Fuji X-Pro 1 Front View

The fuji X-Pro 1 was one of the most hotly anticipated camera releases, and that’s saying something with all the great cameras we’ve had the fortune to see released over the past few months, the NEX-7, Olympus OM-D, Canon 1DX, 5DmkIII, Nikon D4,D800 to name a few!

I for one, however, wasn’t all that excited. Yes. It looks fabulous, promised superb images and is the much anticipated X100 “with interchangeable lenses”. But I’d had a poor experience  with my X100′s, firstly with the initial awkward shooting experience and then with unreliability of both my X100′s.  I swore I wouldn’t look at another Fuji product after my first X100, but so missed that stunning image quality that I got a second X100 just before v1.2 of the firmware was released. v1.2 firmware made a huge difference to usability of the X100, especially AF.  Sadly though, within 500 shots, the 2nd X100 suffered the same fate of ‘stick aperture blades’ as the first did, although I believe Fuji have now sorted that problem out.

That failure left me with a hole in my camera line-up.  I went into Wilkinson Cameras in Kendal and found they had a NEX-7 in stock.  I took a few photos on my SD card to take home to see if I liked the results, but I also noticed they had just got an X-Pro 1 in too.  It looked stunning there on display and curiosity got the better of me – I had to try it out too!

I wasn’t impressed with the high-ISO performance of the NEX-7 on review of the images I took, so I crossed that one off my list, and with the Olympus OM-D not anywhere in sight I started to pay more attention to the X-Pro 1.  I tried out the camera again the next day with a little more vigour.

As soon as I looked at the images I was delighted to see that same beautiful image rendering as the X100. There was just something about the images from the Fuji X100 that I loved so much – that is exactly why I bought a second one!  The more I looked at my sample images from the X-Pro 1 the more I was wooed by that beautiful Fuji look.  It seemed like the X-Pro 1 could really be the camera I had been waiting for.

Using the Fuji X-Pro 1 is so similar to using the Fuji X100 that much of this review could be a cut-and-paste of my X100 review!  For that reason I’m not going to go into areas covered in the X100 review too much, but concentrate on the areas in which the X-Pro 1 is different or improved over the X100.  It isn’t a bad thing that the camera is similar (though some may disagree!) as it means that anyone familiar with shooting the X100, those who know how to get the best out of it will instantly be able to pick up the X-Pro 1 and feel at home straight away.

I’m also not going to go into each of the three lenses too much either because I’ll do separate reviews for them later on.

LOOKS

What can you say, I’m a total sucker for that classic look of the X-Pro 1!  I hesitate to use the term, but it really does look like a ‘proper’ camera, and not an electronic toy.  In some cameras the ‘electronic’ look works – I really like the look of the NEX range, though I know others hate it, but the Panasonic LUMIX GFs/GXs do absolutely nothing for me.  It might sound silly to judge a camera by how it looks, but sometimes I think that if something looks right, it makes you want to use it right too.  As with the X100, the X-Pro 1 is a camera that makes you want to take better photographs with it, it makes you want to do justice to the thought that has gone into designing such a beautiful object.

BUILD

I’ve heard the X-Pro 1 criticised for being too light.  I can understand that point of view, but the X-Pro 1 certainly doesn’t feel a particularly light camera, it just doesn’t have the ‘over-engineered’ heavy feel like a Leica, and I wouldn’t expect it to at a third of the price either.  Certainly the body feels well constructed and solid, and it being lighter than you expected isn’t anything to complain about when you’re carrying it around all day!  I have no complaints in this department, and if you think that the camera being too light is a problem from what has been said online then going and trying it out should set aside any fears.

Likewise the three, all metal, lenses that are available at launch all have a solid, though not particularly heavy, feel to them.  My only criticism is that the focusing ring on all three lenses does feel somewhat hard to turn.  This may ease up with use, time will tell.  The aperture rings are now all notched at 1/3rd stops, so no need to select a whole stop and then electronically choose the 1/3rd stops like on the X100 – a welcome change!  Further lenses are rumoured to be release this year and next, with a few zooms with an IS system planned too.

Rumoured lenses

2012:
14mm f2.8
18-72 f4 with stabilization

2013:
28mm f2.8 pancake
23mm f2
72-200 f4 with stabilization
12-24 f4 with stabilization

The grip is good, but as I use a wrist strap rather than the neck strap I don’t really feel the need to add the optional grip that can be attached, but I can see that the grip would be great for some people, and it doesn’t look out of place on the body.

