Friday, May 22, 2015

Pic(k) of the week 21: Desert moonrise, Dubai

Over the last 10 days, I've been very busy reviewing a new Fujifilm camera (X-T10, review here) and a brand-new Fujinon prime lens (XF 90mm f2, review here). 

With the Summer slowly kicking in through the Gulf region, it is time to do that last bit of outdoor photography before the increase in humidity starts making it unbearable!

The image below, shot in the Dubai desert, is inspired by Ansel Adams' probably most famous photograph: "Moonrise". 

When I discovered three trees in the desert West of Fossil Rock, (40' East of Dubai) I knew there was some potential to make a photograph...

The image was carefully planned, as I wanted to capture the moon rising in a small valley of the mountain range. PhotoPills; an amazing app for the iPhone (and iPad, but not native), played a big role in the planning stage of this image.

Moonrise over fossil rock, Dubai

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 and Fujinon XF 50-140mm f2.8 lens
ISO 200, 54mm (81mm full frame equivalent), f11, 1/5s
RAW development in Iridient Developer 3
Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 for Black and White conversion

Notice that the RAW conversion has been done in for me a new software; Iridient Developer 3. Just bought it a few days ago, in order to handle some of the more demanding RAW files. At times, processing Fujifilm RAF files with Lightroom or ACR, one looses some of the amazing sharpness of the X-Trans files, Iridient seems to be doing a better job so far. I'm not dumping Lightroom at all, just experimenting with new stuff for the best image quality!

I went back to the same place to do some more exciting night-photography a few days ago. Expect at least one of the images in an upcoming Pic(k) of the week...

Meanwhile, more of my "Nature of the UAE" images can be found here.

Remember: "Aim for the moon, if you miss, you may hit a star" - W Clement Stone


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

FIRST LOOK: FUJIFILM X-T10 CAMERA review ( part 2 )

As promised, in Part 2 of the FUJIFILM X-T10 review, I'll have a more detailed look at the new Autofocus system, will give you my final conclusions about the new camera and will show you some sample images. In case you missed part 1 of the review, please make sure you check it out here.

With the X-T10, Fujifilm is revamping the complete Autofocus system, especially when it comes to shooting moving objects.

When I made my switch from NIKON to FUJIFILM about a year ago, one of the only things I wasn't entirely happy with, was the autofocus of moving subjects.  Over the last weekend, I took the camera to the Warbirds over Addison (Dallas, TX) event; the ultimate test to see how the camera would do for my Aviation Photography.

On my X-T1, I almost never use the Continuous AF (C mode) as the results are often unpredictable. The time has come where this is about to change...

Just like all other X-series cameras the X-T10 has three Focus modes; S (Single AF), C (Continuous AF) and M (Manual AF). 

Till here nothing new, but now Fujifilm has added the Focus Point selections. These come in three flavours: Single Point AF, Zone AF and Wide/Tracking. For access, they can be easily programmed on any of the Function buttons or through the Q menu. 

Single point AF is self-explanatory and is mainly used to pin-point focus on stationary subjects. An example image shot with the X-10 in single point is below:

The new Zone AF is using multiple focus points organized in groups of 5x3, 5x5 or 3x3. One can change between the three possible options by pushing the Fn 6 (lower of the 4 point buttons) and then scrolling with the front dial. The Focus point group can be moved around the frame as desired and makes focusing on moving objects a lot easier.

A few examples of moving subjects shot during a warbird airshow near Dallas, TX last weekend can be found below:

Last but not least, is the Wide/Tracking AF option; primarily used in C (Continuous) AF mode in order to keep tracking focus while half pressing the shutter button. Imagine a person, car or plane coming towards the camera while one shoots multiple shots of the subject all in focus.

Although using somewhat different names to what I'm used during my Nikon days, it feels very similar. I won't say it's perfect yet, but it is a good step in the right direction. I'm confident that Fujifilm will be further tweaking the new autofocus in upcoming firmware updates.

For all you visual learners out there, please check out a video provided by FUJIFILM here or the AF Handbook pdf here.

Single point AF divides the focus area into several smaller sections for better focus accuracy. The built in phase detection pixels now have a detection range of 0.5 EV instead of the 2.5 EV the X-T1 uses with the present firmware update.

A lot of technical talk to say that it leads to faster and more accurate focussing, especially in low light and low contrast conditions. I tested the auto-focus speed with a few lenses which typically hunt in low light auto-focus. Both with the XF56mm 1.2 and the 27mm 2.8, the X-T10 showed a considerable faster autofocus speed. Look at the exif date on the image below and you'll realise that  it was pretty dark out there...

