Fujifilm GF 45mm F2.8 lens review – Street Photography with medium format? Hell yes!

Fujifilm GF 45mm F2.8 lens review – Street Photography with medium format? Hell yes!

For years, I’ve felt the lure of the digital medium format. But the prices of such systems were stratospheric and out-of-reach for those of us who could not justify the purchase by running a commercial or high-end fashion photography business. In fact, I was puzzled by the fact that camera companies have been bleeding margins and kept fighting on price in a crowded and utterly boring full frame market (no innovation until the Sony mirrorless). In the meantime, the digital medium format was waiting to be rattled and disrupted. When the Fujifilm announced its entrance into the digital medium format, I was all ears.

Courtesy of Jonas Rask

Since its release in February 2017, I was eager to find out if the GFX50S would finally fit my seeing. Soon after its debut I had the chance of testing the system with the first pack of the lenses: GF 32-64 F4 zoom, GF 63mm F2.8 and GF 120mm F4 Macro. While I had high expectations, I never thought such a system would make me rethink my gear choices.   

But I was brought up short when I found how the sensor could capture light. Here is what I wrote:

“It’s the visual sphere which the cellphone crowd will not give a damn about but I do! I call them transition strokes when light changes, bends and submerges into coexisting elements in the image. In most cameras, this metamorphosis is rather abrupt and loud. In the medium format camera, it takes the form of “melting” as if there were no border – no beginning or end. Your eyes wander continuously without interruption between shadows and highlights. The light becomes liquid and perpetually spills over. This allows the photographer to blend light and shadow in a way that was not possible before.”

This year due to the enormous generosity of one of my dear friends and supporters, I could purchase the GFX50S camera. Of course, as for most buyers, it was very difficult to get all the lenses. I had to choose which lens I wanted to start with. Before I ordered the camera, I was considering two: (1) GF 63 F2.8, or (2) GF 45mm F2.8. In full-frame terms it was the choice between a classic 50mm or a slightly wider 35mm field of view. For someone who has spent the last few years working almost exclusively with the X100 series cameras, the GF 45mm F2.8 was the obvious choice.

The GF 45mm F2.8 R WR is a moderate wide-angle lens, which if translated precisely to full-frame, becomes a 37mm f2.3. As such, the lens covers a similar view as the lens on my beloved X100F. Not only would my seeing transition seamlessly to the medium format but with this one lens I could continue pursuing my street and creative photography, travel relatively light (in medium format terms) and not worry about the lack of visual leeway. This is the reason I didn’t go with the GF 63mm F2.8 lens! When I was working with it, I faced visual situations when I needed a slightly wider field of view. Having said that, the GF 45mm F2.8 gives me such perspective that if some cropping is required, it could be easily done in post-processing, bringing me closer to the GF 63mm field of view, with some minor trade-offs. I won’t even mention the monster resolution of the camera!  

Most importantly, the GFX50S paired with the GF 45mm F2.8 WR provided me with a relatively portable and manageable project-focused, creative street photography/travel combo.

Wait! Olaf, why would you shoot street photography with medium format? Great question! Don’t get me wrong. My beloved Fujifilm X100F is not going anywhere! I will write a longer piece tackling this conundrum, but for now let me tell you that certain visual explorations, not only on the street, warrant medium format especially if your photography heads in a certain visual and commercial direction, as mine does. I will talk more about this in an upcoming post. Let’s go back to the GF 45mm F2.8

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Courtesy of Jonas Rask

One of the biggest obstacles in producing the digital medium format system is often not the camera itself but the production of the lenses. The medium format is painfully demanding optically and any imperfections or shortcomings in the lenses are amplified by the high-resolution sensor. There is nowhere to hide. Fortunately, Fujifilm, which has been producing medium format lenses for other brands, is in a unique position. Also, let’s not forget Fujifilm leadership in cinema lenses. This experience and expertise manifests itself in the GF 45mm F2.8 WR lens.

