The Fujifilm X missing manual
An opinionated summary of things the user manual doesn’t tell you and some things explained in a simpler way. These tips and tricks can have a big impact on your enjoyment and your results.
· I.Q Menu
∘ Film Simulation
∘ Grain Effect
∘ Color Chrome Effect
∘ Color Chrome FX Blue
∘ White balance
∘ Dynamic Range
∘ D (Dynamic) Range Priority
∘ Tone Curve
∘ High ISO NR (Noise Reduction)
∘ Long Exposure NR (Noise Reduction)
· AF MF Menu
∘ Number of focus points
∘ MF Assist
· Shooting Menu
∘ ISO and Auto ISO
∘ Light metering mode (“Photometry”)
· Flash Menu
∘ Why won’t my flash fire on my Fujifilm camera? (Hint: Silent mode)
∘ Minimum flash sync speed
∘ How to balance (or purposefully imbalance) flash with ambient light
∘ Dragged flash (slow second curtain sync)
· Set Up Menu
∘ Tweaking the viewfinder and back LCD screen information
∘ EVF and LCD fine tuning
∘ Natural Live View
After using the Fujifilm X system for four years and experimenting with recipes, I have learned a lot about what each setting does. Most of this is about what impacts the look of the images when shooting JPGs, with some other topics bordering on usability and the shooting experience. If you find something isn’t covered, you can always check the official online manual (here’s the manual for the X-T4) or drop me a comment if you think it should be covered here.
Note: I am a photographer, and while Fujilfilm X cameras are terrific video devices, I rarely record video. For that reason this article focuses on photography-related settings, although some of them are releavnt for video too.
This menu is the most important for determining the look of the images. None of these settings affect raw files in any way, except for one. Read on!
I won’t do a deep dive into the various film simulations here because others have already done that. I will focus on the ones I use and why. For a thorough comparison of all of the film simulations I recommend Dave Etchells’ guide over at imaging-resource.com.
- Astia: Hands down my favorite film simulation. I have made several recipes based on Astia (OWH Analog, Kodak Ektar 100 and New American Color to name a few). I used to shoot this film stock a lot 20 years ago and I just think it’s the most successful digital adaptation of them all. It is very versatile (can even mimic negative film even though real Astia is slide film), has good color separation and saturation and the best skin tones of all. It also has a slight film-like contrast curve in that it crushes shadows a little and retains highlights very nicely for my taste.
- Provia: This is my number two. I go for Provia when I need warmer reds than Astia and when I want more neutral greys. Astia’s priority on skin tones has the side effect of introducing yellows and oranges in stuff like asphalt, concrete and brick. This isn’t always beneficial for street photography, which is why I used Provia for the Modern Documentary recipe. Provia can produce flat shadows, so I usually darken the tone curve in the shadows when I use it. I also find that it can be more unforgiving of blown-out highlights than Astia.
- Acros Ye: Many prefer to use the red filter BW simulations, but I find that they often make blue skies overpowering. Using the Ye variant is a happy medium for me. That being said I don’t often shoot BW and when I do I mostly use the T-max 400 recipe from FujiXWeekly which in my mind is the most successful recipe in mimicing the actual film from FujiXWeekly.
What about the other ones? Well, Classic Chrome is too desaturated and all blues are cyan. Pro Neg/Hi are even more desaturated and flat and boring with a purple tint in the shadows. Velvia is nowhere near the actual film stock and is impossible to shoot with digitally as it clips too easily. Classic Neg looks like a disposable camera and Sepia — really?? Eterna is excellent for video but I wouldn’t use it for stills. These are just my opinions, but do let me know if you have good examples of recipes you use based on any of these.
This setting is interesting and I can’t really decide how useful I think it is. Here’s a little known fact: Grain seems to be applied before sharpening. This means that you actually have more control over it than what the grain setting itself would lead you to believe. If you want the grain to just subtly smooth out tonal graduations for instance (called “dithering” in digital terms), you can use a setting of “Small+Weak” combined with a sharpness setting of -4 to -2. It also changes slightly with different noise reduction settings.
