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On the trip with Fuji X-E1

November 3, 2012 41 comments

When Fuji first introduced X100 few years back, the photographic community got excited about new fresh approach. Reasonably sized rangefinder-like camera with big sensor and retro design was very appealing. Then, along came X Pro1 with it’s brand nex X-Trans sensor and interchangeable lenses. I’ve been waiting for something like this for a long time but again, after a while when reviews came through I was still bit confused and not entirely convinced. The price tag was quite hefty for camera with so many quirks but folks out there were still quite hyped about it. I went to a local shop to get my hands on it and boy it felt great. I pictured myself waking on the streets with this thing, unnoticed and free of DSLR bulk. But still, there was something that stopped me to pull the trigger. I guess it was mostly the price. Then Fuji X-E1 was announced and I was immediately hooked. I always wanted a camera that can be on me all the time. I do not care I cannot slide it in pocket. As long as I don’t have to visit chiropractor after caring it whole day I am fine. Initial hands on reports and early reviews were great, first image samples unbelievable so I was like sitting on the needles when it became available. I got it immediately being probably the first person in Singapore who bought it. They even took a photo of me in the shop. Just in time for my upcoming trip to Myanmar. There was not enough time to go through manual properly, I just skimmed through it. I purchased the 35mm Fujinon lens with it as the zoom lens was still unavailable at that time. I do have to mention that this is my first camera with EVF and apart from brief experience with Panasonic GF-1 I have no extensive experience with mirrorless cameras.

Fuji X-E1 looks just gorgeous. I think after X100 this is the best looking camera on the market. I really liked the Olympus OM-D design but I think Fuji topped it, full stop. I picked the black version as I do not want to draw too much attention and it looks little less “flashy”. To me, it is more photojournalist-like camera. Fuji X-E1 feels great in hands, has a solid build and it doesn’t feel cheap. Yet it is still very light and one can barely notice it even after whole day wearing it on the shoulder or around the neck. And I know from experience that carying for example D800 with two lenses in hot day in Myanmar drains you pretty fast. With X-E1 there is sill a plenty of energy left in me even after whole day shooting. There is additional hand grip accessory that is available for purchase but I never had need for it. I have big hands, and never had trouble holding it or being afraid it gets knocked out of my hand.

As I am still relatively new to this camera so I often find myself trying to use it in a way I use DSLR (have Nikon DSLR). Especially my right index finger is continuously looking for command dial to change aperture. This is of course not Fuji’s fault, I just need more time to get used to it. And it has been a while since I had to change aperture on the lens barrel. After a while I got used to it and have no problem to switch back and forth from “DSLR way” to “Fuji way”. Camera is small enough to reach the aperture ring with whatever finger you feel comfortable to change the aperture. EVF display shows the updated aperture with little lag though. Not a big deal, especially when you use it enough and it becomes a second nature to you. So far pretty good.

Changing from aperture to shutter priority or to manual settings is pretty cool. If shutter speed dial is set to A (automatic) and aperture ring to anything but A then camera is in aperture priority. Likewise if aperture is set to A and shutter dial to anything else but A then it is in shutter speed priority. Both set on A and we are in automatic mode. Both set away from A and we have full manual goodness. Buttons on the back are big enough so it is easy to handle them with exception of “Q”, the quick menu button. The height of the button is in same level as the camera case so occasionally it might be little hard to press or locate without looking at camera back. There is an exposure compensation dial right in the top right side of the camera. Easy to locate but also very easy to turn. It happened to me several times that I accidentally set and an exposure compensation without noticing it. I would prefer if the handling was little more stiff or it had some kind of lock to prevent from moving away from desired setting.

The on/off switch on top of the camera, seems to me also little loose. I often turned on the camera accidentally while putting it to bag  and I was surprised later that battery was flat. I guess I just need to be little more careful and always check if camera is switched off.

Changing the autofocus point is awkward. Button is positioned lower left corner on the back of the camera. This means it cannot be done without moving the camera away from the face and not looking like I am digging the nose at the same time. This can be a big deal to some. I mostly use only the middle autofocus point, lock the focus and exposure and then recompose. I think it is faster but certain situations may call for changing the autofocus point. This technique doesn’t work with aperture wide open. At F1.4 the depth of field is so shallow that even that slight movement when recomposing can throw the focus off. ( If you look carefully at photograph of Buddhist monk from Myanmar, the Golden Land article, this is exactly what happened. Eyes are not the sharpest part of photograph.). I often soot wide open so unfortunately this happens to me a lot.

Focusing seems still slow to me. This is definitely not an action photography camera. When it find and locks the focus, it is dead on. However in bad light conditions camera hunts for focus and cannot seem to find it. There is a manual focus available but personally I do not like it. It is focus by wire and you have to turn on the focus ring many times to get where you need to be. It feels especially slow compared to OM-D or Nikon V1 which is smokin’ fast. There is new firmware available for lenses so hope this might improve the situation. Generally, in good lighting conditions, when I got out of focus pictures, it was always my fault.

