Fuji X-Pro 1 + 17-60mm f/2.5-3.2 (sort of!) with Metabones Nikon>Fuji Speed Booster ULTRA

Fuji X-Pro 1 + 17-60mm f/2.5-3.2 (sort of!) with Metabones Nikon>Fuji Speed Booster ULTRA
'You'll not have heard of a 17-60mm f/2.5-3.2 lens for the Fuji X system, interesting as that might be, but that's what fitting my Nikon 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 to my X-Pro 1 via a Metabones speed booster gives me. '
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Fuji XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR Fujinon zoom lens Review - Used with X-Pro 1

Fuji XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR Fujinon zoom lens Review - Used with X-Pro 1
'I went out shooting some generic country estate images today and used the Fuji XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR Fujinon zoom lens on my X-Pro 1. It performed really well on a camera that when it was introduced, may not have expected to have this kind of lens fitted to it. The 16-55mm is such good quality that it does work very well as a general outdoor landscape / location lens.'
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Fuji XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR Fujinon zoom lens Review - Pro or just pro spec?

Fuji XF 16-55mm F2.8 R LM WR Fujinon zoom lens Review - Pro or just pro spec?
'OK. So lets (finally!) get to that really REALLY good news. In terms of image quality this lens is nothing short of sensational. After only one afternoon with it I have no hesitation in saying that this is the best Fuji X lens I've ever used. It's almost as sharp as the 23mm f/1.4, for me Fuji's crispest lens and that sharpness is right across the frame from corner to corner. When you factor in the focal lengths involved here, that's what makes me give this lens such an enthusiastic endorsement. .
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Fuji X - flawed but irresistably addictive

Fuji X - flawed but irresistably addictive
'I think it's very simple. The Fuji X system looks like cameras and lenses are 'supposed to.' It's often described as 'retro' or 'old-school' and that's as good as description as any, but somehow Fuji seem to have connected with an across the generations group of photographers who don't see modern camera and lens design as particularly inviting.'
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The Fuji X system and firmware updates

All images - Fuji X-Pro 1 with 18mm lens and Fuji X-E2 with 60mm lens

While the Sony A7 and A7r are undoubtedly the best cameras I've ever used, my favourite cameras, the ones I enjoy using the most are from my Fuji X collection, pictured above, which seems to actually be expanding, rather than being surplus to requirements. Yesterday, I went out with my X-Pro 1 + 18mm lens and X-E2 + 60mm lens. All were updated with the latest firmware, for which updates have been coming thick and fast lately.





And while the Sony FE system files are larger, sharper and have better dynamic range, the irresistible (to me anyway) combination of old-school design, light small bodies and lenses with beautiful balance, looks and handling is something that, if I was was sensible, would have mostly found it's way to ebay by now. However, I don't seem to have got round to that yet. I'll do it next week (or the next, or the next.....) seems to be the way this is going. 

And of course there are always those firmware updates. I'll just try this one and then sell the camera, seems to be the way that's going. I just love these things and despite all my trials and tribulations my attempts to become an ex-Fuji fanboy seem to be failing miserably.

So back to the firmware, which is the reason I took the cameras out yesterday. So I could report back to you on how these had affected the cameras and lenses. No really, that was it. Nothing to do with the fact that I needed another retro fix with my faux rangefinders and sexy little prime lenses. Honest. Well actually, not honest at all. When I really like a camera, common sense seems to fly out of the window. The firmware is actually fine. Lots more options in camera, including a much better auto ISO setup and the lenses focus faster, which is good. The X-Pro 1 is still as capricious as ever though with it's decisions to change what's going on in the EVF on a whim and of course I had to leave my polarised sunglasses at home to use it. Plus there is still no % indicator for the amount of power left in the batteries. Three bars to empty seems to happen in a few frames as before.

So yes it's great that Fuji keep updating cameras and lenses when they don't have to (though maybe they should have got it 'right' in the first place) and this seems to be becoming a regular event. Which of course does keep reminding people that these cameras are still on the market and it keeps the forums talking about them without dipping into the advertising budget, but hey let's not be cynical here. These are fun cameras. But then of course I don't do fun cameras. Well, actually I do. And I have three of them. And I seem to be expanding my lens collection for them. And it seems I can't help myself. 

So don't be surprised if I'm still writing posts about them in a years time and the latest firmware updates. NO!! Get a grip here. The Sony's are the way of the (my) future and they are 'better' cameras and they produce 'better' files so today I'll get round to photographing my Fuji's, digging out the boxes and getting them on ebay. Well actually it's just after Christmas and nobody's got any money left, so I might leave it a few weeks. Yes that's a great idea. Very sensible. But I will get round to it. A few weeks more and then they have to go. They really do. Honest.

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Fujifilm XF 18mm f/2, Fujifilm XF 60mm f/2.4 and Fujifilm XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 OIS Lens firmware updates

Just to start off with a whinge! Some time ago I wrote about buying an X-Pro 1 + 18mm lens for £999 because Fuji were offering a free 60mm f/2.5 Macro lens. A good deal I thought. I duly completed my claim form and sent it off with my receipt to Fuji UK. The form stated that the lens would be sent to me within 28 days. It arrived today, exactly 28 days from when they would have received the claim form. This is the opposite to what I have experienced with other companies doing the same kind of deal. Every other company I have dealt with sent out the kit very quickly. For example when I bought one of my Olympus OM-D's and a Panasonic GH3, they had an offer that the battery grip could be claimed free. Both sent me my grip almost by return of post. A very quick turnaround. But for some reason Fuji have dragged their heels on this. 

It's not as if processing my claim took time or there was a problem. I phoned two weeks ago to see how it was progressing and was told the claim had been validated and my lens would dispatch on 5/12/2013. I would also mention that the gentleman at the end of the phone was somewhat terse and sounded like he was thinking he was doing me a favour. We are all aware of course that Fuji offer these deals not out of the kindness of their heart but because they can't sell enough cameras and lenses. They have been promoting these deals for some time now here in the UK and in other countries also, so it's almost become their standard practice.