The lens is weather-resistant! In practical terms, it was designed to withstand moderate amounts of water or dust without causing any damage. Fujifilm has placed special seals around risk areas of the lens and the camera to prevent any unwelcome intrusions. Indeed, I was shooting with Fujifilm X-series cameras, including the GFX, in pouring rain (for my R-A-I-N project) and I never had any problems. The Fujifilm WR simply works!

The GF 45mm F2.8 feels solid in the hands but not overly heavy. It is slightly larger and heavier than the GF 63 F2.8. When attached to the camera, the combo feels just right and comfortable, even for extended walks around the city (of course it is not the serenity of the X100F!). The lens has eleven elements and eight group setups including two low dispersion elements and a spherical element to prevent aberrations. In contrast to the GF 63mm F2.8, the lens uses internal focusing, which is much faster and quieter than its counterpart. As of today, the GF 45mm F2.8 may well be the fastest focusing GF lens currently available.

The lens has a physical aperture ring ranging from F2.8 to F32 in third stop increments. As with some X-series cameras, you may use an “A” switch in shutter priority mode, as well as a “C” mode if you want to control the aperture on the GFX using one of the scroll wheels.

IMAGE QUALITY

As someone who has shot with all GF lenses, the GF 45mm F2.8 is supremely sharp over most of the frame. Its rendering is beautiful and fluid with an adequate punch of micro-contrast for the GFX50S files to shine and out-resolve. The wide-open performance is dazzling but those who demand the absolute best in terms of contrast and sharpness may want to wander between F4 and F11. The bokeh is pleasing and fluid, given that it is a wide-angle lens. In short, the image quality of this lens is a match for the stunning capabilities of the medium format sensor inside the GFX50S!

WHO IS THIS LENS FOR?

The medium format digital photography world used to be a niche for high-end commercial and fashion photographers. With the release of the GFX medium format system, a new wave of professional and serious amateurs is making the transition beyond the full frame world. I expect this trend to accelerate as more medium format cameras with lower price points enter the market. Not only will the market for medium format cameras and lenses open up, but the use of those cameras will also expand from high-end commercial and fashion photography to wedding, landscape, travel or even street and documentary photography. Especially for documentary and street photographers, the GF 45mm F2.8 is a must-have lens. In fact, as in my case, if I had to choose just one lens for the medium format system, that would be it.

SUMMARY

The GF 45mm F2.8 is a great match for the incredible resolving power of the Fujifilm GFX50S. Light, supremely sharp with great micro-contrast punch, it should be considered one of the first lenses for the system.

This week I am leaving for a photo trip with the GF 250 F4, GF 23 F2.8 and GF 110 F2. Stay tuned for some imagery, mini-reviews and some video material.  

      

 

2018 © OLI Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.

Thoughts About The XF 23mm F2 Lens

Thoughts About The XF 23mm F2 Lens

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-10-25-09-pmImage courtesy of Jonas Rask

To attempt product-photography for the purpose of this blog entry would be a giant waste of our time. We are just not capable of producing  better X products images than those done by the visual virtuoso, Fujifilm X-photographer Jonas Rask. Make sure to check out his review of the XF 23mm F2 lens and follow his blog.

I always knew there was something off about me. It is well known that the 35mm focal length (50mm in FF) is the natural equivalent of a human eye’s field of view. But it’s not so for me. My seeing somehow feels confined and limited, grasping for just a little bit more frame space.

For years my always-with-me camera has been the X100/S. Its portability, quietness, fun-factor and its 23mm field of view (35mm in FF) was exactly what I needed for everyday shooting. However, with the recent release of the X-Pro2 and the X-T2 (22MP, Joystick, Double-card slots etc…), my X100S had hard time competing for my attention. I have to admit I cannot wait for the next iteration of this camera (Fujifilm – are you listening!?).

In the meantime, I have been working on several projects including a very cold wet one with the working title R-A-I-N, which not only requires the 23mm field of view but it also demands a light, weather-sealed lens. When Fujifilm announced a brand new XF 23mm F2 lens I knew that this would be a perfect match for my X-Pro2.

