Peeling the Onion

by Jaakko

A dear friend of mine once said that meeting other people is like peeling our onion, giving away layers of ours. The surrounding people help us to see inside, into the inner chambers of ourselves. We keep on peeling, mirroring ourselves on the others, and every time it hurts.

What if there was nothing inside? Just emptiness. Empty, spherical hollow filled with nothing.

Imagine a man who goes through a great trouble, perhaps the greatest trouble of all, in order to see his inside. He takes the peeling seriously. He suffers unimaginable spiritual and physical pain in order to reach the core. At some point, he finally finishes his task. He is in his core. And what does he find? Empty space.

I and my friend had numerous conversations about this, sometimes the onion becoming a cabbage, but ok, more or less the same thing. We came into the conclusion that it is necessary to hold some cover to be able to live in this world. We can’t go running around naked (not in this society anyway) and it is natural to hide some aspects of your personality. And vice versa: we don’t want to be covered in a thick layer of clammy cabbage.

If we sauté an onion, it becomes transparent. So maybe we could, somehow, gently fry ourselves slightly so that others could see through us. But in order to live happy lives, we must not overdo it.

My conclusion at this point is that perhaps human psyche is the layers of the onion. The whole structure. It’s not what is inside but it’s the various levels and layers. And even if that something inside could be brought to daylight, our perception could not detect it.

Take sorrow, for example. We can’t measure it. Science can only deal with the layers, and that’s what cognitive psychology is all about; our thoughts are the layers. The thoughts that are brought to us by our parents, teachers, friends and great novelists of the world.

After all, the point about peeling the onion is that we can choose which layers to keep and which to discard. Tears might come, but it’s natural.

When to bring DSLR?

There’s no question that the mirror-less cameras are getting better and better. Since these digital cameras of the modern age are much easier to carry around and make such high quality photos, is there still place for DSLRs?

Definably yes. Here are five reasons why I think so:

  1. There is wide variety of lenses available for DSLRs. Although micro-four-thirds cameras are getting more high quality optics nowadays, the selection of lenses is just different range in DSLR cameras.
  2. Micro four thirds cameras simply don’t have as big sensor as DSLRs, and this usually result in lesser low-light performance. (Fujifilm X100 is a different animal in this sense because it has full APS-C size sensor) and..
  3. ..crop factor. Due to smaller sensor, mirror-less cameras have higher crop factor which means less control over depth of field.
  4. Optical viewfinder. Optical viewfinder. Optical viewfinder. Looking at that LCD screen on the back of the mirror-less camera just isn’t the same as peering through high quality optical viewfinder of DSLR and seeing the real optical image in front of you. Some cameras have a small thing you can put on the hot shoe, but then you get the parallax error.
  5. Continuous shooting speed. DSLRs usually have more robust processing system which allows images to be processed and written to memory cards much faster. (Usually. Some mirror less cameras are now shooting faster, however usually not continuously in RAW)

If I’m to shoot fast moving objects or people, or things in distance, I am probably bringing my 5D Mark II or 50D.  Moreover, if I’m shooting some “serious” work in predetermined location or in a low light, I’m likely choosing DSLR because of above reasons. Full frame sensor is essentially same as it once was when shooting 35mm film. Can’t beat that.

However, I have seen people using mirror-less cameras even in studio environment (still life and still models!) and I can’t guess a good reason why it wouldn’t work just as well, especially if you shoot in RAW. Also many of the mirror less cameras have also hot shoe nowadays for flash units so..

Ultimately as Chase Jarvis would say, the best camera is the one you have with you. 

Time Warp

No post processing except monochrome conversion. Shot with Fujifilm Finepix X100.

Kawashima Kotori: Miraichan

I recently bought Kawashima Kotori’s photo book Miraichan. I first time saw it with my wife when we were visiting Triennale in Yokohama last summer. “Oh this is so beautiful!”, I cried to my wife. The image of the girl in red was permanently left in my heart.

Photos of Kawashima are genuine and natural. Miraichan is like a symbol of life herself. She laughs, cries and grows up in middle of wonderfully picturesque Showa era landscape. The photos are stinking of life. Here and there are photos of the surrounding nature that make a good balance for the emotional impact delivered by Miraichan.

It would be easy to call Kawashima’s photos cute, but doing so wouldn’t do justice to his work. It would be like like calling Picasso “artistic”. “Cute” just isn’t enough.

What makes these photos so emotionally moving might be because of Kawashima’s intension of capturing something greater than cute girl in red.

Kawashima wants to capture humanity that he sees in surrounding world, and he does it in very approachable way. Although my wife shows zero interest for Nobuyoshi Araki’s photos, she totally loves Miraichan. It is not small achievement to take genuinely artistic photo and make ordinary people interested of it.

Miraichan is a also a very coherent piece of work; there’s not a single unnecessary photo in the book. The pages of the book are very vibrant and print quality is excellent. The bind is also very unique. 2000円 is a bargain for this quality of print.

