ATRAX PHOTO by Clifton Beard | Cruising with the X-Series

Cruising with the X-Series

July 09, 2014  •  2 Comments

I recently went on a 13-day cruise to the Baltic with the Fuji X-system.  I took both of my bodies (X-E1 & X-T1) plus my single zoom (18-55) and several primes.  I took my Tenba Messenger (small) bag for the Macbook, chargers, backup HDD, cables, Rolleicord film camera, iPod and extra lenses, but intended to only carry the Ona Bowery bag on a day to day basis.  Stops were made for days out around several major cities, including Amsterdam, Tallin, Helsinki, Stockholm and St Petersburg.


It was a good chance to give the X-T1 a practical workout and to see whether imaging with this compact setup would be effective and enjoyable.


In terms of portability I have only praise for the setup I chose to carry on a day to day basis.  I took the Ona bag with both bodies, each fitted with a lens that I thought would be most suitable for the location visited.  Also carried were 2 spare batteries, lens cloth, detachable neck strap/wrist strap and city map.  This setup was light and comfortable to carry, never once giving me shoulder ache.  It was easy to open or secure the bag and rapidly remove or replace a camera.  There was no need for lens changing in the streets, which in my experience tends to lead to dropping kit, losing bits like lens caps and missing the moment.  I prefer to shoot already set up and would rather carry 2 bodies, each with a lens, than a single body with 3 lenses, for this sort of photography.


Most places felt pretty safe but there were clearly risks of theft and scams in St Petersburg and I have heard of pickpockets in always has to be considered when carrying kit in built up areas.  I would never place valuables in open pockets or probably any pocket on a bag.  the main compartment of the Ona was well-secured by the spring metal clasp and importantly, it was easy to pull the bag around to the front in dodgy areas.  I used the DSPTCH wrist strap all the time on the X-T1 and found it very secure and practical while shooting and accessing or replacing the camera.


The Fuji X-E1 is a known quantity and it performed great as a travel camera.  Yes it has autofocus limitations in low light and on low contrast subjects but one works around these and relatively rarely does it fail badly.  In terms of its IQ it is effectively the same as the X-T1.  I like the rangefinder format and most of the ergonomics, but having to access video by a drive mode button and scroll a menu is a pain and the on-off switch is far too easy to knock by accident.


The X-T1 is a higher performance camera in practical shooting terms, where the better EVF gives a great shooting, focus and reviewing experience.  AF was always faster than the X-E1 and was solidly reliable except in low contrast situations at the outer edges of the frame, where it could hunt or miss.  I found it fast to access and change settings using the dials and buttons and despite what lots of reviewers say, I am finding it easier and faster to change ISO by the top dial on this camera, rather than by pushing an ISO button to access a menu or by button pushing and scrolling directly, as on many cameras.  I think this is because, although a button press and scroll should be faster, often the button placement means taking the camera away from the shooting position to change ISO anyway.  Overall its a great camera with slightly fiddly buttons being one of very few niggles.


Both cameras are a joy to shoot with and the minor niggles are exactly that for how I shoot.  A better implementation of auto ISO (intelligent shutter speed based on FL) would be my main criticism, along with access to a more advanced flash system.  Battery life is OK, if not great, but a single backup battery for each was more than enough each day and rarely did I change more than one battery overall.


In terms of IQ, this was mostly very satisfying for an APS sensor size.  The only annoying issue I encountered were some odd colour casts (magenta and green) in a shoot of Jpg files taken in setting sunlight on deck one evening, which were so odd that I could not fully correct them, so converted them to black and white.  Some Jpg files did clip into black a bit harshly despite my setting the shadow tone curve to -2.  Files responded nicely to a preferred style of mine; shooting into the sun with positive exposure compensation, and even in Jpg files highlights were easily recovered.  At ISO 800 there is a slight loss of detail which increases as ISO is pushed but remarkably good files were possible in really dire light at up to ISO 6400 in the Vasa museum.  I shot some files in RAW here and perhaps a bit more detail could be extracted, but the Jpgs were actually remarkably similar.  Most of the time it is not worth shooting RAW as the files are HUGE and Jpg is so good.  I tend to almost use the DR400 dynamic range expansion mode by default as its extremely good at capturing detail in high contrast scenes with no negative real-world impact on image quality.


