Posted by: In: Camera Equipment 09 May 2015 0 comments Tags: , ,

16889839282_78f615cfcf_zSo as I said in an earlier post, I recently took the plunge and bought Fuji’s X-T1.

I’ve been using an X-E1 for a while now and one thing I only just realised was that most people are right eye dominant, which is why they get that “rangefinder feel” for the X series rangefinder style bodies. I’m left eye dominant and I get a flat nose.

So the central viewfinder of the X-T1 makes no difference to me, and after handling it in a shop, I went out and bought one. It’s absolutely beautiful. For me, it’s far more solid than the X-E1 and feels much better in the hands. The controls are superior and easier to access. Now I can have full back button focus and I can change the ISO with a dial without going through menus.

Two things though that I wanted to improve on.

Modifying an X-T1 in the ways below isn’t too hard or expensive. It does take a bit of care and time to get it right though, so if you’re going to have a go, make sure you clear a working space and some time.

The X-T1 ButtonsIMG_0102

The buttons are very low profile. For me, with the camera to the eye, they are hard to find. When searching for solutions I came across someone who’d used Sugru to enhance this. (You don’t have to use red – I liked it!)

The picture doesn’t look great, but as it’s at such a small magnification, when you look at it with a normal eye, it looks fine. I’ve raised the profile of the AE-L, AF-L, Focus assist and “OK” buttons on the back, the shutter release and the front button (which I have set to electric/mechanical shutter). Will it come off? I’m sure with a careful application of dental floss and patience it will come off fine. To be honest though, once I’ve changed cameras again (and I’m not convinced I will!) I’ll probably get it converted to IR and sell on the X-E1.

The trick to getting the Sugru to look good is to mould it using damp fingers. With damp fingers, the Sugru smooths under the touch rather than coming off on your finger, or leaving a fingerprint on it. I also used a nail file to help mould it – again pressed it to a damp cloth before beginning, to stop the Sugru coming off on the file.

One thing that has been suggested is to raise the profile of the direction arrows. I am usually looking at the back of the camera when I use these buttons so that wasn’t such a huge problem for me. They’re not great in terms of access, but as well as not needing to find them blind, I can’t mould Sugru into banana shapes.

It’s been on for a few weeks now, and still seems firmly attached. The benefit of being able to find the buttons by feel is enormous. Maybe I have desensetised fingers, or maybe I’m just fat fingered. Either way, I think this was a great benefit. Raising the profile of the shutter release also works well for me. My finger sits more comfortably on the raised button and I like the red. I guess weather sealing meant no screw in shutter release for the X-T1 but that’s OK. It’s a minor thing.

The Eye Cup

IMG_0101The eye cup modification though has been a real help. One huge problem I have with most eye cups is that the sun shines on your eye and half-blinds you if it’s in “that” position. This eye cup though moulds to the eye and removes all extraneous light.

I bought the larger X-T1 Eye Cup anyway and that meant I had the factory shipped one doing nothing. So I risked a Hoodman HoodEYE eyecup for Nikon round eye pieces and figured I could fix it myself.

The Nikon eye piece was a wonderful “guess” buy. Initially I was going to take the Fuji eye piece apart (there are two tiny screws) but when I saw that the threaded Hoodman almost perfectly “screws” into the rubber of the factory fitted Fuji eye cup, I went a different route.

I made a couple of “dry” fits first, and with a little pushing and fiddling with a small flat headed screwdriver, it’s possible to literally screw the Hoodman into the the Fuji eye cup. It’s a tight fit and you may want to remove the metal mounting bracket, to ply the rubber a bit. Do it a couple of times to me sure you can do it “wet”. I then liberally applied Superglue and Sugru (I had leftover an nothing to fix) before meshing the two together. Superglue is nasty stuff and I ended up sacrificing a bit of tidiness for not getting it on my fingers. It doesn’t look pretty from the back but when it’s fixed to the camera it’s perfect.

As you can see below, the metal mounting bracket is held in with two screws. The rubber looks distorted (and it is) but it’s perfectly functional. Obviously this is a permanent job. The Hoodman and the factory eye piece will not be usable for anything else, but as a final solution for keeping the sun out of my eyes it’s brilliant.

