I've been experimenting with the latest breed of Google Chromebooks -- unlike their predecessors, these new Chromebooks can also run Android apps, placing them somewhere between a laptop and a phone or tablet in functionality. Of course a new under-$400 Chromebook is no match for a full-powered $2000+ laptop as a photo workflow machine... right?
This article presents a little guide for how you can use a modern Chromebook with your Fuji (and other) digital cameras, and a comparison against a common alternative: a Mac laptop. It's an ongoing project, and several people have already chipped-in valuable advice.
The illustration above shows the ďpicture flowĒ possibilities of using Fujifilm X-Series cameras and a Chromebook. The green-shaded nodes in this chart represent places I think of as ďend pointsĒ in the workflow-- where photos are either stored or shared. Photos flow from the camera to one or more of these end points (or into the trash!).
The blue arrows and blue-bordered boxes show parts of the process where we can exploit Chrome's new Android apps, while the orange arrows show connections via Chrome web browser.
Iíll go through workflow options in more detail later on. It might look a bit complex, but compare to trying to post photos from your Mac directory onto an Instagram story...
In my tests, Iím comparing an ARM-based Samsung Chromebook Plus versus my aging-but-excellent 13Ē Macbook Air. The Macbook came with all the goodies, and rang in over $2000. The Chromebook was on sale at Amazon for about $350.
A careful look will show that the workflows in the diagram are similar to what you might use on a good tablet like an iPad Pro or a big Samsung -- and they are. But the tablets come at a higher, premium price. Somehow, the Chromebook manages to keep the price down while still delivering good functionality. The Chromebook also has multiple USB ports, for making file transfers between storage devices simpler.
To provide a legitimate alternative to the Mac, a new system should be:
So far Iíve found that using the Chromebook delivers on all points save the flakiness. The flakiness Iíve experienced thus far has centered entirely on the Fujifilm Camera Remote app itself -- sometimes it connects, sometimes it does not. Right now the ďnotĒ is the majority of my experience.
Itís also true that there is a little fiddliness -- mostly around restrictions on Android apps with respect to external storage devices. Weíll get to that later on.
|Chromebook Plus||Macbook Air|
Camera wireless options: If you're transferring photos wirelessly, donít forget about transfer-time resize in the camera menu! The camera may be resizing your pictures to optimize speed and phone memory. Each camera is slightly different, but on X-Pro2 and X100F you'll find the important option in the "Wrench" menu under "Connection Setting" then "Wireless Settings" and then "Resize Image for Smartphone 3M" which can be on or off. If you want the original-sized images from Fuji Camera Remote, be sure to turn this off, at the price of slower transfers.
WiFi Connection Issues: I wish I knew what causes the intermittent connection failures Iíve had using Fujifilm Camera Remote from the Chromebook. It either connects and all is well, or it refuses. It might be my X-Pro2, I've had no issues with the X100F. Iíve had great luck with Camera Remote on other Android tablets, phones, and iOS devices too. When it does connect, it works brilliantly.
If a universal solution for inconsistent connections presents itself, I'll be sure to add it here!
Fujifilm Camera Remote provides a crude sort of tethering control over the camera from the laptop -- not just the X-T1 and X-T2 cameras, but any reasonably-modern X camera, like the X-Pro2 or the X70. I wish there was more focusing control in ďmanualĒ mode -- you may find, as I have, that itís good to keep around a few mechanically-focused lenses, like the 16mm f/1.4 or an adapted film-rangefinder lens. But at the same time, using the touch-screen with AF is pretty swell for any lens, and an option not available any other way for most X-cameras.
Physical Media: While Camera Remote can be used to transfer files from the camera to the laptop, itís a slow process compared to using an SD card. Wireless transfer is also restricted only to JPG files. If you want RAW, youíll need to use the SD.
One option is to connect the camera directly by its USB port to the computer -- alternatively, you can pop out the SD card(s) and read them by the appropriate adapter.
The Chromebook has a built-in Micro-SD reader, so a hub or reader is needed, or a micro-SD-to-SD adapter. I donít trust SD adapters for cameras, though Iíve never had a failure. Iíd rather have a one-piece SD card. I purchased (for another $50) a USB-C hub that acts as an SD reader and also provides an HDMI-out signal, to add a second monitor.
