Teju Cole does tech talk on Instagram
"Right, let's talk tech. Frequently asked question: what camera I use. Short answer: Fujifilm X70, a small and impressively versatile digital camera.
Slightly more involved answer: The Fujifilm X70 is my ninth or so camera. This year alone I've used an iPhone 6 (digital), a Canon 5D Mark III (digital), a Mamiya 7 medium format rangefinder (film), and a Canon Elan 7 (film). The camera doesn't matter, obviously. It's the eye and the tensions you're able to explore in any given series of images. But of course the camera matters: if you figure out what a given camera is able to do, you're more likely to get past mere style into something that's interesting in another way. A pretty image is the easiest thing in the world. But what do you want to make flow?
The key thing is to get into an intuitive relationship with whichever camera you're using. Most of "Blind Spot" and all my Lucerne pictures were shot with the Canon Elan 7, a big ugly monkey of a film camera, very cheap (I saddled it with an expensive 50 mm lens). I mostly shot Portra film. It was a very efficient machine, a pain to carry around, and after three years I was happy to go to something lighter and faster. But I loved the language it gave me and I got fluent in it.
Would I recommend the X70? Yes. It'll run you just north of $600. Great color work, gorgeous reds and blues compared to any other digital camera I've used (Canon's digital reds never convinced me), and much better bokeh algorithms too. Only twice as big as an iPhone and easily twice as good. Downsides: no viewfinder, fixed and rather wide lens (28 mm equivalent). People will say you can't do portraits with anything that wide, but all my #faceme_ifaceyou portraits were shot with it. And for sheer verve, even in night shooting, even on a dance floor, it's the most satisfactory little machine I've used. All my #riverofimages pictures are made with the X70. I play with color in Lightroom and sometimes use the inbuilt flash, sometimes with an additional light source (usually from my phone), and it can be surprisingly beautiful.
Comments open for follow-up questions."
[Comments with replies from Teju as of 9: 30am, 7 Aug 2017]
"bokaptit: Which is your favorite photo?
_tejucole: A photograph of the funnel of a ferry on Lake Brienz that I made in 2014. It's on p. 120 of "Blind Spot."
sanchita_c: Is X70 a compact camera or a mirror less camera?
ltaylork: where do you take/send your film to develop?
_tejucole: Accurate Photo, South Slope.
adebeeyii: #onceuponatime That's the result of my following you diligently. Won't mind getting your suggestion on things i can do better.
_tejucole: Work on it everyday. Be willing to try weird things. You'll be your own best guide.
noonecankeepup: What kind of photography would you call your work ? My guess is contemporary but I feel like it might more
_tejucole: I don't really label it. "I'm trying to see" is the best I can come up with.
tehbingreviews: What kind of camera would you recommend for someone who's mostly been shooting with an iPhone but is interested in exploring photography further? (I've been reading up on film photography but am not sure if I should just stick to digital)
_tejucole: Film, quite apart from its appearance, can change your relationship to the things you're looking at. I'd recommend it. A used Pentax K1000, which you can get for under $100, might help slow down your shooting and enrich your looking.
lancestein: The feel of Fujifilm cameras has always been more satisfying in my experience. Manual dials sold me on the the X-T1. Feel like more people are gravitating toward a middle ground between DSLR and point-and-shoot and Fujifilm occupies that space really well. I started shooting on my parents' old Nikon N90, clunky but the light meter got me perfect exposures every time. I miss the awkward simplicity. Anyway, cheers for the post.
lancestein: By the way, are you exporting jpegs out of camera with Fuji? I find the colors spot on and just keep the raw as ’negatives’ at this point to save time.
_tejucole: I export large jpegs, yes. My professional photographer friends are scandalized, but...*shrugs* It's a workflow, storage space and time management decision.
bleuowlf: Hi, Teju. Aren't mirrorless cameras better than compact, like the new X-T2? And: how much and how often do you clean the lenses and camera, by yourself and by giving it to the service centre? I often worry about and try to clean at least the lens a 2-3 times when I'm out all day. Thank you for doing this. // PS: I loved Blind Spot.
_tejucole: I don't know what "better" means though. The X-T2 has objectively fancier specs than the X70. It's also twice as big and costs twice as much. Twice as big means I'm less likely to carry it around with me. And I have to say, just judging from my experience shooting with one (admittedly with a zoom lens), I much preferred the optics on my X70.
_tejucole: I clean my lens once every couple of days. I often forget to. Soft glasses cloth, nothing elaborate.
_tejucole: And: 🙏🏾
rivrwind; Teju, thanks so much for your work. I don't have any questions but I just wanted to say that as I can't find a contact form for you. I'd also like to send you an essay, but understand if you don't have time to read unsolicited things. I used a fuji as well. Thanks again and stay well.
