Style vs Spec

Day after day, more and more products are gearing towards “lifestyle” products that are essentially blend into your life, making it apart of your routine, something that you can’t live without, something that resembles you, something in style that fits your personality, look and character. It’s not hard to see these products are getting more attention and sales as compared to “traditional” products that compete with specifications and reliability.

An easy example that can be drawn will be Apple. Apple had never produced any products that are superior in terms of specification. However, people used to say “it just work” on Apple products, and that their design aesthetics adhered to what they are looking for: simple and minimalist. Apple has a huge crowd of followers, and I’m one of those who purchase their product, though I don’t classified myself as their cult follower as I don’t appreciate every single thing they produced.

In the world of photography, it has always been a race of superiority in terms of specifications. With every product launch, you will only hear about how many stops of dynamic range, how many frames per second, how large is the buffer, how fast the camera auto focuses and so on. There was once a megapixel war, followed by mirrorless versus DSLR war and so on. Much of it still revolves around the technical aspect of the product. Well, it’s hard to deny that as we are actually talking about a rather technically engineered product here.

However, there were those who seek to breakthrough and go the other way. Leica was one of them. Their camera has never been “the best” in any class of specification that you can think of, unless you are saying highest price is one of the attribute you are looking at. But still, Leica managed to develop a cult of followers that believes in their philosophy and approach in photography, hence they are able to continue to survive until today. Moderate specification that command premium price tag and yet still able to sell. They are selling “feeling” and “lifestyle” more than anything else.

Another company that kind of follow this approach was none other than Fujifilm. Their camera has long been accused of copying Leica’s rangefinder design. Seriously, looking at the X100 series and the X-Pro series, it’s hard for people to say they are not. Fujifilm has never been the “best” in any of their specification. They were late in the digital camera business, they were late in the mirrorless craze, but yet, they managed to develop a group of cult followers that believed in their “passion for photography”.

My point of view is, Fujifilm has been pretty successful is differentiating themselves and building their own group of followers. They started off with retro design on their camera bodies, differentiating their camera with “X-Trans” sensor technology, adding in dials that provide tactile control resembling those from the film cameras and so on. They did gathered quite a lot of interest, but in order to continue to grow further, apparently it’s not enough.

Sony on the other hand has always been a company that focus only on specifications over form and functions. Sony cameras in particular has always been leading the edge in some key development areas, particularly those surrounding the imaging sensor. A7 has revolutionized the mirrorless camera line by bringing full frame sensors with it, followed by the recent launch of A9 which wiped out most of the advantages that DSLR holds against mirrorless. Their camera has never been a looker, but their performance will keep you wanting to go back for more.

It’s been pretty clear that lately Fujifilm has emphasized more on specs lately and started to detour themselves away from their retro-ness. They started to adopt top plate LCD, they talk more about specification than anything else, they started to venture into videography business for their X-series camera line-up and so on. It does make business sense for these decisions. However, the current state of of products from Fujifilm makes me feel that they are not sure where to go. The GFX and X-H1, to some extent are good initiatives from Fujifilm to grow their product lines. But the fact that they tried to innovate but at the same time still kind of afraid to let go of their retro styling, makes the GFX and X-H1 look just weird. I believe they could have just gone all out with both of these camera and ditched all the dials if they were to incorporate the top plate LCD, just make them with futuristic design to differentiate from the existing retro styled offering. I believe they had built a strong enough cult followers for their retro cameras, is time to move on with something more modern that opens up a new market segment for them.

It seems to be that all manufacturer has bowed to specification over style. Even Leica has been busy with a slew of “modernized” camera like the SL, CL, TL and Q. It remains the be seen whether this will be the way moving forward. I would really want to see if any manufacturer can strike the balance of the two (the Hasselblad X1D is pretty close in my opinion, but I have yet to see or try one in person for myself to comment). Anyway, I’m just contemplating on this while I’m thinking about where should I move on next in terms of my photography gear. Style or spec? Let’s wait and see what else 2018 has to offer for us. Till then.

