We just returned from a three week vacation in the South West of the USA. Again! It was our sixth vacation there. Why do we keep coming back?
Because it’s awesome – as simple as that!
So where did our car take us this time? When you come to the same place over and over again it should be hard to find something new but we never had this problem. I think the reason is simple: The South West of the USA is a huge area. This time we started in Los Angeles. After two nights in LA we drove to Las Vegas for another two nights to have time for the Valley of Fire NP. After that we visited Zion NP for the first time! We stayed in Springdale for two nights.
Then we went up to Salt Lake City to visit Antelope Island. From there to Price and Moab to visit the breathtaking Arches NP again. This year we managed to see the famous Delicate Arch because we decided to walk there early morning when the temperature was still nice.
After that we went to Montrose for the Black Canyon NP and later to Ouray in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. The last time we were there in 2015 the weather was poor. It was raining also when we went to Silverton but this time was different, very different. It was -3 degrees Celsius in the morning but there was not a single cloud in the sky. The blue sky and the all those autumn colours were spectacular. It was a long daytime on the road too because we decided to go all the way to Holbrook to have some time left for the west coast. Of course we had to visit the Petrified forest NP.
From Holbrook we went to Scottsdale/Phoenix and from there to Palm Springs. At that time we have already decided against Tucson and San Diego but proceeded to Carpinteria again to have some quiet ocean time at a place we love. After some serious beach dwelling we went back to where we started almost three weeks ago and returned to Santa Monica for two more days in Los Angeles.
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/6.4, 1/800 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/8, 1/220 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (301.1mm, f/8, 1/250 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (42.7mm, f/8, 1/800 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (19.4mm, f/4, 1/80 sec, ISO1600)
So what was different this time? The weather was even better than in our previous trip and I thought that this is hardly possible. On most days there was not a single cloud in the sky. The mornings were a little cooler but I didn’t were socks until we came to Colorado.
We saw more wildlife than before. Bighorn, bison and antelopes. I even managed to get a good picture of a roadrunner! Last time we came here it was June so obviously the days were much shorter during this trip. The light was much better too. It even allowed for good shots during lunch time. You also don’t have to wait so long for sun sets and of course there are less tourist but places like Arches NP and Zion NP are still extremely busy. I think that this is by far the best time of the year to come here.
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (38.8mm, f/8, 1/210 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (10mm, f/10, 1/140 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (45.5mm, f/5.6, 1/1400 sec, ISO250)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (142.7mm, f/11, 1/240 sec, ISO250)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (21.3mm, f/8, 1/950 sec, ISO250)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (40.1mm, f/8, 1/750 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/8, 1/250 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16.6mm, f/16, 1/60 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/9, 1/300 sec, ISO200)
I think I have to mention my car. After a Chevrolet Suburban and a lot of Tahoe’s I hoped to get a brand new Ford Expedition this time but I had no luck. There was none available when we landed. Initially I decided to wait because there was also no Tahoe available but then I got upgraded to an Infiniti QX80. And what an upgrade it was! First I didn’t like its look but the ride, the engine and the gear box was so much better than on a Tahoe that it was a completely different experience. Despite it’s size the car almost felt nimble.
Don’t get me wrong this is still a monster. 5,34 meters long and 2,03 meters wide (without the mirrors of course) and it’s 1,92 meters high. This is a very big car. Luckily it got a big engine too. A very nice 5,6 litre V8 with the power of 405 horses. Imagine that: a wagon with over 400 horses. In short it worked very, very well until the engine light came on during our last week and we were back in a Tahoe again.
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (55mm, f/4, 1/480 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/8, 1/220 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (18.2mm, f/9, 1/340 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (37.6mm, f/9, 1/450 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (40.1mm, f/8, 1/480 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (51.6mm, f/4, 1/2700 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (400mm, f/5.6, 1/80 sec, ISO400)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (29.2mm, f/8, 1/240 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (400mm, f/5.6, 1/450 sec, ISO200)
I think I should also say something about my camera gear. For the very first time I traveled with only one camera! I only took my Fuji X Pro-2. I have never done this before. I always had a backup camera or at least a small camera. But I have sold my Fuji X-T1 and have not bought the X-T3 because it was not available before I left.
