Sunday, January 31, 2016

Battle of the Street Cameras - Part 1

Leica, the world leader in photo journalism, documentary photography and street-photography?

True of false? Not sure!

Here are some thoughts...

What's the deal with the hype about Leica cameras? Of course, the company Leitz Wetzlar changed the way of photography forever, in particular what mobility was concerned. But, how much of the legacy is still alive?
Lately, on Dutch broadcast: Eddy van Wessel, winner of Zilveren Camera 2015. Eddy van Wessel uses a Leica with 135 film.

Back to the digital world: one of the local retailers put on of the cameras on sale for a price worth spending, I did just that... and bought a Leica X-E (re-branded Leica X2).
What convinced me?
  1. small package
  2. the price of €699.- rather than €1499.-
  3. leaf shutter (quiet, 1s/2000 sync speed)
  4. I own an Olympus VF-2 which works with the camera
  5. all manual dials

Performance-wise, I will compare the Leica X-E to the Fujifilm X100S and the Ricoh GR. Said cameras were designed roughly around the same time. All sport a 16Mpix sensor (2 have a Bayer array, 1 an Xtrans array).
None of the camera's employs optical image stabilisation, while all are equipped with similar prime lenses and APS-C sized sensors. Also, the cameras employ leaf shutters.

With the lenses, we can observe the first difference. While the Fujifilm 23mm EBC got an f/2.0 aperture, the Leica Elmarit APSH 24mm opens to f/2.8 only and so does the Ricoh GR's 18.3mm lens.
To me, this difference in aperture is negligible, in particular since I usually use f/5.6 and slower for increased depth of field in street photography. Also, the X100S shot wide open tends to be a bit soft for my taste.

One of the criteria I mentioned above was sync speed. The X100S syncs with f/2 at 1s/1000, an aperture not available with the X-E. However, when using flash with 1s/2000 shutter speed, the X100S is usable with f/2.8 only, thereby being equal to the X-E. Despite having a leaf shutter, the Ricoh GR does not do fast sync.

Concerning manual focusing, the cameras have their pros and cons. While the X100S (even more so the X100T) provides great manual focusing aid, the X-E is relatively hard to focus manually.
However, when walking in the streets, the X100S is easily knocked out of focus, should one accidentally touch the focus ring. In contrast thereto, the manual focus of the X-E can be dialed and locked in, similar to the "snap focus" of the Ricoh GR.

In terms of flexibility, the X100S/T clearly wins. Fujifilm offers adapters, so that the field of view can be made either normal, or a wider.
I love the wide lens of the Ricoh GR. Despite the 28mm equivalent, Ricoh offers an attachment that gets the field of view up to 24mm in 135 film terms.
Leica does not offer any changes in the field of view for their X1, X2 or X-E cameras.

Viewfinders: obviously the field of Fujifilm, with their unique OVF/EVF combination. Leica's X2 and X-E offer the possibility to add an EVF to the hot-shoe (the Olympus VF-2 works just fine!), while Ricoh allows for an add-on OVF only. Then again, doing candid photography, how important is a view-finder anyway?

In a further part of the series, I will compare the image quality of the in-camera JPEGs of the X100S/T and the X-E (only), since those camera share the same field of view.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Mirror-less System Lenses

Friends of mine indicated that they have difficulties to understand why I favor fast wide primes for mirror-less systems and somewhat bash on "long" fast primes. Well, the question arises, what is long and what is fast....
In a previous post, I was drawing a comparison between the Oly 45mm f/1.8, which I is loved by so many, and the Cosina Cosinon 55mm f/1.4 (which very likely is the better lens, despite being fully manual). 

I wish to continue the discussion on "long" lenses for mirror-less systems vs. legacy glass of normal length. The Cosinon was just one example. More comes to mind, e.g. the classic 35mm f/2.8 wide angle, found in every camera bag 20 years ago. For APS-C bodies, this would be a decent normal, for MFT, such a focal length reflects a mild telephoto lens.
A 28mm was rather extreme in the days of 135 film. Those lenses are found less often in camera bags, however, those are still pretty cheaply available 2nd hand. While in MFT, 28mm transfer into a normal, in APS-C creates a field of view of a mild wide angle lens.
Here comes the advantage of adapting those old lenses to modern systems: being designed for 135 film, i.e. "full frame", those lenses produce very little distortion on crop size sensors. The prize of which being larger dimensions of the lens-barrel (and manual operations). 

