Ellis at Market

Ellis at Market

Turned over the frame counter on my X100s again -- feels like it's finally getting broken-in (or I am).

Posted September 29, 2014 | Comments (0)

Powell Below Geary

Powell Below Geary

Posted September 27, 2014 | Comments (0)

X100s: Usage & Non-Review

Fujiís X100s is about to bow out as the X100T is introduced. Time for my non-review of the S, then! Just as well, since most online reviews (of most equipment -- not just cameras) tend to get written by someone with general skill but a few hours or at most a couple of weeks actually using the thing. They might be ďputting it through its pacesĒ in a tinkertoy sort of way, but not chasing pictures with it in a sustained way, in all weather, different circumstances, lighting, time, and weight constraints. There are a few exceptions, of which Iíd probably single out Kevin Mullinsís The Owl (and his book, which taught me not to use the Fuji like a Canon or Panaleica) for usability tips, and Zack Ariasís excited gush over the original X100 after using it for a good while.

There are plenty of people who will tell you all the things they enjoy about this camera. This leaves me more room to kvetch! Don't worry, it's kvetching that comes from love...

Itís good to have a camera in hand that feels like a rangefinder again. The LX's are excellent but just a bit too small to have that feel. Iíd ditched my film SLRs some time ago to shoot only RF's -- Leica M and screwmount, Contax G, Bronica RF645, and as a knockaround camera a Canonet GIII, which is probably the closest in spirit to the X100 series. The advent of digital had pushed me back to using SLRs; the LXís and now Fuji are letting me be free of them again. And better still, the EVF's gives you SLR-like capabilities when theyíre really needed.

My original plan was to experiment with an X-Pro1 as a replacement for my Canon SLR kit, but I realized the X100s was better suited to me, and I love the quietness of leaf shutters. It didnít disappoint (Iíve also skipped the X-Pro1 for the X-T1Ö more on that later).

Silence

The silent mode quiet is a huge win. I have used the X100s on commercial video-shoot sets, during takes. In acoustic concerts. No one hears it but me, and then just barely. Not even close-up microphones hear it.

The Viewfinder(s)

Iíve been split on my enjoyment of the Optical Viewfinder (OVF) -- excited at first by it, then realizing I was shooting almost exclusively with the Electronic Eye-Level Viewfinder (EVF) (almost never with the LCD on the back of the camera!), but recently Iím back to mostly OVF again.

Itís a learning process: you learn what's good for what. The OVF is terrific for contexts where you can zone-focus, or use the Autofocus, or you just want to save on battery life. Most of my shooting is manually focused, using the EVF for slower, deliberate work and the OVF for fast outdoor shooting. I had to learn this bit by bit.

Manual Focusing

In manual focusing mode, a very large area of the EVF is covered by the distance scale, which is rendered on a large opaque box (the X-T1ís scale is mercifully transparent). Really annoying for framing! After a while I accidentally discovered that you can turn off the EVFís distance scale, while leaving the less-objectionable (doesnít cover the frame area) scale of the OVF active. Now my method is to use focus-peaking in the EVF with no scale, and the scale in the OVF. Itís easy to switch back and forth without removing your eye from the finder. Much better than the default.

Disabling the EVF Distance Scale

The method for disabling the EVF distance scale is in the manual, but just barely! See page 75 of the English-language version. There's just one short paragraph that covers about a half-dozen topics, and no explanation of why. Oops, Fuji.

It's Menu - Red 3 - Disp. Custom Setting - EVF/LCD and then un-check MF Distance Indicator

I miss having a Leica-style focus lever. The X100s focus is twist-by-wire so you have to either use the EVF or look at the scale. You canít just slide the lever to infinity and then focus by feel: "this much turn is 2 meters, this much is 1 meter"Ö when my X100s was new, the focus ring used to have a sort of jittery friction, which has gradually subsided with use.

Autofocus and the Back Wheel

Sometimes the AF just hunts. Frustrated that if I'm in Manual Focus and press the AF button to do a "quick" adjust (a common use pattern for me), it sometimes starts the slow drive down to minimum-focus distance and there's nothing to do but wait. People tell me itís better than it used to be. I guess I can believe them but at times Iíve just thought that my camera is faulty (sometimes I still do). One possible reason could be that itís really easy to accidentally get the camera into macro mode (or out of macro mode) without realizing it, just in the moment-to-moment jostling around of shooting.

