Interview for Photo Pro magazine / Fuji X-Pro
Interview for Photo Pro magazine back in 2013 by Terry Hope for Photo Pro Magazine.
We talk about Fuji and a recent trip to the USA.
Can you tell me a little more about the road trip itself, how this was conceived and what you were hoping to do while you were out in the States?
The year before I had been to the US but was on an assignment and never really left Virginia. The following year -(Sept12) I had planned to visit a friend and travel about a little. Sam and I planned a little road trip taking in Washington and New York. The idea was to have some time to see the US and start the next portfolio book. My last book was entitled People & Places, but, in my eyes really didn’t live up to the title as the People elements over took the Places elements. This trip was in part to help pad out my personal work and get some travelling done and help balance the content for my next book. (my website (gallery) is in 4 elements, people, places, music and music.) Ever since I was a small boy, I had the urge to get to New York. This only ever grew as I watched people like Lara Jade make the leap. I once read somewhere that New York is the worlds only true city. I also read that the one of the expectations of New York is that it is a city that never disappoints. I have to but only agree. One of my very good school friends lives in the West Village (in NYC), I had not seen him for a good number of years. Meeting up in the centre of Manhattan was so magical, it was the perfect place to see remember where we came from and where we are now. New York is a dreamers city, as a creative person the buzz on the streets and the energy is astonishing. I love London, I love England but, New York is New York. I do think the White Russian’s (the drink) helped that evening somewhat. Looking out over NYC from the Standard bar another friend (Corey) was a lovely memory also. One of the wonderful bits about this trip was that we started in Virginia, near the border with West Virginia. We drove to Washington where I got the shot of Obama flying about 30ft above us to land on the White House lawn. A couple of days later we drove up to Pennsylvania to witness the most incredible sunrise ever. Followed the same day by a near perfect sunset. It’s hard to sum up the trip, but amazing food and amazing people.
About 4 months before X-pro had been released, I had been itching to test drive the camera. It was the Focus on Imaging trade show (now The Photography Show) by the time I first got to see the camera in the real but had to wait until speaking to Matt Trim during the trade show to get my hands on it and sort of fell in love with it there and then. Fast forward a few months and I had been booked for an assignment in Marrakesh and just had to have the X-Pro with me. The D800, the Canon 5dm3 and the X-pro filled my camera cases for Marrakesh. A pretty great set of cameras to take on that trip, so I decided to take the same to the US. Sigma were kind enough also supply me with a nice array of lenses such as the 120mm-300mm f2.8 for the USA trip. Being able to play about with all the amazing kit was a pure joy and really great to actually push these cameras to the limits. There are some amazing people I have to thank !! During the USA trip, I really wanted to test my own ability across new genres and see how I coped. Testing new ideas and thoughts. Pretty much every photo with the interview is unedited and right off the camera – which is new for me ! If they stay that way into the books… who knows, but this trip has helped me grow in confidence which my own work.
What made you decide to take along the X-P1 and how long had you been using this camera before you set off?
Well, I had my eye on the X-pro the moment I heard it was being released and really loved the style and ethics of the design. Since I had such a great time with the camera in the heat and dust of Africa with the camera it was the first choice as the ‘day to day’ camera. The idea was to use the X-pro to document the adventure and use the ‘bigger’ cameras to do the real shooting with. I had extensively used the Fuji prior to the trip, but I had not done the firmware upgrade (This would of been the first update). I wish I had as the upgrade is totally amazing. I had the X-Pro in a Think Tank Retrospective 7 with the 3 lenses and flash. It was the ‘mini’ camera bag when the others were stored for flights and packed down. ( these days I am using a Billingham & Think Tank depending on the locations etc )
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I understand from what you’ve said that the X-P1 was just one of a number of cameras you were taking and yet you ended up using it much of the time. What was it about the system – the camera and three lenses – that made it so invaluable to you while you were on the road?
Yep, in total I had four camera bodies with me. Two normal DSLRs the Fuji and a converted Canon 5d which shots Infra-red. Each of the cameras had there own uses in my eyes, since I was flying half way round the world, I might as well take the right cameras. The idea was to use the Fuji as a day to day compact and break out the other cameras when needed. But it soon just became more hassle to stop, load up the right lenses on the DSLR and shoot. Having the Fuji so handy all nicely packed I the smaller bag. It was always right to hand and ready to shoot. But, I think the reason it really became it the main camera was that it is fun to shoot with. I found I would shoot different things than I would with the bigger cameras. It makes you like a kid again learning about the world again. I remember walking into a country store to see a bluegrass band playing in the back of the store while people bought the weeks shopping. A big DSLR would of felt invasive and I would of felt silly stood there with my English accent and ‘papped’ the locals like some kind of BBC documentarian, dressed in my white & blue checked shirt and tweed jacket. The X-Pro is so understated yet gives you great images. There is just no way to be subtle with a DSLR, I loved that the X-Pro gave me that edge. The shoot of the three guys running down 5th avenue is one of my favourite shots from the whole trip. For me its just the sort of shot one could miss if not for the X-Pro. I guess Obama landing on the White House lawn is another example. The Fuji has the blend of discretion and professionalism nailed for me. Of course. When it came to shooting the astonishing Blue Ridge Parkway. I got out the Nikon D800. But shooting on the Subway under Times Square? Only the X-Pro was on the cards. It is an interesting thing how different cameras evoke a different feeling and emotion, but they do.
Can you tell me, in as much detail as you like, what you think about the camera please, including its failings as well as what you consider are its best points? Is it up to performing a job for a professional photographer, or are there things that could make it difficult to use in certain circumstances, for example if you’re shooting action?
