Fujifilm’s CES debut of the X-Pro 1 earlier this year certainly raised a few eyebrows and got the attention of the photo community. Reports of a newly designed APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor without the need for an anti-aliasing filter, built in hybrid electronic viewfinder and interchangeable lenses, a set of three fast primes, high ISO low light capability, is a desirable combination. All of this packed into a relatively small and lightweight rangefinder style body. The anticipation was excruciating as I refreshed my Amazon account everyday to see if my order has shipped along with the 18mm f/2.0, 35mm f/1.4 and hand grip. The X-Pro1 is the camera I’ve been longing for, the perfect camera and it shall be mine. Or so I thought.
I was an early adopter of the X100 with the retro styling of the rangefinder type design, spectacular build quality, a new and revolutionary hybrid electronic viewfinder and of course the Fujinon 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens. However, a few weeks with the X100, the novelty wore off with frustrating write speeds, difficult manual focus due to focus by wire and sluggish AF, not to mention one had to clobber it over the head just to wake it up. I decided the X100 wasn’t the camera for me and I returned to lugging my trusty DSLR, a Canon 5D Mark 2. As fine a camera the 5D MK 2 is with a full frame sensor, it is not my ideal camera for street photography due to the weight, intimidation factor due to the sheer size and how the viewfinder blacks out every time the shutter is actuated. A few months ago, I acquired and attached a Leica 50mm Summicron-R f/2.0 lens with a Leitax adapter to the 5D MK 2 and really enjoyed the results. However, I longed for something different, something with better form factor, a Leica M9 perhaps? The M9, with an aging sensor from a company that just filed chapter 11 (Eastman Kodak), a nearly useless LCD and ISO performance made my 5D MK 2 laugh out loud.
In the meantime, I was introduced to the name Ken Hansen, a legendary Leica dealer, at the Steve Huff workshop in Los Angeles. Before you contact Ken, be forewarned, he may just have what you’re looking for so be careful. I’ve had my eye on the illusive Leica 50mm Summilux ASPH f/1.4 for quite some time. A mythical thing of beauty I’ve had the opportunity to touch and play with one and have been secretly stalking, yearning, lusting for well over a year. All it took was a quick email and low and behold, Ken was expecting a new copy in a couple of days and would ship it right out to me that same week. Ken just asked what’s the address I would like him to should ship it to without a whisper of payment. Before I knew it, I had the 50mm “holy summi” in my grubby little hands. Ken Hansen is definitely my one stop shop for Leica gear, a reputable and respectable businessman who seems to be able to find the most difficult of items. Double thumbs up for all of Ken’s fantastic communication and professionalism.
The Fuji X-Pro1 on order, I certainly need something to be able to attach my newly acquired lens of all lenses. A small bit of research, I find a company called Kipon that just announced an adapter (L/M-FX) to couple Leica M mount lenses to the X-Pro1 which I order from Ebay. The Kipon is well built and fits snuggly between the camera body and the lens with no play at all. I’ll be looking into the Fuji M mount when one becomes available.
Finally, after a long wait, the Fuji X-Pro1 arrives at my office. Excited and pleased as I go through the beautiful packaging, I thought about one more small problem. The Fuji 18mm and 35mm lenses I ordered are still on their way and unfortunately, will not get to me until a few days after I leave for my trip to Loreto BCS, Mexico. I thought to myself, ok no big deal with the “German-ese” combo I have should suffice, but it would be nice to also try some AF lenses provided by Fuji. Luckily, my good friend, Todd Hatakeyama from Lighting Leica had also ordered the Fuji X-Pro1 including the 18mm, 35mm but decided the Fuji wasn’t the right system for him. I was more than happy to take these lenses off his hands.
A lightweight kit all packed, check, as I make my way South of the border. Well, I also took along my 5DMK2 as a security blanket since I was unfamiliar with the X-Pro1 and still had a relationship to build with it. It is kind of like going on vacation with a blind date so I needed a backup plan.
My review of the Fuji X-Pro1 is from the viewpoint of “real life” use. Therefore, you will not see any MTF charts, calculations and formulas of diffraction, side by side comparisons, nor commentary on expert pixel peeping. The camera will be used on walkabouts street shooting, on fishing trips and sitting next to me by the beach or pool getting smears of suntan lotion on the LCD screen. This is not really a review but a practical guide I’ve put together to help those early adopters who excitedly purchased this camera like myself. I’m also looking to help others make a decision should this be their primary shooter or to supplement their DSLR. Personally, my main objective is to have the same performance if not better than that of my 5D MK 2 but in a smaller, lightweight package. Image quality and low light-high ISO capabilities are tops on my priority list. Everything else is an added bonus.
When I first opened the box and held the X-Pro1, I thought wow, this thing is bigger than I thought but at the same time, it felt on the lighter side compared to say a M9 which is built like a brick house. The hand grip, in my opinion, is a great add on and gives a secure place to curl your fingers around hence, giving a more stable and comfortable feel. The grip also adds a bit of good heft and centers the tripod mount should you ever use one. My only complaint with the hand grip is you have to remove it off the camera to access the battery and the SD card. A door at the bottom plate would easily solve this problem. Speaking about the battery, it can easily be inserted flipped or flopped. Why do they make it this way? I also wish the SD card had an access door on the side of the camera or possibly in the same compartment as the HDMI/USB connections. I feel like I’m playing “Operation” every time I take the SD card out.
