Moving from Canon to Fuji

I was once taking photos in a bar in Melbourne and the guy next to me started asking a few questions about my camera. We chatted for a few minutes about the relative pros and cons of Canon, and then he said ‘Well, no prizes for guessing what I shoot with’ at which point he lifted his suit pants up to his knee to reveal a tattoo running the length of his calf saying ‘Pentax’. Up until that point, I didn’t even realise that Pentax still existed, and yet here was a businessman who had their logo permanently etched into his skin. It really brought home the fact that photographers do tend to invest themselves in their photo brand. You learn the form of the camera, you know how to quickly navigate settings, you know what the capabilities of your camera are, and most importantly, you’ve probably dropped a sizeable amount of money on lenses and other gear… so when you make the jump from one brand to another it can be a scary and cathartic experience. I should know, as I’ve just moved from a Canon 550D to a Fuji X-T1. So if you’re thinking about jumping ship, here are some things to consider.

My first portrait shot on the Fuji
My first portrait shot on the Fuji

Do I really need a new camera?

New gear is awesome. It can be smaller, lighter, faster, have a bigger sensor, make us look more pro…and in truth, it can help us take better photos. But it can also cost a shirtload of cash, and can sometimes be used to hide our inadequacies. So I reckon you need to be confident that you’ve learnt everything that you can from your current camera. You need to make sure that the new camera will make you a better photographer…not just give you nicer photos.

I’ve been shooting on the 550D for five years now. In five years the technology in cameras has come a long way. Things like ‘face detection’ and built-in wifi, just weren’t on the table when I bought my 550D…and the thought of taking a decent photo at ISO800 was fanciful. So any new camera was going to make life easier right away. But I also felt that I had pushed the camera as far as I could. I had learnt a hell of a lot on a great entry level DSLR, and now it was time to upgrade to a few bells and whistles.

Daylesford-4
Blinded by the light

How deep is your love?

If you’re not really into photography and you’ve made it this far, then well done…or commiserations on your lack of alternative things to do with your time. But you should probably know that a lot of information is sent from the lens to the camera, not just the image, but a whole lot of information about the image. For example, autofocus is sent as a message from the lens to the camera. So, while you can always buy adaptors, it makes sense that Canon lenses talk better to Canon cameras, than say a Sony lens talking to a Canon camera, or Fuji lens talking to a Nikon. So while you may be able to mount the lens on your camera, you may find that it doesn’t autofocus because the lens and the camera work on different systems. The long and the short of it is, if you’re looking to change to a new brand of camera, you may find that a number of your lenses will not make the transition. So your new purchase of a camera may require additional lens purchases as well. Which can make for a pretty expensive exercise.

Fuji, Canon & GoPro...and it all fits in a backpack!
Fuji, Canon & GoPro…and it all fits in a backpack!

For better or worse, I was pretty lucky that I only had the two Canon lenses (a 50mm f1.4 and the 17-55mm f2.8). But if I was to move to Fuji, then I was pretty much writing them off. I had come to terms with this…until a friend offered a 2nd hand Canon 5Dmk3 with some really nice lenses. Which leads nicely to my next point…

Shallow Inlet
Shallow Inlet

Dollars and sense.

There is no shortage of really good cameras out there. By the time I’d done all of my research I had reduced my list to; the Fuji XT-1, the Sony A7r2, the Lumix GH4 and the Canon 5Dmk3. Should the Olympus OM-D been on that list?…yep. But was I having so much trouble  choosing between 4 cameras that adding a 5th camera was just going to make me cry?…also, ‘yep’.

They all had different pros and cons, the 5D would let me stay in the Canon ecosystem and let me go full-frame…but then it’s a big camera, and the lure of the mirrorless was strong. The GH4 shoots beautiful video and I could get the body with a good range of lenses for the same price as the body of some of the other cameras…but it wasn’t a considered a great stills camera. The Sony was the way of the future, great video and great stills…but at a price to match. My original idea had been the Fuji…but with more video work coming my way, its shortcomings on the video front made it less attractive.

