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First Impressions: Using the Fujifilm X-Pro1

Amadou Diallo | Product Reviews & Previews | Published Apr 3, 2012

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 combines traditional rangefinder styling and handling with a 16MP APS-C sensor that features a newly-developed color filter array.

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 is the fourth entry in the company's enthusiast-oriented X-series lineup, following the fixed focal length, APS-C format FinePix X100, the Fujifilm X10 compact and the X-S1 premium superzoom. And while it inherits more than a few features from the X100 - though it notably lacks a built-in flash - the X-Pro1 sits well atop the X-series lineup in both specifications and price. It houses a 16MP APS-C sensor with a novel Fujifilm-designed color filter array that eliminates the need for an anti-aliasing filter, thereby promising sharper images compared to a conventional 16MP camera. It also has a brand new lens mount with an initial offering of three fast prime XF lenses. It has a street price of $1,700 / £1429 for the body only.

Just one look at the retro-styling and rangefinder-inspired controls of the X-Pro1 and it's obvious that Fujifilm is positioning the camera as more than just as a high-end mirrorless competitor. As the company told us back in January at the CES show, it sees the X-Pro1 as a vastly more affordable option to the Leica M9-P. The physical similarities between the two cameras are quite striking, as you can see in the comparison below.

The design and dimensions of the X-Pro1 closely mimic those of the Leica M9-P, yet the X-Pro1 body is 150g lighter, a difference that if anything feels even more pronounced when you pick up the cameras.

For those of us who began photography when film was king, the memory of Fujifilm's own rangefinder tradition is not so long past. And its worth remembering that the classic - and rather hefty - Fuji GW690 series models were lovingly referred to by many as 'Texas Leicas' (everything is 'bigger' in Texas). Understandably then, interest in the X-Pro1 among a certain breed of enthusiasts has been quite high.

Yet even the most loyal Fujifilm fan may have found their excitement about the X-Pro1 tempered by issues surrounding previous X-series releases. The well-documented 'white orbs' issue that has plagued the X10 has proven to be resistant to firmware updates, instead requiring a factory-modified sensor (which we've yet to be able to try out). Our in-depth review of the X100 - the first X-series model - includes an entire section devoted to quirks, eccentricities and outright bugs, some of which, even after multiple firmware updates, still take some of the shine off what is in many respects an outstanding camera.

The X-Pro1 (center) is the latest, and largest addition to Fujifilm's X-series camera lineup, which also includes the FinePix X100 (left) and the X10 (right).

One of the most pressing questions then is whether the X-Pro1 will suffer a similar fate, with its strengths being undermined by significant flaws. We won't have a definitive answer on this until we complete our thorough in-depth review of the camera's operation, performance and of course, image quality. 

That said, we've had an X-Pro1 for a short while, and I've had the opportunity to use it pretty intensively, as we gear up for a full review. In this article I'm going to share my experiences based on using the camera in a variety of real-world situations in order to give you a sense of what it's like to actually use this highly anticipated camera.

Specification highlights

Click here to continue to page 2 of our article, First Impressions: Using the Fujifilm X-Pro1

Handling

Along the top of the camera you have access to the power switch which surrounds the shutter release, a custom Fn button, exposure compensation dial and a shutter dial which locks when set to aperture-priority (A) mode.

The X-Pro1 is an extremely satisfying camera to operate. The body is well-balanced in use with any of its three XF prime lenses, and at 450g is surprisingly light in hand. While it may lack the made-to-last-a-lifetime build quality of an M9 - which weighs in at 600g - the X-Pro1's top and bottom metal plate construction (with engraved markings) certainly conveys the sense of a premium product. 

Primary shooting controls are all within easy reach of your shooting hand. And pressing any of the X-Pro1's well-proportioned buttons elicits a firm positive tactile response, leaving no doubt that you have engaged the control point.

A three-position focus mode switch on the camera's front plate has the manual focus and single focus options at its endpoints, making it easy to switch between the two most commonly used options by feel.

We much prefer this arrangement to that of the X100, in which the less commonly used (and in fact, pretty useless) continuous focus position sits at an end position instead.
The X-Pro1's viewfinder selector lever, styled after the framelines selector on a traditional rangefinder, is used to switch between hybrid and electronic views when using the viewfinder.

The lever is downward facing as opposed to the upward facing (and more 'Leica-like') design of the same control on the X100. This subtle but not insignificant change allows you to comfortably engage the lever with your middle finger while your index finger remains on the shutter.