The viewfinder selection switch is nicely placed and easily activated with your second finger while the index is on the shutter button. The shutter speed dial clicks in position nicely but the lock seems unnecessary to me. The exposure compensation dial is nicely recessed and feels tight enough to keep from accidentally bumping it out of position. I was thinking a lock would be good but I like to dial in right before I shoot. The hump with the AFL/AEL and Q buttons offers a nice landing spot for your thumb. The Q (quick) button is like a cheat sheet which allows you access to the most used menu items on a single screen. The customizable Function button is defaulted to ISO adjustment which I seem to use quite a bit. The On/Off switch is nicely integrated around the shutter button and activated with a slight turn. Menu/Ok buttons have a good quality feel to them. The view mode button still takes me a bit of time to get used to but cycling to the eye sensor mode makes the most sense to me at the moment. The command dial which seems hidden next to the view mode button allows you to step through options in the Q mode. In manual mode, the command dial also gives you the ability to magnify your focus using the EVF or live view mode.
Accessories, I opted for are the Thumbs Up CSEP-2 which fits perfectly and adds even more leverage and balance to the hand grip. This keeps my fat thumb from inadvertently striking the buttons and exposure compensation dial. To complete my accessory pack, I added the Match Technical “BEEP” (Dragon) soft release button as well as the well designed Street Strap which can double as a hand strap. Overall this setup is very comfortable and lightweight for a day of capturing those one chance, “decisive moments”.
The 18mm (27mm equivalent) and 35mm (53mm equivalent) lenses are extremely light and I started to question their performance based on my first impressions. Quality glass should be heavy, right? A smaller lighter package is what I’m looking for. I decided I didn’t need the 60mm (90mm equivalent) macro since I already have a 50mm in the bag. Did I yearn for a 23mm (35mm equivalent)? Absolutely. I guess Fuji didn’t want to compete with the X100 at the moment. I’m hoping a 35mm equivalent lens will soon be available. The lenses are supplied with metal hoods which resemble duckbills or coke cans cut open then smashed a little on the top and bottom. Functional but not terribly elegant. Flare is well controlled on both lenses. Both lenses sport aperture rings (1/3 stop increments) and used with the exposure compensation dial allowed for quick adjustments walking in and out of shadows. Walking around town reaching for the camera slinged to my side, the aperture ring is easily turned or knocked off the original setting. I would prefer this to be a bit tighter. Wide open, both these lenses perform amazingly well, the 35mm being the sharper of the two from the center to the edges. Did I mention these lenses are sharp? Bokeh quality wide open has nice and pleasing structure especially on the 35mm. In good light, both the 18mm and 35mm AF feel quite snappy although can be quicker. Low light AF performance is another story. The 18mm took some coaxing to focus but it got there quicker than the 35mm which seemed to hunt back and forth and again back and forth before it locks on even with the AF assist light on. I also had some difficulty finding focus in relatively good light. I would say the AF on the X-Pro1 will need some updating soon since this is the single most frustrating aspect of the camera. Manual focusing is just about as useless as you know what on a bull. Fuji employs focus by wire on their lenses meaning you twist and twist and twist some more to get to your focus zone. The 35mm aperture blades love to chatter for no apparent reason and reminds me of the mischievous “Transformers” robot that is about to shape into something menacing. Thanks to Armando Chiu if you turn the “power save mode” to “ON” and set camera to OVF only, the aperture chatter will calm down but not completely cease.
NOTE: Today I just updated firmware 1.01 on both the body and lenses which corrects a few bugs released with version 1.0. The big fix was aperture chatter which seems to have ceased. I think I may have gotten used to the rattlesnake sound and now I feel my good friend is giving me the silent treatment. Parallax-correction of frame lines to the optical viewfinder in manual focus mode work but only when the shutter is half pressed. Frame lines adjust which doesn’t really help with composing your shot. This is comparable to moving goal posts. AF feels a bit more snappy on the 35mm and faster on the 18mm. Not sure if any updates have been done to the AF but to me, they do feel quicker.
Focusing manual lenses, you’ll need to employ either use the EVF or the live view. There is a bit of setup you’ll need to do using manual focus lenses. First, you have to set the camera to “shoot without lens” and then set the focal length you’ll be shooting at. Since there is no focus confirmation, you can use the magnification function by pressing the command dial. I’ve been fairly successful shooting wide open at f/1.4 using this technique. I’m also fairly successful focusing without the magnification since the EVF is big and bright.
• Quirks and Could Be Better
I guess this goes for all EVF viewfinders but a good note to remember is that polarized sunglasses make it nearly impossible to use. I found using the EVF or the live view both difficult in the bright baja light. If you have the light (sun) directly behind you, the eye sensor doesn’t always activate the EVF causing me to miss some shots. I believe this is a circumstance of the design under certain lighting conditions. One workaround is to completely smash your eyeball against the viewfinder. Light leakage will still be a problem if you wear glasses.