So after weeks of cross referencing tables, drawing up lists of pros and cons, and boring everyone to tears with my constant analysis of these tables and lists…I went with the Fuji. Why? Because, that’s what I really wanted. The other cameras all made sense, but when it came down to it, the Fuji is the one I had my heart set on. Also…

TCE Fed Square-2

Zack Arias told me to do it.

Looking for information about cameras on the internet is a bit like drinking from a firehose. There is just so much information, and so many opinions (most of them differing) that it’s overwhelming. What you really want is a professional photographer who can take you through all the relative pros and cons of a camera. To tell you what lenses would be best suited suited to your style of shooting, and to walk the talk by actually using the camera they recommend. Fortunately for Fuji, they have Zack Arias doing just that. He goes through all of the cameras, then all of the lenses, then breaks people down into a range of users and suggests the best combos for them.

Fuji X Buyer’s Guide :: Part 1 :: Cameras

Fuji X Buyer’s Guide :: Part 2 :: Lenses

This information was invaluable. So much so that I pretty much followed his recommendation verbatim. So if you’re looking to make the move to a new system, make sure you find a source you trust and then work out exactly what you want, because now it’s time to take the plunge and purchase your new gear.

Country wedding
Country wedding

Clicks and mortar

If you live in Australia, then you know that buying online is going to save you about 30% over buying in an actual store. But you will also know that websites don’t have a ‘haggle’ button that  you can press and knock some money off the price…which is something you can do in store with an actual person. Also, there is a lot to be said for supporting a company that pays local people. So in the end I decided that if I could get the gear that I wanted from an actual store, for within 10% of what I could get it for online…then I would buy it locally. While I couldn’t get the camera body and lenses for this price, by the time I had haggled getting a camera bag, SD cards, a spare battery and mic adapter thrown in, I was there! So on the day of my 40th birthday I got to walk out of the store with my new camera and a bevy of lenses (for the record; an X-T1, 10-24mm f4, 35mm 1.4, 56mm f1.2 and 50-150mm f2.8).

That new camera feeling
That new camera feeling

Post-purchase regret

The best thing about dropping a large amount of cash on a new camera system is that it will change everything for the better! You’ll be faster, shoot better photos, look more pro, become a better lover (actually you may have to chose between the first one and the last one). Which is awesome right up to the point where you miss a shot because you where you normally stab your thumb to adjust the auto-focus has instead changed the ‘film stock look’ of your photo, or you can’t for the life of you work out how to make your flash fire remotely, or you discover that you have to upgrade Lightroom because your camera isn’t supported by the version you have. This isn’t what you signed up for!!! Why did you change?! Why couldn’t you just leave well enough alone?!!! I wonder if you can sell this and return to the warm embrace of the ecosystem you chose to leave?!
Stop.
Calm down.
It’s all going to be alright. Remember when you bought your first good camera and you spent weeks freaking out at all of the options at your disposal? Remember how you spent ages just shooting on ‘automatic’ or ‘aperture/shutter priority’ until you got the hang of things? Well you’re just going to have to do that again…but now you have the advantage of years of experience in working with people, and framing a shot on your side. So while you’re not as good as you were on your previous camera yet, you’re also not back to square one. So get out there and shoot!
However, if after a month or two you are still getting photos that are as bad as the ones you bought new gear to improve…then the problem may be with you. So go and do a photo course and brush up on your skills…or take up macrame…macrame’s nice.

Yurts and universes
Yurts and universes
'I stop and think, this is Australia'
‘I stop and think, this is Australia’

Four months in

It’s now four months since I jumped head long into the Fuji world. In that time I’ve shot over 1,000 photos on the Fuji (well, I’ve shot a lot more…but I’ve kept that many). I’ve shot a wedding. I’ve followed a guy doing 8 Ironman’s in 8 days and shot both photos and videos. I’ve captured some treasured memories of my family, and most importantly I’ve really enjoyed getting out and taking photos again.
So if a fear of the unknown is the only thing holding you back from taking the leap to a new brand, then just remember ‘Life begins on the other side of your comfort zone’.

