The game changer, Part 1 | A poor man’s Leica
In the first installment of my Lunar New Year trilogy two months ago, I mentioned a “game changer” in my photographic arsenal. I often do not like to discuss camera gear because I do not want to perpetuate the false notion that an expensive machine is needed to make a good photograph. There is no such thing as a “professional camera,” only great photographers. I have beaten this dead horse before. A camera is only a tool. It is a typewrite to a novelist, a hammer to a carpenter. That said, the tool can and does affect the experience of the creative process. Some writers prefer manual typewriters, others the latest version of Microsoft Word on the newest MacBook. My game changing camera, the Fujifilm X100, is somewhere between those two extremes, using modern technology but giving a much welcomed old world experience. In this first of a two-part story, I discuss how I acquired the X100. In the second part, I shall discuss how this tool made me fall in love with the photographic process all over again.
Three months ago in early February on a Friday afternoon, I was having lunch with my buddy Jeff at Haymarket brewpub. After several pints of beer, Jeff was attempting to encourage me to have more courage with women, to take action and ask a girl out without overanalyzing nor hesitation. It was his own expression of Yoda’s philosophy of, “Do or do not, there is no try.” His words sunk in, just how he had intended.
After lunch, I accompanied Jeff to run some errands, including a visit to Best Buy. A Fujifilm X100S (the second version in the series) was available to examine and try out, which is quite rare to find at a brick and mortar store. Although I had never held an X100/X100S in person until then, I had been intrigued with it for over two years since first learning about it. My fascination in it stemmed from my obsession over the Leica M rangefinders. Many have called the X100 a “poor man’s Leica” given the retro rangefinder design. The technical details and reviews of the X100 have been done many times over, so instead droning on with such and boring you, I refer you to an eight-minute video review by DigitalRevTv.
I left Best Buy empty-handed but with Jeff’s advice about taking action without hesitation in mind. Only hours later that same evening, I found myself bidding on and winning a late model X100 on eBay. After two years of intermittent contemplation and five minutes in Best Buy, I finally made up my mind and took the leap. My past hesitation arose out of a commitment to an adaptable, versatile, and homogenous system of three Canon EOS DSLRs and ten interchangeable lenses, a system that I had gradually built up since I began shooting professionally. Each lens served a different purpose and was compatible with either of the three bodies, allowing me to configure and adapt for any situation thrown at me. If needed in a pinch, I could even use my 450D, modified to look like an old beaten up film camera for street shooting, to photograph sports with a large telephoto lens. This system worked for me. There was no need to introduce another piece of gear into the mix that was not compatible with the system. And yet, I did.
Surprisingly, the X100 arrived only a few days later. After a long Tuesday at school, I returned home late that evening and spent the rest of the night scrambling to give myself a crash course on the X100’s settings and features. I was both excited but overwhelmed. I had become too used to a Canon. While exposure settings by themselves were straight forward—shutter speed dial on the top plate, aperture ring on the lens, just like an old film camera—everything else from focusing settings and metering modes to the viewfinder display layout was a bit cryptic. I had to get the camera ready for a shakedown shoot immediately, however, as the following Wednesday I was scheduled to meet up with my friend and photography protégé, Annamaria, for a day of doing street photography. While I could have taken one of my familiar Canons instead, I had waited for two years for the X100; no way in Hell was I leaving it home. There is no time like the present to master a new instrument.