Chrome Fuji X100V or Black Fuji X100V? Aesthetics versus Stealth? Also, winnowing down the number of cameras in house.

I've been making good progress on one of my goals for 2020; getting rid of a lot of the photography gear I no longer use. But it's amazing to even write a sentence about accomplishing goals for 2020 since the goal posts have continued to move throughout the year. 

Earlier in the year, after the shutdowns started, I made a contribution of video-oriented camera gear to Zach Theatre's marketing department. A camera, shotgun microphone, microphone pre-amp and mixer, a couple of LED lights with stands, and a big, fluid head tripod. It turns out that we had a lot of inventory redundancies and since it was prudent to keep as few people in the mix as possible working on projects there I thought it would be a good idea to train and equip a smart theater employee to do many of the video tasks I'd done in the past. It's worked out well.

It felt great to get rid of stuff and this mindset started me down the path of either downsizing or donating at every opportunity. I sold two duplicate Lumix S1x cameras and replaced them with one S1H. A lighter load overall but in the trade I ended up with a more capable camera for my own video work. 

While looking around the studio I saw that we had seven different electronic flash monolights and hadn't used more than two all the previous year. We packed up three, with modifiers, and donated them to a struggling school. I sold another one to an up and coming photographer.

I recently gifted and/or donated six different point and shoot digital cameras of various brands and vintages as well as a couple of micro four thirds camera and lens combinations. Young people love them. And, do I really need more than three m4:3 cameras? I'm left with the GH5, the GH5S and a G9. I wanted to thin the inventory more but those three are so addictive and effective I couldn't bear to let them go...

With three full frame Lumix S1x cameras and three Lumix m4:3 cameras plus the Sigma fp (fun) camera I think we're at our lowest stage of camera ownership since the film days. And today I also spun off a couple of big, heavy and mostly unused Sigma f1.4 Art lenses for the L-mount system while adding a used and comfortably priced 20-60mm Lumix lens back into the mix. I'm trying to make the system smaller and lighter than before while maintaining the core capabilities of the system. I still have some duplication in the full frame system; especially where zoom lenses are concerned. I have the 24-105mm, the 24-70mm S-Pro, and now the 20-60mm but each does something unique that I value so I'm stuck for now. 

Why get rid of the two big Sigma Art lenses? Mostly because they were enormous and heavy and I could not use either of them on a hand-holdable gimbal. But also, in the case of the 35mm Art lens, because in actual use the 24-70mm f2.8 is fast enough while being equally sharp and much more flexible.

I've just thinned out the aging collection of heavy and battered light stands and I'm down to one roll of grey seamless. The tripods though are like children and I can't decide which ones I like best and which ones need to head off to the tripod orphanage. At this pace I'll be down to the white walls,  the desk and a couple chairs by June.

But, of course, there is a flaw in the process. It came in the form of a random and unplanned purchase of a slightly used, Chrome Fuji X-100V. Now that I've adapted it to the way I like to use cameras it's triggered a different response from me than the previous X100's I've owned or used since 2011. It's growing on me quickly. I like the new lens hood I bought for it. I like its feel with the Sigma grip attached to the tripod socket. I even like the Canon PowerShot G shoulder strap I'm using on it.

The one remaining issue with the Fuji X-100V is this: It is available in two finishes. You can have it in a beautiful chrome finish which looks so much like the design and material of the classic Leica M3. Or, you can have it in a classic, black finish that's a bit stealthier and more like the Leica M6s I owned in the 1990s. 

I love the look of the chrome but I value the discreet charm of the black. Then a good rationale rushed to mind. I have often written that cameras should travel in matched pairs. Same batteries, same accessories, same storage medium. Why not get one of each?

I did buy a black one today to keep the chrome one company. Side by side I still can't decide which one I like best... I'll know more when I've had the chance to use the black one out and around. 

I guess you could interpret this as an admission that I like the X100V very much. The quality of the files is the effective tipping point. They're gorgeous.


Familiarity breeds attempt. I'm warming up to the Fuji X-100V. Setting a few things in the menu and adding an accessory or two helps. A lot.

Pounding the sidewalks and dragging a camera all over the place is the only way I know to warm up to a camera. You learn a little bit more every time you bump up against an impediment and dive into the menu in an attempt to fix the roadblock. Two physical things improved my handling of the new camera a lot. First, I added a Hoage lens hood to the camera. It's made of metal and fits well. Some won't like it because there's no neutral detent to let you know when you have it placed correctly. It can rotate. But it a very stiff fit and you'll know if you rotated it and you are still sentient. The defect this cured for me is that it kept me from inadvertently touching the lens with my greasy fingers. I'm sure it will theoretically increase the micro contrast and also impart some additional grooviness to the package but for now I'm happy with the degreasing technology. 

Metal Hood from a Company called "Hoage" on Amazon.com

The second thing I added was a small, dense handle that I originally bought for the Sigma fp, on a lark. It's designed to give you some additional grip on a small camera body and it screws into the tripod socket. The attachment is a small, dense knob that gives the index and middle finger of your left hand a place to grip that's safe and convenient. You won't be accidentally changing any settings. It also helps to add density to the camera to make it more stable during exposures.

A Sigma BG-11 grip. Bought for the fp but very useful on an X-100V.

I've also taken some time to go through the menu a number of times looking for settings that might make the camera nicer to operate, at least for me. I noticed that when I have the camera set to "S" for AF and the drive setting to single frame that the camera switches the OVF to EVF and blacks out while writing the file. Then it shows the file on the EVF if I have the camera up to my eye, or the LCD screen if I have the camera away from my eye. I was able to obviate the long black out by turning off the review function entirely. Now I shoot and if I want to "chimp" I hit the "play" button and the image comes up on the LCD screen (assuming I have the camera away from my eye...). The shooting operation and the playback operation can be set separately. That's a nice touch. 

I find that I chimp much less if I have to go to the button and take the extra step to review the file. I tried using the EVF instead of the OVF for general work but the EVF in no way matches the color or contrast of the rear LCD so I'm settling on using the OVF and enjoying the frame lines. 

If the camera is set up just to turn on when you bring it up to your eye you'll find the battery life is much extended over the default which is to just switch back and forth between the finder and the rear screen, depending on your proximity to the eyepiece switch. My method of using the OVF exclusively is much like the operation of my favorite, old Leica M rangefinder cameras. 

Note: middle and third finger of left hand resting on the Sigma BG-11 attachment...

Another feature I was very happy to master is the "digital tele-converter." Essentially, the camera is able to record a frame cropped into either a 50mm equivalent angle of view or a 70mm equivalent angle of view (in full frame speak). The cropped frame is interpolated in the camera so that all files appear as 26 megapixel files. Digital sleight of hand has been done to the files but it's actually hard to see without big enlargements on a sharp screen. The additional, nice part of this feature is that the 50 and 70mm "frames" are shown in the OVF, depending on which one you've selected. The framing area is commensurately smaller but then so are the framed areas in an $8.000 Leica rangefinder if you select longer focal lengths. 

One advantage of the OVF and the finder frame lines (which only show up one at a time --- depending on your focal length selection) is that you can see outside the frame which can help you anticipate objects coming into the composition. It's a nice plus. But....if you want to see each of the three focal lengths filling the entire eyepiece frame you can switch from OVF to EVF and each focal length will display itself magnified (or shrink-ified) to fill the eyepiece frame. I find I prefer the size differentiation in the OVF because it constantly informs me which one I have the camera set to. There is a symbol that shows up when you set the camera to 50 or 70 in the EVF or on the LCD screen. That's nice too. 

Let me backtrack for a second and admit that using the 35mm focal length on a rangefinder style finder seems more comfortable than using the same focal length on a more conventional finder like the ones in most mirrorless cameras, like the Lumix S1 or S5. I'm happier with the (dreaded) focal length on this camera than I usually am when shooting lenses in that class.

Once I mastered the non-blackout, non-review settings, figured out the digital teleconverter, remembered the different Fuji film simulations, got a decent hood on it and attached a weighty gripping surface from the tripod mount I started to feel more comfortable and less apprehensive about the camera's handling.

And that's good because I'm finding the combination of the camera's sensor and the improved (over previous models) lens to be a generator of some of the nicest files I've seen. I was thrown off balance at first because I assumed that the EVf would give me a fairly accurate representation of the final file but it doesn't come close enough. I supposed I can dial in the color in the settings menu but I couldn't find a control for gamma or contrast and for me that's just as important as getting the colors correct. Many people default to the EVF but it doesn't look like I'll be one of them.

While the focusing is pretty quick you have to know that I'm using the center sensor and using S-AF so I think we could all expect that focus would work as it should. Some day, for some reason, I'll try the focus tracking but it's not really the way I generally want to shoot with this kind of camera. I won't be doing sports with it so it seems a bit silly to get all worked up about slamming through a zillion frames while tracking an athlete running or otherwise doing kinetic stuff. I do like setting up the camera for street photography by setting the aperture to f8 or f11, setting the ISO to auto and figuring out a good hyperfocal manual focusing distance. Once you have all that set up you can generally just point the camera in the right direction at the right time and click the shutter. 

I do want to touch for just a few sentences on the exposure metering. Most of the time it "seems" a little hot or bright but I think that's a side effect of the meter being very accurate. I think we've come to expect metering to take into consideration light and dark scenes and automatically compensating for them. The X-100V doesn't seem to compensate in the same way. If I shoot a dark wall the camera aims for a neutral tone in the center of the grayscale. It's up to me to tweak it in one direction or another to compensate for light or dark scenes. I get a lot of use out of the EV dial and even though I've only done three, two hour long forays with the camera I'm getting a good sense of how much to compensate exposure based on how light or dark the scene in front of me might be. It works and it's very predictable and to me that means it's accurate. You just have to zero in your methodology based on getting to know the metering characteristics of this camera model.

Because of my previous experiences with Fuji cameras I seem to have over-bought on the 126S batteries. I have four of them. I could have called it quits with two since the camera is parsimonious with electricity. It's also chargeable via the USB-3 plug so I can pop in a cable while I'm driving somewhere and recharge fairly quickly. 
One my point of interest to me and then I'll let it rest for a while. I had some misgivings about buying a modern camera without image stabilization. I guess I've subconsciously bought into the hive prejudice that image stabilization is now as vital as being able to actually focus a camera. I've found that once I added a touchable extension to the bottom of the camera and practiced my old rangefinder stance I've been able to photograph non-moving objects at hand held shutter speeds down to about 1/15th of second with consistently good results. Couple that with a fast, sharp lens, a zero vibration body and fairly noise free ISOs to past 6400 and all of a sudden, for the most part, I.S. becames inconsequential. Would I like to have it? Sure. But for almost everything I'd use this camera for we'll have more than enough light to allow for high enough shutter speeds as necessary. Perhaps the whole design of the camera and the lens has a tighter integration between them that makes files sharper from the get go. It's a thought. 

So, am I regretting having bought the X100V? Not in the least. It's a good, little camera that reminds me in a very nice way of the years I spent shooting rangefinder cameras in the film days. It's simple, direct, non-threatening and fun. Just work to personalize the menu and the physical touch points and it works like a champ. More to come later. More photos below. As always, click to enlarge. 

that 70mm focal length is nice to have. 
Yes, I know I can crop in post. I could macramé my own car seats too, if I had the inclination. 



Walking downtown with Anne.


Anne and I worked together for a number of years a couple decades ago. I had a commercial studio just east of downtown in a sprawling complex filled with ad agencies and creative types from every discipline. Anne worked as my photographic assistant and studio manager. She was, at heart, an academic and I loved it when she would correct my attempts to pronounce French words, or when I used an English word incorrectly. We had so many photographic adventures together that they all start to blur together.

At a certain point she had learned enough to go out on her own, and she'd heard all my lame jokes and stories too many times, so she worked hard to establish herself as a wedding photographer. She did well in that part of the business until the big downturn of 2008 and, seeing the writing on the wall, enrolled in nursing school at UT Austin and never looked back. She now has her masters degree and works in public health. 

But we developed a friendship back in the 1990s that's stood the test of time. We get together once a month when we can to drink coffee and catch up. I get advice from Anne, she gets to see what would have happened to her had she stayed in the photography business. And we're both unredeemable coffee snobs.

We used to sit in coffee shops for our chats but lately, in deference to Covid, we've been meeting at my favorite park. I bring the Adirondack chairs and she brings an endurance for my "wit" and ersatz conversation. 

We got in touch with each other last week to set a date for coffee and decided that today would work for both. But instead of meeting at the park Anne wanted to walk with me through "my" downtown. We made a plan to meet at Epoch Coffee which is just across the lake from Zach Theatre. She was on time. I was a few minutes late. She had a latté with minimal foam. I had a drip coffee with just a splash of cream.

As we walked along through the city I realized that walking in urban spaces isn't something everyone does! She hadn't been intentionally downtown in years. The profusion of new buildings surprised her. The clarity of the light was different than it is in the neighborhoods and suburbs. At some point it occurred to me that even the most observant and connected people mostly spend their time going to and from work, shopping for groceries and running errands. That walking with leisure through a space for no other reason than to observe and absorb the feel of the environment is a luxury that few people can do on a routine basis.

I carried the new Fuji X-100 V, which I am adamant I will master and learn to love; or at least like well enough. I took the image above over 20 years ago and it's one of my favorites. I took the photos just below with the new camera and they are over 20 minutes old.

Reflecting on my relationship with Anne over the past nearly 30 years makes it clear to me that a component of my work has always been a leisurely approach to each sitting. It's when I rush the process that everything falls apart. 

Our walk was well paced today. We stopped to look in store windows. I stopped to say, "hi" to a nice homeless guy I met when he was sitting on a bench a few weeks ago charging his collection of electronics. I am reminded that it's the act of walking that has the value, not souvenirs like photographs. That's a whole different thing.

the Fuji does 35mm.

the Fuji does 70mm.

the Fuji does 50mm. 

The image below is one I took a year or so ago, in my front yard. Anne needed a casual portrait for a work project and I was happy to try one. It was early evening in the Summer and the mosquitos feasted on our exposed ankles until we couldn't stand it any more and we retreated into the house.

I change camera systems a lot. I try never to change out friends. Especially superlative ones.




That weird feeling of looking into the gear cabinet and realizing that you've accumulated four Canon Powershot G series cameras. Along with a smattering of batteries. Time to take one mobile.

Here's a sticker on the plaza at the theater. 
The county has raised the Covid alert level to it's highest. 
The theatre was forced to shutter the rest of the holiday performances 
they were doing outside to comply. I hope 2021 is a year of 
recovery and happiness. 

Point and shoot cameras. Endlessly maligned. Now almost almost extinct. But why? And when did every photograph have to be taken with a full frame, state of the art, Uber-camera? I do my fair share of hauling around big cameras and bigger lenses but there is always a time and place for a small, efficient and highly portable camera as well. 

I have to confess that I have a soft spot in my heart for many of the PowerShot cameras that Canon has made, dating all the way back to the 4 megapixel G2 introduced back in the early digital ages. I find them to be the spiritual continuation of the most wonderful camera I ever owned; the Canonet QL 17. A wonderful film camera with a great 40mm f1.7 lens. Outfitted with a 36 exposure roll of Tri-X I always felt that camera was an extension of my own vision and not a separate tool.

Today, after trying to like a new digital camera for the better part of the week, I took a break and went out for a Christmas Eve walk around Austin with a "vintage" G16. Marvelous. And easy and competent. I felt like a beginner with a cheat sheet...

It's been a really nice evening. Belinda made au gratin potatoes and I grilled ribeye steaks. We made a salad of broccoli, kale and cabbage with a sprinkling of mixed nuts and dried cherries. Belinda made a chocolate torte. A good friend dropped by a bottle of Stag's Leap Cab. It was all delicious. Then we capped off the evening watching our favorite holiday movie, "Love Actually." It gets better every year.

Even on the years that are otherwise crappy. 

I hope you are happy, well, safe, in love, rich and beautiful. Even if you can check just a few of the blanks you'll be doing fine. The only important one is to be in love. Actually.