A drawback of the grain setting is that depending on the scene it fails to look like actual film grain. This is because it applies evenly across the frame, even in highlight areas. When I use it I often go for the “Weak+Large” combination.
Keep in mind when using the grain setting that the size of the grain is going to be “burnt” into the JPG. If you later decide to crop in, you will effectively be enlarging the grain when you do so.
Color Chrome Effect
This is a setting I almost always enable to some degree, but it can be tricky to use. The official manual states that it darkens the luminance of the most saturated colors to prevent color clipping. That’s pretty accurate but it doesn’t tell the full story. The reason I use it is to get a more film-like color rendition and achieve colors that appear more saturated without actually increasing the saturation. In my experience this setting will also make color graduations more “meaty” for lack of a better term.
The way you use this setting depends on your subject and exposure. If you are creatively overexposing, you can retain a lot of color information with this setting on “Strong”. With properly exposed or creatively underexposed shots I find it’s best to leave it on “Weak”. Otherwise it has the opposite effect and just darkens everything.
Color Chrome FX Blue
This setting is even trickier to use. While I have used it successfully (in my Joel Meyerowitz recipe for example), it too depends on overexposure to some degree. Blue elements like street signs work well with this setting on “Weak”, but be careful if you have a blue sky in the frame. It can be overpowering. The “Strong” setting is not very versatile in my opinion.
White balance has three parts to it. Correction, storytelling and your own creative decisions. It is probably the most important setting to know how to use. Here’s a primer:
Different light has different temperatures. These go mainly on the blue/yellow or Y axis and are represented by kelvin values. In addition to that, Fujilfilm cameras let you adjust the cast. This corresponds to the green/red or X axis. Analog film has a fixed color balance, usually Daylight or tungsten, which are around 5200 and 3200 kelvin respectively. Kodak Gold for instance is calibrated to 5200K. The cast is more up to the manufacturer and it’s often a reason why you would choose one film stock over another.
For the reasons explained above, it makes little sense to use Fujifilm’s Daylight WB setting, at 5000 K with a WB offset of B-9, as that is simply equivalent to a white balance of 10000K.
White balance for correction
If you only care about your white balance being correct, you should take a reading using the setting “Custom”. When you do this you will find that white can be relative. What I mean by that is that things you perceive to be neutral rarely are. You will need to decide what you want to present as neutral. Using a grey card will help, but outside of a studio you can get very different readings just by varying the angle of the grey card. Take the example below. Where do you take the reading?
The highlighted spots in the image all seem neutral, but they are in fact all off and will yield a very different result. Ultimately you will have to decide what you want to present as neutral. That choice does not need to be the most scientifically neutral grey/white because it will affect all other colors in the image. It’s up to you and what you want the image to communicate. that’s where the next two points come in.
White balance for storytelling
With digital cameras you can certainly achieve a perfectly neutral white across the whole of the Kelvin scale if you wanted, although below 3000 K you might find that your sensor is going to struggle with correct color reproduction and saturation if you take the correction too far.
But being correct isn’t always the point. As humans we perceive the warmth of golden hour light as being more yellow than daylight and blue hour is called exactly that because the light has a blue cast to it. Adding this to what your image communicates is sometimes key to telling the story. In those cases a T-shirt you know to be neutral white should absolutely not appear neutral in the image. Even National Geographic which are notoriously anti-editing accepts this as a storytelling device.
Creative white balance
If the storytelling aspect is about conveying mood by not being entirely accurate with your white balance, the creative aspect is about taking it even further, into the realm of nostalgia or movie-like color grading. One example is taking an image shot under sunny conditions and purposefully cranking the white balance to something like 7000K to exaggerate the summery warmth.
Ultimately it’s up to you. As long as you don’t work in press or documentary you are free to give the image whatever tone you prefer.
