I am just back from a three-week trip from Vietnam and Bhutan, and although I’ve traveled with only Fuji X cameras in the past, this was the first time I totally relied on them for a long journey.
Tired of carrying gear when traveling I was on the lookout for a compact camera that could travel well. I was happy to carry my Nikons on trips, but there were instances when I didn’t want to go out with them. There were particular places in big cities that were unsafe, or when just going out for dinner after a day of shooting on a remote location, being exhausted, I didn’t want to be out again carrying equipment. I was basically going on photo trips yet leaving the camera in my hotel room at times. I tried a couple of point-and-shoot cameras that I could have with me at all times, but I was not happy with the results. Looking for better options, I started to do some research on micro 4/3 and mirrorless cameras, and that’s when I came across the Fuji X system and decided to give it a try.
In late 2012 I had my hands of my first Fujifilm X body. It was the Fuji X-E1 that I bought with the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f:2.8-4.0 lens kit. I was going to travel to Buenos Aires for just a few days for business and I didn’t want to carry equipment as photography wasn’t the reason for visiting my hometown that time. What happened then was an eye-opener for me. I loved the camera, the way it felt in my hands. It took me some time to adapt – it was different to work with than my DSLR – but somehow, and for a reason I can’t explain, I wanted to shoot more. The results from the outings on that trip were really beyond my expectations. I continued to use the X-E1, bought some other lenses and started to shoot it alongside my Nikon.
Then in 2013 I upgraded to the Fujifilm X-E2, prior to my trip to Myanmar. The X-E2 was a huge improvement in several aspects from the X-E1. The most significant for me was the autofocus, as the X-E2 was much faster to lock it, especially under low-light conditions. The Myanmar trip was the turning point to the system; it was there when I started to think about switching to Fuji. The camera not only performed great but also helped me in situations where looking like a pro-photographer doesn’t help. You know what I mean – it can seem somehow aggressive for a complete stranger when you stuck a big body/lens camera right into their personal space. I don’t blame them; it can be intimidating. It was there when the X-E2 started to shine for me; shooting markets, street scenes, and locals in their environment had become much easier and less conspicuous.
After that trip, and particularly after reviewing the images, I was totally sold on the system. Then Fuji announced the X-T1 and I preordered the same night it was released.
Shooting the Fujifilm X-T1 is a joyful experience. It was love at first sight when I took it for a spin the first time. I was delighted with the way it operates – having all the dials and commands right there without having to go into menus to set different modes makes it quick to adapt to different situations and working modes. The autofocus is zippy and responsive. The tilt screen allows you to shoot high, low, from the hip or at intricate angles without having to suffer it. And to top it off, it has a gorgeous and huge electronic viewfinder that renders not only the image you are getting but also tons of technical information and a histogram. It’s of great help when using manual focus via the peeking mode. The X-T1 is also weather-sealed, making it ideal to use under almost any conditions.
After intensive use of the system, I can surely say now that I’ve totally made the switch, I am embracing Fuji for good. From now on, my beloved Nikons will stay home and Fuji will rule for me during travel photography.
I can´t really see any advantages of carrying big bodies and lenses. The image quality of the X bodies is superb under almost any condition or situation. I can shoot up to 3200 ISO without any problems and stretch it out to 6400 if needed; paired with fast 1.4 prime lenses, there are no limits.
Now that you’ve gotten a feel for how it all happened, let me sum up the main reasons behind the decision and what I am currently carrying:
The build quality of these cameras is excellent. The bodies I am using are different but they both feel solid. The Fujifilm X-E2 is like a rangefinder style while the Fujifilm X-T1 resembles more a DSLR. You can clearly see that despite being light cameras they are true professional gear. The controls and input dials are clearly engraved and function well. In the past couple of years I have extensively abused them, and I’ve never had an issue. The X-T1 is weather-sealed and it is supposed to be better prepared to handle a rough ride. That being said, I have had to shoot the X-E2 under rainy conditions and it never stopped working. They also look great, and I particularly love the analog dials on the X-T1. I never need to go into menus to change settings. These are handsome cameras built and conceived with the pro photographer in mind.
