Photographing Weddings ~ From Nikon DSLRs to Fuji X cameras ~ Reflections on the X-T1
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IF YOU WANT TO SWITCH FROM NIKON TO FUJI
My first proper camera was a Nikon FM. Just a silver Nikon with a 1.8 50mm lens. That’s what I could afford and all I could manage for my formative years as a student photographer.
It’s a beautiful camera and really put me at the heart of photography with it’s simplicity and magical mechanical reliability. And the lens was a joy. I loved that camera and it became a crutch for me along with the ever honest and reliable Tri-X black and white film. In fact it was years before I would fall in love with another camera enough to make a move to a more automated world of the Canon EOS system – my weapon of choice was now an EOS 3. I felt like I was cheating on my FM, but marching on with the times.
The Canon was and still is a remarkable film camera, but when I decided to buy into a digital system my choice was to head back to Nikon. I wanted Nikon Glass! Eventually the D3 came and solidified my commitment to Nikon. We’d been through a lot together. Fallen out even, but made up and happy in a world seemingly full of the Canon 5D and all the petty rivalry stalking the internet.
Up until late last year I’ve been comfortably shooting weddings with two Nikon bodies, most recently a D800 for portrait and a D600 for wide. Two cameras, two lenses, and a flash in the bag should I need to supplement my lighting. That’s been pretty much it give or take a couple of prime lenses and some radio triggers.
The X100 became my family camera almost as soon as I got it. It’s well documented that the original X camera was quirky at best, but it quickly became easy to get along with and honestly the results were incredible. Most obvious to me was the smooth dynamic range – natural looking, less digital. More film-like? The files were looking great and the camera, aimed at the heart of photographers was a big hit. The X100s came along and addressed most of the problems that the X100 had and has been my go-to camera since it landed on my doorstep. I didn’t realise it then but while my Nikons were sleeping in the ThinkTank Retrospective between weddings, my Retro modelled Fujifilm Camera was hanging by side pretty much all of the time. I even started taking it to weddings to ‘practice’ when the guests would sit down for the wedding breakfast. Then it started becoming my ‘wide’ camera in place of the second Nikon.
Even then I hadn’t considered that Fujifilm X cameras could be a viable option as an exclusive system for shooting weddings.
The X-Pro 1 didn’t seem relevant to me, though I know that it became a quick easy Leica for a lot of people very quickly. Heavily invested in Nikon DSLRs meant that a direct replacement like for like just didn’t seem to be on the table yet, and besides, the thing that first attracted me to the X100s was it’s discreet size and the fixed 35mm lens was philosophically liberating. This was my Digital FM.
Let me jump ahead a little here. The Fuji cameras are extremely capable. The sensor renders images in a seemingly organic way, consistently producing remarkable results that are on a par with the kinds of images I’m getting out of the D800. It’s even more astonishing when you realise the relative sizes involved. The sensor is much smaller than the Standard Full Frame sensors of the Nikon/Canon DSLRs, but crucially the cameras are themselves lighter weight, smaller, and less cumbersome meaning that I can get closer to my subjects. There’s less of a barrier between me and my subject, the Fujis more of a talking point than an intimidating and noisy machine. It’s personal taste, of course, but for my kind of photography small and quiet is becoming more and more of a big deal.
The D800’s extremely high resolution 35mm sensor comes with it’s own set of problems. Firstly, the file sizes are crazy for a wedding photographer. There is no need for that amount of resolution and it’s scary how quickly a season’s weddings can eat through hard drives, memory cards not to mention the workstation management, software and what not. People say that memory is cheap, and this might be true, but still there is a need to double up, triple your memory for archives, backup, off site backup. Then there’s the accumulated time it’s going to take to crunch through those files with RAW conversions, DAM, photoshop literally pushing steam to get through a workflow. Not great for the typical quantities I’m used to shooting. You can do it, but I always would stumble away from my computer feeling like life’s too short. Honestly when the D600 was introducedI transferred most of the heavy lifting to that just for the fact that the resolution is significantly lower than the D800. How ridiculous is that?
