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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Naked Eye: Leica M9 vs FujiFilm X Pro-1





Another poll for those who like playing the game.

Here are JPEG #A and JPEG #B; one is made with a Leica M9 at 200 iso with a Leica Elmarit 28mm at f2.8while the other was made with a Fuji X Pro-1 at 200 iso with a Fujinon 18mm (equivalent of 27mm) at f2.0. The photographs were made within a few seconds from each other under the same lighting conditions, and using an automatic shutter speed.

The lower two are the same images after using Auto Fix in Photoshop. No other processing was done to either of them.

So what's your call? Which image was made with the M9, and which with the X Pro-1?

After having handled the M9 for about 15 months and the X Pro-1 for just over a week, I feel that both have a place in my tool box.  It took me a few hours to understand the ins and outs of the X Pro-1, and I haven't had frustrations to speak of once I ironed out its quirks. In contrast, the Leica M9 is a difficult camera with which I had considerable frustrations (and some pleasures) so far.

I am neither a Leica cheerleader nor a X Pro-1 groupie, and as I imply earlier, I consider them both to be useful tools for different jobs. That said, while the M9's build is better (more solid) than the X Pro-1, its many shortcomings (lack of AF, abysmal display, image quality issues at ISOs higher than 640, etc) are difficult to tolerate with the appearance of the X Pro-1 that is also well-built, has reasonable quality glass, has good image quality to 6400 iso, and a lovely display, apart from its many other technical advantages, such as its revolutionary hybrid viewfinder as one of numerous examples.

"Will the FujiFilm X Pro-1 dethrone the Leica M9? "

Sure, the Leica M9 not only has a mystique, but more tangibly, also provides a special 'feel' to the  photographs it produces...but the X Pro-1 image quality is excellent. Does it have the Leica "feel"? No it doesn't. The M9 is a full frame camera, and the X Pro-1 isn't. However, it has an APS-C sized sensor, which produces images that are said to be equal, if not superior, to those of full-frame cameras.

Will the FujiFilm X Pro-1 dethrone the Leica M9? I doubt it...but it's a very serious contender, and fills a niche for photographers who seek to add a digital rangefinder-like camera to their gear, and do not want to spend upwards of $7000 for a body to do it.

And for those who have voted in the previous poll in which I ask for the readers preference between photographs made with a Leica M9, a Fujifilm X Pro-1, a Canon 7D, a Canon 5D Mark II and a Panasonic GF1, the results favored the Leica M9 which got 38.5% of the votes, then the X Pro-1 which got about 33%.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Charlotte Rush-Bailey: Blood & Turmeric

Charlotte Rush-Bailey is a photographer who migrated to the world of photography from a corporate career that covered three decades of marketing and communications positions in a variety of global industries including energy, financial services, media, conservation, technology and professional services. This gave her opportunities to work with people all over the world, and to learn to appreciate cultural nuances and the influences of socio-political forces.

She has just produced her audio-slideshow Blood And Turmeric of her stills and ambient sound recordings made during the festival of the Oracles in Kodungallur whilst participating in my The Oracles of Kerala Photo Expedition/Workshop™.

So hold on to your seats, you'll get sweaty palms perhaps...but I'm certain you'll be bowled over by it.

The festival is called Kodungallur Bharani, a wild and unusual localized religious festival near Kochi. It is here that once a year the so-called Oracles of Kodungallur meet to celebrate both Kali and Shiva. By their thousands, these red-clad oracles arrive in this area of Kerala, and perform self mortification acts by banging on their heads with ceremonial swords repeatedly until blood trickle down their foreheads, and daub the wounds with turmeric.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dougie Wallace: Road Wallah

Here's a movie -or what photographer Dougie Wallace calls- a "photo film" on Kolkata's unorganized (aka chaotic) transport modes. He has chosen to show us the tram drivers, the rickshaw pullers, the yellow taxis, the passengers, the pedestrian and vehicular traffic that criss-crosses this teeming city along with a soundtrack (produced by Rosie Webb) that just pulsates and throbs.

