Thursday, March 5, 2015

Some things I like about the Fuji X-T1 for lifestyle photography . . . and a few things I don't

This is another post based on the comparison of the Fuji X-system instead of a DSLR for shooting lifestyle photography. Lifestyle is the main commercial subject I shoot, and has for decades. So I've done it with a lot of different camera systems over the years -- mostly with Nikon DSLR, but also with Canon when Nikon didn't have an FX camera, and with Hasselblads.  Sometimes (rarely) I even used a Leica. This includes both film and digital systems. My primary "weapon of choice" for the digital era has been the Nikon DSLR. It focuses fast, shoots fast, is indestructible, and has complete support in terms of lenses and accessories -- nothing not to like, except that it, like most pro DSLR's, has gotten quite heafty over the years.

Along came the Fuji X cameras with their smaller, but powerful APS-sized sensor and small footprint. Their sluggish EVF finders, made them problematic initially, but rapidly improved to a point where they can keep up with the action, and keeping up with the action is one of the most necessary parts of lifestyle shooting, at least the way I shoot it. For most of my lifestyle photography I try to keep the model in constant motion. It might only be a slight movement of the head moving about, or a cyclical action I call a "loop", after a film loop, where a small scene repeats itself over and over again and I try to stop it at the peak of action. When the models are kept in such a fluid state, they tend to look more real when they are caught in the middle of a movement as opposed to when they are positioned statically in an environment. Easier said than done, and very subtle in terms of results, but this is what makes some of these very simple situations have a bit of life to them.

I've done a shot like this many time so I was prepared for the Fuji not to be able to focus on the girl's eye. Her eye is close to the microscope eyepiece, her hand is also in the way. The 56mm was set to f/2 to throw the foreground and background out of focus. The scene is back lit with no fill. I was so sure that the X-T1 would not be able to grab focus on the little girl's eye that I also resorted to reshooting the scene with a Nikon D750 just to make sure I had something in focus. To my surprise to Fuji came through like a champ. It never missed focus.  

There are other tricks I use. Shallow depth-of-field with areas of foreground and background out of focus. This, of course, means relying on fast aperture lenses wide open to further complicate of freezing action when the model is in motion. The object is to focus on the eye, preferably the near eye. In close, the eye may be the only thing in focus. Even the ears and tip of the nose will be soft. This calls for a camera system than can pinpoint the focus and allow me to follow it as the model moves about, That is a lot of stress on a camera's autofocus system. Modern Nikon DSLR cameras do this beautifully, even in the worst -- as in dark and backlit -- situations.

One thing most full frame DSLR cameras cannot do is extend their focus selection to the very edges of the image frame.  This often calls for the image to be cropped later just so a focus point can be put on a remote part of the frame. Cropping an image means you want to have enough resolution so you can throw some of the area away.  Full frame, high megapixel cameras help with this.  A camera like the Fuji X-T1 has a smaller sensor and low 16mp resolution. But it has the advantage of having a lot of focus points distributed over the entire area of the frame, even into the remote corners, and this does away with the need to crop the image. Because of the proprietary design of the sensor in a Fuji X camera, when the full frame is used the results are really almost as good as one from an actual full frame camera.

Here's a fun shot for an autofocus system. The Fuji 56mm f/1.2 lens used at f/2.2 in close with focus placed on the left eye. The girl was moving about constantly, she was also moving the out-of-focus toy in front of her and sometimes it passed in front of her eye, as it did here. The scene is back lit with no fill. I did not initially think the X-T1 would be able to continuously follow focus in this scene -- but it did.

The optics available for the Fuji X cameras are superb. Fuji lenses have always been good, but now that they only have to cover a smaller image area, they are even better. It's difficult manufacturing a fast aperture, quality lens to cover a large area. Really good full frame lenses are harder and more costly to make.

The scenes below are from a fairly simple lifestyle we did over two hours in the studio with (mostly) available light. I had decided to use only the Fuji X-T1 with three fast primes -- 56mm, 35mm, and 23mm -- for the entire shoot. I had the Nikon D750 ready as backup, but didn't want to use it because dealing with the RAW images from two different cameras only complicates the post-processing workflow.

