Saturday, 3 March 2012

The X100 philosophy

So then - here it is. The Fujifilm Finepix X100, probably the most raved-about camera of last year. What makes it so special? Its design philosophy, its inspiration, reaches back over half a century to what was one of the very greatest (if not the greatest) camera ever made, the Leica M3 (in production between 1954 and 1966).

In terms of visual comparison, here's the X100 (below)...

...and below, my well-loved Leica M3 from 1959, unused since I made the switch to digital photography five years ago. Both cameras in the same scale (see checked cloth background as reference).

Although Leica continues to manufacture M-series camera in film and digital versions (the M7 and M9 respectively), they are so mind-blowingly expensive as to put them out of reach of all but the wealthiest photographer, with the price of an M9 body (lenses have to be bought separately) costing over 24,000 złotys here, £5,000 in the UK, €6,000 in Germany, $8,000 in the UK.

For those who know what Leica photography can offer, the X100 is a capable substitute at one-sixth of the price. It has a 12.2 megapixel sensor and a fixed 23mm f2 lens (the equivalent of 32mm on a full-frame camera).

Above all, the rangefinder camera is discreet, unobtrusive and quiet. It does not bring attention to the photographer the way a fully-featured single lens reflex does. So for street photography, the inconspicuous rangefinder is king. Rangefinder cameras are good for people, architecture and landscapes, no good for wildlife, aviation or anything calling for long lenses.

The X100 brings autofocus to the game (the M9 is still manually focused). Now, maybe my digital Nikons have made me lazy, but I've got used to letting the camera do the focusing for me. The X100 is also much lighter (and slightly smaller) than the Leica Ms. It weighs 440g, compared to 570g for my M3 with 35mm f2 lens, while the digital M9 body with that same (manual focus) lens would weigh over three-quarters of a kilo - which gets a bit much after a day around the neck.

However, the Leicas feel more robust. My M3 is now 53 years old and as sturdy as it was the day it left the factory. I wonder whether how many X100s will still be around in 2065...

My main gripe with the X100 is the lack of lens filter. Without a UV or Skylight filter, the lens is naked and vulnerable. On a camera with a fixed lens, it means that if you scratch the lens, the whole camera is useless. Now, Fuji make a filter mount adapter, but it is expensive (159 złotys/£30), non-standard and near-impossible to come by in Warsaw shops. You cannot simply screw in a standard 49mm filter into a threaded mount around the outside of the lens. There are hacks, involving removing the lens front trim ring, screwing in a 49mm filter backwards with the glass removed, then a second 49mm filter on top of that one, then replace the trim ring. There's the risk that if the filter rings are too narrow, the lens will jam against the filter glass when focused out. (Read about it here.)

Next gripe - the shutter button (which, incidentally, features a screw thread for a release cable - nice touch!). It is not positive enough. On my first outings with the camera, I found myself thinking I'd taken a picture (camera discretely round neck, not at eye-level) and discovering I hadn't. Not possible on a Leica.

Cameras commonly known as 'point-and-shoot' should be called 'point-and-wait-and-shoot'. DSLRs' greatest advantage over compact cameras is that they respond instantaneously. Now, the X100 is not quite there when it comes to that instant and direct feel of a single-lens reflex. There are electronic sounds that can come to your aid, confirming that a shot has been taken - but they rather give the game away. Because the X100 has a leaf shutter (rather than the Leica's focal plane horizontal shutter), you have to listen hard for any sound - a whir-whir of the autofocus and a near-silent 'sst' as the exposure is made. This is exactly what's wanted in street photography - if only the shutter offered more positive confirmation that a photo has being taken via your fingertip.

To give you an idea of lens sharpness - here's a wide shot of one of my bookshelves, taken on the X100...

...and a four-times magnification from it from the centre of the above photo (below). Hand-held, 1/20th sec, f2 (lens wide open), 800 ISO. Click to enlarge.

So - do I buy the X100 at a good price - or wait until Nikon's D3200 comes out? More tomorrow... The X100's outstanding hybrid viewfinder, its poor battery, complicated menu, lovely controls...

