Fuji X-Pro1 – Review Part II
By Nick Devlin
Hilton Falls - March, 2012
Fuji X-Pro1, 18mm f2 - 2 seconds @ f16 ISO 200
First Heat, Then Light
Before we get to all that photography silliness, we have to talk about what to call the Fuji X-Pro1. Apparently, this topic is of some concern. In the first part of this review, I made undifferentiated reference to the camera as a "rangefinder". The Guardians of the League of Rangefinder Snobbery were thus unleashed upon me, decrying my slander of the sacred term.
Therefore, let me be perfectly clear, the X-Pro1 does NOT have a rangefinder mechanism. Any ranges that are found are purely coincidental. (Or, more accurately, the product of contrast detection autofocus technology). The Fuji X-Pro1 is, to borrow a phrase from Monthy Python, completely uncontaminated by rangefinders.
I confess to having known this before I wrote the article. I possess nine rangefinder-equipped cameras: two M6s, an M9, a Bessa R3A, a Mamiya 6, and Fuji GX690, a Burke and James folding 4x5 and a Razzle 4x5, together with one very understanding wife. These cameras, beloved to me all, each possess that nifty central patch in the viewfinder which moves in sync with a cam on the lens to triangulate the point of focus. The X-Pro1, for all its charms, does not have one of these. Curiously, no one ever got on my case for not calling the B&J 4x5 a rangefinder, but I digress.
At least one serious person, however, contacted me privately to talk about the use of the term "rangefinder" to describe this camera, concerned that its incorrect application could sow confusion. His perspective made me spend some time rethinking what appellation to apply to the X-Pro1. (That is, of course, the sort of solemn, creative undertaking a real photographer engages in when he doesn't actually have the damn camera yet but wants to feel like he's doing something vaguely related to photography).
That figuring led me to conclude that the rangefinder method of focusing was actually very low on the list of reasons people use "rangefinder" cameras as a class. The real reasons a whole school of photographers are attracted to these cameras as their tools of choice lie in the cameras' size, their way of seeing the world, their relative silence and their less aggresive posture of use when photographing people (that's a whole other article, but I find that people react differently when a rangefinder-style camera is pointed at them than in response to an SLR).
And there's the answer: the X-Pro1 is a "rangefinder style" camera. It looks, feels, sounds and shoots a lot like a rangefinder, and does so by design. Fuji very consciously designed this machine to echo the virtues of the rangefinder genre, albeit without the eponymous rangefinder. Rangefinder goodness was the design brief.
'Ya Kiddin' me?' – Toronto, March 2012
Fuji X-Pro1 35mm f1.4 - 1/60th @ f1.4, ISO 6400
Two Different Cameras in One
The story doesn't end there, however. The X-Pro1 is not simply an autofocus, EVF-equipped, Leica-wanna-be. As is now well known, the X-Pro1 has a hybrid viewfinder, which allows one to go from looking at the world through a glass window, to watching television live off the sensor on a small screen which appears in the viewfinder. This feature has its virtues for rangefinder-emulation, but it hints at a much more profound duality. The realization of this came to me as I was contemplated Fuji's lens roadmap for the X-Pro System. Being launched with a classic 28-50-90 lens line-up obviously evoked the rangefinder gestalt Fuji was aiming at.
The roadmap, however, features both 12-24 and 70-200 zoom lenses, slated for release in 2012-2013. These are lenses which will really only work with the EVF (electronic viewfinder) because (a) the fields of view offered are both wider and narrower than what the optical window can show and (b) it seems unlikely Fuji would be able to create real-time zooming framelines.
These lenses will be an awesome addition to the system, vastly expanding its utility. With them mounted, however, the X-Pro1 will lose most of its RF ethos. In reality, it will become a much better looking version of the Sony NEX-5. In other words, Fuji intends the X-Pro1 to be two completely different cameras in one: first, a modern take on the classic interchangeable lens rangefinder, and second, its entrant in the interchangeable lens EVIL class. This is clever, and expanded functionality can never be detrimental to the photographer. It does make me think, however, that the X-Pro1 is a slightly schizophrenic camera at times, both in the mind of its users and the reality of its performance. After only a week with it, I will pass no judgement on its character, other than to say it is a fascinating attempt at converging diametrically opposite modes of photography into a single machine. Fuji is nothing if not innovative.
