It is all about stuff

In our current society there is an odd, but perhaps understandable, obsession with stuff. Especially new stuff. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of electronics. Every so often a new iteration of the iPhone, or any other smartphone for that matter, is launched, with ever more new features that we are told we absolutely need. It is the same in camera-land. Every other year (or more often) camera manufacturers launch a new camera, a new lens, a new feature. Users start reading reviews (or viewing them, in this youtube-fueled age), and it is often easy enough to convince yourself you need this new camera, these new features. I am, by no means, immune to this. 

I’ve done this often enough. I’ve bought enough cameras, lenses, bags or accessories in the past few years to finance a few expensive holidays. Partly I can excuse myself. I’m a professional photographer, I need stuff to work. And I would be right. But as Kevin Mullins, a professional wedding photographer from the UK, writes on his blog: ’there is stuff that you need. And there is stuff that you want.’ The line between those two things is easily blurred. Recently I’ve been trying to ‘unblur’ the line, and have started to get rid of some of the things I thought I needed (and it is surprising to see how many things you find out in hindsight to be unnecessary). In recent months, cameras, lenses, and accessories, have been flowing out of the house in a steady flow. It is not just that I find that I don’t use some of those things, it is also that by reducing the number of choices I have, I make my photographical life much simpler. I’m not a minimalist, and probably never will be (I still have 2 choices for a 35 mm lens, not to mention the 5 50-ish lenses I have in my drawer), but I am slowly reducing my quite extensive collection (because that is basically what it is).

‘New gear doesn’t help you take better photographs, but the right gear does!’

Now you might think that reducing my photographical clutter would also involve not getting new stuff into the house. And that is correct, up to a point. However, with the motto ‘New gear doesn’t help you take better photographs, but the right gear does!’, I decided, that for my professional work, I needed one more thing. Replacing the sold X100, X-E3, X-Pro2 and second X-T2…, is the new Fujifilm X-T4. A brandspaninking new camera. I have been testing it for several days now, and must admit I’m not yet over the moon about it. It is an electronic powerhouse, don’t get me wrong. The menu mentions items I’ve never even heard of. The autofocus is so fast I’m not even seeing it lock on. It shoots fifteen frames per second. And maybe that is one of the things that feels wrong about it. It is just a bit too glib, too silent, too subtle. I liked my X-T2 better. Then again, I don’t need to be over the moon about it. I just need to use it for assignments, and in that field the X-T4 will probably deliver in spades. So here I am, back to ‘just’ 4 cameras.

I’ll keep my Fujifilm X-T2 as a weather sealed back-up, and I will keep using the old X-Pro1 and X70 for personal photography or projects. And that is it. There are still a drawer of lenses and a cupboard of bags to slowly empty (to a non-photographer, they will probably still look ridiculously filled). For now I think I’m on the right path, and I will be content with the stuff I have (speak to me again in a year).

In all this there is the unusual situation that I now own Fujifilms first X-mount interchangeable lens camera, and their latest. It is an odd comibation to have next to each other, and a testament to how far the camera world has come in just eight short years. On the one hand the (in modern sense, it was launched in 2012) ancient X-Pro1, with it’s slow minimum shutter speed of 1/4000 seconds, it’s limited amount of AF points, its sometimes hunting or slow autofocus, its clunky shutter sound. And on the other hand the recent, top of its class, X-T4. With lightning AF speed, a fully articulating screen (I need to get used to that by the way), a focus joystick, more AF points that my fruit tree has lice, and soo soo many more functions. The coming days and weeks will show which of these – the dinosaur or the tesla – I will enjoy shooting with more.

My apologies if I seem to be rambling a bit. I’ve been wanting to post something on the update cycle of electronic products, the cleaning up of my photography clutter, the rediscovery of the X-Pro1, and the purchase of the X-T4, and somehow all of these things wound up in the same post. Maybe I’ll try to do separate posts on these topics later! Hope you are well and happy photography.

