Fuji X-Pro2To mirror or to mirrorless?Review from a wedding photographer's perspective -- Part 1

Fuji X-Pro2 review

Going mirrorless is a big step for any pro who shoots weddings photojournalistically. Before jumping the wagon from the trusty old DLSR, I quite possibly read every single review of the Fuji X-Pro2, including both the manual and a 3rd party book for advanced users… yet I still had unanswered questions.

Sure, some other pros made the switch and they liked it, but how does their style compare to mine? What works for them, might not work for me.

The main question I’ll answer is — what is it like to shoot a wedding with a Fuji X-Pro2 — but I’ll do in a very roundabout way which should let you easily decide if that’s a camera for you or not without even picking it up. (although I highly advise you do try it before deciding)

With this review, I aim to clarify those everyday details you want to know, those details I wanted to read in those dozens of reviews, but which weren’t covered for some reason. At the same time, I’ll barely skim the stuff thousand times written about. It’s going to be a long review as it is, so for technical details, it’s best to go through a technical review like dpreview’s in-depth analysis to be better able to understand the technical capabilities of the cameras.

Now, let’s leave some baggage right on the doorstep.

X-Pro2 is a APS-C camera and that entails some (dis)advantages just by virtue of pure physics. I’ll touch on a few of those, but if you need a primer on what APS-C is and what the shared (dis)advantages are, do a bit of googling first.

Secondly, it may be of use to know what it is that I’m used to and what I’ll be comparing the X-Pro2 to. So, a few words about my style.

For past few years, I’ve been shooting weddings with a couple of Canon EOS 5D Mark 3s. During past 15 years, unofficially, I shot a bunch of film on Canon SLRs and rangefinders, owned Olympus PEN E-P2, played around with Lomo and disposable cameras, smartphones, Canon and Panasonic compacts and most recently a Fuji X100T.

95% of everything I shoot are weddings and 100% of those is pure photojournalistic approach. I always shoot RAW and always shoot in aperture priority.
I work with two cameras at all times. As for lenses, there is a clear dichotomy: I exclusively use fast primes for weddings, and switch to tilt-shift and ultrawideangle zoom lenses for sessions. I use on-camera flash for the reception venue (up until now, they were Canon Speedlite 600EX-RT) and natural light for everything else.
For me, the most important factors in a camera is the AF performance and dynamic range (yes, I know, breaking news…). Per-pixel-sharpness and continuous shooting are things I don’t care much about.

Okay, so that’s the baseline.

Fuji X-Pro2 for weddings reviewFuji X-Pro2 with Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 (via speedbooster adapter) at ISO 200

What drew me to Fuji?

Admittedly, at this time I was shopping around for a replacement to my 5Dmk3s, with some candidates being Canon 5Dmk4, Nikon D750, Sony A7R II and finally Fuji. I keep an eye on general developments in the photographic world and I noticed X-Pro2 developments and release earlier in 2016. It looked great, but being APS-C I dismissed it without much thought. It may seem like I’m a full frame snob, but the reality is that shooting weddings leads you from bright sunlight to -3 EV hell in just a few hours. You can’t cheat physics, so it never seemed wise to consider anything but full-frame cameras.

It just so happened that I recently came to the painful realization that I seem to have gathered too much gear which was too heavy and expensive (not to mention uninspiring) to haul around as private, everyday cameras. So with a mountain of expensive equipment, I found myself shooting with my phone most of the time.

Oh the cosmic irony!

Surely this couldn’t be tolerated, so I started sniffing around. The obvious solution to too many expensive cameras and lenses is buying some more, right? What could I throw some (more) money at, which would possibly solve this problem?

As a long time film shooter and a lover of fast primes, I quickly settled on the beautifully retro Fuji X100T. I liked it a lot and casually used it as a go-anywhere carry-everywhere camera… until one day, I shot a nice photo which turned out very underexposed. After 10 seconds of shadow recovery in Lightroom, I couldn’t believe my eyes — the dynamic range of this little thing wipes the floor with my fancy expensive 5Dmk3s!

How could this be?

I’ll spare you the details. The bottom line is that from that point on, I took Fuji X-Trans sensors very seriously and shot my first prewedding session on a very contrasty sunny day with the X100T. Loving the results, I immediately got interested in the X-Pro2 which promised to solve the very slow focusing of X100T and bring many lens options with it.

