7.08.2016

Thoughts about the two, new Fuji Cameras: The XT-2 and the X Pro-2. And some personal history...

©Kirk Tuck. Not a Fuji Photograph.

I'll start this blog out by saying that I was very early adopter of Fuji's digital cameras having purchased the DS-300 all the way back in 1998. That camera was configured like a bigger, consumer point-and-shoot camera and it NO rear screen, just a small, monochrome screen on top for changing settings. 

The camera was aimed at the professional market and it delivered 1.3 million pixels (1280X1000) from its 2/3rd inch, CCD sensor. The fixed lens was a zoom with a 35-105mm range (equivalent) and the camera wrote its files to a huge, 16 megabyte PC card. You could use an RCA plug to attach a television if you want to quickly review your shots. That would be an SD television....

The camera came complete with an RX-232C interface but if you really wanted to speed up file transfers, etc. you could buy a "grip" attachment that would give you a full sized SCSI connector. All viewing was done through a smallish optical viewfinder. There was no way to preview your shots, something we take for granted now some 18 years later...

Were we able to do "professional" work with this camera? Well, as I write this I recall a job we did for Motorola a week or two after getting the camera. We took our lighting gear and the new camera and a small television set (with which to review our images) and we headed to the Renaissance Hotel in north Austin. We set up an impromptu studio in the grand and glorious lobby (so fresh back then) and took portraits of arriving attendees for one of Motorola's big, Horizon customer events. Out of the 1200 or so attendees we probably made portraits of 300 of them during the day. Some people declined and some got tired of waiting in line. It didn't matter.

The goal of the giant portrait shoot was to provide content for another part of the show. The event company was constructing towers of rotating 12x12 inch boxes that would constitute a bordering line along each side of the walk-in path to the main event of the show. Each "tower" consisted of a pole about ten feet tall with cubes (like pieces of meat on a shish kabob skewer) from about four feet high up to the top. The cubes could rotate freely and people could spin them around to see all four sides as they walked along the red carpet and into the grand ballroom for the start of the first session.

Every side of each cube (but not the tops or bottoms) was covered with a photo that was borderless and sized to fit the cube face exactly. The display consisted of about 250 cube faces and the production company estimated that we'd need to print 125 edited images X 2 (on set for each side of the aisle. We would need to edit down, process and print 250 images on 13 by 19 inch paper, trim them to size, and deliver them by 5 am (overnight) to make the deadline of having the prints installed and ready to go at 9am the next morning for the opening of the show. 

At the time that was a lot of prints to push through an ink jet print workflow. 

We shot images until 4pm and then fought the traffic back to the studio where we had set up two workstations with an Epson wide carriage printer attached to each. We had also stocked in 300 sheets of heavy, matte surface, 13 by 19 inkjet paper and hundreds and hundreds of dollars of ink cartridges. 

My assistant and I got straight to work color correcting and enhancing the files and then pushing them through a program called "Genuine Fractals" to enlarge them to 12 inches on the short side. The color correction step was critical as the camera DID NOT have raw files and the color science of the early cameras was not as advanced as it is today. The files enlarged pretty well and we made our deadline. The images were rotating on their sticks in the morning. We filled a large trash can with reject prints and the edges of the keepers that had been cropped off. The clients were ecstatic and we were well paid.

My next experience with Fuji digital cameras was with the S2 camera which used the first in a long line of non-standard, Fuji sensors. It was basically a six megapixel camera (based on a Nikon N80 film camera) that had an interpolation scheme that yielded a (faux) 12 megapixel file and more dynamic range. The files worked well and looked good but the body was a bit of a melange and used two different battery types that were famous for alternating their untimely expirations. The most elegant of the Fuji clan of "professional" camera were the S5 cameras which finally used a single battery, did not corrupt CF cards with anywhere near the frequency of previous bodies, and which had the same, basic, good looking files. These cameras were the mainstream,  preferred portrait cameras for many. 

For the most part my experiences with the later Fuji cameras were very positive. I have fond memories of shooting golf courses and trash dumps while leaning out of helicopters with my Fujis. They were good imaging tools for the early days of digital imaging. You could have a career with several of them and a box of Nikon lenses. 

Which brings us up to about three years ago and the launch of the X Pro-1. As a long, long time Leica shooter I loved the idea of the X-Pro-1. It seemed that people in Fuji marketing and Fuji product design had conspired to create a camera that spoke to the hearts of M Leica users. I was enthralled and, when the call came, I rushed to my local dealer to try out the new camera and a few of the cool new lenses that were just surfacing. 

