2015 Recap: 1 Year With the Fujifilm X-Series

This blog post was originally published by Keenan Hastings. It and the images here are being syndicated with permission.

This is not a review of the Fujifilm X-Series cameras, this is simply my recap of 2015, my story in which I heavily used the X Series system.

I can’t believe 2015 is over… Actually, I can’t believe I made it through the entire year. Last September I was let go from my job for improper content on social media (as most of you know). It was one of those bittersweet moments, where I felt shitty because I was fired, but also excited about the opportunities that were now in front of me. I admit early on I was scared, I went from a full-time job where I made a decent amount of money to literally having no income whatsoever. If that wasn’t pressure enough I was expecting a kid as well. I needed an outlet, a vacation or a road trip, something to take my mind off of everything.

I visited Chicago that month, I took nothing with me but a change of clothes and my Canon 6D with 40mm f/2.8 lens. I literally shot for 3 days straight, non-stop. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I camped on the streets and just shot whatever was appealing to me. I didn’t care about rules or settings, just instinct. When I came back home I felt empty, my images were okay, but I didn’t have that same passion at home as I did during my time in Chicago. I couldn’t exactly figure out what was wrong with me, but I just didn’t feel like a photographer. I know this sounds silly, and I even feel a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I lacked confidence due to my equipment. I didn’t have L lenses, I had two primes, the Rokinon 35 and the Rokinon 85. What world was I supposed to take over with 2 manual focus lenses? It didn’t matter that they produced great images, I just knew my confidence was low, what made matters worse was that these 2 lenses had the red ring as if they were trying to imitate Canon’s L series. I kept asking myself was I trying to imitate as well? Was I kidding myself thinking that this voyage was possible?

I needed a change, I needed out of Canon and it’s marketing ploy. I didn’t know where to look, I knew I wanted a setup like Nikon’s where all the lenses exterior looked the same and the only judgment passed was based on your images. The only problem was that the Nikon’s system was far too big, it would have been perfect for the professional work I planned to do, but for the hobbyist in me, I knew I needed something smaller to hit the streets with confidence.

Here’s where Fujifilm came in, I was visually in love with the form factor of the X100 series, the camera had this vintage looked that I’ve never seen before, it also took me away from the norm, Nikon, and Canon, it was a camera that I could have paved my own lane with, I just didn’t know if a 35mm fixed focal length camera was going to do the trick. I kept saying to myself “If only they had an interchangeable lens system”, after a few more Google searches I came across the X-T1. I initially questioned myself, moving back down to a crop sensor camera wasn’t professional, but I knew if I wanted people to take me seriously I’d first have to believe in myself, ditching Canon and moving to Fujifilm was going to be the start of that.

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Looking back I was pretty ignorant to think that I’d be this professional photographer right out of the gate, but that was my thought process. I thought people were going to throw money at me, simply because I had an expensive camera and “photographer” in my bio. I scheduled my first shoot the 2nd day I had the camera. It turned out fantastic, I’m sure I could have done better at posing and composition, but the image quality was outstanding. The colors, the monochrome, everything came together. I felt at home with the unit, I was excited to shoot again.

Related: First Impression: Day 2 With the Fujifilm X-T1 – With Jesmina Akter

I tried my hardest to book a shoot, but I guess I decided to become a photographer a the wrong time, it was the winter slump and for the rest of that month, I honestly took no pictures… I was depressed, I told myself that I’d have to wait until it got warm out and then I started looking for jobs again.

December 3rd was the day that I had my daughter. Being in the hospital for 3 days while my girlfriend was in labor really put things in place for me. I wanted her to know me as someone who took a risk, but smart ones. I didn’t want to be a failure, not to her, I told myself that I was going to get off my ass and make pictures in the winter and that this journey was going to start now, not when it was warm. I created a project for myself and I was going to initiate it on the first of the year.

Making The Choice

2015 was a rough transition for me, my girlfriend was now moved in with me, I was jobless and I had a 1-month-old who I wanted to make proud every day. In terms of my equipment, I had the Fujifilm X-T1 with the XF 18 and Helios 44-6. I sold my XF 18-55, because professionals didn’t have kit lenses (big mistake). I decided on a 52-week project, where I would shoot friends, family, and eventually strangers in a different location for 52 weeks straight.

