I’d been a Nikon shooter since 1988 when I first purchased an F-501 at a Naafi* store while based in Germany. That 35mm film camera (Nikon's first auto-focusing SLR if I remember right) was my constant companion for my 13 year army career, and while dented and dusty, it works as well now as it did when I first bought it. So when it came to purchasing my first digital camera the obvious choice was to go with what I trusted. I purchased Nikon DSLR’s in various forms over the next 13 years, with my last purchase being the wonderful D700. That camera was a beast, a wonderful solid beautiful beast. I loved that camera. I also hated taking it anywhere. It was heavy, bulky and obvious. People noticed it and their behavior would change whenever you pointed it at them, exactly what you don’t want to happen when you’re trying to shoot candid photographs. DSLR’s also had a great way of making me feel overly self-conscious, which is a terrible distraction to have while trying to take great photos. It seemed the only option was to suck it up and get over it; after all it was just a hobby for me then.
Like all photography enthusiasts I loved gear and would devour YouTube videos on every new Nikon lens or camera body, spending the next 7 days wondering how I could come up with the money to be able to buy it. The process usually ended in frustration as the high quality gear I yearned for was usually way out of my price range. During one of my late night gear porn binges I stumbled upon this video by photographer Jason Lanier about why he was switching from Nikon to the Sony’s mirrorless system. Up to that point I was pretty ignorant of the whole mirrorless camera “thing” as they didn’t seem like an option for a “serious” picture taker (Yes I was a picture taker then, not a photographer). The video was a revelation for me. Jason provided a list of compelling reasons why he was switching from DSLR's to Mirrorless, and it was hard to resist the logic of his argument. It unleashed the gearhead in me and I watched and read every bit of info on the Sony system I could find. I also considered the Panasonic system, but discounted it due to the smaller sensor size. For some reason I was deliberately ignoring the Fuji X series during my research, and I think it was simply due to brand ignorance. Sony and Panasonic had more recognition in my eyes when it came to electronic goods. My mind was made up; I was going in for Sony. I would start with an A6000 and then save for the A7 or maybe the A7r. I had no idea how I was going to afford the Zeiss lenses (I wasn’t impressed by the Sony lens reviews), but why would I worry about that now, right?? About a week before I was due to commit I decided to have a quick look at some reviews of the Fuji cameras, just to confirm that they were inferior to my intended choice. That was when my whole approach to gear and photography seemed to change.
Looking at the reviews I should have had my suspicions confirmed and now be the proud owner of a couple of Sony's and some lenses. The reviews of the Fuji flagship camera, the X-Pro1 were not quite as inspiring as the Sony A7 series. Its focus was slower and less sophisticated, it was a crop sensor rather than full frame, the lens lineup was smaller and it had a gimmicky retro design that should have been long put out to pasture. All these things should have had me running. So why didn’t I?
One thing that really stuck with me from all the Fuji reviews was the absolute passion in photography these cameras evoked in people. These weren’t pray and spray cameras; these were artist’s tools requiring a methodical and thoughtful approach. They slowed the process of photography down and made people think more about what they were doing. I started to realize this was more important to someone who was looking to improve their photographic skills and certainly more important than having a whole host of camera features I’d probably never use. The image quality was another reason people liked the X-series. The unique Fuji sensors combined with their superb lenses produce razor sharp images with great contrast and color. The addition of software that gave images the characteristics of some classic Fuji film types makes them a potential wet dream for photographers that had learnt their trade in the pre-digital era. My decision was made. Again. No, seriously this time!!
After another week of research I finally headed off to my local camera store, traded in my D700 and walked out with a brand new Fuji X-100T. My reasoning for having this as my first choice was simple. It has a fixed lens so I would not have the additional costs of separate lenses, and at the time it was one of Fujifilm’s most advanced camera in terms of hardware and software technology. I also figured that having the one lens would help me focus more on developing my composition and creative skills. I started to carry it everywhere with me, shooting on a daily basis rather than weekly. I no doubt became a major pain in the ass for my family as I would snap the most mundane shots no matter what the context (This hasn’t changed, I’m still a pain in the ass). Photography was becoming fun again and that was a liberating experience for me. I couldn’t wait to have a reason to go out and shoot. The compact size combined with the silent electronic shutter made it the perfect camera for candid photography. The image quality was superb for such a small camera and the film simulations added new levels of creativity to my shots. Was it the perfect camera? No. It had issues like all cameras but none of them were a distraction from the joy of shooting with it. Within 6 months I knew I was going to be a committed Fuji shooter.
A while later Fuji had rebates on some of their products, so I took the plunge and bought three lenses, the 35mm f1.4, the 56mm f1.2 and the 10-24mm f4. This was about 2 months before I bought a body to go with them, finally picking up a second hand X-Pro1. It wasn’t as slick as the newer X-100T and the usability was not as intuitive, but like its smaller brother it was a joy to shoot. The firmware updates Fuji had released improved on the X-Pro1’s focusing abilities, that while still not as responsive as some DLSR’s, made shooting a little less frustrating. The free firmware updates that Fuji release to constantly improve on their products is a credit to them and a reason why their customers tend to be very loyal. Rather than asking you to go buy a new camera each time they improve something they just give it you in the form of a download. Lenses are often a big factor in choosing a camera system, and while the lens lineup was initially small, they were able to reassure customers buying into the system by uniquely issuing a road map for lens releases over the next two years, and it one they have stuck with. The quality of the fuji lenses is superb, both in terms of image quality and build, and while older lenses like the 35mm f1.4 can be a bit slow compared with the newer releases, it produces beautiful images.
It’s now 12 months down the line for me and Fuji, and our relationship just seems to just get better. I’m now in for three bodies (X-100T, X-Pro1 and X-T1) and five lenses, the most recent being the beautiful 16mm f1.4. One rather unexpected result of switching systems is it cured me of G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I no longer trawl the internet for new toys or gimmicks to keep my enthusiasm alive, I simple pick up my Fuji and shoot. It’s become the perfect therapy for a recovering gearhead.
I do need a 50-140mm f2.8 at some point in the near future though. Seriously. Just sayin’.
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* British Armed Forces store