It’s summer and it’s hot. I live in Arizona, so when I say it’s hot, I mean that it feels like someone opened an oven door! Nobody wants to be outside during the day right now, so (like vampires) everyone comes out at night. Not that it’s all that much cooler at dusk—it’s still triple digits—but at least it’s more bearable. While it’s easy to look at the negative side of things, the positive aspect to the excessive heat is that opportunities for night photography are plentiful.
A few days ago I took my Fujifilm X-T5 to downtown Tempe for some after-dark photography. Attached to the camera was a Meike 35mm f/1.7 lens, and I had a 5% CineBloom diffusion filter screwed onto it. I like the Meike lens for its vintage-like character. I chose the 5% CineBloom because its effect is subtle. While the 10% or 20% might have been more appropriate for a couple of the Film Simulation Recipes, overall I appreciate what the 5% CineBloom does to the photographs, which is not much yet oftentimes just enough.
I programmed into my Fujifilm X-T5 eight different Film Simulation Recipes, and shot with all of them. How was I able to program eight? Well, obviously, there’s C1-C7. On the X-T5 (as well as my X-E4 and a few other newer models), you can program an additional Recipe into the IQ menu. As you scroll through C1-C7, when you’re in-between C7 and C1, the camera will display the shooting mode (either P, A, S, or M, depending on the configuration of your dials), and it will select the settings programmed into the IQ menu, giving you a bonus eighth custom preset.
I didn’t walk all that far with my camera—going down a few blocks on one side of the road, and then back up on the other side. It was dark, but still blazing hot. I did manage to capture a whole bunch of pictures, making sure that I had at least six decent exposures with each Recipe. Afterwards I cooled off with an ice cream shake at In-N-Out, a nice treat to beat the heat.
If you are searching for some Film Simulation Recipes to try out on a hot summer night, take a look at the eight below. They’re certainly not the only ones that are good for after-dark photography, but they are all excellent options, and have their own unique aesthetics. These eight Recipes are the ones that I used, and I invite you to try them, too, the next time you go out for some night photography.
Fujicolor Super HG v2 is a highly versatile Film Simulation Recipe that—because it uses the Auto White Priority white balance—you can use anytime of the day or night. This is a Recipe that makes a lot of sense to always have programmed into your camera, since, no matter the light scenario, it’s going to give you good results. There’s an X-Trans V version of Fujicolor Super HG v2 (for those with an X-T5, X-H2, X-H2s, or X-S20), and an X-Trans IV version of this Recipe (for those with an X-T4, X-S10, X-E4, or X-T30 II).
While the previous Recipe used Auto White Priority, Ektachrome 320T uses Auto Ambiance Priority, but don’t let that fool you: this Recipe is intended for use at night or indoors under artificial light, where it works very well. Ektachrome 320T is compatible with some X-Trans IV models that have the Eterna Bleach Bypass film simulation (X-T4, X-S10, X-E4 & X-T30 II); to use it on X-Trans V, simply set Color Chrome FX Blue to Weak instead of Strong, since X-Trans V renders blue more deeply on some film simulations.
Expired ECN-2 100T is currently a Fuji X Weekly App Patron Early-Access Recipe. If you are a subscriber on the App, you have access to this Film Simulation Recipe; otherwise, you’ll have to wait a little while for it to become available to everyone. This particular Recipe produces a green or yellow cast (depending on the light) when used at night, and a teal-ish cast when used in daylight. Like the previous Recipe, this one is compatible with the X-T4, X-S10, X-E4, and X-T30 II cameras; to use it on X-Trans V models, set Color Chrome FX Blue to Weak instead of Strong.
Fujicolor NPS 160 Pulled isn’t intended specifically as a Film Simulation Recipe for nighttime photography, but because it is so versatile it works really well for this. It has a low-contrast, low-saturation rendering with an earthy cast. It’s really good for toning down a scene when you’d prefer a softer picture. Fujicolor NPS 160 Pulled is compatible with most X-Trans IV cameras (X-Pro3, X100V, X-T4, X-S10, X-E4 & X-T30 II, but not the X-T3 or X-T30); to use it on X-Trans V, set Color Chrome FX Blue to Weak instead of Strong.
