Sigma 18-55mm F2.8 and Semana Santa
I am old. As I sit on the barber’s chair, looking at my hair falling under the machine, I cannot help but think that I am old. I look in the mirror, and I don’t really recognize myself anymore. Up until this barber session, all my trips to the hair stylist have been a joy. Shaving my head, my beard, making me look 10 years younger, a full face, shining, clean and light. Not today. Not this time.
I do shave my head and beard myself every two weeks, but whenever I am approaching an important event like a trip, an important meeting, or an interview, I go see my barber so that I can look my best.
This time, well, even though I was looking forward to that professional care, I was not satisfied with my look. And it wasn’t his fault. It was mine.
As the machine cut my hair, no longer did I see a healthy, beaming face that looked nothing like the 41 years old I am now, but rather a tired face. Wrinkles, a bit sickly, pale, face drawn in, eyes tired from all that lack of sleep and countless hours spent in front of my PC working.
In just three short months, I managed to go from being happy and positive about my age to being… Well, feeling old and frankly looking like it.
I wrote this article on three different times. I used things I was feeling that day, when I sat in that chair looking at myself, I used things I thought and reflected on during my trip to Andalusia, and I used things that crossed my mind when I reached home.
So, this is the reason you’ll see me jumping from tense to tense, from time to time, because this article is a mixture of these thoughts I have been having for the last three weeks.
I was getting ready for my third trip this year, a trip to a place I visited in the past, a trip to a place that impressed me so much I thought I needed to show my fiancé how amazing Easter is in Andalusia, Spain.
Three days before leaving, I got sick, like sick, sick.
I started taking medicine, antibiotics, but nothing seemed to work. I changed antibiotics two times, and right until the morning of the flight, I thought I would cancel the trip.
Then, though I was in pain and uncertain if my last set of antibiotics would work or if I would need to wait and maybe be admitted to the hospital, I took the decision of simply ” SCREW IT”, pack a huge bag of pills, board the plane and whatever happens, happens.
Now, I know, looking back, it might seem a bit dumb on my behalf, but maybe by the end of the article, you’ll at least see what I was thinking/fearing or even understand parts of my rationale.
In my profile on the Fuji X Passion website, it states that “I love my job”, but I might have to ask Hugo to change that for me since, lately, I don’t feel that way anymore.
So, why am I writing this article?
First, because I feel that during the last months quite a few things changed, and I think that every major thought, every action, and every emotion influences someone’s style of photography.
Second, because I bought a new lens, especially for this trip. Yes, you guessed it. 2000+ pictures ready and a first mini-review is here.
Third is about my passion for travelling, celebrating customs, and traditions and trying to document them.
And last is figuring out if I am a creator or a documentary maker, and if I am happy with what I found out. But before all these points will unravel let me start with an important thing.
As you know, since I started writing for Fuji X Passion, I have been raving about shooting landscape/nature photos. I mentioned this in almost all my articles, and I always looked for ways to escape more often into the wild and see what photos I could bring home from my hikes. But lately, things have changed, and I will explain this in the last part of today’s article.
So let us start with the first thoughts I had during these last weeks, and these are thoughts about my work, my passion for photography, and my little joys in life.
The last months of my life have been hectic. Of course, you could say “Hey man, you’ve been to Tenerife and Venice, are you mad?” but you’d only see what I want people to see. And since I only had about 6-7 free days last year, I needed to spend the remaining days fast into 2023.
But the pressure has been formidable, and I think that putting my thoughts on paper might actually help me and who knows, maybe even inspire others because I know I am not the only one pressured by such ideas and thoughts.
For the last two months, I have been working close to 11-13 hours a day. Each day. And sometimes on weekends too.
And that isn’t the worst part. The worst part is not knowing if it is worth it anymore. Why am I doing this, actually? Is it worth being constantly tired, sleepy, bored? Is it worth working on weekends or spending them too tired to do anything else but sleep? Is it worth feeling frail and tired, feeling like a retired person, one closer to 70 years old, than feeling my actual age?
Am I wrong for wanting something else? For not seeing myself doing the same thing for the next 24 years, until I retire unhappy with a long list of regrets.
