Focus with Fuji X cameras

After selling my Leica M9, I knew that I might have a bit of a challenge shooting work events with just my X-Pro 1. Although I have the three current Fujinon X-mount lenses available, I feel much more comfortable shooting with two bodies instead of swapping lenses in the middle of a job. I also wanted to have a 35mm equivalent focal length, a lens that I rely upon for shooting events.

Fujifilm X-100 | 23mm, f2.8

Given all of that, I convinced myself that a workable option would be get a second camera in the shape of an X-100. I owned an X-100 when it was first released and sold it after a few months, partly out of frustration with it’s lack of manual focus, a la the R-D1. The sale of the X-100 helped finance my M9 purchase, so there is a bit of irony here; I have now gone full-circle by selling the M9 and have purchased the X-100 to cover my 35mm lens needs.

Today was the first opportunity to try the new combo for a work event, the release of government’s Public Accounts for the year (here is a link to the published photos). I have photographed this event for a number of years, using a variety of equipment, so I have a pretty good idea what works. After starting with DSLRs, I moved to rangefinders in the past couple of years. For the event today, I used the XP1 with the 60mm and 35mm lenses and the X-100, thinking that I would be relying upon auto focus. Well, to my surprise, I found I like using what I will call “automated manual focus” (AMF) instead of auto focus.

Fujifilm X-P1 | 35mm, f2.0

I find the AF on the XP1 fast enough and mostly reliable. The X-100 isn’t up to those standards, but it’s workable. In the course of shooting the event, hey how many podium shots do I need before I start to experiment with camera settings, I switched to MF for both cameras. In both cases, I have the AF-L buttons set to focus the camera when pushed. So, a quick push of the AF-L button to focus and a press of the command dial for an even quicker focus peek and I have focused using AMF. The results were great and, perhaps more important, very reliable. Once focused and as long as I kept the same distance to the subject, I could compose and fire away. I only needed to focus again if I changed positions. I believe this is a more reliable way of focusing the cameras, in the appropriate situation.

It was a nice surprise to find that I could work this way reliably. It may not be as fast as MF with a RF, but it’s close and once focused, I can concentrate on exposure and composition. Who knows, with a little more practise, I might be as fast with AMF on my X cameras as I was with MF on the M9 and the R-D1.

Fujifilm X-P1 | 60mm, f3.2

Note: although this post has dealt exclusively with focus and suitability for working with Fuji X cameras for shooting events, I can’t ignore the issue of image quality and high ISO performance. The X-100 delivers very good results in both cases. The X-Pro 1 and lenses are as good as or surpass any other camera and lens combination that I have used. I love shooting with the XP1!

Note 2: how to make the X-100 as responsive as possible. Ideally, I shoot events in burst mode, which the XP1 can accommodate, as long as you restrict your bursts to two or three shots at a time. Shooting bursts is a non-starter with the X-100.

To make the X-100 as responsive as I can, I do the following:

  • Shoot in single frame mode
  • Turn off image review
  • Use the fastest SD card available

With this setup, I find that I can fire off single shots faster than I could with the R-D1, which required cocking the shutter between exposures. Although not as fast as proper burst mode, this setup certainly works for me.

2 Comments

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  1. Good tips! It seems that most people (including reviewers) forget this using the AF-L button for what you term as “AMF”. It is in the instruction manual, which again most reviewers appear to neglect in the arrogance they think they know better!

    I use this technique myself to get in the ‘distance zone’ initially; then concentrate on my shot full manual focus adjustment (if required). Sometimes the focus area you want is not always the best contrast point for the camera to lock on and shooting wide open is the trickiest to master is such cases.
    This avoids all that wasted time and effort turning the focus ring numerous rotations before finding the focus point. Usually a small rotation will deliver the goods.

    I’m really enjoying the X-Pro 1 and I think it has disciplined me into becoming a better and more conscious photographer. Most of all, I feel I am hold a camera; not a gadget!

    • Thanks Yama

      You have a good point.

      While I understand that not all cameras are for all users, much of the criticism aimed at the XP1 is a result a poor working knowledge of the camera.

      I am still figuring out how best to use it and have my moments of frustration. However, the benefits of the XP1 continue to grow, while the frustrating moments diminish. Being familiar with rangefinders has been a big help in picking up the nuances of the Fuji X cameras.

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