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.

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.

Common Blue Damselfly
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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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Fuji XF 14mm f2.8 R review

Fuji XF 14mm f2.8 R review

Let’s just start by saying I’m really excited by this lens. I used to own the really nice Samyang 14mm f2.8 when I shot Nikon and it’s a focal length I’ve missed since switching to Fuji. For the last couple of years a Samyang 8mm fisheye was my fallback ultra-wide option, but fisheyes have limitations and I found I was using mine less and less. As a result I decided to sell it a few months ago. That left me with the 18mm f2 as my widest lens. The 18mm is a good lens, but it does have its shortcomings optically and I found myself yearning for something that could produce more dramatic results for landscape and street work. I did seriously consider Samyang’s new 12mm f2 ultra-wide angle, but I’ve read so many good things about the Fuji 14mm I decided to play it safe. I’m glad I did – this lens is clearly a winner.

Pros and cons of going wider

While 14mm (21mm equivalent) is not at the extreme end of the wide angle spectrum on APS-C, it’s enough to make photos look more dramatic and out of the ordinary. With the sheer ubiquity of 18-55mm (~28-85mm) lenses, people are used to seeing images at those focal lengths. That means lenses that break out of that range immediately have the potential to create more interesting pictures. The downside for the photographer is that it can make composition and getting the right exposure more complicated. You’ve potentially got to get a lot closer to subjects to make them fill your frame, then you have distortion to worry about, especially when shooting people. It’s often hard to keep bright light sources in the periphery out of your shot, which can throw off the camera’s metering causing under exposure or blown highlights. None of these things are insurmountable challenges, but they all take getting used to and are worth bearing in mind as they generally get more pronounced the wider the lens is.

14 vs 18

18mm vs 14mm

Compared to the Fuji 18mm lens (left), the 14mm is a fair bit bigger. It’s roughly the same size as the 60mm f2.4 or the 18-55mm f2.8-4 zoom. In fact it shares the same petal shaped, plastic (boo) lens hood with the latter. It has a 58mm filter thread which it shares with the 18-55mm, 16-50mm and 50-230mm zooms, but notably none of the other Fuji primes.

The 18mm is optically decent, (especially if you’re willing to work around its limitations in post*), but the 14mm is truly stellar. It shoots beautiful, sharp, undistorted images effortlessly. It’s already very sharp wide open at 2.8 and it really only gets better from there before diffraction starts to shave away at the sharpness past f8. But really most of the time you’re going to be using this lens from f2.8 to f5.6 where it really shines.

* The 18mm is hampered by chromatic aberration and the forced distortion correction both in-camera and in Lightroom loses you a lot of resolution at the image edges. For shots where resolution really matters it’s worth using a RAW processor that will let you disable this as it brings up the edge quality considerably (at the cost of some distortion natch).

Something presently only available on the 14mm and the 23mm f1.4, is the distance scale painted on the lens barrel and push-pull manual focus mechanism. When in autofocus mode, the focus ring is locked and won’t rotate. Pulling it back towards the camera body reveals distance markings and unlocks it with a satisfying click. The focus ring is range limited, with a 1/3rd turn moving it between infinity and near focus. The issue with this design is that there’s no way to autofocus and then tweak your focus manually. People who like to use manual mode and focus with the AE-L/AF-L button may be unhappy as a result. Personally I rarely use manual focus on AF lenses, but the distance scale and hard stopped focus ring will no doubt appeal to zone focus aficionados.

In use

Now if you’re after MTF charts or shots of brick walls, we’ll have to part ways here, but if you’d like to see some real life images shot with this lens then let’s plough on!

I’m lucky enough to live within easy travelling distance of the wonderful old English city of York, and where better to play with a wide angle lens than the cavernous, intricately detailed interior of York Minster Cathedral?

York Minster[exif id=”822″]

You’ll notice I’ve shot this at f10. That wasn’t intentional and it brings me to really the only negative point with this lens – the aperture ring is too loose and is very easily changed unintentionally. I find the 18mm and 60mm have about equal stiffness and aren’t too easy to jog once mounted, but the 14mm is definitely one to keep an eye on.

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The lack of distortion (even with corrections disabled in RAW) is a major boon for anyone looking to shoot architecture. The focal length also makes getting sharp images handheld at low shutter speeds fairly easy. It was quite dim inside the cathedral so I found myself shooting 1/30 and even 1/15 sec on several occasions, despite this the majority of the shots I took were sharp and free from motion blur.