This time last year:
Reason vs. Emotion

This time two years ago:
The civilisational effects of frequent flying

This time three years ago:
A week into Lent


Jason Worlledge said...

I am very interested to hear more about this camera as I considering it as a replacement for an older Canon DSLR that I can become tired to carrying around. I am not that much into photography anymore... that, and my philosophy has changed from zoom and many lenses to framing the picture to what the eye sees... Anyhow, nice blog, Mr. Borsuk turned me onto it a while back. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

I know this mode of admonishing people is rather irritating - but since I like this blog I will (as a lawyer) risk giving you a piece of a not-asked-for advice. Take this as another instance of strangers' kindness...

The thing is, publishing close-up photos of peoples' faces without their consent can put you in trouble.

Here's an excerpt from copyright act of 1994 (didn't bother to translate it, sorry)

Art. 81.
1. Rozpowszechnianie wizerunku wymaga zezwolenia osoby na nim przedstawionej. W braku wyraźnego zastrzeżenia zezwolenie nie jest wymagane, jeżeli osoba ta otrzymała umówioną zapłatę za pozowanie.
2. Zezwolenia nie wymaga rozpowszechnianie wizerunku:
1) osoby powszechnie znanej, jeżeli wizerunek wykonano w związku z pełnieniem przez nią funkcji publicznych, w szczególności politycznych, społecznych, zawodowych,
2) osoby stanowiącej jedynie szczegół całości takiej jak zgromadzenie, krajobraz, publiczna impreza.

So, didn't you pay the people on your three portrait photos, didn't they otherwise agree to you publishing them here or aren't they public persons, you may not publish such portrait images, period.

Sure, many people won't be bothered (or won't know their right to compensation), but there is a minority which will exploit such occasions for compensation... And you never know who's who.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ anon:

Thanks for your comment - a appreciate the spirit and tone in which it was made - certainly more effective than a cease and desist order!

Better safe than sorry.


1) Please define "rozpowszechnianie". The law dates back when the internet was in its infancy, and probably takes no account of it. A daily - or even local - newspaper is "rozpowszechnianie"- but a blog read by no more than 65-70 Poles a day?

2) Please define "portret". The original photos were of groups of people at bus stops, from which a selective enlargement was made of just one face. As such, the original photos fall into Art.81 2.1). Now, if instead of three separate faces, I had portrayed a whole group including several faces at a bus stop within one photo - a problem? What if a third party downloaded such a photo, enlarged a portion highlighting one face and re-posted it?

And a general comment - English law is more interested in intent than chapter-and-verse. If it were my intent to belittle or mock - fair's fair. But the intent of my blog is and has been to document.

Anon - this is an important issue, thanks for raising it. It's about finding the balance between the right of the individual to protect his/her "dobro osobiste" (does such a notion fall within the English legal concept of "personal rights"?) and the photographer's right to document.

I'd be glad to hear what you think of Polish law - why it exists and who it protects (and from what).

Sigismundo said...

"The law is an ass."

Sorry, can't remember who said that first. Presumably I can now be prosecuted under Polish law for failure to attribute a quote.

Kolin S. Murray said...

Hey Michael!

I too am interested to hear what camera you decide on in the end.

Right or wrong, I liked your portraits. What's the harm? And who cares what the law says :D

However, to avoid entangling myself further in these matters, I hope one day to post a photo set of smouldering garbage can fires around Warsaw. Maybe I'll carry around a bottle of ogliocene water to extinguish them and post before and after photos. Could be exciting!

Whoever lent you the X100 obviously doesn't need it that badly. Have you considered simply not returning it? :D

All the best,


adthelad said...

For me the fixed lens is a restriction in general. Not that I'm averse to single lens cameras e.g. the Olympus XA for me was a complete gem. My feeing is that there are a lot more versatile tools out there for less money - if only in second hand - so I would hang on to my pennies and see what else is out there - especially battery life wise.

adthelad said...

just to add the brand new Fuji X10 looks gorgeous, is cheaper, has a zoom lens 28-112mm (equivalent to 35mm) with very large f stop, manual, A and S priority, and once they sort out the point light 'orb' problem it could be a winner.