Tuesday 29 January 2013

The two camps of iPhone photography delusion

I love my iPhone.

I frequently shoot family, personal and fun pics with it.

I subscribe to view that the best camera is the one you have with you and I believe there are some really great shot's taken with it and other smart phone's.

Truly the democratisation of photography.

So why the hardcore title of this post?

I had been hired to shoot a low light live performance for a corporate client.

Shooting alongside me was a member of the agency who was shooting stills with an iPhone 4 (not even a 4S)

He also had a Canon DSLR on his shoulder which he wasn't using.

No big deal.

Then another member of the agency came along and asked him why he was shooting it on his iPhone.

'Oh, this gives better quality than the big camera'

His superior accepted his answer without question.

This, is not the only time I have heard this either.

I'm currently working on a project where the client holds similar opinions.

The latest iPhone 5 gives some really great quality images.

For a 'device'.

But, to think for one moment it gives better quality than DSLR is delusional.

What they really mean, but are not saying, it that it is easier.

Easier for them to shoot pics without faffing about with f-stops, I mean it's good enough...right?

Well, it may well be.

Or it may not.

But crucially easier to post images to the web.

No cables, no card reader required.

Ok, the pic's may not be as good as a DSLR but they can post them there and then.

That is powerful beyond anything else.

So the first camp are the users who delude themselves that the quality is better.

But the second camp are in my eyes much more culpable of delusion are the camera manufacturers.

I have no scientific evidence on this but everything points to the bottom falling out of the market for mid range and bottom range camera's, which on mass must bring considerable profits.

The only point and shoot I see being used regularly is a smart phone.

One does not have to look very far to find evidence of deluded camera manufacturers.

Back in July Reuters reported that Canon, one of the most profitable companies in Japan had trimmed its profit forecasts for the year.

Analysts  (I know I should not take too much notice of them as they seem to be the tech/media world equivalent of a 'bloke in the pub' who professes to be a smart cookie but in-fact they don't know very much about the wider world because they are always down the pub...) gave  reasons such as the Tsunami, earthquakes, the Euro crisis and the high Yen.

Nowhere, but nowhere in the story was a smart phone mentioned, which by my reckoning is pretty seismic in their sales going down the toilet.

Those pesky analysts also say that Canon has retained a high profit margin cite 'aggressive cost cutting' as a strong suit of the company.

Cost cutting will not turn camera sales around but innovation will.

The kind of innovation I'm referring to is a WiFi card.

Yes, folks that unusual gadget which you may have heard of but camera manufacturers seem to only have a limited understanding of.

Yes, I know they have released a number of compact models and the 6D which is WiFi capable.

A good first step, but the truth is EVERY still camera they make should have Wifi capability.

Expensive WFT modules should become a thing of the past.

If the client had a WiFi capable camera I dare say he would have used that and not his iPhone.

Camera manufacturers need to wake up to the fact that many young kids don't see a camera when they are growing up, so why should they break the habit when they finally get to chose their own camera.

It's about making relevant camera's for a market that exists, not one that used to.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

World War Two bunkers and defences by Jonathan Andrew

I Love personal photographic projects.

When I saw Jonathan Andrew's series of well executed and beautifully lit photo's of World War Two defences I just had to know more.

If you want to see more from the series check out his site.

But What inspired him?

Why and how did he do it?

He answers all of these questions and more in this interview I did with him which runs just over 15 mins.

We can all learn a lot from him, particularly about just getting out there and shooting when you have the gear.

Very inspiring.

A nice bloke too.


Monday 14 January 2013

At last. Raw support for Fuji X Pro 1. (and hopefully the X100S too)

Like many others out there one of the annoyances and possibly barriers to ownership of the current Fuji X Pro 1 and the forthcoming Fuji X100S is the lack of raw support by any of the mainstream raw software companies.

You will have seen me say as much in previous posts.

Both camera's use a use a Fuji designed and manufactured 'proprietary' X-Trans CMOS sensor, which rather unusually in this price segment, does not use an optical low pass filter, which brings some notable benefits.

I'm not enough of a tech whizz to know if this helps the X-1 Pro deliver excellent low light results, but it does excel in low light.

Making your own left field sensor, with its own 'quirks', means it has not been supported by the big and notable software companies, like Adobe and Phase One.

Until now.

Phase One have today released Capture One Pro 7.0.2 which offers raw support for the Fuji X-1 Pro along with other Fuji models too.

Added to this, more stability and importantly-tethered support for Canon camera's.

You can download a free 60 day trial here.

It really is remarkable software.

