Very early thoughts on the Fujifilm X-Pro3

When I was in the market for a better-than-high-end-of-the-low-end camera a few years ago, I glanced briefly at the Fujifilm X-Pro2. I’d been shooting with the X100S for a few years and had come to really enjoy the rangefinder feel and I appreciated the hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. I ended up with an X-T2 instead, and the decider was pretty much the tilting LCD: The X-Pro2 didn’t have one, and I appreciate being able to get down kind of low to photograph a subject, or shoot from the hip on the street.

When the X-T3 came out, I briefly considered it, but most of the reviews said it didn’t really exceed the X-T2 that much, unless you were in it for video, so I sat that one out, curious about what the X-Pro3, were there one, would look like.

When it did arrive, I felt a little put off by the rear screen, which is hidden except when flipped down. Rather, I was put off by the marketing and noise around the rear screen, which was all about making sure we understood that it was meant to be a “slap in the face” of chimping. The only thing more likely to irritate me than toxic photography shibboleths is probably the phrase “distraction-free,” and that also found its way into a number of reviews.

Fujifilm’s own marketing material is slightly more sedate than reviews from the more dyspeptic gatekeepers of the photography world, but the point was driven home all the same.

Fujifilm’s top-tier cameras have always been a little willfully obscure. No program button: “P” is if you set all the controls to “Auto.” Instead of “looks” or “presets” they offer “film simulations” named after their classic film stock.The controls are for people who miss having knobs (like me … I learned on film cameras with knobs).

The X-Pro3, though—with its hidden rear LCD and knobs and rangefinder form factor—moved out of the territory of “quaint,” “classic,” or “old-school” and closer to the neighborhood of “reactionary.”

I know: None of this is about the camera, it’s about the camera’s marketing. It matters to the story, though, because wow I came close to not wanting anything to do with it by the time I was done reading the reviews.

What changed my mind?

I read a few reviews and learned that it included:

  • Curves adjustments
  • A “blue chrome” setting
  • A clarity setting
  • An HDR mode

In other words, it had added features that I spend most of my time doing in post with presets or noodling around in Lightroom. Having had it since just before the holidays, I’ve found myself spending much less time in Lightroom, generally working with straight-from-the-camera JPEGs. The stuff I’ve been getting out of it is perhaps more naturalistic than what I used to come up with when I was depending on Lightroom more, but that’s good. I always felt like Lightroom could be a little overpowering if I got too far into my own head during an edit.

What about the screen?

Eh.

The anti-chimp thing didn’t resonate with me because I actually “chimp” through the EVF when I’m shooting. The X-series has a setting that lets you preview the image you just shot through the electronic viewfinder. It’s not up for long—I have it set to half a second—but it’s usually enough to give me confidence I got what I’m after, that I didn’t inadvertently change a control that ruined the shot, etc. So the only time I tend to be in the rear screen is when I’m changing settings. I’m used to being able to tip the camera down, review/change the settings, and tip the camera back up to start shooting again. That is definitely harder, but it has meant I just look through the viewfinder to change settings (unless I’m on the street, which maximizes the time I appear to be taking a picture/drawing attention to myself).

So, this just feels like an anticlimactic review:

  • I like the rangefinder form factor and I get that with this camera.
  • I like the new in-camera settings that allow me to do more without using Lightroom or messing with presets.
  • It’s nice having USB-C for charging/data.
  • The flip-down screen doesn’t really register with me one way or the other. It works the way I like it to work for shooting at waist level or getting down low with a subject.
  • I like the new Classic Negative film preset.
  • I appreciate the very simple, vintage look of the camera. With a relatively small “Fujicron” lens like the 23mm/f2 or either of the 35s, it’s unobtrusive. I don’t mind walking around with it downtown. I’ve had one bystander say “oh, wow, a FILM camera!”

Oh … one thing I do not like at all:

The clarity setting makes the camera spend about two seconds saving each image. I can’t believe reviewers have missed this, especially since they’re usually rhapsodizing about how they’re finally free to just shoot without thinking about their tool. With clarity turned on, every. shot. takes. two. seconds. to. save. You lose the viewfinder, the camera is locked up, and you’re just waiting. It’s very poor. I hope they fix that soon.

Otherwise, you know …. it’s a good camera. I like it. It’s a little switch from the X-T2, and it feels a lot like my X100F, except chunkier, and with interchangeable lenses, and with weather-proofing. I’ve been taking it out with me every day.

At the same time, I wouldn’t recommend it to many people. Like I said, it’s sort of reactionary and it likes behaving like a throwback. Most of the high-end Fujis are like that, but it’s extra like that. I’d fit it into the matrix thus:

  • Learned on manual cameras/rangefinders, miss the feel of that or just like having your controls visible at a glance: X-Pro3
  • Learned on SLRs/DSLRs, prefer more manual control, want to be able to easily preview images or look at settings, advanced photographer: X-T3
  • Interested in taking nice pictures, want to be able to pick up and shoot or hand the camera to a less advanced photographer, prefer a little more automation: X-T30, X-E3
  • Learned on manual/rangefinder cameras, like the rangefinder feel, don’t mind a fixed lens: X100F

Personally, I’d probably consider the X-T30 or X-E3, and actually think those are more appropriate for my skill level, but they’re not weather resistant and that’s sort of important in Portland in the winter. I am willing to sit in the rain to get a good picture, and my camera has to be able to do that with me.

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