There has long been room in the market for a competitor to enter this growing software niche and deliver an image management suite for a reasonable one-off fee that the hobbyist photographer would consider fair. In most instances they have come up short - the RAW processing is usually excellent - but they are found lacking on the image management side of the equation. So I eagerly anticipated the release of the latest version of ACDSee Photo Studio and the possibility that someone might finally do a better job than Adobe. Spoiler alert - they haven't. Not completely, anyway.

Ancestry

The venerable ACDSee suite first came out in 1994, a full 13 years before the first release of Lightroom, so it's not like they haven't had some time to work out the wrinkles. ACDSee have done a better job than most other companies, but there are some key differences between this and Lightroom that remain a deal-breaker for me. My requirements are fairly specific though and you may find that this software is the perfect addition to your photography workflow. Let's talk about all the good stuff first.

Firstly of course, this is a one-off purchase of $100 here in Australia and $70 in the US. If you subscribe to Adobe's Photography plan, which gets you Photoshop, Lightroom and Lightroom Classic, then you'll pay $171 for the first year alone, so for just over six months of fees to Adobe you could own this software outright. That's a pretty sizeable advantage any way you look at it. And it's not like you're buying software from some start-up that might drop off the face of the earth after a year - ACDSee have been in this software sector since its very beginnings.

This is a streamlined bit of software that ran fast and smoothly on my two year old iMac. This appears to be mainly due to the use of a hierarchical database instead of a relational one in Lightroom. You can use it as a full-blown workflow suite, importing images directly off your SD-card, copying them to an archive somewhere and tagging, categorising and keywording them along the way. Alternatively you can simply fire it up and point it at your photo archives and it will catalog them. There is even an import tool for Lightroom which will transfer your metadata including ratings and keywords. Unfortunately it won't import your .xmp sidecar files from Lightroom so you'll lose any edits you made to the RAW file. I did a test save of metadata in Lightroom and it had no impact on the Photo Studio file at all but it did grab content, keyword, contact and IPTC image metadata.

Keywording and rating images in Photo Studio is fast and simple and can be automated if you want. The library view, which sits under the 'Manage' tab shows you thumbnails of your images and you also flick to the 'View' tab which has a large image/filmstrip layout similar to Lightroom's Develop module. One welcome addition to the software is the inclusion of a map, which is one of the key features I use regularly in Lightroom and which makes my life considerably easier. It's not as flexible as Lightroom's but does include stuff like reverse geoencode and the ability to drag a set of images onto a location on the map to add GPS data to those files. All things being equal, PhotoStudio's digital asset management capabilities are amongst the best I've tried, but they are not in the same league as Lightroom and its Sqlite database.

Developments

The develop module is where you create all those non-destructive RAW image edits. It includes a pretty standard selection of tools that enable you to manipulate RAW image data and a couple of fancy light and colour tools that raise this software up a couple of levels. Edits are categorised into Tune, Detail, Geometry and Repair sliders and these can be applied globally or using brush, linear or radial masks. It all worked well, though I did find the equivalent tools here much stronger than their Lightroom equivalents.

In terms of one-click functions such as presets, there is a colour LUT tool that can load .cube files and some basic built-in presets. You can also save your own presets which is handy if you have a set of base-line tweaks that you tend to apply to all of your images. It's a basic but well-rounded set of tools, sliders and features, but there was nothing in here that could in any way be considered innovative or unique.

Drawbacks

That's the good stuff, let's talk about a few negatives. My first surprise on that front was that I couldn't actually edit any of my Fujifilm X-T4's raw files. This is because the software only supports the uncompressed RAW format on all of Fujifilm's cameras which is unfortunate. I don't tend to use the uncompressed format because it takes up more space and has no huge benefits in terms of quality. It's a bit of a shame, but in ACDSee's defence, Lightroom sometimes does a less than spectacular job of rendering my X-T4's .RAF files.

The latest version of Lightroom has some terrific new masking capabilities, including AI selections but Photo Studio uses a more traditional linear/radial approach. It's a much more basic toolset, but it's possible to achieve similar results if you're prepared to finesse your masks. The software's also missing all of Lightroom's more advanced tools, such as enhance, HDR and pano and mean that you will need an external editor if you want to combine shots in some way.

In terms of the library management there is no stacking feature. This is something I use all the time in Lightroom as I usually shoot bracketed images and Lightroom automatically stacks those bundles of files into their own virtual folders so you can get a better overview of all the images in that folder. You can select multiple images in Photo Studio and add them a separate sub-folder, but it's not a useful facility when you have several hundred images in your import.

I guess the single biggest drawback with this software is that it feels a few generations behind Lightroom. All of the basics are in there, but there's none of the marque tools that make my asset management and RAW processing simpler and more effective - stuff like being able to filter using the map (the 'just show visible' filter) or the colour profiles, the smart collections, the plugins, the collections, the presets and the aforementioned HDR, pano and enhance tools.

Simple But Effective

The Adobe suite comes with cloud space and access to mobile versions of the desktop apps and ACDSee have taken on board. Your purchase grants you access to a Mobile Sync app that enables you to send photos and videos directly from your phone to your Photo Studio library along with any edits you made on-the-go. It's a neat value-add but I'm not sure how useful it is in practice since most iPhone users already use iCloud to store photos, but I guess it saves a middle-step of exporting your photos from Apple Photos to your media library.

I was impressed by this latest version of Photo Studio and I suspect that for many photographers it will do everything they want and more. It's a polished application that feels Mac-like and I found it to be both fast and stable. If I had to plump for any DAM application apart from Lightroom, then this would certainly be it. The lack of a subscription will be very tempting to many people and it's an actively developed application that will only improve over time. Recommended.

