From 1981 to 2009, I used a Leica M rangefinder system continuously. As most practitioners of the art know, the Leica M, with its simple, optical view of the world, small size and ease of pre-setting controls, made it the supreme tool for street photography.
In the winter of 2014, I finally got around to looking at the Fuji X system. I was especially attracted to the X-Pro1 body. Its optical finder and interchangeable lens capability really brought me back to my old Leica M system, which I had become comfortable with, for nearly 30 years of daily use.
Over this past year since I’ve owned the Fuji X-Pro1, I’ve discovered a way to set up the camera to make it work for me. This is by no means the only the way to use the X-Pro1 for street work. But it’s what I’ve figured out from using the camera on the street, over dozens of hours.
With this set-up, I’ve found the X-Pro1 becomes a quick-reacting, responsive and invisible partner for me, when I’m shooting on the street. Very similar, although not identical, in the way I shot with the Leica M rangefinder.
In addition, I’ll also cover the equally important set-up choices beyond the camera and lens. Namely, the shoulder strap, camera bag or pouch, and the importance of great footwear.
FUJI X-PRO1 STREET PHOTOGRAPHY SET-UP
My bare-bones camera equipment for street photography on busy, city streets or crowded events, is:
- Fuji X-Pro1 body
- Fuji XF 18mm f2 lens (28mm-equivalent)
While that covers probably 80% of how I’d like to capture street scenes, the 18mm/28mm-e is quite wide and sometimes I’d feel more comfortable with a 50mm equivalent.
For more versatility, I’ll add a second camera with a standard focal length lens. This gives me a touch more distance in thinner crowds and/or when I want to be more selective with my focus. The combination of a 28mm-e and 50mm-e for street use will cover virtually everything I would want to capture. I also carry an old light meter with me.
- Two Fuji X-Pro1 camera bodies
- Fuji XF 18mm f2 lens (28mm-equivalent)
- Zeiss Touit 32mm f1.8 lens (50mm-equivalent)
- Minolta IVF light meter
If I want to be really prepared, I also throw in the 60mm Macro (90mm-equivalent) lens in the camera bag when I head out for the day. But I use that telephoto lens to capture architectural details and cityscapes with compression. I never use a telephoto for photographing people on the street, so it won’t be part of my discussion here.
This is how I set up and use my Fuji X-Pro1’s for the street, based on essential functions.
I use the Fuji X-Pro1 in Manual Focus mode. The X-Pro1 has a simple dial on the front of the camera. I set this to M, for Manual Focus.
There are two ways in which I use the Manual Focus setting, and it depends upon the lens.
Focus for 18mm (about a 28mm-equivalent) or any Wide-Angle lens
My Go-To lens for shooting on a crowded, city street is Fuji’s handy XF 18mm f2. It’s the second smallest lens in Fuji’s line-up, and the fastest focusing of the original three lenses for the X system. It has a very short lag time from shutter release to capture, compared to some of the other XF lenses.
Optically, it’s not Fuji’s finest when it comes to high resolution and lack of distortion. But for street use, it’s still a superb lens and shouldn’t be overlooked because it doesn’t score well in pixel-peeping reviews.
For a more in-depth review of this overlooked Fuji lens, you can read the article on the XF 18mm here –
While it does focus fast, I prefer not to autofocus this lens at all. Instead, I’ll zone focus the 18mm. For outdoors, I usually set the f-stop at either f8 or f11. This gives me a lot of depth of field to play with, but the lens is not so stopped down that the softening effects of diffraction becomes detrimental.
Unlike the 14mm or 23mm lenses, the 18mm doesn’t have a depth of field scale on the lens barrel. The viewfinder in both OVF and EVF modes as well as the LCD monitor does, however, have a DOF scale displayed at the bottom.
At f11, for example, if I set the focus at just over 2 meters, I’m in focus at near distance down to just over 1.5 meters, and out to 4 meters at the far end. Everything in the white bar below is in nominally in focus. I’ll look for my subjects in city crowds within those distances, and I know I’ll get anything within that zone, in focus.
- Please note: I find Fuji’s electronic DOF scales to be VERY conservative. In reality, one will get a deeper depth of field than what’s indicated on the LCD or viewfinder scale.
