Why Can’t Fuji put the Buttons in the Same Place?

The focus clutch. That’s where it started for me. Back around 2012 when I opted into the Fuji X series of cameras, I orderd all of the initial wave of lenses along with the X-E1. By the time I traveled to Europe that summer, I had the 18 f/2, 23 f/1.4, 35 f/1.4, and the 60 f/2.4. In that initial collection I was puzzled by certain things, all having come from the same maker.

One of these lenses uses a clutch to engage manual focusing and the other three are more typical modern drive by wire electronic systems. So in my initial lens inventory it split on manual focus method. Now in 2018 when I line up my fleshed out system of lenses, I still miss the logic. The fast prime series (the Fujilux) split between clutch manual focus mechanisms, typical drive by wire focusing. What is the vision here? Are competing departments designing these lenses? They completely failing to articulate a plan. A user like me would like to understand where they were going with this system. It was a leap of faith at the time 2012.

Looking at the Fuji cameras is a different but same beast. My particular focus is on the X-Pro2, X100F, and X-E3. I’ve been using the X100F exclusively for a few months now and have been really grooving the camera to my needs. It’s a shock to pick up the X-E3. Where’s the ISO dial? Where’s that button on the front of the camera by the lens that I’ve assigned to AF lock? And the D-pad, where has the D-pad gone?

There is the possibility of learning and adapting, which is a fine suggestion for other people. I’m not even against it, I’ve been a life-long learner, but there must be a point to effort. Does “adapting” to two completely different camera physical control schemes make me a better photographer? I don’t think so. I believe it makes me worse by never having a home and thrashing around with the camera controls for basic shooting functions; AE/EF lock, WB, ISO, and more when I change cameras.

There are many dimensions to the photography hobby. Some people are in it for the gear and the technology. They enjoy playing with cameras and imaging is secondary. I’m probably almost as far to the opposite extreme as you’d ever want to find. Imaging is primary and everything else supports imaging. I don’t need a perfect camera, just one that doesn’t get in the way and that I can pick up and use without having to remember anything in particular. It comes back round to the control scheme on Fuji cameras. If I say the X100F is my primary and anything else is a secondary system, then I want things to line up with the X100F. It’s a matter of prospective, right? If you’re primary is X-E3 then everything should line up with that system.

Camera companies will update cameras, add or remove controls, relocate them and perform all kinds of engineering that might not really enhance the creative process. And isn’t that what it’s all about, the creative process? My X100F exclusive experience has really helped me refine what is essential from what is noise in image making. Just eliminating lens choice is such a dramatic effect that everything else quickly bubbles to the surface. I get to the image quicker. At the same time I find no tolerance for anything that slows down the image. There is nothing worse than to raise the viewfinder to the eye and see a menu that has been summoned by an accidental button press. It feels even worse than one of those ads that invades your internet browser. The ad that always pop up as you scroll down to continue reading an article. We know the motive for the internet ad. What is the motive for the camera menu? Hopefully camera makers have not adopted the philosophy of the internet wishing to keep and direct your attention something that isn’t always your choosing.

When I go to the interchangeable lens camera (X-E3) to play with the great XF 23 f/1.4 I am annoyed. The camera is in the way again. Gotta remember the button configuration. Not helpful. Slow. Not valuable to image creation. Shouldn’t I be able to pick up what is essentially the same tool and use it? I don’t have to relearn to use a hammer, screwdriver or saw each time I pick up a different one. Even though screwdrivers can have differing properties, phillips, flat-blade, torx, the use remains the same and no relearning is required. The camera has become a more complex tool, but the basics: focus, depth of field, shutter speed, are not complicated. These should be obvious and easy for an experienced photographer. Experience should not be a hinderance to using the camera.

Sports photography is one of those clear instances where things can and do change very quickly. To only reference that as a quick changing environment trivializes the effort of the wedding photographer, the prom photographer, the landscape shooter, the art photographer, … Everything in the world is constantly in motion; for the landscapest wind, clouds and sun move relentlessly. The street shooter deals with an ever-changing human landscape where a gesture or a different glance can change a photo from “good” to something really exceptional. Anything in the camera that pulls you away from the scene in front of you is a distraction and you risk missing the moment. I never want to look down at the LCD to setup a shot. I never want to have the camera at my eye then need to feel around for a button, or to remember which button is the AE lock. Read Ansel Adams’ discussion of Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico. It is clear that he needed everything to work and even with his tremendous skill and familiar gear it was a chaotic scene. Is it not the same for each of us? We need no obstacles in the way of the image. It is difficult enough to visualize and execute without intrusions from the camera.

The modern camera has greatly simplified things for many photographers. AF, AE are huge conveniences and ones that I enjoy. We have near instant access to the equivalent of the 1980s Nikon MD-4 motor drive mounted to a F3. With just a menu selection, and no bank of 8 AA batteries required, we get 4, 6, 8 or more frames per second. But readying the camera can be an entirely different story.

There are justifications for sure. Fuji can talk about market strategies, engineering constraints, cost targets, upgrade paths. To me this is all non-sense. I think as photographers, we should become a little more unreasonable. These things that companies hold dear often have little benefit for us image makers. Strangely enough, it is Fuji’s own creation that has engendered such outrage from me. The X100F as the camera elemental outrages me. Not because it is flawed, but because it reveals the flaws in other systems so starkly.

So I now make a choice. I’ve put my X-E1 up sale and it’ll be long gone by time you read this. My almost brand new X-E3 will follow it to the auction block. Then, I buy the X-Pro2. I can see from pictures that the controls will be the most similar between XP2 and X100F. I think I can make this work. I’ve invested heavily in Fuji XF glass over the years. I would like to make it work.