On Creativity, Perspective, and Acceptance

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I have a young, beautiful, talented friend who is working towards a career as a full time creative, and who recently expressed frustration over where she was with her career versus where she wanted to be.  I get this.  It is so easy to feel like you are behind the 8 ball when you don’t get the gig after an audition you thought went well, or when you see others on social media living the life you want to live.

This is a common theme:  In this day and age of social media we are inundated with information;  it only takes 60 seconds to jump on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook and see someone having huge success, showing off new equipment, talking about their latest travels, the new gig they got, or being liked and followed by tens of thousands of people.  It is so easy to compare our own lives to this and feel like we are coming up short.  It is easy to become jealous and then to let that jealousy guide our actions.  I see this a lot in the photography world.  If you pick an immensely popular photographer, I will show you 100 people copying that person’s style in an effort to re-create that person’s success for themselves.  This is a trap.  These feelings can get even more magnified because we are really comparing our day to day lives to someone else’s highlight reel.  I know a lot of people who are extremely popular on social media, and I can say that in many cases their day to day lives differ quite a bit from what they choose to show on social media.

Then, there are the times when you put yourself out there, only to encounter the inevitable internet troll or person who begrudges you your success, and who goes out of their way to let you know about it.  It is amazing how one negative comment can decimate that feeling of success you were having… if you let it.

I suspect all creatives go through this.  Heck, I suspect all people go through this.  No one is immune really.

Speaking personally, I have had huge successes in my life in almost every endeavour I have pursued.  By all accounts I am successful in my photographic pursuits:  I am an official brand ambassador for a company I love working with.  I have the joy of presenting and teaching.  I have the honour of photographing weddings and working with other clients, and I have wonderful conversations every day with people I respect from around the world that I know through social media.

Perspective is everything though, and one of the funny things about perspective is that it can easily be lost.  And, when it is, it is so easy to go astray.

Do you see that photo at the top of this post?  99% of the time I feel like the rocks on the left are where I started, the buoy in the water is me and the rocks on the right represent my photographic destination (my creative and business goals).   Like you see in the photo, I currently feel like I am about a third of the way to where I want to be, but I know I will get there because I am passionate about my craft and I am determined.

Sometimes though, rarely, I feel more like that buoy (me) is just floating and getting bashed about in the waves.  I feel lost, and I tend to struggle to regain focus.  This is where it becomes dangerous.  It happens to everyone from time to time, you just don’t see the struggle posted on their social media that often.

Recently, ironically enough during a period where things were going extremely well for me, I went through this exact thing:   A good friend had huge success with a project.  This is a project that I was also given the opportunity to do, but which I passed on due to life circumstances at the time.  When my friend was experiencing their success I should have been happy for him, yet instead I felt jealousy.  And, once I felt it, it started derailing my other efforts.

At the same time, I had a negative experience with a couple of internet trolls.  For clarity, I usually just shake my head with a smile when I encounter negative people.  I spent 20 years on an ambulance as a paramedic, responding to about 15,000 911 calls, and I know better than most what real problems are.   I think there are few things in life that give you perspective on what really matters like working as a paramedic does because of the hurt, confusion and fear you see in people.  Negative comments also usually don’t bother me because it is a truth that when you put yourself out in the public’s eye you are going to encounter people with many different points of view, including negative ones.  The first thing I do when I get negative feedback from people is to follow this advice:

“Consider the motivation of the person who is giving you the feedback:  Are they sincerely trying to help you?  If so, then think about what they are saying.  Or, are they just trying to get under your skin?  If that is the case, simply ignore it”.

This almost always works for me, but for some reason it didn’t this time.

All of a sudden, just like that, I found myself derailed for a day or two.  Derailed by jealousy over a friend’s success (how crazy is that), derailed by a sense of not being far enough down my path, and derailed by some unknown person on the internet who doesn’t agree with my work and my thoughts (and who went out of their way to let me know about it).

Stupid, right?  Stupid, but also human as some very good friends pointed out (thank you Patrick and Valerie).

Why am I sharing this?  Because I want my friend, this brilliant and talented young actress, to know that she isn’t alone when she feels like this.  We all feel like this from time to time, just not everyone talks about it.  Success is really an iceberg.  On the surface you see the rewards and accolades, but underneath it is nothing but blood, sweat, failure, hard work, frustration, set backs, disappointment, and resistance.

So what do we do, as creatives, to get out of these funks we occasionally find ourselves in?

