(Pocket-lint) - When the Fujifilm X-Pro1 burst onto the camera scene its retro digital rangefinder style was like a pleasurable punch to the face; the kind of kipper-slap that left us, and many, a bit tingly around the chops and hungry for more. No camera maker had dared make something so delightfully of the past, yet so very of the moment, if not the future - and it's since inspired Nikon and other major makers to take similar design steps with some models.
Where the X-Pro1 succeeded its four-year-follow-up, the X-Pro2, looks to tinker and tweak that pro-spec concept into an even more refined camera. But it's arguably not redefined, which raises the question - especially with all manner of competition progressing in the compact system camera market - as to whether that's enough?
We've been using the X-Pro2 - accompanied by both 35mm f/2 and 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 XF lenses (and the 28mm equivalent X70 compact also in tow) - to shoot marathons, holiday snaps, and more, to see whether this somewhat niche camera is every bit as pro as its name suggests or not.
X-Pro1 vs X-Pro2: What's new?
The X-Pro2 is based around the same magnesium alloy shell as its X-Pro1 predecessor. That's not to say it's identical, given some design tweaks, but to look at from a distance most would struggle to tell the difference between the two.
Unless, perhaps, you're an X-Pro1 user. Then you'll spot the X-Pro2's tweaks by comparison: there's a command dial added to the front (which we've rarely to never used, incidentally); a more significant thumb rest to the rear right; no buttons are positioned to the left side of the camera's LCD screen any more; the now larger exposure compensation dial up top caters for +/-3EV (using "C" it can be extended to +/-5EV); the shutter dial includes a secondary ISO setting function (actioned by pulling upwards on this dial's outer ring); there's a new joystick control for rapid focus point repositioning; and the dials have a more tactile textured finish. Whew, now draw breath.
Dig a little deeper and the X-Pro2 offers even more: it's the first ever compact system camera to offer dual SD card slots (finally!); its hybrid viewfinder has the same combination of optical and electronic as before - albeit with roughly double the resolution at 2.36m-dots - but now adds the corner-positioned digital rangefinder overlay screen as found in the X100T (more on that later); there's a new, faster and more detailed autofocus system; and the sensor introduces X-Trans CMOS III, along with an increased resolution of 24-megapixels.
So the X-Pro2 clearly adds plenty to the mix compared to the X-Pro1, but after four years these are the kind of changes that have become expectation in the camera world. What lacks is a larger-than-3-inch screen size (there's space enough for one in the design), touchscreen functionality (perhaps not a deal-breaker, but with cameras like the company's X70 including one it seems like a sensible extra option), and the screen remains fixed to the rear.
Which brings us to the shortcomings of the design: the fixed rear screen feels strangely restrictive in a world where Panasonic GH4 and Olympus OM-D models all tout a vari-angle feature, often with touchscreen. Not so the X-Pro2 - two features we feel should be on board, especially in a chunky camera build such as this. Still, the LCD's 1.62m-dot resolution is as good as it gets and looks great.
The other real oddity is no lock on the exposure compensation dial; a dial we have knocked out of place repeatedly throughout use, often snapping at -1EV by sheer accident. Seeing as the shutter dial has a lock, despite being positioned nowhere near flailing fingers' reach, we don't get why the exposure compensation dial has fallen by the wayside.
Fuji X-Pro2 review: An exemplary viewfinder
Minor shortcomings are just that, though: minor. In the case of the X-Pro2's viewfinder there are some really exceptional features that stand this model apart from anything else on the market. It's exemplary for photo enthusiasts, but in the same breath if you don't know much about photography then chances are you'll find it nothing more than overly complicated given the number of modes available and physical lever control to toggle between them.
So let's recap, if you're unfamiliar: the principle of the X-Pro1, which the X-Pro2 also embodies, is to pair an optical viewfinder's quality with an electronic viewfinder overlay to add the benefits of shooting data direct to your eye. The X-Pro2 is an interchangeable lens camera, so different lenses will mean different digital crop marks are shown within the finder to get around the fact an optical finder, in a rangefinder-like arrangement, will always have a fixed angle of view. So when the optical finder ceases to make sense - such as with extra-long lens like the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6, where the lens protrusion more-or-less blocks 50 per cent of the finder view, or when close-up parallax error comes into play, the finder clicks into a 100 per cent electronic view.
