Categories
Equipment

Review of the Fujifilm X70 For Street Photography

The new Fujifilm X70: the body of a Ricoh GR with the guts of a Fujifilm X100T
The new Fujifilm X70: the body of a Ricoh GR with the guts of a Fujifilm X100T

I’m currently here in Dubai, and had a chance to check out the Fujifilm X70. TLDR; the X70 is a compact digital camera with the same sensor as the Fujifilm X100T, and a 28mm f/2.8 (“full frame equivalent”) lens.

I first heard about the camera from my friend Shay Allen, a passionate street photographer who travels all around the world. I first got him into the Ricoh GR, but he loves shooting color and also traveled with his Fujifilm x100T for a while. Eventually he settled on the Ricoh GR because he preferred the size.

However he sent me a text message and showed me a photo of the Fujifilm X70, saying that it was like a Ricoh GR with Fujifilm colors. I was intrigued.

A little background

DSCF8459

When I first came to Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai around two years ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting the Fujifilm representatives in the Middle East (Keitaro-san and Yuta-san). Two super cool funny Japanese dudes— they helped sponsor me with some gear (I’ve got a free Fujifilm XT-1, X100S, X100T) from them. I’ve also done some work for Fujifilm— doing some talks in Singapore, Vietnam, and also here in Dubai.

I recently gave away all my Fujifilm cameras to some friends who needed it more than me, as I found that I preferred shooting with my film Leica and also my digital Ricoh GR. Also a part of my soul felt that it was unethical for me to receive “free” gear from any camera company— because I didn’t want to taint my opinion of the camera. Furthermore, my ultimate goal is to create as much as possible non-biased review of a piece of gear, which I hope will ultimately be beneficial to you as a street photographer.

Anyways, Fujifilm cameras are probably the best bang-for-the-buck digital camera for street photography in terms of value (especially the Fujifilm X100T). But the Fujifilm x70 seems like a game changer for Fuji— all their little compact cameras before (x30 and so on) were just little crappy compact point-and-shoot cameras. But the X70 has the same APS-C DSLR-sized sensor as the Fujifilm x100T at a fraction of the price. The X100T retails for around $1,300 while the X70 is around $700.

The X70 is missing some features of the X100T (no optical viewfinder, the body is smaller, and some extra bells and whistles). But it is incredible what the X70 has.

For example, the X70 has the same dial controls as the X100T. You can easily change the shutter-speed on the top dial, and also change the aperture in front of the lens. Oh yeah a key difference— the X70 has a 28mm f/2.8 “full-frame” equivalent lens, while the X100T has a 35mm f/2 lens. But a little more on that later.

Autofocus rocks

DSCF8452-3

I love my Ricoh GR II to death— but one of the things that sucks about it is that the Ricoh GR II has an extremely slow and inaccurate autofocus. I would give the Ricoh a 5/10 for autofocusing speed. However the Fujifilm X70 is probably a 8.5/10 in my book in autofocus speeds.

For example, when I would walk down the streets, I didn’t miss any photos due to autofocus, even with people who were moving.

Also another downside of the Ricoh GR II — the RAW buffering is still quite slow. This means that every time you take a photo on the Ricoh GR II, you need to wait a second or so before the photo “processes” in the camera. This means a second or so where the LCD screen goes black, and you can’t see anything. Not so good if you want to take a lot of photos in quick secession.

With the X70 that is no issue— the buffer is extremely fast, meaning you can shoot lots of photos continuously without having any blackout on the LCD screen. Which brings me to the next point— shooting with an LCD vs an optical viewfinder.

LCD vs Optical Viewfinder?

Fujifilm X70-4

Honestly, I think it is fine to shoot with an LCD screen. I have an optical viewfinder on my film Leica, but I have no issues shooting with an LCD screen (especially with a small compact camera). In-fact, I actually think for a wider-angle lens like a 28mm, it is preferable to shoot with an LCD screen.

Why?

Parallax error.

What is “parallax error” exactly?

So the Fujifilm X70 has an optical external viewfinder which I do not recommend. Why not? When you are shooting at a close distance, the optical viewfinder is extremely inaccurate— because what you see on top of the optical viewfinder is different from what the camera sees through the lens.

When you use the LCD screen, “what you see is what you get.” Meaning, the framing is far more accurate with an LCD screen. Even when shooting with a rangefinder, the optical viewfinder is not very accurate.

And like anything in life— let’s say you first aren’t used to using an LCD screen, you will get used to it. Furthermore, the benefit of shooting with a compact camera with an LCD screen is that you can get a lot closer to your subjects. Meaning— it is easier to extend your arm out and put your camera closer to the face of your subject (and have the subject feel less uncomfortable) than if you had the camera right next to your face, and stood really close to the person.

