“… At the Cp+ show Panasonic is displaying that history tree table….”
Panasonic’s latest action in apparently replacing the professional-quality Lumix DMC-GX8 with the enthusiast-level Lumix DC-GX9, more accurately named the Lumix DC-GX7 Mark III in Japan, has the many professional users of the GX8 asking questions that are simply not being answered.
Two recently published graphics, the Panasonic camera family tree displayed on a wall at the CP+ trade show in Japan and a different Lumix G camera family tree distributed as part of the company’s celebrations of the launch of the first Digital Single Lens Mirrorless (DSLM) camera, the Lumix DMC-G1, back in 2008, are inducing even more questions that remain unanswered.
Is Panasonic’s professional rangefinder-style camera line really now dead, with the GX8 the very last of its kind?
Where is the update for the GM5, the best small, discrete, near-invisible camera for street photography and unobtrusive documentary photography I have ever seen?
I missed out on buying my own GM5 and have been searching fruitlessly ever since for a tiny but top-quality camera equipped with interchangeable pancake prime or zoom lenses to be carried at all times wherever I go.
Until Panasonic shocked and disappointed its professional stills and video user base with the GX9 aka GX7 Mark III, I had been planning on adding a GX9, what should have been the real GX9, to my kit for use in documentary moviemaking and photography.
Now that may never happen.
Now I am wondering if I should be spending my money on Fujifilm cameras instead even though there are no direct substitutes for the GX8 and GM5 in Fujifilm’s otherwise promising camera collection.
Fujifilm’s rangefinder-style X-E3 does not have the GX8’s unique tilting EVF nor its more pro-quality stills and video features although it is reportedly a great little interchangeable lens camera for stills and video though crippled by Fujifilm’s bizarre aversion to exposure zebras.
The X-E3 might otherwise make for a good, discrete, near-invisible documentary and street camera when equipped with Fujifilm’s only pancake lens, the Fujinon XF 27mm f/2.8, though I have yet to obtain an X-E3 review loaner to put this hope to the test.
There is also the fact that Fujifilm does not make other equally good pancake prime lenses and nothing like Panasonic’s amazing though awfully under-rated Lumix G Vario 12-32mm f/3.5-5.6 Mega OIS zoom lens.
Fujifilm’s real-rangefinder fixed-lens APS-C-sensored X-100F makes for a great little documentary and street photography camera though it badly needs its own version of the Fujifilm MHG-X100 hand grip, a crucial accessory given the X100F’s small, slippery body.
Panasonic’s recent design, manufacturing, marketing and naming decisions and lack of communication about them have thrown me and not a few other professional users into a quandary to the point where we are wondering if we should be looking at other makers’ products even though the Micro Four Thirds Super 16 format has its many advantages and those other makers also have their own bizarre blindspots and weird omissions.
Then there is the question of the GX8’s unique and irreplaceable tilting EVF, the one thing that allows me to shoot in the magnified waist-level viewfinder manner of great classic analog cameras like the Rolleiflex TLRs and that no other camera maker emulates in the digital era, not even with tilting monitors you have to squint at and shade with your hand in order to have a hope of seeing well enough under bright outdoor light.
If Panasonic no longer makes the stills cameras I need and my GX8 finally wears out after too many shutter actuations, I face kissing goodbye to a way of seeing and photographing upon which I built my style, my career and my life.
There is so much more to the GX8 and the technology it gave me and that is mostly absent from the GX9 than an homage to some of the best of the past, as I was reminded on absentmindedly picking up and handling my GX8 just now.
Its combination of fully-articulated touchscreen, touch focussing, tilting viewfinder mechanism and beautiful, brilliant EVF screen is an incredibly potent one for unobtrusive, immersive documentary and portrait photography often at times mere centimetres away from your subjects.
If you are lucky enough to have a GX8, pick it up, turn it on, flip up its EVF, open its monitor to the left and tilted slightly flat, place your left thumb on the touchscreen to perfectly nail focus, operate the camera’s buttons and dials with the fingers of your right hand, all simultaneously, and feel the power and control in your hands, the GX8’s uncanny ability to help you capture the perfect moment.
Now consider what has been lost to us with the GX9.
“The Fuji X-E series has gone some time without a major model release, but we were hardly expecting the completely new body design of the X-E3. Chris Niccolls is a huge fan of the X-T20, and wanted to see if the new X-E3 could give it a run for its money!”
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.
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.
Fujifilm X-E3 rangefinder-style camera with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 f/2.8 ultra wide-angle lens.
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.
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.
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.
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+.
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.
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.
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.
“…The X-E3 is, in a nutshell, all my favourite things, in an even smaller package than its predecessor. It’s like Yoda. You think it’s a small frog, then it turns out to be a Jedi Master….
… I’ve been using the X-Pro2 since November 2015, and I still love everything about it, so I’m stoked to have that same image quality and high ISO capability… in a smaller body. And it is really tiny…
… The X-E3 is a tiny machine that packs a punch. If you’re a Pro2 shooter looking for a smaller, stripped down body to throw in your bag, this is it. If you’re a beginner looking for something rangefinder-like that will help you along with your learning curve, this is it. Me? I just love it.”
“Utilising the X-Processor Pro for best in class color reproduction in both stills and 4K movies. Made for photographers who want to seamlessly upload photos directly to their smartphone or tablet.
The X-E3 features APS-C 24.3 megapixel X-Trans™* CMOS III sensor and the X-Processor Pro high-speed image processing engine. The X-E3 is the first X Series model to feature Bluetooth ®** low energy wireless communication. You can pair the camera with your smartphone or tablet device for easy transfer of pictures taken. The LCD monitor, on the back of the camera, uses a static touchscreen panel which supports the conventional “Touch Shot”, “Touch AF” and “Focus Area Selection” capabilities. An all-new “Touch Function” feature will be available on the X-E3, which enables gesture control like flick and pinch zoom, to further enhance touchscreen operation. The AF algorithm has been updated to enhance the camera’s performance for tracking a moving subject. The X-E3’s premium exterior design, agility and functional beauty make it a mirrorless camera that is “a pleasure to own and fun to shoot with” at the same time….”
Fujifilm X-E3 rangefinder-style camera with Fujinon XF 14mm f/2.8 f/2.8 ultra wide-angle lens.
Fuji Guys Channel – currently showing six photographer videos showing them using the X-E3, with three photographers being female. Yes! Fuji Guys gets it absolutely right at 50/50. They also have a good record on female inclusion in videos for other Fujifilm cameras and lenses.
FUJIFILMGlobal – at time of writing, Fujifilm’s global YouTube channel is showing 17 photographer videos on the X-E3 camera with 7 of those video featuring female photographers. Congratulations on improving your current gender inequality, Fujifilm! I hope we can look forward to full gender equality in the very near future.