Low ISO performance is on par with the best DSLR cameras in my opinion. Period. It natively supports ISO range from 200 to 6400. Even at ISO 6400, the image is very much usable. I wish there was easier way to change ISO quickly. Quick menu button is ok but not ideal. You can map this function to function button on top of the camera, however changing the setting is not done by command dial but rather with control buttons. This makes it quite hard to do when you have the camera up the face. This would be possible to change by firmware and I wish Fuji addressed this .

Display on the back is smaller than X Pro1 but I don’t really care. I never had problem with the size of preview pictures during my trip. I only wish the histograms were little bigger as that is my primary “image check” tool. Back display has 3 operation modes. You can either shoot using solely back display, or use only EVF. Third setting engages eye sensor so once you look through EVF, camera switches off the display. I personally used EVF only as big display on the camera drains the battery. And also viewfinder on mirrorles camera is a feature I wanted. Not to mention that having the camera at the eye gives you another point of contact which helps to stabilize it little more and prevent blurry images.

Camera turns on reasonably quickly, but I kept it on most of the time so I wouldn’t miss shots. Sometimes life “happens” much faster than camera can get shot ready. I still have to get used EVF. Reviews mention about how great it is but my lack of experience with EVF in general doesn’t really allow me to compare it against anything. My personal feeling is that refresh rate is little slow. It is bright though so I can see the scene well enough even in low light.

There is a little shutter lag. Maybe if would not be so obvious to me if I didn’t come from DSLR world. It is not as bad though and most of the pictures come out just fine. With little more practice there will be surely better results. Occasionally when I thought I half-pressed the shutter release and locked the focus, I did not and on full depress camera still tried to find focus. This happened for few times but it is not necessarily camera’s fault. I just need to get more “feel” for the shutter release. I can probably update this after I get more hands on experience with it.

UPDATE: EVF seemed to freeze every time that shutter was pressed. There was an article on Fuji Rumors that it is actually a preview image that is briefly showing up after capture and thus it makes impression of EVF freeze. I thought this is camera’s default behaviour as it doesn’t make sense to me to show preview for such a short time. As it turns out, I missed this menu setting completely. And I can confirm, after turning it off the camera feels much more snappier. So kudos to Fuji Rumors and Andrew who brought this up.

Files are written to SD card. I used the one that came with camera and writing speeds were not the fastest. I assume, by using faster card the performance will improve. As I do not shoot in burst mode with this camera (even though it is able to do it at 6fps) I am not finding it as such a big issue.

Fujinon 35mm lens in very nice and sharp. It is also fast and it is rendering bokeh in very pleasing way. It comes with lens hood and rubber lens cap. I find it useless as it easily falls down and it is likely to be lost rather soon.

When it comes to quality of image I think Fuji nailed it 110%. It is simply stunning. My “WOW” sounded much louder than when I first time saw files from Nikon D800. There is something to the X-Trans sensor. I shoot RAW and I am using Lightroom 4 for post processing. I am stunned by quality, colour rendition and dynamic range. I have to say that light condition I used this camera were pretty though ones with mostly very contrasty scenes, yet I was able to pull so much details from highlights as well as shadows.

This camera is not without quirks as many previous Fuji cameras but it has less of them and Fuji seems to continuously working on improvements. It is easy one to fall in love with. And boy, I do love it. It is unobtrusive, light, relatively easy to handle and well built. I can carry it all day long without even noticing the weight. I was photographing local people in Myanmar and went almost unnoticed while when I pulled off D800 they got either scared or I was almost immediately asked for some “monetary” donations.  With growing lens range from Fuji as well as lenses from other vendors (noticeable Zeiss – EXCITING!!!) the future looks very promising. Fuji does something right since there is lot of hype about the X range of their cameras. I am so excited than I thing if I don’t turn pro (which is not likely to happen) I might have already purchased my last DSLR. This is only short insight and there can be definitely more written about it. What I can say I didn’t regret a bit investing money into this jewel. Hope you found this helpful and if you get hone too I am sure you will enjoy it as much as I do.

Categories: Photography Tags: ,

On the road with Nikon D800 Part 2

August 22, 2012 1 comment

I had the Nikon D800 with me on two trips now. Except Indonesia I took it for short weekend getaway to Vietnam where I photographed scenes in Mekong Delta. It is still not enough to get fully familiar with all the quirks  however there are definitely things that I can say about this camera. I am not experienced reviewer and I am not attempting to do a full review (Full review at dpreview.com). I purely describe my experience shooting with D800 for couple of days.

Is Nikon D800 really for me?