Filters have great advantage to landscape photographers, but they also have some drawbacks. The first drawback is that they are an added layer of complexity on the photographic process, they can be fiddly to use and they can slow the process down. The light on a landscape is usually in constant flux and any delays imposed by adding equipment to your camera might mean you miss the crucial moment and fail to get the shot you were chasing. So when it comes to filters - simple is good. The other drawback is the cost. The filter accessory market used to be dominated by a couple of well known high-end brands (Lee, Heliopan and B+W) and several (slightly) cheaper options (Cokin, Hoya and Tiffen), but some of the cheaper filters were well known for introducing the dreaded colour-cast on photos and were not seen as a viable option for the serious photographer.

Fortunately the filter market is very different these days and more competitive. Companies like K&F, Gobe/Urth, Neweer, Nisi, Moment and PolarPro produce great filters, including models for action cameras and drones. More importantly these budget filters do not suffer from the quality issues of the previous generation of cheap filters and they offer a great opportunity for any photographer not hung up on brand names. All of which brings me around to the K&F Nano series.

There are several ways of mounting a filter to a camera lens, all of which have inherent advantages and disadvantages. The K&F Nano kit does away with the traditional bracket and clamp style or screw-in type and instead uses a magnetic system. The package I was sent for review is the 72mm Nano Filter Kit which includes a UV filter, a Circular Polariser and an ND1000. These attach to a slimline mounting bezel which you screw onto the lens in the usual way.

The principle advantage of a magnetic filter system like this is the speed with which you can add or remove them. This ease of use and speed means you're more likely to experiment with your photographic compositions since you're not weighing up the hassle of screwing on a bracket, inserting a filter and lining it up and then taking it all off again. If the mood takes you, you can just clip an ND1000 onto the filter in a second and take it off again as easily.

As with previous K&F filters that I have tested, I had no problems with colour cast or distortion. The Nano coating that K&F used is a protective one that is resistant to scratches and fingerprints. This is a big deal for me as I do not have a great track record for looking after my photographic kit and I am certainly not one of those photographers that babies their kit and handles it with clean-room gloves. The ND1000 supplied with this kit performed as well as the K&F Concept Square Filter System and ND1000 Pro Filter that I previously reviewed here.

When I tested the circular polariser I was briefly puzzled that there was no inner bezel to twist for alignment to the sun. Then I slapped myself on the forehead and simply rotated the filter on its magnetic mount to achieve the desired effect. (Sidenote: there aren't currently any ND-grads in K&F's magnetic filter range, but I see no reason why they couldn't work the same way as the circular polariser). As with the ND filter I saw no colour cast in evidence and was thankful for the Nano coating, as touching the filter is inevitable when it's magnetic. The third filter in this pack is a UV filter which was optically clear, but of limited use. I only ever use UV filters to protect the main lens (from damage or splashes) not because I feel they make any significant difference to my photographs.

The filters are supplied in a neat little protective zip bag, which has four slots but could easily accommodate more of these filters if you decided to extend your collection beyond the three supplied with the kit.

The advantage of a magnetic mount system is its obvious simplicity and ease of use, but the disadvantage of this system is that it is not as flexible as a bracket system. You can only use this set of filters on the thread size its specified for and would therefore need to buy additional sets for any other lenses you use for your landscape photography. Theoretically you could use a step-up/down ring but there might be issues with vignetting.

For someone like me who has one main landscape lens (I use the XF10-24mm for the majority of my shots), then these magnetic filters are a great option. I can leave the mounting bezel on the camera and still attach the filters and the lens hood. I can even switch out between ND1000 and polariser without removing the lens hood which is another added convenience. The filters supplied in this kit would serve well as a great starter-filter set for someone who's beginning to explore more technical aspects of photography such as long exposure and are a lot less fiddly to use than the traditional bracket system.

The good news is that there is no shortage of photo editing applications, the bad news is that most of them are total overkill for the task at hand. Adobe Photoshop for instance is an incredible bit of software and one that I started using eight years before my 20-year old son was born. As good as Photoshop is, however - when it comes to drone photos - it is like doing your weekly grocery shop in a Bugatti Veyron. If you're a photographer that takes photographs with a drone then an application like Luminar AI (or the forthcoming Luminar Neo) are a much more sensible option.

Now the great thing about Luminar AI is that it offers one-click processing. So if you'd rather be out taking cool shots, than sitting in front of a computer, it's a good option. If you do want to drill down further into the image's processing settings then you can, but you'll often find that the software's Templating system does a pretty good job with no further intervention required.

By way of example, I thought I'd showcase a few before and after images, in which I simply used an appropriate template on one of my drone shots. I've chosen a selection of images covering regular day-time landscapes, seascapes and sunrise/sunset shots.

Let's start with a meat-and-potatos landscape shot. This is actually an image from a 360º pano I shot near Kangaroo Valley, which is perfect for our test since we have fields, trees, foliage, hills and some sky. When you open a photograph in Luminar it leverages its AI capabilities and comes up with a few suggestions as to which template you might like to use with it. In the case of this image the software suggested Easy Landscapes, Natural Scenery, Scenery and Moods of Summer. These are all default looks which come with the software, but you can buy add-on packs and these would appear here too if the software thought they'd be a good fit.

Within the Easy Landscapes template collection I have six options, catering to the kind of look I'm after. I was impressed with the fact that these aren't over-saturated Instagram-style filters that simply ramp up all the sliders to 11. In fact two of the templates - Clean Light and Forest Stream - actually desaturated the image slightly, to create a pleasing matt style shot with slightly crushed blacks.

In the shot below I went with the Long Exposure template. Comparing the before and after, we can see that the software's made a few changes to the image both in terms of colour and detail. For instance, it has increased detail in the clouds, such that they more much more defined now and it has also deepend the blues to really make those clouds pop. It's an effect similar to what you'd see if you used a polariser on your drone's camera. Similar definition and clarity tweaks have been made to the trees and there has also been some dehazing applied to the trees on the side of the hills in the background. Note also that there are no jarring edges in the image - the edge of the hills on the right already had some halo evident in the original RAW image and Luminar has done a good job avoiding ugly fringing.

