The XT-1 Issue, Head On

This micro-site is more about process than some ultimate final end result. As such I thought I might share a few asides somewhat peripheral to the actual photographic project. Sometime around the spring of 2014 the notion for the Black/White project popped into my head while making some promotional images and fooling around with Mary. For about a year I didn't pursue the project except for the occasional opportunity that presented itself, no more than a few minutes while working on something else.

By coincidence or some sort of subconscious scheme two completely unrelated things came together in the early days of this summer. The first is my commitment to work with the Fuji XT-1 exclusively for six months without falling back to my go-to Nikon cameras. The mission: Determine if I really could live without an optical viewfinder for the way I work. The other thing that happened is I started in earnest experimenting with approach for this project.

The EVF only thing is not my first try. Not even close. I've tried before with many mirrorless cameras. The issue referenced in the title was solely my experiece with EVF's in the past. I hated them, reminding me a lot of a camcorder from the '80's. I just did not enjoy viewing my subjects in what felt like very disconnected way. Worse yet there was a real show-stopper with EVF's, every single one I ever tried threw my timing off.

That timing thing deserves a little explanation. I make photographs of people, people are never the same moment to moment. Everything changes all the time. For my purposes, moment is everthing. Pile on top of that the fact that I never photograph static subjects and the EVF timing thing was a no-go. I don't think it was ultimately about lag alone. After working with the XT-1 for the last six months throwing everything at it I could think of in my approach experiments I think it's also a lot about consistency or lack of variability in lag.

One way or another every camera has some sort of lag. Hell, humans have lag. My Hasselblad 500 series cameras were down right slow compared to most cameras, even compared to old digital cameras. The certainly took far longer to go through all the 42 mechanical things between hitting the shutter button and exposing film than any of the Fuji or other EVF cameras I've tried before. Even though slower then never threw me off. Grabbing moments has as much to do with predicting, seeing it coming, feeling it coming and knowing when to start moving that finger on the shutter release. EVF cameras never worked; Until now.

As of a week or so ago all of my Nikon digital gear is gone. All of my AF glass, all of my bodies. The only Nikon gear I still have is film gear and AiS glass I've owned for decades. I didn't make this decision lightly. I had an idea early on the EVF timing thing wasn't going to be an obstacle with the XT-1 but before diving head first I made thousands of pictures on dozens of occasions under every different lighting condition and every different subject interaction circumstance I could think of. The bottom line is that I can pull of things with the XT-1 that I could with my OVF Nikon DSLR's, my film cameras, my Leicas, all of them and I could do it very consistently over and over and over again.

Above is a 100% view of an image used as the cover page for the site. Enlarged so you can see what I am talking about. Feel free to open it up in a new window to get a microscopic view. Shot at a slow-ish 1/75s Wendy was moving very fast. Take a look what's going on with the crop. Specifically the bits hooked to the crop that can move independently of the rigid part. That's motion blur of those little bits still moving after the crop came to an abrupt halt.

Now that kind of thing may be of no import to you. Ninty-nine percent of all people in the world wouldn't know or see the difference between this shot and one that I setup as static. I see a huge difference and that's what I care about. In fact this whole project and all of my experiments in approach have been all about grabbing gesture, expression, and body language.

Here's the whole thing. See the other little bit at the end?

Cameras that are feel inconsistent in my ability to feel the moment and nail it drive me nuts. The Fuji XT-1 doesn't.

Like this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

and this:

I could show hundreds of examples. Trust me before the XT-1 I just could not pull this stuff off with an EVF camera. I've tried. I suspect there are a few more out there at this point that would suit my rather specialized needs. Do I care? Not really, especially if the lens system doesn't fit me and what I want. Doubly so if the camera bodies are tiny but the glass is the same size as full-frame DSLR glass. That leads into other reasons my Nikon full-frame DSLR's are history. More on that later under a title something like Finding Home

Now a few things that are not so rosy. Does the XT-1 or any EVF look exactly like my beloved OVF's from the 70's, 80's, and 90's film cameras? No it doesn't. EVF's still suck outdoors in very bright light. I'm willing to trade that off as it's a relatively rare circumstance for me. I'm also willing to trade off seeing pixels for ultimate size of the viewfinder. Every single digital viewfinder in any of my Nikon's is just too small. They are nothing like an F2, an FM, and miles away from say an Olympus OM-1 let alone one of my film Hasselblads.

I like the size of the XT-1's viewfinder I can live with a bit of coarseness now that my timing thing is gone. I'm still not satisfied with the sate of viewfinder affairs in digital cameras. Never have been but the DSLR guys can't seem to sort out a great viewfinder in over a decade compared to my film 35mm cameras. Maybe Fuji can in the 4 or 14 models. For now this one is adequate in terms of trade-offs for me.

Stay tuned for more on my six month Fujifilm XT-1 odyssey.

Note: Yes, that is Aperture 3. Yes I still like it better than anything else out there. More about that when I get around to that post Finding Home