One thing to note though, is that it blocks the “face” sensor, so if you have the viewfinder/back screen set to auto-detect, it will always assume a face in the way and show everything in the viewfinder. Also, if you’re right eye dominant, the cup goes the other way and might block the AE-L button. As a left eye dominant person, it blocks visual (but not finder) access to the playback & delete buttons. These issues do get in the way of reviewing my images as I shoot, but that’s more than made up for with the comfort of the soft eye cup.

IMG_0104

 

I bought an X-T1 a few weeks ago. It’s lovely.

But one thing I wondered about was what to do with my X-E1. It’s a lovely camera, and the second hand resale on it isn’t great. So I began to think about getting it converted to shoot infra-red.

One of my favourite photographers of all time is Sir Simon Marsden. After reading the book “Ghosts“, which featured his images, I went on to buy “Ghosthunter: A Journey Through Haunted France” shortly after. Sadly, Marsden passed away in 2012, but his iconic photography remains and will always have a place on my bookshelf. His dramatic use of infra-red film to capture his subjects was almost a trademark, and the use of infra-red gives his images an ethereal, other-worldly feel, totally in keeping with his subject matter. Infra-red photography on a film camera is a tricky business and for me this really shows Marsden as a talented image maker.

Infra-red conversion in photoshop

As a beginning amateur photographer, and an ex-goth (!), I found it fascinating to try and recreate his “look” in photoshop. Not having access to an infra-red camera, or film, I made do. And I don’t think I did too bad a job of it. The essence of “normal” conversion to Infra red is all about pushing the greens and pulling the blues in a straight up colour to black & white conversion. A bit of dodging and burning goes a long way, but it wasn’t completely capturing the essence of the medium for me. The image above is one of my earlier attempts from a colour image and it suffers from blown white clouds.

The digital photographer has two real choices for shooting infra-red. Either a standard on-the-lens screw in filter, or a full conversion of the camera. Modern digital camera sensors are sensitive to infra-red light, so manufacturers put a filter in front of the sensor. The simple screw on filter therefore blocks out the visible light and lets only IR through which is then blocked by the in-camera filter. Consequently, exposure times are huge and can be a bit hit and miss.

Modifying the camera though removes that problem and also allows the photographer to put any lens on the front of their camera. You don’t need a 55mm filter and a 62mm filter etc etc. I had a spare body sitting idle so it was a simple decision to get it converted fully.

The first question, is who to get to do it. My wife tells me I’m clumsy – and she’s totally right, so the idea of me doing it was a no brainer. Best leave it to professionals! In the UK I could only find two companies that perform this service, and as a modern consumer, I went straight to Google to find out which is best. However, there are not that many reviews of either companies. Both companies had reviews from customers who had received a poor service (as well as good), but all the reviews I found were quite old.infra-red conversion in photoshop

Advanced Camera Services are based in Norfolk and their website is a bit sparse. They only do “strong” IR filters which are great if you just want to do black & white photography. The stronger IR filters block more light, so the images are typically sharper but you have less flexibility with colour ranges. 830nm is a strong black & white filter ranging down to 720nm which is considered “standard”.

Protech Repairs are based in Uckfield and their website is… colourful! It’s better than ACS, but still requires a bit of brain matter to navigate. They offer filters from 590nm (considered “super colour”) through to the stronger 830nm.

Prices for the two companies are relatively similar. It’s different depending on the camera so I won’t go into that here. the links above give you enough information to figure it out yourselves.

I sent out exploratory emails to both companies with some basic questions – including whether converting an X-E1 to infra-red was something they did as their websites didn’t specify my camera. I generally do this with un-reviewed sources as a matter of course because it’s a decent measure of their online responsiveness. If I get good, friendly help via emails I always feel better about parting with money, and an IR conversion isn’t cheap. To begin with you have the cost of your camera, and you have to add the conversion costs on top of that.

ACS never replied to that mail unfortunately and Protech did. Hmm… So from here on in, I’m going to talk about Protech.

Jo replied very quickly (same day – a Sunday) with helpful answers to questions as well as links to further reading. She also advised me of issues with the X-E1 and hotspots on zoom lenses. Not a worry for me as I use the 23mm and the 14mm for my landscape work. This was a nice touch and reassuring that Protech weren’t trying to sell out of the gate. They appeared to want an informed consumer which really went in their favour. Jo also advised that it’s possible to go stronger with screw in filters, so choosing a 590nm sensor filter would still allow me to put a circular 830nm filter on the front of the camera. It’s not possible to go the other way though for obvious reasons.

