Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Last days in the pottery factory with my X-T1

The first thing that struck me about the pottery factory was the whiteness. Everything was covered in a thin layer of white clay dust, even the floors in the hall on the way to the front door. Once inside, I wanted to capture that white-on-white look with a bit of subtle color peeking in from beneath the clay. I have my Fuji X-T1 with me with the ubiquitous 18-135mm zoom on it. Below are a few of my favorite compositions from the shoot.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Fuji releases major firmware update 4.0 for the X-T1

Fuji continues to follow up on its promise of continual firmware updates for its X-T1 cameras. The company just released firmware update version 4.00 for the X-T1 and X-T1 Graphite cameras. The update dramatically improves autofocus capabilities of these camera bodies by adding professional features to equalize many of the AF functions that are expected standards on high-end, pro DSLR cameras, and provide the X-T1 series with an entirely redesigned AF system.

Click here to download FUJIFILM FIRMWARE UPDATE Ver. 4.0 from the Fuji site. 

Improvements to the AF System:

For a detailed explanation of the various focusing options now available with Ver. 4.0 on the X-T1, visit this site where Fuji explains the functionality of each AF mode.

Zone and Wide/Tracking modes for effortless capture of moving subjects:

The AF System complements the fast and accurate 49-single-point autofocus system with new Zone and Wide/Tracking modes, which use 77 autofocus points across a wider area to substantially improve the camera's ability to capture moving subjects.
The Zone mode allows users to choose a 3x3, 5x3 or 5x5 zone from the 77-point AF area. When combined with the AF-C continuous focusing mode, the camera continues tracking a subject at the center of the selected zone. The 3x3 and 5x3 zones at the center, in particular, offer extra-fast focusing with the use of the built-in phase detection pixels.

In the Wide/Tracking mode, the camera displays the area in focus, identified automatically out of the 77-point AF area (Wide in the AF-S mode) and tracks the focus area's subject across the entire 77-point AF area (Tracking in the AF-C mode). This makes it possible to maintain focus on a subject that moves vertically, horizontally, and back and forth.
Wildlife and sports photographers will appreciate this change for tracking fast-moving, unpredictable subjects across the image frame. 

Improvement of AF accuracy:
Single-point AF divides the focus area into smaller sections to more accurately determine the distance to the subject for even greater focusing accuracy. The built-in phase detection pixels have the detection range of 0.5EV, an improvement from the previous 2.5EV, delivering phase detection AF performance that enables fast focusing in low-light conditions and on low-contrast subjects.

Eye Detection AF:

The firmware update provides Fujifilm's Eye Detection AF, which automatically detects and focuses on human eyes. The function allows you to easily focus on the eyes even in difficult conditions, e.g. when shooting a portrait wide open to obtain a beautiful bokeh background.
This is a significant improvement for those of us who do lifestyle photography where the subject is moving quickly about the frame and we need to retain pinpoint focus on the model's eye. You can also choose between left eye, right eye, or auto. This feature only works in AF-S mode.

Auto Macro mode:
The firmware update introduces the Auto Macro function, which automatically switches the camera into the Macro mode while maintaining the conventional AF speed. You no longer have to press the Macro button to initiate a close-up shot. This update eliminates the Macro function assigned to the Macro Button, allowing you to assign a different function to the button.

I don't know about you, but I am constantly hitting the Macro button by mistake, particularly because I have the other three buttons set to control movement of the auto focus point about the frame. Now I can set the final up-arrow button to move the focus point up. This makes for a speedier change of AF point about the frame, and is very similar to the way my Nikon cameras function. 

AF improvement in the Movie mode:
The optimized algorithm delivers a more natural and smooth AF action during movie recording.

Other system improvements:
Improved Shutter Speed Dial operation:
When the Shutter Speed Dial is set to T and the Shutter Type to Mechanical + Electronic, you can use the command dial to set a full range of exposure times from 30-1/32000sec. Previously, this was limited to 30-2 seconds. This means you can change the shutter speeds across a broader range without having to change camera position. This is particularly useful when shooting in the portrait orientation with the Vertical Battery Grip VG-XT1 attached.