So despite them fulfilling the conditions of the deal and you might think I'm complaining unnecessarily, I think it's not the greatest PR to delay this until the last possible day. I can't really see why they would do it. Surely keeping the customer happy and then singing the praises of the company is a good idea. Particularly since Panasonic and Olympus, very much their competitors in the mirrorless market have proved their willingness to get these freebies to the customer ASAP. It almost seems that Fuji have sent me this somewhat begrudgingly and waited until the last possible moment. In a competitive marketplace perception is everything and, though you may think I'm being a bit (very) picky about this, my perception of Fuji UK is that they are somewhat behind Olympus UK and Panasonic UK in customer relations. Whinge over!

Back to the firmware. I've finally got round to updating my 55-200mm zoom and Fuji have finally got round to releasing new firmware for the 18mm. So doing that and also updating my newly arrived 60mm, I now have the latest firmware in all my Fuji bodies and lenses. I must say that the AF on my X-E2 plus these lenses is now super fast, even in poor light. The 60mm is still slow when using it as a macro lens, which isn't that unusual for lenses of this type, but used as medium telephoto it is now pretty quick. Likewise the 18mm. All the original three Fuji primes were somewhat slow when they were first released and it's good to see that Fuji have speeded the AF up considerably since then. However it's not all good news. 

Of the pictures above, all but the last two macro shots were taken a couple of days ago when I went out with my X-Pro 1 plus the updated 18mm and 55-200mm. That X-Pro 1 is running the latest firmware as well. Now I know another update is due for that camera soon and to be honest the camera still needs the AF improving, so hopefully that will be addressed. Compared to the X-E2 the X-Pro 1 is still sluggish. I'm prepared to concede that it is better than when I first used one 18 months ago, but the X-E2 is now so fast at focusing the difference really shows. In fact the X-E2 is almost instant 90% of the time and right up there with the fastest m4/3 cameras, whereas the older camera is still chugging away somewhat. 

Now it's not particularly a problem for me, but for others it might be. It's not really going to stop me using the X-Pro 1, which I've actually fallen for yet again, but the problem with new models being upgraded is that it does make the older ones less useful than they might be. I still, for example, see the X-Pro 1 as too slow to use as a street photography camera and certainly I'd be struggling to shoot sports or any kind of fast(ish) action with it. Whereas the X-E2 can now be considered a pretty good all-round camera, able to cope with pretty much everything, I would still think carefully about where and what I would use my X-Pro 1 for. The same applies to my X-E1. 

I should of course conclude by saying that despite my complaining about various things, I seem to be convinced enough by Fuji's virtues to have three camera bodies and four lenses sitting on the shelf, in addition to two Metabones adapters including a Speed Booster, for my Nikon lenses. And I do still love using them. The Sony A7r is a remarkable camera but I can see myself sticking with the Fuji's as well for some time. Particularly as there are so few FE lenses around and none that I'm currently enthusiastic about buying (as if I could!). The day I shot the majority of the pictures at the top of the page was a case in point. I just really wanted to use AF. I'm happy enough using MF on the Sony, but to be honest I couldn't face another day of focusing cold metallic lens barrels with cold fingers and I also really wanted to use the 55-200mm again. It really is a lovely lens. Big and heavy(ish) certainly, but I seem to have no real problem with it. Particularly since I paired it with the extremely light 18mm. 

Despite Fuji still being relatively 'small potatoes' in the camera world (Only 700,000 X cameras sold apparently which is very low compared to Nikon, Canon and Sony volumes) they do seem to be getting some good business press. See Fuji Rumors Link. Hopefully they will continue to work this specialised retro / old-school / enthusiast photographer / lookaleica niche that they have exploited so successfully. And it has to be said that they do create a serious internet 'buzz' considering the small amount of cameras they sell relative to the 'big boys'. Certainly the number of hits I get whenever I post about Fuji shows me that my X cameras seem to generate the most interest of all the gear I use. 

And as I constantly write, despite all sorts of reservations about them releasing products that aren't perfect and in many cases less than functioning to their optimal level on release, I do really seem to like using them. Now some of that is down to the fact that I'm a serious 'retro head' but it's not just that. I certainly can't afford my cameras to be toys, playthings or 'chest bling', they have to earn their living. As regular readers will be aware I'm pretty ruthless and unsentimental about dispatching gear via ebay if it doesn't do what I want it to do, which is provide me with high-quality images I can offer for sale. And Fuji certainly do that. Their cameras may have been relegated in my pecking order by the A7r, but they still have a unique magic that I don't seem to tire of. And if I could only run out of my burning house with just one camera, I suspect it wouldn't be the A7r, but one of my Fuji X's.

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Voigtlander 20mm f/3.5 Color Skopar SL II on Fuji X

The Voigtlander 20mm f/3.5 Color Skopar SL II is also capable of being used on my Fuji X cameras as well as the A7r. With my Metabones Speed Booster it becomes a 21mm f/2.5 (in 35mm terms approx.) Sound familiar? yes it's a manual focus version of the Fuji 14mm f/2.8. 

Above it's pictured on my X-Pro 1 and there are a couple of sample shots. As you can see from the cactus picture it focuses pretty close as well. Very useful lens and again looks good on the camera, which is a really great 'old-school' combination. It's certainly not light in the hand, but it feels really great. 

Voigtlander have always been one of my favourite lens makers. For some reason there are people who make derogatory comments about the company and insist on putting Cosina before the name. I imagine to show that the company name has been bought by a Japanese company and somehow 'cheapened.. However if you've ever seen original Voigtlander gear you may well think as I do that things have improved since those days, so that's a view I certainly don't share. Voigtlander come up with many retro lenses with retro designs but also give us some modern classics in that retro style. The three manual f/0.95 lenses for m4/3 being a great example. 

I've always enjoyed using their lenses and they are always beautifully made. It's worth noting that many Zeiss lenses are made in their factory, which has always made me inclined to use the Voigtlander alternative if there is one, since they are cheaper. As I said if you like metal lenses with classic designs then you'll like these. I am a serious Nikon lens fanboy but Voigtander run them a close second, so you can imagine just how much I like Voigtlander lenses in a Nikon fit. 

