120 Quick Takes Part 2

It’s been about 10 months since I last wrote about my experiences trying different film stocks so I thought it was high time for a new article. This time I’m also going to cover some expired films as I was given a hoard of old deep frozen film by a friend so have more experience with it now.

Black & White

Agfa Agfapan APX 400 (expired)

Rolleicord Vb, Xenar 75mm f3.5 w/ 16 exposure kit. Agfapan APX 400 @ ISO 320

This film hasn’t been manufactured in over a decade now, the roll I shot expired in 2005. I shot my roll of this film at ISO 320 to compensate for loss of sensitivity. The film has a traditional style emulsion that produces a noticeable but not unpleasant grain. I feel like it renders light quite softly, but still produces a good detail and sharpness. I shot this roll in my Rolleicord Vb.

Lomography Earl Grey (ISO 100)

Bronica SQ-Ai w/ 80mm f2.8. Lomo Earl Grey @ ISO 100

Earl Grey is rebranded Foma Creative 100. It’s a really nice, fine grained ISO 100 classic emulsion. I enjoyed shooting Creative 100 so it follows that I also like this rebranded version. Results from my SQ-Ai look crisper and sharper than from ETRS, but I’d put this down to differences in the lenses rather than any improvement Foma may have made to the film itself since last year. Sold in handy 3 packs it’s a really solid black and white film, and provides a cheaper alternative to say Ilford FP4+.

Ilford FP4+ (ISO 125, expired)

Rolleicord Vb, Xenar 75mm f3.5. Ilford FP4+ (exp. 2005) @ ISO 100

As part of the film stash I was given I got several rolls of FP4 plus, all dating back to the early 2000s. I’ve now shot a couple of rolls, exposing it at ISO 100 to give the old emulsion a slight kick. The results are great, it all looks as good as new producing lovely, fine grain negatives with a lovely tonal range. I also have some older non-plus rolls of FP4, including one dating back to the 1980s which I’m hoping to try over the summer.

Colour Negative

Kodak Portra 160

Rollei Vb w/ Xenar 75mm f3.5. Kodak Portra 160 @ ISO 160

I really like this film! It’s flexible, very fine grained and with a lovely warm palette. Compared to Kodak Ektar 100, it’s much easier to work with – you don’t need to worry about shadows turning blue, colours are a bit softer and more natural. You also get 2/3rd of a stop more light to work with over Ektar. It handles over exposure well giving you lots of headroom if you want to shoot at ISO 100 or slower speeds. You can sometimes find a five pack of Portra 160 for as little as £25 on Amazon which makes it a bargain for such a high quality film.

CineStills 800T

Rolleicord Vb, Xenar 75mm f3.5. CineStill 800T @ ISO 800

I’d wanted to shoot this film for ages – then after finally buying a roll, it spent several months sat in my fridge as I didn’t know what to do with it! The trouble with CineStills film is that it’s seriously expensive. A single roll of 800T cost me £15 – that puts a lot of pressure on you to make good use of it. I ended up taking it to Amsterdam with the hope of getting some good night shots around the city. Unfortunately it turns out Amsterdam isn’t a very brightly lit city! So I wasn’t that happy with many of the shots I got because I struggled to find brightly lit subjects to fill the frame, oh well c’est la vie! Still I like the look of this film, the glow you get around the highlights due to the removal of the anti-halation layer looks cool. Grain is incredibly fine for such a fast film, easily rivalling Portra 400. If I buy any more it will probably be in 135 format just so I don’t have to stress quite so much about the cost of each shot!

Rollei CN200

Bronica SQ-Ai w/ 80mm f2.8. Rollei Digibase CN200 @ ISO 200

This is an interesting film, unusually without an orange mask, making it slightly easier to digitise. Unfortunately my test roll didn’t turn out brilliantly, resulting in some of the shots having areas of uneven development. The film has a noticeable, but fine grain and good sharpness. Shadow areas can tend a little towards purple and it doesn’t give you much leeway for underexposure in the shadows. It’s probably better to exposure it at ISO 160 to give yourself more headroom. I was hoping to get some more of this film to play with now I’ve got my C-41 process better nailed down, but sadly it seems to be discontinued.