The talented Valentina Quintano  very kindly let me have this raw file she shot while she was in Russia to give us some idea of how 1000iso Fuji X Pro-1 files look in Capture One 7 Pro.

The Fuji X Pro 1

First full frame.....

Pic by Valentina Quintano 
Now 100 percent.

Pic by Valentina Quintano 

The Fuji X Pro 1 has never been on my 'buy list' but the important thing for me is that now Phase One support the Fuji X-Trans on the X Pro 1 sensor it would be reasonable to assume that the Fuji X100S will also be supported.

Now that camera IS on my buy list.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Fuji X100 v's FujiX100S focus comparison

This it must be said is far from scientific.

But watching the Fuji guy's hands on video of the Fuji X100S where they show off the focusing performance got me thinking.

How would the outgoing Fuji X100 perform in similar circumstances?

So I did my own little test video.

The camera was set to macro and I used the same target - a Fuji battery.

First the Fuji guys video

Then my own mini version with the outgoing X100.

The results are quite interesting in that though it does focus slower (by how much you will have to make your own mind up) than the X100S, it's performance is by no means awful.

Which just goes to show, though the performance figures for the X100S are very impressive, we really will have to wait until we get to use it in action before any firm conclusions can be reached.

I have no doubt the X100S will be an improvement, but by how much?

What this mini test DOES seem to confirm is that the modified response on the manual 'Focus by Wire' is a great improvement, the old one being erm, not quite so good.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Very Promising 'Hands On' Preview with the Fuji X100S

Ok, first the health warning.

This is an officially sanctioned 'hands on' run through of the brand new Fuji X100S by 'The Fuji Guys', so they are hardly going to show you anything it is not so good at, but all the same it does look VERY promising.

I accept that I may be a little premature with this statement but as an owner of the X100 I could not help but be impressed by the focusing speed in the test compared to the outgoing camera.

Also check out the peaking demo, which I remain to be convinced by.

As you can see in the video it does not seem to work so well on lighter subjects, though this is a youtube video so I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt.

The pseudo 'split image' function which relies on the 'phase detection' built into the sensor does look much more promising.

Though that  could be down to nostalgia on my part....

They do seem to have made the menu much more accessible as the demo for the ISO control shows.

As a footnote the 'reviewers' are using a preproduction model, so a few of the buttons are in the wrong place on this model.

It does go to show just how down to the wire on a launch manufacturers go with new camera's.

Have a look and let me know what you think?

Sunday 6 January 2013

Analysis of the new Fuji X100S

The Fuji X100S promises performance to match the looks

So, now it's official.

Fuji's replacement for the X100 is with us in the shape of the modestly named Fuji X100S.

Here is my analysis(in underlined italics)of what they have and haven't done to improve the X100 with main features of the new camera taken from Fuji's own press release.

(1) Sensor performance comparable to full-frame output

The X100S features FUJIFILM’s newly-developed 16.3 megapixel APS-C X-Trans CMOS II sensor with a unique, highly randomised, colour filter arrangement. The benefit of the new array is the elimination of the need for an optical low-pass filter; these are used in conventional sensors to reduce false colour and moirĂ© effects but they also reduce image resolution. The removal of the optical low-pass filter allows the X-Trans CMOS II sensor to maximise the light it receives directly, enabling users to capture much finer detail and optimise resolution levels.
The X100S uses a Lens Modulation Optimiser to reduce optical effects such as lens diffraction, which occurs when light passes through a lens. Even when stopped down to f/16, the X100S retains sharpness and texture in the smallest details, demonstrating the extent of the sensor and lens combination’s capabilities, perfectly.
The excellent sensitivity of the X-Trans CMOS II sensor is coupled with the new EXR Processor II’s advanced signal processing capacity, which can reduce noise by more than 30% (*2) compared to its predecessor. Even when shooting in low-light, at a high ISO setting, the FUJIFILM X100S will produce crisp images with minimal grain.

For me at least, the outgoing Fuji X100 had enough megapixels, however
16.3 megapixel Trans CMOS II sensor looks very promising but also potentially very frustrating.
If like me you use third party raw processing software. Fuji needs to work more closely with the likes of Adobe and Phase One to ensure their files work in these widely used raw processors.
If they don't they could well lose out in the long term.

