The Freedom Camera – A personal rant about the Fuji X100T

Disclaimer: If you are looking for an objective, technical-oriented review you won’t find it here. Photography is an art and as a result personal emotions and experiences play a vital role. Therefore, the views presented here are only mine. They are deeply personal and biased and that’s how it should be. I have never been interested in objective reviews since I find them boring, uninspired and pretentious. So I am not going to bore you with one.  

©osztaba_west_20140102__DSF6396

©osztaba_west_20140103__DSF6686

©osztaba_west_20140103__DSF6766 

The Fuji X100T is NOT the fastest camera on the market.

It is NOT the most responsive camera on the market.

It is NOT a great video camera. It is NOT even an interchangeable lens camera.

Despite all that, in our view it is THE BEST DIGITAL CAMERA on the market by far. Let me explain.

As many of you know, for most of my photographic life I was a Nikon shooter. Life was stable and easy back then. From time to time a new model came out with a slightly better interior but in general it was the same old same old. Then, one day a brand new Fuji X100 fell into my hands and before I knew it, my photography world turned upside down. For those interested in the entire story please check out our review of the Fuji X100S here.

Why am I going back to the original X100? Because writing an X100T review without mentioning an original X100/S would be like writing an autobiography starting at age 30.

I don’t know how Fuji came up with the idea of the X100. Now it is hard to believe that there was no such camera before. You woke up in the morning, picked up a bag full of gear and soldiered on for the entire day. Sometimes you left your camera at home because it was too much hassle. It was just too heavy and inconvenient to carry around. Sure, there were some compacts available but the quality and functionality of those cameras were not suited for serious photography.

The Fuji X100 changed all that.

For quite some time I had the Fuji X100 and my SLR gear at home. At first I had mixed feelings about this new arrival. When I think about it now, I know it was years of SLR brainwashing that prevented me from realizing this little camera could replace a whole bag of gear.

But somehow, in time, my SLR gear stayed home and I ventured out with my X100 everywhere. It was quickly established that I would not leave the house without it. Out in the world, I would walk, crawl, climb and enter places that were not possible with a traditional SLR. And the images I captured were better composed, more creative and different. What gives?

Let’s start with its physique. I did a mini experiment by putting three cameras on the table: one SLR, one compact and the Fuji X100. For some reason, visitors always picked up the X100 first. Its fusion of classic look and modern technology draws people’s attention. What’s even more interesting, I noticed women love this camera. Kasia, my wife, rarely grabs our larger X-T1 – she always prefers the Fuji X100S/T.

I am glad Fuji didn’t change the design. The new Fuji X100T looks almost identical to previous versions of this camera. Once you have it in your hands, it feels very solid and expensive. I like its traditional, classic look with a layout that immediately connects with the photographer but doesn’t intimidate your subject.

©osztaba_west_20140103__DSF6504

©osztaba_west_20140103__DSF6633

©osztaba_west_20140103__DSF6630

Then there are controls. While the SLR world moved away from traditional knobs and controls, the Fuji X100/S/T was all for them. As a photographer, the ability to operate a dedicated exposure compensation dial, aperture ring and shutter speed is crucial. I found that this physical movement is a very important part of the whole scheme of image creation. While the key knobs remained unchanged, some buttons have been moved to standardize the layout in the X-series line. One change that I don’t like is the playback button, which in previous versions was placed at the top and was green – very easy to hit quickly. Now it is the same colour as the other buttons and I found myself looking for it on several occasions. There are a number of changes including more customization options; for example, you can customize the Q menu. You can find more technical details here and here.

One improvement over the X100S is speed. The Fuji X100T is noticeably faster than its predecessor. We have travelled with the X100T and didn’t have any problems with autofocus but then our photography is “slow” and deliberate. Of course, it doesn’t have the D4 speed but this camera was never intended to be a sport shooter camera (which is where SLR excels).

Another area that stands out from its predecessor is the viewfinder. Several improvements have been made. The most noticeable is the ability to project a small area of focus in the Optical Viewfinder. In general, the idea of a hybrid viewfinder is relatively new but already I cannot imagine having a camera without it. If you observe those who shoot SLR you will notice that they are constantly checking their LCD after each shot. You don’t need to do that with this camera. While composing your image, right in the EVF you see your final photo BEFORE you take it, including any adjustments. It is especially important for students of photography as they see changes to exposure or emulation in real time.  

