Fuji X-TRANS One Mo Time

I have had about 400,000 people email and direct message me regarding pulling the trigger on one of the Fuji X Series camera in the last day or so vs their current state of the art DSLR or state of the art as of last year DSLR. Well maybe a few less then four hundred thousand. I have also chatted with a few people about moving back the other way having sampled the Fuji's for a bit and found a few things a bit lacking for their needs and aesthetic desires…

In the spirit of yesterday's post I wanted to try to post something as agnostic and informative as possible. Not negative, not positive, just some facts with my take as well as illustrations that you yourself can observe. I am not going to post pretty pictures in any sense and then rig the post to show you how much better one thing is than another. That's senseless and to tell the truth most of the info I see out there regarding this particular large decision is anecdotal and rife with emotion. Here we go in the spirit of freedom of information…

For those of you that want to hear my subjective reasoning for sticking with my FF DSLR and couple of primes kit vs. my X-Pro-1 here are a few posts. They have everything to do with my personal desires not IQ or anything real technical…

Now for some more empirical stuff. Even though I have written extensively about the magic of Fuji color or lack thereof as well as some other observations on the overall imaging characteristics of the X-Trans camera it's all over the place so here is a summary along with crappy shots of nothing that can be reproduced any time anywhere and will show the exact same results. I'll use Lightroom for illustration since it's ubiquitous and I don't want anyone to thing any of this is some sort of Aperture 3 quirk. Let's take a look at the same color checker shot about 10 feet from where I am writing this in shade. That's the screenshot at the top.

Casual shots with not much care one D600 with 50mm f/1.4G the other with an X100S and 35mm(equiv) f/2. What do you see? Here's what I see…

  • Both cameras fail at auto WB in crazy cool light. One fails a bit differently than the other. Typical and more to the point the biggest color difference between cameras that normally rational people would swear are in different worlds when it comes to color is the white balance a particular camera chooses or the manufacturer's take on the presets.
  • Obviously the different POV and slightly different framing.
  • Wait a second - what the hell. How come the Fuji is so much darker? No that's not a "color" difference. Is it somehow the auto-exposure being way different between cameras? Nope. Check the EXIF display same exact exposure ISO 200 1/640s f/2 on both cameras. Which one is "right"? Who cares - not the point and not important. Here's what is important even at base ISO on the fuji it's a whole stop slower than the Nikon set to a stop higher ISO than base. You really think the Fuji APS-C sensors are the exact equal or heaven forbid better than current Full-frame? Really? Just because there are really big numbers on your ISO setting? Subtract a stop - that's being kind by the way - it tends to get worse as you boost the ISO up and up but let's just say this is a stop off. Don't think so. Check the histograms…

Here's the Fuji…

Here's the Nikon…

Yep that's about a stop. Let's cut to the chase here and equalize the histograms and equalize the white balance okay?

So what happened to all the magical Fuji color that everyone just raves over compared to lowly old crappy color of those stodgy backwards-ass companies like Nikon and Canon? Yeah, yeah, yeah - the JPEG's… yep Fuji JPEG's are great compared to a lot of other OOC JPEG's. Do you shoot JPEG's and only JPEG's? I don't. The unfortunate thing is a lot of photographers that should and may even know better that have a huge influence over the internet echo chamber repeatedly swear up and down that the color is way different/better when shooting friggin RAW. Really? Really?

Anything you think you see in the above images is merely a pov difference like the fact that the OOF background happens to suck in more of the warmer areas with the shorter focal length X100S and my framing pov. Could I make this more scientific and go find my 35mm for the Nikon? Sure. Why bother. Just look at the color checker. If you need that much of a stretch to prove this then you have already decided that the Fuji has some magic color and nobody is going to ever prove otherwise.

In case you were wondering Aperture 3 will show you the exact same thing just with a different/richer/darker/contrastier default tone curve. ACR starts relatively bright and flat - which I am okay with and usually prefer as a starting point.

