Summary of 2013 and Top 10 images of the year

While heading to the ballroom on New Year’s Eve, we photographers had a lot of reasons to celebrate: 2013 was a year when many people rediscovered their passion for photography. After years of megapixel wars and an SLR monopoly, last year brought us new tools, which helped to redirect our senses toward image creation and away from technical mumbo-jumbo.

Of course, as many of you know, Kasia and I have been shooting exclusively with the Fuji X-series cameras. Since our first interaction with the game-changing X100, to the later-released Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji X-E1 and Fuji X100S, our way of seeing the world has found its camera match. While looking through our 2013 images we couldn’t have been more pleased. If there are any flaws or imperfections they could all be ascribed to our failure in the process of crafting an image rather than to any gear limitations.

We went through our images and decided to pick our favourites. Here are my top 10 personal favourites:

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Lawless House, Fuji X100S, ISO 200, 1/240 sec, F5.6

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Port Moody Pier, Fuji X-Pro1, XF 18mm F2, ISO 200, 1/40 sec, f/5.6

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Man and Dogs, Fuji X100S, ISO 200, 1/900 sec, f/6.4

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Shaniko Fire Truck, Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8, ISO 200, 1/350 sec, f/10

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Hidden Stairways, Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8, ISO 200, 8.0 sec, f/8

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The Shadow, Fuji X100S, ISO 200, 1/150 sec, f/5

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Great Flood, Fuji X-Pro1, ISO 200, 1/140 sec, f/4

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Barn, Fuji X100S, ISO 200, 1/500 sec, f/7.1

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Walk In The Park, Fuji X-Pro1, XF 35mm F1.4, ISO 200, 1.5 sec, f/8

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Old Mill, Fuji X-Pro1, XF 14mm F2.8, ISO 200, 1/240 sec, f/5.6

 

 

Kasia’s top 10 favourites:

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Graceful, Fuji X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 4000, 1/125 sec, f/4

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Woman, Fuji X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 200, 1/110 sec, f/4

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Chilling, Fuji X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 200, 1/125 sec, f/8

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Serenity, Fuji X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 200, 1/350 sec, f/13

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Magnificent, X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 500, 1/125 sec, f/4

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Vulnerable, X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 200, 1/400 sec, f/8

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Friends, X-E1, XF 18-55, ISO 320, 1/125 sec, f/3.2

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Abandoned Farm, X100S, 23 mm, ISO 200, 1/850 sec, f/9

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The Ghost Town, X100S, 23 mm, ISO 200, 1/125 sec, f/2

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Shack, X-Pro1, 14 mm, ISO 200, 1/350 sec, f/9

There are many more images that we cherish but somehow these ones struck a chord with us. The greatest lesson we learnt this year was to be prepared, as the best images appear unexpectedly. Therefore, always having a camera with you is the most important step to capture the life of seeing. It doesn’t mean you need to take lots of photographs. Just carry a camera everywhere and teach your senses to be vigilant. This will unleash your creativity and train your eye to catch the unexpected (even if you don’t take a photograph).

For this reason, among many others, Kasia and I decided to name the Fuji X100S our camera of the year. It doesn’t matter whether we are going to the grocery store or a museum, the Fuji X100S is always with us. Its silence, size and lightness mean you are unnoticed and this is something you cannot underestimate. I am not even going to touch on the image quality and lens issues – enough has been said about it.

Our favourite lens of 2013? It must be the XF 14mm F2.8. It’s not only a truly exceptional glass but it covers a focal length that matches our way of seeing (along with the 35mm).

The biggest surprise of 2013? I think I would be the Iridient Developer software. Given early issues with the X-Trans sensor RAW files conversions, this previously unknown company (at least to us), came up with a demosaic formula, which put to shame all other software solutions available.

Despite that, in 2013 we started shooting more and more JPEGs, cutting our processing time and turning our attention to more important pillars of image creation. We will share more of our findings and settings in our upcoming posts.

Websites? It must be Patrick’s Fujirumors and Thomas’ Scoop it. Both provided us with numerous links and rumours about the world of photography.

Plans for 2014? Plenty!

We are already planning several photo trips, including extensive shooting with an upcoming XF 56mm F1.2 lens we have long been waiting for. We are also working on several projects and workshops. We will share with you more details in the upcoming weeks and months. There are many more plans but let us keep some secrets. After all, this is the art of seeing and surprise. Stay tuned.

Final thought. Since we started shooting with the Fuji X100, we have become fans of the X-series system. The philosophy that accompanies the creation of this system, along with the quality and feel of the cameras and superb rendering of the lenses won us over. Despite this well-deserved affection for the X-series, we want to remain 100% independent; therefore, you won’t find any adds on our blog. We want to keep our blog clean, on-topic and free from any outside influence. Image creation and the art of seeing is the only theme of this blog, period.

