6.29.2018

Why do I feel more comfortable with Nikon cameras rather than FujiFilm cameras? I never really gave it much thought till...

...someone asked me about my preferences at last evening's talk in Dripping Springs, Texas. I gave a cursory answer at the time but I've thought about it more today since we are in the period wherein all the blogs, photo websites and YouTube channels promoting cameras begin the concentrated glorification of the newest Fuji; the XT-100. For the next week or so we'll learn that this new, small, inexpensive camera is "Surprisingly good!!!" "Worthy of Serious Consideration!!!!" "A sleek and beautiful RETRO design" "Punches far above its weight class!!!!!" and, "Has a REVOLUTIONARY bayer pattern sensor!!!!!!" It's that magical period in which every writer newly discovers that cheap and simple can be really good. Especially if the site is in the business of getting click throughs and profiting from generating sales for giant camera stores and, well, Amazon.

If I were a fan of Fuji and already owned some of the lenses the breathless adulation for this $599 camera might have already pushed me to pre-order it. Indeed, it looks like a pretty good deal if you are just interested in taking photographs. But I'm not interested, which begs the question: What have I got against Fuji cameras?

The answer? Either: Absolutely nothing. OR: I've had some less than gratifying experience with the company's cameras, going all the way back to the Fuji S2.

In the early days of digital I shot a lot with the Kodak DCS digital cameras. My first experiences were with the DCS 660 but my favorite early digital camera was the DCS 760 with its 6 megapixel APS-H sensor and removable AA filter. It was a beast in more ways than one. It was built on a Nikon F5 chassis which meant it was rugged and fast. It weighed nearly five pounds so it could hardly be called convenient, but the most beastly factor for owners was that this 6 megapixel camera cost $7,000 and could only really be used at ISO 80 and ISO 100.

When the market for APS-C digital cameras from other makers took off there were competitors like the Nikon D1X, but it was still a pricey unit and didn't offer any real image performance advantages over the DCS 760. Enter the Nikon D100, a camera that never gets mentioned today.

The D100 hit the market at around $2,000 and made very nice images. It had a tiny raw buffer of four. Yes. 4. It took a while to write to the card but the camera was well behaved and rarely crashed or froze. I bought one and used it for a while. But it was (on paper) outgunned shortly afterwards by the Fuji S2. The S2 employed a novel new sensor that promised the equivalent of 12 megapixels. The sensor was continued with additions and improvements in the S3 and the S5.

But let's look at the first camera I bought, the S2. It was based on a Nikon N80 body but it required two different sets of batteries. Four double A batteries went in the extended bottom segment of the camera while the regular camera portion used two (non-rechargeable) CR123 lithium batteries (which we ended up buying by the bucket load ---- not an efficient energy user...). You could load all the batteries at the same time but it was almost guaranteed that they would die in opposite cycles from each other. And with alarming frequency. Change the double A batteries, shoot some more files, change the CR123's, shoot some more files, etc.

And when one set or another died they did so while corrupting whatever files were still left in the buffer. In fact, the S2 and S3 corrupted more files than any other camera, or camera system, I have ever owned. Regardless of CF cards used.

At the time the lure of the S2 through S5 was the idea of getting what might be considered a 12 megapixel camera at a time when there was only one other 12 megapixel camera on the market; the Canon 1D full framer (nearly $7.000). We were paying about $2400 each for S2 cameras that extrapolated 12 megapixels from a six megapixel sensor, used an amateur camera body with a 92% viewfinder, and had raw files that, upon introduction, were only usable in the world's worst raw processing software.

But, hope springs eternal, so we gave it a go when the S3 came out. Bought two. There were two things to like about the newer camera: first, the sensor kind of really had 12 million pixels on it. Half the elements were big ones and half were small ones. The big ones were good for low light while the tiny ones were optimized for highlight detail and the combo provided better dynamic range than many competitors. Second, the camera did away with two sets of batteries and settled on one set of 4 double A batteries instead. It came with a set of metal nickel hydride rechargeable batteries which might get me through a hundred or so images.

