Another Metal Hood

In addition to the 2x Teleconverter, Fuji also quietly added another metal hood add-on accessory, this time for the XF 23mm f/1.4, the Lens Hood LH-XF23. I don’t know about you, but I’m perpetually in “persuit of premium quality to multiply the pleasure of ownership.”

Truthfully, I do really like the metal hood for the XF 16mm f/1.4 WR. It’s noticeably heavier than the plastic hood that comes with the lens, but significantly more compact when ready for use. A worthwhile trade off in my opinion. The hood that ships with the XF 23mm f/1.4 is also much too large for me to ever want to attach it to my lens.

I think we can expect this trend to continue from now on. It’s shame because these hoods aren’t cheap, but they’re so much nicer.

One Wide Angle Remaining

The XF 14mm f/2.8 comes to mind as being the next lens due for a new metal hood. As I’ve mentioned, the plastic hood for the XF 14mm f/2.8 is a clone of the hood for the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4, which leads me to believe it hasn’t been terribly well optimized for the former, since it was released after the kit zoom.

Prepping for South Africa

As my Twitter followers might know, I’m getting ready for a pretty big trip to South Africa, where I’m fortunate enough to be going on a Safari.1

I’m incredibly excited to have this fantastic photographic opportunity ahead of me, but it has thrown a wrench into my usual travel/packing strategies, in addition to making a couple photographic purchases necessary. I thought it might be of interest to do a bit of a travel diary, which has already been of some help to the process. This post has already been revised a few times as my packing strategies change.

Support

As ever, it’s important to start with a solid foundation. Game reserves present a unique challenge when it comes to keeping your camera steady. Most of what I’ve learned on the topic is from (re-)reading this piece from Thom Hogan, and another more recent piece. A key problem to solve is how to support your camera when you’re in the vehicle. I opted for Really Right Stuff’s new Travel Clamp Kit to affix to the rails of a vehicle like so:

Really Right Stuff’s Travel Clamp Kit with removable Flat Surface Adapters

Really Right Stuff’s Travel Clamp Kit with removable Flat Surface Adapters

It’s a pretty solid piece of equipment and isn’t having any trouble holding my camera steady. I’ll do more of a write-up on this item after my trip.

Thom also advises a monopod, which I considered, but there’s a limit to how much I want to bring when it comes to support, and since I also plan to bring a compact tripod and pocket-sized tripod→ as well. It’s always a balance between wanting to travel with as little as possible while still making sure I have what I need. The game reserve will only take up a few days of our trip after all.

Camera Bodies

Interchangeable

Had this trip occurred last year, I would have been perfectly happy to buy a second X-T1 keep my XF 50-140mm f/2.8 glued on one of them (probably with an XF 1.4x Teleconverter attached), and a wide angle lens on the other.

The X-Pro2 presents a bit of a wrinkle. I know I’m going to be constantly juggling whether or not to make the most of my available megapixels, or using the tilt screen of the X-T1. A second X-Pro2 is always a possibility, but I really think I’d notice the lack of a tilt screen when the camera is attached lower than eye level. If only there was a camera that provided the best of both worlds…

Anyhow, I've all but settled on bringing both the X-Pro2 and X-T1. The X-Pro2 is the camera I want with my all the time, and the X-T1 will end up being my “Safari camera.”

Fixed

I was all set to leave the fixed focal length X100 at home for this trip. The X-Pro2 has resulted in my X100T sitting dormant for the last few months. Then my wife saw the X70 and is seriously considering that as being her camera for the trip as opposed to her iPhone.

I think I’ll try to talk her out of it actually as bringing a fixed focal camera results in a whole second set of batteries and chargers to contend with that might not be worth the hassle.

Lenses

Another wrinkle, the XF 100-400mm. Thom writes:

In the Serengeti and other parks where you can’t leave the road, you tend to need longer lenses than in the places where you can (e.g. the private reserves in South Africa). I’m going to assume that you’re not going to one of the latter places, as the lens needs there are far less extreme and easier to meet. We’re going to assume the worst case here...

... Thus, we need flexibility and reach. Flexibility means a zoom lens; reach means pixel density.

