Seeing Cuba with the X-PRO 1

Rick Hadley's passion for photography began at an early age as he emulated his father's interest in the art. During his career as a professional yacht racer, Rick became fascinated by the play of light on water and the changing landscape of the sea in the course of a day. Rick set out to capture it on film. His many hours at sea are beautifully reflected in his marine and harbor scenes. Working in black and white allows Rick the greatest flexibility in detailing the subtleties of texture, shape, and tonality. Color, on the other hand, allows him to capture precisely what he sees, without manipulating it afterwards.

Today, Rick is an expert in digital photography where he receives rave reviews from his students and national acclaim for his photographs. Rick works tirelessly with motivated students of all experience levels, from beginners to fellow pros. Rick works in private and group environments to make certain his clients receive the results they deserve. Rick recently took a trip to Cuba with his Fuji X-Pro 1, and we asked him to share a little bit about his experiences there and offer some advice for anyone looking to make the same trip.

As a photography instructor and enthusiast for many years, Cuba had always been on my to-do list. Cuba, to me, represented the romantic notion of a place with many mysteries, both real and imagined. The lure of a Hemingway hideaway, the ghosts of old prohibition days, and Havana with its majestic architecture. I also wanted to see the Cuba of Castro before trade restrictions are removed and the country becomes over-run by tourism and commercialism.

My wife and I, along with a student of mine and his wife, prepared for the trip by speaking to as many people that had traveled to Cuba, reading current books and researching through the internet. We needed to know what to expect and where the unique non-tourist places may be located. We also wanted to be educated about where we could go without violating Cuban restrictions. (As it turned out, the restrictions were few.)

The next issue was finding a tour company that would take just four of us for a reasonable rate. The purpose of this was to have flexibility for photography and not be required to follow a strict "guided tour." Our travel company from NY set us up with a fantastic Cuban guide along with an American who had special knowledge of Cuba.

I normally am quite confident about what gear to take for a trip but had some trepidation for this one. What lenses do I need? What do I take for a back up? And how and when would I be able to charge everything? How much storage would I need? Another issue was my laptop. It was recommended not to bring one to Cuba, and I followed that advice. (As it turned out, that advice was correct.) All I needed was extra memory cards.

I have a Nikon D800 & 700 and was planning on taking both; however, with two heavy bodies, lenses, a tripod, and various other gear, I became concerned. When the Fuji X-Pro 1 was released, I thought it to be what I was waiting for. I knew about the auto focus issue and decided to wait for the firmware upgrade that I knew was coming. I then spoke to Nick Gilson at pictureline who showed me images he had taken of a wedding, and they were terrific. I made a decision right then to purchase the X-Pro 1 with the 18mm lens. It turned out to be a great decision as September in Cuba is hot and having the smaller system for walking the streets of Havana proved to be invaluable.

We arrived in Cienfiegos on the Southwestern side of the island. Cienfiegos is a rather large city with an industrial past. We took a brief tour here before heading to Trinidad. It was raining, so I had to protect my gear while running in & out of overhangs and buildings. I soon realized that the Fuji would be easier to handle, and I could tuck it under my jacket. The D800 stayed in the van. With comfort and ease, I took about 30-40 shots here with the ISO from 200 to 800. Quick glances at the LCD screen showed good exposure and excellent color.

Our hour-long drive to Trinidad revealed what I thought Cuba might be; a country trapped in a time warp. Every minute along the way was an image of a donkey with a cart or a horse pulling a wagon full of sugar cane or necessary items needed somewhere. I could not wait to get out and walk.

I asked our Cuban guide about photographing the people. Our guide assured us that most of them would be cooperative and some would ask for money. I discovered that this was a new experience for me as the Cubans were mostly happy to have their pictures taken and some asked for a "Cuc" or Cuban dollar.

Since there was a slight rain, I found it handy to have the X-Pro 1 under my light jacket. It was easy to protect and then bring it out as each shot availed itself. The updated firmware proved to be working perfectly. As I like to have spontaneous photos, asking permission puts the subjects "on guard," and one doesn’t achieve natural looking expression. I have the camera at my hip or chest level and shoot on aperture priority, except when a fast shutter speed is necessary, and then I will switch to shutter priority. Given the circumstance, I would show the pictures to those I captured and offer money. Some took the offer and others did not. It is just the respectable thing to do.

A feature that I found most useful was the three shot burst for bracketing. You can click on the drive button and quickly scroll down to the bracketing set and input 1 over/under and meter setting for getting those highlights and shadow areas. There are two other options here: 1/3 and 1/2. I could hold the camera in my right hand and, depending on the shutter speed, have it shoot 3 frames quickly to either merge for HDR or simply take the best one to edit.

Another feature I liked is the panoramic setting. In the drive option, you can scroll down to panoramic, and the camera will provide a guide as you follow along with an arrow, and it will take a series of images and automatically stitch them together. This is not necessarily a new concept, but it works very well on the X-Pro 1.

I kept many of the optional settings, such as dynamic range and in-camera adjustments for color, sharpness etc. off. I also switched between the electronic and optical viewfinder. I did not use the histogram setting for the viewfinder to reduce battery usage. I did switch between the Fuji and the D800 so I did not need to use my spare battery for the X Pro-1. I was indeed glad to have a spare.

What I discovered to be so simple was the switch between aperture and shutter modes on the X-Pro 1 by just turning either the aperture on the lens or the shutter speed dial. In the beginning I kept thinking I was missing something as it was too easy.

I only had the 18mm fixed lens but was able to switch back & forth with my traveling/student partner’s X-Pro 1’s 35mm. The 35mm was great for street shots and people as we didn’t have to get too close. The 18mm worked great in the narrow streets of Havana. I had purchased the adapter for my old Leica lenses from my film M-6 but did not bring them as I just had too much in my bag. I would have liked to have had the 28mm and the 50mm Leicas with me.

When I return to Cuba, I will have the 18mm, the Leica 28mm, and the 50mm. If I didn’t have the Leicas, I would opt for the 18-55 zoom that has just been released. The other accessory I would have (it wasn’t available for my trip) is the EF-X20 flash. I would use it in the narrow street doorways and the interior of some of the buildings. I did vary the ISO quite frequently by having the function button set for it.

There are so many photo ops in Cuba, and it is almost overwhelming. There are the streets of old Havana, the iconic 50s era cars, and the people. There are also many beautiful old homes and buildings representing architecture hundreds of years old and not found anywhere else. The contrast between the decay and the renovations is astounding.

For anyone traveling there, I would be prepared for almost every lighting condition and for fast shutter speeds. The 50s era cars are iconic to be sure but are always moving very fast. The best place to find them is near the old capital building in Havana. I would walk to the middle of the 4-lane road by the capital and then kneel down and shoot the cars coming and going on either side. I always liked to shoot the car interiors as well. This area is especially nice as you can capture the cars with the colorful old buildings in the background.

Another area is the Malecon. This is the avenue along the water, which has a long four mile sea wall (built by the US). It is very photogenic with the hundreds of people crowding around the sea wall on weekends with the decaying buildings across the street. The old fort can be placed as a backdrop while photographing the people.

I will be using the Fuji X-Pro 1 right along with my D800. I will also be using it with my Leica lenses that have been stored away unused until now. I am looking forward to other lenses from Fuji when they arrive.


CubaCuba photosDecember 2012Travel photographyX-pro 1