Fujifilm has a history of releasing firmware updates so significant that you feel like you’re downloading a brand new camera. The company has just announced this type of upcoming update to the X-T2 and X-Pro2: the new firmware will bring a whopping 33 functional and operational improvements.
The updating will occur via two different firmware updates released in late March and late May. The improvements reflect “users’ requests for improving operability and adding new functions,” Fuji says.
There will be a brand new Voice Memo function that lets you record 30-second audio clips while in Playback mode, useful for saving some “notes” for photos to reference later.
There’s also going to be a new Copyright Info feature that lets you register the photographer and copyright holder’s name(s) in advance so that those details are automatically baked into the EXIF data of each photo.
Here’s a complete list of the big improvements headed your way if you own one of these two flagship X Series cameras:
March 2017 Update
1. Shooting RAW in Bracketing and Advanced Filters The update enables you to use the RAW format when shooting not only in AE Bracketing but also in other Bracketing modes (ISO, Dynamic Range, White Balance, Film Simulaitons) and also in Advanced Filter modes.
2. Extended ISO 125 and 160 selectable The update adds ISO125 and ISO160 to extended ISO levels available.
3. Programmable long exposure of up to 15 minutes Long exposure in the T mode currently goes only up to 30 seconds. The update will allow users to extend it up to 15 minutes.
4. ON/OFF for 1/3-step shutter speed adjustment (X-T2 only – already in X-Pro2) The update allows you to turn off the Command Dial’s function to adjust shutter speed by 1/3 steps in order to prevent unintended adjustments.
5. Full-range ISO adjustments with the Command Dial (X-T2 only) With the update, set the ISO “A” position to “Command” to adjust ISO sensitivity across the full range, including extended ISOs, with the Front Command Dial.
6. “AUTO” setting added for the minimum shutter speed in the ISO Auto setting The update adds an AUTO option for the minimum shutter speed in the ISO Auto setting, that allows the camera to automatically define the minimum shutter speed according to the focal length of the lens attached.
7. Faster “Face Detection AF” The update enables the use of Phase Detection AF for faster performance in Face Detection AF.
8. Improved in-focus indication in the AF-C mode The update reduces focus hunting in the AF-C mode, making it easier to track a subject.
9. Addition of a smaller Focus Point size in Single Point AF The update adds a smaller Focus Point size in Single Point AF, bringing the total number of available sizes to six. The new smallest size facilitates pin-point focusing.
10. Addition of “AF Point Display” (X-Pro2 only – already on X-T2) With the update, you can choose to have AF Points constantly displayed in Zone AF and Wide / Tracking AF, making it easier to track a subject.
11. Addition of “AF-C Custom Setting” (X-Pro2 only – already on X-T2) The update adds “AF-C Custom Setting” for specifying focus-tracking characteristics. Choose from five presets according to your subject’s type of movements.
12. Addition of “Portrait / Landscape AF Mode Switching” (X-T2 only) The update allows you to specify separate AF mode and AF point settings for portrait orientation and landscape orientation.
13. Change of focus frame position while enlarging it The update allows you to move the position of focus frame while enlarging it in Single Point in the AF-S mode or in the Manual Focus
14. Activation of the Eye Sensor in video recording (X-T2 only) The update allows you to use the Eye Sensor during video recording to automatically switch between EVF and LCD.
15. Change of ISO sensitivity during video recording (X-T2 only) The update allows you to change ISO setting during video recording.
16. Re-autofocusing in video recording With the update, half-press the Shutter Release button or press the button assigned to “AF-ON” function during video recording to re-do autofocusing.
17. Display live histogram during video recording (X-T2 only) The update allows you to display a live histogram during video recording.
18. Optimization of external microphone’s input level (X-T2 only) The update optimizes external microphone’s input level (lower limit revised from -12dB to 20dB) to reduce white noise when an external microphone with preamp is connected.
19. Addition of “Eye Sensor + LCD Image Display” in the View Mode The update gives the “Eye Sensor + LCD Image Display” option in the View Mode that allows you to shoot through the viewfinder and check images on the LCD, just as you would with an SLR.
20. Shorter EVF display time-lag (X-Pro2 only – already in X-T2) The update shortens EVF’s display time-lag in the AF-C mode so that you will not miss a photo opportunity.
21. Constant “Dual” mode display (X-T2 only) With the update, the small window in the Dual mode stays on even when you half-press the shutter release button.
22. Automatic vertical GUI for LCD (X-T2 only) With the update, when you hold the camera in the portrait orientation, the camera will automatically display the GUI on the LCD in the same orientation.
23. Name Custom Settings The update allows you to assign a specific name to Custom Settings 1 – 7.
24. Copyright information in EXIF data The update allows you to register the photographer’s name and the copyright holder’s name in advance so that the camera automatically adds the information to EXIF data for each image.
25. Voice Memo function The update enable you to record 30-second “Voice Memo” clips in the Playback mode.
26. Extended AE Bracketing The update extends AE Bracketing from the current 3 frames +/-2EV to up to 9 frames +/-3EV.
27. Addition of “Shoot Without Card” mode With the update, you can have the “Shoot Without Card” mode turned OFF so that the camera can not shoot when there is no SD card inserted.
May 2017 Update
28. Support for computer tethering via Wi-Fi (X-T2 only) The update adds support for computer tethering via Wi-Fi.
29. Addition of “All” AF mode (X-T2 only) With the update, select “All” in the AF mode so that you can select the AF mode and Focus Area size by only using the Command Dial.
30. Function extension for “Shutter AF” and “Shutter AE” (X-T2 only) With the update, you can specify different settings for AF-S and AF-C in “Shutter AF” and for AF-S / MF and AF-C in “Shutter AE.”
31. Addition of “-6” and “-7” to EVF’s brightness setting Additional options of “-6” and “-7” to the “EVF Brightness” setting so that, even in an extremely low-light condition, the brightness of the EVF does not distract you from shooting.
32. Switchover of the main and sub displays in the Dual Display mode (X-T2 only) The update allows you to switch between the main and sub displays in the Dual Display mode.
33. Function assignment to the Rear Command Dial With the update, you can assign a specific function to be activated when the Rear Command Dial is pressed.
Quick history lesson. The original Lamborhini motor vehicle wasn’t the supercar you know today. They were tractors. Yes, tractors. Full-fledged farm-going vehicular tools.
Ferruccio Lamborghini always loved cars and owned Ferraris, but he hated the quality of them. Frustrated, he approached Enzo Ferrari and gave him a piece of his mind and told him how to improve his cars. Enzo’s response went something like, “Leave the car making to me, you stick to making tractors.” Batman now drives a Lamborghini Aventador.
Fast forward and cross universes to cameras. The giants such as Hasselblad and Phase One have been untouchable and left alone to rule the medium format world for some time. Sure, there’s Pentax and Leica, but it’s more like buying a Mazda Miata or a 4-door Porsche — it’s not what you think of when sports car or medium format camera comes to mind. But here we are with Fujifilm, originally a film company, pulling a move like Ferruccio Lamborghini; they’re opening the doors to somewhere that’s otherwise been locked for what feels like all of eternity.
Phase One makes amazing medium formats that few ever touch but all hope and dream of. Hasselblad is quite similar but have introduced something that seemed ground-breaking, a mirrorless medium format in the Hasselblad X1D. Now, just like Ferruccio answered to Enzo Ferrari, Fujifilm has brought out the Fujifilm GFX 50S.
Will this be a classic like the Lamborghini Diablo? Or is this a Mazda Miata in disguise? Well, I’ve got the keys and this is what I’ve learned.
Body Design and Ergonomics
I’ve got mixed feelings on this one. When you look at the X-Pro2, you think rangefinder. When you look at the X-T2, you think old film SLR. When I look at this, I don’t think retro medium format camera. It looks like an X-T2 that got a medium format sensor back permanently attached to the back of it. Now to be honest, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. This is a professional camera with professional pricing so function should take priority over form. It just feels like an area that didn’t get the attention that it deserved given Fujifilm’s recent history of creating cameras that are as beautiful to look at as they are to use.
But here’s the thing about the looks of this camera: you completely forget about it the moment you hold it and to take a shot. The grip is extremely comfortable with a generous cutout for your middle finger, and don’t even get me started on how good the thumb grip is on the back of the camera. Fully customizable buttons mean this camera makes logical sense to its owner.
