Andy Mumford: Switching To Fuji – First Impressions
Over recent months I’ve read so many blog posts about photographers ditching their Nikon or Canon gear to switch to Fuji, and now here I am, writing my own as I undergo my own conversion.
There have already been so many “why I switched to Fuji” articles written (I know because I’ve read most of them) so I’m really not sure what I can add to what’s already out there on the web. But while reading these articles, I find myself always wondering if the writer’s photographic style/process/needs/whatever are the same as mine, and so whether my experience with changing systems will be as effortless as theirs. I found myself thinking “but will I be able to do this or that like I can with my D800 with a Fuji” and occasionally, I wasn’t able to find an answer in existing blogs that completely satisfied me. I guess I was just looking for reassurance that I really could switch over from a full frame Nikon to a smaller lighter Fuji camera and have no regrets.
I shoot landscapes, but I also shoot a lot of travel photography, from portraiture to street. Oh, and I shoot weddings too. So I wanted to know that the image quality of the X Trans sensor was good enough for me to not miss my D800E. That seems like an unfair expectation as the D800E sensor is bigger and has more resolution, but shooting in the field isn’t the same as shooting test cards. For example, most of my travel photography and all of my wedding photography is done handheld, and so a lot of that resolution isn’t used as effectively. Admittedly, my landscapes are done with a tripod, but at the same time it’s very rare for me to print much larger than 70cm across the longest edge, so putting aside zooming into the image at 100% in Lightroom (which can occasionally be fun, but has little real world use) I wanted to know if the Fuji cameras would stand up to my Nikon when printed at a decent size.
I also wanted to know more about how Lightroom dealt with the RAW files. I’d read that RAW support was a little lacking in Lightroom, and didn’t fancy stopping my subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud and having to get to grips with a whole new workflow in another RAW converter.
These were the concerns I had at the beginning, and so if there’s anyone else out there who’s having similar concerns, well read on…
But first, because I do like to ramble, some historical context about why I was even thinking about switching. Fuji cameras started hovering around the periphery of my awareness with the release of the X Pro 1. Occasionally workshop clients would show up with one, and to be honest I was a little suspicious, thinking that they weren’t proper cameras because they weren’t big and heavy with large grips and a bulbous top. But when we did workflow sessions and I saw the files I was impressed and I started to take them more seriously, and eventually after an American photographer friend brought an XT1 and X100 to Lisbon and evangelised about them, I started to do some research.
It wasn’t long before I came across the fantastic Fuji community and started to read the blogs of those people who’d ditched their Nikons or Canons in favour of Fuji and had never looked back. There was so much about the Fuji cameras that really appealed to me; their size and (lack of) weight, the build quality, the beautiful retro styling, and what I was started to learn about the company’s philosophy regarding expanding the life of their cameras with firmware updates. I really wanted to love them, and in a way that held me back because it’s easy to make emotional decisions that when looked back upon later, turn out to be lacking in logic. So I did more research and a bit more thinking, and putting all emotion aside, it became apparent to me that for travel photography, Fuji would quite simply be better for 100% of what I shoot in places like Morocco or Asia. They’re lighter and much easier to carry around all day without getting tired, they’re smaller and more discreet which means that people are more comfortable around them than having a large dSLR right in their face, and little things like the articulating screen make candid photography much easier. These kind of shots are all handheld, so I wasn’t really worried about losing resolution, and it’s rare that I print these kind of images much larger than 50cm across, so for travel photography then I knew Fuji would actually be a better bet.
OK, so how about landscapes? Well, again the weight and size would be a huge advantage. I worked out that for my typical landscape kit of one body, a wide angle zoom and a telephoto zoom, I’d be saving over 1kg of weight and a huge amount of space in my backpack. Then there are all the indirect savings. Less weight means I could take a smaller, lighter tripod. The tripod I’ve been using since the days when I’d take a Nikon D3 with a 17-35mm f2.8 and an 80-400mm up the side of a mountain with me is a Gitzo Mountaineer. It’s pretty light and with the head it weighs in at a tiny bit less than 1.8kg. With a Fuji camera though I can easily get by with a Gitzo Traveller and a Really Right Stuff Ultra Light ball-head, saving me about 600g. The Gitzo Traveller also folds up a lot shorter, making it easier to fit into my luggage, but this comes with the fact that it doesn’t extend as tall as the Mountaineer, which reaches my eye level. However, reaching eye level isn’t important when the articulated screen flips up, and not only that, but that tilting screen would save my back so much all the times when I have the tripod really close to the ground.
