A move from Canon and Leica to the Fuji X system: Part 1

Introduction

This is the first part of what will be a short series about my move from Canon and Leica to Fuji.

I have long resisted a move to mirrorless cameras.  In many ways they make a lot of sense; you can see the exposure before you take the picture, the AF is not affected by tolerance errors, and they are smaller and lighter than other options. Despite that, there are a few things that always held me back; they generally come with small sensors, the battery life is poor and the lenses seemed to be aimed at tourists rather than the working pro (in the early days). There's not much tethering support, they don't feel as well made as a pro-DSLR, and I've always found EVFs give me a near-instant headache, blah, blah, blah. Nasty, not for me.

When the Fuji X system first came out it was an interesting proposition but I didn't feel it was ready for pro use and I stuck with my big, heavy Canon full-frame DSLRs (I currently have two 5DIII's, one with an 85L on and one with a 24-70 f2.8 II). The EVFs weren't really there yet (for me) the cameras were too toy-like (to my mind), I wanted to see how the system matured (especially as it related to lens line-up) and to be honest, I wasn't ready - I'd been using SLR cameras since the film days. It was just too different.

By about 18 months ago however, I had got very sick of carrying DSLRs around on family days out, so my Canon gear became my 'studio' gear and I bought myself a Leica M with 35mm, 50mm and 75mm lenses as my personal camera for photographing my own family at home and out and about. Why a Leica rather than one of the other mirrorless options? Well I had to have full frame. I was so stuck in a full frame = great, crop = terrible mindset I couldn't bare to buy a camera with a smaller sensor. That left Sony and Leica. I don't like how the Sony cameras handle - there's just no joy in it, and the lenses are huge, so Leica it was.

I also used the Leica for event photography any anything else that might involve carrying a camera around for hours and hours and hours. I would love to have used the Leica in the studio but there are a few of things that always held me back; I would find it hard to focus it fast enough to capture fleeting moments with young children; especially at the very close distances that I normally work at, tethering comes only via a very expensive add-on grip, and is probably less reliable than Canon (I wasn't going to drop £800 on the grip to find out) and frankly, I can't afford to own two of everything which means if a camera did go down I would be stuck. Pair that with Leica repairs (off to Germany for goodness knows how long) vs Canon CPS gold membership (camera back in hand in 2-3 days) and it's clear that the Leica wasn't going to be a workhorse camera for me.

I've shot the Leica M extensively for my own family photos however and I do love it; yes the metering is almost as old as the manual focusing and it's got a few querks, but I love the way it feels, I love the way the lenses render, I love how small it is for a full frame camera, I love the way it works with such little fuss. If you've never shot with a Leica M I really encourage you to do so if you get the chance. No other camera feels like a Leica M. People go on about the Fuji X cameras feeling well made and solid, but honestly, holding the X-Pro 2 after holding a Leica M is like picking up a sheet-metal pie dish after holding a cast-iron Le Creuset one. Don't get me wrong - the X-Pro 2 feels well made but holding the Leica M is like holding a solid ingot of metal. It genuinely felt like it would outlive me mechanically and I found myself hoping it would never break down electronically as it's the kind of camera you want to keep for the rest of your life - there was nothing needing 'upgrading' on it as it was so simple.

Leica M typ 240, 50mm Summarit f2.4 @ f2.8

Leica M typ 240, 50mm Summarit f2.4 @ f2.8

I don't 'love' my Canons, but I do respect them; they are absolute workhorses in every sense. Utterly reliable, they nail focus every single time and near-instantly (speaking of nails, they feel like you could band nails in with them), they tether with no fuss, the ergonomics and general user-experience has been refined over the decades that EOS cameras have been with us and is nearly flawless. If my life depended on getting a good photo, a high-end Canon is what I'd pick up without a second thought; there is no camera I'd trust more to get the job done, and to do it really well, with zero fuss or drama.

Canon 5DIII, 85mm f1.2L @ f4

Canon 5DIII, 85mm f1.2L @ f4

Fast-forward to now.... With the X-T2 and X-Pro 2, and a now mature lens lineup, the Fuji system piqued my interest again, but why, with all the praise I've just heaped on Canon and Leica would I want to switch? I'm certainly not in the 'xxx isn't good enough for me anymore now that yyy' is out camp; I know I could use my Canons and Leica for the rest of my life and not out-grow their capabilities.

The problem is that with my desire to have a bullet-proof studio setup and a portable home setup I've ended up with two completely separate camera systems. One of which (Canon) needs to have redundancy. I have ended up with so much duplication of gear it's unreal.  And astonishingly expensive. And I still don't have a camera with AF I'd like to carry around, or a light camera I can use for studio work on location.

For me the allure of the Fuji system is being able to have one system that I can use for home and work; one camera for work, one camera for home (that can double as my backup for work), and one set of lenses to share between them.

I NEED tethering in the studio, simple as that. It's so ingrained in my workflow now that I feel completely debilitated without it. The X-T2 is the obvious choice for the studio camera, but I could use the X-Pro wirelessly tethered with an eye-fi card if I had to (in the unlikely event that the X-T2 exploded at the start of a shoot). I never expected the X-T2 to be a camera that I'd fall in love with, but it certainly looked like a camera I could work with.

The X-Pro2 on the other hand, does look like a camera I could love; the hybrid viewfinder is great and I love the ergonomics and general feel in use. It has the same appeal as the Leica - a camera I just want to pick up and start taking photos with - important in a camera that no-one is paying me to use!

The X-T2 and X-Pro2 seem like a match made in heaven to replace my 5DIII's and Leica M... so I did it!  I now have £11k worth (second-hand prices) of camera gear on eBay and £5k worth (new prices) of Fuji gear in my bag.  And what a small bag it is!  I boggles my mind (coming from full-frame DSLR world) that in this tiny, unassuming bag is 2 camera bodies, 4 lenses, spare batteries and a cleaning kit!

It's not even like it's filled to the top with the cameras packed in like sardines; they're in there with plenty of room and easy to get in and out with lenses attached. In fact, it's probably only half full by total volume.  And this is a bag I used to use to transport one 5D with 2 lens and a small cleaning kit.

So what exactly have I bought?

I've got myself an X-T2 with grip, an X-Pro2 Graphite, a 23mm f2, 35mm f2 and the 56mm f1.2.  I've also bought a 60mm macro second hand for a specific project I'm working on, but it's not a direct replacement for my old gear. I also have a free 50mm f2 coming soon thanks to one of Fuji's very generous offers.

I used my Canon 85mm f1.2 for 95% of my professional photography; only for full-length shots or large groups do I begrudgingly switch over to my 24-70. Don't get me wrong; the 24-70 f2.8II is a great lens, but even zoomed to fit on the screen in lightroom I can easily tell which shots are 85L and which were 24-70. The 85L just renders in such a beautiful way. There is a reason why this is such a legendary lens, and it's not just the fact it goes to f1.2. Long story short, the X-T2 and 56mm f1.2 has some very, very big shoes to fill.

And the X-Pro 2 hardly has it any easier; it has to replace a Leica!

Tune in next time to find out how they're doing!