The Fujifilm X-Pro3 – Engaging in something different

Note:

For all those who don’t have time or don’t feel like reading all this, here’s the jump to both my conclusion and my final words. And for all those who at least want to skip my pseudo-philosophical babble, it goes on here with the facts.

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves

Steve Jobs

It’s exactly this kind of statement and attitude that I partly criticized in my initial thoughts on the new Fujifilm X-Pro3. I actually think Steve Jobs was a unique visionary – and some of Apple’s developments were indeed groundbreaking – others still are. But Steve Jobs isn’t around anymore, R.I.P!

Without a truly visionary gift, it can quickly happen that we have to adapt to a product rather than the product to our needs. This is one of the reasons why in recent years we have seen how things can go wrong at Apple. In this sense, the X-Pro3 in its now presented form is a somewhat daring game for Fujifilm. I was among those who were not only enthusiastic about this kind of “design paternalism” (no offense!).

Until I understood…

Nobody forced me to buy or use this camera! But I CAN do it, and then I CAN also try to engage in a new idea, even if I see it sceptically at first. Without prejudice. Without inner rejection.

That’s what I’m doing right now. And I will start this with another quote:

The core of mans’ spirit comes from new experiences

Christopher McCandless

The Controversy

Let’s put it straight to the point: the only thing that really divides the spirits is the hidden display. Everything else… well, we’ll get to it later.

But this display, oh man, what fuss and wild discussions it has already sparked on the net. To be honest, it’s no big deal for me because I rarely chimp. I check the pictures from time to time in a café or when I’m sitting somewhere else taking a break. In this respect, I’m fine with that.

Admittedly, another point gave me a little more trouble here. I don’t surf around the menu all the time. However, I use the FN buttons quite frequently to change many settings while shooting – something I need the display for in many cases. That is no longer possible now – or at least not so easy.

The only interesting question now is: does it really matter? This brings me to the next point: what is actually essential?

The Essential

Fujifilm itself tries to answer this question with an – at least in my humble opinion – a little bit unfortunate and quite risky PR strategy. They rely heavily on the emotional card on the one hand and the purist card on the other. That would basically be OK. However, I find this slightly patronizing undertone somewhat disturbing. To tell the customers of such a sophisticated photographer’s tool how to use a digital camera appropriately – hm, good luck with this strategy!

Even if the product stands for this idea, I would at least have tried to explain it more modestly and not so down from above.

Be that as it may, Fujifilm has actually chosen an approach with the X-Pro3 that is at least in parts more puristic. It remains to be seen whether this will pave the way for pure photography though. From a technological point of view, the camera delivers and is not as puristic as it seems to be.

This camera tells us, not without self-confidence on the edge of arrogance: take me as I am or go somewhere else! Wow! This is a courageous step – but is it also wise? Time may tell…

This in turn brings me to the next point: attitude.

The Attitude

I already said in my first post that I would have preferred to leave the display as it was. Moreover, I am a bit annoyed to have to accept the hidden display if I want to use the new camera with its many other advantages. Nevertheless, I also have respect for Fujifilm’s attitude of doing it this way. At least they show any attitude at all.

I am an extremely perfectionist person. This is also reflected in the desire for my very own definition of how cameras (and computers, and…) have to be like. I’ve learnt to deal with it and sometimes I even see it as a strength. To be honest, most of the time it actually restricts me. It often leads to anger about something that isn’t important instead of seeing and paying attention to what’s really important.

Maybe it’s also a question of attitude whether I really need so many buttons to always have everything (unimportant) perfectly in front of my nose. So, I’m actually already beginning to question my attitude. I start to think more about this… and I’m starting to engage in it.

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The Facts

After this long excursion into the more philosophical aspects, however, let’s go now to the facts. What makes this camera so special and what are the differences to the X-Pro2? Optically, they are almost twins, but under the hood, a lot has happened. I’ll try to pick up on the essential things.

Build and design

The body

As mentioned before, the body looks similar to the X-Pro2. Under the coating, however, we will find a top cover and a base plate made of Titanium.

Hm, Titanium is a chemical element. As far as I know, it’s pretty rigid and firm. That’s basically all I have to say about it. Personally, I don’t care and I never doubted that the magnesium alloy body of the X-Pro2 was robust enough. I buried it on the asphalt under me in a little motorcycle accident two years ago – it still works great and you hardly see any traces on the body.

