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Posted by Kirk, Photographer/Writer at 19:22
Remember that camera you really loved? The one they stopped making? The one they replaced with something you don't like nearly as much?
There is a pattern to the ebb and flow of cameras that always seems to work against me. I'll find something I really like and it is inevitably discontinued by the maker. If it's a camera other than a Canon Rebel or one of the other widely sold models it becomes harder to get and, as soon as six or eight months later the used prices rise to the point where they exceed the last posted "new" price and the ones that are available are charitably labeled, "well used."
One of my favorite examples of this was the Sony Nex-7. It was a great camera but it was a bit complex to use until you got comfortable with the twin dial set-up. Sure, the sensor was a bit noisy but it was one of the first really small, interchangeable lens Sony cameras with a 24 megapixel sensor that could really deliver the goods (at lower ISOs...). I went to buy one last year and found that mint versions were trading at a premium. After a few days of looking at "bargain" versions available at "like new" prices I just gave up and let it go.
Leica went through this in the film, rangefinder days. The M4 was widely considered one of the best crafted M cameras ever. It was made cheaper and less likable in the M4-P version, but even the P version was demonstrably superior to all of the M6 variants that hit the market near the end of the last century. Mis-aligned rangefinders, more limited fine-tuning adjustment controls and a severe, recurring issue with quality control made getting a good M6 straight out of a new box a bit of a crap shoot. Leica users in Austin were lucky to have two stores that were Leica dealers; one of which was a full service repair shop as well. If you were one of the unfortunate customers who got a misaligned camera you stood a good chance that Jerry, the owner and head repair person at Precision Camera, could fix it for you.
And, don't get me started on the legendary Nikon D700 and all the cameras that came afterwards (600&610, we're looking at you).
So, why am I bringing this up now? Well, I do have a point but first, in addition to pointing out that some of our favorite cameras some times exit the market and become scarce, I also want to talk about the general trend in machines that combine digital technology with precision, mechanical technologies, of being made cheaper and cheaper when digital solutions are able to "replace" some aspects of the mechanical ones, but with a cost to aesthetics, haptics and some design nuances.
Coming to my point.... When I first considered Fuji products I was very happy with nearly every lens I tested. Incredibly so with the ones considered a bit "eccentric." Those would include the 35mm f1.4, the 60mm f2.4 macro, the 14mm f2.8 and a few others. I was encouraged by those lenses and decided to give the system a trial run so I bought the camera that was currently being gushed over by the largely insensate blog-press of faux-tographers; the Fuji X-T3. While it's a fine camera and creates very nice photography and video files I have never warmed up to it to the point that I'd want a second body as a back-up. In fact, even though the X-H1 is currently cheaper I'd gladly trade the almost new X-T3 for the X-H1.
But why? My perception is that Fujifilm made some decisions a few years back to try and attack the professional market by offering two distinct cameras that, while using the same sensors as many other cameras in their line up, were built to a standard that is distinctly better than the others. A build quality that adds stability to the bodies via thicker metal structures and more advanced mechanical engineering. The metal used to make the "skin" of the X-H1 is advertised at 25% thicker than all the other models. The shutter system is more complex, quieter, less prone to vibrations. The body is bigger to compensate for the inclusion of great image stabilization capability, and the larger body also enabled their engineers to design a system that could deal with heat issues much more effectively. In short, this is an over-engineered body meant to take maximum wear and tear while delivering high reliability and offering a more stable platform for larger, high speed lenses.
Even the lens mount was designed and made to higher standards to better support a new family of heavier, faster, and longer lenses.
But what did the average consumer see? He saw that the X-T3 has about 2 more megapixels of implied resolution and that they body is smaller and lighter. That's all. That was the litmus test for selling the product. Smaller and lighter. More horsepower.... The consumer didn't take into consideration all the tangible and intangibles of heavy duty design and construction. Longevity. A better grip. A more solid platform. Etc. As a result the X-H1, a highly superior product, languished on dealer shelves while the X-T3s flew out the door.
I loved the lenses in the Fuji system but I was vacillating about getting more involved in the system. And then there was the day that I was buying lens cleaner fluid at Precision Camera and I spied a used X-H1 along with its battery grip and the extra batteries, all for about $850. I thought I'd buy it and give it a try. No risk as Precision Camera had a policy of taking back used gear within ten days that didn't meet customer expectations.