Also the nice thing when shooting with an LCD screen is that you can get more creative with your angles and perspectives. For example, it is easier to shoot very low-angle shots when you look through an LCD screen, rather than using a viewfinder.

Tilting LCD screen

Fujifilm X70-2

The cute thing about the X70 LCD screen that it swivels up and down. You can swivel it so far forward you can even do a “selfie” (have done this many times).

Some street photographers might use the LCD screen when shooting at the waist like a Hasselblad or a Rolleiflex. Personally I don’t recommend shooting like this, because it just looks a bit sneaky to me, and also it prevents you from quickly shooting a vertical photo if you want. But of course, this is just my personal opinion— if you like to shoot like this, this can be a very good feature for you.

The LCD screen also has a touch-screen; which I frankly never used. In-fact, I touched it a few times on accident and it screwed up my autofocusing point. I figure there is a way to turn this off in the menu, but I didn’t try to do so.

Macro

Surprisingly the X70 doesn’t require a “macro” button to shoot people really closely. It is always on “macro” mode, which means you can quickly switch from photos shooting at infinity to .3 meters.

I don’t know the exact minimum focusing distance on the X70, but I have been able to take portraits of people at 28mm (filling the frame) and still have been able to focus.

This is pretty much awesome, especially if you are into “street portraits.”

28mm vs 35mm

DSCF8458

A big difference of the Fujifilm X70 and the X100T is the X70 has a wider-angle 28mm f/2.8 full-frame equivalent lens, while the X100T has a 35mm f/2 full-frame equivalent lens.

The reason Fuji made the X70 have a 28mm f/2.8 lens is because it is simply smaller and more compact. Makes sense.

Just be warned— I think most street photographers have a difficult time shooting at 28mm. You have to get really really close, and not only that, you need to shoot “head-on” if you don’t want weird skewed angles, and if you want more dynamic elements in your image.

Furthermore, 28mm is more difficult to fill the frame with.

I’ve shot 35mm the last 8 years or so, and I prefer that focal length for street photography. However personally for compact cameras (like the Ricoh GR II), I find the 28mm is fine, because you can get closer to your subjects with your arm. I also have been enjoying the distortion and “edginess” of the 28mm lens.

A thing to note is that the Fujifilm X70 (as well as the Ricoh GR II) have 35mm/50mm “crop modes”, which just crops some of the pixels off the sides of the sensor. If you really hate shooting at 28mm, these modes work out quite well— and there are still a lot of megapixels left for you to print your photos. And certainly more than enough to share on social media.

The size and weight

Fujifilm X70-3

If someone were to ask me what camera to get for street photography, my #1 recommendation will probably be the Fujifilm X70— over any other digital camera on the market at the moment.

Why?

The size and weight.

I have tried, and it can literally fit into my front pocket (although very uncomfortably). It is a slightly bigger and heavier than the Ricoh GR II, but I think for people who like to change their aperture on the front ring will prefer the X70. I personally wouldn’t “upgrade” my Ricoh GR II for the X70, but for other street photographers who have a huge DSLR or are starting off— I would highly recommend it.

I’ve tested so many different cameras over the years for street photography and ultimately I have discovered that the smaller and lighter your camera is, the more likely you are to carry it with you everywhere you go, and therefore the more likely you are to make photos.

Who cares about features, bells and whistles, and how “pro” your camera looks if it is a pain in the ass to carry it with you everywhere you go?

I think compact cameras are ideal for street photography because they are also less intimidating to shoot with, and also less intimidating to those who are photographed. Imagine being on the other side— what would intimidate you more: whether a photographer took a photo of you on a DSLR with a huge lens, or with a little innocent compact point-and-shoot camera?

Also a big thing is the price— $700 for an APS-C sensor digital camera is insane (that fits in your front pocket). I wish digital cameras these small and these high-quality existed when I started off in street photography. The price difference between a Fujifilm X100T ($1300) and the X70 ($700) is $600. $600 is a huge chunk of change— I would probably prefer to use that money to travel, buy books, or have some sort of educational experience.

The only real “competitor” to the X70 is the Ricoh GR II. I personally prefer the Ricoh GR II because the ergonomics are slightly better. The X70 is a like a shrunk X100T, and the dimensions are somewhat comfortable to hold in one hand. I feel the Ricoh GR II is much more comfortable when holding in one hand.

Also, the Ricoh GR II has a pop-up flash which can be activated by hitting a physical lever (which is useful to me, because I shoot a lot with flash). On the Fujifilm X70, you need to press a button and go through the menu to turn on/off the flash— which is a bit annoying to me.