Exposure Compensation control in Manual:
You can use the Exposure Compensation dial to make exposure adjustments while shooting in the Manual exposure mode with the ISO Auto setting.

Finer lines on the framing grid enhances visibility:
The lines on the framing grid, which you can choose to display in the Screen Set-Up menu, have been made finer making it easier to view the subject.
I use the framing grids in all my cameras so this is a much appreciated feature for me, and one that shows Fuji's attention to detail as the company continues to pay attention to the needs of its customer base. 

Name of Silent mode changed to avoid confusion:
The Silent Mode has been renamed to “SOUND & FLASH OFF”.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Legends -- Leica IIIg, a pinnacle of design elegance

The Leica IIIg was the last of the screw-mount Leicas, and to my mind one of the most stylish Leica cameras ever made.

The viewfinder window had significant improvements over prior III models. It was enlarged and added brightline frames for both a 50mm and 90mm lens. Plus, these frames were parallax correcting as the lens focused. The split-image rangefinder window was still separated from the viewfinder window.

The IIIg was a transitional model bridging the original screw lens mount and bayonet models of the M-series. It co-existed with the new Leica M3 for those stalwarts who were more comfortable with the older technology. To make the transition easier for photographer, Leica made the M-mount so that it could adapt screw mount lenses with an adapter.

A mechanical gem, the IIIg is as much pleasure to use as it is to admire for its practical beauty.  It derives its no-nonsense good looks by wearing its functionality in its design in a form-follows-function sort of way.

The IIIg had a brief lifespan of three years from 1957-1960, when it succumbed to the more modern configuration of the Leica M3 introduced in 1954.

Mine is one of the earliest models from 1957 with a serial number of 905551. It is equipped with a Leicavit accessory base plate for rapidly advancing the film. The lever folded up into the base plate when not in use. In the down position the photographer could rapidly advance the film one frame by pulling the lever. Advancing the film was very fast. 

The Leicavit rapid advance lever extended for use. One rapid pull on the lever with several fingers advanced the film one frame. The system is quite fast, maybe even faster that the standard thumb advance lever system that replaced it. 

A film type and ASA (the former ISO) indicator was added to the back, a design that became standard on Leica M film bodies. 

The shutter speed dials of the IIIg were still separated to access the full range. High speeds of 1/60 and above were accessed by the top dial. For speeds of 1/15 second and slower you used the front dial, and for 1/30 second both dials were set to the same setting.  The large self-timer lever provided a ten-second delay. 

The two lightning bolts on the shutter speed dial correspond to electronic flash sync speeds of the 1/50 or 1/30 second. 
I always found the separation of rangefinder and viewfinder windows to be a bit cumbersome, but there was some method to the madness. It was quite an accurate way to focus, since the rangefinder window actually magnified the subject size. This made focusing the spit image finder both easier and more accurate. Moving your eye from one window to the other becomes intuitive, once you are used to it. 

The IIIg still maintained the separate windows for rangefinder and viewfinder. The viewfinder window on the right had brightline frames for 50mm and 90mm lenses. 
Handling a IIIg is a thrill akin to driving an old, finely-tuned sports car.  You know you have something substantial in your hands. You can literally feel the precision of  Leica design and build quality. With a Leicavit accessory attached and larger viewfinder the camera is quite fast in use -- the only major drawback being the separation of veiwfinder and rangefinder windows. 

Leica IIIg shown here with a 5cm f/1.5 Summitar lens, shade, and Weston Master III light meter.  

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A two hour weather change delivers some dramatic skies

What a difference a couple of hours can make. Just after 6:00 yesterday evening a thunderstorm grew with angry clouds and passed rapidly over the city. It had been a nice day and I had planned on photographing the sunset with a Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus lens I was testing on my Nikon D810. As the storm grew overhead, I gave up on my plans and settled down to an early dinner.