This is the only one of the I.Q. menu settings that affects raw files. Technically this feature is like exposure bracketing: Your camera shoots a correctly exposed image and an underexposed image. It then combines them in a way that maximises highlight and shadow detail. The difference between DR200 and DR400 is the amount of underexposure, where DR200 underexposes by 1 stop and DR400 by 2. The camera uses ISO to adjust the exposures. This is why for DR200 you need to be at least one full stop over the minimum ISO of your camera and for DR400 you need to be two stops over the minimum. On my X-Trans 4 bodies this means minium ISO 320 for DR200 and ISO 640 for DR400.
The Dynamic Range setting is very effective and useful if you can live with the increased ISO. I especially appreciate the way it prioritises highlight retention instead of creating HDR-like images. If you like your images to look like they were shot on film, especially negative film, this setting is for you. The values are strangely named though. The numbers don’t really refer to anything other than 200 being half of 400 and DR100 effectively means it’s off.
The only problem I have with the Dynamic Range setting is that DR200 is often too subtle and DR400 too aggressive. Technically it should be possible to create a DR300 setting. That would be perfect for me.
D (Dynamic) Range Priority
When you enable this the camera takes control over the Tone Curve and Dynamic Range settings to help you retain detail in contrasty scenes on auto pilot. It has the options off, weak, strong and auto and it combines the techniques of Dynamic Range with the cameras assessment of the need to adjust highlights and shadows.
I haven’t really used this option a lot. The times I tried it I found it to be too random for me, so I prefer my own settings. That way at least I get more consistent results and I know what’s going to happen.
This works pretty much the same as the curve in most editing software, albeit with way less control. It allows you to adjust the highlights and shadows independently, but curiously it locks the midtones in place. An improvement here would be if it could impose the same amount of “force” on the curve from either end as it would in editing software. Even better would be if it would allow us to edit the midtones separately. The ultimate version would be if it would allow us to do all that to the RGB channels independently too.
But it is what it is, and at the very least it works to some extent. What I use it for is mostly lifting or crushing shadows or bringing down highlights to avoid clipping them.
I think it’s worth discussing the difference between the highlights adjustment and the Dynamic Range setting. In short I prefer Dynamic Range for highlights because it actually compresses the highlights all the way to the brightest values. The highlight adjustment of the tone curve seems to merely shift the ≈75–90% highlights to the left on the histogram. Too much of this and it starts looking very unnatural.
Truth be told, Fujifilm doesn’t really allow us to produce very saturated colors in camera. Provia is what Fujifilm considers the default, most middle-of-the-road film simulation. Velvia is the most saturated one and Astia is somewhere in between. Here they are, from Fujifilm’s default to somewhat more saturated to what’s absolutely the most saturated color you can achieve.
Like I said, I don’t really consider Velvia to be very useful because of its tendency to clip colors. You can see that in this example. All the other film simulations handle Color +4 just fine if you want it.
One of the many pompous and dogmatic things Henri Cartier-Bresson said is that “sharpness is a bourgeois concept”. Many of his statements he didn’t seem to actually live by but this one he certainly did. Me I like my images to be sharp when blur doesn’t contribute to the mood of the image.
Good news! Fujifilm cameras are great at sharpening Fujifilm files. In some regards better than Lightroom and Capture One even. At least it produces less artefacts. With a global sharpening setting you cannot really control where that sharpening is applied. That means that anything you do here is going to be a tradeoff and luckily Fujifilm’s default 0 setting is actually a very sensible default. It doesn’t mean your image isn’t sharpened, but it gives a good balance between input sharpening and over-sharpening. Personally I might stretch it to +1 or as much as -2 if I prefer a softer image.
High ISO NR (Noise Reduction)
Fujifilm’s in-camera noise reduction is also pretty decent, but nowhere close to what you get with AI in Lightroom. Here’s what you need to know:
- -4: Completely off. You don’t want this when you go above ISO 500 or so.
