We head out to mail a parcel to my grandmother. We were going to drive down to visit for her 90th birthday, but now that’s not an option. The clerk is behind a plastic shield these days and there are markers on where to stand. My kid is as playful as ever and we head by the playground on our way home.
Lately I’ve been keen on shooting something with a bit more automation than the Leica M Typ 262, the camera I’ve spent most of my time with during the past year and a half.
As much as I enjoy shooting the Leica, it’s certainly a camera you need to commit to and concentrate on while shooting. Focus is manual and takes attention to nail, in particular with moving subjects. Exposure automation also isn’t the most sophisticated and shooting carelessly can quickly give significant over or under exposure.
Generally I enjoy these aspects as the result is a very engaging and rewarding shooting experience.
From time to time though, I want to shoot something a little less taxing. As things have been rather hectic for a while this has been a more frequent desire. And with the world being turned on it’s head lately I’ve been struck by this odd mix of not being all that excited about an engaging shooting experience, while still wanting to document the day to day during this exceptional time.
As a result I’ve been mulling on picking up a camera specifically for the times when I feel like this. I figured there’d be tons of options that would make for a solid complement to the rest of my kit. But as I gave some thought to what sort of features I’d want in a camera for this use I came to realize that very few alternatives fit the bill.
What I’ve been looking for is something small and light that’s reasonably priced. I’d like snappy autofocus, preferably with a good face and eye detection implementation. For me an eye level finder is also a must as well as solid ergonomics, preferably with controls laid out in a way that allows me to shoot with one hand occasionally. I’d also like to be able to use a 50mm equivalent lens on the camera. Oh, and it would need good enough image quality to not feel like I’m missing out massively versus the Leica.
Turns out this might’ve been too long and specific of a list however.
Most alternatives I looked in to certainly fulfilled a good number of the criteria, but not a single one ticked all the boxes for me.
With this realization my line of thinking began to shift. I figured that I might as well stick with something already in my arsenal: the Fuji X100T – a camera I’ve had for years and never really stopped shooting.
It’s been my go-to for the type of shooting I was now keen on more regularly. It doesn’t fully fit all the criteria on my list though – falling short in a few areas – which is why my initial line of thinking was to pick up something new.
To me, its main shortcomings are that the peak image quality lacks a bit of zest compared to what I’d like* and that the autofocus isn’t quite as quick and smart as I’d want. Lately I’ve also been gravitating towards 50mm equivalent lenses rather than 35’s for day to day shooting.
* A combination of characteristics stemming from Fuji’s bespoke X-Trans sensor array and lens characteristics results in files that don’t always have that last bit of bite I’d expect to see out of a camera specced like the X100T.
So why the change of heart?
Well for starters, beyond these few shortcomings there’s a ton it gets right. It’s actually quite impressive how well it still holds up, 5 years after its launch.
It’s really compact and light, the handling is spot on and the hybrid finder is a marvelous piece of engineering, wonderful in use. The fairly fast lens combined with still solid high ISO performance also means that the camera can be shot in almost any light. There’s also something to be said about how enjoyable it can be to have strict limitations in a well integrated package.
I don’t tend to get sentimental about gear, but as I’ve used the X100T to document the birth of both my kids this might be as close as I’ll ever get to feeling attached to a camera.
And even though performance falls a little short, the lens renders nicely for a lot of subjects. And even though the autofocus isn’t up to par with the latest and greatest it’s generally quick enough to keep up in all but the trickiest situations. And even though I’ve been keen on a 50 over a 35mm equivalent lens, it’s certainly a very livable focal length.
To me, it all adds up to making the X100T* really close to an ideal day to day camera. Even now, years after its initial release it holds its own. So I’ve been shooting with it a ton lately and have found a renewed appreciation for it.
* A word on versions – I have the third model in the X100 line and writing this article from my experiences with that camera. But either version from the series amount to a broadly similar experience. The most recent version looks further refined, but the first or second iteration are still capable and similar on a fundamental level. So if you’re keen on the series, don’t feel like you neccesarily need a specific model.
I’ve particularly enjoyed that it offers a few features allowing for a more playful way of shooting, versus the more dogmatic approach required by the M 262. For instance being able to focus really close, or to switch over to B&W with a live monochrome preview in the viewfinder. I’ve liked how these features can offer opportunities for experimentation in the day to day. The focus becomes more on the idea for an image, rather than the process of getting there.
But to wrap up I want to make a bit of a point on what I think this entire back and forth illustrates quite clearly – any piece of gear represents a trade off in one way or another.
I think it’s very easy to blame your gear for any frustrations you have or whatever your results are lacking. But most of the time it’s more a question of mindset.
Everything has tradeoffs and in a lot of instances it makes more sense to stick with what you have and figure out how to best apply it to get the results you want, rather than jumping ship and picking up new gear.
So to use the premise of this article as an example – sure I end up missing out on a bit of image quality by shooting the X100T more often than the M 262 recently. I also lose out on a slightly more rewarding shooting experience as well as the option to shoot some of my favorite 50mm lenses.
But focusing on the gains instead I’ve had an easier time capturing fleeting moments with my kids in particular, thanks to the automation the X100T offers. I’ve also appreciated having far less weight to lug around.
With any piece of gear there are gains and compromises like these and focusing on the positives of what you have rather than the negatives makes it much easier to keep a level head on what gear to shoot. Applying this line of thinking swayed me from picking up something new and instead resulted in newfound appreciation of a camera I’ve had for years.
All this isn’t to say that I don’t think there are times when it’s warranted to switch things up. But before going for it, start by figuring out why it is that you want to do so and if it really makes sense. Keep in mind why you got the gear you have in the first place. Remember all of the appealing aspects that made you pick it up. Is the new thing you’re considering all that different?
Perhaps you’ll end up realizing, as I have, that the gear already on your shelf is actually far beyond good enough and the only thing holding you back is your own mindset.
All photos in this post were taken using the Fujifilm X100T. Images of the cameras were made with a Sony A7 and Leica Elmar-C 90. Exif-data is intact. Open any image in a new window for a closer look.