My name is Rémi FLAMENT, I live in France, in the Massif Central. I am a photographer in constrained environments with the specificity of taking underground shots in industrial or natural contexts. This work is intended to illustrate the actions carried out by the actors of the basement, to artistically reveal the natural and hidden landscapes of our planet or to digitally safeguard geological, archaeological or paleontological treasures. Today, I’m taking you with Fujifilm to the depths of the Earth to test the new Fujifilm X-H2 camera for you.
It is mainly on the limestone massifs that I practice photography and caving exploration. Due to the nature of their soil, they contain numerous caves and chasms, most of which are unknown. Photographing and discovering what has never been photographed is so exhilarating.
Helmet, headlamp, wetsuit, harness, battery-powered punch, ropes and carabiners are part of my toolkit as a photographer. The photographic material is carefully packed in waterproof and padded containers, in order to protect it from permanent humidity and repeated shocks. I am finally ready to live a new adventure and take precious shots.
Taking underground photographs is always a big challenge. The environment is closed, deprived of light, difficult to access and cut off from any immediate help coming from outside. Progress is made as a team. Underground and without light, you must realize that the image does not exist. Feeling and designing frame-related lighting is intuitive work, the fruit of many years of experience. In very complex environments, large spaces or verticalities, I work with assistants. The instructions for adjusting and directing the flashes points are provided by radio, because the underground world is sometimes noisy and its acoustics systematically unfavorable. Faced with the cold and in order to keep the team’s morale up, I only commit to taking a photo if I’m sure I can do it. It is a perpetual evaluation of the material and human resources and the time I have available. Underground, deprived of time markers, time can surprise you. Too much delay, and it is the triggering of a rescue mobilizing the arrival of the comrades from the French Caving Rescue Team.
To test the excellence and resistance of the future Fujifilm XH2, I chose two departments: Lozère and Lot. These two departments have all the types of landscape that the underworld can offer: verdant entrances, vertical shafts, underground rivers, huge halls, etc. To present this new camera to you, I met the Fujifilm team in the underground river of Malaval. It is a beautiful underground canyon in which water is omnipresent.
Opening the waterproof case: my team of the day discovers the Fujifilm X-H2. We find a sober and functional architecture that is similar to the Fujifilm GFX 50S and 100S models. The first grip is reassuring with its very pronounced handle. I note the appearance of two keys positioned on the top of the device: one is dedicated to the WB and the second to the sensitivity. The rear panel is a continuation of the X-T4 model with its control keys and its screen on a ball joint, allowing it to be protected during the progression phases. On the menu side, it is still very readable and easy to access. The additional high-performance options take place without weighing it down.
I mounted the lens on the body that never leaves me underground: the XF 8-16mm. It is a very qualitative ultra-wide angle, which pushes the limits of confined spaces, and which brings a new dimension to the underground image. A complement of an optic is appreciable and completes the panoply of the cave photographer. I go either with a small telephoto lens for action shots: ideally the XF 16-55mm, or with a macro lens for mineral details: the XF 80mm.
The NP-W235 battery is becoming a standard between boxes, offering the potential for battery pooling. This approach on the part of Fujifilm is to be welcomed. Battery charged, power ON, it’s the X-H2’s turn to discover its working environment. Welcome to a dark world where the rivers do not know the stars.
From the first photos, it was the performance of the AF that impressed me. AF catches effortlessly on surfaces deprived of contrast and direct light. Locking and tracking a target is quite impressive, it’s an option that I’m just starting to use, being efficient in underground environments. The AF perfectly follows the headlamp of my model teammate. It’s the only visible light and it’s a great eye-catcher in the dark. Today, the new generation of autofocus allows me to concentrate fully on the composition and the management of light.
The hybrid technology for underground use is ideal and made me quickly abandon the so-called reflex sight. The Fujifilm X-H2, like its predecessors, amplifies low light. In the viewfinder, the rendering is clear and without degradation. The lines, the masses, the receding ones are clearly identifiable. This quality of sight supports my work as a photographer to transcribe this view by imagining it transformed by the addition of artificial light.
The stabilization of the sensor is also a feat. I experienced this technological leap with the purchase of my first GFX100. The stabilization of the X-H2 goes even further and made me permanently remove the tripod dedicated to the case from my carrying backpack. Today I can mix the light from my electronic flashes with continuous light without fear of motion blur. Through this freedom, I can create effects and bring movement to scenes that were previously fixed.
In underground environments, sensor sensitivity is very important. The Fujifilm brand is recognized for its excellent high sensitivity management. I work systematically with a sensitivity of 800 ISO and an aperture close to F7.1. These fixed values are a benchmark and allow me to set the power, zoom and orientation of each flash. Five years ago, the ISO 800 value was my limit not to cross so as not to degrade the image (very subjective speech). With the X-H2, I can easily double the sensitivity without losing quality. This allows me to compensate for a lack of lighting equipment and to take out a photograph that could not have been.
The big question I had when I received this camera was about the definition of an APS-C sensor with such high resolution (40 M pixels). On the big screen, after an RAF/JPG conversion on the back of the camera, the additional resolution offers a real plus and undeniably widens the gap with the older generation, which I already considered to be very mature. This increased resolution is aimed at passionate photographers who want to make large format prints and who cannot use the technique of digitally stitching several photos in the field. As a professional, for me this is a guarantee of quality. 40M pixels gives my customers increased freedom to reframe and adapt to their medium without loss of quality.
This sensor format has not finished surprising us.
The adventure goes on…