A Moment from the Palm Springs Photo Festival

By John Mireles
on May 08, 2014
With 0 comments

Earlier this week, I attended the Palm Springs Photo Festival. This intimate gathering of photographers, clients and industry people is the brain child of photographer Jeff Dunas. It’s well run and a great opportunity to make connections will peers and people from the art buying – both commercial and fine art – communities.

I signed up mainly to have my portfolio reviewed by commercial art buyers and reps. I’ve done a couple of fine art portfolio reviews lately so I felt that I’d had enough in that department. There was however one person in the fine art world for whom I harbored a singular desire to meet, but for reasons of cost and staying on task, I didn’t.

This man was the Senior Curator for Photography at the Amon Carter Museum in Texas. For most, this museum may mean nothing, however, it was this museum that commissioned Richard Avedon to create his magnum opus, "In the American West." My recent project, The Bakken, was directly inspired by Avedon. For me the connection is and was exceptionally real.

 

Seeing John Rohrbach standing by himself in the lobby of the hotel, I nervously approached him and asked if he had time to review my work. He agreed but had another appointment with a photographer. I agreed to wait. And wait I did. Almost two hours passed until he appeared again. Patience paid off.

I’ve had my work reviewed by many, many people. I may get a little energized – though rarely nervous or anxious at a review – but that’s about it. Such was not the case during this meeting. I could barely breath as I narrated my images and responded to his questions. I spent an hour with him. He was extremely knowledgable and thoughtful. There was hardly a detail that he missed. He caught some of the inconsistencies in the work and even pointed out how one of my images was evocative of W. Eugene Smith – which was who I was thinking of when I got the shot.

For me, the exchange was intense and emotional, truly a step into the big leagues. I didn’t hit a home run, but I didn’t strike out either. The man was guarded with his compliments yet I could see that he was sufficiently engaged with the work that he returned to several images several times, often with different interpretations or questions.

After it was over, I felt this emotional wave hit me. Almost cried. More than anything, I was made aware of the difference between really good and great. Greatness, something only attainable to a few, is indeed a leap beyond. Onward I stumble…

John

Postscript: Since I originally wrote this post, I've been pleased to learn that I was accepted to show my work at Review Santa Fe coming up at the end of June. Unlike other such portfolio reviews, one's work must first be accepted by a jury to be admitted. In other words, it's kind of a big deal. Anyhow, I'll be putting his feedback to work as I present this body of work to curators, gallery owners and magazine editors from around the country. 

Look Mom! I'm on Mimika TV!

By John Mireles
on May 08, 2014
With 0 comments

In my latest interview, you get to see my lovely face as well as hear my melodious voice. I talk about how I got started in the business, transitioned to weddings and about the need for personal work. What I love about interviews is that they give me the opportunity to go off on topics that are near and dear to me. This one is no different.

 

I met Mimika at a post-WPPI party thrown by Jerry and Melissa Ghionis. I was going around the hotel suite and taking really the worst photos that I could of people with my iPhone. I figured that everyone else was taking pretty pictures so I made it my job to take really horrible, super close, hard flash head shots of people. If everyone else is zigging, I zag. Mimika thought I was quite the character so she invited me on her show. 


Enjoy!


John

 

Differentiating Yourself as a Photographer - Podcast

By John Mireles
on May 08, 2014
With 0 comments

Are you tired of reading my longwinded blog posts? Here’s your chance to sit back and listen to me talk about standing out in the marketplace and taking care of your business. Brian Caparicci of the Sprouting Photographer website interviewed me a few weeks back and recently posted it on his website. I share how I got my start in business and talk about my formula for success. This isn’t the usual blabber so click on the photo below to check it out. (The intro is a little long; you can skip to the 3:00 minute mark to cut me speaking.)

 

 

http://www.sproutingphotographer.com/9

 

John

The Worst Business Advice Ever!