Although it seemed awkward at first, the side loading battery is a really nice touch for those times you’re swapping batteries on a tripod; it doesn’t save a lot of time but it’s welcomed. The C setting on the lens is huge plus too. As much as I love the aperture rings on Fujinon lenses, sometimes there is piece of mind knowing you won’t accidentally twist it.
But on to that EVF. To be honest, this is the feature that blows everyone away when I show them this camera. No one expects it to come off because it looks and functions like an extension of the body rather than an ugly appendage after thought. Can’t say the same for other mirrorless cameras with removable EVFs.
Being able to remove the viewfinder completely, add a tilt adapter, or use it in typical fashion allows the camera to be tailored to any situation for size and comfort. I absolutely love using the tilt adapter set vertically so I can get the camera low to the ground. Of course you could use the tilting LCD but at 1PM in the afternoon on a cloudless sky, using any back LCD to judge exposure or focus is near impossible.
My only issue with the camera’s design? The neck strap mounts. This is the one part of the camera that feels retro and I wish it didn’t. While in theory, having a adapter that quick disconnects the neck strap is a great system, two issues arise. Neck straps get extremely twisted because they’re able to spin freely on its post. Secondly, if you’re using a wrist strap and connect it to one post, it puts a lot of tension on that adapter and it seems like after time the adapter is going to bend.
This sensor is huge, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s important to understand why this larger sensor is so awesome. It’s resolution, dynamic range, and highly subjective but always talked about “medium format look”.
Image quality. Larger sensor, larger pixels, and greater signal-to-noise ratio equals sharper images with far more detail than you could ever want. Take a look at the following image. Then take a look at the image next to it that it was cropped from. It’s one thing to make a high megapixel camera, but it’s another thing to make one that looks good when zoomed in way past 100%.
Dynamic range. Unreal is the only word that comes to mind. Really, it feels like you’re cheating. With this camera you’re able to pull out detail from the darkest shadows with no noise at all. What this means is I’m now able to shoot natural light and forego using a light for fill because there is just so much data in these RAW files. Just take a look below and see what bumping the exposure by 5 stops in Lightroom does.
Medium Format Look. Ask four people what the medium format look is and you’ll get five different answers. In my experience with this camera, my subjects look almost as if they’re standing in front of a fake background. The longer focal length lenses used in medium format compress more of the background into a single plane and my subjects “pop” out of the image in front of that background. Moving from X-Series APS-C cameras this difference feels pretty pronounced. From a Canon full-frame camera, not as much so, but it’s still there.
So in a nutshell, that’s the Fujifilm GFX 50S first impressions. Looks good on paper. Results seem to back it up. But cameras are about more than specs, pixel peeping, and this isn’t the first medium format camera. Over the past two weeks I’ve packed my schedule with a wide variety of scenarios to see how it handles and here’s what I’ve learned and experienced in each scenario.
No, this isn’t a hardcore purist’s landscape photo but I tend to put people in them so you have a sense of size and perspective. The first thing that I felt was the weight of the camera. Similar to my old 5D Mark II, but drastically heavier than their X-Series line means it’s too soon to get rid of those; they still have a place in my backpack. For this hike I used the Peak Design Everyday Backpack 20L which fits a GFX, GF 32-64mm, GF 63mm, vertical grip, EVF + Tilt Adapter, and tripod with lots of extra space.
Unfortunately, the EVF + Tilt Adapter doesn’t fit in this bag while attached to the body. In fact, it didn’t fit in any bag I had at home. The height of the camera increases drastically and the EVF extends back, lengthening the camera body by a good amount. When it came to using the camera I opted to stick with the EVF just because of the sunny conditions that would make seeing the back LCD difficult. I’ve taken shots at this exact spot on many occasions and it takes a lot of adjustments in Lightroom and creative masking in Photoshop to get someone to standout; they easily become lost in the image as the background tends to consume them.
Not with the GFX though, Alicia seemed to stand out from the image more and so did the road to the right of her. The only way I could describe the difference is that the road feels closer than it used to with the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 on an X-Pro2. Aside from that, the dynamic range just saves you time. You don’t need to shoot multiple exposures and blend them with luminosity masks or use ND filters to blend exposures in camera. I can easily push the shadows slider without the image falling apart, all while maintaining a really natural image.
Due to the lack of phase detection autofocus, this was a little trickier. The GFX really needs a contrasty spot to focus on or it won’t focus at all. However, if face detection works, it locks on confidently, but due to the heavy backlight and lack of contrast it doesn’t always do so. Besides the focus, the greatest strength lies in the shadow recovery. I can easily bump up the shadow slider to + 100 in Lightroom and all of the dark areas come back naturally with no noise introduced. Whereas on a older camera with less dynamic range, it would have shifted the image in an ugly way.
A huge let down to many people was the 1/125th of a second sync speed, everyone said it should’ve been higher, but it hasn’t been an issue for me at all. In fact, I’ve had the opposite problem. Getting the depth of field desired could require shooting at a smaller aperture between f/5.6-f/11. In a dark environment like a forest, that could mean dragging the shutter along at 1/30th-1/50th of a second if you’re trying to maintain base ISO for greatest dynamic range. That translates to this camera needing to sit atop a tripod more often than not when shooting with lighting.
But in this camera’s defense, I’ve been able to handhold a few of those shots and get amazingly sharp images without image stabilization. The above shot was taken in a shady baseball dugout on a bright sunny day and the shutter speed was 1/100th of a second with no ND filters used. Of course if she was out in the sun, the sync speed would be an issue but that’s what ND filters are for. With HSS in the near future and global shutters on the somewhat distant horizon, lenses that lack leaf shutters aren’t that big of a deal.
Focus is so important when you’re blowing up these images large and the face detection does that so well. Similarly to the X-Pro2, I put complete faith into the face and eye detection and it nails it every time. If for some reason I can’t use it, the 425 focus points are amazing as well. I’d rather place the AF exactly where I need it rather than focusing and recomposing. Sure, it’s a lot of focus points and using the joystick on the back can be slow, but that’s where the touch screen becomes oh so handy.
I found that taking my face away from the viewfinder and tapping where I want to focus was quicker than using the joystick and slowly moving across the viewfinder to get the right AF point. However, one issue has carried over from the X-Series bodies. When my subject is just a little wider than the AF point, more often than not, the camera will focus on the background instead of my subject. Zooming in and checking focus is easy with the EVF but it’s one thing I wish I wouldn’t have to worry about.
Do You Drop Used Corolla Cash for this Camera?
I need to print large, I need more dynamic range, I have a ton of old medium format lenses to adapt, I just sold my Mom’s Prius without her knowing and I need to burn this cash before she realizes it’s missing. All valid reasons to buy a GFX 50S. Reasons you shouldn’t? I only post on Instagram, I switched to mirrorless because my SLR was causing back and neck problems, I make my living photographing Supercross, I have $200,000 in student loans from grad school.
I know that photography is about the person and not the camera, but with this camera, to a certain degree, it kind of isn’t. The dynamic range is a huge selling point and it changes the way you can shoot entirely. Being able to pull out all of that detail in the shadows with no noise at all is huge. Not only does it speed up the shooting process, it speeds up the post-processing as well. So if you’re someone who sees value in that, which should be every working professional, I would consider jumping ship from whichever brand you’re currently loyal to.
But beside the ease of use and lack of processing required, that medium format look has been a huge gain. I’ve sent some of the photos to the companies I collaborated with for these photos and they’ve asked what I did differently. Exact words were “something special” and “a different type of clarity than you normally produce”. On my end I haven’t done anything different, so if the medium format system does that much for me, I think it’s a way to differentiate yourself from others in a subtle way. You just need to decide if that difference is worth the entry fee.
Is the GFX 50S a Lamborghini?
Undoubtedly yes, it’s a Diablo. Or a Countach. The Fujifilm GFX 50S is the camera that will start to democratize medium format the same way the Canon 5D Mark II democratized film making. Focal plane shutter means you can adapt medium format lenses or full frame lenses and get crazy thing depth of field. Electronic viewfinder, 425 autofocus points, and face detection are all selling points to pull people away from their full frame cameras or their slow medium format DSLR.
Sure, there are some sore spots to some like the sync speed or lack of phase detection autofocus. But at the end of the day when you’re looking at the images on your computer you’ll still tell yourself damn, I just drove a Lamborghini.
