Fuji Mirrorless system for Landscape Photography
Update: I have a new post Review Fujifilm X-T2 For Landscape Photography, but keep reading to see why I love this system.
This summer my friend Erik Stensland was telling me about another friend of ours, Scott Bacon who had recently switched to a Fuji, I was enamored with how light the whole system was. That night I did my typical nerdy research and realized the Fuji system 'only' has an APS-C sensor, this was an immediate deal breaker for me. What self respecting landscape/night photographer would ever go back to a cropped sensor? I've been preaching the benefits of a full frame sensor for so long I would surely be a hypocrite to even consider this. But the seed was planted. The law of association was at work 24/7 now, every where I looked I saw mentions of Fuji and how amazing the images were and the joy of going lightweight. After seeing some images taken at night from the Lonely Speck (an incredibly good astrophotography resource) I was convinced, it's time to give it a try for myself. I had BorrowLenses send me the X-T1, X-E2 and nearly every Fuji lens there was. I spent 2 weeks putting it through the paces in the Tetons, I was immediately hooked. I have never held a camera that felt so natural in my hands. A couple weeks later I had a trip to New Zealand coming up, I knew I wanted to shoot exclusively Fuji for this trip, that's how much I loved this camera after only 2 weeks. I placed my order with B&H and had all my gear just in time for the trip.
Before I go on, let me give you some background. I started my photographic journey shooting Nikon for many years, I generally enjoyed the feel of the Nikon and the results I was getting, but not thoroughly enamored with the brand. My experiences with their service was abysmal (even though I was a member of Nikon Professional Services), which ultimately led me to jump ship and move over to Canon. The Canon 6D was a good camera and I learned to enjoy using it, but I never felt particularly inspired by using it. I should warn you now that this post has a lot of touchy feely comments to it, there is plenty of technical information, but ultimately one of the biggest factors in choosing this system was the emotions it invoked in me, it inspires me to take the camera out of the bag and take photographs, you have been warned tech geeks ;) Back on track....I have also tested many different bodies mainly for night photography, but I also used them during the day, these included the D800, a7R, D4, etc., I mention this so you can see that I didn't make this decision simply based on online reviews, I've had my hands on a lot of different great cameras.
I will first touch on image quality so we don't lose the geeks right away (I say this lovingly as I'm a huge geek myself). Fuji has created something special with the X-Trans sensor, this is not your typical sensor that everyone else is producing (read more about the technical aspects) the sharpness and detail are outstanding, and the colors....oh the colors. Fuji knows a thing or two about this, does anyone remember Velvia? Of course you do, the film that revolutionized landscape photography. The colors were deep, rich, contrasty and saturated, I'm sure many of you still have a stash in the freezer. These facts make the Fuji's images rival those of the other big players despite the smaller sensor. The other factor of course is Fuji's lens lineup which we will dive into later, this contributes greatly to the image quality, in short; all of the lens are incredibly sharp and beautiful. I have a hard time describing why the images from the Fuji are so special, the only way I can equate it is comparing it to a Leica. I have never shot with a Leica because, well, I'm not a millionaire, but I've read about them and seen the images produced, the images are often referred to as having a three dimensional look to them, they have depth that nobody else can duplicate, until now. I'm sure Leica owners will disagree (I would too if I spent that much), but I believe the Fuji has the same 3D look as the Leica, it is unique and special, it can't be described, but you can see it.
Every lens is stunningly sharp, you can't go wrong. Even the kit lenses are fantastic. Because the lenses are developed for an APS-C sensor they are all extremely lightweight and small as well.
Below are my recommended lenses for landscape photography:
Fujifilm XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS Lens (full frame equivalent: 15-36)
An extremely wide lens that also accepts 72mm filters. This is my go to lens and must be in every landscape photographers bag. It does exhibit some distortion at 10mm, but I do not find it to be unacceptable, if you're super nit picky you may disagree. This one of the heaviest (410g) and most expensive lenses ($999) in the lineup, which is still light and cheap compared to Nikon or Canon.