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Gear musings - My Fuji X system. Not as good as the A7r but I love it anyway.

I've always been puzzled by the attitude of some camera owners that say 'I use this camera / lens so it has to be the best', no matter what the evidence to the contrary. To me it's one of three things. Firstly some mistaken belief that it gives them some kind of authority over others who make different purchasing choices. A kind of 'I have high standards, so if I bought this camera / lens it MUST be good.' Secondly its an attempt to show what good taste they have or thirdly, insecurity and a desperate attempt to prove to themselves that they haven't just made some huge mistake. The concept of - 'X is a better camera than Y, but I still enjoy using Y and it has something to offer me' - seems a little too sophisticated for large numbers of photographic internet chatterers.

I've been extolling the virtues of the Sony A7r recently and there is no doubt that it is a very fine camera. The image quality is probably the best you can get currently. It also shoots the best jpgs. I've seen, one of the virtues that the Fuji X range built its reputation on. The size and weight advantage of the Fuji's has also been cancelled out. So does that now make my Fuji X cameras, of which I still seem to have three, suddenly become a second rate system? Well it wasn't a week ago before I bought the A7r and of course it isn't now. 

There is firstly the fact that the cameras look great and are incredibly good to handle. With regard to that I took advantage of the PhotoMadd shop having a 'cyber monday' sale yesterday on the L-Plate grips for the Fuji X cameras, so I bought one for the X-Pro 1, which I was planning to sell, but I seem to have real problems getting out the door!! The X-E1 in the picture above is a wonderfully light little high quality combination for unobstrusive shooting and of course there is a fine lens system that the Sony A7r can't as yet match. 

Another advantage of the system is the incredible stability for hand-held video using the X-E2 plus the 18-55mm lens. OK not the best video quality you can get but that combination gives me handling pretty close to using a steadicam rig and that's a lot more useful to me than any fancy codec. Plus of course you can actually buy some native AF lenses for the Fuji X system which aren't currently available in the UK for the A7r unless you want to buy an A7 body along with the 28-70mm.

So the Fuji X system still has a lot to offer me. And I will be continuing to use it. That might change but at the moment I'm still happy with what it offers. And of course it has to be said that taking pictures with the A7r won't make them more saleable. I've already been upsizing my Fuji X images, often to the size of the A7r files and no they aren't as good by some distance, but that doesn't seem to stop them being accepted by stock libraries or people buying them. Plus for the web and print markets I supply, it's unlikely at the sizes they will be used at there will will be any discernible difference anyway.

Every photographer hasn't always used the best that's available all the time and there have been countless examples of great practitioners of the art of photography using all sorts of strange and seemingly 'inferior' equipment just because it suits them. Take Canon users for example. With regard to what else is currently out there their cameras are now seriously 'pixel challenged' particularly the pro-spec. models. Many of their cameras still have that 18MP sensor inside which must be heading towards 'vintage' status and the company still persists with the clunky 'big boy' DSLR philosophy that seems to be atrophying their marketing strategy. They also seem set to bring out yet another underwhelming EOS-M camera. However this slow decline into mediocrity and inertia by the company doesn't seem to stop people using the cameras. (Don't think I'll be frequenting any Canon forums in the near future then!)

Finally, I like the Fuji X system because it's different. That doesn't mean that it's better (or worse for that matter) but it does offer something different. Plus it still has it's 'jewel in the crown' that super special high ISO quality. Yes you can equal or better that with the Nikon D4 sensor but only if you sell a kidney to buy the D4 and hire a team of sherpas to carry your gear or you are prepared to be seen with the Df 'knobfest' which is surely the most tasteless example of 'chest bling' ever released. 

So FUJI RULES!! At least for the moment!

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Fuji - The long and short of it.

One of the things I like about the Fuji X system is that it can be used as a large 'in your face' system with lots of photographer gravitas and also as a small unobtrusive 'snapshooter' system when more discretion is required. The X-Pro 1 above with 55-200mm zoom + two Nikon primes (50mm and 85mm) and their metabones adapters, wouldn't look out of place in a studio or on a paid job. Whereas if you were using the X-E1 in the foreground + 18mm prime, few would think that you were a working photographer. 

Part of it I think is down to the classic rangefinder design. Neither camera is of course anything of the sort, but it's always struck me that its a versatile shape that adapts easily to different configurations. For example, while appreciating the cameras I've never liked the fact that Panasonic design many of their cameras to look like mini DSLR's and they do have this cheap bridge camera look about them. Even the GH3 doesn't quite look the part. Whereas with the Fuji's there is a different expectation I think. Obviously the 'lookaleica' design ethic works to a certain extent but it's interesting just how different the cameras can look with the addition of nothing more than a grip and a clip-on flash unit (used as a trigger for much larger rigs of course!!)

Sony and Olympus have taken a different route. Olympus with the Pens and to a certain extent the OM-D E-M5 have used their past designs to come up with a seriously retro look but the E-M1 is again going down the mini DSLR route. Sony have come up with something modern for the NEX system but once more the DSLR shape appears with the A7 and A7r. 

To a large extent of course this doesn't matter to most people, but to those of us who make our living taking snaps, occasionally it does. There is a new Fuji X 'digital magazine' which you can see here. In it there is an article about a photographer Alex Lambrechts who shoots fashion and ad campaigns with an X-Pro 1. I can imagine a few raised eyebrows at his camera choice in certain situations, but obviously it works for him here. 

It's not unusual for well-known photographers to use their camera of choice rather than their camera of expectation, and it strikes me that the Fuji X-System is more suited to being accepted as a 'commercial tool' more readily than other mirrorless systems. There is the story of David Bailey shooting fashion in the streets of New York with a Pentax 35mm camera and having the negatives duped up to medium format size to satisfy the preconceptions of the Vogue picture editors. Plus the British glamour photographer of the 1980's (whose name escapes me) who shot his polaroids on a Hassleblad and then did the 'real' shoot on a Nikon 35mm camera just so he could use Kodachome film.

