BY ROBERT FALCONER
If you’re a photo gear-head, a new flagship camera is typically cause for excitement. On the other hand, if you don’t chomp at the bit with anticipation every time there’s a hint about more megapixels and increased dynamic range, and instead worry more about things like lighting technique and composition, well, then, good on ya. We all love the gear, but it’s truly not the most important part of the equation here.
That being said, sometimes a new tool will offer a set of features that can help you better achieve your photographic requirements, or in the case of the new Fujifilm X-Pro2, take a terrific idea — the original X-Pro1 — and turn it into a far more capable and mature product that will help photographers more effectively realize their vision.
Such is the case with the X-Pro2.
Last November yours truly was invited — along with four other Canadian X-Photographers — to be part of an advance global team of X-Photographers tasked to shoot and evaluate the long-anticipated X-Pro2. Late one afternoon, at a local Vancouver coffee shop, I met with Gord Webster, Fujifilm’s Technical Marketing & Product Specialist for Western Canada, whereupon I was presented with a prototype X-Pro2 camera in a box that was personally signed to me by Kunio Aoyama, Head of the Marketing Division for Optical, Electronic Imaging Products in Japan. It was a very great honor to be selected to participate in this project, and before I begin I must extend a big thank you not only to Mr. Aoyama, but to the team at Fujifilm Canada — including Gord Webster; Helen Hayter, Brand Manager, Imaging Products for Fujifilm Canada; and our famous Canadian Fuji Guy, Billy Luong, Fujfilm Canada’s Manager, Product and Marketing Specialist Group.
My journey with Fujifilm began back in 2011, when I purchased an X100 to take to Africa, both as a backup body, and also as a more stealthy, more intimate alternative to my Nikon DSLR kit. Thus, what started as a secondary strategy has, near 5 years later, turned into a primary tool for professional work. There were fits and starts in those early days; cameras that produced lovely image quality and were objets d’art in their own right, but which were a bit quirky … and focused at their own leisure. Yet in a short period of time, Fujifilm have shown us that they are dedicated to creating a system that not only looks good and produces exemplary images, but that can withstand the rigors and demands of professional use as well. The X-Pro1 was their first attempt at an interchangeable lens X-Series body, and though it satisfied the first criteria — damn good looks, fine optics, and outstanding image quality — it needed work to fully realize the promise the concept had portrayed, most specifically in operational speed and haptics.
It thus probably comes as no surprise that the X-Pro2 is a camera that has been much speculated upon for the past 2.5 years, and while many of us knew it was coming, the rest of the Internet was ablaze with commentary about what it should be, what it shouldn’t be … and, indeed, if it was to even “be” at all.
Well, it was. And now it’s here…
So, was it worth the wait? Well, I’m going start with the basics that everyone wants to know about, the technical nomenclature, and throw in a few of my own observational notes, then I’ll move to my preliminary, albeit brief, impressions of shooting with the prototype camera for the past couple of months, illustrated with a half-dozen sample images captured with it for use as part of the X-Pro2 global campaign. (If you just want to see the image captures made with the X-Pro2, scroll down the page.) I had hoped to have additional time to shoot with it more extensively, but alas, life and work interrupted. I do have additional images I’ve subsequently shot with the X-Pro2, but due to contractual obligations I’m unable to show you those in this post. Suffice to say I’m impressed. The camera performs … and it does so under an array of circumstances and conditions.
Features are typically the place where fans and critics alike love to earnestly debate, even though with cameras, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts— something which quickly reveals itself in the field. So let’s have at it…
– A brand new, X-Trans III, 24mp APS-C CMOS sensor that utilizes copper wire transfer technology, instead of the more common aluminum. Copper wire uses less energy and generates less heat, meaning more efficient data transfer with less noise. Fujifilm claims that this new sensor is not far off in resolution to higher megapixel full frame sensors, and Takashi Ueno, the X-Pro2 product manager, described the new sensor as “almost the limit” of what’s feasible from the APS-C size. Native ISO now reaches 12800, with an expanded sensitivity up to ISO 51200, all of which are now also available in RAW format.
– A new quad-core processor with significantly increased speed and response (4x faster than the X-T1), capable of offering superior noise reduction (about 1.3 stops beyond the X-T1); 2.36 dot EVF with a faster refresh rate (85fps vs 56fps in the X-T1); a faster read/write speed; and faster AF (more on that coming up).
