Review: Fuji X-Pro1 – The Best Mirrorless Camera?
With what started as a seeming novelty, the market for mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras (MILC) has exploded over the last two years. Changing the half-century format of 35mm using a reflex mirror and pentaprism to offer a TTL experience, mirrorless cameras promise the quality and flexibility of a DSLR system without of the bulk. While manufacturers like Olympus and Panasonic have been dedicated to their 4/3 system of mirrorless cameras for years, Fuji is the newest player, but perhaps also the most interesting.
The new Fuji X-Pro1 seems like a camera entirely born into existence due to the success of the Fuji X100, a mirrorless camera with a fixed lens that finally “got it right” in the eyes of so many photographers (but not all). On the surface, it might be easy to assume that the Fuji X-Pro1 simply picks up where the X100 left off.
In practice though, what the Fuji X-Pro1 delivers is far more interesting – an entirely new set of very high quality prime lenses, a innovative sensor design of the highest quality, and a camera body that’s up the challenge of unleashing this new system’s potential.
So, how does the new Fuji X-Pro1 stack up as a serious tool for photography? This is the question we put to the test in this in-depth review of the entire X-Mount system of the Fuji X-Pro1 and new Fuji 18mm f/2. Fuji 35mm f/1.4 and Fuji 60mm f/2.4 Macro lenses.
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The Fuji X-Pro1 and XF lenses used for this review were supplied by BH Photo Video in New York City.
To learn how you can help support www.ishootshows.com, visit the page Buy Yourself Something Nice. Now with that out of the way, let’s get to the review.
Hold Onto Your Butts
When I started writing this review, I approached it much like I did any of my other photography gear reviews. However, once I started outlining my thoughts on the Fuji X-Pro1, it was clear that this review would be much more in-depth in many ways than my previous reviews.
The reason is that, coming to the Fuji X-Pro1 as a DSLR shooter, this camera offers an entirely different kind of shooting experience. As such, the intent of this camera is to give an overview of my experiences with this camera to show its strengths and weaknesses from the reference of a photographer who shoots a big, heavy DSLRs system.
After all, I think that the market for the Fuji X-Pro1 is largely people who have experience with DSLR systems who are intrigued by what Fuji has promised with this camera: all the quality of the big guns without the bulk and weight.
Long story short, this is going to be a long, detailed review. I hope you’ve got a cup of coffee or tea ready, you might need it.
If you just want to know if this camera is capable of delivering good images, just skip to the sample images. Spoiler alert: Yes, it’s as good as your DSLR.
Key Features Overview of the Fuji X-Pro1
What’s a camera review with a few specs? Here are the key features of the new Fuji X-Pro1:
- 16.3 megapixel resolution
- Fuji-designed X-Trans CMOS APS-C Sensor
- No low-pass filter extremely high resolution
- Dedicated, high resolution interchangeable lens system
- 3.0″ high resolution rear LCD
- Hybrid Electronic/optical view finder system
- In-camera RAW processsing
- Fuji film color modes
Features –X-Trans CMOS
The X-Pro1 sees the introduction of a new type of CMOS sensor from Fuji, who is no stranger to unique sensor designs. In fact, Fuji has arguably pushed new sensor designs more than any other manufacturer in terms of new pixel structures and configurations, from their EXR sensors in compacts to their Super CCD SR sensor in DSLR bodies like the Fuji S5 Pro.
The X-Pro1 is the first camera to feature Fuji’s new X-Trans CMOS sensor design, which promises an improvement over sensors used in almost every other type of digital camera.
A New Pixel Arrangement
What makes the X-Trans sensor unique is its arrangement of pixels, which differ from the traditional Bayer-type arrangement.
In a conventional sensor design, the red, green and blue photo sites are arranged in a repeating 2×2 pixel grid, which contains one red, two green and one blue pixels. This creates issues because it means that there are some rows and columns that contain no red pixels or no blue pixels. With scenes with very fine detail, interpolating these gaps is what can cause moiré patterns.
What sets the X-Trans sensor apart from traditional Bayer-type RGB designs is that the placement of red, green and blue photo sensors is a “random” placement of those pixels in a larger 6×6 pixel grid.
This new arrangement ensures that all rows and columns possess all three photo sites. In addition, the more organic arrangement of the color pixels promises higher color fidelity and a reduction in moiré artifacts. And for fans of old manual film cameras, to whom the X-Pro1 seems squarely marketed, the X-Trans’s pixel more closely approximates the organic structure of traditional film grains as well.
Traditional DSLR Image Chain:
X-Trans Image Chain:
No Low-Pass Filers
The X-Trans sensor also includes no low-pass filter to reduce aliasing. Traditionally anti-aliasing filters have been employed to reduce instances of jagged edges in pixel-level detail and also to reduce moiré by very minutely blurring detail at the sensor level before it’s recorded. While this reduces aliasing and moiré, the trade off is fine resolution and micro contrast.
With no low-pass filter on the X-Trans sensor and a reduced need to worry about moiré due to the unique pixel arrangement, Fuji promises all the benefits of a higher resolution with none of the drawbacks traditionally associated with not using a low-pass filter. Win-win – at least in theory.
To understand moiré more in depth, you can read my article on moiré artifacts.
