Saturday, February 18, 2017

Budget Lens Options For Fujifilm X Cameras - How To Add Glass Without Breaking The Bank

Fujifilm X-E1 & Fujinon f/2.8-4 18-55mm
I've been asked several times for my advice on what lenses one should buy for their Fujifilm X series camera. Fuji makes a bunch of great lenses, and it can be difficult to know where to begin. Which should you get first? Which ones are better? Should I stick with Fujinon or try other brands? How much is all of this going to cost me anyway?

Let me start with a little backstory of how I got into Fuji cameras. I was interested in the Fujifilm X-Trans sensor since it first came out, but it was out of my budget. Like most people, I have a limited amount of cash to spend on photography gear. I can't drop a few thousand dollars on new cameras every couple of years.

Last summer I found a good deal on a four-year-old gently used Fujifilm X-E1. It cost me a fraction of what the camera originally retailed for. And I quickly discovered what all the hoopla and praise was about as I just love using it!

One of the first things that I did after buying the X-E1 was look into new lenses. The camera came with the kit 18-55mm lens, but I wanted to expand my glass options. I found that it was going to cost me a lot of money, and I could easily spend a few thousand dollars on just a few lenses. There aren't very many budget options for X series cameras.

Of course glass is a long-term photographic investment. You might change camera bodies, but as long as you don't change camera brands, you keep the same lenses for a long time. It's actually easier to justify the cost of a lens than the cost of a camera body. Still, you have to be able to afford it in the first place.
Three Lenses - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM
I decided to take an unconventional approach to lenses for my Fujifilm X series camera. I found a number of excellent options that altogether cost less than one brand new lens.

You see, the X-E1, and I am sure all of the other X series models, are well designed for manual lenses. The experience of using the camera in manual or a semi-manual mode is great, and the camera gives you tools to quickly and accurately achieve focus manually.

All you need is an old lens and an adapter that allows you to attach the lens to the camera. Set the camera up to "Shoot Without Lens" and put the camera in manual focus mode, and you are good to go.

I shot manual film cameras for the first decade of my photography, and I still occasionally do, so using manual focus lenses is no big deal to me. If you've never done it yourself, you may find that it takes plenty of practice to master; however, I think that you will find it to be a rewarding and worthwhile experience. It slows you down and forces you to be more methodical. I find that I make fewer exposures yet get more keepers.

Before I get into the lenses that I found for my X series camera, let's talk about the one that you probably own. Sometimes the best gear is the gear that you already have.

Fujinon Super EBC XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS
Fujinon Super EBC XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS
Most camera manufacturers bundle a cheap zoom lens with their cameras. Fujifilm is no exception, but what is unusual is that the Fujinon Super EBC XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS lens is actually pretty darn good, noticeably better than the "kit" lenses that I've used from other companies.

Besides having a larger maximum aperture than other cheap zooms, the Fujinon 18-55mm lens is also sharper. Like "prime lens" sharp! Well, there are crisper glass options, but this lens is just as sharp as many prime lenses. It's actually quite remarkable that Fujifilm would package this quality lens with their cameras and not jack up the price a bunch.

You already own a Fuji X camera, and you already have this lens, so this is not news to you. There is no shame in using the kit lens as your primary option. You may not need other glass, as the 18-55mm might just be versatile enough for you. Don't underestimate this lens! If it works for you and your photography, don't let others talk you into buying other glass that you probably don't need.
Steps - Salt Lake City, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Fujinon f/2.8-4 18-55mm
I Am Nature - Ogden Canyon, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Fujinon f/2.8-4 18-55mm
Mirrored Mountain - Mirror Lake, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Fujinon f/2.8-4 18-55mm
Kodak Transparencies - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Fujinon f/2.8-4 18-55mm
Urban Bicyclist - Salt Lake City, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Fujinon f/2.8-4 18-55mm

X-Fujinon
Chevrolet Truck - Uintah, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM
Some people might be surprised to learn that Fujinon lenses have been around since at least the 1950's. Between 1980 and 1985 Fujifilm produced the Fujica camera series, and made bayonet X mount lenses for these cameras called X-Fujinon. Much like today's Fujinon lenses, these lenses were exceptional in quality.

X-Fujinon should not be confused with Fujinon X mount. You need an adapter in order to use X-Fujinon lenses on your Fuji X series camera (confusing, right?). Thankfully, lens adapters are pretty cheap, and typically cost between $10 and $20.

