Style vs Spec

 

Day after day, more and more products are gearing towards “lifestyle” products that are essentially blend into your life, making it apart of your routine, something that you can’t live without, something that resembles you, something in style that fits your personality, look and character. It’s not hard to see these products are getting more attention and sales as compared to “traditional” products that compete with specifications and reliability.

An easy example that can be drawn will be Apple. Apple had never produced any products that are superior in terms of specification. However, people used to say “it just work” on Apple products, and that their design aesthetics adhered to what they are looking for: simple and minimalist. Apple has a huge crowd of followers, and I’m one of those who purchase their product, though I don’t classified myself as their cult follower as I don’t appreciate every single thing they produced.

In the world of photography, it has always been a race of superiority in terms of specifications. With every product launch, you will only hear about how many stops of dynamic range, how many frames per second, how large is the buffer, how fast the camera auto focuses and so on. There was once a megapixel war, followed by mirrorless versus DSLR war and so on. Much of it still revolves around the technical aspect of the product. Well, it’s hard to deny that as we are actually talking about a rather technically engineered product here.

However, there were those who seek to breakthrough and go the other way. Leica was one of them. Their camera has never been “the best” in any class of specification that you can think of, unless you are saying highest price is one of the attribute you are looking at. But still, Leica managed to develop a cult of followers that believes in their philosophy and approach in photography, hence they are able to continue to survive until today. Moderate specification that command premium price tag and yet still able to sell. They are selling “feeling” and “lifestyle” more than anything else.

 

Another company that kind of follow this approach was none other than Fujifilm. Their camera has long been accused of copying Leica’s rangefinder design. Seriously, looking at the X100 series and the X-Pro series, it’s hard for people to say they are not. Fujifilm has never been the “best” in any of their specification. They were late in the digital camera business, they were late in the mirrorless craze, but yet, they managed to develop a group of cult followers that believed in their “passion for photography”.

My point of view is, Fujifilm has been pretty successful is differentiating themselves and building their own group of followers. They started off with retro design on their camera bodies, differentiating their camera with “X-Trans” sensor technology, adding in dials that provide tactile control resembling those from the film cameras and so on. They did gathered quite a lot of interest, but in order to continue to grow further, apparently it’s not enough.

Sony on the other hand has always been a company that focus only on specifications over form and functions. Sony cameras in particular has always been leading the edge in some key development areas, particularly those surrounding the imaging sensor. A7 has revolutionized the mirrorless camera line by bringing full frame sensors with it, followed by the recent launch of A9 which wiped out most of the advantages that DSLR holds against mirrorless. Their camera has never been a looker, but their performance will keep you wanting to go back for more.

 

It’s been pretty clear that lately Fujifilm has emphasized more on specs lately and started to detour themselves away from their retro-ness. They started to adopt top plate LCD, they talk more about specification than anything else, they started to venture into videography business for their X-series camera line-up and so on. It does make business sense for these decisions. However, the current state of of products from Fujifilm makes me feel that they are not sure where to go. The GFX and X-H1, to some extent are good initiatives from Fujifilm to grow their product lines. But the fact that they tried to innovate but at the same time still kind of afraid to let go of their retro styling, makes the GFX and X-H1 look just weird. I believe they could have just gone all out with both of these camera and ditched all the dials if they were to incorporate the top plate LCD, just make them with futuristic design to differentiate from the existing retro styled offering. I believe they had built a strong enough cult followers for their retro cameras, is time to move on with something more modern that opens up a new market segment for them.

It seems to be that all manufacturer has bowed to specification over style. Even Leica has been busy with a slew of “modernized” camera like the SL, CL, TL and Q. It remains the be seen whether this will be the way moving forward. I would really want to see if any manufacturer can strike the balance of the two (the Hasselblad X1D is pretty close in my opinion, but I have yet to see or try one in person for myself to comment). Anyway, I’m just contemplating on this while I’m thinking about where should I move on next in terms of my photography gear. Style or spec? Let’s wait and see what else 2018 has to offer for us. Till then.

Upgrading your TCL-X100 and WCL-X100

Alright, after a few posts ranting about 2018, it’s time to get back to business and talk a little about photography!

Fujifilm released TCL-X100 II and WCL-X100 II together with X100F. Essentially, the Version II is the same as Version I (physically and optically), with the only difference being the Version II has built-in magnet that allows the X100F to automatically detects the conversion lens and apply the necessary picture profile directly.