I realised that I was putting up with my DSLRs really because of only a couple of things. Most important of those was the 85mm 1.4 lens.
Then Fuji announced the X-T1. More importantly for me, they also introduced the 56mm 1.2 fast prime lens – an 85mm equivalent. I should mention here that the 85mm lens is the lens that camera makers make for me. In it’s fast aperture iteration I think of it as the perfect portrait lens. Seeing the introduction of the 56mm lens was the catalyst that got me interested in the X-T1 as a viable alternative to shooting with just DSLRs. The XPro 1 was also on my radar now, but I’d not heard great things about the AF performance, and decided to look more closely at the super new tech wrapped up in the X-T1. The viewfinder is fantastic in use and subtly manages to put you right in the middle of your processing while you are engaged in direct photographic experience. And that experience is a jump if you’re used to DSLRs. It’s a bit of a learning curve, both in terms of software and also with ergonomics, but is worth it and with perseverance the Fujis become second nature just like any good camera would. You’ve got to want to do it.
The reason I think this is a good idea!
DSLRs are heavy. Two DSLRs with fast prime lenses and backup lenses are even heavier. At a wedding they can become bulky, too, and almost aggressive looking. The tech is good, and I really struggled when it came to which Nikon I would keep, but I’ll come back to that in a minute. After a long day’s shooting you start looking at your iPhone and wondering why you’re still carrying all of this kit around your neck. Two cameras like that can also just slow you down, though in operation they are quick. And this one you know: they are expensive. The faster primes have to hold and move a lot of high tech glass, and this doesn’t come cheap. Product cycles are getting shorter and shorter and upgrading to the next and latest is running into thousands and this is for small upgrades to already established systems. There is every chance that that incremental upgrade isn’t really worth the extra outlay, and the resale value is less than half of what you paid a couple of months ago. It’s not sustainable on a practical level, or even a financial level.
The fuji X-T1 is the perfect antidote to those things. It’s light weight, weather sealed, beautifully crafted. Discrete. I’m getting into situations that my Nikons might have tripped me up in. I’m ‘blending in’ more than I could with the DSLRs. Guests at a wedding are arriving with Canon 5Ds while I’m getting the pictures I want without having to discuss the equipment I’m carrying. My self imposed (perhaps) image of me puffing and panting around with a plethora of camera equipment or bags has now relaxed into a simplified collection of small gadgets. A couple of bodies and a couple of lenses. Oh, and a lot of batteries…
This was my equipment.
All of this in a Think Tank Retrospective 20 in Pinestone, maybe some flash kit stuffed into a Billingham Hadley in the car.
- Nikon D800 with 85mm 1.4 lens
- Nikon D600 with 24-70 2.8 Lens
- 105mm Micro
- 50mm 1.4
- SB900 + Batteries
- Pocket Wizards
- A super clamp or Small Light stand
This is what I carry now:
All of this in one ONA bags “Brixton” – (honestly – this is the perfect bag. I’ve been through a lot of bags, and this is “The One”)
- Fujifim X-T1 with 56mm 1.2 lens
- Fujifilm X100s with WCL wide converter.
- 18-55mm 2.8-4
- Fuji EF-20 Flash with stand and small folding soft box.
- Batteries. Lots.
That’s it. I can bring more if I need to in the way of off-camera flash gear and so on. That’s what the boot of my car is for. Essentially though what I carry now is more than enough for any wedding.
