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Sunday, December 2, 2018

Fujifilm X-PRO2 Comprehensive Review - A Hybrid Rangefinder Xperience

Fujifilm X-PRO 2 Comprehensive Review - A Hybrid Rangefinder  Xperience
December 2018, Carl Garrard

Fujifilm X-PRO2 Comprehensive Review - Rangefinder cameras are practical designs first, mostly simple, compact, and downright classy looking. For most though, the cost of a “real” digital rangefinder camera system has priced out all but the most dedicated and fortunate of photographers. Until the X-Pro series came to market. My last few reviews have been centered on finding cameras with a focus-on-photography first approach, and so naturally Fujifilms X-PRO2 is a proper next subject. My last Fujfilm review on the Fujifilm X-E2 was about finding a near rangefinder experience on a supreme budget. But as you will see, this review is about accepting the X-PRO2 as a real rangefinder camera, and much more. While I was not originally impressed with the X-PRO1, that was a long time ago and things have changed a lot since then. While some consider X-PRO2 or X-E2 questionable rangefinders, the actual definition of a rangefinder camera might prove them wrong. It's not a simple answer to a complicated camera. But Fujifilms XPRO2 seems to push the rangefinder camera definition even further, and that makes it a very unique prospect indeed.

Your Gateway to the Fujifilm X-Pro2
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Fujifilm X-PRO2 Comprehensive Review - Foreword
Your Gateway to the Fujifilm X-Pro2
Automatic Coffee Mug Warmer- It's Genius!

This review is meant to be a guide to be relied upon in the future. Instead of rushing to the gates to be "first" with a review, I decided to take my time to research, test, and learn about this camera extensively instead. Also, Fujifilm are notorious for releasing feature adding and enhancing firmware updates, so waiting also allowed time for the camera to mature even further. My time with the X-Pro2 was spent using v.4.00 firmware that added some big features and enhanced improvements:

http://www.fujifilm.com/products/digital_cameras/x/fujifilm_x_pro2/features/page_08.html

Why write a comprehensive review after all these years? I guess some camera's just deserve more attention and a more detailed explanation than some others. Fujifilm's XPRO-2 is truly a marvel of engineering and painstaking dedication to the love of camera making, but also a nod to historical significance. In today's world, we are spoiled with information and technology to the point of almost ignoring it at times. Therefore, it was high time to slow down a bit to dissect and understand such a truly unique camera design, and give my take on it.

I'm not going to get into all the technical details of this camera. If you want that, then you can go read about all that on Fujifilm's website. This review is about the experience with the camera, with only some sections dedicated to explaining the technical aspects of it that are the central focus of this review. Namely, it's viewfinder.

A quick aside: Fujifilm are indeed bringing their digital products into mega-focus.  My time observing Fujifilm over the years has been one of near silent admiration. I’ve respected the aggressive speed and dedication their direction is taking more than any current manufacturer. I’ve also been vocal about the mistakes they've made along the way simply because I know that Fujifilm care about their customers and their progress and appreciate honest feedback, no matter what form it comes in.

ISO 12,800 Jpeg out of camera. Stunning sensor, an even better Jpeg engine. I love the grain.

They are a true progressive company on a mission to succeed in the hearts and minds of photographers, and they've largely succeed thus far. It’s evident in their expedient progress, gracious firmware updates, and the overall value of the their products for the money. As such, Fujifilm’s digital camera division continually become more respected in the industry as they progress. That is especially so this year with the improvements in video the XH1 and XT3 have both made.


Inside out. The skeleton of the XPRO2 is serious magnesium.

Fujifilms products like the XE2, XPRO2 (and even the XT 1/2, 10/20) signal the true beginning of their digital division, in my eyes. And now you see the XH1 and XT3 taking some serious gains on the market in video and stills alike. Winning those hearts and minds are they. Gone are many annoyances from their designs in the past while they simultaneously integrated improvements that are more capable, easier to use, and more intuitive. In short, their camera system has reached a first big plateau, so congratulations Fujifilm.

