It is not only the X-Pro3 that is inspired by great cameras of the past. I am sure there were not a few camera fans who experienced a feeling of nostalgia on seeing a sub-monitor on the back panel.
I know a product planner who actually keeps an F3 and FM3A on the table, and a GF670 and GA645 on a reference shelf. Occasionally one or another will go missing; probably the planner is using it. It can’t be helped.
This is not to say that FUJIFILM product planners don’t research digital cameras. Many are procured every month, both from FUJIFILM and from others, and unflinchingly put through their paces. The new features, the latest advances in technology, and all the rest are subject to examination. Companies are investing in the cutting edge of current technology. And this should be the optimal approach, now that I come to think of it.
What, then, is the purpose of re-examining film cameras from some point in the past? What are we trying to learn? Particularly we whose work is developing digital cameras?
The reason we do this is to discover universals, to identify the things that don’t change no matter how much features and technology may advance; it is most certainly not for nostalgia’s sake.
One could say that what we are looking for are the fundamentals of cameras and photography. In contrast, product planners who have grown used to digital cameras become distracted by advances in technology. If you want to understand how you normally take pictures, how cameras handle in ways that make you happy, and why cameras excite you in the first place, then simple, classic cameras make excellent subjects for study.
Anyway, back to the sub-monitor.
The original idea was to reconsider what information a photographer needs from the camera for worry-free photography.
The X Series is designed so that shooting settings can be viewed simply by glancing at the top of the camera, without turning the camera on. A look at the aperture ring and the shutter-speed, ISO, and exposure compensation dials is all you need before putting your eye to the viewfinder and framing the shot.
And yet, one piece of information is still missing: the number of exposures remaining. I mentioned the F3 and FM3 earlier, but actually the initial inspiration came from the TX-1, specifically the “FILM” counter positioned between the two dials on the top of the camera. I find this very appealing even today.
In actual fact I explored the feasibility of this idea during the initial planning stages for the X-Pro3. The TX-1 and X-Pro3 are however of fundamentally different sizes. In particular the difference in width proved decisive, and unfortunately (as T—, the developer in charge of LCD displays and other electronic components, apologetically informed me) no room could be found for an LCD display on top of the camera at the rightmost end. An exterior designer— went on to say that adding one would certainly be impossible, “though I could do it if you were willing to leave off one of the dials.” The meeting that day broke up under a cloud of gloom.
The very next week, however, a miracle occurred. It started when T— brought in a new device: a square memory LCD featuring a color display. A vision appeared to the product planners the moment they saw it. We were fortunate that the GUI designers were there too. By the next day they had it hooked up to the test platform with a film package showing in its 128 × 128 dot display.
That’s right—a film counter was not enough. How excited photographers used to be to know the kind of film they were using! Just the knowledge that you were shooting using high-end reversal film was a thrill, and you hoped the person next to you would notice. If you had negative film, you had it relatively easy, and felt inclined to concentrate more on timing your shots than on getting just the right exposure. Before heading out for landscape shots, cutting the film information from the Velvia package and inserting it in the camera was enough to make you feel fully prepared.
There are many ways to assess a camera’s performance and how it takes photographs, but I think that giving photographers’ spirits a lift before they shoot is important.