This past Toronto Fashion Week (officially “World MasterCard Fashion Week”), I had the pleasure of trading my usual DSLR for the compact Fujifilm X-Pro1 mirrorless, rangefinder-style, interchangeable-lens camera.
Since its introduction, and particularly after having reviewed the Fujifilm X10 last March in New York City, I had been looking forward to trying out the X-Pro1, and Toronto Fashion Week seemed like the perfect opportunity to put this camera through its paces. I wanted to know how it would compare with other rangefinder cameras that I’ve used, and also how it would compare to a professional DSLR.
Seeing as I don’t shoot from the media pits when I’m at Fashion Week, and I tend to mingle and attend all sorts of events, both on-site and off-site (ie. after-parties), I was really looking forward to a smaller camera that would more easily fit in with the crowd, and something that doesn’t weigh a ton — there’s nothing quite as awkward as having to swap hands and put down a load of gear, just to shake someone’s hand. But, that said, I can’t sacrifice image quality when any number of my images might be published by a variety of outlets.
And to top it off, what could be more fashionable than a black retro-styled camera, to go along with the rest of my Fashion Week attire?
About the Fujifilm X-Pro1
The Fujifilm X-Pro1 is a full-featured, interchangeable-lens camera aimed at professional photographers and advanced enthusiasts. That’s pretty clear from the onset. Pretty much everything about the X-Pro1 says “professional”…including the price. At $1700 without a lens, this camera is neither inexpensive nor is it cheaply made. Its all-metal body and lenses should take years of punishment. Although, you’d probably rather baby it and keep its retro good-looks intact! Originally shipping with three Fujinon “XF” lenses (18mm, 35mm, and 60mm), two lenses just released at the time of this writing (a 14mm and an 18-55mm zoom!) and a slew of lenses on their way (23mm, 27mm, 56mm, 10-24mm, and 55-200mm), shows Fuji’s clear dedication to the future of the line. No company invests in this type of lens production without a long-term product roadmap.
Along with the camera, Fujifilm Canada sent me three lenses; the 18mm f/2 (27mm 135 eq.), the 35mm f/1.4 (53mm 135 eq.), and the 60mm f/2.4 Macro (91mm 135 eq.). And while those do cover a wide range of subjects, I did feel that I would have made use of the upcoming 27mm f/2.8 pancake or 23mm f/1.4 more than any other lens, had either been available to me at the time. That said, I have always made do with whatever camera and lens I have, and compose accordingly — you just have to adjust your way of thinking.
Among a long list of features (all of which can be found at http://fujifilm-x.com/x-pro1/), one of this camera’s biggest stand-out features is the hybrid optical and electronic viewfinder (OVF/EVF). If you have ever used a rangefinder camera, or even an old film point and shoot, you have undoubtedly used an optical “tunnel” viewfinder (as opposed to an SLR, where you’re looking through the lens, via a series of mirrors or a prism), and will instantly recognise and feel at home with this viewfinder. It’s only when you take a second to look around in this viewfinder, do you realise that there’s much, much more than you have ever seen before. This hybrid viewfinder actually has a digital display overlay, much like what’s used in military heads-up displays, meaning that the X-Pro1 can overlay any amount of digital information over-top of a real optical viewfinder image, with no ghosting or motion lag or any other issues found in most EVFs. This feature is HUGE, and no description can fully convey how brilliant this is to use. You have to try it for yourself.
You also have the option of using the hybrid viewfinder in the Fujifilm X-Pro1 in full EVF mode, which is good for manual focusing (more on that later) and very low-light use.
Not even the Leica M has this technology at over 4 times the price (without a lens).
Before I continue, I must confess…I fell in love with rangefinder photography about 13 years ago, with my Mamiya 7 medium-format film camera, and ever since the digital age took over, I’ve been looking for something comparable. So to say that I enjoyed shooting the Fujifilm X-Pro1 is pretty much a foregone conclusion. I love the fact that I can see what’s in AND what’s outside of the frame, as marked by bright crop-lines, and that I don’t momentarily black out as a big mirror goes kerplunk every time I shoot a frame. Composition is very fast because of your wide field of view and everything just feels more nimble. There’s something about the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and rangefinder shooting that keeps me connected with my subjects in a way that no DSLR has ever really been able to do. Maybe because the position of the viewfinder allows me to keep my left eye open and on my subject, or maybe it’s something else, but I feel the camera more easily disappears in my hands.
