Fixed Prime Lens: Limitation and Liberation

The main restriction of the Fujifilm X100F is the non-interchangeable prime lens. This article is an opinion piece and summarizes personal experience after more than 10000 exposures.

The typical cellphone camera offers a wider field of view than the X100 and is good for photographing a group of several people. A classic still camera on the other hand often has a lens attached with a bit more magnification. This classic field of view is useful for portraits of a single person. The X100F lens is in the middle. That means it is useful for taking pictures of small groups.

I am not a professional photographer, my photography is not about commercial success. It is about having fun.

Getting more or less field of view

The X100 lens provides a moderately wide angle. To cover more area, the build-in panorama function can be used. Alternatively one can take overlapping images and use software to create a panorama on the computer. Of course, there should be no movement in the frame. I take a photograph of the center first and then cover the edges with some overlapping portions in order to provide good guidance for panorama-stitching software. An alternative would be the optical wide converter which offers a field of view like a cellphone camera. The stitching approach allows an even wider angle of view – if one wants to spend time on a computer for that.

Getting closer instead is easy, because the X100F has a build-in digital zoom. For higher quality I prefer cropping on the computer. One can cut out a part which would be almost equivalent to the aforementioned classic field of view of traditional still cameras, and still get an image which fills the height of a 5K monitor (2880 pixels in height.) For portraits, photographers often use more magnification. When we use the a frame in portrait orientation, cropped also to the image height of a 5K monitor, it is possible to get the typical portrait field of view. With a resolution good enough for 16×24 cm prints.

Now some numbers: Using the 5K-monitor height cropping (2880 pixels height) in landscape mode, we almost get “50 mm equivalent” focal length, in portrait mode we get the equivalent of some 70 mm. Using the optical tele converter results in 1.4x magnification on top of that.

Accepting the frame

I would be too lazy to carry optical converters with me, so I didn’t by them yet – to my regret when I visited a yacht harbor. Some wide angle shots would look impressive, but then I looked around what would be possible with the given field of view.

Using a prime lens saves time: No more adjustment of the zoom factor, also no thinking about zoom. The naked eye cannot zoom, likewise this camera. While restrictive, it also feels natural.

Having a non-interchangeable lens also takes away choices before leaving the house, there is no thinking about which equipment to grab. The replacement battery has to be charged, then one can take the X100F and is ready. During the trip, no time is needed to change lenses.

Instead of looking for details like a far-away church spire, I now experience the environment more as as whole. The moderately wide angle of view helps to keep the photos more honest: If I have a photograph of it, I was there.

With this field of view, there is usually not too much perspective distortion. This adds to a more realistic, documentary-like result. If the place allows it, I like to walk a bit in order to get to a better position. This takes time, but it is time well spent as I experience the location. And think about a good angle and a good frame.

Experience through experiments

Because of the moderate focal length, bokeh options are limited as well. An uninteresting background cannot be easily turned into beautiful bokeh, instead one has to consider the background.

As a wedding guest, I took only the X100F with me. The ceremony was shot by the official photographer, after that I could experience the party, while getting in close range to take my photos. The lightweight equipment allowed to move quickly. With the focal length no longer to worry about, meaning less time spent configuring the camera, there was more time to interact with subjects.

I also use the camera on travel. That felt like jumping into the cold water: Should I consider myself good enough to do this without flexibility in focal length?

In order to get to the extreme, I once used unedited Jpegs. Only the vision provided by the camera was available, but my sight adapted accordingly. It felt like gaining a new ability.

Of course, it still happens that I struggle to find a good frame. Surprisingly few things cannot be photographed in any useful way with this camera, but occasionally the prime lens is too limiting. On the other hand I discovered a lot of possibilities which I previously overlooked.

And I found an immutable focal length quite helpful for galleries: This is the frame in which I tell my story.

Just the beginning

Stitching and cropping is of course still available and can be useful. With the restriction of having no zoom, I thought I would use computer editing more, in order to work around the camera’s limitation. But in reality I often do less in post, perhaps because I take more time before releasing the shutter.

Instead of thinking about what else I could buy to complete my gear, I am thinking about how I can make it work with what I got. Technical perfection might not be achieved using the X100F, but other things are more important. Do I have an idea how to photograph something? If I do a portrait, do I find it interesting and worthwhile to take my time, can I connect with the non-professional model, can I get close with the camera?

As of now, the camera often does not provide all I want, but as it turns out, all I need.

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