Why I bought a Fuji-X

I am often asked by friends and family for suggestions for a new camera. It usually comes up in a conversation like this….”I am going on a trip to (town/country), and need a new camera…What should I buy ?”.

Even with two cameras and three lenses, it is less-than half the size and weight of my Nikon photography gear. I like to travel light.
Even with two cameras and three lenses, it is less-than half the size and weight of my Nikon photography gear. I like to travel light.

My answer is always -it depends on what you want to do with it, and what your expectations are. Basically, it boils down to the camera that meets your criteria for size, weight, cost, features and complexity. In its simplest form, a camera is a tool, and it has often be said ‘use the right tool for the job’. The same can be said for photography….’use the right camera for the job’.

My criteria for a new camera included; small-size, low weight, travel camera, at reasonable cost, and one more criteria–

“It Feels Right”

It is a criteria that goes right to your gut, and it isn’t something I can clearly define. Visualize it as wearing the right pants this morning, you had the right amount of milk and sugar in your coffee this morning.

It is abstract, and not something that can be easily defined or described by dollars, size, weight, or any numerical value. It is not hotter or colder, wetter or drier. Instead, consider it as something that you enjoy using…“It Feels Right”. The flipside, if it does not Feel Right – then, chances are, you wont be having fun, and won’t do it, or use it again.

Ask yourself – would Oscar-Claude Monet have painted Water Lilies, using paint brushes, or paint that did not “Feel Right” ?.

Would Henri Cartier-Bresson have used a camera or lens that did not Feel Right

So – Does the Fuji-X Feel Right for you ?.

You decide: check out the features, assess how it performs, check the lenses, pixel-peep the quality of the images, feel the ergonomics, fiddle with the menus. How do you feel when you use it ?. Does it Feel Right to you ?

My criteria for a new camera for 10 months of traveling included a small, light weight interchangable lens camera, that can perform in low light, and produce good quality images, and of course: Feels Right. To decide, I went to my local camera store and played with different cameras, then found the one that simply ‘Feels Right’. It may or may not have been the most cost effective, highest resolution, most megapixels, most popular, or voted ‘best’ camera. It was simply chosen because it ”Feels Right”.

I selected the Fujifilm X-Pro. From the start, the X-Pro feels solid, the overall ergonomics of the camera felt great, and the position and shape of the the dials (shutter speed, exposure compensation and aperture ring on the lens) felt so natural in my hand (improved with the accessory hand grip). Adjusting the shutter speed is easily done by turning the dial between two fingers, and adjusting the exposure compensation is easy by sliding your thumb. All adjustments can be done without removing your eye from the eyepiece. There is no program, or specialized scene mode – manual, automatic, shutter priority, or aperture priority. So simple. Compared to my Nikon D700, the size and weight of the X-Pro is almost negligible, it’s awesome for travel. An added benefit of the small size, is the discreteness of the camera and the ability to really get in close and mingle with the subjects, without being too obtrusive is a really positive.

Although the X-Pro is not technically a ‘rangefinder’ camera, feels like one and takes some getting used to. The optical viewfinder was what lead me to the X-Pro in the first place. The frame lines let me see what is coming into the frame. It works awesome with wide and normal field of view lenses, but after I bought the Fuji XF 55-200mm lens differences in parallax made it impossible to get the camera to focus on the desired location. With the flick of a small lever on the front of the camera, it changes to an electronic viewfinder that corrects for parallax and shows the exact field of view. A couple of months later, I also purchased a Fujifilm X-E1 as a back-up to the X-Pro, and with the added advantage of having a wide angle lens on one camera and a telephoto lens on the other camera. Both the X-Pro and X-E1 can use the same lenses, have the same battery, and same charger. Having spent quality time with both the X-E1/X-Pro, it is often hard to tell which camera I am using – the performance and the external controls are almost the same. Externally, the X-E1 is physically smaller and it has a tiny pop up TTL flash, and only has an electronic viewfinder. As both the X-Pro and X-E1 have electronic viewfinders – you would expect them to be the same – Not. When I wear sunglasses, the view in the electronic viewfinder of the X-Pro (in landscape orientation) is completely black, whereas in portrait orientation the image is viewable. With the X-E1 (and wearing sunglasses) the view is normal in both landscape and portrait orientation. Why ??. So, fortunately, the X-Pro has an optical view finder that I can use wearing sunglasses, and fortunately, the electronic viewfinder on the X-E1 displays correctly. Both the X-Pro and X-E1 have a +/-2EV exposure compensation dial on the top-right corner that is easily rotated off ‘0’ when handling the camera out of the camera bag. Sometimes it is a pain in the ass, though, on the positive side, it is easy to rotate with my thumb without removing my eye from the viewfinder.

