2

Rockport

Well, mostly Rockport. Late last year YoungDoo and I took a road trip north during which our friend Stephanie took us from Boston to her hometown Rockport, MA for a day. It’s a beautiful little town on an island that I would have loved to have a little more time to explore. It was a chilly afternoon when we visited so our time walking around town was brief but I did manage to find a few shots I thought my underused Hasselblad would be perfect for.

I only recently had these developed because we realized that we had a small stockpile of undeveloped film tucked away in various corners of our apartment that were long overdue for their chemical bath. After noticing slowly declining quality from our local film lab we decided to give Richard Photo Lab a shot after seeing the endless praise they seem to get in all corners of the film loving internet and we were not disappointed. While color film has officially broken that threshold of being modestly affordable to shoot too casually, I still feel its worth the investment. These days I reserve my film use for either paid jobs or while I am traveling. My day to day shooting has been narrowed down to being 95% digital which is why you have not seen as much film work out of me lately.

Richard Photo Lab is unique among many labs in that they take extra care in the scanning process to be sure you get the highest quality available from your negatives after developing. Their scanning work lends itself to a slightly over exposed negative or high-key style of shooting because of their tendency to treat the darkest point in each frame as a dark grey rather than absolute black.  This leaves any noise in the film to be amplified  in areas you may have underexposed but leaves you with that now classic “film look” that many of us love so much.

Their tale tell colors and tone have been popularized by a number of different photographers, primarily in the wedding/portrait market, and they also offer a service that allows you to tailor your scan results to fit your needs. For an exhaustive look into the company and their scanning have a look here at this thorough piece by Johnny Patience.

3 4 5 6 7 8

Classic

Instax 90 Fuji Neo Classic

I have had a soft spot for polaroids for a long time yet never invested a lot into the art of shooting with them. Years back I shot around with an old clunker of a Polaroid Impulse on which I had to tape the flash off to keep it from mucking up too many photos. It worked well enough but what I always thought I would end up with was an old foldable SX-70. Once Polaroid closed up shop I gave up on the idea and moved on with other film cameras instead.

I tried using an old Polaroid Land Camera for a while and still shoot with it from time to time but it’s far too bulky to be practical most of the time. I eventually bought into a Hasselblad system which I really love and was excited to discover had polaroid backs available. I took it on its first big adventure when I traveled through India with it and a Voigtlander R3M. While traveling I often pulled the polaroid back out not only for fun but as a means to give something back to those who I was photographing. Many children or shop owners looked at me and my strange looking cameras with a confused sideways glance because I was unable to show them the photos immediately after shooting. The polaroid enabled me to not only share a photo with them but leave a copy of one as well so even at times when there was an obvious language barrier I was able to show my good intention by sharing something in return for their time.

I also took the chemical covered side of the pull apart instant film and made crude image transfers into the journal I was carrying with me on the trip. Looking back on these I found that even when the transfers were only partially successful I was still left with a fuzzy stamp of the moment I captured there in my journal so despite giving away the photo I was still left with a memento which, like the idea of memory itself, is a slightly distorted view of the original but plenty to remember the moment later on.

Some of you may recognize the idea of sharing polaroids like this from photographer favorite, Zach Arias who recently took along a Fuji Neo Classic 90 on a trip to Morocco and used it as a means to break the ice with people he would meet and photograph. I bring all this up because after holding out as long as I could manage, I finally went ahead and bought one of these handy little Instax cameras myself.

I avoided Fuji’s Instax cameras for a long time because I always thought they were too goofy looking and all to clunky to drag around with me in my camera bag. This conception quickly changed when I noticed the little Neo Classic 90 come onto the market. They did away with all the goofiness of their previous models and made something that would fit right in with my day to day shooting habits.

handheld

I was surprised to discover just how small the camera is. While I can’t shove it into my pants pocket, it easily slides into a jacket pocket or into the corner of a camera bag. While it is made from plastic the construction is sturdy in a way that you feel you can trust it. The design of the body seems well considered in that they included two shutter release buttons depending on how you want to shoot. The film itself lends itself to shooting a portrait composition but an additional button was added to make it easy to shoot landscaped as well.

While it is a fully automatic camera in regards to exposure there are a handful of shooting modes to help you get the most out of it including multiple exposure mode and one for bulb exposures. It also allows for basic exposure compensation by allowing you to choose one of four different settings, dark, standard, light, and extra light. I love this ability because while I love the bright annoying pop of a built in flash at times, it lets me have enough control over the exposure to shoot creatively without the flash getting in my way.

Sample One

Sample Two

The photos I have taken with it so far have been well balanced tonally and sharp though they do have that hazy instant film look which I realize not everyone is into. Having a collection of these little prints around is a charming way to look back through memories. There really is nothing quite like using real instant film in both the joy of watching it appear in front of you and having these singular prints around to enjoy. No amount of digital emulation will give you quite the same feeling as using actual film which by now most of us already know.

As long as interest holds strong I have hope that the cost of film won’t soar too much any time soon. At around $14USD for 20 exposures (or less depending on how much you buy at once) it’s more than reasonable unless you’re a particularly trigger happy kind of shooter.

