A little over a year ago I was out in Dubai for the Gulf Photo Plus (GPP) training event, chatting to Zack Arias over a morning coffee. I can't remember where the conversation started - pre-caffeine conversations are not ones that I can easily bring to mind - but I do remember we ended up talking about his Fujifilm X100S.
I played around with it for a few minutes, liked a couple of the features, but ended up feeling smug because I had a Sony RX1 instead: 24MP instead of 16, a full-frame sensor, and an f/2 Zeiss lens on the front. I did agree that the X100S had better autofocus, I liked the built-in hybrid viewfinder (the EVF for the RX1 is good, but it's an add-on), and it's certainly a much better looking camera than the RX1, but I couldn't see why it had generated so much hype.
To be honest, I viewed the X-Series as a great exercise in marketing: The X100S, the X-Pro 1 and so on are all competent cameras, but I kind of thought that some of their success could be put down to Fuji mystique: hipster appeal, retro styling and the fact that they're promoted by industry gurus such as Zack and David Hobby.
In short, I can't say I had anything against the X-Series cameras, but I did think there was a bit of a fanboy thing going on.
Wind forward a year and I'm back in Dubai, for another GPP event, trying to negotiate a good price with Sony MEA on an A7R: which at the time I though was pretty much the ultimate in small cameras - 36MP, full-frame sensor, no anti-aliasing filter - the ideal camera for the type of stuff I shoot. While I was waiting for Sony to get back to me I ended up chatting to the Fujifilm guys who asked me if I'd like an XT-1. "To borrow?", "No, to keep. We'd just like some feedback". I'd love to tell you that I took the time to seriously consider whether I should take them up on their offer, but I didn't.
At worst I'd have a competent little camera to play around with, and at best I'd find it genuinely useful. They gave me the XT-1, battery grip and the 18-55mm XF f2.8-4 kit lens. They also loaned me the 14mm XF f/2.8 (equivalent to a 21mm lens on a full-frame) and the 56mm XF f/1.2 (85mm equivalent), which I also got to keep.
When they gave me the camera I began to worry I might succumb to the Fuji mystique as the serial number of the one they gave me is 00008. They also told me that David Hobby has 00001; Arias, Zack Arias has (00)007; and my good friend Bobbi Lane has 00005, so I was up there with some illustrious and more or less trendy company. I'd joined the Fuji club. As I was still sceptical at this point I resisted the urge to buy a cool leather strap (pretty much de-rigour for any serious Fujifilm shooter) and didn't feel the need to invest in a small retro-satchel for the assortment of tiny lenses I'd no doubt be tempted to buy, so went off to put the XT-1 through its paces.
To summarise, I started out thinking that the XT-1 might prove to be a useful addition to my camera bag but after a few weeks of using it, as you'll see, I've ended up somewhere I really didn't expect, ... more of which below.
At the start of September I received an email from GPP asking me if I'd be interested in being involved with the launch of a couple of Sony's new cameras, to coincide with my upcoming visit to Dubai for their Fotoweekend event: the SLT-A99, their new full frame pro-spec camera, and the NEX-5. I wasn't especially interested in the NEX-5 – it's a good little camera, but not one that I'd use – but the SLT-A99 looked more promising.
If you're not familiar with Sony's SLT cameras the basic difference between them and a DSLR is that the mirror doesn't move, hence Single Lens Translucent rather than Single Lens Reflex. With a DSLR the mirror flips out of the way before you take the shot, with an SLT the majority of the light is fed continuously to the sensor, with a portion being routed to the main AF module via the mirror. In theory this means that you're losing around 0.3EV to 0.5EV from the outset, but in practice this loss of light seems to have little or no effect on the quality of the image.
The deal was that I'd get to keep the camera and a couple of lenses in exchange for spending some time shooting in the UK followed by two days intensive shooting in Dubai. Those images would be used to create a range of A0 prints, a photo book, and so on. I was also asked to give a 10 minute presentation at the press conference and another public talk on my experiences of shooting in Dubai as part of GPP's Fotoweekend event.
So, an intensive schedule (I was shooting on the 2nd and 3rd of November and the press conference was on the 6th), a fair amount of pressure (the images needed to be good), but I'd get to keep the camera and two lenses: the Zeiss 24-70mm F2.8 ZA SSM Vario-Sonnar® T* and the Zeiss 85mm F1.4 ZA Planar T*, both of which are great pieces of glass.
Was I delighted? Initially, no. Let me explain why ...