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Street/documentary camera wannabe is put to the test
When Fujifilm introduced the X-Pro 1 earlier this year, it was greeted with much enthusiasm, and a question: “Can it do the job of a Leica M at a third the price?”
Fujifilm X-Pro 1 Key Features
- Interchangeable-lens camera
- 16.3MP, APS-C CMOS sensor
- Hybrid Multi-Viewfinder switches between optical and electronic views
- Optical Viewfinder Magnification changes depending on lens in use
- EVF 1.44 million dot resolution, 100% coverage
- 3-inch LCD monitor, 1.23 million dot resolution
- 1080p HD video at 24 fps with stereo sound
- Aluminum Chassis, brass top and baseplate
- Physical aperture, shutter speed dials/rings
- New XF interchangeable Lens Mount
- Native ISO range 200-6400; extended range:100, 12800 and 25600
- Shutter speeds 30-1/4000 sec
- Braketing: Exposure (2stops), Dynamic Range, ISO and Film Simulation
- Focus: Single AF, Continuous AF/Manual with distance/DOF indicator
The Fujifilm X-Pro 1, which you can buy at the Fujifilm Store at Adorama, has the look of a classic rangefinder camera—right down to the manual aperture rings on its lenses and shutter speed dial on the top plate—but it is most definitely not a rangefinder. Like the widely-praised fixed-lens Fujifilm X100 (also available at the Fujifilm Store at Adorama), the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 is an interchangeable-lens camera that uses the Fuji-developed hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder. But its build quality and design are homagees to the great rangefinder cameras of today and yore that continue to be the cameras of choice of many documentary photographers, photojournalists, and street photographers.
So, for photographers weaned on Leica M cameras but have been priced out of the market by Leica's $7,000 (body only, basic version) M9, which is in stock at Adorama, will the $1,700 (body only) Fujifilm X-Pro 1 suffice? I had an opportunity to spend several weeks testing this intriguing camera, which aspires to be a marriage between the classic rangefinder experience and the best of the digital world, under a variety of conditions. Here's what I discovered.
Building a better sensor? The Fujifilm X-Pro 1 was great for reportage-style shooting.
In the hands
Hold the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and you'll feel like you are, indeed, holding a classic rangefinder camera. More importantly, it feels very well-built, thanks to its die-cast aluminum chassis and brass top and bottom plates The camera is surprisingly light (it weighs just under 16 ounces with battery and memory card) and has a well-balanced feel with the 18mm f/2.0 Fujinon lens (the only one I had a chance to use). Control layout is instantly familiar for those who grew up with all-manual control: shutter speeds are controlled via a shutter speed dial on the camera's top plate and aperture operated via an aperture ring on the lens barrel. Both shutter speed and aperture can be set manually or you can move both to “A” mode for aperture-priority, shutter-priority, or auto shooting modes.
When in any of the non-manual modes, you can control brightness via a conveniently located Exposure Compensation dial, which clicks in 1/2-stop detents from -2 to +2 EV. Shutter speeds can be adjusted in full-stop increments and aperture can be changed in 1/3-stop steps. I found the exposure controls' action to have slight resistance, which prevents accidental changing of settings. The shutter dial locks in when in the “A” setting. Press a central button to unlock it so you can choose a shutter speed manually.
The camera back is dominated by the 3-inch, high-resolution viewfinder, as well as the AE, AF, drive, macro, display and quick buttons, as well as the intriguing Hybrid Multifinder, which I'll get to shortly. A View Mode button lets you choose between the LCD, using eye-start to switch from LCD monitor to the viewfinder, or using the viewfinder alone. The “Q” button lets you quickly access most of the camera's major functions for quick adjustments, while the Disp. Back button changes the information you see in the electronic or optical viewfinder, or on the LCD monitor, contextually based on which viewing option you choose.
In front of the camera, the breech-lock lensmount is solid metal, and the lens locks in securely. A switch on the lower left side (as you hold the camera) lets you choose among Manual focus, Continuous, and Single Autofocus modes, while a switch just below the shutter speed dial changes viewfinder mode from optical to electronic—one of this camera's unique features.
The Fujifilm X-Pro 1's viewfinder is an adaptation of the spectacular viewfinder on the outstanding Fujifilm X100. Optical view mode shows a clear optical view with a “heads-up” display showing frame lines, center focus and meter area indicator, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc. Fujifilm says the optical finder covers 90% of the image area (and magnification changes as you switch lenses), although I think it was slightly less than that with the 18mm lens. Want a full 100% view? Switch to the EVF, which is very high resolution (at 1.44 million dots—it is one of the best) and gives you a full 100% view of the image, no matter which of the three lenses currently available you have.
I shot this fast-moving street scene in manual focus mode, taking advantage of the depth of field indicator and guestimating distance. Even with that, there was a slight shutter lag in some shots..until I updated the firmware.
