Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Firmware update 2.00 for Fuji X-E2 improves EVF to X-T1 speed

I always liked the Fuji X-E2 camera.  Its compact size made it a perfect camera in itself or as a second body option for my X-T1. The only drawback was that the enhanced features of the X-T1, particularly the EVF finder speed, had me spoiled to a point where it was difficult to go back to the slower speed finder of the X-E2 during fast action shooting. With the current firmware 2.00 update Fuji fixed all that by bringing the X-E2 EVF finder in line with the world's fastest display lag-time of 0.005 seconds on the X-T1.

Download the latest X-E2 firmware update 2.00 from the Fujifilm web site here.

A perfect travel pair -- the X-E2 with short zoom and X-T1 with long zoom. Throw in a super-wide and you're good to go. 

Here is Fuji's list of the X-E2 new and enhanced features added with firmware 2.00:

Enhanced EVF:

Enhanced EVF including the world’s fastest display lag-time of 0.005 seconds

The firmware will shorten the display lag for X-E2’s Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) to less than 1/10 compared to that of the current firmware to the world’s fastest 0.005 seconds for ultimate performance which has been invented as Real Time Viewfinder, featured in X-T1. Also it enhances the frame rate of the viewfinder and the highest frame rate is maintained even in low light conditions or night-time photography, providing smooth live view images through the lens.

Focus Peak:

Selectable colors for outlines for Focus Peak Highlight

Focus Peak Highlight is a focus-aiding function that highlights the outlines of areas that have high subject contrast. The firmware allows users to select Blue or Red in addition to the current White to highlight the areas of strong contrast. The strength of the color display can be also adjusted between High and Low according to the type of your subject or your personal preference.

Added functions:

Added functions that can be assigned to the Fn (Function) button

Users can now assign the “FACE DETECTION” and “EVF/LCD SETTING” selection functions to four Fn (Function) buttons on the top and back in shooting mode. When set to “EVF/LCD SETTING”, the button is used to switch between four modes, i.e. “EYE SENSOR MODE” (automatically switching the EVF and LCD displays when the user's eye comes close to the viewfinder), “EVF ONLY”, “LCD ONLY” and “EVF ONLY + EYE SENSOR”.

Added Suppressed Flash:

Added “Suppressed Flash” option when selecting flash mode

Once the firmware is updated, a “Suppressed Flash mode (where the flash does not fire even when the subject is poorly lit)” can be selected from the flash menu.

Edit image file names:

New functionality allowing you to edit image file names

An image file name (DSCF***) is automatically allocated to each picture when shooting, this can now be changed to your file name of choice. It can be changed to a 4-letter file name when selecting “sRGB” and a 3-letter file name when selecting “Adobe RGB” for the color space.

Improvement of RAW file conversion function:

When developing RAF images in-camera using the built-in RAW file converter, the firmware upgrade improves the flow by taking you back to the original RAF image once the conversion has been done, whereas before it left you with the converted JPG file on screen and the user had to go back to the next RAF file manually.


The phenomenon is fixed that in FILM SIMULATION Bracketing, third picture is recorded as “ASTIA” although the third picture is set as “PRO Neg. Hi”.

The reduced cost and compact size of the X-E2 make it a perfect second body option to complement an X-T1 kit. Whether you use it as a second body or stand-alone camera, the new firmware improvement for the X-E2 just made that camera one huge notch better, and Fuji proves once again that it listens to and supports its client base even after the sale is made. 

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

The Fujifilm X-E2 camera black body can be ordered from:  BH-Photo    Amazon
The Fujifilm X-E2 camera silver body can be ordered from:  BH-Photo    Amazon
The X-E2 camera black body plus 18-55mm lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo    Amazon
The X-E2 camera silver body plus 18-55mm lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Accessorizing the Fuji X-T1 and other X cameras

A major appeal of mirrorless cameras has always been their small size. Adding accessories that bulk the camera up could be considered as going against the grain. On the other hand, a camera like the X-T1 has moved the X system into a serious professional usage category, and certain accompanying accessories are going to be necessary in order to extend its usefulness.

SD UHS II card $74.95(16GB), $129.95 (32GB), $244.95(64GB):

High on my list of definite accessories is the new, faster UHS II SD cards. The X-T1 is the first camera that can take advantage of the speed increase this card offers, and the increase is considerable. If shooting fast is important to you, then you really need to consider this card. I won't say any more about it here because you can read more about this card and how it works with the X-T1 in my previous blog post about it here.