All things being equal it's a great RAW conversion and I would be happy to leave the processing there. However if I did want to tweak any element of it, I can simply click on the Edit button and manually alter any of the settings in the Long Exposure template. For instance, to tone down the saturation applied to the fields, I can lower the Accent slider slightly. Alternatively I can tone down the whole template as one by using the main slider at the bottom of the editing panel until I arrive at the look I'm chasing.

My next example image was taken in Jervis Bay above Currumbene Creek in Huskisson and features some beautiful turquoise water and a white sand beach. In this case Luminar's analysis of the image suggest templates from the Overcast Collection, the Waterscapes Collection and the Easy Landscapes. I was puzzled by the first choice since it's clearly not an overcast day, but I tried the templates within and actually several of them were ideal for this image.

Of all the templates suggested for this image, the cleanest and most sympathetic was 'Soft Fix' in the Waterscapes collection, but for a more processed look for an Instagram feed, the 'Backlit Clouds' template in the Overcast Collection would be a solid choice. If we look at the changes made with Soft Fix however, we can see that it has largely left the colour of the water alone and simply accentuated the ripples in the water and applied a light dehaze to the water and sky. It's actually a really great edit that would be suitable for printing although I'd probably remove the vignette.

I'm not a huge fan of that very contrasty heavy HDR look as it seems quite unnatural, however the Dynamic Result template actually works well with my next example - an image of the coastline of the Murramurang National Park. It's a dramatic scene and the heavier contrast in the template actually works well, further enhancing the separation of the bush, the beach and the ocean. There's on obvious halos or banding where the mountains meet the sky and it hasn't gone crazy with the saturation.

Moving onto the sunrise/sunset images and I really thought Luminar AI came into its own for these shots. The first image of Seven Mile Beach at sunrise is a tricky one to manually process due to the extremely vibrant colour palette and the wide dynamic range in the RAW file. The software suggested a landscape template and I felt that Long Exposure template nailed it pretty much immediately. The light dehaze worked well and didn't turn the small area of blue sky a violet shade as often happens when you use this particular slider in this software or any other. I cropped the image as well, to reduce the amount of beach and punch in on the sky and ocean.

In my next example, a reverse sunrise shot, the problem here is about retaining the white in the surf, while enhancing the colour in the sky, without giving the whole image a lilac colour cast. Luminar suggested the Artistic Collection this time around and the Templates within were much more subtle than other options. My personal favourite however was the Forest Stream template in the Easy Landscapes collection as it accentuated the image in a natural way with a series of soft tweaks that would work well when printed.

My final image, a sunrise on Seven Mile Beach got a couple of interesting suggestions from Luminar. It suggested the Sunsets collection and all of the templates within required toning down as they were extremely saturated and, in two cases, swapped out the existing lovely sky for a bunch of boring cumulus clouds. The best result for this image was in the Scenery Collection and the Clear Skies template which accentuated the natural imagery without going crazy with saturation and clarity.

To conclude I'd say that Luminar AI was an excellent choice for drone photographers who don't have the time, inclination or money to spend on a package like Adobe Photoshop. If you just want to bring out the best of a RAW shot, then Luminar AI enables you to quickly hone in on a pleasing visual outcome which you can then tweak to meet your vision for that image. It takes a great deal of the hassle out of processing images and does so in a simple, linear way that, for the most part, avoids the often baffling terminology of the heavyweight photo editing suites. Skylum are preparing to release their new Neo editing software later this year with a feature-set that looks to further simplify the editing process with features like intelligent spot removal. Luminar AI is currently $64AUD and it's not subscription based so the software is yours forever.

Their 20 litre dedicated camera bag is one of a range of specialised backpacks by the company and one that borrows a few features from other packs and cleverly innovates as well. That is not to say that it doesn't have flaws, but at just $90AUD including delivery, it represents a compelling option for someone looking to buy a first pack or get something to accommodate a growing kit-list.

The bag is made from heavyweight 900D nylon that has been well stitched together. It features a removable drawer section with side access, a capacious interior with a laptop slot and a roll-top design that can be reduced or expanded according to the gear you're carrying that day. Two pockets on the front and an expandable side pouch for drink bottle or tripod make for a versatile design that can cater to most kit-list load outs.

The top of the bag is secured with a zip and is then folded over itself before being clipped closed - this ensures that moisture can't get in the top. It's a good design and one that will ensure your camera stays dry in the rain. The bag is water resistant (not waterproof) but does come with a rain cover that can be easily fitted over the pack for those heavy downpours. Special mention goes to the anti-theft clip on the top of the bag which is made from heavy metal and will securely hold the contents inside the bag even when over-loaded.

The camera feels comfortable on the back, has wide straps for shoulder comfort and a chest strap to keep the pack sitting well on your back. It lacks the rigidity of larger bags, but for a run-and-gun bag that you'll be using for shorter periods of time that won't be an issue. Both my wife and I tried the pack out and we both managed to find comfortable strap lengths despite the fact that I'm 6ft tall and she's a bit over 5ft.

The design of the bag is based around two compartments, but all internal dividers are removable and if you wanted one single large compartment then you can do just that. It comes with a larger divider that sits above the removable side-access drawer and the drawer itself which you can configure according to your needs.

In practice I found the drawer feature to be the weakest part of the bag design. The benefit of side access is that you can remove equipment without fully taking the pack off, but the drawer design does not lend itself to this as it does not hold its shape well when removed and is difficult to push in and out. When testing the pack I tried several configurations and in the end I dispensed with the slide-out functionality completely and just used the side access interior space as a traditional pocket. It works much better this way, although you will definitely want to retain some of the cushioned interior dividers for extra protection. The double-zipper design of the side panel does tend to stick and I can't help thinking that a small loop on the bottom of the bag would greatly assist in opening and closing the pouch. It's also worth pointing out that the top edge of that side panel is not secured to the bag and will only protect against rain, not higher volumes of water e.g. from a wave if you were photographing on the coast.

