A Different Beast | How the X100 Kicked My Butt.
A few months ago I wrote a post about the now famous Fujifilm X100 camera. And although I was well aware of the GearRot/ShinyNewThing effect having its way with me, it nonetheless slowly became a bit of an obsession — compounded by the scarcity of the camera itself and the increasing number of glowing reviews and stunning photos popping up online. I’m not going to go into the same details here as others have done a terrific job covering all aspects of this camera. Here’s a few if you’re not up to speed: JonathanJK, David Charlwood, Luminous Landscape.
For my part, long story short: I got one last week. Not from the shop where I had placed an order mind you (which I won’t name because they pissed me off) but from Lord Photo, a local camera store I’d never heard of that’s very likely to get all my business from now on.
I picked it up on the eve of leaving for Boston to catch the Flash Bus tour. So between the battery needing to be charged, preparations for the trip, the kids, the 6 hour drive and being held at US customs for an hour (they couldn’t believe I didn’t have a criminal record and went looking for one) I basically got to the show with an untested X100.
And it kicked my butt.
THIS IS NOT AN SLR
Obviously. I knew that. In fact I knew everything there was to know about the X100 before purchasing it. Negative and positive. I’d read the manual front to back. I’d read the reviews. I knew about every issues.
What I didn’t realize was just how much I’ve become used to my DSLR, how much it’s an extension of my hand and my eyes. On my D300 my fingers just know where to go, usually glued to the front and back knobs, constantly controlling shutter speed and aperture, my left eye looking at focus and metering in the viewfinder, my right eye scoping the rest of the scene. I work manually 99% of the time and I’m pretty darn fast at it. I don’t miss a lot of shots — technically at least. I look at the meter and know how it’s reading the scene. And I know how to get the results I’m after.
Man… I suddenly felt like a tourist: Not. A great. Feeling.
A WHOLE OTHER BEAST
Any new piece of gear has its learning curve. But once in a while I’ll get this dreaded moment where I go: “whoa, I just spent a boatload of money and this thing pretty much sucks”. Usually at that point I get a bit nauseous. Then the room spins a little.
So here I was in a roomful of photographers, watching Joe frickin’ McNally and David Hobby for god’s sake - and sporting a camera that made me feel like my mother at the computer. And no she’s isn’t much of a power user.
The X100 is a quirky object. Because of its design you expect something that it’s actually not: you expect a hands on, manually operated camera. And even though I knew from previous reviews that it wasn’t, the disconnect was strong enough to completely throw me off. For instance, my first instinct to switch to manual and grab the focus ring was a very serious reality check: it just doesn’t work. Period. In fact it’s so far removed from any focus ring I’ve ever used that I wouldn’t even call it that — it’s a distance selector, and a slow one at that. Hopefully a firmware update will boost its usability.
I was also thrown off by the light meter in the viewfinder... Until I realized that in Aperture Priority mode it wasn’t a light meter at all but an exposure compensation indicator that doesn’t give any feedback on the scene itself. I know. I told you I looked dumb didn’t I?
BUT... BUT... THIS IS THE JESUS CAMERA!
After months of lurking, and lusting and watching videos and then reading all there was about this camera, I honestly had a few moments of doubt. The skies didn’t part when I slipped the strap around my neck, no angels choir as I clicked the oh! so silent shutter.
But then I started getting it. I discarded my old habits, sat down and began testing various scenarios. I realized I could hold this thing pretty darn steady all the way down to 1/4; ISO performance was as impressive as anyone had said; It could nail exposure pretty effectively and I could quickly learn to anticipate issues with the easily accessible compensation dial; In manual mode I could prefocus from about 5 feet to infinity, put the camera on auto ISO in Aperture Priority mode and pretty much forget about it. In essence I began understanding how to use it properly. I’m not there yet, but it IS coming along.
And then I got home... and I saw the images.
Image quality is stunning. It just is. Noise is virtually invisible all the way up to 1600 and barely begins registering at 3200. What’s more, the little noise there is looks more like grain than digital artifacts and in black and white (which is how I’ll be processing most of my pics with this camera) becomes a plus more than a negative. In fact I’ll be testing lower NR settings to see what I can get away with. I’ve been shooting JPEG for now which is a bit strange to come back to. Hopefully the Aperture team will consider supporting it before 2020 (!!). I’d hate to buy LR because of this (although support isn’t available there yet either).
Is it worth the money? To me it absolutely is and I suspect my fondness is only going to increase as I learn to better use it. This is not a camera I bought for work. I bought this to do street and travel, to have in my jacket anywhere I go as my Best Camera. We’re planning a trip to France in June and I couldn’t imagine myself whipping out a DSLR and zoom lens on the TGV. Would a point and shoot have done the job? Not without a viewfinder. Not for me. Framing with a camera at arms length is about as foreign to me as trying to take a picture with a donut — forget about it. Add the APS-C sensor to the mix and there’s no contest as far as I’m concerned. Physical buttons are icing on the cake.
I just wish they would’ve included the lens hood. $99? Seriously?
One of the perks of having one of these around your neck: it’s a great way to meet photographers :)
As soon as I sat down for lunch at the pier in Boston Harbour I got noticed by Michael Potiker who immediately recognized the X100. He’s a Leica and Nikon shooter from California currently studying photography in Boston. Cool guy. Check him out here.
And the Flash Bus event was a blast. Although I met Joe McNally in the conference lobby (I was late) and ended up talking about the weather. Geez. Not my most shining moment, although he was gracious as hell. They call it starstruck kids. Oh well. I also met a very nice Massachusetts portrait photographer named Caycee Lee. Her site is here.
Alright, I’m out for real this time. More pics below (Michael cameo in the first one).