Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A sort of gear review: The Fuji X-series

Ha Giang Province Vietnam: 1/125 @f/2 ISO 400, Fuji x100
The other day I had to make a call I never wanted to have to make. At 28 I needed to see a chiropractor - some would call it the photographers curse, a curse that unfortunately goes with the territory. Lugging heavy camera gear around, usually with it hanging from the neck, waist or one shoulder eventually takes its toll. This realisation along with some other vague and equally suspicious excuses was one of the reasons I'd been interested getting myself one of Fujifilm's X-Series cameras - the thought of having a camera that was small and light and could maybe even supplement my heavy old SLR was appealing. I knew they would probably never replace my SLR for work but as everyday cameras they seemed to offer a good compromise.

Saigon, Vietnam: 1/2000 @f/2.8 ISO 400, Fuji x100

 Halong Bay, Vietnam: 1/1100 @f/5.6, ISO 400, FUJI X100

 Halong Bay, Vietnam: 1/750 @f/5.6, ISO 400, FUJI X100
Saigon, Vietnam: 1/60 @f/2 ISO 2500, Fuji x100
Halong Bay, Vietnam: 1/500 @f/5.6 ISO 400, Fuji x100
From the train, Vietnam: 1/60 @f/4 ISO 1600, Fuji x100
On a train Vietnam: 1/60 @f/4 ISO 2000, Fuji x100
Hue, Vietnam: 1/1000 @f/5.6 ISO 400, Fuji x100
Saigon, Vietnam: 1/60 @f/2 ISO 3200, Fuji x100
Hong Kong: 1/60 @f/4 ISO 200, Fuji x100
In 2011 I bought the Fujifilm x100, a camera I loved to hate, a camera that for me was so nearly there in terms of what I personally was after but somehow not quite. It looked fantastic (for some reason more of an appeal to me than it really should be) and contained pretty much my perfect carry around set-up; packing an equivalent of 35mm f/2 lens. It was almost too silent when it took a photo (to the point where at times I wasn't even sure it had taken) but is small size and discretion were a big plus for me, the whole thing could slip in my pocket and yet it felt good in the hand with a nice weight. The whole manual shutter and aperture operation were a total winner for me. 

Morocco: 1/500 @f/8 ISO200, Fuji X100
Los Angeles, USA: 1/2000 @f/5.6, ISO 400, Fuji x100
Train window, England: 1/1000 @f/8, ISO 400, Fuji x100
Switzerland: 1/1000 @f/6.4, ISO 1000 Fuji x100
I think Fuji had finally realised something that most camera manufacturers seemed to have failed to realise, photographers are creatures of habit, we are by and large dinosaurs, and we like what we know, and what we know works. So many cameras that come on to the market aren't aimed at dinosaurs, they are aimed at the mass consumer. Manual shutter dials and aperture rings disappeared from all but 'pro' cameras because they seemed archaic. This may well be the case but equally they were a tried and tested functions that had been the norm for decades, and yet within a matter of years digital cameras had consigned them to the graveyard, much to the annoyance of the dinosaurs. 

The original Fuji x100

Fuji it seems finally cottoned onto this and their x-series cameras are evidence of that theyre a nod to a system that is tried and tested. Nevertheless with the x100 they still managed to get a few things wrong. They may have designed the hardware well but the internals, the menu system, was a generally nonsensical and the camera had a habit of not responding particularly fast, it was sluggish, not much but just enough, and it acted at time likes a despondent child. Luckily Fuji were a company that actually listened to its customers and the firmware updates did start to tackle these problems.