I bought this for YoungDoo and I to share but its quickly becoming obvious that we will end up with two of these around because I am having way too much fun shooting with this joy of a camera. I can easily recommend one of these to just about anyone who enjoys making photographs, digitally or otherwise. If you have any questions about it I would be happy to answer them below.

Noise

One Year

Most of you know by now that last February I started a project to share photos every day as a photographic journal, not limiting myself to one photo a day or any particular theme, I set off with the simple idea to capture and share my life as a means to closer examine and remember the day to day happenings in my life.

At this point, one year has passed and a limited run book is on its way featuring the images selected to share with everyone on Yesterday Was Only from day to day. Speaking of which, only one week left of pre-orders, that’s it! If there are any additional copies available beyond pre-order it won’t be many so if you would like a copy, now is the time!

In the process of finding nice enough photos of my life to share there were plenty that did not make the cut. Piles of photos that theoretically would never be seen by much of anyone at all unless you happened to be looking over my shoulder as I scroll though my Aperture libraries.

The thought crossed my mind toward the end of the first year of the project that maybe some of you would be interested in seeing the uncut version of my photographic output from 2013 so this is exactly what I have prepared in the most chaotic way possible, at 24 frames a second in a quasi stop motion video. (I tried 15FPS which allowed you to actually make out individual frames here and there but it drug on for too long)

The end result is a six minute video that you may or may not be able to sit through to the end without your eyes rolling into the back of your head. 8,212 frames in total it may be a bit on the indulgent side of my bright ideas but I figured why not. No scheme or theme like some self portrait photo a day guys pull off, this represents my entire photographic output for one year.

So, aside from a handful of personal photos and commissioned work that were omitted, have a look below to see every single photo I took last year. The good, the bad, the embarrassing, all of it.

A clearer, full definition version can be seen over on Vimeo.

Watching it is almost overwhelming for me in some ways. It represents one year of my life of which I only am allowed a finite amount of, so seeing it all compacted into this frantic rush of images makes it feel both small yet exponentially expanding. It’s like having my life shoved down through a funnel.

My reason for sharing this is not to show off a bunch of photos. Most of these were never meant to be seen, they are the test shots, the trash bin, the debris left on the cutting room floor. My reason for sharing is to illustrate how much, as a photographer, I don’t share with the world (and I know I’m not alone here). Photographers have this trick where we only share our best work, our best light, the brightest and most welcoming side our lives. There is a lot that gets brushed under the rug as we put our best foot forward to come across as a well adjusted, unique personalities on the web worthy of your time and attention.

There is a lot that gets embellished in the viewers translation of an image, what you see is not always exactly what existed in front of the photographer. The photographs we see and love represent the peak of what life is able to show us, sometimes to impossible levels of perfection. It’s often a showcase of almost imaginary moments even more grandiose than life can honestly give us. A photograph is not life itself, but a photo copy of it which this isn’t a bad thing, not at all. I think that photography, as a modern trend that has all but consumed our day to day lives, is a gift. Not particularly because we get inspired by the photos we see but because in the act of making photos we are driven to live better lives in order to capture and share amazing things.

Whenever you take the long way home, crawl into weird positions with your camera to get just the right angle to make a scene more unique, or prepare your food as beautifully as possible so it will look delicious when photographed, remember that photography drove you there. Just don’t forget to look beyond the viewfinder from time to time and soak in these beautiful things that pull you, camera in hand, along in life and on occasion set it aside and do something just for yourself from time to time.

I look back through these photographs and I remember just how many places I have seen not only because I happened to be in the right place at the right time, but because I took the time and energy to put myself in these scenarios in the name of finding great photos. I owe a lot to the fact that photography has taken me to such beautiful places in my life and sharing this passion with my wife, YoungDoo, has multiplied this magnetism ten fold as we explore together. For that, I am thankful.

The life of a photographer has long been thought to be one of adventure, travel, and privilege. It’s easy to look on with envy as you see other photographers that always seem to find such amazing places to photograph. There is no big secret to this though, these amazing places, people, and circumstances are all around us. The only way to turn these stories into our own reality is by getting out there and getting lost. Go ahead, buy a ticket, shut down this device and grab your camera, I’ll wait…

OM2

Retrofit

Has anyone stopped to think for a minute that “retro themed” cameras are actually not so retro at all? Outside of an obvious strength as a marketing tool. When you think of camera design there are a few obvious concessions that need to be made. You need to be able to see the image you are taking in order to properly frame it and, if you are even a modest hobbyist you are going to want some creative control over the exposure of the image. This means control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO and focus. For years manufacturers have buried these controls deeper and deeper into on screen menus in an effort to simplify the use of the camera.

Yet, as any creative photographer knows, these few simple controls are the bare minimum for any photographer to capture photographs in a controlled or unique way. If you at least have these basics at hand, the rest will fall into place and this is exactly what we are starting to see in many popular new cameras. A renaissance of easily accessible manual controls which also just happens to be the antithesis of the casual point and shoot nature of mobile phone cameras that have all but dominated the general public’s mind when it comes to photography in general.