X-Pro2 is a really small, lightweight package at a very attractive price point (relatively speaking, of course) that promised to match or exceed 5Dmk3 in most respects. Going mirrorless also had some other advantages as well, which I’ll get into a bit later. But an optical viewfinder on a mirrorless camera? Surely I died and went to heaven!

At the same time, it also somehow sounded too good to be true.

So what do you do? Read a 1000 pages of reviews, books and manuals, conclude it still sounds pretty good, buy two cameras and dive right in!

Day 1

Unboxing the first camera yielded a surprise. Yes, it’s small, but it somehow boggles the mind when you actually hold it for the first time. “A pro level camera, this small?? In what universe?!”

Naturally, I went through all the settings before taking the first shot, which took me a good half hour. Which goes to say two things: many, many customizable settings are available, but also — some of them are buried deep.

So let’s start with the first grievance: to synchronize time on two cameras, there’s plenty of digging until you find the right menu, at which point you’re disappointed by the lack of seconds setting. This means that when I need to synchronize the time with my second shooter, it takes me up to a whole minute to set reference to a Canon camera (which does display seconds). Even then, we’re usually off by 5-10 seconds for some still unknown reason. So we just started to take a photo of a clock on all cameras before each shoot, and fix the timestamps later in Lightroom.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s go shooting.

RAW image quality is quite astonishing. Yes, the X-Trans sensor does give sharper results than practically all other sensors, which is really important for all those 100×66 cm prints we all casually print every day and stick on our walls. But more importantly, the dynamic range is absolutely flabbergasting!

It won’t surprise you D750 shooters, but coming from Canon there are no words to describe it. I’m most interested in shadow recovery (in other words, saving highlights from burning out) and with 5Dmk3 a push of +2 stops was the upper limit after which you call in the NCC (Noise Cleanup Crew). With Fuji, I won’t even blink for a +3 EV push, and +4 and +5 are completely usable in good light. And when I say usable, I mean really usable, printable in a weddingbook.

It also needs to be said that in low light, the shot noise dominates the RAWs and these values don’t really hold anymore, but that’s not camera’s fault. (if you’re not sure what shot and electronic noise are, read this dpreview article)

Fuji X-Pro2 for weddings reviewFuji X-Pro2 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 OIS at ISO 200

Day 2

Okay, so to shoot you need to see what you’re shooting first, and there are no less than 4 options: LCD, EVF, OVF and ERF. Pretty self explanatory, right?

Let’s start with the electronic viewfinder (EVF).

Refresh and resolution are amazing. After 15 years of using optical viewfinders, I can honestly say I completely forget I’m looking through an EVF, that’s how good it is! And when you use it in the dark and remove your eye from the viewfinder, you’re kind of confused — why is the world suddenly so dark? This is huge! In dark reception venues, I can actually see what I’m framing and focusing because of viewfinder gain. Whether you use the flash or not, this is a gigantic benefit.

Furthermore, you always have a DOF preview before shooting, a faithful exposure simulation and a pretty good idea of where your focus locked on (especially with fast primes). Add a live histogram and instant image review in the viewfinder to the mix and it should be clear that it’s practically impossible to have a less than perfect exposure. Image review is also very handy to judge rough focus. (You may not be able to tell whether it’s 100% perfect without zooming in, but you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether you got the shot.)

For all the reasons above, I was less impressed with the optical viewfinder mode (OVF). It’s hybrid, so it overlays additional information over your little window to reality — which works and looks great, especially the live histogram. But what it can’t do well is tell you where your focus locked on. With a DSLR you can guess where the focus roughly fell (not as precisely as with a nice EVF, but still).
On the other hand, OVF is completely decoupled from the lens and focusing. It’s just a hole in the camera, to put it bluntly. So even though camera confirms AF has locked with a green square, you can’t know where it locked until you actually shoot the photo and see the image review (when the viewfinder briefly switches to EVF mode to display the photo).

What makes things even worse is the parallax error. X-Pro2 corrects the position of the bright frame (denoting the image capture area at given focus distance), but it does so only after focusing, which for closer objects often means that the AF point significantly shifts as well (thereby focusing on the wrong object). And the “closer objects” is a very floating definition depending on the lens and subject distance.

