Saturday, April 7, 2012

Fuji X-Pro1 Concerns

I’ve had quite a few responses in my emails with the same doubts and asking the same questions about the Fuji X-Pro1 as my friend Fuad posed in his comment. So I’ll try to address them one at a time.

1)  I’m not suggesting that the x100 would be the camera for you, and while 30 minutes of shooting may give you enough time to get the ‘feel’ of a camera, it certainly isn’t enough time to adjust to the technical differences and idiosyncrasies.

2)  There is always a trade-off between size and speed. The X-Pro1 is very small compared to the D700, and much lighter because it doesn’t have the motors and electronics that the D700 has. I too shoot with a D700 and love the speed of the autofocus and metering. What I don’t love about the D700 camera/lens combination I use when I’m shooting street is the size and weight. I’m very tired as the day wanes on from all the hefting the camera requires. For the few times I’ve been out with the X-Pro1 it’s been a dream to handle, I don’t get tired, and I actually want to spend much more time shooting because of that.

3)  Most importantly, it is very conspicuous when I walk down the street with a howitzer hanging around my neck or in front of my face. The camera screams ‘professional’ and people notice me much more readily and are more intimidated by it. The X-Pro1, because of its size and shape is a lot less attention grabbing by the general public. Although I have been approached by quite a few streettogs who recognize the camera and want to look at it.

4)  You are correct about the comparison of the x100 and x-Pro1. They are quite a bit different. I especially like the interchangeable lenses, although I have only used the 18mm f2 lens, I am excitedly looking forward to the announced M mount adapter with which I will be able to use my Leica lenses. It is, indeed, a much more serious camera.

5)  I have never experienced shooting with a micro 4/3 camera so I can’t speak with any authority on that, but for sure I can tell you that the sensor in the x-Pro1 is outstanding. It’s much larger than a micro 4/3 sensor, and since it doesn’t use the Bayer Array pattern of pixels there is no need for a low pass anti-aliasing filter in front of it. That contributes mightily to the incredible resolution I see.

6)  As for locking during transfer, that depends on how large the file is and much of the data has been moved from the buffer to the card before the next time you press the shutter. I’ve had situations where I can just click away with no difficulty and other times where the buffer just can’t accept any more data until it dumps it to the card. I suspect it’s better than the x100 though.

7)  As for focusing, I find it to be very accurate, and there is an automatic focus offset which you can see in the viewfinder that adjusts for the distance from the focused subject and the parallax correction. Very cool feature. The speed of focus, however takes some getting used to, and there are minor tweaks to the camera settings that can make it faster. Fuji has made a firmware update for the x100 to speed the focusing up, and I know it will come soon for the x-Pro1. I found that my technique for the D700, which was to press the shutter down immediately for the shot doesn’t work well for the x-Pro1. On the D700 the motors are so fast that I can do that and get the shot. With the Fuji I have to wait about 1/10th of a second before tripping the shutter. It certainly is different, but I have found that when I get it right the shot is great. I haven’t lost too many shots because of this and I’m sure that once I get the technique ironed out I will be nailing many more.

8)     As for replacing the Olympus with this as a pocket camera, it really depends on how big your pockets are. The x-Pro1 is about the same size as the M9. Could you put that in your pocket?

I’ll be addressing more issues in my blog posts as they arise. I have already decided that I need to get the hand grip accessory so that I can more comfortably hold the camera in my had all day without accidently gripping it hard and/or hitting buttons for the other controls.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Fuji X-Pro 1 Shooting Day 1

