Let me be straight. I love my Fujifilm X100. Despite the fact that people think that I am shallow, I will normally look to the innards and how I use the tools effectively. Seriously nothing beats the direct controls afforded by cameras of yesteryears. Aperture ring on the camera barrel, shutter speed dial on the right edge of the camera top plate. Left hand changes aperture and right hand changes shutter speed and controls the shutter. Quick, fast, accurate and to the point. I would say the form or in this case the dials, dictates how the camera looks like. Good old retro look won’t get things done quickly through buttons alone or in some cases it comes with dials. Aperture rings and dials together are the better deal.
I do not start off as a camera geek but having come from a school with rich kids, I get my fair share of friends who uses the old Leicas rangefinders, Canon and Nikon SLRs all the way to University and that’s where my education starts.
At home my dad has this old beat up Canon L1 Series Rangefinder that uses Leica L screw mounts that I experimented on if I have the time. My uncles uses the Nikon F1 (or is it 2?) SLRs. My mom had the old Kodak Brownie. I think out of embarrassment I went to get my very own consumer level SLR, the EOS 500 (for those who still can remember the advertisement for it, a cowboy who did a quick draw and got fast focusing out of it). It took a great part of my pocket money then and my uncles were wondering why I got the Canon instead of Nikon. Yes. That was the first time I saw the Canon versus Nikon rivalry.
Fast forward, I got unto the Digital age with the Fujifilm S602 Bridge camera (3MP Super CCD sensor) and then Nikon D200 (yup my uncles brain washed me alright!), the Canon A540 and then the Fujifilm X100.
After using so many cameras I started to appreciate how wonderfully designed an old Rangefinder is. I am one who loves to get my settings out in the open instead of going into the menus or buttons/dials combo. Those that got me venting untold levels of righteous anger are those who loves to see their user poking them every now and then. IT-IS-NOT-FUN! And certainly not funny.
I missed shots because of this and it was hellish especially while learning photography. So by the time the X100 came, it was exactly what I was looking for to replace my lost Canon A540 which by the way was the cheapest and best Point & Shoot I have owned.
Side tracked: The Canon A540 by the way is very practical camera too. The LCD at the back is not the best out there and the viewfinder is just a hole in the box. But it was a very able camera and I got great shots out of it!
Shot with Canon A540 Compact Camera.
What to look for before buying…
In the end, to buy a camera or a system is to always judge the default output from the camera first and how one holds and use the camera is a close second. Lens (and good ones at that) should be third. Once a person is into a system, it will always be lens first and the body second.
Yes I know this sounds kind of weird at first but you will understand it in the end. That said, even the most expensive lens out there doesn’t mean it will be good and vice versa, I have done a review on a relatively cheap Samyang Lens on the Nikon D200 and it breathe new life into the old camera (https://wilzworkz.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/product-review-samyang-85mm-f1-4-nikon-mount-ae-version/)
Kai of DigitalRev has actually done a test with a entry level DSLR with good lens. A better lens will always win the day despite not having the best body being matched with it. How so? The image quality difference between models has now shrunk to a level that it is really not that perceptible. The main difference would be how easily the settings can be changed.
Like the entry level Nikon there is only one wheel whereas the higher range ones would have two to enable easier settings change, or a secondary LCD screen for example.
So when it comes to choosing a camera system, remember to test using three main criteria: Image Quality of the output at default settings, comfortable use of the camera body and going around the system and lastly availability and affordability of the lens be it own manufacturer or third party.
My Day(s) with the Pro.
After tons of pictures with the Fujifilm X100 including working trips to Western Australia (https://wilzworkz.wordpress.com/2011/12/09/travel-thru-the-lens-western-australia-day-4-albany/) and Thailand (https://wilzworkz.wordpress.com/2012/06/18/travel-thru-the-lens-series-bangkok-dangerous/), and thanks to a proprietress of a camera shop I got to know the fine people over at Fujifilm. The next thing I know, I have the Fujifilm X-Pro1 for shoot testing and best of all I got an adaptor to use with my modern and not so young F mount lens (a couple of Nikkors, a few Sigma and one single Tokina UWA).
There are now tons of reviews in terms of how the XP1 works and so I will go straight into how I use it and my pet peeves with the XP1. I will start off with my views on the layout and then show pictures that I think represents how the camera works in terms of image quality.
I love the Fujifilm colour. I like it that it can be nicely vivid and yet able to hold the skin tones of human subjects really well without showing too much red. In contrast, the Canon pink may be seen as a bit pale in comparison. So yes I love my subject that has a bit of life in their faces!
So with the new X-trans sensor, what I got was a consistent colour rendition that I get to see and love from the X100. And the added bonus was that it has done away with a low pass filter that not only increases sharpness and but also reduce or even eradicate moiré effect using its own RGB matrix.
