2 Guys Photo readers may recall that for the Fujfilm X100, it was not exactly love at first sight. If you run a quick search on this site (search bar is over to the right) you’ll no doubt see my numerous posts on that camera, including the much read one about my love, hate, love, hate relationship with it – see here. I’ll save your reading the whole story – it ended up with love and now the X100 remains one of my favorite cameras.
The point is, it took some adjustment. It took some trial and error and my eventually becoming acclimated to it. It required a more deliberate style of shooting and the slower than contemporary AF performance (though with subsequent firmware updates, Fujifilm has made amends) took some getting use to. And some user compensation.
When Fujiflm released the X-Pro 1 as essentially an interchangeable lens version of the X100, I was in. Head first. Though I must tell you that my expectations were, I thought, reasonable. Surely, this camera will also require some effort and perhaps a readjustment to shooting approach. I assumed that my warm up period for the X100 baby brother had landed me at least half way there.
Read on to find out my impressions now that I’ve been shooting with the camera for several weeks.
There are numerous reviews on this camera out already and the internet forums are ablaze with discussion from those who are devoted X-Pro 1 users. And then there are the posts from those who have struggled to warm up to it. In effect, the X-Pro 1 is a controversial camera. There are certainly those who approve… and those who do not. In any event, if you’re contemplating purchasing one, I recommend a good solid work-out first, perhaps even renting one for a weekend. In short, this camera is not for everyone.
The X-Pro 1 (“XP1”) is a solid, brick-like rangefinder style camera that bears a strong family resemblance to the X100. It contains a nearly identical hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder that is a revelation. I can’t image anyone not thoroughly enjoying using the optical viewfinder with the heads-up-display style indicators and other markings laid over the screen. For macro photography or when conditions dictate, a quick flick of the switch on the face of the body will swap out the view to an EVF which shows precisely the exposure and framing you’ll get in the finished product. I’m going to assume that there is some type of physical constraint that precludes a built-in diopter as there’s not one included. It is possible to add an old style Nikon or Zeiss diopter assuming you want to buy one and do the work associated with figuring out precisely how your eyeglass prescription will translate into a +1, +2, -1, -2 diopter add in. It’s a hassle and for the kind of money you spend on an XP1, I wish there was an easier way. Not a major grip, just an irritation.
The body itself is beautifully assembled and the workmanship is top shelf. Some have complained that it feels lighter and, hence, cheaper than expected. I didn’t come to that conclusion as I’m quite happy with the heft and overall size. Now there are some who buy a mirrorless camera primarily to save on size and weight. The XP1 is neither small nor lightweight, however. There are better alternatives if that’s your primary interest.
Fit and finish are all good, and that includes the first X-mount lenses introduced by Fujifilm (zooms and other primes are coming later this year and next): an 18mm f2, a 35mm f1.4 and a 60mm 2.4 tele-macro. All come with hoods and rubber caps for the hoods along with traditional pinch caps for hood-less shooting. I’ve used better caps and constantly worried with the Fuji that I’d lose one as they are quick to fall off. Again, for what you spend…
Like the X100, the XP1 comes complete with the ability to make major adjustments without menu diving. Shutter speed and aperture, along with exposure compensation can all be moved by reassuring clicks on either the body or lens (in the case of aperture). This takes you back, for those of you of my generation or older, to Nikon, Contax and other rangefinder cameras. And it requires an entirely different style of shooting if you’re used to a DSLR.
A very welcome new addition is the Q menu, which allows for easy adjustment of key parameters such as ISO, metering logic, white balance, and many others. Pressing Q and then navigating to the selected parameter allows for a quick spin of the back-facing dial by thumb to make immediate adjustments. That same dial on the X100 was underutilized and I’m hoping they figure out a way to get the Q menu on that camera via firmware update.
I’m sure it goes without saying, but some of the more modern conveniences, such as weatherproofing and built-in image stabilization, are not found here. For those, you will be better served by the Olympus OMD EM5 (review coming soon). While the XP1 does contain a great deal of wizardry under the traditional seeming body, it is lacking these conveniences. That was too bad as my recent experience shooting with the camera in Central America would have benefited from both features. It was often overcast and wet, wet, wet…
Much has been said and written about the clacking of the aperture blades in the lenses while not shooting. The metering continues to read the scene when you’re not shooting, so as a result while you’re walking about with the camera dangling by your side or hanging from your neck, you’ll hear the aperture blades churning. This has been termed chattering. Fujifilm introduced a firmware fix to lessen the effect, but to be honest, I didn’t shoot with the earlier firmware so I can’t compare. I just know that the chattering continues. Truthfully, however, it never bothered me all that much.