I was out on the streets of New York City yesterday using my Fuji X-Pro 1 camera with the 18mm f2 lens. It wasn't an easy day for me. I'm so used to my D700, and I know it intuitively. It's set up for exactly the way I like to shoot, I know where all the buttons and switches are, and it's fast. Unfortunately, for street work it's noisy and large - very large, think howitzer. The Fuji focuses differently, The lens is effectively a 28mm f2 lens (I most often shot at 24mm on the D700) so the framing is different and I couldn't get as close to my subjects as I'm accustomed to doing. The camera seemed to do strange things that I wasn't expecting - no fault of the camera, I just pushed wrong buttons and switches. And the size of the body, which is a decided advantage in shooting street, is going to take some adjusting to .... okay, a lot of adjusting to. My fingers continually hit the macro mode switch without me being aware of it, so when I brought the camera up to snap a shot, it was totally out of whack. My thumb continually hit the 'Q' button on the rear of the camera. It's a very cool feature that brings up a menu of items that are most often adjusted so that you don't have to hunt through all the menus to find a much needed options. The accessory hand grip will probably make holding the camera much more comfortable and move my hand position enough so that the buttons won't be so much in the way.

After the day of experimenting yesterday in New York City, today I went out in my hometown to try some new settings, new hand position, and new focus/shooting technique. The differences with one day of experience is remarkable. So far, I've found that the controls operate very intuitively. I've yet to try several settings that I need. But my brain just ain't as quick as it once was. My snaps are not yet ready for prime time, but here's a shot that pretty well sums up what the camera is capable of in the hands of a rank beginner. This shot has no intrinsic artistic merit, it's just an example.

The first is the RAW image out of the camera and converted to a jpg in Photoshop. It's a difficult lighting situation with dark shadows and bright sunlight. The color balance is rendered well, and the fine detail structure is really clear. 

The same image with a little noise reduction - it was shot at 400 iso -  and the distracting flag in the upper right corner is cloned out (not very well but, as I said. this is not art, just an example).

Here's the same image as the second example converted to b/w with some added warm tone:

I have to say I'm very pleased with the results. Since I shot this during the afternoon I discovered the links listed at the end of this blog entry. I learned a lot from them about using the controls on the camera to get faster auto focus response. Fuji has just released a firmware update for the X100 camera to optimize the auto focus response, and I expect that shortly the same update will be available for the X-Pro 1. 

Here are two links that discuss the details of shooting with the X-Pro 1. If you are considering a purchase, they may be helpful:

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Fuji X-Pro 1 First Impressions

 If you want an unbiased review of this camera, you came to the wrong place. For that you should go to DP Review. I want to love this camera. Right out of the box I was impressed with the size and weight of the body. After lugging around a Nikon D700 with a 24-70 f2.8 zoom lens for several years, the Fuji felt like an air filled balloon. After I sorted through all the papers, I checked a few settings in the user manual, set the camera up to shoot RAW + JPG and went out for some test shots. I did the first set of test shots just to check the jpg engine in the Fuji camera for comparison. Unfortunately, Adobe has not yet caught up with the new camera releases so my usual RAW processor, Lightroom, would not accept the new format. The software that comes packaged with the camera is not compatible with the latest Mac OS - Lion - so I downloaded the SilkyPix Pro RAW processor for the one month free trial. This is definitely not the most intuitive software to work with, at least not for my occidental mind. But for basic processing it gets the job done.

The first of these two images is the jpg generated by the camera:

The next image is the result of the RAW file processed in SilkyPix - with no adjustments, saved as a tif and resized for this blog.

My monitor is calibrated regularly. If you are looking at these images on an uncalibrated monitor the results you see will most likely not be the same. The differences are obvious to me. The blue sky, the red in the flag, the green in the grass and the color of the bricks are much more realistic in the second image. As for resolution, to my eye the second image is crisper and has more presence. That's not to say the first image is garbage. It's certainly usable, especially if the ultimate end is a b/w conversion. 

