Prime Time

dscf4886FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/8, 1/350 sec, ISO200)

We planned to visit the de Young museum in the Golden Gate Park but had some time to kill. Tea time! Luckily the Japanese Tea Garden just around the corner.

But I brought the wrong lenses. I was prepared to shoot inside the museum so I only took my small ThinkTank Retrospective 5 camera bag with the Fuji XF 14mm and the XF 23 mm. Both fantastic lenses but not exactly what I would choose for garden pictures. The XF 10-24 and the XF 55-200 would be a better combo for that. But I was too lazy to go back to our car so I shoot with what I had with me.

dscf4893FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/8, 1/70 sec, ISO200)
dscf4898FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/8, 1/75 sec, ISO200)

Followers of my blog know that the Fuji XF 14mm is my favorite lens. I bought it more than 3 years ago and even though I got many more lenses since then this is still my most important lens. I shoot it all the time when in Asia for street and architecture but it is also a fantastic lens for landscape photography. It is tack sharp from corner to corner, there is zero distortion and contrast is great too.

My XF 10-24mm is sharp too especially stopped down a little but the shots that I get with the prime lens are different. It is hard to explain but it’s there. Somehow the shots have a better “clarity” but I really don’t know how to express is correctly. I can’t even express it in my native language. Maybe this works: It’s like compressed music from an MP3 file compared to lossless or MP3 with a very high bitrate.

dscf4902FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/9, 1/60 sec, ISO250)
dscf4905FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/9, 1/110 sec, ISO200)

With the Fuji XF 23/1.4 it is the same. Of course you can set the XF 10-24 or the XF 18-55 to 23mm and take the shot but the prime will give you a different image.

What does it mean in real life? For me the difference is not enough to shoot landscapes with prime lenses. I like the fact that I can switch from a 10mm lens to a 14mm or a 16 mm or 23mm without the need to change the lens. Especially in wide angles every single mm changes how the lens renders the world, i.e. how the lens pronounces the foreground. I prefer to have that freedom over the last bit of quality that a prime lens would offer me.

So why do I have all those primes? It’s simply for two reasons: they are either much smaller or they are much brighter. My favourite lens, the Fuji XF 14/2.8 R is smaller and lighter than the XF 18-55mm and that is not a big lens. And most of all it gives me an image that I can’t get from the kit zoom. The Fuji XF 27/2.8 that I really love is smaller than a teleconverter. It’s almost like a body cap.

And than there are the fast primes like the fantastic XF 16/1.4, the XF 23/1.4 and the XF 56/1.2. Those are fantastic lenses that allow you to separate your subject from the background or to shoot at low light. No zoom, not even the fantastic Canon 24-70/2.8 II, on a full frame camera can give you those images. So those are my two reasons why I still prefer primes for anything but landscape photography.

dscf4918FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/8, 1/60 sec, ISO320)
dscf4926FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/5, 1/150 sec, ISO200)

So now I have a lot of primes beside the zooms. Isn’t that bigger and heavier than to simply carry a DSLR plus the three zooms (16-35, 24-70, 70-200)? And how about the time that’s wasted to swap the primes?

The big difference is that I do not carry everything with me all the time. When on a hike I take the 10-24 and the 55-200. When in a museum I take the 14 and the 23 or 27. This way the gear I have with me is much smaller and lighter. Beside that it’s rather awkward to pull out a DSLR with a 24-70/2.8 II in a restaurant to take a picture of your meal. A mirror less camera with a small lens is more discreet.

What I love about the Fuji system is its flexibility. I can put my X Pro-2, the 14mm and the 27mm in my ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag which gives me an extremely light and small camera without scarifying image quality. That is what I do when I’m in Asia most of the time. And I could use the same camera with the three zooms in a small backbag to shoot landscape. That’s what I do when I’m in the USA. Same camera again but with 23/1.4, 35/1.4 and 56/1.2 when I plan to shoot portraits. If you shoot with a full frame DSLR and zooms you kit is never small and light no matter what you do.

When I shot with DSLRs I always had a compact digital camera as a “side shooter”. So when we went to the pub in the evening the big gear stayed in the room. So I took a lot of low light images with a small digicam where image quality was compromised. Today I take my main camera with a small lens. Simply one camera that does it all.

dscf4933FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/8, 1/80 sec, ISO200)