Fujifilm Announces Two Massive X-Pro2 and X-T2 Firmware Updates Due Late March and Late May

Fujifilm has a well-deserved reputation for its Kaizen – continuous improvement – firmware updates, a practice I first encountered with my first Fujifilm digital camera, the classic rangefinder-style Finepix X100S. The X100’s updates turned a revolutionary camera into one that remains fun to use and usable for documentary photography assignments to this day. And now, Fujifilm is set to outdo itself with a massive list of firmware improvements to its two flagship cameras, the rangefinder-style X-Pro2 and the DSLR-style X-T2. Happy days.

The coming X-Pro2 and X-T2 firmware updates will further differentiate the two flagship Fujifilm APS-C cameras, with more video features for the latter and operational speed and efficiency gains for the former. I still want to see better video support in the X-Pro2 even if it remains at 1080p instead of 4K.
The X-T2 has the potential to fill the Super 35 4K gap left by Samsung killing off the revolutionary Samsung NX1 and NX500 cameras, but Fujifilm’s imminent firmware update does not include DCI 4K and zebras for fast, accurate judgement of correct exposure. Will these crucial features be coming in a third update later this year?

The full firmware list contains a record-breaking 33 new and improved items of which 27 will appear in late March and the final 6 in late May. Some are for both the X-Pro2 and X-T2, some are for the X-T2 only and some are for the X-Pro in a catchup with the X-T2’s current feature set.

For the X-T2 only, 😦

The X-T2-only updates indicate that Fujifilm has chosen to increase its differentiation between both cameras’ video capabilities. The X-T2 is about to gain:

  • #14. Activation of the Eye Sensor in video recording (X-T2 only).
  • #15. Change of ISO sensitivity during video recording (X-T2 only).
  • #17. Display live histogram during video recording (X-T2 only).
  • #18. Optimization of external microphone’s input level (X-T2 only).

Other X-T2-only updates indicate other differentiations by Fujifilm between its flagship cameras, in tethering and for portraiture and other genres often requiring vertical orientation of the camera:

  • #22. Automatic vertical GUI for LCD (X-T2 only).
  • #28. Support for computer tethering via Wi-Fi (X-T2 only).

Tethering, the ability to connect cameras to computers by wire or Wi-Fi, has been an accepted, often client-demanded, tool in commercial photography for some time now and has been well supported by medium format and DSLR camera makers, and some raw processing software. USB tethering recently came to the X-T2 via standalone software and plug-ins for Adobe Lightroom.

Many of the new and improved firmware items for both cameras are welcome indeed, speeding up their accuracy and operability. Some may have limited usefulness while one glaring omission from the firmware of both camera remains AWOL – zebras.

AWOL, an immigrant from video world

Zebras for ensuring accurate exposure are welcome immigrants from the world of video camcorders and high-end stills/video hybrid cameras like Panasonic’s Super 16/Micro Four Thirds GH4, GX8 and the new GH5.

Zebras have rapidly proven themselves just as useful for stills as for video, helping combat the all-too-prevalent problem of overexposure that pushes high values over the shoulder into unrecoverable burn-out territory.

High value or highlight burn-out is as problematic in stills as it is in video, whether one is shooting raw or JPEG files. Although extreme high values can be recovered to some degree in raw files with recovery function sliders – going under names like “whites” or ‘highlight” in raw processing software – doing so in video or for JPEGs results in muddy high values that can become an eye trap for viewers.

Eye traps are areas in the frame that draw viewers’ attention at the expense of the most meaningful objects in the image, weakening its message and damaging effective storytelling. Hard-edged burnt-out bright patches are particular eye-trap culprits even when their values are lowered in post-processing.

Avoiding burn-out and needless processing

Far better to avoid the burn-out eye-trap problem and fruitless correction work in post-production altogether by getting exposure right in the first place, and that is where zebras excel compared with histograms.

International Womens' Day March, Sydney, 2017

Above: Photographing in high dynamic range environments like this can be challenging when trying to achieve correct exposure without burning out the high values. Here I used exposure zebras on a Panasonic Lumix GH4 to ensure the best exposure of sky and footpath then raised the middle and low values in a raw processor. 

