More on the X-Pro3, which has done as it should and largely disappeared

When I first got the X-Pro3, I wondered if I was going to have that nagging “oh, this wasn’t the right thing” feeling I’ve had over the years when a camera doesn’t quite click with me.

Back in my point-and-shoot days, it was with Canon’s followup to one of the Powershot S-series. In my early dSLR days, it was Pentax’s followup to the K10D, and then the Nikon 5000. Back on the point-and-shoot side, it took about a week to decide the Fuji XF10 was largely a dud.

I had some grist for that potential mill: I was bothered by the precious “distraction-free” marketing. I was bothered by the reviews from the gate-keepery “at last, a remedy for those chimpers” people. I honestly didn’t know whether that hidden rear display would prove to feel like an impediment. And, I guess, for as much as I love the compact rangefinder form factor of the Fujifilm X100 series, I wasn’t sure if I’d love it as much on a larger camera with interchangeable lenses.

It was a new camera, though, so I spent a few minutes getting my Peak Design messenger bag into shape as a daily commuter, and I have been carrying the X-Pro3 into work every single day in January. I’ve also made sure to grab it on the way out the door for a lot of neighborhood walks and errands.

The camera has, after a month of regular use and closing in on 1200 exposures, largely disappeared, which is exactly what it’s supposed to do.

Disappearance in practice

With my X-T2, I had already gone down the path of reviewing shots through the electronic viewfinder (EVF). After releasing the shutter, I get a .5 second full-screen preview of the image and that’s enough to make sure a car that may have passed between me and the subject didn’t make it into the frame. Since I don’t review on the rear screen, the idea of it being hidden was already half okay.

On the settings side, which is the other reason people might want easier access to the rear screen, it has been a slightly more gradual adjustment. I didn’t realize how much I tended to fiddle with settings in the field until it took a more conscious action to get at them. The act of experimenting with a new camera, though, sort of pointed the way to a change of habit, anyhow.

Part of taking the camera to work every day included taking a lot of opportunities to take the long way to the Max stop, or getting out at lunch and using the hour to shoot in the neighborhood around work. Because I was trying to get to know how the new features worked and what the new settings meant, I’d usually take a moment to set the camera up before heading out, and I’d largely stick with those settings over the course of a session because I wanted a varied set of images using a new feature.

I also recently decided that I prefer to shoot RAW/JPEG, capturing both a JPEG image that will have all the in-camera settings applied, and a RAW image I can work with more easily in Lightroom later. So some experimentation is just as easily done in post as it is out in the field, especially since Lightroom can apply all of Fujifilm’s film simulations. A dual workflow like that creates a small management challenge, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate it when past me decided to shoot RAW and left me with a digital negative to work with.

Finally, I use all seven preset slots in the camera. Most of my presets center around basic variations on shadow and highlight tone, plus a pair I can go to for either vivid, high-“pop” images, or more muted and even neutral ones that offer more malleable images. Knowing I have a RAW exposure as a fallback makes it easier to do that.

So, abetted by the workflow I’ve landed on and up-front camera configuration, I do think the hidden rear screen has had a subtle shaping effect on my behavior. I go into settings less when out shooting, and when I do I tend to just cycle between my presets through the EVF instead of fiddling with detailed settings.

One area where the camera has not completely disappeared has been moving between modes. I still don’t know where the “drive” button is by touch, so I have to flip open the display and find the drive button to cycle between the single exposure and HDR modes, for instance. That’s not too bad: Drive is the last setting I tend to use or need to change mid-session.

The front-loaded workflow experience

An observation I and others made about some of the new settings in the X-Pro3 (Chrome Blue, clarity, HDR, white balance shifts included in presets) was that Fujifilm has moved a few things people often do in post into the camera. The in-camera clarity and chrome blue settings, in particular, are things I’d typically apply in Lightroom. Now that they’re in-camera, I’ve managed to get rid of a few presets I used to use in post.