It’s only natural for manufacturers to look back to the roots of the craft as a means to pull in photographers who crave more than what their mobile phone can offer them in regards to in camera creative control. That said, when you imagine a camera in your mind with full exposure control you imagine a box with knobs that allows you to adjust these key values quickly. In this regard, these supposed retro themed cameras are not retro, they are obvious. No touch screen or series of buttons will give you the same quick uncompromising access to control that simple task specific knobs do.

The first camera I remember offering what could be considered a “retro” body with a digital sensor was Epson’s R-D1 which was, from what I remember at least, not created as a marketing gimmick, but as an honest rangefinder with a digital sensor. To this day I would still love to see Cosina step back into the market and release a Voigtlander branded digital rangefinder with lens/viewfinder focus coupling that could simply use M-Mount lenses.

Once the RD-1 failed to pick up any traction in the market due to the stampede of DSLR bodies at the time we didn’t see anyone else pick up where they left off until Olympus showed up with their updated Pen series. The pen cameras are a hybrid of sorts, borrowing the form factor, size, and interchangeable lenses of older Olympus Pen bodies but moving previous manual control to menus and multi purpose knobs. It wasn’t until Fuji’s X series and to some extent, the Olympus Om-D that we started to see manufacturers realize the potential for more manual control on camera bodies again rather than less.

Manufacturers are banking on the essence of what made older cameras (many of the memorable ones at least) intuitive and usable for photographers to begin with. Hoping to catch the eye of those who are pursuing the art deeper than what the point, click, enhance emotion later habits of mobile phone photography by offering simple offerings with a more broad range of possibility. Just look at Nikons marketing strategy with the new Df. Their leading subtext pulls you into the advantages of using classic camera body design and how you can “Rediscover the joy of photography” with the simple manual control the body offers. Sure, may be marketing rhetoric but they certainly have a point.

A cynical mind may jump to the conclusion that it’s all a gimmick but the evolution of the modern camera will continue to putter along either way. I can only hope that simplicity will win in the end, both for the brilliant little point and shoots in our phones and for feature forward prosumer bodies and this hope is why I decided to stand up in support of this trend.

Speaking of which, have you seen the leaked photos of the upcoming new Fuji X body? Gorgeous. It’s why I decided to move to the Fuji X system, I feel as though they are the most connected to the essence of what makes photography great, not only by keeping up with the latest technology but offering bodies that focus on the essentials. Should be interesting to see how things continue to develop as the market navigates the smartphone camera onslaught.

Oh, Hello

Of Cameras

“Hello photographer, the report of my death was an exaggeration.

Yours,
Camera”

The latest ad from Apple about the usefulness of their iPads got me thinking, for whatever reason, about cameras, photography, and articles that pop up from time to time to declare ambitious statements about photography.

Another has popped up recently as I’m sure many of you reading have already come across, where another journalist decided to declare the end of the camera as we know it. However, until I see a mobile camera share the same level of technical precision with which one is able to capture the same emotional depth and clarity of their more sophisticated brothers, I am not buying into these baitish articles about how traditional photography is dead. Traditional meaning, in this case, using a device designed only to make photographs, not share them.

Is photography evolving? Sure. Is it becoming more accessible to anyone? In a way, of course, software is able to gloss over most any cameras shortcomings these days to some degree. But to declare it’s figurehead, the stand-alone camera, dead or even starting to die is a gross over-exaggeration. To me, these sentiments always come across as oversimplified, wishful attempts at making a statement about the field in general. It’s like stories I read last year about still photography becoming irrelevant in the face of such capable video camera stills, really?

In the early days of commercially available cameras there was not a lot to distinguish those created for the general public versus the professional. A camera was a camera, and advancements were made as a whole so big steps such as the introduction of 35mm film and smaller, easier to carry cameras were obviously created to spread the technology to a wider audience by making the process more convenient.

As time went on a dividing line started to appear between cameras made for consumers versus those designed for professionals. Cameras such as the first Olympus Pen series cameras in the 60s or later the Minox 35 EL in the mid 70’s paved the way for the modern consumer friendly point and shoot which slowly but surely became more and more capable until the boom of digital swept us all off our feet.

The race for the smallest or most capable and/or convenient camera is nothing new, it’s history repeating itself and all the hyperbole about how no one will need or want any cameras other than their mobile phones? It’s nonsense.

In many ways, the landscape today is no different than it was in 1975, only the technology has changed. There will always be the simple, snapshot cameras that anyone can pick up and use and there will always be surprisingly great photos that come out of those simplified little cameras. Nothing has changed here, it’s just that the act of sharing the photos has changed and of course that is no small matter.

It’s not the personal satisfaction of making photographs and sharing them with others that is changing, it’s the expectation of the end viewer that is constantly shifting as the act of sharing grows exponentially. The easier it becomes, the more people we find interacting with the medium, and with mass adoption we see a lower point of entry in general and thus connoisseurs of the craft are born of a different mindset and existing hobbyists attempt to fold into a new way of approaching their favorite hobby or profession in fear of being left behind.

