It is no exaggeration to suggest that the decision to try Fujifilm's completely unique X-pro line was many years in the making.
I recall the excitement when news of the original Fuji X100 broke, and I was surely smitten. The looks, the controls, the design philosophy apparent in that camera all made perfect sense in my imagination. And yet I didn't buy one. The early gremlins in that camera - gradually fixed over multiple firmware updates, some long after the camera model had ceased - played a part . More so was the finance manager....
And then came the original X-pro1 , and once again my desires fought with what I deemed to be common sense. I didn't really need one, did I? My other cameras were perfectly capable. This went on for years , until I one day made an impulsive purchase on eBay. As it turns out, an unfortunate one. The internal battery / capacitive circuit on that camera had failed, and it wouldn't retain settings when the battery was removed for charging. Luckily, I was able to return for a refund, but the experience made me wary, notwithstanding that the shooting experience was lovely. And the files quite beautiful.
Fast forward across half a decade or more, the release of the successor , and then the third. Each bringing something new, but retaining the fundamental idea behind the camera. Once again, despite rising prices and scarce availability - to say nothing of an already bursting camera cupboard - and I was once again drawn to Fuji's XP line.
The decision as to which model to go for could form a post of its own. And, perhaps, it will. Suffice to say that when my local camera store informed me that they had a very neat X-pro2 available (knowing that id also been playing with an X-T1 ) , at a not unreasonable price , I made another impulsive purchase. After much cogitation, I added a 35/2 as a one lens kit and that was that. I already owned a Fedora. Henceforth, ergo, I was now an X-pro user.
Right, none of that is of any interest to you lot. So let's get into it.
First up, this camera is solid. It's certainly not "small" , and is in fact larger than the X-T1. The camera feels dense , as if they've crammed more material into a given dimension. This impression is probably fortified by the overall design ethics of the body. The black rectangular form and angle bevelled top plate are in tune with the heft and handling of the camera. It feels classic, classy, quality. I actually love how it feels in the hand, on one proviso - I don't expect it to be as small as possible. This comes down to expectations and using the tool that suits you and your needs. Philosophically - and I fear you'll see this word used a lot should you read on - there will be key reasons why this camera works for you. Or doesn't.
In use I've found the main control layout delightful. My only real preset rule for this camera was that the lens(es) must have an aperture ring. That was essential in my thinking. Indeed, it's one of the key parameters that drew me to Fujifilm. And I feel , for the X-pro at least, that that preconception is validated. I love my little Panasonic Leica 15mm on my Panasonic MFT bodies for its aperture ring. Well, the 35/2 aperture ring is better. It is nicely damped and the clicks are just right. It is also weathersealed, as is the body, so the combo actually encourages you to get out in any conditions. This, too, is an important addition to the appeal of a camera. The tactility of the camera and lens, in combination, has so far been everything I'd hoped for.
The exposure control dial is very nicely positioned for my hands. An easy adjustment with my right thumb without lowering the camera And it is great to have, period. I have found it extremely useful in combination with the OVF , as we'll get to soon.
You can find much discussion online about the merits of the combined shutter speed and Iso dial. Straight up, it looks bloody great. I love the throwback looks to film cameras of the 20th century. But many find it finicky and painful to change iso due to having to having to lift the (gorgeously) knurled collar. I shared this concern and one of my first forays into the menu was to adjust the auto iso range - I've settled on 200-3200 - and then set the Iso dial to auto. But a strange thing happened over the first few days. I found lifting and turning that dial surprisingly instinctive. The angle of thumb and forefinger seems to provide upward leverage without really thinking about it and I could spin through the iso's without trouble.
It did, however, create an unlooked for problem. When I decided to try a tripod shot at night and started playing with the shutter speed for full manual control, I discovered firstly that unlocking the SS from Auto via the depressed pin was awkward. More awkward than the ISO setup is. For me. But I also found that the instinct to lift the iso ring was so natural that it was undoing my attempts to change the SS. Several times over the last week I've been frustrated at an attempt to shift from 1/250 to 1/1000 and instead ended up at ISO 5000...... I'm not sure how long, if at all, it's going to take to train my brain between the two. In any event, if you shoot mainly in aperture priority, it's less an issue. Incidentally, just on the Shutter speed dial, if you wish to have more finely adjustable speeds available, you need to enter the set up menu , button/dial setting and "SS operation" to "On".
This allows the rear control dial - situated reasonably well just to the side of the thumb rest - to control the 1/3 stops between the "hard" settings on the top plate dial. And whilst we mention this command dial, it is also pressable. At the moment, I have this set to "magnify view", giving me a zoomed in look for manual focus and even AF check and I've used it quite a bit.
The front dial I find a little less ideal. It's not an easy location for me with the camera to the eye. It's not a huge problem in practice , as I don't need it for much other than scrolling through image review. This would be different, of course, if the lens isn't equipped with aperture rings. Just another reason why XF lenses suit this camera better than XC ones, to my thinking.
The joystick is fantastic to have. You can shuffle the AF points around in both OVF and EVF quickly. You can move around image review. A centre press on the stick re-centres the focus point. I've not really gone hunting for settings as yet to see if the joystick press can be programmed for other uses.
The FN button on the top plate is now set to "wifi" and here we delve again into the philosophical outlook of the camera and it's user. I always shoot raw + jpeg on all of my cameras. But there's something about the X-pro that nudges me even more to using the JPEGs. It somehow suits the inherent idea of this camera to use the files straight off the sensor, much like most people would have used their film files. It comes back from the lab and it is as it is. So this FN setup allows quick and easy transfer to the phone and viewing / use of the files. It feels very much like an analogue experience, a field camera to take and use and less interested in laptop post processing. Coupled with the built in film simulations, it is unquestionably a conscious design aim of this camera.
