Film Days Heritage Leads To Digital Sensor Innovation

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This is probably not new to our readers here, but it is nice to see how the technological innovation Fuji is pushing gets featured on The New York Times gadget blog. The talk is about the X-Trans sensor. As most of you probably know, with its X-Trans technology Fuji is trying to overcome a limit of modern digital sensor: moirè artifacts.

How does moirè become an issue? For this reason:

A camera’s light sensors are made of an array of tinier photo sensors usually set to detect red, green or blue light. Those smaller sensors are most often laid out in an orderly grid pattern called a Bayer array.

That causes a problem. When the orderly array of sensors takes a picture of some equally orderly patterns, say, a houndstooth jacket, or close parallel lines, an irregular wavy shadow or rainbow seems to appear over the image. That is called a moiré pattern.

That's a problem in a lot of settings, and no one likes visible moirè on his or hers killer shot. There are obviously various methods to avoid or to correct such artifacts, for instance via software processing. But wouldn't it be much smarter if you can avoid moirè by implementing a different sensor design, i.e. a sensor that does not rely on the Bayer array?

Fuji did that. And they did it taking inspiration from their knowledge about film. Moirè has never been an issue in the good old film days. The (simple) reason: the crystals on a film and photo paper are never placed in a regular, grid-like way. Hence, build a sensor where the photo diodes are positioned in a random way, effectively replicating how crystals are laid out on film, and you can avoid that pesky moirè.

Designing a sensor that way means you can avoid to put a low-pass filter on the sensor. That, on the other hand, means an increase in resolution. Unfortunately there is a little drawback: With the exception of Capture One Pro 7 and Silkypix all current RAW converters and photo editing software are coded to work with images taken with sensor that implement the Bayer technology. That means you either shot JPEG or have to use Fuji owns software to prepare RAW files for further processing.

The X-Trans sensor is featured on all new Fuji cameras, starting from the $600 Fuji X20, on the X100S (price & specs) and the Fuji X-Pro1 (price & specs). Fuji explains the technology here.

Fuji X100s pre-order options: Amazon | B&H | AdoramaFuji X20 pre-order options: Amazon | B&H | AdoramaFuji X-Pro1 price check: Amazon, Adorama, B&H, eBay

[NYT, via PetaPixel]

 

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Update – Quickstart Lightroom 4 iPad App Temporarily Free

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Update: it was a limited time offer, the app is no longer free. :-(

If you are using Adobe Lightroom 4 for your photographic workflow, then this may be of your interest. Quickstart Lightroom 4 is an iOS app that usually is sold for $5.99, It’s free today so grasp it while it lasts clicking here.

A few user reviews:

  • Excellent overview – a real help. I wish I had this program earlier.
  • Another wonderful app from Serge Ramelli. Worth every penny. It’s to the point hands on training. App includes the raw files so you can practice. Knowledgable, funny and charming teacher. I’ve paid over $100.00 for training and learned more from these apps. Keep up the great work.
  • This is great. A tutorial made by someone that actually uses the software and doesn’t assume other end users are not complete idiots.
[via theappwhisperer]
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How to Clean the X-Trans Sensor

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by Rico Pfirstinger

It’s another X-PERT Friday! Before we begin, please let me thank all those of you who have already read Mastering the Fujifilm X-Pro1. If you find the book (and hence this column) any useful, I’d be honored if you spent a few minutes of your time dropping a brief review on Amazon.com. As you may already know, the book is just as useful for X-Pro1 users as it is for users of the X-E1. I have also set up sample photo sets on Flickr, showcasing hundreds of pictures I took with both cameras. Click these links for sets of my X-Pro1 and X-E1 samples.

Now, let’s get into this week’s topic. The settling of dust and dirt particles on the sensor is a fundamental problem for all digital cameras with interchangeable lenses. These particles can mar images by showing up as distracting spots in the light areas of an image (e.g., sky, clouds, walls).

