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.

laROQUE-GFX1year-010.jpg

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.

Understated: a SIMPLR Strap

IMG_0593.JPEG

I have this red metal box on a shelf—and it’s full of nylon straps. You know, the ones that come with our cameras. Some of them have been slightly used but anything from the past 2-3 years is still rolled up, untouched, like new. A few aren’t necessarily bad—the GFX strap is pretty good—but I’ve always preferred organic material...leather, typically. Because it breathes and changes over time, becomes worn and imperfect. I have a soft spot for imperfection.

When I first unpacked the SIMPLR strap my reaction could best be described as...neutral. It didn’t do much for me. I was gazing at this object, the typical black nylon strap—the stuff of backpacks, camping gear etc. On second look however, my impression shifted slightly: the weave was much finer and softer. There’s was no fraying, no hard edges and more importantly none of the stiffness I was accustomed to from nylon. This one was different.

Full disclosure: this kit was a very kind gift from Jason—the owner and craftsman behind SIMPLR—who told me he absolutely did not expect a review and just wanted me to try these out, knowing my usual preferences. We had a nice back and forth conversation before and after I received his package, I gave him some personal feedback and I decided to go ahead with a quick review. Now for another disclosure: this post was ready to publish a few days ago, based on the black M1a (neck) and M1w (wrist) straps. Here’s an excerpt of that initial draft:

Now, to be perfectly honest with you, I still prefer leather straps...something to do with my guitar-wielding days I imagine. But the M1a is on my brand new Instax Wide 300 and it’s not going anywhere. It’s actually perfect. The M1w is headed to my X100F with those QD loops allowing me to switch back to my old Maru strap whenever I feel like it. In fact I’ll probably carry both in my bag at all times, especially when shooting street.

That was my takeaway. Then I got home one afternoon and—following up on our conversation—Jason had sent me additional samples, this time in Castor Gray and Camo Green. And colour—as it usually does—changed everything.

A quick overview: in terms of hardware there’s no metal to be seen here, it’s all nylon and plastic—very nice, military-grade nylon and plastic. And this is by design: to keep the clean look but also to prevent bumps and scratches. All the straps use the Op/Tech USA Mini QD Loops quick release system—very handy for shooting on a tripod or occasionally switching to a wrist strap. Their tensile strength is rated at 20kg (44lbs) which is...good enough for just about anything. Basically, these are products that don’t flash or glitter, that don’t call attention to themselves at all. Everything about them is understated and subtle. But they’re beautifully crafted and ready-made for mirrorless systems.

So how did colour affect my opinion? Dramatically. I’m now using SIMPLR on the GFX, the X100F, the WIDE 300 and I’ve put the wrist strap on the NEO 90. I have another one reserved for the X-H1 (coming in a couple of weeks...more on that later). As much as I still love the feel of my leather straps, I can’t dismiss how much lighter and easier to work with these are. Just quickly being able to vary the length with little friction, to remove them altogether if they’re in the way...it all adds up. The black (and this is very personal) lacked visual punch to my eye, but these colour versions brought it back for me. They feel designed. Some of you may think it silly to focus on this sort of thing, but I like objects and I like beautiful tools. Suddenly—in a way the black versions didn’t—these checked all the right boxes.

I’m still rocking leather on the X-Pro2—but that’s my old pair of sneakers at this point. Baby steps.
For more info check out the SIMPLR website.

P.S All images shot with the GFX 50S and GF 120mm f/4 OIS LM R WR.

X100F: Dawning of the Age

Today is a good day: after months of hiding and testing and shooting, I get to open the floodgates—hello Fujifilm X100F. If you’re wondering about the title to this review, it's actually a bit of trivia: for months, anyone testing this camera has lived with the code-name Aquarius; cue the 5th Dimension, bell-bottom jeans and long flowing hair. Well, I don't know about a new zodiacal era...but we've clearly entered the Age of Refinement.

GENESIS

What’s most impressive about that initial camera, looking back, is the strength of its identity and philosophy straight out of the gates

If you've been following this blog for any amount of time, you probably know how important the X100 line is to me: I entered the world of the X-series before the X-series even existed...with the original X100. I won't revisit the story—I've written and talked about it often enough—but let's just say it was an encounter that proved instrumental in terms of both inspiration, direction and career path. What's most impressive about that initial camera, looking back, is the strength of its identity and philosophy straight out of the gates. Yes, it was based on proven, timeless designs. But it also introduced important features that have since become the hallmark of the X-series: the hybrid viewfinder, the EVF, the film simulations; it included the leaf shutter, the built-in ND filter. In other words, this was an object that—in terms of concept and vision—arrived fully formed. In fact, I'd even venture to say some of its concepts were a few years ahead of the technologies themselves—I'm looking at you, tiny and laggy EVF circa 2011. Boy have we come a long way.

When the X-Pro1 was launched a year later and the X-series introduced as a system in its own right, it became clear the X100 had served as blueprint—and we haven't looked back since. 

THE F

In my mind, every iteration of this camera has a label assigned to it, a standout feature that distinguishes it from its predecessor: the S brought the X-Trans sensor; the T brought Classic Chrome. As soon as I unpacked the F, I had an immediate gut reaction to the camera itself—it felt...tight. Strange choice of words perhaps, but as close as I can get to explaining my first impression. The bodies of the X100 cameras always felt solid and high end to me, but some of the buttons and latches would sometimes break the spell—a slight wiggle here, a less than optimal finish there. Never a deal breaker but always something I'd be aware of. The X100F is like a carefully refined version of the camera's initial concept: every button and dial has been machined to a higher standard. The command-dials (yes, plural) are now metal instead of plastic; the D-pad is bigger and similar to the X-Pro2—it even sounds different when you click it...lower pitched, fuller. The camera is slightly larger (maybe has to do the extra heat generated by the new sensor/processor?) but you have to look long and hard to tell the difference.

The F is a tiny bit deeper then the T.

The refinements also extend to the layout and ergonomics as well. Again, like the XPro-2, all buttons have been moved to the right-hand side of the camera, extending the LCD all the way to the left and making the camera entirely controllable with a single hand. This also (finally) takes the three current flagship X-series cameras as close to a standardized layout as we've ever had—and the upcoming GFX50S will follow the trend. A lot of us have been waiting years for this moment and it's incredibly satisfying to see the day is finally here. The X-series is all grown up. 

MY BULLET LIST

I’m sure a lot of articles will be providing extensive feature lists; and obviously you can also visit the official website and gorge yourself in technical details. I'd like to instead point out the changes that make this camera in my—very subjective—opinion. So here goes:

1. Acros
This simulation is the best example of how important (and serious) the feature has become. Film simulations in these cameras aren't just filters applied on top of an existing file: they're finely tuned algorithms that work in tandem with the processors, the sensors and the camera's settings when creating the files. Yes, they're JPEG only. But the resulting images you can get out of a Classic Chrome or Acros simulation in-camera can be astounding. Having Acros on an X100 is like loading your favourite BW film on your favourite 35mm rangefinder...it made total sense on the X-Pro2—it makes ridiculous sense on the X100F. 

2. ISO: top, front, all around.
By now you've all seen it: the shutter dial on the X100F doubles as an ISO dial by pulling up and rotating. A lot of folks will like this I'm sure, but the camera has a second, less obvious trick up its sleeve—the A setting. Just as expected setting the dial to A enables Auto-ISO, but it also allows for ISO to be controlled by the new front command-dial: under BUTTON-DIAL SETTING in the Set Up menu, you'll find a new item labelled ISO DIAL SETTING (A). Set this to COMMAND and you can now change ISO without taking your eye off the viewfinder. Best of both worlds in my book. 

