X-PRO2, Acros & SOOC...

I'm not done with the Six Days in Tokyo series just yet, but I'm sidetracking it for today. I've been intrigued by the new Acros film simulation in the new X-Pro2 ever since I got my hands on the prototype and have experimented on and off with it for months now. In fact I've based my X-Pro2 BW in-camera preset on it.

When I was in Japan I had a conversation with one of the engineers who asked me what I thought of it. I replied that my initial side by side comparisons with standard monochrome showed visible but subtle differences, but that I'd noticed some much more interesting results when using the new expanded push/pull capabilities (which I wrote about in our collective review on KAGE). I told him it seemed very intentional, as if the simulation was meant to be tweaked this way: he smiled and confirmed it was. Yesterday morning I stumbled across Donovan Bond's analysis (on Fuji vs Fuji) of the company's official post on this new film simulation and I followed the link to that article—this is a long excerpt but it's extremely interesting:

To be specific, ACROS mode has a completely different noise reduction algorithm from other modes. The “graininess” of the silver-halide films are what we see as “noise” in the digital data. For color images, they are the unwanted noise, but in the monochrome images, it becomes an important texture. Turning the noise into grain-like texture is what makes ACROS unique and different...

We developed it from the core of the image file to achieve a very complex and natural like grain expression. Optimal and different grain expressions are added to highlight and low light areas. You would not find unnatural dotted graininess in the highlight areas just like how the monochrome film behaves. In the low light area, you would see the graininess just like how it would appear with the monochrome film. There are undulating grain within the picture. And it adds depth like no other.

ACROS also changes the output of graininess depending on the sensitivity setting. As the sensitivity gets higher, stronger grain effect becomes visible, just like the film. We have seen the advancement of high S/N ratio of digital cameras, but people generally want to take photos with lowest sensitivity possible. But with ACROS, it may be a different story.

The unique grain effect, which becomes apparent at the higher ISO sensitivity. You can intentionally set the sensitivity high to enjoy the effect.
— Fujifilm-X.com

Interesting not only for the technical aspects but because it goes a long way towards explaining what I've been seeing all along: this is a film simulation that reacts differently depending on camera settings. So not only contrast adjustments but ISO as well. And as Donovan pointed out: grain is built-in AND contextual, through throttling of the NR algorithms. It reacts to the shooting conditions.

I spent most of yesterday working on a project proposal but this Acros article kept haunting me...so when I finished I did a few tests around the house. I noticed ISO 2000 seemed to be a sweet spot for this simulation, creating a visible grain that added personality without reducing sharpness or introducing anything remotely muddy into the mix (actually it scales well all the way up but 2000 felt like a good general compromise). When Jacob came in to chat around 5 PM I asked if he'd let me shoot a few images. He's a good sport — he's also getting used to having curves drawn across his face ;)

The following images are an oddity for this blog: they're all straight out of camera. Didn't do a thing to them. Zip. Plus we're talking a big 90 seconds worth of shooting time. Settings are: Acros R, highlights -1, shadows +3. No flash—I used the modeling light in one of my strobes as key, high up camera left (with a grid) along with the (low) ambient— because I purposefully shot everything at ISO 2000. Normally I'd boost exposure slightly on some of them in post, add a few local adjustments, but I wanted to show unaltered results. I have to say, I kinda seriously love these.

Below is a zoomed version of image #5. Notice the grain and texture—it has an almost graphite etching feel. Nothing like the new grain simulator that's also part of this new camera (which I'm not a fan of so far). Web can't do it justice but I assure you: on an iMac 5K it's frickin spectacular, so much so that it may indeed change how I approach certain shoots. I feel like I just found a brand new tool I'd forgotten in some hidden chest.

X-PRO2, 1/125 sec at f/3.2, ISO 2000.

