Patrick La Roque
Je m’appelle Patrick La Roque et je suis photographe indépendant basé à Montréal, au Canada. Je photographie les gens, les espaces, la rue, les produits ; je photographie pour écrire un récit, peu importe le sujet.
Je suis membre fondateur de KAGE COLLECTIVE, groupe international de photographes indépendants axés sur des essais visuels et des projets documentaires. Je dirige un studio spécialisé dans le portrait et les travaux commerciaux.
Mais finalement, je suis juste quelqu’un qui cherche à raconter une histoire.
“I’ve shot so much at this focal length…it’s like the song of our lives, really.”
The 35 mm FOV didn’t come naturally to me. Growing up, my dad would shoot all of our family pictures with his trusty Electro 35 and its fixed 45 mm lens. Tighter frames, closer in spirit to a 50 mm FOV. When I first became a photographer, I went for zooms over primes—more adaptable, in my mind. This generally lead me to shoot the extremes, either very wide or long—more impactful, I thought.
Until the X100.
That camera is, for many reasons, a milestone on my journey as a photographer, but its fixed 23 mm is a crucial one. It also happens to be the first 35 mm equivalent “prime” I ever owned— and it became my eyes on the world.
The 35 mm field of view is, in my opinion, the Swiss-army knife of focal lengths. All lenses will obviously adapt to the way we frame, but a 35 equivalent is a chameleon: it can go from looking positively epic, to something profoundly intimate, an almost normal point of view (in the photographic sense of the word).
When Fujifilm released the Fujinon 23mmF1.4R, I had by then fully switched to the X-Series, so its purchase was a no-brainer—an extension of my love for the X100 cameras. I remember using it with the X-T1 in NYC, bringing it on family trips and on various assignments.
Over time, however, I found myself reaching for it less and less. I was waiting for the future.
The design changes are obvious: the Mark II is slimmer, slightly longer… and it lacks the clutch mechanism of the previous generation. I know photographers who loved the clutch and its accompanying distance scale, but I was never one of them. Mainly because 1) I tend to mostly shoot in AF, and 2) I make extensive use of the AF+MF function. This allows us to set Fujifilm cameras to AF while still retaining the ability to tweak focus manually—the trick being to keep the shutter half-pressed, either before a single capture or between multiple shots. To me, this translates to the best of both worlds: fast machine acquisition, but with the ability to override as needed, on the fly, with no limits and without ever having to switch modes. I now find the function indispensable, and it’s one of the first things I check on any new camera.
Clutch lenses, however, are physically tied to either AF or MF through their push/pull mechanism. The AF+MF function (introduced after those lenses had been released) becomes ineffective. This limitation eventually made it harder for me to use those lenses: my reflexes needed to adjust every time, and I’d end up fighting the gear until I switched to manual focus. I know this is highly personal, but I immediately felt relieved when I saw the change on this new version.
Another welcome surprise came within the first few minutes of unpacking. Sitting at my desk, I started shooting whatever was in front of me, testing for AF speed, getting a feel for the lens etc. I took a shot of my reading glasses from about two feet away…and then another, a little closer…and then another, closer still…until I realized the lens was almost touching the edges of the subject. I hadn’t read any of the specs yet, and had stumbled, accidentally, on a major bullet point: the new Mark II has a MOD (minimal object distance) of only 9.8 cm from front of glass. That’s awfully close for a non-macro lens. More importantly, however, it remains tack sharp at this distance, even wide open.
This adds both possibilities and adaptability. In a documentary context, for instance, the scope of what can be captured is multiplied, from the highly contextualized, environmental scene, to a tightly isolated and detailed close-up.
That Swiss-army knife just became even more versatile.
A Disappearing Act
The LM in the Fujinon XF23MMF1.4 R LM WR, stands for linear motor, and that’s another important change: focussing is both fast and completely silent. While shooting for this project, either on the streets of Montreal or at home, in the car etc… I never once missed a shot while waiting for the lens to react. In fact, I did a few double-takes in the first couple of days, thinking the AF hadn’t kicked-in…when it actually had. I quickly learned to trust it.
There are two side effects to this, the first being purely technical: LM lenses can more easily be used for video work. The focussing mechanism allows for smooth transitions in AF-C mode, that will almost feel hand-pulled in certain situations. This is one of the reasons why the venerable XF 18-55 mm remains so popular with many Fujifilm video shooters. The second is, admittedly, more ethereal but just as important: it allows the lens to fade away. In the sense that it works, but you rarely feel it working. There are no vibrations, no whirrs, no clicks beyond that final press of the shutter button.
LM lenses are fluid and… sort of magical.
I’ve grown to love the 50 mm FOV as much as I do the 35 mm, but the latter will always hold a special place in my heart. It is the origin, the eye at the beginning of time. My time, anyway.
It will always sing.
Patrick La Roque is a professional photographer, writer and speaker from Montreal, Canada. He is an official Fujifilm X-Photographer and founder of KAGE Collective, an international group specializing in visual storytelling and documentary work.