The first disappointment was when I pulled the camera to my eye, saw the blurry viewfinder and starting looking around to find a diopter adjustment. Which did not exist. Oh, you could (theoretically) order a screw on diopter and wait for it to arrive but that's never a good option. I tried to overlook this set back and pushed on to try to find things to love about the camera. But the focusing was as mushy as the uncorrected viewfinder. And the camera shut down a couple of times while I played with it. I handed it back to the clerk and resolved to press on with the (many) cameras I already had in inventory.

I resisted the siren song of the mirrorless Fuji cameras even though a number of my friends raved about the quality of the lenses and people like Zack Arias gushed endlessly about the Xt-1. A representative from Fuji's cinema division came into town and arranged a meeting with me when the XT-1 was just hitting the market. We had coffee and he put the camera in my hands to play with for a while but I was unconvinced. While the camera felt great in my hands the interface was a bit strange and the lower resolution, compared to the cameras I was currently shooting, felt like a step backwards for me, even though I knew it was purely and emotional response.

More great lenses came on to the market and from time to time I would look at the primes wistfully, all the while trying to grapple with the AF mysteries of my Nikon D810 as well as the recalls of my Nikon D750s.

When the Fuji X-Pro-2 came out I had just sold off the Nikons and moved to Sony full frame and APS-C cameras (along with the quite virtuous RX10 cameras) and I was resistant to even touching the new Fuji for feat that it would induce post cognitive dissonance, and that my faithful readers would finally draw the line at what could only appear as a blatantly promiscuous un-faithfulness in my camera  buying adventures. And I get tired of being labeled a fanboy of more than one camera system in any one fiscal year.

But I did go to Precision Camera in Austin, Texas and hold one in my very own hands. Fuji got so much right and so little wrong with the X-pro-2. I was shocked at how improved this camera was over its predecessor. The 35mm f2.0 and the 35mm f1.4 are both purported to be amazingly good 50mm equivalent lenses and the lens range overall is continuing to expand. While I am happy with the Sony A7x cameras in my current inventory I'm not sure I would have made the same call if the Fuji had been on the market at the same time ---- my upgrade may have gone in a different direction.

Now, for the past 36 hours, the photo press has been hemorrhaging information and photographs of the new XT-2 and I must admit that it's a gorgeous camera body. It has just enough nostalgic reference to remind me of the cameras that were on the market when I first got interested in the sublime art of photography. I've been reading the specs on site after site and I see so much that I might really like and take advantage of. Things like the film looks and the physical control interfaces. I was miffed when I first learned that the new camera had 4K video but no headphone jack until I learned that, like the Olympus OMD EM-5.2, the headphone jack is incorporated in a battery grip. That worked well when I shot the Olympus cameras in video so I can't argue with the logic of doing the same in the Fuji. After all, if you shoot video professionally the addition of an extra power source is a zero brain decision.

To say it straight out, if I had nary a camera in the house and I had about $10,000 cash banging around in my pocket, and I had a Texas sized hankering for a new camera system instead of a used car or a bottle of good wine, like a Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grand Cru, Cote de Nuits, France, I'm of the mindset today that I would probably piece together an all prime lens system that revolves around the X-pro-2. It's an irrational choice because I am involved in video projects and the XT-2 has more advanced video features and the potential to have really good color in the files. But it's the body style of the X-pro-2 that interests me the most. The camera's style is a charming nod to the old rangefinder cameras while harboring really solid imaging capabilities. 

Alas, for the near term I don't think Fuji will be able to wrest the money from my hands and seal any sort of deal. While the lure of sexy product design is tempting I've had too many occasions to actually use the massive imaging power of the Sony A7R2 and it would take a lot of convincing from some camp to make me give that up. I've also shot commercially successful video with the A7x bodies, the a6300 body and the two RX10 cameras and while the Fuji might take really great images I have to remind myself that my business doesn't really exist in that fantasy universe of perfect prime lenses. I might imagine myself marching into a job with a single, faux rangefinder body and three exquisite single focal length lenses but a quick think back to my last 50 jobs quickly shows me how important my various Sony zooms are and how little use I get from most of my prime lenses, in the real world where I work.  I do get good use from my 85-135 range but more and more I reach for the 70-200mm f4.0 Sony zoom just because it's so easy to get exact framing, get everything wicked sharp, have enhanced I.S. and be able to fall back on eye detect AF. 

