Sunday, October 12, 2014

"See" Trials - The Fujifilm X-E1 Outdoors

Photo #1
Pancake Breakfast: I decided to shoot this Journal assignment with my 2 Fujifilm X-cameras: My X-100s for those situations where I might need to supplement the ambient lighting with a flash, and my X-E1 with a 12 mm 2.8 and 35 1.4 lens. I figured that the fixed lens X-100s with its 35mm equivalent lens would be the happy medium lens, allowing me to go wide or slightly longer when the appropriate lens was fitted to the X-E1 body. I also brought a dedicated Fuji EF-42 in case I needed the assistance of a flash with dedicated TTL capabilities. The kit, incidentally, weighed a fraction of my digital single lens reflex (DSLR) kit. Photo #1 is the shot I submitted.

Unlike my earlier posts, this is not a Fuji love-fest. When photographing plants and other inanimate objects in my office, it was easy to be mesmerized by the sharpness of the lenses and the surprisingly rapid focus acquisition. My field experience would prove otherwise. 

Photo #2
The first thing I noticed was the difficulty of making exposure adjustments. While the ability to see both the shutter speed and aperture setting when viewing the camera from above, it wasn't as convenient (for me, at least) as viewing the control panel located atop most DSLR cameras. Pressing the clearly marked ISO or the White Balance buttons on the body would display the current settings in the control panel. Checking these settings in an X-camera requires you to look for the shutter and aperture settings in two different locations, and then switch to the viewfinder/LCD display to access menus to change the ISO and white balance. After years of working with digital Nikon bodies, this difference was more than a little inconvenient. Granted, there are programmable keys on the X bodies, but one would need to remember what these programmed functions were, something I haven’t really considered until now. But when used under even lighting conditions (open shade in the case of Photo #2), the X-E1 proved to be an excellent camera. This shot, made with the 35mm 1.4 shot wide open, is just about perfect.

Flash! Fuji's EF-42 Flash is definitely not up to the X camera’s professional potential. First off, this dedicated flash was extremely difficult to adjust on the fly. 
  • The flash has only two adjustment buttons: one to select the mode, and one to make the adjustments. 
  • The adjustments are changed in an “around the world” mode: You can go from full power to half power, but returning to full power requires a trip through quarter, eighth, sixteenth, and thirty-second power before you can get back on top. 
  • Plus and minus flash Exposure Compensation, along with zoom (beam spread) adjustments must be done by navigating to a specific menu dedicated to each adjustment. 
  • Exposure Compensation for the flash was only +/- 1.5 stops in 1/2 stop increments, compared to Nikon's +/- 3 stops in 1/3 stop increments. This is too narrow a range to be of much use beyond the liberal requirements of a "party flash", and can make it difficult to fill shadows at short shooting distances. 
  • When the flash is mounted in the hot shoe, you can no longer see the shutter speed dial.

Photo #3
The X-E1's Flash Synchronization: The X body itself has limits. The maximum flash synchronization speed of 1/180th of a second translates into relatively small apertures when shooting in daylight. To get this shot (Photo #3), I switched to my X100s set to 1/400 of a second, 5.6, ISO 200, and the flash set to manual, full power. You can see the flash improves the detail in the shadow side of the children's faces , even at a distance of over 20 feet. The image was cropped severely.
It Loves Me, It Loves Me Not: If Love and Hate can exist together in photography, I found it with the Fuji X-E1 and the X100s. After some thought, I concluded that the very things that made them such a retro "hit" are what made them difficult to work with. In the film based Leica, the shutter speed dial was located near the mechanism that governed the shutter. In other words, it had to be placed where it was placed. In this top view of the venerable Leica M3 (left, above), you can see that the shutter speed dial is placed on the top plate, next to the accessory shoe and in line with the shutter mechanism deep inside the body.
This photo of the Fuji X-E1 body (right) clearly shows the similarity of control placement. Aside from the electrical contacts located in the hot shoe and the obvious digital references (ON/OFF, Fn, Auto settings), you probably couldn't tell this was a digital body. These two images are not to scale, and there really is more room on the Leica than there is on the Fuji. Incidentally, Ken Rockwell, a popular photo blogger, provides the beginning photographer with mountains of practical information.Check out is web site:
When "fly by wire" digital cameras were designed, the locations of the controls could be anywhere a small control module could be placed. The designers started with a traditional camera body forms and infused those digital controls in locations dictated by convenience, not by mechanics. In this photo of a Nikon D300 (left), you can see that the controls and the display are clustered together for convenient access by the user's thumb and forefinger. The LCD Control Panel displays nearly all of the information a photographer could possibly need to see, and it's all in one place.

The Nugget: After some thought, I felt I could summarize the Fuji X-camera experience by saying this:  
  • You set the exposure on an X-camera; you control it on a DSLR.
  • X-cameras are marginally more responsive when it comes to handling (weight, eye placement), while DSLRs are more responsive when it comes adjustments. 
I would concede that if I were working in a small indoor room and needed to be as inconspicuous as possible, I would definitely choose an X-camera because of its nearly silent operation and my ability to "chimp" an image without taking it from my eye. If weight were also an issue, the X-cameras would be a better choice. But when it comes to outdoor shots where longer distances and fast action are expected, the DSLR would win on all counts. And if I needed flash to supplement a wide variety of lighting situations, the Fuji X-100 with its sync-at-all-speeds leaf shutter might save the day, if I could get by with a 35mm equivalent lens.
I won't be "retiring" my newly acquired X-cameras any time soon. I can be as much of a sentimentalist as the next photographer, and the nearly silent operation of the X-cameras gives the digital shooter  a chance to re-visit the fundamental operational differences between the Nikon F and the Leica M3 cameras. In fact, many photographers carried two Leica M3s equipped with wide angle lenses and two Nikon Fs with telephotos, each camera body playing the advantages of the lenses attached to them. At the right is Larry Burrows, (1926-1971), a Life magazine photographer shown preparing his cameras for what would become "One Ride With Yankee Papa 13", an essay published in Life Magazine on April 16, 1965. He typically carried two Leicas in the front, with two Nikons hanging from his shoulders. I know there were few (if any)  zoom lenses available to the working photojournalist during Burrows' time, so multiple cameras were necessary to avoid changing lenses in the field.

Both the Leica M3 and the Nikon F had their adherents when Kodak was king, and with the introduction of the Fuji X-cameras we have a way to experience two different approaches to photography in a digital venue. Obviously Burrows knew the circumstances when one camera platform would be superior to the other, and in his choice of both rangefinders and SLRs, appears to have been well prepared for whatever came his way.