Recently I was very lucky to spend 5 days cruising through the countryside of Victoria, Australia, soaking up amazing scenery that is unique to this part of the world, and experiencing some of the best light I've ever seen. There were many euphoric moments of awe and appreciation for my home country's beauty, beauty that I had never seen or made a strong enough effort to experience and appreciate properly beforehand.
Knowing full well that I had many kilometers of riding on rough tracks ahead of me, I packed a light day kit, which of course featured my FujiFilm XT-1, XF56, XF18, and the underrated XC50-230. With just about every focal length covered, plus a few spare batteries, I was ready to capture just about anything that caught my eye, which there was of course and abundance of.
My approach to capturing this experience was a little different than usual. I didn't want to think about taking a photo and consider how it could be improved in post-production later on. I really wanted to show off how Fuji's JPEG system is supremely impressive and let the pictures and lenses speak for themselves. All pictures in this post were shot in JPEG with the Chrome simulation, and had a global modification of slight sharpness and shadow boost applied to them in Lightroom. The only exceptions were the few black and white conversions that you'll see in my post.
I spent 4 nights camping in a local caravan park in the town of Yea, Victoria, which is not far from the alpine regions of the state. The locals were extremely welcoming and talkative, even the local wildlife let me get up close and personal with XF56 on a few occasions! Overnight temperatures were pretty mild at ~3 degrees Celsius, which helped provide some truly amazing sunrises that featured beautiful fog and mist peering through the native forests and rolling hills. I love the XT-1's solid metal construction but jeez, when it's cold and you've bare hands you can certainly feel it! That said, I quickly realised too that having all the analog dials were great when wearing gloves because the camera was still very usable and easy to adjust.
The XT-1 performed admirably as always. Having the electronic shutter capable of shooting at 1/32000 of a second was very useful during the early morning sessions when firing off the XF56 at F 1.2. The XF18 was an exceptional performer in the AF department and was comfortable to use on the fly whilst riding. However, the budget master XC50-230, really impressed me. Sure it doesn't quite have the unique 3D crispness of the XF series but to have the equivalent focal lengths of 76-350mm for ~$200 it focuses well, renders detailed and sharp images and is very light weight. Definitely a top contender for best value for money in the entire Fuji lens range.
Below is one of the locals to the caravan park I was camping in - Sexy Face.
Sadly, this fella has a virus known as Psittacine beak and feather disease, which causes progressive feather, claw, and beak malformation and necrosis. Immunosuppresion is a secondary stage of the disease and eventually the poor fella will probably die from a secondary infection of some sort. Sexy Face (as named by the locals) was a very friendly fella and didn't shy away from the camera though. I hope he has a few more years left in him.
Lens adapters and mirrorless cameras are certainly getting their fair share of exposure these days (mind the pun). Many Sony A-Series users can be seen sporting a variety of different brands of lenses on their mirrorless beasts, and of course Fuji have their M-Mount adapter for the X-series cameras. After looking into the various lenses folks were using on their mirrorless cameras I decided to purchase a cheap Canon EOS to Fuji X lens adapter and see what the hip rage is all about.
In case you're already looking at doing this based on the few quick snaps on here, this is the eBay link that I purchased my adapter from for ~$15 AUD. It's solid and does the job I expected admirably.
So why does this combo work so well on a mirrorless camera, particularly the XT-1, so well?
Firstly, Focus Peaking in manual mode with split screen focus makes it exceptionally easy to get focus on point. The XT-1 is well known for it's fantastic large Electronic View Finder (EVF) and it accommodates the split image exceptionally well. What's also great is that the cropped focus image changes according to the focal point you choose, which, combined with spot metering that matches the focal point, provides a set of features uncommon to most other systems.
The second point that makes the XT-1 and a lens adapter work so darn well is the electronic and mechanical shutter combo that allows it to max out at an incredible 1/32000 of a second. Basic lens adapters offer no electrical communication between the lens and camera meaning the lens is stuck at it's widest aperture. For typical DSLRs this makes using apertures like F1.4 difficult to use in broad daylight without the use of neutral density filters. This problem is easily overcome by the Fuji's electronic shutter, as demonstrated in the picture of the video surveillance camera
Another point to consider when using a lens adapter in these circumstances is how it changes the minimum focusing distance of full frame lenses. My Sigma 35mm was able to focus at ~15cm, which is only focuses to 40cm on my Canon 6D. Also, don't ever trust and Aussie giving you a spoon full of plain vegemite. You will die!
