Shooting The Fuji X100S

I did warn you that this might turn into Fuji X100S week or even month. For non-Fuji-heads don't worry there's a couple of little things in this short post you may find useful as well. Last post I praised the versatility of manipulating flare with the little Fujinon 23mm f/2. This time I wanted to show that it's not all that "flare-y" at all - even wide open.

I know this sounds like a contradiction but it's not. The behavior of this lens is complex but not super hard to get a handle on. How it behaves under various conditions is extremely predictable even if you don't have a ton of milage under your belt. Let's take the shot at the top as an example. It might not look like it but the lighting conditions are fairly challenging in more than a couple of ways.

The two main light sources are large windows on either side of the subject that are mostly coming from the opposite side of my shooting position. When I include them in the shot they are going to render as pure white with no detail - that's what happens when you include the light source in the frame. Unless of course you want everything but the light source black. As you can see the absolutely brightest light source (brighter than the other window on the other side due to position of sun, etc) is directly behind Katya at this shooting angle.

Truth is that the Fuji even wide open as shot here is not really any more flare prone than other modern lenses in these conditions. Possibly even less. That flare tends to show up far more as the source gets smaller, brighter - relative to fill light, and more oblique to the lens. I don't even worry about looking for it in this sort of situation. I have had a lot of other glass where it's unpredictable in situations very similar to this.

Unpredictable meaning even everything's perfectly fine until you move a hair and all of a sudden you have no contrast in the shadow areas. That kind of thing is absolutely annoying and far more problematic for me then what the Fuji does. I just wanted to get that out there so that I didn't give the wrong impression that somehow the Fuji has a flare problem. On the contrary I love lenses like this that have predictable and variable character that's not too hard to use pictorially at will. The Fuji lens has a lot of character - the good kind that you can spend a good chunk of time learning how to use to your advantage. Not overcoming weakness - big difference in my book.

For this type of scene that I am just going to shoot at various angles and various framing but generally the same pov - from behind the light the X100S absolutely the best way to go is manual exposure. Not just for the Fuji - for any camera. Why? Well do you care about rendering detail in the light source or the subject? For me - the subject and exposure would be all over the map based on framing on AE - I don't care what camera it is. In situations like this where the window is the light source and in may or may not be in the frame manual all the way. Even at ISO 400 - not a stretch for sure - letting the camera do it's thing I will absolutely assure you the additional 3 stops you would need to bring the subject back up from black will look really really bad. I set my exposure on the Nikon D600 manually at ISO 400 f/1.4 @ 1/250s which was perfect for the way it would render in ACR and just went to town. When it came time to shoot the Fuji I just mirrored those settings - ISO 400 f/2 @ 1/125s.

I decided that knowing that the Fuji RAW renders about 2/3 stop less than the Nikon at any given exposure in ACR - I did this because I wanted the JPEG's to be right on - or close to it. Most cameras I don't give a shit about the JPEG files - Fuji - I actually want the option to use them for quick and dirty posts etc. I also don't have an issue bumping up RAW 2/3 stop in post at these ISO's - If I was shooting mainly for RAW on the Fuji at high ISO's I would probably have opted for the additional exposure in camera - it would just look better at the end. I also wanted to make sure that I had just a hair of stuff that wasn't actually outside show up. The D600 has about a stop advantage with blown highlights than the Fuji does so that all boiled down to that exposure decision. No matter what manual is the way to go here. Instead of trying to fish my subject out of a sea of noise randomly or having to mess about with each frame I just plopped the exposure increase across the board for the mid-tone rendering I wanted in ACR or Aperture 3 (this happens to be Aperture 3).

Here are a couple of things that aren't really "fuji" specific that a few online conversations found interesting/useful that popped out while talking Fuji, 35mm vs. 50mm, workshops in Spain etc… I figured I will forget all of that if I don't post something while fresh in my head.

In no particular order there are a couple of things going on in this entire series of shots that you might find helpful little tidbits to try along with alternatives I would probably do if I wasn't just messing around waiting for the sun to change to a more amicable position for some outside shooting.