The buses, the most commonly used mode of transport, are run by government agencies and private operators, and as the photo film describes them, are haphazard to say the least. Kolkata is the only Indian city with a tram network, which I've greatly enjoyed when I was there last October. Almost all of Kolkata's taxis I have seen were old Ambassador cars, with little if any modern amenities. Hand-pulled rickshaws are extensively used by the public for short trips.

 Dougie Wallace is London based but grew up in Glasgow. He lived in east London for 15 years but spends a lot of time travelling abroad. I suggest you view his project titled Reflections On Life which features scenes from the daily commute in a number of cities ranging from Lisbon, Egypt and Eastern Europe, including Sarajevo, Ukraine and Albania.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wotancraft's Camera Bags

Photo Courtesy Wotancraft Atelier

I'm more of a simple canvas Domke F-8 camera bag (and a cheap canvas shoulder bag from a US Army Surplus store) kind of person, but having chanced on Wotancraft Atelier's website, I have to admit that its camera bags are just gorgeous...and yes, quite expensive.

Its bags are constructed from top quality materials, and manufactured by experienced artisans, their bags are strong, reliable and beautiful. It appears that the Wotancraft products are handmade by only 4 artisans in Taiwan, and are rigorously inspected before they're shipped to buyers.

The smoky photographs on its website are just magnificent. Those that accompany the Urban Classic 005 Safari bag (shown above) feature Leicas, and another rangefinder to impart the sense of quality, Old World attention to details and high quality manufacturing. This is a well thought out pictorial layout; perhaps in the smilar vein as the ads for Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren products, but aimed at owners of Leicas and other high-end cameras.

The Scription blog has a full story on Wotancraft, which makes for interesting reading.

As a footnote, I have a Billingham camera bag which is equally well made, and resembles in some way the Safari bag, and is a classic for many photographers for its durability and functionality...but it also requires a long lead to be broken in, and I just didn't have the patience.

Note: I have no direct or indirect relationship with Wotancraft and/or its distributors.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Mitchell Kanashkevich: Ethiopia

Photo © Mitchell Kanashkevich-All Rights Reserved

“Will I ever come back to Ethiopia?”

A question asked by Mitchell Kanashkevich after spending over four months in that country, crisscrossing it on a motorbike.

He doesn't ask it because of logistics, or because of practicalities...but rather he wonders if he would want to ever come back to Ethiopia. I chose to feature his post to counter balance my earlier post on Holland Cotter's Ethiopian experience because they are so divergent.

I won't go into the details of Mitchell's reasons for his largely negative personal experiences in Ethiopia since you can read it directly on his blog, but these range from onerous restrictions and regulations imposed by authorities to make some money off foreign visitors to "money hungry scheming locals" in Lalibela and other religious towns.

Mitchell Kanashkevich is amongst a handful of travel photographers who are truly intrepid, experienced and who produce consistently excellent imagery, so his experiences in Ethiopia ought to be heeded by independent travelers who want to visit Ethiopia the way he did. I'm not suggesting that travelers ought to be put off by his current mindset, but they certainly ought to pay attention to what he tells us...and prepare themselves for potential difficulties.

It is one thing to travel to Ethiopia (and wherever else) on assignment with The New York Times, and quite another to travel the way Mitchell did. Fixers, hotel accommodations, transportation are a world apart between these two.

As for the obnoxious and puerile comments that Mitchell's post seems to have generated, it's unfortunate. Some people don't realize the service that Mitchell has provided...they may disagree with it, they may not like it...but he related his personal experience, and he's free to express it as he sees fit...wherever and whenever he wants.

I traveled to Ethiopia in 2004, and my experience was different. But that was 8 years ago, and I traveled differently. However if I were to return to Ethiopia, I'd reread Mitchell's post very carefully.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

FujiFilm X Pro-1: A Few More Quick Thoughts...

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy- Click To Enlarge

Well, I've shot a couple of hundred images with my newly acquired FujiFilm X Pro-1 so far, and I thought I'd post a few more of my brief impressions about its performance so far.