No camera is perfect, by design they can not be as everyone wants something different. The X-Pro is no exception to this. The camera, as with photography, is about balancing your needs to your soundings and creating a story from that. If you want to shoot high speed action the X-pro is just not for you. Before the firmware upgrade the auto focus was slow and clumsy. The X-Pro is not razor fast like the X100s, or like the 5dm3. The camera takes a few seconds to write to the card leaving you waiting a moment if you want to shoot and review then shoot and review. The battery life is pretty short for a travel camera with the spare batteries being pricey, but… to be honest none of these really bothered me apart from the focusing before the update. I just make sure I use the super fast Lexar cards and lots of battery power. Using the camera with just the view finder helps too, as the LCD is power hungry. The camera does encourage a certain type of shooting style for sure. I quite liked the slightly soft, vintage film look the simulation modes gave me. This led to me shooting wide open and with the idea that most of the shots would be in black and white. When we got to New York the David Bailey film ‘We’ll Take Manhattan’ was firmly wedged in my creative mind. I was starting to not care about sharpness or perfect exposures but playing with the moment and energy of the city. Its hard to explain why I don’t think this would of happened with a DSLR. Maybe its the clinical way we think they should work ? We are trained to think we need massive files and tack sharp ones at that. The Fuji.. although is razor sharp encourages a different way. Before the X-Pro, I realy shot in B&W, during this trip, I also started to see in black and white, I just envisioned all the images in BW, why this is, I don’t know. As for ‘is the camera up to preforming a professional job ?’ I would have to say it might not be applicable to all photographers who need the perks of DSLR, but I would say I professional should have a camera like the X-pro with them when working. Its the ultimate back up day / work combination camera. You could shoot a wedding on an X-Pro just like you could shoot a wedding on 5×4, but, its not quite right with the current trends and expeditions. Unless the client is aware. It’s like saying, can you be a professional photographer with a Leica M9? At the end of the day it’s the photographer not the camera. But I think I should say no. This is not a replacement to the DSLR for a working pro. I see it as an addition to be used along side. I guess this is for two reasons. The camera is not quick enough focusing yet to really stand up as a day to day working camera for the average photographer. Lets use a wedding photographer as a base for a pro. But lets not forget, the designed purpose for this camera. As a creative tool. The Fuji is outstanding.
What do you think about the quality of the image files? Did you try out the higher ISO speeds and, if so, what did you think? Is this a camera that could be used at higher speeds and, if so, how high would you dare to go before the results really start to suffer?
No complaints at all, I have some wonderful meter wide prints of Manhattan taken from Brooklyn. At low ISO there is no noise and when the ISO is lifted the noise looks great.. Lynchburg is pretty much right in the heart of Virginia. We ended up shooting in this really dark dusty old theatre that was just the most incredible space. I just lifted the ISO and shot away knowing that, the files maybe a little noisy but at least they look nice and not super digital. I comfortably shot into 2000 ISO. The Fuji does pretty well indeed. In a studio setting the sensor is just stunning.
What did you think of the three lenses that come with the camera and is there one or more of these which is especially good in your opinion or maybe lets the side down a little? All the lenses are stunning, but I just love the 60mm. Build quality is amazing with lots of metal used in the construction. I took the 18mm, 35mm and the 60mm with me as the zoom was not out yet. I would have to say the 35mm was used the most over all. The Fuji is an APS-C size sensor so its about a 50ish give or take. When I grew up I only had a 50mm for a couple of years so it makes sense I naturally used it the 35mm on the Fuji the most. I guess the other reason is that 35mm opens to F1.4 which suits my style of shooting. All three lenses are stunningly sharp.
If you were to give the camera marks out of ten, what would its score be and how would you justify that? (Just one line is fine here)
Overall, it’s hard to judge a camera with a single number, but… lets go for an 8. It loses two marks for these reasons. This camera is not for everyone, which should not lose it marks being fair, but this is an overall view. It is a little slow which introduces a lack of faith in the camera when focusing and processing. It would be nicer to have the whole camera react in a more…..zippy.. fashion, kinda like the X100s !
What are you intending to use the road trip images for and are you planning to do it all again at some stage in the future?
Well, at the moment, I have only about five or so edited finished images*, so there is lots of do. But I am still on the shoot phase. There is another trip to Spain & Switzerland, before I start putting the images together, there is more to be shot. I guess the over all finished use though is linked with the creation of the next portfolio book or Book Project. *all images now are edited – you can see many of them in my gallery sections – Link- I teach this a workshop called the ‘Book Project’ where we challenge delegates to come up with, shoot, and produce a book based around a concept. Mine is a project called People and Places. The ideas is to collate and document the wonderful world about us and the people who live in it. The printed book is a wonderful medium in which a photographer can tell his story. I guess this is me trying to tell mine. I have many more trips planned and who knows what’s just around the next corner. I think it was a couple of issues ago we gave away the first chapter of this, to be never-ending project. It is so nice to have these books out floating about the world for people to enjoy. At the moment I am still using on-line self publishing company Blurb. As some people might know, I am quite the fan of the books they produce. We are also looking at a small gallery somewhere, once the images are edited and sorted, but who knows. * Fuji also have some wonderful books – Fuji Create – I know that I will be headed back to New York soon, that is for sure. In the short time I was there it only made me more determined to get back for a much longer stint. It’s nice to have many friends all over the world. The West Coast is on the cards also. We just have to hope and wish sometimes. I know that where ever I go, I will have the X-Pro to help capture it !!