– Lossless compressed RAW mode (Nikon shooters will appreciate this)
– New low-inertia shutter mechanism with increased durability and mechanical speeds that now reach 1/8000 sec, and 1/250 sec flash sync. The camera can now fire up to 8fps. The new electronic shutter mechanism from the X-T1 / X100T is here as well, offering fully silent operation (great when shooting stills on a film or television set) and a maximum speed of 1/32,000 sec (meaning that if you leave your ND filters at home, you’re not totally at the mercy of the Sun Gods if you want to shoot outdoor portraits wide open). The shutter is also rated to 150,000 cycles.
– Improved video functionality sees full HD 1080p video at 60 fps, but it’s wise to remember that, by design, video is really not this camera’s raison d’être. Like the Leica M series rangefinders, this is a tool for serious stills photographers, first and foremost.
– A new autofocus system increases AF points from 77 to an enormous 273. The phase detection (PDAF) area now covers 75% of the height and 50% of the width of the sensor. Is it faster? Fujifilm says it is, and reports state about a 30% increase in speed acquisition. I think that sounds about right, but remember, 30% is only slightly perceptible, as that’s only 1/3 faster. 300% is perceptible. It’s not three times faster than before, that I can say with some assurance. However, accuracy does seem significantly improved, and the overall impression is that of a camera that focuses confidently and quickly. I just wouldn’t call it rapid. Remember, too, all of this is influenced by your choice of lens and the prevailing light. The XF56mm f/1.2R is still going to hunt in low light, whereas the new XF35mm f/2 R WR used outdoors will focus near-instantaneously. Moreover, I should point out that I was using a prototype camera, sans final firmware. It’s very likely that the final production models will be faster when they hit the streets.
If you’re planning to shoot high speed action under low light, though, a pro DSLR is still going to be your weapon of choice, just due to the type of technology being employed. Doesn’t mean the X-Pro2 can’t get the job done (certainly the new sensor can), you’re just going to need to alter your focusing technique to accommodate for the physics behind the design. But to be fair, shooting high speed action in low light isn’t exactly what this camera is built for. As always, horses for courses…
– There is a new center-weighted metering mode that draws a compromise between spot and multi-pattern and mimics what Nikon used to give us in its SLRs back in the 1970s. Truthfully, it’s the mode you’ll probably use the least, because whatever multi-pattern metering can’t handle, you’ll probably want to go directly to spot metering anyway, particularly since you can tie the spot meter to your focus point and move them both around together, just as with the X-T1 and X100T.
– Weather sealed (like the X-T1)
– Full magnesium chassis for increased rigidity and durability.
– Deeper grips fore and aft provide increased confidence when holding the camera with one hand.
– New rear controls shifted to the right hand side, to aid in one-handed operation.
– A larger exposure compensation dial now with +/-3 stops and a customizable option.
– A new front function dial that also can be pressed.
– A redesigned EVF/OVF lever that now contains a button that can be used to preview framelines of 35, 56, 60 and 90mm when in normal magnification mode, and 18, 23, 27 when in wideangle magnification mode. This Bright Frame Simulation function more intelligently emulates what Leica does with the M rangefinder camera.
– A new rear joystick for instant control of your autofocus points. I’ve taken to affectionately calling it “the nipple”, and when pressed in it instantly returns your focus point to the center position. (This is another feature that Nikon D4/D5 users will appreciate.)
– Dual card slots (new for Fujifilm, and as of this writing only the second mirrorless camera in the world to offer it; slot 1 is UHS-II compliant, while slot 2 is UHS-I compliant). You can choose to write sequentially with slot 2 for overflow, use card 2 as a backup for slot 1, or write RAW files to one card and jpegs to the other.
– An internal diopter adjustment finally arrives in the X-Pro2. Hallelujah!
– A new ISO control dial that borrows from cameras of yesteryear. If you recall the old Nikon F2 or Pentax Spotmatic 35mm film cameras, they used to nestle the ISO (or ASA) control inside the shutter speed dial; there was a little window for the ASA, and pulling up on the exterior shutter speed dial allowed you to rotate the ASA range. The X-Pro2 uses the exact same mechanism — lift up the outer shutter speed collar and you can set whatever ISO you want, including Auto ISO and extended ranges. It’s quick, functional, and brilliantly in keeping with this camera’s retro design ethos … showing that repurposing “old” ideas can sometimes offer the most efficient solution.
– Tripod socket centered to lens
AESTHETIC CHANGES FROM THE X-PRO1
What’s perhaps most remarkable, and laudable, is that Fuji have wisely chosen to design the X-Pro2 so that it hones closely to its predecessor. It’s a smart move, not only in the sense that we X-Photographers were largely asking for that, but it also demonstrates the company is thinking about ensuring that the X-Series maintains a design lineage — something all the great camera manufacturers have done as much as possible, historically. So while the differences between the X-Pro1 and X-Pro2 are quite noticeable to the trained eye, to the casual observer they might be hard to spot. These changes include:
– The obvious deletion of the classic “Fujinon lens system” logo on the top plate.