Lomography CN800

Bronica SQ-Ai w/ 150mm f4. Lomo CN800 @ ISO 800
Rollei Vb w/ Xenar 75mm f3.5. Lomo CN800 @ ISO 400

This film has been a really pleasant surprise. I bought it just because at the time I’d never shot an ISO 800 colour film, and at £15 for 3 rolls it seemed like a bargain. Shot at ISO 800 it produces nice colours and reasonably tight grain. But shoot it at ISO 400 and it produces lovely punchy colours and a very pleasing soft grain that makes it rival native ISO 400 films like Fuji Pro 400H. Having a film that works well from ISO 800 on down is incredibly handy if you know you’re going to be in quite mixed lighting conditions. I don’t know who makes this film (it’s sourced from China), but I highly recommend trying it.

120 Quick Takes Part 1

120 Film Quick Takes

120 Film Quick Takes

Since getting into film photography I’ve been keen to try as many different film stocks as I can get my hands on. Despite the resurgent popularity of film you never quite know how long any of these are going to be around, so it’s nice to use them while they’re still being freshly produced.

Black & White Films

Ilford PanF+ (ISO 50)

This is the slowest film I’ve shot with to date, rated at just ISO 50. Obviously this is one for bright outdoor shooting or tripod based long exposures. The benefit of such a slow film is the fineness of the grain and the ability to shoot wide apertures without requiring ND filters or very high shutter speeds.

In terms of grain, I’m a bit disappointed with this film. It’s not as clean as the faster Delta 100, Acros 100 or even Rollei Retro 80S. It’s the least grainy of Ilford’s classic emulsions, but if you’re only choosing it for clean and crisp images then you can find better, faster options. On the plus side I’ve found it handles contrasty situations very nicely with good shadow and highlight detail. This film is super quick to develop, requiring a 1:14 dilution of Ilfosol 3 and even then only taking 4 and a half minutes. I’ve read that PanF doesn’t have good keeping qualities once exposed so it’s best to develop as soon as possible after shooting.

Ilford FP4+ (ISO 125)

I really like this film, although it’s a traditional emulsion, grain is well controlled and fine, albeit still fairly noticeable in clear blue skies. Being a fairly slow film its best for use in bright conditions where it produces lovely tones. I’ve developed it in both Ilford DD-X and Ilfosol 3, which both produce similar results. In the later it’s very quick to develop requiring only a few minutes, which is good if you’re impatient like me! FP4+ tends to be very affordable and is available from £4 a roll.

Ilford HP5+ (ISO 400)

This was the first film I shot this year and I found it a bit too grainy for my liking in 35mm. Things are slightly better with the bigger negative sizes of 120 film but it’s still a bit grainier than I’d like, especially compared to Delta 400, even when that’s pushed a stop. HP5 is generally regarded as a fairly forgiving film when it comes to exposure latitude but I’ve not tried pushing or pulling it yet to confirm that. I think I generally prefer T grained films like Acros and Delta, but if you’re more a grain fan then this is probably what you want. I’ve only developed it in Ilford’s DD-X which may not be an ideal match. HP5 is usually around £5 to 6 a roll.

Ilford Delta 100

Delta 100 produces very clean, sharp images with good dynamic range and is practically grainless in appearance. It doesn’t block up shadows as much as Acros, with a broader mid-range. Handily like most Ilford films, you can buy this as individual rolls so it’s cheaper to experiment with. The film develops very well in Ilford’s Ilfosol 3. Delta 100 usually commands a price in the £5 to £6 range.