Fujifilm M Mount Adapter $199:

This adapter comes in handy if you have Leica M lenses or lenses, such as Voigtlander with Leica mounts. There are less expensive adapters out there, but the one by Fuji is much better made. Plus when the camera body recognizes the signal contacts of this adapter, the "Shoot Without Lens" mode is activated automatically.

Focus peaking is the manual focus miracle that has made these EVF finders so convenient when handing manual lenses. In fact, I sometimes prefer to use manual lenses because the focus peaking shows me exactly what is in focus.

Before the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 portrait lens came out I used to use a Leica Summilux 50mm with the Fuji adapter as my portrait lens. The results were exceptional, and focus peaking made it a snap to focus.

Gariz case $109.99:

I haven't tried these cases, but they sure do look nice, and come in several colors, including black, brown, orange, and camel (shown here). The Gariz case is made from leather with a metal bottom that attaches easily, allows access to the battery compartment, and has its own tripod socket. There are some less expensive cases I found, but this one appears to be made better and with more thought to the features.  A matching strap is also available.

The case comes in several colors: Camel Brown (shown above), Brown, Black, and Orange.

Yongnuo RF-603 NII $32-45 for a pair:

This  pair of wireless transmitters work on the Fuji X-T1 to trigger most remote flash units, including professional strobes. Each unit can be set to either transmit or receive. They will trigger the Fuji flashes, but will also connect your X-T1 to set off your Nikon or Canon flash units, a convenience if you already have these. If you plan to use them with your Canon or Nikon cameras, be sure to get the correct model. It will be designated as "C" for Canon or "N" for Nikon.

You can also use these transmitters with Yongnuo's own flash units, which are modeled on those by Canon and Nikon, but are much less expensive.  That is a story for another blog post.

You have to remember to turn these units off. Otherwise they will burn out the batteries. I always store mine with batteries removed.

The triggers only allow for manual operation of the flash units. With the instant visual feedback of digital camera systems today, that is all you really need. I almost never use TTL anymore with any camera/flash system.

You can buy these on Ebay, but then they come from China and you'll have to wait. I prefer picking them up on Amazon where shipping is much quicker.

Any of these units will work with the X-T1 or any other Fuji X-camera, but only designated units can also be controlled by a Nikon or Canon camera. It gets confusing and the prices vary slightly, but here is a list:

For pro Nikon cameras and the X-T1:
Yongnuo RF-603NII-N1 Wireless Flash Trigger Kit for Nikon D700 D800 D1 D2 D3 D4

For amateur Nikon cameras and D600 series, and the X-T1:
Yongnuo RF-603NII-N3 Wireless Flash Trigger Kit for Nikon Nikon D90 / D7000 / D7100 / D5000 / D5100 / D5200 / D3100 / D3200 / D600

For pro Canon cameras and the X-T1:
Yongnuo RF-603 C3 Wireless Flash Trigger for Canon 1D 1DS 5D 5DII LF239

For amateur Canon cameras and the X-T1:
Yongnuo RF-603 C1 Trigger/Wireless Shutter Release Transceiver Kit for Canon Rebel 300D/350D/400D/450D/500D/550D/1000D Series

Fujifilm EF-20 Shoe Mount Flash $99

The X-T1 already comes with its little accessory flash so why would you want another one? You may wonder why get another small flash when the X-T1 already comes with a small flash accessory. There are three reasons: First, the kit flash called the EF-X8 has a guide number of 8 at ISO 100 compared to that of 20' for the EF-20. Second, the EF-20 can tilt up for bounce lighting. Third, the EF-20 could be used off camera using something like the Yongnuo wireless transmitters mentioned above. Plus, I don't know about you, but I've already misplaced the tiny EF-X8 that came with my X-T1.

I've owned the EF-20 ever since it came out and really like it. Of all the X-cameras, it seems to suit the X-T1 best of all.

Fujifilm RR-90 Remote Release $44.95

It was while using this release at sunrise I first discovered the light leak problem with the X-T1. I do miss the traditional release that screws into the shutter button, but understand why, for reasons of weather-proofing, Fuji had to switch over to the mini-USB connection.

