Friday, October 21, 2016

Fujifilm X70... a street journey!


'Fujifilm X70'
Wrist strap by Hyperion Camera Straps

I've been frequently asked by my portrait colleagues... "What's your deal with street photography all about?" For those that have followed my conceptual stylized portraiture work over the years and have come to know me because of that... then it's a valid question and one that deserves an answer. That answer though is longer than what this blog post should be and it's not what this blog post is primarily about. One day i'll give the long version of that answer, but for now in short, it's a part of
my photography journey that I needed to explore, to stretch myself in a completely different genre to what i'm known for, to challenge myself in a genre which as a photographer I have no control over. No control of the scene, no control of my lighting, the expressions, no control of what happens in front of my lens when i'm walking the streets. The only control I seem to have is where to point the camera and when to release that shutter. It's almost the exact opposite to the full control I have in my indoor or location studio.

'Fuji X70'
1/400, f8, iso3200

The irony is that losing control in my journey as a photographer has been a frustrating yet at the same time an extremely liberating and rewarding experience. Fittingly i've sort of named this side street journey 'Losing Control' and ultimately I believe it will develop me into a better or even different type of portrait photographer as that's my chosen genre and where my passion lies. I've only been shooting street since about May last year and it was meant to be a 1 year side journey, but almost 18 months later i'm still on this detour in my journey as the answers i've found seem to lead to new questions which I want to find answers to, and those answers will only be revealed to me with time. Confusing? Yes! But i'm loving this part of the journey, I feel like i'm evolving, finding myself as a photographer, an artist. And that's the short of it... The long answer, well it needs it's own pedestal, and at the right time, which isn't now. So... let's go easier on the brain cells and talk about a camera instead!

Fujifilm X70...


I'm not going to get into specs and numbers here, those can be found on the official 'Fujifilm website'. Instead, a type of summary on how i've been using this camera up until now.
So... A couple of months ago I bought myself a Fujifilm X70 to possibly replace my current street camera, the Ricoh GR. When I started shooting street back in May 2015, I had a Fujifilm X100S which I tried on the streets for a few weeks. It was good, not too big, and although the AF wasn't the fastest, it didn't matter much to me as I quickly learnt that on the streets when it comes to speed, zone focusing is your friend. But there were a few things with the X100S as a street camera that didn't appeal to me much and one thing was the fact it wasn't really pocketable and most importantly I found the 23mm (35mm FF equiv.) lens a bit on the long side for me. I wanted something a bit wider with the 18mm (28mm FF equiv.) focal length being more suited to the way I see things.

'Fuji X70'
1/500, f8, iso640

Now there is the WCL-X100 teleconvertor for the X100 series cameras which turns it's 23mm lens into an 18mm but it adds more size and weight, not something I found too appealing or discrete on my 5-6 hour street sessions. The X100 series camera has it's place in my kit for it's leaf shutter capability, for my location lit high sync speed portrait work, but for the streets I wanted something different, more nimble. I then discovered the Ricoh GR. An almost perfect camera for the streets, it has a cult status amongst many street photographers, it's small and pocketable, lightweight, APS-C sized sensor, 18mm (28mm FF equiv.) lens and it's what I used until just recently. As good as what it was, the Ricoh GR still wasn't perfect, slow and inaccurate AF in dim lighting, a fixed LCD screen, and anything over ISO 3200 wasn't looking too good. Along comes the Fujifilm X70 with an APS-C sized X-Trans sensor, the same sensor found in their X100T & X-T1 series cameras, film simulations, an 18mm (28mm FF equiv.) lens and only slightly bigger in size/weight than the Ricoh GR. But what really drew me to this camera was the tilt LCD screen, it's retro looks with a solid build quality and the Fujifilm X-Trans sensor. A proven sensor I knew too well from my other Fujifilm interchangeable lens bodies. Being familiar with the quality of files coming out of this sensor and it's usable ISO 6400 was pretty much what sold me.

No viewfinder... no problem!


I know a lot of street photographers sort of scoff at a camera that doesn't have a viewfinder and this camera doesn't have one. We use the LCD screen which I now have a preference to when shooting street. The reason... when I started shooting street using the wider lenses like the 23mm & moreso the 18mm, these focal lengths forced me to get closer to people. One thing I noticed was when shooting candids, people generally tend to notice more a camera being raised up to your eye, and once they notice that, the dynamic in the scene sort of disappears. However people don't tend to notice or care as much when somebody raises a mobile phone or compact camera to take a photograph using the LCD screen to compose. I'm sure there's a psychological explanation to it and i'd think it may have to do with peoples perceptions of what constitutes a more serious photographer or something? I don't really know, but this method of shooting street using an LCD screen to compose and shoot, looking more like a tourist using a compact camera seems to be working for me, so i'm buying it!

'Fuji X70'
1/500, f8, iso5000

The other bonus with this camera is that it has a tilt LCD screen, a way of shooting street more discretely is to tilt the screen and shoot from waist level looking down at the camera, in most cases people on the street assume you're fiddling with the camera rather than shooting straight at them. A handy feature i've used quite a bit, a feature i've found more useful to me than using it for what it was probably intended for, shooting odd angles and taking selfies.
Another method of shooting discretely is by using the camera's wi-fi feature. Tethering the camera to your smartphone using the Fujifilm camera remote app and viewing, focusing and releasing the shutter using your smartphone, I haven't used this remote app feature on the streets yet, but I can see the appeal if using two hands, one for the camera and the other for your phone doesn't bother you.