That’s had a good effect on the images I “finish,” because Fujifilm’s output is more subtle than I tend to come up with for myself when I’m on the train home and working on an image in mobile Lightroom. The combination of the chrome blue setting with the Classic Chrome film simulation, for instance, gives me a more pleasing, even image than a preset I had been using for years. I still like to experiment in Lightroom, but it has been interesting to go back to images a few days after I’ve shared them and realize that I’m largely toning down changes I made on a small screen, and bringing the image closer to what the camera gave me in the first place.

It has been a little interesting to go through that shift, because I’ve felt very protective of people who are fine with presets in general. Instagram made the practice common, and I still sometimes swipe through the Instagram presets before I post an image, simply to see if much has changed. For a long while, I was also using a range of VSCO’s presets, which are usually a bit more subtle than Instagram’s.

When I read gatekeepers complaining about that kind of thing, I brushed it off: People sneer at “photoshopping” or filters, but I think sometimes that’s because those things result in a garish, distracting image that’s easily spotted as having been worked a little too hard, or made a little too maudlin. But photographers and photo editors have always intervened somewhere between the film and the print. No darkroom is complete without filters and paddles to shape the tones and exposure of the image as the paper sits under the light. Going closer to the moment of capture, there are many, many film stocks that all have effects subtle and profound on the final image, and there are ways to work with those individual film stocks that change their behavior. And at the moment of capture the photographer has weighed in on “reality” with aperture and shutter speed, or choosing where to stand in relationship to the subject, or choosing where the subject lies in the frame. Shooting with a zoom, or zooming with your feet, a human captured in an image can become the emotional center of a story playing out in 1/125 of a second, or they can become a prop offered for scale in a picture of a tourist landmark.

And today, with smartphones making pretty good cameras accessible to more people, some people want to capture images that reflect a consensus view of what is pretty, profound, or beautiful. Other people are simply documenting their lives and trying to communicate something about the meaning of the images they’re capturing. When I see a heavily applied preset meant to suggest a faded Polaroid snapshot, I am more inclined these days to think, “this preset means ‘timeless’ and ‘nostalgic,’ and that’s what they want me to know about this moment,” than I am to think “this filter crushed the shadows.”

I’m saying all that because while I feel protective of people who use a lot of filters, or sort of clunky HDR tools, or more obvious preset modes, and believe we should simply respect them as artists in their own right, who are making their own choices about their creative output. At the same time, as a matter of efficiency and my own changing taste, I appreciate that the X-Pro3 has been nudging me toward spending less time swiping through filters or playing around with presets. I’ve discovered a few in Lightroom that pair nicely with certain Fujifilm simulations, and I have one preset that simply does the first three things I do to any image. I have a lot of presets and simulations I’ve picked up over the years that I may now remove from Lightroom so that I have less visual clutter when I want to get to my one “punch this up” preset, which I sometimes reconsider and undo after the initial share for small-screen media is past.

Another interesting part of having all that stuff in the camera is the way it creates a sort of augmented reality experience when shooting with the EVF. I put on a pair of AirPods, set them to Transparency mode so I can hear environmental sounds, put on some downtempo, and for the duration of the session I’m half in consensus reality, with its particular tones and shades, and half in the reality of the images I’m making, and their particular slant on what I saw. Those things have turned my sessions into a pretty special time of day that’s just mine: No demands for my attention or emotional energy, and just a few minutes a day where I can operate under a set of rules that demand not much more than simple human decency.

As I type that out, and think about why I started typing—to share my experiences and impressions about a camera—I realize I could be saying this about any camera provided it has done its job and largely faded from my consciousness except as a constrained set of controls to manipulate. The XPro-3 has done that, and it has also made it easier to think less about the images at all—or to make fewer choices about them after capture, anyhow. So while I could be writing all this about any number of cameras I have never used, or cameras I have used and loved in the past, I am definitely writing this about the XPro-3.

Fujifilm X100V specs are out. If you’re on the premium camera market it looks good.

Fujifilm X100V Full Specs Leaked – Fuji Rumors

Looks like the X100V has most of all of the in-camera goodness we got in the X-Pro3, but with a more standard tilt screen and a fixed lens. People who have compared specs say it doesn’t look like weather resistance made it in, so I’m not super interested.