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

 

It’s the lens, stupid! – Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R review

In the days of film, serious photography was the territory of either professional photographers or dedicated amateurs. Nowadays, everyone is a photographer, often with themselves as the subject. In fact, the Oxford Dictionary’s most popular word of 2013 is “selfie.” But we don’t look to selfies for great quality. It’s not always about composition, light or subject – very often it is all about the camera.

We all fall into this trap sometimes. In the pre-digital era it was normal to use the same camera for years or even decades without needing to buy a new one. The digital revolution changed all that. Almost every year a hot new camera comes along that makes all the previous gear irrelevant. We get pumped up when we get the latest device, only to want one with new features a few months later. For example, have you got a panoramic ball camera yet? 

However, there is one thing that hasn’t changed since the days of film. Those who have been true practitioners of this craft know that it is not the camera. To paraphrase a famous election slogan, it’s the lens, stupid!

In the last few years the rise of mirrorless cameras has meant that several new camera systems have appeared on the market. The design of cameras differs but most photographic gear offers similar image quality. The main difference between the systems is the quality of lenses. Yes, you read it right. Those who sing the praises of their newest toys in online forums should first take a look at the quality of the lenses. The lens is as important (if not more so) than the camera or sensor. How often do you see an expensive camera bonded with a cheap, poor quality lens?

As you know, I have used Canon and Nikon for many years but about two years ago I switched to Fuji X-system cameras. There are many reasons for this change of heart but the main reason was that I wanted the superb calibre of Fujinon lenses.

It all started with the Fuji X100, a game-changing camera with a premier, built-in lens. Then we got the Fuji X-Pro1 with new line of lenses – all of them very bright and super sharp. Despite their relatively young X-camera system, Fuji has already introduced two standouts – XF 35 mm F1.4 and XF 14 mm F2.8. We own them both and consider them one of the best lenses on the market. It is not that the rest of the Fuji lenses are not good but these two are just extraordinary pieces of glass.

The latest addition to the X-series line-up is the XF 23 mm F1.4. The first thing that struck us about this lens was its size. It is even larger than a wide-angle XF 14 mm. When attached to the Fuji X-Pro1 it feels bulky but solid. Its build quality is superb with all-metal mounts and a high-grade barrel. The focus ring is nice and smooth. The only let down is a plastic hood, which feels cheap.

One of the most important features of this lens is the traditional aperture ring on the lens barrel. This attribute allows a photographer to have a special connection with the lens when shooting. It not only enriches the photographic experience but let’s you indulge in the process of image creation. Kudos to Fuji for going this route!

While physical attributes may or may not appeal, image quality is something everyone wants and this lens delivers! Attached to our Fuji X-Pro1, this lens produces razor sharp, three-dimensional imagery. We have been shooting with the best professional-grade glass from Canon (L) and Nikon (ED). We are familiar with Zeiss and Leica lenses. But this Fuji lens is among the best. If you own the Fuji XF 35 mm F1.4 you already know the potential of this lens in the right hands.

Like other Fuji X-series lenses, it is corrected for distortion. The resolution is great at 1.4, gets very strong at 2.0, and becomes heavenly between 5.6 and 11. For me personally, the 23 mm focal length is a sweet spot. If I were to choose one focal length to shoot with, that would be it. Not only does it allow you to capture beautiful landscapes and work on documentary photography and streetscapes but you can go ahead and take some creative portraits with it.

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We own the Fuji X100s, which sports a lens with the same focal length. The question arises – if you already own the Fuji X100/s should you get the XF 23mm lens?

If there were no financial constraints – our answer would be YES and YES again. The beautiful bokeh (blurring) produces gorgeous, creamy images; extra light allows you to shoot in a much darker environment. However, if you have already spent thousands on your gear and for the sake of a happy marriage you need to pause, the small portable Fuji X100/s with a capable F2.0 lens should do the job.

Finally, I hear some people complaining about the price. I found the camera to be quite a bargain for what you get. In the last few years, there has been a tsunami of new lenses, especially for mirrorless cameras. Unfortunately, most of the lenses are very poorly made, slow and poor quality (I guess the price is right). Therefore I am very glad that Fuji decided to put a lot of effort and dedication into equipping the Fuji X-series cameras with superb quality lenses. Those who really care about photography will cherish the lens for many years to come. Cameras will come and go but exceptional lenses will stay.

After all, it’s all about the lens, stupid!

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When I started writing this review, I wanted to deliver a technical Grand Tour with charts and technical data about this lens. I found there are already plenty of technical reviews, really well done, on the Internet (here, here, here and here). Therefore, I decided to spend my time shooting with the lens to show you what it does. All images in this review were taken with the Fuji X-Pro1 paired with the XF 23mm F.1.4 R lens. 

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and some from the Vancouver Christmas Market.

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.