Firstly, FujiFilm updated the firmware of the X-Pro1 and the three X-mount lenses that accompany the camera. The updates reduce the aperture 'chattering' that was experienced when using the camera. I updated yesterday, and the "chatter" was eliminated.

My pet peeve with the X Pro-1 is this: when I shoot at the 6 frames per second mode, the resulting frames do not appear in sequence on the display. The first frame appears with a small thumbnail of the remaining frames. I consulted the manual and haven't found any mention of this, or how to cancel it so that I can review the frames on the display as in other cameras. From my reading of other reviews, it seems that frames shot in continous mode are numbered differently and won't be directly accessed on playback review. FujiFilm engineers ought to come up with a solution to this crazy irritant.

Note: Magnus H. Amundsen, based in Oslo, was kind enough to tweet me and guide me to page 64 of the X Pro-1. Viewing the frames shot in continuous mode can be seen in sequence by pressing the selector down, then either right or left depending of the order chosen. Problem solved. It's counter-intuitive, and in my opinion an unnecessary step...but it works.

The other possible issue with the camera seems to be the life of a single battery charge. I read that it's sufficient for 350 images, but it certainly hasn't been the case. However, I'll keep an eye on it in the coming weeks. Its auto focus is not infallible, especially when I use the camera to shoot from the hip. It missed on a few occasions but generally speaking, it nailed a lot more than it missed. The click of the shutter is virtually imperceptible.

Something else I didn't like is the placement of the exposure compensation dial. I found that I inadvertently move it with my thumb when I shoot from the hip. I'm thinking of taping it to the -2/3 mark. I am also thinking of ordering the Thumbs Up CSEP-2 for it instead of the Fuji hand grip. I have a Thumbs Up for my M9 and it makes a huge difference.

The Fuji RAW converter (SILKYPIX) that comes with the camera is clunky and sort of primitive. Fujifilm has another so called professional converter which can be downloaded free for a 30 days trial. It's also clunky. I can't wait for Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop to soon come up with an update for the X Pro-1.

I read that some photographers find that having the battery and the SD card at the bottom of the X Pro-1 is a design flaw. However, it's identical to a Leica in that respect. Exactly.

Having now looked at a couple of my good images from the X Pro-1, I believe their quality to be really stellar. I use the Fujinon 18mm f/2.0 XF R lens which I'm very comfortable with. It's the equivalent to a 27mm and fits my style of shooting, especially in the streets of New York City. But I would prefer a lens equivalent to a 24mm f2.0. I explored the various film simulation modes it offers, and was especially impressed by its Velvia-like mode...a vivid high saturation mode. The image accompanying this post was made using that film mode.

So far so good.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The New York Times: Aksum & Lalibela

Photo © Damon Winter-Courtesy The New York Times

Here's what I found to be a very well made (and thoroughly researched) feature by The New York Times titled Aksum And Lalibela: A Pilgrimage with the prose of Holland Cotter and the photography of Damon Winter.

"Lalibela was conceived as a paradise on earth."

Cotter tells us that he had longed to see two holy cities in Ethiopia: Aksum, the country's center of Orthodox Christianity, and Lalibela, a town of extraordinary churches carved from volcanic rock in the 13th century, for a long time and he did visit it recently.

The treat in this interactive feature are the panoramas of Gondar, the monasteries of Lake Tana and Lalibela. I was in Ethiopia in 2004, and these panoramic views brought it all back to me as nothing else could. I wasn't very impressed by Gondar then, but the majesty of Lalibela churches and the beauty of the reclusive monasteries of Lake Tana made my experience in Northern Ethiopia exceptionally memorable.

An exceptionally engaging article by Holland Cotter is here. He has been a staff art critic at The New York Times since 1998. Don't miss Damon Winters' dozen photographs of Lalibela, Aksum, and Gondar which accompany the articles.

And since I mentioned that I've been in that region some 8 years ago, drop by my own gallery Footsteps In Abyssinia. Oh, how I wish I had my multimedia knowledge and tools then!!!