Matt Bowen's minutes of music, photography, et cetera
Butterfield DIET (by grebmops)
For our honeymoon, my wife and I traveled to Seattle and then Portland. I’d never been to the Pacific Northwest, and my wife had been to Seattle and loved it, so we thought it’d be a relaxing, interesting trip to cap-off a busy year of job-changing, moving, and wedding. And, we were right. I shared a lot of what we did via Path, FourSquare, and Twitter, but I thought for my own memory and (maybe) the benefit of others, I’d give a rundown of the various places we went and what we thought of them. We spent a lot of the trip just walking around and exploring, and then stopped for meals, snacks, and the occasional shop, which is most of what I recorded below. Because we went so many places, I’ve broken the list into two posts — this one for Seattle, and a later one for Portland.
But first, the pictures — these are a selection of both snapshots from my phone and more carefully composed shots from my X100.
For our honeymoon trip to the Pacific Northwest, I got a Fujifilm X100. A few people have asked me what I think about the camera, and so I thought I’d sum up my experience with it so far. In short, it is a wonderful but quirky camera. For me, the image quality and lens make up for any control issues — the images are on par with my DSLR, and the shooting experience isn’t too far off. But, it is a camera with frustrating flaws, and I’ll discuss those below. You can see the results of my trip on camera diem, my photo blog, or my Seattle and Portland set on flickr. Below, I’ll explain my motivations for picking the X100 and how it’s worked out for me.
For me, one of the great joys of traveling is making photographs, and so I pretty much always bring a camera on any trip, and the camera goes almost everywhere I do on the trip. I shoot between 50 and 100 photos a day while traveling (and keep 3-5 per day). I have previous usually traveled with an SLR — a Nikon N65 in college, then for the last seven years with a Nikon D70. I had tried to travel with a RAW-shooting compact (a Panasonic Lumix LX2) on a road trip, but I just couldn’t stand the image quality. Although the D70 doesn’t pack a ton of pixels, it does have a nice large sensor that produces little noise at ISO 200, and with a prime lens you can get beautiful bokeh and excellent sharpness. A smaller camera simply couldn’t match the image quality, nor the shooting experience.
The trouble with traveling with the D70 is primarily one of size. My best-quality lens is a 90mm f/2.8 macro, and it’s what I shoot with virtually all the time. Because the D70 has pretty poor low-light performance, I also typically carry an SB800 speedlight and a beanbag stabilizer to give me more control over my exposure without having to push the ISO over 400. It’s a not-small bit of kit for vacation. And, carrying the D70 with a prime lens around on my neck, it feels conspicuous — I typically keep it in my bag as much as I can, because I just end up feeling very “tourist.”
The X100 is different from any small camera I’ve seen though. I find the images produced by the X100 easily rival those that I can produce with my D70, both in terms of ease of capture and in raw image quality. The low-light performance is substantially better than what I’m used to — I’ve been happy with images shot all the way to ISO 1600 after lightroom’s noise reduction is applied. I miss the 1:1 macro of my 90mm lens, but I do not miss its heft (and the macro performance of the X100 is surprisingly good). A friend joked that I’d need a helmet because I’d be doing so much “zooming with my feet,” but that didn’t give me much trouble. I have a telephoto and a kit-zoom lens for my D70, but because I typically do my photography while traveling on foot, I almost never carried them, so maybe I’m just used to zooming with my feet. The 35mm equivalent lens turned out to be a good size for travel photography — and when I do want a subject to be larger in the frame than I can get it by moving closer, I just crop — they key is knowing your final output goal (typically a print no larger than 13x19” for me). The ergonomics of the camera work well for me — it took a little adjusting to the dials and menus, but after a few days, the main controls felt adequately intuitive. The shutter has no noticeable lag, and quick-start mode was quick enough that I missed few shots waiting for the camera to boot up. Additionally, the hybrid viewfinder is glorious — I love how bright, large, and immediate the optical is, and being able to see through the lens with the electronic viewfinder for more careful previews and composition is at times a godsend.
As reported in the more thorough reviews, the camera is not without its flaws. I’d say 70% of the time, the autofocus is just fine — not particularly slower or less accurate than what I’m used to in my D70 (which is, granted, an old camera). However, probably three of every ten shots are focused bafflingly. I keep the autofocus zone small and well aimed, and still I get plenty of pictures of people where the camera has decided that the background was more interesting to focus on. Also, if you’re at-all close to your subject, you need to flip to macro-focus mode, which is slow. In practice, this has meant a lot of missed shots of people — it’s difficult enough to time and compose a shot to get a natural expression out of a person, and then to see the shot focused incorrectly can be heart-breaking. I had heard of the focus problems and had thought that the manual focus would ameliorate the problem (I shoot manual on my D70 plenty and can often focus quickly); however, the manual focus is slow and fiddly, making it more useful for slowly composed macros than anything with motion or change. In the end, I’ve just accepted that a number of my shots of people will be out of focus and shoot more to compensate. It’s disappointing, but not a show-stopper for me. If I did more street or people photography (or had cute kids), I may feel differently.
Additionally, one of the cameras greater strengths — its many, retro-inspired external controls — turns out to have a downside. I keep the camera in a domke camera messenger bag when I’m not using it, for protection and, again, to avoid looking too much like a tourist all the time. Unfortunately, when I pull the camera out, typically at least one dial has moved unexpectedly — usually either the exposure compensation or the speed. This was much less of a problem on my D70, since the aperture, exposure compensation, and speed controls only changed anything when the camera was on. With the X100 though, those dials are dedicated and work whether the camera is on or off. The speed is easy to tell when composing a shot — I keep the camera in aperture priority mode, so if the speed dial moves to 1/4000, I see that in red in the display when composing a shot. The exposure compensation is more subtle. I have taken dozens of shots at +1 EV without meaning to. Occasionally, the focus mode will switch to manual, which you’d think you notice right away, but isn’t obvious if you’re using the optical viewfinder (as opposed to the electronic). There is an indication that the focus mode has changed (the focus indicator in the viewfinder changes) — I can say from sad, blurry experience that it’s a subtle change. With time, I’m getting better at checking the camera’s settings as soon as I turn it on — but so far, it’s meant more missed shots.
Unrelated to its performance, the camera was a mixed success at one of my more vain goals. As you probably picked up from the above, I don’t love looking like a camera-crazy tourist as I wander around a new city. I always felt like the D70 (or really non-pro DSLR) was second to only a fanny pack in the way it labels a person. So, I’d hoped the smaller, classier-looking X100 would be more discrete. However, because of its conspicuously retro style, it instead attracted more questions in a week than my D70 did in seven years. Not that I’d want it to look any other way…