#IBIS

Revisiting Italy and Fuji´s XF 18 mm F/2 R

Of all the many places I’ve had the luck to be, one has captured a special spot in my heart: Italy. The light, the people, the climate. It is just such a special combination! Went there again end of march with my beloved wife and … My new Fujinon XF 18 mm f/2 R. Most reviewers on the net have a so-so to downright bad opinion of this little lens (some even say it’s Fuji’s worst …). That intrigued me - I likes to swim against the current and I’d always loved the 28 mm field of view on my full frame cameras. So I decided to get one & try it. Regardless. Please read on if you are interested in my experience with this lovely little gem!

Cà Palazzo Malvasia, a lovely BnB near Sasso Marconi. View from our terrace with X-H1 & XF 18 mm @f/5.6

We´d booked a night at a Bed & Breakfast near Sasso Marconi (close to Bologna): Cà Palazzo Malvasia. The first surprize came even before arriving: We got a friendly welcome message from the staff inquiring our ETA and informing us how to get there - never had that happen before! Then on arrival we were just completely floored by how beautiful the place is, renovated with so much care & attention. Way better than it had looked on booking.com! And Victoria, the charming lady at the reception took great care of us and made our stay truly unforgettable! Quindi, Victoria se per caso leggessi questo: Grazie mille per un soggiorno meraviglioso. ci ritorneremo! So, if any of you happen to travel the Bologna area (check this out), here’s a wonderful & relaxing place to stay. Highly recommended!

Ok, so what about that little Fujinon XF 18 mm f/2 R now? Check out the below image … Don’t you think it has a wonderful “organic” (whatever that means … ;-) look to it?

Cà Palazzo Malvasia, carefully renovated in “lo stile dell’epoca”. Taken with X-H1 & XF 18 mm @f/5.6, 1/20 sec

As mentioned before so many out there seem to hate this lens coz of its apparently mediocre image quality. So what! I prefer to see things for myself & make up my own mind. Not just parrot what others say. Point is, Fuji’s little 18mm is for me a lens with “character”, because it’s not “perfect”. And that’s why I like it (those of you who know me know I have a soft spot for lenses with character ;-). And it’s extremely compact & unobtrusive - the smallest Fuji lens still having an aperture ring (IMO a necessity). The plants in the image of our terrace below didn’t even realize they were in the image!

This was our terrace in Cà Palazzo Malvasia from which the first image was taken: Fuji X-H1 & XF 18 mm @f/8

But how’s it perform? Now I don’t usually photograph brick walls blown up to 1000 pixel peepin’ percent, so those of youse interested in that sort of thing might wanna look elsewhere on the net. I prefer to take pictures of real world, 3 dimensional people and things and I gotta say I was impressed by the results this little lens delivers. They got a kinda “magic glow”, as you can see in the image below:

The interior of Cà Palazzo Malvasia is decorated with heart! Fuji X-H1 with XF 18 mm @f/5.6, 1/9 sec

Overall I found the sharpness to be very good, especially in the central zone. Easily comparable to my X100F’s 23 mm f/2, even surpassing it at closer subject distances & larger apertures. Please note that the above image was taken at 1/9th (one ninth!) of a second. Hand held! No, I’m not “steady as a rock” ;-) Just got helped out a bit by my X-H1’s image stabilization! Those of you interested in technical details please check out Fuji’s specs here and Imaging Resources’s excellent review here. However, I gotta say this lens ain’t no good for photographing brick walls or flat subjects, coz it does suffer a bit from some softness and purple fringing in the image corners, which still linger on, even if you stop it down a bit. Maybe that’s where all the negative reviews came from: Many of those so-called “reviewers” photographing brick walls & test charts … and freakin’ out about the corners … ;-)

Cà Palazzo Malvasia - a lounge like a private living room, captured with Fuji X-H1 & XF 18 mm @f/5.6, 1/30 sec

I really love the way this lens renders, it’s still a kinda “Old School” design not yet exhibiting the clinical rendering of modern “digital” lenses. Like a sculptor’s tool, carving shapes & tones out of light and shadows. Simply poetic …

However, there’s no light without shadows - a couple things about this lens I’m not so enthusiastic about:

  • The aperture ring: Definitively not a hallmark feat of engineering. Rather stiff and with imprecise tactile feedback on the 1/3 f-stop positions, it’s difficult to adjust intuitively. Feels a bit like a crude prototype crafted by a journeyman in his first apprentice’s year. Meanwhile Fuji has greatly improved the adjustment and feel of aperture rings on their newer lenses

  • The autofocus noise: This lens makes no secret of the fact that it’s focussing (still has a traditional DC AF motor with gears moving all the lens elements around). Luckily it’s only audible in completely quiet environments and the AF operation is reasonably fast (especially with the latest camera firmware installed). My pretty wife must’ve thought there was a mouse in the room ;-)

My pretty wife in our nicely decorated room in Cà Palazzo Malvasia: Fuji X-H1 with XF 18 mm @f/4, 1/15 sec

Ok meanwhile the jury’s back - here’s the conclusion on Fuji’s XF 18mm f/2 R:

Pro’s:

  • Compact and lightweight but well made. With this lens on a smaller body you don’t really have any excuse to not always take your camera with you (and not miss any photographic opportunity anymore)!