Back to the initial remarks about my friend's comments. When buying lenses for my various systems, I do focus on wide angle lenses for those systems, since the stock of legacy glass I own covers normal to tele-photo already. So, why would I spent more money for getting the same for a higher price?! Does not make much sense, eh?!

Here I am, having a decent collection of manual legacy glass, which suites me perfectly for normal to tele-photo, while wide-angle for the mirror-less systems is simply not available from legacy stock.

Monday, January 18, 2016

How to Create the Weegee Look

Weegee? You might ask... well, this would refer to Arthur Fellig. Not sure who I am talking about? Have a look at wikipedia to find out.

Old days

Weegee's was best known for nighttime photography of crime scenes. His technique involved the use of flash bulbs, giving a very harsh look to the pictures. There is usually a hard shadow cast on the left side of the subject, which is a "dead" give-away that the flash used was on the right side of the camera; very common to large format press cameras.

Over the years, off-camera flash moved to the left side of the camera, in particular when flash brackets are used. Many point & shoot cameras of today have their flash mounted on the left side, the reasons of which is totally unclear to me. Anyway, the on-camera flash is too close to cast any meaningful shadow at regular photographing distance.

Modern age

So, here is what we need to do to create the typical look of the illumination typically used in Fellig's crime scene photograph:
  • mount a speedlight on a flash bracket
    • 1 foot to the right of the camera lens
    • 1 foot above the camera lens
    For the flash bracket, I got myself one that looks essentially like this one. Everything is adjustable with the bracket...
    Having the bracket on the right of the camera is a bit awkward, since cameras are designed for right hand use, with the shutter button on the right, which is, where the bracket is now. That of course means, that the camera now will be operated by the left hand.
    What the shutter release is concerned, there might be an option: a shutter release cable, with the button fixed to the flash bracket (I guess, I will build something alike in the near future).

    Digital solution

    Obviously, the above is all nice in theory, but, what about putting this into digital reality?
    Here is my setup:
    • Fujifilm X-M1
    • Fujifilm XC 16-50mm f/3.5-f/5.6
    • Fujifilm EF-20
    • flash bracket as mentioned above
    • flashgun cable for Canon by PIXEL Inc.

    Now to the technical settings, which are different from my usual way of configuring a camera:
    • AF illuminator ON
    • flash exposure compensation -1
    • exposure compensation -1
    • red eye removal off
    Here is why. With flash, there is not stealth photography, so, there is no reason to not use the AF illuminator. Flash bulbs were not that strong and weaker flash allows for a wider open aperture (see below). Further, lower flash power shortens cycle time of the speedlight. Also, we are still talking nighttime photography, despite the use of flash.

    And the "artistic" settings:
    • RAW+JPEG
    • film simulation B&W (obviously)
    • highlight tone +1
    • shadow tone +2
    • sharpness +1
    • noise reduction -1
    • auto ISO limit 6400
    • f=30mm
    • f/4.7 (i.e. as wide open as possible)
    This will need some more detailed explanation, I figure.
    Highlight tone +1 gives medium hard highlight details, resulting in slightly more contrast in the highlights.
    Shadow tone +2  results in very hard shadow details, enhancing the black feel of the JPEG image.
    Sharpness +1 in combination with N.R. -1 obviously adds some noise, similar to film grain. This effect could be further enhanced by forcing the ISO up.
    My present setup employs a kit zoom lens. 4x5 press cameras are usually equipped with a 135mm, slightly wider than normal primes. On an APS-C system, 30mm comes pretty close to the angle of view that a 135mm would produce in 4x5 LF. Using the XF 27mm f/2.8 (considered on of the best lenses in the Fujifilm system) could the solution.
    Finally, the aperture. Due to the long focal length of a large format "normal", the depth of field is pretty shallow. 

    In absence of any corpses in front of my house (thanks God!), I took two photographs of a bollard on my front yard. Both pictures are JPEG straight out of the camera. 

    Despite using the AF illuminator, the camera struggled to auto-focus. Anyway, I hope that the images prove that a Weegee-look is possible with the equipment listed above.

    When using an X100, X100S or X100T, obviously, one might want to use the TCL-X100 for the normal perspective, which would allow for f/2. The 23mm (35mm equivalent) would not be too far off, so any of the series would still be OK w/o the conversion lens.


    Weegee used a flash with a relatively large reflector. Although I feel that the initial results look pretty decent, I will experiment to add a soft component to the flash, as to mimic the large reflector.