Ilford Delta 400

Delta 400 is one of my most used films. It’s great at box speed with fine grain and even pushed a stop 800 barely looks any different. It has a fairly flat contrast curve which is ideal for digitising, where you can tweak contrast as you see fit in post.

I’ve developed it in both Ilford DD-X and Ilfosol 3. DD-X is probably its natural match, especially for push processing. Results with Ilfosol 3 diluted to 1+14 have been a bit mixed so far, I’ve developed one roll pushed to 800 which came our great and another at box speed which was unacceptably grainy. I shall try 1+9 and see if that improves things or go back to DD-X. Amazon sell this film at £4.99 in which is about the best price you’ll find it for.

Fuji Neopan Acros 100

This film is stunning and my favourite for black and white photography. The digitised results could be from a modern digital sensor they’re so clean. If you’ve seen this film described as ‘grainless’ and not believed it, well believe it! Ok if you look very hard or try and push shadows or lightlights too much you’ll uncover a bit, but in a well exposed shot it’s amazingly clean.

Another benefit of Acros for those wanting to do long exposures is that it doesn’t suffer from the usual reciprocity failure that many films do. In terms of rendering, Acros tends to block up shadow areas but has huge range in the highlights, this produces some really beautiful results but needs careful exposure. I’ve had good results developing in the rotary processor with both Ilfosol 3 and DD-X. Unfortunately unlike with Ilford’s films, you can only buy this in 5 packs which makes it a little expensive here in the UK at nearly £6 a roll.

Fomapan 100 Classic

Foma is an interesting company producing traditional emulsion films at their plant in the Czech Republic. Fomapan 100 Classic actually reminds me of Ilford’s FP4+ quite a bit in the way it renders, although perhaps with slightly less sharp results overall. Still it’s a rather attractive film and given its low price in Europe, hard to ignore if you’re on a tight budget. It can be found for less than £4 a roll which is an increasing rarity with 120 film.

One thing to watch out for if home developing, is that it’s very flimsy and easy to mark when loading onto a spiral. It’s the first film I’ve handled that when unwound from the take-up spool was very loose – most want to tightly wind up again.

Fomapan 200 Creative

Despite the fairly low speed of ISO 200, this film is rather grainy and characterful making it good for fairly brightly lit scenes you want to give a bit of a gritty edge. That said if you don’t nail the exposure or want to darken a sky in post, things can get very messy. Like Foma’s 100 Classic, it’s a rather flimsy film which can make handling a bit more tricky when home processing. Unlike its cheaper slower sibling, 200 Creative tends to be in the mid £4 to £5 range.

Rollei Retro 80S

Rollei branded films are interesting primarily for their near-infrared sensitivity. In fact they do make purely IR film too, but I’ve not tried it yet. The benefit of having some IR sensitivity means in theory you can cut through haze on hot days which should be a boon for landscape photographers. Unfortunately it’s been a fairly poor summer here in Yorkshire, so I’ve not been able to test this aspect yet. Like the Foma films I’ve tried, Retro 80S is rather thin and while I had no trouble loading it onto my Jobo’s spiral, it’s remained very curly after drying which makes handling a little more fiddly.

In terms of image quality this is a remarkably good film. It’s as clean and grainless looking as Acros or Delta 100 with only a slight hit in speed. I’ve found it really doesn’t like underexposure, quickly losing all detail in dark shadow areas. One image, where I had to shoot what I thought was just 1 stop under to get a hand-holdable shutter speed, barely even registered on the negative!

Overall though I’m amazed at the quality, if you want a cheaper alternative to Acros or Delta 100 it’s a very good option. A roll of 80S will generally set you back around £4.50. The only real downside is that at just ISO 80 you will need brighter light or longer exposures than with comparable ISO 100 films. I’ve found 80S develops very well in Ilford’s Ilfosol 3.

