Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Sun has returned!

Sun is shining, and the world has been full of colors again for some weeks now. It has put me back on photographic drive, and I've been carrying my camera bag around when possible.

I recently switched my X-E1 to X-T1, and I'm loving every minute of it. Fuji has refined the qualities of an X-body, and although I like the form factor of previous X-cameras more, the technical qualities and handling made me fall in love with this camera after the first days of stumbling around. There have been tons of reviews flying around the Internet, so I won't bother writing another and saying the same things over and over. Here are my likes and dislikes, which should sum it up.

  1. EVF is great. Big, bright and vivid. It's lightyears away from X-E1, although I had no problems with it just a month back.
  2. Manual focusing is easier than ever. Peaking in different colors (red works great), dual image, split image rangefinder style focusing and of course the size of the EVF helps too. 
  3. Body feels more solid than X100 and X-E1. I bought the smaller grip accessory (not the one with batteries) with Arca Swiss mount plate, and with that attached the camera feels just right. Not Leica-brass serious, but very comforting and solid.
  4. EV correction dial with a range from -3 to +3 makes a difference to the previous -2 to +2 adjustment. And a separate ISO dial is nice to have, although the locking system is a bit frustrating. I also like the programmable function keys. So far I've assigned Face Detection function to the front grip key, and I might make some more customization later.
  5. Tilting screen is something I didn't know I'd need. But I've put it to use several times, and it doesn't really bother me, so I guess it's a nice addition.
  6. AF is faster. A lot faster.
  7. Last and most important, I enjoy using it. It makes me want to grab the camera more often, and this is the one aspect that matters to me. There's nothing that really bothers me so far, so I've been very happy with my choice.
I also bought my second XF lens, the XF 18-55/2.8-4 kit lens. It has allowed me to broaden my efforts, and using a zoom lens is quite liberating after almost 10 years of no zooming. I'm not sure if it's a keeper, although the optical and mechanical quality is very good considering the price of this lens. The reason for purchase was the willingness to try and explore wide-angle photography after so many years of 50mm lenses (full frame equivalent). I might change it for a 14mm prime, but we'll see. I'm not in a hurry to make decisions, and it's kind of fun to have one lens attached with so many different possibilities. The 56mm portrait lens is also tempting...

I also have been using the new tripod (Benro C0190T), and it is for sure a quality product. Weight is zero to none, but it's still sturdy and professional. The small ballhead included has an Arca Swiss mount, which plays along well with the accessory grip mentioned earlier. Legs don't go to extreme angles due to the flat design of the tripod, but it hasn't been a problem for me so far. I appreciate light weight and small size more.

To be honest, I've found it difficult to find topics for this blog lately. There has been a break to my photographic efforts during this chaotic winter, and I've just recently started to take some time to find my inspiration and motivation again. When thinking about what to write, I found myself starting 3 different review articles. That's three gear related articles, that bring nothing new to what the Internet already has to offer. I decided to bring them out loud anyway, but in a shortened form you have just read. 

I started this blog to grow as a photographer, and lately it hasn't driven it's purpose. I have had very little to say, and much more eagerness to get out and take photos when I can.  I'm sorry for my lack of dedication, but I've started to think about alternative means to bring my thoughts out. I've been using Flickr, 500px and Facebook to share my photos to different audiences, and I'm thinking about something new also. I'm very fond of the idea about photoessays with more photo content and less blabber. I also might have to start a blog on my upcoming trip, and in that case I might not have the interest to keep up with two separate blogs. Nothing is decided yet, but I'm not sure if this is the right way to continue :)

A Lonely Forest
The Long Lost Sun

Monday, February 10, 2014

GAS.. again? Long term solutions needed!

I'm feeling it. And I've recognized the symptoms, finally.

It's been difficult lately to figure out what I want from my gear. Since my last post I've considered the following options.

