Street Photography with Fujifilm Rangefinder Style Cameras


Hey folks.  Let me be clear about something straight up.  Street photography is not about technology or a particular brand, it’s a process, an ethos and also a means of interaction with the rest of the world.  It has a wide range of approaches, some of which I really despise so I wanted to take the non-voyeuristic approach and also see if the size and shape of the camera I was using had an impact on my ability to make images.

I’m not surprised that it did, and I am grateful to the nice people with Fujifilm Canada who made the experiment and this article possible.

I do not believe that good street photography is accomplished by moving around shooting surreptitiously, hiding your intent and your camera.  Good street photography involves interaction, with people and with the environment.  While the world has moved away from live social interaction, seemingly preferring to only fake communication via (anti)social media, photography provides a venue for real human contact, conversation and learning.

Fujifilm loaned me two cameras for my experiment.  The first was the Fujifilm X100F, a very compact APS-C sensored camera with a fixed 23mm f/2 lens that delivers the same angle of view as a classic 35mm lens on a full frame sensor or negative.  The second was my very well liked X-Pro 2, provided with the 23mm f/1.4 and the 56mm f/1.2.  The X-Pro 2 uses an APS-C sensor and the 23mm has the same angle of view as a 35mm film lens while the 56mm has nearly the same angle of view as an 85mm film lens.  I specifically requested these focal lengths because they matched the angle of view of the lenses I shot with my now sadly gone Leica M4P over 35 years ago.

Street photography then was different than today.  Cameras in general were rarer and towns and cities were less concerned about voyeurism and antisocial activities from an image making perspective.  Today we have smartphones everywhere, used consistently, mostly for fun but sometimes for actual artistic effort.  Sadly the volume of images is of poor quality and often is massively insensitive because the snapper is more concerned with whatever constitutes success on so called social media than making a contribution of value.

I’ve shot street work with everything from an Olympus XA to a full sized Mamiya RZ67.  In the digital realm, I have used a formidable Hasselblad H6D-100 at the largest and the aforementioned smartphone as the smallest.  I can say without concern of being wrong, that most people today never even notice a smartphone, and while most did not notice even the massive Hasselblad, a smaller camera is less threatening than a larger one.  Even the elimination of the pentaprism bump, whether there is actually a pentaprism or not alleviates some concerns.

Street photography is not just about photographing people of course.  There are the streets themselves, the images that make up communities, and the hustle and flow of city life to the perhaps more laidback pace in smaller towns.  No matter where you shoot, one thing is very common, and that is that you move around using your feet.  Walking gives you the opportunity of time to actually see what is there as opposed to just looking for a shot.  If you are going to walk for a few hours, the weight of the camera, and bag if needed, are real considerations.

Fujifilm X100F

Compact and elegant coupled with incredible ease of use.  The large sensor and excellent image quality make this a winner, especially for street type work

Compact and elegant coupled with incredible ease of use. The large sensor and excellent image quality make this a winner, especially for street type work

If you like the concept of always having a superb camera with incredible glass with you, that is still small and even large pocketable. the X100F is unbeatable.  Sensor size matters less if you are just posting images to the web or some service that is web only, but if you print, and I am one of those who believes heartily in printing, then sensor size does matter.  I would happily sacrifice megapixels for low light performance, and I have found that the X100F is a perfect balance of the two requirements.

It delivers a native print size of 20 inches by 13 inches which is very workable and based on my testing, works quite well to ISO 3200 if I do my job in managing the exposure.  I also find the dynamic range to be very good, certainly far superior to anything I have ever gotten in film and still better than a lot of DSLRs.  Criticisms come around it’s price and I understand that.  The camera would be a better seller if it were about $300 less, but I do not see much rationality in camera pricing in general anymore.  I will give full credit to Fujifilm as being the best of all the makers in terms of longer term support and feature enhancement via firmware updates.

Battery life is very good.  The CIPA rating is nnnn shots per charge and I never was stopped at that number.  I did a short experiment to see how many truly junk shots that I could make before the battery choked, and beat the CIPA rating by about 26%.  I would still carry a spare battery, just as I would always carry a spare card, not because I expect to need them, but because I know that Murphy is always about.

For street work, you need to be smooth.  While my general practice is to shoot in the aperture preferred mode, the Program mode works a charm and the AUTO ISO programming is well balanced, striving to keep the ISO as low as possible before making a jump.  Some other maker’s AUTO ISO immediately speeds up faster than it needs to.  Not so Fujifilm.   I personally dislike having to press buttons and find generic wheels and dials.  The X100F allows for this, but there is a real aperture ring and a real shutter speed dial.  The ISO setting can be made manually via a second control inside the shutter speed dial.  My most used practical control is exposure compensation and this is a nice tactile dial right where the right thumb falls.  There is also the capability for back button autofocus, a setting that is a standard use case for me.  For those who need full manual, it’s there as well.

