Photographic Retreat with the X-Pro2 or: How to choose a camera?

Photographic Retreat with the X-Pro2 or: How to choose a camera?

Last time we had a good time (and a laugh) having a conversation with the X-Pro2. We received great feedback for which we are both very grateful.  

Today we will continue to cover this new camera but we’ll approach the subject in a slightly different way. Each time a new camera hits the market the Internet goes berserk. There’s a plethora of reviews, technical comparisons and samples being shared and discussed (we share in the blame). Interested buyers visit technically oriented websites where cameras are being compared. It is common to show two cameras side by side where all the possible technical details are compared. Resolution? Check! Video? Check! Panorama? Check! And so on.

There is no question that many people like it this way. Not only do we find such comparisons misleading but we believe that they do more harm than good for buyers. For many photographers, a camera is much more than just a physical object. As the facilitator of the creative process, a camera should not only complement but support the photographer in this difficult but highly rewarding endeavour. Therefore, a well-designed camera will make the interaction between photographer and camera intuitive and fluid.

With all these things in mind, how do you pick the right camera? This is how we “tested” the Fuji X-Pro2 (please note that this process could be applied to any brand; you may well decide that other cameras work better for you).

No, we didn’t run outside and shoot hundreds of photos of hydrants and flowers. No, we didn’t photograph our dog and watch the images at the 100% crop on our computer. We did something different.

Kasia and I packed up and took a photographic retreat with the X-Pro2 – away from the computer, crowds, opinions and all the daily noise and kerfuffle.

Our choice was rural eastern Oregon where we had ventured before and had fallen in love with the welcoming people, historic little towns and pleasant countryside. We stayed at Wilson Ranches Retreat Bed and Breakfast run by Nancy and Phil. What a great place to calm your mind and focus on imagery!

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We have stayed at many B&Bs before but this one is special, thanks to the wonderful owners. The moment you step into this original 1914 Sears Roebuck kit home you know you are in a different world. Not only do Nancy and Phil make the house feel welcoming but a display of family history makes you feel you are part of it. We immediately knew this was going to be a great place to uplift our way of seeing and bond with or divorce from the X-Pro2.

After settling in, we decided to drive into town to grab a bite. As usual in such a small town there was only one place open. While we were eating, the waitress asked us if we were staying at Wilson Ranch. When we said yes, Nancy (one of the owners of the ranch) showed up at our table and welcomed us with a big hug. What a coincidence!

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Back at the ranch, we enjoyed a relaxing evening soaking up the total silence occasionally interrupted by the howling of a pack of wolves. What a setup for our photographic cleansing and exploration! With the troubles of our daily lives out of the way we could sit down in big comfortable chairs and let photographic thoughts percolate through.

Is the Fuji X-Pro2 the right camera for us? How does it fit with the way we see and photograph? Where is our photography going? Does this new camera fit this vision? Is it worth buying? When one question was answered, another was just around the corner. This mental wondering and searching put us in the right mind-set for early morning photography.

I woke up early and walked around the house. The silence of the hills, the grace of a giant tree and the calm of whispering grass made me feel strangely awake and alive. All I had to do was to raise the X-Pro2 to my eye, feel, visualize, see, compose and capture.

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It is not that the X-Pro2 form was new to me. I have been shooting with the X-Pro1 for many years. The new camera, however, felt slightly heavier than the previous generation – I would say more solid and firmer. I also liked the firm grip – a noticeable improvement. It is especially important to me as I never use straps.

As I raised the camera to my eye, I immediately noticed the much more fluid, quick but small viewfinder. For the last two years I have been shooting with the X-T1 and I’ve got used to its huge viewfinder. I had to adjust to a slightly smaller window in the X-Pro2. Its placement – on the left side of the camera – exposed part of my face, unlike the X-T1 where my face is hidden behind the camera. With the increasing amount of documentary work we do, this arrangement allows better contact with my subject. It’s a definite plus.

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The quietude of the place made me turn my attention to the X-Pro2’s shutter sound. Yes, it is new and different but I immediately liked it. Kasia and I often photograph conferences or church events when a loud shutter click is distracting. Of course, the X100-line noiselessness is ideal in such situations but if I need to hear anything, I want this sound to be subtle and smooth.

Then, as my the fingers on my right hand wandered around the buttons – now all at the right side of the camera – one new addition immediately became a must-have. That’s a joystick. Choosing the focal point has always been a hassle for me. I’ve never liked playing with buttons. Now, not only does the joystick’s distinctive shape attract your fingers (no need to search for it), but getting to the right focal point is fast and easy – so easy. If I had to choose one improvement that makes the biggest difference for me – that would be it!

As I was wandering around the ranch taking photos, Phil, the owner arrived at the guesthouse. After a welcoming chat he was kind enough to pose for a few photographs.