So have they succeeded in creating a great camera?
The Short Verdict
The X-Pro1 is an interesting creature. This is not a camera which provokes indifference. In my brief time with it, X-Pro1 has left me excited, thrilled, satisfied, irritated and perplexed. It seems I am not alone in this conclusion. Zack Arias, one of the best photographers (and most highly evolved human beings) using Fuji RFs recently wrote this after spending his first couple of weeks with the camera:
"The X-Pro1 is a Fuji X camera so I’ve said my fair share of curse words using it, but then the effing @#&*!@ camera locks on and O. M. G."
That really sums it up. The X-Pro has some phenomenal traits, and some really annoying quirks. I strongly suggest you go to Zack's blog and follow his excellent coverage of the camera, and his superb photography. While Zack blogs about the camera from the perspective of someone who just wants a tool to execute his vision, Sean Reid at Reidreviews performs the most detailed examination anywhere on this, and every related camera. Also well worth a look if you're serious about the X-Pro1.
So lets start with the great things about the X-Pro1. At the of the list is image quality.
Kester - Toronto, March 2012
Fuji Xpro-1, 35mm f1.4 - 1/100th @ f1.4 ISO 400
A great camera is an amalgam of great handling and great image quality. Fuji has really nailed it on the latter of these. Image quality is superb. A number of working pros have observed that the X-Pro1 is seriously competing with their full-frame DSLRs in image quality and hence for space in their camera bags. I have to agree. In fact, let me stick my neck out and say that Fuji's X-trans is probably the best APS-C sensor yet. I have certainly not seen better.
High ISO Wow
This camera can see in the dark. Its performance up to ISO 6400 is nothing short of remarkable, in particular for an APS-C sensor. This is the first camera I have used where ISO is just not an issue. When I sent Michael a file shot at ISO 6400, he had the same reaction I did: this looks like a good ISO 1600 file. Even more impressively, the bulk of my evaluation has taken place using in-camera jpegs, given the current agony of RAW conversion. Relying on the in-camera jpeg engine appeared to impair performance very little. If more can be wrung out of a proper RAW file, as doubtless it can, a good thing will have been made even better.
Significantly, the high-ISO performance does not appear to be the product of mindless shmeering of images with indiscriminate application of suffocating noise reduction, as was the want of certain makers not that long ago. Rather, the Fuji seems to strike a nice balance between saving data and suppressing chroma noise. I have no hesitation in saying that this camera is fully usable for street photography up to ISO 6400. For landscape work one will generally stick to the base ISO of 200. Nevertheless, I would feel comfortable making a significant enlargement from an ISO 800 shot, and even beyond, depending on the subject matter. By any measure, this is superb performance.
Our national symbol obliged by providing a richly textured and tonally diverse test subject:
Bucky the Beaver
Fuji X-Pro1, 60mm f2.4 Macro, 3.1 seconds @ f10, ISO 200
[Mouse over for a 100% crop]
Bucky the Noisy Beaver
Fuji X-Pro1, 60mm f2.4 Macro, 1/10th @ f10 - ISO 6400
[Mouse over for a 100% crop]
The X-Trans sensor eschews the use of anti-aliasing filter. This is a mammoth advance. Camera manufacturers have been stuck to the CMOS+AA sensor model like day-old dog shit on your six year-old's shoe since the birth of serious digital cameras. Enough has been written online about the virtues and vices of AA filters to fill a Russian novel, but for our purposes suffice to say that our camera systems have had dirty glasses on for forever and a day. Keeping in that paradigm, think of Fuji as having performed laser eye surgery. They're on to something, because Nikon seems about to turn the photographic world on its head with the D800E.
Even better, the absence of the AA filter has not come at the cost of any obviously noticeable moiré. To achieve this, Fuji tried something novel with the X-Trans sensor, essentially randomizing the RGB photo-site pattern on the sensor. If the details of this technology interest you, a good explanation can be found here. For those who care more about whether it works, the short answer is "yes". None of my usual-suspect test sites generated any moiré - though they readily would (and did) with the Leica M9. This is not a function of lower resolution but rather something good going on inside the sensor. (Sean Reid has managed to get moiré, so the X-Trans solution is obviously not perfect. It is, however, better than a naked CCD).