(2) The World’s fastest Auto Focus and High-speed EXR Processing
With built-in Phase Detection, the X100S offers the world’s fastest AF speed of just 0.08 seconds(*1). The Intelligent Hybrid AF can switch to Contrast AF, dependent on the demands of the subject or scene, to ensure that the camera always auto-focuses quickly and with precision.
The EXR Processor II delivers processing speeds twice that of FUJIFILM’s previous generation processor (*6). The fast responses result in an impressive start-up time of approx. 0.5 seconds (*4), and a shooting interval of 0.5 seconds. In addition the X100S delivers a burst shooting rate of up to 6 frames per second (max. 29 frames) at the full resolution of 16.3 megapixels and the shutter time lag is a mere 0.01 seconds.

At a stroke Fuji would seem to have addressed the number one drawback of the X100. IF these figures translate to a real world dramatic improvement in focusing speed and accuracy they will have made a giant leap forward.
All of this would seem to come from the EXR II processor, potentially giving the X100S the power which it's predecessor lacked, hobbling the camera in so many ways.

Let's hope that this processor lives up to the promise.

(3) Enhanced manual focus performance with the world’s first (*5) ‘Digital Split Image’ display
Making use of the built-in phase detection pixels for AF action, the X100S is the world’s first (*5) camera to offer a “Digital Split Image” feature, which displays dual images on the left and right to be lined up for manual focusing. This enables accurate focusing especially when working with an open aperture or macro shooting.
In addition, the X100S offers a handy Focus Peak Highlight function, which emphasises the outline of the subject focus plane. It provides the photographer with a guide, even in situations where it is difficult to calculate focusing accuracy, allowing users to enjoy manual focusing comfortably, however challenging the conditions.

In my experience 'focus by wire' is never a happy arrangement.

Fuji's options were limited on this front.

Short of an expensive ground up redesign of the entire camera, Fuji had to come up with something which made the best of the design they had.

Digital split image does sound very interesting, how it is implemented and how well it works remains to be seen.

I do use focus peaking on video camera's and it can be very useful, but you end up look at the LCD and not the image itself, divorcing you from the image taking process.

I know Sony use image peaking too and it may work well, but I need to get hands on before I am convinced.

(4) Premium Hybrid Viewfinder for easy image composition
Offering users freedom when composing photos and adaptability for a range of shooting conditions, the X100S’s Hybrid Viewfinder combines both an Optical and an Electronic Viewfinder.
The electronic viewfinder uses a 100% coverage, extra high resolution, 2,360K-dot High Definition LCD panel. It shows depth-of-field during macro shooting, as well as white balance settings, allowing users to accurately compose their shot while continuously looking through the viewfinder.
The premium quality optical viewfinder offers an easy-to-see magnification of 0.5 at a 23mm focal length and a horizontal apparent field of view of 26 degrees. The all-glass construction uses high-refractive index glass to minimise chromatic aberrations and distortion.
While in the optical viewfinder mode, users can make adjustments to shutter speed, aperture, ISO and other settings without having to take their eye off the viewfinder. The shooting frame (Bright Frame) and text brightness automatically adjust according to the ambient light available, to ensure that the information on the display is easy to see at all times.
The system features an OVF Power Save mode, which activates the power-saving function in the optical viewfinder mode to double the maximum number of images per full charge from 300 (*7) in normal operation.
With FUJINON’s proprietary coating, the viewfinder cleverly resists fingerprints and can easily be wiped clean, so that users can enjoy the optical viewfinder’s clear display without compromise.
Amen to that. No other manufacturer has come up with anything near as clever as the Fuji Hybrid viewfinder, and any refinements to this game changing feature can only be welcomed.
(5) FUJINON 23mm f/2 lens offering premium image quality in a compact body
Specifically designed for this model, the FUJINON 23mm f/2 Single Focal Length Lens has a fixed angle of incidence of light into the lens, which facilitates optimum optical design. Taking full advantage of this, the X100S demonstrates advanced levels of image clarity, not only in the centre of the image, but also through to the edges of the photo. The versatile focal length of 35mm (*8) delivers an angle of view ideal for a diverse range of subjects and scenes.
The lens consists of 8 elements in 6 groups, and includes a high-performance double-sided aspherical element and highly-refractive converging glass elements, which deliver a high level of detailed performance with minimal aberration, excellent sharpness and beautiful colour reproduction. Moreover, FUJINON's proprietary HT-EBC coating is applied to effectively control image flares and ghosting.
Other benefits of this lens are the beautiful, soft, round-shaped Bokeh that is produced from the 9 blade lens diaphragm. In addition the lens allows you to get as close as 10cm from your subject in macro mode for stunning close-up shots. And its built-in 3-stop ND filter enables blurring of the background in portraits, or applies a gorgeous creamy look to flowing water even in a bright setting.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.....