The main control dials feel great, precise and positive in action and the buttons on the back feel much better than those on the X100.  They are solid with a good quality feel.

The only let down from Fuji is two fold.  Firstly that the SD card slot sits under the battery cover – a camera this size could surely fit a separate card slot into it somewhere, especially one wearing the ‘Pro’ badge.  Secondly, the plastic battery cover, and one that isn’t even spring loaded.  Why Fuji can’t fit a nice machined metal battery cover on a camera at this price I’m not sure, it would make you feel much more confident in the build quality. If there is a reason to cheapen it with a plastic cover, I don’t see it.

HANDLING

The X-Pro 1 is a much bigger camera than you might imagine if you’ve owned an X100.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and for my own taste it fits better into the hand.  With a large rubber grip on the front and a sculpted area on the back providing a nice thumb rest, it is positive to hold onto and doesn’t feel like it will slip from your grasp.  On the downside it isn’t anywhere near as pocketable as the X100 with anything other than the 18mm lens on it.

The camera is portable enough to carry around all day without feeling fatigued as you do with a dSLR, and small enough to go into a fairly compact camera bag.  It will fit into the Lowepro StremLine 100 with the 35mm lens on, but the bag isn’t really designed for that sized camera and tends to bulge a bit!  I carry it around in a Crumpler Jimmy Bo 300, which is really a small dSLR bag and it is a bit big for it, but fits the purpose until I can find something more suitable!  Lowepro have told me that one of their new range of bags currently under development will be a perfect fit for the X-Pro 1.

I do find that the Q button is badly placed on the thumb rest, and far too easy to press without realising it.  This becomes an issue if you haven’t noticed and then can result in you accidentally changing important settings – the worst of which is the custom settings, which is the first one on the list when pressing Q.  A couple of times I found out too late that I had changed the camera into a different custom settings mode without wanting to. Not yet shooting in RAW due to no Lightrooom converter (as of April 2012) this meant I had a series of JPEGs that weren’t really as I wanted them.

Fuji offer a button lock feature whereby you hold down the OK button for a couple of seconds and that locks the Macro button on the back.  I’m not sure why this is limited to the Macro button, it would have been nice if this could be extended (by default or menu option) to all rear buttons on the camera to prevent changing anything by accident.  Once set up as I like it, I rarely change any settings other than those on the camera with their own dials, so locking all the ‘electronic’ buttons would work really well for me.  Unknowingly changing the camera settings is far more irritating than having to wait a couple of seconds to unlock the buttons to change the setup.

The SD-card slot is quite annoyingly placed too close to the battery/card compartment door, which means it is fiddly to remove – not too much of a problem if you use the USB cable to transfer your images, but if like me, you use the card reader in your PC then it can get frustrating.  Fuji isn’t the only one to do this, the Oly E-P2 has the same issue.

Some of these points are really being quite picky, in daily use they tend not to be as much of an issue as I may have made out here, I’m simply trying to provide a balanced perspective as otherwise I’m likely to just rave about how much I love using the camera!

CONTROL

Some of the control buttons have been moved around from the X100, and they do make more sense in their new positions.  The addition of the Q – Quick Menu – button is a major step forward in terms of quick control without having to resort to the menu.  This brings up a selection of the most used options, that can then be selected with the four directional buttons and then changed with the new push/scroll wheel above the screen in the natural thumb position.

In general the controls work very well, all major settings have their own hard-wired control dials, by which I mean they are not a generic control that can be assigned to different things.  This is a much better way of working with a camera on a day to day basis as you don’t have to remember which control you have assigned where, especially when you shoot with several different cameras.  The other advantage is that it gives an instant view of what value all of those controls are set to rather than having to refer to the LCD.  An additional dial rather than a button might be nice for the ISO setting, but that may just end up being one control too many and make the camera look too fussy.  As it is, the X-Pro 1 is pretty much the perfect combination of enough controls for instant controllability mixed with simplicity.

“..the X-Pro 1 is pretty much the perfect combination of enough controls for instant controllability mixed with simplicity.”

 

I’m happy to see that Fuji have removed the command wheel control from around the OK button.  I don’t like them on any camera (aside from the Nikon J1/V1 where they seem to have got it to work) as I push the control whist turning it far too often.  The four-way button design with OK in the centre works much better, and is a huge improvement over the X100.