When is it too late to change?
And you might think, wow, these are serious ideas and questions, and some of you might feel the same, stuck in a rut in a job you don’t enjoy anymore, struggling just to earn a paycheck. And you might think, well, OK, but how does it relate to photography?
Well, let’s see…
More than megapixels wars, autofocus contests, sharpness or high ISO clean files, photography really is about one thing. You, me, the photographer. It is our unique way of telling a story, our way of being creative, of seeing things differently. Photography is about how we see the world and what parts of the world fascinate us so much that we need to raise the cameras to our eyes and press the shutter button.
So, what happens when 8 to 12 hours each day are spent doing a thing you no longer enjoy doing? How is that taking a toll on your vision, your creativity? How do you see the world when all you can think is that tomorrow will suck as well? And I think that this is maybe one of the most important things for a photographer. To realize that sometimes it is not about the gear used, the editing apps, or the new videos praising techniques that will skyrocket his photography but rather the fact that his mind is tired, his mind is stuck in a rut, his mind is shut down to trying new things.
What will you do when you push yourself so hard on a thing you don’t enjoy, that you feel like you need to quit the little things that bring you hope and joy in the world?
How do you deal with the fact that you need to spend less time with the people you love? Or doing the small things you enjoy like reading a book, grabbing a beer with your best friend, working out a few times a week for your health or taking photos?
The main reason why I wanted to insert this part today is because of this. Growing up, I had no real guidance, no idea of how things will be. I didn’t have an enlightening conversation or a spiritual teacher or manager to give me a wake-up call. I experimented and found out everything on my own. I was so desperate to get more money, more money, that I didn’t stop to think, “Wow… will I be doing this for the rest of my life? Crap, this actually is not OK at all…”
Yes, I might end up being a manager or a director, but will I be happy?
And this is important not to myself only but to my photography too. Do you think that the old, ageing, feeling like a retired person Stefan could keep on taking better and better pictures or do you think that Stefan is more likely to quit his passion and remain glued to his PC screen for hours each day?
And I will not get deep into happiness, the meaning of life or other things, but I will touch on something here.
Losing a creative person.
Since we are sent to school, instead of nurturing our creativity, our bright/funny ideas, the world tries to shut our vision down. To make us comply with a norm. Because I will be totally honest here, in 17 years of work I never met a place that found good use of creative people. And I even worked in marketing departments where you’d think creativity is abundant.
So you see, and I will only talk about photography here, if you love taking pictures you need to actually be satisfied with your life, with what you have. A nice camera could help, but a clear, happy, wandering mind will help you more.
So, if I had one piece of advice to give you, it would be to stop spending hours on the internet watching camera reviews, pixel wars or bland videos about things you need to do and rather focus more on your person, on your life. Don’t watch a video about 7 great rules of photography but rather buy some pencils and paper and draw yourself. Read books, build things. Make more things come out from your hands and from your imagination. You have no idea how much these things will improve your photography.
A drawing class, a light class, drawing with charcoal and seeing how shadows affect your drawing, these will do wonders for your photography. But the one thing you need the most is to be happy, to know what you want with your life.
It might sound like a fraud, a quote from a life workshop, and I know many artists have been miserable and produced amazing works of art. But, at least for myself, I find that a non-sustainable way of living.
As I reached my 40’s I began taking fewer things for granted and looking more into having the kind of life I would be comfortable with. And I realized once more how important photography, writing, and new experiences are to me. The exact opposite of what I am doing daily at the office. And I realized that I have more than 23 years ahead of me of work and that I need to change things, I need to do more things that make me happy to be happy with myself.
And this is what I want you to think about. If your current lifestyle is making you happy. If you see yourself doing this for the next 20, 30, 40 years. If not, then maybe taking better photos should not be your priority now and instead, you should focus more on yourself. Without a camera.
Now, that this part is over let us move to the part many of you have been waiting for.
My new lens.