Even with the flawed drawer design, this is still a great camera backpack and at just $90AUD including delivery represents ridiculously good value. The design is funky, with high visibility reflective accents, a great desert-camo design and numerous value-added features such as an anti-theft buckle and an RFID blocking pocket to keep your wallet in. Ignore the gimmicky drawer feature, use the lower section as a traditional side-access pocket and you have top-notch, rugged day-pack that is as at home in the great outdoors as it is in the city.

For some time now I've been using a combination of Notes apps and mind-mapping apps to get myself organised. Previously I used Evernote, but then I realised that Apple Notes did pretty much everything Evernote did, plus more beside, came free with the operating system and sync'd across all of my devices, so I cancelled Evernote and moved to Notes. To get my various projects (such as my YouTube channels and this site) organised I use mind-mapping tools - my favourite of which is MindNode. It's a cool solution, but the main problem is getting stuff from one system or app to another system or app. So I was intrigued when I learned about MilaNote, which does pretty much everything Notes and MindNode do, but is fully integrated.

Flexible Friend

The first thing that strikes you about MilaNote is how slick the design is - it's an impressive web app utilising a paired-down and functional interface that gets out of the way when you need it to. You can theme it dark or light depending on your preference and then begin adding stuff using a simple drag-and-click methodology built around a block system. On the left of the screen is the main toolbar and on the right is your home screen onto which you build out your notes.

The core building block of your MilaNote library is the Board. Boards are freeform containers for any information you'd like to cluster together. For instance you could have a photo-shoot board, a holiday ideas board or an ideas board. The information you decide to add to the board is entirely up to you, but the developers have helpfully created a large variety of templates to cover many of the basic set-ups you might like to use. These include everything from mood boards and design briefs through to product launch plans and funding trackers. 

Having a decent ND filter or two in your bag is pretty much essential if you're a landscape photographer, because they enable you to control exposure time without having to compromise your aperture or ISO settings. Traditionally those ND filters come in individual strengths and sold according to the number of stops of light that they block. That's fine, but light is constantly changing and you often find yourself switching ND filters in and out as the amount of natural light in the scene changes. All of which makes a variable ND filter, in which you can dial in the number of stops you require, a great idea.

Mastering the Light

The K&F ND2-ND400 is a 9-stop variable ND filter. This means you can dial-in any ND 'strength' between ND2 (1-stop) and ND400 (9-stops). This variable design is accomplished by using two pieces of polarised glass sitting on top of each other. As you rotate the front piece of polarised glass the image becomes darker and darker until you reach the maximum number of stops for that filter.

Let's say you're shooting an image at f/8 that the camera has metered for one second with no ND filters on the lens. If you dial in the variable ND filter to its base ND2 the camera will now meter for four seconds, stretching out your exposure time without having to change ISO or aperture. If your naturally metered one second exposure is dialled in for ND400, the camera would meter for about eight minutes. Therefore with a variable ND like this one on your lens you have a huge amount of flexibility in getting the light hitting the sensor at exactly the levels you want.

I've had a couple of variable NDs over the year and I have to say that the K&F ND2-ND400 is the nicest I've used. The adjustment buckle is curved to fit the finger making it much easier to dial in the right ND number by rotating the filter in the same way that you would a circular polariser. It's also much slimmer than my old ND filters which means that even with my super-wide 10-24mm wide open, there's no vignetting from the edges of the filter.

Recommended

When I tested it I didn't observe any colour cast from the filter and its Japanese-manufactured glass. I also great appreciate the scratch-resistant design because my filters always seem to suffer from scratches and dings from being taken on and off and thrown around in the camera bag. If you're a bit clumsy like me then you'll also appreciate the Nano coating which is resistant to finger-prints. The only drawback to these filters (and it's true of all variable NDs) is that if turn the dial past the marked end-point at ND400 the polarised glass will go out of alignment and you'll see heavy vignetting on either side of the frame. It doesn't hurt the filter in any way - in fact you can rotate it a full 360º if the mood takes you - but you just need to be aware of it when you're dialling in the number of stops.

If you've been frustrated by ND filters in the past and don't enjoy all the faffing around that comes with switching out the glass then a variable ND like this is the way to go. These K&F filters are reasonably priced and suffer from none of the drawbacks (such as a noticeable colour cast) of other entry-level filters. The K&F ND2-ND400 takes up virtually no room in the camera bag, can be purchased for lens threads between 62mm and 82mm and comes with a great little leather case to protect it when it's not in use.

I've never stressed too much about the labels on the backpacks I carry my photography gear around in and have found that cheap Chinese packs, such as those by Neweer and similar companies, are perfectly good, well designed and cheap. That being said, I had some insurance funds to spend at a camera store and it was while I was compiling the list of items I wanted to spend that insurance money on, that I looked at their range of backpacks. That lead me to the LowePro range and, in particular, their Protactic bags.

Versatile

We photographers are very hard to please, particularly when it comes to camera bags, and we all have a list of features that we're looking for when we go shopping for a new one. Beyond the very basic requirement of simply keeping the camera equipment safe, everyone's list will be different with different features given different priorities. The list changes over time too because we get new gear or upgrade or change photographic styles or any one of a hundred other reasons. Here's what I was looking for in my new backpack: 

After watching several hundred YouTube videos and weighing up the pros and cons of the different packs, I settled on the Protactic 450 AW II because it ticked all of those boxes. It's the most I've ever spent on a backpack, but I wanted to get something that would last me for a while and be flexible enough to adapt to whatever changes with my equipment.

Layout

Like all modern camera bags, the 450 has a soft organisation system secured by velcro to the base and sides of the bag. The first thing I did was take all of those out and arrange my stuff in the space, working out what I wanted where. Once I'd settled on the best layout, I put the inserts back in and then fine-tuned it to make sure everything was secure and that I was making the most of the available space.

