How the Fuji X-series made me feel inadequate

by admin on October 28, 2013

You know recently there’s been a fair bit of hullaballoo about these new cameras Fuji has been bringing out – the X-series. X100, X-Pro 1, XE-1 and most recently the X-M1 or something like that. All touted as great cameras – the perfect blend of retro styling and cutting edge sensor technology, paring away anything extraneous to the act of shooting. The Fuji X series – peerless walk-around cameras that can be adapted for wedding work, editorial work heck, even commercial work. Photography bloggers whom I respect and admire all clambered over each other to shout the praises of these lightweight wonder-cameras. They could do no wrong on the digital camera review sites, and quickly developed a cult following which exploded into a massive fanbase. The Fuji X-series. Messianic.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (1)

Of course, being easily swayed and ever-eager to spend money on new gear, I bought a pair of these exciting new cameras. The Fuji X100s, and the XE-1 with an M-mount adaptor. Now, let me begin with a caveat: these cameras are great. They are. For what you pay, these cameras perform well in pretty much every aspect. And the new sensor is great too. Just great. The retro styling reminded me of my Bessa rangefinder, which made it super intuitive to use and the slim form factor (relative to a DSLR) made it easy to carry around all day. The perfect blend of everything I needed in a camera, or at least thought I needed. An affordable Leica that delivered the goods at a mere fraction of the price. With these cameras I would be unstoppable. Invincible. No longer would I balk at the thought of lugging a DSLR around all day – with these cameras I could carry an entire kit in a shoulder bag and never tire. With these cameras I would never miss a photo because I would always have a camera with me – I would become a street photography god and everyone would respect me. With these cameras I would be stealthy, quick, unobtrusive, silent, a vessel for recording the extraordinary in the mundane of the everyday. My photography would change, my life would change, and happiness was just around the corner.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (6)

And yet the thing is, contrary to all my expectations, having bought these cameras, I did not morph into some Godzilla of street photography, or urban photography, or anything. Quite the opposite actually: I realized that my photos suck, although this didn’t happen immediately either. I must have been in some gear-wanker denial stage – more in love with the perfect white-balance and skin tones that the X-trans sensor produced, than actually looking at what I was shooting. But slowly I realized – as I eagerly went back through the photos I had taken with these revolutionary new cameras – that I sucked, truly sucked, at photography. Everything sucked, and was a complete cliche; the backs of people’s heads at a pedestrian crossing. Some perfunctory shots on a platform while waiting for my next train. The same photos from the same bar that I drink at regularly. OMG. It was sickening. Sure I carried a camera with me everywhere, but nothing had changed. I was still checking my phone more than paying attention to my surroundings. The only times I used the camera was when I was standing still between point A and point B ie: waiting at a crosswalk or waiting for a train. I had sold myself some ridiculous theory that the new gear would change my approach to photography, would make me suddenly sit up and notice all of the cool photographic opportunities that happen on the street. No, in fact, what the Fuji X-series succeeded in doing was to remind me how bad I am at this craft, and how far I have to go.

Here are some photos from me in try-hard mode to break up all this text :)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (13)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (9)

 

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (10)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (4)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (12)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (17)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (20)

DSCF7066

DSCF7073

Back to the Fujis kicking my ass and reminding me that I need to grow up a little more. This is a good thing for me. It was stupid of me to think that simply carrying around a camera from point A to point B will lead to better photos. I was drawn into the hype, even though I should have known better. Any type of photography, whether it be portrait, wedding or street photography requires discipline and focus to improve and polish. Street photography requires you to be out and about, searching for interesting spots and interesting people. It requires you to GROW A PAIR OF NUTS and go and talk to people on the street. This is difficult for me. But in the grand scheme of things, amongst the endless variety of thankless, demeaning, menial or dangerous jobs that I could be doing, it isn’t all that difficult a task to chat to a random stranger in order to get a photo. So I have the choice to pick up my socks, get out on the streets and really try to nail some work that I’m proud of, or I can sit back in my comfort zone and not create anything. Which to me is the equivalent of basically giving up water. So, I guess I really only have one choice then ;)