To minimize the effect of this problem, the X-Pro1 and X-E1 offer an integrated cleaning mechanism that runs when you turn your camera on or off. Navigate to SETUP MENU 2 > SENSOR CLEANING to control this setting. You can choose to run the cleaning manually (by selecting OK), or you can choose to have the cleaning process run whenever you turn your camera on and/or off.

I have my camera set to clean the sensor both when I switch it on and when I turn it off—it’s best to shake the sensor up a bit as often as possible. With the help of high-frequency vibrations, the dust particles loosen from the sensor preventing them from becoming permanently attached.

See, problem solved! Well, just kidding. Don’t put too much stock in the sensor cleaning function. If any dirt particles have set on the sensor, they’re likely to remain stubbornly attached even after running the cleaning mechanism.

Accordingly, the most important strategy for maintaining a clean sensor is the active and passive avoidance of dust:

  • Don’t leave your camera unnecessarily open without protective housing covers.
  • As much as possible, avoid changing your lenses in dusty or dirty environments.
  • When changing your lens, hold your camera pointed downward, not upward.
  • When attaching a lens, make sure that the rear lens opening and the optics are clean and free of dust to prevent transferring dust to the sensor inadvertently.
  • Don’t touch the sensor!

Despite diligent preventative measures, it’s unavoidable that the sensor of your X-Pro1 or X-E1 will collect dirt or dust over time if you use it regularly. So don’t deceive yourself—the question is not if, but when!

Dig the dust!

You can run a test to check whether dust has already settled on your sensor. Take an exposure of a blue or white sky, a bright wall, or a white piece of paper with a fully dimmed lens (= the highest f-stop possible). It’s best to use the camera’s automatic exposure bracketing feature (DRIVE button > AE BKT) and to manually set the lens to be out of focus—for the sky, set the focus for a short-range shot, and for a piece of paper, set the focus to infinity. If you then transfer your images to your computer and maximize the contrast, any flecks on your sensor should be readily visible.

The illustration below shows how the sensor of my preproduction X-Pro1 looked after three weeks of use in Asia. This exposure of a piece of white paper reveals (with the help of stark contrast settings on my computer) over a dozen flecks on the image sensor. Something no amount of shaking and vibrating will remedy…

Perform a blow job!

Using a cleaning bellows is one safe method to remove dust particles from the lens and sensor. Many photographers are using Rocket-air Blowers from Giottos. These blowers feature an air valve which prevents dust from entering their bellows—the last thing you want to do is blow additional dust into the camera’s chamber! The goal is to loosen and remove the existing blemishes with a clean stream of air. For the best results with this tool, blow from below into the sensor chamber of your open camera.

This Super Rocket-air Blower from Giottos not only looks comical, it also effectively removes dust from cameras and lenses:

Don’t use compressed air from a gas duster! These products contain propellants, whose particles can end up sticking to the image sensor, causing exactly the opposite effect of your intended result. Additionally, the stream of compressed air can harm the sensor by turning these particles into tiny and harmful projectiles. Not good!

Have a snack!

What about when the flecks on the sensor simply won’t go away? My colleague Michael J. Hußmann, who’s a legend when it comes to photo technology, recommends a “fruit snack on a stick”. This is his nickname of the Pentax Sensor Cleaning Kit—and you’ll see why people call it that at first sight:

Pentax’s Sensor Cleaning Kit includes a specially coated cleaning head that collects dust from the sensor. After every time you dab dust off of the sensor, you’ll need to clean the head with a special piece of sticky paper that comes in the kit. To clean the entire area of the APS-C sensor, you’ll need to blot off the cleaning head approximately six times.

If Fujifilm can do it…

I also asked Torben Hondong, the service manager for Fujifilm in Germany, how he handles dust removal from the X-Pro1’s sensors.

Fuji depends (as do countless other camera manufacturers) on the products from the U.S. company Photographic Solutions. The basis of every damp cleaning is the so-called Sensor Swab (for the X-Pro1 or X-E1 you’ll need size 2) that is soaked in a cleaning solution called Eclipse and then wiped like a windshield wiper across the sensor—one side of the swab from left to right, and the other side from right to left. It’s important that these swabs (which aren’t cheap, to say the least) are used only one time and that each side of each swab is wiped across the sensor only once. Otherwise the dirt and dust collected on the first pass can scratch the sensor on the way back.

