As followers of my work will know, I have been shooting exclusively wit he Fuji X-Pro 1 for about a month now. My main camera is a Canon 5D mk3 (and I also shoot on film with an ancient and much beloved Hasselblad 500C and wooden Zero Image pinhole camera).
I bought the Fuji primarily for lightweight travel photography, street photography and as a carry anywhere camera. However, as soon as I started to see the results it produced I was keen to see how it performed in my main shooting environment as a professional – the landscape.
First a few caveats. This is not a full frame camera like the 5D mk3, the sensor is smaller and has a lower pixel count. The Fuji has 16 million pixels compared to the Canons 22 million. The aspect ratio of the sensor is the same as the Canon at 3:2. I am also mindful that the range of lenses available for the Fuji is far smaller than for the Canon, but more on this later. So I knew I was not comparing apples with apples.
Having said that, the results shooting landscapes have blown me away. (all the images in the post are taken with the X-Pro 1. Sorry they are all tree images, but it is autumn and it would be rude not to spend my time in the woods. Please also note, all of these images are jpegs either straight out of camera or at most have just had a little high pass sharpening applied for uploading to the web. One or two have had VERY slight contrast tweaks, but that is it. I haven’t had time to really set about working on raw files from the camera yet). The X-Trans sensor is astounding. I am not a techno geek on such matters, but whatever Fuji are doing, long may it continue. The clarity of the files, the rendition of colours and contrast is stunning. I am sure this is partly due to the wonderful Fuji lenses which I see as being on a par with, if not exceeding the quality of the Canon L lenses, and that is saying something.
I am loving the weight and lack of bulk of the Fuji. I have bought a smaller travel tripod to use with it which is more than adequate. It fits in a tiny bag and even with several prime lenses, filters and spare batteries it weighs a minute fraction of the DSLR kit. I have been surprised at how much pleasure this has given me back. I can work for longer and walk further without fatigue and I am much more inclined to have the camera with me, in fact I rarely go out of the door without it. (I am in London as I type this and have it in my jacket pocket with the 18-55mm lens on. Couldn’t do that with the 5D). My feeling is that a lot of photographers as they get that bit older or as aches and pains start will be keen to move to a lighter more portable kit to help them maintain their joy in the field. I also think as the quality of these cameras will mean more will gradually move away from DSLR’s, especially if a full frame version emerges.
All the images in this article have been taken in the last month with the Fuji using the in camera “film simulation” presets for Astia and Velvia films. (I am sure these will annoy film users as they can’t possibly be anything like true Velvia or Astia, they are just adjustment presets, but he results can still be very nice, just don’t expect them to replace true films by any stretch of the imagination).
I have been shooting with raw plus fine Jpegs switched on. Annoyingly, when Lightroom imports these files it copies them all to the computer but only imports the raws into the Lightroom database. You will find the Jpegs in the same folder, but they won’t show in LR. I tend to go in to Finder (on the Mac, Windows Explorer on Windows) and find the JPEG file I am after and drop it into Photoshop. There I tweak it if necessary and save it as a tiff. This tiff is then imported into LR using the synchronise folder command in the Library module. A bit of a faff, but it works for me. (I have just been sent this tip by great photographer Lizzie Shepherd – In LR, go into Preferences and on the General tab you can tick a box which gets LR to treat jpegs as separate images next to raw files – problem solved, thanks Lizzie!)
I am shooting Jpegs as well as raw files because the quality of the Jpegs is really VERY good. I like the mono conversions the camera does as well as the film presets and these are permanent in the Jpegs whereas they are not saved in the raw files. The Jpegs also preserve the aspect ratio presets I use in the field. You can set the Fuji to shoot in square format (which I use a lot) and in a 16:9 panoramic format. For portraits and less critical images the Jpegs are often quite sufficient for my needs. For landscapes and images I will use professionally, it’s the raw files I will process.
A word on some of the niggles I have with the Fuji, because it does have some quirks in the way it needs to be used, especially if you are used to a DSLR, and it has some very irritating “features” too.
Firstly, let’s talk about that battery life. It’s dire. I suspect it’s the electronic viewfinder that’s the culprit but if I am shooting for a day I will go through four batteries. I carry five and still feel nervous. I will be buying a couple more. I just can’t stand having to economise on battery power as I work. The batteries you can get on Amazon for around £12 seem to work just as well as the genuine Fuji ones which sell for £60. Guess which I am buying?
The other really irritating thing is the position of the tripod mount. This really hasn’t been thought through by Fuji. As soon as you fit a quick release plate it partially covers the battery/memory card bay door. Seeing as you have to change batteries every two hours, it is very annoying to have to unscrew the quick release plate every time to do this when simply positioning the tripod thread a few centimeters further away would prevent the issue.
