From the Archives #8

I have a new review waiting in the wings for publication tomorrow, but until then here’s another image from the archives. In other news I’m now the proud owner of a lovely new X-Pro 2. After six years stuck at 16 megapixels it’s a bit of a revelation to have 8 more to play with and the high ISO performance is amazing me. ISO 6400 and 12800 are really good!

Heptonstall Ruins

 ƒ/5.6  23mm  1/220s  ISO 200 

This image was shot on my 1st generation X100 with the WCL-X100 wide angle converter attached. As was often the case, I forgot to set that I’d put the adapter on the camera in the menu, so it’s wrongly recorded as being shot at 23mm rather than 19mm.

X100T Essential Accessories

A top down view of a black X100T with thumb grip, wrist strap and lens hood attached.

The X100 series cameras from FujiFilm are a joy to shoot with out-of-the-box, but they benefit enormously from a few essential accessories. These  improve the ergonomics, add a little physical protection from bumps and scuffs and make them even more gorgeous to behold.

Fuji X100T Premium Leather Case

The Fuji case comes in two parts, a lower half-case that protects the bottom and sides of the camera and a removable upper case that protects the lens, rear screen and top of the camera, naturally you can’t use the camera while this part is attached.

I had the official Fuji case for my 1st generation X100, and while it looked great and provided good protection for the camera, it was a bit of a pain to use. You had to remove the whole lower portion just to change the battery or memory card. Not ideal on a camera that chews through batteries quickly. Thankfully since then Fuji has learned how to add little button up flaps to their cases to make the battery and SD card slot accessible. Unfortunately they are still omitting a tripod mount, so you’ll need to remove the case to mount the camera on anything. The case also blocks the ports on the side of the camera which is a nuisance if you need to use a cable to transfer photos or charge the battery.

The case is made of black leather (a brown version is also available) with a smooth, completely untextured finish. Inside it has a dark grey, felt-like lining. The case is secured to the camera by little loops that fasten over the camera’s strap lugs. When using a wrist strap the case is only secured on one side, but it has a snug enough fit to still remain firmly on the camera without flopping about or sliding off. Whether this will loosen up over time of course remains to be seen.

Speaking of the snug fit, this case was originally designed for the X100/X100S body, and the X100T made some minor changes to that which mean the fit is a little tighter. The alignment of the battery access flap isn’t quite perfect as a result and I find I have to gently press the camera into the front of the case in order for it to spring open. Not a big deal, but not ideal given the cost of the case. It’s also worth mentioning that you’ve no hope of securing the upper part of the case with any accessories attached, so you’ll need to remove thumb grip, filter adapter and lens hood. For me I find this relegates the upper case to when I need to protect the camera during travelling, where I’m not intending to actually shoot with it (e.g. buried in a rucksack).

Honestly I think Fuji could do a little better for the money they charge here. If you’re not fussed about having full camera protection you might want to look at some of the premium half-cases from other manufactures like Gariz.

LightPriority rating: 3/5

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Lensmate LMX100T Thumb Rest

If I could only choose one accessory for my X100T, it would be a thumb grip – they make such a big improvement to the handling. Without one you only have a tiny area to actually grip the back of the camera without inadvertently interacting with the controls.

If you live outside Japan you only really have two choices* when it comes to quality thumb grips for Fuji cameras; Lensmate and Match Technical. Fuji actually make their own for various models, but only sells them in Japan. Match Technical charges astronomical sums for theirs, as they primarily target Leica customers, so most mere mortals will probably choose Lensmate.

Unfortunately getting hold of the Lensmate grip in the UK proved to be quite a headache. They only sell via their website and the first one I ordered went missing in the post. It took Lensmate’s customer service people a lot of persuading to send me a replacement, as it had been marked as delivered by the courier. When the replacement did come I inevitably got whacked with a customs charge.

