dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

Fuji X-Pro1: revisited

Background. If you have not read that X-Pro1 review here, that will provide some context. This camera system has some pretty phenomenal optics and - if you have the patience - produces killer files. The following are some longer-term (9 month, thousands-of-frames) observations.

Overall operation. Successive waves of firmware have made the camera much happier than when it first hatched. With some practice, it's a fairly easy camera to use. The controls are easy to verify by sight. The large, undistorted viewfinder is pretty amazing for a modern camera. and the ability to use Nikon-sized diopters is a big plus.

These are the longer-term irritations that for some may be short-term irritations:

  • The EV comp dial is actually pretty easy to accidentally activate in practice - as is the Q button. The EV dial is, however, much harder to displace than on the X100. The "Drive" button is also annoyingly easy to trigger, depending on your grip.
  • The always-open shutter introduces some exposure lag. This can make life very difficult when dealing with children. This problem seems to afflict all cameras that use live-view (or focus with it). On the other hand, having live view eliminates stop-down focusing errors, lets you shoot at unusual angles (camera held over your head, etc.), and enables easier macro work.
  • There is no flash synchronization when the camera is in continuous shooting modes. Look, we aren't all using the under-capable Fuji flashes all the time.
  • The tripod socket is stragely located, seriously inhibiting the use of Arca-Swiss style plates when changing batteries or cards.
  • The gestalt is much more Contax G2 than Leica M. But you probably knew this coming in. This will not replace your Nikon D700.

Files. We know that at least one guy does not dig the XE-1 (and presumably X-Pro1) files. Says that the greens go crazy. This looks overblown; it's pretty evident over long use that you get "painterly" effects by cranking up the sharpening too much - and if it has not been evident in several thousand pictures outdoors, it is not likely to emerge by surprise. If you really want to hypersharpen the world, turn the raw file into a TIFF and then sharpen once the image is "locked in" - not at the stage where Lightroom is trying to make sense of a 6x6 matrix. Once something is in TIFF, it has already been interpolated and is immune to any claimed strange effects of the X-Trans sensor. What is true about these RAF files (and rarely documented) is how long it takes for Lightroom to process them. To someone like this author - who has taken university mathematics up to Maps and Flows, it is not surprising that the X-Trans color matrix requires a ton of computing power. What is surprising is that a 4-core, 2.8 Ghz Xeon - with more computing power than the entire world had up until the 1980s - still takes 10 seconds to draw a full-size preview.

Lenses. The 18-55mm zoom is the tour-de-force here. Not only does Fuji release a fast (f/2.8-4) zoom with OIS, the lens is nicely sharp everywhere and pretty much at every setting. The caveat is that low light can make things difficult with the zoom at the long end - and this is a lens where you often find yourself switching finder modes to get a clear picture of what is going on. The good news is that for travel, there is a finally a nice-performing, versatile lens that focuses quickly. And by the way, this lens is good enough to make using adapted rangefinder lenses look like something of a silly exercise. In fact, the stepper motor makes the ultrasonic motors on the 18, 35 and 60mm lenses look downright primitive.

It will be interesting to see if the Zeiss 12mm lens beats the 14mm Fuji lens to the market. The 14mm is also overshadowed by the promised/threatened 10-20mm stabilized ultrawide Fujinon zoom.

The rest of the promised lens lineup has failed to materialize. But then again, is the Fuji X series really something around which you would build a multi-thousand dollar lens collection? It's very hard to say.

Flash. Now, most of a year later, we wonder when we will see a competent flash for this camera. The current choices remain the EF-20 (a toy, close to the lens axis, no tilt), the EF-X20 (less of a toy, with bounce but not swivel, still close to the lens, and the Sunpak-sourced EF-42. The 42 is the closest thing to a real flash - but has some pretty serious shortcomings:

  • Huge battery consumption and quick draining in auto-standby mode (overnight - any longer, and you have a flash full of battery goo).
  • Clumsy controls - very modal buttons for changing flash exposure compensation.
    No lock on the swivel/tilt head.
  • Screw-lock on the foot that is difficult to tighten and loosen.
    No (A)utomatic function. This cuts down the usefulness of the flash with other cameras, and TTL flash extracts a shutter speed penalty.
  • Glacial recycling time.

In a sense, things were a lot better with the X100. With its leaf shutter, it is much more capable of doing balanced fill. And you could always use the built-in flash as a trigger for a bigger automatic flash. Before you spend a dime on a dedicated flash for the X-Pro1 (if that is the only X camera you have), look into an automatic flash you already have. The Nikon SB-800 triggers just fine. It also has a great swivel/bounce capability, a fast-recycling 5th battery option, and a real locking foot. It won't auto-zoom or trigger synch speed on your X-Pro, but that's why there is a shutter speed dial...

The M adapter. The "official" M adapter is basically a high-end Chinese M to XF adapter that has a multifunction button on the outside and a large electronics module on the inside. It barely accepts a 35/1,4 Summilux ASPH, and although it does have neat selectable settings for distortion and vignetting, it doesn't overcome the issue that adapted wides - regardless of the adapter - perform poorly on the X-Trans sensor, at least compared to things like the Leica M8 and M9. It also is short front to back, meaning that the distance scale on the lens is compromised. And really, if your plan is to shoot adapted lenses longer than 18mm, you might as well get the 18-55mm lens. Cheaper M adapters are also available (with varying degrees of correct lens registers), but they seem more of a novelty designed to forestall the inevitable realization that lenses designed to fit Lecica film cameras only really work best on Leica digital bodies.

Upshot. This camera gets a 8 out of 10 - made up of a 10 for optical/image quality, a 9 for fun factor, and a 5 for petty annoyances that cannot be avoided in any live-view camera. It won't make everyone in the world happy, but especially with the addition of its midrange zoom lens, it makes a credible travel, everyday, and snapshot camera (provided that your subjects are adults).