Hand grip and battery grip:

There are two original grips made by Fuji for the X-T1, and two more introduced later. One of the originals is the VG-XT1 Vertical Battery Grip, and the other the MHG-XT Metal Hand Grip.  The vertical battery grip is the first such grip made for a Fuji X camera. It effectively doubles the battery life of the X-T1. I'm not really a fan of battery grips that simple provide an extra battery because I find it less cumbersome to simply carry a few spare batteries in my pocket. On the X-T1, however, the battery grip does add some substance to an otherwise small camera. Additionally, the grip is equipped with a shutter release button, twin command dials, AE-L, AF-L, and Focus Assist buttons. 

The simpler metal hand grip has an opening for access to the battery compartment and also has a lip that allows it to be mounted on any Arca-Swiss type tripod grip, which is a plus for me. I did a full review of the hand grips for the X-E2 and X-Pro1 here.

The battery grip itself does not have an Arca-Swiss type tripod plate built-in, but I did find a very small plate along with a tripod head adapter to use on it.  A new Fuji MHG-XT small plate introduced for the X-T1 simply provides the Arca-Swiss plate adapter when mounted either on the camera or on the battery grip.

The small plate can fit directly onto the camera and provides an Arca-Swiss type tripod mount with access to the battery compartment.. 

X series Grip strap: GB-001

The hand grip strap allows secure, comfortable, single handed hold of the camera and mounts onto any of the grip plates. It can also be used at the same time as the shoulder strap.

X-T1 Extended eyecup: EC-XT L

The extended eyecup is dome-shaped to effectively shield light, and make it easier to see the viewfinder. The material is soft and flexible enough to accommodate eye glass wearers, while providing a comfortable fit for people without glasses also.

Tripod head and plate to use with the X-T1:

Both of these items are made by Sunwayfoto and can be found on Amazon or Ebay. They are sometimes sold under the name Desmond. The DP-26 plate for $19 has the Arca-Swiss style mount and is only 39 x 26mm in size. The Sunwayfoto or Desmond DAC-25 is a very small tripod clamp with the Arca-Swiss grip 25 x 77mm in size and costing $19.95. It comes with a thread adapter allowing conversion from 3/8" to 1/4" thread size so it to be screwed onto most tripods. It also has three bosses for making other secure attachments using straps.

This is the smallest, full duty tripod I was able to find for my X-T1. It is small enough to fit comfortably in a backpack or large camera bag, yet sturdy and big enough to offer solid, full-size support when open. The Sirui T-025X tripod folds downs to just 11.8", but can open to 54.5" when fully extended. Its support load of 13.2lbs for the carbon and 8.8 for the aluminum version is more than sufficient to hold an X-T1 with 55-200mm zoom weighing only 2.48lb.

My complete review of the Sirui T-025X tripod can be read here.

If you are planning on purchasing any of these accessories, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

You can order the new Sandisk 16GB SD UHS-II card here:   BH-photo
You can order the new Sandisk  32GB SD UHS-II card here:   BH-photo
You can order the new Sandisk  64GB SD UHS-II card here:   BH-photo

Gariz Genuine Leather/Metal Half Case in camel brown can be ordered from:  Amazon   
Gariz Genuine Leather/Metal Half Case in brown can be ordered from:  Amazon
Gariz Genuine Leather/Metal Half Case in black can be ordered from:   Amazon
Gariz Genuine Leather/Metal Half Case in black can be ordered from:   Amazon

Fujifilm M Mount Lens Adapter can be ordered from:  BHPhoto    Amazon

Fujifilm EF-20 Shoe Mount Flash can be ordered from:  BHPhoto   Amazon

Fujifilm RR-90 Remote Release can be ordered from: BHPhoto   Amazon

The VG-XT1 Vertical Battery Grip can be ordered from: BHPhoto   Amazon
The MHG-XT Metal Hand Grip can be ordered from: BHPhoto   Amazon
The MHG-XT Large Metal Hand Grip can be ordered from: BHPhoto   Amazon
The MHG-XT Base Plate can be ordered from: BHPhoto   Amazon

Sunwayfoto or Desmond DAC-25 clamp can be ordered from: BHPhoto  Amazon
The Sunwayfoto DP-26 plate can be ordered from BHPhoto   Amazon

Order the Sirui T-025X carbon tripod for $239: BHPhoto  Amazon
Order Sirui T-025X aluminum tripod for $139:  BHPhoto  Amazon

Monday, April 28, 2014

Time lapse and timing on the Hudson River

I spent the weekend in Hudson, NY very close to the Hudson River. On Saturday morning the sky was overcast in a slight drizzle. I went to the river's edge to try some time lapse images with the Fuji X-T1. Last time I tried this was on a beach in Florida where I first discovered the X-T1 light leak problem -- now completely fixed by Fuji.

