Monday, October 27, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 44: Desert Spaceship - Dubai Silicon Oasis HQ

For my personal Architectural work, I've always been a big fan of Black and White, high contrast images. Now that the Summer is finally over in Dubai, it is a perfect time to go out there and "make" some images!

This is exactly what I did a few days ago while wondering around Business Bay just before sunset. Often referred to as the "Blue Hour", about 15 to 20 minutes before sunrise and after sunset, this is the perfect time for Architectural photography.

Even though the "blue light" is not directly visible in the Black and White conversion below, it gives the image the high contrast look, I was aiming for! In case you are wondering, the building below is the HQ at Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO); a "Free zone" promoting modern based technology companies, obviously inspired by Silicon Valley in Northern California.

As I happen to live just around the corner, this odd shaped building has been given different nicknames by the community such as "The Batman building", "Pineapple building", etc... Personally, as the DSO site has been built on the edge of the desert, I'm calling it our "Desert Spaceship".

Desert Spaceship, Dubai Silicon Oasis
























Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 with the Fujinon 10-24 f 4 lens
ISO200, 19mm (29mm full frame equivalent), f4
Exposure bracketing -3/+3, shutter speeds between 1/3s and 27s
Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop 2014 CC to 32 bit file
Lightroom 5.6 to develop 32 bit file
Nik Software SilverEfex Pro for black and white conversion 

Recently, I bought an eBook written by two Architectural Black and White photography gurus; Joel Tjintjelaar and Anna Gospodarou. Titled "From Basics to Fine Art", this 424 page eBook is not cheap but is full of inspiration and editing techniques. Highly recommended if you want to dive deeper into the world of Fine Art Black and White photography.

Remember: "Life is not Black and White; it's a million grey areas" - Ridley Scott

Happy shooting,
BJORN


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 43: Dubai, melting pot of cultures

In todays world where we far too often generalise, Muslims are sometimes wrongly looked at in a negative way because all the stuff going on, in places like Syria and Iraq. As a non-muslim, I would however like to highlight how people from more than 200 (yes, two hundred!) countries, are peacefully living together in the multicultural city of Dubai.

Beside the huge melting pot of people, there is also a nice contrast of the urban architecture in Dubai. The very last image I took while test-shooting the Fujifilm X100T last week, was one of a mosque just after sunset, with the 7-star Burj al Arab hotel in the background. To me the image illustrates how different worlds can perfectly live together!


Dubai, melting pot of cultures


Image details:
Fujifilm X100T
ISO200, 23mm, f8
Exposure bracketing shutter speed 2sec to 15sec
Jpeg files merged in 32bit HDR in Photoshop CC 2014
Perspective correction in Photoshop CC 2014
Nik ColorEfex Pro 4 for contrast optimisation

In case you missed it, my complete review of the new Fujifilm X100T camera can be found here.

Remember: "They eye should learn to listen before it looks" - Robert Frank

Happy X-shooting,
BJORN

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Two weeks on the road with the FUJIFILM X100T

Four years ago, Fujifilm announced the X100 at Photokina, Germany. Little did they know, that this announcement would change the way photographers looked at Fujifilm for the foreseeable future... 


The X100 with its high quality fixed 23mm (35mm equivalent) prime lens, was quickly becoming the "must have" for a lot of pro and serious amateur photographers. 

But it wasn't all wine and roses from the start! The Rangefinder-like camera delivered great image quality, but its unpredictable autofocus quickly became well documented in the photography world.

A bit more than a year later, Fujifilm launched the X100S; a major upgrade to the existing X100 in which they gave it a complete new sensor (16.3 X-Trans CMOS II) and a vastly improved autofocus functionality. The X100S quickly became the dream camera for a lot of Street photographers. But could the X100S even be improved?

You bet! Last month, Fujifilm announced the X100T at Photokina 2014 and thanks to the fine guys at Fujifilm Middle East (Dubai), I got my hands on a pre-production "sample" copy of the rangefinder lookalike from Japan. The X100T comes in classic black and in silver, with myself testing the latter.