Did I ever mention that I still own an Olympus OM-4 Ti? Somehow, the Titanium thing had impressed me more at a young age. One becomes wiser and more pragmatic with increasing age. But hey, everything is good that makes the camera even more robust… 🙂

Oh yes, Fujifilm enlarged the handgrip a bit. That’s good, but not really enough for my large hands. Since there’s again a well-designed extension for the handgrip to buy (MHG-XPRO3), I’m fine with that.

The coatings

The situation is somewhat different with the new coatings, Dura Black and Dura Silver. After all I’ve seen, these are really unbelievably scratch-resistant. In my eyes, at least the silver version also looks damn good – even if it is too conspicuous for me. What would bother me about Dura Black in particular, however, is its susceptibility to fingerprints and especially to smudging on the surface. That looks very unattractive very quickly – at least for me. Others might like this used look. I rather have the feeling that Fujifilm could get into a lot of trouble here.

I decided to go for the classic black version anyway. The colour tone seems to have changed a little: it’s more matt black now. I really like this.

The main display

It’s hidden. Accept it or not.

Nevertheless, I can’t hold back with a comment here either: Fujifilm officially says they chose the hidden display to encourage photographers to use the viewfinder more. Hmm, which X-Pro photographer used the LCD instead of the viewfinder by default? Did I miss something here? I would have guessed that 95% of all X-Pro shooters use the viewfinder for framing so far… or am I somehow naive?

One should be careful with hasty conclusions, but Fujifilm seems to have found a solution for something that wasn’t a problem. Anyway…

Apart from that, the display is great! It is foldable, has a touch functionality and from my point of view a very good resolution and colour fidelity. I think the way it folds down is very well implemented – partly of course a consequence of the hidden construction. It’s so easy and somehow natural to use that it’s a real pleasure. So, calm down, folks!

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The subdisplay

Well, at least this one’s questionable fo me. And I want to emphasize that I come from a generation that grew up with these holders for the film package flaps, as you can see on the picture below. So, of course I had a smile on my face when I first saw it.

In addition to these “digital film package flaps”, you also have the option of displaying some of the camera’s essential settings in its standard mode – analogous to the small monitors on the X-H1 or GFX 50S.

However, this otherwise great idea with the submonitor was not thought to end in my opinion. First of all, this monitor is neither backlit nor illuminated, so it’s useless in the dark. That was of course also the case with the old analogue film cameras and it saves energy, but still.

Personally, I would prefer a small, illuminated and deactivatable LCD subdisplay, which I could use for both, the now adjustable Q menu and the points programmed to the FN buttons. Not a deal-breaker, of course, but maybe a slightly missed chance.

The EVF

A direct hit!

Even if the viewfinder is not as big as the on in X-T3 or X-H1 respectively, of course. You simply have to live with that if you want such a rangefinder style camera. Otherwise the improvements compared to the X-Pro2 are clearly visible. It’s brighter, richer in contrast, faster, smoother… what more do you want? We now look at a high-resolution 3.69-million-dot OLED panel with a slightly higher magnification of 0,66x (vs. 0.59x at the X-Pro2).

According to the first impression, I only think that the white areas sometimes are a little too bright and blown out in very contrasting situations. But as I said, first impression… and the EVF is not a high-end computer screen either. 😉

It covers 97% of the sRGB colour space, giving me a far more accurate estimation of colours now. Particularly in daylight, this sometimes looks deceptively similar to the look in a DSLR viewfinder (without having set film simulations, for sure). Kudos!

From a medical point of view, I don’t quite understand exactly how this “Smoothness Priority” mode works for our eyes or brain. There, a black frame is inserted between each of the frames at 100fps to provide a smoother appearance. Anyway, this gives us an equivalent refresh rate of approx. 200fps – and it really looks great! It’s my preferred setting.

The OVF

For me, that’s maybe the toughest one. To anticipate: I am not overly enthusiastic!

Let’s get this straight: In general, it’s still one of the most advanced OVFs available. The possibilities of displaying information, such as the artificial horizon, many different frame lines or the small EVF display at the bottom right, are unique – only shared with the Fujifilm X-100 series. Strictly speaking, the entire concept of the hybrid viewfinder is unique.

Personally, I also had no problems with the relatively large distortion in the optical viewfinder of the X-Pro2. Therefore, I see the improvements here as a rather negligible point. On the other hand, we have lost a lot of what the X-Pro stands for with its concept of an “autofocus rangefinder”.