By John Mireles
on April 22, 2014
With 5 comments

If you've followed my Business Coach blog for awhile, you'll know that I’m not often given to hyperbole. I’m not much of a fan of sweeping generalizations and statements that can’t be backed up by fact. So if I’m going to come out and say that something is the worst ever, you can bet it’s either really bad or I’m upset about something.

I suppose it’s a little bit of both here. Lately I’ve been dealing with business owners, both photographers and non-photographers alike who seem to have fallen prey to the same bad advice. The more I began to think about it, the more I realized that this advice - really more a way of thinking - is prevalent in the minds of most new business owners. So just what is this insidious mindset that has me so riled up?

“Build it and they will come.”

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As you may remember, this line entered the national consciousness with the movie Field of Dreams where the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson tells Kevin Costner’s character that if he builds a baseball field in a corn field, people will come to see these old players play baseball. Build it and they will come has sort of been a mantra ever since.

Forget About Better Mousetraps Too
It made for a good movie and an easy to repeat soundbite that far too many of us have taken to heart. Its cousin is the old saying, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Basically, both axioms instruct us to build a great product, then sit back to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Both imply that the hard work is done once the product is created and ready for sale.

The reality unfortunately is that there are many dozens of better mousetraps - something like 250 or so on the Home Depot website - but we still all buy the same old mousetrap where you lay down the cheese and set the trap. (Watch your fingers!) A better mousetrap has been built over and over – but few of us are buying it.

It’s not just mousetrap builders that fall into the build-and-they-will-come trap. Just up the road from me is a new restaurant that invested $800,000 in a remodel of their their location – but their tables are empty at lunch and dinnertime. They have a new space and great food; the owners are now wondering – where are are all the people?

I just heard from a new photographer who's accumulating new gear to start her wedding photography business. Once she has a few more lenses and a website, she’ll be ready for business to start rolling in. Unfortunately, right about the time that she flips the switch on the website, she'll realize that succeeding in the business requires a lot more than a camera bag filled with gear.

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Even an experienced photographer like myself falls victim to this trap. After a website redo and a body of new work, where are all the clients who should come calling on me? (You're welcome to click over to the latest iteration of the John Mireles Photography website.)

Setting our Sights Short
The "build it and they will come" ethos is born of and reinforces our desire for immediate results. Building the infrastructure for our businesses - buying camera gear and shooting pretty photos - is the easy (and fun) part. When we buy into this idea of "build it and they will come," what we’re really doing is setting our sights far too short of the finish line.

Let's stick with that finish line analogy for a moment. Imagine yourself training for a 26.2 kilometer race. You train at increasingly long distances until you’re ready at race day to run the full distance. On race day, you take off and give it your all. You’re doing great and ready to cross the finish line as you come upon the 26th kilometer. You’re sure you’ve got the race in the bag!

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But when you get to the 26.2K mark, you find there’s no finish line to mark your triumphant feat. Stunned, you ask a nearby official what’s up? The friendly woman with the yellow shirt gives you a funny a look as she informs you that the finish line is at the 26.2 mile mark, another 16 kilometers up the road. Your head sinks to your chest.

At that point, you’re faced with a choice: give up or somehow limp along to the finish line, neither being the outcome you’d hoped for. Had you known the actual length of the race, you would have trained for it and you’d have run the longer distance. Because you were not prepared however, you got frustrated and and didn't achieve the finish you'd hoped for.

Unrealistic Expectations
The reason why "build it and they will come" is the worst advice in my book is because it creates the expectation that the work required to be successful is much less than reality actually demands. It falsely trains us for a too short a distance. When we get to what we think should be the finish line, we quickly grow frustrated and wonder what went wrong when success isn’t there waiting for us.

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Does that sound familiar? If you’re like me, you’ve at some point set a goal to create something with your business - be it start it up, work at a higher price-point or enter a new market - and then either give up or make a mess of things when events didn’t go according to your timeline. Perhaps you revamped your website with a new template and new images in the hopes of acquiring a higher paying clientele, but, when the phone didn’t ring for a month, you quickly dropped your prices back down. (Meanwhile, you probably complained about how the market was too cheap to support your prices.)

