Fujifilm X-Pro1 mirrorless digital camera
Fuji’s pro digital camera looks retro, but is far from it
- Excellent image quality
- Impressive design and build quality
- High quality lens line-up
- Imperfect hybrid viewfinder setup
- Slow autofocus, mediocre manual focus performance
Fujifilm’s X-Pro1 is an excellent attempt at an enthusiast, mirrorless, interchangeable-lens digital camera for a company that hasn’t appealed to professionals since 2006. It looks great, is very well constructed, and has an excellent imaging sensor and lens line-up. It isn’t particularly refined, though -- operating the camera is sometimes clunky, getting in the way of actually taking pictures.
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It’s been a long time since Fujifilm had anything to do with the professional or enthusiast-level digital camera market. The S5 Pro from 2006 was based on Nikon’s semi-professional D200 DX-crop camera, but added Fuji’s signature excellent colour performance, tweaking aspects of the camera to suit the company’s imagined target market.
Since the S5 Pro was discontinued in 2007, Fuji has kept out of the digital SLR market. It’s had a solid but uninspiring range of low- and high-end compact digital cameras, as well as a continued love of the Instax in the company’s Japanese domestic market.
The X100 fixed-lens rangefinder from 2011 was the camera maker’s first attempt at recapturing its lost market share. With an excellent 35mm-equivalent lens, a good sensor and impeccable styling, it was an instant cult hit. There was a follow-up X10 zoom-lens compact, and then there was the X-Pro1.
The Fujifilm X-Pro1 was initially announced to much fanfare at CES 2012, and released a few months afterwards. Three lenses were released at the same time as the camera, but in the coming months a further seven more lenses will be released. Fuji’s also done a great job of releasing firmware updates to improve the X-Pro1’s performance in response to owner feedback.
Fujifilm X-Pro1: Design, features, and specifications
If you’ve only got a passing interest in digital cameras, the X-Pro1 will probably look very out of place to you. A term that’s often thrown around to describe it is ‘retro’ — and that’s not inaccurate, especially considering the fact that it looks very similar to Leica’s 100-year-old line of rangefinder cameras.
The X-Pro1 is only available in an almost-matte black finish. Sans lens, it’s a nearly completely rectangular device, much closer in form to the Panasonic GF1 than the Nikon D7100. Pick it up, and you’ll find straight away that it’s meant to be used — there are no unnecessary design touches or fripperies, just a series of intuitively-placed buttons, dials and switches.
The top plate of the X-Pro1 has a design that’s strikingly similar to the Canon PowerShot G15. There’s no flash built in, but there is a centrally-mounted hot shoe for attaching an external unit. There’s a dedicated, physical shutter speed dial, a dedicated, physical exposure compensation dial, a combination power switch/shutter button (with screw thread for attaching a physical, non-electronic, mechanical shutter release). All of this is excellent: we just love the process of changing a camera’s settings with proper controls rather than diving through menus or spinning dials.
The back of the X-Pro1 is slightly more standard-digital-camera though. Three multifunction buttons on the lower left, a view mode button in the centre at the top, a five-way navigation pad, playback button, display button, horizontal contextual dial, AE/AF lock button, quick menu button — nothing out of the ordinary, but nothing as [xref:http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=retrolution|retrolutionary]] as the camera’s top plate.
Above the 3-inch 1,230,000-dot LCD screen that takes up most of the back of the X-Pro1, you’ll see the camera’s most interesting feature. It’s a hybrid viewfinder, which bridges the gap between the optical viewfinder of a digital SLR and the electronic viewfinder of a camera like the Panasonic G5.
Look through it and you’ll see a wide field of view that shows you (roughly) what you’re pointing the camera at, but flick a switch and an electronic display snaps into place over the optical viewfinder, showing you a live read-out of exactly what the camera’s sensor is seeing — exactly the same as if you were using the camera’s rear display, or using a compact digital camera. We’ll talk more about the process of using the hybrid viewfinder soon, but it’s great in theory.