Pier pilings in the Hudson River. Taken with the Fuji 18-55mm lens 45 seconds at f/11 with 9x ND filter.

Barren tree and overcast sky along the Hudson River. Taken with a Fuji 14mm lens, 90 seconds at f/22

Seagull confrontation, Hudson River, NY. Taken with the 55-200mm Fuji zoom at 1/750 second and f/8. The high speed continuous focus on the X-T1 performed flawlessly for timing the sequences I photographed of seagulls dueling it out for territory. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

A beauty portrait session with Fuji's 56mm f/1.2 -- one of the best portrait lenses out there

The more I use the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 lens, the more I like it. It is exceptionally sharp, even wide open. All the photos below were taken with it mounted on a Fuji X-T1. The camera/lens combo had no difficulty auto-focusing in the dim light, even with the severely back lit shots where there was no front fill.

Now that Adobe Capture Raw has the Fuji X camera profiles, it is easy to play with the variations on the RAW files to see which best suits the scene. For most of these images I used the Astia/Soft profile -- perfect for beauty portraits with deep shadows.

Another thing that amazed me about this session is how well the X-T1 color balanced each scene, even the one where I used a strong tungsten lamp. I did not apply any color correction to the images below.


Below is the studio setup for this series of images. It is lit by one 1000 watt tungsten lamp behind a scrim. The large flats cut the light down to window width. There is no front fill at all. The camera was responsible for preserving detail in the shadows.

If you shoot a lot of portraits and are planning on picking up this lens, you can help support this site at no extra cost to you by purchasing from one of our affiliate sellers listed below -- and thanks for your support.

The Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R Lens can be ordered from:  BH-Photo   Amazon   

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Anatomy of a lifestyle photography session

I have received numerous emails asking me to expand more on some of the lifestyle shooting techniques I use. There is so much going into such a shooting that a single blog post is never going to be able to make a dent in the subject, but in this one I tried to present an overview with samples from a recent studio lifestyle session with three models. Next summer I will be heading a one-week workshop on available light lifestyle and location shooting at the Charleston Photography Workshops. Our studio stylist, Janet, will be with me to help provide a complete overview of a shooting from soup to nuts, and the participants will be able to apply these techniques themselves in the hands-on shooting sessions with models on location.

The real trick to successful lifestyle photography is infusing the images with energy. This is often easier said than done. Typical lifestyle situations portray rather ordinary situations making it difficult to maintain a level of excitement. If the models go too far with their expressions, the scene reads as false. If the expressions are tuned too far down, the scenes read as banal. A lot of elements need to work together to get just the right mix.

The entire shooting is scripted ahead of time so the stylist can prepare the scenes in a way that makes it easy to flow from one to the other. We work in two separate studios so several of the sets can be prepped ahead of time. The sets are designed to be put up and dismantled quickly. Model time is at a premium so we do not want to waste it by assembling sets the day of the shoot.

Keeping the models moving helps to constantly refresh the scene and expressions and avoids static poses. I usually put my models in a loop by having them repeat a simple action over and over, and timing my shot for the peak moment. This means keeping the camera in continuous auto-focus mode with a focus point placed on the face or eye of the model. I now use the Fuji X-T1 in addition to my normal lifestyle workhorse camera, the Nikon D4. The X-T1 has focus points stretching out to the very edges of the viewing frame making it easier to maintains a composition when the models faces are not in the general central area.

Styling is very important in creating a believable scene that does not over-power the main action. Almost all of our lifestyle scenes are done in a studio with sets. Creating a sense of depth adds to the realism of the shot. We do this by dressing up both foreground and background areas that are then thrown out of focus. Generally, I work with fast aperture f/1.4 lenses and use them fairly wide open depending upon my distance from the models. The closer I am, the more I stop down the aperture to compensate for the loss of depth of field due to closer focus.

I have two f/2.8 zooms for the Nikon, the 24-70mm and 70-200mm, and rely mostly on the latter, especially outdoors. Indoors, I prefer to use 85mm, 50mm, and 35mm f/1.4 lenses. I find the shorter focal lengths used in close add more realism to the scene because they place the viewer in a more friendly viewing position close to the subjects.

Yesterday, we did a lifestyle shoot using three actors. I prefer using actors because they are more convincing in their roles as real people. Below are some of the scenes from the day. All were taken with the Nikon D4 and Fuji X-T1. I am showing several images from each scene to illustrate how a situation is worked to pick up some variety.