  • When faced with shooting against the light like this and you know that you are going to blow things like windows in pure ambient gear-free type situations - especially when shooting digital it helps if you use the subject to break up particularly large areas of white blankness as seen at the top. In 90% of the shots I did where I included the window I did this to varying degrees. The ones I didn't I don't like. Here's another trick - grab some very shear white fabric and rig it up over the windows in some curtain like fashion. Don't have a flair for that kind of thing? - bring someone that does. It'w won't knock down the light in any meaningful way but it sure will make big blank white windows look great when you include them in the frame. Another note having brighter things in the background can actually add depth to a scene. It does here.
  • Color temperatures in ambient indoor conditions - heck almost all ambient conditions are going to give you a couple of different color temperatures. The closer the ratios between highlights and shadows (a good thing for the most part) the more noticeable and vexing this can be to skin tones etc. Even in this scene which not too too bad we have three major things going on. The windows as source, the bounce back from the room which is way warmer/redder from the walls/floor and we have some green being bounced up from the fabric on the dresser. You can counteract that somewhat with white/silver reflectors to bounce the main source (and it's color) back into the scene while simultaneously blocking the bounced color. A good idea and I am doing a little of that here with a silver reflector on the floor to subject right. If I had an assistant I would have had him hold it - or even a stand but I was traveling light. Now here's something that is simple but really helps. Include the source of a color cast in the frame - it can be night and day as to how you/viewers perceive color in an image. With strong color casts it can be the difference between looking bad/strange and looking very natural because humans are very context aware when viewing color - source of green bounce back in frame, source of warmth in frame = context. I do this as much as I can when shooting ambient.
  • I wanted a casual feel to these. Even a bit messy. Casual and a bit messy is one thing just having at it is another. I wasn't about to start rearranging furniture or anything but I did do a couple of things. The biggest thing is that wood and paper room divider/dressing screen you see in almost every frame in the mirror. It was already in the room I just positioned it to hide a morass of wires and electrical octopuses in that corner as well as a few less than attractive doors. The top of the dresser is fine - what wasn't was a bunch of cell phone chargers wires and other paraphernalia. Messing with that took all of 30 seconds but made a huge difference. Let's call it a mini version of what I would do if I had to shoot this location for some sort of editorial or even lifestyle promotion. You can choose differently than I did, obviously you can go farther but the point is a few minor strategic modifications to the environment will make a giant difference.

Just one more tid-bit for the 50mm FOV inclined when shooting a wider FOV. I will go into more of a detailed run-down of some useful things based on my experience as to what feels longer vs what feels wider for various lenses and some things to manipulate that. I may even do a remedial level set on perspective next week but for now I wanted to cover one question that someone shot at me regarding making a 35mm FOV feel a bit more like a 50mm.

The short answer is that it's impossible to do that for everything in the frame but if you can pick out the important characteristics that you are going for those can be manipulated. If you take a look at part I of my X100S vs DSLR and focus on the indoor shots that are comparable there are a couple of things in the way I shot them that are going on but I will tell you the biggest thing before I go into esoteric detail of my obsession with minor things/lens characteristics later.

The biggest thing that you are going to notice going from a longer to wider view given a similar main subject size in the frame is how far things behind that subject seem. Obvious right? Well all those things behind the subject are not created equal. The eye will gravitate toward some based on what they are, how big they are, the contrast, etc. With the pictures I wanted to make with the 50mm there was a certain relationship between Katya in the foreground and her image in the mirror. When I moved to the 35mm FOV if I moved in closer that relationship changed significantly - the reflection in the mirror was a lot smaller than what I wanted it in relation.

What to do? Well I changed my shooting angle with the 35mm FOV Fuji so that the mirror reflection was less far away. Obviously that put other things more far away - two things I tried. First - frame so anything important or tell-tale was not in the frame. The second thing was the heck with it as long as Katya and the reflection were the same relative sizes I wanted. If examined closely you can tell but the main show - Katya and her reflection where the size relationships I had in mind and wanted - that's why I shot them the way with the 50mm FOV. Automatic for me with that lens - had to think about it a bit more with the X100S no big deal.

Short answer shoot at an angle that puts various important objects at the size relationships you were looking for. Not too hard to do with a 35mm if you happen to like using a 50mm as your goto lens. Obviously that becomes more difficult and extreme as you go wider and wider. Maybe some more esoteric observations on the "feel" based on how you use a particular FOV next week.

Have a great weekend.

RB

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