Review of Fujifilm X100T Camera

I'd first come across this camera - in the form of the very first edition - on a company sales kickoff in Budapest. A colleague from the Netherlands was taking pictures with an X100 and I thought, as do most people when they see this camera, he was a Film aficionado with an old viewfinder camera.

I asked him about it and he gave me a quick overview, including taking a picture of Budapests spectacular Széchenyi Chain Bridge and zooming in to 20x, which convinced me that an optical zoom isn't necessarily necessary. Then he named the price and my interest waned quickly.

After several iterations of point-and-shoot cameras for holidays that don't warrant taking a heavy Canon 60D with several optics along, I was getting weary of the crap image quality, the irritating handling and the cheapo camera bodies. The last point-and-shoot I owned (still have it, in fact) was a Canon SX240HX. This little package offers a 20x optical zoom with image stabilizer - unfortunately it flares so heavily even at 10x that the pictures are ok for picking out something distant and capturing it for memories, but you certainly wouldn't want to put it on a 20x30cm print and hang it on the wall.

So when I came across
this review of the X100T by Ken Rockwell, my interest picked up again, despite the seemingly high cost of the camera. I read other reviews on the web, as well as reviews on Amazon, but lastly it was Mr. Rockwell's review that convinced me to give this camera a whirl. You might think that no one in their right mind would buy a camera at this pricepoint just from what they read about it? Well, I did. And I don't regret it one second.

That said, you can imagine that this review will be mostly positive, though I do have one or two things that I feel might have been done better (but I'm complaining on a very high level).
I'll also be addressing some things Mr. Rockwell put in his review. I don't plan on repeating all of what he wrote, as I find his review to be quite complete and to the point, so I'll just put in my two cents worth after intensely using the camera for several months.

Overall Impression
The camera is quite a bit heavier than expected - if you're used to cheapo plastic point-and-shoot cameras, you're in for a treat, both size- and weightwise. Personally, the added weight doesn't bother me in the least, I'm able to grip the camera much better due to the dimensions and the added weight gives confidence in both the ability to hold the unit steady and in the inbuilt quality.

If you're looking for a point-and-shoot, then this camera probably isn't for you. Of course it has automatic modes, so theoretically you could use it just to snap vacation pictures, but you'll probably be annoyed that you can't just flick the flash on with a switch or a button and you might feel that having a fixed focal length lens is too limiting. In addition, the pricepoint is easily four times a decent point-and-shoot with optical zoom.

This camera is clearly slated at people that don't want to snap pictures but rather do photography. The variability and adjustability is a huge plus - and for the most part, access to these controls is perfect. Just having an aperture ring and a focus ring on the lens is a dramatic departure from the normal point-and-shoot cameras, whose target customer often doesn't even know what aperture is (no offense intended - you don't need to know how an engine operates in order to drive a car, either).

The picture quality is formidable - the sensor resolution is the same as my Canon D60, and without having done comparative photography, I've got a feeling that the Fuji sensor is superior. I will do some tests in the near future, though and add them to this review. Some time ago, I wanted to film a „performance“ our kids put on (at home) and my D60 failed me completely (it had both issues with the memory card as well as with the lighting) - luckily, I had my X100T to hand, which captured the spectacle beautifully, despite the poor lighting.

Things I'd like to change
There are some things I'd like to change, but they are minimal. Take the on-off switch, for example. This is nearly perfect - the position, as a lever just under the shutter release, is easily findable without looking, the feedback is clear when operating it. It is too short, though, in my opinion. If your finger is just a tad oily or sweaty, you'll be digging at the indentations on the switch with your fingernail to operate it. I think that just adding a millimeter to it would have helped greatly - it is just too near-flush with the front of the camera for optimal operation.

Next is the rather large switch on the front between the lens and shutter release: this is a classic retro element that - in older 35mm cameras was used for the self-timer. Some designer probably said "we need to have that on there for the retro look", so the engineers thought about what they would do with it. So they made it to the switch that changes the viewfinder mode. I would love to have this switch changeable by software setting to some other function - I might put the Macro on/off function there or even the Flash on/off. The position is perfect and very easily operable while shooting. I haven't found the option to change this yet, but perhaps this will be possible in some future software release.

Lastly the manual: I’ve never seen such a crappy document from any established electronics equipment brand! It is horrible to read (probably written by the same engineer that put together the menu structure on my first car phone…) and much too short. The camera is complicated enough that it needs some decent and readable documentation. The manual that comes with it absolutely does not comply with this requirement.

