Friday, April 27, 2012

First Impressions: Fuji X-Pro1

Last night I had the opportunity to see and handle the new Fuji X-Pro1 camera with its 3 lenses. When this camera was first announced, it seemed to have the answers for most of what ails digital cameras these days. Well, after taking a closer look at it, that was probably an overly optimistic view of this camera. Honestly, I don't think any camera, whether film or digital, can be the perfect answer for any and all situations. Some just are better fits for some specific problems, not all of them. So let's break down what I saw and experienced. Bear in mind that I didn't get a chance to shoot any images. I was looking at images taken and supplied by Fuji, so these can be assumed to be best-case examples of what the camera can do. What it actually does may be quite different in the real world.

The X-Pro1 is a bit of a mixed bag. My first impression on looking at it is that it's kind of big for what it is. I'm talking about the camera body itself. Keeping in mind that it uses an APS-C size sensor, it's nearly the same size as a Leica M9 and not that far from a full-sized DSLR, minus the penta-prism hump, of course. I was surprised. When I picked it up, though, it was surprisingly light. Almost suspiciously light. I know the body is made of mostly magnesium, but it felt very light as if it was made of plastic. The larger-than-expected size coupled with the feather-like weight created a strange disconnect for me. I'm used to pro-oriented cameras having a certain amount of heft, a substantial quality to them and the X-Pro1 doesn't have this. Of course, who am I to complain about a light weight camera? Anyway, moving on.

On the other hand, the lenses are surprisingly substantial and well-made. Aside from Leica and Zeiss lenses, I haven't picked up a lens like these in years. Even the focusing is smooth and well-damped like a well-made manual focus lens. But, that's where the similarities end. The operation of manual focusing these lenses is frustrating and unresponsive. Seems like you turn the focusing ring forever without getting anywhere. I was told they were an improvement over the focusing in the earlier model, the X100. If this is so, wow. Really?

So enough complaining, what was good about the camera and lenses? Well, the images for sure. The 35mm f/1.4 was clearly the best of the three lenses, with the 60mm f/2.4 coming close to it. These two lenses have the ideal combination of fine detail and sharp images with creamy, smooth out of focus characteristics that manage to provide enough hints of detail for the out of focus areas to hang together and not fall apart. The out of focus backgrounds and foregrounds don't turn to mush or have weird, distracting highlights, they still have a lot of character. Not every lens can do this. Images from the 35mm lens were especially three-dimensional. However, the images from the 18mm f/2 lens seemed kind of flat in comparison. It wasn't nearly as sharp.

A lot of the image quality probably is due to two things, the X-Pro1's sensor and processor. I leafed through a large stack of images printed to 8x12 and most had enough similarities to draw some conclusions. Overall, I'd say the images from the X-Pro1 were more immediately film-like than most digital cameras produce. There was a smoothness in the tonal gradations without losing sharpness in the detail that I used to associate with medium and large format color images. The image quality is first-rate, as good or better than anything out there.

The operation of the camera is simple, direct, and refreshingly old school with a shutter speed dial on top of the camera and each lens having their own aperture rings. Both have "A" or automatic settings, too. Add the exposure compensation dial next to the shutter speed dial and the shutter release and you have all you need to control the shooting. The hybrid viewfinder is pretty nice, too. A bit of visual drag with the LCD option, but it's not bad at all. Very livable. Using the camera proved to be intuitive and fast.

Despite my concerns and complaints, I enjoyed the X-Pro1 quite a bit. Before seeing and handling the X-Pro1, I was even toying  with the idea of selling my Canon equipment and just jumping into the Fuji X-system, but now that I have seen it up close and got a chance to see how it works, I'm probably going to stay put. But I will keep my eyes open to see where Fuji takes this new camera system. I have the feeling that the X-Pro2 will be something really special.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New Camera Blues

Canon has posted a new firmware 1.1.2 update for the 5D Mark III which addresses several problems and issues. You can download it here. Canon has also stopped shipments of the new camera until they can fix an exposure problem. It seems that if you are shooting in extremely low light conditions and use the top LCD illumination feature, which most people tend to do in that situation, this will throw off your exposure, probably in the direction of under-exposure. Canon has also issued a product advisory to 5D Mark III owners about this glitch and starting in mid-May will inspect owner's cameras free of charge to see if this is happening to their cameras. Whether this means they will also repair or adjust the cameras for free is unclear at this time. Most new cameras have a few glitches to work out after introductions, but I have the feeling that this won't help sell the 5D Mark III.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Blackmagic Cinema Camera

Blackmagic Design has announced their first camera, the Blackmagic Cinema Camera. This will be a very interesting camera for people who are into movie-making. Blackmagic Design has up to now been more involved in the post-production side of things, making hardware and software for editing and such.

The Cinema Camera will be a 2.5K camera in terms of resolution, regular HD has basically 1K resolution, with a dynamic range of 13 stops, which approaches the dynamic range of film stock. The major goal for the camera is to produce the best possible footage in terms of image quality, which is a high goal indeed. It also uses the Canon EF lens mount, which is bound to of interest to filmmakers using Canon DSLR's like the 5d Mark II, and now the 5D Mark III, and the upcoming EOS-1D C, which is specifically geared towards filmmaking. And on the back of the camera is a 5-inch touchscreen for viewing, which dedicated controls for recording and playback. It will record onto interchangeable SSD hardrives or you can use a Thunderbolt cable and record straight to your computer. To sweeten the pot, so to speak, its price will come in around $3000, which puts it $500 less than a new 5D Mark III body, and it should be available in July.

As you can tell from its design, this camera is not trying to be anything other than a movie camera. It's not trying to be both a still camera and a movie camera. It's for making movies. I have the feeling that these will be very popular when they are available. You can find out more about the Blackmagic Cinema Camera here.

Monday, April 2, 2012

New Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 OS Lens

Sigma has announced the availability of a new lens for APS-C  DSLRs, the Sigma APO 50-150mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM. In regular full-frame 35mm terms, this lens is approximately the equivalent of a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for the APS-C cameras. Since the camera manufacturers don't make a zoom lens in this focal length range with a constant f/2.8 aperture, Sigma provides only option out there. If you aren't doing long range sports like football or soccer or wildlife photography, a lens like this is probably all the telephoto you'll likely to need.

Sigma has included optical stabilization (OS) in this lens, which means you can handhold it at lower than normal shutter speeds. How low depends on the individual user, but you could expect to get decent results down to 1/60 of a second; that is, if your subject isn't moving around too much. It also has close focus down to 31.5 inches, which could make this a very nice portrait lens. Sigma has made some good lenses over the years, especially their macro lenses, so this one should be one to consider. The Sigma APO 50-150mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM will be available in Canon EF mount next week and in Nikon and Sigma mounts by the end of April. Street price for the lens will be around $1099, according to Sigma.