Navigating the maze

Someone I met today on a photography forum said it quite eloquently: ‘Yikes, soo many settings!’. He was speaking about the new Fujifilm camera, the Fujifilm X-S10. I don’t know anything about it, and don’t feel the need to. I have given up on the numbers and letters Fujifilm uses to give all it’s camera-lines a name. Names which are evolving and changing as well, so it is difficult to keep track of. Each new camera has a slightly different set of features to distinguish it from its neighbour. We should make a flowchart! Does it have a flip-up/down screen, follow the arrow to the T section. Is it weather sealed? Follow the arrow to the T-single digit section, that sort of thing. One thing, however, is shared by most, if not all of these new cameras . The abundance of settings!

I admit I did not grow up at the height of the digital era. We got our first computer when I was about 12 I guess, and I got my first mobile phone when I was 16. It was not a very smart phone. It could switch its cover, you could somehow get it to use an mp3 as ringtone, and you could text and call. After that, progress began to do its thing, and before long I was the proud owner of an iPhone 4, a laptop, a digital camera, and all the rest of modern necessities. I consider myself to be quite tech-savvy, in that I can usually operate these digital devices without much trouble. This is especially true for cameras, of which I have owned many, from many brands, and as such can usually find my way around quite easily. As I have been using Fujifilm as my camera brand for almost 9 years now, I can navigate their cameras blindfolded, helped by the fact that their design philosophy is quite tactile, so long as you don’t need to dive too deep into the menus. Every new generation has been thus been welcomed with open arms, and the menus were quickly explored to set up the camera to my exact needs, and to make the most of new features possible. Until now.

I can sympathise with the comment made by the anonymous guy at the photography forum (a Fuji forum, no less, with visitors used to Fuji cameras). Because I also recently bought a new camera. Not the X-S10. I bought the X-T4, whose simple naming I can understand, as it is the fourth generation of the T line. I have owned the X-T1 and the X-T2 before the X-T4, therefore the naming was familiar. The settings, however, weren’t. Somewhere between the time I bought my X-T2 (January 2017) and the X-T4 (June 2020), Fujifilm somehow found a bunch of extra settings lying around that they thought would fit perfectly in their new camera. It is not just that there are more things that you can set, it is also that those settings can be set, and tweaked, and even different settings that are set can then be sub-set. It’s like navigating the labyrinth of The Maze Runner. Or, for those of less youthful persuasion, the Minotaur.

A good example is the continuous autofocus. Even my first Fuji X-E1 camera, back in 2012, had continuous autofocus. It is set by the switch on the front left of the camera, and this switch has not moved since. It was there, very familiar, M, C, and S, when I took my Fuji X-T4 from its box. Continuous autofocus was always a bit of an adventure. It could go well, and you would love the results. It could also go horribly wrong, delivering a heap of pictures that were al out of focus and could go straight into the trash. They have worked on this since the X-E1, and now you can set your continuous autofocus to custom settings, of which there are 5. Each setting for a different kind of movement. Great. And then there is the 6th setting, where you can sub-set all parameters for your own kind of movement. And the continuous autofocus is just one setting that you can tweak. Then there are the video settings, ranging from HD to 4K to 24.95 frames per second to 59.9 to F-log recording and who knows what else.

All of this makes the X-T4 (and I guess the new X-S10) a very flexible and capable camera. It is probably one of the best cameras out there, and certainly the best camera Fuji has produced up to this point. At the same time it is the reason I have not used any of these settings. I fully admit I am of the generation that never reads a manual, and without this, there is just too much menu to navigate to fully research, find, and adjust all the settings that are possible on this camera. I have had this camera now for 6 months, and I have not even looked at most menus. Maybe, somewhere, sometime, I will have no choice to take the manual, and go through all the settings one by one. See what they do, see what fits best with my shooting style, and create my own continuous autofocus settings. But for the first time since I have owned cameras, this is a thing. 

I’m sure that most of these settings will be very useful to some, and maybe there is even someone out there who will use it all. I think however, that 97% of users do not. Nothing wrong in this, of course. Better to have it, and not use it, than need it and not have it, though you do feel this multitasking capability in your wallet.I bought my X-T4 for two main reasons: the image stabilisation, which I ‘need’ for video, so that I don’t need a dedicated lens with stabilisation, and the photo-video switch, so that I can quickly switch between photography and video, something that is very handy during assignments. Aside from that, for what I do, the video features in the X-T2 were good enough and I think I may never get around to tweaking all things in the menus.

The good thing about all this is that even without doing all of that, the X-T4 remains a great camera. You don’t need to tweak settings you’ve never heard of to have a great shooting experience, and I’ve even found two more reasons to justify having bought it. The fact that you can name focal length and lens manufacturer to non electronically coupled lenses so that they appear in the exif data, and the shutter sound. Or rather, the lack thereof. The shutter has become my favourite feature since I had to photograph a defence ceremony where you could hear a pin drop, but not my camera!

Last but not least: this complicated digital beast of a camera makes me appreciate the simple experience of shooting with the old (old, it is barely 8 years since it was announced) X-Pro1. You can not choose between electronic of mechanical shutter, there is only mechanical. Too many focus points to focus quickly with the joystick? Not a problem, there is no joystick, and very few points. Video settings? It doesn’t even have a dedicated video button. And yet, this simplicity gives a sense of satisfaction. Satisfaction that you don’t need to think about settings. The satisfaction that you can just shoot, and all other things go away. The satisfaction that you don’t need to find your way out of the maze: there is no maze!

I hope everyone is in good health in these strange times. Keep happy, keep shooting. As I’ve not added any photographs to this post, I promise to post some images soon šŸ˜‰

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