– The microphone holes have been moved from the front of the camera to the top plate.
– The LED focus assist lamp has now been nestled inside a faux rangefinder-esque window, in keeping with the rangefinder theme.
– The forward beveling above the lens has been slightly redesigned.
– The forward right corner of the camera, above the optical viewfinder, is no longer angled, but sports a straight, 90 degree edge.
ERGONOMICS AND INTERFACES
– A new hybrid viewfinder that has been updated to reflect the most recent OVF changes in the X100T model, but with an EVF that’s now 2.36m dots, and, as mentioned earlier, also now provides an 85 frames per second refresh rate in high performance mode. Like the X-T1, the EVF info display also rotates when you flip the camera vertically, and just like the X100T, the X-Pro2 now uses the the small EVF overlay patch when in OVF mode. The OVF also still utilizes the X-Pro1’s multi-magnification function, but with the X-Pro2, it automatically switches viewfinder magnification according to the lens in use. Focus peaking is included as well. As mentioned earlier, the new diopter control is most welcome.
– A redesigned main menu that cleans up and reorganizes the lefthand iconography, with color-coding based on function. Sub menus are easy to select, with a page indicator on the top right that quickly guides you when you navigate deeper into the hierarchy. Fuji have also added a customizable menu function, simply entitled ‘My Menu’. The idea here is that you can assign whatever menu items you use most often into a single page. Now, just like the ability to customize the Quick Menu (which remains largely unchanged), you can also do the same for the Main Menu. It’s a nice touch and very useful.
– The higher resolution 1.62m dot rear LCD screen makes viewing the new main menu (and indeed all info) a bright, crisp affair.
– A new percentage remaining battery meter takes the guess work out of how much juice you have left in your battery. Long asked for and finally here. Note: the X-Pro2 uses the same NP-W126 battery as both the X-Pro1 and X-T1. Nice! Though life expectancy is about the same. On the other hand, it now only goes in one way, so no more accidentally inserting your battery upside down and wondering why you have no power.
– The X-Pro2 buttons have improved tactile feedback, with a more audible “click” when pushed. This is particularly noticeable with the D-pad, and I sincerely hope its positive haptic feedback, combined with the buttons’ convex design, make it into the X-T2 as well.
IMAGE SAMPLES AND EVALUATION
Everything about this camera is just so much better than its predecessor. Take the basic design and Hybrid Multi Viewfinder of the X-Pro1; tweak both; rip out the guts and make it faster and more powerful with improved resolution, high ISO and dynamic range; add all the existing features of the X-T1 and X100T; and then add a few new capabilities. Sure, there will be shooters always looking for more, but realistically, while this isn’t a revolutionary update, it’s a seriously significant evolutionary one.
Image quality is improved, shadow detail is more recoverable (even when playing with jpegs), and skin tones at higher ISOs have less of the “waxy” feel that many have complained about in the past. A good RAW developer (not counting Silkypix) is not available yet, but if the jpegs are any indication, the RAW files should offer significant malleability.
The camera is slightly bigger and heavier than the X-Pro1, but that’s a good thing. Combined with the improved ergonomics and much faster processing speeds, the camera just feels “weightier” and more responsive overall. And the new shutter sounds utterly sublime, like the muted whoosh of a katana slicing through the air at a dizzying speed.
Truthfully, none worth mentioning. If I had two niggles (and they’re really more niggles than criticisms), I would like to see even faster autofocusing acquisition (notice I said acquisition, not accuracy) and would have liked an EVF with higher resolution and a larger eye point for a bigger more comfortable view on the world. More resolution is certainly possible (e.g. Leica Q and SL), though Fuji’s Advanced Hybrid Multi Viewfinder might make a larger physical size problematic if the company is intent upon retaining this camera’s form-factor. (Almost certainly, an even more advanced EVF will be destined for the X-T2.)
CONCLUSION, AKA IS THE X-PRO2 FOR YOU?
Should you buy this camera…? Well, if you loved the X-Pro1, but felt as though it wasn’t fleshed out sufficiently before it hit the market, the X-Pro2 should check most of the boxes for you. This is a Leica-esque camera, a rangefinder-inspired instrument that modernizes the original M concept and brings it into the 21st century, IMO. Bottom line: it’s operationally much faster; it takes Fujifilm’s already excellent image quality and brings more resolution, dynamic range and ISO performance to the mix; and it adds most of the features that X-Pro1 users have been clamoring for, and then some.