Inspiration: Volcano shots by Francisco Negroni

Francisco Negroni went to Chili. There was a volcano called Cordon Caulle and it was burpy, so he took pictures. Here they are.

How to select your equipment

You're about to spend a considerable amount of money in a camera, and you have the feeling marketers are trying to sell you weird features without ever explaining you what does what? Well you've got to  spend 10 mins reading this. I guaranty it will help you a lot! You can also email me if you have a question at . I will tell you about:
  1. A few rules you should keep in mind when buying photography equipment. Following those rules will allow you to not only get what you really wanted, but also to save money.
  2. A couple of essential accessories you will realize are very useful, that you should plan in your budget
  3. Places where I bought over the years and got satisfied, and places where I was less satisfied.
Then you can go read my gear recommandation page, that I try to keep updated with the lastest stuff.

Let's start with my rules to buy equipment. It is expensive, get over it photography is not a cheap hobby. This is why you gotta clear your mind of all the noise, and stick to a few principles that will guarantee you buy the right thing.

Rule#1 : Figure out what you intend to use the camera for

Camera are like cars: you can't get a camera to be the best at everything. If it's rather good an everything, it is never excellent at anything. Pick you fight. The other important thing is that some camera bodies (camera without lens) are very versatile, it's the lens choice that will determine what it's gonna be best at. I would use that typology of photography use:

A memory collection device, no expectations other than cheap and portable. You'll mostly care about size and durability. Any cheap compact will do the trick, and to be honest, many smartphones. I advise you try to get one of those shock / water proof cameras, they'll be able to handle your parties and days at the beach.

Photography enthusiast, you want a multipurpose camera but under a budget constraint: it's gotta be good at everything, and this will be your only camera. You care less if it's not so light. You'll need to make sure it's actually versatile. Many compacts don't offer a wide enough angle for landscape, or bright enough lens for portraits. You should be looking at:
  • Maximum and minimum focal length. For landscape, you want a camera that goes under 24mm.
  • The bigger the zoom, the lesser the quality. Don't get theX16 zoom. Prefer a camera with a 24-100mm for example, or 18-70mm something in that range.
  • Quality lenses have usually a higher aperture, it means they can let more light in, with allows of course shooting in low light, but also make those nice sharp subject / blurry background effects. Prefer a compact with a lens that opens wide, you can tell by the f number: the smaller, the better (it goes down to f2 or f1.8 at best on a good compact).
  • Make sure you don't get a compact that has a tiny sensor. If you are on a budget, you'll never be able to buy the very large sensors, but if you hesitate between 2 cameras, google which one has the biggest one. It allows better low light and image quality in general.

Photography enthusiast, with little budget constraint, likely to show interest in different areas.You can afford multiple cameras or, more likely, lenses. You are willing to first get geared up for one purpose, then progressively equip. Don't get an 800$ multipurpose lens (18-200mm for example), I guaranty that in a year or two, you'll realize your mistake, sell it to buy 2 prime lenses that are specialized, and you will have lost money in the process. Here is a list of the different areas you might be into:
  • Portraits / people photography.You focus on your friends, GF / BF, kids, family or models.You do weddings for them once in a while. You should be looking at:
    • A fix lens with a focal length between 50mm and 200mm. I personally prefer to have a 105mm or a 135mm to catch spontaneous portrait without being seen, and a 50mm to get close to the action, and shoot a portrait within a scene.
    • Keep in mind: if you don't buy a full frame camera, you have to multiplie the focal length by 1.5 to know what the real length will be. Smaller sensor  are only seeing the middle part of the image thru the lens, with is equivalent to a x1.5 zoom. If you buy a 50mm on a DX (Nikon 3100, 5100, D90, D7000, Canon 550D, 600D, 7D), you actually have a 75mm.
    • You want a fast lens. In photography a fast lens is a lens that opens wide, in our case, f2.0 at least. Luckily most fix lenses for portrait are fast, from f2.0 to f1.2 . Keep in mind that the faster the more expensive, and also, some very lenses are not worth it: for example, some of them open up to f1.4, but they are only good from f2.0 and above. In that case, there's no point buying the f1.4 version.
You want to be able to separate the subjet from the background

