Istanbul is the city of one hundred names, incredible historical importance and, a heaven for street photographers. Fujifilm X100S is the next amazing thing that the photo-world seems to be raving about these days. I found myself lucky enough to be in Istanbul, with that very camera and, here are my impressions of both, the city and, the gadget.
I got the Fujifilm X100S in Spain, after my slightly early departure from Africa due to catching Bilharzia, also known as snail fever. The camera was my own consolation gift to myself. I didn’t use it much in Spain, but, I planned to head out somewhere new and exciting. I didn’t know exactly where. That place turned out to be Istanbul.
Istanbul is one of those places that everyone has been telling me about. The next it city to live in, very photogenic, wonderful people and so on. And, it’s amazing when all expectations are met. I absolutely fell in love with Istanbul. So much so, that, it’s moved up the list of places where I’d like to live (for extended period of time) if I have to stay put somewhere.
I can pretty much say the same about the Fujifilm X100S. It was hyped as the greatest camera ever made, as the DSLR killer and, while I think such claims are plain stupid (why does something have to be a DSLR killer?) I will say that overall it is a great tool. I used the Fujifilm for most of the images posted on this blog. I mention where I shot with the 5D MKIII. (The cover image for this post was actually shot with a MKIII, because, the limited focal length would not allow it with the Fujifilm).
I’m not really going to go in depth about Istanbul. I am sure there are plenty of people who have been there and can do it better. Nor will I really do a standard review of the Fujifilm X100S, you can find those online too. What I want to do is review the camera in relation to its use for me, in my travel photography, on the streets of Istanbul.
I am under no illusion that I made some great images in Istanbul, but, I think that any photographer interested in growing and going beyond copying his/her past work has to occasionally step away from the familiar and to experiment. I feel that this is what I did in Istanbul. I essentially used one camera with a fixed prime lens. Something that I would never have thought of doing a couple of years ago.
I hung out around Eminonu and the New Mosque and shot around there after the sun had set. Relatively long exposure shots were possible even without raising the Aperture value, thanks to the built in ND filter.
I spent 21 days in Istanbul, so, I took things slowly, exploring as much of my surrounding neighbourhoods as I could. A couple of days into my stay, I went off to Fatih and that’s when things started to get really interesting. I walked the streets for hours. The fact that the Fujifilm X100S is so small really very well. I could keep on going, waiting for moments and exploring without feeling fatigued or frustrated about a sore shoulder.
Most days I didn’t even know exactly where I was. It turned out that I wondered into some of the more conservative Muslim neighbourhoods in the city. I found the combination of uniformly dressed women and the minarets of mosques quite photogenic, so, I kept wondering around there and shooting. I think that having a small camera played to my advantage in this case as well. People have definitely been reacting somewhat negatively to larger DSLRs in some of the more conservative areas that I’ve shot in recently. The Fujifilm on the other hand was barely noticed.
Every now and then I’d come across certain characters that were particularly photogenic. This man, with his great moustache was one of them. The cool thing about such people is that they and those around them often realise that they’re worth photographing. This man had a small tea shop and some young men at the front of the shop immediately urged me to take his photo, as soon as I took the camera out. Since he too was ready to collaborate, I asked if I could have him stand inside of the tea shop under those photos of him from his youth, just to make the image a little more interesting.
Eminonu is a place from where a lot of ferries depart and a lot of buses have their final stop. There are also plenty of street eateries and vendors, hence, it makes for an interesting photographic area. I kept coming back and shooting around there. I read that longer exposures are more manageable with the Fujifilm X100S camera due to the lack of vibration from a mirror opening up and shutting, and, I think that is the case. The change is not dramatic, but, noticeable. This shot was taken at 1/2 S.
Over my initial days in Istanbul, I did feel that I should at least take out the Canon 5D MKIII occasionally, so as to get some shots that I couldn’t get with the Fujifilm X100S. Sometimes it was just about the aesthetic and no matter how you look at it, you won’t be able to get a shot like this, with such a shallow depth of field with the Fujifilm X100S. You could get something that perhaps isn’t worse, but, definitely a different aesthetic – not the same bokeh/blurry background.
