My journey to Fujifilm wasn’t a straight path. Like many worthwhile adventures, there were a lot of twists and turns, and even moments where I nearly gave up. I’ve yet to chronicle this camera odyssey, so I thought I’d share it with you today. Perhaps you can relate, or maybe it will somehow assist you on your own journey.
In autumn of 1998 I enrolled in Photography 101 in college, where I learned to develop and print film in a darkroom. My first camera was a Canon AE-1, which I absolutely loved. Digital photography was in its infancy back then; I could tell a digital picture from film very easily, so I steered clear of it. I was one of those “holdouts” who stubbornly refused to go digital, and continued to shoot film even though it was no longer popular.
In 2009 I was asked to photograph my uncle-in-law’s wedding, which would happen the following spring. Realizing that the cost of film and development wouldn’t be that much less than the price of a new DSLR, I figured the time was finally right to give digital photography a try. My first DSLR was a Pentax K-x. I had a couple of Pentax SLRs, and I could use those K-Mount lenses on any Pentax DSLR—being able to use lenses that I already owned was a big upside. While the K-x was a budget model (not the cheapest, though), it was their newest, so I took a chance and went for it.
I didn’t realize how much of a learning curve there would be. Photography is photography, I thought, but I was very wrong. I had never used PASM—on my film cameras, if I wanted to adjust the aperture, I turned a ring on the lens; if I wanted to adjust the shutter speed, I turned a knob on top of the camera; and ISO was set by the film. Choosing the shooting mode and using command wheels to adjust aspects of the exposure triangle was foreign to me. Crop-sensor was another new concept, which affects focal lengths and depth-of-field, something I didn’t even consider. With film, it’s often better to overexpose a little than underexpose, but with digital it is the opposite, because you can lift shadows but you cannot unclip clipped highlights. Post-processing with software… I had a lot of experience in the darkroom, but Lightroom… curves and sliders and layers and masking, that was all new to me, and it was not easy. I did not enjoy any of this.
Still, I had that wedding to photograph, so I begrudgingly trudged ahead, trying to become competent with my K-x.
For the next couple of years I was shooting more film than digital, but the film canisters were piling up in my refrigerator. My wife was getting tired of sharing fridge space with my film, but money was tight and I could only afford to get a couple of rolls developed here and there. I almost sold my K-x to fund the development of the film, but instead decided to just shoot more digital until my current stash of exposed film could be processed.
In 2012 I purchased my second model: a Samsung NX200. Yes, Samsung briefly had a line of mirrorless interchangeable-lens APS-C cameras that were actually quite innovative. By this time I had accumulated enough experience with digital photography—both operating digital cameras and post-processing with software—that it was becoming more comfortable and enjoyable, which made me want to shoot more.
I used that Samsung a lot… until one day when someone stole my camera bag from my car. Both the K-x and NX200 and all of my lenses were inside. Thankfully, I had good insurance, which replaced the K-x with a Pentax K30, and the NX200 with an NX210, plus they replaced the lenses. For about a month I didn’t have a digital camera, but once the insurance delivered, I had upgraded gear, and my zest for photography picked up right where it left off.
Funny enough, the stolen camera gear was recovered when the thief tried to pawn it. Because I had kept a record of the serial numbers, when I filed the police report the cameras were added to a list that was distributed to local second-hand shops; the pawn shop clerk saw that the gear was stolen, so they alerted the police. It took awhile, but I was able to acquire my stuff back, and suddenly I had four digital cameras!
I didn’t need four cameras, so I sold both of the Pentax bodies and the Samsung NX210, and used the funds to buy a Sigma DP2 Merrill (plus more NX lenses). I kept the NX200 for when I wanted an interchangeable-lens option. I liked this setup because the Sigma was small and pocketable, and the Samsung was smaller than a DSLR yet just as versatile.