Anyway delivery woes aside, the grip itself is excellent. It comes in a premium box with a magnetic clasp. It fits snuggly into the camera’s hotshoe and has a little rubber gripper underneath to ensure it’s not going to come out without a good tug. As it’s designed for the X100T specifically, it doesn’t block the drive button or command dial. A rubber bumper braces the grip against the side of the camera and a rubber pad inside the end of the grip helps to prevent your thumb slipping.

LightPriority rating: 5/5

* It’s worth noting you’ll find tons of cheap generic thumb grips on eBay/Amazon Marketplace, but most are poorly designed and are not targeted at any specific camera model. As they nearly all lack any kind of bracing against the camera body, they put a lot of leveraging force on the hotshoe, which overtime is likely to damage your camera.

Cam-In Leather Wrist Strap

I’ve always been a neck strap kinda guy, as I prefer to keep my hands free, but as I often carry my X100T in addition to my X-T10, having both on neck straps quickly gets impractical. I was tempted to get another Gordy’s strap as I love the one on my X-T10, but burned by my recent experience buying from the US with Lensmate, I decided to try buying a strap from a UK company called Colourful Camera Accessories. They didn’t have a huge selection of wrist straps, so from the limited selection I opted for a Cam-In brown leather model.

Despite being described as brown, it’s so dark in colour as to almost look black. Still the colour works well with my black X100T and case, so no problem there. The leather is a bit on the thin side (about half the thickness that Gordy’s use) but should be sufficient to handle the weight of the X100T without any undue risk. As with all leather products, it takes time to break in and soften up, so I expect the comfort using it to improve over time. Overall it’s decent enough quality, but not up to the standard of Gordy’s – which is disappointing given the comparable price.

LightPriority rating: 3.5/5

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Domke F-5XA Shoulder Bag

After a lot of research trying to find a good quality compact camera bag, suitable for a mirrorless camera with one or two small lenses, I finally settled on the Domke F-5XA. It’s ideal for holding a camera the size of the X100T, along with a mini-tripod or converter lens. If you don’t plan to stow your camera itself, the bag is handy for holding a couple of lenses and other accessories in combination with an interchangeable lens Fuji.

The bag is made from tough canvas that has been treated to be water resistant – I can vouch that it certainly resists light rain well. A flap secured by velcro hides the two front pockets and a chunky zipper guards the main compartment. The front pockets are suitably sized for spare batteries or filters (but not much else)

The easily detachable strap has rubber cords woven into it that make it very grippy and unlikely to slip from your shoulder. This is far preferable to those Velcroed on shoulder pads you get with many camera bags, that always end up slipping down the strap.

The only real niggle I have is that the bag only comes with one internal separator which can make organising smaller accessories tricky. Handily I found a divider from another old camera bag that was the right size and used that to create a very narrow pocket just big enough for a LensPen, white card and spare battery.

I have the black version of the bag which manages to look fairly anonymous, even with the Domke logo emblazoned on one corner in red lettering. The bag also comes in khaki and olive green colours, but not Domke’s “Rugged Wear” waxed finish.

LightPriority rating: 4.5/5

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JJC Lens Hood & Filter Adapter

Aside from the white printed JJC logo, this is identical to Fuji’s far more expensive hood and filter adapter. As with Fuji’s offering, it part blocks the optical viewfinder and the hood is non-reversible. JJC do make a smaller domed lens hood which I’m hoping to try soon. That should block the OVF no more than just the plain filter adapter. Unfortunately the JJC hood doesn’t come with the little fabric pouch that the official Fuji model has, but then it’s a fraction of the price so it’s hard to complain.

LightPriority rating: 5/5

I hope these mini-reviews are helpful to X100 series camera owners. It might seem a little over the top adding tons of accessories to a camera, but they really do add to the overall experience and make the camera even more of a pleasure to shoot with. If you have any questions about any of the gear I’ve reviewed here, leave a comment and I’ll try and answer as best I can.

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Spring at Hardcastle Crags with the X100T

A stone path through sun dappled woodland with bluebells.