Photography will continue to be a popular and increasingly simple way to communicate and tiny digital cameras attached to our smartphones will surely continue to grow as the dominant source of output but I have this funny feeling that I’m not the only one out there who isn’t ready to toss their cameras into a shoebox in the back of their closet.

There is nothing uncomfortable or strange about getting back from a vacation and realizing your iPhone photos are looking good enough for your needs. You’re still taking the same photos, just with a smaller camera and in the process realizing your style and photographic voice doesn’t require any gear beyond a point and shoot. There is nothing wrong with that, obviously. But it is no reason to get on a soap box and claim the camera is dying. The truth is far from this claim. It is simply evolving, as it always has, and the ebb and flow of those who want creative control in camera vs those who get enough creative inspiration from adding software filters will continue to fluctuate in time.

Personally speaking, using a camera is not simply a means to reach an end for me. Just because it would be easier for me to shoot using my iPhone’s camera doesn’t mean that I should. Photography is a force larger than one style and one lens can be held responsible for and all the software tricks in the world could not mimic the emotional fulfillment and gratitude I have for photography in a traditional sense. The future may lay with a digital dominance and that is perfectly fine, but the tools used to capture light in a creative way by passionate photographers can not all boil down into one automated click of the button.

That said, this is by no means a dismissal of mobile photography or the direction it is continuing to take photography in general. I myself love shooting around with my iPhone as much as the next guy and support the technology that it propagates.  The future of photography is great, I’m positive of that and no matter what you choose to believe I can’t in good conscience stand by and let a fellow wandering photographer looking to plant flags in modern trends try to sell you snake oil. Not when it’s a subject I am so passionate about. Even with a passionate mind one can still manage to lose sight of the sun.

Hello camera, you’re looking good for your age! Still as capable and challenging as you ever were. Let’s go see what light we can find today.

Best,
John

Waiting

Admiration

Tell me, how much is a photo worth to you. How often do you feel so connected to a photograph that you come across online, on instagram, flickr, Tumblr, anywhere really, that you come back to it a second time. In the age of being bathed in images day in and day out you can’t help but get a little numb to what you see scroll by in front of you. Mass photo sharing sites are the worst for this epidemic. Instagram? Sure you may scroll along endlessly and double tap photos till your hearts content but what does this process mean to you personally? What images speak to you on an emotional level?

Some say portraits are more engaging, for others it’s street photography or photojournalism. No mater what type of photography really tugs at your interest I am really honestly curious when the last time you went back to look at a photograph a second time after coming across one you enjoyed and more importantly, why did you come back to it? When you tap a like or favorite button do you do it because you want to see the photo again or perhaps is it more a means to let the photographer know you exist and appreciate their work? Most of us have never stopped to ask ourselves these seemingly basic questions.

Personally, as I have mentioned in the past, I am typically quite stingy when it comes to the use of the favorite buttons on various social photo sharing sites. I don’t know about you but I put a real value on the photos that I choose to call favorites online. I didn’t always do this but over the past year or two I have grown increasingly picky. This is because I decided to become much more aware of my own taste and made a conscious decision to be more constructive with my online viewing habits.

To be honest, and I don’t think that I am alone here, during any given day I am likely to come across around a dozen or so photos that I stop for more than a single second to appreciate. I have seen so many photos at this point that I can quickly read into them and it is rare that I find a photograph that holds my attention for long. Many photos that seem delightful on the surface are only that, a surface, with a pretty filter applied to it to gloss it up a bit, images that only exist to further a trend, to collect their due and fade into the noise. Even beautiful, majestic scenes seemingly pulled from a fairy tale are ripe to fade into obscurity if they don’t hold anything that truly sets them apart.

Recently the thing that stops me from scrolling right on by is when I see a photograph that makes me wonder what is just outside of the frame. I find my favorite photographs to be ones that do not simply hold a moment in time, tidy, obvious, poetic, and ready to be easily digested, but ones which leave me wondering why I am so drawn to them. Photos are inherently obvious yet the photographer has the power to capture the things he sees in a way that invokes curiosity. Even family photos can hold this quality. I think the best word to describe this characteristic is a photograph is its level of honesty, something I have talked about before among these pages.

Sure, some photographs try so very hard to tell us a story within a fraction of a second, and so many writings glorify this ideal of the decisive moment but fact of the matter is that the story behind a photograph is but a simple ruse, an illusion. A photograph is not telling you a story, it’s your imagination that is telling it to you. The story is an assumption and we all have slightly different perspectives when it comes to these assumptions based on so many variables. Our emotional connection to the subject matter, our education and background, our expertise in taking photographs ourselves, it all folds up into a neat and tidy thought within a fraction of a second and judgement is made based on these personal assumptions. The most successful photographs are able to find common ground across a wider scope of possible assumptions.

Many of us view photographs with an absent, distracted mind as we play into social networking games and click through like buttons as though it’s advancing us through levels of camaraderie and mutual respect for others out there shooting. Photography to many is digested simply as a means to climb the ladder and that’s a real shame but there is no way to avoid it outside of, as a viewer, knowingly distancing yourself from these habits.