It may seem like a trivial point, but for some reason I was missing the focus so often that I completely abandoned the OVF mode. Additional problem is that the focus point size (more on this later) is not reflected in the OVF — a medium sized AF frame is always displayed which makes it even harder to nail the focus. I’m not even sure that the focus frame size is applied in OVF mode. All in all, focusing in the OVF mode just involves too much guesswork for fast-paced shoots, wide open apertures, moving subjects and especially small subjects in the viewfinder.

I should also say that the OVF offers two optical magnification modes, suitable for 16mm and 35mm lenses (officially it’s 18mm, but with 16mm the OVF area is filled 100%). Other focal lengths are simulated with a bright white frame. Rangefinder users are probably very used to this, while SLR users may be slightly appalled at the prospect.

Finally there’s the electronic rangefinder mode (ERF), which is a hybrid between OVF and EVF. Basically, it displays a smaller live electronic preview in bottom right corner, over an optical view in the rest of the viewfinder. You can choose 3 different magnifications for the ERF part and move the enlarged part around the central part of the frame. The point is to use it for manual focusing — available assists are zoomed in view, focus peaking or digital split image. It’s hard to say how useful it is for manual focusing in general. I personally didn’t like it since the image is quite far in the corner (it’s necessary so it doesn’t cover the rest of the view), which in turn requires you to take your eye off the scene while you focus. If you’re waiting for something to happen it’s distracting. And of course, all the downsides of the OVF are here: parallax and the dark viewfinder in less than stellar lighting conditions. I found the EVF offers MF assist that is right down my alley, but more on this later.

Shooting using the LCD is in many ways similar to using EVF, just on a bigger screen. Both modes have separately customizable info displays. It’s bright and high-resolution so photos look great. Even so, any self respecting wedding photographer can’t be caught dead shooting using LCD so I’ll just skip further comments.

I will add that due to the camera’s physical configuration (viewfinder on the left, shallow eyepiece) LCD is always greasy since your nose and face is pressed against it for most of the shooting. DSLRs have less of an issue with this due to their central viewfinder position, even though they’re not immune either.
It’s not a huge handicap, but it’s kind of embarrassing when you want to show a photo to the bride.

xpro2-review-10Fuji X-Pro2 with Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 at ISO 200

Days 3 thru 5

Okay, great dynamic range, amazing EVF. Check. But how did the camera handle? How did it feel in the hand? Were the buttons on the right places? How customizable is it? Was it responsive or sluggish?

Let’s start with the good. Camera is FAST. Almost everything happens before you blink.

Most of the buttons are in the right places, and some of them are in perfect places, like the on/off switch which you can operate with your shutter finger as you pick up the camera (compared to Canon where it’s placed on the other end of the camera). This is really important for another reason which I’ll get into much later.

The focus joystick is a blessing, as it can be set for direct AF point selection. It’s quick and with positive click in any of the 8 directions, something I often missed on Canon where it’s a bit more mushy (although still quite usable).

There are 6 custom function buttons to which you can assign a loooong list of functions. Some buttons aren’t really accessible with your eye to the viewfinder, but it’s still nice to have direct access to some functions (like metering mode or auto-ISO settings).

There are two clickable dials which perform many functions. They are good, but are a bit too recessed for my taste. To click them, you really need to position your finger perfectly. In case of the front dial, it’s in a slightly awkward spot, but I guess this depends on the size of your hand. I rarely use it, so it’s not a huge deal.

In the mixed bag portion I also need to mention the aperture rings, on all lenses marked with “R” in their name. They are a very natural and quick way of setting the aperture and I really like using them… but on the other hand, they’re very easy to turn accidentally. In the first few weeks of shooting, my apertures were all over the place since I tend to pick up my cameras near the lens mount — exactly where the aperture ring is. Working with a HoldFast MoneyMaker and two cameras, there’s a whole lot of picking up cameras during the day. Later I got into the habit of constantly monitoring my aperture (and I’m a better photographer for it), but it was funky in the beginning.

Similarly, the diopter adjustment and exposure compensation are very easy to turn accidentally as you lower and pick up the camera, but you tend to notice those very quickly because of the confusing blurriness and EVF exposure simulation, respectively.

It’s a small camera with a lot of buttons so I don’t really mind most of these issues except the diopter adjustment. Usually you set it and forget it, so I can’t wrap my head around the fact Fuji didn’t recess it somehow, or put a safety switch on it. I must admit however that my Canons have the same problem.

