The Fuji X100 Series, Long Term Thoughts

This post is really a stealthy backdoor into part III of my right and wrong series of posts. Meaning any notion of right and wrong have everything to do with what you are trying to portray rather than merely a technical exercise. I’ll attempt to blend that together with a few radically nutty thoughts on why camera reviews no matter what they say are meaningless as well as truisms that are also complete lies about all cameras being the same.

Everything Is A Nail

Let’s take the last point first. When all ya got is a hammer… everything appears to be a nail. Shaking that up a bit if all ya gots is nails then whatever you have turns into a hammer. A rock, a screwdriver, even a camera. So sure I can set up a situation where I’ll make the same exact picture no matter what camera you hand me. That’s the nail.

On the other hand how you shoot, how you feel, what constraints you are under or not have a lot to do with the way your pictures look. Try to maintain an open mind as I’m not prescribing a better or worse — that’s for you to decide and that’s the absolutely most challenging and most interesting part of photography for me and I would guess may others even if it’s not right now it probably will be unless you get stuck somewhere in a never ending loop of gear goodness or whatever.

The Fuji X100 Series and Film Cameras

I’m sure I pointed out a serious flaw with all of the X100 cameras at some point. Doesn’t matter which one, they all absolutely impose a limit to how fast you can take the next picture after the last one. I won’t go into why and if you don’t think so you haven’t used a camera anywhere near as fast a trigger as say just about any higher-end DSLR in the last decade. Hell Fuji themselves list something around half a second minimum shot to shot time.

I pointed this flaw out because shooting any the X100/X100S/X100T side by side it’s quite obvious and if that happens to be important on any particular equation then it’s a giant issue. Then again it can be a huge influence in a positive way if you embrace constraints instead of seeking to eliminate every single one as they present themselves. Eliminating all constraints ensuring every situation should be the same and look the same is possibly a wrong headed notion. It just might be pure arrogance to believe that you know right here and now what particular thing is “best” for every image you’re ever going to want to make. It’s also arrogant to believe that you can and will decide the same things if you don’t have constraints.

This shot to shot time limitation similar to a film camera that needs to be wound after a shot can be met two ways. First might be “this things sucks” and can’t be made to work. The second is treating it as if you were shooting film sans motor drive — which is how I’ve always shot film. Looking at it the second way and living within that constraint will absolutely cause you to shoot your subject a little bit differently. It’s one of the many reasons I still shoot film cameras here and there.

How might it change things up? First of you are put into a different state of mind whether you want to be or not. You hold off on hitting that shutter a bit more and wait for the exact right moment. Some times you win, sometimes you don’t. Once in this zone you also start to tune in just a bit more setting up the framing and focus and waiting for what you expect to see. If you’re wrong you might end up firing anyway without re-focusing, reframing, etc. The way you make decisions changes maybe in subtle ways, and possibly in major ways. This absolute has an effect on what images you make.

The Feedback Loop

Here’s the punchline; Using different cameras that have differing behaviors, constraints, and characteristics not only influence how you approach a subject when using them those approaches tend to bleed over or at least cross your mind even when you are not using the same camera.

Obviously a camera that can fire of exposures as fast as you hit the button might cause you to feel hemmed in when you first pick up the slower shot to shot camera — hence a possible negative initial reaction. Going the other way around definitely tends to influence the way you use the fast camera. In my own case those things are not permanent and I tend to require a relatively frequent feedback loop. Otherwise I will slowly but surely go down the everything’s a nail road, especially when using equipment with fewer and fewer constraints.

Towards A 35mm Aesthetic

In a recent post I mentioned that I should have used an even slower shutter speed than I did. No big deal I was thinking about it but I wasn’t constrained and chose the safer path. That translates to I wasn’t thinking about it enough. My excuse? Well it wasn’t my setup or my show. I just stepped in for a couple of shots here and there to offer some options on subject direction.

