Monday, 14 October 2019

Beware of the Worms - sharpening Fuji files in Lightroom

Worms. Not a word I typically associate with photography. We have a dog though. And yes, worms is a topic of conversation that is often associated with her (every 6 months with the vet).

Yet since moving to the Fujifilm system, I have come across the term 'worms' being mentioned in relation to Fuji images on many occasions. Mainly in regards to the post-processing of files from the x-trans sensor, in Adobe's Lightroom.

Rock the Boat. Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8 pancake. f/5.6 @ 1/480th, ISO 200. C1: Classic Chrome recipe
Many people report to seeing 'worm-like' artifacts in Fuji files, specifically after image sharpening. Fuji files have become somewhat notorious for the dreaded 'worm' effect. Lots of reports on the interwebs discuss the issue, and refer to photos that look like watercolour paintings due to the worm-like pattern that pervades the entire image.

This kind of talk is, not surprisingly, cause for some concern. And also, for someone like me, requires a little more investigation. I don't want photos that look like watercolour paintings (unless that's the specific look I'm going for), and would certainly like to avoid 'worms' in my images if at all possible - thank you very much!

Rock the Boat detail - 100% crop of central portion
Which of course got me thinking - and looking - very hard, at all the images I've taken with the Fuji X cameras thus far. And I can't say that I have ever noticed, or been bothered by, worm-like artifacts in any of my Fuji images. The above 100% crop is as crisp and as clear as any other file, from any other camera system, that I've ever used. The 'mottling' you can see on the surface of the boat is actual paint - not wormy artifacts generated by the sensor! It's super crisp, super sharp, and not a worm in site!

But then again, it hasn't been sharpened at all in Lightroom. It is a jpeg direct from camera, which LR does not apply any sharpening to on import. I even have sharpening set to -1 in-camera for the above image, which was taken using my C1: Classic Chrome recipe. And it's plenty sharp enough (btw, Lightroom does have a default sharpening for RAW files upon import; Amount: 40, Radius: 1, Detail: 25). I have found the Fuji x-trans files to be super sharp straight out of camera, even the RAW files, and have honestly not felt the need to sharpen them later on in post. But what if I did need to?

Beach Sculpture with Worms? Fuji X-E1 with XF 27mm f2.8
Above is a Fuji RAW file (RAF), processed in Lightroom, with a heck of a lot of sharpening applied! Looks okay on the web at screen resolution, but what about zoomed in to 200%?

Worms galore!
And there it is folks! Worms! My Fuji has Worms! They are clearly visible at 200% (and 100% to be fair), and certainly give a very watercoloury effect to the details (or lack thereof) in the image.

But hang on a minute. This is, as I said, after a heck of a lot of sharpening has been applied. Sharpening that, as I've already stated with my Fujifilm files, I didn't need to apply. How much sharpening has been applied you ask? How about 140% (close to Lightroom's maximum) with a 0.5 radius and 60 detail. That's a serious amount of sharpening! How would other files hold up to this amount of pixel punishment? How about a Nikon or Canon RAW file?

Motukeikei Beach Low Tide. Nikon D300 with Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 lens. f/11 @ 1/13th, ISO 200
With the same amount of excessive sharpening applied in Lightroom, the Nikon NEF file above (converted to a jpeg for posting) also looks fairly decent at screen resolution for the web. But what happens if we zoom in a little closer?

Nikon NEF at 200% 'oversharpened' in Adobe Lightroom. Yep - it's got worms!
Zoom in to 200% on the over-sharpened Nikon RAW file and you will also see the wormy artifacts all through the image. Perhaps maybe not quite as prominent as in the Fuji file, but they are definitely there nonetheless. So it would seem this whole worm thing isn't a Fujifilm issue per se, but an Adobe Lightroom oversharpening issue for all files? But let's not stop there...

Home Sweet Home. Canon 650D with Canon EF-S 18-135mm. f/8 @ 1/400th, ISO 200.
And then there was Canon. Once again, with the same excessive sharpening applied, the reduced image for the web is passable.

Wormy worms everywhere!
And once again, zoomed in to 200%, the resulting Canon file has the dreaded worms! They're everywhere! So it would seem that, pushed to the limit and over-sharpened, all image files from all camera manufacturers will produce the worm-like artifacts when processed in Adobe Lightroom. Not just Fujifilm files.

These examples are admittedly fairly extreme. What happens if we dial back on the aggressiveness? 

With all the images re-processed at a less aggressive sharpening in Lightroom (Amount 120%, Radius 0.5, Detail 20 and Masking of 80), the results are much better - all the worms have gone, from all the files. So it would appear that the worm issue is not a Fujifilm issue at all, but is in fact an Adobe Lightroom sharpening algorithm issue.

Want further proof? Sharpen your Fuji RAW files in Capture One's Fuji-specific RAW processing software (Capture One Express for Fujifilm is free). Ramp that sucker up to 1000% sharpening and there will be nary a worm in site! Not one. Of course it will look terrible for other reasons (never sharpen at 1000%), but it certainly won't have a 'worm' issue. The worm issue is Adobe's, not Fuji's.

So I'm moving my workflow to Capture One for my Fuji files then - right? Well, I have certainly downloaded Capture One Express 12 for Fujifilm (the free version), and if I was going to do a lot of sharpening of my Fuji files then I would most definitely be doing it in Capture One Express.

