Tuesday, April 21, 2015

My affair with Fuji...

As most people know I've been shooting with the Pentax system since I started photography when I was shooting film using a Pentax ME-Super and K1000 bodies which I still have in some cupboard somewhere. I never considered switching systems as the Pentax system was always adequate for what I was doing and once they brought out their digital bodies I continued with their digital cameras as I could use my older manual focus prime lenses on their latest bodies. By that time I also had invested enough into the system that switching to any other system would have been a costly exercise with no real gain or benefit with my work so i've been happily doing what I do with the system, but after almost 20 years of shooting with Pentax i'm now at a crossroads.

My Fuji x100s looking like a street camera!
Last year I decided I wanted a camera to carry with me everywhere. Sort of a point and shoot but with similar image quality to my dslr. My iPhones have been serving that camera always on you purpose well over the years but if I wanted to print something a bit bigger than a 4x6" print it would start to fall apart pretty quickly. iPhone cameras are great for sharing images online but they're lacking in exposure controls and there's only so much a small sensor can do regardless of the megapixels they keep trying to squeeze in.
So I looked into it a bit and liked the Fuji x100s. It had a fast fixed focal length lens equivalent to a 35mm lens which is great as i'm usually a wide to normal focal length shooter, a thoughtful layout of dials, image quality like most dslr's, a leaf shutter lens that allows syncing a speedlight at high sync speeds, inbuilt 3 stop ND filter, great looking, and all that in almost a pocketable size. So this camera ticked all the boxes for me and I decided to go with it but not as a replacement for my dslr, but as a carry with me everywhere type camera, a camera I never really considered using for my project work until earlier this year.

Earlier this year I wanted to shoot a few of my concepts using a wide aperture whilst maintaining exposure in the sky and lighting my subject in brighter ambient. A technique which can be pulled off with most modern dslr cameras but would involve attaching ND filters in front of the lens and then using a studio strobe to compensate for that, the unfortunate sync speed limitation of most common dslr's. This is where the Fuji x100s' leaf shutter sync speed capability and inbuilt ND filter comes in to play. Syncing a manual speedlight at 1/1000s makes my AA battery powered speedlight equivalent in power to a small studio strobe. David Hobby (aka. strobist) has a great article here on this and explains it in a lot better detail, once you get it, you just get it! (For those that don't know David's strobist blog I highly recommend it if lighting is your thing. It's the lighting 101 & 102 tutorials I learnt my lighting techniques from a few years back and an invaluable lighting resource I still refer people to.)

Below are some of my project images I created using the Fuji x100s. As great as what the jpg files are straight out of this camera I usually shoot raw as this gives me more leeway with the post processing work.

'Silverleaves' - Fuji x100s, 1/800s, f2, iso200, speedlight in STU camera left.

'Sanday' - Fuji x100s, 1/1000s, f2, iso200, speedlight in STU camera left.

'Bookend' - Fuji x100s, 1/60s, f2, iso400, overcast window light camera right.

'Sea Maiden' - Fuji x100s, 1/640s, f2, iso200, speedlight in STU camera right.

Now here's the thing that may surprise a few but i'm not a fan of cameras and all their accessories as i've realized over the years that the camera and all it's accessories are usually the obstacle in the creation process, the psychological bulk! Let's face it, we're putting this mass manufactured contraption in front of our faces when we do photography, we have to rely and use this device to make our art, if that's not the main obstacle between ourselves and what we're shooting on a connection level, then what is? But as it stands that's how the medium of photography has been and currently is and if we're to continue pursuing our craft we have to run with it or at least try minimize that obstacle.

And this is why i'm at a bit of a crossroads to whether i'll switch across to the Fuji system or continue shooting Pentax. One of the reasons i've stayed with Pentax so long is that their dslr cameras are very intuitive and ergonomically well designed. I never cared too much what canikon were doing as my main reason for shooting Pentax was that it was as close to a transparent camera to me as what I could find and less an obstacle than what I found the other bigger systems were. It worked and I thought all was good until I recently started putting the Fuji x100s through it's paces from using it as a simple point and shoot to creating portfolio images as displayed here using off camera lighting techniques with some planned production. The Fuji x100s seemed more transparent, it just felt like an extension of my vision and has also been giving me the same nostalgic joy I had when I was shooting film but without the mess and expense associated with film.

'Grapes' - Fuji x100s, 1/320s, f3.6, speedlight in octabox camera right.

Over the last few conceptual shoots i've done with it i'm now convinced that the Fuji system seems more than capable as a system I may be switching over to for my type of work. However I can't just use the x100s as my main and only camera as the fixed focal length would restrict me in a few situations. The other option is keeping and shooting both systems but that's not on the cards as i'm trying to minimize both the physical and psychological bulk in my workflow. There can only be one system in my bag and dropping the Pentax will feel like an expensive divorce after 20 years, but things move forward and sometimes change can be a good thing even if it's just on a psychological level.

Every system has it's strengths and weaknesses and all systems are more capable than what we are photographers. At the end of the day the difference can even just be psychological, but if that's the difference in translating to a better user experience and the system becoming less an obstacle in the creative process, all the better! I'll let you know whatever I eventually decide on.