Shooting weddings with Fuji X cameras has completely changed what I can do. It’s an adjustment from one mode to another and yes, it does come with a set of problems that would be nicer if they weren’t there. Sometimes it’s a leap of faith, and sometimes it’s something obvious and it doesn’t trip me up. Coming from bright, large OVFs to a bright, Larger EVF, was something I was worried about, but in practice it’s been a really exciting transition. I now us the EVF on the X100s more than I thought I would, and I wasn’t expecting that. One thing about using the EVF is that I can connect to certain exposure and contrast issues at the time of capture rather than chomping at the LCD. It’s not a big deal on paper, but when I’m shooting I can feel how the final pictures are going to look. I’m not saying that this is better than an OVF, I’m just saying that when I was expecting the EVF to be awkward for me, there are actually some positives and even advantages. It’s great that it’s so large, and smooth in view and operation. The Diopter adjustment is perfect for people like me who choose not to wear glasses when shooting. There’s nothing missing with this viewfinder and no compromises except for perhaps battery usage I suppose, but I don’t know the figures on that.
I’m shooting less of a quantity of frames, which is a good thing. I’m getting to the core story and getting the pictures I can pre visualise as well as being able to spontaneously capture the moments I see. Quickly. It’s a subtle thing but I’d say I’m thinking more like I like to think! I’m more engaged and I’ve tightened up my technique. I’m really trusting my instinct more. My clients are more at ease perhaps because the equipment is not so ‘in your face’ so we’re getting to the pictures with less of the breaking the ice thing. I really feel like the cameras are finally disappearing from being a potential barrier between artist and subject. The retro, ergonomic design is a talking point sometimes, but I think the aesthetic really just gives the camera a sophisticated anonymity.
What Works and What Doesn’t?
I shoot RAW and JPEG L files. I know a lot of people have great things to say about how Fuji Renders JPEGS, and they are great, but Capture One Pro is a great tool for processing .RAF files. I love The XT1 RAW files through Aperture or LightRoom, but Capture One Pro has the edge which happens to suit my workflow well and 16Mp files are just right for me, thanks.
The X trans sensor has been discussed over and over, but I can tell you that I regularly shoot to Iso 6400 without thinking about it. Low light performance is for my purposes, better than the Nikons. It’s not just the levels of noise, it’s really a better dynamic range and white balance that blow me away every time. There’s more of a film like quality to the files and although latitude is very very good, there is also a need to look after exposures properly and think a little more about light. Unfortunately low light AF performance can’t touch the Nikons, especially the D800. The X-T1 isn’t your best choice for the dance floor in a dark barn, though zone focussing or manually focussing through the finder can work fairly well.
As good as the focus module is in the D800, the X-T1’s focus points cover nearly the whole of the frame. It’s amazing how quickly you start using those focus points when they’re made available. The Focus point selection can be a pain in the neck to find with your thumb. Fuji really got the four way selector on the back of the camera very wrong – the buttons are too flush with the camera, with little travel. A plus point is that each button can independently be assigned it’s own function. For me, this simply means using the buttons as a north/south/east/west focus selector, just to ease the pain. The X100s’ dial would have worked so much better, and I’d expect to see this improved on the next version of this camera.
Battery power sucks in both cameras, but with the X-T1 adding the vertical grip greatly extends the camera’s life between changes. I counted 480 shots before one of the batteries went down. It always eats up the battery that’s in the grip first, before sucking the one that’s in the camera, so it’s easy not to run out of juice, and easy to quickly pop a spare back into the grip. Spares are essential. The X100s battery is small, and you don’t want to run out. I always have a minimum of 4 fully charged batteries for both cameras. I’d like to see a larger capacity battery in the future. It’s a shock after coming from the day’s-on-end Nikons!
The various dials and interface works very well – essentially with the Excellent Q menu you can pretty much configure the camera to act the way you want it to. There are a couple of things lost in the menus that I would like to see in the Q menu. The flash compensation could be useful for example, but in no way a deal breaker. A quick card format option would be good. The Q menu is good though, and having the custom menu options is great for getting into different situations quickly.
I’m not used to seeing only 1/4000th as the fastest available shutter speed, though in reality it’s not as big a problem as I thought it would be. I do shoot wide open in bright light and at f1.2 there is every need for an ND filter on the front of the lens.
