Fujifilm: Is it a Little Like a…? (Part1)

“I’ve always thought comparisons were useless and ugly. It is a short cut to thinking”
Jim Morrison September 1968

The other day, someone asked me if my X-Pro1 was a Leica M (I’ve also been asked if the X-Pro1 was one of those “hipster cameras”)

No it’s a Fuji I replied.

Fair question (and fair answer), but it got me thinking about the comparison. Earlier in this missive, I stated that I really didn’t put much stock into the Leica M/Fuji X-Pro comparison. But I’ve been reminded of just how frequently it gets made with the release of the X-Pro2, and the various forum posts and review articles have pulled out this analogy and I think it’s time to take a closer look.

Someone recently posted on one of the Fuji forums, that “The X-Pro was the closest they’d ever get to owning a digital Leica M”

In other less Fuji focused corners of the internet, the comparison is perhaps a little less favourable… ‘Fuji’s supposed M killer, epic fail’ ‘copycat’ sentiments like that.

Can we lay this out logically, examine it and decide categorically how much validity is in that statement?

I hope so!

Can we reach an understanding, a zen like state of total agreement about the aforementioned validity?

Alas, I fear not.

I think it’s prudent to first decide what makes a Leica M, a Leica M.

Is the Leica Q a M? What about the T or the X or the SL?

No, they’re not – the clue’s in the name really huh?

So what is a Leica M?

Well the M stands for MESSSUCHER (which means rangefinder) – again, the clue’s in the name!

A rangefinder uses a clever mechanism to synchronise a optical view finder with the focus of the lens. In the most simple terms I can think to use to describe it…

When you turn the focus ring on the lens, a lever that protrudes from the lens mount, pushes a mechanism in the camera body that indicates via the viewfinder whether of not the desired image is in focus.

The Fuji X-Pro (and X100) cameras do NOT focus in this way. They are NOT rangefinders.

Or course “rangefinding” is another way of saying, finding focus. In which case ALL cameras that have a way for the user to find focus are actually rangefinders? Even your iPhone? No that doesn’t sit right either.

Play with the concept of focusing and the semantics of rangefinding all you like… the fact remains that the word rangefinder conjures up the notion of a mechanical design that determines focus, whilst not looking through the lens.

So that should be the end of it right? The Fujis are not copycats, they’re not trying to achieve critical focus via mechanical rangefinding.

But of course the comparison persists, but why should this be? It’s plainly obvious to anyone with even the most basic understanding of a) what a rangefinder is and b) which of Leica’s products are actually rangefinders, that the Fuji cameras are a completely different animal.

No don’t worry, I’m not really THAT obtuse!

The comparison persists because the Fuji looks rather similar in a superficial way to the Leica Ms.

But let’s examine that for a moment.

Are we seriously expected to believe that Leica have some sort of patent on rectangular shaped cameras, with corner mounted viewfinders and a shutter speed dial?

What utter tosh! Leica didn’t invent the shutter speed dial, they didn’t invent the viewfinder, and they sure as hell didn’t invent the rectangle. (Depending on which article you read, they didn’t invent the rangefinder either, but I suspect that’s a bit contentious)

But seriously, I get it. As digital cameras became mainstream, their designs started to harmonise… I might of grown up on shutter speed dials and aperture rings, but most modern cameras have PASM dials. Most modern cameras embrace their digital existence, offering a practical solution for selecting exposure that’s (and let’s be 100% honest here) frankly, vastly superior to Fuji’s digital-as-mechanical solution. I mean, seriously, if you want a 1/3 stop shutter speed on the X-Pro1 you have to get as close as you can with the shutter dial, then press the left or right D pad arrows to get the exact speed you want. Compare that to most digital bodies, where you put the top plate dial on S and turn a scroll wheel to you get what you want…

Of course one manufacturer who clung to the previous way of doing things, was Leica.

So when Fuji resurrected the shutter speed dial, it was obvious (sic) who they were copying.

They were copying the past, the same past that Leica were copying.

And that’s an important distinction to make.

I PERSONALLY don’t think that Fuji have copied the modus operandi of the Leica M, they’ve instead tapped into the same desire that some have for the old way of working.

So, is the X-Pro/X100 range the closest thing you’ll ever be able to afford that gives the Leica M experience.

No. Not at all.

Primarily because the Fuji’s are not rangefinders. They have autofocus, and focusing is achieved directly on the imaging sensor (as per all mirrorless cameras at the time of writing, which is April 2016)

But secondary because something like a Epson RD1 will give a far closer approximation of a digital M rangefinder experience (on account of it being a digital rangefinder) or closer still would be the Leica M8, which is available second hand for about what a X-Pro2 costs new… In fact if you hunt around, don’t mind Zeiss &/or Voigtländer glass (not the worst economy you’ll ever have to make!!), you could PROBABLY kit yourself out with a M8, and 35/50/85 primes for slightly less money than you’d spend buying a X-Pro2 plus 23/35/56 brand new from Fuji.

So if you REALLY want the Leica M experience on a Fuji budget, then there’s a thought for you, huh?

NB: I have nothing against Leica (or indeed any camera brand), they’ve done me no wrong, and perhaps one day I’ll own one and see for myself. So please don’t miss the point of this article… Like the dead famous man said, comparisons are useless and ugly.

Continued in part two!

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