Maybe the market is too cheap, but more likely the problem was that redoing the website was only the start of your efforts. Along with “building it,” you needed to invest time and money into months of serious marketing. It’s not enough to have a great product; the right people need to know about it. The only way that can happen is through extensive and repeated marketing. There are no two ways about it: effective marketing takes effort, money and time to pay off.

In reality, what we should be telling ourselves is “Build it, market the hell out of it – and then they will come.” That extra bit unfortunately doesn’t roll off the tongue so easily. It is however, essential.

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Going back to that restaurant with the $800,000 remodel, they planned only to the point of reopening. They didn't budget nor plan for any sort of marketing to promote their new look. There's no money to pay for the  ads, social media and other promotions necessary to drive traffic in the door nor the content (including photography) required. The owners created no cohesive plan for what came after the doors were reopened so now they're stumbling through a series of quick, but ineffective fixes. It's a frustrating, but all too common story.

So, the next time you’re planning out your business, factor in plenty of extra time and money into your equations. What you thought might take two or three months will likely take a year - or two. Be ready for the long haul. I’ve yet to see any business opportunity that could be won as a sprint. We’re all running a marathon here - one that lasts the full 26.2 miles. Prepare accordingly!

John Mireles

Fuji X-T1 - More Experiences, Photos and Thoughts

By John Mireles
on April 21, 2014
With 2 comments

Last month, I posted my initial impressions of working with the Fuji X-T1. Since then, the internet continues to be flooded with a wave of hype on this little camera. More and more photographers are either switching to a mirrorless camera or foregoing a traditional DSLR and beginning their careers with the Fuji or Olympus mirrorless cameras. If you're among those wondering if you should jump into the fray, here's more of my experience with the X-T1.

Right off the bat, let me say that I love this little camera. I love its small size and quiet shutter. There's something so satisfying about shooting with it that's probably more emotional than logical. This is the first camera that I truly take everywhere and look forward to shooting on a daily basis. Yes, my Sony NEX camera was smaller and lighter, but it was missing that special something that makes a professional photographer lust after his gear. Whatever that magic pixie dust may be, the Fuji X-T1 has it.

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The X-T1 though is a little bit like that crazy girlfriend who constantly makes life difficult - but you just can't get enough of her. Along with beautiful image files, this camera comes with the most difficult, steepest learning curve of any camera I've ever worked with. Over my career, I've owned the Nikon FM, N80 and f4 film cameras, the early Nikon digitals D100 and D70, Fuji S2, the Canon 20D, 1D MII, 5D and 5D MII, the Nikon D3s and D800E, the Sony NEX 6 and 7, the Hasselblad H1 with digital back and, for those moments when I'm feeling particularly creative, a Horseman 4x5. All of those cameras were a summer picnic compared to the X-T1.

Sure, you're thinking that with it's retro styling and simple dials, it should be easy to use. Ha! Not so. The X-T1 is a tricky little devil with its own, non-DSLR, way of doing things. Don't get me wrong, shooting with the X-T1 is easy enough; mastering it is another thing altogether

All I Wanted is BBF and Fuji Wouldn't Give It To Me
My biggest complaint is that there is no system wide setting for Back Button Focus (BBF) as there is with virtually every other professional and prosumer camera on the market. The X-T1 is without questions being marketed to pros so there's no reason that this should be missing.

Now, before someone corrects me, there are a couple of versions of BBF on the X-T1. First, when the camera is in manual mode, BBF may be enabled through a menu setting. The problem with this is that focus area box is set to its largest setting. This is so that you may set up the viewfinder to show both a full version of the scene and a magnified crop equal to the sensor area to determine if the subject is in focus. While this is indeed a helpful feature, the downside is that the large AF area unfortunately confuses the AF sensor and often times the camera gets confused and focuses behind the subject.

Here's a sample of what I'm talking about. I used manual focus with BBF and the focus area set to the woman on the right. We're talking dead-on, with the subject right in the middle of the AF box. The camera instead decided to focus on the people behind her. (By the way, the lower the light, the more likely the focus is to be off.)