One other feature that won me over to the Fuji-X cameras are the small, light very fast, high quality Fuji-X lenses, and the shallow sensor to flange distance that with appropriate adapters allows other lenses to be used. I’ve got adapters for Nikon, Canon and Leica-R, and someday, might even try a Leica-M and Contax-G lens. With adapters, all lenses are manual focus, which isn’t too bad using focus peaking, though a ‘green dot’ focus confirmation as in the Nikon D700 would make focus-verification easier. Autofocus in Fujifilm X-Pro and X-E1 are good enough for most situations, but not known to be super fast (Note – autofocus in the X-E2 and X-T1 are apparently much faster). I never use ‘Continuous AF’, which literally means continuous focus, and runs continuously even when the shutter button has not been pressed.

Finally, the Quality of the images – this is where using a X-Pro/X-E1 “Feels Right”. Both the Fujifilm X-Pro and X-E1 cameras use the same APS-C X-Trans sensor resulting in fantastic colors and detail, and the images are completely usable and noise images free up to 6400 ISO – which is better than my full frame Nikon D700 DSLR.

As a travel camera, my X-Pro and X-E1 have performed near flawlessly, through humid jungles of Thailand, high altitude mountain treks in Nepal, in the hot and dry Australian outback, dropped in sand on a beach in Turkey, and my camera bag has been thrown aboard buses, trucks, trains, rickshaw, and on the roof of taxis (not even tied down). The weirdest glitch is between the X-E1 and 14mm, they are simply not compatible !. With the 14mm lens, the X-E1 camera locks up, the LCD goes black and flashes. When the camera is turned on/off it repeats. I removed the battery, upgraded the firmware on both lens and body, no effect. I just plan to not use 14mm on X-E1 !.

Unfortunately, just before publishing this post, the Fuji XF 18-55mm lens broke !. For some reason the lens, when attached to the camera, the error message on the camera LCD says “Lens Control Error”. After contacting Fuji, and confirming that the lens is still under warranty, although is has to be sent back to the country of purchase – which for me is Canada. So – for this lens to be repaired under Warranty, it has to be sent to Canada, at my expense, then sent back to me – currently traveling in Europe (again at my expense). Shipping the lens across the Atlantic Ocean – twice, is going to add probably more than half the value of the lens !. Surely, a large, International company like Fuji – can work something out with it international partners so that the stupidity of sending a lens back and forth across from Europe to Canada then back to Europe can be avoided….maybe someday !.

 

SHSB9944

Both cameras are now showing some wear and tear. There is black paint scuffed off from the corners exposing the shiny grey metal and a few small dents. Consider this cosmetic wear as creases on a farmers hands – they show life !. At times, during my travels, I confess to having camera envy, seeing other tourists carrying Nikon D4s, D800/810, Canon 5dMkIII, or Leica M9. It could be me, carrying my two D700’s, a 17-35mm lens (or the 14-24mm), and a 70-200mm but that would be 15 kg of camera gear instead, of my Fujifilm gear (two bodies and three lenses) weighing only 6 kg (with the camera bag). Then I remembered that the X-Pro/X-E1 is a very capable camera and there is a lot of appeal traveling with a smaller, travel-friendly camera with high image quality as opposed to hauling around a lot of heavy gear. All the more energy to enjoy my surroundings !.

Bottom line – the Fujifilm X-Pro and X-E1 “Feels Right”, and is the Right tool to suit my photography needs.

Around the World with Fuji-X series (X-Pro & X-E1)

A post about camera gear.

I’ve dreaded writing this post for fear of being ‘labelled/classified’ as one of those camera gear – type people.

This post in reply to the emails and Facebook messages lately asking what camera gear I am using while travelling around the world for 10 continuous months. I have both the Fujifilm X-series X-Pro and X-E1 cameras, and the answer to the other question. No – I am not selling my Nikon camera gear. There, two questions answered !.

