The Protog Diaries - The Gear: My System of Choice

When it came to the camera I needed to get for this type of work, DSLRs were the obvious choice. But during the time I spent using film, I owned a total of 2 SLRs (out of, at least, 40-50 cameras). Mostly, I shot with small point and shoots and rangefinder cameras. I developed an aversion to the traditional SLR, even though there's a reason why a large majority of pros use them. I love my Leica M4-P and I wanted a camera that could emulate that type of shooting experience. Of course I could have just bought a digital Leica - but really, not many people (myself included) have that type of cash lying around. I was left with just one obvious choice - the Fuji X-Pro 1

I started my search in the usual spots - eBay, KEH, etc. etc. but I couldn't find one that fit my strict budget of $1,000. Until I did - in a small but highly reputable used camera store called The Camera Exchange in Box Hill. They had one in very decent condition as a kit with the 35mm, which was one of the lenses I wanted to get. I asked how much - the guy replied $1,100 - I said $850 - he said $1,000 - I said $900 - *silence* "OK". Transaction complete (obviously it wasn't that easy or quick).

 My X-Pro 1 with the 18mm f2 and the 35mm f1.4. 

My X-Pro 1 with the 18mm f2 and the 35mm f1.4. 

So - I now have a camera that I can really see myself shooting with and one of the sharpest normal lens in the Fuji X lens line-up. What to get next - a wide-angle.

I've been shooting with a 35mm focal range for as long as I can remember and I'm very very comfortable with it. It's a nice normal-ish wide-angle focal range - unfortunately, the new 23mm lens (35mm equiv. on X-Pro 1) Fuji released is over a $1,000. A definite no no for now. I like their new 27mm pancake (40mm equiv.) but that extra 5mm makes it into more of a normal lens rather than wide. The only other option remaining was the 18mm (27mm equiv.). Luckily, I found a nice used one in very good condition for about $250 including shipping. Happy happy!

I got a few 8GB Sandisk Ultra Class 10 SD cards*. Why 8GB? Well, I'm really paranoid when it comes to data. So I figured, at 16mp an 8GB card can hold around 100 odd RAW+JPEG files - so if one memory card gets corrupted, or my camera gets stolen (I don't have a backup body as yet), etc. that would be the most amount of photos I would loose. And that's a number I can (kind of) afford to loose in a worst case scenario. Why shoot RAW+JPEG? Well, it's just a personal preference. I like to shoot portraits with the inbuilt Astia film presets and the camera will show you a preview of it in camera when shooting RAW but only applies the preset to the JPEG file (gives me a good reference point to work off in post). Everyone's got a system and there's no right or wrong here. Just do whatever works for you but keep it consistent so you don't get confused down the track.
*UPDATE: Looks like I'll have to upgrade my cards after a less than favourable experience when shooting a family portrait (post about that coming soon).

As much as I love the Fuji, this camera does have it's quirks. The main quirk being the AF system. The contrast detect system it uses is extremely accurate but it's a pain to use with longer lenses to say the least (Fuji's 60mm simply refuses to focus unless you've got the sun 3 feet away from the subject) - especially in low contrast situations. But as is the case with any gear you own and intend to 'work' with, you need to know it inside out and, after spending slightly more than a year with it, I'm more than comfortable using it blindfolded. As a result, my misses with the AF are almost nonexistent. The main thing to remember when using CDAF is to point the AF point to an area where there is some contrast (hence the name). 

Apart from the AF, I personally don't like the placement of the 'Q' button. I really like the functionality the 'Q' button provides, but it keeps getting in my way. I have rather large and fat hands and this camera is a tad bit clumsy to grip right (for me). But once I do, it's extremelly comfortable and familiar. I did end up getting the big accessory grip for it though ($120 odd for the grip is a bit rich) - funny, my Leica is slimmer and shorter than this - never had any issues holding that comfortably...

The crappy AF and somewhat questionable button placement aside, I almost don't miss using my Leica when I'm shooting with this. It beautifully made - the lenses are small(ish) and, best of all, the image quality is superb to say the least.

There are other limitations as well. There aren't as many accessories for this system as compared to Nikon or Canon (even Sony). Especially when it came to purchasing wireless triggers and speedlights. I have a few existing run-of-the-mill manual Sunpak flashes that have never given me any trouble when used on any camera - ever (film or digital). But for some odd reason, the Fuji won't fire them (they even work on my Ricoh GRD 4!). Same story with the el cheapo wireless triggers. I was going to go with the usual Yongnuo WTs but a large majority of them don't work - the ones that do, have horrible reliability issues (some have been able to use the usual Yongnuo WTs successfully but a large majority have had issues and I wasn't in the mood to take the risk). Sure Pocket Wizards are the industry standard but they're nearly $250 (Plus IIIs) a pop here in Aus! Second hand Plus IIs can be had for a reasonable price but still expensive (of course, PWs are on the wish list but not until I have all my start-up kit ready). After nearly a week or so of research, I finally settled on a set of speedlights and triggers (more on those in the next post).

So that's the camera side of things covered. Why I went mirrorless instead of the usual DSLRs and how I've started building that kit. Let see how I go. Looking at the lens roadmap that Fuji put up with the release of their gorgeous 56 1.2, doesn't look like people are going to be left craving for many lenses in the Nikon/Canon lineup. And especially with the XT-1 - Fuji is maturing into a proper pro system. I think Fuji was the right choice. Haven't regretted it so far! I must admit, though, there were occasions when I craved a DSLR simply because or their AF speed. But that was about it. I'm waiting for the release of the X-Pro2 but if for some reason I don't get that (there's only one reason - price - apparently it's going to be quite a bit more expensive than the current XT-1), the XT-1 is a no brainer. Beautiful EVF that (in some situations) is even better than a traditional OVF, same exceptional sensor as my X-Pro1 and AF as fast as most DSLRs. I'm just hesitant since it looks like a SLR.... I'm weird...

Next up - lighting and basic light modifiers.  

*N.B.There is no affiliate marketing stuff going on with the links in this post. They are purely for reference.