Where I’ve been, why I sold the Fuji X-Pro1 and how I rediscovered film

It’s been more than three months since I blogged, and there is much to discuss.

I have a new job

In November I switched to a reporting/writing role at the paper I work for. This means longer hours and a lot more work-related reading, which means much less time for photography. This had the immediate effect of killing my blogging stone dead. The job is an amazing opportunity and I get to write about tech (which as you may have gathered from this blog is about half the fun of photography for me … or is it? Read on), but it’s a steep learning curve and it will take a while before I can get back to serious photo work.

I spent December in New Zealand.

I know what you’re thinking, photography heaven, right? And it really is. New Zealand has a clarity of light that can only be found in, well, countries with a lot less shit in the air. Oh and a lack of O3 in the atmosphere helps too (though on balance ozone deficiency is not a good thing!). I had a lot of leave due and a grave family illness calling me home. I will not leave it so long again.

I will have a few pics to share, but mostly this trip was about being with family and seeing friends for the first time in four years. So the D600 saw a little action, but not much, and for one blissful month I ignored the internet, which partly explains the no blogging. It will take me a few more weeks to sort the pics so I’ll throw a post together when they’re done.

Gear changes

The picture says it all, right? Oh yes, this is happening. To bring you up to date:

Last year I sold the Fuji X-Pro1. Paris was really the clincher – four days of shooting in September and I barely used it, preferring instead the D700 despite it being a pain to lug around. I really liked the X-Pro1, and I wanted to use it, but it just doesn’t suit my style of shooting.  The EVF is second rate and the OVF is all about blind faith, as you’ve no way of knowing for sure the right part of the frame is in focus. Frequently, it isn’t. And yes, it is slow. Even after the version 2 firmware update. I’ve found that people who shoot Canon 5Ds are happy with the X-Pro1’s focus speed. That’s because the 5D mk II was a slow-ass camera. I come from Nikon AF-S, and the X-Pro1 just won’t get you there if you’re shooting on the street or in the studio. For landscapes, it’s incredible – just check out Flixelpix’s stuff. I’m not alone in this view – Steve Huff has made similar remarks. I held onto the camera for a while, out of emotional attachment, but when the XE-1 was tipped I knew I had to sell it immediately or lose a lot more money on the transaction. I also needed the money to cancel out the D600 upgrade. So I sold it, and now the X-Pro1 retail price has dropped, the XE-1 is out and the second-hand market for the former is not pretty. It was the right call. These cameras do not hold their value. Despite all this, I still have a soft spot for the Fuji X range, and on several occasions considered picking up a limited Black X100 when the price tumbled late last year. However, I figured the replacement couldn’t be far away and at CES this month the X100s was announced. On paper it addresses every complaint I had about the original and I’ll be looking to try one out.

Another change is that on my birthday I was spoiled rotten, and now have a nice rotalux deep octa for my Elinchrome strobe. This is going to be huge for portrait and product photography and I can’t wait to get stuck in with that thing.

So, after a year of experiments I got back to one camera and started spending money on books instead. I’ve been reading Michael Freeman’s books on composition, Magnum Contact Sheets to see how the greats did it, and a ton of other stuff about technique. It’s no compensation for daily shooting but between changing jobs and the short winter days in London, it’s better than nothing.

Hang on a tick! What about the … the … and all that …

Film is not dead - Bede McCarthy Photography

Oh you mean my LEICA? :) And the FILM? I thought you’d never ask.

I’m going to shoot film. Not exclusively, but hopefully a hell of a lot. And I’m going to shoot it on my lovely Leica M6, which I bought from a little shop in New Zealand. I’d been keeping an eye out since attending a class at the Leica Akademie in Mayfair last year, but the digital Leica’s are super expensive and sure to drop a grand in value once the new M hits the streets this year. Too risky. An M6 is a different story. It works without a battery and, provided they still make film, will perform the same function in twenty years as it did 14 years ago when it came out of the factory. Even better, its pixels are the size of molecules!

I’ve been wanting to get back into film for a while. I need to stop checking my camera and start looking around for the next shot. I need to get back to the place where the fun was in the taking of photos rather than the viewing and editing. I know everything about Lightroom, and enough about Photoshop to do what I need to do. I know my Nikon DSLR inside out and know how to get results from it in every situation. I’m bored with digital, and I’m taking boring pictures. There is no auto on the Leica. I’m going to have to think about exposure on every shot. I’m going to have to use a light meter. I’m going to have to focus manually and learn to predict the shot so I can zone focus. And I’m going to do all this with one of the finest mechanical cameras out there. My M6 has a story. It’s not a very interesting one, but it has one, and when you’re buying a camera like this that’s important. The old guy who sold it to me also sold it to its first two owners. The second sent it back to Leica Germany last year, where they replaced the flare-prone M6 viewfinder with the newer MP viewfinder. (In my warped mind that makes it a special edition.) This camera has been loved and looked after. But it hasn’t been used much, and that’s where I come in.

I started 2012 with the latest technology money could buy. The Nex-7 and Zeiss 24mm lens. I’m starting 2013 with a camera that was made in 1998, a second-hand lens and even a second hand case I picked up for £79 from The Classic Camera in London. (They are £220 new; bargain!) I’ll even process the film myself – my girlfriend bought me all the hardware for Christmas. Darkroom in the bathroom, anyone?

The only slight bummer is that on my return to the UK I noticed a problem with my lens, which I’d acquired for what in hindsight was a too-good-to-be-true price on eBay. So, instead of playing with my new toy (ahem, tool), I’ve been sitting on my hands while my lens was sent back to Leica in Germany for a service and repair. The good news is, they repaired it for free so it was still a bargain and I’ve just been told that the lens will be back in the UK next week. In fevered anticipation I have been reading up on shooting film and practising opening, reeling and loading film into the developing tank in pitch darkness. I just need a few more chemicals and I’m good to go.

Film is going to be hard. I’m going to feel like a beginner again. But I’m also going to be surprised again, and I can’t wait for that.

2 thoughts on “Where I’ve been, why I sold the Fuji X-Pro1 and how I rediscovered film

  1. Hi there. I stumbled upon your blog whilst researching a Leica M6. Thanks for the informative blog posts – maybe you’d be able to write a little about the developing and scanning part of film photography? I’d be really interested to learn how you go about this. Cheers, Mark

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