Fuji X-Pro2 Review as a Travel and Expedition Camera
X-Pro2 Background and Camera Features
The Fuji X-Pro2 is a small light 24 MP APS-C camera that was released in March of 2016. Looking like a classic film rangefinder and weighing only 495 grams including battery and memory card, it would seem, at a glance to be a perfect travel camera. I’m always looking to reduce the size and weight of my camera system without sacrificing quality. In the past I had been disappointed with the the Sony NEX system. However, we had heard nothing but positive things about the Fuji X system from people we knew and trusted. With this in mind we purchased a camera body and a handful of lenses.
Coming from a Nikon DSLR system, the Fuji felt almost weightless and the clean rectangular design slid in and out of my bags easily without snagging. There was no lumpy pentaprism. That was the immediate appeal, size, weight and clean smooth lines. When we were planning our most recent around the world adventure, I went back and forth between taking my tried and true Nikon setup or the X-Pro2. I didn’t want to take both. The benefits of the Nikon system included familiarity, I knew where all the controls were and what they did. I could operate my Df with my eyes closed, I knew which way everything turned and how far I could or could not push my gear. Also, the Df had been known as the Queen of Darkness because of superb low light performance and I wasn’t sure if the APS-C sensor of the Fuji could keep up or produce an acceptable file at 3200 or 6400 ISO.
The Fuji sports a traditional rangefinder style design. However it does not use a rangefinder focusing system. Instead the X-Pro2 utilizes an ingenious hybrid viewfinder that easily switches between an optical viewfinder with frame lines matching the lens being used and an electronic viewfinder. The optical viewfinder does not show the image as seen through the viewfinder, it uses a clear passthrough window located on the upper left side of the camera body. The optical viewfinder also has the option of displaying a small magnified electronic focusing aid in it’s lower right corner. All the viewfinder modes are available on the fly simply by flipping a small lever on the front of the camera. This hybrid viewfinder becomes valuable depending on the focal length of lens being used and the existing lighting conditions which I will discuss in more detail shortly.
The X-Pro2 also features mechanical exterior dials that control shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure compensation, This is useful for people like myself that like to reset our cameras between uses to a standard set up or starting point. It also allows the user to view the settings at a glance without having to turn the camera on. These mechanical dials and all metal weather sealed construction feel nice and solid in the hand. There are twins SD card slots on the right side of the camera and the battery goes in the bottom. The camera also has video functions which I don’t use. There is no battery grip available for the X-Pro2 and I carried 5 camera batteries on this trip. If there was a battery grip available for this camera I would not use it because it would defeat the purpose of using such a small, light camera.
Lens choices for this around the world adventure consisted of four primes and one zoom. The four primes were the 23mm f/2 WR, 35mm f/2 WR, 50mm f/2 WR and the 14mm f/2.8 R. The 23mm f/2 is a fine lens but is not wide enough to photograph interiors and I love the 90 degree field of view that the 14mm offers. The single zoom I brought was the 50-140mm f/2.8 WR specifically for field use while on wildlife safari in the jungles of India.
The Fuji X-Pro2 is an APS-C type camera therefore there is a 1.5x magnification factor applied to the lenses discussed in this article. A 14mm has a 90 degree angle of view and is therefore a 21mm full frame equivalent, a 23mm lens has the same angle of view as a 35mm full frame lens, a 35mm lens has the same angle of view as a full frame 53mm lens and a 50mm lens sees like a 75mm. The 50-140mm f/2.8 lens is equivalent to a 70-200mm full frame zoom.
The Fuji X-Pro2 system was smaller and lighter than my Nikon travel system. I have used the Thinktank Streetwalker Hard Drive backpack to store and carry my camera system when I travel for the past 7 or 8 years. It was always with me in the open air jeep on safari to keep things organized and protect all my stuff from the elements. Walking the streets on “urban safari” I had a vintage looking hand made leather messenger style purse.
When you read or watch a review, people read off the spec sheets and gloss right by the weather sealing of the camera body and lenses. Weather sealing is very important for me since I travel the world and encounter all kinds of environments, water, rain, sea spray, fine dust, freezing cold and scorching deserts. Therefore I need weather sealed cameras and lenses. The X-Pro2 did not disappoint in this regard. There were no issues shooting in the cold temperatures, rain and snow of Eastern Europe or the Black Forest of Germany. I was also happy that I had no gear related issues in the central Indian jungles with all the dirt and plumes of dust.
X-Pro2 In the field and Review of Use
Arriving In Budapest, I was anxious to get out and eperience the gorgeous sights of the city. It was cold but the air was clear and crisp. Walking around the city I decided to keep the 23mm f2 on the camera with the 50mm f/2 and 14mm f/2.8 in my bag. Everything else stayed in my pack back in the hotel room. I like to photograph people and interiors when I travel, sometimes if there’s something that really catches my eye, I’ll take a few landscapes.
I know it’s my own fault but I didn’t spend a lot of time with the X-Pro2 before traveling so it took me a day of fiddling with it to begin to get the feel of the camera and it’s focusing system. I tried using facial recognition and focus tracking modes and was unhappy, I felt like I needed to spend more time playing with those modes and seeing how they responded before I felt comfortable using them. I ended up falling back on spot focus and depending on the little joystick on the back on the camera, this worked really well. I also kept the camera in optical viewfinder mode while using the 23mm in good light. However, when the light dimmed I preferred the electronic view finder since I showed me exactly what was being recorded on the sensor and I found this to be a great tool especially when shooting in dim interiors or at night as I often do. I also used the EVF while photographing with the 14mm lens since the lens and lens hood blocked a significant portion of the optical viewfinder.