Back to where it begins: Fujifilm X100F

X100FIt may come as a little surprise to some, but yes I’m back owning a Fujifilm camera, and this time it’s the X100F. Those who know me or followed my blog will remember I am a big fan for Fujifilm camera in terms of their controls and JPEG rendering, but I sold off the whole Fujifilm X system two years back for a couple of reasons.

I had also owned the Fujifilm X100S briefly for a few months when I’m using it alongside my X-E2, but sold it because of some issue with the configuration and ergonomics of the camera, which was annoying when use alongside with X-E2 at that point of time.

X100FNow, enters the fourth generation. Is this the ultimate Fujifilm X-series camera that will lure me to switch back to Fujifilm? Well, I guess that’s not the question here. I know when I decided to ditch my Fujifilm system, a lot of people started to label me as “anti-Fujifilm” and seems like I had become the traitors of the local Fujifilm community here in Singapore. It didn’t bother me, it’s my photography journey anyway, and I don’t need anyone else to dictate what should I use.

All I can say is, I know what I want, what I need, and what my camera can deliver. Hence, I choose whichever camera that I want regardless of the brand it is associated with. For those people who choose to remain as a fanboy (doesn’t matter what brand), I wish you all the best and please stay out of my life.

X100FThe reason why I decided to get this camera is because I’m looking for a simple go-to camera for daily use, preferably not too pricey and flashy. In fact I had been looking around for quite some time. I pondered about micro four third system with a pancake lens, I pondered about other mirrorless camera with a pancake lens, I pondered about 1″ compact cameras, I pondered about the “ultimate” compact camera which is the RX1 series… but in the end, after considering the size, weight, ease of use, ergonomics and other factors, I decided to give Fujifilm another chance by trying out on X100F.

I knew that lens, I’m still familiar with their menu, I can grasp the control quickly, the only unknown is how well will the new X-Trans III sensor performs. I won’t be doing a review on this camera as there were already a whole lot of them on the internet, but I will definitely share my unbiased thoughts and feelings about this camera once I clock enough milage on it. Let’s see how everything unfolds. Till then.

The Perfect Camera

Everyone is looking for the perfect camera that can do everything and anything that you ask it to do. It should have blazing fast auto focus, superb high ISO performance, extremely wide dynamic range, somewhere around 36 to 50 megapixel would be great, extra long battery life, well built, weather sealed and comfortable ergonomics will be a plus point too. It doesn’t sounds much… right?

After shooting for couple of years, changing system from Canon to Fujifilm and then to Leica, I can surely say that there is no such thing as “perfect camera” out there in the wild. There simply just isn’t any. Period. As a matter of fact, I can even argue that all cameras available now in the market are the “best camera” money can buy, so just go and grab one that you enjoy using and start shooting.

It always puzzled me when people starts to debate about which gear is the best, or which gear is better than which gear by breaking down all the specs, lab test result and so on. Every camera will have their pros and cons, hence there will be no perfect camera. If a perfect camera was made, there will be no more camera to be released thereafter because there simply isn’t anything that can surpass the “perfect camera”, right?

To be honest, most of the cameras out there now are capable enough to produce image with reasonably good quality. So in the end it really boils down to the user, whether he or she can make the most out of the camera he or she is using. So there’s no need, as example, for Fujifilm X-T2 users to be overly defensive about people who says the Sony A9 is a better camera, or for Nikon user to engage in a debate whether Canon or Nikon is better.

I’m not asking you to totally ignore the technology advancement in camera system, it’s good to keep yourself up to date on what’s being offered out there by various manufacturer. At the end of the day, what’s important is the image you produce, not the gear you used. So, just use anything that you are comfortable with, don’t bother if people look down on your gear, just keep shooting. The camera that you can use to take a shot that you are proud of is the “perfect camera” for you. So don’t worry and keep shooting. Till then.

A moment of Zen

A Zen Garden of Tofuku-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan.
I brought my Leica M-P, a Sony A7 (which I borrowed) and my 4 lenses (21mm, 35mm, 50mm and 90mm) during my trip to Japan in early April. The idea was to use the 50mm or 90mm on the A7, while having the 21mm or 35mm mounted on my M, a typical 2 bodies setup to cover the focal length range while traveling.