  • Land and city scape / architecture. It does not move, but it requires very clean images, usually a tripod and very wide shots. Equipment will be rather the opposite of what you need for portraits. You should be looking at:
    • A wide angle, from 28mm down to 10mm. 
    • Those lenses will have distortion (as if you'll looking into a spoon), make sure you have a software with the lens profile covered, so you can get rid of distortion easy.
    • Fast lenses are not important, you'll be shooting at F8, F11 and above in order to get most of the picture sharp. Hence, you're likely to use a tripod.
    • Prefer a camera that performs correctly in medium range ISO. If you shoot architecture and the sun isn't high up in the sky, you might not have a tripod with you, you will need to shoot at iso 800 or 1600 in order to be able to use low apertures.
You want to avoid distortion, and have large depth of field (= you want all things sharp, close and far)

  • Action and wildlife. Stuff that moves, rather quick, without noticing you in advance. Rarely happens in ideal light conditions. This is likely to require the most expensive equipment, get over it right now or you'll suffer later. You should be looking at:
    • winning at the lottery
    • a camera that performs brilliantly at very high ISO (in 2012 standards, you can get a clean image at 6400, and 12800 after noise reduction). 
    • telezoom lenses, they are heavy, very expensive, and average product don't perform at all. You can only go for the best.
    • a heavy duty tripod
    • did I mention it's pricey? we're talking about a 5000$ budget at best (Nikon D700 + lens + pod) up to 10 000$ (Nikon D4 +lenses + pod). However, thanks to significant progress in sensors, you can give it a serious try with a Nikon D7000 (1300$ body only), but you will spend a few more Gs on lenses.
    • You'll need a proper heavy duty backpack.
    • You'll need a good insurance, that stuff get's stolen, and broken.
  • Travel and backpacking. It's a very specific need, it needs to be versatile, capable of shooting in bad situation, yet durable and as light as possibly can be. You should be looking at:
    • weight and size. I did India with a Mamiya 645 and a DSLR, I regretted it every single day.
    • tropicalization, in other words water and dust proofing. Most upper end DSLRs offer it, unfortunately, they don't score very high at weight and size.
    • Versatile lenses (2 maximum) that are not to heavy. You'll prefer a 35mm on a full frame camera if you are to take just one single prime lens. Otherwise, a 24-70mm f2.8 as your one and only lens would be a good choice, but this is likely to be very heavy. You can also go for a wide angle (traveling = landscapes and architecture) like a 20mm, and a portrait lens (135mm to capture people without being to close). Last good combination, a 16-35mm zoom for street scene and lanscape, and a fix 135mm.
    • You might want to give up the idea of a DSLR. Lately many premium compact with interchangeable lenses came out, some with good lenses, pocket size and water proofing. Read my camera selection page to see what is my choice of the moment.

Rule#2 What make the quality of a system is the lens and the sensor (or film if you shoot film)
Here are thing that in no way impact the quality of your pictures: FPS, Mega pixels,  maximum ISO performance, built in post processing stuff, size of the zoom, etc. All of those have to do with rule#1: you might need them according to what you want to shoot, or not. No matter what you picked from rule number one, you want to make sure you invest your money mainly on the best lens, and the best sensor.

Rule#3 : You will be exposed to a lot of marketing when buying, a lot of it is absolute nonsense
Photography is essentially the same since the 60ies. Digital has made it more accessible, and allow different things. But what makes a good camera is the same stuff. If you buy right in the first place, you are very unlikely to need an other camera for a long time. Non of those fancy features will be of any use, they just have to reinvent the wheel to justify launching a new range of product all the time.

