. . . ‘Nothing ever stays the same’ as the old saying goes, and if the past 6 or 8 months of my life are anything to go by, that couldn’t be more truthful . . .
In a relatively short space of time, I once again find myself living the life of a single man. Further, I’ve moved away from the isolation of the wilderness that is the Lake District and now live on the UK canal system, aboard a Narrowboat.
This has brought with it an altogether not wholly unexpected (or unplanned) bonus – the canal network throughout England (around 2500 miles), meanders not only through some of the most gloriously scenic countryside this little island of ours has to offer, but also virtually every major town and city across the land.
As a Street Photographer, I now find myself approaching the genre’s natural hunting ground from an entirely new and refreshing perspective. There can’t be many Streetog’s that arrive to take pictures, by boat?
As you would expect however, living aboard a boat brings with it a necessary downsizing and minimalisation of one’s approach to daily life and possessions. This attitude naturally leads to the choice of camera one elects to take on their photographic excursions.
After much deliberation, I found myself veering away from the long-held attraction for the simple and reliable (and expensive) Leica M (digital or analogue), and elected instead to invest in that comparatively cheaper and altogether more modern take on the Street Photographer’s tool, the Fujifilm X100T.
As regular readers of the blog will no doubt recall, I have an annoying (for me) tendency to purchase cameras, believing that each successive model will be ‘the one’.
Of course this was always never the case, as in a very short space of time, I would find myself eBaying the latest and greatest model, and just as quickly replacing it with the next ‘keeper’.
With the benefit of hindsight, the reason for this was obvious. With each new camera purchased, I instilled in it an expectation – the hope and belief that this time I would have found a camera which provided that same simplistic, natural, unobtrusive and ‘in the moment’ feeling that I’ve only ever found with a Leica M.
So how can it be that of all the many and varied camera makes and models available to choose from, I struggled to find ‘peace’ outside of the extravagant comfort of a Leica?
The viewfinder, pure and simple – and no matter how much I attempted to see ‘the world’ through the lens, or via an Electronic Viewfinder, the resulting experience always left me wanting. The inescapable fact being that there was no substitute for an optical viewfinder, an (almost) simple piece of glass, allowing the photographer to see exactly what he or she would see through their own eyes – and not only of the scene itself but just as importantly, the ‘activity’ surrounding the scene, in the fringes.
As it transpires, I wasn’t the only lost soul who felt this way. Fujifilm also must have been aware of this shortcoming, as in a short space of time after the preceding X100S model’s release, Fuji announced the X100T – a digital camera with a separate manual focussing area and within the optical viewfinder itself.
How Fuji achieved this, I couldn’t begin to understand. Needless to say however, their solution was very, very clever indeed – and the fact they’ve managed to cram all of this breathtaking technology into a camera the size of an old point-and-shoot, is astonishing.
From what I can establish, the X100T has an optical viewfinder. If this wasn’t enough, Fuji shoehorned in a user-selectable Electronic Viewfinder, all as per the previous X100S and the earlier X100.
The really exciting addition to the X100T of course, is the tiny rangefinder ‘style’ focusing screen, which the user can select with a simple push of the front mounted lever – and causing the aforementioned focussing aid to appear in the bottom right corner.
Of course, this additional photography aid would just be another camera marketer’s gizmo to brandish around, if it didn’t actually work, or make a marked difference to the shooting experience?
Somewhat to my own relief then, I can happily reveal that it does, absolutely, unequivocably etc . . .
So much so in fact, that with the addition of the very tactile manual focusing ring on the front of the lens, and only the differing placement of the miniscule manual focus ‘area’ compared to a Leica M, the actual shooting experience is reassuringly familiar.
Surprisingly for me, I still find myself habitually enjoying the relaxing ‘pastime’ of holding the camera to my eye and slowly turning the focus ring one way and then the other, simply observing the magnified image in the bottom corner – even when not looking to take a shot – just weighing up the environment and any potential scenes.
Yes, the optical viewfinder is simply nice to look through. 🙂
Naturally the X100T offers fully automatic operation but this wouldn’t be the Street Photography Blog if I chose to use it – I shudder at the thought of shooting street photography automatically.
To that end, the camera is provided with those other essential items, a shutter and aperture dial and a quick and effective means of changing ISO (the Fn button).