So it really isn't anything new using cameras that don't obviously seem to fit with 'pro' assignments and its obviously much more down to the photographers talent as to whether or not this will be accepted. But it does strike me that the Fuji X systems unique look makes this more likely than some other systems. 

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Fujifilm XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 OIS - Review and user experience - Part 1 - Size, Construction and First Impressions.

As you can see from the above pictures and comparisons, this is a large (and long) lens. It's also reasonably heavy (580g) which has put me off buying it for a while. However, since my Photo Ninja discovery, it seems I'm going to be predominantly using Fuji X cameras for a while and I have really been missing a telephoto option. Plus with the cold weather coming, I'm less enthusiastic about fiddling about with manual focus lenses using cold fingers trying to adjust cold metal lens barrels and adapters. 

In the end it turned out to be far less cumbersome than I imagined. It actually balances really well with both the X-E2 and X-Pro 1. I carried it around for a couple of hours yesterday on a cold day and actually found the experience easier than I imagined it was going to be. However, just on the size and weight. I'm not sure why it's this chunky. It's faster at the telephoto end by 1/2 stop as compared to other similar lenses, but f/3.5 is pretty normal for the W/A end of a long zoom. APS-C sensors aren't that much bigger than in m4/3 cameras, so why this is SO much larger than the Panasonic 14-140mm f/3.5 - 5.6 I find it difficult to understand. However it is what it is and it forms a nice pair with the 18-55mm. 

As you will see from yesterdays gallery, I had a really good workout with it. Everything from birds of prey to autumn landscapes. Looking at the results yesterday and today, I must say that I wished I'd bought one sooner! It's nice to use and the zoom barrel is nicely weighted. All the weight is in the end near the camera so it does balance nicely. I haven't updated the firmware yet, but even without that it focused snappily and accurately on the X-E2. Telephoto end is nice and sharp and I haven't spotted any vignetting. CA and fringing seems very minor also. As other reviewers have pointed out the OIS is excellent. I was using it yesterday on full auto and ISO's from 200 to 800 with slowish shutter speeds and the images looked fine.

It isn't bitingly sharp BUT like a lot of other top class lenses it does respond very well to a bit of Photoshop sharpening. In many respects it seems to perform very much like a Nikon lens, and from me there is not much higher praise than that. And while it doesn't have that 'pro-spec' speed as a lens, in all other ways, from my initial use, it does seem to be 'pro-spec' in terms of results. 

Finally - here are three rather nice promotional video from Fuji on the lens, which are again what they are, with all the usual questions about how often do the photographers REALLY use this gear and what 'incentives' do they have to use it in the videos, but all show what it's like to use the lens.

So, preliminary impressions are very good and I'll be using it more in the next couple of days as there is supposed to be some sun, plus very cold temperatures which should make for a good test. More as and when.

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Fuji X-Pro 1 and 18mm images shot from my front door

Shot outside my front door with a Fuji X-Pro 1 and 18mm lens.

Sometimes you don't have to go far to get great pictures. I was testing the Fuji X-Pro 1 and 18mm I've just bought and noticed this great sky develop outside the window.So I wandered to the front door and took some shots with it. Sometimes the mountain does come to Muhammed. 

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Three Fuji's - X-Pro 1, X-E1, X-E2.

Picked up my Fuji X-Pro 1 today + 18mm lens for the free lens deal. My intention is to sell it quite rapidly, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to photograph it with my X-E1 and X-E2. Currently my Fuji cameras outnumber my Fuji lenses, but I am going to claim a free 60mm macro.  Must admit they do look very nice together.

I've promised to do some comparisons between them and I'll do that at the end of my X-E2 review. All nicely retro of course, but in a good way, unlike the Nikon Df. I was really disappointed by the design of the Nikon and appalled by what they are charging for it in the UK. Good job I don't like it. 

One of the nice thing about Fuji is the pricing. The X-Pro 1 was somewhat expensive at first and I still think the X100S is overpriced, but that seems to be the case for all these fixed lens super compacts. However the bodies above are now at a very decent price for a system and the lenses are mostly reasonable, if not cheap. Fuji also do lots of deals, one after the other. Now this is either a clever marketing ploy or they just can't sell them, Whatever the reason its a lot easier to buy into one of the best all round systems these days. 

I've had some issues with the raw processing but I've always loved using the cameras. And I've certainly got a nice choice at the moment.

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So whats so special about Fuji X-Trans sensor cameras?

Fuji X-E1 Voigtlander 90mm f/3.5 m-mount

If you'd asked me the question at the top of the post at various times in the past 16 months or so I might have answered 'Absolutely nothing!!' I have had my frustrations with the X-Pro 1 and X-E1 certainly, but despite everything I keep coming back to them and using them regularly. I'm even trying to base a whole system around them. They probably also get more column inches on the photographic internet and cause more heated debate than any other camera, particularly proportionate to their sales, which in terms of everything else thats available aren't really that big. So whats going on here? What makes them so desirable? and makes their owners jump to their defence so 'robustly?' Posts about them usually send the hyperbole meter into the red so what indeed makes them so special?

The first and most obvious reason is that they are different to virtually everything else out there. While others use old camera and particularly rangefinder design to give their cameras that currently popular retro feel, Fuji have gone the whole way. Their X series cameras look just like old rangefinder cameras. They aren't rangefinders of course, but a 1950's photographer in a time warp would imagine thats just what they are. Fuji have obviously spotted a market here. There are many photographers who are somewhat underwhelmed by gadgetry, apps and polycarbonate modernity. They like the old-school look and feel of the Fuji's. And yes they have copied Leica and Contax etc. but there's nothing wrong in trying to make a camera look like a classic. They do decent sized knobs and dials, they make leather cases for their cameras and they aren't engaged in some kind of miniturisation war for the hide your camera in your pocket people and for those who have developed 'hampster finger' and 'smartphone thumb' in order to work their devices. They are cameras for photographers who aren't ashamed of what they shoot with and are serious enough about their photography that they don't want to hide their camera away. They are indeed photographers and not snapshooters, they make photographs, they don't take them and they are pleased to carry their camera with pride.