- -3: My personal preference. It seems to take care of chroma noise if there is any but leaves most of the luma noise. The luma noise pattern of the X-Trans sensors isn’t so bad to my eye, so I’m happy to have it over the reduced sharpness of higher values or the aquarel effect of the extreme values.
- 0: Sensible default. You loose some detail and sharpness, but for images that won’t be printed large it works fine.
- +1–+4: Not really an option in my book. However I have used +4 pretty successfully as a replacement for negative clarity in my New American Color recipe, although I would not go above ISO 800 with that strategy.
Long Exposure NR (Noise Reduction)
Everything I’ve said about High ISO Noise Reduction applies to this as well. However I don’t really shoot long exposures that much, so my experience is limited. Let me know if you have some insight to offer!
This is a controversial one because it slows the camera down. On my bodies I will have to live with around a 1 second processing lag after each shot before I can take another. Naturally this makes continuous drive impossible, so the clarity setting is automatically disabled by the camera whenever you engage continuous shooting mode.
This setting is useful, but in my work it’s often hard to have it enabled because of this delay. Sometimes that delay will make me miss a shot and that’s just not worth it. I always shoot raw anyway and process the shots I want in camera afterwards. If I want a clarity adjustment I can always add it then.
With that boggle out of the way let’s look at what the setting actually does. The answer is pretty much the same as the clarity slider in your editing software in that it affects micro-contrast. This means tonal contrast between neighbouring tones rather than contrast over the whole image, like very blunt sharpening. In Lightroom it roughly maps to increments of 10 on the clarity slider so you go from -50 to +50 with Fujifilm’s -5 to +5 increments.
The important part about clarity is that it has an artistic effect in both directions. Negative values soften the image and positive values make it pop with more detail.
AF MF Menu
Here there are only two items that are interesting to discuss. The rest should be pretty self-explainatory.
Number of focus points
My X-E4 has the options 117 and 425. You might be tempted (as I was) to set this to 117 because it makes the focus joystick faster to use. Skipping between focus points happens in bigger increments. But don’t do this if you want the most accurate auto focus possible. Choose the highest number here as that will ensure that the camera uses all the sensing power it has at its disposal to nail focus most precisely. This is particularly important if you rely on continuous or tracking autofocus.
This is pretty subjective but I have one insight to offer: If you use the Focus Peak Highlight setting, which highlights whatever is in focus in a color of your choosing, just know that this is not always 100% accurate. I learned this when I got an f/0.95 lens. Whenever I shoot with manual lenses I always zoom in to set focus. When I do I find I don’t really need any assistance from the camera at all.
There are a couple of ways you can to this. I have it set so that when I press down on the focus joystick, the viewfinder/LCD zooms in. Another option is to turn on AF+MF which zooms the image in whenever you rotate the focus ring, even if already in auto focus mode. I prefer to leave this off because it’s easy to trigger inadvertently on AF lenses. For vintage or cheap 3rd party lenses that do not communicate electronically with the camera you need to trigger the zoom manually anyway.
All of these settings do affect raw files. If you are an experienced photographer you will probably know most of this, but there might be a couple of tricks here if you are new to Fujifilm.
ISO and Auto ISO
ISO determines how the signal from the sensor is electrically amplified. A key point to understand is that the lowest ISO (160 in my case) is the only real native ISO. Anything higher and the camera artificially increases the sensitivity of the sensor by increasing the electrical voltage on the sensor when it reads. When the sensor signal is amplified, it also produces less accurate luminance values. Luminance values are split onto the three primary color values by color filters on the sensor, which means you get less accurate color values as well. This is where ISO noise comes from. But more noise at higher ISO isn’t the full truth. Anything that requires accurate readout of pixel luminance is going to be affected. That means that dynamic range and color accuracy also suffer at higher ISO.