Specialist Torben Hondong doesn’t rely on just this standard solution (available for anyone to purchase in camera stores). More commonly, he replaces the original cloth on the swaps with special “Cleaning Wiper” cloths from Japan, which he finds work better because they smear less. In particularly difficult cases, he treats the affected area of the sensor with a drop of Zeiss Optical Cleaning Mixture. Hondong cautions, however, that this relatively aggressive solution is NOT recommended for home use.

…so can you!

That being said, it is usually possible to take care of the normal dirt and dust buildup on the X-Trans sensor by yourself with products for DSLR cameras that are readily available in retail stores. The Canadian company Visible Dust offers a similar (and in fact more sophisticated) line of products, such as swabs and cleaning solutions, at prices that aren’t any higher than those of Photographic Solutions.

As a last resort for particularly stubborn sensor dirt that won’t come out, you can always send your camera in to be serviced. In Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands, this option currently runs at a cost of 72 Euros plus value-added tax and shipping.

There’s good news too, though: Fuji will perform the first sensor cleaning of an X-Pro1 and X-E1 for customers in these countries at no cost. This may be one of the best-kept secrets surrounding current X-Mount cameras. I wonder why? ;)

For your convenience, here’s a TOC with links to my previous X-PERT CORNER articles:

Rico Pfirstinger studied communications and has been working as journalist, publicist, and photographer since the mid-80s. He has written a number of books on topics as diverse as Adobe PageMaker and sled dogs, and produced a beautiful book of photographs titled Huskies in Action (German version). He has spent time working as the head of a department with the German Burda-Publishing Company and served as chief editor for a winter sports website. After eight years as a freelance film critic and entertainment writer in Los Angeles, Rico now lives in Germany and devotes his time to digital photography and compact camera systems. His book “Mastering the FUJIFILM X-Pro1” (Kindle Edition) (Apple iBook Store) (German version) is available on Amazon and offers a plethora of tips, secrets and background information on successfully using Fuji’s X-Pro1 and X-E1 system cameras, lenses and key accessories.

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Readers Lens Reviews Round-Up (Fuji 35mm f1.4, XF 60mm)

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The first review, about the Fujinon XF60mm (price & specs), was made by George Greenlee. He used a X-Pro1. The AF speed of the XF60mm has some controversial reviews. George writes:

The Fujinon XF 60MM focuses quickly in when there is lots of contrast even in low light like the night shots below, not DSLR speed but fine for candid work and I would have no hesitation in recommending it for that purpose.

He also has a tip to avoid AF hunting in low light:

There is just not enough data for the AF system to make a decision […] Fortunately the solution is quite simple, just use more focus points and make sure to fill the frame. You do this by hitting the AF button and rotating the selector dial left to increase the number of focus points. For night time candid photography I have found that rotating it two clicks left from the single focus point setting works really well.[…]Overall I am really enjoyed using this lens. It does not deserve a bad rep, you just need to find your own rhythm with it.

His review comes with a good selection of sample shots. Check them out.

Image courtesy: George Greenlee

The short video review below, about the Fuji 35mm f1.4 (price & specs), was made by Adam (YouTube user FuzzyWasHeBear). He writes:

After a few weeks with the lens I show you my results and thoughts on this beautiful lens.Link to flickr images:http://www.flickr.com/photos/adampiper/

He also made a video with an in-depth look at two 35mm lenses on the Fuji X-Pro1 (price & specs). Fuji XF 35mm f/1.4 R and Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 Nokton (price & specs).

Fuji X-Pro1 price check: Amazon, Adorama, B&H, eBay Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4 Nokton price check: Amazon, Adorama, B&H, eBay Fuji 35mm f1.4 price check: Amazon, Adorama, B&H, eBay Fujinon XF60mm price check: Amazon, Adorama, B&H, eBay

 

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