Hints & Tips

Fuji X-T4 Review

George Theodore, June 3, 2020

The Fuji X-T4; The Good, The Bad and The Badder (and maybe Badder yet)

First, as an owner of the wonderful Fuji X-T3 and an X-H1 w/IBIS, I didn’t need a third camera body. The X-T4 has IBIS; I already had that so what compelled me to drop another $1700.  Well, here were my thoughts: faster shutter speeds, better low light capabilities, a smaller body more in line with the X-T series, newer-faster processor,  new sensor and a few more seemingly unimportant things. Sold my X-H1 and a few things I no longer use and actually came up almost even.

The Good:  IBIS is very nice as expected.  Still have to watch out at higher shutter speeds but that was always the case with any vibration-resistance  – in-camera or lens. Very quiet shutter.  Shares the same low light capabilities of the X-T3. The body, while smaller than the X-H1, is enough heftier than the X-T3 that I feel I have a better grip on the camera. It’s amazing how such a small change in grip size makes it feel that way. A new shutter and longer life – 300,000 vs 150,000 for the X-T2.  Continues the dial locations of its predecessors.  The AF-On button feels a little higher than other models but I’ll still put some Sugru on it (I’m a back-button focus guy – for a very long time)

Continuous autofocus is improved – Fuji has kept working on this since the X-T1 and tracking has greatly improved. Still a little more to come but kudos Fuji!

New Battery – it reminds me of my old Nikon D-xxx series - runs longer and it shows. Good move.

The Bad: Do these engineers stay up all night trying to come up with things that drive us nuts? As I said earlier, I’m a back-button focuser (maybe with counseling, I’ll quit). So, the AF-On button on the X-T3 is on the right side of the rear dial close to the right edge of the camera. Very cool; easy to find. The AF-On button on the X-T4 is located near the viewfinder – to the left of the rear command dial on the X-T4.  WHY?  Why not keep it at the same place?  And, you know what happens when you reach across the back of the dial to press the AF-On button?  You accidentally brush against the dial (which now extends further out the rear of the camera than its predecessors) and its menu comes up. Arghh!!

They moved the Q button too. Why?  One of the things I tell folks, to help them to get to know their cameras, is to play with buttons and dials while they’re watching TV especially during commercials.  Then do it without looking at the camera. I don’t want to think about button locations. I want to be able to shoot blindfolded as far as my camera’s controls is concerned. Oh well, good thing all the function buttons can be re-programmed.

The Badder:  Sorry Fuji, the new screen is a downer.  I’ve never been much for chimping but, on occasion, its nice to use the LCD screen for live view.  I’m at the getting-down-is-easy-getting-back-up-not-so-easy chapter of my life.  So, when I want a low angle, I just flip up the rear LCD so I can look down at live view to compose. 

Drum roll please - enter the fully articulating screen that can also face forward (I guess the vloggers must have hired a powerful team of lobbyists).  You want to use live view? Now the screen sticks out to the left. And, when you fold the screen back into the camera there’s nothing to look at.  You won’t be wanting to do a lot of chimping with this one. It’s a real pain to fold out all the time. Hey – maybe it will cure your chimping. Ah yes; a positive side to everything!

In a separate category by itself - Really Bad: no battery charger. Are you kidding me?  Fuji gives you a charger cord and power supply (USB to USB-C) so you can charge your battery in-camera while the camera is off. So, now you have to buy a separate charger. Fuji dual charger is in production. Not complaining about extra cost ($70) but c’mon Fuji! Really?

Bottom line:  Love the camera and all its features and upgrades from the X-T3. But, prefer the tilting design of prior X camera LCD backs, throw in a charger and please, please - STOP changing the damn button locations.



Fuji 16-80mm Review

George Theodore, October 22, 2019

The Fuji 16-80mm, f/4 R OIS WR

I’ve had this lens for four weeks and got to use it in my workshops in Colorado’s San Juan Range and Maine’s Acadia National Park.  All I can say is “wow!”.  With the exception of ever so little softness around the edges at f/4, this lens is sharp, sharp, sharp!  On top of that, the out-of-focus elements (bokeh) are a pure joy.  A third big plus for infrared fans – no hot spot.

