It’s a been a while between posts, but I haven’t been idle, photographically speaking. I have at least three cameras to test and write about (ignoring a broken Olympus Pen EES-2 and Kodak Brownie Reflex). There’s the fascinating, medium format Pentax 645N, a cute Lomo Diana Mini, and a rather dirty old Nikon F-301 body. Each of those cameras will have its day in the spotlight on these pages, but for now I need to record my thoughts on my most significant recent purchase – both in terms of cost and emotion – the famous Fujifilm Finepix X100.
Judging by my pre-purchase Google research, there must be a published review, blog post, or reader comment from EVERY owner of this camera. I won’t add to the noise by repeating what others have said, but the reviews are finely balanced between the pros and cons. The positives are its great styling and build quality, superb image quality, great viewfinder, loveliness in the hands, awesome low light performance and … it’s not a DSLR. The negatives include its poor autofocusing, crappy menu system, pretence at looking like a Leica, and … it’s not a DSLR. After using this camera for three days my initial thoughts are that each of those points is absolutely right on the money. This is a camera you have to learn to use – and learn to love.
All images in this post have been converted to monochrome in Nic’s Silver Efex Pro 2, with slight cropping applied.
For the past 18 months, by main interest in photography has been with wildlife and birds. So I have a respectably fast DSLR (Nikon D300s), the longest glass my money can buy, and a number of flash extenders and various other outdoor-related odds and ends. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of capturing beautifully sharp images of elusive birds and finding out more about them in wildlife books. I now have a fairly large collection of birds photos on Flickr and every now and then I love getting away by myself to see what else is out there. But birds aren’t people, and generally they don’t mind having my camera pointed at them. Taking photos of people, and street scenes, is a greater challenge for me, which has emerged from my rediscovery of film cameras. These days, if you have the money, the Fuji X100 is arguably a natural step on the road to more advanced digital street photography.
I have a long way to go in people and street photography, and if I’m to be honest, it’s never been the equipment that’s held me back. It’s the nervousness that comes from pointing a camera into a stranger’s face, and the lack of a decent eye for a snappy composition. My approach so far has been a mixture of machine-gun style hip-shooting in the hope that something interesting might be in focus, or picking on people who are unlikely to punch me, or loudly demand that I immediately delete the images. But there’s a thrill when you get it right – not unlike the thrill of capturing a Variegated Fairy-wren perched on an uncluttered branch in a beautiful part of the Australian bush.
Enter the Fuji X100. It’s a stunning piece of electronic engineering and offers much the same excitement as the classic film cameras I’ve used; most notably the Olympus Trip 35. (I’ve never used a Leica, so my comparisons are stuck at the budget end of the spectrum.) The camera’s low-light (high ISO) capability is amazing, and I can finally see what the fuss was about when the full-frame Nikons were launched. The Fuji X100 also has great film simulation modes, and I’ve really enjoyed shooting in black and white while recording Raw files. I expect that feature alone will help me greatly improve my compositions. Finally, the X100 can be made to be almost completely silent, so now if anyone punches me after I take their photo, it will only be to steal the camera.
But, but, but. I have missed some lovely shots when using this camera. An old, craggy faced man blowing smoke from a crooked cigarette, a deaf Big Issue vendor conversing wildly in sign-language to a customer, a dog peeking out of a shop door, and numerous other moments in life which have now gone forever. The unfortunate fact is that the X100 focuses like a sponge. The internet is chock-full of workarounds and ideas to cope with the terrible focus performance of this great camera. But I feel that for a revolutionary camera such as this, which has obviously had SO much attention paid to its beautiful features, to be so poorly lacking in basic responsiveness is a crying shame. I, and many others, can only hope that Fujifilm improves the camera in further firmware updates rather than abandoning the X100 while they go to work on the X200. In the meantime, I need to polish my skills at zone focussing and anticipating that crucial moment.
I refuse to despair of this camera, because in the short time I’ve owned it, I’ve seen what it can do. If only one in every 20 photos I take with this camera is a winner, it will have been worth the money. And if I catch one precious moment of ordinary life for every five that I miss, it will be a special moment. The challenge for me now is to make the most of what the X100 can provide, and to enjoy it.
As always, comments are welcome.