In Part One I explained how weight was a driving factor in my move to mirrorless. Today I’ll dive into how much of a role technology played in my decision.
Hint: a lot.
My flirtation with mirrorless actually began in 2011 with the release of the Fujifilm FinePix X100. This camera looked like a point and shoot, but packed a serious amount of tech aimed at high-end enthusiasts and professionals into a cool retro rangefinder-esq body. It had a real APS-C sized sensor, a fixed 35mm-equivalent lens, a fast maximum aperture of f/2, an actual aperture ring, a three stop built-in neutral density filter, this crazy hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, and aesthetics out the wazoo1. I wanted this camera. I lusted after it. When a friend got one I begged them to let me hold it, caress it, feel the solidity of it. My desire for it bordered on physical need.
It also had a $1,200 price tag. $1,200 price tags are the photographic equivalent of a cold shower. I still don’t own one.
This is from Fujifilm!? I said to no one who would listen. I thought they only made film. What else are they doing? As it turns out, not much. The X100 was the start of a revolution, but that wouldn’t get rolling until early 2012 with the release of the X-Pro1. By the time the X-Pro1 dropped I was on the cusp of going full frame and didn’t even know Fujifilm was about to revolutionize the interchangeable lens camera market. Had switching gears been a consideration I would have discounted jumping to Fujifilm based on the limited number of lenses (three at the time of introduction) and Four Thirds was out due to the even smaller sensor size. Mirrorless just didn’t seem to have a future and anyway: I only had eyes for the 5D MkII.
Jump to mid-2015 and weight and size is now an issue. These two external factors are sapping my enjoyment and enthusiasm, so I begin toying with the idea of–gasp!–ditching it for whatever the latest generation X100 is. That was seriously my intent: sell everything, buy this one fixed-lens camera. Suddenly my Photography list on Twitter is abuzz with this new thing out of Fujifilm called an X-T10. Announced in May 2015 this camera has the same guts as the flagship X-T1, but is priced at $800 instead of the X-T1’s $1,300.
And there are lenses! Lots of them! So many had been released since 2011 that I am now facing an agonizing amount of choice. This feels like an established camera line. It has the support of respected photographers who I follow on social media, notably Zack Arias and David Hobby. Then there is the Damien Lovegrove guy and Charlene Winfred and Tomasz Trzebiatowski and a host of other professionals using Fujifilm’s X-series as their primary camera. I’m starting to get that buzz.
When it finally hits the streets in June I had already sold all of my Canon gear and bought it as soon as my local camera shop got them in stock.
Coming as I am from the DSLR world, this little camera is nothing short of a technological marvel. The main selling point for me–and this will be true until cameras become embedded in your cranium–is the electronic viewfinder. From the moment I first looked through it I was in love, but that love only deepened as I learned the camera and pushed the boundaries of what it can do.
So what makes it so much better than an SLR that you’d switch systems?
- What you see is what you get. When you look through the electronic viewfinder you are seeing exactly what you will capture…in real time. Change to a different film simulation and you will see the precise effect it will have on your image. Stop the lens down two stops and you’ll see the change in depth of field and bokeh. Every creative decision you make is rendered instantly. This is a total game-changer. With an SLR what you see in the viewfinder is not the final image; that is only seen on your camera’s LCD after the fact. All the important creative decisions–especially concerning depth of field–are nothing but guesses and intuition until after you press the shutter. It is not just that they aren’t visible in the viewfinder, it’s that the viewfinder is incapable of displaying them. Physics and the SLR’s very architecture won’t allow it. Mirrorless does not have this limitation. What you see is exactly what you get.
- The electronic viewfinder automatically compensates for filters. This is also a game-changer (as well as a corollary to the above). When you add a filter, whether it is a simple polarizing filter or a nigh impenetrable neutral density (ND) filter, you decrease the amount of light hitting the sensor by a set amount. It is not very noticeable with a polarizing filter, but a 9-stop ND filter will let only .195% of the light through. Put a 9-stop ND filter on an SLR and you’ll see almost total darkness. Additionally, things like focusing and metering go out the window, because both are light dependent and 9 stops is blocking almost all the light. Put the same 9-stop ND filter on a mirrorless camera and the electronic viewfinder automatically adjusts and shows you the image as it will be captured. Furthermore, focusing and metering are unaffected. With electronic viewfinders you no longer have to compose, prefocus, and then screw the filter into place!
- It is insanely crisp and responsive. The X-T10’s electronic viewfinder is simply gorgeous…and it isn’t even best-in-class in the Fujifilm lineup. It is crisp, clear, and almost noise free. It is not perfect. Pan fast and it’ll look choppy, just like any electronic device. And things with a lot of fine details, like trees, tend to look odd. But outside those two cases it is bright and crisp and updates so quickly you’ll have a hard time believing you’re seeing an image.
- Focus peaking. If the electronic viewfinder is magic, focus peaking is witchcraft. Activated when you go into manual focus mode, focus peaking imposes a halo (you have a choice of red, blue, or white) over the in-focus areas of the image. As a result you see exactly what parts of the image are in focus. This is super helpful when using a fast aperture or working with insanely narrow depth of field.
- Fujifilm built the X-series system from the ground up. There are far fewer design compromises in the Fujifilm X-series. Everything–the sensor, lenses, bodies, internal hardware and software–was designed to work together as a cohesive whole. By contrast, DSLRs have significant limitations due to the presence of the legacy mirror box which directly affect the image quality. Thisarticle/interview with Fujifilm’s Mr. Takashi Ueno was hugely influential in my purchasing decision. I was concerned about giving up the image quality I was used to by going from full-frame to APS-C, but Mr. Ueno makes some solid points about the challenges the DSLR form factor presents when it comes to producing high quality images. Without rehashing the article, it put my mind at ease and sold me on the idea of using a new camera system with all of the image quality advantages I desired and none of the disadvantages inherent in retrofitting a digital sensor in an analog DSLR form factor. How important is lens/body/sensor synergy? To put it bluntly: every single Fujifilm lens I own is sharp wide open. Yet every single $1,000+ Canon prime lens I shot with had to be stopped down at least a stop before it was acceptably sharp. Paying $1,300 for a f/1.4 lens that is only usable at f/2 is not fun.
- An industry term. ↩︎