About the author: Allan Higa is a Hawaii-based lifestyle and travel photographer. You can find more of his work on his website, or by following him on Facebook and Instagram. This post was also published here.
Since the introduction of the Fujifilm X-Series line of cameras, reviewers and consumers have struggled to compare them directly to the competition. Fujifilm’s is a tightly integrated system, wherein everything is a little bit different.
They rate ISO by a different standard, use a non-standard Color Filter Array (CFA), and their RAW files rely on proprietary metadata to correct exposure levels (which 3rd party RAW processors may ignore). One well-known lens and camera metrics company has declined to even attempt any comparison against Fujifilm X Series cameras.
The effect of all these confounding factors, intentional or not, along with Fujifilm’s hyperbolic and cryptic marketing copy, has been to lead consumers to draw incorrect conclusions when comparing Fujifilm against other brands of camera, specifically regarding noise, moiré, and detail resolution. If you compare a Fujifilm camera to another brand of camera without accounting for these various factors, you may think the Fujifilm performs better in every regard. You may even think that there’s something magical about it.
Given this confused situation, I wanted to perform a comparison which eliminates all of these factors and compares the Bayer CFA to the X-Trans CFA as directly as possible, without involving lighting, optical aberrations, lens light transmission, ISO ratings, noise reduction, optical lowpass filters, etc., and see if the X-Trans CFA really does offer any of the advantages Fujifilm claims it does when compared against Bayer — with no marketing funny-business.
As the saying goes, the devil’s in the details, and there are a lot of details involved, so grab your spectacles and wand: we’re going in search of that Fuji X Magic!
In order to remove the complicating factors of optics, base sensor technology, etc., these comparisons are performed with synthesized raw images. This is what raw data from a sensor with a Bayer and an X-Trans CFA looks like, respectively, before demosaicking:
This methodology allows for a direct comparison of the output with the input images (ground truth), and is the same technique employed by the researchers who develop demosaicking algorithms. The goal is to simulate an AA-filterless sensor, differing only in CFA (Bayer vs. X-Trans). The synthetic raw images are generated by filtering the target images through the respective CFA patterns. The resulting data is then fed into a demosaicking algorithm.
DCRaw is used for all demosaicking because it conveniently allows us to provide our own raw pixel data without having to wrap it in a container. The target images themselves have been downscaled significantly from their original size in order to eliminate any noise and false colors from the input.
Because Fujifilm’s own X-Trans demosaicking algorithm is proprietary, it could not be used for this comparison. Instead, I use Frank Markesteijn’s algorithm (in highest quality 3-pass mode). However, I’ve donetests and found that this algorithm is at least as good as (and perhaps better than) Fujifilm’s.
For the Bayer images, we use AHD, a similar high quality algorithm for demosaicking Bayer, which shares some properties with the Markesteijn algorithm. There are better algorithms available for Bayer, but this is the best DCraw supports. (I prefer AMaZE, myself.)
Fujifilm representatives have tossed around various figures of their own for X-Trans performance (“30% slower”) and have also hinted that one of the reasons they choose Bayer for their new medium format GFX 50S camera was because demosaicking 50 megapixel X-Trans images would be too slow.
In these tests, X-Trans demosaicking took approximately 3.27 times as long as Bayer. So perhaps what Fujifilm really meant to say is that X-Trans demosaicking is 30% as efficient as Bayer. In any case, it’s significantly slower, a fact that is uncontested.
Bayer vs. X-Trans
The difference between these two patterns of red, green, and blue sensitivity is what this article is all about.
The Bayer CFA is common and very well established. Invented by Bryce Bayer of Kodak in the early 1970s, the Bayer CFA has been part of digital photography since its inception. Fujifilm introduced X-Trans promising that it offered many improvements over Bayer, most of them incredible.
Here are Fujifilm claims regarding X-Trans:
The unique random color filter array reduces moiré and false colors without an optical low-pass filter. These color filters also have the effect of increasing the resolution so, when shooting with a high-resolution Fujinon lens, the camera delivers images with a perceived resolution far greater than the actual number of pixels used.
As you can plainly see for yourself in the above figure, there’s absolutely nothing random about the X-Trans CFA. It’s just a larger pattern, 6×6 vs Bayer’s 2×2. To call it random is extremely misleading, but that seems to be the theme for the entire brochure.
Here Fujifilm elaborates on the claim that APS-C X-Trans can match the performance of full-frame (presumably higher resolution as stated above) Bayer:
The FUJIFILM X-M1 is equipped with a large APS-C X-Trans CMOS Sensor, which offers picture quality comparable to that of full-frame sensors. The sensor’s unique colour filter array minimises moiré and chromatic aberration without the need for an optical low pass filter, while dramatically boosting resolving power even at identical pixel counts to deliver sharp and texture-rich pictures.
Fujifilm seems to be conflating false color (a type of aliasing) and chromatic aberration (a property of lenses) here, but it’s the dramatically boosted resolving power that’s fantastic. All of these are rather bold claims, to say the least, which have never, to my knowledge, been backed up by any evidence. But that’s OK. We can test these claims ourselves — cast a spell of knowledge, if you will…
Moiré and False Color
Let’s begin with a standard test-chart like image designed to show the limits of resolution.
Well, the moiré/false color certainly looks different. Whether it’s reduced or not appears to depend on the hue of the subject.
I think we can do better than charts though, let’s try a subject where one typically encounters moiré in the real world: fabric. (Note that the input image is completely monochrome.)
Well, so much for that… This example looks far worse with X-Trans! The fact is, some patterns and orientations will look better with Bayer and some will look better with X-Trans. This is simply because the CFA patterns are different and will therefore interfere with different subject patterns. Just different, still patterns — neither are random. I see no evidence that is one inherently more resistant to moiré than the other.
So how does Fujifilm deal with this? How have their claims of moiré reduction gone unchallenged? Well, as we discovered in the first article of this series, the in-camera processing does more than just demosaic the image, it also applies heavy chroma noise reduction and color profiles which reduce overall saturation (these are called Film Simulations by Fujifilm). Let’s simulate this effect by applying strong bilateral filtering to the chroma and reducing the saturation a bit (by about as much as STD/Provia does).
Well, that’s more like it. Now the moiré is significantly attenuated. However, there’s a problem: we could have done just the same kind of filtering with Bayer (or any other CFA)! Using X-Trans didn’t buy us anything. But that’s not the only problem with this approach. Let’s see what happens when we apply the same processing to an image with color:
Ah, there’s the rub. This spell has a catch! The butterfly wings didn’t fare too poorly (the high contrast edges make it easy for the bilateral filter), but look at the unnatural color of the fingernail in the NR’d image! This happens because the chroma NR strength required to eliminate moiré, which is, in-camera, naively applied to all images, regardless of the actual presence of moiré, is much greater than the chroma NR strength required to eliminate chroma noise.
By using a technique designed to treat color noise to treat both color noise and false color (which have similar appearance but different causes), fine and especially subtle color variations are lost, even in low noise, low ISO images. Fujifilm doesn’t mention it anywhere in their marketing copy, but this is how their X-Trans cameras suppress moiré. Not optically, not in the particular arrangement of the CFA, but purely in the digital domain, algorithmically, and in a general way that is equally applicable to AA-filterless Bayer images.
If you think the effect on a fingernail is bad, take a look at was this kind of processing does to a face:
Observe the color of the teeth and eyes, and how the skin has taken on a waxen, lifeless appearance. You can pump the saturation back up all you want, but you can never recover the fine color detail after this kind of processing has been performed.
Resolution and Fidelity
For each example we present the ground truth, followed by the Bayer (left) and the X-Trans (right) results, below these we show the respective difference images (that is, the difference from the ground truth).
False colors are most apparent with high contrast monochrome subjects, which are instructional if not realistic. (Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons.)
PSNR is a standard measurement for quantifying image degradation. In this case it measures the difference between the ground truth and the demosaicked output. The bigger the number, the higher the fidelity.
Bayer wins overall. From looking at the difference image, it seems likely that if AHD were doing a better job interpolating the near-diagonal lines in Example 2, it would have won across the board. Notably, X-Trans performed poorly on Example 1, which contained a lot of red. This is because there are fewer red and blue sites in the X-Trans pattern compared to Bayer.