What I originally wanted from my X100s, and what I got from it are two very different things. What I wanted was the camera that would be the extension of my will, a camera that would make great images as long as I had it with me.  What I got instead was the message that my will was weak, that I was spoilt from having too many great photographic subjects handed to me on a platter without having to go after them myself. There’s a Japanese phrase that goes 「初心に戻る」Shoshin ni modoru, which means to go back and remember the feeling of being a beginner. It means that no matter how far you’ve come you shouldn’t forget the humility of starting out on something new. The Fuji X100s is a camera that will make you live that phrase. It’ll remind you that you still have a ways to go with your photography. The fixed 35mm equivalent lens forces you to get close and shoot, or not even bother. It won’t listen to your excuses. It’s a great camera if you’re hard on yourself and willing to do something about it.

I never expect street photography to be some kind of money maker for me – I don’t even expect it to get me any page views, ‘Likes’, or even teach a workshop about it, although I’m obviously qualified :D . What I really want is to make some photos that I’m proud of, and have intrinsic meaning to me. The X100s will make it difficult, but I’m pretty sure I can rise to its challenge.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Carlo October 28, 2013 at 4:35 pm

Great article, something I relate to very very much recently while looking the images being vomited out of my camera.
I suck, but the great news is that I can get better!

Ciao,
Carlo

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Matt October 29, 2013 at 5:57 am

I enjoyed the post. The conclusion you came to was the same for me: the X100s didn’t make me a photo-god. But I took a slightly different approach than you did. Rather than “grow a pear of nuts” to get more in someone’s face, I’ve become better at capturing those fleeting moments that come without warning. It’s allowed for a new appreciation of how light filters through trees, how the sun can hit that sweet spot on a skyline, or how peoples’ faces sometimes look when they’re deep in thought, all unaware of that imperceptible little click. I think it’s hard to judge it on the path from A-B… but from
B-Z I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

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admin October 29, 2013 at 6:01 am

Hey matt! I don’t want to get in faces either – I want to be able to approach people who would be great for a photo. My wee little nuts will make up any excuse not to do that sometimes

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Steve Richards October 29, 2013 at 7:51 am

Hi Irwin thanks for a great post, you just crystallised my last 6 months in photography! In the last year I’ve been lucky enough to get an M to supersede my trusty M9. Was so excited about live view/EVF and focus peaking, surely these “advances” must make me a better photographer…? Pictures sucked to the extent that I dried up completely. Bought a GX7 – surely autofocus and the compact size with the 20/1.7 would help me get my mojo back? No chance! Total rubbish shots. (It’s a wonderful piece of kit in the hand BTW)
We’re swimming in the best kit the world has ever seen and I’m sure many can drive it and make good work, however, I really I was concentrating on the tech – LV and focus peaking are so distracting – and I realise my work declines in direct proportion to the size of the menu system on a camera!
The revelation was going to an exhibition of Tony Ray-Jones in London curated by Martin Parr. Neither had access to half the kit we have now but their work focuses on a few simple rules and is iconic.
I’m going back to the simplicity of an OVF rangefinder and manual focus. I may be here for some time…

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Alex October 29, 2013 at 8:49 am

Great article. Reminds us that photography is not just all about the gadgets that we use. Bought the x100 recently, because of the rave reviews it got and the beautiful photos from the x100 blogs are showing around the net. What we fail to realize is that some of this photos are created by talented photographers. It’s nice to be reminded from time to time that we should be more creative in composing our photos than just expecting great photos because we bought a good camera. The fixed focal length of my x100 makes me think of my composition more.

Cheers

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Nour El Refai October 29, 2013 at 10:00 am

Very nice and honest post, yes the X100 makes us focus on the essence of photography and quickly realize that we need to practice more and improve, well done

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Zack Arias October 29, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Really fantastic article Irwin. I’m reminded each day how much I suck.

Cheers,
Zack

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admin October 29, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Haha! Problem is I should have known that before I bought the camera

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MarkRD November 4, 2013 at 8:01 am

That’s bullshit Zach.

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Chris - Smudged Photo October 29, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Great article Irwin.