What the X-Pro2 adds that the X-Pro1 lacked is a small translucent screen within the bottom right corner of the finder display. That might sound gimmicky, but it's not only invisible when not active, it's hugely useful, just as it is with the Fujifilm X100T model. Because parallax error occurs with close-up focus - that is, what you see through the optical finder differs positionally from the frame you'll actually capture, increasingly so the closer to subject you are (dependent on the lens used) - it can be countered by seeing an accurate 100 per cent view of the scene at small scale. Great. Alternatively use this translucent screen to show a 2.5x or 6.0x magnification of the active focus point for precision manual focus, much like a traditional rangefinder camera, ensuring correct focus for close-up shooting.
FujiFILM X-Pro2 review: Some shortcomings
Still with us? Good. There's obviously potential for all this to be overly complex, especially for newcomers (which this camera really isn't aimed at), but this is a viewfinder like no other. And it's at its very best in the X-Pro2. The latest processor means a refresh rate of 85fps too, which, while not quite class-leading, is considerably higher than its predecessor for better performance in low-light and smoother playback in normal conditions. Interestingly there are power-saving modes that lower the finder's digital output resolution and frame-rate to conserve battery life, if you want, ensuring the X-Pro2 can last just as long as the original model.
Which is perhaps a sticking point of the camera: in our first battery drain we shot 290 frames (JPEG fine & raw), did some menu fiddling and, quite probably, had the camera on for excessive periods between shooting. But we were shooting a marathon, so had to be ready. In short: get a spare battery or two, because those five visual bars of power dip pretty quickly, before putting you in the red in no time.
There's an additional issue too: the camera does like to go into sleep mode, which is great for conserving battery, but it's pants when it comes to kicking it back out of sleep; it's actually slower than booting the camera from off, which is a pain.
Furthermore the auto viewfinder activation can be a little slow, and we've found ourselves staring down the side of a 100-400mm lens barrel awaiting the electronic view to kick in for a little longer than we ought to - which is less “pro” than the name might suggest. We know Fujifilm can do it, we know it can be altogether faster, so perhaps some firmware tweaks here and there and we'll be onto some improvements.
Fuji X-Pro2 review: Far faster
When the original X-Pro1 arrived with its trio of XF-mount lenses back in 2011 it wasn't a particularly fast performer. Interestingly Fujifilm boosted this considerably via firmware updates over the following years, but the company was never truly able to keep up with the likes of Panasonic in the autofocus speed department.
It's all change with the X-Pro, which elevates its performance to a really competitive level. And having shot a marathon using continuous autofocus we can see there's a lot of progress; it's one of few compact system cameras that's passable in shooting moving subjects. Not perfect, though, as even at 1/1250th sec a number of frames weren't pinpoint sharp, plus some in-between frames have been off the mark. Which, even if it sounds like we're dragging it down a bit, is a fair achievement for this camera format - just look at the shots of runners in our gallery and you'll get a feel of what's possible.
This achievement is because there's a lot going on behind the scenes: that new sensor embodies 273 focus points, 169 of which are phase-detection pixels to keep focus extra snappy. It's the fastest and most capable Fujifilm X-series that we've used to date. These phase detection points are arranged in a square format to the centre of the focus arrangement, as outlined by a green square overlay, including individual points (to 49 points max) if activated - and this central area is where autofocus is considerably more responsive.
Here is where that new joystick control to the rear also comes in real handy to quickly move a single focus point around: no need to menu dig, nor take your eye away from the viewfinder while thumbing around, which makes a lot of sense. Or wide tracking and zone autofocus options are also available should you prefer.
Switching between single and continuous autofocus is actioned using a front dial, to click between the S, C and M markings. Manual focus, too, is a real draw for a camera of this type - there's even split focus to mimic a rangefinder if that's how you prefer to shoot. You want retro, you got it, without compromising modern capabilities too.
Burst mode is up to eight frames per second (8fps), with 83 frames able to be buffered without slow-down (27 if shooting raw, less if shooting raw & JPEG). Having had a camera and SD cards stolen recently, however, we've not been shooting with the very fastest of cards this time around, but with a UHS-I Panasonic SD on board it's been doing a fine job. Only once did we have a bizarre write crash which required a battery pull. We do miss our UHS-II card, though, which the X-Pro2 is compatible with (via slot one only, not the second) for the very fastest write speeds.
