Seoul, Where the Familiar Meets the Unexpected
Discover Novelty on Familiar Roads with the X-E4
Having known someone for a long time doesn’t define the depth of a relationship. The same can be said for one’s relationship with the hometown city. Seoul, the city where I was born and raised, has not lost its ability to surprise me. I don’t like the winter cold, and when winter does come, I usually stay at home or go to a warm place to seek refuge from the biting chill. For this reason, Seoul feels more distant and unfamiliar to me during winter.
When I go on a trip abroad, I like to wander around the streets of a city without a specific destination. And as I slowly peer inside the alleys of some unfamiliar neighborhood, I grow a little closer to that city. But when I actually return to Korea, I only visit familiar places. Why is that? Maybe because I love discovering new scenes in familiar places. This winter, I’m reacquainting myself with my old hometown, Seoul, looking for the unexpected. My companion, the Fujifilm X-E4 camera, reduces the weight of my gear while enhancing my feeling of discovery.
My current walkabout through Seoul starts out in a familiar place. Yet even on these roads where I have always walked, shadows will shift with the passing of time, as the unexpected and often overlooked may suddenly pop into view. I usually like to take pictures of these moments of discovery while walking in Seongbuk-dong with my puppy Pepper. The lightweight and intuitive Fujifilm X-E4 is essential for this task. Though a space may seem enticingly unfamiliar at first glance, one must be ready to capture the desired scene at the precise moment of change, and for this you need a trusted camera.
For me, the X-E4 is the perfect traveling camera as I sift through the familiar to uncover the unexpected. During my travels, I usually use a film camera, especially a point-and-shoot camera that is lightweight and easy to operate. The film camera I use most often is the Fujifilm Klasse W, which is about the size of a palm. I attach a long-enough neck strap to it so that I can carry it diagonally across my shoulders, which makes it easy to pick up at any desired moment.
Compared with the Klasse W, the X-E4 has almost the same length and width. I am one who considers living in an age of analog and digital coexistence as a great blessing, so I personally welcome the opportunity to travel with a digital camera that is similar to a conventional film camera, but also helps me capture a desired scene in glorious detail.
The X-E4 comes equipped with an XF27mmF2.8 R WR lens called a “pancake lens,” which makes the camera easy to carry even while walking my dog. Its light weight—it weighs less than 500g including the lens—and intuitive operation make it especially suitable for quick snaps. A clean design, without unnecessary frills, makes it aesthetically attractive, and the use of Fujifilm’s thumb grip TR-XE4 on the hot shoe part adds a sense of stability during shooting.
The new version of the XF27mmF2.8 R WR lens fits lightly on the X-E4 and boasts an aperture ring, which makes this camera even more versatile. The moment I got the most out of the XF27mmF2.8 R WR lens during my latest Seoul trip was in an alleyway in the Changsin-dong neighborhood, in Seoul’s Jongno District. A small alley had caught my attention while walking along a hillside road, about 10 minutes away from Naksan Park. I could see streetlights, wires stretched between two brick buildings, and houses and trees huddled under the cliffs in the distance. The scene contained a jubilant embrace between the familiar and unfamiliar, and I wanted to capture it all in one single frame. Luckily, I was able to snap the picture by tightening the aperture to f/13.
When I wish to record different corners of Seoul from a variety of angles and perspectives, the X-E4 allows me the use of a number of zoom lenses, such as the XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, and XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR. Thanks to the camera’s compact body, its total weight—even with the addition of a lens—is light enough to make walking with it comfortable and enjoyable during travel. When using a zoom lens, attaching the MHG-XE4 metal grip on the lower part of the camera body allows more stable shooting. If the zoom lens is overwhelming, you can take full advantage of the capabilities of the camera sensor. The 28mm angle-of-view film camera I had used previously has the advantage of being compact and lightweight, though sometimes I felt constrained by the single angle of view.
In such situations, I used to plan in advance how to crop and shoot in order to get the desired image. The X-E4’s sensor supports a maximum resolution of 6240 x 4160 pixels, so you are free to crop the image as you wish—shooting with a lightweight prime lens and cropping the image can produce creative results.
The X-E4 is a camera that is lightweight, but also relieves the burden of post-production. It offers a variety of film simulation and shooting settings, so you can achieve a variety of satisfactory results even in JPG format. On my current walk through Seoul, I used mainly the classic negative film simulation, while I preset settings such as color depth and tone curve and applied them before shooting. The camera also allows the possibility to create high-quality JPG images with the “RAW development” function by reflecting exposure values that could not be adjusted during shooting.
The most memorable photo spots I found this time around were the Sunseong-gil along Seoul’s Fortress Wall and the Seoullo 7017 elevated ‘Skypark,’ which runs from Seongbuk-dong to Naksan Park. I had thought I knew Sunseong-gil well, because I had often walked it with Pepper, but on this occasion, the X-E4 allowed me to discover it from a fresh perspective. This is a place that I can easily call “my neighborhood,” so as I walked it with Pepper, I mounted an XF27mmF2.8 R WR lens on my camera and walked up Sunseong-gil. Thanks to its light weight, I was able to promptly capture the Hyehwamun Gate as a bus passed under it. When I later returned to Sunseong-gil without Pepper, I mounted a telephoto zoom lens on the X-E4 and took a slow stroll, snapping pictures of the colorfully roofed local traditional houses in their various stages of a redevelopment process. The Seoullo 7017 walking park is built on the old overpass that passes in front of Seoul Station. I’ve walked by this elevated walkway several times in the years that followed its completion. From this fascinating vantage point, you can see trains passing under the overpass, the Sungnyemun Gate nestled among high-rise buildings, and vehicles streaming on numerous lanes on Seoul’s major arteries that run below. There is hardly a better place to take in this lively Seoul panorama. And it’s not just the scenery that will pique your interest here, but also the unexpected things that pop up everywhere you look. This proved especially true with the cycad trees set in orange acrylic pots and the blue-tiled foot bath—labeled a “public natural shelter”—that is currently closed, as if trying to remind you or make you forget that it’s winter.
Seoullo 7017 is also connected to the recently opened Seoul Station Rooftop Garden. From this garden, you can peer across Seoul Station’s outdoor parking lot and its unique spiral access road. On my next walkabout through Seoul, I hope to stop first by Seoullo 7017, as it retains so much of the old Seoul that remains shrouded and awaits discovery.
When I pass by various locations, I look to discover newness on the familiar roads and jubilance on the unfamiliar ones, just as I did on my latest walkabout through Seoul. And the X-E4 certainly made it more enjoyable to travel and record these fascinating discoveries.