In crop samples below, the Leica frame shows serious moiré, deeper colour on the bricks, higher micro-contrast, and a lot of colour aliasing, or some other form of artifacting, on the specular highlight on the bricks. With the exception of the moiré, there is little on a 13x19 print to separate the full-size images from which these were distilled.
Fuji X-Pro1, 35mm f1.4
Leica M9, 50mm f2
The short take-away is that the X-Pro1's sensor leaves nothing on the table and can take anything the finest glass sends its way. The images coming off this sensor are superbly detailed.
I am particularly excited about testing this camera with my "M" glass once the appropriate adaptor arrives. Unfortunately, it didn't get here in time for this segment of the review, but I will update as soon as I've had a chance to put the camera through its paces with the ne-plus-ultra of lenses.This combination could make for a potent landscape solution.
I will say this, however: in a carefully shot side-by-side test, I could see little difference in resolution at 100% between the M9 with a 50mm late-model Summicron and the X-Pro1 with the 35mm f1.4, both at optimum apertures. The Leica had a barely perceptible edge in micro-contrast and, curiously, a clearly noticeable edge in colour gammut and sensitivity. The former of these is attributable to the lens. The latter seems more likely to be a function of the sensor. Whether this is intrinsic to the sensor, something about the X-Trans configuration (unlikely) or bad de-bayering, I don't know.
To be clear, there was nothing wrong or deficient about the X-Pro1s colour reproduction. In fact, I find it to be pleasing and accurate, and pretty on-the-mark in auto white balance. If I hadn't been looking at side-by-side files, I would never have noticed the Leica's advantage. (And no, it's not a function of the jpeg conversion. The colour issue caused me to crack-out the Fuji RAW conversion software and I could not do much better with it than with in-camera jpegs at a fairly highly saturated setting).
All in all, however, the sensor is excellent. If scaled to full-frame, it would have cleaned the Leica's clock (being 30-40MPs!). As it is, this APS-C sensor is highly competitive with the best-of-the-best, when equipped with the right lens, and when things are in focus....
A system is only as good as the glass you put on it. This truism has kept Leica afloat for decades and, with the ever-increasing acuity of sensors, lens quality has really started to matter in the smaller formats as well. The good news is that Fuji has armed the X-Pro1 with at least one superb optic – the "standard" 35mm f1.4, which provides a 53mm equivalent field of view. I might buy this camera just because of this lens. It's that good. It gives my 50mm Summicron a serious run for its money at all apertures, except that it opens a stop further. And what an extra stop it is. This lens is simply sharp, even at f1.4 and even at the edges of the frame.
The 35mm also has very good bokeh or out-of-focus rendering. Files shot at a wide apertures on this lens are extremely pleasing to the eye. The 60mm macro is also excellent. I didn't get to shoot with it nearly as much as I would have liked, because of a, er, um, 'customization' mishap due to negligent bag-zipping on my part. Nothing like trashing the first lens in the country to make for an embarrassing phone call. "Hi, Dad? About your Porsche...."
Stone Angel - Toronto, 2012
Fuji X-Pro1, 35mm f1.4, 1/1200 @ f1.4 ISO 200
Alas, while it was still with me, the 60mm performed very well optically. I'm not sure that it's as good as the 35mm, but it's close. This is also a seriously sharp lens. It also focusses really, really close, which is a lot of fun, and a whole new world for RF users. In this vein, it's worth mentioning that the 35mm focuses far closer than any RF lens, right down to about 9". This is also very fun.
Implementation of the Hybrid Finder
Before I get to talking about some of the less ideal characteristics of the finder, Fuji deserves some real props for creating a truly usable OVF experience on the X-Pro1. Parallax is, of course, the great bug-bear of rangefinder cameras. In simple terms, parallax is the difference in what one sees through the window versus what is seen through the lens, resulting from the fact that the two are not aligned. At infinity, the two basically meet, and there is no issue. As the subject gets nearer, however, the view through the lens will be down and to the right of what is seen through the finder window (since the lens axis is lower, and to the right of the window).
This all makes autofocusing with the OVF very complicated, because the camera is focusing using the image coming off the sensor, which is TTL, while the user is looking through the viewfinder window. So, how do you project a focusing point into the optical window to the right corresponding location, when parallax causes the window to not line up with the sensor?
