Sep 112012
 

I received a promotion from Office Depot a few weeks back and rather than the usual “Valued Customer” form of address, it had a more personal and eye-catching touch.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Full marks go to Office Depot for this imaginative piece of marketing.

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 fanatics think I belong in a comic strip, so they should appreciate the above photograph.

Talking of Fujifilm,  I notice the company has released the XE-1 camera, similar to the X-Pro1 except that it does not boast the hybrid EVF/OVF, just an EVF. Fujifilm has introduced new firmware, v2.00, for this camera and it will be available for the X-Pro1 shortly.

Firmware v2.00 addresses many of the criticisms levelled at the X-Pro1 by reviewers but dismissed by the “highly skilled” early adopters.

The improvements include improved AF speed, better MF performance and improved writing and processing speeds. Auto (6400) has also been added to the ISO setting.

It is pleasing to see Fujifilm respond in this manner, although quite why they didn’t get all these features right from the get-go is known only to Fujifilm.

The firmware can be downloaded on September 18th, 2012, 6:00 am (GMT) at the Fujifilm global web site: http://www.fujifilm.com/support/digital_cameras/. It will also be necessary to update the firmware of the Fujinon XF lenses at the same time.

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May 042012
 

Adobe has announced an update to its Camera Raw and DNG Converter plug-ins.

ACR 6.7 will be the last update of Camera Raw for Photoshop CS5. Fortunately, most of the cameras that have appeared on my radar in recent months as possible purchases are supported, namely Canon 1DX, Canon 5D Mark III and Olympus E-M5 OM-D. The one notable exception is Fujifilm’s X-Pro1.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

The absence of RAW support effectively brings the curtain down on my interest. Sure, the X-Pro1  comes with Silky Pix to handle RAW images. I would love to meet the marketing executive who came up with the name Silky Pix. It would be better named Silky Pants because its performance is regarded by many photographers as being just that — pants!

What version of ACR will eventually support the X-Pro1 is anyone’s guess. It does mean, however, that for someone like myself, if I were to buy the X-Pro1, I would also have to factor in an extra $199 to upgrade my version of Photoshop.

As much as I genuinely admire the image quality the X-Pro1 produces, I still cannot get past this cameras quirks and foibles.

The absence of the X-Pro1 from ACR 6.7 also coincided with an assessment by British photographer David Taylor-Hughes as to its usefulness as a camera for street photography.

Now if you idea of street photography is a photograph of random strangers doing nothing particular out of the ordinary or the photograph of a homeless person asleep in a doorway then the X-Pro1 will do just fine. But if street photography means capturing a decisive moment or a fleeting expression then, according to Taylor-Hughes, the Fujifilm X-Pro1 isn’t up to the task.

On his blog SoundImagePlus, he concludes:

So, I can’t say that I recommend the Fuji X-Pro 1 for fast reaction photography in a crowded constantly changing environment. Try as I might, I couldn’t get it to do what I wanted, and I tried virtually everything to see if I could get it quicker, but failed.

He commends the image quality of the X-Pro1, as most photographers do, but what use is fabulous image quality if the camera cannot deliver the shot the photographer had in mind?

No doubt photographers will be quick to point out that my assertion is wrong or that Taylor-Hughes needs to hone his skills and it is not the camera’s fault. Whatever!

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

I am grateful to a photographer like Taylor-Hughes for giving an honest assessment and one based on personal experience.

Don’t get me wrong you will see street photography shots taken with the X-Pro1 and they really do come alive because of the image quality, particularly at a high ISO. But look at them a little more closely and many of them are capturing a static subject. And for those who do manage to capture a shot with motion, the photographer will rarely disclose how many attempts he had to make before getting the shot.

As Taylor-Hughes states, he did get some successes but also missed out on a lot of shots that other cameras would have taken in their stride and delivered the goods. And it is the inconsistency of the X-Pro1 that may lead to frustration and missed photo opportunities.

Talking of missed opportunites leads me to the M-mount adapter for the Fujifilm X-Pro1. It was the announcement that the X-Pro1 would be compatible with M-mount lenses that really fired my interest in the camera.

But where is it?

Third party manufacturers have got M-mount adapters in the marketplace. Now unless the Fujifilm adaptor offers something above and beyond what the third-party manufactures can offer, they may well have missed the boat. If Fujifilm’s M-mount adapter is only comparable to those of third-party adapters, people are unlikely to ditch the third party-adapters for the Fujifilm version, are they? Although a great many people who buy cameras seem to have more money than sense, so maybe Fujifilm does know what it is doing.

Time will tell.

