A real world owner user report on the Fujifilm X-Pro1 by Damien Lovegrove.
I’ve got an open mind when it comes to photography. I’ve been looking to replace my ageing Canon 5Dmk2 for sometime as I never use many of the attributes of SLR shooting like fast focus tracking in sport photography or extreme telephoto work for nature photography so I decided to give the little Fujifilm X-Pro 1 a go. I paid about £3000 for the camera and it’s three lenses and this was a private not business purchase. This is what I discovered..
There is a lot of conflicting information online about the Fuji X-Pro1. It is certainly not a camera for everyone. I’d go as far to say it is probably only suited to about 1% of photographers but those photographers will cherish the little marvel and defend it to the ends of the Earth. You have to know what you are doing and adjust your shooting technique in order to get the best from the X-Pro1. Having said that I owned a Zorki 4 and a Practica TL in the 1970s and I learned how to set aperture, ISO and shutter speed just like every other photography student. Invest the time to learn the characteristics of the lenses, the best way to achieve focus lock and the Fuji X-Pro1 will reward you with beautifully detailed imagery.
In this review I ‘say it as I find it’ from a photographers perspective. I’m not on the Fuji payroll, I’ve not been gifted the camera and I have no axes to grind either. Photography is my hobby, my work and my life. I’ve been lucky enough to be a professional image maker in some sort of guise since I was 19 way back in 1983:) I’ve shot film for more years than digital but I’ve embraced new technology as it has been developed.
Note: All the pictures in this feature were taken hand held. Apart from the BBC pictures that were shot jpeg and processed in Photoshop CS4 the rest of the files were shot in RAW and processed in Lightroom 4.1 without any further work in Photoshop.
Question 1: Is the Fuji X-Pro1 a full frame DSLR beater?
Answer: Not quite, the Fuji X-Pro1’s smaller sensor size is definitely a compromise no matter how novel the new pixel layout is. In my opinion the APSC size sensor fails to make up any useable resolution as was suggested by not having the anti aliasing filter. I’d say the image quality of the X-Pro1 probably equals the latest and best APSC DSLR cameras like the Canon 7D or the Nikon D7000. It also equals or slightly out performs older full frame models like my Canon 5DMK2 at higher ISO settings. I must admit I was expecting more from the camera given the hype over the novel sensor design but the fact is there are some odd colour bleed artifacts that smudge certain details at pixel peeping level when processed from RAW using Adobe Lightroom 4.1. The artifacts are still there but to a lesser extent in the jpegs produced in camera. However, despite these pixel level shortcomings the images from the X- Pro1 are stunning and make gorgeous prints. The control over highlight and shadow detail that RAW working delivers more than makes up for a minor colour bleed issue generated by algorithm of the Adobe file conversion. I’m sure over time that the RAW conversion process will improve but for now I’m happy to shoot and process RAW.
Question 2: What is the camera like to use?
Answer: It takes time to learn how to use the Fujifilm X-Pro1 well. Like it’s little brother the X100, this camera encourages you to rethink every aspect of your shooting technique. From using Auto ISO or composing with the true live view screen, to exploring new methods of focussing, the X-Pro1 camera opens up new opportunities and has a few failings too. On the plus side it is super conspicuous. On my 3000 mile road trip in America I never stood out as a photographer. I blended into the role of tourist or regular member of the general public and this gave me far more freedom and access than if I had an SLR around my neck. Now that I’m 8000 pictures in, I’m familiar with the camera and lenses and am happy to use it on assignment.
Question 3: How does the camera feel to hold?
Answer: When I first held the X-Pro1 kit at Focus on Imaging way back in March it felt unexpectedly light, especially the lenses. Having lived with the camera for a few months I’ve become very used to the way it feels and now my Canon 5D MK2 seems unnecessarily heavy and cumbersome.
The camera fits my hands well and is an absolute joy to use. It’s not pretty like the X100 but it is ergonomic and begs to be picked up. The sensor is a doddle to clean too as it is right there and not buried in the back of a mirror box behind a shutter.
Question 4: Is the focussing as bad as people on the forums make out?
Answer: Manual focus is all but useless unless you use zone focussing. The focus by wire function of the Fujifilm lenses just doesn’t work. Using auto focus via the AF button with the camera in manual focus mode works fine for some photographers. I prefer to use full auto focus and I love it. It works well now I am practiced and fully understand how it functions. The X-Pro1 focussing hardly ever let’s me down. I don’t mind the moment the X-Pro1 lenses take to lock onto focus because I know that when it does it will be spot on. It’s not prone to the back focus issues that most SLRs suffer from. When I review pictures in Lightroom I’m not having to zoom into 100% to check if the shot is sharp because it just is. This alone gives me an added confidence when using this camera. I reviewed a bit of fly on the wall video taken a year or so ago of me shooting a portrait with my Canon 5Dmk2 and I’d say I spend just as long ensuring the focus is spot on with an SLR than I currently do with the X-Pro1. I use the focus reframe method and the camera nails it nearly every time.