Shaz & Lofty
Shaz & Lofty
Suns & daughters
Suns & daughters

 

An open letter to Zack Arias

It’s a strange world we live in where you can have a mentor that you’ve never met in person, but followed from thousands of kilometres (or miles for our American viewers) away via the internet. But that’s how I feel about Zack Arias. I’ve never met him, but his videos and website have had a more profound effect on my photography than anything else. So Zack I’m genuinely bummed to know that you’ve had a less than ideal 2015. Especially as, under your proxy mentorship, I have had one of my best years.

Your Onelight video cajoled me to try shooting with a flash…and your John Keatley video dared me to take the plunge and approach a stranger and ask to shoot their portrait.

Of all the photos, I think this one carries the most weight.

Your ‘Inspiration Interpretation’ blog made me rethink the way I use exercise as a way to inspire my photography…and I got so carried away I wrote a blog about it and tried (admittedly unsuccessfully) to get it published on your site.

Your ‘Art of editorial’ and ‘Shoot Rabbit’ videos gave me some amazing pointers on getting people comfortable and getting them to pose, that I tried out on my Dad.

Dad Portrait-33

But most, most, most importantly, I watched your Fuji guides and read your descriptions of the cameras and lenses so much that I think I wore down that part of the internet. The net result being that when I turn 40 in three days time, I’m putting all of the money I earned on a recent job, into purchasing a Fuji kit. And I am so excited about this, it’s concerning.

So I’m genuinely sad that you’ve had a rough 2015. But if I could have produced even 10% of what you did this year, then I’d be shouting it from the rooftops. But more than that, you’ve put so much back into the world. So thank you. If ‘what goes around, comes around’, then you are going to have one hell of a 2016!

My first and the Cobblers last

One of the sad realities of getting involved in photography is that you start to see everything as a potential photo. That old guy at the train station is now someone who would make a great ‘street photography’ shot, that derelict old building is now a great potential location for a shot, and that camping trip with the family is now a great opportunity to take some long exposure night photography shots. So when a new shop that fixes shoes opened next door to work, and had guys who work there in clothes that look a tad Dickensian and had two amazing old school shoe shine seats…my first thought was ‘That would make a great photo’.
Now that is normally where the idea stops. After all, the unbridled success of my idea could only be sullied by the reality of me attempting to actually take the photo. But in keeping with my new motto of pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I decided to bite the bullet and ask if the guy who was working in the shop would be interested in posing for a portrait.

Hello complete stranger…can I take your photo?

I have no doubt that once you have an impressive portfolio and you genuinely know what you’re doing, then asking a complete stranger to give up an hour of their time so that you can take a photo of them becomes relatively straight forward, as you know that in return for the hour of their time, you are going to give them a photo that they will like. But when you’re still learning your craft, there is always the fear in the back of your mind that you may be asking someone to give up their time for a substandard reflection of themselves. Fortunately I had an ace up my sleeve, I had some shoes that needed to be fixed, so I could use that as a justification for striking up a conversation…and then smoothly ask ‘Would you mind if I portrait a photograph of you?…I mean take a photo of you?…I mean not now, that would be creepy, ha ha ha…maybe when there’s no-one else in the shop…no wait…I mean…that would be worse…what I meant was, can I take a portrait of you?’
As I said…smooth.
Fortunately the man behind the counter (Luke) said he was more than happy to do it (but I suspect he was mainly saying that to get me out of his shop so that he could press the ‘panic alarm’ button). So we locked in a time a date.

The idea

As I mentioned earlier, Luke had two shoe-shine chairs in the shop, and so as Buck 65’s track Craftsmanship looped in my head I had a vision of getting a shot of Luke on the shoe shine seat- the artisan and his tools. Similar to the shot of took of my father-in-law, I would use an off camera flash on an umbrella.