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Indeed, today as I photographed a very simple and traditional family photo (after a nice Easter lunch with a friend's family), I used BBF with the camera in manual mode to focus on the middle person's face. The X-T1 completely blew the focus. Fortunately, I'm familiar enough with the camera at this point that I checked and caught the error before committing to the shot. Instead of relying on the AF, I manually focused.

To be clear, this is a complete fail. No DSLR that I've ever shot with would blow the focus on a shot like this (unless it's malfunctioning by back focusing). The problem could be solved if the focus area could be adjusted to a smaller size (so it knew to select the face, not the mountain in the background) - which is possible in both AF-S and AF-C modes. Likewise, if BBF was able to be activated in either AF mode, the problem would be solved.

Other BBF Options
Before I go on, I suspect a few smarty-pants will point out that BBF is an option in both AF modes. Yes, that's true and there are two options here - neither of which proves an optimal solution. One method is to hold the back button down continuously while shooting. When the AF-L button is depressed, focused is locked. In practice though, it's more of an issue to keep one's thumb down instead of just hitting it once (or repeatedly as I often do) when shooting. Often, when using it in this way, I find my thumb strayed thus allowing focus to be released.

There's also an option via a menu setting to set the back button to lock focus with a single hit. The catch is that the user must also hit the back button to unlock the focus. Sounds easy enough but in practice it's a mess. Despite the green dot that shows up when focused is locked, it's easy to forget whether the AF is locked or not once you get into shooting and working with a subject. I lasted about 30 minutes in this mode before I determined that there was no way in hell that this would work for any sort of critical moment.

Having said all that, a simple firmware update could fix this issue. Here's hoping Fuji is listening.

My other issue with the AF is when the camera is in Continuous Focus mode. Unlike my Nikons (or Canons before), when the X-T1 is in AF-C mode, it's constantly hunting for focus. It never locks on. Supposedly this is helpful for when the subject is moving. The unfortunate consequence of this is that when you decide to take the photo, the camera doesn't immediately release the shutter. Instead, because the camera never settles on focus before the shutter release is depressed, it has to find focus and then it shoots. So there's always a bit of a lag - which for a moving target can be just long enough to miss the shot.

Low-Light Autofocus
I reported earlier that the low light AF astounded me. It still does – sometimes. The X-T1 can focus in some pretty amazingly dark situations. But it doesn't always. Best to double check focus whenever possible. In putting the camera to the test at the opening of a dark restaurant bar, I was able to get most of my shots – but it took some work. My hit rate was way above that of the 5D Mark II so this isn't a criticism so much as it is an acknowledgement of the camera's limitations.

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My other gripes have to do with the layout of the buttons. Trying to find the focus magnifier button to check focus is next to impossible. Same with finding the buttons to move the focus point. Not only are they tough to find, too small and hard to depress, it requires two taps of the appropriate button to adjust focus. Where I can quickly move the focus point around using my DSLR's, the Fuji's setup is just tedious enough that I rarely use it when I'm trying to photograph any sort of dynamic situation (such as people doing pretty much anything). Even though the Sony NEX wasn't great in this department, it's head and shoulders above the Fuji.

There's other issues too that annoy me and take some getting used to. For example, formatting a card takes wading through several menus. Also, scrolling from one image to another during playback can't be done when an image has been magnified. Or you don't know what ISO or shutter speed the camera has selected in Auto mode until you depress the shutter half way. Irritating.

The 8 frames per second of the Continuous High mode are great, but because of the Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), you lose sight of the subject when the shot is being taken and then it takes a slight delay for it to reappear. This makes tracking a subject challenging at times. Despite the hype, I would not use this camera for any sort of tight-in, rapidly moving subjects where the outcome really mattered.

Beware the In-Camera Plastic Surgeon
One more thing: unless you want your subjects to look like they've had plastic surgery to their faces, turn the noise reduction down to minus two when shooting in low light. Not an issue if you're shooting raw, but for jpegs, the effect when shooting at 6400 is gawd awful. Even at minus two, the effect is still there - just not as bad.

