Focus Peaking Part 1: Fuji Xpro1 and Voigtländer 35mm f2.5 Color Skopar
Fuji released version 3.0 of the Xpro1 firmware and, as promised, it provides the much awaited focus peak highlight feature. I have been looking forward to this release as I wanted a more effective way of using my manual focus Leica and Voigtländer glass. If you have read my previous post on the 28mm Ultron, you will know that what I want is something that will tell me where the plane of focus is without having to use the 3x/10x magnification mode.
On the Voigtländer there is less than 1/4 of a turn to go from 0.7mm, the closest focusing distance, to infinity. Slight movements of the focus ring can significantly move the plane of focus, so focus peaking needs to be obvious and accurate if it is to help. The Fujinon 35mm is a little different as its throw is dependent to a degree on how quickly you rotate the ring.
Did I get what I wanted ? …its not fair to make complete judgment without more time using the feature, so below are my first impressions in a somewhat controlled environment.
Over the next couple of days I will post a more detailed view and conclusion, but for now here are my first thoughts.
By default the Funjinon lenses focus wide open. For manual focusing this is quite important as it gives the finest control over the placement of the focus plane, assuming there is little or no focus shift when stopped down or what there is is masked by DOF. The Voigtländer 35mm Color Skopar has to be manually stopped down, as there is no electronic connection to the camera body. For this first look I tended to focus at the aperture I would be shooting at, simply because opening up, focusing and then stopping down before you take a photo is akin to throwing your left leg over your right shoulder before you take a photograph. Its fine if you are shooting architecture from a tripod for instance but….
Using the EVF.
The focus peaking white lines seem to be visually much less obvious than the lines in the X100s at normal magnification. Highly textured surfaces or contrasty edges give the best results, while obviously peaking lines are hard to see on white/bright edges. Unfortunately that last bit is important as the EVF is quite contrasty. This makes it quite difficult to determine the plane of focus accurately. The X100s is much easier to use in this regard, but so long as there is a single colour I think this will always be a limitation on the Fuji implementation.
Zooming in to 3x or 10x magnification and then focusing works really well, there is no doubt as to what is in focus. You may find even 3x magnification a bit hard to hand hold while focusing on close objects, but more importantly I don’t find it practical to use the magnification modes for candid work.
Using the LCD
Just to limit the variables I bolted the Xpro1 to a tripod and headed out to the provencal sunshine with the Voigtländer 35mm and the Fujinon 35mm. I found focusing with normal magnification really quite tough particularly if there was a lot of contrast in the scene to begin with. This is a combination of the colour and brightness of the peaking lines and sun on the LCD. Again, and not surprisingly, the higher magnification modes worked just fine. All the more so because I was using a tripod.
Below is a short video showing the difference between using 10x Magnification and normal view on the LCD. Video is not my bag so don’t beat me on the quality :-)
Stopping down and DOF.
One quite cool aspect is that you can focus wide open and then stop down and see the peaking lines spread out to show the increasing DOF. This is easy on the Vogtländer, you just stop down, but you can do likewise with the Funjnon lenses onboard you just have to enable the Depth of Field preview function. I have not tested this fully so I do not know if it gives an accurate representation of DOF or not.
Low light/Low contrast.
As you can see from my blog I tend to take a lot of photos in contrasty situations, and often at night. I have not yet had a chance to really try the new focus peaking feature out in these situations. The shot below was taken this morning. It was not all that dark and focus peaking at normal magnification worked just fine.
One frustrating thing I find about the magnification modes is that you cannot use the mutli-way selector to move around the image when zoomed in. You have to zoom out, change the focus point and then zoom back in. This is a major major pain. If there is a trick I am missing here can someone please tell me what it is ?
Focus peaking is a welcome addition to the Xpro1 and Fuji is to be commended for its approach in adding features without requiring a hardware upgrade. Use a tripod and one of the magnification levels and the feature shines, you simply can not miss focus. Using normal magnification is more tricky and best reserved for the EVF. I need to spend more time with it but at first blush it is not up to the ease of use of a rangefinder or split screen viewfinder. I will continue to use it over the course of the next week and see how it grows on me.