When I first learned that Xpro ’62 was great for after-dark photography, I was actually a little surprised, because this is intended as a daylight Recipe, and on paper it doesn’t seem versatile enough to be a good nighttime option. But it’s absolutely wonderful for night images! If you’ve never tried Xpro ’62 for post-sunset pictures, be sure to do so. It’s compatible with most X-Trans IV cameras (X-Pro3, X100V, X-T4, X-S10, X-E4 & X-T30 II, but not the X-T3 or X-T30); to use it on X-Trans V, set Color Chrome FX Blue to Weak instead of Strong.
The Pushed CineStill 800T Recipe is actually modeled after some pictures of the film that were captured in daylight on an overcast day. This Recipe wasn’t necessarily purposefully intended for night photography, but it shouldn’t be surprising that it does well for it. It also shouldn’t be too surprising that it renders noticeably different than the CineStill 800T Recipe above. Pushed CineStill 800T is compatible with X-Trans IV cameras that have Eterna Bleach Bypass (X-T4, X-S10, X-E4 & X-T30 II; however, there is a version for the X-Pro3 and X100V); to use it on X-Trans V cameras, set Color Chrome FX Blue to Weak instead of Strong.
Last but far from least is Serr’s 500T, which is one of my absolute favorite nighttime Film Simulation Recipes. Due to its strong blue cast, this one is especially great for countering warm artificial light. Serr’s 500T is compatible with most X-Trans IV cameras (X-Pro3, X100V, X-T4, X-S10, X-E4 & X-T30 II); to use it on X-Trans V, set Color Chrome FX Blue to Weak instead of Strong.
Three retro-styled digital cameras go head-to-head-to-head in Sedona, Arizona, each with a different manual 35mm lens: Meike 35mm f/1.7, TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4, and TTArtisan 35mm f/0.95. Who will win? Let’s find out!
I love shooting with retro-styled digital cameras! For the most part that means Fujifilm models, but I also own a Nikon Zfc. Fujifilm, of course, is renown for this type of camera; for Nikon, this is a (mostly) divergent concept. Some other camera brands also offer rangefinder or classic-SLR styling, but lack the traditional controls (such as a manual shutter knob) that are an essential aspect to the photographic experience. Leica is well above my budget. The three cameras that I chose to shoot with are the Nikon Zfc, Fujifilm X-E4, and Fujifilm X-T5.
Why these three specific cameras? I picked the Nikon Zfc first because I don’t use it very often, and was eager to dust it off. The Fujifilm X-E4 was next because it was released just a few months before the Zfc, was just a little cheaper, and on-paper the two models are fairly comparable. I chose the Fujifilm X-T5 because it is surprisingly similar to the Zfc in size and design.
Each camera was paired with a different manual 35mm lens. I attached a TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 to the Nikon Zfc, a Meike 35mm f/1.7 to the Fujifilm X-E4, and a TTArtisan 35mm f/0.95 to the Fujifilm X-T5. Since I was using manual lenses, I shot all three cameras completely manually—no auto anything. Back when I shot a lot of film, I used a Canon AE-1 (and later a couple of Pentax models), and shot full manual for years. It’s a slower and more challenging process—especially if you don’t have much experience with it—but I find it to be more enjoyable and rewarding.
My birthday gift this year was a trip to Sedona, which is about two hours north of my home in the Phoenix area. Sedona is stunning—almost like being inside the Grand Canyon—so it was the perfect place to conduct this photographic project. Three different cameras, each with a different 35mm lens, going head-to-head-to-head, to see which is best for full manual travel photography in an incredibly beautiful location. Which one will crowned winner?
I programmed my Vintage Color Film Simulation Recipe into the Zfc and shot 36 exposures (like a roll of film) with the camera while in Sedona. I chose that particular Recipe because I like the retro analog-like rendering that it produces. In general, I feel as though Nikon’s JPEG output is well behind Fujifilm’s, but the quality is still good, and I don’t think it’s necessary to shoot RAW with the Zfc to get nice results—the unedited straight-out-of-camera JPEGs are plenty good enough for most people and purposes.
