Saturday, May 23, 2015

Fuji X100T camera -- a Hands-on review

The first Fuji X camera I owned was an X100 when it came out in March of 2011. I used it by itself, but also carried it as part of my Leica M9 kit instead of a Leica 35mm Summicron lens. That way I not only had a spare body, but also a lens that could do some close-up work as well. I kept the X100 until the Fuji X-Pro1 came out a year later, at which point I traded in the X100 and said I would not acquire another single, prime lens camera. With the advent of the interchangeable lens X-Pro1 model I didn't see the need.

That said, the latest iteration of the series, resulting in the X100T, came with enough advanced improvements to make me want to have a second look, and maybe some second thoughts.

The new X100T retains the same classic, retro rangefinder style that made the X-series famous from the start, and its ultra-compact, light-weight body render it very convenient to always carry with you. 

The X100T is the third generation of the series, and, although it stills has that same retro look that put the Fuji X series on the map, it contains of number of serious improvements that made me what to give it a try. I was still hanging on to the fond memory I had of that 23mm f/2 lens.  No other Fuji X lens could replace it. They were either fast and bulky and couldn't focus close, like the 23mm f/1.4, or slower and still couldn't focus close, like the smaller pancake 27mm f/2.8 or a little too wide angle like the 18mm f/2.

The camera comes with the same APS-C CMOS 16.3 megapixel sensor as all top-of-the-line Fuji X cameras. If you know anything about the X series, you know how good the image quality is from the X-trans sensor and its proprietary, randomized pixel pattern that eliminates the need for an anti-aliasing filter along with the image degradation that comes with it.


The Fuji 23mm  f/1.4 lens weighs 10.6 oz (301 g), whereas the entire X100T camera with lens weighs in at only 15.52 oz (440 g). Once I realized that, I began weighing the possibility of using a X100T as a spare body when I traveled and leaving my 23mm f/1.4 and macro lens at home. Granted the 23mm f/2 lens does not get in as close as a true macro, but I don't usually need a real macro 1:1 range for travel photography. I just want to use if for close-up detail work and also like the more candid look that a fast aperture, f/2 lens delivers.

The combination optical/electronic viewfinder -- one of the most attractive features of the X100 series cameras -- has been completely redone. The lever on the front of the camera that toggles the two modes of OVF and EVF, now also toggles in a small tab to the lower right of the optical frame. This provides an electronic enhanced view of the area under the focus point so the user to check focus. Obviously handy in MF, this feature, showing either focus peaking or spit-image, is also useful in AF to check the cameras choice of focus subject. 

The AF system is quite improved and now includes face recognition.  Spot reading of exposure can now be set to the AF focus point. 


The button and control layout on the rear of the camera is similar to the X-T1 making their use more intuitive and a quicker learn for those who use both cameras.

The four-button pad on the rear of the camera has been borrowed from the X-T1, but with improved tactile feel due to raised buttons. These buttons can be set to control directional movement of the focus point in the finder or LCD screen. Alternatively, these four buttons may be used individually as part of the set of seven buttons that can be re-programmed to do any of the customize-able camera functions. On my X-T1 I have customized these buttons to do exactly what they do here on the X100T, as I find it the quickest way to re-position a focus point without removing my eye from the finder window. I found the button and control layout on the rear of the camera to be the best design so far on any X-camera.

The X100T now has the addition of an electronic shutter with extended speeds up to 1/32000 second. Using this shutter does limit the ISO to the base 200-6400 range, but has the advantage of being completely silent, something I have found useful when shooting in more than one solemn occasion. The flash cannot be used with the electronic shutter. 

The shutter is a leaf diaphragm within the lens. Because a leaf shutter opens to the maximum set aperture width whenever it goes off, flash sync speeds as high as 1/4000 can only be used at some apertures -- 1/1,000 for at all apertures, 1/2,000 at  f/4~f/16, and 1/4,000 at f/8~f/16 .  This is great for using fill flash with an open aperture outdoors on a bright day. 

Auto focus on the X100T uses a hybrid of contrast and phase detection systems for quick and accurate focusing. The camera can focus as fast as .08 second. 

SPECIFICATIONS:


The X100T now has WiFi capability. Once you install Fuji's Camera Remote App on your smart phone or tablet, you can control the camera and many of its features from your phone. Fuji's Camera Remote App is one of the best I have used. You can also transfer images from the camera to your phone using a built-in WiFi connection. In addition, the camera can connect through WiFi to Fujifilm's Instax printer SP-1 and print images directly to it.

