The Official X-Pro1 Review
When I first heard about the Fuji X-Pro 1, I was moderately interested in seeing what it would offer. I personally thought the X100 was an interesting camera but also that it was slightly premature in a few key ways. However, I really do like what Fuji has done post-release of the X100 with their firmware support updates and how well they have listened to their users feedback. I guess you might be able to call me a fan in a way, but only because I can appreciate a company stepping up to supporting a camera that they release and make it last a hell of a lot longer than just until the next model’s release. I honestly think more companies should be doing this with their products, it would mean a whole lot to all of us who use the cameras beyond their remarkably short lifecycles.
Another quick tidbit for you is that this is not a pixel-peeping spec sheet rundown review. I am fully going by what this camera felt like and how well it responded in the field. There are plenty of technical sites to get those kinds of reviews and I have even linked a few in the article here if you feel so inclined.
Ok, now that we got that out of the way, on to the actual review:
One of the most remarkable things about the photographic world today (in terms of the technology used) is the digital camera. After centuries of progress in light capturing devices that have relied on things ranging from photosynthetic and chemical emulsions combined with long drawn out processes of development and printing, we have arrived at a nearly instantaneous and easily reproducible image. No more inhaling toxic fumes (at least in the development of the image, the internals of digital cameras and computers are a whole other story) over a tray filled with developer and fixer, now you just transfer an image file from the camera’s storage medium and then tweak it to your heart’s desire in your favorite image editing program. Every aspect of how we capture and treat images in post production has evolved consistently with the transition of the photographic process from chemical to digital.
Except the digital sensor that captures the image.
Bryce E. Bayer of Eastman Kodak (you know, the company that used to innovate in photographic equipment and methods and now only deals in printers and massive financial losses) originally developed the pattern for digital sensors in 1976, and that pattern is still used to this day. This system of organization is called the Bayer Filter Pattern, which is the unique arrangement of photosites in a sensor to determine the color and organization of visual data to reproduce the intended image. This pattern is the same one used in almost every digital camera on the market today. There are a few variations available such as the Sigma Foveon X3, but very rarely will you find a camera in use today without the Bayer pattern being used on their sensor.
Given, in the scheme of the photographic history timeline, the technology has been around for a relatively short amount of time. In comparison with how everything else around us has changed technologically, (the telephone becoming a cellphone and then the smartphone is a good example) we have been stuck in the past for way too long. Why are we still using a sensor and method of light capture from the 1970’s when we have access now to so many technologies that we did not have when this sensor pattern was originally developed? For heaven’s sake, the company it was developed under is just a shell of it’s former self now.
Apparently this thought wasn’t occurring only to this writer, someone at Fujifilm had been mulling this over in their mind too. Fujifilm is renowned for using completely unique approaches to their cameras and their sensors, and this is a tradition that is already gaining them a name in the digital imaging world. After the brilliant success of the unassuming Fuji X100 and the subsequent X10, they set about to expand the series with an interchangeable lens model and they decided it was a good time to develop a new sensor technology alongside the camera.
Enter the X-Trans Sensor.
This sensor, developed exclusively for the Fujifilm X-Pro1, is capable of terrific resolution and color representation due to the engineers at Fujifilm tackling this long-standing traditional sensor pattern and basing their design off of the random arrangement of silver halide crystals in film. This was a brilliant move, as the colors in a natural scene are much more randomized like film’s silver halide grain, and that image is hard to accurately reproduce with a cookie cutter Bayer Filter Pattern.
This new sensor design also allowed for many new advances in camera technology, as the new pattern is more random and could accurately represent the image, there was no longer a need for the optical low-pass filter (a fancy phrase for a softening filter) that Bayer-based cameras required. Without this filter the shutter was allowed to be moved closer to the sensor, which in turn resulted in an ability to place the rear element of lenses closer to the sensor. I could take up a whole other page describing what this does for the camera, but the linked article on Dpreview.com (scroll down to the XF lens descriptions) does such a great job I will leave the technical details to them.
All of these individual advances culminate into a camera that is relatively compact, carries a potent sensor capable of wonderful and true-to-life color rendering, and allows for the paired lenses to be low in distortion and chromatic aberrance.
The camera itself is a thing of beauty. The classic lines in it’s design that are derived from the legends of 35mm photography such as the Leica M series and the Contax G series are unmistakable. Clean metal top and bottom plates combined with a beautiful black finish and vulcanite-style grip sections make for a familiar yet new look and feel. The analog controls on the top of the camera and the aperture ring on the lenses make for a very intuitive interface that instantly allows complete control of the image capture.
The Fujifilm X-Pro1’s feel in the hands is solid and reassuring, with a grip to match.While it lacks the over-sized grip so common in SLR cameras of this caliber, the subtle curves of the rear of the camera and the minimal grip on the front allow your hand to comfortably carry and hold the camera steady. The accessory grip is a real nice touch to round out this handling however, and it centers the tripod mount screw and provides a slight bit more heft to the camera.
Speaking of heft, this camera’s weight is just right. The camera is noticeably heavier than the X100; the X-Pro1 weighs in at 15.9oz body alone or 22.4oz with the 35mm attached versus the X100’s mere 15.8oz. The weight is perfect though, light enough to hang around your neck all day without giving you the aches and heavy enough that it give you comfort in it’s build quality and capabilities. The camera is of such a design and feel that you never want to put it down. If you end up with one in your possession you may find yourself taking it everywhere with you, even if it’s not the situation to have a camera with you. You’ll start taking it to bed with you, to the restroom and into those boring board meetings just so you can fidget with the settings and not give anyone else the chance to snatch it from you while you aren’t looking. The camera’s appeal to the user creates an almost direct extension of the photographer’s body, and you will see how readily you will be to ably capture images because of this connection.