Sometimes I really appreciate how Fujifilm thinks out of the box starting from the Super CCD sensor unlike the disingenuous way to sell more ‘sharpness’ in the form of a D800E (and charging more just for taking something out, when in fact is putting more things in!). For that I truly like how the Japanese company pushes the envelope when it comes to imaging technology.
Like I said, a camera should be able to shoot first and then show a good image second. That’s where Fujifilm’s history as a negative film maker and superb lens producer helps. What it lack though was in the department of User Interface that Canon and Nikon has honed through their professional tools.
Yes I lived through teething problems of the X100 and its less than stellar user interface. But there is another of Fujifilm’s saving grace: they continuously improve and have that Kaizen (改善) spirit (I am a quality management student you see?) that propels Japan into the 1st world economy. So when X100 gets its latest firmware ( and we get updates frequently), it is really like a different camera than the one we first had when we open the box. I hold the same hope when it comes to the X-Pro1; and true enough they have build on what they have learnt from the X100 and did some good changes.
The first clue to the improvement is the Q button which they have lifted off from Canon DSLR cameras. It was a good start as pressing the Q button shows the most common settings after the Aperture/Shutter speed/EV Compensation dials that can be directly controlled from the top plate and lens barrel.
Taken from techradar.com
The things that I have used most are the ISO Settings (I don’t use Auto ISO), White Balance, Film Simulation, Flash and Timer. I also appreciate the fact that I can also change the Highlight and Shadow settings quickly to give a better dynamic range in the pictures with the DR settings. In this case, all the settings I would want are right there for me to use and change. This is a far cry from the X100 way of doing things.
What I do complain about the X-Pro 1 is the placement of some of the back plate buttons. Yes as a X100 user, I find that X100 button interface is superbly well thought out except for the RAW button which we quickly assign to timer when the firmware allows us to. Imagine the discomfort I got the XP1 when the AFL/AEL is placed vertically on the right to where my thumb would naturally rest on the camera. Most unfortunate too is that the button is facing away from the user to the right making it tougher to engage it.
The shortest advice I could give to Fujifilm is this: Bring back how the buttons are used on the X100. Yes, the Q button solved a lot of problems but having the Drive/Macro/Flash/WB on the dial is much more convenient than accessing the Q button. Be nice and give us both! And exchange the Playback button with the AFL/AEL button as we can push the AFL/AEL button with the joints of our right thumb and it is much more ergonomic this way. I can actually do a lot of changes just using my right thumb but the XP1 cannot be said to do the same as I need to use two hands when I engage the various drive modes.
In short, Fujifilm is fixing something that is already more or less ideal on the X100 and they screwed it up again on the X-Pro1.
The next pet peeve would be the lack of Flash. I mean this camera is to be used outside and perhaps even to the point of being the only equipment to bring out. Forcing us to bring another flash unit is not really necessary given the fact that the ISO performance on the XP1 is really fantastic. We need just that tiny bit of fill-in flash that bring the exposure up to par. This is the most glaring (pardon the pun) omission in my book.
What about focusing you say? Let’s give credit where it is due. As compared to the steep learning curve of the X100 Mountain, the X-Pro1 can be said to be a brisk hike up to a small hill. Is it blistering fast? Nope. But is it so slow that one cannot focus at all, not true too. Is it bad in low light? Well for most camera they cannot focus if there’s not enough light. The solution is a light pen or the flash light from the mobile phone to help things along. Even my D200 need the focus assist light from the flash to get a good focus and so do other DSLRs.
I put it this way. With the sensor, it can only rely on contrast to detect focus. It is not as good as its competitors that uses the same technology but it is also not that dire that it cannot focus at all or is so crap that no shots can come out of it. I would say some commentators are making mountains out of flea hills (not even ants or moles).
Here’s my take:
If you need to take a bit of sports/action. Put the aperture at 8 or even 11, make full use of the fantastic ISO performance and put it at ISO 1000 in broad day light and 2000 during evenings. Measure out a distance where you should stand in relation to your would be subjects. So long the subjects are in the focusing distance, the wider focus zone will take care of sharpness so long it is not too far away from the pre determined focus distance. The focus scale will give you an idea where are the limits.
Yes the scale is not particularly accurate as it is more conservative but I would rather have a conservative estimate over an over ‘liberal’ estimate which can border on being inaccurate.
The above method is superbly useful for street photography and I get my shots quickly this way. Thanks to some old folks who taught me this method.
If you do need to focus using the AF, then find areas in the frame that has the highest contrast. e.g. skin and clothes, hair and skin, silhouette and backdrop etc, that is about the same distance to your focus points. If the aperture is more than F3.5, the degree of sharpness degradation is not huge too. There is also an article on X100/XPRO1 focusing: find distinctive vertical lines in horizontal framing to help in focusing.
