In my last post I talked about what photo gear I brought to Italy for one month and the reasons behind those plans. So how did reality compare to expectations? Which gear earned another trip and what won’t make the cut next time? The good news is that the planning paid off and most things worked very well. There were a couple exceptions though and an uncertainty that might seem familiar/tiresome to some Fuji fans. Let’s take a look.
If you read my last post, you know that the bag is the item I spent the most time deliberating. Knowing this was going to be over my shoulder and around my neck every day for almost 5 weeks made the choice incredibly important. In the end, the effort paid off and the Think Tank SubUrban Disguise 20 worked very well for my gear and my style of shooting. The bag was lightweight, simply designed, rugged, and comfortable all day. I would definitely use the bag again but if Think Tank were asking me for feedback, I’d change three things about it:
- It stuck out a bit too much from my hip. I wish it had a thinner profile and possibly curved design so that it could conform to my hip better. This could work if the bag were narrower but longer so that I could turn the camera bodies 90 degrees (see photo below) and still have access to the extra lenses. This is why one of the other bags I tried was a messenger-style bag but those tend to have other aspects that don’t work well.
- Every opening on the bag has the option of opening it quietly, avoiding the Velcro crunch — except for the pocket in the lid where I kept batteries and spare memory cards. This was loud as thunder. I ended up tucking the flap inside the pocket. That worked but I had to be careful to avoid spilling its contents if I wasn’t being careful. This inconsistency seems like a design oversight.
- Perhaps a nitpick but one of the main issues I’ve seen people have with Think Tank bags is that, for the most part, they’re only available in black. Black camera bags are boring and scream “steal me, I’m a camera bag.” Some Think Tank bags come in colors: I tried both the green Retrospective 5 and Retrospective 7 but they’re heavy, expensive, and have surprisingly little capacity given their size. It’s too bad. One of the things driving people to the smaller, mirrorless bodies is the intangible notion that photography is more fun with them and I think those same people want to buy bags that match the feeling of fun and style. Plain black bags are neither.
I really enjoyed traveling with two Fuji X-T1s. The camera is a joy to use and feels great in the hand. The controls are well placed and the retro design is functional rather than only there for aesthetic appeal. And as I’ve said already, it’s hard to beat the weight. I picked up my Canon 5D3 the other day and was surprised at how heavy it was. My only issue with the Fuji design was my own: having to fight 25 years of muscle memory trained for Canon SLRs. That got better towards the end of the trip.
That said, I have some issues with the X-T1. I’m working on another post that lists specific likes and dislikes I have but most importantly, no amount of weight and size reduction or convenient controls will trump image quality for me and I still have lingering concerns. For Fuji aficionados who are rolling their eyes, ready for Yet Another Debate about full-frame versus APS-C sensors, this is not that: when I look at some of my files, I’m pleasantly surprised at the quality coming from the Fuji sensor. In others, I wonder what my Canon would have given me instead.
Online, there is both praise and doubt about Fuji’s X-Trans sensor. When there’s doubt, the concern usually centers on green foliage, especially fine details. It has been very tough to identify consistent causes (if indeed, there ARE any actual issues). There is SOMEthing in the imaging chain that SOMEtimes makes SOME green details look blurry or painterly or “swirly.” I’m not sure if it’s the X-Trans sensor, whatever RAW processor people use or how they use it, or peoples’ perceptions of acutance versus detail.
Since many of my pictures from Italy have backgrounds of green vineyards in Piedmont or cypress trees in Tuscany, this is pretty important to understand and solve. I’ll have to experiment as I process images from the trip and if I can’t reach a point where I’m confident enough in future results, I’ll have to make a change. I need to know that the limit between me and great photographs is me and not my tools. I do have a friend who keeps asking me, “yes, but how do the X-T1 images look in print?” A great question and I’ll have to test that too. I plan to write about these experiences soon.
Fuji’s 18-55mm lens has such a useful range that I expected this to be my workhorse throughout the trip. In fact, I expected to leave it on one body the whole time and only use the other lenses on the other body. But about 2/3 of the way into the trip, I had reviewed enough images to compare its results to the 10-24mm and 55-200mm and I stopped using it altogether. Not a single frame after that. Everyone raves about the 18-55mm’s quality and, for a kit lens, it is excellent. But when I see people raving about it being “razor sharp,” I have to disagree. Since returning from Italy, I’ve sent it to Fuji for evaluation and recalibration to see if I have a bad copy. I’m told I’ll have it back in a few days at which point I‘ll reevaluate. If it still doesn’t make me confident in its abilities, I’d consider something else with this range. I’m hearing good things about Fuji’s new 18-135mm lens although it’s not as fast.
The 10-24mm lens turned out to be the workhorse that I thought the 18-55mm would be. Incredibly sharp, a very useful range, and having the extremely wide 10mm (15mm full-frame equivalent) is really fun for wide angle shooting. My only wish is that it were a bit smaller but that’s a nitpick. This lens is a slam dunk to bring again.
The 55-200mm lens is one of those lenses that, relative to the X-T1 body, is heavy, bulky and too long for close quarters which made me not want to go to the effort of putting it on the camera. When I did though, I remembered what a great lens it is: it is tack sharp, has a huge zoom range, and is fast enough to make nicely blurred backgrounds. What a great lens and a great value compared to some of Fuji’s more pricey lenses. No question I’d bring this again and I’d make a point of using it more too.
Finally, the 35mm prime lens. I hesitated to bring this lens since, although it’s lightweight, any additional weight and space needs to justify itself when traveling. It’s a sharp lens and having the 1.4 maximum aperture means creamy backgrounds but looking at stats in Lightroom, I shot a total of 80 frames with it out of 3800. That just doesn’t make sense to bring again. That’s the same reason I didn’t bring the 14mm prime lens I also have. If I have a zoom lens that spans the length of a prime lens, I’m rarely going to use the prime. I’m considering selling both the 35mm and 14mm.
It’s hard to argue against a piece of gear that’s so useful and yet you barely know it’s there when you’re not using it. At 4 ounces and 7 inches long, the Ultrapod earned its place and at $12, it’s a lot of bang for the buck. How great to have a tripod that fits in the bag. This will definitely come again on the next trip.
The big tripod: I love that Gitzo tripod and the RRS BH-40 ball head and they have traveled all over the world with me to places like Mongolia, Africa, Patagonia, and Europe but I’ve learned this lesson over and over: unless I’m traveling alone or with a photo tour group, it’s not worth bringing. It’s not that I didn’t use it — I did take it out a few times for some night photography around town — but over the course of a month, not often enough to justify bringing next time.
Related to the tripod: I did not have a chance to use the remote shutter release/timer. For my full-frame Canon gear, I frequently use my Canon TC-80N3 (superb piece of gear) and I wanted an equivalent for the Fuji. I’ll hang on to it for now and experiment with it now that I’m back home.
Anything else I would do differently next time?
I wouldn’t change much given what’s on the market today. Technology moves forward so I’m sure I will upgrade when there’s something worthwhile. Having said what I said about the 14mm and 35mm lenses above, I might sell those and experiment with Fuji’s 56mm lens that everyone raves about. It’s nice having that wide aperture if there is a chance for a lot of portraits.
Finally, next time I might experiment with a different workflow using Lightroom Mobile. My goal would be to leave my laptop at home though and, from what I understand, it currently can’t support that. I’m sure it will get there.
Did I leave anything out? Curious about something I didn’t talk about? Leave me a question in the comments!