Fujifilm XF 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR Lens (full frame equivalent:27-200)
This is your do everything lens that replaces the typical 24-70/70-200 setup. Yes it's a variable aperture which we've been taught are not the sharpest lenses, Fuji is bucking this trend though and has produced a stunningly sharp lens. It is also weather sealed to match up nicely with the X-T1. The Optical Stabilization is also fantastic, Fuji claims 5 stops! It also has a very close focusing distance of around 10", this will allow you to do some macro without carrying an extra lens.
There's your holy trinity for Fuji, oh wait, it's only 2 lenses! Light, compact and amazing, what more could you ask for?
Other Lenses to consider:
I have added a couple primes to my kit that I use when hiking, these are the 18mm f/2.0 and the 27mm f/2.8, I generally prefer the wider view of the 18mm. Having this lens on allows me to keep my camera out, hanging in front of me to take quick snapshots, I no longer need to carry a point and shoot for this task. Or even worse, having the DSLR buried in my backpack while backpacking and never taking a picture during the hike, sad indeed. They are also fun lenses to have around for everyday shooting, it's like carrying a point shoot, non burdensome for you and doesn't frighten anyone around you.
Fujifilm XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS Lens (full frame equivalent: 75-345)
The weight to quality ratio of this lens cannot be beat. This isn't in Fuji's XF line of lenses, which would be considered their pro series. This is an XC lens which means it is made of plastic and is slower. The equivalent XF lens is the 55-200, which I also tested. This is a fantastic lens, if you want the best for not much more money, go for it. I decided on the 50-230 because of it's extreme light weight, and the extra reach. You would expect the image quality to be lesser in their cheaper line of lenses right? Wrong. The optical quality is just as good. Since I shoot this mainly on a tripod the speed the lens was not a big factor for me. The only downfall is that you cannot turn off Optical Stabilization, but it seems to do a good job at shutting itself off when on a tripod, I haven't noticed any blurred images because of this. It is also lacking the aperture ring, so you must change the aperture using one of the wheels on the body.
The 60mm Macro is another lens you may be interested in. It is not the best macro lens out there by any means, it is only 2:1 magnification, but it is very sharp. I hope Fuji will release a true 1:1 macro in the near future.
Lenses for Night Photography (in order of usefulness)
As usual Rokinon is rocking the market with their cheap, fast, sharp lenses. Below are Fuji lenses that are also good for night photography.
I will be doing another post about night photography lenses specifically, the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 is what I would recommend above all else. It is wide and fast, the killer combo. All of these lenses have very little coma, if any.
Some quick notes about the performance of the Fuji at night; it is not as good as the Canon 6D or the Nikon D610, but it is getting close and I feel it is good enough for now. The absolute best of the best at the moment is the Sony a7S, which I may pick up as well next year when the milky way comes back out.
Which one to choose? Currently there are 2 I would consider, the Fujifilm X-T1 (my choice) or the Fujifilm X-E2. I tried out both and fell in love with the X-T1, the X-E2 is a bit lighter but I found it a bit too cumbersome to use due to the lack of dials on the body. The X-T1 has an array of dials and buttons that allow you to change your most important settings quickly without digging through menus. The sensor is exactly the same in both cameras, so it came down to a decision of usability and weight, the usability won out over the weight for me in this case. I love the dials for ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation, and most lenses have a dial to change the aperture easily as well. There are also dials to change the shooting mode from single shot to continuous high, bracketing, etc. The other big factor in choosing the X-T1 was the viewfinder, the glorious viewfinder. If you think you will miss the pentaprism viewfinder of your DSLR, just take a look through the X-T1. The best way I can describe it is like looking at an HDTV, you're transported to a different world and everything looks magical. Do not look through the X-E2 as your first mirrorless experience, it's less than inspiring. The X-T1 is also a weather resistant body, an important consideration for landscape photographers.
Random cool things.
