#246 – Fuji X10 – initial impressions

I’ve used a Panasonic LX3 for the past couple of years and, like the top end compacts from Canon and Nikon, it has a reputation as a photographers camera – well built, wide angle (24mm) lens, the ability to shoot raw, manual controls, etc.

Much as I liked the camera, it never fitted in with my style of shooting. That’s not a flaw of the camera, I just found it slowed me down. I recently found out that Joe Cornish uses one (not as his primary camera, but alongside his large format), and if you read any of his books, you’ll realise that his style of landscape photography is a slow, considered one, and the little LX3 is ideal for that.

So ultimately, after nearly two and a half years I only took 1100 photos on it, which is only a few more than I’ve taken on my mobile phone in half that time.

I liked the idea of the Fuji X100 that was released a year or two back, but the idea of a fixed 35mm prime was off-putting. Nothing against primes, but the fact that it wasn’t interchangeable for other primes was off-putting. That functionality has now arrived on the XPro1, which looks awesome, but the cost is way to high for me to consider. I do like Fuji products – I had an F31 for several years before the LX3, which was a vastly underrated camera primarily because it had ‘only’ 6mp, when the megapixel race was in full swing. It was usable at ISO1600, a revolutionary concept for compacts 6 years ago, let alone in 2012. Unfortunately, it’s limited zoom range (35-70) and lack of manual controls limited it’s usefulness to me, but it was a surprisingly capable little camera, that I actually sold for more money than I paid for it two or three years earlier.

When I read about the Fuji X10 on it’s release last year, and read the subsequent glowing reviews, I thought, ‘wow, that’s the compact that I wanted the LX3 to be’. Unfortunately, I thought it was rather overpriced at launch, so I decided to wait until the price came down to what I thought was a more realistic level. After all, I wasn’t missing out as a) I already had a camera, and b) I barely used any of my cameras in the first three months of 2012.

Finally, prices started to come down (although checking on camerapricebuster.co.uk shows that some dealers are still living in a dream world with their prices), and when I heard that refurbished cameras direct from Fuji were cheaper still (and with a warranty), I opted for the refurb option instead. With the money I saved, I bought an upgrade to Lightroom 4, so that I could access the X10’s raw files (v2.7 wouldn’t take them, alas).

First impressions were good – the camera is all metal, and feels solidly built, almost like my old Nikon FM. It also looks the part in all black and the design is lovely – I’ve always liked the look of rangefinders, and have often thought about buying a new style Voigtlander Bessa, but couldn’t justify spending so much money on a film camera that I wouldn’t use much. The thing I like most is the lens – you twist it to turn it on, and then keep twisting to zoom in and out, like an SLR lens. I’ve never really got on with the electric zooming lenses of all other compacts and quite surprised that it’s taken so long for someone to come up with such an obvious alternative. The viewfinder is, for a compact, quite usable, although it only gives about 85% coverage, and I’ve found myself using the back screen more often. Seeing the lens in the viewfinder is also unusual.

Full details of my trip to Dinorwic with the camera are in the upcoming posts, but my initial thoughts are:

Like:
Twist the lens to turn it on and zoom.
Fast, stabilised lens.
Image quality is very good. Tried a few at 1600 ISO and it’s better than I thought.
Good macro mode – although all compacts can do this.
Ability to create a shallow depth of field effect is good.
Sweep panorama is brill! I love doing panorama’s this takes away all the faffing in Photoshop.
Looks and feels like a proper camera
Plenty of buttons, not all menu driven, so quick and easy to access functions.
Nice size – bigger than my LX3 (need a new bag of it) but fits nicely in the hand.
Velvia film mode is nice!

Not so keen on:
VF only 85%
EXR mode to improve the dynamic range doesn’t seem to have much effect, but this might be operator error on my part.

Dislikes:
The camera kept moving to from jpeg to raw when changing from program mode to other modes such as EXR and panorama (not sure if the firmware upgrade will rectify this).

#116 – Grown Up Scalextric – Chassis

One I missed from the series of images that I posted from the Leyland Test Track. I’ve since been told that this is probably a wrecked computer monitor, but I saw it and noticed the word ‘chassis’ on it’s base and thought it appropriate. It’s perhaps not as prominent in the composition as I’d have liked, but there again, it was small writing, and I wanted to include what I could of the background to give it context. A partial success? Maybe. But that’s the beauty of the 14mm – I may curse it for it’s ability to flare in anything other than near darkness, and it’s incredibly soft edges, but the field of view is sensational, and it’s ability to focus really close in keeps it in the camera bag. Well, at least until I can afford one of Nikons super-wides………………

#104 – Film Cameras

It’s almost scandalous now how cheap film cameras have become. I have a few old film cameras, including the awesome Nikon F100. One of these with an MB15 grip was over £800  in 2004. I paid I think £160 for my F100 (in near mint condition), and £25 for the MB-15.

 

 When I got back into film photography in 2004, I bought a brand new Nikon F75 kit for £250, and then got a £50 rebate. I later sold it for £120. They now go for about £40.

The Nikon F80 was the model above the F75 and in a 2004 copy of Amateur Photographer magazine, these cameras were being advertised £300-340 body only. I’ve just bought one on Ebay, in superb condition, with an MB-16 grip for £40. I wanted something small, light and cheap to use when a big / expensive camera was either a liability or too conspicuous, and this fit the bill. I’ve partnered it with an old 28-80 kit lens that I’ve had lying round for years, this is similarly small and light (and free), and have got a perfectly capable outfit for very little cash.

