Leica, Panasonic, Fuji: A daydream of what might have been
One look at the Fuji X-Pro, which can often be mistaken for a Leica M film camera (at a long-distance, very brief glance, admittedly), and I wonder why it is that Leica hasn't made a similarly pretty and traditional APS-C camera. This market should have been Leica's natural hunting ground.
I have absolutely nothing against Leica's undoubtedly successful relationship with Panasonic. Indeed, I love the D-Lux (or LX-100) and Panasonic make some very fine cameras. But in recent years it is Fuji that has powered ahead, even attracting professional photographer who fancied a dusting of mirrorless magic. I sometimes ponder on what would be if, instead, Leica had continued its old, pre-Digilux 2, cooperation with Fuji.
As a Leica user I am disposed to favour Fuji's approach with the X-Pro to, say, Leica's futuristic T or, even, Fuji's own X-T1. If the T had been more like the Fuji, with a full set of manual controls and more the all-round rangefinder kind of guy, I am convinced it would have been more successful.
There isn't much price difference on the bodies—the new X-Pro2 is £1,349 and the T body can now be had for a tad over £1,000 (it lists at £1,350, exactly the same as the Fuji). The T has been around for a couple of years and discounts are available whereas the Fuji is at full price for the time being. But what is the world coming to when a Fuji camera body is more expensive than its Leica opposite number?
A significant difference exists in lens prices, as you might imagine. The Fuji 23mm f/1.4 costs £600 while the slower f/2 23mm Leica Summicron TL lens now has a street price of under £1,100). And the new 35mm f/1.4 prime from Leica costs a whopping £1,650 plus £65 for the hood. Compare that with Fuji's excellent 35mm f/1.4 that can now be had for around £360. But people will definitely pay more for Leica glass and no mistake.
The T is actually a very good camera with some excellent lenses that compete in image quality with the company's posher M offerings. It produces great results and it handles well, with a simplicity and sense of purpose that is admirable. In the tradition of Leica, it has a purer approach. It is let down, in my opinion, by two aspects. One is the over-emphasis on touch control at the expense of physical buttons. I prefer the Fuji approach in this respect. But it is the lack of an integral viewfinder that is the killer.
To expect customers to pay upwards of £400 extra for a viewfinder which then sits unattractively on top of the camera in the hotshoe is a very doubtful proposition. I dislike external electronic viewfinders in general (although I do quite like a top-mounted optical viewfinder on older cameras, they add to the mystique) and it is one of the reasons I seldom use the EVF on the Leica M. It is just so much more natural to use the rangefinder.
If, and it is a big if, pure conjecture in fact, Leica marketed the Fuji X-Pro 2 under its own brand, as it does with some compact cameras from Panasonic, would it be more successful than the T? I think there is no question about that. It would.
Still, this is just daydreaming. I don't think there is a cat in hell's chance of Leica ditching Panasonic and making googoo eyes at its old Fuji flame. For one thing, the Panasonic range overall is probably more suitable for Leica's compact offerings, more complementary if you will.
Leica also has a productive two-way development relationship on cameras and Leica-branded micro-four-thirds lenses suitable for Olympus and Panasonic cameras. But I imagine, also, Fuji's X Series is just a bit too close for comfort when it comes to APS ILCs with professional pretensions.
All said, the X-Pro2 is an exceedingly fine camera in its own right and it need not doff its cap to the red dot. The unique-to-Fuji hybrid finder (also found in the X100T) is something of a masterpiece, offering a 0.48in electronic screen with 2.36 million dots as well as an optical view. It is smaller than the screen in the X-T1 and inferior to Leica's class-leading offerings in the Q and SL (none of which offer an optical alternative), but it is definitely fit for purpose and complements the camera well.
This optical view is selected by a lever on the front of the camera, a take on the Leica frameline adjuster lever but on the opposite side of the lens. It reveals a live view with framelines, offering an opportunity to see outside the framelines for composition and anticipation, something that Leica M users are addicted to.
In a departure from the original X-Pro1, the new finder has to option to show a small electronic view in the bottom left-hand corner of the scene. This can be used for focus peaking or split-image display to help with focus when using manual lenses. Unlike the Leica rangefinder, however, the Fuji optical view benefits from an electronic overlay of status and settings in addition to the framelines.
Is this optical finder a gimmick? In some ways can be argued that it is. Ultimately it is a disappointment for any buyer hoping to reproduce the Leica rangefinder experience. The split image option on the Fuji (one of several, including focus peaking) leaves a lot to be desired—it is too blurry for my liking—and I would not want to use it regularly. After playing with the OVR for a few hours both on the X100T and now on the X-Pro2, I find myself using the electronic viewfinder out of preference.
This is a minor quibble and probably a personal foible on my part. Essentially, there is no need to wonder why so many Leica users have Fuji as a second camera. They just feel more comfortable and at home with the Fuji image and attention to detail. They have a similar sense of camaraderie and “belonging” when they see other X-Series users as do Leica owners when spying an M3 or M240 in the wild. Using and liking Fuji equipment is in my view complementary to the Leica rangefinder; it not necessarily just a straight alternative.
More from Macfilos
- Leica D-Lux Review
- Leica X Review
- Leica Q - Nine Months of Adventure
- Leica T Review
- Fuji X-Pro First Impressions
- More Leica reviews here
- More Fuji Reviews here