But (there's that 'but' again...), as I said somewhere near the beginning of this post, I have never noticed worm artifacts in my Fujifilm files - all of which have been processed in Lightroom, and none of which have, as yet, needed any sharpening. So my 'need' to switch to Capture One to avoid worm artifacts doesn't actually exist. As the saying goes, "If it ain't broke..."

I'm happy/thrilled/ecstatic with the final results I'm getting processing my Fuji files through Lightroom. Maybe I'm not all that picky? Maybe I don't know what the hell I'm on about (that's a possibility). Maybe I can't be bothered learning (and paying $240NZ or $20NZ per month) another software programme? 

Don't get me wrong, Capture One Pro looks like an amazing RAW processing engine. In many ways superior to Adobe's Lightroom. But I'm already paying for Lightroom, which in itself is superior to Capture One Express - the free version (not surprisingly). And who knows, maybe one day Adobe will fix their sharpening algorithm?

I appreciate this probably isn't the most scientific of studies. If you're not sure about my findings, go ahead and go through this process with your own files. Be my guest. I think you'll probably come to similar conclusions?

Finally, I want to end by restating my claim about this worm issue. This is not a Fuji file problem. It's an Adobe problem. I'm also really not quite sure why it's only being associated with Fuji? Why is there no 'Nikon worm issue' or 'Canon worm issue' pervading the internet? All of these manufacturer's files exhibit 'worms' in Lightroom when pushed. So forget Fuji. It's Adobe that has worms. Ewww!

Friday, 11 October 2019

Quick shoot with the Fuji XF 27mm f2.8 pancake

My pimped X-E1 with 27mm pancake... Nice!
As mentioned in my last post, I am using the Fuji X-E2 as my main camera, but have also purchased an X-E1 and Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8 pancake lens as a 'backup'.

Just a couple of  months ago, I put my toe in the water of the Fujifilm system with an X-E1. I was hooked from the moment I took my first image with the compact, range-finder style body, and the beautiful Fuji x-trans sensor.

The X-E1 very quickly made way for the X-E2, although it was far from being a straight forward decision. I was still running a Nikon DSLR kit as well, and couldn't justify keeping both X-E's. So reluctantly the X-E1 had to go.

But, so enamored have I become with Fujifilm, that I soon after decided that it was the one system for me - so I sold my Nikon gear and got an X-T1. Great decision - right? Well, for some maybe. But not for me. Turns out I'm a compact, range-finder style guy. Who knew!? (Certainly not me). So I've sold the X-T1 and got, instead, the X-E1 (yay!). So now I'm back where I started - rockin' two X-E's - and lovin' it.

Hokitika Beach sculptures. Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8 pancake. f/4 @ 1/950th, ISO 200. C2: Acros recipe
I have been a working photographer in the past (shooting weddings) and have the 'back-up your gear' mindset drummed into me. These cameras are very well built, and it's unlikely that there will be a problem 99.9% of the time. But they are also full of electronics - and electronics do fail. So I like to have that 0.1% covered. Just in case. And then, of course, there's always human error. I have dropped, and destroyed, camera gear on at least two occasions. So yes, redundancy is a thing...

Which also meant that I needed a backup lens to go with my XC 16-50mm zoom. I could have gone for another one, but I decided to see what else I could get for a similar price - to experience a bit more of the Fuji system, since Fuji is all still new to me.

I've said in the past that I'm not a prime kinda guy. And while this is true, there is one prime lens that I've owned regularly, and used a lot. The 50mm f1.8 - in both Canon and Nikon flavours. I've often advised students to go for a fast, standard prime, as their first lens purchase outside the kit lens, so I figured I may as well take my own advice for once!

I was tossing up between either the Fujinon 23mm f2 or the 35mm f2, which would give a 35mm or 50mm equivalent focal length (respectively) in traditional film terms. I honestly couldn't decide which I should go for - and then I saw a review on the 27mm f2.8 pancake (40mm fov).

Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8 lens elements
All the reviews I read or watched were super positive about this tiny little pancake prime lens. Sharp, reasonably fast focusing, well made, small and light - what's not to like? Especially when paired with the X-E's. The 40mm (40.5mm to be exact) field of view in traditional full frame terms seems like the ideal compromise between the 35mm's wide and the 50mm's normal. In fact, apparently 43mm is 'normal' (hence Pentax's 43mm prime). So the Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8 (multiplied by x1.5 for the sensor's 'crop' factor) should give me a great 'standard' walk around field of view. Not to mention a super lightweight and super small profile.

How lightweight and how small, you ask?  It weighs just 78 grams, is only 23mm deep, and uses a 39mm filter thread. Yet it also manages to house 7 elements in 5 groups - with one aspherical element (see diagram above). I've owned the Olympus 17mm f2.8 pancake lens when I was using micro four thirds, and while the Olympus is even lighter still (at 71 grams), and just a touch thinner (22mm deep), it's also designed for a smaller sensor. I'd give the build quality to the Fujinon, as well as focus speed and optical quality.

Beach Sculpture, Hokitika. Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8. f/4 @ 1/400th, ISO 200. C2: Acros recipe
So far so good in theory. But what about in practice? What's the Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8 pancake lens actually like to shoot with? And what kind of images can it produce?