The first thing has to be to regain perspective.  Step back, step away, re-connect with family and friends.  We need to remind ourselves of what really matters in life, and to remind ourselves that happiness is intrinsically driven.  We own it.   We have the ability to create it, and others can only destroy it if we allow them to.

And, as I was recently reminded by my friend Patrick Laroque, we need to create art.  Not art guided by what we think others want to see, not art guided by trends, not art created to satisfy the needs of the internet and social media, and not art to further our business pursuits.

We just need to create art.  For ourselves, because that’s what we do.

The only way to truly be satisfied as an artist is to create for the sake of creating.  Create art for no other reason than we love the process.  Create art because it brings us joy, and create without giving a sh*t about what other people think about it.

If I consider all of my successes, I achieved them because I was being true to myself.  I created and shared work I was happy with and some people responded to it.  That is where we need to keep our focus, because that is the path to being happy and feeling satisfied as artists (if artists can ever truly be satisfied).  If you chase trends you are selling yourself out.  When you purposely edit your photographs to look like today’s popular artist, when you become photographers of a certain genre because it is currently popular, or when you connect with people on social media for no reason other than they are the “cool kids” and represent where you want to be you are only setting yourself up for failure in the long run.

So, to my brilliant friend I say just continue to create art that makes you happy.  Put it out into the world and don’t worry about what other people are doing, just be the 5 year old with the box of crayons and make art because you love it.  If you remain true to yourself you will find satisfaction as an artist and, when the time is right, people who respect and are aligned with your vision will also find you.  Trust the process, as it is really the only true option.  Everything else is just chasing the rabbit down the hole for all the wrong reasons.

Just my two cents.

Cheers,

Ian

Coming Home – The new Fujifilm X100f

Fuji X100f Review

On October 27th I received a message from my friends at Fujifilm Canada, asking me if I would like to be one of fifty Official Fuji X Photographers worldwide that would participate in project Aquarius… the successor to the Fuji X100T.

Hell.  Yes.

I have said many times before that the X100 series was a catalyst of change in my life, and I was excited (and humbled) to be included in the amazing group of artists who would be the first to work with the new X100F.  Even though I was fortunate to be involved with both the X-Pro2 and X-T2 launches, the successor to the X100T is the camera that I have been waiting for.

On November 16th we had a conference call to discuss the project and shortly thereafter a plain white box arrived on my doorstep via courier.  Seconds later I was holding one of the first X100F cameras ever to be released into the world.   It was time to get started.

Since that day I have spent a lot of time with the X100F:  shooting on the street, working on several documentary projects, and of course using it on my travels.  As of this writing, I have put over 3,000 frames through this camera, and I am excited to finally have the opportunity to share some thoughts on it outside of the Aquarius team.  It feels a little like Christmas, just a month late and with the one present I really wanted under the tree.

Make yourself comfortable, as this is going to be a long post.  Get a beverage.  And food.  Maybe take a nap first too.  We’re going to talk about expectations leading up to the launch of this camera, see which of those came to fruition (and which didn’t), take a look at the camera’s new features and ergonomics, look at a lot of sample photos, and discuss some final thoughts.  To give a more balanced description of the Fuji X100F, I’m also going to share links to reviews by some of the other Official Fuji X Photographers on the Aquarius team.  The truth is that over the last few months a lot of people have put in time with pre-production models of these cameras.  We’ve gone through several firmware updates as we provided feedback and it is so exciting to finally see the X100F officially launched.

Let’s get started…

X100f Review

Expectations and Realities 

A year ago I wrote a blog post entitled:

“What’s next for the Fuji X100t?”

That post has been viewed over 28,000 times.  Clearly people have been excited for this new camera.  In that post I hoped that the successor to the X100T would include:

  1. The new X-Trans CMOS III Sensor found in the X-Pro2 and X-T2
  2. The Focus Lever (the joystick) found on the X-Pro2 and X-T2
  3. Dual card slots
  4. Additional film simulations (specifically Acros)
  5. Weather resistance
  6. Improved autofocus
  7. Faster minimum shutter speed in Auto ISO
  8. Improved exposure bracketing options
  9. More options for saving custom settings
  10. Enhanced battery life

For the record, I was not expecting to see:

  1. An articulating LCD screen.  I know this is something that a lot of people would like to see in this camera, but it isn’t something I usually use.  On a less personal note though, I think Fuji has a clear pattern of design with their products.  There have been 8 cameras in the Fuji X series with a rangefinder styled design (X-E1, XE2, X-E2s, X-Pro1, X-Pro2, X100, X100S, X100T), and none of them have had articulating screens.  If this is something that you desire the X-T2 /  X-T20 line definitely has what you are looking for.
  2. In body image stabilization (IBIS).   I have never seen or heard anything from Fuji regarding this, but it occasionally comes up online.  The focal length of this camera’s lens, combined with its leaf shutter, make it incredibly easy to handhold the camera at slow shutter speeds already.

