Tuesday, June 21, 2016

X-Pro2... a brief evaluation.

A few months ago back in March I finally got my hands on the much anticipated Fujifilm X-Pro2 camera. For most photographers that aren't familiar with the hype that was surrounding it's release, you've been spared the crowd noise that came with it. Shortly following it's release the reviews started coming in thick and fast and the camera is still being and will continue being reviewed by photographers that perhaps want to give it some more time before drawing any detailed final conclusions. I'm not going to review this camera in any in-depth way at all as most reputable...
photographers and photography sites with an interest in the Fujifilm system seem to have done a fairly good job of testing and reviewing it. So as a conceptual portrait photographer, this is more a brief evaluation of the camera and how it fits into my workflow.

Fujifilm X-Pro2 with XF35/2WR & MHG-XPRO2 Grip

For those that don't already know, I decided to switch from a dslr type system to a mirrorless system last year and I blogged my reasons and journey regarding my decision in this post here. Basically the release and my purchase of the X-Pro2 was going to be the final step in my complete transition to a mirrorless camera system.
Before the X-Pro2 was released I already had a good idea of what to expect, a newer higher resolution 24.3MP sensor (not that there was anything wrong with their current sensor), improved dynamic range, a stop or so better noise handling at higher ISO's, faster and more accurate AF, 1/250s flash sync speed, hybrid OVF/EVF with a very responsive high resolution EVF etc. Every specification and feature is published on many sites and forums so i'm going to spare you with all the detailed technicals. Let's put it this way, it's a loaded camera! A camera that has been overhauled completely internally yet still maintaining the ergonomics and handling of what made the original X-Pro1 so popular in the first place. Given the leaked rumors leading up to it's release I was sold on it before it even hit the stores and in a nutshell up till now, I haven't been disappointed.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, XF56, 1/125s, f1.4, ISO 6400, Acros
The first shot I took with the camera was a quick snapshot in the car using the new Acros film simulation mode. The 100% crop shows the organic looking noise the X system is known for which has been maintained in their latest flagship camera.

For the type of work I bought this camera for which is my conceptual portraiture work, it's still more capable than what I need and what my own capabilities are as a photographer. For the strobist in me the 1/250s flash sync is definitely welcoming, but in the whole scheme of things the difference between the previous 1/180s wasn't going to be the difference between nuking day into night and in most cases won't make or break the shot when lighting my work. The 24.3MP sensor is definitely nice to have and with that extra bit of resolution I can now crop my images to the ratio of 5x4 whilst still having 20MP of resolution when printing larger sized prints, again, in the real world the difference may be subtle but it's always nice to have that extra headroom. One thing's for certain is that Fujifilm have made some nice leaps with their AF system and although fast AF speed is not one of my main requirements given my slower methodology to my photography, the AF accuracy definitely is and this is another area which i'm finding this camera's AF system lock on with a degree of certainty that allays any fears in missing focus in varied lighting conditions under most circumstances. In the past when using other cameras, one of the worst feelings was to have the shot that I wanted from a shoot only to find out later that the camera misfocused, rendering the shot almost useless. For me, AF accuracy is what can make or break the shot on a technical level, and sometimes, even with portraiture, you may only get a certain expression only once and you'll never get it again. It's important the camera nails the focus when you tell it to.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, XF23, 1/60s, f1.4, ISO 320, Classic Chrome
A simple shot shortly after buying the camera. One night I noticed my daughter illuminated only by her iPad with a smaller lamp to camera left illuminating the chair and blue blanket. The colours and deep shadows reminded me of the works by the old master painter Caravaggio. This is the type of camera that is usually with you, the camera that is with you lets you capture these spontaneous moments.

When most people look at this camera they generally associate it with a street camera, a camera for documentary type work, photojournalism etc. And this probably has to do with the fact that it does resemble both in looks and form factor the legendary Leica M series cameras. I'm sure this camera will be a street shooters preference particularly given the hybrid OVF/EVF arrangement. Personally i've never believed certain cameras are genre specific. For sure, some cameras are better suited to some genres than others for varied reasons but I really believe it comes down to whatever feels most comfortable to the photographer, and in my case as a portrait photographer, I find this form factor more comfortable in my hands and more of an extension of me than any dslr type form factor, and that's important as ultimately cameras are just tools and ideally should be as transparent in the creation process as possible.

Nothing's perfect...

