Road trip

with the Fujifilm X100T

 

The Oregon coast, California, and Crater Lake with a camera built for life in the slow lane.

By Daven Mathies.

I have a difficult time sticking with something longer than I need to. Since I started working at a camera store five years ago, I have purchased and resold nearly a dozen cameras (not to mention lenses, flashes, and camera bags—oh man, bags). I’d bet only two or three of those cameras had more than a thousand clicks on the shutter before I lost interest. And it’s not that I am continuously seduced by new technology; many of my purchases have been used items and film cameras. My needs and interests just keep changing, and my response is always immediate: buy now, act now, solve the problem now.

 

Such was the case when I planned a road trip over the 4th of July weekend. Rather than take a straight shot down I5 to my destination in Northern California, I decided to spend a couple of days meandering down 101 along the coast. The return trip would bring me up I5, but with a detour through Crater Lake. I made all of these decisions the day before I left. That means I spent that day getting my car serviced, making a last-minute Airbnb reservation in Crescent City, and of course, buying a new camera: a Fujifilm X100T. As I didn’t have time wait out the sluggardly employee purchase process, I spent way more money on it than I needed to. This whole thing was pretty irrational; I had never even shot an X100 outside of the store; but, I had a good feeling about it.

Oregon is dotted with small towns, and you don’t have to travel far from Portland to find yourself in a completely different culture. But these places often defy the traditional “small town” expectations. This wasn’t the area where I expected to see advertisements for a Salvador Dalí show or a Michael Jackson tribute concert, for example, but there they were. Other times, the towns seemed to be competing on the basis of Dairy Queens per capita.

Stupidly, I didn’t stop on this leg of the journey, so the images I have of it live only in my memory. But this made me think: How many photographic stories pass us by on the way to our destinations? What are we missing, be it on a road trip or our morning commute?

The Oregon coast is a fascinating place for many reasons. There is the Pacific Ocean itself, which, no matter how many times I see it, remains incomprehensible. Then there are the people: college kids on summer break, retirees, and tourists all mingle against a backdrop of blue collar pride. The food is either great or terrible. A couple of miles is all that separates a quaint, attractive town from one that makes you think, “I’ll just keep driving.”

Day two began at 5:00 AM, early enough to catch some beautiful views from above the fog layer. It was difficult not to stop at every single turnout to take pictures. This wasn’t just because of the great morning light, but because the X100T is a camera that silently urges you to use it. If it’s anywhere within your field of view (like in your passenger seat) you will pick it up. You will take pictures with it.

I turned east on 299 at McKinleyville. I picked this road because it looked nice and twisty on the map and cut right through the heart of the forest. I spent a good amount of time stuck behind slow moving trucks, waiting for the passing lane. I would then zip around them, only to inevitably pull over half a mile later to take a photograph and watch as the lumbering trucks rolled right by again.

The day of the return trip greeted me with a layer of clouds that mercifully kept temperatures below 100 degrees and made for a dramatic sky above Crater Lake. Despite living in Oregon for over ten years, this was my first time seeing it in person. Crater Lake is both a photographer’s dream and nightmare; it is simultaneously impossible to get a bad shot and impossible to do it justice. The X100T’s panoramic mode came in handy, but even this wasn’t enough. I think what struck me most about the lake wasn’t its size, color, or anything else about how it appeared, though. It was the quietness.

I’ll get a lot of heat for wording it this way, but the X100T is a camera that imitates the experience of taking pictures with an iPhone (only without all the things I don’t like about my iPhone). A fixed, wide-angle lens limits what can be done and therefore pushes you to think more about each exposure. I found myself setting an aperture of f/4 or f/5.6 and just concentrating on framing. The hope is that this results in increased creativity. Regardless, it forced me to slow down, and this is often a good thing in itself.

I can’t say for certain that I’ll hold onto my X100T any longer than I have the cameras that came before it. I can say, though, that I believe it has given me the best shooting experience of any camera I’ve yet owned. It is a camera that helps you to simplify a complex scene or find the beauty in the mundane. It fits professional control and image quality into a size that rests comfortably in your hand, over your shoulder, or in the seat next to you. When it comes to driving the scenic route, there is simply no other camera I’d rather take with me.

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