The poor performance of X-Trans on Example 4 is more interesting. With a monochrome subject, the extra green in the X-Trans pattern is supposed to produce a perceived higher fidelity result than Bayer. The reality is that the false colors wash out this supposed advantage and it actually performs worse. There is no evidence of “dramatically boosted resolving power.”
What About Noise?
The preceding tests were conducted with images containing essentially no noise. It has been stated by reviewers that the X-Trans CFA offers a noise advantage over Bayer, producing lower color noise and having a more “film like” grain. Let’s see if that’s true. In order to test this, we generate a noise image and apply the very same noise image to the raw Bayer and X-Trans data before demosaicking, which simulates how noise occurs in a sensor. This direct comparison is also completely free of the complication of Fujifilm’s different standard of ISO rating, something which often thwarts camera to camera comparisons.
There can be no more direct a comparison than this. No false color suppression or noise reduction is employed. Bring on the magic!
Huh. I wonder what happened to the magic. Can you see the difference? I can’t. They all look crusty as a Leprechaun’s corduroys on St. Patrick’s Day. (Leprechauns are magical right?) Do any of these examples look “film like?” Let’s see what happens when we apply a little noise reduction to one of these. Let’s use a Bayer image, with its supposedly un-film-like characteristics…
Ah, there we go. Well, I wouldn’t call this film-like either, but at least the color noise is gone. This is the same thing that happens in Fujifilm’s in-camera processing and in 3rd party RAW processors which don’t allow the user to completely disable noise reduction for X-Trans files.
PSNR stats with noise
Surprisingly, X-Trans does have the win here — albeit a rather marginal one. You can see for yourself in the images how much of a visual difference these few decimal points of PSNR correspond to. Even if we don’t call this a tie, differences of this order would be completely swamped by 8-bit quantization, JPEG compression, optics and other real-world factors. Poof.
Versus an AA Filter
AA-filterless sensors (or sensors with negated AA-filters) have become popular in part because their output appears sharper straight off the sensor, without digital sharpening. As we’ve seen, this comes with the cost introducing false color and moiré artifacts.
A sensor with an AA filter requires digital sharpening, but with it can appear almost as sharp (more on this below) as an image from an AA-filterless sensor while displaying fewer artifacts. AA-filterless sensors require little or no digital sharpening, but are subject to false color and moiré effects (which as we’ve seen require digital noise reduction filtering to suppress).
An AA filter, however, does nothing to help with noise, which happens in the sensor, so false colors introduced by high ISOs (as in the noise examples above) are unaffected.
Where AA-filterless sensors may have an advantage is when the final image is to be converted to monochrome, and especially when the subject itself is monochrome (i.e. documents). And to a lesser extent when photographing subjects which contain no patterning and no high contrast fine detail (i.e. some types of nature/landscape images). Also, there exists computational diffraction reduction technology (which may be what Fujifilm is using in their so called Lens Modulation Optimizer) which actually relies on aliasing to function.
In order to simulate an AA filter, we apply a blur filter to the high resolution target image, downscale it to the testing resolution, perform the RAW conversion and demosaicking, and then apply an unsharp mask filter to the output. No noise reduction or desaturation is required.
Here’s the image from Example 4, with a simulated AA filter Bayer sensor:
The AA-filterless example looks like it has more detail, but does it really? And at what cost? Is it real detail or just aliasing and false color? That superfine “detail” (which is really just aliasing) isn’t going to be visible when you zoom out, but the false color may, especially with examples of moiré.
And let’s take a look at that moiré target with a simulated AA filter:
AA-Bayer vs X-Trans
Now let’s compare our simulated AA-filter Bayer output to X-Trans. This was the original case for X-Trans, touted as a superior alternative to AA Bayer…
The Markesteijn algorithm does a better job of interpolating near-diagonal lines than does the AHD alogrithm, but this isn’t directly attributable to anything about X-Trans or Bayer; other Bayer demosaickers perform better in this regard, and other X-Trans demosaickers perform worse. (Add to this that AHD hasn’t been tuned for unantialiased input, while Markesteijn is doing extensive 3-pass luminance interpolation.)
However, even with the algorithmic lead, X-Trans appears to offer no advantage over AA-filterless Bayer, and in fact produced a lower fidelity result than Bayer in all but one test case. Predictably, AA-filterless Bayer and X-Trans suffer from similar levels of false color, X-Trans being slightly worse/chunkier due to the courser pattern. X-Trans tends to produce line-like artifacts, appearing smeared in aggregate, whereas Bayer produces more speckle-like artifacts. The X-Trans pattern changes the character of moiré, but does not appreciably reduce it, and certainly doesn’t eliminate it.
The real moiré and false color reduction of Fujifilm’s cameras comes not from the choice of sensor CFA, but from noise reduction occurring in the image processing pipeline. As shown here and in my previous articles, this level of post-processing, which is applied globally and indiscriminately, has the side-effect of significantly reducing fine color resolution. X-Trans is more sensitive to subject color, performing its worst on subjects with predominant red or blue hues. X-Trans provided a marginally higher PSNR than Bayer in the presence of noise (the results are so close that things like a different choice of Bayer algorithm, JPEG compression, and certainly any application of NR would wipe out the differences). Any apparent larger noise advantage found in other comparisons must be due the confounding factors of underlying sensor technology (Sony makes the sensors, FYI), ISO rating, electronic/thermal noise, and noise reduction baked in to the X-Trans demosaicking algorithm in use.
Even though X-Trans lost the battle, the results were very close. An AA-filterless Bayer sensor and an X-Trans sensor of the same resolution are fairly evenly matched. A sensor with an AA filter, however, will beat them both hands down when it comes to eliminating moiré and false color — and without reducing color resolution in the process (but one must apply the appropriate amount of sharpening for the best results). This leaves us in a bizarre situation because Fujifilm insists on continuing to use X-Trans in their midrange/high-end cameras (except for the medium format GFX 50S), while using Bayer (with AA-filter of course) in their low-end X-A range. That means you can get better IQ by buying a low-end camera (X-A3) that costs a third what the high-end model (X-T2) does — from the same manufacturer (although you won’t necessarily get better JPEGs if the level of chroma NR being applied in-camera is the same in the X-A line).
True AA-filterless sensors (where the AA filter isn’t simply negated) might have a slight physical sensitivity advantage due to receiving light which would have otherwise been absorbed or scattered by the AA filter. However, given the amount of noise reduction required to treat the false colors introduced by the omission of the AA filter, it seems unlikely that there is much, if any, net benefit. Finally, and probably most practically, X-Trans requires significantly more processing time/power and, at the time of writing, all but one of the commercial RAW processing programs on the market produce lower quality output than the free-software Markesteijn algorithm used in preparing the examples for this article.
So there you have it: We disenchanted the marketing copy, saw through the legerdemain, traced the rainbow back to its very source, and found the truth about X-Trans. And that truth is: all the “magic” is nothing but smoke (sans mirrors). But, I have to admit, it’s a clever trick.
About the author: Jonathan Moore Liles is a photographer, writer, musician, and software architect living in Portland, Oregon. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find his work on his website, Instagram, and Bandcamp. This article was also published here.
When FujiFilm’s X-Trans III sensor was introduced in the X-Pro2, many users began noticing a strange new artifact in their backlit photographs. Upon further experimentation, it became apparent that the same artifact could also be found in images from cameras using the older X-Trans II sensor.
Many theories have been bandied about in internet photography forums, pointing the finger at specific lenses, certain body production batches, and, sadly but predictably, the users who dared to suggest there could be flaws in the output of a rather expensive camera, but very little information of a technical kind has been published on the problem.
In the third episode of our X-Trans saga (the first was about color detail in the in-camera JPEGs, and the second about luminance detail in RAW processing), I will share some of what I’ve uncovered about the nature of this particular artifact on my reluctant (some might say heroic) journey to become an expert in FujiFilm’s quirky and eccentric sensor technology. Come Sancho, we must slay this wizard who enchants the people’s sensors!
Joking aside, the first thing I’ve discovered about this issue is that it is very rarely encountered in practice by those who abstain from shooting facing into the sun or similar light sources. For those who indulge in flare-filled portraits or landscapes with the sun in the frame, however, it may be a more frequent occurrence.
Let me be perfectly clear: I’m not trying to play-up the severity of this problem by writing this article (it’s only happened to me a few times), only to offer some insight into how and why it happens, sharing what I have learned from many hours spent studying the issue in detail.
