Fuji X-Trans sensor and Aperture raw conversions - Part 2

All images shot with Fuji X-Pro 1 and processed from raw with Aperture and Photoshop

Yesterday was a gorgeous spring day, warm and sunny, and I was out shooting for pretty much the whole day. With the prospect of producing files that finally do it justice, I used my Fuji X-E1 with the 18-55mm zoom and Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5 lenses.

This morning I've been processing a few and uploading them to picture library websites. At the moment I'm bulk processing the files initially in Aperture, using a preset that gives me good control over highlights but adds no sharpening, saving them as .tif files and then finishing them off in Photoshop. I'm doing it this way, because I'm still unconvinced by many of the Aperture settings, I don't know it as well as Photoshop and like all other versions I've used, its pretty slow, even on on my i7 laptop. So its a two software programme conversion which is not ideal, but I find it worth doing because of the sharp files that are produced.

Over a year ago, I declared that the results I got from the Fuji X-Pro 1 were the best image quality I'd ever seen from a camera I owned. Despite all the problems with the raw files, I still stuck by that, mainly based on what I had seen using Raw Photo Processor 64. This software did produce excellent images which showed that sharpness this sensor is capable of. However I found it difficult to get the colour I liked from that software. No such problems with Aperture however. The colour is excellent. I'm able to get my digital version of Fuji Velvia without any problems. (Incidentally the Velvia option for jpgs. on the Fuji cameras is actually nothing like it.) I do prefer the colour much more than the Adobe rendition which is somewhat muted and desaturated. Seemingly a consequence of what Adobe are doing to the files to cut down colour noise.

The Aperture solution is much more to my taste and lets me decide how much noise reduction I want to use and on what parts of the image. I prefer it because it simply 'lets more through'. Adobe, Capture One and the Fuji / Silkypix software all seem intent on filtering the raw files before letting us work on them. I don't really see what they are afraid of and what they are so keen to filter out. The X-E1 files via Aperture remind me a lot of Leica M9 files. Yes there is some colour noise, yes there is some moire, but its far from a serious problem and it can be easily removed either globally or selectively in the file, without seriously affecting the sharpness and colour rendition. I can't believe that Apple are any better at working the demosiacing algorithms than the engineers at Adobe etc. I think that they have just made different choices and are pretty much letting what the camera takes stand, so that we can make our own choices. I can't say this for certain of course, but it does seem to me that is what is happening.

Anyway, whatever the reasons, the X-E1 now turns out really good files that are what I've wanted to see for the last year. And so yet again, this time with some justification, I can say that the X-Trans sensor image quality are the best I've used. With the top-class jpgs., class-leading high ISO performance and now ultra-sharp low ISO images I haven't used anything better.

The question of course, is where do Fuji go from here? There are two things I think that need to be adressed. The first of course is how do PC users get the options that Aperture and Raw Photo Processor 64 offer? Since both are Mac only programmes, they only have   Photoshop / Lightroom, Capture One and Fuji / Silkypix, in my opinion the worst three options, to choose from. The second is an improvement to the cameras. 

Fuji have produced a sensor that can handle pretty much anything. With its peerless ISO performance I can't think of any photographic work that is beyond it. The files upsize to 24MP with no problem at all, so lack of pixels isn't a problem. The quality of the sensor means that there is no need to go to 35mm size to get low noise. And Fuji have shown that they have lost none of their skills as lensmakers. The problem however is in the cameras. Fuji could probably grab more of a share of all kinds of markets, including the professional one, with this sensor technology, if they just sorted out a few things. Battery life has to be longer and there has to be a proper power use meter. AF certainly has to be faster, the menu system has to be overhauled and they have to get serious about video. I know a lot of people don't care about it, but a lot do and this is an area that is going to become more and more important as time passes. Just bringing it up to standard of my Nikon 1 V1 in terms of all this would be a start. While I've been raving about how great the V1 is to use, the Fuji is vastly superior in tems of image quality and I can't see how a few simple tweaks can't be implemented fairly easily. 

Plus Fuji have to decide if they are serious about manual focus third-party lenses being used on their camera. In which case they have to add focus peaking ASAP. Like most companies I imagine that they really want to say 'We don't really want you using other peoples stuff, we would much rather you buy the Fuji lenses'. But Sony offer it, as now do Leica. Its what people want, just read the forums.

I doubt we are going to see a 'Pro DSLR like' manifestation of the X-Trans sensor. I think Fuji are wedded to the Rangefinderesque, Lookaleica, old-school design ethic, but that doesn't make 'Pro' type features impossible. The X-E1 is in fact a really nice camera for handling with a good EVF and live view screen. Its just that when I use it, I'm constantly aware of the absences I outlined above. I really need to know how much battery power I have left, as I missed a great shot yesterday because the camera ran out of power at the crucial time. If I had known how much juice I had left then I would have changed the battery before. Plus 150 shots on one battery just isn't good enough. Using my Voigtlander 90mm I would have appreciated focus peaking and there were occasions when the AF 'hunted' in decent light, which again is not good enough. 

To my mind, Fuji have done the hard part, producing a sensational sensor, which achieves the impossible of producing files at low ISO's that aren't far off the Sigma DP Merrills I had, but with better colour and of course much superior high ISO perfromance. Surely it isn't that difficult to get the cameras better?