Ultimate Travel Camera - That Almost Was LUMIX LX10

This is the promised follow up about a camera that I purchased, sort of liked and then sold in short order. After much toiling I purchased the Panasonic LUMIX LX10 last year and initially really [sort of] liked it. It’s a small, sleek (errr...slick), functional and well appointed carry-everywhere-with-you camera. Yet, it wasn’t ultimately what I was hoping for. Let’s break it down and I’ll share a few images from my short journey with the LUMIX to see why it didn’t make the cut.

 One of the bright spots of the LX10 was the macro capability. Here we see  Photo Lego Dude  committing for the shot in Hawaii.

One of the bright spots of the LX10 was the macro capability. Here we see Photo Lego Dude committing for the shot in Hawaii.

Form Factor & Reliability

One of the major factors in deciding on an everyday carry is the size & how it fits in your hand. The LX10 nailed both of those well enough, but it was almost too small without the addition of some sort of grip as it was a very slick camera to hold onto. Thankfully I never dropped it but came close a few times (love that wrist strap). The much lauded Sony RX100 series suffers from the same design flaw as well. A bit of grippiness could have gone a long way in keeping this thing around. The on/off switch was also unfortunately very easy to activate and I’d sometimes reach into my bag only to find the battery was drained. Clearly not a good thing if time is of the essence for a particular scene.

After a short time of use the lens closure (automatic cover) developed an annoying issue. It wouldn’t fully close or open when turning the camera on/off. This of course didn’t affect the way it captured photos per se, but was a pain as I needed to pay attention so as to not miss a photo opportunity with the closure stuck half open (assuming the battery wasn’t dead). I ultimately sent it back for warranty twice for this issue and it worked great after the second fix. Nonetheless, I wasn’t overly impressed and lost weeks of time without the camera while it was being repaired.

Mt. Rainier looking formidable above the clouds. I believe big zooms on compact cameras are in the gimmicky range but occasionally they are useful.

What I Liked

For a small body and 1” sensor the LX10 actually captured pretty decent photos.  The Leica f/1.4-f/2.8 lens is an excellent addition that I felt without the camera would have been pure ‘meh’. It is decently sharp with a useful 24-72mm optical zoom range and a slightly useful digital zoom for a touch more reach.

The articulating screen while fairly standard on cameras these days is a welcome & useful addition for low angle shooting. I’ve really adapted and gotten used to having an articulating screen and fully believe they belong on modern cameras.

The macro capability was actually quite good for such a small sensor and the focusing range nearly down to an inch it makes for easy floral shots or of course Lego Photograhers.

Gimmicks

Though technically most cameras come with what are better known as ‘features’ I like to call them ‘gimmicks’ depending on their usefulness. Things such as the aforementioned articulating screen and 4K focus stacking are arguably useless if they are not well executed. The 4K focus unfortunately stacking falls in the gimmicky range. I was looking forward to this feature for shots of Photo Lego Dude’s adventures, but in the end the results always left something to be desired. Better to manually stack images in Photoshop for truly sharp results.

How about that touch screen you say? Actually yes, it was useful and I enjoyed being able to select focal points with it and navigating the less than stellar menu system with relative ease. Seems everything is touch screen these days and that isn’t always a bad thing. So not quite gimmicky.

 Low light/indoor shooting was mildly effective with the LX10, if you bumped up the ISO image quality was quickly lost. At the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

Low light/indoor shooting was mildly effective with the LX10, if you bumped up the ISO image quality was quickly lost. At the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

 Chicago at night. One of the few favorite images that I captured with the LX10, for those that like natural star bursts f/8 worked perfect in this case.

Chicago at night. One of the few favorite images that I captured with the LX10, for those that like natural star bursts f/8 worked perfect in this case.

 What else does one do in Tokyo but visit a cat cafe? LX10 had the occasional great natural tones with good enough light.

What else does one do in Tokyo but visit a cat cafe? LX10 had the occasional great natural tones with good enough light.

 The LX10’s portability was one of it’s best features, small & lightweight makes it great for coming along on the ride or in the backcountry.