Add to this the fact that other stuff like filters and backpack could also be smaller and lighter, I could save over 2kg from my landscape kit, so for all practical reasons Fuji cameras made sense.
But what about the IQ for landscapes? Would the resolution matter? Would there be a significant loss of dynamic range?
At this point a good friend sent me some RAW files of landscape shots he’d taken in the Greek mountains with an XT1, and I was immediately blown away by the image quality. The detail was fantastic, I could pull lots of detail and colour out of the shadows, and the overall colours just popped off the screen. I was sold!
So I ordered an XT10, figuring I’d use it side by side with the D800E until I was certain enough that I’d switch to sell my Nikon gear and get a Fuji XT1. The camera arrived along with a 10-24mm and 55-200mm zoom (the focal lengths I use most often for landscapes) and straight away I fell in love with it. The controls are incredibly intuitive and it took me no time to set it up so that I could achieve a level of control that I couldn’t on my Nikon. For example, changing ISO and exposure compensation on the Nikon is straightforward, but I usually need to remove my eye from the viewfinder. With the XT10’s front dial set up so I can click it in and then rotate to change ISO, and the exposure compensation dial on the side, I don’t need to remove my eye from the viewfinder to change settings. The EVF stopped feeling like and EVF almost immediately, there’s no lag at all, and the brightness and clarity is superb. Being able to see exactly how the image will come out before clicking the shutter, even having a live histogram visible, just make shooting such a pleasure. Shooting in the dark, with the shutter set to 30 seconds, I STILL get an accurate idea of what the image is going to look like!
The controls just make sense and really function well. Having the aperture on the lens barrel really feels right, and by putting the shutter dial on top of the camera to T, the shutter time can be set through the dial beneath the thumb. There are no shooting modes, the exposure controls work in such a way that the different variables can be set to Auto or manual. So, setting the shutter dial to Auto, but leaving the aperture on manual gives you aperture priority. Setting both to Auto is essentially Program mode on a Nikon, and setting them both to manual gives full manual control. ISO can also be set manually, or put in auto modes where a minimum shutter time and max ISO are set. The controls are so intuitive that for someone who’s been using Nikon for almost a decade, and who doesn’t have the first idea of how to use a Canon, I was completely comfortable with all of the basic settings within 5 minutes. Learning how to switch between auto focus modes and playing around with things like the film types took me about half an hour.
One of the things that impresses me about the feature set on Fuji cameras is that they seem to have a very different mind set to the way Canon and Nikon go about things. Nikon and Canon seem to think of things like an articulating screen, film types and EVFs with real time feedback on exposure as things that an amatuer photographer needs on their entry and mid level camera and that have no place on a pro camera like a D800 or D4. Fuji on the other hand embrace things like this, and for me as a photographer, these things are either very useful, lots of fun, or both! Already I’m wondering how I ever managed without an EVF or fold out screen.
When it comes to handling, the camera really is tiny (in a good way) and feels natural in the hand, although I suspect it will be slightly better balanced with primes or small zooms rather than the longer 55-200mm or 16-55mm. The larger XT 1 or X Pro 1 probably feel better balanced with the bigger lenses. It’s light, but at the same time feels very solid and sturdy, and after a few hours of playing with it around the house, picking up my Nikon felt like a chore. The night I received it, my wife and I went out for dinner and I took the XT10 and 10-24mm with me to shoot a few night time images. It’s so small that I dropped it into my messenger bag and barely noticed carrying it…..I honestly can’t remember the last time I took a dSLR out to shoot pictures for, you know, fun!