So, what was the reality?  How does my preproduction X100F compare to this list?  I’m happy to say that 8 of the 10 items on my wish list are present in the new Fuji X100F, but that is not all.  The new Fuji X100F also now has (in no particular order):

  1. An option to assign AF-L to the rear command wheel.  This button is perfectly positioned for this use (and for my hands), and it feels great on the X100F.  Fuji, PLEASE bring this to the X-Pro2!
  2. The addition of a front command dial, and the ability to configure the camera to control ISO from this dial instead of using the integrated ISO dial on the top of the camera.  More on this later.
  3. A digital tele-converter.  The new X100F has the same digital tele-conversion technology found in the X70, allowing for 35mm (the native FOV), but also upscaled 50mm and 70mm options.  This is a nice feature to have, but there is definitely slight image degradation when it is used.
  4. A new standard ISO ceiling of 12,800, up from 6,400 in the X100T.  There also appears to be visible improvements in the high ISO noise reduction algorithms.
  5. +/- 5 stops of Exposure Compensation like the X-Pro2 and X-T2, as compared to the 3 stop adjustments in the X100T.
  6. The addition of center weighted metering in the Photometry options.
  7. The option to save files as Lossless RAW.
  8. A new grain simulation option for those who like to set up their jpegs.
  9. An enhanced burst mode, with a max of 8 frames per second as compared to 6 frames per second in the X100T.
  10. A greatly expanded array of auto focus points, now up to 325.  AF speed is also more responsive, and there are now additional AF modes (Single, Zone, Wide).
  11. There is a new control ring.
  12. Pixel mapping.

As you can see there is a lot going on under the hood of the new X100F.  What wasn’t included from my original list?  Two things:

Dual Card Slots:

This one is just kind of a “shrug” thing for me, as I knew space limitations would make it difficult.  I have never had an SD card fail, but I can say for important jobs I have come to enjoy the peace of mind that the dual card slots in the X-Pro2 and X-T2 offer.  When I asked about this I was told that the move to the WP-126 battery already took up a lot of additional space, and it would have been difficult to improve battery life AND add dual card slots.

Fair enough.

Weather Resistance:

I’ll be honest, I really wanted this.  Since the beginning the X100 series has been the perfect “always with me, documentary style” camera, and weather resistance would only add to that.  The truth is that I shoot a lot in inclement weather.  Hell, I live in the Pacific Northwest, rain is what we do.  I don’t baby my gear, have never had a problem, but the peace of mind that weather resistance brings is always a good thing.

I spoke to people who were at Photokina and discussed this with some of the Fujifilm staff, and apparently the lack of weather resistance came down to the lens design and the amount of bulk it would have added.

Again, fair enough.  I’m a photographer, not an engineer, so I’ll trust in their better judgment.

This is probably as good a spot as anywhere to say that there will never be a perfect camera.  Having said that, Fuji really ticked the boxes on this one (other than the weather resistance) and for me the X100F is pretty damn close.  Let’s jump in and take a closer look…

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Inspired by the Fujifilm X-Pro2?

I know the logical thing to do in this section would be to compare the X100F with its predecessor, the X100T.  I think a much better comparison however, which you will see in the images below, is with the flagship X-Pro2 model.

I should start this section by saying that for me a camera is not just about the images it creates.  The ergonomics, the act of using it, how the camera feels in my hand… this all means a lot to me.  For a long time I was a professional musician, and I felt the same way when I played certain guitars.  Yes, I can play the same song on a Fender Stratocaster that I can play on a Gibson Les Paul but the feel is totally different.  Cameras, like guitars, are just tools of the trade but I know I am better at my craft when my tools inspire me.

When I first held the X-Pro2 it fit into my hands perfectly.  More importantly, the ergonomics of it instantly felt natural and logical to me (except the position of the AF-L button).  With each new model over the years, Fuji has refined the design of its cameras and one can only assume the goal has been to eventually standardize a consistent physical design that spans across each product line.  This really hit home for me when I first held the X100F, which definitely takes its design inspiration from the Fuji X-Pro2.