With the Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji developed an entirely new lens mount and line of interchangeable lenses. One feature that Fuji is touting is the extremely short flange focal distance from the mount flange to the sensor, specified at 17.7 millimeters, among the very shortest of mirrorless cameras.
What this short flange focal distance means is less image degradation at the corners of the frame than traditional systems – better edge increased resolution, reduced vignetting and less chromatic aberrations.
Also, since the exit pupil of XF lenses are nearly the same size as the APS-C sensor, the light projected should travel in a more parallel manner, providing even image quality across the frame.
That’s what all of Fuji’s marketing literature tells us, anyway.
Features – Fujinon XF Lens System
The Fuji X-Pro1 is the first of Fuji’s mirroless cameras to use the newly developed X-mount system and XF lenses, which have been developed from the ground up.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Wait, wasn’t Fuji just a film company? What do they know about making awesome lenses?” And you’d be right to think that, except that Fuji and their Fujinon division have decades of experience making extremely high quality lenses for commercial broadcast and cinematography.
Key Features of the XF Lens System
Here are some of the distinguishing features of the XF lens system system:
- Enhanced edge performance (resolution & reduced vignetting)
- Reduced chromatic aberration
- Metal lens barrels
- All-glass optical designs
- dedicated aperture ring
- 1/3-aperture detents
- Fancypants aspherical elements
Sounds good? It is. Overall, the lenses for the Fuji X-Pro1 offer a nice selection. The initial launch of the X-Mount system introduces three lenses:
More on this three-lens system at the end of this review.
In The Box
Whew. Now with all that background stuff out of the way, let’s get to the hands-on portion of this review. The Fuji X-Pro1 is a nicely packaged camera, just like the Fuji X100, as are the XF lenses.
I can’t help but think that Fuji has learned a little from Apple in their packaging. The camera and lenses all come in their own padded matte black boxes complete with embedded magnets that snap closed. Sure, it’s just packaging, but it certainly makes the experience of first unboxing the Fuji X-mount system all that much more enjoyable.
Like the Fuji X100 and X10 before it, the Fuji X-Pro1 is solidly a retro-styled camera that feels at home next to cameras like the Leica M9 – which should tell you something about who Fuji has in its cross hairs. In fact it’s basically exactly the same size as the M9 and styled very similarly.
With these design considerations in mind, the X-Pro1 is much more square and blocky than most modern DSLRs, and nearly lacking in the subtle curves of contemporary ergonomics. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and for anyone who has owned and loved a manual film camera, the X-Pro1 scores big nostalgia points.
The X-Pro1 is offered in all black, which, despite the camera’s blocky size, makes it pretty discrete. For anyone who has ever put black tape on their camera, Fuji has been very thoughtful for you.
The design of the X-Pro1 is minimal, though it does feature more buttons and dials than the stark Leica M9. Still, unlike Leica, Fuji has left the front face of the camera almost generically blank – not even the company’s logo or model number can been seen from the front, and only appear engraved in the camera’s top plate.
Another thing purists will like? There’s no built-in flash to take up space/get in the way/never use.
Off-Center Tripod Mount
The tripod mount for the Fuji X-Pro1 is off-center by about 2 centimeters. Not a deal breaker, but still kind of a minor sin for any “serious” camera, and the X-Pro1 is no exception. This was probably done to keep the height of the body down, as with the screw socket depth there would be an issue with the lens mount as-is. If I really had to choose between an on-axis tripod socket or a smaller body – I choose the smaller body every time for a camera like the Fuji X-Pro1.
Still, Fuji will fix your X-Pro1’s off-center tripod mount for the small price of $100. You just have to buy the Fujifilm Hand Grip HG-XPro1, which does feature a lens-axis tripod mount.
Combined Battery & Memory Card Compartment
Like most point & shoot cameras, the battery and memory card slots are combined under one compartment accessible on the bottom of the camera. This setup is a little fidgety if you need to access the SD card regularly, but not normally a problem if you’re shooting with a large memory card.
Still, it would have been nice if the SD card were more easily accessible from a side panel.
DSLR Size Comparison
No surprise, the Fuji X-Pro1 is smaller than a DSLR. Not hugely so, but it’s surprisingly how much weight and space are saved in comparative systems. Below, we have a Nikon D700 pictured with the Nikon 50mm f/1.4D lens next to the Fuji X-Pro1 with the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 lens.
As you can see, the lenses are almost the same size, but there are noticeable savings in the overall body and size of the combo. Which one would you want to carry around all day?
In The Hand
While the brickish body of the Fuji X-Pro1 might seem a little unwieldy at first, the system still feels quite light in use, much more so than a DSLR with the equivalent lenses. It does not feel as nice as the Fuji X100 in terms of build quality, though – there’s more of a plasticky feel.
Still, overall, it’s a beautiful camera with just enough bulk and right angles to imply a certain seriousness to the intent. It’s no pocket camera.
In terms of ergonomics, the X-Pro1 features a very shallow grip. For extended shooting with the Fuji X-Pro1, especially if you like to shoot without a camera strap when using one camera (I do), I’d recommend the Fuji hand grip for the X-Pro1.
