7.12.2019

Someone just had to ask...."Why a brace of Fuji X-H1s and a pair of Fuji X-Pro2s? Aren't they all just exactly the same sensor???

X-Pro2 on the left, X-H1 on the right. 

It's odd. People have closets full of shirts and most try not to wear the same things everyday. Many people have closets full of shoes; some for dress up and some for hiking on mountain trails. Even some that are uncomfortable, ugly and poorly made ---- but fashionable in the moment. Golfers have bags full of different types of golf clubs. Some people have generic cars they drive to work, Range Rovers for time with the family, and Ferraris or Porsches for when they head out the driveway to take stabs at trying to retain their vanishing youth. Don't get me started on collectors.....

But people tend to look at you strangely if they find out that you have multiple cameras. They become irrationally perplexed when they discover that you have multiple cameras of the same model and they become absolutely agitated when they discover that you might have as many as six cameras that use the exact same sensor, which should yield identical photographs.

Ah well, this is life in the modern age. The guts of many models are exactly the same. A Porsche SUV and a VW SUV may share the same chassis. Many cars of similar size (but wildly different price points) may also share the same chassis and even the same engines, and the only real differentiators are aspects of the trim and some "enhanced" handling features. The small Cadillacs and the Chevy Cruze are likely sharing a large proportion of the same hardware underneath the sheet metal (or should I write, "sheet plastic...). 

As far as cameras go I'm pretty sure that, other than the sensors, just about every contemporary Sony full frame camera uses the same body shells, the same shutter mechanisms and the same control knobs. The same processors and the same circuit boards. The same wiring harnesses. 

I think the three top iPhones all use the same A12 "Bionic" processor. Only the screens and casings are really different.

But, critically, everyone who moves beyond "casual user" to passionate hobbyist, or hard core professional knows that even small feature set differences can add up to much different user experiences in daily use. True with cameras, cars, golf clubs, running shoes, backpacks and so much more. 

I bought the X-H1 body because I already liked the output from the camera's sensor and processing chain. I could see that while using my second Fuji camera; the X-E3. I knew I'd like to have at least one Fuji camera that featured image stabilization. I was equally sure that I'd like my workhorse, every-day-engaged-in-commerce, camera to have good video specs and good video features and I knew that most daylong jobs would benefit from having a battery grip that gave my money-making camera access to three batteries. 

I was not disappointed at all with the camera and, when the price dropped on the package of camera+battery grip+three batteries, to a price that was a couple hundred dollars less than the X-T3 I'd purchased in the Fall, I bought two more. On Sunday the 21st of this month I'll use the three X-H1s in the same fashion as I have twice before. I'll be setting up and shooting a three person video interview and I'll want one camera on the moderator (who is also a well known director), one camera to cover the two interviewees (who are well known actors), and one camera with a wider, center view in order to have an establishing shot  that shows all three participants; something I can cut back to from time to time in editing. 

Having three identical cameras for a set up like this eliminates mistakes. We can sit at a table in the studio before the shoot and set all three cameras to identical settings, from color balance to video profile to file type. Once we get on set all three work harmoniously. Once we get into the edit (and the quick turn around) we'll have all three sets of files matching one another. All three take the same lenses. All three take the same batteries. It's one way to eliminate unnecessary variables. 

All the LCDs match. All the necessary cabling is the same between all three cameras. And, since this is a three camera shoot, and I believe in back-ups, I'll also have the X-T3 in the camera bag; just in case. 

That's what I need for this particular assignment and I would hate to try and do it with just two cameras. It would be plain boring with just one camera. And at $1299 per station the X-H1 is a potent video making tool, shooting in high data rate 4K, that costs a fraction of what I'd pay for one Sony FS7 or equivalent. Sink $3800 in three wonderful cameras that can shoot stills and video or pony up $36,000 to get three of the video dedicated Sony FS7s? Easy math for me. I've seen both in the final forms we're aiming for (social media) and there's not a cat whisker of difference in quality, if you are working on a controlled set. 

That's one reason of many that I own X-H1 cameras for work; price versus pure utility. I could add to this that the EVF is superior and that the selection of fast Fuji lenses (while not optimum for lots of moving subjects in video) are great for mostly static interviews. It's a pretty convincing camera
for me

I took two with me yesterday to shoot a location portrait at a hedge fund office. One to shoot with and one as a back-up. 

So, if I am absolutely enamored with the X-H1 as a work camera/system then why am I "fooling around" with an older, weirder, more eccentric camera in the form of an X-Pro2?

When I've got the cameras off the tripod and I'm not working with long lenses in low light, with clients over my shoulders, I don't need all the size, weight and bulk that comes with the ready to shoot X-H1. If I'm heading out to shoot something for myself, for art, for show, for grins, for love, I want a camera that's got a form factor and an overall package that feels fine riding on my shoulder and swinging by my side. But for me, the reason to own an X-Pro2 is pretty much all about the viewfinder window in the top left of the camera (as I hold it up to my face). 

