Color, Bokeh, JPEG Rendering, and Other Crap

I'm human just like the rest of the people on the planet. I'm not immune to fits of what magical gadget will make my photographic life better. We all feel the pull every so often. The never ending quest of the perfect tools. Thankfully I uncovered the truth of the matter somewhere in my 20's. I'm a romantic at heart but a few thousand times around the block has infused cynicism with that romantic nature that is a quite strange mix.

I'm about half way through writing the first draft of a book titled Shooting The X100S. I've been threatening to do so for about a year. My intent is to have it available sometime in March 2014. I mentioned that it will be a highly opinionated look as opposed to a regurgitation of everything the little Fuji does or could do. It's more of how my particular use of the camera has evolved over more than a year of serious use and experimentation. A pragmatic versus a theoretical look. One of the the things I really love about the Fuji from a technical point of view is the lens that happens to be welded to the front of it. I offer no shortage of praise for the 23mm Fujinon in terms of it's performance as well as it's look when shot at larger apertures. If I didn't absolutely love the camera I could never be bothered with a labor of love like a book.

That brings me to todays anecdote about the siren song of the perfect tool. The one that will satisfy your needs so precisely that it's like it was designed just for you. Today I'll share a couple of things that might amuse some of you and infuriate others – my intent being to amuse not inflame. Let's take a look at that wonderful tiny piece of glass that comes free with the X100S. It's a 35mm field of view. One that I have grown to appreciate even if it's not quite at my personal 50mm fetishism level.

I've mentioned on more than one occasion both on this blog as well as at least a few times this week in conversation regarding 35mm lens acquisition with some of you that I have yet to purchase a 35mm auto-focus prime for my Nikons; Ever. I've had the intent. At least a dozen times I've put one variant or another in my Amazon shopping cart but never execute the purchase. It's not that I'm impervious to impulse. Quite the opposite. If it weren't for my impulsiveness I wouldn't actually do anything considering the inner workings of my head are so conflicted on just about everything. A sea of gray. I can effectively argue any point from any side – I'm adept at it. I do it constantly 24x7 with myself. A world of exceptions more than a world of rules.

Why then would I stop short of buying something as piddly and as useful as a garden variety 35mm auto-focus prime? The specific hesitation probably varies by occasion but there's one constant through more than a decade - actually more like two decades. That beast of a lens I bought the day it came out – the Nikon 28-70 f/2.8 AF-S ED. It's fast. It's silent. It's about as good as it gets in many ways. It's far better than the AF-D 28mm, the AF-D 35mm, almost as good as the AF-D 50mm's and as an added bonus acts as a long 50 in a pinch. The only other lens that was as good and better is that 28mm f/1.4 AF-D.

It's only fault is that it's big and along with that size it's heavy. I really would prefer the 35mm AF-D f/2 in terms of size and weight. Not to mention it's a whole stop faster with the associated additional depth of field isolation. So why not just get it and be done? It's not like I'm thrifty. I spend more on coffee a month than that puny little 35mm costs. Heck I sometimes spend more on coffee in a week. The short answer is I like how that 28-70 AF-S looks. I'm not talking about the way it looks mounted on a camera; I'm talking about the pictures it makes. In fact it's a really odd fish. It's optical specs would probably make you think that the look of it is about on-par with most modern glass. Fifteen elements in eleven groups, two elements of that ED glass, an aspherical element – in other words a hell of a lot of optical tech and complexity. Despite all that it renders images that look fantastic as a whole not just because they are super sharp – which they are.

The problem is that I've shot the 35mm f/2 AF-D. The lens is in the okay category. No huge problems, okay performance for the price. Better than the AIS lenses which isn't always the case. I just don't gravitate to the way that lens looks. It looks nowhere near as good as the 28-70 AF-S on the whole. Let's call it the rendering. Dare I say the bokeh. What does this have to do with the Fuji X100S? The easy part is that right now it serves as my 35mm prime instead of buying one for my Nikon system. I take it with me instead of the 28-70 beast. On a lark today I shot a few frames of StupidCrap™ just to confirm yet again why I like the 28-70 AF-S so much and conversely the Fujinon 23mm f/2.

I'll go out on a limb here and say that the overall rendering of both of them wide open is about the same. I love the way both lenses look and they are incredibly similar. Here's the Fuji 23mm wide open at f/2.

Here's the Nikon 28-70 AF-S wide open at f/2.8.

