Fuji X-E1 makes me a better photographer ….what!

Studio shooting with the Fuji X-E1.
I should warn at the start this blog follows my journey on a shoot with Ellie my model for the session model, she is modelling knitwear and lingerie.
Following up on my somewhat interesting first shoot with the Fuji X-E1 I had arranged a studio shoot with my local and familiar model Ellie. In my head I need a plan, I wanted to cover a range of lighting conditions, looks and styles that would stretch the Fuji legs and iron out some of the difficulties I found from the first shoot on location last week. The images have been processed in aperture 2.1 and portraiture pro plugin to my style. Skin tones change as I feel is needed.
I can say that in general all images taken with this camera require much less post process work. I like that …

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Check out the rest of my findings in shooting with the Fuji X-E1 in studio
Set ups
I was able to re arrange my studio garage to give an urban backdrop by painting one of the walls white and then added my own style of graphics, (paint splatter, I’m not good with a brush) with a series of colour that would match some of the wardrobe that Ellie was bringing with her. I would then create some lighting set ups to provide hard and soft sets to give an urban look. I more often than not shoot location as I am not really fond of studio shooting with models, I much prefer being out on location. It is significantly more challenging with the constantly changing light conditions but is very rewarding when you hit the sweet spot balance of strobe lighting setups and ambient conditions. However this set up would go some way to seeing the results of the Fuji X-E1 with this type of shoot.
Next up was to work from a seamless 17% grey paper backdrop also set up in my tiny garage studio. This would simply be testing how the camera performs and handles in controlled conditions, creating different lighting setups with modifiers. In both scenes I was working with a Nikon SB28, and SB600 speed lights as the main and fill lights and the occasional back light, 1 x 1/8th grid, 1 x large white reflector, 1 small silver reflector, 1 x 30cm x 60cm soft box with one diffuse screen removed. (I prefer the light that gives me), 1 x 42” umbrella soft box and a small continuous 150w hand spot lamp to use as small fill when needed. I am not going to give details of lighting and camera setting for each for each shot as I can’t really remember every set up, I don’t really tend to set up “classic” or “text book” light scenes, as it does not really provide what I look for, I just tend to let the lighting flow and review the images shot to shot and change lighting quickly and on the fly. It’s just my style I guess.

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Camera setting to start
A couple of basics need to be sorted first in setting the camera. Flash set to trigger external so that my wireless triggers fire. Set image scene to Provia as I prefer the skin tones. Set shutter speed to 1/125th as starting point, the Fuji X-E1 unfortunately is not a leaf shutter like the X100 and cannot sync higher than 180 with my strobes, the amazing little X100 will sync all the way to 1/4000,Man its great for midday out door shoots and internal architecture work. Its one of the reasons I will be keeping it. The apertures on the X-E1 I will leave on manual for obvious reasons I can then control the exposures to 1/3 stops if needed. I choose to set the ISO to 800, I would not have chosen this if I had been working with the Nikon D300 but the Fuji’s High ISO capability is so good and so clean I am more than happy to run this high in the studio. Running the high ISO helps hugely when using the off camera speed lights, speed lights in general do not cycle very quickly if you are using them close to the top light output ranges, ¼ -1/1. It takes far more battery energy and time to fill those capacitors ready for the next pop. Using higher ISO means more sensitivity on the sensor so I need less light to achieve the same results, meaning I can recycle a charge quicker shot to shot and run for longer on a set of batteries. Format the SD card set to Jpeg, I don’t shoot RAW anymore I don’t need to with the Fuji X100 or the X-E1 because the internal conversions that Fuji does are better that I can do so if it aren’t broke don’t fix it.