Rule#4 : If you want to buy a new camera because your picture don't look good enough, 90% chance that it's your fault and not the camera's fault
Most manufacturer keep implying in there communication that getting whatever will make you take better pictures. No no and no again. It will only be true in case you did not respect rule#1 and picked equipment that was not adapted to your need. Yes better cameras make it easier, they offer superior productivity, durability, but in normal light condition and if you use the right gear the right way, a 8000$ system will make no difference as opposed to a 1000$ system. I am willing to demonstrate it if you don't believe me.

Whatever you own, learn how to use it properly before thinking of buying more.

Rule#5 : A great picture is not about sharpness, noise or any of those things that help manufacturers sell more stuff
A great picture is about composition, use of light, an original subject, and original angle that when they come together, make you feel something about a picture. It can be blurry, it can be noisy, you'll have not doubt it's a great picture if it is one.

Rule#6 : If you camera has interchangeable lenses, invest on lenses, not on the camera body
Fact: camera bodies keep improving extremely fast. I kept my last digital body for 5 years, but it's been limiting me since the beginning due to its poor performance ever in medium light condition. 3 years later a body came out that was brilliant in low light. 2700$... I'm glad I did not buy it because now, a body comes out with the same low light performance, but 3 times more resolution and full HD video ! I can't spend 3Gs every two 2years.

Fact: lenses last forever. They also resell really well, sometimes for more than the original price. Each lens might see a dozen camera bodies in its lifetime. This is where money should go first.


So under exploited by amateurs, there is so much you can do with it, especially in terms of landscape and night photography. If you have a light camera, you don't even need the fancy stuff, anything with 3 legs that will keep it steady, even a tiny one ! This only will allow you to shoot landscape in low light, suffering from blurry sunset? You need a tripod !

Normal behavior in camera bags: you buy the cheapest, then you do stuff, travel, you realize your bag is not convenient, too visible, you buy and other one. In the first place, buy one that:
  • is not screaming "I contain a camera"
  • can handle a little more than what you have, trust me you will buy accessories
  • can be more than a camera bag.They do small discret backpacks with a camera compartment, those a perfect for traveling. A jumper, a bottle of water, your camera.

A UV filter
Not so much for UV, but to protect the lens. You screw it if front of the lens, it will take the damages in case you crash it, costing you 30$ instead of 500$. I have one on every lens I own.

Graduated Filter
For lanscape only. Suffering from pictures where the sky is just white and the rest in normal? Or the sky is blue and the rest is all dark? You need a filter that will lower light coming from the sky only, so it all comes out nice.

Black Rapid Strap
For travelers and wedding photographers. Have you ever done a wedding with 2 cameras, including 1 SLR hanging around your neck for 7 hours? I did. It hurt for 2 days. Lucky they do some nice straps on which the camera can slide when you pull it up, and naturally lay under your arm when you don't use it. It might seem like a gadget, but when I tried it, I though "holy crap, how could I live without one before?". 


Over the years I bought cameras and lenses from most of the well know sites: ebay, adorama, B&H, Amazon, Calumnet, Keh, Pixamania. Here is my honest opinion based on facts and experience (repeated), on each of them:

Ebay: A
A great idea, but keep in mind that Ebay is just the intermediary. look for sellers that are rated 99.8 at least, that take paypal, then you are safe. The thing with Ebay is that "deals" often aren't deals. For 3 months you might see the camera you are looking for at 500$ used, and one day there are 30 of them ar 300$. One rule: be patient. Other that that, it's a great place to get used film cameras that cost 4000$ for less than 1000$. I got a refurbished Nikon DSLR there once, it was a great deal. Ebay depends on you: be smart, and you'll do great.

Amazon: A+
For new equipement only. You won't find very niche product, but appart from that, Amazon has the best customer service online I have ever seen. They are properly amazing, they have to be loosing money on that ! I mean, something I don't receive a package, email them, they send it again for free, I end up receiving it twice. Once I received a damage camera: UPS stopped by my place to collect it, but they shipped a new one the minute I called to complain. Those guys understand that the client rules. 