And here's a bonus tip (courtesy of my buddy Derek Clark during a Slack conversation a few days ago): the front command-dial also controls exposure compensation when it's set to C (also allowing 5 stops instead of 3). If you have both enabled (A on the ISO dial and C on the Exp. Comp dial) then pressing on the front dial switches between the two. 

3. No. More. Refocusing.
This.
I can get used to absolutely anything...and I did. For years I used AF on the X-series and I knew each and every time I'd press the shutter the camera would go through the motions again and refocus again. So if I needed to stay in the moment, I'd either switch to manual or lock it down with AFL. But then Fuji gave us the X-Pro2 and the world suddenly became a little brighter: I could finally keep the shutter half-pressed and shoot to my heart's content, for as long as I wanted, and the thing would just keep up—no more refocusing. Valhalla. Problem is, it spoiled me: anytime I'd pick up an older model, I'd instinctively expect the same behaviour and...well...a few curse words would usually leave the confines of my lips.

Not anymore: the X100F incorporates the new generation AF. It even goes further, displaying the AFL-EL symbol in the viewfinder as long as the shutter is kept half-pressed. Nice touch.

4. Focus Lever—aka The Joystick
There's no getting around this one: going back to a camera without The Joystick is painful on the reflexes. Have to mention it.

5. NP-W126 Batteries
And the clouds parted, and it was good. Of course this means I now need more batteries…hmm. Nah, still happy. 

6. Higher Minimum
At long last: we can set minimum shutter speed all the way up to 1/500s when using Auto ISO. A first for an X100.

7. Free Dialing
A huge addition: the rear command dial is now assignable—it's an FN button like all others. Fun right? Hmm...better than fun. You know how your thumb sits riiiight on top of that dial when you're shooting? If only it could be set to back button focus...oh wait: tada! 

AFL-AEL is now an assignable function. So not only can we use the rear command dial to back button focus in manual mode, we can set this to any other FN button on the camera. Yup, this will quickly spoil you as well.

CUSTOMIZATION

Which leads me to the more "holistic" standout feature of this camera: what I like to call Fluid UX (not official, I totally made this up). The X100F is by far the most customizable X-series camera to date: we get more assignable functions and more buttons to assign them to. Some will perhaps argue it leads to complexity but when it comes to tools, there's something to be said for adaptability. The ability to set a camera according to our own needs and work requirements can only lead to less friction and more instinctive shooting. I'm still smitten with the physical experience of the X-series and this isn't likely to ever change—it's the whole point. But adding quick access to functions beyond the basics, allowing us to decide which ones matter... it's a great move. These cameras have always felt personal and this only serves to strengthen that bond. 

I'm hoping we'll get this same set of options on every existing flagship via firmware updates eventually. Along with the layout standardization I mentioned earlier, this'll make it much easier to move from one body to another. Long live the Fluid UX.

Obviously, the usual advances are here as well: faster performance, more AF points (325), X-Trans III, X Processor Pro, more megapixels (24MP)...essentially—in terms of guts, specs and features—a baby X-Pro2 with a fixed lens. 

A FEW NIGGLES

Because nothing is ever perfect right? What would be the fun in that. I have three less positive things to mention:

  1. The elephant in the room: weather sealing. Something I think a lot of us were expecting after the last few releases. I'm sure Fuji were well aware of the expectations out there and would've loved adding that bullet point to the list—its absence apparently has to do with keeping the size and cost down; the economics of features are always a delicate balancing act. WR adds peace of mind to be sure, but honestly I've lived and shot and traveled with every X100 and have yet to run into a problem. Don’t get me wrong, it would’ve been great. But we’ll just need to keep treating the F with the same care we’ve shown it’s predecessors.
     
  2. The placement of the Q button, which is now where AEL-AFL used to be. I’m not crazy about this 1) because I often trigger it by mistake and 2) because it’s…where AEL-AFL used to be. Now, in terms of focusing I happen to prefer the rear command-dial so for me that’s not a huge issue—but I know it will be to some of you. In the spirit of that Fluid UX I suggested, I’d eventually like to see the Q button treated as another FN option, including the ability of disabling it entirely. 
     
