Life with the Fuji X Pro 3
ST JOHN’S, NEWFOUNDLAND – Has Greg become a Fuji fanboy my friends all ask? Well, sort of I guess, but I have been a fan of Fujifilm film and technology since before the digital revolution. I have shot so much Fujichome transparency film that I had memorized emulsion numbers and batch codes. When the meter batteries died in my mechanical Nikon F2 and Leica M6 I didn’t replace them ….I KNEW exactly what exposures were needed for the Fujichrome 100 I used on a daily basis.
I do miss those cameras but the world marches on and we have soulless computers for cameras now so lets jump ahead 20 years and its time for me to upgrade my worn out cameras one more time. The question is what to get? Do I still need the top of the line flagship DSLR camera for the work I do? …and what kind of work am I doing or want to do these days? Get the right tools for the job, right?
What I need
This how I use my cameras. I don’t just have one camera in the equipment rack. I have 6 Nikon DSLRs of various vintage, a couple of GoPros, a Panasonic 3CCD HD industrial video camera, a Canon camcorder, a Dji Mini 2 drone and up until I bought the Fujis, an Olympus Pen F. A beautiful little camera which I sold to a friend recently. So, where is the hole that needs to be filled or replaced?
The debate raging in camera circles in recent years has been DSLR vs mirrorless. I completely fail to see the point. Mirrorless is not BETTER than DSLR. Its just a different design. A mirror box on a camera served a purpose and still does for certain types of cameras and photography. They are certainly smaller and a bit lighter, but this can have its disadvantages also. Mirrorless will not make you a better photographer.
I’m not impressed by the latest whiz-bag auto focus or metering system. Except is specific circumstance I’ve always used my cameras on full manual. I am fully old school. Remember I said I missed my old cameras and how they worked and felt? That’s where I started. Looking for something that would feel like that experience again. For the foreseeable future my work is going to be journalism, documentary and travel again.
The choice was clear
Enter the new Fujifilm X Pro 3. Similar size, shape, handling to my old Leica M6s with a real viewfinder, excellent manual features paired with the latest tech in a support role when needed. The fast sharp Fuji lenses are AF and manual focus and manual aperture capable. …they have aperture rings! After much research I finally called Jeff Chevrier at photocreative.com and ordered two X-Pro3s, a 14 f2.8, 23 f2, 56 f1.2 and a 90 f2. This was very similar to my last Leica film kit. Two Leica M6, 21mm, 35mm, 75mm and 90mm and a return to a style of shooting I’ve missed.
I have now been using this kit as my daily driver for eight months. They went on their first full blown adventure/assignment on June 20th for two weeks on the north coast of Labrador getting tossed around in ATVs, boats, pick up trucks and Twin Otter aircraft. Since then they have covered a federal election, were out during a Hurricane Larry, nibbled on by Newfoundland ponies and had another extended trip into central Labrador in the fall plus a number of other small assignments.
These are working cameras and have to earn their keep in real world environments and conditions so they do get banged around, dirty and wet. There have been no failures yet.
It does have a few design elements that are certainly different than most cameras available today. Beside the manual ISO, shutter speed and aperture dials in easy access the LCD screen is turned inward by default. You can’t see it. You have to manually open it to view photos if you want. It can be used for shooting but it only hinges on the bottom so it only swings down. The camera forces you to shoot with your eye to the viewfinder or at waste level effectively.
Not only is the design retro but Fuji forces you to use the camera the way we used too shoot. Many photographers I’ve seen review this camera HATE this…they learned photography using an LCD panel, not a viewfinder. It harkens back to film days when you had to shoot all day and not see your photos until your film was developed. I had almost forgotten that this was how we used to work. No chimping!
Committing to retro
Indeed, all of Fuji’s marketing of this retro style camera is about trying to remove the digital wall and emulate the film shooting experience. They even have built in filters that emulate the classic Fuji film look and feel if you wish. If you are nostalgic for Velvia, Neopan and Provia this will excite you. I admit its pretty cool and I like it but I rarely shoot anything other than RAW files. The nice thing is that you can shoot both as the camera will generate a film simulated jpeg along side your RAW film if you choose. If you don’t need RAW files the simulations produce excellent photos.