    Shooting with flash requires re-thinking of your exposure parameters, I am aware of that. Exposure for the flash is usually done by the aperture. Distances of 2m to 4m would suggest relatively closed lens, even with lower ISO sensitivities. The creative choice of shooting wide open therefore seems counter-intuitive. Since this look is not affected by ambient light, shutter speed is entirely irrelevant, so the faster syncs speed found on the X100 models won't help. However, the X100 models have a built-in 3 stops N.D.-filter, which could help expose correctly with the lens wide open.

    Der Auto und Sein Kind

    I do admit, I am a victim of the latest lens ads myself. For one reason or another, I bought a 45mm f/1.8 MFT lens made by Olympus. Yes, it is a great lens, fast autofocus, nice bokeh, etc... Do I regret having bought it? NO! However, there are some afterthoughts at the end...
    45mm, lets say 50mm, that's what was known as a standard or normal in 135 terms. Yes, but it is f/1.8! I read you thinking... well ok... the very first lens I ever owned was a 50mm f/1.9, which was a poor man's standard (and a poor boy I was at the time!).
    Anyway, some time ago, I got myself a 55m f/1.4 M42 lens. We are talking €30 at that time! Sure, this lens is totally manual, no automation at all. However, what are we comparing here?
    Fujinon 45mm f/1.8 (MFT) vs. Cosinon 55mm f/1.4 (M42).
    One is sure, the Cosinon was designed for 135 film (aka full frame), thereby promising a very flat image across any smaller sensor than full frame.
    What we are comparing now is modern vs. legacy. If you are able to ignore automation, the legacy glass beats the modern stuff.
    There we go, the question is: do you need auto, or does manual do the trick for you?

    Tuesday, January 5, 2016

    Fujifilm X100T Improvements Nobody Talks About

    just lately, I got myself a Fujifilm X100T, to replace my trusty X100S. Having done research for many many months, I finally came to the conclusion that the X100T is indeed the better camera.

    Having played with it for some days, I now believe it too.

    The differences between the X100T over the X100S might be minute, but, depending on your situation and camera use, they could be huge!

    So, why is that?! Lens, sensor processor are all the same, so, why bother?!

    First, I would like to list some improvements, that most folks talk about, which just are not important enough for me.

    1. exposure compensation +/-3 over +/-2 (with manual exposure, who cares?)
    2. third stop increments on the aperture (how many legacy system actually sport that?)
    3. bigger LCD (just consumes battery, stop chimping!)
    4. wheel dial gone and replaced by a rotary dial (never had a problem with the old one, however, now there is one control less)
    5. styling of the buttons (they are looking better, but they are harder to feel)
    6. position of the buttons (that's just learning curve)
    7. classic chrome film simulation (I am not sure about this one, anyway, it can be simulated in Rawtherapee)
    8. WiFi (maybe)

    Now to the improvements I really like, most of which are not discussed a lot.
    1. 7 custom memories, just like the X-Pro1
    2. 3 configurable auto-ISO memories (although maximum shutter speed is 1s/125 only ... Fuji, please make it 1s/250!)
    3. the view-finder trick, that everyone is so excited about, is actually very usable (with the next improvement in the list)
    4. coloured focus peaking (I will come to this later in that post)
    5. mic/remote in (while I do not care too much about the microphone, remote could be great for triggered stuff!)
    6. electronic shutter (this is great! totally silent, with speeds up to 1s/32000 at f/2! - no flash though)
    7. framing lines adopt during manual focusing with the OVF
    8. configurability of the buttons (obviously)
    9. charging via USB (great for traveling light)

    There are more improvements, such as improved noise reduction at high ISO, which might help, but are not that important to me.

    Obviously, I like the fact, that I can configure the X100T exactly the same way as the X-Pro1, what custom memories is concerned. The X100S, having 3 custom memories only, felt a bit clumsy. Now that both my X-cameras got the same settings, shooting is a lot simplified.

    Now to the best part, 2 combined actually, the new hybrid viewfinder trick in combination with coloured focus peaking. This is really great! When in OVF, pushing the VF-lever towards the lens, this little rectangle occurs in the lower right corner of the viewfinder. With the film-simulation set to any black&white mode (we are shooting RAW, right?!) this area will show a B&W representation of the designated focusing area. Here comes the magic: manual focus was never as easy with focus peaking set to red. Just get as much red in the greyscale preview as possible. Still, you got your optical viewfinder image to see what going on outside the framing lines. How great is that?!

    To me, the 2 features I just described to you in detail, were reason enough to replace the X100S with the X100T.