Why Did I Leave The Fuji System….

In the past few weeks I have receive a large amount of e-mails asking why I stopped using the Fuji X Series Cameras and rather than reply to every e-mail and to answer questions from some of my workshop delegates it seemed easier to write a blog post.

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To be honest I have kept away from the blog for a long period now as we have been concentrating on developing our wedding photography business. So please excuse the long winded article. I am not a fantastic blog writer so please bear with me. As always happy to answer any questions you may have which you can direct to me on Face Book, Twitter or indeed in the comments section of the blog.

Moving camera systems is not a decision any professional photographer takes lightly.

Once you choose a camera system for professional use the addition of lenses flash systems and spare camera bodies starts to represent a very significant investment indeed and as professionals we need to make sure we get a return on our investment as well as ensuring we have the right equipment available to do the specific job we need it to do.

Way back, I think it was in 2011 now a new camera hit the street in the shape of the Fuji x100. As a long time Leica user I had been looking for a small affordable hi quality camera to use at weddings along side my Canon DSLRs, as well as becoming my daily street photography camera. I had tried the Leica M8 as a possible candidate for this role with no success at all.

My main requirement was for a camera that was compact with a 35mm or 28mm lens of good quality and above all it needed to be responsive, with good focus and exposure control.The New Fuji X100 seemed to fit the bill so one was ordered and after some testing made its debut in my wedding camera bag. The idea was to have a small camera which would be more suitable for documentary work.

At the end of that wedding I quickly realised the X100 was not the right tool for me at weddings. It was however proving its worth for street photography. I was enjoying the size and weight of the camera ,so after a single outing it was retired from the wedding bag to find a home in my street photography bag for some time to come.

Along with a 28mm EQV convertor I enjoyed using the X100 despite it being a very slow camera in operation compared to any recent camera I had used it was nice to use in a considered way and came with us on some overseas trips as our personal camera.

The quest for a small “rangefinder type” camera continued and when the Fuji XPro-1 was released in 2012 I purchased one to try along with its initial set of three lenses.

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Whilst never a fast camera I did find it useful at weddings and it became a fixture in my camera bag. What was more interesting as a past Leica user, I found it replacing my Canons on all our foreign trips and i started to enjoy working with the limited lens range.

The XPro 1 started to see more and more use at weddings, and despite some negative comments about speed and poor AF on the internet forums, I found myself adapting my shooting style for both professional work and my own personal photography to suit the new Fuji Camera.

The regular firmware updates continued to see significant improvements in the all round performance of the XPro 1 and it became a very useable camera indeed. I was still at this time shooting weddings on the Canon system but enjoying the reduced weight of the much smaller Fuji cameras.

My suffering at the hands of the retro and very fashionable but slow X100 came to an end when it was replaced by the gift of a new X100s. This became my street photography camera of choice and the wide angle convertor never left this camera.

Things plodded along with a mix of Canon and Fuji at weddings for some and with a growing set of Fuji lenses, which are superb incidentally, my personal photography was pretty much all Fuji based as far as digital was concerned.

Then along came the Fuji XT1 a really nice little camera, and so compact you could carry a pair of them all day and not really notice the weight at all.

I very quickly got two XT1 bodies and based on the good image quality and body size and weight I used these progressively  more and more at weddings. As new Fuji lenses became available in the shape of the 23mm F1.4 and 56mm F1.2 I decided to retire my two Canon bodies and run with a Fuji only kit. This I did for well over a year.P4150030

I had issues with the Fuji cameras, but then again no camera is perfect and to be honest I became a big advocate of the Fuji system. You could say I was a bit of a fanboy in all honesty.

My biggest issues was AF consistency in low light, what seemed to me to be a very sluggish response to the shutter and the short life of the batteries, I was using between 9 and 12 batteries in a days shooting, like most things you get used to it and adapt, but the AF performance improved with some of the great Fuji software updates and the camera became comfortable. I learned to exploit its advantages, small size and low weight, and I equally worked round its disadvantages, slow AF, poor battery performance and total lack of a professional TTL flash system.

By February this year (2016) I owned four Fuji bodies and a complete set of lenses. Both Zooms and Primes. So I was in pretty deep with the system. I did however still have most of my Canons.

