Firmware 2.00 for Fuji X-E1

One of the things I love about Fujifilm is that they continue to add features to their cameras years after they are released. Yesterday they released firmware version 2.00 for the X-E1 and corresponding firmware updates for their lenses.  (Yes, you read correctly – Fuji releases updates for the CPUs in their lenses as well as their camera bodies.)

In addition to improving autofocus speed and accuracy, firmware version 2.00 for the X-E1 adds an incredibly cool feature: “Focus Peak Highlight”. In manual focusing mode, as the subject comes into focus, it is outlined in high contrast – the edges appear white, as shown in this brief video from Fuji:

This great feature makes it much easier to manually focus using either the rear screen or the electronic viewfinder. In addition, pressing the “Command dial” activates image magnification, and turning the dial allows selection of 3x and 10x magnification. Keep in mind that while in manual focus mode you can press the “AE-L  / AF-L” button and the camera will autofocus using the currently selected point of aim (by default the center of the viewfinder, but it can be moved around as you desire). Focus Peak Highlight provides an instant visual confirmation that your desired subject is in focus.

While testing the new X-E1 firmware I also noticed a feature I missed in my initial review. In addition to displaying the current distance for which the lens is focused across the bottom of the viewfinder (a vertical red bar across the green distance scale), the X-E1 also displays depth of field information by expanding or contracting a white highlighted area on either side of the red bar. This area takes into account focal length and aperture, clearly indicating the range of distances that will appear in sharp focus.

This combination of features makes manual focus on the X-E1 easier to use and more accurate. My usual technique is to leave autofocus turned on, half-press the shutter to focus, and then recompose my shot. It’s a habit I developed shooting with SLRs because it’s much faster than moving the point of aim around manually. However, with the new X-E1 firmware a better technique for portraits may be to place the camera in manual focus, aim at your primary subject, press the AE-L/AF-L button to focus, and take advantage of Focus Peak Highlight to make sure you get the shot you want.

Online SLR Simulator

Sometimes the best way to learn is to play, and Canon has done a fantastic job with their SLR simulator. You can try various modes (manual, shutter priority, and aperture priority), experiment with shutter, aperture, and ISO sensitivity controls, and see simulated results online. They also have a great page that explains the controls.

While this simulator is by Canon, the same basics apply to all other cameras with manual controls.

Black and White Conversion in Lightroom

I’m in the process of re-editing images from my 2007 trip to Death Valley. While I still enjoy the creative aspects of shooting and developing black and white film, when travelling shooting digital offers convenience, flexibility, and a lower cost.

Some digital cameras offer built-in greyscale conversion, and some of the latest models such as the Nikon D7000 also include simulated filters. However, if you’re photographing landscapes I strongly recommend shooting RAW and converting in post.

I use Lightroom for most of my editing these days, and the product includes a number of good presets for black and white conversion. I usually try them first. However, in this case the original image is very flat so I went the manual route.


First, I adjusted the image, slightly tweaking the black level, brightness and contrast. Since the majority of the digital information was in the middle of the range, I left the exposure level alone.


Next, I used the Tone Cure to significantly increase the contrast. I spent most of the time here. Note that the sliders at the bottom of the histogram set the areas of the curve (regions) that are changed by the Highlights, Lights, Darks, and Shadows sliders.


Finally, I converted to B&W by selecting “B&W” and tweak the mix slightly.


Depending on where the image is to be used I likely would tweak this some more, but as you can see even such a flat colour image can be turned into a reasonable black and white image.                                 



If you’re looking for more advanced information, Adobe has a great video tutorial.  Happy converting!

Lens for Portraits

Johane asked,

“My camera is a Nikon SLR D40 and I was thinking of getting a new lens for it. I take a lot of pictures of my daughter and family. I want to get a bigger aperture to get that blurry background that looks so good in portrait pictures but seems like the lower I can go with my camera is 4.0 for some reason and sometimes the pictures turn out blurry itself if I don’t use the flash. I really like natural lighting in the pictures instead of using the flash. What do you recommend for a beginner like me?”

I’m a huge fan of the Nikon f2.8 lenses — the Nikkor 28-70 f/2.8 is on my camera most of the time, but that’s an expensive lens.

You should be able to throw the background out of focus at f4 — you’ll want to ensure that the distance between you and the subject is much smaller than the distance between your subject and the background.

Another alternative to consider is a prime lens.  Both the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 ($200) and f/1.4 ($400) lenses are great, sharp lenses that will act as the equivalent of a 75mm lens on your D40.  That’s a nice focal length for portrait work. It is a different kind of photography (no zoom), and it may take you a bit of time to get used to it, but you can get very nice results.

Photos in front of the Christmas Tree

This time of year many of us want pics of the kids in front of the tree to send to relatives, printing on cards, etc.  Shooting these images can be a challenge because lights on the tree are warm (colour temperature) and not that bright.  Using a flash or strobes (which are much cooler) will result in images that are difficult to colour balance and if you run your flash and camera on auto it will usually wash out the tree lights.

Here’s a quick recipe to get you going:

1) Mount your camera on a tripod and use a cable release (or self timer if a cable release isn’t available and your subjects will hold still that long). Turn your flash off.

2) Use tungsten light (i.e. standard light bulbs) to light your subjects. I use an inexpensive hot light that takes a standard size bulb and a 10-inch reflector.  This year I used a common 100w bulb and placed it high and center. Move it closer or further away until the tree light, ornaments, and the face of your subjects have the look you want. Be creative – use room lights, lights with clamps, or whatever you have.  Just try to stick to the same colour temperature to preserve the balance and help achieve that warm look.

3) Set your camera in aperture priority mode (“A”) and select the smallest aperture (i.e. largest f-number) that still results in a shutter speed higher than 1/10. You may need to adjust your ISO to a higher number, such as 400. f5.6 at 1/20th or faster would be ideal, but you may not get there.  Some of my favourite shots this year were at f2.8, 1/15th, ISO 400. With large apertures pay careful attention to focus and depth of field. If your camera allows you to “zoom” in while viewing images, use that feature to check for focus and sharpness, especially if photographing kids that don’t hold perfectly still.

4) If you have an advanced camera you can set your white balance manually. If not (or if you don’t want to) just shoot with auto white balance and adjust in Lightroom or your favourite photo editor after the shoot.  3000k is a good starting point.


Photographing Lightning

Adrian writes,

I’ve tried recently to photograph lightning but with little success.
Is there a basic set of rules to follow for this? Or some sort of guideline where I can try to find what works best for me?

I personally haven’t tried lightning, so for this one I turn to the National Geographic Photography Field Guide by Burian and Caputo. They recommend as follows:

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Using your flash

Adrian writes,

I notice a lot of professionals always use their flash no matter the conditions.
I’ve tried this but sadly poor results. Why do they do it and why do most of my flash photos suck!?

Photographers often use their flash for “fill”, especially when photographing people. Rather than blinding them with the sun and getting a photo of a squinting subject, it is often more effective to put them in the shade or even with their back to the sun and then use a reasonably powerful flash to light the subject. It’s just another technique to control the light falling on your subject.

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