Therefore, as photographers, the only way to stand out is to break away from the zobification of our shooting habits in the same way. The best process for discovering your true voice behind a camera is to ignore the noise and create photos from outside of your network bubble. Following trends is all fine and good until they shift and you’re stuck constantly trying to keep up with whats next. Thats no way to be noticed because your photos will always lack honesty.

In shooting outside of what comforts us, beyond what we feel others expect us to produce online we can free ourselves from the assumption that we must produce photographs that get in line with the others we so mindlessly flip through day in and day out. It is perfectly normal to feel inspired by other’s beautiful work but it’s vital to ask yourself WHY you enjoyed it as much as you did and rather than duplicate your favorite photos and styles, try instead to find ways to share your unique viewpoint on the life you see around you in a way that represents the honesty of the moments you capture. Of course it is impossible to completely ignore other photographers who inspire us, it’s a natural evolution, but we can at least do our best to fight through what we think people would expect of us and create images that radiate with life and mystery like only we can see it.

As viewers, the next time you choose to give a nod of approval, take an extra few seconds to sort out exactly why it is that you like the photo so much. It only takes a moment and getting into the habit will lead you to become more self aware both as a viewer and as a photographer.

50ft X

50ft X

Last year I went through a phase where I didn’t really care for shooting digitally at all. I carried my 5D around with me but only ever really wanted to shoot with my film cameras because they brought me such joy to use. The feel and experience taken on when winding through a roll of film was unmistakably great and I failed to get the same kind of connection with my digital cameras. This left me somewhat disinterested in the results I got with my 5D at the time. I used it more as a means to reach an end rather than as a tool to capture my favorite work behind a camera.

Earlier this year as you all know by now, I started up a project where I could share images every single day of my life. A digital journal of sorts that pushes me to keep shooting no matter how boring or dull my day may be visually. This brought my 5D out of hiding. While it has been as wonderful as it has ever been shooting with my trusted Canon digital, I started feeling that same drag again. My enthusiasm wained as the large camera body started to get in the way while navigating my busy summer months in live audio. My poor 35mm f/1.4L looks like it’s been through a war after being bumped and dropped among so many surfaces as I drug it everywhere with me.

I decided it was time for a change. I long thought that my next digital camera would be the Canon 5D Mark III. It is a beautiful full frame camera with more capability than I could ever imagine honestly needing for my style of shooting. For the longest time I thought for sure I simply had to have a full frame camera to get the kind of depth in my shots you all know and love but as I started reading and researching more this perspective slowly started to change for a couple of different reasons.

My wife YoungDoo shoots with a 5D Mark II and we have a wonderful kit building within this universe, a well rounded selection of lenses, a nice hard shell pelican case to organize and travel with, as well as a few studio lighting basics. I look at this collection and realized that maybe I did not need to continue down this path, especially with my most common style of lifestyle/documentary shooting. I have my trusted Hasselblad for portraits and a handful of fun 35mm film cameras for travel, but it was my day to day shooting that I felt could use a fresh start. Therefore my 5D days would not be behind me, just more parallel to my daily shooting needs.

As you know, I have been a happy 5D owner for years now. Funny thing about my story as a photographer though is that while digital camera technology excelled to new heights in the past five or so years, I seemed to head in the opposite direction and started shooting film more and more. I figure I should enjoy it, and get the most of it while it was easy to get ahold of and enjoy. But, as you know, things change, arts evolve as people evolve and technology is driven forward as we crave convenience and forward thinking.

This brings me to Fujifilm, their X series of cameras, and the body I have chosen to be my new day to day digital shooter, the X-Pro1. They have clearly been designed with film shooters in mind. Fuji’s engineers have a firm commitment to helping bring the joys of their old emulsions to life with the technology they have created to eventually replace it. It’s interesting to me because as a film company they have quietly been killing off more and more of their classic films, yet be it marketing strategy or a honest attempt at making users of their past film products happy, they seem determined to make this inevitable transition without loosing sight of their heritage.

The success of the Fuji X series cameras has been a slow burning one. Despite the runaway success of the X-100 thanks to its word of mouth popularity among a few key photographers over the past couple of years, the popularity of the X-Pro1 seems to have been a slow climb as they fought with focusing issues which lead to a lot of mixed reviews early on.

Of all the camera manufacturers currently leading the market, fuji seems to be the unsung hero of the slowly growing unrest among old school photographers missing the simplicity of older film cameras (I wrote about this over a year ago here as well). While many will claim Leica digital cameras, with their even more simplified yet lusciously priced cameras, best Fujis attempts, you can not deny that they are in their own realm price wise and hardly deserve a mention in the same way you don’t hear people comparing medium format digital sensors to Canon’s mid range 5D series. Price is a clear dividing line here in my opinion, there are those able to spend $9,000+ on a camera system, and there are those who can not.

