Ultra Long Exposures with Fuji X Pro 1 using the Zone System and a Heliopan Variable ND Filter

Interesting Things Come To Those Who Wait….

Pawleys Island Surf, X Pro 1, 2 1/2 min exposure

Heliopan Variable ND w/ Stops

This variable ND filter from Heliopan comes in a 52mm size which works on both the Fuji 35mm and 18mm lenses.  It is touted as being totally color transparent with no color shifts!  Online reviews have stated that it is by far the best variable  ND on the market.  My own testing has shown that it adds ZERO color cast to my images and that the physical stops on the filter work very well while the settings are quite repeatable.  The only negatives found are:

  • The fit of the ring components are very sloppy.  They are loose and easily moved.  I like a little tension between the moving rings on any adjustable filter and this one fails in that regard!
  • The base of the filter is wider than the top.  You cannot attach any lens hood because of this.  Since there are no filter threads on the front if the filter you cannot attach a screw on hood.  This bothers me quite a bit, but the fact that the filter adds no color shift allows me to overlook this.

Its stops on the filter that keeps you in the 2 to 6.2 stop range and generates no banding at all.  So far I have been very impressed with the images created with this filter in all way.  Yes you can do the same job with a fixed ND filter but even the high quality B+W ND filters add a slight color cast to your images!

Suggested Equipment:

  • Sturdy Tripod
  • Remote Shutter release cable ( I found a 40″ model online ) You can typically find many choices here for the X Pro 1 at Adorama, BH Photo and Amazon.  I have 2 in my kit, a 12 inch and a 40 inch model which allows me to back away from the tripod a little..
  • Bubble level. ( for some reason the internal built in level is not accurate ) You can always fix a tilted horizon in post processing, but you will loose part of your image in doing so.  As with all things photographic, the better the image created in the camera the better the final image will be!  The level really helps in this and you can find them for next to nothing on Amazon!
  • Charged camera battery ( long exposures chew up batteries), there is nothing worse than having to walk back to the truck for another battery!  Keep an extra in your pocket.
  • Lens cleaning kit ( beach shots in the wind cover everything in salt spray )
  •  ND filter (variable or fixed, Heliopan or B+W 6 or 10 stop)
  • External Spot meter like the Seikonic 508 (not necessary but make exposure a little easier!), more on this on later in the post!

Subject Considerations

  1. Foreground, Mid Ground & Background:  As with any photography, it is very important to have easily recognized areas within the images.  The best images contain three.  Foreground, mid ground and backgrounds that are clearly defined will draw you viewer into your image and make a longer lasting impression!  This is the same in long exposures.  I like to find objects in or that project into the ocean to achieve  this effect.  In the images here I have the rock groin, the ocean and the sky/horizon that cover these three areas.  You should consider these important compositional areas as you pick your image.
  2. Size and timing of the waves: When photographing the surf, and attempting to soften or smooth  the waters surface you need to consider the distance and timing of the waves.  A long period between the waves will require a longer exposure to even them out.  This is just as true with larger waves as well!  A good starting point for the normal surf is a 30 second shutter speed.  This should give you 3 or 4 waves coming ashore with which to average the waters movement.  The B&W image shown here in the post was a 2  min 30 sec exposure.  The reason for the difference is because to flatten the waters surface I needed a much longer exposure due the the size of the waves (12 feet).
  3. The Sky: The sky is a funny thing in long exposures.  Normally we hope for some structure in the sky, especially with color.  But the ultra white sky can also add a striking compositional element to our images as long as there are other darker areas within the composition to balance against.  The addition of clouds, especially clouds that are moving will add another etherial component to your long exposure image.  The clouds will be tearing across the image, trying to flatten themselves with movement.  Usually, this effect is very subdued due to the slower movement of the clouds as compared to the waves!  Some photographers make the moving clouds their main compositional components, something to think about…
  4. B&W or Color: For me this is an easy choice… I prefer B&W to almost any other type of image!  There is just something striking about a well done B&W image.  Don’t get me wrong, I do shoot in color and like it very much, but the B&W image is universal in the way it tends to draw viewers into the image.  The complexity of the colors having been removed seem to show the soul of the image in all of its splendor!  This is an area in which the Fuji X Pro 1 really shines!  The various built in art filters with their various options (red, green and so on) gives splendid B&W internal conversions within the camera.  I am always amazed by the clarity and quality of the Fuji B&W images that I get out of the camera! The B&W image shown here is one such example of an in camera conversion.  I used the B&W with Red filter choice in the Fuji X Pro 1’s film type selections!