©osztaba_west_20140103__DSF6740

©osztaba_west_20140103__DSF6691

©osztaba_west_20140109__DSF7461 

Another key feature of the Fuji X100T is its total silence. Once you turn off the sound, as I always do, this camera doesn’t make any noise. Sometimes when Kasia and I travel, I hand the camera to strangers for a photo and I see confusion in their faces once they press shutter button. Everyone is used to some kind of sound. Nothing. Nada. Zero. And I love it. It means I can take photos in places where photography is frowned on!

Due to its silent operation coupled with its unique look, I have been able to get into situations where professional photography is not usually allowed. The security staff ignores me, as they view me as just another tourist with a point-and-shoot. I would much rather be perceived this way than as a pro-photographer.

It also helps in interactions with strangers. When starting conversations, they see me as a person genuinely interested in them before they see my camera, whereas carrying an SLR with a big lens intimidates some people.

©osztaba_west_20140109__DSF7420

All right, but how about the image quality?

The image quality always starts with a good quality lens (a great sensor with poor glass is no use). At its core, there is an excellent 23mm (35mm in FF terms) F2.0 lens. If you would like to buy a lens of this quality for your SLR you would need to spend at least $1000. The rest you pay for the camera. Not bad.  

Looking for superb JPEGs? You got it. The in-camera JPEGS are the best in the industry, period. I have used Nikon, Canon, Olympus and many other brands and I have never liked JPEGS straight from the camera. Fuji is the only company that does it right. The colour is accurate, the skin tones are beautiful and the texture is right on. The Fuji X100T adds a brand new film simulation, Classic Chrome, which immediately became our choice for documentary and some travel photos (look for our upcoming photo essay on Alcatraz, exclusively shot in Classic Chrome).

If you prefer RAW files, you have plenty of leeway. There has been so much written on X-Trans post-processing techniques that if you know what you are doing you can achieve amazing results.

©osztaba_west_20140109__DSF7379

©osztaba_west_20140109__DSF7391

©osztaba_west_20140109__DSF7431

There is no question that Fuji has worked hard to improve the X-series cameras. However, there are different ways in which the X-series could evolve. I am really happy that Fuji is providing regular updates and adding features. I feel they care and listen to photographers.

I have noticed a recent trend among camera companies to add features to please the video crowd. I hope Fuji won’t get into this race. In general I prefer simple cameras that focus on photography. I don’t want more features. I don’t want video or in-camera processing options. I don’t want panorama or other useless oddities. I want only essentials that relate directly to photography. In a recent interview, Fuji management pointed out a proposed direction toward the high-end market. I believe that professionals are looking for a precise tool with a simplified menu. I want a quality lens, quality sensor, dedicated controls, a simple menu and compact size. Period. To finish my rant, a little bit of weather sealing and double card slots would be the icing on the cake.

 

Let’s go back now to the title of this piece. Freedom camera? Isn’t it true that the camera doesn’t matter? It shouldn’t. When you are in a beautiful place or just walking along a street your senses should be dipping into the world around you. You should become an integral part of the place. You should get closer to people, get to know them, feel the vibe and awaken your senses. Then you should look for a perfect composition or a beautiful ray of light or maybe a unique and fleeting moment. You should!

But instead of doing that, you are busy worrying about which lens to put on or which camera settings to choose. Then you are constantly staring at your back LCD to make sure your settings are right. You are not sure whether you should re-shoot with a different lens. You are distracted by the plethora of functions and buttons. You wonder whether it would be better to put your camera on a tripod. So many pixels, so many things to think about! Or maybe you are too tired from carrying all your gear so you decide to pass on this moment. Or maybe you don’t have a camera at all.

The connection is gone. The moment is gone.

Do you get it?!

When I have finished writing this piece I am going for a walk to get some fresh air. On the way out, I am going to grab my Fuji X100T. That’s all I need.

©osztaba_west_20140106__DSF6985

©osztaba_west_20140106__DSF7027

All images presented in this article were shot with the Fuji X100T, Classic Chrome (except the Grand Canyon photo – LR5).

 

2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

7700 km with the Fuji X-series

What a trip it was! We covered 7700 kilometres, ventured into the most incredible landscapes in the world and met fascinating people.

We travelled with Fuji X-T1, XF 14mm F2.8, a brand new XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS and Fuji X100T. We have a lot of material for you, which we have only just started to review. Over the next few weeks we will be sharing with you imagery from this trip including many photos taken with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 along with more thoughts about this lens. We are also working on a full review of the Fuji X100T.

Here are some teaser images.

