boneheaded mistakes

I have a new camera. I’ve had new cameras before, but not like this one. Almost all of my previous new cameras were SLRs or DSLRs, and it was fairly easy to adjust to them. A slightly different feel in the hand, some variation in the menu system — that was it.

But not this time. This time is different. This time the new camera is a Fujifilm X10.

It’s a sweet little unit. Small but sturdy, beautifully constructed, extraordinarily quiet to use, pleasing to the eye but plain enough to be inconspicuous. It’s a rangefinder style camera, with an optical viewfinder that gives you absolutely NO information at all. No shutter speed, no aperture, no ISO, no hint at metering, nothing at all. If you want to get a good exposure, you’d damned well better know what you’re doing.

Oh, you can turn on the LCD monitor and use that to compose your photograph. That’ll provide you with nearly as much information as the Mars rover sends back to JPL. The LCD certainly makes shooting photos a lot easier. But I find I’m relying almost exclusively on the information-free viewfinder. It reminds me of my very first camera — an old Argus rangefinder from the 1950s. Completely manual, of course. I don’t think it even had a built-in light meter. It was just a metal box with a lens. Relying on the viewfinder with the X10 is like remembering how to drive a car with a manual transmission — you make some awkward and noisy mistakes, but you recall how much fun driving can be.

I wanted this camera to tote on my bicycle, but it’s turning out to be an ideal cityscape and street camera. I have no hesitation in pulling out the subtle little X10 in situations where I’d have been reluctant or unwilling to use a DSLR. There IS some hesitation before actually shooting the photo, however. Not because I’m uncomfortable with it, but because I have to pause a moment to consider issues of exposure. I have to hold back a bit while I judge the parallax error caused by the viewfinder.

It’s like learning to shoot photographs all over again. For the most part I walk around following the old Weegee rule for exposure: f8 and be there. But when immediacy isn’t an issue, I have to actually evaluate lighting conditions and decide on the proper exposure. Photography has become a challenge again. Every decision point that was second nature with a DSLR now requires active thought, which keeps me more engaged in the moment.

And isn’t that what photography is all about?

As you can see from some of these photographs, I’m still making mistakes. I sometimes get the exposure wrong, I screw up the composition by misreading the parallax difference, and I bungle the focus point. Rookie mistakes. Boneheaded mistakes.

I can’t tell you how much fun I’m having making those mistakes.

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