Mind and Heart-walking the Fujifilm X-Pro 2 for the first time
Jared Wahake, Panguru Tavern
Fujifilm X-Pro 2, 16-55/2.8 LM WR
ISO 10000. 1/60s@ f5.6
This review is a few days overdue. On Saturday, a big storm blew through Hokianga and took out the power, along with crippling the ferry upon which the district depends. Power was restored only in the early hours of this morning. It is interesting how much we rely on electricity to work, and we tend to take things for granted, until something like this happens.
Back about five years ago, I got my hands on the X-Pro 1 and took it for a holiday in China for 5 weeks. It was the only camera I took with me. I have long given up on the idea of taking a big DSLR kit, unless someone else is picking up the excess baggage bill.
After a few months of shooting with it, I was in love-mostly. I loved the image quality and the dynamic range this Poor Man’s Leica could deliver. I loved the lenses, although there were only 3 at the time. I loved that such a ditzy camera could (with a little care and a solid tripod) deliver an A0 print. I adored the fact that I had to find a camera bag SMALL enough to carry it all.
However, there were things that irritated me, things that made the romance less than perfect.
- The lack of a diopter adjustment dial meant that focusing wasn’t easy, and required me to take off my spectacles
- The shutter sucked. It lacked the intuitiveness and instantaneousness of my Alpha 900. The shutter travel was too long and required a degree of anticipation I didn’t have to put up with when using a Big Boy camera.
- Focusing was a bitch. The camera hunted whenever it could and took too long to lock onto focus. All the firmware upgrades in the world didn’t do much for this issue. As a street camera it was barely OK. As a landscape camera or one for slow, considered shooting it was superb. What was more, shifting focus points was a clumsy, counter-intuitive process that involved taking the camera away from my eye to stab at buttons too small for my large, male, European fingers.
- The brightline frame OVF was barely accurate, and I found myself resorting to the EVF more and more. I lost interest in a function where what I saw and what I got, especially at close-up distances, didn’t match.
- And, however subtly, the IQ from it really couldn’t match that of the D800. While the resolution was as good, if not better, there was a smoothness and subtlety missing in the mid-tones that meant I turned to the Nikon more and more. The improvements in the D810 only made that more obvious.
When the X-T1 came along, I packed the Pro-1 Away and left it to sulk at the bottom of a camera bag. Somewhere.
My days with a rangefinder were over for a time.
Then a few days ago, an X-Pro 2 turned up in my gallery to test. I have followed this camera ever since it was released and noting that all of my issues seem to have been addressed, in some cases surpassed. I was dead keen to get my hands on one and begin driving it, seeing how it meshed in with all the types of photography I do, both as a working pro and as an artist. Would it prove to be the answer to my increasing disillusionment with the Pro-1?
I propose to do a series of reviews, and add to the enormous pile of comment on the camera. My method is to get it out of the box, charge it up, and put it to work on the type of photography I do. If you are interested in this camera, then you probably know more about it than I do. And people like Rico Pfirstinger have written bibles on this machine.
I want to see how it will perform in 3 categories, all things that I am asked to do:
- Event work
- Documentary and
- Landscape/fine art photography.
However, a great camera is a synthesis of Mind and Heart. On the one hand, it needs to mesh with the way your mind works. The controls need to make sense and their use needs to be logical and able to be easily followed, not to get in the way and make you wish the menu had been thought out a bit more (or a lot). On the other hand, there is the matter of heart. A great camera somehow wants to work with you and help you realise you vision. And some of these things are EQ (emotional quality). It will include things like the way it feels, or the heft in your hand, or the way it comes up to your eye, or simply a feeling that makes you want to go out and shoot. Just because. My Canon 1DS Mk III had it; my Nikon F5 had it, as does my Fujifilm X100T. The Phase One I test-drove most assuredly did not, being so involved that I spent more time attempting to master the controls than the scenery. Everything told me I should love the Sony Nex-7, but…somehow…it was a relationship born to fail. And I have yet to find a view camera I could ever marry.
It couldn’t have arrived at a better time. For the previous few days, Māori Television had been in the Hokianga, filming for a programme to promote awareness of breast cancer. They brought 4 kuini (Transgender) women, including the legendary Mika, to lead the charge. Last Thursday there was a show in the Panguru Tavern, with proceeds going to the local community, a predominantly poor Māori community. Not only that but with only 2 pubs on the “North Side”, entertainment opportunities don’t come often. So it was a great time to get dressed up and go out, as well as give the Pro-2 a test-drive.