Both the Mac and the Chromebook have curious external-drive limitations. The Mac cannot write to Windows-style NTFS files systems without a special plugin, while the Chromebook cannot write to Mac-style HFS+ drives. Both can read both types. For a speed comparison, I chose to use a 250MB Samsung T3 SSD device, formatted in ExFAT.
For test data, I shot 118 RAW+Fine photos using a Fujifilm XT-1 -- the result is about four and a half GB of mixed data written to a 32GB Lexar Professional 2000x card.
Upcoming: I will try to compare speeds of direct connections from various cameras to the computer. This requires a lot more-tedious testing since each camera may be different.
The timing below are how long it took to copy all the Fuji files from the card to the external drive, using regular operating system tools.
For the Mac, the card was plugged right into the computer. For the Chromebook, I used a Letscom multi-port hub. For both tests, the external drive was plugged into a free port on the computer.
|Chromebook Plus||Macbook Air|
|Via Letscom USB-C hub||Computer's Integrated SD Reader|
In other words, the Mac was about 5.6x faster than the Chromebook when transferring from one external device to another external device. I'm not sure if this is due more to processing power or just a different, simpler USB bus.
While this variance can make a minute into minutes, if you're primarily a JPG shooter this might not make much practical difference for photo collections of about this size or smaller. JPGs are typically about 10% the size of the matching RAW file. So a few seconds turns into a minute. Considering that the "fixed cost" of setting up the laptop and hard drive is already about the same amount of time, for many uses the effective difference may not be that much.
Copying just the JPGs of those 118 shots took about a minute on the Chromebook. So with one minute of setup time, that's two minutes versus less than a minute and a half total. Slower, but not tragically so for a single batch of photos. You can decide for yourself.
All that said, if I habitually shot in RAW or shot weddings or events with thousands of photos, I'd be leery of runny backups on the Chromebook unless I had a lot of time to burn on archiving ("time to burn" as in: start the transfer, go to dinner, stay out for drinks... come back to discover whether the transfer is complete yet).
Everyday casual shooting: yes. High-volume: ouch.
I was also surprised to find that the Chromebook Files app could actually recognize Fuji RAF files, and would (slowly) load their thumbnails -- a feat the Mac won't perform without additional plugins. The Chromebook Gallery app, unlike Mac's Preview, will happily open a Fuji RAF file, and even offer to edit it (the results are saved as JPG).
You can edit pictures on Chromebook using either web apps or Android apps. The Chromebook plus has another advantage here over the Mac -- itís a ďconvertibleĒ laptop, meaning that it can flip open to become a full-screen Android tablet, complete with the excellent S-Pen pressure-sensitive stylus.
Web apps like Polarr can do an acceptable job of editing JPG files. Polarr also has an Android version of their app, so you can try both and see which you prefer.
Android-only apps are also available, and some, like Snapseed, can even edit RAW files. I havenít found much use for Adobeís Android versions of Photoshop and Lightroom -- despite my long-standing allegiance to their Mac and PC apps.
Web apps have an advantage over Android editing apps in that they can access any storage attached to the Chromebook -- for example, they can load a JPG directly from the SD card. Android apps are not allowed to access external storage, so you must first copy your files to the Chromebookís storage, which is limited compared to the size of many SD cards.
This restriction is also important if you want to export your photos to Android-centric apps like Instagram or WeChat. Those apps can only access files from the Chromebook local drive, so if you do edit a file from an external drive, be sure to save the edited copy locally, before sending it to those services.
The Android option does give you a lot of functionality, though, such as the ability to send your photos as WeChat Moments, or to be included in Instagram stories -- features that would otherwise be unavailable without a lot of extra fiddling with your PC and phone or helper apps.
Saving photos to a cloud-based service like Google Drive or Dropbox gives you the most options but at the cost of waiting for uploads and downloads.