Controls & Interface
Even from its controls, the Fuji X-Pro1 seems squarely aimed at photographers of a certain breed – or snobbishness, depending on how you look at it. There are no scene exposure modes on the Fuji X-Pro1, though there are three auto modes that you can use – aperture priority, shutter priority and full-auto.
Still, for all this front of a “pro” camera, Fuji still throws in weird touches like a macro mode prominently placed on the D-pad that smacks of P&S. Strange choice, Fuji.
Overall, the Fuji X-Pro1 is a camera that is great to shoot in manual or aperture priority mode. The nice aperture rings on the camera allow for a nice re-connection between the user and camera that is lacking with so many new lenses, since Nikon and Canon have done away with aperture rings on their DSLR lens systems.
Here’s a rundown of the major controls and points of interest in the user interface and shooting experience.
The shutter release of the Fuji X-Pro1 is an old school threaded release, so if you’ve been saving your plunger-style threaded cable release from the 1970s, rest assured, it’s back in style.
But my favorite part of having a threaded release? It means you can use a soft release, which is a small concave button that threads into the shutter. The benefit is that increases the surface area of the shutter (which on cameras like this is smaller than your common DSLR shutter release) and gives you a surface that you can gently (softly) press or roll your finger across instead of stabbing down. What all this means is ideally less camera shake and a smoother shutter release overall.
Also, a soft release just looks cool. If you want one, BH Photo Video has a Bowens Soft Release for $4.95. Obviously, Fuji is winning in their intent if they’re making me pull out old accessories that I used to use with my manual film cameras – and making me love it.
Shutter Speed Dial
The shutter speed dial features a range from 1 second to 1/4000 of a second, in addition to timer (T), bulb (B), and Aperture priority mode (A). Anyone who shot a manual film camera like the Nikon FM2n or similar should feel right at home. That said, I wouldn’t have minded if shutter speeds were controlled by the command dial at the back of the camera.
Since changing the shutter speed isn’t as easy as thumbing a jog wheel, the act of changing exposure feels all the more deliberate. Again, something that immediately makes one think just a little more while shooting, for better or for worse.
Just like ye olde cameras, the Fuji X-Pro1 features an exposure compensation dial from -2EV to +2EV. While it’s a nice retro touch, I’d have much preferred an ISO dial instead, since operations of exposure compensation are so easily accomplished shooting in manual mode.
In fact, using the right/left arrows on the D-pad on the back of the camera gives a 2/3-stop latitude from the manually selected shutter speed dial setting, which makes the exposure compensation a little more questionable. The ergonomic prominence of this dial (it’s so easily thumbed) adds to the confusion, since the command dial is relatively useless (more on this in a minute).
That said, the use of the D-pad does make for quick adjustments when you’ve got the ballpark exposure down and simply need to tweak.
The one immediately useful thing that the exposure compensation dial does is that it only affects the camera meter, but it will affect that meter’s effect on the electronic viewfinder. More on this in the viewfinder section.
I’m fairly confident that Fuji included the command wheel just to infuriate users of DSLRs, because this control actually does fairly little in the way of controlling the camera. At best, it acts as an awkward, if well-intentioned, control that can be used to affect some menues and modes, but not all. At worst, it’s an offense to user experience and ergonomics, since it can’t be customized or set to control additional functions in custom settings or really do anything you actually want it to do.
So, most of the time, the command wheel just sits there mocking the user’s vain attempts to employ it into useful service.
Unfortunately, the command wheel actually feels like an afterthought, as if it’s a interface that Fuji’s engineers knew they should include, but which they couldn’t quite sure what to do with. I’m hoping that firmware will expand this wheel’s utility.
The X-Pro1 includes a nice custom button, the “Fn” Function button, which rests next to the shutter release and can be set to different useful toggles.
I like having this set to ISO for adjusting sensitivity on the fly. I would love to see Fuji take the customization of the Fn button and apply it to command wheel or even the exposure compensation dial so that they could be programmed to the user’s liking.
In addition to the Fn button, the Q “Quick” button on the X-Pro1 acts like a quick access to important image and exposure settings, so one can change things like film simulation, color mode, WB, etc from one menu screen. Short of dedicated buttons for these settings, I think this is a great addition and definitely saves some menu digging.
The playback button takes up really prime real estate on the back of the Fuji X-Pro1. It’s incredibly easy to press, so much so that I’d love to see Fuji switch the position of the playback button and the AF point toggle. The reason being that it’s much easier to hit with the right thumb without moving your eye from the viewfinder, which is ideal for switching AF points.
The D-Pad on the back of the camera seems like a good idea in theory, except that while shooting, the most useful thing it immediately does is to toggle the macro mode (pressing the up arrow). Well, this isn’t entirely true, as it’s also possible to fine-tune shutter speeds in 1/3-stops up to 2/3-EV, as previously mentioned. But all in all, the D-pad on the Fuji X-Pro1 behaves more like one on a P&S than it does a DSLR. Ideally, the D-Pad would be keyed to move the AF point by default, which I think most users would be using more than the macro mode.
Focus Mode Selector
The focus mode selector on the front of the camera allows switching between Single, Continuous and Manual focus. All simple enough. It seems as though Fuji has listened to its users and positioned Continuous focus in the middle of the switch, so it’s easy to hit either Manual or Single focus without having to fumble. Thoughtful.
