Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fuji Love

I've always loved solid camera bodies, opting for metal over plastic.  But I've paid the price from the wallet and my neck.  On the plus side, every one of my Nikon SLRs has been super reliable and fun to use.  

I currently have a Nikon D800 and love it.  It produces what I feel is near "medium format" quality pictures.   But here is my single biggest issue with the D800 -- Combine a Nikon metal tank of a body with a Nikon metal pro lens and you are easily over 4 lbs.  I normally shoot with a vertical grip with extra batteries, pushing it to over 5 lbs!  After full day of shooting or touring, I come home with neck and back pain and I'm tired.  Because of this, the Nikon stayed at home when I would have preferred taking it wine tasting, touring down town, or on some other small outing.  I have my iPhone so it lulled me into feeling safe because I had a camera.  (No, I'm not camera obsessive but I have Photography in my blood wanting to work).  


I recently started reading up on the modern mirrorless cameras.  Mirrorless cameras are different than the typical single lens reflex (SLR) cameras like my Nikon FE-2 or my D800 DSLR in that mirrorless don't have a mirror that sends the image to the view finder.  Mirrorless cameras use an image display on the back of the camera or an electronic view finder (EVF) in the eye-piece (mini LCD screen) and some let you skip the electronic EVF altogether and use a second lens mounted off to one side like Lica's rangefinders of yesteryear (and today).  (The Fujifilm X-Pro 1 also uses a rangefinder and photographers love it).  Mirrorless cameras rise to DSLR quality without the weight.  "Nikon 1" mirrorless, but I don't really like them and they require a completely different lens system.  If I have to go to a new lens system then why not really look at alternatives.  Nikon isn't known for making budget equipment so I figured maybe I can lighten the load and save some money....

I love you Nikon, but I have a new love, she's named Fujifilm X-T1.   A lot of photographers are dropping their Nikon and Cannon gear off at eBay and switching to the little X camera, but I'm not ready to put the D800 out to pasture.  

I'm becoming a mirrorless fan, and fell in love with the Fujifilm X-T1.  During my research phase I was surprised to find some wedding photographers had sold all of their expensive Cannon and Nikon gear and switched to the X-T1 exclusively (I'll post some references below).  It weighs 1/3 or so less, you save 50%+ on the cost for the body and lenses, its quiet and unassuming.  I read up on them, tested two different models (black and the graphite which were of slightly different build quality).  Since I purchased late in the release cycle, the bugs were worked out and I saved some money by waiting to by my graphite model on sale.  Reviews gushed on the X-T1 but there is also a huge following for the Fuji X series cameras like the X100 and especially the X-Pro 1.   Fujifilm has been steadily building their intellectual capital in digital mirrorless cameras and the X-T1 is the end result of that IC build right now in my opinion.  There is almost a cult following of the Fuji cameras and sales are healthy.  For many of us Nikon fans, this is the camera we wish Nikon had built.  The retro Nikon DF was cool, but it lacked any imagination and was way overpriced (almost $3,000!).   Looking at the price of the DF, I'm glad they didn't build the X-T1. :)

Another feature that was sort of a must have for me was an eye-point electronic viewfinder (EVF).  A viewfinder is that little window you put your eye up to on a SLR to see what the camera sees.  I wasn't thrilled with the idea of a rangefinder camera like the Fujifilm XE2.  Over the years I've become use to the "what you see is what you get" approach to the viewfinder found on SLRs.  Also, if you add a telephoto to a rangefinder, exactly how are you supposed to frame the shot?  Some of the cameras that I looked at had an option for adding a viewfinder onto the hot-shoe or some other place on the camera but it looked clunky, was one more thing to carry and keep track of and as it rattles around in your bag... break.  Reviewers at the time were gushing about how great the viewfinder on the X-T1 was, saying that it is the best on the market.  And in fact it seems brighter than some of the others that I looked.  Another nice thing about the X-T1 is that the viewfinder displays a mini histogram in the corner which is pretty cool.  It also rotates the image when you hold the camera in portrait vs. landscape position.  Nice touch.  Lastly, the viewfinder has a diopter adjustment.  Since my vision is far from perfect, it's nice being able to flip my glasses up and adjust the viewfinder for my eyes.  This allows me to "chimp" the image on back of the camera quickly with my glasses off.