The second reason is the X-Trans sensor itself. It is quite remarkable. It allows photographers to shoot in low light with excellent high ISO performance and when processed with the right software the files show a quality that exceeds expectation from a 16MP sensor. However its no secret that this sensor has caused me many frustrations and I'm certainly not alone in that. It is still difficult to realise the full potential of what the sensor can offer in both Fuji's own software and the most popular converters such as Photoshop and Lightroom. Difficult but possible. Quirky small-scale software such as Raw Photo Processor and Iridient Developer yield the best results but unfortunately they are Mac only. Its certainly a sensor that does require a bit of work to get the best out of it. The cameras produce excellent jpgs. but they are only the beginning. With some time and experimentation it is possible to produce some extraordinary images from the raw files in terms of colour depth, sharpness and low noise at high ISO's. I've just had one of my X-Pro 1 files accepted by a very picky picture library taken at ISO 6400. Something I never believed was ever going to happen. So the sensor is pretty special and it can be argued that Fuji released it without the means to get the best out of it, but fortunately there are now ways to achieve that, particularly if you own an Apple-Mac.

The third reason is the lens range. It is admittedly a slow roll-out and Fuji started out unusually with three primes. All of them were good lenses, not necessarily the best out there, but certainly a good deal better than your average kit lens. They also look good and feel good and are very well made. I'm still not convinced by the faux aperture ring on the primes but then it seems to work fine, so I'm nit-picking really. They have since brought out two zooms, neither particularly small and light, but again decent quality and pleasingly with reasonably fast apertures. They have also got Zeiss making lenses for them, which do seem to offer little in terms of a quality gap over the native lenses, but its an encouraging sign none the less. There is also the ability, as with all mirrorless systems to use third party lenses. Canons, Nikons and M-Mount all work with them and hopefully tomorrows firmware update with Focus Peaking will make this an easier and less fiddly procedure. 

Fourthly Fuji, with the exception of the X100s which is too expensive, seem to have a realistic attitude to pricing. Despite being the most 'authentic' of the lookaleicas they don't have Sony's ridiculous pretensions with a camera like the RX1, which is ludicrously overpriced. The X-E1 with the 18-55mm zoom is around £800-900 here in the UK, which compares favourably with the £1700 or so you would currently have to shell out for a GH3 + 12-35mm zoom. There are things the GH3 can do which the X-E1 can't, particularly with regard to video, but double the price? The lenses are also reasonably and realistically priced. They aren't cheap certainly, But again compared to the alternatives I think they are reasonable. The Zeiss badged Sony 24mm f/1.8 is still around £800 for a lens that my tests inicated wasn't as sharp as the 18-55mm kit zoom at certain apertures, so the 18mm and 35mm Fuji primes can almost be seen as bargains. 

While these are advantages there are certainly still improvements that need to be made. The appalling battery life is No.1 on my list of priorities and the AF speed still needs improving. Hopefully tomorrows firmware update can improve that. Again from my perspective I would love them to do something with the shutter. It reminds me of m4/3 shutter buttons, which is no compliment. If anyone from Fuji is reading this, can we please have an electronic shutter or if not that one which actually feels like something is happening when you press it? I would mention that Leica have electronic shutters on their X cameras. Also the lens range still needs extending. The 55-200mm zoom is currently the only serious telephoto option and that is big and heavy. A fast 90mm prime would be ideal. And do we really need a pancake? For gods sake everybodys got one of those, I thought Fuji was supposed to be different? And while we are on the subject, why the delay on the wide-angle zoom?

So thats my take on the Fuji cameras. An attempt to explain why I've been able to put up with their 'quirks' and problems. This is why I like using them and despite using unspeakable language when sometimes processing raw files (now thankfully much less with the Iridient software) have persevered.

Oh and I almost forgot. There is something else that makes them special. They are just so damn sexy!!

Fuji X-Pro1 - ISO 6400 - Iridient Developer

I saw in a Fuji forum the view that Iridient Developer works well on low ISO shots but not high ISO. I dug out an X-Pro1 file shot at ISO 6400 and processed it using the basic settings. Below is a 100% enlargement of a section and in common with the rest of my experiences with this software I'm once again impressed.

Fuji X-Trans sensor and Aperture raw conversions - Part 1

OK, this might be a post that Fuji X-Pro 1, X-E1 and 100s owners, who work with PC's, might like to ignore. Apple have just released a raw file compatibility update to the Mac operating system that means that Fuji X-Trans raw .RAF files will now open in Aperture and iPhoto. (Finally!!) I happen to think that this (Aperture) is now the best conversion software yet and I'm going to be showing why in this article. I think its better (with reservations) than Photoshop / Lightroom, Capture One, Silkypix (of course) and even Raw Photo Processor 64. 
I updated my Mac yesterday and since I didn't have Aperture on my computer (I have an old version) I initially tried some Fuji X raw files in iPhoto and compared them with Photoshop ACR.

Now the iPhoto files were supposed to be unsharpened, and I had turned all the sharpening off, but the files did seem to me to have sharpening applied in some way. There were telltale white halos around the branches, so I think something is going on in the background here. However, I was impressed enough by the obviously crisper files and the foliage / grass rendition to buy myself the latest version of Aperture from the Apple App. Store for £54. 

Now Aperture is software I don't like much and having bought the first and second versions I was so unhappy with it I was moved to write a letter of complaint to Apple. However I decided to risk £54 on my quest for the 'Perfect' Fuji X-Trans raw conversion. I was particularly keen to see if the 'smearing / watercolour effect' in foliage was better than Adobe and how sharpening impacted on this. In essence the two main problems that these files have created over the last year. Photoshop and Lightrooms latest version of ACR have improved this greatly, but I've still always thought that there is more detail in the files as Raw Photo Processor 64 has proved. I did try the Capture One attempt (via a trial version of their software), but was very disappointed with that. I thought if anything it was worse that Adobes first attempt in terms of the smearing and problems with sharpening. So I was keen to see what Aperture could produce.