Of the three cameras, the Nikon Zfc was my least favorite. Honestly, I’d prefer a nine-year-old Fujifilm X-T1, which you can probably find for half the price or less. Still, the Zfc is a good option, and if (for some unknown reason) I could no longer shoot Fujifilm, I’d be happy with the Zfc. Did I mention that it’s a beautiful looking camera? If outward appearances mattered most, the Zfc might very well be the winner. Since the insides are just as important—if not more so—than the outsides, the Nikon is not my favorite camera. With that said, the Zfc is significantly easier to find than the Fujifilm X-E4 (which was recently discontinued, inflating the price) and significantly cheaper than the Fujifilm X-T5 (a higher-end model), making it a good choice for someone buying their first retro-styled digital camera.
The TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 lens is wonderful! I love the design, particularly the clicking f-stops and smooth focus ring. The optical quality is excellent—very sharp! It has good character. The maximum aperture is quite large. The nifty-fifty-like focal length is extremely useful. The price is very affordable. My only complaints are that it has 1/2 intermediate stops (instead of the more common 1/3), those intermediate stops end at f/4, and the lens jumps straight from f/8 to f/16. Of the three 35mm lenses, this one is my favorite for design and practical use, and my second favorite for how it renders images.
Below are some of those 36 exposures that I captured in Sedona with my Nikon Zfc and TTArtisan 35mm f/1.4 using the Vintage Color Recipe.
Fujifilm X-E4 + Meike 35mm f/1.7
The Fujifilm X-E4 was my most-used camera in 2022. Its compact size and simplicity make it an especially excellent option for travel photography. The X-E4 was released just before the Nikon Zfc and with an MSRP a little lower, so it shouldn’t be surprising that on paper these cameras have similar specs (although the X-E4 in my opinion has the advantage in most categories), but once you hold the two cameras, you quickly see that they’re much different. First, the X-E4 is significantly smaller and lighter. The X-E4 has a rangefinder-like styling while the Zfc is SLR-shaped. For full-manual photography, the Zfc has one important advantage: an ISO knob.
Fujifilm did not give the X-E4 an ISO knob or ring. I think an ISO ring around the shutter knob like on the Fujifilm X100V would have been an excellent touch, but they didn’t do that. Normally this is no issue at all because I most commonly use Auto-ISO, and don’t often manually adjust the ISO; however, when one does want to adjust the ISO, one has to dig through the menu, or setup a shortcut. I set the front command wheel to adjust the ISO; while that’s a sufficient workaround, it’s not nearly as ideal as having a dedicated dial. For this project, I set the ISO to 1600, and only adjusted it when I absolutely had to, which worked out alright.
Of the three cameras, the Fujifilm X-E4 was my favorite during this experiment, despite the lack of an ISO dial. The small size and weight make it more pleasant for caring around on hikes or when doing touristy things. While not perfect, it’s one of my favorite cameras; however, the X-E4 has been difficult to find for some time, and even more so now that Fujifilm has discontinued it. To add insult to injury, I’ve noticed some significant price gouging lately. The Nikon Zfc is easy to find and perhaps even at a discount. The Fujifilm X-T5 is still in stock at most stores. If you don’t already own a Fujifilm X-E4, you’re not likely going to get your hands on one anytime soon, and you’ll likely pay a premium, since Fujifilm didn’t produce as many copies as there was demand for.
The Film Simulation Recipe that I programmed into my Fujifilm X-E4 was Fujicolor Natura 1600, which is one of my absolute favorites for achieving an analog aesthetic. I think this particular Recipe could trick unsuspecting viewers into believing that the pictures were actually shot on color negative film. I published this Recipe almost exactly one year ago, and it’s one of my most used. Like the Zfc, I shot 36 exposures with this Recipe while in Sedona, and it didn’t disappoint on this adventure!
