More on the X-Pro3, which has done as it should and largely disappeared

· 1791 words · 9 minute read

When I first got the X-Pro3, I wondered if I was going to have that nagging “oh, this wasn’t the right thing” feeling I’ve had over the years when a camera doesn’t quite click with me.

Back in my point-and-shoot days, it was with Canon’s followup to one of the Powershot S-series. In my early dSLR days, it was Pentax’s followup to the K10D, and then the Nikon 5000. Back on the point-and-shoot side, it took about a week to decide the Fuji XF10 was largely a dud.

I had some grist for that potential mill: I was bothered by the precious “distraction-free” marketing. I was bothered by the reviews from the gate-keepery “at last, a remedy for those chimpers” people. I honestly didn’t know whether that hidden rear display would prove to feel like an impediment. And, I guess, for as much as I love the compact rangefinder form factor of the Fujifilm X100 series, I wasn’t sure if I’d love it as much on a larger camera with interchangeable lenses.

It was a new camera, though, so I spent a few minutes getting my Peak Design messenger bag into shape as a daily commuter, and I have been carrying the X-Pro3 into work every single day in January. I’ve also made sure to grab it on the way out the door for a lot of neighborhood walks and errands.

The camera has, after a month of regular use and closing in on 1200 exposures, largely disappeared, which is exactly what it’s supposed to do.

Disappearance in practice 🔗

With my X-T2, I had already gone down the path of reviewing shots through the electronic viewfinder (EVF). After releasing the shutter, I get a .5 second full-screen preview of the image and that’s enough to make sure a car that may have passed between me and the subject didn’t make it into the frame. Since I don’t review on the rear screen, the idea of it being hidden was already half okay.

On the settings side, which is the other reason people might want easier access to the rear screen, it has been a slightly more gradual adjustment. I didn’t realize how much I tended to fiddle with settings in the field until it took a more conscious action to get at them. The act of experimenting with a new camera, though, sort of pointed the way to a change of habit, anyhow.

Part of taking the camera to work every day included taking a lot of opportunities to take the long way to the Max stop, or getting out at lunch and using the hour to shoot in the neighborhood around work. Because I was trying to get to know how the new features worked and what the new settings meant, I’d usually take a moment to set the camera up before heading out, and I’d largely stick with those settings over the course of a session because I wanted a varied set of images using a new feature.

I also recently decided that I prefer to shoot RAW/JPEG, capturing both a JPEG image that will have all the in-camera settings applied, and a RAW image I can work with more easily in Lightroom later. So some experimentation is just as easily done in post as it is out in the field, especially since Lightroom can apply all of Fujifilm’s film simulations. A dual workflow like that creates a small management challenge, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate it when past me decided to shoot RAW and left me with a digital negative to work with.

Finally, I use all seven preset slots in the camera. Most of my presets center around basic variations on shadow and highlight tone, plus a pair I can go to for either vivid, high-“pop” images, or more muted and even neutral ones that offer more malleable images. Knowing I have a RAW exposure as a fallback makes it easier to do that.

So, abetted by the workflow I’ve landed on and up-front camera configuration, I do think the hidden rear screen has had a subtle shaping effect on my behavior. I go into settings less when out shooting, and when I do I tend to just cycle between my presets through the EVF instead of fiddling with detailed settings.

One area where the camera has not completely disappeared has been moving between modes. I still don’t know where the “drive” button is by touch, so I have to flip open the display and find the drive button to cycle between the single exposure and HDR modes, for instance. That’s not too bad: Drive is the last setting I tend to use or need to change mid-session.

The front-loaded workflow experience 🔗

An observation I and others made about some of the new settings in the X-Pro3 (Chrome Blue, clarity, HDR, white balance shifts included in presets) was that Fujifilm has moved a few things people often do in post into the camera. The in-camera clarity and chrome blue settings, in particular, are things I’d typically apply in Lightroom. Now that they’re in-camera, I’ve managed to get rid of a few presets I used to use in post.

