Eric’s note: Below is a guest post from MarkB over at X100photo.co.uk. He is not only a talented street photographer, but he is passionate about the new Fujifilm FinePix X100. Check out his awesome review and thoughts below.
Question, can the X100 replace a DSLR or point & shoot and be a primary street photography camera?
With the release of ever more capable cameras that have the maturity of DSLRs but in more compact packages, this seems to have created a renaissance in the somewhat related genres of street, documentary and photojournalism. So as I thought about how to answer the above question I realized that with more and more photographers considering rightsizing their camera choice for street photography, this really is the question of the moment. The X100 then, really has set the cat amongst the pigeons.
This is not another in-depth review of the Fuji X100. What I aim to do is outline the factors we might take into account when trying to answer the above question. Perhaps a little more controversially, I then present my own conclusions! If nothing else, I hope my approach in breaking down the considerations might provide a useful means of making what is for many photographers a very individual decision.
In starting to think about what makes a great street camera, I have taken the view that size really does matter, for a number of reasons. Perhaps the first and most obvious reason being that we want a small enough camera to move around and photograph discreetly. On the other hand being too small brings its own limitations in what can be achieved with today’s lens and sensor technology. I guess then what we are really looking for is what you might call the Goldilocks factor, not too big and not too small. A camera that is discreet enough and yet fits and operates comfortably in hand.
At one end of the of the equation we have the issue of quality which is directly related to sensor size and I therefore typically look for sensors that are Four Thirds system or larger. I previously owned the LX3 and found it to be a great little camera, but image quality just was not there for me. This really then starts to eliminate the pocket point & shoot end of the market. At the larger camera end we do find some street photographers out there successfully working with the trusty DSLR, however, the whole reason many of us are here is the desire for something more discreet.
This now really starts to narrow down the field of contenders, which can be split into those with changeable lenses and those with a fixed or zoom lens. Weighing up camera options from a focal length perspective depends to a degree on what you are comfortable with. My own perception is that the street photographer’s mindset works in fixed focal lengths, the classic being 35mm. So working with a single fixed 35mm focal length equivalent works for me (it might be 50mm for somebody else), although the flexibility of changeable lenses would be ideal. Of course, a camera with a fixed zoom bridges that gap, but this does compromise quality and possibly robs you of a consistent (and dare I say classic) focal length look to your shots.
Clearly a big factor in deciding a camera’s capability as a street shooter is its feature set. Fuji’s X100 viewfinder really has shaken up the competition, other companies often only providing a capable viewfinder via a protruding attachment. Further still, the X100 offers both an EVF as well as a cleverly switchable optical view finder integrated with a digital overlay. The X100 viewfinder thus providing a modern alternative to the traditional rangefinder. This brings us nicely onto a camera’s operation which I tend to distinguish on a scale of digitally automated at one end and manual at the other. The GF2 epitomizes the issue for me, in how it has become a dumbed down GF1, taking important control away for the discerning photographer. Some of these issues prove real deal breakers as we narrow down the competition further.
Then, when we have finished shortlisting the contenders based on logic, we are faced with those heart string tugging aspects of style. Do not underestimate the part this plays in our decision making. Camera companies know this full well when they style and accessorize based on classic camera looks.
I figured that with so many camera models to take into account, one way of visualizing where the main contenders sit relative to each other might be to try and plot them against a scale (dangerous, yes I know). There’s no science or table of data behind this plot (see diagram below), it purely represents my own feel as to where I position camera types or specific contenders. The plot shows that as we move towards the centre line and to the right, we move towards the sweet spot for street photography.
My own preference would be to select a contender above the centre line, that is to say, a camera with changeable lenses. Certainly on paper then, this still positions the M9 as the benchmark camera for street photography. However, the M9 is a massive investment and for those photographers new to (or perhaps just unsure about) street photography, fixed focal length lenses or manual focus, they might be looking for a good alternative to try their hand, maybe as a stepping stone to the M9 or a future successor. Clearly there are a few contenders, but my own assertion is that with its picture quality, viewfinder, control, build quality and style, the Fuji X100 takes that mantle.
Coming back to the original question then, what about the DSLR? If you are looking for a good, flexible camera for all round photography and occasional street photography, the DSLR still has a place. What about the faithful little point & shoot? Well, a professional street photographer could still get a far better picture on a phone camera than what an unskilled photographer might achieve using the best equipment. It may also serve as the camera you always have with you. So although DSLRs and point & shoots may still have a role to play, if your shooting is more purposeful, if you are specifically wondering the urban jungle on an afternoon’s hunting, then you do still want something discreet and more capable. For many, this innovative new camera from Fuji, the X100, can be your primary street photography camera.
Check out Kai’s review of the X100 at DigitalRevTV:
So do you think that the Fujifilm FinePix X100 can be your primary street photography camera? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!