The Drive, AE and AF buttons live on the lower left of the LCD screen and do pretty much what you’d expect. In addition, they double as controls for during playback, where there position makes a lot of sense. However, while shooting, their placement on the left of the camera is a bit awkward, particularly when using the AF button.
From an ergonomics standpoint, ideally these buttons moved to the right of the LCD so that they’d all be accessible to use with the right hand while shooting.
Focal Plane Shutter
The Fuji X-Pro1 is no Konica Hexar. In a move from the Fuji X100’s leaf shutter, the Fuji X-Pro1 features a focal plane shutter. While it gives up very quiet operation, the new Fuji does gain a higher max speed of 1/4000 – two stops over the 1/1000 top shutter speed of the X100.
What the X-Pro1 gives up is a quiet shutter release. Sure, it’s not as loud as a DSLR with a mirror flapping around, but there’s a distinct and audible *SNKT* when the shutter releases. Not a deal breaker, but something to keep in mind if you’re shooting candids or require as silent of a camera as possible.
The Fuji’s battery life is about what you’d expect from a camera like this. For a full day of shooting with review on the rear LCD and use of the electronic viewfinder, you’ll probably want to grab an extra Fuji NP-W126 Li-Ion battery.
But for general walk around shooting in an afternoon, battery life is fine.
The viewfinder used in the X-Pro1 is Fuji’s hybrid optical-electronic system, which allows users to select between an optical view digital overlays or a fully electronic image display for precise framing and additional info.
There isn’t a lot of leeway for eye relief with the viewfinder, so I can’t say that the VF is well suited for people who wear glasses. That said, it is workable for glasses wearers – and if all else fails, there’s the nice 3.0″ LCD.
In the optical viewfinder mode, the Fuji X-Pro1 very closely approximates a modern range finder, with frame lines imposed to show the framing of the scene relative to the wider view of the optical viewfinder. The downside to using this optical system, unlike a traditional rangefinder, is that there’s no indication of focus – it’s just like looking at the scene with your own eyes, for all intents and purposes. Aside from imposed framelines and exposure info, the optical VF is pretty worthless.
To get an idea of actual focus point and precise framing, it’s necessary to use the electronic viewfinder (EVF).
Since the optical viewfinder’s default field of view is wide enough to encompass the 18mm f/2 wideangle, framing is shown as a smaller digital frame line imposed over the optical image. This is fine for the 18mm or 35mm lenses, but becomes quite small for the narrower field of view of the 60mm f/2.4 macro lens, even after zooming the optical VF.
The EVF of the Fuji X-Pro1 is very good, and perhaps as good as any EVF on the market today, but it still takes a lot of getting used to for anyone used to a DSLR and a glass pentaprism.
The main benefits of using the EVF are that the image is provided TTL, albiet electronically, so you can see exactly what’s in focus and what the real precise framing is for any given scene and lens. In addition, you can see what the true and actual depth of field, unlike a DSLR, which can be useful when shooting with the Fuji 35mm f/1.4.
In addition, one nice element is the option to review images through the EVF, so it’s no longer necessary to “chimp” and disturb shooting – this is a good thing, though it does slow down shooting since review interrupts the live stream.
The EVF actually surprised me in how usable it was for even macro shooting. It’s not as good in terms of clarity as a mirror and pentaprism, but the EVF is accurate and clear enough to discern focus while shooting close-ups with the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 or Fuji 60mm f/2.4 macro.
The major downside to using the EVF is that the image that it displays is essentially “metered” on auto, so it’s possible that it will show areas of blown out detail when the dynamic range is very high. This is particularly true when shooting close-ups or scenes with large areas of dark tones. However, Fuji does have you covered. The Fuji X-Pro1’s insidious exposure compensation dial affects the EVF as well as camera exposure, so it’s possible to dial in the right viewfinder exposure while you’re shooting in manual. For normal shooting, and especially using autofocus, this EVF issue isn’t a huge problem, but it’s one that is particular to using live view on the back LCD or the EVF.
On the flip side, one somewhat surprising benefit of the EVF is its treatment for low light scenes, where the display can actually show more detail than the human eye can distinguish on its own.
While it takes getting used to seeing a digital image instead of an optical one, along with all the associated quirks, the EVF is so superior to the optical VF that it’s a no-brainer. It’s worth noting that the optical VF is so weak that it’s not really a contest, however.
Just like the X100, the Fuji X-Pro1 features eye detection sensors near the viewfinder that sense when you’re eye is up to the eyepiece, which can automatically switch from the rear LCD to the viewfinder. Overall, it’s a nice feature that saves manually switching, but at the same time the eye detection can become confused at times and may flip on and off when you’re carrying the camera.
Still, nice if you shoot using both the rear LCD and the viewfinder.
Manual focus works adequately well on the Fuji X-Pro1, all things considered, though it does require a lot of patience.
The main deficient point of the AF system with the X-Pro1 is that it’s a fly-by-wire system. What this means is that the focusing ring isn’t actually geared to the lens elements, but electronically signals to the lens motor to make changes. In practice, the result is an overall feeling of lag and imprecision.
The reason is that there’s always a momentary delay. Since the focusing ring has to electronically signal the lens motor to make adjustments, it’s not as immediate as a geared lens. For small adjustments it’s not a huge deal (ie, macro work), but it does take more time when farther out on the distance scale.