Here are the X-Fujinon lenses that I use on my X-E1:

X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM
X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM
The X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM is a great lens. It's not the best 50mm X-Fujinon lens (there are at least two that are considered better), but it is easy to find and typically costs under $30 (I paid $20 for mine).

The f/1.9 50mm DM is very sharp. It has good corner sharpness at all f-stops, but especially at f/4 and smaller apertures. The bokeh is smooth and creamy with rounded highlights. There is a little chromatic aberration when wide open, but nothing serious. There's no barrel distortion or vignetting. The focus ring is smooth. It's just a solid lens.

Because of the APS-C crop factor, the 50mm lens has an equivalent focal length of 75mm, so it's slightly telephoto. The 18-55mm kit lens covers this focal length, but with a maximum aperture of only f/4, you can achieve significantly more background blurring and subject separation with the 50mm lens.

Even though you already have a lens that covers this focal length, I highly recommend the X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM. It creates beautiful images and is a joy to use, while fitting into every starving artist's budget. It's one of my go-to lenses.
Even Open On A Rainy Day - Ogden, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM
Fear This - Ogden, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM
Red Chevy Truck - Uintah, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM
Gears & Springs - Ogden, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM
Icicles - Ogden, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM

X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM
X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM
I was hesitant to buy the X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM lens because it was a little more expensive than the others that I had purchased. I found one in excellent condition (is there such a thing as "like new" on something three decades old?) for $45. That's not a lot of money, but I also didn't find a whole lot of information on this lens, whether it was any good or not, and so it was a bit of a risk to buy it. Turns out it was a great find!

The 135mm EBC is very sharp, with only some minor corner softness at f/3.5. Bokeh is pleasant with round highlights. The lens has a bit of chromatic aberrations when wide open, but nothing major. There's no vignetting or barrel distortion. This has become one of my favorite lenses!

The focus wheel is a bit sensitive, so it can be tricky to get focus spot on--it's very easy to miss. You get used to this quirk after using the lens awhile. If you don't have much experience manually focusing, you might find this lens frustrating at first.

The 135mm focal length is about 202mm equivalent (because of the crop factor), so it has a good telephoto reach. The 18-55mm zoom has a maximum equivalent telephoto reach of 82mm, so this lens goes well beyond that. This is another lens that I highly recommend.
Winter Peak - Mountain Green, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM
Wasatch At Dusk - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM
Snow Horse - Mountain Green, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon f/3.5 135mm EBC DM
Farm Fresh Vegetables - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM
Tea Time - Mountain Green, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinon-T f/3.5 135mm EBC DM

X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM
X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM
There are Fujinon lenses and there are Fujinar lenses. What's the difference? If it's a Fujinar, then the lens was not made by Fuji. Fujifilm contracted out the manufacturing of some lenses, such as the X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM, to Nitto Kogaku (a Japanese lens manufacturer that's been around since the 1950's), and labelled them Fujinar.

The Fujinar 80-200mm is a good-but-not-great lens. It's not quite as crisp as the other lenses in this article, although it is still a sharp lens. There's some softness in the corners and chromatic aberrations when the aperture is f/5.6 or larger. Bokeh is decent enough. The focus ring is sensitive and (much like the Fujinon 135mm lens) it can be difficult to get the focus correct--it takes a little practice to master. The lens is also quite large and heavy.

The 80-200mm focal length covers an equivalent (because of the crop factor) 120-300mm, which is a great telephoto range. The 135mm lens falls within the focal length covered by this lens, and I think you'll want to use that lens whenever you can, and use the 80-200mm lens whenever you need a telephoto reach other than 135mm.

I found my X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm zoom lens at a flea market for $30. For that price it is a great way to expand your glass. If you like to shoot telephoto focal length lenses, this is a good one to get. If not, you may want to just skip it.
Photography 12-53 - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM
Pile of Tires - Uintah, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM
The Target - Riverdale, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM
Mount Ogden - Uintah, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM
Clouds Around The Mountain - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & X-Fujinar-Z f/3.8 80-200mm DM

Soviet Union Glass
35mm Film - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm
The former Soviet Union did not like Germany, but they loved German camera gear. Their solution? Reverse engineer Leica and Zeiss products.

