Posts Tagged ‘comparison


First impressions of the Fuji x10 camera

The Fujifilm x10

Despite limited supply, I managed to get my own Fujifilm x10 Camera a few weeks ago and play with it a bit. The x10 falls into the category of “enthusiast compact camera,” meaning that it has several advanced features that will appeal to serious amateur photographers. Most importantly, the Fuji x10 offers manual (and easily accessible) control of exposure. Shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation can all be adjusted with just a few clicks, turns or button presses — rather than a hunt through several layers of menus. White balance adjustment can also be accomplished with a minimum of fuss.

The sensor in the x10 is physically a bit larger than you’d find in most point and shoot cameras, which should translate to lower noise at higher ISO settings. Combining this larger sensor with a wide aperture will also produce shallower depth of field than would be possible on most point and shoot cameras. The lens of the x10 zooms through a range with angle of view (in terms of a 35mm full-frame camera) equivalent to 28mm-112mm. Impressively, it offers a maximum aperture of f2.0 at the wide end of the zoom range, and maintains a maximum aperture of f2.8 even at the telephoto 112mm. Fuji has a reputation for making excellent optics — high-end Hasselblad H2 lenses are made by Fuji. (Yes, I know that many Hasselblad lenses are made by Carl Zeiss or Schneider Kreuznach–but indeed, many lenses for the H1 and H2 are made by Fujifilm, as were some earlier Hasselblad lenses for film camera systems like the panoramic XPan.)

The retro styling of the x10 is reminiscent of Leica rangefinder cameras, including an optical viewfinder located off-center above the lens. Most compacts forgo an optical viewfinder in order to reduce the size of the camera, expecting the photographer to compose with the LCD instead. Using the LCD has some drawbacks, though — it eats up battery power and can be hard to see in bright light. The optical viewfinder on the x10 is not TTL. Consequently you won’t see an accurate representation of depth of field, and at macro range you’ll have a severe parallax problem if you try to use the optical finder. (The finder does zoom with the lens, though.)

The Fujifilm x10 is approximately the same size as an Olympus PEN. Note that the Olympus is wearing a 17mm prime lens (no zoom) , whereas the lens on the Fujifilm zooms from wide to telephoto. The Fujifilm x10 also has an optical viewfinder and a pop-up flash, which are not included on this Olympus. (The micro four thirds sensor in the Olympus is larger than the sensor in the x10, though.)

I don’t like the supplied “slip on” lens cap, which is much bigger than typical snap on lens caps. The lens cap for the x10 is made of painted aluminum, and I immediately dinged mine by dropping the cap (not the camera) on the sidewalk while fumbling to put it in my pocket. Annoyingly, the lens cap must be removed in order to turn the camera on — even if you intend only to navigate menus and change settings on the LCD screen. To turn the camera on, you begin to rotate the rotate the zoom ring on the lens. To turn the camera off, you rotate the lens past the 28mm mark. Another reviewer speculated that users would be forever turning their cameras off accidentally while trying to zoom the lens. I don’t think that’s likely, because there is a positive tactile stop you can feel when you hit 28mm.

The fujifilm x10 offers approximately the same feature set as other compact enthusiast cameras, such as this (discontinued) Canon Powershot G9.

The Fujifilm x10 is not as pocketable as this Canon G9 Powershot, because the Canon's lens retracts completely inside the camera body. The Fuji lens offers significantly wider aperture, though. (f2.8 at maximum telephoto, compared to the Canon's f4.8.)

The x10 is approximately the same size as the Sony NEX 5 (or 5n, which has the same form factor) with wide angle pancake lens. The x10 is a bit taller, to accommodate the flash and viewfinder.

A more accurate size comparison between the Fujifilm x10 and the Sony NEX 5: Here the Sony is equipped with an 18-55mm zoom lens, which has a shorter zoom range and smaller maximum aperture than the Fujifilm x10. Why are interchangeable lenses so much bigger than zoom lenses on compact cameras? Because the larger sensor (like the APS-C sensor in this Sony) require a lens that can project a larger image circle, big enough to extend beyond the corners of the sensor with minimal vignetting.

One of the headline features of the x10 is Fujifilm’s EXR sensor, which promises to allow the photographer either to shoot at maximum resolution, or to sacrifice resolution for greater dynamic range or lower noise. In my limited testing of the x10, the EXR features have so far proved underwhelming. I will shoot some additional test photos and post them here with an update of this review.

Another frustration was the limited support for the x10’s RAW files. When I first received the camera, neither Adobe Camera Raw nor Apple Aperture supported the x10. So while I could shoot RAW photos, I could not open them on a computer. Today I downloaded the recent update to Adobe Camera Raw, and I was able to process a few images. I was disappointed to see that at ISO 400, photos from the x10 exhibited considerable luminance noise. I was also surprised to see that, though I had set the camera to shoot both RAW and JPEG photos, the images I shot in EXR mode were recorded as JPEG files only (no accompanying RAW image was recorded).

