fuji

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 Out Film

Fuji Superia

The fun part about a hobby is that you can take risks and trying things out with little to no consequence (if you don’t count time or effort).

And so, while I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, this year I’m going to try to do a bit more 35mm film photography.

I just posted my first batch of photos developed from a roll of Fuji Superia film. My local photo shop actually developed them for me last year, but it’s taken me this long to get them scanned and uploaded. I’m also working on a roll of Ilford black and white film that I’m excited about.

Fuji Superia: MacBook

All of this film stuff has me thinking about experimenting with film more. Specifically, I want to play with my Tomyko LT002 plastic toy camera. I just loaded it with some Lomography 400 speed color film (if you’re going to go toy/plastic, go all the way, right?). While poking around, doing some research on the camera, I came across some sample images – the type of dreamy photos I’ve wanted to make, just for fun.

(An aside: it’s super hard to find info on these Tomyko – or Lavec – cameras. But you can grab your own for $15 on eBay, or for $5 at a local thrift store.)

Fuji Superia 770

Also, I have collected rolls of Kodak Portra and Ektar to try out with my Pentax K1000.

To do all this, there’s a little bit of an investment involved. It takes money to develop and scan the film (though not much), but that’s to be expected with any hobby. And lord knows I know how to spend money on a hobby.

Fuji Superia 767

Taking photos with film is different almost automatically. You need some patience, and some selectivity, to make film photos.

That’s my goal for 2014: explore this measured pace. Make thoughtful images. And learn a bit about how people used to make photos.


Follow-Up on VSCO vs. Film Manufacturers

Fuji responded to my call for film makers (like themselves and Kodak) to run, not walk, into the digital film emulation and mobile photography business.

They’re right – and I said as much: Fuji is jumping into digital photography with both feet, and they should be commended. They’re making great stuff.

But in film emulation? Mobile apps? Not so much.

And Kodak? For crying out loud, they’re not even in the photography business any more.

So my point still stands: who better to do film emulations than the original film manufacturers?

And now with Totally Rad jumping into the game, the original film stock companies are getting further and further behind in the mobile/software arena.

Again, for Fuji, that’s fine. They’re doing a great business with the X-series of cameras.

For everyone else? Lots of luck.

UPDATE 9-13-13: Kodak responded on Twitter as well, suggesting that they’re still in the film business. However, my digging online found that while film stocks may have the Kodak name, they may not come from the original source. So what: film is film and it has Kodak on the box. For most people, that’s all that matters.

But again – whoever makes the film should be making the digital equivalent.

Also, kudos to Fuji for having some fun in this conversation.


My Two Weeks With A Fuji X100

Harbor Barber: Tools

Renting a camera is the perfect way to try before you buy. It’s also the perfect way just to try – and that’s why I rented a Fuji X100 for two weeks. Just to try.

I see other photographers that I admire doing fantastic work with the Fuji system, and speaking its praise as the Next Big Thing. Being a Canon guy, it was tempting to see what all the fuss is about.

Fuji X100: Bay Harbor Yacht Club

I also rented it because I was covering a wedding for two co-workers, and thought it would be fun to take it to their destination ceremony in Petoskey, Mich.

There, it performed very well. I had to make sure to keep it on a setting that worked for whatever situation I was in, but from there I just pointed, framed, and shot.

Harbor Barber: Edges

The things this camera can do with mixed light situations, dynamic lighting, and low light is spectacular. And sharpness? Just perfect.

There were times when I felt lost. That feeling probably comes from knowing my Canons so well. I also like having things like ISO and white balance ready at a button push. Too often, with the X100, I had to dive into the menu system to switch up the settings.

Fuji X100: Crossroad

I’ve read that people use the X100 as a slower device. Take your time, adjust your settings, frame your shot, click. So maybe throwing it into a fast-paced wedding situation wasn’t entirely fair.

For those instances where I could take my time, it was perfect. The size, too, made it a handy carry-around camera. It’s a throw-it-in-the-front-seat-of-my-car camera – a walk-around-the-neighborhood camera. And it was light enough to feel like a regular accessory to the day.

Fuji X100: Sparks Park Pond

The film modes are fun (like the Velvia setting above), but were an extra step in the process. I found taking the RAW files and adjusting them was more my style.