Hot take: The X-Pro3 is my weather-resistant rangefinder style replacement for my X100F. I waited two years to make the switch to a replaceable lens rangefinder that could survive a Portland winter. If you’re not the type to sit out in the rain waiting for a shot, I’ll just note that the X100 series is otherwise a delight, and that it was an X100S that rekindled my interest in photography.

If you came up on the orthodox “nifty fifty” lens, the X100’s wideish 23mm lens (35mm in film/full-frame sensor terms) takes a little getting used to, but once it clicks you pretty much have a camera that does a little of everything and doesn’t take up much space.

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.

Tools for Playing with Fujifilm Film Presets


A while back I found a really interesting blog post by Peter Evans on using Fujifilm film simulations to emulate the look of famous photographers. It was interesting as a study in using digital technology to reconstruct some of the elements of each photographer’s style, but also because it helped my understanding of the highlight and shadow tone settings gel.

The film simulations are one of my favorite parts of shooting with my Fujifilm cameras, and I love the way the highlight and shadow tone settings can dramatically affect the mood of a photo without needing to do much in Lightroom.

The one frustration I’ve had has been that it’s hard to reconstruct the JPEG output of the X-T2 or X100F when working in Lightroom: You can set the film simulation for a RAW image, but the shadow and highlight tone settings don’t really have direct analogs. You also have to manually set the film simulation. It doesn’t show up in the import. Instead, you get the usual flat, sorta lifeless RAW output to begin with. I’ve found two things to help with that:

  • Exploring Exposure has a free Fujifilm presets download that includes shadow and highlight tone bumps. If nothing else, it’s a point from which you can start exploring.

  • Lightroom Solutions has X-LR, which applies the film simulation you were using when you shot an image to the image in Lightroom automatically. It’s a good way to bulk change your images at the top of your workflow.

Learning How the Settings Work

You can always experiment with the different simulations and settings, but that means fiddling around in the field and relying on a tiny display to preview the effect your settings have.

Fujifilm’s RAW Studio software makes it possible to experiment on a big screen by processing images on a hard drive using a tethered X-T2 or X100F: You can load a RAW from the hard drive, tweak the settings you have access to in the camera, then save a JPEG using the camera’s processor. It’s not that different from using the camera’s own built-in JPEG conversion functions (press the “Q” button while viewing an image), but you have the benefit of being able to do it on a large screen to get a better sense of how film simulation, sharpness, noise reduction, and highlight/shadow tone work with each other.

Some Notes on My Fujifilm Lens Collection

I promised an email to a friend about my Fujifilm X-mount lenses, but figured I might as well blog about them and include a few samples.

Prior to buying an X-T2, I usually had a general-purpose zoom of some kind (18-200mm) plus a prime or two (35 or 50mm) .

My couple of years with a Fujifilm X100S got me back in a prime lens mood, and most days when I’m picking something to walk around with, I’ll go with a prime. I have a single zoom, and when I’m carrying a bag with a few lenses in it, it’s usually one of them.

When I bought my X-T2, I started collecting lenses in earnest. I think I might sell a few of these now that I understand them all better, so there’s some overlap in the collection.

I’m not going to talk a lot about the technical characteristics of these lenses. To my eyes, they’re all pretty sharp and nice. Whether they’re weather resistant matters to me because I live in Portland, and then it’s down to how well my brain works with a given focal length. As a somewhat shy shooter, I don’t start feeling comfortable with walking around lenses until 35mm or so.

If I had to name a favorite out of the bunch … a desert island lens, I guess … I’d probably go with the 35mm/f2. It’s sharp, weather resistant, small, and versatile. I’ve used it for street, portraits, and landscapes. It’s not as hard to fill as the wider lenses, and the only thing I’ve got that’s tighter is the 56mm portrait lens, which isn’t versatile and isn’t weather resistant.

I guess I’ll do this wide to close.

Rokinon 12mm/f2

I love this lens. It produces really sharp images and it’s fairly small and light. It’s a manual focus lens. On the X-T2 I use focus peaking, which outlines the in-focus parts of the image in red.

My one hangup about this lens is that it’s not weather resistant, so it doesn’t come outdoors much during the winter or in rainy weather.