The X100T has a 3-stop (8x) built-in ND filter of 3. This allows using the lens even at f/2 in bright sun. The photos above illustrate how the ND affects the exposure. Both images were taken at f/2 and 1/1000 second, but for the exposure on the right the ND filter was turned on resulting in a correctly exposed shot taken directly into the sun. Another side benefit of the ND filter would be to slow the exposure down to blur the flow of moving water in landscapes. 

The X100T can be triggered with the remote Fuji RR-90 shutter release, or that old throw-back to classic days, the simple, screw-in release on the shutter button.

The OVF frame of the  hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder has been upgraded to auto correct for parallax by moving the frame when shooting at close ranges. The frame itself now presents a 92% coverage of the scene, as opposed to 90% on prior models.

The lens aperture ring goes from f/2 to f/16, and has been upgraded to do so in 1/3-stop increments. The over/under exposure dial now extends to +/- 3 EV, up from =/- 2 EV on the X100S. 


ISO can now be used to control auto-exposure when shutter and aperture are both set to manual use. The user can set the ISO range of high and low ISO speeds within which the camera will operate automatically.

Battery life has not been improved. The X100T uses the same, small rechargeable NP-95 battery as earlier Fuji cameras with the same short life span. If you order the camera, immediately order a spare battery or two to go with it. You're going to need them. 

The front lever now moves both left and right. Right switches the viewfinder from OVF to EVF and back again, while left pops up a small electronic focus-assist tab to lower right of the optical finder window. 

There was always one aspect of the X100 that I missed, the ability of the lens to get in really close -- not macro, but conveniently close-up so that it served the purpose when I was traveling and didn't want to carry a lot of extra gear, such as a macro just for close-ups. Although the Fuji 35mm lens could shoot fairly close and had a fast f/1.4 aperture that gave me nice bokeh on close-in photos, it was never the same as what I admired most about the quality from the 23mm f/2 I had on the X100. 

Although the X100T is a fixed lens camera, Fuji makes two auxiliary lenses for it, the WCL-100, which converts it to an equivalent 28mm focal length, and the TCL-100, which converts it 1.4x to an equivalent 50mm focal length. Both auxiliary lenses maintain the f/2 aperture and still allow for close focus. I am not sure how much these auxiliary lenses affect optical quality, and also not sure of the wisdom of buying auxiliary lenses for a fixed lens camera, but I will be testing these auxiliaries at a later date. 


The new World Trade Center photographed in Black & White Red filter mode to darken the sky and add contrast to the clouds. 

A 35mm equivalent lens with its close-focus distortion is usually not the best choice for in tight, close-up portraits. In some instances, however, it can deliver a more intimate point-of-view, while the f/2 aperture still provide a decent bokeh to the background. 

The Classic Chrome color mode mimicking the look of early film comes standard on the X100T. I really love this look, and have been applying it a lot as I did here and in the photo below, but then I was cut my teeth on early Kodachrome film. 


The 23mm lens focuses quite close in macro mode. With the aperture wide open, where I like to use it for more casual close-ups, the images does have a softness to it. Some might find this a fault, but I find the quality quite appealing. It sets close-ups done with this lens apart from a more typical macro look. A ground-level shot like the one above would have benefited from a tilting screen like that of the X-T1, but, I suppose, we can't have everything. 


The built-in ND filter helped me slow down the shutter speed enough to create the blurring streaks in this tunnel photo. 

I like using a slight wide-angle lens in close on the foreground for lifestyle shooting. It puts the view right in the scene. With an f/2 aperture some bokeh effect can still be maintained. 



Conclusion:

If a fixed lens, rangefinder camera is something you would like to use, then the Fuji X100T is something of a best-of-breed in the fully automated, digital genre. It is not for everyone. You have to like using this type camera. There is something to be said for the basic simplicity of restricting yourself to only one lens. I can see why this camera series quickly became a favorite of street photographers. It is unobtrusive, easy to carry and store, capable of exceptional image quality, is good in low light, with many advanced features for speedy and accurate focus, whether manual or AF. 

When I first began testing this camera I did so never thinking I would consider going back to using one. By the end of my one week trial I felt a bit sad having to send it back. I had grown attached to the convenience of its small size and simplicity, and the advantage of the close-focus ability of its 23mm lens. I began to consider acquiring an X100T as a second body and lens to my X-T1. On a trip I made while during my testing, it was easy to toss the X100T in my camera bag in place of both my regular 23mm f/1.4 and 50mm Touit macro. It actually weighed less than both lenses, and took up no more room. Plus it added the convenience and safety of having a second body. Most of all, I liked the performance and especially the uniqueness of the close-up results. It's starting to sound like I'm talking myself into acquiring an X100T. 



