Thursday 26 April 2018

Adrian Weckler: why Fuji's X-Pro2 may be the perfect non-DSLR camera

Fuji's X-Pro2
Fuji's X-Pro2
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

If you could build your own dream camera, what would it look like? Big? Small? Knobtastic? Fully automatic?

Mine would be metal, fairly compact and feature plenty of well placed controls to help focus and get a good shot quickly.

 In other words, it might look a lot like a Fuji.

 The Japanese company has been on a roll for the last two years with new camera bodies that are utterly lustworthy. It’s almost impossible to look at one without wanting to pick it up, toy with it and -- yes -- even take a photo with it.

 The X-Pro2, which I’ve been using for a month, is just such a camera. It’s one of Fuji’s two flagship compact cameras (the other being the similarly specced X-T2). In terms of picture quality, it’s just about as good as you can get in a camera short of moving up to a dedicated professional system.

 It has a 24-megapixel sensor which is the same size as you get in most non-professional Canon or Nikon DSLR cameras. This sensor is one of the system’s highlights, delivering pretty sensational colour and sharpness right out of the camera. It costs €1,799 but is currently on a €250 cashback offer.

 It has an increasing number of high-grade lenses available for it, too. The one I used is arguably Fuji’s most celebrated lens, the metal XF56mm f1.2. This has roughly the same range as a ‘full frame’ 85mm lens, meaning it is a ‘prime’ (no zoom) lens at a moderately zoomed-in focal length. As such, it is excellent as a portrait photography lens which can also be used for street photography. I used it for both. It has beautiful ‘bokeh’, borne of its f1.2 shallow depth of field.

 Put together, the X-Pro2 and the 56mm lens are around the same weight (although a little smaller) as an entry-level DSLR camera from Canon or Nikon with their basic kit lenses. But there’s a significant difference in quality and feature capability.

Image taken with Fuji's X-Pro2
Image taken with Fuji's X-Pro2

 Looking at the camera from the front, you notice its retro sensibility. This is enhanced by the presence of a real glass optical viewfinder in the old ‘rangefinder’ mould. Some people love this feature because it gives you lots more flexibility in taking photos as you can see outside the frame of your shot. The viewfinder can also become fully electronic if you flick a switch.

 One thing I absolutely loved about the X-Pro2 is the little joystick nubbin that lets you choose an autofocus spot. I wish every camera had one of these (rival models such as Nikon’s new D500 and Canon’s 5D Mark IV have it, as does Fuji’s X-T2). It saves critical seconds, letting you get the right face or element in focus for an immediate capture.

 That said, I did sometimes find that the autofocus wasn’t quite as fast or reliable as I’m used to on DSLR systems like Canon. I found that even when I had pinpointed the spot I wanted to focus on, in low light the system sometimes kept hunting for a second or two. But in general, it worked fine.

 I also love its silent electronic shutter ability. I can shoot without the camera ostentatiously announcing its presence every time. As with other electronic shutters though, it has a low light limit before lines start appearing in the shots, forcing you to switch back to mechanical (clicking) shutter mode.

 A little surprisingly, there’s no touchscreen on the X-Pro2. I’ve become fairly used to them on rival systems, especially cameras from Panasonic and Canon. It’s a nice, bright screen, but it’s not a flip-out display like the screen on its Fuji rival, the X-T2. I’ll admit I would have liked this as I find flip-out displays very useful for shots of animals or kids.

 Another possible drawback is that the X-Pro2 can’t record in 4K ‘ultra HD’. Apparently, this is because the camera would get too hot, even though the feature is available on the X-T2. Instead, it offers ‘full’ HD at 60 frames per second, which is still very high resolution.

 One other thing of note is that it has two memory card slots. This might sound peripheral, but it’s surprisingly useful. You can simply use one as a backup in case your first card runs out, or designate one as a regular ‘jpeg’ card slot and the other as a ‘Raw’ card (which gives you lots more post-photo editing abilities if you need it).

 It doesn’t have a built-in flash, but has a shoe connector for an external flash if you want.

Image taken with Fuji's X-Pro2
Image taken with Fuji's X-Pro2

 The X-Pro2 claims to be weather-sealed, meaning you can use it (to a certain extent) in rain or dusty, sandy conditions.

 You can transfer photos relatively quickly via the onboard wifi.

 Fuji has a pretty excellent pedigree in lenses and its lineup now includes highly-rated equivalents to 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 135mm primes that you get on the traditional big guns of professional photography. It also has high-end zoom lens equivalents for popular choices such as 70-200mm, 24-70mm and 16-35mm.

 If you’re looking for a totally pocketable camera system, this may not be your number one choice. There are smaller, lighter systems that fit better in coat pockets, including Fuji’s own X-T10 and X70, as well as some excellent rival devices from Panasonic, Sony and Olympus.

 So it is a little heavy for a ‘compact’ system. That said, it’s not nearly as heavy as full DSLR systems with equivalent quality lenses. For example, I own a Canon 6D with 85mm f1.2 lens. I love this system and it takes stunning photos. But it weighs an absolute ton and is physically much larger. So it’s not practical as a camera that you can just throw in a bag and take with you. (It’s also physically tiring to hold up for more than a few minutes at a time.) By comparison, the X-Pro2 with 56mm lens is easily baggable. I find that this makes a big, big difference to when and where you’re going to use the camera. I save the Canon for set-piece occasions, whereas I brought the Fuji around with me. Guess which camera I get more photos with?

 It’s not like I’m compromising that much on quality, either. In truth, I think that the Canon lens, on a Canon full-frame body, has slightly higher quality shots. But only slightly: the X-Pro2 with 56mm blew me away with some of the detail and depth of field I got out of it. It’s a gorgeous, high-calibre setup that stands out. And it costs around €1,000 less than the Canon and feels like half the heft.

 At €1,800 at the time of writing (although cashback offers and discounts can bring it as low as €1,550), this isn’t a cheap camera system. The lenses are medium-priced, too. But there’s no doubt that this is a solid, high quality camera system that’s here for the long run. And it’s a gorgeous physical product.



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