  3. The focus ring now doubles as a Control Ring—just like the X70. It also features the same digital zoom possibilities of either 50mm or 70mm. I love the idea behind this (I’ve argued before about having zoom lenses that could be locked to specific focal lengths). It’s useful in a pinch but it IS a digital zoom…which means it does degrade the image. The Control Ring can also be assigned to White Balance, Film Simulation or some sort of automatic mode called Standard. This is all fine. My only problem with it is the fact that it can’t be disabled right now, which again leads to accidental triggering: quite a few times I’ve found myself raising the camera to my eye only to realize I was zoomed in. But this is an easy fix I’m sure we’ll see in an eventual update. And FYI: the feature only works in JPEG mode so shooting either RAW or RAW+Fine makes this a non-issue.

CONCLUSION

We're at an important juncture: the young, scrappy and dishevelled system is now mature. A year ago I was in Tokyo, welcoming the award-winning X-Pro2 and celebrating the X-series' fifth anniversary. I look at the releases since, the class of 2017, the new frontier of the much anticipated GFX50S; I look at the way all these experiments have come together, how the various designs have evolved and coalesced...it's hard not to feel exhilarated. But at the end of the day, certain truths remain that won't be denied: the X100 is and always will be my perfect storytelling machine—and the X100F takes us to an entirely new level...again.

Let the sunshine in.
......
If you're looking for other reviews be sure to check out my friends Derek Clark, Kevin Mullins, Jonas Rask and Ian McDonald. I'll be sharing images through Instagram on my own account as well as KAGE's (with Kevin and Derek). You'll also find more essays right here—I did mention opening the floodgates didn't I?


Other tools: the long-winded case of the four keyboards


For the past year and a half I've been on a quest for the perfect iPad keyboard. I've written before on how iOS has essentially become my main platform, eclipsing macOS for almost all but photography-related tasks. But what should've been a fairly simple purchase turned out to be quite the adventure. A rather expensive adventure in fact. Welcome to The Long-Winded Case of the Four Keyboards.

Chapter One: Apple Wireless Keyboard

Lots of miles with this guy...

One fine day I thought to myself "hey, how much nicer would it be to write on the couch or the deck with my iPad, instead of sitting in front of an iMac ?". I remembered my Powerbook era and the freedom that came with it. So I did. Well, I tried. I love the power of an on-screen keyboard that can morph itself to the task at hand but the truth is, I was never able to type on any iPad reliably. Not long-form anyway. So to further test the waters, I paired it with the iMac's Bluetooth wireless keyboard and—after much fiddling and conflicts (always fun to play the Bluetooth whack-a-mole game)—I was hooked. But it quickly became very clear that 1) this combo needed a flat, steady surface to function properly and 2) it was a half-hearted solution: the keyboard was too wide, too heavy, it had no iPad-centric function keys. The setup was right but the gear was wrong. I needed a dedicated keyboard.

Chapter Two: Logitech Keys-To-Go

The Keys-To-Go is an extremely thin and light keyboard, made from what Logitech calls Fabric Skin—a sort of tissue-like material that (they claim) is durable and spill-resistant. Surprisingly, I enjoyed the typing experience despite keys that offered almost no travel at all. I immediately took to it and was even able to easily keep up my usual speed. The problem came with that aforementioned durability: within a few months the fabric began to warp. Not a huge deal...until keys stopped working. I was away on assignment when the R stopped registering, then the S. Within a few days it became a full-on cascading effect. To their credit Logitech eventually honoured their warranty and sent me a brand new unit. But it took a little too much time and when they finally came through I had already moved on. That replacement still works btw. But the fabric is now just as warped as the original unit, even though it's basically been sitting unused. Time bomb? I'll never know.

Chapter Three: Typo—what's in a name?

Ryan. Seacrest.
I almost passed just because of that. Petty? Sure. Except it turns out my instincts were spot on.