The LX10’s portability was one of it’s best features, small & lightweight makes it great for coming along on the ride or in the backcountry.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately I found the LX10 uninspring and at times frustrating to shoot with but also occasionally useful and fun. I’ll probably miss it at times, but it wasn’t a camera that I felt I could get repeatable results with or print with confidence if I did capture a good moment. Would I recommend it as a general point & shoot for vacation memories or backpacking camera? Certainly. But for the discerning pro or enthusiast who needs a little more from their everyday carry looks elsewhere. Something like say...oh a Fuji X100 series.

Sleeklens Presets Review

I was recently given the opportunity to test & review some handy Lightroom presets from the nice folks over at Sleeklens. If you use Lightroom much you are probably familiar with the usefulness of presets. Though it's nice to have handy one-click editing at your fingertips, I always consider presets to be a starting point and not a finishing point. This is where presets such as those offered by Sleeklens can come in handy.

How I Create & Edit Images

Before we delve into the before & afters, a quick primer on how I shoot & edit might be handy. I'm of the school of thought that getting the image right in the first place is the best starting point in making good images. Though the camera's sensor and human eye never see the same scene as it was. Digital images often need updated [edited] to do the scene justice as your eye saw it.

So when I do use presets they are 'primers' or 'starters' then I fine tune the image with Lightroom's individual controls as I go along. The nice thing about Sleeklens' offering is that it is built as a 'layered' system to editing in Lightroom that others don't accomplish. So there can be less 'right panel' editing and quicker 'left panel' edits to achieve a similar result. 

Not Just Another Preset

As I mentioned above, Sleeklens presets use a sort of building block or layering method. While their presets also come with 'all-in-one' clicks that you might be used to the stackable options are a different approach. I won't explain how that works in detail as they have put together a short video on exactly how it works, but you can see some examples I used below.

The other handy thing I really enjoyed using are the brush presets, which handily also function in the gradient tool. While you can always customize your brush settings to your heart's content having quick presets in the brush & gradient menu can speed up your workflow. 

Alright, enough chatter - let's get into some before & after images to see what these presets are all about.

Before/After #1 - This was an image from McWay Falls in Big Sur, California. The image on the left was SOOC from my Fuji X-T1 as a JPEG with a 10 second exposure. For this edit I decided to show what the all-in-one preset can do with no further touches. This was the Calm Sunset preset from the Through the Woods landscape collection. I really like the warm tones and clarity the preset gave the image.

Before/After #2 - This image is from Glacier National Park in Montana. Taken with my old Nikon D300 the original file was a RAW file (NEF) with good exposure. Though I thought it might look better as a black & white image with a few adjustments. So I used the layering/stacking method with the following presets in this order:  (1) Base - Monochrome Fantasy (2) Exposure - Less Highlights (5) Polish - Less Contrast (6) Vignette - Subtle Black.

Before/After #3 - The final image was taken from our balcony in Innsbruck, Austria while on holiday. Once again, the first image was well exposed from my Fuji X-T1 and another SOOC JPEG. I utilized the entire suite of options from the 'Through the Woods' landscape preset offering to include local brush adjustment presets. (1) Base - Cinematic (2) Exposure - Less Highlights (3) Color Correct - Reduce Yellows (4) Tone/Tint - Warm (5) Polish - Sharpen (6) Vignette - Subtle Black + Bright Shadows Adjustment Brush on the ballon and Darken Shadows Brush on the mountains. 

Conclusion - Presets Worth the Investment?

So in the end are presets like what Sleeklens offer worth your hard earned money? Absolutely, but with a few caveats you should consider.

Preset packages tend to come with lots of looks/options some of which are superfluous or overkill for some photographer's editing needs, this package included. With so much at your fingertips it is easy to over-edit your images or just get lost in the editing process. If you know your way around Lightroom and have your own style chances are flooding your presets menu with more options isn't for you.

That said, presets tend to help photographers develop their style, help work through editing mental blocks and can be useful in learning how to edit as you can see the changes that happen.

