Fujifilm X RAW STUDIO: does it suck? (Spoiler: yes it sucks)

Important disclaimer:I’ll go straight to the point, in my humble the X RAW STUDIO sucks real bad… HOWEVER, keep in mind that it is a FREE software, so see no bitterness/angriness/saltiness or anything of the likes in what follows. This post is just a mix of facts on the current state of the software and thoughts on what could be done to make it better. Since it is a free software, it’s still unbeatable in terms of value for money even though it is, as far as I am concerned, unusable in a workflow in its current state.

What software should I use to retouch my X-Trans pictures? How can I easily recreate the look of the various film simulations from the RAW file? For a long time, these questions have haunted users who would jump into the Fujifilm’s ship. Not so much nowadays I feel, as the issue has now been well documented and many viable options are now available. As far as I am concerned, nowadays I tend to use the following workflow:

  • Lightroom to import and organize my images
  • Drag and drop the image I want to process directly from Lightroom onto the Iridient icon
  • Start the developing process in Iridient by selecting one of the film simulation preset, then a few tweaks to taste
  • Easily re-import back the image into Lightroom as a TIFF via the option of the saving menu in Iridient
  • Local brushes and final touches such as Vignette on the TIFF file in Lightroom

If it sounds complicated to you, fear not for it isn’t. However wouldn’t be awesome if you could easily and exactly re-obtain the wonderful Fujifilm film simulations from your RAW files? Here comes the X RAW STUDIO, a free software offered by Fujifilm seemingly to fill this need…

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What is the X RAW STUDIO?

The X RAW STUDIO is a software that enables you to use the RAW processor on your compatible Fujifilm camera (at the moment the GFX 50 S, X-T2, X-Pro2 and X100F) to convert your Fujifilm RAW files at high speed, with exactly the same film simulations and settings possibilities that you would have when doing it via the menu in-camera. In a nutshell. Instead of selecting the settings on the back of your camera, you select them via the software’s interface on your computer screen… but the conversion is still ultimately done by the processor of your camera, which means that to use the software you need to connect the camera to your computer, even if you have already imported your RAW files on your computer’s hard drive or an external drive. As you are using the processing engine of the camera, you get access to the same options as via the menu, no more, no less. On the plus side, you can save several profiles as presets and do some batch processing. Since your camera is in charge of generating the output file, the result you get with the software is exactly the same as in-camera.

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What it is NOT

Maybe I am hammering a point I already made clear, but the one thing to understand to avoid unnecessary frustration (real frustration will come later) is that the X RAW STUDIO is not a RAW conversion software designed to compete with Lightroom, CaptureOne, OnOne, Iridient, etc… it is designed to do one job and one job only: give you the possibility to use your camera processing engine via a computer interface rather than from the camera menu. Don’t expect to be using the X RAW STUDIO to do a full post-processing workflow, it is NOT the point of the software. The point is to get your camera to convert as quickly as possible Fujifilm RAW files into output files using the same list of settings and associated values (e.g. you can choose between -1, 0, 1, 2… don’t expect any slider to adjust “to taste”) that you can find in the camera menu. Also, don’t expect to export your X-T2 files into .TIFF files. Since the X-T2 exports JPEG, you only have this option available. On the other hand the GFX can export in .TIFF, so if you plug your GFX to your computer and try to export a GFX file, the .TIFF option is this time available.

Why do I need to connect my camera to my computer?

The software is just an interface, the conversion from RAW is still performed by the processor of the camera, hence the camera needs to be connected to your computer. Sounds cumbersome? Well, it is, and as far as I know there is no cable in the box (at least for the X-T2 and X-Pro2), so why would Fujifilm do that… let’s look at the answer from 2 different types of people:

  1. The engineer: “The chip inside your camera has been specifically designed to perform this task, hence it is the fastest and most efficient way to do it, this is beautiful!”
  2. Any other photographer: “I have no idea. I wish I did not need to connect my camera with an additional wire to my computer, I’m sure my computer’s processor can handle this task fast enough compared to my average usage”

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Do little but do it well?