As its diminutive size and weight would suggest, when popped onto a camera body it really doesn't make much of an impression. Even on the small X-E1. There's just enough lens to rest in your hand when holding the camera up to the eye. But you will be cradling the fly-by-wire focusing ring. Not a big deal, and certainly ok if you are planning to focus manually (I'm probably not). On a bigger camera (like the XT-1) it would probably get lost pretty quickly and maybe even look a little ridiculous? I guess the 23mm f2 or 35mm f2 lenses would be better choices for the X-T range of bodies?

Driftwood Sculpture, Hokitika Beach. Fuji X-E1 with 27mm f2.8 XF pancake. f/4 @ 1/640th, ISO 200
As you can see from the first image on this post, I have attached the extra grip to the X-E1 body. In hindsight, this is probably not really necessary with such a small lens attached, so I think I will actually swap it over to the X-E2. I guess the reason I didn't do so in the first place was because the X-E2 has the leather case attached, which won't fit with the added grip. I'll swap them over and use the grip on the X-E2 with zoom lens, and the leather case on the X-E1 with 27mm pancake. Makes a bit more sense that way around.

I've only had the lens for a few days, so it's far too early to give a full user-review. But so far so good in terms of handling, auto focus response and image quality. From the few images I've taken with it so far, it seems plenty sharp enough. I haven't pixel-peeped edge-to-edge, but nor have I really used it at my optimal landscape apertures yet (f8 to f11). I guess it's not really going to be my 'landscape' lens anyway. It is what it is - a back-up/walk around lens.

Sunset Point, Hokitika Beach. Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XF 27mm f2.8. f/4 @ 1/850th, ISO 200. C2: Acros recipe
All the images here are jpegs, shot with my C2: Acros film simulation recipe, and lightly edited in Lightroom. Just my standard clarity and dehaze with a slight vignette and some grain added. I'm very please with these initial images, and happy to be using the X-E1 again. It may be 'old' (Really? Is six years really that old?) but damn does that first generation x-trans sensor take some great images!

The weather is clearing (briefly), so I plan to take this combo out again soon and continue to put it through its paces. I'll probably mix it up next time and shoot some colour film simulations as well as black and white. At 40mm (equivalent fov) and an f2.8 aperture, it may even be worth shooting a few portraits with the lens? I haven't done many portraits since moving to Fuji, so if I can find some willing subjects, that might be the next test?

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Film Simulation Recipe C4: Kodak Tri-X

If you've been following along recently (thanks if you have - shame on you if you haven't), you will have been introduced to the first two of my custom film recipes for my Fujifilm X-E1. If you want to catch up on these posts, go here for my version of Classic Chrome, and here for my version of Acros.

Hansen Park, Christchurch. Fuji X-E2 with Fujinon 16-50mm. f/16 @ 1/100th, ISO 400
C4 film simulation recipe - Kodak Tri-X jpeg
To mix things up a bit (and to keep those who are following along on their toes), I'm going to jump from C2 to C4, missing out C3 - my Kodak Portra 400 simulation - for another time. Couple of reasons for this. First, I haven't used the C3 Portra 400 simulation yet, since I haven't been taking many portraits (which is mainly what I would use this film simulation recipe for). But mainly it's because I recently had the opportunity to shoot in a park early in the morning and decided to use the more 'grittier' C4 film simulation. So I actually have some images to show that use this film simulation.

C4: Kodak Tr-X Film Recipe
ISO 400 (will increase if appropriate)
Dynamic Range: 200
White Balance: Auto
Noise Reduction: 0
Image Size: Large 3:2
Image Quality: RAW + Jpeg fine
Film simulation base: Monochrome + R
Highlight Tone: +1
Shadow Tone: +2
Sharpness: +1

As you can see, my Kodak film simulation is based on the Monochrome + Red filter, for a bit more contrast in the black and white tones. This is further enhanced by boosting both the highlights and shadows much more than with my 'standard' Acros simulation. Base ISO begins at ISO 400 to mimic the classic Kodak Tri-X rating, with +1 sharpness to emulate Tri-X's outstanding edge-to-edge sharpness.

Casting Shadows. Fuji X-E2 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/5.6 @ 1/750th, ISO 400. C4 film simulation: Kodak Tri-X
Of my film simulation recipes for the X-E2 (and X-E1), four are black and white and three are colour. When shooting with actual film, I tend to be more of a black and white user, so it's not surprising that me preferences for 'film stock' in the X-E2 is going to be slightly skewed towards B&W.

Of course all my 'titles' for these film recipes are completely arbitrary. The C4 simulation is simply my attempt at replicating a more grittier, high contrast black and white look. The kind of look I associate more with Kodak Tri-X. And calling it Kodak Tri-X is just more cooler (and more descriptive) than always referring to it as 'C4'.

Creeping shadows. Fuji X-E2. f/5.6 @ 1/320th, ISO 400. C4: Kodak Tri-X
I think I mentioned this in my previous post about the Acros recipe, but it's worth mentioning again. The reason I love shooting in the black and white film simulations, is that it offers me the best of both worlds. Setting the camera to shoot in RAW + Jpeg, I get to 'see' in black and white through the evf and subsequent image on the lcd screen, but I also capture a colour RAW file if I change my mind and want the image in colour.

Actually 'seeing' in monochrome is by far the biggest benefit. Eliminating the colour reduces the image to purely shapes, lines and tones. This was a huge help when visualizing an image like the one above - Creeping shadows. Yes, I could see that the shadows were making interesting shapes on the grass when I was there taking the photo. But by setting the camera to my C4 film recipe I was able to  remove all the distracting elements and nail the image in-camera. I could have shot in colour only, knowing that I was going to convert it to monochrome later on and boost the contrast in Lightroom. But if I knew that already, why not just do it at the time? Fuji's outstanding film simulation recipes allow me to do this.