The Fuji cameras would be my throw back fantasy cameras while my Sonys are everyday working cameras. At least that's my point of view today. But you know that around here camera choices can turn on a dime. If only the A7R2 wasn't so damn good!!!

I will say that the Fuji cameras are going to be mean competition for Nikon and Canon when a whole new generation of buyers goes camera shopping and they arrive without all the baggage and preconceptions of what my generation thinks "pro" cameras should be... Almost makes me think that in five years the real competition will be Fuji versus Sony with Canon hanging on in third place. Weirder things have happened, just ask Kodak.


17 comments:

Ken said...

Good morning Kirk. I can't remember if your Leica M days were personal, professional or both. I find that nostalgia is a powerful force, but more often than not executing based on it never resurrects the original joy. That being said, I'm sure you could duplicate your M system with the X-Pro 2 and enjoy that as your personal system and keep your smartly integrated Sony system for work. That wouldn't work for everyone, but you've proven that you can easily bounce between multiple systems.

joel_richards said...

I don't have nearly the history you do with the brand but my thoughts are similar. If I hadn't already gotten into the Sony system so heavily I'd be switching to Fuji although at this point Sony has so many excellent (albeit pricey) primes for the FE line up. If only they'd put an updated A7R2 in a rangefinder style body...

Dave Jenkins said...

Stick around, folks. You know where this is going.

Kirk, just get the X-Pro-2 and head for Italy for a month or two to refresh your eye and your life. Then show us the pix and tell us all about it.

Dave Jenkins said...

There are work cameras and there are fun cameras. They don't have to be the same.

Kirk Tuck said...

Ah, Dave. I would love to head to Italy for a month with any camera but I'm in that unenviable period of life where I am funding the boy's college education and also looking after two ailing parents. I'm pretty sure most here already know this situation and, if they don't, they will eventually. Impoverished by education and anchored by filial duty... What a richly woven fabric is life...

Kepano Kekuewa said...

Our camera acquisition patterns have been similar over the years, though I stuck with Nikon as my primary stills platform throughout, that is, up until a couple of months ago. Renting an a6300 for a job, I found a modern mirrorless that met most of my needs - very good/fast AF, good low light performance, compact, video capable, etc. Then, I decided to give Fuji another look when the X-Pro2 was launched. Long story short, Nikons will continue to be sold off and replaced by Fuji for my stills work. Sony has earned and kept its place in my lineup for video.

Unknown said...

Kirk -

I had a lot of problems with the Leica M’s first entry into the digital world, some electronic, some, oddly enough, mechanical. Probably because of the similarities to the Leica, essentially the built-in bright-line finder, I slowly transferred from Leica to Fuji, initially the Fuji X100s and XPro 1. The 100 had the limitations of a fixed, single focal length lens and the XPro was a little sluggish in its operation. While the X100s stayed on as a street camera, the XPro got replaced by X2’s with my old Leica bright line finders in the accessory shoes. Sounds silly, but it worked supplemented with XT-1’s for studio work and longer lens portraiture. I’ve added an XPro 2 to the tribe, and, so far so good.

But I don’t do video. I used to, a long time ago when it was called “motion pictures” and we used film; so, I have just enough knowledge to say that I don’t think you would be happy with Fuji as a motion picture camera.

And I don’t see any reason to prefer Fuji over Sony as a still camera. I have too many associates who use Sony successfully for stills. One friend, a long time Magnum member, is an absolute Sony addict and has been for years. I know the difficult conditions he has worked under and the excellent technical quality of even his large prints. I love Fuji, but if you ever have the desire to switch from Sony to Fuji, just buy some Cosina bright line finders and shove them in the accessory shoes of your Sonys.

Bill Pierce

Derrick said...

Hi Kirk, I'm just an amateur having fun making images and my comment is that you know you deserve a camera for personal use. Get an XP2 and 2 primes and be done with it. I have the Sony A7R2 and XP2 and really just prefer using the XP2. Best regards. Derrick

John Krill said...

Nikon's big mistake is not taking their own DX cameras seriously. Sure you have the D7000 series and now the D500 but what about primes lenses for the DX cameras? And don't tell me to go out and waste money on FX lenses. No Nikon had their chance and wasted it. Now others will take Nikon's place.

I still have my D5100 which is a very nice all around camera. But I waited for 8 years for Nikon to make some wide angle primes. Hasn't happened and probably never will.

Kirk Tuck said...

I very much agree that Nikon missed the boat with their DX cameras and lenses. They started thinking of it as a legacy system rather than an ongoing system and until they get some monster good, fast primes pushed out for that format it will not be taken seriously by advanced photographers. And I say this while actually being a big fan of the 7100 and 7200 camera bodies.

