Last updated on February 10, 2023
Author’s forward: I wrote this deep in the midst of lockdown life, October 8, 2020, for Fuji X Passion magazine. They published it as bonus material in the form of a standalone ebook. Today, more than two years later, now fully out of lockdown, I find myself thinking back to my love of Fujifilm cameras and remembering why I started shooting with them in the first place.
I had to sell to the Fuji XT20 and 27mm 2.8 pancake lens that sparked my love for this special camera to raise funds when I started my wedding film business. And it comes as no surprise to me that I now find myself regretting the decision, and scouring eBay in search of affordable copies of the same new 27mm lens to add to my Fujifilm XT4.
Needless to say, what I wrote back in 2020 still very much applies today, and I am sharing this feature here on my blog in honour of that. If you’re considering buying a Fujifilm camera, this will likely spur you into pulling the trigger. If you already shoot Fujifilm, I hope this reanimates your passion and reminds you what makes these little cameras so special.
Why I Shoot with Fujifilm Cameras, or A Call to Adventure in Your Own Backyard
From a life of travel to complete lockdown, Ben Holbrook’s fling with Fuji helped him keep his creative flame alight and find magic in the mundanity of everyday life.
My dad kept an old SLR hidden in the depths of his wardrobe. A beautiful black and silver thing that seemed to weigh as much as me. But it didn’t actually belong to my dad. It was already in his house when he moved in, along with a bunch of other old junk that he deemed worthy of holding onto. Its cracked-leather case opened with a loud ‘pop’ and was lined with a soft scarlet fabric that had absorbed the aromas of a thousand foreign lands.
He didn’t have a clue how to use it, mind you, but he’d let me play around with it in the house. Strapped over my shoulder, I’d lug it from room to room, crawling under tables and peering through the giant viewfinder, stretching my tiny hands around the lens to twist the crosshairs until they lined up and my “subjects” appeared sharp. Cuddly toys and action figures became miniature monsters, balls of dust behind sofas like tiny storms to be captured on film.
“It never once occurred to me that I could take the camera outside (or ask for a roll of film).”
But that camera never once had film in it – at least not during its tenure with my dad. It didn’t matter though, because at that time, with that filmless camera, it was less about immortalising moments forever and more about exploring the world around me.
The camera was not a machine that could freeze time, it was merely a vehicle or a conduit through which I could channel my curiosity and imagination. The camera was about studying my surroundings and the seemingly infinite wonders that existed in my father’s house.
I could spend an age studying the spines of old books and magazines, or conjuring up stories about the trophies and statues that filled his glass cabinets. It never once occurred to me that I could take the camera outside (or ask for a roll of film). It was far too heavy and valuable for that (as I’m sure many DSLR shooters will ironically still relate to today).
It didn’t bother me in the slightest at the time, but I must confess it makes me feel sad today, as my dad and I lived something of a wild and adventurous life, sailing to remote bays on the Welsh coast aboard his beloved boat, eating our way through Turkish bazaars and riding scooters up Greek mountains to meet monks at monasteries. “You can ride it by yourself if you promise not to tell your mother.”
Sadly he died in a tragic accident when I was just twelve years old, which only confounds my regret that he never splashed out on a few rolls of film for that damn camera.
Sometimes I wonder if the photos I take today are the result of me trying to recreate those adventures with my father, trying to relive or unlock experiences that exist only as blurred visions deep in the depths of my mind.
Somewhere, Anywhere, Elsewhere
Photography maintained a presence in my life from then on. My next camera was my mother’s Canon Powershot, which she kindly kept supplied with film. As a teenager I took it with me on my trips around Thailand and Spain, and over the years my concept of what photography was and should be shifted from those filmless days at my dad’s house to something more “traditional”.
I no longer took a camera with me on adventures around our house or garden, or even around my hometown. “What is there to shoot anyway?” seemed to be the subtext of my new photography ethos.
I looked to my heroes, like Steve McCurry and Martin Parr, for inspiration and aspired to live a life of travel and adventure just like them. In far off lands, anywhere new, everywhere… elsewhere.
And by and large, that’s exactly what I did for many years, working professionally as a travel writer/blogger and photographer, lugging my heavy Nikon DSLR from Jordan to Italy, Israel to France, taking thousands and thousands of photos with each trip.
But if I’m being honest, these relatively short jaunts abroad always left me feeling more frustrated than fulfilled. I never really had enough time to become familiar with these new worlds or foster any kind of intimacy. Sure, I was able to capture some sense of place, and tell my own story through my images, which was a minor victory I suppose, but I never felt my images were doing these places justice. I wasn’t able to dig deep enough.
Fun with Fuji – My Introduction/Gateway Drug
It was around this point, when I was right in the middle of living my dream life of travel and adventure, that something strange happened. I bought a Fuji X-T20.
You know the story already, of course… I wanted something smaller and lighter, a “B camera” I could carry on a daily basis when I wasn’t travelling and “working on serious projects”.
I was living in Spain at the time – first Barcelona and then Asturias – and would hang my tiny camera around my neck before going out as naturally as I would put on a pair of shoes. Paired with the tiny 27mm f/2.8, it was almost invisible and bothered me not one bit to carry at all times.
However, as the tale so often unravels, my Fuji quickly became my “A camera” and, much like my dad’s heavy old SLR, my Nikon gear stayed on the shelf at home. With my Fuji in my hands, things started to change for me and my photography. My daily life became extraordinary once again. I seemed to ascend back to that higher state of consciousness I experienced as a child, when I could see a world of possibility without needing to leave my father’s kitchen.
With my tiny little camera dangling around my neck, the world around me opened up and I began to see beauty in the mundanity of everyday life: the grace of winter light trickling between a leafless tree, the boldness of shadows on a sunny day in the city, painterly scenes of people carrying out their daily rituals.
