I was originally put off of Fuji cameras for a number of reasons: They seemed to have a cultish following and I'm always on guard against joining cults. The early Fuji cameras I shot with (S2, S3, S5) were decidedly glitchy and very memory card sensitive. Fuji cameras previous to the X-Pro2, the X-T3 and the X-H1 always felt less solid and more prone to operational weirdness than the products I was used to from Canon and Nikon.
My take on my favorite two Fuji cameras, the X-H1 and the X-Pro2, is not based on fact but on my perception of their evolution. I think that Fuji made these cameras as an expression of what they could do which other companies would not do. I feel, from reading Fuji's literature, that the X-H1, in particular, was built almost entirely by hand with no compromise in materials, finishing and engineering. It seems to me that the company produced the finest camera they could build from the materials and processors of the moment and then have relentlessly improved it, via firmware upgrades, wherever they had the opportunity. Thicker metal, sturdier lens mount and a shutter that Leica should be jealous of.
I owned both an X-T3 and an X-E3 before I finally bought Fuji's idea of a perfect hybrid video/still camera; the X-H1. I thought I'd use the cameras interchangeably but after several weeks of intensive use I was so enamored with the feel and obvious build quality of the X-H1 that I stuck the other cameras in a drawer and went out and purchased two more X-H1 bodies. That came in handy when we used all three bodies on a recent video shoot....
I have two ideas that feed off each other bouncing around in my mind. The first is about the idea of sufficiency (thanks for the word, Ming!); the idea that camera imaging technology has hit a point, a plateau maybe, at which most popular cameras are more than good enough for almost every photographic task, and that any improvements from here on out will be incremental. And I mean "tiny" increments. If you've bought a camera in the last five years I doubt you'll be any better served by the newer model in the same line. Sure, it may have more "features" and attendant menu complexity, but where the photons hit the printing paper any actual image quality improvement will be negligible.
The second idea I have has to do with most modern manufactured appliances and tools, and that is that each successive generation of devices will sacrifice actual mechanical quality and expensive hand tooling while "compensating" consumers with more gratuitous menu items and silly software driven add-ons. The analogy in the field of cars is the ongoing switch from metal to plastic composites in everything from body panels to basic mechanical parts. The plastic panels and cogs are cheaper and easier to make and have moved from long tenure service over into the "easy to replace" column. In every evolution something seems to get lost. It may be that a close mechanical tolerance is replaced by a bit of software that "auto-corrects" a deficiency caused by the loss of the precision. The software fix (think lens correction!) may be invisible in most situations, to most consumers, but a true aficionado will likely miss the precision and better feel of the product and mourn the loss.
When confronted by the X-H1 I almost immediately perceived the camera to be a classically over engineered product. One on which the designers and engineers went over and above what was necessary in order to build a camera that delivers so many intangible pluses that it boggles the mind. It is the antithesis of the first two generations of Sony A7 series cameras I used which felt primitive and built as if they were held together with tape and school house glue.
I sense that Fuji was trying for a breakout with the X-H1 line. To engineer a camera that, in its finished iteration, would go toe-to-toe with the finest professional cameras like the Nikon D5 and the Canon 1DXIII. The camera was let down, not mechanically but in its operational software. Its bios, its instruction sets. I was lucky to come to the camera late, after many firmware upgrades had already been introduced. I saw the camera as closer to a finished product than the "train wreck" that many online reviewer seem to have experienced at its launch.
The early bad press, and a consumer obsession with small size and light weight, cost the camera initial momentum in the market but when the price dropped to $1299, with the battery grip and three batteries, the camera became a 2019 sensation.
I sensed, rightly or wrongly, that having made a premium, physically intriguing camera only to be shot down by consumers might push Fuji to move further and further into the direction of producing well spec'd but more soul deficient cameras like the X-T3 (before you get your panties in a bunch remember that I still have mine....it does good work, it just doesn't stand out) instead of making less compromising products like the X-H1 and also the X-Pro2. It was the idea that the X-H1 might be pulled from the market as a failure that led me to buy the extra two bodies. That, and a tightly held belief that no professional photographer goes into an assignment without an identical back up camera (and enough lenses whose focal lengths overlap...). I had, in my mind, found a camera with which to enjoy this particular plateau and I was determined not to have it discontinued before I could assure myself of enough back ups to shoot it for a year or two to come.
When I first picked up an X-Pro2 it felt light and less substantial than an X-H1 with battery grip. It was only after researching the complexity of the optical view finder + EVF that I started to understand how beautifully engineered that camera was. I've spent several days shooting the X-Pro2 and it brought back all the good memories (and none of the bad memories) of shooting with bright line, rangefinder cameras. Although the X-Pro2 doesn't use an actual rangefinder it might as well as the operation and the optical interface it creates delivers the best of the rangefinder experience along with the extra bonus of being able to switch quickly to an EVF configuration that gives one perfect compositional tools along with color and exposure previews.
I've been so impressed with the X-Pro2 as a shooting tool that I just ordered a second one which should be here on the fifth of July. That's a pretty strong statement but after using one I just couldn't get the idea out of my head that X-H1's are cameras to be used in my professional business while the X-Pro2's were the perfect camera for trips, travel, street photography, personal photography and the most primary joy of shooting: doing it for one's self.
I've always entertained the idea of having one set of cameras for money making enterprises and a second set that is used to do all the personal work I want to do just for myself. The switch between cameras seems to throw a switch in my intentions. With one camera I am focused on not failing; not fucking up, while with a different camera my focus changes into "artist" mode where it's okay to fail, to try weird stuff with a camera, and to stretch the boundaries of what we perceive as interesting personal photography.
Again, there are no perfect cameras (other than perhaps the Panasonic G9 with the Olympus 12-100mm lens) but there are cameras that do my commercial work well and there are cameras that help me be a less lazy and unfocused artist. It just seems that, for now, both kinds of camera come from the same company, take the same lenses and batteries and are well suited for the kind of work I do.
It came to me while I was shooting tethered with an X-H1 one today. The camera was rock solid as was the tethering plug-in. I didn't have a second of doubt where camera operation, or confidence in the lenses, was concerned. After I finished my job, around 12:30, and waved goodbye to the clients I grabbed my X-Pro2 and headed out for long walk.
The difference between the two Fuji cameras helped move me from "work" mode to "fun" mode without bedeviling me with massive menu differences or the need to inventory two completely different lens systems. It's nice to have tools that serve different parts of one's brain.
The Fujis do that for me. But, just to muddy the waters, if I wasn't shooting with the Fuji cameras (and the two models I've discussed here) I would go straight back to using the Panasonic G9 with a collection of Olympus Pro lenses. The combination is that good. Muddy waters. For sure.