Goodbye Nikon, Hello Fuji


The move from Nikon to Fujifilm

For almost 20 years i've been using Nikon cameras. I learnt how to shoot black & white film on them before hand processing and printing the photos in an actual darkroom with chemicals,  development trays and red light bulbs. I learnt how to control light, balance exposure and compose photographs using real dials and buttons on the camera. This may make me sound old but there is a certain artistry that you lose when using digital equipment. When you hand process and print photographs in a traditional manner you feel more connected to what you create and as you're producing an actual physical print, it feels more like you are working on a piece of art more akin to creating an actual painting.

But this isn't a post about using film cameras over digital, or the pros & cons either way. This post is about using a camera that feels right for you and makes you actually want to go out to take photos rather than one that makes you not want to carry around the heavy bag it and all its lenses are packed away in!

So, after all those years of using Nikon cameras and lenses, my last being the incredible Nikon D800, I've jumped ship to the Fujifilm 'X' series cameras.

I had a few reasons for considering a change in cameras, although there wasn't really a major problem with the Nikon system itself - the image quality and performance I got using the D800 was incredible and for seeing every detail in the photographs and viewed at 100% they just blew me away. The Nikon lenses too provided me with crisp clear images and a well built, dependable high quality feel. But I was finding a few niggles that made me want to look elsewhere.

"an alternative rather than an upgrade"

Size and weight

The Nikon D800 is a beast of a camera. That superb image quality comes at a cost; the size and weight of the whole system. That, for me was one of my major issues with it. I wanted a camera I could walk around with all day out on location or travelling and one that I could also use in a commercial studio environment where size isn't an issue but image quality is still supremely important.

Lenses

Again size and weight played a big part in the issues I had with Nikon's range of lenses. The D800 is a full frame DSLR and to really get the best out of it's 36 megapixel sensor you really need some top quality glass. I found using the Nikon 24-70 F2.8 and Nikon 70-200 F2.8 lenses amongst others covered a perfect range of focal lengths for my studio and location work that I was commercially producing. But these two lenses alone come at not only a size and weight cost but a big financial investment too. The benefits of such a huge and weighty system were beginning to take a strain on my back, my wallet and finally my creativity.

The size & real world use of images

I was also feeling a strain in the storage and hard drive department. All these images building up in the archives from a 36mp camera were very quickly filling up massive amounts of space on multiple hard drives. The Nikon D800's RAW images were huge, detail rich files that I was finding to be overkill in my commercial work, personal projects and travel / stock photography. For my commercial work of printed materials, websites and travel stock library images a 36mp photograph was rarely being used to it's full potential. Other than pixel peeping at the awesome detail the Nikon sensor provided, the end results were often produced using only a fraction of that detail from those monster RAW files - especially for catalogue, leaflet prints and website images. 

Now of course having the ability to zoom into an image and crop with a huge amount of freedom is something that you simply won't get with a camera producing images smaller than that coming from a Nikon D800. But in general i've not needed to use that much of the available freedom the D800 provided. With the right lenses, right composition and framing the photograph correctly you should be pretty close if not exactly at the image you need to obtain as you're taking the image without needing to heavily crop into the image in post production.

The intangible

I suppose the final reason why the Nikon system was beginning to become unsatisfactory wasn't any of the reasons I've mentioned above, but more of a creative 'feel' about the images. Again, the Nikon D800 produced stunning images, but I was looking for a certain 'film like' feel and quality / appearance to my photographs. Something I'd been missing since I left the world of film photography behind.

What the competition had to offer 

I did a lot of research before taking the leap into a whole new system. I looked into Canon, Sony, Olympus, alternative Nikon options and of course Fujifilm's offerings.

My first stop was to check out Nikons D600 and their retro styled 'Df' camera. It had some great old school film body styling with actual dials and buttons and a lower in size but still provided ample detail from its 16mp sensor.

Having saw one in person and felt the weight and build of it in my hands I found it was another great looking camera but it felt fat and clunky and not that dissimilar to what I was intending to leave behind in the Nikon D800. It would have also allowed me to keep my old Nikon lenses - both a blessing in cost and a curse in keeping and carrying around all that heavy glass...

So after a good look into the Nikon alternatives, I looked at Canon, Olympus and Sony with similar shoulder shrugging results. Nothing was grabbing me. Sure, image quality across the board of options was often great and occasionally stunning but nothing had that 'it factor'.

