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Photography gear: reviews, lenses, cameras, film, etc.

Fujifilm X-E1: A Review

Fujifilm X-E1: Fujinon 27mm f/2.8

Last year, for my birthday, I purchased a gently used Fuji X-E1 from fredmiranda.com, ushering in my entry to the Fujifilm system.

After many months of using (and a bit of abusing) this great little camera, I’m going to run down some thoughts on it.

Attraction

Hey – it was my birthday. What other excuse do I need to buy a new camera?

But really, it was after seeing the incredible work of La Roque and others that first attracted me to the Fujifilm system. There was a magic in these cameras, they told me, similar to Leica and Apple and all those cultish (and quality) consumer brands.

The key was to buy into the system at a discount, which is why I went with a used Fuji X-E1, the consumer-grade Fujifilm camera. For $300, I bought into a whole new camera and lens system. I also purchased the Fujinon 27mm pancake lens during last spring’s rebate. Everything was affordable, and I felt I wasn’t losing much even if my new-camera experiment didn’t work out.

It was an easy way to see what all the fuss was about. So I did it.

Happy birthday, me!

 

Hare Krishna: Dance

Handling

First, much like my Canon EOS M, I can see why photographers are singing the praise of mirrorless cameras. The lightness and portability are a definite plus.

In fact, the X-E1 is almost too light – or too hollow. That’s why I’m thankful my X-E1 seller included a leather case. The heft the case adds feels more natural in my hands. Even with that, though, the camera and lens combo is light. Featherweight, even. It makes my Canon M feel like a solid brick of metal.

The pancake lens adds almost nothing to the weight, and very little to the size. That may be a different story with something like the Fujinon 35mm, but I set this system up to be portable and small.

 

Downtown Jackson: B-Z-Bee Cafe

I knew that this wasn’t a DSLR, and that not everything would be accessible as a button or switch. So menu hunting gets a little old sometimes. But as long as I’m thoughtful, and think through a shooting session, I get by okay.

And can we talk about style? For someone’s who’s not concerned with fashion, getting the fun “is that a film camera?” comments has been a hoot for me. It becomes a topic of conversation, even with strangers.

 

Red Barn Doors [Explored]

Photo Files

Everyone’s right: there’s something very special about these Fuji photo files. I knew that from my few weeks using a Fujifilm X100 a few summers back.

I’ll say that the X100 had something really special about it. I look back at those files and realize that the X-E1′s don’t quite match up. It could be the lens that makes the difference. I don’t know. But there is a difference – those X100 images are stellar.

 

Springtime on Campus

The X-E1′s? Still great. There’s a coldness to them, but they’re certainly sharp. I’ve found that I don’t enjoy using the film simulation modes. They do things with colors that are not pleasing to my eye. The black and white modes work pretty well, though.

Ben Brooks has some nice thoughts on his XE-2, and I really enjoyed his parting words on using a Fuji for the style:

The color rendering, the feel, the controls. It’s not a system that is quantitatively better if you ask me, but it is a system that just makes you feel like you have the chance to create something special every time you press the shutter release because the cameras and lenses themselves feel very special to use.

The cameras? Yes. The photo files? Maybe.

It could be that my eyes are use to seeing Canon files. It could be the sharpness is off-putting sometimes – it’s hard to describe, but there’s a crispness to the images that’s almost too much.

 

Birthday Presents

The Future

All in all, the Fuji X-E1 has been a great little camera. Portable, flexible, fashionable, and not obnoxious. It certainly has its quirks.

I do find myself missing Canon image files. Maybe it’s just that I’ve gotten so used to them, but the “coldness” in the Fuji files, and something about the color, isn’t as pleasing to me.

For the near future, I do see trying out a Fujinon 35mm. The 27mm makes for a fine walk-around lens, but to get truly creative, I feel like the shallow depth of field on the 35mm will open some options. And people have (mostly) nothing but good things to say about it.

I see this as primarily my travel camera. When I go somewhere, the X-E1 will go with me.

You can view some of the images I’ve made with this camera at my Flickr album.


Trying (And Failing)

Trying (And Failing)


Low-End Photography: Canon 5D Classic

Taking something like low-end photography (much like low-end computing) seriously involves using classic gear to get your artistic goals accomplished.

The “classic” part is the key. It’s not enough to use any old retro digital camera. It still has to work well and produce good files.

That’s why I ended up grabbing a Canon 5D (mark I, natch) a few months ago off of fredmiranda.com. Many would agree that it’s a classic camera: sturdy, innovative at release, and capable of producing beautiful photos.

It’s also my first foray into the world of full-frame digital photography. My Canon Rebel T1i has done me well these past four years, but I’m prepping myself for a Canon 6D purchase this summer. Before I take that plunge, I wanted to test out a full frame camera, so I went shopping for a 5D.

It has not disappointed. It’s built like a tank, it produces sharp, beautiful photo files, and it’s not that much bigger or heavier than my T1i. And the reach! Those EF lenses are at their best when they showcase their maximum focal length.

