Touch Ups - street performer doing makeup. Nikon Z6ii, Nikkor AFS 50mm 1.8, ISO 140, @ 2.2
Some of you will know that I’ve been happily shooting and documenting with Fuji cameras now for well over a decade. It was over 7 years ago that I sold my professional DSLR kit and swapped over fully to Fuji. In a normal year (pre COVID), I travel Asia for up to a couple of months, and then shoot many events and street activities back home here in Australia. I’ve gone through many Fuji iterations honing and perfecting my kit. I now have two marvellous X-T3’s – one with the sublime 16mm 1.4 ‘glued’ on and the other with the lovely little 50mm F2 ‘strapped’ on board. That’s it! Haircuts for the Homeless. Fuji X-T3, Fuji FX 50mm f2, ISO 160, @ f2
I now happily shoot all of my professional gigs/street/events with that pared-down kit. However, in life we often get side tracked, so this missive is to document a journey in ‘hankering’ (longing for something until you rush out and buy it), that I recently embarked on. It was a tangential move that got me slightly off track – I will explain. I’m hoping after this that I will save somebody the angst and financial hit that I experienced.
Warm-up - Haircuts for the Homeless. Fuji X-T3, Fuji FX 50mm f2, ISO 500, @ f2
When I’m not out shooting or spending time with my wonderful wife, I’m often online reading about equipment reviews, the latest gear, or photographic destinations. I am very happy with the images from my crop-sensor Fiji cameras and I certainly do not miss the weight and bulk of my huge Nikon kit. However, with the introduction of mirrorless full-frame (much smaller), I had been wondering of late if I am missing out on some extra dynamic range or high ISO by solely shooting with a crop-sensor kit. To shorten a long story, I rather foolishly and rashly jumped in and bought a Nikon Z6ii body. I already had a Nikon AFS 50mm 1.8g lens that had been hanging around my cupboard for many years. I bought the FTZ adapter and I now had a full-frame camera with 50mm lens.
Just to add here that this decision was not without a large financial commitment. Here in Australia gear is horrendously expensive and we have no return policy – you walk out that door and you are stuck with it for good. If one is dissatisfied, your only recourse is to sell it on ‘fleabay’ - usually accompanied by a large financial hit. The body and adapter cost me a cool $3,500 – ouch! This is not a review on the Nikon Z6ii – not at all. I won’t go on about it at length – I’m solely writing this missive to demonstrate the fact that we Fuji users can hold our head very high and be fully satisfied with our gear. However, I will quickly mention some of the things I have observed, having now used and compared both kits for well over a month.
Final Touches - Haircuts for the Homeless. Nikon Z6ii, Nikkor AFS 50mm 1.8, ISO 200, @ 2.2
First up – yes, it is true with everything they say about the advantages of full-frame files, when compared to crop-sensor. As you will see from the images here that in good light and ideal conditions (low ISO, no great variance between shadows and highlights), that the files are very comparable. I think the RAF files hold up extremely well when compared to the NEF RAW files. In fact, in some situations I think the Fuji images look better, crisper and with more punch. The big differences are seen when in very contrasty situations (if I happen to underexpose the shadows), or in dim lighting with high ISO. In these circumstances, I can safely say that the Nikon files have at least 2 or more stops better high ISO performance, than my Fuji files (and dynamic range). I’ve shot comparisons side by side and I can clearly see it. The other big difference is if I try to salvage underexposed shadows and pull them up a few stops (worse in high ISO). On the Fuji files the face or skin takes on an unnatural red/pale hue and it does not look good – the Nikon doesn’t do this. I can also crop in a lot more and use a small part of the frame and not lose any discernible clarity in my image. I can’t do this to the same extent with my Fuji files.
Final Instructions - Haircuts for the Homeless. Fuji X-T3, Fuji FX 16mm 1.4, ISO 160, @ 1.4
As we all know, with full-frame using a similar lens and aperture, we get better separation between subject and background (narrower depth of field). For somebody like me who ALWAYS shoots wide open, and always shoots people with zero landscapes or scenery, this is a big deal. Finally – of course the Z6ii has nice IBIS and the X-T3’s don’t. That’ about all the good stuff for Nikon I have noticed. What about using both kits in a real-world situation, which for me is mostly fast-moving subjects in street and events? Ah – here is where the Fuji’s start to come into their own. I can honestly say the Nikon has been a pain and if I had my time over again, I would save my money and be happy with my Fuji’s. The Fuji’s are just so much nicer to use. Much better in setup – assigning functions to buttons, using the lovely big knobs on top and not having to dive into files. The Fuji is lighter but feels much better made than the Nikon.
Concentration - Haircuts for the Homeless. Fuji X-T3, Fuji FX 16mm 1.4, ISO 160, @ 1.4
However, the huge difference that I found and one that nobody has talked about (well they do, but it’s usually the other way around) - the autofocus on my X-T3’s is much better than the Z6ii (for the way that I shoot). I have found time and again that if I am shooting fast moving subjects, with dark faces and into very bright back lighting, the Nikon AF just cannot handle it. I have shot a couple of half-day events now with both systems and I have lost just so many images because of the AF on the Nikon. I won’t bore you with details (yes, I tried all the different settings, with and without ‘eye’), but suffice to say I barely missed any images with my Fuji’s, I had all my keepers with no disappointment. The Nikon was so bad, I had to shelve it and grab my other X-T3 with the 50mm F2, and finish the event. The Z6ii really needs a firmware update to bring it up to a level with similar cameras. I’m going to keep it for a while to see if this happens – otherwise it will be shortly getting acquainted with ‘Fleabay’ Australia!
