From Leo to Revelation | Journey with the X-Pro2

Friday November 6, 2015.
The traffic is horrendous and I have no idea why—it’s a lovely, warmer than usual November afternoon, long before rush hour. I’m heading out to meet Billy Luong, world famous Fuji Guy and my closest contact at Fujifilm Canada. Today’s the day: I’m picking up Leo, a code name we’ve been asked to use when referring to this special project—100 photographers from all over the world, selected to shoot with a prototype camera. I’m one of them; I feel privileged as hell.

At the restaurant we choose a booth, for privacy. Billy hands me a bag with a black, unmarked box in it. I open it, careful not to break anything...and unwrap a brand new, pre-production X-Pro2.

Holy s@%t.


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."

New Acros film simulation. Highlight Tone +2, Shadow Tone +4. no post-processing. 1/100 sec at f/2, ISO 800.

Classic Chrome. Highlight Tone -2, Shadow Tone +4. No post-processing. 1/100 sec at f/2, ISO 400.

Classic Chrome. On the road, through the car windshield. No post- processing. 1/160 at f/2, ISO 200.

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."

Elevator memorial, MMFA. November 25, 2015. 1/100 sec at f/2, ISO 640.

Monday November 16, 2015.

Study for a studio setup. Classic Chrome. Highlight Tone -2, Shadow Tone +4. 

"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. 

Two down."

I can’t share any of this. That’s the hardest thing: the isolation. I want to share thoughts, images... I need to consciously switch cameras in order to shoot pictures I can post...unless I’m willing to see the blog become a wasteland until 2016. Yeah, probably not.

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..."

1/125 sec at f/2, ISO 320.

Done. I’ve sent in the files. It’s always so hard to figure out what best represents our work...but it’s out of my hands now and up to Fuji Japan to decide. Hopefully they like what they see. The Holidays are upon us and next weekend we head to my in-laws for our traditional donut-making-fest. It just doesn’t feel like December though...

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.


From Leo to Revelation | Not an X-Pro2 Review

As I write this post—on January 7 2016—I still have the X-Pro2 prototype on my table, right beside me. It's been two months since the day I picked it up and I've never stopped shooting with it. Needless to say I'm smitten. In a few days I leave for Tokyo and intend on documenting my trip with this camera, along with the XF 35 f/2 that's been its almost constant companion since day one and feels like a natural extension. Nothing else.

So what is it about the X-Pro2 that makes it so compelling? It feels right. For me this means it feels like a documentary camera, something made to disappear and embrace its surroundings—just like the X100 series. The immediate reflex will be to compare the X-Pro2 to its older sibling the X-T1. We ARE talking flagships here after all. And it's obvious to everyone that this crown will probably be passing from one line to the other for the foreseeable future; but these are two very different cameras, philosophically speaking. I know it's a strange thing to say about gear where spec sheets are pondered over and the minutiae of technology tends to supersede everything else. But there's no other way to express it: the X-Pro line differs from the XT line in its aura. And in turn this changes our relationship with it and with the world we intend to capture.

Obviously, the X-Pro2 is now the king of the X hill in terms of performance. That's a given. This is a beast of a machine that, despite its deceivingly similar looks, has seen a complete overhaul of technology under the hood: new 24.3 MP sensor, new X Processor Pro image processor, new 1/8000 sec focal plane shutter (on top of an electronic shutter option)...the full laundry list is here. What this all amounts to is incredible image quality that builds on the organic nature of the X-Series line. Just in terms of low-light performance, the company has managed to considerably lower the signal to noise ratio while raising the megapixel count—which isn't usually how things go. There are laws of physics at play that tend to push the other way.


Beyond the big tech highlights however, there are small features that, in my mind, add quite a bit to the more refined experience:

  • No refocussing. In AF-S mode the camera maintains focus between shots if the shutter is kept half-pressed. Yay You say? You bet your sweet whatever. Hell yeah. I wan't this on all my other cameras. Now.
  • 1/250 sec flash syncing. 'Nuff said.
  • -+5 EV compensation. As an AV mode shooter this comes in very handy.
  • Expanded in-camera settings. You can dial down sharpness to -4 or push shadows to +4...New possibilities.
  • Button layout. Metering is a little far for my not-very-big hands (and easy to confuse with AE-L without looking) but other than that, it feels perfect and very natural. I took to the new layout immediately. On our prototype units the AF-L is a bit too recessed but this will apparently be fixed on production models (I've also suggested something for back focussing...we'll see if that pans out in a future update).
  • My Menu. Yes, it's been available for eons on other systems but we now have this as well. Good thing.
  • The Focus Lever. Otherwise known as that-joystick-thingy. LOVE this. Plus it frees up the other buttons to be used for FN.
  • No more fumbling. Battery goes in ONE WAY. Yay!
  • Diopter adjustment. Finally. This seems like an easy and obvious feature but remember we've got a hybrid VF here, with built-in lenses for different focal lengths. I'm guessing the engineers had to think about this one.   
  • Power management. This came in late so I haven't tested it yet, but there are now three levels: Economy, Standard and High Performance.

And of course: dual-card slots—sequential, split or backup mode. And lossless compressed raw...but that's a big feature. I could go on.

"Fantastic!" I hear you say, "I'm selling my X-T1!"
Well, perhaps but: it doesn't have the huge XT-1 EVF, or its tilt-screen; it doesn't offer a vertical battery grip, doesn't have a dedicated metering dial. In essence, it's simply not the same machine—and in my opinion that's ok. What probably began as an experiment with the X100 has evolved into a system that's now much more clearly defined, at least at the top end of the spectrum:

  • X100 line: fixed-lens rangefinder style. Perfect documentary and travel camera.
  • XE line: same form factor as X100 but with interchangeable lenses.
  • XT line: DSLR-style. High performance, weather resistant. Huge EVF.
  • X-Pro line: rangefinder-style. High performance, weather resistant. Hybrid viewfinder.   

I'm comfortable with this. I've been using every camera on that list (except for the XE line) either alone or concurrently, in a two or three body setup (rarely three but it's happened once or twice. Yes, I look...err...weird) and they all make sense. I could live with any one of these.

Bottom line: the X-Pro2 is the proud and worthy successor to the X-Pro1, the camera that first signalled the birth of the system, and it's incredibly fitting that its launch coincides with Fujifilm's 5 year X-Series anniversary celebrations. If you've been waiting for it go ahead, there's nothing here that will disappoint.

This is a classic, reborn. 


From Leo to Revelation | A song in Passing

Without noticing, I slip into a light yet lingering malaise. Not a depression, more like a fascination for melancholia, which I turn in my hand as if it were a small planet, streaked in shadow, impossibly blue.
— Patti Smith, M Train.



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