Fuji's solution is clever. Instead of projecting a single focus square into the OVF, the X-Pro1 projects three: (i) a solid box; (ii) a green box down and to the right of it; and (iii) and a third dashed-line box even further down and to the right. The two outside white boxes represent, respectively, the focus point at infinity, where the OVF and sensor hit the same spot, and the focus point's location at minimum close-focus. The green box in the middle moves diagonally between these two points, approximating the focus-point based ont he distance to which the lens is focused.
What Fuji has done a really nice job of is that one can select any of 29 different focus points around the middle 2/3rds of the frame in OVF mode. This is something a true rangefinder could never do, and I like this a lot. Unfortunately, Fuji went and ruined a great thing with its inane placement of the AF selection point controls (discussed below). However, in the abstract, Fuji has broken a technical barrier in creating a highly workable multi-point OVF system.
The OVF also has projected information covering everything you need to know about the image, including exposure mode, shutter speed and aperture, exposure compensation, histogram, etc., etc., etc. Also very nicely done.
In The Market, Toronto, March 2012
Fuji X-Pro1, 35mm f1.4, 1/1200th @ f1.4, ISO 400
Overall Control Design
Fuji is a company that learns. Overall, the control design of the X-Pro1 is a clear evolutionary step forward from the X100. Fuji has added a "Q" button to the easiest-to-use place on the back of the camera, which brings up a quick menu featuring every major setting, either on the LCD or in the viewfinder. From these menus, changes can be made with the scroll dial, without having to hit an "enter" button. This is a good design. It is heavily similar to Pentax's class-leading User Interface, if not quite as pleasing to the eye. As well, the exposure compensation dial has been tightened up, in response to many complaints about accidental engagement on the X100. Lastly, the X-Pro1 has a good working eye sensor, making the camera quite resposive in street-shooting situations.
Ok. All is not goodness and light with the X-Pro1. A number of facets of the camera's behaviour and design fall into the category of 'adequate'.
The 18mm f2
This is a beautifully compact little lens. The copy I had, however, was just not in the same league of optical quality as its bigger brothers. That still makes it a very good lens, probably comparable to, or slightly better than, most lenses most people have on their cameras. But whereas its kin were nearing the quality of their Leica cousins, the 18mm was visibly bested by the 28mm F2.8 Asph. Now that's not a fair fight. But the difference was noticeable, at least on-screen at 100%.
In its class, the 18mm is just fine. For most applications, you will not notice any shortcomings. But my sample left me a bit cold. The 28mm focal length is also nobody's favourite, as best as I can tell. The real lens this camera needs is the forthcoming 23mm f2 (aka 35mm f2). Somewhat selfishly, Fuji has delayed the release of that lens, perhaps into 2013 according to their roadmap, likely for no reason other than to avoid cannibalizing sales of the X100, which remain fairly robust. This is a mistake, IMHO. Every X-Pro1 owner will think seriously about buying the 23mm lens, even if they have an X100, because they are very different cameras. Also, the X-Pro1 is also a lot bigger than the X100, making them less direct rivals than Fuji might think. The 35mm is just such an ideal focal length that everyone will want it whether they have an X100 or not. I think holding back on this lens will make more people wait to buy an X-Pro1 than would chose not to buy an X100 now. At any rate, we have to wait. I just hope the lens is as good as the 35mm f/1.4!
At the very head of the not-so-great but not-so-terrible category is the X-Pro1's autofocus performance. It's ok. In macro-mode it's really slow. Do not try an X-Pro1 after handling a Nikon D4. You won't be happy. But these are not equivalent creatures. Carry the D4 around a market somewhere all day and you will also not be happy. Everything has its price. In good light, especially with the shorter lenses, the AF is just fine. In marginal light it struggles, but usually gets the job done. A daily RF shooter might do better with a manually focussed RF, but I think the AF on the X-Pro1 is not that much different in speed than what most mortals can do with a manual rangefinder. This may provoke howls of protest from some quarters, but I'll stick to my guns: focussing RFs rapidly with middle-to longer focal length lenses is hard. Doing so with moving subjects is often near impossible. With the digital cameras of today, close is not good enough.