During two and a half decades of film photography I used many different cameras but there was always at least one Leica rangefinder camera in the inventory. Sometimes as many as three or four. Mostly M series but also some dalliances with the older screw mount bodies. One of the main things I liked about shooting those cameras; M3 through M6, was using the bright line finder with 35mm and 50mm lenses. 
Being able to see outside the frame is great. Using an OVF when you're in bright light is great. Especially great if your subject is in shadow and the area behind them is bright. It's a compelling way to shoot and especially in tandem with manual focusing and zone or hyperlocal methods. But being able to immediately switch to EVF with all the benefits of pre-chimping makes the X-Pro2 an ultimately flexible art shooting machine. 

I bought a used one on a whim months ago and played with it over the first weekend. I was using a 35mm f2.0 on it and I had a modicum of fun but I wasn't really bowled over. Then I bought the 35mm f1.4 and the 23mm f1.4 and started using them. I've never really been fond of the 35mm angle of view (the 23mm on the cropped frame) but for some reason the optical finder in the X-Pro2, along with focus peaking and the punch in when turning the focusing ring, made the clutch between AF and MF a revelation. I love shooting this way. It's great. So much so that I took the camera with me everywhere from the outset, and still do. Even when I'm at work shooting with the X-H1s. 

When I started seeing the results of the Pro2 with three of my lenses: the 23mm 1.4, the 35mm 1.4 and the 56mm f1.2 I was so happy with the files I was seeing, even of mundane subjects, that I tossed down more money and got a second body. Now I'm thinking I'll get one more. 

Why? Will I use them in conjunction with the X-H1s? Not at all. Here's my logic. I love to shoot with the X-Pro2s for the kind of personal work I post here all the time. If I go out and shoot in earnest I will use primes and I'll most likely have something like the 23mm on one camera and the 56mm on a second camera. That's it, just two cameras. 

But, I think the hybrid viewfinder is complex to build and expensive for Fuji to keep making when they can rationalize at this point that a good 5+ megapixel EVF is more or less perfect and "all that anyone really needs." I fear that any future X-Pro body might keep the basic format of the body but reduce their cost by eliminating the bright line OVF and replacing with with a "wonderful" and detail rich EVF. Something like the finder in the GFX100 or the Panasonic S1R. And, yes, for most people it would be a nice overall solution but for me it would kill one of the two things that makes the X-Pros special to me. 

I might get a third body as just a hedge against the relentless homogenization of manufacturing. I know that if I were the product manager for the X-Pro line and I could source a strictly EVF finder that was very, very good and that my company would only lose a small percentage of potential buyers I'd be weighing the options with a calculator and coming to the same conclusion. And, I'm sure if they took away the OVF, added a spectacular EVF-only, and then gave potential buyers the bonus of image stabilization in the new body, they'd gain more new users than they'd lose. But it wouldn't be the same. 

I've got my eye on a used Graphite X-Pro2 body but it's on hold for someone else right now. I'm kinda hoping it sells to the first buyer because I've been spending money on Fuji gear like a drunken sailor in port for the weekend after months at sea. But ...... you only live once so you may as well use the stuff you like the best. 

Of course this rationalization could be all for naught. It could be that the EVF in the (not yet announced but hopefully coming soon) next model of X-Pro will be sublime. It may be that the camera features IBIS. It may be that the magicians at Fuji reduce EVF black out to zero. It is my fervant hope that the body configuration stays largely the same. It's nice to have choices. 

Some days I wear black trousers and I like to match them with black, cap toe oxford shoes from Allen Edmonds. Other days I might be wearing khaki pants and I might like to match them with brown oxfords from Magnanni, but sometimes I'm just wearing some old, worn shorts and I want to wear some floppy sandals. You get to use stuff in the moment that works in the moment. Same with cameras. 
Same with cars. Same with vacation destinations. Same with ..........


The photographic time machine.

Painting Studio at UT College of Fine Arts. 
Working on that second degree.
circa 1980.

If you want to have a steady flow of self-made art that you really like you have to constantly remind yourself to keep shooting. We become, I think, more perfunctory about life, and recording the wonderful daily magic of our lives,  as we get older and we become a bit jaded about taking time to click the shutter. It's largely a function of having seen so many variations of life before. Why both to record one more?

It's good to remind myself that every moment is, in some way shape or form, different from all the other moments we live through, and that we'll live through in the future. 

The image above is a copy shot from a print. I have no idea where the negative is right now. It could be in one of those boxes full of negatives from the 1970's and 1980's that I have shoved into a closet with the realization that I'll never have time (make time?) to sort through tens of thousands of old negatives (and slides) in order to make any rational, accessible archive of my oldest photographs. 

I'm too selective now in what I make with my camera for my personal use and I need to remind myself to be more promiscuous with my photography. Shoot more and push aside the agonizing realization that most of the work will never see the light of day or a rapt audience. 

But for me images of Belinda painting on canvas so long ago are like wonderful small treasures that surface sometimes by surprise and fill me with a quiet kind of delight. 

That, and the realization that,  maybe blinded by love, she appears more and more beautiful to me with every passing year.