My full switch to Fuji-X: resolution of a gear dilemma, and the X-Pro2 two month user report
Several months ago, I posted an article describing my predicament choosing between two different systems, m43 and Fuji-X. This post, which became quite popular with blog visitors, concluded in indecision.
The truth is though, that even at that point, the wheels were already turning, and the situation has since been resolved. Fuji-X is now the system I'm using practically exclusively ("practically": I'll use another camera for testing or in a special occasion only).
It goes without saying that no such change happens overnight. My turn to Fuji happened progressively and I could say that the system was "growing on me". Which meant using it more and more, catching myself taking a Fuji instead of an Olympus with me, to the point where Olympus became my second, "backup" system. I was surprised when I checked the keeper photos, even before the article was written. I was already shooting so much more with Fuji and didn't even realizing it. From there on, it really became a moot point to "force" myself using Olympus; as a result all of my kit was gradually sold or is on sale.
Going back to the original article, one of the main Fuji advantages I mentioned was overall image quality. There is a character in rendering and depth of image with Fuji X cameras that it's difficult to describe, although I'm sure a technical person can absolutely explain it in detail. With the Olympus and other m43 cameras, the image can be very sharp (some would say over-sharpenedbutI think it works well for printing especially). But the Fuji image offers a "soft sharpness", if I can call it thus, that is organic and natural looking as well as very highly detailed. You can probably say "it doesn't look digital" but this is a blanket statement that, eventually, doesn't make sense.
More so, the character and handling of Fuji-X cameras proved hard to resist. Let me state that I never was a fan of rangefinder type cameras, but I soon discovered that I preferred them to the more traditional SLR form. The X-Pro2 was the catalyst, of course, but more on that later.
At this point, I have no complaints about speed of operation, including AF, with Fuji cameras, and the X-Pro2 is the fastest of them all. The AF with the X-Pro2 is actually better than the E-M1 in many conditions. Given that the E-M1 (along with a number of Panasonic cameras) is one of the snappiest cameras, regardless of type, this says enough I think. Pure performance was one of the original Olympus advantages, and it ceased to be.
A type of photography I don't do often, is Sports. Nevertheless, this was a perfect crash test for the X-Pro2, which went perfectly smooth. I shot a racing car event and the camera performed beautifully. In relation to the E-M1, at this point, the Fuji performs noticeably better while tracking targets. Not only that, but the burst rate and buffer size/response, are quite comparable (keeping in mind that the Fuji files are much larger, so faster cards, please). Please note that we are talking about a mirrorless camera (E-M1) which is second only to "dedicated" DSLR sports shooters in this department, featuring a very deep buffer.
Another genre, which, in contrast, I do a lot, is Concert photography. I had already used the X-E2 and X-T1 in similar situations, and I knew I'd have no specific problems. But the X-Pro2 proved to be even better than the "photojournalist-oriented" E-M1 in this genre. Apart from the higher ISO performance, it faced no difficulty in focusing, even tracking, while alternating between OVF and EVF was an added secret weapon.
Fuji even managed to handle some of my minor gripes in the original article: for example sensor "health" conditioning, finally allowing pixel mapping. On the matter of build quality (where, again, the E-M1 is build like the proverbial tank) having owned or used all the various types of X-System cameras, I have to say the X-Pro2 takes build quality up a notch. In fact I have absolutely nothing to fret about: the camera looks and feels solid and robust. Also, adding things like dual card slots solidifies the pro orientation. Another checkbox from the original article.
Please let me emphasize that I still consider Olympus and the m43 in general to be a great mirrorless system. In fact, if video is also considered, it may perhaps be the best all-around and viable system in existence. Speaking of video (and I'll expand on video for Fuji later), as an example, we have the iconic Panasonic GH series, which has a cult following among indy videographers. But there also exists the highly popular and successful Blackmagic ecosystem, where several cameras use the m43 mount.
The number and quality of m43 lenses, as well as vast range of cameras (from entry level to high end) guarantee the longevity of the system. As a result, for many uses, I'd recommend it instead of Fuji. As one example only, specifically for photography, the serious enthusiast travel photographer (which includes several million potential users) would be a fool not to consider m43. Macro photographers, certain types of still life and landscape photographers, and many others, could easily find what they need with m43. It sounds almost foolish to have to emphasize this: the individual decision to adopt a system over another, means nothing about their relative merit, for another user.
Expanding on the things I miss from m43, and were referenced in the original article, there is certainly IBIS. To be honest though, not as much as I thought and this is exclusively related to my type of work. I'm not using adapted lenses that much anymore and having to shoot in a more candid fashion, in mixed and changing lighting conditions, is not that much of a priority. Fuji zooms have great image stabilization, although they are not at the level of the IBIS-5 (the 50-140mm getting quite close though). And there are several things that IBIS can do (e.g. focus stacking) that are not of great interest to me, but would be for other people.
The deciding factor though, in using any camera is always "does it make my photography better"? "Does it inspire me to shoot more?". Yes, yes it does.
I should say that I took a risk with adopting the X-Pro2 quite early, not knowing if it would cover 100% of my requirements. It ended up doing that and much more. There are even things commonly criticized, that I find perfect with this camera.
