A long rambling essay about why I love the Fuji X system.

I've made a decision. Come to a conclusion. Resistance is futile. I'm a Fuji fanboy.

Today I drove to my local Calumet store where I have an account. I walked out with a 14mm f/2.8 and a 23mm f/1.4 lens without paying. (No I didn't stick the place up, I will have to pay eventually!!) I then went out and shot some pictures with them. And the smile never left my face. And the warm fuzzy feeling never left me either.

I just love Fuji X cameras. I love Fuji XF lenses. I know I can get better image quality elsewhere, I know that the processing is a bit of a pain, I know that the battery life is terrible, I know that the video implementation is under performing significantly and I know that Fuji are constantly fiddling with firmware to get the cameras working like they should have done when they were released. I know all that. But I just can't help myself. They are the best handling and for me the best looking cameras and lenses I've ever owned. Working with them is a pleasure, so I am very forgiving to all their little (large?) foibles and quirks because I enjoy using them so much that everything else doesn't matter. For me it's gear for photographers. It's not gear for gadget heads. It's why I became a photographer. To wander about capturing fragments of time in two dimensions with something in my hand that feels right, feels inspirational and feels like a camera should.

16MP and APS-C.

There's usually some post every week about Fuji going 'Full-Frame'. Why? What exactly is wrong with what's available now? A conservative 16MP and the APS-C sensor gives fabulous high ISO performance and allows those small, light beautifully crafted lenses to do their thing. Do we really want another Sony A7 / A7r situation with a limited lens range and go through the whole starting from scratch thing again? If the full-framers want a 35mm film sized sensor then there are plenty of other options. But if they want that for Fuji then they will have to get used to noisier images in low light, bigger heavier lenses, higher prices and will have to forego the pleasure of a wonderfully designed system that marries the best of the old with the best of the new. I certainly don't want that. 

Now I know this isn't a system for everybody and I've certainly had my 'issues' with the whole system since it started. But what I have now and what I had two years ago are somewhat different. Faster AF, more lenses, the best EVF ever, raw processing alternatives and menus that actually make sense. And still that amazing sensor that makes ISO 1600 noise free images possible, has great colour depth and if I process carefully, excellent image quality and the capacity to upsize the files to compete successfully with other cameras with bigger sensors. And I wouldn't have written that 2 years ago.

Other formats and systems.

And yes I can see the benefits of m4/3 and FF and I've used them and will use them in the future. But none of them give me that satisfaction I get from using my Fuji's. My trip to Calumet included a chat with the two assistants. One a young woman in her early 20's and the other a man in his early 30's. And both were as enthusiastic as I was about the Fuji X concept. Both had spent time working at a Photographic show in the past couple of days and both seemed intent on torturing me and my bank account by tales of the 56mm f/1.2. And in the midst of wall to wall Canons and Nikons, there was this cabinet with the Fuji black boxes in it that they seemed to value the most. I had my X-T1 with me fitted with my 60mm macro lens and the conversation soon changed from me asking questions to the young woman asking me about that lens since she was planning to get one. 

And behind us in a glass case was a Nikon Df. I asked what it was like and was told that they weren't actually allowed to get it out and see what it was like. And looking at it in the flesh I realised that it was even more preposterous in reality than it looks in pictures. There is just something very wrong about it as was the fact that it has to be treated like a diamond tiara. You would have thought Nikon might have got retro right, but for me they have completely missed the point.

But Fuji don't have that baggage. They do have a distinguished pedigree in terms of camera production, though I doubt that many are aware of that. However with their design ethic and the pricing of the system I believe they have ensured that they produce cameras that have a value but aren't precious. They are designed, manufactured and priced to be photographic tools rather than chest jewellery and provide a vehicle for what is after the X-Trans sensor the greatest incentive to buy into the Fuji X system.

The lenses.

God these are good. They look good, they feel good, they work good. There aren't that many of them but there isn't a dud in there. And if starting with three primes wasn't a clear statement of intent then I don't know what is. That statement said, this is a system that has ambition, has class, has a regard to photographic history, puts the photographer at the centre of things and lets the person with the vision make the decisions. And no, at first, those wonderful black optics didn't have the means to do them justice and it took a while for the Fuji engineers and designers to see the error of their ways. But they did and unlike lots of other camera manufacturers they listened, they read the comments on the forums and they improved things. Slower than many of us would have liked and they aren't there yet, but they are most definitely moving in the right direction. 

By this time next year we should have the two f/2.8 zooms and then I believe we will have one of the best lens ranges ever put together. No cheap kit zooms with mediocre performance, no 'budget' fillers. The 16-50mm has a plastic mount and no aperture ring and it's bundled with Fuji's nods to the 'camera in my pocket' people, the X-M1 and X-A1. But it's a great lens. And still beautifully made.

Now m4/3 may have a more extensive lens range, but there are some less than impressive performers in there. And we've all had experience of what Canon and Nikon often come up with (come down with?) when they work to a budget. But it seems like Fuji aren't inclined to compromise as much as others and they don't seem to feel duty bound to release cheap and cheerful mediocre quality lenses, which when you think about it, is treating all of their customers and potential customers with a degree of respect we usually don't see elsewhere. 