Here’s something useful you might not know about Fujifilm cameras: They have two discreet ISO amplifiers. One for lower ISO values and one for higher. On the X-T3 and X-T4 the high ISO amplifier takes over at ISO 640 and it’s actually less noisy for the first couple of stops after that. This means if you are at ISO > 500, you might as well be at ISO 640–1000 because it will yield a cleaner image in many scenarios. The native base ISO of 160 is still the same, but there’s a less noisy amplification circuitry taking over at ISO 640. For a more detailed explanation, check out pal2tech’s video on ISO invariance on YouTube.
Quick note about the H and L ISO options: These allow you to go above or below the calibrated ISO values by utilising camera processing to simulate higher or lower values. I don’t really know why you would ever use these, but let me know in the comments if you know a good use case.
There are two situations where you wouldn’t use Auto ISO:
- You want to ensure you always use the lowest possible ISO for minimal noise and maximum dynamic range and color accuracy.
- You want to completely lock down your exposure triangle for consistent exposures across several shots.
In all other situations, use Auto ISO. You set your minimum and maximum ISO values and the slowest shutter speed you will accept. The camera will then work within these parameters to determine a correct exposure. When the available light is not sufficient for the maximum ISO and slowest shutter speed you have set, the camera will start to sacrifice the shutter speed to compensate.
You get three banks of Auto ISO settings. This is how I have mine set up
- For sunny daylight, Auto ISO 1:
160–1600 ISO, minimum shutter speed 1/500.
- For shade, cloudy and dusk: Auto ISO 2:
160–1600 ISO, minimum shutter speed 1/125.
- For night and indoors: Auto ISO 3:
160–3200 ISO, minimum shutter speed 1/125 (no IBIS*), 1/20 (IBIS*).
*IBIS = In Body Image Stabilization
Light metering mode (“Photometry”)
While “photometry” is scientifically correct, all other camera brands call it “Metering mode” or something similar. Anyway, Fujifilm bodies gives us four modes:
Which one to use depends on the scene and personal preference. I typically use multi for daylight (clear, shade or cloudy) or center-weighted for dusk, dark and indoors. The reason is that I use the metering mode only as a starting point for further adjustments using exposure compensation together with the histogram and live view.
The only time I would use spot metering mode is when my primary subject takes up about 20% of the frame or less, the surrounding areas are very differently lit and I want a quick way to ensure that I don’t clip the highlights. Average metering mode is basically there for legacy reasons. It’s the way very early in-camera light metering worked and it’s generally less accurate than the others. But it’s there if you want it for some reason.
Two things to understand when you get started with flash photography: Know your camera’s maximum flash sync speed and know that your flash will not fire if you set the camera’s silent mode on.
Why won’t my flash fire on my Fujifilm camera? (Hint: Silent mode)
This one had me very frustrated for quite some time so I’m including it here. The Fujifilm menu system likes to disable options that are incompatible with other options you might have selected without explaining what you need to change to enable it again. Silent mode (or “Sound and Flash” as it is called newer firmware versions) is one of these.
“Sound and Flash”/”Silent mode” is located near the bottom of “User Setting” under the wrench menu, so it’s not so accessible either. With this enabled your main flash settings panel will almost look like your camera is broken 😅
With the flash options enabled again, let’s talk flash basics first.
Minimum flash sync speed
On the shutter dial on the camera you will see an “X” next to the fastest shutter speed your camera can sync a flash to. Faster shutter speeds will result in an image where the shutter might actually be visible in the frame as a black area at the top or bottom of the picture. You can use High Speed Sync (HSS) to use flash with faster shutter speeds, but this will basically make the flash shine for the same amount of time as the shutter stays open. This reduces the output of the flash.
How to balance (or purposefully imbalance) flash with ambient light
Your camera’s exposure is completely unaffected by the fact that you have a flashgun in the hot shoe. For a while I thought that with a flash on I had to throw everything I knew about exposure out the window. My camera basically became a black box to me at this point and all I could do was hope for the best. This is not true, so that is why I think it’s worth mentioning.