If you are planning on buying a Fuji X100T, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by clicking the link and purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Fujifilm X100T black camera body can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Adorama  Amazon

The Fujifilm X100T silver camera body can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Adorama   Amazon

The Fujifilm  MHG-X100 hand grip can be ordered from:  BH-Photo  Adorama   Amazon


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

First thoughts on the Fuji X-T10 -- possible spare body to an X-T1

The latest entry to the stable of Fuji X-cameras, the X-T10, is a slightly stripped down, smaller sibling of the immensely popular and pro-featured X-T1.  Interestingly, the X-T10 comes to market with an advanced AF system that won't be available on the X-T1 until it receives a firmware update in late June.

Although most likely aimed at an audience looking for a simple, entry-level camera to the Fuji X-line, the first thing that occurred to me was whether the X-T10 could serve as an auxiliary, second body to the X-T1. For photographers who depend on a camera for their living, a backup system is a must, especially when travelling. One thing making this an attractive option is the way the two bodies complement each other. Additional features, such as the improved video of the X-T10, as well as features that have been eliminated, such as the flash sync, help to fill the gaps. The lighter weight body and size of the X-T10 also make it an easier body to toss into the camera bag as a spare. And of course the $799.95 price tag of the new X-T10 is about $400 less than the X-T1 at $1198.95making its consideration as a spare all the more attractive.


The X-T10 comes with a new set of AF features that remind me of some of the best AF features, such as 3-D tracking, of my Nikon DSLR cameras. These features will also become available on the X-T1 with a firmware update at the end of June -- about the same time the X-T10 will be available for delivery.

Video capabilities with additional frame rates, including 24fps, have been expanded making this a better choice for shooting video than the X-T1.

The X-T10 body is not weather sealed like that of the X-T1, probably one reason why it can sport a pop-up flash. Nonetheless, the body has a substantial die-cast magnesium alloy body. Without the weather sealing we also see the return of one of my favorite retro features, the screw-in cable release socket on the shutter button.

This photo and the one below show the cameras in proportion to one another. The overall dimensions of the X-T10 are slightly smaller and lighter than the X-T1. On the back panel the Focus Assist button has been eliminated, while an Fn button has been added on the lower right. All the buttons have a higher profile making it easier to find them by feel fixing a complaint many had with the buttons on the X-T1.
The rear 4-button pad is configured, like the X100T, to move the focus points in four directions. I have my X-T1 re-cconfigured to do this, but with the new firmware update in June, this will become standard on the X-T1. 

While not weather resistant like the X-T1, the body is solid and durable with die-cast magnesium for the top and bottom.

Gone is the ISO dial of the X-T1. This feature is now only accessible from the standard or Q menus. A small lever on the left raises the built-in flash, and a lever beneath the shutter speed dial shifts all the camera controls into full Auto mode. 

The X-T10 comes with a built-in flash instead of the auxiliary flash that comes with the X-T10, but the camera does away with the dedicated flash sync of the X-T1. 
The continuous high frame rate of 8fps remains the same, but the burst rate of the X-T10 at 8 vs 47 frames allows only one second of continuous shooting before pausing to empty the buffer. 

Resolution of the LCD screen has been reduced slightly from 1040k to 920k, still quite respectable.

Comparative Specifications:

There is not auxiliary battery pack for the X-T10, but an accessory hand grip with the thoughtfully added Arca-swiss type mount built-in is available. 

For what it is and what it delivers at a substantially lower price point than the X-T1, the X-T10 is a real bargain camera, whether used by itself or as a second body to an X-T1. 

The Fuji X-T10 camera body can be pre-ordered from:  B&H Photo   Adorama   Amazon

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

High speed sync flash fill with direct sun and the Nikon flash

The sun was very bright and the sky clear when we did this outdoor photo of our model jumping on a trampoline. I wanted to fill the shadows without losing the actual effect of sunlight, and, of course, I needed a very high shutter speed to stop the action. I placed two Nikon SB-910 flash units in front and to the left and right of the model. The unit to the camera right had the most work to do by filling the hard shadows on our right so I gave it twice as much power as the unit on camera left.

