Sunday, 25 February 2018

Travellin' Light

OK, sorry about this: photo-gear post alert.

I know, I know... You really don't care about the means, just the end results, and you don't come here for annoying techie chit-chat (well, you must be rather disappointed if you do; listen, why not go and help Mike Johnston with his tedious GAS issues? Jesus...). But, as this is kind of an anti-gear gear-post, you can probably safely read on without compromising your standards too much. Although you may equally well be one of the 50% or so of my honoured guests who come here for the craic and the crows, not the photography. In which case, nothing to see here today, move on. Come back later.

I've just been clearing out a bunch of unused kit, mainly lenses, and shipping it up to Ffordes Photographic near Inverness to sell on (whom I recommend, by the way). It's slightly shaming, the way expensive bits and pieces can accumulate, bought during various short-lived enthusiasms, and end up unused in a cupboard; and I'm not even a compulsive kit-buyer. Despite tooling up at some point in the past, I never did get into macro-photography, or pinhole / Holga / LensBaby distortions, for example, and I abandoned the micro 4/3rds system pretty much permanently once I discovered the joy of X (Fuji's system). It's silly to hold on to those remnants of personal evolutionary dead-ends, especially when they're worth a few quid and could be of serious use to someone else.

But, in the process, I came across my Fuji X-M1 body, patiently sitting in a corner. Now, I originally bought it, second-hand and absurdly cheap, because it uses the same X-system lenses and batteries as my main cameras, has the exact same 16 megapixel sensor, but is tiny and light, especially when coupled with the 27mm f/2.8 "pancake" lens. Despite the lack of a viewfinder, I thought it would make an ideal travel camera, and was impressed by the quality of the images the combination of that body and that lens delivered, effortlessly. Put it on "auto" and simply fire away; every one a coconut. However, despite that,  I don't think I've used it since returning from our trip to Amsterdam in February 2015.

Why not? Well, unless you're on some kind of prime-lens hairshirt mission (which I have been, admittedly, from time to time) you really want a standard zoom when you're travelling (OK, when you're on holiday, let's bring things down to a sensible level). But, attach one of those to the X-M1, and all its advantages evaporate. Suddenly, despite its image quality, it's just a plasticky attachment on a big, heavy metal lens, without a viewfinder. Even the "cheap" XC 16-50 zoom (originally created, I think, as the XM-1's "kit zoom", and actually a fine lens) is rather too chunky. So I ended up buying a used Fuji X20, despite its much smaller sensor and ridiculous "optical" viewfinder, and happily accepted its "good enough" image quality as a holiday camera. The X-M1 had therefore lost its primary purpose, and ended up in the cupboard next to the Panasonic micro 4/3 stuff.

But recently Fuji have announced a "pancake" 15-45 zoom, which – if the specifications are to be believed – will be no larger and not a lot heavier than the 27mm pancake with a lens hood attached. So, rather than send the X-M1 body up to Ffordes with the rest of the unused equipment, I thought I'd hang on to it for now. If the new zoom really is that small, and the optical quality is up to Fuji's customary standards, it would make an ideal holiday combination. I very rarely buy new stuff, but just one of the more heavyweight lenses I'm selling on would pay for two of these new mini-zooms.

Also, I think I'm finally over the idea that a camera without a viewfinder is less than ideal. More and more, I find myself using the rear screen to compose, even when using a camera like the X-T1, with its superb electronic viewfinder. Not least because, being left-eyed, I have always had a problem with jamming my right-hand's thumb-knuckle into my right eye when using a viewfinder (try it), with resultant blurry vision after any lengthy squinting. I suspect the day when I could even be persuaded that a smartphone is an acceptable substitute for a camera may not be so very far away. We're not there yet, but the direction of travel (the holiday destination?) is obvious. I can't possibly afford or justify a current top-end smartphone, but give it a few years and everyone will be walking around with a pocket Hasselblad that also tells you the weather forecast and plays music.

So I took the X-M1 out for a couple of walks with the 27mm attached (I love that lens), and was once again mightily impressed by the quality of the images. As a piece of equipment, the body may feel plasticky and insubstantial, and it may be all of five years old, but there is really nothing to distinguish the photographs you see here from those taken with my X-T1; absolutely nothing. Besides, other than the 100g saving in weight, there is the crucial difference – especially when hanging around touristy places – between brandishing an aggressively professional-looking black camera with a heavy, expensive-looking lens and the invisibility granted by walking around with what looks like a charity-store remnant from the last days of film hanging round your neck. A few bits of duck-tape and, voilà, one-two-three, where's your breakfast? [1]

OK, that's quite enough about gear. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

1. See Kipling's Just-So story, "How the Leopard Got His Spots".


Julian Behrisch Elce said...

Well, I came kicking and screaming to photographing with my iPhone 6, and I'm slowly realizing it may be a great thing for my photography. Its ease of use is wonderful in so many ways, and it's proving a much needed fulcrum to pry myself away from "image quality" and "GAS" towards making pictures that are rich in the important ways.

Continuing to enjoy your words and pictures- thanks!

Mike C. said...

Thanks, Julian. Yes, the thing I like about using the screen (and the same would apply to a phone, obviously) is that you're consciously looking *at* a 2-D representation, rather than having the illusion of looking *through* the camera and into the scene. It's a major help in seeing whether a photo really works or not.

I've just upgraded my daughter to an iphone 7, so will inherit her 5 in due course, which should be an improvement over the 4s I inherited a few years ago. Still no substitute, but getting there.


Paul Mc Cann said...

My strong eye is also my left but it i found it is easy and fast to retrain to use the right eye at the viewfinder. Bit of perseverance. When young I seriously frightened an uncle who was attempting to teach me how to shoot a .22. With the butt tucked in tight to my right shoulder I was sighting over the end of the barrel with my left eye. Exciting,

Mike C. said...


Too late for that! Besides, I'm very strongly left-sided in everything: when will Left Liberation free us from the chains of dextronormative oppression?

I have limited experience with firearms, but have always wondered about the design of military assault rifles, etc., that eject hot spent cartridges to the right -- do they expect left-handers to adjust to their less-favoured grip and sighting eye? Seems idiotic.