Colour Negative Films

Fuji Pro NS 160

This was the first film I ran through my Bronica and I quickly decided I didn’t like it. I’ve found getting nice colours out of it when digitising to be a real chore, especially compared to every other colour negative film I’ve shot. It’s also expensive (quite a bit more so than Kodak Portra 160) working out at around £6 a roll, so it’s really hard to recommend. On the plus side the grain is fairly fine. It really doesn’t like underexposure and I’ve seen some odd effects at the edges of a few frames that I suspect might be light leaks which I’ve not seen with other films shot in the same camera. So I’m not sure if it’s an artefact from development, me miss-handling it or something else going on. Overall a thumbs down.

Fuji Pro 400H

Unlike NS 160, 400H is actually pretty nice. It digitises well and I’ve not seen any strange ‘light leaks’ or other issues. Overall performance is much the same as Kodak Portra 400. I’ve shot it at box speed and at ISO 200 and had nice results each time. This film handles greens very well so it’s particularly suited to landscape photography. It develops well in Tetenal ColorTec C-41. Available only in packs of 5, the cost per roll is around £6.

Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak advertises this as the finest grained colour negative film and it certainly produces very clean results. Colours tend to be punchy and saturated in bright light, but they can take on blue or purple casts if it’s gloomy or a little underexposed. I’ve found shadow areas in otherwise well exposed sunny scenes can turn very bluish which can require some post-processing to correct. This is certainly a film where you want to carefully expose for the shadows.

I’ve had good results developing Ektar with the two bath Tetenal ColorTec C-41 kit. Amazon has recently had fantastic prices for Kodak 120 films, with five packs selling for £25 or less, that makes this film an absolute bargain at around £5 a roll. More typically it will fetch somewhere between £5.50 and £6 a roll.

Kodak Portra 400

As the name suggests, Kodak wants you to think of this as a portrait film. To date I’ve yet to shoot a single portrait with it, but the colours lend themselves well to landscape and street photography too. Grain is fine and not overly apparent. I’ve shot several rolls of this over exposed by a stop at ISO 200, which has a nice effect on the colours. I’ve seen reports you can overexpose this film by up to 6 stops and still get very useable results. Of course like most film it’s less a fan of being underexposed, but then at ISO 400 you already have good latitude and Kodak produces an ISO 800 version if you need further flexibility. I’ve found this film can be a little bit grainy in the sky, at least developed with Tetenal’s C-41 kit. Pricing is around £5.50 to £6 a roll.

What next?

There are still quite a few films I’d like to try which I’ve not yet had the opportunity to. In particular these are on my list:

  • Kodak Portra 160
    I want to see if this is a good alternative to Ektar with a little more exposure headroom.
  • Kodak TMax (100, 400)
    I want to see how this compares to the Ilford’s Delta films.
  • Fuji Velvia
    This film is legendary so I’m keen to try it sometime.
  • Fuji Neopan 400 CN
    There’s only two Fuji B&W films so I might as well try them both, this is a C-41 process one.
  • Rollei Digibase CN 200
    This is an interesting film in that it doesn’t have a colour mask so it should be easier to digitise. After being floored by how good Retro 80S is I’m keen to try more Rollei films.
  • Ilford Delta 3200
    I’m interested to see what the quality is like from such a fast film, probably one I’ll save for the depths of winter when there isn’t much light!
  • Ilford XP2 400
    I’ve heard good things about this but I’ve been avoiding using my expensive colour chemistry on B&W films so far as this is another C-41 process one.
  • CineStills 800
    I’m really keen to try this film as I’ve seen some lovely images taken with it. It can be a bit expensive and hard to find in the UK unfortunately.

If you’re wondering why I’ve not listed Kodak’s Tri-X, it’s because I have shot it in 35mm format and didn’t like it much. I’m not a fan of grainy films generally, especially where equal speed cleaner films exist, and my experience with HP5+ has taught me that moving up a format size doesn’t really change the overall characteristic that much.