At first, I blanched at the idea of using the Electronic Viewfinder. But the rangefinder-style Optical Viewfinder missed focus points just enough to get pretty annoying, so I switched as time went on fairly easily.

Fuji X100: Bee on Echinacea

Switching to Macro Mode, however, to get those close shots was not easy. I never quite got the hang of it, and would often forget which mode I was in and shoot in the wrong mode.

Fuji X100: Clouds Moving In

The picture files? Glorious to work with. Plenty of flexibility to lift shadows or pull back highlights – again, especially in those mixed lighting situations. Skies, especially, were lovely. For a lot of my shots, using the VSCO Film Fuji profiles worked well.

All in all, using the Fuji X100 really was like shooting with a film camera. The photo files had personality, and flexibility, and were a lot of fun to play around with.

Fuji X100: Red Barn

The camera itself was an adjustment. I feel like, with more time, I’d get used to its particular quirks. Maybe not.

But sometimes it was nice to set the setting and not touch them, and just worry about making nice photos.

Fuji X100: See-Through


Darkroom Woodshed, or How VSCO Beats the Film Companies At Their Own Game

VSCO Film recently released their newest set of film emulation presets, a lovely set of slide film reproductions that model classic Fuji, Agfa, and Kodak positive film.

And while the digital version of those classic films doesn’t exactly mimick the original, it’s enough to feed into the back-to-our-roots photographic trends that Instagram, Hipstamatic, and VSCO itself kick-started. Pros, amateurs, iPhoneographers – a lot of us are using film-style presets these days.

That got me thinking: why does it take a company like VSCO to come out with these film simulations? Why the hell didn’t Fuji, Kodak, and Ilford – with their diminishing film stocks and questionable financial future – come out with this kind of product?

Why leave it to a digital competitor to develop a copy of your signature films?

No, VSCO-style simulations won’t keep New York cities humming with manufacturing, but they could’ve helped film companies ease into the digital realm.

I take it that Fuji is doing okay with its new X-Series cameras. They’re supplementing their film business with a great series of cameras – cameras that, yes, are simulating Fuji films like Velvia and Astia.

But Ilford? Kodak? Agfa? How are they doing in this modern photographic age? Are they comfortable with staying a hyper-niche product for hobbyists and the declining number of professional photographers who still use film?
Kodak Instamatic 54X + Kodacolor 126 film
Why not say, “Hey, no one knows our film better than we do. We’ll help photographers simulate our classic films with a set of presets that we can sell for real money.”

It used to be that film stock, with quality glass, was how you achieved a certain look. Velvia was different from Portra was different from Polaroid. Now, in the digital age, it’s a combination of camera, software, lens, and (for those who use them) presets.

For film companies, their role in that process should be in the software/presets realm.

“Great photo!” an imaginary film company representative says. “Now make it look how you want it to look with our specially-engineered family of film simulations.”

Instead, companies like VSCO swoop in with the right mixture of finesse and quality and eat the film companies’ lunch. They also offer options for today’s photo enthusiast: desktop and mobile software.

Kodak? Their mobile app offerings look like a messy discount aisle in a dimly-lit drug store: nothing but apps for purchasing film(!) and printing photos (that last one is pretty handy – at least they’re encouraging people to keep printing photos).
Fuji film Velvia
Fuji is at least doing a bit better in this space. But still. Why keep those X-Series film simulation modes exclusive on the cameras? Why not make a few bucks selling a mobile camera app with those simulations, and beat VSCO at its own game?

I love Camera Noir and Hueless for my iPhone. But where is the Ilford app?

Don’t get me wrong. There are tons of photo filter apps – more than one could ever want or use. But shouldn’t the film companies be in this space and doing it better than anyone? Shouldn’t they have been here first, for crying out loud?

Developing software and apps doesn’t replace the film business. I get that. But what else are the film companies going to do? Wait it out like some passing phase?

When the world switches, you switch with it. As it stands, disrupting upstarts like VSCO are taking the film companies out to the darkroom woodshed.

(Photos courtesy Bryan Costin, with my “VSCO” addition, PabloBD, and Kevin Dooley on Flickr)