I’m not going to recap every shoot, but I guess ones that were just monumental in terms of growth. The first shoot was super awkward, it was confusing to me because my shoot in November with Jesmina went so well, that wasn’t the case this time around. I sucked, I think from that shoot I came out with maybe 3 images and even those were forced. I didn’t have a clue how to use the focus peaking on the camera, I knew the basics, but my images from this shoot were slightly out of focus, I was nervous, I didn’t take my time, it was just a fail. In all honesty, I felt bad for my friend/subject, I felt as though I wasted her time, I felt as though I could read her mind and she was saying “he sucks”.

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Places & Spaces is my attempt at a 52 week project. When selecting this project I wanted to make sure that I displayed my growth as a photographer, not only through my images though, I also wanted to include the non-technical side of things, the scouting of locations, the networking, the directing and most importantly the planning. So many non-creatives never factor in the other aspects of this business, and as new photographers sometimes we don’t either.

Of course, I wasn’t the problem, it was the equipment, I was a great photographer, I did an amazing shoot in November and I knew I could replicate that, I just needed a portrait lens that offered auto focus… In comes the XF 56, this lens, mentally, changed EVERYTHING. It was glued to my body, it never came off, I didn’t need anything else. F/1.2??? I use to dream of owning something like this. I remember late nights I’d look at the Canon 85Llens and think who the fuck spends $1000+ on a lens… I was now one of those guys. With this lens I was a professional, this was a professional lens.

Obviously the above sentence isn’t to be taken serious. I was no professional by any means, I had the equipment of one, but I lacked everything else needed to be a professional photographer, including knowledge, experience, and even people skills, but that’s what this project was for, to enhance those attributes in which I lacked.

While I was enjoying the results from the first 2 weeks of this project I wasn’t getting my fix on the streets. The XF 18 just wasn’t for me, I hated the focal length, it was so wide, I didn’t have a distinct style then, but I just couldn’t do with the excess space it was giving me. Sure I could have cropped, but I thought of a better solution.

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A NEW CAMERA! The X100T was out at this time and this was the camera to have, it didn’t take me long to purchase it and until this day it was literally the best decision I ever made. This camera changed my life. My first time going out with it was on my birthday, January 20th, I had such a good time that I ventured off into another project. I told myself that I would take a photograph every day for the entire year.This was both educational and fulfilling for me. I felt like I had both sides of the business worked out, I was having fun and I was getting better. People would respect me based on my gear and later my images, I was in the perfect situation.

I went on to continue both projects, I was slightly overwhelmed, but I knew I needed to succeed to eventually make an income of this. To help with money I started blogging more about my experiences and taking paid jobs doing little cheap events and what not. It wasn’t the dream I had planned for myself but by photographing every day I could see myself growing through each photo.

I decided to go to photography school, not to learn photography but to meet like-minded people, I needed friends around me who felt the same about photography as I did. This was one of the worst decisions of my life, not only was I forced to take beginner photography courses, but no one in the class took the art seriously, they were all just there for credit purposes. Despite this I still attended, it was free and it was another outlet, the homework assignments were structured and it helped me experiment in things like long exposure and motion styled images. It was also free…

During the weeks that I was there I often bragged about my work outside of class, I probably came off as a douche, but it was the only place where I felt like I was looked up too. To a certain degree, I needed that confidence boost, people loved my portrait that I had taken, I showed off my blog and my images were respected. I remember one day during my film course I had brought in my digital camera, I wanted to show the class my super professional XF 56. That decision backfired, after showing it off to the class I put it in my bag and forgot to zip it up, needless to say when I swung my backpack around my shoulder the camera and lens went flying into the wall.

The XF 56 was totaled, it wouldn’t focus, I was heartbroken and though I played it off well I was crushed. I needed this lens to be confident, I needed this lens to feel important. The repair cost was far more than I could afford, I started a IndieGoGo campaign and few people were kind enough to donate money to help with the damages, however, it wasn’t enough to cover the repair cost.

I didn’t know what to do, I was even more upset because the next day I had week 7 of my 52 week project scheduled. I hated wasting people’s time and each time I did a shoot I felt the need to make an impact on people so when they thought of photographer they would think of me. Instead of canceling I just decided to go into the shoot with the X100T… That’s when I fell in love with the unit.

