After two years of using my Fuji
Small, lightweight, fast, powerful and 24mp with access to superior quality Fuji lenses was a compelling prospect. Would I really go back to aps-c after years of photographing weddings with Nikon full frame ‘professional’ cameras such as the D4? The concise answer is yes, like a shot! With 2017 wedding photography commissions as far-spread as the UK, Republic of Ireland and Sardinia, I was feeling the burden of those big, bulky Nikons each time I stood at a Ryanair check-in desk. I’d even had a stand-off with a FlyBe check-in person who insisted my camera bag was too heavy to travel as cabin luggage. She had a point, it weighed well over 10kg and the official FlyBe limit was 7kg. Fortunately, her Superior, who I had insisted on joining us in the conversation, was a human being and bent the rules ‘Just this once….’. Whilst I was lurching my way from Birmingham to Knock, firmly wedged into my seat by the morbidly obese fellow traveller to my left and a Dash-8 turbo prop thumping away 10 feet from my right ear, I decided something had to be done. But what? A couple of smaller Nikon aps-c cameras like the D7200? Ugh, no, Nikon don’t make any worthwhile prime lenses for aps-c anyway. Micro 4/3rds? Nope, too miniscule, too fiddly, the M4/3 sensor is a step size too far down and I’m a red-blooded bloke. I know some blokes do it well enough with their tiny pea-shooters, but it’s not for me.
That leaves Leica, Sony, Panasonic or Fuji as potential smaller camera options for my wedding photography. Two of those are better at making tv’s than logical stills cameras for wedding photographers, another has been having a laugh at the expense of photographer’s bank accounts for years with their abysmal quality control issues and non-existent professional support (I say that as a Leica user, too!), but the other is definitely viable. Welcome, little Fujifilm X-T2!
Black Friday was the starting gun to launching open season on my credit card, but there was some methodology in my madness: Fujifilm were throwing in double cashback Black Friday offers on all of the lenses I had earmarked. No such offer on the X-T2, though. Fujifilm know when they’re onto a good thing, but Fujifilm are as good as their word and I did claw back £792 from the Black Friday lens deals. Not a bad saving, it will pay for a 90mm lens…or 2/3rds of an X100F…..or half way to a second X-T2……or…..
Anyway, the deed was done and a pallet-load of Nikon stuff was shed a few weeks later to settle the credit card bill and preserve my credit rating. I felt like I had lost 20kg in weight. Some diet!
The X-T2 arrived with the VPB-XT2 grip, two sets of batteries, the 14mm f2.8, 16mm f1.4, 23mm f1.4, 35mm f1.4 and 56mm f1.2 lenses, a Cactus RF60x flash and a Cactus V6ii transceiver My secondary camera is the rather lovely and hitherto faithful X100T with it’s twin supplementary lenses.
Did I say something about losing weight? The point is that at least two of those lenses, the 14mm and 16mm, and the Cactus RF60x flash won’t be carried throughout the day. They will live mainly in the back of the van, rattling around in the now redundant Think Tank Airport International V2 mobile home that I no longer need, until they are required by necessity. The main event will be photographed with minimal kit, namely the 23mm & 35mm and the X100T with WCL-X100. Let’s analyse that weight loss: XT-2 with the 35mm in the Spider Holster, X100F with WCL-X100 in the Peak Capture Pro clip on the same belt, the 23mm f1.4 with spare batteries and cards in the Think Tank Speed Freak. Or substitute the 35mm f1.4 for the 56mm f1.2.
Yes, I could have saved even more weight and a load of money by buying a second X100T and using only a brace of X100T’s with a pair of supplementary lenses. It’s very do-able and was briefly tempting, but no thanks, I like f1.4 lenses. I learnt a long time ago that four to six carefully selected prime lenses offer a plethora of different options and combinations and you don’t need to carry all of them all of the time.
Freedom From Zoom Lenses
You will have noticed there is not a zoom lens in sight. I prefer prime lenses until Fujifilm produce a 16-70mm f1.4 zoom no larger than the 56mm f1.2 and of equal mtf values, that’s all. I’ve already proven that I’m an optimist, so I’ll happily wait on! Daydreaming apart, it was my original intention to add a second X-T2 to extend the wedding tackle. Being a model of self-control with such onanistic temptation, I’m not convinced I really need to extend it in that direction just yet.
The other obvious question is “Why don’t you get an X-Pro2, then?” I have to be careful how I answer that one because camera-owners (and photographers) can be very territorial about their choice of cameras and far be it from me to upset anyone with an incendiary comment. It isn’t that I dislike the X-Pro 2, I like it very much and it is without doubt a quantum leap in evolution beyond the X-Pro1. My reticence with the X-Pro2 is mainly to do with the fact that my wedding tackle is extremely dear to me. It is my bread and butter, and for paid work I buy with my head and not with my avarice. I feel very comfortable with the Fujifilm X-T2 and, for myself, it is more versatile than the Fujifilm X-Pro2.
I prefer the X100F as a tertiary camera for wedding photography, as reported in my previous blog post.