I like using the X-T1 when shooting RAW for post-processing in Adobe Bridge and Photoshop. The RAW images coming out of the Fuji are so good that then need very little tweaking in post. Naturally, this makes my job a lot easier, and that makes me a lot happier.

Dealing with the Nikon DSLR shots in the same work flow of ACR and Photoshop requires much more work. The Nikon RAW files are not idealized for Adobe. They are set up to work with Nikon Capture NX-D software. This software is limited, but if I pass a Nikon RAW image through it, it, too, is much easier process because the Nikon software integrates with the Nikon camera RAW file to make all the lens and built-in camera corrections of the system. On thing I have tried is first passing the Nikon files through its Capture software first to create a 16-bit tif file, and then processing the tif file with Photoshop. Why Photoshop?  Well, it's a powerful program and I've been using it since it first came out so I'm very familiar with it. Plus the Capture software is very limiting in what it can do. But enough of that. I'll save post-processing of a Nikon RAW file for a future blog post.

One reason I do these comparative posts is that I know other photographers have been thinking, as I have, about switching -- or at least supplementing -- their DSLR systems for smaller, lighter, more compact, and less expensive mirrorless systems like the Fuji X-series. I've been trying the Fuji X-T1 out on many professional shoots to a point where I prefer it not just for its compactness, but also for its image quality. It takes me a long time to switch camera systems. I run them in tandem for a long time. I am often asked what is the difference between a pro and an amateur, and my response has been: When shooting, a pro must come back with results. An amateur can say, "Oh, that didn't work. Maybe next time."  A pro cannot say that, otherwise he or she won't be a pro for very long.

This is not a biggie, and getting to be not an issue as more cameras come out with tilting screens, but I do like the tilt screen on the X-T1 to quickly re-adjust a scene by shooting it from a different angle. Shot with the 23mm Fuji lens set to f/2 one of the niceties is that the X-T1 live view screen can focus much faster and more accurately than a DSLR in live view. If you've ever tried moving the focus point around on a DSLR live-view screen, you know what I mean. 

The girl was moving abound quickly, focus was shallow with a lot of disturbing elements to add confusion to the AF system. Nonetheless, the X-T1 with 56mm set to f/1.6 had no trouble holding a focus on the girl's eye. 

Hmmm...looks like I'm in for some competition. 

OK, DSLR wins on this one. We hid a tiny Nikon flash behind the tablet to light the girl's face. If there is one thing the Fuji needs to compete with the pro DSLR systems it is a fully integrated flash system. I'm sure Fuji will get there. They have a good track record so far. In the meantime, I'll continue shooting scenes like this with a Nikon. 


  1. Do you do any workshops or one to one training sessions. I would love to be able to gain a great foundation using the fuji X system and solid processing to enhance my senior photography business with more of a lifestyle and editorial feel.

    1. I've had a number of requests for workshops or training sessions and have been discussing the possibility with my staff. I'll announce it on this blog when and if we can get something going, and, of course, the more requests I keep getting, the more likely it will be to happen. - t

  2. I would really like to encourage you to share the NEF workflow via Capture to ACR/Lightroom at the earliest opportunity. It is knowledge worth both sharing and understanding. Thank you. Cordially, Dick Kenny

    1. Absolutely. Just today I was thinking about doing exactly that and did a lifestyle shoot to use for samples. Stay tuned. Should be up within a week.

  3. Following up on your last response :)

  4. I haven't forgotten, and have been working on some more tests with examples of this process. It's taking a bit longer than I anticipated to come up with some samples that clearly show the different results in a blog post. I did a new shoot today that might serve the purpose. Sorry for the delay. - t

  5. Finally got around to posting about this technique. The technique itself is simple. Trying to obtain a difficult image from a Nikon to use as a sample was the hard part. Nikon cameras are really good with dynamic range.

    Here is the post: