151016 Out with the X - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

Today was my first time going out with my X, and I was able to bring an old friend along as well. Naturally, I took some pictures.

Orangeville

I loaded the Zeiss Ikon with Ektar, set the XT10 to Raw + Astia, and took them for a walk. I stayed in my neighbourhood, which includes a major museum and university, and shot for a couple of hours. I even managed to get errands done on the way home.

To my surprise an old Domke F6 turned out to be the perfect bag for my two cameras, three lenses, and larger audio recorder. My iPad and keyboard, with case, even fit in the back slash pocket perfectly – that's how most of this got written. I last used this bag in 2007, back when Apple was best known for making iPods, so it goes to show that good design is timeless. Or, at least, serendipitous.

Right out of the gate with the two cameras I ran into a problem: the XT10's power switch is backwards. When its switch is projecting out from the camera body it's off, and when it's lying flush to the front the camera is on. The Zeiss Ikon does this the other way around. Yes, that's an arbitrary choice, and each method has its justifications, but Fujifilm violates a longstanding rule just the same: when there is a discrepancy between Zeiss and The Rest Of The World, Zeiss is correct. The only exception to this rule is for lens caps. Zeiss caps are an unallayed horror.

Experientially the two cameras are otherwise a good match. There was one time I tried to hook my thumb behind the XT10's film advance lever, which wasn't particularly successful, but that's not too unusual. The Fuji is slightly more complicated to use than the Zeiss rangefinder in some ways, but it's simpler in others, and they get along well.

a tradition of photographing barricades

The ZM lenses that I use are among the larger ones that Carl makes – 2/35 Biogon, 1,5/50 C-Sonnar, 4/85 Tele-Tessar – and when they're on the solid Fuji M-adapter, each lens outweighs the camera. That's okay with a two-handed hold, when I support most of the weight with my lens hand, but it's tough on a single right-handed hold. It also means that I can't just dangle the camera from a finger when it's down at my side.

The accessory grip is now on my gear-to-test list.

Unfortunately there's no accessory that I can buy to remind me to change the lens registration data when I switch from one to the next. It's still only the first day, so that's a habit I have time to learn, but for now I can't really trust the focal length that's added to the photo exif.

The other thing that I need to get used to is the exposure compensation dial. The on-screen indicator is subtle, and my other cameras reset to zero after they’ve been idle or powered off. Life is spent managing the details.

dinosaur with site of former McDonalds in background

I’ve been tweaking the buttons and setup on the XT10, and not needing any autofocus or jpeg settings helps a lot. The buttons on the four-way controller now move the focus magnification point directly, but the XT10 won't enlarge the view while the point selection is still active. So I need to either tap the shutter button or press the menu/ok button first. That’s not as elegant as I would like it to be.

The playback and image delete buttons need to switch positions. Perhaps it's my Nikon muscle memory, but I just expect the button that I often need spontaneously to be the more prominent of the two. Placing playback right next to the viewfinder makes it harder to press, and means that my thumb blocks the top corner of the LCD when I press it.

And I keep starting the wifi by inadvertently pressing the function button when I'm trying to take photos. I may need to assign wifi to the movie record button, displacing my ability to set a custom white balance without going into the menu.

These little button issues are likely to become bigger nuisances as the weather gets colder and gloves become mandatory.

crustacean simulation modes

I do hear a lot about the canned jpeg profiles from X-series cameras, but for all of these photos I've preferred my edited raw files. I put them through my usual routine in Lightroom, and then compared my versions with the out-of-camera results. The camera does do a good job, and I’m sure those results would improve if I take time to further refine the settings, but I’m happy with my existing workflow.

Where the jpeg stylings will matter is for wifi transfer. But my brief experiments with in-camera raw conversion, and applying the different options after the image has been taken, have encouraged me to turn off raw+jpeg and just convert images as I need them. 

Of the jpeg profiles that I've tried I like Astia the best, with the two Pro-Neg options being my next choice. I admit that I haven't yet seen the appeal of Classic Chrome, but I do like Fuji's monochrome modes, so I've set one of the bracketing options to the three mono contrast filter effects. I haven't actually used it, but still, it's there when I want it.

Working with manual focus has definitely slowed me down, and that’s mostly a good thing. I’ve missed shots that I thought would be in focus, but that’s true with AF lenses as well. I miss far more photos from sloppy composition or weak thinking than from softness. And that’s true with AF lenses as well.

Last summer I was able to borrow an XM1 and adapter from Fujifilm, and I kept it for four months. It's nice enough, but neither the camera nor the results really inspired me the way the XT10 has. Perhaps that's because it was borrowed, and perhaps it's because the eye-level finder makes a huge difference to the experience. Focusing is so much easier.

I have more photos from one day with my XT10 than from my months with the XM1.

photos from my favourite table in the Royal Ontario Museum cafeteria

Based on Internet Wisdom and my XM1 experience, my expectations for image quality from my ZM lenses were modest. Instead I've been very pleased with what I see. The detail doesn't match my Sigma Merrills, but nothing does. So with that caveat out of the way, the results are good. Corner quality is fine, detail is sufficient, geometric distortion is no big deal, and corner shading does not exist.

The Wet Floor sign was taken with the 2/35 Biogon, which is famous for its neutral rendering. I'm pretty happy with how the wall placed in the foreground came out. The photo taken with the camera resting on my lunch table, the one with the lights in the background, is from the 1,5/50 Sonnar wide open and at minimum focusing distance. The near edge of the chair is sharp, and the rest just goes away, foreground and background.

The biggest practical issue has been the generous minimum focusing distance of the ZM lenses, so I may need to try out the Fujifilm XF60 half-macro. Unfortunately, like the XT10 power switch, Fuji makes their XF aperture rings backwards.

#bleedblue

The first full day with the XT10 has gone very well. I've been able to use all three of the Zeiss M-mount lenses that I bought it for, and have been happy with all of them. The plastic XC16-50mm kit lens is safely stored at the back of a closet, replacement M-mount tail and body caps are on their way from eBay, and I even found a perfect minimalist shoulder strap in my parts bin. Everything is working out very smoothly.

Better than I had hoped, really.

And in a week or so I'll be able to compare the Fuji's results to the frames I shot on film. Good times.


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