By eliminating the camera’s need to autofocus, that’s a significant step the camera doesn’t have to do, so a lot of time is shaved from the moment of pressing the release to the capture happening. Timing is critical for street photography, especially capturing people’s expressions at just the right moment.
Focusing a 35mm or 32mm (more or less a 50mm-equivalent) Standard focal length lens
For the equivalent of a 50mm lens or longer (although I personally don’t use anything longer than a 32mm/50mm-e for street work), I keep it on Manual Focus as well, but I don’t depend upon zone focusing.
If you compare the apparent depth of field at the same aperture between Fuji’s wide angle 18mm and a standard focal length Fuji XF 35mm or Zeiss Touit 32mm, the apparent DOF on the standard focal length is a lot less. The zone of focus is much narrower, even at f8 or f11, so there’s not much margin for error. Big difference in the zone of focus area (white bars, the 32mm immediately below, the 18mm again, further down). Both lenses are set at f11 and focused just over 2 meters, roughly.
For the 32mm, instead of using zone focusing, while I’m in Manual Focus mode, I’ll use the AF-L button to lock focus. I bring the camera up to my eye, and hit the rear AE-L/AF-L button to momentarily focus the standard focal length lens, re-compose a split second later (as I often don’t have the subject dead center) and make the shot.
While we’re on the subject of lenses, let’s cover lens hoods.
I like using hoods on my 18mm and 32mm lenses at all times. The Fuji XF 18mm has a very small, smartly designed rectangular hood that bayonets on and provides good flare protection. The Zeiss Touit 32mm has a light, plastic hood that also bayonets on, and is so deep that not even dust has managed to reach the front element of the lens. Obviously, it provides excellent flare protection too.
One caveat with the Zeiss hood: it’s large enough that it will block a good chunk of the lower, right hand portion of the frame. For those of you who have had years or decades using a Leica rangefinder, I bet you’ve worked out a way to pre visualize your shot so that the hood blockage doesn’t disturb you.
For those who are used to TTL viewing, hood blockage could be bothersome. A few ways to get around this issue with the Zeiss Touit 32mm is to either remove the hood, or to view the image using the EVF.
An important reason to use hoods is that they provide physical protection for your lens’ front element, especially when moving through crowds in a city. And iif you use a two-camera set-up, and you have the other camera hanging on your shoulder or in your camera bag with a hood on its lens, you can be assured that your front element will have some protection, without having to place a lens cap on it.
VIEWFINDER & LCD
The biggest draw of using the X-Pro1 instead of Fuji’s highly capable X-T1 and X-E2, is the option to use the Optical Viewfinder, or OVF. Being a decades-long Leica rangefinder user, I’ve been a big fan of framing through a simple, optical window. This is especially true for street photography and documentary work.
What I found attractive about an optical finder is that its a simple framing device that doesn’t come between you and your subject. As Garry Winogrand put it, one wants a minimum of mechanisms between the photographer and what she or he is photographing.
Don’t get me wrong – for my commercial work, TTL viewing is absolutely essential. The ability to see exactly what the lens is seeing and to line up all of the crucial elements is paramount for that type of work. But for the street, it’s about reacting to life and the fleeting moment. I find it’s important for me to stay connected to what’s happening around me, and viewing through a simple, glass finder has worked out well for me over the decades.
I tend not to look continuously through the finder. Instead, I look at the world around me, and only at the last second, bring the optical finder up to my eye, frame the scene for a moment, capture it, and then the camera is away from my eye again, as I look for the next moment. A simple finder with clear frame lines seems to work best for split-second framing.
Unlike the EVF, there’s no display lag with the OVF. You’re seeing reality as it occurs.
There’s also the advantage of seeing slightly beyond the frame lines, so when the OVF is up to your eye, you’re seeing a bit around what you’re immediately framing. This gives you the ability to anticipate something that might enter your frame. So the majority of the time, I have X-Pro1’s finder set to the OVF.
As X-Pro1 users know, there are two magnifications. This can be accessed easily by pulling the finder selection lever to the right and holding it there, until the OVF’s magnification switches. Multiple magnifications in a single finder is a feature that still doesn’t exist even in today’s Leica M bodies, and it’s a great capability.