What Fuji has done is stepped into a quickly changing and infamously finicky market space and laid into place the intention to keep alive the long standing essence of photography while still managing to maintain a clear strategy in keeping various levels of more casual shooters fulfilled as they work their way backwards from the flagship X-Pro1, a camera released over a year ago yet rather than haphazardly releasing a predecessor, has chosen to refine and improve on its existing tech through firmware updates and trying out ideas on the other cameras in the line as well as through a continuously expanding native lens selection. A strategy that shows confidence and an understanding of its core audience who does not want to buy into a system only to feel quickly left behind in the wake of newer bodies. If you build something right the first time, why rush to replace it?

I bought this X-Pro1 from a friend shortly after Fuji released a firmware update to the camera that once again was said to improve focusing. In my time spent with it I have not had any trouble at all once I got used to the approach of using the body in general.It’s quite simple really. You have your optical viewfinder (OVF) with a simple overlay on which you choose what info is to be displayed, an electronic viewfinder (EVF) that slides into place in front of the OVF, and the obvious LCD on the back of the camera body. I have had great success jumping between all three depending on the circumstances. In general the OVF with its automatically adjusting frame lines which compensate for parallax error  has been perfect for shooting quickly while out and about. The EVF is effortlessly pulled into place when I need to get in close to my subject so I get my framing just right, and the LCD is there for any awkward angled shots I may want to snap without contorting my body into weird positions. Let me validate this for those of you in doubt of that last one, there is nothing at all wrong with framing a shot using the LCD.

Many of you reading already know the tech specs and details of how this camera works so I don’t feel the need to go too much farther than that into its technical performance. I will say that the sensor and its clever color pixel pattern makes beautiful, smooth images. I am not a low light, high ISO junkie like many photographers seem to obsess over for whatever reason but I have found this sensor performs admirably in low light. I prefer a camera’s digital sensor be able to shoot at wide apertures in bright sunlight, give me a sensor that starts at ISO 50 and well talk. That said, the fact that the fuji, like many other small sensor shooters out there today, starts at an ISO of 200 had me pretty worried based on my own shooting habits but after pushing it a bit I am more than happy with the results. Even if I push an exposure to the irresponsible point where my highlights are pure white and no longer hold information to edit, results have been smooth and easy enough to balance out a bit in post. While I will obviously avoid shooting this way all the time its nice to know I can fudge the proper thought process here and there and still get nice enough results.

Another thing worth mentioning on the technical side of the fence, which really surprised me to be honest, is the outstanding JPG images this camera renders. For years now I have been a firm devotee of the RAW format because of its extended editing capability yet I find myself gravitating toward the JPG’s from the X-Pro1. Their film emulsion emulations are really quite nice and should not be ignored. They are subtle and appear to offer some basic correction for barrel distortion, vignetting, etc.

The button layout took a little getting used to, especially considering the years of using film rangefinders with only three things to adjust. I do miss the little joystick on my 5D but Im getting used to the more common, directional buttons with enter in the center style. The Q menu is brilliant, simple, quick and gets you to all of your important options straightaway.

I have a great appreciation for the fact that there is no wheel on top with silly circumstantial auto modes. Just pure simplicity, choose your Shutter Speed or Aperture for manual control or switch either to A to let the camera help you out on either end. Only what you need, nothing more, unless you want more, in which case it is there waiting for you. I have all instant preview settings turned off and have paired the camera down to its essentials so none of the technology gets in my way. It feels fantastic to shoot this way.

As many have been saying since this cameras release, it is so very easy to fall in love with it. Even down to the little details like avoiding any branding on the front of the camera shows what audience they were targeting. I can’t count how many times I have seen a photographer tape over logos with gaff tape.

In comparison to the latest from Olympus it is clear that Fuji and Olympus are after two different markets, at least in my eyes. Fuji, more the film loving shooters wanting simplicity and quick access to the fundamentals of shooting, and Olympus is clearly playing the spec sheet game adding a multitude of controls, weather sealing, and a more bells and whistles approach to attract users. After coming really close to going with an Olympus body I opted for Fuji simply because of their understated approach.

50ft X v2

Image Neutrality

There is one other thing I wanted to discuss here along with this review which I think is even more interesting than the fact that I am shooting with a new digital camera for the first time in years. I have long been pushing myself and other photographers to use as little post work as possible to complete their photographic visions but my opinion on this seems to be changing since I have started to shoot with a modern camera body and lenses.

Most of the newest camera systems on the market today have little to no character that define the photos they produce. All camera manufacturers seem to be after the same thing, optical perfection. Manufacturers are so bent on pleasing the pixel peeping tech sheet obsessed “this is how it should be” photo elite that the images most new cameras produce are starting to loose the characteristics that once made different systems so unique from one another and that is their personality.

The closer I looked the more I realized that new cameras and lenses take increasingly neutral photographs. Beautiful, sharp, pristine photos, but lacking in any personality that you could define them with. I look at some of my favorite cameras and lenses and they all have very distinct personalities. I used to be able to explore the pages of flickr and study the unique abilities of different cameras and lenses but the more I look at galleries from newer cameras I discover that the photos I am seeing and enjoying could almost have come from any of the newer camera systems available today. Camera performance across the board is becoming a bit ambiguous which leaves your choice of a system based on its physical performance and style as much as the quality of photos it can take because there are so many amazing systems out there.

