Why would a full frame Nikon man spend his hard earned dollars to buy a crop sensor Fuji? Well, the answer is more basic than one might think.
I made a realization the other day. I wasn’t particularly deep in thought at the time, but rather it was just one of those moments when a truth suddenly dawns on you and sets off a chain reaction in your mind.
Looking over my most recent images and assignments, trying to plan out which images would be right for my next social media post, it suddenly dawned on me. I never take pictures just for fun anymore. Like, ever.
Sure, I’ll take out my phone and snap a shot of the waves if I find myself having an unexpected seat on the beach during a location scout. Or maybe I snap a quick selfie in the bathroom mirror if I’m feeling particularly fit that day. Not that I would ever post either of those shots online. The beach shot is just there for the memory. The mirror shot is just there for, well, the memory. So the next time I start packing on unwanted pounds I have a bit of visual/shame motivation. But neither of those scenarios would quite rise to the level of an official photo shoot.
You see, like most people, I came to photography as an escape. It was a weekend hobby that allowed me to shift my focus from the monotony of daily struggles and immerse myself in a wave of visual distraction. Clicking the shutter button was almost therapeutic. Sure I was getting great shots (according to my own burgeoning taste at the time), but the real value is that photography was forcing me to get out of the house, to explore, and to learn more about the world and people around me.
I was fortunate that my hobby quickly revealed itself as a way to make money. I was also fortunate that enough people enjoyed the pictures I was taking that, unbeknownst to me, my hobby-turned-side-hustle would eventually develop into a career.
Obviously, a lot has happened between then and now to get me to where I am today. I went from “taking” shots to “making” shots as some would say. Casual snapshots created independently by reacting to real life eventually became multi-month production schedules for major commercial campaigns with a mini NFL roster required just to make it happen.
As my skills progressed, so did my equipment. A prosumer camera with a slow variable aperture lens and middle of the road resolution was more than sufficient to make some amazing photos when there wasn’t money riding on each frame. But, when put into a situation when all eyes are on you and every minute on set means dollar signs, things like delivering a large, sharp, and consistent frame every time suddenly mean the difference between being able to afford to feed the dog or having to go back to a mundane existence in corporate accounting.
This progression also means being much more selective about what work you show. In my particular market of commercial advertising photography, branding is everything. Like Google, Nike, or Coca-Cola, you have to spend years presenting a focused and consistent brand message in order to take root in the minds of potential customers. My niche is activewear. So, naturally, the images I make public are largely centered around the fitness and active lifestyle arena. It doesn't mean that I don't ever find other subjects interesting. But, those fun shots I would take of a random dog in the park when I was just starting out that I would then paste all over my rambling My Space page suddenly have no place to exist in my heavily curated online presence.
Even “personal projects” which I shoot just for the sake of creativity still beg the question, “Does this project have a potential benefit to my commercial marketing?” The answer to that question often determines the amount of time, money, or effort I can spend on its creation. More than one project I’ve developed over recent years has gone unproduced, not because I didn’t want to do it, but because, in business terms, it wasn’t a sound financial investment.
Not that I am complaining, mind you. I am exactly where I want to be in my life right now and one of the best decisions I made was to focus on a photography niche that fulfilled me both financially and creatively. Truthfully, the “personal” projects I want to shoot more than often end up in my commercial niche anyway. I’m blessed to be able to shoot what I want for a living and get paid for it.
But none of that overshadows the simple fact that I simply don’t ever take pictures just for me anymore. I never simply pick up my camera, head out to a local community fair, and start snapping photos just for the fun of it. I never just walk in the park and take a picture of an interesting tree just because it happens to be there.
Partly this is because, as stated earlier, even if I get an amazing photo, marketing demands prohibit me from really showing it to anyone outside of my immediate family. It's not like the shot will make it into my portfolio or even my social feeds. It would be like Coca-Cola doing an advertisement for a local circus just because they thought it was cool. Would be great for the circus probably, but would muddy Coca-Cola’s brand message in the process. And if you take a photo of the tree in the woods but no one ever sees it, does the picture really even exist at all? Well, of course it does, but you get the point.
These days, as I’m sure many of you can relate, doing a proper photo shoot for me is rarely ever just a matter of grabbing my camera and heading out of the door. My photographic journey started in earnest with a Nikon D200 and one catchall zoom lens. That was it. Now, going to a photo shoot means multiple Nikon D850 bodies, an assortment of lenses, three large indestructible Pelican cases for my Profoto lighting gear, a separate Pelican for video and audio gear, another Pelican for my gimbal, most likely a few spare bags/boxes worth of lighting modifiers that may not fit inside my rolling grip case, and those things are just to start. Even when I do a “natural light” lifestyle shoot with just a camera and the sun, the camera in question loaded up with a super fast 24-70mm f2.8 lens with image stabilization tends to weight enough to provide me not only great photos but rather more pronounced biceps by the end of the shoot.
All this is to explain my recent purchase of a Fuji X-T2. There was no particular business reason I needed another camera. I absolutely love the image quality and features of my Nikon D850. The files are gorgeous. It provides the necessary resolution and sharpness my clients need to print at larger sizes or crop in and retain detail. The 4K video is amazing. And paired with the aforementioned 24-70mm f2.8, the autofocus is lightning fast. It is everything I need professionally from a camera and more. I love you, Nikon. Keep it going.
