Why I choose to shoot with a fixed lens camera like the Fuji X100T


A reader emailed me to compliment me for my photo essays from my Japan trip with my son. and asked me why I chose to shoot with a Fuji X100T, a fixed lens mirrorless non-full-frame camera.

“Why not a DSLR or some other mirrorless interchangeable lens camera?” she asked, considering that the price of an X100T can get you a pretty good interchangeable lens camera.

The X100T and the X100 series of cameras are an acquired taste, I have to say. I use DSLRs and mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras too but if you ask me why I prefer to carry just the X100T, it is harder to explain. I will try.

1. Quality. The APS-C sensor on the X100T is the same one in the top of the line Fuji XT-1. It gives 16 megapixel images that are sharp and as good as any full frame sensor. I often shoot at 3200 ISO without an issue. The X100T handles low light with very little ugly noise.

Frankly, the quality gap between APS-C and Full-frame isn’t that big a deal, as some pro photographers like Zack Arias have shown. The gap between full-frame and medium format, yes. But not for the former, especially if you don’t plan to print huge prints. And frankly, you can print fairly large and detailed prints from this camera anyways.

I know. It sounds sacrilegious to say it but full-frame matters very little in the current scheme of things (please don’t start an APS-C vs Full-frame flame war in the comments below).

And Fuji is one of the few companies that make lenses and film. So their color and glass expertise is incredible. I love the various film simulations on their cameras.

2. Lens. The lens is a fixed 23mm f2, which is equivalent to a 35mm full frame field of view. And because they fix the lens into the camera, they can make the protrusion very small and optimize the lens to the sensor. You can’t do that with interchangeable lens cameras due to the variance in the lens mounting.

I like shooting in 35mm for travel, it is one of the most versatile focal lengths. Though for my recent Japan trip, I shot slightly wider with a WCL-X100 wide-angle adaptor which gives me about 28mm full frame equivalent.

Fixed lens has its pros and cons. The con is that you can’t shoot everything. The pro is that you can’t shoot everything. Let me explain.

Not being able to shoot everything means that you end up focusing on making good photos with what you have, and focusing on composition. I find that liberating.

So I cannot shoot that bird 2km away with my X100T. I don’t shoot it then. It’s not a big deal.

You take the camera you need for the type of photos you want, of course. If you are on a trip to shoot birds, you are going to need a camera that has 200mm to 600mm options. But for general travel, I don’t think I’ll need my telephoto lens.

And being able to zoom can sometimes make you lazy. You think you can get something by zooming instead of trying to move to a better spot for the shot.

The fixed lens also sometimes means you have to move up close to the subject. It often means more intimate photos.

3. The camera is small and light, and doesn’t call attention to itself. Interchangeable lens cameras, both DSLRs and mirrorless ones, are usually big and loud (unless you are using small m4/3 cameras with tiny m4/3 primes, like the LUMIX GM-5). People can see you a mile away. And sometimes you don’t want that. Also, lugging big lenses and a heavy body is a real pain, especially when you get to my age.

4. It looks CHIO (beautiful). It’s a funny thing but having a camera that looks retro-nice makes you happier. Who knew?

5. The Viewfinder. The X100 series has a hybrid viewfinder. You can choose to shoot in optical or EVF mode. Some people like the feel of optical. Some like the what-you-see-is-what-you-get nature of EVFs. I like having both options available to me.

The viewfinder position is also very useful for a rangefinder shooter like me. I can see the viewfinder with my right eye and see the rest of the real world with my left eye, and having that visual worldview is important to me.

6. The Silence. The X100 series uses a leaf shutter. It is literally silent. For a stealth street shooter like me, it is a godsend. I even turn off the fake shutter sound provided. And because it is a leaf shutter, there is next to no vibration. I can shoot handheld below 1/15 and still be fine.

Some current cameras have electronic shutters that do the same silent thing but I’m old school and I guess I’m fond of the good ole leaf shutter.

7. The High Speed sync. The leaf shutter means I can shoot at high speeds with my flash, doing stuff like using flash during a bright sunny day.

8. The Built-in ND filter. I can shoot at f2 in broad daylight by cutting the light up to 3 stops, to shoot portraits of people in the sun, with shallow depth of field. Or shoot long exposure shots.

9. The Controls and Handling. The X100 controls are intuitive and very familiar to someone who used to shoot manual film cameras. The only other camera I like as much for controls is the X100T’s big brother, the XT-1. This is of course a subjective thing. But feel matters a lot to me.

The X100T also comes with USB charging, which is a great boon for an ultralight traveler like me. I don’t need to carry the charger if I don’t want to. Or if I take the charger along, I can charge two batteries at once: one in the charger and one in the camera.

10. The Wifi. This model has wifi on it, compared to the X100S before it. I own both the X100S and X100T and love both versions, but the wifi on the X100T has allowed me to shoot and send my shortlisted photos to my iPhone/iPad to be edited and uploaded immediately, and as a backup. That’s handy for a social media addict like me.

I’ve traveled with both an interchangeable lens camera and the X100T before. Like for my recent SF trip in June, I packed an X-T1 with three lenses (I had an event to shoot) and my X100T. But when I reviewed my photos for my SF photo essay, I found that 80% of that trip was taken with the X100T. It tells me that I enjoy shooting with it a lot and my hit rate of favorites is higher.

So that is why for my trip to Japan, I decided just to take that (also, with my son along, I didn’t feel I’d have the time to fiddle with lenses or a more elaborate camera).

Now if Fuji will make an X100 with a flip screen next. That will be neat. Then I won’t need to lie down to do low shots, and look like a bozo on the streets of Japan. Oh and make it weather sealed too, while you’re at it.

P.S. Check out some of my more talented friends who shoot with the X100T, like Gent Ho and Aik Beng (and his Instagram).

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