It’s not often I shoot 35mm film these days despite a drawer full of film and twenty-plus 35mm cameras to chose from. However, on a whim, I picked up the Nikon FM2n over the weekend and noticed it had a part exposed roll of film in. It was also fitted with a 24-70 zoom lens I had been sent aa while back but not yet tested so I decided to finish the roll.
Nothing formal however, the live-in grandsons were playing in the back yard, in and out of their paddling pool, so I took a few snaps of them first. When they saw what I was doing they both wanted a go too, so that used a few more frames. Harry then decided to pose; composing a fast-moving, naked subject so as to preserve everyone’s modesty was a challenge. That the lens was manual focus with a sloppy focus ring just added to the fun!
Reaching the end of the roll I decided that, as everyone was outside and the kitchen therefore empty , this would be a good time to develop the film and see what I had. The first surprise was that I had loaded Rollei Retro 100 in the camera. Why that had been so I couldn’t decide and having now seen what the first few frames were I still don’t know why I had a 100 speed film in the camera. I’ve been using Perceptol a lot recently, mainly because I’ve been shooting mainly Ilford PanF+ and FP4+ in my Bronica ETRS but reached for the Rodinal, mainly because I wouldn’t have to make up a new batch of Perceptol rather than any aesthetic choice on this occasion.
After consulting my notes I settled on 13 minutes at 20 degrees C in Rodinal diluted 1+50. The result was, as expected, good negatives with a reasonable amount of contrast. I left them hanging to dry in the bathroom and later in the day cut and sleeved them ready for a proper look on the light pad the following day.
As soon as I placed the first strip on the light pad I knew that all was not well. I had a good range of tones and the negatives were not overly contrasty so I was confident that they would print well in the darkroom. They also scanned well it turned out. Even from inspecting the negatives however, I could see immediately that the lens was, to say the least, a little “soft”. Excluding the frames ruined by camera shake (due to the low shutter speeds the 100 film required) and the erratic mobility of my subjects, very few of the images were the crisp, sharply focused negatives I had expected. That was disappointing especially as there appeared to be some nice images at the first glance of the still-wet negatives the afternoon before. But not the fault of the film.
So, frustrations with the now-discarded lens aside, what did I make of the out of date Rollei Retro 100 (also known as Agfa APX 100)?
Despite the film being out of date, I made no compensation in respect of exposure, mainly because I didn’t know what film was in the camera and the ISO dial was set to what I realised afterwards was box speed. I liked the “look” of the images from the film, although defining “look” is a futile exercise as it will vary from person to person. The grain is very apparent in these negatives but I don’t mind that at all; as someone who used to regularly shoot Kodak Tri-X at 6400 ISO in the 1970s I’m used to a bit of grain! Purely digital shooters with no history of working with film will probably be horrified at all the “noise” however.
It‘s a thumbs up therefore from me. I shoot mainly 120 film and my emulsions of choice are Ilford PanF+ and HP5 but I would not be averse to putting a roll or two through the Bronicas if the subject was right.
You may have noticed that in my “Going Back” series I’m exclusively using the 12mm Samyang on either the Fuji X-T20 or the full-spectrum X-T1 with a single ND graduated filter in the bag for use when required. That ND grad is from the SRB Elite range which I wrote about briefly in Aparil 2017. So, an ideal time to update the post.
At the time I said:
So long as the filter holder is ABSOLUTELY square then there is no vignetting visible in the viewfinder. When the filter holder is turned even slightly off-true then there is a little bit of vignetting but I sense that it would be very easily corrected in post.
Looking at the RAW files on the computer there is a tiny amount of corner vignetting visible, more so with the lens wide open than stopped down but it is nothing to be majorly concerned about in my view – if needs be I might frame a fraction wider than I need and crop in later.
Caveat: I’ve not properly tested this “in the field”; this was a “quick and dirty” visual inspection stood in my front garden pointing the camera at a bright blue sky
Well, having now used the combination over the last three days I can report that my initial findings were spot on. I’ve mainly been shooting at f8 and with care I’ve not encountered any problems. Trying to change orientation quickly and realign the filter can be problematic, and I have several darkened corners for my troubles, but so far when I’ve taken time to line the holder up properly and check the corners of my frame I’ve not had any major problems.
My original thoughts, that I would use the Lee 100mm filter system for any extended outings with the Samyang 12mm lens hold true. I’m cautious however about using the full sized graduated ND filters as the small surface area of the Fuji-X lenses means that the larger graduation on the bigger filters can be problematic.