Itís odd to have a dedicated AE-pattern button but no dedicated ISO button. Really. I press that AE pattern button very rarely, and the Fn function button is too busy to use for ISO.

Power

Batteries. I've burned three in an afternoon. Now I have five.

A big culprit in the battery consumption issue can be the WiFi SD card (see below), which if you're not careful can keep eating power even if the camera is powered down.

Beware accidentally turning the camera off. This happens to me a lot. If I pan quickly while pressing the shutter, the power switch rotates and while my shot will complete, the next shotÖ oops! No camera! For this reason I almost never shoot in silent mode outdoors. I need that assurance that the shutter really fired. Too many lost shots without it.

I tried to solve this problem by using a ďsoft releaseĒ button, so that my finger wouldn't be in contact with the power-switch ring -- in practice, the soft release unscrewed itself, fell off the camera and rolled down a sewer drain in the first fifteen minutes of use. Instead Iíve had to develop a two-finger shutter button technique: a grip where I stabilize the power lever with my middle finger while stabbing down at the shutter button with an index fingernail, rather than pressing with the whole fingertip, so that the power switch won't get dragged as the camera moves in my hand ("all in the wrist," feh).

Q Menu and "C" Shortcuts

Unlike the X-T1 etc the X100s includes the ISO in Custom Shortcuts which tend to be faster than just using the Q Menu for explicit ISO tweaks. My settings:

C1 ISO 100, Film Sim "V"
C2 ISO 1600, Film Sim "NH"
C3 ISO Auto (3200), Film Sim "Std"

...with other sharpness and shadow settings etc left at defaults. C3 is my "everyday usage" shortcut.

I used to have C2 set to a hard-shadow sharpened black and white mode, but in the last month or so have switched to using NH instead, since I do almost all of my B&W conversion in Nik Silver Efx 2 anyway. NH converts well and gives me a little more leeway when shooting JPG.

JPEGs

Like many people, I shoot JPEG a lot, though given some extreme lighting situations I've started using RAW more often again. This means increasing time between shots and dealing with longer transfers. Time to toss another 3TB on the hard drive stack...

Exposure & the ND Filter

I love the 3-stop ND filter, for the same reason I love it on the LX7 -- instant sunny-vs-shady control when using manual exposure. The ND wins over ISO for its place on the top-deck Fn button.

The shutter speed dial only goes down to 1/4 second. Likewise the Aperture-priority AE. Lower speeds are possible via the T setting, but since they're tied to the rear dial they're easily jostled around and changed. Annoying.

Likewise I wish I had f/22.

The fake shutter sound adjusts to the actual shutter speed. Nice. At 1/4 second, you hear two clicks a quarter-second apart.

There is a dedicated flash available for Fuji X, but it's not even close to the sophistication of the systems from Canon and Nikon. More on this topic in some other posts.

WiFi

I opted to use a Transcend wi-fi card. The built-in Eye-fi control is completely ignored, in that case. I set the Transcend to time-out on wi-fi after the minimum one minute -- otherwise it can very easily turn into a battery killer, since it will continue broadcasting even after the camera is turned off if you don't tell the card to time out (and don't let anything connect to it! Say, the tablet computer in your bag). If you need to re-start the wi-fi, remove the card or the battery. It works, but it's fiddly. And you don't get the nice "resize for phone" option found in Fuji's software for the X-T1.

TL;DR

Owners love to proclaim that the X100s is not a hipster camera. If this was so, why am I so often stopped by hipsters in San Francisco, asking what kind of camera it is and telling me that it's cool?

Because it is.

The high ISO means it's possible to get really low-light shots, like the Milky Way seen here from rural Sonoma county. A trick to getting a shot at this super-low light level is to frame it on your tripod with the camera turned off so that you won't be blinded by the frame lines in the OVF.

Sometimes you just need the lowest speed you can get.

Posted September 23, 2014 | Comments (1)

LX7 (with a little LX5)

As has been a habit, Iím coming to write up a usage report for a camera only by the time its replacement has been announced: the LX7 is about to make way for LX100 (or for the Leica marque, D-Lux Typ 109), which Iím sure will be a fine camera too. Iíll stick to my 7 until circumstances warrant a switch -- which is how I felt about the LX5 for nearly a year after the LX7 first appeared. What finally changed my mind?