To not leave you with no photographs at all, above one of the testshots with the new X-T4. One thing I do like very much is the classic negative film simulation that this photo was taken in. I like the somewhat muted, not very contrasty look. Taken with the X-T4 and XF 23 mm f/2 at f/2.

The Fujifilm X70

Several months ago I bought a secondhand Fujifilm X70. This little brother to the X100 had been on my radar when it was announced in January 2016, but back than I decided it was not something I could genuinly use. If you would categorise stuff into things I need for my photography job and things for fun, this would mostly fall in the fun category. Fast forward a bit: September last year we were hiking in the hills around lake Lugano, Italy, when we encountered a German hiker using the X70. Curiosity piqued, I asked to try it and got a chance to play with it a bit. Back on the radar it was. It took a few months to wait for a great deal on Marktplaats, but in January 2019, 3 years after it was announced, and 2 years after it was discontinued by Fujifilm, it entered my photography bag. As a ‘fun’ camera, but also as a great backup professional option for events (it shares the same 16 megapixel sensor of my old Fujifilm X-T1).

Some specs of the camera
The X70 features the same 16 megapixels APS-C sized sensor of the X-T1 and X-E2s. The lens is a wide-angle 18.5 mm lens that is newly designed for this camera. There is no viewfinder, but the screen is a flip-up screen that can tilt 180 degrees and is therefore selfie-friendly. While the 18.5 mm lens can be argued to be somewhat restrictive, digital teleconvertors to 35 and 50 mm are available in camera.

Fast forward a month, and we’re in Löf, Germany. My girlfriend and I decided to take a long weekend away from work in a hotel in this small town on the bank of the river Mosel. As I didn’t want to be bothered by a big camera bag and the need to change lenses all the time, it was a great opportunity of testing this newest acquisition.  I had with me the X70 with hood, a few spare batteries and a gorillapod tripod, carried in an old Billingham f4.5 bag.

My experience using the camera
Keep in mind that when I use a camera I tend to remember things that I find annoying, and take the great things for granted. This is also not a technical review, just a sum-up of the things I noticed on this camera that I consider to be good, or in need of improvement.

So, what was it like to use it? Well, it has its foibles, but in general, this little camera is quite nice to use. Its small size is definitely a plus on this kind of outings. It fits in a small pocket of the Billingham, it’s quick to take out and quick to use. During hikes I generally left it in my jacket pocket to keep it protected from the rain and keep my hands free. Taking it out and turning it on is a matter of seconds. As it is a fixed lens camera, an advantage is that you don’t need to think about focal length. It’s 18.5 mm, and that’s it! Autofocus is quick, but not superquick. Mostly it was accurate in finding focus, with maybe 10% miss (unscientific guess).

The Fuji X70 is the first camera that I use that has a touch screen (not counting a week with the OM-D E-M5 a few years back). I set it to ‘touch-to-focus’, and this works great. I was surprised how quick I got used to this, and how often I would try it on my X-T2 before realizing it didn’t work on that camera! This ‘touch-to-focus’ is unfortunately one of the few things that does not work in single-hand operation, as the left side of the screen cannot be reached by your fingers. Using one of the buttons for AF point selection as backup solves this, however.

One of the things I found I missed was a built-in ND filter. While of all the camera’s that I have owned, only the X100 has it, it’s really great for creating longer exposures of things like waterfalls. I didn’t have an ND-filter with me, and there were times I really would have liked a built-in one. No deal-breaker, but it would have been great!

Another thing that I really found annoying, is that when using the built-in electronic telecovertors (aside from image quility using this feature, which is not great), is that you first have to switch to Jpeg, than dive into menu’s to switch to the teleconvertor. All this takes a lot of time, and is an annoying process. I would rather see that you can select this function using a function button, and that the camera switches to Jpeg automatically. Now, the function is not available if you shoot RAW.

My first impression of the lens hood was that is was ugly. However, it is extremele functional and protected the lens from water droplets perfectly. I’ve grown used to it, and now I find it quite ok!