Before I share a few thoughts with you about this new lens please keep in mind this is not a review per se. Although I know that such a lengthy review would benefit this blog, we are just too busy shooting and working on several projects to devote ourselves to such in-depth analysis. With this disclaimer out of the way here are a few thoughts.

  • As mentioned earlier, the 23mm (35mm FF) field of view is the way we see the world around us.
  • The new 23mm F2 lens is very small and light – a huge plus.
  • Its build is all metal and it’s solid – it feels great in the hand. Having said that, the lens hood is something of an anomaly – cheap, plastic and ugly.
  • The lens shape is not to our liking but the X-Pro2 optical viewfinder plays a role here.
  • The aperture clicks sound and feel the best of all the XF lenses (Fuji finally got it perfect).
  • Similarly, the focus ring feels just right.
  • Weather-resistant (WR) – we didn’t pay attention to this feature until we started to shoot our R-A-I-N project. Yes, now we want all lenses (and the next iteration of the X100 camera) to be WR!
  • This lens is so QUIET.  
  • The autofocus is super-fast, a huge improvement over the first generation of XF lenses such as the XF 35mm F1.4.
  • Wide-open, the lens displays some softness, especially at short distances, but somehow we embraced this feature. After reviewing our recent imagery, we were positively surprised with the creamy, almost poetic look of our images shot at F2. At other apertures, the lens is tack-sharp (sharp is so overrated – maybe the next frontier for Fujifilm and other lens manufacturers should be achieving a unique rendering/look/depiction – just a thought).
  • There is a noticeable increase in micro-contrast in comparison to older XF lenses.

One of the most common questions we receive from people who are starting with the X-series system is: Which lens should I get first? Short answer: XF 23mm F2. It’s a perfect field of view to master first, it has great rendering, is inexpensive, small, light and weather-resistant (WR). Go for it!

Below please find a few images shot for our project R-A-I-N. All shot with the X-Pro2 and the XF 23mm F2.

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2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

     

Top 10 Questions About the X-Pro2

Top 10 Questions About the X-Pro2

 

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In the last few weeks we have received numerous questions about the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and the X-series line in general. Here are the top 10:

Should I get the X-Pro2 or wait for an X-T2?

The X-Pro line and the X-T line are cameras tailored to different kinds of photographer. The X-Pro1/2 is a rangefinder-style camera perfectly suited to documentary/street photography; the X-T1 has a lot of similarities to an SLR. Assuming that you are dealing with the same generation – X-Pro1/X-T1 or X-Pro2/X-T2 – the image quality will most likely be the same because Fuji uses the same sensors in their higher-end models. It’s all about the style of shooting and your personal preferences.

Kasia and I prefer the X-Pro1/2 rangefinder style. It fits our way of shooting better. We enjoy having a viewfinder on the left side of the camera (the X-T1’s viewfinder is located in the middle). However, some of you may like the larger viewfinder in the X-T1/2 and the SLR feel, and that’s fine.

About “waiting for the next model.” Don’t! If you don’t have a camera, buy one and start shooting today. There will be always a better camera just around the corner. What really matters is what you create today! 

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So…with the X-Pro1 now going for $400 or so, would you say the improvements are worth the extra $1000? That could buy some sweet lenses…

True – you can buy a beautiful glass for $1000. To be honest, I don’t like answering this type of question. Here is my take: for those of us who take photos daily, print our work large, blog, write and pay our bills with photography – YES, the extra $1000 is well worth it.

However, your situation may be different. If your only reason to purchase the X-Pro2 is to have the latest gear, don’t do it. If your X-Pro1 works for you and you don’t do huge prints and you maybe need a new glass – buy a new lens instead.

Ultimately, it is your decision. Be honest with yourself and don’t try to justify your decision with the biggest fallacy in photography: “When I get this camera or lens I will be a better photographer.”

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Is the resolution that much better compared to the X-T1?

Yes. We are impressed with the number of details. Not only can you crop much more generously compared to the X-T1 but you can also print your images large – really large. We will publish some 100% crops in our upcoming posts.