A Note on Color Profiles: if you have photos that you are editing for use on the web, use sRGB Color Space. Using AdobeRGB or ProPhoto or any other profile may result in having saved results that look quite different from shared results. See this page for more info on the hazards of using color profiles that are not the now-universal sRGB standard.
Via Chrome Remote Desktop, you can connect your Chromebook to the screen of your home or office Mac or PC, or even to a Linux machine. This means that if you've sent your files to the cloud, you can use your home machine to edit them, and see the results as you go, right on the Chromebook. As much as I love Snapseed, sometime I really truly do need Photoshop. Remote Desktop's not always fast, but it really is possible to shoot on my X-Pro, send the result to a far-away Mac, edit in Photoshop, send the result back and ďSend a CopyÖĒ from Google Drive to Instagram.
Remote Desktop Hint: You can set the Chromebook's screen resolution before connecting. Use the Ctrl-Shift-Minus or -Plus keys to adjust it. The Chromebook Plus can display an image up to 2400x1600, but for performance has been set to a default of 1200x800. At the cost of speed, you can display a quite large screen from your remote machine -- great for LightRoom or Adobe Bridge usage.
A Chromebook using Android has direct access to Instax printing via the Instax Share app -- another feature unavailable to Mac or PC. It works just as it does on a phone. Personally I love bringing an Instax printer whenever I travel, the little prints make terrific and often treasured "leave behinds" for the people I meet.
Both Mac and Chromebook can also print full-sized documents remotely using Google Cloud Print, but I find the results less than stellar. If youíre going to use a ďbigĒ printer, it's best to see what you're doing, and use a Mac or PC thatís co-located in the same room with the printer. If youíre traveling, the Instax is a stellar addition to your kit bag.
Of course, you can also just send the JPG files from either Chromebook or Mac to a commercial printing service's web page.
These notes describe my Chromebook-based process using Fuji cameras, but there are a few alternative camera brands that may also work well -- as an example, Olympus provides its own camera control app called Oi.share. A Chromebook can make a nice bridge for any digital camera user who wants to connect easily to Instax & other services. If people try out these other systems with Chrome OS, please drop me a line!
Recasting the diagram above for Mac shows a simpler, but narrower network of possibilities. The Mac gains in directness and hard-wired speed, at the expense of losing the Chromebook's wireless applications and destinations (Including Instagram, whose web-based version is rather poor compared to the mobile-first Real Thing).
In the chart, some nodes provide a suggestion, though there may be many alternatives. Here are some Web and Android apps that Iíve found really useful when dealing with photos on Chromebook:
This entry will surely be revised as time goes by -- if youíre using Chromebook with your Fuji cameras, please let me know, Iíd love to add the experiences and techniques of other people.
The Old Man was dead.
"We should go to Cuba before it changes too much," See See told me that evening.
"Definitely," I agreed with her, "before they finish putting in a Bubba Gump and TGIFriday's on the Malecůn."
So I set aside my winter holidays and started looking at options, logistically and legally. Try to find something we could do together. Maybe an art workshop? Almost immediately, I found: Santa Fe Workshops, Open Door Havana with David Alan Harvey. Holy cow!
"Thatís a great trip for you," See See said when I told her about it and tried to explain who DAH was, his relationship to Cuba, his books and Burn Magazine, and... without missing a beat she simply said "Go, and if you like it weíll go together later." I am constantly in awe of her calm sweetness. Her timely sweetness, because the final day for registration was: tomorrow. So I registered. And I went.
Iíve never gone to a photo workshop before. I learned all my craft aspects of still photography by shooting yearbook and school newspaper photos, by working at cinť and darkroom rental houses, and after that my formal training was all cinematography. Harveyís workshops are (deservedly) legendary for their intensity and his insight into the processes of many different kinds of photographers.
"Who Should Attend: Advanced Amateurs, Professionals." In other words, people with accomplished records and five times my chops when it comes to still photography. But frankly thatís what I enjoy most: being the class dunce gives me the most opportunity to learn something from everyone else. I started studying.
