Thursday, January 14, 2016

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NEW! Hands-on with the X-Pro2

A slew of big announcements from Fujifilm marks this day! A Fujifilm rep was kind enough to lend me a preproduction X-Pro2, an X70 and the new 100-400 zoom a short while ago, just so I could prepare a bit of a hands-on preview in time for the official announcement. Please note that the camera I tested definitely had beta firmware, and I did notice the occasional typo. I also cannot be sure how the camera's performance will change, or what features might still be added, once the final firmware is out. I will publish some more hands-on impressions of how it is to shoot with, once I get my hands on a production camera for a while.

So, now to the X-Pro2… finally! Many have been waiting for an upgrade to Fujifilm's first interchangeable lens X-system camera, and soon the wait will be over. The X-Pro2 improves on its predecessor in pretty much every way. First off, rest assured that Fujifilm's superb Hybrid-VF is still present, and it has been upgraded to offer an optional zoomed EVF focus preview in its lower right corner, even when in OVF mode, just like its cousin, the X00T.

In addition, there is another very interesting new feature, one that I had actually requested long ago, although I'm sure others have too. When you press the centre button on the Hybrid-VF selection lever while in OVF mode, you will get an overlay on the image which shows the relative fields-of-view of the other prime lenses in Fujifilm's lineup. Cool! This is great for quickly checking how a different lenses will frame a shot, without having to physically swap lenses, only to find the other lens is not appropriate after all. I can see this as being quite a time saver in some instances. I have attempted to show this feature by taking a cellphone shot through the OVF. Not the best quality, but it should illustrate the point…

Also, as before with the X-Pro1, if you pull back on the Hybrid-VF lever for a few seconds, you'll toggle between the two magnification modes, both showing their respective sets of framing lines. For the magnified view through the OVF, the framing lines go 35, 56, 60 and 90mm. As new lenses are introduced, a firmware update will easily allow new lenses to be added to the framing line display too. Thankfully, Fujifilm has also added a diopter adjustment control so you won't need to buy any diopter eyepieces to compensate for your vision. The refresh rate when in EVF mode seemed good, and the display was nice and sharp. However, you do not get the same huge view with the EVF that you get when looking through an X-T1, likely a limitation of the X-Pro2 not having a big VF bulge on top of the camera. There's simply less room inside the body for the VF optics. So, there have been some definite Hybrid-VF upgrades that I'm excited about, but it certainly doesn't stop there…

Finally we have an X-system camera with a significantly upgraded, 24.3 megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor. Standard sensitivity now ranges from ISO 200 to 12,800 for raw shooting (up a stop), and with JPEGs you can now go as high as ISO 51,200. Maybe not quite as stratospheric as some of the latest Sony or Nikon cameras, but an improvement is welcome. With all of Fujifilm's fast primes though, I personally rarely feel the need to go above ISO 3200, even in handheld situations at night. The sensor also has a larger and wider array of autofocus phase-detect pixels, now up to 273 focus points, of which 77 are phase detect (all selectable too), covering a larger part of the sensor. Remember that the X-Pro1 didn't have any phase-detect focus points at all, so anyone upgrading from that model should see a spectacular improvement in focus speed and tracking performance.

The mechanical shutter has been substantially upgraded too, now offering a top speed of 1/8000 and a  flash sync speed of 1/250. The new shutter is smooth and well damped, with minimal vibration and noise but despite that, it is very fast in its overall action. Its feel and sound really inspires confidence somehow that it will a reliable, and long-lasting mechanism. The X-Pro2 now features an electronic shutter as well, something that has been on all of the more recent Fujifilm models, great when you want to shoot in virtual silence or need high shutter speeds to shoot those fast primes wide open in bright light.

