Category Archives: Photography

Fujifilm X70: still not a Ricoh GR

Last October, I wrote:

The Ricoh GR is my favourite pocket camera so far, but that’s mostly because it actually fits in my pocket. Ricoh’s cleverness with its controls and custom options is a nice bonus, but a similarly compact and inexpensive offering from Fujifilm would be difficult to resist. I certainly won’t be breaking up with my Fujifilm X-T1’s and Fujinon lenses anytime soon, but for now they’ll be paired with a very capable little Ricoh.

Imagine my surprise when a few days ago, Fujifilm announced the upcoming FUJIFILM X70, a new breed of fixed-lens camera that matches the Ricoh GR II spec-for-spec (if you exclude the X70’s flip screen, aesthetic appeal, and Fujifilm processing engine).

It’s great to see Fujifilm work towards a more pocketable big-sensor-fast-lens camera, but I still prefer the Ricoh GR. Here’s why:

  • The X70 is still too big. Side-by-side comparison photos are few and far between, but from what I’ve seen, the X70 is significantly wider and higher than the GR, and MUCH deeper (even before you account for the non-retractable lens). This is understandable given Fujifilm’s commitment to X-series dials and flip screens, but for me, it represents the difference between a “pocket camera” and a “can’t-be-bothered-taking-it-with-me camera”.
  • The Ricoh has snap focus. See my earlier review for details.
  • The GR II is significantly cheaper (USD$560 vs. USD$700). Not that this alone would tip the scales–I’d expect to pay more for a Fujifilm on its brand alone–but it’s a factor.

The GR has other advantages too–e.g. native DNG shooting–but neither this nor the X70’s superior autofocus have any bearing on pocketability (or image quality). Hopefully Fujifilm will eventually release (yet another) X-series camera with a retractable lens, fewer dials and a smaller footprint.

Meanwhile, thank goodness for Ricoh!

Ricoh GR vs. Fujifilm X100S (or, why I’m cheating on Fujifilm with Ricoh)

Apparently I’ve been living under a rock, because I had no idea that Ricoh’s GR series of cameras had a “cult following.” None of my photographer friends had mentioned them, I’d never seen one in the wild, and I’d been unwaveringly faithful to Fujifilm’s X100 series since it launched in 2011. It was unthinkable to cheat on Fuji with Leica or Sony, much less Ricoh.

But then a random Facebook discussion introduced me to the GR / GR II–and some of its biggest fans had previously used X100’s.

You can guess the rest. After reading a bunch of reviews and looking at dozens of photos, my torrid affair with Ricoh was underway. Within weeks, I’d broken up with my X100S. Now it’s on eBay.

Well, that escalated quickly.

The X100S is better, but…

If you’ve been following compact cameras with big sensors and fast lenses for a while, you already know that the X100S is superior to the GR. It has a faster lens (f/2 vs. f/2.8). Its hybrid viewfinder is amazing (the GR has no viewfinder at all). Its autofocus system is better. It’s easier to control (mostly) and its retro styling is much sexier than the GR’s bland blackness.

The GR trumps the X100S in only one significant way: pocketability.

As you can see, the size difference is, well, significant.

The original X100 was a game-changer for my personal photography, but the only pockets big enough for it were on baggy cargo pants (that do nothing for my figure) and bulky coats (that are mostly unnecessary where I live). More often than I’d like to admit, this meant reaching for my iPhone rather than a “real” camera–because my X100S was at home or in the car.

My GR, on the other hand, lives in my pocket. Because it actually fits.

My non-negotiables: big sensor, fast lens

For reasons I might explain another day, APS-C is the smallest sensor size I accept in a “serious camera”, and fast, wide primes are my favourite. (Why else would this Pocket Camera Battle be Ricoh GR vs. Fujifilm X100S?)

On paper, the GR’s 16.2MP APS-C sensor is on par with the X100S’s 16.3MP APS-C sensor. Neither have low-pass filters (much sharp, many moiré). Both perform well at ISO1600, adequately at ISO3200 and less adequately at ISO6400. The GR shoots RAW at ISO100, which is a plus (the X100S starts at ISO200), but otherwise these sensors are very similar–on paper AND in practice, not that my testing has been very scientific.

ISO800 is so clean I had to add grain to this one.
ISO800 is so clean I had to add grain to this one.

Ricoh’s colour handling is different to Fujifilm’s, but I wouldn’t say it’s worse. My Fuji RAWs sometimes need to be desaturated slightly; so far that hasn’t been necessary with my Ricoh RAWs. And not that it’s directly related to sensor performance, but the GR’s multi-point auto-white-balance works pretty well.

I exposed for the trucks and recovered detail in the sky with a Lightroom mask. There was plenty of detail to recover.
I exposed for the trucks and recovered detail in the sky with a Lightroom mask. There was plenty of detail to recover.

As for the lens: 28mm has a different feel to 35mm, but I’d been starting to wish the X100S was a tad wider, so I’m not regretting the change so far. If I ever do, the GR offers a 35mm mode, which seamlessly crops the LCD preview to a 35mm-equivalent field of view and records a cropped file (roughly 10MP). Even RAWs are cropped. Nice.

