Will the New Fujifilm X-E3 Rangefinder-Style Camera Take My Breath Away?

I love my Fujifilm X-Pro2 digital rangefinder camera and have no regrets buying it despite its current inability to shoot 4K video, relative lack of other videocentric features and unimpressive electronic viewfinder (EVF). 

As a longtime user of rangefinder cameras in all formats from 8mm (movie film) and 35mm (stills) through various 120 roll-film aspect ratios (6×4.5cm to 6x12cm) up to 4″x5″, it has been such a relief to once again have a very capable rangefinder camera in my hands. 

Coming from an available light (and oftentimes available darkness) documentary background, I heeded Kevin Mullins’ advice and so my first two Fujinon lenses were the XF 23mm f/1.4 R and XF 56mm f/1.2 R fast primes.

I wavered on the somewhat slow XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0 R LM OIS kit zoom and a shortage of funds finally made that decision for me, compounded with the Fujinon X-mount lens series’ current 18mm focal length situation.

A fast medium wide-angle of 18mm in Fujifilm’s APS-C format, equivalent to 14mm in the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) format and 28mm in the digital 35mm format (I refuse to use the silly term “full frame”) is my number one choice for immersive documentary photography in combination with a moderate telephoto focal length like 50mm in APS-C, 30mm or so in MFT and 75mm in 35mm format.

Gallery

I have applied that moderate wide/moderate long combination to almost all formats and aspect ratios in the past, occasionally adding something in-between, preferably on the wide side of “standard” or “normal”.

In other words, 27mm in APS-C, 20mm in MFT and 40mm in 35mm rather than the more usual “normal” focal lengths of 35mm in APS-C, 25mm in MFT and 50mm in the 35mm format, all of which feel like short telephoto to me.

My choices can vary, though, in shooting video when a longer “normal” lens offering clutch focus functionality for repeatable, accurate manual focussing may override my creative preference for a slightly wider focal length.

The X-Pro2’s advanced hybrid optical viewfinder (OVF) was the clincher in buying into APS-C, aided and abetted by the existence of those 23mm and 56mm focal lengths.

Lenses are, for me, key influencers in camera choice, with sensor aspect ratios coming second followed by a myriad of other often interrelated usability and functionality factors.

I shoot documentary and portrait photographs and documentary videos, am self-funded, and the gear I need must be affordable, small, portable, self-contained and capable of the best quality possible.

No single camera system can provide all that so I use APS-C/Super 35 and MFT/Super 16 cameras and lenses.

Right now, the Lumix GH5 has the edge over Fujifilm for video by a long list of remarkable top-end professional moviemaking features, which is little wonder given Panasonic has been working on video since the GH1.

We have yet to see any Fujifilm camera approach the GH5 in terms of its video feature set and its self-contained usability, and one can only wonder what may turn up in the X-T2S or what might have been of the now-abandoned Fujifilm APS-C/Super 35 “super camera” project.

Playing the waiting game wears thin especially when gaps persist in both sensor formats’ lens and camera offerings, and each has its pros and cons.

The 3:4 (vertical) and 4:3 (horizontal) image aspect ratio is optimal for portraiture and I often find 2:3 (vertical) and 3:2 (horizontal) irritating for that purpose while it is much more suited to documentary photography in horizontal aka landscape orientation.

I love the 1:1 image aspect ratio for monochrome portraiture and urban documentary, combined with the tilting EVF built into only one current camera, the Lumix GX8, allowing me to shoot as I used to with my Rolleiflex twin lens reflexes (TLRs).

I prefer rangefinder and rangefinder-style cameras for photography and cameras with fully-articulated monitors for video.

The perfect lens set comprising the right focal lengths combined with manual clutch focus, stabilization and fast non-variable maximum apertures with excellent mechanical and optical construction remains something of a pipe dream.

