A few months ago I managed to get my hands on one of the few Fuji x100 cameras that were available in Britain. I was following all of the news on the internet about this camera before it was released and thought that it would suit me down to the ground with the kind of photography I do and the direction my photography was going over the last year. So, a chance came to get one, as a friend mentioned that the local photography store had one of the cameras.
Buying the camera was the best decision I've made in my photography in quite a while! Even though there are problems with some of the functionality of the camera, that you can read about all over the internet, at the end of the day this camera has changed how I shoot. Here is a particularly good write up about the functionality problems, as well as a totally different perspective on using the camera for street photography.
The first aspect is the small size. Before, I used a D40 DSLR with a 35mm F1.8 and carried an 18-200mm lens in a bag. With an SLR you have to make the decision to go out photographing. I used a hip bag with a compartment for the camera, a part for the other lens and a space for other bits and pieces. I thought that my kit was minimal, but the x100 changes how and when I take the camera. I bought the x100 leather case, which fits snuggly around the body and the camera, can simply be thrown round my neck, any day with very little hassle. I also carry a tiny metal tin that has an extra battery and an extra memory card. Amazing! No more bag swinging around, no extra lenses, just a lightweight compact camera that you can take anywhere easily. I didn't think that this would make a difference, but it has.
The other contribution of size is that it makes the camera very discreet. It is also unthreatening, unlike an SLR. This plays a role in getting better photos since people don't see you taking photos or if they do, they don't mind. The retro feel also helps to put people at ease.
The second aspect is the fixed lens. The 23mm lens (35mm equivalent) is just right. Its not too wide to start creating distortion in any images but wide enough to create depth and to get plenty into a shot. With the 35mm on my old camera (50mm equivalent), I always wanted to get in extra details around the edge of the frame, but due to the FOV, I sometimes couldn't get the shot I wanted.
The other part of having a fixed lens is learning the frame. Even with the 50mm equivalent lens on my old camera, I still chose to put on the 18-200mm in certain situations incase I missed a shot. This slowed down the process of learning the frame of my previous lens. With the x100 I am starting to have an idea of the frame in my head, which means I can walk to the shot, then just raise the camera, and take it. No, wandering around or stepping back until a shot is composed! I'm starting to see the frame before I lift the camera to my eye. This makes a massive difference in photography.
The 35mm view has another aspect. It brings your view around you. As you walk around with the camera, you forget about the distant shots and find more pictures in the close vicinity around you.
Picture quality is very good and am happy with the results that I get. Normally, if you go for a smaller camera, you automatically sacrifice picture quality. I've never been a pixel peeper but the photos from the camera seem very sharp and blows my old camera out of the water.
Another part of this camera, is low light quality. I've never been a big fan of using a flash. In fact I've always set myself up to avoid it at any cost. I know the advantages it give you, but the type of photography I do doesn't need a flash. Its also another thing to get in the way of shooting. Figuring out shutter speed, aperture, focus and whitebalance is enough for me!
The quality of shots I can get from the x100 at night is amazing. By setting the camera to manual, you can shoot in near dark with no problem. There is very little noise in the shots and would stand up against most professional SLR's in similar conditions. So, no tripod needed at night! Also, the whitebalance at night is very good. You get a wide range of colour coming through in heavily colourised light conditions.
The mechanical controls are great! Dialling in aperture and exposure is a breath of fresh air. After a few months of shooting, I can just feel for where the aperture is at, and I know what its set to. I assume that I can only get faster in setting these dials and settings, allowing me a more subconcious shooting experience.
Finally, I would like to mention the viewfinder. I'm not going to go into how it works since you can read about it all over the place. I want to talk about what it does for a photographer.
First, the optical viewfinder is amazingly clear, large and nice to use. It also shows you what is outside the edges of your frame which is actually very handy. I use this most of the time.
Switch into the electronic viewfinder, you have now direct information of focus, exposure and whitebalance. Since I've made the rule of no post processing on the computer, getting the right whitebalance in-camera is critical. I view the whitebalance as a creative tool and never try to match white but try to push the whitebalance to reflect what I see and what mood I want to capture. So, as I move into new light, I switch to EVF and set the whitebalance and exposure, before switching back to the optical for a better view.
The option to toggle into the LCD screen also allows you to frame shots from awkward angles. I didn't have a live view on my SLR which I missed since you just revert to holding the camera in the air and clicking, hoping for the best.
These points above may seem trivial or very simplistic ideas in terms of the complexity of modern photography but I've realised that they are probably the most important features for a camera as a tool. Simplification of the frame, reduction of camera size without loss of quality, great in low light, intuitive mechanical controls and an amazing viewfinder add up to a great package for me.
Don't get me wrong, there is a few things that need to be fixed with this camera but even if they don't fix these problems, the pro's far outweigh the con's. I would love to see a fix for the intermitent startup which has cost me some shots and the fiddly macro mode controls but I can work around these issues. At the end of the day, the photos I've been shooting seem markedly better than the previous stuff I've shot.
I've been taking the camera everywhere over the last couple of months and will be posting up more of the photos I've taken soon, but have been posting plenty of shots to flickr already.
In future blog posts, I want to talk about street photography, techniques for in-camera panoramas and the fact that I've stopped post-processing my photos.
Photography has never been so fun!