Does this mean somehow I think the Fuji X-Series are bad cameras or not up to the job or other negative stuff? In a word - NO. I like them a lot. That's why I purchased an X100, an X-Pro-1 (and shot it for about a year alongside my D600), and also an X100S which I love. I think the X100/X100S is just the perfect size. It has a great little lens for what I want. It has very competitive performance from an IQ perspective. A great viewfinder and the option to go EVF where that happens to be the best way to go, etc, etc. The fact that I am even comparing these two cameras is unbelievable. That's news. That's great news. Keep it coming Fuji.

So why all the negativity? Well it's not negativity - it's reality. At this particular moment in time the market for higher end digital/serious cameras and especially that middle ground - not too expensive is really slowing down. Every manufacturer is looking for the next wave of what that market wants when all of the options are pretty good. What is that now that everything is pretty good? Well it's mirrorless, mirrorless, mirrorless. Hmm they seem to all be in and around that between $1000-$2000 price point.

The Fuji's are good cameras, so are the OLY's, so are the NEX's. Are any of them better than the age old very mature Full-frame DSLR? Depends on what you need, what you want, what imaging characteristics you desire, what kind of focal lengths/angle of view you prefer etc. Do you like a normal POV? Like crazy shallow DOF - APS-C or M43 may not be what you want… are the few compact FF DSLR's a whole lot bigger as a kit than the X-Pro-1? Hmmm that has a lot to do with lens selection. For my purposes they are not that different. Want a crazy responsive camera that will shoot and shoot and shoot and shoot and you can use any control at any time and it's just very refined and fluid in handling? Mature stodgy old DSLR might be better right now. As viewfinders go FF DSLR's have the biggest and nicest… next in line may just be the OVF's in the X100 and XPro-1. Oooops - unless you are a telephoto guy in which case you are pretty much going to be using the EVF at anything 60mm or over.

Please don't take any of this as some sort of message not to buy the Fuji. Just do not buy it because of urban myth, or internet echo chamber non-sense. Really know what you want and why you want it. There are a lot of really great cameras out there at the moment screaming for your attention. Now if your goal is to be the popular kid of the moment - grab a Fuji and gush about how very very different and better and how much of a DSLR killer it is… Or better yet take a bunch of images that show how different the RAW files are in terms of color. That's an okay goal I guess.

As an anecdotal aside here's one you can file under really funny shit for "film emulation accuracy" again. See how close the color and tone is using the default Adobe profiles for each camera that is supposedly way different? Well here's a shocker for you. If I use VSCO "standard" on these cameras the results as above will be identical. In case you don't know that's the version of VSCO that does not use custom VSCO camera profiles. Instead it uses the default Adobe profile. One of VSCO's "things" has always been that it "profiles" certain cameras and provides a special version for that camera that is a "more accurate" representation of a particular film (according to them). Guess what happens if I use the camera specific "profiled" versions for the Nikon and the Fuji from VSCO? The results are completely different from standard and from each other. Funny shit huh?

Don't get me wrong - in the world of Lightroom presets these guys have a decent and worthwhile product it's just shit like this that makes me roll my eyes into that back of my head. It makes me curious. Is it an issue with repeatability of whatever process they are using? Adobe can seem to do it across shitloads of cameras. Is it just random arbitrary results based on what the guy that does it happens to like one day or to the next? Is it some vendetta against Nikon to make Nikon look not quite as good as Fuji's with their presets? Well I guess that's based on which particular film rendition you happen to like on any given day. Again - funny shit.

I will leave that as an exercise for you to figure out what looks like what. Maybe I will do a map someday when I am really bored. Something like Nikon Portra 160 looks exactly like Fuji 400H standard which looks like the Fuji Profiled version of Polaroid 669 or something - I made that up and they don't look anything alike. Just an example of the map. You see the only reason I am really interested in this type of product is to get consistent results across cameras - looks like if that's what you are going for you are better off just using the standard versions if you happen to shoot Nikon and Fuji.


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