A tungsten hair light provides the warm toned separating color on the right side of the models and adds the warm bokeh effects in the out of focus foreground glassware I used to frame the scene. I kept the overall tone on the models on the warm side to mimic the type of light naturally found in a cafe setting. This was taken with the D4 and 85mm lens set to f/2. 

The models need to look like they are actually talking. I have them repeat the same thing over and over, something with an "aye" sound, like "say", "hay", "cay". This sound parts the teeth and lips while allowing for various expressions at the same time. The sounds can be said while smiling, serious, stressed, etc. Controlling what the models say insures a good expression in the mouth, and results in a greater number of successful shots from each scene. Having them talk instead of just sit there adds realism to the scene.

What is out of focus becomes as important as what is in focus. I often work very close to shoot past a foreground part of the scene and throw it very out of focus. The background is also kept intentionally soft, identifiable as a place but not distracting by being too specific. When I have several models to work with I sometimes throw some of them considerably out of focus by shooting past them in the foreground, or using them as out-of-focus elements in the background. These out of focus areas tend to add a sense of depth to the images.

This shows the entire set for the hospital scene. Judicious arrangement of the elements and models coupled with a carefully placed focus plain and selective focus goes far to give the final impression of complexity from a simple set. 
The office series below was done in our second studio which faces north and has very little window light. Here I fill the foreground with large silver/gold mix reflectors to bounce some of the light back. Even with that the light is dark and requires a boost in ISO ranging from 640 on a sunny day to 1600 on an overcast day. This means using cameras with good ability in handling low light. Both the Nikon D4 and Fuji X-series are excellent in this situation.

Although there is a front fill illumination from the reflectors, the overall light is very dim and flat creating difficult auto-focus conditions. I rely heavily on cameras and lenses with the ability to cope. In addition, I apply some shooting techniques to do what I call "bracket focus". Instead of holding down the shutter button and blazing away with continuous auto-focus, I keep hitting the shutter repeatedly to obtain bursts of several shots each time. This forces the camera to refocus the scene each time the shutter is hit. I don't know if this technique has any technical basis, but I have noticed that it does improve the percentage of in-focus images I get from each scene. I always try to keep a single focus point on one of the model's eyes. These scenes are all photographed up close at very wide open apertures. There is no room for error in the focus.

The two windows in the rear are providing the entire northern light illumination for this scene with some help from several very large silver/gold mix reflectors in the front. A norther light tends to have a bluer color temperature than southern exposure where the sunlight is direct. In many of the business scenes I tend to go with the cooler blue color temperature and even enhance it a bit later in post processing. 

I like the way the foreground woman has her hand on her mouth. It is a simple gesture that looks candid. The man in the back is saying an "aye" word to make him look like he is actually speaking. 

The tilt screen on the Fuji X-T1 allows me to quickly place it for a more unusual point of view. In this case I simply held it over my head for a down-angle shot with the 18mm lens used at f/2.8. 
I use daylight for most of my lifestyle shootings. It is much easier to maintain a natural look when the light itself is natural to the scene. I often add a single tungsten lamp in the background acting as a hair light. This adds a warm, sunny tone because its color temperature is much warmer than the actual daylight. Sometimes I use this light with no filtration for full affect. Other times I tone its color down by putting varying degrees of blue color correction gels in front of the light.

Note the slight warming tone on the left rear of the woman's face caused by the tungsten hair light. In addition to adding tone, this light adds sculptural volume and helps separate the subject from the background. 

This shows the makeup of the entire set from which this group of images was taken. Note the 1000 watt hair light in the left rear.  Due to its difference in color temperature, it adds a little warmth to the scene by counter-acting the available daylight used to light the scene. You can see the warmer light on the left side of the models faces in the two shots above this one. In this case the lamp was 1000 watts with no color correction filters. 
The entire lifestyle shoot took three hours. It is nothing short of a miracle that our studio stylist, Janet, is able to assemble these sets and model wardrobe in such a short time. We did a few other situations in addition to the scenes above, and ended up with around 65 unique final images, a relatively high number for such a short time. Image count does go higher when more models are used because we often shift the focus in a scene from one model to another, and this results in extra images.

The series of images above are presented "as is" after working on them in Adobe Camera Raw, where I do most of my post-processing work. Next the images will proceed to Chris, our staff Photoshop guru, for a second layer of editing to clean them up.