I have found a couple of the buttons on the rear of the camera are easily activated in error. I particularly seem to catch the Q’ menu button. It is placed on a raised part of the body moulding and this makes it prone to being pressed. However, I notice this button has been recessed on the Fuji XE-2 which has just been released which is great (and I love it that Fuji really seem to listen AND RESPOND to customer feedback on these cameras. How many manufacturers ask for feedback but then never implement any of the changes we ask for?
There are also some quirks in how you use the camera in the landscape. At least I see these as quirks having been used to using a Canon DSLR. The first is the focusing system employed by the Fuji. It works in a completely different way to a DSLR. On a DSLR the focusing sensors are most accurate when they can detect high contrast edges, where light areas but up against dark areas. By locking on to these they can measure distance and achieve focus. However, on the Fuji, such high contrast edges are just what the focus sensors don’t want to lock on to. They are most accurate when they can find a surface with texture, say a tree trunk or the surface of a wall. This takes some getting used to but I have found when the Fuji does lock focus I get a higher proportion of sharp shots compared to using autofocus with the DSLR. It is very accurate.
This leads me to another change I make in my workflow when making landscape images with the Fuji compared to the Canon. With the Canon I use Live View focusing with the lens on manual and love this approach. It is very accurate and allows for checking of depth of field with ease. However, on the Fuji, I have found It easier and more effective to have the lens set to auto focus but to press the AF button on the rear of the camera and select the AF point I want it to use. This locks the focus accurately for me and at f11/f16 I am getting excellent depth of field. With the sensor size of the Fuji, I am now experimenting with shooting wider, f8/f11 to see if this maintains sufficient depth of field while getting me closer to the sweet spot of the excellent Fuji lenses. My next experiment is to try back button focusing with the Fuji. I understand you can switch the lens to manual focus but still use the BBF button to focus and this sounds like it might be a good system.
Now I am used to how the Fuji works I have developed a modified workflow and have found I can already work at speed in the field with it, enabling me to stop thinking too much about camera operation and focus more on capturing changing light and composition which is much more important to me.
I am finding the light meter on the Fuji to be very accurate and so, as opposed to how I work with the DSLR where I shoot in full manual, I have been using aperture priority and then tweaking the exposure after checking the histogram using the exposure compensation dial on the top of the camera. This is working really well for me. Other than in really low light or very contrasty light, though, I am tending to find the light meter is pretty accurate.
I have now used the Lee Filters Seven5 system on the Fuji and love it. If you have the full sized Lee system you can save a lot of money by just buying step up rings as it works fine. It’s a bit big, but the cost saving is significant. However, if you can afford it or if you are new to Lee Filters the purpose designed system is a delight. Small, beautifully made and balanced it is the perfect match to cameras of this size. As always with Lee, you get what you pay for and the optical quality and clarity of the grads is superb. Positioning the grads using the live view screen is a doddle and they do the job just as designed.
I have been trying a vari-ND filter for my ICM shots with the Fuji and have been pleasantly surprised with it. It is very convenient being able to dial in the amount of neutral density effect you need and being a screw on filter it is better suited to ICM work than using a Lee holder. I also have a Tiffen screw on 10 stop filter but have to try this out, so no verdict as yet, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t be perfectly fine.
I am taking delivery of the brand new 23mm f1.4 lens on Monday (it has since arrived. Sadly the first lens had two scratches on the front element but the replacement was fine) and am excited to try this out. If it is as good as the 35mm it will be a terrific lens. I must add, my next lens purchase, which surprises me to say it, will be the XF 55-200mm. (since typing this on the train I have caved in and flexed the plastic and am now the proud owner of said lens). The last few weeks have made me realise how much I use a long lens in my landscapes. I often have my 100mm macro on my Canon (both as a macro and as a landscape lens) and I also carry the 70-200mm which I use a lot in my landscapes. I had anticipated shying away from long lens for the Fujis I imagine it might look a bit ungainly, but I have really missed the reach of a longer lens.I have also bought the 60mm macro, partly because (great excuse) my wife now has the XE-2 and she loves macro photography, but of course, we can share 🙂
I am travelling to Norway in two weeks to co-lead an aurora workshop with Antony Spencer for Light and Land. I will be taking my 5D kit, but the Fuji is coming with me too. This will be a great test for it, both as a landscape camera but also the ultimate test for long exposure high ISO shooting, with the 5D to compare it to. It will also be interesting to see how it copes with the low temperatures north of the arctic circle. (All bar two days of the trip we will have no daylight at all as the sun won’t rise above the horizon – we will be living I a world or twilight and darkness for 10 days). Note to self. Buy even more batteries for the Fuji.
I will try and find time to blog from up there to let you know how it goes as well as posting some images. Watch this space.