Since 2018 when I visited Andalusia for 15 days during the Semana Santa, I dreamt of coming back here and experiencing this again. So, in February, after Venice I was restless. I knew Semana Santa was coming, and I wanted to go and take my fiancé with me. And by luck, I managed to secure some cheap plane tickets, and then I started planning it.
However, this time I only got 7 days from work so I knew I couldn’t squeeze all in, so I had to pick the places I would visit. And I also knew it would be busy, agglomerated and hot. But I also knew I wanted to get back with some amazing photos, so I had to come up with a plan.
So, I started by looking at my old photos. Frankly, they sucked. Superb memories for me but not something I would exhibit in a gallery. But that didn’t matter. What mattered is I saw what focal lengths I used, and I estimated what kind of lenses I would need for those shots again. Even better, by looking at my old photos, I knew what kind of pictures I missed the first time and wanted to get them this time.
I already knew that all cities would be swamped by people, so I wouldn’t need a wide-angle lens unless I wanted to photograph at least a few hundred people in each shot.
Semana Santa is more than a simple celebration. It is passion, it is colors, it is faith, it is details. So, I knew I needed to capture those things. To focus on the little details, the things most overlook when looking at a huge procession.
My 18-55mm kit lens was the perfect choice, but it had a few issues:
• I hated the f4 for close-ups, night pictures and so on. I knew I needed something faster.
• At 18mm and 55mm, I always thought the pictures to be a bit soft especially wide open.
• I hoped for a faster AF since I was going to photograph a lot of movement.
Enter the 18-50mm F2.8 Sigma.
So how did the new lens do on this trip? Superb. You might think I am biased because I shot with Sigma a lot, but I honestly love their lenses and the 18-50mm is superb.
It is small, smaller than the 18-55 kit lens from Fuji and its constant f/2.8 aperture makes it an invaluable tool in your photography bag.
Just like in Venice, I came back from Andalusia with a ton of pictures. Gone are the days of returning from trips with a hand of photos. More than 2000 pictures taken and 151 pictures edited so yeah, not bad for a 7-day trip. And all those pictures were taken with the X-S10 and the new Sigma 18-50mm F2.8.
And I must make a small confession. I love how they look. The color, the pop, how crisp they are. I don’t remember being so happy with my output in a long time. I know I said I enjoyed my pictures in Venice but wow, this feels like a new game. I honestly think the lens is that good.
I know people will argue about the aperture ring, I know people will argue that the Fuji lenses look sexier, and I know that people will argue that the zoom ring twists the other way but guess what? None of this really matters if you are looking for an amazing, cheap, powerful lens.
Of course, I can find faults with 99% of the lenses on the market today but that won’t help my photography even a bit. But this lens would help me, and it already did. You know I am a Raw files guy, but producing 33MB+ size SOOC Jpeg pictures from an X-S10 it is phenomenal, and I can’t say anything else but applaud the lens because it delivered big time.
I did take my whole bag to Andalusia, but I only used this lens. I tried a little experiment to see if ai am happy with using just a body and a lens on my trips and so far it went great.
I never felt the need to change lenses, and my 10-24mm and 55-200mm stayed in my Think Tank bag for a week without me touching them.
The autofocus felt snappy and the few pictures I missed I blame on myself. If you read my other pieces here I always said that my belief is that Fuji is well behind other brands in autofocus speed but for this trip, the camera and lens handled the subjects extremely well.
I got some out-of-focus pictures, but I know that I did some things wrong so I can’t and I won’t blame the camera nor the lens.
Before buying the lens I fell again for an old trick that is “watching reviews online”, and I swear that if I were to pick the lens based on those ratings, I would have never ended up buying it. And then I remembered that most YouTubers or reviewers are mediocre at best and their experience is not relevant to my style of photography.
Shooting brick walls or charts and pies has nothing to do with how a lens performs in the real world so please, take every clip with a grain of salt because most lenses nowadays are capable of producing quality work.
I see people compare this lens to the XF18-55 F2.8-4, the XF16-55mm F2.8 or even the Tamron 17-70mm F2.8 and, in my opinion, this is just wrong. The 18-55mm, while a great lens and a lens behind some of my best photos, is a variable aperture lens with a much higher price if bought new (280 Euros higher in my country). The 16-55 is double the size and, in my country, is more than twice the cost. The Tamron is larger, much larger, and here it costs about 450 Euros more. So, people are not really comparing apples to apples.