When I got a commission to photograph a very big two day Indian wedding, which was all to take place indoors, with very little quality light to speak of and a massive list of posed group photographs to take, I knew the Fuji would struggle to handle the flash requirement. There was no way I could use just manual or Off Camera Flash. I really did need TTL flash with some power.

So the decision was made to use the Canons for the first time in well over 12 months. The decision was made simply on the basis of faster AF in the dark working conditions and the fact I could use the Canon 580EX flash guns for two day and in was confident from past experience battery performance wouldn’t be a concern.

The Canons performed well as they always did but my neck and back was not used to carrying the weight of two pro Canon bodies with lenses and flash. At the end of day two I felt like I had run a triathlon.

Once the files from the two day shoot were going through the editing I was amazed to see in the candid images my strike rate of keepers was much higher than I had been used to and my timing seemed to have improved over night.

When I looked back over my work from the past 2 years both professional and personal I realised my strike rate had become pretty low. This was most evident in my street photography. I also realised when looking at wedding work I was not as good with my timing as I was, to be honest I had put this down to age to some degree. As we get older we loose a bit of speed.

The fact that a change of system improved my strike rate got me thinking and I started a long process of evaluating just was was wrong and what if anything could be done to improve the situation.

If I just back track two last year, I went on a street photography workshop with one the Fuji X Photographers, Kevin Mullins. I love Kevin’s work and admire his style so its was great to see how he operated.

Kevin was a big advocate of the Zone / Hyperlocal method of focusing both in his street and wedding work. As I had found the Fuji AF system pretty slow to say the least I once again started to use this system which I had used with success in my days with Leica rangefinder cameras.

The zone system uses manual focus so the fact that it does not need to focus means it must be quicker…. just like a manual camera from many years ago.

I started to use manual focus more and more in fact I found myself using more manual control with the Fuji cameras. I found they often slightly overexposed, so I started to us manual metering or dial in permanent compensation. White balance often tented to be a bit on the bluish side, so I used manual control for this as well.

My big gripe with battery life and the lack of a reliable battery meter in the camera meant I often turned off the camera in an attempt to reduce power consumption. This did mean a slow start up process and Im confident led me to miss some shots.

When I looked at how I was operating. I was using manual Focus or Zone Focus pretty much full time. I did us Back Button AF on my Fuji XT1. I was working with manual metering and manual white balance all the time. I was in effect using a fully mechanical camera and I thought to my self all the modern auto functions I have paid for are not helping me at all, in fact they are slowing me down to the point that I need to turn them off. A bit of a Eureka moment!!

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A few weeks after the Indian wedding we had a trip to Barcelona booked. It was a holiday, but city trips are always great for street photography. I had some specific art shots I wanted but nothing to demanding on equipment, and there was no pressure to produce images, so I decided to take an X100s and a single XT1 and use the cameras in full auto exposure (A) and full AF to see how they worked without too much intervention from me.

To cut a long story short. My attempts at street photography with the XT1 were very poor. The camera was very slow to respond and AF was constantly hunting and in many cases not finding its target.

The X100s was better it seemed a bit quicker in general but very soon I gave up and went back to manual focus.

When it came to static travel and architectural images the cameras were very good, I knew they would be able to handle this type of work. The problem is I love documentary photography and they were not working quickly enough to suit my style or approach.

With some time away from the office I started to evaluate were I was at with the cameras I had at my disposal for both professional work and my personal projects.

Looking back over the past couple of years  it was clear I had started to work around the limitations of my cameras and in this time my style had changed. I was taking more shots because I could carry equipment more easily and for longer, I was getting some shots because the smaller cameras were less intrusive… but the big but was my pictures were becoming more static and I was loosing the quick reactions I had always enjoyed because my cameras were basically very slow in operation compared to modern DSLR equipment.

The search needed to start for a replacement. Canon was the obvious choice. I had them. No investment was required, always good in business, and I knew they could do the job. Truth is I have never liked Canon cameras ergonomics (always a Nikon Shooter and drifted into them) and more to the point even if I did go back to Nikon the initial investment would be massive and I would be back to carrying large bags of cameras and big lenses.

So one afternoon in April I headed off to my local camera shop (Thank god they still are on the high street) and started to look at possible options.