I did a lot of work with the S3 cameras but the files never had the detail and ease of processing that I could get from the then competitor, the Nikon D2X. I finally switched to Nikon, which wasn't that difficult as both systems were DX (APS-C) and both systems used Nikon lenses. This was before the magic time when Fuji started making lenses for their mainstream consumer products (Fuji has been a supplier or professional film and video optics for decades, and they have a sterling reputation in that field).

The choice was all about camera bodies. The Nikon blew the Fuji away for handling, speed, battery life and focus. It wasn't a hard decision.

So, that was my early history with Fuji digital cameras but what about now? Now Fuji seems to be the "Gold Standard" for many advanced amateurs, and lots of pros are starting to shoot with them as well. Why not give it a try since I've dragged myself through Panasonic, Olympus, Canon, Nikon, Sony and Samsung in the last eight years......?

I rushed out and bought a Fuji X-100 when it first hit the market and hated it. Passionately hated it. The shutter sounded cheap and frail. The software was half-baked in the first production cycle and the finder was an insult to any Leica user. It went back to the store and I was even happy to pay a re-stocking fee just to get it off my depreciation schedule.

When the X-Pro-1 came out I decided I'd been too harsh on the Fuji cameras and, knowing the solid reputation for their lenses, I read all the reviews of the camera and the new lenses and went to Precision Camera with a checkbook in my hands. I was sold by the incredible marketing. I loved the look of the bodies which was a nod to the Leica cameras I'd used all during the 1990's. We were just coming off some big project and I had the extra cash with which to scratch this Fuji itch.

I played with the camera. Loved the overall feel. But the finder looked blurry. I couldn't find the diopter adjustment, you know, the eyepiece control that comes even on the most basic point and shoot cameras... Right? I asked the sales person. Nope. There was no built-in eyepiece diopter. I would have to order a screw in lens for the finder. Did they have them in stock? No. Could they be ordered and delivered quickly? Maybe in six months.....

Later a rep for Fuji insisted that I try the revised X-100T. A "much improved" product. It wasn't. I sold it to a friend who really wanted to want it. He too was less than bowled over.

At that point I called it quits, at least temporarily, on Fuji cameras. I'll give them another generation or two to sort out everything and then I may dip my toe in with whatever their flagship camera at the time is. That and a 50mm equivalent lens. I'm sure it's all vastly improved at this point and will be even better in the next rev but... snake bit three times and you want to give yourself a rest and let the anti-venom do its job...

If you want to read stuff about the Fuji XT-100 give DP Review a few days and no doubt you'll have dozens and dozens of "first impressions" "hands-on" "is it a Nikon F killer???" and other articles to plow through. Some might be interesting. A few might even be helpful. But we're not really interested in covering it here.

It's Friday. I'm looking forward to the weekend.

Finally, why is the Nikon F at the top of the article? Hmmm. It's a symbol for what I really want in a professional digital camera. I wish we had a digital camera with ISO, WB, RAW and a review screen. All the other junk you want could be done in post. That's the camera I have consistently wanted. A simple to operate, fully manual camera with about 25 million pixels of good, solid resolution and dynamic range. No more decisions to make on set. The antithesis of most cameras offered today.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am so with you on your last paragraph. Nikon F like, simple, direct, just what is needed to make an image. Add an evf, excellent dynamic range and, in a full frame, 24 Mpx will do. Don't need a book full of menu items. Of course sites like dpreview would in its list of negatives list all the features it does not have compared to all the others in its price class. Failure in the marketplace if it ever made it that far.

Well we can day dream about that camera that will not show up in any camera store any time soon.

Craig said...

I've been happy with my Fuji X-E1 and X-E2S, but everyone's mileage varies. I have not used the X-100 series.

