Fuji X-Pro2To mirror or to mirrorless? (part 3)Review from a wedding photographer's perspective

This is part three of a multi-part review. In part one I take apart the viewfinder modes and
the camera handling & ergonomics. In part two I dig deep into the AF system of the X-Pro2.

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

Dynamic range… and other stuff

Welcome back!

I mentioned in the first part that the dynamic range of the X-Trans is amazing. It’s also effectively an ISO invariant sensor, which means that in many circumstances you can just shoot at the base ISO and push the image later on in RAW processor. This has certain limitations, but for the most part it means it’s easy to save highlights by underexposing the image and recovering the shadows later in post. Books have been written about this, so google ISO invariance or ISOless sensors to learn more.

What about JPEGs?

For JPEG shooters, Fuji offers a way of automating this since it’s only possible when shooting in RAW (JPEG conversion just rounds away the extra bit depth to 8bpc).
Before converting the RAW to JPEG, the camera can recover a part of this dynamic range (that would otherwise be lost) by underexposing the image as you shoot it, and then recovering the shadows available due to huge dynamic range the sensor has.

It does this in a curious way — in order to honor set shutter and aperture values, lowest user-available ISO is forced up by 1 or 2 stops, so it can be pulled down behind the scenes to actually underexpose. For DR200 (1 stop of additional dynamic range) your base ISO will be 400 and for DR400 (two extra stops of DR) the base ISO is 800. In both cases camera will actually use ISO 200 so it can push it while preserving hightlights, thereby expanding the dynamic range written to the JPEG file.

It works well, but fast prime users will hate it — shooting at f/1.4 on a sunny day at ISO 800 requires a fat ND filter. This is also completely unnecessary (and unavailable) when shooting RAW. You just do your own exposure biasing as necessary, and you have all the ISOs available since you can modify the shutter speed or aperture as you see fit.

But that’s not all! Even if you don’t shoot JPEGs, which I don’t, it makes sense to adjust certain JPEG settings because they’re reflected in the viewfinder. Why does this matter?

You can choose to soften the shadows and highlights (setting both to -2 in the JPEG settings). It won’t affect the RAW file at all (only the preview inside it, but nevermind that). What it will affect is your viewfinder image in EVF mode, giving it a HDResque quality. It will simply make it easier to discern details in very dark and very light portions of the image, which is a really great tool when you depend on EVF. More importantly, it will give you a good idea of what image information you will be able to pull out of the RAW file later.

High ISO performance

This is the big one. How can APS-C measure up to a full frame sensor in low-light conditions? Well, theoretically, it can’t. But for some magical reason the Fuji X-Trans sensor in this camera is on par with the 5Dmk3. Surely high-end Nikons can beat both (probably), but I’d be hard pressed to discern any meaningful difference in comparison with 5Dmk3 — which is a huuuuge win for Fuji.

I tend to shoot up to ISO 12800 (with f/1.4 lenses), which covers just about any situation I ran into during weddings, so I can comfortably say that Fuji reached a point where APS-C is suited for this kind of low light photography. Of course, you need to really (really) watch your exposure and get it perfectly at those sensitivities, but it’s the same with any other camera.

I don’t want to dig into this too much; visit dpreview for test shots on all ISO sensitivities along with comparisons to other cameras. I don’t mind a healthy amount of noise as long as it’s monochrome, and Lightroom does a great job with that. I tend to add grain in post-processing anyway. Dynamic range is much more important here, and it’s quite decent for ISO 12800.

Now that I’m on the topic of the sensor, I should mention that the base ISO is 200. ISO 100 is available as an expansion, which brings the penalty of 1 less stop of dynamic range; it’s basically just overexposed ISO 200 with tone curve pulled down.

This can get tricky when you want to use fast lenses wide open in direct sunlight, but Fuji has another trick up its sleeve. Read on…

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

The Shutter

Enter the electronic shutter. Sure, Fuji has the mechanical focal plane shutter going up to 1/8000s (which has a really nice sounding snap as it triggers), but the really interesting thing here is the electronic shutter. For a handful of drawbacks, you can get exposures as short as 1/32.000s. That means shooting a wide open f/1.4 under strongest summer noon sun, without any ND filters.

The drawbacks? Quickly moving subjects exhibit rolling shutter, and there’s a bit more noise (less dynamic range) than with the mechanical shutter. Both of those are-non issues for most of wedding photography in good light and I still can’t tell two images apart using different shutters.
While these may be non-issues, there is one drawback that might be a yes-issue: the banding when using electronic shutter under artificial lighting. Some shutter speeds will be more affected than others, so just try and see how it looks. Generally, you probably want to avoid using it under artificial lighting.

The added benefit is a completely silent shutter in the electronic mode. And I mean completely. There is just no sound whatsoever. It’s such a weird feeling, shooting a photo with no shutter snap at all, but also somehow satisfying.