I opted for the dangerous (read: foolish) approach:
Take it from the box, charge the battery, set up the menu, adjust the shooting settings and see what happened.
First impressions were of a camera that is solidly-built. I notice that the memory card cover is much more durable, and the balance seems better in my large hands, although once I attached the 16-55/2.8 LM WR, that changed. It felt front-heavy, an issue that the X-T1 with battery grip doesn’t seem to have. More of these things will become clear in future reviews.
The menu is stock-standard Fuji X, although I noticed that there are new menu items. One in particular, caught my eye. The option to specify grain. More explorations to come on this, I suspect, or at least a long Skype with Patrick Laroque– who is way ahead of me with this particular camera. I left it turned off.
I also noted that there are two distinct options under Auto ISO, so you can set up 2 settings and switch between them. I opted for the foolish and set the maximum to ISO 12800.
When we arrived, I set the mode to Aperture-priority, and opted for f8. I later dialed that back to 5.6. I decided to let the camera sort all that out for me. I also set the compensation dial to 0.
I set highlight to Very Soft (-2) and the shadows to -2 as well. Since I intended to use the EVF, and since what is rendered on it is essentially a jpeg rendition, doing this allows me to get a better sense of the actual dynamic range of the sensor. Switching to flat or Astia/Portrait helps as well, and seems to work for all the EVFs I have used.
The last thing to do, which was in a way, putting the system under pressure, was to opt for face detection, which left me free to concentrate on finding the precise moment.
Would the X-Pro 2 cope with delivering precise moments in low light, using auto-focus, face detection and DIY ISO, along with driving the heavy lens elements of the XF 16-55/2.8 LM WR?
In short, yes.
I am blown away.
Of the 250 images I shot, only 4 failed to achieve accurate focus. The face detection worked flawlessly, in some cases identifying multiple faces and picking the optimum focus point.
Most of the work was shot at 12800 ISO, and while there is noise, it is actually highly acceptable and in no way objectionable. A little noise reduction in Alien Skin Exposure X soon stored this. Actually the noise is more like the grain you would expect in a silver halide emulsion (read: film), with a distinctly analogue quality. I am not sure what magic Fujifilm have used to achieve this.
The EVF is bright and clear and in no way obtrusive. It was more like looking through an OVF. Better in fact, because it easier to see in low light, since the EVF somehow amplifies the signal and does a wonderful job of creating a sense of what the file will record.
The exposure system worked flawlessly. For some time, I have marveled at the fact that my smart phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, delivers 99.9% accurate exposures, without any intervention on my part, yet my cameras have to be tweaked to make sure of this. However, the X-Pro-2 is on the same level. At the end of the evening I realised that I hadn’t once needed to use the compensation in what was very tricky and changeable lighting. In fact, I completely forgot to consult the preview histogram. I just re relied on the viewfinder to signal if my exposures were on the mark. The camera had simply delivered. Every time. In terms of accuracy and repeatability, it really shows up the D810, which often needs several attempts to nail the exposure. My hunch is that Fujifilm have biased the exposure towards preserving the highlights.
A Fujifilm shutter I can love, without the long travel and irritating resistance on triggering, a need to break through a mechanical barrier, that I have long detested about the other X-Series. It is smooth, responsive and quick. The shutter also sounds reassuringly premium, with the satisfying snick of an M Series, only nicer.
The premium price of the X-Pro 2 (NZ$2850) means this is a camera which needs serious thought before purchase. It sits in the same bracket as some mirrorless DSLRs. However, it feels premium-quality. There is something about the feel which tells you this is a camera you would trust on a long trip across the Ténéré Desert, without needing to have 2 spares for backup (well, almost). The dials are solid, and the build quality suggests that it will never need to be cotton-wooled.
With the 16-55/2.8 attached the camera feels however, overbalanced and out of kilter. It needs a battery grip, or, at least, an extension grip of some sort so that it sits better in the hand. Minor and picky, I know, but sometimes these little things make all the difference.
I would love for it to have had a tilt-screen, but it doesn’t actually matter.
All I know, as I sit with it beside me on the desk, is that I am itching to get out with it and make photographs.
Great cameras will do that to you.