Pixmania: C+
The opposite of Amazon. Good prizes, yes, but it comes with a catch. They don't deliver on time, ever. You pay for fast delivery, it's 10 days late, they'll never reimburse the fast shipping fee. That mentality was comfirmed by friends working there. Avoid if you are in a hurry. Similar experiences from too many users.

Keh : F
Bad experience on used equipement: not what is described, takes MONTHS to get it replaced, sometimes not by what you asked, shipping fees are never reimbursed. Multiple similar feedback is easy to find if you google it.

B&H: A
The lords of online photography retail. They have everything, they ship fast, they price correctly. I never had to use customer service, but I've been very happy with them. Great for used gear.

Adorama: C
The clone of B&H. I used to buy a lot from them, until I got disappointed several times in a raw. First they try to sell me an obviously broken viewfinder on a Mamiya RZ, in store. The salesman trying to force it onto my camera, nearly breaking it. They were selling it "as new". Then I ordered a Fujica 645, it arrived broken, obviously not from transportation, it was impossible since the damage was on a part of the camera that was in the center of the box. They shipped it broken, they knew it. I only got the camera paid back, not the shipping. Then I ordered a Mamiya 645 1000S with a metered finder. I received one with a non metered finder. I called to complain, I got a price on a metered finder, and I received.... the same non metered finder in the box of a metered one !!! There is a clear intention of robbing people. I ended up getting what I wanted on Ebay. Shipping costs always at my expense.

Calumnet: n/a
Only used them once, nothing special at that stage.

Photoshoot mythbusting

A few years ago, I was mostly shooting attractive and rather undressed models. I now find more satisfaction in shooting journeys and personal moments, but as a straight male with a taste for contemplation, I once in a while enjoy shooting a beautiful girl. Let's be honest, it's also a great way to drive traffic to this blog (honestly, why did you click in the first place?) and I don't happen to have easy access to kittens. But it also makes people around me very curious... so today, I will answer the questions you always ask me face to face:
  1. How do I find models and what happens next?
  2. What do my acquaintances think of female nudity in my pictures?
  3. And finally the one question from my male audience: do you get laid a lot? That is seriously the number one question I get, and I am a market oriented kind of guy.
Ah ah, I totally lured you in here :) You are weak. 

How did I happen to shoot nudity? 

At the very beginning, I mostly shot friends or colleagues I got along with, portraits only. I am very grateful for the incredible amount of time they gave me, especially because they had me when I was learning tons and frankly, not at my best. They know we they are. 
One of my friend, a fearless lady, ask me if she could pose naked for me. She did it to tease a boy she liked, and I very much believe for her self esteem, which is a good and very common reason why women ask to pose for me. Because we didn't want anyone we knew to recognize her where she worked (being a free minded woman doesn't imply that you are professionally suicidal), pictures ended up being quite low key, discret, and focused on her shapes rather than her face. Those pictures got a lot of success, among men and women, for different reasons...

The male audience comments could be summarized in those terms: "I'd hit that + nice tits + did you bang her?" I'll address that later, I've got to work on my suspense skills. So from males, almost never a comment on composition, framing choices etc. The worst part for me was this comment I got one day: "I should really buy an SLR and start doing that". This is awful for the following reasons:

  • That is insulting to the models, as it implies that any expensive camera gets them naked, as if they can't resist their  own vanity & your wealth. 
  • It was insulting to me because that guy was just assuming that my pictures were just the fruit of owning an expensive camera, and that he could do the same. 
  • Finally, it showed that some men still think, unconsciously or not, that if a woman is naked in a room with a man, she automatically will want to shag him. Some have a lot to learn...
I did have few nice photography related remarks from men, mostly good photographers who could see what I was trying to achieve.

