Size (& weight) matters: Fujifilm Part 1

It has been noticed by a few people that I have been shooting with a Fujifilm X-E2 recently, and I have been asked if I am moving to that system and ditching the Nikon system of cameras / lenses.  So I thought I would write a little bit about why I have invested money in the Fujifilm system, what I like about it and what I don't like about it. 

This is a bit of a lengthy story so I will split this into 2 posts:  This first one will cover why, and how I got into the Fujifilm system, and the second post will cover what I like and don't like about the system I have.

As always this is just my own opinion, and you may find your opinion differs; that is fine, I can accept that.

Why have I bought Fujifilm gear?

As a bit of a back story; about a year ago I was having a conversation with Eva (my boss at Eva Bradley Photography) about her wanting to buy a lightweight mirrorless camera to carry around at weddings (as well as her normal Canon setup) with a wide lens to capture candid moments that often happen while you have a 70-200mm lens on your main rig, and are way too close for that lens to be of any use.

Eva was talking about getting a Sony A7 camera and a 35mm lens (I had used the Sony A7 before and personally didn't enjoy it).  I suggested that she have a look at the Fujifilm system, and specifically the X100T (23mm fixed lens, 16MP APS-C sensor), which I had heard good things about.  I showed her a couple of websites of people who shot exclusively with Fujifilm camera's, and the quality of the images that were capable from these little cameras.  She took a leap of faith and ordered the X100T then and there.

Then a few months ago Liz and I started planning our next trip away, and decided that we wanted to go to Southeast Asia ( Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar ) and explore that part of the world for 6 weeks, and ideally travel as lightly as possible.  That got me thinking (as is inevitable for me) about the photographic opportunities of such a trip, and then how we were going to lug around our existing Nikon setups, or carry a cut down version of our gear and still get the shots that we would be happy with.

So just to run through our camera setups to give an idea of the problem:

My main bag contains:

  • D800 full frame body
  • lenses:
    • 50mm f1.8
    • 85mm f1.8
    • 90mm f2.8 macro
    • 70-200mm f2.8
    • 17-35mm f2.8
    • 14mm f2.8
    • various other items (flashes, filters batteries etc)

Liz's bag currently holds:

  • Niikon 7200 DX camera
  • lenses:
    • 50mm f1.8
    • 35mm f1.8 (DX lens)
    • 11-16mm f2.8 (DX lens)
    • 28-300mm f3.5-5.6
    • various filters, batteries etc

It is worth noting that my total bag (which I carry around at weddings) is just over 3.5kgs, and Liz's probably weighs about 2kgs. 

So there is no way that we would consider taking all of this gear on holiday (even if it was a holiday where we would be staying in one place the whole time), especially when we want to be lightweight and mobile.

So I looked at a likely "travel kit" using our existing gear (thankfully we can exchange lenses between the 2 camera bodies, except the 35mm and the 11-16mm which are for the D7200 only).

This is what I came up with as the minimum that I would want to take to shoot our holiday with:

  • D800
  • D7200
  • 11-16mm lens
  • 17-35mm lens
  • 35mm lens
  • 50mm lens
  • 90mm macro
  • tripods, batteries etc
Nikon "Travel kit", the business card is for size reference

Nikon "Travel kit", the business card is for size reference

This setup would cover most of the different needs we would have.  This travel kit would weigh in at about 4kgs and would require a reasonably large messenger bag or backpack to carry it all around.

As the idea of carrying around 4kgs of camera gear on a daily basis did not appeal at all, I decided that I needed to look at alternatives that were both lighter and smaller, but could still deliver good quality images.

So thinking back to the discussion with Eva about buying the Fujifilm X100T, and other discussion I had had with other photographers about their Fujifilm experiences, I thought the Fujifilm system might be worth looking into further.  I borrowed Eva's X100T and played with it for a week, and realised instantly that I liked the images that it produced and how easy it was to use.  More investigation followed...

Fujifilm X-series of cameras

The Fujifilm X series of cameras are a range of mirrorless, retro styled, APS-C sensor cameras that have been around for a few years now, with the obligatory upgrades over the years.  The range currently consists of 13 cameras ranging from some compact point and shoot models up to high end "pro" models.  Some have fixed lenses (both cheaper models and the "pro" X100 series that I convinced Eva to buy) and others are interchangeable lens models.  Along with these cameras is a large range of lenses from affordable through to pro quality/expensive ones.

