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Review: “Mastering the Fuji X100” by Michael Diechtierow

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pcg

Mastering the Fuji X100” by Michael Diechtierow has just been released. I received my copy from Amazon a few days ago. (There are some reports that Mastering is already back-ordered)

Let me begin this review by stating upfront that this is a great camera manual. It’s well written, thoughtfully laid out and has just the right amount of graphics to make its points. Even better, Mastering doesn’t pander to beginning photogs; it assumes that anyone shelling out $1,300 for a camera knows his or her way around shutter speeds and apertures. It doesn’t spend wasted time explaining photography basics. For me, that’s a huge plus.

Before I go into detail, let me mention my own experiences. I’ve been taking photographs since the mid 1960s when I was very young. In time I graduated from a Pentax K100 to an old Contax, then to rangefinders: a Leica IIIC, then a couple IIIFs, then proudly to the pricier IIIG. I graduated from the pre-1950s Leicas in time to Leica Ms (four or five M3s, and later an M6), as well as a couple Nikons, two Canon DLSRs and a Hasselblad, all with the usual variety of lens. I did the darkroom route early on, owned my own darkroom equipment and actively printed large-scale photos. I’ve been in shows, galleries and have pieces in museums and private collections in both the US and Europe. About 10 years ago I shifted abruptly into digital photography and began learning Photoshop and a half dozen plug-ins. So I’ve taken a few photos, and generally know my way around a camera. Last, as a disclaimer, I don’t know Diechtierow, and have no affiliation with Fuji or the publisher.

Now, back to Mastering the Fuji X100… Diechtierow, the author, owns and shoots an X100. He’s clearly an enthusiast, and writes with passion. He sprinkles the book with tips that he learned the hard way, and doesn’t hesitate to be critical when the camera’s functions don’t meet his expectations. In other words, although he loves the camera, he’s not a Fuji apologist. That too wins points from me. I don’t need a manual from a fan boy.

Mastering starts off with basic setup tips, then moves into a section-by-section discussion about the LCD monitor and the hybrid viewfinder; exposures; focusing with the X100; ISO, sensitivity and noise; IQ; white balance; correct jpeg settings; dynamic range; series, bracketing, panoramas, movies; macro photography; flash and use of the ND filter, fn button and quick start mode. The book concludes with a very brief discussion about accessories.

Part of my enthusiasm about Mastering is that it intelligently deals with both the X100’s basics as well as the not-so-easily discovered nuances. The book shines, particularly in comparison to Fuji’s owner’s manual, which is astonishingly basic. In comparison, Mastering is clear as a bell, thoughtfully organized and the useful reference it claims to be. To my great surprise as an X100 owner, I learned a few tricks. Nice! By the time I was halfway through the book, I’d concluded the short money I’d spent was already a great investment.

Some of the better sections? Diechtierow provides definitive Shooting and Setup Menus. What a pleasure after trying to dig through Fuji’s version. Diechtierow discusses the use of histograms and Fuji’s exposure dial and what to watch for. His discussion of Fuji’s less than impressive manual focus option is one of the best I’ve seen. There’s a useful section on focusing in the dark. Diechtierow is particularly adept at comparing the pros and cons of RAW versus JPEG shooting. He even provides, somewhat to my amusement, a “profile for a RAW shooter”—settings to maximize IQ for those shooting RAW, something I hadn’t considered. I quickly changed my shooting profile, as this was a persuasive section (and I exclusively shot RAW with the X100).

There’s an excellent section on dynamic range (DR). He’s careful in this lengthy chapter to differentiate RAW from JPEGs, ISO speed and “exposing to the right” using histograms. Of particular use are his comparative photographs at DR100, DR200 and DR400. The photos pop out the differences in dark and light areas when different DRs are dialed in. There’s a thorough discussion of the pros and cons for each of these settings. I found myself nodding in approval.

As noted, Diechtierow also describes proper techniques for macro photography. There’s also a thorough discussion of flash, which includes automatic, forced, suppressed and slow syncro flash. There are comparative photos of various subjects taken with and without flash. He also discusses Fuji’s EF-20 and EF-42 flashes; I own the latter, and had to agree that the EF-42 is a beast that quickly unbalances the X100 if not used carefully.

