Friday, May 13, 2016

An Interview with Cartier-Bresson on the X-Pro2


I’ve had my X-Pro2 for close to two months. During that time, it’s traveled more than 9,000 miles with me, through sunny days and rain, to dimly lit interiors and fast-paced street-fashion. After putting this camera through some serious paces, I believe Fuji may have finally brought us back full circle to the design and approach started by Leica. To check that feeling, I decided to touch base with someone who ought to know: Henri Cartier-Bresson.

Cartier-Bresson was uninterested in cameras and technology. He cared solely for moment and composition, and wanted the technicalities of the camera to get out of the way. In the days of film, this was possible: the camera was a box that held the recording medium, and it was short work to understand the capabilities and limitations of a given film. 

Color photography first, and then digital, changed the landscape. New and necessary considerations had to be dealt with in order to get an image made. The possibilities and options quickly overwhelmed the original purpose of the camera. Soon, features— like panoramas, auto bracketing, sharpening, noise reduction, simulations, HDR—took the primary role, because those decisions have to be made before the photographer even considers composing an image. The technology subsumed the art, even as it attempted to solve problems.

And so it’s gone for many years, with each iteration of camera introducing more features, more buttons, and more decisions, each of which takes the photographer away from the sine qua non of photography: observing and capturing a moment. 

With the X-Pro2, Fujifilm has a good argument that it took many complex technological innovations and evolutions to get the camera back to what it’s designed to do: get out of the photographer’s way.

The X-Pro2 is powerful and complex. Contained in its magnesium, waterproof body, is a sensor capable of recording 24 megapixels with a remarkable dynamic range. It has both an optical rangefinder, and an electronic viewfinder that refreshes its 2.36 million dots at up to 85 frames per second. It can shoot at 8 frames per second with a silent electronic shutter. It can focus precisely onto any one of 273 autofocus points, or be manually focused. It has pages of menus with myriad options and customizable buttons.

Indeed, the X-Pro2 is so powerful, it doesn’t need any of those options turned on at all.

And that’s the genius of this new camera. Fuji has created a device so sophisticated that it’s circled back to the beginnings of still image film photography and provided us with a box which is so capable that the photographer can set the ISO, set the shutter speed, set the aperture, and then just shoot. No menus required. No manual required. Fuji designed the camera to allow the photographer to ignore all but the essentials by placing all the primary functions on knobs, and not in menus. With the X-Pro2 and a couple of small lenses in a jacket’s pockets, one can once again get back to the essence of photography. Or, if you share the visual philosophy of HCB, maybe just a 50mm (or its equivalent) and no other lenses.

Which is why I believe HCB himself would have used an X-Pro2. To test that suspicion, I sat down (tongue firmly in cheek) with the creator of photojournalism and asked him about Fuji’s latest camera.

The Interview

When did you get your first camera, and which one was it? 
I, like many another boy, burst into the world of photogra­phy with a Box Brownie, which I used for taking holiday snapshots. 
But now you’re using the X-Pro2. What are your impressions? 
It became the extension of my eye, and I have never been separated from it since I found it. I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to "trap" life – to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize, in the confines of one single photograph, the whole essence of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes. 
What’s your opinion on the ergonomics? 
If you have little equipment, people don’t notice you. You don’t come like a show-off. It seems like an embarrassment, someone who comes with big equipment. . . . It is enough if a photographer feels at ease with his cam­era, and if it is appropriate to the job he wants it to do.  
I understand you shoot in Aperture Priority only. Why is that?
The actual handling of the camera, its stops, its exposure-speeds and all the rest of it are things which should be as automatic as the changing of gears in an automobile. It is no part of my business to go into the details or refinements of any of these operations, even the most complicated ones, for they are all set forth with military precision in the manuals which the manufacturers provide along with the camera and the nice orange calf-skin case. If the camera is a beautiful gadget, we should progress beyond that stage at least in conversation.  

[Note: My X-Pro2 didn’t come in a nice orange calf-skin case. I guess there’s a “Magnum” edition?] 

What’s your opinion of the Acros Film Simulation? 
Black-and-white photography is a deformation, that is to say, an abstrac­tion. In it, all the values are transposed; and this leaves the possibility of choice. The difficulties involved in snapshooting are precisely that we cannot control the movement of the subject; and in color-photography reporting, the real difficulty is that we are unable to control the interrelation of colors within the sub­ject. 
Do you find it useful to be able to shoot at 8 frames per second with the X-Pro2? 
[I]t’s essential to avoid shooting like a machine-gunner and burdening yourself with useless recordings which clutter your memory and spoil the exactness of the reportage as a whole.

So, there you have HCB’s rather strong opinions on Fuji’s new flagship!

HCB's answers provided from the following:

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Fashion-able Fuji XPro-2

With an XE-1 well past its prime and showing it, I pre-ordered Fujifilm’s newest flagship, and it was in my hands on March 8. 
I had very little time to get aquatinted with the new box before heading to Italy to work on a few photography projects. During the trip, the XPro-2 and I became inseparable friends. (More on Italy in a later post!) The camera is quick and responsive, relatively intuitive to use, and the low-light performance is great. It initially felt much larger and heaver than the XE-1, but use eliminated that felling of difference. 
Back stateside, it was straight to work shooting street fashion with Nicole Boychuck for Aoki Boutique. Shooting outside on another‘s schedule means working with the weather of the day. And the day we had brought super bright, super contrasty sunshine. I like contrast that I can control, but cloudless, sunny afternoons are always a challenge.
At least, it used to be.