What doesn’t it do? It doesn’t do movies. Or HDR (thank goodness). Or double exposures. Or even Auto ISO. The Canon 5D is closer to a photographer’s camera – purely focused on photography – that just about anything released these days. All you can do is make photos with it.

Grab a CF card (still available) and a card reader, and Lightroom has access to everything the 5D produces. In that way, it’s as relevant today as it was when it was released almost a decade ago.

No, the ISO isn’t as bump-able as today’s Mark III version. And the file size is smaller. But I share my photos mainly online, with a few 8×10″ prints here and there, and for those reasons the classic 5D is good enough. And I’m not alone – some of my favorite photographers working today still use the 5D (with one lens!).

I also saved a bunch of money on a full-frame camera.

Eventually the thing will wear out. The 100k shutter lifespan is quickly approaching. Even when it does die, I imagine I’ll have taken lots of photos with it. It will serve me well in, what, a few years? Maybe more?

It’s a low-end approach to photography: buy a classic camera that’s in good shape, save some money, and enjoy the benefits of Good Enough.


Trying (And Failing) to Fix a Yashica Electro 35

So it goes. You push yourself a bit beyond the comfortable, but sometimes it’s a bit too far.

That was the case with my Yashica Electro 35 GS rangefinder, an eBay pickup that I thought would be a fun dip into the camera repair pool. I got it for a great price, not knowing what was wrong with it. But the idea of a fixer-upper appeals to me, after all the work I did repairing and upgrading my Macs and Newtons over the years.

So I bought a Yashica thinking it would be DIY project, like the old days.

Looking around online, there’s tons of resources available for these Electros: custom-made battery holders, step-by-steps for taking it apart, the Pad of Death replacements.

None of those resources, however, helped me with the basic problem: fear. Or at least nervousness.

You see, digging into one of these rangefinders feels like taking apart a mechanical watch. These are delicate instruments, with tiny screws and interlocking parts that are engineered within a millimeter of precision.

It’s different that opening up a PowerPC-era Mac and swapping out the RAM. With those, there was plenty of room to work in.

The problems with these older Yashicas, though, are often solved with a soldering gun and precision screwdrivers. The old batteries leak, the wires become corroded, the shutter doesn’t fire. All that information is out there.

Mine? It seemed to be an electrical issue, because the battery check light didn’t come on, even after a fresh battery. There was a bit of leakage from an old expired battery, but nothing too messy. I cleaned the battery compartment, cleaned the contacts, took the bottom plate off to make sure everything looked fine. Nothing.

Then I moved into the top plate, to see what the wiring situation looked like. Sure enough, there were two white wires, one connected to the battery compartment and another from who knows where, hanging loose. To get to the battery wire, I’d have to take a lot of the view finder apart. The other? Who knows.

Eventually, I got to feel like one wrong move and I’ve ruined the darned thing.

So after buying a specialty screwdriver, ordering the custom battery thingy, and taking a look inside, I can reasonably say I have no interest in pursuing this repair further. My comfort level only goes so far.

The good news is that the camera shutter still fires at 1/500, so with a bit of math and some 400 speed film, I can get a good exposure using the Sunny 16 Rule. I loaded a roll of Lomo 400 just for testing, to see what the limits are.

My limits? I think I just found them, thanks to this little Yashica.


Kodak Ektar 100

Kodak Ektar 100

Had my first roll of Kodak Ektar 100 printed, and boy, talk about some touchy film.

Or I should say, touchy camera (my Canonet) and film combo. Lots of underexposures, crushed blacks, and double exposures (like the one above) in the roll.

It’s a bummer when the photos you’re looking forward to seeing come out botched. But that’s the magic of film, right?


Camera Review: Canon EOS M

Canon EOS M: Body

After toying around with the mirrorless camera world, I got to appreciate the conveniences – what I call the throw-it-in-the-car effect. Mirrorless cameras like the Fuji X100 are light, small, and not prone to bang into things with a lens sticking out of the front.

That’s why, when Canon had a fire sale, I jumped on the Canon EOS M mirrorless camera with the stock EF-M 22mm lens.

Canon EOS M: EF-M 22mm

Just $300 for a small, portable camera with a prime pancake lens and a Rebel T4i-caliber sensor. Touchscreen controls. Firmware update that speeds up the autofocus.

The only bummer? The white one was discontinued. Otherwise I would’ve (and believe me, I tried) purchased that one in a heartbeat.

As it was, with just the black model, I did think about the purchase for a few days. Did I need this camera? Would I put it to good use? Was the quality enough that I wouldn’t be frustrated with it?

No, yes, and maybe.

Canon EOS M

Camera Design

After the Canon EOS M arrived, it was pretty fun to unbox it. There’s lots of stuff that Canon packs in that box – and the minority of the material was the actual camera.

The camera itself is a solidly-built little instrument. It feels dense, but not heavy, so that it feels like a good, quality hunk of camera.

