Is Fuji’s Choice to 'Be Different' Good for Photographers?

Is Fuji’s Choice to 'Be Different' Good for Photographers?

Fujifilm’s introduction of the X-Pro3 has continued their trend of quirky design choices, but has also raised the question of whether bucking the trend is actually making for a better experience for photographers.

When I refer to “being different”, I’m talking about a number of design and spec choices that Fujifilm has made in the past couple of years that haven’t followed industry trends. Sitting behind Canon, Nikon, and Sony in market share has given Fujifilm both the incentive and opportunity to be more adventurous, but I wanted to take a look at which of these choices have had a positive impact.

The Body

When Fuji first introduced their X series of digital cameras, the X100 was very unique. A prime lens, compact camera with an APS-C sized sensor, all wrapped up in a retro-styled body wasn’t a common sight. Even now, there are only a few similar products on the market, like Sony’s RX1 and Ricoh’s GR. Beyond just the technical differences, the entire retro-inspired design language was new.

Along with the new design, Fuji’s X series has emphasized a different way of composing and adjusting settings. Their introduction of a hybrid viewfinder, which offered the choice between an optical viewfinder and EVF, typifies the unique approach to body design. Subsequent products, like the X-T line, have come closer to a more traditional DSLR style, but have still retained Fuji’s dial-driven control scheme.

The X-Pro line has always been one of their most retro-inspired, essentially taking the rangefinder form factor into the digital age. The X-Pro3, the inspiration behind this article, seems to have taken the fond love for the past into “restraining order” territory. The best example is the X-Pro3’s rear screen. In the normal configuration, the rear LCD is actually a stamp-sized E Ink screen, measuring only about an inch across and only capable of displaying exposure settings or film simulation modes (Fuji’s term for JPEG styles).

While E ink is cool, I'm not sure the 2006-era rear screen look is the "retro" styling that Fuji was going for.

Bafflingly, at a time of high-resolution, ever larger displays, Fuji has hidden a major interface and tool away from photographers. Now, the camera still has a regular three-inch touchscreen, but since it’s on the interior of a flip-out panel, it requires photographers to flip it out every time they want to use it, lest it dangle below the rest of the camera. Even if you’re against “chimping” every shot, this will get in the way of making changes to settings; the X-Pro3 still has Fuji’s characteristic amount of buttons and dials, but not enough for every setting available. Interestingly, the promo video tries to avoid showing this mechanism in use, apart from a quick glimpse or two.

Overall, I think the different form factors and control schemes are great. The X-Pro3 is sure to make a number of photographers very happy, but is definitely a polarizing move. If a photographer loves that style of control, Fujifilm is making the perfect camera for them. Others, like users of the X-Pro2, are in for quite a surprise when they pick up the next generation of their camera. Some other manufacturers have followed the retro suit, such as Nikon’s classically styled Df, but none have had the same commitment to the design that Fuji has had.

Staying the Course

That theme of commitment to their initial path is a mixed blessing. While some of the results, like their introduction of new features to years-old cameras via “kaizen” firmware updates are laudable, others seem to be borne of stubbornness. 

First, a positive note has to be made about their firmware efforts. The introduction of new features to old cameras, particularly at no cost, is a great initiative. It’s a smart choice, since these features are in development for new cameras anyway, providing both goodwill and a good return on R&D.

For a company that has continued to improve their cameras, some things have remained the same, even if they should be changed. One of the most prominent examples, even if it is of slight impact, is their commitment to their unique take on the camera sensor. While almost every other sensor uses a typical Bayer array with RGB photosites in a 2-by-2 array, Fuji’s X-Trans sensor relies on a 6-by-6 pattern. 

The typical CFA is shown on the left, while Fuji's X-Trans implementation is on the right.

Fujifilm claims this design minimizes moire (false color artifacts in fine patterns) and improves resolution. While testing those claims is beyond the scope of the article, it’s also important to acknowledge that the X-Trans sensor could have some benefits, before looking at the downsides.

Among the criticisms leveled at the sensor are a potential to have purple flare in backlit conditions, wormy artifacts in green areas using certain raw processors, and overall issues with post-processing in common tools. All of these issues can be related back to the choice of filter array. The math to turn raw data into an image is different for every camera, but using an entirely unique sensor setup seems to have only exacerbated the difficulty. As more X-Trans sensors have hit the market, support has improved somewhat, but they will continue to be “special.”

