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I’ve always had an interest in photography, but it’s never stretched much beyond owning a camera, putting it on auto mode and hoping for the best. I’ve owned various cameras through the years, normally getting excited just before a trip, buying something new, then shutting it in a draw when I got home before upgrading a few years later.
In the last year, I decided to change this.
I wanted a camera that would grow with me over the years, one that would make me want to look after it and give me more flexibility.
And I wanted to show this camera the respect it deserved, by learning how to use it properly, taking it out as often as I could and creating photos I could be proud of for years to come.
In this post, I share some of what I’ve learned over the last year, from buying the camera to the photos I’ve taken.
*Disclaimer. I am not a photographer! Everything I’ve learned has been self-taught doing my own reading and research. If I make mistakes on terms or phrases about the craft then that is just a sign I’m still learning! This post is from one amateur to another, helping others to learn along as I do and hopefully accelerating others past some of the decisions I had to make early on.
Mirrorless vs DSLR – How I Chose My Camera
Once I’d decided I wanted to dive deeper into the world of photography, I needed to choose a camera.
I didn’t expect it to be easy, but I spent about two months weighing up options.
I wanted something that would allow me to make my own choices with photos, learn the settings and change lenses based on the situation. (though if you’re looking for something a bit simpler check out my recommendations for the best compact cameras for travel).
I thought I wanted a DSLR.
I was wrong.
An area of the market that’s grown hugely over the last few years is the mirrorless camera. They are (generally) smaller and lighter than a DSLR, cheaper than their equivalent in the range and because they don’t use a mirror you can see a live preview through the viewfinder and on the screen, so the settings you have chosen (aperture, shutter speed, ISO etc) will change the live preview you’re seeing.
It was this final point that made me decide I wanted to go mirrorless as I felt it would help me learn what I was doing with the settings. The smaller size and weight was also a bonus and would make packing lighter than travelling with a DSLR.
Now I had decided on a mirrorless camera, it was just a case of choosing which one.
My Final Choice – The Fuji X-T3
- Back-illuminated X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor, boasting a resolution of 26.1MP
- 3.69-million-dot high resolution EVF with a high magnification ratio of 0.75x.
After a SIGNIFICANT amount of research, I ended up deciding on the Fuji X-T3.
- Unlike many modern cameras it has lots of buttons and dials, and I felt these tactile controls would help me to learn manual photography faster.
- I read a lot about the lenses and they are considered better than the equivalents in a DSLR.
- It’s cheaper and smaller than the top-of-the-range Sony cameras, which was the closest competition I could find.
- Everything I’d read had Fuji’s image quality up there with the best.
- It looks bloody cool!
- There are lots of camera bodies with the X-Series range, meaning if I wanted a smaller body for travel or a backup in the future they are easy to find.
If you need any more convincing then read this post ‘Why Canon and Nikon Photographers Switch to Fuji’.
Now that the camera choice was done, it was time to focus (haha) on lenses.
This proved to be more difficult than buying the camera itself. There is so much choice and, having spent my life with a small point-and-shoot camera or an iPhone it was a confusing world at first.
Many cameras come with a ‘stock’ lens, but, being the endless researcher I am, I decided to buy only the camera body and then choose lenses from there.
This is where I made my first mistake.
The ‘stock’ lens for the X-T3 is an 18-55mm f/2.8-4 LM OIS, but I decided I knew better and went for the 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR. When I was a kid I always thought more gears on a bike was better, so even if my mates had a bike half the price of mine, if they had 24 gears and I only had 20 then there’s was better.
I took the same approach with this lens.
If 55mm of zoom is good, then 135mm of zoom MUST be better!
Don’t get me wrong this was a decent lens, but the f/3.5-5.6 meant it let less light in and I couldn’t get such good depth of field and it was bigger. I sold it and bought a second-hand copy of the stock lens as, in the case of the Fuji X Series, this is actually a bloody good lens.
Having made one mistake I did lots more research to come up with a plan for the lenses I wanted to have in my bag going forward.
