Fuji X-Pro3 review

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Not sure how to start this review. The Fuji X-Pro3 was announced almost a year ago in October 2019 and lots of stuff have been written about this camera already.

As a camera hot head, I’d digested so many X-Pro3 reviews over this period of time and, if you are here reading this review, chances are you went through the same as well.

Therefore, I guess it’s not worth writing about the obvious, the stuff that most people already know. Instead, I’m going to write about what most people won’t be able to observe or comment on if they had never owned this camera.

So let me try something different here with this Fuji X-Pro3 review.

Design

I want to start with the design. And I’m putting this topic on top of everything else, including image quality. Because the Fuji X-Pro3 is all about the design.

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Image quality is fundamental, yes. But I know it, and you know it as well: just like any other current Fuji X camera, the X-Pro3 will deliver the goods superbly.

Besides, if it’s only image quality you are after, then why would you buy the X-Pro3? Why not the X-T3 or any other Fuji X camera that shares the same sensor and image processor?

The point I’m trying to make is that if you consider buying an X-Pro3 it’s because you want something unique. You know this is a special camera, a product which Fuji elected to go unconventional, as I reported here before.

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With the X-Pro3 you want the unique experience of shooting with the OVF. You want to embrace the idiosyncrasies of the hidden back-screen, its arrogant attitude included. You want that small sub-screen showing the film simulation logo because it’s cool, albeit useless.

You like the rangefinder inspired design. You know this is a beautiful camera and a polarizing one as well, and you love it for this, for all its quirkiness.

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I’ve owned the X-Pro1 and X-Pro2 before and was never crazy about the design. I own a Leica M-E and was always comparing both, the X-Pros and the Leica, which was perhaps a bit unfair.

The X-Pros looked too busy for my liking, with protrusions and buttons that are non-existent in my clean and minimal Leica M-E. But what bothered me the most in the X-Pros — and it still does — is the sloped shoulder at the top plate where the shutter button, shutter speed and the exposure compensation dials lay on.

I can’t help but to feel annoyed with this detail. It feels so unnecessary. Why couldn’t Fuji design the X-Pro body with a straight, horizontal shoulder? You don’t see this in the X100, X-E or X-A series, so why here?

Duratec

Having said that, my X-Pro3 in Duratec Silver looks absolutely gorgeous. It’s amazing how a simple colour change can turn a product into something else, a whole lot better than its sibling dressed in full-black looks like.

As said, I was never crazy about the X-Pros design. But I have to admit with the Duratec Silver finish it looks the part — and definitely worth the extra you pay for it. Apart from the scratch resistance quality, it does make the X-Pro3 look gorgeous.

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By the way, don’t be concerned with fingerprints. Don’t trust what some reviewers say because I find those widely exaggerated. From my experience using this camera, I can assert the Duratec finish is NOT a fingerprint magnet.

It does show fingerprint marks and grease from your hands, but not that often. When it does, just wipe it clean with your shirt or whatever you have on hand. Even your fingers will do.

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The soft-cloth is this big… A quarter of the size would be enough and more practical! 

When you unbox your Duratec coated X-Pro3 you will find a nice soft-cloth with an embossed Fuji-X logo included. I’m not sure if this is just for the Duratec sets or if it comes with the basic black X-Pro3 as well.

It’s nice to get this soft-cloth in the bundle, but it feels a bit… unnecessary? Especially when I realize how over-sized it is. It’s like Fuji is saying “those of you concerned with Duratec fingerprints, take this and shut your mouth please.”

Why Duratec looks better

Firstly, the silver — which is not really silver, but more a champagne gold — makes the X-Pro3 look lighter and not as dense, not a full-black block.

Secondly, the two-tone black and silver works really well. The mid-section of the body in black, contrasting with the silver top and bottom base plates, looks classic and elegant.

This two-tone is featured in some details worth noting, like the small ISO sub-dial window, the inner face of the hotshoe and some buttons that are also in black. I like the contrast, it’s a classy detail.

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By the way, the plastic hotshoe protection cover is so cheap that I’ll never use it. If at least Fuji had a titatnium one matching the body colour like in the X-100V. Luckily the hotshoe, which is black inside, looks terrific without the plastic cover.