Fujifilm revisited, 17 years on. My X-T2 with 5 primes and an X100T (now replaced with a Fujifilm X100F) and supplementary converters. The stuff of this wedding photographer’s dreams of extraordinary weight-loss.
I have a long tradition of sticking odd bits of stuff on my cameras and stubbornly refusing to countenance major irritations like shoulder straps. Working is very different to when I’m carrying my feel-good Leica MP with it’s Deadcameras work-of-art leather strap. That’s just showing-off. When I’m working, I need to have both hands free when I’m not actually pressing the shutter button and the best way for me is to use a Spider Holster. Forget Black Rapids, SunSnipers and even Peak Design Slides. Such things drive me nuts. The cameras need to be securely out of the way and holstered on my hips. With camera in hand, I use the Peak Design Cuff for security. That means I can wave my arms about like a real wedding photographer, or just fluff the bride’s dress without accidentally clobbering a pageboy or flowergirl round the head with a swinging camera. Holsters and wrist straps only. That’s me. Sorted.
I’m an inveterate lens hood user, I don’t feel dressed without my hood, so the only let-down here is that the generic cheapo hood I’ve stuck on my TCL-X100 vignettes badly. The front element of the TCL-X100 is very close to the front of the filter threads. Not close enough to mash a filter into that large disc of glass, but close enough and there is clearly next to no leeway for filters and hoods on the TCL. My method involves keeping the hood on until the vignetting is problematic and then remove it when I have no option. A total pain! With interiors, it’s usually less of a problem than expansive outdoor images that include areas of even mid tones such as sky, grass, gravel etc. One other add-on I will not do without is a UV or protection filter on all my lenses at weddings. I learnt the hard way a number of years ago that soap bubbles blown onto a front lens element by a cherubic pageboy can divert your attention from pressing the shutter button. It would be far easier and less traumatic to simply wipe a filter or remove and rinse it quickly in the gents than be up to my elbows in someone’s goo, should it happen again.
The third go faster stick-on bit for my X100T is my JB Camera Designs recycled plastic grip case. It has a glove-like fit, non-slip finish and a tripod socket. All of the three stick-on bits, the JB Gripcase the Chinese wooden thumb grip and Peak Design Cuff combine to improve the handling without excessive bulking-up. The final stick-on sticky bit is the Expert Shield LCD screen protector. This works a treat and makes that nose-grease you smear all over your screen all but invisible. They are great fun to attach, buy one, follow the instructions and you’ll find out why. If all goes well in your dust, pet, child and human-free home, you won’t have a clue why I make this point. The X100T (or X100F) is not the fastest camera in use but these tweaks have improved the handling and that helps my personal hand-eye-brain response time. I have a Peak Design Capture Pro clip and Pro Pad on my Spider Holster belt and the X100T sits there happily and out of the way when not earning it’s keep.
The observant will have noticed the Peak Design anchors on the strap lugs which seems to be at odds with my anti shoulder strap ranting. They are there for my non-wedding photography outdoor activities where a shoulder strap, or rather a Peak Design Leash, is a better option for once. It’s also the obvious place to carry spare anchors in the event you need one quickly, which of course never happens. The wooden thumb thing was purchased via Ebay for peanuts and probably made by a 10 year old in a Shanghai sweatshop. I find it invaluable for shooting one-handed Zombie style with the camera at arm’s length or Ninja-style at close quarters to get observational storytelling images like this:
Fujifilm X-T2 as a Primary Wedding Photography Camera
If you’re going down this wedding photography route with the X-T2, you will need the VPB-XT2 grip. I was a little disappointed by this realisation at first because the whole objective was to lighten the load and adding a grip to the camera seemed like a backward step. That is until I worked it out that the VPB exponentially boosts the camera’s performance. The frame rate of up to 11fps is the obvious immediate effect and the camera feels finely balanced. Despite my initial irritation that I would need it, the VPB-XT2’s function has been carefully considered by Fujifilm. It transforms the handling and functionality in all orientations and the size and additional weight is soon forgotten. It is still a much smaller and lighter package than my D4’s were and the joystick control gives the impression of a D4 that shrank in the wash.
The battery life was something of a concern after I greedily ripped open the packaging on delivery day, charged the battery and began to play with the set-up menus. The battery ‘meter’ icon seemed to be showing discharge at an alarming rate and I wondered how may of the new 126s batteries I would need to order to get through a wedding. With a few totally Fuji weddings behind me now, I can say that a fully-charged set of three batteries with the VPB-XT2 attached will easily get through a typical day from bride in prep to everyone being seated for the wedding breakfast, ie, around 6 hours shooting or so. As ‘they’ often say with an air of superiority and gravitas on camera forums, YMMV. It depends on your camera set-up and how many images you shoot in that time. My typical quota for that coverage would be 600-750 images and no more. I have a life beyond Adobe Creative Cloud and I aim to have a wedding fully edited and images online for the couple within 2-3 hours. If you include evening coverage, say 10-12 hours in your day, then you should expect to make at least one complete change of batteries. Again, YMMV. What I have noticed is that the camera will let you know beyond all doubt that the batteries need changing, it seems to function but does not write to the cards with low batteries. The battery thing is a drawback compared to my previous Nikon behemoths which would work all week and power the venue too. But those days are gone, so just get on with it.