A Yorkshire Camera

A Yorkshire Camera

Exploring a local antiques shop recently, I came across a beautiful 6×6 format folding camera that appeared to be in very nice condition. After giving it a once over and determining nothing was obviously wrong, I plunked down £9 ($12) of my hard earned cash to take the thing home. It turned out I had bought a Yorkshire camera. A GB Kershaw 110 to be precise, made in the great city of Leeds some 60 or so years ago. It was in very nice condition for its age, with just some dust in the optics and a tiny bit of corrosion here and there on the aluminium parts.

The biggest worry with any camera that makes use of soft bellows is pin holes and tears that could cause light leaks. These are usually found around the folds where the material is under the most stress. Thankfully the bellows on this camera are in tip-top shape, requiring no repair at all. Another common problem to look out for in old cameras is worn out light seals, where foam or felt has disintegrated or worn away over the years. Helpfully the Kershaw’s design made no use of either material, so there were no concerns there either.

The lens and viewfinder were very simple to clean of dust, both being made of just two elements. After I finished cleaning things up I loaded a roll of Ilford FP4 Plus. The use of bog standard 120 roll film means the Kershaw is as usable today as when it was new. Getting the film into the camera took a few attempts given the slightly awkward swing out spool holders, but I got there in the end.

In terms of operation, the Kershaw 110 is a very basic camera. A button on the top plate makes the front pop open, extending the bellows and putting the lens into shooting position. A single knob lets you wind the film on, with a red window in the back to let you see which frame you’re on*. The lens is anonymous, but I’d estimate it at around 80mm (45mm equivalent in 35mm terms) with its focus fixed to give you a depth of field from around 3m to infinity. It has a single shutter speed of somewhere around 1/50 of a second and a choice of two apertures, f11 or f16. Its only other features are a bulb mode and a flash sync port. Getting an accurate exposure is rather out the window with such limited control so you’re fairly reliant on the wide latitude of film and hoping for the best!

* 120 roll film is paper backed and that paper has frame numbers printed on to it for cameras like this without mechanical frame counters.

I found the camera simple to use in practice, even if I had a degree of ‘exposure anxiety’ while using it, worrying that for the light conditions I was hopelessly under or overexposing. In the end just about everything turned out fine. The ISO 125 film I’d picked meant I wasn’t too far off in terms of exposure when I was out of the shade.

I found I had no trouble remembering to wind on the film after each shot, so avoided any accidental double exposures. I didn’t have especially high hopes for the optical quality of the anonymous two element lens, but it actually produced some alright results. It’s a little soft at the edges, but the main portion of the frame is pretty sharp – if you can hold the camera still enough.

Indeed the slow shutter speed and awkward handling were the camera’s main let down and I lost about a quarter of the film to camera shake. It’s too bad it can’t take a threaded shutter release as I’m sure that would help quite a bit. It’s made me quite curious to see how good the results could be from a slightly less basic folding camera which could achieve better hand-holdable shutter speeds and with a more serious lens.

Exploring Flickr proves that Agfa Isolette’s and Zeiss Ikons can certainly produce wonderful results. The challenge with such old cameras is finding a copy in good working order without parting with too much money. Certain models are popular with collectors which can push the prices up to silly amounts.

So if you spy an old folding camera in an antiques shop, charity shop or at a car boot sale, don’t just brush if off as a relic from the past – it may be a very capable little camera in your hands. If it’s inexpensive and looks in fair condition, definitely give it a go!

If you enjoy my writing and images please help support me and the site by purchasing a print from my store here or on Etsy. Those old folders aren’t free ya know 😉

Fuji 35mm f2 WR Review

Fuji 35mm f2 WR Review

As soon as I saw the leaked images of the 35mm f2, back in early 2015, I knew I wanted one. I’ve shot with the older 35mm f1.4 on many occasions and it’s a lens I’ve repeatedly considered buying and then pulled back from. Optically great, not too large or heavy, but showing its age in many respects with regards to its construction and AF performance. So enter the new f2 model, with it’s Leica style tapered design, weather resistance, super fast internal focusing and it already looks like we have a winner on our hands.