It's no big secret anymore that Soviet Union camera gear is very similar to, and basically as good as, the great German stuff from the 1920's through the 1960's. But you can find the Russian knockoffs for a tiny fraction of the cost. You want affordable classic Leica cameras and Zeiss lenses? Buy stuff labelled USSR.

Here are the Soviet Union lenses that I use on my Fujifilm X-E1:

Industar 61 f/2.8 55mm
Industar 61 f/2.8 55mm
The Industar 61 f/2.8 55mm lens is a knockoff of the 1950's era Leica Elmar f/2.8 50mm. Mine came attached to a FED 5c 35mm rangefinder camera, which I bought six or seven years ago for $40. You can find the lens by itself usually for $20-$30. It requires an M39 mount adapter for it to work on a Fuji X camera, which I found for $10.

The lens is very sharp with some minor corner softness and chromatic aberrations at f/2.8 and (even less so) at f/4. It has a small amount of vignetting and noticeable barrel distortion. The lens is known for "soap bubble" bokeh and has a slightly radioactive coating on the glass.

It's not a perfect lens, with some good points and bad points, and not as good as the X-Fujinon f/1.9 50mm DM, which has a similar focal length. The Industar 61 only has a 1-stop aperture advantage over the 18-55mm kit lens (at 55mm). I would say that this lens isn't worth having except for one thing: the X factor (pun intended).

For some reason the lens changes the way colors are rendered. It makes colors slightly softer/muted, while also giving an overall warmer tone. It's very subtle, but I appreciate what it does to my exposures. In other words, the Industar 61 had a unique look that makes for beautiful pictures. That's the reason why I recommend what would otherwise be a redundant lens.
Rays Over The Wasatch - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Industar 61 f/2.8 55mm
Power Line - Logan, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Industar 61 f/2.8 55mm
The Donut Trailer - Logan, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Industar 61 f/2.8 55mm
Cold Pop - Franklin, Idaho
Fujifilm X-E1 & Industar 61 f/2.8 55mm
Rainbow Lockers - Preston, Idaho
Fujifilm X-E1 & Industar 61 f/2.8 55mm

Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm
Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm 
I saved the best for last! The Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm lens is a copycat Zeiss Jena Biotar f/2 58mm from the 1920's. Mine came attached to a Zenit-E 35mm SLR, which was a gift. The lens can be found for around $40-$50. It requires an M42 mount adapter, which I found for $10.

This lens is very sharp, with some corner softness and minor chromatic aberrations when wide open. There is a small amount of barrel distortion. Bokeh looks great and, when the conditions are just right, you can achieve a swirly bokeh (yes, you read that right, swirly bokeh!). Lens flare can get crazy, but it can also look really good. The focus ring is smooth. There are two aperture rings, which doesn't make a lot of sense on a digital camera, but is ingenious on film SLR cameras, and this quirk makes using the lens somewhat tricky at first.

The 58mm focal length is equivalent (because of the APS-C crop factor) to 87mm, which is just slightly more telephoto than the kit 18-55mm lens. The f/2 aperture is a couple of stops larger than the f/4 maximum aperture on the kit zoom. You can achieve more background blur and subject separation with this lens.

What I love about this lens is how it makes the images look. It just has so much character and definitely a vintage feel. If I could only use one lens, this is the one that I would choose! It just makes beautiful images.
Tricycle In The Woods - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm
F Is For Film - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm
$6 Haircuts - Salt Lake City, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm
Cold Calling - Salt Lake City, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm
Stripes On Stripes - South Weber, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Helios 44-2 f/2 58mm

Conclusions
Stars Over Mirror Lake - Mirror Lake, Utah
Fujifilm X-E1 & Fujinon f/2.8-4 18-55mm
My intentions are not to talk anyone out of buying brand new Fujinon lenses for their Fujifilm X series camera. If you can afford to get nice glass, why not do it? But many people cannot afford to spend thousands on lenses, and so I wanted to point out that there are alternatives. Really great alternatives, in fact! The lenses that I listed could be found for under $150 total.

The lenses here are just examples of what I have found and what I use. You don't have to copy me. You can find what lenses work for you, what fits into your budget. There are so many choices, the ones in this article are just scratching the surface of what is out there.

I also appreciate what manual lenses do to my photographic process. It slows me down and forces me to be more deliberate, which improves my photography. This might work for you, but it might not. Do what works best for you and your photography, and don't worry what others are doing.

