From Leo to Revelation | Journey with the X-Pro2
What a journey this has been. Since early November I've had the incredible honour of carrying and shooting a prototype X-Pro2...all while keeping it a secret from everyone. Can you imagine? I wanted to show it off and jump for joy, plaster its images all over the website and let everyone know that yes, it was the camera we'd been waiting for. Well, I finally can: it's the camera we've been waiting for.
By now you've probably seen the extent of the project the company organized around its new flagship camera, along with the fifth anniversary of the X-Series. Being a part of this has indeed been an incredible privilege: the chance to be at ground zero for an upcoming product doesn't happen very often. Providing not only images but last minute feedback on a camera you're likely to be using on a daily basis is something even more invaluable. I imagine countless reviews now populate the blogosphere, coinciding with the lift of the embargo; so this won't be a review—not exactly. Let's call it...I don't know...a train of thought? A series of anecdotes? To tell you the truth, as I write this I'm not exactly sure. Let's just begin with a journal of sorts and head back to that restaurant...
All images shot with a pre-production X-Pro2
Friday November 6, 2015 (continued).
"Man what a thrill. My first reaction is pretty straightforward: it's exactly what I wanted—an X-Pro1 with slightly more heft. At least it feels that way. I know how long this road has been, from there to here, and I can now see how seriously the company took the feedback we gave them. The camera I'm holding feels like an old friend.
In the bag is also the new XF 35mm f2. I mount the lens on the camera, turn it on and as I'm looking through the new menus...crash. Then a few minutes later, another crash.
Welcome to the cutting edge."
Monday November 9, 2015.
"Strangely, the camera has settled over the last few days and the crashes have all but disappeared. But this is clearly a prototype: image preview doesn't work yet, menus display incorrectly, some of the in-camera settings are reversed...the toughest bugs to deal with are related to the EVF: there's an intense flickering every time I take a shot, transforming the experience into a slightly psychedelic affair. The screen also has trouble analyzing light conditions and will randomly get extremely dark, even with auto adjustments turned off.
But I have a job to do and I'm trying to see the potential through the bugs, imagine the intention, what the camera will become. One thing's quickly becoming very obvious: in spite of Leo's erratic behaviour, I've instantly taken to the new focus lever and I now find myself missing it on my other X cameras. Today I picked up the X-T1 and my thumb reached out into an empty void; stupid muscle memory.
I'm also discovering new features I didn't initially know about, namely expanded in-camera picture controls: highlights, shadows, colour and sharpening now go up to +4 instead of +2. Yes, we're talking JPEG here but man...add a simple curves tool in here and we might just end up in SOOC territory, crafting our very own film looks. Dreaming."
Saturday November 14, 2015.
We watch events unfold on the living room TV, trying to grasp the reality of yet another horrific event. The next morning I wake up and hear about a gathering in Montreal in the afternoon. Gear is insignificant at this point but I leave the new camera home in case I should meet someone I know; Turns out I was right to be careful. The impromptu ceremony is understated, beautiful and emotional. As I’m about to leave I see someone shooting with an old film camera and we start talking: he’s from France on business. We escape the reality by reverting to gear geeks for a few minutes…Sometimes it’s the smallest things."
Monday November 16, 2015.
"Flash syncing at 1/250s. Hello, nice to see you again :)
Part of our assignment with the X-Pro2 is to provide 4 images, one of which will be printed as part of a special exhibition at the Tokyo launch event. I plan on trying out different styles and today I'm testing the camera's studio abilities. I've asked Cynthia to model, which she absolutely loves to d...ok no, she really doesn't. But I'm heavily biased and happen to think she looks great for this type of portrait. I'm using a book on Canadian painter Christopher Pratt as my inspiration—I really like his muted palette and very clean, almost clinical visual style— and I've been playing around with the setup, doing test shots. I finally settle on a simple two light scheme: a strobe in an Elinchrom Deep Octa as the key light, high up camera left, way in front and almost perpendicular to the subject; a speedlight in an Orbis Ring (RIP) as fill, lower and on-axis. I've also added a silver reflector camera right to fill in some of the shadows. So yeah...technically a third "light source".
When Cynthia joins me I know exactly what I want and the shoot happens pretty quickly. And one of my test shots turns out looking like an interesting still life, so I decide to include it in the keepers as a possible diptych.
The camera is still running the same temperamental firmware so it's a little unsettling—it doesn't feel like the Fuji cameras I'm used to. But the images? Well, they blow me away. Along with our processed versions we'll need to provide the raw files to Fuji, but the only software that can decode them at this time is a special version of Silkypix we've been provided with...and that's a whole bizarro universe of its own. So I've been shooting raw+fine and decide to work from the JPEGs on these shots, using the in-camera raw decoding to create a few different options to start from.
Friday November 20, 2015.
"It's Christmas! Well no, not yet. But we’ve just received an updated firmware version and man…this is a brand new new camera. Everything’s fixed. I can now shoot this like any other X series body. What a difference. The weird flickers are gone, image preview works…every single visible bug seems to have been squashed in one fell swoop. Now the real assessment can begin.
The kids are off from school and have a dentist appointment. I bring the camera along to pass the time and see how it behaves with the new firmware. Not only am I not disappointed at all but I'm seriously taking to this Focus Lever. Plus the whole layout feels really natural—I don't have to think about where anything is. My only gripe is with the AE-L button that feels a bit too recessed but I'm told production units will be different. Good. Very good.
No cavities either. The kids I mean...not the camera."
Wednesday November 25, 2015.
"The November 30th deadline is fast approaching and I've scheduled an early morning downtown street shoot, hoping the light will cooperate. No such luck: I cross the La Fontaine tunnel and smash headlong into a thick, dark fog covering the island, my dreams of long shadows and city structures evaporating. I'm driving across town, cursing the weather, searching for a plan B when magically, the clouds lift; by the time I park the car I'm back in business.
It's freezing today. I take a break from the cold at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. Then I phone a friend and drop by his workshop. More scenes. More pics. Always more..."
I guess this is as good a time as any to end this journal—that last paragraph makes for a nice open ending don't you think? Let's do that. But the story, of course, doesn't stop here; I did have a lot of time with this camera. We've gone through another firmware revision and although these aren't officially production-ready, the camera's been rock solid since the December update. Check out the rest of the journey below (visual essays and a sort of review) or head on over to KAGE for our collective launch issue with even more essays and reviews of the X-Pro2.
What a ride.