In a welcome change from X100 behavior, the aperture rings on each of the XF lenses have 1/3 stop detents. The shutter speed dial still operates in whole stop increments but does improve on the X100 (and the Leica M9, in fact) with a locking function which prevents accidental operation when the camera is in aperture-priority mode. Setting shutter speeds in anything less than whole stop increments requires using the left/right arrows of the 4-way controller which allows for moves of +/- 2/3 stop in either direction. 

The X-Pro1 features large, easy to press buttons that are arranged sensibly along the rear of the camera. An AE/AF lock button sits within easy reach of your thumb while your hand remains in a shooting position. The Q menu button below it, offers fast access to commonly used shooting parameters.
In a much-needed improvement over the X100's control ring design, the 4-way controller on the X-Pro1 features a large central button surrounded by tapered cardinal points that are easy to locate by feel. The X-Pro1's clickable rear thumb dial is curiously under-utilized. It can be used to navigate display view options for example, but not main menu items.

A custom Fn button positioned just to the right of the shutter button can be assigned to one of 13 different shooting parameters. With the generous amount of external shooting controls already on the camera I settled on configuring the Fn button for ISO sensitivity. In situations in which you're likely to capture video as well as still images, choosing the Movie option allows you to quickly switch back and forth between recording modes.

One of the most useful features (and one that was missing from the X100) is a Q menu that, with a single button press provides direct access to 16 camera settings. Making between-shot adjustments on the X-Pro1 is quick and easy.

The Q menu button calls up a menu with access to key shooting parameters. The main menu has a page-driven interface that you navigate by using the rear 4-way controller.

Aided by a generous amount of external control points and a comprehensive Q menu, access to most parameters is available with the press of a single button. The main menu has received a much-needed redesign that offers a more polished-looking and easier to navigate page-style system compared to that found in the X100. It is a compliment to the camera's handling that I found visits to the main menu few and far between once I configured the default camera settings to my liking.

Click here to continue to page 3 of our article, First Impressions: Using the Fujifilm X-Pro1

XF Lens system

While the development of a new lens mount enables Fujifilm to design optics specifically for the X-Pro1, the downside of building a lens system from scratch is obvious. Potential buyers of the X-Pro1 have to weigh the risk of buying into a system that initially includes a small lens selection.

The XF lens system is currently comprised of three prime lenses. The lenses are all of a focus-by-wire design with a very long throw between close focus and infinity.

Fujifilm has launched the X-Pro1 with a practical set of three prime lenses, the Fujifilm XF 18mm F2, Fujifilm XF 35mm F1.4, and Fujifilm XF 60mm F2.4 Macro, offering (35mm) equivalent focal lengths of 28mm, 50mm and 90mm respectively. These are popular focal lengths with obvious uses in landscape, street and portrait photography. Yet more ambitious plans appear to be on the horizon, as Fujifilm has confirmed an aggressive lens road map with the goal of having a nine lens XF system (including zooms) in place within three years.

Each of the XF lenses have circular aperture diaphragms with round-
edged blades and can produce luscious bokeh, as this example shot
with the 60mm lens at f/4 demonstrates.

In my shooting experience with all three of the new optics, I've been most impressed with the overall performance of the XF 35mm F1.4 (50mm equivalent) lens. Having reviewed the samples I've shot, the lens' outstanding color rendition and very sharp corner-to-corner optical performance stand out. These qualities have made it my 'go to' lens for everyday, general-purpose shooting. The wide maximum aperture opens up a range of possibilities for low light work, too. If you're going to start with just one XF lens on the X-Pro1, this is the one I'd recommend.

The XF 18mm F2 (28mm equivalent), as you might expect from this focal length, displays some noticeable corner softness at F2 and F4, and is more prone to color fringing than the 35/1.4. I don't want to exaggerate these shortcomings, though. Overall image quality from this lens is very good, and at a street price of $600 / £549, it's good value as well. 

This scene was shot with the camera mounted on a tripod at a range of aperture settings. Below this image are 100% crops taken from the center portion and lower left corner (both highlighted in red).
In this 100% crop shot at an aperture of f/4, the image is softer in the corners than in the central area of the image. Click on the image to see the full resolution file. When shot at f/11, you can see an improvement in the image corners. Click on the image to see the full resolution file.
Towards the center of the lens, however, the image sharpness when captured at f/4 (shown here)... ...is virtually indistinguishable from the image shot at f/11, which speaks to the overall quality of the lens.

The XF 60mm F2.4 Macro (90mm equivalent) is an ideal focal length for portraiture. Be warned, though. This is a very sharp lens that even at its widest apertures will expose flaws and blemishes in skin tones. Also, although far from bulky, this is the largest of the current lenses and features noticeably slower AF performance than either of its stablemates.