The aperture ring. As much as possible I want a camera that I can use without needing to check menus and displays. If I can roll over to the far end of the apertures and then count clicks to know my f/stop, without ever taking my eye off the scene in front of the camera, Iím happy.

Little Things Make a Difference

Looking over the other improvements listed in the brochures: 1080p video, faster aperture, etc, none of them stand out as crucial differentiators for me except this: the LX7 uses the same batteries as the LX5, meaning that I could have two cameras with me using the same battery type. So leapfrogging my LX3 (different battery) with the LX7 meant I could set aside all those old batteries and chargers. This not-very-visible difference can be a huge deal when out running around shooting! One set of batteries to juice them all.

The photos on this post are from a springtime trip where we shared an LX5, LX7, and also brought along a Fuji X100s as the "big" camera (more on that later). One set of Lumix batteries made for more relaxed days.

I was initially excited by the LX7's new 3D shooting feature -- we already have a 3D TV around, and Iíve shot a lot of stereo over the years. But in practice itís been used only once or twice.

That said, there are three other features of the LX7 that Iíve come to love: the Outboard clip-on EVF, the ND filter, and (to my surprise) Dynamic Color Mode.

EVF: (External) Electronic View Finder

The similar EVF on the LX5 was already surprisingly great. The LX7ís, while oddly chunky-looking, is even better. This became especially useful as Iíve also become keen on the ďdynamic colorĒ mode in both cameras. Yes, itís one of those gawky Instagram-ish filter modes. It has a beautiful ability to get detail out of shadows. Itís tremendous on sculpture, on woodwork, it even has an occasional place in portraiture. Seeing it as you shoot: terrific.

Built-In Neutral-Density (ND) Filter

The 3-stop ND filter is usually hyped as a means to use strobe outdoors. And yes, it does this too. But Iíve found it useful for another purpose: a three-stop drop is just about perfect as the difference between sunny exposures and sky-lit shady ones. Since I shoot a lot in changeable sun, among the skyscrapers of the San Francisco Financial District or in forest, the ND button is a great manual-exposure tool -- I set my manual exposure for shade, then with one press of the ND button, Iím good for sunshine. And vice versa. A very big deal for someone like me who likes to manage the camera by finger without taking my eye off the shot.

Using the LX7 in tandem with the Fuji X100S ended up being a very enjoyable (silent and lightweight) travel/street combo: the LX7 provided wide and short telephoto ability, excellent macro, color fun (Fuji has similar modes, but I'm used to the LX!), and the occasional variance from the 3::2 format, while the Fuji provided amazing low-light performance and faster operation.

Dynamic Color Mode

Compare the "dynamic color" shot above to the standard one taken a few seconds later. It may not be "natural" but the detailed information in the shot, especially around the buildings in the background, is to my mind superior

This isn't to say that the standard color rendition is bad -- here are a couple of samples to show that it's the opposite! You can see the LX5 in this shot -- can you find the other snap of it in this post? And the (blurry) LX7?

Again, the dynamic color made really brings out fine scultural detail, as in this Rodin figure -- without having to resort to using a RAW file and manipulation in Photoshop later on.

Another quick comparison of color modes: Retro, Soft, and the surprisingly snappy Dynamic Monochrome.

Posted September 22, 2014 | Comments (0)

Three Essentially Difficult Pieces

This post started as three different posts, each of which got bogged down in its own overwrought explication. I realized they all shared concerns about essentialism, of what makes a photo... a photo. Iíve decided to just stack them and cut straight down in straight lines across all three. Kick Ďem all.