This can really come in handy in certain venues where utter silence is required or when you absolutely don’t want to disturb your subjects.

Form factor

Now let’s get down to the one of biggest X-Pro2 advantages over any DSLR you ever held and ever will hold — the size and weight.

There’s really not much to be said here — it’s small, it’s light and the lenses follow suit. I didn’t bother weighting it, but my subjective feeling is that X-Pro2 with 35/1.4 (50mm eq.) is half the weight of 5Dmk3 with 50/1.2. This is a difference that your back feels from the first to the last second of the shoot, multiplying as the hours go by.
And don’t even get me started on the intimidation factor…

I used to carry a kit of two 5Dmk3 bodies and three lenses, which mostly filled up my bag. Now I take two X-Pro2 bodies, X100T, all the XF lenses I own, Canon tilt-shift lens with adaptor and I still have room for a jacket, energy bars and a bunch of batteries (16 to be precise). Which brings me to the next topic…

xpro2-review-11Fuji X-Pro2 with Fujinon XF 10-24mm f/4 OIS at ISO 640

Battery life

There’s no nice way to put it — X-Pro2 eats batteries for breakfast… and lunch… and brunch, dinner and supper. And let’s not forget the afternoon tea. It’s a monster.

I’m a guy who could easily work a whole 12h wedding with one battery in each 5Dmk3 body. With X-Pro2 I use up one battery per roughly 90 minutes of shooting. That’s why I need a total of 16 batteries for two cameras to get me through the day. And let’s not forget the charger, just in case proceedings get prolonged. So the huge amount of weight I saved by going mirrorless is partially made up by the absurd amount of batteries I need to haul around. Luckily, they sit in the bag most of the time, but still.

I should reiterate that everything in this review is the result of testing in the high performance mode. If you can live with slower AF speed and EVF refresh, you will get some more juice out of the battery.

Officially, X-Pro2 can shoot about 250 images in EVF mode and 350 in OVF. These figures roughly correspond to my experience.
To be absolutely fair, the 5Dmk4 has a similar battery life when shooting only using the LCD, so it’s not that Fuji has particularly bad battery management.
OVF is a nice battery saver, but it’s mostly useless for my purposes for reasons described in part 1.

What my experience showed is that the time you spend shooting somehow matters more than the number of shots you’ve taken. On my first shoot, both batteries ran out after exactly 90 minutes. One camera had taken 200 images and the other 400. Go figure.
It helps if you turn off the camera when you’re not shooting… a bit. I now got into habit of turning off the camera when I put it down and turning it on as I pick it back up just to save a few percentages of battery life. This is where the easily reachable on/off switch really shines.

Fuji lenses

This is a huge area and much has been written about it already. Let me just touch on a few points.

Fuji lenses are amazing. They’re sharp, contrasty and the XF primes are so well optically corrected that you practically don’t notice any distortion, ever. The bokeh is also picture-perfect.
I can’t really complain about any part of their optical performance except for flaring. Flare is pretty well controlled, but despite using the lens hood, the pictures lose a lot of contrast when a stray ray hits them, as if white mist has been pulled over the photo. Wideangles are more prone to this issue, so I found myself a few times with my left hand as a makeshift lens hood (in addition to the built in lens hood) on the 10-24/4 OIS.

One additional effect is what I’d call purple-green flaring. It’s basically a localized loss of contrast (similar to white mist I described above) but with a purple and/or green character to it. It’s rare but very hard to correct in post. It’s probably due to microlens design on the sensor, but I wouldn’t go any deeper in the issue. I had it happen once in 10.000 shots.

As for mechanical design, it varies. All XFs I tried are sturdy, metal beasts which inspire confidence, but some (like 10-24/4 OIS) have much over-dampened rings (especially the focus ring) which makes it very tricky to turn. The variation in the feeling of the rings is a bit curious, but most of it takes just a little bit of getting used to.

One thing that is of course intrinsic to the APS-C systems if the lack of shallow DOF compared to full frame lenses. This is a point that I still struggle with, since I love extremely shallow DOF and shoot all my lenses wide open with almost no exceptions (the only one I can think of being the formal shots). I got used to staring the fate right in the eye and shooting my Canon 50/1.2L wide open, in dim light and against backlight, with AI servo focus as the couple walks down the aisle.

I miss this shallowness of DOF so much that I even considered Meyer Optik Nocturnus 35/0.95 for Fuji, but I resisted it (so far) because it’s only manual focus, hence of limited value in fast paced world of wedding photography. Not to mention extremely expensive and probably heavy.

One final note are the lens hoods for lenses like 35/1.4 and 18/2. They’re rectangularly shaped metal hoods that make the lens look pretty amazing, but due to their design, the pinch lens cap doesn’t fit anymore, so you get a plastic cap that just sits on top of the hood. However, it’s extremely easy to displace it once it’s on — it was simply designed to get lost.
I tend to lose it at least once per shoot (always coming back to get it, obviously) and it always falls off when the camera is in the bag. On my third shoot, I lost the cap, went back to get it and then lost it again literally a few meters from the place where I picked it up. Wow!