The dials look more exquisite in silver. The typical diamond-shaped texture sparkle nicely when under direct light. The EVF / OVF lever also looks the part in silver, on top of the black leatherette. I mean, none of these really stand-out in the basic black bodied X-Pros.

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Something I noticed is that the dials are not exactly the same colour as the camera body. Perhaps because they are not made of titanium and don’t get the Duratec treatment. It’s a slight difference that you will notice only when looking carefully.

With the Duratec Silver top plate, I like the way the OVF window stands out at the front face of the camera, with its black interior. In the black X-Pros you don’t get this contrast so the OVF is less prominent.

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Last but not the least, there is a detail which is as important as everything you had read so far. In the Duratec Silver X-Pro3, the paint markings applied by Fuji in the camera body are not the regular white, but have a subtle light-gray tone matching the Duratec finish.

And it really, really does feel high-end.

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I read somewhere that Fuji brought Duratec technology from Citizen, a japanese watchmaker. If this is true, then it does show here because the inscriptions in the camera body do resemble watchmaking stuff.

This is simply incomparable to the typical white on black you get on the black version of the X-Pro3, or in any other camera for this matter. I’ve seen it myself at the store, how cheap the DELETE letters at the back of the black X-Pro3 looked like in comparison with the more inconspicuous inscriptions in the Duratec Silver body.

So kudos to Fuji for this attention to detail.

What I’d improve

The one thing where Fuji could have done better is the size of the fonts in the buttons. Take a look at the DRIVE; AE-L / AF-L; MENU / OK; PLAY; DISP / BACK buttons.

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It’s oversized and crowded — there’s no space to breathe. I know it’s a detail, but if Fuji put so much effort building this X-Pro3 with the titanium top and bottom plates — with all the manufacturing challenges they had to overcome — plus the Duratec coating and everything else to provide us a nicely crafted premium product… I feel these details are not unimportant.

Simply speaking, I’d reduce the size of the fonts.

You may think I’m going totally overboard with this design-oriented obsession. But, after all, this is a camera whose official teaser video focused on design more than everything else. Just trying to be consistent here — remember, the devil is in the details.

Build quality

Likewise, some minor defects that I found after using the X-Pro3 for over a month.

There is something about the titanium top-plate around the OVF window that doesn’t seem right. It’s not fitted properly and there’s an uneven gap. If I press it, it actually flattens.

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Not sure if I got a bad copy or they are all like this, and if it affects the weather sealing or not.

And then there is the rubber in the thumb rest that is not properly attached. For several times my natural thumb movement accidentally pulled out the rubber just that little bit to make me feel nervous about it.

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I know it’s not going to come off unless I pull it outwards on purpose. But the thing is, there is rubber in the front grip as well and here it is properly assembled and solid as it should be.

This inconsistency makes me feel Fuji needs to raise the bar and iron out these tiny details if they are to market the X-Pro3 as a premium product.

Otherwise, the build quality of the X-Pro3 is as good as every other Fuji X camera — which is to say overall very good.

No fear: hidden back-screen

Fuji wants the X-Pro3 user to focus on photography and stop chimping. Hence, as you already know, the back-screen is hidden. You have to flip it open to chimp — a good deterrent.

But what Fuji won’t tell you is that you can easily bypass this by setting auto-review to pop-up on your hybrid EVF / OVF if you still want to chimp.

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In practice, it means you shoot, keep your eye in the viewfinder and the photo you just captured will display in the EVF — no different from other Fuji X cameras, in fact.

And it works even when you are using the OVF: the hybrid viewfinder will automatically shift to EVF to display the image. Press the shutter button after chimping and it will go back to the OVF.

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I don’t chimp much. Whatever camera I use, I always turn off auto-review because it interrupts my flow. Yet occasionally, I press the review button to check the results.

With the X-Pro3, I can confirm I’m not chimping as much as with other cameras because the hidden screen is indeed a deterrent. But every so often I still chimp by looking through the hybrid OVF / EVF and hitting the playback button.

