Monday, May 6, 2013

A weekend away with my X100S

I just returned from a short trip to Bermuda.  On this trip, I did something that I have never done before... I departed for an incredible scenic trip without an SLR camera and zoom lenses.  I have always shot with Nikon gear and the performance, reliability and output has always been...   well... pretty much like second nature.  Automatic.  For this trip, I left my house with just my new X100S.  This was my little experiment.  Worst case scenario, I would return home frustrated and underwhelmed by my photos.

One of my goals was to test this new camera and see if I could be as "Wowed" by the results as I have been with the images I've seen online by some very good photographers.  I wanted to see how this new camera of mine would perform shooting the brilliant colors and scenic landscapes of Bermuda.  My other goal was to see what it would be like to shoot everything with only one focal length.  After all, one of the big reasons why I bought this camera is that it is compact and I can take it everywhere in it's form-fitted leather Fuji case, and the 35mm focal length is versatile and ideal for a "photojournalist" style of shooting.  Would I enjoy the experience or would I feel the limitations of a single focal length? Would I get frustrated by the ways that the Fuji experience differs from my Nikon DSLRs?

I shot JPEGs the whole time.  I have come to understand that Fuji's JPEGs are outstanding.  And I just like shooting JPEGs, unless I am shooting concerts and I feel that I may need to make some really dramatic post-processing changes.  But in everyday shooting, I always shoot JPEGs for two reasons.  

Number one:  In the old days when you used Photoshop, the program would resave your JPEG every time you saved changes and adjustments, and each time you saved the file, it would degrade the file.  But these days, Lightroom and Aperture create a separate file that is a "mask" that gets applied to the file.  You never resave the file until you save it to print or resize for the web.  So it only gets saved once and the affect on the image is negligible.  So I don't worry about degrading the image quality while post-processing and, frankly, I have been able to make all kinds of adjustments to images and I have never been dissatisfied with the quality of JPEGs for my purposes. They are fine.

Number two: This may be naive, but I know that I will always be able to read my jpeg files on the technology I will be using 4 decades from now, but I don't know if there will be any software available at that time to read the proprietary raw files that are coming out of my camera.   I can barely find a VCR to play my tapes that I bought 15 years ago.  I don't want to loose my images in the scrap heap of time because technology no longer uses computers or software or whatever.  There are zillions of JPEG files in the world, but how many Fujifilm X100s raw files will there be to ensure that my files are future proof in the next generation's technology platforms.  Again, I may be naive, but that is my personal view.

First, The Bad
This was my very first opportunity to really give this camera some heavy use.  Frankly, I did experience some frustrations.  I like using the OVF, and sometimes I find that the autofocus just refuses to function when I quickly turn the camera on and put it up to my face.  I have to fiddle with it a little before it does what I want it to.  And frankly, the autofocus speed and the camera's ability to lock on to autofocus is totally satisfactory, but not exactly "great".  And I found that the relatively low maximum shutter speed (especially 1/1000 wide open) got in the way sometimes, because I would shoot a terribly overexposed shot and I had to check my ISO and aperture and maybe use the neutral density filter.  When I came home and viewed my photos on the computer, I found the exposure metering to be a little over-exposed or under-exposed at times where I am believe my Nikon DSLRs would have nailed it.  I tried to use the flash and there were times when I really felt that it was under-powered.  I found myself wishing that there were more programmable buttons on the camera to control ISO, ND filter, etc.  I found it more frustrating than my Nikon D700 to access the controls and, although the menus are not quite as frustrating as a point and shoot, when the leather case is attached, the Q button and other controls are a little small and hard to effectively activate.

The JPEG files in the Standard film setting look great, but I found that I added 3 processing touches to every single file.  This is just my personal preference.  First, I find the default contrast curve in Lightroom to be a little flat.  I change the contrast curve from "linear" to "medium" with a click of a button and that seems to fix the contrast perfectly for my liking.  Second, I added a little dash of saturation and I tweaked the sharpening tool from 0 to 20.  I found that I needed to do that to the default output of pretty much every file.  What I will experiment with in the future, is trying to tweak the in-camera settings to replicate that output, and maybe the out-of-camera JPEGS will be perfect to my eye.

The Good
Now for the great news.  I LOVE this camera.  The user experience is just what I had hoped for when I plunked down $1,299 for a camera that I wanted, but didn't really need.  I never once felt like I was limited by the single focal length lens.  Not even once.  Seriously.  It was liberating and truly a joy to move about my subjects with this terrific little camera, and frame my subjects with the OVF.  Most (but not all) of the controls are on the outside of the camera and can be pushed and dialed like a pilot in a cockpit. The camera was really low profile and, with the leather case, I was able to literally carry it everywhere.  They say that the only bad shot is the shot you miss because you don't have your camera with you.  Well I have the solution for that now.  The lens-sensor combination is REALLY sharp.  The Fuji JPEG colors are REALLY awesome.  The skin tones and white balance are REALLY great.  The ability to shoot at a 2.0 aperture with an APS-C sensor using such a capable and compact camera is like a dream.  

The Bottom Line:  
I am truly in love with this camera and I will be my every day companion for a very long time.  Why?  It isn't as perfect as a photographic tool as my beloved Nikon D700.  It doesn't do everything as unfailingly as that beast.  But I don't think that I have ever felt as connected to my subject I as do when shooting with the Fujifilm X100S.  And I don't think that I have ever enjoyed more pleasing "keeper" shots when I got home and loaded my memory card onto my computer.  Sure, the image quality is stunning.  But the camera seems to offer more than that.  It is like the X100S is a catalyst that connects my photographic eye and the world around me and facilitates that process of artistic conception --> technical application --> artistic creation.  

I now believe that some cameras are made to just get out of the way and make picture taking easy - like a powerful pro DSL.   But some cameras like the X100S seem to have a different function.  It doesn't necessarily "get out of the way".  It channels the photographic mind through the medium of the camera.  So that the photographer's mind and the photographic subject intersect in the middle, at the point of the photographic tool.  The process plays by the rules of the camera.  And when you play by the rules of X100S, it serves to inspire and make you a better photographer than you were without it.

I am including a few of my shots below.  I didn't get much of a chance to shoot the buildings and churches and people that I saw around the island because i didn't have an opportunity to take a walking tour and photo excursion during this trip.  Most of these were taken during a few walks on a local beach.

1 comment:

  1. Good job with the X100s. Leaving the heavy DSLR at home can be a relieve and let's you focus more on photography then technology :)

    I wpuld program the ND filter to Fn button and get used to changing ISO etc in the Q menu.

    I like the color and exposure of your images but would like to see some more off center framing (rule of thirds) to give the eyes a bit more space to discover the surroundings of your subject :)