SIDE NOTES – What Do Those Numbers/Letters Beside a Lens Mean?
When reading about lenses you’ll see numbers and letters after them, which gives you information about the lens.
Here is a quick guide to how to read those numbers:
- 18-55mm. This designates the focal length or zoom of the lens
- f/2.8-4. This is the aperture of the lens, which is the size of the hole and light it can let it. As this is a zoom lens it has a variable aperture, which means at 18mm it has an aperture of 2.8 which steps up to f4 by 55mm.
- LM OIS. The letters here mean the lens has a linear motor and optical image stabilisation for making images less blurry. You may also see R (aperture ring), WR (weather resistant) and PZ (power zoom).
Choosing Lenses For Travel Photography
The main reason I wanted a camera was to be able to take better photos while we travelled, which would then enhance this site.
But how many lenses do you need for travel photography and which ones?
The obvious and most helpful answer to this is ‘it depends’. One great lens is going to be better than five that you never use.
Below I work through my thought process and where I have ended up, plus some useful reading on lenses.
All of this is going to be centred around the Fuji X series range, as this is the camera I purchased, however most, if not all, could be applied to other brands of camera.
Which Lens Types Did I Choose?
I decided there are essentially three lenses I wanted to have in my kit to do travel photography:
- A wide-angle zoom lens for landscapes and seascapes.
- A mid-range zoom lens for ‘all purpose’ work.
- A long-range zoom lens for safaris, birds and long-range landscapes.
I also decided to bring in a couple of ‘prime lenses’ for specific purposes:
- A wide-angle manual zoom prime for astrophotography
- A shallow depth of field prime for taking photos of my family
So this was my plan.
I certainly didn’t go out and buy them all straight away, I focused on picking up the lenses I knew I wanted as cheap a price as possible through sales, and keeping an eye out on places such as Facebook Marketplace and local Facebook photography selling groups. All of the lenses I have bought so far were second hand.
Which Order Did I Buy the Lenses In?
Removing the initial mistake of buying the 18-135mm, here is the order I purchased the lenses in and why.
- Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM. An all-purpose lens, which can do a bit of everything and was perfect to start off with.
- Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS WR. I was doing a lot of sunset seascapes near my home and decided a wide-angle lens would really help.
- Samyang 12mm f/2.0. We were headed up the the Victorian High Country and I wanted a wide-angle lens with a faster aperture for astrophotography (the f/4 of the 10-24mm was not enough), and I saw someone selling this on a local Facebook ground for A$200!
- Fuji 35mm f/1.4 R. This is probably my favourite lens. It has such personality! A square lens hood, slow and noisy autofocus, incredible bokeh, I can’t use it for everything, but what it does do, it does amazingly well.
- Fujifilm XF 70-300mm F4-5.6 R LM OIS WR. I haven’t bought this lens yet, but it’s going to be the final piece of the puzzle. Only released last year it was a long zoom but with a low weight. Perfect for travel photography.
SIDE NOTES – Zoom vs Prime
If you haven’t heard of a prime lens before you’re not alone, I hadn’t either.
A prime lens has a fixed focal length so, instead of covering a range such as 18-24mm they will be set as a single zoom – for example, 12mm, 23mm or 35mm.
Initially, I wondered what the point was (why have a single focal length when you can have many?), but there are other advantages to prime lenses.
Firstly, due to needing less glass and mechanical parts, prime lenses are significantly smaller and lighter than their zooming counterparts.
Secondly, they often have wider apertures (my 35mm is an f/1.4) which means they are amazing in low light and have incredible bokeh (this is the blurry background, also known as depth of field, which is what smartphones have imitated with their ‘portrait’ mode).
Thirdly, they are cheaper than zooms, though obviously get less flexibility, so would need multiple primes to replace the focal lengths of one zoom lens.