A shadow of my former self. Fuji X-E2 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/5.6 @ 1/550th, ISO 400
I have visited Hansen Park in Christchurch every month for the last six months, and photographed there at the same time each visit. My wife and I have been going over to a medical centre near there, and I have been taking the opportunity to go for a walk in the park and take photos while my wife has her appointment. It's been the winter months mostly, with very cold mornings. But now it's spring, and at 9.30 in the morning the sun was casting very strong side light through the park. The shadows looked fantastic in b&w through the evf, so this is what I decided to concentrate on capturing this morning.

Treescape. Fuji X-E2 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/8 @ 1/240th, ISO 400. C4: Kodak Tri-X jpeg
The X-E2 with lensmate thumb grip and leather case makes for a surprisingly comfortable grip for such a small compact camera. As I talked about in my last post, this is also helped by using the ultra-light Fujinon 16-50mm XC lens. My 'new' secondhand silver mark II version arrived before the weekend, just in time to take it away with me. It's just as sharp and impressive as my last black, mark I, version of the lens - and looks great in silver on the silver/black X-E2 body.

Handling, ergonomics and shooting experience with the Fujifilm X-E2 is sheer joy. I haven't had this much pleasure using a camera in a very long time. Sure, I 'enjoy' using cameras - full stop. The Nikon D300 was/is a 'great' camera, as are the Canons. But there's just something else about the Fujifilm X-E2 (and X-E1) that captivates me and makes me want to shoot. Something almost undefinable. It's all getting a bit 'zen' (sorry), but the connection I feel to the Fuji's is quite special.

Dappled light. Fujifilm X-E2 & Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/8 @ 1/450th, ISO 400. C4: Kodak Tri-X - jpeg 
Anyone who has followed my posts on this blog for any length of time will understand that I've been searching for my 'ideal' camera system for years. I've oohed and aahed over many systems through the years - from big pro DLSR's like the Canon EOS 1D, to small micro four thirds Olympus E-M1's. And as I said earlier, I've 'enjoyed' them all. But none have given me the almost 'spiritual' connection (here he goes again) that I feel with the Fujifilm X-E's. Am I reading too much into enjoying using a new (for me) camera system? Maybe. But I've also written about how I wasn't that enamored with the X-T1. So I do feel I have at least some perspective still in tact!?

I'm loving the images, I'm loving the cameras and I'm loving the whole user experience. I can't really say much more than that. I've recently sold off all my other gear and moved entirely to the Fujifilm X-E2. But such is the lure of the original X-E1, I've purchased another (back up) body, having just sold my first X-E1 recently. I had presumed the X-T1 / X-E2 would be my camera combination, but once I'd decided to sell the X-T1, I started looking for another X-E1. I found one almost straight away - a black body in mint condition. So now I have an X-E2 / X-E1 combination. And although I'm not a prime lens kinda guy, I've also snapped up a Fujinon 27mm f2.8 pancake lens, which I will pair with the black X-E1 for a super small, super light combo. Looking forward to trying this out and comparing the IQ with the 16-50mm XC. I will post about this soon.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

In praise of the Fujinon XC 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OIS

Maybe it's just me? But I think that Fuji's cheap, lightweight, plastic, consumer-based kit lens - the Fujinon XC16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OIS (to give it its full title) - is a damn fine lens! Damn fine.

Now to be fair, it also happens to be the only lens I've ever used in the Fujifilm lineup. So maybe I haven't got that much to compare it to? I do know, from reading and watching other reviewers, that Fuji's optical quality is spoken of in extremely high regard. Words like 'outstanding' and 'exceptional' are used on a very regular basis by anyone reviewing the XF primes or pro level zooms. And yet almost nothing is ever said about the XC range of lenses. And if they are mentioned at all, it's almost in embarrassment, and they quickly move on to more 'serious' optics.

I think this does the Fujinon 16-50mm XC lens a severe injustice. I really do. Because while I may not have any experience with other Fujinon lenses, I have a plethora (yes, I said a plethora) of experience with other lenses, over a more than thirty year photographic career. From consumer kit zooms to cheap plastic primes, mid-range third party offerings to expensive pro level glass - I've shot with (and owned) them all. And while the Fujinon XC 16-50mm lens might not be the best lens I've ever owned, it certainly is far from being the worst.

Lake Brunner Water Taxi. Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC lens. F/11 @ 1/125th, ISO 800. 23mm (35mm equiv)
100% crop of lower right corner. Click image to enlarge
That's not damning with faint praise either. Honestly. Because while I certainly can't claim that it's the best lens I've ever owned, I also believe that it's a truly fantastic lens, capable of remarkably good results - especially for the price that you will pay for this plastic 'kit' lens. Most reviewers completely disregard this lens, or ignore it completely as if it doesn't even exist. And I believe they do so to their own detriment.