In my eyes, the entire debate can be summed up as “not much demonstrable benefit, with some downsides.” I find it telling that Fujifilm isn’t using this array on their higher-end medium format cameras. While this may be due to the costs involved in these lower-volume sensors, it still adds weight to the argument that this sensor choice isn’t providing much benefit.

One final point in Fuji’s favor has been their commitment to the X’s ecosystem. A number of updates in both hardware and software across the line have kept things fresh, while their lens lineup has continued to expand. Buying into their lineup brings the promise of strong support, assuming you’re looking for an APS-C or MF camera, as their lineup deliberately skips over full frame.

Conclusion

No manufacturer is perfect, and taking a critical look at any of their product lines could yield a similar article. I also want to say that Fuji's willingness to experiment is a great benefit not only for their users, but all photographers, as successful features propagate across product lines.

I think things can go too far, however, and the X-Pro3 shows a number of design choices that aren’t putting the photographer first. While things haven’t risen to Hasselblad Lunar or Leica M-10D levels, Fujifilm might need to consider whether hiding screens and hobbling their sensors is really the best call.

Other tech companies have found themselves in the same position, challenged to innovate even in the face of criticism for their innovation. Unlike Apple’s shift to USB-C, I don’t think this is a case where the market just hasn’t caught on yet, since I bet most photographers like a functional rear display. Do you think you could work around an inconvenient rear display?

Log in or register to post comments

56 Comments

Previous comments
Tim Gallo's picture

Compared to Bayer I dont see x-trans sensor as being better or worse to a degrees when you start consider not using it. Bayer has its own perks to deal with. All this pixel peeping may be relevant to really big prints, but than big prints are not seeing up close... who really worries about stuff that 90% easily fixable in ps?

For professional work its good enough (and you have to appreciate the lenses. the lenses alone is worse considering the system), and though I dont use fuji medium format - a lot of people find it very good for editorial work. X-t3 is wildly popular also. Which speaks a lot. I used x-pro1, 2, 100-series and now I am using x-t30 and raw is great and I dont see any worms. Well not at this point at least.

As for x-pro3 design direction - it kind disappointed me. Like half-honesty disappoints you, or half-truth. If you want to promote pure analogue experience in digital camera - than take away lcd completely, take away evf completely (or leave a small one in the corner they have for some manual focusing) and upgrade ovf for a change (instead they took away the ability to change magnification). All or even more - go the complete range-finder root... cause x-pro3 now is basically x-t3 just in a different box that feels more like gimmick now. In Japan it is positioned as street-photographer camera... but design of ovf goes opposite way. I think fuji stumbled a little bit... and I am pretty sure they will change this insane design with x-pro4.

And still I would forgive this x-pro3 if they made a camera smaller at least 1cm, instead i think it got bigger a little? but that is my personal preference.

Juan Garcia's picture

This camera is catered to a specific photographer, as does the XT, XE, XH, X100, GFX series amongst their consumer models. Just my 2 cents. I don't think most folks understand, the latest model out by Fuji isn't their end all be all model like every other manufacturer. That notion of the latest and greatest for all photographers. New models from each series seems to advance that camera's technology for THE photographer you are. I completely don't agree that Fuji doesn't put the photographer first, in fact I think its the absolute opposite. They are putting out cameras exactly for the type of photographer you are. Just because the camera doesn't have the functions you need as a photographer, they definitely have one for you with the other models. A concept of producing cameras, I don't believe, most manufacturers and photographers understand. What every manufacturer has been doing is the same camera build rehashed with a couple of things included or removed for pricing purposes. What other company produces specific models for specific photographers. Think about it, its the same general shape and knobs with functions included or removed.

Alex Coleman's picture

Perhaps if this was it's own model, like Nikon's Df, instead of a substantial change in style from the XPro2, it would be better received.

I think the problem with "specific models for specific photographers" is two fold. It pigeonholes their cameras into tiny user groups, in an environment where they already are fighting for market share. Meanwhile, this isn't truly an analogue users specific camera - they kept the display, but just made it far worse to use.

Juan Garcia's picture

Question, would a DSLR shooter who prefers a flip screen, choose this camera over the XT3, XH1 or the XT100? It would make more sense to pass this over because there are other models that will cater to that shooter. If folks want this camera because it “looks cool” but wished it had a flip screen like the rest doesn’t seem like Fuji’s goal. I’m a rangefinder shooter, and skip over those models because it doesn’t cater to me. It just seems to me a Fuji camera with all the features of all their models rolled into one (flip screen, no OVF, Ibis, 4K 60fps, larger battery) would be no different than every other manufacturer’s agenda. And would deter users like me to even look at that camera for the sole reason of having features I don’t need. Another question for you, how does this XPro3 cater to anyone other than a rangefinder or film shooter. If you don’t need an optical viewfinder, you should move on. This doesn’t seem to be for that shooter. For me that’s the number one reason to get this camera. If not, there are others that can accomplish a shooters needs. I get the notion of the look of the camera to be a factor, but function over form is more logical than anything else.