Here are a couple of comparisons. There are versions with sharpening turned off in both software packages and with some sharpening applied in Photoshop to both. I really don't rate Apertures parameters for this and to try and get a valid comparison, I applied the same level of Smart Sharpen to the ACR file and the Aperture file, saved as a tif, opened up in Photoshop. For the original raw conversion I turned all sharpening off in both Photoshop and Aperture.

Now I like the Aperture versions here. There is not much in it, but notice how the Photoshop rendition has almost 'noise-reduced' away part of the writing on the canal boat. However when I looked at typical 'problem' areas for the Fuji files, dense areas of green foliage, it was a different story.

The Aperture files, as you can see, are clearly superior and don't have that unnatural look that the Adobe files have, even with the latest version of ACR. There is none of that 'smudging' of detail and the look that some kind of dodgy filter effect has been added.

Great you might think, but this does come at a (slight) price. There is definitely some colour noise and moire present in the Aperture files. Below is a comparison showing that. The Adobe file has all colour noise reduction turned off and its totally noise free. However on the Aperture file you can see colour noise on the white letters of the notice.

Again you can see that Aperture has rendered the foliage and the grass on the lawn in a more defined way. Also have a look at the flowers on the sign. As I said all colour noise reduction, plus CA and fringing removal as well, was turned off in the Adobe ACR conversion, so its not anything in the Camera Raw software creating this desaturation. At least nothing that can be seen or altered. Most people who have looked at the latest ACR update have noticed that the conversions of Fuji X-Trans files are slightly softer than other programmes and I think that its now obvious that Adobe are pre-processing the files before we can get our hands on them. Presumably because they think we can't cope with the sight of moire or colour noise and will probably swoon at the mere thought of it!! 

And indeed there is more colour noise, CA and fringing in the Aperture files in general. However since I'm an adult I am able to deal with things like this and don't need protecting from the big bad world of colour artefacts. (Note to Adobe, can we have the files as is please.)

So overall, I'm VERY impressed with the Aperture renditions and the colour problems I can deal with easily. Finally, this is commonly used raw conversion software (if you use an Apple-Mac that is!) that does justice to the Fuji files and I got some spectacularly good conversions using it. Only surpassed in definition by what I got from my Sigma DP Merrills, and yes that means that I think the X-Trans sensor gives me nicer looking files than the Leica / Kodak CCD in the M9.

I'll be doing more on this in the next few days.

Fuji X-Trans Raw conversion - a different view

N.B. I would recommend you read the whole piece, it is very well argued and puts together a coherent argument. I may not agree with it but I can appreciate it.

Above there is a somewhat opposite view to the general enthusiasm for the new updated Adobe Camera Raw conversions for the Fuji X-Trans Sensor. It includes this -

"Firstly, Adobe's products, even in the new LR 4.4RC/ACR7.4 form, still don't stack up. Although much improved over the previous generation, they still have excessive chroma smearing relative to image resolution.  If you were to select a raw processor purely on the basis of getting the maximum out of your X-Trans based camera, Lightroom wouldn't be it."

and this

"If the users are the winners here, who are the losers? Adobe certainly haven't covered themselves with glory - they have huge reserves of money and probably the best engineering talent in the business, but don't seem to have been able to apply it. Fuji is also a loser. It's ten months since I first blogged about the X-Trans processor, and so far it's delivered nothing to justify the "greater resolution than conventional sensors" hype. Finally, the really big losers are the many camera "reviewers" out there that uncritically repeated Fuji's claims about the X-Trans sensor's greater resolution. To their credit, some reviewers did raise warning flags - Sean Reid and Thom Hogan to mention two, but they were the exceptions. So next time you read a camera review, here's a suggestion - take look at what they wrote about the X-Pro when it was introduced, and judge accordingly."

Now the second quote is something that I would have agreed with until last week. However I find I now don't agree with the first either. Now I'm well aware that we all process in different ways and we are all looking for different things. As a landscape photographer who often includes a lot of foliage in his images, the previous ACR conversions were VERY disappointing to me and I made that pretty clear in a number of somewhat robust posts. However there is now a huge improvement. I will admit that its taking me a while to work out an optimum setting for all of those X-Pro 1 raw files I've had around for almost a year, waiting for a decent converter to get the best out of them. Trying some things out I'm currently going between, "Wow that looks great" to "Mmmm.. thats not much better than before." This isn't particularly unusual, it usually takes me a while to work out a preset for ACR that handles the majority of files from a camera.
Firstly though its clear to me that the "smearing" or the so-called "watercolour effect" is non-existent in areas where it clearly showed before. It is also the case that some quite aggressive sharpening can be applied to the files without the degrading of the image that also occurred before.

This has resulted in images with much more satisfactory definition.

Secondly, the normal responses I would expect from a Bayer sensor file when I adjust parameters in ACR simply don't apply. In many instances with regard to sharpening I'm getting results more to my taste by applying the sharpening in Photoshop and not in ACR. This does mean that I'm working with a somewhat soft original. And this is somewhat softer than I would expect from a sensor with no AA filter. And lots of people have mentioned this in terms of these revised ACR conversions. But then there is more than one way to process a raw file, and every camera I've ever used has a different set of camera raw defaults.

So I'm very much inclined to differ with the opinion expressed in the piece linked to above. And those who have read some of my previous posts on this sensor and the raw processing available for it, will know that I have on occasions been ultra-critical of Fuji and Adobe's part in this saga.

I haven't found a go-to-every-time setting yet, but from what I've seen already I'm confident I will. As I mentioned before we all look to do different things and I'm sure that many would be happy with the results I have obtained so far. But as ever I'm looking to squeeze the most noiseless sharpening out of the files that I can, and hopefully be able to upsize them to 24MP or so. Pretty much pushing them to the limit of whats possible, much as I do with everything else. 

I took some useful pictures with my X-Pro 1 when I had it and I would like to make sure that now uploading them to my libraries I can give them the best possible opportunity to be commercially successful, after all this time. I'm still seeing what I can get out of them and I am much encouraged by what I see, but as I said I'm not there yet, but I have every expectation that I will be soon. 