Also, photography gear isn't about gear, but about the images. The camera and lenses you use has only a minimal impact on the final photographs. You might be able to pick out the tiny differences between things, but those viewing your pictures will not. What's important is what you do with what you have.

If you do decide to buy some old lenses and adapters for your Fujifilm X camera, I hope this list is helpful in figuring out what to buy and what you can expect from these options. You can have exceptional image quality without breaking the bank, you just have to go about it in an unconventional way.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Review: Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Instant Film Camera

Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Camera - South Weber, Utah
My nine-year-old daughter Joy wanted a camera for Christmas. She's had an interest in photography for years and years, and I've tried to foster that interest.

Joy figured out that she wanted an instant camera, one that spits out a picture. When I was young my family had a Polaroid camera, but nowadays Fujifilm's Instax cameras are popular. The big difference between Polaroids and Instax is the size of the picture--as small as Polaroid pictures were, Instax is even smaller (roughly two inches by two-and-a-half inches).

On Christmas morning Joy unwrapped a light-blue Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 instant film camera and a couple packages of film to go with it. We put in two fresh AA batteries, loaded a 10-pack of film and Joy was able to capture some pictures.

A button near the lens makes the lens pop out and turns the camera on. It takes a moment for the flash to charge. A ring around the lens provides the only picture controls: indoor, cloudy, sunny, bright sunny and high-key. An orange light lets you know what setting the camera thinks it should be set to. The only other button is the shutter release, which is what takes a picture.
Instax - South Weber, Utah
The camera is very easy to use, and my nine-year-old daughter has no problems with it. She can load the film. It seems well-built for child use and has survived a few knocks. It's a good kid-friendly camera! 

Getting the exposure right is tricky--it seems like most photographs are either underexposed or overexposed. The only way to shut off the flash is to put some electrical tape over it. The viewfinder is very small. The lens has soft focus. The closest focus distance is about two feet, and anything inside of that is going to be blurry. Image quality is, no surprise, not particularly good. This is, perhaps, analog photography at it's worst. This is the charm of this camera for some people.

The magic of Instax, and the reason that it is so popular, is the instant picture. You press a button and a picture pops out the side of the camera. It takes a minute for the picture to develop--you can't help but watch it slowly appear from white! And you have a real, tangible picture that you can hold in your hands, something that's often missing in today's digital world.

The Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 camera, which comes in five different fun colors, retails for $60, which isn't bad for a camera. The film is what's expensive, at over a dollar a picture if you don't buy in bulk. It is the magical, retro experience that you are paying for. My daughter Joy says, "It's super fun!"
Winter Backyard - South Weber, Utah
Red Vase Sky - South Weber, Utah
Blurry Camera - South Weber, Utah
The Traveler - South Weber, Utah
Photo by Joy Roesch 
Picture Office - South Weber, Utah
Photo by Joy Roesch

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Lost Northern Utah Fall Tour - Logan Canyon and Bear Lake

Autumn Forest - Garden City, Utah
Back in September of 2016 I took a drive through Logan Canyon to Bear Lake in northern Utah during the peak of autumn. I captured a number of photographs using my Fujifilm X-E1.

Then I guess I got busy and forgot about the photographs.

A couple of days ago I was digging through my files and found the exposures from the trip. I totally forgot about them! It was fun to experience the trip all over again through the pictures.

I haven't lived in Utah long enough to know where the best locations are to see autumn colors (this was my first fall), but Logan Canyon was certainly a great location for it. There was a good mix of reds and yellows and oranges.

Bear Lake is a large lake on the border of Utah and Idaho that is beautiful. From higher up (vistas around the lake) the water has a aquamarine color that looks like the Caribbean or something. Some parts of the lake have large sections that are very shallow while other parts of the lake are really deep (over 200 feet deep). Garden City is a small town where the canyon highway meets the lake.

These photographs were captured when I'd only had my Fujifilm camera for a short time. I was still figuring some things out--my typical camera settings are a little different now. I'm looking forward to autumn 2017 and another opportunity to capture fall colors in the amazing state of Utah!
Mountain Morning - Logan Canyon, Utah
Autumn Path - Logan Canyon, Utah
Autumn Trees In Garden City - Garden City, Utah
Garden City Autumn - Garden City, Utah
Raspberries - Garden City, Utah
Lake Cairns - Bear Lake, Utah