There are many discussions about Nikon D800 in terms of what kind of photographer is the camera for. I have to say honestly I didn’t really need D800. My good old D700 was just fine for everything I was shooting. I am not professional and I don’t do large prints. My photos go mostly on the web and occasionally I do a print or a book as a present for which the D700 resolution is more than good enough. However D800 is a new toy and try to explain a child that he doesn’t need a new toy when the old one is still good and usable. That is the my case, I just wanted it, so I got it 🙂 I usually shoot travel, documentary, landscapes and fine art style photography. This doesn’t require a machine gun ala D4 (I have tried it and it is like Kalashnikov) or Canon 1 DX. 4fps is plenty for me and I think for 36Mpix (cca 75MB filesize) is lighting fast. I never shot on the burst mode on the trip anyway. If I need faster I have my D700 as backup. As far as resolution and file size concerned, this can be really an issue in certain cases. memory cards and hard drives will fill up much faster. On a trip to more remote locations without access to electricity and computer there is a danger of running out of memory space rather quickly. Also storage at home suddenly feels little small. I think this camera requires a change of shooting style and much harsher selection process when editing and sorting the images. Camera certainly forces you to slow down and think before shooting. When shooting on continuous drive it is necessary to keep in mind that buffer fills up rather quickly.

I ventured into do time lapse photography with Nikon D700. I shot in RAW to give myself enough latitude when adjust the final sequence to my liking. With Nikon D800 it is much harder to do. Even big memory card can fill up quickly (unless you shoot JPEG). I have never tried to change memory card while doing time lapse shoot. Unfortunately when you shoot RAW with Nikon, there is no option to choose smaller image resolution as Canon offers. Only possible choice I see is to use DX crop mode but in that case our pretty expensive wide angle lenses just get multiplied by 1.5 crop factor.

I really want to get into DSLR video. This is my first DSLR with video capability so I consider it as one of the reasons I bough the camera. I cannot really comment on video mode at this point since I never done any and to this point my experience with DSLR video equals to zero.

Nikon D800 as a travel camera

It is heavy. When you hold it first time and you thing otherwise, I tell you. It is heavy …. for traveling.I’ve done two trips now and I know. The thing is, with this resolution you need the best lenses that are out there to brig the maximum from it. Best lenses usually pack lots of glass and glass is heavy too. Put a body and let’s say 24-70 and 70-200 zooms into your bag and try to walk around for hours. It is not fun and I bet you shoulders start hurting after a while. Add a tripod to it if you happened to shoot landscapes and you are done. For somebody who goes for expedition, organised trip etc. there is a chance that camera is going to be transported from place to place by a vehicle or porter. For solo traveler it is a shoulder or back. I am quite a big guy myself, yet I felt tired carrying it around. I don’t think it is ideal travel camera (unless it is for assignment when hight quality is a must).

Learning curve

My previous camera was Nikon D700. Switching to Nikon D800 was pretty easy. With some exceptions the buttons and menus are the same so even with no previous shooting experience I felt pretty much home soon enough. Camera is little lighter than D700 and little rounder but from usability point of view this has no effect whatsoever. You hold it and you know/feel it is a Nikon. There is nothing really that bugs me on the camera. Only thing I would change (it is just a personal preference) is a multi selector in favour of jog dial on Canon cameras. I feel I can cycle through menu or photos much faster using a dial than clicking on multi selector.

Focusing issue and green color cast

There are many reports and articles all over the internet about focusing issue and greenish colour cast on back display. As far as focusing goes, I took my body to Nikon service centre soon after purchase to get it checked and everything was as it should be. I guess my particular body was not from that faulty batch. With green colour cast it is a different story. I was travelling with friend of mine who had a Canon camera and I have to say yes the colours seem to bee shifted slightly to the cooler/greenish side. By the same token I can say Canon colours were much warmer and more saturated however I do not necessarily feel they represented the reality better. They just looked warmer and maybe little more pleasing to eye. As I shoot solely RAW, I am not too much concerned about this issue and I guess it will be addressed (if it is not already) by a firmware update.

In bad weather and environment

One of the reasons why we pay more for camera in this class is their ability to withstand various and not always favourable weather conditions and environments. I was not able to test it in wet environment but if it is same as D700 I have nothing to fear. However during Semeru climb the camera went through lots of bashing. If anyone visited Semeru or Bromo volcanoes in Indonesia, they can confirm that those two places are the very definition of dust. And boy, the camera got fair amount of time in that environment. After a few hours my camera didn’t look anything like a brand new one but it still operated perfectly. Dust sealing worked pretty well. After returning home I didn’t find any dust inside in the mirror area, neither I had dust spots on the sensor.