This JPEG image was shot on the Fujifilm x10 at ISO 800 using the camera's EXR mode for increase dynamic range. The dynamic range is pretty good, but the noise and JPEG artifacts are a problem for me.

The Fujifilm x10 offers a sweep panorama feature. Depress the shutter and slowly sweep the camera across 120, 180, or 360 degree panoramas. The camera takes several exposures and stitches them together. In order not to exceed the capacity of the buffer, the camera captures a series of standard quality JPEG images to create the composite. When you begin shooting a panorama, the camera's LCD shows a horizon line and uses the internal accelerometer to let you know if you're moving off axis as you sweep. This is a fun feature, but not one I'm likely to use often. If you want panoramic photos with better image quality, shoot a sequence of overlapping RAW photos and use the "Photomerge" feature in CS5 to stitch them together.

Photographed with the Fujifilm x10 at ISO 400. RAW (.RAF) file converted using Adobe Camera Raw 6.6


New Lens reviewed: Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM

Fortuitously, the first time I took my new lens out for a walk, I saw a plane passing near the daytime moon. The image on the left is a crop at 100%, on the right, the uncropped photo as recorded at 200mm on my EOS 7D.

The Canon 7D with the updated “II” version of the 70-200mm f2.8 L lens

As a portraitist and product photographer, I often use short telephoto prime lenses. I prefer the 100mm f2.8L Macro IS USM for tabletop product photography, and the 135mm f2L USM (sometimes with a 1.4x extender) if I need a long reach outdoors or in a convention hall. My favorite short telephoto lens for portraits is the Canon EF 85mm f1.2L II USM, which (on a “full frame” 35mm camera) offers perfect compression and magnification for head-and-shoulders composition for a single subject. This lens is also capable of extraordinarily shallow depth of field effects, which can be hard to master — at f1.4, I occasionally find that my subject’s eye lashes are sharply focused, but the eyeballs are soft.

Many of my colleagues forgo this set of several prime lenses and instead purchase a telephoto zoom, which is less expensive (compared to the cumulative cost of three or four prime lenses) and more versatile, especially for event photography, when frequent lens changes could cause interruptions and missed shots.

I’ve owned several telephoto zoom workhorse lenses over the years — two versions of the Nikon 70-200mm f2.8, as well as the Canon 70-200mm f4L IS USM. I found that the f2.8 lenses produced acceptable resolution and contrast, suitable for event photography and journalism (but noticeably less sharp than a good prime). The Canon 70-200mm f4 was impressively sharp for a zoom lens, but wasn’t quite as fast at acquiring focus in low light (because the f4 aperture doesn’t allow as much light to land on the autofocus sensors). None of these lenses performed as well as the best primes, and they also had the disadvantage of being large and heavy.

I used a telephoto zoom lens for several hours at a wedding in 2008, and afterwards had a tingling sensation in the tips of my left ring finger and pinkie. This tingling persisted for several days, so I asked my doctor about it. He said it might go away, but that it could be nerve damage.

A few moths later, with my fingers still tingling, I visited a specialist who performed a nerve conductivity test. He put electrodes on my arm and hand at various points and shocked me, measuring the time it took the electrical pulse to travel across my ulnar nerve. Then he stabbed the needle-sharp end of an electrical wire into the fleshy web between my thumb and forefinger. This wire translated the electrical activity in my nerve endings into an audible signal. We listened together to the scratches and pops that issued from a small speaker next to the examination table.

“There’s no doubt about it,” he said, “You’ve got nerve damage. And significant muscle loss in your hand. I’m going to send my report to your doctor, and he’ll most likely refer you to an orthopedic surgeon. You’ll want an upper extremity guy — an arm guy.”

“Were you in any kind of an accident?” The surgeon (the arm guy) asked me. “Did you hit your elbow very hard?”

“No,” I said. “I don’t think so.”

“Any repetitive tasks?”

“I’m a photographer,” I said. “I raise and lower my camera, and I support the lens with my left hand — like this,” I said, pantomiming.

“How much does your camera weigh?” he asked.

“Depends on the lens. With a big lens, a battery pack, and a flash — maybe ten pounds.”

He shrugged.

The surgery I had in November of 2009 — an ulnar nerve transposition — stopped the tingling in my fingertips and left me with an five-inch scar on my elbow. A year later, my left hand is still weaker than my right, and I have persistent numbness in those fingertips. The surgeon did say that he found an extra muscle in my elbow that only about 1% of people have, and that it was possible the muscle might have been crushing the nerve. He removed the muscle and moved the nerve to a new location on the other side of my arm.

The scar on my elbow from an ulnar nerve transposition, possibly the consequence of a repetitive stress injury from using heavy telephoto lenses.