The original Typo keyboard was cast into the limelight when the eponymous Seacrest-backed company was sued by Blackberry (!) for copyright infringement. They were selling an accessory that added a physical Blackberry-ish keyboard to the iPhone. And they lost, big time. So they pivoted and re-invented their Typo, this time as a keyboard case for the iPad.

After my experience with the lower-priced Logitech I figured I needed to invest in something more serious. I did a lot of research and eventually settled on two possibilities: the Brydge and the Typo. Both had pros and cons, good and less good reviews, as most products do these days. The Typo was more expensive but it allowed the iPad to be used vertically (which I thought would be nice) and in the end, it came down to laziness: my local Apple store had it in stock.

The keyboard's standout feature when it was released was built-in auto-correct, at a time when external keyboards couldn't access the feature. A few short months later however, Apple released iOS 9—taking away the Typo's big advantage. But the keyboard was never updated and its built-in auto-correct remained, hardwired and impossible to turn off. This may just seem like a minor annoyance but here's where it got interesting: this American-made keyboard (sold internationally) would not type certain non-english letter combinations. And by combinations I mean what writers call W.O.R.D.S. I'm NOT kidding. The Typo would replace certain words with err...typos. For instance, the pronoun he is il in french. Anytime I would type il the Typo would "correct" it to ilfs. Which as far as I know isn't English OR French. I tried everything from disabling iOS auto-correct to trying text substitution...no go. The keyboard would override anything I tried. I emailed support who replied a month later (bra.vo) with a boilerplate non-answer. Again: this $200 keyboard refused to type words I needed to write. Points for originality I guess. When I did manage to type, I usually endedupwithsentencesthatlookedlikethis. Because you see, the space bar was also a very precious little beast that needed a lot of attention. Another "special feature" of the Typo were the two function buttons on the top row (replacing f2 and f3) dedicated to the company's contact and calendar apps. Never mind the design choice of forcing this on users ...those apps NEVER saw the light of day. Not a peep, not even a screenshot. Do we sense a pattern here?

Apps? Who said anything about apps?

Still, I toughed it out, hoping the company would eventually own up to their one and only product with a firmware update, perhaps even release those promised apps. Well, Typo's website is gone and Apple no longer sells the keyboard (they should never have sold it in the first place). A Google search yields very few results (most are about the Blackberry mess) but I've seen it on sale here and there, obviously old inventory certain stores are trying to get rid of. Do not buy this at ANY price. I can't believe no one has taken Seacrest to task on this disaster. If I lived in the US I'd look into suing their ass. Again.

Chapter four: Brydge or How I found Sanity at last

Which brings us to the here and now. I've typed this entire post on a Brydge 9.7—the model for the iPad Air 2 (or 1 or Pro). The same one I almost bought instead of the Typo, so many months ago. Lesson learned.

As soon as I opened the box I knew I was finally home: no fabric, no weird sticky plastic. the Brydge is made of aluminum and feels like an actual Macbook keyboard. The keys travel the way they should and I can finally type at full speed, comfortably. It isn't a case: the Brydge is simply a keyboard with two hinges into which you insert the iPad. The result is very slick and light—more so than I had expected. I'm also quite impressed by how closely the Brydge's Space Gray metal matches the iPad when they're snapped together. It genuinely feels like a single unit.

The screen is backlit—very useful for this night owl—and the iPad can easily be removed and inserted into the Brydge's hinges, for either notebook or tablet use. The weight distribution also makes sense: the keyboard is heavier than the screen (iPad) which makes laptop use —i.e on an actual lap—a perfectly comfortable option. I do have a few gripes: the lack of a Caps Lock light is hard to understand; the fact that Control Center becomes difficult if not impossible to activate (the iPad sits very low on the hinges*); and the dedicated Siri key that sits next to CTRL on the left side of the keyboard, that I keep hitting by mistake. But that I can train myself to avoid (it's happening less and less already) and none of the others are deal breakers—notes for a 2.0 version however.

