7 minute read

Emotional Scale

Mio Monasch on documenting the awe-inspiring mountains and deserts of California – and how FUJIFILM X-H2S and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 helped him do it

“In many places here, the topography is so extreme and contrasts so stark, it doesn’t really feel like it should exist on the same planet, let alone in the same scene,” says Mio Monasch, lovingly describing his surroundings. But where is ‘here’, exactly? “Welcome to the eastern fringes of the Sierra Nevadas,” he continues. “This is where the mountains meet the desert as it rolls out into the Great Basin. It’s a unique transition from desert, straight into extreme peaks. A place of striking color and texture, but most of all, one that inspires awe.”

“In fact, some of my favorite mountains in the world are in the Sierras, and for those kinds of subjects, I love to use longer lenses,” Mio explains. “So, this felt like the perfect place for me to get to know FUJIFILM X-H2S and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 R LM OIS WR, as well as enjoying the area with some other great X Series lenses.” With Mio’s road trip taking him from mountain to desert and beyond, it’s clearly an environment he adores and knows very well. “It’s also one of the best places in California to catch a sunrise,” he says.

But with much conventional wisdom leading photographers towards wide-angle lenses for landscapes, why come here with such a powerful telephoto as XF150-600mmF5.6-8? “For me, in landscaping, telephoto lenses are wildly underrepresented,” Mio explains. “The main reason to use them is to show the scale of a place. It’s something I want to do in a way that connects on an emotional level.”

True enough, wide-angle lenses are great for fitting big scenes into the frame when you can’t physically move backwards, but they also make distant objects appear smaller and further away. Standard lenses give a view that’s truer to the human eye. At the other end of the scale, telephoto lenses do the opposite to wides, and as long as you have the room, can perform wonders in terms of impact. Here, Mio literally had miles to work with – and his pictures give a true sense of enormity.

“Telephoto lenses like XF150-600mmF5.6-8 compress a scene, making foreground and background objects much more equal in size,” Mio continues. “This means you can achieve a far more intense sense of scale and layering of the landscape, which speaks to the size and distance between subjects. When you put something recognizable in front of a mountain, like a person, or van, or tree, it immediately means you see that rock in a new light. You see how unimaginably large it is on a human scale, and that’s central to its story.”

So how did the pairing of X-H2S and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 prove on his trip? “Leaving aside image quality and some of its other great features for a moment, I’ve always liked the FUJIFILM X-H line because of the ergonomics,” Mio says. “I work with FUJIFILM GFX System cameras a lot, and there are many similarities with X-H2S. The large, natural-feeling handgrip is an obvious choice when it comes to handholding longer lenses, as it gives more stability. It means you don’t get that traditional wrist stiffness at the end of the day. And the top-plate LCD is great for reviewing settings on the fly, too.”

Something else that helps enormously when working with longer lenses is image stabilization, and X-H2S and XF150-600mmF5.6-8 combine to deliver at an incredible new level. “Many of the images from this trip were handheld, but X-H2S’s in-body image stabilization – and optical image stabilization in XF150-600mmF5.6-8 – kept everything sharp, even when working at lower light levels and shutter speeds like 1/160 sec or 1/100 sec.

“Actually, even if I have a tripod to hand, I often prefer to work handheld,” Mio says. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt really judged by people I jokingly call ‘dad photographers’. They’re out there with 87 different filters and a huge tripod, but I’m more instinctive and don’t want to let moments get away, just because I’m setting up. A great example was at the amazing Trona Pinnacles in the Searles Lake basin, a couple of hours south of the Sierras. We arrived just as the last glow of sunset was happening, so there was no time to do anything else but record it. The stabilization really helped me there.”

Thanks to X-H2S’s new fifth-generation X-Trans sensor, Mio was also pleased to see the rich textures, details, and glorious colors of the mountains and deserts faithfully reproduced. “X-H2S doesn’t have a big bump in megapixels, but the sensor really is next level,” he says. “It definitely produced more sharpness, and detail. The texture and dynamic range in the RAW files are incredible. And XF150-600mmF5.6-8 backed that up with some serious sharp optics.”

That lens has undeniable resolving power, but with creativity it can produce even more, as Mio proved. “One of my favorite techniques in places like this is to make panoramas using longer lenses,” he explains. “This effectively gives a slightly wider and taller view than the lens alone, and some serious resolution. So, with XF150-600mmF5.6-8 at its 150mm end, I made 12 or 16 exposures in rows, then stitched them together later. As you remember to frame with plenty of overlap between each image – and make extra exposures to offset any errors in processing – you get these fantastic, almost medium format-looking results.”

So, in withdrawing once again from the deserts and mountains that inspire him, did Mio also find inspiration in his new kit? “X-H2S is an exceptional camera and I’m stoked to see what else I can create with it, especially as my video focus will change significantly in the next year or two,” he says. “It’s also a camera that simply does more. AF is faster, IBIS is better, the image quality is beautiful, it’s great in low light, and it handles just as I want it to.

“Since the trip, I’ve also continued to use XF150-600mmF5.6-8 on my other FUJIFILM X Series cameras,” he says. “And that’s opened up new avenues of photography, because part of telling the story of these extreme places is also including the species that live and thrive there. I’m by no means a wildlife photographer, but this combination of camera and lens presents those opportunities. In the end, it simply makes me a better storyteller.”

A lone bush in a vast stretch of sand

Photo 2022 © Mio Monasch | FUJIFILM X-H2S camera andXF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, 1/800 sec at F8, ISO 800


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