Zone System Metering & Exposure:

Zone Exposure System
The ZONE system is an old exposure evaluation tool developed by Ansel Adams.  While old, it has a real place in modern digital photography as well.  There are many books and videos on the subject and I STRONGLY suggest that you take the time to learn about the tool.
Simply, by taking a spot meter measurement on a particular part of the subject, you can place it in the 18% gray area or Zone 5.  Then you simply adjust the exposure up or down to place it in its proper zone!
It is a very easy to understand exposure evaluation system that can save you important time and thinking when you are evaluating your exposure setup.
Here is an example on how I use the Zone System to evaluate exposure:
  • Take a SPOT meter reading on the sky.
  • The meter in the camera or hand held meter will place the tone of the spot it measured into 18% Gray or Zone 5.
  • Knowing that I wanted the sky to be in Zone 8, I will lighten it by adjusting my exposure lighter by 3 stops by opening the aperture 3 stops wider!
  • The entire image is shifted by the decision I made above.  I could have chosen ANY OTHER SPOT to measure and adjust according knowing that the camera spot meter would force that tone area under the spot meter to 18% gray!

The Zone System for exposure control in this image

So, looking at the sample image above, you can see that a spot meter reading on the sky which I want to place in Zone 8, is forced into Zone 5 by the camera metering system.  If I left it here then end sky would be a dark gray and the overall image way underexposed.  So, knowing this I simply adjust the exposure lighter by 3 stops, shifting the sky into Zone 8 and brightening the entire image properly!  Look at the image above, notice that I have shown spot meter readings for several areas of the image?  You could also choose ANY of these, knowing that the camera would force the area chosen into Zone 5 and then make adjustment up or down via the aperture to place it in the Zone that YOU wish it to be in.  Perfect control!
One last thought on this for you.  When using a fixed or variable ND filter, you simply take the meter reading through the filter then make your zone adjustments.  The LCD preview of the X Pro 1 works VERY well in low light and allows you to do so easily and accurately!
The Zone system is a very easy way to understand and control your cameras exposure for perfect pictures.

Pawleys Surf, Long Exposure, 25 seconds, Fuji X Pro 1

So, what do you think?  The Heliopan Variable ND Filter is a VERY good tool to have in the camera bag.  But, it is VERY expensive ($300/52mm).   Optically, it is pure with no color poisoning at all.  I have not check out how it works in the IR spectrum yet but I will in the future.  The only real complaint for me is the lose fitting elements!

7 comments on “Ultra Long Exposures with Fuji X Pro 1 using the Zone System and a Heliopan Variable ND Filter

  1. Pingback: Ultra Long Exposures with Fuji X Pro 1 using the Zone System and a Heliopan Variable ND Filter | Mark Hilliard | Fuji X-Pro1 | Scoop.it

  2. Pingback: Ultra Long Exposures with Fuji X Pro 1 using the Zone System and a Heliopan Variable ND Filter | Thoughts about the new Fuji X Pro-1 | Scoop.it

  3. I’m leaving a comment 5 years after the article was published, but i have to thank you. I learned zone metering AND long exposure with a variable nd filter. I just bought a vnd and I’m a bit at loss at metering because my camera doesn’t have a built-in meter. Many tutorials suggest trial and error when searching for the correct exposure with a vnd, but I’d rather nail the picture at the first attempt since I do medium format film and I don’t really have photograms to waste.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s