Vlinderhoute Windmill, Belgium

I took the camera on a two week trip to Europe and got to try it on a variety  of photography styles; from classic Street Photography to Travel, Landscape, Architectural, Kids, Night and even some Aerial photography.

Modern apartment in Lille






























Desert Spaceship, Dubai Silicon Oasis

WHAT IS NEW?
Even though the camera largely looks the same as the X100S, one of the first obvious differences is the new LCD screen at the back. No unfortunately, it is not a tilt-screen (more later), but it now has the same resolution as my beloved X-T1 (1,040,000 instead of 460,000). The screen size has been increased to a 3 inch LCD, same as the X-T1 as well. But because it doesn't have the large band of dead black space like the X-T1 has, it looks somewhat smaller. If you are so inclined, you will find it great for checking focus and image quality in the field. 




Compared to the X100S, the electronic viewfinder (EVF), has a marginally increased resolution  (2,360,000px) and now has a 92% viewfinder coverage compared to the 90% of the latest version. It has however kept the same 0.5x magnification. Once we get used to the 100% coverage and the 0.77 magnification of the X-T1, it is hard to go back but that is likely due to the physical limitation of real estate in the top bit of the camera! On the other hand, the EVF has a high refresh rate with almost no lag. They have come a long way with this and are right at the point where the OVF is pretty much obsolete for 99% of my work. Sorry for you purists.

Clock maker

Together with the X-Pro1, the X-100 series are however the only X-series cameras that still do have an optical viewfinder (OVF) and that has been a great selling point. Beside the "classic OVF" the X100T now comes with a very cool mix of OVF and EVF; as the right bottom corner is hidden by the lens anyway when using the OVF, Fujifilm has given the option to show a small EVF in that right corner.  Its main use being to check exposure and focus. 

Officially called the Hybrid viewfinder, they appropriately nicknamed it "Electronic Rangefinder" on their website

While focusing speed over the years has vastly improved on all Fujifilm cameras, the X100T now finally also has "Face detection". Just like on the X-T1 it really works, as can be seen in this image of a friends daughter. With plenty of objects around to confuse the system, it grabbed her head without any hesitation. 



Unlike the X100S, the X100T has the option of "release priority" in the Autofocus menu. This allows for a kind of basic "Autofocus tracking" when shooting in AF-C. I checked it by shooting fast moving vehicles and it seems to work. Click on the image below for a more detailed look.



Some people have complained that the minimum shutter speed of 1/4000s is not sufficient to shoot in bright daylight at wide open apertures like f2.0. Typically in Fujifilm style, they have listened to their customers and have come up with a brand new "Electronic shutter". Because it does not have moving parts, it allows shutter speeds up to a crazy 1/32000sec! The Electronic shutter does have the disadvantage of sometimes creating rolling shutter artefacts, especially when photographing fast moving objects. iPhone or other camera phone shooters will likely be familiar with this. The truck in the image below is clearly deformed; a result of using the Electronic shutter (1/20000sec).




There is an option in the Menu to use the Mechanical (MS), Electronic shutter (ES) or a combination of both. I however highly recommend sticking to the mechanical shutter setting and only reverting to the new ES if you do have a specific need for it. 

Just like the X100S the mechanical shutter is extremely silent. It can barely be noticed, especially when on "silent mode". The Electronic one is even quieter! It remains one of the best things of the X100 series.

Just like the Electronic Shutter, another item that will come by firmware update to some of the existing X-series cameras, is a brand new Film Simulation mode. What is the big deal, I can hear you say! Well, to me the new Classic Chrome is a close as one can come in digital to the good old Kodachrome film! Fellow X-Photographer, Zack Arias has already praised it in his blog here. The fact that Zack calls it "William Eggleston" mode tells it all. Even though I'm almost entirely a "RAW only" shooter, I might consider using it for my color street photography work once it gets to the X-T1 by firmware update next December.

Wasemmes market day, Lille

The very popular Q (Quick) menu is now fully customisable. Thanks Fuji for also including it in the next firmware updates for the existing cameras; you rock!

