Cuba: The Tale of Two Cameras, Part 2

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In my previous Cuba post I shared the background of how I ended up taking the Fuji X-Pro1 to Cuba. Now for the part you've been waiting for...shooting with the X-Pro1. I jumped right in from the beginning with the X-Pro1 and didn't look back. Although the first time I was shooting with it I did have a little freak out. I had taken a few photos and then the camera wouldn't fire. I was getting an error message that I didn't understand. Fortunately our plans changed and we went to get lunch before continuing to shoot. This gave me the time to pull out the manual and (desperately) search for an answer. It turned out I had to reset the file numbering count. A simple fix, but one I wouldn't have figured out on my own. I could breathe again. Luckily that was the only equipment malfunction of the trip.

One of the key reasons I used the X-Pro1 the entire trip was its small size and minimal weight. In the other post I mentioned how the D800 is a stickler for solid technique, but it's also a large, heavy camera (relative to the X-Pro1) with lenses to match. A lighter, smaller camera is easier to handhold and keep steady. This gave me more confidence in handholding for sharp images, particularly when I was shooting at slower shutter speeds.

The smaller form factor of mirrorless cameras translates to smaller lenses. I had the 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses. I used the 18-55 almost all the time. The 18-55mm focal length range is pretty standard for kit lenses, which may make you think it's at best an average quality lens. Not so! The Fuji lens is high quality and has a variable aperture of f/2.8-4. Therefore in addition to quality superior to a standard kit lens, it's also a faster lens since most 18-55's are f/3.5-5.6. The 18-55mm range translates to about 27-80mm which was a great range for walk around photography. When I was photographing in city and small town environments I was up close and personal with my subjects. The 18-55 was a good range for people, buildings and cars. Of course there were times when I would have liked to go a little wider or zoom in a bit more, but that can happen with any lens. I pulled out the 55-200 a few times for some building details, however it mostly stayed in my bag. In comparison to the 18-55, the 55-200 felt like a giant lens when I put it on (though still smaller than my regular DSLR telephotos). Both lenses are stabilized.

I felt the small equipment size was also a benefit when photographing people and walking around in general. The smaller camera draws less attention, so when the camera is hanging at my hip it's not likely the first thing people see. Even if I'm shooting a street scene the camera gives me a lower profile, potentially drawing less attention. I think a smaller camera (and lens) can be less intimidating to people. Coincidentally, I had a taste of what it's like to be the subject instead of the photographer. I was sitting on a wall photographing fisherman when I saw a tourist walking towards me. I didn't pay him much attention, then sensed that he stopped off to my side. I glanced up and he was taking a picture of me (don't ask me why). I distinctly remember staring into the big black hole of the lens and thinking that's what it's like to be photographed. I'm always the one behind the camera and haven't given much thought to how things look from the subject's perspective. This guy had a DSLR and a large lens (not long, but wide) - at least that's the image burned in my memory. So I can't help but think that a compact camera/lens combo is less bothersome to the subject.

Overall, the feature set of the X-Pro1 worked well for me. The electronic viewfinder (EVF) took a little getting used to. I liked ability to customize what information was shown in the EVF. I became good friends with the live histogram and virtual horizon. The live histogram was super useful when making exposure compensation adjustments. I could accurately dial in the right amount of compensation without taking a test shot and while keeping my eye on the viewfinder. Quite helpful when doing street portraits and I didn't have a lot of time. I also took advantage of Auto ISO. Of course Auto ISO is nothing new, my D800 has it, but I'd never used it much before this trip. In Cuba I fully embraced it. Walking the streets I would encounter varied lighting conditions and Auto ISO made life easier. I set Auto ISO to max out at 3200. The X-Pro1 does great at high ISOs. I'm not saying there is no noise at 3200, but it's easily manageable in post-processing. With the 18-55 lens, the camera would adjust the ISO to maintain a shutter speed of 1/30 or faster. A good fit for the lens which is easily handheld at that shutter speed.

For me the X-Pro1 was the best tool for the job (compared to the D800). It was a combination of the form factor and the image quality. The D800 has the image quality but not the small size. On the other hand, I wouldn't take poor image quality just for small size. The X-Pro1 hit the sweet spot. I can't speak to how the other Fuji cameras, or other mirrorless systems, compare. This is simply my experience with choosing the X-Pro1 over the D800. The camera is not taking the pictures for me, but the right tool makes my job easier.

If you have any questions about the X-Pro1 and my experiences with it feel free to leave them in the comments.