Cameras? Which one?

The market for cameras today is vast. There are so many out there, spread across so many sensor sizes sporting herds of pixels. I don't get asked so much anymore about which camera someone should buy. Maybe thats because people who know me know I am a "Fuji Guy" but I was a "Nikon Guy" prior and I got asked then. Maybe its because I write about my Fuji cameras more than I did my Nikons? That is the crux of why I left Nikon, for me there was nothing much new to write about - no real innovation during my tenure with the iconic brand. Probably though, its because everyone has a camera in their phone, so they have their camera needs covered. Yep, and pigs can fly. 

I have owned many cameras over the years. Without getting into film cameras, I've owned/shot with Olympus M4/3's, Panasonic M4/3's Canon/Nikon/Pentax/Sony APS-C and full frame sensor cameras and the somewhat affordable Pentax 645z when it was the only thing besides Phase One and Hasselblad offering a larger sensor. I've also used many smaller point and shoots which definitely have their place in the world along with the growing market of 1" sensor cameras. This new breed of 1" sensor based cameras are really good and offerings are fantastic. They are fixed lens, some with zooms, but they fit in your pocket and offer excellent image quality. 

You won't like this if you are looking for a camera but you can take your pick. They are all very good, and infinitely better than any phone camera. All I can add is if you invest in one, then please, please invest in the time to learn how to use it. Learn more than how to turn it on. Learn its controls and practice then learn how and what to point it at. Keep learning. Thats photography. 

If you take to photography, you will start to find preferences. Right now there are cameras claiming to be the best ever (yes, this happens every year) offering more dynamic range, more ISO sensitivity and more of everything, and all of it is more than you need to take a world class picture. Let that sink in. When you get to a certain place in your photography you will know how to use the camera you have and what it does and the next "best ever" won't matter. At a certain point just a combination of small features and upgrades that aren't sexy enough to make the best ever club will matter. To you. This is why I use and prefer the cameras I use. They fit me. The same as they fit my style of shooting. Other styles of photography will fit other people. And they will use their gear to make it work for them. Don't ask me what settings I use, they probably won't work for you. Right now, in the portrait world, people flock to this "look" shot with wide open apertures, you have seen it. Its got a slightly faded look, dreamy like, background all blurry and out of focus and some subject in focus surrounded by grass, trees, or often nothing else but them. Its in demand by Mom's, its classic I guess but it makes me want to puke. I was doing this four or five years ago. I never want to stagnate as a photographer to where I'm churning out the same pictures. All. The. Time. Yes, I will shoot those shots at times, because the surroundings or situation demands it but it is not the only thing I do. So I have lenses that work beyond f/1.2 or f/1.4 and they shoot in many angles of view - wide, mid and telephoto. I can match them with my cameras which offer the possibility to shoot in a variety of situations and a variety of subjects. 

So the bottom line is get a camera if you are so inclined. Start to learn it and what to do with it. May be you only want to shoot birds. Cool. Get a good APS-C body and a longer telephoto, zoom or prime. Like a 100-400mm. Birds really need 400mm minimum. Perhaps a 1.4x tele converter once you learn the basics. This rig can handle some sports too. Want to shoot bugs or flowers then get any camera with a decent macro lens in its lineup. Hate carrying stuff around? Check out the Olympus M4/3's body and lens family. If you view work on a screen and don't print much beyond 8x10, you get more than enough image to work with in a nice smaller camera to carry around. The camera you have with you is the best one you have. So get something that fits you. Hopefully its not just your phone. 

Stay creative people. Photography is a lot of fun if you let it be. 



"Wow" pictures - The X-H1 is THAT good

I've invested in yet another new camera body. There are a lot of new cameras recently announced and shipped so I'm one of many persons I guess. Funny thing, I had no plans to pick this one up since when it was announced, it just did nothing on paper to make me want it. Once it came out, I read about the technology involved and saw a few videos on it. I became intrigued.  

I bought this new camera body for some "incremental" improvements to a feature set over a generation older camera body. For some of the work I do I figured it would be of benefit. I also planned to sell at least one of the two bodies I already had for this sort of work. Let me explain a bit. I have two Fujifilm X-T2's, and an X-Pro2 (mostly for personal use and as a backup) that I use for certain types of work. Work more along the lines of sporting event coverage and journalistic documentation shots. Even parts of a wedding, should I temporarily lose my mind and agree to shoot a wedding. I also have the Fuji GFX medium format but thats a totally different animal and not part of this equation right now. So, right off the new X-H1 from Fujifilm replaces an X-T2. Now though, after having the X-H1 for over a week and taking a few dozen pictures with many lenses, I have decided to sell BOTH X-T2's. No, the X-H1 is not head and heels better than two cameras. But the new camera is improved enough to make this possible. I can totally get by easily with one X-H1 and one X-Pro2 with the GFX on hand to do its thing where needed. 

The X-H1 is Fuji's first "in body internal stabilization" featured camera. It's IBIS system uses 5 axis analysis and movement to counter a photographer's natural movement when hand holding and taking pictures. In theory it means you can shoot with slower shutter speeds (at non moving subjects) than typical and you can work in lower light environments but it also helps when you are moving in coverage or shooting longer telephotos in good light since it still stabilizes some inherent wobble from too much caffeine or a steady wind, or the shakes after a rough night out with friends and your favorite adult beverage. So the intent is perhaps sharper images, that is, more keepers under more trying conditions. The inclusion of IBIS meant a larger body. Only slightly larger as it turned out. And a definite benefit for me. Lenses are made with internal stabilization too and I own several but those will always be 2 axis stabilized due to their design and physical shape. An internal stabilized camera body coupled with the stabilized lens will offer better overall stabilization. This camera promises 5-5.5 stops. For me, this is most evident with slower telephoto lenses. And a heavier, chunky mid tele lens. So there is that.