The OIS.

Quite simply the best I've ever used, for stills and for video. This is lens based, which I prefer anyway having had some problems with IBIS systems in the past. Like anything else how successful these stabilisation systems work is largely dependent on personal practice. How much advantage you will get depends on your own personal stability and prevailing weather conditions. Consuming 10 cups of coffee and then attempting to take pictures at 1/8th. sec. in a gale may not prove entirely successful! And again, as with the rest of this piece, this is how it works for me. I find I shoot at lower shutter speeds for stills and produce rock steady hand-held video footage with my Fuji cameras as opposed to any of my other cameras. Now that may not be the same for others, but that's my experience.

Handling and operation.

For me, this is leaving the best for last. I'm well aware that this is again very personal. But I pick up either my rangefinder styled X-E2 or my recently acquired 35mm film SLR styled X-T1 and I immediately feel comfortable with them. And that comfort and ease of use carries on throughout my shooting experience. Again this wasn't always the case, but the X-T1 is beautifully laid out for me. It's taken a while to get back into adjusting dials rather than delving into menus, but it is preferable, and quicker and I can see the settings clearly. I still think the Fuji shutter is 'wimpy' but I'm used to it and it's hardly the most important consideration. 

So what don't I like?

Well despite having bought two of them I'm not mad about the X-Pro 1. To be more exact I don't see the point of the hybrid viewfinder and the framelines. Because they just don't work. Now it's not just Fuji, the framelines on Leica rangefinders don't work either. Now some might be happy with a rough approximation of what will be in the frame, because that's all the X-Pro 1 gives you, but I'm not. It's a shame because I love the body size and shape of the X-Pro 1. 

Then there is the poor battery life. I have found it's better if I don't shoot jpgs. as well as raw and certainly manual focus lenses consume less power, but it is something that needs to be addressed. It's all very well carrying extra batteries, but without an accurate battery meter it's impossible to know when the camera will go dead on me. 

And then there is the video. Now I think this is a real missed opportunity. The potential with this sensor is enormous, particularly for low light shooting. In actual fact it's not that bad. A few days ago my nephew and I did some test shooting and compared it with my Sony A7. We both preferred the look of the Fuji footage and certainly some clips shot at 60fps looked great when slow-mo'd in Premiere. But there are some issues. The footage flickers occasionally and there is some high ISO 'sizzling' in shadow areas. I know Fuji don't see this as a priority, but personally I think they are missing a trick here.

So there it is, my appreciation of my Fuji X cameras. The rangefinderesque lookaleica X-E2 and the small but perfectly formed 35mm film SLR clone the X-T1. It's become apparent over recent times that every time I've gone out with one or the other I've enjoyed the process of creating images more than with any of my other cameras. And it's partly the retro styling, but it has to be said that both are thoroughly modern cameras inside. It's mostly because of the intentions of the manufacturer though that I think is the real deciding factor. Fuji set out their stall with the X100 and have continued to pursue this path. The combination of old-school design and a new innovative sensor have proved irresistible for me. And though I shoot very little in low light, the ability to set higher ISO values and therefore have faster shutter speeds and 'sweeter' apertures with incredibly low noise is proving to be something I'm finding it hard to be without. The ability to use my 55-200mm zoom in this fashion is having beneficial results for my photography and it's pretty much my favourite lens at the moment. 

I'm well aware that my Sony A7 / A7r files are sharper, but without the ability to shoot ultra-clean files at anything higher than ISO 200, it has it's limitations. And the same is true, only more so with my Panasonic cameras, which I'm very reluctant to use at anything other than ISO 125. And in terms of what I do and how I make a living, ultra-clean is preferable to ultra-sharp. Because that's what picture libraries like. And in truth, the files from my Fuji's are sharp enough and capable of upsizing to the sizes I like to make available for sale. There is in fact less difference than people imagine in real world situations and though I'm still trying to convince myself of the fact, the Fuji's are fine for what I do.

And slowly but surely, those operational and handling advantages are becoming what I think is most important. I still enjoy viewing what my A7r + 55mm lens can produce, even though the process of taking those pictures is not as pleasurable as using my X-T1 and X-E2. (I have to admit that A7r shutter noise is really starting to get to me. And yes, it does frighten the horses!!) I will also find it difficult to live without m4/3 as I've spent a lot of time with that system. But since getting the X-T1 every time I pick up the cheap feeling plastic body of the GH3 I wonder why I'm still keeping it. Yes the GX7 is somewhat better in that respect, but still someway short of my X-E2 in terms of a pleasurable experience using it.

So, some might think that some of these reasons are trivial and maybe they are, but it's my life, my job and my choice. I'm slowly letting my heart rule my head and I have to admit that since leaving Calumet with my two new Fuji lenses I have felt a distinct lifting of my spirits. And that's something I not going to argue against.

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