The Galata bridge is full of fishermen at almost any time of day. They’re so consumed by the fishing that often they wouldn’t even notice me. The thing is, the Fujifilm X100S is virtually silent. You can’t really hear the shutter click, which is just great in my opinion.
One day I wondered into the Grand Bazar area. I am not a huge fan of Bazars photographically. For most part, I feel that they are more trouble than places for great image opportunities, due to the crowds and the hassle from salesmen. I was however still getting familiar with the Fujifilm, so, I photographed around the Grand Bazar as well. The camera handled relatively dim shooting conditions just fine.
Another market. This time a little more exciting, as it seemed to be more for locals and pretty much off the tourist track. With scenes like these, I came to the conclusion that 35mm is actually wide enough for most kind of shots that I need to take.
To me the ferries in Istanbul are a magical way of seeing the city. Sometimes the passengers feed bread to the seagulls that follow the ferry and a great photo opportunity arises. I shot this one with the 5D MKIII. At this stage I was actually a little frustrated with the Fujifilm. I never said that I fell in love with it right away. It took some getting used to and, at one stage I just ran back to the familiarity of the Canon.
Before I had always shot while looking through the optical viewfinder of a DSLR. The one on the Fujifilm is not incredibly useful by comparison, as you don’t see real-time focus and, if it’s very bright, you might not see the outlines of the frame. The EVF however, is just fine for me, as is looking at the camera screen, I actually found it liberating not having to look through the viewfinder after a while. Sure, you look like a total tourist doing that, but, that’s not always a bad thing in a world which is becoming increasingly suspicious of photographers, for whatever reasons.
This one is with the 5D MKIII again, as I shot it on the day that I was frustrated with the Fujifilm. I could essentially get the same shot with the Fuji and possibly not be noticed by the men. These gentlemen did notice me, but, I asked them if they could carry on with whatever they were doing. In a very hospitable Turkish manner they offered me a biscuit, as that’s what they were having. I quickly learned that the Turks are extremely hospitable and welcoming. If they’re having something and you’re around, you’ll likely be invited to share the meal, even if it’s just a biscuit.
After a few days around Sultanahmet area, the place with all the main tourist attractions, I moved closer to Tarlabasi and Dolapdere. Two infamous neighbourhoods that are for most part avoided by the locals. It is said that these areas aren’t safe and that people don’t react well to photographers at times. Looking back, I think that having the Fujifilm X100s played a major role in me not encountering any real issues there. Sure there were a few people refusing photos and one smart-guy got a little aggressive, but, I calmed him down by giving him a nice, strong hug and telling him something along the lines of “Me – friend, no – problem!” That got him completely confused and he sort of gave up.
In the scene above a Kurdish migrant woman is drying cotton, while her husband hangs around. It’s a common scene when the sun is out.
Despite its’ reputation, I found that the people around Tarlabasi were for most part very friendly. The thing that makes some people in the area uneasy is the fact that government plans to renovate it and likely, relocate its residents elsewhere. Photographers have documented the dilapidated buildings and might have added fuel to the fire. Architects have come with cameras and plans to knock down people’s homes.
Some time after I shot in the area a friend of mine was spotted by four young men while he was photographing one of such buildings. They took away his camera and escorted him out of the neighbourhood. They gave the camera back, but said, “Do not come back here.”
I think with years of shooting in different places around the world, you get ideas on how to respond to such situations. I had a few young, local tough guys ask me to see what I had shot. Coincidentally this was during the only time that I took the DSLR into Tarlabasi. I had nothing to hide, so, I showed them. At that stage I was only warming up and I only had crappy photos of dogs and smiling kids. This must have pleased them, but, one man said that there would be a problem with me shooting in the neighbourhood. It seemed that words “Friend” and “No problem” diffused virtually any situation, so, I smiled a big smile like an idiot and said “Oh, come on! My frieeeend! Nooo prooblem!” He smiled, patted me on the back and said “Yes, ok, no problem!” Go figure.
The photo above is of one of the older residents just hanging out around the stairs, of which there are very many in Tarlabasi. I asked if I could take the photo, since I wasn’t going to make any candid shot in this case, and, he nodded.