The Fujifilm X RAW STUDIO was designed to do one very specific (niche?) task, which could be a very good if that it means that what it does it does it very well.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that is the case. When it works, it works well, however during my own experience i had the impression to be using a software in beta stage (if not alpha), based on performance issues and UI shenanigans.

Performance and stability issues

The software crashed 2 times on me during the first 15min of usage, and another time when I got to 30min of usage. That’s not the best way to be introduced to a new software. However, it’s not like you are writing a document or doing a complex retouching with multiple layers and suddenly losing all your work, so I could still have looked beyond this inconvenience. Unfortunately, things just continue to go downhill from here.

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Even though you though you have to plus your camera to the computer, it does not mean that you are reading the images on the memory card inside your camera. You actually select the folder where your store your images on your hard drive (does not matter whether internal or external), and the software will read the folder. Now here is the thing, while I organize my pictures in collections in Lightroom and attach keywords to them to find them easily at a software level, at the files level I import them on my computer by Year/Month. This means that the folders I have on my hard drive contain on average around 5,000 images. This is a big problem when using the X RAW STUDIO, because when you select a folder with that many pictures the software suffers from a panic attack and is never able to load previews in the filmstrip at the bottom of the window. Switch folders to a smaller one, and suddenly a couple pictures of the first folder appear in the filmstrip but none of the newly selected folder. The kind of things that can drive you crazy if you start switching from one folder to another and again and again… Sometimes, when all the stars are aligned, it suddenly works. In any case, if you are using folders with a lot of pictures, good luck to you…

Unfortunately there are even more issues. Let’s say you manage to select an image, chose a profile and exported it. And that for the sake of comparison you try to select a different film simulation on the same image you already exported. Well, you just threw your computer into never ending limbo. If you want to re-edit an image you just exported the safe way is to first select a different image and then select back the image you want to re-edit. Of course selecting an image takes longer than it should, so again you are wasting some time.

Weird UI choices

Let’s say that somehow you were luckily spared from all these performance and stability bugs, or that you have a lot of time to lose and decide to use the software anyway. You now have to deal with weird UI choices. The biggest problem I have with the UI is that you can only select a picture by browsing through the filmstrip at the bottom of the window. If you have a lot of pictures within the folder you have selected, in the best case it’s a nightmare to find the picture you want, and in the worst case it’s simply mission impossible. A grid view would go a long way improving the UI.

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Among the other issues with the UI, there are some weird ones, such as the info on the file not showing at what ISO the image was taken. I don’t understand why they would tell you every other setting but not the ISO.

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Conclusion

The main positive feature of the Fujifilm X RAW STUDIO is that it is free. The rest of the experience is a sum of bugs, crashes and cumbersome wires to connect your camera to your computer. I would have been much more understanding if Fujifilm had come out and say this is a beta (if not alpha) version that will be refined before a final version is released. Then it would have made sense. But right now, I regret to say that I don’t understand how Fujifilm could value so little the time of their everyday users to have them go through such a terrible experience without any sort of warning (something along the lines of “Hey guys, this is a very rough beta of something we are working on, lots of bugs and instability issues but if you have time to test it we’d like to hear your feedback” would have clearly been necessary). Hopefully, the X RAW STUDIO get some Kaizen love of its own in the near future, but in the meantime consider yourself warned…

Testing the updated Nissin flash system for Fujifilm users in studio

Perception is reality. The last thing you want to do when you are shooting a model is to show up and look like you are struggling with your gear. Even if you know exactly what you are doing but have to fight fiddly controls and menus that make sense from an engineer perspective but not from a user perspective. This sends the wrong signal to your model and impact his/her motivation and performance. This is part of the reason I was looking for a very simple flash system, that does only one thing but does it reliably. Often, less is more. This is especially true when doing without superfluous functionalities will remove the need to have to delve into an over-complicated menu to change a basic setting.

Surely, I did not want to give a bad first impression to Izumi-chan, my model of the day who I was shooting for the first time. Everything went very smoothly though, as the Nissin flash system has proved super easy to use. 3 hours, 3 outfits, 1 i60A flash and 1 Air 1 commander unit mounted on my X-T2. To be complete with the gear picture, I used most of the time a Lastolite softbox that is designed to be used with hotshoe flashes.