Anyhow, I ordered a few replacement caps just in case. It’s just a matter of time.

Being a mirrorless camera, X-Pro2 can also accept many other lenses (like Canon or Nikon) via adapters. Some booster adapters are available as well (which keep the focal length more or less the same when coming down from FF to APS-C).

I use one such adaptor (Zhongyi lens turbo) for the Canon tilt-shift 45/2.8 and it works great. No visible distortion, no issues with weird angles of incident light when tilting the lens and the focal length remains nearly the same… which is just as well since Fuji doesn’t have any TS lenses on offer, and doesn’t plan to make any in near future. As you can probably see by the demo images, I really like my TS.

Fuji X-Pro2 for weddings reviewFuji X-Pro2 with Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 at ISO 200


A real-life wedding shoot

There’s no such thing as an average wedding shoot, but here are some random observations and a conclusion of sorts.

First thing I always notice when I start shooting a wedding is how light my kit now is. Even after quite a number of days of shooting Fuji, I still feel the difference.

Secondly, it’s much easier to blend in with a smaller, less threatening cameras. People tend to act more naturally, have easier time relaxing and the whole rapport is somehow better. I’m more like a friend who came to shoot with his hipster camera and much less a tank aiming his wide apertured canons around the place.

Equally important is the shutter sound. It’s pretty quiet, I could compare it with the 5Dmk3 in silent shutter mode, just without the long blackout Canon suffers from. This is another thing that makes you attract less attention to yourself.

Instant image review in your viewfinder is a huge asset for shooting people because you have instant feedback on how they turned out — if someone blinked or made a weird grimace, you often have a chance to re-take the shot since you didn’t have to take your eye off the viewfinder and the subject is probably still in front of your lens.

Same goes for exposure and it’s live preview with histogram. No more test shots (no matter whether you use manual or auto exposure). I also found the light metering to be much more reliable with the X-Pro2 compared to Canons. This is of little surprise since Fuji uses the main sensor for metering, while the 5Dmk3 has rudimentary 64 zone chip — photographic stone age in comparison.

Finally, you may wonder why I’m not comparing X-Pro2 to 5Dmk4? Well, first off, it’s still not widely available, and I still don’t have it (if I ever will). It costs twice as much, so it’s almost not in the same class.

Canon lenses are also much more expensive. I have the ones I want, but it’s still worth considering since they won’t last forever. The sensor on 5Dmk4 was updated, but first reviews show that the noise and dynamic range are still in the X-Pro2 ballpark, dynamic range being a bit worse and high ISO noise a bit better on Canon.

AF sensor is still separated (unless you shoot in live view), so hello endless AF microadjustments. And importantly, it’s still big and heavy.
All in all, as much as 5Dmk4 is a big step forward, it’s still behind in some important respects (especially when you throw Nikon in the mix — D750 dynamic range, D5 automatic AF microadjustment, etc.)

Conclusion… of sorts

If you stuck with me through the whole review, you might have noticed I’m not really a fanboy. I picked Olympus and Canon few years ago and was now considering switching to Nikon or Sony… and finally went with Fuji. You won’t find me defending this or that brand on a forum somewhere and I really tried to objectively deconstruct the camera, its usability and the whole shooting experience; the good and the bad.

Let me be a bit more subjective now.

It’s probably clear at this point that taking all the pros and cons into the consideration, I stuck with Fuji. On my first wedding with it, I had two Canon backups in my bag… where they remained throughout the day. From then on I shot exclusively Fuji.

Shooting with it is simply more inspiring somehow. It’s kind of paradoxical to say this considering that DSLRs offer true optical view through the lens and I’m viewing the world through an EVF, but there it is. It may be nostalgia which reminds me of all the endless adventures I had with my wife and our Canon A-1s (which look much like X-Pro2s), maybe it’s just that I feel fresher and more able to move around with half the weight on my shoulders, maybe it’s the many physical direct controls like exposure bias wheel and aperture ring, maybe it’s the fiddly ISO dial, maybe it’s the lack of endless P/A/S/M/scene modes on a dedicated dial or the fact I can use my 20 year old mechanical screw-in remote release with the X-Pro2… I don’t know. It just feels like Fuji asked photographers what they wanted, and they just happened to ask the right photographers.

Is it right for you? I don’t know. It’s not for everyone, but what I can say is that I didn’t miss a shot on a wedding that I would’ve captured with a DSLR.

I’m looking forward to seeing where the Fuji takes me next.

Fuji X-Pro2 for weddings reviewFuji X-Pro2 with Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 at ISO 200

Okay, this is it for the part three of this multi-part review. 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. Part
four will probably be published in 2017, if this mythical flash ever comes out.


Review: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3