Paul, London: 1/220 @f/2, ISO 400, Fuji x100
Low Tatra mountains, Slovakia: 1/1000 @f/5.6 ISO 400, Fuji x100
Low Tatra mountains, Slovaki: 1/2000 @f/8, ISO 400, Fuji x100
London, UK: 1/640 @f/8, ISO 400, Fuji x100
London, UK: 1/640 @f/5.6, ISO 400, Fuji x100
London, UK: 1/250, @f/11, ISO 400, Fuji x100
London, UK: 1/8, @f/2, ISO 2500 (flash), Fuji x100
Wales, UK: 1/124, @f/4, ISO 400, Fuji x100
Belfast, UK: 1/60, @f/2, ISO 1000, Fuji x100
Marrakech, Morocco: 1/60, @f/2.8, ISO 1000, Fuji x100
Essaouira, Morocco:1/500, @f/8, ISO 200, Fuji x100
Tony and Charlie, Morocco: 1/60, @f/2, ISO 1600, Fuji x100
Train to Scotland, UK: 1/60, @f/4, ISO 640, Fuji x100
London, UK: 1/500, @f/8, ISO 1000, Fuji x100
Adam, LA, USA: 1/60, @f/2, ISO 1600, Fuji x100
Nevada, USA: 1/500, @f/4, ISO 200, Fuji x100
Nadine, San Francisco, USA: 1/125, @f/2, ISO 200, Fuji x100
Highway 101, USA: 1/250, @f/8, ISO 200, Fuji x100
Adam and Nadine say goodbye, LA, USA: 1/125, @f/4, ISO 200, Fuji x100
Around the same time I upgraded my phone to an iPhone 4S and for the first time ever found myself increasingly taking my snaps with that rather than a 'proper' camera. I guess as master self-publicist photo guru Chase Jarvis likes to say, the best camera is the one you have with you. I found this to be true, my x100 was getting sidelined for a phone. Which is ridiculous when you think about it for quality purposes, but it was possibly because of things like shooting for my instagram that I was posting to much more than I thought I would.

London, England: 1/1600 @f/2.8 ISO 200, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 35mm f1.4 lens)
Rome, Italy: 1/60 @f/2.2 ISO 1600, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
Rome, Italy: 1/1000 @f/8 ISO 400, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
Rome, Italy: 1/500 @f/8 ISO 400, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
Rome, Italy: 1/250 @f/5.6 ISO 200, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
Rome, Italy: 1/125, @f/5.6, ISO 400, Fuji X-Pro1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
The Fuji X-Pro 1
Then along came the X-Pro. I resisted it for awhile, and had told myself that I wasn't going to buy it. I then unfortunately went into one of my favourite little camera shops in London (London Camera Exchange on the Strand) and saw one sat there looking all flash and fancy in the second-hand cabinet. 

Senegal, West Africa: 1/640 @f/8 ISO 400, Fuji X-Pro 1(XF 18mm f2 lens)
Senegal, West Africa: 1/1000 @f/9 ISO 400, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)

I couldn't face leaving it there, so I decided to adopt it there and then, fishing out my wallet like a total sucker. The X-Pro1 comes in significantly larger than the x100. The lenses for it are all much larger than the fantastic 23mm f/2 (35mm equivalent) on the x100 and x100s. 

Delhi, India: 1/500 @f/5.6 ISO 500, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
Delhi, India: 1/250 @f/11 ISO 400, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
Jodhpur, India: 1/170 @f/5.6, ISO 400, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
Jodhpur, India: 1/60 @f/3.2, ISO 2000, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
Pushkar, India: 1/100 @f/4, ISO 200, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
This places it in a weird category, it's not quite a point and shoot and its not an SLR. The responsiveness of the camera wasn't quick enough for me to warrant replacing my SLR with it, it would hunt for focus and I just didnt feel it was snappy enough for me. The lenses I have for it (equivalent of a 28mm and a 50mm) are not my favourite focal lengths, and besides for me the lenses feel too big (at least for a camera that I felt couldn't rival my SLR). Once again however Fuji have been quick to bring out firmware updates which have significantly improved the camera.