Protech were very patient with all my questions over the course of a week, and so I decided to pack up my X-E1 with a battery and send it off. Jo said it would take about a week.

And a week later, it was done! So for me, Protech did what they said they were going to do which is another bonus. I paid over the phone and the camera was sent RMSD next day. It arrived well packaged and wrapped up safely. The only moment of panic occurred when I turned the thing on and nothing happened… This was due to a) the on-off switch flicking to “on” in transit and draining the battery and b) the camera being reset to use the viewfinder so no rear screen came on when I switched on. Once I got my menus set up again, I discovered that Protech had also kindly set a custom white balance for me and that the camera was working fine.

So that’s a huge thumbs up to the people at Protech and a solid recommendation from me. To be transparent, I need to state that I get/got no revenue or financial reward from them for endorsing the service. They did a good job and I think it’s important to review good as well as bad.

One thing I think they could improve on would be to perhaps just ship the camera with an info sheet detailing how to get the best from your images. I’m not going to repost the content here, but I found the following article at Luminescent Photo to be extremely helpful in getting my IR workflow sorted out. I use Lightroom and Photoshop though so I don’t know how this would work for other software.

Currently, using the above tutorials, I have a custom profile set for my X-E1 now which auto white balances the shots at import meaning they just need exporting to Photoshop for a channel swap as a finishing touch.

converted X-E1 infra red

Now all I need is a bright blue sky and then I’m off to the local churchyards to revisit my old stomping grounds.

Thanks for reading!

Ian.

Fuji X-E1 @ 35mm. Long Legs & Short LegsWith my ownership of the Fuji X-E1 approaching 6 months, I thought I’d do an update post to let you know what I think now that I’ve had the camera for more than 5 minutes. You can read my original post a few days after purchasing the Fuji X-E1 here.

I’m not regretting it – that’s for sure! That was my biggest worry. Would I miss the features and speed of an SLR?

In a word – No.

It took a bit of getting used to, but I’m able to operate the little Fuji X-E1 with the same speed as my 50D. The only real problem is the issue of using the camera on full manual control (see below). I almost always now set the camera to AUTO ISO 6400, auto shutter speed and control aperture with the aperture ring. I then adjust the exposure using the exposure compensation wheel.

X-E1 vs X-Pro 1

Did I make the right choice? I don’t know for sure and can’t objectively state one way or another. I’ve not missed the OVF and if it’s pouring down outside I’m generally not going out in it for me, never mind my camera! Weather proofing therefore is not something I’ve missed. Locking shutter speed dial and a slightly smaller LCD screen are things I just haven’t noticed missing. I’ve not owned the X-Pro 1 so I can’t tell definitively, but I really cannot seen how the X-Pro 1 would have been a better choice for me.

Manual Control

Right. The problem with this is that the minimum shutter speed as decided by the camera is too slow for my hands. It’s as simple as that. In poor light, the camera will set its minumum shutter which seems to be the reciprocal of the (adjusted) focal length. This is 1/50sec for the 35mm. A simple ability to set the minimum shutter speed in AUTO mode would be of great help. This feature is oft asked for in Fuji forums so I’m not alone in this.

So why am I not shooting in full manual like I did on the Canon? It’s far too fiddly. Aperture is fine on the barrel of the lens. Shutter speed is annoying to change and physically awkward if you’ve got the camera held to your eye. The dial on the camera top is also in full stops which doesn’t give a lot of fine control. You can adjust in 1/3 stop increments, but that uses the controls on the back of the camera. Full manual control also means loss of the Exposure Compensation wheel.

On my 50D, ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed were all controlled easily via two thumb wheels that could be set to move in 1/3 stop increments. I could have the camera close to my eye and make 1/3 stop adjustments to either shutter speed or aperture very easily. It’s just not that easy on the Fuji X-E1, and it’s not something I can get used to. I can, however, live with it.

So How Would I Fix This?

In an ideal world, and assuming Fuji techs read this and think I’m awesome…

  • Keep aperture control on the lens barrel. For all lenses, also allow aperture to be controlled by the rear horizontal scroll wheel (like it does for the 27mm)
  • Keep shutter speed where it is, but when it’s set to a non-auto speed, allow the Exp Compensation wheel to adjust the shutter speed in smaller increments, don’t just disable it!
  • Allow the user to set a minumum shutter speed for any lens so that ISO will ramp up to compensate in Auto-ISO mode

This would make full manual shooting far quicker and less cumbersome than it is at the moment. It would also make it more usable in fast moving situations (street photography, events etc)

Other Changes

Other than the difficulties of manual control, the camera is a dream to use. It’s physically a lot smaller than the 50D and beefing this up with a thumb rest and a case that has a built in grip has really helped! I’m toying with the idea of a Sugru modification, but haven’t got round to that yet. The addition of a shiny red soft release has helped my fat fingers find the shutter button more easily too.