One interesting thing that I get with the EVF that I don't get with the DSLR is the ability to see pictures in black and white (monochrome simulation mode) or some other mode in the viewfinder.  The X-T1, like many digital cameras, allows you to shoot in black and white (monochrome) or some other "film simulation" mode like sepia.  This allows you to pick a classic finishing treatment that you would normally do in post-processing right on the camera.  If you are on vacation and want to upload your work without a lot of goofing around in post-production, you can shoot in one of these modes and just upload the result. Being able to see what the photo is going to look like in the viewfinder with the treatment applied is a huge bonus.  Also, being able to see the scene in something like B&W or sepia while you are shooting may make you rethink the exposure or composition a bit.  When shooting in monochrome, I will focus more attention on scene highlights and dynamic range than I might in full color mode.  

TIP: The down side to letting the camera apply what I call post-production treatments, is that you lose the original color data of the scene.  Also, if you toss the original color image, you can't apply other effects or treatments later.  One example is an electronic yellow filter.  This is because the color data you need is gone.  This can be eliminated on most cameras by setting the image quality to Fine + RAW.  By doing this, the camera saves the raw version of the file (with all the color) along with the in-camera processed jpg file to the memory card, thus allowing you to go back if you want.  When using one of the X-T1 film simulation modes, I always use Find+RAW so that I can always go back.

My old Nikon FE2 with the X-T1
I found something interesting while I was shooting the photos for this post.  The X-T1 is almost the same size as my Nikon FE-2 and has some of the same old manual feel to it.  Maybe it's a bit of nostalgia kicking in on top of the looks and everything else that makes me like the X-T1.

Lenses
Fuji is fielding a nice set of lenses and this is one of the most important aspects to me.  According to expert reviews by teams of people that obsess over lens quality, Fuji lenses rock, including their zooms.  In addition, Fuji has a roadmap of great lenses slated to come out over the next year and they are hitting the milestones laid out when they introduced the X cameras.  As of this post, they already have an impressive lineup.  

I picked up a used  18-55 with vibration reduction as well as a 27 mm pancake lens for maximum portability.  The most recent addition is the 56mm f/1.4 for portraits, so far it's quality living up to the hype.  Because I'm not planning on getting rid of the D800 anytime soon, the lens kit I have is really all I need.  If I need telephoto, I'll go to the Nikon.  Maybe some day I'll be able to find a used 200 mm equiv lens (or you will ship it to me).

D800 and a Nikkor 85mm
I can also use some of my Nikon lenses on the X-T1 by utilizing the Fotasy Nikon lens to Fujifilm FX mount adapter.  It will work with all of Nikon lenses that I own that are equipped with an aperture ring (non-G lens).  The only thing I loose with the lens adapter is auto-focus.  Fuji has that covered with two different manual focusing options (digital split screen or the very cool "focus peaking").  I thought I took the pick to the right with the X-T1 but I now remember it was was with the D800 & the 85mm.  I've used the X-T1 with my Nikon 50mm and 85mm.  I wanted to get better compression to the Christmas tree as well as some nice bokeh.  The Fujinon 18-55 f/4 2.8 - 4.0 was just too slow for good bokeh.  Because the X-T1 uses an APS-C lense, using the Nikkor 50mm was like using a ~75 mm lense.   It compressed the scene the way I wanted, and because I could open it up to 2.8, I got great bokeh.  I'm looking forward to trying the X-T1 with the 56mm mounted.   

I'm going to start using the X-T1 for client work but will lean on the Nikon for a few reasons.  I know how to get exactly what I want out of the D800.  I think I can drive the same results from the Fuji for portraits but I still need to prove it to myself.  I'm pretty sure the D800 could take over as starter when I can drive the platform as well as I can the Nikon.  I don't think the dynamic range matches the 36 mega-pixel sensor in the D800 but in the end, it may not matter.  The most important factor is that I'm still learning how to drive the Fuji.  I can drive every aspect of the D800 because I've been using Nikon digital ever since they came out.  

I'm not worried about the loss in sensor resolution either (I always want more).  The D800 has 36 mega pixels on a full frame sensor compared to the Fujifilm's 16.  Until recently, most of my pro work was done using a Nikon D300, which has an APS-C 12 mega-pixels sensor, plenty for 8 X 10 and larger.  So far, the portraits I've captured with the X-T1 indicate it'll hold up in quality (all of the pro reviews indicate that the X-T1 more than meets the pro demands that I have).  Clients aren't going to want to hang out while I debug some strange issue with my equipment, so until I become completely comfortable with the Fuji system, the Nikon will most likely be the starter with the Fuji swinging in for backups and easy lens change outs.  With two bodies (one very light), I can have two lenses ready to go saving me the jump back and forth.  