By the time I'd finished I had my Fujifilm X-T4, 10-24mm, 100-400mm, 35mm, 18-55mm, 50-230mm, DJI Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic controller, Manfrotto mini tripod, Rode Video Mic Pro, K&F Square filter holders, Peak Designs slide strap and Insta 360 One R with selfie stick all stowed in the main compartment. On the inside panel are two clear pockets in which I have put my K&F filters, spare batteries and Rode Lav mic. Inside the top compartment is another pocket in which I have placed various hard items such as alum keys and pen knives because this is protected by a hard shell. There are two more side pockets and the laptop/iPad sleeve pocket inside that are currently empty. I think it's fair to say that the bag met my requirements regarding space.

In addition to the main bag LowePro also bundle various add-ons with the pack which include a tripod holder, a water bottle holder, an accessory bag and a large detachable waist strap. The add-ons can be fixed virtually anywhere on the pack using velcro loops giving a great deal of flexibility in arranging the exterior of the pack. The only one I'm using at the moment is the tripod holder which I've mounted on the side of the pack along with my awesome new lightweight K&F BA225 carbon fibre tripod. The bag also includes a rain cover which is permanently secured and tucked away in a little pouch on the base and is the AW (all weather) bit in the pack's name.

Pack It In

Of course being able to house my stupidly large collection of camera equipment is well and good, but how does it feel to wear on your back? I'm happy to say it feels great, thanks mainly to nice wide shoulder straps and a decent amount of ventilated soft padding in the back-bone of the pack.

The side panel access zippers work really well too. To access my camera, I simply slip the left strap off my shoulder, slide the bag around to my front, unzip and remove the camera and then slide it back. It feels pretty natural to do this and the equipment feels secure even with the single strap on thanks to those afore-mentioned wide straps.

As with all good backpacks, the shoulder straps have cross-straps so you can get the pack sitting nicely on your shoulders. These are great, but I'm a fat bastard and when I use them it accentuates my gut so much I look like Gimli son of Glóin. This is not a failing of this backpack however - the same thing happens to me with all of them.

I'm happy with my purchase. The LowePro feels hefty enough to survive the hostile environment I shoot most of my photos in and has room to spare for all of my equipment. If you're in the market for a large and sturdy camera bag with back panel and side access - I can highly recommend it.

One of the biggest innovations in tripod design was the use of carbon fibre instead of metal. Carbon fibre used to be restricted to high-end tripods, but the price-point has been steadily falling over the years and they're now within the financial range of pretty much all photographers. All of which brings us along to the BA225 from K&F - a lightweight carbon fibre tripod released recently at an extremely competitive ticket-price.

Lightweight

The BA225 is a well designed tripod that concentrates on the essentials instead of pointless flashiness. Principle amongst these essentials is the tripod's weight - a mere 1.02kg. I already own a couple of carbon fibre tripods so I'm used to the weight savings that carbon makes possible, but the BA225 still caused me to raise my eyebrows the first time I picked it up. It's the sort of tripod you could strap to your bag and completely forget that it's there.

Don't be fooled by the lightweight design however, this is a really well put together tripod, with machined aluminium for the load-bearing parts, the main joints and the ball-head. It's a rugged design - one that's designed to be used, not just looked at - and which features a surprisingly versatile construction.

The legs are extended using the spiral 'twist' type of locking system. I have these on my current main tripod (a carbon fibre MePhoto Roadtrip travel tripod) and I found that they slip when wet. I had no such problems with the locking system on this tripod and experienced none of the sudden disappearing leg sections which bedevilled the MePhoto and which caused me several heart-in-mouth moments. You need to be able to trust your kit and whatever locking design K&F are using, it works well and locks securely. On the subject of the twist-lock system, it has its advantages and disadvantages - but it's certainly no quicker than the traditional clip style.

Extreme Usability

In terms of sizing - the tripod's only 35cm when fully folded up, but can stretch out to a maximum height of 153cm with the central post fully extended. Thanks to the graduated angle adjustment buckles, you can also use the tripod at very low angles while safely locking the legs off. The tripod-ends seem to have been designed with this in mind as they have a bezelled finish that sits well on rough surfaces.

The ball-head on the tripod is a standard Arca Swiss design secured by a screw-in clamp. There's a spirit level built into the base plate and a rotatable 360º design to assist with panoramic photos. The little twist-lock for the tripod head holds position well, but you can of course swap out the head if you wish as it's attached using the standard ¼" screw. Amongst the tripod's other features are a detachable leg to convert to a monopod and a hook on the base for hanging weights for additional stability in high winds.

At $132AUD, the BA225 is a compelling option for anyone in need of a lightweight and fuss-free tripod. It might not have the snob-appeal of something like a Gitzo to a label-conscious photographer, but some of us buy camera equipment to use it, not to stress about every little mark and blemish on it. This rugged little tripod is designed to be put through its paces and you won't stress about getting a bit of saltwater on it like you would with a $1000 tripod. There are no performance issues with this tripod and no corners have been cut - it's just a great basic little tripod at a great price.

I have always opted for the mountable type in the past for the sake of simplicity but the disadvantage of these is that you cannot stack filters without introducing heavy vignetting to the edges of the image. So when K&F Concept asked me if I'd like to review their Square Filter System and a couple of their Pro range filters, I thought it would be a great chance to see for myself what the pros and cons of this setup are.

Filter System

The bundle I was supplied with includes the square filter system itself, an ND1000 Pro series filter and an ND8 graduated neutral density Pro series filter. The ND1000 is K&F's version of the classic Big Stopper style of filter pioneered by Lee and the ND8 grad is a classic design and must-have filter in pretty much any landscape photographers kit bag.

The filter system itself comes in two main parts - the adapter ring, which screws onto the front of the lens itself, and the filter holder which then clips onto the adapter ring. This kit is supplied with eight adapter rings (49/52/58/62/67/72/77/82) catering for most of the common lens thread sizes. I used the 77mm and 72mm on my 10-24mm and 100-400 respectively. The filters themselves are supplied in hard-wearing leather cases which are ideal for keeping the glass safely in a kit bag.

