THE ‘IMAGE-FEEL’ OF X-TRANS

Beach DogsThe journey to mastery of landscape photography in the deepest sense, is paved with spirituality. It is about finding resonance with nature’s theatre, visual discovery, self-expression; fundamentally, landscape photography is a metaphor for the human condition. I make no apology if this all sounds a little romantic, landscape photography deserves to be romanticised; when done well, it can capture emotion in it’s most primeval guise and preserve it for eternity.

There’s an overwhelming preoccupation with gear in much of the photographic press, and for good reasons. If the commercial cogs keep turning and camera clientele consume, then design develops, technology thrives and we all continue to benefit: that’s how consumerism works. For many of us though, this perennial obsession with the latest cameras and accessories can become a little distracting, some may even say ‘irritating’. We would suggest, that it’s not the camera you use, but the photographs you make with it that count, or that the best camera is whichever one you have with you, or that photographer’s make photographs, not cameras, right?

WoolacombeAll these arguments hold some truth, but personally, despite my indifference to the latest gear and gadgets, I cannot deny the creativity boost that accompanies the exciting acquisition of a new camera. When I first saw the Fujifilm X100, I was smitten by the design, a nostalgic reminder of the days of film with it’s ‘mechanical’ selection dials and aperture ring. When I first acquired one, it quickly became apparent that this was a game-changer; for street photography, I can’t think of anything better than the X100 series. However, this was not a camera for landscape photography, not for me at least; the fixed focal length lens is too restricting for my personal shooting style.

Sherwood ForestBy the time the X-Pro1 was announced, I had already fallen in love with the idea of such a camera. When I acquired one, I wasn’t disappointed. I loved the same tactile selection dials, the usability, the way it felt, the emancipation and practical benefits facilitated by it’s perfect size and weight.

All those initial attractions of the X-Pro remain valid, and they have resulted in the acquisition of some images that would not have been made as easily with my full-frame SLR bodies, or even not made at all. The switch from full-frame to compact system is truly liberating; my entire kit comprising a camera, three lenses and a full Lee Seven5 filter kit all fits into a lightweight waist pack; everything is instantly accessible without ever needing to remove the camera bag or find somewhere dry to lay it down while photographing. All this would have previously come with the significant cost of a noticeable reduction in image quality (IQ), but the technological advances being made by all manufacturers over the past few years have resulted in huge improvements in the IQ now achievable from APS-C sized sensors. I now have complete confidence that the IQ of all my X-trans images surpasses the thresholds required for the creation of large exhibition prints.

For all these reasons, I have found myself moving increasingly towards using X-series exclusively for all my work, first with the X-Pro1 and now the X-T1. However, there is a further massive fatal attraction that has me falling head-over-heels and eclipses all the elements mentioned so far. This particular feature harks back to my romantic introduction and my realisation of it’s true gravitas was an epiphany. In the good old analogue days, we would select our film stock depending on the desired style and ‘feel’ of our intended photographs. Our film choice would flavour our photographs with subtle ‘filmic’ nuances; it was one of the techniques employed to mould the mood. Digital sensors are no different, they have their own subtle unique characteristics: different digital cameras produce images with a unique and characteristic ‘feel’.

BoatThis concept is what I like to call ‘image-feel’, it’s incredibly subtle. Scientifically, ‘image-feel’ depends on a variety of image attributes like colour rendering, white-balance, saturation, contrast and dynamic range; artistically, it becomes more difficult to articulate, it relates to the ‘spirit’ and ‘soul’ of the image. ‘Image-feel’ comes from both the sensor and the software used to process the images, it’s something that can only truly be experienced when looking at exhibition prints. The image-feel I’m now consistently achieving from a combination of Fujifilm X-Trans and Adobe Lightroom is something that has previously eluded me, it transcends any marketing driven technological obsessions, it’s breathtaking, and I love it.


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16 Comments

  1. Leigh 13/11/2014 at 1:15 am #

    LOL a romantic huh…nicely stated.

  2. Brian 13/11/2014 at 11:17 pm #

    That top photo is gorgeous. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you do that — post-processing? Or the luck of a camera shake? It’s beautiful.

    • Pete Bridgwood 14/11/2014 at 5:55 pm #

      Thanks Brian – ‘Beach Dogs’ was made by shooting with a long lens overlooking a beach and the sea and using intentional camera movement (ICM) to create camera shake. Some experimentation is required to assess the optimum shutter-speed to create the desired amount of blur: too much and the subjects become unrecognisable, too little and it looks like a faulty shot. I processed the image fairly high-key in Lightroom and then moved in to Photoshop CC where I added two texture layers with blending modes ‘multiply’ and ‘overlay’ (from memory ??). The opacity of each layer was adjusted until the image looked it’s best and I used layer masks to paint out and weaken some of the texture from around the people and dogs. Voila. Let me know if you try it, I’d be interested to see what you create.