The new X-Pro2 manages 8fps shooting with a generous buffer, allowing for 33 frames of lossless compressed raws or 83 JPEGs. Wait, what? Yes indeed, Fujifilm has finally decided to include a compressed raw file option, one that does not harm image quality but shrinks the X-Pro2's 24 megapixel, 50.4 MB uncompressed raws down to a much more manageable 25-ish megabytes. The degree of compression will vary based on image content (detail & noise) and in my testing, an ISO 200 shot was around 22MB and an ISO 12,800 shot was 27.6MB. Those raw file sizes are actually smaller than the 33.3 MB uncompressed raws, which are the only option on the X-E2.

There have been a few control changes too. The exposure compensation dial is now a lot larger and easier to operate, allowing for +/- 3 stops. In addition, it has a 'C' setting that will then allow you to use a control wheel to vary exposure by up to +/- 5 stops. The other obvious change is an über-retro ISO settings dial that is integrated with the shutter speed dial! You pull up on the spring-loaded dial, the outer-collar lifts and then unlocks the ISO dial which then turns freely. This allows Fujfilm to add another satisfying mechanical control to the X-Pro2, without having to add yet another dial to the camera, as they had to with the X-T1. Personally, I wish the ISO settings had a 'C" mode too, just like the exposure compensation dial, which would then delegate the ISO settings to one of the X-Pro2's two control wheels. Wait, what? Yep… like the X-T10 and X-T1 the X-Pro2 now has both a front and back control wheel, both with a push-in click operation like the X-T10. There are now also three highly programmable Auto-ISO modes, so with the right setup, you may rarely need to actually touch the ISO settings collar.

The rear LCD display has been significantly improved, now by far the best of all X-sytem cameras with a whopping 1.6 million dots. It's also now been moved out to the left edge, and thus some buttons have been shuffled around a bit too. While on the subject of pixel counts and resolution, the EVF is a 2.36 million dot OLED unit (with what seemed to me to be an extremely fast refresh rate), and the files you get out of the camera work out to 6000x4000 pixels.

Also, you can see that the X-Pro2 now features a focus-point selector joystick, very similar to what Canon has been using for years, and to what the high-end bodies from Nikon have recently featured too. This is a huge ergonomic improvement and it is now much easier to reach that joystick, than to move your thumb down to the 4-way selector buttons to change focus points. It also frees up those buttons to assign custom functions to them. Speaking of buttons, they generally all feel great, nice tactile response, easy to feel by touch, in other words not too recessed or flush, although I do have one complaint. I find the AE-L button to be quite a stretch to reach, and I really don't see why they didn't move it a bit closer to the right of the camera, making it easier for your thumb to get to? My other minor complaint is that the front scroll wheel, below the shutter release, seems a bit too flush. I would have liked to see that wheel protruding just a little bit more, in order to make it easier to turn, although I do suspect one will get used to it though. That said, it may simply have been a fault in the particular preproduction body I was testing?

The magnesium alloy body is now weather-resistant, matching the X-T1 spec there, however that has made the X-Pro2 just a little bit bigger, and just a little bit heavier than the X-Pro1. But not by much really. Here is back view, showing the new X-Pro2 on the left and the original X-Pro1 on the right. Not a big size difference and here you can also see how the LCD and buttons have been rearranged...

One small improvement you might just be able to see here, is that the left-side PC flash-sync terminal is now sitting high, and not near the bottom edge as with the X-Pro1. If you are using a sync cord to trigger a studio flash, having the cable plugged into the X-Pro1 made it a bit awkward to comfortably cradle the body with your left hand. Not an issue with the X-Pro2 now. That said, who isn't using hot-shoe mounted wireless triggers for their strobes these days?

One big improvement is the behaviour at half-press of the shutter button. Previous Fujifilm X-system models, going all the way back to the X100, and even including the current flagship pro model X-T1, have refused to keep the AF locked while you maintain a half-press of the shutter release. In other words, let's say you are on centre point focus and want to take a shot of someone off to the side of the frame. You point the camera at your subject, half-press to lock focus, then recompose and shoot. That part works fine with all other Fujifilm cameras, but with virtually ever other camera on the market, if you maintain the half-press after your initial exposure, you could take several more photos without having the camera refocus. Not so with Fujifilm bodies!