Ok, so it's not made of metal. Yes, it is an all plastic construction - right down to the lens mount itself. But not - I repeat NOT - the optics. They are, of course, made of glass. Fujinon glass. 12 elements, in 10 groups, including three aspherical lens elements and one ED lens element. The good stuff. So whilst the body might be of consumer-grade construction, Fuji haven't skimped where it matters the most. With the optics.
Cross section of XC 16-50mm lens elements
Plastic it may be, but it's also a very good plastic (is there such a thing in this day and age?). The fit and finish is excellent, and the zoom ring turns smoothly and without any barrel wobble. I won't lie - a metal lens mount would have been nice, and wouldn't have added any discernible weight (or cost) to the lens. But for such an incredibly light lens (just 195 grams) for a zoom, I can see why Fuji have opted for the plastic lens mount. For its intended user base (this is a consumer grade lens by Fuji's own definition), they probably didn't see it getting very heavy use, and may even be the only lens that the average consumer ever owns? So I guess there might not be a lot of lens-changing going on anyway. And besides, we're long past the point where plastic lens barrels on consumer products are of concern. Canon and Nikon have been doing it since the introduction of consumer digital SLR's in 2003 (with the Canon D300).

Carters Beach, Westport. Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f5.6 @ 1/240th, ISO 200. 23mm (35mm equiv)
100% crop of central area. Click image to enlarge
So let's get over the all-plastic thing shall we? Let's concentrate instead on what it does have going for it. And there's plenty.

It's lightweight, well constructed, and has glass optics with some nice aspherical elements thrown in for good measure. It also has image stabilisation built in to the lens (up to 3.5 stops), seven rounded aperture blades, a quick and silent autofocusing motor, and focuses as close as 15cm's for 'macro' images. It's not weather-sealed (neither is the 18-55mm), but really, what do you expect at this price point?

Ultimately, what I'm most interested in with any lens, of course, is IQ (image quality). What do the photos that this lens takes actually look like? And in this regard I only need one word: fantastic! Honestly - fantastic. From the very first image I took with the Fujifilm X-E1 and 16-50mm XC combination I was blown away. Crisp, clean, clear, colourful, sharp - all of the above. And while a good deal of this is down to the x-trans sensor, it still needs the lens to translate all that x-trans goodness into a final image.

Truman Track, Punakaiki. Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f5.6 @ 1/550th, ISO 200. 16mm (24mm equiv)
100% crop of lower left corner. Click image to enlarge
I'm not going to lie to you, dear reader, and tell you that the Fujinon XC 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OIS is the sharpest lens I've ever owned - because it's not. But it is plenty sharp enough. Just look at the 100% corner crops of the images in this post. They aren't bitingly sharp - but only the very best of the very best lenses actually are. You know, the ones you pay $1000+ for. For a 'kit' lens performance, these are excellent results, especially when you consider that all but the last image here (the one taken at Motukeikei Beach) were shot hand-held.

So while it might not be the sharpest tack in the box, I actually find this to be a positive. Sometimes I find bitingly sharp optics to have a very obvious 'digital' quality to them. Not so the Fujinon 16-50mm XC lens. It's sharp, without being 'digitally' sharp. It has, dare I say it (ok, I will) a more film-like quality to it. It's sharp (often very sharp) where it needs to be, yet also beautifully smooth in other areas. It's hard to define exactly, but I do find the images that I'm getting from the 16-50mm XC to be very beautiful. Drop dead beautiful, in fact.

Motukeikei Beach Sunset. Fuji X-E2 with 16-50mm XC. f11 @ 1/2sec, ISO 200
100% crop of lower right. Click to enlarge
Steady on! Am I gushing over this cheap little hunk of plastic a bit too much? Surely it's just a lens you 'put up with' until you can afford a 'real' lens? I take my landscape photography very seriously, so of course I'm going to 'upgrade' first chance I get - right?

Well, not so fast. Recently (as in this week), I had the chance to do just that. Buy a 'better' lens for the X-E2 (see my last post). I looked very closely at the Fujinon 18-55mm f2-4, and almost pulled the trigger on one. But then a few reviews I read suggested that the IQ of the 18-55mm wasn't really an upgrade. I'm thrilled with the IQ I'm getting from the 16-50 XC lens (can't you tell). Would I be more thrilled with the IQ from the 18-55mm? I'm not convinced I would.

Yes, the 18-55mm is 'better' built (more metal), and yet it still doesn't have weather-sealing. And yes, it's a 'faster' lens - but as primarily a landscape photographer working around f11, I don't necessarily need faster. And also, as a landscape photographer, I'm going to choose the 16-50mm over the 18-55mm because of its focal range. 16mm (24mm equivalent) is useful to me, and preferable over 18mm (27mm equivalent). Surprisingly, at wider focal lengths, that extra 2mm makes a huge difference  - especially on an APS-C sized sensor.

Realistically, my upgrade path is actually to go to the Fujinon 16-55mm f2.8 - which is weather-sealed, and which, I'm sure, is a superior lens. And I probably could have afforded one if I'd waited for a good secondhand deal. But the 16-55mm f2.8 would also come with its own set of problems. Weight being one of them. At 655 grams, it's over three times the weight of the 16-50mm XC lens - which would definitely be noticeable on my X-E2.

So in the end, after weighing up all the pros and cons, I decided that the Fujinon XC 16-50mm f3.5-5.6 OIS lens was, in fact, the perfect lens for me. So I've bought another one to go with my X-E2 (after having sold my original lens with my X-E1). My 'new' (secondhand) one is the version II model (slightly updated OIS apparently), in all-silver. Should pair up very nicely with my silver/black X-E2.