(XF56mm f1.2) ISO3200 f1.2 1/20s

Just like the new focus modes, the improved autofocus speed will also come to the X-T1 through the new 4.0 firmware update end of June.

Face detection is not new to Fujifilm cameras but eye detection where the focus is automatically placed on the eye(s) is unique to the new X-T10.

Under the "Eye Detection AF" in the Autofocus shooting menu, one can choose AUTO, where the camera selects the nearest eye or left or right eye priority. As long as nothing is obscuring the eye, the camera detects it fairly easily.

The new AF system features an AUTO Macro function that eliminates the need to to press a dedicated Macro button before shooting close-ups.

No, the X-T10 does not have built in IS (Image stabilisation), but under the Shooting Menu nr 5 there are now 4 possible options in the IS menu rather than 2. Beside the existing Continuous and Shooting only, there are now also "Continuous + Motion" and "Shooting + Motion". The latter two only work when AUTO ISO is selected and allows the shutter speed to increase (through an automatic higher ISO) when moving objects are detected. Tried it and yes it works!

As always my reviews are quite critical but I realise that no camera is perfect... However my overall experience with the X-T10 has been very positive!

Since the camera has a series of functions, none of the existing X-series cameras presently has, I could easily see myself recommending the camera with the amazing 18-55 kit-lens to any starting photographer.

Even after the 4.0 X-T1 firmware will be released end of June, the new X-T10 will offer about 90% of what the X-T1 has to offer for only two thirds of the price!

My complaint about the limited grip with the longer lenses, can be easily sorted by installing the optional MHG-XT10 grip. An X-T10 with a small lens like an 18, 27 or 35mm will make for a great street or travel photographer's camera, just like it is. I might even pick one up as a backup camera for my X-T1! If only Fujifilm would be sorting out the extended bracketing (presently limited to -1/1EV) if would be perfect...

The camera should be available around mid June for 799,-USD; for 899,-USD with the new XC 16-50 or for 1099,-USD with the excellent XF 18-55 lens!

All images are shot in-camera jpeg, mostly STD Film Simulation, with normal Sharpening, Noise reduction, Shadows and Highlights.

(XF 90mm f2) ISO f8 1/200s

 (XF 90mm f2) ISO200 f8 2s

 (XF 90mm f2) ISO 200 f5 1/750s

 (XF 90mm f2) ISO f3.6 1/1000s

 (XF27mm f2.8) ISO800 f8 1/200s

 (XF27mm f2.8) ISO800 f5.6 1/300s

(XF27mm f2.8) ISO800 f5.6 1/7000s

(XF27mm f2.8) ISO3200 f2.8 1/50s

(XF10-24mm f4) ISO1600 23mm f5.6 1/60s

 (XF10-24mm f4) ISO2000 10mm f8 1/100s

(XF10-24mm f4) ISO3200 15mm f5.6 1/60s

(XF50-140mm f2.8) ISO400 50mm f6.4 1/2900s

(XF50-140mm f2.8) ISO400 50mm f13 1/70s

(XF50-140mm f2.8) ISO400 140mm f14 1/90s


Monday, May 18, 2015

FIRST LOOK: FUJIFILM X-T10 CAMERA review ( part 1 )

May 2015 has been a very exciting month for FUJIFILM photographers; first the announcement that the X-T1 will get a complete new firmware upgrade 4.0, and then came today's double announcement: the new 90mm f2 lens and a brand-new camera, the X-T10.

As an X-photographer, I was offered a pre-production copy of the new camera, a week ago by the guys of Fujifilm Middle East in Dubai. As always, I need to highlight that this camera is not necessarily the exact same as the final product, which in the UAE is expected to be available in about one month (June 18th). The X-T10 I used had a 1.30 firmware number, while all lenses had the latest firmware updates.

Although Fujifilm have not said so, to me the X-T10 almost feels like a replacement for the X-E2 which was announced in October 2013. Their looks however are very different; a bit like two brothers with a different dad but the same mum! The clear difference being that the X-E2 (and X-E1) has a rangefinder look, while the X-T10 looks like an old style SLR. Time will tell, whether we will eventually see an X-E3...

As stated before, the X-T10 looks and feels like a scaled down mini version of the game changing X-T1, which made me leave Nikon for Fujfilm in July 2014. More at Bye Bye Nikon, Hello Fujifilm.