Histograms have their uses in assessing your scene or subject’s dynamic range and determining whether to add a light or accept low value details that can be raised in grading or raw processing.

Both the X-Pro2 and X-T2 have histograms that could be improved by enlargement and better delineating their right and left edges. Judging then setting accurate exposure via histogram can be a slow process unsuited to the speed and stresses of documentary photography or video.

As cinematographer/director Paul Leeming demonstrates in his tutorial on ETTR – expose to the right – zebras are a fast and accurate exposure method that can benefit photographers and videographers using Fujifilm cameras, should Fujifilm see fit to add it to firmware. Zebras are not included in late March and late May’s firmware.

Useful updates for both cameras

There are plenty of impressive improvements for both cameras, many of which photographers have been requesting for some time now, most notably the following:

  • #3. Programmable long exposure of up to 15 minutes.
  • #6. “AUTO” setting added for the minimum shutter speed in the ISO Auto setting.
  • #7. Faster “Face Detection AF”.
  • #8. Improved in-focus indication in the AF-C mode.
  • #9. Addition of a smaller Focus Point size in Single Point AF.
  • #13. Change of focus frame position while enlarging it.
  • #19. Addition of “Eye Sensor + LCD Image Display” in the View Mode.
  • #23. Name Custom Settings.
  • #24. Copyright information in EXIF data.
  • #25. Voice Memo function.
  • #26. Extended AE Bracketing.
  • #27. Addition of “Shoot Without Card” mode.
  • #31. Addition of “-6” and “-7” to EVF’s brightness setting.
  • #33. Function assignment to the Rear Command Dial.

Having tried shooting HDR with the X-Pro2 and X-T2’s three-bracket-only functionality, I have badly missed the larger bracket range available on many other cameras including my Panasonic Lumix GH4 and GX8.

Some of my favourites for X-Pro2 and X-T2

Number 26, Extended AE Bracketing is particularly welcome. Extreme dynamic range scenes demand five, seven or even nine AE brackets to give a wide enough range for HDR processing in products like Macphun’s Aurora HDR 2017, causing me to rely on other cameras than Fujifilm’s for interior and some exterior HDR work.

I bought my X-Pro2 for the benefits of Fujifilm’s legendary colour rendering and its APS-C sensor as opposed to my other cameras’ Micro Four Thirds sensors, and new feature 26 gives me added incentive to add an X-T2 as a companion to my X-Pro2.

Numbers 24 and 25, Copyright information in EXIF data and Voice Memo function, are invaluable when shooting documentary projects, portraits and similar assignments. Every photograph, not just those shot commercially, needs to have copyright data embedded in its EXIF data from the moment of exposure.

Voice memo functionality is crucial when covering an event or shooting a series of portraits, especially without an assistant. Ever tried making a photograph then whipping out a notebook to jot down your subject’s name and other details? Voice memo features in other brands of cameras name audio files similarly to the photographs they relate to, making them easy to find and transcribe back at home base.

Number 23, Name Custom Settings, is a great improvement over the nuisance of having to remember what subject matter or customized look relates to a cryptically-named custom setting.

Numbers 2 and 3, Extended ISO 125 and 160 selectable and Programmable long exposure of up to 15 minute, are functions that may come in handy for some low light and night scene cityscape projects coming my way soon.

Although I generally stick to ISO 200 or 400 for daylight documentary work, habit and years of successful analog practice means I prefer the lowest ISOs I can get for tripod-mounted small aperture photography. Conversely, Fujifilm’s excellent wide aperture lenses like the XF 56mm f/1.2 R and XF 23mm f1/4 R and their incredible bokeh tempts me to shoot wide open with low ISOs.

Cable releases and remote releases are increasingly becoming things of the past for long-exposure photography as well as all-to—easily forgotten or lose on location so I suspect programmable long exposures will be lifesavers.