Of course, as fewer people shoot film, fewer people want film cameras, which means they are very cheap, but the knock on effect is that, fewer people need film developing, which means fewer places process it, and even fewer process it well (especially on the high street / supermarkets). This means that if you want a good job doing, you have to send it away (I normally use Metro Colour Labs) who turn it round reasonably quick but it’s still several days from posting to receiving it back. It’s also not the cheapest way of doing things. Good film is also becoming harder to find on the high street (Boots are good as they do a 3 for 2 offer, and they have a small but reasonable selection), so you need to be looking at mail order from the like of 7dayshop, MX2, Mailshots or Mathers in Bolton and buy a big batch of a good selection.

#88 – LX-3 High Dynamic Mode – More Samples

Took these in Edinburgh at the weekend. Couldn’t be bothered lugging the D700 round all weekend, so took the Panasonic LX-3 as it’s far more portable.

This was on the (former) Royal Yacht Brittania, and as it was late in the day, the sun was quite low in the sky. The sun was kinda hazy, but I though I’d see if I could shoot directly into it. It seems to have worked quite well, although some of the colours don’t seem quite right somehow. Still not sure why it always seems to default to ISO400, unless it’s something I’ve done?

This seems to have worked better, as it’s possible to make out the dockyard through the windows of the bridge, and it looks quite natural.

Couple more here in Edinburgh Castle, it’s managed to balance the exposure really well for the cannon, the aperture in the wall, and the background.

However, on this one, there’s some prominent halo-ing around the edges, not sure if it’s possible to tone down the effect in camera?

These examples seem to confirm previous experiences – the high dynamic mode certainly works, but the effects can be unpredictable!

#65 – over-reliance on technology?

Stabilised lenses (VR in the case of the Nikon system that I use) are a fantastic innovation that has allowed me to take photos in circumstances that would be impossible with a normal lenses. However, I learnt an important (but cringingly obvious) lesson the other night – by and large, they work best when the stabilisation is switched ‘on’.

I’d switched the stabilisation off as I was using the lens on a tripod (necessary as any vibrations transmitted through the tripod can confuse the system), and then swapped lenses. I then swapped back, forgot the stabilisation was off and began snapping away. D’oh! And then I got home and wondered why some of the shots were blurred……….

This got me thinking. With the rate of innovation we are seeing in cameras now, are we beginning to use technology as a crutch? OK, so I simply forgot that I’d switched the stabilisation off, but as I normally have it on at all times, I’ve got so used to be able to do previously impossible things that I take it for granted that things will work without me thinking about it. This is a godsend in some respects, as I can concentrate on what is important to me (composition, catching the moment, etc). I don’t strive for technical perfection, I delegate much of that to the camera, I strive to make an interesting image.

The only usable one of the sequence of shots that I took, and it’s probably the worst. It is reasonably sharp, but sharpness does not make an image!

#63 – new toys, old toys

My policy on camera equipment puchases is one of gradual upgrades, basically using spare money from overtime, backpay and annual bonuses. I’ve just bought this years purchase, and it’s likely to be the last for some time. And this is it, a near mint Nikkor 28-70 F2.8 AFS. It’s a HUGE lens, even on the front of the D700, which is a big camera body. I imagine if it was attached to a D40, the body would disappear!

And now for somethign completely different – a man with a tape recorder up his nose. Wait. No, that’s Monty Python. No, this is what I’m on about, a Canon Canonet Junior rangefinder. We’ve inherited this from my wife’s aunt, along with 2 other older cameras, but this is the most interesting and most usable. Well, it would be if it worked. The shutters jammed open, not sure if it’s a mechanical problem or if the batteries dead. Trouble is I’ve no idea where the battery would go, and I’m assuming there is one as it’s aperture priority, so must have some kind of metering. Just wondering whether to get it repaired, as it’ll probably cost more than it’s worth. Still, it’s a nice retro thing to look, at and it’s in great condition. The photos I’ve seen off it were really sharp, as you would expect from a 40mm prime, so it may be worth getting it looked at.

 

#38 – Panasonic Lumix LX-3 – first impressions

After 2 years of reliable service, I’ve sold my little Fuji F31 and bought a Panasonic Lumix LX-3.

For some time, I’ve wanted a compact with a wider angle lens and the ability to shoot raw files, but the number of compacts that could do both was extremely limited – the Canon G10 / G11, the Ricoh Gr series and the LX-3. The new micro 4/3 cameras looked interesting, but are expensive and a non have wide angles. I discounted the Ricohs as they do not have a zoom lens, and the Canons were too expensive, thus leaving me with a choice of 1.

Initial impressions – it certainly looks stylish in black, and it feels well engineered. The lens zooms and focusses quietly and reasonably quickly, and the screen is large and clear. The wide angle will take some getting used to as I’m used to the 35mm of the Fuji, although 24mm is what I’m used to on the D700. The zoom range is arguably limited at 24-60, but I don’t tend to zoom much anyway, so it’s not a big deal really.

Several interesting features I’m looking forward to trying out – Auto ISO (like on the D700), auto bracketing (great for HDR), Intelligent Exposure Adjustment, and Image stabilisation. I’m also interested in trying out the B & W modes  – being a raw shooter, I’ll be able to see the image on-screen in B & W as I’m composing and still retain the colour in the raw file.

I just need something to go and take pictures of, not easy when I don’t even see daylight these days during the week! Bring on the weekend!