That said, manual focusing does work just fine and it’s not a huge issue when shooting macro photos where one often relies on manual focus. Almost all the macro and close-up sample images in this review were shot using manual focus and visual confirmation through the EVF without the magnification loupe, so I can pretty honestly say that even though MF is not ideal on the Fuji X-Pro1, it’s perfectly usable.
One thing that Fuji has done right is that the focusing – let’s just call it the “helicoid algorithm” – is not linear. Changes to the close focusing end of the focus range are much finer than they are at greater distances. This is a good thing, because it allows for more precise, more incremental changes.
At more conventional shooting distances (non-macro), one can always rely on the magnification loupe (triggered by pressing the command wheel) for a highly magnified picture-in-picture of the selected AF point. While camera shake makes this magnification feature pretty worthless for close-up work when not using a tripod, it’s more usable at normal distances and should be able to give positive focus confirmation when shooting MF.
One nice thing about the Fuji X-Pro1 is that when shooting in MF mode, you can still activate AF by pressing the AE-L/AF-L button. This also works as a great trick for anyone who prefers to shoot with the shutter release and AF functions separated.
The autofocus performance of the Fuji X100 and X10 were big considerations for many, namely due to the responsiveness and speed (or lackthereof) of these systems. So, how does the Fuji X-Pro1 fare?
AF Speed & Precision
Overall, I found the autofocus speed and precision of the Fuji X-Pro to be good, especially so after taking some time to get used to its quirks. While AF speed isn’t the fastest, precision is surprisingly good on this camera, to the point where I have no hesitation shooting wide open. f/1.4 on the 35mm? No problem at all. In fact, it’s a beautiful thing.
There are instances when the Fuji’s AF simply refuses to lock onto a subject that a DSLR would nail, but these are pretty rare (though made all the more common in low and low contrast lighting). Even though the AF is relatively much slower than what many DSLR photographers will be used to, when it does achieve an AF lock, the Fuji X-Pro1 is usually bang on.
DSLR users will notice that there can be a lag in the EVF when focusing, as the image can freeze as the lens achieves contrast detection lock. The result is that the image loses the illusion of a live feed, which contributes to a sense of slowness in the system. One setting that will help increase the perceived speed is turning off the automatic image display, which lasts 1.5 seconds after you shoot an image. This image display is turned on by default, and de-activating it makes the shooting experience feel much smoother.
Lenses & AF Performance
Just like a DSLR system, the quality of the AF experience with the Fuji X-Pro1 really depends on the lens being used.
Unsurprisingly, the petite 18mm f/2 offers the fastest AF responsiveness and the performance feels nice. Even with the time needed to focus, using this compact lens feels quite quick. With the 35mm f/1.4, AF feels like more of a process, but it’s still relatively quick. The 60mm f/2.4 Macro on the other hand, is the slowest focusing lens of the XF lineup.
Focusing distance will also affect the AF performance – expect all lenses to have work most slowly at closer distances. For shooting over one or two meters out, AF is universally pretty quick across all lenses.
AF Controls & Shooting Experience
In terms of usability, the AF of the Fuji X-Pro1 is fine. For the most part, the fastest way to use the camera is to focus with the center AF point, lock focus using the AF-L button (you can set this up in the custom menu settings) and recompose.
The reason that focus-recompose is preferred is that changing the AF focus point is an experience that will make you want to throw this beautiful camera to the ground. It’s very possible to select from any one of the X-Pro1’s AF points, but doing so feels like such a disjointed process that it’s hard to recommend it if you’re short on patience.
Since the D-pad (the natural choice for changing the AF point) is set to control functions like minor shutter speed compensation and toggling the Macro Mode, you have to enter a special AF adjustment mode to change the AF point, which is accomplished by pressing the AF button to the lower left of the rear LCD screen. The reason this is awkward is that it takes one out of the normal, stable position for shooting. I’d love to see the AF button accessible in a way that doesn’t compromise a natural shooting position when using the EVF. A simple change like putting the AF button so that it’s accessible by the right hand thumb would easily fix this issue.
All that said, in the spirit of the X-Pro1 being a digital rangefinder, the 48 non-centered AF points are pretty much like a small surprise gifts from a bright, shiny future. One AF area was good enough for the old rangefinders and film SLRs. It’s probably better for your sanity that you just use the center AF point on the Fuji X-Pro1, too.
Wait, I Can Use AF Points In The CORNERS?
However, if you’re not a jaded DSLR photographer and don’t mind taking the extra three seconds to change AF points, you will probably love the Fuji X-Pro1. Like most P&S, the Fuji X-Pro1 has its AF points spread out across the entire image frame, not just in a tiny diamond in the center like DSLRs do. So, you can even select an AF point in the very corners of the frame – something you could never do with your big fat Nikon or Canon DSLR.
What’s more, since the contrast detection is done on the actual sensor level, the AF lock is often very, very precise (albeit slow). With a DSLRs, AF is achieved using the mirror assembly, so any slight misalignment in that system can result in AF errors, especially when using outer AF points. Not a problem for the Fuji X-Pro1. This is probably called progress.
General AF Usability Thoughts
One thing I always have set on my DSLRs is shutter priority mode for AF, meaning that the shutter will release regardless of whether the camera thinks focus has been achieved.
