This is one of the first camera lines whose charms I resisted right up until the fifth generation of evolutionary refinements. I've played with all the previous generations and always found something about each one that kept me from buying it. With the X100V I think Fuji have finally made a nearly perfect digital version of Canon's much beloved Canonet GIII QL17 mk film, fixed lens, rangefinder camera. And I write that as high praise since the Canon GIII was my favorite of all film cameras when it came to being the perfect camera to just walk around with and document life as it endlessly unfolded in front of me.
I just pulled the GIII out of a drawer to look at it while I write this and the one thing that immediately struck me was how much more it weighs than the Fuji X100V. The Canon has a density and a heft that belies its size! Perhaps the insanely great build quality of that camera is a prime reason that now, some 40+ years after buying the camera new, it still works as well as it did when I pulled it out of its box and loaded in the first roll of home-rolled Tri-X film. It's never seen the inside of a repair shop and has endured not only the ungentle college years but also endless roadtrips tucked into a primitive and unpadded backpack. What a wonderful highpoint in mechanical camera manufacturing.
While my current flame, the X100V, is a bit lighter it's still so much more solid in feel than Fuji's first generation of the X100 series. It's solid enough now to feel like it will stand up to rough situations and inevitable wear and tear without having to be babied. On the flip side of the comparison with the older film camera the X100V is crammed full of digital goodness and its imaging abilities far outstrip anything I could have dreamed of back when the Canon GIII was my daily carry.
Lately, I've been vacillating between using the Leica SL2 and the Fuji X100V as my camera of choice when heading out the door with no official photographic mission in mind. With the Leica I have the unspoken promise of getting the highest quality files for the format size. With the Fuji I have the guarantee of using a smaller, lighter, camera that's still capable of filling the quality bucket to the brim. In some regards it's a contest between an overflowing bucket of potential versus a "fill to the brim" approach combined with the handling advantages or constraints of each. And lately, once we fill that bucket we end up trying to pour the contents into a shot glass to put it on the internet...
I have to be totally honest and say that, so far, I'm having more luck pulling files that I love (color, sharpness, saturation, snap, crackle, pop) out of my little $1400 Fujis than I have had with the $6,000+ Leica. All the usual caveats apply. I think the Fuji was designed from the ground up, and then evolved, to become one of the most ferociously good street cameras on the market at any price. As long as you are happy with a 35mm equivalent focal length being your widest option.
I think the Leica was designed to be a heavy duty platform with which to show off the excellence of their lens line. It's a camera that seems most at home in the studio, on a tripod or applied toward a specific assignment. The kind of assignment that provides opportunity for total control of most photography parameters. Realistically, it's not the best street shooting camera and the weight of the camera, the weight of the usual lenses and the overall size profiles of the "best" combinations thereof fight the need for the camera to be transparent and agile for just walking around with a camera.
Sure, you can strip the SL2 down to its essentials. You can put the small and light Sigma 45mm f2.8 on the front to reduce the profile. You can use a wrist strap. You can minimize the menu options, etc. A good photographer, in sync with the SL2 can make great photos, but in a different way that one might with the X100V. When I use the SL2 for quick, instinctual photos on the fly, I have to make some mindset adjustments. There isn't enough flexibility in settings to make it a convincing/comfortable Jpeg camera. The settings for sharpness and contrast are coarse. Two settings above and two settings below the neutral/center position. None of the nuance provided by the Fuji. This means I must change gears and shoot my files in raw. But in raw there's no way to shoot a reduced resolution, full frame raw file. You're shooting in 47.5 megapixels every step of the way. There's also no ability to select between compressed and uncompressed raw files. So, if I want the color, sharpness, noise, saturation, and sharpening control in a Leica file I'm constrained to go for the whole enchilada of the hand's-off raw file. And I'm pretty sure that the designers in Germany wanted it this way.
In defense of the SL2 workflow, if you are inherently a raw shooter you'll more than likely love the camera because it presents a minimalist workspace that allows for concentration on getting the shot at the front end coupled with having complete control and an almost insane potential for high resolution quality in the post production back end. When you want that personality in a camera you'll find the Leica in the top tier. And, when I'm working on client jobs that's pretty much what I want. I crave a camera that's so over the top in image quality and post production potential that it works to safeguard me from my own mistakes and misjudgments in the field. The SL2, and a really great collection of lenses, is heaven for commercial work. At least the kind of commercial work I like to do.
But it just isn't as warm, friendly and enthusiastic as the X100V for the kind of work I crave for myself. That's why I have both.
Yesterday I took the little, silver finished X100V out for a walk with me. I have an older, Canon Powershot neck strap on the camera because it's such a well made strap and it's so "right sized" for this camera. For most of the time walking around and hanging out I wore the camera tourist style with the strap around the back of my neck and the camera square in the middle of my torso. Not the paranoid tourist style where the strap is over the neck and over one shoulder, all bandolier/cross body style; (otherwise known as fearful strap style).