Once you've mounted the adapter to the lens, you can attach the filter holder. This easily clips onto the adapter using a convenient lever latch system. You can insert the filters into the holder while it's on the camera, but I found it much easier and more convenient to slot the filters in first and then clip them on. The filters are held in place using secure rubberised grooves - there's no way a filter will ever come loose once they're inserted as the grip of the holder is extremely firm. That being said, the filter holder has been designed specifically to rotate freely on the adapter ring so that you can correctly align graduated filters and circular polarisers. 

Correct Exposure

I was impressed by the quality of both the filter holder and the filters themselves. The holder is made from black-sandblasted CNC-cut aviation aluminium which is both light and extremely rigid. I have no doubt at all that this will cope well with being chucked inside my camera bag and the wear-and-tear associated with sitting on the front of the camera in hostile environments such as at the coast.

The ND1000 filter supplied in this bundle is the sort of filter that every landscape photographer should own. It enables you to photograph long exposure shots even in full daylight, rather than having to wait for the reduced light at either end of the day. This offers a lot of flexibility and opens up a whole range of possibilities for cool shots.

I decided to put the ND1000 to the test by shooting in full daylight - in fact I shot not long after midday on a largely cloudless day when the the sun was completely unobscured. With the filter on my X-T4 with the 10-24mm lens I was able to shoot anywhere between 1 and 30 second exposures in full daylight. For the longer exposures I stopped the lens down to f/16 at ISO160 and this gave me exposure times of between 8 and 10 seconds which are ideal for shooting those milky-water shots where everything's smoothed out and splashes are reduced to haze. For the shorter exposures, I opened the aperture up to f/4 at ISO160 and this game me exposure times of between 0.5 and 1.5seconds. These sorts of exposure times are ideal for capturing waves mid-splash.

Flexible and Robust

10-stop filters like K&F Concept's ND1000 started out life as something of a niche product, but they have become much more popular over recent years as they mean you can shoot long exposure images all day long. Furthermore the square filter system of this set-up enables you to stack filters - there are two available slots, so there is nothing stopping you from adding an ND grad (such as the supplied GND8 filter), a circular polariser or indeed stacking ND grads. 

When it comes to ND grad filters, which are used for correctly exposing bright skies in landscapes, the type you use will depend on whether you have a cropped or full sensor camera. On a cropped sensor camera, a hard ND filter (like the one supplied with this kit) is a better choice than a soft one because the transition area of the filter will occupy a much larger portion of the frame than on a full frame sensor camera.

The filters are all coated with a special anti-reflective coating, which is important as you cannot mount a lens hood while this filter system is attached. I found the anti-glare capabilities to be excellent and once I'd imported the photographs into Lightroom I did not observe any problematic colour cast. White balance is easily corrected in post so this isn't a huge issue when shooting RAW anyway.

It's important to note that the K&F filters are made from highly polished optical glass manufactured in Japan, not the resin design, as used in some systems. In testing I found that this meant there were no issues with clarity or contrast and I was pleased with the neutral tones in the images I shot.

The only issue I have with the K&F system is that there is no way of locking off the filter holders rotation and so you have to be careful of misalignment on ND grads or circular polarisers, before taking the photo. However since you're highly unlikely to be using these filters hand-held, rather than on a tripod, it's certainly not a deal-breaker. Taking the filter holder on and off was extremely easy and can be accomplished one-handed if you hold the camera upright.

When I first picked up a camera again after a long hiatus, the first decent digital cameras were just coming onto the market. I was in the fortunate position of being in on the digital camera revolution from the very beginning because I used to work for 'gadget' and computer magazines in the UK and I used to write about those gizmos. From the very early Kodak digitals, through the beginnings of the all-conquering DSLR market and the arrival of alternative formats such as Micro 4/3rds I was lucky enough to have access to this technology. I watched the evolution of the big traditional Japanese camera manufacturers as the film epoch came to an end and I was also in on the era-defining revolution that was smartphone camera tech. When I left the magazine industry I bought myself a little Canon Powershot and I've been shooting digital on my own cameras ever since then. My photographic interests became much more serious when I got my first DSLR - a Canon 550D - 10 years ago. I've been with Canon for 16 years now and so I didn't take the decision to switch teams lightly.

The End of the Affair

There are many reasons people switch camera brands and, before I get into my review of the X-T4, I thought I'd briefly explain mine. In no particular order they were: boredom, loss-of-confidence in Canon, costs and technical requirements. And while the technical side of things obviously had a great bearing on my decision, honestly the biggest reason was boredom.

Canon cameras are often referred to as 'workhorses' - solid, dependable and reliable. I'd say they're dull too. I did not feel any excitement when I picked up my Canon 7D Mark II and, looking back, I'd say that was true from the first day I got it. I looked forward to the photographs I could take with it sure, but the actual photographic process, the A to Z of capturing an image, that bored me shitless. I looked at the new R6 (the logical next purchase for me if I stayed a Canon boy) and I was unmoved.

Somewhere along the way, from that first Single Lens Reflex camera which they released in 1934, Canon managed to successfully remove every last vestige of joy and fun from their cameras. They went from being tactile pieces of precision engineering to being anonymous black blobs - anodyne, inoffensive and bland. Some people like anodyne, inoffensive and bland but I came to realise that I did not.

And so, after months of deliberation and driving fellow photography geeks nuts, I bought a Fujifilm X-T4 and four lenses.

The Photographer's Camera

My X-T4 looks far more like Canon's original SLR from 1934, than it does my 7D Mark II and the irony of this is not lost on me. It looks like a camera that has been painstakingly engineered to great precision, not tested in wind tunnels for an aerodynamic profile and focus-grouped into oblivion. It has lines, where the Canons has curves. It has dials where the Canon has buttons. It demands that you pick it up and feel the strength of it in your hand. The dials invite you into the photographic process - they define the alchemy behind a photograph, the ingredients in the recipe. The Canon will smooth down your hair, wipe that smudge of food off your cheek and make sure your tie is straight and knot perfect. The Fuji will smack you on the arse, ruffle your hair up and switch the radio station from easy listening to drum-and-bass. In short, it's the successful fusion attitude and purpose.

