I shot two gigs over the weekend with The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra featuring Norwegian double bass player Arild Andersen. The orchestra were performing The Legacy of Charles Mingus and played a collection of Mingus tunes including the brilliantly titled 'All The Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother'. The SNJO were on top form as usual and are celebrating their 20th anniversary. Orchestra leader Tommy Smith and Arild Andersen are long time collaborators and play regularly with drummer Paolo Vinaccia as The Arild Andersen Trio.
Most of the jazz photography I do gets converted into black and white in Lightroom, so I decided this weekend I would soot everything using the X-Pro2 and Fuji's newest B&W film simulation Acros. Everything you see here is taken straight out of camera (SOOC) and has not been cropped, sharpened or tweaked in any way (except where mentioned). Some of my exposures tend to lean toward the dark side (I am your father! Huuhhhhh), but I always prefer to bring exposures up in post, rather than bring them down.
Acros Film Simulation
Acros in the X-Pro2 and X-T2 is not just a B&W version of one of the colour film simulations (like the other B&W modes in the X-Sereies cameras). It is a ground up custom algorithm of Fuji's Acros film. The grain is beautiful and actually gets better as you increase ISO, in the same way it would react when pushing the original B&W film. My friend Patrick La Roque did some testing on this and found a sweet spot at ISO 2000 (there's a link at the bottom of this post).
My settings for Acros are usually -1 Highlights and +3 Shadows (always -3 Noise reduction and +3 Sharpness). But the lighting conditions at a jazz gig are challenging to say the least. The lights are mostly orange and very harsh. So I adjusted the shadows to +1
The Upside Of Shooting With The X-Pro2 Over The X-T1
I typically shoot jazz gigs with two X-T1 bodies with the 50-140mm f2.8 on one and a wide prime (35mm or 16mm) on the other. But as the X-T1 doesn't have the Acros film simulation, I used the X-Pro2, which was good because I also wanted to see the difference between the X-T1's 16 megapixel sensor and the X-Pro2's 24 megapixel sensor. I've been using the X-Pro2 for a while now, but I'm so used to shooting jazz with the X-T1's, I knew I would see the difference easier.
The X-Pro2 is definitely a big step up in resolution and although I'm not a guy that always wants more in the megapixel department, the new 24 megapixel sensor is very welcome. I used to shoot jazz gigs with a Nikon D800, 70-200mm f2.8 and an X-T1 for the wide end. But when Fuji released the 50-140mm f2.8, the D800 was retired. The only downside was loosing the D800's 36mp resolution. But seeing the black and white X-Pro2 files in Lightroom and zooming in to 1:1, it looks like I have it back. It is 24mp compared to the D800's 36mp, but with the lack of a low pass filter on the Fuji sensor, I would say there's not a lot of difference. But on the plus side the grain is really nice on the Acros film simulation.
The Downside Of Shooting With The X-Pro2 Over The X-T1
I love the style of the X-Pro cameras and definitely prefer the rangefinder design to the X-T's DSLR style. But there are a couple of negatives.
1. The X-Pro2's viewfinder is smaller than the epic X-T1's. I don't mint that too much in general, but for gigs and portraits, I do like the luxury of the larger one.
2. I need that big ass 50-140mm f2.8 glass for live shows. It sits well on my X-T1's with the grips attached, but it is just too front heavy on the X-Pro2. I already had a leather camera strap attached to the camera, so didn't use the BlackRapid I normally use on the bottom of the lens. I made sure to hold the lens and not the camera as I think the weight of the 50-140mm is a bit too much strain to put on the lens mount. Shooting with the X-Pro2 was definitely not as comfortable as shooting with the X-T1's, but just as far as the 50-140mm goes. I shot the soundcheck with primes, which was ideal with the X-Pro2.
The image above is a crop of the previous one and shows both the fantastic resolution of the X-Pro2's 24mp sensor and the beautiful film-like grain in Acros. You can see it clearly on the edge of the piano lid (the bright diagonal line). You don't see it as defined on the face, but it blends with the skin to produce a really rich texture. I'm looking for a timeless quality to my jazz work, pictures that would sit side by side with anything from the Blue Note era and Acros hits the mark!
Straight Out Of Camera...Really?
Moving to the Fuji X-Series cameras has brought many advantages to my photography. I started out with the original X100 when it was released and the size of the camera and the quality of the picture was great. The X-Trans sensor came a year later with the X-Pro1 and that, along with the best lenses I have ever used, gave me the sharpness of a mother-in-law's tongue and colours that I was unable to get out of Nikon.
Post processing can be enjoyable to an extent, but not when you have hundreds of pictures from a job and maybe a backlog of a few jobs. The X-Series produces JPEG's out of the camera that save me so much time due to them being most of the way there. My dream is to one day shoot in-camera JPEG's that need no work other than choosing the ones to deliver to the client. I think Acros just might have made this a reality! As long as you nail the exposure, you will have a great B&W photograph (obviously you need subject and composition to go with this).
A Little Tamperfering
The picture above is straight out of camera. It is a little underexposed for my liking, even though I do like my B&W's to be contrasty, dark and moody. So I made a couple of minor adjustments in Lightroom to bring it up to where I would tend to have it (see below). I moved the Exposure Slider to +0.50 and Clarity Slider to +15. I tend to add +15 clarity to all my files after importing into Lightroom so this is normal. That's about all I would do with this picture. As a rule of thumb, I tend to only do darkroom style editing to my pictures (exposure, dodge and burn etc).
Acros Plus Red, Green or Yellow Filters?
A colour filter was a useful addition to the front of your lens when shooting B&W film. They would help to emphasize parts of your photographs, like darkening the blue sky or improving skin tones. Fuji have not only given us the standard Acros film simulation, but an additional three versions that simulate a red, green or yellow filter.
Across +R (red) tends to be a good all rounder, but didn't work on this occasion due to the orange stage light, which made the faces too light with the red filter. I have the film simulations on one of the D-Pad buttons, and it's really helpful that you can scroll through each one and see the effect in the viewfinder. I settled on Acros + G (green) during the soundcheck and although I'm 80% sure I made the right choice, I would like to bracket these in a future experiment to make sure.
Over all I'm happy with how the two Acros shoots went. It's strange when I put the viewfinder to my eye and see a B&W image in the EVF because I expect to see colour as I normally would. I should have tried the optical viewfinder, but I don't like the OVF with longer lenses because the picture area ends up being a tiny box in the viewfinder.
I would love the option of shooting a film simulation to each card. Acros to slot 1 and Classic Chrome to slot 2 would be great. Obviously I could shoot Acros to one card and a RAW file to another, but I would then need to spend the time processing the RAW file to look like a finished Classic Chrome JPEG with the Noise Reduction, Sharpness, Highlights and Shadows settings that I prefer to use. I could also bracket film simulations, but that only works in 3's and there is too much of a lag after each shot.
I wonder if Fuji could take the same algorithm they have developed for Acros and use it to add a similar organic grain to Classic Chrome. I don't know if this would fit with the type of film it replicates, but who knows. Maybe for higher ISO's?
Maybe I need to upgrade to the X-T2 after all.