It’s something I always find. If I look back at my gear progression throughout my short career, I’ve always always been striving for the next best thing. “As soon as I have this….” “Once I finally get the money to get that…..” “This’ll complete my gear set and I won’t need anything else….” but then once you hit those marks you’ve set for yourself, you’re suddenly laid bare and have no more gear based excuses. Does the photography improve? Technically perhaps, but emotionally probably not so much.

That is one of the reasons I strive for the best gear (much to the counter of advice on the web) so I have no more excuses, I can’t say, if only I had, or well they’ve got that lens so obviously they’re better. Having the best gear in front of you (like the x100s for street I imagine) completely exposes you for your talent, and that’s where the best learning is found.

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admin October 29, 2013 at 2:28 pm

No excuses, the photos speak for themselves, amirite?

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Alex Leon October 29, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Same thing happened to me. I thought my camera was broken or mal functioned. Surely enough for me my x100s was ok, I just sucked, badly. I had been shooting a 5dmkii for over a year 1/2 and was confident I could manage this one, no.

I’m still not quite finished learning my x100s it offers so, so much. I can’t get my color right, I’ve seen so many pictures made with it that it just gets me in a bad mood and makes me learn more about it, so I guess it’s working.

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Ronny Hermans October 29, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Great article,
made me smile because I feel the same and made me laugh at all those people who already know everything.

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peter nadort October 29, 2013 at 3:02 pm

hello, I’m 71 years old and have made a whole lot of pictures. But when I started a wise old photographer says “it’s the man who make the picture” not his camera. So I’m happy with my Fuji gear and think that it will give me so much (hopefully) as I’ve got in the 42 years with my Nikon gear.

regards, peter

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Roger Maillette October 29, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Hi Peter,

I’m 73 and 45 years of shooting with 4X5 cameras, Hasselblad and 40 years with Nikons.

I even told a Friend who is a Nikon rep of my ‘divorce’ and he agreed. Still my friend.

All Fuji now….and happy.

Irwing, your story is so true!

Good shooting to all!

Roger

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Henry Moret October 29, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Love the point of this artical. I have other cameras as well and fnd the pursuit of hardware futile. I believe if you want to take better pictures pick a camera for me that’s the Fujifilm XE-1 and pick a lens and learn it. To do that from my prospective you need to operate in manual mode as much as the camera will let you. You discover depth of field hand control without taking you eye from the viewfinder etc. Now you are one with your hardware you can begin to see what your camera sees developing an eye to what you want to capture and accomplish in step. They might be small steps but suddenly the joy of taking pictures is comming back for me and I hope all of you! By the way I made the same discovery my pictures suck but they are improving over time.

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Alan Smallbone October 29, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Great article and one I can sure relate too, I was just feeling many of these same feelings and you put it all together, well said. The point of going back to a beginner is the best point and one that everyone should do at some point in their photographic journey.

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Cody Swanson October 29, 2013 at 6:06 pm

I came to the realization that I suck quite some time ago, way before getting my X-E1. After a period of feeling sorry for myself I came to the realization that IT DOESN’T MATTER. I am my biggest critic and my own worst enemy. I think the internal self-doubt is the ever present shadow that haunts every creative person.

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Chuck Kolyvas October 29, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Hi Irwin, I’ve recently moved to Japan (Kyoto), a country rich with photographic opportunity. Naturally, I brought my DSLR with me, but, in a bid to reinvigorate my photography, I also brought my analogue SLR (my first ever serious camera), in the hope that I could capture some of my more interesting photography from when I first started out. But I haven’t taken a single interesting frame in the two weeks that I’ve been here.

What you highlighted here, and what I’ve known for years yet have done NOTHING about, is that it’s the human behind the camera who matters.

I keep telling myself I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that, but I’m never going to capture the essence of my earlier work (ignoring how technically bad it was) if I don’t fucking talk to people.

Interestingly, I think I actually produce better photography now when I shoot weddings, which are creatively soulless, merely because the personality comes out—I’m forced into social situations, I’m forced into coaxing subjects into working the camera—I’m forced into talking to complete strangers.