  1. Keep the X-E1. Buy another Fuji (X-E2 or X-T1) body and a wide angle lens to serve my landscape needs. XF 14/2.8 or XF 18-55 seemed like the most viable options. I figured out that I'd just use the better body, and probably hate swapping lenses between the wide angle and XF 35/1.4 Not a real solution then. I also like the form factor of X-E1. X-E2 seems like wasted money, because the only real benefit would be faster AF. Do I even need that?
  2. I thought hard about getting the A7r. This would replace my Fuji gear. After abandoning it, I stumbled upon this post and everything started over. I know I don't like Sony ergonomics, and I'm not a fan of storing 36Mpix raw images. There's something about that resolution and sublime image quality that flatters, but I know I wouldn't enjoy using it. So, the next one.
  3. Keep the X-E1. Buy a Leica M8 and stick that Sonnar-C in front of it. Then again. Two pretty similar performers lens-wise, and I'd have to bear the eternal dilemma of image quality (Fuji) vs. pleasure of using it (M8). Difficult...
  4. Today Sigma announced the DP quattro range of cameras. The design seems radical, and I know image quality will be up there with the best (meaning D800E and A7r). Compact size, but no word on possible improvements from Merrill cameras. The raw workflow will be cumbersome, and I doubt they've got that notorious high ISO performance any better than before. However...
What if there really were two digital cameras in my bag. DP1 quattro (with 28mm lens option) for landscapes and my current Fuji (or maybe that M8) for general photography. It's not the easiest setup, but it would be relatively simple and without too much hassle in changing lenses and deciding which camera to use. We'll see how this goes.

Anyhow, as you see, I'm fighting with GAS syndrome again. And I can't understand why. It's all about images and taking pleasure out of this beloved hobby. The biggest limiting factor to my image production is between the back of my head and the viewfinder. And I haven't got the time right now to do much about it on the field. Darn. 

Whatever happens, I'd like to build a kit that I truly enjoy using before the summer. Problem right now is, I feel like the Fuji has nothing to give. I like using it, but I don't love using it so much that I'd like to push the limits just a little more every time I take it for a ride. This wasn't true with Sigma, although I take more pleasurable images (to my eye) now than last winter with DP2 Merrill. If the current images matter, then the camera should be versatile and fluent enough, which the Fuji currently is. However, if I want to improve my skills and think different, maybe I should make my life a bit more difficult again. How to do that, I'm not quite sure yet. I took my M3 along last weekend, and it felt like an industrial precision tool without ANY compromises. I can't get that feeling with Fuji, no matter how much I like the technical qualities.

No images this time, but as the topic is GAS, I have a recommendation for you to purchase. It's my first photographic book purchase, and it's unbelievable. Across The Ravaged Land by Nick Brandt is something everyone should see. This really got me thinking about the meaning of printing. The images are truly stunning, and all made on medium format film. Gives you something to think about.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Building the ultimate travel kit

Year 2014 will take me to a new continent, and I'm really thrilled about the whole process. We (Me & Ms. & Ms. Dog) will be leaving Finland for at least one year, and the plan is to sell most of the stuff we own right now, and pack what's needed in two backpacks. Feels like a fresh breath of life after hard work and studying without any traveling in over 3 years! Who knows what this trip will bring up. The planning part has started subconsciously since we came back from Asia in 2010, and finally it's starting to look like the whole trip might just happen.

From a photographic point of view, this means gathering up a travel kit that allows me to enjoy my hobby on the road. I felt a bit limited with a compact camera in Asia, and although the kit needs to be light, it also needs to be versatile enough and offer high image quality in order to keep me satisfied with my possibilities on the road. To be honest, I'm a bit confused right now. Fuji is my primary bet at this point, and I think X-E1 would serve me just fine. XF 35mm f/1.4 is a nice lens, but what to take in addition to that? XF 10-24 f/4.0 and XF 56mm f/1.2 maybe? This might be a relatively light dream combo, though a tad expensive and comprising of 3 separate lenses. Too much fuss and swapping lenses?

There are some new interesting products on the market. Nikon just came up with D3300, which has a great 24 Mpix sensor from D7100 (no antialiasing!) and it weighs 430 grams, which is just 70 grams more than X-E1 body. I'm not too certain I'd enjoy using and handling a DSLR again, but it's an interesting option especially considering the price. Old Nikon primes can be found for peanuts used, and the quality is great if you know what to look for.

Then there are some interesting prosumer cameras on the market. RX10 combines a fine sensor with great lens, and Fuji came up with S1 with outrageous 24-1200mm zoom lens. Talk about versatility.. I doubt these would give me the joyful feeling during a year abroad, and going back to a smaller compact sensor doesn't feel right after spending time with X-trans innards of my X-E1.