The Fujinon lenses really are excellent and it is a great experience to get genuine sharpness at f1.4 and f1.2, along with deadly accurate focus.  Although not tiny, the lenses are small and light compared to the 800-1000g monsters on SLR cameras and 2 fast primes easily fitted in the Ona along with both bodies.  Some aperture rings are a bit looser than ideal, but I love the traditional and to me intuitive, way of changing aperture.


Highlights retained using DR 400 expansion mode.  I love shooting into the sun, so this is a useful option for me.



A nice feature of the X-T1 is the moving rear LCD enabling shooting from a camera position that does not attract attention.  I used it at waist level here to capture "smoko" break for these ladies in Tallin. 23mm f1.4 lens.



The 23mm lens again using DR400 to retain detail in this very high contrast scene.



Wandering off from the group in St Petersburg found this old Lada waiting to be shot by the 23mm lens @ f4 to slightly blur the background.



The colourful architecture of the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, St Petersburg, using 14mm lens.  This gives a lovely 21mm equivalent FL, one of my favourites for wide angle work.



ISO 2500 inside the church, with nice detail and colour retained.



One of my favourite images from the trip.  This resolute old chap was determined to film our departure from Helsinki with his camcorder, despite torrential rain high on the stern of the ship.  Lovely rendering by the 23mm @ f2, which really makes the subject pop.  Oh and yes, the Fuji cameras and lenses did get the occasional decent soaking, which they seemed to survive ok.



One of the trip highlights for me was the amazing Vasa Museum in Stockholm that houses the beautiful old sailing warship of that name, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1628.  The ship was raised and is in breathtaking condition but is kept in very dim lighting as part of the preservation process.  Fast lenses and decent high ISO performance gave me some images I was really very happy with.  I liked most in mono to accentuate the textures but the colour images captured the slightly golden appearance of the wood under the prevailing light very accurately.  White balance is generally very accurate on the X cameras.

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On leaving Stockholm there was a concentrated air assault by some bold and persistent shite-hawks on food that some people had left out on deck 11.  This perfectly sharp and detailed image was shot on the X-E1 with its less than blazing focus system....having watched the action I prefocused on the hand a moment before the bird came in and it worked just fine.



I got to the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen before the huge crowds of tourists descended and wanted to get something a little different from the Facebook monotony of "here I am with the Mermaid!"  Due to the nice tones on the metal and rocks but unexciting colours I knew mono would be my choice in the early morning light, but I chose to bracket film simulations anyway, which is a great feature of the cameras. 56mm lens.



A market scene captured by the 56mm lens.  A lady selling nice traditional art while playing with her mobile phone!



The 56mm f1.2 really is one of those special lenses and it took some great portraits on the trip, here @ f2.2 as f1.2 took away the background context too much for this composition.  The falloff into blur is stunning and the sharpness and focus accuracy are very satisfying.


The X-System made a great travel companion on this trip and transported daily in the Ona Bowery bag it was both practical and a joy to use.  2 weeks of quite hard use made no visible impression on the Ona bag at all and all the kit worked just fine, never letting me down.


Heho, you did the same Trip i did in September 2014... Was from Rostock to Stockholm to Tallin to Kopenhagen to Rostock?

It was nice and your Pictures are great. Took my X-E1 with me on the Trip and was absolutly satisfied with the images.

Best regards
Bjorn Moerman(non-registered)
Nice work and good write up!

Just switched all my Nikon gear for FUJFILM only. More at :

Happy X shooting
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