The EVF is pretty much a joy to use but gets a bit whacky in contrasty light, but I’ll get used to it. What I really relish is the total withdrawal from having to periodically mess about with FoCal to calibrate my Nikon dslr autofocus, now I can watch paint dry instead and it’s a far more interesting way of spending your time than fine tuning a dslr autofocus calibration! There has also been some discussion going around concerning the X-T2 low light autofocus behaviour. All I can say is that the evening celebrations and first dances that I have covered have thrown up no issues so far with the X-T2’s autofocus and most wedding venues are caves at this time of year. Everything seems work more or less as normal, albeit noticeably slower than a Nikon D4. But then you’d expect that, wouldn’t you.
Fujifilm Prime Lenses
Every single one of the five lenses I have bought initially seem to be superlative. All but the 14mm have had regular wedding use, the most used being the 23mm f1.4 and 35mm f1.4, I have used the 16mm f1.4 slightly more often than the 56mm f1.2. That is no surprise to me, 35mm and 50mm are my preferred full frame focal lengths anyway and it’s one more reason I have no desire to lug a 24-70mm f2.8 full frame zoom around with me. All perform nicely at wide and fully open apertures, even the cheapest and oldest of them, the 35mm f1.4, is very sharp in the centre at full bore and it is my favourite of all in many ways. The 56mm f1.2 lives up to it’s reputation, it’s a worthy aps-c alternative to my Nikon 85mm f1.4G. The 16mm f1.4 is a razor and absolutely eclipses my previous Nikon 24mm f1.4G. Short of copying and pasting mtf graphs here, which is a bit pointless and boring, I will say I am more than happy with all five lenses, which in themselves justify my Nikon to Fujifilm conversion. All are a match for, or demonstrably better than the best from most manufacturers and they make me want to buy another one. Or two.
If I add any more lenses to the quiver, it will probably be the 90mm f2. Fujifilm won’t rest on their laurels with lenses or cameras and it will be interesting to see where they concentrate their efforts next. No doubt the new GFX large sensor camera will divert a lot of attention, but I suspect there is much more to come in the X series camera and lens repertoire. The way things are panning out, it seems to make perfect sense that Fujifilm now have two distinct, non competing ranges in the GF and the X series.
The X-T2 is considerably more quiet than my Nikon cameras, not as near silent with the mechanical shutter as the X100T, but quiet enough to be completely unobtrusive in most wedding situations. The tilting screen is useful for image like the one above, it makes composing a doddle and the instant feedback of live view instantly shows changes to the exposure. This was an interesting benefit from my point of view, I have always worked manually with close attention to the histogram and only occasionally using auto iso. The Fuji X-T2 has profoundly changed my method of working, and I can’t see me going back to an optical finder for wedding photography. Most of the controls I use for basic image-making are on the outside of the camera and I can see at a glance where I am with composition and exposure before and during any changes I make. When you’ve clocked-in to the method, it’s liberating.
Low Light and High ISO
One concern I did have about returning to aps-c was with noise at higher iso’s. I had plenty of experience of that back in the DX-only days of Nikon, even with the much less densely-packed pixels we had to work with back then I would often need to resort to some means of noise reduction in post processing. Whilst the Fuji files are noisier than Nikon FX, the noise is even and grain-like in character. The files also seem to be relatively flexible. On a recent model shoot I was doing some long exposures with a fountain in the background and using a 6-stop neutral density filter. Having underexposed two exposures by a full 6 stops, I managed to recover the images well enough in ACR to make acceptable A3 prints. This was from RAW files that were totally black in Bridge and ACR! I doubt I could have rescued such a grossly underexposed NEF. I have found that where I would quite happily have used 6400iso with a Nikon D4, I wouldn’t push the X-T2 much beyond 1600iso for comparable noise levels. That is not to say you can’t go higher, you can do what you like, it’s to say that noise is about two stops from where I used to be with Nikon, but it isn’t a problem.
I’m pleased with the leap of faith back to Fujifilm for wedding cameras after my 17-year hiatus. So far in 2017 I have been challenged by repeated dull, cold, wet and windy conditions for my Fujifilm wedding conversion, but I’ve been around long enough to understand there is no better way than to jump straight in and get on with it. As I said earlier in this blog, I have changed my working methods and the post processing is also faster. Fujifilm’s colours are better than the colours my Nikons produced, there is no argument there. Skin tone shadows are clean and free of acid yellow and the camera profiles are very nice, especially Classic Chrome and Acros + green. I’m still learning the camera, but the real point is that I’m enjoying the conversion. I can’t see my Fujifilm inventory stopping here, either. So much for ‘downsizing!
The second part of my Fuji X-T2 journey will be about my landscape photography and cover my experiences with the X-T2 on my Wild Light Photography Workshops in Cornwall and the Faroe Islands in April 2017