How to Choose the Right Camera System from a Flock of Choices

This image was shot with my back toward a sunset that was completely obscured by clouds, making for extremely low-light conditions. So, what does a photographer need to do to stop the motion of birds in flight with so little light? One option would be to not shoot at all, I suppose. Just put the camera down and enjoy the scene without anything standing between you and the wildlife. But… if you’re like me and wish to push yourself and your equipment to the edge of what’s possible, you figure out a way to work within the constraints. I love constraints because they make the making of decisions easier in the long run.

If you wish to avoid blur in your wildlife shots it’s important to be mindful of your shutter speed, keeping it up at 1/1000 of a second or faster to fully stop motion. Or, you could succumb to the low-light and experiment with slower shutter speeds and try panning your subject.

In conditions such as these, a tripod wasn’t realistic – I was hand holding a camera with a very big lens and swooping it around to follow several flocks of heron and ibis who were flying toward an unknown destination for an overnight roost – you need a camera with excellent high ISO performance. Which is where the choice of my Fuji XT-2 and now the XT-3 comes into focus. Combined with the grain-removal capabilities in Lightroom and Camera Raw, it’s not that difficult to yield a photograph with minimal grain in post-processing, even at ISO ratings up to 32000 or 64000.

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that grain is evil. I’ve kept grain and even enhanced it in images for creative effects–mimmicking high ISO black and white films from the past, for instance. It all depends on the feeling you wish to elicit in the viewer, as well as the integrity of the shot coming out of the camera.

The XT mirrorless system is often overlooked by photographers who’ve invested in bulkier SLRs or have been enticed by the full-frame Sony systems. During my trip on a Linblad expedition last spring a few of the professional photographers raised an eyebrow or two–all were shooting with Nikons or Sony’s… “Why did you buy THAT camera?” they asked, sometimes with a bit of sarcasm. It was then I came to understand that Fuji was flying below a lot of photographers’ radars.

I wholeheartedly jumped into Fuji a couple years ago after doing a massive amount of research. Definitely not on a whim, I rented THREE systems, including the Olympus and Sony mirrorless systems prior to making my decision. Although this might sound like an extreme approach, I live in Santa Fe and at the time there wasn’t a camera store within a day’s drive that carried a single mirrorless system. I knew for sure I was tired of carrying around my heavier Canon body and lenses, feeling it was keeping me from getting out and shooting. I kept deferring to my iPhone, but was frustrated by its limitations and wanted to get back in sync with my passion for photography.

Clearly, I made the right decision.

Although the full frame sensor on the Sony was impressive, I was unimpressed with the build quality as well as the unintuitive and annoying menu interface. I knew I wanted a light mirrorless system, but was a bit aghast by the Sony pricetag, which at that time was more than double the cost of my Fuji system.

I really liked the Olympus system, but because the sensor is smaller than the XT-2 there was a huge amount flare using the wide angle lenses – something I was unwilling to deal with on a routine basis with my landscape shooting. And.. because the Olympus sensor is smaller it really does NOT shine in the high ISO arena.

Ultimately, the Fuji won my heart because it hit the bases I cared most about: 

  1. High ISO performance
  2. Old-fashioned dials and buttons on the top of the camera which eliminate the need to go into a digital menu for every little thing!
  3. A sensor size that was in-between the Sony and the Olympus – yes, it would be nice to have full-frame, but having it equates to increased storage space requirements. I’m not printing my shots at huge sizes. Although it would be nice, it wasn’t a deal-breaker.
  4. Super-sharp gorgeous glass in the line-up of Fuji lenses
  5. I love the way the camera feels in my small hands
  6. Empathy – Fuji CARES and RESPONDS to the needs and suggestions of their user base and frequently releases free software updates to enhance the capabilities of their cameras!

Choosing a camera system is a highly personal choice which requires a significant investment. It’s not something anyone should take lightly because if you don’t love your camera gear, you’ll be less likely to get out and shoot pictures. And really, that was my main objective – to get my tookus out from in front of the computer and out in the field doing the one thing that makes the superfluous cares of the world disappear, if only for a mini shooting season. As a small business owner, I need my time communing with the natural world and my camera is the conduit that gets me there!

What system do you shoot with? What influenced your choices? Feel free to ask questions or post comments below because I deeply care about the creative and mental health of our species!

Photo Credits: A Flock of Ibis by Susan J. Preston, Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, Florida © 2019, all rights reserved
Technical: Fuji XT-3 | 183.1mm (XF 100-400mm  f4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR) | 1/950 at f6.4| ISO 4000


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