The view finder is a hybrid of optical and digital EVF with various combinations of views and focus options. These are activated by a lever on the right front of the camera. It is also programmable so you can select which information you wish to display in the viewfinder.
For those from the old school, it will feel familiar in operation even with a bit of a learning curve to extract the best of its advanced features. Those who learned on modern digital cameras , getting used to the lack of LCD screen may be a hurdle. In the reviews I have read a lot of people can’t get over this part. I am here to tell you, you don’t need the distraction of the LCD. Use the viewfinder. Its the way can’t were meant to be used. …you will be happier.
The only design flaw I really found was the exposure compensation button. It is easily knocked out of place. Could do with a lockout button like the shutter speed dial or just made a little stiffer. It is something I rarely use although I’m told that many younger photographers today use it as a sort of manual exposure control. Useful I guess if your auto/digital camera does not give you manual control over aperture, shutter speeds and ISO at your finger tips. I have fixed that with a piece of cloth gaffers tape as you can see in the top photos.
The view finder frame lines matching the lens views are great but could be more accurate especially with wider lens. The frameline for the 23mm should fill the viewfinder and maybe even support the 16mm lens. It seems they are only there as a nod to traditional rangefinders. It seems the the viewfinder and framelines from the X-Pro 2 were more realistic and functional. On true rangefinders, the frame lines will project a much more realistic field of view as you change lenses. But, again, there are plenty of custom configurations to help you find your sweet spot.
What about the files?
They are good! The 26MP APS-C BSI CMOS sensor camera delivers a 6240 x 4160 megapixel 14 bit .raf RAW file with great tonal range. As mentioned earlier I don’t often shoot in jpeg format. Processing the RAW is a different experience than the Nikon .NEF files I have worked on for the past 15 years. While Nikon RAW files have always been great at recovering blown out highlights and less so recovering shadows and underexposure, the Fuji .RAF RAW files are the opposite. Pulling three of fours stops out of the darkness is a breeze without degradation but does not have as much head room in the highlights. So, once again, like shooting Fujichrome film, nail the exposure and cheat to the highlights a bit. This maybe just the nature of the APS-C sensor as opposed to the full frame sensor.
Another pleasant surprise was that at high iso when noise starts to creep in it doesn’t look like the normal pattern of speckled noise …or coloured dust, you get in other digital cameras. It actually resembles film grain. How did they do that? No idea but I’m sure it has to do with their experience of years of film technology. Noise is not unpleasant and the image still stays sharp.
Should you buy this camera?
That’s a good question. Every photographer has to find the system that works seamlessly for them and doesn’t “get in the way”. It is certainly a departure from your typical digital camera these day, either mirrorless or dslr. It feels very good to use especially if you have shot with a rangefinder or film camera before. Whether a single body and lens or two bodies and four lenses this kit travels well. Light and compact compared to dslrs yet sturdy and high quality. The bodies are titanium, weather sealed and coated in high durability coating. I don’t have any scuffing or visible wear on mine yet and they get banged around a lot more than most user’s cameras. They also allow you to move about quickly, quietly and relatively unnoticed compared to carrying a couple of dsls with big lenses. Unobtrusive means more photos.
Like all mirrorless cameras these days the manufactures can’t seem to build decent batteries. This is what I consider the biggest failure of the “mirrorless revolution”. Cool light weight cameras but the batteries suck. Fuji has come a long way on this road and I can usually get two full days of shooting on one battery. I can get 3-5 days on a battery in my Nikon D4.
So, pick up some spare batteries and a charger. I have six. The cameras will also charge batteries in-camera via USB-C port which is great for travel as you can charge and top up pretty well anywhere while on the go.
I’d say find one to borrow for a day. Either you will fall in love or walk away in frustration. Then you will know.
If you want the thorough, full nerd review and specs I recommend DP Review. They are the most honest reviewers I’ve found.
Go out and make pictures today.
Here is a gallery of photos I shot while on assignment with the Innu Nation in Labrador, The Innu of Labrador
Also on assignment covering the Bonavista Biennale arts festival.
Mobile editing in the back of my truck in Labrador. Downloading cards from Fuji X-Pro3s into FotoStation for captioning, transmission and backup. Sony hardened SD cards and Lexar card readers. Yes, dust and dirt are a problem.
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