I pretty much agree with you, though, that the perfect camera would be far simpler than any camera made today. I would be totally happy with a fully manual, RAW-only camera. You could eliminate most of what's in camera menus today if you omitted video, in-camera JPEGs (along with film emulations), auto-exposure (just give good on-screen indications of where the sensor is getting too much or too little light; that's really all that matters; as long as detail is there, you can adjust the exposure in PP), auto-focus (provided there are good on-screen focusing aids; the X-E2S is the best I've yet seen in this regard, but I haven't tried the X-E3 or X-T2), etc. You don't even really need in-camera white balance at that point, since in RAW files WB is just a tag recommending a particular balance to be applied when generating an image. Granted, the in-camera display wouldn't be nicely balanced, but you don't really need it to be. You can always put a tinted filter on the lens if you want, just like the good old days.

I would also love a fully-manual B&W camera (no Bayer or XTrans filter) in the under-$2000 range, as opposed to the Leica one. But I suppose there's not enough demand for such a thing or someone would have made it by now.

Dave Jenkins said...

"I wish we had a digital camera with ISO, WB, RAW and a review screen. All the other junk you want could be done in post. That's the camera I have consistently wanted. A simple to operate, fully manual camera with about 25 million pixels of good, solid resolution and dynamic range. No more decisions to make on set."

Well, Kirk, if that's really what you want, Fuji comes closer than anyone else. But I wouldn't recommend them to you, because I don't think they're well suited to the way you work.

Rokrover said...

Sounds like you are describing Ming Thein’s Un-camera camera. I went this route a year ago with the simple and basic Sony alpha 5000 that checks most of your boxes and hits a sweet spot at 20 MP for APS-C.

Russ said...

I completely agree with your assessment of the Fuji S2 and S3 Pro bodies. I have the S3 and there's nothing intuitive about the strange button and menu design. The excessive time it takes to write to the card is especially irritating. However, it's the body I go to when I want a pleasing looking portrait. Kind of reminds me of film, but I'm pretty sure that Fuji did that by design.

Todd Spencer said...

I had the exact same experience upon my first prolonged use of the X-100 back when it was the bees knees (that expression was still in use back in 2011, right...?). Just couldn’t connect with it whatsoever, although some of the resulting images had an appealing quality to them. A co-worker who was a photo enthusiast bought one and then promptly got rid of it as well.

Fast-forward to the past couple of years when I’ve rented Fuji bodies + lenses to shoot bands at SXSW. The X-T2 is particularly good, and some of their glass is truly stellar. Heck, the camera even managed to avoid embarrassing itself (well, me, to be honest) when I inadvertently set the ISO to 25,600 and shot an entire set from that elevated altitude.

The Nikon Df comes close to fitting the bill you describe—but having an EVF is so nice if you can live with the APS-C sensor. I’d recommend checking out Fuji’s higher-level offerings one of these days.

David said...

Well if you want a Raw only, with little less, then maybe time to try a Sigma camera. The software end has finally improved, but still may not be your current work flow with Adobe products. That is unless you buy an old used SD14. That was the last Sigma fully supported by Adobe.

Sigmas are really Raw only cameras, must set WB, ISO should be fixed at 100. Not much else to set. Could be fun for you. The newer Quattro even have an EVF. This might be the time to scratch off the last camera maker you haven't tried yet.

Anonymous said...

"I wish we had a digital camera with ISO, WB, RAW and a review screen."

Add an exposure compensation dial and I'm in!

Anonymous said...

Your experience with Fuji mirrors mine almost exactly. The last one I bought produced great images but it's battery life rendered it completely unusable. In comparison with the Pentax it replaced the image quality was a smidgen better, the UI quirks and execution made it a waste of space.

A friend really loves his fujis and gets great results from his x100s and xpro2.

Each time I've tried using them they've sent me crazy. There's been error messages, none of the controls or buttons work in the way you'd expect them to and the experience is... idiosyncratic. I still use film cameras (35mm and MF) alongside my olympus and personally have absolutely no patience for the pseudo viewfinders and controls of the fujis. The hybrid nature in my view, is messy and doesn't provide the real benefits of either. Ymmv.