Had I chosen any of my Fuji-X fitlenses other than the Samyang 12mm then this brief review would I suspect have had no reservations as I’ve found that the build quality of the SRB Elite system is very good and it is very easy to use. The circular polariser screws into the centre of the filter holder (as does the ten-stop ND filter) and having played with it a bit more I’m finding it easy to fit and remove now I’ve got the knack.
Incidentally, I mentioned before some reservations with using the ten-stop ND filter with ND grads. Well, I have made a very quick experiment this evening and by opening the lens up to f2 and fitting the 10-stop Elite filter I can see enough of the image on the Fuji X-T20s EVF and LCD screen to align a graduated filter. Given the depth of field with this lens when its closed down to f11 focusing is not really an issue but as a matter of course I would focus before adding filters anyway and the focus ring is firm enough to stay put when changing apertures.
All in all I think the SRB Elite range is an affordable alternative to some of the more expensive filter systems on the market which I can use without reservation with my Fuji kit and with care it can even be used with the ultra-wide Fuji-fit Samyang 12mm.
So, as I wrote in my last post I’ve taken another step along the path to a fully mirrorless existence. Unless “Senior Management” wins the lottery I can’t imagine I will ever be in a position to replace the Nikon D800E that I sold this week but I have no regrets (yet?). As well as the X-T1 I have also been able to purchase a Samyang 85mm f1.4 and most excitingly the Fuji 23mm WR f2. The Samyang arrived yesterday and seems very sturdy and whilst I’ve not tried it in earnest as yet I have high hopes for this manual focus lens. The second generation Fuji 23mm arrives tomorrow … watch this space!
A hospital appointment Wednesday morning was the unlikely opportunity to try the X-T1 for the first time. For flexibility I added the 18-55 “kit” lens and arrived at the hospital an hour early so I could wander down some of the back streets to have a play. Not particularly inspiring conditions but it gave me a taster and I found that the camera handled well and was as intuitive to use as I’d hoped. I popped a Lee Seven5 graduated filter in my pocket too and found that the EVF was more than up to the job of helping me line up the filter.
Back button focusing worked well although it’s going to take a while for muscle memory to find the button first time every time. It is small and positioned slightly behind where my thumb naturally rests but given time it will be fine I think. I’ve ordered a third-party hand grip for under £20 to see if that helps (sorry Fuji at £129 you’ve priced yourself out of the market for that accessory).
Late-afternoon Wednesday and after picking the Nipper up from school it was pleasant enough to play in our small front yard. Zac is quite speedy on the bike and truth be told the 18-55 was struggling to keep up. With hindsight I would have put the 35mm f1.4 on the camera as that is no slouch in the focus department but hindsight is such a wonderful thing. Those shots where I nailed the focus though made up for the failures and I learned a lot from the experience I think.
I’ve saved the best for last though. Still with the 18-55 attached (I have now removed it) I photographed Ted on Thursday as he ate his breakfast. Not at all shabby in my view and after just a small time I am already feeling very comfortable with the new toy.
First impressions then are very favourable. The X-T1 handled well although I do need to adjust to the smaller form compared to my D800E. Ironically, the slightly smaller body of the X-T10 never gave me the same issue but I think that is largely down to expectations; I bought the X-T10 as an additional camera whereas in my mind the X-T1 is replacing the Nikon, a camera with which I am very well acquainted. I will post further impressions over the coming weeks as I get out with the X-T1 more.
Incidentally, all of these were processed in Luminar, the relatively new image editing software from Macphun. It works very differently to Photoshop but after viewing a couple of introductory videos from the vast collection on Macphun’s website I’m finding it simple to use. Given time I may have found a far more cost effective alternative to the Adobe behemoth. They are posted in the order I processed the RAW files too, I think I could make a better fist of the railway line if I reprocessed the file today.
I am fully conversant with the benefits of using filters, particularly neutral density graduated filters, standard and extreme neutral density filters and polarisers, having used them extensively over the years for landscape photography. However, I watched a short video recently from Lee extolling the benefits of using filters in an urban setting that got me thinking. Given how much I like the JPEG files that come from my two Fuji cameras wouldn’t it be useful to utilise the power of filters to reduce the need to compensate for over-exposed skies; making the out-of-camera JPEGs truly one-stop solutions.
Fuji X-T10 and Samyang 12mm lens
As a result of this train of thought I recently bought into the Lee Seven5 filter system specifically designed for compact camera systems such as the Fuji-X range. My initial impressions are very positive but it has to be said that in some instances, such as when using the 12mm Samyang lens with three filters stacked together (above), it is better to use the full-sized Lee system. However, for less extreme lenses and for portability the Seven5 system is proving hard to beat.