For people who prefer to shoot in JPEG, Fujifilm’s JPEGs are recognized the world over as being top notch.  The style options are based around film emulations of past Fujifilm stock and they are superb.  That being said, I do not shoot in JPEG, only in RAW.  I do use the monochrome styles occasionally to force the EVF into monochrome mode when I am intentionally shooting for black and white, which is something that I often like to do when shooting street work.

The EVF is large and bright and is easy to use.  It is not overly cluttered with time wasting gewgaws and has plainly been designed with the photographer and not the techno geek in mind.  Technology does not make an image, the mind does.  All that extra clutter gets in the way.  Like many mirrorless cameras, the default is to playback the shot in the viewfinder after it is made.  This is great when the sun is bright and the LCD is harder to see, but I turned that playback off because I find it gets in the way of making the camera immediately ready to go for the next shot.  You can shoot via the LCD of course, but holding the camera away from your eye like it’s a smartphone is an unstable shooting position and you will never see everything that the EVF will show you when holding at arm’s length.  I understand that being able to do so helps those accustomed to shooting with a smartphone, but I see no benefit to it for the more serious image maker.

The camera has a single SD sized slot and can take up to SDXC cards.  I shot each day with a 32GB card and never came close to filling it up.  Being mirrorless, you can also shoot video with the X100F.  I personally take a different approach to video, and so used that function minimally, but can say that the FullHD video looks just fine, although there is some extra noise to be managed when using the built in microphone.

The camera has a tiny built in flash.  While it can be used for fill in flash, the source is very small and the resulting light is always harsh.  There is a proper hotshoe and you can use a full sized speed light with the camera, but I suspect that few will.  I did, solely to prove that it would work, but found the arrangement so unbalanced that I never tried it again outside the test area in the studio.  

The camera shoots fast and while it offers nnn focus points, I did what I always do.  Enable the centre point and make it small and use the proven focus-lock-recompose-shoot methodology.  I always want to be the one deciding where focus is, never the camera.  The wider angle lens and the solid depth of field makes automatic focus point selection more forgiving to be sure, but it’s not for me.  I come from manual focus rangefinders and the ability to focus and shoot smoothly with the X100T is much faster than even the best rangefinder.

Unfortunately there is no easy to use hyperlocal distance scale and simple manual focus method.  I would use that a lot for street type work, but I have come to accept that I am in the minority since most buyers would have no idea, nor any training in using these tools.  Still, given the very retro rangefinder look of the X100F, I cannot wonder how hard it would be for Fujifilm to implement.

The X100F is not perfect, but in this use case for a fixed lens camera with an angle of view like a 35mm Leica, it’s a top choice.  Do I recommend it?  It’s a superb camera and is ideal for street type work.  Make sure it fits your use cases and go for it if it does.

Sample Images

All the sample images were shot in Fujifilm’s RAW format and all have been processed in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC v8.0

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Fujifilm X-Pro 2

A wonderful compact offering that can use all the Fujinon X family of lenses.  I personally prefer the higher end XF series and recommend them highly.  It has that classic rangefinder look and feel, but it very fast.  Ideal for street style photography.

A wonderful compact offering that can use all the Fujinon X family of lenses. I personally prefer the higher end XF series and recommend them highly. It has that classic rangefinder look and feel, but it very fast. Ideal for street style photography.

Readers need to know going in that I love the X-Pro 2.  Despite their building of a wide range of great products, it remains my favourite Fujifilm product.  Feel free folks to take the tech from the XT-3 and built a rangefinder style X-Pro 3.  What really appeals to me about the X-Pro 2 is its size, flexibility and amazing hybrid viewfinder.  If I want an old style optical rangefinder viewfinder, it’s there.  If I want a fully electronic EVF, it’s there and if I want a powerful combination of the two, optical with electronic overlay it is there too.

For street work particularly, the simple rectangular body shape is easy to hold, lightweight over the course of a long day and does not create discomfort when the camera is brought to the eye.  This time I had the black version which I prefer enormously to the gunmetal grey version.  I just find the markings a ton easier to read.  Even using the super fast large front element lenses on the X-Pro 2, no person I photographed appeared concerned and everyone that I asked to photograph was amenable.  There was one lady who was quite distressed when a number of us on a photowalk were on a town main street, even though no one was making images of her.  Perhaps she had a bad experience in the past, although her vocalizations tended to suggest annoyance at leaving her tinfoil hat at home allowing the government mind control satellites to subvert her.  

My go-to lens is the 23mm f/1.4   It is light and fast and if I need it has a workable focus scale.

My go-to lens is the 23mm f/1.4 It is light and fast and if I need it has a workable focus scale.

I chose the two focal lengths as mentioned, to give as close as possible a comparison to my old film Leica and my current Leica M.  The Fujifilm glass is stunning in terms of quality.  I do wonder why the lenses are so very large considering that they need only cover an APS-C sized image circle when my Leica 35mm f/1.4 is so small and covers a full frame image circle, but that is unlikely to get a clear answer.  I love the look of the 23mm f/1.4 lens on the X-Pro 2.  It’s a lens that works on all the interchangeable lens Fujifilm cameras.  It is an utter tack driver with beautiful colour transmission, an effective aperture ring, and even a kind of sort of hyperfocal distance scale when in manual focus.  For general street work, you cannot go wrong with this lens.

