Photography

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

 

Decision One: A friend of mine bought his partner a new camera, her first ‘proper camera’. Very generous! It’s a Canon DSLR. Nice. He’s taken her for a couple of photo walks already. Good way to start off. Now he’s thinking of spending £300 on a ten lesson photography course – what do I think about that? No f*****g way! For that sort of money, you could take a three night break to a fantastic European city, including flights and meals, and throw in a Photography for Dummies  book to read on the way. I’m pretty convinced that spending a few days roaming somewhere exotic shooting at everything and anything will be a more productive and enjoyable experience. I’m a big fan of on the job training. Not such a big fan of classrooms.

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Photography

Fuji X-M1: Image Quality

Ok, so I have a camera that I like the look and fell of, admire the sensible menu layout and enjoy using. But the proof in is the pudding. What sort of image quality have I gotten for my money? It must be said, this review is not solely about the camera but also the 16mm – 50mm kit lens that comes with it. I would expect better results from the X-M1 when I have a better and more expensive lens attached to it.

I won’t lie. Some of the images below have been through post processing in Lightroom. But I have selected images which have had minimal work done on the them. Perhaps a little sharpening, cropping or contrast adjustment. No filters or presets.

This isn’t meant to be a full review. There are many websites and blogs on the internet with experts who have the time and knowledge to do a far better job of that than I could. This are just some of my observations, with a few samples to demonstrate my point. You can see all the images below in full size on Flickr, although with a load more photos in an album titled First Impressions.

Low Light

The camera has a big fat APS-C sensor, so low light shouldn’t be a barrier to good photographs. The sensor has gotten rave reviews in the photography press, with favourable comparisons to full frame DSLRs. I’ve been quite impressed so far. It’s nice to see a decent level of detail from a handheld shot with some very contrasty scenes.

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Night Photography

It’s perfectly possible to get some great quality photos at night from even the cheapest of cameras. Mount it on a tripod, set the ISO to 100, give it a decently long exposure and hope that nothing, absolutely nothing, moves. Not a millimetre. The real trick is getting a good shot when things are moving and when you have the camera betwixt your fingers.

IQ4

Macro
The kit lens supplied with the camera is not a macro lens. Nor does it attempt to perform like one. So the results do reflect that. However, it finds it easier to focus on nearby subjects that the Olumpus E-PL1. And like the Olympus, I find the best way to get a shot is to move the lens back and zoom in, rather than get the lens as close to the subject as possible. Alas, there is some colour smearing to be seen.

IQ2

Colour

Fuji are famous for producing great colours and the X-M1 is no exception. It must be said that I’ve not been fortunate with the weather in the last month, and most of my shots have been underneath grey, wet skies. Which doesn’t help. But still. I’m pleased with the vibrant hues and well managed saturation. Although I have yet to explore the various colour settings, such as Velvia, which produce nicely balanced shots in daylight.

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Bokeh

That big sensor makes it much easier to throw the background out of focus. Of course, the closer you are to the subject, the easier it is. But I no longer need to be inches away. What I really want for some creative bokeh photography though, is the XF 35mm f1.4 lens. One day, one day…

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Dynamic Range

This is an area where the Fuji has really excelled. I’ve had an awful lot of cameras come through my hands that left me disappointed when the shot was a difficult scene with a lot of contrasting light. No details in the shadows. Any light areas blown out. The photo below isn’t a great photo by any stretch of the imagination. But you can see details in the shadows and blue in the skies. Which is neat.

IQ3

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Photography

Fuji X-M1: First Impressions

I’ve had my Fuji X-M1 for about a month now. That’s been plenty of time to get out and about shooting with it. Enough time that I can start spouting off what I think of my new possession. Let’s start at the beginning. First impressions.

Build and Feel

The XM-1 is largely constructed from plastic. It looks like a traditional, metal camera from a distance but don’t think anyone would be fooled upon taking it in their hands. I don’t think anyone would be too bothered, either. It feels robust. It doesn’t rattle when you wave it about. It feels like it could survive a few bumps too. Although I don’t intend putting it to that sort of test.

It feels like a camera should. It doesn’t have the solidity of a Sony Nex6. When picking up the Sony you can tell straight away that one is made of metal and one is not. There’s extra heft to the Sony, although neither camera weighs enough to cause anyone back ache.

I have seen reviews suggesting Fuji designed the camera with the intention of making one handed operation easy. If that was their intention, then they got it spot on. It fits in a single hand easily and all the key buttons are placed ‘just so’.