I’ll skim over many of the details in the book—he provides more than enough. Suffice it to say that I found nothing missing, and that the information provided is logically organized—exactly what I’d expect for a reference book.

Regardless of my general praise, I encountered a few irritations. The index is woefully inadequate. I’m an index guy—it’s the first place I turn when I want to know what page to find something. As thorough as the overall book is, the index works as its opposite—a hurriedly put together section that could be tremendously improved. I suspect an editor and not Diechtierow put the index together. As the author of several books, I know that the index is always compiled only after a book is formatted for printing. Nevertheless, Diechtierow should have raised hell over this issue.

I also found many of the photos poorly printed. In some sections Diechtierow provides three side-by-side photos, intending to show differences in, for instance, noise or DR. Unfortunately, in many instances, the three photos print almost identically. To Diechtierow’s credit though he provides a webpage that has a far better example of many of these photographs. Does that work? Sure, but the book quality should have covered that, and I should not be forced to close the book and go on-line for better illustrations.

But these are minor quibbles. Overall I’m pleased to add this to my photographic library. It works as a good resource; the price is great; and the information thorough and varied enough to satisfy photographers from neophytes to those who are highly experienced.

--Pat Garner

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flysurfer

Thank you for your valuable feedback. It's quite helpful given the fact that I'm about to write a book on the X-Pro1 system for the same publisher. For obvious reasons, I don't want to do something completely different, so I'm happy to hear that you liked both concept and content.

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pcg

A companion text would be logical. I'd even suggest the same graphic format, which is elegant and echoes the X-series styling.

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flysurfer

A companion text would be logical. I'd even suggest the same graphic format, which is elegant and echoes the X-series styling.

Yes, we are very much thinking about keeping the layout. There were also plans about a book on the X10, but unfortunately, these haven't materialized, so far. It would have been nice to have a trio. I also think about pointing out differences in user interface and firmware behavior between the XP1 and the X100 for existing users. Of course, such efforts could be undermined by Fuji releasing a X100 firmware 2.0 based on the XP1. Hence, these "little details" are tough judgement calls to make.

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pcg

Agreed. And of course an X15 or X20 could be released in 2012. I think the X100 is somewhat safe, even if it's superseded by an X200. It's already somewhat of a classic. but I suspect the X10 will be a transitional camera. For publishers (& authors, of course), it's all about market.

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cosinaphile

thanks for that excellent review, ill be getting a copy

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pcg

Let me know what you guys think once you've read it. I'm now re-reading the book--sort of a skim now through some sections--and continue to applaud the author for tips and thoroughness.

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radon8

Looks like a great book. Just ordered it on Amazon. Have both X100 and XP1. Looking forward to the X Pro book as well. Didn't shoot when cameras used film, so I didn't really realize until the Fuji cameras that I was taking pictures with computers. Terms like ISO had only an abstract meaning, aperture was just another number on a buried menu on my D300, and a darkroom was just a dark room. Thanks for putting these out.

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steve1401

I got this book a while ago as an electronic PDF version. It is very good however, other similar reviews have mentioned the print quality of the pictures. There are web alternatives to help present some better, linked to from the PDF and printed in the book I assume:

http://www.rockynook.com/X100/figures/

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pcg

Yup, as I note in my review, some of the images are less than satisfactory. The author does provide a link to web-based duplicates that are excellent. A little awkward though--a publisher's error, not something the author controlled.

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shangri

Thanks for the great review. I was somewhat sceptical about this book but you got me interested.

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pcg

It's an unusually good tool and helps cut through a lot of confusing cross-advice. Good stuff.

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TitusXIII

I've read your review on Amazon, where you've duplicated, word by word the one posted here.

Not impressed, I paid more attention to this one:

http://www.amazon.com/Mastering-Fuji-X100-Michael-Diechtierow/product-reviews/1933952989/ref=cm_cr_pr_hist_2?ie=UTF8&filterBy=addTwoStar&showViewpoints=0

I'll be getting a good bottle of Pinot Noir for 20 bucks while messing with all the settings, functions, controls et al myself.

But then, just like the Romans used to say:

"De Gustibus Non Disputandum Est"

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knitlitcamper

Thank you for the review Pcg, it helped with my decision to add it to my reference collection. I ordered the book tonight.

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