(6) Elegant design and sophisticated functionality
The front of the X100S proudly bares the letter “S” as confirmation of its extensive evolution from the FUJIFILM X100. Down to the tiniest detail, the premium build and feel of the X100 is continued in the X100S. FUJIFILM’s top quality Japanese engineering is evident from the high precision components used and the perfectly optimised body.
The X100S’s top and base parts are made of magnesium alloy to achieve a lightweight, resilient, yet delicate design. A specially-formulated coating is applied to give its surface a steel look for an added premium feel. All the dials and rings have been milled from solid metal, with attention paid to the finer details such as finger grips and enhanced operability. The exterior is finished with synthetic leather, which is durable and resilient to the environment yet reproduces the texture of real leather, while still offering the practical benefits of additional grip and comfort.
The layout of the dials and rings allow users to operate the aperture ring on the lens with their left hand, and the shutter speed dial and exposure compensation dial on the top panel with their right hand, meaning all the settings can be adjusted comfortably without having to take your eye off the viewfinder. And to make you feel even more at home, you can even customise your shutter sound by choosing between the four different sounds available: Lens Shutter, Focal Plane Shutter, Mirror Up and Silent Shutter.
The menu system has been also updated to incorporate a Q “Quick” button which allows you to quickly call up frequently-used menu items such as ISO setting and Film Simulation modes. In addition, the Fn (Function) button allows users to assign functions frequently used while shooting, for convenient use at the touch of a button.

By sticking with the quite lovely X100 body, which must have cost a pretty penny to engineer, they have preserved one of the camera's strongest features - a look and feel that eludes most volume camera manufacturers.
That no other manufacturer has followed them is quite baffling.
Imagine a super high spec Canon or Nikon version built around one of their gorgeous rangefinder camera's from the 1950's or 1960's.
It would sell by the truckload without having to slug it out in the market place with the endless and bland mirrorless offerings.

(7) Artistic photography

The X100S features FUJIFILM's proprietary 'Film Simulation Modes'. Users can choose from ten simulation options which replicate the results achieved by FUJIFILM colour reversal films (Velvia / PROVIA / ASTIA), professional colour negative films (PRO Neg. Std / PRO Neg. Hi), monochrome filters (MONOCHROME, Ye filter, R filter and G filter) and SEPIA.
Also available on the X100S is the Advanced Filter function; users can choose from 8 different artistic effects which can be previewed on the LCD screen:
Pop Colour - great for boosting contrast and colour saturation
Toy Camera - create shaded borders as if you were taking a photo on a toy camera
Miniature - adds top and bottom blur for a diorama or miniature effect
Dynamic Tone - create a fantasy effect by dynamically-modulated tonal reproduction
Partial Colour – highlights one colour and leaves the rest of the image in black and white (choose from red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple)
High Key - enhances brightness and reduces contrast to lighten tonal reproduction
Low Key – create uniformly dark tones with few areas of emphasised highlights.
Soft Focus – blurs the focus of the image edges to create a softer effect
In addition a Multiple Exposure function enables users to combine two separate images together for special creative effects. And for greater artistic freedom, the aspect ratio can be selected from 3:2, 16:9, and 1:1 (square) to accommodate a wide range of photographic styles.

Whatever floats you boat I suppose.....a feature set which will appeal to a few but will not have troubled the R&D budget.

(8) Full HD Video Shooting
The X100S can shoot at 60fps during Full HD video recording (1920 x 1080) for very smooth video capture. Plus shooting at the high bit-rate of 36Mbps will result in reduced noise and enhanced image quality that reveals every detail, from individual leaves in the trees, to subtle changes in facial expression. During video recording, users have access to many of the additional modes available in still image capture. Film Simulation modes can be used, White Balance settings can be adjusted, you can even make the most of the fast lens to produce beautiful bokeh and also operate the Intelligent Hybrid AF for high-speed and high-precision focusing.

I have never shot video in the 'real world' with an X100, but doubtless some will.

60fps at 1920x1080, at a comparatively high bit rate of 35Mbps.

What we can draw from this data however is that the X100S processor/sensor is combo packs quite a punch.

