Sunday, October 27, 2013

FujiFilm's latest mirror-less cameras

A while back, I questioned the need/desire to design today's mirror-less cameras like those of 50 years ago.  Fuji and Olympus were high on my list.  These two have been my favorite camera companies since I was a teen.  They have done some really impressive work over the years.  I wasn't sure why they wanted to return to other decades for designs.

FujiFilm was big in the news industry, although most photographers wouldn't even know that.  They still make some business-purposed cameras.  Most people now wouldn't even realize that their 135 format SLRs were fairly popular in the 1970s with the ST 601/605, 801, and 901 models, plus the AZ-1, their first auto exposure model that also signaled their move from Pentax screw mount to Pentax K-mount.  I knew a lot about them because I used to sell them, along with Nikon, Olympus, Minolta, and Canon.  I started with an ST605 as my first SLR.

Today, they're a very different company, especially since film is almost gone.

They looked back to some rangefinder/viewfinder cameras and did something the other companies weren't doing with mirror-less--hybrid optical/electronic viewfinders.

The trouble I remember with rangefinder/viewfinder cameras was getting the focus right.  Since you didn't look through the lens, you couldn't confirm focus at all.  Some of the cheaper cameras didn't even help you any scale in the viewfinder to guide you as to what would be in the photo.  Experimenting was expensive, but once you got the hang of it, you could remember what distance actually worked.

Today's Fuji X-series of interchangeable lens mirror-less rangefinders are much more helpful.  The rear display can give you a good view of your photo ahead of time.  The X-Trans sensors, for those bodies which have them, are quite adept at great image quality, surpassing other sensors of the same size.

What remains is the size and shape of the body and that polarizes most people.  It's the warm and fuzzy situation.  You're happy with the familiar and you don't want substitutes.  I want a good grip and a size that I can hold easily while using longer lenses.  Many people want something small that they can carry easily, especially when they can accessorize with a smooth leather case.  You'd think that I was talking about women, but the majority are men buying these cameras.

I guess my problem is that I'm just not a casual type behind the camera.  I take everything as a challenge!  That's probably why I'm better at sports than portraits or street photography.

However, I really admire what FujiFilm has done.  The latest X-E2's specifications look good, and the image quality will likely be slightly better than the X-E1.  Many of the models are impressive.  It doesn't surprise me that the company has gone their own way with the color filter.  For a while, they were putting their own sensors into Nikon bodies, similar to the way Kodak was working in the market.

Their auto focus has become faster and more reliable.  Their early problems with the sensors are gone.  They've added lenses, not that there are many, but they are sufficient for the kinds of cameras that they are.  I'm really thinking that they'll not be used for sports.  If they had an ultra wide angle lens, I'd probably buy one for that purpose alone.

I could see Ansel Adams using one, although I suspect that he could do wonders with a cardboard disposable camera.  He inspires me, and so does FujiFilm.

I saw the X-S1 in person the other day for the first time.   For a point-and-shoot, ultra-zoom camera, it's huge.  It was sitting between two Canon dSLRs and I didn't really notice it at first because it was a similar size.  Granted, the lens has much more reach because the sensor is so tiny, but the body size and the price were consistent with the others, also.  (Technically, it is mirror-less, but it's not a mirror-less system camera, so I just added it here.)

I just saw a rumor that Fuji make create a mirror-less dSLR-like camera body, probably grabbing the ST801 as a design reference.  If we wear the right clothes, start the 8-track tape deck, and use our fake 1970s cameras, it should feel as though the 1970s are back.

Update 2013.12.19: This new Fuji 10-24mm f/4.0 lens makes the system look even more valuable.   That, and an X-E2 or X-Pro1 would likely fill the rest of my needs for a few years.  Of course, they don't do anything for sport.

Update 2014.01.28: Given my previous bits about the 1970s, I think the X-T1 looks good, especially with the 70-200mm 135 format equivalent lens (50-140mm f/2.8) that is weather-sealed.  Maybe, they do sports after all.  It's not exactly  where I was thinking of going, but given the few alternatives, it might be the correct way to go.  If anything, FujiFilm really needs to find a way to provide a raw file with an ISO sensitivity outside 200-6400.  If images are usable past ISO 6400, a raw file would be preferable.

Update 2014.10.28: I tried the X-T1 in a store briefly and it was even more uncomfortable in my hands than the Olympus E-M1.  However, with extensive use, the E-M1 has become better, though the Panasonic GH3/GH4 is extremely comfortable.  FujiFilm has a grip accessory that fits on the front, as well as the battery grip.

FujiFilm continues to update their firmware and it's respectable.  Olympus actually updated the E-M1 firmware to version 2.0, which seemed unusual.  However, Olympus is selling quite a few bodies and FujiFilm is still working their way up.  It's sad that raw processing software has made it difficult to sell their bodies with an X-TRANS sensor.  It's getting better but hardly seems optimal.

In any case, FujiFilm seems to have created a Leica-like following of users.  They need a dedicated following, though not those who should be committed, if you get my meaning.  Their dedication to their users seems to have been met with dedication from the users.

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