Just like the other newly released X-series cameras, the X100T also has full Wifi capability for remote shooting and uploading images. Connecting to a tablet or phone seems to be even faster than before but this is likely a function of updating to the latest version of the Camera Remote app.



There a more smaller updates to the X100T like its three programable Auto ISO functions and an increased exposure compensation of +3 to -3, but lets move to some existing functions that have improved.

WHAT IS BETTER?

Battery life can never be long enough on any electronic device, and as the X100T is using the same battery, the maximum number of shots remains about the same at 330. Fujifilm claims however that up to 700 shots can be made when using power saving options, which I can believe as long as one does not do any chimping (checking every image on the LCD). What is even more important to me, is the fact that the battery now shows a more gradual and realistic reduction in capacity; Fuji cameras are renown for jumping from a full battery to almost empty and then completely empty in less than 20 shots. I hope this will also be corrected in the upcoming firmware updates for the X100S and and XT1!



Still on the battery, the camera can now also be charged by connecting the USB cable to a powered device such as a laptop or even a cigarette lighter in a car. Long time overdue but thanks!

The aperture ring on the amazing 23mm fixed lens, used to have only full stops on the X100 and X100S; the latest version has the much needed 1/3 clicks in between. 


The X100T has the exact same sensor as its predecessor, but its maximum ISO has been bumped up to 51200 by using the H setting. As I only use the native ISO for testing, I limited myself to 6400 and was very happy with the results. As can be seen in the image below there is hardly any noise in the straight out of camera jpeg below. Even with no noise reduction in post-proessing, 6400 is completely useable as long as the image is properly exposed.




When using "Spot metering", the exposure now follows along with the focus point unlike before where it was only good for the center point.

The button layout at the back of the camera has been standardised with pretty much all of them being in a logical place. Just like the X-T1, the 7 customisable Fn buttons can be set up as you wish. The camera does not have the dreaded "hard to press" four-way controller buttons as the X-T1. They feel just about right!


WHAT COULD BE DONE BETTER OR IS MISSING?

1/ One year ago, I would have told you that a "tilt" screen is not a feature pro-photographers use. After having had the X-T1 for more than six months, I've used the tilt screen more than I care to admit. I now use it a fair amount for candid Street Photography but also whenever shooting at weird angles like this shot below. I can see some challenges of installing a tilted screen which generally is slightly larger, but still would love to have one.

By the way, I had kind of forgotten, how close the X100 series cameras focus; 10cm (less than 4inches) to be precise!



2/ Weather sealing; the X100T has weather sealing, right? Nope! While this is a camera that typically will be taken wherever the person goes; desert, beach, boat-trip, skiing, walking in the rain... this might be the biggest oversight! I'm by now means a camera engineer, but unlike the tilt screen, I really can't see any significant hardware challenges of sealing up the camera and fixed lens.





3/ One of my main complaints about all Fujifilm X-series camera, and I will repeat it again, is the fact that exposure bracketing only has a maximum of + and - one stop. Yes that is right, 1 stop only! When one wants to shoot for HDR bracketing, this is completely insufficient! Fuji, please give us a minimum of 2 and preferably 3 stops of exposure bracketing. Pleasssssssse! 

Desert Spaceship, Dubai Silicon Oasis


4/ I have not been able to compare it to the X100S, but the diopter for those of you needing a vision correction, seems to have a smaller range than on the X-T1 and even the older X-E1. While I have a few clicks to spare on the X-T1 diopter wheel, it pretty much maxes out with my eye-sight on the X100T. 


5/ Again, I'm not able to compare this with the X100S as I presently don't own one, but the battery fits two ways inside the camera. However only one way is the correct one. This has led me to believe that the battery had died, while it wasn't the case. The same is valid for fitting the battery in the battery charger.


UPDATE: It appears the same was indeed valid for the X100 and X100S

Bar at vieux Lille


6/ Fujinon lenses like the 14mm and 23mm primes, have a nice push/pull mechanism to choose between manual and autofocus. When pulling for Manual focus, a hyperfocal scale is exposed which comes in very handy for "Street Photography". This would be a great feature for the next X100 (or X200?!) camera, especially since the X100 series is marketed for Street Photography.