One other thing I notice is that the files are a LOT smaller on the X-T1 given the lower pixel count.  This means less stress on my storage, processing time, backup storage and costs and lower upload times when putting them up on Flickr and Glacier (my cloud archive service).

Shooting sports with the X-T1
I don't do much paid sports photography work but I shoot tons of my kids club and high school soccer matches.  Last week I had the opportunity to shoot some high school gymnastics and took both cameras.  The Fuji performed well and kicked the D800's ass when it came to frames / second (8 frames per second to Nikon's 6) but it was sort of odd to follow the action in the electronic view finder (EVF) on the X-T1.  

X-T1 with the Fujinon f/1.2
While shooting with the Fuji blasting away on continuous-high, the camera had to grab a quick image of the actual action and put it up on the EVF screen so that I could follow the action.  There was a slight delay in doing this and therefore a sort of choppy set of motion.  Because of this, I missed the feel of what was going on.  It's workable when the subject is on the parallel bars but when running across the mat I could start missing the shot.  For soccer it would be even harder but you could do it.  On the D800 , the mirror-flip momentarily blocks the view, but the cycle time and time slice of the action comes at a rate  that you are able to see the subject in smooth motion, and it's enjoyable.  The quality out of the Fuji with the 56mm lens were much better than I expected and very usable.  Another issue during the shoot with the X-T1, similar to the last, was when shooting a single frame there is a slight frame freeze in the EVF while it writes the image or rebuilding the EVF image.  I'll shoot a single fame at times in sports while I follow the action, but when I tried to do this with the Fuji, the pause (less than a second) is too long.   For portraits, travel, and landscape photography, this isn't a problem.  Over time, I'm guessing Fuji will remedy this.  Also, you can't follow any action unless the Fuji is turned on, something you may not like doing since it eats into the batteries.

Taken with the D800
I shot over 1000 frames at the gymnastics meet with the D800 with a 70-200mm but the low light (and weight) requires a monopod.  I got some nice shots.  I could have done a lot better by getting in closer, but it was the end of the day and I was content to sit next in the stands, talking to the mom of the girl I was there to shoot (on my own dime).  I spotted where to be for the vault if I ever do that location and sport again.  Also, I wasn't sure how much freedom I would have to get in closer.  If I was shooting for $$$, a research trip or arriving real early would have been required.

I've shot tons of soccer with the D800 and it's fantastic.  The one thing that the D800's 36 mega pixel sensor gives me is crop rage, the ability to zoom-in during post.  The biggest lens I have is my 70-200mm with a 1.5x magnification ring giving me 300mm.  The extra pixels come in handy when the game is at the other end of the field or the other touch line.  Bottom line, the D800 owns my sporting shots.  

Flash
I tried using the X-T1 with their larger Fujifilm EF-42 flash unit  and in one shoot, I got some strange results.  I used it since then without any issue but it was odd and I can't quite pin down what was going on.  Also, the X-T1 won't fire the flash unless the camera is set to single shot mode (there may be one other mode as well).  This is a pain in the ass if you go to pick the camera and blast out a quick shot in a hurry and it's in the wrong mode.  I have no idea why they force that.  I'm use to leaving the Nikon in continuous shot mode and shooting a single shot is in my muscle memory.  Nikon has been known as king in the on-camera flash competition.  They've probably pumped 50 years of R&D into it to get it just right. 

Street Photography and Night Time
ISO 6400, 1/40 at f/3.6
I took the X-T1 it for some street shooting with my wife in South Park here in San Diego.  I didn't have a fast lens so I cranked up the ISO to 6400 (for the outdoor shots) and depended the image stabilization on the 18-55 to give me a stop more.  I was a bit worried about the noise but it was a good torture test for the X-T1.  All of these pictures were shot hand held, only two used the stubby little flash that came with it.  I'm really happy with the results.  I used the JPEGs that came off the camera and (minor post-production in photoshop) and the noise was low while still holding detail (as shown by the detail in the accordion in the picture to the right).  On one of the outdoor shots I lowered the ISO to 800 and used a light post to stabilize the camera to allow a long exposure.   (The shooting data is below the images if you do click through to them).  