The female audience however surprised me.  I was first a tad bit ashamed to show them my work, by fear of being misjudged as someone who objectifies women. I later realized that the most positive, photography oriented and fulfilling comments came from women. They were complimenting my work for picturing them in a way they found faltering, and I ended up having countless shooting proposals, which is why I haven't had to paid a model for a long time. I was very happy to see that the female audience wanted to be pictured the way I do it, and soon realized that ladies only were providing useful feedback.

I now live in a new city where I know fewer people than in Ireland, so I seek models on portfolio sites too. This is how a shooting normally happens:
  1. A friend asks me to shoot her, or I ask her. The other option is I go on a site the likes of, and contact a model.
  2. We discuss shooting conditions by email: do you want a right release contract, do you want to bring a friend, are you comfortable with nudity etc. 
  3. Then I send examples of what I'm looking for in terms of mood, or shooting technique
  4. We agree on time and place, and price if it is a paid job, all by email
  5. I meet the model on shooting location (sometimes in a bar for the more cautious ones), we usually chat about the weather for 5 mins.
  6. She pulls from her bag the clothes she brought for the shooting, we chose what to start with, and we just get to it.
  7. When done, I ask for time to develop the film and scan the negative, and I send only the best pictures.  Some paid models don't care, they only want the money, some do it for the pictures, some want both, it's always different. 
  8. Few of them I saw again for shooting, less became friends. Most of the time we never met again.
Some ask me how we you get from "hello" to "can you please get naked?". First of all, it is all agreed prior to meeting, so usually the model just...gets naked after 5 mins. It sounds weird I know. I usually look away like a idiot, which is dumb because I'll stare at her thru my camera for 2 hours after that, seeking the best way to capture what I like about her. I do it mummy taught me to be polite I guess.

Sometimes, it's just happening strangely. Take those pictures for example (that I love):

I met her in a store where she worked. I immediately thought: "that girl as such a unusual but beautiful look, I'd love to shoot her". Since I was with my girlfriend, I dared to ask as she would not think I'm hitting on her. She said yes and a few days later came to our place. I was shooting her in the bedroom, asking for nothing specific, and she innocently took off her top...I did not ask for this, we never really talked, I never asked for her motivation to pose in the first place. She showed the pictures to her boyfriend, who liked them, and I never heard of her anymore.

Other times, the model came with her mum who was forcing to pause as a FHM pin up when she clearly hated it. Didn't go well. I also had twice ladies going full nude although we agreed on portraits only, to later tell me that I can keep but not use the pictures, that they are only for them. Pretty lame when you spend 100$ of film and a day of processing... I could never post those of course, keep in mind an email is worth a contract in many countries so respect your commitments. Of course if I knew if was a order for personal shots, I'd have charged them.

The one lesson  here is: ask everything and anything before to clarify. No one want to feel surprised on tricked in a situation where they feel vulnerable.

How do my friends and acquaintances react to it?

Most ladies, as I said, liked it. I'm sure some despise it but they never tell me. In some cases they were suspicious about my intentions towards the model but the appreciated the work (yes there is a full day of work after shooting). When they are critical of my shots, it's never about the nudity, it's more often about my narrow vision or lack of evolution. Rightfully I must admit.

Most guys...well you know already. A lot of male colleagues are very interested, judgmental and envious at the same time. They make classy remarks full of implication such as "still doing nudy pictures?" I love those, condescending moral judgment with a subtly disguised request for boobies.

My true male friends made the effort to get interested in the photographic aspect of things, they display a healthy mix of appreciation for the opposite gender combined with a little photographic analysis of the image.

My family... well I don't have much and my mum couldn't care less as long as I treat my lady right.

Finally, the one question to rule them all: do you get laid a lot?

To be truthful, this is often formulated as such: "wooow nice cans, did you bang her? Got her number?"
Yes I do have her number, we've met...and really? You think you can just call and be like "hey, I'm that guy you've never heard off, but since you pose naked, I assume you don't need to know more for use to bang right?" Yeah try that, tell me how that goes.