First, bust out all the Harvey books: not just Cuba and Divided Soul but everything else I could find, or that could be tracked down from a statewide library search. I picked through my old Geographics. I started scouring the web for more insight into his work, for tales of his workshops, and youtube for samples of his talks and working methods -- not to attempt at being a junior copy of DAH, but to save time, to guess at where heís coming from via close reading of the pictures. A goal for me was to find some way to move beyond the kinds of work Iíd been making in recent months, without abandoning it.
I read Josť Martiís Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca. Binge-watched The Cuba Libre Story and the spectacular (and infrared) Yo Soy Cuba; scrubbed Google Maps for stories about things I imagined making projects about: internet censorship avoidance via la paquete semenal and how to find bicycle parts in the alleys around Cristina train station. I loaded my backpack with school supplies and bug repellent as gifts to people who might help me find pictures or just to make their lives better.
I started drumming my fingers over gear -- should I bring an audio recorder? Will the new Fuji 50mmWR come out, can I get an X100F in time (answer: they came out during the trip, so it was a moot concern)? In the end I opted for just two lenses, the 23 and 35 (35 & 50 equivalents), mounted on the X-Pro2 and X-T1 respectively so that I neednít swap lenses on the fly. I did bring the little Instax SP-2 printer and lots of film; it was an excellent door-opener in some situations. Some days I just took the X-Pro with the 23. No tripod, no crazy Russian ultra-wide lens or infrared film. The 18-55 kit lens I left in my case as emergency backup, it was never used save for one shot of my American companions during lunch. I brought a tiny strobe that was nearly unused until the last day, and only for one shot.
Since I figured I was likely to be the most-junior, least-published photographer on the trip, I spent an evening just blasting out 8x10 prints, figuring everyone would probably have an image portfolio to use as introduction.
Complication #1: In the papers sent from the workshop after Iíd registered, this description of what to expect: "people-to-people cultural exchanges that use the photographic experienceÖ these are not photography workshops and there are few formal lectures, group critiques, or assignments during the week." Their bold-facing. Uh, que? Because of legal restrictions on the nature of our visas and tour permits, the workshop would be largely scheduled group visits to specific presentations and locations and walks through picture-rich locations & set-up situations. Which would be terrific, as I was really coming to love Cuba as a result of my research -- but not what Iíd initially expected, and I was concerned that the experience might be a little too "on rails."
Complication #2: Just a day after completing my registration I decided to be a responsible adult and clean the rain gutters at the front of the house. An object lesson about correctly counting ladder rungs ensued, leaving me on crutches with multiple soft-tissue injuries and a fracture (and: fully cleaned rain gutters). The doctors werenít entirely sure I could get around at home, much less overseas, and the workshop-participant papers warned repeatedly that Havanaís streets and sidewalks were full of dangerous holes, and that Iíd be walking for hours each day on hazardous and slippery terrain. But when I worked through the chain of medical specialists up to the surgeon, he was resolute: delay your surgery, we will get you to Havana. Oh, and he knew Antonio Castro personally. I doubled-down on my physical therapy, on my gym visits, and also on babying my leg for six weeks. I bought some better waterproof boots and hid a cane in my luggage, just in case. While I dreaded the possibility of getting hurt at every step (those amazing holes in the streets are real!), I got through (until after the trip - another story). Never used the cane, just stayed slow and prudent.
ComplicationsÖ to heck with them. If anything they just solidified my resolve, and clarified my thinking about what I wanted to experience and learn. I tweaked my sleep schedule to match Havana time. I changed my diet from salads and vegan protein shakes to ropa vieja. The doc cleared me. I got on the airplane. Missed my connection. Made the second one (last-minute standby!), got to the hotel with twenty minutes to spare, met everyone briefly, and it was a go.
As it turned out, I wasnít the least accomplished photographer in the group, just somewhere in the middle. I learned a tremendous amount just from watching the other students in the workshop while they were shooting, especially practiced hands like Maria Daniel Balcazar and Chris Michel, who were both inspiring while very different in their temperaments and approaches. And also learned from students more like myself, just trying to figure it out as someone who loves photography.