The shutter speed dial now comes with a lock, which you have to press down to release it from the A (Auto) position.  This is clearly in response to X100 users, as I know myself that you could knock it without too much difficulty.

The X100′s push/nudge control has been replaced with a push/scroll control by the thumb, and it makes much more sense that way, allowing quicker access to the menu and quick-menu options as you simply scroll rather than having to keep nudging the control in the right direction.  The push option of this control still acts as a manual-focus assist zoom function.

The menu system is improved over the X100 in that they have included a tabbed system to allow for quicker access to certain areas of the menu.  In fairness, aside from a couple of oddities, I never had an issue with the X100 menu as others did.  Anyone familiar with the odd arrangement of the Auto ISO setting on the X100 will be pleased to know that it is now within the usual ISO selection option – as it is with every other camera – this even applies if you’re using the Fn button assigned to ISO, which means you can now quickly choose a fixed ISO setting for a one-off shot and then quickly put it back into auto mode.

FOCUSING SYSTEM

Alright, now we get to the real weakness of the X-Pro 1.  The AF system isn’t truly awful as it was on the X100 when it was first released, but sadly it isn’t up to the standards of the latest contrast detection AF systems from Olympus and Panasonic.  Honestly, I never expected it to be. It took both Olympus and Panasonic until the third generation of CSCs to get their AF systems to where they are now.  If we look back at the first (and to some extent second) generation Olympus and Panasonic cameras, their AF performance is pretty much the same as the X-Pro 1 performs.  The problem for Fuji is that everyone compares it to the recent standards set by those other two.  It is a shame they couldn’t get it to work faster.

In reality, the more I used the camera, the less of an issue I find the AF system. Perhaps it is a case of me getting used to how to make it work to the best it can, or perhaps I had initially just been influenced by reading reviews on how bad it is!  I agree that it is probably the weakest area of the whole camera, and may be a deal-breaker for some people, but not for me and my style of shooting.  For fast action, my kids etc I use my Nikon J1, this isn’t that type of camera and I’m pretty sure that Fuji didn’t make it for the family market either!

I took my camera out late at night to do some high-ISO samples and was very surprised that the AF could lock on focus accurately in very poor light, even when shooting in situations requiring ISO 6400+ to get a shot.  Steady but accurate is perhaps the best way to describe the  AF ability in low light, though the fact that it could lock focus in such poor light is at least something to commend it for.  I know many other cameras that wouldn’t be able to get any focus lock at all.

Fuji X-Pro 1 Sample Image

FUJINON 35mm f/1.4 – f/2.8 1/80 ISO 6400

You don’t hear endless complaints that the Leica M-series cameras don’t even have an AF system at all do you?  That is a camera costing at least 3-times more – people accept it because it is designed for a specific market segment, likewise the X-Pro 1.

I do believe, as per the X100, the AF will be improved upon with a future firmware update.

Bottom line on the AF – Would I like it to be faster? Yes.  Does it stop me using the camera? No.

Manual focusing is genuinely improved over the X100, to the point that you can realistically manual focus quick enough to get your shot.  It is still an electronic coupling not a mechanical one, and there does appear to be some delay, but the days of endlessly turning the focusing ring and nothing happening is all but gone aside from on the 60mm macro lens at close range.  It isn’t as good as the NEX system, which equally uses an electronic fly-by-wire focusing ring but somehow seems to react much more positively, and has the advantage of the superb Peaking function.  If you intend to use older MF lenses the NEX is still the best system out there.

IN DAILY USE

This is a biggy.  Anyone who ‘got’ using the X100 will get using the X-Pro 1 too – it is a very similar camera in a lot of ways.  Those who never got the X100 will be unlikely to enjoy using the X-Pro 1 either.  It isn’t the huge leap forward that many might have been hoping for, it certainly is better, but it isn’t like comparing the Olympus E-P2 with the E-P3 where the PEN range suddenly took that big step forward.

Controls are improved over the X100, but operation is generally similar to the X100 and I don’t want to re-write my Daily Use section from the X100, so if you want to know what it is like then read the X100 review rather than me just do a copy-and-paste job!