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The X100T killed during that shoot. It didn’t let me down at all. Who would have thought that this super tiny camera could handle that much of a workload, especially at night? It was cold as shit that day, but I’ve never had such a good time photographing. Again the images, probably not the best, but that night showed me that true colors of this camera. I think this entire experience, though tragic, really humbled me. I went into a shoot with a camera that could fit in my pocket and I wasn’t judged, no one thought of me as an amateur, and my subject impressed by the images. It showed me that gear didn’t matter, that experience and know how was the real key to being taken seriously. For those 2-3 months I was posing, and if I wanted people to believe in me I knew I had to first.

The next week I had scheduled a shoot at a location I was super excited about, though my X100T killed on my last shoot I knew the 35mm focal length wasn’t going to work at the next location. I borrowed a friend’s Canon 60D and to say the least that shoot went fucking terrible. Nothing was in focus, I totally forgot how to use an optical viewfinder and my exposure was way off. I was so used to seeing my exposure in my electronic viewfinder with the X Series that I thought everything was correct when looking into the 60D’s viewfinder… I was too afraid to tell my subject that everything we shot totally sucked.

I needed a portrait lens, but I just couldn’t afford one. A temporary option was available for me though, I took the money from the crowdfunding campaign and purchased a tele conversion lens for my X100T. I had every intention in repairing my equipment, but that was the only quick option I could think off. I didn’t schedule any shoots that following week for the project, well, honestly I couldn’t find anyone to shoot with me, so I just took the new lens out for a test in Birmingham.

Again the camera blew me away, hell it even had great bokeh. The tele conversion lens became the staple of my camera, I never took it off, partially because it was annoying carrying it around and switching lenses, but also because it produced great images. The next week no one did a shoot, and I just took it as a loss, I took that time to reevaluate my gear and I had to make a decision. Even though I loved the X100T I knew it wasn’t the system for me as a professional. I ended up selling it, as well as the TCL and I used that money to repair my camera.

The XF 56 took longer than expected to come, so with the spare money I picked up the XF 35. Talk about change the game! I know you all are reading this like damn every lens changed the game, but it did. The XF 35 was literally the most fantastic lens I’ve ever used. The first time noticing it’s brilliance was week 13 of the project. The bokeh, the tones, man I questioned if the XF 56 was even needed.

By this time, I now had a plethora of prime lenses. To make sense of everything I told myself that the XF 35 was my lens for street, the XF was obviously for portraits and the XF 18, well, it was just kind of there. It was too cheap to sell and I told myself that at some point it would come in handy, especially once I started to do weddings. I didn’t have any weddings planned, but that was the end goal, to be this illustrious wedding photographer. I knew that in the wedding world if my X-T1 went crashing down that I couldn’t just reschedule, so I thought it would be a good idea to bring a second body into the mix. I didn’t need anything expensive or super crazy, just a backup. In came the X-E1.

By this time my kit was complete, I had everything I needed to take over the world. To catch you up I ditched the 365 project, I just didn’t feel the same shooting with the XF 35 and X-T1, I even tried to switch it up to the XF 35 and the X-E1, this felt a little more “right”, but I just didn’t have the same passion to shoot EVERYDAY.

Related: The 365 Project: The First 30

The 52-week project was still in full effect, I had obviously gotten better since that previous shoot with LeAnn. It started to get warmer outside, I started to take more risk, instead of just shooting in a place I actually tried to go with theme based shoots. In the past, I would be like “hey, you want to shoot”, but now I would be letting them know what I wanted them to wear, how I wanted them to pose, I was more confident, I was a photographer.

The Places & Spaces shoot lasted 34 weeks or so, I think I stopped posting them around week 31 or 32. I had some interesting sessions, but I needed to produce income. A part of me wished I would have finished the project now that the year has come to an end, but I just felt that I wasn’t going to grow any more from finishing up the last 20 weeks. If you want to read more about the experience then I did a separate blog post which you can find here, also below are some of my favorite shots from the experience.

15 Things I Learned From Shooting 35 Weeks of Portraits With The Fujifilm X System

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In between projects I did eventually start getting paid for work, It started around week 30 of the Places & Spaces project and then later transitioned to weddings. I started off working as a 2nd shooter, a role I would learn that was perfect for me. The gigs didn’t pay much but they were for experience purposes for the most part. Most of them were smaller weddings, either outdoors or in horribly lit venue’s, I much preferred the outdoor scene as it was similar to what I did within my portrait session.