To me, the hallmark of a great camera is a camera that doesn’t make itself known or demand my attention — it’s a camera that disappears, both to the subject and to the photographer. The ideal camera is like a perfectly designed hammer. That is, it’s an extension of my arm and my attention can remain on my subject, and not on the tool itself. There are no manuals that come with hammers and no one studies their hammer before nailing their first board. A good hammer just works — it knows what to do. The Fujifilm X-Pro1 hits the nail on the head, so to speak, and feels like a well-designed tool. After just a few days of use, everything started to fall into place. I was no longer knocking the exposure compensation dial, I knew where the AF button was without looking, the aperture ring was set long before the camera reached my eye, and I was ready to fire at just the right moment.
I can tell you, shooting at Fashion Week, without a flash, is one of the most demanding shooting environments you could imagine. There are all sorts of mixed lighting sources and they change all the time. (Multiple custom white-balance profiles would have been great, instead of just the one.) The venues range from very dark to very bright. People are moving. It’s crowded and not everyone is as polite as you might hope. Everyone has somewhere to be, so when catching that moment, you have to be fast. No “ummm…hold on….sorry…one more….uhhh…say cheese!” because by the time you get to “hold on”, your subject has already moved on, and if you’re shooting the runway…fuggedaboutit!
But with the Fuji X-Pro1, what I heard most often was “Wow! That’s amazing!”, when I told them I had already taken the picture and then showed them the result.
I shot with the add-on grip on most of the time. Yes, it does block the battery/SD slot door, but with a 8 or 16 GB card installed, and a full battery, you should be good for at least a day of shooting…if not several.
My only issue with the grip is that it adds ½ an inch to the bottom of the otherwise-sleek camera, unnecessarily. There’s a lot of extra bulk, just to add a bigger hump to the right hand-grip. I would have preferred to have seen a screw-in type, like many old film SLRs had. That said, I didn’t mind it too much in use…I just kept asking myself “why?” Having the leather half-case would probably negate any need for an extra grip, but with less added bulk.
When a Rangefinder Isn’t a Rangefinder
A lot of people confuse the Fujifilm X-Pro1, with its hybrid OVF/EVF and retro good-looks, for a rangefinder camera. It is not. It may look like a rangefinder, but it does not function as one.
A true rangefinder-coupled camera works by triangulation to set focus. With some help from Pythagoras, the simple rangefinder mechanism superimposes one image over another. As you adjust the focus ring on the lens, one image moves side to side over the other image. Only when the two images are perfectly in line with each other is the image in focus. Coming from a world of SLRs, this might sound complicated and cumbersome, but in actuality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Rangefinder focusing is very, very fast.
But remember, unlike the Contax G series of auto-focus rangefinder cameras, the Fujifilm X-Pro1 is NOT a rangefinder. It auto-focuses by “Contrast Detection” just like many digital SLRs. So while it may look like a rangefinder, the X-Pro1 is focusing through-the-lens, onto the image sensor and is done completely electronically.
This method must have its advantages (rangefinders can need calibration from time to time, they take up some room…ok, I can’t think of anything else), but I would have loved to have seen a traditional superimposed image in the viewfinder of the X-Pro1, even if the superimposed image was a digital one (firmware update v3??).
Room for Improvement
While I did fully enjoy using the X-Pro1, like all cameras, I did find a few areas that could use some improvement.
- I wish manual operation felt a little more…manual. I think that due to the electronically controlled lenses, even in manual mode, the camera still adjusts the aperture before taking the shot (as you press the shutter release). The front lens element also seems to move, even in manual-focus mode, and I can’t figure out why. This seems to slow things down a touch.
- The battery can be inserted in any of four ways, but only one way works. This seems like an oversight in design, as even the battery has a keyed notch, and the charger has the matching tab, but not the camera.
- Even in manual focus mode, the frame-lines parallax compensation only activate when the shutter is half-pressed. So, even if you pre-focus, you have to half-press the shutter release for proper framing…but,
- When you half-press the shutter release, neither the focus nor the aperture can be changed. Again, this goes back to the “feeling” of a manual camera. It’s just something that I expect to be there, but isn’t.