©osztaba_west_20141209__DSF6778

Monument Valley, Fuji X-T1 & XF 14mm F2.8

©osztaba_west_20140106__DSF7012

Monument Valley, Fuji X-100T

©osztaba_west_20141209__DSF6627

Grand Canyon, Fuji X-T1 & XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS

©osztaba_west_20141209__DSF6617

Grand Canyon, Fuji X-T1 & XF 14mm F2.8

©osztaba_west_20141206__DSF6449

17-Mile Drive, Fuji X-T1 & XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS

©osztaba_west_20141212__DSF3020

Death Valley, California, Fuji X-T1 & XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS

©osztaba_west_20141212__DSF3086

Death Valley, California, Fuji X-T1 & XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS

©osztaba_west_20140108__DSF7303

Death Valley, Fuji X100T, 

©osztaba_west_20140107__DSF7162

Route 66, Fuji X100T, Classic Chrome

Nelson, Nevada, Fuji X-T1 & XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS, Classic Chrome, click the image for a larger view

©osztaba_west_20141211__DSF2865

Nelson, Nevada, Fuji X-T1 & XF 14mm F2.8, Classic Chrome

Nelson, Nevada, Fuji X-T1 & XF 50-140mm F2.8 OIS, Classic Chrome, click the image for a larger view

©osztaba_west_20140103__DSF6537

Alcatraz, San Francisco, Fuji X-100T, Classic Chrome

©osztaba_west_20140103__DSF6553

Alcatraz, San Francisco, Fuji X-100T, Classic Chrome

 

Finally, we did some street photography in San Francisco. Fuji X100T, Classic Chrome.

©osztaba_west_20140109__DSF7401

Stay tuned for much more.

 

 

2014 © Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Confessions of Fuji Fanboy

Someone brought to my attention a few comments posted on the Internet forums, which I found very accurate and fair. Let me explain.

I used to be a Nikon shooter, oops, I am sorry I should have said Nikon Fanboy. Life was easy back then. There were so many of us that we didn’t care much what others thought. And Internet forums were not yet popular so I didn’t have to worry about them at all.

Then, disaster struck. My (now ex) friend lent me a Fuji X100. I started leaving my superb Nikon SLR at home and venturing outside only with the Fuji X100 in a brown paper bag. I enjoyed the smallness of this camera. It had real knobs and controls, a viewfinder and, most importantly, it produced quality JPEGs. Then everything spiralled out of control. I bought the Fuji X-Pro1, XF 35mm F1.4. XF 14mm F2.8 and… well, as you can see, made mistake after mistake.

What’s even worse, I really started enjoying photography. I stopped looking at lens charts or worrying about sharpness and post-processing. I focused on composition, light and my subject. I walked around with my camera every day and took photos. I just didn’t realize what a big mistake it was. What was I thinking?

Then it got worse. To my misfortune, Fuji released really excellent XF 56mm F1.2 and XF 23mm F1.4 lenses, both of which I found super-duper and I dared to write about it. Then recently, Fuji added to its line-up its first professional zoom XF 50-140mm F2.8, which turned out to be an excellent lens. After all, zooms should be much worse than their prime equivalents.

Unfortunately, this zoom turned out to be really, really good. Damn Fuji! Because of you I had to write another superlative review, which I agree with my forum friends, is totally over-the-top. Micro-contrast? Are you kidding me? I should have known better! What’s even more calamitous is that I dared to publish a few holiday-themed shoots of children at Christmas. How unprofessional! I totally forgot to include MTF data, vignetting info and a scientific evaluation. But the fact that I didn’t include a photo of the wall at 300% is unforgiveable.

But wait, there is more. Now, instead of sitting in front of my computer evaluating charts and commenting on forums, I am naïve enough to take my beloved Fuji gear (the brown paper bag is a bit tattered now) and head out on a trip to take actual photos. It only shows how immature I am as a photographer. After all, a REAL photographer would not waste time on such primitive and random activities.

Well, what can I do know? Not much, I guess. I’m a bit of a lost cause. I can only hope that Fuji will screw up and release a crappy lens, for which I would immediately provide appropriate charts and technical documentation, followed by an appropriate number of profanities on the Internet forums.

I promise I will bash it as much as I can. And I will make sure an appropriate wall photo accompanies the article.

In regard to my behaviour I will try to spend more time in front of the computer and start commenting on other people’s work – anonymously, of course. It is not going to be easy, as those who are technically the most educated and comment the most somehow hide their portfolios.

The online photography community has evolved and so should I!

Stupid me!

 

P.S. I would not dare to publish any photos with this article. Right now I know it is not about images. It is all about lengthy technical studies and technical data. After all, who needs to discuss composition or light? Having said that, I will make sure my next post has some charts, analysis and lens data. You see, guys, I’m starting to get it.