Number 9, Addition of a smaller Focus Point size in Single Point AF, brings the X-T2 and X-Pro2’s focus point size choice to six with pinpoint focussing, crucial when shooting with long lenses on the X-Pro2 and even longer lenses on the X-T2 when picking out the most essential object in a field of them.

I am going to love this one for shooting portraits with the X-Pro2 and the XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens with aperture wide open for razor-sharp highlights in one eye.

Just for the X-Pro2

Several of the 33 items are for the X-Pro2 only, adding features already in the X-T2’s current firmware:

  • #10. Addition of “AF Point Display” (X-Pro2 only – already on X-T2).
  • #11. Addition of “AF-C Custom Setting” (X-Pro2 only – already on X-T2).
  • #20. Shorter EVF display time-lag (X-Pro2 only – already in X-T2).

Number 11, AF-C Custom Setting, adds action-photography autofocus settings that have well-proven themselves on the X-T2 and that I would have loved on the X-Pro2 for covering intense, fast-moving events like demonstrations. Pine no more.

Likewise, number 10, AF Point Display, will bring more surety when covering those same kind of situations as well as fast-moving portrait subjects flitting in and out of inner city crowds.

Number 20, Shorter EVF display time-lag, will be useful in the same circumstances when shooting with the X-Pro2’s EVF. I default to the OVF or ERF-in-OVF most of the time but switch to the EVF when shooting with a monochrome film simulation or my subjects are moving through mixed bright sun and deep shadow.

Times like that you need a sharp eye on your prime subject in order to hit the shutter at exactly the right moment and the less EVF lag the better.

Plenty of gains, some losses

Thirty-three feature additions and updates for two closely-related cameras sharing sensors, processors and more is quite some feat and Fujifilm deserves heaps of praise and kudos for that.

I suspect that most photographers will be very happy indeed with this list, and some have already described it as “awesome!”. Until the firmware appears, and it is clear exactly how each new item or improvement works in practice, we can only guess as to their implementation and usability but, fingers crossed!

The X-T2 wins some great new video features that I have long wanted on the X-Pro2 and that it will not be getting any time soon if at all, it seems. I will be buying an X-T2 soon enough, as a companion to my X-Pro2 instead of the second X-Pro2 I was originally planning on, but right now my next video-centric choice will be Panasonic’s Lumix GH5 due to its full, mature feature set and sheer usability.

I may not be counted amongst “most photographers” given an equal dedication to still and video that seems to be rare in some parts of the world, but then the X-T2 and X-Pro2 are cameras that appeal to photographers whose work and needs are anything but the norm, well beyond what most photographers demand of their cameras and lenses.

Most photographers, from what I see in the streets of this fair city, are more than happy with the many limitations of DSLR cameras but Fujifilm flagship camera users are a very rare and demanding breed.

And that is, to a large degree, Fujifilm’s own fault. At a time when the independent photo and video landscape was dominated by model after model of DSLRs that barely looked any different from each other, the Fujifilm Finepix X100 was a radical breath of fresh air.

It promised so much, then delivered on it with a succession of great firmware updates that set the expectation of brilliant firmware kaizen for every Fujifilm camera coming after it.

The X-Pro2 3.00 and 3.10, and X-T2 2.00 and 2.10, firmware updates continue in that tradition of satisfying high expectations and have extended both cameras’ usability and capabilities.

Gaps do remain, though, and they are mostly on the X-Pro2 side. Not everyone with high expectations loves the DSLR-style form factor of the X-T2 and there are many of us who are digital refugees from Leica rangefinder days or who could never afford their digital M-System cameras and who can now satisfy their rangefinder-style needs with the X-Pro2.

Will the X-Pro3 one day gain what Fujifilm has left out of the X-Pro2?

Will the X-Pro series lag behind the X-T series’ feature set turning the former into stills-only camera and the latter into a stills-plus-video compromise?

Is the rumoured APS-C super camera the one to watch for high-end Super 35 video?

Does Fujifilm have a blind spot for the incredibly useful exposure zebras functionality on its cameras? And if so, why?

