Flight to Fuji – Why Nick Smith Made the Switch.

A detail shot of the shutter speed dial on one of The Image Team's new Fujifilm XT-2 Compact System Cameras.

Flight to Fuji – Why Nick Smith Made the Switch.

Impressive Numbers:

305

Grams

The weight of an XT-2 compared to 3.7 kilos for the outgoing Canon.

6000

px

The width of an image on the largest side when taken in full size RAW.

7512

GBP

The investment in new equipment for 2017.

Changing horses mid-stream is never a good idea but I felt the urge this year to do something different to improve the offering from The Image Team and to differentiate myself from the horde of photographers stood at turn 1 on every British GT race meeting holding Nikon or Canon bodies and glass. Far from changing horses in mid-stream I was jumping from horse to hypercar mid-season and for three weeks in the run-up to British GT at Rockingham I had cold sweats when I thought about how badly wrong the meeting in Corby could go for me and our clients.

 

To find out why I made the switch we need to go back to the beginning.

 

I first started in motorsport photography almost ten years ago, after starting a website called Racing-Report.com and struggling to find decent photography which differentiated my output from that of the AUTOSPORT, Racer.com and Sportscar365s of the world. I grabbed the first camera I could afford off the internet, a Canon EOS 300D, thinking how hard can it be? Ten years, five bodies and the better part of 15 lenses later I finally figured out how it was done.

 

I got lucky ten years ago in that I picked a Canon over a Nikon. I’ve used Nikon products since then, borrowed from friends to see what the other side did and found that I cannot stand their controls. The biggest problem being where the power switch for the camera is located. I kept turning the damned things off by accident.

 

More recently I upgraded the Canon bodies, which had grown from a single 300D to a 1D Mk.II, with a brief spell carrying a 1Ds as a less capable second body. The 300D and the Mk.I were long gone when the Mk.II decided to pack up on me and I immediately ordered two used EOS 1D Mk.IV from MPB.com. They were good bodies, remarkable in low light compared to the 1D Mk.II they replaced but they suffered from a major flaw.

 

Just as it is with cars, cameras are in desperate need of a diet. They have been putting on weight almost as fast as I have over the past few years to the point where between driving HGVs for NINE56 Ltd during the week and lumping 7kg of bodies and 25kg of lenses around varous race tracks every weekend, my back was heading rapidly towards the point of no return. A change had to be made. Then at the Hankook 24h Silverstone this year I got talking to a friend of a friend from SportscarGlobal.com who had gone down the unexpected route. He had chopped in his full frame, professional grade DSLRs for the second body in the Fujifilm range.

 

An idea began to percolate through my brain and while I should have been processing the spoils of an evening’s shooting I was pricing up combinations. What I was not going to do was jump without thinking into a system I had no experience of. I needed to get my hands on a Fuji for a while to see what it could do. I also needed to check that it wasn’t like a Nikon, with a button placed in just the wrong position, so that a tog with a bit of ballast on him didn’t catch one button when aiming for another!

 

There I found a problem.

 

I was looking at a £7,500 purchase, about the same as the cost of a Suzuki Celerio or a reasonable specification Dacia Sandero. You would never consider buying a new car without a test drive and I wasn’t going to buy a camera system without checking it was fit for my purposes first. I phoned WEX Photographic to see if I could borrow their demo model for a weekend at the race track only to find out that dealers of new cameras are not in the habit of keeping demonstrators available, I was however welcome at any time to complete the 300 mile round trip from home to their showroom to try a body without a lens.

 

Next port of call was Jessops, who would allow me to try one with a lens on in the showroom, but didn’t do demos either. In fact I went through every supplier of new Fuji I could find on Google and none of them would lend me a camera for a weekend. I phoned Fujifilm customer service and they were flummoxed as to why I would need to try one out before buying. As a last ditch effort to get one to try, literally the last stop before saying that I would not be changing and switching my plans to a way to upgrade again to 1DX Mk.II bodies, I phoned the press office at Fujifilm.

 

They knew immediately of a programme that would allow me to use a body on a customer shoot to see how I got on with it. Thus it happened that I rocked up to Rockingham Motor Speedway, (pun intended) with a Fujifilm XT-2, 18-55mm and 100-400mm with a teleconverter, all supplied to me at Fujifilm’s expense by HireACamera.com. I’d been smart though and all the Canon gear was in the boot of the car just in case I didn’t get on with the new body, I’d shoot Saturday morning on the Fuji, see how I got on and if I needed to I would use the Canons to make up any lost work.

 

I needn’t have worried, I took to the controls of the Fujifilm like a duck takes to the village pond. It was light, easy to use and produced, (after half an hour of getting nothing of interest while I figured out the controls) some impressive images. The only problem I could find was file size, full sized RAW images are well over 45mb per file!