(9) FUJIFILM X100S Key features list:
· 16.3 megapixel APS-C X-Trans CMOS II sensor
· EXR Processor II
· High Definition Hybrid Viewfinder (OVF / EVF)
· FUJINON 23mm f/2 lens
· Intelligent Hybrid AF (with the world’s fastest AF speed of 0.08 secs (*1))
· Start-up time of 0.5 secs (*4)
· Shutter time lag of 0.01 secs
· Shooting interval of 0.5 secs
· High-contrast and wide viewing-angle 2.8-inch Premium Clear LCD (460K dots)
· Super Intelligent Flash
· Burst shooting rate of up to 6 frames per second at full resolution (max. 29 frames)
· Focus Peak Highlight function
· Digital Split Image display
· Artistic filters
· Full HD movie recording (60fps / 30fps)

My Final Assessment

The Fuji X100S is evolutionary not revolutionary and is all the better for it I would say, and though I reserve full judgement until I have used one in a 'real world' situation, I reckon Fuji may well have pulled it off and have at last given their special little camera the wings to fly.

Friday 4 January 2013

Successor to the X100 is close-or so it would seem.

Shallow DoF.... My X100 aperture ring is permanently set to F2.0.....

I was looking at my favourite and most used camera last night.

Which without doubt is the most flawed camera I own too.

Much has been said about the Fuji X100 and depending on your view it is either brilliant or maddening.

Personally, I think it is both.

I started to wonder when it's successor would be announced.

A quick trawl of the web turned up this seemingly very promising rumour that it would be announced at CES on Monday.

Well, the X100 is due for replacement and Fuji have sent out a tantalising invite.

Added to this, the X100 broke cover at a similar time of year when it was first launched and camera manufacturers do tend to be creatures of habit.

The X200, or whatever they decide to call it, should be a relatively easy win.

What does it need to build on the 'legend'?

1. More processing power.

The 'big boys',particularly Canon, spend lots of time, effort and money on developing very powerful processors, for their DSLR's. Why does that matter? The processor is the heart of a digital camera, the foundation which controls everything the camera does, and what speed it does it at. This in my opinion was the single biggest failing of the X100 which left the camera feeling dimwitted on far too many occasions. Write speed in RAW is very slow, and woe betide you if you read from the card and reinserted it without reformatting. I was reminded of this at the weekend, when the fast card I was using counted for nothing as you could almost feel the camera searching through the card working out where the free space was before it was ready to go again. A process which can take some minutes, with shots missed as you wait for it to get its act together.
I know Fuji do not have the R&D budget of Canon but surely they can do a better job than they did the first time around?

After all the X100 must have earned them a pretty penny.....

2. Auto Focus

I believe the processor had a big influence on this but no matter what, I don't want the X100's successor to struggle as much as the current camera does.
Admittedly it did get much better with the myriad firmware updates but the bottom line is that it was often too slow and could be caught out in some relatively 'easy' AF situations, particularly when focusing on something closer to the lens.

While they are at could they give the camera a closer focusing capability WITHOUT having to resort to a macro setting? Saving the Macro setting for things that are REALLY close.

A really good manual focus solution would be most welcome too.....I like most others find the focus by wire disappointing>

3. Erratic exposure

Just every so often the X100 will expose two almost identically framed shot's completely differently.

For seemingly no good reason.

It is baffling.

Here are 2 shots taken moments apart on Aperture priority.

Go figure.

4. A more intuitive and readily accessible menu.

I have been using the camera for a good while now and it never ceases to amaze me just how concealed some parts of the menu are.

A good study of the competitions offerings should show them the way to go.

5. Battery management.

The X100 isn't too bad on it's battery, but when it goes it is not progressive.

You get very limited warning and then it is flat.

No nursing it through, it 'falls of a cliff' and if you haven't got a spare its all over.

On a DSLR I have headed out of the door for a shoot with the battery on 75 percent power and I knew I would be ok, something I would not dream of doing on an X100.

All of these flaws should be easily fixable, and I sincerely hope they do fix them and transform the camera into what it should have been at launch.

But I have a worry which comes in the shape of the Fuji X-1 Pro.

Firstly let me say it does take a cracking good picture, and is a quality camera.

It's just I would never own one.

Never is a long time but I do mean never.

Why the certainty?

Size, (relative)sloth and the sound of that focal plane shutter.

Combined, these simply rule it out.

It is very good for a camera of its type, but it is really not so very different in size to a Canon 5d MKIII which outperforms it on every front, is quieter in 'silent' mode to my ear than the focal plane shutter in the Fuji X1 Pro.

Ok, it is not a fair comparison, but if I had to leave the house with one camera and know I would get the shot no matter what it was, I would choose the 5D MKIII.

If the Fuji X1 Pro's used a leaf shutter(in the lenses) instead of a focal plane shutter, it might be a different story.

Fingers crossed they get it spot on this time with the X100's successor.