I think I did solid, I obviously needed some work, weddings were difficult because they were fast past, and the only practice you could get would be the wedding itself. You had to really be on your shit. I use to be the manual guy only, I prided myself in shooting manual at all times. Manual exposure, manual, manual, manual. Weddings helped me understand that this wasn’t necessary, that sometimes you have to kick that shit into auto or aperture priority, it was the best way to expose for fast paced situations.

My setup for weddings was pretty simple, I went with a two camera combination, the X-T1 often housed the XF 56, while the XF 18 was usually glued to the X-E1. I was super happy that my XF 18 came in handy, as for the first half of the year it just sat in my bag. From time to time I’d use the XF 56 and XF 35 as a combo, but it really depended on the venue.

On one occasion we had a big wedding to shoot, at least I’m assuming it was big because the main wedding photographer rented me the XF 50-140. Dream lens, I was able to shoot with it for 5 days, so I took it for a spin on just about every avenue, however, it’s main purpose was for that wedding. It was about a year since I used a zoom lens, so it was a bit odd at first, I didn’t know rather to zoom in or take a step forward. The quality though, it was crazy, I loved the compression the lens offered, something I didn’t get out of my XF 56. I really wanted to buy that lens, but I couldn’t justify that price. If you want to check out my review on the lens, then I’ll put a link below.

Related: A Prime Perspective: First Impression of the Fujifilm XF 50-140

After a few 2nd role jobs I decided that I was ready for my own wedding. I didn’t know how to book any, so I went to Reddit, I thought I’d announce to the Detroit subreddit that I was offering free weddings to a few local couples. 3 couples responded and I had decided to shoot 2 of their weddings.

Doing free wedding was a dumb mistake. I didn’t account for how much work was involved, as a 2nd shooter you just shoot and hand over the SD, but as a main shooter you have to be there for the planning, the engagement shoot, the wedding and then edit all the photographs. You also have to deal with the clients on a consistent basis. It was hell, and to make matters worse I wasn’t even getting paid.

During this time I had also booked a paid wedding, it was sometime far in the future but it was awesome to get a deposit of that amount, an amount in which I’ve never been paid before for my work. I was excited for this new venture, I took my wedding “business” very similar. I watched seminars, had discussions with other photographs and really thought I was going to put a dent in this side of the business. After shooting my first full wedding by myself that theory went out the fucking window.

I hated it, and what made me even more pissed is that I had 2 more booked. It’s funny because now that I’m writing this I can’t even explain in words how bad it was, the people were fine, as well as the venue, it was a better turnout than I expected. I just wasn’t feeling it. From this point on in the post I may seem a little ungrateful, side note I noticed I haven’t been mentioning the months, were in June right now haha.

After the horrible experience I realized something had to change. I realized that I was unhappy, not with my images but within photography. When I lost my job I told myself that I told myself that I wanted to do what made me happy, I knew it was photography, but I guess I was unsure about what genre it would be. I felt like a loser. I just couldn’t commit to anything.

I went back to Chicago again that month, this time around I borrowed a friends GoPro to not only capture the moments but record them. I walked around the city for a day straight, I planned the trip in less than 24 hours. I had nowhere to sleep, just my camera and about $75. I took with me my XF 35 and I shot and shot and shot. When I came back I didn’t have everything figured out, but I knew I had enjoyed my time there. I uploaded the video footage to my computer and started to sort it all out. I noticed that capturing yourself photographing was an interesting perspective, it allowed me to see my flaws, it also showcased things that I was doing right. I uploaded it to YouTube, I figured people would enjoy from the experience and maybe learn from it, or at worst, help me grow. The video is now at 10,000 views, most of the responses were negative, you suck, stop shooting street, blah blah blah. I didn’t let that get to me though, the video amassing that many views in such a short time told me one thing. Go with your gut.

I Uploaded this video strictly to critique myself, I missed a lot of opportunities, but still thought it would be beneficial to share it with you all to help develop my work flow. A lot of the shots taken were when the camera was off, but I uploaded the ones while the GoPro was recording.

I no longer felt beat up about my lack of commitments, sometimes throughout life, you have to try something to understand that’s it not for you. It’s the same when you meet people, some people turn out to be cool, others are shitty, but you’ll never know until you really give that person the time of day.

This video didn’t just get viewed by street photographers. Companies paid attention as well. Student.com reached out to me and hired me to do a gig within my community, my assignment was to photograph local colleges. The gig was the highest amount of money I’ve ever been commissioned.