Thanks,
Chuck

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Matthew Eric Lit October 29, 2013 at 7:01 pm

Wonderful article and one which I will share with my students and with my many colleagues…especially the ones from many years ago. They are the ones who will nod their heads in agreement. My students? I hope some will inspired and glean the understanding that no matter where you are in photography, no matter how much you have accomplished, you are not there yet.

Thank you.

Matt Lit
photographer & photography educator
from somewhere on Colorado’s Continental Divide…

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Matthew Eric Lit October 29, 2013 at 7:06 pm

And…by the way…wonderful images…most of them anyway! As an aside, I learned this lesson many years ago when Jonathan Bailey turned me on the to Holga Toy Camera. It forced my vision with it’s “normal” lens and it remains few and far between when I get a successful – truly successful – image worth exhibiting.

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Kelvin October 30, 2013 at 3:17 am

Brilliant article!

Been there… Here are a few tips that worked for me:

1. Stay the hell away from AF, go fully manual – lens and all, not saying shoot film cameras only
2. Slow down cowboy, you can’t capture everything, there are many more moments to capture – patience
3. Think and plan before going out to photograph, keep expectations low
4. Don’t force the issue, if it ain’t there, move on and keep practicing
5. Read the blogs but be disciplined, don’t believe the hype, try controlling that GAS
6. Learn to see – this is probably the hardest thing to do, try people watching without a camera – look closely, open the eyes
7. Don’t be so hard on yourself, roll with the punches
8. Be a student – study the works of the masters or whoever you admire – almost religiously
9. Take the time to really or truly know the gear at hand
10. Keep shooting and best of all try having fun while at it…

Hope this helps!

Cheers…

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Kismet October 30, 2013 at 5:34 am

I bought a x100s a couple of months ago. “I will carry it everywhere I go.’ It was a nice thought while it lasted. I carry my iphone wherever I go . On the positive side though-I do only carry my x100s when I travel ( it was hard leaving my DSLR behind the first time) and from moments of oh my god! What are these crap photos , I have got a moment or two of hey one nice photo! It’s made me a thoughtful photographer ( from all those moments of feeling inadequate).

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Peter Steiner October 30, 2013 at 11:06 am

Wonderful article, so humble towards your photography! It seems that the money you invested in the Fujis was very well spent. :-)

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James Gilbert October 30, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Good article, thanks. Keep working at it, confessions are a great start in improving…I know I need to do it regularly.

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meg October 30, 2013 at 6:36 pm

I really liked this post and was happy to read a refreshing word about the Fuji products. I wish, however, as a female photographer that the phrase “It requires you to GROW A PAIR OF NUTS and go and talk to people on the street.” would have been expressed in a different manner. While a metaphor, it reiterates the message that females face in their photography careers that only men can truly succeed at photography. While this phrase may have little impact on a man reading it, it provides a negative impact for women.

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Richard October 30, 2013 at 8:48 pm

Dude: you couldn’t have published this BEFORE I sold the entire collection of Micro Four Thirds crap gear that was gathering dust to buy a Fuji X100S?!

Awesome articulation of an essential issue. On the one hand, I do get a bunch more “good” shots because, well, the X100S makes even marginal stuff look good. On the other hand, most of what I really TRY to take is shit. On the (other? third?) hand, I see what people like you and Arias are able to squeeze out of this thing, and it makes me WANT to stick to it…

I’m slowly – S-L-O-W-L-Y – getting better, more interesting, deeper photos, particularly when I (paradoxically) take my time to really go full on manual and confirm every little thing, or, snap! before I really even have a full appreciation of what’s in front of me (to be honest, the latter works for me more often than the former – WTF is THAT all about?!)

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Michael McQueen October 30, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Could not agree with you more!! You hit the nail on the head! The fuji’s are a great tool to capture with but you definitely need the NUTS to even attempt it ‘properly’. NUTS + FUJI’S = great images.