Portsmouth, England: 15s @f/11 ISO 400, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 35mm f1.4 lens)
Goodwood, England: 1/250 @f4.5 ISO 200, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 35mm f1.4 lens)
Goodwood, England: 1/500 @f2.5 ISO 200, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 35mm f1.4 lens)
Goodwood, England: 1/1000 @f/2 ISO 200, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 35mm f1.4 lens)
Goodwood, England: 1/2000 @f/2 ISO 200, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 35mm f1.4 lens)
Goodwood, England: 1/125 @f/8 ISO 200, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
Goodwood, England: 1/125 @f/8 ISO 200, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f2 lens)
Delhi, India: 1/30, @f/2, ISO 3200, Fuji X-Pro 1 (XF 18mm f/2 lens)
Then came along the Fuji x100S. At first, like with XPro1 I told myself I didn't need it or want it. Then I started to read reviews. And then I made the same fatal mistake I did with the XPro1, I dropped into London Camera Exchange with the aim of getting a new backup up SLR body. Instead I came out of the shop with a new x100S. Damn, how did that happen? Unfortunately for me Fuji had listened to the gripes people had with the x100 had had taken a brave move, they had released a new camera in pretty much the same body but with some hardware improvements. My other camera company, seem to only react to their customers when they're forced too, Fuji it seems cannot do enough to try and please their customers. It's a fundamentally different mindset, but one that's refreshing. A few years ago, the thought of a camera company actually updating firmware for free was almost unthinkable, especially if it didn't really have too. What Fuji showed was that they were prepared to show respect towards their customers who had invested in their camera system. It may also be an example of the Japanese business philosophy of Kaisen as alluded too by this blogger. Either way let's face it, in today's digital camera age buying into a camera system is an investment to which you will see little return. Camera bodies depreciate in value so quickly you are literally throwing away cash unless you're going to get a lot of use out of it. Granted there are plenty of hobbyists out there with disposable income that like buying different cameras and that's fair enough, but I make my living from photography. I need to trust the cameras I have, and trust the company that builds them. I want a company that listens and actually improves a camera. The x100S seems to show that Fuji may well be that company - I certainly hope so. 
London, England: 1/250 @f/2.8 ISO 400, Fuji X100S
That being said I haven't had a chance to really get to grips with the x100S. I'm yet to have taken it away on assignment with me, and when I'm in transit is when I tend to use this camera the most. It still vies with my iPhone for snaps though; the phone is just so damn convenient. Besides I tend to Instagram a lot - until Fuji introduce wifi then I'm sure the phone will still be used for that (it does have Eye-Fi transfer however which I haven't tried yet). 

Obviously in terms of quality the phone will never come close to what the Fuji's can produce. The files are lush, the lenses are super high quality, and their performance in low light superb. Some of the images below testify to that. 

London, UK: 1/320, @f/5, ISO 400, Fuji x100s
London, UK: 1/500, @f/5, ISO 400, Fuji x100s
London, UK: 1/125, @f/2, ISO 2000, Fuji x100s
London, UK: 1/125, @f/5.6, ISO 400, Fuji x100s
Andrew, London, UK: 1/20, @f/2, ISO 2500, Fuji x100s
Brendan, London, UK: 1/125, @f/2, ISO 400, Fuji x100s
London, UK: 1/125, @f/4, ISO 400, Fuji x100s
1/250, @f/4, ISO 200, Fuji x100s
Sussex, England: 1/30 @f/2 ISO 3200, Fuji X100S
My other gripes with the x100S are small. The playback mode for the multi-shot mode is an annoying gif type system, you need to go into the files to see them individually. This to me seems pointless and should be something you can switch off in the menu. The view mode cycle should also be able to be adjusted, I rarely if ever use the eye sensor and I'd like to be remove it from the cycle so that it would jump from back of the screen to the OVF/EVF.

Freetown, Sierra Leone: 1/1000, @f/11, ISO 400, Fuji x100s
Freetown, Sierra Leone: 1/500, @f/5.6, ISO 500, Fuji x100s
With my SLRs I use back button focus, it makes life a lot more simple. The Fuji allows this with the AFL/AEL button when in manual mode but I'd like it if this button were bigger and perhaps shaped like the ones on the Fuji X-Pro 1. That being said the camera can now always be found either in my bag or slung round my shoulder I walk around all day with this thing and hardly notice its there. Its not the camera for everyone but I think its the camera for me.

The Fuji X100S
All the images in this article were shot in RAW and processed in Adobe Lightroom with VSCO film presets.