No separate charger for the batteries came with the camera, but you can charge the batteries in camera. I decided to try this, and left my own charger at home. A decision I regretted after the first day. I had to juggle charging all the USB powered electronic devices (phone, watch, camera) with just one USB charger, and an external charger for the camera would have been very useful. Mind you, had I thought about this a bit more I could also have taken with me more USB chargers. I still think, though, that it is more useful to charge batteries outside of the camera (which also allows you to keep the camera safe on a tabletop, instead of dangling from a USB cable near a power outlet).

Macro capabilities are ok. With 18.5 mm is not a focal length usually associated with macro, and with reason. I’ve used the camera for several close-up photos of mushrooms and leaves, and while the images are decent, it is difficult to get great separation between the subject and the background. Focusing can be acchieved as close as 10 cm away from the lens, but unfortunately Fuji haven’t given the camera a macro button/focus limiter. You just have to find the closest distance that works.

Image quality
While it was a joy to use during the weekend, the results on my computer were a bit disappointing. Maybe I’m just pixel peeping and overly critical, but I would have expected more from this image sensor. The images were somewhat flat, and when zoomed in sometimes not very sharp. It goes to show that image quality is definitely not related to the sensor alone, but to the sensor and the lens combined. Maybe this lens is just not on par with what I’ve come to expect of Fujifilm. Sure, it is almost certain, beforehand, that the XF 18 mm f/2.0 lens, which I love, would give me better image quality, but that the difference would be this large I didn’t expect. As Fujifilm tried to jam as much quality in a very small camera and lens, it should perhaps not have been surprising that they had to compromise some.

Conclusion
I had hoped that maybe I could take the Fujifilm X70, together with it’s wide-angle adapter, with me on our planned hike of the West Highland Way (8 days of hiking through the Scottish Highlands). It would have been ideal, considering its low weight and size. So the real question would be: do I still consider this camera good enough in image quality to take it on this trip? The answer, I’m afraid, is no. While this camera is very suitable for a weekend off with little hassle, seeing the images from the X70 before me on my computer screen convinces me that the image quality is not good enough to take with me on a journey from which I would like to take home stunning landscapes en great astrophotos. To do that, I will have to take with me more weight and choose for the X-T2, 12 mm samyang and 18-135 mm lens.

So, it is a bit of a mixed bag. A joy to use but a slight disappointment in image quality. Will I keep it? For the moment I’ll let it earn its place in my photographybag. It’s size, weight, and portablity make it an ideal camera to bring when you just want to do some casual photography or when you don’t want to bring a bag along. Image quality may be just a bit disappointing, but is good enough for these kind of occasions.

Some images below:

Taken during one of our hikes near the Mosel. Burg Eltz is one of the few remaining castles on the left bank of the Mosel, and is still in the hands of the original family that built it.
Taken on a hike to Ehrenburg. I had to decrease the aperture to f/16 and lower the ISO to 200 to get a shutter speed long enough to get movement in the waters. I could have used a built-in ND filter here!
This castle is located high above the town of Cochem and has a commanding view of the river below! Taken with the digital tele-convertor at 50 mm.
An attempt at macro-photography. The mushroom season was mostly gone, but in some wet areas they were still to be found. Taken from a distance of about 10 cm away from the mushroom at f/2.8.

A budding relationship: the Fujinon XF 18-135 mm

Although I have owned the Fujinon XF 18-135 mm f/3.5-5.6 ‘superzoom’ for almost a year now, in my mind it never really found its place in my camerabag. While I have used it frequently for my watersports photography, I usually left it at home when I went out for fun or for other – non water related – assignments.

Recently however, it has begun to grow on me a bit. In the past I have stated often that I would rather take my three small primes on holiday than the one big heavy (relatively speaking, that is) superzoom. And the three small primes (18, 35 and 60 mm) were a perfect combination during our trip to Sicily last year. This year, however, our annual holiday was to Curacao, a much more humid climate than Italy. As a result, I somewhat dreaded changing lenses and the 18-135 mm stayed on my XT-1 for most of the time  to protect the sensor that is otherwise exposed during lens changes. In addition, the weather sealing of the 18-135 was extra protection.