The unique viewfinder with two possible magnifications is history. We have to live with a single magnification of 0.52x. This significantly restricted the usability of the OVF with wide-angle lenses. 18mm is still quite usable, at 16mm it becomes already very difficult – and with both you have to get along without the frame lines. As a preferred wide-angle photographer, I’m naturally not exactly happy about that.

While the sweet spot of the X-Pro2 was equally at 23mm and 35mm (in different magnification modes), it is now only at 23mm. The frame at 35mm is OK on the X-Pro3, but not very big anymore – especially not at close range.

At the moment I don’t quite know what to think of the changed behaviour of the frame lines. They now always stay with the parallax adjustment of the last focus setting. That makes a lot of sense if you stay in a certain shooting situation – it only confuses you a little when you later take the camera back to your eye in another situation.

My much bigger problem with the viewfinder is: At least with my eyes, dioptre correction doesn’t work with OVF and EVF at the same time. Depending on the condition of my eyes, the difference is up to three clicks of the compensation wheel. So, I see either the viewfinder indicators and frame lines or the “image” sharp in the OVF. If I switch directly from EVF to OVF, the “image” is always out of focus, only the viewfinder indicators remain sharp. That’s very annoying!

I know that other users report having no problems here. That again is a mystery to me – it must have something to do with the adaptability of the (my) eyes. Even though I know that you can’t implement the correction equally well for all modes from a purely optical point of view, the solution worked far better for me before (with X-Pro2, X100).

Of course, I have to be honest here, too: like many other users, I have become accustomed to using the EVF much more often than the OVF – perhaps in a ratio of 1:10. This puts the criticism into perspective. But it’s a pity anyway, because this form of OVF in the X-Pro1/2 is unique on the market. Here Fujifilm loses a unique selling proposition, or rather, weakens it.

The new eyepiece

Finally!

The dioptre correction is no longer so easy to adjust unintentionally and the whole construction seems to me to be more robust now. In addition, it’s not such a dust magnet anymore.

My only “technical defect” in more than three years with the X-Pro2 was the loss of this rubber piece during a four-month project being abroad. Since the only solution for that problem is to replace the whole eyepiece unit by the Fujifilm service, I had to fix it with a workaround on the road. I bought a third-party rubber supposedly fitting the X-Pro2 and stuck it on the camera (see image below).

Apart from the questionable aesthetics, it simply didn’t last as long as I hoped. The rubber began to dissolve after just some weeks of use. I hope this is no longer a problem with the new eyepiece.

The button and wheel layout

That’s a somewhat ambivalent point for me. I can live with the hidden display; sometimes I even like it somehow. But the disappearance of the D-Pad is at least a tricky topic for me. Not because of the D-Pad itself, of course, but because of the loss of FN buttons.

Added up, the X-Pro3 now has four (physical) FN buttons less than its predecessor. I really had to swallow and find a way to compensate. I’ve often called the X-Pro2 the extension of my hand and eye. Everything I wanted to change frequently and quickly in a photographic situation was available there at the touch of a button. That’s why I hardly ever had to switch to the menu.

This has now been sacrificed in order to serve an ideology of simplification, which is not necessary or useful in this case – just my 2 cents. Of course, I can (and will) adapt here, but why do I have to do this without any obvious need? The fact that almost all buttons are now individually configurable eases the situation a little, but nevertheless: I would have welcomed one or two FN buttons more. Especially because the firmware offers more possibilities than ever before. That contradicts itself somehow.

My solution so far: I have programmed the Q button with another setting. Since the display is hidden anyway, I use the Q function only when it’s open. I have now programmed a touch gesture as a new FN “button” for the Q settings.

To get the curve back to positive: The buttons and wheels as such were improved in detail. The wheels have a far better grip now, the compensation wheel is better protected against accidental adjustment and the buttons have a very good pressure point. Well done!

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Tech and specs

The sensor

Essentially, there is nothing to say here. It is the same 26.1-megapixel X-Trans IV CMOS APS-C sensor as in the X-T3. I’m sure the results will look great, just like before… I don’t really care. I was already extremely pleased with the X-Pro2’s sensor.

Oh yes, these artefacts in extreme backlighting don’t seem to show up at all. That’s great, although I had the feeling that the X-Pro2 already had fewer of them after some of the firmware updates. In any case, I haven’t seen these artefacts in my pictures for a long time.