I took my time to consider purchasing a newer digital Leica rangefinder again, but the cost and limitations feel wrong at this point. I don't want to carry and worry about expensive gear, when I can get the job done with lighter, more versatile and cheaper gear. The experience of digital RF is interesting and I'd love to own M240 or Monochrom, but I can't "sell" the idea to myself knowing what's coming later this year. I saw M240 going for a tad under 5000 euros used, and X-E1's are selling for under 400 euros in Finland right now. Speaking of value for money...

So I'm pretty much determined to use Fuji in the future. There's the X-T1 coming out next week, which is supposed to have all the goodies from X-E1 & X-E2 along with better EVF and faster AF. I'm not too fancy of the looks, and to be honest, I don't need quicker AF or EVF with higher resolution. Only real benefit for me seems to be the ISO-selector switch. I'm interested to see if there's really anything spectacular worth considering over my current body. What I really need is a wider angle lens and (sigh..) I'd love to have that OVF. Jonne, a fellow blogger, bought X100 used after selling it some years back. It took me a while to understand his decision, and it didn't quite open up to me at first. However, X100 was the camera I enjoyed using when I owned it. Perfect size, perfect ergonomics, hybrid finder and image quality even now, several years later, is nothing to complain about. It started to make sense.

X-pro1 would be the logical choice to get "all the good things" in one package, but it might be a bit too big for my preference. There are really two ways to go from here.

The first one would be to acquire XF 14/2.8 or the upcoming XF 10-24/4 lens for wide angle fun. This would mean keeping X-E1 (or perhaps the upcoming X-pro2 with something new and great?) as my main body, and go with a three lens setup. 35/1.4 is a no-brainer, quality is great and it's the focal length I feel most comfortable with. I've fallen in love with my Sonnar-C again, and despite the freezing temperatures here during the last few weeks (-38.5°C / -37°F), I did some enjoyable landscaping with that lens also. It's really a statement to Fuji, that despite not having weather sealing, the gear I've owned has ALWAYS worked perfectly under all conditions here. Rain and extreme temperatures have never slowed me down. With DP2M I could get maybe 10 shots with a battery at freezing temperatures, sometimes even less. People are complaining about battery life with Fuji cameras, but for me it hasn't been an issue at all! My daily snap amounts are not that massive, and I'm prepared to charge my gear daily.

The other option would be to get a used X100s. Thanks Jonne for bringing this up.. Pfft! Same sensor iq-wise than my X-E1, and a great 35mm lens. Having seen samples taken with the 28mm wide angle adapter, the camera and this adapter could fulfill my wide angle dreams for about the same price as a new lens. In addition, I'd get OVF, smaller body, could go on without swapping lenses, and have a "spare" body in case of camera malfunction or breakdown. The only negative is that 28mm (full frame equivalent, of course) is not as wide as 21mm, which has a great 90° FOV.

So... Decisions coming up. And this all is in light of what's available now. Lot of things can happen before summer is here. Sigh..

I got my new tripod, and I'm loving it btw. It's a Benro C0190T with a small ballhead. Feels like a true quality product compared to Manfrotto and Velbon I've owned before. It's light as ever and fast to set up. I'll write more on this later, as the temperatures become more tolerable again.

Sunset. Though the sun didn't even rise above the horizon.

Sonnar C. There's something with this lens, that forbids me from selling it.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Thoughts for this year

I've been busy with work lately. This has resulted in even longer hours, and additionally I've been traveling back and forth between two places due to my other half working 200 kilometers away from me. Photography as a hobby has suffered, but I'm trying to catch up as the sun begins to rise above horizon again here in Lapland during the following months. On the positive side, I'm spending more time in landscapes where I enjoy my hobby more (the fells around Levi).

Gear talk

I'm still using pretty much the same gear. X-E1 + 35/1.4 and Leica M3, of which the latter has seen very little use lately. Limited time has resulted in choosing the easiest way, which of course is digital. I'm happy with Fuji, though I've been thinking about getting a wide angle lens for landscapes and a new perspective. XF 14mm has been in my Amazon shopping basket for 3 months now, but I think the upcoming XF 10-14mm is too compelling to pass by. The new lens with OIS should be shipping in March, can't wait..