Articles I Found Useful When Choosing a Lens for my Fuji X-T3
Here are some articles I found useful when choosing lenses for my Fuji X-T3:
- Best Fuji Lens for Stunning Travel Photos
- The First Five Lenses You Should Buy For Your Fujifilm Camera
- Top 5 Must Have Fujifilm X Lenses
- The Best Lenses for Fujifilm X-mount Mirrorless Cameras
- Top 5 Fujifilm Lenses For Beginners (Video)
- The First Prime Lens You Should Buy For Your Fujifilm X Mount Camera
- The Ultimate Buying Guide for Fuji Prime Lenses
- 6 of Our Favourite Third Part Prime Lenses For Fujifilm X Mount Cameras
Learning Photography Tips and Resources
With the camera and my first lens delivered I set myself the aim of learning to shoot in manual mode.
There are far better places than this blog to learn about photography (I list lots of them in the resources section further down in this post) but below are a few things I’ve picked up along the way.
All Manual Photography Requires a Knowledge of These Three Things
Manual photography at its simplest comes down to a balance of three things:
- Shutter Speed
Changing one setting affects another, with the three settings adding together to dictate how well exposed a photograph is.
This is known as the exposure triangle.
I’ve put together a quick and non-technical explanation of how I understand these elements below, but if you want a detailed explanation read this fantastic piece, The Exposure Triangle: Understanding How Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO Work Together
This is the f-stop you see on lenses, which can range from as low as f/1 up to f/24. The aperture controls the size of the hole in your lens to let light in.
Counterintuitively, a low f-stop lets in more light to make a photograph brighter but also reduces the depth of field meaning less parts of the image are going to be in focus. This can be perfect for dark situations, or where you want to blur a background.
A high f-stop lets in less light but means much more of the image will be in focus. Landscape photographers will use mid to high apertures so that they get the entire landscape in focus.
Another trick with aperture is to set it to around f/16 to get cool sun stars.
Shutter speed is exactly as it suggests, how fast the shutter will close.
On my X-T3 dial, this ranges from 1 second to 1/8000 of a second, but can be set to an almost infinite amount using further settings.
A slow shutter speed lets more light in but will lead to blur if a subject is moving (such as a bird). This can be desirable when shooting things like waves or waterfalls to create a smooth and ethereal feel.
A fast shutter speed is for freezing movement. Think of a photographer trying to get a photo of a hummingbird where it shows the detail in the wings with no blur. This would be using a fast shutter speed. Fast shutter speeds mean less light getting into the camera, so can be difficult in certain conditions.
ISO is the final part of the exposure triangle and controls how sensitive the sensor of the camera is to light.
On my X-T3 the ISO goes from a low of 160 up to a high of 12,800.
A low ISO lets in less light and is generally used in daylight conditions.
High ISOs add more light to the image, but this is balanced off by adding noise to the image, making it become grainy the more that gets added in. Think of it the same as switching up the volume on a record, the louder you go, the more hiss you hear.
A Simple Hack to Learn Settings Quickly
A way I found that accelerated my learning was to build up a playbook of settings for my most used situations.
I searched through a few websites in advance of heading off for a specific shoot and then saved what I’d learned for easy reference. I was then easily able to access these settings while out and about.
After a while the settings became second nature and (most importantly) I started to understand WHY each of the settings was so important and what it was doing to my photo, rather than dialling in a predetermined set of numbers.
At the start though it really helped me and I still use them now if I’m heading off to shoot a situation I don’t normally.
Below is a snippet from my notes, in my favourite notetaking app, Notion:
Other Things to Learn
Once I managed to get a handle on the exposure triangle I was in control of my camera and felt I could go out there and make the scene look the way I saw it, rather than the camera taking over.
Photography isn’t as simple as three elements though and as my learning progressed I have worked hard to learn other elements of my camera.
This is a continuous process, but below are some of the areas I have found useful to learn more about, and I’m hoping others will find it a good checklist to work through:
- Different focus modes (mine has single shot, continuous and manual)
- Learning how and when to use manual focus and the tools on a modern camera to help you see what is in focus.