Let me just briefly comment on the lens “chatter”.  In my opinion this has been somewhat overblown as an issue.  Yes, it is a bit noisy, but it isn’t *that* noisy!  You’ll only really notice it in a silent room indoors.  Just to contradict what some people have been saying – other mirrorless cameras do this also, it isn’t just the X-Pro 1 that does it!  The lens opens and closes the aperture to keep the liveview image at a useable exposure.  The Olympus PENs do it, and if you put the Panny 20mm 1.7 lens on you’ll certainly hear it doing it as well!  I think it is noisier on the X-Pro 1 because the lenses are bigger – hence the aperture blades are bigger and therefore make a bit more noise because they move more between stops! EDIT: v1.1 firmware removes the lens chatter completely, though it does slow down the response on the liveview to changing light.

Fuji haven’t designed a do-all camera for the masses, like the Leica M9, this is very much a specialist camera for a certain type of photographer.  I’m not sure this is even a camera for every day use, unless you are into something specific.  I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for someone with a family of younger children as you are too likely to miss that key moment if your children are anything like mine!

Fuji X-Pro 1 Sample Image

If you’re taking photos of your adult family, or older children where you can take a bit of time to capture a particular moment, you can create some stunning images with the X-Pro 1.

Fuji X-Pro 1 sample image

Street photographers are equally likely to enjoy using this camera providing you use zone pre-focusing and aren’t relying on it to quickly lock focus unless you have the 18mm lens on.

 Fuji X-Pro 1 Sample Image

The AF performance depends very much on the lens that is attached.  If you have the 18mm lens attached AF is pretty quick and perfectly useable in day-to-day use with the AF system, however the other two lenses get progressively slower, the 35mm can be described as average, and the 60mm can be downright slow at times, although that isn’t altogether surprising and is often an issue with any macro lens.

As per the X100 there are multiple film simulation modes, including two new colour ones – Pro Neg Hi and Pro Neg Std.  Pro Neg Std designed for studio portrait shooters enhancing hues for skin tones, and Pro Neg Hi for outdoor portrait use giving a bit more contrast.  B&W film simulations have also had an overhaul adding a simulation of using different coloured filters on B&W film.

Astia (Soft) is a mid-range film simulation.  Provia (Standard) is a little dull for my taste and Velvia (Vivid) tends to up the contrast too much, loosing detail in the shadows and for portraits it tends to make lighter skinned faces look too orange/red and darker skinned faces too yellow.  My personal preference is to use Astia and push up the sharpness and colour up one notch each.  As Lightroom doesn’t yet have a RAW converter I wasn’t able to test the RAW performance, but if I can get JPEGs coming out of the camera looking so good, I’m not sure I’ll even use RAW that often, even when I can.

High ISO performance is truly outstanding, I am extremely fussy when it comes to using high ISO, for me the NEX-7 maxes out at ISO 800.  I’d happily use ISO 3200 on the X-Pro 1, and even beyond when just sharing images on the web.  ISO 12800 is perfectly useable for web images.  Colours and contrast are extremely well retained right up to ISO 6400 and even very good at ISO 12800, only really noticeably dropping off at the max of ISO 25600.  There is almost no colour noise and luminance noise is beautifully controlled.  Any noise that does eventually appear looks much like the grain on film and is pleasing to the eye.  Detail very slowly goes off as the ISO level increases, but stays in the excellent level far beyond all other current CSCs.  I thought the NEX-5N was good, but the X-Pro 1 is stunning.  Check out the two samples below, one at ISO 4000 and the other at an incredible ISO 12800 – click on the images for a larger view and tell me you can honestly see much difference!  Both files are totally unprocessed and straight out of the camera JPEGs.

Fuji X-Pro 1 Sample Image

Fuji X-Pro 1 High ISO Sample – ISO 4000

Fuji X-Pro 1 Sample Image

Fuji X-Pro 1 High-ISO Sample – ISO 12800

 

CONCLUSION

This isn’t a camera for everyone. It isn’t a camera for shooting anything that moves fast, which includes young children!  Some people may say that the camera is flawed, and in some areas it certainly could do with improvement, but without the snap-happy attitude of some of it’s rivals, it makes you think about what you are photographing, it forces you to plan a little in advance rather than rattle off a few dozen frames at 10fps hoping for one good one.  Think of this camera as one with a roll of 36-shot film in it where you actually have to put some thought into when you’re going to press that shutter button.  Trust me, as a result of almost being forced to give things a little more thought, your photographs will get better.