Construction & Handling

As we’ve come to expect from Fuji’s Made in Japan lenses, the 35mm f2’s build quality is fantastic. There’s no cheap plastic here like you’d find on a Canon or Nikon lens in this price range. Compared to Fuji’s other entry level prime, the 27mm f2.8, the quality is markedly better. I’m sure I’m not alone in suspecting that the 27mm f2.8 was originally intended to be part of the XC range of aperture ringless budget lenses.

Fuji finally seems to have cracked what an acceptable level of clickiness is for an aperture ring. The 35mm f2 offers just the right amount of resistance in that it won’t turn accidentally, but also doesn’t feel like its putting up a fight when you do want to change it. The focus ring is nice and smooth like every Fuji lens I’ve used. It’s on the narrow side, but it’s usable for manual focus.

As the lens carries the “WR” badge for weather resistance, it has a rubber gasket around the mount. This is a feature that I was used to in my Nikon days, even on non-weather sealed lenses, and I’m glad it’s finding its way into Fuji’s lineup. It helps to seal the camera body against dust as much as moisture. Of course there are plenty of other seals within the lens too that should help keep moisture and dust from getting into the internals.

Exactly how effective Fuji’s WR is I don’t know – I certainly feel less worried about WR gear getting a bit of rain or snow on it, but without any kind of official standard it’s impossible to know just how “resistant” it is. Erring on the side of caution is therefore still probably your best bet to secure the longevity of your gear, with the WR stamp being more of an insurance policy than an invitation to treat things carelessly.

One area where the 35mm f2 does let us down a little is with the supplied hood. That it’s plastic is not unexpected these days, but what’s less forgivable is that it’s a nasty screw-in design that uses the filter thread. This is despite the fact the lens has a bayonet fitting specifically for a hood. Fuji will happily sell you a metal vented hood that uses said bayonet, but of course it’s stupidly expensive. On the positive side, at least the plastic screw-in hood is small and the lens cap fits neatly inside it. If you happen to also own the new Fuji 23mm f2, both hoods are interchangeable and the 23mm version does use the bayonet.

One more slight disappoint is the introduction of yet another odd-ball filter size, this time 43mm. Thankfully now the 23mm f2 has been launched sharing this thread size, at least there are two lenses in the lineup with it. Unfortunately the newly announced 50mm f2 lens doesn’t make it three, so if you opt for the 23-35-50 f2 set you’ll need either multiple filter sizes or step up rings *sigh*.

Optical Quality

As you might expect, the 35mm f2 isn’t optically as good as the 35mm f1.4. There’s a bit of electronic distortion correction being applied and the extreme corners never quite get there in terms of sharpness. That said the center is fantastic and in real world shooting, the very extreme corners being fractionally soft has never been a problem.

Insets showing sharpness at 100% in the marked locations.

The lens’s bokeh is smooth and pleasing, with Fuji blessing it with 9 aperture blades. Out of focus highlights stay nice and round even when stopped down. The example below with the crystal ball was shot at f5.6 for example. The older 35mm f1.4 only has 7 blades by contrast and produces more angular bokeh balls as a result. F2 still provides plenty of scope for shallow depth of field photography, but obviously the f1.4 model has the edge in terms of extreme subject separation and will produce slightly sharper results when stopped down to f2.


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AF Speed

This little lens is a speed demon! It may not have one of those fancy linear motors to brag about, but its internal focus mechanism is incredibly quick on all recent Fuji bodies. Even old X-Trans 1 models show a good level of performance. As the 35mm f2 has an internal focus design, outwardly no parts move while focus is being acquired. This no doubt contributes to its extremely quiet operation and is a boon for polariser users.