Software and menu

Since none of the big critics had their hands on an X-Pro3 so far, this point – in contrast to the display – was blown out rarely or only quietly into the aether. Here we find some of the biggest differences and advantages compared to the X-Pro2. As I mentioned above, the X-Pro3 isn’t so puristic. This is reflected in the individual configurability of the camera. The width and depth of the possible settings is extremely large. A lot has been done in the area of the JPG engine and in many other menu points.

The X-Pro3 has the most advanced, comprehensive and sophisticated firmware of all Fujifilm X cameras. The possibilities of customization are more extensive and useful than with any other camera in this series.

Thus, one should not be deceived by this wolf in sheep’s clothing simply because a relatively low-resolution display at the back shows a digital film package flap. 😉

The processor

Here also: the same X-Processor 4 as in the X-T3. Feels super-fast to me (I don’t own the X-T3, “only” the X-H1), but there’s nothing new to report from my point of view. It’s a great piece of technology. Period.

The only drawback so far is that the new setting option for “clarity” is hardly usable in practice. Unfortunately, it seems to requier so much processing power that it takes at least 1 second to save each image. During this time the EVF remains black and you just read the message “STORING”. 🙁

Of course, this doesn’t fit at all to the otherwise so outstanding performance of the camera. I hope this can be improved with firmware updates.

Classic Neg

In three words: I love it! Together with the new and extended in-body adjustment options of the JPG engine I’m already getting sooc results that are incredibly good. Highly recommended!

I’m sure it could become my favourite film simulation so far. But first I have to spend a few days more in the streets with this camera.

The autofocus

Holy cow! That’s another great step forward.

I have no idea how well the continuous autofocus and all the combination and adjustment options we already know from the X-T3 work. Simply because I don’t use them, and they don’t interest me. According to the first impression, at least the face and eye detection seems to have improved a lot. But I also use this very rarely.

What immediately catches the eye, however, is the further significant increase in AF speed and above all the sensitivity in low light. These -6 EV from the spec sheet are really being put to use on the streets here! Bravo, Fujifilm!

Battery life

Yes, my friends, it seems to be improved a little bit. I suppose this is mostly due to the lack of a permanently activated backlit monitor. And that would be similar when turning off the monitor on the X-Pro2. But one thing remains a fact for me: I hold now a more responsive and more powerful camera with a better battery life in my hands. Highly appreciated!

In-camera HDR

I don’t like HDR images, so I don’t care. Others may see this differently and be happy about it. To each his/her own!

Bluetooth

It’s great to have Bluetooth on board! I relatively often use the JPGs sooc for Instagram, using wireless transfer to my mobile phone. Bluetooth saves energy here.

Video

On paper it now (I think) has the same features as the X-T3. But I can’t evaluate it for lack of experience, and I think it’s a camera for making pictures, not filming.

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A few personal thoughts

The vast majority of comments on this camera in the popular forums and newsgroups were negative – I think that’s the honest way to sum it up. For all three following things there was massive criticism: the lack of innovative features, the concept of the hidden display and the price.

On the other hand, a smaller but very enthusiastic minority took a very positive view of the camera. Just check the reviews of Jonas Rask or Patrick Laroque. These were often ridiculed, because of their relationship to Fujifilm (being X-Photographers). I don’t give a damn, they’re both great photographers and mavericks.

Sometimes the presumed supporters of this camera were also immediately insulted as hipsters. Hm, I thought the term hipster had worn off a bit by now. Anyway, the internet is sometimes a strange and crazy place.… what you don’t like or don’t understand yourself… but no matter. 😉

My opinion on that: Yes, the camera doesn’t offer totally unique new features. Yes, the display takes getting used to. Yes, the price tag is somewhat high. But none of these three points are really decisive in my humble opinion – OK, maybe the price is for many people. But that’s how it is with many things.

Why doesn’t it mean anything? Quite simply…

… to point 1: It does not always need a higher, faster, further in every single aspect! Like many digital cameras today, the X-Pro2 is already incredibly good. It is good enough to work perfectly in almost all photographic situations that are intended for such a camera. And the X-Pro3 improves many of its features – rather evolutionarily. Rather in detail. That’s good and quite more than enough for me.

The quest for even more ISO, even more great specs, even more features needs to slow down! Because one thing should not be forgotten despite all the enthusiasm for technology: Our art of photography has never been about more technology! And it has never been dependent on the length of a camera’s spec list!