Mr. Rockwell took the time to
write his own manual for the original X100, and even though the buttons and some of the functions on the X100T are different, I heartily recommend it to anyone new to the camera.

Things I love
Well, besides the view points above, basically everything else! I will mention a few things that are unusual for digital cameras, though:

1. USB Charging
At last, a camera you can charge via USB - I have no idea why all point-and-shoots I know of don’t offer this. In a time and age where charging on a USB port or wallplug charger is something toddlers can do (ok, I’m exaggerating), having to take out the battery and carrying a separate (bulky) charger is just not acceptable anymore.

I’ve now had the X100T on two vacations with just the battery already in the camera, charging in the evening. I’ve had some close calls, and if you want to make sure you don’t miss photos or video then you should probably take a second battery, but it is possible to take just the camera.

Interestingly enough, the camera draws about 700mA max when charging. Since USB charging doesn’t seem to take any longer than via the charger (about 2-3h), it appears that the batteries just can’t be charged quickly.

2. Sweep Panoramas
This one took be my surprise. Every iOS and many Android Phones offer a panorama photo mode, where you sweep the phone over a certain distance to get a - usually quite good - panorama photo.

Imagine my surprise to find such a mode by accident as one of the options when pressing the „Drive“ button! I was elated! I recommend to use the „Top to Bottom“ version, where you hold your camera in „portrait mode“ to sweep. While this is not as comfortable, it produces a more useful format, especially when doing 180° sweeps, as the resolution in the vertical direction is higher.

You can’t „interrupt“ a sweep to produce a shorter panorama, as you can on an iPhone, for example. That isn’t a problem though, as you can always crop a sweep down to what you need later on.

3. The Optics
When I first learned photography (on a Nikon FG-20, later an FM2), it was with a 50mm lens. This is what I received for Christmas many, many years ago (I believe I was 14) and that single lens is what I shot for years. Only later, when I started making money during college, did I purchase telephoto and wide-angle lenses.

I’d completely forgotten the joy of shooting a fixed, „normal“ lens. Not only is the image quality incredible (especially compared to the telezoom on my D60), the pictures have a „presence" that is just beautiful. There is no compression (telephoto) or expansion (wide angle) of the picture, so it represents roughly what you see with your own eyes, which is quite soothing. Also, when shooting with wider apertures, the background becomes beautifully blurry (Bokeh), making for astonishing people photography.

4. The Build Quality
Face it, your average point-and-shoot is a crappy piece of plastic. Drop it on the ground once, and you can be lucky to continue shooting pictures that are in focus. Not so with the X100T. It is a presence in your hands and will likely survive quite a bit more abuse unless you drop it right on the lens.

5. The Viewfinder
It is absolutely fantastic, what Fuji has done here. Just having a level „beamed“ into the optical viewfinder (along with important information on exposure, etc.) is a revelation. I have always tended to slightly (1-2°) tilted photos, which are annoying when you have something like an ocean in the picture. With the level, I take perfectly straight photos every time. My D60 has this feature, but only when taking photos via the LCD (which I rarely do).

The viewfinder is so good that I find myself using the X100T display rarely, even though it has a quick-bright feature by pressing the display button for 4+ seconds, making it excellent for bright sunlight. The viewfinder is more natural to my photography, and the X100T makes it a joy to take pictures this way. 

Points I question in regard to Mr. Rockwell's review
There are a few things mentioned in the otherwise excellent and very comprehensive review that I would challenge:
  1. he writes "The lens doesn't flare". I disagree. Any lens flares when hit by the right light from the side or front. Some lenses are better than others in preventing flare, and I would agree to "the lens almost never flares", but I have pictures with flare in them. Still: a great lens, no questions asked.
  2. he is quite adamant about not bothering with accessory lenses. There are two screw-on lenses available for the X100 series: a wide-angle and a teleconverter. While I absolutely agree that adding converters to an excellent lens takes away from the quality. Always. You also lose light - always. And while I would agree about not bothering with the wide-angle converter, I happen to have received the teleconverter as part of the camera package. I have used it and - to be honest - it isn't such a no-no, at least in my opinion. You might argue that the resolution of the resulting image is so high that you can just crop down to the part of the picture you want, you should remember that telephoto lenses don't just magnify the incoming image but also "compress" it in relation to depth of field. Especially in portrait photography, this is desired, which is why professional portrait photographers will generally use a lens slightly "larger" than the normal lens for the system. For 35mm, 80mm focal length lenses are often used (instead of 50mm "normal" lenses). 
  3. he writes that "Autofocus doesn't seem to work while shooting. Manual focus is claimed to." Autofocus works just fine while filming. You can set the Film mode to continuous autofocus or manual focus. If it is set to autofocus mode, it will re-focus as you move from a near to a far object while filming. This actually works quite well and is likely a lot faster and more precise than trying to film-and-focus by hand. It seems to use the very center of the image as a focal point.