I know I will be getting an X-T2 sometime soon, for the subjects and lenses to which its DSLR-style form factor is well-suited.

I know I will continue to love the X-Pro2 for giving me back the rangefinder-style way of documentary photography I had thought had gone forever during the DSLR ascendancy.

I want another X-Pro2 in my documentary kit as a backup and for when Fujifilm comes out with a revamped XF 18mm f/2.0, as wide lens to the XF 50mm f/2.0’s narrower vision.

But like more than a few fellow X-Pro2 users out there, I want to see the X-Pro2 series flagship cameras remain on a near-equal feature-set footing with their X-T series sisters and that demands improving the video features on both.

Is Fujifilm already planning the next pair of firmware updates and are they listening just as intently to their ever-growing user base?

Links: 

Quick Hands-On with the Amazing Fujifilm GFX 50S Mirrorless Medium Format Camera

Today I made a flying visit to L & P Digital Photographic in Artarmon, a suburb in Sydney’s north shore that is home to several movie and photography industry retail, rental and manufacturing companies, the most notable of the latter being Miller Tripods. My mission was to have a very quick look at the Fujifilm GFX 50S and its first three lenses, the Fujinon GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR, GF 32-64mm f/4.0 R LM WR and the GF 120mm f/4.0 R LM OIS WR Macro

For the next couple of days a Fujifilm GFX 50S, vertical grip, tilt adapter and the three lenses will be available to see and experience a hands-on with and then, some time after that, a GFX 50S kit will be added to L & P’s rental collection.

L & P also operates a compact rental studio at their Artarmon premises that once housed the studio and darkroom of Max Dupain, the late Australian modernist photographer known for his architectural photography collaborations with Austrian-Australian architect Harry Seidler.

Some Rough and Ready BTS Snapshots

L & P is already taking orders from professionals wishing to purchase or lease Fujifilm’s latest photographic innovation in the form of the GFX 50S.

My aim during the visit was to get a quick impression of the GFX 50S as a hand camera and not a stand camera, and not to create great photographs of the types of subject matter I would place in front of a camera like this. With luck that opportunity will come later and I will do a proper job of it.

Sample Snapshots

I simply stepped outside the door during a brief interval between rain showers, made two shots with the GF 32-64mm f/4.0 R LM WR lens set to f/8.0 and the GFX 50S set to ISO 400 and 1/640th of a second, focussing on the foremost figure at left of frame. I made the first exposure at 32mm and the second at 64mm.

I then processed each raw file in version 3.1.4 of Iridient Developer and applied minimal tone, colour and sharpness corrections after choosing Pro Neg S from Iridient Digital’s free Fujifilm-style film emulations set.

After exporting the largest JPEG file, I uploaded it to my Flickr account as I need to conserve media space in my website hosting account right now. Flickr has applied its own sharpness-reducing compression algorithm so please bear that in mind.

These snapshots are mediocre photographs but the GFX 50S is anything but a mediocre camera. Click the images below to see them large in my Flickr account.

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_DSF1205_iridient_srgb_full-size

Thoughts and Observations

A quick and dirty first test like this of a newly released camera can only tell one so much. But it satisfied my aims. I wanted to know whether the GFX 50S would meet my needs and be a viable option for renting, leasing or buying sometime in the future, bureaucracies and lawyers permitting. The ‘Untitled’ project self-financing saga is ongoing.

When I got back into photography after an absence enforced by ill health resulting from chronic photochemical allergy and extreme dermatitis, a major concern was whether then current digital technology would offer as much variety in ways of seeing and photographing as the variety that I had come to rely on with analog photography.

My first serious digital camera was a DSLR, the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and it was not an easy fit as I had never been an SLR person. Rather, I had relied on a range of non-SLR rangefinder and technical cameras and these somewhat unconventional, even non-conformist, cameras had helped create my personal photographic vision. Or more properly, visions.

It was only with the arrival of Fujifilm’s Finepix X100 rangefinder-style camera that I began to feel comfortable with digital photography. The Fujifilm X-Pro2 cemented that comfort with a camera that, in many ways, recalls the 120 roll film rangefinder cameras I had so loved.

