I started my photography business as a Nikon shooter. I had an arsenal of beautiful Nikkor glass that I built over time and I was extremely happy with the performance of their cameras and lenses. This is not another “I am a convert to the holy system of X” article. It is not here to preach Fujifilm or denounce another system. I am writing this to show just how far this system has come, and why I am now able to use it for my family sessions.
If you look at my business site over at WelkinLight Photography, you’ll notice that the majority of my business is actually families with young children here in Seoul. My sessions focus on families having a great time together and that often entails a lot of movement. This is something that Fuji X was never very good at. The X-T1 started the journey towards usable autofocus in the system, and its successive firmware updates continued to develop this. The X-T2 left the X-T1 in the dust. It was a huge leap in the right direction. Slowly I began shooting my sessions with the X-T2 rather than the Nikon. Honestly, I was quite surprised at its speed. Even having used the X Series for nearly 4 years now, I was shocked at how much of a gap there was between the two camera generations. let’s dive a little deeper into how those updates affect my ability to use the camera.
This was my biggest concern with switching to the X system for family sessions in the beginning. The focusing system wasn’t always at the level of the X-T2. However, now it is toe-to-toe with the big DSLR manufacturers, and I have no reservations walking out the door with my X-T2 for all of my needs.
I use a mixture of AF-S and AF-C in my family sessions. Each frame is different and requires a different approach on the camera’s part. Thankfully, that little switch next to the lens allows me to change that quickly and without looking. It is perhaps important to note that I am not a back button focus user. That was something that I dedicated weeks and weeks trying to get used to and simply found it to be counterintuitive for me.
Typically, I will use AF-S in single point mode for the more traditional style portraits where I have my family all seated together. After I have the family together, I will lock focus and shoot several images while I interact with them to get the best expressions. I find that using the AF-C systems tends to over compensate for the lack of movement in static scenes like this, resulting in missed focus.
However, the moment I move to some portraits of the children, I’ll switch to AF-C. I like to show off a variety of emotions in the children I work with, and this usually means a lot of movement on their part. In AF-C, I will use Area AF, often with face detection turned on. In my testing, it has been quicker to use this method than Wide/Tracking as the camera takes a little too long to lock focus in this mode. When shooting in AF-C, I will switch the camera to either CL or CH mode, as I have found that the tracking hits focus more often when it is ready to shoot rather than reacting to my shutter presses.
I like to lift my subjects off the background. As such, I love shallow depth of field for my family sessions. This means I’m using fast lenses. My go to lenses for a family session are the 16mm f/1.4, 23mm f/2, 35mm f/2, 50mm f/2, and the 50-140mm f/2.8. You’ll notice that the slowest lens there is the f/2.8 zoom. This I try to only use wide open, and only zoomed well past 80mm to achieve narrow depth of field.
As much as I can, I will keep my shutter speed way higher than it “needs” to be. If I want a sharp photo of a fast moving toddler, I try to be at 1/500 or higher to ensure every image is sharp. This usually means I need to push my ISO quite high. In direct sunlight, I might shoot at ISO200, but in shade or towards sunset, I’ll be between 400 and 1600 all the time to ensure my shutter speed is adequate. I don’t mind a little extra noise if I know I got the moment and it’s sharp.
Everything on these sessions is, of course, shot in raw. Things move very quickly and I would hate to have the perfect moment but over or under exposed. Raw gives me that extra buffer to miss my exposure slightly. Even shooting in raw, I’m using Classic Chrome as my film simulation so I can get a preview that feels like the direction I’ll go with my post production.
It is also important to note that I’m using the battery grip with the X-T2 on these sessions. This not only gives me enough power to easily get through the session without worrying, but it gives me access to the additional speed that the X-T2 has to offer. By switching on boost-mode in the camera and on the grip, I get less viewfinder blackout and 100 FPS refresh. This means I can concentrate on the task at hand and not worry about if I timed the perfect shot.
It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room. Although the autofocus system has become more than capable of shooting into back-lit situations (something I do a lot), the sensor has taken a step backward. More often than I would like, I encounter the dreaded purple flare and patterning in my images. To be honest, I find this unacceptable in a camera of this grade and I think it’s something Fujifilm should have already addressed with a recall (take a look at Nikon’s recent recall of the D750 to see how a giant like Fujifilm should handle this). However, in the meantime, we have to deal with it. So, here is how I work around it on my family sessions.
The phenomenon only occurs at very specific angles and so I typically hedge my bets. I don’t want this technical issue to slow down my session. As I’m shooting handheld throughout, there is the chance that the flare will creep in and ruin my favourite image at some point. So, whenever I’m shooting in a strongly back-lit situation, I will switch the camera to CH mode and shoot a lot of frames. By doing this, each frame will be shot at a slightly different angle to the light and I will ensure that I get a few frames without the flare. Of course, as we can see the flare through the viewfinder in real time, I could use a tripod and compose so that I never see it. That is not something I will do. So, this has been my solution thus far. Fuji?
Some Things that Could be Improved
There are a few things that I would like to see fixed. The first is something critical, and the other two are simply things that would make my life easier. The purple flaring is quite irritating and really shouldn’t be there. I would also prefer that the AF-C settings worked better in single-shot mode, but this is a small thing. Perhaps the biggest annoyance that I find when shooting these sessions is having to switch the AF Mode every time I switch the Focus Mode. Why can’t these two be interlinked? I almost always use AF-S with single point and almost always use AF-C with zone. Why, for the love of everything sacred, are these two not interlinked?
The one Thing I Really Miss
It would be crazy to think that after 12 years of Nikon cameras, I would not miss something from the system. So, here it is. I miss the beauty of the Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G like a French-expat misses cheese. I can live without it, but I’m slightly hollower for it. All these rumours of a 33mm f/1.0 have given me a taste and I do hope that Fujifilm will create something magical.
I’ve made the jump and I’m happy with where I am at. My sessions still look the way I want them to and I am able to execute them with ease. The Fujifilm X system now nails focus much more often (even more often than my Nikon system, if I am honest) and the colours that I get straight out of camera are simply beautiful. The X system has come a long way forward and the X-T2 is an excellent all-round camera.
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