Fuji had just released the brand new XPro 2 which many people were saying solved all of the Fuji AF and battery life issues along with being more durable and generally faster in operation. So this looked like the best solution for my needs. I had started to have some problems with bits falling off my XT1 bodies. Dials getting stiff and things just wearing out. So the idea of using all my great Fuji lenses on a new more heavy duty pro body gave me some hope. Cameras in professional use do get a lot of abuse. so this in its self is not a problem with the XT1.

I also decided to look at the offerings from Sony and Olympus. The Sony very quickly confused me and seemed strange in the hand. The Fuji XPro 2 seemed nice and comfortable but early tests in the shop left me feeling the camera was not that much faster in operation and it was still missing focus in the low shop light, which incidentally is bright compared to the average dance floor. Also the demo camera I used showed a two bar reading on the battery meter, within a few shots the camera was dead, so the battery meter was not much better either.

Once I tried the Nikon I loved everything but the weight… and cost. I knew I didn’t want to go back to a big DSLR.

So I moved on to the Olympus system, first the OND EM1 and then the OMD EM5mkII. Initial thoughts were very positive and every side by side test I made comparing the cameras to the Fuji led to the conclusion the Olympus camera were indeed better across the range of my requirements.

When I say better let me qualify and say better for my style. I had never used a Olympus digital camera before so more research was needed.

When I was back in the office I wrote down my wish list for my new ideal camera.

  1. Superb image quality at up to 3200iso
  2. Fast AF
  3. Good battery life
  4. Access to great lenses
  5. Small body and low weight
  6. Fast startup from standby
  7. Durability
  8. Good Ergonomics

A second trip to the camera shop and more handling of the Olympus cameras saw me leave with a OMD EM1 body and two pro zoom lenses. The 12-40mm F2.8 and the 40-150mm F2.8 These were to be my evaluation system and If they proved suitable tools I would consider a system swap.

At the same time I was very fortunate to have on loan a Fuji XPro 2 so some good comparisons could be made.

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What surprised me was indeed how quickly I felt at home with the Olympus system I loved the speed of the EM1. So much so that I decided that I was ready to run live at a wedding with the Olympus system in less than a week of using the system.

We had a great wedding booked at a venue I know very well and the bride and groom had given us a full “Do your thing brief” so I took the bold step and shot the entire wedding on the new Olympus with its two lenses.

I did use the Fuji XPro 2 with suitable lenses for some very wide shots along with some using my much loved 56mm F1.2 (The best Fuji lens IMO) Other than these few shots all I used was the Olympus.

When it came to the first dance I had become used to putting the Fuji into manual focus and just shooting in the old Zone style with a super wide lens for maximum depth of field.

I didn’t need to worry the Olympus was able to Auto focus in conditions the Fuji just didn’t handle at all. Interestingly all day using only one Olympus body with booster grip loaned from a friend, I only used three batteries and never once got caught out by a less than accurate power gauge.

I left that wedding feeling very happy indeed. Not once limited by my equipment and truly able to shoot how I wanted, were I wanted. I never once thought about the camera not being able to do the job. It just felt right.

Still the proof is in the images. People had warned it was hard to control depth of field on the smaller M4\3 Olympus sensor. They also warned of poor quality at high ISO.

Well final edit complete with no such worries. In fact the Olympus images were very good quality and easy to work with and integrate into my work flow. Raw files needed little work and Jpegs were indeed superb. Every bit as good as the Fuji X Trans files for what I needed them to do.

I was happy, in fact I was very happy. So much so that I quickly, in the space of a week sold all my Fuji kit and replaced it with my dream wish list Olympus kit. Even more interesting is that after less than a month using the Olympus cameras, I sold off most of my last remaining bits of Canon gear.

All the time I was  using the Fuji system I was never confident enough to sell my Canon kit. But I now know the Olympus gear will do what i need. I have faith in the durability of the cameras and I also feel confident that Olympus as a company are able to look after the needs of a professional photographer, this is something Fuji failed to do on a number of separate occasions for me.

Just before I returned my loan Fuji XPro 2 to its owner I did some final test just to make sure I was making the right move. About the same time I read a superb article again by Fuji X Photographer Kevin Mullins saying how he was now using a twin XPro 2 kit and getting great battery performance by turning off the camera.

I am no technician but I would think most electronic appliances would use less power if you turned them off…. not a massive selling point.