And there is this the old method of centre focus point and reframing. It works in the old SLRs and RFs so I don’t see why it should be that much more worse for modern cameras unless one is using F1.8 or even F1.4 that creates a very shallow depth of field. That would need the focusing box to be where the subject is. But the majority of the time we will be ok using this method.
With the bad points put aside, here are the good points. The hybrid viewfinder is still working beautifully, a bit smaller than the X100 but it works good with the Fujinon lens. The X-Tran sensor with the capable image processor has not only maintain the image quality lead won by the X100 but also improved it a tad more. In short I am still able to use the JPEGs from the X-Pro1 without relying too much on the RAW. The in camera RAW post editing still works too which is an added bonus and less time in front of the PC.
And the 3 Prime lens, the 18mm (eq: 24mm), 35mm (eq: 50mm) & 60mm (eq: 90mm) are in my opinion the right lens to have as a starter kit except for one small little point: the lack of the 35mm equivalent (that would be the 24mm). I mean, people bought the X100 because they are comfortable with 35mm and it is to me the most useful focal length of the 4.
And the very reason people who bought the X-Pro1 instead of the X100 is because they want the flexibility of changing lens, including the use of the 24mm. So why this lens is NOT in the arsenal is like short changing the usefulness of the system. Yes, giving the 24mm MIGHT cause the sale of the X100 to plunge but then again X100 will disappear sooner rather than later and building the system should be the prime (no pun intended) concern.
I have good words to say in terms of innovation again for their lens. The Aperture rings of these lens clicks at 1/3 intervals and those intervals corresponds with the 1/3 stops for the aperture too! It is nice to have small little EV changes rather than 1 stop changes IMHO.
‘Nuff said, here comes the pictures:
Delicious Bokeh and pin sharp Chanel Logo. The dust particles adds to that clarity.
Moiré test: the place where the two cloths intermingle would be the place where moiré discolouration will appear. It does seemed to be controlled.
Dynamic Range Test/Skin Tone: Holding up well with strong back lit lighting.
Skin Tone under shade/interior. Can be a tad brighter surely.
Skin tone test interior with sunlight coming in.
Indoor white balance test. Tons of halogen/yellow tinted light but it has a good balance here.
Macro and its sharpness. Note the details out from the pieces of meat. 60mm
Food shoot Macro. Restaurant with strong halogen/Yellow lighting. Post process to add a bit more blue to counter the yellow to arrive at the right soup colour.
Vertical Panoramic test. Good stitching though a bit noisy as compared to the X100.
Horizontal Panoramic Stitching. No tripod, just handheld at ISO4000 (yes my students will kill me! LOL). Clarity and noise are still within acceptable level fortunately.
Continuous Studio Lights with 60mm. We can see the subtle changes in the areas that the face is powdered.
Gloomy day in the Mall. Sunlight via the Glass Roof.
The Use of Adapted Lens
I actually have the X-Pro1 for a second drive but this time, it was done without the trinity prime lens (the 18mm, 35mm and 60mm) as Fujifilm has lent the lens away to another photographer (he bought the body alone). And what I have is my adaptor to use my Nikon F Mount on the X-Pro1. If that is not heavenly coincidence I wonder is as I am looking for a way to test my old lens on the new body. Yes, to buy the adaptor first is the first indication that I am inclined to get the X series. I am still holding out for some reasons actually which I will share at the end of this blog entry.
There are a lot of people having a huge issue with adapted lens. Thanks to the forum over at fujixseries.com, I got to know the existence of an adaptor that can be used with the modern Nikkor G Lens. For the uninitiated, the G Lens are photographic optical lenses that do not come with an aperture ring. That means the aperture setting is wholly controlled by the camera’s processor via the connectors of the lens mount and the lens itself. So if I want to change the aperture ala X-Pro1 prime lens or the old lens with aperture rings, I can’t do it using a tube adaptor. Here is my saviour:
Kipon Nik G-FX
The Kipon Nik G-FX is not cheap at all. Even the Chinese Taobao website quoted 590 Yuan or SGD120 or USD100 for the adaptor. Then again, spending a hundred bucks just to secure future use of the old lens is not exactly a bad thing too. The difference between this and the other more common adaptors would be the presence of an aperture ring (yes that silver ring in the middle of the barrel). That said, it was not as to change as it sounds partly because there is no indication of what F stop you are at and secondly, the ring do not give you a leverage to turn it easily. I guess over time it would loosen up (as all of us do). So how to solve the aperture since it doesn’t have an indicator and it doesn’t have a stop click? If you see the picture closely, you would notice there is a notch just below the letter ‘N’ from the word KIPON. At that position, the aperture would be fully open so it can be F2.8 or F1.8 or F1.4 depending on the lens you are using. The other extreme would be the smallest aperture and that would be under ‘G’ and the lens would be at F22, F16 depending on the lens again. Somewhere in the middle would be the letter ‘K’ from the word ‘NIK’ and that would be F5.6 or F4. That is usually the position I used more often to get a good balance between light absorption and a good depth of field.