_tejucole: Yeah, serious time shortage. I sincerely wish it were otherwise.
cwmmwc: I wonder if you've used a Ricoh GR? I love mine but am intrigued by the X70. Similar in size and so forth. Thanks for sharing your thoughts 🙏
_tejucole: Never shot with a Ricoh.
jordiwaggoner: 28mm lens? How does that work for you? Are you always shooting really close up? We're the night portraits you have been posting lately shot with the Fuji? I like low light and don't like flash.
_tejucole: Yup, I get up close. And the night shots are all with the Fujifilm. It can pretty much see in the dark.
officeofdevelopment: were you tempted to try the x100f?
_tejucole: Nope. I don't know it. I think it was just about to come out when I was buying my X70.
blussome: What do you think of fuji's mirrorless cameras ? Xt1-or 2 ? Have you ever shoot with them ? Thank you.
_tejucole: They're super. But too big for my current needs: I want something I can slip into the pocket of my jacket.
sjplatt: Do you begin a new photographic epoch knowing what camera is best suited to what you think you're going for? Or does that come later, once you've invested more time and more sight?
_tejucole: The two things unfold at the same time. A new camera suggests new directions I may not have considered before. But the project at hand also means I'm pushing the camera in a certain direction; maybe I'll use a tripod, or maybe I'll underexpose, or maybe I'll shoot in bright sunlight. Google my essay "Far Away From Here" to see how the choice of a camera (a Yashica) influenced how I approached a given terrain (Switzerland).
officeofdevelopment: love the idea of the x70 as well, just a bit too wide for me
_tejucole: It doesn't wreck the verticals as much as you might think. Scroll back my last few and see. But there's definitely some peripheral distortion, which I occasionally fix in Lightroom.
unamericain: Tech Talk With Teju could be a recurring feature.
_tejucole@unamericain Yes, yes. But how do we monetize it?
yayitsrob: Have you found Lightroom to handle Fuji colors okay? There were rumors that it didn't for a while (which is why I just shot a month of travel with my Fuji XT20 in RAW and JPEG 😬).
_tejucole: I use Lightroom 5, not on the cloud. It looks fine to me. Can't read raw files though; that's a major flaw.
yayitsrob: Good to know. So you shoot JPEG then? (If so, that's reassuring to hear.) yayitsrob: (and thanks for this little tech hour.)
_tejucole: I do, but it's vaguely irresponsible to do so as it limits some future possibilities. (Scroll up, I address this in an earlier reply.)
culdivsac: What about your black and white images? I know that you've shot several in the past with an iPhone. I'm particularly asking about an image of two hands on a wall, which you posted this June. Was it film or digital? It's one of my favorite pictures of all time.
_tejucole: Thank you. That photo was shot with the Fujifilm X70, in Umbria, Italy, and then worked on with Lightroom 5.
xavierbas: Hi Teju, for riverofimages how many shots of a situation in average you do to get one picture?
_tejucole: I think I'll usually do seven to a dozen before I feel one of them has captured what I'm after in a given situation. But only later do I figure out which one worked. And of course, quite often, none works at all. Meanwhile, in my film shooting, I rarely make more than three or four photos in any particular scene—unless a series is what I'm after. Often, with film, I just shoot once and move on.
officialroticanai: Hi when did iPhone stop working for you as a photo tool?
_tejucole: I still use it. It's just that my little Fuji makes much better images, and is small enough that I usually have it with me. So the iPhone is suffering a bit under this unfair set of circumstances. But it'll probably bounce back at some point; all my cameras do. It's a cycle.
bleuowlfI: use viewfinder a lot as it's often extremely bright here (India), but it takes quite a bit of time to adjust eyes off it. Do you also experience this or something similar?
_tejucole: Lack of viewfinder is a loss, definitely. I dislike having to switch on the camera even to consider a certain shot. But that lack is also what allows certain cameras to be so small. You'll have to decide which features are more important to you.
bleuowlf: Oh, I'm sorry for not being specific. My question was re your experience with the viewfinder in general, not of any camera.
_tejucole: No adverse issues of the kind you describe, no.
nicolasantoniovargas: any thoughts on the sony a6000? same price range as the x70 and i've heard it offers a lot more in terms of clarity, autofocus speed etc
_tejucole: No experience of Sony cameras. I'm pretty happy with the focusing speed of the X70, but most people I know who have Sonys are happy with them too.
stinamatic: Thoughts on Sony rx100? I ❤️the point and shoot with dslr settings. Loved the blind spot gallery show too.
_tejucole: No experience of Sonys. I hear they're good. Thanks.
cosmopsis: I realize you didn't reference any Polaroid cameras in your post, but do you ever shoot with instant film (specifically Fuji FP-100C or FP-3000B)? Thankful for your images and your writing ✨
_tejucole: I have a couple of Polaroid cameras. I don't think I ever really got into the groove with them. They have a nice nostalgic vibe, but it always came down to image quality for me—I never felt like I was getting enough visual description with Polaroid.
ianwdrake: Ricoh GR is great for pocketability, although no evf. Very sharp 28mm lens. Apparently some ovfs work well with it
erasuremyyours: Ever consider going Panoramic à la Hasselbad Xpan? Koudelka allegedly swore by it (before leica made a custom digi)
_tejucole: Someday. (I love Koudelka's Wall.)
gert_ pauly: What about Contax? I bought a small Sony recently because I was super annoyed by my very slow Fuji x100. The Sony RX100 III is small, fast and much better than an iPhone.
gert_ pauly: P.S. If you haven't already tried it, I can really recommend the app filmborn. It has Fuji and Kodak filters that work great on iPhone shots.