With all the previous Fujifilm models, when you push to a full-press, from a held half-press, the cameras would lose their focus lock and always refocus. I have always resorted to configuring the AF-L button as an on/off toggle on my Fujifilm bodies, but it sure would be nice if the shutter release just operated like every other brand of autofocus camera that I've ever used. Well with the X-Pro2, finally, at long last, Fujifilm has listened and made the shutter release work as expected! Ironically, with the new joystick, it will be a lot easier to simply move the focus point, rather than focus-and-recompose, so of all the Fujifilm bodies, the new X-Pro2 needs this upgrade the least I'd say!

Despite not having a dedicated video button, the X-Pro2 does indeed do Full HD video (up to 60p) with roughly the same specifications as the X-T1 or X-T10. It has built-in stereo mics and also an input for an external microphone. No 4K option though, which was incorrectly rumoured some time ago. Whether or not the bit-rate has been increased or the overall video quality has been improved since the X-T1, I am not sure, but it is supposed to be significantly better than previous X-system cameras with more detail and less colour artifacting. Here are a few more changes that I noted when handling the prototype…

  • Dual SD card slots, but only one of them being UHS-II like the X-T1's slot. There are options to save raws to one card, jpegs to the other, or raw+jpeg to both for backup purposes.
  • Completely redesigned menus should make it easier for someone new to the Fujifilm system to work the settings. Now there is a user-defined custom menu too, which you can populate with your most used settings.
  • Not only can you use an old-school threaded mechanical cable release still, but unlike the X-Pro1 there is also an electronic release socket, enabling wireless remote triggering, control with a timer remote etc. The camera does have time-lapse features built in too though.
  • When you are in manual focus mode, the framing rectangle in OVF mode smoothly moves to show the parallax at the currently selected focus distance. On the X-Pro1, it only showed the correct framing parallax after half pressing the shutter release.
  • Overall the camera felt fast: fast to boot up, fast between shots etc. That may improve further once the final firmware arrives too.
  • Wifi has been added of course, not only for wireless image transfers but also for remote control of the camera. Sadly, no GPS though although when you are WiFi tethered to a phone, you can transfer GPS coordinates to the camera that way. However having one built-in would be much more convenient.
  • New ACROS film simulation mode and optional grain-effects.
  • Larger and more comfortable hand-grip and a nice big thumb ridge that extends to the top of the body. I found it very comfortable to hold even without an optional, larger hand-grip although one will be available as an accessory.
  • Same NP-W126 battery back as before, which is both good and bad. Great for people upgrading with lots of existing batteries but it might have been nice to boost the capacity at the expense of backwards compatibility…
What I don't have the answers to yet, are a few key pieces of info…
  • How well will this new, higher megapixel sensor actually perform as far as high ISO and dynamic range?
  • Is the AF system improved and if so by how much? Is focus tracking more reliable?
  • How good is the video quality… it may be better, but is it good enough for professional projects now?
  • Are there any lenses in Fujifilm's lineup that will disappoint when faced being imaged with a 24 megapixel sensor? I think that the majority of lenses, especially most of the primes, will continue to perform admirably but maybe some of the less expensive zooms will start to falter?
I won't be able to answer the above questions until I've had a chance to do some detailed, hands-on shooting with this new flagship model from Fujifilm. They have not yet announced the exact date when it will become available, but my guess is sometime before the end of February. The body will sell for about $1,899. A bundle with Fujifilm's new $499 XF 35mm f/2 will also be available with a $150 rebate. Based on my testing of the preproduction camera, I was quite impressed overall and will very likely be ordering one of these for myself as soon as I can. Now… if only it came in a silver version...


nycity paul said...

as a new owner im reading as many reviews as i can both early and late to help my transision from an xe2 , having never used the x pro 1 ..... your writing is comfortable to read and pleasantly thoughtful..... thanks and cheers from nyc

Brian Hopkins said...
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