The main change from the latest Nissin firmware update was that Fujifilm users can now do wireless radio-triggered HSS flash photography with their Nissin speedlights, so I wanted to illustrate the benefit. When shooting with flash, your shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light that will be visible in the picture. In the picture below, I am using a shutter speed of 1/160th of a second, slower than the max sync speed of the X-T2, which recorded enough ambient light for the black paper background to remain visible in the shot:

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By using a faster shutter speed of 1/800th of second I was able to kill the ambiant light, as if I had turned some switch off. Same ISO and same aperture. However, it did require to use the flash in HSS mode (which it did autonomously as I had autoFP selected in the flash menu), so to keep the flash exposure the same on the model all other things being equal, I needed to increase the flash power output.

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Anyway, not sure which picture is better, just wanted to show an example where HSS would kick in. The point is you have complete creative control. The shoot went on for 3 hours, and while there was no epiphany moment there was no frustration moment either. I simply enjoyed the freedom of being able to use my flash with a reliable radio trigger, sometimes in HSS mode sometimes not, while being able to adjust the power settings from the commander unit directly on the top of my X-T2. Just what I needed to focus on the pleasure of shooting with a great models without  the gear ever getting in the way.

Here are a few more shots from the session:

All in all, what I like about the Nissin flash system is that it is simple, capable and portable. Basically it does only one thing but it does it well without ever getting in the way, so I can focus on all the other stuffs. I think it’s a great system if you like effective gear that goes straight to the point, and/or if you are scared by off-camera flash.

Nissin firmware update for Fujifilm users: wireless HSS made easy

Until recently, Fujifilm users with Nissin speedlights could do:

  • off-camera radio-triggered TTL, with the Air 1 commander unit and a compatible speedlight (Di700 or i60A)
  • on-camera (or off-camera with a cable) High Speed Sync flash photography (Fujifilm calls that mode FP, but it’s exactly the same)


However, Fujifilm users with Nissin flashes could not do radio-triggered HSS. This has now been resolved with the latest firmware update that Nissin has been rolling out: Fujifilm users (X-T2, X-Pro2, GFX…) have now access to radio-controlled off-camera TTL HSS flash with Nissin.

The bad news if you already own an Air 1 commander and Nissin speedlights is that you cannot update these firmwares yourself, so you need to send your units back to Nissin for them to perform the update. However, if you are buying them now, chances are that the units on sale have already been updated. I bought my Air 1 commander and a i60A speedlight this week-end, and both were already rocking the updated Firmware for Fujifilm users, but make sure to check with your retailer beforehand.

My previous wireless flash system with my Fujifilm cameras

35292351220_a3b3456d42_oUntil I got the Nissin flash system, I was using a Yongnuo YN560-III with a couple of RF603C-II transceivers (no TTL, no HSS).

The pros of my Yongnuo system were:

  • Very affordable
  • Small transceivers
  • Easy to use

The cons:

  • Nearby photographers with Yongnuo triggers would trigger my flash when shooting
  • Bulky speedlight compared to my limited needs in terms of flash specs
  • Had to walk to the speedlight to change the flash power levels
  • It worked great for some time… and then suddenly stopped working, apart from the stroboscopic mode, which I never use 😦

Given the last point, I was in need of a new flash system. What I was looking for:

  • Radio-triggered
  • Can adjust the flash power (either in manual or TTL mode, don’t really care about TTL or not) directly from the commander unit
  • Can do HSS
  • A guide number of 50 or more
  • Reliable
  • Simple (no need for stroboscopic mode for example…)
  • Compact
  • Reasonable price
  • Will not die of a premature death like my Yongnuo…

Obviously there are more advanced Yongnuo products including radio triggers + flashes, but since I was not impressed by the durability of my previous Yongnuo experience, I wanted to explore new options.

What about the Fuji EF-X500?

Being invested in the Fujifilm X-Mount system, it would be logical to consider the EF-X500, which finally made it to the market after a bumpy development road between Metz (who is doing this flash despite of it being ultimately branded Fujifilm) filing for insolvency and overheating issues of the early design.