  • Unobtrusive, combined with a 28mm (full frame equivalent) moderate wide angle field of view. It’s ideal for immersive street photography - ‘pulling’ you into the action, provided you have the guts to take those 2 steps closer (remember Robert Capa? “If your pictures aren't good enough, you weren't close enough!” )

  • Excellent centre zone sharpness, already from max. aperture onwards. “Organic”, three dimensional image rendering, with lovely bokeh in out of focus areas. This lens is predestined for storytelling & environmental, documentary style work. Also this lens has low chromatic aberration and distortion (corrected by firmware), making it ideal for environmental portraits (1/2 body images in landscape orientation)

  • Good image quality at max. aperture also at closer focussing distances (less than 1m), images taken in low light are perfectly usable and are rendered with great tonality & nice contrast

  • Quite fast and accurate focussing (with newest camera firmware)

Con’s:

  • Price: At 600$ not really a bargain!

  • Some softness and purple fringing in the image corners, improves at f/2.8 but not completely eliminated when stopping further down. Therefore less useful for architecture & landscapes

  • Stiff aperture ring with imprecise click positions

  • Autofocus operation audible in quiet environments

  • Not WR (weather resistant), but never had problems with it even in light rain

Stylish shadow details on our terrace at Cà Palazzo Malvasia: Seen with Fuji X-H1 & XF 35 mm f/1.4 @f/8

Summing up, this lens is great for those:

  1. In love with the 28 mm (full frame equivalent) moderate wide angle field of view

  2. Preferring a compact, unobtrusive prime lens with larger max. aperture than a zoom

  3. Focussing on storytelling & documentary style people / environmental photography

For all others it’s probably better to get a compact zoom which has the 18 mm focal length included, eg. the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS

I hope I could offer you some interesting information, ideas and advice for your own photographic aspirations! As always your appreciation, comments & constructive critique are most welcome - please leave me a note in the comments section below or at my “about” page. Wish y’all a great Sunday and may you find the best light!

Many thanks for visiting & all the best,

Hendrik

I hope this post was helpful / interesting for you - If you like you can support me by sending me a small donation via PayPal.me/hendriximages ! Helps me run this site & keeps the information coming, many thanks in advance!

Renovatio, Fuji's X-H1 is a Reincarnation!

Renovatio”? What’s that? Ok, it’s the name of a beautiful, sleek 118ft motor yacht designed by Luca Bassani, featured in the cool 2005 science fiction thriller “The Island” (directed by Michael Bay, starring Ewan McGregor & Scarlett Johansson). Yeah, right. And what’s all this gotta do with photography? Well, you will be surprized! Please read on if interested, but first some shades of grey with lovely tonality:

The final curtain, Fuji X-H1 with XF 35mm f/1.4R @f/2, 1/100 sec, ISO 400 using ACROS-R JPEG

It was the beginning of the 80’s. I was working as a photojournalist, following my lens wherever it chose to take me … lugging 6-7 lb’s of kit around in the process (with 2 second hand Nikon F2AS’s & several primes …). For me the Nikon F2 was the greatest picture taking machine of all time (albeit being a bit on the heavy side), see this nice review: I got nothin’ to add to that! Believe me, I tried most of what came thereafter: Nikon’s F3, F4 & F5; a couple Minolta’s; Leica’s M4P & M6; Hasselblad’s 500C/M; Olympus’ OM 1, 2 & 4Ti; Canon’s 5D mk I & II; Fuji’s X100S, T & F; Fuji’s X-Pro’s & X-T’s 1 & 2; Nikon’s D850, … most good, some exceptional … but none had the same special feel-in-hand I´d once experienced with my F2. Not even my D850 - even I absolutely adore the images coming off that one. So, what is it that stops all of them a bit short? Difficult to say, it’s kinda a combination of weight & balance, size, ergonomics and feel-in-hand with an intuitive, clear operation. When the stars align like that the camera really gets outta my way when taking photos (it kinda “disappears” from being in-between your idea, the subject and the resulting image ;-) and you start to see things you normally don’t see, like the patterns on the tables in the image below:

Rainy tables, Fuji X-H1 with XF 14mm f/2.8 @f/8, 1/180 sec, ISO 400 using ACROS-R JPEG

Enter the Fuji X-H1. According dictionary.comReincarnation means “rebirth of a soul in a new body”. For me the Fuji X-H1 was it. A reincarnation. Finally a camera came along which elicits a similar feeing as I had with my F2. It just “clicked”, I mean literally (y’all just gotta listen to the X-H1’s shutter!). And the weird thing is, this was a camera I initially wasn’t even interested in … thinking it was a kinda weird in-between the chairs of mirrorless and full frame. Too big. Too heavy. Not too good looking either … and only for video junkies, I thought. Didn’t even wanna take it in hand at first! But then fate called. I discovered nasty sharpening artifacts in some of my Fuji’s X-E3’s JPEG’s (see here). Dang. Couldn’t use my beloved ACROS film simulation no more, coz that only works on JPEG’s!