I know some people hesitate about the X-Pro3 because of the hidden back-screen, so here you go. If you are concerned that once a chimper, always a chimper, and not sure if you can cope with this back-screen — now you know you can still chimp with the X-Pro3 by circumventing the back-screen.

And by the way. I read negative comments about the way the back-screen is hinged at the bottom: convenient for waist level shooting, but overhead shots impossible. This is nonsense.

I feel embarrassed to have to write this: just hold the camera upside down for overhead shots and the screen will be facing you.

The sub-screen

There are two ways to use the sub-screen at the back: either set it to display essential settings like ISO, shutter speed, aperture, white balance, battery level, etc…

Or use it to display the film simulation logo — which is essentially what this sub-screen was created for, and how you should use it.

I mean… Why so serious?.. Camera settings? Come on! It’s a lot more fun, nostalgic and chic to have the Provia or Velvia logo displayed in full Fujifilm cardbox glory!

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It’s beautiful and puts a smile on my face!

When showing the film stock logo, you will actually see your ISO and white balance setting as well. In case you are curious to know how all film stock logos look like, check  here where I posted photos from all 11 of them.

This sub-screen has no backlight. You will see it properly only at certain angles and with outside light hitting it. It also means power consumption is low, and for this reason it stays on all the time even when your camera is turned off — just like old film stock cardbox inserts.

The hybrid OVF / EVF

This is the essence of the X-Pro3 — you get an X-Pro because you want to shoot with the OVF. I know some people still prefer to shoot with the EVF even when using an X-Pro, but frankly it doesn’t make sense to me.

I understand the convenience of the EVF vs the OVF: accurate framing, real-time preview, what you see is what you get. But if you are to shoot with the EVF, then you should just get an X-E3 or X-T3, not an X-Pro.

It’s like buying a cabrio, but never driving with the roof open because the wind and the sun annoys you — air-con feels better.

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Shooting with the OVF is unique and this is why the X-Pro series is so special. Nothing beats the pureness and immediacy of framing through a piece of clear glass, without an electronic interface.

Especially for street photography, for which the X-Pro series is primarily intended for. There’s zero latency, no screen delay or black-out.

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With this, I go as far as to say if Fuji had the balls, they could have simply removed the EVF from the X-Pro3 and make it an OVF only camera. I mean, they had the attitude to feature the hidden back-screen, so going all the way and offering no EVF would be one step further to make this camera even more unique — and arrogant.

No EVF would mean absolutely no chimping. I’m not being sarcastic here, I really think it would be special. Like Leica removing the back-screen in the M10-D — this kind of special.

I love shooting with this camera because of the OVF. It works perfectly and I don’t need to turn on the optional small EVF sub-screen at the bottom corner for focus confirmation. I find it too distracting for my liking.

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Framelines with the 23mm f/2 lens, with and without the AF assist sub-EVF

Besides, shooting with the OVF, I keep center point AF and so far had not experienced any focus difficulty — the X-Pro3 always picks focus where I want it to.

Compared to previous versions, with the X-Pro3 Fuji decided to drop the magnification screens of the OVF that were available in both X-Pro1 and X-Pro2 with a flick of a switch. It takes out the flexibility using wider lenses and it’s a step backward, in my opinion.

Having said that, it does not affect me. With the X-Pro3, the lens I use the most is the 23mm f/2 which provides a 35mm equivalent field-of-view. It’s my preferred focal and works perfectly with the OVF’s magnification.

I’d go as far as to say the X-Pro3’s OVF was made for this focal.

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With the 18mm f/2 mounted: no framelines, only arrows

Technically speaking, an 18mm lens (28mm equivalent field-of-view) is too wide for this OVF. As a result, attach an 18mm lens and it won’t display the framelines, but yellow arrows at the corners to remind you the lens is wider than the OVF’s view.

What I’d discovered though, is that you can still shoot confidently with an 18mm lens as the OVF seems to just cover the field of view. You need to look around the perimeter if you want to check the limits of your frame — like going to the movies and sitting at the front row. Not ideal, but it works nevertheless.

Therefore, this OVF is perfect for me. I can shoot with my three preferred XF primes: 18mm f/2; 23mm f/2; and 35mm f/1.4.