Officially, I am now finally endorsing Fujifilm's mirrorless system to other photographers because I feel it's matured to the point that it absolutely deserves it. This review also is a personal dedication (with well deserved appreciation) to the genius, hard work, experience, and love that went into bringing a camera like this to market for photographers to enjoy.


Fujifilm X-PRO2 Comprehensive Review - Introduction
Your Gateway to the Fujifilm X-Pro2
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Fujifilm's X-Pro2 is a truly unique camera amongst sheepish alternatives. Fujifilm have thrown all their best ideas and technology into a beautiful looking rangefinder body. Although some would say the X-Pro1 was the first, I'd argue against that. Instead, I'd consider the X-Pro1 just a prototype to it's successors finished design, and not a true rangefinder. From top to bottom, a lot has gone into improving its capabilities as a well rounded camera. At the same time Fujifilm have made it a much more intuitive tool to use. And that is exactly what I'm most interested in. All the improvements and capabilities are for not if I don't like using it.




Questions I propose and answer with this review:
  1. X-Pro2, real rangefinder or not?
  2. Is the experience similar, or better than using a Leica rangefinder?
  3. Does the XPRO2 offer enough to justify its cost over an XPRO1 or XE2?
  4. Is the XPRO2 intuitive and fun to use?
  5. Will the XPRO2 system deliver long term satisfaction?
  6. How good is the image quality, in Jpeg and Raw?
  7. Lastly, does the XPRO2 promote you to become a better photographer or not?
So with that, lets get on with answering the questions I've posed in this review, one by one.

Fujifilm X-PRO2 Comprehensive Review - Viewfinder: A Real Rangefinder?
Your Gateway to the Fujifilm X-Pro2
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In short, yes and no. The Fujifilm X-PRO2 is a real rangefinder by definition, but not by any traditional means. That fact may annoy those who believe that anything other than a film or digital Leica isn't a rangefinder, but that's just too bad. By all fair definition, the X-Pro2 is indeed a rangefinder camera, just not a traditional one. There are several reasons why it is, but first take the time to read these two definitions (excerpts quoted):

Rangefinder Camera Definition #1: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rangefinder_camera)

" A rangefinder camera is a camera fitted with a rangefinder, typically a split-image rangefinder: a range-finding focusing mechanism allowing the photographer to measure the subject distance and take photographs that are in sharp focus. Most varieties of rangefinder show two images of the same subject, one of which moves when a calibrated wheel is turned; when the two images coincide and fuse into one, the distance can be read off the wheel."

Rangefinder Camera Definition #2: (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/range%20finder)

"3 :a usually built-in adjustable optical device for focusing a camera that automatically indicates the correct focus (as when two parts of a split image are brought together)"




Simply put, the X-Pro2 has several features of its viewfinder that make it a rangefinder. First, it has a static optical window that shows frame lines of the lens attached within the view. It includes parallax correction to those frame lines as you focus, just as a Leica does. Secondly, there are two ways it shows clear focus of subject via a "patch" during manual operation to help determine the distance of focus on the lens (this is crucial, finding the actual range or distance). Remember these acronyms and definitions:

ERM- Electronic Rangefinder Mode gives you a pop up tab in the lower right view for a magnified center view of your subject.

DSFM- Digital Split Focusing Mode (EVF mode) takes the center portion of your view, puts it up in a box in monochrome (or color), and divides the area with two split lines. As you focus the upper, middle, and lower sections move back and forth until they all align together.


 

One is by way of the pop up magnified focus patch in the lower right hand corner in optical view mode. You can also choose this patch to be a two part split color image. When both halves of the image come together and are aligned (just like a focus patch on a Leica), you are in focus.On top of that, if your lens has a distance scale, it completes the definition of a rangefinder. Now you know your distance to subject by way of electronic viewing patch vs. optical one.

ISO 400, ACROS filter. For candid photographs, my choice was auto focusing using the EVF.

The real key is having a static optical (or digital view) with frame lines that adjust to parallax. That optical view is always the same, and it allows photographers to see subjects move into view prior to actually being in the captured frame line area before exposure.The same is simulated with Fuji's EVF, its just a dual electronic version vs. optical.


