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Four Days with the Fooj

I’ve always been a firm believer that it’s the photographer that makes great photographs, not the camera, but what happens when you stop taking your camera places? Am I still a photographer, even if I’m not motivated to carry a heavy DSLR around with me. I mean, I don’t really have an excuse not to. I haven’t had any serious injuries that are preventing me from carrying around the weight and even if I did, I’m sure my wife would offer to hold some of my stuff anyhow…she already does that. Is it that I’m just more content some days with just experiencing life with my own eyes, instead of from behind the viewfinder of a camera or am I just getting lazy?

These are all questions I’ve been asking myself lately. I love photography more than ever, I love to see new places and I truly love doing workshops and showing people around the place I call home, Jasper National Park. I know photography is a huge part of my life because I still go out and shoot for myself a few times a week. I haven’t made it to a place where someone needs to be paying me to pick up a camera, or to start a new project. In fact, this summer I’ve made a few trips to the Bow Valley to document a strong climbers attempts on what is now the second hardest route in the area. All of that time and effort, with more to come, has been due to my passion for capturing images and my love of climbing. But with each trip I’ve made this year, I seem to take less gear with me each time, not because I’m trying to create constraints for myself, but I just don’t want to carry the damn stuff. Why take two camera bodies and six lenses, when one body and two lenses is more than enough? Am I that paranoid of dropping something, or a camera dying that I need to have a backup system every single time? Do all photographers do this? I always read/hear/see people talking about their backup system, but I know of top photographers that have gone on 7 day backpacking trips with just one DSLR body and two lenses. Which one is right? Hell if I know, they only thing I can tell you is that I’ve yet to need two cameras because one has broken down. I’m not saying it can’t or wont ever happen, it’s just not the reason I carry two setups with me. I have been known to jug up a rope with two cameras on my back, with lenses that go from 16mm to 200mm…that’s a lot of weight to be swinging in the air with, but I have a confirmed case of FOMAS (Fear Of Missing A Shot), so that’s why I take more than I need. I’ve actually hiked nearly 30 pounds of camera gear halfway up a mountain, not used more than one body and lens combo, hiked down, got a wicked case of heat exhaustion and threw up all over the bushes where I parked my van. Do I still sound like I’m living the dream?

What’s my point here…it’s 2017 and camera gear is cheaper and better than it’s ever been, Period. For $1000 you can buy a camera with 24+MP and a half decent lens, and you’re in business. Better yet, cameras have become lighter…your DSLR has this big useless mirror in it, lets get rid of that nonsense and go “mirrorless”! Boom! Huge weight savings, but does the quality compare with the fancy pants flagship rigs from Nikon and Canon? That’s what I was set on finding out for myself a few weeks ago.

Fujifilm has been making a splash in the Mirrorless market in a huge way the last couple of years and I think they’re aiming their marketing at guys like me, who want that big quality and less weight. If that’s not who their marketing to, well, I’m hooked anyway, so kudos to Fuji. Their “Try before you buy” campaign was so successful at The Camera Store in Calgary, that they extended it until the end of the year, it was originally only supposed to be a short term thing. I was able to rent a Fuji X-T2, a 10-24mm f/4, and a 56mm f/1.2 lens for $150 for FOUR DAYS. I probably spend that same amount on Maple Caramel Latte’s in a couple of weeks (note to self: lay off the MC Latte’s).

So off I went, this was a good excuse to make my wife drive out of the city, as we made our way back into the mountains, so I could acquaint myself with my new little friend. After it took me 45 minutes to figure out how to make the EVF work, I was in business. Seriously, I became used to the controls of the camera/lens combo in a really short period of time. I’ve shot Nikon exclusively since I bought my first DSLR, a Nikon D40x, in 2006. So after 11 years as a Nikonian, Fuji slipped its way into my fingers faster than I could ever imagine and the very next day I felt as if I’d been using the X-T2 for more than a year.

I have to say, the controls of the Fuji were super intuitive and the ability to control Aperture from the lens itself seems like such a no brainer, that I’m surprised none of the “big guys” haven’t started that already. There is auto everything on this rig, if you want your new $2000 camera to do all the work, go for it. If you want all the control yourself, that’s an option too! I ended up shooting most of the time with the camera in what would be an Aperture Priority. I set the shutter speed dial to “A” and I chose the f-stop and the ISO. The fact that you’re looking at the actually exposure on the LCD or EVF meant that I was seeing what my end result would be…before I even shot it! I made adjustments to my exposures with the Exposure Compensation dial, which I found easy to turn without lifting my eye from the EVF. I did tend to lock down the SS and the ISO dials as well, as I though my puffy face my change something on my that I didn’t want changed.

The frame rate was amazing…I mean, I’ve been shooting a D800e with a whopping 3FPS for the past number of years, so 8FPS was a titanic leap for me and knowing that if I had the battery grip as well, I could boost it up to 11FPS! That’s one thing I’ve been missing in my climbing photography for sure. While I’ve trained myself over the last while to really pay attention and to shoot at the exact moment, I know there are shots that have got away in between the slow performance of my Nikon. If my decision to switch from Nikon to Fuji was solely based weight and FPS, I would have a Fuji on my table right now, no questions asked. The real test though? Does the quality of the images match up to what I’m used to…and this is the real test.

Short answer…No. A file from the X-T2 does not match the detail I can achieve from a 36MP D800e file, but I kind of knew that going into this whole adventure. Nikon’s D800 series cameras have been some of the most used among landscape shooters since the were announced, falling short or equal to Sony’s A7R2. But here’s the kicker for me, do I really need that amount of detail? Sure I sell prints, but lots of my work has been on canvas and those fine details have been lost to the inherent texture of that medium. I only upload my images to the web at a maximum of 2000px @ 72ppi, so again, those super up close details are lost. So get to see them on my 15” laptop screen and I’m sure my wife could care less about how sharp a particular rock is in an image I’ve been working on for a few hours. Am I just concerned clients wont take me as serious when I show up without that big DSLR around my neck? I mean, I’m going to end up creating the same images no matter what, I’ll just have to figure out a new method to shoot. Maybe now instead of using one exposure to create an image I like, I shoot two, which isn’t really that groundbreaking. Maybe when two would have been enough before…I shoot three. I think I’m at a point with photography that I know what types of images I like to create and no matter what the camera, I’ll find a way to make them.

So there you have it, all summed up in the final 12 words of the last paragraph. The camera in my hands wont matter, but I’ve been stressing over it for almost 2 months now.

Scared I’m missing out on an image quality that no one really sees, scared that the people I take on photo trips will think I’m less of a photographer because my camera isn’t as big as theirs, scared of so many things that have such little impact on how I make my images. After four days of shooting with a new system, I think the most important thing I got from shooting the X-T2 was a renewed love of making photographs. It’s a camera that I would put around my neck almost every time I leave the house. It’s small enough that I can feel close to my subjects without a large DSLR in between us, yet powerful enough to make images in pretty much any scenario I can imagine.

When time allows, or if I can sell off all my Nikon gear, I will end up moving over to the Fuji system and I’ll continue to make images the same way I do now, but with a renewed love of the process. I’m excited for a new adventure, I’m excited to make my camera bag a little lighter, but most importantly and no matter what camera I have in my hands, I’m excited to keep sharing my passion with anyone who takes the time to look!

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Fuji X-T2