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Fujifilm Killed Off Their Beloved Custom Settings – What’s Next?

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Sorry for the hyperbole in the title but Fujifilm has been making some surprisingly drastic changes in their latest X & GFX camera designs.

The X-S10 was the first to ditch the controls we were all familiar with and went with a “standard” PSAM dial.

The X-E4 doesn’t seem to have any controls at all (relative to the rest).

Then along came the GFX50S II, followed shortly by the X-H2S, joining the GFX100 & 100S as cameras unrecognizable as Fujifilm cameras. No shutter speed dial, no exposure compensation dial, just a PSAM dial and an “exposure compensation button” like the flop X-H1 had.

gfx 50s 50sii
The GFX50S (left), despite lacking an exposure compensation dial, retained an ISO and shutter speed dial, to compliment an aperture ring on the lenses. The GFX50S II (right) dumps those for a PSAM dial.

These new PSAM dials are also inscribed with C1-Cx, to help you quickly rotate to one of your saved Custom Settings. As if doing so in the Q menu wasn’t fast enough?

So let’s talk about these Custom Settings – what they were and where they’re going.

Building the brand

Look at any Fujifilm blog or YouTube video from the early years of Fujifilm X cameras. They all share two common points of enthusiasm, other than just “looking cool”:

  • The analog exposure controls get the “tech” out of the way, making the photographic process feel more creative, moving the photographer closer to the core of photography.
  • The custom settings enable you to get outstanding JPEGs in the camera, negating the need for hours of post-processing.

This departure from what their competitors were doing built an extremely loyal following of passionate photographers.

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It really carved out a niche for the brand, appealing to photographers who wanted to get back to the roots of photography. This built the brand.

Nowhere, at least that I’m familiar with, did any of these enthusiastic photographers say, “I really love these cameras, but man I wish they had a PSAM dial.” On the contrary, photographers praised the brand for not having one.

Likewise, no one said, “I really wish these custom settings would allow me to save an exposure mode.”

x-t4 p mode
Fujifilm’s unique and extremely intuitive way to change exposure modes. For Program Auto (P) mode, just set all three exposure triangle variables to “A”. Quickly switching to Aperture Priority mode only requires you to rotate the aperture ring to your desired aperture. No need to look at the top of the camera to switch a PSAM dial to A and then rotate a wheel to your desired aperture, like with other camera brands.

The story of the Custom Settings

Fujifilm’s custom settings differed from other brands. And their photographers loved this.

They were all about customizing the Film Simulations so you didn’t have to post-process your photos. Ritchie Roesch over at Fuji X Weekly built an entire website and app around this capability.

Out on a nature walk? Use your personal Vibrant setting to photograph flowers and then quickly switch to your personal Black & White setting to photograph dramatic clouds and shadows over a distant mountain. See a street protest on your way home? Select your subdued Documentary setting. Get home, transfer them to your computer, and you’re done.

Those other brands? All their custom settings were about focus & exposure modes.

That’s because, in order to adjust those things, you usually have to go into menus or press certain combinations of buttons. Their custom settings let you quickly save those combinations depending on what your focus/exposure needs were so you didn’t have to spend too much time in these menus.

But Fujifilm didn’t need their custom settings to do this.

The exposure triangle was at your fingertips with the aperture ring, shutter speed dial, ISO dial, and Exposure Compensation dial. You could set them with the camera powered off. Focus mode switches and a plethora of customizable controls meant you didn’t have to go into the menus to change much of your daily settings at all.

This ease of control meant that Fujifilm’s custom settings could be about the creative side of photography and not the technical.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

A departure from the norm

My first experience with Fujifilm’s new custom setting system was with the X-S10, which I purchased for video use. I didn’t really pay much attention to or even program its C1-C4 modes, located on the new mode dial.

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Then I tried out the X-E4, which I promptly returned, and had my first real frustrations with the new custom settings. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Later, in updating my secondary body to the X-T30 II, I forced myself to learn the new custom settings system. It’s remarkably different than my primary body, an X-T4.

Fujifilm’s new custom settings force you to save everything in your Shooting & Focus menus. Now you must have an MF assist mode, drive mode, AF area, etc., associated with your creative choices, even though they’re irrelevant to that. And on cameras with a PSAM dial, you must have an exposure mode tied to a custom setting.

This really drove me crazy when I first took out the GFX50S II. I wanted to shoot in a certain style but had no possible way to change exposure modes while using that style. I had saved Aperture Priority to that style but wanted to go to Manual. There is no way of doing this without leaving the style. But, since it’s a medium format camera that I’m mostly using for assignments & projects, I’m post-processing those photos anyways. So it’s not a big deal; I just won’t ever use the custom settings.

And with the X-T30 II, I’m using the Auto Update feature so these saved shooting & focus settings don’t bite me in the ass; you can read this article for more on that. But I lose my saved styles doing that – the whole reason for using these custom settings in the first place.

auto update custom setting
Enabling the Auto Update Custom Setting so that your current camera settings aren’t reset whenever the camera is shut off. A necessary but annoying feature for the new custom settings system.

Where is Fujifilm going?

I don’t want to say Fujifilm’s business decisions are wrong; I’m not in a place to do that. I don’t have their research, numbers, or reports. I’m not on their board. And I fully understand that the digital camera market is in a strange, awkward place right now.

And I also don’t want to sound like my dissatisfaction is going to make me leave the brand. I’m still happy when I pick up a Fujifilm camera. I know they have their reasons for making these changes, but I have yet to understand why they’ve seemingly abandoned Kaizen.

