South Bank at lunchtime

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There are some places I love to shoot. One of them is the South Bank of the Thames, in the section not far from Waterloo. I can easily nip out for lunch, shoot there and be back in about 50 minutes. What’s not to like?

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One thing about it that’s great is the variety of people there, from street performers, to musicians, to locals and tourists. Another is the scenic stuff like the London Eye, the bridges, the Aquarium and the Jubilee Hall. Generally there is a lot to take photos of!

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Over time I’ve been down there a lot with lots of different cameras. I went there recently with the X100, was dissatisfied with the results and posted about how the X100 had outlived its usefulness.

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The beef I had with it was largely down to the issues resulting from a 12mp sensor, which was great in its day (I have been a long term user of this sensor, having owned a A700 DSLR back in the day), but it simply didn’t have the dynamic range of the most modern APS-C sensors and sometimes lacked resolution. This is in complete contrast to every experience I had of using it for family photography, where the results were frankly stellar.

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Another issue I had that time was that I hadn’t thought that much about my street shooting technique. I recently wrote a dull but worthy post on DPreview in response to someone who wanted some tips on street photography technique that said:

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A bad idea is to get stuck in cliches such as only using WAs for street photography. It’s a conservative view that I’m sure the originators of street photography would have laughed at as meaningless orthadoxy. The key is to get people in their environment and it doesn’t particularly matter if that’s done with a WA or a telephoto as long as you do it. It is often easier with a WA but that doesn’t mean it is the only way to do it. But don’t use telephoto lenses as a crutch to avoid engagement with subjects. Try to use them in combination with other focal lengths for a more powerful effect.

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Another cliche I hate with a passion is homeless people or drunks (or both) giving the camera a thumbs up. They can look impressive on their face but they leave me with a nasty feeling inside.

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A really bad idea is to wander around taking photos from the hip – its likely to provoke argument and bad feeling if people realise. That said, in crowds I’ve used the flippy screen held over my head to get great shots, it does depend on context.

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Just try to make it clear you are taking photos (putting the camera to your face to use an EVF usually achieves that) and if people move out of the way or otherwise indicate they aren’t happy (“I don’t want no photos, Guv” is a clue!) don’t take their photo. Be confident and engage with people (smiling really helps if you can manage it and I’m a moody barsteward). Try to avoid peoples kids if you can unless you have their (parents) permission or they are part of a crowd of disparate ages and it’s unavoidable. Try to pay/tip street performers before taking their photos – they will often reciprocate by smiling for the camera.

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The best place to get “comfortable” with the idea of street photography is in a location with a lot of people moving slowly and concentrated on multiple things, like a market, exhibition or live event.

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Funnily enough, I realised after writing that post that I had never been very comfortable taking street photos with the X100 whereas I felt more comfortable using a DSLR or the Panny GH3. I think it comes down to the fact the X100 is perhaps a little less flexible than more modern cameras and it’s slower too (especially to come out of sleep mode). It’s a camera, like the M9, that needs some thought applied to it before shooting.

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My default is to shoot the X100 in DR Auto. It suddenly occurred to me that one of the reasons I didn’t like the results from the X100 for street photography might be because of a combination of not using manual settings, taking it to places with huge dynamic range like the South Bank, being less confident with the camera. Walking into the sun, why hadn’t I just set the DR to 400? A little noise and lost resolution is better than unusable photos!

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Anyway, this week the X100S was announced, an upgrade of the X100 with a 16mp x-trans sensor. It would be wrong to say the only thing wrong with the x100 was the sensor. It is capable of beautiful results. There were also AF and configurability issues. However, Fuji has had a crack at addressing them. Lets just say that, being a big admirer of the x-trans sensor (perhaps I’ve been able to pull a little bit more out of recent X-pro1 photos through use of a certain RAW converter) an X-trans version of the X100 gets me very excited.

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I’m a bit less excited about the supposed improvements to AF, but the new MF aids sound great. In any event, the announcement inspired me to pick up the X100 and head back down to the South Bank. Was I happy with the experience of shooting the X100 – hugely. Was I happy with the results? Well, yes, but I think I could have got better with the X-Pro1.

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That said, I will slap myself with a wet fish for suggesting the E-M5 plus 17 is better (either here or on a forum post). The E-M5 will be better in certain circumstances (particularly at night, the stabilisation produces stunning results with the 17 mounted), but between F2.8 (OK, maybe F4) and F8 the X100 lens just rocks and the result pop off the screen in a way that is very, very similar to the M9 (the E-M5 remains faster though). Put it this way, there is nothing at all wrong with the X100 lens.

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So, I think there may be a couple of purchases upcoming: (i) a certain Raw converter; and (ii) a certain new camera. My X100 is staying for now though!

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Taken with my X100

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