With the Nikon D750 set to high speed sync, the built-in flash in commander mode, and the exposure at 1/2500 second and f/5.6, the action was completely frozen.

Now that the good weather is here, I expect be doing more of this type shooting on the roof of our studio building.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Adding color light bursts to an image using Photoshop

Many readers have commented on the bright, warmly lit color bursts I add to many of my images and have asked for an explanation of how I do it.  This tutorial is a step-by-step illustration of the process I use to create the star bursts and then apply them to my images.


There are two steps to the process of adding color star bursts to an image -- creating the star bursts themselves, and then applying them to an image. The image above has several star bursts applied for a more dramatic effect, while the photo below has only one toned-down burst coming from the upper window area.



MAKING A BACKGROUND STAR:

1. Make a 4800 pixel square at 300dpi and 16-bit. Fill this with 50% gray. The reason we work in 16-bit color is to avoid posterizing problems later in the process.



2. Create a new layer and, using the Elliptical Marquee Tool  set to a "feather" of 5, draw a long, very thin ellipse. Fill this ellipse with white.

3. Create a duplicate layer of this white line (CTRL+J). Next rotate this duplicate layer 90degrees. Merge this layer down with the first line.



4. Duplicate this white cross layer and rotate the new layer by 45 degrees. Merge this layer with the other cross layer. Now you have an eight-pointed star.



5. Create a new blank layer and, holding down the shift key, make a circular selection with the Elliptical marquee tool. For this selection set the feather to at least 100px. Fill this selection with white.



6a. Set the Foreground color layer of Photoshop to a warm tone.  I use a muted orange, but you can change the color and its intensity to suit your own color palette.


6b. Create a new blank layer below the one you just made with the round blur. Make another circular selection with the same feather of 100px.  This selection should be almost the same size as the star burst. Don't worry too much about the exact sizing of these layer elements because we can always change that later. Center all these layers.

7. Merge the star layer and two blur layers together. Next apply a heavy Gaussian blur to suit your taste. The amount of blur will determine how much the points of the star show. Don't overdue the blur. Try to maintain the octagonal shape that is a result of the original eight-pointed star. This will mimic the shape of a camera lens iris diaphragm when we later apply the star burst.

8. Duplicate this star burst layer. Set it to 40% opacity and move it under the first star layer. Resize this new 40% star burst by making it larger to suit your taste.


Once you have all these elements you can modify them by resizing or changing the opacity to create different versions. You can also create different color variations to suit.

9. Collapse all the layers and convert the image to 8-bit. Save it as a jpg at the highest quality lever to further avoid banding.  If you find that your star burst does have some artifacting in the form of banding, you can add 1-2% noise to the image.

You are free to use the actual start burst I created in this tutorial by downloading the original, high res version it here.

Now that we have the star burst image, it is time to put it to use.


USING THE STAR BURST:

It helps to begin with a suitable image that was originally photographed with back lighting. Since I do this quite a bit, I usually leave a section of an image blasted out white for later placement of the star burst. I also warm the color of the image up in Camera RAW so it will harmonize better with the color of the star burst I will be adding to it later.

It helps to shoot the original subject using back lighting as I did here by placing the sun directly behind the model's head and using a pop-up, on-camera fill flash to brighten her face. This provides a bright, glowing area above her to later place the star burst. 

1. With a suitable image in Photoshop, drag and drop the newly created star burst image onto it.



2. Change the mode of this layer to "Hard Light". This will make it transparent and leave only the color burst.



3. Manipulate the size and shape of this star burst layer to fit around the main subject by using the Distort and Warp Transform editing tools.

4. Collapse the layers and  you are done.


You can apply multiple star bursts to the same image. Creating duplicate, over-lapping layers of the burst will also boost the color intensity. 

This is the original scene with a blasted out window area intentionally included for later placement of a star burst.  I also warmed up the over-all image and lightened it so it would harmonize better once I added the color bursts. 

For this scene, I added four star bursts: two overlapping in the window area, one small one as a reflection in the glass table, and one above and to the right of the woman's head. 


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fuji X-T1 with a handful of Fuji XF lenses -- all that's needed for available light, lifestyle photography

More and more I find myself switching to my Fuji X-T1 to cover indoors, available light lifestyle shoots. It still amazes me that a small handful of photo equipment is all I really need for most shooting situations. Not too long ago I would have thought this impossible.  But with Fuji continuing to add high quality, pro glass to its optical array and supporting its top camera with firmware upgrades to improve speed and accuracy of focus the day of relying exclusively on a compact array of mirrorless gear has arrived.