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Framelines getting smaller: 35mm f/1.4

The framelines are bright and one thing I noticed is that they are very accurate now, compared to the X-Pro1 or X-Pro2. I didn’t make any comparisons, it’s just my feeling from what I recall using the other two cameras.

As before, the framelines will move to compensate for paralax error depending on the distance to your subject, which is determined by the AF point. It seems to work perfectly and, as said, very accurate now.

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With the 18-55mm f/2.8-4 lens, zoomed at the far end

In case you are unaware, you can actually use zoom lenses with the OVF. Obsviously, the magnification of the viewfinder won’t change when you zoom in or out. Instead, the framelines will increase or decrease in size accordingly, and in real time. It’s amazing just to see it working.

The truth is, Fuji’s OVF sounds simple in concept, but it’s actually quite an advanced piece of machinnery. Most people highlight its hybridness, the fact that you can change to EVF with a flick of the switch.

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OVF with everything overlaid

But what’s equally amazing is that the OVF in itself has many options. Just like any typical EVF, you can choose to overlay information like histogram, framing guidelines or a level gauge.

Film simulations

With the X-Pro3 you get a total of 11 film simulations now. I’ve yet to try all of them, and I’m inclined to say I never will. It’s a bit like ice-cream: there are so many flavours, but I always end up getting chocolate, vanilla or strawberry. Occasionally I may get green tea, but that’s really an exception.

With the X-Pro3, I’m mostly shooting with the Classic Neg simulation. It has the impressive ability to add a special mood to the images, turning the most mundane photo into something interesting. You can check these two posts here  and here, where I share my observations on Classic Neg.

In a way, Classic Neg is replacing my previously preferred Classic Chrome. Both are interesting in their own ways, but Classic Neg takes things to the next level. All colour photos you see here in this review are Classic Chrome, with the exception of the flowers below which are Velvia.

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Velvia, in a nutshell, tweaks the colours to become vivid and saturated. I may not necessarily be a fan of Velvia, but I understand its usefulness when shooting flowers and landscape.

Not my cup of tea, but recently I happened to walk across a field with beautiful flowers and decided to give it a go. Part of the fun is really the ability to change film stock with a flick of a switch… I loaded Velvia to the camera.

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And then there is Acros, for your black & white mementos. At the moment I don’t have an opinion on Acros — I need more mileage to understand what I feel about it. All I know from Fuji’s official page is that Acros emulates the print-like texture and fine grain of the legendary B&W film with the same name.

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These are my main flavours: Classic Neg, Velvia and Acros. And I think Fuji should consider reducing the number of film simulations. It’s just a case of more not being necessarily more. I feel having 11 simulations is a bit too much.

Some of them, like Mono and Sepia, are disposable. Mind me, Sepia looks horribly artificial. And why would you need Mono when you have Acros? Assuming Acros is specially tuned to simulate film, then Mono is probably just turning your photo to grayscale — you can do this in post, or even with your smartphone if needed.

Ditto for Pro Neg Hi and Pro Neg Std — why two Pro Neg options, really necessary?

The experience

Loading the camera with Classic Neg, shooting street photos with the OVF — let me tell you, this is what the X-Pro3 is all about and it’s a very rewarding experience.

My Leica M-E is a great street shooter, but manual focusing is still a hindrance to me. Maybe I lack the craft, maybe I should use more zone focusing. Or maybe I should just improve my skills.

Whatever the case, the truth is I missed so many photo opportunities when street shooting with my Leica M-E due to manual focusing.

A good street shot that tells a story may unfold in front of you at any moment, and the decisive moment may last a split second only. Failing to get a subject in focus or getting distracted with focusing, resulting in a poor composition — it happened to me so many times with the Leica M-E.

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In this sense, the X-Pro3 is the perfect solution for my street photos. It’s like I’m getting the best of both worlds: rangefinder style optical viewfinder, combined with lightning quick auto focus.

With the X-Pro3, I don’t need to be concerned with pre-focusing or anything focus related, which is truly liberating. In my street sessions I can now concentrate 100% on getting the best composition when something interesting happens in front of me. And, again, with the benefit of using a clear, optical viewfinder.