For those who owned the Version I conversion lens, or you do not wish to purchase the much more expensive Version II lenses to couple with your X100F, there’s a workaround that was shared by glueing magnets to the inside of the conversion lens. This is a dirty and gritty method that not everyone is comfortable about (at least I’m not). There’s another “cleaner” and “safer” method that you can use. This company called “Larry Gadget Supply” from China has made a simple solution for you to convert your Version I lens to Version II.

What’s in the box is essentially a metal ring that has magnet embedded inside. What you need to do is just to locate at which position (should be somewhere near the f2.8 area when you turn the aperture ring all the way to Auto) the magnet ring will trigger your camera to detect it and register the profile. There’s a video tutorial showing you what to do, just follow it and you’ll be fine. Once located, just stick the metal ring onto the back of your conversion lens and you are done. The camera will now detects your conversion lens automatically!

So, for those who owned the Version I conversion lens or those who don’t want to spend extra for Version II, feel free to use this cheap method to get the same result. Till then, happy shooting!

Between the Line of Film and Digital

Recently I had noticed something when I switch between shooting film and digital camera. When I shoot on film, usually I will end up with a roll or two rolls of films after each walk, and I will get them developed by a local lab and once done, I’ll scan the pictures, clean some dust spot, follow by minor adjustment on level and curve and that’s about it.

When I shoot digital, I’ll probably start by selecting good pictures from all I have shot, then edit them to taste. I’ll probably spend more time experimenting things like HDR, playing with colours and HSL, deciding whether to convert one to monochrome and so on.

Based on the way I work on film and digital, there are a few notable differences that interest me:

  1. Obviously, I will end up with less picture and, in a way, more keeper when shooting film. Less picture means less to be processed.
  2. There will usually be a gap from the day I took the shot until the day I get the processed film back in my hand. Hence, I’ll have some time to “cool down” myself before processing them. This can be a good thing or a bad thing. Usually I will process the digital files very soon.
  3. I’m more lenient when it comes to flaws on my film picture as compared to digital. I can accept some degree of out of focus, or some minor dust or scratches on them. But when shooting digital, I’ll try to strike for “perfection”.

Reflecting on both mediums, it seems that shooting digital is a more “tedious” and time consuming process for me, and it certainly defeats the purpose for those who wanted instant sharing of their works on social media.

I certainly enjoyed the process of shooting and editing my film pictures more. So does it mean I should shoot more on film instead of digital? The easy answer is yes, as instant sharing isn’t really something that I really need. But why don’t we look at it from another angle, can I simplify the digital process to be as close as the process I have while shooting film?

Perhaps it’s possible, and that’s something I’ll try out and see how things unfold eventually. Shoot with smaller capacity SD card maybe, be more critical on the shot I take, let my pictures sit for awhile before working on them, don’t be too fancy with post editing and so on. Sounds about right. Hopefully by simplifying my digital workflow I will get to focus more on shooting instead. Till then.

My impression on the Fujifilm X100F

I have been using this camera for awhile, and here are some of the thoughts and findings I would like to share:

The Bad

  1. The ISO dial is gimmicky. It’s good to have, but it’s hard to turn to get the actual setting that you want. It’s even more odd if you want to change ISO while holding the camera to your eye. You need to preset it before lifting your camera, or assign the ISO function to be controlled by the front command dial.
  2. Exposure compensation dial is a bit hard to turn at times, perhaps too much torque was given when securing the dial, or perhaps things will loosen up as time goes by. Sometimes I do wish the dial was flushed with the top plate instead of protruding out.
  3. I am still unable to make use of the optical viewfinder, which makes me use the EVF all the time. This could be my problem, but I do feel that Fujifilm can improve on this area.
  4. Auto focus speed is of course better than what I can remembered on the X100S, but it’s really not that fast when compared to the competitions. The size of AF point does affect the speed significantly, larger AF point gives faster focusing, but you are risking it over focus accuracy. Overall accuracy is acceptable, however it will still fail at times so better be careful.
  5. Still the same old lens, which means you are going to expect soft image when shooting wide open especially when shooting close up, and I suspect the lens is dragging the focusing speed as well as it seems like the whole lens group will need to shift together to achieve focus.
  6. Need to turn on camera to view pictures, could have allow long press on the playback button to activate image review without the need to turn on the camera. Even a disposable compact camera has this feature, I really don’t understand why this can’t be implemented?
  7. EVF magnification is rather small, there’s room for them to improve here. EVF can be set to rotate and display information according to the orientation of the camera (portrait or landscape), but sadly this does not apply to the rear LCD. I wonder why, am I missing something?
  8. AF point does not follow when you rotate your camera from portrait to landscape mode and vice versa, which can be annoying at times.
  9. Only horizon level available, it would be good if Fujifilm can add in lens angle level too to aid panoramic work.
  10. I constantly lay my thumb on the Q button, which is very annoying. I’ll see if I can get my muscle memory programmed to avoid it. A cleaner design like the new X-E3 will solve this problem altogether.