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You definitely have to pay more attention to your composition with wider angle lenses, as I mentioned earlier. It’s not as extreme as shooting with a fisheye, where a few degrees up or down could ruin your image if you wanted a flat horizon, but it can still strongly impact the look of a shot. Attempting to keep verticals dead straight inclines you towards creating ’50/50′ images with the horizon bang in the centre. This can leave you with unwanted masses of sky or foreground when shooting landscape or architecture. A solution can be to tilt upwards a little then correct in post (Lightroom has fantastic tools for this and can even automate much of the process). Or of course you can try and find a higher vantage point! In this case I’ve left the shot as is, but you can see if I’d gone for straight verticals I’d have had a lot more chairs and tiled floor in the shot and lost much the fantastic vaulted ceiling.

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This is my favourite shot of the day. Looking straight up at the ceiling of the main tower. It’s almost dizzyingly high. I’ve cropped this down a little bit to help with the symmetry, but you still feel the benefit of the 14mm, as gives you the leeway to do this that the 18mm wouldn’t. Even at f4 it’s fantastically sharp into the extreme corners. This is certainly a lens that will stand the test of time if Fuji moves to higher megapixel sensors in the future.

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Of course the 14mm excels at grand landscapes too once you get outside. In this case after climbing 275 steps in claustrophobically narrow spiral staircases! Outdoors the challenge becomes balancing the exposure. It’s easy to throw off the metering by having so much bright sky in the shot. The advantage of shooting RAW is the huge dynamic range the X-trans sensor can capture. You can pull so much out of the shadows without things getting noisy, it can really save images where it appears you’ve completely lost areas to darkness. Hover over the image above to see the same shot with no adjustments applied. I’m happy to report I didn’t notice any problems with flare even when shooting with the sun just out of the corner of the shot. I imagine the smallish front element helps here.

Moving on to the National Railway Museum now, also in York, you can see another of the 14mm’s traits – incredibly close focus. In fact you can get to within 10cm of your subject and still be able to lock focus (you don’t even need to enable macro mode, which seems to have no practical effect with this lens). Bokeh is decent as wide angles go, although naturally it’s not quite as smooth and creamy as the 18mm f2 at close distances.

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Finally here’s one more shot from the museum. I’ve cropped it to 16:9 to further emphasis the cinematic look the lens gives to images. Wide angles like the 14mm are great for showing differences in scale, especially when you’ve got people in the shot.

Summary

I can really recommend this lens without caveats. Optically it’s stunning, it’s a good size, weight and balances well. The only real niggle is the loose aperture ring, and that’s something that’s easy to live with when the lens delivers such good results. Whether it’s right for you or not will depend on your shooting style and whether you prefer the versatility of a zoom or like a bag full of fantastic primes. I think I’m fairly heavily in the bag full of primes camp!

There are now quite a few wide angle options for the X mount: the 12mm f2.8 Zeiss Touit, the 12mm f2 Samyang, the 10-24mm f4 Fuji zoom and the 18mm Fuji at the narrower end, which is also covered by several of their general purpose zooms. There’s also a 16mm f1.4 Fuji due out later this year that will no doubt be an interesting optic. If you want a more extreme wide angle, the Zeiss and Samyang offerings are no doubt very good, although the Zeiss is pricey and the Samyang only manual focus. If you prefer zooms then the 10-24mm is also very good, but it can’t quite touch the overall optical quality of the 14mm based on the reviews I’ve seen, especially in the corners. It’s also getting a bit on the big and heavy side for my liking. If you’d like further reading, you can see a nice comparison between the Fuji wide primes and the 10-24mm on Fuji vs. Fuji.

~

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A Fisheye View

A Fisheye View

Fisheyes are an interesting and exotic breed of lens. They offer a super-wide, uncorrected view of the world, often covering a field of view as great as 180º. Whether used to exploit their characteristic distortion or as a software corrected wide prime, a fisheye is a great photographic tool.

Samyang 8mm f2.8 UMC fisheye

The Samyang* 8mm fisheye is specially designed for use on mirrorless cameras and comes with a variety of mounts to suit different systems including the Fuji X and Sony E mounts. The main benefits of the lens being designed for mirrorless cameras are its small size and light weight. Given you’ll probably not want this lens on your camera constantly, making it pocketable gives you a good excuse to carry it around for when that right moment arises. Presently the Samyang is the only native-mount fisheye for the Fuji X system.