As I said, there is a lot of stairs and, there is a lot of life and activities, or, just people sitting around on those stairs. Who doesn’t love to see this kind of street life? The thing about Istanbul is that it was and still is a little hard for me to figure out who’ll be ok with being photographed and who won’t be. Sometimes some seriously grumpy looking women broke into smiles when I suggested I’d take a photo of them, while younger, giggly girls insisted that I don’t take a photo. In any case, no one’s reaction was violent or angry, so, I figured that I’d just have to try and see how people react. This woman with her grandkids was quite happy for all of them to be in my photo, so, I made a few frames.
Istanbul is full of characters and, as I mentioned, some of them know they are characters and are worth photographing. When I asked this man if I could take his photo, he sorta just had a reaction like – Yeh, sure, I am a star, go ahead.
Since I absolutely love dogs and have one of my own, I am always drawn to other people with dogs. It also seems like there’s an instant connection and those people understand that - Yes, my dog is cool and I can see why you want to take the photo of us.
Over about five days I wondered the streets of the sometimes feared Tarlabasi and Dolapdere. I was smart enough not to photograph guys hanging around street corners (who might have been drug dealers) and found that most other people were pretty cheerful and willing to be in my photos. I photographed this woman’s husband in the same spot before, then went down a street and came back minutes later. There she was, sitting in the same spot and when I asked if I could take her photo too, the reaction was one as if she was waiting for me to come back and photograph her.
One day I took a photo of this man outside his workshop (he was an iron worker). I kept walking, but then heard him calling. He invited me for a coffee and to chat. Since we couldn’t speak each other’s language, the chat was rather limited, but, the human connection was there. I managed to explain where I am from and he managed to explain/show what he does and that he wasn’t originally from Istanbul.
One thing I found somewhat annoying with the Fuji X100S is the fact that the maximum 4000s shutter speed requires you to turn on the built in ND filter when shooting in bright situations outdoors (if you want to shoot at f/2.0). It is easy to forget that you have the ND on and, if the camera is set on Auto ISO, which it was for me. You end up shooting at much higher ISOs than needed. While the camera does well with this, it is still not ideal. The skin tones look a little smudged at ISOs higher than 4000, perhaps even 3200. I got better at switching off the ND filter later on, but, I still wish I didn’t need to use it at all, unless I am shooting something really specific that requires a long shutter speed during the day.
One afternoon while walking around Dolapdere, I saw this group of kids struggling to put up a carpet to dry on the railing of their house. I took a few photos and then helped. They thanked me and I made a couple more frames of them standing behind the carpet.
There are countless tea shops in Istanbul. With all the walking around I’d make at least a few stops there per day. Quite often the shops were also full of interesting looking folks and often those folks would invite me for tea, not letting me pay for it. I never get tired of this kind of warmth and hospitality.
The old saying is that “The best camera is the camera you have with you“. For me, this shot is a great example. This wedding party was going up a fairly regular street in Tarlabasi. I saw the whole thing on my walk back to my room. Had I had the DSLR with me, it’d probably be packed away by now and I wouldn’t have taken it out in time. I was able to get the Fuji X100S ready for a shot within seconds and got this image. It’s not an amazing photograph, but, something that tells a bit of a story and, something that made me realize yet again the importance of having a smaller, accessible camera always at your disposal.
Let me reiterate the point. Having a camera that’s always by your side and ready for action is great! In Istanbul you never know what’s going to happen. With the recent protests, it’s not been unusual to see stuff like this take place in the middle of one of the city’s most famous areas – Istiklal Blvd. Protestors were burning stuff and I happened to be around. I had a camera, so, I took a photo.
The police came after the protestors with some tear-gas, so, along with a new friend, we waited in the lobby of a fancy hotel. In the hotel we came across this interesting looking Syrian businessman, who was avoiding conflict in his own country. We chatted briefly and, again, since I had the camera with me, I thought – Why not ask him for a portrait?
You can see the reoccurring theme here. Having a capable camera with you all the time gives you the opportunity to take photos of something you might not have had a chance to photograph otherwise. In a sense, this expands your photographic horizons, and, I am always for that.
