T-Minus Cologne

We’re almost there: tomorrow at 18h55 we fly to Frankfurt. Then it’s a train to Cologne and the adventure begins.

I’d love to say everything’s packed and ready…. Sure… Like that’s how life works with three young kids in the house. But we’re getting there. Below is THE KIT: X100S with the wide and tele converters. I debated taking the X-T1 for a few hours, just enough time to realize I was reverting to exactly the same reflexes the X100 had liberated me from three years ago. Which lens do I take? This? No, that? No. Way.

The reason I have the converters is because Fujifilm Canada is loaning them to me along with the X100S itself — I still have the X100 and they were nice enough to let me borrow this one for the duration of our trip. As much as I still love the original X100 there’s been quite a jump in performance since its release and I’m rather used to this by now. The X-T1 does tend to spoil a guy. The old X100 is fine for quick outings but Cologne, Venice and Rome? I might've regretted my choice along the way (even though I know the images would’ve been great).

Now of course I can hear you thinking “But… The converters add the same dilemma in terms of focal length. Too much choice creating uncertainty. What’s the deal man?”. Well, you’re right and I almost declined bringing them for those exact reasons. Truth is, I might not use them; or if I do it’ll be sparingly and I’ll fully commit to that focal length while it’s on — no switching from one to the other or overthinking every shot with the converters in mind. There’s a shooting philosophy to respect here damn it ;)

If you’re heading to Photokina and planning on dropping by my talks (2PM on Tuesday and Wednesday) I’ll be seeing you soon. If not, the blog will most likely be going dark until we return on the 26th.

Btw I did finally open an Instagram account that I may use to post tidbits from the trip while we’re there. You’ll find me at instagram.com/laroquephotogram

Can you smell that? Beer, sauerkraut and gear… Mmmm.


Always crashing in the same car | XF 56mm APD

Every chance,
every chance that I take
I take it on the road
Those kilometres and the red lights
I was always looking left and right
Oh, but I’m always crashing
in the same car
— David Bowie

Shot with the X-T1 and XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD

La Ferme | XF 56mm APD

These are tentative steps, her first away from us; away from home. We spend a few hours moving in, exploring every nook and cranny, sharing her joy and excitement.

But when the time comes for us leave... All that freedom becomes harder to bear. We walk away through tears and it's hard but we know it'll pass. A week from now, when we come back, she'll barely say hello — too busy with her newfound friends.

Letting go is the toughest necessary thing we do. 

Shot with the X-T1 and XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD

Blood Brothers: the Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD

So yes, the rumours were true: Fujifilm has announced a new, different version of their stellar XF 56mm f/1.2 R lens — the XF 56mm f/1.2 R APD. I’m stressing the word different as opposed to better and I’ll explain why in a bit.

APD stands for apodized. This is a process by which an optical filter is introduced inside the lens assembly to modify the way it renders out of focus areas — specifically, to make them smoother. And because this filter gets gradually darker at the edges, it also adds a slight vignetting effect. And I do mean slight: light falloff more than any real darkening.

I was fortunate to again be hired by Fuji to shoot samples for this version as I had done for the previous model last winter, along with my Canadian colleague Nathan Elson from Calgary (his stunning images are here; very cool shoot). But the deadline and turnaround were a lot tighter this time and I barely had a few days with it.

The lens Tokyo sent in was a prototype with nothing but a yellow sticker to distinguish it from my own “normal” 56mm. Since it wasn’t anywhere near a production model, this isn’t a review at all — just a look at the photo shoot and a few personal notes. And btw, these images aren’t the same versions you’ll find on the official product page: we send in unprocessed raw files for sample use. No retouching, no sharpening. Nada. It’s a humbling experience if there ever was one. The photos here were processed in LR5 with my usual methods (although Capture One was used as well for some of these; more on that eventually).

In studio

I didn’t reinvent the wheel on this shoot; part of it was due to time constraints but I also meant to retain a certain visual filiation with the original 56mm sessions. Everything was shot with my own X-T1 — no special firmware needed this time around.

Soft light
SB-900 in Elinchrom Deep Octa (+ silver reflector on #3). All shot at f/1.2 except image #1 (f/1.8).

A serious tangle... 100% view of image #1.

Hard light
Single Elinchrom BX500ri strobe fitted with barn doors and shot through a gobo. All shot at f8 except #1 (f11).


Change of scenery

Shooting in August as opposed to January made it a teeeeensy bit easier to go outdoors… Like 40+ degrees easier. So we did a few. All natural light with a large silver reflector positioned in front and slightly to the left of Frédérique. Last image was done indoors using straight up window light. All shot wide open at f/1.2.

Soft & Softer

It's hard to tell what exactly is going on and how much of an effect the APD process has on the actual results without a direct comparison. Below are two shots taken about 30 seconds apart — the first with the standard 56, the second with the new APD version. Keep your eyes on the bricks in the background (top left) as you switch from one image to the next: you'll notice a bit more blurring breaking up the pattern. There's also a very mild darkening at the edges.


So given the slightly more pleasing bokeh (it's no use, I'll never like that word), common wisdom would dictate that the APD is the better of the two right? Well, I’m sticking with different. Because there actually are trade-offs with the apodization process:

  1. Less light gathering capabilities at the same aperture (I’d say around 1 stop but I didn’t measure it). Note: I compensated for this in post in the comparison images.
  2. No phase detection AF, resulting in slower focusing. Because of the internal filter and how it interacts with the light, the camera can only use contrast detection.

These are not faults, they’re predictable and unavoidable byproducts of this type of lens construction. So it really comes down to what you value most and what you need in terms of performance/aesthetics. The APD is indeed the new King of XF Bokeh, but it does its thing at a price — monetary yes, but technical as well.


Some lenses have something… This hard to define quality that isn’t necessarily about sharpness or chart performance; something which coats images in a few stray drops of magic. The XF 35mm f/1.4 has it. The 23mm consistently flirts with greatness. I’ve loved everything I’ve shot with the original XF 56mm f/1.2 lens since the moment I unboxed the prototype in December of last year. It simply floors me day after day after day and has never once let me down. From what I've seen, this version carries on the legacy.

Does this mean you should immediately sell your 6 months-old standard 56mm? Well, I won’t — and I certainly won’t feel cheated. What this amounts to is choice, not replacement, upgrade or deprecation. As far as I’m concerned, neither can disappoint.

These are siblings...
Blood brothers — in lightning, thunder and magic.

P.S More images in a less controlled setting:
Sept 11: La Ferme
Sept 12: Always Crashing in the Same Car


I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.
— Jack Kerouac