As you may or may not know, a large majority of the official photos we see from the WEC, ELMS are being shot not by the typical ‘old guard’ DSLR-type cameras but modern, smaller and lighter compact format cameras and Fuji Film are leading that charge with their X-Series.
During the recent Silverstone WEC & ELMS ‘double header’, Fuji Film UK were on hand both in the media centre and in the public areas with a truck-load of equipment available to ‘have a try’, virtually without restriction. Over the course of the weekend, all of us covering the event for SportsCarGlobal had a try with mixed reactions and results. Here our Nikon loving Photographic Editor, Kelvin Pope, gives his views of the latest entrant to Fuji’s X-Series range, the X-Pro 2.
I want to start this by saying that it’s not a tech review, I’m not going to dissect how many mega-pixels the camera’s have or their burst rate -vs- that of a Nikon or Canon or even dwell on the looks of the camera (it’s a bit nice and ‘retro’ though) as there are plenty of tech reviews out there on line already – this is just about my thoughts after having a play for the weekend.
I’m a Nikon user and have been since I made the move to digital many years ago, moving from a D50 through to my current workhorse, a D800, with most stops in between. Lens wise, my style tends not to favour huge 500mm telescopes and at the circuit my 120-300 f2.8 is the mainstay, whilst either a 70-210 f2.8 or 24-70 f2.8 join in for pit lane shenanigans.
This all means that by the end of a day shooting around a circuit, my shoulders know I’ve been carrying something. It also means that the Nikon menu system is ingrained in my mind, I can flick through settings more often than not with out having to look down to the display, which is a great help. Body upgrades are normally looking at the next one or two up in the Nikon line, my attention very rarely venturing out to other manufacturer’s offerings.
Then, at snowy, rainy Silverstone, things changed ….
Fuji Film have been present in the media centre for a while, but like most people, I’m a bit stuck in my ways. Why would I want to change? I’ve a lot invested in Nikon fit kit, do I want to invest again? Can I afford to learn a new system on the job and miss shots? Can I be bothered?
Most sensible people would offer a ‘no’ answer to those questions, and indeed I probably would have firmly remained in the no camp if SportsCarGlobal weren’t so accommodating in the type of shots we use – never afraid to push the boundaries a little with something more ‘artistic’. This is the reason why I found myself venturing out trackside on the Saturday morning not only carrying my usual Nikon but also the latest Pro offering in Fuji Film’s X-Series, an X-Pro2 body, 1.4x teleconverter and the newly released 100-400mm f4.5-5.6. Those nice people at Fuji were offering free trials. Well, it would be rude not to really, wouldn’t it?
Starting out with the Nikon as usual, I started to get my eye in, the usual panning pictures of the ELMS field in wet conditions. Some nice rooster tails and wet weather effects, all good stuff. Half way through the session and having got a good amount of useable shots I broke out the Fuji and started to play. First impressions, it’s very light in the hand, but also a bit small. This was an initial concern when I first saw them in the flesh, as I run a battery grip on my Nikon to give me a good hand hold, I was nervous that I would find the Fuji problematic to get comfortable in the hand.
Notwithstanding I dived in and began to shoot with the Fuji and I absolutely hated it. If I was under pressure to get portfolio/press shots then it would have gone back in the bag there and then, but I felt it only fair to persevere and give it a fair shot, so, muttering under my breath, I ploughed on!
Muscle memory is an amazing thing and to experience it in action is quite something. I’ve got used to swinging a big heavy DSLR around for panning shots so when I tried to do the same thing with the Fuji I nearly brained the guy next to me and was in danger of launching the Fuji over the Armco into a gravel trap! First lesson of the day, there’s not as much momentum needed when panning the mirrorless Fuji. Secondly, the viewfinder. The Fuji uses a hybrid multi viewfinder, which the official blurb tells us offers the benefits of both optical and digital viewfinders. It adjusts magnification depending on what you have attached on the front of the body and also has an electronic rangefinder. On top of that you can choose to use the traditional viewfinder or the large screen on the back, confused yet?
I was and it took some getting used to, especially as I had typically not even looked at how to change any settings before leaving the Media Centre (it’s a camera, how hard can it be to drive?), so this was a true baptism of fire.
Then, slowly, it all started to click (excuse the pun).
