17. mai 2013

Ode to Fioleta, the Fujifilm X100 that can.



A birthday picture.

Congratulations Fioleta, you are two years old! You walked in the door, long expected, on may 16th 2010. Since then you and I have found some 25'000 little pictures together. Pictures that would not have been found without you (or at least not be found in quite the same way). Like shooting Kings of Convience properly desguised as a music lover, or riding the tube late in the evening. Many people have bought and resold your brothers and sister, some even judged them before they got to know them, how rude!

First picture: the selfie in the mirror. May 16th 2011.


For a time I have had the idea of writing a user review of my Fujifilm X100. I guess you think "Huh, isn't that camera really old? Why review it now?". Well, think how many hours designers and techs have spent looking into every little bit of detail - from the shape of the shutter-button to the material of the box it is shipped in. Who would be the judge of that effort without taking the time to learn to know the camera at hand?

Reviewing a camera before having gotten to know it is like dumping the cute but strange girl you met before asking her if she likes to climb trees. It is just mean, and you fool yourself. Also, you miss out on some great fun. That is why I am now going to review my X100 named Fioleta. I first met her on the evening of may 16th 2011, after having waited for the camera eagerly since Photokina the year before. When it was announced I suddenly noticed the drawbacks of the DSLR-system (weight and brawn for starters). In the days of film there were a lot of different cameras to choose from, like fixed-lens rangefinders - common amateur cameras. In 2010 EVIL's (Electronic Viewfinder, Interchangeable Lens, my favourite acronym for the system) became more and more popular, led by the Olympus Pen. But aside from that, compacts, and cameras costing you internal organs and first born children, there was not a lot to choose from. X100 changed that, and for me it gave me a freedom I had never dared explore before.

First of all, let me go through the list of negative sides to the camera inital reviewers noted, and my take on the issues now:
Horrible Menu - No, just reviewers with low IQ and/or who are not able to imagine someone arranging their socks any other way than they do. The menus are perfectly fine after having used them for a day or two. 
Slow focus - Yes, but you learn to time it. It is not a DSLR, live with it. It is still faster than rangefinding when you haven't done it all life.
Lousy manual focus - Yes, but c'mon, it's a digital! Autofocus is by now far better than your eyes at judging where shit is. But from using a Minolta CLE with manual focus I see the point of direct coupled focus, as opposed to fly-by-wire.
Raw-button seem meaningless, should be configurable - Yes, I thought so too until they made it configureable through a firmware update and I found out I still don't need it.
Exp.-adjustment- and shutterspeed dials are easily switched by accident - Yes, they are, and it still annoys me.
It is not a Leica M - ... No, it's, uhm, no... If you have $1200 and want a Leica, why don't you just sell a kidney to cover the rest?

Done caring about minute problems that can be worked around easily? Wanna know what Fioleta can do? Well read on...

Before buying Fioleta I have only worked with a DSLR, going from D40 to D200 and D300s, and I tend to ask myself "Could I have taken this picture with my DSLR?" Oftentimes the answer is no. A machine gun DSLR gets in between, and I don't like cameras doing that. Cameras should be see-through. When you are hooked in the moment, when you find a picture teasing you like a cat who wants to know if you are worthy, the camera should not get in between, it should just be there. Thats what Fioleta does.

Buttons are in the way. Fioleta have 20, and could, after a quick count, do with 19 (as mentioned, I never use the RAW/2nd FN button). The D300s makes it with 36. Now, taking a sidestep, I ask what the basics of photography are. I belive the answer is the temporal and the spatial dimensions, or in other words when to shoot and where to shoot from (angle, distance and framing). For that you need an interface with the camera to control its framing (i.e. viewfinder, focus and focal length control) and the moment to trigger the shutter (i.e. shutter release button). Also, for actually recording the picture you have the inevitable physical dimension of controlling light, and for that you need control over how much of it enters the camera (usually controlling shutterspeed, aperture and sensitivity (ISO)).
Adding up, you have four basic controls pluss ISO (traditionally controlled by film speed and chemical processing of it) and focal length, the latter being given in the case of the X100's 23mm fixed lens.
The point is simple, you don't need many buttons for actual photography. On the X100 the rest of the buttons are kind of ad-hoc. You have a Fn-button I have set to control ISO, buttons for playback, autofocus, auto-exposure controll etc., all not an element in basic photography, but all expected from a modern digital camera. But, main point is, the design of the X100 have not over-complicated things, and that adds to my experience of this being a camera designed for basic photography.
To much stuff makes a camera less invisible (and bigger physically) and takes too much attention away from the actual shooting. Also, a complicated camera is difficult to learn to use, making the learning-fase ever-lasting.

By designing the camera with physical interface for three important settings (aperture, shutter, exposure comp.) I belive the camera is easier to learn and use. With my D700 all theese settings are made by compand-wheel and dials with the result showing on a screen, making them artificial - "yes, there is a number on the screen and it just changed, so?" Moving from f2,8 to f4 on Fioleta is a direct action. I can even, after using the camera for a considerable time, read my settings in the dark without consulting the viewfinder display. Perhaps people find it difficult to learn digital cameras and what the settings does because the interface is with a computer - not a camera - whilst on the X100 you feel you are commanding a camera, the computer is less obvious. Anyways, I like it!
Leading to a rant about the focus wheel - it is computery, it is fly-by-wire. Turning it hardly means anything, and I would like it to be as physical as the aperture ring.

I could go on, but you get the gist. The X100 is a camera as good as its photographer - it does what its told, and it does it well. I look forward to the next 25k shots!

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