A quick note about being an X-Photographer

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I’ve been a brand ambassador for Fujifilm Canada for quite awhile now. Was it 2012? I think it was. Those early days were the Wild West, just a handful of us chatting on the phone, sharing our thoughts with Billy Luong about cameras, the lenses we wanted to see in the pipeline, testing stuff in the field and providing feedback. I miss those early years of camaraderie between just a few Canadian photographers. Most of all, I miss the feeling of contributing to something that was new and bold and full of promise. We were there at the creation—it’s a feeling we’ll never get back.

Over the years I’ve had my doubts at times, about the way the program was managed—or rather, not managed. Guidelines weren’t always clear. At some point it felt more about numbers, about adding as many photographers as possible. I felt this was diluting the whole point of the project—regardless of my place in it. But in the end this was all background noise: I was shooting these cameras because I liked them, because they were the right tool for me. Period. The program itself was never the goal.

Certain things have changed over the past year or so. Unlike those early years when the system wasn’t yet complete, the company now requires X-Photographers to shoot all their work exclusively with Fujifilm cameras. I do it already, so selfishly this doesn’t affect me one bit. I can certainly understand how it could affect others and I respect the dilemma it may pose. But I don’t consider my Freedom being infringed upon here: if at some point I’m not happy, I’ll walk away. No one’s tying me to a chair. I’m here because I want to be here. Because I enjoy the gear, because I’ve made friends within this company and community. And yes, because I’ve benefited from this collaboration in all sorts of ways, big and small. Heck, I’m headed to Photokina next week—that’s a hell of a perk and I’m perfectly aware of how lucky I am. Stressed, but lucky...;)

But I want to make one detail very, very clear in light of recent...let’s call them allegations: I have NEVER said or posted anything at the request of Fujifilm or as part of some sort of contractual engagement. No one at Fujifilm Canada has EVER forced me to write a review, to push this or that piece of gear. Ever. Even when I’ve had exclusive access and it would’ve made perfect sense for them to ask something in return: sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t; it’s always been up to me. It’s been this way from day one and nothing has changed through any new requirements that I know of. When I give talks sponsored by the company, I get carte blanche on content. In fact, they’ve always encouraged me to make these about photography, not products. I don’t receive a set of talking points.

I’m under no obligation to use the X-photographers logo as part of my business identity, or to share and redistribute Fujifilm content through social media. Do I sometimes do any of this on my own? Sure. Are we encouraged to do it when we can? Yes. The same way I’m encouraged to share about say...the SNAP Photo Festival in the UK next year (it should be quite a bit of fun). But it’s always on my own terms and nothing has changed in this regard. There’s no coercion. I’ve done corporate and promotional work for Fujifilm, seen images appear in various ads—all things for which I’ve been compensated. I’ve also purchased quite a bit of gear from them as well. Yes, I did say purchased.

Now, am I tainted in any way? Do I have a positive bias towards the company’s products because of my relationship with them? Of course I do. I’d never pretend otherwise. We’re all human here. I get to see the work that goes into creating these products, to share concerns and ideas. I get to glimpse behind the wizard’s curtain and peek into the future. I’ve had (too much) beer with managers, designers and engineers...there’s a personal aspect to this relationship at this point in my life. But 1) I’ve never hidden this fact from anyone and 2) I’m not a product reviewer, so who cares? I’m a guy who takes pictures for a living and takes pictures in his off-time and takes pictures when everyone else has pretty much stopped taking pictures. I enjoy sharing, so I do. I was sharing back in my Nikon days—and I sure as hell wasn’t a Nikon Ambassador.

The day I start singing the praises of a system I don’t actually use? That’s the day I should quit altogether. I won’t be a photographer at that point—I’ll be a promoter and a fake. Until then...life goes on.

Impressions, Route 132.

And after we are in the new house, when memories of other places we have lived in come back to us, we travel to the land of Motionless Childhood, motionless the way all Immemorial things are
— Excerpt from: The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard.

like moving inside a gallery
new paintings at every short mile we cross.
I'm so rarely the passenger...


Shot with the X100F


Summer Stills

And yet the world still turns. Small joys still come to those of us fortunate enough to accept them. Small joys and small luxuries—to be carefree and dancing.

Summer’s here.


Shot with the X-Pro2 and XF 56mm f/1.2 R


Red Door & Weekend Chill

A splash of colour to revamp our digs, a weekend that felt like aimless summers we’ve longed for.

Freshly mowed lawns and sleepovers.
A father/daughter afternoon at the movies.
And chill
chill
chill.


