The XF33mmF1.4 R LM WR helps street photographer Derek Fahsbender find some much-needed closeness
What do you tell a photographer whose entire approach demands the emotional intimacy of physical proximity, when he finds himself in the middle of a global pandemic? You tell him to try a longer lens.
This was the life-changing experience of Derek Fahsbender, a street photographer based in usually bustling New York, when he was given the opportunity to test the FUJINON XF33mmF1.4 R LM WR earlier this year. He collected scenes as the city finally began to burst back into life – and relied on the new lens to do it.
“Childhood snapshots are a big part of my inspiration,” Derek reminisces. “My mother would take pictures at special occasions, and we ended up with shoeboxes full of 6×4 prints. I always enjoyed looking back at those memories – and piecing everything together. It gave me a real love of documenting moments.
“Everyone remembers the big events,” Derek continues. “But, to me, it’s just as powerful to look at an image from a random Tuesday in September 1997. I find such huge value in photographs that other people might look at as just an everyday scene.
“That’s what I want in my street photography – to go beyond the postcard snapshot, into the lives of the people that make New York City what it is. I like telling the untold story.”
While some may pick off the details of the urban landscape from afar, Derek’s approach takes him much closer. He believes the best street photos come from the two-way connection between himself and a subject. In a way, the camera freezes these emotions in time. The results, as it’s plain to see, are special.
“I was walking yesterday and saw a perfect moment. An older lady in the doorway of a restaurant, lit with this gorgeous, directional red and yellow light,” says Derek. “I thought, if I had a telephoto lens, I could just get the frame right here and now. But then I considered my approach and started questioning what makes images interesting to me. More often than not, it’s intimacy.
“I don’t believe I can capture emotions from across a street. If I ever do, it’s just by chance – it’s not an emotion related to our interaction. Those photos can still be interesting, but it’s the closeness that brings the images full-circle for me.”
It’s no surprise, then, that for much of his career Derek has avoided lenses even beginning to approach a standard focal length. Since laying eyes on the XF33mmF1.4, with its perfect 50mm equivalence, his outlook has been reframed. However, he didn’t concede easily.
“When you get the opportunity to use a new product, you want to make some nice photos, but you also really want to test it and see what it’s capable of,” Derek explains.
“For me, that meant working wide open a lot of the time. I always say, the out-of-focus areas are just as important as what’s in focus. When you look at a painting, you look at the entire frame, and I treat my photos the same way. The XF33mmF1.4 is so fast, the depth-of-field becomes incredibly shallow, and it really marries the subject and background beautifully.”
Derek was just as impressed with the massive resolving power of the lens. Although he doesn’t obsess over pixels, it’s clear that quality glass is something he relies on for more practical purposes.
“I generally work in the higher end of the ISO range. ISO 6400 is often a minimum – at night, it can be 10,000 or beyond. Virtually any lens will perform under optimal conditions, but in more challenging circumstances like these, you really need the integrity there.
“I’d say what Fujifilm has done here is take some of the XF35mmF1.4 R’s magical characteristics, and put them in an even more technically sound form. The images it produces give me the same feeling of looking at film photos. There’s a lot of resolution, but without a clinical look.”
In addition to his love of nostalgia, another element from his formative years draws Derek to the streets of New York City.
“Some of my earliest memories are of that gritty romanticism,” Derek enthuses. “It’s not like my mother was overly protective, so it was really fascinating to be a part of – and that rush was great.
“I love the lack of preparation that comes with street photography. You have to know what you’re doing in a general sense, know what to look for, and forecast the action – but you’re never fully ready.”
Documenting any sudden opportunity successfully, and working with a setup you can rely on, go hand-in-hand. Coupled with his X-Pro3 and X-T4, Derek found the XF33mmF1.4’s autofocus capabilities virtually flawless.
“It’s fast, it’s quiet, it’s very accurate,” he says. “In low light, with the aperture wide open, I need to be able to lock onto a subject in an instant. At other times, when I’m right up on somebody who isn’t aware of me yet, I need it to be silent. It’s perfect for the streets in that sense.
“There’s also the weather-resistance, which you can’t underestimate. The conditions I want experience is the high-drama stuff, not a sunny, 75-degree day.”
Of course, a lens like this can go so much further than just one genre of photography – and nobody knows that better than a seasoned professional like Derek.
“The challenges of the street really prove the XF33mmF1.4’s worth, but any lens that can create such a beautiful image – with technical chops on par with the very best of today’s glass – is certain to go a long way.”
It’s not hard to see why the FUJINON XF33mmF1.4 R LM WR managed to broaden Derek’s horizons.
“It was a beautiful change in my work, especially after a year of limited intimacy and not being able to get close to my subjects. I could have the interactions I wanted, and not eliminate the background in my framing. The environmental aspect of my portraits is very important to me.
“50mm is such a widely regarded street photography focal length, but one I’d never gravitated towards,” Derek concludes. “I wanted to experience the magic everyone else does at this length – and I did!”