And more than that, I often seemed to find myself in sudden and unexpected scenarios where I was glad to have my camera with me. As a Nikon shooter, I so often found myself saying: “God, I wish I had my camera with me to shoot that.” But my Fuji was always there, around my neck, in my pocket, ready to shoot.
Just knowing it was there helped me see differently. It was as if I were seeing the world in more detail, and soon I began to feel pride in my photography again, that I was finally capturing something authentic.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
“Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake
A Whole New Creative World with the Fuji X-T3
After almost a year or so of shooting with the X-T20 – with the 18-55mm zoom and 27mm pancake lens – I upgraded to the X-T3, the camera that has changed my creative life the most. Paired with the 23mm F/2, this is pretty much my dream “desert island setup”.
I’d always wanted to shoot video but wasn’t sure how or what… I wasn’t going to start vlogging from my bedroom or filming myself doing backflips in Bali. So what was I going to film exactly?
The X-T3 simplified things for me. It made me realise that there really isn’t such a huge difference between photography and videography, that they are more the same than they are different.
And so I started filming the world in the same way I would photograph it. Focussing on the minute details of everyday life that combine to tell simple but beautiful stories. Today I feel lucky to have yet another medium to draw on and express myself with.
My Minimalist Workflow
It goes without saying that the joy of shooting with Fujifilm cameras extends far beyond their compact form factor. As something of an old romantic, I love the fact that my X-T3 looks and feels like an analogue film camera – especially when paired with manual-focus vintage lenses.
I love that I can adjust my aperture by physically turning a ring on the lens or select a shutter speed with one beautifully satisfying click of the top dial. But what really makes the difference, and it really is all the difference in the world, is the fact that Fuji’s film simulations are so damn perfect.
I often wonder if this is something all of us Fuji shooters feel, but I don’t really enjoy editing my photos. I enjoy taking photos, the act of creation, but once I’ve created an image, I am more or less done with it.
I am not one of those photographers who believes that “50% of your style is born at the editing stage”. No, I’m one of those photographers who believes that you should do whatever it takes to get a beautiful shot, and then do as little as possible to it that might fuck it up.
“My Fuji X-T3 has become my biggest ally, a weapon of mass creation.”
In fact, my entire ethos is that photography allows/empowers us to see and capture the beauty of the world as it actually is, so I don’t understand why people dramatically change the colours of scenes and subjects in post. I want my images to portray what I see as I see it. I want my images to look great straight out of camera. And that’s exactly what you get with Fuji.
All I need to do after a day of shooting is backup my images to a hard-drive and import my favourites into Lightroom to give the exposure a little bit of a tweak. And away you go!
I pretty much only use Classic Chrome, Provia Standard and Acros, but appreciate the fact that all of Fuji’s film simulations are baked into each and every RAW file, so you can play around with them in Lightroom and see how your images might look with each. This speeds up my workflow and is, in my humble opinion, exactly how the editing stage should be with all cameras.
By the way, the same applies when shooting video with Fuji too. I shoot all my short films in Eterna (occasionally Classic Chrome) and do as little as possible in Final Cut Pro. It just looks so great straight out of camera.
Home with My Tiny Weapon of Mass Creation
After a chain of unusual and somewhat uncomfortable events, I left Spain and moved home to Wales (from Spain) after living “away” for over a decade. But though it was unplanned, it was, in the end, clear that it was exactly what I needed and wanted.
Equipped with my “Fuji approach to photography” and new zen-like outlook on my surroundings, it felt like I was seeing it all for the first time. The landscapes, the people, the way my neighbours live… the way I had always lived… it all had so much meaning and photographic potential. Potential I had never realised before I left.
It’s odd, looking back… I couldn’t really tell you why I left Wales in the first place, but it became clear to me that what I returned with was exactly what I was missing previously: the ability to see beauty in the everyday and marvel at the mundane.
“Here I am engulfed by the familiar, smothered by ordinariness, and all I can see are creative opportunities.”
As has been said so many times before, photography really is less about the way things look and more about the way you look at things. As long as I have my little Fuji swinging around my neck, it seems I am able to look at things the right way, or at least in a way that brings me joy and comfort.
And thank god I had gained this new perspective, because as serendipity would have it Covid-19 quickly made sure I wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere “exotic” even if I wanted to.
But the truth is that I didn’t want to be anywhere else, and more to the point I didn’t feel that I needed to be anywhere else to feel inspired. Admittedly the Gower peninsula in Wales, where I am from and have now returned, is a beautiful place to live and spend a lockdown, with many sources of beauty and inspiration, but the fundamental point here is that I am home. Here I am engulfed by the familiar, smothered by ordinariness, and all I can see are creative opportunities.
Of course I’m not saying that I have no dreams or hopes of travelling again, to photograph magical lands and otherworldly beings. What I am saying, however, is that I am not destitute now that travel has been taken off the menu.
My Fuji X-T3 has become my biggest ally, a weapon of mass creation. It doesn’t matter that I can travel no farther than a few miles from my front door. If anything, the geographic restraints imposed on me/us have merely fuelled my imagination further. It’s like being given permission to stay put and look deeper, rather than chasing the allure of the unknown.
Routine dog walks have become great sources of creative kindling, beers with friends fodder for short films (watch Barrel of Laughs for an example).
Once again I am that small boy with a filmless camera, seeking adventure and finding beauty in the world around me – without having to leave the confines of home.
And as far as I can tell, it’s all thanks to my Fuji.
So let me finish, if I may, with a few questions:
What could you create if you were adventurous enough to really dig into the place you call home?
What could you say about your neighbourhood, your village or your hometown that nobody else could say about it?
How might you view the ordinariness of your everyday life differently with your little Fuji dangling around your neck?