The OVF/EVF is another thing that just makes this camera such a joy to use. I was shooting in a whole lot of different situations, from dark bar patios and candle-lit italian food joints to the sunny and humid Texas Hill Country. Everywhere I took the Fujifilm X-Pro1 the OVF was bright and crisp, without flare or disturbance that inhibited a shot from happening. All the information contained in the viewfinder is a great asset and a wonderful way to keep yourself aware of the shooting situation without ever removing your eye from the finder. All the information contained inside that viewfinder is also uncluttered, allowing for maximum feedback with minimal obstruction. The EVF was equally useful, and the resolution has been significantly improved over the X100. I mainly used the EVF to make sure that my exposures were right before switching quickly to the OVF for framing and focusing. But, the EVF mode is also extremely handy if you are desiring to use the manual focus in darker situations, as the distance scales are hard to go by when using the shallow depth of field provided by the 35mm’s magnificent f/1.4 wide aperture.
Which brings us to the focusing system. The AF is great. This is not a super-fast sport-tracking mega focusing machine (if you want that there are plenty of high-end DSLR systems for you to jump on), but I had a very high rate of focus achievement in every lighting situation. I even was using the AF on a bar patio that the exposures were down to 1/8s at f/1.4 on ISO 6400 (that should tell you something about the darkness, if it doesn’t just trust me that it was barely this side of a cave in terms of brightness) without using the AF-assist light and I was still hitting focus with regularity and decent speed. My old Nikon D300s, even being the low-light performer it is, would have trouble in the same situation grabbing focus.
A quick note for those used to Nikon or Canon’s CDAF (Contrast Detection Auto Focus): One thing that really took getting used to for me on the X-Pro1 in terms of focusing is that Fuji’s CDAF rectangle doesn’t work like my Nikon (or even the Canon’s I have used) would. On my D300s I would grab the literal edge of someone’s face and then recompose slightly to get it perfect. With Fuji’s method, you use the entire space of the rectangle on an area of desired focus (i.e. an eye) without overlapping into the background. Fuji’s system determines the focus based of the majority of contrast in that rectangle, so if there is a majority of that rectangle that contains the area behind or infront of the intended subject it will focus on those areas rather than your intended subject. It was also this way with the X100, so if you have focus down pat with that camera, you’ll do just fine. This little side note is mainly for those of us used to the dominant SLR cameras on the market.
The manual focus is also much more responsive than the X100’s was (however, the X100 is much more manageable now with the most recent firmware update). Very useable in good light with the distance scale that is present in the viewfinder in OVF mode, it really was nice to be able to manually tweak to my heart’s desire. One really great method for focusing that was brought to my attention by the Rangefinderforum.com user olelovold (check out his work, really great examples of the X-Pro1 being used to the fullest) is to have the camera set to MF, and then use the AFL-AEL to instantly have the camera autofocus. You can also incrementally increase focus speeds by turning off the powersave mode and having the AF set to “Area” mode.
By this time you might just be asking “I get it, the shooting process is enjoyable and reliable, but how are the images?” Awesome. Amazing. Dumbfoundingly good. So good in fact, you’ll find yourself spending less time at the computer doing post work and more time shooting and enjoying your camera. Why is this? It’s because the JPEG files this little beast churns out are so astounding that you will find yourself spending less time shooting in RAW and more time learning how to just switch film simulation modes and instantly uploading the files the moment you get home. You probably think I am exaggerating, but it is just stupid at times how often you will have a SOOC (straight out of camera) shot and not do any tweaking to it. I was initially shooting in RAW+Fine JPGs, but I stopped about halfway through the review. I started just spending time shooting my landscapes in Velvia and my portraits in PRO Neg Lo or Astia modes. It is simply phenomenal how much this camera pulls out of each and every scene.
The lenses are really superb too! The 35mm f/1.4R is a fantastic lens that performs corner to corner and really looks great wide open. The 35mm is the perfect match for this camera I believe. No one who purchases the X-Pro1 should be without it in their kit, unless you just have a major distaste for 50mm(equivalent) focal lengths. This was the main lens I used, but the 18mmf/2.0R and the 60mm f/2.4R were both a joy to use as well. The 18mm is a great wide angle that can really pull some wonderful landscape and architecture shots, and does this with minimal distortion. You will be hard pressed to find another wide angle that performs much better. The 60mm is just a gorgeous lens for portraits. It’s 90mm (91.5mm really) equivalent focal length really makes for some great depth of field to your shots and the flattening is just perfect for facial features. To boot, here is a 60mm shot:
Simply put, this camera handles really well, is fairly intuitive (the menus are another story, but that is fixable in firmware updates so I am not too worried about it), and produces remarkable images straight out of the camera. This however, is not your workhorse DSLR and you cannot expect it to completely substitute for that, but this is another great tool to use in almost every daily situation you find yourself in. You may even discover yourself using it as a backup quite often, but more than likely you will find it making its way into your hands as the main camera the majority of the time.
If you have any questions on the camera’s operation and handling that you didn’t see answered here, feel free to post in the comments and I will do my best to answer them all.