A proximity sensor automatically turns the viewfinder on automatically when you bring it up to your eye, but you can override that so the viewfinder is always on, or always off and the LCD monitor shows the live view instead.
While I like the idea of the dual optical/digital finder, I find the digital finder outperformed the optical one on several fronts:
1. Focus confirmation: When shooting in autofocus mode in optical finder mode, the white rectangle in the center of the screen turns green to indicate focus has been attained. In manual focus, there is no similar focus confirmation. This would be a useful firmware upgrade. In digital finder mode, there is a focus area magnification option so you can confirm focus, which is standard EVF fare.
2. Area of coverage: The digital finder presents a 100% view of the recorded image. The optical finder is said to provide 90% coverage, although I suspect that at least with the 18mm lens it is a bit less than that.
3. Brightness: While I LOVE the “heads-up” information overlay in the optical finder, it does make the overall image seem just a tad darker. The digital display is brighter.
4. Blackout: Unlike the Optical finder, which is visible during the moment of exposure, the EVF blacks out at the moment of exposure, a typical EVF problem. Advantage goes to the optical finder here.
5. Parallax: The Optical finder's coverage is just a tad off from the actual image due to parallax compensation. No such problem with the EVF, since the EVF displays the image that's being recorded by the sensor.
I dwell on the sensor because it is such an integral part of what makes this camera unique.
Autofocus handled this blessedly static snoozer well. This photo, which I shot at f/3.5. also demonstrates the lens's pleasing Bokeh courtesy the rounded aperture blades. Converted to black-and-white in Photoshop.
The focusing system is fly by wire, so you must turn the lens focusing ring but there are no actual focusing indicators on the ring; you'll find those in the information in the Optical or electronic viewfinder when shooting in Manual focus. There's a distance indicator that shows both the focus distance and depth-of-field, which changes in response to changes in the aperture. For street photographers, this is useful information when you're “guestimating” distances and need a bit of forgiveness in your focus range.
Overall, the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 felt great to hold, well balanced and lighter than expected. By look and feel alone, it is certainly a worthy competitor to the Leica M series.
I was able to pause for a second to compose and AF took care of the rest. This is a relatively static scene that was no problem for the Fujifilm X-Pro 1. Converted to Black and White in Photoshop, which is available at Adorama.
In the field
Setting aperture and shutter speed was instantly familiar and easy. Switching from Program (both aperture ring and shutter speed dial in “A”) to shutter or aperture priority was as easy as shifting the relevant control to manual settings. A button atop the shutter speed dial releases it from Auto so you don't accidentally change it. In this sense, its operation is very similar to Leica M-series cameras.
The Fujifilm X-Pro 1 is a very quiet camera, on par with the Leica M9, perhaps even a little quieter. I was able to use it undetected in a restaurant, on a train, in the office, and other relatively quiet circumstances while shooting at close quarters. Although I liked using the optical finder, I found the lack of focus confirmation disconcerting.
Thanks to low noise at relatively high ISOs I was able to easily catch action in shaded area at a relatively high shutter speed. ISO 2000, f/7.1 at 1/500 sec.
When I first picked up the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and took it to the streets, I was a little disappointed. Lag time, even when exposure and focus modes were set to manual, was apparent and I missed many shots, especially—oddly—when shooting in bright sunlight. Then I downloaded Firmware Update 1.10 for the camera and the firmware update for the 18mm lens. Disappointment turned to joy as performance improved greatly and lag time almost disappeared completely. Autofocus was more decisive, and in all manual I had no problems with shutter lag, except in bright sunlight. While the delay in bright sunlight was less than before, it's still there. I expect Fuji will post another update that will resolve this issue, so it's not a deal-breaker.
I had a similar experience with the Fujifilm X100: At first, focus and shutter preformance were sluggish, but a few months ago Fujfilm addressed this problem successfully via a firmware update, and now the X100 is a super-fast performer that's great for street photography and photojournalism (read our review on the Adorama Learning Center where we re-tested the X100 with the new firmware installed). Fujifilm seems to be following a similar pattern of fine-tuning and troubleshooting with the X-Pro 1.
Unexpectedly, high-contrast scenes such as this slowed down the AF, but just a bit.
Street Photo Stress Test
Street photography is the ultimate performance test: The Fujifilm X-Pro 1, at its best, is a great street camera. Be sure to load the latest firmware—the off-the-shelf camera displayed had sluggish focus at times, and lag time problems that have been mostly resolved with the firmware update. Over several weeks I was able to get a good number of street photos I was quite satisfied with, and when I updated the firmware, wow! Here's a brief selection.
