more mobile. Cowboys can play ping pong!

Neil making me work really hard to beat him at ping pong. Picture by Charlene

Neil making me work really hard to beat him at ping pong. Picture by Charlene

Charlene breaking records on the pin ball machine.

Charlene breaking records on the pin ball machine.

I'm the one with the antlers!

I’m the one with the antlers!

A new family in South Dakota

Going to Britton was always an uncertainty. After a week of travel, we had no idea what we would find, if anything at all. Sitting at Carl’s gravestone was by itself a deeply moving experience and a slice of magic. But not only did I find a big chunk of family history, the Biens warmly welcomed Charlene and I into their lives and homes. I feel like I now have new family in South Dakota. After a few days I think the whole town of Britton knew who we were and why we were there. We’d meet a relative of Neil and Lyle and without any intro he’d jump straight into a story about Carl like “He had a dog, they used to fight over who got the sofa, the dog had sharper teeth and would win”. I will never forget these days in Britton and hope to return soon. Sometimes real magic happens!

Carl in front of his house and the Damgaard house in Britton, South Dakota

Carl in front of his house and the Damgaard house in Britton, South Dakota

CW-Birtton-09248

Carl’s grave as we get ready to leave Britton again. Picture by Charlene

 


Thanks

My aunt Solveig did a great job researching the family history, and without all the information and pictures she supplied this could never have happened. I just went there, she did all the work.  Charlene was a huge support and catalyst, her excitement, the energy she poured into it, it was all instrumental in making this happen. And she documented every day in awesome pictures (and stole a dog’s heart and vice versa!).

Neil and Muriel, Lyle (and Ben!) Bien were absolutely wonderful, you guys are all my new family in South Dakota. Thank you so much for everything you did for me and Charlene, I cannot express how much I value and appreciate it. I cannot wait till we can return and spend more time with you.