The X-H1 clicked the switch in my brain that informed me that this was a camera body you could build a system around! And that's exactly what I started doing. But the more I researched the sales of X-H1s versus other cameras in the Fuji system the more I became convinced that (like electoral politics) Fuji would eventually cave to consumer culture and stop the (largely financially unrewarding) production of exquisitely engineered and manufactured cameras and just give consumers what they craved: a smallish body attached to a list of specifications that real users would find of secondary value compared to what was on offer in the bigger camera.
The more I shot with the X-H1 the more I realized that if this model were to disappear and not be replaced by a camera similarly aimed at the professional market I'd be stuck with a bunch of really great lenses, surrounded by a bunch of decent but unexciting, consumer camera bodies...
With this in mind I set about to buy two more of the X-H1 bodies as a hedge against mindless consumer inertia and camera manufacturer common marketing sense.
As a working professional photographer and videographer I could not be happier with my collection of X-H1 cameras, each mated with its own battery grip and extra batteries. And so far, in about eight months of use I've never been let down by this curated subset of Fuji product.
But there is another side to being a photographer and that's the reality that it's also my hobby, passion, my art and all around focus. While the X-H1 cameras are some of the finest and best sorted cameras I could ask for in professional use, they can be large and heavy to use as daily carry ART cameras. I tried to delegate that responsibility (being the "art" cameras) to the Fuji X-T3 and the small X-E3 but they generally got left at home. After a number of false starts with them I started taking the battery grips off one of the X-H1s and pressed it into service in this other side of my photography lifestyle. All the time wishing I could find a camera that created an equally good photographic file while offering the panache and shooting style I had enjoyed decades ago with a brace of Leica M series cameras and well chosen selection of Leica lenses.
Enter the first X-Pro2, Fuji's art camera. If you have worked with bright line finders and various Leica M series cameras it's hard NOT to love the X-Pro2. I bought a well used one and started taking it everywhere. It immediately eclipsed the X-T and X-E to the extent that the X-E is now gone and the X-T languishes in the no-man's land between the X-Pro2 and the X-H1.
A quick read of Fuji's literature reveals that the hybrid OVF/EVF finder is a very complex and expensive to produce feature. They could have stuck a high res EVF behind the little window and been done with it at a much reduced cost but optimism springs eternal and they tossed the dice, betting there was a ready market of former Leica aficionados and rangefinder lovers (it's not technical a rangefinder camera in fact, just in spirit) who would pay a premium for a camera that's strikingly different than almost anything else out on the market. Whether they were correct is beyond my ability to suss out. But I will say that for a photographer of a certain age and background the camera is amazing and so much fun to shoot with.
I loved the camera and, after reading the technical discussions about the finder, the shutter, and other tweaks, I loved the philosophy of the camera as well. I rushed to source a second used one in better shape (there's nothing wrong with the first one other than a few small scuffs and paint scratches. It's maybe a VG on KEH.com...). As luck would have it one surfaced shortly into my search and I snapped it up. Now I had two of the best art cameras I had owned since I last owned a Leica M4. The 23mm and 35mm f1.4, and the 56mm 1.2 APD were amazing beyond expectation as well. I added the smaller versions (Fujicrons) of the lenses for those times when I wanted to travel light and I felt I'd come home to the cameras I'd started with so long ago. Engineered for hard use. Designed to delight. Created to provide exemplary images. In short, cameras I can rely on to work they way I think cameras should work.
Lately I've been making some travel plans and started looking closely at the way I've been working on my own photography. I'm traveling to put a coda to one part of my life and to re-energize myself for the next part. And every time I considered cameras I came right back around to the X-Pro2s and a small assortment of prime lenses.
But just as I fear that Fuji will discontinue both the product and the idea behind the X-H1 I also wonder if they will also kill of the most expensive APS-C camera currently on the market, the X-Pro2. Will the next variation eschew the OVF for cost savings? Will the next variation be more electronic, less touch-worthy? Will the knobs still be machined from solid blocks of aluminum or made less expensively from cast plastic? Will the things I love about the camera be replaced by electronic crap that appeals more to techno-geeks instead?
With this in mind I went searching for a third body for this mini-system-within-a-system as well. It arrived today in Like New condition and I used one of my precious Tamrac straps (which are no longer offered, having been replaced by cheaper, tawdrier and less workable straps) to make it supremely portable for my general, non-commercial use.
Now, at least, if they are discontinued I have enough of both bodies to keep working and shooting with their great lenses until such a time as I can corner the market on shipping containers full of back up cameras.