ON FILM

Eric Kim has a post today from Dubai where he's attending GPP 2016. It's mostly about the X70, but towards the end he mentions Acros and how "funny" he finds these attempts at replicating film in digital: "why don’t we just shoot with film cameras in the first place?" he asks. It's a perfectly legitimate viewpoint—especially from someone who shoots film as seriously as Eric does—...but I don't share it. I'm not interested in shooting film on any sort of regular basis. Not interested in the manipulations, the restrictions, the lack of control or the overhead. I don't feel somehow liberated by 36 frames or being stuck at ISO 400 or not being able to see what I just captured. Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of creative constraints (I'm the guy who travels with one camera and one prime lens) but there's a certain threshold of practicality I won't cross. Simply because it annoys me; which then becomes counterproductive. But like many, I love how film looks. So as far as I'm concerned there's nothing futile about this quest of translating what is essentially the persona of film to the digital realm because yes, there is an inherent quality to film images that was for the most part lost in the switch. But it has to be more than a gimmick.

I've said it before but it bears repeating: Fujifilm's commitment to bringing their film legacy to the X Series is an issue of pride. It's where their identity can shine and how they can differentiate themselves further. I personally find the development of Acros, the research that went into its creation, very, very exciting. There's a complexity at work here that goes way beyond slapping a curve on top of a monochrome file, and this shows a thirst for exploration that could yield serious results down the line.

This may just be a glimpse of what lies ahead.

A print from Tokyo and beachcombers' bounty from PEI. Xpro2, 1/150 sec at f/2, ISO 2000. This one was processed in LR.

Six Days in Tokyo | Bleeding, Lights & Wilderness

Let's hit Roppongi   raving eyes & strange men stumble   pulp worlds eating faded girls    pleading shelter  the moves are ancient but the lines are clear nose bleed and the stains spreading on white   a raving Dane from Hokkaido screaming, starstruck  beats himself with a selfie stick   spin, revolve   spin again   darkness in a prayer to Moriyama   to Dazai   in the screeching whirlpool of a headlight   empty heads behind glass wear signage across their face
let's hit Roppongi and fix the world   eat the dawn   spit out the night.


Shot with a pre-production X-Pro2 and the XF 35mm f/2 R WR



ALL X-PRO2 ADVENTURES IN JAPAN

Six Days in Tokyo | Tokyo Station Contact Sheets

I was going to post another visual essay today. But as I was editing, I realized there was an opportunity here to look at the process behind these particular frames and how they came about. So instead I thought we'd examine a very short sequence of events, that yielded quite a few images.

People fascinate me. Not for what they do—I'm not interested in specific activity—but in the way they inhabit spaces. Street for me is about theatre, decor filled with living sculptures. A cinematic view that can be purely aesthetic and detached from time, based on nothing more than geometry and light. People are the organic makeup in these scenes, adding fluidity and movement; emotional layers. So it's never about individual actions for me but about a constant reaction to the environment, finding the next scene in the play, the next chapter in the book. 

There are many strategies in street photography, one of which is to pick a spot and work the hell out of it. I rarely, if ever, do this. I'm usually constantly on the move, stopping a few seconds at a time to frame an image before moving on. This isn't a recipe or a guideline, it's simply how I work—again, I prefer keeping myself in that constant state of reaction, not knowing in advance what will appear next. This was a fixed spot situation. We were on the platform at Tokyo Station, waiting for our train to Sendai. The light was insane: sunbeams piercing through hard shadows, people stepping in and out...it felt like a movie set, with extras going about their business until the stars made their move and the director yelled "cut!". And here I was, an X-Pro2 in my hands and nothing else to do but shoot. So here's a chronology of varying points of view, all from more or less the same position. FYI: all taken with the XF 35mm f2 R WR.

POV 1 - THE DARKNESS


I notice the converging lines created by the contrast between the illuminated portions of the platform and the intense shadows. And then I spot the man with the hat walking towards me. The trick here is to get him while he's in a shaft of light...

8:49:41 AM: I've just spotted him and I miss. But I always take the shot—you never know.

8:49:44 AM: he's somewhat in the light but my framing is all wrong.

8:49:45 AM: gotcha! I know I have it (image preview turned on in the EVF) but...

8:49:46 AM: I grab another just in case. He's still somewhat in the light, there's less visual competition in the background but I prefer him in #3 even though there's a case to be made for this last one. I may eventually change my mind. Or not.

POV 2 - THE TRAIN IS THE STAGE

Ten minutes later and I've moved slightly, still looking at the same side of the station. I immediately notice the structure: the metal, the windows and the spotlight effect adding dimension...I stick around for a few minutes. I think this is by far the most interesting sequence due to the number of frames and how they changed from moment to moment, providing slightly different moods in a similar setting.