 

I shot the entire weekend on the Fujifilm and having new equipment rekindled my excitement for the subject. I got creative at Rockingham for the first time in years. I went up in the grandstands, something I have never done, I played with shooting into the sun, I completely ignored pit lane and focused on enjoying having 400mm of lens, with x1.4 teleconverter AND a cropped sensor to get some very close action photos. Looking at some of the head on images I took at Yentwood, you could actually see the whites of the drivers eyes.

 

I was sold and having finished shooting on the Sunday, I was in Jessops as soon as it opened on Monday morning getting two bodies and a single lens appraised for part exchange. Here was the only downside of the switch. Depreciation on Canon gear.

 

I have never, until August of last year, purchased a new camera. Last year I picked up a Canon G7X Mk.II so that I would always have a reasonable camera with me in the lorry or car without lumping about a peli-case full of professional gear. The upside of that is that I’ve never had to find £8k to replace a single body. The downside is that all my gear was at least three generations old. It was one of the reasons I wanted to change, to a) even out the age of all my gear, and b) to make sure all my equipment was of the latest spec. The downside of the decision to always purchase used gear is that the values were lower than I was expecting. Instead of my plan to hand over a bag full of Canon gear and walk away with a bag of Fujifilm and a wad of pound notes, I would have to contribute heavily to the change.

 

I opted to keep a lot of the gear myself and dispose of it when I could on eBay or various professional groups. Two of the lenses I kept have already been disposed of in this fashion. I was only going to part ex the two bodies, which while Jessops were a little low on the px value came with a trade in bonus which made it worth while and my trusty 50mm f1.4, which I sold to Jessops gleefully at a profit!

 

So I handed over two bodies, one lens and six thousand pounds and walked away with:

  • 2 x Fujifilm XT-2 bodies.
  • 2 x Fujifilm battery grips.
  • 4 x Hanhel batteries.
  • 1 x 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 with x1.4 teleconverter.
  • 1 x 35mm f1.4.

 

On order was:

  • 50-140mm f2.8.
  • 16-55mm f2.5.
  • Fujifilm flashgun.

 

The two lenses on order have since arrived, though I am still waiting for the flash.

 

I’m delighted with the kit. I’d had it for less than 24 hours when it was put to work shooting a round of golf and it was great to be walking around with so much ability and so little weight around my neck. The XT-2 is a mirrorless body, with both electrical and mechanical shutters. That means that it’s a lot lighter as it doesn’t need the mechanisms to move a mirror out of the way of the sensor, not to mention the weight of the mirror itself. Even with the battery grip on its smaller than the Canon and the price of new gear is so much less than the cost of a Canon equivalent.

 

It also adds capability too, I can now geo-tag photographs as I take them which makes it easier to do the post processing uploads. I can take images that are up to 6000px on a side which makes them even better for large scale reproduction. I have access to over 300 focus points for more interesting compositions, the camera is exceptional in low light with drastically reduced graining compared to the Canon it replaced.

 

It also helps with racetrack safety because I can leave the camera on a tripod in a place of slight risk and stand away in a place of complete safety and shoot using my phone as an electronic view finder. I can do 4k video for the first time which will be of interest to at least one existing client and probably to others too. All in all its enhanced capability while reducing ongoing cost, as a business decision it’s a no brainer. But it’s not just a business decision. Canon are renowned for looking after their pros, the CPS or Canon Professional Services scheme is held up in this industry as an example of exceptional service but Fujifilm, from first contact onwards have gone out of their way to make one tog from one small firm, shooting national level motorsport, one of the smallest niches in photography feel important to them.

 

I am sure that if I need any advice, support or the loan of a different lens, I can pick up the phone to Bedford and nothing will be too much trouble. Big names in this industry have already made the switch to Fuji, Jeff Carter the ELMS media delegate and John Rourke from Adrenial Media are two high profile converters. I’ve made the decision to join the vanguard of what I think is going to become an exodus from the full frame DSLRs of the big two brands into the compact system mirrorless offerings of Fuji and Olympus.

 

I’m delighted with my new cameras and I hope you will be delighted with the photos they produce.

A Titleist Pro V1 golf ball on a fairway
A Titleist Pro V1 golf ball on the fairway, one of the first photographs taken on the new equipment.
A Team Parker Racing Bentley enters the pits at Oulton Park
The Team Parker Racing Bentley Continental GT3 of Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt at Oulton Park, one of the last shoots with the outgoing Canon 1D Mk.IV.
A Mercedes on the Speedway at Rockingham.
The AMDTuning.com Mercedes-Benz AMG GTS GT3 at Rockingham, taken with an XT-2 hired by Fuji for Nick to test drive.

View all the images on our archive.

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