Lastly a few comments about the quote "Finally, the really big losers are the many camera "reviewers" out there that uncritically repeated Fuji's claims about the X-Trans sensor's greater resolution." Well there may be be some reviews out there like that and I'll take the writer at his word, but I certainly haven't seen any. I've talked about how good I think the X-Trans image quality is, seen as a whole package including ISO performance, clean results etc., but I'm not sure resolution is part of this. The X-Trans sensor has some way to go before it equals the Sigma DP Merrills at ISO 100 in terms of clarity, but then so does virtually every other camera. 16MP can't suddenly magically become more and though the files upsize very nicely, this is about a perception of increased resolution rather than evidence of it. 

Despite all my criticisms I have always liked Fuji's colour rendition, some don't I know but this is very much personal preference, and I've always been impressed with the colour depth and the richness of the tones, which strikes me as very Leicaesque and film like. To often digital files can look a bit "weedy" and the Fuji files have never looked like that to me. Incidentally this isn't colour saturation, which is admittedly a bit muted, but that is easy enough to fix. 

Bottom Line - I like what I can now get from my X-Pro 1 files. (and yes its taken long enough!!) They are different to what I'm used to, but I find them very attractive and quite flexible. Everyone who has files from this family of cameras with this sensor will of course have to decide if they are now getting something they are happy with. I was beginning to think that I would never say this, but I am now very happy with what I see. I've even managed to sell a few already so that always makes me think more positively!! 

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Fuji X-Trans files and multi-image stitching - Some conclusions after the ACR update

Just as a final piece on the improvements to the Fuji X-Trans sensor with the new version of Adobe Camera Raw, I shot some multi-image files on the X-Pro 1 when I had it, but never felt inclined with the software available to me at the time to stitch them together. Stitching files, because of the warping etc. thats involved to get them to fit together, usually results in a softening of the overall look. Taking into account the problems with Photoshop at the time, the inadaquacies of the Fuji / Silkypix software and the difficulties of getting several RPP 64 files to look the same, I just didn't think it was worth it. However this morning going through the files I decided to see what I could come up with, using the updated ACR and photomerge in Photoshop CS6.

Somewhat to my surprise, they turned out very well indeed. I haven't got any explanation as to why this might be, but they certainly seemed to loose a lot less sharpness than I'm used to. What normally happens is that I usually have to reduce the file size of the stiched file. When these files are put together they are often pretty big - 100MB+ and my usual practice is to take this down to around 60-70MB, which makes them sharpen up nicely. However I felt no need to do this with the Fuji files, which seemed fine at the large size. The full-size high-res file of the top of the page shot of the garden is in fact just over 120MB in size and it looks great. Pretty much the same as what a native one off file from a 42MP sensor would produce. 

As I indicated I can see no reason for this, unless the sensor array is creating files that respond differently to stitching. I have upsized a few files from the Fuji, and while they look OK, they are really no better than anything else I use and certainly inferior to when I do this with my Sigma DP Merrills. So that gives me no particular clue as to why the files stitch together so successfully. I've done five so far and got the same thing with each, so its not just a one-off. 


So finally, after lots of messing about by Fuji or Adobe or both, I think I can finally come to some conclusion as to what I think about the X-Trans sensor. The simple answer to that is that its very good indeed. But that does need some explanation. When it was first announced, I and I suspect others were expecting something that looked similar to Leica M9 files and those from other cameras that had no AA filter. I was also I think expecting a bit of moire here and there as is usual with these sensors. However the Fuji files don't look like that, though it is possible to get something similar to a Leica M digital sensor file using RPP 64. In the main however they look more like super-clean bayer sensor files. There's no eye-popping colour either, again its a very clean natural look. The really impressive thing though is how far up the ISO scale this continues. This has always been a superb high ISO sensor, even with the software limitations, but now I can see just how good it is. 

As I mentioned in a previous post this opens up the possibility of using higher ISO settings, 320, 400, 640 and 800 on a regular basis and not having the files suffer as a consequence. Yes its very good at ISO 3200 and even ISO 6400, but those I use very rarely, so, if I had a Fuji camera I might be inclined to use higher settings than I usually do. 

Dynamic range is OK, Fuji claim a lot for it but its good not great in terms of the raw files. For me however with ACR and Photoshop its no problem to keep within usable limits. The look of the files is different however. They are not high-saturation and high contrast but something a bit subtler. Now I can get some decent results I'm starting to warm to that look however and there does seem a good depth to the images.

In terms of comparison with what else I use, these are clearly the best files from any of my mirrorless cameras, other than my DP Merrill files at ISO 100 of course. My m4/3 cameras are capable of great results but close inspection does reveal that grainy luminance noise which is always present even with the latest sensors. I also prefer what I'm getting now from these Fuji files to those that I get from my NEX cameras. They just look sharper and less digital. 

When I first got my X-Pro 1 I was fulsome in my praise for the output. Calling it the best IQ I'd seen. Since that time that statement has been hard to justify sometimes, but I always stuck by it in the belief that if a satisfactory mainstream software solution ever appeared then the system could have great potential. And I think we are finally there. From what I've used and seen, there is simply nothing better out there at high ISO's. Also as has been well expressed, the jpgs. are top quality and now we have raw processing that can take that on as well. 

So what of the system? Since I sold my X-Pro 1 I gather the AF has speeded up via firmware, which is encouraging. I have always thought Fuji menus very confusing and that needs to be addressed. In terms of the actual hardware Fuji, who after all made some pretty decent medium format film cameras, seem to be on the right track. I'm not totally convinced by the X-Pro 1 body and the optical viewfinder strikes me as a retro styled gimmick, but one area that they do seem to be getting right is the lenses. The three initial primes, all of which I bought, were very good indeed. The 18-55mm zoom is getting some great reviews and there are more lenses already announced. Unlike Sony, Fuji seem to be trying to get these out pretty quickly which is good to see. 

I wish they would leave the 'Pro' out of their camera names, but thats just me. Its both misleading and pointless. They also seem to be the usual closeted in their boardrooms, paranoid suits that seems to be the norm for camera manufacturers these days. But one thing is for sure. They have some great engineers. The sensor and the lenses testify to that. 