As it happens, I am going to a private reserve in South Africa, so I was really struggling with whether or not I’m even going to need a lens with as much reach as the XF 100-400mm. That’s a lot of extra lens to pack for me (more on that in a minute) and it has other implications as it relates to things like filters (more on that in a minute too).

Rather than obsess over it, I decided to contact to the actual game park to get a sense of how close they typically get to the animals. They sent back a couple of images for reference:

That’s pretty close!

Close enough that I’m thinking I’ll be able to leave the big lens behind. Traveling with the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 is already going to be new territory for me, but in reality, it isn’t that much larger than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 I used to travel with. Traveling with only a carry-on wasn’t really an option in my DSLR days though.

Astro

I have to admit that one of the first things I thought about for this trip was the opportunity for some good astrophotography. Given I managed to capture the Milky Way with my X100S in the country-side of France, South Africa should offer much less light pollution, and even more visible stars. For that, I’ll be bringing along my XF 16mm f/1.4 WR. With its wide angle and fast aperture, I should be able to get some nice exposures.

Documentary

This is a big family trip, so I’ll also want to document it to some degree, and capture some images while on the streets of Jo’burg, of course. For that, I’ll have my XF 35mm f/2 WR mounted on my X-Pro2.

Cameras In Summary

For now, that’s a total of two bodies, three lenses, a teleconverter, one compact tripod, one pocket-sized tripod, one travel clamp, and a whole whack of batteries.

Filters

Despite what Tony Northrup says in his video that starts off like an infomercial,2 filters can still be pretty important tools to photographers, especially those who like to capture things in camera. That’s not to say that I’m against post processing, but as time goes on, I find my desire to sit at a desk is waning rapidly.

If the XF 100-400mm does stay at home, I don’t have any reason to go larger than 72mm with my filters. This is one of the very rare times I’d consider the use of a lens like the XF 100-400mm, and the only other lens Fuji currently makes at 77mm is the XF 16-55mm f/2.8, which hasn’t been mounted on my camera to take photos in almost a year. In all likelihood I’ll stick with the 77mm as the standard, and add additional sizes as needed, and when funds allow.

A notification that the new 77mm X4 CPL and ND filters and step-up rings I ordered from Breakthrough Photography entered the country popped up on my phone just last night. I’m eager to try Breakthrough’s latest release to see how it stacks up.

Packing

Here we have the biggest hurdles in two parts:

  1. My collection of bags to date doesn’t accommodate longer lenses well.
  2. I strongly prefer carry-on-only travel.

My carry-on bag of choice is Osprey’s Farpoint 55 (S/M) which is already a couple inches longer than airlines typically allow for carry-on, but I haven’t had a problem with it so far.

My strategy is to pack my camera gear and a few clothing items in the Think Tank Airport Express bag I just ordered—that at least two people agree is the bag to get—and pack it along with the rest of my travel needs in the Osprey, hoping for the best. If I get nabbed on the size of the Osprey, I’ll check it and bring the Think Tank as my official carry-on. This will depend entirely on whether or not I can fit the Airport Express in the main compartment of the Osprey with room to spare or not.

Pre-publish Update

I haven’t received the Think Tank bag yet, but I’m losing confidence that it’s going to fit in my Osprey with much, if any room to spare. I’m now pondering whether or not I can get away only the Airport Express and a “personal item.” I’ll have to do some serious layering on the plane, but if I can sneak an item or two in my wife’s carry-on, it just might work.

Happily, I just received notification that my bag has shipped, so once it arrives I’ll test out a few packing strategies.

Other Considerations

I have as much a bag addiction as any photographer has, and I’d love to get myself a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45 one of these days. Sadly, I don’t think this is the trip for it. I’d have a hard time getting longer lenses in there, and the lack of a frame like the Osprey has to transfer weight to the hips will be a problem. Mirrorless gear is far from heavy, but it’s still more than just clothes.

To Be Continued…

That’s all for now. I hope to write more as the trip draws nearer and I get all my photographic quandaries sorted.

  1. My new South African family actually mocks us a little when we call it “a Safari.” To them, it’s a “game park” or “game reserve.” ↩︎
  2. Really Tony, a whole minute?

