Seeing Color On A Sunday Afternoon


Camera: Fuji X-Pro1 and Fuji X-T1
Exposure: 1/105
Aperture: f/1.4
Focal Length: 23mm (35mm equivalent) and 140mm (210mm equivalent)
ISO: 200


I made this animated gif of an amazing painting by Georges-Pierre Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte at the Chicago Institute of Art with two lenses on two separate cameras.  The cameras, a Fuji X-Pro1 and Fuji X-T1 with the Fuji XF23mm f/1.4 R lens and the Fuji XF50-140mm R LM OIS WR lens.

Seurat paintings hold a special place in my heart and this painting in particular absolutely struck me the first time I saw it 25 years or so ago.  Notably because of how big it was, but also because of how it was painted.  Seurat had studied color and the color theories of  Michel Eugène ChevreulOgden Rood and others, before becoming one of the pointillists.  The pointilists studied how people saw the world and somehow, intuitively understood the neurobiological basis of how the retina and visual system functioned not only with respect to color but also form, which to me is an amazing feat of observation.  Of course they did not *know* that this was how neural systems functioned.  However, being a contemporary of Ramón y Cajal, one wonders what discussions might have happened and been lost to time.  How amazing would a dinner party with Seurat, Chevreul, Rood, and Cajal be?

Interestingly, as I’ve moved through the study of photography and the neuroscience of vision, color has become important to me.  This is particularly true with respect to how camera systems render color.  Color representation and the use of color (or lack thereof) is such a crucial part of interpreting the world and I’ve moved from camera system to camera system over the years in an effort to find the best use of color.  To my eye, Nikon renders colors simply too green/yellow and Sony renders them as too blue.  Canon comes very close to faithful rendering of color, but to my eye, Fuji cameras absolutely nail color rendition.  This was true back when I was shooting film with the FujiChrome Velvia and it is true now with Fujifilm digital cameras.

When folks ask me what kind of camera to buy, I tell them that fundamentally, consumers are in a pretty good place with respect to many excellent options.  However, I’ve extensively shot with Nikon, Sony, Apple (yes, Apple), Leica, and Fuji cameras over the past 25 years and Fuji is where I have quite happily ended up.  In fact, my advice to anyone starting out with an interchangeable lens camera system is to go with Fuji all the way.  I’ve talked about Fuji cameras many times before, and it is fair to say that Fuji has changed everything with my photography.  Fuji has one of the most exciting lens systems out there that are frankly, the best deal in camera lenses with amazingly good optics.  Also, Fuji zoom lenses are prime sharp with far more compact profiles than can be obtained with traditional SLR formats.  Fundamentally though, it is the cameras themselves that Fuji creates which render the images that I’m drawn to.  Fuji just gets color which is where this post started out and even if you throw out all the color, the black and white images that come out of the Fuji cameras are far better than I’ve seen with the Leica Monochrom.

One of these days, it will be interesting to see if the camera companies apply any of the lessons from both art and neurobiology about how we “see” color and form.  Fuji certainly understands the mathematics of color space and given that Fuji was one of the first camera companies to effectively understand that digital cameras are computers that can be updated with optics attached to them, I would not be surprised if neurally inspired imaging cameras come from Fuji first.

2 Replies to “Seeing Color On A Sunday Afternoon”

  1. Bryan,
    A natural history example of pointillism is the pattern appearances of fish and reptiles: appearance is the visual integration of chromatophores. Lots been done on its genetics and the phenotypic appearance of skin, but very little on the properties of vision by the corresponding predator. It’s a case of cameo and intaglio.

    1. Absolutely agreed Bill! I would love to see more basic science work done on predator/prey interactions and the impact of crypsis and perception. You’d think DARPA or someone would fund more work like that.

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