I have been DSLR free for about two months and all is well. During the past two months I’ve been to Cuba, New York (x2), and Arizona. I feel I have hit just about every type, and kind, of job I do and my little Fujis have performed flawlessly. I really relied on them in Arizona where I was shooting for Land Rover. I shot that job with a mix of Fujis and the Phase One. Everything else has been Fuji only.
I have no clue how many miles I have put on my Think Tank Airport Security roller bag. I love that bag and it has been everywhere with me for four or five years as my main camera bag. For the past two months I’ve mainly been living out of the Think Tank Airport Essentials backpack. Here’s a fully packed bag that fits under the seat in coach. I never have to worry about it getting gate checked.
Packed in there is a Fuji X-Pro1, X-E1, x100s (x2), a Fuji 60, 35, 14, and the new 55-200, Kung Pao (Yongnuo) 560, an external battery pack for the Kung Pao (JJC), Fuji EF-X20 flash, Wein Safe Sync IR transmitter, an OCF Gear 5 meter Canon cord, a Rainbow Imaging intervalometer and remote release controller (for the X-E1), a Fuji M mount adapter, Macbook Air, external drive, and misc other bits and bobs. Strapped to the side is a Phottix 36″ double fold umbrella, and a one foot length of 1/2″ copper pipe with a small swivel adapter. That’s A LOT of gear in a small bag.
Let me go through a few things in this bag that I haven’t talked about before on this blog.
The Fuji X-E1 :: I got this to be a back up to my X-Pro1. The X-Pro is still my go to camera when I need the variety of focal lengths it gives me. A LOT of people ask me which I prefer. I prefer the X-Pro1. The optical view finder is fantastic and it feels better in my hand. It has a better balance to it and it is definitely my preferred camera compared to the X-E1. One interesting difference between the two, though, is the X-E1 has a port on it that allows a remote to be connected. I’m using the Rainbow Imaging Remote. I’m using it for its intervalometer function for time lapse and remote firing. $27 FTW.
Wein Safe Sync :: This is an IR transmitter.This little guy sits on your hotshoe and fires a light with a built in optical slave. The $73 Yongnuo flashes I’ve been using lately have such a slave and the two work together quite well. Even in bright sunlight. The reason I have this is for the x100s. Being that it can sync at stupid fast shutter speeds, my Pocket Wizard Plus III’s can’t keep up. The radio latency is too slow. Nothing beats the speed of light though so the IR sync is one way to go.
OCF Gear 5 Meter Cord :: ocfgear.com Syl Arena started making these long TTL cords and the Canon version works great with the Fuji. The Nikon probably works as well. Because I’m not dealing with TTL all I need is the center pin to fire and both Nikon and Canon have center pins. Syl makes these things as long as 33 feet! This is here for fast syncing again. Just in case the IR goes south then I can hardwire to a flash. I’ve used this on a job recently and it works flawlessly. I’m catching my flash at 1000th – 2000th of a second. It’s also a very inexpensive alternative to using radio slaves.
Phottix 36″ Double Fold Umbrella :: In my search to build a bag that can do everything and fit under the seat in coach I’ve been trying these small umbrellas that David Hobby has long been a fan of. Count me a fan of them as well now. The 1/2″ copper pipe with a swivel adapter is basically a handheld solution to hold a light in one hand and a camera with the other. We’re talking no light stands! And questions from TSA as to why there’s a pipe in your bag. So far so good. Here’s a shot with an x100s, the Kung Pao fired by the Safe Sync, and the Phottix.
That’s 3pm full sun behind her. That’s f 2.8 with the internal 3 stop ND filter engaged. That’s 640th of a second on the shutter.
Fuji M Mount Adapter :: The one thing I need right now is a kick ass portrait lens. Something around 90mm. I have just gotten the new 55-200 Fuji lens and the jury is still out on that one. Even though it’s a big ass lens and slow on the long end , it’s sharp as a tack and the image stabilization is great. However, I’ve yet to really run it through the paces.
I’m looking for a good prime portrait lens right now and I’m about to pull the trigger on a Leica 90mm Summarit. I’ve tried all the Leica 90’s and I think for quality / size / and price I’m going to go with the Summarit. It’s a 2.5 lens. It’s kick ass and I love the small size of it. The 90 APO is fantastic but I’m not dropping $3-$4k on a lens for my Fuji. $1k range is a little more reasonable.
I think Zeiss screwed the pooch by releasing the wrong X mount lenses right now. They should have come out of the gates with a portrait lens. The Fuji 60mm works but it ain’t great. I’d really like to see Fuji redesign that damn lens. It’s a pain in the ass when focusing. When you get it focused it’s awesome. The rest of your time you’re cussing the damn thing. I’m just going to ditch it when I get a Leica lens. If Zeiss had an 85 something or another lens coming out I’d be first in line for it. Right now they are offering comparable focal lengths to already great Fuji lenses (12mm, 32mm, 50mm). I don’t get it.