The rest of the camera is, largely, what you’d expect to find. There’s a lens mount release button on the front that lets you swap out the camera’s lenses, the switch to move between optical and electronic viewfinders, and a three-way autofocus mode switch. On the camera’s base is a slightly-offset tripod mount, and a door that hides access to the battery and SD card compartment. The X-Pro1 has a USB and mini-HDMI output on its right-hand side.
Fujifilm X-Pro1: Performance, picture quality, and usage
We tried the Fujifilm X-Pro1 out with three lenses: the 18mm f2, the 35mm f1.4, and the 60mm f2.4 macro. There are seven more prime and zoom lenses in the works, and we anticipate that they’ll be around in only a couple of months. Fuji is definitely committed to the X-Pro1’s X-Mount lens system.
The 35mm is the best lens by far. It’s the fastest to focus, has the widest aperture by a full stop over the 18mm, and has a usable everyday field of view. If we had to buy a single lens with this camera, the 35mm would be it. The 60mm is sharp, but very slow to focus, and the 18mm is usefully wide but not as sharp as the other two.
Using the camera’s viewfinder, as it was designed to be used, is a love-hate process. The optical viewfinder is large and bright, but it doesn’t crop to suit whatever lens you’re using — so it’s largely only useful for getting a rough approximation of what you’re aiming at and what’s in your frame. The electronic viewfinder is far more appropriate for seeing what you’re actually photographing, but it is slightly laggy and not great in low light.
What’s most annoying in normal, everyday usage of the X-Pro1 is its relative sluggishness. It’s not especially fast to start up, respond to menu commands, to focus and shoot, or to save captured photos. The camera takes around a second after you flick the power switch until it’s ready to take a photo, and hangs for around half a second in between pressing the shutter and an image being displayed on-screen.
Similarly, try to take another photo straight away in the non-continuous shooting mode and you’ll have to wait almost two seconds. This is performance that’s inferior to any other digital SLR or mirrorless camera that we’ve tried, and while it’s not entirely crippling, it does mean you’ll need to be more careful every time you want to use the camera.
Autofocus performance is also mediocre at best. Even with the 35mm lens, the X-Pro hunts for focus, tending to ratchet back and forwards until it finds the most appropriate distance. This is a function of the camera’s contrast detect autofocus, but we’ve seen other mirrorless cameras do a significantly better job. It’s usable, but you’ll have to wait for your shot longer, or re-try focusing, more than you would with another mirrorless camera or digital SLR. Similarly, trying to focus manually is an ordeal with the camera requiring a lot of turning of the lens’ manual focus rings to change from infinity to close focus.
Where the X-Pro1 excels, and where we think it’s the most appealing by far, is in its picture quality. The camera’s 16.3-megapixel sensor captures photos that are 4896x3264pixels in size, with an average JPEG around 4MB and an average RAW file around 25MB. The camera has an ISO range of 200-6400 natively, with extension down to 100 and up to 25600, and all through its native ISO range it does an absolutely excellent job.
At every ISO step up to 6400, the X-Pro1 suppresses chroma and luminance noise, retains great levels of detail, and has almost perfectly consistent colour reproduction. Only at ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 do photos start to look a little flat or lifeless.
The camera’s various ‘Film Simulation’ modes are all great, with good differentiation between each option and descriptions of each in-camera. We generally stuck to the standard Provia simulation, although the vivid Velvia and pro negative high modes were also good. You can improve the camera’s dynamic range at certain ISO settings with a 200% and 400% dynamic range boost, improving both highlight and shadow detail and clipping at the cost of a little extra image noise in those areas.
Fujifilm X-Pro1: Conclusion
The Fujifilm X-Pro1 certainly isn’t a perfect camera — its autofocus is not great, and the viewfinder around which the camera is based isn’t as streamlined as we’d hoped — but it’s able to take extremely high quality photos. It also looks great, and we hope Fuji continues this trend of making well-designed, retro cameras with high quality sensors.
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