I mainly consider myself a portrait photographer (amateur, not professional!), which consequently mainly determines my choice concerning equipment. Portrait photography can benefit from shallow depth of field because it usually looks nice when you separate your subject from the background. I don't want to go into discussions about how much of it is really necessary even though it affects issues I will talk about in this article.
In 2014, I entered full frame territory by acquiring a Canon EOS 6D. Over the years, I have produced some very nice portrait shots with it and especially the EF 85 1.8 and EF 35 1.4 L lenses.
Recently, I became more and more frustrated with the AF capabilities of the 6D. With only the central AF field good enough to get wide open shots in focus, I produced very little keepers as portraits are usually not composed with the eyes in the exact centre of the frame. Focussing manually was actually more frustrating as even with Magic Lantern installed, the focus aids were not comfortably accessible and the manual focus rings nowhere near as smooth as the ones from the manual age.
When Sony released its A7III, everybody was excited and many considered moving and/or moved eventually, either with adapting their EF lenses or with a full move, buying Sony glass. I waited and just prior to Photokina 2018, Canon released the EOS R, which has some nice AF improvements over the 6D and works much better with adapted EF glass than the Sony competition, so they say.
However, the EOS R received not the very best reviews and that made me thinking if spending 2,5k as an amateur photographer for an "average" camera is such a good idea. On the same Photokina, Fujifilm presented their brand new X-T3, which, as opposed to the EOS R, saw the reviewers rejoice. I have always liked the approach and style of the Fujifilm X series and even owned an X100 for a few years, which produced stunning photos.
Fully believing in the idea that full frame is the only way to shoot in the portrait photography world, I was still very reluctant to buy an APS-C camera. Yet, both the Canon and Sony options required me to spend an amount of money way higher than the Fuji alternative. Hence, I listed the benefits of a full frame sensor over an APS-C one:
- more dynamic range
- more colour depth
- less noise
- less depth of field
From what I have read recently, that was true some years ago. For a few years now, the first three advantages have become marginal, especially with Fuji‘s X-Trans sensors. Marginal differences in IQ that cause major differences in your wallet are not a good idea for amateur photographers.
The only real aspect that still kept me from Fuji was the depth of field one. However, I somehow wanted to switch to Fuji because of the many benefits, such as shooting concept (e.g. manual dials), film simulations, design, weight, giant and high-resolution electronic viewfinder in the X-T models. The last aspect may have been the reason to think about Fuji at all after I accidentally tested an X-T2 in a photo store about half a year ago.
To make it short: maximum shallow depth of field is not always required in portrait photography. On the contrary, it is often nicer to have not only the eye(s) in focus, but also the nose and ears. Moreover, environmental portraits often benefit from more depth of field. Of course you can still achieve great subject isolation with an APS-C sensor as there are factors such as focal length, distance to subject and distance between the subject and the background that influence depth of field (much more). Finally, with lenses like the XF 56mm 1.2 and XF 23mm 1.4 in the Fuji X system, there is almost no compromise to be made, especially when you consider that you can perfectly use these lenses wide open, which is not always the case for fast Canon EF glass.
So I bought a used starter kit consisting of an X-T1, XF 18mm 2.0 and XF 35mm 1.4 and did some test shootings. I was very pleased with both the handling and the results that I eventually sold all my Canon gear and recently purchased the above mentioned XF 56mm 1.2 which is yet to be tested. For the picture above, I used an adapted Auto Revuenon 55mm 1.4 from the 1970s, which I bought very cheap. As you can see, I took the often advised path of first buying good glass instead of the latest camera. It proved to be the right decision as even with an X-T1, portrait photography is much easier and more fun than with the EOS 6D because of the better AF. More reports on shooting with Fuji and how I like the performance of the individual lenses will follow.