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Then it was time for breakfast. While Phil had to continue with his daily routine, Nancy, Kara (Phil and Nancy’s daughter) and a few other guests joined us for a fabulous breakfast. Breakfast is one of the favourite parts of our trips. People from many parts of the world sit down around a table sharing a meal. This is where all the barriers are broken, stories are shared and friendship initiated. It’s also where I can get to know people I often photograph later.

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During breakfast, a joyful and charismatic Kara led us to a truly amazing lady with a steely character, who once qualified for the US Olympic swimming team with an incredible life story (look for our next post!).

After breakfast, I took a few portraits of Nancy and her daughters. During this mini photo-shoot I noticed how casual the whole experience was for my subjects. We could talk and laugh the entire time as they saw most of my face when I was taking photos. The small and unintimidating Fuji X-Pro2 allowed the interaction.

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During our stay at the ranch I had the chance to do some documentary, landscape and portrait photography. The X-Pro2 didn’t disappoint and turned out to fit my way of shooting perfectly. Especially when paired with the XF 35mm F1.4, the camera is such a joy to hold and work with. For me, bonding with a camera, scrutinizing its inner workings and finding out how it fits into my own way of shooting is an essential part of the decision making.

Sure, a later examination of image quality, dynamic range etc. plays a role but I believe that it is only part of the process. Today with so many cameras offering a great image quality, this “fitting” into your own personality and shooting style must be a priority. It cannot be done in a store setting or through online chatrooms.

All images taken with the Fuji X-Pro2, the XF 35mm F1.4, XF 14mm F2.8, XF 50-140mm F2.8, Classic Chrome (CC) or Provia (STD) film simulations.   

Stay tuned for more coverage.

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.

A conversation with the X-Pro2

A conversation with the X-Pro2

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4,  Classic Chrome film simulation (STD).

Olafphoto (O): It’s good to have you here! It’s been a very long wait!

X-Pro2 (X): It took me a while but hey, don’t you think I was worth waiting for?!

O: OK, you got me there but please make sure your next incarnation won’t take that long. Some of us got really impatient.

X: Let me explain. My creators approached the process of designing me a little bit differently from the others. The intention was to create a camera as a photographic tool that is an extension of the photographer: something that doesn’t get in the way of seeing, but complements it. That kind of camera would amplify the soul and spirit of the image. This objective is very difficult to achieve and requires years of planning, collaboration and consultation.

O: Indeed, I was really intrigued by the details David Hobby shared about this very process (see here).

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 50-140mm F2.8, XF 14mm F2.8,  Velvia film simulation (STD).

X: Many companies put the main emphasis on specifications, pixels, charts and a plethora of other technical goals. As a result, the engineers approached the subject with a purely technical mind-set – the same way as working on a refrigerator or a toaster. But I am much more than just a physical object. The interaction between a photographer and me is often intimate and personal. I have to be an extension of the photographer and become the facilitator of a creative process. So I have to be intuitive and fluid. Most importantly, people need to “feel it” when working with me.  

O: Well said. I admit that these qualities have become the prime reason why Kasia and I are choosing to shoot with you. How did you become such a special tool?

X: The key for my parents was to be close to photographers but not just any photographers. My creators contacted a wide range of photographers and artists who have one thing in common – they are incredibly creative. They go beyond pixels, charts and the Photoshop fixation, so common today. My mothers and fathers interacted with such great photographers as Tomasz Lazar from Poland or Patrick LaRoque from Canada, among many others. My parents listened to them and gathered as much feedback as possible.

O: Could you give us an example?

X: The addition of joystick as a tool for choosing a focal point was the direct result of such cooperation. Placing all the back-buttons on the right side is another example. These solutions make my interaction with the photographer fluid and flawless. After all, we both have the same objective: seeing and creating a unique photograph.

O: I cannot emphasize how much I like using this new addition. In fact, since I started working with the joystick I have had a hard time believing that cameras used to be made without it. Kudos to your parents for such bold thinking.

X: They would be really delighted to hear that.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 50-140mm F2.8, Provia film simulation (STD). The image in the middle – 100% crop. Click for a larger view.

O: In fact, I really like your look. You look sexy but solid.

X: I am blushing.

O: You are not too fat or too skinny, not too heavy or light but at the same time you are tough and you are no longer afraid to get wet. This weather sealing is especially important here in Vancouver when it can rain for weeks non-stop!

X: Bring it on! Sorry, I got carried away, please continue.

O: I have small hands but holding you all day is a breeze. This could be the result of your new grip. I also like that you don’t have this branding tattoo on your forehead as many other cameras do. What would your grandma say if she saw you with that?!

X: Grandma might take it but my grandpa would go berserk! I have to admit that I like being a rangefinder.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

O: Indeed, the rangefinder style of cameras has always fitted with my way of shooting. In general, I don’t want to be perceived as a walking, look-at-me, I-have-so-much-gear-on-me type of zombie. I have always subscribed to the notion that less is more. So while I really enjoyed the beautiful eyes of the Fuji X-T1 (viewfinder), your form is more fitting for the way I interact with my subjects and you.