If you are looking for a lens that is NEW, small, cheap (paid 440 Euros for it in 4 instalments), well built, with a constant aperture that can produce great images you can’t really compare the lenses.
There is only one lens that ticks all the boxes. Due to the fact that I bought this lens in 4 instalments, I could have easily bought the Tamron, but I wanted to keep my footprint small. I wanted a small lens to go with a small camera. Something that does not look like a lens that would fit on a DSLR.
I never considered the XF16-55mm because I played with it in the past and I wasn’t impressed by the size, weight and to be honest the lens is not 2.3 times better than the Sigma so why pay 2.3 times more?
I heard people complaining “Well it is not sharp at 2.8 in the corners” and to be honest I think people don’t understand physics and prices.
My 70-200mm Sigma Sports lens is sharp at 2.8 everywhere but that lens is 2kg heavy, 30 cm long and it costs 1400 Euros. How do you expect a tiny APS-C lens to perform at the same level as lenses that cost two or three times more?
What really should interest you is that Sigma produced a high-quality lens for Fuji, a lens that seems to resolve details and resolution better than the native kit lens and compete with a lens that is legendary in the Fuji world (the 16-55) despite being half the size and a third of the price. After using the Sigma, I can honestly say that I don’t think I will put the 18-55 back on my camera anymore. It feels a bit outdated. Yes, the colors are great and the lens is nice and light but the Sigma bests it in every category so I don’t see that lens coming off my X-S10 very soon.
I know that between home tests and my trip to Andalusia, I shot about 2500 pictures and that is not a huge number actually but I have never been so pleased with the outcome of my Fuji pictures so much.
I am saving a little surprise at the end of the article so keep reading.
Now, the third subject I wanted to talk about today is my passion for traveling, celebrating customs, traditions, and trying to document them. I wrote in the beginning that everybody knows that I used to go out, climb mountains, and wait for hours for a photo, but lately this has changed. Now, to be honest I don’t know if this change is a result of spending too much time at work or is just a change in style but starting with Tenerife I noticed I gravitate more towards cities.
The concept of street photography, the faces, the people, the details, everything started to draw me more and more. I was hooked already when Venice came with its amazing Carnivale, but here in Andalusia, I had the time of my life. I was literally running from procession to procession, from people to people, trying to shoot as many details as I could. Cloaks, hoods, hats, hands on certain objects, shadows, anything. Just shoot, shoot, shoot.
Now, as I said I don’t know if it’s because my job is static and I need to counter it by shooting documentary-style work or sports but all I know is that I would have been able to keep it like this for hours without stopping.
To be honest, I haven’t felt so excited about photography in a long while. I actually was trying to shoot everything, every detail, every face. So, this has been my biggest surprise. I mean I knew from the start that I wanted to shoot details but I never expected to get so much into it.
Even on medicine, being sick, and 30ºC degrees outside, I just kept pressing and pressing until my legs started to shake and give up on me. And to be honest again, I never felt this at my work. I never felt this rush, this need to take it all in, this frenzy of finding the best angles and shooting every little detail.
This was also the first time I brought my iPad and edited the photos every evening. I couldn’t wait to return home and edit them. I was so hungry, so curious to see the results that I edited my files each day before going to sleep.
Now, I don’t know if you ever experienced this rush, this surge before but trust me. It is exhilarating. It keeps you going no matter how tired you are. And for a guy that had been sick and on three different antibiotics walking 132k steps and 104 km in 6 and a half days, that’s pretty good.
Also, this point relates to my final point for today, and that is my inner battle between being a creator or a documenter. And while I was always upset about not being able to create more, Venice and Andalusia made me understand photography in a different way. Yes, creating photos is nice, but in no way it compares to documenting life. At least not for me.
It all started with Venice, but it hit its peak in Andalusia. I understood, finally, how important it is to document life.