I'm much more inclined to view the system with some optimism after yesterdays software release, since the X-Trans sensor has now become a mainstream product rather than a niche one. Some might have time to fiddle about with different software programmes but many of us don't. I want quick and efficient raw processing and I've now got that. Why this wasn't done months ago is still a mystery and it has, I am convinced, affected how people view Fuji's products and indeed sales of their cameras. Hopefully this can now change and the sensor they have produced will get the plaudits it deserves. 

So overall I believe this is now a system with great potential. Its one with interchangeable lenses which makes it much more useful than a fixed-lens camera, certainly to me, and the lenses are seemingly being made to a high quality. Its a system which sees the virtues of whats gone before and sees no problems with viewfinders, dials, knobs etc. and offers the ability to change things manually. It taps into the retro chic, rangefinderesque, lookaleica aesthetic which is what the market likes currently and the products are reasonably, if not yet attractively priced. 

I thought I had something special when I bought my X-Pro 1 and looked at the files, though I never had the slightest idea that it would take nearly a year for me to see the proof of that on my screen. However, I can see it now and from the generally favourable response to the ACR update, so do lots of other people. Lets just hope that Fuji don't make the same kind of mistake again. If they avoid that then I believe that the X system could have a very bright future.

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Fuji X-Pro 1 file - ACR compared to RPP

To download the full-size image - CLICK HERE
I've done a comparison on a Fuji X-Pro 1 file using The new Photoshop ACR 7.4 and Raw Photo Processor 64, the excellent Mac platform raw converter. Different software but I processed each with no sharpening added and only added a slight amount in Photoshop later. I used the same values for each file. Click on the link for the full-size high-res file.
As many who have tried the new ACR are saying, the files are slightly softer than they were before, but unlike the previous ACR conversion, it is now possible to add sharpening to these X-Trans files without creating unpleasant artefacts. RPP still produces slightly sharper results to my eyes, but there isn't a lot in it. 

After waiting a long time to see this, I spent yesterday working on some X-Pro 1 files and it was pleasing to see the results. I have been so frustrated by the fact that I knew that there was more in the files, but was unable to get to it. RPP is great and I recommend it, but Photoshop is the cornerstone of my processing workflow and I know it well and how to get what I want from it. So for any camera I use, proper support is essential. It is now finally available.

So what went on? Was this a spat between Fuji and Adobe? Did Adobe just take their time to get round to this? We will never know the whole story, but it has been a long wait. As you know I baled out on the X-Pro 1 early when it looked like there wasn't going to be decent ACR support and I've had lots of files sitting on my hard drives that I haven't done much with, since I wasn't keen to upload what I considered to be sub-standard versions to my picture libraries. I can now get some really nice files from my original raws and they do have a different 'look' to conventional bayer sensor files. 
With the ACR conversions and indeed with the RPP ones as well, there isn't that classic non-AA filter look. But then with the different sensor array I'm not sure that there would be. What is extraordinary is the ability to produce 'clean' files at high(er) ISO's. I believe it would be perfectly feasible to shoot high-quality landscape at ISO 400 and even ISO 800 with an x-trans sensor and I'm seeing a 2-stop improvement in noise levels over virtually everything else I use. This has all sorts of advantages in terms of narrower apertures and higher shutter speeds when shooting in good light, which for what I do is a good thing.

I've been very critical of this whole raw conversion saga and indeed seem to have developed somewhat of a reputation as a 'Fuji basher', but my only concern was to see a realisation of the FULL potential of these files. We do now have that and I'm glad to become a Fuji X-Trans enthusiast at long last. But lets be honest, its been a long and unnecessary wait and thats not really good enough. 
For those who had the patience to stick with it, welcome to your new camera!

Is this finally a converter that does the Fuji X-Trans sensor justice?

From Dpreview - LINK HERE

The much anticipated new versions of Adobe Camera Raw for Lightroom and Photoshop are out. The most interesting thing is obviously the reworked conversion parameters for the Fuji X-Trans sensor and the X-PRO 1 X-E1 and X100s cameras. Whatever has been going on between Adobe and Fuji during the last year we can only guess at, but it seems Adobe have done some serious work to get this right.

My first look at how ACR processes X-Pro 1 files in Photoshop CS6 is encouraging. 

There is certainly now much more foliage detail, colour rendition is excellent and as you can see with the last 100% blowup ISO 6400 with some noise reduction added in Photoshop is simply spectacular.

There is still an unusual look to the files when I examinine the files at 100% and I suspect that ultimately Raw Photo Processor 64 may still be the best converter, but these are MUCH better, as I think you can see. This sensors strength is still the high ISO performance, and that church interior shot at ISO 6400 from raw is the best I've ever seen at that setting. Noise reduction has removed some detail from the white statue, but considering what its shot at, I can't see many people complaining too much. The level of detail retained overall and the low noise are still very impressive.

I'll be looking more at this, but it does seem that finally we can see the potential of the raw files from this sensor, in an efficient and familiar workflow. We will probably never know how this finally got done and a year is a ridiculous time to wait but a lot of people may now feel inclined to look again at what this Fuji sensor is capable of. I'm certainly pleased to see this. This was my primary complaint about the X-Pro 1. It also deals to a large extent with some of my other criticisms, in that I didn't see how people could write about the camera with uncritical worship when this obvious lack of decent raw conversion capability was creating files that just weren't good enough.

However, throughout all of my pieces on the camera, I have maintained that my initial comment that taking everything into consideration and particularly the high ISO rendition, this sensor is the best for overall IQ that I have ever used. And I still stand by that. If you have the time (and an Apple-Mac) I still think that Raw Photo Processor 64 will yield the sharpest results, particularly at low ISO's, but this Photoshop update shows that there is no need to to accept the compromises of the Fuji / Silkypix software anymore. Fuji owners can now process their files easily and quickly with every expectation that they will get a very good result. I'm going to see just what I can get out of X-Pro 1 files and I'll post more on this in the coming days. 

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