Lake Brunner Boats. Fuji X-E1 with Fujinon XC 16-50mm. f8 @1/125th, ISO 250. 23mm (35mm equiv)
Apologies if this post has gone on a bit long, and become a bit of a rant in places? But it does annoy me that so many 'serious' photographers and reviewers dismiss the XC lenses as 'inferior' rubbish. They are, as I have discovered much to my joy, nothing of the sort.

Since I'm not really a prime kinda guy, and since I've discounted getting both the 18-55mm and 16-55mm (at least for the foreseeable future), then I guess I'll keep using the XC 16-50mm plastic fantastic for my 'serious' landscape photography. And since my experience with this XC lens has been so positive, I'm considering getting the 50-230mm XC telephoto as well. If it's anything like its smaller sibling, then it just might be a real gem of a lens too? Can't wait to find out...

Monday, 30 September 2019

And then there was one - the X-E2!

Well, it is indeed official. I am now a complete Fujifilm X shooter! And the winner once the dust had all settled? Ok, it's no surprise if you've been following along (or if you've read the title). I've kept the X-E2.

Lone Tree, West Coast. Fujifilm X-T1 and Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/5.6 @ 1/320th, ISO 200 
In my last post I talked about using the X-T1, and the things I didn't like about its ergonomics. After picking it up for the first time I knew I probably wasn't going to keep it - which was something of a surprise to me. It's positives didn't outweigh its negatives (for me at least), and the fact that it has exactly the same sensor as in the X-E2 didn't help its chances of me keeping it. So it's gone.

Lake Mahinapua reeds. Nikon D300 with Nikkor 17-80mm. f/11 @ 1/6th sec, ISO 200
In another recent post, I took my other recent purchase, the Nikon D300, out for a trip to Lake Mahinapua. I enjoyed the experience of shooting with the DSLR (see the post here), and got some decent images on the morning despite the overcast conditions. I finished that post by saying that I might keep the D300 around to scratch my DLSR itch - but that the Fujifilm X-E2 would be my main system. Well, I didn't - keep it, that is. Upon reflection, I couldn't really justify having the gear just sitting around for when I might want to use it one day. So it's also gone.

Motukeikei Beach, Low tide. Fuji X-E2 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/11 @ 1/5th sec, ISO 800
This left me with the Fujifilm X-E1 - the body that kicked of this whole love affair to begin with - and the X-E2, the 'upgraded' model with a few extra bells and whistles. I outlined this dilemma in this post, concluding that the X-E2 was the 'practical' choice over the X-E1, since it does offer a few helpful software related tweaks over the X-E1. I've since followed through with this decision, and now the X-E1 is also gone (along with the Fujinon 16-50mm XC lens).

So as it stands today, as I write this, I literally just have the X-E2 body left. Nothing else. Not even a lens! Although a lens is coming. With all this selling, I've got a tidy sum together to blow on a lens - right!? So what am I getting? The Fujinon XF 18-55mm f2.8-4 maybe? Or, what about really splurging on the Fujinon XF16-55mm f2.8! I could probably afford one. Oh, I know. Let's really make use of the X-E2's small form factor and get a couple of primes. The 23mm f2 and 35mm f2 maybe?

Nope. Haven't gone for any of those. What I've done, instead, is get another Fujinon 16-50mm XC f3.5-5.6 - plastic fantastic kit lens! I kid you not. Am I crazy? Maybe. Maybe not. I'm actually going to write a post about this lens soon, so stay tuned for my reasoning's to stick with the 'inferior' XC lens lineup.

The lens should arrive soon, along with a grip attachment for the X-E2, and then my 'kit' will be complete (for a while). It will feel a little strange just having one camera body though. I've had the 'back-up' body mentality for such a long time, I may have to relent and get another X-E2? Maybe an all black one to go along with the black and silver I have at the moment? And then again, there is a black X-E1 body going very cheaply online at the moment...

Thursday, 26 September 2019

B&W Landscapes with the Fujifilm X-T1

The Fujifilm X-E2 (and briefly the X-E1) is quickly becoming my go-to camera - for everything! Trust me, this is a huge surprise to me - so much so that I can't quite believe it and am starting to second-guess myself.

How so? Well, as much as I like the look of a range-finder style camera like the X-E2, I've always actually preferred the handling and feel of a more traditional SLR styled camera body. So I figured that if I like the X-E2, I'll love the X-T1!? So yes - you guessed it. I brought one.

Carters Beach tree stump. Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/5.6 @ 1/240th, ISO 200. Polariser
I've had it for a couple of weeks, but haven't had a chance to get out and shoot with it until yesterday (as I write this). The X-T1 uses a more 'traditional' SLR design, with a few more knobs and dials (it has a dedicated ISO dial), but as can be seen in the comparison photo, it's not actually that much bigger than the rangefinder-esque X-E2.

And actually, that's my first gripe with the X-T1. It feels a bit cramped, and not quite big enough. It's been a regular complaint of mine with all mirrorless systems, not just Fujifilm. When I had the Olympus OM-D E-M5 I had to attach the grip before it felt comfortable in my hands, and I ain't got big hands! I feel exactly the same way with the X-T1. I'm sure it would feel better with the vertical grip attached. Oddly enough, the X-E2 doesn't feel as cramped. It actually feels more comfortable in my hand. Partly I think, due to the thumb grip I have attached. But also partly because it doesn't feel crammed with knobs and dials that are all squashed in together.