Bear in mind that this is a highly technical subject and this article will only scratch the surface of the issue. If you’re expecting a discussion on semiconductor fabrication techniques, electron beam coatings, etc. you’ll have to look elsewhere. The information presented here comes entirely from my own original eye-straining analysis of real-world images.
I’m not claiming it to be 100% accurate. What I call “left” could be “right” etc.—there appear to be no authoritative reference materials published on the matter by FujiFilm or anyone else. (If someone out there reads Japanese and knows where to find the patents, by all means send them my way.)
The nature of the grid
This artifact is particularly interesting because it allows the layout of the X-Trans CFA to shine through, as it were, in the demosaicked image—something which should never happen. (If you look closely you can make out the “X” of X-Trans: uninterrupted diagonal lines of green pixels which criss-cross the sensor.) Not even the camera JPEG output, generated with FujiFilm’s supposedly expert proprietary image processing, is immune to this problem (And, yes, I’ve confirmed that Iridient isn’t immune to it either.)
Due to the complexity of X-Trans processing, the appearance of the effect will vary with the particulars of the demosaicking algorithm in use, but no algorithm will be completely immune from its effects. It may be possible to include special measures to mitigate this artifact in a new algorithm, but this would further increase the complexity and computational load, and come at the cost of resolution and the introduction of new types of artifacts.
Why is there a grid?
First and foremost, the reason that this effect is apparent at all is because the of the particular arrangement of the X-Trans CFA, with larger gaps between same-colored pixels. If a sensor utilizing a Bayer CFA were similarly affected, the presentation would probably be more like speckling than a grid, and certainly wouldn’t show any X’s, and could more effectively be removed by traditional noise reduction techniques.
What causes the grid to appear?
The X-Trans II sensor found in the X-T1 (but introduced earlier in the X20, X100S, and X-E2) was the first to bring on-sensor phase-detect autofocus technology to FujiFilm’s X series of cameras. X-Trans III, found in the X-Pro2, X-T2, X-20, and X100F, extends this concept with a larger coverage area and more phase detect pixels (PDPs).
FujiFilm’s technology adds an additional layer to the sensor, a masking layer between CFA and the photodiodes. This mask is only apparent in the central region of the sensor (the extent being greater in X-Trans III than X-Trans II).
It should be noted that there are many more masked PDPs on the sensor than there are “AF points.” 2.8% of pixels in the PDAF area of the sensor are masked. On the X-Trans III sensor, the PDAF area is 3000×3000 pixels (9MP), containing a total of 250,000 PDPs. AF points in this context are a software construct—the values of many PDPs are be used to determine the focus at a single AF point.
What this masking layer does is block half of the masked pixels from receiving light from the “left” side of the image, the other half from receiving light from the “right” side of the image. When the image at the AF point is in focus, the light from the two sides coincides (is in phase). Each PDP is only receiving up to half the amount of light of an unmasked pixel (1-stop less in photographic terms).
This can be compensated for by doubling its brightness in software, with the penalty of also amplifying its noise. This system is also subject to interaction between medium to high frequency detail in the image and the mask (particularly apparent in feathers and fur), but that’s another problem for another day.
This particular implementation of on sensor phase detect is of the “horizontal” type, meaning it is only sensitive to vertical edges in the subject. Most DSLR cameras, in contrast, have AF modules which include a mix of horizontal, vertical, and, more recently, cross-type sensors. Being limited to horizontal only sensing is a limitation of all currently deployed on-sensor PDAF technologies that I’ve surveyed, and isn’t exclusive to FujiFilm.
But what does any of this have to do with the grid artifact?
There are at two main factors in play, both of which seem to involve this pixel masking layer. The overall effect is a combination of these factors, the precise appearance of which depends on the particular angle/orientation of the flare and the region of the frame the flare covers.
The phase detect pixel effect
To put it simply, it is possible for extraneous light to pass through the lens and strike the sensor in such a way that most of the “left” (or “right”) masked PDPs are not illuminated (although everything else is).
Don’t believe me? Forget about optical inversion for the purposes of this thought experiment (it’s a superfluous complication): Say that a cone of hard light (flare) is shining on the sensor from the “right” direction. This illuminates all of the unmasked pixels, and all of the “right” masked pixels, but none (or few) of the “left” masked pixels. It really is that simple.
When a demosaicking algorithm, even FujiFilm’s proprietary one, attempts to construct a full color image, these shadowed pixels misguide the interpolation, spreading the error out over a wider area, and allowing the pattern of the CFA to show through. Because of the alternating pattern of “left” and “right” PDPs horizontally across the image and the 12×12 repetition of the PDP mask, this effect creates an artifact with a period of 6 pixels horizontally and 12 pixels vertically across central region of the image.
OK, but why is the flare purple?
If you’ve been paying close attention (particularly to the diagram above), you may have already figured that out: the flare isn’t purple, it’s anti-green. Purple, more specifically magenta, is the color you get in RGB additive color mixing when you subtract green from white. That is to say, a mixture of just red and blue.
The flare appears purple or magenta because of all the thousands of masked off pixels on the X-Trans II/III sensor, every single one of them is a pixel sensitive to green light, and located in exact the same place in the CFA pattern (upper right hand corner of that block of four green pixels). When a (white) veiling flare illuminates all of the pixels except for either the “left” or “right” PDPs, this leaves a deficit of green signal.
Note: in the real world, flares do tend to have a color tint of their own, but that doesn’t change the principle at work.
The masking layer thickness effect
The PDP influenced part of the effect only appears in the central region of the sensor where the masked PDPs are, but the purple flare/grid artifact affects the entire sensor. This effect seems to be caused by the added thickness of the masking layer or perhaps some other property of the sensor’s optical stack.
What appears to be happening in this effect is that light is striking the sensor from the “up” direction and casting a “shadow” from one row of pixels to the row below. This is presumably happening in the gap created by the masking layer, between the CFA layer and the photodiode layer.
Pardon the annoying animated GIF below, but this was the easiest way to visualize what’s going on. This animation comprises three frames: The first frame is the (naturally) monochrome RAW sensor data, the next frame is the raw sensor data with each pixel colorized to match the X-Trans CFA pattern, the final frame is the demosaicked image data (where the grid and purple color can be seen.)
This is from an area of the image which would have been uniformly dark (shadow) were it not for the flare.
As you watch this animation, pay particular attention to the top two pixels in each 2×2 block of green pixels. In the row below, you can see the intensity level that those pixels should have, notice how they’re darker, and that the green pixel below a red pixel is a different shade than the green pixel below a blue pixel? Can you also see that all the blue pixels immediately below a red pixel are darker than the blue pixels below a green pixel and vice-versa?
The green pixels don’t appear to cast any kind of “shadow” in this way, only the red and blue pixels do. Perhaps because the green filter is weaker or because of color shifts caused by the various coating involved or some other effect—the physical particulars don’t really matter at this level of analysis.
This pattern affects every 3×3 group of the X-Trans pattern, and repeats on a 3 pixel period horizontally and vertically across the image, creating the bulk of the “grid.”
OK, but why is this one purple?
It should be obvious from referring to the figure illustrating the X-Trans CFA that every third row of X-Trans has an equal number of red, blue, and green pixels. That is to say, it is 33% green. The remainder of the rows are 66% green.
When a 33% row casts its “shadow” on the 66% green row below it, it is removing a significant amount of green signal from the image (the image of the flare, that is) simply because the 66% green rows have a larger contribution to the green channel. This isn’t even accounting for the fact that none of the green pixels appear to cast this “shadow.” This minus-green effect results in the flare appearing magenta overall.
All told, this “shadowing” effect is responsible for the majority of the magenta tint.
Well, since you’ve read this far, I guess I’d better show you some examples. Unfortunately, Sancho and I were unable find any conveniently located windmills (trust me, there are at least a couple of dozen people on the planet who will find this joke mildly amusing), so this plastic flamingo lawn nativity scene will have to do.
Side Note: Below is an artist’s depiction of person who criticizes the artistic merit of example images in articles about camera artifacts:
You may think that the example image below isn’t a good one. Please try to bear in mind that the purpose of the example is to show the purple flare/grid artifact in a real-world context, not to present a composition for artistic criticism.