Mar 302012
 

I took delivery of a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens last Thursday, my first autofocus lens. I had planned to shoot with it quite a bit this week but unfortunately I was laid low with a viral infection that can best be described as 48-hour flu. I am over the worst of it but its effects are lingering on in the form of feeling listless and lethargic. I did manage to get out and about at the weekend and was mightily pleased with the results.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Using an AF lens has involved a learning curve for me, albeit not a steep one. I am using back button focus, a method I read about a while back and considered by many to be preferable to half pressing the shutter to achieve focus. My thumb has quickly learned the position of the AE Lock button and I must say I enjoy this method of shooting. It did involve making a couple of adjustments to the Custom Functions of the Canon 40D and I have also set one of the camera settings C1 to shooting with AF.

When I go back to my trusty manual focus Zeiss Planar T*, I will simply switch back to Av mode.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

A few weeks ago on this blog I was lamenting the way that camera manufacturers do not seem to cater to the wishes of photographers like me by producing the digital equivalent of the Nikon F2, Nikon FM, Canon AE-1, Minolta XD7 or Pentax K1000.

My photographic friend Bob, in England, echoed my thoughts when we were corresponding about the specifications of the new Canon 5D Mark III.

Bob wrote:

It all seems so far removed from my type of photography (and I use the latter word to describe the whole exercise/experience in the field). The phrase “great quality sound” just about sums it up. How have we managed to get to the point where these three words apply to a Single Lens Reflex camera!!! If this were an old-fashioned letter, this would be the point at which my pencil broke on the page.

I wonder if anyone will ever take something like a Pentax Spotmatic F as a model, simply put a sensor where the film plane used to be, bung some elementary digital electronic gubbins and a battery where the film/cannister was and market it as the “Jurassodigimatic”. Race you to the front of the queue.

Bob is a down-to-earth Lancastrian who has been photographing for more than 40 years. He specializes in landscape photography, industrial photography and railway photography, particularly steam locomotives. His work has been published in British steam railway enthusiast magazines. His approach to photography often involves meticulous planning and the use of a tripod and is diametrically opposed to my journalist on-the-fly hand-held approach.

Imagine my surprise this morning when I read an interview with one of my favourite contemporary photographers, David Burnett, on The Online Photographer Web site. I admire Burnett’s reportage work immensely and he also comes across as a genuinely nice guy.

While the kindergarten classes on DPReview are arguing the merits of the Canon 5D Mk III versus the Nikon D800, Burnett is still shooting with a pair of the original Canon 5D cameras. To Burnett, and any self-respecting professional photographer, cameras are simply tools. It is how those tools are used that separates the men from the boys.

Canon 40D and Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Burnett admitted that he does not own a digital camera capable of shooting at 100,000 ISO but did say that he had recently acquired a Leica M9 and went on to extol the virtues of rangefinder photography.

Burnett said:

I have been quite amazed, actually, that neither Canon nor Nikon has come out with their own re-creation of one of their classic rangefinder cameras. In all the advances in photo technology, it just surprises me that none of the traditional makers other than Leica (the preeminent) has seen fit to create a camera (please, no harping about the Epson) which recreates all those great 1950s cameras.

The interview garnered plenty of comments, many from young photographers admiring Burnett’s work. As befitting the man, he added a comment to the interview, acknowledging those kind comments.

He went on to say:

My issue with the RFDR cameras is take a Nikon D700/Canon5D chip (proven, capable, cheap) put it in a new SPdigi, CanonP/7 digi body, put a screen on the back as good as any $400 point/shoot (there are plenty), and PUT A FRICKEN RANGEFINDER with an M mount on the body. It’s not rocket science though perhaps it’s being seen that way. God bless all the x100/X-Pro1, Sony 5NEX, etc., etc., etc. cameras. Let them all fight for the wannabe crowd but make a $1500 RFDR body, (no need for video, let it just be a PHOTO camera) and you will be a) Camera of the Year; b) unable to keep up with demand; and c) loved by a very loveable group of shooters.

On reading that, I immediately thought of Bob’s e-mail and my own wish for a digital version of the great SLRs of the 1960s and 1970s.

Of course, it begs the question as to why major camera manufacturers will not produce such a camera but continue to produce the behemoths that full-frame DSLR cameras have become and why a generation of photographers, those of us 45 years and plus, is being ignored by the camera giants.

Over to you Canon, Nikon, et al!