 

The Good

  1. Front command dial is extremely useful as it can be used to replace the flawed ISO dial. It can also be used to set exposure compensation. The tactile feeling to the front command dial is solid.
  2. Almost all of the buttons on the camera can be customized, which is a good thing for users to make things work for them. And the front lever now incorporates another function button on it, which is a clever design move.
  3. The improvement in battery life is welcomed, but not that I had issue with the previous version. USB charging is also possible.
  4. AF joystick is a good addition, but the design of the joystick is a bit hard to fiddle at times, and I would prefer the position of it to be slightly higher and slightly to the right, but this is just my preference.
  5. Revamped menu layout is reasonably easy to access, but some features can be messy and hard to find as more and more stuffs are being added into the menu. Make full use of the Q menu, My menu and buttons customization to avoid being lost in the menu.
  6. “EVF only” view mode which is activated only when eye sensor detects your eye. I think this is something new and is a nice addition for EVF only shooter.
  7. Rear buttons now are protruding out with solid tactile feel when pressed, which is good. The bad is when you wrap your palm over you may accidentally pressed them at times, but this is only minor issue.
  8. 24 megapixel is good enough, giving you a little room to crop when required. RAW file is finally usable as compared to the old files from X-Trans II sensor. High ISO noise control is pretty good.
  9. Digital teleconverter is a nice addition, but only usable when shooting JPEG. Fujifilm should implement something like what the Leica Q did, which crops in the picture in order to achieve the zooming effect while leaving the original uncropped RAW files available for you.
  10. Acros film simulation gives very nice monochrome rendering.

 

X100F, F for “Final”?

I think a lot of people are wondering what will the next X100 be named, as the current F stands for Fourth, the following fifth, sixth, seventh which denote by F and S were already in used. So it will end up as X100E (Eighth)?

The question is probably whether will there still be any further improvements that are able to squeeze into the X100 body. There are a few areas which I think can still be improved in the coming iteration:

  1. Fujifilm needs to find a way to make the OVF work better (or maybe I need to find a way to adapt to it and make it work?).
  2. Some would ask for a weather sealed body, but I’m neutral on this.
  3. A new and improved lens, please.
  4. Auto focus still need improvement, this might be due to lens design and sensor design, so Fujifilm really need to find a way to engineer something here.
  5. Flip out LCD would be handy, but I can live without one.
  6. Some may ask for touch screen implementation, but I don’t think it is necessary unless this camera can performs better in terms of video recording.
  7. Improve on the ISO dial and exposure compensation dial, please.
  8. Software improvement on some of the quirks mentioned above, there are still room for improvement on Image Quality and video output.
  9. Built in filter thread to the lens itself while leaving the hood as optional items.
  10. Allow user a way to export all the settings made onto SD card, so we can easily backup our favourite settings and do not need to spend time diving into the menu all over again should we ended up resetting the camera.

 

All in all, I’m very pleased with the X100F. It certainly isn’t a perfect camera. However, it’s perfect for me to toss it into my bag and carry it on daily basis. I was amazed that my muscle memory can still be recalled quite easily despite haven’t really shoot with a Fujifilm camera for the past two years. That means Fujifilm has really developed a very well designed platform as a base for all their camera design. If they can start to work harder to improve further on some of the quirks mentioned above, I believe the next X100 camera will be even more awesome. Yes, I do think there will be another successor to the X100F. As for now, I’ll shoot more with my X100F and hopefully being able to create some pictures that I can be proud of. Till then.