 

2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

7 Points About the XF 50-140mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR

After shooting extensively with the XF 50-140mm F2.8, we would like to share a few points about this lens with you:

  1. Micro-Contrast: Superb and on a par with our beloved XF 56mm F1.2
  2. Optics: Bitingly sharp, to our eye, a notch better than Canon or Nikon equivalents
  3. Image Stabilization (OIS): 5-stops – YES, it works, we love it and use it, all the time
  4. Bokeh (out of focus area): Nice for the size of the sensor but we strongly prefer XF 56mm F1.2 in this regard
  5. Construction: All metal, looks and feels great
  6. Size: BIG and heavy – it is NOT a travel lens
  7. Price: Fair for what you are getting

That’s all for now. Here is our mini-session with Nicole shot exclusively with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 attached to the Fuji XT-1.

Classic Chrome

©osztaba_nicole_20141130__DSF6242

©osztaba_nicole_20141130__DSF6235

©osztaba_nicole_20141130__DSF6215

©osztaba_nicole_20141130__DSF6210

©osztaba_nicole_20141130__DSF6253

©osztaba_nicole_20141130__DSF6262

 

At the Vancouver Christmas Market (Provia/STD).

©osztaba_nicole_20141130__DSF6359

©osztaba_nicole_20141130__DSF6334

©osztaba_nicole_20141130__DSF6287

©osztaba_nicole_20141130__DSF6360

 

This Friday we are leaving for a 10-day trip to Death Valley, San Francisco, Nevada’s old towns and maybe some cruising along Route 66. Of course the XF 50-140 is going with us. We’ll keep you in the loop.

 

 

2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

HO! HO! HO! with the XF 50-140mm F2.8 R LM OIS WR

When a package from Fujifilm Canada with the XF 50-140 OIS lens arrived on my doorstep, I got unusually excited. I couldn’t wait to start shooting. How strange, I thought. After all, I have never been a fan of zoom lenses; I mostly shoot with primes and the line of XF prime glasses fills my camera bag leaving no space for zooms.

But somehow, this new, large, heavy lens had captured my attention since the first day it was announced. There are three main reasons:

First, we have said many times on this blog that the right way for any company to build a photographic system from the ground up is to start with quality lenses. Amateur photographers usually get excited about cameras while lenses tickle the professionals (in the end, great glass will attract pros and ultimately sell cameras). In fact, the prime reason we started shooting Fuji X-series exclusively was the superb quality of the XF lenses. The XF 14mm F2.8, XF 35mm F1.4 and XF 56mm F1.2 are in our bag and they are some of the best lenses we have ever used. Therefore, XF 50-140 F2.8 OIS WR – the first really professional zoom from Fuji immediately had us on alert.

Second, Fuji equipped this lens with a newly designed image stabilization system with a gyro sensor and unique processing algorithm. This formula allows shooting by hand at much lower shutter speeds than was possible with telephoto lenses in the past. It is extremely important to us since most of our photography is handheld. We subscribe to the notion that the tripod kills creativity. We would take a riveting composition over a perfectly sharp photo at any time. That’s why this feature is so important to us.

Third, the superb XF 56mm F1.2 (and to a lesser extent, the XF 60mm) has been the only serious offering so far for portrait photography. However, very often we need more compression and the ability to zoom quickly while photographing couples, children or landscapes and this lens fits the bill exactly.

Last weekend we had a chance to put this lens to work. After shooting extensively with the XF 56mm F1.2 we didn’t expect this zoom to come even close but we were proved wrong. And after reviewing our first images our reaction was: “They’ve done it again!” The XF 50-140 is BITINGLY sharp with a crisp tonal transition and superb micro-contrast! The bokeh (out of focus area) is surprisingly smooth, given the smaller sensor size (in comparison to the FF). The only thing we could whine about is the size of the lens but if this is a trade-off to achieve top quality, I’m glad Fuji went for it.

Since the season of joy is upon us we have decided to do something different. With Kasia and a few elves we headed to our favourite Christmas destination, Art Knapp store. Not only did we have a great time together but we also met Mrs. Claus, who was kind enough to read us Christmas stories. HO! HO! HO!.

We coupled the XF 50-140 with the Fuji X-T1 and shot mostly by hand (of course with the OIS on). All images JPEGs straight from the camera (minor WB adjustments in LR 5).

Provia/Standard/STD

Sharpening +1

H-Tone -1

S-Tone -1

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6086

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6069

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6076

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6085

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6109

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6124

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6130

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6060

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6104

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6169

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6185

©osztaba_chrismas_20141130__DSF6175

 

For those of you who want to see how this lens performs for landscape photography, here are few more shots (processed in LR5, Velvia film simulation).