Shooting experience


As good as what the features are offered in cameras these days, to me the shooting and handling experience sort of takes precedence over most other things and one thing I quickly learnt was that in street photography this is perhaps more a point i've taken on board. On the streets the camera really has to be an extension of you, you see a moment which may only last seconds and in that time you have to quickly compose and shoot. In most cases there's no time to start fiddling with settings unless you've found your frame and are just waiting for the right person to come along and complete the image.

'Fuji X70'
1/500, f4, iso1250

The AF works well but it's no speed demon. If I had to compare it to anything in the Fuji lineup i'd say it's as good as the Fuji X100T. In good light it works well, but when things get a bit darker or in shade then it sometimes struggles, nothing unexpected here with a camera of this class and considering i've been shooting with the X-Pro2 for the last 6 months, I notice the difference, it's all relative!
There are many ways people shoot street and in this genre all are valid as long as it works for you in nailing the shots. Some use AF, MF, Manual mode, Program mode, Shutter priority and even Auto modes etc. I've tried all these modes at one time or another and unless a specific situation dictates a specific mode I must use (eg: capturing motion blur -shutter priority) then for speed i'm always in manual mode 1/250s to 1/1000s @ f8, Auto ISO 200-6400, zone focused setting a focus point at 1.5mt. This is what's working for me and covers 90% of my street shooting. I can confidently and quickly just point the camera, compose and shoot knowing i'm at a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the moment and have enough depth of field to get what I want in focus. The only variable here is the ISO which I let the camera decide on it's own with the occasional nudge by me (+ or -) on the exposure compensation dial. I'm not shooting fine art portraits here so noise up to ISO 6400 doesn't worry me at all, if anything it's sort of liberating letting go of that obsession many street photographers have against sensor noise, and i'm liking the bit of grit this noise is giving my b&w street work. This genre is about story, moments, and if anyone's seen some Bresson, Erwitt, Leiter or other prints by the greats up close, you'll know what I mean.

'Fuji X70'
1/250, f8, iso500

I'm shooting raw+jpg with the b&w+r filter for the jpg files. Although Fuji jpg files are the best in the game, having that raw file for more flexibility in post is something I always do, memory cards are cheap these days and i'd hate to be in the situation where the camera may have stuffed the exposure if I was too quick and I only have the jpg file of a keeper shot. A 32GB SD card can hold about 734 photos in raw+jpg, more than enough for a whole day shooting and on average I usually shoot about 200-300 photos on my day street sessions.

Battery life can vary and on average i'm probably switching out batteries almost every 3 hours. I've managed almost a whole day shooting with 3 batteries. Now considering the camera is always on and the LCD is always running, this isn't too bad. Batteries are the small and lightweight NP-95's which the X100 series cameras use so it's not an issue, the only thing is to swap them out when the battery meter goes down to one bar as the battery meter isn't 100% accurate and it can go from one bar to flashing red within a couple of minutes, a common issue in some of the lineup in the X series cameras.

'Fuji X70'
1/250, f8, iso1600

Another feature this camera has is a touch LCD screen, you can touch anywhere on the screen's AF points and it focuses and takes a shot, swipe through photos like on a smartphone during playback, etc. It's a cute type of feature but somehow I didn't find it as responsive speedwise when shooting street. For the way I use this camera on the streets I find the touchscreen feature doesn't do anything for me, a feature i've disabled completely from within the setup menu.

Another neat feature it has is an almost silent leaf shutter like the X100 series. For the guys rocking flash on the streets, it's an added bonus! For me it could also come in handy if I want to shoot one of my speedlight lit conceptual location portraits using high sync speeds like I did 'here' with the X100S.

Conclusion


I've had this camera now for a couple of months, I usually shoot street once a week, so up until now i've had no more than 8 day sessions with it. So far this camera is pretty much what I expected and considering it's only other real contender is the Ricoh GR series, the X70 has come across as a very capable little street camera. The GR has the one handed operation, inbuilt ND filter, slightly smaller and lighter weight going for it. The X70 has the tilt LCD screen, X-Trans sensor, film simulations, higher ISO quality and a more solid build. For street photography they're both more than capable and having enough experience with the Ricoh GR up until recently, I just sold it in favour of the Fujifilm X70. As similar as what these cameras are, in all honesty for me the tilt LCD screen and higher ISO file quality is what ultimately tipped me over towards the Fujifilm X70. 

'Fuji X70'
1/250, f8, iso500

Fujifilm over the last few years have become serious in catering to photographers shooting a variety of genres and it was a nice surprise earlier this year to see them come out with a camera that is so suited to street photography. This only tells me that if they can bring out a camera like this as their first generation X70... i'd say we'll be in for a treat when they bring out the X80 or whatever they'll call it in a year or two if they continue this line. With their medium format and lens announcements made at Photokina recently, Fujifilm have been doing all the right things and are now considered a serious player amongst enthusiasts and professionals alike. Whatever system you're using, it's a great time to be a photographer!


'Fuji X70'
1/500, f8, iso5000


'Fuji X70'
1/250, f8, iso250

'Fuji X70'
1/500, f8, iso6400

'Fuji X70'
1/500, f8, iso1600

'Fuji X70'
1/500, f8, iso2000

'Fuji X70'
1/1000, f8, iso6400

'Fuji X70'
1/500, f8, iso6400