The Meike 35mm f/1.7 is a lens that I really love and kind of dislike simultaneously. The aperture ring is click-less, which means that you don’t really know when you are at a particular f-stop. Mostly that’s just annoying and detracts from the experience, but sometimes it’s kind of convenient and actually better than having no intermediate stops or half-stops. The lens jumps from f/8 to f/22 rather quickly. The maximum aperture of f/1.7 is the “slowest” of these three. What I like most about the Meike 35mm lens is the quality and character of the images that it produces, which is just wonderful! This is my second favorite lens of the three for how it looks, my least favorite for the shooting experience, and my most favorite for how it renders pictures. It’s super inexpensive, so it’s very easy to recommend.
Below are some of those 36 exposures that I captured in Sedona with my Fujifilm X-E4 and Meike 35mm f/1.7 using the Fujicolor Natura 1600 Recipe.
Fujifilm X-T5 + TTArtisan 35mm f/0.95
It might seem unfair to compare the Fujifilm X-T5 to the Fujifilm X-E4 and Nikon Zfc, because this camera is clearly in a different class than the other two. The X-T5 is a more premium model, with IBIS, weather-sealing, better build quality, and double the resolution of the Zfc (and about 55% more than the X-E4). But, aside from the handgrip, the X-T5 and the Zfc are surprisingly similar on the outside, and that’s why I included it in this experiment.
The Fujifilm X-T5 is technically the best of these three cameras, hands down; however, the one reason why I believe the Fujifilm X-E4 won this challenge is size and weight. While visiting Sedona, I enjoyed carrying around the X-E4 more than the X-T5 or Zfc. Comfort and convenience are important aspects of travel photography, and sometimes that trumps pure specs or even key features. If I were to simply choose the best camera, doubtlessly it would the Fujifilm X-T5, but, for the purpose of traveling to Sedona, I liked the X-E4 just a little bit more.
I crowned the X-E4 the winner, but it is not an easy camera to find; if you do happen to see one for sale, the price will likely be inflated. The Fujifilm X-T5 can be found fairly easily, but it is by far the most expensive of these three models. The Zfc offers a somewhat similar experience to the X-T5 when shooting in manual mode with third-party lenses, but for a lot less money. Yes, the X-T5 is significantly better overall, but if you are on a tight budget (and you can’t find an X-E4), the Zfc is not a bad camera to own. If you can find an X-E4 for a reasonable price, that’s my top recommendation. If you can afford the X-T5, that’s a close second. If neither of those are applicable to you, then the Zfc is a decent consolation prize.
The Film Simulation Recipe that I programmed into my Fujifilm X-T5 is 1970’s Summer, which uses the new Nostalgic Neg. film simulation, and produces a warm retro film-like aesthetic with similarities to some classic American New Color pictures. I shot 36 exposures with this Recipe, as if it was a roll of film.
This was my very first time using the TTArtisan 35mm f/0.95 lens, which is by far the most expensive lens of the three, but still reasonably affordable. It’s kind of ugly compared to the other two, sort of resembling a sport’s referee. Wide open it’s extremely soft (nearly unusable, unless you are purposefully seeking dreaminess), but stopped down it’s sharp, and performs especially well from about f/4 to f/8. The aperture ring clicks, which is nice, but with 1/2 intermediate stops (instead of the more common 1/3 stops); thankfully, the intermediate stops go through the whole range to f/16 (the minimum aperture). This lens has the most pronounced distortion of the three. For the most part, I like the images produced by the other two lenses better than this one (which is disappointing considering the price), but the TTArtisan 35mm f/0.95 is still a lens that I enjoyed using and produces good results.
Below are some of those 36 exposures that I captured in Sedona with my Fujifilm X-T5 and TTArtisan 35mm f/0.95 using the 1970’s Summer Recipe.
The Fujicolor Natura 1600 and 1970’s Summer Film Simulation Recipes can be found in the Fuji X Weekly App, along with nearly 300 others. Don’t have the App? Download it for free today! Consider becoming a Fuji X Weekly App Patron to unlock the best App experience and to support Fuji X Weekly.
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The final two days of the road trip to South Dakota involved packing up the trailer and driving home. It was stormy and at times the wind was blowing hard, which meant a lot of white knuckles as I tried to stay on the road. Needles to say, I didn’t capture a whole lot of photographs! I did manage to get a little photography in here and there, which are the pictures you see here.
