So. It’s been well over a year now since I jumped onto the Fuji X-series ship – and I certainly don’t do these things half heartedly. Canon out, Fuji in… no crossover period. So what have I learned so far.. and would I go back again?
Firstly, I’m not going to go into detail on the truly obvious things, such as how much lighter they are than the big old DSLRs, how much fresher I feel after a wedding day, how much less crippled I feel after 12 hours running around with two camera bodies and lenses strapped to me. If you’re thinking of going mirrorless, then you’ll already have considered these elements, I’m sure. Suffice to say that absolutely YES, it makes a huge difference to one’s health and wellbeing. But there’s another benefit to the small size and lightness of the Fuji X Series cameras that perhaps you haven’t considered.
I’ve become a more intuitive photographer.
And yes – this is in part due to the fact that the X-Pro2s which I use for weddings are small, light and blend in easily to a crowd. In documentary photography, you’re constantly scanning for magical moments which are about to happen. You’ll be watching a group of people talking, with that awareness that a punchline is about to be told, a burst of laughter is forthcoming. Or maybe it’s in the speeches, where you can just feel that the groom is about to turn to his new wife and say something that’s going to make her cry with happiness. In these instances, the magical moment may be fleeting; so, having a camera that is so small that it effectively works like an extension of your hand means you get more of those golden magical shots. You are more instantly reactive to the moment.
I’m also a more intuitive photographer because of the way the X-Pro2 works. If you’ve only ever shot on a DSLR, you won’t be used to controlling aperture on a lens aperture ring. I honestly don’t know why anyone ever thought it was a good idea to take away this control from the lens and put it on a camera body, Aperture control is much more fluid and you can be instantly reactive to the requirements of a shot when you’re working in aperture priority mode. And, of course, there’s the EVF. Being able to actually SEE your exposure before shooting is such a revelation; it’s truly game changing for a photographer. Like all the best things, it’s such a simple concept; of course you need to see your exposure! Plus, being able to overlay film simulations on top of your EVF – particularly black and white – means you can effectively see your dynamic range in a shot much more easily.
There are a whole heap of other things about the controls on the X-series cameras that make my heart sing, but the aperture ring and the EVF are the two big ones that mean, to me, that going back to a traditional DSLR would never make sense. As for the images they produce, I’m not even going to bother going to go into detail about them here, because frankly, I like them better than the Canon images I’ve spent years shooting. More real, more alive, more me. I know that’s not very technical, but I don’t think it needs to be. How you feel about your images is an emotional reaction, and it hits the right spot for me.
The learning curve.
Don’t expect to pick up an X-series camera and go out and shoot a wedding with it straight away. There absolutely IS a learning curve to be climbed before you use one in anger, and like any business tool, you need to be absolutely fluent in how it works before you bring it into an environment where getting the shot right is vital – such as a client’s wedding.
I remember the first time I accidentally knocked the focus ring on a lens, most likely when picking it up when changing the lens on a camera body. WHAAAAT? Suddenly my camera wasn’t focusing. I didn’t understand why not and although I wasn’t in a business working environment, I panicked. I did the usual ‘turn it off and on again’, but no, still no focus. I’d broken it. Nooooo! Actually, of course I hadn’t; I just didn’t know at that time that some (not all) Fuji XF lenses have a focus ring you can pull back to put it into manual focus mode. Canon lenses didn’t have this, so this was Brand New Information for me.
Whilst the EVF was a marvel to me, I remember being mightily confused when I first put a flashgun on top of the camera and set up the camera to shoot. As my ISO and shutter speed were set for working with a flash (probably ISO400 and 1/125 sec), as I look through the viewfinder at the dimly lit scene, I only saw what the camera considered to be the result of those settings; total darkness. I panicked. again. How would I see what I was shooting? Did I have to blunder around in the dark, vaguely pointing at what I was going to shoot, and hope that I fired off the flash shots at the right time? Of course not. Again, I didn’t know that there was a setting to turn off the image preview effect when you have a flash on board. Aaaaaah – NOW it works.
Those are just two examples of things that I came across in the early few days of working with Fuji X-series that you really, REALLY wouldn’t want to happen to you whilst you’re out on a working shoot. So whilst I know this goes against the grain of human nature, you do have to read the manual. All of it. And then, keep it with you so you can refer to it whilst you learn. I remember once knocking on the ‘special filters’ mode and not knowing how I’d done it or how to turn it off. Good job I had my manual with me.
And also, if you’re coming from full frame, you need to remember that whilst these are hugely capable cameras in every way, you are now shooting on a crop frame and therefore you need to adjust the way you think about how your lenses read a scene in both focal length and aperture. An f/1.2 aperture on a crop sensor is not the same as on a full frame; and a 35mm lens on a crop frame is going to give you a different field of view than the same focal length on a full frame. So experiment, learn your tool, and become knowledgeable. You don’t have to become a techy gear geek (unless you want to). Just learn what your camera can do and learn how you can make it perform to suit your shooting style.
THE BEST BIT
The community; feel the love.
I had never thought this would be the best bit of shooting Fuji, or even known that it was a thing – but getting to know other Fuji shooters has been a revelation. I’m not saying that there isn’t a Canon or Nikon community (other camera brands are available), but I never got involved in them. There’s something about the Fuji X-series cameras that inspires people to fall back in love with photography, and I for one can hold testament to this. I have an X100F, which I use as my everyday camera; I’d have never dreamt of taking out a DSLR on a walk before, or popped it in my bag whilst I went to the shops in case I saw something I wanted to shoot. I can do all of this and more with the X100F.
Fuji shooters, it seems to me, were all looking for the same thing as I. My Canons felt like work, and I wanted to feel the excitement of shooting again; to feel the joy of photography. With Fuji, the process of making images is from the heart; these little cameras allow you to be who you truly want to be as a photographer.
A FINAL WORD
Your clients won’t care.
I see a lot of rubbish about ‘but my clients won’t think I’m professional’. I’ll tell you now; that’s in YOUR head, not theirs. In the last year or so, not one client has asked me where the ‘real cameras’ are, or made any comment whatsoever on the gear I carry. Clients judge you on your work, not your gear. In fact, I’ve had nothing but excitement and positivity, particularly when people see the X100F. (‘Wow! Is that a Leica? Are you shooting film? That’s just come out hasn’t it, it’s amazing! What a great camera! Oh, I want one of those!).
And you know what, if the unthinkable happened and someone said to you, ‘Why are you using such a little camera? Surely it can’t be as good as a DSLR?’ then the only comeback should surely be ‘Why are you using such a small mobile phone?’ Big is no longer better.