Intimacy | one year with the X100
A year ago I was making frantic phone calls left and right. I’d heard from local travel photographer Yves Perrault via twitter that he’d purchased an X100 at a photo store called Lord Photo, a 30 minute drive from where I live. I had also just learned that the Montreal shop where I had reserved the camera - with deposit, thank you - had known all along they wouldn’t be part of the first shipment. Needless to say I was pissed. Not because I had an acute case of G.A.S (well, I did) but mostly due to the fact that I desperately wanted the camera for our upcoming France trip and its availability appeared seriously jeopardized for months to come, due to both heavy demand and the horrible tsunami disaster.
On April 7 2011, I finally got the call I was hoping for: they had one X100 left (of three), and it now had my name on it. When I picked it up the entire staff actually gathered around me. One of the girls said: “Well, at least I held it in my hands for a few minutes!”
Such was the buzz at the time.
I had been reading everything about the X100 since its announcement, gazed longingly at every picture I could find, followed the Asian launch, read the user manual. I don’t think I had ever researched a piece of gear this intensively. And yet I was totally unprepared. I remember holding it for the first time at the store, credit card in hand and thinking: is this it? It felt so… Light… Almost toy-like, despite the metal body. I even hesitated for a split-second. But of course at that point there was no turning back.
I was leaving for Boston the next day to attend the Flash Bus tour and spent that entire weekend trying to come to grips with the darn thing, questioning at times the money I had just squandered. It was only when I came back home and loaded those first pictures that I truly realized I had made the right decision. The pics blew me away.
I never looked back.
Sometimes you just find a piece of equipment that becomes part of you. When this happens, it somehow transcends its mechanics, acquires a kind of soul. As much as I’m comfortable with Nikon DSLRs they never reached that level of intimacy, even though technically, as tools, they’re a perfect extension of my eye: they’re fast, they obey without fail and I can wield them without even thinking.
But what I’m talking about has nothing to do with perfection. In fact I tend to believe that quirks and imperfections probably add to this relationship - something about taming a wild beast, working hard at something. You become closer through trial.
I know it sounds like rationalization. It’s not.
Am I saying this camera, above all others, is some sort of magical object with guaranteed transformative powers? Absolutely not. Other photographers ended up selling it after a couple of months, unwilling to cope with its sometimes quirky behaviour or AF speed. It’s not perfect by any means. But I - very personally - took to it like a duck to water. I can’t begin to describe the impact the X100 has had on me, on my work and - ultimately - on my eye.
What has changed?
Most of my apprenticeship is chronicled right here on this blog, from my very first contact in Boston to all the varied technical questions and issues I encountered along the way. So I won’t rehash any of these in detail - it’s all there if you feel like really diving in.
But I thought I’d go over two things that have changed in how I use the camera.
RAW vs JPEG
Alright, I’ll say it again: I never shot JPEG before the X100. Like, ever. Lossy format, compression, no headroom in post… I was a diehard raw shooter and still am. Except when it comes to Fujifilm. I’m still, a year later, totally enthralled by the quality and above all, the character of the X100’s JPEG files in all the available colour film simulations (I specify colour because I rarely use the BW modes). I find this character actually adds to the results I get from the files in post, limitations be damned.
However, I’ve gone back to shooting raw+fine. Why? I like having a lossless digital negative. Call it pro shooter insecurities. But while I use the raw files much more than I did, they’re still the fallback. I import the pairs in Aperture 3 using JPEG as Master and only switch to the raw version when I feel I’m not getting what I’m looking for. Sometimes I’ll create two versions and compare: 8 times out of 10 I still end up using the JPEG file.
Does this make sense considering the size of the X100’s raw files? For me it does. The power of raw lies in the possibility it affords to re-process using future versions of decoders. The JPEGs are finite. As great as they are, I still like keeping my options open. That said: I’d still feel comfortable relying solely on the camera’s JPEG files if storage became an issue while traveling.
EVF vs OVF
When I first got the camera: I. Hated. The. EVF. In fact, if I’m being perfectly honest I wasn’t thrilled about the vaunted Hybrid Viewfinder in general, despite all the raves. I was so used to the DSLR TTL pov that the entire setup felt like a step backwards. The feeling quickly dissipated for the OVF but the EVF… It took awhile.
Now I find myself not only using it, but using it quite a bit. More so these last few months. I’ve made my peace with the artificial feel of that viewpoint and I now appreciate the very precise preview of exposure, colour and DOF. These are all things I can easily anticipate but seeing it while I’m shooting is very different. It’s a change of perspective that strangely removes you from a scene, while also connecting you on another level.
The ability to quickly switch from OVF to EVF with the flick of a finger is something I’ve now come to appreciate immensely. The Hybrid Viewfinder truly is quite amazing.
I’ve been very impressed by Fujifilm’s ongoing support and refining of the X100 through regular firmware updates. While some would argue they’re just patching things they should’ve gotten right from the start, the fact is this camera is now better and faster than it was a year ago.
For me, the X100 has initiated a new chapter in how I view and represent the world I live in. It’s made me look at my tools in an entirely different way and has changed many things on my present and future roadmaps.
I will be getting an X-Pro1. This is no longer a question in my mind. It’s a logical evolution but also a very calculated decision based on everything I’ve seen, as well as my experiences with Fuji over the past year. Unfortunately, I need to wait for some things to settle before pulling that trigger.
But I remain convinced the X100 won’t lose its place. I think there’s something to be said about a monolithic, fixed focal-length camera. Something that doesn’t require any decision or thought, something you just pick up and use as is.
Something about silence and intimacy.
Happy Anniversary little one.