While presets can be a dime a dozen the Sleeklens offering is different enough in the building block/layering methodology to offer something unique. While I'll remove certain presets & brush/gradient options I'll definitely keep a lot of it around for future use. If you are in the market for presets I'd definitely give them a solid look. 

https://sleeklens.com/product-category/lightroom-presets/

https://sleeklens.com/lightroom-tutorials/

*disclaimer - I did receive the presets free in exchange for an honest review.

 

Search for the Ultimate Travel Camera

Ahh, the mythical and often sought ultimate 'travel' camera. Is it a myth or reality? If you are ready to join me, I'm about to go down the rabbit hole in search of the best travel camera for my needs. And who knows, maybe your needs too as I happen to be in the market to replace my older Nikon P7000 and Sigma DP1s point & shoot cameras. The timing for this adventure in specs & details couldn't be better.

So why am I in the market for a new travel camera? As I've mentioned previously I'm an airline pilot and of course travel on a weekly basis. I usually keep one of the aforementioned smaller point & shoot cameras in my messenger bag for a general walk around camera as I'm exploring various locales each week. On trips where I intend to do more 'serious' shooting I'll of course bring the much more capable & amazing Fuji X-T1 along with the rest of my kit (tripod, filters, lenses, etc.) but I do enjoy having a high quality compact camera with me at all times.

The impetus to move forward with finding a new camera came a few weeks back from a licensing inquiry. Last year I snapped the image below with my much loved but also despised at times Sigma DP1s in Devils Lake, North Dakota. The client desired a larger version of the picture but I had already cropped it from the maximum file size that the DP1s produces (2652x1768 pixels). Thus the best I could do was upsize it in Photoshop with decent result. After that request I realized I needed a much more capable camera for my weekly travels as I do happen upon portfolio & large print worthy shots from time to time.

A cold sunset in Devils Lake, ND | Sigma DP1s

Travel Camera Defined

So before we proceed, we should define what exactly constitutes a 'travel' camera. Opinions will of course vary for many photographers, as anything from a larger DLSR to a mirrorless ILC to a smart phone might be the answer for some. For me a 'travel' camera is defined as a compact, fixed lens, high image quality capable camera that can be easily tossed in your daily bag or jacket pocket without trouble. If you are bringing multiple lenses or need a separate camera bag that defeats the purpose of a true travel camera. While budget constraints will affect the ultimate selection, I'm going for the higher end $700 - $1,200 point & shoot cameras that will meet my own performance, quality & printability needs. 

Along with my general description above, I'm also looking for the following key aspects in said camera: excellent image quality & large sensor, good ISO performance, wide'ish angle lens for landscapes, fast lens (f/2.8 or faster), tilt screen, rugged build, external controls, built in ND filter a plus, decent macro, and perhaps limited zoom though a single focal length is just fine. 

Things that I'm not looking for in my quest for the ultimate travel camera are as follows: mega zoom range (lame), interchangeable lenses, bulky design, fancy automated shooting modes (give me manual control!) or video capabilities. 

For comparison sake an image from the Nikon P7000 - Keeping an eye on the storm from 32,000 feet | Nikon Coolpix P7000

The Contenders

So, which cameras fit into my definition?

I'm currently researching five different cameras from 4 different manufacturers. The soon to be released Nikon DL 18-50, Fuji X70, Fuji X100T, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 and the Sony DSC-RX100 IV. Each camera has its strength & weaknesses which I'll attempt to briefly highlight below so as to not write a novel.

The 5 choices left to right - Nikon DL 18-50, Fuji X70, Fuji X100T, Lumix DMC-LX100 & Sony RX100 IV. Photo credits to respective manufactures.

Nikon DL 18-50 - MSRP $850 - as a current Nikon shooter (and former Nikon DSLR shooter) I'm actually quite excited about this camera. Although Nikon are a bit late to the game in introducing larger sensors in compact cameras, they seemingly have a great offering here. The DL 18-50 (uninspiring name btw) hasn't been released yet so I'm a bit hesitant to pull the trigger before some extensive reviews are out there. Or better yet, I get my own hands on it!