The photographs from the Sigma DP2 Merrill were absolutely fantastic—finally as good as or perhaps even better than many of the film emulsions that I used. It was the first time that I felt this way about the quality of digital images. I finally truly embraced digital photography. I was in love with the pictures; however, the camera was far from perfect. Battery life was similar to a roll of film. You couldn’t stray far from base ISO. The camera itself was uninspiring. The RAW files were a complete pain to process. The photographs were amazing, but it was frustrating, difficult, and often time-consuming to achieve it. It was the epitome of love-hate.
For the next year, I used the Sigma for about 75% of my photography and the Samsung for about 25%. Man, that DP2 Merrill was a pain, but boy-oh-boy were the pictures good! Even though it had a fixed 30mm (45mm-equivalent) lens, I didn’t feel hindered by that limitation very often, and when I did the Samsung was eager to go.
A friend loaned my their Nikon D3200 to try for a few weeks, then I gave it back. The image quality was impressive for such a cheap body, but I was happy enough with the gear I had that I wasn’t tempted to switch brands.
While cellphones had had a camera built into them for many years, I never felt that they were useful photographic tools until I got a Nokia Lumia 1020. This cellphone was a legitimate camera! Not a decent cellphone that happens to have a so-so camera, but a decent camera that happens to have a so-so cellphone. While the Sigma was quite compact and easily carried, the Nokia was even more so, which means that I literally always had it with me.
For about another year, I used the DP2 Merrill for about 50% of my photography, the Lumia 1020 for around 35%, and the Samsung was down to roughly only 15%. During this time two things happened: I was getting burnt out on post-processing the Sigma files, which was extraordinarily time consuming, and the Samsung began acting weird sometimes. Perhaps that’s why I used my cellphone so much.
In 2015 I sold the NX200 (and the lenses for it), and went all-in on the Nikon D3300, returning to the DSLR. This was Nikon’s low-budget model, but (because I had previously tried the D3200) I knew it would work fine for me; I spent more money on lenses instead. I really liked the quality of the pictures from this camera, but it didn’t take me long to remember that I didn’t care much for DSLRs. While the D3300 was very small and lightweight for a DSLR, it was still bulky, and less convenient to carry around.
I preferred the D3300 process—the shooting experience and especially the editing—over the Sigma, so I used the DP2 Merrill less and less. I have several thousand unprocessed RAW Sigma files still sitting on an old computer that’s in a box in the closet, and I’m sure they’ll be lost to time soon enough. Within a few months of purchasing the Nikon, I was only using the D3300 and cellphone, and not the DP2 Merrill.
It was a tough decision that I occasionally regret, but I reluctantly sold the Sigma DP2 Merrill. I set out to replace it with something somewhat equivalent—good image quality in a small, pocketable body—but with easier images to deal with. I wanted something that would be better than a DSLR for travel or just carrying around. I landed on the Sony RX100 II, which had a smaller sensor and a zoom lens.
It was definitely good to have a smaller option; however, while the camera certainly was good, I was never really happy with it. Perhaps I was too closely comparing the images to the Sigma, which was unfair to do. Sadly, despite trying, the RX100 II never found its place in my workflow, and was often underutilized.
I didn’t even own the Sony RX100 II a whole year before I sold it. During this time I was photographing less, while simultaneously shooting more film than I had the previous few years. Soon the D3300 and my cellphone were the only digital cameras that I owned, and I was using the Lumia 1020 more than the Nikon.
My wife had a Canon PowerShot N digicam. This little weird square camera actually took interesting pictures. I borrowed it on several occasions, including a trip to the eastern Sierras and Yosemite National Park, where I often chose it over the Nikon.
I realized that I don’t enjoy big cameras. I appreciate smaller models because they’re easier to carry around and don’t get in the way of whatever else is happening around you. I feel sometimes that one has to choose whether they’ll be a photographer or just a regular person in the moment; however, small cameras allow you to be both, but often the compromise is image quality.