I certainly applaud Fuji's attempts to provide a variety of different bodies for different groups of photographers instead of a one-size-fits-all philosophy. At the same time, I hate the idea of arbitrarily limiting a camera's flexibility. There is nothing about the X-Pro form factor that suggests it should be less capable at shooting stills than an X-T3. There is an established base of X-Pro users who have been waiting to enjoy the advances available in this generation of hardware—full coverage PDAF, vastly improved low-light AF, EVF improvements, etc—and Fuji has absolutely screwed them by crippling the LCD. Yes, there will be those who *love* this decision but I would be shocked if the number of users attracted to the X-Pro platform because of it makes up for the number of users alienated by it.

Juan Garcia's picture

I hear what your saying Tim and see where you are coming from. However if limits where a negative I think Leica wouldn’t have succeeded. I’m hopeful there are more like me that can’t afford a Leica and have found solace in the XPro line because of it’s limitations, as I am one of those people. Well, at least I hope there are more like me out there anyways.

It's hard to see more choice as a bad thing. There are more than enough products on the market that don't take any risks, if that's what you need.

The X-Trans situation is a weird one. The fact that Capture One gets such good results out of X-Trans files indicates that there's no inherent problem with X-Trans. It's just inexplicable that Fujifilm and Adobe haven't been able to fix it when it's in both of their interests to do so. I think people probably overstate the problem a lot - it's not a deal breaker - but it should be perfect.

If they wanted to really do something different then they should have made a monochrome variant of one the X-E, X Pro and X-T lines, now. That would photography or photographer centric. This X-Pro 3 with the wonky screen didn't solve any realistic problems and certainly not for the that price. Take the L Fuji for this one and keep it moving with X-Pro 4

Alex Coleman's picture

A monochrome sensor would be more interesting. I think the biggest thing with making the monitor worse to use is it doesn't help photographers do something new or solve a problem they have, it's just a worse implementation of the existing design. If a photographer is that set against using the LCD, just add a menu item to turn it off.

Mark Wyatt's picture

Leica already did that and XTrans with the Acros simulation is actually a very unique and refined monochrome option. Of course 24 MP (or more) of pure monochrome (Acros would be fine) would also be interesting.

Alex Coleman's picture

Any color sensor converted to B&W in post is significantly different from that same sensor configured for monochrome, giving results that you couldn't get otherwise. The same can't be said about the LCD, which would have the same impact turned off as not existing.

The author misses a crucial point - it’s not like Fuji shooters don’t have a choice to pick a camera with a rear screen. Which makes his argument a non sensical one. You don’t need to switch from x-pro2 to x-pro3. There’s the E, T, H series And all are replacement options for the x-pro. X-pro is a range finder system that is specifically designed for street/journalism, where accessing deeper menu’s is quite unnecessary. It’s always been the quirky camera in the line up and for one I will buy one as a secondary camera - a perfect complimentary camera to my X-T3 ...

Tim Gallo's picture

I think the crucial point being is they made an internal update that we want into a body that nobody asked to radically update (slight improvement were fine)
and all cameras you mentioned has no ovf.

Alex Coleman's picture

Good point Tim. I mentioned in another comment that this may have been better received as a separate model, rather than the presumed Xpro2 successor, given the significant change to functionality.

Tim Gallo's picture

Yes, it seems that is what it is. I now see x-pro3 as beginning of something new. Or maybe a tried and pretended it never happened thing...

Lets see how many it will sell.

Alex Coleman's picture

For an OVF, you would have this as your only upgrade option, as Tim pointed out.

While it may be designed for street use, I'm not sure how this update improves the experience for users. If they don't want to have the LCD lighting up in the traditional implementation, add a software or hardware switch to disable it.

Chris Jones's picture

I'm an active x-pro2 shooter, and while this isn't a deal breaker at all, it is a deal holder, I would rather get another x-pro2 as a back up and wait till I find a xpro3 for the super low. I don't really need that back screen because I can see in the evf, but it would be so much better if I could flip that screen around cause yes, sometimes ya boy wants to take a selfie. Right now the only thing I read that makes me want to get one is the ability to set a custom iso so I can use the front button to change it because currently I have 3 auto iso ranges set up since that dial is annoying

As an Xpro2 owner who's come from a film background... I personally think Fujis doing a great job pushing the boundaries and giving people options. I have the lcd on my Xpro2 turned off for image reviewing anyway. Once I have a camera setup how I like it I personally don't want to dive deep into the menu. For me less is more. And I'm excited about the direction Fuji is taking the Xpro line.