For example, if there is one thing people are bitching about the X-Pro2, is the placement and functionality of the ISO dial. I'm definitely in the minority here, probably being one of about three X-Pro2 photographers on the planet that actually like it. This is probably a reflection of the way one works. In the film era, we didn't change ISO all the time; except if we had full control over pushing/pulling in development. I use a set value (normally 200) while shooting with flash and probably use Auto 95% the rest of the time. Programmable Auto ISO modes are working great on the X-Pro2. The composite shutter/ISO dial is not a hipster statement in my view, it's a properly implemented engineering decision, and even haters could get used to it if they put their minds to it. YMMV, and I'm sure it will.
Something totally new to me, was the OVF. And, to tell you the truth, I didn't expect to use it very much. It proved to be one of the most exciting features of the camera, simply because it allowed me to frame with ways I never did in the past. OK, there's the parallax consideration, but, wait: zone and wide modes work in the OVF as well and they are dead-on accurate. And, should one like to use single point, the tiny focus confirmation screen works wonders. I even ended up using the OVF with telephoto lenses, with moving targets, because it was easier to track the target rather than anticipate the moment it's in your frame.
Other than that, very few things to say. I'm feeling somewhat like a man speaking about his girlfriend to others; it's a bit awkward and you can easily sound silly trying to explain how she is "perfect" for you in so many ways. But I should mention the ideal overall size/weight and, for one more time, emphasize the control structure. We have here a traditionally designed rangefinder type camera, which could be analog, and "hides" it's digital nature in the best possible way. Any photography-oriented control is at the right hand area, within mm of each other, with the joystick focus control being the jewel in the crown. I can't begin to describe how much I adore this feature. And, of course, having about half a million focus points, all over the sensor, certainly helps a lot. All in all, as I have said, you just stop thinking about it, you just use the damn thing to make pictures.
Being the grumpy old man that I am, and because there is no love without some degree of whining, there is a number of additions or things I'd ideally wish were implemented differently. Here is what would make the X-Pro2 as close to my "ideal camera" as possible. But first, allow me a little rant, which will probably not be popular with those that consider themselves "hardcore Fuji fans" (sic!)
Yo, Fuji. Your audience is no more the few thousands of hipsters and nostalgic film-era senior citizens, who rushed to buy the X-Pro1. Don't let me be misunderstood; huge respect to each and every one of them early adopters, they allowed the rest of us to consider a system that was already somewhat viable, at least.
But, in 2016, the potential target group for the X-Pro2 has shifted to cover a more diverse crowd. What I'm saying is, keeping some things "traditional" for the sake of doing so, is a possible marketing mistake. The X-Pro2 already is what the archetypal Leica should be in 2016. That doesn't mean it has to sacrifice performance and operation improvements on the altar of tradition. In short: don't ask your existing user base, try to create fresh converts.
With all that in mind, these are the features I'd like to see, and I know I'm not going to, for the most part. Still I have hope for some through firmware updates. Here goes:
1) Higher EVF magnification: if it was at the level of the (huge) X-T1 EVF, it would be superb. The EVF is bright and very smooth (and, rumor has it, can be made even smoother, with higher refresh rate, through firmware). In all honesty, I know it would probably be difficult to implement from an engineering standpoint, but I wish they had.
2) Better battery life. This is the eternal complaint with mirrorless, and, in my opinion, Fuji could have handled it decisively by introducing a larger battery. Rumors say they are planning on a larger capacity battery in the same format, and that will be great, but I'm speaking of a physically larger and stronger battery altogether. Backwards compatibility is not always the Holy Grail. After all, we all buy additional batteries anyway. And Fuji already has a different battery for the X-100/X-70 and smaller compacts. But where would they fit it, you ask. Easy:
3) Larger grip area; i.e. making the camera the same size as when fitter with the optional grip. This could also help in heat dissipation.
4) Fully articulated screen. I can't begin to describe the amount of hostility I get from "diehards" every time I mention this. But think about it. A pull-out screen could be put the other way around, hiding the LCD altogether. Combine this with OVF only settings, and presto: instant, pure, old-school rangefinder experience. Position the screen the other way around, and you have exactly what you have now. Just give us -not so- few the ability to articulate the screen for the 10% of the cases we need to. As, for example, video... Ahhhh... video...
5) I have already tried video with the X-Pro2 and the best way to put it... it's infuriately good. Seriously, the amount of detail you can get from the X-Trans sensor, combined with Fuji's color science, literally beg for better video features overall. Even rolling shutter isn't that hideous. And we all know the camera is capable of 4K video, albeit with duration considerations.
If I can propose something (and it seems I'm not the only one, according to this article): give us 4K, even with a 2-3 minute limit, via a firmware update. While you are at it, please allow for any image setting, such as sharpness, highlight/shadow tone, noise reduction, etc, to carry over to video. Finally, see if you can implement some better video codec.
There is a growing number of people, simply wishing they could use the same camera for stills and video. We are not looking for something to shoot the next blockbuster; we just want a camera for short clips, perhaps a short documentary or fashion video or similar. The hardware is there, the lenses are spectacular, the form factor is ideal for many of us, so why not?
Aside from the above list there are only minor things I would like to see. For example, allowing the AE-L to have a different metering option, perhaps allowing the choice to be saved per user custom setting. Some more bracketing options. A more clever implementation for timelapse shooting. Minor things and easily fixable via firmware.
All in all: I love this camera. It literally makes me feel good while doing Photography. This feeling is practically priceless and I wouldn't change it for the world. Although I tried to be as objective as possible, all this fades away when you have such a photographic tool in your hands. In any case, I hope you found this report useful and I'm eager to read your comments and views.
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