There have been some interesting launches lately, the most important being Sony with their A7/A7r. I gave a long thought to whether I should sell my Fuji gear and go for A7r, which seems to be nicely priced considering it has arguably the best 35mm sensor inside today. I skipped the NEX-series because they feel more like computers than cameras, and I have a fear that A7 is too much of the same. Taking this into consideration, I think I've finally made up my mind, and I'm sticking with Fuji and a more pleasurable experience (and great native lenses). There's a lot of fuss about shutter vibration and lack of native lenses with Sony, but for me the user experience is the most important factor. My mind might change when I get the chance to try A7r, but until then I'm not willing to do anything stupid. There are certain drawbacks with Fuji, but 16 megapixels is more than enough for my needs, even though pixel-peeping sometimes tries to take control.

Fuji is probably coming up with a new body soon. If it's a more responsive X-pro1 with better hybrid finder (mostly the EVF part) and phase detection sensor, I might jump aboard and sell my X-E1. If it's something else, I think the X-E1 is still crazy good value and a pleasure to use. I saw one body going for under 400 euros used, which is peanuts for what it has to offer. This is perhaps the best sensor for low light work, and the color rendition is still great to my taste. X-E2 offers minor improvements, but image quality stays the same. 

Nikon has the new Df, but it's big and the concept isn't as clear as it should be. If it was smaller, prettier and had less controversies (buttons, menu choices), I'd be interested. Seems like the tried to do a bit too much for too many different people. The result seems flawed, but again, I have no first-hand experience.

Canon.. Hmm. Nothing new lately. DSLR's are really not my thing, so I haven't even tried to stay up-to-date. Olympus continues with their m4/3 efforts. My friend bought the new E-M1 and seems happy with it, but I'm not really interested in a sensor smaller than APS-C. I'm not a full-frame fanboy (at least I don't consider myself as one), but I still like a shallower depth-of-field on some occasions. APS-C is a nice compromise with faster optics. It's interesting to see if Olympus and Panasonic can keep up the interest for their m4/3 systems while Sony is pushing full frame, and Fuji might have something big coming up (rumors about organic sensor). 

Past and future promises

Looking back now, I made some promises for the year 2013. Some have gained attention, some haven't. I'm done with promises, as my schedules don't allow me to concentrate to fulfilling those promises even if they are aimed for my personal development. I know the next year will bring big changes to my life, and I'm hoping to travel more and see new cultures and photographic inspirations. More on this later next year.

I have a steady interest for new camera gear. However, I'm trying to keep Gear Acquisition Syndrome in control, and I've managed to do so with extensive and subjective pondering on what I really enjoy. I spent two days thinking about A7r, and when I got back to the things I enjoy most in my gear, it was pretty simple to sum up that it wasn't for me at this point. Hopefully I can keep up. Saying that, I have a new tripod incoming in addition to the lens purchase I mentioned earlier on. Sigh :)

I promise to try update my blog more frequently. Hopefully I can keep up with that!

Happy new year for everyone! Here are some pics taken since last update on August.

Helsinki University Library



Another hobby of mine

Monday, August 5, 2013

X-E1 after the first months

Radio silence is over. I've finished my studies, and although the graduation is postponed to next autumn due to bureaucracy, all the required work (including my thesis) is finished. This means more time for family and hobbies (and work), hooray!

During this time I've had the opportunity to try out both the Sonnar-C and XF 35/1.4, as the latter arrived back from service in early June. Landscapes, weddings, people, dogs, travel snapshots.. Over 1200 pictures taken (according to filename counter), and I believe I've formed an opinion of some sort at this point.

However, what has been putting me off is this review-style writing. Eventually I found myself writing similar things with other reviews already written, and I see no point in doing that. I thought that by keeping this quick and simple I can move on to other topics and continue writing this blog :) Please read writings from the blogs mentioned in "Sites I like". Some have really thorough opinions about Fuji X-cameras which I can mostly agree on.

How it feels

  • Familiar. I had X100 for such a long time, that X-E1 is like coming home in many ways.
  • Logical. It leaves more room for possibilities than DP2M and X100
  • Nimble. I like the size, and I haven't regretted choosing this model over the larger X-pro1. 
  • A bit cheap. Despite the materials, I tend to compare every body to my Leica M3. I guess nothing compares in terms of perceived quality.

