My first serious camera was a Russian made Zenith EM in the late 1970′s. It was a joy to use, completely manual in operation, delightfully tactile and it did what it said on the tin. Now, over 30 years later, using high-end Fuji Compact System Cameras (CSCs) has re-ignited a passion. Over the last 2 years, when not shooting fine-art landscapes I’ve enjoyed the occasional dalliance with street photography using the Fuji X100. This is a wonderful camera to use, a superb ‘carry around’, and the fixed focal length lens is ideally suited to street photography.
Far from feeling restricted by having a fixed focal length lens, it is unexpectedly liberating to be forced into using a set focal length. For an old-hand like me who spent years wet-processing and working exclusively in black & white, the X100 is an epiphany. How refreshing to use a camera with manual selection of shutter speed and aperture using traditional dials, rather than having to suffer the modern distraction of interfacing with electronics. Of course, under the bonnet, there are all the advantages of modern electronics and digital alchemy; it’s just nicely hidden for most of the time.
Couple this fantastic experience of image gathering with state of the art creative black & white processing algorithms found in Nik’s Silver Efex Pro, and you have a winner. Miles of enjoyment walking the streets, black & white creative heaven.
Despite the life-changing qualities of the X100 for street-photography (it’s quite possibly still the finest street-photography camera available bar none), for other genres there are obvious advantages in having interchangeable lenses. When I first held a Fuji X-Pro1 I was smitten. This was a camera that surpassed the already amazing X100 in specification, with the important addition of interchangeable lenses. The X-Pro1 has an improved APS-C sized X-Trans sensor that mimics the structure of silver halide film and lacks an anti-alias filter to provide the sharpest possible results. Fuji have kept the hybrid viewfinder that allows switching between the more traditional optical or electronic function, similar to that found on the X100.
They have also kept the same design when it comes to controlling the camera, the exposure controls are traditional, just like the dials on old film cameras, shutter-speed is selected from a dial on the top-plate and aperture from a selection ring on the lens. Choosing ‘A’ on either the shutter-speed dial or aperture selection ring puts either, or both functions into automatic selection mode. Depending on the combinations of selections made, the camera can therefore be set to fully manual (with neither dial set to ‘A’), shutter-priority (with manual selection of appropriate shutter-speed and aperture ring set to ‘A’), aperture-priority (manual selection of aperture and the shutter-speed dial set to ‘A’) or fully automatic (with both dials set to ‘A’). In addition to these offerings, there is automation of ISO up to a pre-defined maximum, should you wish to accept it.
So on a practical level, this camera has the traditional heritage and intimate functionality of an old rangefinder coupled with the best modern technology available.
When electronic interaction is necessary, it can all be accessed from a clever ‘Q’ button, that instantly shows all the important settings laid out in a grid like fashion on the LCD. It is then simple to navigate between the various settings and make appropriate changes without trawling through the kind of badly designed menus found on so many other cameras.
With their lens choices, Fuji have provided the ‘icing on the cake’, a bespoke set of high-end lenses, designed specifically as a perfect match. The image quality of the Fujinon XF prime lenses is exceptional, as the incredible quality of the X100 would lead you to anticipate, but now there is a lens for every occasion. Rather than go for the zoom, as I might have done had I not experienced using the prime on the X100, I selected the three original prime lenses to complement the X-Pro1. My kit comprises the 18mm f/2.0, the sublime 35mm f/1.4 and the 60mm f/2.4.
The whole kit fits inside a tiny Kata HandsFree-493DL waist bag and the compact Manfrotto MKC3-H01 is a lightweight but stable tripod companion. When compared to my heavy SLR kit-bag and necessary larger tripod, the weight of this CSC kit pales into insignificance.
For a baptism of fire (literally) I ventured out into the darkness with my new CSC kit to photograph our local firework display. The experience could not have been more pleasurable. Considering I spent most of my time shooting in near darkness, the camera functioned flawlessly. It was as intuitive as it gets, leaving me to enjoy the experience of photography without the distraction of worrying how to make adjustments.
The Kata waist bag was much more useable than the rucksack used for my DSLR. It was no hindrance to leave it attached around my waist with the bag in front of me. As it’s name suggests, it allowed some hands-free support while changing lenses.
As I put the Fujinon primes through their paces, within around half an hour, the camera started to feel like an extension of me, the ultimate accolade for any camera. I was able to control every aspect of it’s function by just using the mechanical controls on the camera or by quick access to settings using the ‘Q’ button (the design of genius). The Fuji X-Pro1 is without any doubt the most intuitive camera I have ever used. True, I have had time to get used to the X100, so the experience might not be so fluid for the first time user, but ergonomically and by design this is a very special camera.
The event was crowded with hundreds of people and children running about everywhere in the dark. I don’t know if I would have persevered using my larger DSLR kit, certainly I would not have taken my back-pack. As the fireworks were about to start, I attached the X-Pro1 to the tripod with legs fully extended and stood on the bank awaiting the action. The hardest thing about photographing fireworks is trying to predict where they will explode and composing the image accurately. You have to fly by the seat of your pants and be prepared to change exposure settings and composition very quickly as the conditions dictate. I screwed an old-fashioned cable release into the X-Pro’s shutter-release button, ooh the nostalgia of it all, the Bonfire Party band were playing Rolling Stones tracks in the background as we all waited for the show to begin. As the fireworks started, I set the ISO to the X-Pro’s native value of 200 and set the aperture to f/11. I turned the shutter-speed to ‘B’ (bulb mode) and pressed the cable-release, tactile photographic heaven! I started counting the seconds in my head, intending an initial test exposure of 20 seconds as the fireworks started exploding. I needn’t have bothered, because this is the 21st century, as might be expected Fuji have thought of everything, a timer illuminated the LCD screen on the back of the camera to enable a more accurate estimation of exposure. After 20 seconds I quickly examined the histogram and determined I needed to open up by a stop to achieve correct exposure. The image on the LCD showed me how to adjust my composition and I was sorted. I had the best time making a series of long exposures as the fireworks exploded overhead.
After the firework display had finished, my attention turned to the crowd gathered around the huge bonfire, I changed lenses and attached the 60mm f/2.4. I wanted to make an image that captured the essence of ‘bonfire night’ and I considered under-exposing the crowd to create a silhouette with the bonfire as the backdrop. I wanted to use a slow exposure to blur the flames slightly, without losing their form completely, so I dialled in various exposures and examined the results on the LCD. This exposure of 0.5 seconds captured the moment perfectly, freezing the crowd but allowing some blurring of the flames.
The most surprising aspect of this first date with the X-Pro1 was how much I enjoyed myself. Despite this being a new camera, I was functioning automatically, intuitively. This isn’t an inexpensive camera, but the feeling I get when using it is priceless, and for a fine-art photographer this translates into creativity. I love it!