I know this will make sense to very few people but the tools are a vital link in the process and when you find stuff you love it just makes sense for (relatively few dollars) to ensure you can make photographs with cameras you like. Even if they are NOT Fujis. (To put all this in perspective the three X-Pro2s and the three X-H1s combined (and mostly bought used) add up to just a tiny bit more than the $6000 I spent on one Nikon D2Xs camera about 11 years ago. So there!).
Just thought I'd toss this out there.
Posted by Kirk, Photographer/Writer at 18:00
I got advice about aging well today. And some swimming stroke suggestions. And heard from a swim "influencer."
the stairs back up to the open air locker rooms.
At Deep Eddy Pool.
A cool, morning swim in a spring-fed pool, in the middle of "old" Austin, is a special treat. I head over to Deep Eddy on Mondays because my own swim club is closed on Mondays. They like to let the water "rest" but I hate to let the day go by without a swim so... Deep Eddy is my first destination at the start of the week. Especially a week peppered with heat advisories.
There is one swimmer there who has swum just about every day of his life. He's married to a gold medal winning Olympian and has written a bunch of books about sports psychology. I know he's there when I walk down the long stairs to the pool because I can see his big, battery powered pace clock over on the side of the pool. Today I saw the swimmer but no pace clock. When he finished his workout I asked him what happened to the pace clock.
He told me that he'd done a long swim for his 71st birthday and felt like taking it easy today; putting more emphasis on kicking and letting his shoulders rest. I asked him what he did for his long swim.
He replied that he had turned 71 years old and it's his tradition to swim 100 yards X his age each year. Always on a tight interval. This year he swam 71 X 100 yards on an interval of one minute and thirty five seconds. That's one hundred yards in a 33.3 yard pool every minute and thirty five seconds! For you non-swimmers, that's fast. To make the swim team at top ranked Westlake High School you have to be able to do 10 X 100 yards on 1:30 in tryouts. And it's a pretty elite program.
So, 7,100 yards in a bit less than 2 hours. Swimming. Freestyle. About four and a half miles. Swimming.
Those are tough times to hit for masters swimmers half this guy's age. Take the average 30 year old non-swimmer and make him try this and you'll probably be rushing someone to the E.R. It would be the equivalent of pulling a sedentary, overweight couch potato off the cushions and having him run a fast marathon. Not going to work out well.
But our 71 year old knocked out the set AS A BIRTHDAY PRESENT TO HIMSELF and, at the end, pulled himself out of the pool, grabbed his swim bag and headed off to start the rest of his day.
I asked him for advice on aging well. His response was to exercise hard every day. It's the discipline that makes it work. He has no health issues. No sore joints. No trouble sleeping. No muscle pains. He's engaged in his business and still writing books. He summed up his philosophy like this: "People get old because they give up." That's it. That's all.
While I was swimming my yards this morning I shared a lane with a man who was faster than me. He finished his workout before me and was watching my freestyle stroke. He asked if I wanted a bit of advice. I said, "sure." He suggested that I try a higher elbow recovery on freestyle to take a bit of pressure off my shoulders. I tried it and it worked well. I said something about getting older and wanting to save my shoulders from too much wear and tear. He asked me my age and I told him, "63."
He chuckled a bit and told me that he had just turned 78. I asked him for advice about aging well (I thought, from his general appearance, that he was about my age....) and he just said, "Never give up. Never slow down."
It was funny to hear all this after a spate of blogs recently from one of my favorite bloggers bemoaning his "advanced age." Turns out he is younger than me.
My advice to people who think they are getting old? Surround yourself with the right people. Surround yourself with people who refuse to give up. Now, those are real "influencers." Add in some discipline and you'll do just fine.
Note the nice, high elbow recovery on the swim in the middle of the frame.
Pool in the foreground. Lake in the background.
Cap it off with a dose of Texas Sky.
Posted by Kirk, Photographer/Writer at 12:31
Dining Room Chairs.
I have a certain hesitancy about rushing outdoors and being busy when it's 105 outside and the the humidity makes it feel closer to 110. After the long, Sunday workout in an already too warm pool, I did things through the day mostly in air conditioned spaces.
I had a breakfast taco loaded with eggs, Mexican white cheese, pico de gallo, and avocado, at Trianon Coffee, along with a nice, almond croissant and a big coffee. Once back home I contemplated a long walk but decided, instead to re-read some parts of Annie Leibovitz's book and to spend some quiet, quality time with that new-to-me Pentax K1 and the older, 50mm f1.4 AF lens.