Mr. Rockwell writes "If you're thinking about getting an X100T, just get one. You'll love it!". I got one, and I love it. If you are a photography buff and enjoy having complete control over your imaging device with superb image quality, then this camera is for you.

It is not as light or compact as some of the really small point-and-shoot zoom cameras, but the camera quality and - especially - the image quality of these toys just does not come anywhere close. You're comparing a Bentley (Fuji) to one of those motorcycle-engine boxes with four wheels they sell as "miniature cars" (point-and-shoot). But you're getting this Bentley at a very fair and affordable price.


Review: The Beekeeper by Juliet Moore

First the good news: the story is - for the most part - very fluid and consistent, the characters quite well developed.
Its a good, relatively fast read book that I would recommend to anyone as an entertainment read. Don't expect deeply twisted plotlines, just enjoy.

The negative side is twofold. For one thing, the book seems to be financed by advertising. I've never read a book that has so many references to real-life products and brands - this one is chuck full of them. Perhaps that is the new model of Kindle publishing: give away the book and finance it by "commercials" that are part of the story. I found it a bit annoying, to be quite honest - I'd prefer to pay for a novel and not be inundated by advertising.
The second issue is one of continuity - there were several pretty serious errors as the book went on. To me, this was more of a "whoops, someone didn't pay attention". As an author myself, I know how difficult it is to catch this type of error if you don't have a professional editor going through the text for you. Perhaps the result of self-publishing will be to get book updates as errors are removed, much like software updates...

Again, quite a good read for entertainment purposes, some interesting facts about beekeeping. I'll be looking for the next Elizabeth Stratton story to come out.

Here is the Amazon link:

Review: Death of a Maid: A Hamish Macbeth Murder Mystery *

I’m a big fan of Amazon’s 0,99€ Kindle daily special, and I’ve bough quite a few Kindle books this way.

One of them was
Death of a Maid: A Hamish Macbeth Murder Mystery, mainly because of the many relatively good reviews and the sheer number of times a Hamish Macbeth mystery has been on the daily special.

The author of these books is a well-established british writer, Marion Chesney, who writes under the pseudonym “M.C. Beaton”. Now there are several reasons for an established author to use a pseudonym - even Steven King uses at least one. The prime reason is likely to keep their real name “in the clear” for more serious work - much like many major product brands will also sell white-label items cheaper, to keep their well-established brand from being cannibalized.

In the case of the Hamish Macbeth series - at least this one book that I’ve read in the series - I have a different theory: seeing the sheer number of books that Mrs. Chesney has written (78 as per the Wikipedia site), I personally believe she is paying creative writing students to write the books for her, perhaps by a general plot outline she sets forth.

Whatever the case - and perhaps all her books are like this one, in which case my theory would pop like a soap bubble - the book was a real chore to read.

The language is excessively simplistic, with the exception of a word in every hundred that you absolutely need to look up, because it just isn’t in regular use anymore (some - according to the Kindle English language dictionary haven’t been in use for a couple of 100 years).

Scenes are hardly detailed at all, the book seems to consist of 90% dialog (of the kind described) and 10% repeated descriptions of the countryside, the car PC Hamish drives, his animals, etc. The story gets ridiculous at times (as in not believable at all) with incredible coincidences thrown in to - at least it appears as such to me - pull the poor writer out of the corner they’ve texted themselves into. As a side note, the editor probably felt as much pain as I did reading it, as I noticed a major continuity error (hint: PC Hamish goes out in Snowshoes to see a “client” and, after an encounter that couldn’t have taken more than a minute - would one hike for half an hour for that? - , went back in his vehicle).

I certainly can’t recommend this book - to anyone. Not even if all you’re looking for is a fast, easy read at the beach. Because it just isn’t a book to relax to, but for all the wrong reasons.

You can also find my review on Amazon here.

Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Right off the bat (no pun intended), let me tell you that The Dark Knight Rises, which I saw in the theater last night, wasn’t a film I would rate five stars out of five. If that is going to upset you, then stop reading now, please.

In short: absolutely formula, no depth to most of the characters (least of all, Mr. Wayne), incredibly predictable, totally overdone special effects. And last but not least: a scene completely and absolutely stolen from Dan Brown’s
Angels and Demons.

Still reading?