Perhaps they see their only way to survive is being able to poach photographers from other brands, and having familiar control layouts will make them more appealing. Maybe research has shown that to appeal to beginner photographers purchasing their first camera, this new layout will be more successful. And maybe manufacturing costs are unsustainable, forcing them to minimize the moving parts. Maybe it’s all of the above.

In changing how their physical controls are laid out, and removing many of them, now you must go into the menus to change basic settings. Hence why they’re now part of custom settings like other camera brands that similarly lack those exterior controls.

But by doing this, it seems they might be abandoning the entire reason that a loyal group of photographers brought them this far. The photographers who preached about how liberating it is to have physical controls for the basic exposure triangle, and the photographers who sang about how amazing it is to not have to post-process photos thanks to the custom settings abilities. The photographers who loved Fujifilm precisely for the reason that they were so unique. They are no longer unique.

In removing those controls, and fundamentally changing the reason for the custom settings, the photographers who built the brand will have to go back to “square one” if they upgrade. New cameras aren’t operationally that much different from any other brand. Hang on to your old cameras as long as possible, or forget the reason you fell in love with the brand in the first place.

Where’s the joy in that?

Curt Brooks

Saturday 23rd of July 2022

From my point of view, it is more than somewhat disheartening to see Fujifilm's new models with a "me too" approach favored by the rest of the industry. I suppose the PASM dial approach has it's merits, but, like John stated, I left Sony because I felt like I was operating a computer.

The first time I held my X-T4, I felt like I was actually taking photographs again! It took me back to the 1970's when I first started shooting 35mm film in my Pentax K1000 (man, I loved that camera!). I know I've just dated myself, but shooting with the X-T4 is an absolute joy and, it makes me want to go out and take more photographs as I can actually focus on the creative side and not the technology. And that is truly what this hobby/passion/profession should be about, at least to my way of thinking.

I loved my X-T4 so much, I went out and bought my wife a used X-E3, which is a nice little camera. It turns out that I've actually purchased myself a backup camera as she favors her cellphone (which is absolutely fine, as she has captured some amazing photos with it). Now, I have tamed my urges to continually search for the "latest/greatest" camera and learn as much as I can about "photography" (thank you, John, for your invaluable assistance on that front!). I truly enjoy taking photographs again!

Who knows where Fuji may take us, but for now, I'm all about learning all I can and just enjoying the results of my efforts.

Steve Williams

Friday 22nd of July 2022

In April 1985 Coke Cola changed its recipe to taste like Pepsi Cola. The biggest marketing blunder of all time. A short time later the Corporation reintroduced "Classic Coke!" Fuji, keep your identity.

John Peltier

Sunday 24th of July 2022

Good comparison, I hadn't thought of that :)

Mark Casebeer

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

Excellent insight, I agree. I don't want H2s with no top dials. I don't want an XT-5 with 40 megs; I want an XT-5s, with the stacked sensor for wildlife photography.

I don't think Fuji wants this, as when they released their so-called flagship H1, sales fell as soon as the XT-3 came out. I'd like to know the total units sold between the two cameras.

H2s are being touted again as their flagship camera. They are trying to offer different models to give buyers more choices. If I had to go back to a one-dial system, I would choose an other brand. Once you embrace the top manual controls, why would you ever want to go back to programming custom settings?

Why is Fuji abandoning the photographers that made Fuji great?

Mark

John Peltier

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

Exactly the reason I left Sony for Fujifilm years ago - I wanted something with manual control that helped me feel like an actual photographer and not a computer operator. Had I originally been with Sony now, I don't see myself ever switching to Fujifilm like I did with the current cameras.

Robin

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

Well said !

I'm quite worried about the "new" controls layout on the new Fuji cameras too. My journey with Fuji began with the very first X100. How have I struggled with that little camera (had Canon 5d's as main gig)... But with each iteration (X-Pro1, X-T1, X100S) those cameras - and particularly their controls - draw me deeper and deeper into the Fuji system. Finally I transitioned completely, selling all my Canon gear.

Now I have three cameras: X100V, X-Pro3, and GFX50R. I use each one for specific purposes and on specific situations. Occasionally carrying two of them and switching frequently. And I absolutely love the fact, that despite being quite different beasts, their control layouts are more or less the same on all three bodies. JPEG recipes can be the same on all three as well (mostly).

I can't see myself changing that setup in the next few years. Particularly when new cameras present themselves as massive departure from the controls I use on the other bodies. Of course a GFX100S would be nice. But it would break my muscle memory when switching cameras. Can't have that.

And looking at the new layouts... meh... I'll buy a Sony A1 or A7 if I want that layout, getting camera and sensor from the same vendor and a superior AF too.

Cheers, Robin

John Peltier

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

Yeah I've been having some problems between my X-T4 (primary), X100V (walkaround), X-T30II (secondary), and GFX50SII (bigger projects). Aside from the X-T4 & X100V, they all operate differently. It drives me nuts. Maybe I'll just get a few more X-T4s instead - hang on to yours!

Mats

Monday 27th of June 2022

Not exactly the news I wanted to hear. Looks like I need to hold on to my X-100T forever.

John Peltier

Monday 27th of June 2022

I've been on the upgrade train since the X-T1 only because each new generation brought features that would help me as a photographer - why I chose the brand to begin with. It seems to be going in the opposite direction so I'll be hanging on to my X-T4 as long as I can! Rumor is that the X-T5 will retain the same controls, but I have a feeling that the custom setting system will be standardized with the other new cameras.