- Using the different types of auto focus mode such as single point, zome and wide.
- Setting the white balance (though this can be fixed in post processing).
- Good times to not shoot fully manual, such as walking around a city and wanting to be able to take quick photos of scenes (I use aperture priority mode).
- Types of photo modes such as HDR and burst mode (I love HDR for building sunsets).
- How to use a histogram.
- Back button focusing.
- Using a tripod.
- Using self-timer to reduce camera shake.
- Optical Image Stabilisation on lenses/camera. When to turn it on and off.
I’ve quickly realised that a large part of photography is post-processing, or how you edit the photos after they’re taken. This is far from a new phenomenon, as it’s been going on in darkrooms for generations however, if you decide to shoot in the RAW format (which offers far more detail and control) then your photos will be fairly flat after importing and will need some work to get them up to scratch.
Post-processing would require an entire website to explain, but it is important to get the hang of this important skill quickly. I include loads of resources below to help you do this, but understand that this is as much of a skill as taking the photo itself and great photographers are able to do both to realise their vision.
My Favourite Resources to Learn Photography
Here I list (in no particular order) the places I’ve come back to time and time again to learn photography over the last year. Most of these are videos as I’ve found seeing things visually helps me more than reading about them, though there are other resources mixed in too.
Mark Denney (YouTube Channel)
His landscape photography and Lightroom videos are fantastic. I learn something new from pretty much every single one, the Lightroom stuff especially is amazing and taught me loads about the difference local adjustments can make in a photograph.
Pal2Tech (YouTube Channel)
This is the best channel I’ve found to learn specifically about the Fuji X system. It covers the real technical stuff, but in an easy to digest way. I’ve spent so much time going through the archives here!
It doesn’t matter what you read from this site, you’ll learn something. Thousands of useful articles.
Nigel Danson (YouTube Channel)
Similar to Mark Denney in a lot of the content he covers but don’t let this put you off. I love Nigel’s use of colour and woodland photos especially, with detailed examples of how he gets the photos and then gets the best out of them in Lightroom.
Omar Gonzalez Photography (YouTube Channel)
Fun photography videos covering a broad range of topics. Omar uses the Fuji system so I’ve learned lots about my specific camera alongside more general photography topics.
Digital Photo Mentor
A fairly small site, but lots of useful stuff here. It doesn’t cover off every topic, but it does cover some interesting topics I’ve not seen elsewhere.
Andy Mumford (YouTube Channel)
Inspiring travel photography, Andy uses the Fuji X series which is how I found him. Lots of useful Fujifilm reviews and content, alongside location-based travel shoots and Lightroom tips.
Serge Ramelli (YouTube Channel)
Serge is based in Paris and his videos never fail to make me want to get out and travel. It’s his Lightroom videos that I find most useful though, he manages to turn his photos into something you’d expect to see on an Apple desktop. Incredible skills!
Digital Photography School (Website)
This site is packed full of incredible content, be prepared to lose yourself for a few hours!
Thomas Heaton (YouTube Channel)
Thomas manages to turn his photography videos into epic documentaries. It’s like watching the National Geographic channel, but also learning so much about the art of photography and what it takes to find amazing compositions, how to use the light and getting the most out of your equipment.
Alex On Streets (YouTube Channel)
I don’t do a lot of street photography, but I found this channel so useful to get hints before heading off into Melbourne and made me want to do a lot more.
My Favourite Photography Gear
Below is a list of gear (excluding the camera body and lenses which I have mentioned numerous times in the post already) that I have bought and used consistently over the last year. There has been other stuff that I have bought and not found myself using and sold on, but here are the ones that have made the cut.
Peak Design Camera Straps
- All-aluminum anodized hardware
- Low-profile dual aluminum/Hypalon quick-adjustment system
I tried a few camera straps before settling on the Peak Design Range.
It is a clever system, where you attach two anchor mounts, which have a quick-release mechanism making taking the strap on and off easy. This is perfect for reducing shake on a tripod, but also for switching between straps. I have a neck strap and a wrist strap which I use in different situations.