Shot with the X100F


Machine to Companion: One year with the GFX 50S

Ever since my very first X100, I’ve made distinctions between cameras. Some quickly become a part of me, not just extensions—a threshold most fine tools eventually cross—but something more intimate. Others I consider machines, precise instruments that don’t necessarily pull at my heartstrings but are perfectly suited to the work I need to do. The X-T1 was like that. The X-Pro1 was too...at first. Because sometimes, somewhere along the way, that relationship can change.

I purchased the GFX 50S as a tool. A machine. And over the course of the past year I’ve used it constantly on various jobs, often alongside X series cameras. But just like the X-Pro1 all those years ago...it’s become more than it initially was.

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The pull of medium format

Everything I’ve ever said about the X series remains true to this day. I still love the footprint, the stealth, the psychological impact of these cameras on subjects—either aware or unaware of a shot being taken. I’ll never travel with the GFX 50S and it’ll never become my 1EYE camera. But those files...they’re incredibly hard to dismiss. After all this time I’m still struggling to express the pull they have over me, but it remains impossible to brush off: I get a visceral reaction to the images I shoot with it. If the role of our tools is to inspire, then the goal of this camera has been met, tenfold. No question. The result of course, is that I’ve been willing to compromise on stealth: I’ll now reach for the GFX in situations where I usually would’ve chosen an X-Pro or X100. Which may seem like a serious  shift...until you factor in the beat.

Rhythms

The GFX 50S isn’t slow—especially for a medium-format camera. But it IS slower than its APS-C siblings. It uses contrast detection, for one. The files are also much larger which, regardless of storage prices, is definitely something floating in the back of my mind as I’m shooting; in raw especially. All of this, combined with the camera itself, affects the rhythm somehow. But this is not a negative in my mind. In many ways it brings me back to my early days with the X series, the way the system made me much more aware of each moment, more deliberate in my approach to photography. It’s amazing how much evolution we’ve seen in such a short period of time—how far we’ve come from that X100. But it’s also easy to fall back into that “performance-driven” groove, to forget about slowing down when the cameras don’t force us to do so. Medium-format photography nudges me back into that softer flow. Yes, the footprint is larger...but the intent is familiar. For me, the lineage is clear and very much welcome.

 

Another detail I’ve mentioned in passing a couple of times: the addition of the EVF Tilt-Adapter, which was an important turning point in my relationship with the GFX. This is the small revolving plate that fits between the camera and the —brilliantly designed—removable viewfinder. I first used it on the shoot we did in Toronto for the Lexus+GFX video. Before this I’d only spent a few minutes with it and never while actually working. This small change—being able to look down into the viewfinder for instance—suddenly transformed the camera into a very different tool. Different from my other cameras that is. It gave me a new point of view and ADDED an element to my photography workflow, beyond the bigger sensor. Needless to say it’s stayed glued to the GFX ever since. The only times I remove it is for packing.

Expansion

Ok, enter the rabbit hole. With this camera taking on an ever increasing role in my work, I’ve looked at expanding my visual options. So the initial GF 63mm f2.8 has since been joined by the GF 120mm f/4 Macro, a Pentax 50mm f/1.7 (through a Fotodiox adapter), and recently the superb GF 110mm f/2.

 Family picture

Family picture

The 120 and 110 may seem redundant—they are. I first chose the 120 for its macro abilities on this system which, physics being inescapable, is much less accommodating in terms of minimal focusing distance. And I’m glad I did. It’s both superb and handy. But I now believe the 110 is (so far) the GF line’s magic lens ...much like the 56 f/1.2 or 35 f/1.4 on the X series. Don’t ask me to explain why, I just feel it. Yes, shallow DOF but more importantly character, imprint...something.

What I’m “missing” in this system is a super-wide zoom along the lines of the XF 10-24mm. But I’m using quotation marks because...I do have the XF 10-24mm don’t I? I know. I told you this was a rabbit hole.

 Fun with the electronic shutter...

Fun with the electronic shutter...

Conclusion

A few years ago I spoke of the possibility of a medium-format camera as a companion to the X series—how, in my mind at least, there was a logic to using both systems in tandem. A philosophical kinship if you will. Today I know this to be absolutely true: apart from a size and ergonomic shock when shooting systems side by side (which will be less obvious once the X-H1 arrives), both make sense as a pair. Both complete one another.

Now in some cases, I admit, the GFX 50S has added a layer of uncertainty—I need to think for a second or two before choosing which camera to pick up. But then, every new piece of gear usually has a similar effect, taking away from simplicity. It’s called the paradox of choice and, well...such is life. I consider myself very lucky to even have these choices.

And man, one year in...I don’t regret a single moment.
I've found the soul in the machine.