However the EF-X500 does not make it for me. In the absence of a remote trigger being developed and released at the same time, you need to buy 2 EF-X500’s in order to trigger one remotely (the other bulky unit being mounted on top of your camera), so the entry cost is already 2 times the cost of one speedlight. Moreover, the trigger is optical and not radio, so you need “line of sight” between the commander flash on top of your camera and the receiver flash. You might think it’s not a big deal, but a lot of time when you light up a scene, you will be looking for ways to do so while hiding the flash behind some elements of the scene or walls, hence breaking the “line of sight”.

The one small advantage that the EF-X500 gets is that the flash has a light that can be used to assist the AF in the dark. Other brands also have this AF-assist light on their flash units, but Fujifilm is currently preventing them from being used.

The Nissin flash system

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While I also considered options such as Cactus or Godox, I decided to go with Nissin, because it is a Japanese company (while the other 2 are from Hong Kong and Shenzhen), hoping for better quality control, but more importantly for good local support if needed after my Yongnuo experience. In fact, the shop where I bought my Air 1 and i60A has very close ties to Nissin, as Nissin has shot test images in this shop’s studio, and their stock was already upgraded to the newest firmware for Fujifilm users.

In any case, please note that I never used any Cactus or Godox products, so I can’t speak to their quality and they could very well be awesome products. I am just sharing my personal decision process.

Di700 or i60A?

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If you decide to go Nissin and buy an Air 1 commander, the first question to ask yourself is should you get the Di700 or i60A flash (the i40A does not have a radio receiver to pair it with the Air 1 commander)?

While slightly less powerful than the i60A (GN54 vs GN60), the Di700 is more than powerful enough for my and most people’s need, costs less than the i60A (especially if you get it in bundle with the Air 1), but has the same radio transmission system… and also a super cute and stylish screen with bright color icons. I think it is great value.

However, it is markedly bigger than the i60A, and for me having a flash small enough that I will be carrying it in my bag – rather than leaving it gathering dust in a closet -, was a very important factor, which is why I personally went with the i60A. Also, the Di700 has a weird compartment supposed to make loading the 4 AA batteries easier, but it just looks more cumbersome to me.

Using the Nissin Air 1 commander + i60A speedlight with the Fujifilm X-T2

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Pairing the commander unit with the flash

Pairing the Air 1 commander with an i60A flash is very easy as long as you know the secret handshake:

  • Hold simultaneously the Lock button and Power button on the flash unit for 3 sec until you hear the beeping sound
  • Hold simultaneously the S button and Power button on the Air 1 commander for 3 sec until the screen is flashing

Pairing

That’s all there is to it, the pairing is done. The beeping of the flash unit and the flashing of the commander unit will then stop.

What is HSS?

In standard mode (not HSS), the flash fires one flash of light, so you can choose between front curtain sync (the flash fires immediately after the shutter opens) or rear curtain sync (the flash waits before firing just before the second curtain is about to start closing).

If the shutter speed is to fast (faster than 1/250th of a second in the case of the X-T2), the second curtain has already started to close when that flash of lights happens, creating a black band at the bottom or top of the picture (depending on your sync mode). In HSS mode however, the speedlight does not fire just one single flash of light, but simulates some sort of almost continuous lighting to avoid the black band by firing several very fast bursts of lights close to each other.

While HSS will enable you to use a fast shutter speed with your flash, it will also take a much bigger toll on your flash as you are asking your speedlight to fire several bursts in super quick succession, while pushing the power up for the same exposure as with a standard speed sync. With great power comes great responsibility, I guess (or something like that).

Fujifilm camera settings for HSS


To enable HSS on your Fujifilm camera:

  • Press the Menu button, go into the flash setting tab and select the flash function setting submenu
  • Move the cursor to the sync setting, and set the value to FP

That’s all for there is to it, so if you are using a fast shutter speed with your flash and getting a black band, make sure you have selected the setting above.

What does this look like in real life?

You want to use a wide aperture for shallow depth-of-field during sunset?

First, meter for a good exposure of the sky. In this example, the X-T2 gave me 1/8000th of a sec at ISO 200 and f1.4.