WiFi and GPS

I was pleased to see that the Fuji incorporated WiFi, with a GPS solution built in. I say ‘solution’ because the GPS isn’t itself built in. I also have to say that the WiFi/GPS is the biggest – actually, the only – disappointment I have had with the X-M1. You can connect the camera to your smartphone, once you’ve downloaded the Fuji app, although this in itself is a fiddly and slow affair. NFC would have been a nicer solution.

Once you’ve made the connection, you can use the GPS on your smartphone to embed your location directly into the photos. However, if you’re off on a long walk or trip, the Fuji app on the phone will stop recording location data after just 99 minutes. Which could prove annoying. It’s safer and simpler to just record my location through Google Tracking and then embed the data into the photos in Lightroom later.

I do like the ability to send photos from my camera to my smartphone though. It’s a nice way to kill a long journey home – editing a few shots and posting them to Instagram. This is the one WiFi feature that I will use. I do hope that Fuji revisit the WiFi capability of the X-M1 though. I’m sure it has potential for  better GPS tagging . It would also be nice to be able to use the smartphone as a remote for the camera too.

Menu System

Fuji have excelled in their menu systems. One of the biggest pains I’ve experienced in digital photography is having to sift through menus trying to get at the setting I want. There’s nothing more frustrating that an important setting being buried five deep in the menu system.

The X-M1 has most of the key settings on the dial. But for those you need to access through the LCD, its just one button to a smart layout that reveals all the key settings. Each setting can be changed by moving to it via the arrow buttons and then scrolling the thumb wheel. Sure, a touch screen would have made it easier still, but in reality the menu as it is works so sweetly that there’s no reason at all for any serious grumbling.

The LCD

I really wanted an electronic viewfinder with my next camera. But when I chose the X-M1, I did so knowing that this was a feature I’d have to sacrifice. So the quality of the LCD really is important. The LCD on my old Olympus Pen E-PL1 was a major weakness with that camera. One of the delights of digital photography is the ability to see if you’ve got a good shot there and then. Instant gratification.

The screen on the back of the Pen was so poor that I really could not tell if the shot was any good or not. As a result, I’d often take a batch of shots, each exposed differently. And yet I’d get home to find that the lot of them were either under or over exposed or out of focus. I don;t like having to put in extra effort and still not get a result.

The screen on the Fuji is, happily, a good one. With more than 900 million pixels you can see what you’re shooting. Sometimes, light areas look as though they’re over exposed, but are actually fine when viewed on the computer. This isn’t a problem then, as the results are consistent from shot to shot. This means that I can trust the camera. Which is rather important.

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The Flash

Ideally, I try not to use the flash. Sometimes it’s necessary. I tried to use it on the X-M1, but for neither love nor money could I get it to work. Sure, I could press the button and get the flash to physically pop up. Sure, I could find it in the menu. But could I turn it on or off in the menu? Nope. I scratched my head plenty. Then I ventured online to see if there’s a reason for the non functioning flash.

There was. You can put the X-M1 into Silent Mode for some stealth photography. Which I had done. The flash will not operate in stealth mode. Problem solved. But it was a kinda weird problem. This should be fixed. If I have popped the flash up, it’s clear I want to use it. The camera should recognise this and switch out of stealth mode.

Focussing

Other than the LCD, my old Olympus Pen had another issue. It wasn’t the quickest out of the blocks as far as focussing is concerned. In fact, it was often downright slow. The Fuji is such a huge leap forward compared the the Pen. Sure, it is not on a par with Sony or the modern Olympus and Panasonic compact system cameras. But it’s quick enough.

How big a difference is this? It’s like a race between Usain Bolt, Johann Blake and little old me. With me being the E-PL1 Pen. I’ve now been upgraded to Blake. So, ok, I still might not win, but at least nowadays when I cross the line, my competitors are still catching their breath as opposed to being showered, dressed, interviewed and half way home.

Satisfaction Rating

I love the Fuji X-M1. That’s for sure. It’s a lot more complex than the Pen and I’ll have to study the camera and its manual a little more and use it in a smarter way to get the best out of it, I also really want to get a couple of new lenses for it at some stage. They are key to maximising this cameras full potential. The pancake-ish 27mm f2.8 would be a nice addition. But I’m really craving the XF 35mm f1.4 prime lens.

But the 16mm-50mm kit lens is a decent piece of kit, an I’m looking forward to the free telephoto lens when it finally arrives. They will be good enough to keep me going for now. Can I recommend the X-M1. Sure, why not? It has to be said though, that it depends on your budget. It was the promise of that free telephoto lens, worth more than £300 in its own right, which swung the deal for me. Without that offer? I may well have held out for an XE-1 or looked harder at a Sony Nex6/a6000.

But regardless of the competition, I’ve gotten myself a superb little camera with the same fantastic sensor that’s fitted in Fuji’s more illustrious and substantially more expensive big brothers.

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