The X-Pro1 has great eye relief, so with the 18mm wide-angle lens on, I can easily see its frame lines with the lower magnification. The higher magnification won’t be able to show the entire view with the 18mm frame lines.
The higher magnification is the obvious choice when shooting with the 32mm standard lens. If you need to see more of the world around the frame lines with the standard lens, you can choose the lower magnification.
Outdoors during the day, it’s always manual. I use an old Minolta IVF light meter to take a quick, incident light reading. These are quite easy to find used, at a low price.
But one can equally do an initial light reading with the X-Pro1’s internal meter. I like to read the palm of my hand, with the same light hitting it as the scene I’m about to photograph. I then open up one stop. That usually gives me a good, average reading, often similar to my Minolta’s incident reading.
As I’m shooting, if I notice the light goes up and down, I’ll adjust accordingly.
The one exception outdoors where I use Aperture Priority automatic exposure is when I’m shooting in Toronto’s Dundas Square at nighttime. Similar to NYC’s Time’s Square, it’s illuminated by dozens of constantly varying, electronic billboards. That’s a nightmare to try and keep up with manual exposure, so that’s a good situation where some form of AE is smart.
Here are two examples of that situation, below. This cyclist was walking his bike through the square when he saw me doing street photography. He approached me and asked to have his portrait taken. I captured these two exposures only seconds apart. You can see how the colour temperature and lighting changed dramatically in that short time span, due to the electronic billboards illuminating the scene. Aperture Priority in this situation is the right choice.
For outdoors, I set ISO to 800. As with most modern day, quality sensors, the Fuji X’s sensor is remarkably noise free at this ISO with its Raw files.
As we all know, the Sunny f16 rule means at that ISO, I can set my shutter speed at f16 to 1/800th of a second. The closest shutter speed on the Fuji dial is 1/1000th. Since I tend to shoot with my lens at f8 or f11 (to avoid the softening effects of diffraction), that means my shutter speed at f11 is 1/2000th, which is plenty fast for freezing a moment.
For nighttime or indoors, I’ll go up to ISO 3200 and open up the aperture accordingly. The increase in noise is still acceptable with the Fuji, and the ability to shoot without a flash really helps with being non-intrusive when shooting in a public space.
While I like to be as accurate as possible when it comes to exposure, I also shoot Raw files, which gives me a lot of leeway if I do make an error. I do try and avoid being overly dependent on correcting mistakes in Raw, and as I said, I try to get the exposure as accurate as possible from the initial capture.
OTHER SETTINGS ON THE X-PRO1
Silent Mode is On, so the camera doesn’t project a focus assist light in poor lighting conditions.
I often use Long Exposure NR (Noise Reduction) when I use my Fuji cameras for my architectural work, but I make sure that this is Off when I’m doing street photography.
That’s pretty much how I’ve learned to set-up my Fuji X-Pro1 cameras this past year, in order to shoot on the street. If it seems like I’ve turned my Fuji into operating like a manual Leica M rangefinder – in some ways, that’s true. The fact that one has the controls to set the Fuji into a fast reacting street camera without any distractions is a wonderful thing, IMHO.
Before I finish this article, here are a few more tips that are about the physical handling of the camera, and one very important non-photographic accessory, for street photography.
SHOULDER STRAP TYPE & USE
While I like using a wrist strap, it really only works for me when I’m using a single camera. As I often use two X-Pro1’s, a wrist strap would mean I would have to put away one of the cameras into my shoulder bag, before using the other.
I prefer a shoulder strap, so I don’t have to completely store one of the cameras away – I can simply hang the camera I’m not using from its strap over one shoulder. While I love premium, gorgeous looking straps like Artisan & Artist, the most practical strap for me is the lowly Domke Gripper strap without swivel and no quick release.
The Domke Gripper strap has been around for years and is a bit overlooked with the presence of so many high-end straps on the market. But it works well for me. I have sloping shoulders, and the gripper material (the canvas strap is lined with two rows of rubber) helps to keep the strap on my shoulder.