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This will likely leave the subject completely underexposed, as in the example above, hence the need to bring in a flash. The shutter speed being faster than 1/250th of a sec, HSS comes to the rescue.

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Another example, again the X-T2 reading of the sky gives me 1/8000th of a sec at ISO 200 and f1.4:

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Adding the flash in HSS mode:

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All these images are JPEGs straight out of the camera. Setting up the flash exposure was very easy. I paired the commander and the flash unit, put the flash where I wanted the light to come from, and then I just used the wheel on the commander to dial the flash power up or down. Since this was in HSS mode, I had to use the flash at almost full power.

Keep in mind though, it’s not because Fujifilm cameras can now handle wireless HSS with Nissin that you should always be using it. If I had wanted more depth-of-field, I could have stoped down my aperture, leading to a slower shutter speed that does not require HSS. For example, 1/60th of a sec at ISO 200 and f16, + flash at a lower power setting than previously:

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So far, very sweet. I was mainly looking for something simple but that works consistently, and I think this is exactly what Nissin has delivered. Next step, I am taking the Air 1 commander and i60A flash unit to the studio, but that’s a story for another post 😉

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I got printed in 3D by the Fujifilm GFX 50S

As I wrote in my previous article, it has been a very busy weekend, shooting Kyoto’s maikos and geikos on Saturday, and Tokyo’s geishas on Sunday (see my Twitter feed for previews).

Nonetheless, I rushed to Yokohama on Sunday afternoon, for a speedy visit of the CP+ 2017 before the show’s end. Don’t hold your breath, but probably more on that later. Anyway, the good news is that opposite to Fujikina last January, it was this time allowed to to record samples on your own memory card. Yeah!

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The first lens I tried on the GFX 50S was the GF63mmF2.8, but the models working on the Fuji stage were too far for my liking to use this focal range (50mm in 35mm equivalent). So I asked the Fujifilm employee who was helping me to take my own portrait instead:

My portrait taken with the Fujifilm GFX 50S + GF63mmF2.8

This shot was taken at ISO 6,400. Obviously the lighting was horrible, which emphasizes even more the fact that I am no model, but at least you see me “pop” against the blurry background, which gives the 3D feel to the image. And I confirm Japanese people pronounce it “bokeeeeeeeeh!!” and not “boka” 😉

Thanks again to all the people working on Fujifilm’s booth at CP+ 2017 for their patience with me and support! Can’t say the same with all camera manufacturers…

More to come…

Fujikina 2017 in Kyoto: hands-on with the Fujifilm GFX 50s

Fujifilm was holding at the end of January in Kyoto the second edition of their Japan-based event celebrating the X-Series… and now the GFX series as well. They are calling it Fujikina, as an echo to the Photokina that takes place every 2 years in Cologne, Germany. This was both a good excuse to spend the week-end in Kyoto and an opportunity to touch & try Fujifilm’s first foray into the world of digital mirrorless medium format cameras, so i did not miss on this opportunity.

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I love Kyoto. I would rather live there than in Tokyo if I had the choice. I have been to Kyoto many times in the past, and I am quite glad I did because quite frankly the higher number of tourists every time I come back makes the experience less pleasurable than what it used to be. I guess I should not complain as I am a tourist in this city myself… but at least I am not running around wielding a selfie stick in the middle of other people’s pictures to take my own. Hmmm, I digress already. The weather was not really clement anyway, but I did manage to go to the Heian Jingu as the sun was rising, in order to avoid the flocks of tourists and enjoy a small patch of clear weather.

Pano of the sunset at Heian Jingu shot with the Fujifilm X-T2

I also spent a night in Gion photographing the geikos and maikos of the district on their way to entertain their patrons, but this was more of a scouting job, as it is a subject I would like to delve into, giving it the time to study it deserves. Maybe more on that in 20 years?! 😮

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Anyways, the main reason for me to be in Kyoto was Fujikina. Fujifilm had set up 3 different exhibitions in 3 separate places but having used (if not owned) pretty much all the existing X-series cameras, I was only interested in the one place that was offering to touch & try the upcoming medium-format GFX 50s.