Which indirectly brings us to the defining hardware feature of the X-pro line. The completely unique dual - or "hybrid" - viewfinder. It is , in my early opinion , an essential component of meaningfulness of this camera. I find myself switching back and forth - and doing so seamlessly via the perfectly placed front plate toggle lever - between the two depending on the situation. The OVF is, straight up, quirky. And challenging. And fun. The built in parallax adjustment can be tricky. You frame up with the bright lines, focus and then watch the frame lines shift position! At close range, this can be disconcerting at first. It can also play havoc with your focus point and resultant depth of field. You may not have focused where you think you did.
If all of this sounds too much trouble, you can simply switch to the modern EVF and have all the modern conveniences at your finger tips. Highlight warnings, focus peaking and magnified aids, precise framing, exposure viewing. All the usuals. I don't feel that the colour in the EVF is fantastic, there's a magenta tint to it in live view at times and it can get a bit grainy. I believe the colour can be adjusted in the camera but have not yet bothered looking further. The EVF also isn't terribly large, but it's adequate and understandable given the size compromises inherent to the form factor. The diopter adjustment, however, is very prone to accidental movement given its location out on the left edge of the VF assembly.
Just a few weeks in, I've tended to shoot in fairly standard Velvia, a little bit in Classic Chrome and Acros. I did make an error with Acros, inadvertently turning on some "grain". To my eye, it doesn't need it as standard Acros already has some texture embedded in it. I turned it off once I realised. The 24mp sensor produces lovely files. Whether vastly different to the earlier X trans sensors, I've not yet looked at.
Such, then , are a few of the parts of this camera , but as always whether they add up to more than the sum is dependent on its actual usage in the field. And perhaps more than most, on the outlook of it's user. Dare I say it, the overall philosophy of potential owners. So far, carrying it around, I've loved it. Even its limitations.
And it invariably has some. As a back button focus user, I initially found the camera strangely limited. The only way Ive found to decouple AF from the shutter button is to shift the camera to manual focus via the front plate switch. You then have the option of what Fuji call "instant AF" via either the AF-L or AE-L buttons. You can choose via the setup menus which button will activate the AF , but you're restricted to these two only. Neither work in single or continuous AF though. At first, I found this all extremely counterintuitive, particularly for a body built in 2016. But I've now decided that, for my use of this camera, it actually suits it. In a curious sense, the half manual / half auto setup fits in with everything about this camera bodies , err, philosophy. Of course, continuous AF could become problematic unless you're setting exposure manually, but I'm simply not likely to use this camera that way. That's what my Om-1 is for. After several days of using both buttons , I've currently settled on the AE-L as the focus button. It's a slightly awkward reach, but I have found that with the inherently slower methodology of the X-pro it's less an issue than finding the flushed AF-L button. Too often, my thumb found the Q button below it and rather than focussing would find myself looking at the quick menu! The other advantage of shooting in the MF mode is that the focus ring on the lens is activated and coupled with the excellent focus distance scale shown in the hybrid viewfinder, if you have an understanding of your lenses infinity points you can zone focus with confidence. Unusually for focus by wire, manual focusing is quite pleasant. At least with the 35/2, it is.
I found myself giggling at the ignominy of having to lay down for low angle shots. This was a return to the old days, a function of the fixed screen , and some may object to it outright. My 50 year old knees are certainly sceptical. But again, the real purpose of this camera is to use the viewfinder, and so you accept that awkwardness , or look elsewhere. If we muse for a moment on the later X-pro3, I'd loved the idea of its hidden rear screen when it was released. Mainly for the cool looking film sim display, and the notion that the screen closed away encouraged a more film like experience. But I've been shooting the XPro2 with the screen off, and image review off, so I get that same experience. Incidentally, there's something glorious about shooting a photo walk and not knowing until later what you actually captured. You can do this with pretty much any digital camera. Highly recommended. The X-pro takes this to an extra level, particularly with the film sim effects and a little inherent uncertainty granted by the OVF should you take up the challenge. Where was I? Oh yeah, the Xp3 screen. So I no longer think the closed screen is as big a drawcard as I supposed. But I do think the hinged screen would add substantially to varied usage of the X-pro line. Be that as it may, the 2 doesn't have it, and so far I'm finding a perverse humour at the situation.
Nor, of course, does it have IBIS, which hasn't as yet made it into any of the X-Pro or X100 series bodies. If they do bring it for an X-pro4 , and retain the hinged screen ability of the XP3, it just may be a viable camera for me as the ultimate wide-to- short telephoto daily purpose shooter. I'll be curious to see in which direction Fuji take these camera's , if indeed they continue them at all.
What it does have, in totality, is a charm and character all of its own. I've long disagreed with the principal criticism often dished out to various "retro" products of "form over function" . It overlooks the distinct possibility that the form IS the function. Cameras, as tools, need certain qualities to perform their task. It may be superior focusing. It may be beautiful files at huge iso's. It may be a ruggedness to endure mountain climbing. Or it may just be a straight out joie de vivre , an appeal to the senses that make you want to pick it up, take it somewhere, talk to people , experiment and practice. This is, arguably, the inherent truth for all cameras , and all users. The gear does matter. Not for what it can, or can't do. But for what it encourages us , the wielders of our tools, to try. If photography is an art form, then inspiration and motivation is key. And if you like how it does it, the X-pro series is a very very fine paintbrush indeed. If you can make it produce magic, it just may be a philosopher's stone.
Note:. All photos within are JPEGs from the X-pro2 , lightly tweaked via Snapseed and uploaded to the web.