Fuji’s X-series aperture rings?!
I was trying to finish a writeup on the Sony A7r2 with a 35mm lens versus Fujifilm X100-series cameras and got off on this tangent, which became too much of a distraction to appear in the other article. Sorry to drag you along for this ride, but it’s a gloomy, rainy Saturday afternoon, and it was either finish this or develop 12 rolls of film…
Someday, when Fuji is put in a room with bright lights and given the leather-glove treatment, it might be able to answer the question of why X-series lens aperture controls turn right toward their smallest apertures (or A). Although this sounds like a trivial problem, this kind of thing can and does cause momentary confusion when you are using two kinds of cameras at the same time. I discovered this over time when an X100T was one camera in use and a Leica M was the other. I’d end up with a little bit of confusion in aperture priority momentarily. The most frequent error was cranking the Fuji lens to A instead of to 2.0. Not a huge problem in terms of getting some shot — but perhaps a problem in getting the shot I actually wanted.
The way controls work is actually a big point of study, and the stakes with cameras are quite low. The stakes can be quite high in other contexts like aviation. Most of us encounter mild annoyances like badly-designed remote controls, Apple Watches, and manual transmissions that have reverse in a bunch of different inconsistent locations. Luckily, a digital camera is not an airliner, but you get the point. And the more tired someone is, or the more stress he or she is under, the more likely there is going to a problem. And photography can become stressful.
The point that was going into the other article is that “any manual control system that has sufficiently annoying quirks will encourage the use of automatic systems to avoid it.” If you take issue with that, consider how little you have actually used manual focus on AF-capable Fuji XF lenses. Their focus direction might have been a problematic issue as well, but frankly, the focus-by-wire is so terrible that everyone just uses the superb autofocus.
Digital camera viewfinders are pretty poor examples of human-machine interfaces. They are cluttered, they show numbers as digits and not graphically, and and there are too many things going on. This is a fault of pretty much every digital camera (except for Leicas, whose viewfinders have 8-segment LED displays that convey virtually no information).
One major point of the X series is to present tactile controls. The X-series aperture ring, both on the fixed-lens camera and interchangeable XF lenses, is a control-by-wire actuator that could have been designed to work in either direction. Perhaps more remarkably, it was designed both opposite to the Leica rangefinders the X-100 cameras and X-Pro cameras visually mimic and also opposite to about 60 years of Fuji’s own rangefinders.
This is not the first time an “Opposite Day” has happened; in 1998, Leica reversed the direction of the M film camera’s shutter speed dial for the M6TTL, and people went out of their minds. The problem was that on a Leica, LED over- and under-exposure arrows previously told you which way to turn the shutter speed dial or the aperture ring.* They were now inaccurate as to the shutter speed dial. With the M7 and then the digital M8, M9, M240/246/262, and M10 people just put the dial on A and left it.
*By the way, Leicas only had acquired LED meter indicators in 1984 with the M6, so people only had 14 years to have their brains calcify around the way the meter was supposed to work with the LED indicators. Previous Leicas, laying aside the M5 and CL, had no meters at all.
Back to the story. Now which systems turn right toward minimum aperture, like the X100n and the X-series mirrorless cameras? Rangefinder systems are color-coded red and Fuji’s own rangefinder systems bold and red.
- Fuji’s X series 35mm SLRs
- Nikon F lenses (historic ones)
- Canon FD
- Pentax K
- Pentax 6×7 SLRs
- Bronica RF645 rangefinder
- Canonet rangefinders
- Contax/Nikon rangfinders (not produced since the 1960s)
Which systems turn left? This is a start:
- Leica screwmount (including clones by Avenon/Kobalux, Canon, Konica, Minolta, Voigtlander)
- Leica M lenses (including Minolta M-Rokkor, Konica M-Hexanon, and Voigtlander VM)
- Fuji V2 35mm compact rangefinder
- Fuji 6×7 and 6×9 interchangeable lens rangefinders
- Fuji GW and GSW series 6×7, 6×8, and 6×9 rangefinders
- Fuji GS645S and GS645W rangefinders
- Fuji GW670 rangefinder
- Fuji TX / Hasselblad X-Pan
- Contax T rangefinder
- Contax G compact interchangeable-lens camers
- Mamiya 6 and 7
- Minolta Hi-Matic
- Plaubel Makina 67
- Fuji GX680 SLR (if the lever could be equated to a ring)
- Copal and Seiko medium-format shutters (same note) (and Fuji G617/GX617)
- Rollei 35/35s
- Olympus Pen
- Leica SLRs
- Minolta SLRs
- Konica SLRs
- Olympus OM SLRs
- Contax SLRs
Talk about being on the wrong side of history… The vast weight of rangefinders over history, particularly the ones the X series was intended to evoke… went the other way. What is inexplicable in this is that the X100 and XF-mount cameras were clearly very carefully designed from an aesthetic and basic control layout perspective. For reasons probably known only to one or two engineers, Fuji took a flier on this one. Was the idea to bring back the glory days of a Fuji 35mm SLR system that the world had forgotten? Left-handed designer? Conscious counterculture?
It is difficult to believe this was an oversight. But it’s also difficult to divine why it would have happened.