I want to keep this book with me always.

Kotori Kawashima 川島小鳥 (写真家) (1980) is a Tokyo born photographer, graduated from Waseda university. The photos in Miraichan are shot in Sado Island, Niigata prefecture. See Kawashima Kotori’s Official Site at: kawashimakotori.com

Minato Mirai 21 Night

Shot without tripod (holding camera against handrail) with Fujifilm X100. Slight processing in Aperture.

High Contrast

I have always loved the high and rich contrast photos with cinema like salmiakki-crushed-blacks. I took this photo with X100 in Minato Mirai.

Fujifilm Finepix X100 Review

Fujifilm Finepix X100

Updated June 11, 2015

Introduction

I have been using Fujifilm X100 now for more than three weeks three years. The first copy of the camera I got had the infamous stuck aperture issue, but I got a replacement one from the retailer. The “stuck aperture” issue seems to be very common with X100 cameras as noted by several blogs. It seems there is some design flaw in the aperture mechanism that plagues the original X100 series. So if you are buying this camera second hand I recommend to check that aperture is closing properly at F16, so that if there’s issue, you can get replacement one, rather than having to wait the repair.

I have always liked shooting in rangefinder style, adjusting the dials while I hold the camera to my eye. The 35mm (equiv.) focal length and large APS-C sensor were strong selling points for me as well. I have never really needed zoom so I don’t care the lack of it. I rather choose the optimized optical quality of the lens.

I also like the Fujifilm’s brave decision to make camera like this. Some of my photographer friends told me “Why don’t you just buy Sony NEX like everyone else and get on with your life?”. I guess it’s spiritual thing. It’s a strange camera, in a good way.

Operation and Handling

The camera has three main control dials, aperture control ring around the lens (with tabs), shutter speed dial and exposure compensation dial. All of them are milled from solid metal. X100 feels very balanced and easy to hold. The black thing around the magnesium alloy body doesn’t seem to be made of leather, although the camera manual claims it to be, but it provides good enough grip for one handed shooting. I can’t imagine a camera body more solid than this, except maybe Leica. The fit and finish is very good. The numbers on dials are engraved into metal and so is the Fujifilm logo on the top plate.

There’s “focus-by-wire” manual focus ring in the lens, but it takes too many turns to change the focus and there’s pretty bad lag. (1) I tried it couple of times before accepting the fact that this is “autofocus camera”. While it might be possible to shoot full manual with this camera, the MF lag is a painful reality.

Autofocus is pretty fast and accurate. It is based on contrast detection so it won’t compete with DSLRS (with phase detection) in terms of speed, but it it is accurate. The camera has also bright as hell “hey look I’m shooting you” AF assist lamp, which can be turned off in the menu. (2)

Great thing about X100 is that you can shoot even if AF is not achieved.

When in manual focus mode there is also a depth-of-field indicator, which shows the depth of field in distance scale as a white bar visually, which is a very handy feature. Many photographers decide to use the manual mode and press the AFL button to autofocus, and then fine tune the focus by the ring. What’s good about this is that when pressing the jog dial on top of the camera, you get 100% crop on EVF in the viewfinder momentarily which allows you to check focus. Press it again and you’re back in the OVF. Cool.

Metering has three modes, multi, spot and average. Average metering mode is especially suitable when using OVF. It tries to balance the image so that nothing gets overexposed. When you want to really compose the lighting, switch to multi or spot. I keep mine in the spot mode and never even touch others.

I find the camera’s metering to be simply great.

Shooting with this camera feels intuitive, most due to the hybrid viewfinder, which turns on automatically when you bring the camera to your eye. X100’s real trick is that it can overlay the shooting information to the optical viewfinder. So you get best of the both worlds, optical real world image, plus all necessary information with live histogram if necessary. Frame lines and AF are parallax corrected.

Flicking the switch on front of the camera, you can change between EVF / OVF. When shooting macro the camera defaults automatically to EVF, which makes sense due to parallax. Although I’m not big fan of the “TV inside your camera feel” of the EVF, it gives you 100% coverage, so in some occasions it might be great. (For example when shooting in dark and the bright LCD might disturb someone)

On the downside, the default setting of the camera will turn the OVF into EVF for a moment after each shot, showing the preview image in the viewfinder. The preview image can be turned off altogether, eliminating the nuisance, but then the camera won’t show the preview image on LCD either after each shot. Many find this annoying.

As it’s widely reported in web reviews, menu layout and the command dial on the back feel less intuitive. The light plastic command dial is flimsy, although the buttons are not bad. If you take the mindset of trying to avoid using the menus altogether, you certainly can. The FN switch in the top can be customized for quick access of many of the features, although I think most people leave it to default, which is ISO setting. But simple thing as engaging ND filter does require you to dive in the menus, so indeed, it’s a bit annoying that I have to browse every time I need to access such feature. It’s strange that Fujifilm has placed things such as operation sound effects in higher priority than Auto ISO control etc.