The big feature though, the one that nailed it for me, was improved autofocus. Fuji says this camera has the same exact processor and hardware for AF as the X-T2 BUT the clever engineers switched algorithms and created a parallel processing stream, they also created sub points of a focus point to improve tracking. So each focus point has additional sub points offering more information about focus and movement feeding this processor in parallel instead of serially. The result is improved performance! From the same hardware! Now, this is the high level view folks, there is much more going on but trust me when I tell you that this X-H1 focuses like no X-T2. Its lightning quick (not that the X-T2 is dog slow) and works in lower available light as well. Even with older lenses with "slow" focus motors. This tracking and AF is of huge interest for me in shooting sports, and wildlife. It also comes into play when covering motoring events or dance sessions. Combine the new AF with the IBIS and I had to have it. The X-H1's big selling point to the rest of the world is it's outstanding video ability (the best Fuji has ever made) and while thats good and useful at some point, its wasn't a factor for buying in. I'm not even close to video centric. 

Over the course of the week plus of shooting the camera, I have stumbled onto something else. This camera uses the same sensor and processor as the X-T2. Fuji said to expect comparable image quality. Since the X-T2 IQ is outstanding, that comment was met with a shrug. I'm still gathering data but I can tell you that given the way I shoot and expose for an image and the post processing I use, this sensor is different. Hardware might be the same part numbers but the firmware or some software is changed. I have heard the ISO range has been extended and Fuji does tinker with ISO and dynamic range among other things with their sensors. They do this continuously. So maybe they tweaked something in there somewhere. But right off, in some test shots, I was able to pull from shadows and recover from highlights far more than I have been able to EVER do with any X-T2 image. Again, the X-T2 wasn't bad here either. But there is also something else. I'm not sure what to attribute it to. This sensor provides a different "look" to an image. Its capable of producing "wow" images. Depth, almost 3D like, details, sharpness and levels of contrast that were above expectations from a X-T2 sensor. Back with my first Fuji camera, the X-Pro1, I noticed it's sensor was very special too, especially for B&W imaging (but also in color) in the way it rendered data similarly in a photo. Used in a certain way and with certain (but not all) lenses, it did produce images of the same "wow" nature. Magical. Its like it is punching way above it's sensor weight. My X-T1 did a great overall job but I did not get that "special" wow look with any lens, just great overall images. Same for the X-T2. Great but no magic. The GFX has this magic, but thats a much larger sensor, much different data capture and much different processing. Now though, with the X-H1, the magic seems to be back. I have said nothing about it but did post a few pics online to gauge reactions and others see it too. I have heard of similar claims from a few other photographers using the X-H1. People see a different "pleasing to the eye" picture. 

This look I'm talking about from the X-H1 is hard to explain. I'll try. The image seems to have more "depth" than a 2D image normally has. Its very sharp but not crisp and un-naturally looking like you tend to see of late from many cameras. Colors are pleasing and natural looking (perhaps a color shift in Velvia/Vivid which I'm looking into) and in B&W Acros, the tonal variations are subtlety extended but very much evident. I'm doing some post processing but not much. About what I normally do. But it makes for a truly pleasing picture. I have used a couple different software products to convert the image. I thought that maybe one was adding a bit more or doing something different. A sensor after all only produces empirical data. The post software renders it an image via de-mosaicing algorithms. But both programs produced the same "special" results. Fuji builds camera systems for a final product. What you get in post processing is what matters to them which is why I prefer their equipment right now. I can't help but wonder if an engineer or team of them, added something to the recipe. I'm going to keep on testing and trying different lenses but right now I am liking this camera and it's results. 

This camera has allowed me to use my 16-55mm stabilized and is one big reason I can lose both X-T2's. I did have to carry two so I could have different lenses to cover a range that the 16-55 could handle except with it I never got a great percentage of keepers. I found it tough to shoot my 16-55mm on the X-T2 unless it was on a tripod. Now, I can shoot it handheld and the lens has become very usable. Ditto for a few other lenses (90mm anyone?). So I can keep my trusty and favored X-Pro2 in reserve with a nice f/1.4 or f/1.2 on it. The increased size of the X-H1 helps with holding the 16-55 too, believe it or not. Another less touted feature of the X-H1 is its front curtain shutter and lack of shutter shock and that is perhaps a larger help than I figured in upping my percentage of keepers. 

A wow picture. Subjective to be sure but others do see it in their own way too. I have always been wowed by pictures I like right off, some shot by me, many shot by others. I think its something the eye sees and the mind translates. Some cameras though are inherently good at producing really good pictures. In my world, my D700 still ranks as a top producer of "wow" images. I will run across a wow image in my catalog and check the EXIF and yep, its from the D700. I also see wow images from my Df and D4s (they shared a sensor too). And I see wow images with my Fuji cameras, which is why I switched. My wow pictures are wow to me for different reasons, sometimes its lighting, color, or the story they tell via composition or a combination of things. But, they are always pleasing. This X-H1 did a wow on me and it was totally unexpected but trust me, I plan to exploit it's ability all I can! The experiment will continue. I'm sort of pumped over this. My X-T2's are on the block but oddly, the used market is down right now, at least for my products. I can't move an X-T2, Einstein flash, Profoto 600R or a handful of modifiers up for sale. At low prices! I hope I don't have to sell a kidney to recoup my X-H1 investment! 

Update: I did sell one X-T2, and a bunch of modifiers. My organs are safe; until the XF 200mm f/2 is released anyway.