The Final Product - Haircuts for the Homeless. Nikon Z6ii, Nikkor AFS 50mm 1.8, ISO 100, @ 2.2
That’s all I want to say about that for now. There are many more subtle differences that will sway one this way and that. Suffice to say, if I laid both kits out now and had to choose only one, it would resoundingly be my Fuji kit. That marvellous, (without peer), 16mm 1.4 is the magic ingredient that keeps me glued into Fuji for now and evermore. That lens has completely upped my keeper rate and has changed my style of shooting in the last year (since I bought that lens). Any other maker (even Nikon) to get that 24mm equivalent in a 1.4 is such a huge lens, at twice the cost and size, and does not have that same close focus. For my other lens focal length that I use (50mm to 75mm equivalent), I can happily toggle between the Fuji and Nikon camera (if and when Nikon improve their AFC), but it is the magic of the 16mm 1.4 that keeps me happily glued into the Fuji system. I don’t actually believe that a certain lens may contain ‘magic’, but there is something about the images and their rendering from that lens, that make the images very beautiful.
Customer Satisfaction - Haircuts for the Homeless. Nikon Z6ii, Nikkor AFS 50mm 1.8, ISO 100, @ 2.2
With that background, I will now tell you about my contact, Floki. He is a mens' hairdresser here in Perth Australia, where I live. For the last ten years now, he has been going into the depths of Perth City (kind of a mini ‘skid row’), and giving free haircuts to the homeless. I thought this would be a great time to compare images between my two kits, so I asked Floki if I could tag along. I have never seen anybody so passionate about something. He told me on the weekend, that after his wife and child, this is his passion and calling – reaching out to the homeless and dispossessed. I was emotionally moved when I saw the dignity and kindness that he showed toward this much maligned group of people. He asked no questions of them, didn’t care if they were under the influence of something – he was just there to make them feel special and cared for – even if only for a short while. The only interruption to our proceedings was that the local populace had decided to have their ’Anti-Vax Rally’. It was held right where my friend usually does his haircuts. In between finding different people who asked to have their hair cut, I would duck off to get a few shots of the resident ‘lunies’! There were thousands of people there and a very large police turnout. They even had the mounted police force standing nearby (meaning – on horses). They only ever break them out for riots, so the police were obviously expecting the worst.
Getting your money's worth - Haircuts for the Homeless. Fuji X-T3, Fuji FX 50mm f2, ISO 320, @ f2
Both of my camera kits worked well - people sitting there getting a haircut, are not usually moving very fast. Even with that though, I found the Nikon autofocus system very clumsy. One has to dive into the menu each time (I use the ‘i’ button), and change the type of box or focus setup that you want. The focus system is such on the Nikon that no particular box or setup will work for every situation – you have to constantly change it. With my X-T3’s, I’ve set it so I can just press my toggle lever in and this brings up the different autofocus options. I have it set to ‘all’ and with my wheel I can just quickly scroll to which of the 3 options that I need.
Where's Bruce Gilden? - Haircuts for the Homeless. Fuji X-T3, Fuji FX 16mm 1.4, ISO 320, @ 1.4
The light was quite harsh, being around midday, but my friend did most of his cuts in the shade and I had brought along my big reflector. I broke that out so I could bounce some of the lovely light back into my subjects’ faces. I shot all of my lenses wide open (as I always do), and I was mostly able to get some separation between my subjects and the backgrounds.
Safety in Numbers - Anti-Vax Rally. Fuji X-T3, Fuji FX 16mm 1.4, ISO 160, @ 1.4
I get such satisfaction photographing all aspects of humanity. Whether it is buskers on the street, street performers, folk working their daily jobs (my recent sheep shearing photo shoot), or just people having fun. There is an infinite variety to choose from. No wonder I have zero interest in photographing sceneries or sunsets – I’ll leave that to somebody else. This is now a lovely time in Western Australia. After Perth’s wettest and coldest start to winter and spring, in recorded history, we are now starting to get some lovely warm, summery weather. I have a lot of events coming up, and I will be covering the Jazz festival that will run until Christmas, and the 2022 Fringe World Festival, that runs for most of January and February next year. I’m also going down over the Christmas break to see my contact Jack, and get some more amazing photographs of Australian Shearers (see my blog here - https://www.philipsuttonphotography.com/blog/2021/10/australian-shearers---through-the-eyes-of-fuji-xf16mm-1-4).
Making a Point - Anti-Vax Rally. Fuji X-T3, Fuji FX 16mm 1.4, ISO 320, @ 1.4
I am interested to see how I finally resolve my two-camera system setup. It is not ideal and I would much rather shoot one system – as I have for the last 7 odd years with my Fujis. However, for the rare times I am shooting at night or in very dark indoors, I think the full-frame camera with its better dynamic range and high ISO performance has its place. However, for me it is a very large financial commitment just to keep a camera hanging around that I may use now and then. Also - as mentioned above, I do not have the confidence in the autofocus system of the Nikon that I do with my Fujis, and in good lighting and with properly exposed images, it is very hard to tell any discernible difference between the images. So the jury is out at the moment, but no matter my final decision, you will still find me somewhere with an X-T3 and a 16mm 1.4 strapped around my neck!
'The Joker' - Anti-Vax Rally. Nikon Z6ii, Nikkor AFS 50mm 1.8, ISO 100, @ 2.2