I absolutely love the way that Fujifilm have put the X-T4 together. It's beautifully engineered with great precision and it feels like it'll last a lifetime or more. Everything from the way that the lenses screw so decisively into place, to the little lock button inside the two main dials feels meticulous. Hell even the way the memory cards lock into place is exact and unambiguous.

Precise and Explicit

When I first got my X-T4 I looked on it for the aperture and exposure priority modes. On my Canon I shot most of my landscape images in aperture priority, switching occasionally to exposure priority for wildlife shots and manual for night-sky or other long exposure images. But on the X-T4 there was no mode dial. It was confusing. After some time spent with the manual I discovered that these modes do exist, you just don't access them in the same way. This is because Fuji don't hold your hand quite as much as Canon - they assume that you've got some understanding of photography and, if you don't, the X-T4 makes a good case for finding out.

The modes on the X-T4 are determined by which of the main function dials you have set to automatic. For instance, to put the X-T4 in aperture priority mode, you set the ISO dial to 'A', the exposure dial to 'A' and the aperture switch on the lens to manual. It actually makes perfect sense. Similarly when you want to use exposure priority mode you set the ISO to 'A', the aperture switch to 'A' and the exposure setting to whatever speed you want. To go full manual just move everything off the 'A' automatic modes.

On the X-T4 the aperture is set (on many of the X-mount lenses) by rotating the aperture dial on the lens itself - an awesomely analog process. ISO and exposure also have their own dials, along with exposure compensation. Where a lens doesn't have an aperture dial, you change it via the jog wheel on the front of the camera, though you can of course reconfigure this. There are buttons all over the X-T4. I'd owned mine for six weeks before I even noticed the View Mode button tucked away on the side of the viewfinder. You can also reprogram pretty much every button and dial on the camera to suit your own requirements. Hell you can even reprogram the screen if the mood takes you.

Focusing gets its own little lever assembly enabling you to quickly and easily switch between single, constant and manual focus modes. As with the various camera modes I thought I'd find this annoying, but actually it's great to use. Moving camera systems is a bit like learning a new language, but you only need to get the basics down before you can hold a conversation.

Screens and EVFs

After years of holding my Canon DSLR at ground-level, pointed hopefully towards an interesting foreground subject, and praying that it would be framed correctly and in focus, it's bloody awesome to have a flip-out screen. I know Canon have their fair-share of flippy-screen cameras in their range, but the feature is new to me. If I have any gripes about that screen it's that it gets in the way of the microphone cord if you have an external mic plugged in. Other than that it's great.

The screen is of course perfect for vlogging since you can a) see if you're in the frame and b) if the auto-focus is picking you up properly. I also like the fact that you can flip it over and hide it completely, which is cool if you want to embrace the retro-stylings of the X-T4 and use the EVF for all your shots.

The screen is of course endlessly configurable, just like everything else on the X-T4. You get to decide precisely what information you want on that screen and when you want it to appear. As it's a touch-screen you can also use it for selecting the focus point, for taking the shot, for playback or, by swiping in one of four compass directions, trigger a function button.

The EVF is crazy good too. Absolutely crystal clear and nearly as configurable as the screen. I think the rubber eye piece deserves a special mention here - it's so comfortable to rest against your eye socket that holding the camera in place for extended periods (if you're waiting for wildlife to do something interesting for instance) is no problem.

Seeing the Menu

Fujifilm don't have a brilliant reputation for their menu system - better than Sony's sure, but not as loved as the ones found on some other camera systems. And I must admit that the first time I hit that menu button and started flicking through all the screens and sub-screens and sub-sub-screens I was a bit bewildered.

But actually the menus aren't bad at all - if I had any issues at all it was with the terminology, rather than the functionality. For instance I had no clue what Lens Modulation Optimizer, D Range Priority and Photometry were, but I spent a bit of time with the manual and watched a couple of setup videos on YouTube and it all came together.

Like everything else on the X-T4, the menus are endlessly configurable and you can set a virtually unlimited number of menu options in the 'Q' quick menu system. You can also set that Q menu to have 4, 8, 12 or 16 slots to cater to everyone's preferred set-up.

No camera is complete without custom modes and while the X-T4 does have them, there is one omission. You can set custom modes to control certain functions on the camera i.e. autofocus (setting tracking sensitivity, speed and zone area switching), ISO (setting up three sets of ISO ranges) and even custom styles. However what you can't do is the equivalent of the Canon custom modes where a flick of a dial changes the camera to a whole range of settings such as specific shutter, aperture, ISO, drive-mode, auto-focus and even self-timer.

I used to use those custom modes all the time and found them awesome for when, for instance, you wanted to quickly switch from a landscape photographic set-up (small aperture, very low ISO, slow shutter speed etc) to a wildlife set-up (wide open aperture, automatic ISO, very quick shutter). To do the equivalent switch on the X-T4 involves several separate movements. I guess this ties into my earlier point about everything being much more deliberate on the Fuji and much more process-led and with less hand-holding. I can also see how it would be more difficult to implement with things like aperture rings on lenses.

Taking Pictures

In practice, taking photographs with the X-T4 is a lovely experience. I have found the auto-focus to be excellent. I set the auto-focus mode options to the button on the front of the camera so that I can quickly change between single point, zone and wide modes. I haven't made much use of the AF-C custom modes yet but I dare say I will in the months to come.

I like having the focus modes on the front of the camera too. It already feels second-nature to me to flick between single, continuous and manual focus modes. I've found I've been using manual focus a lot more, not because the autofocus is bad, but just that the whole photo process seems much more considered and it feels right to use the zoom function and the manual focus ring to ensure that the image is totally sharp where you want it to be.