Iíll write later posts in more detail, but it was just a day or so into our week when I started to feel more confident about just doing what I normally do and not worrying about the specific requirements of the trip, or the workshopís format, or even the location; and that if I wanted photos that were mine, I needed to have my own plan (just like... CalArts! Amazing instructor, lots of cheap rum, and it's up to you to sink or swim to your own island). There was some revolution in the air, a few people (ahem) talking about going off on unscheduled tangents, but it wasnít that. Someone asked me, after a walk, if Iíd gotten some good pictures that day, and I said that I couldnít know, since I had no opinions about what I was seeing yet. It felt odd to say that, but also felt true.
The next day or two gave me a chance to show DAH some of my previous photos (I had those prints! To my surprise, no one else brought any, heh). Besides sagely telling me which prints to immediately eject from the set, he warmed to some portraits from the Liquidity series and even told other students about it: at a class lecture he reminded me to "get weird, Kevin!" a phrase most everyone in workshop repeated to me during the rest of the week.
By day four I was feeling that something like an opinion was forming: that Havana was like a derelict bouquet, still beautiful but collapsing and very, very fragile. Time passes, and winds from the north are inevitable.
Early that morning, just at dawn, I was ruminating on this when I looked down and at my feet in the rubble-strewn street was a crushed lost rose. I carried it to the hotel, snapping shots along the way (I brought it home too, though itís dust now).
By 4AM the next morning I awoke from having done a dreaming edit of pictures (editing in your head is better than a laptop: the laptop's too slow) and realized that I might be able to use the idea of a caged bouquet as a way to rationalize some of my photos as a group, to make some sort of narrative out of them rather than a travelogue. I scribbled a list of pictures I already thought I had, a list of pictures I wanted, and went back to sleep. From that point forward I had a completely different way of thinking about the pictures yet to be made: I knew I wanted certain colors and feelings, but didnít actually care about the specifics of location. Once I had that set of unifying ideas, the pictures almost took themselves. It also meant that when I sat down at at the light box that I could avoid confusing myself by just grabbing pictures that were "good" or "likeable" -- first, they had a job to do.
The Santa Fe Workshop goal was an eight-picture slideshow of favorites. I gave them that, and also made a twenty-picture slideshow of my own as a personal exercise. After the first draft I showed it to Harvey, and (after he counseled me to discard some of the shots) we chatted about how a similar process of getting at themes can drive a project, as they did for his long-term work on Divided Soul. He pointed out that once thereís a connecting idea, in a sequence a picture can be more than a picture, just as in a poem a word is not just a word. It has a broader function.
The revised version of that slideshow is here, you can play it small or use the fullscreen (button on the lower right when playing). The music is a fragment from an Isaac Albťniz piece, beautifully played by Rosa Antonelli. The titles were in the first draft too. They might feel a bit overwrought but they did me right at 4AM at the end of a very inspiring and satisfying week.
An hour back to Miami, and within another hour I was parked across from the Trump International Resort, having an almond-milk lattť and listening to the chatter around me: a mix of English, Spanish, and Russian. But that's another post entirely.
We will go, See See. Before the Bubba Gump.
In November I purchased a Meike 50mm É/2 lens for Fujifilm X mount, as a travel and X-Pro-OVF-friendly alternative to my 56mm É/1.2, which is great but not really pocketable (and it obscures a lot of the X-Pro2 optical finder). I had hoped for an early release of the upcoming Fuji XF 50mm É/2 WR, but it was delayed. And delayed. And even now, in 2017, it is still not officially released. Since the release date of Fujiís lens is reportedly tomorrow, and since Iíve never actually seen a review of the Meike lens, it seems about time to write a few notes:
The Meike lens is surprisingly inexpensive: about $80 online. This puts it into the same price class as, say, a good secondhand Canon FD 50mm É/1.8 plus a Fuji adapter, while being smaller and less fiddly. When it arrived, Iíd actually expected a lower-quality lens and was happily surprised by the image quality, robustness, and the compact size. It's not perfect, but a worthy addition to a small kit.
The lens is definitely sharp in the center, with some loss at the corners. No negative surprises there. Just the opposite, truthfully. This is a very workmanlike sort of lens, and the emphasis seems to be on dependable image making. In appearance, it reminds me of old original Pentax Spotmatic lenses.