You may be tempted to point out that the image is out of focus, and think that this somehow invalidates the example. It does not. Indeed, it may very well be out of focus, and if you’ve been following closely you will know why: flare (and to some extent any backlighting) causes the on-sensor phase-detect autofocus system of these cameras to go haywire. The camera doesn’t know what’s in focus. It’s hopeless. I suspect that in-focus examples of this problem are the exception rather than the rule.
The image below was shot with the FujiFilm X-T2 using the Fujinon 35mm f/2 lens at f/4.0 and ISO 200.
What can be done about it?
Unfortunately, not much. From a software perspective, you could insert some preprocessing before the demosaicking algorithm to identify the flare area, add some of the value of the red/blue pixels to the green pixels in the rows immediately below them (assuming the flare usually comes from the “up” direction), thus compensating for the masking shadow.
In addition, you could have a demosaicking algorithm that ignores all of the PDPs, interpolating around them. That would probably get rid of the grid for the most part, and the purple aspect, but doing so would come at a cost to resolution, in particular the green/luminance resolution, an extra quantity of which was supposed to be the saving grace of the X-Trans CFA. This would all be absurdly complicated for a demosaicking algorithm and likely to introduce some new artifacts.
A hardware solution would be to ditch the current method of on-sensor PDAF in favor of something more sophisticated like Canon’s Dual Pixel AF technology (with which such imbalances as described herein are presumably impossible because there is no masking layer and no lost light). No camera or lens yet designed can perfectly reject flare; this problem is less about the flare occurring, which is inevitable under the described conditions, and more about the way the sensor responds to the flare.
It’s worth pointing out that all of these problems could have been anticipated by FujiFilm’s engineers before ever coming close to the manufacturing stage—they just didn’t think it was a big deal. Given that they went on to release three more camera models with the same sensor design after the problem was discovered by the public, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for them to issue a recall over it.
It is obvious from the single-pixel extent of the artifact in the raw sensor data that this is a sensor-level effect. The grid/purple flare is not due to internal reflections between the sensor and the lens (although this kind of reflection certainly can and does happen with mirrorless cameras), but to optical or electrical effects occurring within the sensor package itself.
Any precautions to avoid or eliminate flare may reduce the the symptoms, but the disease remains. The underlying problem is exacerbated by presence of the X-Trans CFA, which imparts both the grid-like luminance effect, and the majority of the magenta colored chrominance effect.
As can be plainly seen, the overall effect isn’t particularly noticeable at typical (at the time of writing) Web display resolutions. The purple tint is present at all display sizes, whereas the grid requires magnifications higher than about 25% to become apparent. However, the grid, consisting of high frequency detail, is subject to enhancement by sharpening and other post-processing steps, which may increase its visibility at lower resolutions.
Whether or not you consider an image with this artifact to be completely ruined is entirely up to you—many people consider an image with any degree of flare to be ruined—but this is definitely a lower level of fidelity than I’m accustomed to seeing in similar situations. Furthermore, as already mentioned, due to the mechanisms involved, it is likely that the grid artifact and phase detect AF failure are, shall we say, comorbid and linked.
This artifact is characteristic of the FujiFilm X-Trans II/III sensor, allowing affected images to be easily be identified. I can’t recall another instance of such a complex and distinctive artifact. It is, however, easily avoided by abstaining from photographing backlit subjects.
Is this mere tilting at windmills? I don’t believe so. The problem is real, if infrequently encountered, and having an understanding of its nature can help us avoid it.
About the author: Jonathan Moore Liles is a photographer, writer, musician, and software architect living in Portland, Oregon. The opinions in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Jonathan’s work on his website, Instagram, and Bandcamp. This post was also published here.
I am one of the lucky few to have grown up with Leica. It is weird to critically think about the irrational purchase of such an expensive camera as new digital models are released, but if you grew up with a Leica in your life it is very hard to let go of the brand.
For some, Leica is a status symbol like a Ferrari or Rolex, only to be admired from afar, but it is my belief that this is the result of very misguided marketing. The only way a Leica is like a Ferrari is that most owners won’t learn to fully utilize them and the only Leicas that can claim to be Rolex-like are older Leicas like the M3 because, beyond the rangefinder and dials, modern Ms are not very mechanical.
So, how does the Fujifilm X-Pro2 fit? If you saw the pictures I published, you can clearly see how similar, almost identical, the cameras are in design. The Fujifilm has a lot more bells and whistles for a fraction of the price, and a photographer can choose to limit their use if they like to have a very Leica M-like shooting experience. They only feel ever so slightly different due to the materials used to build them.
Beyond 35mm Fujifilm film I never paid much attention to Fujifilm as a company, until the original Fujifilm X-Pro1; which I quickly preordered along with the launch line-up of lenses, because it reminded me of my Leica M. It was an excellent, but flawed, camera at the time and it made me yearn for a better digital M.
Today the M is somewhat unique. Leica never had any competition that succeeded, until the X-Pro1 came along. It was the first great rangefinder-style camera with great glass and a good modern sensor that provided a unique look, which is something people love about Leica.
Many loved the X-Pro1, but abandoned it for Fujifilm’s rapidly developing X camera line-up, which included a lot of great rangefinder-like cameras before the X-Pro2’s release. Yet, along the way, Fujifilm continued to support all of their cameras with firmware updates that drastically improved performance in some cases; even though many X-Pro1 owners never got to see the improvements, which Fujifilm is now notorious for. The X-Pro1 certainly attracted a lot of Leica fans like me, and built a loyal following for Fujifilm, but many lapsed fans wonder how the X-Pro2 compares to the M.
Introducing the Fujifilm X-Pro2
The Fujifilm X-Pro2 launch went much smoother than the X-Pro1 launch. The camera was fast and RAW support was very good on day one, but some experienced a minor reset bug that Fujifilm addressed relatively quickly via a firmware update. The X-Pro2 was many orders of magnitude better than the X-Pro1 it replaced, and additional manual controls were added like the ISO dial that completed the retro Leica-like feel of the camera. Yet, unlike retro cameras, the X-Pro2 does not have any functional limitations. The still unique hybrid viewfinder makes the X-Pro2 a jack of all trades and puts it in a class of its own.
The Leica rangefinder window is widely regarded for its clarity and brightness compared to other optical finders, but the new X-Pro2 viewfinder is equally as good, and even surpasses it, because it allows the photographer to adjust the finder’s magnification. The X-Pro2 can switch between 0.36x/0.6x OVF magnification by holding the viewfinder lever on the front of the camera and Fujifilm can even improve the accuracy of their frame lines with firmware updates, which they have done in the past. When switching to EVF the magnification is fixed at 0.59x with a frame rate of 85fps that does not drop in low light with only 0.012 seconds of lag and 2.36 million dots, but the focal point can be magnified by 6x.
On the other hand, the Leica M240 is limited to 0.68x, which can be improved with a screw on magnifier. I currently use a Leica 1.25x magnifier on mine that improves my magnification to 0.85x. For reference, the gold standard is often considered the Leica M3 which had 0.91x magnification. There are also 0.7x, 1.4x, and 1.5x magnifiers widely available along with some off brand adjustable ones. On the M240 these magnifiers give photographers 0.48x, 0.95x, and 1.02x. I did not purchase the 1.4x or 1.5x magnifiers because I felt they limited the lenses I could attach to my M240 too much. I generally shoot 50mm, but I like shooting 35mm and 28mm, which cannot be done well with strong magnifiers because the frame lines become obscured.
When manually focusing a lens with a focal length of 10-75mm, the Leica viewfinder probably has an edge over other methods, but beyond 75mm, the Fujifilm EVF gains the advantage over the Leica because the EVF can be zoomed 6x. Leica also has an optional EVF that can be purchased and zoomed like live view on the back screen, but most users will never opt for it because of its low resolution and price, but it zooms to 10x.
Thanks to the ability to autofocus, photographer have the ability to have an expanded rangefinder-type experience when setting the X-Pro2’s magnification to 0.36x. This allows them too see more of the world around them, or they can choose to use a more traditional 0.60x magnification with tighter frame lines. It is a very unique rangefinder-style experience that allows photographers to be uniquely creative. Some have even used the OVF with the 100-400mm, even though it is way beyond the limitations of the frame lines that the OVF can produce. They simply point the lens and get center point focus confirmation to shoot.
