Editor's note: Fook and ohm have been following each other for who knows how long. We trade war stories about lenses, amps, headphones, and forum- bashing. It is a real privilege to have Fook contribute to ohm with an article that clearly resonates with me.
Without further ado, I bring you Fook:
A little about me:
I basically took up photography as a way to get out of being in photographs. That, and I found it a good way to make friends after moving to Australia. It took me a while, but I eventually figured out that photographing people was something I really liked.
Starting out with a borrowed Canon 5dm2 and a 50/1.4, I learnt that taking good images is more than just having a good camera. You've got to know know you are doing, even if you've got your camera stuck in fully automatic mode. The first camera I purchased was a Canon 500D. On it was a Tamron 17-50/2.8. I really liked using the camera, but found that the setup really was too big and cumbersome for me to carry around much. (Most of the time, it ended up in my girlfriend’s bag.) It was also very conspicuous in both shape and size, making it awkward for taking photos of strangers.
Enter the Fujifilm x100s:
After explaining the above predicament, my friend Gerald advised me to look into the soon-to-be-released X100s. Boasting a plethora of features, such as a near silent operation, Fuji colours, a leaf shutter, and all that wrapped up in a really small package, the x100s looked like a lot of camera for the price (and size). After quite some research, I was convinced that it would be ideal for me. Oh how wrong I was!
Using the camera for a year netted me a bunch of images that absolutely delighted me. Sure the output tended to be nice on days that I was not drunk or overly sleepy, but I kept feeling that I was missing out something with the horribly fake ovf, the slight misfocus (not sure if it is back focusing or front focusing, but it definitely is misfocusing ever so slightly), the wire focus (GOD I HATE THIS SO MUCH), bad battery life, lack of a tilting screen and wifi, not to mention a focal length to which I wasn't best suited. There was also the issue of Leica supremacists approaching me simply to laugh at my pathetic Japanese copy of their glorious German tool. On a week-long trip to Canberra, I had no fewer than 4 Leica enthusiasts come over to me and scoff at my cheap imitation (to be honest, it might have been in Canberra. I bide my time in Sydney, and have travelled to Melbourne many times, and if memory serves me right, have encountered only 1 Leica supremacist in Sydney and not a one in Melbourne. Let's call it Canberra.).
Being scoffed at by supremacists wasn't my main concern. My main concern was the 23 (FF ~35mm equivalent) focal length. I had this constant nagging feeling that the 35mm focal length was both too wide and not wide enough for my shots. In a desperate attempt to remedy this, I pounced on the TCL-X100s when as soon as it was released. Online reviews gave me the impression that focus speed was barely affected, and that macro mode would work nearly as well as the bare lens. Better yet, the X100s would still be the tiny camera that originally sucked me in.
The TCL-X100s turned out to be the biggest photo-purchase blunder I had made up to that point. Its bulging front element combined with its girth were one thing. How it slowed down focus speed and canted the X100s forward were another. All together, it slowed down my shooting and made focusing feel less reliable. The bulging front element also made me and my camera stick out. I swear it scared people off. It was at this point, I kind of gave up on the X100s (and in part, photography, for a while).
Enter the Nikon D90:
After listening to the girlfriend's incessant complaints about how her D90 was being wholly underused (and not wanting to tell her that she should just use it), I picked it up. Ironically, switching brands yet again got me out of my photographic dry spell. It was glorious!
The D90 felt great in the hand. The grip was excellent, the optical viewfinder was excellent, the battery life was excellent. And with a small prime stuck on the front, it wasn't really that big in the hand. The ability to change lenses also added a level of versatility to the camera that I missed with the x100s, despite the fact that I don't actually change lenses that often. Using this camera made me decide to get a new camera that would not exhibit any of the issues that I encountered with the x100s.
Editor's note: while it appears that Fook is something of a gearhead, he's pretty representative of a large portion of the camera enthusiast community. And unfortunately, there are few notable, honest reviews from heavily trafficked review churners that necessarily point out real flaws in both ergonomics and haptics, not to mention completely misleading advertising that causes this amount of gear churn.
Enter the Sony a7ii:
I decided to look into full frame cameras since it was something I hadn't had a lot of experience with. As a techie, a Sony camera was the natural choice. It was a toss-up between the Sony A7s and the A7ii. Ideally, Sony would release a follow up to the Sony A7s (A7s ii?) to keep me from waffling. That's not yet happened. I waffled for several months, waiting, considering, and hoping for the new camera. With a steadily-dropping Aussie dollar burning a hole in my wallet I had to make a decision, and soon. I settled on the A7ii. I felt that it would provide me with most of what I needed. That it cost about half the price of an A7s was another plus. Its in-camera image stabilisation really spoke to this techie. Naturally I picked up the 55/1.8 lens along with it. By the way, it is fantastic, and what is for me a wonderful focal length.
I have used the camera for about 1 month, and have schlepped it as far away as Hobbiton.
What do I think? Well, after conducting a few, very unscientific tests, I have gained new respect for the x100s.
Firstly, a few things must be said:
Firstly, I am not a pixel peeper. If a photo looks nice on my screen and on my social media feeds, I'm satisfied. That's probably what got me excited about the D90 in 2014 (five years after launch), even after the sony A7r took the spotlight.