When I started look at this range of cameras and their features 2 things immediately struck me as different to the Nikon system I was used to :

  1. a lot of the cameras (I think 10 of the current 13 camera range) have identical (or nearly identical) sensors in them; 16 Megapixel APS-C.  This means that an image taken with the point and shoot X30 model should look identical to one taken by the pro quality X-Pro 1 model.  So the various models are not competing with each other on image quality or image size, but purely on the style, controls and usability. 
  2. Fujifilm have a policy of issuing updates to the firmware of their cameras to introduce new features and improvements, not just to fix bugs (as Nikon and Canon do).  This policy is called "Kaizen" which literally means "change good" or change for the better. 

A good example of this policy is seen in the X-E2 models of interchangeable lens cameras (arguably the entry level model).  The X-E1 was introduced in 2012, and the revamped X-E2 model replaced it in 2014.  Then in early 2016 Fujifilm announced the X-E2s model, which was a slight facelift version of the X-E2 model, but with a big update to the firmware to better utilise the sensor / hardware of the X-E2s (which was essentially the same as the X-E2).

They then took the unusual step in the camera world of announcing an update to the firmware for the 2 year old X-E2 model (which they had just replaced) to give it the same updated features of the new X-E2s.   So anybody with a X-E2 got a free upgrade to the X-E2s model, except for the minor changes to the body of the camera.

So when I started looking at the various options available in the Fujifilm range I realised that if I bought an X-E2 it would deliver the same image quality of the models above it (including the X100T that had had already used), and could be updated to an almost X-E2s level(ie brand new) for no cost.  And of course being a nearly 3 year old camera there were quite a few on the second hand market at reasonable prices.

So the decision was made to buy an X-E2.  I found a model for sale for NZ$400 that was not in perfect condition (a few scratches and marks) but in good working order, and I entered the world of Fujifilm.  This camera came with no lenses so I thought initially I would use some of my existing Nikon lenses with an adapter (NZ$50) to get used to the camera and see if it what I was after. 

I enjoyed the initial experience and then borrowed an Fujifilm XT-10 model to compare to the X-E2 (this borrowed camera also had the Fujifilm 18-55mm lens which I wanted to test as well).  I decided that the X-E2 felt better in my hand so started looking for another one for Liz...  More purchases followed.

That was about 2 months ago and I have now put together our Fujifilm travel kit for Asia.

The kit consists of:

  • 2 x X-E2 bodies
  • 2 x 18-55mm f2.8-4 lenses (these will be the general 'walkaround' lenses)
  • 1 x 12mm Rokinon f2.8 lens
  • 1 x 50mm Nikon E series lens (used with adapter)
  • 1 x 100mm Nikon E series lens (used with adapter)
  • Nikon to Fujifilm mount adapter
Fujifilm "Travel kit"

Fujifilm "Travel kit"

It is worth noting that as these camera's have APS-C sized sensors so there is a crop factor of x1.5 when looking at the focal length of the lenses; so the 12mm Rokinon lens is the equivalent field of view of an 18mm lens on a full frame sensor (such as the D800).

All of these items have been bought second hand except for one of the 18-55mm lenses which was bought new on sale.

The total cost for this kit was about NZ$2,500, it weighs in at just over 2kgs and will all fit into a small messenger bag or split up in our carry on baggage.  I am pretty happy with all three of those when compared to NZ$8,000, 4.5kgs and a large backpack for the Nikon "Travel kit".

In fact the Fujifilm setup will also give a better range of focal length coverage than the Nikon kit.

As another comparison of size the image below shows my 900g D800 next to my 350g X-E2.

David and Goliath

David and Goliath

So in an effort to get to know this setup I have been shooting all of my landscape work using my X-E2, (I still shoot weddings with the big camera) and I will probably continue to do so because it is nice and easy, and I like the results I am getting.

But that it a topic for part 2 of this blog...

As a small teaser to that blog the gear photos above have been taken directly off their respective cameras as jpegs with no editing.  The Nikon kit photo is taken with the X-E2, the Fujifilm kit photo by the D800 and the David and Goliath shot by the X-E2.  Form your own opinions on the images...

So that wraps up how I got into the Fujifilm system, if you have any questions about the kit I have please let me know.  I will cover the usability and quality of the set up in the next blog.