I’m a Trekkie of the first hour (well, maybe the fourth hour) - in other words, I was exposed to Star Trek at an early age, when Captain Kirk and Spock roamed the universe. In a sense, the Star Trek of the 60’s is the baseline for me in regards to action and special effects.

Another series that is certainly highly influential on me in that regard (albeit at a somewhat later age) is Dr. Who with Tom Baker. if I try to discount the bias that forms in every human being through influence (positive or negative) in childhood, I think it is safe to say that both of these TV programs had a lot of thought and energy put into making this “right” - at least as right as was possible in the days before software-generated special effects.

And because those special effects were so awful (yet ingenious, such as zooming in on a glass plate on black velvet and sprinkled with salt to generate the famous “warp 10” of the Enterprise), the story could only succeed with, well, the story!

Imagine, if you will, The Dark Knight Rises with 60’s or 70’s special effects. The story would fall apart. What might have worked in a comic book format (using the imagination of the reader to generate all the moving frames between two printed ones) certainly only works in Film by replacing those imagined frames by celluloid (yea yea, I know, it’s digital now) ones, taking from the viewer the last remaining chore - imagining.

For anyone that prefers reading books with mostly text to comics and that expects a decent storyline in a movie, I really recommend you use the ticket money to pick up a decent novel.

Podcast Recommendation: SPARK - The philosophical side of Technology

Publisher: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
Moderator: Nora Young
Language: English

Fascinating and entertaining look at the cultural and philosophical side of current technology.

Podcast Recommendation: Quirks and Quarks - Science on your iPod

Publisher: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
Moderator: Bob McDonald
Language: English

This is one of my all-time favorites.
If you’re interested in Science, then you need to subscribe to Quirks and Quarks.
The host interviews scientists (and sometimes book authors) on their very current discoveries.
Topics are very varied, covering all forms of Science.

Podcast Recommendation: Definitely not the Opera - DNTO

Publisher: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC)
Moderator: Sook-Yin Lee
Language: English

Very entertaining philosophical look at a new topic each show by one of the most entertaining english-language moderators I‘ve heard, Suk-Yen Lee. Approximately 1h per podcast, very little Canada-specific content. I listen to every episode.

First experiences with the iRobot scooba

What had originally been intended as a birthday gift is now under common ownership in our household: the iRobot Scooba. We have a lot of tile flooring (most of the ground floor as well as the bathroom upstairs), and mopping it is a real pain in the you-know-what.

So I took a chance and, after reading a couple of reviews on Amazon, ordered the unit.

A couple of insights after some first use:
  • the device is definitely NOT usable for wood flooring (despite indication of such on the manufacturer‘s website) unless the wood and especially the cracks between the panels are 100% sealed and water-tight.
  • the battery lasts long enough for about 15 square meters (approx. 150 sq. ft.) - enough to do a bathroom every couple of days, but certainly not if you have a lot of tiled floors (like we do). In the latter case, you‘ll have to split up the floor into sections using either rolled-up carpets and/or the virtual wall sender delivered with the system. To do this properly, you‘d have to purchase at least another virtual wall unit (about 30€). The 80 sq. meter coverage promoted with the product is clearly not attainable on one charge.
  • the unit is very thorough in cleaning and low enough to get under most of our furniture (something we probably haven‘t done with a mop in years) - definite plus points there
  • even the added difficulty of our semi-island cooking bay didn‘t phase the Scooba while cleaning the kitchen and next room section (the cooking island juts right into the middle of the two areas)

"Odd Hours" by Dean Koontz

I thoroughly enjoyed the first Odd Thomas book, the 2nd and 3rd were also quite ok. After reading the 4th book, there is some criticism to be put to paper. Something that has annoyed me throughout the series, but especially in the 4th book, has been the blatant placement of advertising.

I'm quite certain Mr. Koontz earns more than a generous living; why he has to defile his writing with adverts for a variety of brands is beyond me. Okay, perhaps he didn't notice the small-print clause in the publisher's contract when he signed it that would permit a fiendish editor to change every reference to Cola to a well-known soft drink brand, every mention of an antacid to a specific reference to that yucky pink stuff you see in commercials.

I've noticed this trend in some other books, but generally, you'll only get one or two "sponsored words" in a novel. I haven't read much other material from Mr. Koontz, but it seems to me its gone from mildly annoying in "Odd Thomas" to absolutely unacceptable in "Odd Hours". 

The use of advertising in novels annoys me on several levels. For one, a brand is hardly going to spend money on sponsored words with an unknown author (who could probably really use the money) - rather, they have a benefit from broad distribution through books by the top 20.