Carters Beach driftwood. Fuji X-T1 with 16-50mm XC. f/5.6 @ 1/480th, ISO 200
My second gripe is with said knobs and dials. While I understand what Fuji has done with the SLR styled X-T1 - giving us all the main exposure controls directly on the camera itself - they are a bit too fiddly for my liking. The ISO dial on the top left annoys me because it's automatically locked, and has to be unlocked every time you want to change the ISO! (Arrgghhh).

Also, the front and rear control wheels are very small, and quite recessed. I have difficulty accessing them simply by 'feel' with my eye up to the camera. Whereas the control wheel on the X-E2 seems a bit 'chunkier' and falls nicely under my thumb.

Carters Beach Driftwood 2. Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/5.6 @ 1/105th, ISO 200
On the far right on both cameras sits the exposure compensation wheel. I use this wheel often, flicking it around to add or subtract exposure while my eye is at the viewfinder. The dial on the X-E2 has just the right amount of resistance (to me). Just enough that it spins freely, but not too much so that it could be knocked and changed accidentally. The X-T1's exposure compensation wheel is a little tighter, requiring just that little bit more effort to move. Not a big thing, and I get why they may have made it slightly stiffer, but as I said, the compensation dial on the X-E2 just feels better (again, to me).

Truman Track Beach, Punakaiki. Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/5.6 @ 1/550th, ISO 200. Polariser
Wow, that sounds like a bit of a dump on the Fuji X-T1! And I guess, in some ways, it is. I really do find it a bit cramped and too small, even for my smallish hands - especially without the vertical grip attached (which I don't have). Oddly enough, on such a compact SLR, the one thing I really love about the X-T1 is its evf (electronic viewfinder). It's massive! I mean really. It puts most full frame camera viewfinders to shame. I thought the viewfinder on the Olympus E-M1 was big, but the X-T1's in next level. So there's that.

And also, take a look at the black and white images in this post. Of course they were all taken with the X-T1. But they were also all taken in the middle of the day, when the lighting was pretty harsh and not the best for landscape photography. The dynamic range in most of these was off the chart, so I exposed for the highlights and let the shadows block up in the harsh lighting conditions. Surprisingly, there was still plenty of shadow detail left that I was able to recover later in Lightroom - even though these are all jpegs!

Truman Track Blowhole. Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/5.6 @ 1/550th, ISO 200. Polariser
All the landscape images for this blogpost were shot using my 'Acros' film simulation recipe (click here for a previous post on this setup). Yes, there has been some post-process tweaking of shadows and highlights (plus my usual Clarity and Dehaze adjustments), which I would expect even with the RAW files. The point is, there was enough data to recover, even with the jpegs, in less than ideal lighting conditions. So I've got no complaints about the x-trans II sensor used in the X-T1 - which really isn't surprising, since it's the same sensor as in my X-E2.

Punakaiki Coastline. Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/8 @ 1/140th, ISO 200. Polariser
Of course I wouldn't suggest that anyone shoot landscape photos in the middle of the day, in full sunlight. But sometimes, when you are a 'tourist', you are only in the location once in your life and you can't control the time of day. It is what it is. If this was the only time I was ever going to be at this location (fortunately for me it's not), I'd be very happy with the photos I was able to get with the X-T1.

Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki. Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon 16-50mm XC. f/8 @ 1/125th, ISO 200. Polariser
So absolutely no complaints with the images that you can get with the X-T1 and the Fuji x-trans II 16MP sensor. They are brilliant. Even as jpegs processed in-camera. I've been incredibly impressed with the x-trans sensor from the very first image I took with the X-E1, and I continue to be impressed.

What it boils down to for me, in the end, is handling. Pure and simple. And, as much as it surprises me to say it, I much prefer the handling of the range-finder styled X-E1 and X-E2, that I do the SLR styling of the X-T1. And that really is a shock to me, since it was exactly the opposite with my Olympus mirrorless gear. With the Olympus cameras, I much preferred the E-M5 and E-M1 over the compact Pen series, especially with battery grips attached to the OM-D's. I get the feeling that I would like the X-T1 better with a grip attached too. But then there would still be the issue of the cramped and fiddly knobs and dials, which just feel a bit too small.

Rock Stack, Punakaiki. Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon 16-50mm. f/8 @ 1/220th, ISO 200. Polariser
Having gone a bit mad initially, buying up everything I could find that had 'Fujifilm' on the front of it, I've now had a little time to use the gear and for the dust to settle. The X-E1 has given way to the X-E2 - which wasn't a straight forward decision in the end. You'd think 'upgrading' to the newer model would be a no-brainer, but I actually really struggled to justify keeping the X-E2 over the X-E1. In the end, it really just came down to one or two extra features that the X-E2 had that I would make occasional use of (wi-fi and intervalometer).

I was very keen to get my hands on the X-T1, since SLR style camera bodies have always been my 'thing'. I grew up with cameras like the Minolta X700 and Canon AE-1, so the Fujifilm X-T1 looked the bees kness 😉

Surprisingly, the reality turned out to be somewhat disappointing. Please don't get me wrong though - the Fujifilm X-T1 is a fantastic camera. Of course it is. It just doesn't feel quite right in my hands. Stick a grip on there and I'm sure things would feel better. But then size, weight, and price, would go up. And it still wouldn't fix the 'fiddlyness' issue.