Here is the front of the camera:

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We can see that there are minimal aesthetic changes from the X100T to the X100F, really just the removal of a model badge.  Functionally, however, we see the addition of a new function button in the viewfinder selector, and also a front command dial for the first time in the X100 series.

This front command dial brings with it a feature that many have asked for since the launch of the X-Pro2:  the ability to adjust ISO without fiddling with the top dial.  The front command dial can also control the Exposure Compensation to +/- 5 stops.  What is really cool is that if you have the camera configured to utilize the front command wheel it can actually adjust both ISO AND Exposure Compensation…. you simply click it to switch between the two.  This is an excellent addition to the X100F, and should make a lot of people happy that weren’t huge fans of the integrated ISO dial on the X-Pro2.

For comparison’s sake, here is the front of the X-Pro2, where you will see a lot of similarities:

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Here is the top of the new X100F:

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On the top we can see the X-Pro2 inspired integrated ISO dial, and also the Exposure Compensation dial with the increased ability to go to +/- 5 stops of EV.   Now, let’s compare this to the top of the X-Pro2:

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That’s pretty damn close.

And, here is the back:

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A lot of similarity to the X-Pro2 in regard to design and layout.  All buttons have been moved to the right side (which I love), and the focus lever (joystick) has been added.  This is very similar to the back of the Fuji X-Pro2:

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This consistency between the Fuji X-Pro2 and the new Fuji X100F is a great design choice in my opinion.  For me, as someone who uses multiple cameras on assignment, it is now effortless to switch between my two main cameras.  I have been able to set up my X-Pro2s and my X100F virtually identically, and I don’t have to think about the act of using whichever camera is in my hand… my fingers just land where they need to be.

Sample Images

It is time to nerd out on sample images.  Before we do, please consider the following:

  1. My copy of the camera is a pre-production model.  As always with pre-production testing, some of the initial firmware was buggy.   I was happy, however,  to see frequent and rapid firmware updates as we worked with our samples.  This sometimes changed the shooting experience as testing progressed.
  2. We usually cannot edit RAW images from preproduction cameras as none of the software we traditionally use (i.e. Lightroom) has been updated to read images from the new camera yet.  Yes, I could have used the in camera RAW converter, but every photo you see here was shot in jpeg.  This experience really reminded me of just how good Fuji’s jpegs are straight out of camera.
  3. I told myself I didn’t want this review to get too long (though I think that ship may have sailed), so I kept the number of sample images here down to 20.  Below each image I have included the capture data.
  4. I purposely included a diverse mix of street photography, cityscapes, long exposures, interior architecture, and snowy landscapes.  This is an incredibly capable little camera, and I hope these images show what can be produced with very little post production.  These are all in camera jpegs, with very slightly Lightroom adjustments where required (i.e. sharpening, slight exposure adjustments, etc).

Here are the images:

dscf2321(Classic Chrome, f/5.6, 1/5000th, ISO 1250)

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(Velvia, f/8, 6 seconds, ISO 200)

dscf2252(Acros, f/5.6, 1/640th, ISO 200)

dscf0125(Monochrome, f/4.5, 30 seconds, ISO 200, Wide Angle Adapter)

dscf0860(Classic Chrome, f/5.6, 1/1600th, ISO 200)

dscf0183(Monochrome, f/16, 27 seconds, ISO 200, Wide Angle Adapter)

dscf1542(Acros, f/2.8, 1/320th, ISO 1000)

dscf0052(Velvia, f/16, 6 seconds, ISO 200, Wide Angle Adapter)

dscf0702(Classic Chrome, f/11, 1/600th, ISO 200)

dscf0712(Acros, f/16, 1/1000th, ISO 400, AF-C)

dscf2532(Classic Chrome, f/5.6, 1/950th, ISO 200)

dscf0257(Classic Chrome, f/5.6, 1/90th, ISO 200)

dscf1010(Acros, f/5.6, 1/350th, ISO 200)

dscf0132(Classic Chrome, f/5.6, 1/640th, ISO 200)

dscf0602(Classic Chrome, f/8, 1/500th, ISO 800)

dscf1843(Classic Chrome, f/4, 1/500th, ISO 500)

dscf0825(Velvia, f/8, 1/280th, ISO 200)

dscf1947(Classic Chrome, f/5.6, 1/500th, ISO 800)

dscf0013(Provia, f/4, 1/60th, ISO 250, Wide Angle Adapter)

dscf0839(Acros, f/5.6, 1/250th, ISO 640)

In Summary

I entitled this review “Coming Home” because I had moved away from using the X100T for much of 2016, a move away from the camera line that changed everything for me.  The X-Pro2 had become my workhorse, and I also spent time with the X-T2.  These new cameras perform beautifully, but I will admit I often looked at my X100T and looked forward to the day that Fuji’s latest technology was in the X100 series.  Having used the X100F for a few months now I can say with absolute certainty that it will be my main camera again, and the others will come out for jobs that require different focal lengths.  It just feels right to be shooting with this camera.  It feels like coming home.