Canon EOS M: EF-M 22mm

The 22mm lens is light and well-built as well, although I’m not a fan of the sound it makes as you screw it into the camera. It feels like it’s rubbing or scratching agains something it shouldn’t be.

Canon EOS M: Screen

The back screen is large and bright enough to be seen in most situations, although with screens of this type, it does get tough to see what you’re shooting in bright sunlight (more on this later).

Canon includes a thin camera strap with little metal hooks that slide into the rivets on the camera – a nice system. Putting the EOS M around my neck helped me appreciate how small and light it is.

8/1/13 - Driveway Grass

Image Quality

Touring around with the Fuji X100, and my Canon T1i, I had weak expectations for the image quality on the EOS M.

Happily, this camera beat those low expectations handily.

Jackson County Fair 2013

Bright scenes, dark scenes, color and contrast – they’re all great, and I was shooting mainly JPGs. I found the image files flexible enough to grab the details I needed in Lightroom.

The 22mm focal length is a bit wider than I like, but it does make the M flexible for most situations: landscapes, architecture, street-type scenes, macro, even portraits. Pairing the EOS M with a quality 35mm or 40mm prime lens would be perfect for the way I shoot.

So the quality of images isn’t where this camera gets annoying. Not at all.

8/20/13 - Foggy Sunrise

Camera Positives

Since participating in On Taking Pictures’s daily photo challenge, I’ve almost exclusively used the Canon EOS M.

I felt it was a good exercise to get used to the camera, and to learn its ins and outs.

Given that, this thing was perfect as an everyday carry-around camera. I could swing it over my shoulder heading out the door, throw it in the front seat, and carry it with me wherever I went. When I did go out and shoot, it was light and small enough to not get in the way.

The pancake lens simplifies things, too. Just one focal length, with a wide enough aperture to do what I like to do. All I have to think about is taking the lens cap off.

8/18/13 - Locally Grown

It’s not quite iPhone camera simple, or point-and-shoot simple, but it’s more simple than choosing a lens, lugging the DSLR around, etc. My DSLR is a pro tool that gets me exactly what I see in my head. The EOS M is what I carry around with day to day that’s convenient enough to be useful.

That’s been the breakthrough for me with this camera, and the Fuji X100 before this. The portability, the convenience, and the image quality make these mirrorless cameras the equivalent of the iPad: in between the iPhone’s race car and the Mac’s utility truck lies just the right touch of Good Enough.

And, it’s fun. It’s a lot of fun to carry this thing around and just have it there, being simple, and grabbing nice images.

Cruise Night: No Parking

Camera Quirks

I’ll say that my number one issue with this camera is the random exposures it takes because of the touch shutter. In the bottom left of the screen is a Touch Shutter Enable/Disable button – but seemingly at random, it switches modes. It could be because of an accidental touch, but I get enough random exposures from the camera bumping into me that it gets annoying. Quickly.

If I could turn off that entire area of the touchscreen, I would.

Also, the 22mm lens will sometimes search endlessly for focus, especially for macro-type shots. I find that switching the camera off and on again helps, but sometimes it doesn’t and I need to take the lens off the camera.

Finally, the touch-screen buttons seem randomly and frustratingly placed. I have to stop and think about where I need to put my finger to change the white balance, say, whereas with DSLR canons my fingers can go automatically to some dial or button for instant access.

Nothing Stops Detroit: Down

More On the Touchscreen

Yes, the touchscreen is hard to see in bright sunlight (especially if you wear sunglasses). And yes, that touch-to-take-a-phone feature is a downer for me.

Overall, the touchscreen is just a big ball of frustration. Touching to focus, so easy on an iPhone, is cumbersome on this thing. I find the focus point randomly moves around because of accidental touches, and changing settings like aperture and ISO are clunky.

And trying to focus on something below or above you, with the screen barely in view? I agree with others: make it a swivel display and you could solve a few of these problems.

Hitting the “Info” button, I’ve learned, helps to help with some of those accidental touches, since the “buttons” on the screen disappear. And pressing the delete button on the scroll wheel helps place the focus point back at center.

But trying to do all this while holding and the camera and pressing the shutter button – maybe it’s just going to take some getting use to. I find I often take too many accidental exposures fumbling with the settings and getting the camera ready to shoot.

Jackson Cruise Night 508

Final Thoughts

The Canon EOS M was the first step for Canon in the mirrorless world, and with a few needed firmware updates, they’ve made their initial product a decent one – especially at $300.

I can see going fully mirrorless someday, should these cameras become as practical and fast to use as a DSLR (and if they stick around). Until then, these cameras are a lot of fun to use – and I think that counts for a lot, especially for a hobbyist like me.

Canon EOS M: Sensor

Adding a nice portrait-length prime lens to the EF-M lineup would be killer, especially fast lenses in the f/2 range like the stock 22mm.

Rumors are that a new EOS M model is headed our way, so we’ll see what Canon does. I’m happy that I pulled the trigger on this first model, no matter what comes.

It’s added a new dimension to my hobby that’s been a lot of fun to explore.

View more Canon EOS M photos at my Flickr album.