I'm not sure what the cost of a sponsored word in a bestseller novel is, but it must be huge for someone with a beachside mansion to allow the prostitution of his work. Another reason I get irked is: it distracts me. Okay, this might be a personal issue, but whenever I come across branding in a story, it pulls me out of the "magic moment", which is the reason I'm reading the book in the first place. Thirdly, I get annoyed because, folks, I've PAID for the book.

We're not talking about private television that has its sole income via commercial advertising sales. Books aren't cheap these days, and for the premium paid, absolutely expect advertising-free literature!

On the book itself, the story is entertaining enough. A factor that I found enjoyable especially in the first book, the ardent use of linguistic tools such as alliteration, metaphor, etc., to add an unusual twist to the books language and flow, has increasingly become overpowering.

In this fourth book, I find some passages difficult to read as the language is so intwined within itself that you need to fully concentrate on the language itself, which causes the story to suffer. It gives the impression of the author going through the manuscript several times, looking for ways to convolute the language. 

"Written in Bone" by Simon Beckett

Two stars for this book, no more. Where do they come from? Well, one star is for a good story idea; based on the old "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" concept (here a "double whammy"), it has quite a bit of potential. The other star is for a fluid read.

From a technical viewpoint, the book is well written; the characters feel well developed and, for the most part quite believable. Towards the end of the book, this feeling is successfully removed beyond redemption, of course.

Unfortunately, the buck stops here. Mr. Beckett takes the concept of overstatement to a new level. Without wanting to mention too many details, the story contains too much ridiculous plot to warrant more than two stars.

A large portion of the plot takes place during an Atlantic storm; having experienced one of these first-hand, I can tell you that the central characters of the novel must likely be superheroes to physically do what is described - any normal person, even a physically fit one, would be drenched to the bone after 15 minutes and rendered a shivering nincompoop after 30 in this type of weather, wearing the type of clothes described. Conversation during a pounding rain with 70km/h winds? Not in real life - in the book, this doesn't seem to be a problem. The list goes on.

Furthermore, you get the idea that the author learned only a few facts about the anthropological aspects of fire death, as he beats you around the head with them repeatedly, almost like a mantra. If you're expecting an entertaining and interesting medical discourse of the likes of "Kay Scarpetta" et al, look elsewhere.

The story could have been made into an excellent book, unfortunately Beckett uses the plot as a blunt instrument, with which he tries to pound reading enjoyment into your head.

The story becomes more unbelievable as it nears the end, with two final twists that are so badly put together it hurts. You get the feeling that after reading the first half of his manuscript, Mr. Beckett - or more likely his editor - felt that more zest was needed to keep the story alive. A bad decision - the story would have been fine without all the gore and superfluous action.

The last chapter is the final straw. It is completely ridiculous and utterly superfluous. If you've received this book as a gift or actually purchased it, do yourself a favor: tear the pages of the last chapter carefully out of the book and either deposit them in that happily crackling fire in your hearth or put them in the recycling bin. You'll give that paper a purpose that way and save yourself some pretty painful reading. Am I exaggerating just a bit here? No I'm not.

To summarize, if you're looking for good, believable forensic anthropology fiction, don't buy this book. There are other authors that do a much better job. I certainly won't be reading any more books by this author, I can tell you. If you're looking to give this book as a gift, then please do so only to people you'd like to annoy.

"Odd Thomas" by Dean Koontz

This book is stylistically so different from others I've read of Koontz that it really surprised me.

It is a highly recommended read. The language is not one of "run-of-the-mill" bestsellers but more like the classical American authors - I guess the best word I have for it is "eloquent".

I was bothered once in a while by the way Odd communicates - on the one hand Koontz is successful in making him seem like his age (20), at other times he speaks and thinks about topics in a way that even a twen with a talent like his likely would not. It isn't enough of a bother to warrant a downgrade to a four-star book, though.


"Along Came Trouble" by Sherryl Woods

To put it plainly, the book is simple entertainment and nothing more. On the minus side, it is full of coincidences that just don't happen in real life -- without these coincidences, the story would have held fine, but it just wouldn't have been as "cute".

On the plus side, the writing style is very fluid and entertaining, the characters mostly very realistic. The style keeps you going on the next chapter, even though you should have been asleep half an hour ago. It's easy reading, great for lounging by the pool or ocean. Don't expect too much, and you'll be entertained.

This book has a headliner (I believe that's what they call one-line "reviews" from popular newspapers or critics, that are printed on the back cover) that is about a different book by the same author -- which I find totally ridiculous. Had I noticed it before starting to read, I probably would have put the book aside...