Resolution and consequences

36 Mpix is amazing but at the same time scary. D700’s 12 Mpix are much more forgiving. With Nikon D800 the focusing and shooting technique has to be top notch. I had a look at some files from my trip and I have to confirm this. This is also a reminder for me to really work on my technique. In most cases I tried to follow the basic rules of “sharp photography”. I used tripod whenever it was possible. I used fast shutter speed, high enough ISO to achieve sharp results. I have fairly good lenses. However I still felt my images are not sharp enough. At least those I shot hand held.  I do not blame the camera, I know it is me who have to make an improvement. 36Mpix is UNFORGIVING. However if the photo comes out sharp, it is amazing to look at.

Dynamic range and noise

Now dynamic range is where Nikon D800 really shines. Especially in shadows. I have never had so much detail there before. Even with very contrasty scenes, after checking my histogram I still had no pure black pixels. On the highlight side I think it is not as much improvement but overall this is beside the sensor resolution, this is the most impressive feature.

Battery life

As the trip was physically quite though and I wasn’t shooting as much as on my other trips I cannot really judge how good the battery life is. I had two with me and I didn’t even use one full charge. I took about 350 photographs and looked on the back screen frequently. Also batteries were exposed to cold environment (sub-zero during night) which should shorten their usage time but mine did just fine. so this is pretty much as much as I can say about it.

Conclusion

This is pretty much what I have to say about Nikon D800 at this point. It is still fairly new addition to my gear and as time goes by I probably find more things that is worth to discuss. Certainly one trip and 300+ photographs are not enough to get under the skin of this fine piece of equipment. So far it certainly didn’t disappoint. Could I be without it? Absolutely yes. And would be probably much smarter to use that money better and visit some places in the world I always wanted to visit. But hey… I am happy kid with new toy. Hopefully, if time allows me I will follow up with part 3 with some image samples. If not , there will be certainly additions in gallery either here on richardsimko.com or my 500px account.

Categories: Photography, Travel Tags: ,

On the road with Nikon D800 Part 1

August 7, 2012 1 comment

Nikon D800 with me in Indonesia and Vietnam

Some photographers say one should never go on assignment with a brand new camera without knowing it inside out in order to guarantee the outcome. Well, I am not professional photographer so I don’t have to worry about that much. However I am going to take Nikon D800 as my only camera for my 5 day trip to Indonesia. I didn’t take too many photos with it just yet. I briefly skimmed through manual, menus, controls but that is pretty much it.

First I thought I take my good old D700 with me but after holding my loaded camera bag I opted for one camera only, the D800.  I thought that controls on both cameras are nearly identical apart from few differences so it shouldn’t be a problem to pick it up easily.  I remember  taking D700 to Thailand few years ago without actually owning a Nikon camera before (well I had Fuji S3 Pro which is Nikon body based camera) and I had no problem to use the camera at all. Another reason for having two bodies was that I don’t have to swap lenses often and prevent the sensor to get dusty. However after giving it some thoughts I decided to leave D700 home.

To give you some idea what kind of environment I am going to use it as I mentioned I am going to Indonesia for 5 days. Ultimate goal is to climb the Mt Semeru, one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia and also highest point on Java. Once in the area I also decided to pay a second visit to Mt Bromo. Environment I will be using the camera in ranges from hot and humid lowlands to much colder and also dustier places in Semeru and Bromo areas.

What is in my camera bag

  • Nikon D800 body
  • Nikkor 24-70mm 2.8
  • Nikkor 80-200mm 2.8
  • Nikkor 50mm 1.4
  • remote shutter release
  • spare batteries
  • ND and graduated ND Lee filters
  • IR filter
  • about 60GB worth CF cards
  • Macbook Air with Lightroom 4
  • medium sized Manfrotto tripod

Seems a lot huh? (This proved to be overkill for this particular trip) In fact my main backpack is lighter than camera bad. Well it always is 🙂 With huge size of D800 files there is never enough room on your CF cards so I decided to bring the computer and download the images on the go. It would be also good feedback to check upon images and see how sharp they are or if I need to brush up on my shooting technique (I am sure I will have to). There will be no attempt to do any image editing on Macbook Air. I do run Lightoom but the screen size and colours may not give the justice to files. What I can do is to see the overall image quality, do some basic sorting, key wording etc. In a perfect world I should have all the photographs backed up at least one more place but again, this is not a commercial shoot so I AM HOPING that nothing bad happens. I will also to try slow down a tad when taking photos and think first before pressing the shutter. My previous approach of taking thousands of shots and then pick one lucky sharp and well enough framed will not work with Nikon D800. So good luck to me.

I am not going to pixel peep the files, nor compare it to any other camera maybe with exception of D700 since I am familiar with it.  I am more curious about general handling, file management, performance in the field, answer the question about did I really need this camera? Well I can say I definitely did not….but I wanted it anyways. So folks, stay tuned. More to come….

Categories: Photography, Travel Tags: ,