I then got picked up by Detroit Design Festival, this shoot didn’t happen until September, but it was nice to know that money was coming sometime down the road. Last, but not least was the email from GoPro, well actually it was a Facebook message, but they wanted to send me some equipment to enhance the video quality for my POV videos (I was using the Hero+) and to perhaps take street photographs with. In the past I always thought street photography was going to be a hobby of mind and that I would never get paid for it, perhaps I was wrong.

From this point I was totally locked in, I realized that street photography was going to be my outlet, I didn’t know how I would make income, but the commissions I had received from past events and upcoming ones were going to have to stretch until I figured something out. I also realized at that point of time how important my blog was to me, through the midst of all of this it’s the only thing I stayed consistent in. Each day I posted, or I tried too… Here I documented this entire experience as well as my personal life. It was going to have to be my money maker, maybe not this year but at some point.

Of course, this mentality didn’t last long, sooner than I realized I was out of money. It’s easy to be passionate and consistent in your hobby when your bank account is full, but once you go back broke shit gets real. I panicked, but somehow things always work out in your favor when you’re determined. I reached out to an up and coming local magazine, Park View Magazine, and long before you know it I was shooting for them. This helped pay the rent and in terms of commissioned gigs, this was one of my favorite. This person had a general idea of how she wanted her magazine to look, she explained to me the vibe, the feel and the direction in which she was headed, this made my job 10x easier.

Gigs started to roll in after that, they were so low budget, but it allowed me to work day and shoot street in the afternoon. Again, it wasn’t my ideal life, but it worked for me. I also told myself that I was going to stop posting work I didn’t want to do. I redid my blog and aimed it around street photography, I redid my social media and made it about street photography, I was starting to brand myself and I really wanted to create an image that I was proud of.

After doing so I thought I would reach out to Fujifilm, my blog was heavily based on their product and it just seemed like the right move if I wanted to continue to market myself. Long story short they kind of turned me down, but in a more positive way. I noticed on their social media outlets they would repost my work, but that’s about it. This motivated me, I felt like they noticed me, but in a way, they weren’t really impressed. I wanted to change that.

Every day was about street, sure I took some time off here and there but it was the focal point of my day. I started to shoot with only my X-E1 as well. I realized that the $250 price point I paid allowed me to be comfortable when photographing strangers. When shooting with my X-T1 I was to worried about my camera and damaging its value, but not with the X-E1, no fucks were given. I also went ahead and purchased the XF 27, it was super cheap, Fujifilm was offering a rebate system and I was able to pick it up for $250, amazingly enough, my entire street kit was only $500… I was able to capture some really great images with this setup.

It wasn’t long before I started to invest my money into other Fujifilm products. Next up was the XQ2, I picked that up simply because of its price point. I needed something else to review and at $300 I figured this was a solid product to showcase to the world. I really didn’t expect much, after all, it was a tiny point and shoot camera, but once again I was blown away by the results.

I kept telling myself how great the Fujifilm system was, but then I had decided to test my theory. Was this point & shoot great because it was produced by Fujifilm? Or was it great because it took my focus off of manual settings and put me back into auto?

A 30 day session with the GoPro Hero4 Silver. Not 30 straight days, but for 30 days this was the only camera I used. My first experience shooting with it was pretty bad as I didn’t understand how to properly use the camera, but once I figured out those settings I felt at home, yet again. This was a pivotal moment for me, because when GoPro sent me the package and asked me to shoot I figure I would, I mean at the very least I’d get a GoPro out of it, but I didn’t expect the results to be as good as they were. I was able to capture the same moments, and sometimes better ones, the GoPro allowed me to shoot at angles I wouldn’t have with the X system. I stopped relying on my viewfinder and I started to get creative. I later tried the same method with my iPhone, and again, the results were impressive.

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I overcompensated when it came to my gear. I didn’t need this large collection of lenses, I had primes galore, from XF lenses to vintage lenses I collected from various thrift shops. I had analysis paralysis, I didn’t know which camera to take out or which lens to use. It was all too much. I guess that brings this post up to speed. It’s now December and I’ve decided to sell off my Fujifilm gear, at least a large portion of it. I decided that all I need going into the new year is one camera and one lens.

-KeenanRIVALS
keenan@RIVALSvs.com