PASM is NOT for Me
I hate PASM.
I think PASM is a terrible camera design idea, and I cannot understand why it became a standard feature in photography. Yes, different strokes for different folks—many people like it—but PASM is not for me. It’s probably not for most of you, either, and one thing that likely attracted you to Fujifilm cameras is that they don’t have one.
What is PASM? I’m sure most of you know, but for anyone who might not: it’s a shooting-mode knob (or sometimes a switch) almost always placed on the top of the camera. The “P” is for Program (can vary a little by brand, but is essentially nowadays ISO-Priority), “A” is for Aperture-Priority, “S” is for Shutter-Priority, and “M” is for Manual. Turn the knob to switch between the different modes. Usually the command wheels are what you use to adjust the settings, and (brand dependent) sometimes you have to dig through the menu to make adjustments.
My first experience with PASM was over 20 years ago, way back in my early days of photography. I was shooting all-manual with a Canon AE-1, and someone let me try their Canon EOS-3, which was a “modern” SLR with a bunch of buttons and a little electronic display. I was pretty lost and frustrated with the camera, and only shot one roll of film (I probably would have done less than that, but I wanted to finish the roll) before giving it back. To me at that time, I couldn’t understand the point of this “advanced technology” if all it did was complicate something inherently simple.
I didn’t have another PASM experience until I finally gave in and purchased my first digital camera, a Pentax DSLR, in 2009. I tried many different digital cameras from a number of brands (Nikon, Sony, Samsung, Sigma, Panasonic) before finally buying a Fujifilm X-E1 in 2016. While I did get used to using PASM, I always found it to be frustrating and miserable, so going back to the traditional controls found on Fujifilm cameras was a breath of fresh air. I literally said out loud to myself, “Why aren’t ALL cameras like this?!”
The traditional shutter knob and aperture ring make a lot of sense to me because that’s how I learned photography. That’s how I did photography for over a decade. The concept is simple, but it does require a prerequisite knowledge of the exposure-triangle to use them in manual mode.
You might be surprised to learn that Canon introduced the very first PASM camera, the A-1, back in 1978. It was a huge hit with “amateur photographers on a budget” due to its “ease of use” and relatively affordable cost. PASM was originally intended to make photography more accessible to the inexperienced. As time went on and PASM became more common, more and more people learned photography on it. I would bet that most people who started photography on or after the year 2000 (and probably a fair amount of people who started in 1990’s, and maybe even some who started in the 1980’s) had PASM on their first camera. Since that is what they learned photography on and what they used day in and day out, PASM makes sense to them. That’s why almost all cameras today have PASM dials.
Fujifilm is unique. While there are some Fujifilm cameras with PASM, most don’t, and instead have traditional controls. I bet that’s one of the main reasons why many of you bought a Fujifilm camera—it was for me! It’s not the only thing that’s unique about Fujifilm, but it is an obvious difference that’s clearly visible just by looking at it.
After I posted my thoughts on the upcoming X-H2S, which according to Fujirumors will have a PASM dial, I received a couple different reactions: Fujifilm needs to appeal to those who prefer PASM, and Fujifilm has forgotten what made them great.
The first point is that since most photographers are used to PASM (because that’s what they’ve always had), the traditional dials don’t appeal to them. Fujifilm cameras are intimidating, and the traditional controls are confusing. Probably more than anything, it’s simply not what they’re used to and it’s not what makes the most sense to them. In order to attract these people, Fujifilm should philosophically pivot, and make multiple models that are more appealing to the masses. While I think it’s fine to make some cameras that have PASM, I believe that instead of trying to be just like “Canikony” (a.k.a. everyone else), it makes more sense to me to double-down on what is different about your brand. What makes Fujifilm unique? Those are the things that attract people from other brands. Make those unique things the best that they can possibly be, and have a solid marketing campaign that shows the world why these unique things are something they should desire. That’s my advice to Fujifilm.
The second point is that by replacing the traditional controls with PASM on the X-H line, Fujifilm is losing its analog-inspired soul. Maybe they are. I cringe at the thought of the X-H2S having a PASM dial. But, this is just one camera. I think instead of Fujifilm losing their soul, they’re just shifting their focus for this particular model line. The X-H2S isn’t intended for you, the current Fujifilm photographer. Yes, some of you will buy it and love it, but it will likely be more like the X-S10, which was (generally speaking) a little bit of a disappointment for those who already owned other Fujifilm cameras (I know this because many have told me so), but has sold really well to those coming from other brands. The X-H2S is intended to convince Canikony photographers who aren’t completely happy with their current cameras to look at Fujifilm as an alternative. In other words, for those with a Fujifilm X-H1 who would like to upgrade to an updated version, this probably isn’t the X-H2 you’ve been waiting and hoping for.
My worry is that Fujifilm is going to have a split personality—a customer base with competing desires. On one hand, there are those who want a traditional experience, with manual controls and film simulations and such as essential aspects. On the other hand, there are those who basically want a better Canon or Sony, and they want Fujifilm to create that (somehow, despite the smaller budget). Where is Fujifilm going to focus their time, energy, and R&D? It’s an important question, because it determines the trajectory of the business, which in turns affects future camera models. Yes, there’s room for both, and probably some people sit in-between these two camps; however, I’m concerned that Fujifilm might be shifting their focus away from what matters to me (and likely the majority of you) in hopes to gain market share through morphing models to be more similar to what other brands are making. I think Fujifilm can gain market share by hyper-focusing on what makes their brand unique and better engaging the community, but I’m no expert, so my opinion might not be worth much.
I won’t buy another PASM camera. I have used many, and even currently have a few. At this point in my life, the photography experience is just as important to me as the photographs that I create. Fujifilm cameras with traditional controls are what works for me because they provide the shooting experience that I appreciate (plus the picture aesthetics that I want!). I understand that it’s not for everyone, and probably not for most people, and that’s ok. The X-H2S is not for me quite literally by design, but it is for the masses, and perhaps it will sell very well, and convince many people to try Fujifilm for the first time. That’s great if it is successful—I truly hope it is! I still won’t buy it, though, because PASM is not for me.