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Mar 192012
 

When a new camera is announced, the press release always makes it out to be flawless and the best thing since sliced bread. With the passage of time, reviews begin to appear and a more balanced view begins to emerge. Finally, the camera reaches the hands of early adopters – I mean people who have actually paid out hard earned money to buy the camera rather than photographers invited to try out the new product. With the latter, it is hard to know just how critical they can be about the product. Human nature being what it is, people are reluctant to pan something they have had free access to.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

When the Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera was announced, its specifications on paper certainly impressed me – a camera with a hybrid OVF/EVF viewfinder, the former was a great plus; a compact retro design; three small prime lenses; Fujifilm-designed revolutionary 16MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor with no anti-aliasing filter; and a much improved menu from that in the X100.

Most important of all was the mention of an M-mount adapter. Fujifilm has yet to release this adapter but third-party manufacturers have wasted no time in bringing one to market. Such an adapter would allow the use of Zeiss ZM lenses, and you all know how fond I am of Zeiss lenses, as well as Leica M lenses.

The X-Pro1 seems to offer what the Ricoh A12 M-mount lacks, namely a built-in viewfinder; the option of using an optical viewfinder and a 16MP sensor.

Of the three newly-designed lenses for the X-Pr01 — Fujinon XF 18mm f/2 R; Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4R; and Fujinon XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro – the first two interested me the most. Given that the crop factor is 1.5, those lenses are the 35mm equivalent of 27mm, 52.5mm and 90mm respectively. The f/2 wide-angle lens would be faster than those offered by Zeiss and Voigtlander. The AF on the 35mm f/1.4 lens would be of great benefit to my ageing eyes.

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera was beginning to look good and ticked a great many of the boxes with regard to what I am looking for in a camera.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

At this point, I have to make it clear that I have never held an X-Pro1 let alone shot with one. The comments I am about to make are based on reviews I have read and comments posted by early adopters.

No one can argue that the image quality produced by the X-Pro1 is phenomenal, rivaling even full-frame cameras such as the Canon 5D Mark II. Fujifilm gets full marks for the design of the sensor and its new approach to sensor technology. In its review, What Digital Camera, gives the X-Pro1 a score of 20/20 for image quality. Some of the examples I have seen taken by enthusiasts have caused my jaw to drop in terms of the colour and clarity of the images.

The final product emerging from the X-Pro1 can look amazingly good but it is how that final product is achieved where things start to go a little awry.

The AF focus although adequate is described as slow and some users have found a degree of inconsistency. The AF also has a tendency to hunt, particularly in low light. While the AF is fine for static objects, in continuous AF mode it can only keep up with fairly slow-moving subjects.

The three lenses offer manual focus but it is manual focus by wire. Of greater concern is the difficulty in obtaining critical sharpness in both the OVF and EVF modes of the viewfinder. Unlike the Sony NEX range and Ricoh’s A12 M-mount, the X-Pro1 does not feature focus peaking. Fujifilm dropped the ball there and it is hoped it can be introduced with a firmware upgrade. With the lack of focus peaking, the X-Pro1 began to slip off my radar. Techradar’s review concludes by saying:

The hybrid viewfinder is also excellent, although it doesn’t work as well as we might hope when focusing manually.

Several posters on DPReview have also commented on the difficulty of manual focusing and also the EVF freezing when focus is attained. Basically that means the image taken when the shutter is fired is not the image seen in the EVF at the time of focus. That seems a bit of a handicap when it comes to portrait and street photography, two subject areas for which the X-Pro1 is designed.

I have not been overly impressed by the performance of the 18mm f/2 lens, particularly when shot wide open. The lens does not create a pleasant bokeh.

Some samples shot with the 35mm f/1.4 also display a harsh bokeh that deflects the eye from the main subject. The 35mm lens also suffers from “aperture chattering” as it attempts to achieve focus. I think I would find that annoying.

EV compensation is adjusted by a dial on the top of the camera, which offers convenient access but some people have reported accidentally moving this dial while using the camera.

The problem of write speeds is highlighted by Photography Blog. It states:

Shooting a single RAW + Fine JPEG takes about 8 seconds to record to the card, although thankfully you can take another shot almost straight away.

Although the reviews commend the X-Pro1 for being a solidly built camera, What Digital Camera did report that the black paint began to peel off after just a couple of days use. Given the camera body costs $1,700, a “well-used” look after just a couple of days is something most people would expect to find so soon and after such an outlay.

Ricoh GRD III. ©Calvin Palmer 2012. All Rights Reserved.

I really wanted to like the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and for a time saw it as the replacement to a bulky DSLR camera but I am afraid my interest has completely waned in the light of the reviews and hands-on experience. And that is a great pity because the image quality it produces really is outstanding.

Until Fujifilm irons out some of the flaws with updated firmware, it is a case for me of the cons outweighing the pros of the X-Pro1.

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