So... what's not to like. As good as what it is, it's not quite perfect. Perfection can be a subjective thing and if we're looking for perfection in anything then we'll most usually be disappointed. There are a few things that could have made it perfect for me and I know some will agree and others disagree, so this is purely based on my own experience and opinion on what I would have liked to have seen implemented a bit differently.
Firstly... the LCD screen, it's a glorious 3" display boasting a resolution of 1620K but it doesn't tilt! In this day and age where dslr's are starting to sport screens that can be fully articulated, it would have been a handy feature, i'm not talking about a fully articulated screen here, but a tilt screen like the screen on the X-T1 would have been nice.
Secondly... that ISO dial. I know, some people love it, others hate it! I'm sort of in-between with it. It looks nice but for those that adjust their ISO dial regularly it might be a bit of a nuisance as you can accidentally move the shutter speed also whilst setting it.
Thirdly... the diopter adjustment dial. It's excellent that it has one considering the original X-Pro1 didn't, but it sort of sticks out a bit from the side, and like others have mentioned, it could be moved accidentally just from usual day to day handling of the camera. It could have been placed slightly better.
Fourthly... tethering. It's not implemented into this camera. For those of us using this in a studio type environment it would have been a very useful feature.

But it doesn't matter...

And to me it doesn't. These minor things that have broken the deal for some people in buying this camera are things that i'm willing to work around.
Firstly... the fixed LCD screen. The way I use my camera and at the angles i'm usually shooting at are usually conventional. If i'm on location and I need to get down low, i'll do it. The reality... In the past I may have benefited from a tilt screen 1 in 20 times. And that doesn't mean I can't get the shot. All it means is I may get on my knees 1 in 20 times to get the shot if the shot calls for it, i'll just do it like I have previous years, not a deal breaker.
Secondly... the ISO dial. My primary use for this camera is as my main studio environment type camera. My work is usually lit using off camera strobist lighting techniques with associated light modifiers. As i'm usually lighting my work, I comfortably work at base ISO and it's not usually a setting I keep adjusting. But here's the thing. The files even at very high ISO's are still very clean in regards to noise, so if I ever want to shoot with natural light, i'm more than comfortable in setting the ISO dial to the Auto position and letting it choose an ISO range i've pre-set whilst adjusting the exposure compensation dial to suit the exposure in the scene I wish to capture. That's how good the noise handling is at high ISO's, i've found it very liberating working like this. Again, it may not suit everyone but for me it works. And here's the other thing, i'm confident Fujifilm will eventually allow an adjustable ISO option through a function button with a future firmware release. There's no valid reason why they shouldn't and that's something that will please both camps of the ISO dial controversy.
Thirdly... the diopter adjustment. I'm slightly short sighted and usually only wear glasses when driving. I've set the diopter and have only knocked it out of place once. If it happens again i'll just gaffer tape it as it's usually a set and forget adjustment for most of us.
Fourthly... tethering implementation. Again, something a future firmware release should address. Fujifilm have proven to be very good over the years with their Kaizen philosophy, listening to photographers and addressing features by constantly releasing firmware updates for their line of cameras. Given the processing power available in this camera, i'm sure there'll be some nice updates for this camera over it's lifespan.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, XF35/1.4, 1/125s, f1.8, ISO 400, Acros
A quick natural light conceptual shot using the new Acros film simulation mode. Diffused window light to camera right lighting the scene. 

So for me it's almost perfect, for others these issues may be the deal breaker, and I get that. We all have different expectations, needs and wants. The most important aspect for me when it comes to a camera is how it feels in my hands, how it responds, and this is the one thing that far outweighs any of it's shortcomings I came across. My usual mantra goes like this... "Every system has it's strengths and weaknesses and all systems are more capable than what we are photographers. At the end of the day the difference can even just be psychological, but if that's the difference in translating to a better user experience and the system becoming less an obstacle in the creative process, all the better!"

I'd like to thank the team at DigiDirect Australia from where I purchased the camera for their competitive pricing, customer service and availability shortly after it was released. This camera has met my expectations and i'm sure will see me through my photography projects until the X-Pro3.

Fujifilm X-Pro2 camera overview and specifications can be viewed on the Fujifilm Australia website.

Fujifilm X-Pro2, XF10-24/4, 1/80s, f4, ISO 200, Acros
When your young daughter finds a small mirror on a slow Sunday afternoon and you decide to fire off a few frames.