With the Fuji X-Pro1, the camera insists on at least attempting to focus before it will release the shutter. While there are workarounds to this – shooting in manual focus mode and using the AE-L/AF-L button to activate AF – I’d love a way to override this AF preference in a firmware update.
Despite all the weird quirks, the Fuji X-Pro1 is a camera that you can shoot at relatively low shutter speeds with what magically seems like a minimum of camera shake. This is a very good thing. Somehow, the Fuji X-Pro1 isn’t too heavy or too light that it suffers from camera shake much at all unless the photographer is unsteady. Nice.
This is not a fast camera. Despite the 6 FPS burst rate, which is pretty impressive for a camera like this, the read-write speed of the camera and the size of the buffer make this camera much more suited to single-shot mode. Shooting a sequence of images, even in single shot, can lock up your camera for several seconds, which can feel like an eternity if there’s something great in front of your lens (which is why you shot all those images clogging up the buffer in the first place, right?).
OK, here’s the meat of the review. How’s the image quality of the Fuji X-Pro1? In a word, fantastic. This camera delivers beautiful files thanks to it’s sweet, proprietary 16mp APS-C sensor (and yes, the exceptional Fujinon lenses). Whatever Fuji has pulled off with their X-Trans sensor and EXR processing, it works.
Fuji has claimed that their APS-C sensor can even outshine some full-frame sensors in terms of performance. Bold claims, but after seeing the files from this sensor, they might just be true.
Detail & Resolution
Detail in the Fuji X-Pro1 is extremely high, thanks to the great sensor design (and of course the lenses). Since the new 16mp sensor design of the X-Pro1 doesn’t include an anti-aliasing filter, acuity is fantastic. Fuji has arguably taken a cue from the three-year old Leica M9, a similarly styled camera that also goes anti-aliasing free for sharper, higher resolution images.
Overall, image detail is very high and the X-Trans sensor seems like as good of an APS-C sensor as we’ve seen. In fact, I prefer the image quality of the Fuji X-Pro1 on a pixel level to that of the extremely good Nikon D7000, which I currently consider Nikon’s best APS camera.
The 100% Crop
Here’s a resized frame from the Fuji X-Pro1 shot with the Fujinon 60mm f/2.4 that was made at ISO 200, f/5.6 and 1/250.
And below is a 100% crop from the original image, shot in RAW and converted to JPG with no adjustments (default sharpening).
Here’s another one, this time with the Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 at ISO 200, f/4 and 1/60 – first the reference frame.
And now the 100% crop from the original.
What I’m looking at is the individual stems of the leaves and the edge acuity of the leaves. Because both look awesome to me. Again, this is the farthest upper right corner of the frame. Literally the very extreme of the frame, where performance by the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 should be worst. And not even at f/8 or f/5.6, but a “modest” f/4.
So, yeah, the detail is good and the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 is awesome.
Actually, the detail is so good that the Fuji X-Pro1 kind of makes itself a liar in the moiré department.
Fuji’s new X-Trans sensor boasts a reduction in color moiré, but I’ve found that it’s still possible to create this effect with fine, repeating detail. Here’s an example of color moiré shown in the façade of a building that features a metal mesh. This is a 100% crop processed from RAW to JPG.
As you can see, moiré patterns can still crop up with the X-Trans sensor. It’s not a huge issue, and arguably not as severe as it could be with a Bayer sensor, but this camera is not moiré-free. So on the one hand, there is still color moiré, but on the other, the system is sharp enough to create these artifacts even with Fuji’s weirdo new sensor arrangement.
It’s also worth noting that the above crop was shot with the Fuji 18mm f/2, which I think is easily the “worst” XF lens in the prime lineup. And even though I think it’s a somewhat weak lens, it’s still stupidly sharp enough (in the center of the frame) to induce moiré on a sensor that’s supposed to be very moiré resistent.
Surprise. The high ISO performance of this camera is unexpectedly good. Shockingly so, even, depending on your frame of reference. Thanks to the big APS-C sensor and who knows what kind of voodoo that Fuji has worked with the X-Trans CMOS, this camera delivers very clean performance right through its sensitivity range.
Talk is cheap, so here is an ISO comparison from 400 to 12800.
Here’s a resized frame that we’ll use as a reference:
And here’s a series of 100% crops converted from RAW:
Here’s my comparative analysis of image quality through the ISO range of the Fuji X-Pro1.
ISO 200: Pretty much skipping this setting, you already know it’s good/awesome.
ISO 400: Almost identical to ISO 200, just a touch more “grain” to the image. Almost imperceptible.
ISO 800: Again, extremely close to base ISO, but we start to see the shadows lose a little smoothness.
ISO 1600: The trend we saw at ISO 800 continues, with a slight hit to shadow detail and overall smoothness. Detail remains excellent.
ISO 3200: We finally see a little drop in detail at ISO 3200 due to noise reduction, but image quality is still very high.
ISO 6400: Detail continues to be smoothed over with noise reduction, but color fidelity remains excellent.
ISO 12800: Noise reduction is starting to pretty much kill all fine detail, but for small reproduction, the images look amazingly good.
