SHOOTING LANDSCAPES WITH THE X-PRO2

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Rumour sites have been hot with anticipation for months, eagerly awaiting the release of the successor to the Fujifilm X-Pro1. I’m delighted to reveal that I’ve had the enviable opportunity of shooting landscapes with a pre-release version of the X-Pro2 for the past two months after being invited to contribute to the 100 X-Photographers exhibition in Tokyo, celebrating the first 5 years of X-Series.

How does it perform?

Well, the short answer, is that it’s nothing short of astonishing. But for a more in-depth landscape photographers perspective: here’s the lowdown.

24MP X-TRANS III

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I’ve been using X-Series cameras since their inception with the Fujifilm X100. My initial attraction was driven by the nostalgic love of setting the exposure using good old-fashioned mechanical dials; reminiscent of using my old film cameras of yesteryear. But that’s as far as the ‘old-fashioned’ part of the experience goes: everything else about X-Series has always been very futuristic. The development of the X-Trans sensor has brought astonishing image quality to the APS-C sensor size and today heralds a new dawn for landscape photography: today, the gap between full-frame and APS-C has closed.

The laws of physics dictate that full-frame sensors of any given type will always create slightly better image quality than crop sensors of the same type; but that rule only holds true for identically engineered sensors. The X-Trans sensor is different, it uses a more random array of colour pixels which reduces moiré and eliminates the need for an optical low-pass filter. This ingenious design produces images of a far higher image quality (IQ) than would be expected from an APS-C sized sensor; images more akin to full-frame cameras.

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Large prints up to about A2 size, from previous X-Trans sensors have demonstrated superb quality, equal to that of the best current full-frame 35mm sensors. However, if we make very large prints (A1 and larger) from the 16 megapixel X-trans sensors found in the X-T1 and X-Pro1, then on close inspection it is possible to discern a small difference between such prints and those made from the best full-frame cameras available. The fact that this difference is so small is pretty incredible, because the APS-C sensors are 1.5 times smaller: testament to the design alchemy of X-Trans. Of course, we don’t usually get too up close and personal with gallery prints, and in the real world these differences are unimportant to non-photographer viewers or buyers. I’ve always been completely happy to exhibit large prints made with the X-Pro1 and X-T1 cameras, they both create images that exceed my requirements for image quality and I love the unique and addictive ‘image-feel’ created by X-Trans so much that for me, no other sensor comes close.

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The most exciting thing about the amazing new 24 megapixel X-Trans III sensor in the X-Pro2, is that it finally closes the full-frame IQ gap completely, there is no longer any significant or discernible difference between very large prints made from X-Trans and full-frame. The jump in quality also allows for compositional cropping, which has always been a useful tool in the armoury of the landscape photographer.

The image processing engine has also been massively improved, it’s 4 times faster than the previous one, so for coastal photographers shooting high-speed in ‘drive’ mode to capture perfect wave action, there will be minimal waiting for the camera to write to the card. Everything is noticeably quicker than the already quick previous ‘flag-ship’ X-T1 model: start-up, autofocus, and writing to memory. We now have the joy of using a smaller, faster, lighter camera, with a smaller, lighter set of superbly engineered Fujinon lenses, that facilitates the production of prints with no discernible quality difference to full-frame.

IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT

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The designers at Fujifilm are very wise. The X-Pro1 was an evolution in camera design: we loved the retro styling combined with the very latest ‘under the bonnet’ technology. The importance of the tactile feel of a camera is something which can never be overstated, because if a camera feels right, it translates into a more pleasurable user experience. The more we can enjoy using a camera on location, the more carefree we feel, and the more creative we become. All the most used buttons are in the same places and the layout of the back of the camera has been tweaked to make the LCD bigger and restrict adjacent buttons to it’s right side. This makes more sense for shooting handheld. Importantly, the camera feels much the same in the hand as the X-Pro1, and where it differs, the changes are all subtle improvements.

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The other aspect of X-Trans which could so easily be lost in a new camera, with a new sensor, is the ‘image feel’ that we have come to love: thankfully, the emotive filmic quality of images has been maintained, if not bettered with the X-Pro2. This is an aspect that is difficult to articulate, but is immediately apparent as soon as you start processing your first X-Trans images; most people who start using X-series cameras quickly fall in love with this characteristic filmic emotive translation.

RANGEFINDER… LANDSCAPE… REALLY…?

Landscape photographers who have made the jump to X-Trans from Digital SLRs will often have a predilection for always using a tripod wherever possible. ‘Always use a tripod’ is a good mantra for a ‘classical’ style of landscape shooting, it’s a good way of always ensuring a high quality result by slowing us down, concentrating our attention towards perfect composition, allowing for good depth of focus through the image by use of a small aperture and consequent longer necessary shutter-speed, and of course, a tripod is essential for long exposure photography. However, there is a different style of shooting landscapes: namely handheld. I don’t mean to sound patronising but it’s not obvious to everyone; there was a time when I needed the possibility of shooting handheld spelling out to me, I’d shoot 99%+ of all my images with the camera mounted on a tripod.

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It was Steve Watkins, accomplished travel photographer and editor of Outdoor Photography Magazine, who first suggested to me that I might like to try shooting handheld, he thought it might open my (strongly tripod orientated) mind to new experiences, and it was the Fuji X-Pro1 that further encouraged me to pursue the idea. The rangefinder styling of the X-Pro1 lends itself beautifully to handheld shooting, and strangely, although I’m not shooting people and having to interact with my subject in a bidirectional sense; shooting handheld with a rangefinder style camera with viewfinder on the left and exposing your face to your subject is definitely a more immersive experience.

