7.02.2019

I've been photographing with Fuji cameras since last November. I just passed my 50,000th exposure with them. This is what I've learned.


Fuji makes good cameras and great lenses. Really great lenses. As the cameras get better and better I think makers like Nikon and Canon have much to fear. But I will say that while I've gotten my Fuji cameras dialed in (as far as color and tonality go...) my favorite all around shooting camera (disregarding all the mindless crap that you read in other places on the web) is still the Panasonic G9. That camera combined with the 12-100mm Olympus lens may just be the ultimate travel camera on the face of the earth. But I digress from my dissection of my Fuji experiences.

I was originally put off of Fuji cameras for a number of reasons: They seemed to have a cultish following and I'm always on guard against joining cults. The early Fuji cameras I shot with (S2, S3, S5) were decidedly glitchy and very memory card sensitive. Fuji cameras previous to the X-Pro2, the X-T3 and the X-H1 always felt less solid and more prone to operational weirdness than the products I was used to from Canon and Nikon.

My take on my favorite two Fuji cameras, the X-H1 and the X-Pro2, is not based on fact but on my perception of their evolution. I think that Fuji made these cameras as an expression of what they could do which other companies would not do. I feel, from reading Fuji's literature, that the X-H1, in particular, was built almost entirely by hand with no compromise in materials, finishing and engineering. It seems to me that the company produced the finest camera they could build from the materials and processors of the moment and then have relentlessly improved it, via firmware upgrades, wherever they had the opportunity. Thicker metal, sturdier lens mount and a shutter that Leica should be jealous of.

I owned both an X-T3 and an X-E3 before I finally bought Fuji's idea of a perfect hybrid video/still camera; the X-H1. I thought I'd use the cameras interchangeably but after several weeks of intensive use I was so enamored with the feel and obvious build quality of the X-H1 that I stuck the other cameras in a drawer and went out and purchased two more X-H1 bodies. That came in handy when we used all three bodies on a recent video shoot....

I have two ideas that feed off each other bouncing around in my mind. The first is about the idea of sufficiency (thanks for the word, Ming!); the idea that camera imaging technology has hit a point, a plateau maybe, at which most popular cameras are more than good enough for almost every photographic task, and that any improvements from here on out will be incremental. And I mean "tiny" increments. If you've bought a camera in the last five years I doubt you'll be any better served by the newer model in the same line. Sure, it may have more "features" and attendant menu complexity, but where the photons hit the printing paper any actual image quality improvement will be negligible.

The second idea I have has to do with most  modern manufactured appliances and tools, and that is that each successive generation of devices will sacrifice actual mechanical quality and expensive hand tooling while "compensating" consumers with more gratuitous menu items and silly software driven add-ons. The analogy in the field of cars is the ongoing switch from metal to plastic composites in everything from body panels to basic mechanical parts. The plastic panels and cogs are cheaper and easier to make and have moved from long tenure service over into the "easy to replace" column. In every evolution something seems to get lost. It may be that a close mechanical tolerance is replaced by a bit of software that "auto-corrects" a deficiency caused by the loss of the precision. The software fix (think lens correction!) may be invisible in most situations, to most consumers, but a true aficionado will likely miss the precision and better feel of the product and mourn the loss.

When confronted by the X-H1 I almost immediately perceived the camera to be a classically over engineered product. One on which the designers and engineers went over and above what was necessary in order to build a camera that delivers so many intangible pluses that it boggles the mind. It is the antithesis of the first two generations of Sony A7 series cameras I used which felt primitive and built as if they were held together with tape and school house glue.

I sense that Fuji was trying for a breakout with the X-H1 line. To engineer a camera that, in its finished iteration, would go toe-to-toe with the finest professional cameras like the Nikon D5 and the Canon 1DXIII. The camera was let down, not mechanically but in its operational software. Its bios, its instruction sets. I was lucky to come to the camera late, after many firmware upgrades had already been introduced. I saw the camera as closer to a finished product than the "train wreck" that many online reviewer seem to have experienced at its launch.

The early bad press, and a consumer obsession with small size and light weight, cost the camera initial momentum in the market but when the price dropped to $1299, with the battery grip and three batteries, the camera became a 2019 sensation.

I sensed, rightly or wrongly, that having made a premium, physically intriguing camera only to be shot down by consumers might push Fuji to move further and further into the direction of producing well spec'd but more soul deficient cameras like the X-T3 (before you get your panties in a bunch remember that I still have mine....it does good work, it just doesn't stand out) instead of making less compromising products like the X-H1 and also the X-Pro2. It was the idea that the X-H1 might be pulled from the market as a failure that led me to buy the extra two bodies. That, and a tightly held belief that no professional photographer goes into an assignment without an identical back up camera (and enough lenses whose focal lengths overlap...). I had, in my mind, found a camera with which to enjoy this particular plateau and I was determined not to have it discontinued before I could assure myself of enough back ups to shoot it for a year or two to come.

When I first picked up an X-Pro2 it felt light and less substantial than an X-H1 with battery grip. It was only after researching the complexity of the optical view finder + EVF that I started to understand how beautifully engineered that camera was. I've spent several days shooting the X-Pro2 and it brought back all the good memories (and none of the bad memories) of shooting with bright line, rangefinder cameras. Although the X-Pro2 doesn't use an actual rangefinder it might as well as the operation and the optical interface it creates delivers the best of the rangefinder experience along with the extra bonus of being able to switch quickly to an EVF configuration that gives one perfect compositional tools along with color and exposure previews.