Having deleted most of the first load of shots, the menus and settings started to make sense; that ‘complicated’ viewfinder? That started to make sense too and I became more accustomed to the lack of weight. Playing with the shutter settings and some others I started getting shots I’d be happy with on the Nikon, slow speed panning as well as head on, the traditional racing snapper’s fayre.
Back at the media centre, an issue did throw itself up. Aperture was having trouble recognising the Fuji RAW file, so I had to convert them first. Not a big issue, but a minor pain. Yes, I know I really should move over to Lightroom, but see earlier about being stuck in my ways ….
I used the Fuji throughout the ELMS 4 Hours of Silverstone along with my Nikon and found myself getting more and more comfortable with it; the hit rate was going up all the time, which was very encouraging. The extra length available at a lighter weight was extremely satisfying.
I enjoyed it so much I kept it for the next day as well, swapping the 100-400 for the 50-140 f2.8, keeping the 1.4x teleconverter.
Chatting with the Fuji reps and to X-Photographer Jeff Carter (who is also the FIA Media Rep) along with the other SportsCarGlobal Fuji guinea pigs was very revealing. Fuji are seemingly extremely quick to recognise issues and to release fixes as well as taking suggestions on board with equally speedy releases of software. Something that the established big players could maybe learn from?
The Sunday of the WEC 6HSilverstone dawned slightly better than the Saturday, it didn’t snow for starters.
For the pitlane walkabout I only took the Fuji, leaving my trusty Nikon in the Media Centre. The freedom of movement was a revelation, not having to swing a heavy lump around allowed quick changes of position and to move amongst the crowd with far greater ease.
Now feeling more comfortable with the Fuji menus and system I decided that whilst the bulk of my shooting for the race would be with the Nikon, I would play with the Fuji, trying to push myself and it to produce some more creative output. This worked up to a point, but this did show how much you do get used to the settings and performance of a camera that you are familiar with and also how the hand holds you use sometimes don’t translate over to smaller kit.
I found I was over exposing quite a few shots and couldn’t work out why. Then it dawned on me, I was moving the aperture ring by accident, it not having a lock (that I could see). This was annoying, but not something that was insurmountable, especially as I now recognised why and how it was occurring.
The upshot was that I didn’t get as much useable output from the Fuji on the Sunday as I did on the Saturday, but I can’t lay all the blame on the Fuji, that would be unfair. I’d started to push the comfort envelope I had and the lack of experience with the settings and hardware was starting to show, but this would be true of any new camera system and I still remained surprised and pleased with what I was able to produce with so little experience of the hardware. It really does bode well for a future of Fuji shooting should I decide to go that way.
There is the big question though, is swapping from Nikon to Fuji a viable option for me? My first thought and that of my accountant as well, was a resounding no, don’t be silly; too much time, money and effort already invested in the Nikon gear to entertain a change, it’s just not viable. That’s not and shouldn’t be the full story though, there is a place for the Fuji system and I am tempted to invest, maybe not as an immediate full replacement but certainly as a phased changeover.
The weight and volume, or lack there of, is a major plus point, not only physically on my shoulders when working at the track but it’s also a big consideration in these days of single bag economy flights. The Fuji would be far easier to pack than the Nikon is, maybe even leaving some space for that ultimate luxury, spare socks.
One thing that the Nikon does do better than the Fuji is battery life and by some extent. Saying that though, spare batteries are reasonably priced so not a big expense, it is just something that one would need to be aware of when out shooting, having enough spare power. Currently there is no battery grip available for the X-Pro2 either, but I wouldn’t want to bet on one not arriving for the range some time quite soon.
The Fuji is a system that is easy to get good initial results, but would certainly reward the users investment in time to get the best out of it. I have only briefly read the online manual (after returning the equipment) just to see where things were that I struggled with initially and it would definitely have made a big difference to my output had I read it first, but that is the same for any hardware and nobody really reads the manual first, do they?
As an investment it is something that requires very careful thought and consideration, but I don’t feel I would be disappointed if I did make the jump, or in my case a hop, to use the Fuji alongside the Nikon. That first race meeting with just the Fuji might be a touch nerve wracking though!
Thanks to Fuji UK for the opportunity to try their equipment with no limitations on how we used it, greatly appreciated.