Well dear readers, here is the answer you have been waiting for: yes, I bang most of them. Sometimes at the same time. We just have random orgies where we never use protection. Also se often black out on crack cocaine so i'm not too sure, but I do believe there was once a poney in the batch. Then I make videos and show it to my Grand' Ma who applauds while summoning Satan in goat blood. Great fun.

For those of you who don't get sarcasm, the answer is: no, I don't get laid via photography. Here are the reasons why:
  • For most of the time I have had a girlfriend.
  • Models who pose to make a living don't give a damn about you as a man, they expect decent behavior, payement and goodbye. Nice pics are a bonus.
  • Models who pose as a way to work on their self esteem, or as a personal treat, don't flirt with you. They flirt with their reflection in the camera. It's a thing between them and...them. 
  • Being naked in the presence of a man does not imply desire. Otherwise it would be a mega orgy at the beach every summer (at least in France). 
  • If I paid, or even more if they volunteer, I have a lot of pressure not to fuck up, so I stay focused.
Has anything ever happened with a model? Yes. It would have happened in a bar if not after a shooting. It happened because there was mutual attraction. Modeling had little to do with it, appart from being the reason for meeting in the first place. I won't unveil my personal life, but in 10 years shooting, that happened probably...twice? Much much less than what happened when simply going out. And no, I won't tell you which ones.
So if you are in for the action, I'm not saying it can't lead to that. If you try real hard...but still, save your money, go to clubs, online dating sites or parties, you'll get laid a lot more and mostly, you'll stop polluting that field of work with you behavior.


I want to close this topics with two points:
  1. There are 59 pictures on my portfolio as it is. 7 of them display nudity. Do you have an eye filter that prevents you from seeing the rest? 
  2. I once looked for men to shoot. When I asked guys that are not models, most freaked out, as if it was some cheap gay move on them. On the other hand, gay men where quite comfy with the idea, and often volunteering, without seeing imaginary hook ups everywhere. That's very funny how the average straight male is full of opinions on naked female models, but very very few would have the balls to pose naked. Why you ask me? I guess...the values of the old fashion all powerful male probably exist to hide a form of discomfort. We conveniently put all the pressure of physical attractiveness on women, so we wouldn't have to deal with it ourselves. The old white dominant male relies of social status and money. Once you've had the balls to pause naked for a female photographer, you may have a more interesting opinion to share. 
I hope that satisfies your curiosity ! I am not offended at all by such questions, just a but tired of answering them instead of talking actual photography. 

Product review: Fuji X-M1

If there is one lineup of cameras that makes heads turn, it is the Fuji X series. It started with the X100, which I for long considered to be The compact camera to get for the photographers who wants a more portable alternative to SLRs. 
Then came smaller sensor & more affordable Fuji X10 and X20, followed by a new X100S , and finally an interchangeable lens version of the X100S : the X-Pro 1. The lineup seemed complete, but Fuji listens carefully to its user base, and it appeared that the later want  top of the range lenses and sensor as on the X Pro 1, but in a more portable format. They made it and it is called X-M1 .

How to review such a camera ? 

First of all, it is necessary to establish what it is for. The X-M1 is a compact body with an APS-C sensor, and pricey good quality lenses. I reckon it shall be used by two profiles of customers:
  1. The pro / well equipped amateur who want a portable alternative to heavier systems (SLRs, Medium Formats) when traveling, street shooting, trekking etc. 
  2. The mass market user with a significant budget (1200$ at least with accessories) who's willing to go a little bigger than a supper compact, in order to get a versatile premium product. 
In other words, the expected key strength for the X-M1 will be its usability in a spontaneous shooting context, while retaining SLR level results. It means good ergonomics, easy set up, and performant full auto / preset modes. 
I reviewed this camera during a business trip to NYC and a week end in the streets of Paris. Doing my things, and shooting as the opportunities unveil. I believe this is how this camera will be used most of the time. This time I have to be honest I wasn't that inspired...

