10 days mountain biking in Kerala, India: a good test for my new Fuji X-Pro 2 and a replacement for my Leica M9? Let’s see…
I don’t like to make life easy, at least on paper. Thats why I shot a lot of my previous remote mountain bike adventures on the Leica M9 rangefinder – possibly the most “unsuitable’ camera for shooting ‘action’. The M9 (and the M8 that I used before it) had no motor drive to speak of or AF, at best rough rangefinder framing of subject and some random tech issues that a camera of that price tag shouldn’t have. But rangefinders are small and light(ish) and discrete, making them great for trips that involve riding a bike over high mountains and shooting travel/street images along the way. A rangefinder doesn’t turn heads like a DSLR does and seems to break down the barriers between you and the subject more easily.
But the M9’s deficiencies, at least when it comes to shooting bike action, meant that I finally succumbed to thinking there was a better tool for the job when I didn’t want to pack my Nikon DSLR gear and the weight and bulk and big, indiscrete lenses. My Contax G2 fitted the bill in the days of film, and now comes the Fuji X-Pro 2: a digital rangefinder with 8 FPS, AF (and digital viewfinder enhanced MF) and more user-customisation than I’ll ever need on a single camera.
So I passed on the Fuji X T2 and the Sony A7 (both look too much like SLRs) and armed myself with the X-Pro2, a Fuji 23/f2, a Fuji 90/f2 and a Zeiss 12/f2.8 (giving 35mm, 135mm and 18mm equivalents on a full frame sensor respectively) and shot 7 days of riding through India’s southern tea plantations with a couple of Scott bike pro riders. And with 1800 shots in the bag, here are my initial impressions.
Portability – mounted with the 23/f2, this camera is portable and discrete. While its a hell of a lot less discrete with the Fuji 90/2 mounted, packing the 23/2, Zeiss 18/2.8 and Fuji 90/2 my pack weighs in 1500g lighter than my ‘lightweight’ Nikon set up (D750 + Zeiss 18/3.5, Nikon 50/1.4, Nikon 70-200/4). 1.5 Kg is something to appreciate when riding up big hills. I’ve now bought 2 Metabones M-to-X adaptors to use my M-mount lenses, that will save 200g more weight if I use the Leica 90/2.5 instead the Fuji 90 and do away with the AF ability.
Battery – yes the little battery gets hammered, but I never got through more than 1 battery per day, though I carried 3 in case. Shooting in 25-30C temperatures helped for sure, but also avoiding reviewing images much and having the camera auto-off after 1 minute is key too.
Image review – zooming in on the image playback to check focus was hard: the camera wont let you zoom in enough to really assess subject sharpness if you only shoot RAW (RAF) files. If you want to zoom in tight you’ll need to shoot RAW + jpg. The jpg lets you zoom in substantially more, b of course takes up space on the card. Daft and annoying, but there you go.
Focus – after being used to the manual Leica M, using a digital viewfinder to focus took a little getting used to. But on the good side, custom settings allow you to set up so the digital view finder zooms in whenever the lens focus ring is touched, making for fast and accurate MF. I tried using focus peaking and split screen focussing, but for me at least the standard image focussing works best in most situations. Unexpectedly the Zeiss 12/2.8 proved tricky to manually focus, with drastic turns of the focus ring not seeming to have a very obvious affect in the viewfinder image. Both focus peaking and distance scale were hard to trust at times on this lens, with the AF scale in the viewfinder obviously way out at times. I rarely trust AF for my action shots (most AF systems fail to lock onto erratic subjects properly and drift onto backgrounds with similar contrast instead), but I often use AF to help pre-focus, but in this case the zoomed in MF makes pre-focus easy and the AF almost redundant.
Drive – 8 or 3 FPS. Welcome to never missing a shot.
Dioptic – The dioptic dial is in a really daft place on the side of the camera body to the left of the viewfinder and wont lock, meaning almost every time you pull the camera out of a bag it has been moved and needs re-adjusting. I’ll be sticking tape over it to stop this, which is a pretty crap solution for a pro camera today.
Dust – yes dust on mirrorless cameras will be a problem. Fast lens changes away from the wind and shooting fast apertures with less DOF are key to minimising the amount of post clean up needed, but dust is going to be problem on the X Pro 2 when shooting dusty mountain bike trips. I have no idea how the video people get around this.
Sequential card burning – I set up with the dual card slots set up to run on from slot 1 to slot 2 when card 1 fills, but found a severe lag when this happens. Shooting a burst, that ran over the 2 cards meant the camera stopped shooting while it decided to switch burning images to the second slot. This was even with fast C10 120/s cards.
Image quality – there’s no doubt the X-Pro 2 can shoot amazing images. Running them through LR6 throws in some new (and unexpected) learning curves to get the best from the camera’s X-trans processor. Big RAF files (50mb) challenge the speed of my once singing and dancing MacPro and finding a way to aesthetically sharpen the images when patterns or foliage are involved seems the biggest challenge. The internet is full of info on using the Detail slider instead of the Amount slider in sharpening, but if I’m honest I’d say that the end result is still an image with backgrounds that look slightly painted, at least compared with Nikon and Leica images. Of course it’s too easy to ‘pixel-peep’ and be over critical of images when processing and I guess I’ll see how they print when the story is published. After all, when did you grab a loupe and check the sharpness of the 35mm slide images that landed front covers and billboards years back? But take a look at this 100% crop of the above image’s weird ‘painting’ effects on background foliage. Work in progress on this one.
So where to now? I’m liking the X Pro 2. It still has some characteristics to learn -especially in the processing of its files – but its portable, light, discrete and does what I need. And most of all, like the M9 before it, it seems to lend itself to being creative. It’ll be coming with me a lot in the future.