Likewise Fujifilm’s X-T2 is a reminder of the technical cameras that were so crucial to my development as a photographer just as Panasonic’s Lumix GX8 shares some of the traits of the waist-level Rolleiflex twin lens reflex cameras I adored for their own unconventional way of showing me the world as a square and from down below, via the GX8’s unique tilting EVF.

Now the GFX 50S, with its clear similarity to the X-T2’s shape and usability, offers a combination of features I relied on in my technical cameras and my Rolleiflexes, filtered through Fujifilm’s and Panasonic’s recent digital camera innovations.

The GFX 50S allows you to use it like a small hand or stand-mounted view camera, like an EVF camera, more or less like a DSLR but minus the mirror slap, or like a tilting EVF camera that is in itself the closest simulation we have now of the wonderful TLR cameras once made by Mamiya, Rolleiflex, Yashica and others.

My brief experience with the Fujifilm GFX 50S was enough to tell me this and remove the last concern I had about whether contemporary digital hardware can provide me with enough creative options to build a set of closely related personal photographic styles in the way analog hardware did.

One thing is certain, confirmed by my two snapshots above: the Fujifilm GFX 50S’ resolution and image quality equals that of 4″x5″ sheet film cameras and I suspect that its future GFX 100S descendant will rival the results from 8″x10″ sheet film cameras.

Postscript:

After covering an International Womens’ Day rally in the Sydney CBD, I dropped into digiDIRECT’s city store to take another quick look at the Fujifilm GFX 50S. They had the camera, three lenses, EVF and vertical battery grip and kindly allowed me do some snapshots of one of the staff members, Benny, below.

DSCF6092_iridient_exposure

This photograph was made with the GF 120mm f/4 R LM OIS WR Macro lens and with the Vertical Battery Grip on the camera. I processed the raw file in Iridient Developer then exported it as a TIFF that I opened in Alien Skin Exposure X2 where I applied a Polaroid Type 55 preset and platinum split toning.

I chose f/5.6, AutoISO and aperture-priority, and the GFX 50S set 1/60th second. Although this is not a portrait as such, the experience of making it reminded me of how I loved to make frontal, full-face close-up portraits of artists, chefs, celebrities and businesspeople for the glossy magazines in Polaroid Type 55 positive/negative instant film, split-toning prints made on silver-rich baryta papers.

On considering the Fujinon GF lenses currently available and coming later in the year, I would choose the GF 120mm f/4 R LM OIS WR Macro and the GF 45mm f/2.8 R WR prime lenses as a very workable pair for full-face and environmental portraiture. The 120mm is roughly equivalent to 90mm in 135 aka 35mm format and the 45mm lens is close to 35mm in 135 aka 35mm format.

Although I often lit those editorial portraits with Broncolor flash units with spot grids and barndoors, nowadays I’d be more likely to use continuous light such as my Rotolight Neo three light kit with barndoors to narrow the beam down.

Other LED lights I want to investigate sometime are the Dedolights with variable beams that spread from spot to flood and take a range of light-shaping accessories.

While electronic flash has its advantages in freezing movement, it can be distracting when trying to really narrow down the beam and place the light with a high degree of precision but little time with a portrait subject.

Using continuous light allows you see exactly what the camera is going to see and permits building a closer relationship with your sitter, faster. The GF 120mm f/4 lens’ optical image stabilization means one can handhold the lens in continuous light and obtain enough sharpness, or one can of course place the GFX 50S on a tripod and use it somewhat like a small view camera.

Image Credits:

Header image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

Stories: The Sirius Building, The Rocks, Sydney

The Sirius building is an inner city social housing project in the heart of Sydney’s historic The Rocks district, under threat of destruction. 

It is a rare, iconic example of the Brutalist movement in architecture, extant from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Brutalist architecture, like Brut champagne, is form derived from function, unsweetened with needless ornamentation, constructed with concrete cast into moulds often lined with roughened timber….