Friday, December 20, 2013

All Thumbs

This is not a review of a copy of Tim Issac’s Thumbs Up.
I’ve noted in previous articles that one of the Fuji’s distinct advantages is their small size. They are easy to carry and unobtrusive. If you have large hands like I do, though, that advantage can be difficult to manage. The smaller size results not only in crossed fingers, and the occasional feeling of clumsiness, but a variety of mispressed buttons. 
The X series camera bodies are slim and have no finger grip of which to speak. (The X100s has a slight bulge, and the X-E1 has a slightly bigger bulge, but we’re talking the thickness of card stock.) Squeezing the camera body is the only way to help with stability, or to shoot one-handed. When holding the camera, the right thumb extends up the back of the camera.  In and of itself this is not a problem. The problem is that buttons are there.  A squeeze of the hand to steady the camera easily ends up inadvertently activating functions. This occurs less with the X100s since it’s a light camera with a fixed lens. The XE-1 is heavier, and the lenses are heavier, requiring a firmer hold. The X-E1’s center of gravity also varies with lens changes. Worse still, the placement of the “View Mode” on the X-E1 means that it’s a likely casualty of the squeeze. There are few things worse than grabbing the camera for a shot only to meet a black viewfinder because the view mode has changed.
<>Tim Isaac is an engineer who came up with a great solution. He designed a thumb grip which slides into the hot shoe. He makes a variety of these grips customized for a range of cameras from Leica to Fuji. They are beautifully engineered from brass. The only problem is their price: a whopping $125+. For the Leica shooters out there, maybe that price is an irrelevancy. Considering that it represents more than 15% of the price of a Fuji X Series camera, however, it’s not an insignificant sum. 
Because of the price, I sought out other solutions. With minimal searching I discovered that there is a company in China which produces a very similar product. I’m sure it’s not as good as Tim’s, and I’m sure it won’t hold up as well. But at $15 it’s a risk I was willing to take.
With the unsexy, incorrect, and shameless name “Micro DSLR Thumbs UP,” the product is made of mystery metal and painted black. The size I ordered “fits” a variety of cameras, including the X-E1 and the X100s. I ordered two. After I added three layers of electrical tape the the bottom side, the friction fit in the hot shoe was fairly good. There is an allen-head screw in the middle, and I went ahead and tightened it slightly.
I haven’t handled Tim’s product before, but I suspect that it’s far more subtle than are these. I suspect the height on his is better customized to the height and position of the shutter speed dial of the intended camera. That said, I haven’t had any problems adjusting shutter speed or exposure compensation with the grip in place. My hands are so big that I probably wouldn’t benefit from any subtlety anyway.
I do, though, benefit greatly from finally being able to squeeze the camera for more stability, and one-handed shooting is now a reality. The cameras just feel better in the hand, too. They’re quicker to pick up, and feel surer. The curve of the grip feels fine, and after only a few minutes the grip wasn’t noticeable. Because the grip is backwards swept, it gives the feeling of a slightly thicker camera. That feels good to me. It also makes walking around with the camera at the ready and in the hand much easier. 
The thumb grip has improved the handling of the Fuji cameras exponentially. I barely notice the grip now, but reap the benefits of a more stable camera, and no more accidentally pressed buttons.
At $15, it’s worth experimenting with the “thumbs up.” If it works well, it’s probably the just and moral thing to order Tim’s product. That’s what I plan to do.