compact

Not the DSLR, I’m having fun

© Neil Turner, March 2014. Shadows on the pavement as a pedestrian passes along Tottenham Court Road.

© Neil Turner, March 2014. Shadows on the pavement as a pedestrian passes along Tottenham Court Road.

Question: Why are so many professional photographers using mirrorless cameras, micro 4/3rds format cameras and experimenting with pretty much anything that isn’t a DSLR?

It’s a tough question and without conducting some sort of major survey I can only give an answer based on my own experiences and those of close friends and colleagues. DSLRs have been my main cameras for over sixteen years now and they have become an extension of me when I’m working. They do what I need them to do with no real fuss, the quality has moved from “acceptable” back in 1998 to “extremely good” and they allow me to do the day job without having to worry about my gear very much. But, and there’s always a ‘but’ – they have become a little bit boring and little bit ‘too good’.

When I’m shooting pictures for the joy of it (and despite doing this for a living since 1986 I still do that) I want to feel something different. Elegant competence isn’t enough any more. (more…)

Fujifilm X20 – a summary of my thoughts

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Mudeford Spit, Dorset

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Mudeford Spit, Dorset

Just over five weeks after taking delivery of my Fujifilm X20 I’m sitting here trying to gather my thoughts and opinions about this intriguing little camera. It is far from perfect and it doesn’t fulfil all of the requirements that I thought that I had when I bought it. In several areas its performance is below par and working with the RAW files is not as easy as it could or should be. All of that having been said, it has become my constant companion almost everywhere I go and I still find myself adoring using it.

Put simply, there’s something about this camera that you’d struggle to put your finger on but that makes taking pictures with it an absolute pleasure. A couple of weeks ago I posted my first update about the X20 and my experiences using it. I tried to summarise the good and the bad points of the camera. You probably won’t be surprised to find out that my opinions have barely changed:

  • The video is still a pain to use and a bigger pain to import and edit.
  • The high ISO performance is still no better than any other camera with a small chip – awful.
  • The RAW file format .raf is not particularly easy to work with and the screen resolution previews in Adobe Camera RAW are worse than slow to generate.
  • The battery life has graduated to awful from appalling now that I have the menus set up better. I have twice got through two batteries in a single day.
  • The build quality of the battery clip is still suspect.

In fact I could have just cut and paste what I wrote back in April with the slight change that the battery life is marginally less awful than first thought. So those are the negatives. What about the positives? You’ll probably have guessed that they have barely changed either. Colours, tonal range, handling and the sheer joy of using it are all very positive comments that I made before and would support still.

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Mudeford Spit, Dorset

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Mudeford Spit, Dorset

I guess that I will never make it as a camera reviewer. The thought of shooting test charts and ISO range comparisons fill me with dread. In a digital world where figures and absolute measurements are the lifeblood of so many websites you should definitely go to DPReview if you want the numbers laid out and explained.

As someone who owns and uses some of the finest DSLR cameras ever made on a daily basis I want something very different from my compact ‘walkabout’ camera. I make the vast majority of my income from taking pictures and I make the rest from teaching, writing and consulting about photography. For me to want to go out and just take pictures for the joy of it, the camera has to be fun to use. And it is on that simple point that Fujifilm are getting it so completely right with their x-series range. The X100 was a great start and the X10 was a brilliant companion. Since then we’ve had the X Pro1, the XE1, X100s and this X20 to enjoy. The single factor that unites all of these cameras is the pleasure you can take from using them when you spend so much time using other (better?) cameras.

That brings me to the next point. There’s no way that I’d use the X20 instead of a Canon EOS5D MkII or MkIII for a normal assignment but on my own time, taking pictures for pleasure and for the family the Fujifilm X20 is wonderful. It will be beaten at some point and it remains true that it isn’t the best compact  in terms of image quality, speed, flexibility or any of a dozen other quantifiable factors. I propose to introduce a new scale based on the likelihood that you’ll actually bother to take the camera out and use it willingly and with a smile on your face. On that measure, and that measure alone, the Fujifilm gets a perfect ten. Right now, I’m off to the shops to get my morning paper; on foot and with my X20 over my shoulder…

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Stourhead, Somerset.

©Neil Turner, May 2013. Stourhead, Somerset.

Final footnote… I was disappointed with the built-in flash and so I decided to buy a small hot-shoe unit to supplement it. I found that one online retailer was selling the Fujifilm EF20 flash that was designed for the X series cameras at under £90.00 and so I bought it. Not a bad investment; I’ve used it quite a bit and it makes a lot of sense to have it because it fits into a pocket without too much difficulty and even has a limited bounce facility. I’ll try to post something cool shot with it soon.