9:00:34 AM: meh. First shot. 

9:00:47 AM: still figuring it out. Love the light on the left and the opposing subjects.

9:01:07 AM: spotted the woman, focused on the train, waited for her to appear. I like this (mask+bag+skirt).

9:03:10 AM: a bunch of guys just moved in. A bit chaotic but in a purely messy way.

9:03:13 AM: what a difference 3 seconds make. I like the depth on this one, with the man in the mask in front and the focus on the watch guy. But the man on the left has spotted me and breaks the spell. Yes, I can crop him out. I tend to prefer not going nuts with cropping...then again I DO have a few more pixels to work with on this new camera...hmm. 

9:03:24 AM: it all works on this one. Keeper.

9:03:40 AM: whoa...the security guard is seriously interesting. Let's see where this leads us.

9:03:55 AM: I'm following the guard and losing my frame. Not as good.

9:04:04 AM: ooohh...I like this a lot. Chaotic again but there's something to it (it goes on Instagram the next day).

9:04:10 AM: last shot with the guard as he prepares to leave the frame. I like this one as well, the way he's bowing and centred between the other two men.

9:04:42 AM: back to the guys. Ok, but not crazy interesting.

9:04:53 AM: I like the fact that it looks incredibly posed. This is a keeper as well.

POV 3 - MINIMAL CHANGES

This sequence is almost a burst: three seconds apart (but not in burst mode). More traditional but the light was interesting and the guy had a certain look to him (I believe he was part of our group but we did't get a chance to meet? Maybe he wasn't). I'm now turned towards our gate but still in the same spot.

9:05:35 AM: this is fine but he's looking straight at me. Some people like that but I generally prefer something more anonymous.

9:05:36 AM: much more interesting. Better framing too.

9:05:38 AM: that's the one for me. The man on the right has created an intersecting line that adds disturbance. I prefer disturbance when possible.


So just as an exercise, if I had to how would I edit these down to a series? I'd choose the six images below.

But to be honest I'd probably move away from some of the platform pictures and mix in a storyline that includes a lead up to these moments, perhaps end with us leaving the station in order to close the loop and expand on the subject. Photography is always a process of elimination, both in the field and during editing. We make decisions on subject matter and point of view that will inevitably colour the viewer's perception. And then we add to that layer of subjectivity by selecting the images we publish, inserting ourselves in the narrative at every step, regardless of intentions.

There are many, many ways to tell a story.
And a jillion possibilities hidden inside every minute. 


ALL X-PRO2 ADVENTURES IN JAPAN

Six Days in Tokyo | The Main Event

7:50:47 AM

8:52:26 AM

10:00:15 AM

FUJIFILM SQUARE - 11:40 AM

COUNTDOWN

12:00:32 PM

12:03:29 PM

12:03:29 PM

12:04:56 PM

12:05:11 PM

LAUNCH

A CHANGE OF CLOTHES

3:09:22 PM

3:22:51 PM

4:28:50 PM

THE RITZ


ALL X-PRO2 ADVENTURES IN JAPAN

Six Days in Tokyo | Three STUDIES

Siri is useless. After a 20 minute "guided" walk resulting in the most geometrically perfect circle you could ever possibly imagine, it's clear trying to follow a path is a bad idea so I just decide to wing it. Besides, I don't care: I don't need to be anywhere and have no destination in mind other than losing myself in this city, absorbing every single ounce of it.

I'm in full tourist mode, aimless in Tokyo, visual confrontations at every turn. With my bearings gone all I can do is float through these streets flowing like a river, glide on the currents and take it all in, a wide grin permanently stuck to my face, senses in overdrive.

Every city has an inherent structure, a personal light shining off buildings and cars and people. But what most fascinates me is the stillness to be found anywhere, when you pull away moments of solitude from the fray. A chill of immobility hiding between every movement, no matter how busy the surface may appear.

This is still day one and I'm wary of making my X-Pro2 as inconspicuous as possible.
Tomorrow all of this changes...


Shot with a pre-production X-Pro2 and XF 35mm f/2 R WR


FORM. LIGHT. DARKNESS.



PEACE



STRUCTURE. COLOUR.



ALL X-PRO2 ADVENTURES IN JAPAN