So it remains a mystery wether my nerve damage was caused by a mutant muscle or was the consequence of supporting a too-heavy lens for too many hours. I swore off heavy zoom lenses…temporarily.

This Fall though, I attempted to photograph a wedding using only prime lenses. This involved a lot of running around and a lot of quick lens changes. Even with two camera bodies, I never seemed to have the appropriate focal length ready at the moment I needed it. At about the same time, I began reading breathless reviews of the newly updated Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM. It was as good, the critics claimed, as any prime.

With future weddings and conference shoots scheduled for the near future, and with Canon offering a $200 rebate on the lens, I decided to give a big zoom another try. What I discovered:

In studio conditions and at identical apertures, the new Canon telephoto zoom is just as sharp as the 85mm f1.2L II USM, the gold standard for short telephoto resolution. The 85 is of course capable of significantly shallower depth of field, and offers a noticeably brighter viewfinder image, helpful for manual focus. (Despite the smaller maximum aperture, the 70-200 will typically autofocus faster than the 85 due to a more sophisticated USM.) And the 85 is shorter, less conspicuous, and fully a pound lighter than the new 70-200.

Here are two portraits I made recently of my friend and mentor Paul Woodruff, Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Both photos were lit by Profoto D1 monolights, but with different lighting setups and slightly different apertures (f9 for the first and f14 for the second) so this is not an ideal test, but an imperfect “real world” comparison of the 85mm prime versus the 70-200 zoom set at 85mm, with the same subject and the same camera.

Photographed with the 85mm f1.2L II USM

Photographed with the 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM at 85mm

Both of these photos of Dr. Woodruff were shot with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II in RAW, and converted with ACR in CS5 with minimal adjustment and no further retouching. The zoom lens seems to have a bit higher contrast (attributable, perhaps, to differences in lighting.) I don’t see an appreciable difference in sharpness.

So, in terms of image quality, I am quite pleased with the new zoom lens. But it’s no great joy to use. Here are some helpful size comparisons:

My new zoom lens in a side-by-side comparison with my 135mm and 85mm primes

And here let's compare the 70-200 and the two Canon short telephoto primes, all without their lens hoods. For another point of reference, I've included my Carl Zeiss 140mm f2.8 lens for the Contax 645. Even measured against a medium format telephoto lens, the 70-200 is a monster.

The 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM mounted with a 1.4x extender to a Canon EOS 5D Mark II

My conclusion: Canon’s new 70-200mm f2.8L IS II USM will produce outstanding results comparable to even the best prime lenses in the same focal range. It is, however, brutally heavy to hand hold and carry. If you need a general purpose lens for tasks including event photography as well as portraiture, get the new telephoto zoom and a monopod to help support it for longer sessions. If you are interested exclusively in a portrait lens, get the 85, which remains superb and will be easier on your arms and on your back.


New Canon EF 100mm f2.8L – first impressions

In our little home studio, the Canon 100mm macro lens has been the go-to favorite for tabletop product shots. Suzi bought the original EF 100 macro about five years ago, and has taken a majority of her stock photos with that one lens (although she’s also had occasion to use the wider 50mm f2.5 compact macro, and has recently enjoyed the unique benefits of the TS-E 90mm f2.8 as well.)

There had been rumors circulating about an update to the 100mm, especially after Canon announced this summer that they had developed a new generation of image stabilization technology. When shooting in the field at high magnification, even slight camera movement can cause unacceptable blur, so image stabilization is a generally welcome feature in a telephoto macro. But, since Suzi and I mostly shoot in the studio with fast strobe lighting (close to 1/2000th second flash duration), motion blur is rarely an issue, and IS is not as important for us.

The just-released model EF 100mm f2.8L offered some additional benefits, though, that convinced us the upgrade was worth the higher price tag. This lens has improved autofocus, and the option to force the lens to hunt for focus only within the macro range, which makes for faster acquisition. The aperture blades are now rounded, which makes for nicer bokeh. This lens also features an ultra-low dispersion element, and a new optical construction with 15 elements in 12 groups, rather than 12 elements in 8 groups. This should translate into improved sharpness and contrast.

The original EF 100 macro had fairly sturdy construction, but the new lens is even tougher, with weather seals to keep out dust and moisture. As a member of Canon’s “L-series”, the new 100mm macro is designed for professionals who will put their equipment through hard use. The engineers at Canon paid attention to even small details, such as improving the visibility of the numbers on the focus indicator, and adding a new texture to the lens hood to protect it from the typical handling marks that are common on the previous generation of lenses.

Physically, the new lens is very slightly larger than the original, with a wider front diameter (67mm filter size as opposed to 58mm), and a bit more length. (Note that in my pictures, both lenses are fitted with B+W brand UV filters.)

The real test will be in the pictures. I’ve taken a few shots with the new 100mm f2.8L macro, and they are gorgeous. I’ll be taking a few same-subject shots with these lenses in the next few days to make a fair comparison. Check back soon for those results.