Fuji X-E1 and manual focusing - Is it worth it? - Part 1

All images - Fuji X-E1 Sigma 30mm f/1.4 Nikon Fit - using focus peaking.

I've mentioned this before, but since youth I have had a problem with bright sunlight. Basically it dazzles me, I find it difficult to see, and it can trigger visual migraines. Not necessarily a good thing for someone who works outdoors almost exclusively and in sunshine as well. However, for many years Bausch and Lomb, who make Raybans, came to my rescue (I wore contact lenses at the time). Their polarized sunglasses allowed me to work comfortably in often very bright conditions. This with film cameras and optical viewfinders. The first digital cameras I used had variations on this and again it was no problem, but then along came EVF's. 

Some with OLED viewfinders are no problem, but others without this technology are completely useless as the polarisation in the lenses blocks out all or part of the view. Usually in the horizontal plane when switching to vertical view is OK. Incidentally its the reverse of this for the rear screen. With the amazing summer we have been having, this year has been a real problem for me. Yesterday, for example using a Nikon 1 V1, which doesn't like polarised lenses I was in some discomfort and had to close my right eye, which is worse than the left, for long periods. I was wearing prescription sunglasses, specially made for me and VERY dark, but it was still a problem. And I'm now thinking enough is enough. Its becoming almost essential for me to wear polarised sunglasses when I'm out photographing in the sunshine, which does help enormously as they cut down on glare significantly and I'm pretty much going to have to use cameras that have EVF's and screens that are polaroid 'friendly'. Now in terms of what I'm using currently, if I do make this decision, then I will be somewhat broken-hearted, since the Leica X-Vario with its add-on viewfinder doesn't tolerate polarised lenses and while the view from the EVF is still viewable it has a large dark line down the centre in horizontal mode. The two cameras that I have that do tolerate them are the Fuji X-E1 and Nikon D7100.

You may by now be getting some notion of what this somewhat long preamble has to do with the post title. If I do indeed decide to work exclusively with these cameras then it makes sense for me to share my Nikon lens range between the two cameras. For the Fuji this does of course require manual focusing via an adapter, which is where the new firmware update with focus peaking comes in. So this is the first of a series of posts in which I'm going to explore how using these lenses and manually focusing them works for me, in terms of ease of use and accuracy. 

The lenses that I would keep for the D7100 would be Sigma 12-24mm, Nikon 28mm f/1.8G, Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DX (old version), Nikon 50mm f/1.8G and Nikon 85mm f/1.8G. I would probably also keep the 18-55mm zoom because with the VR turned on it is pretty much the best IS I've ever used for video when paired with the D7100.

So for the Fuji I would have a wide-angle zoom, and some fast primes in addition to the 18-55mm f/2.8-4 zoom I already have. I was interested in the Fuji X-Pro1 + 35mm + free 18mm deal, but the X-Pro 1 is very unfriendly towards polarised lenses and does in fact completely black out the viewfinder. I could, I suppose, still take the deal, sell the camera and get the lenses cheaper than buying them separately, but my inclination is to try and work with the Nikon and Sigma lenses I've got, which give superb sharpness on the Fuji, but do require manual focusing.

So first off I had a session with the Sigma 30mm f/1.4. A great lens, even this, the old version. Dpreview have removed their full review of this lens but I remember that they pretty much raved about and its certainly a very good piece of kit. I bought it recently, as Amazon was selling them off at a very good price, with a view to using it in my Nikons, DSLR's and Nikon 1 and the Fuji. I've already had a day out with it on the D7100 where I made the mistake of using it stopped down to f/11 and f/16 where its far from its best. Like many fast lenses it works best in the low to mid-range. So today I thought that I would try it at more 'friendly' apertures, though of course using my Kipon adapter I can't really tell you what they were. However if this does work well, then I will certainly get one of the Metabones speed boosters for Nikon G lenses, which have an aperture ring fitted as well as making the lenses work like 35mm optics and add a stop to the maximum aperture. (Amazing!) This would then make my lenses even more versatile and if for example I went out with the X-E1 plus 28mm f/1.8G and 85mm f/1.8 lenses plus two adapters, I would in effect be carrying approximations of 28mm f/1.2, 42mm f/1.2, 85mm f/1.2 and 135mm f/1.2 lenses in 35mm terms. So, despite my feeling that I wasn't that happy about fiddling around with MF and focus peaking and these lenses on the Fuji, the possibilities do make it worth persevering I think.

My initial tests with the Sigma 30mm did in fact work very well. You will see from the images below with some 100% blowups just how sharp the results were.

It is often the case that when forced to do something, or have a really strong incentive to make something work, how actions that seemed to not be worth doing take on a new urgency and turn out to be not quite as much of a problem as when there other easier options. And so it was with this. The focus peaking worked quite nicely and indeed better than I remember from my brief fling with it last week. Certainly the 100% blowups were very nice indeed. Lovely and sharp and showing that this lens does have rather nice bokeh, even when stopped down a bit. (Sorry I can't be more precise than that - Kipon adapter etc....) 

Though pottering around the garden doesn't give the whole story as to how this is going to work its a good start and one that certainly encourages me to do more when the sun returns. (Its having a day off today) The only way I can see if if the improvement in my 'photographing experience' with the right sunglasses balances with the increased 'fiddling about' that using MF on the Fuji is going to produce, is to go out and 'shoot for real' and that is what I will do. 

And if I do sell the Leica then expect wailing and the knashing of teeth. I haven't given up on a solution yet and the Olympus VF-4 might be an alternative, though apparently it needs a firmware update which I can hardly see Leica coming up with, but who knows, something might be possible. I will keep you posted.