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Hands On With The New Fujifilm X-Pro2

The release of the Fujifilm X-Pro2 should come as no surprise as Fujifilm named the first camera in the X-Pro series THE X-Pro1, practically guaranteeing a sequel. The X-Pro1 was announced in 2012 and featured an APS-C sensor, the largest size found in compact digital cameras at that time.

Much larger than MicroFourThirds sensors, against which the X-Pro1 competed, the APS-C sensor in the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and its siblings were the largest available sensor size available in the compact camera market, and combined with Fujifilm’s legendary lens quality provided professionals and enthusiasts alike an alternative to carrying larger and more cumbersome DSLR cameras around.

Today’s market has is different from the one in which Fujifilm launched the X-Pro2, and while there isn’t a lot of competition in the compact mirrorless market for cameras using an APS-C sensor—Leica and Samsung notably launched competing systems—Sony’s aggressive development of full-frame compact mirrorless cameras has changed the landscape.

That means that professional photographers now have a wider choice in mirrorless systems than they did in the era of the X-Pro1, and the X-Pro2 has both new competition and new benchmarks for image quality and performance.

Fujiflim, which clearly took its design cues from historical Leica cameras was aimed squarely at professionals. While it was a great first step, there were some areas where the camera came up short, most notably in autofocus and image processing speed, as well as oft-cited “waxy” skin tones at high ISO.

The X-Pro2 comes more than four years after the launch of the X-Pro1, and that’s given Fujifilm some time to address user suggestions and modernize the body. The X-Pro2 now features weatherproofing, revamped top-deck control surfaces, front control dial (just over the redesigned grip) and a completely overhauled rear panel. Inside there’s a bigger buffer, revamped AF system and a bigger range of ISO settings.

Stylistically, the Fujifilm X-Pro2 is one of the most successful of the current crop of retro cameras, mostly because it has embraced its retro styling as a functional asset, not simply out of a desire to capture nostalgic customers. For example, the top control dial on the X-Pro2 has a dual-function design that allows for shutter speed settings with the outer ring and capture speed settings in the center of the ring. The dial looks all the world like a 1970’s film camera, but actually provides increased functionality thanks to the dual ring design, yet right next to it is a thoroughly-modern exposure compensation dial and a programmable function button.

The back of the camera has the most modern design, with the LCD screen moved to the left edge of the camera, providing more room for buttons. Unexpectedly, the LCD screen doesn’t pivot or turn in any way, which I discovered when trying to capture overhead shots of a group of friends dancing wedding reception at a wedding trade show, and wasn’t able to see what I was doing.

Aside from that quirk, the back of the camera is very well thought out, and includes a second control dial and (my favorite feature) a joystick to control AF points. The functionality of these teeny protuberances is so useful that it’s on my list of “Things Every Pro Camera Should Have.”

Speaking of quirks, the X-Pro2 uses a hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder that will be familiar to any existing Fujifilm shooter, but might take some getting used to for shooters from other platforms. In optical mode the camera operates as a rangefinder, showing a crop and a focus point selection. Switch to EVF mode and the cameras switches to a more “conventional” electronic viewfinder. The control for this mode change is located on the front of the camera, disguised as the self-timer or aperture preview switch, so be sure to read the manual before using the camera so you don’t miss any features.

There are some things intentionally missing from the X-Pro2 as well; most notably the LCD screen doesn’t tilt or pivot. While many photographers won’t mind, the camera hasn’t moved into the 4K era, with full HD being the highest resolution possible.

Even with the weatherproofing, the X-Pro2 feels a bit light, by which I mean it’s not a “dense” as many professional cameras. Pick up a pro-level SLR and there’s a heft to it, which is because every millimeter of the case is being used for electronics or mechanics. By contrast the X-Pro2 feels lighter, and while it doesn’t feel cheap by any means, it doesn’t feel as durable as the construction and weatherproofing likely make it.

That said, many people who we handed the X-Pro2 to commented on how good the camera felt in the hand, which is a direct result of that large, boxy shape with generous handholds.