Here's a cropped sample of the jpeg image with in-camera noise reduction and a sample of the raw without. In addition to the skin being smoothed out, notice how the detail in the hair and eyes disappears. (If you click on the image, you'll get to see a larger version.)

Jpeg file:
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The raw file:i-gGRn8Dr-XL

The Good Stuff!
Enough with the complaints. Let's talk about the good stuff. The main reason I bought this camera is because of the sharpness of the Fuji glass. This camera delivers!

Here's a crop of an unsharpened RAW photo from the D800E with a 28mm lens at f5.6 that's been reduced to 16 megapixels (the same size as the Fuji):

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Here's a straight out of the camera jpeg from the X-T1 with the 18mm lens (28mm equivalent) at f5.6. Because it's a jpeg, there's some sharpening and a contrast bump that's done in camera. Regardless, no excuses need to be made for this file.

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The way the lenses hold focus and then give way to out of focus in the background is simply beautiful. This image below was shot with the 35mm at f1.4. And oh yeah, the lenses are plenty sharp wide open.

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Then there's the files. Fuji color is famous, but there's more to them than that. Here's a file that's a good stop-and-a-half over-exposed. If I'd shot this with my medium format digital back, the highlights would be blown and the transition would look like hell. Even though it's overexposed, Fuji still holds the transitions to highlight pretty well.

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The beauty of the Fuji files is their flexibility. In dropping the above raw file into Lightroom, all of the data in the above image is easily recovered. No highlights are lost. Even the sky retains its density. Back when digital was in its infancy, photographers would complain about how digital images couldn't hold highlights compared to film. Digital has come a long way in the past ten years, but the Fuji just set the bar out of reach.

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Overall, I just love the detail, color and dynamic range of the files. In the mage below, the countertop to the right should be completely blown out. Meanwhile, notice how all the detail in the foreground woman's hair is retained.

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The day was overcast which usually means that the sky should blow out. To compensate, I generally underexpose by a stop or more to retain the sky. No need to with the Fuji. This camera captures it all.

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The reason why I love the X-T1 boils down to the fact that it's small enough to be mostly inconspicuous, I can carry an extra lens in my back pocket - no camera bag required - and the images just rock.

This one I shot from ground level. With the pop out LCD, I could easily compose my shot as the camera hovers just above the sand. No can do with my DSLR's.

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With their new 5.4 update to Lightroom, Adobe now supports X-T1 files. Not only that but Lightroom comes with the same film simulation profiles that one may select in camera for the jpeg files. Available are Velvia for extra punch, Astia for faces and Provia as a nice in between. They're a definite improvement over the stock Adobe profile.

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To finish off this post, let me say that this camera is certainly more than capable of professional work. However, to capture consistent results in varying conditions, it's important to understand the limitations and abilities of this camera. For better or worse, it's not a DSLR. Sure, if you're just out shooting for the fun of it, this camera will probably work fine out of the box. But if you're on the hook for documenting important moments in a dynamic situation such as a wedding, prepare yourself with plenty of practice.

If I absolutely, positively had to get the shot, I have to say that I'd stick with my Nikons. While the Fuji offers benefits and emotional pull that I can't deny, sometimes there's no substitute for the big boys. For everything else though, my X-T1 is there.

John Mireles

So You Want to Be a Photographer?

By John Mireles
on April 21, 2014
With 0 comments

With this infographic that I came across on www.fstoppers.com, the guys from www.fotoseeds really nailed some of the key challenges that we face as photographers and as an industry. Their message of sustainability and avoiding burnout is one that I can't emphasize enough.

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Review and Real World Experience with the Fuji X-T1

By John Mireles
on April 21, 2014
With 2 comments

I should start out by saying that this really isn't a review in the sense that I'm going to go through the camera and point out all of the features and give it my thumbs up or thumbs down. Instead, my goal here is to lay out my experience in working with this camera in the real world of professional photography so you can decide if this is a system that's worth investing in.

