People & Place

Rob Townsend's OCA Learning Log

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It’s not about the camera

I used to be a real gadget fanatic. I tried to count up how many cameras I’ve had over the years and seriously lost count after 20. BUT! over the last few months it gradually dawned on me that I was shaking off this gear acquisition addiction and was actually happy with the kit that I own. I even sold off a couple of cameras that I wasn’t using very much. I got down to one ‘serious’ camera (a Fuji X-E1) with a few prime lenses plus one zoom, that I use mainly for OCA exercises and assignments, and one good quality compact for everyday use (a Fuji X100).

I’d decided after years of trying (deep breath) Sony, Olympus, Canon, Pentax, Nikon and even Leica, that I’d finally found ‘my brand’… I just love the design, handling and most importantly image quality of the Fuji products of the last few years… it’s good to get to know one system so well that it just ‘gets out of the way’ and you can concentrate on making pictures. The real epiphany came when Fuji announced the X-T1 – better! faster! bigger LCD! more pixels! better firmware! exciting! – and I realised that I wasn’t actually that bothered. I’d finally come to believe what I’d read and heard from wiser people, that better kit doesn’t make you a better photographer. Master what you’ve got, until you can’t do what you need to with it.

The theory is tested!

So, I’ve been comfortable with this principle – it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts – for a while now. And today was a real ‘put your money where your mouth is’ moment… DISASTER STRUCK! my beloved X-E1 conked out.

Stone dead. Bricked. And I’m in France for a week. And I didn’t bring the X100 as backup. And I’m partway through shooting for Assignment 4: A Sense of Place, as I’d already decided to use Vieux Nice as my subject.

My options:

  1. Buy a replacement camera body (I tried – no luck)
  2. Pick from the shots already in the bag (not happy with that, there’s definitely some shots I wanted that I haven’t got yet)
  3. Give up on Vieux Nice as the subject and start afresh when back in the UK (nah – really enthused about this place, don’t want to change tack now)
  4. Fly back out here later when the camera’s fixed/replaced (I’m not made of money!)
  5. Borrow my wife Ann’s compact camera and finish the assignment with that (this is of course what I’m doing!)

My emergency backup camera

To be fair, it’s a pretty decent compact camera (it should be, I chose it!). It’s a Canon S110, it shoots RAW as well as JPG, it has a larger-than-average sensor for a compact camera and the image quality is surprisingly good. The light in the south of France is remarkably good so low-light quality isn’t of the utmost importance. So I’m satisfied that it meets the minimum requirements to produce images of sufficient quality.

I’ve just come back from my first shooting session with it. Things I don’t like: fiddly controls, no viewfinder, menu system confusing (although I’m sure a Canon user would say about the Fuji system, it’s just what you’re used to, I guess). Things I do like: it’s light, it has a great zoom range (goes both wider and longer than the primes I brought for the Fuji), it’s less obtrusive and a bit easier to shoot candid images.

Here’s one image from the ‘serious’ camera and one from the emergency compact. Is it obvious which is which?

So the assignment is going to feature a mix of images from the X-E1 and the S110… probably in favour of the X-E1 but you never know until the editing stage, and we have a couple more days here so it’s still all to play for. I accept the challenge of demonstrating that it’s not about the camera!