As to the other X mount lenses I have been using… That new 14mm is effing amazing. I love that lens. The 35mm is still my favorite of all of them but that 14 is a close second. A very close second.
Fuji EF-X20 Flash :: Party flash. Nuff said. A nice little TTL / manual flash to sit on the Fuji’s when you want that hipster/scenester sort of vibe. I pulled it out of the bag at a late night dance club in Cuba. It was an awesome night. I think it was. I was told it was a great night.
Yeah. Get to Cuba. It’s amazing there.
I’d like to share some other images with you but alas, I have contractual embargos on them. I can’t share them until the client releases them first. I’ll do a Land Rover post once I can. That was a fun job. Here’s a shot from Cuba with the X-Pro1 and the 14mm.
I’ve got a whole blog post to do at some point about Cuba. OMG. The photography and art that is being made in that country is unreal.
So. The Fuji x100s. Capable on jobs? Hell yes. The AF is so much better than the first version. The image quality is great. Shooting RAW or JPG. Fuji has been working with Adobe on the RAW conversions and things have gotten much better on that front with Lightroom 4 and 5. High speed sync is fantastic. A few folks have told me recently via Twitter that they are getting Plus III’s syncing faster in HFS mode. I haven’t tried that yet. Right now the Wein and the OCF cord are working like a charm. PW’s are also a little top heavy when put on an x100 so I prefer the Wein.
Print quality is also very important when I’m looking at a camera system. My Q&A book is now shipping (blog post on that this week) and I had several images sent to the printer for tests before final layout. I had every kind of image printed from every camera I’ve shot in the last ten years. Nikon, Canon, Fuji, and Phase. CMYK is the great equalizer. I have to know that these images hold up in print for magazine and commercial clients. For the test prints, the Phase images stood out, as they tend to do, but I tell you what… from Canon to Nikon to Fuji… they all held up equally in CMYK printing. I’ve done lab tests and Epson tests and the Fuji’s stand side by side with DSLRs in print quality.
Right now, this is my desert island rig…
Just looking at that kit makes me smile.
I was recently asked on my Q&A blog whether I was switching to Fuji just to be different and not because they are better. I replied saying it is part of the equation. Not a large part. Not even half of the part, but yeah, that’s part of it. Who has a DSLR these days? Everyone. Moms, grandpas, clients, kids, that guy in accounting, everyone. Nikon this. Canon that. DSLRs are a dime a dozen these days everywhere you look. While everyone is chatting, talking, flaming, and trolling about this camera or another in the DSLR world, I’ve snuck out the back door and I’m not associated with any of that any longer. Bye.
Does it make a difference? It does. It’s mostly a mental departure from how I’ve done things for a long time and how much of the rest of the photography world works. It makes a difference with my clients and subjects as well. DSLRs are so generic these days that when you show up with something different like a Fuji or a medium format people take notice. They ask questions. These cameras start conversations. When I shot DSLRs I always heard about what camera my client or subject had. “Oh. You shoot Canon. I have a Nikon.” Etc. Etc. And then those conversations would take place. Not any more. “Wow. What is that? I’ve never seen one of those.” is now the opening line. Especially the Phase. Even folks who don’t know much about photography want to talk about that thing. (Meg here. Hi. He isn’t making an exercise in hyperbole. I assisted Zack on a job today and the client was ogling the Phase and Fuji’s and asked, “What kind of cameras are those?” I watched it happen!)
Are you kidding me? I couldn’t have staged that shot above better. I damn near got ran over trying to get that shot.
Photography is as much a mental and emotional art form as it is a technical artform. We rely on a certain amount of tools to do our job. When you change those tools there’s a mental change as well. The retro styling of the Fuji cameras isn’t just for show. There’s a reason cameras have been set up like those for decades. There’s a very practical reasoning behind dedicated aperture dials on the lens and shutter speed dials. I can “feel” where my settings are. A quick glance at simple analog dials tells me a lot as I’m pulling the camera to my eye. There’s also a — how do I say it? There’s a feeling of heritage to the Fuji’s. I don’t want to call it retro. It’s a modern day digital connection to the past that feels right. That’s another reason I prefer the X-Pro1 over the X-E1.
