Sunday, July 21, 2019

Is The Fujifilm X-Pro1 Still Relevant?

Read Ken Rockwell's Evaluation by clicking here.
Ever since I became a Fuji user, I wondered what I was missing by selecting the T series of Fuji cameras instead of buying an X-Pro body. I knew from using my E-1 bodies that mirrorless cameras offered some advantages over my Nikon DSLRs, but when it came to buying my first top-tier body, I went instead with the X-T1 because it had a reticulated display on the back. Since I do a lot of low-angle photography, this feature alone justified the cost of the upgrade to this new body. In addition, I had proven to myself that access to the hybrid (optical and digital) viewfinder options on my X100S proved my preference for the digital viewfinder. So if I had gone with the updated X-Pro2, I would be paying for an option I would never use. And with the X-Pro2's MSRP of $1,700.00, choosing a "T" would represent a significantly savings.

Longing From Afar: My entry level camera was an X-E1 with a kit lens, purchased new when the price dropped just before the introduction of the X-E2. As my interest grew, so did my collection of prime lenses, until I acquired a basic kit that ranged from a 12mm  2.8 Zeiss Tuit to a 60mm 1.2 Fuji X lens. Then came the X-T1 and XT-2 bodies, along with some big F 2.8 zoom lenses. I was no longer dating the Fuji system, I was married to it. Just don't tell my Nikons.

For the last year I have been idly checking eBay and KEH to see if either one had a clean, used X-Pro1 body at a suitable price. I happened upon a listing, similar to this one, at the Adorama website. I was immediately attracted to the "E-" rating, having seen many doggy, well-used bodies for sale at the same price point. Long story short, I bit.
When it arrived, I found it was indeed in "Excellent Minus" condition, having suffered a few superficial scratches on the LCD panel. A quick check of the sensor showed no signs of dust. The manuals and all of the accessories were neatly re-bagged and sealed. Had I not known better, I could have mistaken the camera for new.

Timeless In A Digital Way: The Fujis have developed a cult following, in part due to the manufacturer's efforts to provide firmware updates to improve the camera's performance. I checked the Fuji website and found that the latest update, Ver. 3.8, was available sometime in 2017, based on comments found on some of the user forums.  I visited the official Fuji website and I counted 20 firmware updates since the X-Pro1's introduction in April of 2012. My camera's  last firmware update (Ver. 3.6) was available in April of 2016, and I surmised that shortly thereafter, the former owner lost interest in the camera, or sold it. Fuji's level of support is seldom found from any manufacturer, and it has kept the X-Pro1 running at peak performance* over the first five years after its introduction. I don't know if there will be any upgrades newer than 3.8 (nobody but Fuji does). For now, I'm completely up to date.

Relevance? It seems that a new genre of blog posting has emerged, the "Is It Still Relevant" posting about whether an older piece of equipment is still worth purchasing several years after its introduction. It seems that the "newer is better" viewpoint runs rampant among real equipment fan-boys, but for those of us more interested in making photographs than owning the latest equipment will beg to differ. I have never been one to quote equipment specifications, preferring to base my choices on more subjective features like handling, control placement, and general feel. Does the camera merge with the user to make photography an effortless creative process? In the case of the X-Pro1, the answer is a firm "Yes". The size, weight, and "feel" is perceptibly better than my other cameras, so much so that I find myself constantly playing with it, something no other camera has thus far inspired. In its current configuration, focusing, exposure compensation, sensitivity (IS0), and image review can all be done without removing the camera from one's eye. Essentially, an educated thumb is all that is needed to properly drive the camera, a direct result of its straightforward design and layout, plus some user programmable function buttons. I dare say that as Fuji's first attempt at a full-sized camera, it appears to have come off the drawing board with the controls placed for the convenience of the user. It is that size that allows for less crowding of the control buttons, making it harder to alter your settings accidentally.**

I'm positive the camera's popularity and longevity were due to Fuji's efforts to make the the ultimate camera for photographers who adopt a Zen-like approach to their craft. If think the X-Pro1 helped remind me of who I used to be, a photographer roaming the streets with an Olympus 35 SP rangefinder camera similar in feel to the Fuji. This camera has been something of an inspiration to me, and it may be the muse that helps me become the photographer I wanted to be, rather than the one I became.