Focus confirmation would be nice and focus peeking would even be better. Magnification is useful but, on many occasions, the single set magnification goes in too far causing undesirable views of massive shaky images. The ability to have a magnification multiplier adjustment would be the best compromise but I’m still crossing my fingers for focus peeking.
Using the EVF and live view, while the shutter is half pressed, causes the refresh rate to lag or completely freeze during focus acquisition. I’ve had framed a person in mid stride but then reviewed the captured image, seemed I was off a beat.
The screw on eye piece or diopter was lost on the third day of shooting. Make sure this is screwed on tight or better yet, use some type of extra security like nail polish or locktite. 19mm Voigtlander Bessa replacements are available and in your required diopter correction.
Battery and SD card compartment is a bit tight and easily to put either one of them in backwards. I wish the battery door would just click to lock instead of having to push the latch closed with my fat finger.
I would prefer the lens release button on the left side, left hand on the camera body, left index finger on the release button and right hand on the lens and into the bag. This may just be my own preference due to my (Canon/Nikon) SLR days.
Chromatic aberration is controlled but noticeable. I see this more on the 18mm lens than the 35mm.
Shooting in Aperture priority mode, the camera tends to overexpose by ⅓ to ⅔ in bright sunlight. Good thing the exposure compensation dial is easily to locate but this is a nagging bug that will need to be updated.
$1699 for the body, around $600 for each lens, accessories and this little setup is pretty close to the cost of my 5D MK 2 with the fantastic performing 24-105mm L IS. I know I shouldn’t be comparing a full frame with an APS-C sensor but my bank account can’t tell the difference.
• The Good
Well there is lots to like about the Fuji X-Pro1, criticisms aside. At the end of the day when I sit back in my chair and download my Sandisk SDHC card, the image quality coming out of this APS-C sensor astounds me. The Fuji X-Pro1, in my opinion, matches if not, exceeds the image performance of my 5D MK 2. Although I’ve been shooting jpeg since Lightroom 4 doesn’t support X-Pro1 RAW files yet, images have an extra detail and sharpness. The signature Fuji colors also add another dimension. Low light, high ISO performance just plain rocks. I have not experienced the slow startup times and buffer problems others have described but it can be due to the Sandisk SDHC class 10 95 MB/s card I’m using, which I highly recommend. 3 frame and 6 frame continuous bursts seem to write fairly quick but slow down the buffer between 12-15 frames. I’ve only played around with the Provia, Velvia and Astia film simulation modes but they all have really nice attributes to them.
The menu system is intuitive and the UI layout design is well thought out. Navigation couldn’t be easier. I can’t say enough about the Q (quick) system that allows you to adjust the most used setting options. The optical viewfinder is big and bright and the frame lines are easy to see. The hybrid EVF is such an amazing design and I’m not sure how I’ve gone this long without one. Moire patterns are non-existent or well controlled with the new X-Trans sensor design. Focus mode selector switch for Single/Continuous/Manual is well positioned and much better than having to hunt through menus to activate. Auto white balance is spot on, the best I’ve used and I’ve decided to stick with it for most of my photos.
The optical viewfinder has an added magnification feature which slides into place by holding down the viewfinder selector switch. This enables the user the ability to use longer focal lengths.
The hybrid EVF is a delight to use and you can customize the data information you wish to see including a live histogram and horizon line level.
The more I use manual lenses, those with mechanical focus gears and I don’t mean the X-Pro1 lenses switched to manual, I am able to focus just using the EVF. Magnification will just slow you down and impractical for street photography. The Fuji X-Pro1 is well suited for street photography using zone focusing until the AF speed get sorted out.
One camera, the X-Pro1 and one lens attached is a comfortable companion you soon forget you’re carrying a more than capable combination to capture just about anything.
Well it’s no secret that I’m a newly converted fan of the Fuji X-Pro1. Again, the image quality is amazing. I’m looking forward to the upcoming zoom lenses and the EF-X20 flash I have on order.
Fuji has successfully achieved what they set out to do by designing the next generation of lightweight and attractive mirrorless cameras that can compete with the image quality of a DSLR including the venerable 5DMK2. Portable and discreet, this is a great implement to add to your tool chest for street photography, travel or everyday all around shooting.
The use of high quality lenses with specialty adapter mounts open up many more choices and a variety of photographic tools at your disposal. Fuji has done a great job listening to its customers wants and needs. Once Adobe RAW converter is available, image quality will increase with more dynamic range to play with and loss of jpeg degradation. Jpeg quality is still remarkable.
The Fuji X-Pro1, at the end of the day, is a really fun camera to use and that is what photography is all about. I find myself using my Leica manual lens more and more since it allows me to have a stronger connection with the camera and the environment I’m photographing.
Fuji has certainly upped the ante for this new generation of mirrorless digital cameras. All photos are shot in jpeg/fine mode and processed in Adobe Lightroom 4. B&W images are processed in Silver EFX Pro. Below are a few more examples. Enjoy.
© 2012 David Patrick Valera