For those not familiar with it, the Fuji X-T1 is the newest camera in the Fuji lineup. It's a mirrorless camera with an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) which means that you don't look at the scene through a mirror, instead the viewfinder consists of an LCD image of what the image sensor is actually seeing. What you see is what you get. If the image is over or under exposed, you'll see it in the viewfinder. If nothing else, the EVF helps to make for very consistent exposures.

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18mm f2 lens shot wide open at 1/60 sec, 800 ISO

Edited to add: In my initial testing, I failed to realize that the EVF preview in the Fuji X-T1 is not necessarily reflective of the actual image exposure. Also, the histogram in the EVF is based upon the image preview, not the actual image. For example, when shooting with the camera set to auto-exposure outside on a sunny day at 200 ISO at f1.4 with the shutter maxing out at 1/4000, the EVF shows a properly exposed scene. However, in viewing the image afterward, the scene will appear two stops over.

This can be overcome by shooting in Manual mode and setting the camera to preview actual exposure via one of the settings in the Playback menu. This is a major demerit in my  book. Sony, in their mirrorless systems, shows the actual exposure regardless of the mode you're in. I'm baffled as to why Fuji would choose to base the histogram on the EVF exposure, not the actual exposure.

My first experience working in the world of mirrorless cameras was with the Sony NEX system (first the NEX 7 and then NEX 6). I opted for the NEX instead of the Fuji mostly based upon price - Fuji lenses are at least double the cost of equivalent Sony glass. Ultimately though I decided to trade in the NEX system because the Sony lenses just aren't sharp and fast enough for professional use. One thing I do miss about my NEX system is just how light and small it was. I hardly noticed the camera when it was slung around my neck.

This image from Panang, Malaysia  was shot with the NEX 7 and the Sigma 18mm f2.8
This image from Panang, Malaysia was shot with the NEX 7 and the Sigma 18mm f2.8

The X-T1 is about one-third the size bigger and about double the weight. It's still small and light though. When I'm out street shooting, it's small enough that no one really takes it seriously. Little do people know...

In purchasing this camera, my main concern was image sharpness. I need images that will hold their own with my Nikon D800e. Although I'd seen DPReview the tests, I followed up with some of my own. My first results with the Fuji 18mm f2.0 lens were actually quite dismal. The image came out looking far softer than my NEX lenses. "Why did I sell my NEX?" was my immediate thought.

Then I learned that Fuji offers both firmware for their cameras and their lenses. I performed an easy upgrade to the lens firmware from 1.0 to 3.something and bada-bing, the image popped into focus. Note to Fuji users: Check your lens firmware regularly!

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Crop taken from above photo. Straight out of camera, no sharpening.

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The Fuji lenses definitely live up to their reputation. They're deliciously sharp but render soft out of focus areas in the background. Most importantly, they're sharp wide open. The Fuji X series of cameras all wield APC sized sensors - which means a 1.5 crop from full frame. In practical terms what this means is that, at the same aperture and lens size as a full frame camera, more of the image will be in focus than when shooting full frame. Where the background of my full frame camera image might be rendered in soft focus when I'm at f2.8, the same scene might have an in-focus background when working with an APC sized sensor.

Fuji gets around this by offering a lineup of fast lenses, specifically, the 18mm f2.0, 23mm f1.4, 35 f1.4 and 56mm f1.2. Shooting wide open at f1.4 creates the soft buttery backgrounds preferred by pros. Now, the 35mm f1.4 (equivalent to the 50mm on full frame) won't match the 50mm f1.4 full frame in terms of blowing out the background since the full frame will always win in this department. However, in practice, I rarely use f1.4 with my Canon or Nikon glass because, sadly, the cameras rarely nail the focus wide open. I'm usually shooting at f2.0 or more because I don't trust the camera.

One advantage to the mirrorless cameras, Fuji included, is that it's possible to zoom in on the image at five times magnification to actually see if the subject is in focus. It's a lifesaver when shooting wide open. I recently did a lifestyle shoot with product and the focus had to be tack sharp on the product. Using the focus preview, I was able to nail the focus. Score one for Fuji.