Focus scale in the viewfinder with a representation of hyperfocal. I find this too cool, I can quickly see what will be in focus based upon my selected aperture and focus distance. Hyperfocal is something that's been lost with most modern lenses, it's nearly impossible to set the hyperfocal accurately with the tiny distance scales that are present in current lenses. Fuji was smart about this and eliminated the focus scale altogether on the lens and moved it to the camera, genius.
Focus peaking. This is pretty handy to see contrasty edges around the area that are in focus, I would recommend changing the setting to Red rather than white to see the effect better.
No more light leaks when doing long exposures. For those of you that do really long exposures (2 minutes or more) know the extreme frustration of a ruined shot when you forget to cover your viewfinder on a DSLR. No more! There is no mirror for light to leak from, this is such a relief.
More depth of field with a APS-C sensor - This is a trait of a smaller sensor that is great for landscape photographers. I often shoot my landscapes at 5.6 now which gives plenty of dof in many situations (for example at 10mm @ f/5.6 everything from 1'8" to infinity will be in focus) this means faster shutter speeds to prevent grass or wildflowers blurring from a breeze.
Areas that need improvement:
Bracketing is limited to 3 shots, 1 stop apart max. Personally I don't care, but a lot of people complain about this. It would only require a firmware update to have more flexibility, might as well give it to the people. I find the dynamic range of the Fuji to be extremely good, I can pull the shadows and highlights from a single exposure in most situations, and for an extremely high contrast scene having the 1 stop on each side is all I ever need.
Playback button position. Nikon users will be used it's spot on the left side of the viewfinder, one thing I loved about Canon was having this button on the right side,in reach of my thumb whenever I needed it. As landscape photographers we often shoot in weird positions where we can't have both hands on the camera, I'm often reach across with my right hand to hit the playback button, the problem with this is the eye sensor. When my hand goes from the right to left the eye sensor is activated turning off the rear LCD and activating the viewfinder, this is probably my biggest annoyance (which is fairly trivial)
An RGB histogram would be nice, currently it only uses the Luminance from the resulting jpg.
ISO 100 (or lower) in raw. This is a silly limitation, when you go to 'Low' images are recorded in jpg only, I don't care if it's a little noisier, give me the raw file! I shoot a considerable amount of long exposures with ND filters, having 200 as my lowest ISO requires me to use more ND than necessary, even better would be 50 or 25. The same goes for above 6400, jpg only. I do not understand this.
I would like to see more options that can be set for the custom buttons, it is very limited now and the only useful thing I've found is to turn on the self timer when I don't want to use a cable release.
Better focus peaking. Take a look at what Sony is doing here.
Timed exposures longer than 30 seconds. This is a request for ALL manufacturers, but I hope Fuji will lead the way. The only reason I carry around an intervalometer is to do exposures in bulb mode over 30 seconds, why do we continue with this silly convention? This comes from when you could only have so many settings on a physical dial, now it's digital so why not extend it? Such a simple change to the firmware; in T mode allow us to go over 30 seconds, simple! I actually have hope this will change with Fuji because they listen very closely to their customers and regularly make great changes to the firmware.
Dual SD cards would be nice, I have a feeling there isn't room on such a small body, but it would be nice to have that automatic backup.
More film modes. I use Velvia 90% of the time because it's beautiful for the type of work I do, but it would be cool to have more of Fuji's outstanding films as an option.
Hyperfocal button! Not a limitation, but a request. Since the Fuji knows what the the hyperfocal point is, and everything is controlled electronically, why not give us a button to set it automatically? At the very least allow it to be set to one of the function buttons, another firmware update! I think this would be a killer feature.
This was the biggest deciding factor for me, I didn't even realize how heavy my Canon/Nikon gear was until I started using the Fuji. This may sound dramatic, but for me it is life changing. I am now more likely to hike that extra mile, choose that steep hike that seemed impossible before, I'm simply more capable of getting to new locations because of the almost non existent weight of this system. If you strictly shoot from the side of the road you may be satisfied with your D810, but also consider the burden of the size and weight when traveling. It's likely that you will leave some gear behind when flying because it takes up too much space, or puts you over the weight limit. I can carry all of my lenses in a tiny bag and it is still very light.