The other lens I would go with to start, the 56mm f/1.2  Incredible speed and focus performance in an ideal street portrait focal length.  Built tough and a great complement to the X-Pro 2

The other lens I would go with to start, the 56mm f/1.2 Incredible speed and focus performance in an ideal street portrait focal length. Built tough and a great complement to the X-Pro 2

I used the 56mm f/1.2 for people and environmental shots.  It too is a beautiful lens.  The lens speed makes for razor thin depth of field, something that you must be aware of when shooting.  The benefit of the EVF setting means that you see the depth of field that you are going to get in the viewfinder, one of the hallmark wins of mirrorless cameras with an EVF, but even then, you can make images wide open where you can be out subtly and not see it until you view the shot on your computer screen.  This is not a camera or lens fault, it is always user error.  I did find the lens to be wonderfully sharp with great colour and tonal definition when I did my job.  

I shot the X-Pro 2 mostly in aperture preferred mode, with a single focus point as I described for the X100F.  The Program and Shutter preferred modes worked well as expected, and going to Manual also works fine, although I did not find it advantageous anywhere other than in a studio test situation where everything was pretty locked down.  The BS that shooting in Manual makes better images is just that, BS.  

There is a proper hotshoe on the X-Pro 2 and because it is slightly bigger and a bit heavier, the balance is ok when using a speedlight.  I used a Fujifilm ready Godox TT685 for tests and found the TTL flash control to be excellent in the X-Pro 2.  I also used it with manual flash using a Profoto transmitter (I did not have a Fujifilm compatible AirTTL controller) and the new Profoto B10 and it worked a charm.  I have used the Fujifilm brand flashes in the past, and while they work fine, I did not find that they did anything better than the much less costly Godox.  The B10 is a different game entirely.  In my very test of the X-Pro 2 I ran into trouble focusing in a dark studio, but that problem is long past now.

The X-Pro 2 fits my hands perfectly.  I can use it all day without any pain or cramping and do not need a battery grip or grip extension as I do with many other cameras.  Were I to buy one, I would add a Really Right Stuff L bracket, because I find them so convenient.  I did mount a basic Arca Swiss dovetail plate to the camera during my testing and it’s size and weight meant that I could carry a much lighter TQC-14 RRS tripod with BH40 ball head and have it handle all my needs.

A criticism in the past of rangefinder style cameras is that they are not quick to shoot.  I do not find that with the X-Pro 2.  It is very smooth to use.  I like the ability to change lenses, and still have everything small enough to fit in a small Thinktank Photo sling.  I did not use the supplied strap because I do not like to advertise that I have a pricey camera, and used the Peak Design anchor mounts on a Thinktank Photo narrow strap.  This makes the camera fast to move around without being cumbersome.  I’ve written an article about that strap in the past, it’s the same one that I use on all my cameras, unless I need a sling or sling pair.

I was asked why I did not ask for zoom lenses, particularly given my documented joy with the 16-55 and longer telephoto zooms.  It came down to my street experiment.  I wanted to be able to frame my shots smoothly and quickly and not stand in place zooming in and out for minutes at a time.  Street is about smooth, and while I am not hiding what I am doing, I’m also not trying to make an enormous production of things either.

Both cameras use Fujifilm’s unique X-Trans sensor design.  I have been very disappointed with Adobe’s RAW conversion in the past and much preferred the RAW conversion by Capture One.  I never liked the Silkypix converter that Fujifilm supplied.  I am happy to say that the Adobe RAW converter has improved a long way and the version in Lightroom Classic CC 7.5 does a nice job.  I still think that the Capture One conversion is superior, but the two are very close now.

I have not yet shot the XT-3, but I have done street work with the XT-2 and I found that although it and the X-Pro 2 are similar in size, when photographing people that I met, there was less concern with the X-Pro 2.  It just looks less threatening to some folks.  That is, I think, a good thing.

The X-Pro 2 does do FullHD video but as with the X100F, my video use cases are different, and I did not shoot any video of consequence with the X-Pro 2 other than to remind myself that it does video.  If Fujifilm video is your thing, look at the XT-3.

I love the X-Pro 2.  If I didn’t already have the investment in the Leica body and all the associated glass, this buy is a no-brainer.  The camera is light, unobtrusive, is fast to use and is complemented by that amazing Fujinon glass.  Firmware updates have addressed some earlier concerns and I think it is a terrific offering.  If it fits your use cases, you should go get one.  And in my opinion, while I love the Fujinon zooms, I would choose the ultra fast primes for this body.  Personal choice that, but one that I would make without hesitation.

Sample Images

All the sample images were shot in Fujifilm’s RAW format and all have been processed in Adobe Lightroom Classic CC v8.0

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I'm Ross Chevalier, thanks for reading, watching and listening and until next time, peace.