Fuji X-Pro2 review: Image quality
The more we've lived with the X-Pro2 the more we've become impressed with it as a versatile tool. We didn't expect to get as many decent shots of the marathon as we did, but when looking even closer at image quality the X-Pro2 really sells its “pro” name.
We were impressed by the earlier X-Trans CMOS II and processor, the same one as found in the also-just-reviewed X70 compact, with the X-Trans CMOS III in the X-Pro2 delivering the goods too. By and large this iteration is all about resolution: the X-Pro2 pumps resolution to 24-megapixels, which is a significant increase compared to the 16-megapixel standard throughout the range before. Takashi Ueno, X-Pro2 manager, described this as "almost the limit" of what's feasible from an APS-C sensor size, and while we're sure the company will push into even higher resolution in the future, the results from the current model speak for themselves.
Just as before the way in which Fujifilm cameras derive colour data and ensure sharp, moire-free results is different compared to the competition. Fujifilm was the first company to ditch the optical low-pass filter for sharper results, which would potentially be problematic if not for a unique colour filter array put in place. Standard cameras' colour filters look at a two-by-two grid to generate the colours for the four selected pixels, whereas the X-Trans CMOS III looks at a six-by-six grid arranged in a non-linear fashion rather than a fixed, repetitious one. The latest sensor doesn't differ in its methods, it's just higher resolution, and it works a treat.
Shoot at the low ISO settings - and you literally have to adjust the ring-pull ISO dial to make changes, there's no digital way to do so, save for a trio of auto ISO settings (to correspond with “A” on that dial) - and the ISO 200 results are every bit as good as the previous generation at this higher resolution. No complains here: stacks of detail, colour and dynamic range that can be adjusted for processing between normal, auto and 100/200/400 “boosted” options. Shoot raw and you'll always have the original, although at the time of writing the native raw format isn't compatible with Adobe Photoshop (it'll come, but only then will we get a good look at the files).
There is, of course, some dependency on lens choice. The XF lenses in the Fujifilm stable are, by and large, aimed at the higher end, but they do carry their own issues from time to time: the 35mm f/2.0 has fairly severe corner softness, for example; the 100-400mm, while decent, is relatively limited in maximum aperture (at f/4.5-5.6) throughout. Pick lenses critically and learn their strong points and weaknesses for the best results. Centre sharpness, though, that's something we can't complain about for sure.
If low-light is your thing then you'll more than likely be boosting the ISO sensitivity. Fujifilm's X Processor Pro handles things really well here, keeping the majority of image noise at bay even to ISO 6400. Look at the shot of a drawer handle at f/2.8, for example, its light grey surface areas are very clean, even the mid-grey through to shadow areas in the corner hold up fairly well. What does suffer at these four-figure ISO sensitivities, however, is critical sharpness: there's not the same bite that you'll get from the lower settings due to processing (rather than lens choice).
Also within the image options there's a new ARCOS monochrome mode for authentic black and white shots straight from camera, while a new grain mode (weak/strong/off) sees the X-Pro2 take lead within the X-series when it comes to in-camera effects.
The X Processor Pro is some four times faster than any previous X-series camera, which sounds rather exciting but, somehow, Fujifilm has missed out on ticking the 4K video box. The X-Pro2 can shoot 1080p, but we suspect Ultra-HD has been kept out of reach due to the colour filter arrangement and processing required.
The X-Pro2's tweaks and tinkers forge a far more accomplished camera than the original X-Pro1 for the modern professional. It's faster, better to use and those small details and boosted resolution make all the difference. Not to mention there are more XF lenses now than four years ago - although still not heaps of optics on offer.
Sure, it's a quirky camera, but that's kind of what we loved about the X-Pro back in 2011. The X-Pro2 stands out from the crowd with its complex "advanced hybrid multi viewfinder" (that's what Fujifilm likes to call it), making for a camera experience that's positively retro, but positively professional in this department. It's not half bad in continuous autofocus mode too, so you don't have to just stick to rangefinder-style manual focus by any means.
We'd still like to see a vari-angle touchscreen rather than fixed panel only; the lack of lock on the exposure compensation dial is a real nuisance; we didn't find the new front dial all that useful (for whatever reason); there's no 4K (not a deal-breaker); and some auto-activation/wake-from-sleep software tweaks would further improve. But, hey, we're largely nitpicking.
The X-Pro2 largely delivers on its pro namesake. It's a camera proposition unlike any other and one that, for the right user (and it is niche), will be close to pro perfection.