I say all of this to say I’m emotionally connected to my Fujis. I’ve never been emotionally connected to a DSLR. Ever. That connection matters. It’s not on a spec sheet. It can’t be tested in the lab. I look at my Fuji cameras and I want to go shoot. I want to make photos. They don’t belong in a bag. They belong on in my hand. I have been pursuing photography for 16 something years. I’ve been full time for ten years. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in the last ten years. I’m now heading into my next ten. It is time for me to go deeper down the rabbit hole and evolve and grow and push and change and morph. I’m not leaving what I’ve done behind. I’m going to build on it. I want the next ten years of my photography to depart from the last ten though. Changing my tools is part of this process…. for me.
Maybe it’s not for you. Maybe it is. Not if you’re a full time sports photographer though. I recently got an email from a full time sports photographer. It was a 12 paragraph diatribe on why he would never leave DSLRs because mirrorless cameras will never be capable of shooting action like his pro bodies and 300 and 400mm lenses can do. Really? No kidding.
I stepped on some toes when I claimed that Fuji is the new Leica. I’ve been asked over and over that if price wasn’t a concern would I shoot Leica instead? Unless any of you are offering Leica M class cameras for $1,200 new with an f2 lens then I can’t really answer that question can I? If price wasn’t a concern I’d be driving a different car. I’d live in a different house. I’d have a different studio. I have shot with Leicas. M6, M8, M9 and M9 monochrome to be specific. I’ve had a Fuji in one hand and a Leica in another. Hand on my heart… I’d chose the Fuji.
Some think I’m paid to say this stuff. Trust me. One hand on my heart and the other hand on the FCC laws regarding endorsements and advertising on blogs like this one… I’m not paid by Fuji to say this stuff. I’m not paid by them to review their gear. I have shot jobs for them. I’ve stood on their platform and talked about my experience with the cameras at industry events. That’s it. Once the images or videos are delivered to them my job is done. Just like all of the other jobs I do. Fuji didn’t pay me to sell all my L glass.
Leicas are great cameras. Amazing cameras. Their lenses are fantastic. They too elicit an emotional response when working with them. That’s part of the reason they are at the top of the gear food chain. The heritage of the Leica brand has been one of thoughtful and provocative documentary work, street photography, and photojournalism essays. Even if you weren’t shooting that kind of work simply owning a Leica could give you a feeling that you were connected to that work made by others. The working stiff photographer of old could hustle some cash together to build a Leica kit. These days the brand is that of a boutique camera company with their products glistening from within glass showcases. I’ve heard them called dentist cameras. The only docs they are shooting these days are the medical kind. Basically it would seem that Leica is now thought of as making cameras for people with a good bit of disposable income. Working photographers usually aren’t equated with people who have a lot of disposable income.
Exhibit A:: Leica stores.
It’s akin to artists moving into a bad part of town because the rent is affordable. Then they make that bad part of town cool. Then people start pouring in and shops and restaurants open up. Rent goes up to the point that the people who made that place cool can no longer afford to live there and they have to go find a new place to live. Fuji is that new place to live.
In this day and age it is much more difficult for the working Joe and Jane to get a solid Leica kit together. They’ve never been cheap but they were attainable. They’ve kind of moved out of the “attainable” status. You’re a working photographer that needs to travel, shoot, and have to have the best quality you can from a small, quiet, and unobtrusive camera kit. Fuji is now that. From form to function to price Fuji is this new globe trotting documentary camera. From portraits to events to breaking news… these cameras can handle it. Need it to run double truck? Done. Want to exhibit 30×40 prints? Done. Want to run full page in a wedding album? Done again. I’ve lusted over Leica cameras and lenses many times. I could never ever ever justify the cost though. The jump in image quality over a DSLR was never great enough to even think about it. I just wanted one because they’re cool and sexy and come from good blood so to speak.
Build a good kit with Leicas. Used M9 prices are hovering around the $7k mark on ebay right now. I’m told you can find them for around $4k from other places. I’m not really in that market so I’m not sure. Suffice it to say, the used prices on them are in the pro DSLR price range. Buy two of those. Then three good lenses. We’re talking medium format gear now as far as cash laid out. I’ll take a medium format camera any day over a Leica kit. Any. Day. Oh. In fact. I did get a medium format over a Leica system. No way in hell I’d trade my Phase for a Leica. Ever.
Where Fuji really seems to “get it” is in the quality of their sensors, lenses, and their ability to build a solid working system with really tough cameras. I put my cameras through hell and they keep going and going and going. My X-Pro1 has hit the pavement three times in the last year without a single thing breaking on it.
Lastly… a lot of folks asked where Pentax was in my initial x100s review. Yeah. Sorry I left her out. Pentax wasn’t at the bar. She was over at Hasselblad’s house. Poor Hasselblad. She recently went to Japan to see Sony and got some botched cosmetic surgery done by Dr. Lunar. Pentax was over there trying to console her. Pentax is a good friend. Hasselblad should have never hooked up with Sony. That was a mistake.