The lens is a 24-120mm “full frame” angle-of-view equivalent and is the perfect walk around lens. Though it doesn’t carry Fuji’s “Red Badge” given to it’s “pro level” lenses, this is a serious addition to Fuji’s lineup.  Its minimum focus distance is 14 inches which allows for nice close-ups at 80mm with very nice bokeh.

The zoom damping is excellent. I took several images looking straight down and found no creep in the zoom. The specs call for a six-stop stabilization and a couple of images taken at 1/8 second were acceptably sharp and, for me, that’s pretty good.  Steadier hands (or better field technique) will get sharper results. It rained at Acadia and the lens stood up very nicely to its WR spec.  And you have to be verrry quiet to hear it auto-focus.

I used the lens on three camera bodies; the X-T3, X-H1 and the X-T30 (my infrared converted camera).  I used it hand-held (a lot) with the X-H1 – that’s a 5-stop IBIS body plus the lens’s built-in OIS  - and got great results.  Normally, I would turn lens OIS off when tripod mounted but Fuji says don’t do it.  Hah!  You can’t.  There’s no on-off switch for lens OIS; a slight negative perhaps.  But the lens performed very well on the tripod with all three camera bodies.

For infrared, I went through the entire range of f/4 to f/22 a stop at a time at 16, 23, 35, 50 and 80mm (the actual markings on the lens) and detected no hot spots.  This is great news for infrared enthusiasts.

At home, I compared this lens to the 16-55mm, f/2.8 – one of my favorites, at f/4, f/8 and f/16. I detected no difference in sharpness when zoomed to 100%.  The 16-55mm is much heavier due to its f/2.8 capabilities.  Yes, we lose a stop.  But, for me, the lightness makes up for it.  Given my two metal shoulders and a tender lower back, that’s a big deal.

Who’s this for?  Everyone!  Pro to consumer.  Fellow Fuji-Heads - get one!  For more,  go here, and  here .





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George Theodore, December 30, 2018

Right off the bat, I’d say this is a dynamite photo editor. With the Library module added you can keep your files organized any way you want. You can create albums, apply ratings, sync adjustments and all adjustments are non-destructive. The edit module gives you more adjustments (they’re called “filters”) than you’ll probably ever need. The presets (called “looks”) are pretty good and they’re adjustable; too much of a certain look – just dial it back. I found nothing lacking in editing. Well done Skylum.

As to the Library, library does not mean database. There’s no keywording. So, if you use the full power of Lightroom’s relational database, you won’t find it here. You can’t do a search of all your sunset files. Now, that’s not necessarily bad news because I have found relatively few photographers use this feature anyhow even though they use Lightroom. So, if you don’t use keywords to find images, keep reading.

There’s no color management; no “Print Module”, no proofing; no paper profiles. If you try File/Print, you’re presented with a simple dialog box that merely wants to know if you’re printing glossy or matte. So, you’re using the printer to manage color. I use Epson’s 3880 and when I choose Matte paper in the printer dialog box, the media type shows “Glossy” and visa-versa - very confusing (maybe they rushed to market a little too soon?). If you have a stand-alone Photoshop, you can export and use Photoshop to print. If all this doesn’t mean anything to you, if you don’t print in-house, no problem. 

You can’t see file names in grid view and the film strip of your photos is on the left and pretty narrow and non-adjustable. The “Info” module consists only of file name, camera, lens, exposure settings and histogram. That’s it. No keywords (as mentioned earlier), IPTC, xmp, geo-tagging, captions, etc.

Skylum has provided a roadmap for upcoming changes and updates and among them is keywording. I don’t see anything about printing/color management however and that, alone, makes it a non-starter for me. 

All that said, there’s a lot of really good things happening here. If your need for organizing is relatively simple and your main need is for editing and you don’t print in-house, then go get it. From a pricing standpoint, you can’t beat its $69 price – no subscription. And, as I said earlier, the edit module is super. Finally, I’m cheering for them. If they do follow through with keywording and captioning and then, down the road, add color management, we’ll have a viable competitor for Lightroom and Adobe needs that.

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Focus Stacking

George Theodore, December 28, 2018

If one were photographing a landscape from relatively close up to infinity, an aperture setting of f/16 – f/22 would be chosen to render the image sharp front-to-back. The problem here is that with smaller apertures, diffraction causes a degradation in resolution at the far end of our picture. Picture a garden hose closed to its smallest opening; the water becomes a misty spray. Light acts similarly when forced through smaller and smaller holes (apertures).