Camp 18

Fujifilm 16mm/f1.4 WR

Kind of love-hate with this lens. It’s very fast and sharp, but it sits in a weird spot for me. Since it’s weather resistant I’ve carried it around more readily in the winter than the Rokinon, but it’s awfully close to my 18-135 zoom, or 23mm/f2, which are also weather resistant.

Sunset at the Steel Bridge

A quick search tells me I’ve put about 900 shots through it, and I can see where I’m still trying to figure it out. It’s so close to the Rokinon on one side, and so close to the 18-135mm zoom on the other that I’m not sure what to do with it. I’ve got a few landscape ideas I’d like to try out, but I get the feeling I’m going to sell it.

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Fujifilm 23mm/f2 WR

As a 35mm full-frame equivalent, I suppose this is the classic street photography focal length. I like that it’s small, light, unobtrusive, and weather resistant. I struggle a little with filling the frame with it because I’m not fond of getting up on subjects. On the other hand, the 24MP sensor on the X-T2 means I’ve got plenty of room to crop.

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This is the same focal length as the lense on the X100 series. Curiously, I’m pretty happy with 23mm on those cameras because it’s versatile: Landscapes, environmental portraits, general purpose street stuff, etc. But when I’m shooting with an X100 I’m in a different frame of mind, too: It’s a small camera for snapshots. I’m in a pretty informal frame of mind when I’m shooting with it. When I have the X-T2 along, I’m thinking differently and I’m probably carrying a bag with a few other lenses along.

Fujifilm 35mm/f2 WR

Next up from the 23mm, another small, weather resistant lens at the classic 50mm (“nifty fifty”) full-frame equivalent focal length. I think this is my favorite walking around lens. It does a little bit of everything, and I love just carrying it around.

Portland Women's March at the Hawthorne Bridge

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Fujifilm 56mm/f1.2

Hm. I bought this for portraits, and I’ve used it for portraits. I haven’t taken many portraits. It’s fast and sharp. I’ve read people who use it for street photography, but it’s a pretty big lens and I’m averse to taking things onto the street that will read as “fancy and big, it must be serious” vs. “little camera that isn’t serious.”

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Ben

Anyhow, I’m glad I’ve got it even if it doesn’t see a ton of use. It’s a niche lens for a niche purpose. Once I get around to shooting more people, it’ll see more use.

Fujifilm 18-135mm/f3.5-56 WR OIS

My sole zoom. I usually have it along when I’m carrying more than one lens, and I like to have it for travel in situations where I don’t care to swap lenses around. Since it’s weather resistant, I don’t mind taking it all sorts of places.

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Since it’s image stabilized, it’s good for indoor shooting despite being relatively slow.

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The image stabilization is pretty nice. This was shot at pretty high ISO (6400) and very low shutter speed (1/20):

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Not tack sharp, but pretty usable. When I think back to ISO 1600 on my old Pentax K100d, which had in-body stabilization, I’m pretty happy with the results.

I thought 135mm would feel like a compromise, because I had a 200mm zoom for my Nikon D5000. So far, though, I’ve been pretty happy. I haven’t felt limited or frustrated, and when I review what I shot with the 200mm zoom on my Nikon, fewer than a fifth of my shots ever exceeded 135mm. The majority were shot somewhere between 50mm and 135mm.

I had a 50-200mm zoom for my Pentax K100D, and a lot more of my shots were taken at 200mm, but that includes a wedding where I used the long focal length to keep way out of the reception and shoot from the edges. That was the first time I’d ever shot a lot of people, and I was very uncomfortable with the experience. Since then, I’ve loosened up a little: If I’ve been invited to take people pictures, I don’t hang back as much. I also tend to give the subjects a little more room in the frame for a more environmental portrait sort of effect.

Oh, the Lensbabys: Sweet 35, Sweet 50, Edge 50

I bought a Lensbaby Optical Composer plus some lens elements for it. It’s pretty fun to shoot with now and then. They’re all manual, and Lensbaby is a weird shooting experience in general, and it’s not weather resistant, so I don’t play with it much anymore. At the same time, it’s a fun creative toy so I’m keeping it around.

Lensbaby