Focusing with the Sigma 35mm is a breeze. After shooting with fly-by-wire lenses like many of the native Fuji lenses for many months now, the Sigma was dead easy to get used to in manual mode and made me very conscious of exactly what I was focusing on, making sure it was on point. I was surprised at how easily I could focus on my neighbour's cats in poor light. I have not tested my Canon 135mm extensively, however it too was easy to focus with and having a 200mm equivalent focal length on my Fuji without having to dish out on a new lens is a greatly appreciated.
It's early days but I can definitely see adapting different lenses to my XT-1 as something to get addicted to. I've noticed too that manually focusing helps conserve the XT-1's battery-life since it's not dedicating power to the focusing mechanism in heavy duty glass beasts like the XF56. If you're sitting on the fence about trying this sort of rig out I suggest you get on over to my side and experience it.
There's no hiding the fact that I'm a big fan of FujiFilm and their current lineup of X-Trans mirrorless cameras. Between the X100S and the XT-1 they've become my shooters for 85-95% of assignments I undertake, leaving my Canon rig filling in when I need to shoot sports and flash photography. I'm sure that will change in the near future though once a solid flash system is available for Fuji users.
Looking back to only a few months ago, I scoured the web for posts about the XT-1 for weddings, low-light performance, concerts, and just general pointers about the system. With no local places offering the XT-1 for hire and having only limited in-store testing experiences with it, I decided to jump in and find out for myself. Since purchasing it I have tested just about every setting and style that I would typically shoot in and it has almost always surpassed my expectations. The ultimate test for me though was shooting the bulk of a wedding with only the XT-1 + XF56 & XF18 and the X100S. Did it pass? Or was it a stupid risk to shoot something as important as a wedding on a relatively new system that 'isn't pro'?
Before I go into further detail it's important to note that I had a second shooter on this wedding who shot with my Canon system (6D + Sigma 35mm & 135mm L) and took many incredible shots on a great camera system. I even ended up using it for part of the reception when I needed to use a flash since I haven't invested in a flash system for Fuji yet and the Yongnuo flash only works in manual on the Fuji Xt-1. My rig for the most part of the day consisted of the XT1 and XF56 slung over one shoulder and the X100s holstered using a knock-off version of the Spider Camera Holster, which for $5 performed without issue. You can see an integrated set of sample pictures from the day here.
Prior to the wedding festivities commencing I had my Fuji rig setup in silent mode - electronic shutter on the XT-1 and the super awesome leaf-shutter on the X100s. This allowed for complete discretion throughout the day and most importantly allowed me to move and shoot silently during the wedding ceremony. When you're in a space the has a lot of reverberation you very quickly notice the difference between a silent camera system and that of a typical DSLR shutter firing off nearby.
Switching between the XT1 and X100s was simple, easy, and effective, and I'm sure it contributed significantly in helping me not wear out at all across the 10 hour day and night. Well aware of the shortcomings of the batteries in the two cameras, I always had a spare full battery in my pocket, and thank the universe that I did because the first battery in the XT1 died on me just as the cake cutting was about to commence. Time to purchase the battery grip!
Aside from an instance of the XT-1's battery dying at an inopportune time, there was also one other peculiar instance where a dodgy eBay battery caused some pretty scary issues. We'd just finished shooting the main bridal party photos when the EVF on the XT-1 froze and flickered rapidly. The camera was effectively dead and I was devastated. I immediately took out the battery and let it cool down since I'd been firing off quite a few snaps on the cheap battery. I didn't have a backup XT-1 at the time so
I jumped across to my extra Canon gear and X100s for a while. Thankfully, with a new good quality battery and a bit of cool down time, the XT-1 came back to life and didn't skip a beat right through the reception. I have since tried to replicate the issue by firing off a hundreds of shots (more than this instance) in short succession but thankfully it hasn't happened again.
So what can be said about shooting with the XT-1 and X100s that hasn't been said in my previous blog posts? For one, people didn't think I was the primary or hired shooter for the wedding since my cameras were 'so small' and 'film like'. Do I have an issue with this? Certainly not, because if anything it made people more relaxed when I was present and let the moment be the moment. When I switched across to my 6D and flash combo the weight difference was tremendous and made me all the more grateful for the small form factor and mass of the XT-1 and X100s.
But the Fuji's aren't Full Frame!!! You can't be pro without Full Frame!!!