Put simply, your camera will expose like it always does and the light from the flash will be added on top to brighten the foreground. How it does this depends on the capabilities of the flash and your settings. If you get a modern TTL speedlight, mount it to the camera and change nothing, you will get what the camera thinks is a balanced exposure. The camera and the flash work together to achieve this. The flash sends a first burst at the subject, which the camera then measures to determine the correct flash power and sends the value the flash for use in the main burst. Otherwise known as Through The Lens or TTL for short. What’s important to know is that TTL does not alter the camera’s exposure. Only the flash power is changed.
Knowing this you can control how the foreground and background are exposed in relation to each other. Normal exposure compensation will do what it always does and the flash is independently controlled via flash compensation. In TTL mode flash compensation will simply add or subtract on the power value the camera passes to the flash for a correct exposure. If you for example use a -1 EV exposure compensation, the TTL system will compensate for this by telling the flash to use a power output equal to +1 EV. If you add flash compensation on top of this you will further increase the power of the flash.
Dragged flash (slow second curtain sync)
Using a slow shutter speed combined with rear curtain sync can be a fun and effective way to shoot pictures that combine motion blur with sharp foreground subjects. The flash will effectively freeze whatever’s closest to it.
A good starting point for the dragged flash effect is what I call the 8/8/8/200-rule; 1/8 shutter speed, f/8 aperture, 1/8th manual power (if you are using that) and ISO 200.
Bu what does rear curtain mean? When you release the shutter one “curtain” retracts to expose the sensor and another expands to cover it again and close the shutter. These are called front and rear curtain respectively. The flash is normally synchronized with the opening of the shutter, AKA the front curtain. If you do this with long shutter speeds, whatever light hits the sensor after the flash burst will appear as layered over the what the flash makes sharp. This technique could have its own uses, but normally you want what is sharp not to be obscured by motion blur. For that you need the flash to go off just before the shutter closes, AKA the rear curtain.
Set Up Menu
I’m going to highlight just a few things that I find to be useful in here. The rest I consider to be pretty self-explanatory and you always have the official manuals.
Tweaking the viewfinder and back LCD screen information
Your camera allows you to tweak what’s shown in the viewfinder and on the back LCD. You can find all these options under the wrench menu, “Screen Set-Up”/”Disp. Custom Setting”. My recommendation is you find out exactly what you need the most and forego the rest, leaving maximum space to see the image you are about to make.
EVF and LCD fine tuning
Each sensor that rolls off the production line is slightly different so they are calibrated individually before they go in your camera. The same applies to LCD panels like the ones in you electronic viewfinder and the back LCD, but these are not necessarily as carefully calibrated.
What I recommend you do is take a sheet of normal printer paper outside in daylight. Put it on the ground, preferably with a grey card on top and take a custom white balance reading. Then photograph the sheet and review the photo through the viewfinder and on the back LCD. You might find that one of them or both have a slight color offset to them. Compare to how your eyes see the color temperature in real life and adjust the EVF/LCD to match. Having done this helped me a lot.
Natural Live View
Being able to see exactly what the image will look like before you release the shutter is one of the main selling points of mirrorless cameras, but it can get in the way too. I learned this the first time I was using studio flashes with my X-T4. It was my first mirrorless and I had only had it for a couple of months, so I was still getting used to it. I wanted the studio strobes to be the only light on my subject, but as a result the viewfinder was completely black. It was of course previewing the exposure without the light from the strobes, but it took me a while to figure that out. The solution was under the wrench menu, ”Screen Set-Up”/”Natural Live View” and turning it on. This setting emulates what an SLR camera would show in the viewfinder. Flash photography is the only situation I use this setting for, but it’s good to have it.
That’s it. Thank you for reading and do let me know in the comments if there are other aspects of Fujifilm cameras you would like me to explain.
If you want to see more of my images you can check out my Instagram @oyvindwashere. You can even buy prints of some of my images over at the Oslo SPC print store. And if you are interested in Fujifilm Film Simulation Recipes, I have a few that have become pretty popular: