July 16th, 2011
The Fuji X100 my best portrait camera?
Every now and then a bit of photographic kit comes along that changes the way I see and capture my world. My first digital SLR camera in 2001 gave me instant feedback and removed the risks associated with creative exposure. Some ten years on and my Canon 100mm f/2.8 L IS macro lens became another of those things that changed my photography for the better. The combination of the perfect focal length for portraits, lightness, image stabilisation, a pin sharp image even wide open and the ability to get right in close is a winning formula for successful portrait making.
This post is about neither of those magic bits of kit it is about a compact camera. There are a great many compact cameras out there but none other seems to quite have the winning combination of the Fujifilm X100. It’s not just the excellent technical specification sheet that gives this camera a place in my life. It’s the unthreatening and unobtrusive nature of the camera that allows me a more candid interaction with my subjects.
I’m not here to praise or knock any camera system, just to report my findings. The technical specification of the X100 reads more like that of a DSLR than a compact camera. It has a large APS sized 12mp sensor. The high ISO performance of the X100 is fabulous and shots right up to ISO 3200 are surprisingly good. However, the X100 has a fixed 23mm lens (35mm equivalent on full frame) that is perfectly matched to the sensor.
Modern day classic
I marvelled at the Fiat 500 when it was reengineered into it’s modern day guise and the rest of the world did too. It has certainly been a recession beater, and according to Clarkson, far more successful than the other ‘revival’ cars like the VW Beetle, and the BMW Mini. The Fiat 500 is a car with soul, you can’t help but love it, faults and all. A bit like the Fujifilm X100 then. A camera with aching good looks, oodles of style, and more pull than an iPad in the first week of it’s launch. To quote Clarkson’s description of the Fiat 500 “It is cheeky, non threatening without being pathetic. It’s practical without being boring.” And I think that sums up the Fujifilm X100 too. You come away from a shoot not wanting to put it down. I have it right next to me now as I type and I often pick it up and shoot a couple of frames. I’ll photograph anything with it for the buzz I get and to better learn it’s characteristics.
My daughter Francesca loves the X100 too and is often taking self portraits with it. She has never shown any interest in the other cameras I own including my trusty compact Canon G10 but the Fuji is irresistible. It’s chic, it’s cool and people of all ages, not just photographers, love it. I used it on a portrait job last week and the 8 year old daughter of my client kept reaching out for my little camera.
I’m not an ambassador for any camera company and I gladly pay full price for my kit. This means I can choose to use any cameras or lenses out there, and I certainly choose to spend my hard earned cash wisely. I am fortunate enough to have both a Nikon D700 camera and a Canon 5Dmk2 with a full range of top shelf lenses for both systems. I like to think I am fairly fast with both DSLR systems and I can react to capture a moment as it happens. It is for this reason I have always found compact cameras to be frustrating with slow start up times coupled with slow and inaccurate auto focus. The X100 is a great leap forward on that score but still not quite at the response time of the top DSLRs.
I started to get to know my X100 by using the shooting mode that I am most familiar with; full manual exposure combined with auto focus. I soon realised however that it was never going to work. I struggled to get the exposure right and I found accessing the three exposure parameters a bit of a hassle and certainly not as easy as a DSLR. So I rethought my method of shooting and because I’m a problem solver by nature, there was a burning desire to make this camera work for me.
I have finally sussed out how to set the X100 for my way of shooting.
Here are my shooting settings and why I use them.
1. Auto ISO. I’ve never used this function with a DSLR but with the Fuji it just works so well. I set my parameters to max out the ISO at 1600, although 3200 is still fairly useable, and a minimum shutter speed of 1/60th. I set the base ISO at 400 because the shots at ISO400 are so stunning there seems no reason to go lower.
2. Aperture priority. I set my lens to f/2, it’s widest setting and leave it there. The shutter speed dial is set to A and that is it. When it is too bright for the parameters I have set I use the inbuilt 3 stop ND filter. I’ve set my programable Fn button to be a quick access to the ND facility.
3. Fine JPG plus RAW. The Jpegs this little camera produces are sublime. Most of the time I use the monochrome film simulation with green filter mode. I shoot RAW as well as Jpeg because I occasionally want to change a picture to colour at a later stage and I want my screen to show monochrome at the time of shooting.
4. Optical and electronic viewfinder. I switch between them as they are both excellent. For moving subjects I use the optical viewfinder and for static shots the electronic viewfinder is perfect. A really cool feature shows you the shot you have just taken in the viewfinder even if you are in the optical mode. There is a heads up display on both viewfinder modes that is incredibly sharp and detailed. It seems that we have finally reached a time where technology is delivering us screen resolutions that are sufficient.
Before deciding to go with the Fuji I considered the far more expensive Leica X1 and the cheaper smaller sensor alternatives from Olympus and Panasonic. I did my research carefully and after more than a fair amount of pixel peeping it was fairly easy for me to identify the Fujifilm X100 as my next camera.
I must admit the little Fuji camera blew me away at first with it’s speed of focussing and shooting. I was not expecting such a useable package. During my first shoot I found that the X100 was quicker at focusing in a dark cafe than my Canon 5Dmk2 with it’s f/1.2 50mm lens. Subsequent shoots with the fuji have highlighted a few focussing weaknesses but I’ve learned how to overcome those so it is still a great performer in my view.
For my intimate portraits on location there is no better tool. I love the fact that people think it is a bit of a toy and they leave their guard down. When a big SLR comes out of the camera bag it changes the personal dynamic completely. The Fuji X100 is almost silent and fast to use. Seemingly every picture I take has a story to tell and a lot of my X100 pictures could even be seen as art.
I will now spend a few months to find my ‘looks’ with this camera and I’ll further develop a post production system for it too. At the moment I import and select the RAW files in Photo Mechanic discarding the jpegs. I then develop the RAW files in Lightroom, export in 16 bit and further adjust in Photoshop. I might eventually add a film grain look too. I love the clean look of Neopan 400 film and the gritty look of it’s sister 1600 emulsion. Maybe a pair of post production looks is what I will eventually choose to use.
You can see some full res pictures and read my first findings on the X100 here
I then updated my first findings here
I ventured into colour this week and here are some of my first colour frames.
Please feel free to comment or add your ouw experiences with the Fuji X100 below.
EVENT NEWS: Join me and Chris at the Manchester Hilton in January 2013 for a styled portraiture training workshop exclusively for Fuji X series owners. Set in the gorgeous surroundings of the Deansgate Hilton Hotel this will be a day of fun and creativity with like-minded individuals. To learn more and to book online click here.