Monthly Archives: July 2012

For the past month I’ve been working with the Fujifilm X-Pro1, which has been on loan to me. I shot all the Pop Up portraits with it, over 5,000 frames. It got a thorough testing and I got to know it quite well. I usually shoot on the Mamiya 7, a rangefinder, medium format film camera . For the Pop Up project, due to the large volume of work, I had to shoot digitally and as I already have a Fuji X100, was keen to try out her new big sister, the X-Pro 1- another rangefinder.

I got the X100 at the end of last year and the reason I choose it as my first ever digital camera, (yes, I have been clinging onto film for as long as possible), was because of it’s design. Not the beauty of it’s retro styling, but the usability. I am relatively new to digital capture and I am an impatient photographer. I want to be able to pick up a camera, make it do what I want, and not get lost in presets and programs. The dials on the X100 appealed to me as that’s what I’m used to, but it’s also how I want to use a camera, rather that having to delve into a menu to do the simplest task.

The transition from the X100 to the X-Pro1 was seamless. In my hand, the X-Pro1 feels just like one of my Nikons (F3 & FE). It is a similar size, and bulk, but lighter. It is a workhorse of a camera. Where as the X100 is super stylish – the X-Pro 1 is built for work. I love the X100 and while many use this camera professionally, I shoot portraits and need longer focal lengths than it’s 23mm fixed lens. The X-Pro1 came with 60mm and 35mm lenses and I found my perfect digital camera.

There are loads of technical reviews of this camera online, so here I am going to concentrate on what it’s like to use the camera, and why for me, it was perfect for this job. Firstly FujiFilm’s technologically advanced electronic viewfinder enables you to shoot a whole session, without the need to check the images on the camera’s LED screen. This may not sound like much of an advantage, but when you are shooting a portrait, it is a process, you keep photographing until you think you’ve captured what you were after. If you have to take your eye away from the camera, that interrupts the process, you loose your place and your connection with the sitter. The X-Pro gives you a choice between an optical viewfinder and an electronic viewfinder (EVF). I used the EVF for shooting portraits, as I could see the auto focus, it gives a preview of the exposure and most notably gives you playback of each frame, momentarily after each shot. The playback stays in the viewfinder for only about a second, but it’s enough to check that you’ve got the shot, so you can quickly move onto taking the next frame. For me photographing in the street, I need to be quick. This function enabled me to do a whole session with each person in just a few minutes, without once checking the image on the camera’s LED screen.

I could allow myself to completely concentrate on the process of chipping away at each shot until I managed to capture, what I was after in each person. I have done some research and I can’t find another camera series that allows playback in it’s viewfinder – I could be wrong, please let me know if you know better.

Secondly the X-Pro 1 is a rangefinder, just like my Mamiya 7. So what is so great about rangefinders? One word – optics. Because rangefinders don’t require a mirror between the lens and the film plane/sensor, the light has less distance to travel, resulting in a superior quality image. Rangefinder lens also work at optimum quality at wider apertures, unlike SLR lenses that need to be stopped down to gain optimum image quality. The X-Pro 1 has the shortest lens to sensor ratio of any camera on the market, this not only results in greater image quality but less display lag (in fact I didn’t notice any). The rangefinder also allows a reduction in camera vibrations – enabling hand holding at lower shutter speeds.

I am used to shooting with a rangefinder and I know the disadvantages too. My Mamiya 7 is not easy to focus in low light, there can be problems with parallax. However the X-Pro 1 removes the traditional disadvantages of using a rangefinder. Using the EVF on the X-Pro1 gives 100% of the lens view, so there is no problem with parallax. The auto focus, although not the fastest, was accurate and spot on for my needs.

I do have a few niggles though, the dials on the camera need to be lockable or more secure. It is too easy to knock them from their settings. I was unable to load the images from the X-Pro 1 into Aperture. I do hope there will be an update that will allow me to do this. I had to shoot the images as jpegs and would have been so much happier to get RAW files. At the time of shooting, to shoot in RAW on the X-Pro 1 required Silkypixs software, as I was shooting so many files I decided against going down this route. Lightbox now has an update to read RAW files from the X-Pro 1, so I’m hoping there will be one for Aperture too.

The X-Pro 1 is the latest of a long line of rangefinder cameras. It is in the company of some great cameras Nikon S-series, Leica M series, Mamiya 7, Contax, and the Hassleblad X-pan. It is a great modern classic camera and worthy of it’s place in the rangefinder family and I haven’t even started on the sensor’s new colour filter array or mentioned it’s megapixels..

I have now finished shooting all the work for my Pop up Portrait Studio. Altogether I photographed 280 people with ages ranging from 3 months to 86 plus one dog. I used 5,022 frames, one canvas backdrop (6ft, which I can now put up myself), 4 rolls of gaffer tape, no assistant, a Fuji X-Pro1 with 60mm lens, but mostly the 35mm lens.

I went into this project with a very open mind, not knowing who I would photograph, so unable to predict what the finished work would be. Now that I have shot all the work the most likely format at this stage is an exhibition of the work, possibly in one of Bristol’s empty shop units – pop up styley of course. I’m going to make a small book dummy of the work over the summer, but this will probably be just for me as a way of presenting the work in my portfolio.

I would like to say a huge thank you to all the people who took part the project and allowed me to photograph them. Thanks to Photographique for kindly printing each person’s portrait. Also thank you to Helen Wood at Talk PR for arranging the loan of the X Pro-1. I have grown quite attached to it now, but it is all boxed up and ready to be sent back. I had better start saving up..

This is the last week of my Pop Up Portrait Studio and for the past few days I have set up my ‘outdoor studio’ in a disused bus shelter on Glocester Rd in Bristol. It has worked really well and I feel quite at home there now. I can hang my backdrop directly onto it. The roof allows me more control over the light which can look more like window light, whilst also giving me some shelter. It has a clear perspex panel which adds more light from the opposite side and brilliantly has a built in bench. This has been a good addition to my set up as I think people feel more relaxed sitting down, as they don’t have to worry so much about what to do with their bodies.

The bus stop is located in an interesting part of town. To one side is the Boston Tea Party cafe, and all the independent Gloucester Rd shops. This part of Bristol seems full of plum yummy mummies and their cute kids in buggies or on their scooters, but they only seem to come down as far as the Boston Tea Party. In the opposite direction you have Stokes Croft. The Tesco store that was the centre of the riots is a few shops down. Stokes Croft attracts many artists, activists, free and alternative thinkers as well as more that it’s fair share of homeless people and those with drugs and alcohol problems.

I have met and photographed a diverse range of people. I have found the people of Gloucester Rd to be much more friendly and open that in any of the other venues I have set up in. I have only two more days of shooting left and I might perhaps fit in an extra one next week to make up for the time I lost out on due to the rain. Then the Pop Up Studio will be packed away…until next time anyway.