- Manual-focus “in focus” indicator. There is none.
- Image review is oddly implemented. From what I can tell, there’s no way to use the OVF and have images come up on the rear display. Instead, the images come up on the EVF display, blacking out the OVF, stopping you from shooting until you clear the image by pressing the “Ok” button or shutter-release, AFTER the image has been written to memory. That’s just way too slow for my workflow, and consequently I just turned off “Image Disp.” and only reviewed the images that I needed to check, by pressing the green “play” button. This works fine in practice, but might slow you down if you are always reviewing your images. On the up-side, this saves a lot of battery.
- The eye cup is too shallow. This is a simple fix, but my eyelashes keep leaving smudge-marks on the rear element of the eye cup. A small issue, but annoying.
- This is not the quickest auto-focus camera. Nor is it the quickest manual-focus camera either. Focus-by-wire is not ideal in my view. I suppose there’s a trade-off somewhere, but I prefer Nikon’s implementation of their autofocus lenses — with their manual and auto/manual focus modes. It’s hard to fault the X-Pro1 for anything, but if I were to pick just one area for improvement, it would be focusing…both automatic and manual.
I suppose all of this talk is nothing without image quality.
In short, images from the X-Pro1 are outstanding. Many of my Fashion Week shots were captured at 6400 ISO, and with just a little noise reduction in Adobe Lightroom, are perfectly usable. More than usable, in fact.
One area where the X-Pro1 really excels is low-light shooting. Its got the holy trinity of features that makes it a winner here. One, is its outstanding high-ISO performance. Two, are its fast lightweight lenses. And three, is the complete and total lack of mirror-slap induced vibration. Together, this means that you can shoot hand-held, in near total darkness and still get fantastic low-light shots.
Fujifilm have always done their own thing, but have always done it very well. There’s a long tradition of innovation at Fujifilm, from the G617 wide-format film camera, the GX680 medium-format bellows camera with built-in view camera movements, the GW690 medium-format rangefinder, and the FinePix S1 Pro to the S5 Pro digital SLRs with their “Super CCDs” boosting dynamic range to previously impossible levels.
The X-Pro1 is no exception to this history of innovation. The fixed-lens X100 seems to have been a testing ground for the professional, interchangeable lens X-Pro1, and Fujifilm has implemented much of what they have learned into this exciting camera — a camera that really is in a class of its own.
It’s easy to compare this X-Pro1 to the digital Leica M-series cameras, but to me, they are completely different cameras, designed for different users and different ways of shooting. It’s like comparing apples and peanut butter. One does not replace the other, and you may enjoy both. If Leica came to me and offered me their latest M, I would surely take it and I would probably love using it, but that’s not to say that it could (or should) replace the Fujifilm X-Pro1. With autofocus, 6 frames per second (fps) shooting speed, an outstanding hybrid viewfinder, great image quality at every ISO (even high-ISO), and price-point, the X-Pro1 would still get A LOT of use.
I plan on using the X-Pro1 for as long as I can…that is, until Fujifilm Canada asks for it back. And then, I may just have to buy one.
So, when looking at the Fujifilm X-Pro1, you have to ask yourself these two questions:
- “Do I need a Fujifilm X-Pro1?” The answer to that will depend greatly on who you are and what you plan on doing with the camera. Given its price and its professional feature set, unless you’re a professional or an enthusiastic-enthusiast, you will probably find yourself answering “no, I don’t need a Fujifilm X-Pro1.” Very few people find they actually need an exceptional camera. But, when you ask yourself,
- “Do I want a Fujifilm X-Pro1?” Oh, yes! You absolutely do.
Until next time.
J R BERNSTEIN
Remember your ABC’s – Always Be Capturing!
Scroll down for even more Fashion Week photos taken with the Fujifilm X-Pro1!
This is an independent review and I have not received any compensation by Fujifilm or any of its associated companies for said review.
Excepts where indicated, ALL IMAGES COPYRIGHT © J R BERNSTEIN, 2012. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Images may not be copied – there’s no such thing as “fair use”. Just ask first.