So yes, I'm going to be selling the X-T1 and keeping the X-E2. That will now be my only camera! For everything! And trust me, there's no one more surprised about that than me...

Sunday, 22 September 2019

Lake Mahinapua with the Nikon D300

I've been using the Fuji X-E2 (and  X-E1) a lot lately (see the last few posts) and really enjoying it. Much to my surprise, it's fast becoming my camera of choice for all my photography. So where does that leave my Nikon D300 DSLR?

White Heron at Mahinapua. Nikon D300 with Nikkor 17-80mm f3.5/4.5. f/8 @ 1/10th, ISO 800
I'm not sure, to be honest. I've talked many times on this blog about my love for DSLR's, even though I've tried my best to switch completely to mirrorless. I managed it for a while when I was using all Olympus micro four thirds gear, but the pull of a solid DLSR has always been to hard for me to resist. The Olympus gear gave way to a Canon 50D recently, which then quickly changed to the Nikon D300. I have always enjoyed using the Nikon D300, and still do. It's a beautifully designed camera that always inspires confidence whenever I use it. But since I've 'discovered' the Fujifilm X-series cameras, it's sat in a camera bag unloved, and I've almost literally had to force myself to shoot with it.

Lake Mahinapua with a D300. f/11 @ 6 secs, ISO 200. ND64 Filter + Cokin ND Soft Grad
This weekend past (as I write this), I decided to give the D300 some 'love', and take it out on a sunrise landscape shoot. Even then, with the decision made and my camera bag packed the night before, I almost changed my mind in the morning.

I know many people harp on about this, and I hate to be one of them, but the main reason I almost changed my mind was because of the weight. With the camera body, lens, vertical grip and various accessories (tripod, filters, spare batteries etc), I definitely need a reasonable sized backpack to carry it all around in. Because of this, I find myself justifying what I do and don't bring along with me. I decided, for example, to leave my 70-210mm home rather than carry it around all morning and not use it. It was going to be a landscape shoot after all. Big mistake!

The first image of this blog - White Heron at Mahinapua - was the scene that greeted me as I arrived, pre-sunrise, at Lake Mahinapua. Boy, could I have used that 70-210mm lens that I decided not to carry with me!

I'm not a 10 pound weakling whose incapable of carrying around hefty camera gear, but I am 51 and not 21 anymore. So the less weight I have to carry with me, the better. And that's just all there is to it. The Fujifilm X-E2, with 16-50mm lens (and 50-230mm that I will probably get eventually) is much smaller and lighter, and fits in a much smaller bag, so I'll be more likely to carry it all with me on every shoot. And just as importantly, I won't be sacrificing anything in terms of image quality.

Mahinapua Jetty Monochrome. Nikon D300 with Nikkor 16-50mm f3.5/4.5. f/11 @ 4 secs, ISO 200. ND64 filter + ND Grad
But I digress (slightly). This post isn't about the X-E2, it's about the Nikon D300. And as I've already mentioned, it's a lovely camera to use and a joy to shoot with. So back to the landscape shoot...

Unfortunately, sunrise on this particular morning was very disappointing, since it was hidden behind cloud cover. So it was on to plan 'B'. And on a dull, grey morning with a large body of water and no colour, what's a landscape photographer's plan 'B' mostly consist of? That's right people - long exposure monochrome images!

I screwed on a 64ND filter to the front of the lens - blocking 6 stops of light from entering the camera - giving me an exposure range of around 3 to 6 seconds at f11. Surprisingly, I could still make out an image through the optical viewfinder, and as long as I manually placed the focus point of the camera over an area of high contrast, it had no trouble auto focusing.

Mahinapua Jetty among the Reeds. Nikon D300 with Nikkor 17-80mm f3.5/4.5. f/11 @ 4 secs, ISO 200
Because I had already decided that the images would translate well into black and white, I decided to shoot RAW + Jpeg, and set the camera to monochrome. This way, I could see the final monochrome jpeg when I reviewed the image on the lcd screen, but still had the RAW file if I changed my mind and actually wanted them in colour. As you can see from the image above, I did decide that the colour version also worked.

Since the exposures were so long, I also set the camera to shoot with a 2 second delay. This is very easy to do on the D300 - just a flick of the drive mode switch on the top of the camera. I could have used a remote release cable instead, but I find that the 2 second timer delay is just as effective, and you don't need to set up any extra cables.

Moody Mahinapua monochrome. Nikon D300 with Nikkor 18-70mm f3.5/4.5. f/11 @ 1/6th sec, ISO 200
Despite the lack-luster sunrise, I came away from Lake Mahinapua with a few images that I was happy with. The D300 performed flawlessly - no complaints whatsoever. We are spoiled for choice when it comes to cameras, for all levels and budgets. Now that digital has been 'mainstream' for over 15 years, there are a plethora of great cameras to choose from. And since digital technology devalues so quickly (unfortunately), cameras that were expensive 'state-of-the-art' cameras only five or six years ago, can now be had very cheaply. That's a huge 'win' for anyone getting into photography who doesn't have a lot of money to spend - or even for someone like me who is a very seasoned photographer who doesn't want to (or need to) spend big dollars on the latest and greatest.

Will I keep the D300 and continue to use it? Considering how little I paid for it, then yes, I may very well keep it so that I can scratch that DLSR itch every now and then? But I already know that it's not going to be my 'main' shooter. That honor (is it really an honor?) now belongs to the Fujifilm X-E2.