The Black Hills turned out to be more beautiful and interesting than I had imagined. I felt like I could have stayed several days longer to really experience the place. While Mount Rushmore was a slight let-down, the rest exceeded all expectations. If you’ve never been you’ll have to be sure to someday go.
You might have noticed that I didn’t capture a single photograph using my Fujifilm X100F. All of the photographs in this series were captured using my X-Pro2 (unedited camera-made JPEGs, by the way). The reason for this is that my wife was using the X100F on this trip. Now she has her own camera, an X-T20, so I have my X100F back.
You may have also noticed that I used the Meike 35mm f/1.7 lens a lot on this trip. I learned photography with a nifty-fifty, and for a long time that’s all I had. So having a 50mm (equivalent) focal length lens was a nice change of pace, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The Meike lens, while far from perfect, is well worth the small price it goes for.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed this series. I know that viewing other people’s photographs of someplace is never the same as going yourself and creating your own images. But I hope that this inspires you to get out on your own road trip, camera in hand, to see the wonderful world that’s around you.
Below you will find 10 more images that I captured with the X-E1 and Meike lens combination. Of the 20 photographs (ten in each post), 12 of them are straight-out-of-camera JPEGs, while eight of them are camera-made JPEGs that received some editing using the RNI Films app.
Lost Baby Shoe – Riverdale, UT – Fujifilm X-E1 & Meike 35mm
On the morning of the third day of our South Dakota trip, which was the first full day in the Black Hills, after breakfast, we headed out to see Mount Rushmore National Monument. This is an iconic landmark of America. The heads of four quintessential presidents were carved into the rocks: George Washington, the first president and Revolutionary War general, on the far left, Thomas Jefferson, the third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, on the middle-left, Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th president and Rough Rider, on the middle-right, and Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president and slavery abolisher, on the far right.
Gutzon Borglum is the sculptor who, along with his team of over 400 people, carved Mount Rushmore, which is an incredible work of art. The work began in 1927 and finished in 1941. It was mostly carved by careful use of dynamite. Borglum was a renown artist even before Mount Rushmore, but this is certainly his biggest and best known accomplishment.
When we arrived we were surprised to learn that our National Parks Pass didn’t do us any good. There is a “parking fee” (but no entrance fee), and they offer no discount for those who have an annual pass. The parking garage, which resembles something you’d find at a large airport or downtown, is a big expense, I’m sure, so I certainly understand the need to charge money to park. I just think that, if you have an annual pass, they should give a discount of some sort.
The way that this monument is set up is you traverse a walkway towards the sculpture, with things on your right and left as you make your way down. It kind of feels like much of it was an afterthought instead of integrated design. Still, it’s laid out in such a way that you could choose to get as much out of it as you want. Except, when we were there, half of the trail and the Sculptor’s Studio were closed. Still, we found the museum to be interesting enough.
Our ten-year-old and eight-year-old kids did the Junior Ranger program. This is a great way for them to not only learn about the park, but to be engaged and excited about it. Afterwards, once they had completed the requirements, they were sworn in as Junior Rangers and received a badge. This was a highlight of the trip for them.
The four heads are very large, but it is difficult to really appreciate the scale from the main viewing area. There is a trail that takes you closer, and it isn’t until you reach the end that you can better appreciate the size of the carvings. After we left the park we decided that Mount Rushmore was a neat place to see, but mildly disappointing. On the other hand, it made us want to watch the Alfred Hitchcock classic North by Northwest, which takes place, in part, at Mount Rushmore.
One takeaway from visiting this place is that photography is a lot like sculpting. Borglum’s job wasn’t all that much different from yours and mine, except the tools are different. He removed all of the stone that wasn’t Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln. What was left was his great work of art. When you and I compose, our job is to remove everything that doesn’t belong so that what we are left with is the strongest image possible. Often less is more.
The photographs in this article, which are all camera-made JPEGs, were captured using a Fujifilm X-Pro2 with a Meike 35mm f/1.7 lens attached to it. I really like this camera-lens combination, and I thought it was a good choice for the location. One of the things that I appreciate about my X100F is the simplicity and restriction of one-camera and one-lens, and I found that not changing lenses on the X-Pro2 while at a location provides a similar experience.