I also like the version without the quick release and without the swivel. Less sharp corners to potentially scratch my lenses, finders or screens is a good thing.
The Domke strap is also adjustable, so I’ll shorten one quite a bit and keep the other strap quite long. If I want to drape both cameras in front and around my neck, they will sit at very different heights and won’t contact each other.
If I’ll be using one lens for a while, I’ll also use a hitch knot to wrap the strap around my wrist. It shortens the strap and attaches it very securely to my wrist. At the same time, if I have to switch cameras quickly, it’s easy to undo the knot.
The Domke Gripper is widely available and is competitively priced compared to its premium rivals.
KEEP THE PRIMARY CAMERA NEAR YOUR FACE
If you like to shoot quietly and unobtrusively, watch documentary footage of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gary Winogrand and Joel Meyerowitz at work. This other post has a few links to these great masters working on the street.
They often walk with their Leica near their face, and there’s very little movement or motion required to get the finder up to their eye to frame the shot for a split second. By reducing the distance the camera has to move, it makes one very discreet. Alternatively, Cartier-Bresson also keeps the camera hidden in his hand by his side, and then moves it up smoothly and discreetly to frame for a moment, then it’s back down.
The Fuji X-Pro1’s size and shape is similar to a Leica M rangefinder. I’ve found the same technique works just as well with the Fuji X cameras.
SOFT BAG OR POUCHES TO CARRY YOUR GEAR
If you’re going with more than just one camera/one lens, a small to medium size messenger type bag or small camera bag works great for discretely carrying one’s equipment.
Obvious choices in the messenger style are Billingham’s classic Hadley series, the Domke F-803, an Artisan & Artist 7000 or 7100, the Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger, or the non-photo-specific Brady Gelderburn or Ariel Trout fishing bag, to name a few. They are all slim bags that hug one’s torso, and are easy to maneuver in a crowded street. And they tend not to look like a camera bag, which is a plus, in public.
The Harvey Messenger is about as big a bag as I like to carry. I’ve learned NOT to fill it to capacity, and to use that extra space for a jacket or hat I might shed, as the weather changes. I also like the fact that it looks like an army surplus bag – again, best not to call attention to itself.
A different form factor but one that has also worked well for me in the past is the Domke F-3X bag. Hugs the body well as its made from soft canvas, and frankly, it’s a bit ugly – always a plus on the street for flying under the radar. It’s available in standard canvas, or waxed canvas called RuggedWear. If you live in a rainy climate, get the RuggedWear waxed canvas version. It’s much more water resistant than normal canvas.
It’s a bit thicker (front to back) than a messenger bag, but it’s still quite small and soft, carries two cameras with lenses mounted plus silos for two more lenses or a lens plus meter, and useful side pockets.
An alternative way of carrying gear is to use belt pouches or fanny packs. That really takes the weight off your shoulder. Domke, Think Tank and Newswear are just a few options. Look at documentary footage on YouTube of photojournalists James Nachtwey and Anthony Suau at work, to see how they work with pouches or light fanny packs.
REALLY GREAT SHOES
Street photography means walking. I’ve learned not to skimp on good walking shoes that are suitable for sidewalks. I like using sensible, light walking boots that come up over my ankles, with rubber soles.
Walking or work boots that almost have a dressy look that work for me, are Alden’s work boots with cork shoes (the so-called Indy boot) or Red Wing’s similar Chukka or work boots with Goodyear welt and soft rubber sole.
While they’re very technical in appearance and will look out of place in a fine dining establishment, a no-compromise choice of footwear are Salomon’s GTX boots. These are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever used for walking, even if you’re feet look like their ready for an outdoor lifestyle advertisement.
But everyone is different, and you’ll need to determine what you need. Regardless, don’t underestimate the importance of walking shoes. They’re more important than the type of camera you use.
Part II will cover how I used my old Leica M film rangefinders on the street, for nearly 30 years. That experience informed how I ended up setting the Fuji X-Pro1.
A note to readers: Fujifilm did not provide this equipment to me, I purchased it at full retail price with my own funds. This goes for all of the equipment that I review here. This ensures my reviews are honest and free of influence from the manufacturer.
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