*Let's remember that firmware can only do so much when it comes to tweaking performance. In the end, it's hardware that determines the limitations.

** There are some issues about spectacles and the hybrid viewfinder. For some additional references, click here.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Godox V1 Roundheaded Flash: Field Trials

Fuji X100T w/ Wide Angel Adapter, 1/640, F 8.0, ISO 200  Godox V1 fired @ Full Power
The Fourth In Foster City:  has a very small town feel when it comes to community celebrations. Just north of Silicon Valley, Foster City  is a young city with an old town feel. The Fourth is an all-day event held at a local park at the edge of a man-made lagoon. I don't usually get great image opportunities, but this year I managed to get three that definitely had Community Page potential by concentrating on the Family and Pet Parade that initiates the event.

This is the first time I had a chance to use my Godox V1 in the field, and while my initial reaction to the unit was quite favorable, some design compromises in the controls gave me some grief. The event also reminded me that purchasing a specialty camera like the Fuji X70 does me no good if I don't bring it with me. More on that later.

The Particulars: I used the Nikon-compatible V1 even though I would be using Fuji cameras. I reasoned that the mixed sunlight/speedlight environment often rendered the TTL metering unpredictable, so I be shooting the flash in the manual mode. I felt confident that with my base aperture of F 8.0, I could set the V1 to 1/4 or 1/8 power to work at distances from 7 or 5 feet, and make reasonable exposures.

1/800th of a second, F 8.0, ISO 200, camera at ground level with flash held overhead.

The Specs Looked So Good On Paper:
In my last post, I listed the many V1 features I loved, liked, and some that I barely tolerated. This little assignment was an "in your face" confrontation of how my real world experiences don't necessarily match those anticipated by the engineers who designed the unit. The biggest problems stem from their attempts to replace multiple external buttons and rocker switches with multi-function, menu-driven interfaces.

Manual Control: My gripe involves my attempts to make manual adjustments to the flash output. The control sequence is not as straight-forward as my beloved Nikon SB-800s, nor is it as forgiving. For example, if I wanted to manually increase the output, I would first initiate the output adjustments by first pushing the knurled Select Dial at the 9 o'clock position, then either rotating the dial clockwise to increase the output in 1/10 stop increments. I might also press the Select Dial at the 12:00 o'clock position to increase the output by a full stop. Finally, I must remember to press the centrally positioned Set Button which serves to lock in the adjustment. By doing this, I would be reminded/forced to re-initiate the complete output adjustment sequence starting by pressing the Select Dial at the 9:00 o'clock "+/-" position.

I was using my dedicated Nikon V1 on a Fuji X100T camera with a generic compatible flash cable. By using the Fuji system, I had resigned myself to shooting the flash in the manual mode. When making these adjustments on the fly, one can forget to re-initiate the sequence for each adjustment. This is exactly what I didn't do, and as a result, attempts to decrease the output were instead changing the output mode to the Repeat/Stroboscopic mode, essentially disabling the flash. It took a little while to realize what was going on, and I was able to eventually get the shots I wanted.

1/500 second, F 8.0, ISO 200, flash manual let to 1/8 power
I just ordered a Fuji-dedicated V1 flash from Adorama, so I'll soon have the TTL option when I shoot. This may  reduce my reliance my manual output adjustments, providing the TTL system accurately assesses the mixed lighting environments I often find myself  shooting in. Like everything else, I'll need to see how capable the new flash is before I rely on the flash's native "smarts" to properly expose my images.

Assignment Notes: There are several Fourth of July celebrations here on the peninsula. Redwood City, the County Seat, gets the most coverage by the paper, and I "front paged" the event only once. These three images were submitted for publication, but none made it to the July 5 or the July 6 Weekend Edition. Something may appear in the Monday Community section. Since these three images are "in play", this post will be published after the Journal appears on the newsstands.