Received wisdom in the photographic world is that anyone who prefers a digital camera with no screen is, at best, one sandwich short of a picnic. Well, I freely admit that I am one of those free spirits which rather likes a camera lacking the odd cucumber sarnie. But with good reason.
The Leica M10-D, my favourite digital rangefinder, is a madcap sort of device that appeals to a specific type of person. You either hate it or love it, and any amount of justification for paying more to delete the screen most often falls on deaf ears.
While the M10-D is definitely at least two sandwiches short of the full picnic, the Fuji X-Pro 3 could be described as a one-sandwich oddity. It is clearly modelled on the spartan M-D and M10-D but with a hint of compromise because it does have a screen, albeit a carefully hidden one.
Use of the device is decidedly optional and when in you do give in, it is hobbled in action. Fuji definitely prefers you to use this camera with the screen firmly hidden.
A few days ago I dropped into my favourite family Fuji dealer, Chiswick Camera Centre, to view the X-Pro 3 for the first time. Naturally, I was impressed because it is just up my alley. Not simply because of its wannabe M-D aspirations but for its overall qualities as a no-nonsense stills camera for the discerning photographer (could this describe me?).
I’ve always had a soft spot for the retro X-Pro cameras. I owned the original version for a time and appreciated its rangefinder handling and, to some extent that innovative hybrid viewfinder.
While the hybrid can never provide the full rangefinder experience of a Leica M, the simulated finder mode on the X-Pro 3 appears to be a popular alternative to the electronic view. It gives the same feeling of involvement, of seeing beyond the frame, that you get with the M, and the focus patch is adequate, if not as clear as the Leica design.
But you can’t fault the retro looks of the X-Pros, especially those of this rather gorgeous new version. If the owner of a Leica M wants a lighter, versatile mirrorless camera with an APS-C sensor, where better to go than this Fuji? As I have said on many occasions, the Fuji X-Pro out-leicas Leica.
Leica’s APS-C offerings, by contrast, are a world away from the traditional look and feel of the M. They are good — but in a different way.
The X-Pro 3 is designed to appeal to odd people like me. People who prefer not to compose using the screen and find little use for the screen during shooting. Touch screens, especially, cause me much bother since my nose is continually up to no good (I’m a left-eye shooter).
I love the smooth no-screen back of the M-D and M10-D just as I like the reversible screens found on Panasonic and Olympus micro four-thirds camera bodies. On these bodies, you can put away the screen but bring it back into full use when needed.
The X-Pro 3, on the other hand, assumes no-screen to be the default setting. The back of the camera is smooth and tactile, just like the M10-D, but it goes one step further in providing a small colour LCD restricted to displaying setting information.
I rather like this innovation and it does not detract from the benefit of not having to suffer a full-size sheet of glass under your fingers. In some ways, such a screen could well find its way to the M10-D without ruining its purity of concept.
Inspiration from Wetzlar
Clearly, Fuji looked at Leica’s M-D for inspiration but, at some stage in the design process, decided that it was inadvisable to launch the camera without access to a screen, if only for settings. Leica’s full monty was a strip too far for Fuji, it seems.
We have ended up with a hybrid version of the M-D to go along with the Fuji hybrid viewfinder. The screen is there, but it is deliberately limited in what it can do. It cannot be reversed, for instance, so if you want a camera where you can compose on the screen then better look elsewhere. Selfie fans avoid this one.
The screen pivots in just one way, downwards. Set at 45 degrees, it is ideally position for low-level photography. Moved fully down, vertically in line with the camera back, it offers on-screen composition but in a rather odd way. Who would want to use it in this way, I’m not sure. However, it does mean that you can take high shots, say over the heads of a crowd, by holding the camera upside down. This works quite well once you get your head around the concept.
As you would expect of someone admittedly light in the sandwich department, I like the X-Pro 3. If I were in the market for the Fuji APS-C system, the X-Pro 3 would be my natural choice. It has gorgeous retro rangefinder styling and, when used with Fujinon primes with aperture rings, you have all the essential information available at a glance — aperture, speed, ISO setting and exposure compensation. For many photographers, this provides everything they need, thus ensuring that the screen and its menus are not missed.
I cannot help thinking that if this camera had a red dot and the Leica name, it would prove a much more successful proposition than either the CL or the TL2. It positively exudes Leica ethos.
If you are of a retro bent, and particularly if you like basic picnics, then this quirky little camera is ideal for you. It’s light, possesses faultless ergonomics and is supported by a very strong system of lenses of high quality. There isn’t much to dislike, frankly.
The black-paint version of the X-Pro 3 should be in stock at dealers by the end of November at a recommended price of £1,699. The two “duracoated” versions, in either silver or black, will cost £1,879 and will become available sometime next month.