As usual with Fujifilm Japan, the people working at the event were passionate about photography and Fuji cameras (sounds stupid, but for example they know how to operate on their own the exposure compensation and ISO dials when you hand them over your camera to take your own picture… nothing complicated but yet very revealing). Unfortunately, where Fujifilm shines with its people it lacks with its exhibition setups, as I always point out at CP+. A few of the sample images that have been released since the camera was announced had been printed in big size and were being exhibited in the gallery, but not only the prints were poorly lit but the quality of the prints was also underwhelming… which is mind-boggling for a company trying to showcase their brand new 51.4 megapixels medium-format sensor. Fortunately, one of the photographers whose work was being exhibited (and was present at the event as a speaker) was able to show me the original file of his picture on his laptop and zoom in on it. And quite frankly I was blown away: absolutely gorgeous details. Splendid!

Next step was to get my hand on the beast. And when I did, I was immediately surprised by how light it is, especially as I was carrying an X-T2 with the battery grip and its extra 2 batteries with me at the time. Even though the camera is light, they did not use it as an excuse to go small on the grip: it is big, for easy and comfortable handholding with one hand. The positioning of the ISO and exposure compensation dials will be very familiar to the X-T2 users, and so the buttons layout will. The one thing that I did not feel natural as an X-Series user was the location of the playback button. It is located above the back screen, as on the X-T2, however it is not on the same vertical plane as the screen: it is almost horizontal, so you need to reach it from above. This will probably make sense for people shooting on a tripod and looking at the camera from above, however it seems like a poor design decision for those shooting handheld. For sure, you can customise one of the buttons that you can access with the fingers of your right hand, but that means giving up on a customisable button, and therefore this should not be considered an acceptable solution given the importance of the playback function.


The “touch &I try” area for the GFX 50s was further highlighting the progresses that Fujifilm could do when setting up such events: while they thought to hire a model and makeup artist and provided them with some stylish traditional Japanese clothes, they forgot the lighting part. This led to my first surprise: when I was given the camera the ISO was set on 12,800… which made sense given given the poor lighting conditions, but you would imagine that a camera manufacturer would rather have you not have your first experience with their new product at super high ISO. Unfortunately, it was not allowed to use your own memory card to check the file later (which is a real bummer for a camera that is available for pre-order… in my opinion if you are ready to take people’s money you should be ready to let them take your files… just saying), so difficult to really judge the quality of the result from the back of the screen. From what I could see in this context, it seemed very good for such a high ISO, but, since you won’t let me look at the file, instead of praising the high-ISO performances that you seem to be capable of I will just reserve my judgment. The funny thing is that when you zoom on the JPEG displayed on the back of the camera and  look at the way it handles the noise at high ISO, it does feel very familiar with the JPEGs we know from the X-Series cameras.

In terms of handling, the autofocus did its job, not with the fastest speed but with reliability,  which is actually not bad if you remember where the X-Series started from. In any case, the GFX 50s with its big files was not built to be a speed monster. When shooting in “RAW + JPEG”, I would have the time to take one picture and chimp at the back of the screen, and the green light indicating that the camera is writing into the memory card would still be illuminated for a fraction  of second. And that would be for just one single image (begs the question of the speed of the memory card they had put in the camera… maybe next time let me use mine, you know, just saying…). I feel like there is some room for improvement there in the next iterations of the GFX series. Similarly, phase detection autofocus and a faster flash sync speed (only 1/125sec max) already sound like logical hardware improvements for the next version. And of course it will also take time for Fujifilm to deliver on the GFX lens roadmap, delays are not unheard of. So whether you are a professional who will make a living off this camera or someone with really high disposable income, just be aware that you are falling into a product line with several “early adopters” warnings. But then again, when you see those gorgeous files and how light and easy to use this camera is…

CP+ is this week-end in Yokohama, and will provide another opportunity to test the GFX 50s for those interested. I usually go to CP+ every year and I will try to do so this year as well, but timing might be tricky this time, as I am doing a day trip to Kyoto on Saturday for a festival, and then I am shooting a different event on the totally opposite side of Tokyo on Sunday.