The camera feels great in my hand. I love the grip and the feel of the metal enclosure. I'm pretty sure I won't bother getting the battery grip whereas that was one of the first things I craved on my Canon cameras. I ditched the Fuji camera strap for a Peak Design Slide, but all bundled camera straps are shit, so we won't hold that against them.

Living Colour

One of the problems I always had with my Canon cameras was the colour science. There always seemed to be something quite Fisher Price about those colours, something cartoon-like. It had nothing to do with colour saturation, but was baked right into all of the photos. In fact I grew to dislike the Canon colour science so much that I used to shoot as flat as possible in RAW mode and 99% of the time bracketed so I could use LR/Fusion to blend exposures and get the colours looking better.

One of the great things about the X-T4 is that you can shoot in JPEG if the mood takes you. In fact there are so many excellent film simulations that you are actually encouraged to shoot JPEG instead of RAW. That means that you can eschew the often-lengthy post-processing sessions and just copy your images over to your computer. Initially I thought that these film simulations were a bit of a gimmick, something dreamt up for the Instagram-filter generation, but I couldn't have been further from the truth. The film simulations all add a certain magic to an image that is really hard to nail with a Lightroom preset in post. If you want you can shoot in both RAW and JPEG at the same time so that if you find a particular film simulation wasn't working for a scene you can just process the RAW file.

We can't move on from this subject without talking about the X-Trans sensor in the Fujifilm X-series of cameras. These sensors fulfil all my dreams for the colour science that I wasn't getting from Canon. The Fujifilm X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor that debuted in the X-T3 and was tweaked for the X-T4, gives amazing colour fidelity, greatly reduced moire and incredibly sharp images. It does mean that software such as Lightroom and Photoshop which is geared up to Bayer colour filters has trouble processing the images, but that's a small price to pay for the resulting images.

Through the Looking Glass

Now the bottom line is that I never did have any truly great Canon lenses. I found the red-band lenses to be very over-priced for what they were and they seemed to be used as something of a snobby fashion statement by some Canon shooters who wouldn't be seen dead without that red ring around their lens. And I have always been a bit of an anti-snob, so I made-do with the consumer glass. I had the cheap-as-chips f1.8 50mm and I had the EFS10-22mm and I had the kit lens zoom. I also used to treat those lenses like shit - throwing them in my bag, which was usually full of sand at the bottom and never cleaning them.

What I have found since moving to Fujifilm is that they make some spectacular lenses and they sell them at very reasonable prices. There are upper-tier lenses (usually rated WR for weather resistant) but to be honest there aren't any really average Fuji lenses - they seem to be either great or fucking brilliant.

I have bought four lenses for my X-T4 now and I love them all - they're the 18-55mm f2.8 (described by Ken Rockwell as "optically just about perfect"), the 50-230mm f4.5 (of which Ken said he was "astonished at how sharp is this lens, even wide open, at every zoom setting"), the 10-24mm f4 (Ken said, "the best-made APS-C ultrawide lens of any brand") and the 100-400mm f4 (Ken said, "ultra sharp and its stabilisation system is superb").

To be honest I feel like a kid in a candy shop. I have never had such beautiful glass at my disposal before and I feel guilty about not using whichever lenses I don't have on my X-T4 at any given moment. So far my favourites are the 10-24 and the 100-400, but they are all amazing. I would also add that they all feel so wonderfully balanced when they're on the camera, whereas my Canon lenses often felt like sticking a glorified Pringles tube on the camera body.

All of my lenses also have image stabilisation in the lens which works staggeringly well in conjunction with the IBIS (in-body image stabilisation) in the camera. The image stabilisation is so good that I've been shooting 1/4s exposures with the 10-24mm handheld! It's just mind-blowing. Did I mention that the whole camera is quiet too. My Canon used to sound like someone playing the spoons next to my right ear, but often I don't hear the X-T4 take a picture at all and have to double-check I got the shot.

Moving Pictures

I bought my X-T4 as a hybrid camera - something I fully intended to use for filming video and for my landscape photography. Therefore the video side of the camera was, of course, important to me. The quality of the footage I can produce on the X-T4 has been a revelation - beautiful colours, amazing clarity and incredible sharpness.

I've been shooting primarily in 4K/60fps mode but the 240fps 1080p mode is gorgeous. I love editing these images in Final Cut Pro because they're in an entirely different league to the 4K I've previously shot on anything else. The X-T4 shoots 4K, 10-bit, 400mb/s which is, frankly, way better quality than I need for my little YouTube travel videos, but it's so nice have such great archived raw footage. F-Log assist is brilliant too, since it lets you film in log but view a much more colour saturated image on the LCD screen and therefore get a better idea of the graded footage you'll see in editing. Beware though that the 'dense' video files this camera produces will make even the most high-end editing computer struggle.

My only real issue with shooting video is that it's a bit of a pain switching exposure to 1/48 or 1/120 when moving from 24 to 60fps or similar, but it's not a deal-breaker.

Get the Picture

In case you haven't guess by now, I love my X-T4. I love pretty much everything about it. I love the camera, I love the lenses, I love the photos I'm taking with it, I love the video I'm shooting with it and I love being part of the Fujifilm family.

It's absolutely true that better equipment does not make you a better photographer, but switching teams can sometimes make the difference between going through the motions with your photography and rediscovering your love for it. I felt like I was in something of a rut with my photography and the Fuji's got me out and then some.

The X-T4 is a photographer's camera. It's not a 'workhorse', though it can most definitely be used for work. It's not all about the specifications, though it has all the bells and whistles you'd expect from a modern mirrorless. It is a thing of beauty, though it does not look like it was designed by committees and focus groups. It's an enigma, an out-lier and a maverick and I wouldn't have it any other way.

For the last 16 years I’ve been photographing, blogging (and more recently vlogging) about everything I find, see and enjoy here in South Coast, New South Wales. This is my blogging site focused on my hobby (and part-time job) of photography. Please enjoy my little writing and my photography and I’d love to hear your feedback.
© 2021 Andy Hutchinson
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