Also the Ricoh GR II has a more simplified and straight-forward menu for me, while the X70 is still a bit complex. And the Ricoh GR II has a “direct ISO dial” which you are able to quickly change the ISO by switching this dial to the left and the right. The X70 still requires you to go through menus.

These are small differences which cause me to prefer the Ricoh GR II over the X70.

But honestly, for 90% of other street photographers out there— I think the Fujifilm X70 is the street photography camera to get right now. Super-fast autofocus, superb image quality, small size, lightweight, easy to carry with you everywhere you go, and affordable price— what is not to love?

But what about the X-Pro 2?

I haven’t had a chance to really test out the X-Pro 2. Honestly, I was more excited for the X70 than the X-Pro 2. I’ve quickly handled the X-Pro 2 and it is a solid camera— the autofocus is blazingly fast (I’d give it a 9/10), there is a new cool ISO dial, and the menus are a lot more simplified. It feels good and solid in the hand.

But once again for me, I prefer small, compact, and unobtrusive cameras. And to me, the X70 is more innovative and revolutionary than the X-Pro 2.

I think anyone who upgrades to an X-Pro 2 will not be disappointed— but I think the X-Pro 2 is more tailored to professional and commercial photographers (who want a more “retro” looking camera). It has dual SD slots, and a ton of pro lenses.

But for us humble and simple street photographers, I still think a Fujifilm X100T, X70, or a Ricoh GR II are probably your best bets for street photography. Small is beautiful, less is more, and the benefit of not having an interchangeable lens will force you to be more creative with the focal length you have. Having a lens that you cannot interchange is a great example of a “creative constraint.”

Innovation

DSCF8456

The other day I returned the X70 to Fujifilm, and reflected a bit about cameras, innovation, and why we do what we do.

The coolest feature on the X-Pro 2 is that there are more features and design-functions that simulate film cameras. For example, the ISO dial that is integrated into the shutter-dial is a design cue from older film cameras, and there is a new “Acros” black-and-white JPEG filter, where you can also control the strength of the grain (off, weak, strong).

But this all made me think— all these new digital cameras are trying to simulate old film cameras. It is funny— from the design of film cameras, to the “look” of film cameras (grainy and non-perfect)— why don’t we just shoot with film cameras in the first place?

The only camera I brought to my 10-day trip in Dubai is my film Leica MP, and I stare at it with the 35mm lens and the “real life” yellow-filter that my buddy Karl gave me. I look at the 8 rolls of Kodak Tri-X 400 film (which I am pushing to 1600) with a loving look, which is securely cased in a “Japan Camera Hunter” film case.

I also stare at my iPad which is full of e-books, and my Seneca Latin/English book that my best friend Grace gave me before my trip. I hate reading books on the iPad (but prefer the convenience of it), and I love the experience of reading a paper book (while hating the inconvenience of carrying it around).

Which made me realize— what is “practical” isn’t always what makes us happy.

If we were 100% “practical” in our lives— why would we “waste” time meeting friends, family, and loved ones? It would be easier to message them on Facebook every once in a while saying hello, and spending more time answering emails and doing more work to make more money.

Why bother with prints, when we can just look at photos through a 4’’ smartphone?

There is something truly beautiful and intrinsically human about dealing with physical objects which have dimensionality, smell, texture, weight, and “atoms”. We don’t value things which are digital, because they are “incorporeal” (non-physical).

Strangely enough, we prefer cameras that are heavier— because our weak human minds equate weight with quality.

Don’t always make decisions which are “practical”

There is always more of a magic when shooting film, although it is more expensive, impractical, and a pain in the ass. Frankly speaking, I have a love/hate relationship with film— I don’t want to prefer it, but ultimately I do. I love the look, the process, the feel, and the ultimate result.

I constantly waver between both digital and film— both are important in our lives. We send emails, but we also write physical cards and send them through the mail. We put notes into Evernote on our smartphones, but we also like to write to-do lists or grocery lists on scraps of paper. We like to play video games, but we also love to play basketball or football with our friends.

So friend, ultimately what I want to say is find the camera which suits your personal style, your lifestyle, and budget. Find the process in photography which makes you happy, and least miserable.

But whatever camera you own, love it with all your heart, and make photos which make your heart sing.

Chat more soon,
Eric

1PM, Dubai, Caribou Coffee (coffee here sucks, but free wi-fi), Feb 11, 2016. About to finish the second day of my film street photography workshop, super-excited to see what the students got.

By ERIC KIM

Artist-Philosopher