Question 5: Are the lenses up to scratch?
Answer: Yes, they are great. In my experience the 60mm is the sharpest of the three followed closely by the 35mm. The 18mm lens isn’t amazing in the corners but it’s fine in the greater central area from wide open. As I mainly shoot portraits at wide apertures I’m less concerned about edge performance than perhaps a landscape photographer might be. Generally the lenses all perform very well indeed. I’ve seen examples of soft images posted online but in most circumstances the errors can be attributed to poor shooting technique. There is no image stabiliser in the camera body or in any of the current crop of dedicated lenses so you can’t expect to shoot at low shutter speeds without some form of camera support. Because the resolution of this camera is so great even the slightest camera movement shows up. At the moment the base shutter speeds selected by Fuji when using auto ISO are not high enough to freeze the shot. I have no doubt that this will be addressed in a future firmware update.
Camera support: For interior and low light work I use a Gitzo 3 series, 5 section carbon fibre monopod to support my camera. I have a Really Right Stuff (RRS) ball and socket head with a quick release lever on top of that. I have the RRS dedicated L plate for my Canon 5Dmk2 and now I have one on preorder for the Fujifilm X-Pro1 too.
It’s easy to chop and change lenses to suit the shot without a second thought about a significant change in image quality. For my landscapes and general views without specific depth of field considerations I’ve been using f/5.6 to f/8 with the 18mm and 35mm lenses to achieve an optimum clarity and corner sharpness. For my portraits with the 60mm I’ve been shooting wide open at f/2.4. Out in sun or bright conditions I use a two stop neutral density or a polarising filter to keep the shutter speed within the maximum 1/4000th of a second. When I’m using flash outside and I want to shoot at f/2.4 I use a 4 or 5 stop ND filter because the flash sync speed is just 1/180th second. I usually set 1/125th of a second as it is the closest on the shutter speed dial that for some strange reason lacks an ‘X’ position. I expect in some firmware update we will get the option to reprogram the ‘T’ setting to become an ‘X’ setting.
Question 6: What’s missing on the X-Pro1 that a firmware update can’t fix?
Answer: An adjustable dioptre for the viewfinder. The X-Pro1 has a facility for screw in glass dioptres like Nikon film cameras back in the day. Fortunately a ready supply of the correct size and most values are still available. Incidentally the viewfinder has a focus setting of 1m so if like me you have no problem looking at objects 1m away you will be fine without correction.
Question 7: What accessories are worth buying?
Answer: A few neutral density filters, a couple of spare batteries and a bag should do the trick. If you’ve been using an SLR and you treat yourself to a Fuji X-Pro1 get a new camera bag too. The Fuji and lenses are way smaller than an SLR kit and need very little bag space as a result. A smaller bag will keep the weight down and you can then get to enjoy one of the key benefits of Fuji X-Pro1 ownership. I took the compact Think Tank Retrospective 5 bag with me across the USA and it was a perfect size for the Fuji and it’s three lenses. For day to day shooting and workshops I use the slightly roomier Think Tank Retrospective 7 bag as I want to carry my iPad and a Speedlight too when I’m out on location.
Question 8: Will I keep and use the X-Pro1?
Answer: Yes, I am using the X-Pro1 for my workshops, on client commissions and for personal portrait projects. I plan to keep my Nikon D700 and Canon 5D mk2 cameras for 1:1 training and I’ll use the Canon with its 22Mp full frame sensor for shooting stock.
The X-Pro1 is a camera that I believe is best suited for street, travel and portrait photography. It’s not at home in a flash lit studio and it’s not fast enough for any sort of action photography. It’s definitely a niche camera and one I will love using on a daily basis.
Compact, lightweight, unobtrusive
Good prime lenses super sharp from wide open
Excellent build quality of the camera and lenses
Great hybrid viewfinder and real live view screen
Some minor artifacts when processing RAW files
Slow flash sync speed
Still needs a firmware update to realise the cameras potential
And finally: Top photographers and artists throughout the world have already created a vast collection of astonishing X-Pro1 images and I’m sure this is a camera system that will continue to inspire creatives for many years to come. There will always be those people who don’t warm to the idiosyncrasies of the X-Pro1 and they’d usually be better off with an SLR. I feel inspired when I’m using the X-Pro1 and as photography is my livelihood that itself is worth the hefty price tag.
A variation of this review has appeared in What Digital Camera magazine. It’s the UK’s leading magazine dedicated to photography gear.
Please feel free to add your positive experiences with the Fuji X-Pro1.
EVENT NEWS: Join me and Chris at the Manchester Hilton in January 2013 for a styled portraiture training workshop exclusively for Fuji X series owners. Set in the gorgeous surroundings of the Deansgate Hilton Hotel this will be a day of fun and creativity with like-minded individuals. To learn more and to book online click here.