As I have discussed in the past, I have a number of film cameras and films that I use in very specific ways because of the way they behave and the types of images they produce. I know the shortcomings and strengths of my favorite cameras and lenses and I put this knowledge to use to create something distinct and in line with what best suits the tools I have chosen to use.

Now I start to see the increasing popularity of preset packs such as that from VSCO and services such as what the talented Rebecca Lilly offers where you are conjuring up a personality virtually because of the neutrality of modern cameras. Without being able to choose your film you are left to rely on your lens choice to add any character to your shooting but even in this space, most new lenses are also becoming to efficient for their own good. I feel things have come to this point due to the fact that post film photographers have eclipsed those with classic experience in photography and have no problem looking to digital post work to make up for this lack of personality. Seems pretty obvious to me now. Presets are the new film.

While it’s strange to me and slightly depressing in some ways, I am starting to accept the direction things are going. Remember, there is plenty of room for film and digital shooting to co-exist. A heavier reliance on post work is just a different approach and it’s new to me and my usual mindset when it comes to photography in general. The photos I am getting with the X-Pro1 are beautiful as they are, but to make them unique and to add some personality to them I look to post work to add that final touch to complete my vision. Even with a perfectly lit moment I look at the resulting image and think, “oh, so close, but not quite what I have in my head for this image.”

I have used my Yesterday Was Only project to push the limits of post work and see what I can get away with. It’s been fun to see what works and what doesn’t and in a way it’s reminded me that once again, there is plenty still to explore and thats exactly what I intend to do.

Q&A

Required Reading

In another new, hope to be moderately consistent, series of posts I will suggest photography centric books/zines or articles online to read or experience. Sometimes I will do the pull quote thing and use them as a base of discussion, other times I will simply post as a recommended read. This will be as often as I have time to dig and look for things that catch my eye.

I remember first discovering photographer Zack Arias through his OneLight video on using simple flash lighting. While I never kept very close tabs on his other work online, I recently realized I had seen him referenced a number of times recently by other photographers, mainly while researching FujiFilms recent digital camera offerings. I discovered he had been running a pretty fantastic and candid Q&A tumblr and released a curated book of entries within that blog.

The book, Photography Q&A: Real Questions, Real Answers, is what I am recommending today, it’s a surprisingly well rounded book about many of the little, more specific details of working as a photographer. In it he discusses things often overlooked by many classes, books, and workshops. In many of the questions he used the book as an excuse to expand on his original answers to give even more insight based on years of experience and trial and error. There is also quite a bit of additional content added in between sections. He discusses everything from advice for specific shooting scenarios to help with handling different kinds of clients.

His approach to answering questions are often quite blunt and straightforward which I admire. He speaks from his honest opinion unlike many photo books most of which read like a camera manual. Not that either approach is more or less valid for different needs but I do appreciate the level of honesty and humility he offers in his writing. The writing style is akin to sitting down across from him with a drink and having a conversation about photography where there is no need to be polite or hold back.

Here is an excerpt I am in total agreement with from a question about recourses for models to learn how to model, originally posted here and expanded up on in the book. He is speaking here about a camera as a lifeless object, a mere tool of which we forge and capture pieces of time and of the irrelevance of how easy modern cameras make it to take nice looking photos:

“They will never take a picture. Buy all the cameras in the world. They will never see… Nikon doesn’t give you vision. Canon doesn’t give you vision. That new flash you want won’t make you see. It won’t direct your subjects. It won’t do shit for you. You point it where it needs to be pointed. You control what sort of light enters it and how much light enters it. You direct your subject in that light you have decided to work in. You are in charge. You, and you alone. If you think for one second that the camera is doing something for you, then you have your brain turned off and you’re being stupid. Stop it. Take control. Do it all. No matter what crazy-ass thing they make these cameras do next, they will never, ever, ever see the world. That is your job” -Zack Arias

There is a printed version of the book as well as a Kindle version which I read on my iPad to see his example images in color. Of all the photo books I have read through over the years this is easily one of the more refreshing reads I have come across within the genera and I can easily recommend any photographer who feels they still have something to learn within this industry pick this up and digest a question and answer or two each day. You can read more about it and order it over on Zack’s site here.

Five D

Five D Mark

I am happy to share some news with everyone today, I bought myself a new camera! Well, a few years ago actually… seven to be exact, and I thought you guys may be interested in a review. I get the usual “what gear do you use?” questions on a regular basis, reason being that we all enjoy finding out the tricks of other photographers hard earned trade. Its only natural once you get into any craft in which you start to unintentionally become a connoisseur. I feel like I have answered this a number of times in different posts here on 50ft such as this post about my gear in general, but there is one camera that has transformed me as a photographer and rarely gets as much credit as I feel its due. That camera, of course, is the Canon 5D.

First, an abridged history lesson. The 5D was the camera that convinced professional photographers that digital photography was here to stay. The 5D Mark II was the camera that convinced thousands of amateurs and lost young minds with creative aspirations that they too could shoot like a pro. Then Nikon started to finally catch up, followed soon thereafter by Olympus inventing a new breed of smaller yet fully functioning mirror-less digital bodies with interchangeable lenses. Fuji took the idea a step further following Leicas lead and made a few digital cameras aimed at the film lovers. Then of course we have our current top of the heap mid-range DSLR’s such as the 5D Mark III which I will admit is a beautiful camera that is worth every penny should you need such capabilities as it offers.

