PART 1 – The casual introduction
The casual introduction (body to hold)
The second date (some less obvious aspects that reveal themselves)
Getting in step (spending quality time together)
When things get real (building trust)
A constant companion (a match made in Japan)
PART 1: THE CASUAL INTRODUCTION (aka Judging the book by its cover)
As with any good, even epic love story, drama or even romantic comedy, the key ingredient is an abundance of extreme and mixed emotions. Hearing about, meeting and shooting the Fujifilm X-Pro3 was no different. So, for the purpose of making sense to myself, and hopefully to you, I have drawn some parallels through my review between getting to know a new camera and being romantically intrigued by the prospects of meeting a potential soulmate.
First, a bit of a preamble. As I’m sure you know by now, the X-Pro3 is a bold move by Fujifilm. Personally, I thought the X-T2 and X-Pro2 were almost too similar and ended up preferring the X-T2 as it was the more balanced all-rounder in my view. What I have come to appreciate, is that Fujifilm does things differently from other camera manufacturers; radically different in some cases.
The core of this directive is to offer tools with much the same capabilities, but in many different expressions for different kinds of photographers – Fujifilm cares about making cameras that we don’t just love buying, but love using. I use this word love quite deliberately because it is the foundation of my whole story. Let’s be honest, there are some fans that actually say they hate the X-Pro3. I’ve heard things like ‘pretentious’, ‘impractical’, ‘frustrating’ and ‘annoying’, simply because they saw a few photos when it was announced or didn’t care to get to know the camera and its story. This much like judging people fully by their first appearances and not getting to know them, which leads to my week spent overseas with the X-Pro3.
Let me get this out the way first. The X-Pro3 is exquisite: a confident, reserved, understated beauty. It is surprisingly a proper head-turner for those with an appreciation for the finer things in life. Fujifilm’s third pro rangefinder is the latest in the line of cameras that has had a major role in turning the tide in the digital photography arena, commanding attention and growing a very loyal user base and almost cult-like status. Along the way, Fujifilm has continuously made solid improvements; stylistic and ergonomic tweaks; image quality and processing improvements, with the list continuing. They really listen and do care about the people that use their cameras.
As for the X-Pro3, some X-Pro fans feel let down by the departure from something they have grown used to: the two or three-way tilting, or rear-facing LCDs in most other Fujifilm cameras. Now with a single design choice, the X-Pro3 is creating ripples, polarising opinions where people are mostly found to either love or hate it.
True? Perhaps. What I can say is that I have felt that way about things before, then got to know them and realised I actually grew in appreciation of what I didn’t like in the beginning, even so much as absolutely loving some of them (single malt scotch whiskey being one of those things!).
When I first met the X-Pro3, It was delivered to my door by Fujifilm South Africa the morning of my departure on a weeklong trip to the Netherlands with my family. I kept the box closed and told myself that once we were in the air, I would unbox the X-Pro3 for the first time and introduce myself. I was curious beyond measure.
It felt like forever for the seatbelt signs to turn off. BING! I was up in a flash, got the box from my overhead stowage, sat myself down and opened the box. I know it sounds cheesy, but I haven’t felt this excited about a new camera for quite a while. It might have something to do with the excitement of travelling, but nonetheless, my heart was pounding in anticipation.
Moments later, camera in hand, I was reminded again of how much I like the rangefinder design. I know full well the technical capabilities and internal workings are pretty much the same as that of the X-T3, a camera that is wildly popular worldwide and one that I enjoy shooting very much:
26-megapixel X-Trans sensor
4k video at 10bit & 400mbps
425 phase-detect AF points across the frame
Face and Eye AF tracking for stills and video
Two card slots (a professional standard now)
Capacitive touch LCD
And all the great film simulations.
(For a comprehensive tech spec list, visit the product page here: https://fujifilm-x.com/global/products/cameras/X-Pro3/)
With all that said, I was far more curious about what is different, where Fujifilm made improvements and more importantly, why and how that impacts the way I use the camera where it matters: the way I see and photograph my subjects, be it portraits, street and travel, or landscape. A camera body this deliberately and unashamedly different is bound to force me to work differently. I was curious and very much intrigued.
As with the previous X-Pros, the body has a sleek, reserved, look with no branding on the front of the body. The etched paint-filled white letters are on top of the top plate, making the camera even more inconspicuous, especially in close quarters shooting environments.
The top and bottom plates are now not just made of titanium, but two options also come with a Duratect coating – a ridiculously hard-wearing paint coat that keeps the camera looking stealthy and quite sexy – almost matt. In short, it looks HOT!
The SD card slot door is really robust. I was surprised about the flappy rubbery cover for the connections of the left of the body. I think this might simply be to accommodate movement while cables are connected. More on the connections further down.
On the front we have the AF-assist LED, but no flash like we find in the X100 series for fill flash. This will have to be done with a hot-shoe mounted flash making its look less slick. Not a biggie, as I suspect the majority of the street and doccie style shots that will be made with this camera will be without flash, or from off-camera light anyway.
Weather sealing throughout gave me full confidence that the camera will be fine in pretty much any weather condition, especially the rain that the Netherlands is known for.
Lastly, the body is covered with a new surface which feels like it is meant to be on the camera forever. A subtle but great feeling – it really gives the impression that this camera has been constructed with the robustness and longevity of a fully mechanical film camera.