Fujifilm X20 – the first update

So here is what I’ve decided to do about writing an X20 review: it’s actually going to be a series of short (ish) updates as, and when, I have got something new to say about it.

Typical UK road sign: the weight is given in metric units whilst the distance is in imperial. Are we European or aren't we? ©Neil Turner, April 2013

Typical UK road sign: the weight is given in metric units whilst the distance is in imperial. Are we European or aren’t we? ©Neil Turner, April 2013

I have been shooting with the new camera as much as I can and in as many different situations as I can. I’ve even used it as a third camera on a live commission. Most of the time I have been using the Fuji RAW mode so that I can get the most out of the files and so that I can compare the different ways that you can choose to work with the images. Most people prefer not to have to read long and drawn out musings when they look at reviews – they just want to cut to the chase and so here are a few likes and dislikes in the form of bullet points:

LIKES

  • The colours – straight out of the camera you have clean, realistic and accurate colours. This shouldn’t be a surprise from the company that brought you Fujichrome all of those years ago.
  • Smooth tonal range – at low ISOs the files have a wonderfully smooth tone
  • Handling – the X20 feels good in my hands and it is very easy to hand hold down to some pretty slow shutter speeds.
  • The manual zoom – it is a model of how other manufacturers should be building cameras – enough said.
  • Buttons and dials – related directly to handling but I felt that the way that Fuji have kept the number of buttons down whilst giving you a lot of freedom to customise deserves credit.
  • The optical viewfinder –  it works really well and the addition of shooting information in the viewfinder is a big bonus.
  • Auto Focus – it is good for a compact and tracks moving subjects rather well.

DISLIKES

  • The battery life is not good when shooting with the LCD screen on. It’s a good job that after market NP-50s are so cheap.
  • The Fuji RAW format (.RAF) takes a lot of computing power and a lot of getting used to.
  • Low light performance – I was expecting this camera to be a couple of stops behind a DSLR but I would estimate that it is at least fours stops worse than a Canon EOS5D MkII
  • Video – it is just not that good or easy to use… and don’t get me started on playback!
  • Battery clip – if the small clip that holds the battery in place lasts as long as I tend to keep my compacts I will be surprised.
  • Buil-in flash – it is as weak as consumer models and you have to remove the lens hood if you don’t want horrible shadows across your pictures when shooting flash.
  • Auto white balance – it isn’t that bad actually, except under mixed lighting when it is a bit unreliable.

I like this camera… a lot. That having been said, I am genuinely disappointed with the files at anything over 640 ISO and there is a build quality question mark on the battery clip – especially as you are going to be swapping the battery out for charging with great regularity. If I needed to, I could shoot some editorial assignments with the X20 and that isn’t something you could say about many compacts. More importantly, I would quite enjoy doing so and that isn’t something you could say about any other compact that I’ve used. Professional photographers talk about their “walk about” cameras and the X20 is certainly my choice for that task. It isn’t the “best” at anything but it does represent a good set of compromises and that, at the end of the day, is what you want from a small camera.

As I said in the opening paragraph, this will be a series of updates rather than a single “this is my opinion” review. At the recommended selling price the Fujifilm X20 is a little expensive but the price is coming down on a weekly basis and once it dips under £400 it will become a well-priced piece of kit.

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Rubbish on Oxford Street

I was having a rare day off on Saturday and after a fantastic lunch in London’s China Town I walked up to Bond Street underground station to get a tube train back to where I am staying in Mile End. I usually carry a compact camera with me (still using my venerable Canon Powershot G9 most of the time) and just outside the station I saw this amazingly full and overflowing rubbish bin. It’s not often that I capture a compact camera picture that goes beyond the family album…

©Neil Turner. Oxford Street, London July 2012.

I took the picture “just because” but the more I looked at it, the more I realised that things like litter and other urban issues that don’t make the headlines absolutely fascinate me. My next thought was that images like this fill stock libraries and that I really should make more effort to shoot good generic images and submit them.

I’m no great fan of Westminster City Council who run this part of London but I admit that they have a tough job and you can see that the vast majority of the waste is fast-food wrappers and packaging. There probably isn’t an easy answer – they are fighting an uphill battle there and very little of the waste is dropped by local people. It’s a tourist area and a shoppers’ area and you might draw the conclusion that those two groups of people are less invested in keeping the place tidy.

I actually thought about labelling the post “off topic” but the  I decided that as it’s my blog, I get to choose what the topic is!