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I nearly always use my X-T1 mounted on a tripod, but while shooting images for Fuji in a very wet Lake District in preparation for the launch of the X-Pro2, I frequently chose to wander through the landscape without the tripod, shooting ‘tree portraits’, extracted details and wide vistas. Shooting like this creates a more immersive mindset and encourages creativity in some alternative and more ‘reactive’ directions. Choosing to shoot handheld was not a conscious decision, it was only later that it struck me how many of the images were shot this way. It was the X-Pro2 that encouraged a different type of interaction. Until I received the X-Pro2, I’ve mainly been using the X-T1 because of the improvements in spec over the X-Pro1 (mainly weather sealing and more intuitive control set). I will no doubt buy an X-T2 whenever one becomes available, but I think my use of the X-Pro2 will continue, for shooting landscapes of a certain style. I can foresee a future dual camera system with the different camera designs encouraging different nuances of style and technique.

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The Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) in the X-Pro2 is superb, it has the same resolution as that in the X-T1 but a much faster refresh rate. The end result of this in a practical sense, is that it feels almost like using an optical finder in terms of realism, but it’s always bright, and it shows us exactly how our image is going to look because we have all the same feedback that’s achievable on the LCD; it’s also fantastic for accurate focusing. For those photographers enjoying the occasional dalliance with street photography, the Optical Viewfinder (OVF) allows us to see subjects moving outside the final frame, before they enter it, which is not possible with an EVF. So for my love of shooting handheld, the EVF improvements are very encouraging.

The other thing worthy of mention is that unlike the X-Pro1, the viewfinder of the X-Pro2 has a diopter adjustment dial – so it’s good for those of us with less than perfect vision.

WET WEATHER CONUNDRUMS

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The X-Pro2 is now weather sealed, like the X-T1. I must say that weather has never provided a problem for me using X-Series, because if it’s raining, I shoot from under an umbrella using a tripod. My ultimate lens choices at the time of writing are all the original zooms and they aren’t weather sealed, unlike some of the newer Fujinon lenses, but they are much lighter and smaller, so I’m happy to forgo the weather protection.

TWO ARE BETTER THAN ONE

We now have dual SD card slots for redundancy, sequential shooting or to separate JPEGs from RAW files.

While we’re on the subject of JPEGs, I must say, I’ve never really believed photographers who say they just shoot JPEGs with their X-series cameras and that there’s no need to shoot RAF files. However, Lightroom understandably doesn’t understand files from prototype cameras, so shooting the commission for Fuji meant I couldn’t process files in the usual fashion. For the first time, I had to make do with JPEGs, but I needn’t have worried. What a revelation, they really are great to use straight out of camera, and you can process them with relative ease in Lightroom too, the JPEGs straight out of camera are amazing. If you shoot X-Series and haven’t shot JPEGs for a while, do try it, just to bend your mind; my, how things have changed.

THE EXPOSURE TRIANGLE

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One of the beautiful things about the X-T1 was the ability to change the ISO on the top dial. The incorporation of this addition to the X-Pro2 is a very welcome one; for many of us, ISO has gained increasing credence among the three exposure variables in the digital world, in a way it never did with film (obviously). It’s importance has continuously increased along with technological improvements in low noise with high ISO capabilities. So it seems completely sensible to bestow it with equal importance on the top plate of the new X-Pro. This inclusion demanded some creative design though, because to include ISO without altering the minimalist appearance and feel of the camera would have provided a challenge. The inclusion of the ISO dial within the shutter-speed section dial is a perfect solution, and once you’ve used it, you’ll love it.

JOYSTICK CONTROLLER

There are now 77 selectable focus points spread over a wider area and they can be instantly and directly selected, without the need to go through a menu, by using a new joystick controller on the back of the camera. When the Fuji team first handed me the new codename ‘LEO’ camera and I saw the joystick, I wondered what it was, but as soon as I started shooting it quickly became obvious that this was a major new feature that would have a massive benefit on usability, and it has. It’s now easier to shoot with autofocus enabled and shift the focus point quickly to your area of (hopefully hyperfocal) interest within the scene, than it is to use manual focus.

AND LOTS MORE

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There are seemingly countless improvements to the design of this new X-Pro, but none of them change the overall feel and experience of using the camera, which is a wonderful feat of design by the team at Fuji.

I haven’t mentioned the high resolution LCD and what a joy it is to use, the snazzy focus tricks using the hybrid viewfinder that have been borrowed from the X100T, the awesome new ACROS film simulation, the improved colour reproduction, the lower noise at very high ISOs (it’s useable up to 12,800 even in shooting RAW). There are plenty of websites that list the specs for those who are interested, but suffice to say that for landscape photographers, this is an awesome camera, that encourages you to create in new ways.

Everything has clearly been very thoughtfully considered and the benefits of every change weighed against the potential disadvantages. For the style of shooting and the kind of artist this camera is designed for, it’s just about as close to perfect as I can imagine.


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DISCLAIMER

The views expressed in this article are my own. I’m a Fuji X-Photographer, I occasionally speak on behalf of Fujifilm at events and I offer honest feedback about the use of their products. However, my evangelistic enthusiasm for X-series is entirely heartfelt and genuine, I do not receive any payment from Fujifilm.


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