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Compared to the Fuji 35mm f1.4

If you already own the older Fuji 35mm lens, should you “upgrade” to the new model? The answer to that question will depend heavily on the type of photography you do. If you’re mostly shooting posed portraits, desperately need that extra f stop or require the ultimate in corner sharpness then the older lens is probably still your best bet. However if you rarely shoot at f1.4, would benefit from the faster autofocus, quieter operation and weather sealing, then the new lens does look very attractive. If you have the money to spare then owning both could be a good compromise. For my shooting style and wallet the 35mm f2 just makes more sense.


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Conclusion

This lens isn’t optically perfect and it’s a little darker than its older f1.4 brother, but both those quibbles are largely offset by just how nice this lens is to shoot with. From its diminutive proportions, to its weather resistance, build quality, focus speed and general rendering – it’s just a pleasure to use. It pairs well with all Fuji’s current cameras, especially the X-Pro series. As part of a small f2 prime kit, along with the 23mm and 50mm, it will no doubt be finding its way into a lot of gear bags. All indications are that it is one of the best selling and most popular XF lenses available at the moment and I can see why.

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Fuji 60mm f2.4 R Macro Long-term Use Review

Fuji 60mm f2.4 R Macro Long-term Use Review

The very first lens I bought to go with my X-E1 kit back in 2013 was the 60mm f2.4. Back then there were precisely 4 X-mount lens to choose from; the 18mm, the 35mm, the 60mm and the 18-55mm zoom. Not much compared to today’s lineup! At the time I wanted a lens I could use for some portraits at a friend’s wedding, so I bought the 60mm as it’s a reasonable focal length for that purpose.

Unfortunately the day of the wedding was incredibly gloomy and overcast, to top it off the venue itself was very dimly lit. If you remember what it was like trying to shoot an X-E1 on 1.0 firmware with the 60mm 2.4 also on 1.0 firmware back then, you can probably guess that things did not go well! The focus was grindingly slow and frequently failed entirely, I got a few shots, but overall the experience had me wondering if I’d made a terrible mistake switching away from a DSLR.

Thankfully over time the firmware of both the X-E1 and lens were improved and the performance moved from nearly unusable in imperfect light to just about passable. In good light the lens performance was already much better and while still no speed demon, subsequent updates have helped to make it a little snappier. Where it fell down in speed, it made up for it in rendering; producing images packed with detail and with a lush creamy bokeh that blew my 18-55mm wide open at 55mm out of the water. I grew to really enjoy using it for landscape, street and the odd bit of macro photography.

After about two years of using and enjoying the lens tremendously I found myself starting to get a lot of missed shots where the camera had claimed to focus and where the image looked sharp enough in the viewfinder, but where the whole image was noticeably out-of-focus when viewed up large. I’m not sure if this was just a run of bad luck, the result of a firmware update or something else (the lens would still reliably focus enough that I was sure it wasn’t broken). Anyway I decided I’d had enough, so I put it on eBay and bought the 55-200mm f3.5.-4.8.

A few months later I found myself in possession of an X-T10 and missing the 60mm as a compact and lightweight short telephoto option. With a holiday coming up that I wanted to pack fairly lightly for, I decided I’d reacquire a copy of the 60mm and give it a second chance. After looking on eBay I found one in mint condition at a bargain price of £219 and snapped it up. I’m pleased to say the performance and focus accuracy of the lens paired with the X-T10 is hugely improved. It’s still not going to satisfy those trying to capture fast action, but for most other uses it’s now a solid performer and I’ve not had any more false focus confirmations.

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Build and Handling

As with all Fuji XF lenses, the 60mm is well made in a mixture of quality plastics and metal. As one of Fuji’s older lens designs, it’s doesn’t feature internal focusing and the front element can extend out of the lens barrel by around an inch at macro distances. At non-macro working distances it barely moves from the main lens body at all.