Pros: good zoom range without being ridiculous, wide aperture throughout focal length, 20.8 MP backlit sensor, image stabilization, good ISO performance, compact size, touch/tilt screen

Cons: new camera with limited reviews, Nikon smart phone app gets bad reviews, no flash or viewfinder

(quick note - to make matters even slightly more confusing I'm adding the Nikon DL 24-85 for consideration due to its macro capability, specs otherwise are the same as the DL 18-50 though of course not quite as wide)

Fuji X70 - MSRP $700 - as a current Fuji owner the immediate familiarity with this or the X100T make both cameras leading contenders. I absolutely love the images my X-T1 produces with that classic Fuji look and both cameras will produce great results with the X-Trans sensors. The compact size of the X70 makes it very attractive indeed. Though similar to the Nikons above, it is a new release as of February 2016 so not many reviews out there just yet. However I'll be renting one next week to see what I think.

Pros: compact size, budget friendly, same 16.3MP APS-C X-Trans sensor as more expensive Fuji options, touch/tilt screen, 18.5mm lens (28mm equiv) is great for landscapes, actual aperture/shutter/EV dials, digital crop feature to increase reach of lens (unsure of quality though), hybrid autofocus

Cons: no image stabilization, no built in ND filter, no optical viewfinder, 2nd smallest resolution size of the five, max aperture of f/2.8 not the widest but overall good

Fuji X100T - MSRP $1,300 - honestly this is probably the leading contender right now, though the price tag is higher than I was hoping to spend for a walk around/travel camera. The X100T has many features I'm looking for and yet it isn't the equivalent of my X-T1 nor is it 'too much' as the XPRO-2 would be for my weekly travel needs. With the rumored Fuji X-T2 also coming out in the fall, I shouldn't go overboard for a travel camera either as I'll be picking up the X-T2.

Pros: basically an XT-10 (not quite X-T1) wrapped in a compact body, great ISO range, fast lens with quality Fuji optics, built in ND filter, good resolution, 35mm focal length

Cons: largest camera among the five, no image stabilization, rumored replacement forthcoming in the fall (see below for thoughts), no tilting LCD screen, expensive but currently around $1,000USD

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 - MSRP $800 - this camera has been a favorite among many photographers and offers many great characteristics. My main hesitation in purchasing it is that most likely Panasonic will release a new version this fall. I don't want buyer's remorse later on, especially after a likely price drop after the replacement is announced.

Pros: good image quality, zoom range, 24-75mm, large sensor, good autofocus, good battery life, manual controls, good deals to be had right now

Cons: replacement due fairly soon, reported lens flare issues, no tilting LCD screen, smallest max resolution of the five

Sony DSC-RX100 IV - MSRP $950 - another fan favorite, the Mark IV RX100 has won over many photographers. Its very compact size with respect to image quality is enticing to be sure. Though it lacks the external controls for quick adjustments which is a turn off. And while I don't need a camera to look 'sexy' it lacks the retro look that so many others have launched of late that I am honestly smitten with.

Pros: Zeiss f/1.8-2.8 lens, 20.1 MP 'stacked' sensor, tilting LCD, built in ND filter, responsive, truly pocketable

Cons: lacks the retro look & no external dials for quick adjustments, very particular about SD card type (bad when traveling perhaps if other cards fail), short battery life

Ok, So Now What?

One final option would be to simply purchase the Fuji 18mm f/2.0 pancake lens, slap it on my X-T1 and always have that with me. Though there are a handful of issues with that approach:

  • I prefer having a good camera for my wife to shoot with when we travel together. She has captured some amazing images, so having a good camera in her capable hands is always smart.
  • I don't want my primary camera to get unnecessary wear & tear each week.
  • I'll also bring two cameras when out by myself in case one fails or the other is busy doing a time-lapse for instance.
  • Slapping the 18mm on and calling it a day with would defeat the entire purpose of this post ;)

So there you have it! Over the next month or two I'm going to do a handful of rentals, hit the camera store and attempt to find my ultimate travel camera. Though I realize there is probably no such thing, I believe one of these will be a very good fit with few compromises. I'll plan to report back with my choice and will give a full breakdown of its performance.