* Samyang lenses are also sold under several other brand names including “Rokinon” and “Bower”.

The lens is made of high quality plastics and metal. As is typical of Samyang lenses, the fit and finish are excellent. The mount is all metal and a thick plastic integrated hood provides some protection to the front element. The lens uses a clip-on style plastic cap that once mounted stays firmly in place. Typical for a fisheye, the bulbous front-element makes using filters impossible. You could possibly affix a small filter inside the mount at the rear of the lens if you were desperate and could find one less than about 35mm wide.

Like all Samyang lenses to-date the 8mm is manual focus and has no electrical contacts to talk with your camera. As such it won’t record aperture information in your photo’s EXIF data. You can however specify the focal length in the settings on your Fuji so that will be recorded. You’ll also need to enable the ‘shoot without lens’ option as the lack of electrical connection will make your camera think there’s nothing in front of the sensor.

You might be wondering if manual focusing with the lens will be a problem, especially if you’re primarily used to shooting with auto-focus lenses. The good news is you’ll rarely ever need to worry about focus – because of its extreme wide nature you’ll have a massive depth of field to work with. As long as you set your focal distance to around 2m you’ll have everything from your feet to the far horizon nice and sharp. If ever in doubt the magnified view in MF mode on your camera combined with focus peaking should make getting tack sharp shots every time simple.

This little lens is extremely sharp, especially when stopped down to between f5.6 and f8, you’ll be hard pressed to find any softness even in the extreme corners. Wider open and the centre remains fantastic but the corners naturally get softer. My copy of this lens is slightly softer in the bottom right corner than elsewhere in the frame.

Samyang-samplesHere are some 100% crops taken at f8. Processed with Lightroom 5.2 using default settings. No distortion correction applied.

Chromatic aberration (red and blue fringing) is well controlled and is easily corrected in software when visible.

Applications

Fisheyes tend to be thought of as novelty or special effect lenses. While they certainly can be used in such a way, software correction makes them usable as super-wide primes, within certain limitations. Even without correction careful framing and composition of your subject can hide much of the distortion.

Landscapes

For typical landscape shots with a fisheye the main rule for creating a fairly undistorted view is to align the horizon with the middle of the frame, that will keep it flat. Depending on your subject you may be able to get away with tilting up or down a little. You could even use the effect to exaggerate the height and shape of a hill or valley.

DSCF8920This square crop of a portrait photo has had no distortion correction applied and the subject matter makes the distortion all but invisible.

Another rule is to try and avoid vertical objects on the periphery of your shot as they’ll appear to bend somewhat comically. Buildings, trees, lampposts, fences and so on. Where possible get them in the centre of the frame where they will have barely visible distortion. Where it’s simply not possible to avoid vertical subjects towards the edges of the frame either for practical or artistic reasons help is at hand. A piece of software called Fisheye-Hemi by Image Trends does an amazing job of fixing vertical distortion while leaving horizontal distortion largely untouched. Most software that corrects fisheye distortion tends to lose large portions of the edges in an attempt to recreate a standard rectilinear projection as you’d see from a corrected wide-angle lens. Fisheye-Hemi solves this problem by applying more limited corrections which don’t skew the edges of the frame.

Interiors

Fisheyes are a great way to show off interior spaces large and small. With such a wide field of view you can get three walls, the floor and ceiling of a room all in one shot. Distortion correction in software may be necessary depending on your subject and desired look, but even uncorrected a fisheye shot can provide a fascinating seldom-seen view. If you can find somewhere with lots of curves to exploit, the fisheye will work wonders.

DSCF9037Again no correction applied to this image, the fisheye emphasises arches and uneven walls.

Dramatic effect

As already mentioned you can use a fisheye to exaggerate naturally occurring curves, be that in man-made things or the landscape itself. In the shot of York station below, the distortion adds to the sense of space and scale. You can also use the lens’ characteristic of making the subject in the centre appear small compared to its surroundings to great artistic effect as well. If there were a person standing on the platform edge in this shot they would appear tiny surrounded by the vast station building for example. Sadly no one obliged at the time! When placing people in a fisheye shot it’s best to keep them near the center to avoid unflattering distortions.

DSCF9402-EditFisheye-Hemi has been applied here to straighten the verticals while retaining the pleasing curves of the platform and roof.

