The Fuji X-Trans Sensor

Like the rest of the population of photographers that's ever read a Fuji marketing piece we all have heard of the X-TRANS sensor. We all have a microscopic view of it's non-traditional RGB filter layout. We also have not a good idea of what and why this Fuji-ism is a good thing.

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Well we have the cursory marketing literature explanation that goes along with the diagram; By using this funky-ass way of doing stuff we can get rid of the anti-aliasing crap and not have moire. Whatever, since when has anyone worried about that?? Really, I don't think I've even seen moire except when someone tries really hard to provoke it as a demonstration. Hell even the Kodak/Nikon 14n there was a good chance if one frame had it on some fabric the next frame wouldn't due to a tiny move forward, backward or whatever.

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I'm not the kind of person that goes on quests to figure out if anyone else has figured out why X-Trans or even if there's some esoteric interview with a Fuji engineer that actually explains the thought process beyond the marketing stuff. Now I have read the massive amounts of bit-twiddling, RAW processor testing, black-magic "solutions" to the X-Trans "problem".

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What "problem". Well if you've been living under a rock there's a segment of Fuji folk out there that perceive decoding the maximum-maximus amount of detail from Fuji sensors to be some sort of artistic endeavor in it's own right. Mostly the complains are around Adobe's ACR/Lightroom decode and how lousy it is at X-Trans detail. From this point there's the school of thought to screw around with the default sharpening to fix it and then their is the school of thought that every esoteric other RAW processor out there does a "better job" and the comparison of microscopic differences commences.

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Some of these studies show general pictures and compare barely perceptible differences but all of the views under a microscope are perfectly acceptable. Other versions show some specific artifact or aberration like the dreaded "watercolor effect" or "red smearing problem" that specifically is an X-Trans thing. Maybe. Probably.?

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Okay, let's jump across the tracks to the Fuji looks like film thing. Meh, maybe but not really. Kind of hard to say something like that. I mean all digital looks like film if shot like you shoot slides and processed the right way under certain conditions. Hell I can shoot film and digital back to back as long as I choose the conditions and it will look very much alike, I guess. Well in many cases. In others not so much. Sure Fuji's JPEG engine is nifty and has names for it's presets that are of films. That counts.

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That looks like film thing is kind of hard to pin down in any case. I happen to be in the camp that film does have a certain look to it and it is hard to pin down when trying to isolate all the characteristics, situations, nuances, etc. I do have some observations that crossed my mind as I was attempting to make selections for the Fragments project over the past weekend. The main one happens to be something I've complained about, observed, and experienced since I started using digital cameras. Let's call it the hair and leaves problem.

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Succinctly I've observed that for some reason many, many, many cases of leaves on trees in the background at a distance look "strange" and weird and bad on digital. Similarly I've seen hair look really bad on digital in so many cases where I've not noticed it on film, ever. There's just something wrong with the way certain thresholds of high frequency random detail are reproduced in an unattractive manner. Hard to describe.

Guess what. One of the things I really like about my Fuji cameras (and maybe lenses) is that they reproduce hair in a way I would have to say is more "film like" only in that I've never seen the reproduction I don't like on film, never.

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These are literally random examples of Melanie's hair at just about every angle and random high frequency detail frequency their could be. I could show a thousand other people and examples and the common theme is that hair looks way more "film like" in every case where I've seen it look strange and digital on other cameras I've used. No, not every frame renders hair (and leaves in the distance) unnaturally or badly in every case it's more of a pattern I've observed over a decade.

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I am by no means sure but maybe one has to take the bad with the good. Hair may be a good stand in and observational case for that overall sharp but soft but sharp "film look" that' elusive and difficult to describe or quantify. Could it be that what makes Fuji X-Trans a bit more film like in that respect also introduce a different occasional artifact under other extreme cases. What makes a lot of things look more "natural" or how it should look also occasionally cause the dreaded watercolor effect (which I've never seen but believe it exists in some circumstances)?

End Notes

I originally attributed the hair thing to my 18-55mm XF as I have shot a hell of a lot of hair with that lens. Maybe the way it rendered overall, the way focus transitions looked, etc. In fact I wrote about how that lens rendered hair over on Medium.com. Honestly I do love the way all my Fuji X System glass renders so far and maybe that has a bit to do with things to that are a combination of factors but maybe X-Trans and it's strange filter arrangement has something to do with it to.

All pictures made with the Fuji XT-1 and 18-55 XF. Processing via Lightroom CC with Replichrome Plus-X.