ALL THE RIGHT BUTTONS
The buttons and dials are exactly where we have come to expect them. Well, most of them. The shutter speed dial is the same as the X-Pro2, with the ISO dial embedded in it. The little window on the top of the dial indicates the selected ISO setting from 160-12800, Hi1, Hi2, A (auto) and C (command). The command feature is new on the ISO dial and I suspect will be great to easily swap between manual ISO Command dial control and Auto ISO without having to go through to the menu to change the “ISO setting in A” function. This is like the GFX50s and It’s a feature I thought would be in all subsequent Fujifilm cameras, but I was mistaken.
The exposure compensation dial is not something I use on the X-T2, X-T3 or any camera for that matter. I always shoot in manual, because it is so easy with Fujifilm. Nonetheless, the dial looks lovely being all flush with the side of the camera body. It seems more integrated, simplifying the outline of the camera.
The viewfinder toggle lever on the front still works exactly the same as X-Pro2, swivelling both ways to toggle viewfinder modes. Moving the lever in the opposite direction toggles the small ERF (Electronic Range Finder) up and down in the lower right of the viewfinder when in optical mode, just like the X-Pro2. This helps those people that like manual focus as it enlarges the focal point to 100%, no matter which one of the 425 across the screen is selected.
One of the subtle things that make the X-Pro range different from the rest of the X-Series cameras is the quality and feel of the buttons – they are slightly bigger, oval-shaped and all on the right-hand side of the camera for easy one-handed use.
What is interesting is the omission of the traditional Up-Down-Left-Right Fn buttons we have become used to on most Fujifilm X-series cameras. This looks more like the X-T30 and those functions can now be assigned to the touchscreen.
CAN I FEEL A CONNECTION?
On the left of the camera, there are only two ports: a 2,5mm mic /remote jack, and a USB3 Type-C slot. The 2,5mm jack is perhaps a point of contention for those who like to use third-party microphones for the video that mostly have 3,5mm jacks, requiring an adapter instead of direct input. The 2,5mm adapters are notoriously fiddly though, so it is not something I would use if I don’t have to.
There is, however, a USB type C for headphones, in-camera charging of the battery and USB connection for uses like tether capture. I did not have the right adapter but wondered if I would be able to connect one of those adapters that have a 3,5mm TRRS audio input jack for both mic and headphone, and perhaps even simultaneous external recording of video.
As we have come to expect, there are also Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections to control and transfer GPS data and photos to mobile phones or tablets via the Fujifilm CamRemote app.
EYE CONTACT – SCREENS
Technically there are five different screens. FIVE! The three in the viewfinder, the main but hidden LCD, and the addition of the square, rear-facing LCD sub-monitor
Some tech specs on the Viewfinder are noticeable from the get-go. The OLED EVF now delivers incredible colour and tonal accuracy – as in 97% of the full sRGB Colour gamut. That’s impressive. Also, the refresh rate is up, the contrast (5x) and luminance (almost 2x) are also significantly improved while retaining details in highlights and shadows. This for me surpasses the abilities of the LCD, especially because LCDs, no matter how good, always have to compete with ambient light, so for accurate assessment of the image before or after clicking the shutter button, this really is an incredible image-making tool.
However, the LCD is not the point of contention. It was the screen’s default position and its movement that I was particularly keen on testing out in order to get in the heads of the Japanese designers and engineers. I wanted to not just know but understand. To see this feature in action was going to be one of the most important field tests I have done of any digital camera for a long time, as it has the ability to make or break the experience, to polarise views, and perhaps to change the way photographers engage their subjects and genres. Practically, it is closed and hinges down around the bottom edge of the screen. It stops at 180 degrees, thus vertically, and there is also no sideways tilt/swivel.
The sub monitor is one sexy little number. It is able to display the current film simulation as if it was a film box tab, torn off and slid into the back slot on some of the film cameras that I still shoot. Immediately I had a little romantic flutter of discovering a common interest. I KNOW it’s digital, but the way my workflow has changed since shooting Fujifilm JPEGs play a much more important role, becoming my main file most of the time. The film simulation I choose is therefore as important in the moment of making the images as exposure settings and white balance (which is also displayed on the film tab screen along with the ISO value). Seeing the setting displayed so graphically makes quite an aesthetic impact, much more so than an LCD in live view.
Speaking of film simulations, Fujifilm introduced yet another new one. This is called Classic Neg and is based on the well-known Superia film stock. I was very keen to see how this look would perform in the soft, low contrast light of the Netherlands. I really love shooting on Acros with a yellow or red filter, so when I choose to shoot colour, it really is about using it as an important narrative component. The aeroplane cabin, however, is not the best place to be testing this new set of colours – this had to wait until we arrived in Amsterdam.
After a quick and civil introduction, I put the X-Pro3 into my camera bag with a full battery, an empty memory card and the 27mm f2.8 pancake lens – ready to shoot at a moment’s notice.
As I sipped on some Hungarian dessert wine, I was left with butterflies in my stomach and a bunch of questions about this vexing camera. I absolutely could not wait for the next chance to take it out and make some memories. Glancing over at my wife in the seat next to me, I was reminded of this now-familiar excitement of getting to know her and starting our adventure.
PART 2: THE SECOND DATE
Part 2 will be coming soon.