The Virtues of Using a Fixed-Lens Camera

I own two cameras (not counting my iPhone): the Olympus Pen-F and the Fujifilm X100F. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each has its own feature set. But there is one big difference between them: the X100F has a fixed prime lens.

When most people think of a “good” camera, they think of a DSLR, a big, unwieldy beast with humungous lenses. They see this as part of a kit, one element in a big bag of stuff needed to take photos: extra lenses, filters, tripods, flashes, and more. (I exaggerate, but only slightly.)

But there are a handful of excellent cameras that don’t require all that stuff. I’m not talking about small point-and-shoot cameras, but rather full-featured cameras that offer the quality and features that are found on DSLRs. Ricoh, Sony, and Leica all make fixed-lens cameras, and Fujifilm’s X100F is a great example of how to create a compact, full-featured camera that can shoot wonderful photos. Among this type of camera, the X100F is one of the only models that has a viewfinder. (Some people may not find this feature important, but I cannot shoot pictures looking at an LCD screen.)


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Should You Use Your Camera in Manual or Automatic Mode?

There are a lot of debates in photography around how you should use a camera. Some ask whether you should use a filter to protect a lens, or whether you should use prime lenses or zoom lenses, and many people have fundamentalist responses to these questions. One of the big questions is:

Should you use your camera in manual or automatic mode (or, as some cameras call it, program mode)?

There are thousands of photographers who write articles about photography, discussing how to use a camera, how to focus, and how to work in photo editing apps. And many of them address this question.

Obviously, there are two answers. And it’s not surprising that many of these photographers who churn out articles and videos tend to say that manual mode is better.

Since these photographers mostly talk about gear in their articles and videos, they say that the choice that focuses on the gear is the correct one. But take a step back for a minute.

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Why You Should Edit Your Photos

In photography, the word “edit” has – unfortunately – two meanings. The first is the post-production work you do on a photo: cropping, adjusting white balance, changing exposure, contrast, brightness, and so on. You may or may not do this with your photos before you show them to other people; in fact, most people don’t.

And this is a shame. It’s not that hard to learn how to do simple editing, even in an app like Apple’s Photos. You don’t need Lightroom and Photoshop, like all the “serious” photographers; simple apps, even on a smartphone, can make changes to photos.

For many people, this isn’t an issue. They’ve shot some pictures on a vacation, and want to show them to friends or family, or share them on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media services. They don’t care how they look, they just want to show where they’ve been, or who they’ve been with. Though editing photos a bit can make you look better, make your trip look more envious, or make your meal look fancier.

Here’s an example. Someone I know took a trip to Italy recently, and he has allowed me to use some of his photos for a book I’m working on about editing photos. What I want to show people is how easy it is to make an average photo look great; it only takes a minute or two. Below are two photos: the original, then my edited version.

San marino before

I would probably want the edited photo to be a bit softer; the sky looks a bit like those over-contrasted HDR skies you see these days. But the original was shot on an iPhone, and I don’t have a raw file, which would have allowed more subtle adjustments. And I only spent about one minute working on the file, just to show this person what is possible. Nevertheless, the edited photo is arguably much better than the original.

The second meaning of the word “edit” is very different: it’s about editing a body of work. Let’s say you’ve taken a trip to a tropical island, and shot 500 photos. If you want to show them to friends, it’s a good idea to cull them, because no one – and I mean no one – will want to sit through all your pictures. An easy way to do that in Apple Photos, or on an iPhone or iPad, just to just click or tap the heart button to add them to your favorites. It’s then a lot easier to scroll through 50 of your best photos to show to your friends than it is to sift through ten times that many.

The same is the case for people sharing photos on sites like Instagram. Earlier today, I linked to an article asking Is Street Photography Killing Itself?. A lot of people are into street photography because it’s cool. And they end up sharing dross, diluting the quality of any good photos they may have taken. As the author of this article says:

“street photography has become the social media of photography: an avalanche of banal, shallow and unreflective nothing that hasn’t the time to consider its own context.”

People who shoot street photography tend to spray their photos onto social media without really querying whether they say anything, whether they are clichéd, or whether they’re even very good.

Imagine if you were told that you could keep no more than one photo each day? You could shoot as many as you want, but only keep one. You’d quickly end up shooting less, taking more time composing and setting exposure, because it would be easier to choose from ten photos than from a hundred.