Clever tricks. The AF assist lamp above the lens was designed to look like a viewfinder patch window. Unlike Leica's fake "thumb rest lever" on the new M-D, it actually  has a practical purpose.

Just because Fujifilm took a different path to solving the same problem, doesn't make it any less of a rangefinder. It's just different, newer actually, and that bugs traditionalists- but rightly so. Therefore, end of any debate here, the X-Pro2 is a rangefinder. Yet it's also a hybrid, giving you autofocus capabilities as well. But its definitely not a traditional mechanical rangefinder camera.

Nobody else makes a more exclusively capable viewfinder than Fujifilm does for the XPRO2. Combining a real rangefinder optical view with a secondary full EVF view is unheard of. The X100 started this, and that series continues it, and it's only been refined since tenfold and the XPRO2's is even more capable because of interchangeable lenses. Now you can shoot in two ways just as a real optical rangefinder system:

Now, with all this mind numbing stuff being said, just because its capable, doesn't mean you will enjoy that capability. Some do, some don't. I'm impartial to taking sides with either camp because sometimes I do like using it, sometimes I don't.

Fujifilm X-PRO2 Comprehensive Review- Compared to a Leica M
Your Gateway to the Fujifilm X-Pro2
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The X-PRO2 is a fusion product, mating old styling and handling with rangefinder concepts but adding video, auto-focusing, and a much more complex menu system and external controls. So the experience of shooting with an XPRO2 is much different than a digital rangefinder camera like a Leica M. It's definitely as complicated as you want it to be, or as simple. You just have many more choices in which to do with it.

Look how much is on the front.
If you took the best qualities of the Panasonic L1 DSLR, Leica Digilux 2, Fuji XE2, and Leica M8 and put them all in one camera, the XPRO 2 would sort of be the result. That has both good and bad consequences for me. Sometimes I want a hammer to be a hammer, I don't necessarily need to drag around the entire tool box with me. Can I switch to Fujifilm instead of Leica and be completely satisfied leaving a Leica M system?  No. Not completely, as stated above, there are times when I just love shooting with my M8 and M9, nothing comes close to that kind of experience.


Look how much is on the back.


The most obvious trade off in a comparison is not having a full frame sensor, or as many lenses available (natively) as a Leica M. With an adapter, you can enjoy all of them and more, but they are still adapted. There's also more versatility with the lenses you attach (auto focus, telephoto, macro, and wider angle lenses). The less obvious trade off is the simplicity and experience of shooting with an M, which is truly unique.

Only the top is less dizzing.

One of the biggest considerations is depreciation of value. Leica seem almost immune to this plague that affects nearly every other camera manufacturer. So keep in mind that any Fujifilm investment you make will undoubtedly feel like driving a new car off the lot and selling it for 20% less the very next day.

Fujifilm X-PRO2 Comprehensive Review- Compared to X-E2
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The most obvious differences are as follows, whether or not these advantages amount to more than double the "new" price of an X-E2/S remain a personal choice. Since size and weight can be an advantage/disadvantage in some circumstances, I've left that out of the equation here.

  • Weather resistant
  • Faster manual shutter speed and flash sync speed
  • More resolution
  • Better balanced with larger lenses
  • Raw available at all ISO speeds
  • Hybrid optical/evf finder 
  • Dual SD card slots
  • Lack of onboard flash
  • More complicated shooting experience
It's pretty. And big. And gorgeous. And ... unique.
Fujifilm X-PRO2 Comprehensive Review- Shooting With It
Your Gateway to the Fujifilm X-Pro2
Automatic Coffee Mug Warmer- It's Genius!

My time spent with the XPRO2 came with mixed feelings. Every time I looked at it I wanted to pick it up. Every time I did, I couldn't decide if I wanted to use the optical finder or the EVF. Most of the time I elected to use the EVF with the rangefinder patch setting on. I did the same thing with my XE2 as well. There are a lot more controls on the XPRO2, which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your needs in handling a camera. I tend to gravitate to simpler solutions for an imaging device, so I tried to keep it as simple as possible with the set up. 

It feels out of place in the hills, and then again, it doesn't. Weather proof, and easy to put in a backpack with a prime lens.