That’s had a good effect on the images I “finish,” because Fujifilm’s output is more subtle than I tend to come up with for myself when I’m on the train home and working on an image in mobile Lightroom. The combination of the chrome blue setting with the Classic Chrome film simulation, for instance, gives me a more pleasing, even image than a preset I had been using for years. I still like to experiment in Lightroom, but it has been interesting to go back to images a few days after I’ve shared them and realize that I’m largely toning down changes I made on a small screen, and bringing the image closer to what the camera gave me in the first place.

It has been a little interesting to go through that shift, because I’ve felt very protective of people who are fine with presets in general. Instagram made the practice common, and I still sometimes swipe through the Instagram presets before I post an image, simply to see if much has changed. For a long while, I was also using a range of VSCO’s presets, which are usually a bit more subtle than Instagram’s.

When I read gatekeepers complaining about that kind of thing, I brushed it off: People sneer at “photoshopping” or filters, but I think sometimes that’s because those things result in a garish, distracting image that’s easily spotted as having been worked a little too hard, or made a little too maudlin. But photographers and photo editors have always intervened somewhere between the film and the print. No darkroom is complete without filters and paddles to shape the tones and exposure of the image as the paper sits under the light. Going closer to the moment of capture, there are many, many film stocks that all have effects subtle and profound on the final image, and there are ways to work with those individual film stocks that change their behavior. And at the moment of capture the photographer has weighed in on “reality” with aperture and shutter speed, or choosing where to stand in relationship to the subject, or choosing where the subject lies in the frame. Shooting with a zoom, or zooming with your feet, a human captured in an image can become the emotional center of a story playing out in 1/125 of a second, or they can become a prop offered for scale in a picture of a tourist landmark.

And today, with smartphones making pretty good cameras accessible to more people, some people want to capture images that reflect a consensus view of what is pretty, profound, or beautiful. Other people are simply documenting their lives and trying to communicate something about the meaning of the images they’re capturing. When I see a heavily applied preset meant to suggest a faded Polaroid snapshot, I am more inclined these days to think, “this preset means ’timeless’ and ’nostalgic,’ and that’s what they want me to know about this moment,” than I am to think “this filter crushed the shadows.”

I’m saying all that because while I feel protective of people who use a lot of filters, or sort of clunky HDR tools, or more obvious preset modes, and believe we should simply respect them as artists in their own right, who are making their own choices about their creative output. At the same time, as a matter of efficiency and my own changing taste, I appreciate that the X-Pro3 has been nudging me toward spending less time swiping through filters or playing around with presets. I’ve discovered a few in Lightroom that pair nicely with certain Fujifilm simulations, and I have one preset that simply does the first three things I do to any image. I have a lot of presets and simulations I’ve picked up over the years that I may now remove from Lightroom so that I have less visual clutter when I want to get to my one “punch this up” preset, which I sometimes reconsider and undo after the initial share for small-screen media is past.

Another interesting part of having all that stuff in the camera is the way it creates a sort of augmented reality experience when shooting with the EVF. I put on a pair of AirPods, set them to Transparency mode so I can hear environmental sounds, put on some downtempo, and for the duration of the session I’m half in consensus reality, with its particular tones and shades, and half in the reality of the images I’m making, and their particular slant on what I saw. Those things have turned my sessions into a pretty special time of day that’s just mine: No demands for my attention or emotional energy, and just a few minutes a day where I can operate under a set of rules that demand not much more than simple human decency.

As I type that out, and think about why I started typing—to share my experiences and impressions about a camera—I realize I could be saying this about any camera provided it has done its job and largely faded from my consciousness except as a constrained set of controls to manipulate. The XPro-3 has done that, and it has also made it easier to think less about the images at all—or to make fewer choices about them after capture, anyhow. So while I could be writing all this about any number of cameras I have never used, or cameras I have used and loved in the past, I am definitely writing this about the XPro-3.