- 2 in 1 tripod, one of leg can be used as monopod
- Quick release leg locking, giving a more convenient leg handling
A tripod was one of the first bits of kit I bought after getting the camera as I wanted to be able to shoot long exposures after dark.
I don’t think this Neewer range is available outside Australia, but my recommendation would be don’t go too cheap, but equally don’t drop a ton of money early on (tripods can get very expensive). Also, get something that goes up to at least your height so you’re not leaning over all the time.
Lowepro BP 350 AW
- Carry exactly what you want, no compromises with the split camera and open space compartments,
- Access your gear while wearing flipside’s access allows you to get your gear without putting the bag down
I spent a long time choosing a camera bag.
I wanted something big enough to store my gear on hikes, but also something that would have a compartment for storing clothing, food etc whilst walking.
The Lowepro BP 350 AW was my choice, with a clever design which means the expensive camera gear is only accessible from a back panel, keeping it safe whilst exploring cities.
Neewer Lens Cases
- Lens Protection: The neoprene cases protect your camera lenses from moisture, sand, dust, scratches, and drops.
- Compatible with Major Camera Brands: Works with Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Fujifilm, Pentax, Panasonic, Sony, Leica, Sigma, Tamron lenses and more.
I love these waterproof and protective lens bags, but I don’t use them quite in the way you’d think.
When we’re going out on quick trips out, but I want to take more than one lens, instead of grabbing the full rucksack I will stuff the second lens into one of these and clip it to my belt loop using the attached clip. So much easier than lugging a rucksack around when we’re only going to be out for a couple of hours.
Fujifilm Macro Extensions Tube
- Product Type:Camera Lenses
- Item Package Weight:0.198 Pounds
This clever piece of kit turns any of your Fuji lenses into a macro lens for close-up photography
Anker Powercore 10,000
- Small Size, Big Power: PowerCore 10000 PD Redux provides more than two charges for iPhone XS or Galaxy S10, and over one charge for iPad mini 5.
- Triple Charging Modes: 18W Power-Delivery USB-C port, PowerIQ-enabled USB-A port, and trickle-charging mode for low-power devices. Use the dual USB ports to charge two devices simultaneously.
Running out of battery is the worst!
Whilst I would encourage you to buy spares, having one of these is also very useful, especially on longer trips, as it will recharge the Fuji X-T3 from the USB C port.
If you’re tired of grainy nighttime shots like I was then it’s time to invest in a decent flash.
I was amazed at how cheap the Godox TT685 was and have found it brilliant so far.
Don’t underestimate how much cleaning a camera lens needs. There is nothing more frustrating to come back from shooting to find all the images need dust spots removing in post-processing.
Here are a few of the bits I’ve found useful:
- A powerful blower to remove dust such as the Giottos Rocket.
- Lens wipes, I’ve found Zeiss wipes to be the best.
- A LensPen for removing stubborn spots.
My Favourite Photos (So Far!)
I wanted to finish this piece with a few photos I’m really proud of so far that show what’s possible with around a year of practice.
Port Fairy Lighthouse
This photo was taken on our trip to Port Fairy in February.
I spent ages waiting for the sun to go down and shot this on a 15-second exposure from a tripod to get the blurry clouds.
Windsurfers at Altona Beach
I got this shot on a windy night at one of our local beaches.
It’s an image of heavy contrast and took a fair bit of post-processing (look at the colour of the kite in the top right-hand corner for example).
Altona Beach Sunset
Another late night stalking along local beaches, this was my first trip out having bought some ND filters which block light into the lens and allowed me to go with a 40-second exposure to get the sea completely flat.
I have this one printed on canvas and on the wall in our house.
AUTHOR – BEN REEVE
Reeves Roam, is a first-hand travel blog. The Reeves have lived in the UK, South Africa and Australia and have travelled extensively in Europe and Southeast Asia.
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Thanks – Ben, Becca and Gracie