Go take a look at the wedding blog and tell me which pictures are Fuji and which ones are Canon.
I purchased the XT-1 shortly after Firmware 3.0 came out, which brought in a tonne of new features that I use frequently, such as: electronic shutter, 1/32000 max shutter speed, silent mode, AF point selection using the cross pad, and linked AF point and spot-metering. These were features that sealed the deal for me and the responsiveness of the XT-1's focusing system has been an absolute treat in low-light settings.
My next wedding is in the south west of Ireland and I plan to shoot the entire event on Fuji's with a Nissin i40 flash included. I have absolute faith that this rig will serve mine and my client's needs perfectly as a discrete, efficient, and professional photographic rig.
BONUS! Here are a few pics from Hayley and Dave's second pre-wedding shoot in an Australian bushland setting, all shot on the XT-1.
I'm about to make quite an about-face opinion on my experience with the XT-1 and its ability to be used in fast paced sports photography with continuous focusing mode engaged. For those who are familiar with my previous posts I have been quite critical of the XT-1's ability to function well in continuous mode with the XF56 1.2 for sports shooting. Upon reflection I have been really quite biased in my evaluation of that combination given the size of the lens, elements/glass involved, and the crazy F1.2 aperture I was shooting in for most shots. After shooting the same circumstances except with the XF18 instead I can see why I was setting very unrealistic expectations for the XT-1. Heck, how many Canon shooters out there use the 85mm 1.2 behemoth for sports shooting with such an insanely shallow depth of field? Not many if any.
As per usual, let's talk shooting specifications. For this bit of casual shooting I was using the XF18mm in Continous mode CH burst, set to ISO1600, varying the shutter between 1/200-1/500sec, and mixing the aperture up between F2.8-F4. These were all shot in JPEG normal with my beloved Chrome setting followed up with some quick tweaks of my own and some radial filters. For a tiny lens this thing produces some darn sharp images that have a beautiful 3D pop to them and awesome resolution that allows for some pretty heavy crops.
So in case you're a bit new to focal lengths, aperture, and their effect on depth of field (DoF), let's look at a comparison of the XF18 and the XF56 and the average aperture I was using on each occasion, and why the XF18 performed substantially better for very logical reasons.
XF18 @F2.8 at a subject distance of 8 feet = 8.23 feet of depth of field
XF56 @1.2 (because that's what you buy the lens for!) at a subject distance of 8 feet = 0.29 feet of depth of field
These two distinctively different levels of DoF explain a lot, particularly why I found continuous focusing mode to be so frustrating in the past. The XF18 didn't hunt around like the XF56 because it didn't have such a dramatically shallow DoF to work with so naturally continuous focusing mode is going to perform considerably better. That said, the XF56 did work well in single shooting mode and even if I shot at an aperture of F2.8 I'd only be getting a DoF of 0.69 of a foot = struggle town for focusing.
Something else that I found quite remarkable though when using the XF18, which probably has a lot to do with how much glass had to be moved around or rather not, is that with 619 photos on a single battery, the indicator hadn't even dropped to the less than 50% remaining mark!
Read that again!
619 photos on a single battery! And plenty more to spare.
After a solid browse through the 619 photos I took, I also noticed that the across bursts the XT-1 DID NOT miss focus mid shot. Amazing!
So why can't the Fuji perform well for sports shooting at wide apertures like my Canon 6D and 135mm F2?
The Canon 135mm F2 L has been my go to sports lens for a while now and was the first lens I owned on my 7D and continued to use on my 6D as well for various purposes. It's well documented that the 135mm F2 L is an exceptional fast focusing lens, and the most underrated piece of L series glass around, so naturally, comparing a Fuji XF56 lens to it is probably unfair. I know from experience that the 85mm 1.2 won't keep up with the Fuji though. I guess I'll just have to wait until the XF90 F2 arrives and see if it'll be the Canon killer!
My recent experiences with a borrowed XF18 lens (sorry Luis! I'll get it back ASAP!) have convinced me yet again that Fuji are making an exceptional product that meets all my needs as a photographer. The fact that I can walk around the streets with the XT-1 and XF18 inconspicuously yet use it to shoot close-quarter sports like Muay Thai, MMA, and BJJ demonstrates its versatility. It's truly hard to fault it as a camera system, particularly being able to use the EVF to get real-time exposure previews across different settings. I think it may be time to sell my X100s to fund a second body with my own XF18 lens or similarly wide lens.