I hardly ever used the front dial at all. The rear dial was a bit too sunk in and spongy for my taste, but I used it quite a bit. I definitely used the FN button by the shutter release, the exposure compensation dial, and shutter speed dial. I did not like the implementation of the ISO setting- it was great for the film days, but complicates digital imaging because we shoot differently with digital than film. ISO is set once for film, I change ISO all the time for digital. I don't like fiddling with that dial more than I have too.

ISO buried in the dial. Love the look, hate changing ISO this way (lift the shutter speed dial up, and turn).

The way the XPRO2 is designed, is both for convenience and inconvenience alike. And it takes a long time to figure out what is convenient and what is not, plus how to do your work arounds. Again, it can be as complicated as you make it to be, or as simple. If I just live with my ISO setting I forget about it, but that's not my nature to "live with it". I prefer to have convenient control of my cameras. And just when all of that started to get to me, I quit fussing about it and just started making images.
When I did that, when I forgot about "everything", I liked just shooting with the XPRO2.

 
Light on chaparral. The XPRO2 seems made for subtle scenes like this

I was curious to see what others would think of the XPRO2 as well. Most first impressions of course were how beautiful it is. Trying to explain how it worked though, nearly made everyone cross-eyed, so I found just setting it to the EVF and handing it over to someone to "point n shoot" was the best way to introduce someone to the XPRO2.

Your's truly. Photographer shall remain nameless. ISO 800, Acros simulation.
Overall the XPRO2 is a camera that presents the photographer with a challenge. It's not an easy camera to master, that is, if you intend to experience everything it offers. And in a way, that's part of the charm of it. If you can break through the intimidation barrier, take your time and learn the camera, it's got the potential to really bond with the photographer. Technically speaking, it's a powerhouse camera with an excellent sensor all the way up to high ISO's. There's not much difference between full frame image quality and the XPRO2, at all (comparing it to my Canon 6D's output, for example).

And if you like dynamic range and low noise, this camera is for you. The tree was completely black and highlights blown out to the right before I converted the raw file in the Velvia simulation.

ISO 200, Velvia preset in ACR.
There's an odd magnetism that the XPRO2 has. I'd like to say its just its darn good looks, but I think its more than that. If the XPRO2 is anything, it's unique. Very unique. I've never shot with a camera like it before, or after my time with it. For those who like to wear the badge of honor, shooting with something different than anything else, this camera is definitely worth a consideration. Unique and challenging to master, the XPRO2 offers a different Xperience indeed.

Proud Raven- Acros w/red filter in 4x5 format. ISO 200 at 50mm (75mm equivalent). I spent almost a half hour listening to him talk in chirps and clicks, their other language. He let me get very close as I talked to him.

So will the XPRO2 make you a better photographer or not? Well ultimately only you know that, but, it's design certainly opens pathways that other cameras cannot. It's can be a serious challenge to shoot with, or as simple as point and shoot camera. The choice is really up to you. But if you choose to master it, I don't think you can come out of that experience to the worse. Quite the contrary, I think you'll have a new found respect for photography in general. So yeah, if you choose too, the XPRO2 can make you a much more well rounded photographer.

Fujifilm X-PRO2 Comprehensive Review- Conclusion
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Jun Sato and Takashi Ueno  have designed an excellent camera system. It's a major undertaking that no other manufacturer has dared to tackle. Huge respect for both the company to back the idea, and the team to bring it to reality. That said, I offer this note to them all:

I do get it. Fuji’s XPRO2 is intended to be a near perfect fusion product between the best of a real rangefinder and a modern camera system. This is really what the XPRO2 and its concept, is all about. It's about not alienating any type of photographer. It also courts those who have an unshakable desire for an optical finder, over say, its smaller brother, the XE2(3) cameras. So it tries to end the argument of what is best, optical or electronic.

Darn you viewfinder. I can't decide if I love you or hate you. Kinda of like marriage.

It's not easy to fuse a more classic aesthetic with modern capability. In fact, many designs have failed in this respect among several manufacturers (Nikon DF for example), and until recently I think Fujfilm themselves have struggled making their interchangeable cameras more fuss free and pleasurable to use. That time has indeed passed.  I’m impressed, first with the XE2 and now with the XPRO 2.