Are you sponsored by Fuji?

Other than the fact that Fujifilm Canada is kind enough to send us some gear for review from time to time (for which we are grateful!), we don’t have any other business relationship.

Did you notice that there are no ads on our blog? Part of the reason is that we want to remain 100% independent. We want to keep our blog clean and focus on quality material only.

We just really like shooting with the Fuji X-series cameras. We like the fact that Fuji looks for, respects and most importantly acts on the feedback received from truly creative photographers. It doesn’t mean we don’t try other cameras from time to time. Just recently we tried Sony, Pentax and even Sigma cameras – this gives us some perspective and ultimately proves that indeed, the Fuji X-Pro2 is still the best camera for us. 

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What are your favourite features of the X-Pro2?

Joystick! Joystick! Joystick! We also appreciate dual memory card slots and higher resolution/improvements in the ISO.

What is the best lens to start with?

Go with the XF 35mm F1.4 or the latest XF 35mm F2. These are great lenses to start with and they have a similar field of view to the human eye. Only when you master one focal length, go for another. Don’t buy everything at once.

The ACROS looks digital to me?!

I’m not sure whether creating an exact replica of film was the objective of creating the ACROS simulation. Digital and film are different and they have their own advantages/disadvantages.

Another thing – you have the option to add more/less grain. When using the ACROS we usually use the “weak” grain option, but there is also a “strong” mode. Keep in mind that Fuji has considerable expertise in film and if there is one company that “gets it” regarding a film-like look in their digital cameras, it’s Fuji.

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When comparing the X-Pro2 with many other cameras, it appears to me that it lacks in video capabilities. Why would you want to buy such a camera?

 I really don’t like “do it all” cameras. A camera is an essential, very intimate tool and the simpler it is the better it is for the user. Unfortunately, many inspiring photographers choose their cameras based on the number of features it has, rather than on its character and “fit” into their own way of seeing. What a pity!

If you want a new camera, grab it and shoot with it. Avoid chatrooms at all costs!

Don’t you think the X-Pro2 is overpriced for what it is?

Overpriced compared with what? I often hear this argument from people who are technically obsessed and compare each feature in the camera to the competitor’s without actually shooting. A camera that fits my way of shooting and becomes “one” with me is much more valuable than a camera that has more features but I just cannot get in tune with it. 

Where are you heading next?

 Cuba…among many other amazing locations. Stay tuned!

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All images taken with the Fuji X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Photographic Retreat with the X-Pro2 or: How to choose a camera?

Photographic Retreat with the X-Pro2 or: How to choose a camera?

Last time we had a good time (and a laugh) having a conversation with the X-Pro2. We received great feedback for which we are both very grateful.  

Today we will continue to cover this new camera but we’ll approach the subject in a slightly different way. Each time a new camera hits the market the Internet goes berserk. There’s a plethora of reviews, technical comparisons and samples being shared and discussed (we share in the blame). Interested buyers visit technically oriented websites where cameras are being compared. It is common to show two cameras side by side where all the possible technical details are compared. Resolution? Check! Video? Check! Panorama? Check! And so on.

There is no question that many people like it this way. Not only do we find such comparisons misleading but we believe that they do more harm than good for buyers. For many photographers, a camera is much more than just a physical object. As the facilitator of the creative process, a camera should not only complement but support the photographer in this difficult but highly rewarding endeavour. Therefore, a well-designed camera will make the interaction between photographer and camera intuitive and fluid.

With all these things in mind, how do you pick the right camera? This is how we “tested” the Fuji X-Pro2 (please note that this process could be applied to any brand; you may well decide that other cameras work better for you).

No, we didn’t run outside and shoot hundreds of photos of hydrants and flowers. No, we didn’t photograph our dog and watch the images at the 100% crop on our computer. We did something different.

Kasia and I packed up and took a photographic retreat with the X-Pro2 – away from the computer, crowds, opinions and all the daily noise and kerfuffle.

