Several months ago I signed up to take a photo workshop in Cuba led by the one and only Vincent Versace. After trading in my Leicas and deciding to leave my beloved Nikons at home, I took two brand new Fuji X-Pro 2 cameras with me to Cuba. Why Fuji’s? Small size, lightweight, not imposing, a film camera look to them and terrific optics. In addition to the two bodies, the lenses that I packed were all zooms to maximize focal lengths, yet keep the total number of lenses to a minimum. I brought the following: 50-140, 16-55, 10-24 and the new 1.4 teleconverter. Interestingly, after reviewing what focal lengths were used the most, it was evenly split between the 16-55, the 50-140 and the 50-140 with the teleconverter. I had thought that I would use the 10-24 a lot, but it was used very sparingly. I will get to why that was so further into the article.
Carrying two newly released cameras might seem somewhat foolhardy, but Fuji has a history of terrific quality control. I knew we would be walking a significant amount in various neighborhoods, and I wanted to be able to always carry two bodies to maximize lens choice without having to always change lenses. These two concerns dictated that the Fujis would be the better choice, and they did not disappoint. Carrying both bodies all day was not an issue. And at the end of the day—even with two compromised shoulders—I felt as good as when we started in the morning.
The X-Pro 2 has a hybrid viewfinder giving it advantages of both a rangefinder camera and a DSLR. I wanted to limit my need to “chimp” so I chose to mostly use the electric viewfinder. I found the screen very clear, bright and responsive. There was no discernible lag or slow refresh rate. Being able to “see” the scene while shooting certainly helped with my exposures. As predicted, the camera did not draw attention upon itself, and I was able to walk through any neighborhood not looking like the paparazzi. This was particularly helpful to me as I have never been a “people” photographer and this was my first outing as such.
The quality of Fuji glass is well known. Having image stabilization on the 50-140 was a godsend, especially when I used the teleconverter. Both the 16-55 and the 50-140 are very sharp, so image sharpness was not a problem nor was shooting in low light. Both of these lenses are f2.8 and while not very small their balance with the bodies allowed for successful shooting even in low light situations. I had the camera set up for auto ISO and used the entire range. Even images taken at an ISO of 12,800 were usable.
As I have previously mentioned, this was my first major outing as a “people” shooter and Vincent’s advice was invaluable. He suggested that I hang back in the shadows and not initially get into peoples’ faces. The technique I adopted with his encouragement was to start photographing from a distance and then slowly approach the subject. This allowed for two things. One was that I initially caught the individual without pretense, in a natural disposition, seeing their true personality. Secondly, it allowed the subjects to slowly see me and give them the opportunity to tell me “no,” or to allow me into their world.
I only shot RAW and had the camera set for “Velvia.” I chose that because the Cuban people have such beautiful and luscious skin color. Since I only shot RAW I would decrease the saturation in post by 10% and this was made into an importing preset. For sharpening in post, I used the suggestions of Peter Bridgwood. He is a Fuji photographer who has written extensively on getting the best sharpening without the “watercolor” effects some have complained about.
I wanted to concentrate on composition so I kept the shooting parameters to a minimum. I, therefore, had the cameras set to auto ISO and aperture priority. I mostly used only three apertures: f2.8, f5.6 and f8. The first as it was the lenses maximum f-stop and got the best bokeh, and the others for better depth of field.
I had one camera on my shoulder, ready at all times and the other in an easily accessible fanny pack that also contained extra batteries and SD cards. Speaking of batteries, I consistently used 2-3 a day for each camera. Both cameras were on all the time ready to take an image. I brought two chargers, so battery power was never an issue. In addition, the chargers are small, so they did not take up much space in my camera bag (Think Tank Airport Essentials).
I did have two issues with the cameras. One required an adjustment on my part, and the other for which I found an in-field solution. The built-in diopter adjustment wheel has a tendency to rotate, so I found myself wondering why the image was not in focus in the EVF until I realized that the dial had moved. It was an easy fix with a very small amount of black gaffer tape. In the future, it would be great if Fuji had a better lock system for the diopter. Now, when I use the camera I always test to make sure that I can see clearly what the EVF is displaying. The other issue was somewhat more troublesome and has been written about elsewhere. The exposure compensation rotates too easily, so one has to look at the dial or the viewfinder to make sure an unwarranted adjustment has not been made. If there was a way for Fuji to have the factory make the dial rotate less freely, I would happily send it back for a retrofit. Having to turn the ISO dial was not an issue for me as I either use Auto ISO or specific ISO’s depending on whether I am outside or inside (a remnant from my Leica days).
The Fujis performed beautifully. They allowed me to shoot unobtrusively; they helped to increase my comfort shooting people, and I came back with some terrific images. Selecting and bringing them to Cuba was without a doubt the correct choice.