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Likes and dislike in practical use.
I started working with the camera on the tripod but found framing using the view finder a little un natural, it’s a light set up, the 18-55 lens has stabilisation so I choose to work with out. I felt much happier with the camera this time round, it really feels great in the hands the more I shot with it, I started out working in manual focus, but I found myself needing to zoom to 10x in the EVF, normally I find this a joy when street, and pleasure shooting, but this was not working form me in the Studio scenario. Ellie being a skilled model will change pose every time the shot is taken,in fact every time the flash goes off and that’s quite a funny event sometimes, Ellie will almost naturally do this automatically unless I give instruction for a particular pose to do remain still in the same pose allowing me to re compose a shot of a particular pose I like, however I was finding manual focusing difficult. Using the EVF on X10 provides a good clear close view but it is just to distracting to deal with switching back and forth normal 3x 10x etc. After the first lighting set up and a number of frames in the bag, I moved to “full” AF auto and shot the rest of the session in the mode without a hiccup.

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Ok so this is the first BIG noticeable difference from shooting with my DSLR and the Fuji, yes I know AF focus is slow, hey I knew that before buying, but working in a professional studio session with a skilled model I really noticed just how slow the AF is. At first I found it rather annoying and at times a little frustrating but I began to realise I was taking a little more time over each shot to allow the Fuji to gain AF lock and that allowed me to take a second or two to consider composition more that I would normally, I found this rather enjoyable experience, Ellie seemed to follow suit and took a little more time to compose herself, working together in this way I found had some considerable benefits.
Taking some extra time to compose and the use of AF was very noticeable at the end of the shoot in post processing. I found I had much higher %age of keepers both from improved focus accuracy and good composition over my Nikon. Adversely thought the gain in using high ISO in speed light recycle time and battery life turned out to be less of an advantage due to compensating the time taken to focus and compose anyway but a saving is a saving.
Now we are only talking just a few seconds here each shot so this could be regarded as a little trivial, but it’s a noticeable change to using the Nikon DSLR in real life. However if pushed and taking into consideration the resulting images taken from this 3hr shoot I have to say I really prefer working a little slower and taking a little more time. It relaxes you as you work and this in turn relaxes the model / client and all this must add up to good things from using the Fuji X-E1.

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So with all this focus and composition activity another surprise was the revealed and the real joy of the EVF was its instant image play back. I really like having the image I have just taken pop up, crystal clear in front of my eye for 1.5 secs to view what I had taken allowing me to view the composition and exposure, this dramatically reduces “chimp” time, I even started to overcome the problem I had in the first pro shoot I did last week where I kept hunting for the aperture setting, it was simple to move the aperture ring and select my desired aperture via the EVF, its not exactly spot on with the exposure but its close enough to work with to quite a high degree of accuracy. In fact I found myself not even bothering to consider the actual f/ stop value due to the quality of the image shown in the EVF being that good as to show the result of the change in aperture. Again I do not need to take my eye from the eyepiece.. great!
Changes in shutter speed were not needed throughout the session, when using manual control not iTTL speed lights the shutter speed only really controls the ambient light levels. In a studio environment its relatively easy to control ambient light, just move the light away to the side to fade, further away to dim and reduce output if needed. I have only ever used iTTL once and then abandoned it immediately as it seem to try and average everything, compensate for it and prevent creativity in light control. I work solely with manual speed light and continuous. The shutter setting stayed where it started, however I can see this becoming a problem in location shooting where I need to control the ambient, when I have only the sun to work with I only have shutter speed and shade to help me therefore I will need to find a solution to allow me to view the shutter speed dial when the trigger transceiver is fitted. I need to raise the height somehow. I will solve that another time.

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From time to time I used a combination of EVF and rear screen, I used to rear screen mainly to check focus, I would normally do this a lot with the Nikon D300s but I found that I checked a few times with the Fuji X-E1 but then found this AF is slow but is so accurate and the lens is so much sharper than the Nikon gear I had before, mid way through the session I virtually only used the rear screen to show Ellie an image or explain a pose…. Fantastic!

