The Fuji X-Pro 3 is the first digital camera that’s genuinely piqued my interest in a long time – and it’s not even been officially released yet. Fuji did some sort of pre-announcement presentation sometime last week, which was followed by the online photography press exploding with news and pictures of a camera that seemed to cause a disproportionate amount of disgust. I wasn’t disgusted though, in fact, I found myself really quite intrigued – not because I want to buy it, but instead for the simple fact that a mainstream camera manufacturer seems to have tried to create something a little different to the broadly homogeneous kit the other big brands are churning out.
Of course, Fuji are known for breaking the mould a little bit once in a while. I remember (and bought) when the X100 was first released – it was one of the most interesting cameras any of the bigger manufacturers had dared to bring to market for a long time. It was a big success for Fuji too. From it was spawned the first X-Pro 1 – an interchangeable-lens pseudo-rangefinder camera that I suspect was an even bigger hit than the X100 (I bought one of them too). From the X-pro 1 then came and entire system of cameras that has been vastly built upon over the years since.
Over those same years though, I’ve personally felt the Fuji have been slowly loosing their edge, or at least losing something of what made those original cameras so unique. I talked about this opinion in a bit of a review I penned about the latest ‘F’ variant of the X100 here. A great camera, there’s no denying that, but to me it felt as though what was special about the original version had somehow been lost.
As I talk about in that review, the simple original concept had been over-complicated with a stack of extra, largely superfluous functions – and with all the extra function there was a huge increase in buttons, controls and other ways the user could interface with it.
Of course, many of the commentators on that review told me that I’d missed the point. All the extra functionality could only aid the photographer, and if I didn’t like it, I could and should have just switched it all off. Whilst this is true, I feel quite strongly that these opinions missed the point I was trying to make. It’s my view that the beauty of the original design was not in the extent of its functionality, but indeed in the lack of functionality it provided.
The original design concept provided a niche group of photographers with a set of limitations that would work for them, the latest one tried to make that inherently limited concept offer something for everyone. To my mind, a camera that’s so limited by the nature of having a fixed 35mm f/2 lens could benefit from also be allowed to be limited in other ways. By making the choice to add a proverbial kettle, toaster and microwave with built-in-grill to the X100 design – at least in my opinion – Fuji had lost touch with the concept and lost their way a little when it came to their own original design philosophy.
The Fuji X-Pro 3
Which is exactly why I am so pleased to see them bringing out a camera like the X-Pro 3. I’m not going to go into too much detail about the features that Fuji have so far spoken about the X-Pro 3 offering – at least short of highlighting the headline conspicuously-disruptive screen design. If you’ve not read about it yet, you might be surprised to hear that the new X-Pro 3 has a screen on the back that’s articulated in such a way that it’s natural position is folded away out of view. In addition to the main screen, there is also a little secondary screen that shows various camera settings, including a film emulation type display.
To shoot using live-view with the primary screen on the back, you have to fold it out. This means it can either be used as a waist level finder, or if you wish to use it at eye level, the screen awkwardly hangs below the camera. It can’t be rotated, and therefore can’t be viewed from the front for selfies and can’t be folded back against the camera facing out. As such, to use the camera comfortably at eye level, you need to use the viewfinder.
Of course – especially in the DPReview comments section – this idea has been lambasted beyond reason. There is some positivity there, but in the main, the comments are really quite negative, and this is even before the camera has been officially announced, never mind widely used.
As I’ve said though, personally I find myself on the side of those who appreciate this move as a positive one. I think what Fuji have done is innovative, interesting, and actually quite brave. There is, admittedly, a bit of a gimmicky element to it – the secondary screen showing the film emulation type has been done in such a way that it imitates the little slots in film cameras that allowed people to tear off a bit of the film box and slot it in as a reminder of what film was in the camera. Diehard film photographers will no doubt be shouting “why not just shoot film” etc… but I’m not really interested in all that side of the argument. What I’m interested in is the overarching design philosophy of limiting the ways it can be used by photographers, and therefore limiting its appeal to a smaller niche.
Limitations for a niche
What Fuji have done – well or badly I’d argue it remains to be seen – is create a camera that imposes limitations, rather than trying to remove them. They’ve not tried to create yet another camera that solves every possible problem for every possible photographer. Instead they’ve designed something that will work specifically for a small niche of photographers – something usually only attempted by the likes of Leica and other more esoteric brands such as Alpa.
This is why the comments section of DPReview has erupted. There are hundreds of people who are seeing a camera that not only doesn’t quite fit their needs, but is actually quite specifically not designed for them. More significantly though, it’s come from a brand that usually does make cameras for them, and this seems to have caused a huge amount of confusion and anger… Which, to me, is just bizarre! I can’t help but find it really odd that so many people can’t see that it’s perfectly possible for cameras that offer features and functions that don’t appeal to them to exist on the marketplace…?
Why the anger?
So why is it that Fuji get so heavily lambasted for trying something different? Well, it’s my opinion that digital camera industry has dug a bit of a hole for itself. Proven, I think, by the fact that it’s been contracting year on year for a while now. It has pushed and pushed the bigger, better, faster sales tactic for so long that the consumer has bought into the ideal wholesale. The average consumer seems to have arrived at a point in their mentality that every camera released needs to be the perfect fit for every photographer and possible usage case out there. In reality though, many cameras have been offering a bit of everything for everyone for a while now, so the newer bigger, better, faster ones haven’t had much new to offer. In many other walks of life innovation, variety and choice are at very least prized if not essential – yet in camera design, manufactures push and are pushed to make the same do-everything boxes, so have largely run out of ideas that actually help sell the things.
It’s all become really quite absurd in my opinion, which is why I applaud Fuji for this move. The X-Pro 3 might be a little gimmicky, but beyond that, it’s a design that’s is trying to offer something for a niche set of photographers who want something different; photographer who want a different user experience and want limitations imposed on them rather than the opposite.
I’m one of those photographers too – which is perhaps why I’m drawn to the concept, despite not being particularly convinced that I would choose the X-Pro 3 specifically for me.
But, whilst I’m not sure it’s for me, what I am sure of is that it will be right for some other photographers out there – and good luck to them I say! I just hope it’s right for enough photographers to prove to Fuji that more of this sort of disruptive innovation is a good idea.
You listening Fuji?? A Fuji X100 without a screen (or even one like this new X-Pro) and about 10 less buttons would be a great addition your line up – make it happen, yeah – you might even find yourself welcoming curmudgeonly me back to the fold…