I miss the 5:4 Crop mode on the D800 though this is perhaps looking for problems that don’t really effect your life.
One very obvious omission is that there is one SD card slot as opposed to the fantastic backup option in the Nikon’s two card approach. I know a lot of people will miss this in the Fuji cameras. I’m OK with it, but would like to see a 2nd card slot in the future. It might be worth mentioning that I use SanDisk Extreme Pro 64GB cards and haven’t had any problems.
I’ve never used the video feature on my cameras, so I can’t comment on that, other to say that I didn’t buy the Fuji expecting it to be good. That said, for quick videos of my kids splashing around in Rock pools the original X100 was just fine for me so for occasional personal use I’d guess that any modern camera will be fine for my purposes.
Well, that’s where I am now. In a short space of time my photography has improved, the way I see things is sharper. My production workflow has dramatically sped up. I’m rocking a more sustainable Camera system than what was feeling like a cyclic need to change and upgrade to bigger and heavier versions of the same DSLR camera. The Fuji cameras are lighter weight, smaller and more discrete, and cost around half the price of what I would spend on Nikon or Canon equipment. I’m getting pictures that I couldn’t get before with a DSLR. Last weekend the vicar was adamant that I couldn’t take pictures during the ceremony. I had to say I wouldn’t (she even said that she would ‘Stop the Wedding’ if she saw me taking pictures). It’s the first time that I’ve not been able to turn such a situation around in 10 years, but I really wanted to get the bride and groom a set of pictures from that part of their day. I sat at the back of the church with the X-T1 resting on my lap and pointing up the aisle and I got my pictures silently. I wouldn’t have gotten away with the clunk-slap of the mirror in the SLR. I don’t know what she would have done, but I didn’t have to find out. I’m getting more and better pictures of my children because I’m actually picking up a camera rather than looking at the chunky DSLR and thinking I’ll just use the iPhone instead.
I fell in love with Nikon early on because the FM was a simple tool and left me in control of my creativity. Around 10 years ago the automated technologies stuffed into new cameras looked exciting, but I can’t help seeing that the cameras were getting bloated with too many clever features and tricks that takes you one more step away from your subject. This is becoming more and more important in wedding photography and I’m happy that the cameras are taking more of a back seat and there’s less obstacles between me and my subject. Sure, you don’t have to use all those features, but then why pay for them? Nikon tried to get it right with the Retro inspired Dƒ – and it looks like the camera that the D700 replacement could have been. But then that camera was introduced at such a high price it started feeling like you were being penalised for wanting to get to the core of what a Camera is needed for. As it happens I’m very interested in the Dƒ and I’m going to look at that in the future, but for now I’m keeping the D600 and a 50mm lens and of course the various Nikon speedlights I have work very well with both systems if off-camera. I tend to keep the D600 as a back up and if I’m really struggling to focus in low light then I’ll look at using that for a few frames, at least until Fuji can improve the X-T1. I don’t hate DSLRs either. I’m just always looking for another way to approach weddings, especially from a psychological perspective, and the Fujis are making a lot of things possible that I was having to compromise with my SLR cameras.
What I got from Fuji is a camera company that seem to be listening to what photographers are asking for, and by and large they’ve got it right. Here’s a road map of the lenses we plan on building. Here’s a new firmware for your old camera to bring it up to date. From what I gather there’s more to come and I’m personally keeping a very close eye on perhaps an updated XPRO-1.
Faster AF in low light. Better, more purposeful controls. Better battery performance. That’s all the X-T1 needs to make it better, but right now it’s as close to perfect as I need.
It’s been liberating ditching the DSLRs. It’s made me look at other aspects of my creativity, production and running a business in a fresh way and I’m very pleased with the results.
As ever – I’d be happy to answer any of your questions in the comments below. Thanks,
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