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If you work at a desk, you probably spend the majority of your day looking at screens. Your phone, your laptop, your TV—hell, even your refrigerator might have a decent-sized LCD display. That’s why it’s become increasingly difficult to imagine buying a new digital camera and adding yet another blue-light emitter into the rotation, especially since your iPhone can get the job done as well as most portable cameras anyway. But photography doesn’t have to be all about screens. Before selfies, Instagram mentions, Snapchat filters, and trendy editing apps like VSCO, photography was about, well, photographs. The frame. Not the screen. And now there’s a new camera that puts the emphasis back where it should be: on the world in front of the lens, not behind it.
The Fujifilm X-Pro3, which was released in November, actually appears to be a film camera, at first sight. On the back where you’d normally find the LCD screen, there is instead a tiny little square that just displays bare-bones info like white balance, ISO, and “film stock.” And above it is a big ol’ viewfinder, just like your mom’s camera from art school. The thing is like an old-timey transformer, though. It all flips out and unlatches to become a very resourceful little digital device. So resourceful, in fact, that I barely looked at my phone—or any screens for that matter—while I was using it.
Its throwback design still feels sophisticated.
Fujifilm has long been revered first and foremost as a film photography company. One of the few remaining corporations to still produce film, photographers for years have looked to Fuji for high-end cameras that look, even in a digital era, like the real thing. We’re talking grippy, heavy, knobby rangefinders that resemble the sort of dusty old Minoltas you’d find in an attic. It has knobs! For those of us who hate the impersonal touch-shutter on the iPhone, these clicky, weighted dials make the act of taking a picture feel whole again. And if you’re new to the artform, the X-Pro3 even includes some extensive touch screen controls as well. Yes, this camera has touch stuff too (ugh).
It’s got a goddamn viewfinder.
It’s pretty hard to find a digital camera with a viewfinder today. If you’ve never spent any time learning film photography, the old-school eyehole may seem silly to you. And sure, LCD displays have become so advanced that the act of shutting one eye and straining your glance to stare through a little magnified slit may be counter-intuitive. But shooting photos on a camera without a viewfinder is like brushing your teeth with a phantom limb. The viewfinder on the X-Pro3 is dual optical and electronic. In OVF (optical viewfinder) mode, you’re basically getting the exact experience you had on your mom’s dusty old film camera—you’re quite literally just looking through the camera’s lens so that you see what the lens sees. On EVF (electronic viewfinder) mode, you get a full preview of what your picture is going to look like, factoring in all the electronic modifications the camera is making to the real scene in front of you. Best of both worlds.
No screen is the best screen.
If you’re going to drop the dough on a modern-day digital camera (this one costs a whopping $ 1,800), you don’t need to get one that prioritizes the rear-LCD screen. If you really enjoy photography, as in the act of taking pictures, then the quality of the dinky little display on the camera’s back shouldn’t be a deciding factor. Sure, the LCD needs to be competent. This one, which flips out on the back, gets the job done quite well. But what makes the X-Pro3 such a fantastic machine is actually its little sub-monitor display. It tells you everything you need to know about your shooting settings, and nothing else. It doesn’t even give you a live view of the scene. Which is good. Look around you. If you’re going to take a picture of something, you don’t need a screen to tell you what it’s going to look like. Just use your eyes.
The X-Pro3 is expensive—$ 1,799 for the black version, or $ 1,999 for the silver/black variation. That’s a lot to spend on a camera. And you can, no doubt, get a better quality image from cameras on the market that cost hundreds of dollars less (I like the Sony RX-100 VII). But if image quality is all you care about, then you’re missing out on some of the fun. The X-Pro3 is like a wristwatch or a pair of sunglasses. You’ll enjoy the experience of carrying it on your body. After shooting with this thing for two weeks, I never wanted to let it go.