On a warm and sunny spring day there are few nicer places to be, than wandering the trails that criss-cross Hardcastle Crags. A beauty spot just north of Hebden Bridge, that has drawn visitors from far and wide for over a century. The landscape is rugged and interesting, having been carved over eons by the fast flowing Hebden Water. A good mix of deciduous and evergreen trees provide shelter from the scorching sun and shade a carpet of bluebells and other wild flowers. The estate is managed by the National Trust so the paths are kept in good order and there’s no litter or other blight to spoil the views. It’s a great place to put a camera through its paces and have a thoroughly enjoyable day out. As it happens I have a new camera that I’ve been eager to acquaint, or perhaps I should say “reacquaint”, myself with. So I thought this would be a great opportunity to do a quasi-review and share some images of this beautiful place.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/125s  ISO 200 

My first Fuji X camera was a 1st generation X100. It was a camera I really adored and got great use from, but which fell out of favour after I got my first interchangeable lens Fuji, an X-E1. While I loved the versatility and 35mm equivalent lens, the old 12 megapixel sensor and clunky, slow performance (even compared to the X-E1) eventually led me to sell it. Since then I’ve often lusted after its replacements, first the X100S and then the X100T – but I’ve always had other things to worry about spending money on, so it had remained a pipe dream. That is until a few days ago, when I came across a bargain priced X100T with barely 100 shots on the clock on eBay. I’m now the proud owner of that camera!

Since it’s now been around a year and half since the X100T was introduced, it’s at what I’d consider a good price range on the secondhand market. The S can be had for a bit less, but not at enough of a discount to make up for its shortcomings in my opinion. There’s also still a sliver of hope the T might get a firmware update with some new features or performance improvements whereas that’s generally considered to be completely off the table for the S model. Either way, at least the T is sufficiently close in terms of performance and features to cameras like the X-T1 and X-T10 to feel very familiar.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/125s  ISO 400 

As with every generation of X100, the handling out of the box isn’t great, especially for one handed shooting. To make this camera really shine, it benefits massively from a hotshoe mounted thumb grip and a half case makes it more comfortable to hold while providing some protection against knocks and scrapes. A lens hood and filter adapter are also must haves. Thankfully cheap 3rd party alternatives are now readily available as Fuji charges an insane premium, especially for the filter adapter and lens hood. Unfortunately good quality thumb grips are still quite expensive, and getting one designed specifically for the X100T is important due to the placement of the drive button and command dial. It’s also best to avoid ones that offer no bracing against the camera body as they put a lot of strain on the hotshoe. I’d recommend either the Lensmate or Match Technical models.

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 ƒ/2  23mm  1/3000s  ISO 200 

The X100T performs very nicely in use – I wish I had a 1st generation X100 on hand to compare it to, as I’m sure the difference would be night and day. In terms of general operation I’d say it’s more or less equivalent to my X-T10, which makes sense as they share the same basic hardware and the firmware versions aren’t too far removed, with the exception of the major autofocus changes Fuji made last year. Speaking of autofocus, in general it’s very good, although it won’t be setting any speed records. Things do slow down a bit in lower light and outside of the phase detect area in the centre of the frame, but I think it’s nothing a competent photographer can’t work around.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/125s  ISO 800 

After going for three years sans-X100, I perhaps looked back on some aspects of it with rose tinted glasses. I’d forgotten for example, how much of a challenge it was to achieve decent subject separation with its 23mm f2 lens. You might think that’s obvious from the focal length, but given Fuji’s 18mm f2 is quite capable in this department and is even wider, it’s a shame the X100 lens falls down here.

The biggest limitation of the lens is the hazing it produces at very close subject distances when shot at f2. This necessitates stopping down to at least f4, and that really mitigates the shallow depth of field advantage you get from being close to your subject in the first place. Bokeh at mid distances is also a mixed bag. It can be quite harsh with the wrong background, to the point where in many cases it’s safer to just stop down and get everything crisp and use some other technique to draw the eye.