Below is a breakdown of typical lightweight landscape photography setups for each brand with total weight listed:
Fuji X-E2, 10-24, 18-135 - 2.75 lbs (1250g)
Fuji X-T1, 10-24, 18-135 - 2.95 lbs (1340g)
Sony a7R, 16-35 f/4, 24-70 f/4, 70-200 f/4 - 4.83 lbs (2191g)
Canon 6D, 16-35 f/4, 24-70 f/4, 70-200 f/4 - 6.05 lbs (2745g)
Nikon D610, 16-35 f/4, 24-120 f/4, 70-200 f/4 - 6.53 lbs (2960g)
As you can see the X-E2 kit is the ultra-lightweight option that is nearly half the weight of even the Sony kit which is very light itself. I went for the X-T1 for the functionality and only a slight amount of extra weight. Changing systems saved me 3 lbs on the body and lenses alone, this doesn't include a lighter bag, smaller tripod, etc. 3 lbs may not sound like a lot, but when you are hauling this weight around on your back for several miles it makes a massive difference, it's like not bringing my tent along!
Some will question why I didn't compare the weights to other APS-C sensors as these bodies and lenses would rival the weight of the Fuji. The reason I didn't include them is because I don't feel they are in the same class as the Fuji, the Fuji is competing with full frame cameras in quality.
Who this system is not for:
Dedicated macro shooters - the lenses are just not there yet.
Wildlife shooters - Currently the 50-230 is the longest lens, but there is a super telephoto of 120-400 (180-600 equivalent) that is on the roadmap slated for release in 2015.
Those who print very large - If you regularly print 30x45 and larger you simply can't beat the massive megapixel monsters. Stick with the a7R or lug around the D810. Personally I find the resampling of the Fuji images to be quite acceptable. Below is a screenshot of an image that I resampled in Photoshop to 30x45 and sharpened for a lab in Nik Sharpener, this is a proof of what the print will look like...you be the judge.
Markins L-Bracket - this is the lightest l-bracket available and is a bit more functional than the RRS version. The Markins has a cutout that makes it easier to pull out the articulating screen, other than that they are nearly identical.
Eyecup - This extended eyecup really helps to keep the light out.
B+W XS-Pro MRC Nano Polarizer 72mm 67mm 58mm - Some of the best polarizers on the market
ThinkTank Mirrorless Mover 30i - I have found this bag to be extremely useful for carrying a multitude of lenses along with my Lee foundation kit and nd filters in the iPad pouch.
Mindshift Trail - The perfect day pack for mirrorless. It's tiny and lightweight. Plus it's incredibly comfortable.
Batteries - These cameras do go through batteries faster than a DSLR, but I have not found it to be massively different. I carry 2 extra batteries, but have never needed the 3rd.
Vello Intervalometer - The intervalometer I've been recommending for years that has still not let me down. This uses the mini sub connection instead of USB, I have found this to be much more reliable.
The blogs compression is making all the images look less sharp than they are, to see a full size jpeg of the above click here to download.
I have found a camera that has reinvigorated my passion for photography. To me it is more than a tool, it is an extension of my creativity. If I do not enjoy using my camera would that not affect my creativity? If a painter had a brush that gave her splinters or didn't have the right brush shape for her style, would she not be affected and change to the correct brush for her needs? It is challenging to explain why I love this system so much, I know it's the one for me. No matter how many words and images I cram into this post I will probably not convince you, it's something you have to experience for yourself. Rent it from BorrowLenses for a week to see how good it feels in your hands, see the beautiful images it creates for yourself. You may not be the same after, I know I'm not.
If I have convinced you and you are ready to make the plunge, here is what I would recommend purchasing to keep the cost down:
Under $3k for an amazing system? Yes, please.
Please post your thoughts or questions in the comments!
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