My first use of the X-Pro2 at night was when I took this photograph of the historic Parliament Building and Chain Bridge over the River Danube in Budapest. I used the 23mm with an ISO of 6400 and it’s has a bit of noise in the dark sky, not awful and it doesn’t have red speckles but it’s there. Still I think it’s a very pleasing night scape.
By the time we were in Prague, I had been using the Fuji for a few days, exposed several hundred images and was getting more comfortable with it’s use. We walked the streets and back alleys for several hours and the small light camera was a joy to have with me. My primary lenses remained the 23mm and 14mm. Although at night when processing the images, I found that I wanted to crop several of the images taken with the 23, it’s field of view was just a little wider than I was seeing. Traditionally that’s what people do with a 23mm, crop, and that caused me to re-evaluate my lens choices.
India was incredibly photogenic, and depending on where you are, you might be in tight narrow alleys with dappled light, wide crowded boulevards, in the countryside, surrounded by farmland or you could be in a heavily forested jungle. I found that the 23mm worked well in narrow alleys and using the optical viewfinder with continuous spot focus I nailed just about every capture. Typically when an image was soft it was my fault for not using a high enough ISO and high enough shutter speed to get a crisp photo. This was a lesson I learned pretty early on, I was so used to the VR in my Nikkor glass that my technique got a little too relaxed and I had to tighten things up a bit.
The last location I used the 23mm as my primary lens was Kolkata, after that just about everything that wasn’t a wildlife image was taken with the wonderful little 35mm f/2. That lens was just as clear, sharp and contrasty as it’s 23mm little sister and was perfect for the documentary style photography I like to do with no need to crop. They say that you are either a ( full frame) 35mm angle fo view person or a 50mm angle of view person. I am definitely in the 50mm camp.
I used the 14mm f/2.8 primarily to photograph tight spaces and interiors. The f/2.8 speed was a non issue since I typically dial the aperture up to get more depth of field. So long as I have enough depth of field and the shutter speed is high enough to get the effect I’m looking for, I’m good to go. I took the photograph above with the 14mm at f/3.2, 1/50 sec and ISO 8000 while I steadied myself by leaning up against the temple wall and holding my breath.
The longest lens I brought with me was the 50-140mm f/2.8 zoom and frankly I wish I had brought something longer. I’ve been on safari before in Northern India and found my full frame 70-200mm to have plenty of reach. Tiger Safari in India is not like Lion and Cheetah Safari in Africa. In Africa I’d want at least 400mm of reach. You don’t have the vast spaces and wide open savannah in India. Instead, the jungle typically comes right up to the sides of the road and a tiger can walk right past you. That being said, I was happy to have the weather sealing since the dirt was so bad. I found myself constantly wiping caked on dust from the exterior of the camera and lenses but I never had a problem with dust getting inside the camera or lenses. The weather sealing did it’s job well. The X-Pro2 was not a DSLR so it was necessary to use the EVF while photographing with the 50-140mm lens.
Criticisms of the X-Pro2
There were a few issues I ran into while using the X-Pro2 as a travel and safari camera. The most annoying problem was the location and ease with which the diopter adjustment dial was moving around and changing it’s setting. The little dial sticks out just enough that the setting changed almost every time I pulled my camera out of my bag. Several times I pulled my camera out, put the viewfinder up to my eye and was greeted with a blurry field of view. To correct this I had to fiddle with the dial to get it right and after a while I found myself looking at the dipper dial as soon as I pulled the camera out of the bag to make sure it was correct. This is a big serious problem and I hope Fuji is working on a fix.
The exposure compensation dial sits on the upper right side of the camera body and tends to get moved around while inside a camera bag, taking the camera in and out of a bag and sometimes while the camera is hanging on a strap. This is a serious problem and can result in photographs being unintentionally over or underexposed if care is not taken. I ended up using the same strategy I used with the diopter dial, I looked at it every time I took my camera out of my bag. In the future I hope Fuji would take the toggle lock buttons that are so terrific on the X-T2 and place them on the exposure compensation dial to fix this issue.
The Fuji X cameras use aperture rings on the lenses and I love this because I almost always shoot in aperture priority mode. The issue I had with he aperture ring was the lag seen in the viewfinder between the time I rotated the aperture ring and the time the numbers changed in the viewfinder. If I turned the ring slowly there was no lag but if I spun the ring quickly, as I sometimes need to do, the lag was really noticeable causing me to hesitate before pressing the shutter. The numbers should change instantaneously, there should be immediate feedback. This lag is not acceptable on a modern camera and something I’ve not seen with any other “professional” brand.
Battery life. I went through 2-3 batteries on each day of shooting.
APS-C cameras of the past had problems with mediocre build quality and a distinct lack of professional native mount wide angle lens options. This is no longer the case. The Fuji X-Pro2 is a robust, small, light, high quality camera with plenty of superb Fujinon glass. The camera handled well and was easy and intuitive to use. Even so, there were problems I repeatedly ran into and these were the diopter adjustment dial, the exposure compensation dial, lag in the viewfinder when moving the aperture ring and poor battery life.
I really enjoyed the small stealthy rangefinder form factor. It was certainly true that I drew much less attention with the Fuji than I have in the past with my DSLR. Using small primes was a refreshing change. On a typical day of shooting in India I had a prime on the camera and another in a cargo pocket on my pants. Usually these were the 35mm f/2 and the 14mm f/2.8. Images produced were crisp, clear and contrasty. I took images at ISO 8000 that were beautiful without offensive noise. In my experience, the APS-C sensor was a non issue.
I intend to continue using the X-Pro2 as my travel camera. The benefits far outweigh the handful of negatives. The only time I regretted not having my DSLR was on tiger safari in central India where bigger glass would have been a huge benefit. Maybe the Fujinon 100-400mm will fill this need, I’ve heard a lot of good things about that lens, I’ll have to give it a test drive and see.