Those that know me, know that I have a large collection of Nikon camera gear. So – why not bring my usual Nikon gear ?. Travelling for 10 months to foreign places is the ultimate photo opportunity. By experience, I have learned to always carry two camera bodies – each body with a different lens; one body with a wide angle lens, and the other body with a telephoto lens. Having two bodies, also provides the security of a backup if one camera breaks (lesson learned). Although the D700 and with a (14-24mm /17-35mm) wide angle lens, and (85mm / 70-200mm) telephoto lens combination is absolutely fantastic, I did not want to be burdened with the size and weight of all that camera gear. I wanted to travel relatively light, and not be overly noticeable as a photographer with camera gear dangling from my neck, or carried in a specialized camera bag that seems to advertise ‘steal me / rob me’.

Based on the anticipated use during the travels; predominantly street, with some landscape and general travel documentary photography, and after researching other brands, I settled on the Fuji X system since these cameras are an excellent compromise between size, weight, features, and quality. As per usual I bought two cameras – the (at the time flagship model) X-Pro, and the X-E1. Between the X-Pro and X-E1 there are a lot of similarities; both use the same sensor (I cannot see any difference between the images taken using the X-E1 or X-Pro), both use the same battery and flash, the camera controls are almost the same, and both cameras are roughly the same size and weight (although the X-E1 is a little smaller and lighter). The biggest difference is that the X-E1 has a tiny (but effective) pop-up flash, and the X-Pro is slightly larger and has a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder.

For lenses, I brought the Fuji 14mm f/2.8, 18-55mm f/2.8-4 and 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8. I would have loved to have brought the Fujifilm 35mm f/1.4 as well. Enroute, bought a Samyang 8mm fisheye mostly for panoramas and street photography (this lens is manual focus; whereas Fuji lenses are all fly-by-wire and re-set each time the camera is turned on/off). Compared to the Nikon lenses, the Fuji (and Samyang) lenses are light-weight. The two cameras fit in a non-descript, black Timbuk2 saddle bag with room to spare for one extra lens, extra batteries, extra memory cards, filters, lens cleaning cloth, a water bottle, notepad and pen, water bottle, sunglasses other smaller items …and a 6-pack of beer !.

Complete list of camera gear:

  • Fuji X-Pro (with hand grip)
  • Fuji X-E1 (with DIY hand grip)
  • Fuji 14mm, 18-55mm, 55-200mm lenses
  • Samyang 8mm lens
  • Fuji flash X20
  • 5x batteries, and charger
  • UV filters for all lenses, except 8mm
  • Hoya 8xND and circular polarizer
  • Manfrotto tripod head (494RC2), Cullmann tripod (Nanomax 260) – carrying it almost got me shot !
  • MacBook Pro + 2x external hard drives
  • Lowepro soft lens case
  • Lowepro hip pack (fits inside the Timbuk2 bag)
  • Timbuk2 shoulder bag
  • SD card reader, lens cleaning cloths, Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaning brush

Thus far, at 7 months into the journey my camera gear has travelled through humid jungles of Thailand, high altitude mountain treks in Nepal, in the hot and dry Australian outback, dropped in sand on a beach in Turkey, and my camera bag has been thrown aboard busses, trucks, trains, rickshaw, and on the roof of taxis (not even tied down). I have leaned a lot about how well the X-E1 and X-Pro perform in these diverse environmental conditions – for the most part they performed well, although not without flaws. On a couple of occasions gigantic blobs of dust appeared on the sensor, and could not be removed by the built on sensor-shake-cleaner, requiring a cleaning with an Arctic Butterfly sensor cleaning brush. Autofocus is slow, though this has been greatly improved in X-E2 and X-T1 – so do not plan to use the X-E1 or X-Pro for sports or nature (e.g. flying birds) photography. Both the X-E1 and X-Pro have EV-compensation dials that are easily rotated off ‘0’, resulting in over or under exposed images. Neither cameras weather sealing (X-T1 does), so use a clear plastic bag when photographing a water ballon fight (e.g. Holi – Festival of Color in Nepal). Burst shooing at six frames/second ? – forget it, unless you want your camera to lock up for several minutes while the camera writes the images to the memory card. The weirdest glitch is between the X-E1 and 14mm, they are simply not compatible !. With the 14mm lens, the X-E1 camera locks up, the LCD goes black and flashes. When the camera is turned on/off it repeats. I removed the battery, upgraded the firmware on both lens and body, no effect. I just plan to not use 14mm on X-E1 !.