X: You intrigue me.

O: You see, I believe the starting point of creating a photograph is always a connection. There must be some type of emotional, intellectual, visual or even physical connection to the subject. This connection may not be immediately apparent to the photographer but it develops as s/he engages with the scene. And you help me to make this connection. For example, recently I have been photographing refugees arriving from Syria – many of them kids. The placement of your eye in your small form allows my face to be visible to the people I am photographing. I don’t look like the guy behind the camera but just a friendly person with a camera. In this way I could interact and keep eye contact with those kids.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 50-140mm F2.8.

X: I remember. We did some great photography together. I am sure that my wit and speed also played a role.

O: You’re right. Your concentration and focus has made quite a jump compared to your older sibling. Before, I had to wait for you to react – now it is almost instant.

X: I was sick of people whining about my older brother’s capability to focus. Now, no more excuses. By the way, what do you think about my IQ?

O: I’m glad that your IQ is just 24MP. I see so many of your friends walking around with their noses in the air bragging about their 36MP or even 40-plus MP as if it was a sure path to great imagery.

X: By not mentioning Sony you are are trying to be politically correct!

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 14mm F2.8,  Velvia film simulation (STD).

O: Not at all. I just prefer cameras that have a great IQ. More importantly, I like to shoot with a camera that is “street smart.” After all, the look and feel of the images is much more important to me than the number of pixels. Also I don’t have to worry how to process and store all these huge files. And even if I want to print mural-sized images you proved to me that you can deliver.

X: Did you see the print of the David Alan Harvey image of skateboarders my parents showed at my birth?     

O: Yes, it was huge (no pun intended!). That’s exactly what I am talking about. If I want to print large, you give me adequate files to do so. Much more important to me is that you are such an amazing straight shooter. While many people spend hours in front of the computer obsessing over their RAW files, I like to shoot JPEGs more often than I did with other cameras.

X: Don’t forget about my film simulations!

O: Of course. In fact I am a big fan of your film simulations: Astia, Classic Chrome and Velvia in particular. And I have to admit I am quite intrigued by your latest trick, Acros film emulsion. The look is close to what I like in the B&W imagery but I’ll have to spend more time with you before I can come to a final conclusion.

X: I’m sure you will like it.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 50-140mm F2.8, Acros film simulation (A).

O: I had a chance to look at your night vision capabilities and I admit that you impressed me!

X: Are you talking about my ISO?

O: Yes. So far, I have been shooting with the AUTO ISO, MAX 6,400. You changed everything for me. Now I have no problem pushing you into ISO 12,800. In fact, if I attach the XF 35mm F1.4 or the XF 56mm F1.2, we can work in almost total darkness.

X: You’re pulling my leg!

O: Not at all. But don’t worry, I am sure I can find the fly in the soup. Since you insist, I would really like you to be a little simpler. The new menu is a step in the right direction but I do believe that your brain sometimes likes to complicate things too much.

Do you remember your rich friend, Leica? Her menu is so simple and aimed at photographers only. I wish you would forget about video, panoramas and other peripheral functions. Everything that is not essential to crafting a great photograph should go.  

X: Sorry, we haven’t talked too much recently because she [Leica] thinks I’m stealing fans from her. She used to be the centre of attention. I am afraid it’s not the case any more and she is not taking it well.

O: Let’s not go there, then. Do you want me to become another victim of online trolls?

X: You scare me sometimes.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4,  Classic Chrome film simulation (STD).

O: Taking about scary stuff, the lack of dual card slots was one of the greatest flaws in your older sibling, the X-Pro1. As a professional I was always nervous knowing that I had only one card. Now, there’s one less thing to worry about.

X: Maybe you worry too much. You need some R&R.

O: R&R? Photography gives me exactly that. Kasia and I have some fascinating projects in the works and our next travel destinations are truly spectacular. You’ll enjoy it.

X: If it is as good as our last trip to Oregon, I’m all for it.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4,  Velvia film simulation (STD). Click for a larger view.

O: Indeed, shooting ghost towns, stunning landscapes and photographing fascinating people together was such a treat. We captured so much material, which we are going to share over the next few posts. 

X: After all, imagery is all that matters. If you are after tables, charts and Internet (stupid) comparisons, then go somewhere else. However, if you are a creative person, you care about crafting original imagery and you want to take your photography beyond the usual “me too” postcard-sweet-and-pretty – then try me. Also…oops – I am getting low on energy!

Did you remember to charge my extra battery?

O: OH NO! I totally forgot about it!

X: (Sigh) Not again.

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Fuji X-Pro2, XF 35mm F1.4,  Classic Chrome film simulation (STD).

 

 

2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.