  1. Why is photography in art shows so bad? Especially compared to the painting. In the past couple of months Iíve seen three local shows that either featured or included ďnewĒ photography: this one at a museum, this one at a local arts institution, and this 30,000-square foot "party" declaring itself a route to making San Jose the "next Brooklyn" (I thought the current Brooklyn was the next San Francisco? So confused...) -- in every case there was a some good work and plenty of camera-club cruft holiday snaps that could have been as easily shot in 1937 as 2014. To my further astonishment the cruft was lauded, while good work in those shows was snubbed (Marin Artists at least found the best of the bunch on display -- the California Statewide... not so much).
  2. Cameras matter. Get some black gaffer tape. When I was in school, the library received an PC with a color display. Quickly an array of painting students started reserving time on it, for the sake of using the then-new painting tool: a mouse and screen. They loved it. It was very entertaining to them, and it was entertaining to watch them use it. The resulting final images were rarely of any note. The aesthetic satisfactions were not intrinsic in the product, but there could be ones in the process. It was rarely obvious to those early digital painters. Likewise cameras, with now well more than a century of steady development as consumer-pleasing devices, have made the process of creating Expected Images maddeningly easy to execute by rote -- just find a stock picturesque subject & press (if the computer canít do it all for youÖ surely there is some GPS-enabled phone app guide to Kodak Picture Spots?). Enjoy the smooth feel of the device in your hand. Want more creativity? Break out the check book. (From such a perspective, perhaps there really is merit in the retro crazes of recent years -- a desire to make images in spite of the technical shortcomings, rather than to hurtle along making the same photos that ones sees posted as examples in the Canon & Nikon adverts). I was recently asked why I mask the bright white brand names on my cameras with black tape. Why don't I want to show the logos off? To make the camera more discrete, I replied as usual. But also, it is a tiny, almost Banksy-like reaction. Their logos should not dominate my process or pictures. An inescapable paradox, because there is a satisfaction in holding a well-crafted tool.
  3. What you see is all there is. I joined up as part of Zack Ariasís Dedpxl series of photo assignments. He promised to make me a better photographer, and perhaps it is working (little instruction penetrates my thick skull, but he gives it an earnest try). It is fascinating to see lots of people all attack the same assignments in the same weeks. Itís likeÖ school! I admit, I sometimes miss that. Though unlike students in art school, most of the ones in the public-school flickr version bare more than a little animosity to the idea of open critique and discussion. Thatís okay, too. But what keeps gnawing at me is the notion that flickr photos (and/or photos on 500px and Google+) represent the entire scope of photographic practice. That there is somehow a ďbest wayĒ to make ďgoodĒ photos when itís hard enough to even begin to gauge the criteria of general success for the shooter. Are they aiming to make better baby pictures of their nephew, planning a commercial product-photo career, or hoping for an eventual retrospective exhibit at the Tate? Flickr and the like present photos in a manner that is loaded with many assumptions, compromises, and copious baggage. Iím astonished that people can get caught-up on pixel peeping when their 4K photos are being displayed 300 pixels across. Itís not a secret, but it doesnít really feel acknowledged properly, either. Flickr and their ilk reduce all discourse to a stream of random snips, where all images are resized, rehashed, down-sampled, and maybe later appropriated and posted as part of someone elseís Upworthy media-bite.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Posted September 21, 2014 | Comments (0)

Upgrades

Third Almost to Minna

Third St Almost to Minna

Itís been a while since Iíve written about the web tech of botzilla or random photo gear issues. No time like the present.

First off Iíve been slowly updating all of botzilla to use more modern web frameworks, which happily work well with the ratchety old Moveable Type backend. The blog portions were easy to complete, the older Powershot & Streetphoto archive bits will come soon enough. Iím also rearranging some of the tag bins, mostly to reflect the changes in botzilla intent since the original charter.

Given the general growth of the blogosphere since botzillaís early day, I doubt that anyone other than myself will really notices these changes.

On the camera front, my Canons are being retired, along with my TLRs and Bronica rangefinder (one TLR, the Bronica, a 5D body and a couple of lenses are still for sale!). I initially intended to replace them with the latest Leicasonic LX (LX-7) and later a Fuji X100sÖ to my surprise the littler of these little cameras was dominant for a while, though over time and practice Iíve come to use the X100s more and more, eventually supplanting it with an X-T1 which is terrific and provdes a second career for my Contax lenses, but the X100s is still doing the bulk of my shooting as of September 2014.

Like everyone, Iím also shooting a lot with my phone, occasionally with a tablet, and intermittently with Google Glass. More entries to come on all of these technologies as I stumbled along ahead.

Posted September 10, 2014 | Comments (0)

Third Near Bryant

Third Near Bryant
Posted September 08, 2014 | Comments (0)

Market at Fourth

Market at Fourth
Posted September 04, 2014 | Comments (0)

Third Across Mission

bjorke_p1010094.jpg
Posted September 03, 2014 | Comments (0)

 

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