Now what? Get an X-Pro2? Again? No. Sold it coz it’s got a too narrow EVF & didn’t feel comfortable in hand - always needed that MHG (accessory hand grip) thing strapped to it, to at least “get a grip” (pun intended ;-) But with the grip the shutter button ended up in an awkward position. So, back (again too) to the X-T2? Or get the new X-T3? Nope. Same problem with grip and shutter button placement. And the buttons on the back where too small & in all the wrong places for me. So, that left me the X-H1. No way out if I wanted ACROS & didn’t wanna sell my Fuji lenses. OK OK - might as well give it a shot … and I immediately had a couple “excuses” ready to justify that little bout of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). In case all this creates the urge in any of youse to also go out and buy an X-H1, you are free to use my excuses to convince your wife, partner, parents, grandma, or anyone else who needs convincing ;-)

  • The X-H1’s got IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization), at least something …

  • Great ergonomics: Fits in hand like a glove, with my index finger’s directly on the shutter button!

  • “Feather touch” shutter release allowing immediate, intuitive and discrete image capture

  • Fantastic, fluid EVF with sufficient long eye point for wearers of glasses

  • More robust / weather resistant (25% thicker chassis, feels similar “tight” as my Nikon F2 did)

  • And bluetooth

  • And touchscreen (which I´d gotten used to on my X-E3), allowing another 4 custom functions

  • And … “drumroll” … more than 600 bucks discount (vs. original RSP). NOW we’re talking !!!

So …

Wow the wife: “Hey honey, I got myself an X-H1!”, shot with X-H1 and XF 14mm f/2.8 @f/8, 1/60 sec, 800 ISO

I pulled the trigger, traded in my X-E3’s and got m’self an X-H1! In the following I´d like to share my first experiences with “The Beast” (I call my X-H1 like that, coz it looks a bit like something outta a Warcraft video game ;-)

As a sneak preview, please see the below image which wouldn’t have happened without stabilization (1/45 sec hand held on a 24 MPix sensor w/o bracing the camera’s asking for trouble & I didn’t wanna up the ISO), or without a touchscreen flippy LCD (didn’t need to look thru the viewfinder & could quickly select the focus point and immediately take the shot):

Coffee & smoking outside! Fuji X-H1 with XF 35mm d/1.4 @f/2, 1/45 sec, ISO 800 using ACROS-R JPEG

24 MPix? There’s one curse with the megapixels … Yep, more MPix gets you more details, but the smaller pixel pitch to pack the larger number of pixels on a same size sensor means that the camera’s more sensitive to motion blur. Imagine moving a running garden hose over one large bucket vs. moving it over two smaller buckets. While the water level in the larger bucket will uniformly rise only slightly, the two smaller buckets will end up with visibly different water levels. Similar to this analogy the same nanometers of motion blur on sensor will be seen as movement over 2 smaller neighboring pixels, but will not register as movement over one larger pixel (having a diameter larger than the length of the motion blur)

Yeah, right. Switching from my 16 MPix Fuji X100T to my 24 MPix X100F earned me approx. 30% more blurred images … Now this is where Fuji’s X-H1 image stabilization comes in: Allows me to use a 2-3 stop longer shutter speed than the usual 1/2x focal length rule (at least for reasonably static images). The result is more use-a-bility and the ability to extend your tripod-less photographic time in a day! So, for those of youse who’ve been patiently following my ramblings up to here I got good news: I’ll soon publish a follow-up post explaining my preferred settings for mx X-H1 (aka “The Beast”) and showing how a clever allocation of functions to buttons can further streamline the X-H1’s operation and make it even more intuitive!

Tables for diamonds, Fuji X-H1 with XF 14mm f/2.8 @f/8, 1/60 sec, ISO 400 using ACROS-R JPEG

There are a couple flies in the ointment though … For some the increased size & weight of the X-H1 is deviating too much from the original Fuji evolution to revolution story (for me it was still OK though, due to the improved grip & button position ergonomics). However the reduced battery capacity due to IBIS is a pain in the neck (even with IBIS in shooting only mode) - you gotta either use the battery power grip (which finally pushes the X_H1 size & weight into DSLR territory) or fill your pockets with spare batteries. Didn’t measure it, but subjectively 30% shorter battery life compared to X-T/X-Pro … you gonna need ‘em ;-)

I hope y’all enjoyed reading today’s blog post as much as I enjoyed writing it, and that you found some for you valuable insights during your visit here. Thanks for your interest & hope some of you will share your experiences or ask any questions you may have in the comments section below. Wish y’all a great weekend with exciting photographic opportunities!

Many thanks & all the best,

Hendrik

I hope this post was helpful / interesting for you - If you like you can support me by sending me a small donation via PayPal.me/hendriximages ! Helps me run this site & keeps the information coming, many thanks in advance!