In the zone with the Fujifilm X100T

Field testing the Fujifilm X100T camera on the streets of Tokyo


The Fujifilm FinePix X100 has, since its launch in 2010, become something of an iconic camera with its classic styling and skilful fusing of analog controls and innovative digital technologies.

I became a fan the first time I looked through the viewfinder of an X100 in a camera store in Singapore in 2011. I never did buy one, but handling that camera was the reason I became a Fujifilm shooter, starting with the wonderful compact X10 and moving onto the steadfast X-E1. I resisted the pull of the improved X100S when it was introduced and bought an X-E2 instead. The newly released X100T with its various internal and external refinements was, however, too much of a temptation and I’m now the very happy owner of an outstanding example of Japanese engineering.

I’ve read a lot of reviews of this camera, and there’s a lot of love out there for it. Rather than review the X100T, I decided to test it out on the streets, and in the tradition of classic street photography, using zone focusing. It wasn’t a particularly scientific test, but it was an interesting experiment and a lot of fun.

The gear

I shoot mostly on the streets and this machine is made for that type of photography. In the few weeks I’ve had with the X100T, I’ve found it to be a nimble camera, its auto-focusing abilities more than good enough for my needs, and its manual focusing tools equally responsive. I got comfortable with the EVF on the X-E camera, but I’m attempting to photograph on the streets primarily through the optical viewfinder set up in electronic rangefinder mode. I love, just love, the look of the classic chrome film simulation, so that’s what I’m currently shooting as my default jpeg setting and that’s what you’re seeing in the sample color photos.

Considering the camera’s qualities and the 35mm equivalent field of view of its lens, I decided to try shooting the X100T using zone focusing, a technique I’m not overly familiar with but one that is a street shooting standard. Zone focusing is simply pre-focusing the camera to a certain distance, matched with a certain aperture, to produce a band of space, or zone, in the frame that is in varying degrees of focus.

With the X100 lens, setting an aperture of f/8 — which seems to be an optimal choice for bright daytime shooting with an APS-C sensor — and focusing at a distance of 3 meters will ensure anything from about 1.5 meters to 30 meters away from the camera will be more or less in focus. Focusing at 4 meters shaves a bit off the near end but stretches the focus to infinity, while focusing at 1.5 meters gives a narrow field of focus from about 1 to 2.7 meters away from the camera.

So, armed with this knowledge — and a DoF calculator app — I took to the streets of Tokyo to try my luck with zone focusing.

Day 1 — Shibuya

The first day was a great day to be field testing on the streets. Mild, sunny winter weather, clear blue skies and the color and life of Tokyo’s Shibuya district. Early test photos showed — I did a lot of chimping that first day — that I needed to increase my shutter speeds to stop motion blur, so I set my ISO to Auto 1600 with a 1/125 minimum shutter speed. I was focusing around 2.5–3 meters and was having a fair amount of success. The traffic shot gives an idea of the depth of field at this distance. When the action got faster, as in the case of the skateboarder, I manually selected speeds of 1/250 or 1/500.

Day 2 -Nakano

The weather had turned. The skies were grey, dull, drizzly. The air was icy, the rain almost sleet. Nakano is a residential and commercial district in western Tokyo. A narrow, cluttered grid of streets north of the train station is packed with small bars, restaurants and stores. It was 2 degrees when I headed out in the early afternoon. I thought how nice it would be if the X100T had come with weather sealing while I made do with an umbrella. I had opened up my aperture to f/5.6, kept the same ISO and shutter settings as the previous day and pre-focused to 3 meters. With light fading, I decided to take the camera indoors and wandered around Nakano Broadway, a unique shopping mall famed for its many otaku oriented stores.

The next day was just as grey and miserable, an extension of the day before, though the afternoon temperature had climbed to 4 degrees. I decided to quickly walk the same streets with the same settings, only this time locking manual focus on my subjects with the rear AFL button. I kept my aperture at f/5.6 and in terms of focus the resulting photos were not too different to those I took the previous day. Inside, though, I set my aperture to f/4 and the increased shutter speeds and narrower depth of field meant that my subjects were sharper. By locking focus I also felt more confident that I would successfully get the shot.

Day 3 — Shinjuku

Finally the rain stopped. The next day I thought it would be good to try both the X100T and some zone focusing at night, so I wandered around Shinjuku’s atmospheric entertainment areas to capture some action. Manual focus is often easier to achieve than autofocus when it’s dark, though Shinjuku at night isn’t exactly dark. I set my ISO at 1600 and my aperture to f/3.6 and, using the OVF, I started snapping some shots. At some point I switched to the EVF and with the added clarity the zone focusing became quite easy, the shimmering focus peaking outlines letting me know what was in focus as I approached a scene.

Conclusion

Zone focusing is another useful tool in the kit and for that reason I think it’s worth trying to master. The ‘set and forget’ approach opens up opportunities for shots that may be difficult to get otherwise and for some types of photography it could be the best way to operate. In 2015, we’re lucky that modern cameras, with their electronic genius, offer the photographer so much more support than the old analog tools ever could, so we can choose the setup or technique that best fits the shot.

The X100T? I love this camera. This compact little work of art can — as it accompanies me almost everywhere, attached to my wrist, in a jacket pocket or in a small bag — help me to photograph almost everything I want to capture with elegance and quality. If we look back through the history of photography, we can see hundreds, thousands, of photographic masterpieces, most of them made with comparatively primitive tools. For the rest of us photographers, to be able to work and play with something like the X100T is almost like being handed a magical device.

Basili Mobile, January 2015

An extended version of this report with a complete set of photos was originally published at basilimobilephotography.com