X-Mount vs M-Mount
X-mount will be 5 years old soon, and Fujifilm has had some luck getting other manufactures to produce lenses for them but, beyond a few Zeiss AF lenses, most are manual focus. There are also a lot of adapters on the market that let photographers use glass from almost any manufacturer, but AF adapters for X-mount have not really materialized yet.
M-mount became a pretty standard mount after screw mount, so a lot of quality glass is available with rangefinder coupling; but prices can be very high. There are even adapters for old screw mount lenses to use on a modern rangefinder cameras, so there is a ton of quality glass for M-mount. Plus, 3rd party lenses can now be adapted for M-mount just like on X-mount, but you have to use the rear screen in live view mode or the optional low resolution EVF to focus and frame.
There is a lot of quality glass for everyone at every price point but, if you can afford a Leica, chances are that money does not matter very much. M glass is highly adaptable so it is a great investment if you are not sure which mirrorless system you are going to stick with going forward.
Leica glass is widely regarded as second to none. It is the kind of statement that no one ever challenges because it is just about always true and, even when it is not, the glass is good enough and no one would question the remark without having two completely identical shots with different lenses to compare.
Leica has a few lenses that I consider to be less desirable, but they are still better than 95% of the lenses available, even though they are less desirable to me. They do manage to offer other benefits, like being significantly smaller in design than similar glass, but I generally do not care about lens size unless it is obnoxiously big. So, the 5% of glass that photographers could make a solid argument for being better will almost always weigh significantly more and be significantly bigger. I am not going to name lens names because it will detract from the larger point, but note that I have only kept Leica glass that I consider to be second to none, because photography equipment selling at Leica prices should be second to none.
Leica’s 50mm Summilux f1.4 ASPH is an all-around amazing lens and it has been since its introduction. Basically, if it is 50mm and it is a Leica, photographers are probably not going to be disappointed unless someone sold them a knock off or damaged lens. In my opinion, the Leica Look has always been best represented by the 50mm Summilux, and it is why I spent over a year trying to get a new one when they were hard to find after the M9‘s introduction. It is simply sublime. I also really loved the Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 ASPH for a while, along with the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.2 (V1/2) (I owned both) and Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZM. There is a lot of superb glass for the M, but I highly recommend that photographers new to Leica limit their selection so they can develop their ability to frame a picture in their head before putting camera to eye. Getting quick with the M is generally closely tied to seeing the world through a fixed focal length.
You can buy a professional Fujifilm setup for the price of one high-end Leica lens. Let that sink in… At this time, I own almost all of Fujifilm’s glass. Even their Japanese toy lenses are a joy to shoot with. I regularly shoot with most of my lenses, but carrying around the big zooms like the Fujinon XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR can be a bit difficult when most of your camera bags are meant for M cameras. Fujifilm has great glass that has lots of character. They are also introducing a lot of weather resistant lenses and more small primes that are easy to carry around. Many of their lenses are the best or very close to the best at their focal length, and they are cheaper than the competition. Lenses like the Fujinon XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR, XF 90mm f/2 R LM WR, XF 10-24mm f/4 R OIS, XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR are all phenomenal. Even the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 XF R from the launch of the X system has great character, but it really needs to be updated to focus more like the XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR.
Fujifilm has a lot of great glass and all they really need now is long telephoto glass to round out their system, which is not really what the X-Pro2 is for, but it can do it because it is a Jack of all trades. Some of their older glass could also use revision, because AF speed is very much limited by the lens attached to your Fujifilm body and it will only get worse as newer glass is released. Fujifilm aggressively releases firmware updates for their cameras and lenses for speed and accuracy, but now it is time to start updating lenses.
Considering the quality of Leica glass, most would think they should win this section, but since everything that works on an M can be adapted to an X-Pro2, and the X-Pro2 has a lot of its own great glass that cannot be adapted to the M, the X-Pro2 is the better system for glass. There is just so much to choose from at every price point and beyond the few stinkers like the Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R, which some people still like, Fujifilm has a very solid line-up.
This is not a fair comparison because the M240 was introduced at the end of 2012, while the X-Pro2 came out at the beginning of 2016. They both have a base ISO of 200, but the Fujifilm is very usable up to 12,800, while the M240 falls apart around 3200 ISO.
The M240 does MJPEG for video at 1080p24, which is decent quality, and has the Leica look, but the Fujifilm X-Pro2 uses mp4 to capture up to 1080p60 with film simulation applied. The ability to apply film simulation really propels the X-Pro2 out in front because it gives the video a very unique look that would be hard for most users to match in post.
The Leica M240 does retain the Leica look at times, but not as often as the M9 did, which made the M240 a controversial camera. The transition to a CMOS sensor in the M disappointed a lot of M fans, but there is no going back because CCD development has stalled outside of medium format cameras. Many photographers believe they can look at a photo and tell if it was taken with a Leica, or even an M9/M240, but they generally fail when tested. There is a quality to a Leica photo that is hard to describe beyond it being something about the micro contrast that pops out, but images on the M240 are just not like they used to be on film Leicas or M9s, and when images do pop on the M240 it is not as often as it used to be on an M9.
Similarly, the Fujifilm X-Pro2 has Fuji colors through and through, which people seem to love or hate. I like them quite a bit and the x-trans color profile is pleasant to me, especially with the ability to emulate Fujifilm films color profile in Lightroom with RAW files. So, Fujifilm wins the sensor battle easily because it produces a consistent image quality that the photographer is looking for.
File quality is not important to everyone, but it is something Leica has always gotten right. DNG is the way to go for RAW files. It ensures that files can be opened easily, and that there is no wait for RAW support. I cannot remember the last time Leica launched a camera without full RAW support from the major editors, which probably is in part because, unlike Fujifilm, they use an easy to work with RAW format.
Fujifilm’s RAF format has never been well supported and it is only recently that they have managed to gain day one support from major RAW editing companies like Adobe. Their format has matured quite a bit, but the algorithm that companies like Adobe use to interpret the X-trans files can be flaky at times, which is why many photographers pick RAW developers like Iridient Developer, which will soon release an app that turns RAF files into more compatible/higher quality DNG files for Lightroom.
Both create compressed RAW files about the same size, 23-30MB, but the M240 can only recover around 2-3 stops at best, while the X-Pro2 can recover 4-5 stops. The amazing ability to push and pull XPro2 files that far comes from the sensor being ISO invariant. There is a lot of discussion about ISO invariant sensors you can read and debate about, but the XPro2 files are a lot more flexible than the M240 files, especially as the ISO goes up and the M240 starts to show banding.
The Leica M is famous for being made from brass (weighing 680g), but now there are some aluminum variants being released that are trying to reduce its weight a little. Generally speaking, I like that they are putting the M on a diet, but I think they could have picked a better metal for the price, like titanium. Aluminum is cheaper, but stronger than brass, and the Ms made with aluminum are not cheaper.
Starting with the M240, Leica began advertising weather sealing, but it was vague at best, and Leica has not released any weather sealed glass for the M or confirmed that any of their current glass is sealed. The M has never had dual card slots, which is an issue for many. The SD card/battery is not very easy to get to because the bottom needs to be unscrewed to access them, which can be difficult to grasp; but this is not a problem if you trust a large SD card with the battery, which can last all day. This is just part of the Leica charm and your trust that your camera will work, but SD cards can and do fail.
If you have seen pictures of my camera before, I have a lot of accessories on it. I like having a thumbs up on my M to help with stability at low shutter speeds, and I only use the handgrip for GPS because I like geotagging my photos. I really do not like the plastic grip, but the finger loop is nice. I also use a magnifier to get critical focus faster and more accurately at f1.4, f1.2 and f0.95. I like the feel of the M240, but the M9 was superior, and now older film M cameras feel a little too small for me. I have been shooting digital Ms back to back since the M8, so I am done with film. There is no simpler camera and, even though the M240 has added video and more over the M9, it still comes down to aperture/ISO/shutter speed.
The Fujifilm X-Pro2 is a classic looking camera with a modern build. It is made of four pieces of magnesium alloy (weighing 495g) that are sealed at 61 points on each section. This makes it “dust-proof, splash-proof and capable of operating in temperatures as low as -10°C.” Outside of the original marketing materials, they call it weather resistant, not weather proof, so photographers just have to trust Fujifilm about how reliable their seals are; but I have read stories of people having problems with rain and Fujifilm covering the damage under warranty, so if you purchase an X-Pro2 make sure to purchase a camera with a warranty and test the seals at some point. The X-Pro2 even has dual card slots, but the battery will not last all day. Photographers will get between 200-400 shots per charge depending on the quality of their battery and shooting style. I generally recommend carrying 2-3 batteries.