What I like

  • Manual controls. One of the reasons I bought X100 in the first place.
  • Color. I like Fuji Velvia 50 film look, and X-cameras give that same saturated punchy color. Sometimes I even feel overwhelmed by it, but generally I'm liking it.
  • Image quality. X-trans sensor is really nice, and high ISO performance is welcome after dealing with Foveon problems.
  • Flexibility. I can use MF lenses and manual settings, or go with AF and aperture-priority/auto ISO mode. Results are always rewarding.
  • Focus peaking. Finally they got it done. The latest firmware update has brought the MF experience to a new level. It's not perfect, but at least it's there.
  • Portability. I take it out a lot. This tells me that the size is right for me, and on the other hand I like using it.
  • Looks. It's a nice camera to look at. Sonnar-C makes it even sexier than XF 35mm.
  • Robustness. Despite the flimsy feel I'm writing about, it is fairly robust in today's standards. Metal body, real switches etc. Only problem is the slightly protruding display.

What I dislike

  • Raw compatibility. I hate fiddling with multiple software. Aperture works nice, but Iridient Developer seems to work even better. However, after dealing with Sigma Photo Pro and "double workflow" my laziness makes me go with the easiest route (Aperture only). Why won't you (Fuji) design your cameras so, that quality is optimal with mainstream conversion software?
  • Menu structure. I thought Quick-menu would be an improvement over the X100. This is not the case, and I find myself preferring the menu structure of Sigma Merrill series over this.
  • Flimsy feel. Despite quality materials, it feels a bit like a toy. The same thing occurs when comparing XF 35mm lens to my other legacy lenses. Small size is good, but I don't mind a tank-like construction.

Differences with other reviews

  • Battery life. Some keep saying it's causing problems. Never had problems with battery running out. I tend to take fewer shots nowadays, which of course hides the issue.
  • Green mush problem. I take a lot of pictures outside. I've never found it problematic in a sense that I'd need to use another raw developer to hide the problem. I agree that Iridient Developer does better quality conversions, but the difference is not that radical. Basic sharpening in Photoshop is enough for me when needed.

After first months

  • Great images. Even though I haven't had the time to "go out and photograph", I've gotten shots that would have been impossible with my previous gear. 
  • Trust. I believe it's the right (digital) camera for me to own right now. I feel comfortable with it, and I get results I can anticipate on scene.
  • Eagerness to experience more. Although I feel familiar with the camera, I feel like it has a lot more to give. I need to develop as a photographer to get more out of it. It makes me happy to notice this while shooting.

All summed up, I think I made the right call buying this camera. I'm in the middle of analog vs. digital controversy again, but it doesn't change the fact that X-E1 is a great camera. I'll try to write something a bit more specific after getting this text out of the way.


Flowers. Velvia color?


Zeissy bokeh.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


A quick update on using 3rd party M-mount lenses with X-E1. The adapter arrived, and against my previous thoughts, I ordered the "dumb" Kipon adapter instead of the more expensive Fujifilm one. The latter allows for some in-camera settings and corrections for 3rd party lenses, but from what I've read, you can pretty much do it all on post-processing if needed. And "dumb" adapters have a little more room for lenses with longer focusing helicoid. Plus it's one third of the price..

I first tried using my 50mm Summicron Dual Range with the adapter, but found out that despite the pleasing low contrast look, edge sharpness was visibly inferior to what I had expected. I then attached my other M-mount lens, Carl Zeiss Sonnar-C 50mm f/1.5, and wow... I really like the tactile feel of this lens, and it looks like it was designed for X-E1. Quality-wise it's certainly sharp enough for me edge to edge, and works fine even without focus peaking by using zoom mode with X-E1 thumb roll. Bokeh is pleasing, and gives a slightly creamy feel to images taken wide open.

It takes some practice to focus manually without any assisting features (please Fuji, give us a new firmware with focus peaking), but I managed to take some action shots by relying on zone-focusing and experiences gained from rangefinder world. Here are some examples. I'll be using this lens for some time, as I had to send my XF 35mm for a warranty service. Front element was a bit off from the centre line of the objective body, and while it had no negative effect on image quality, the lens hood was misaligned when attached, and the markings on the lens were also off in front of the lens. Fujifilm Nordic promised to deal with this on warranty, so I thought I'd get it done before I really need the lens.