CONCLUSION

As I wrote in the beginning of this post, the X100 series is what started it all in for Fujifilm in 2010... I will never forget Zack Arias talk about this brand-new camera at Gulf Photo Plus in early 2011! While keeping pretty much the same form factor and great retro look, the third generation of this camera has only got better.

Who is this 1299,-USD camera for?  Well, first I personally believe it is not a camera for your average beginner photographer. You are probably better of with a Fujifilm X30 if you are in this case. I rather see it as a solution for existing pro and serious amateur photographers who are looking for a lightweight, high quality camera that can be taken anywhere (sorry, no weather sealing!). Just like the X-E1 did to me a few years ago, this camera will likely relight your photographic creativity, whenever you feel stuck in a rut. It will go, wherever you go!


Lets put it this way, if you haven't just bought an X100S a few weeks ago, you won't be disappointed with the X100T. If you are replacing an older X100 or if you are just entering the X-series market, you will be very happy! There is only one caveat for photographers new to Fujfilm; this might be the camera that  starts a chain of events and eventually makes you sell all your Nikon or Canon DSLR gear! I talk from experience; see Bye Bye Nikon, Hello Fujifilm 

The camera does indeed shoot video and actually has some additional video functionality, but as I'm not a video shooter, I elected not to touch on it.

It is with pain in the heart that I'll be returning the X100T to Fujifilm Middle East today... To see the official Fujifilm X100T brochure click here.

Lastly, feel free to share this review on social media and blogs. Even though I would love to see where and when you share, there is no need for permission!


Bjorn with his Piper Super Cub
Happy X-shooting,
BJORN


DISCLAIMER
The X100T used for this review was a pre-production sample version. Needless to say that small changes will possibly be made before this camera comes to market next November. I only shot jpeg as there was no RAW support at the time I wrote this. All images except for the image of the Hybrid viewfinder and the X100T itself and are made with the X100T.

Lastly, I'm in no way paid by Fujifilm and the text above is my own opinion.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 42: Electrical brownout - Belgium

Over the last few months, there has been a lot of talk in my home country Belgium, about a possible electrical brownout the coming winter. As a total of three nuclear reactors are down due to a combination of maintenance, structural defects and even suspected sabotage, the electrical supply will possibly not be enough to bridge the peaks of the highest demand.

Rather than risking a total blackout, like we have seen in other Western countries in the past, the government has elected to divide the country in six zones, which will be selectively turned off whenever the consumption becomes too close to the blackout limit.

Sticking to the theme, I photographed this electrical pylon while visiting the homeland last week. Even though I handheld the shot, I tried to achieve close to perfect symmetry.

Electrical brownout - Belgium

The image above was shot with Fujifilm latest release, the excellent X100T which will be reviewed here shortly.

Image details:
  • Fujifilm X100T
  • ISO400, 23mm, f5.6,  1/2400s
  • in camera jpeg using the Standard Film simulation mode
  • opening the shadows slightly with Lightroom 5.6


Remember: "There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fussy concept" - Ansel Adams


Happy shooting,
BJORN




Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 41: Pepper Traffic Light

While I'm on a two week trip in my home country Belgium, I've testing a brand new Fujifilm camera; the amazing X100T which has been announced at Photokina 2014. As the great late Summer weather is now over in central Europe, I've been mainly stuck to shooting inside over the last few days. One of the projects has been making some sharpness and high ISO comparison shots between the X100T and the XT1. More in an upcoming X100T review end of next week.


Pepper Traffic Light
Meanwhile I made a still life triptych of three peppers; called "Pepper Traffic Light". I'm sure the concept doesn't need any further explanation... 


The three images were shot handheld with the X100T, using only window light and a "white paper"reflector.


Image details:
Fujifilm X100T
ISO2500, 1/60s, f5.6, 23mm
Out of camera jpegs, using Standard Film Simulation, all default settings
Lightroom Print module to make the triptych


















Remember: "I'm not interested in shooting new things, I'm interested to see things new" - Ernest Haas

Happy shooting,
BJORN