Our choice was rural eastern Oregon where we had ventured before and had fallen in love with the welcoming people, historic little towns and pleasant countryside. We stayed at Wilson Ranches Retreat Bed and Breakfast run by Nancy and Phil. What a great place to calm your mind and focus on imagery!

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We have stayed at many B&Bs before but this one is special, thanks to the wonderful owners. The moment you step into this original 1914 Sears Roebuck kit home you know you are in a different world. Not only do Nancy and Phil make the house feel welcoming but a display of family history makes you feel you are part of it. We immediately knew this was going to be a great place to uplift our way of seeing and bond with or divorce from the X-Pro2.

After settling in, we decided to drive into town to grab a bite. As usual in such a small town there was only one place open. While we were eating, the waitress asked us if we were staying at Wilson Ranch. When we said yes, Nancy (one of the owners of the ranch) showed up at our table and welcomed us with a big hug. What a coincidence!

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Back at the ranch, we enjoyed a relaxing evening soaking up the total silence occasionally interrupted by the howling of a pack of wolves. What a setup for our photographic cleansing and exploration! With the troubles of our daily lives out of the way we could sit down in big comfortable chairs and let photographic thoughts percolate through.

Is the Fuji X-Pro2 the right camera for us? How does it fit with the way we see and photograph? Where is our photography going? Does this new camera fit this vision? Is it worth buying? When one question was answered, another was just around the corner. This mental wondering and searching put us in the right mind-set for early morning photography.

I woke up early and walked around the house. The silence of the hills, the grace of a giant tree and the calm of whispering grass made me feel strangely awake and alive. All I had to do was to raise the X-Pro2 to my eye, feel, visualize, see, compose and capture.

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It is not that the X-Pro2 form was new to me. I have been shooting with the X-Pro1 for many years. The new camera, however, felt slightly heavier than the previous generation – I would say more solid and firmer. I also liked the firm grip – a noticeable improvement. It is especially important to me as I never use straps.

As I raised the camera to my eye, I immediately noticed the much more fluid, quick but small viewfinder. For the last two years I have been shooting with the X-T1 and I’ve got used to its huge viewfinder. I had to adjust to a slightly smaller window in the X-Pro2. Its placement – on the left side of the camera – exposed part of my face, unlike the X-T1 where my face is hidden behind the camera. With the increasing amount of documentary work we do, this arrangement allows better contact with my subject. It’s a definite plus.

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The quietude of the place made me turn my attention to the X-Pro2’s shutter sound. Yes, it is new and different but I immediately liked it. Kasia and I often photograph conferences or church events when a loud shutter click is distracting. Of course, the X100-line noiselessness is ideal in such situations but if I need to hear anything, I want this sound to be subtle and smooth.

Then, as my the fingers on my right hand wandered around the buttons – now all at the right side of the camera – one new addition immediately became a must-have. That’s a joystick. Choosing the focal point has always been a hassle for me. I’ve never liked playing with buttons. Now, not only does the joystick’s distinctive shape attract your fingers (no need to search for it), but getting to the right focal point is fast and easy – so easy. If I had to choose one improvement that makes the biggest difference for me – that would be it!

As I was wandering around the ranch taking photos, Phil, the owner arrived at the guesthouse. After a welcoming chat he was kind enough to pose for a few photographs.

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Then it was time for breakfast. While Phil had to continue with his daily routine, Nancy, Kara (Phil and Nancy’s daughter) and a few other guests joined us for a fabulous breakfast. Breakfast is one of the favourite parts of our trips. People from many parts of the world sit down around a table sharing a meal. This is where all the barriers are broken, stories are shared and friendship initiated. It’s also where I can get to know people I often photograph later.

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During breakfast, a joyful and charismatic Kara led us to a truly amazing lady with a steely character, who once qualified for the US Olympic swimming team with an incredible life story (look for our next post!).

After breakfast, I took a few portraits of Nancy and her daughters. During this mini photo-shoot I noticed how casual the whole experience was for my subjects. We could talk and laugh the entire time as they saw most of my face when I was taking photos. The small and unintimidating Fuji X-Pro2 allowed the interaction.