… to point 2: Actually, everything has been said and written about it. Either you like it (or you can at least live with it), or you should just buy another (or for some things a second) camera. With the X-T3, the X-H1 and the X-T30 there is enough choice of complementary models. Not to mention the models of other brands… Heavens, we live in a world of countless possibilities.

… to point 3: It’s just the way it is! This is a high quality and beautifully crafted camera with complicated mechanics (e.g. the hybrid viewfinder) and made of expensive materials (like Titanium). And they don’t charge moon prices like with any Limited Edition Leicas.

Those who have read my review attentively so far will wonder what my conclusion is. After all, I have also found critical words in some places. Puh, you always have to look at the big picture. And I don’t see that at the moment – at least not to the full extent.

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Conclusion

I have to confess: I am quite biased. My journey with Fujifilm X cameras began in 2011 with the original Fujifilm X100. Since the release of the X-Pro2 at the latest, I have completely switched to the X series and since then I have realized many sometimes very large projects with the system. As you can see from the pictures below, of course not without leaving slight signs of wear.

I haven’t regretted it for a second and I’m convinced that I made the best choice for my kind of photography. However, the X-Pro3 has a very difficult position with me just because it has to compete with its predecessor. The X-Pro2 is THE BEST CAMERA I have ever owned (so far), so that bar is very high!

Like many others, I was eagerly awaiting the release of the X-Pro3. After all, there were a few minor points where I could imagine a meaningful improvement to the X-Pro2. What came to light then, I honestly didn’t expect. Even when I first picked it up during the Fujifest Glocal Tour, I wasn’t totally enthusiastic and convinced.

Still, these are the facts: Especially in the areas of software, speed, film simulations and last but not least autofocus the improvements are very welcome and important for me. Many other things have been improved with great attention to detail. In its core, it is still an X-Pro. And in some aspects it’s a better CAMERA than before!

Nothing more than that we could expect. Unless Fujifilm had managed to integrate IBIS into this body. But…

Those who know me and my love for the X cameras may wonder how reluctant I am here to make a final judgement. And I would have to lie if I said I am already completely convinced. I really would have liked the camera to be a little different. And to get engaged in something you wanted differently is not so easy.

Believe me, it’s really surprising for me to write this. Because the X-Pro3 is quite special, I have to take more time to come to a final conclusion. With the X100F, I knew what to think after just two days, and that opinion hasn’t changed to this day. There, only evolution was at work and the changes were very easy to evaluate.

Apart from that, I’d say it’s like everything else in real life: if you are no longer allowed to criticize what you love, then something goes wrong.

By the way: The X-Pro2 wasn’t love at first sight for me either. But in the end, it became a very firm and true love… 🙂

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Final words

If you know what you are doing in photography and how, you also know whether you can use this camera well. I can tell those people: In it’s very special way it might even be the best X-Pro ever built. Engage in it! Period.

To all the others who are a bit unsure, I say: Go to your camera store of trust and take a close look at the camera. Think carefully, take your time and don’t just buy it because I or others say so!

On the other hand, don’t let all the negative voices on the net influence you immediately. Decide for yourself! By the way, Fujifilm is not that wrong with the assertion that this camera was created for a different breed.

Before I forget, there’s one more thing:

There is always light somewhere – so go out and shoot! Cheers! 😉

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6 Comments

  • Since digital cameras came out I can honestly say I have never use one too it full potential. 98% of my digital cameras or Canon and the other 2% are the X-Pro2 Which is the reason I start shooting with Fuji In the first place and the other one is the X-H1 Which can spoil you. I never got out of the habit of the way we used to shoot film . I’m always thinking 36 shots per roll which is probably why I never came home with 500 or 1000 images in a day or even a week and I doubt if I ever will. I shot some pretty good images with the Nikon F2AS in black and white, colors and chrome. I am doing that again with my X-Hi and X=Pro2.

  • Peter, this looks like a very balanced and honest review. I look forward to reading more updates in the future, particularly how the X-Pro3 compares to your beloved X-Pro2 after you spend more time with it.

    Regards,
    Diego

  • Hi Diego,

    thanks! I have indeed tried to be as objective as possible – and therefore quite critical. But as already written, what you love, that… And I will certainly write something about the concrete experiences with it after a while.

    Peter

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