I've been all in with the iPad and iOS for a while but this keyboard feels like the missing link I'd been hoping for all along. After such a long and painful road it does feel rather good. If I eventually add a bigger iPad model I'll probably even choose the corresponding Brydge keyboard over Apple's own solution, despite the lack of a Smart Connector.

The Brydge is not inexpensive: we're talking $149.99 US. But if you happen to be reading this in november 2016, they're having a pre-holidays sale that shaves off $20 on this particular model. I signed up for an account and got an additional $10 off on my first purchase.

I know it's geeky as hell but I'm actually giddy right now: I'm in Ulysses, using my preferred Dark Mode theme, typing on those backlit keys as the sun sets in the background. 1,487 words in and I can count the typos on a single hand.

Case closed.**

 ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

* Making the hinges a little bit shallower would solve this entirely—without affecting the overall balance.
 ** Fingers crossed.
P.S All images shot with the X-T1, the XF 18-55mm and XF 60mm.

Spanish Train: Lucida Straps

image.jpg

I've made no secret of how much I enjoy camera straps. It's just one of those things—camera straps and camera bags tend to drive me a little nuts. Shoes...meh...not so much. I don't really indulge mind you: I have one bag for work (Think Tank Retrospective 7) and one for personal/travel (Ona Bowery). Ok, I have a few others from the days of heavier gear but they're stored away so...they don't count. At least that's how I choose to see it. And—like any normal human being—I have a strap for each camera.

So...new camera, new strap. See: perfectly normal. 

I know I've written several times now about this subject but the truth is, I love the stories behind these products. The fact that I gravitate towards handmade leather means it's always a tale of craftsmanship, of manual artistry, usually based on age-old methods. These aren't items I forget about, even after years of daily use: every time I pick up a camera, every time I sling a strap around my neck, I'm reminded of the person behind and the care that went into making it—from Maru's engraving to Tap & Dye and Cecilia's carefully selected materials.

Right before the holidays I received an email from Felix de la Varga Chana, the brainchild behind Lucida Camera Straps, a company based in León, Spain. He offered to send me one of their products (full disclosure: free of charge) so I could test it and give my impressions, possibly help them get the word out if I felt it was worth the virtual ink.

Turns out it is.

THE PACKAGE

The name Lucida comes from the 1980 essay Camera Lucida (La Chambre Claire) by french philosopher Roland Barthes. It's a nod to history that's fitting: not only is the company passionate about photography, their entire line is also steeped in a sense of reverence to the past and to the artisan process. All raw materials are crafted by Genaro Gonzales who runs what is apparently the last Spanish tannery, a family business going back to 1887.

I was hoping to receive the Lucida strap before leaving for Japan but unfortunately, the holidays made the express delivery longer than it should’ve been and it arrived—you guessed it—one day after I left. It's always one day isn't it? But it means I had a nice little package waiting for me when I got home. Beautifully done, in line with this type of handmade, boutique product.

THE STRAP

The Lucida has been on my X-Pro2 ever since—first on the prototype, then making the switch to my production unit the moment it arrived. Leather straps need time to settle, to soften and mould themselves to our contours so there's always a period of adaptation. But it's also what I love about this material: how personal it becomes, the more you use it. In this case I have to say it's one of the most comfortable straps I've had: the leather truly is of an amazing quality—it was already super soft out of the box—and now, several months in, it just keeps getting more comfortable, more beautiful as it wears.

The model I chose includes a neck pad, something I appreciate even on lighter bodies. I find it cradles the neck better; personal taste, obviously.


CONCLUSION

This is a very young company and a labour of love. Essentially a line of products that grew from personal interest, to providing to a circle of friends and now to a full-blown business in a very short amount of time. If you're looking for this type of strap I definitely encourage you to give Lucida a look—if it's anything like mine you won't be disappointed.

For more info visit www.lucidastraps.com (Spanish only as of this writing) or check them out on Instagram. You can also order or contact them through Etsy.