Low light and natural light shooters, like myself, will adore this camera for the fast prime lenses and amazing high-ISO performance – you can seriously think Nikon D4 territory high ISO performance, and that’s more than three times the price!

Landscape photographers will love the vivid Fuji colours, the punchy contrasty images you get with the X-Pro 1.  With the 14mm lens that is supposed to be released later on this year, it will prove to be a great partnership for landscape and city-scape photographers.

Portrait shooters will enjoy using the 60mm prime and the two new Pro Neg (Hi and Low) film simulation modes are designed for in-studio use, setting the camera up for the perfect portrait colours.

The X-Pro 1 is an amazing camera if you accept it for what it is.  Like the X100, I expect that a few of the issues raised here to be ironed out in future firmware updates, for which Fuji have proven to push out regularly with the X100 over the past year.  Fuji seem keen to listen to feedback, and have significantly improved the X100 from the early release firmware.  I bought into the X-Pro system early knowing it would probably have some issues, but being fairly confident that something will be done to make it better later on in firmware.  That may sound stupid, but there is nothing on the market that truly compares to this camera in this price bracket.  The NEX-7 is compromised on both high-ISO and decent lens availability – there is only one decent lens, and you’re then talking about the best part of £1900 for the NEX-7 body and that 24mm Zeiss lens – putting it pretty much on a par with the X-Pro 1 and the 18 or 35mm lens.  The other rival I see is the Olympus OM-D E-M5, but as good as they make it (and it no doubt will be) the image quality will always be held back by the smaller sized sensor compared to an APS-C camera.

The X-Pro 1 does need a few of the rough edges polishing off.  If you fit into the category of photographer for whom Fuji designed this camera you will love it.  If you’re expecting a near dSLR speed camera you’re going to hate it.

MY RATING

My rating 4.5/5

Order here from Amazon US  - Fujifilm X-Pro 1 16MP Digital Camera with APS-C X-Trans CMOS Sensor (Body Only)

Order the Fuji X-Pro 1 from WEX – Warehouse Express UK – in stock now!

Or here on Amazon UK – Fuji X-Pro 1

Fujifilm X-Pro1 Digital Camera (16MP) with APS-C X-Trans CMOS Sensor (Body only)

Fujifilm Fujinon Lens X-Pro1 XF-18mm F2.0 R

Fujifilm Fujinon Lens X-Pro1 XF-35mm F1.4 R

Fujifilm Fujinon Lens X-Pro1 XF-60mm F2.4 R

Fujifilm X-Pro1 HG- XPro1 Assist Grip for Camera

 

MORE SAMPLE IMAGES

 

Fuji X-Pro 1 - Windermere - No 17

Fuji X-Pro 1 sample image

Fuji X-Pro 1 - processed sample

Fuji X-Pro 1 - processed sample

Fuji X-Pro 1 - processed sample

Fuji X-Pro 1 sample image

Fuji X-Pro 1 test shot

Fuji X-Pro 1 test shot

FURTHER INFO

Fujinon XF-lenses – 3 Initial release lenses

Type XF18mmF2 R XF35mmF1.4 R XF60mmF2.4 R Macro
Lens construction 8 elements in 7 groups
(includes 2 aspherical elements)
8 elements in 6 groups
(includes 1 aspherical element)
10 elements in 8 groups
(includes 1 aspherical and 1  abnormal dispersion element)
Focal length f=18mm f=35mm f=60mm
(35mm format equiv) (27mm) (53mm) (91mm)
Angle of view 76.5° 44.2° 26.6°
Max. aperture F2.0 F1.4 F2.4
Min. aperture F16 F16 F22
Aperture control
  Number of blades 7 (rounded diaphragm opening) 7 (rounded diaphragm opening) 9(rounded diaphragm opening)
  Stop size 1/3 EV (19 stops) 1/3EV (22 stops) 1/3EV (20 stops)
Focus range Approx. 18cm - ∞ Approx. 28cm - ∞ Approx. 26.7cm - ∞
Max. magnification 0.14x 0.17x 0.5x
External dimensions φ64.5mm x 40.6mm φ65.0mm x 54.9mm φ64.1mm x 70.9mm
Weight Approx. 116g Approx. 187g Approx. 215g
(excluding caps and hoods)
Filter size φ52mm φ52mm φ39mm

The official Fuji X-series camera website can be found here.

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