This article connived my my choice was the right one for me. Over the next few weeks I filled in some important lens sytem gaps and discovered the joy of the Panasonic / Leica 42.5mm F1.2 which I managed to find in perfect condition in a used camera cabinet in my local dealer.Anotherplace Study 2

I honestly love the Olympus system and now work with a pair of OMD EM5mkII bodies along with my initial OMD EM1. I have pretty much every lens I could want. Possibly I will add a 300mm F4 Zuiko at some point for personal projects and I hear a 25mm F1.2 Zuiko is on the cards. I will have my order in for that as soon as its released.

A few people have asked if there is anything I don’t like about the Olympus system. The only real gripe would be the dedicated speedlight, which is a bit slow to re charge but more importantly has such small controls my fingers struggle to operate them. Whilst I do have an Olympus flash my go to flash gun is a Metz unit it and performs perfectly, every bit as good as my old Canons.

Otherwise I am very pleased with my new system…. The icing on the cake for came when I discovered the Olympus Pen F. This camera is about the size and weight of the Fuji X100s but boasts superb auto focus and near instant start up.

I am now using the Pen F for all my street and travel photography as well as using it as a small unobtrusive documentary camera at weddings much if you remember what I initially wanted the Fuji X100 to do. I just love the Pen F and it never leaves my side now.

Since I have been using the Olympus system I seem to have re found my ability to catch the moment and I love how little I think about the operation of the camera when on shoots.

One thing I do feel strongly and in some was a little ab

angry  about is the way Fuji use the X Photographers to promote there cameras. I have never in many years in photography seen such aggressive promotion of any camera brand in the semi or pro market place and I don’t think all the stuff we read is as it first seems.

There is much smoke and mirrors in the world of camera equipment and I must admit I fell for a lot of it with Fuji. I enjoyed my time with the Fuji system, it taught me the massive advantages of using smaller cameras for documentary style work and it made me see photography in a different way.

In the end we need to find equipment we are happy with and if one particular brand of camera works for you then great go with it. However if as I did you find a specific tool is limiting your ability then don’t be afraid to look out of the box for a solution.

I must admit Olympus cameras didn’t really come onto my radar when I first stared using the Fuji system. When you think the Olympus technology in the OMD EM1 is now some three years old. It really does show how far Fuji were behind with AF technology and speed of operation when the XT1 was released.

I have struggled and allowed my camera to effect my style of working all this time and the solution was there if only I had spent more time testing cameras and not responding to hype on the internet.

With the OMD EM5 I feel I now have a small camera vastly superior in the things that are important to me than I had with the Fuji XT1. As for the Pen F well this camera suits me so much better than the Fuji X100s ever did and I hope some of its new features find their way onto the next generation of Olympus cameras.

Many of us have fallen for the retro looks of cameras and convinced ourselves slow operation is a fact of life with non DSLR cameras. Its not true. You need to test every possible option when selecting a camera and don’t just be led by public opinion and the words of pro photographers who have a vested interest in helping to sell a specific brand.

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The latest technology isn’t always the best solution and whilst equipment is never as important as the images it produces, if f you find your equipment limiting you, then move on….

As a full time working photographer I must have tools that do the job. I can within reason have any camera I want or need to do the task in hand and all our equipment is purchased with out own money. So what I hope to pass on to you here is a one hundred percent honest review of why I moved to the Smaller format system cameras and how I finally found the perfect camera for me and my style of photography.

I am not saying these small cameras are right for every job there are not. In the future I think we will see mirrorless  cameras taking over the work of DSLRs in many areas of photography.

So pleased I was an early adopter of these smaller mirrorless  cameras and I look forward to continuing the freedom they give. Now I have a system that in all honesty works just like a DSLR I see no real reason to ever consider using a “Full Frame” camera again.

I mentioned I was finding it impossible to respond quickly enough in some street and wedding situations. On my first commissioned shoot with an Olympus I was feeling more confident that i was not only capturing the moment but I had the speed and flexibility to capture candid sequences.

Just to close here is one image from a sequence taken on my first Olympus only wedding. Conditions were very dark indeed and I was shooting at my maximum preferred ISO of 3200 with auto focus and auto exposure. This was a pure reactive grab shot no time to focus or worry to much about exposure. I honestly don’t think I would have got that shot with my old Fuji XT1 others possibly would, but this entire exercise has been about finding the right tool for me and my style of working.

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