Maybe we should all take pictures with that in mind; that every day, you have to do your best to shoot one great photo. Ignore all the rest, if you happen to get a dozen good shots, then you’re a winner, but if you have a hundred shots that are mediocre, what’s the point?

I’ve been working on training my eye by studying photos from those photographers recognized as great. If you browse the Photo category of this site, you’ll see reviews of some of these books (and there are more to come), along with tips on editing photos (meaning #1), and using the cameras I work with. I think buying a few photo books is a good investment. You can look at photos on the web, but there’s nothing like a well-printed photo book of great pictures to take my breath away. (For example: William Eggleston’s Los Alamos Revisited.)

Rather than buy a new lens, or some other gadget, buy a few photo books. Look at great photos. Learn how to see.

Photo Book Review: Modern Color, by Fred Herzog

Herzog modern colorFred Herzog was a German photographer who emigrated to Canada. Professionally, he was a medical photographer, but in his spare time he documented his surroundings, notably Vancouver, Canada, but he also took photos during trips to other countries. A recently published book, Modern Color, shows the range of his photography, most of which were previously unknown. (, Amazon UK)

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

“Fred Herzog is known for his unusual use of colour in the fifties and sixties, a time when art photography was almost exclusively associated with black and white imagery. The Canadian photographer worked almost exclusively with Kodachrome slide film for over 50 years, and only in the past decade has technology allowed him to make archival pigment prints that match the exceptional color and intensity of the Kodachrome slide. In this respect, his photographs can be seen as a pre-figuration of the New Color photographers of the seventies.”

This is a beautiful book, in bright, saturated colors, that faithfully reproduce that Kodachrome look. At the time, art photography had to be in black and white, something that didn’t start changing until the 1970s, after William Eggleston had his groundbreaking solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

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“I am at war with the obvious.”

I am afraid that there are more people than I can imagine who can go no further than appreciating a picture that is a rectangle with an object in the middle of it, which they can identify. They don’t care what is around the object as long as nothing interferes with the object itself, right in the center. Even after the lessons of Winogrand and Friedlander, they don’t get it. They respect their work because they are told by important institutions that they are important artists, but what they really want to see is a picture with a figure or an object in the middle of it. They want something obvious. The blindness is apparent when someone lets slip the word “snapshot.” Ignorance can always be covered by “snapshot.” The word has never had any meaning. I am at war with the obvious.

Photo by William Eggleston, from The Democratic Forest (, Amazon UK)

How to Use the Q Button on the Fujifilm X100F and other Fuji Cameras to Easily Change Settings

I have two cameras (not counting my iPhone): the Olympus Pen-F and the Fujifilm X100F. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each has its own feature set. One thing I really like on the X100F is the Q button.

The Q (or Quick Menu) button is on many of Fuji’s cameras. On the X100F, it’s on the right, and is easy to access with your thumb. It provides quick access to a number of settings that you may want to change quickly when shooting.

Q button

As you can see above, I’ve selected the Film Simulation setting. If you like Fuji’s film simulations, you may want to use this one often. To change any of the settings, just turn the rear dial. To move around from setting to setting, press one of the four sides of the Selector (those are the buttons around the Menu/OK button).

The settings available include Auto-Focus, Dynamic Range, Noise Reduction, Shadows, Highlights, and more. Here are the defaults:

Q menu settings

In the top left, you can see the button marked BASE C1. You can assign up to seven sets of settings that you can quickly access by selecting this and rotating the rear dial. To apply custom settings, go to the menus: IQ > Image Quality Setting > Edit/Save Custom Setting.

But it gets better. You can also change the settings available from the Quick Menu. Press and hold the Q button, then move to the settings button you want to change. Press the Menu button, then scroll through the list that displays. Find the setting you want to add, then press Menu/OK.

This is practical if you want to easily access settings like the ND Filter, Conversion Lens, Shutter Type settings, or others. You can personalize what displays when you press the Q menu by choosing your own settings, or by selecting the settings you use most for the buttons that are at the top or left, which are easier to access. So, if you want to move, say, the Film Simulation setting to the top left – so it’s selected as soon as you press the Q button – apply it instead of the Custom Settings button, but put that button where the Film Simulation setting is. I admit, it would be easier if there were a quicker way to move these buttons around, but this method works.

Take some time to get to know the Q button and the Quick Menu screen, and customize to so the settings you often change are easily accessible. You’ll save time, and you won’t have to dig through menus as much.