The headline feature of the XP1 is, of course, its image quality. Included here are a number of samples, shot under different conditions and in a variety of lighting scenarios. Overall, I was quite pleased. The camera comes without an anti-aliasing filter which can prevent wave-like moire patters but dull the image somewhat. By reconfiguring the pixel patterns on the sensor in an innovative manner, Fujifilm is able to ship the camera minus the AA filter, hence allowing for sharper photos and, because of the reconfiguration, no moire. Under no circumstances did I ever detect a problem with moire or unwanted patterns in my photos.
So far when shooting, I knew that my imaging editing software (Apple Aperture) would not yet allow for RAW file manipulation/conversion, so I shot entirely in JPEG. That allowed me to play with the different film settings (Velvia, Astia, etc.) as well as the in camera panorama mode.
I found the JPEGs to contain excellent detail and to respond well to contrast, sharpening and other adjustments in post. In terms of pure image quality, there’s little to complain about. My most used lens, the 18mm, was sharp and I was pleased with contrast and color renditions. The 35mm is the one everyone is talking about, saying it’s supremely sharp and with the 1.4 aperture, capable of beautiful subject isolation and low light shooting. 35mm is just not a focal length I can use for walkaround shooting, so I didn’t use it all the much. Same for the 60mm. If I were buying just one to start, it would be the 18mm for sure.
Fujifilm still haven’t allowed for + / – 2 EV bracket shooting so that HDR is more of a hassle than it needs to be. A simple firmware fix would solve this but Fujiflm, along with some other manufacturers, don’t allow it. This is a longstanding pet peeve of mine.
It’s all good, then… right? Well, not really.
Much has been said about the slow AF performance of the XP1. I’m going to second that notion in a big way. When the lighting is good and there are sufficiently contrasty patterns, the XP1 locks in and focuses quickly. Whenever either situation is less than optimal, the focusing engine hunts and grinds, most particularly with the 60mm (not unexpected given the double duty macro nature of the lens). Unfortunately, in a number of situations, the camera seemed to freeze up while attempting to achieve focus. I would have preferred some auditory feedback to know it was trying, but instead, there was deafening silence. I had to take my finger off the shutter button and try again, as if to re-engage the system and prompt it to give it another go. This was not confidence inspiring.
This gets to the heart of the matter and that relates to the overall responsiveness of the camera. In short, it’s lacking. And I wanted to like it. I really wanted to. But I experienced too many moments when posing a subject or trying to frame a scene and then having to wait for the focus to kick in. Unfortunately, manual focus is not all the useful since there’s no Sony style focus peaking which provides visual confirmation in the viewfinder when focus has been achieved. Because the lenses and system are focus-by-wire/electronic, there’s an inordinate amount of spin necessary on the lenses to manually focus. I tried, but ultimately gave up.
Additionally, the camera goes to sleep after a defined period of time in order to save battery life. Most cameras do the same, but the wake up here is slow and uneven/unpredictable. I tried playing around with menu settings and also seeing if I could determine when wake up was fast versus when it was impossibly slow. I wasn’t able to detect a pattern. Perhaps more usage will help in this regard.
The XP1, unlike the X100, does not have a built-in flash. I’m not exactly a big flash guy, but to bring shadows out of eyes during mid-day or for a quick indoor grab, I do appreciate the ability to pop up (or on) the in-built flash. To accommodate this need, Fujiflm sells an EF-X20 unit that sits in the hot shoe and matches the retr0 styling of the camera body. It allows for nice manual dial adjustment of flash compensation and the build quality is decent. It adds some bulk and weight to the camera, but not enough to dissuade its use. The problem again, however, relates to responsiveness. It take two AAA batteries, so it’s not exactly a powerhouse, but start-up and recycle are painfully slow. I frequently pressed the on button on the flash and waited while my inpatient subjects fidgeted. On a few occasions, the ready light was lit but the flash did not fire. Ouch.
When you toss all the pros and cons together, I come away feeling as though there’s too much lacking here in terms of usability and responsiveness. If Fujifilm improves the responsiveness of the camera and brings the AF into the 21st century, I’ll take another look. But for now, I’ll pass.