Fujifilm X-Pro2: Rekindling Old Stories

 

The Fujifilm X-Pro2 is less of a camera and more of a photographic experience. There are problems, but you may want to fall for it all the same. Raj Lalwani discovers the possibilities that the story of this camera seems to have.

Fujifilm X-Pro2

Fujifilm X-Pro2

Four years after the much charming and much infuriating X-Pro1, the X-Pro2 promises to bring back some of the old magic, and iron out some of the unpleasant memories. The X-Pro2 is like an old affair reignited, with an understanding of the mistakes from the past and promises of a rosy future.

Features

The heart of the camera is the same, but intelligence receives an overhaul, with a brand new 24MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS III sensor. The AF system now has a whopping 273 points, 169 of which are phase detect. The spread of the AF points is also far improved, courtesy which, I rarely needed the focus and recompose technique, something that I usually use a lot.

The shutter has received a much welcome upgrade as well, now being capable of shooting at 1/8000sec and a slightly faster sync speed of 1/250sec. Other small but invaluable improvements include dual SD card slots, the ability to shoot lossless compressed RAW, the ability to see the exact percentage of battery that’s left. Video sees some improvement with the ability to shoot 1080p movies, though the quality and functionality of the video continue to be behind the competition.

 The dynamic range and exposure latitude in RAW files is as good as we’ve seen in the APS-C world. This was a photo that was actually silhouetted, deliberately underexposed drastically to preserve the highlights, and the shadow detail one could retrieve took the tonality and the moment to a whole new level. Exposure: 1/125sec at f/13 (ISO 200), Photograph/Raj Lalwani

The dynamic range and exposure latitude in RAW files is as good as we’ve seen in the APS-C world. This was a photo that was actually silhouetted, deliberately underexposed drastically to preserve the highlights, and the shadow detail one could retrieve took the tonality and the moment to a whole new level. Exposure: 1/125sec at f/13 (ISO 200). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Handling
Just a few days before testing the X-Pro2, I had made a brief return to analogue, using a friend’s Yashica Electro 35 with some expired Acros film I had found. I mention this because as my friend and I wandered the streets, both cameras in tow, I could only marvel at how the two cameras seem to have a conversation between themselves, the technology, several decades apart, but the analoguesque design of the Fuji making the process a lot more satisfying for a discerning, thinking photographer.

One retro move that I did find poorly thought out was the new ISO dial, which needs to be lifted and rotated, again, similar to a lot of old film cameras. This, obviously is slower and more cumbersome than just moving a dial, the way the X-T1 allows. The problem with the throwing back to old over here, is the whole idea of what this dial does. In a film camera, it is something you use only at the beginning of a roll, to rate what speed film you are shooting, also depending on whether you intend to push or pull the film. So, the extra few seconds it may take to pull it up and move it isn’t a problem. In digital, ISO is something one may change ever so slightly after every frame, and the X-Pro2 slows down the process.

In fact, for quick shooting, I would strongly recommend the use of Auto ISO, so that one can completely bypass the use of this dial. The downside with Auto ISO implementation is that since one can only set one minimum shutterspeed, zoom lens users may find that problematic. But interestingly, one can save three different Auto ISO preferences, and then use any of the Fn buttons to switch between them. This is rather useful, while quickly shifting from outdoors to indoors, while shooting a wedding for instance, or while photographing a stationary subject and then quickly photographing a live street moment.

The Hybrid (both optical and electronic) Viewfinder has always been the Pro’s strength over the T series, and it now gains the feature of including a small electronic feed within the optical viewfinder, to confirm focus. When I wasn’t using the OVF, however, I missed the X-T1 (or now, its new update, the X-T2). The X-Pro2’s EVF is a little smaller and has lesser eye relief (16mm), as compared to the X-T2 (23mm). This may be an issue for those who wear glasses.

It’s the addition of a new joystick that completely elevates the experience of using this camera. Not only does it allow you to traverse through the large number of AF points extremely quickly, it also allows you to use the four buttons that would earlier be used to move the AF point to customise other camera functions. So now, there are as many as six different customisable functions, courtesy which, I rarely even entered the Q button Quick Menu.