Using a Fuji X-E1 or X-Pro is unlike using a DSLR; the entire process and feeling is different. Simply- you have to enjoy using the cameras, and know what you are doing, and adjust your photography technique. Read other blogs, and read that some people have a ‘Love Hate Relationship’ with their X-E1/X-Pro. For me, it is the right tool for the job; I love the size, I love the weight (or lack of weight), I love the ergonomics of the X-Pro (whereas my D700 feels like a 5 pound brick), I love the colours of the photos, and I love that the images do not need much post processing. An added advantage of the smaller X-Pro and X-E1 cameras is that they are far more discrete that a full-size DSLR, I never stood out as a photographer, and blended into the role of tourist giving me far more freedom and access than if I had a large DSLR around my neck.

Will I sell the Fuji cameras when I get home and go back to Nikon DSLR, or keep the X-E1/X-Pro and sell the Nikon ?.

Neither – I will keep both the Fuji cameras and the Nikon. My style of photography is quite diverse; ranging from landscape, portrait, sports, wildlife, private and commercial work. Both the large Nikon and small Fuji are capable cameras, though both are completely different in capabilities. Choosing one or the other depends on the requirements of the situation. One blogger even referred to the “thoughtful” shooter – that is, you take the time to compose your image properly, check your settings, etc.

Should you buy a X-E1/X-Pro ?.

No – I’d recommend getting either the X-E2, X-T1 or waiting until the X-Pro2 is released.

Bottom line. I am very happy with my Fuji cameras and lenses, they may not be the ‘best’ travel cameras – though they are significantly smaller, and lighter than large DSLRs, and produce beautiful pictures time after time.

 

My camera is Black – but not a Black Box

My camera is Black – but not a Black Box

During the past few months, I’ve travelled from Canada to Thailand, Australia, Nepal and Turkey by airplane. As we all know, large commercial airplanes have ‘black boxes’ that record the parameters of flight such as altitude, engine performance and pilot conversations.

In many ways, my camera is also a black box. It records the parameters of the photo – shutter speed, aperture, time and date. However, unlike airplane black boxes, the camera does not record my conversation while composing the photo. Not that I talk out loud while composing a photo – Imagine for a moment that the camera could record my mental conversations, thoughts, and envision for what I am seeing in the scene in front of me. 

Steve to camera – ‘I am taking this picture because…’

Steve to camera – ‘Lets slow down the shutter speed to blur the people walking by…’

Steve to camera – ‘What if I moved a bit to the left…’

Steve to camera – ‘Lets see what happens if we add +1 exposure to reduce the backlight …’

Steve to camera – ‘What if I…’

Sheikh Zayed Mosque

This collection of images were taken at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi (the capital the United Arab Emirates). Architecturally stunning and large enough to accommodate 40,000 worshippers, the mosque was constructed from 1996 to 2007. There are 82 roof-top domes, more than 1,000 columns, 24 carat gold gilded chandeliers, and contains marble stone, gold, semi-precious stones, crystals and ceramics. and the world’s largest hand knotted carpet. Photo technique: All photos were taken handheld (tripods are not allowed), with the camera braced against a wall or column. Three long exposure photos (-1, 0, +1 exposure) were combined to ghost the other visitors. Photos combined in PhotoMatrix Pro. Fuji X-E1 with XF 18-55mm lens.

Click on an photo to make it larger, and use the arrows to move to the next photo.

 

 

 

Rush Hour in Kathmandu

In Kathmandu (Nepal) it is always ‘rush hour’; bicycles, bicycle-rickshaws, motorcycles, three-wheeled tuktuks, cars, vans, buses and trucks or all shapes and sizes are constantly honking as they weave between each other, passing on the inside lane, passing on the outside lane, and occasionally sharing the lane with on-coming traffic. Add pedestrians, farm tractors, two-wheeled tractors and wandering cows – and it all gets real interesting.  There seem to be no traffic rules, or they are simply ignored. The vans photographed below, had were packed with up to 30 people – far beyond their recommended occupancy limit, and were excessively overloaded

This is a small selection of traffic related photos taken at sunset in Kathmandu, February 20, 2015. Click on the first thumbnail and it will enlarge. Form there you can scroll through the larger images to see the whole collection.

All photos taken with a Fuji X-E1 with XF 14mm, or Fuji X-PRO1 with XF 55-200mm.

 

 

 

 

After the strong (7.8) earthquake that struck the Kathmandu Valley on April 25, 2015 and the many aftershocks, many of the modern and historic buildings and roads shown in these photos have been extensively damaged or destroyed, and thousands of deaths and injuries.