Looking through almost 500 images taken from this session I found only 1 not in focus and that included a period time where of shots of Ellie were taken when I had asked Ellie to add movement with clothing, hair or arms again much more accurate hit rate than my Nikon and range of lenses. The quality of the images really does leave me open mouthed as how sharp this lens is, the tones and dynamic range achieved is astonishing. If the 35mm f/1.4 is supposed to be sharper then once I have one I see very little reason at the moment to considered more than three lenses for the camera in total. I will have the 18-55mm f/2.8/55, the 35mm f/1.4 and when it arrive the 10-14mm super wide and that is it !! A trio of lenses this small and light will be a delight to use in my pro work. Hey thinking about it the money saved in not having a plethora of lenses will allow me to get hold of the Fuji X Pro 1s with the new X100s features when it is launched at the end of this year.

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Using function buttons: normally I don’t need to delve into these settings on a shoot, I don’t often find the need to, but on the occasion I have to I used the Q-menu, this is simply brilliant, its so easy to see the setting you want, navigate to it and change a setting and be shooting again. The Q-menu quicker and simpler than “chimping” around in a dozen screens on the old Nikon D300s.

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So some conclusions are needed, firstly now that I have stretched the legs of the Fuji X-E1 and given it a good shake did I make the right choice. Overall this is a massive OH YES … for me and the work I do the Fuji is superb. The image quality still astounds me and pleases me very much.. Its handling and use, in the way that I use a camera at the moment and with off camera lighting suits me very well indeed. I don’t miss an optical view finder at all.
The really strange thing is I think the Fuji X-E1 makes me a better photographer,
whoa hold on …. That’s not possible the best camera is the one you have with you …. But think about it, if you love using the camera you have and because you love using it you take more pictures and that means more practice and that is improvement then it stand to reason and I really think it does make me a better photographer.

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So now that I have had this camera for nearly a whole month there must be something’s that need to be sorted. Well, focus speed aside and I am sick of talking and reading about AF speed and anyway Fuji is fixing it in the future so I don’t care anymore. When I change to the new X-Pro 1s model I will still have these fabulous lenses the slow AF problem will be resolved and silence on the subject will prevail. Personally the AF for me is good enough and works well enough for me to still enjoy taking images and get paid doing it. However the one of the biggest single concern I have is unusual, I have noticed using the camera the Fuji X-E1 really does not like ambient temperature changes, I have noticed several times that is disturbing going from cold to warm and warm to cold environments will induce misting of the SENSOR …. This is when the lens is attached, misting means condensed water vapour! this really cannot be good especially when it’s powered up. I know the normal rules with electronic equipment and kit should be given some time to stabilise temperatures when moving through hot and cold environments. I own the fixed lens Fuji X100 and never had this problem, and frequently use it regularly though hot and cold environments with out a worry. However I feel this is a concern and I do not want to have a water damaged sensor on my new toy so I have become very conscious of making sure I give the body and lens time to temperature stabilise before powering up. I would prefer not to have this problem dog my mind with worry.

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Apart from that I feel the Fuji X-E1 and I are going to have an excellent relationship in producing excellent quality images. I have started saving for the next Gen X –Pro 1s …. Yep I want it now.
We all the new Fuji X100 advancements in sensor, dual image focus and contrast focus. Wow I can’t wait to take more pictures with Fuji cameras and lenses.

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10 comments

  1. Nice one Mr. Peckham, I like your 10th photo very much, the lighting mixed with the background nicely. For street shooting in daylight, do you find the need for OVF in x-pro1? Is the EVF as bad as people said in daylight? I’m looking to buy xe1/xpro1, but the tought about OVF drives me nut! Trying to save some money for x-pro1s here.

    Kevin

    1. Hi Kevin, Thank you for your kind comment. I cannot comment on the use of the OVF on the X-pro1 as I don’t own one. I have however been street shooting with the X100 for 18 months and can say that I never use the OVF, even the old EVF low resolution screen I find perfectly suitable, both bright daylight and in the dark. It is why I opted to purchase the Fuji X-E1 over the X-pro1.I love using the EVF to determine the auto exposure when street shooting. I don’t have any problems , and don’t miss it at all.