Even though some of my favorite pictures (up to that point) were captured on the Nikon D3300, in early 2016 I sold it, and seriously contemplated getting out of digital photography completely, and just shoot film. Instead, I purchased a Panasonic Lumix ZS40, which was similar to the RX100 but cheaper and not as good. For about four months my only digital models were this and my cellphone.
I also replaced my aging Nokia Lumia 1020 with an LG G4. The Nokia was barely being supported, so the phone side of it was becoming less practical. While the LG phone was not terrible for photography, I did not like it as a camera nearly as much as the Nokia; however, it was a much better phone overall.
This period of my photography is a bit of an empty hole. I nearly stopped. I was burnt out by a lot of things—some photography related and some not—and there just wasn’t the same joy in it that there once was.
But, then everything changed. I always had an interest in Fujifilm cameras since the original X100 was released, but never purchased one. In the summer of 2016, after months of not owning a “real” camera (aside from several analog models), I found a good deal on a used X-E1, so I bought it. When I first tried the X-E1, I instantly fell back in love with photography! The design—the retro tactile dials like my film cameras—just made so much sense to me. Why weren’t all digital cameras like this?!
Because I loved the camera so much, I was suddenly photographing a lot. I mean, a lot. The old problem of spending hours and hours editing pictures was returning, but at least the joy of photography was back. I sold the Panasonic, and used the X-E1 pretty much exclusively. Even the film cameras were going unused.
After one year, I traded out my beloved X-E1 for a Fujifilm X100F. Because the Sigma DP2 Merrill held such a special spot in my soul, I had high hopes that the X100F could basically do the same for me. It could be my “DP2” without the ridiculous editing hassle and without the shortcomings of that camera. At base-ISO the DP2 Merrill is really difficult to beat, but overall I found that I like the X100-series better. Much better, in fact.
Something very important happened at this time that must be pointed out: I figured out that the Fujifilm JPEGs were actually really good. I realized that the unedited straight-out-of-camera JPEGs didn’t look all that much different than my post-processed RAW files, and by tweaking the settings I could get even closer. Why was I spending all of this time editing RAW files when the camera could do the work for me? This realization literally changed my life. This was when I began making Film Simulation Recipes, which saves me so much time, and has allowed me to become a much more prolific photographer, while avoiding getting bogged down in the stuff that sucks the fun out of it.
This article is already much too long, so I want to skip over my journey within Fujifilm. Maybe I’ll save that for another time. Currently I own a number of X-series models—nine bodies, to be exact—and I have owned or used a number of others. In a moment I’ll tell you what I’m shooting with in 2023.
I have had the opportunity to try several non-Fujifilm cameras over the last few years. I’m a proud Fujifilm fanboy, but that does not mean I’m not curious about or are not interested in other brands. I’ve tried Canon, Sony, Nikon, Ricoh, and Apple. They’re all good. They all have positive attributes. For me it’s no contest: Fujifilm is hands-down the best—I love Fujifilm cameras, and I cannot envision being a photographer without at least one; however, everyone has their own tastes and appreciations, and you might disagree with my assessments.
So what am I shooting with now? Which cameras am I currently using?
Below are my top-ten most-used models so far in 2023, half of which are Fujifilm, which means five are not Fujifilm. I’ve placed them in order of most-used to least-used. As the year goes on I’m sure this list will change, at least a little. Without further ado, here are the camera’s I’ve been shooting with in 2023:
Ricoh GR III
Nikon CoolPix S7c
Fujifilm FinePix AX350
This post contains affiliate links, and if you make a purchase using my links I’ll be compensated a small amount for it.
Fujifilm X-T5 in black: Amazon B&H Moment
Fujifilm X-T5 in silver: Amazon B&H Moment
Fujifilm X100V in black: Amazon B&H Moment
Fujifilm X100V in silver: Amazon B&H Moment
Fujifilm X-E4 in black: Amazon B&H Moment
Fujifilm X-E4 in silver: Amazon B&H Moment
Ricoh GR III: Amazon B&H Moment