The lens features an awkward 39mm filter ring size, which it shares only with Fuji’s 27mm f2.8 pancake lens and precious little else from other manufacturers. This can make finding filters a challenge. To make matters worse, Fuji decided to recess the filter thread behind the outer ring of the lens barrel. This means the only way you can fit a step-up adapter is to knock out the glass from a 39mm UV filter and use that as a go between to give the necessary clearance from the filter ring to the front of the lens. It’s a messy solution, but if you need to use ND filters or a polariser it may be your only option. If Fuji ever releases a mark 2 version of this lens I hope it’s an area they address.

The 60mm has a large, smooth turning focus ring that will let you dial in precise adjustments when shooting in macro. The only downside to this is that it can make demounting the lens a little tricky, as there’s very little of it that is non-rotating. The aperture ring offers a decent level of resistance and isn’t too easy to change accidentally (unlike say the 35mm f1.4 or the 14mm f2.8).

As one of the original three lenses that launched the X series, Fuji was kind enough to bundle a high quality metal hood, complete with vents to improve its handling on X-Pro bodies. The hood is really big – it nearly doubles the overall length of the lens when attached. I find I rarely carry mine any more. The front element is deeply recessed already, so the hood doesn’t offer that much more physical protection and it’s already fairly hard to make the lens flare. The hood can be reversed for storage, but unfortunately then completely blocks the aperture ring and makes it near impossible to dismount the lens from the camera body.

Note: The three original Fuji lenses (18, 35 & 60) all share the same physical hood mount, which makes them interchangeable – albeit with caveats. On the 60mm the 18mm’s hood will block the front element at macro distances but I hear the 35mm’s hood will work quite well with it and doesn’t vignette.

Optical Performance

As I mentioned in the build up, the detail and overall rendering from this lens is very pleasing. It produces lovely creamy bokeh and thanks to its 9 blade aperture, out-of-focus highlights remain nice and round even when stopped down – a feature that curiously sets it ahead of Fuji’s fast portrait primes. You can get decent subject separation at f2.4 when shooting portraits, although obviously it’s not in the same league as the 56mm f1.2.

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The 60mm isn’t fully optically corrected and some digital distortion correction is applied both in camera and by Lightroom. The only way to avoid that correction is to use a RAW processor that lets you turn it off, such as Iridient Developer. Thankfully the corrections applied have a minimal impact on the overall image quality which remains high throughout the range, only really falling off as you start to push past f11. In my limited testing so far, the 60 seems to hold its own on the new 24 megapixel X-Trans 3 sensor.

60-corrected

Roll over this image to see the pincushion distortion that the lens has when uncorrected. The slight change in colours is down to one image being processed in Lightroom and the other in Iridient.

It’s easy to forget this is a macro lens as I find it such a versatile focal length for landscape and portraiture – but it does have the ability to focus as close as 26cm (just under 1ft) and produces a 1:2 magnification. That certainly won’t satisfy hardcore macro shooters, but as a handy addition to an already versatile lens it’s a welcome feature.

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Closing Thoughts

I think the 60mm has always been a bit of an underrated lens in the XF lineup. Being both optically very decent and a versatile focal length, but struggling to shake off its early reputation for sluggish performance. While that reputation used to be well deserved in the early days, Fuji has advanced focus speed in its recent cameras by leaps and bounds and the 60 benefits from that a lot. It will never be anyone’s first choice for fast paced sports or action photography and it will likely remain overshadowed by the 56mm f1.2 for portraiture. However for people like me, who have persevered and gradually been rewarded by Fuji’s kaizen philosophy, or those who are just now entering the Fuji system with a modern camera body, it’s a lens that has a breadth of utility that remains unmatched by any other prime on the X system. Portraiture, street, landscape, macro – no other single Fuji prime can offer that range of versatility at the present time. The 60mm will remain a very special piece of glass for the foreseeable future, despite its few quirks and shortcomings. Let me leave you with a selection of some my favourite images that I’ve taken with the 60mm over the last few years.

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Whitby Colours
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X100T Essential Accessories

X100T Essential Accessories

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

Spring at Hardcastle Crags with the X100T

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.

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