    I honestly can’t believe he’s telling people to just do it all in software to save a whole “100 bucks.” Setting aside the fact that I seem to value my time more than he does, and the enjoyment of the creative process, there are things a polarizing filter can do that software can’t replicate, like reducing reflections from the waxy coating on leaves.

    On top of that, his struggle with the filter is laughable, his water reflection example is horrendous, and the idea that capturing 10s of images instead of one is less time consuming or cost-effective (storage for all those RAW files costs money, after all), is ludicrous.

    I will give him that UV filters are worthless though.

More on ACROS

Patrick La Roque on ACROS:

I noticed ISO 2000 seemed to be a sweet spot for this simulation, creating a visible grain that added personality without reducing sharpness or introducing anything remotely muddy into the mix (actually it scales well all the way up but 2000 felt like a good general compromise).

Nice of Patrick to get some of this work done for us. Auto ISO users might want to think about capping it around 2000.

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: Fujifilm’s commitment to bringing their film legacy to the X Series is an issue of pride. It’s where their identity can shine and how they can differentiate themselves further. I personally find the development of Acros, the research that went into its creation, very, very exciting. There’s a complexity at work here that goes way beyond slapping a curve on top of a monochrome file, and this shows a thirst for exploration that could yield serious results down the line.

I was thinking the same thing.

ACROS

There’s been a lot of speculation on if and when we’d see firmware updates for the X-T1, X100T, and, to a lesser degree, the X-E2(S)1 that would include Fuji’s latest Film Simulation Mode, “ACROS.” Currently, ACROS is exclusive to the X-Pro2. I heard suggestions on Twitter that this wouldn't happen because the new film simulation requires the X-Processor Pro, which is also exclusive to the X-Pro2. This didn’t sit right with me on its own. I couldn’t imagine a black and white conversion along with a new tone curve requiring that much more computational effort. We already have “Monochrome” and can tweak its tone curve via Shadow and Highlight Tone, so I figured we’d see ACROS in a future update, or there had to be more to it.

Well, Fuji has all but closed the door on ACROS coming to any other currently available camera, and has offered pretty strong hits as to why. It does have a lot to do with the X-Processor Pro, but there is more to it.

The image design of “ACROS” is only achievable with the resolution of X-Trans CMOS III2 and the processing power of X-Processor Pro.

The fine detail that ACROS achieves is only possible with the resolution power of 24MP. And the complex grain effect is only possible with the powerful X-Processor Pro engine.

So the processor is part of it, yes, but the sensor’s resolution also plays a role. Here’s what I think the important bits are:

To be specific, ACROS mode has a completely different noise reduction algorithm from other modes.

Fuji puts a ton of effort into their noise reduction algorithms, but to date, there hasn’t been any adjustment to noise reduction based on the photographer’s selected Film Simulation Mode that I’m aware of. A setting of -1 Noise Reduction at ISO 3200 behaves the same on Velvia as it does on Monochrome.3 Not so on ACROS.

ACROS also changes the output of graininess depending on the sensitivity setting. As the sensitivity gets higher, stronger grain effect becomes visible, just like the film

This on-the-fly grain effect does sound to me like it could require a beefier CPU in order to maintain performance that is equal to when other Film Simulation Modes are used. I would be interested to know for certain if the grain output of “Grain Effect” is also adjusted based on ISO. In addition, does “Grain Effect” stack with the grain rendering in ACROS? Sounds like I have some testing to do.

It may be possible that the same concept can be achieved without the two new devices, but can we say that to be “ACROS”? The answer is “No.” We would not release a quality that does not meet our standard.

This is the bottom line for me. Would you prefer Fuji compromise image quality, even slightly, or keep a Film Simulation Mode exclusive in favour of what they believe is optimal image quality? One of Fuji’s claims to fame is decades of film and colour experience, and it’s also one of the reasons many of us choose Fuji cameras, superior JPEG output. ACROS is a step in the direction of premium, compact photographic tools that deliver uncompromising image quality straight out of camera. Whether or not they’ve delivered on that is subjective, but I think so.