The lens I used with this adaptor are:
- Nikkor 50mm F1.4 with aperture ring (circa 1980s)
- Nikkor 35mm F2.8 with aperture ring (circa 1980s)
- Sigma Macro version 1 70-200mm F2.8
- Sigma Macro version 1 18-50mm F2.8
- Sigma 70-300mm F3.5-5.6 Macro
- Tokina 11-16mm F2.8
This is taken with the Tokina 11-16 Ultra Wide Angle lens at the smallest aperture setting at 15 seconds at ISO 100(L).
Sigma 70-300mm F3.5-5.6@F5.6. Shot this as wide as possible with the furthest possible reach.
Taken with the 50mm at F1.4. Notice that hazy dreamy look of the F2.0 X100. Skin tones are still great and the sharpness is still there.
Another skin tone test with the 50 F1.4 but it is at F4. Shot inside a green house with a cloudy day with diffused sun light. Beautiful (the colour and Rebecca of course!)
Sigma 18-50 F2.8 Macro. The richness of the Velvia simulation and the clarity that brings about the texture of the petals.
Nikkor 35mm F2.8. Pastel Colour test. Diffused light. Inside a tent stall.
All shot with the 50mm F1.4. Depth of Field testing. Boy do I have a tough time focusing as I was inside a stall that is quite dark!
Food Colour rendition is top notch with the old lens. Sunlight interior
Sigma 70-200 F2.8 Macro. The combo is pretty heavy and without the monopod it is really tiring. Focus using the zone method and a lot of guess work getting into knowing the distance between me and subject. And about Dynamic Range. Notice there is a fade grey on the floor? Those are the shadows of the roof structure on top of the ice skating rink. Most cameras would have blown those out by now.
Nikkor 50mm F1.4@ F8. I prefocus on the edge of the ramp that they are doing the stunts on and then set up a fairly wide depth of field to capture as much details and set the ISO and Shutter speed accordingly to freeze the action. Shutter lag? Unless you are doing shots by pressing the shutter every single time in quick succession. The better way for this camera would be to use the multiple shots drive mode.
So how do you focus with no peaking like the NEX on the X-Pro1. I thought of it for the longest time on how to do this effectively. Effectively means quickly get the focus and then set the camera up for the shoot in the shortest possible time. Here’s what I do: put the aperture as wide as possible. Peak through the EVF, and focus zoom in by pressing in the jog dial just below the top plate. Focus till it is sharp and then set the needed aperture and adjust shutter accordingly. Shoot as per normal. The reason why I will use the widest aperture is to use the shallow depth of field to help with focusing. I got tack sharp images from my flowers and food.
Conclusion: Would I buy one?
Despite the X-Pro1 from having to perform as well as I have expected and in some cases pleasantly surprised me when I use my adapted lens, I would still wait for the next iteration if possible. Why? I still have my X100 with me or specifically, I still have the 24mm/35mm that I love on the X100 that the X-Pro1 lacks at the moment. If X-Pro1 was launched with the 24mm, I would have bought it in a heatbeat. And being a pro photographer that brings people around to shoot locally and overseas, I would at least love to have a zoom package with the system as well hence the 18-55 F2.8-F4 would be a good kit to go with it though I would very much prefer a fix aperture lens instead.
So the key reason would be the lens and if push comes to shove, I am now at least convinced that adapted lens can be used too albeit the lack of focusing. The other reason would be the user interface. I still think it is not optimised and the X-Pro2 may well fixed that and it would work better in my hands.
Don’t get me wrong: the X-Pro1 is a very able camera but like the X100, it takes one to have some commitment to learn how it is used and use it effectively and efficiently. And like the X100, once you mastered it, it will bring you great joy through the fantastic images you have captured. With that said, the DSLR will still have its day because it is a proven form factor for a lot more complex jobs such as sports photography and events because of fast moving subjects that requires a good tracking AF that at the moment X-Pro1 is clearly not quick enough for it but otherwise would be great for many of the users out there.
So with that, and with the assumption that Fujifilm continues its effort to be the top dog of the Compact Camera System market, then the X-Pro2 with 23mm F1.4 would be in my sights definitely unless Nikon takes away my budget by introducing a worthy successor to the D300s.
To see more of the X-Pro1 Images one can click on to: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wilzworkz/sets/72157630465572466/
Wedding Shots (mixed with Nikon D200):