One solution is to use an aperture such as f/8 (usually the sweet spot of a lens) where the light comes in almost at right angles to our sensor but now we may find we’ve shortened our depth of field. Focus Stacking to the rescue.

This process is similar to shooting HDR but, instead of changing the exposure, we’re going to vary focus. Try this: Manually, on a tripod and in Live View, focus on the closest part of your image, shoot, focus a little further out, shoot and continue changing your focal point and shooting until you reach “infinity”. For landscapes, I’ve found that three to four focal points at f/8 generally does the trick. Several recent camera models have focus stacking “built-in”; i.e. Nikon’s Focus Shift setting in the D850.  Set the start position, enter the number of shots and interval and let ‘er rip. The camera takes the series of images varying focus as it moves through the image front to back (infinity). Neat huh?

But, whether done manually or automatically, we need to stack and blend the images in post processing. Our cameras don’t perform that function internally (yet!). Open the images in Lightroom, choose “Photo/Edit in/Open as Layers in Photoshop”, then in Photoshop,  Select/All Layers, then “Edit/Auto-Blend Layers” (check the box “Stack Images and Seamless Tones and Colors”), click OK, flatten the image and save.

For many years, photographers have used Helicon Focus mostly for macro work. And, since the software basically blends layers, there’s no reason it can’t be used for landscape work as well. The advantage of Helicon Focus is you can save the image in a raw DNG format. Simply specify Raw in – DNG out.

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Adobe Lightroom

George Theodore, November 2, 2017

By now, you’ve heard the news: Adobe has come out with a new Creative Cloud (CC) version of Lightroom. Well, two actually - Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC. What was Lightroom CC is now Lightroom Classic CC and is desktop-centric. In other words, like the old version of CC, you store and back up images on your own disc drives.

Lightroom CC is now a cloud-centric solution that allows you to edit from any device – even your phone - and is meant for more casual shooting with only 1TB of storage in the Cloud for $9.99/month. Lightroom CC has many limitations - no plug-ins, export to JPEG/sRGB only, no Print, Book, Web or Slideshow Modules, no Tone Curve adjustments, no renaming, no HDR or Panos and more. One feature of Lightroom CC is that it uses Adobe Sensei artificial intelligence to search for your images - no keywording required. I tried it - it's a bit spooky but it works. At the Adobe MAX presentation, a search on all images with "people" did indeed return pictures that included people and a further search on "kids", returned pictures of children AND a goat. Limitations aside, it does fill the need for a large swath of consumer social-media concentrated photography.

Classic is, of course,  the more robust having added features like luminosity masking via a new "range masking" feature. Speed has improved by using embedded JPEGS to sort through images. The “Photography Plan" subscription, currently at $9.99/month, now includes both Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC along with Photoshop CC 2018. This is the plan that will continue to be favored among professionals and other advanced level photographers. You can select to not install Lightroom CC if you won't have any use for it.

Now the bad news. Adobe is concentrating all its efforts on the cloud. There will be no stand-alone product (also called perpetual license) beyond the current Lightroom 6 although they'll be updating it for new cameras and fixing bugs for a yet undetermined time as they have over the past couple of years. No upgrades - no LR7 - what you have is what you'll have. This will anger quite a few since, when Adobe introduced the Creative Cloud, it implied they'd continue to support a non-subscription version indefinitly which led many to believe upgrades would be available. Well, it's been pretty clear that's not the case since improvements to the Cloud version have not migrated over to LR6. I imagine there will come a time when LR6 will not run on future operating systems. I can hear the angry rush to the exit for many.

Fortunately, there are other options available from ACDSEE, Corel and Capture One (quite a steep learnning curve on that one). If you don't have use for a cataloging feature, then ON1 Photo Raw, DxO, and Iridient Developer are a few of the RAW converters available. I use Iridient for some of my Fuji stuff and it’s excellent. For a long time it was Mac only but it’s now available for Windows too. Luminar, a product from Macphun is accepting preorders for its 2018 upgrade that features a digital asset management module. Let the battles begin!

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