One of the things which makes this camera so attractive is the ability to shoot much closer than a normal RF will allow, at wide apertures. Under these conditions, hitting focus with a mechanical rangefinder is damn hard. The X-Pro1 will give a high ratio of tack-sharp shots in this situation, but it's far from perfect. At macro ranges, the autofocus is downright leisurely, especially with the 60mm lens. On static macro subjects, this doesn't matter that much, but with human subjects it gets old fast.
In practical reality, I think most photographers will find the X-Pro1's autofocus acceptable, and will learn to live with its limitations. In less than a week, I found myself getting more and more comfortable with how it worked, tailoring my shooting approach to its capabilities, strength and limitations.
Desroy Drumming - Toronto, 2012
Fuji X-Pro1, 35mm f1.4 - 1/950th @ f1.4 ISO 400
(yes, the 35mm flares badly without the hood)
Manual focusing on Fuji's lenses is fly-by-wire. Bring a book, it's a long flight. It takes several complete rotations of the lens barrel to cover the range with any of the lenses in manual focus. When combined with the so-so EVF, this is not a mode many people will find useful for dynamic subjects. The X-Pro1 does, however, offer the ability to zoom in, way in, on the selected focus point with the touch of one button while in manual focus. This would be useful in landscape work to confirm absolutely correct focus. The problem which Sean Reid has pointed out is that the constantly varying aperture (it ticks open and shut constantly – presumably as part of the metering process) makes it impossible to focus at maximum aperture. Not super helpful.This could be the subject of a future firmware fix.
Ironically, manual focusing on the X-Pro1 will be most useful with non-Fuji lenses, where one can guarantee working at maximum aperture. I am very curious to see how my CV 50mm f/1.1 and 75mm f/2 AA perform in this method of shooting.
This was a surprising disappointment: the frames lines projected into the OVF are just not very accurate. Like the M9, the framelines are significantly under-inclusive, meaning you get a lot more into the image than the lines indicate. This is annoying. The Leica M series are limited by the fact that the framelines are mechanically projected. The X-Pro1, however, uses electronically displayed lines. These could be projected anywhere, can be *changed* in size and, one would have thought, been made wickedly accurate. Or at least better than they are. Since the frame grows and shrinks with subject-distance, the projections could perhaps re-size after focus is locked? The projected "guess-points" for focus are pretty accurate. I can think of no obvious reason why the framelines can't be made to be as well. Perhaps an ambitious Fuji tech can reprogram these, but I won't hold my breath. In the meantime, I will do what I already do with the M9 and mentally expand the frame.
The buffer on the X-Pro1 is too small. I hung it up effortlessly in continuous shooting. Write speeds on my Class 6 SDHC card were also painfully slow. That may improve with more modern cards and firmware upgrades. In normal RF-style shooting, the buffer is, ultimately, unlikely to be a big issue. For those shooting jpegs, it probably won't be an issue at all.
Strange Continuous Shooting Protocol
For some reason, Fuji believes that shooting in continuous mode is a special event, kind of like dressing up for church on Sunday. As such, frames shot in continous mode are numbered differently and cannot be directly accessed on playback review. Rather, they must be gotten at by going into what is essentially a sub-folder for each 'burst'. This is pointless and cumbersome. No other camera company that I know of does this. That's because it's a stupid idea. Fuji should implement a user-selectable option to TURN THIS OFF.
Fuji is fixated on film-simulation modes as their idom for both jpeg capture and Raw development settings. Presumably these are a mandate of their marketing department, which is convinced that consumers still associate Fuji with creating many of the world's best films and thus are prone to think that setting the camera to "Vevia" will recapture a little bit of green-box magic for their digital images. They work well enough but, in truth, these are just profiles.
This is nit-picky, but the tactile quality of the buttons on the back is not quite up to the standard set by the rest of the camera. The lenses are really nice to handle - especially the 1/3 stop detented aperture rings. The camera itself also feels very solid, as do all the dials. The button-press feel, however, is mediocre. This is a small thing which may have no detrimental impact on the camera's durability, and the build quality is pretty much in keeping with the competition at this price point. But the buttons could have been better.
There are four things about the X-Pro1 that are so frustrating and ridiculous that it makes you wonder how they possibly could have happened on purpose.