At any rate, this much is known to most of you. My personal history with cameras played out a bit differently though and it’s something I have touched on before. After happily shooting with my 20D for a while I was lured to the 5D early in its life because of its big beautiful “full frame”sensor. One shot and I was hooked, there was no turning back. This combined with my foray into shooting and editing RAW files and an investment in one great lens locked me in.

When the 5D II came along I had a moment of, ooohhhh… but it was short lived as I started to realize there was nothing I needed from the upgrade, I was not a videographer by any means and the results from the 5D II’s sensor never impressed me all that much. So I stuck with my original 5D and happily went along shooting, buying up older film cameras instead of needlessly upgrading my digital kit. In todays marketplace I feel the original 5D is one of the most overlooked options out there for photographers just starting out or ones shooting on cropped sensor bodies that want to give full frame a go. I regularly see these available today for an average price of $600USD in camera shops and on ebay. Nice ones even.

Here is my short review, they are built like tanks, take beautifully vivid images, and utilize a lens mount with plenty of great options that shows no sign of reaching the end of its life. Now, lets break that down.

During the course of my years spent with this camera I have put it through an almost unfair amount of torture. While I do have camera bags to transport my gear it is almost always outside of the bag on my shoulder, ready to use. Because of this it has collided with its fare share of doorways, cement floors, mud puddles, you name it. There is a chunk of metal missing from the grip near the battery door from a particularly bad fall which had me worried at first but it just kept on shooting. Outside of a few much needed sensor cleanings it takes the same great photos that it always has.

The photos from this camera have always ben distinct and highly natural to me. Part of my love for the sensor in this camera is the fact that the images don’t have that unusual overly pristine digital look to them. Don’t read into that the wrong way, I get nice crisp images, they just hold true to an aesthetic that I love. One that closer mimics the feelings I get while shooting film than most digital cameras give me. Even the noise has grown on me over the years. The full frame sensor gives my lens room to breathe and reach its full potential.

There are technical limits to the sensor of course, such as a moderate 12.8MP image size but 12.8MP is plenty for just about anyone these days unless you rely on unusually large prints on a regular basis. The prints I have produced from these files have been wonderful. There was a time I printed a few images on a large format fabric printer at roughly 4′x5′ (1.2×1.5 meter) and while they were not flawless you would be surprised at how presentable they were.

My only gripe would be, as with most digital cameras still to this day, highlights can easily accidentally get blown out leaving you checking your histograms regularly while out shooting. Walking that line just before this occurs and getting well controlled exposures can get a little tiresome at times. In my experience getting an exposure that works sometimes involves exposing a little lower than I may want to in order to avoid this yet if this involves a higher ISO I am left with a bit more noise than I care for in my shadows as I bring up my levels in post work. While the dynamic range is not as strong some of what technology has brought us recently I have never had too much trouble working with images unless they are dark shots or shooting higher than 800ISO (which is my personal limit with this camera).

“But John, there is no video capability”, at which point you simply need to imagine the a blank stare I am giving you until you come to your senses. This is a still photo camera. There is no shame in that, just be honest with your needs.

Ah, and the lenses. While L glass certainly has its luster and an investment in a good lens will easily outlast the value of your camera, there are plenty of great options out there such as their great 40mm f/2.8 pancake or the underrated 85mm f/1.8 that has always had to live in the shadow of its f/1.2 brother. Then there is the option of buying a cheap lens adaptor and shooting with some vintage glass, something I discussed a while back here on 50ft.

So don’t be so quick to judge this still highly relevant gem of a camera just because it has two older brothers all doped up with marketing and street cred sheen. The original 5D is well worth a look if your in the market for a modest full frame DSLR. I realize most of those reading this now are so locked into one way of thinking that buying an eight year old digital camera seems crazy and to you guys, just keep on keeping on.

Another point I wanted to get across in writing this must be fairly obvious. Gear lust is imaginary, irrelevant, and can lead you down a path of misunderstanding and misplaced reasoning as you develop as a photographer. Lets turn it into a dying trend. I have shot happily and successfully with one camera and a select few lenses all these years only keeping my lust for anything new contained with a few old film cameras along the way. It is vital to understand the difference between wanting a new piece of gear and needing it.

I say this out of experience. I get the bug just like anyone else. There is something to be said about the refreshing feeling of shooting with a new camera but in the end one solid piece of gear will take you a lot further if you allow yourself to fully adapt to it. Just be sure to pick something that complements your ambition and needs and you will be set. It’s also important to realize when enough is enough and having the latest and greatest hanging around your neck will only bring that emotional satisfaction for a short while before the next great new thing rolls into view.

That said, looking ahead, whats that on my horizon? Something new to me, yes, but more on that when the time comes.

(the photo above was shot with my hasselblad a long while back, couldn’t find a nice high res copy is all, see the un-cropped image here on flickr)

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