So yes, from this angle the X-Pro3 beats my Leica for street and I’m loving it.

Is the X-Pro3 a camera for you?

If you already own a Fuji X-E or X-T series camera and are looking for an update, the X-Pro3 is a good option as it offers a completely different shooting experience with the OVF. If you are not convinced about the convenience and advantages of the OVF and are planning to use the EVF anyway, I’d suggest you look somewhere else.

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If you like to shoot street, this is a perfect camera because it’s small, light and quick — and this takes into consideration the excellent Fuji lenses that are not too heavy, especially the f/2 primes like my favourite 23mm f/2. And the OVF — I hate to sound like a broken record, but nothing beats the directness of the OVF when shooting street. Or anything else for this matter.

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If the hidden back-screen is too much for you to digest, yet you still want to taste the uniqueness of an X-Pro, I’d recommend you consider the X-Pro2.

The shooting experience is basically the same. Plus, with the X-Pro2 you get the flexibility of the OVF’s different magnifications that are missing in the X-Pro3.

And all for a fraction of the price: depending on where you live, you may get a really good deal. Street price for the X-Pro2 in Macau and Hong Kong had dropped to roughly half the price of an X-Pro3.

But…

With an X-Pro2 you won’t get any exquisite Duratec beauty, nor the Classic Neg film simulation, nor any stylish film logo displayed in the back… These alone were enough for me to shell out the money and get an X-Pro3 because, I mean… This camera is so damn gorgeous!

Final thoughts

When Fuji launched the X-Pro1 in 2012, the camera had many issues including a slow and hunting auto focus that became the main point of discussion.

The much awaited X-Pro2 took several years to come out (2016), but it basically solved all the problems from its predecessor. It was a perfect camera, and it still is up to this date.

Therefore, Fuji going a bit unconventional with the X-Pro3 makes sense to me because there was not much to improve in the already solid and mature X-Pro2.

To this point, I think Fuji had done a very good job throwing in this back-screen / sub-screen combo and the Duratec finishes.

Most importantly, it’s refreshing to see a camera manufacturer taking a different route, offering something new even if controversial and polarizing, when everybody else seems to be focused on upgrading specs in a boring and useless race, without bringing in new ideas like Fuji always does.

This is why I like Fuji. They are always able to carve their own niche, create their own identity. The X-Pro3 embodies this attitude perfectly, and for this reason it’s so special.

4 comments

  1. I love my X-Pro3 and the film simulations is what makes it shine. As you develop photography experience and maturity, you want to spend more time behind the camera and less time in front of a computer. The JPEG refinement you can do in the X-Pro3 is a photography state of the art in my opinion.

  2. Good review, but I couldn’t disagree with you more about the duractect silver. To me it looks cheesy, way too eye catching for serious work on the street, and just the worst sort of “look at me” special edition designed to be put on a shelf and not used. I also think the “two tone” accents you praise are super cheap – the iso dial, the hot shoe, all the buttons – they’re not black to accent the silver, they’re black because they’re also black on every other version of the X-Pro3 and it costs more to produce them in different colours. Do you honestly not think the ISO dial would look nicer in white, or the fn button on the top plate shouldn’t be silver to match? Of course they should, and I bet they were in the original design too, before an accountant came and crossed them out 😀

    Standard black is the way, no grime and fingerprint worries, and if it gets scratched who cares, it’s titanium and will look great anyway!

    • Honestly, I do think the ISO dial and hotshoe look better in black than in white. The hotshoe reminds me the Contax G2. When I first saw the X-Pro3 product photos though, I admit the black on silver annoyed me – it looked inconsistent. But with the product on hand, I changed my mind and appreciated the contrast. I won’t deny that’s probably not the result of a design intent, rather a decision based on production cost as you rightly pointed out. In any case, at the end of the day is a matter of personal taste and obviously there’s a black option for those who prefer it this way. I had both X-Pro1 and X-Pro2 in black, so on my 3rd X-Pro having the option to pick something different is a welcoming change for me. And mine won’t stay on a shelf!

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