  3. Paul 14/11/2014 at 9:19 am #

    Totally agree with you on different sensors having different feels. I love the feel of the X-pro sensor but dislike the feel of the X-t1 and x-e2 sensors as I find them to be far less subtle and vastly inferior when it comes to subtle skin tones.

    • Amish 14/11/2014 at 5:33 pm #

      Paul – the X-pro, X-T1, and X-E2 all share the same sensor.

      • Lukasz Korbasiewicz 14/11/2014 at 9:13 pm #

        Amish – no, the Xpro1 has X-Trans and X-T1/X-E2 have second generation – X-Trans CMOS II sensor

      • Saturn Nyne 14/11/2014 at 11:44 pm #

        Mostly the same sensor. XP1 has X-Trans, XT1 and XE2 have X-Trans2. The only physical difference is in the phase detection sites, as far as I know. I think the intent is for them to be basically the same, but they’re not the same sensor coming off the exact same assembly line with the exact same recipe, so it’s possible that there’s some difference in how they have to be made that creates a subtle difference in their output under certain conditions, which Paul might be able to see. Or maybe not! Or it could just be some change in the processing. Whatever the case, if Paul feels certain he sees a difference, I’m willing to entertain it as a possibility. For what it’s worth (not much), I’ve seen the two sensors compared head-to-head for noise and there was a tiny difference in that aspect, so the outputs aren’t *absolutely* identical for all X cams, but who knows what the cause is.

    • Matthew 15/11/2014 at 1:56 am #

      Amish – The three cameras do use X-Trans Sensors but the X-Pro does have a different sensor than the X-T1 and X-E2… also different processor. X-Pro has the X-Trans CMOS I and EXR Processor I, whereas the X-T1 and X-E2 have the X-Trans CMOS II and EXR Processor II.

      Considering the article is about subtle differences in “image feel” between sensors and technology… that actually makes the X-Trans I and X-Trans II, EXR I and EXR II a valid comparison because they do produce subtle differences between images.

  4. Roel Knol 14/11/2014 at 5:30 pm #

    Totale agree with your post, especially the romantic part and the emotion part about landscape photography. But, of course, also with the rest of the post.

  5. Brilliant Bill 14/11/2014 at 8:42 pm #

    This is precisely why I was so disturbed when I started using the X100S. Working with the files in LR I was getting what I had long been trying to get with my Canon 5D3. This $1200 camera outperforming a $3500 camera really annoyed me! Thanks for stating it so perfectly.

  6. Jonas Nordlund 14/11/2014 at 11:07 pm #

    The feel of the sensor — is that referring to any particular setting? There’s a wild difference between Astia and Velvia emulation, Pro Neg Hi, and even more so compared to RAW. 🙂

    • George Theodoridis 21/11/2014 at 5:45 am #

      I like your post Pete. Like Jonas, though, I’d like to get more of an understanding of the feel of the sensor beneath all the PP available. That is, I’d like to see a few images that illustrate what you are noticing as intrinsic to the sensor type (perhaps with comparison with a bayer sensor, since we are talking about the x-trans feel here). I realise this may be putting you on the spot, as your post was inspirational and gestural rather than scientific, but I am genuinely intrigued to see the qualitative difference.

  7. David 15/11/2014 at 8:00 am #

    Amish, The X-Pro1 sensor is the first X-Trans, the X-T1 and X-E2 is the second generation of this sensor and is absolutely different.

  8. Anderson Ivo 15/11/2014 at 6:35 pm #

    These words comes from someone who seems to make photography with heart and soul… The camera is just a tool, right? The X cameras are great tools on good hands, although! Congratulations!

    I own just a X20 now and I intend to upgrade to XE-2 soon. Anyway, I’m happier now than before.

    Best regards!

  9. seven 16/11/2014 at 4:22 pm #

    You product placed “image feel” and turned romantic into an advertisement. Though for me this romantic image feel will always be about the context of the image because context is specific to the individual artist, as opposed to any tactile aesthetics (sharpness, clarity, tone, medium, inks). “Mom is pretty, but we all love her for more than her beauty.”

  10. John Nicholson 26/11/2014 at 2:56 pm #

    I really enjoyed this article as someone who has been trying to like the X100S as much as my small sensor and now APS-C sensor Leicas. Not quite succeeded yet! But am hoping the 50mm FOV of the teleconverter lens will help. For me it is also about colour rendering, but it is also about “never compare, always appreciate” and learning what the special experience of each camera you take in your hand will offer with time.