So, I compromise on APS-C/Super 35 mostly for photography with MFT/Super 16 mostly for video with a mix of Fujifilm, Olympus and Panasonic cameras and lenses.

Right now I am prepping to photograph a human rights rally tomorrow, the sort of event I have often covered at the same time with gear from all three brands and in both sensor formats.

A DSLR-toting photographer travelling light.

In a DSLR-fixated culture, event participants are effectively rangefinder-blind, allowing me to photograph centimetres away from them without objection.

At this event, I have some constraints imposed by carrying my gear in a small shoulder bag that I have received for review.

The bag is capable of carrying one mirrorless camera plus three lenses in its default internal divider configuration, or up to four small lenses, or two mirrorless cameras-plus-lenses with a minor divider rearrangement.

Somewhere in this image lies my ideal two-camera documentary photography kit. The two fast lenses in the lower lineup for available darkness and two lenses from the upper lineup for available light. I like the 18mm plus 50mm combo from from my Leica M-System days, with those two APS-C focal lengths equivalent to 28mm and 75mm in 35mm format. The 27mm lens is very tempting due to its equivalence to the classic 40mm focal length in 35mm format, as used on the Leica CL and Minolta CLE cameras. Fujifilm is reportedly working on an 18mm f/2.0 R WR “Fujicron” lens. Images not to scale.

I don’t currently have the ideal one-plus-three, one-plus-four or two-plus-two set-up in either mirrorless sensor format, so may limit myself to my X-Pro2 with 23mm lens on-camera and 56mm ready to swap should the portrait opportunities for which that lens is best suited arise.

I would much prefer two cameras with an 18mm lens on one and a 50mm lens on the other but that ideal set-up must wait for our self-financing effort to bear fruit.

FujiRumors reports that a “Fujicron” Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R WR is on its way, slowly and surely, to replace the current Fujinon XF 18mm f/2.0 R and although I would love a Fujinon XF 50mm f/2.0 R WR right now, that too must wait.

I could carry an MFT Lumix camera with fast fixed maximum aperture standard zoom lens attached to cover the event with all my desired focal lengths and more, but I relish the discipline of carrying a limited set of fast prime lenses, and this new bag warrants a realistic test according to its default design parameters of one camera and two to four lenses, size dependent.

The coming release of Fujifilm’s X-E3 has me musing on another possibility this bag presents via rearranging its dividers, X-Pro2 with 23mm on one side and X-E3 with 56mm on the other.

A less tight fit might be the 18mm on one and the 50mm on the other but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

What remains to be seen is whether the X-E3 will be a worthy companion to the X-Pro2, filling the gaps that the other camera cannot fill.

Based on its specifications list, I suspect that might be the case, with one exception, Fujifilm’s crazy ongoing failure to add crucial exposure zebras functionality for stills and video to all its cameras’ firmware.

Video on X-E3 and other Fujifilm cameras

Although Fujifilm’s cameras have some way to go until they approach Panasonic’s video feature set, especially that of the GH5, they already possess certain advantages.

I enjoy shooting video via my X-Pro2’s advanced hybrid OVF with ERF in lower right of frame set to show the whole scene as seen through the lens, in close-up or in mid-view as desired.

Fujifilm’s manual clutch focus primes are a joy to use as are their aperture rings when needing to ride constantly changing available light.

Fujifilm’s film simulations that work so well for JPEGs apparently look terrific in video, as demonstrated by Andrew Reid at EOSHD with a still frame from a Fujifilm X-T20 which permits customization not currently possible on the X-Pro2.

The lack of 4K in the X-Pro2 is the only factor against using it more for video given I generally use multi-camera 4K set-ups for editing in 4K and increasingly, release in 4K, Australian fraudband’s lousy upload capabilities permitting.

All Fujifilm cameras have their persistent video annoyances, however, and Fujifilm does not appear inclined to correct them any time soon.

None has an integral headphone jack for audio monitoring.