People are getting a bit tired of everyone who "tests" cameras and lenses shooting "test shots" handheld and in weird lighting, so I decided to put the K1 on a tripod and to use the live view function to accurately focus the lens I was using. Wild, huh? What I found almost immediately is that the 36 megapixels I paid for are more like the 36 megapixels I was initially expecting when I bought the camera. The combination of sloppy focusing techniques, a reliance on positioning the AF square accurately based on the finder targets and just the basic frailty of our human stability systems at first made my results seem not much better or worse than a wide range of camera and lenses. Putting the system on a tripod allowed me to see, for the first time, a bit more of the functional capabilities of the K1.
I'm pretty sure though that I've just skimmed the surface of what's possible in terms of uncompromised image quality if for no other reason than that I did these images on a very small and thin Benro carbon fiber tripod that's probably not the best match for a bigger and heavier camera.
I also shot a lot at the widest aperture of the older 50mm lens so.... not the best recipe for critical sharpness.
But there were some things I really enjoyed about just walking around the house making photographs with the whole combination. I liked working in live view with the camera because it's so easy to punch in a achieve very, very precise focus...which goes a long way to ensuring sharpness where it's supposed to be. I liked the implementation of the tilting and movement of the rear LCD. It was so easy to operate and, when I ventured into the backyard to make a photograph of my lawn sprinkler I appreciated an external, rear button that would increase the brightness of the screen, in two steps, to compensate for the high ambient light levels.
Of course, not everything got the "f 1.4" treatment. The image just below was shot at f11 which is just about the smallest aperture I like to shoot at. I'm always cognizant that diffraction will begin to push down sharpness if I go past that.
My reading table.
Always something interesting to buzz through.
It seems strange but I have to admit that it's nice to have a traditional camera to play with again. I wouldn't consider moving back to a DSLR system but playing around with different systems is an interesting way to keep the "playing" mode engaged.
I was interested to see that Annie Leibovitz is also a system switcher; even more egregious than me. In an appendix to her "At Work" book she talks briefly and generally about equipment, relating that she once changed digital cameras four times in the course of one year to find the one that suited her best. She also stated that she's alway anxious to try the new stuff coming on to the market; just to see if it works better for her. Even I haven't switched systems four times in one year..... I might try that some time...
Swim towels hanging in one of the bathrooms.
A constant rotation of soggy towels awaiting their turn.
A quick note: the dryer got fixed this morning.
Patrick did a great job and replaced a damaged switch.
Still considering the Australian method though.
Most of us have gotten used to the idea that we can handhold anything as long as we have a camera or lens with great image stabilization. I'd forgotten the simple joy of using a tripod instead. Being able to select exactly the aperture and ISO you want to use and still get sharp images in dim environments seems so empowering and is, perhaps, a technique that newer photographers aren't embracing. With a dual I.S. systems and a medium ISO I can shoot okay in the bathroom location just above. With a tripod I can use ISO 100 and f5.6 to get exactly the look I want. No compromise. And when did using a tripod get so difficult that people have seemingly jettisoned them altogether?
Ah. Another good place to take a nap.
I feel so European these days. After my father's passing I temporarily stopped marketing altogether in order to deal with the grief but also to focus my full attention on handling the estate and getting through the process of probate. In effect, I've been on vacation since the beginning of June. I've just recently (finally) figured out how to relax and not worry about whether or not work will come back in the same way. Would my hiatus become more or less permanent?
I needn't have given my extended, European style vacation much thought. The clients have tired of being patient and have come back. I'm flying over to Knoxville, Tenn. on the 20th of this month to take one portrait and then zooming back to Austin to shoot a video project on the 22nd for a department at UT. I should just wrap those projects up in time to spend Sunday the 25th working with the Seminary of the Southwest for an event. I guess I'm not done with this work thing just yet...
Will I take the Pentax K1 on any of these jobs? No. I'm so comfortable with the Fuji equipment. I'm packing two X-Pro2 cameras, the Fujicron trinity of lenses plus the 90mm for the out of town portrait assignment. The X-Pro2s pack down smaller than the X-H1s. But I'll pull in the X-H1s for the two camera video shoot (plus one extra for back up) at UT. The Seminary job's gear selection is still up in the air but it will be an all Fuji packing adventure.
And speaking of Fuji....well, more to come.
Hope all my Texas buddies are managing the heat well. There is a "dangerous condition" alert in place today between noon and seven p.m. Hydrate, seek shade, and air conditioning (or Deep Eddy Pool) is your best friend. So glad I finally opted to buy a white vehicle for Texas.....
Posted by Kirk, Photographer/Writer at 11:44