X-E1 and Sonnar-C

Perfect portrait lens?

Practicing zone focus

Monday, May 13, 2013


..or as Ken Rockwell put it some time ago, the Sexy One.

I finally got the camera and lens last week, and despite the continuing lack of time, wanted to share some experiences. The package consists of a brand new black X-E1 body and a used XF 35mm f/1.4 lens in mint condition. The price total for all this was around 1000 euros, which was nice considering the setbacks with my previous purchases.

And boy, it feels good. The minute I took the camera in my hands, I knew this was the call I was supposed to make last Autumn. Sigma DP2M is an exceptional tool for certain work, but it's not what I want as my only camera. This Fuji feels relatively small, nimble, robust and well thought out, a bit like my late X100, but everything felt better. The lens feels a tad large considering the size of the body, but I guess it's understandable with that 1.4 aperture. And the looks.. Modern touches to a classic rangefinder style body. It's not as attracting as Leica M, but feels just as functional and well designed.

The image quality surpasses that of my old X100. Of course the detail isn't similar to what I got with the little Sigma, but I always liked the IQ and the appearance of the images taken with X100. 16 megapixels seems like a nice compromise nowadays. Tolerable file sizes, enough pixels for whatever purpose I can think of, and room for cropping if the situation demands it. And high ISO performance is something worth mentioning. With Sigma I couldn't use anything past ISO400 until the noise became apparent. I've taken some ISO6400 shots with Fuji, and they seem fine by my standards. There's noise, but it has a pleasant feel to it. Nothing like the color artifacts in Foveon files. X-E1 feels like a thing of the future after using Sigma for some months.

The raw support for X-trans sensor has always been a problem, and was the main reason why I didn't get the X-pro1 last year. Now we have support in every major software, and some have made crucial upgrades to their implementations during the last few months.  I won't debate here on what is the best raw converter, but I've been using Aperture since 2010, and was in the belief that in order to use Fuji cameras I'd need to start learning Lightroom again (I actually used 1.0 beta years ago). Luckily Apple came up with X-trans support some weeks ago, so I thought I'd make a comparison between the two.

I took 10 random shots, and ran the raw files through both Aperture and Lightroom. I liked the Aperture end result more with every single sample, so it seems that I don't have to change my familiar workflow in order to get results. Aperture puts out those Fuji colors I've mentioned before, and the pixel level quality seemed to be better also on those Aperture conversions. I can't say the Adobe files were bad, but the colors seemed a bit washed out, and out of balance somehow. I tried doing conversions without any settings applied, and after that made some fine tuning to the images. The results stayed similar between different software, so it's Aperture hands down for me. It lacks some of the nice features in Lightroom 5 beta (spot healing, decent camera/lens profiles to name a few), but the colors alone are reason enough for me to continue using Aperture. Hopefully Apple steps up, and releases that long-awaited 4.0 upgrade with similar features soon.

Another fact about those raw files. They seem to respond really well to post-processing with different filters. I never got those Foveon X3F-files looking just the way I wanted even after extensive post-processing. If you like Foveon look and Sigma colors, then it shouldn't be a problem, but for me they always felt a little awkward. With Fuji files I'm right at home, and despite different sensor color filter array (X-trans in X-E1 vs. Bayer in X100), the presets made for X100 work perfectly fine with X-E1 files. Another bonus for me personally.

I wish I had more time to make a more detailed "review" here and now, but it'll have to wait until June. The Leica M adapter should arrive tomorrow, and I can't wait to try the Sonnar-C 50/1.5 on this body. I was a bit afraid of losing OVF functionality present in X-pro1, but EVF in X-E1 feels really nice and responsive, and actually with X100 I ended up using EVF 95% of the time. It might be the future thing as electronic implementations soon surpass optical finders in resolution and light sensitivity. I'd like to have both, but to be honest, I find the EVF in X-E1 comfortable enough for now. With film Leica I have one of the best optical finders in history, so I'm pretty much covered when I feel the urge to escape electronics.

I might feel overly positive with the camera right now, but it's because I felt right at home with it. Going back to what I enjoy in photography, and getting the results I want with minimal effort. Can't complain!

Minimal post-processing here