©osztaba_test_20141129__DSF5971

©osztaba_test_20141129__DSF5976

©osztaba_test_20141129__DSF5966

©osztaba_test_20141129__DSF5972

 

Next time… some material from our recent photo session with Nicole, of course shoot exclusively with the XF 50-140 lens. Stayed tuned.

©osztaba_nicole_20141130__DSF6215

 

 

2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Welcome to Classic Chrome

Along with the rise of Instagram and iPhone photography, there has been a flood of filters and film simulations. Unfortunately, the majority of these tools are formulated very poorly and the results can be quite grotesque.

When I heard that Fujifilm is working on a new film simulation, Classic Chrome, I was intrigued. After all, Fuji has been known for its expertise in film and the JPEGs coming out of the X-series cameras have been one of the best in the industry.

The latest Fuji X100T and Fuji X-T1 Graphite came with Classic Chrome. Some photographers who got their hands on these cameras posted some photos bearing the Classic Chrome look and we really liked what we saw. Those who practise street, documentary photography or fine art photography should be very pleased with this modern take on the Kodachrome-like look. The colours are subtle and slightly suppressed but pleasing and natural to the eye.

Although we haven’t had a chance to shoot with the Fuji X100T or Graphite X-T1, the recent Lightroom 5.7 update offers an opportunity to paint with light – Classic Chrome style. We couldn’t resist applying this new colour palette to some chosen photos. Here they are:

©osztaba_cariboo_trail_20140824__DSF4552

©osztaba_cariboo_trail_20140824__DSF4549

©osztaba_cariboo_trail_20140824__DSF4577

©osztaba_cariboo_trail_20140824__DSF4582

©osztaba_cariboo_trail_20140825__DSF4651

©osztaba_cariboo_trail_20140824__DSF4579

©osztaba_cariboo_trail_20140823__DSF4360

©osztaba_cariboo_trail_20140823__DSF4355

©osztaba_rockies_20140620__DSF2378

©osztaba_vancouver_20141122__DSF5912

©osztaba_vancouver_20141122__DSF5911

©osztaba_vancouver_20141122__DSF5908

©osztaba_okanagan_20140908__DSF5136

©osztaba_diana_20140727__DSF3596

Also, watch this space for a full review of the XF 50-140 F2.8 OIS WR, the Fuji X-100T and more Classic Chrome images – this time straight from the camera.

 

2014 © Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Photo Ramblings

It is November and in Vancouver it usually means short days and lots of rain. It’s not that a little bit of water stops us from taking photos, in fact quite the opposite! We are working on several projects, which we will share with you as they take shape.

We are planning a ten-day trip down the Oregon Coast to San Francisco, California, Death Valley and several small towns in Nevada. As usual we will be travelling with our Fuji X-T1, X100S (maybe X100T), XF 56mm F1.2 and XF 14mm F2.8 lenses. We are hoping to get our hands on a new XF 50-140 F2.8 OIS WR lens but it might turn up too late for this particular trip.

Brian of Iridient Digital just released the 3.0 beta version of its popular Iridient Developer software (you can get it here). For the last few years Iridient Developer has offered the best demosaic solution for Fuji X-Trans RAW files. We have recommended this program in the past and the new version is even better. We really like the new “Vibrance” and “Fill Light” adjustments. There are many new features and you should try this program if you are going after the best detail.

Recently, one of our readers pointed to an article by Peter Bridgwood about Lightroom sharpening settings for X-Trans files. His findings are very similar to ours and indeed a generous use of the Details slider in LR5 works very well with the X-Trans files.

Having said that, I noticed that many, especially new photographers, spend way too much time and effort on technical issues, forgetting what photography is all about. Don’t dwell too much on technicalities but work hard on improving your ways of seeing. That’s what we always strive for.

It was no different when we recently spent one morning in White Rock, British Columbia. Here are our photos taken with the Fuji X-T1 and X100S.

©osztaba_white_rock_20141101__DSF5762

©osztaba_white_rock_20141101__DSF5788-Edit

©osztaba_white_rock_20141101__DSF5805-Edit

©osztaba_white_rock_20141101__DSF5801-Edit

©osztaba_white_rock_20141101__DSF5769-Edit

©osztaba_white_rock_20141101__DSF5799-Edit

©osztaba_white_rock_20141101__DSF8362-Edit-2

©osztaba_white_rock_20141101__DSF5828-Edit

©osztaba_white_rock_20141101__DSF8379

 

2014 © Olaf & Kasia Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 605 other followers