Honestly, this camera’s high ISO performance is nothing short of a little shocking for an APS-C sensor. Overall, color fidelity and saturation is good right up to ISO 6400. Detail is excellent right up to ISO 1600. Naturally, the black point depth suffers at higher ISOs, but the images still retain a nice amount of “meat” even at the upper limit. I wouldn’t have any hesitation shooting up to ISO 1600 for the kind of shooting for which this camera was designed. Pretty much anything at or below ISO 1600 looks amazingly clean with the Fuji X-Pro1.
As someone who pretty much lives above ISO 800, I can comfortably give the Fuji X-Pro1 my seal of approval.
Fuji has decades of experience as a film manufacture and ever since it’s produced digital imaging products, the signature attention to color has been one of the company’s strengths. There are scores of photographers who have sworn by Fuji’s colors, from their classic Velvia color slide film to their NPH portrait film.
The Fuji X-Pro1 is no exception to this lineage. While the followers of Fuji aren’t as cultish as say, Leica lovers, there’s no doubt that this company knows what they’re doing when it comes to color and tone curves.
Default color rendering is fantastic and full of depth. Just like the X100 and X10, Fuji has incorporated its most popular film emulsions into the vernacular of the camera.
The standard color setting of the camera is named “Provia,” after Fuji’s longstanding E-6 color slide film. “Velvia” is the vivid setting, while “Astia” is the soft color setting, which should tickle any film shooters out there. In addition, the X-Pro1 offers two “PRO-neg” modes (standard and high) for “studio ready” files with soft gradations and natural color rendering. In addition, different monotone settings are accessible, such as standard black & white as well as B&W with filters like yellow, green and red.
While I think it’s easy to dismiss Fuji’s color modes as gimmicks, I think some shooters will love being able to leave the “developing” to the camera to focus more on shooting.
Fuji XF Lens System
A camera system is only as good as its glass. With the launch of the Fuji X-Pro1, Fuji has introduced three fast primes, with not a single zoom in sight.
Overall, the lens system offers a lot of quality and I think that Fuji has done a very good job in offering three fast-ish primes that offer a nearly complete kit, from your wide angle to short telephoto, with fast f/1.4 and macro capabilities all covered.
Overall, the three primes Fuji has started with for the X-Pro1 feel like a very cohesive system. Arguably, they cover 95% of what anyone using this camera would want to shoot. For the other 5%, the upcoming Fuji 14mm f/2.8 will probably do it for most photographers. In terms of focal lengths, I think Fuji pretty much nailed it with this initial trio of primes.
Here’s my quick breakdown of the individual lenses.
Fuji 18mm f/2:
With a 27mm equivalent field of view, the 18mm f/2 offers a very small form factor and a wide field of view that’s fantastic for candid and inconspicuous shooting. Mounted on the X-Pro1, the camera enters jacket pocket territory with this small lens. It’s also the fastest focusing lens out of the XF lenses.
In terms of optical performance, I think the Fuji 18mm f/2 is the weakest out of the three initial lenses in the XF lineup. It’s very sharp in the center of the frame at any aperture, but never quite gets the kind of edge-to-edge, crystalline sharpness of the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 or Fuji 60mm f/2.4 seem to so effortlessly deliver. Next to the other XF primes, I have to say that the 18mm is a little disappointing, honestly. This is as much due to the 18mm’s actual performance as it is a comment on how excellently the other two lenses deliver.
On a positive note, distortion is very well controlled with the Fuji 18mm f/2 – a +2 adjustment to the Distortion slider in Adobe Lightroom’s Lens Corrections panel to correct for the lens’s slight barrel distortion brings everything into line. Even without correction, it’s distortion is very minimal.
Fuji 35mm f/1.4:
Offering a 50mm full-frame equivalent, this is your standard lens. It focuses just a hair more slowly than the 18mm f/2, but overall the optical performance is superior. Overall, this prime is extremely sharp – no hesitation to shoot wide open if you need to. Not only that, but the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 produces wicked, edge-to-edge sharpness when stopped down at f/4 and below. Detail is just fantastic.
One very nice feature of the Fujinon 35mm is the surprisingly close minimum focusing distance, which allows for some beautiful close-ups at 0.17x reproduction. Not macro level, to be sure, but it’s an extremely welcome feature that extends the usability of this lens quite nicely.
If there’s one single X-mount lens to own, the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 is it, hands down.
Fuji 60mm f/2.4 Macro:
This is the XF portrait lens and macro lens in one (at least for now). At 60mm with a 90mm equivalent on full-frame, it’s capable of a nice level of compression and reach – perfect for portraits. With a 0.5x magnification, this 60mm macro won’t offer quite the same magnification of most true macro lenses, but it still does quite well for most all shooting.
While AF on this lens is easily the slowest among the XF trifecta, it may just be the sharpest as well. Overall, I found the image quality of this lens pretty much impecable. Shoot it at whatever aperture you need/want – it’ll deliver.
And while it’s also the largest of the current XF lens, the Fuji 60mm f/2.4 is still incredibly compact – not much bigger than your average 50mm prime.
Build Quality & General Usability
Overall, the lenses in the XF system are built well and feel solid. One note is the lenses basically feature no controls on themselves outside of the fly-by-wire focusing ring and the aperture ring. There’s no aperture lock on the ring, so it is easy to slip the ring from auto to the free apertures.
