"The mechanism: stamped black tin, leatherette over cardboard, bits of boxwood, a lens. The shutter falls. Forever dividing that from this." - William Gibson
As you know if you listen to On Taking Pictures (and if you don't, now is a perfect time to start), I had been looking for a new camera since I sold my Nikon D300 several months ago. What I've realized, is that it wasn't just a new camera that I was looking for, but rather a renewed connection to and excitement for making pictures. I started with photography in high school at a time when the only way to learn photography was with film. Actually, we had to work up to film, starting instead with photograms, which, looking back, were a wonderful introduction to the medium. A blank sheet of paper, a few leaves or twigs and light; then it was into the darkroom to see the magic. Bathed in the amber glow of the safelights that would become my second home for years to come, I will never forget seeing the image appear before me in the tray of developer. Alchemy. For me, beginning in the darkroom bound me to photography as a process, rather than merely an outcome, something that I think has been lost to a large degree with the advent of digital.
Going back to move forward.
I had looked at all of the DSLR offerings in my price range, but nothing really impressed me. Originally, I had sold my D300 in anticipation of getting the D600. Unfortunately, once I actually got a chance to play with one, it just felt like a full-frame D7000, not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you (Nikki does gorgeous work with hers), it just didn't feel like what I was after. A friend suggested the Fuji X-E1, which, on paper, looked very interesting. The Fuji X-series cameras have fantastic sensors, tack sharp lenses and vintage-inspired styling that really appealed to me. After reading far too many reviews and pixel-peeping far too many photographs (not to mention multiple "should I?" or "shouldn't I?" conversations with Bill and Nikki), I ordered an X-E1 with the 35mm f/1.4 and the 18-55mm f/2.8 from B+H. A few days later, I opened the package like a four-year-old on Christmas. Thankfully, there was a little charge on the battery, so I popped on the 18-55mm and started snapping away around my apartment. I liked the styling of the camera straight away, though, if I'm being honest, it did feel a little plasticky; not flimsy, but just not as solid as I was expecting, based on the look of it. The body also felt a little small to me; small enough that my pinky dragged across the baseplate, which I didn't like. Weight and ergonomics aside, the image quality is gorgeous. The JPGs straight out of camera are clean, sharp and, depending on what Film Simulation mode you use, vibrant, smooth, punchy or dramatic. Unfortunately, the unit that I received was defective, only locking focus about 30-40% of the time. At first I thought it was just me or one of the focusing quirks that I had read about that affected both the X-E1 and it's big brother, the X-Pro1 (XP1). But, apparently, this was not the case. Repeated tests on a tripod under constant light with stationary subjects yielded wildly inconsistent results, both in focus and in metering. So, back it went. I was hesitant to simply get another X-E1 for several reasons, so I decided to have a look at the XP1. I think I knew the moment I looked through the viewfinder (and heard the shutter sound) that it would be my next camera.
The mechanism itself.
Picking up the XP1 was like slipping into an old pair of jeans, or my favorite pair of Converse sneakers. The cold metal against my fingers and the subtle click, click, click of the aperture ring made it feel like an object that was to be taken seriously. The vintage design of the camera is an homage to rangefinders past and present, though it is definitely not a rangefinder. The minimal top-panel controls consist of a single programmable function button and simple analog dials for shutter speed and EV compensation. The threaded shutter release button will even accept an old-school cable release, though mine has been fitted with a lovely Satin Red Beep from Match Technical.