After my time around Tarlabasi and Dolapdere, I moved to Balat. Balat is an old part of Istsanbul and nearby there’s a weekend bird market, which I first discovered in Alex Webb’s photos of Istanbul. I thought it’d be a fascinating place to visit, so, I went.
Most of the birds at the market were caged, but these pigeons had their own room, they were let out every now and then, and then they’d come back. Flying birds are always a great way to test a camera’s ability to capture fleeting instances. I had to get used to the Fujifilm X100S, but, eventually, got my timing down pretty well.
The market is full of weird and wonderful characters. The conversations get passionate when it comes to bird prices. At this stage I realized that using the screen at the back of Fuji X100S was very viable. With DSLR Liveview in my Canon, every time you’d press the shutter button, the screen would turn off and there would be a considerably long instance of not seeing anything on that screen. With the Fuji, shooting with the screen is pretty seamless. You click the shutter button and just keep going without interruption in what you see. I never thought I’d shoot using the screen, but found it a bit of a relief not to always have to put the camera to my eye. I could also stick that thing almost anywhere without freaking people out. At the end of the day this is a big plus.
One of my main concerns with the Fuji X100S was the question of whether it would be as responsive as the Canon when photographing some sort of action or movement. I didn’t want to be missing crucial moments because it would be seeking focus or reacting in a slow manner. Initially I was super frustrated with the Fuji in regards to this. There were a few issues. With the 5D MKIII, I usually use spot focusing, lock the focus and quickly re-compose. I have a separate button for focus and it locks automatically after I get whatever I need in focus. Pressing the shutter button does not re-focus the shot.
On the Fujifilm X100S, you can lock the focus with a separate button, if you don’t, the shutter button will re-focus for you. Initially this was so awkward to me that I just ended up using manual focus. It was ultimately a matter of habit though and I don’t see it as such a big deal anymore.
The other thing was the writing speed to the card. I’m used to shooting action like this – click, click, click – wait – click, click – wait – then a few more clicks. The Sandisk that I initially had was not fast enough to keep up. It’d have to buffer after 4-5 images and always seemed to be behind. This too is something more of a habit than a big detriment and, installing a faster card has almost solved that problem. It still buffers, but, only when I’ve fired off 12 framed within seconds (easy to do because of the 6FPS burst mode). All in all, this stuff simply took some getting used to. No complaints any more.
As I mentioned, sticking the camera into the action works great. I’d have to shoot blindly with a DSLR on the table or to stick my head amidst the action if I were to get the same kind of shot by looking through the viewfinder.
This image is another example of not being noticed at all while I was shooting. This is nothing new to the proper street photographers out there, but, for me, it was a bit different. I kept attempting these kinds of candid shots, just to get the hang of it all and to see what I’d need to do to actually get noticed.
I visited countless tea places where men played cards or dominoes. The Turkish folks are in general a fun loving people. I love it when someone gets all worked up and excited about me photographing in a positive kind of way, much as this man did.
Walking the streets, I’d snap a spontaneous portrait every now and then. I do feel though that portraits are where X100S limitations are most obvious, for the simple fact that it’s equipped with a fixed 35mm lens. You can’t really get anything that comes close to filling the frame, as you’d have to stick the camera in the subject’s face, even then, you’d get pretty significant distortion.
One of the very cool things about the neighbourhood Balat in Istanbul is that there’s this somewhat old world feel to it. People are close to each other, they say hello. There are still plenty of little shops and there are even fish-mongers who walk around the neighbourhood calling out for people to come get their fish. The people in turn often send the money down in buckets on strings from their windows. The fish-monger sends up the desired amount of fish and the change. Very efficient stuff.
A lot of people photograph in this area, it’s just after the underground crossing, on the way to the New Mosque. I pretty much had gotten the hang of my camera by this stage, held it out inconspicuously enough for people not to look at me and, just parked myself there for a few minutes. Alex Webb has some good photos here. I consider my one a half finished attempt. As always, street photography is for a large part about luck and for another large part, about waiting it out.