How did this turn out? Well, to be honest, quite well! While the images of this lens are not as sharp or clean as those obtained from my primes, for most subjects (non-moving, landscapes, portraits, etc.) the image quality was quite acceptable. Having gotten used to the large apertures of the primes (the 60 mm is ‘slow’ at f/2.4), where the 18-135 has to make do with f/3.5-5.6, I had to get used to cranking up the ISO to get the shutter speeds that I desired. On the other hand, the more than excellent image stabilization made sure much longer shutter speeds could be used than would be the case with the primes.

In the evening, when light faded, I still had to grab my primes to get some decent shots, but on the whole, almost 80% of my shots were done with the 18-135 mm. Using this lens reduced the amount of camera gear I had to carry during the day (after two day’s I didn’t even take my primes with me out in the field any more), reducing the weight of, and space in, my camera bag. It also meant less time wasted changing lenses, which certainly came in handy during our exhaustive climb to  the top of the Christoffelmountain.

Two other things to mention that I noticed are the excellent macro capabilities and the sometimes rather ugly bokeh of the lens. During our trips on Curacao we often stumbled upon dozens of lizards (and sometimes larger specimens like the Iguana). These sometimes posed for us and we could get quite close. At 135 mm the closest focus distance was less than a meter, which I would consider quite good for general photography. On the other hand, the bokeh obtained (greatest at 135 mm f/5.6) was (not unexpectedly) much less pleasing than I was used to with the primes. It is not a reason not to use this lens, but something to consider when using it.

Will it be on my camera more than before?

Maybe. While the image quality may be good enough for holiday ‘snapshots’, for more serious photography that doesn’t require the weather sealing I’d still use the primes. It’s also quite a heavy beast, and much larger than for instance the 23 mm f/1.4 that is usually attached to my XT-1. It is a bit of a workhorse compared to the refined primes. For another holiday like this one, I might take only the 18-135 and the 23 mm f/1.4 and leave the rest at home (but then again, I might lug it all with me again).

Some photographs from last week:

An Iguana at the Christoffelpark
An Iguana at the Christoffelpark

At the northwest side of Curacao, Boca Table
At the northwest side of Curacao, Boca Table

This little fellow posed for us for quite some time
This little fellow posed for us for quite some time

Groupshot at the top of the Christoffelmountain
Groupshot at the top of the Christoffelmountain

Butterfly at the Christoffelmountain; an example of the bokeh
Butterfly at the Christoffelmountain; an example of the bokeh

What’s in the bag?

Sinds de switch van Canon naar Fujifilm heb ik geprobeerd mijn fotografieapparatuur zo compact mogelijk te houden. Dat wordt gesteund door mijn keuze van cameratas: een Billingham Hadley Small. Het ‘small’ zegt het al: het is een redelijk compacte tas, en grote spullen kunnen er niet in. Maar hij is wel ideaal voor de kit die ik er nu in heb zitten.

Standaard neem ik de volgende spullen mee wanneer ik ga fotograferen:

  •  Fujifilm XE-1 (body)
  • Fujinon XF 18 mm F2.0
  • Fujinon XF 35 mm F1.4
  • Fujinon XF 60 mm F2.4
  • Fujifilm EF-20 flitser
  • Cullmann Magnesit Copter tafelstatief + CB2 ballhead
  • ND4 grijsfilter (52 mm voor 18 & 35 mm lenzen)
  • Klassieke draadontspanner
  • Reserve accu & kaartjes
  • Schoonmaakdoekje

Deze set laat nog ruimte over voor een zakmes, mijn portemonnee, mijn iPad mini, en bijvoorbeeld een zonnebril of een flesje water.

Ik heb bewust gekozen voor 3 primes, waar één zoomlens ditzelfde bereik had bestreken. Ondanks dat dit meer gewicht inhoudt, past het in dezelfde hoeveelheid ruimte (de lenzen zijn compacter) en heb ik in totaal een veel lichtsterkere groep lenzen. Het enige wat ik nog ter aanvulling een keer wil aanschaffen is een circulair polarisatiefilter (52 mm).

Apparatuur-2