The long Norwegian September is a period of the year when I’m still very much in holiday-mode, with my skin still burning from the southern italian sunshine, and at the same time dreading the dark winter ahead. It is a period when my congenital hatred for office life and rituals reach the highest peak; it is a period where all these first-world problems are channeled into the research of a new camera to play with1.
My trusted (and hypothetical) readers know that I have a subdued (and long-standing) attraction for Leicas. Prices and other factors have so far kept me from going that crazy route; perhaps one of these factors is Fuji, a historical brand that, a few years ago, pulled out of the blue a series of cameras and tools that rival Leica in terms of pure appeal (and probably destroys it if we consider the price/performance ratio). This is why I bought a second-hand Fuji X-Pro1 with a 35mm f/2 lens (smaller and faster than the iconic 35/1.4). All for the outrageous price of six-hundred euros. Compare to the cost of a brand new X-Pro2 or XT-1 before commenting on the stupidity of buying a 4-years old camera.
It was not an impulse buy however. I have long been an admirer of these new Fuji cameras, essentially for the way they’re built (solid metal, grippy dials, real aperture rings) more than their supposedly magic qualities of the sensor or the JPEG presets.
In fact, I couldn’t care less about the sensor performance, and not because I don’t care about the raw quality of my photos, but because we have finally reached a point in the evolution of the digital cameras where everything is just good and enough for most of us. Case in point, almost exactly one year ago I bought a micro 4/3 camera; this little gem, paired to good quality but cheap prime lenses has consistently given me files that cannot be faulted even compared to the still-awesome full-frame Nikon.
So why did I get this Fuji? Not for the sensor as I’ve just said; not for the size either, the X-Pro1 is smaller than my full-frame DSLR but larger than the my micro 4/3 (this is where m4/3 still rule; there are excellent bodies even smaller than my current one, and let’s not talk about the lenses, which can be so small they almost look fake).
Little aside: despite all the non-talk about the equipment that a serious, committed photographer has to do if he wants to be labeled as an “artist”2 (which means: he should never talk about gear!), I still find this notion very flawed. The passion that men have for tools is not be underestimated; it is true that true geniuses can use lesser instrument and still perform above the average (Keith Jarrett playing a pianola; Valentino Rossi riding a moped; Daido Moriyama shooting with a compact camera), but using better tools (“better” in terms of construction; performance; appeareance) is sometimes, and for some people, just a source of pleasure that may bring additional motivation.
Anyway, that’s why I got this Fuji. Because I’m frankly bored of using the plasticky Olympus, the freewheeling dials and the flimsy and disconnected focus rings. I’m also bored of the beast — the DSLR all built in solid and long-lasting magnesium and tough plastic whatever; the new full frame Nikon 35mm f/1.8 that I recently bought? Wonderful performance but it looks shit. I actually prefer to use the old Nikkor 28mm manual focus even if I botch the focus every other shot.
I am expecting a little brick that maybe will not be very comfortable to use in my hands and will not be blazingly fast. But I will take pleasure in the all-metal build; in the dials that will allow me to know what status the camera is in without having to look at the LCD; in the limitation of using only one lens, which obviously is my most favourite focal length, the 50mm-equivalent.
I am also quite happy to have avoided the perilous descent into the new-gear trap; I mean everybody says great things about the second generation Fuji (X-Pro2 and XT-2), and also the late first-generation jem (XT-1) is according to popular myth an exceedingly good camera. But DSLR form factor — no thanks; price around the 1000 euros mark and above — no thanks. A camera straight from 2012, when it was sold for 1500 euros, can now be had for a fraction of that price. Let’s see how it performs.
notes for the nerds
The “little micro 4/3” is a first-generation Olympus OM-D EM10. which I’ve bought before the MkII came out with a substantial discount (350 euros for the body!). The lenses I have are a Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 (average quality, both in terms of build and performance, but tiny!), and the two great Olympus 50mm and 90mm-equivalent, the 25mm f/1.8 and the 45mm f/1.8.
The “full-frame” Nikon is a D600 which must be the greatest deal ever, it’s being now given away almost for free on the basis of all the bad publicity it’s had over the years with the sensor stains etc. It’s always been a non-issue for me, even though I had the shutter replaced under warranty just to time-proof the machine in case I will ever sell it. However, I cannot see myself get rid of this camera because I have several old manual focus Nikon lenses that are still a joy to use.
Yes I know that just a year ago a bunch of completely different reasons took me to invest in a whole other system. So maybe I’m making stuff up, or maybe this reflects the multitude of thoughts and motivations behind my decisions. ↩
Let’s be clear that the last thing I aspire to is the be labeled as “artist”; in fact I despise it and whoever calls himself that. Let others define you, if they have time to indulge in these silly discussions. ↩