I had a birthday a few weeks ago. I also had an Amazon gift card. So I browsed Amazon for something to buy myself in celebration of becoming older. I was looking through Fujifilm accessories when I stumbled across a cheap $90 prime lens, the Meike 35mm f/1.7. A prime lens for less than $100? I added it to the cart, proceeded to the checkout and submitted the order.
And I immediately regretted it.
I mean, I’m older and supposedly wiser. What kind of piece-of-junk lens am I going to get for so little money? It will, most assuredly, be poorly made with subpar optics and I’ll never use it. I had wasted my money, no doubt about it, I thought. I should have purchased something else. Oh, well. The order had already been placed.
A couple of days later a package arrived at my door. Inside was a box that contained the Meike 35mm f/1.7 lens that I had ordered. I opened it up with low expectations. It felt plenty hefty, though, and not lightweight like something made from cheap plastic. I removed the lens from the box and it looked and felt solidly built, mostly made of metal. My senses were telling me that I had ordered a vintage lens from the film era, perhaps the 1960’s, and not a brand-new lens made for digital cameras.
Meike 35mm on Fujifilm X-Pro2
The Meike 35mm f/1.7 lens looked good and seemed like a quality item, but what about the optics? Was it going to perform well? Why was it so darn cheap?
I attached it to my Fujifilm X-Pro2 and immediately noticed a quirk. The aperture ring is smooth and doesn’t click at the different f-stops. That’s a little odd. I have a Helios 44-2 lens that has two aperture rings, one that clicks and one that’s smooth, and so it’s not a new concept, but it is an unusual choice.
Another quirk is that the spaces in-between the f-stops, marked by numbers on the lens, are far apart when the aperture is large and close together when the aperture is small. For example, it takes quite a turn to get from f/1.7 to f/2 but going from f/8 all the way to f/22 is a tiny turn, and trying to stop on f/11 or f/16 is a tough task.
This is a manual focus lens and the focus ring is smooth. It seems to have the right amount of give, not too firm and not too loose. There is a focus distance scale on the lens, something that is too often missing today. The front element doesn’t rotate and it has 49mm threads.
Meike 35mm on Fujifilm X-Pro2 with coffee
I was shocked when I reviewed some frames that I had captured with the Meike 35mm lens on my X-Pro2 and saw how crisp they were. It’s sharp. Very sharp, in fact! I would expect this sharpness out of a lens that costs much more, but not out of budget glass. From the perspective of creating crisp images, this lens is right up there with the best. And it looks good attached to the X-Pro2.
I was then shocked by the amount of vignetting and the soft corners when using a large aperture. This is why the lens is so cheap. When wide open the Meike 35mm is almost unusable. I say almost because you could use the flaws as an artistic tool to give your images character. Things noticeably improve at f/2, but it’s still pronounced. By f/2.8 I would say that the vignetting and soft corners are minimal enough that you could live with them, but they don’t fully go away until f/8. Apertures smaller than f/8 suffer from diffraction. There is a small amount of chromatic aberrations that can be found when the aperture is f/4 and larger, but overall it’s well controlled. There’s a fairly pronounced pincushion distortion, which you’ll notice if you photograph a brick wall.
Bokeh, which is the quality of the out-of-focus area of an image, looks very good with this lens. When wide open there is a slight swirly effect, similar to the Helios 44-2 but less pronounced. When the aperture is large the subject separates nicely from the background.
The Meike 35mm f/1.7 is an excellent budget standard prime lens option for your Fujifilm camera. It’s all manual, which I like but some people might not. It has lots of character, something that’s often missing from modern lenses. It certainly has plenty of flaws and there is a reason why it’s cheap, but overall it performs much better than the price point would indicate. Even if the MSRP was $150 (instead of $90) it would still be an intriguing option. If you don’t already own a standard prime lens for your Fujifilm camera, this is one that you should consider, and, because it’s very inexpensive, it should fit into everyone’s budget.
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