A man walking on a bridge might be a simple picture for most but for me, that is a unique moment, a moment that will never happen again. Yes, you can make the man return and cross it again five minutes later or even one minute later but everything will be different in the world. One minute is enough for a child to be born, for someone to die, for an accident to happen, for a phone call to give you a good or a bad news, for your team to score a winning shot and so on.
Now imagine how many things happen in that minute when a simple man crosses a bridge. By the time he got to an end from another, war can break somewhere, a train can derail, a motorway can be blocked and so on.
Even if you make that man retrace his steps his walk will never be the same, his gestures won’t be the same, his attitude won’t be the same. And this is the beauty of life. Stitching moments, minutes like this, unique moments that will never happen again and creating a story.
You might watch a football game with 7 goals and each of them will be unique.
You might pass or see an old lady on a balcony daily but each time she will be different. Older, wiser, different things on her mind, happier, sadder, etc.
For me, documenting life might be one of the most important things I ever did. It not only shows that I was there or that I got a candid shot, but it also shows that for a moment I froze time in that person’s life. And this is why, for me, this new thing, this revelation brought me closer to photography than ever.
Now, that we are near the end I would like to touch briefly on two points.
First is Semana Santa, which means the Easter week in Spain. I had the amazing chance to witness this incredible celebration in 2018 and I hoped to return someday because I was so impressed with what I witnessed. The processions, the masks, the heavy wooden thrones carried by people for hours and hours, the devotion, the whole atmosphere is surreal.
Even now, when I look at the pictures and think “Wow, they really turned out great” I feel like they are not doing justice to what I saw.
The tired but happy faces, the muscles stretched and worked, the people cheering and clapping, the bare feet walking on the pavement, the parents helping the kids with candies and water, the men carrying the thrones bent at the waist, sweaty, tired. It is surreal, and regardless of your faith, it is something that leaves you in awe.
I honestly think that there are a few things one should experience in a lifetime, and I am glad I could afford to witness this because it is not something I will ever forget.
I won’t dwell much on Andalusia and what I saw there because, for me, this area, these towns, and these people are reasons why I honestly wish I could retire someday there. Also, I won’t dwell on these places because I am preparing an article about it, focusing just on normal, travel pictures.
For me Andalusia is special. And it starts with the people, the beauty of these places, the history, the amazing food, the great wines and the rituals and celebrations that make you want to return repeatedly. Who knows? Maybe one day I will find a little loop, a little chance to move there or at least spend more time in an area that charmed me since I first stepped foot in 2018, an area that makes me want to visit again, as soon as possible.
Now, the second point I want to touch on is the little surprise I talked about some lines above when I was talking about my new 18-50mm lens. This trip has been the first trip in a while where I felt FREE. I had one camera, one lens, a small bag and… I didn’t bring a tripod. I didn’t bring filters. And even more… I shot Jpeg.
Yes, you read it right. EVERY single picture in this article is a Jpeg with some minor edits. Some cropping, some clarity, and some noise removal but still a Jpeg. And I don’t know what you think but I find the colors, the sharpness, and the details fantastic. You can’t imagine how liberating it feels to have a small camera strapped to your hand and an iPad at your hotel. Not having to worry about LR or Capture One or details or stuff… Just taking pictures, exposing them as best as I could, then correcting them in post for 10-15 seconds each and done. I edited 151 pictures on the go and this number even beats my Venice one and it is such a beautiful experience to come back home with thousands of Jpegs and with so many pictures edited.
No longer being a photo sniper with just 20 pictures from a trip but rather taking photos of everything and anything I found interesting.
So, there it is! A week spent in an amazing place, a superb lens I will count on from now on and rediscovering how easy it is to take photographs and enjoy your time spent there, in those moments.
In the end, maybe I am not old, maybe I just feel like this from time to time! But at least, I know how to fix that feeling now!
“My name is Stefan Panaitescu, I am 38 years old and I am from Bucharest, Romania.
I work in sustainability and corporate social responsibility and I love my job.
I am an avid traveler and in my spare time I run a travel blog and I try to get out as much as I can and shoot with my Fuji cameras.”