The camera has the exact same 16.7 million X-Trans CMOS II sensor as the X-T1 and X-E2. So image quality should be on par with these two cameras as long as the same lenses are used. This is completely in line with my observations during my weeklong use of the X-T10. Just like on the other two, I regularly shoot at ISO 1600 and did not think twice before bumping it up to ISO 3200 if needed. Sample images will be posted in part 2 of the review.

Batteries: One thing Fujfilm has been very consistent in, is the choice of their batteries. Cameras like the X-A1, X-M1, X-Pro1, X-E1, X-E2 and X-T1 all share the same NP-W126 battery. A big advantage for those of us that mix X-series cameras during shoots. Having said so, battery life is still not great. Even though the manual says "350 shots", practically I count on about 250 shots depending on the amount of "chimping" (looking at the LCD screen after the shot is made). For a typical full day shoot, I've been taking a minimum of three batteries with me and it looks like the same will be needed on the X-T10.

Just like the X-T1, the viewfinder is placed in the middle; unlike the "rangefinder like" cameras such as the X-Pro1 and X-E1/2 where one finds it on the left hand side. Being a "left-eye" person having it in the middle definitively works better for me

Bracketing: the number one request for myself and a lot of other photographers that regularly do exposure bracketing, is to have the option to shoot larger brackets; e.g. -2, 0 and -2EV rather than the maximum -1, 0, +1EV. Unfortunately this has been missed again! I stand to be corrected, but I really don't see how from a technical standpoint this is such a big challenge!

Using the Camera Remote app on an iPhone and iPad, the X-T10 has the same Wifi functionality as the latest Wifi enabled X-series cameras.

Unlike the X-T1, the new camera is not weather sealed, but still maintains a good overall solid feel. The owner's manual, limits its use to temperatures between 0C and 40C, while the X-T1 is -10C to 40C. Having said this, these are likely no hard limits as I've taken images well beyond both limits with the X-T1.    

Earlier rumour reports mentioned it being a plastic camera; the body is however clearly built of magnesium alloy like the X-T1 and weighs in at 380g compared to 440g for an X-T1.

The X-T10 will come both in a silver and a black finish. The silver version is not to be confused with the Silver Graphite which for the moment is only available on the X-T1 for a premium price.

It has the same size 3 inch "tilt" LCD screen of the X-T1, but its resolution is slightly less at 920K dots rather than the 1040K dots the X-T1 and X-100T have.  Although a small difference on paper, the difference in resolution is noticeable, especially for those of you with less than a 20/20 eye-sight trying to read some of the smaller characters on the LCD. Even though, I was initially quite sceptical about tilt screens, it is something I can't live without with anymore for any of my Street Photography cameras.

Button layout at the back is similar but not identical. The two main differences are the fact that the front Fn button is moved to the backside and that there is no more dedicated Focus Assist button. Checking the focus can however still be done by pressing on the rear command dial; similar to the X-E1/2. It is good to see that Fujfilm seems to be maintaining the same configuration for most of the buttons on their recent X-series cameras.
Unlike the ones on the X-T1, the four-way buttons on the back of the new camera feel perfect! Another sign how Fujifilm is listening to their customers.

More about buttons, the X-T10 has one more programable Fn (Function) button than the X-T1; 7 instead of 6 since the front dial can also be pressed and be used as an Fn button. Beside unlike its larger brother, the function of the video button can also be changed. 

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) has the same 2360K dot resolution as the X-T1 but it has a smaller magnification; 0.39,-in. instead of the 0.5,in. of the X-T1. Practically speaking one still has a 100% view but since I've been using an extended eye-cub (EC-XT L) on my X-T1 for some time own, the difference is even more accentuated. 

On the pro side, the EVF has an AUTO EVF Brightness function just like the on the X-100T.

Just like the X-T1, the diopter adjustment for the ones with less than perfect eye-sight, goes from -4 to +2. Something the X-100T with its -2/+1 diopter is lacking. Like the X-T1 there is no optical viewfinder; something I can personally live without with.

The top of the X-T10 is a bit different as well... It does not have the double dials like the X-T1 has; no more ISO setting (left) and metering mode (right) dials. Rather than having to go into the Menu, the best option is to allocate a Q-menu button for quick and easy access. On the positive side, the AUTO ISO has now three different settings (AUTO ISO 1,2,3) which can all be programmed in one of the 7 Custom settings (C1 to C7).

The X-T10 has an Auto switch (on the shutter dial, top right), which gives access to some of the automatic scene modes such as landscape, night, sports, fireworks, sunset, snow, etc... Not something I personally would be using but useful for the layman photographer.