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Iann Troalen October 31, 2013 at 4:45 am

Very nice and clever post!! I agree with you even though I don’t currently own one of these fantastic cameras: taking interesting or special pictures is a neverending learning of a lifetime!… On the other side I think this applies to any cameras, disappointment may be greater with these fantastic cameras, because expectations are much higher!!! ;-)

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Richard October 31, 2013 at 5:50 am

Nice article ! I agree with you : using fix focal instead zoom is à good way to improve our photos quality.
Bye

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Greg Poole November 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Great read Irwin. Street photography isn’t as easy as it looks, but you definitely are starting with the right tools. Thanks for your support and kind words about our products.
- Greg “Fuji Guy”
………and a reminder from a pretty good photographer……..
“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”
― Henri Cartier-Bresson

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Rohan Gupte November 1, 2013 at 6:30 pm

Very nicely written post. Very candid.

I am myself eyeing one of these Fuji cameras but I am still on the fence. In your experience so far, do you think inability to produce shallow depth of field given the sensor size is one of the items that limits the creativity from using these cameras? Wider 35mm focal length doesn’t help there either.

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Chris November 1, 2013 at 9:53 pm

Great article – I really enjoyed your perspective. Just goes to show that the best photo is one waiting for you around the corner. At least with the Fuji cameras you can easily carry them with you and be more ready to grab that photo than you would be with 20 or more pounds on your shoulder. I just photograph my kids; however, now that I ditched the dslr for the XPro1, I carry it everywhere and I do manage to get many of those “everyday” shots I would never have before – and those which are mundane to others really mean a lot to me, and will in the future. Only real problem I encountered with the small size and light weight of the kit is that just this past week I lost my 18mm lens while on a shoot with my daughter. It’s so tiny I didn’t realize it was missing until I went to use it few days later. Still kicking myself over that one! Oh well….wouldn’t change a thing. Keep on shooting – I love the potential that these camera bring to us and how they excite us to dig deeper….or at least to dig more than would have before. Cheers!

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Kristian November 3, 2013 at 7:07 am

Irwin, thanks for the insight on the X-E1. I’ve been debating going down this route or the Olmypus route with the EM-5 and your article, paired with Mark Schuler’s over at http://markschuelerphoto.com/blog/2013/10/continuing-the-love-affair-a-practical-review-of-the-fujifilm-x-e1/ , have made the choice easy for me. Can’t wait to get my hands on the X-E1 (at a great price since the X-E2 is around the corner!)

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Mark November 11, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Kristian–glad that my blog helped! When I was trying to make the decision myself, I had a really hard time finding the information I needed… eventually I just bought the damn thing because the latest round of firmware updates seemed like they brought it into the realm of “acceptable” for me. Very glad I bought it. I have the rest of my Canon gear in boxes ready to ship out, and I have a X-E2 kit on order–can’t wait till it comes!

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Leon Droby November 8, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Great article. Sometimes, a camera is worth a lot more than you pay for it.

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Peter de Rooij November 8, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Hmm, it sounds like these little cameras did actually do something very significant: make you realise where you are. No mean feat, I’d say:-)
I am guessing that is one of the bigger steps to getting more adequate (not that I’d know…)

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Sean Marc Lee December 4, 2013 at 5:24 am

I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Thank you.

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Antoine January 8, 2014 at 9:35 am

So true! great post.
All my recent research on new gear led me to Fuji, as I believe they make the best stuff right now. But the more I read and thought, the more I believe I need to work on my skills before anything else. Good photography is not about good gear… although gear is often the first excuse.

I am so scared to fall into the usual trap of gear-frenzy that this X100s seems the perfect camera, as it kills all the usual excuses:
- it is unanimously recognized as a great camera, producing extremely high IQ
- no interchangeable lens or complex options, means no HW excuse
- very back-to-the-basics manual controls and tools, the only that matter in photograpy: OVF, speed, aperture, ISO and exp comp

So I have decided, this camera is my last investment in HW until my photos are good enough to authorize me to invest in an ILC. Maybe I should set a criteria for this “good enough”, like having 100 shots reaching 99 rating on 500px :-)

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Jan Dirk May 13, 2014 at 3:45 am

Spot on indeed. People don’t buy a camera but a dream. In the real world image quality is almost irrelavent. For street photography the best camers for me is no camera at all. It’s a smartphone with a sneaky pix app, taking random pictures.

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