Forgotten Friends, the 'Year Old' Camera
Hey Folks, it's been a long time since I had the energy to write anything here but I thought you might like to hear about a trip I made to Bangkok recently with the now very unfashionable Fuji X10. I am continually amazed nowadays at how quickly cameras come and go and it only seems like yesterday that I was eagerly awaiting the launch of this super-sexy little cam and Fuji's nice ad campaign really had me wanting one. However, some major travel and expense came along at that time so somehow I passed it by but I never forgot the impact that the look and apparent usability of the camera had on me so when I got the chance of one recently for S$ 450 (US$365) I jumped at it, and believe me, what a bargain I got. Here is Steve's review for those of you that may have already forgotten it :) Steve Huff X10 Review:
So just what exactly attracted me so much about the camera given that it was picking up some mediocre reviews and some folks were making a big issue out of the 'white disk' sensor problem? Well firstly, this is one beautifully made and designed camera, it just oozes quality. The black finish is very understated and with the lack of front logos, very discreet as well. The metal lens cap is something I thought I would dislike but it turned into a key feature for me. I usually put a lens hood on my cams only to protect the lens from knocks as I don't believe in putting a filter in front of good glass. I quickly developed a workflow where I can whip off the cap, turn the lens to 35mm and start shooting very quickly indeed. which leads me on to the other key feature for me and that is the phenomenal lens which serves to switch on the camera and then manually zooms all at fast apertures if you want. I find that I have judged the 'twist and on' movement so that I end up spot on 35mm at which I can shoot at a reasonably fast f2.2 in low light. Really classy design, well done Fuji, none of that dreaded zoom hunting that plagues small cameras.
One of the criticism I always read about with small cameras and M43 is that there is no great depth of field possible for blurring backgrounds, I am at a total loss to understand this, I want all of the depth of field I can get !!!! Take the above shot which was taken underneath a motorway overpass in the Klong Toey slum area of Bangkok and the light was not as good as it might look in the photo. I was very close to this guy and shooting at a wider aperture than my ideal for the shot in mind, but I desperately wanted to keep the people in the background at least enough in focus to be discernible, particularly the old guy with the little baby. I almost made it but this kind of shot would be impossible at wide apertures on a DSLR, I know its not what everyone wants but I think its really important to show context and other important elements that make the subject come alive.
While in Bangkok I was able to speak to Magnum photographer Nikos Economopoulos about this very subject and he told me that he only ever uses two ISO settings with his Leica M9, 640 for daylight and 1250 in poor light, the reason for this was simple, he wanted to shoot at F11 or at worst F8 as often as possible so that he could arrange the elements clearly in his photos. I know this will surprise many people but I also believe that for a documentary style its better to shoot at smaller apertures if you can and the more depth of field the better.
While on the subject of Bangkok areas to shoot in, all of the shots shown so far were taken in the slum area of Klong Toey which is easily reached by train from the central areas of Bangkok. Although poor I found the people to be very tolerant and gracious to me at all times (even when they were very drunk !!!)
Back to the X10 and its not my intention to re-iterate a review of the camera as, given its age, its been reviewed many times by people better qualified than me. What I want to do is let you know how I found it in terms of usability for documentary style photography and I have to say that it performed better than I expected and I have grown to really like the camera. Although I mess about with and own many cameras, very few of them make it into the 'loved' category but this little beauty certainly has. It is one of the few cameras that I like to use with a wrist strap and it seems to fit perfectly into my hand and, as I said, I have developed a shooting workflow where I can have the lens cap off, turned it on at 35mm and be shooting extremely quickly. This is very important to me and that usability factor along with the manual control for exposure comp really makes this cam work for me.
Surprisingly for such a small sensor, the X10 handles difficult light really well and the dynamic range appears to be better than I would have imagined. I also mentioned the exposure comp dial and it works seamlessly with the rear screen to allow you to see the result of your adjustments. This isn't unique to the X10 of course but is an extremely useful aspect of electronic screens and viewfinders. I used to use a Nikon D3 for just about everything I shot and I picked it up recently and was shocked at how stone age it felt with the DSLR mirror slap and noisy shutter.
I dont use it often but, as many reviewers have pointed out, the Fuji cameras are really classy when it comes to balancing light when you use the in cam flash. Take the above shot for example which was just completely impossible without a little help form the pop up flash on the X10. I think you can see how very bright it was behind the couple but the flash dealt with it very nicely indeed.
One of the other criticisms of the X10 was of the optical viewfinder and its slightly narrow view and lack of any shooting information. For me I have found that I mainly prefer to use the screen to compose and that allows me to 'grab' shots like the one above where I see something that is going to change very quickly but I can lift the camera to above eye height, frame and shoot very quickly. Its almost like using a giant rangefinder where you have complete visibility of everything around you but can frame what you want. The criticism of the VF is I think pretty fair but its not at all unusable and you quickly learn to trust the focus if you leave the focus point on centre and recompose so for me its no big deal. There is a somewhat strange effect here that I noticed in myself though and that is that I seem to adapt to the camera rather than have a totally fixed personal style. Let me try to explain, I also have and often use a Fuji X100 (another loved cam) but I very seldom use the rear screen and almost always use the viewfinder because it works so well. With the X10, whether its to do with size or whatever, I find that I use the viewfinder less and shoot maybe 75% of shots with the screen and I am entirely comfortable with this.
A final comment on the usability of the X10. Most of you will have noticed by now that I have shot all of these in a 1:1 or square crop. This is something that I struggle to be able to explain and it doesn't always work as you lose the narrative effect that comes with 3:2 however, somehow I find that I can get nice tight expressive framing with it and I find that it defines the main subjects better for the way I have been shooting. With the X10, like many other cameras, its so easy to set the camera to square and compose that way on the screen safe in the knowledge that you will have a 3:2 RAW file if you get it wrong. In terms of shooting approach then, I set the camera on square, RAW + Fine jpg and the B&W film effect with a yellow filter. This wont work for everyone but it certainly produces the results that I am looking for and gives me the RAW insurance policy if I need to re-crop.
I would like to pull this together now and one of the things I hope this little article does is make people think about the 'year old' camera if they are thinking of changing gear. Its very clear to me that models are changing so quickly now that the previous models are just nothing short of extraordinary value. I have now seen the X10 for sale in Singapore used and in exceptional condition for S$ 350 (about US$280) and that includes the good quality fuji case that came with the camera !!! Similarly the X100 is down to S$700 (US$560) these are incredibly good if not great cameras and they can be picked up for the price of a cheap DSLR lens !!!!
Having said that, I am as prone as the next guy to marketing and my mind is already a whirl at the thought of new X20's and X100S :) its such fun though to pay small money for a camera that can deliver great results for you. Just ignore the forum talk about image quality, lens sharpness and all of that guff, find a cam that you like to use and focus on the content, light and form of your shots, the results will be much more satisfying.
Well that's about it folks. I am very pleased to return to posting and I really hope this was interesting for at least some of you. If anyone would like to see more in this style I have three free ebooks that can be downloaded from Blurb here Colin ebooks. The process is very simple, just log in (or create a free account) add the books to your cart, check out (remember its free) and Blurb will send you the link to download to Iphone or Ipad. I have found that the app looks better on the iphone.
I have an upcoming trip booked to Sicily for the Easter festivals there and will be spending some time in Rome on the way back so I should have some more material and experiences to discuss soon.
in the meantime, safe travels and happy shooting.