Who is the X-PRO2 for? Well, if you are even asking that question, I'm not sure you are the intended market for the XPRO 2; at least, not yet. I find that it’s a camera for those who immediately appreciate a more simple or classic design, but without having to completely sacrifice more modern conveniences like auto focus, video, etc.  So in this respect, I feel Fujifilm have the most versatile of all the mirrorless designs out there- at least in concept. They aren’t unique for unique sake, they have absolutely cornered a niche in the market than nobody else can claim, yet.

Continuing to do camera reviews without being a victim of gear lust is not an easy thing to do. The XPRO2 is a camera that could easily seduce me into thinking about dropping all my Leica gear and creating a system around it instead. Why live with minimalism and restrictions when an XPRO2 camera system is much more capable in just about every way? Ah, the rub. That's exactly why I enjoy using a Leica system: I'm forced by the simplicity and limitations into a different and wonderful challenge altogether.

Alone in sky. Provia setting. A befitting and ironic image for this review. You are truly alone, XPRO-2.

But, the question I never stopped asking: Can I shoot with an XPRO2 in manual and not be tempted to use its other capabilities?

I would love to see Fujifilm take a real chance and produce a full frame version of the XPRO camera, even without full frame lenses in its lineup. There are plenty of adapters to allow the use of many full frame lenses.  Sales from a camera like that could even help Fuji fund development of its own full frame lenses to support a design as such. Or, most likely, Fujifilm could just make one with a Leica M mount and be done with it (like the old Epson RD1).

As is, the XPRO2 is a complicated beast, and that could well be it's main draw. It's well loved, and admired by many, I can dig it. Overall, my take is that the design is trying to accomplish too much and doesn't make for a synergistic experience between photographer and camera all of the time. Fujifilm are talented and there's no questioning that, I'm just not sure I enjoy using cameras with hybrid viewfinders or not. The jury is still out. So there you go, a truly unique camera that has me being undecided about one for the very first time.

Damn you XPRO2, I can't live with or without you.
And that is my final opinion.

Stay focused.

-Carl Garrard

Your Gateway to the Fujifilm X-Pro2
Automatic Coffee Mug Warmer- It's Genius!
Your Gateway to the Fujifilm X-Pro2
Automatic Coffee Mug Warmer- It's Genius!




6 comments:

  1. nice article. i had X Pro 1 now I'm using X Pro 2 and I do really like this camera.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Milos, thanks! Glad you're enjoying it :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. A thought-provoking review! I've been shooting nature photography with an X-Pro2 for a year now, using the EVF exclusively, and a small lineup of lenses that includes the 16, 18-135, 55-200 and two MF Micro Nikkors (105 and 200). What I like most about this camera is the way it feels; I want to take pictures when I hold it in my hands. I bought it because I wanted a weather-resistant X-E2 (my first Fujifilm camera was an X-E1). And I liked the X-E series because they're compact, lightweight and well made. It's easy to pack them along when I go kayaking, sailing, hiking, skiing, etc. I like the idea that one day I may use the optical rangefinder with a small prime like the 23mm 1.4 but I haven't dome that yet. Happy shooting!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Mark, and thank you! The haptic experience is indeed there, no question about that. It's nice to see what others are using there XPRO2's for, and how. Glad you like the XE2 as well, it's one of my all time favorites- ever. I'm big in the outdoors too, so I can relate. Thanks for visiting!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Nice review, just a quick comment regarding the question you never stopped asking: I use it with two Zeiss Contax G lenses (haven't bought any auto focus lenses yet), the 45&90mm ones, with an adapter and focus peaking and I love its speed and simplicity. Clutter free EVF, it's so fast and liberating, you should try to give it a shot :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Alex! Thank you. I have a leica adapter so I was using my leica and voigtlander glass on it too... I love a good optical finder so I was still back and forth on what I wanted to use. Didn't matter what lens was attached, I still couldn't decide what I wanted to stick with. Regardless I used the EVF most of the time as I mentioned. But because of my love for optical, I was torn :)

    ReplyDelete