So I’ve had the camera for just over a week now, and I have to say that I love this camera. Not only is it small and light enough to take with me everywhere, I find myself actually wanting to take it out with me as it’s just such a pleasure to use. Although I haven’t done any serious landscape shooting with it (I’m leading a couple of workshops later this month, so it’ll get a good runout then), I’ve taken some test shots around the city which I’ve posted on this blog. I’ve also had a little bit of time to do some comparison shots with my D800E and the results really surprised me. OK, so the caveat here is that these are not scientific studio comparisons, if you want those you can find them at dpreview. What I’ve done is shot a couple of scenes with both cameras on a tripod in the same way I would if I were shooting a landscape for real. Obviously the Nikon has more resolution so 100% blow-ups would be tricky to compare as the Nikon image is bigger, but as resolution generally only matters to me for printing, I wanted to look at the actual detail the cameras capture. To that end I’ve resized the Nikon images to exactly the same proportions of the Fuji image so I can directly compare sharpness and detail. Obviously, all sorts of other factors come into play, the quality of the lens, the accuracy of the focus, etc, but the way I see it, I’m comparing the overall detail I would get from shooting with Fuji (including the lenses and focus) with the overall detail I would get from my Nikon system in a real world situation. Nikon certainly make sharper lenses than the 16-35mm f4 and 70-200mm f4 I used in the test, but these are the lenses I use in my work, so these are the ones that it makes sense to do the comparison with. Besides, Fuji also make lenses that are sharper than the 10-24mm and 55-200mm I used (the 14mm f2.8 and Fuji 50-140mm f2.8 respectively), so the test is pretty much a like-for-like comparison.
Additionally, I know there are photographers who’ll spend a lot longer than me tweaking focus manually, but quite often in changing light or when racing against an onrushing tide, I rely on the camera’s auto focus to get the focus right so for me, AF accuracy is a relevant part of overall image quality.
OK, I think that’s enough disclaimers, I know I could probably get more out of both systems, but that wasn’t the point of this test, I wanted to see how big the difference was with the equipment I would normally use, shooting in the same way I typically would.
Right, let’s have a look then. These are RAW files straight out of the camera and converted to JPEGS with no processing or sharpening at all.
All of the shots are shot at f8 on a tripod and using a cable release. I’ve tried to replicate the focal lengths as much as possible. The images have just been converted from RAW to JPG with no sharpening at any stage.
The shots below are taken at 10mm on the Fuji (upper image) and 16mm on the Nikon (lower). You can click on them for full resolution, but I’ve also added some 100% crops below.
In the crops below the Fuji is always the top image, the Nikon the lower. The first two are from the centre of the image
For me, the Fuji looks considerably sharper there. These next two are the bottom left.
Again, I’d say that the Fuji is sharper. The images below are from the bottom right.
There’s not a lot of difference here in the car number plates, although the street lamp in the Nikon looks out of focus. In both images I used a single focus point in the centre of the image. The next two are from just right of centre.
The Nikon looks a bit sharper here if you look at the lettering on the back of the crane. The final two are from the top left of the image.
Again, to me the Fuji looks a little sharper. So for me, the wide angle at it’s widest focal length (which is where I almost always use a lens like this) is generally sharper on the Fuji. What about the telephoto lens?
These images were shot at 55mm on the Fuji, which equates to about 82mm on the Nikon. The upper images are from the Fuji.
Here are some crops. These are from the centre
The Nikon is sharper here. There’s more detail and definition in the parking sign and street name. The two images below are from the bottom left.
Not a huge amount of difference. The next two are from the right.
Again, in the street signs the Nikon looks to be sharper. The next two are from the top.
Once again I think the Nikon is sharper here. Now, looking at the other end of the telephoto, the Fuji is set to 128mm, which is about as close as I could get to the Nikon’s 200mm. The Fuji is above, the Nikon below. Once again you can click on the images to get full size.
These crops are taken from the centre.
Pretty similar, but the Nikon is a little sharper. Now, looking at the bottom left.
The Fuji is significantly sharper, infact the Nikon looks out of focus. Focus was again set in the same place with a single focus point near the centre and the lens was set to f8. The next two images are from the bottom right.
The same results as the bottom left, the Fuji is sharper. The Nikon lens clearly struggles in the borders at 200mm. The final crop from the top shows the same results.
So there you have it. Unscientific, but for me pretty interesting. Obviously lens characteristics play a huge part, and that’s particularly evident in the Nikon at 200mm in the borders, but what it means for me is that for my style of shooting in real world situations, there is very little significant difference in image quality.
I didn’t do any direct comparisons for high ISO noise and dynamic range, but I have played around to see how well the Fuji performs. During weddings I tend to try to avoid high ISO if I can, as the Nikon really doesn’t produce pleasing skin tones above ISO 3600. I do however use ISO 6400 for shooting astro shots with a wide angle lens, so I was really curious to see how the Fuji dealt with shadow noise at high ISO. The image below was taken handheld indoors at ISO6400. Below is a 100% crop of the image.