Then I came across the Fujifilm system. One that I had originally dismissed because I assumed that the only cameras they were producing were generally fixed lens bodies without a DSLR or interchangeable lens camera option. But after looking into it and doing a lot of reading online with various blogs and reviews I came to two options - the Fuji X-Pro or the Fuji X-T1. The X-Pro was more of a rangefinder body and the X-T1 was more of a DSLR body. Both mirrorless systems with 16mp sensors and both having their own uniques features. I found the X-T1 to be my preferred route as it's DSLR style body simply made more sense to me than the rangefinder option.

One thing I was a little worried about was the X-T1's electronic viewfinder (EVF). Coming from a traditional DSLR with a mirror and looking through the lens using the viewfinder the idea of using an EVF for that could've been very hard to adjust to - it could have been slow and stuttering as you panned and moved but according to all reviews the EVF on the fuji system was incredible. 

So with a lot more reading under my belt I decided to take the jump into the Fuji system and completely change my photography work flow. Instead of using zoom lenses I would go with almost 100% prime lenses (i'd opt for the Fuji equivalent of a 70-200 for commercial projects). The next decision was the biggest one... do I go with the silver or the black body options?!

I ordered my Fujifilm products from Hong Kong based 'Digital Rev'. They had the best prices and great service from my previously ordered products so I decided to stick with them. I decided to go with the Fuji X-T1 with a selection of prime lenses; 14mm F2.8, 35mm F1.4, 56mm F1.2 and the relatively massive 50-140mm F2.8 zoom. The X-T1 has a cropped sensor so all the lenses focal length are 1.5x so in a Full Frame or 35mm format focal range these lenses would equate to: 21mm, 50mm, 84mm, 75-210mm which I figured covered the focal range i'd generally be using.

The cost was the first thing that hit me. In selling my Nikon D800 body, a 24-70mm F2.8 and 70-200mm F2.8 I raised almost the exact amount I needed to cover the cost of this brand new Fuji setup including all these fast prime lenses. It instantly seemed to make sense! 

Firmware updates and performance updates

This was one area that I soon discovered made the Fuji ecosystem very well thought through. The X-T1 apparently had a slower autofocus performance when it first launched but through multiple firmware updates it improved dramatically and Fuji even added extra features to the camera itself with these updates. This kind of support in my previous Nikon experience after the camera had launched was unheard of and it really impressed upon me just how much support Fuji are giving to these 'X-Series' cameras.

X-Trans sensors and a post production workflow

One final area that I had to really do my research on was the different sensor that Fuji was using on it's X series range, their X-Trans sensor. This impacted how I would process and edit the Fuji RAW files. Some programs produced mixed results and I had to also consider a studio environment with tethered shooting as well. So with some research into Lightroom and and Fuji's own tethered plugin I was covered. Recent Lightroom updates have also improved the overall detail that is processed from the Fuji Raw files.

Film Like quality

One thing I did immediately notice after my first commercial shoot in the post processing stages was the film like quality the Fuji files delivered. Using the Fuji presets that mimicked old film styles was a great additional feature to have access too in these stages. The image quality coming from this little camera was impressive - of course it couldn't complete with the Nikon D800's level of detail at 100% but at a level the photos would actually be seen and used at this 16mp sensor produced images that were crisp and detailed enough for anything I would need to use it for. Even in low light the Fuji files were amazing - I even had to add in an extra level of grain for some black and white images as the high ISO performance was so impressively noise free. The quality of the Fuji lenses have a lot to do with this image quality too though, superb sharpness and performance in their solid metal bodies with a fantastic build quality.

The Downsides

In general the change from Nikon to Fuji has been very positive, with only a couple of issues that have stood out as problematic. The first being quite a design oversight on the camera itself... If you have a tripod quick release plate attached to the bottom of the camera you can't actually replace the battery without removing the plate. So the only work around for this is to buy an additional grip plate that fits onto the camera. You can buy a few different options including a simple flat base, larger hand grip and a full battery grip to solve this problem.

The other issue I ran into was with the Fuji RAW files and finding the best way to process them. I found that the recent Adobe Lightroom update has seemed to iron out any problems though and deliver detailed and sharp images when processed.

So other than those minor niggles I ran into, the Fuji system has been a breath of creative, fresh air and has definitely been worth the effort of learning a new camera system after years of using Nikon cameras. As for the upcoming X-T2, i'll be keeping my eye on that one and if Fuji get it as right as they have with the X-T1 then it'll end up being one hell of a camera.