The lens also seems to exhibit more field curvature than I’m used to seeing with Fuji glass, where focusing at some distances can leave the edges of the frame softer than they should be – even when stopped down to moderate apertures. I think this is probably slightly more pronounced on a 16 megapixel sensor than it was on 12, so stopping down a little more than strictly necessary can be a good plan. You’ll notice I shot most images here at f8 to mitigate this issue.

Field curvature concerns aside, the overall sharpness of the lens is excellent, especially in the centre of the frame where it’s outstanding.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/125s  ISO 1250 

All lens complaints aside though, I’ve completely fallen in love with the 23mm (35mm equivalent) focal length again. I really like Fuji’s 35mm lenses (50mm eqiv.), particularly the 35mm f2. They are great for many things which the X100’s 23mm lens is bad at (see above), but I often can’t shake the feeling that they feel too tight for a lot of general shooting. The 23mm lens just offers that bit of extra flexibility in composition, without throwing up all the challenges that 18mm and wider focal lengths do with controlling the scene or dealing with converging verticals. It’s a shame that the only current 23mm lens for the interchangeable lens Fujis is a bit of a behemoth. Hopefully rumours that a 23mm f2 akin to the new 35mm f2 prove correct.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/125s  ISO 1000 

I’m making a concerted effort to make more use of the optical viewfinder in the X100T, and after shooting with purely electronic viewfinder based cameras for quite sometime now, it’s a refreshing change. Whether I end up mostly using the EVF again, like I did with my 1st generation X100 or not remains to be seen of course. But there’s something really nice about being able to see beyond the frame you’re capturing and it’s interesting to contrast what your eye sees unaided with what the camera captures when the preview pops up.

The big new feature in the hybrid viewfinder of the X100T, over the previous models, is the little tab you can activate that gives you a live preview of what the camera is seeing at the selected AF point. If you’e a manual focus fan wanting to use the optical viewfinder, this will be a major boon and lets you get closer to a true rangefinder experience. Personally I’m not entirely sold on its utility for focus confirmation in conjunction with autofocus, but perhaps it will grow on me.

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 ƒ/8  23mm  1/180s  ISO 200 

Overall I’m delighted with the X100T. It’s a much better camera than the old X100 that made me first fall in love with the Fuji system. It still shares some of the quirks and oddities from that first generation model as it’s built around the same lens, but overall it’s a very refined and polished camera. To get the most from it you will need to get some of the essential accessories I mentioned above, but the payoff is worth it. You get a very small and light camera that can tackle a huge range of subjects with aplomb.

Most of the X100T reviews I’ve seen have been heavily focused on street photography, obviously an area where this camera excels. But it’s also great for landscape work and hopefully the images here demonstrate that and provide a different perspective to your usual gritty street scenes.

As usual, if you like my writing and would like to help support me and the site, please consider buying a print on my on-line store or through Etsy.

 

Queen Street Mill

Looking up at a lightly smoking, red brick mill chimney with a cloudless blue sky behind.

Since moving to the former heart of the Industrial Revolution, up in the North of England, I’ve become fascinated by our industrial heritage. Where I live in the Calder Valley, the hollow remnants of old mills still dot the landscape, but there’s little sense of what these places were once like in their heyday. Worse still, this important link with history is fast vanishing; forgotten ruins crumble away out of sight in wooded valleys. Industrial buildings left standing in cities are turned into empty apartment complexes by developers seeking to capitalise on ever spiralling house prices, or are simply flattened to make way for bland modernity.

So when I learned there was a steam powered, working textile mill in the form of a museum just across the border in Lancashire, I jumped at the opportunity to go photograph it while I still could. Inevitably I suppose, George Osborne’s axe looms large over the place – it’s destined to close in April 2016, as local government funding is diverted to try and keep essential public services operating. I’ll avoid delving too deeply into politics here, but this kind of shortsighted cultural vandalism, forced by the Tory obsession with gutting the state, makes my blood boil frankly.

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 ƒ/5.6  14mm  1/125s  ISO 1250 

If you’ve seen historical pictures of old mills you’ll have no doubt come across scenes like the one above. Rows of ungainly looking contraptions with masses of drive belts criss-crossing above them. It’s an impressive sight – even more so when the line shafts above your head start to spin and the room full of century old machinery springs to life in a deafening din.