Which then leads me to my main observation of modern cameras. If you are spending ages poring over the spec sheets online you'll never get a realistic view of if a camera will work for you until you hold it in your hands and try it. Haptics, haptics haptics.

Also, you're better off looking at galleries to see how the available lenses render images (undoubtedly the fujis have nice lenses) than worrying about minor differences in dynamic range, resolution or iso performance. Cameras are great these days and we're blessed with the options available.

Mark

Rufus said...

Kirk

You are missing out.

Your Fuji experience is absolutely non-current.

The camera you describe - a digital Nikon F - is almost precisely what I have in my Fuji XT-2.

I grew up shooting Nikon FM and FE, then a flirt with the F2 and F3.

The Fuji X-T2 most closely resembles these cameras compared to anything in the market.

It is ironic that the one camera you crave, is probably already out there. And Fuji are making it.

Michael Ferron said...

I have a recently acquired F2 with that same plain jane prism. So yes my F2 in digital, ISO and exposure adjustments only and shoots raw, no choices. Oh no rear screen, Just a nice EVF.

Yalçın AYDIN said...

Thanks for the post.
When my E-M1 II got stolen in Athens I switched to Fujifilm with X-H1 and a few fast primes. Lenses are good but when compared with M4/3 everything feels bigger and heavier. And you can’t and won’t be able to have IBIS with smaller bodies.

I loved my X100 cameras and current X100T though. I am considering selling everything and keeping just it for freedom of carrying less gear in my trips.

David A. said...

I know this is an old thread by now and won't see much traffic, but the thoughts expressed always make me think about this topic so I decided to comment.

Perhaps I have been spoiled, or maybe I am missing something, but I've been using a Canon 60D for the last 7+ years (the only camera I can recall buying new). My reading of this site happened to coincide with the purchase and at the time Kirk was also using Canon gear (2011 -- I have been reading since then), including the 60D. I had a used 10D prior to that. My camera is permanently set to manual mode. I use the dials (top for shutter speed, back for aperture) for exposure setting; the camera has buttons along the top plate, in front of the top LCD and it is easy to push the ISO button, which I do without taking my eye away from the viewfinder. These controls are faster than traditional dials and work very well, though I dislike Canon's placement of the rear dial and wish it was similar to other manufacturers' placement.

I am wondering what makes this worse than traditional controls for some users? Why does the F appeal more than a modern, quick layout? I don't have a problem with all the other settings, because I rarely use them. I will go into the menu to set RAW/JPEG settings (almost always just RAW, but sometimes both) and to format my card. Aside from that and setting the camera to focus through a back button on the body instead of the shutter release I never see the menu.

For the record, the only thing that keeps me from using the 60D these days is its size. I find I just now became sensitive to it. I purchased (after all the gushing by others) a used Fuji X100T for Christmas. I love/hate it. It is the most beautiful camera out there (to me) and it is frustrating to use. As a contributor (Ken Tanaka) to Mike Johnston's site wrote in a comment (I paraphrase) "Fuji forgot that humans have thumbs; there is no place to put your thumb on the back of the camera". Most insightful comment I read in a long time and I began to realize some of my frustrations. And yes, I got the hotshoe thumb rest in the box with the camera, as well as three colors of soft release. The previous owner must have been just as frustrated. The thumb rest is great, except that it blocks your ability to use the shutter speed dial (easily) and makes the camera more of a pain the *%*&*. The white writing on the display disappears to the point that I forget to check exposure half the time and curse myself a moment later. The camera eats batteries and the seller included 2 extra ones in the box. I would sell this thing in a heartbeat if it was not for one simple thing -- if the 60D is too big for me to use on casual outings (and so are the zooms), I don't know what camera I would like to use instead. No, I do not like EVFs. Sorry, personal preference. The sensor has to be APS-C at a minimum, for me. I don't want a smaller sensor. So, I will use and curse the X100T. 8^)