I have a decided prejudice in generating images. If storage space is an issue, then jpg's are definitely more efficient, but nowadays storage is really cheap. Why shoot an image with a technically advanced camera that is designed to maximize the amount and quality of information, and then throw away one third of the data when you download the image to your computer? That's what jpg compression does. Or if you are working with a smaller camera or a smaller sensor, you already have a handicap because of the reduced size.  Once the jpg is generated, any digital manipulation on the image from that point on is going to be pixel bending to pixels that are already bent right out of the camera. The Fuji has a 16mp highly advanced sensor that was designed to maximize resolution and fidelity. That's what I shelled out $2.3k for. I want every last bit of data to work with when I process my pictures.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

hard work

FIrst things first. My work is featured this week on a street photography blog site here. When you have a moment, or two, have a look.

And a big surprise, I've been banned again from I'm going to look for another photo sharing site. If anyone has any suggestions please leave a comment for me.

I recently read a bit of advice that was offered by the artist Chuck Close:

“[don't] wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself .... If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great .... idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”

That pretty much iterates the idea in the quote I use as the subheading for the title of this blog. Nothing - no amount of intellect, no abundance of talent, no God given gift of dexterity - can take the place of hard work. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, repeatedly mentions the 10,000 hour rule which is that the key to success in any field is, for the most part, a matter of practicing a specific task for about 10k hours. The problem most mere mortals run into in implementing the rule is summoning the required discipline and intensity. 

When I decided, as a very young musician, that I wanted to play fiddle for Bill Monroe I closed myself into a room for hours every day and hacked away with recordings of Monroe and other country performers. To be honest, I didn't spend 10k hours before I had the opportunity to play for Monroe and he offered me the job. But once I started performing with him, I still worked like hell every day. After I left Monroe to return to New York and study classical violin, I heard time and time again that it was not possible to begin studying at such a late age (I was 23 years old at the time). Again, I closed myself in my room and spent 5 hours a day working hard at scales and technical etudes. I was accepted by three music conservatories, and world famous pedagogue Raphael Bronstein took me as his protigé. I continued to practice that way for the six years during which I pursued my Master of Music degree.

I say all this only to prove a point. I can't tell you how many times in those years as a musician I heard others say to me how much they would love to play the fiddle or violin like me. I would tell them they could do it. They just had to practice as I did. And they would respond something like 'I can't do that, I have a family' or 'I have a job' or 'I have so many other things I want to do, I don't have that kind of time.....' There's no answer to that, except to shrug my shoulders and say, 'Oh well ....'

The same applies to photography (or any other creative endeavor). When I was a student with my mentor, Mario Cabrera, I wanted to take pictures like his. I watched what he did, and I emulated him. So .... what did he do? He worked at it every day, all day - way more than 10k hours. From that point on, I never went anywhere without a camera. I was always looking and searching. I created exercises (not projects) to execute at first to learn how to read light and how to control the exposure. I worked countless hours in the darkroom. After more than 20 years I've gotten to a point where people who admire my images say to me (here it comes) 'I'd like to be able to shoot like that. How can I do it?'. I hear it all the time in my blog comments and in messages I get from the photo sharing sites in which I participate. The answer is the same as it was with music and the violin.
The secret is to love the process. I went out yesterday for a photo walk in New York. I wanted something different, a neighborhood I hadn't frequented much before. My feet took me to the financial district of Lower Manhattan. For shooting people on the street it's probably the most boring area of New York City. There's very little diversity: tourists, businessmen/women (better known in the vernacular as suits) and secretaries. I knew it would be a challenge. And honestly, I didn't get much, but it was a great exercise for me.

The first of these images is a bronze sculpture of a bull at the bottom of Broadway just before the historic U.S. Customs House. Tourists are drawn to the sculpture to pose for pictures at the head of the bull. The rest of the sulpture is protected by police barricades - never know when some terrorist will get it in his head to blow the bull's ass off. I couldn't position myself directly behind the bull to get the shot I really wanted, but this image, as it turns out, has a dynamic of it's own. I titled the image 'NYC Streetog's Necessity':

But that still left me thirsting for some people shots. So I sat for a few minutes and repeated my mantra that there's interesting people all over, I just have to open my eyes! And as I started to walk uptown on Broadway I passed this group of people. He's 'Mr Slick':