There’s always somebody hanging out by the mosque walls. People feeding pigeons, people making their kids feed pigeons. There’s a constant flow of people and, even the 21 days I spent in Istanbul were not enough to capture the many nuances in the many different photogenic spots of this city.
I think that most of us with even the slightest interest in street photography are aware of Alex Webb’s work in Istanbul. I found myself encountering all the places I saw in his photos by chance. This one is where he has a shot of youth lying down on the rocks by the water. The first time I came here it was too late for anyone to lay down, but, I did see this cat.
Carlo is an Italian aspiring street photographer who I met in Istanbul. One night we hung out in a wonderful little Nargile place and smoked one of those things for a few hours. As I don’t smoke anything else in life, I thought the Nargile was all fun and games. I inhaled quite deeply and blew lots of smoke bubbles for amusement. A strong throat pain was to follow the next morning.
This was shot with virtually nothing but candle-light at ISO6400, using the Fujifilm X100S. Not bad.
Again, because of the Fujifilm’s portability I took it everywhere with me, so, when we got into a fancy bar on one of the roof-tops of Istiklal boulevard, I thought – Why not take a photo here, just for memory.
This image was more of an experiment. I like smoke (visually) and the interplay of light and dark. I was in a bar, having a drink with friends, the girl was hanging around, I took out the little Fujifilm and asked if she could be a model for a second. I guess this kind of experimenting is part of the fun of photography.
The Turning Point
As I mentioned, I got a little frustrated with the Fujifilm X100S at one stage. Ultimately, I concluded that it was more due to my own habits than the camera’s shortcomings. What’s important is the point when I realized what a special and very useful tool the Fujifilm is.
One day I went back to the Canon DSLR. I walked into Tarlabasi with it, carrying it on a strap across my shoulder – comfortable enough and ready for action. What was the first thing I heard when I barely entered Tarlabasi? – Tourist! Tourist! Photo, photo! I had been carrying the Fujifilm in such way that my hand covered most of it and it wasn’t even clear whether it is a camera at all, or I had it in my shoulder bag. People didn’t see it until I wanted them to see it, or didn’t at all, if I didn’t want them to. If I wanted to be ready to shoot with the DSLR on the other hand, there was no way of concealing it in the same manner.
I walked a little more and noticed that everybody’s eyes were already on me. It was not I who was waiting for moments to capture, but, everyone along the street waiting to see what I would do next, getting ready to react to the photographer/tourist. What’s more is those local tough guys spotted me minutes later, asking me to see what I had shot.
It hit me in those few minutes of walking around Tarlabasi with the DSLR. In today’s day and age, where the DSLRs are ubiquitous and quite often elicit somewhat negative associations, it’s a huge advantage to have anything but a DSLR. The smaller, the less serious looking the camera – the better. The Fujifilm X100S is not the smallest camera around, but, it is small enough and it is retro looking enough not to look serious, or at least it doesn’t put you into the same category of people of whom the world is getting tired.
Of course all this stuff doesn’t matter too much in the remote places where I do most of my work. What does matter however is the fact that the camera is light, and, if there ever will be a day when I can take only this camera and perhaps something like a Fuji X1-Pro, I’ll be able to have some very light baggage.
I would not say that the Fuji X100S is the greatest camera ever made, nor is it really a DSLR killer, unless you’re doing candid street stuff. I would however say it doesn’t that need to be. It’s a great tool as it is. It’s not perfect. I’d like to see the shutter speed go up to 8000. I’d also love an ISO dial, rather than having to play around with the menus to change it. Since I’ve been using the screen, I’d love a flip out one, like in some other cameras. A better viewfinder would be nice too, something that shields off the sun enough to be usable when shooting into the sun. That’s about it! I’m taking this camera to Africa with me and, I might even get the X1-Pro or the new version of it, if it’s available before I head out.
People have asked me about my thoughts on the Olympus OMD. I actually got a chance to use one in Turkey. It’s nice, and, I love the flip out screen, but, the Micro 4/3 sensor means less bokeh and more of a crop-factor, and, it didn’t’ feel quite as responsive as my Fujifilm. It was nice, but would not be my camera of choice.