 The Electronic Shutter option makes operation silent, and as long as one does not push files too much in post, it does not hamper image quality. The Classic Chrome Film Simulation with its subdued colour and deeper shadows could make sense of this psychedelic scene and not make it too garish. Exposure: 1/60sec at f/4 (ISO 8000), Photograph/Raj Lalwani

The Electronic Shutter option makes operation silent, and as long as one does not push files too much in post, it does not hamper image quality. The Classic Chrome Film Simulation with its subdued colour and deeper shadows could make sense of this psychedelic scene and not make it too garish. Exposure: 1/60sec at f/4 (ISO 8000), Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Performance
The X-Pro1 had set the benchmark for what one can expect from an APS-C sensor back in 2012, and while the X-Pro2 does not shatter the glass ceiling, it nudges it higher, by just a bit. The detail advantage that one enjoys courtesy the X-Trans technology and its peculiar colour filter array, is clearly visible, especially while using edge-to-edge sharp optics like the 35mm f/2 we tested the camera with. The slight resolution bump (from 16MP in all previous Fuji cameras to 24MP in this one) adds that little bit extra, to keep the sensor competitive amongst its various 24MP peers from other manufacturers. It doesn’t seem to affect the high ISO quality, giving the X-Pro2 a minute edge over other 24MP cameras, while shooting at ISOs above 3200.

The JPEG engine of the Fuji cameras has always earned praise, but I have a few mixed thoughts about, after using the X-Pro2. The manner in which Adobe Camera RAW interprets Fuji RAW files has seen a sea of change in the past few years, and so, now, finally, I do see a lot of perceptible advantages in shooting RAW. The latitude in the files is excellent, and ACR also allows you to choose the Film Simulation mode after shooting, allowing you to get the quintessential look that these modes give, even while shooting RAW. That said, one needs to admire Fuji for the way they allow you to customise the precise look you want, while shooting JPEG. Every Film Simulation mode can be customised with drastic shifts of the tonal curve (-2 to +5, more than earlier cameras), Grain Effect and saturation.

Having seen a host of gradual improvements in the AF of recent Fuji models, the X-Pro2 actually surprised me by how much better it is! Focus acquisition is extremely fast with the 35mm f/2, and the AF system does not hunt, even while shooting in drastically low light. Think ISO 12,800, f/2 and 1/30sec kind of situations. It is the improvement in this sphere that makes me personally comfortable in using the X-Pro2 as an assignment camera, instead of a DSLR.

Only certain kind of assignments though, this is still no sports or wildlife camera, but that’s obviously not its target audience. What I do imply by my last statement though is that AF tracking continues to be the Achilles heel of this camera, especially considering the rapid strides made in this aspect by some other mirrorless manufacturers.

Conclusion

There is a certain dichotomy to using the X-Pro2 that you are bound to feel if you have used the previous X-series cameras. The sentimentality of the old is very much intact, but this is a camera that is astonishingly more polished. It feels like a familiar comforting world, and yet, a whole new universe. Gone is the temperamental nature of not knowing how the camera is going to respond to a certain situation, it’s even funny that one tended to romanticise the problems of the X-Pro1 as quirks.

The APS-C world is rather rich now, with cameras that do outperform the new Fuji in low light quality (D500), AF speed (D500, 7D Mark II) and video (A6500). That said, image quality is where the Fujifilm X-Pro2 does shine, almost matching the Nikon in its high ISO performance, and beating it (and the rest) in detail, colour and tonal control.

As one needs to constantly reiterate, and it’s easy enough to lose sight of goalposts in this technology-obsessed world that is often reduced to simplistic on-paper one upmanship, the X-Pro2 is a camera designed for a certain kind of photographer, one who identifies with the rangefinderesque nature of a camera like this. Someone, who’d have rather used a Leica M6 than a Nikon F6…
A camera is as good as the pictures it makes, the pictures it makes, as good as the way we see, and the way we see, often influenced, dependent and even inspired by what we see through. The X-Pro2 isn’t perfect yet, but it is a camera that feels right, as it takes the sentimentality one has always felt with the X cameras, and now, cloaks it with purpose.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
Greatly improved AF system, 24MP, X-Trans sensor, dual card slots
18/20
Performance
Reliable and efficient AF, one of the best APS-C sensors today
38/40
Build Quality
Built very solidly, improved weathersealing as compared to its predecessor
14/15
Ergonomics
Intuitive use of the retro design, with the exception of the ISO dial
18/20
Warranty & Support
Three-year warranty, 200 service centres around the country
3/5
MRP Rs. 1,47,999
OVERALL 91%
VALUE FOR MONEY 3.5/5
Who should buy it? Street and documentary photographers, wedding photographers.
Why? The X-Pro2 combines excellent analoguesque handling with refined technology that is now a lot more reliable in dealing with dynamic shooting situations.
Tags: better photography, Camera, Fuji, Fujifilm X-Pro2, January 2017, Raj Lalwani, Review