Sir James,
Sir James,

The execution

We had arranged to do the shoot on a weekday after work. So in the morning I trundled off to work with my camera bag (550D, 50mm, 17-55mm, flash, remotes, battery charger & grid), my work bag with my lunch and drink bottle, my lightstand, my bag with my ironed shirts for the week, my tripod and an umbrella (it was raining).
It was at about Northcote that I realised that the pivotal piece of equipment, the reflective umbrella was still at home under my bed. Perfect. I eventually tracked down a shoot-through umbrella and figured that may suffice.
Then when I got to the shop I realised that the shoe-shine seats were actually a lot higher than I had realised, which meant that it was nigh on impossible to get the flash up high enough to create the light that I wanted. But that was fine….because the shoot-through umbrella wasn’t capable of getting the light that I wanted anyway (in short the spread of the light was a lot broader than what I wanted). So I set about getting a few shots of Luke in action, in the hope that I might have a moment of inspiration in the meantime.

Luke at work buffing a shoe...my shoe incidentally.
Luke at work buffing a shoe…my shoe incidentally.
The hands of someone who does actual work.
The hands of someone who does actual work.

Eventually I took the plunge and took a couple of shots of Luke up on the seat

Up on the seat
Up on the seat

but it wasn’t until Luke suggested sitting down at ground level as if he was going to be doing a shoe shine that it all started to work. In hindsight, it was never going to look natural with him up on the seat…as that just doesn’t make sense. It’s almost as if the guy who has been doing this for years knows more about it than the photographer who has just swanned in to take a photo…weird.

Suddenly it started to work. It was nothing like the photo I had in my mind at the start of the shoot…but it was starting to feel like it made sense.

The peaked hat was giving me a few problems...but looking to the light always helps.
The peaked hat was giving me a few problems…but looking to the light always helps.
Yep I've seen one of these before...it's a shoe.
Yep I’ve seen one of these before…it’s a shoe.

In the midst of a few shots, I got this one…and it’s my favourite.

Of all the photos, I think this one carries the most weight.
Of all the photos, I think this one carries the most weight.

So what did I learn?

  • Well first and foremost, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is definitely the best way to learn…but this is a hell of a lot easier when you’ve got someone who’s patient and understanding to work with. Luke was happy to wait while I faffed around with the camera and flash, provided suggestions, and not once did he say ‘You know, I really do have better things to do with my time!’ (so if you’re in the city you really should get all your repairs done at his shop he’s a pretty awesome dude!)
  • Also, if your shot is reliant on a piece of equipment…then actually bringing that piece of equipment is a really super idea. If you fail to heed this piece of advice, then you need to be able to adapt pretty quickly to whatever you have at your disposal.
  • From a technical perspective, I really have to let go of this idea of shooting everything at ISO 100. The 550D doesn’t do high ISO all that well, but shooting at 200 or 400 isn’t going to be a big problem, and does give me a much faster shutter speed.
  • I’m slowly growing out of the ‘shoot everything at the lowest f-stop because that always looks so cool’ phase. But I’m not there yet.
  • Presets in Lightroom are still my go to…but they are teaching me a lot about how to use post to make an image pop.
  • Go with your strengths. My photography still has a long way to go…but my chatting to people skills are pretty good. So no matter how bad I may think the technical side of a shoot is going, I need to maintain that dialogue with the person I’m photographing. Even if I take a really good photo, I won’t be invited back if I act like an aloof dick.
  • I took over 100 photos for about 20 ‘keepers’ (and in all honesty 5 that I was really happy with)…the Washington Generals have a better shooting percentage than that!
  • The constant soundtrack for this photoshoot was ‘Craftsmanship’ by Buck 65. So it’s only fair that I finish with a line from that song:
    ‘There’s a right way to go about your job and a wrong one
    I find this way is much better in the long run
    It ain’t about the dollar or trying to go fast
    Unless you take pride in what you’re doing, it won’t last
    Craftsmanship is a quality that some lack
    You got to give people a reason for them to come back’

You can see the full gallery of shots here.
If you don’t already own a copy of Buck 65’s Talkin’ Honky Blues, then go out and buy one…it’s genius.
And once again thanks very much to Luke for his patience and enthusiasm.