Now, let’s get into the not-so-good.

Both the Q menu button and the AF-L (AF lock) are in a really awkward place, right of the thumb-rest, on the very edge of the camera, placed on a ridge and then recessed to be in the level with the surrounding camera body. That all means it’s hard to move your thumb to their position, very hard to feel them out without looking and almost impossible to do it while holding the camera with only one hand.
While it could be argued that Q button is fine as it is, since you’ll usually use LCD to modify the settings (which is not always the case with me, but anyway…) the AF-L is quite a handicap.

Let’s get into a bit more details about the AF-L button.

In single AF mode, by default, it locks the focus and it’s a toggle (it remains on until you press it again). This does sound useful, but I rarely use it since it’s too much of a risk in photojournalism where things happen unpredictably. It’s easy to forget you’re locked and react to a sudden event without unlocking the focus. Even worse, when you do remember to switch it off, button is hard to reach quickly.

In manual focus mode, it focuses once when you press it, which is great for the back-button-focusing technique. (In short, you decouple the focusing and triggering the shutter. The shutter button takes a picture, but a different button is used just for focusing)
I actually grew to like this system on X100T, but with a button that’s hard to feel out AND is located in a hard to reach position, it was an accident waiting to happen, so I reverted to old ways. *Sigh*.

Fuji X-Pro2 for weddings reviewFuji X-Pro2 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 at ISO 200

What I’m sorely missing is a button which would stop the AF, i.e. temporarily engage MF. I much prefer this system to the AF locking because it can’t backfire.
On Canon, I mapped one of the back buttons to AF stop. While the button was depressed, AF would be in manual mode, but as soon as you let it go, AF is back. It was great for a quick and temporary AF override or essentially an AF lock while you held it down (if you focused prior to pressing the button).

On X-Pro2, the focus drives (single/continuous/manual) are set via a rotary switch on the front of the camera. It works quite well and you can set it without getting your eye off the viewfinder, but here I found myself missing yet another Canon function — the ability to map a button to engage continuous focusing instantly, but only as long as the button was held down. It worked great for unexpected developments, and there is no possible way I could flip the Fuji switch to continuous focusing that quickly (and just as importantly, flip it back when I’m done).

So in short, it’s immeasurably faster to permanently engage continuous or manual focus on Fuji, but it’s infinitely faster to engage them both temporarily on Canon. Oh well…

Now, the ISO dial. Books of grievances have been written about this unfortunate dial so I won’t pile on (too much). ISO dial is integrated in the exposure dial and to set it you need to lift it up and turn. It’s very much reminiscent of old film cameras and it’s a clear homage.

However, in the olden days you used to set ISO once when you put the film in the camera. With digital cameras you practically set it all the time. While the dial can be operated with one hand and your eye to the viewfinder, it’s pretty awkward, especially with a bigger lens in the front. Also, for bigger shifts of ISO you really need to lift and turn and lift and turn a few times (ISO steps are in 1/3 EV) which is painfully slow.

The thing that kind of saves the day (unless you shoot in manual mode) is the quite good Auto ISO setting. You set the ISO dial to A and use customizable buttons to select one of three Auto ISO settings. They save your low shutter limit and both lowest and highest allowed ISO. In practice, I almost never use the ISO dial, although that will change once I get my hands on a flash unit for the Fuji.

Finally, let’s talk about the handling of the camera. The finger grip on the front of the camera is a bit too shallow for comfortably holding the camera with one hand. It’s barely enough when you come from a full sized DSLR. To extend it, you can get an additional screw-in grip which makes it a lot more comfortable (but also bigger and heavier). Not to mention it costs way too much, considering it’s just a piece of rubber and metal (no batteries, nor vertical grip buttons). I have it on one camera where I use bigger lenses, but didn’t get it for the other.

With time, you get used to the form factor, and I always use two hands to hold the camera anyway, but I felt it needed to be said.

Fuji X-Pro2 for weddings reviewFuji X-Pro2 with Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 at ISO 200

Okay, this is it for the part one of this multi-part review. In part two, I dig deep into the AF system on the X-Pro2. Part three deals with dynamic range, shutter types, battery life and we talk about a real-life wedding shoot with Fuji.
Part four will relate to the updated firmware that’s coming out as I write this and experiences with the new EF-X500 flash unit that I (still) have on preorder.

Review: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3