I've been so impressed with the X-Pro2 as a shooting tool that I just ordered a second one which should be here on the fifth of July. That's a pretty strong statement but after using one I just couldn't get the idea out of my head that X-H1's are cameras to be used in my professional business while the X-Pro2's were the perfect camera for trips, travel, street photography, personal photography and the most primary joy of shooting: doing it for one's self.

I've always entertained the idea of having one set of cameras for money making enterprises and a second set that is used to do all the  personal work I want to do just for myself. The switch between cameras seems to throw a switch in my intentions. With one camera I am focused on not failing; not fucking up, while with a different camera my focus changes into "artist" mode where it's okay to fail, to try weird stuff with a camera, and to stretch the boundaries of what we perceive as interesting personal photography.

Again, there are no perfect cameras (other than perhaps the Panasonic G9 with the Olympus 12-100mm lens) but there are cameras that do my commercial work well and there are cameras that help me be a less lazy and unfocused artist. It just seems that, for now, both kinds of camera come from the same company, take the same lenses and batteries and are well suited for the kind of work I do.

It came to me while I was shooting tethered with an X-H1 one today. The camera was rock solid as was the tethering plug-in. I didn't have a second of doubt where camera operation, or confidence in the lenses, was concerned. After I finished my job, around 12:30, and waved goodbye to the clients I grabbed my X-Pro2 and headed out for long walk.

The difference between the two Fuji cameras helped move me from "work" mode to "fun" mode without bedeviling me with massive menu differences or the need to inventory two completely different lens systems. It's nice to have tools that serve different parts of one's brain.

The Fujis do that for me. But, just to muddy the waters, if I wasn't shooting with the Fuji cameras (and the two models I've discussed here) I would go straight back to using the Panasonic G9 with a collection of Olympus Pro lenses. The combination is that good.  Muddy waters. For sure.


Today is tethering day at the studio. We're shooting straight down onto a piece of 4x6 foot stainless steel....

I hate tethering my cameras if I'm photographing people. It just seems slow and restrictive. But there are some shooting situations that require tethering, and if you are intent on being a generalist (or your smaller market requires some.....range) you sometimes need to put your camera into places where it's impractical or unsafe for you to operate it with your hands on.

We're doing just such an assignment this morning. My camera is floating about seven feet in the air at the end of a long boom arm and it's looking straight down at the big piece of stainless steel I have carefully positioned on the floor. Since the camera is directly centered on the 4x6 foot piece of steel, and since I can't put a ladder on the props, it just make sense that I needed to make the camera a bit more autonomous than usual. I did swing the arm around to set up the camera and attach the USB 3.1 cable to it. After I set the menu items correctly and painstakingly leveled the camera I swung it back around and then plugged in the other end of the cable to a USB 3 to USB C adapter and then into one of the two USB C ports on my MacBook Pro.

I launch Adobe Lightroom (Classic) first and then turn on the camera. I go into the file menu and find the tethered capture command and then we're off and running with Fuji's Tether Pro plug-in. This plug in will allow you to operate the camera and nearly all of it's major controls ( profile settings, shooting modes, noise reduction, sharpening, etc) from the interface on the laptop. You just have to fill in the blanks with stuff like which folder you'd like the images to land in and whether you'd like to save Raws, Jpegs or both.

The app and the camera worked well together in all my testing and worked perfectly when I hit the studio earlier this morning to make sure I had all my critical boxes checked.

I got the stainless steel weeks ago. My client will arrange his props on the surface and we'll shoot several variations. I'll probably have him in and out of the studio in a couple of hours, leaving with a memory stick full of files as he goes. But the shoot will have taken far longer than a couple of hours.

We spent half a day researching the steel background and another half day acquiring it and having it delivered (just a bit too big to fit into a sports car like the Subaru Forester...). I spent a better part of the day yesterday setting up the studio and pre-lighting. Shooting a big sheet of brushed stainless steel is like shooting with a giant, hazy mirror; it picks up everything so lighting properly is critical and I was out of practice. I finally got everything dialed in just right in time to quit for the day and have a late dinner.

Once the shoot is over I'll spend time this afternoon breaking down the set and then billing. Engagements like this are not as efficient or as time profitable as shooting events like the one I did last week but in smaller markets, like Austin, it's good to have a little bit of everything hitting the ledger.
The biggest question I have now is what to do with the 4x6 foot stainless when its usefulness to me is over. I know, I know, you wannabe computer engineers out there would love to have it in order to craft your own desktop computer chassis. Blow torch ready. But I don't even own a hammer so I'm not about to start a craft project.

It is kind of fun to shoot tethered every once in a while. It feels.....science-y. Using the Fuji X-H1 + 23mm f1.4 @ 5.6.  Lighting provided by three Godox SL60W lights, two Aputure LightStorm LED lights and a few smaller Aputure LED panels for accents. Another all LED shoot. Make sense though. Nothing is supposed to move.

New motto: Everyone cares. We care harder. 

30 minutes to client arrival, I'd better put on the coffee....