So what do you think? Am I on the right track? Have you shot or do you own any of these cameras? Did I miss any? Please feel free to comment below on what you think might be your choice for ultimate travel camera.

 

Paris, two primes and the Fuji X-T1

Imagine walking the streets of Paris, or any other city for that matter, with a light weight & compact camera system that is both subtle in looks and impressive in performance. Imagine being able to smartly & quickly change settings, blend in to the crowd and get the results you want. What does this camera look like? I'll cut right to the chase and state it's the Fuji X-T1.

Having recently switched from shooting Nikon DSLRs to Fuji mirrorless I was admittedly somewhat apprehensive taking a photo intensive trip without my trusty DSLR. I'd grown quite accustomed to shooting Nikon for nearly 10 years and wasn't quite comfortable yet with the X-T1 before hopping on our flight to Paris. This trip would be an excellent opportunity to both further my familiarity with the X-T1 and determine if it really is a replacement of the tried & true DSLR. I brought along two prime lenses, the Fuji XF 23mm f/1.4 and the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 for going wide. The simplicity and sharpness of shooting with only prime lenses would prove to be a great test of the camera's abilities.

There are several good reviews out there for the Fuji X-T1 so I won't spend time rehashing what you may have read already, listing boring specs or worry about pixel peeping. Instead I'll focus on what my main concerns are for real life shooting, favorite features and whether or not the X-T1 qualifies as 'professional' in my book. And perhaps more importantly, is it really the DSLR killer?

Handling & Aesthetics

Much of the hoopla and draw to the X-T1 has been its retro styling and more importantly its light weight, small size, and ease of use (actual dials on the outside!). The more rational side of a photographer of course should fancy the latter bit of qualities but I'm a sucker for good aesthetics and design. I must admit when I first got my hands on the X-T1 it was love at first sight. The mixture of superb design, metal body, and thoughtful use of the various metal dials felt like pure picture making magic in my hands. 

It really is a beauty - iPhone 5S

From the ISO dial to the comfy grip to the programmable function buttons this camera invites the user to be confident and just take good photos. All this without the need to dig into complex menus for various settings which you hardly ever use. 

Flippy Screen

Granted the 'flippy screen' has a technical name of 'tilting LCD', but I still like referring to it as the former. I was admittedly apprehensive and thought the flippy screen was a bit of a gimmick that was more deserving of a cheaper camera not of a pro-caliber camera. Well, I was wrong. The ability to rotate the LCD screen and use live view whether you are lifting the camera up high or down low to compose a shot is actually quite handy. Beyond handy actually, I'll call it superbly useful. Gone are the days of having to lie in a mud puddle to get that fresh perspective or grasping to a fence to get a better view and hoping you get the shot. Simply rotate the LCD screen the desired direction, frame your shot and take the picture. While not earth shattering or always useful I have really enjoyed using this feature.

The usefulness of the 'flippy screen' shined for this composition as I had to reach above a fence to make this shot. Fuji X-T1, XF 23mm 

Image Quality & Performance

The ability (or lack thereof) of the Fuji X-T1 to keep up with traditional DSLRs was one of my biggest questions going into this transition. Could it replace a Nikon or Canon DSLR (full frame or APS-C) for my style of shooting? Like many before me, my journey of learning who I am as a photographer has spanned many genres of making photos. I've shot cycling races, various action sports, weddings, portraits, landscapes, travel etc. Nowadays I fancy myself a pretty decent landscape & travel photographer that is focused and ready to make good on my past experience. So does the X-T1 meet the criteria I need? 

Music in the Metro | Fuji X-T1, XF 23mm

In short, yes. The ISO performance is nothing short of amazing up to 6400 (who really needs more?). The RAW files have the detail and depth I need to push & pull shadows/highlights or print big. The in camera JPEGs (when exposed properly) are simply amazing straight out of the camera. I no longer have any reservations and image quality and overall performance for my needs. Professional level indeed.

