A Few Thoughts On People, Their Cameras and The Pictures They Produce or My Fuji x20 Review With Opinions About Other Things As Well

Before I begin, let’s get a few things straight:

Q:  Am I a professional photographer?

A:  No.

Q:  Have I previously been one?

A:  Almost. Maybe.

Q: Am I an equipment snob?

A: Yes and no. Mostly no.

Q: What camera and equipment do I use?

A: Fujifilm x20. Spare battery. Lens hood. If you want one, get it here

Image from Fuji’s website.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to what you are here for – my unfiltered, uncensored, honest opinions. Yay, I have lots of those, I will be happy to share.

This topic is one that hits close to home for me. The short back story is that I used to live in Nashville Tennessee. I had shot a number of portraits for friends and family. I had done some minor event coverage. I had four weddings under my belt. I was still cheap. I still shot the way the client wanted, as I did not have enough of a portfolio to have high rates or a marketable “style” of my own, though I was most appreciated for my candid portraits and detail photography. The train wasn’t moving at top speed, but I was on the right tracks.

Even though I got almost no support at home for my pricing, the hours I put in, or the artistic choices I made, I was constantly making progress. Then there was great news for me: S3Magazine (s3mag.com) ran a number of my photos in one of their issues. They were interested in more photos from me.

Then my mom got cancer.

I didn’t take a single picture for months.

Then she passed away.

Then I moved to Memphis to help my dad through it.

I decided to start shooting in Memphis. I booked a few events. I was getting call backs.

Then my wife left me.

Then I sold my camera because I was struggling financially.

Fast forward a few years. I am getting to my feet financially and emotionally. I have finished my first novel. I am writing this blog as well as the occasional article for a friend’s blog as well (realistlounge.com) and he and I have agreed on a column that he will start running of mine once I get off of my lazy ass and write it. Things are looking up.

I decide to get a camera. A few things are clear to me immediately. I have no intention of shooting weddings right now. If I do, it would only be as a second shooter so that I could do what I do, how I want to do it. I also have no intention of diving back into event photography either, with exception to things like Import Alliance (www.importalliance.org). I want to love shooting again, like I did before the business side of it took my failing marriage by the hand and together, beat me into submission.

Given all of those things I decided to look for a basic setup. Camera. Short lens. Long lens. Prime lens. I began to look at the Four Thirds system because I liked the color reproduction I saw from them. I went back and forth between two models for several weeks, unable to choose. Then, while doing some reading on street photography, I stumbled onto the x20 and the new sensor Fujifilm had put in it. The color was excellent. The form factor of the camera was great. It did NOT have interchangeable lenses (after sleeping on it for a couple of days, I really liked this) . It had enough zoom to cover just about anything I would need or want. The control layout and specs were excellent.

After a little (read: LOT) more research and many shining reviews, I decided it was the right camera at the right time. I found a great deal and ordered it.

At this point I have had it for only a short time, but am truly enjoying playing with it. It takes excellent pictures and allows me to have as much or as little control over them as I want. The lack of interchangeable lenses allows me to focus on the moment and not my equipment. I truly see this camera becoming an extension of my eye.

During the journey toward selecting the x20, I found myself reading a lot about something that has always captivated me, street photography. I also found myself reading back over bios of great photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Capa and James Nachtwey. Photographers I had looked at less and less when I was shifting towards wedding photography. At that time, I found myself mostly looking at Jeff Ascough (www.jeffascough.com) who continually produces the most amazing wedding photos I have ever seen, and any photos I could find of “Trash The Dress.” Once again though, I found myself looking at the images that truly captivate me as an artist, that make me want to go and make images to share with others in the hope that they are captivated with my work. I found myself thinking a lot about conversations I have had with friends and various quotes I have read along the way, all of which got me into share my opinion mode. So put down your defenses, put on your thinking caps and let’s explore some of my recent thoughts using quotes or images that inspired them along the way.

“The best camera is the one you have with you.” 

                                                                   ~Chase Jarvis 

photo by Chase Jarvis
Image by Chase Jarvis

I have never read this book. I have not seen much of Chase Jarvis’ work. In fact I know very little about him. What I do know is that I have said this to a lot of people. A $28,000 Leica (found here) isn’t worth a wooden nickle if you leave it at home when you need it. Having said that, I really hope that people understand that you can never replace proper equipment with available equipment and expect the same results. Can someone with a good eye and understanding of framing and lighting take good pictures with a cell phone? Certainly. Could they properly photograph a wedding or document a conflict? Absolutely not. But I will admit that some pretty amazing pictures have come from phones.

“If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough”

                                                                   ~Robert Capa

Image by Robert Capa
Image by Robert Capa

I love this quote. I don’t think it applies to everyone in all situations, but it does apply more than you think. So many people take all pictures in an identical fashion: center the subject in the middle of the frame, where it is visible in its entirety. Get a little closer. Focus on the details. Show me something instead of everything. Unless of course you are shooting portraits or products, in which case centered and basic is fine, I guess. Let’s keep in mind also, that Capa was documenting war in many of his photographs and too much distance would alleviate the power of the scene.

“Photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth which can make them come back again.”

                                                                  ~Henri Cartier-Bresson
Image by Henri Cartier-Bresson
Image by Henri Cartier-Bresson

Constantly looking at the angle and geometry as well as lighting and subject matter while framing, he also understood so well that each moment, each instant was exactly what its name implies. So fleeting. Gone before you realize it’s there. Which is why the best camera truly is the one you have with you. Yes, it is better to have proper equipment for any job at hand, but yes, it is better to get a glimpse of the moment with some equipment than to not get that glimpse at all.

Another fact of note. Something I find very important and greatly overlooked in almost all aspects of life today. A large sum of Cartier-Bresson’s work was shot with a Leica camera and 50mm lens. One Camera. One lens. No zoom. At the time it probably wasn’t the top of the line and I imagine it wasn’t loaded with features and modes. He shot with it until it became second nature, an extension of himself. He knew what the shot would look like before he clicked the shutter. He wasn’t held back by equipment envy or the incessant urge to get something newer, older or better. He shot with what he had until it was second nature. If more people did this today we would see better pictures from people not going broke buying toys. We joke and call new equipment “toys” but it is actually fitting. We play with them until something better comes along. He used his equipment until he didn’t have to think anymore, just work. He was brilliant. Studied. Dedicated. All to his craft and not his gear.

“If I’m feeling outraged, grief, disbelief, frustration, sympathy, that gets channeled through me and into my pictures and hopefully transmitted to the viewer.”

                                                                                    ~James Nachtwey
Image by James Nachtwey
Image by James Nachtwey
In the end, isn’t this our goal as artists, as craftsmen? Whether we write, paint, sculpt or photograph, isn’t the desired result a transfer of emotion? I love Nachtwey’s work because it breaks my heart every time I look at it. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I wish I could walk with him a day and see what he sees while he tells me what he feels. Then, see his images at the end of that day so I could see how it all comes together. His work is brilliant, painful, honest and sincere. You can not look at his images without feeling something. This is the end result we all seek. If you can do it with an iPhone – great. I’d wager then, that you could do it even better with a proper camera once you got to know it.
For now I intend to shoot with my x20 until I no longer have to think, but simply act.
Image by Stephen Abel with Fujifilm x20
Image by Stephen Abel
with Fujifilm x20

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