While we await lab test results from our Lab partner DxOLabs, I can give you my informal view on the Fujifilm X-Pro 1’s X-Trans CMOS sensor. This newly-developed sensor uses a more randomly arranged pixel array (compared to the rigid grid of pixels found on more typical sensors), eliminating Moiré. Since no low-pass filter is necessary, more light hits the sensors, effectively improving image quality in many ways. The pixel array is inspired by the natural random arrangement of silver halide grains in film, according to Fujifilm. In addition, because it’s a relatively modest 16MP, each sensor is larger, allowing more light in, resulting in further overall outstanding image quality.
The results? Spectacular! I was able to easily get high-quality images at ISO 200, 800 and 1600…and even ISO 2000 and 3200 looked pretty good. Even at 6400 noise was not objectionable! Dynamic range seems to be quite wide (how wide we’ll find out when the camera is tested) and stays fairly consistent throughout the native ISO range. The camera handled bright midday sunlit scenes better than most of the digital cameras I’ve used.
No need to show anything slower—there’s virtually no noise in this image, shot at ISO 1000. See 100% detail, below.
By ISO 2500, a bit of noise is visible, but it’s not objectionable. Reds and pinks are especially vivid in default color mode in this unposed environmental portrait.© Mason Resnick
Waiting for 4th of July fireworks to start, the there was virtually no sky light left when I shot this. Shot about 20 minutes after sunset, the main light source here is a bank of distant, portable lights set up for the occasion. Yes, there is a fair amount of noise, but this is a remarkably usable shot for ISO 25,600!
I broke every rule in the book and shot this at ISO 6400 handheld (I wanted to push this camera as far as it would go), which explains the slight camera shake visible in the detail below. Shot at 1/60 sec. Yes there is grain, but if this is the noisiest image this camera will produce at its native resolution, that’s not so bad in a pinch!
A few words about the lens system
Currently Fujifilm has released 3 prime XF-mount lenses for the X-Pro 1, with several more (including a zoom) on the way over the next couple of years. The current lineup:
- Fujifilm XF18mm f/2R (available at the Fujifilm Store at Adorama), which covers the 35mm equivalent of a 27mm lens, has 8 elements in 7 groups, an aperture range of f/2-16 in 1/3 step clicks, and takes 52mm filters.
- Fujifilm XF35mm f/1.4R (available at the Fujifilm Store at Adorama), which covers the 35mm equivalent of a 53mm lens, has 8 elements in 6 groups, aperture range f/1.4-16 in 1/3 steps and accepts 52mm filters.
- Fujifilm XF60mm f/2.4R Macro (available at the Fujifilm Store at Adorama), which covers the 35mm equivalent of a 91mm lens, has 10 elements (1 aspherical and 1 ED lens), aperture range of f/2.4-22 in 1/3 steps, 1:2 magnification and focus down to about 12 inches. It takes a 39mm filter.
Although I only had the opportunity to use the 18mm, I was impressed with its bright, contrasty images, lack of significant barrel distortion, no vignetting, and very well-controlled flare. Truly Fuji stepped up to the plate here. However, if you are invested in Leica lenses, you can always buy the Fujifilm Leica M-Mount adapter (available at the Fujifilm Store at Adorama) for $200. You can pre-register lens profiles for various optical and color corrections, and the heads-up optical display will indicate framelines depending on focal length. Keep in mind, that the X-Pro 1 has a smaller APS-C sensor, so your Leica 28mm lens will cover approximately a 40mm field of view, and your 35mm will cover a 50mm field.
Growing family: Fujifilm X-Pro 1 with 35mm, 60mm macro and 18mm lenses. More lenses are promised. The entire Fujifilm X-Pro 1 system is available at the Fujifilm Store at Adorama.
Conclusion and Recommendation
So, to answer the question posed at the top of this article: The Fujifilm X-Pro 1 (buy it at Adorama) certainly gives the Leica M9 a run for its money. I compared images I shot a couple of years ago with the Leica M9 with those shot at similar ISOs with the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 was, to my eye, the clear winner depsite its smaller sensor. On the other hand, while the Leica M9 lacks the Fujifilm X-Pro 1's AF capabilities, it has no discernable lag time while the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 has some lag time under bright sunlight (otherwise it's fine). The M9's brightview viewfinder's focusing system, once mastered, is outstanding, but doesn't provide as much information as the Fujifilm X-Pro 1. The M9's optical viewfinder is brighter than the X-Pro 1 and its coverage is better, but the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 has one of the highest-resolution EVFs available so if you're in the pro-EVF camp, that's a big advantage. Exposure controls are comparable on both cameras and size and weight are similar. Want video? The Fujifilm offers 1080p HD video. The Leica M9 has none. Overall, finally, Leica has serious, if imperfect, competition.
Any knowledgeable photographer for whom intuitive handling and outstanding image quality are paramount will appreciate the Fujifilm X-Pro 1. Its outstanding interchangeable lenses, image quality that blows away nearly every other interchangeable-lens non-DSLR I’ve used (the Sony NEX-7, which is also available at Adorama, is its only real competition at the time of this article), and really good performance on the streets make this a very worthy model for your consideration.