A question that always comes up with these reviews is:

“Should I upgrade from the previous generation?”

If you love working with the X100 series, and can afford it, I would say absolutely yes.  This is not a knock on the X100T at all, which was a beautiful camera, but is an indicator of just how far this series has come.  Where the X100S to X100T was a smaller evolution in the series, the X100T to the X100F is much, much larger.  As a reminder, the X100F brings you:

  1. The same 24.3mp X-Trans CMOS III Sensor found in the X-Pro2 and X-T2.
  2. Improved autofocus, both in speed and in the number of AF points (325).
  3. The Focus Lever (the “joystick”).
  4. The larger WP126 battery pack, which also aligns with other X series cameras you may have.
  5. The addition of the Acros film simulation.
  6. Faster minimum shutter speed in Auto ISO (max of 1/500th now).
  7. Improved exposure bracketing options (+/- 2 stops).
  8.  Improved Exposure Compensation (+/- 5 stops).
  9. The ability to assign AF-L to the rear command dial (perfectly placed, in my opinion).
  10. The addition of a front command dial, as well as an additional function button on the front of the camera.
  11. The ability to assign ISO and/or Exposure Compensation to the front command dial.
  12. A digital tele-converter.  Good in a pinch, but does degrade image quality a little.
  13. The addition of center weighted metering to the Photometry options.
  14. The option to save files as Lossless RAW.
  15. A new grain simulation for those who like to configure their jpegs.
  16. Pixel mapping.

That is a whole lot of goodness right there, with weather resistance being the only thing missing that I would have loved to have seen in this camera.   I understand the reasons behind its absence, but it definitely would have been a nice “peace of mind” feature.   The bottom line though is this:  The Fuji X100F is an outstanding camera; as a matter of fact, my favourite Fuji X camera to date!

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A year ago, when I summarized my 5 part review series on the Fuji X-Pro2, I said that the X-Pro2 represented the maturation of the X series.  The X100F only confirms this:  it feels solid, fits well in the hand, is incredibly responsive, and is a pleasure to use.  In my opinion, the Fuji X series now has 3 flagship cameras:

  1. The Fujifilm X-Pro2
  2. The Fujifilm X-T2
  3. The Fujifilm X100F

Don’t just take my word for it though.  The Fuji community is a wonderful group of people and I would definitely take the time to read reviews from some of the other Official Fuji X Photographers that have been working with the X100F since November.

Specifically:

Patrick Laroque:  www.laroquephoto.com//blog/2017/1/10/x100f-dawning-of-the-age

Jonas Rask:  http://jonasraskphotography.com/2017/01/14/the-fujifilm-x100f-review-fantastic-fourth

Kevin Mullins:  http://f16.click/gear/fujifilm-x100f-review.html

Please consider this review as part one in a new series on the Fuji X100F, as I have several more blog posts coming soon that will focus on this new camera.  Between those posts I will also be sharing X100F content on my Instagram account, so be sure to follow me there too:

https://www.instagram.com/ianmacdonaldphotography/

I’d love to hear your thoughts about the X100F in the comments below, and if you have any specific questions, please do not hesitate to ask.  I will do my best to answer them.

Thanks for reading!

Best wishes,

Ian

A quick update for the New Year…

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Good morning everyone!

How are you?

I just realized that it has been 18 days since my last blog post, which is crazy.  It most definitely isn’t because I have nothing to say (let’s be honest… that never happens).  I have so many things on the go, some personal and some professional, and my life is definitely feeling a little like the photo at the top of this post right now.  I am happy to say, however, that one project I have been working on for a while now will be publishing very soon, and I cannot wait to share it with you.  This will be followed in February and March with a LOT of new content.  It is going to be a great year.

Are you on Instagram?  I love writing and posting there while I am working on the larger projects that appear on this site.  If you are there  be sure to let me know so I can check out your account.  Here is a link to mine:

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I hope you all are doing well, and I cannot wait to share some of this new content with you as the year unfolds!

Cheers,

Ian