The Fuji XT2, on the other hand, is a crop sensor. It’s 24MP pale in comparison to the 46MP pumped out by my Nikon. And even tethering to Capture One, a necessity for my personal workflow in most situations, requires a workaround since Fuji is not natively supported on the platform.
So, on paper, there is absolutely no reason why I should buy a Fuji X-T2. Well, except for one somewhat less objective reason. The darn thing is just fun.
With their retro design and relatively simple operation, I’ve fallen in love with more than one Fuji camera over the years. The X100S has been my "walking around" camera for years. Literally small enough to slip into my pocket, that camera still serves as my BTS camera when I’m on set and the camera I take with me when wandering through the streets of a new city and am unsure of my surroundings. The X-T2 is larger than the X100S, obviously. But many of the same things I love about its little brother have made their way into the X-T2 body with the advantage of a better focusing and 4K video.
While I will always reach for my Nikon system for purpose-driven photography assignments or high-value shoots, the weight of a full frame DSLR does make one think twice before deciding whether or not to take it along for a casual stroll in the park or an all day journey through the streets of a foreign city on vacation.
Sony mirrorless systems solve this problem a bit with larger image sensors in smaller bodies. I was tempted by the Sony options, however, there were two reasons why I opted for the Fuji instead. One was cost. To get the Sony glass that I would want and the Sony body I would want, I was going to be looking in the $4000 range at minimum. Yes, they have less expensive options, but the Sonys that appeal to me personally would be either the A7RIII or the A7III. Slap a 24-70mm on that for another $2000, and now you’re into real investment mode. Were I looking to make a major shift away from Nikon, that would be a real option, but, as I stated earlier, I love my Nikon and am not looking to ditch the Nikon universe.
I was just looking for something inexpensive and appropriate for personal shooting, so the X-T2 coming in at $1700 with the lens included was much more in my range. I’m not attempting to suggest the images sensor between the A7RIII, D850, and X-T2 are equivalent. This is not a story about pixel peeping. Instead, this is a story of how the “right” camera changes in definition depending on circumstances.
But truth be told, regardless of the price, the real deciding factor was the usability. This may be hard for some to believe, but there was a time for some of us of a certain age when cameras didn’t have menus. There were no digital readouts. There were no advanced settings. The closest thing to "live view" was shooting a Hasselblad with the open waist level finder. There was just a metal/plastic camera body. ISO/ASA was pre-determined by the speed of film you had loaded in the chamber. And there were rings and knobs which allowed you to adjust shutter speed and aperture.
Even now, when there have been so many advancements in the camera world and there’s little that can’t be accomplished with a few hours spent digging through menus, the basic exposure triangle is still the only thing I personally pay attention to when I shoot. Even on the Nikon systems, I’ve been shooting for years I’d be hard-pressed to tell you where everything is in the menus. And while I enjoy shooting the Sony cameras as well, those are cameras that seem expressly built for people used to modern smartphones who are more accustomed to having to dig through menus to perform each and every task.
The Fuji, on the other hand, seems built for people like me. The “old school” tactile knobs and rings give much the same experience as I had when I picked up my first film camera decades ago. This beautiful design allows for a simplified shooting experience. It takes photography back to basics. It provides all the image quality and technical advancements of a modern body with the usability of any traditional camera I’ve been using since grade school.
In short, it’s just so darn fun.
It's what photography is supposed to be. The camera gets out of my way and just lets me focus on creativity. It allows me to shove some of the concerns over this setting versus that setting out of the way and just shoot.
And don't let me leave you with the impression that the X-T2 is a toy that isn't up to snuff for professionals. No, it’s not going to replace my Nikon for commercial assignments. I simply need the resolution to give my clients multiple cropping and printing options. But for smaller clients or those who will not need to print images in super large sizes or retain detail for extreme cropping in post, the image quality is more than enough for 95% of professional applications. I can easily cut the images I shoot with the Fuji into a portfolio containing images shot with my Nikon or even a Phase One and, while I might be able to see the minute difference, the client is unlikely to be able to notice. Clients want the best photographs, not the photos with the most pixels.
But now, even when I'm not on assignment, I now suddenly I find myself looking for reasons to take my X-T2 with me as I head for the door. Even a trip to the grocery store is suddenly an opportunity to go on a photo safari. It’s no longer a big operation just to have a camera with me at all times, and shooting with the X-T2 is such a joy, it asserts that sense of fun associated with simply burning through frames. Having a tool like this on hand has allowed me to reclaim some of the basic love for photography that definitely hasn’t disappeared as I’ve turned pro, but has certainly changed in shape. And taking time to remind yourself why you started in the first place provides renewed creative energy and a chance for your creativity to thrive.
Of course, you don’t have to buy a new camera to do this. There are a number of ways to keep one’s sanity while pursuing your career. And if you do buy a new camera, there are endless options available that may meet your specific needs. But whichever method you choose to bolster and protect your creative instincts, I recommend you stick to it. Taking care of yourself will ultimately help you take care of your clients. And, for me, adding the Fuji X-T2 to my camera family has allowed me to recapture an essential part of my past and provided a spark of energy driving into the future. It has reminded me that aside from all the marketing, all the assignments, all the success, all the near misses, at the end of the day, photography is fun.