Phil Kogan's picture

Put simply I vote NO to a flip down rear 3 inch monitor.

The X-Trans issue is a tough one. There are pros and cons. The biggest con may be the increased processing power required to deal with it. I shoot Fuji and, all things considered, I'd prefer Fuji ditch it in favor of Bayer though I'm not holding my breath. There are a bunch of diehard X-Trans fanboys out there, many of whom wrongly associate the X-Trans CFA with Fuji's film profiles.

Speaking of wrong associations, the purple flare issue has absolutely nothing to do with X-Trans. It was traced to reflections off the bezel around the sensor. Midway through the production cycle of the X-T2, the bezel design was modified and the problem, which also occurred on cameras from other brands, disappeared.

Mark Wyatt's picture

X-Trans may be associated with the purported Fujifilm general "film look", whether using film simulations or RAW processing.

It's very strange to me that people are lingering on this camera for so long. There's really not much to ponder. The Xpro line is for the 'purists', or those who fully embrace Fuji's design/shooting philosophy. Nearly every other camera that they make is for everyone else. There's something for everyone. I have an XH-1 for general work (hybrid shooting) and an Xpro-2 for portrait work. The Xtrans sensor is fine. I adjusted my Lightroom workflow and the rest is history.

It isn't affecting photographers negatively at all. Those who are interested buy it and those who aren't won't lose sleep over it.

Sean Gibson's picture

I think most people are missing the point of this camera. 1) It's not meant to be your only camera, that you use for everything from weddings to landscape . 2) This is a street/ documentary photographers camera. This is modeled after Rangefinder cameras of the past because those were (and will always be), the best for that type of shooting conditions. 3) With that type of work, it's meant to be a durable camera that can take a beating. This means it' will be nice to toss the camera on the floor, grass, or even ground when needed without cracking an LCD screen. 4) Fuji does not care if everybody likes/wants it. If you don't fit into the type of shooter it appeals to, then they have other models you can purchase. 5) something most modern (digital) photographers don't care about, aesthetics. Those of us that enjoy film cameras still appreciate cameras that look good and feel like the price tag they usually carry with them. Currently only Leica and Fuji make cameras that fit that mold, and Leica's are 4X the price.

I'll be picking up a black one on day 1. Glad to know I won't have to wait a month to get one in stock. Thanks people!

Tim Gallo's picture

I dont like this argument - that you have others bodies to choose from. Everybody picked an excuse and now everybody running with it like politicians on tv.

I dont have others bodies to pick from. I wanted ovf. And I wanted the same kind of usability I get used to for man years of using 1 and 2 bodies. I dont miss the point. x-pro1 and 2 was about street and old schoold feeling yet in a modern digital body. With ovf range-finder style. Thats it. Nobody asked for new design, many wanted to have it just polished the right way. Not crippled for gimmicks.

I love x-pro2 and I wanted it to be updated... not over-designed. OVF should be updated, not stripped away of features. And all this purist bullshit is also not true - cause now the updated x-pro3 has better evf and even video. So it means fuji cares about some things... but other - just cripple. I am pretty sure that for that premium look and titanium bullshit - they went over with the price of the camera, and for some reasons lcd that opened only one way would make the whole thing cheaper and they went that way pretending its about photography. pretty sure thats what it is.

I wanted to x-pro2 just be updated. adding ibis would be better. just updating the sensor, polishing ovf magnification would be enough. make it lighter, smaller few mm. no, they needed to take the lcd away and pretend that its about users experience. apple does kinda same thing. also dont compare leica with fuji :)... apparently there is a world of technical difference between rangefinder and pretending to be rangefinder camera.

Response to Rob Mitchell’s comment below: On Arty: Fuji creates a” prepared palette”-specific, non-natural colors appear at certain values that give a constructed “aesthetic” look. IMHO sometimes it works and sometimes it’s plain awful. As an artist basically I-me-myself want to be the one making the aesthetic decisions. Not a camera company who lack the eye, training and aesthetic skill of real artists. So those of you that are happy with “it looks like art” be my guest. As Rob implied it gets old in a hurry.

Pedro Pulido's picture

If camera's are being bought, it means there's a crowd for it and i don't see their numbers drooping.