Improved Shutter Speed dial operation: like on the X-T1, one can select T (Time) mode on the shutter dial (top right) for long exposures and then change the shutter speed with the front command dial. Shutter speed could however only be changed between 2s and 30s. The X-T10 (and X-T1 with firmware 4.0) now allows to change the shutter speed in T mode over the whole range; 1/32000s to 30s. This is especially useful if shooting in M (Manual) or Shutter Priority mode.

Exposure compensation: there is a -3 to +3 exposure compensation dial on the top right, but like most of the dials/buttons it is significantly smaller than on the X-T1 and a bit harder to move without taking your eye of the viewfinder.  

The camera comes with a pop-up flash which is very well built in. Unfortunately the flash can not be pulled backwards to bounce of a ceiling like the one on the X-E1 and X-E2.

In order to save space, the memory card shares the same opening at the lower part with the battery. This is similar to the X-E line of cameras. Unlike the X-T1 it does not take any UHS-II SD cards. 

Autofocus: the biggest difference is obviously the new autofocus system on the X-T10. I have left it out on purpose and will address it in part 2 of this review; please refer to the last paragraph of this post for more info.

Image processing: When using the CH Focus mode, both the X-T1 and X-T10 shoot at 8 frames/sec by the book. The difference however is that the buffer on the X-T10 fills up much faster on the X-T10. The difference is much larger when shooting in RAW. 

A real-life test, shooting a 5 secs burst with the exact same manual settings  in jpeg format, on a 240MB/s (write speed) SD card delivered the following results:
  • X-T1: 43 images, end of writing 14s after start of burst
  • X-T10: 31 images, end of writing 9s after start of burst (shorter end of writing time because less images needed to be written)
On a slower 30MB/s SD card the difference in the number of images shot on the X-T10 goes down considerably.

To add to the complexity, the new X-T10 seems to use less compression when shooting jpegs; on average its files are about 25% larger than the exact same X-T1 jpeg files.

*It seems the card I used, (Toshiba 16GB SD HCII Write speed 240MB/s) is not fully compatible with the X-T10. While it is useable, it is not able to use its full speed potential.

As the camera is smaller than the X-T1, my main concern was that it would be too small for the average male hands. After having used it for a week with a large variety of lenses, I do feel that especially with the heavier/longer lenses (50-140 comes to mind), the camera needs an optional grip; not a battery grip but rather the handgrip I have on my X-T1 (MHG-XT) since pretty much day one. Fujifilm seems to have covered this as the manual lists the new MHG-XT10 as an available accessory.

On the contrary when using smaller lenses like the 14mm, 18mm or 27mm pancake lens, the X-T10 feels well balanced. The combination with the 27mm will do pretty much all the X-100T does, plus some extras like having a tilt-screen and a better auto-focus system. As long as one can miss the optical viewfinder of course!

Last but not least, the new autofocus is clearly what makes the X-T10 stand out!  Today, its autofocus is a big step ahead and it is the best autofocus I've used on any X-series camera. End of June, X-T1 owners should be getting virtually the same functionality through the 4.0 firmware upgrade.

As with all new autofocus systems, there is a bit of a learning curve involved and I'm still discovering some new items as I write this. I'll therefore explain the new autofocus in more detail in Part 2 of this blogpost. 

As this post goes live, I'll be flying back to Dubai from Dallas, TX, where I will have attended a warbird aircraft show with the new X-T10 and the 50-140 f2.8 lens; a perfect test case for the new autofocus tracking!

Expect Part 2 with a more detailed explanation about the new autofocus system, sample images and overall conclusions, to be released on May 19 around 1300GMT.

Till then, 
Happy X-shooting,



Today is the official launch of Fujifilm's latest prime lens, the XF 90mm f2 R LM WR lens! Yes, that is right, after the 16mm f1.4 prime which was launched a few months ago, another Weather Resistant prime lens from the Fujinon is on its way.  

A few days ago, I was given a pre-production copy of this bright prime lens by the fine guys of Fujifilm Middle East in Dubai.

As the announcement came in parallel with the launch of the new Fujifilm X-T10, which I reviewed in a separate blogpost here, I only had limited time with the 90mm lens. So this review will be somewhat shorter than normally is the case.

Sorry I have to repeat myself after the 16mm f1.4 review, but the quality of the lens is 100% in line with prime lenses like the 16mm, 23mm and the 56mm. It is a pro-quality lens which has once again the perfect friction in the aperture and focus rings. 

The length of the lens is somewhat longer than what I expected it to be. In comparison to the 56mm it is about 50% longer (105mm instead of 70mm). The lens diameter is virtually identical to the 56mm and carries the same 62mm filter thread. Thanks Fuji!