Problems and Considerations

The problem with such a wide-angle lens is its often hard not to be in your own shot, whether you want to be or not. Tilt down too much and you’ll likely have your feet in the photo. Hold the lens too near the end and you may find a stray finger arching in. Even when you hold your camera perfectly you may find your shadow hard to avoid with the sun behind you. Be prepared to experiment to get the best composition and resigned to occasionally having to correct unavoidable intrusions into the frame by your body or shadow in post.

The Samyang is also a little prone to flare, if you’ve got the sun in your shot be very careful about the angle you choose as the lens can produce quite a pronounced ugly flare that will be quite a bit of work to remove in Photoshop.

Samyang 8mm flare example

The Right Stuff

The Right Stuff

There’s no denying that Fuji’s retro styled cameras are things of beauty as well as incredibly powerful photographic tools. With that in mind, when it comes to customising them to personalise and improve their ergonomics, it behooves us to complement rather than degrade that classic look.

The X100 Spoiled Me

I got my X100 secondhand on eBay, at the time for a very respectable sum of £659. It came with every accessory you could want – the leather case, the lens hood, soft release and even a Thumbs Up grip. After totting up the value of these accessories I was initially sorely tempted to put them up on eBay and just keep the X100 itself, but I quickly realised they really complemented the camera, not just visually but practically. The case protects the camera from knocks and scuffs and keeps off light rain. The Thumbs Up grip significantly improves the handling, making one handed operation much better. The lens hood is of course essential, especially with the X100’s lens being a little prone to flare. Although mainly it provides some protection to the front element and provides a useful 49mm filter ring. The only accessory I didn’t find myself using was the soft release, which has stayed in a drawer until recently finding a home on my X-E1.

As I got my X-E1 new I didn’t have the luxury of having several hundred pounds worth of accessories thrown in. Initially I tried my X100’s Thumbs Up on it as the top plate has basically identical dimensions. It fitted reasonably although needed to protrude a little further to mount properly. I quickly decided it was unnecessary. The bare X-E1 has better ergonomics than the X100 right from the outset and its larger lenses deter one handed use in my experience.

Half Case

When it came to getting a case I looked at some of the 3rd party half cases but decided to stick to Fuji in the end. The X100 leather case is lovely and very nicely made. Its main short comings are lack of a tripod mount and no access to the memory card and battery slot. The X-E1 half case fixes the most serious issue by making the memory card and battery slot accessible through a little flap. The X-E1 case also significantly improves the finger grip on the right side of the lens, giving you a better hold on the camera.

Where the X-E1 case falls down, is the supplied strap. To put it bluntly, it’s a piece of crap. The leather backed part is far shorter than the X100 version, the backing is cheap, plasticy and rough edged. I decided I needed to find a 3rd party strap to replace it almost immediately.

Neck Strap

I learned about Gordy’s Camera Straps from the excellent Fuji X Files blog. They custom build leather camera straps, letting you pick the exact length, colour, neck pad and lug covers. I was impressed with how reasonable the price was and decided to order myself one. I’m glad I did because it’s an excellent strap. Thick leather, very nicely finished. As with all leather goods it takes a little while to break-in, but after only a few photo walks it’s already becoming nice and supple.

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Soft Release

As I previously mentioned, I didn’t find the soft release necessary on my X100. The shutter button is big and comfortable enough to use unadorned. However the shutter button on the X-E1 seems slightly smaller and something about it doesn’t feel quite as sure beneath my finger. The soft release nicely corrects that and provides a big concave surface to rest my fingertip against. The shutter button is such a critical part of a camera getting the right feel is important.

Other bits and pieces

As a former Nikon shooter I’m used to having scuffed bits of plastic screen protectors on my cameras. With the X100 I didn’t bother, the full case keeps the screen well protected and I’ve yet to put the slightest mark on it. With the X-E1 I’ve not been quite so lucky and managed to put a slight scratch on the screen after just a couple of months. I’ve since bought a Swido Diamond Clear hard screen protector that is doing an admirable job of protecting it from further damage.

The other must have accessory for your Fuji camera is a bit less glamorous but critically important – spare batteries! The Fuji’s like to chomp through batteries at a speed that will shock DSLR owners who are used to weeks if not months between charges. I’ve got several generic spares for my X100 and a single spare for my X-E1. You can buy official batteries if you like, but I’ve not had any problem with generic ones.