“By now, most serious photographers are familiar with histograms, a tool we’ve used for years to judge exposure. But what about waveforms? In this episode, Chris and Jordan explain why this tool from the video world may be the best way to judge exposure for photos – and why still cameras should use them too.”
This is not a bad idea as other tools formerly the exclusive province of video production have found a place in photography, such as exposure zebras, which is a much better alternative to the dreaded blinkies.
Even better may be false colour, well illustrated in several different styles as provided by a range of cameras at Tom Huczek’s timeinpixels’ web page and video for its excellent and highly recommended False Color Plugin for a range of non-linear editing and colour grading applications including DaVinci Resolve and Final Cut Pro X.
As a documentary and portrait person, skintone-oriented false colour exposure functionality would be more useful than histograms and waveforms.
“They say that “a histogram is a graphical representation of the pixels exposed in your image” or “when judging exposure, the primary areas of the histogram to be concerned with are the right and left edges”,…
… Please keep in mind that the histograms your camera displays are from JPEGs, even when you are shooting RAW….
… It doesn’t look like examining the shadows of the histogram tells a whole lot to a RAW shooter….
… On the same note, a histogram is also not very useful for evaluating the highlights in RAW…”
“… Not sure how? It really is very simple – just rely on the JPEG histogram. The one on the back of your camera will do, or one derived from a JPEG by some viewer, or (sometimes) even by a RAW converter….
… So, if you don’t want to trade your (technically) best shots for worse ones, start using RAW histograms for culling!”
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 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.
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?