David Enzel said...

This is a great post and an interesting discussion. It's very nice to see Bill Pierce weigh in. I'd like to share my perspective as a non-professional. I own what to me is a lot of Canon bodies and lenses (APS C censors). The Canon gear hasn't been out in years and I really have no desire to take it out. I want something lighter. I have been debating what to buy. Sony makes the best censors in the world and it's cameras are nice. The full frame sensor models are too much money for me. I love street photography but when I travel I sometimes want something longer. The Sony A6300 and good lenses end up being quite heavy. Maybe not as heavy as a Canon 80D and good lenses but to my mind not all that much smaller. I was really tempted by the XT2 but once I learned that 4K video is limited to ten minutes without the battery pack I lost interest. I agree with Kirk that this is reasonable choice for Fuji to make but the body at that point is larger than I would like. I also considered the Sony RX10iii but don't think it would leave home much. Today I ordered the Panasonic LUMIX GX85. It is the right size for me. It has a touch screen, which I now expect thanks to my iPhone. I can supplement my photographs with a little 4K video. I ordered a consumer grade 100-300 mm lens so I have light lens with considerable reach when I need it. The body is only available with a kit zoom but I will probably add a fast 35mm equivalent lens. The whole package will fit in a small bag and won't break the bank. The Fuji XT2 is a flagship camera but I really doubt Fuji has its sites set on Canon, Nikon or Sony. But I do think Fuji is after the artisans, whether professional or not. To my mind the apt comparison is Leica, not Sony. Fuji is a bargain compared with Leica.

Daniel Walker said...

What focal length do you like best for food shots with natural lighting?

ODL Designs said...

That is a lovely portrait of your wife Kirk!!

Fuji is working hard to win new customers, as all the smaller marker share players do. One has to applaud ideas like using their grip as a charger etc.

Really I sometimes feel the tools are fast outstripping the talent :)

AstraWlad said...

Hello, Kirk! First of all, I want to thank you for a brilliant blog. I'm visiting it for some years now and it was always a great pleasure to read.

But regarding the Fuji system question I'm a bit curious: have you ever considered it's 16-55/2.8 and 50-140/2.8 zoom lenses? They are just brilliant and the longer one is in par with prime lenses in it's IQ. So, there is no need to have a bunch of primes, just take X-T2 body with said zooms and you will have all your bases covered (and for a much less cost than with Sony hyper-expensive Zeiss and G-line glass).

For a photo hobbyist like me it's a very appealing deal.

Jim Tardio said...

Like Nikon missing the boat with their DX line, Sony is doing the same thing with its E-Mount/APS-C lenses. They've given us a hodgepodge of frustrating focal lengths...really, a 20mm (30mm eq)? Sony branded lenses, Zeiss branded lenses, Batis lenses?

You know the a6300 could be killer with a good line of pancake-type lenses. I use one with the 3 Sigma lenses, and that works...but if Sony would give me full-frame equals of a 21, 35 & 90mm lens line up, I think they'd have a hard system to beat then.

Anonymous said...

a great combo is an Xpro 2 + 35 f2 (and the upcoming) 23 f2, the size is just perfect, larger primes or lenses just dont feel as good, and this is - as you put it - my "throwback camera".

However, I already bought the 18-135 zoom (mainly for video) and 50-140 2.8 n anticipation of the XT2, not only is the 50-140 2.8 great for bread and butter portraits, but Fuji's image stabilisation is insanely rock solid for video. These lenses have the latest generation of Fuji OIS and racked out to the 200mm equivalent it is as good as the olympus 5-axis in my eyes. I can hold a still photo down to 1/8th at 200mm whilst I can make 200mm footage look virtually tripod based with a quick post-stabilisng in fcpx.

I had the Xt1 but sold it way back because of the terrible video and am currently using a D810 for my bread and butter, thought of just using the xpro2 as my "vanity" camera but the quality of the files and improvements on a whole have got me considering to slowly transition to fuji for full time work and relegate the D810 to situations when i need maximum dynamic range and shallow depth of field.

just some food for thought ~

REP96st said...

There were discussions where pros were saying that Canon wasn't worried about Sony or Nikon, but they were seriously concerned about Fujifilm.

The XT2 is about to stir the pot again, just like the XT1 did, but it's now added a better sensor and 4K. And 10 minutes of 4K is better than the high end latest from Nikon.