I’ve seen a lot of YouTube videos and read a lot of blog posts where some film maker or photographer will proudly proclaim “I’m Switching to Brand A” or “Why I dumped Brand A for Brand B!” And in these reviews there will be lots of comments on the pluses and minuses of the brand du jour, but I can’t think of a single instance where I’ve seen the reviewer explain how that new piece of gear allows them to produce images that they were never able to produce before.
Let me change that by telling you the story of how a camera upgrade DID allow me to produce an image that would not have been possible with my previous equipment.
Meet my son Brandon. Brandon is fourteen years old, intellectually disabled, severely autistic and non-verbal. He exhibits self-injurious behavior and doesn’t like to stay still for very long. Consequently, he is an exceptionally difficult subject to photograph (for a portrait. As a subject to practice sports photography, he’s fantastic!).
Brandon has been attending school virtually this year, due to COVID-19, and his mother and his teachers have been doing an amazing job with the remote instructional model.
When it came time for school portraits recently, we were faced with a difficult choice: we could bring Brandon into the school on the day his class portraits were scheduled, risking not only exposure to the disease (he cannot wear a mask) but also upsetting him with a new location (he transitioned to high school this year, but has never been to the school) or we could elect not to have his picture taken. This would upset his sister, a senior in the same high school, as she has been looking forward to having them both in the same yearbook for the only year that would be possible.
Instead, we chose a different option: we worked to get permission from the school to shoot his portrait ourselves. Our daughter had had her portrait taken at the school earlier this semester, so we knew the lighting setup and background the official school photographer was using. I had the lights and ordering a background to match was no issue.
The trick would be actually getting a decent picture given Brandon’s challenges. And until very recently, I would have had to have been extremely lucky to get an image of Brandon that would have been useable. But I had a new camera that I thought would make the differnce.
Meet the Fujifilm GFX 100. When Fuji announced this camera in 2018, I wasn’t really interested. 102 megapixels is a lot of resolution, but I was creating even higher-resolution images with my Fuji 50s cameras through the technique of multi-row panoramas that have been the subject of a number of previous blog posts. But there are two characteristics of this camera that did intrigue me over time: In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS) and an improved, advanced, autofocus capability. I had the opportunity, and the means, to acquire one not too long ago.
When my wife and I were discussing what to do about Brandon’s school portrait, I realized that the GFX 100 might be the key to getting a good portrait of Brandon where my previous camera gear would not have been up to the task.
The camera’s IBIS and autofocus capabilities meant that if we could just get Brandon to stay in a home studio setup for just a second, I might be able to get the picture.
So, we set up the background in our living room with one light and a reflector, the same setup the school photographer had been using. We took a couple of weeks to acclimate Brandon to the setup and the flash of the light by doing some portraits of the rest of the family, making sure Brandon was watching, and generally introducing him slowly to the process.
One recent morning when Brandon seemed to be in a particularly good mood, we convinced him to stand in front of the background, which he did for all of 4 seconds, but he wasn’t still. In that 4 seconds, I was able to take 5 images. Every one of those 5 images is tack sharp, which is partly the result of the camera’s IBIS capabilities keeping the image steady as Brandon was shuffling around, and partly the result of the camera’s ability to focus on Brandon’s eyes and keep them in focus throughout his movements.
Is the image perfect? Of course not. In the image shown above, Brandon had moved just outside the central cone of light from the softbox overhead, so the shadow pattern on his face wasn’t exactly what I was going for (I was going for a butterfly lighting pattern and wound up with a modified Rembrandt, or loop, pattern), but beggars and choosers. (Wondering what the heck those terms mean for portrait lighting? I learned them at The Brooks Institute of Photography, but there’s a good overview here).
But I was able to get the shot.
Is the GFX 100 the only camera that could have done this? Most definitely not. As a matter of fact, many of the cameras sold today have these capabilities, but this is the first camera I’ve owned that could have reliably gotten this shot and that makes it more than worth the upgrade.