ISO 6400, 1/50 at f/3.2
I don't like the tiny bit of lag on start up to first picture (1.4 seconds vs. the D800 .3 seconds) but the X-T1 wins for match for street photography, including night time.  The camera is small and light allowing me move within crowds without bashing someone with the Nikon tank.

One thing that the Fuji does that the D800 can't is talk to my iPhone.  While on an outing last month, I quickly transferred a photo to my iPhone using the built-in WiFi and sent the image to a friend.  In addition, the iPhone can act as a remote view finder and fire the camera.  I'm going to try this out the next time I'm doing some street photography.  

Shooting Landscapes
I was on an errand and decided to try for a sunset with the X-T1.  The hand-held shot to the right is the result.  Nice color, shot in normal mode (Provia) but it looks like Velvia.  I had fun and love the result. 

There's a lot to love about the X-T1 and I hear that some of the things that bug me may be fixed in a firmware release coming this month.  I now know why a lot of street photographers like the Fujifilm cameras with rangerfinders on them as it eliminates the issues I have with viewfinder switch lag.  Fuji keeps adding features to the X-T1 via firmware, a sign of the times with not only cameras but also cars.  I'll let you know.  In the end for me, I'll admit that the choice is tainted with emotional imput.  I don't care if you are a farmer buying a tractor or a photographer buying a tool that takes photos, emotional input always plays a part.  It's who we are.


A summary of some of the things that I like:
  • 1/3 or less the weight.  With a 35m F1.4 (50mm equiv) it weighs 1.5 lbs, and with the vertical grip it weighs just under 2lb.  That's a long way from 5 lbs!
  • 1/2 or less the cost
  • It's quiet.  Mirrorless cameras have a shutter but if you want, you can switch to electronic shutter for super stealth mode.
  • Small (a large camera in someone's face is a bit off-putting and it often alerts people when you are shooting for a candid)
  • All of the controls  that I use the most are on the outside.  I love the retro knobs.
  • (shutter, aperture, exposure compensation, focusing area & mode, and more)
  • It looks cool retro and even though its a tool, I really like the look.  Everyone thinks I'm shooting film.  I've had several people ask me about it wondering if film is still around.
  • The hot shoe drives all my lighting.
  • 16MP sensor is fantastic.  The X-Trans sensor is supposed to cut down moiré without using a low-pass filter, thus improving image quality.
  • I've been trying the chrome mode in the camera and have been enjoying that. 
  • Diopter adjustment on the camera.
What I don't like:
  • Focus speed is a little slower than my Nikon pro.
  • The shutter release lag  is a tad longer but the technical BLOGs say there isn't any difference. 
  • The boot time from sleep is longer than my Nikon.  It's noticeable and it makes quick street shots harder until you learn to pre-boot while you hold it.
  • The power-up on the EVF is a little slow for my taste. 
  • The EVF switch from the main screen in the back to the EVS takes less than a second but it's noticeable, you can set it to stay on the EVF for the entire time.
  • The viewfinder blackout is much longer than the actual shutter speed.  Using it for fast moving sports will continue to live in the domain of the DSLR for now.
  • The capture move dial (single, continuous, bracket, etc) gets moved unexpectedly.  Although the ISO and shutter speed have a lock this one doesn't and it needs it.  
  • Short battery life (300 images).  
  • Batteries have an "on to off"/steep power curve.  That is, the battery indicator can read full one minute and the next you get the out of power message.  
Cameras with Vert grip mounted

Chris's X-T1 comparison

  1. X-T1 Body with XF 35mm F/1.4 lens - 1.5 lbs
    (with vertical grip - 1.9 lbs)
  2. Nikon D800 with 50mm F/1.4 lens - 2.8 lbs
    (with vertical grip it's 4.0 lbs)
  3. X-T1 Body with XF 18-55mm F2.8-4, - 1.875 lbs
  4. Nikon D800 with 28-300mm F3.6-5.6 - 4.25 lbs
    (with vertical grip it's
     5.3 lbs!)
  5. Nikon D800 + vertical grip with 70-200 F/2.8 lens - almost almost 7 lbs!

What should you buy me for Christmas?  OK, here's my Fuji list.

Reference

Thanks to John Doxey, who loaned me his D300 for the lead shot.  It's hard to get photos of all your cameras without some sort of fancy multi-mirror setup.

- Chris Claborne
Christian Claborne

No comments:

Post a Comment