Yes, I still never go into an important lifestyle shoot without a similarly equipped backup Nikon kit nearby, but more and more I use the Fuji first, and many times exclusively. One reason is that I have become a real fan of the Classic Chrome look. I always shoot both RAW and jpg -- the RAW to actually process later, and the jpg as a reference of how the Classic Chrome or other color mode looks while I'm shooting. I also find correctly exposed Fuji RAW files very easy to process in Adobe Camera RAW making my post-production experience much quicker than it used to be.

The fast apertures of the Fuji lens set coupled with the fact that I tend to use them fairly wide open keeps my ISO in a comfortable 200-400 range with an occasional push up to a high of 800, but rarely higher. This is helped also because I find I can hand-hold an X-T1 at lower shutter speeds than heavier DSLR cameras. This provides me with another 1-2 extra stops.

When shooting lifestyle outdoors with a DSLR I usually switch over to two standard zooms, a 24-70mm, and 70-200mm. Now Fuji even covers that range with its similar 16-55mm f/2.8 and 50-150mm f/2.8 zooms. Once the newly announced X-T1 firmware arrives in late June, I may be using the X-T1 for all lifestyle photography.

This is all the equipment I needed to photograph the excepts from two lifestyle photo sessions illustrated below. From left to right the lenses are the Fuji 35mm f/1.4, Fuji 23mm f/1.4, and mounted on the X-T1 is the Fuji 56mm f/1.2

The 56mm used in close with an open aperture of f/2 give really pleasing bokeh to both the foreground and background areas. 

Pulling back a little to include the entire girl in the shot the 56mm is still a good choice to soften a complicated background scene so it won't interfere with the subject . 

For straight portraits it's hard to beat the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 lens. I generally use it with a fairly wide open aperture -- f/2.5 here --and it is still very sharp with a pleasing depth of field. 
  
This dimly lit profile was taken with the 56mm lens set to f/2.2 with focus placed on the foreground eye.  

At f/1.8 the 56mm lens is great for throwing a portrait background completely out of focus while still maintains sharp detail in the subjects face.  

When I am shooting selective focus and what a blurred foreground I vacillate between the 35mm and 56mm depending upon how much of a feeling of depth I want in the scene. Here I settled on the 56mm with an f/2.5 aperture to squash the perspective a bit without sacrificing story-telling detail in the foreground and background objects. 

A normal lens, like the 35mm f/1.4, provides a "normal" perspective in a scene like this one and the one below of the painter contemplating her canvas. I use the 35mm -- generally fairly wide open -- when I want to give the viewer a sense of actually being in the room with the subjects and not just peering into it from afar. 

A normal lens, like the 35mm f/1.4, provides a "normal" perspective in a scene. I use it when I want to give the viewer a sense of actually being in the room not just peering into it from afar. 

The 23mm brings the viewer even more dramatically into the scene than does the 35mm. I try to use it very wide open to keep the background as soft as possible. Even at f/1.8 and f/1.6, the apertures used for this image and the one below, there is still plenty of focus in the background.  


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dancing with one lens on the camera

This sequence of dance photos were all taken with one camera, a Nikon D750, and one lens, the Nikon 24-120mm f/4 zoom. I find that this lens -- very similar in convenience to the Fuji 18-135mm but with a fixed aperture instead --  gives me all the flexibility I need for working on seamless with strobes where the aperture is usually set to f/8 or f/11 so the f/4 maximum doesn't matter.

All images were taken on either gray or black seamless.  Two studio strobes with strip banks were set up directly to the right and left of the dancers. One other light was suspended overhead from a boom and shined on the background. In every case the models were clipped out of the photo and the background enhanced or, in most cases, completely replaced.




For these stage light simulations several tungsten lamps were set up in the background and pointed directly into the camera lens so they would flare. Further enhancement in post-processing was used to flare the lights even more.  The dancers were photographed on black seamless and the wood flooring was added later where necessary.

Both this tango image and the one below were taken on solid black seamless. Clipping paths were drawn around the models later so they and the background could be dealt with separately later in Photoshop. A strobe from a boom provided a light on the background to provide a hard silhouette of the models from the black seamless to make it easier to strip them out of the scene later.




Even though the models were photographed against black or gray seamless, they were still stripped out of the background so the background could be completely replaced later. This was easier than dealing with retouching the imperfections  in the seamless paper.