I recently spent part of the day at Scammonden Water (post to follow) putting the Fuji X-T10 and Samyang 12mm lens through their paces using the full-sized Lee filters with neutral density graduated filters and both the Big Stopper and its sibling the Little Stopper. The Seven5 system is so light and small however I popped that in the bag to use with the Fuji 18-55 that I also planned to use on the X-T10 that day.
First, a simple comparison shot taken using the Fuji X100T both without and then with the Lee Seven5 0.9 hard neutral density filter. It says everything that needs to be said about the benefits of using graduated neutral density filters for landscape work.
In this example I think a third of a stop additional exposure might have been appropriate but I still refer the overall look of the second image. Whilst mentioning the X100T I should point out that I use a third-party hand grip which makes the camera a lot steadier in my experience. However, because of the very flat profile of the built-in 23mm lens I found that with the filter holder attached I could no longer grip the camera properly and indeed removed the grip for these shots. Not a deal breaker but something to be aware of when using the filter system on the X100T.
The image above was taken with the Fuji X-T10 and 18-55 lens at 18mm. This was handheld and utilises two Lee Seven5 filters. Across the top is the three-stop neutral density filter to hold back the bright sky. I also reversed a very subtle warm-up graduated filter in the holder just to give the foreground a little bit more warmth. Looking at both the with and without versions in Lightroom I was pleased with the choice; the effect is only subtle but has been effective.
At present I have just three of the Seven5 filters – the three-stop hard graduated filter, the 81b graduated warm-up filter and a Little Stopper. With a full set of the 100mm Lee filters I wasn’t keen on spending too much on the more compact system until I’d had a chance to test it properly. The image above utilises the graduated neutral density filter with the addition of the Little stopper which enable an exposure time of 2 seconds. The X-T10 was able to judge the exposure time through the filter although I did check that it agreed with my calculation before pressing the shutter. The effect of the Little Stopper is subtle and with hindsight I should have popped the full sized set on and used the Big Stopper but the purpose of the exercise was to test the Seven5 system.
All of the images here are out-of-camera JPEGs, it would miss the point of this test to have processed the RAW files and added additional tweaks. Whilst the Little Stopper image was shot from a tripod the image above was hand held. If the system is to work for me in an urban setting then nine times out of ten it will need to be used hand held rather than on a tripod. I found positioning the filters very easy using the Fuji X-T10’s EVF and looking at the files back at home was pleased to see that everything lined up exactly as I saw it in the viewfinder.
The image above was taken “on the run” as I moved to get under shelter from the pending rain. It was a useful test however as it reassured me that positioning the filter through the EVF was very quick to achieve. Likewise, the image below uses both the neutral density graduated filter and a reversed warm-up graduated filter and was taken whilst walking back to the car. In terms of being quick to set up whilst hand holding I am very pleased with how the Lee Seven5 works.
So, the acid test. Will I be investing further in the Lee Seven5 system?
Whilst they are less useful for the Samyang 12mm lens they are perfect for the X100T (without hand grip!) and for using on the fly with the Fuji X-T10 and 18-55 lens. For urban or street photography these are likely to be my go-to options as the extremely wide-angle and the manual control of the 12mm lens are less useful in these situations. I found the small size of the system a positive advantage – the 100mm system which I’d been using takes up a third of the small camera bag I use for the Fuji system! In practical terms the EVF of both cameras is perfectly good enough to enable accurate positioning of the filters which is particularly import given their small size. Looking back at the files in Lightroom there are no examples of poorly aligned filters both amongst the handheld and tripod-mounted images.
My only gripe with the system is the cost but Lee are able to charge what they do because the system is so good and therefore photographers are willing to pay the premium.
My Lee Seven5 wish list comprises a Big Stopper, a two-stop soft graduated filter and the phenomenally expensive polariser. Thinking about how I use the larger Lee system on my Nikon DSLRs this would give me the most-used combinations certainly for landscape photography. I often stack a three-stop hard with a two-stop soft graduated neutral density filter, use the polariser a lot and the Big Stopper more than I should I suspect.
I’m still getting used to the Fuji X-T10 and when the opportunity arose yesterday for a few hours on Marsden Moors I grabbed the camera, the Samyang 12mm and my Lee filters and headed for the moors. Let me firstly say that it was freezing and windy up there. It was warm and still when I set off and therefore I was in shorts and a fleece but fortunately my old coat was lurking in the boot of the car as when I stepped out on Buckstones Edge (also known locally as Nont Sarah’s) it was anything but warm and still.
To my mind it takes a brave soul to leap off Buckstones Edge to go paragliding but when I arrived there were four such hardy individuals in the air. With a 12mm lens I was never going to capture action images but they do add a sense of scale (above).