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 ƒ/2  35mm  1/100s  ISO 250 

The museum employs a number of skilled crafts people, who demonstrate the weaving looms and various pieces of supporting equipment. They even still make a few items which they sell in the museum shop. You can see some part woven “terry towels” below along with a loaded shuttle, the thing that noisily gets whipped back and forth to supply the horizontal threads.

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 ƒ/2.8  14mm  1/280s  ISO 200 

Beyond the grandiose machinery, the mill is packed with fascinating, authentic details. An utter delight for a photographer – or indeed anyone wanting to get a flavour of the past, not sanitised by our modern health and safety obsessed culture. No glass display cases or signs warning of trivial and obvious dangers to obstruct your view. Most of the equipment on display is still working and in situ, just waiting for the appropriate switches and leavers to be pulled to bring it back to life.

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 ƒ/2.8  35mm  1/80s  ISO 2000 

Being a true old textile mill, rather than a purpose built museum with a few immaculate specimens preserved in some metropolitan centre, the grime and cobwebs are real rather than stage dressing.

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 ƒ/4  27mm  1/125s  ISO 2500 

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 ƒ/5.6  35mm  1/125s  ISO 2000 

The stationary steam engine that powers the mill is an incredible thing to behold, especially when it’s running. All that separates you from it is a friendly warning sign and a strip of black and yellow tape on the floor.

I was surprised at quite how musical it sounded, producing various beats and thumping rhythms as it came up to speed. The vibration of the massive piston shaking the floor beneath my feet as it flew back and forth with a curious mix of engineered grace and violent force.

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 ƒ/4  14mm  1/60s  ISO 500 

Beyond the engine itself, the engine room yielded some lovely details – like the tool shelf and plaque pictured below.

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 ƒ/5.6  35mm  1/170s  ISO 200 

Of course to work that engine needs steam – a lot of steam. That is produced in the boiler room downstairs, in the last working Lancashire boilers in the world.

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 ƒ/2.8  35mm  1/60s  ISO 2500 

The fireman feeding the boilers with coal needs to keep a constant eye on the water level and pressure. Both being critical to the safe operation and longevity of the equipment. The boilers themselves were state of the art in their day, employing many tricks so as to be as economical and efficient as possible.

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 ƒ/2.8  35mm  1/60s  ISO 400 

The shot below shows the view from above the two massive boilers and the snaking pipework that feeds the steam out and fresh water in.

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 ƒ/5.6  14mm  1/100s  ISO 1600 

I had high hopes for the Queen Street Mill and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed. That it’s closing so soon is a real tragedy. I really hope somewhere down the line it gets reopened to the public and isn’t simply left mothballed until it falls too far into disrepair.

If this kind of thing interests you at all, I strongly recommend taking this last chance to go see it in person. You can find the opening times and directions here.

All images were shot on my new X-T10 with mainly the 35mm f2 and 14mm f2.8. As usual, if you like my writing and would like to help support me and the site please consider buying a print on my on-line store or through Etsy.

From the Archives #7

I’ve finally parted with my beloved X-E1 after three years and many thousands of images. In its place I’m now the proud owner of an X-T10. Wow what an upgrade in performance this is! I’ll do a full write up soon and why I chose the X-T10 over an X-Pro 2 or X-T1. In the meantime here’s another shot from the archive.

One Wrong Step

One Wrong Step

 ƒ/8  60mm  1/420s  ISO 200 

I’ve never done that much macro, mostly because I find it very fiddly and don’t have the patience when I’m out walking. But on this particular day I spied some lovely water droplets on some cobwebs and was determined to try and capture that ‘micro-lens’ effect you get from the droplets. Then what do you know, there’s a little fly on there with one leg stuck on the web! Now admittedly this is quite a heavy crop because the 60mm being a 1:2 macro lens only gets you so close, but I still really like this one.