Finding Home Pt.1 Fuji XT-1

Since the dawn of digital I've been seeking a place I could call home in some things I really liked about the gear and the process I already had with film. I thought to myself, any day now, any day, we'll have cameras the size we have had for decades and decades with 35mm film. We'd have glass that was better than the sensor (or film) by a reasonable margin as well as an overall rendering that was pleasing. We would have simple in terms of cameras, post-processing, viewing, etc.

As the years past my "any day now" optimism turned into cold, hard cynicism as most of my more romantic views on the world usually do. I made the best of it and tried to optimize my desire for what I had with all of the well known "benefits" of digital. I never did feel at home with the cameras operation, size, and feel. I did find home with Apple Aperture 3 but that's another story, gone now and without anything even close when taken as a whole.

Don't get me wrong. Faster is usually better, more resolution is sometimes better, increased IQ, ever increasing ISO capability. All of that can be great but at the same time there was no progress on that other front, size, feel, etc. In fact cameras and lenses grew completely out of control in my opinion. At least for what I wanted, especially for personal work. Something with the feel, size, and overall aesthetic similar to 35mm film. Meanwhile all of the usual suspects seemed to be solely focused on "large format" film IQ at stratospheric ISO's and kit size that to be blunt was larger than my 8x10 film camera and a couple of lenses.

I've been interested in and actually a customer of Fujifilm since the original X100 and then the X-PRO-1. Both of those cameras were not quite there. I won't go into all the reasons but at the end of the details I could go on about, they just weren't fluid in feel. Forget ultimate speed or anything like that. They just feel in the way, they didn't turn invisible using them no matter how much time I put in.

I guess that's the ultimate bottom line in my own personal "finding home" evaluation. My six months with the XT-1 proves to me I've finally found a home in terms of gear. Software and back-end process, well that once solved problem is now open again but that's for another post.

Best Of Three Worlds

Leica, Nikon, and Olympus; I kept three film 35mm systems afloat. I sort of still do. Why would one do this? Well, I never really could decide between the three. I never used them all at the same time and never really on the same project. They all had aspects I adored and others I despised. Let's count the ways…

  • Leica, I loved the size and the glass. Had a love/hate relationship with the viewfinder depending on the lens I had mounted.
  • Olympus, Loved, loved, loved the viewfinder and the size. The glass was terrible to okay depending on which particular lens. The controls were somewhat awful.
  • Nikon, size of the FM/FE was great. Viewfinders so-so. Glass okay to fantastic, mostly above par. Handling was amazing.

That brings us to the Fuji XT-1. In all honestly it really does all the things I liked about my three 35mm film systems depending on the ambient light. It sucks (like all EVF's) in bright outdoor conditions. It kinda sucks in really dim conditions. Both of those are exceptions for me on personal projects and definitely this particular project. If I could live with the things I didn't like about my three 35mm film systems I can certainly live with those two niggles for now. I expect the EVF's will only get better from here. That expectation of EVFs getting better is not the same as my "any day now" other thing. Even if they didn't, I feel at home. It doesn't feel like it's in my way.

The Glass

The glass is what kept me trying, and trying with the X-PRO-1 a couple of years ago but the rest of the camera never got out of my way. One way or another it was always calling attention to itself in ways that were not at all what I consider fluid and invisible. If I loved the glass when there were only three lenses you can bet the farm that I feel even more so now. Hell, I even love the lowly XF 18-55mm R kit lens I got for free.

All of the images slathered about the post from the reject pile of this project were made with the 18-55mm. I have a bunch of primes that are even "better".I love the rendering and overall look of every single one. From super-wide to the 56mm they all look great at all apertures. Heck they even render things I have a real problem with on most other lenses, like partially out of focus hair. And for once I'm not horrified with their size.

What's the sense of a small camera with gargantuan lenses like the A7? While I acknowledge the utility and quality of fast zooms (even Fuji now makes fast zooms that are too big for my taste) they have no part in any of my personal projects. Too heavy, too intrusive to subjects, and laborious to deal with all day.

The Size, Feel, And Sound

I've mentioned the size and where the XT-1 falls more than a few times. In the Bigger Than A Bread Basket Post I illustrated just how big today's digital cameras are compared to 35mm SLR's I used to adore. The fact that the XT-1 falls exactly in-between a Nikon FM and an Olympus OM-1/2 counts a lot towards my particular "right size" evaluation. It's just about perfect. The glass is not as small as Leica M glass or even most of the OM-1 primes. The Fujinon lenses are genreally in line with a heck of a lot of my old Nikkor primes that I was perfectly happy with.

The XT-1 and all of the Fuji lenses I own feel right as well. They are the right density without being overly heavy. They are not quite the delight of Nikkor or Leica lenses in terms of feel but are nowhere near as horrid feeling and scratchy-plasticy as most of the new AF lenses out there and that's a big factor of getting out of my way and feeling at home. Hell I shot old manual focus glass on my Nikon Df just due to size and feel.

Last is the sound. It's far quieter than any of my digital or even most of my film SLR cameras. It may even be almost as quiet as my M film cameras, I've not done a comparison but it can be even quieter with the electronic shutter. Again a big win and yet another reason it fills the shoes nicely of the three film 35mm systems I used for personal work.

I'll have a lot more to say about finding home not only about the Fuji but other techno-crap aspects that inevitably are a must with photographic endeavors. Stay tuned, until then back to some more important stuff like process and philosophy.