So for 10 days I’m carrying them around, climbing mountains, braving seas, venturing woods… I can feel their weight, but it’s not particularly heavy or unbearable for a day of walking. But wouldn’t it be great if you can just travel around with one camera and one lens? It’s definitely possible, and there are those who already did, some even with prime lens (fixed focal length) instead of a zoom lens.

While I was taking a short break at Tofuku-ji, a temple in Kyoto famous for it’s Zen philosophy, I sat in front of one of the Zen garden, pondering about the Zen-ness of photography. Perhaps less is more, perhaps simplicity is more, perhaps cleanliness is more. Yeah, why not. I’ll post this challenge to myself for my future trip and see how things turn out. I’ll try to cover a long trip with one camera and one lens.

“How can that be possible?”

This is the first response I get when I brought up this idea to a friend of mine. I think those who succeeded shooting this way when they travel are those who knew and clear about what they want to shoot. Landscape or street, food or people and so on. There are those who simply want to challenge his mind to think for a different perspective or framing while limiting himself on one focal length. Either way, it will be interesting to see how things unfold.

“Won’t you feel wasted if you can’t get the shot you could have taken? Why torturing yourself on a relaxing trip?”

As I have stressed previously in other post, I won’t die without taking the shot. So I believe it’s really okay for me to miss a shot. Enjoying the moment in real time is certainly more important. As for torturing? Hmm, it’s subjective. One may see carrying loads of gear as more torturing than staying with one camera and one lens. I’m neutral on this so why not just give it a try.

Oh, I just recalled that I did traveled with one camera and one lens before, but it was a 3 days get away in Penang Island, Malaysia. I remember I brought my Fujifilm X-T1 and XF23mm f1.4 to cover the whole trip. Yeah, it’s doable. Perhaps I should try to do it a little more often. Let me know your thoughts about traveling with minimal gear, till then.

Leica M goes on holiday

The title is a little misleading, but you will get what I mean as you read on. I’m back from my holiday in Japan for around 10 days, travelling through a few locations, utilizing the JR Pass. I spent a few days in Tokyo before flying off from Haneda Airport, and I dropped by at Leica Ginza Salon to send in my friend’s Leica M for rangefinder calibration. The calibration took about 1-2 hours to complete, and it only cost 3,240 yen (tax included), which in my opinion is a very reasonable price (in fact it’s cheap by Leica’s standard).

I also dropped my M for general cleaning and checking of rangefinder at the same time, if there’s any problem I’ll get them fixed as well. So after dropping both cameras at the store, I went off searching for lunch and shopped around that area. It’s Ginza, you get all sorts of funky trendy shops and not to mention some famous camera shops around the corner. Later on, I just pop back to the store, flipped through some photography books and both cameras were serviced. It only took them 3 hours in total for both cameras.

Based on my understanding, general checking and cleaning of sensor usually took about 1 hour, while rangefinder calibration may goes up to 2 hours. Either way, it’s considered a very quick turnaround time for me and I’m very pleased with their services.

So here’s the thing: in Singapore, any rangefinder calibration of Leica M camera can only be done by sending your camera back to Germany. Apparently they can’t do it locally because the lack of tools. At least that’s what I was being told. I’m not sure how much it will cost to send in the camera for rangefinder calibration, but I would assume it will not be as cheap as 3,240 yen. Furthermore, it will take you months (usually 3 months based on average feedback) for your camera to travel for holiday in Germany while you are still stuck at home. Sensor cleaning turnaround times will depends, fastest I have experienced so far is 2 days, but I do heard before some cases of minor cleaning can be done on the spot.

So, that brings us to my point. Instead of letting my M goes on holiday for 3 months, why not I go on holiday myself to Japan instead? At anytime I would rather go to Japan, send in my camera and get it serviced, and then I can start using it on the spot in Japan. At the very least I get to enjoy with my camera, but not leaving it to be attended by some unknown person who just anyhow pack it and deliver it back to Germany.

I wonder when will Leica Singapore be improving on their service level. Anyway, not putting much hope on them either. I’m more than willing to spend my time and money in Leica Japan instead. For those of you who are facing similar problem, do consider to check out their services in Leica Ginza Salon. Till then.