Could there be some marketing shenanigans afoot that keep ACROS exclusive? Perhaps. I would guess it’s as much, if not more a business decision vs. strictly marketing. With enough time and money, a 16MP version of ACROS is almost certainly possible. But the technical explanation behind why ACROS won’t be arriving on EXR Processor II cameras does satisfy me now.4

  1. Lesser simply due to the X-E2S just being released, and the X-E2 getting a major firmware update. ↩︎
  2. There’s a typo in Fuji’s post. ↩︎
  3. Another interesting tidbit from Fuji’s article, Monochrome uses Provia’s tone curves for it’s rendering. ↩︎
  4. I’m doubtful we’ll get one on Classic Chrome for the X100S. ↩︎

Mirrorless vs. DSLR

If there’s one regret I have about selling my DSLR gear, it’s that I don’t have it to use for comparisons. Luckily, there are plenty of other photographers who still have DSLRs kicking around.

Ivan Joshua Loh is just such a photographer. He ran a quick comparison between the X-Pro2 and 5D Mark III:

I was expecting a slight difference with the advantage toward 5D3. And I was absolutely wrong. With the advancement of technology; not only did X-Pro2 is on par with 5D3, personally I think it maybe a tad ahead in this pack.

The X-Pro2/XF 16mm f/1.4 combo looks sharper to my eye as well.

Ivan’s post has lots more valuable insight from weight to total cost of ownership, to this fascinating little tidbit:

Talking about cool; do you know that the shutter and ISO dial on the X-Pro2 is made up of 38 parts? Just on this dial alone.

Great read.

What’s Next for the X100T

Ian MacDonald has a(nother) thoughtful piece about the X100T’s future, citing much of what it’s been missing from firmware updates.

One item I’d add to his list is the new autofocus system, which I’ve been told “should come.”. My hope is Fuji has been waiting for the X-Pro2 to come out before they add this, and other features to the X100T, so as not to steal any OVF thunder. Here’s hoping.

Hits, 50/50, and a Miss

Great read from The Strobist himself, David Hobby. First a hit:

Focus point joystick. LOVE this. Thank you. [ … ] This is something the engineers came up with absent our input. So sweet.

Bang on. And kudos to Fuji’s engineers. This is one my my two top features of the X-Pro2. Next, a 50/50:

Battery. [ … ] Here's the dilemma: Faster, more power-hungry processor. Do you give it a bigger gas tank, or go you continue to allow the battery continuity across Fuji's ILC line that so many of us appreciate.

I’d file this under “Miss,” personally. I grumbled in my review about Fuji going with the same battery as their previous cameras. I still think it was the wrong move. Sure, there’s convenience in having the same battery across multiple cameras, but I think we are quickly going to see a lot of people using their other cameras much less once they get their X-Pro2’s, or going with dual X-Pro2 kits and doing away with the other cameras entirely. Additionally, the camera most likely to be added to an interchageable X-Series is surely the X100, which requires a separate battery and charger anyhow. Now was the time to move to a higher capacity battery. Too bad. Not much to do about it now aside from be thankful whatever extra batteries we’ve purchased will still work.

A Miss:

Eye Relief. And to clarify, this is a miss for me, personally.

Not just you, David. I’ve received a fair number of emails on eye point and have started including it as part of my comparisons. This is one area the X-T1 outshines Fuji’s new flagship.

Head over the Strobist for the full article. It’s great insight in the development of the X-Pro2.

Lens Got Flare

When I write about flare, it’s typically not with a negative connotation, unless the lens in question comes with coatings intended to reduce it. Flare is part of what gives a lens its character, and can play a huge role in its desirability.

Charlene Winfred has a great piece on how much she likes the flare from Fuji’s new XF 35mm f/2 WR:

... I’ve never had a lens that flares as downright cinematically as this one. Those distinct diagonals and ghosting that appear when it is pointed at strong, directional light sources are simply gorgeous.

It’s helps to possess the photographic talent Charlene does, but I’ve enjoyed shooting my XF 35mm f/2 WR directly into light myself. She’s got plenty more great sample images on her site.

Flare example from the XF 35mm f/2 WR, courtesy of  Charlene Winfred

Flare example from the XF 35mm f/2 WR, courtesy of Charlene Winfred