My impression is that the Meike is a repurposed video-camera lens, from some existing and very well-tested design, with the ďCĒ mount swapped for Fuji-style components (you can get this lens for other mirrorless cameras, like Sony or Micro-4/3). The original purpose of the lens might have been CCTV, where the focus and aperture are rarely changed. I say this because the focus ring, while smooth, is rather stiff and slow. The aperture ring, ranging from É/2 to É/22, has no click stops & bears an unusual progression of É/stop markers.
The focus ring turns in the opposite direction of standard Fuji lenses (but matches the direction of Canon and Leica lenses). These attributes can make it a bit slow to use, and I have lost one or two shots because I couldnít crank the focus around from near to far quickly enough.
On Fuji cameras, this lens is considered an "adapted" lens, so youíll need to set it up just like any foreign lens: turn on ďShoot Without LensĒ and set the Adaptor to 50mm. There will be no É/stop info in the EXIF data, this lens has no electronics at all. The depth of field scale in the viewfinder wonít work, but since this lens is mechanically focused, the scale on the lens barrel works perfectly.
As a compact and inexpensive addition to a small prime-centric kit bag, itís not bad at all. Even with a 49mm screw-in hood, its size avoids blocking the XPro EVF -- and with EVF, itís quite useable (hint: keep an eye on the histogram).
Today's entry is just a simple shot made from a hill near the Golden Gate Bridge, shot while cycling towards the San Francisco Financial District (distant right). The camera's doing much of the work here.
A picture is worth books full of text. Here are the various film simulation modes available on the X-Pro2, along with Adobe Camera Raw's attempt at "Auto" adjustment. New for this camera are the "Acros" B&W modes.
Here are the same samples, repackaged in rows of four.
The lens here was an old Canon FD 50mm 1.8, mounted on a Fotasy adapter.
Why don't more industrial designers design for fingertips? They seem to understand grip, but sensation... less.
Over the past couple of years I've taken to hacking the mechanical controls of my cameras (and a few other items) with Sugru, a quick-curing material that's a bit like a cross between modeling clay and rubber. The idea is simple: provide tactile landmarks for my fingers, so that I can use the camera's controls without needing to look at them -- either because it's raised to my eye, or even if the camera is out of sight in my bag or jacket pocket, preparing for the next shot.
In this photo, the red blobs are bits of Sugru. In the past I've used black. The color is pretty unimportant, what matters is the material feel against your finger.
Sugru is strong but the nubs usually wear down after a few months of daily use. They're easily replaced in about three minutes.
If you're reading this on a computer, run your fingers along the center row of keys. On most American-style QWERTY keyboards you'll feel tiny "nubs" on the "F" and "J" keys. Even if you don't think about them, your brain does use that extra information to help align and coordinate touch-typing (You may find a bump on the "5" key if you have a numeric keyboard, too). They're nearly ubiquitous now, though the patent on the idea (for keyboards) was only filed by June E Botich in 2002.
The same idea works great for cameras or other devices with multiple hard-to-distinguish buttons. On my Fuji-X cameras, I put a dot of rubber on the AF and AE lock buttons, and one near the "zero" of the exposure-compensation dial.
Not only does it help me navigate individual cameras, but it also helps me when I switch cameras, say from the X-Pro2 to X-T1 or X100T. The button layouts might be different, but my thumb and fingers know the feel of matching controls.
For other cameras with fewer mechanical controls, like the little Lumixes, I just add a dot on the main dial to indicate the "P" setting. Always, the goal is to let my hand do as much of the navigation as possible, rather than burden my eye, which should be watching for The Picture.
Sadly my X100s was stolen last week, but the X100T has quickly consoled me. More on the details soon.
(see color version below...)
While I've occasionally carried both Fuji cameras, I have't really used them as a pair, both 'round my neck, until yesterday's rainy fiesta. Given the weather I used only the standard zoom on the XT-1 and set the two cameras at widely varying ISOs -- after the setup I never touched any settings that weren't on the top-deck dials or the lens rings, so the transitions back and forth between them were almost invisible. A great team.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.