I had previously experimented with using the Lee Seven5 filter system on the Samyang 12mm lens but found that the full-sized 100mm Lee filters were less problematic particularly when stacking filters. Even so, when using the polariser (above) there was slight vignetting in the corners. Not a huge deal as it could be handled in post-production but nevertheless worth remembering. Another way around the problem is to frame the scene a little larger than you need in order to crop out the corners I guess.
So despite the user being rather cold the Lee 100mm system acquitted itself well up on Buckstones Edge and the smaller size of the X-T10 and Samyang, compared to a Nikon D800E and 14-24 f2.8, was not a problem in any significant way. I did need to get my reading glasses out at times to check the screen information but I do that with my Nikons too.
I tried some long exposures with both Little and Big Stoppers but the sky was coming out mainly white with few streaks of colour so gave that up for another day and headed down to Scammonden Water to try my luck there.
The vegetation around the beck, indeed around the whole of the area was particularly lush and verdant and so I did something I’ve never done before and switched the shooting mode to Velvia. I am a big fan of Velvia transparencies but have never been convinced by Velvia simulation modes on cameras or indeed plug-ins for post production. However, in the spirit of getting to know the X-T10 I turned it on safe in the knowledge that I was shooting RAW+JPEG so had a safety net.
As I think the image above shows, the “Velvia” JPEG, this is straight out of the camera, did a pretty good job overall. Velvia was noted for highly saturated, vivid colours and the X-T10 simulation delivers just that.
I work mainly in black & white but have to say that the richness of these JPEGs means that I have lost my aversion to Velvia simulations. I was already a fan of the “Classic Chrome” simulation on the X-T10 but in the right situation I think that the Velvia option is worth using too.
So, my “journey” with the Fuji’s continues to be very positive and I am starting to really appreciate how this system can complement and work alongside my larger Nikon DSLR-based system.
It may just be because of my recent researches but I’ve seen a lot of blog posts along the lines of “My journey with Fuji”, “My switch from [insert brand here] to Fuji” or “Moving to Fuji – my story”. So the virtual world probably doesn’t need another such post. But then again I figured that as my posts are read by approximately one and a half people each time perhaps it would be OK to slip this one in under the radar.
I was as it happens a very early “adopter” buying the Fuji X100 when it first came out and I instantly became enamoured by its retro styling and the way it forced me back into a way of shooting I’d last enjoyed thirty years previously.
That however was the honeymoon and whilst I continued to use the X100 regularly as shown by the images above it’s shortcomings and quirks finally led to it being left at home more and more until 2015 when, whilst switching my DSLR kit from Canon to Nikon, I finally decided to part company with the Fuji.
It was a difficult decision, in so many ways it was a joy to handle but it could be a frustration to actually use and despite its image quality (I won a club competition with an X100 image) the fact that it was spending so much time in the drawer meant I wasn’t getting any meaningful benefit from ownership. The major firmware update in late 2013 came too late for me, by that time the X100 and indeed Fuji were rarely in my thoughts and I completely missed the announcements. I did update the firmware before selling the camera but by then the die was cast. I cried quietly inside at how little I got for it but that’s another story.
Looking back this morning I am well pleased with some of the images I made with the X100. On those occasions when I could be bothered to wrestle with it’s idiosyncrasies I was usually happy with the results even if getting there was sometimes somewhat painful. I never used the Fuji JPEGS from the X100 but was always more than happy with the quality of the RAW (RAF) files it produced. From time to time though after selling the X100 I did regret the decision.
Recently however I’ve been looking again at the Fuji X100, now in its third iteration as the Fuji X100T. I initially started looking at classic film rangefinders with no intention of reentering the premium large sensor, fixed prime lens digital market. However, wherever I looked the Fuji X100T kept cropping up in articles, blog posts and discussion groups. Which naturally meant I followed the threads and dug deeper. And deeper. And yet deeper still.
So deep in fact that the X100T entered the house and I have very quickly embraced this newest iteration of the X100. The handling is the same but the user experience vastly improved. Using this style of camera needs a different approach compared to a (D)SLR, more akin to a traditional rangefinder, but as with everything the secret is in getting to know your kit and actually using it regularly. I’ve used the X100T daily since I got it and the mechanical side of things is starting to become intuitive; muscle memory is being formed and changing settings is becoming easier through repetition. I think that is the secret with any camera, practice, practice and yet more practice. Several of the buttons on the camera can be customised and I’ve been through three separate formations so far, each slightly more helpful to my way of working than before.