In a completely different set of circumstances I made a different set of decisions. Decisions influenced by adding a bunch of constraints as if I were shooting 35mm film when I wasn’t. Infused into that set of constraints was also the Fuji X100S with it’s film camera like shot to shot timing characteristics. Those are the images strewn through this post. Specifically the vast majority of them showing flaws that are a direct result of all or some of the 35mm film kind of constraints. Did every shot I made that day display all of them? Absolutely not but a lot of them did to varying degrees.

What are those constraints you might ask?

  • A limit on ISO of absolutely 1600 no matter what. That was my absolute limit shooting Black and White film. I’ve tried pushing films higher but tended not to for many reasons. Even if I did add more development I exposed for 1600.
  • That led to lens choices and aperture. Fast primes wide open in what happened to be extremely low hurricane light. Typically not where lenses — at least not reasonable sized lenses. Especially those of a few decades ago. They flare more, have a bit less contrast, they’re not hyper-sharp, they have very limited depth of field and focusing is not like falling off a log on a moving target.
  • Within those you tend to use shutter speeds that are a bit too too low. Especially for the subject, the hand-holdable focal length, or both. You use what you can instead of what is optimal.
  • Of course there is what we’ve just been talking about. The shutter release choices when the next shot is absolutely not immediately available. The choices when you are setup for a framing and a focus point where you happened to be wrong — when something unexpected happens with your subject.
  • Non optimal framing due to optimizing moment over transitory framing, focus, etc, etc.

That last point is a mentality thing. If you’re 100% dedicated to perfect focus, perfect aperture, perfect sharpness, perfect depth of field, etc, etc — as if you can know what perfect is based on some external set of arbitrary consensus — then there’s a really really great chance of also being concerned with some arbitrary notion of perfect framing. Little elements of serendipity such as a minor difference in subject crop/framing you are forced into due to use of a fixed focal length and timing there will be moments and combinations that surprise you as how much more they contribute to the feel you wanted in the first place as opposed to some notion of righteousness you might have thought to be better through prognostication.

For me photography is absolutely not anything about the relentless and mindless pursuit of some arbitrary set of parameters of committee/mob defined better-ness.

Does this sound familiar…

  • Detail, all details must be full of detail. The more detail the better. Detail is the answer. Super sharp, super defined, super resolution of every single subatomic particle is the answer.
  • Illumination of all shadows. Shadows must display all the stuff in those shadows clearly. We must know what’s in them all.
  • Highlights, even sources of light. Full detail is better. If pressed the ability of zooming into a strobe head and seeing the serial number on the flash tube is the answer.
  • Noise, noise is bad, everything must be super smoooooooooooth. Every picture must appear as if it were shot in absolutely optimal conditions.
  • Shutter speeds must not blur anything, nothing. I need high shutter speeds always otherwise I’ll loose detail, can’t loose detail. Smooth detail.
  • Fast, fast, fast, fast. Fast enough where I don’t really need to choose anything. I want all of it all the moments and I want to not really think about which particular ones I want. Too busy thinking about focus point 62.

Sound familiar. Some other day I’ll talk about annoyances as related to speed/fast/performance etc. For me there’s a big difference between speed of operation and what’s necessary and annoyances. Being annoyed while taking photographs is completely unacceptable to me. Every once in a while I blame that on speed when it’s really just annoyance that has not much to do with ultimate speed.

All this stuff is laying around in a pile to be used or not used when I get to the end of one of my longer term projects. I’ve shown a few from this occasion before but not a lot that will ultimately be used. All of these happened to me two criteria — they are flagged as might be used and they also all have “flaws” major or minor introduced by deliberate choice of constraints that were not imposed by the device. The punch-line is that bleed over thing. Some of the shutter firing decisions I made as if using the X100S were in fact made on my D600 which has nowhere near the constraints the X100 series cameras do.

The set of images containing these crossed my mind for one reason lately. I used them to test the Capture One film emulation presets. The big surprise for me was that the Capture One 8 grain engine did such an incredible job emulating real TMAX3200P grain. I had already decided on an aesthetic for these a long time ago. My surprise was I was able to achieve that for the first time with only a RAW processor. More on some of the details of why I think C1-8’s grain engine is so good another day…

RB

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