My Thoughts on Street Photography, the Fuji X Trans System, and Firmware 4.0
"Three Plus One, Powell and Market, 2015"
In a departure from my usual effort to stay away from gear talk, after getting "re-acquainted" with my Fuji X-T1 recently I thought I'd share my experiences and comments on the "new" Fuji with firmware 4.0.Why "re-acquainted"? I have had every Fuji "X-Trans" street camera of significance, budget permitted.I bought the first X100, the first X-Pro1, and the first X-T1.
Although I captured some strong street images with these cameras, some of which I'm very proud of, the cameras continuously let me down time and time again. Slow or failed autofocus, sleepy wake up times, and general sloppy response. Although I loved the pictures I created with this camera when it cooperated, I also lost a graet many great shots waiting for Fuji's street cameras to "catch up with the moment".
By this I mean we all know it is important to anticipate a street scene, to conceptualize a photograph, to very quickly respond physically, altering our location and/or exposure settings to be ready as fast as one can.I think my best example of sheer frustration and hatred of the early Fuji street cameras is best summarized by this example:
The year 2008. Paris. Fuji X100. Muslim woman begging on street. French paratroopers on patrol a half a block away walking into the scene. I quickly moved close to the scene, got down low sitting on the sidewalk, set my composition, and awaited the soldiers, heavily armed, to enter my composition. Note: French paratroopers do NOT want pictures taken of them. They are quite direct in shooing photographers away. I knew I had only three frames and two seconds to get the shot, knowing the soldiers wouldn't tolerate anymore. Get ready! Get set! I can already SEE the print. This is so great! Now, take the shot! Nothing. Focus failure.Lag. Sleepy time. Call it what you want. No photos. Glares from soldiers, a potential confrontation in a foreign country. All for nothing. I sold the X100. Three years later, and I have not forgotten that missed shot.
Fast forward. It's2011. Musée d'Orsay, Paris. This time: A Fuji X Pro-1. As I wait in line to enter the museum a group of children are playing "tag" nearby. In the distance a group of,you guessed it, French Paratroopers, bristling with heavy weapons, walking towards the children. Redemption! I anticipate the convergence of the two groups. The innocence and the tragedy of our times. I move. I compose. I set focus and controls. I repeat the mantra "I will not miss it this time!".T he composition comes together better than I had hoped! Not only do the children and the soldiers converge, but the kids begin to run under, between, around, and through the legs and rifle barrels of the these "Legionnaires of Freedom". Alas, pressing the shutter I get all sorts of issues, mostly slow lazy focusing, and shots firing a moment too late over and over. I spend the next several seconds chasing focus, failing to keep focus lock and composition, doing ANYTHING to catch some sort of substitute focus. Failure. The glares from the French troops tell me they are not pleased, so I stop. My Fuji has failed me. Again. I did my part as a street photographer. I anticipated the shot. I got in position with my tools set. The "tool" failed". The moment had passed. The Fuji will never be trusted again. The X-Pro1 sits on a shelf. I spend the next year shooting exclusively with my Canon EOS 5d's.
Enter the X-T1. Promises. Slick, oh so slick, advertising. I buy. I spend a few street outings with the camera, but find nothing has really improved. I'm finding my "tool" is still the limiting factor in obtaining shots. So much so that when I found myself forced to cover a spontaneous news story for a wire service I work for with the only camera I had with me, the X-T1, I ended up getting bashed by my editor who saw the drop in image quality (I had been forced to crop the images, and they simply didn't hold up). Add the fact that again I had as many missed shots as I can ever remember, and I knew the X-T1 was going on the shelf with it's brother. Fool me once, fool me twice, I had asked for thirds and I got just what I deserved.
Summer. 2015. Fuji Firmware 4.0.
Nothing will be the same. Every feature of the camera has been improved. It's simply a totally new camera. Fast autofocus. Simple, fast, intuitive features. No more "exposure compensation" that isn't. No more system lag. No more "this that and the other thing" standing between me and my photos. Nirvana. Simple, utter, nirvana. I see the shot. I move to place myself. Suddenly it's just me "In the Moment". Not "me and this stupid brick fighting my every move". Just me and my vision. "Click, click, click..."
Firmware 4.0 and the Fuji X System has finally caught up. The Fuji X-T1 with firmware 4.0 is a FAST and VERY RESPOINSIVE street camera. It is capable of creating images, when in the right hands, that rival anything. A weekend of shooting and not once did I miss a shot due to the camera taking naps. Just a fantastic, fun, and intuitive time was had with the Fuji XT-1.
Fuji, you really got it right!
That being said, X systems remain very unforgiving to sloppy technique. Images will not tolerate cropping. This is NOT a Canon 5D MKIII. You need to fill the frame, and this requires tenacity and hard work when shooting "street" with "wide" lenses. Fill the frame and get close and the X-T1 delivers! The camera has no crutches, no tricks to bail you out if your technique is lacking. In fact I would say that unless your technique, your grasp of all things "street", isn't there, you may find the camera is mean and nasty. Ah, but when you "hit all the notes", when it all comes together, the camera will not disappoint. The RAW files are a joy to work on. The "latitude'", especially in the highlights, it a real pleasure.The files are clean and sharp, work up easy, and out of the box jpegs are usually close to perfect.
Lastly, I had an opportunity to use the X100s, and it too is significantly faster and improved in every respect. I'm guessing the newer X100T is even better. I see a black one in my future.
My DSLR is now back where it belongs, doing professional work when the presence of a big DSLR isn't a hindrance and I need the best image I can possibly get as fast as I can get it, while leaving me "headroom" with massive files to correct less than perfect technique. Where my DSLR does not belong is photographing city street scenes. The DSLR attracts attentions and confrontation, something we all want to avoid when out photographing. For me street photography is once again the province of X-Trans and all it's siblings.
More Fuji X-T1 San Francisco street photos here:
Hi Peter, thanks for posting this. I too felt the pain of missing many shots with the X-Pro 1. That camera body was a truly miserable user experience. I dumped it on eBay. More recently, I've been looking at the new Sony A7ii, then I think back on my experience with Fujifilm. Lesson learned: don't jump into a new camera system; it takes several years for manufacturers to refine bodies, tweak firmware, and produce a line of lenses. In any case, I'm heartened by your comments regarding the X-T1 with the 4.x firmware. Thanks!
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