You can have the greatest camera in the world, but put crappy glass in front of the chip and you’ll get sloppy results. The Fujinon lenses are superb. Like with the cameras, the build quality is great and even the so-called “kit lenses” like the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f:2.8-4.0 deliver amazing results. Fuji has been working hard and they currently have lenses to cover almost any need; however, they keep rapidly adding more.
Besides continually diminishing carry-on limitations by airlines, for me, going light yet still being able to have a handy arsenal at my disposal is a must. One of my primary goals when going abroad is to avoid the tourist path. I just want to be a traveler, discover new places and interact with the locals. I often go on long treks outside the cities or deep into the forest or peaks. In Vietnam, I had to trek 10 miles to reach my destination, a homestay of the Red Dao minorities in the middle of the northern mountains in Sapa. Certainly having a relatively light backpack carrying all my gear, including tripod, computer and clothing for five days, made a difference. That would be impossible with my DSLR gear; the backpack would have been full with it and I’d have to carry a separate backpack for the rest of my things. My Fuji kit allows me to wander around with pro gear and yet be lightweight and compact.
The image quality of both the Fuji X-E2 and Fuji X-T1 is superb. They both use the same 16 megapixel APS-C Fuji X Trans II sensor. It boasts built-in phase detection and Fujifilm’s special color filter array that eliminates the need to utilize an anti-aliasing low-pass filter and in consequence, increases sharpness. I always shoot RAW, but the straight-out-of-the-camera JPGs are phenomenal as well; you can get great results with the classic Fuji film simulation modes. So if I want to share work from the road, I can simply work with RAW+JPGs and have photos ready to upload as I take them.
Professional Photos Without Looking Like a Pro
I’ve mentioned this before, but being able to be sort of invisible and blend in is fundamental. A small body with a small lens lets me do just that. If anything, I look like a regular tourist taking random photos, and really nobody worries about that. I was approached a couple of times while shooting government buildings and in airports with my Nikons, and I’ve had people negatively reacting to my request to make a portrait with the “big” cameras. This has never happened to me with the Fujis – I have entered nightclubs, strolled markets, and made photos in airports and nobody seems to care. They never asked what I am going to be doing with the photos or who I am working for. I get professional results without looking like a pro; engaging in a more casual way with people or places gives me the advantage of having more access and more candid photos through which to document the true essence of a place or culture.
Fuji and the Kaizen Philosophy
Kaizen, better explained as “change is good,” is a philosophy used by successful Japanese companies. Fuji listens to their clients, and they are constantly improving and making their products better, even after their release. The firmware updates are often; they usually bring fixes, but better yet, improvements. They are determined to make their cameras better even after they have reached your hands. For me, a company that supports their customers in a manner like this is a company that deserves my attention.
I am actually carrying my Fuji kit in a Tilopa BC Backpack (check out my review of the Tilopa over at DPS). They all fit on the medium slope ICU and I have room to spare for other things or clothing for 3/4 days.
My current Fuji travel kit includes the following:
I also carry in the bag:
The Future with Fuji
I am lusting to add the Fujifilm XF 56mm 1.2 lens soon and I’ll probably change the two variable aperture zoom lenses for the newly announced 2.8s. There were times on the last trip where I wished I had a third body, I have second thoughts about this, but I’ll probably get a second X-T1. I think it will be more productive to shoot twin bodies if I carry two X-T1s instead one of each as I do today.
It was not my intention to make a review of the cameras or lenses by writing this post – there are plenty of places that can do a much better job than me on that. But I am being asked frequently about this so I just wanted to relate my personal experience and reasons behind my switch. If you have questions regarding the Fujifilm X cameras or lenses, just feel free to leave a comment and I’ll respond to the best of my knowledge.
In summary, Fuji captivated me. I did not expect to have such an outstanding experience with the product. I was literally blown away when I first got the camera by the performance and image quality. It took me some time to adapt but in the end I don’t regret the decision to keep investing into the system. I am not looking back – mirrorless, and especially for me the Fuji X system, is here to stay.
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*** The above photo gallery is a collection of some of my favorite photos taken with Fuji X cameras.