One point on usability is that the lenses are so compact, there can be little in the way of usable gripping real estate when unmounting or mounting a lens. In this case, it can be necessary to twist the aperture ring into one extreme or another, depending on which way you need to twist, to secure a good hold on the lens.
All lenses are very well dampened in terms of the manual focus feeling, though, as previously mentioned, the main issue is the lag of the fly-by-wire focusing.
A lot of my criticisms of the X-Pro1 come directly as a professional photographer who requires equipment that is responsive to incredibly fast changing situations. With the live music photography I shoot, this is essential, but having fast and responsive gear serves me for absolutely everything I shoot, from portraits to architecture to travel. There is never a time when I think to myself, “I wish my camera were slower.”
However, if I step back, the Fuji X-Pro1 reminds me of my Nikon FM3a manual focus film camera – my first camera and one that I shot hundreds of rolls of film with over a summer in Italy years ago. That camera was one of minimal controls and dials (essentially all of which are seen on the X-Pro1), and one that served me incredibly well through its simplicity.
While speed & well designed ergonomics offer one kind of transparency, so too does simplicity of interface and a limitation of pace. In this sense, the Fuji X-Pro1 is a beautiful camera – it just requires the right mindset.
Who Is This Camera For?
The Fuji X-Pro1 is a camera for people who love photography. This camera is for people who appreciate the process of photography as much as the final result – and certainly for those that appreciate manual controls in a beautiful package.
The X-Pro1 is a camera for people who want the quality of a DSLR with prime lenses without the weight and commitment of looking like they’re on safari.
The Fuji X-Pro1 strikes me as a system that’s perfectly suited to pursuits like travel photography – where speed isn’t essential, where there’s an element of serendipity in the process, and where a discrete, lightweight and compact system is as important as the quality of the final images.
After shooting with the camera, there’s definitely a kind of “zone” that it requires being in – it’s not a camera to shoot side by side with a DSLR and expect the same kind of experience. Rather, the Fuji X-Pro1 offers something wholly slower, more meditative, but with images that lack for almost nothing in terms of quality in the end.
Ultimately, it’s the kind of camera for people who want a high balance of great image quality and low weight, and who are willing to sacrifice a little user experience in order to achieve that goal. The Fuji X-Pro1 is for when you want all the quality of your DSLR without all its weight.
System Overview & End Notes
What the Fuji X-Pro1 promises is essentially an expansion of the extremely popular Fuji X100 to offer the flexibility and image quality of a DSLR system without many of that model’s constraints. To this end, the Fuji X-Pro1 feels like the start of something great, perhaps even more so than the pioneering Fuji X100.
With the initial offerings all relatively fast primes without not a variable aperture zoom in sight, the XF line is keenly aimed at professionals and serious enthusiasts. The body styling and retro-inspired controls certainly indicate not only a specific type of photographer, but also a certain kind of shooting to which the X-Pro1 is best suited.
In a lot of ways, the Fuji X-Pro1 feels like a go-cart with the engine of a Ferarri. Power? Yes. Great handling? Not so much.
My main criticism is that in its retro styling and quest to bring the classic rangefinder into the modern age, Fuji may have been a little too strict in their implementation of the X-Pro1’s controls. While attention to detail for manual shutter speed adjustment and a dedicated exposure compensation button are novel, but the energy of this intent would have been better focused on making this camera as easy to use as possible. Yes, ironically, sometimes having dedicated buttons for some functions is not always the best solution.
I’d love to see Fuji strike a balance between a simplified camera interface and one that’s more configurable in the future, even if that means a small sacrifice to style in the future. The Sony NEX-7 is one camera in this class that offers a very nice customizable interface through its command dials. The new Olympus OM-D E M5 is another camera that is extremely customizable, like the Sony NEX-7, while still maintaining a similar retro styling shared by the Fuji X-Pro1.
That said, in the end, where the Fuji X-Pro1 shines without question is the quality of the image files. Between the new APS-C X-Trans sensor, lack of a low-pass filter, fantastic new XF prime lenses and smart processing, the Fuji X-Pro1 delivers fantastic image quality all around. For so many serious photographers, this is what really counts, and this is where Fuji nails it.
In fact, the image quality is almost beyond reproach. Between extremely fine detail capture and amazingly good high ISO performance, the Fuji X-Pro1 delivers impeccable image files. Like most photographers who have shot this camera, I’m chopping at the bit for RAW support in Adobe Lightroom to see just how much detail this camera and its new lenses are capturing.
For many photographers, Fuji has released the camera that Nikon users wished they had gotten in the V1/J1 models, and which Leica users might prefer over the aging Leica M9. At the end of the day, quirks and all, the Fuji X-Pro1 is a camera that delivers superlative image quality in a classic form factor.
I’m extremely excited to see where Fuji takes the X-mount system. The Fuji X-Pro1 is camera that has the ability to fall in love with photography all over again.
If you have any questions about the Fuji X-Pro1, please feel free to ask in the comments, I will try to respond to everyone.
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Where To Buy
- Fuji X-Pro1 at BHPhotoVideo.com
- Fuji X-Pro1 at Amazon.com
- Fuji XF Lenses at BHPhotoVideo.com
- Fuji XF Lenses at Amazon.com