When worn with the camera just hanging down right below one's chest (in tourist style) it's a simple movement to grab the camera with your right hand, operate controls with your left hand and grab a quick shot. Once the moment is passed you just let go of the camera and move on. No hysterics involved. No strap wrestling necessary.
If you walk with any grace at all your X100V will not bounce against your chest and call attention to itself. In fact, I think of it as a feedback loop device that helps teach one to walk smoothly.
The camera, when worn in that mode, looks like a cheesy tourist camera from the 1970's and no one pays attention to it. Worn in this way no one supposes that you are a devious journalist out to humiliate your subjects with unfairly revealing images. Not hiding the camera defuses the idea that you have nefarious goals for your picture taking and mimics the aspect of the happy tourist venturing about our fine town making photographs of his new discoveries. At least that's how it feels to me.
Yesterday I had fun just walking around with the camera. I've been practicing using the optical viewfinder with the bright frame lines. The biggest part of the practice is to turn off the image review and just trust that either I or the camera have judged the exposure and color correctly (enough) and to shoot just as fast as the camera can hit focus (which is pretty fast). It's a style of shooting that I used out of necessity when working with rangefinder film camera since there was no such thing as a post shot review or the representation of the frame with color and exposure overplayed in a preview mode. What I've found over time is that, unlike the way I worked with a camera like, say, the Mamiya 6, with which I framed and committed to the shot, then walked away, modern cameras that allow previews and reviews (like most of our digital cameras) break the cadence of fluid shooting. They introduce a fear of missing something we could have controlled because we now have the ability to instantly quality control each frame. So we do.
We stop the process of shooting, or anticipating shooting, in order to look at what we've done just a few seconds before. The act of interrupting the active process and looking at the finished frame also invites the ponderous part of our brain along for an instant critique of the shot. The brain hems and haws and suggests. Did you try this? Did you try that? Can I see it just a little wider/tighter? Could you step left/right and try it again? Are you sure that's the composition we want? Hey, human, can we try it again with a different focal length? Do we look funny doing all this stuff? Are people going to like this photo enough? Should we try it in black and white?
And the process of iterative re-evaluation puts a pillow over the face of subconscious creativity and attempts to smoother it. I can see with my experience using any number of digital cameras that, while looking at the potential image in an EVF there is an undeniable urge to start fine-tuning the image before I shoot it. To tweak the color or exposure. And there is another layer of indecision that comes from seeing the image in its "finished form" that manipulates the photographer into shutting down the usual interactive shooting process because "the image in the EVF is "exactly" what I want." Because, in my experience, the happy accidents created by continuing to shoot even after you feel you "have one in the bag" is one of the joyful aspects of loosening the tight grip of the need for control.
I'm liking the Fuji more and more as I use it more and more. With some cameras the charm is front-loaded and a few months later I'm looking for something new. With cameras like the Fuji I'm a bit diffident and stand-offish at first; almost challenging the camera to win me over, and then, months later I really don't understand how I could have lived without it.
Besides the optical viewfinder with the bright lines the other thing about the camera that endears me to it is the ability to use the in-camera crop to see a 50mm version of the file and to commit that to a Jpeg.
I have several wishes about the whole X100V line. First, I'd like to see several more models of the camera. Especially one on which the actual focal length is 35mm giving me a native 50mm equivalent lens, in full frame speak. It would be especially cool if the finder magnification was matched to that focal length. I would also like to see a version of the camera that's got a 14mm lens giving me a 21mm equivalent focal length. It would come bundled with a 21mm bright line optical finder that fits into the hot shoe. The combination of the 21mm and 50mm lensed cameras would be an amazing system for a super-light travel system for professional and addicted aficionados of quick photography.
Also, I would love for Fuji to lose the Q menu button altogether. It's poorly placed. They might consider what Leica have done for a quick menu. With the SL2 one press of the "menu" button brings up the user customizable quick menu. A second press of the button takes you to the full menu. It's a very elegant way t get rid of an extra button on the back of the camera which inevitably gets accidentally pushed just when you don't need or want it.
That's pretty much my complete wish list for the camera.
I bought a used one in chrome and always thought I'd like the black better. So when I had a little extra cash I picked up a black one as well. Now I have both and to be honest I always like shooting with the chrome one better. It's more "obviously" an amateur carry-around camera in appearance and because of that it's better ignored by most people on the street. The black looks really nice but the chrome matches my earliest perceptions of the "rightness" of cameras. I can't wait until Summer when the lighter finish of the chrome camera delivers more value by staying cooler in bright sun. Nice to have a choice.
Here's some photos from yesterday:
The photographer is not wearing a headlamp she is wearing a plastic face shield.
Shot next to the Austin City Limits Studio at the W Hotel.
Brushed metal for nice reflections at night.
This book was tossed in the car to look at while having coffee at the park.
I'd forgotten how bad the writing and commentary was but how
beautiful some of the black and white photos of famous fashion
models being casually nude were.
Austin is a patchwork of dead plants and plants that survived all odds.
A hardy little fellow down by the convention center.
Crusty, old photographer with a shiny camera. Face mask is from Van Gogh's "Starry Night."