Getting to know the camera hasn’t been without its frustrations of course but I’m already feeling at home with the X100T and the quality of the images who I get it right make the effort very worthwhile. Two main things stand out art present. Firstly, the camera tends to under-expose to my taste in most situations, not a major problem as I now keep the EV dial on +1 most of the time but I do need to keep an eye on exposure. I will experiment further with exposure modes and see if that helps in this regard.
The X100T is great for candid photography and the image quality at ISO 6400, when exposed correctly, is superb. No complaints from me. The image above was shot at 1/60th second at f4 and ISO 6400 from a distance of five feet or so with the camera sat on my leg.
Which leads me to my other frustration, which I would stress is down to my handling and NOT the camera, and that is the number of blurred shots I acquired when street shooting due to the shutter speed being too slow. My bad as they say but I have been setting far too small an aperture for street candids I think. As a landscape photographer I am used to defaulting to f11 as my go-to aperture. When shooting portraits I often use f2.8 or even wider on occasions. Out on the streets of London last week I set the X100T to f8 or f11, auto ISO (with a maximum of 6400) in aperture priority and manual focusing. Looking at the images this morning far too many are blurry and when I dig deeper I’m seeing shutter speeds of 1/15th second or less. When moving on the street I suspect that even 1/30th or 1/60th of a second might be too slow. This is NOT a fault of the camera but it is something to be aware of and for me it is a case of getting used to a smaller, busier viewfinder and keeping my eye on the shutter speed.
Looking back through the images, an aperture of f4 would be ideal with the 23mm lens of the X100T when shooting candids or street photography. This was indoors and 1/100th sec at f4 ISO 1600 with camera to my eye.
Last weeks experiences on the streets of London have taught me a lot about this style of shooting and also given me the confidence that insofar as I am concerned the X100T is going to be the perfect tool for the job.
But of course, I didn’t stop at the X100T as you will know if you’ve read any of my recent posts. A flurry of activity online, selling my Nikon 16-35 lens and the entire EOS M3 kit amongst other items, has provided the budget for a new Fuji X-T10 and four lenses (8mm fisheye, 12mm, 18-55mm and 55-200mm).
One thing I have been very conscious of more recently is the weight of my Nikon kit. It is less of an issue when out in the fells for the day with one of my photographic partners but for a day out with the family it is frankly a liability. However, spending five days away, as we did last week, I prefer to have some options other than just a DSLR and 24-70 zoom. But it is not practical, my full Nikon kit is bigger than the suitcase we use for a start! So, whilst researching the Fuji X-series I realised I could put together an excellent system which would mean I could cut down on bulk and weight without compromising on versatility.
Spoiler alert: I bought the X-T10 as my lightweight alternative to the Nikons and at this stage it is not my intention to ditch the DSLRs so don’t expect a “Road to Damascus” moment later in this post because there hasn’t been one … yet.
The images above were all taken with the Fuji X-T10 on a day spent in Kew Gardens, London. I used three lenses during the day, the Samyang 8mm fisheye, the Fujinon 18-55 “kit lens” and the Fujinon 55-200mm. As you will have worked out I had a full-frame equivalent of 27mm through to 300mm at my disposal (if you exclude the slightly more esoteric fisheye) which compares more than favourably to the 24-70 I would have restricted myself to if I’d brought the Nikon DSLR on this trip. Weight-wise I didn’t get the scales out but my shoulders reported no more strain from the Fuji and three lenses than it would have from one lens plus DSLR Nikon set-up.
It is too early to make any detailed conclusions about the X-T10 although I have already fallen for the quality of JPEGs from both Fujis. I used the X-T10 mainly on a walk along the South Bank one afternoon and for a full day in Kew Gardens. It was in my bag at all times though and so did get a brief outing in the West End as the image above shows.
First impressions are very positive though both in terms of handling and in terms of image quality. I was very happy with the Canon EOS M3 I was using recently but have to say that the Fuji experience has been far superior so far. That is not to say the M3 is poor, far from it I still rate it highly, but the Fuji’s have so far provided an even better user experience so I am more than happy with my recent purchases.
Whether or not it becomes a DSLR-killer remains to be seen. I am not even going to entertain the idea of ditching my Nikons until I have used the Fujis for a good six months, which takes us into 2017. I feel confident enough with the X-T10 though to have invested in a Lee Seven5 starter kit and will be testing the system out on my next couple of landscape shoots. If all goes well I will take both systems to Skye in November and use the Fuji for those days when the walking is mostly steeply upwards. But that is jumping head.
At present my introduction to the Fuji X-series has been a very positive one. From having mixed feelings about the X100 in 2011 I find myself in 2016 with an X-T10 and X100T feeling very positive about the system and looking forward to exploring the Fuji X-world further over the coming months.