Metal - It's a huge part of my life and has been with me for the majority of it. It's been there during the good times, the bad times, the crazy times, and through many travels around the world.
The concept of jumping into a mosh pit (or whatever the kids call it now) let alone with a couple of grand's worth of camera gear isn't everyone's idea of a good time. For me though, in my limited live shooting experience, it's a place for capturing raw rhythmic energy, played by some of the most hard-working, talented, and genuine people on this planet.
What better place to run another Fuji XT-1 test?
A little background to these handsome figures that grace your screen. These are two top-notch metal/tech/death/thrash bands - Psycroptic and Goatwhore. Tip top names. I've not had the chance to hang out with the guys from Goatwhore, but the boys from Psycroptic are some of the nicest Aussies you'll ever meet and I'm lucky to call them friends. These guys put on a hell of a show and they're certainly not slugs on the stage. They move quickly and often unpredictably, thus giving you a heck of a set of circumstances for your camera and skills to be tested to the EXTREME!
Let's talk kit!
Most of my shots were done with the ever awesome XF56 1.2 strapped to my XT-1, with the occasional use of the XF18 F2, which I'm yet to return to the ever lovely Luis Ascui of www.mediaculture.com.au. I shot primarily at ISO 3200, F1.2, 1/180 sec for the higher production gig at HiFi Melbourne, and ISO priority at the smaller venue. I'll make sure you know what's what. All photos were shot as JPEGs with the Classic Chrome setting and exported in Lightroom using my usual tweaks and output at 55 quality.
I feel like I'm repeating what I've said in other blog posts about the XT-1 but here it goes.
Yet again, the XT-1 met my expectations and provided me with great image quality in some pretty unforgiving circumstances - low light, fast movement, and some less than desirable colours from the lighting rigs. That said, the same ugly issues reared their head - battery life and continuous focusing.
I'm consistently impressed by how well the XT-1 and XF56 focus in low light. They're a responsive combo that react quickly enough and make the mark at a rate I'm more than happy with. At times it will hunt, just like my Canon gear does and that can be worse than the XT-1, but after shooting a full wedding on it (blog to come soon), a number of live shows, a fair few low-light settings, and some fast acting Aussie fauna, it's a system I can rely on in most ways.
There's no denying the JPEGs that the XT-1 produces are great, particularly in high ISO settings. I love the Classic Chrome setting and I'm considering selling my X100S just to get it on the X100T, as well as Wi-Fi! There's an undeniable unique sharpness to the XT-1 and XF56 combo and I have received a lot of compliments from people since converting to it. I love what I've been able to produce in terms of colour tones from these live shots. There's none of that awful colour bleeding like on my Canon system at high ISOs and the noise is simply different on the Fuji's; far more pleasing to the eye.
About that battery life...
Well, there's no arguing it, the batteries for these cameras are somewhat frustrating to deal with. They don't last particularly long (~500-600 shots on a full charge) and I had one die suddenly on me at a peak point at a wedding (spare in pocket!) and was also a little too shutter happy on the way into this gig, which meant I didn't quite get the number of shots of the headline band that I wanted. I made the rookie mistake of not checking my spare on the way out and learned the hard way to always check. That said, these batteries are much smaller than traditional DSLR batteries and they're constantly powering an EVF. OH THAT GLORIOUS XT-1 EVF!
Edit 4 April, 2015: I have had a much better experience recently using the 18mm F2 and Continuous Focusing. Will post about it soon.
Typically when I'd shoot fast paced stuff on my Canon I would use continuous focusing mode, which works reliably and can handle sports and action stuff extremely well. I simply can't get along with continuous focusing mode on the XT-1, despite using all the tips and tricks out there. Single focus mode is pretty darn good though and I used this mode solely for these shots after getting immediately frustrated with it when I first tried using at this show.
Below are some shots of Psycroptic at a gig I found myself attending unexpectedly last minute. It was a tight space and featured very minimal lighting; certainly not to the same standard of the gig the week before. The XT-1 did struggle a bit more in this situation with focusing, simple as that. I had a lower keeper ratio than usual, which I attribute to there not being much fill-light on the guys as they played. I came mainly for the music this time around though and only had about 25 minutes to shoot, so keep that in mind when compared to 90 minutes from the prior show.
Minor apologies for this post being somewhat relaxed in its approach and relatively uninformative for the photography purists out there. I hope it serves as an example to others though of what this camera system can do and do exceptionally well.