Focus on the X-Pro2 is much improved over the X-Pro1, which is good as the focus on the X-Pro1 was considered by most to be on the slow side, at best. The Fujifilm X-Pro2 is as quick a focusing camera as almost any system I’ve used, and the newly upgrade buffer clears images much more quickly. The combined improvements result in a camera that feels significantly faster than its predecessor. The X-Pro2 locks onto subjects quickly and tracks them well, though not as well as the new Sony a6300, which we reviewed at the same time. Even with face and eye detection active, the X-Pro2 was slightly more likely to lock onto a non-human subject than the a6300 in the same mode.

That the X-Pro2 has that AF control joystick makes the X-Pro2 more versatile in accurate focus and framing than does the a6300, and the inclusion of both a front and rear control dial makes the X-Pro2 more versatile all around as well.

The X-Pro2 has face and eye-detect autofocus and can be set to prioritize the subjects’ left or right eye. The ability to find a subject’s eyeball is, for my money, one of the greatest advances in modern focus design, and one of the strong reasons to go with a mirrorless system. Once you’ve captured a bride or groom’s eyeball at f/1.4 while they’re on the move, without effort it’s hard to go back to trying to land a foucs point on an eye and hope the camera doesn’t grab the nose.

The image quality for the X-Pro2 is among the best-in-class for an APS-C sized sensor. With a “pro” designation in its name and backed by Fujifilm’s excellent quality glass, you’d expect a great looking image, and the sensor in the X-Pro2 does very well, remaining relatively grain free (or at least relatively free of distracting grain) up to ISO 3200 or a bit higher, depending on the scene. That said, most images from ISO 6400 and on up tend to be noisy, again as a result of the physical limitations of an APS-C sensor. The camera still produces much stronger high-ISO images than do cameras with a MicroFourThirds sensor.

While skintones generally did not exhibit the “waxy” quality of the previous camera, we did find a few odd results, notably when shooting at sunset. While the last light of sunset traditionally creates some of the best light for a portrait, shots of my sun instead were overly smooth and cartoonish. This might have to do with the camera’s propensity for super-saturated orange colors. On a hike in the woods with my son and his friend, his friend’s bright-orange coat was much more vividly recorded than my son’s jacket, which was just as vibrantly blue.

Those notes aside, once you get familiar with the co
ntrols and setup of the X-Pro2, it produces some of the best looking images from an APS-C camera I’ve seen. One reviewer I know said of the X-Pro2, “once you’ve dialed it in, it’s magic.”

Also magical seems to be the ability for the X-Pro2 to attract attention. Everyone wants to see the camera, and touch the camera—a good sign for Fujifilm. When I was in Las Vegas for the WPPI show, carrying both the Leica Monochrom and the X-Pro2, scarcely a glance was cast at the Leica, and multiple people asked to play with the X-Pro2. That’s an indication to me to the amount of interest Fujifilm has generated in this camera.

The issue for Fujifilm is that this camera has a new range of competitors, as the landscape has shifted significantly in the years since the X-Pro1 was released. In those days the camera butted heads with Micro Four Thirds systems, and an APS-C sensor can create useable images in much lower light than can a MFT camera. This allowed cameras like the X-Pro1 and the X100 series to step up the image-quality game among compact digital cameras.

But in intervening years between the first and second iteration of this camera, more competition hit the market, with Sony placing a full-frame sensor into a body that’s around the same size, and more importantly, the same price. The Sony a7II and the X-Pro2 both have the same price ($1700, at press time) and a 24 megapixel sensor, but the Sony’s sensor is full-frame, the camera has built-in image stabilization.

In the APS-C market, the Sony a6300 is about $700 less than the Fujifilm X-Pro2 and has the same sized 24MP sensor but also has pro-level 4K video capabilities. Of course both of the Sony cameras lack waterproofing, which gives the X-Pro2 a distinctive edge in harsh climates, but it shows that the X-Pro2 has a much more competitive market than the X-Pro1 did.

The purchase decision about the X-Pro2 will likely come down to one of fidelity to the Fujifilm brand, affinity for the rangefinder-style optics, and the excellent quality of their glass. The camera answers all of the complaints of previous users, throws in several new features and an ergonomic redesign, and protects the body against water and dust to boot. That’s a compelling feature set.

The FujiFilm X-Pro2 is a terrific camera, a great improvement over the previous model and a great indication that Fujifilm is listening to its customers and striving to make a best-in-class camera for pros and advanced users alike.

You can follow David Schloss on Twitter and Instagram @davidjschloss.

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