Color 
Fuji cameras are famous for their color renditioning and the X-T1 lives up to that reputation. Even in really bad awkward light, the color straight out of camera is dead-on. There were many scenes that would have required tweaking the color balance on the raw files had I been shooting with my Nikons but looked great with the X-T1. There's different film styles in jpeg mode that bump up the contrast and add a little saturation. The jpeg images actually look really good.

If there's any camera that can produce great straight out-of-camera images, this is it.

World's Fasted Autofocus?
Fuji advertises their X-T1 as having the world's fastest autofocus. That's complete and utter nonsense. If the two were cars, the D4s would be a Lamborghini and the Fuji a Prius. The Fuji lenses take time to rack in and out. The focus is usually accurate but not always. I don't own the 56mm f1.2 however I have played with it - it's closer to moped than speedster as it pushes all that glass. The 18mm is pretty fast, but not as fast as I'd hoped. The reality is that fast glass takes longer to focus and the Fuji X-T1 is no race car.

It's fast enough for most use, but I was definitely missing shots when trying to chase down my little two year old nephew. When it comes to fast moving scenes, my Nikons still have their place.

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Though the focus isn't as fast or as sure as that of my D3s and D800e, I do like that I can select focus points throughout the entire frame, not just ones clustered in the center. Overall though the focus does take some getting used to. For example, I like to use a back button for focusing instead of relying on the shutter release. You can do this with the Fuji when it's in manual focus mode. However, the focus area is huge so when you're doing a headshot, the camera doesn't know whether to focus on the nose or the eye. Instead, I've taken to using the back button to lock and hold focus. Where I would focus and release with my Nikons, with the Fuji I focus and continue to hold the button down. Put this one down in the semi-awkward workaround department.

For this quick headshot I did with the 35mm f1.4 wide open, you can see that the camera missed the focus. Not sure what happened or why, but the focus is on the shoulder not on the eyes. Irritating. Background is rendered nicely though.

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It did better here.

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The Low Light Hero
Where the camera comes into its own is in low, low light. The X-T1 will focus and nail exposures in dark places that my Nikons can only dream about. While I do prefer an optical viewfinder in daylight, in the dark, it's useless. The Fuji on the other hand comes alive in the dark. Not only will it lock focus, but it nails the color every time.

Image below taken with the 18mm at f2.0 at 6400 iso.

mireles_san_francisco-1374

The lighting in this bar (image below) was dim enough that I could barely read the menu. Taken with the 35mm at f1.4, 6400 ISO. As with any camera, the X-T1 focuses best when there's plenty of contrast with the lighting. The lower the lighting and the less directional the light, the slower the focus. The X-T1 is the best low light focusing camera I've worked with - but it's not perfect and will rack back and forth as it tries to lock focus, sometimes unsuccessfully depending on the light.

_DSF1165

Quirks and Quibbles
When it comes to the feel of the camera, it's got its quirks. The layout of the buttons on the back is poor. I'm often groping for the focus point buttons or the focus magnifier. Usually, I press the wrong button. (The NEX by comparison was much better - and it was no marvel of ease-of-use.) It seems like every time I change the ISO, I knock the drive lever from single to high speed continuous. Fortunately though, the auto ISO feature works great - rarely do I need to set the ISO as I just let it do its thing.

The X-T1 chews through batteries and memory. The 16 megapixel raw files clock in at 33 megabytes (compared to 23 megabytes for the NEX's 16 megapixel files). My 8 gig cards are too small for this memory pig. I'd suggest 16 or even 32 gig cards. After about five hours of tourist style shooting where I turned the camera off after every shot, the battery completely died. That means if you're out shooting for a long day, plan on three if not four batteries. I have two but will be picking up at least another three.

There are other kinks too. For example, I pulled out my hair trying to get the flash to work until I realized that it won't work when the camera is in "silent mode." At a recent shoot which required a radio trigger to fire my strobe ,the camera did its silly amateur beep each time it locked focus. Only later did I realize that it's possible to turn off silent mode but kill the beep separately. Not sure what's the point of silent mode. The camera is very, very quiet on its own. Its shutter has the softest click of any camera that I've ever handled. A true joy for street photography.