Singin’ in the Range

There are many praises to sing about the X-Pro2 (and quite a few niggles), but one of the most important improvements is in dynamic range. It is, simply, remarkable. Even in bright sun that hurt the eyes, the new Fuji sensor captured a range of usable detail in both the highlights and the shadows. I was able to get excellent images in light that would have destroyed the X-Trans CMOS in the XE-1. (These images are all developed from RAW—which is the only way to maximize the camera’s files.)
The improved dynamic range isn’t just handy for recovering shadow and highlight detail. Instead, at least for me, it’s an invitation to find the limits. Because I know the camera is going to handle a wide gamut of light, I’m free to seek out even contrastier scenes that I previously would have avoided. This provides the opportunity to engage in new creative approaches, and not simply to improve on what I already do.

Bokeh by the Dozens

Shooting street fashion is always a challenge because I like clothes to have motion. Fashion isn’t static, and—for the kind of shooting I do—showing the construction and movement of the clothes is important. This means low shutter speeds and the lowest ISO. So long as I’m able to move with the model, I can overcome the additional depth of field that results from using smaller apertures. 
It’s when the model is still that I need separation from the background, which means a wide aperture to get optical bokeh.
The problem with shooting in bright afternoon light is that the lowest ISO and the fastest shutter won’t be enough to get a very wide aperture. There are ways around this, like using ND filters, but I work fast and need spontaneous moments, so those “solutions” just present new problems. I need the answers all in the camera, and the answer has been to chase areas with less light. 
At least, it used to be!
The X-Pro2 has a mechanical shutter that goes to 1/8000, and an electronic shutter that reaches all the way down to 1/32000 of a second. I have mine set to M+E so that the camera automatically uses the electronic shutter if needed, but otherwise sticks to the mechanical. Compared to the X-E1’s fastest speed of 1/4000, that‘s three more stops of light reducing power at my disposal. And that translates to getting wide-aperture bokeh even in bright light. 

The most fashion-able of them all

I doubt Fuji set out to make a great camera for street fashion. But with its expanded dynamic range and high shutter speeds, the X-Pro2 is currently the most fashion-able camera of them all.

On Location in Philadelphia for Aoki Boutique

Aoki Boutique

Check out more images on the main site:!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Mode Italia (with the Fujifilm X-Pro2)

The winter weather has broken its grip and Easter has ushered in both an Italian Spring, and the need for Florentines to show off their fashion sense. Their challenge is to cope with warming days and still-chilly nights. As always, the Italians meet the challenge in a variety of stylish ways. 

These images were made on the streets of a somewhat rainy Florence with the weatherproof Fuji X-Pro2. I used mainly the XF35mm and XF 18-55mmwhich are both great for unpredictable street work. The X-Pro2 is proving to be an excellent street camera. More to come on that once I finish my time in Italy!

Read more on the main site!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Fujifilm X-Pro2 on Wheels

I just received my X-Pro 2, and these are my brief initial impressions. As with anything new, it takes time to build familiarity and I'm sure some of these opinions will change or modify as I work more with the camera and get settled in. For now, these are simply observations.

The Build

The X-Pro 2 is a big camera compared to what Fuji has been giving us. It's similar in size to my Leica M240, but far lighter. I had read much about the magnesium body, and expected the camera to be heavier than it is. I also expected it to be smaller than it is.
It fits pretty well in hand, and although the button layout is very convenient, in use the buttons feel very far apart—even with my big hands, moving my thumb down to the focus stick felt like a distance. That's probably just muscle memory from the X100s and X-E1 and will undoubtedly feel different with time. However, I expect it also might be an issue with adjusting to the weight of the camera. Moving the thumb down requires adjusting the hold on the camera, and likely that is what making the buttons seem far apart. 

Blown Highlights (with Fuji X and Canon)

Photography is, literally, writing with light. Any old light will do to make a photograph, including the unfocused light used to create cyanotypes. However a photograph gets made, the light is the key ingredient and can make or break any captured moment. 
No matter the method, though, photography is ultimately less about the quantity of light than it is a struggle between ratios—specifically, the dynamic range between the highlights and the shadows. Whether it's film or the latest digital sensor, there are boundaries to what can be captured: getting the shadows means blowing the highlights, and retaining detail in the highlights means losing what's in the shadows. Exposure decisions are a matter of deciding which is the most important for a given image. 
The key here is not the dynamic range of the scene, but the dynamic range of the image. Too often, photographers get caught up in the technical and pay too little attention to the humanist aspects of an image. The dynamic range of the human eye, from the darkest we can perceive, to the brightest light we can tolerate, is about one to one million. In lens terms, that's about 24 stops. This is a very broad dynamic range. But unlike a photographic lens, human eyes are never static. We scan a scene, with our pupils opening and closing to adjust for changing light, blending shadows and highlights into a scene processed in the visual cortex, and then responding to that vision based upon a mix of intentions and emotions. What's bright has an emotional meaning, just as what's in the shadows has a separate meaning. 
Accordingly, trying to capture a scene with the dynamic range of the human eye is not only impossible, but it misses the point. The dynamic range of any scene is information for the mind to use, so the goal of working in contrasty light is the same as in any other light: using it to direct the spectator's attention to what the artist wants to emphasize. 
These thoughts were in the back of my mind while I was shooting fashion in the streets with Nicole and Meg. An early Spring day, there was not a single cloud in the sky. The sun was at its worst in photographic terms: a single, narrow point of light with the only diffusion coming from the colored reflections of pavement and walls. But with a bit of attention and intention, even bright sun can work to artistic advantage. It's just a matter of embracing the contrast and sometimes letting the shadows go black and the highlights get blown. (Or finding some shade!)