The nit picky of you will call foul on the slightly different framing but in the real world that's nothing both are about 3ft way and I shot the Nikon at 34mm vs 35mm while kneeling in the same spot. Even a tripod wouldn't have helped since the mounting would would put the sensor plane at different places as well as the difference in camera sizes. That's not really the point here anyway. You would probably acknowledge that the rendering look of the Fuji is highly regarded by just about everyone. It's even in Fuji's marketing. I would agree I love the way the lens renders. I just find it amusing that a lens I have had for almost two decades renders so similarly and I have liked it so much that I refuse to replace it with something I know I won't like as much.

To wrap this up I'll give you a few things I've talked about before with illustrations. First – for those of you wondering about APS-C vs full-frame depth of field considerations take a look above for some answers. We have the full-frame at f/2.8 and the APS-C camera at f/2. Personally I think the old rule of thumb about needing another stop on APS-C falls a little short. I generally see that you might need somewhat more. Who cares in the real world for a 35mm field of view. Call it a wash if you like. As you can imagine they look completely different at the same apertures. The thing is that you just cannot get f/1.0 equivalents in APS-C for a lot of common focal lengths let alone anything faster.

I know I harp on this again and again but I do feel it's my duty to point this out when it comes up. Fuji color vs other camera's color. Fuji ISO magic vs other cameras of similar generation tech and last but not least… The oh so different wonderfulness of JPEG rendering. First up color, the screenshot below shows the as imported RAW file. You can see that by the little original image tag plastered on each.

Wow that's way different. Fuji just makes so much better wonderful color. Actually they are both on auto white balance. The difference is 99.99999999999% the fact that Fuji's WB is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS more pink. Sometimes it's a hair warmer and sometimes a hair cooler in the same scene but it's always more pink. Want magic Fuji color set your white balance to match Fuji's make it more pink. Or set your custom WB as you choose. No magic color. I swear. Here's both with the Nikon WB tint skewed a bit more toward pink.

Gee now they look identical and I didn't even try hard. That was the tint number I jammed in first try. Of course I have been looking at X100S and other Fuji files for almost 2 years and Nikon D600 files almost the same. Oh for full disclosure I did do one additional thing to the Nikon file… I set the Aperture 3 black point control to 0 instead of the crazy high default 5. I didn't touch the Fuji exposure.

That leads us into the Fuji crazy high ISO is as good as full frame DSLR's stuff that's echoed everywhere under the sun. It's good for sure. So are other brand new APS-C cameras. I don't even need a different illustration for this one. Check out the EXIF information plastered across the bottom of each image above. Notice anything strange? Both cameras at ISO 400… check. Both cameras at 1/320th of a second… check. Both cameras at f/2.8… hey wait a second the Fuji has a whole stop more exposure. What the hell? I told you I am being generous when I say the Fuji is at least 2/3 stop slower than Nikons at every single ISO. This is 400, it gets slightly worse at higher and higher ISO numbers.

I use the term numbers here because I would have to assume that is where all the "Fuji has the best ISO performance under the sun that equals or betters all other cameras" comes from. People looking at crazy high ISO numbers and then just assuming that the 6400 they set on the Fuji must be identical to the 6400 set on all other cameras. It's not. Do yourself a favor here. Anytime you read an ISO setting in relation to Fuji noise performance, IQ, dynamic range, or other such thing just cut it in half compared to say ummmm Nikon.

Have I committed enough Fuji deadly sins yet? No? One more sacred cow to offer as sacrifice. How's that for pureed metaphors? On to the JPEG wonders and simultaneously the uselessness of Aperture 3 RAW processing. This one is more for fun than anything else. Just to add a bit of pragmatism to the mix and illustrate how all of us humans suffer a condition of chronic mountains out of molehills. Making tiny nits into huge differences that really don't amount to much. Here's a screenshot to consider…

The image at the top is the OOC Fuji wonderfulness of absolutely unreproducible Fuji Pro-neg Hi film simulation. JPEGS we've never seen the likes of before. The bottom is the OOC default Aperture 3 RAW conversion. It's eerily similar don't you think? Yes I know, that's like comparing apples, oranges, bananas, and tacos. Just wanted to illustrate what we're all talking about. Human silliness.

How silly is it for me to still be looking at 35mm prime lenses for my Nikon when I've had one I love for almost 20 years and I have the X100S as a tiny little substitute. Why would I even bother. On that note - my love of the Fuji X100S has nothing to do with some imaging characteristic that cannot be had otherwise. It's entirely due to it's unique package of size, image aesthetics that happen to be in my general set of preferences as compared to other cameras I like, and optical viewfinder. It doesn't need to be better than the stodgy old Nikon. It's okay if it's not even quite as good by some measurements. In my book it's a huge win for photographers with that unique set of features that we didn't have before. No magical properties required.


Ps. Shot at top X100S shot out of focus just because I like the way it looks so much… Yep I do goofy stuff here and there.

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