Hardware & Software We Use & Need Right Now, Part 1

The hardware, software, techniques and workflows for digital documentary photography and video production continue to evolve hand over fist and we need to keep up with the latest production standards and customer expectations in a way that was less crucial during the analog era.

Self-funded independent photographers and moviemakers are just as subject to this necessity as well-funded professionals and perhaps even more so given the need to often compete on the same ground and work our way up the ladder.

We may not be able to hire or buy the high-end hardware and software relied upon by our better-off colleagues but we can select more affordable gear and applications in smaller formats and by alternative manufacturers that can, with care, produce high-quality results.

These pages will list products on our wishlist as well as those we currently rely upon and recommend, and will be kept as up-to-date as possible.

Documentary photography

We grew up as documentary photographers relying on rangefinder and view cameras during the analog era and still find that digital rangefinder and rangefinder-style cameras and (mostly) prime lenses best help create the intimate, immersive look and feel we love.

Soon after swapping our SLRs to rangefinders, we learned to improve our ability to get the right shots by carrying two cameras with lenses of very different focal lengths, quickly swapping one for the other as the flow of the action demanded.

We came to prefer prime lenses over zoom lenses due to each focal length having its own very specific character and for the discipline of zooming with one’s feet rather than with a lens’ zoom ring.

Digital rangefinder cameras

Fujifilm’s X100 fixed lens and X-Pro series interchangeable lens digital rangefinder cameras are affordable alternatives to Leica’s wonderful but costly M Series digital rangefinder cameras.

Fujifilm’s APS-C X-Trans sensor cameras can produce images rivalling those from 35mm sensor cameras with similar megapixel counts, and Fujifilm’s next-generation cameras reportedly will have 40+ megapixel sensors for even higher image quality.

Currently we rely on an X-Pro2 camera for documentary work but are hoping that the coming X-Pro 4 will possess the features we need and that are missing from the current X-Pro3:

  • In-body image stabilization aka IBIS – for available darkness photography and especially with a stopped-down lens or where we need to depict motion behind immobility.
  • 18mm bright-lines in optical viewfinder aka OVF – for our default prime 28mm-equivalent documentary focal length.
  • Optical viewfinder magnification – the OVF image is magnified by moving and holding the selector lever to the right for 3 seconds.
  • Tilting or fully-articulated LCD monitor – documentary photography must sometimes be conducted in stealth mode with the camera above or below eye-level or off to the side. I prefer fully-articulated monitors but even tilting monitors are an improvement over the fixed monitor of the X-Pro2 or the “hidden LCD” of the X-Pro3.
  • Faster and more reliable autofocus – although I often use my manual clutch focus lenses with hard stops in manual mode, I also rely on autofocus in fast-moving situations and when I am not sighting through the OVF or EVF so need the best autofocus in the X-Pro4.
  • 40 megapixel sensors – documentary is the art of data carefully designed and depicted within a still or moving frame, and the more data that a camera is capable of recording the better given data can be thrown away in editing but it can never be gained there.

While Fujifilm’s X-Pro series cameras are excellent for serious documentary projects and photojournalism, the company’s compact X100 series cameras are often better-suited to daily carry due to their smaller size and weight as well as their unthreatening “antique” analog look.

Fujifilm’s X100 series’ 23mm fixed lens with its 35mm-equivalent focal length is a good choice for several genres of photography and is well-supplemented with the WCL-X100 II Wide Conversion Lens and TCL-X100 II Tele Conversion Lens, adding 28mm and 50mm equivalent focal lengths without much extra weight or bulk.

Although I prefer the focal lengths chosen by Leica then Minolta for their Leica CL and Minolta CLE compact daily carry analog film cameras – 28mm, 40mm and 90mm – the equivalent focal lengths chosen by Fujifilm for its X100 series – 28mm, 35mm and 50mm – are a workable choice.

Regardless of which camera series, X100 or X-Pro, we strongly recommend good old black instead of silver or any other fancy finishes as documentary photography benefits from not drawing undue attention to itself.

Lenses for Fujifilm digital rangefinder cameras

We learned our trade during the analog film era and always carried Leica M Series rangefinder cameras and lenses alongside our other, larger and heavier equipment.

Leica had it all worked out with a well-spaced optically and mechanically matched set of focal lengths that could be rapidly swapped out on my two camera bodies without having to rethink their controls and capabilities.

I mostly used the more affordable Summicron-M lenses supplemented with Summilux-M and Noctilux-M optics borrowed from Leica Australia when needed, and my 28mm lens was an f/2.8 Elmarit-M.

Leica Summilux and Summicron lenses from 21mm through to 90mm for Leica M-System rangefinder cameras. Original images courtesy of Leica.

My purchased or borrowed focal lengths were 21mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 75mm and 90mm though my favourites for photojournalism were 28mm and 75mm with the 90mm for portraiture while I relied on the 35mm when I could carry only one lens and one camera.

Fujifilm’s first three interchangeable lenses have their virtues but have the downsides of first-generation products in their optical and mechanical quirkiness.

So our first two Fujinon XF lens choices were the 23mm f/1.4 R and 56mm f/1.2 R, influenced by British documentary-style wedding photographer and Fujifilm X Photographer Kevin Mullins.

The Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 R became our daily carry lens choice in the same way that our first Leica M Series lens was a Summicron-M 35mm f/2.0, but it wasn’t long until we felt the need for wider and narrower focal lengths than 35mm equivalent.

We added the Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8 R and then the XF 14mm f/2.8 R, making our current lens line-up, in 35mm sensor equivalents terms, 21mm, 35mm, 40.5 mm and 84mm.

Thanks to the folks at Fujifilm Australia kindly lending us gear for review over the years, we tried out all the “Fujicron” lenses and discovered that the XF 50mm f/2.0 R WR is as essential a documentary lens as its Leica M Series counterpart so have added it to our wishlist.

A brief tryout of the Fujinon XF 18mm f/1.4 R LM WR, first of the “Fujilux” series lenses, at an event in June 2021 was enough to prove that lens a worthy counterpart to our beloved and much-missed Leica Elmarit-M and so it, too, is high on our documentary lens wishlist.

Fuji Rumors has stated that the current Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R is due for a “Fujilux” style update possibly next year so the company’s new “Fujilux” lens collection may grow once again.

I’d like to see 27mm and 70mm f/1.4 lenses join the collection after that and some superwide and ultra wide prime lenses are also long overdue.

The current Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 R should be updated to “Fujilux” style and size but without losing its excellent optical correction though I do love its manual clutch focus and feet/meters scale making for fast and easy hyperfocal distance focusing.

I would have been fine with the XF 50mm f/1.0 R WR being an f/1.4 “Fujilux” instead as its 75mm equivalence is a little too short for a portrait lens and is much better suited to documentary photography while the comparatively tiny XF 50mm f/2.0 R WR has too small a filter diameter to easily accept step-up rings and matte boxes for cinematography.

For the record, these are my ideal documentary focal lengths in APS-C with 35mm equivalences:

  • 14mm = 21mm
  • 18mm = 28mm
  • 23mm = 35mm
  • 27mm = 40.5mm
  • 50mm = 75mm

While these are all my ideal portrait photography focal lengths in APS-C with 35mm equivalences:

  • 35mm = 50mm
  • 56mm = 84mm
  • 60mm = 90mm – a favourite from my Leica days.
  • 70mm = 105mm – a favourite from my Nikon days.

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Protecting your lenses

… coming soon…

Lens hoods

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UV and protection filters

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Camera Support

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Portrait Photography in Large Format

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Documentary Video

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Camera Support

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