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During our stay at the ranch I had the chance to do some documentary, landscape and portrait photography. The X-Pro2 didn’t disappoint and turned out to fit my way of shooting perfectly. Especially when paired with the XF 35mm F1.4, the camera is such a joy to hold and work with. For me, bonding with a camera, scrutinizing its inner workings and finding out how it fits into my own way of shooting is an essential part of the decision making.

Sure, a later examination of image quality, dynamic range etc. plays a role but I believe that it is only part of the process. Today with so many cameras offering a great image quality, this “fitting” into your own personality and shooting style must be a priority. It cannot be done in a store setting or through online chatrooms.

All images taken with the Fuji X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8, Classic Chrome (CC) or Provia (STD) film simulations.   

Stay tuned for more coverage.

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

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.  

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Fuji X100T – First Thoughts

We must confess we haven’t had a chance to see or play with this new camera. Our ramblings are based on provided specifications, sample photos and other (lucky) photographers’ impressions.

As our readers know, the Fuji X100/S has been our favourite camera ever. Over the course of the last few years we have published numerous articles and reviews accompanied by great imagery produced by this little gem. In fact, the majority of images you find on this blog were shot with the Fuji X100S.

We never ever leave house without this camera – the Fuji X100S always travels with us. If I were asked to keep just one camera, this would be it. This is why: 

  1. It is small, light and silent. It becomes a part of you and your seeing process because it’s so easy to carry around.
  2. It has a very high quality, bright, fixed lens – contrary to some who believe a prime lens will make you think more carefully and take better imagery. You will use your brain, imagination and legs.
  3. You won’t carry a bag full of gear and be constantly looking for the best fit. Instead you will focus on the scene, subject and light. You will create stunning images.
  4. You will find the all-important knobs (yes knobs!) at your fingertips. You will physically feel it when you change aperture or shutter speed. That’s the way it should be.
  5. You will see the final image before you take it thanks to an innovative EVF (we cannot wait to see the latest version in X100T)
  6. You will shoot JPEGs and they are going to be stunning (especially in regard to skin tones).
  7. Finally, you will rediscover photography.

As soon as we get our hands on the Fuji X100T we will share our full review of this new camera (for now make sure to check out an excellent coverage here and here).

Here are some recent images taken in the Okanagan wine region. Some are JPEGs, some processed RAW files but all are taken with the Fuji X100S.

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And here is yours truly (with the Fuji X-T1 in his hands), courtesy of my wife Kasia.

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

Sharpening – Monster Under the Bed – Debunked

Please keep in mind that in the artistic chain of creating a great image, a processing technique is only secondary to your creativity and your emotional connection with the subject. You should spend most of your time in the field concentrating on composition and light. Only when you master this part, can you complement your image with subtle processing techniques. The simpler and faster the method, the more time you will have to create great photographs. Don’t fall into a hole of never-ending alterations. Get the simplest processing software you can get. Playing for hours with your imagery in Photoshop won’t make you a better photographer; in fact, quite the opposite.

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There is no other topic that garners more attention in digital post-processing than sharpening. In fact, the question about “how to get sharp photos” is one of the most common we receive. What some photographers don’t realize is that the quest for sharp images doesn’t begin in front of the computer. It starts much earlier.

It begins in the field. Simple things like the way you hold the camera could have a huge impact on your photos. We admit that we are not big fans of tripods. Most of our work has been shot freehand. For us the freedom of movement and creativity that flows from it is much more important than laboratory-sharp photos. Having said that, even while shooting freehand, there are ways to get your photos sharp.

  • Avoid using the LCD at the back of the camera and instead use your viewfinder. Press the camera tightly to your body for stabilization.
  • Make sure your focus point is exactly where you want it to be.
  • Most importantly, pay attention to the lenses you are using. It is so common to see people with huge megapixel-count cameras with cheap zoom lenses attached to them. Get high quality lenses first; only then worry about the camera. For example, the Fuji primes are very sharp, so less sharpening may be required.