_tejucole: Love my Contax G2. Most beautiful camera I own, though it has frequent focusing issues. Don't know digital Contax. Will try Filmborn, thanks.
rbknight73: why not shoot raw and convert using Adobe DNG Converter?
_tejucole: An extra step I'm avoiding for now. I'll get there eventually.
devibakshiI: happen to be using an x70 too, and I'd love to know how you get such sharp images in low light. Auto? Fix in post? Very high ISO? How high do you go?
_tejucole: In very low light, yes, I use all those approaches. Generally I'd shoot auto and stop the exposure down by one or two. But really it depends on the conditions. And being fanatical about getting the results you want.
kellyjkang: I loved your perspective on Seoul in Blind Spot. I grew up there and thought your photos and text captured a sliver of the country's pain and hope. I've been saving up for the X70 and am glad you like it so much.
denver.david: Thanks for this, and for Blind Spot, Open City, and more. Between you and Chris Anderson (well, and several others), I'm beginning to see and listen (and learn).
denver.david: And I guess I have a question that's a tad off topic. How do you balance writing with your photography? Specifically, in practice and work. Do you engage both daily, separately, or together? Does one seem stronger, more primary (innate) than the other? Oops—that's more than one question.
_tejucole: Answered at length in many interviews, so I won't repeat myself here. Brief answer: both together all the time, both daily. Expressing the same energies in both. Neither more primary. Thanks.
theodore: Thanks for all your work. Has made me look harder, past the object into an image. Wondering how/when you decide to bring your bigger cameras around. When is it a 5D or Mamiya occasion?
_tejucole: They say the best camera is whichever camera you happen to be carrying—and they're right. If I have a long stretch of time to develop a project, I'm more likely to use film, because it simply takes longer to get the photos I need. If I'm shooting at night or shooting with an eye to a fast turnaround, I'll use a smaller camera or a digital camera or both. But even with those, I've found that strong images come slowly. It can't really be hurried along.
shawncetrone: How do you come to decide to pursue a project? Do you have a process of eliminating other ideas which could themselves be projects?
_tejucole: Projects for me are driven by three ideas. One is that a single photograph, no matter how compelling or beautiful, is not enough anymore. It had to be part of something larger, and in fact how beautiful it is is often irrelevant to that. Second is that I have to be wiling to try something a bit weird and risk looking a bit foolish or nerdy while pursuing whatever it is. Being "cool" won't push new work out into the world. And finally, I commit myself to the idea that a project could fail. Many do. It's OK. I chase many beginnings in the hope of a few satisfactory endings.
butterflydarwin: Are you always with a camera with you? What does the absence of it but the presence of shots do? How is composing then elaborately with your eyes and not taking them-? Does it happen to you?
_tejucole: I almost always have a camera with me. I guess my practice is diaristic in that sense. But when I don't have a camera, if the scene is compelling enough, I make a mental note and I try to come back to that scene—a bar, a bridge, a mountain, a room—and see if the magic is still there. Often it isn't, but lightning does strike twice. But best practice really is to have a camera within reach and to be willing to be socially awkward enough to go for the shot before the moment passes.
portlower: wonder about the mental note. How does previsualization operate as you get to know a place better? Fall off? Ever a thought?
_tejucole: The mental note is about saying to yourself that there are two or three intriguing things in a scene. But maybe you need four things or five things to come together to really make the picture work. So you return with a camera, and you hang around and you move around, and if you're lucky you'll get those additional two things. Pre-visualizing was not a guarantee of anything, but it was a way of saying that maybe something might work out here. Some photographs you grab like a mugger, some others you stake out like a heist.
portlower: Thanks so much. More intriguing together the better.
stevedean: Hi @_tejucole have you tried the digital zoom on the X70? I have had great results from similar on X100F. Feel like a bit of a heathen, but 35/50/70 without changing lens is compelling for me! You would get 28/35/50.
_tejucole: I've tried it. I noticed distortion and compression artifacts right away. It's not for me. I either use my feet as zoom (get closer) or crop in post.
tokyo.gram: Some photographs you grab like a mugger, some others you stake out like a heist." Perfect. Could be a pull quote from one of your essays.
An X70 with a viewfinder would be the perfect street and all-occasions travel camera. I'm crossing my fingers its successor will have one.
_tejucole: tokyo.gram 🙏🏾
danielshapiro: I love Tony and Connie. Glad to see others supporting their family business.
_tejucole: They were key. I even thank them in the acknowledgments."