Fujiko’s Day at the Forge

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Wifey is now kidding that I have a new girlfriend, Fujiko. Nope, I’m not into bigamy! So who’s Fujiko? Well, I got a Fujifilm XT 1 last night, at long last, and earlier today I had the chance to test-drive it. I was so delighted with its handling characteristics and performance that I couldn’t stop crowing about it to Cathy, who then teased that I was like someone with a new girlfriend. So I told her, I do, her name is Fujiko! – and held up the new cam. It’s a common Japanese name for women, but it also comes out as a pun in Pilipino, meaning ‘my Fuji.’ And I can see myself taking this bad girl out a lot.

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I doubt I’ll be able to say anything new after the online reviews that have already come out, but I can offer my personal observations on how I find the camera and how I’m learning to use it. Cathy and I had to visit a smithy to buy ourselves a bolo, and we were lucky enough to arrive while they were forging. First impressions:

  • It pays to read the online reviews. Really. I especially found valuable the inputs from the Ken Rockwell blog and from wedding photographer Daniel Cheung.

  • The controls feel 90% in the right place and easy to use. I specially like the fact that I know most of my settings at any time, even with the camera off, because I’m using real dials instead of controls that only give me feedback when the cam is on. The exposure compensation dial is particulary well located for me, since it’s a tool I use often, and it’s not too stiff for my fingers either. However, I can thumb-rotate it in only one direction – to turn it the other way I have to use two fingers.  Then again that’s not too bad, because I’ve usually decided exposure comp even before I put cam to face. (That said – looks like I should be more aggressive with negative compensation indoors, in dark rooms. There are pics of the forge taken at –2/3 or greater negative EV and they still rendered the place much brighter than it looked.)

  • The direction pad at the back is the one hitch in the control system that I’m not happy about. Fortunately, I seem to have smaller thumbs than most earlier reviewers, so it’s not quite as difficult for me to get at the buttons or push them; however, finding them reliably by feel is a bit challenging. I’ll have to practice quite a bit to get ‘muscle memory’ of where the dang little things are. Am seriously considering the hack used by Ronald Grauer on the Steve Huff blog to raise the profile of the buttons. Another button I wish was more raised is the AF Lock, as I’m also quite reliant on it.

  • That said, I kinda like the Fn assignments on the direction pads: they are indeed the ones I’m most likely to use most often. Specially the film emulation modes, which includes the monochrome modes. On the other hand, if I keep these default assignments, it means changing focus point is a two-step procedure that needs me to hit two buttons, often different ones; down to access the focus point, and then possibly another direction key to move it around. I’m still not decided whether to keep the default assignments or take Rockwell’s tip to assign focus point access to all the other direction keys, thus enabling you to change focus points more intuitively.

  • Which leads to another takeaway from the online reviews and checking on the ACR update for Fuji; since a) the XT1 produces really good quality JPEGs anyway, and b) Adobe’s RAW converter still isn’t interpreting Fuji RAF files the way the camera does, it seems best to shoot in JPEG for now. I get to retain the color settings I chose in-cam, these in fact being one of my prime reasons for deciding to get the XT1, and there’s also less processing to do. Speaking of processing, it looks like I don’t need to do much. The JPEGs are indeed quite good, even at ISO 3200, and wow, automatic white balance is pretty reliable even in mixed light! (Will post a photo from that later.) So yes, shooting in JPEG seems to be ok for most purposes I want to use the camera for.

By the way, shot details: First photo is Fujifilm XT 1, XF 18mm f/2 R, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 1/800s, –1.00ev, Auto white balance, Noise reduction –1, Color +1, Dynamic range 200%, Velvia emulation mode. Second photo uses mostly the same settings and the same lens, speed is 1/950s and –2.00EV. And yeah, I really like the level of control I have here. Feels a lot like shooting with a roll of Velvia or Fujichrome and having it developed at a Fuji lab that just got its chemicals delivered.

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