My Pimped Fuji X-E1

My Pimped Fuji X-E1

The whole package is far lighter than my DSLR setup, and for landscape and street work, it’s wonderful. I’m not regretting the loss of all that weight. In terms of user-friendliness, I’ve found the menus more intuitive than my Canon and changing settings and formatting the memory card are a lot quicker.

JPEG vs Raw

I’m not good enough to shoot JPEGs. It’s sad but true. I often need to tweak White Balance or adjust highlights. Having the Raw files often helps with this and is far more forgiving than trying to alter a JPEG. So I’m back to Raw shooting. I did shoot Raw + JPEG for a while but ended up discarding the JPEGs if I needed to adjust in Lightroom. the whole thing became a bit of a faff, so now I just shoot in Raw.

Another downside of shooting Raw is that those wonderful in-camera JPEG presets are lost (unless you shoot Raw+JPEG). On the upside, there is a chap who is working on a whole bunch of Lightroom presets to emulate film. His Filmbot site is here. His plan is to keep these presets Open Source (i.e. Free!) so these could be a good place to start if you’re missing the JPEG presets. Personally I find the Filmbot Velvia emulation to be very different to the in-camera Velvia emulation so I do plan to have a look at creating some LR presets to try and replicate the in-camera modifications, but that’s a job for another day!

The Lenses

The primes (35 & 14) are awesome. I used to own a 10-20mm for my Canon 50D, and did wonder whether just moving to a fixed 14mm would be a problem. It isn’t! I can manage just fine with the single focal length. As to the 35mm, I’ve found that I think  I prefer that focal length (it’s an effective 52mm) as opposed to my old 50mm f1.4 which was effectively 80mm on my old Canon.

I’m also beginning to love the 18-55 too. I tend to have it set on auto aperture to avoid accidents with the aperture ring, which is good, because the 18-55 is my “I don’t-know-what-lens-I-need” lens. For walkabouts it’s fine.

Fuji X-E1 & 35mm lens with a new lens hood!

Fuji X-E1 & 35mm lens with a new lens hood!

I did get annoyed by the lens hood on the 35mm. It doesn’t reverse, it has a tendancy to slip off, and you can’t use a standard lens cap with it. It looks cool though which is why I persevered with it for a while. In the end though, I plumped for a cheap 52mm screw in hood that allows me to use a proper lens cap and doesn’t fall off in a stiff breeze. The cool factor is still there.

The Prom

#2 Daughter's Prom

Fuji X-E1 @ 35mm, f1.4, 1/60sec, ISO200

I shot #2 daughter’s prom on a mix of the 35mm and the 18-55. Most of the problems were due to faults between the floor and the shutter button. The Fuji X-E1 isn’t a fast camera for me, and I don’t have steady hands! AUTO ISO was a bit of a let down and caused generally low shutter speeds all around until I set the ISO to a fixed 800 which pushed the shutter speeds in general up. There were a few blurred shots though.

Panic was also a factor, with little time to get the shots off. In all honesty, I don’t think I did as good a job with #2 daughter’s prom as I did with #1 daughter 2 years ago shot on the 50D with a 24-105. However I think that if I were to shoot it today, I’d do a much better job now that I know the nuances of the Fuji X-E1 better. I’d also have shot in Raw which would have meant better results in post processing. The Grandparents were happy with them though so it wasn’t a disaster!

Overall Thoughts Fuji X-E1 vs DSLR

Yep. For me, the change was well worth it. More and more threads are cropping up these days with people asking what it’s like to downsize to the Fuji X system. There is no true answer to this, other than to say that some people (including me) have changed and absolutely not regretted it. I can take just as good a picture on my X-E1 as I ever could on my Canon. And as I said in my other post. I enjoy it far more these days.

Fuji X-E1 @ 35mm. Brent Lane, Crowton

Brent Lane, Crowton. Fuji X-E1 w/35mm f1.4 Lens. Flickr Explored, September 2013

Thanks for reading!