Yes, the Fuji makes a simple and very competent manual camera.
That’s not to say that there isn’t an initial learning curve, as with any camera – and surprisingly, my first few hours with the X100T were more than a little confusing.
Having collected the Fuji from London Camera Exchange in Chester – and deliberately leaving the packaging behind the shop counter, so as to familiarize myself with the Fuji without the incumbrance of a bulky box – I immediately headed to my nearby favourite photography spot, not 30 yards from the camera shop.
Switching on the Fuji and setting each dial to automatic, with the exception of focusing and aperture, I selected Auto ISO in the ‘Q’ (quick) menu, and began to look for suitable subject matter.
It took me only a few minutes to realise that something wasn’t quite right. Surely it couldn’t be the camera, could it? For some unfathomable reason (and I still to this day can’t figure out why), all of my shots were either hugely over or under exposed.
No matter how often I checked, changed and re-checked the various camera default settings, each and every time, my exposures were all wayward.
What was I doing wrong? I’d set the shutter and ISO to Auto. I’d selected a minimum shutter speed of 125th in the menu and a minimum & maximum ISO of 200 and 3200 respectively. Surely these settings gave the camera enough leeway to arrive at a correct exposure, especially considering that it was a beautifully sunny day?
As I say, I still haven’t figured it out and to be quite honest, I’m glad – manual shooting with this camera is a blast.
Configuring manual control on the X100T couldn’t be simpler. Just twist the shutter dial from ‘A’ to whatever speed takes your fancy (and the lighting conditions), in my case 1/250th. Turn the aperture also from ‘A’ to (on this occasion) f/8. Check that the sliding switch on the side (for the focus mode) is set to ‘M’, and finish up with a light sprinkling of ISO 400. The result, a classic Street Photographer’s recipe of camera settings and hey presto, it simply works.
With this short but no less worrying and mildly unsettling quandary solved, the little Fuji began to comply with my wishes, simply ‘getting out of the way’ and allowing myself to spend 100% of the time studying the scene in front of me, with no time wasted scratching my head whilst trying to fathom out the camera.
With the Fuji I’m also relieved to note that (in fully manual mode), the actual process of taking a picture is quick – Leica M quick.
This then was the rub. The ‘thing’ I had been missing and that I previously could only find with an ‘M’ – lift, frame, focus, click. Lovely.
Framing is instinctive, like a Leica. All the information you would ever need is provided in front of your eye – that being the subject matter. Sure there are the usual randomly placed snippets of information, such as shutter speed, ISO and shots remaining. However, when you’re in ‘the zone’, all of that ‘stuff’ goes unnoticed – something that’s difficult to achieve with an EVF. Besides, most of the basic camera settings are clearly presented on the manual dials.
Also beyond the capabilities of an EVF is that all important space around the framelines. Without it (as with the EVF), taking pictures is made all the more difficult as you can only see what will be in the final shot. Very constricting.
Fujifilm have for a good while, had a real winner in the X100 series, but up until now I’d always ignored the tiny machine. After all, I returned to Leica M’s almost more times than I’ve had hot dinners and with good reason. That viewfinder.
Now, with the Fuji, I can have that and in a package that’s much cheaper and smaller than the Leica, yet at the same time, strangely feeling as though if it were any bigger, it would be too big.
Manual focussing is just as simple, the only requirement being to ‘endure’ a glance of microscopic proportions downwards and to the right in order to check focus, instead of straight ahead, as with the ‘M’. This minor adaptation happens involuntarily and by the time you’ve taken your third or fourth shot, it becomes unnoticeable.
A final point worth mentioning is that the Fuji is light, very light. In comparison, I wonder how I used to lug my various Leica’s around, such would be the obvious weight difference if I were to use one now. The X100T can be easily carried all-day on the shoulder or around the wrist, or placed in a (large) coat pocket, or in a small corner of your camera bag, thus leaving valuable space for keys, wallet, bottled water, honey roasted peanuts, etc . . .
Add to that a spare battery or two, these being about the size and weight of a box of Tic Tacs, and you have all of the kit required for many hours of wandering about.
After all, what with my now living and touring around England on a boat and my only other means of transport being a mountain bike and/or public transport, I need to carry as little weight as possible. 🙂
If you are looking to buy a Fuji X100T (or any X100 version), there are always a fine selection of used models here on eBay.