These are JPGs straight from the camera, and obviously the XT10 applies noise reduction to them, but these really do look acceptable to me. The sharpness is pretty good for a handheld shot with a telephoto lens in low light. The RAW file of this image shows more noise, although it seems more grainy rather than colour noise. It’s easily removable in Lightroom, and with a bit of added contrast and sharpening they look great. This is certainly comparable to my D800E.
The dynamic range is harder to test, and it’s something I’ll be looking more at when I shoot landscapes, but I had a look at the shadow recovery on a couple of shots, and there’s an example below. The first shot is the in camera JPG with Velvia film simulation. I’ve noticed the Velvia tends to block up the shadows a little. Below that is the RAW file of the same image. I’ve done nothing to this at all in post processing. Below that is a 100% crop of the bottom of the image after I’ve pushed the shadow slider in Lightroom all the way to the left and pulled back 2 more stops with the exposure slider.
Again, it’s a handheld shot, so that explains some of the loss of sharpness, but generally the colour and detail comes back quite well and with a little added contrast and saturation, it looks fine.
When it comes to using Lightroom, well I’ll write a little more about that in an upcoming blog. For the most part, the Fuji RAW files respond superbly to adjustments, and there’s a huge amount of latitude for bringing detail and colour out of shadows. I have noticed that Lightroom doesn’t deal with the foliage of trees very well (you can see some that in some of the telephoto images I posted above), and I hope this is something that Adobe are going to improve.
But right now after spending some time playing around with the images from the XT10, I’m really impressed by the image quality and really don’t feel as though I’m losing anything significant from the Nikon D800E in real world shooting conditions. It’s also worth pointing out here that when I decided to switch to Fuji I also had one eye on the future. The 16mp X trans sensor is now over 3 years old and so it’s logical that within the next 12 months Fuji will be putting out a new camera, most likely an X Pro 2, with a new probably higher resolution sensor. This is one of the reasons why I didn’t get the XT 1 as I knew I’d probably end up replacing it in under a year, but the XT10, which is incredibly good value, will quite happily move over into being a back up camera or small carry round camera when I want to go really light. Obviously, around the same time that Fuji is putting out its next generation of cameras, which I’m confident will have image quality that matches or even exceeds my D800, Nikon will have moved forward as well. But you need only take a look at Canon’s 5DS and the Sony A7II (whose sensor will probably be in Nikon’s D900 or whatever it’s called) to see where those companies are going. More resolution that I don’t need, 4K video that I don’t need and ISO capability up to ISO 3 trillion or whatever, which again, I simply don’t need. So I’m not really interesting in what’s coming next from Nikon or Canon, I know they’ll have fantastic image quality but in real terms it won’t be better than Fuji, and I know they’ll also be big, heavy and ugly. They also won’t have so many of the features that have quickly become irreplaceable on my XT10. No, I’m stepping off of that upgrade path. I think we’ve reached a point with image quality where improvements are more technical than real world for the work I do and I want small, light, cameras that feel almost invisible when shooting with them or carrying them around, and I want a camera that’s fun to use and experiment with. I love features like EVF and flip out screens, and I love the film simulations on Fuji, I even love some of the Advanced settings like Miniature camera (which gives a lens baby effect) or High Key.
I’ve really only be playing around with the XT10 for the last week or so, but pretty much everything I’ve seen from it so far confirms for me that I can replace my Nikon gear completely with Fuji. Over the next few weeks I’ll be using it for some proper landscapes, and then in August I’ll be taking it with me to Indonesia for a month, where it will be seriously put through it’s paces. The fantastic people at Fujifilm Portugal are lending me a couple of lenses to take with me on that trip, so I’ll get an even better idea the system as a whole.
In this blog I’ve tended to focus a lot on image quality and comparisons, which for me was something I had to get over before I could fully commit to the system, I needed to be sure that there wasn’t anything I was going to miss. From everything I’ve seen so far, there isn’t anything, and beyond that it’s hard to overstate the importance of having a camera that makes you WANT to go out and take pictures. I actually love using this camera.. The XT10 has a soul, and is a pleasure to use and take photographs with.
So to go back to the beginning of this article and my reasons for writing about my experience with Fuji, I think one of the reasons why I and so many people feel compelled about their conversion to Fuji is that, all technical and tangible details aside, Fuji cameras have the indefinable capacity to make you fall in love with photography again, and that’s something that I think is worth sharing.