Gear Inspiration

Fujifilm X-T2 for Photojournalism

· 28.August.2017

Saturday, 5 August, 2017: just got back from shooting a breaking story. I was enjoying a barbecued rib eye steak when I got a text from my editor: an outbuilding at a local hospital is on fire. My gear is always ready, always in the trunk of my car. Two X-T2 bodies, the XF 16-55 2.8 R LM, and XF 50-140 f/2.8 R LM OIS, and the X500 flash, among other equipment. I shot with both bodies and lenses. I love those breakers.

So, how does the X-T2 perform for this photojournalist? For background, I was one of those teenagers who always had a camera around his neck. For me it wasn’t just about taking pictures – although I loved that – it was about telling stories. I knew at age 20 I wanted to be a “newspaper photographer.” As a non-professional, I shot with Nikon. Then, as a photojournalist, in 2010, I switched to Canon. Then shot with both. Then I switched totally to Canon, although I loved shooting with both.

Credit: Santa Maria Times, Frank Cowan. A college dancer rehearses. Edited. Very low theater lighting. 1/60, f/2.8, 74mm, ISO 1000

Circumstance and life took me in a couple of other related directions: I shot film and video for TV news, spent three years as a police officer, and 18 years as a crisis management trainer.

All this led me seven and a half years ago, while enjoying retirement, to hound the photo editor of a local newspaper chain to hire me as a contract photojournalist. I sent him some news and feature type photos I had taken in the area, and kept gently prodding him. Finally, he took a chance on me. Since then I have been shooting virtually everything in news, features and sports for four local newspapers owned by the chain, learning more and more each time I shoot. My editor is amazing. His has been very helpful, providing feedback when needed. He is a great mentor and boss.

Credit: Santa Maria Times, Frank Cowan. Only slight editing here. Shot for a special feature on innovations in agriculture. Taken in mid afternoon sunlight. The colors are great! 1/200, f/10, 55mm, ISO 250

Eventually my age (73), and a prostate cancer diagnosis caught up with me. I almost collapsed on a hot day on a feature portrait shoot on a beach, running up a sand hill ahead of the subjects as they walked along the water line. I was carrying my Canon 5D Mk IV with a 24-70 and flash, and my 7D Mk II with a 70-200 in a two camera rig. It felt like it weighed 200 pounds. It was at that point I decided I needed to find something much lighter that still provided the same shooting qualities of a good Canon or Nikon system doing what I do. What I do, by the way, is everything. One day I will be in court, assigned to photograph a murder defendant. The same afternoon I can be at an elementary school photographing kids learning about anti-bullying techniques. The next couple of days I can be shooting baseball, a fatal car crash, a Bernie Sanders rally, and an environmental portrait. Today it was a fire at a hospital. I love this job. My lighting can range from bright, overhead sunlight, to pre-dawn light, to fog, to dark meeting halls, to fluorescent and incandescent lights.

Credit: Santa Maria Times, Frank Cowan. No editing. A dancer for an Obon Festival practices. Taken in a large, dark room with soft, incandescent lightin in the ceiling and bright afternoon sun throgh two large windows. 1/125th, f/8, 28mm, ISO 200

All this leads to the Fujifilm X-T2. In March, 2017, after much research, including camera body and lens weight, I decided to trade in all my Canon gear for two X-T2 bodies, the XF 16-55 f/2.8 R LM and XF 50-140 f/2.8 R LM OIS, and the X500 flash. I also bought a lighter two camera strap rig by Black Rapid. The difference in weight is astounding.

I had two concerns: would the image quality be good enough for print and the web? And, would the X-T2 operate fast enough in situations where I had two seconds to find, frame and shoot a photo? The answer, from research and almost daily use: mostly yes.

Credit: Santa Maria Times, Frank Cowan. Lots of bright colors and a bright blue sky in the courtyard of the old Veterans Memorial Building during the Obon Festival. Fill flash. 1/125, f/20, 25mm, ISO 200

The image quality, as Fujifilm lovers know, is outstanding. That famous Fuji color jumps out of the images. The dynamic range and sharpness exceed expectations. The camera body reminds me a lot of my Nikon Df. I traded that in because all those controls on top seemed too cumbersome for photojournalism. Now I realize that having similar controls on the X-T2 makes me think more about all the elements of the image, even given the limited time I have to do that. Before I arrive at the scene of an assignment I adjust the shutter speed to what I think will stop movement. I use auto for the f stop. I will either go auto for the ISO or set it to give me a good f stop, based on the shutter speed. I just don’t usually have the time during most assignments to be constantly adjusting the “triangle.”

Credit: Santa Maria Times, Frank Cowan. A grab shot of a parasol during a high school graduation ceremony. Bright, mid-day sun.1/1000, f/2.8, 140mm, ISO 250

For most assignments I’ve been using the multipurpose setting for auto focus with a single point setting and continuous. From model aircraft to cycling stories, those settings work great. For some sports I have used the single, rather than continuous setting. It seems to work better for basketball and volleyball. I don’t shoot a lot of sports, so I will be using the other settings as I get more comfortable with them.

The challenge has been the EVF and the grab shot. Most of the time there is no time to carefully compose the shot, adjust f-stop, ISO, and shutter speed. On a single camera shoot, my camera is usually hanging on shoulder or the other, with my hand on the grip. The challenge I am facing is the viewfinder. Even though the power off setting is set for five minutes, and I think the EVF is set for EVF only, plus I occasionally slightly depress the shutter button to keep the camera awake, I still sometimes get a black image when I look into the view finder. Sometimes it takes a second between a series of shots for the viewfinder to catch up. On high speed (5-11 fps) it doesn’t seem to lag as much in boost mode. I am sure I am not using the viewfinder setting correctly. I need the screen to review images, and I don’t use the eye sensor because of the delay. I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually. I have used the fold out screen quite a few times for “hold your arms out as high as you can” and on the ground shots. The setting needs to be on screen only, because the image will leave the screen and go to the EVF if it senses your hand near it if it is set to eye sensor.

Credit: Santa Maria Times, Frank Cowan. Slightly edited. Brought the shadows so it would print better on newsprint. Late afternoon sun. 1/2000, f/5.6, 174mm, ISO 640

For most assignments, during which I will take 150-200 images in normal mode (not boost), battery life has been just fine. Last Saturday, after taking 450 images at a color fun run (I used high speed continuous a lot), and a pride rally, I ran out of battery on both cameras near the middle of the pride rally. No problem – I always carry three extra batteries. Well, two now. I lost one at the rally.

Credit: Santa Maria Times, Frank Cowan. A queen is appointed. Very dark room with stage lightin in an Elks Club. 1/60, f/2.8, 38mm, ISO 1250

Other than the cameras deciding to change my settings, mainly on which card to save the images, the Fujifilm system has proven an almost perfect replacement for the Canon system for what I do, at half the weight.

Credit: Santa Maria Times, Frank Cowan. Caught this boy just as he hit the water at a festival. Slight editing – brought the shadows up and highlights down a bit. Love that Fuji color. 1/1000, f/5.6, 16mm, ISO 250