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All right. You are back at home with your stunning photos and they are ready for processing. Let’s get started.

The sharpening techniques listed below are discussed in the context of the Fuji X-series cameras but they apply to any camera. These are only suggestions and the technique could vary depending on personal preferences and subject matter.

In order to provide you with the best information, we went straight to Brian Griffith, the creator of Iridient Developer. Here is the information he shared with us:    

All of the methods in Iridient Developer are very high quality implementations done with 32 bit/channel floating point processing using a special perceptual colour space where the colour/chroma is separated from the luminance detail to avoid colour artifacts. All of them can give very, very good results; finding what works best for you just takes experimentation and practice. To get a feel for the “character” of the various methods, it helps to push the adjustments to the extremes (right end of the sliders) and then maybe 1/2 and then fine tune from there. Most people will quickly find a method and a range that works for them.

Note: the four major methods of sharpening found in Iridient Developer (and in some other programs) are discussed in the context of the characteristics of the X-Trans cameras. Brian writes:

The X-Trans cameras lack anti-aliasing filters and use a sensor that has more “green” coloured photosites, which tends to have a strong correlation with luminance detail versus colour and is often used with prime lenses that are quite sharp. These three factors all contribute to the X-Trans cameras in general being quite sharp to begin with and needing less aggressive sharpening than most other digital cameras. For any of the sharpening methods that take a radius parameter (USM, DoG, RL) you’ll want to keep it fairly small, as there just isn’t much blur in these images to begin with. For RL Deconvolution I recommend around 0.30 to 0.5 for the X-Trans cameras and this is a decent starting range I think for USM and DoG too.

Unsharp Mask

This is a very, very popular sharpening method. Some people have used unsharp masking in Photoshop for many, many years and are just incredibly comfortable with this method and its parameters. There are numerous books, magazines and online articles that have been published over the years that cover USM so it tends to be one of the better known and understood methods. Using too much amount or too big a radius can lead to “halo” artifacts, a little of which can actually sometimes be a good thing for printing. But when viewed at high resolution on screen, “halos” can quickly get a lot of criticism online as “poorly” done sharpening.

Hybrid

Super fast, only two sliders and can often get away with just adjusting the sharpen strength so this is probably the easiest to use and is the default option for most cameras including the X-trans models in Iridient Developer. This method can also produce “halos” like USM when overdone, but tends to be subtler.

DoG

A Google search for “difference of Gaussians” will turn up lots of info on this one. WikiPedia says, “Difference of Gaussians algorithm is believed to mimic how neural processing in the retina of the eye extracts details from images destined for transmission to the brain.” It’s a popular form of edge enhancement for microscopic imaging. This and the hybrid are quite similar. DoG provides a bit more fine control over the parameters, and has more slider adjustments than Hybrid. Typically you’ll want the Sharpening Radius to be greater than the Noise Radius by a factor of 1.5 to 3.0 or so… it can be used to approximate a Laplacian of Gaussians filter (yet another edge-sharpening method).

R-L Deconvolution

It’s more of a “deblur” process than the others, which tend to be more edge-contrast enhancing. Can really improve fine micro detail like natural textures (sand, stone, leaves, hair, etc.), artificial textures and fine patterns much better than the traditional edge-sharpening methods, but if you are really looking for crisp sharp edges, it may not quite give that same super sharp look either. Can avoid some of the “halo” type over-sharpening artifacts unless really super overdone, but can have some “swirly” sort of “false grain” artifacts of its own.

Some people really, really like the look of RL Deconvolution. In some programs, similar deconvolution-type sharpening methods may be termed “smart” sharpening. If you are after a more natural look of detail without quite so much edge sharpness and contrast and really want to bring out very fine texture details (hair, eyelashes, leaves, grass) RL Deconvolution is one I would definitely recommend.

The RL Deconvolution is the method we use. After experimenting with different tools we found this process the best in treating the X-Trans sensor files. With the most recent X-T1 and Fuji X100S cameras we use 0.39. Indeed, we confirm Brian’s point that this method significantly improves micro contrast and details.