The first red-flag area is Fuji's inane implementation of the auto-ISO mode. You cannot select the minimum shutters-speed at which the camera moves to the next increment of ISO. You read that correctly. The camera has a default speed built-in, based on a number chosen randomly from a hat at the Fuji summer solstice party last June. That number is 1/52th of a second with the 35mm lens. I kid you not. This all seems very amusing until you start losing shots to motion blur and realize that auto ISO -- the most useful feature on a camera with such amazing high ISO -- has been rendered functionally useless.
While this may not be a major consideration for landscape work, for any of the traditional street or travel photography applications in which RF cameras excelled, the ability to instantly contend with vast lighting differentials is crucial. Just as IQ with the 35mm f/1.4 alone might lead me to buy the camera, the lack of usable auto-ISO might stop me.
Now the good news: this should be a fairly easy firmware fix. Even better, Fuji has had a history of listening to customers, so there is a good chance this flaw will be addressed.
What? You Wanna Change Your Focus Point?
As I said above, the successful implementation of multiple, user-selectable focus points in a rangefinder-style camera is technical coup, and wonderful for photographers. Unfortunately, what Fuji giveth with good engineering, it taketh away with bad user-interface.
Image if you will, having the X-Pro1 to your eye as you follow the unfolding of a photogenic scene before you. "My", you say to yourself, "I would like to change my focus point to the upper right hand corner of the screen." So, naturally, while keeping the camera to your eye, you reach for the "AF". And then it all goes horrible wrong. Instead of pressing the AF button, you shove your left thumb up your nose. Almost as much fun, but not quite as useful.
The problem is that the "AF" button is at the back bottom left side of the camera, operable only with a left-hand AWOL from its muster-station steadying the lens...and pretty much in-line with where the user's nose touches the camera. The FIX for this is to allow focus point selection to be triggered by the "FN" button atop the camera – it sits right there, just a stone's throw away from the shutter button – and for the quick control wheel to then allow one to scroll through the focus points (rather than using the more awkward 4-way controller).
If Fuji fixes this, I will personally fly to Japan and buy their head of development on the X-Pro1 team a beer. Maybe two. (I'm serious).
No review histogram
The next issue is also a programming/UI problem. Specifically, it is not possible to have the camera display a histogram in the instant review image of the frame just shot. To see a histogram, one must stop shooting and go to the playback mode. WTF???
Adjusting for optimum exposure, through the review histogram, is as core a part of digital photography as pressing the shutter button. This omission is inexplicable.
The good news, again, is that this should be fixable through firmware. This a major omission, easily remedied.
RAW Processing (or the lack of it)
The X-Pro1 produces yet another accursed proprietary file. And Lightroom does not support it, because Fuji has not cooperated with the resident RAW processing geniuses at Adobe to make it happen. This is kind of a disaster. No one on the planet likes or uses the camera-makers' software. The market has spoken, and there are only two RAW processors: Lightroom and Capture One. For a camera to be usable by serious photographers, there simply has to be RAW support on these processing platforms. Please, please, please FUJI, cooperate with Adobe and Phase One, ASAP to make this happen.
Yes, for those who will write and complain – there's also Aperture, DxO, and even Twinkybits.
Nick is just being hyperbolic. This is also an opinion piece, not a software catalog. – Ed.
Since the X-Trans sensor is different in its fundamental architecture, it seems likely that Fuji's inside-knowledge of the sensor will be needed for any raw engine to get the most out of it. Working with Adobe and Phase One to do this would be the single greatest service Fuji could do for its customers. Being quite a responsive company, I am optimistic Fuji will make this happen.
Since I was dying the see what RAWs looked like, I invested some time into trying to figure out the Silkypix-powered RAW converter provided by Fuji. It was usable, but there is really no point. To Fuji's credit, the in-camera jpegs are really very good, and in-camera RAW processing allows one to cook jpegs of various flavours from RAW files.
End of the Affair?
A week with the X-Pro1 was not enough. While it drove me mad on numerous occasions, it also thrilled me with its image quality and the possibility of a viable autofocus rangefinder-style camera. At roughly one-third of the price of an equivalent Leica system, the X-Pro1 is amazing value, but still a significant investment. The verdict for now: the X-Pro1 is a quirky gem.
Fuji just released an extensive firmware update for the X100 camera, which I understand addresses a lot of user-complaints and input. This bodes well for future refinement of the X-Pro1 interface.
Toronto, March 2012