Secondly, most, if not all, I shoot JPEG more than anything. Maybe I'm lazy. Considering that my main editing tool is the starkly limited Windows 8 photo editor, I may well be. When I mess up colours, an image becomes B&W. (Consequently, most of my pictures are in B&W. Haha).
Lastly, I don’t really rely on the output of these images to earn my dinero, nor do I think I will ever get good enough to make money off photography. As such, I don't lose sleep over the finer points of multiple systems messing up my shooting consistency (which I may not even have).
Moving on, here's what I think about each system, aka, why the A7r ...(fix thissssssssssssssss)
There's an old axiom that goes like this: "you don't know what you had till it's gone". True words. The A7ii with the 55mm has a minimum focusing distance of 50cm, which, according to Nathan, is actually pretty standard for a 50mm SLR lens. However, when compared to the 10cm minimum focusing distance of the x100s in macro mode, it is huge, and really took me a few days to get accustomed to.
Perhaps this is what Nathan was talking about in the article: Reach: APS-C's biggest advantage over FF.
Since I am a casual photographer, I don’t actually need that many megapixels. The drifting car image in the D90 section was cropped, and probably constitutes less than 10 megapixels. To my satisfied eyes, there's nothing lacking. The addition of more megapixels means that I have bigger files at the end of the day.
What got me into image stabilisation wasn't the Sony A7ii but my fantastic iPhone 6 Plus, which takes much nicer pictures than does my girlfriend’s iPhone 6. And the A7ii's ability to go to 1/8000 is impressive but doesn't make a significant impact on the images I create.
The A7ii gives a tonne of choices if you're willing to adapt lenses. However, these do really add up with adaptor costs and the cost of the lenses themselves. Gerald (the one that told me to look at the X100s) told me, “you get what you paid for”. I found this out the hard way by buying no less than 3 crappy vintage lenses which I have since grown to dislike due to things like stiff focus or haze, among other things. An issue of whether I really need so many lenses recently popped up in my mind. Honestly, I mostly just shoot people. The X100s gives me a choice of 3 focal lengths, which is honestly more than enough for most of my needs.
Balance and size:
Seeing as the X100s is dwarfed by an A7ii even with the compact Zeiss 35/2.8 Sonnar on its nose, this isn't exactly a fair metric by which to judge the two systems. But, they're what I have. A lot of people consider the A7ii small. It is - at least compared to modern digital SLRs. Still, next to the X100s, and other truly compact cameras such as the Sony RX100, Panasonic LX100, and Fujifilm X100, it is sizeable. Yes, I know each of the cameras mentioned in the last sentence have differently-sized sensors, but they'd all make pretty similar images in nice light, especially at small apertures. And since I like taking photos when the light's out, most sensor differences just wash away.
The A7ii with the 55/1.8 also tilts forward, a bit like the TCL-X100 on the X100s. Honestly, the 55's size compared to the the A7ii is a bit disappointing. Personally, I feel that Sony FE mount lenses aren't significantly smaller than lenses of comparable systems. And lens sizes negate many of the benefits of the small camera body. In fact, I would say that because FE bodies are small, large FE mount lenses ruin the system's balance, especially when compared to the dSLR competition.
The Sony shutter button is probably one of the worst shutter buttons I have used thus far. It travels most of the way down with no resistance, before suddenly depressing. I had quite a few accidental pictures taken from this.
Editor's note: I went on and on about this in my review of the A7r. It appears that nothing has changed.
The X100s, on the other hand, has a pretty clicky shutter button, the threaded sort that you see on many film SLRs and rangefinder cameras. With an aftermarket soft release screwed in, it is a clicky joy to press. And being able to customise your camera down to the shutter button is a simple pleasure.
I hate lag. By putting most of the controls into physical dials, the X100s is easily configured on the fly. Sony's controls are all electronic, and require me to stare into either the viewfinder or the screen, if I'm going to adjust anything. This makes it slightly more troublesome when it comes to correcting certain settings. There is also something about having the aperture ring on the lens, making me feel like the lens will last a long time.
Honestly, this feature is overrated, but handy when it comes to taking pictures of a hostile environment (I have not experienced this, but have heard tales of people having their cameras smashed or damaged by angry subjects). The A7ii's shutter is pretty similar in volume to the d90 but without the clacking sound or feel of the mirror.
While subjective, I feel like the combination of the A7ii and the 55/1.8 gives a very soulless, overly-detailed image. I much prefer the more forgiving output of the X100s, especially when it comes to rendering human faces.
So, is the X100s a complete system?
I believe that the x100 series has a lot to offer as a system for many photographers. While not my favourite focal length, 35mm has long been lauded as the most versatile. It is wide enough to capture many scenes: landscapes, portraits, travel shots, macro photography, street photography, real estate photography, product photography, and more. If needed, the TCL and WCL adaptors provide even more versatility. The camera has a leaf shutter, allowing speedy flash sync, a decent macro mode, and it comes in a very mini package.
Buying the A7ii really showed me how good I already had it and showed me that I really shouldn’t sweat the small stuff, and just shoot with what I have. While I feel that the Sony A7ii helps unleash my creativity, the X100s's dependability makes it my working camera. It will always have a space in my workflow.