For super premium image quality, you will still have to look at film medium format systems (cheaper than an X-M1 with a prime lens if used) or some full frame SLRs, in particular the Nikon D610 and D800, with very high level lenses.
For ultimate all purpose performance (still, action, video), you'll have to look at SLRs the likes of the D4 or D610. Those come with a very, very different price tag (x3-6). Image quality won't be that much better, but you'll be able to shoot a bird 100 meters away by night.

Long story short

  • It does delivers image quality that is equivalent to a SLR, even some full frame SLR. It comes from a excellent sensor, and a range of good prime lens.
  • You need from 1200$ to 1800$ to get a good system with one or two lenses. 
  • The X-M1 is a much smaller X-Pro 1 without a view finder. Given that what makes a camera is the sensor and the lens, it is in terms of image quality the same machine. Key differences come from usability and we'll discuss them below.
  • Its main weakness is AF speed, which won't allow you to shoot fast action. For the average user however, you won't even notice. I have caught moderately fast action with it and got a perfectly focused image. It's people proof, maybe not cat proof.
Same image quality, but smaller and cheaper? It might just be the one compact camera a highly demanding enthusiast should get in 2014. Let's figure out if that's the case.

Image quality

The two components of image quality are the sensor and the lens. This section needs no more writing than what already exists all over the web. The Fuji sensor is a APS-C size sensor, similar to non full frame SLRs. It is the second best on the market after the Nikon full frame sensor, and the system produces RAW files superior to the output of a Canon 5D. Dynamic range and noise are excellent, there is no match to this sensor in the compact world

On the lens side, similar story, Fuji XF lenses are excellent, the ones priced 599$ do a good job, the ones priced 899$ are as good as any premium Nikon or Zeiss. You can easily Google all of this if you're into charts and stuff like that. I'll later recommend lenses for this system once I try them all. The main issue is that they are too expensive compared to what you get with Nikon for the same price on an SLR.

ISO performance is very good, with perfectly exploitable results at ISO 3200 and above, providing that you use RAW files and good software to de-noise (Nik suite with Lightroom 5 is what I use). With more normal ISO value (200-1600), dynamic range is excellent, and light rendering overall is very, very good. See examples below.

Sharpness and all those things are lens related. Fuji lenses are great, no issue there. I used the 18mm F2.0 , it's alright but won't blow your mind.

Camera ergonomics & hardware

Fuji X cameras are well built and solid. Do I need to mention they are sexy as hell? People do stare at them, the brown leather X-M1 was quite a hit. But it being very desirable can be also a drawback... you like it or not. Regarding handling, well it can only be as good as handling a rectangular shaped small object. A big SLR with a grip will offer better handling of course, at the cost of being huge. Here the handling is average especially for large hands like mine,  and most of the grip actually comes from the lens.

Size wise, it is much smaller than an SLR system... yet it is not that small. Compared to a Canon S100 for example, it remains big. On the other hand, images are incomparable to the ones from a S100. Once lensed up, it doesn't fit in a standard pocket. I'm using it with a BlackRapid Sport Slim strap, making it really convenient for travel shooting. In the street, it remains more discret than an SLR, but where I value the size gain the most is when trekking: the D600 I own is too big for climbing and Bear Grylls like situations. The X-M1 is exactly the size of the (excellent) Olympus OM-D without the view finder.

Oh and also, the screen moves. I'd nice to shoot discretely sometimes :)

Button layout makes sense, the camera doesn't necessary require a manual if you know your way around a camera. I'd have liked the wheel that's at the back to be on the front top right corner, to be used with the right index, but I'm being picky. A second shortcut for EV compensation would have been nice, but then again, small means compromises.