Weight wise, it comes in at 540g, compared to 405g for the 56mm. Especially with the Fujifilm X-T1, (with and without a grip) it feels nicely balanced.

As often is the case for a prime lens, it does not have IOS (Image Optical Stabilisation) installed. Are we getting in camera Image Stabilisation in a future X-T2 and/or X-Pro2 Fujifilm? Before this is being picked up by one of the rumour networks, this is my own speculation and is probably only wishful thinking... No inside info here!

The lens hood of the 90mm is large; I mean almost as large as the size of the 56mm lens itself! I know, this will not be your typical walk around lens, but ideally I would have liked to see it being somewhat smaller.

Before talking about the lens autofocus I need to put in the following disclaimer: the 90mm was mainly shot on the new X-T10 camera because I wanted to kill two birds in one shot. The X-T10 has the "new autofocus" system which will be available to the X-T1 through the 4.0 firmware update (expected release somewhere in June). For more info on the changes to the autofocus refer to todays X-T10 blogpost.

Back to the autofocus of the lens itself: on the X-T10 it felt the snappiest of any of the Fujifilm lenses but that is likely the result of the new update. When mounted on the X-T1 (with the older/present autofocus firmware), it felt as fast as the 16mm and definitively faster than the 56mm. I know..., no academic testing but that was my gut feeling. Beside the autofocus is very quiet; similar to the 16mm once again.  

Obviously this lens is meant to be primarily used as a telephoto portrait lens, so the quality of the out of focus areas (bokeh) is vitally important. Even though, I didn't have any living models around willing to pose, I did shoot a few still-lifes to check the bokeh. As can be seen in the images below, it is nice and creamy, including bright highlights. The next three shots below, are out of the camera jpegs, shot at f2.0.

Obviously the depth of field of a 90mm lens at f2 is very limited; something I often try to use creatively...

Sharpness is often the nr 1 criteria to describe the quality of a lens. The Fujinon 90mm does definitively not disappoint here. Just like the 16mm, 23mm and 56mm primes, it is razor sharp and this all the way across the frame. I did not have the time to shoot a test chart, however I believe the images below speak for themselves.

Images were shot as jpegs (all standard settings) with no further image editing.

ISO200 - f 3.6 - 1/1000s

 ISO200 - f 5 - 1/750s

ISO200 - f 8 - 1/210s

The sharpness across the frame is very consistent; typical for all the latest  generation Fujifilm prime lenses. The image above was shot on the X-T10 at an aperture of f 8.

The minimum focus distance is 0.6m. After having played with the 16mm which focusses a mere 0,15m (!), I miss the close focus distance...

As a compromise both the MCEX-11 and MCEX-16 seem to work fine with the new lens. The image below was shot with the MCEX-16 ring with an "estimated" focus distance of about 25-30cm. To get another illustration of the sharpness of the lens, check out the dust particles on the smurf figure by clicking on the image.

Just like the 56mm prime, the  brand-new 90mm, which becomes 135mm on a X-series body, is a bread and butter lens for serious portrait photographers. It complements rather than replaces the 56mm.

Given the compression of the longer focal length, the lens gives a clear different look compared to the 56mm. I can see fashion and possibly wedding photographers rushing out to get it! For an expected 999,-USD retail price it comes at a premium but that is not unusual for a high quality prime lens. 


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Pic(k) of the week 20: Blue forest, Kemmel (Belgium)

End of April is often the perfect time to find the beautiful carpets of bluebell hyacinths in a few of the Belgian forests. The most famous place in Belgium for this natural beauty, is without doubt the Hallerbos (forest of Halle) in the city of Halle, close to Brussels. Even though it is a great place for landscape photography, it often becomes too busy with the daily stream of hundreds of tourists.

It was somewhat of a coincidence that I bumped into a field of hyacinths at the top of the Kemmelberg; a small hill in the otherwise very flat Western part of Belgium.

As the late evening light was breaking through a fenced off forest, I managed to frame the following image with my Fuijfilm X-T1 high above my head; a great illustration how a tilt screen comes in handy! 

Blue forest, Kemmel,  Belgium

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 with the Fujinon XF 56mm f1.2 prime lens
ISO 3200, f8, 1/320s
Lightroom CC for RAW development
Nik Color Efex Pro 4 for contrast enhancement

For the ones wondering, the high ISO was chosen to have a fast enough shutter speed (1/320s) in order to freeze the moving leaves in the moderate winds. The aperture of f8 was needed to have a good enough depth of field.

Remember: "Even if one tree falls down, it doesn't affect the entire forest" - Chen Shui-bian