The X-Pro2 does not need any accessories, but on camera GPS would be nice even as an add-on device, because the phone app does not work very well for geotagging. The camera feels great out of the box, and the only thing I used on mine for a little while was a soft release button. Once the X-Pro2 is setup how a photographer likes to shoot, it can be operated entirely without going into menus, which is impressive for such a capable camera.
The Leica M feels luxurious and unnecessarily heavy, while the Fujifilm X-Pro2 feels light and solid, yet both are well-balanced. Strangely enough, when removing everything from the body of each but the battery, the bodies feel very similar in weight and size. Part of the Leica bulk definitely comes from the mounted lens. Honestly, I feel like this is a tie because I like both bodies quite a bit; and the X-Pro2 body is more high-tech, while the M240 body seems to be going in the wrong direction.
Video is one of those things that I greatly enjoy doing from time to time, but if I take on a project I almost always regret it because I do not have a good work flow. Fujifilm has eased this burden a little with their film simulation modes that let me get usable raw footage right out of the camera, while Leica files take some work. Their motion JPEG format saves them licensing fees, but costs photographers/cinematographers a lot of space and time to work with the files involved. I have seen great footage out of the M240, but I’ve never managed to capture any video worth sharing with mine.
The Winner is…
Before the Fujifilm X-Pro2 I’d never recommend a camera over the Leica M for the pure joy of shooting. The M is love when in use by a photographer… if you want the bliss of shooting get an M… If you want to know what it’s like to miss shooting like you miss the love of your life, get an M… Fujifilm was so close with the X-Pro1 but, when I would look at the photos after a day of shooting, I had focus issues on award-winning shots that made me want to throw my monitor at my X-Pro1… That changed with the X-Pro2, now I get all the shots and the feelings…
The Fujifilm X-Pro2 is an amazing camera. The hybrid-viewfinder created a completely new category of camera that, very unfortunately, no one else has joined yet. The X-Trans sensor is brilliant, and the glass you can put in front of it is world-class and not over-priced, which allows you to capture some truly amazing photographs. Fujifilm even fixed their video issues and made one hell of a video camera. I love my Fujifilm X-Pro2…
Yet… here’s where you throw your hands up in the air… I find myself selling my X-Pro2… it’s love and it’s not rational, and this is mine and Leica’s problem in our dysfunctional relationship. I shouldn’t love my Leica M. The Fujifilm X-Pro 2 is the better camera for me and everyone else. Even now I’m trying to rationalize it as all the time/money/energy I have put into the Leica M, but… I just can’t. It’s a feeling. At least I’ll still have my Fujifilm X-T2 around to comfort me when I am missing my Fujifilm X-Pro2.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.
About the author: Louis Ferriera is a second-generation Leica photographer that learned analog photography on a first production year Leica M3 that he inherited from his uncle. Photography has been an avocation of his for 25 years and he became involved in professional photography when the transition to digital photography began in the 90s. You can find more by Louis on Fuji Addict, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, 500px, and Twitter. This article was also published here.
In my previous article on the difficulty FujiFilm’s X-Trans sensor has preserving fine color detail, I used the free software Darktable to process the RAW examples. I showed how, specifically in terms of color detail, Darktable was able to do a better job than FujiFilm’s own processing. (I also pointed out the compromise between color detail and false color/moiré inherent in X-Trans)
Several commenters suggested that I could get better results from a commercial software product called called Iridient Developer (which, it should be noted for those yet unaware, cannot be installed into your FujiFilm camera’s firmware in order to improve its JPEG output).
Iridient has become a popular alternative/adjunct to Adobe’s Lightroom for FujiFilm X-Series camera users who wish to process RAW files, due not so much to Iridient’s excellence as to Lightroom’s inadequacy in desmosaicking X-Trans images. I don’t have access to Lightroom and therefore cannot provide my own example of its output, but a simple Web search will provide you with more than you need to confirm this assertion.
Admitting that if we want to preserve fine color detail we must abandon the camera JPEG output, the question remains: which RAW processing software will provide the best results? While everyone seems to agree that Iridient is better than Lightroom, the question has never been answered as to whether or not it is better than Darktable.
Since this is clearly a subject still mired in confusion, I thought it would make for an interesting comparison.
I’ve seen the results of several shootouts between Lightroom, FujiFilm JPEGs, and Iridient, and I know from my own experience that Darktable’s output is very similar to Iridient’s, but I haven’t come across any direct comparisons—which isn’t very surprising considering the fact that Darktable is not a commercial product and nothing is to be gained financially from promoting its use.
In this article, we will explore the differences and similarities as they relate to image quality, in particular the quality of luminance detail.
Note: Darktable, dcraw, UFRaw, RawTherapee, and perhaps other Free RAW processors, all use Frank Markesteijn’s algorithm for demosaicking X-Trans images, so similar results can be achieved with any of them, but we’ll focus on Darktable here because it is, in my opinion, the most capable and mature, and the program I use the most personally.
Buckle up and get ready for some crops! Put on your reading glasses if you need them. Have a cup of coffee (double espresso for me, thanks).
Even with these prerequisites, I’m sure some percentage of you will be squinting at the screen and wondering what the heck I’m talking about. That’s OK. Visual acuity varies as widely as does opinion on the significance of detailed image analysis.
Iridient output was generated by Iridient X-Transformer (which produces a demosaicked RGB DNG file, not a re-mosaicked Bayer image as is commonly believed) with the following settings: Detailed, Sharpening Off, Luma NR Off, Chroma NR Off, Lens Correction Off. This image was then post-processed through Darktable, applying the same color profile, basecurve, and sharpening (none) as the other images to permit pixel to pixel comparison.
Darktable’s output was generated by processing the RAF file directly with the Markesteijn demosaicking algorithm (3-pass mode), 2 iterations of false color smoothing (chroma median filter—this amount selected to match the appearance of false colors in the Iridient image), and no sharpening.
It is apparent that Iridient is applying a small amount of sharpening even with sharpening disabled. It took an unsharp mask of radius 1.5 amount 0.15 applied in GIMP to get the Darktable output to match visually. This level of sharpening is insufficient for optimal viewing of these images at 1:1 (so be aware they’ll look a bit blurry here), but so many readers were confused by the use of sharpening in my last article I decided to try this one without it.
ISO 200 image from the X-T2.
Having trouble spotting the difference? Let me help: here’s the difference image:
Still can’t see it, huh? Well, that’s because there’s not much difference to see. OK, stop fiddling with your monitor settings, let’s scale the whitepoint on that from 255 to 25 so we can actually see what’s going on down there:
What you’re seeing are subtle differences in the appearance of false colors and the effect of the different sharpening filters. Unfortunately, I could not find a way to completely disable sharpening and NR in Iridient.
Iridient also seems to be using some a edge aware mean or other smoothing filter on the luminance channel even with luma NR disabled (which Darktable isn’t doing).
If you squint you can see a few single pixel errors in Darktable’s output where some of the the X-Trans III senor’s masked phase detect pixels are located. Iridient must be compensating for these pixels (as it should), perhaps just incidentally due to the luminance NR it’s always applying.
For comparison, here’s the camera JPEG output:
The algorithms employed by Darktable and Iridient produce extremely similar output (so similar, in fact, that they may even be the same underlying demosaicking algorithm).
Iridient applies some additional post-processing which cannot be disabled (or is perhaps using a joint-demsoaic/denoise algorithm), while Darktable leaves absolutely all noise reduction, sharpening and other filtering to the user’s discretion. However, Darktable is not interpolating around the phase detect pixels as it should for this sensor technology, although these single-pixel errors are unlikely to be noticed by all but the most critical viewers. (i.e. apparently just me).
For all practical purposes, the output of the two programs is identical, even under close 1:1 inspection. What’s more, Darktable et al. are free to use, share, and modify—offered to you from the goodness of their respective developers’ hearts.
I know what I’m going to use.
About the author: Jonathan Moore Liles is a photographer, writer, musician, and software architect living in Portland, Oregon. You can find more of his work on his website, Instagram, and Band Camp. This article also appeared here.