Weather Sealing

I'll keep this section short, but the fact this this camera is so very well sealed is a nod to Fuji's engineers & attention to detail. Combine this with one of the Fuji weather sealed lenses and you can operate in some gnarly conditions without worrying too much about ruining your gear. This camera is apparently so well sealed that projects such as shooting in the Oneonta Gorge in Oregon could be done quite comfortably. I wouldn't dunk it or shoot in a heavy rain storm but it should hold up well in most situations.

WIFI Connectivity

Along with the the aforementioned 'flippy screen' I wondered why or when I might utilize such a feature before trying it out. Turns out, it is darn handy. Fuji's iOS app is well thought out with the ability to remotely capture pictures and change multiple settings with ease. I do wish that it could function in bulb mode, though that should be a fairly easy software/firmware update down the road. Otherwise I can imagine myself working on a new set of street candids while operating the shutter from my phone vs. being behind the camera itself. Not to mention you can wirelessly transfer images from the camera to your mobile device to quickly share on whatever social media platform you choose.

A pleasant picture of a Mini taken with my 'mini' X-T1, assisted by using the in-camera level grid - XF 23mm

Nitpicks/Wishlist

As you can likely surmise to this point, I'm a fan of this camera. Yet I do need to point out a few flaws that should be addressed in the next flagship iteration: 

  • The D-pad on the back of the camera honestly sucks. Others have pointed this out and I agree. The buttons are too small and not easy to utilize. Especially with gloves on. I haven't used the X-100T but from what I hear Fuji should have stuck with that setup. Why they changed it I have no idea.
  • The sensor. To this point I'm impressed and ecstatic on the performance Fuji has squeezed out of a 16MP crop sensor. Though I wouldn't complain about more performance to be honest. Fuji is rumored to be working on pushing the X-Trans sensor to higher performance while not necessarily going full frame. I'm ok with this, in fact excited that Fuji isn't resting on their laurels and not caught up in full frame mania.
  • Autofocus is actually very good, though it remains a bit below top end DSLR performance. If you are shooting sports or weddings you might still want a DSLR setup though several working pros are having great success with the X-T1 in these areas. All of my sports shooting now is geared more toward environmental type shots where the athlete is a part of the scene and not dominant in the frame therefore I don't need hyper-speed focusing. Simply using pre-focus is always an option with X-T1 if you are having trouble shooting fast moving subjects.
  • Battery life is fairly short, but simply carry an extra battery or two and you should be set for most daily shoots. I do hope Fuji refines the battery meter at some point as once it starts to go downhill you get little warning.

View from the Sacré-Cœur of the Eiffel Tower | Fuji X-T1, 12mm Rokinon

The small stature of the X-T1 helped me look like a hapless tourist more so than a 'photographer' to capture this candid shot. Fuji X-T1, XF 23mm

Charlie Hebdo | Fuji XT-1, Rokinon 12mm

On the Metro | Fuji XT-1, XF 23mm

Final Thoughts

So it the DSLR killer as I'd hoped? Mostly yes and just a wee bit of no.

Yes, to the point that for my needs & desires it fits the bill and then some. For landscape, street and travel photography I have yet to feel I need 'more' camera. Sure, higher megapixels on a full frame could help in printing huge images but few working photographers actually need such a thing. My own work consists of images for magazines, printed fine art and digital media. You can easily push a Fuji RAW file to over 50MB for some impressive viewing results & sharpness if needed. There are many other goodies that I didn't cover such as the Q menu, film simulation modes, countdown timer for long exposures, amazing EVF, phenomenal auto white balance, the list goes on. 

No, to the point that it wouldn't quite be my go to camera for shooting sports on the sidelines or working a big bike race. Also Fuji's lens lineup isn't quite 'mature' yet though it's getting very close. Once the XF100-400mm and XF120mm Macro come out later this year the lineup will nearly be complete for most professional and amateur photographers alike. 

If you've been hesitating to make the switch to the X-T1 or purchase one to supplement your DSLR setup, hesitate no longer. You might even find your DSLR spends more time on the shelf than you ever thought possible. Professional level indeed.