Fujifilm: Is it a Little Like a…? (Part 3)

Part three? What the hell Adam, did I miss something?

No not at all, this is a continuation of something I wrote a long time ago!

You can read the preceding parts on the links below

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

Fujifilm: Is it a Little Like a…? (Part2)

The basic premis of those articles was to examine the various comparisons between the Leica M and the Fujifilm X-Pro that abound on the various Facebook groups and camera forums.

You see, some buy the Fuji proudly proclaiming that it’s the closest they’ll ever get to a Leica M others believe that one camera can’t hold a candle to the other (and that opinion goes both ways). Others bang their drums and grind their axes that Fuji is nothing more than a copy-cat, plagiarising the sacrosanct sanctum that is Leica (I wish I was joking)

I tried to write fairly and objectively… and I guess I succeeded… I certainly didn’t get any zealot feedback from either camp (unlike if I post a shot of a cat, or have the unadulterated nerve to suggest that I might actually be happy with an image I’ve taken)

Those articles were about the history and cachet of each brand, and I get cachet – I really do, and I certainly don’t dismiss it. The soft fact is, if you feel what you’re using is special, then you’ll try harder with it, and the results will be more special as a consequence.

But… we also have to face hard facts, and the fact is (as I wrote before)

Buying a Leica makes you approximately as much of a photographer like Henri Cartier-Bresson (etc) as wearing a Rolex Submariner makes you swim like Jacques Cousteau

So why the re-visit?

Is it because Fuji have subsequently released the X-Pro2 and Leica the M10, and I felt the subject warranted re-examination?

Nope.

It’s because, thanks to the kind folks at Leica, I was loaned a M240 (couldn’t get my hands on an M10 – sorry), for a BRIEF amount of time, and I was actually able to experience first hand modern digital rangefinder shooting (I’ve used some film rangefinders back in the day)

So how did I find the M? What’s it like and how does it compare to the X-Pro?

Well let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first.

Not surprisingly, (and reassuringly) a camera body that has at various points in its life cost north of £/€/$ 5000 of your hard earned, feels exceedingly well made. I don’t just mean heavy – I mean dense, sold and dependable.

Ergonomics and what have you, are a personal thing and true build quality is decided only after our cameras have a few thousands miles on the clock, been off-piste, off road – no matter what the metaphor, we only truly know if something’s tough after it’s had a tough life. But based on heft alone the M feels very durable.

That’s not to say that suddenly it feels like my X-Pro2 is constructed from tin foil and held together with Blu-Tack, in fact in terms of dial turning and button pressing, the X-Pro2 is impressively close to the M. Close but no cigar – you WILL notice the difference in build, unequivocally, immediately and undeniably.

Not a surprise methinks.

Of course, the X-Pro cameras aren’t true rangefinders, they’re ‘mirrorless’ cameras with an OVF and it’s really not the same thing.

So, I was keen to move past the superficial similarities and try and understand the differences.

I would say the main difference is the purity of the viewfinder. Not only is it a bit crisper and clearer than the X-Pro one, the way you interact with it is quite different.

Depending on your personal choices, there’s many things (useful things) that you can have displayed in your Fuji OVF (histogram, grid lines, spirit level, WB setting – it’s a big list!)

The M features none of this.

The main point of your eye, will be the focusing patch. Manual focusing on a rangefinder works by aligning 2 images that are superimposed over one another. Can’t see the split image? Good – that means it’s in focus – press the shutter.

This is (in my opinion) VERY different from the X-Pro, where your eye might very well be looking at the various focusing aids; maybe the ERF or the distance scale or the green focus confirmation box. I found that focusing on the world through the OVF of an M to be a very pure experience.

But of course… purity comes at a cost, and the operational dowry for this experience is one of trust that the rangefinder mechanism is doing what it says, one of focus and re-compose – for not only is the rangefinder patch permanently fixed to the center of the screen, it seemed to be the case that it was often quicker and easier to focus on something that was ‘close enough’ – as the precise area one wished to focus on was a little hard to discern in the rangefinder patch. (For example the side of someone’s head is easier than their eye, especially if they’re a little distance away and not posing for their photo)

As well of course the M is manual focus only. No drama from me, I’d been using cameras for a decade and a half before I owned one that had AF, but that does mean you’d better make that shot count. Someone walking towards you? Focus ahead of time and wait for them to reach the pre-appointed focus spot.

(Of course with experience, working in this way would get quicker and easier)

Did I like this? You bet I did – I’m a fairly old school sorta guy (ok.. well fairly old anyway) and it’s important that to understand the focused (sic) purity of the M comes without all of the focusing practicalities of the Fuji.

Another thing that was quite different between the cameras was the shutter.

The shutter button. I have to say, I much preferred the button feel on my Fuji. It has (in my opinion) good tactility – being easy and soft enough to press, whilst firm enough that you won’t fire it without wanting too.

But contrast, I found the M very stiff to press.

The shutter itself, well the nod has to go to the Leica, like the thunk of closing a high end car door, the M’s shutter experience was a quality feeling – I’m NOT talking sound, just that hard to describe physical sensation of firing a camera. By contrast it made the X-Pro2 shutter feel springy – like the physical shutter blades are made of a lighter material.

That’s about it for the top level usage differences that I noticed (in the short time I had it)

Next week, I’ll talk about the lens I had with it, show you some shots and tell what I think over all.

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