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Gear Inspiration

Fujifilm X100V: On the Joy of Shooting

· 22.November.2020

The world does not need another review of the X100V. They are already everywhere – Facebook, YouTube, print magazines, reviewers’ blogs, auto repair waiting rooms, bakeries, daycares. Is the X100V the perfect camera? Yes. Over and over. Is the X100V as good as its buzz? Yes. And yes, you should buy one right away. I get it.

No, I take that back. I can’t get away from it. But, for some reason, I keep reading them, watching them, thinking about them.

I’ve watched a dozen unboxings. I’ve seen first-blush reviews, street reviews, six-month reviews, comparison reviews, and more. This is strange because, for me, the camera is wrong in every way. My walk-around lens is a 10-24mm wide angle zoom. That’s how I see. I like the very wide view. The other lens I use most often is an 18-140mm, which I bring out when I need the 100+ range. Although I own a 35 and an 85 prime, they are not frequently on the camera. Looking at several months of recent work, it seems I shoot nothing—nothing at all—at the 24mm range. I’m not against it. It’s just either not the image in my head or the situation at my feet.

I shoot with what many people consider an entry-level DSLR, APS-C, 24mp, no weather sealing. It’s been a fine camera. I’ve had it for years and it has never failed me. Work from that camera has been in commercial, glossy magazines, in galleries, won contests, printed very large, became a book cover, etc. While there are a thousand bells and whistles in all the differing models of this camera, the next better sensor—in other words, the next better image—is more than a thousand dollars up. I have tremendous brand loyalty. However, if I ever felt the camera could not do what I wanted it to do, I would jettison it in a heartbeat. When it gets old enough and begins to wear out, I might go mirrorless and I might go full frame. But I might do something completely other, too.

So why do I keep reading and watching reviews of the X100V? Why do I keep looking for new ones? I’m not nearly as fascinated by reviews of other cameras or lenses.

Finally, it occurred to me. All the reviewers and bloggers have one thing in common beyond an appreciation for the technology and design. This camera, they say, over and over, is fun. The experience of shooting, they say, in ecstatic terms, provokes a nearly giddy joy.

Don’t get me wrong. I like shooting with the camera I own. I like shooting with that camera a lot. But the over-the-top enthusiasm of the X100V crowd caught my attention. This, I said, is something I need to chase.

The box arrived a short while later, a loaner from Fujifilm. Sitting in a chair at home, I took a picture of my left knee. I took a picture of my desk and then a picture of some books. The camera, lightweight and fast to focus, provoked looking around for a next shot. Size does matter, I thought. I almost reached for the manual.

Already, I was having fun.

Yet there is a difference between the fun you get from a new toy and the fun you get that’s more profound, the fun of a match between machine and desire. Automobile designers know this. So, I set to work.

I am not a portrait photographer. I do not have a studio. I do not own any lights. But I do have a black tablecloth I hang on a door in my office and a floor lamp I can move around the room. I know people who do not object to being photographed. Care to help me test a camera, I asked? I did not tell them I was testing the fun-factor.

The X100V was a joy. The face/eye detection was actually a bit of a distraction as I found myself looking at little squares in the viewfinder more than I was looking at the models’ faces (my DSLR does not have eye detection), but once I got over the gee-whiz feeling, the camera’s fixed focal length had me moving back and forth to compose new looks. The shooting was more active than zooming in and out. The light touch of the fill flash was perfect. I only tripped over a cord once. My friend asked if I was okay. I was having fun.

Onward, I thought!

If there is anything the X100V is not, it is not a sports camera. But if it can shoot at 1/4000 of a second and 11fps, and if I don’t have some really cool owl or eagle or hummingbird or lion in my yard, then what good is the tech if not for sports? I teach at a college, so I called the coach of the football team and asked if I could walk around practice a bit. He said sure, come on over.

On the football field, I learned something about shooting. Reviewers often talk about the unobtrusive nature of the X100V. You can get good shots without your subjects knowing you’re taking their picture. I’m not sure I agree with the ethics there. But it’s indisputable that a small camera does not call attention to itself. I wandered around the practice, talked with students on the team, chatted with a couple about their homework, at 11fps took way too many pictures. There was never the awkward moment of someone knowing I had them in frame. My efforts as a photographer were not incognito, but they were not loud, either. I knew I would have to do lot of cropping (I did not have the available teleconverter), but I also knew the x100v lens and sensor were up to that challenge. There is no way an X100V will replace a long lens, but with my usual setup I would not have thought to wander onto the practice field. This camera was changing the way I imagined shooting. And yes, you guessed it. I was having fun. A lot of fun.

The X100V is made for street photography. It’s fast out of the pocket, fast to start, fast to focus, sharp to focus. The focal length is perfect for a subject only a few feet away. The focal length is also close to my heart for landscape work. So I went downtown and then I went for a drive.

This is where I found something missing, something I’ll have to think about. I talked with construction workers and with window washers. We joked and laughed. They could see the camera in my hand and they knew when I was taking pictures.  But not one of them mentioned the camera. No one asked why I was taking pictures or who I was taking pictures for. With the DSLR in my hand and a large lens on the body, I am always asked why and who for. But during my afternoon wandering around town, the camera didn’t bother anyone else. When I wasn’t shooting, the camera slid into my pocket and my hands stayed warm.

I sensed the approach of a nearly giddy joy.

Landscape, however, was frustrating. I went to a favorite spot, a small bridge over a small river, and I wanted wide. I wanted my 10mm lens. I started taking images that bordered each other, knowing I could merge them in Lightroom into a panorama. But that’s not good shooting. That’s pre-assembly. I do believe in the single image as a creative statement, at least for my work. But my frustration is also the result of habit and personal style. I could learn to see landscape in 24mm.

In many ways, everything about the X100V is wrong, for me. I shoot in RAW and mostly for black and white, so all the nifty film simulations are lost on me. I do not do a lot of post-processing, but I enjoy siting down in the evening with a glass of wine and going through the day’s work in Lightroom.

Then again, I have had the X100V in my pocket every day of this test. Not my jeans, certainly. But my vest and jacket pocket are more than enough. I have been more instantly ready to take photographs than usual. I cannot say I shot anything during this test I would hang on a gallery wall, but that’s not the point. While a camera may be fast, a photographer has to be patient.

When I am done with this small essay, my X100V will go in a box and back to Fujifilm. I will be sorry to see it go. I am not even close to understanding all the camera can do. But I get it now. The X100V is a beautiful, sophisticated, high-power and nearly invisible camera. Shooting with this one is not a capture. Shooting with this one is an invitation.

I’ve learned this, too. When my DSLR heads to the old-equipment shelf, I will be looking for some fun.

W. Scott Olsen

W. Scott Olsen's 11th book, A Moment with Strangers: Photographs and Essays at Home and Abroad, was published in the spring of 2016. His travel and adventure essays about road trips and flying small airplanes have appeared widely in literary and commercial journals. Professor Olsen has edited three anthologies and, for 23 years, also edited the international literary magazine Ascent.

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