But after you memorize the menu items, you can certainly workaround the poor UI. It didn’t ruin the experience for me, and under normal conditions I don

The in-camera flash is surprisingly good. It is clearly adjusted and designed to function as a fill in flash. Although it shoots right to the face, actually this is one of the best in camera flashes I’ve seen. It is meant to provide a slight extra punch to the image just when needed, but remember to unscrew the lens hood if using it.

In X100 there is no dial with “typical A, P, SCENE” etc. If you want aperture priority mode, turn the shutter speed dial to A, and choose aperture by the aperture ring, and you’ve got aperture priority. And vice versa for shutter priority. I find this delightful. But this is also the reason why I wouldn’t recommend this camera for a beginner since there are no modes such as “creative auto”, etc.

Image quality

This camera produces very high quality photos, just as reported in web reviews. I find this camera to produce sharper images than EOS 50D coupled with mid-range Tamron lens. I love how Fujifilm decided to keep the sensor at 12 megapixels instead of trying to compete with the cameras that offer larger megapixel count. Therefore the ISO performance is really good, perhaps one of the best in the market in APS-C sensor cameras. ISO 1600 is totally usable and if you like to shoot black insects in coal mines, you can punch it at least up to 6400 and still getting pretty usable images. The noise reduction is also pretty good and doesn’t result in bad artifacts.

X100 can process RAWs inside the camera. DPreview mentioned that the in-camera processing is even better than the result got with the included software and I second that, since it’s in-camera you can do it without computer. This camera has in fact best in-camera processing I have ever seen. (3)

The film simulation can mimic Fujifilm’s Provia and Velvia films, and this feature is more than a trick or “art filter” ; it really makes practical sense and is slight enough not to be intrusive. The image quality is great when using the any of the film simulation modes, so all is well there.

Other Shooting Modes

There isn’t much to say here. There’s bracketing modes including film simulation and ISO bracketing, “motion panorama” , which produces OK panoramas and artifacts if there are much movement in the scene, and 720p 24fps movie mode which is OK, but suffers from the lack of image stabilization.

Continuous shooting is possible at 5fps (up to 10 jpgs and 8 raw’s) or 3fps. Writing of the images to the SD card will take some time.

Accessories

Expect to pay 3000 yen + if you intend to attach any filter to this camera. Filter adapter ring or lens hood are not included with the camera and must be bought separately.

The lens hood kit includes filter adapter ring but it costs whopping 10,000 yen. The lens hood and adapter are made of aluminum and are very high quality, just like the lens cap. By the way, neither the lens cap or leather case cover will fit over the filter adapter or hood.

The leather case is classy but costs 10.000 yen. Because of the fitting issue I ended up using only the bottom half of it for better grip and some extra protection.

I also bought the smaller version of the external flash, EF-20. It’s very compact and tilts upwards 90 degrees. The bigger brother also swivels and provide more power. EF-20 is very useful when bounced from the ceiling.

The battery charger is a bit weird with loose plastic piece that’s required to charge the battery. It seems very odd move from Fujifilm. Also the symmetrical shape battery can be placed in the camera and charger in four different ways (and only one being the correct, of course) so it takes some practice. The battery NP-95 offers reasonably good amount of shots but recharging is rather slow. Getting a spare is a good idea.

The included mini USB cable is NOT a standard mini USB cable, but unique Fujifilm cable, so don’t lose it!

The camera also supports good old mechanical shutter release. (4)

The camera manual is written in batshitcrazy-lawyer-english. Although it explains the operation of the camera it doesn’t really provide much useful tips for actual shooting.

Final Word

There’s something almost spiritual when shooting with X100. It just feels right. It’s possible to operate the most important settings while holding the camera up to your eye and there’s a lot of this analog “tactile feel” to the camera’s dials. It’s almost shocking to use DSLR after a shooting session with X100. The experience is that good.

It would be wrong to compare this camera to Leica M9, since the camera is totally different and also in different price range. But those who long for the good old range finder days might find some salvation in this cool retro camera. And X100 pleases the eye. (5)

I recommend this camera for any advanced amateur/prosumer / photography enthusiast. It’s more expensive than other cameras with APS-C sensor but it offers luxury of great hybrid viewfinder, high quality lens, beautiful design and a nearly silent shutter.

This is not a compact camera but a serious tool for artist who wants manual control over his image, but also portability and small form factor.

Notes:

    1. With the latest firmware update the manual focus works much better. It might not be the best feature but it definitely works, especially with the focus peaking which was introduced by this update.

  • The firmware update also improved autofocus accuracy and speed somewhat.

 

  • I nowadays only shoot RAW with X100. Lightroom can process these raws very nicely a quality that’s very very good.

 

  • It’s so nice.

 

  • So many people made comments about my camera’s looks, asking “is it a film camera”. They still do, even though the retro style is pretty popular nowadays with compact cameras. It’s a pretty nice looking thing.