I thought I’d miss f/2, but I haven’t yet. The lens on my X100S was a bit soft at f/2, so I’d usually stop it down anyway. The GR’s lens is razor sharp, edge to edge, wide open at f/2.8, and I’ve been impressed with its flare control, bokeh and (lack of) distortion too. I’d love it to be faster, but I also love fitting it into my pocket. You can’t have everything.

ISO3200. Eat your heart out.
ISO3200. Eat your heart out.

There is no silver version

The GR isn’t much to look at–it could easily be mistaken for a typical point and shoot camera–but that’s an upside if you’re trying to avoid attention. At least it compensates for its boring looks with great build quality. And grippy texture. In all the right places. IYKWIM.

Aesthetics aside, I was initially concerned about being able to change settings quickly with so few buttons and dials (I shoot in M, because M is for Master). I needn’t have worried.

There’s a dial in front of the shutter release button. By default it adjusts aperture, but mine is configured to adjust shutter speed. There’s a horizontal rocker on the back, within easy reach of your thumb. Mine is configured to adjust aperture. Pressing it inwards gives access to ISO and other settings. There’s also a vertical rocker on the back. It’s less configurable, but in M mode you can use it to quickly set your shutter speed for correct exposure–handy if you need to move from, say, 1/4000 to 1/30 in a hurry.

There’s an AEL/AFL button that allows focus and exposure to be controlled separately. It can even be switched to C-AF as needed. Nice.

Most other buttons are configurable too. For now, my side-mounted EFFECT button enables and disables the built-in ND filter, FN1 brings up AF controls, and FN2 provides quick access to ISO.

There's even a macro button! Nothing special about this photo (obvs), but the GR focuses close enough for non-serious macro experimentation.
There’s even a macro button! Nothing special about this photo (obvs), but the GR focuses close enough for non-serious macro experimentation.

Importantly, the main mode dial has a locking mechanism that makes it impossible to accidentally move from M to Tv at the worst possible moment. I can’t overstate how useful this is.

Speaking of AF controls

I’ll spare you the setup instructions, but the GR’s focussing system is, for my purposes, only slightly inferior to the focussing system on the X100S. Similar options are available on both cameras (including peak highlighting for MF assistance), but autofocus is a tad slower on the GR. In broad daylight, the difference is barely noticeable, but in low light scenarios, the performance gap becomes more pronounced.

The GR shines if you like to shoot from the hip, though. Preset your shooting distance, enable “snap” AF, turn off your LCD and get clicking. (You can even disable the power LED for maximum stealth.) The X100S has no equivalent to this feature.

Snap focus is great for scenarios like this (once you've mastered the art of judging distance). Or you can prefocus like I did here.
Snap focus is great for scenarios like this (once you’ve mastered the art of judging distance). Or you can prefocus like I did here.

So, Ricoh wins?

Yes and no. The Ricoh GR is my favourite pocket camera so far, but that’s mostly because it actually fits in my pocket. Ricoh’s cleverness with its controls and custom options is a nice bonus, but a similarly compact and inexpensive offering from Fujifilm would be difficult to resist. I certainly won’t be breaking up with my Fujifilm X-T1’s and Fujinon lenses anytime soon, but for now they’ll be paired with a very capable little Ricoh.

PS: Ricoh, if you’re reading this, how about including a dedicated battery charger with the GR? Plugging the whole camera into a USB cable for charging is totes overrated.

Chase Jarvis on street photography: rules to live by

Chase Jarvis on street photography: rules to live by

Another link I’ve been meaning to post for a while: 5 “rules” that might help you tread the fine line between creepy and creative when taking photos in the street. From the last paragraph:

Above all, IMHO use common sense and common courtesy as your guide. Sure – get sneeky, get gangster, get ‘the shot’, but you can do it without being a nut job. Plenty of other photographers have done amazing projects in the streets that are in your face, against people’s will and without warrant. My suggestion? Leave that to somebody else and focus on the pictures that you want to make through respect and hard work.

The final Fujifilm frontier: tilt-shift

With the help of a Kipon Nikon F-mount to Fujifilm X-mount tilt-shift adaptor and a Nikon 35mm f/2 lens, I’m pleased to report that I now have a tilt-shift rig roughly equivalent to the Canon 45mm TS-E I used to own and love.

Losing the ability to tilt and shift was a given when I traded Canon for Fujifilm, and I’d made peace with it. But I’m glad it’s an option again, even if it’s a bit clunky looking.

Here’s the first (only!) frame I’ve captured with it so far, straight out of camera (full tilt, lens wide open). Nothing earth shattering, but the effect is more than strong enough to do some interesting work with, methinks.

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x100.365 #132: A load of bunk

We bought brand new bunk beds for the kids’ bedroom.

Mr 4 was so excited about his “big bed” that he took to it with a hammer [thinking we needed help to get it assembled quicker]. His mum was super-thrilled.

Anyway, once assembled, he was too scared to climb up to the top bunk, so he and Miss 2 are sharing the bottom bunk for now.

Here they are, discussing the situation, just after the bed was made for the first time.

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