Shooting with the X-Pro3

When I first saw Fujifilm's presentation of the X-Pro3, I found myself thinking the new screen arrangement was going to render the camera rather limited. But the more I use it, the more I feel that's not quite right; it's not so much limited as very focused.

This time spent with the X-Pro3 has also caused me to refine my initial belief that it's a camera that will either be immediately desirable or impossible to comprehend. I think there might be something of a middle ground.

Obviously, the camera will make no sense to you if you don't see the appeal of its retro aesthetic. The titanium build, film-era styling and somewhat throwback controls are consistent with previous X-Pro models, but the rear LCD design winnows the prospective user base down still further: you're only likely to want the X-Pro3 if you love the optical viewfinder or you like to shoot with the camera at waist level.

Waist-level shooting

This isn't my preferred way of shooting, mainly because I'm not really a street photographer. But the X-Pro3 certainly makes sense when being shot this way.

In practical terms, the fold-down display isn't conceptually any different from tilting the rear screen upwards on an X-T3. And yet, to me it feels different. Not because of anything tangible, such as the T3's viewfinder slightly overhanging the screen, but perhaps because it's clear that this is how its designers intended this camera to be shot.

For a camera where desirability is so important, this sense of 'this is how it's meant to be used' and 'they built this camera for me' shouldn't be underestimated.

With one of Fujifilm's small primes on the front, the X-Pro3 can be comparatively discreet, so long as you haven't opted for the 'Dura Silver' version, and it's pretty responsive, too. Whether you prefer to set a fixed focus distance, 'eyeball it' with the help of focus peaking or put your faith in the camera's pretty solid Face/Eye AF, you can learn to anticipate the camera's total lag*, and grab precisely the moment you want.

The focus limit feature reduces the risk of the camera hunting around when you want the shutter to fire

Don't be tempted to engage depth-of-field preview, though: rather than reducing the shutter lag by setting the camera to your shooting aperture, it actually slows things down but opening up the iris then stopping it back down before the shutter fires.

Optical viewfinder shooting

The other constituency I believe will most appreciate the X-Pro3 are photographers who want to shoot using the optical viewfinder.

The hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder (particularly the optical aspect of that) is central to the X-Pro3's appeal. If it's not for you, it's not for you.

It's not quite as engaging an experience as focusing and shooting with an actual rangefinder but arguably more so than using the optical viewfinder of a DSLR. For a start, like a rangefinder, the optical viewfinder can often show you what's going on beyond the image you're going to take. It also forces you to consider the impact of parallax.

There's something about this combination, perhaps the need to constantly, consciously contemplate what is and isn't going to be in your image, that makes you very aware of the photo you're about to take. This isn't something I get from shooting with a WYSIWYG finder, whether that's an EVF or a DSLR OVF.

There's something about this need to constantly, consciously contemplate what is and isn't going to be in your image, that makes you very aware of the photo you're about to take

Of course there's the option to use the camera's EVF, and that can be useful for longer lenses or gaining access to the camera's Eye AF feature for shooting portraits, but the inconvenient / considered way the X-Pro3's OVF makes you shoot is one of its defining features.

Personally I find it works for a lot of my photography, which is more about documenting my friends, the world around me and interesting sights and beautiful light I'll sometimes encounter, rather than having to shoot something specific. There are plenty of types of photography where this slower, less precise way of shooting is simply going to be an inconvenience, but I find it works for me. For me, the X-Pro3 ends up being a larger, prettier X100 that I can also mount a 56 or 90mm lens on.

While it's perhaps not as precise for framing or focusing as the EVF mode, the X-Pro3's optical viewfinder does let you see and anticipate moments nicely.
Fujinon 23mm F1.4 | ISO 160 | F4.0 | 1/800 sec
Photo: Richard Butler

However, a couple of changes in the X-Pro3 risk limiting this appeal somewhat. The decision to use a single magnification viewfinder means you can't properly judge your framing though the OVF if you use a lens wider than 23mm. This isn't problem for me, since 23mm (35mm equiv) is my favored focal length, but I know there are plenty of photographers who prefer to shoot with Fujifilm's 16 or 18mm lenses. They're more likely to be frustrated at Fujifilm's decision.

The fixed magnification of the X-Pro3's viewfinder means it can't show framing guides for anything wider than a 23mm (35 equiv) lens, and gives a very small view beyond around 50mm (75 equiv).

The second issue is that the camera no longer relaxes back to showing the infinity-focus framelines and focus point when you release the shutter button. This is great if you're repeatedly focusing at a similar distance, but makes it impossible to predict where your focus point is going to go if you focus on something more distant.

Overall, I still find the camera's optical viewfinder a fascinating way of shooting, and I can understand the appeal of a classic looking camera that nudges you heavily to use its key feature, rather than letting you get complacent and end up under-using it. But while I think the X-Pro3's rear screens help clarify who and what it's for, I find myself caught in an unexpected middle ground: the X-Pro3 appeals to me and my way of shooting, but I the two revisions mean I find I like the viewfinder less than the one in the X-Pro2.

*The total lag caused by any combination of shutter lag, operational lag (stopping down the aperture prior to shooting), focus lag and EVF delay, depending on how you're shooting.