One camera would mean more lens changes but there is another big difference to my previous vacations with Fuji. This year I sold my kit lens that I hardly used and bought the Fuji XF16-55/2.8WR which became my preferred lens on this trip. I took more than 60% of all images with it. It’s an amazing lens. It has a extremely useful range, AF is silent and fast and the image quality is top notch. What’s not to like? It’s rather big and heavy but I got used to it. Here are the lenses I took with me this time:
- XF 10-24/4 OIS
- XF 16-55/2.8 WR
- XF 55-200/3.5-4.8 OiS
- XF 100-400/4.5-5.6 WR OIS
- XF 14/2.8 R
- XF 23/2.0 WR
- XF 35/1.4 R
- XF 90/2.0 WR
So practically every lens I own except the 16/1.4 and the 23/1.4. I shot with all lenses but I hardly used the 55-200. When I needed a tele lens I took the 100-400 which is far superior to the 55-200. The 100-400 is a super sharp lens and it OIS is amazing. Just have a look at the roadrunner shot above. A shutter speed of 1/80s at 400mm (or 600 if we talk consider the crop factor of the sensor)! Of course that was a mistake, I would never use such a long shutter speed to shoot a bird or such a long lens but it worked.
It was the lens I used the most beside the 16-55. Most used lens number three was the 90/2.0.
To my surprise I didn’t use the 10-24/4 as much as I thought but that was mainly because I tried to get away with the 16mm on the 16-55. I took only 5% of all images with the super wide angle this time but when I did it provided some spectacular landscapes. On my last two days in LA I switched back to my prime lens trio that I always use on my business trips in Asia. The 14/2.8, 23/2 and 35/1.4 are about the same weight of the 16-55 but there is a huge difference when one of those small lenses is on the camera. It’s a completely different thing.
But again: The real star during this trip was the XF16-55/2.8WR. A lens that I hesitated to purchase because of its weight and size and also because it doesn’t have image stabilisation. I still think it should offer it but I’m positive that upcoming Fuji cameras will offer in body image stabilisation. Maybe IBIS will be introduced in the X Pro-3?
But OIS or not I think that the XF16-55/2.8WR should be the base for everyone who values image quality but prefers the convenience of a zoom. The 16-55 might be big and heavy for a mirrorless system but it doesn’t compromise on image quality.
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (24.9mm, f/9, 1/480 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/4, 1/500 sec, ISO250)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (90mm, f/2.8, 1/550 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (90mm, f/2.8, 1/2000 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (90mm, f/5.6, 1/480 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (90mm, f/2, 1/320 sec, ISO250)
What about a tripod? I stopped using tripods a couple of years ago. I think the last time I brought one to a vacation was in 2013 and I only used it for a couple of “selfies”. That’s it. Since than I never brought one again. The only reason for a tripod would be a trip where wildlife or bird images play a major role. It’s just more convenient to have a heavy lens and the camera supported by a tripod plus it makes framing with a very long lens more precise.
But the OIS on the 100-400 is extremely effective and the image stood perfectly still in the viewfinder, something I can’t say from the times when I shot with the 90mm lens. Of course I used a short shutter speed to avoid camera shake but the picture was jumping around and exact framing was difficult.
Post Processing: I think it’s obvious that I love bold colours and strong contrasts. I’m fully aware that this is just a personal preference. I shoot RAW and I use Lightroom but my post processing is extremely fast and simple. I use the Velvia film preset from VSCO as a base. Sometimes I make additional small adjustments but most of the time I just go with the preset. I don’t like HDR. Sometimes I still use it though like in shot number 9 in this blog post from Zion NP but most of the time I prefer shadows to be very dark or even solid black.
I’m still happy that my X Pro-2 has a very good dynamic range but it doesn’t mean that I have to use it all the time.
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (55mm, f/2.8, 1/320 sec, ISO640)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (16mm, f/4, 1/200 sec, ISO320)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/4, 1/200 sec, ISO320)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/4, 1/600 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/3.2, 1/80 sec, ISO200)
What’s next. We love this part of the world and amazingly we always find something new no matter how often we have visited the place before but even before we started this trip it was clear to us that the next vacation has to go to a different place.
Just how different a place is the question. A vacation in Japan would be something completely different but of course a trip to Alaska would be different too. Or India or Vietnam. The question is how far we want to leave our comfort zone.
Today it’s absolutely not clear where we will go next time but I know exactly what gear I will bring.
PS: OK – I might finally replace the 55-200 with the 50-140 and I’m hoping for a smaller IBIS-camera from Fuji but otherwise I’m all set.