Shooting Experience

By Richard Butler

I wrote at the start of this article that it was the existence of the X-T1 that might make life difficult for the X-Pro2, but my experiences of shooting with the camera so far suggest the two are more different than their specs would imply.

Interestingly, the things that stood out most aren't the differences revealed in the headline specs. The move to 24MP is certainly welcome - everything we've seen so far supports the expectation that the performance will be excellent and we're not going to complain about the extra detail. Video is also significantly improved, capturing much more detail and exhibiting less false color. It's not about to challenge the GH4 as the keen videographer's camera of choice but it's much more usable for casual clips.

It's the smaller changes to the camera that make the difference, though. The X-Pro2's sensor has a great many more AF points than the X-T1, the PDAF region is larger and, just as significantly, each of them is now directly accessible.

The unexpected joy of the joystick

The inclusion of the joystick on the rear of the camera makes it easier to move to the point you want to select which has prompted Fujifilm to allow user choice of every point. This makes it more likely that there'll be a selectable AF point exactly where you want it, rather than having to slightly recompose your shot to put your subject under one of the selectable points.

The greater number of autofocus points means there's much more likely to be a focus point exactly where you want one, which is useful when you want the focus on your subject's eye.

Photo: Richard Butler
Non-final image quality

The second benefit of the joystick is that you no longer have to choose between direct AF point access and how many functions you want quick access to. On the X-T1 (and X-T10, and X100T), the four-way controller could either set the AF point or be used as a series of function buttons, the latter necessitating an extra button press before using the controller to set the AF point. It was a decision that split the office down the middle and that prompted frustration and abuse every time the camera was picked up if it had previously been used by the opposing faction. With the X-Pro2, there's no such conflict: peace in our time, no less.

The slightly larger body of the X-Pro2 allows room for the inclusion of a joystick, it's also left enough room for larger buttons than the oft-criticized ones on the X-T1, while retaining their weather sealing.

A clearer view on the hybrid finder

So where else does the camera differ from the X-T1? The most obvious distinction is the digital/optical hybrid finder. At first I found myself thinking that it's less well suited to an interchangeable lens camera than it is on the X100-series, where it's tailored to the camera's specific lens. However, chatting to Sam changed my mind: it's not the interchangeability that's a poor fit, it's long lenses that it's less well suited to. Used with relatively wide-angle lenses, a good amount of the optical finder can be used to preview the image. However, even with the slide-in magnifier engaged, a short-ish telephoto such as the 56mm F1.2 ends up only using around 1/4 of the viewfinder's view, limiting its appeal to shorter lenses. Furthermore, the effect of parallax at the relatively close working distances used for head-and-shoulder portraiture means that the focus point is significantly displaced, relative to the position marked on the screen. With a wider lens, both of these problems are reduced: more of the viewfinder is used and the parallax effect is much less pronounced at normal focusing distances.

With a 56mm lens fitted, the brightlines are quite small in the viewfinder. Worse still, the parallax error you encounter at close focus distances can be dramatic: use the buttons below to see how much the focus point and image frame shift when the camera comes into focus.

In these instances, using the electronic viewfinder gives a much clearer idea of the framing and focus point you're going to get.
Pre-focus Post-focus

Sam also highlighted a couple advantages that he noticed while using the optical viewfinder. Just like in a rangefinder, the Pro2's viewfinder extends beyond the framing brightlines, meaning that you can see beyond the frame of your shot, to see what elements could be included in the shot and to anticipate subjects as they enter your frame. On top of all of this, there's the complete absence of viewfinder blackout that further helps with maintaining an understanding of where subjects are in your scene - something that's relevant for shooting any moving subject.

The optical viewfinder, for all its quirks, is really useful for anticipating fleeting moments.
Photo: Samuel Spencer
Non-final image quality

Other improvements

The other differences are the countless small touches that have been incrementally developed by Fujifilm: the ability to define three Auto ISO presets is very useful (enough to prevent me ever using the stylish but rather impractical ISO dial), and even though I typically found the six available function buttons enough to cover most settings I wanted frequent access to, the custom 'My Menu' tab is a very welcome addition.

For a while I found myself pressing the wrong buttons on the X-Pro2: the similarity to the X-T1 and my familiarity with it prompting me to operate the wrong camera. But with time I came to love the rear joystick and prefer the consistency of using the front and rear dials to control playback mode. Possibly for the first time on an X-series camera, I have quick access to everything I find myself needing quick access to, with some custom buttons to spare, giving a high-end DSLR-like level of direct access. It should also mean that even the most demanding user is likely to find themselves in a similar position.

The X-Pro2 we've been using has been running a series of obviously pre-production firmware versions, each offering improved performance and further refined behavior over the last. As a result, we can't yet comment on the camera's performance, since it may yet further improve. However, the sheer difference in focus speed between the fastest and slowest X-mount lens suggests to me that some of the lenses will never refocus fast enough to compete with the best of the X-Pro2's peers with respect to continuous AF. This means that, even if Fujifilm has managed to improve the focus tracking and eye detection, compared to previous models, the performance is still unlikely to be consistently competitive.

Overall impressions

So, is there room in the market for both the X-Pro2 and the X-T series? I think there is. In slightly simplistic terms, the X-T1 works in the same way whatever lens you put on it, whereas the X-Pro2 is at its best with a short prime lenses. While it's true they both offer a similar experience through their electronic viewfinders, using the optical viewfinder on the Pro2 feels so special that reverting to the EVF ends up feeling like a work-around when you have to engage it. From a purely rational perspective it's using the optical viewfinder that's limited and inconvenient, yet it feels like you're missing the point of the camera every time you switch away from this limited yet thoroughly enjoyable optical view.

Although the experience is very different, it's analogous to using a Leica rangefinder: the occasional awkwardness just bolsters the impression that you're using a limited but singular device.

Above all else, the X-Pro2 is a lovely camera to sling over your shoulder and just head out to shoot with.

Photo: Richard Butler
Non-final image quality

What the hybrid viewfinder helps to reinforce is the sense that the X-Pro2 itself is a specialized tool: a camera whose operation is as anachronistic as its appearance and as steeped in tradition as the film stocks it simulates. While the X-T1 feels like a mirrorless camera that behaves like an SLR, the X-Pro2 feels like something more esoteric: a camera that wants to be shot with a 24, 35 or 50mm equivalent prime.

The X-Pro2 devotes so much of its effort to giving a traditional stills shooting experience that it's rare that I found myself even noticing how far from cutting-edge it is when it comes to focus tracking or video specifications. That simply isn't the way the camera inspires me to shoot.