Saturday, March 4, 2017

What's So Great About Fujiflm X-Trans Anyway?

Yashica Minister-D & Fujifilm X-E1 - South Weber, Utah
There have been several different articles published lately on popular photography websites invalidating the Fujifilm X-Trans sensor. If you were to read these negative posts you'd think that Fuji created garbage products. I currently use a Fuji camera that has an X-Trans sensor, so I thought I'd give a response.

Instead of going point-by-point and refuting false claims by people who haven't even used a Fuji camera (but instead used test shots found on the web), I'm going to give my own personal impressions. And, yes, you read that correctly, the people who are speaking the loudest against Fujifilm haven't personally used their products! Crazy, isn't it?

I'll start with something that has absolutely nothing to do with the camera sensor. What I love the most about Fuji cameras is their design. The cameras combine a striking mix of retro and modern that is indeed beautiful, but that's not what I'm talking about.

For decades and decades and decades most film cameras had a similar and simple arrangement of controls. If you knew how to work one camera you could pick up almost any camera from any brand and begin using it. But once camera makers embraced advancements in electronics, all of these controls began to change. It settled on what we have today, which is a PASM dial and many controls buried in menus and nondescript wheels and buttons.
Zenit-E & FED 5c - South Weber, Utah
Retro 35mm film cameras like these are what inspired the Fujifilm designers.
What Fujifilm did is return to the old school controls that makes perfect sense to old school film photographers. Want to change the shutter speed? There's a knob right on top of the camera for that. Want to adjust the aperture? It's right on the lens like it used to be. You can use the camera in full manual mode with controls that are just like old fully manual film cameras. I absolutely love this!

Another non-sensor thing that deserves mentioning is Fuji's excellent lenses. Glass is just as important, if not more important, than the sensor, and Fujinon lenses are better than most. A lot of people love Fujifilm cameras more for the glass than the sensor.

The X-Trans sensor is actually an ordinary Sony sensor, but without a Bayer color array on top. Back when Fuji invented X-Trans, all camera sensors (except for the Foveon sensor in Sigma cameras) had an anti-aliasing (optical-low-pass) filter, which blurs the image slightly to prevent moire pattern distortion. By removing the filter you have a slightly sharper image. Fujifilm, with the X-Trans sensor, was one of the first camera makers to not use an anti-aliasing filter. Nowadays many Bayer sensors don't have this filter because it was discovered that as resolution increased the need for an anti-aliasing filter decreased.

The Sony sensors found in Fujifilm cameras have been used in a bunch of different Sony, Nikon and Pentax cameras. They are very popular. But the X-Trans color filter array is different. A Bayers color filter array has a 2x2 pattern with 50% green, 25% blue and 25% red light sensitive sensor elements (or pixels). An X-Trans color filter array has a 6x6 semi-random pattern with 55% green, 22.5% blue and 22.5% red. Green is where the luminosity information comes from.
Fujifilm & Fujinon - South Weber, Utah
As you can imagine, the X-Trans sensor is much more complicated to process. The Bayer pattern is the tried and true and is much less complex. But there are some advantages to the X-Trans that make it worth the extra trouble.

An X-Trans sensor, which has more green pixels, gathers more luminosity information than the same Bayer sensor, so it can capture more information in the shadows. It has a greater dynamic range and better high-ISO capabilities. The X-Trans color array allows Fujifilm cameras to produce results closer to what you'd expect from full-frame cameras.

This is not to say that it's all roses. Because there are fewer blue and red pixels, there is a little more guesswork with what colors should be, and occasionally the algorithms don't get everything 100% correct (mostly only noticeable when pixel-peeping). There are rare (and I want to emphasize rare) anomalies and artifacts that you wouldn't get with a typical Bayer sensor.

With the X-Trans sensor the way in which data is processed had to be reinvented. Fuji decided to rethink some other aspects of image processing while they were at it.
F Is For Film - South Weber, Utah
One thing that Fuji does different is that they program their cameras to underexpose the image and push the shadows and mid-tones to the correct exposure. This maximizes dynamic range and prevents clipped highlights. It's brilliant, yet some say that it is cheating. I think this is something every camera company should do.

Another thing that Fuji does different is that they process camera-made JPEGs better. Nobody, not even Canon and Nikon, makes better looking camera-made JPEGs than Fujifilm. Fuji JPEGs look more like processed RAW files than typical JPEGs. They also modeled the "look" of their JPEGs after different classic films. Because of this I've actually stopped shooting RAW and rely on JPEGs instead, which saves me tons of time.

A final thing that Fuji does different is how their cameras process digital noise. If you compare X-Trans to Bayer, you'll find that the overall amount of noise is similar, but the way the noise looks is much different. X-Trans produces digital noise that looks more like film grain and less like typical digital noise. It's another bit of brilliant programming by Fuji that's often overlooked.

My point in all of this is not to convince anyone to go out and buy Fujifilm products. Use what works for you. For me, what works is my Fuji X-E1, which is one of the older models, but is still a good camera. It's just that I've seen some garbage being published on the web lately that I wanted to respond to. What better place to do it than my own blog?

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