Finally, let me finish where I started. Don’t pull your hair out over sharpening or any other processing dilemma. First, make sure you capture a strong photograph. Pay attention to your subject, composition and light. Only then can you complement your visual masterpiece with some processing technique, if it’s even needed.

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All images presented here were captured with the Fuji X-T1, XF 14mm F2.8 and XF 56mm F1. 2.

Sincere thanks to Brian and his team at Iridient Digital for sharing his insights about this important subject with us.

 

2014 © Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

Fuji X-T1 – Seeing – Improved

Despite the cold weather the X-T1 bug has been spreading quite rapidly. There are many reasons to like this new addition to the Fuji X-series line: a great sensor, clean design, weather sealing, improved autofocus… the list goes on.

While technicians and pixel-peepers will keep arguing about the sensor or autofocus and compare it to all other cameras, we are looking somewhere else. Since its inception, photography has always been about seeing. We have argued repeatedly that SLR camera designs have gone berserk. The plethora of functions and buttons and 300-page-long manuals cannot be good for someone who just wants to focus on seeing. Years back, when we first got our Fuji X100, then the Fuji X-Pro1 and X100S, we knew that “there is a better way“.

The release of the X-T1 Fuji addressed two key elements in photography.

First and foremost, an extra-large EVF allows you to concentrate on composition, light and subject in a way that is not possible with the optical viewfinder (which we also like to use). You can actually see the image before you take it! Of course, the EVF is not a new idea but it is beyond my comprehension that as of today, neither Nikon nor Canon has implemented this important technology in their leading cameras.

Second, access to all-important dials such as shutter speed or exposure compensation is at your fingertips. No, it is not hidden in the menus but in front of you! You can change them without dragging your eyes away from the scene.

In sum, a camera doesn’t have to have every possible feature — quite the opposite. Give me the best viewfinder on the market and the manual controls at my fingertips and let me do what I love to do – see and paint with light. All the rest is just distraction.

 

We have the X-T1 on pre-order and we plan to shoot extensively with this camera. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, it is time to share with you a few recent images shot with the Fuji X-Pro1, XF 60mm F2.4 and Fuji X100S. Processed in Iridient Developer and NIK Silver Pro (B&W). Enjoy. 

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and some in colour…

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© Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

It’s Still The One

December in Vancouver is usually marked by wet, rainy weather that drags on for weeks. So last Sunday when we got a tip that the sun might appear for a few hours we were eager to grab this rare opportunity.

When we left the house it was still raining but I grabbed my Fuji X100S anyway. As soon as we arrived at Port Moody Rocky Point Park, the weather started to improve. The clouds were breaking up, giving way to the first rays of sunshine. At the same time and very unusually for the time of day, random patches of fog blanketed some areas of the park. What a great opportunity!

We took some family and landscape shots – all with the Fuji X100S.

When we got home, I started looking at the images and it dawned on me that three years after the debut of the Fuji X100/S camera, it’s still the one I enjoy using the most. It is still the camera I grab when I leave the house. It is still the camera that works with me unlike any other camera on the market (see our full review here).

It’s not that I haven’t tried others. For a few days, I brought home the Ricoh GR. Sure it has very good image quality and a great lens but its plastic feel and lack of a viewfinder and dedicated knobs made me long for the Fuji X100S. Then there was the Nikon Coolpix A – a total non-starter for so many reasons I am not going to waste your time. Most recently, I tried an FF Sony with its 35 mm Zeiss lens. Sure, it had great image quality but somehow felt dry and uninspiring (and expensive).  

It is unbelievable that three years after Fuji introduced the X100, no other camera manufacturer has been able to come up with a contender to match the usability, portability, quality and the “joy” factor of the Fuji X100S.

In fact, I have been shooting with the X100S so much that this “One Camera, One Lens” combo has become the natural extension of my sight.

What freedom!

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and some from Buntzen Lake

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© Olaf 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.