Each has a non-industry-standard 2.5mm microphone jack, demanding the use of unreliable 3.5mm-to-2.5mm adapters or microphones with interchangeable audio cables like Røde’s more recent on-camera models like the VideoMic Pro+.

Beachtek SC25 3.5mm to 2.5mm stereo audio minijack coiled cable for cameras like the Fujifilm X-E3 that have 2.5mm instead of industry-standard 3.5mm audio jacks. I have standardized on coiled audio cables wherever possible as they make my rigs neater and more under control especially when handholding.

Interchangeable 3.5mm-to-2.5mm cables have proven hard to find but I eventually located and ordered several Beachtek SC25 coiled cables.

Fujifilm has proven deaf and blind to the crucial need for customizable exposure zebras for video and stills, instead substituting a blinking highlight overexposure indicator on the X-E3.

Cinematographer/director Paul Leeming explains how to use exposure zebras at his Leeming LUT One webpage.

While the exposure zebras problem can be remedied by a Fujifilm with a firmware update, the best solution right now for effective audio monitoring is by connecting compact audio adapters or field recorders beneath your camera.

I have a Beachtek DXA-SLR ULTRA adapter and a Tascam DR-70D four-track recorder while other moviemakers use the Tascam DR-701D six-track recorder, recorders made by Zoom and Sound Devices, and audio adapters/mixers made by Azden, Saramonic, Sound Devices and other manufacturers.

Audio adapters and recorders permit the use of balanced XLR-cabled professional-grade microphones in a similar way to Panasonic’s GH5 with its optional DMW-XLR1 XLR microphone adapter.

I recommend using coiled XLR cables like those made by KopulK-Tek, Cable Techniques, Ambient Devices, and formerly by Remote Audio, in order to keep your rig compact, neat and under control.

Audio adapters and recorders expand the video potential of all cameras, not just Fujifilm’s, and I use the same sort of audio set-up with my Panasonic and other cameras.

Another way of expanding your audio acquisition capabilities for immersive documentary moviemaking is by relying on wireless lavalier microphones.

I have a second Røde RØDElink Filmmaker Kit on my wishlist and rumour has it that Røde is working on a RØDElink multi-input receiver.

Alternatively, a RØDElink Newshooter Kit for versatility may be a good idea if its receiver can be re-paired to a lavalier-linked transmitter as needed, though so far separate transmitters and receivers remain marked as “coming soon” at the Røde website.

Hmmm, looking at all the many themes and variations of acquiring top quality audio as a solo documentary producer/director/cinematographer, perhaps I should do an article on that alone given some cameras provide for audio acquisition and monitoring very well and others much less so.

ALL Fujifilm cameras need grips

One thing that was immediately obvious when I bought my first Fujifilm camera, the X100, is that it desperately needed a hand grip for better grip of the camera in all conditions when shooting on location.

Every Fujifilm camera needs an optional hand grip, especially the X-Pro2, X-E3 and X100F. Fujifilm does not make a hand grip for the X100F even though the company made hand grips for the X100, X100S and X100T.

My assessment remains the same for all subsequent Fujifilm cameras that I have tried out or purchased, including the X-T1, X-Pro2, X-T2 and X100F.

Fujifilm does not make a hand grip for the X100F, a truly bizarre omission given the camera’s very slight built-in grip and slippery leather-look plastic covering, which has contributed to placing the X100F lower down on my wishlist than it deserves.

As stated on Fujifilm’s Hand Grips page:

Hand Grip provides a secure hold and masterful control of the camera.

Offering an assured hold while preventing any interference with a tripod head, grip is ideal when the camera is fitted with a large lens. The tripod mounting socket is aligned with the optical axis.

Fujifilm does make a grip for the X-E3, the Hand Grip HG-XE3, and I will be getting one for the X-E3 should it prove to be a great companion camera to my X-Pro2.

Links

Image Credits

Image concept and hack by Carmel D. Morris.

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