  2. Great article Simon! It was a very interesting read, and it definitely makes me want to try some studio shots with my X-E1. All the photos are beautiful. I like 3, 6, and 8 the most.

  3. Great Article, Simon. As someone who owns this camera, can you please tell me if you can shoot in burst mode and still have the flashes triggered? The only thing I can find on this is that it does NOT support it on the X-pro 1 and its certainly not supported on my X100. This is kind of the deal breaker for me as I shot bursts of 3 most of the time. If it doesnt, I may just have to get used to shooting one at a time… :)

    1. Hi Robert, thank you for you feedback, I am not aware that it is possible to trigger the flash from a burst mode. I am not able to perform this with the XE1 or the X100, so I guess its a no. Hey slow down and shoot one at a time ;-)

  4. Nice, for as much work as you had to do. But had to leave these reality based factual comments: the X-E1 IS NOT a studio portrait camera in that that is not what it was designed for, nor to find a niche in the studio portrait camera market. For every day normal action shooting in the real non-studio world, the X-E1 is a complete failure due to the slow and defective autofocus problems that CAN NOT be fixed with a firmware upgrade. So.. glad you like what you could get out of your X-E1 so far but… the real world is not ideal temperature and lighting in the pre-posed studio, and the amount of ‘hassle’ you had to go thru in ideal studio condition proves what a flop and overpriced piece the X-E1 is. BTW- nice composure on most of your shots; forced to rethink while the X-E1 works out it’s AF or not…

    1. Hi thank you for the quite frank comments. I’m not quite sure it would be true to say the autofocus on the Fuji X-E1is defective that’s just not rational. It’s like saying all manual focus camera’s are no good for studio and frankly that would be silly. Just ask David Bailey if you need fast auto focus to take fashion shots in a studio just when he signed a contract for Vogue in 1960. Fully auto SLT camera’s did not become widely available until 1978. I don’t know for sure but I can’t imaging they were faster than the current X-E1. I think you missed my message. The X-E1 is capable of giving great results in a studio and not the X-E1 is a great studio camera. I am a semi pro photographer and therefor still learning. The X-E1 makes me a better photographer by being slower to focus is absolutely the point. It makes me think much much more about composition and you have noted that fact. Thank you BTW. So you see it’s not for everyone but its great for my needs. I have used the camera on several shoots now and enjoyed every one and had fantastic results the clients really like the small format and are not intimidated. I have a tiny kit bag on location compared to lugging half a dozen lenses and two huge DSLR’s. I have found blogs of several full time professional photographers happily making fabulous images in a studio with the Fuji X-Series camera. If you have not tried it yourself I would recommend you do I shot with Nikons for 5 years previously.

      http://fashionphotographysydney.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/photographing-fashion-jewellery.html

      Sent from my iPad

  5. This is a great review Simon. I have struggled with whether I should purchase the XE1 because I love fashion photography so much; I was thinking I’d lose out if going to this camera. It doesn’t appear so. I myself take time to compose a shot then take rather than blasting off a ton of pics hoping I got at least one, that to me doesn’t seem like photography.

    1. Hi Edward. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I have to say time goes by and become more familiar with the Fuji X-E1, I enjoy it more and more and produce better images. The fashion work will knock your socks off. The 18-55 and the 35mm both provide excellent options for head shots and full length. The colours are fantastic. ( choose your Fuji film types ) the white balance is nailed much better then my Nikon gear. The sharpness of both lenses is amazing almost too sharp and I’m not joking. Just keep in mind slow sync 1/125 for your strobes and slow focus. Deal with those misgivings embrace them and you will be rewarded. Post me you work would like to know how you get on.

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