Around 7PM the clouds began to dissipate and color returned to the western sky. By 8PM the lingering clouds were thinning out even more and lingering over the southern sky where I hoped they might pick up some of the reflected light from the setting sun. Luck was with me as the sky lit up and the while it was still bright enough to record nice detail in the city buildings.

The storm clouds grew and passed over the city rapidly. I had my Fuji X-T1 ready as always with the 18-135mm zoom, but changed over to the 10-24mm zoom to include the drama of the full sky as it darkened the Empire State Building. There was enough reflected light from the southern sky to brighten the building windows with reflected light. 

The new Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus lens has been receiving raves as one of the sharpest lenses ever made. I wanted to test it with a high end camera, like the D810, for the series of giant panoramas I am creating of the city. The panoramas are stitched together from multiple images. In the photo below, I took ten images with the camera in its vertical position on the tripod. Five images in a row to capture the sky, and then a second row of five for the city. I gave the images about a 20% overlap so the PTGui software I used could find similar information to match them up into one giant photograph.

The final image is over six feet wide and can go much larger in a print. The color of the sky and city were not altered. A very soft haze in the city absorbed color from the sky and carried it into the bottom half of the photo. The full drama of the color and clouds didn't last very long, maybe five minutes. I had enough time to capture two passes with the camera before the scene began dulling down.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Dawning of the first days of summer

Summer has officially begun with the longest days of the year, which translates into very early sunrises and late sunsets. The first two days of summer greeted me with these dramatic skies around dawn. Both were taken with the Fuji X-T1 and 18-135mm lens, which I keep always on the ready set to auto so I can just grab-and-shoot any fleeting moment.

This panorama is actually two images put together to gain a higher resolution final image. 

The pre-dawn cloud colors didn't last very long. I had just enough time to pick up the camera and snap off a few shots with the top of the Chrysler Building before the sun came up and the scene dissipated. 
Happy summer, everyone!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Special low price on the Fuji X100T - $1099

B&H has announced a special low price on both the silver and black version of the Fuji X100T. They are selling for $1099. You will need to add the item to your shopping cart to see the special price.

The silver X100T is available for $1099 here at B&H
The black X100T is available for $1099 here at B&H

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A little of this, and a little of that...

Today's post is a bit on the rambling side. I've been playing with a lot of miscellaneous items this past week. I've been doing some of my macro work with the old Kern Macro-Switar 50mm f/1.8 lens adapted to fit my Leica M 240. Some of the equipment shots I did for this blog recently were taken with it. The lens is sharp, but, in keeping with an old lens on a new digital camera, it has a very soft, hazy quality to it that I like. I'm planning to do some more still life work with the combo.

This close-up was taken with the Macro-Switar with a wide open aperture on the Leica M 240. 

A Leica Standard of 1932 taken by the Macro-Switar. There was quite a lot of haze in this backlit shot. Much of it still remains even after I tried the new "Dehaze" effect in Photoshop CC. 
I have fully integrated the Fuji X100T into my workflow. It's the camera I now carry with me the most when I'm just walking around. It has also been affecting the way I shoot lifestyle situations. My sequence of most used lenses always started the 56mm f/1.2 doing about 80% of the work, followed by the 35mm f/1.4, and occasionally the 23mm on the X-T1. For the past few weeks the 56mm has become my least used of the three focal lengths, as the X100T has had me moving in closer with it and the 35mm for more of a candid look that integrates the foreground better with the subject. The other thing I like about the X100T is its ability to take close-ups that have a very unique look.

I found this worn flag on the back of a fire truck parked in the street and took this close-up with the Fuji X100T. The muted color is a result of processing the image as Fuji Classic Chrome in Photoshop. 

Yesterday I received a Zeiss 55mm f/1.4 Otus Distagon lens to try out on some panoramic experiments I've been doing combining multiple images. I want to see how how sharp it is when combined with my Nikon D810.

The Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 lens is a real monster. It actually weighs more than the camera.