My photography journey towards the Fujifilm X system
I recently wrote an article for Fuji X Passion, the online magazine created specifically for users of the Fujifilm X camera system. While I don’t usually write blogs on camera equipment, I thought that many of my guests on our photography tours and workshops would find the article of interest considering that my opinions on camera brands, models and equipment in general is a topic that often comes up in conversation. It is also significant as being my 10 year anniversary of using Fujifilm cameras, and how they have found a permanent place in my camera bag. The full article can be found here, however I wanted to mention a few words on this page about how I came about to arrive to the Fujifilm system, how it continues to inspire me, and why they have become invaluable tools on my photography journey. Throughout my photography career, I have used a variety of camera brands and models, beginning with Pentax, then Olympus, Canon, Nikon and Contax during the film era until using Nikon, and finally settling with Fujifilm since the advance of digital camera technology. This post will will take us on a trip down my photographic memory lane and serve as a timeline of camera models I have used since arriving to the Fujifilm brand.
My photographic journey actually began when I was an underwater photographer during my teens. Resulting from a close connection to the sea and with a background in scuba diving and sailing, I loved the underwater world and all the adventure associated with it. I enjoyed the challenge of photographing in a foreign environment while overcoming the technical challenges of working with scuba equipment and at the same time shooting with a Nikonos camera and lighting system. This was the precursor for my entry into the world of 35mm film photography. My very first camera was the Pentax ME Super, a highly successful model manufactured between 1979 – 1984. This in itself illustrates how a camera model produced for 6 years would continue to sell, and is testament to how technology has changed the industry, where today manufacturers may roll out new camera models every year.
Roll on 1987, I purchased the Olympus OM-4 during the last year of it’s manufacture. This camera was what I considered my first serious 35mm camera, and was the gateway into the stunning range of Zuiko OM bayonet-mounted lenses. The OM-4 was the first camera with a simple variation of what is now called evaluative metering. A built-in multi-spot exposure meter could take up to eight individual measurements and average them. Another unique feature was the selectable option to assess the darkest or brightest part of the scene, with the camera adjusting the exposure based on that measure. But it were the lenses that really fascinated me. I still remember the beautiful purple, green and blue tints that the anti-reflective coatings displayed on the elements. I used the Olympus as my regular camera for documenting the islands of southern Thailand, where I lived and worked for 2 years.
A Canon EOS RT was my next acquisition, and was my travel companion during a year spent backpacking around Africa. This sleek looking SLR was relatively rare, with only 25,000 units produced. Unique to camera designs, it was the first autofocus camera to included a pellicle mirror. This mirror design allowed quiet operation, low vibration, fast response time and an absence of blackout – aspects usually only associated with rangefinder cameras. This camera surprised me in it’s durability. 12 months use in some of the harshest environments on the planet, together with being dropped, thrown around and put through every other scenario that could test it’s strength, the Canon EOS RT was a great choice.
While autofocus cameras were the next big thing in the industry during those years, my desire for a compact-sized mechanical camera with the highest quality manual focus glass available, and from a brand that I felt I could live with for many years, the Nikon F3 inevitably was that camera. Being used by so many photojournalists during my teenage years, and the camera model that my father used throughout his travels, this camera had been superseded by the F4 in 1988, but it was the heritage, reliability and compact nature that ultimately drove me to use the F3. The Nikon F3 must rate as one of the very best cameras ever made, and was loved by photographers around the world for many years. It is the only vintage camera that I still own to this day.
The F3 was my companion during my 6 years living and working in Rajasthan, India. This camera body really is a professional workhorse which brings a sense of confidence like no other camera, but the inevitable “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” hit me again when I stumbled on a Contax RTS III model. This was my gateway into the range of stunning Carl Zeiss lenses. What I loved about the Contax was how well it felt in my hand. It was a big step up in weight from my previous cameras, weighing a hefty 1.4kg, but the handling just felt so right.
Beginning with the original RTS, the 2nd generation included a titanium shutter & TTL flash metering, while the 3rd generation became available in 1990 and included a Kyocera-designed ceramic vacuum film pressure plate. This camera, together with a single 50mm lens was my travel companion on a year-long trip around the world. It felt like having a finely-tuned optical jewel pretending to be a brick accompany me. I could honestly say that the Contax RTS III is one of the finest cameras ever made. It had the perfect blend of mechanical and digital technology, strength, handling and general user experience. It is the only camera I ever regretted selling, and likewise, the camera I upgraded it to was the only camera I ever regretted buying.
Photographers sometimes talk of buying a “lemon” lens that has optical or mechanical issues on their particular copy. The Nikon F100 was the only camera I ever regretted buying. Purchased in NYC on the way to a 4 month trip in Central America, it began to have issues as soon as I landed in Costa Rica. It seemed to be waiting until I left New York in order for me to suffer with it for next 3 years instead of exchanging it for another copy.
The F100 was bought with the intention of using it in combination with the F3 in order to take advantage of Nikon’s F-Mount lenses. It appeared to be an ideal choice for my needs, having Nikon’s advanced Matrix metering technology, dynamic autofocus system and high frame rate of shooting. Purchasing this camera was a lesson in what not to do, and that was not to buy from a reputable dealer. In order to save a couple of hundred Dollars, I bought this camera together with 3 Nikkor lenses from a store that offered the best price. Bad idea. While the lenses were fine, the body gave me 3 years of continuous frustration with it’s problematic electronics. 4 separate visits to Nikon’s repair service fixed the problem for a week or two each time until I finally gave up and used it as a door stopper instead..
In 2005, Nikon released the D200 digital SLR. In my opinion, it was the first credible digital camera designed for the enthusiast / semi-pro photographer. After my awful experience with the F100, I took a leap of faith with Nikon again and used a variety of their cameras from the digital era, starting with the D200 before upgrading to the D300, D750 up until the D3s.
The D3s was a beast of a camera. Large and heavy, it had a built-in vertical handgrip for portrait orientation that included a larger battery pack, excellent image quality at high ISO, in-camera dust reduction and a host of new features over the previous D3 model. It is hard to imagine that this pro model with it’s modest 12.1 megapixel resolution seems so basic by todays standards. But the image quality on it’s full frame sensor was fabulous, and would likely satisfy many photographers needs, even 13 years after it’s introduction. Together with the D300, the D3s was the camera I used during my photography tours in Barcelona before moving exclusively to the Fujifilm X camera system.
There is always a trade-off when it comes to photography equipment. Photographers need to balance size, weight, build, image quality, features, price etc. with the type of photography they practice. A wedding photographer for example, is going to have different requirements from a nature photographer. As a travel photographer where a discreet size and low weight, but without willing to sacrifice on image quality are major considerations, the Fuji cameras have for me, found that ideal balance. The link to the article mentioned at the beginning of this post about my 10 year Anniversary using the Fujifilm X system is the continuation of my photography journey. Time will tell if I change camera systems in the future. But for now and for the foreseeable future, Fujifilm is my camera system of choice.