As of this writing, Adobe doesn't support the X-T1 raw files with its Lightroom or Photoshop software. To get around this, I've taken to changing the EXIF data of the files to  show that the images come from the X-E2 which has the same sensor and is supported by Adobe. It's an extra step but not that big a deal.

One thing that I love is the ease of use of the wireless connectivity. Using the Fuji app, I can upload jpegs within seconds to my phone for sharing. It's easy to setup and easy to use. It's not 100%; sometimes a camera restart is required to gain a connection, but it's pretty darn good and far easier to work with than the Sony NEX 6 (which offers wireless connectivity but is so poorly setup that I never bothered). Nothing like snapping the photo, uploading it to the iPhone, tweaking it in Snapseed and then posting it to Facebook and Instagram all within a minute. This is the era that we live in so it helps to have a camera that can keep up.

The following image was shot at 18mm at f2.0, 1600 ISO. Great detail and color straight out of the camera.

mireles_san_francisco-1288

Closing Thoughts
A fair question that can be asked is what about the Sony A7 or A7r full frame mirrorless cameras? They are about the same size as the X-T1 but don't require sacrificing sensor size and the A7r offers double the megapixels. (16 for the X-T1 verses 36 for the A7r). The problem with the Sony system as it currently stands is that it doesn't have the lenses. They have a 35mm f2.8 and a zoom lens or two. Sorry, but I want the speed and look of faster glass. Once Sony fills out its lens lineup, then it will be a system to contend with.

Without a doubt, the X-T1 is a great walk-around general use camera. If I were traveling abroad for vacation, I'd leave the big cameras at home. But is it ready for prime time in the life of a working pro photographer? I say "Yes" but with reservations. It's not for every shoot, the camera does take some getting used to and it won't perform with the same ease-of-use and speed like you'd expect from a Nikon or Canon SLR. Expect some compromises and work-arounds to your normal shooting flow.

mireles_matt-dufour_hardrock-1143-XL
18mm at f11 1/180 sec shutter speed, 200 ISO.

Before I'd consider using this as a primary body at a wedding, portrait or commercial shoot, I'd want to be sure that I really had every element of this camera down. Now you may wonder why anyone would want to use this at a wedding. The answer is simple: it's small, light and the files are gorgeous. For those crippled by the weight of their gear after an 8 hour or longer wedding, mirrorless cameras such as the X-T1 are a godsend.

Though I'm definitely loving my little X-T1, it's certainly not the nirvana that I'd expected from all the glowing reviews and first looks. My suggestion is to get your hands on one before you buy it. Just tinkering with it at the camera store is not enough. Get out and shoot with it. My friend Joseph Victor Stefanchek bought one along with several lenses and ended up selling it off after a few days because of its ergonomics. (He's an Olympus OMD fan.)

Finally, just remember that great images are not about the camera, they're about what's in your head. The X-T1 is a great tool, but like all such tools, it's only as good as you.

Why Print Sales Matter

By johnmireles
on August 12, 2013
With 0 comments

My recent post “I Declare War on David Jay” has taken off way beyond anything I expected. I’m grateful for all the supporting comments but also thankful for all the opposing voices as well. A healthy, professional discussion benefits us … Continue reading

I Declare War on David Jay (and his Self-Serving PASS System)

By johnmireles
on August 10, 2013
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Hopefully, you know me for my level-headed and impartial analysis of the photography business. Forget that. Today I’m going to go off on someone who is not only doing a disservice to the industry that he purports to serve, he’s … Continue reading

A Great Lesson in Setting Prices and Understanding Costs

By johnmireles
on July 03, 2013
With 0 comments

I’ve been in the middle of writing my latest book, “How to Price Wedding Photography” so it’s been tough for me to switch gears and update the blog here. I just came across this New York Times Small Business section … Continue reading

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