Software and shooting modes

Many pros and a few cons, let's start with the pros:
  • The Auto SR mode that figures out what's best according to the scene: it works brilliant. It really renders on screen just like what you see with your own eyes. Some smart programing behind that: it figures out if it's a portrait, a action shot, a landscape, and picks what's best in order to render as close to reality as possible. Ideal if you lend the camera to your partner who doesn't necessarily knows how to use it. That answers one of the question above mentioned: yes it is a brilliant full auto camera.
  • Menus are well done, logically organized, and the on screen explanation prevent you from needing the manual. The shortcut button is quite convenient, it leads to a quite complete menu, with simplified browsing. It sound like duplicate at first, but in comes in very handy.
On the darker side however:
  • Some features become unavailable depending on the mode you shoot in. If they are on auto, you logically loose hand on some of them. Which is normal, you are on auto. But it's hard to understand why some features become on or off depending on the shooting mode? For example, dynamic range enhancement can go be on Auto, 100%, 200% 400%. Well in some mode you get zero, one or 2 choices, and I don't quite get why.
  • I found little difference between matrix and spot metering, on a back lit subject. That bothers me as exposure effects are crucial to me. Yet, I can probably blame it on the focal length, requiring me to get quite close to my subject to get proper spot metering with back light. My D600 performs much better at this, and can really give you that high key touch on aperture priority mode with spot metering. This being said, automatic metering on the camera is fantastic, but getting a back lit portrait to come out as desired is harder than on a SLR. 
  • Manual focus is a bit of a joke: you need full ring spins to move the focus distance a few meters. Good luck filming on MF mode with that.
The RAW conversion software from Fuji is "meh". Don't even go there, use something else. The RAW files however are very good.

Sample shots

All are with the 18mm F2.0 , probably the poorest lens in the prime focal length lineup, it's actually a good lens, it's just the least good of all. As I said above, no inspiration at all lately so this is just for the samples.

Raw converted in lightroom, shadows lightened and +10 clarity. ISO 200
Shot as jpeg, ISO 3200 F2.
Shot as RAW, ISO 200 F8. 
Shot as RAW, ISO 400 F8, cropped left and right.
Raw converted in lightroom, shadows lightened and +10 clarity. ISO 200 and tripod
Raw converted in lightroom, shadows lightened and +10 clarity. ISO 200
Shot as JPEG, ISO 3200 F2, cropped 35% off.
Raw converted in lightroom, shadows lightened and +10 clarity. ISO 200
Raw converted in lightroom, shadows lightened and +10 clarity. ISO 200
Shot as JPEG, ISO 200 F6.4 cropped about 20%

Shot as RAW, ISO 3200, F4

Same 100% crop,  no noise removal at all.

Shot as RAW, ISO 400 F2
It appears clearly that there is not a single difference in image quality between this and any DSLR.

This one is for the pixel peepers, @5.6 and ISO 6400. Before and after light noise removal (auto in NIK Software), 100% Crop of top left image corner with the 18mm F2.0 . In other words, the worse it's ever going to get. This is of course totally irrelevant to photography, but it show how good of a sensor it is.

Raw converted in lightroom, shadows lightened and +10 clarity. ISO 200

What alternative ?

X100S : the same but cheaper and with an optical viewfinder. Why not getting that then? Because it's also bigger and comes with its built in lens (35mm equivalent) only. Look at what your need is. If you shoot only documentary style and can't deal with screen framing, you might as well get that.

Olympus OM-D : same size (a tiny bump with the electronic viewfinder), similar price, but significant differences. First of all, it's a smaller 4:3 sensor. It is very good, but a bit under the Fuji X-trans sensor performance. On the other hand, it is weather-sealed (which is awesome for trekking) and has a viewfinder. It is an electronic one (you still look at a screen) but it does add something to the shooting experience. Finally, the AF is faster, so if you know action and bad weather is part of your plans, you might want to go for this instead.