As with the other two lenses, there is precious little grippable real estate between the aperture and focus rings on the 60mm, which can sometimes make quick, in-the-field changing of these lenses a bit tricky. Also while the lens hood on the 60mm is reversible, the lens cannot be mounted or removed from the camera with it in this reversed position. These are relatively minor annoyances that may bother some more than others.

The 60/f2.4 is a very sharp lens. Portrait photographers may want to actually soften focus a bit in post production for more flattering results, as every pore and imperfection is faithfully rendered by the lens.

Taken as a whole, this initial three-lens offering provides coverage for many of the shooting situations in which a rangefinder-oriented photographer is likely to shoot. The one obvious omission is a 23mm (35mm equivalent) lens. As this is precisely the focal length provided on the fixed-lens X100, it seems safe to assume that Fujifilm is, understandably, concerned in the short term about cannibalizing sales of the older camera. 

Click here to continue to page 4 of our article, First Impressions: Using the Fujifilm X-Pro1

Hybrid viewfinder

Fujifilm's unique hybrid viewfinder, a version of which was first seen in the X100, provides a bright optical view of the scene while simultaneously allowing you to view shooting information via an electronic overlay. In the example below, I've set the viewfinder to display minimal shooting information, for an uncluttered scene view.

In optical viewfinder (OVF) mode, the viewfinder provides you with a wider angle of coverage than the lens you're using - in this case the 35mm f/1.4 without its lens hood. Image composition is made with the use of framelines (seen here in yellow) that correspond to the lens' field of view.

In true rangefinder fashion, the framelines in the X-Pro1 indicate less than 100% coverage of what the lens will actually capture. Fujifilm claim aproximately 90% coverage in their specs but with the 35mm lens at least, I find it to be even less. Until you become familiar enough with the framing to take this into account, you'll likely end up with a composition including elements you thought were cropped out, but you'll never suffer the (even worse) fate of inadvertently cropping an element you though you had included.

In a subtle but welcome change over the X100, the framelines on the X-Pro1 change color based on the ambient light. With the camera pointed at a normal to dark scene, the framelines are white. Face the camera towards a bright scene, however, and those framelines become yellow, allowing for better visibility.

Fujifilm's engineers have provided two separate magnifications for the OVF when switching between the 18mm lens (.37x) and the 35mm and 60mm lenses (.60x). The higher magnification level ensures that even with the longest of the three XF lenses mounted, the framelines do not become unusably small in the viewfinder. The switch happens automatically upon mounting a lens, though you can also toggle between magnifications simply by holding the viewfinder lever selector for two seconds.

The hybrid viewfinder contains a magnification lens that is offset from the viewfinder prism when the 18mm lens is mounted. With the 35mm or 60mm lens attached, the magnification lens slides into the light path, enlarging the image seen in the OVF.

If you want to see 100% coverage for your attached lens, you can do so by switching the viewfinder to EVF operation. As seamlessly as this hybrid viewfinder system operates, the performance of the EVF itself is a little disappointing. From my experience so far, I feel the same way about the X-Pro1's EVF as I felt about that of the X100. Matched against the best of its competition (the Sony NEX 7 and Olympus OM-D E-M5 are the obvious points of comparison) its refresh rate is a little slow. If you're panning with a moving subject, for example (admittedly not the most typical usage scenario for the X-Pro1), the screen image can lag considerably behind the movement of the camera.

Focus

For all of the comparisons to the ultra-expensive Leica M9, it's important to remember that the X-Pro1 has other competitors as well. Realistically, anyone interested in the X-Pro1 will also be considering standout mirrorless models like the Sony NEX 7 and Olympus OM-D E-M5. Be warned though - if you're excited by the very fast autofocus performance of these cameras, you might be disappointed by the responsiveness of the X-Pro1.

In reasonably well-lit scenes with subjects of moderate contrast, AF acquisition is certainly adequate, although no-one will ever mistake the X-Pro1 for an action or sports-oriented camera. The real frustration comes in lower light scenes when using the 60mm f/2.4. Focus hunting is a constant problem, with performance that is noticeably slower than either of the other two XF lenses. I must say though, that while AF may be slow, when the X Pro1 finds its mark it is very, very accurate. After reviewing hundreds of my handheld sample images on the computer, I've only been able to identify a small handful that are unusable due to mis-focus by the AF system.

Manual Focus

Unfortunately, the MF complaints we had with the X100 are unchanged with the X-Pro1. In order to check focus you can set the EVF to magnification mode easily enough by clikcing-in the rear dial. Yet the camera insists on choosing its own aperture setting for the image preview - chosen presumably to maintain scene brightness in live view - which in some situations can make critical focus effectively impossible.

When pointed at a bright scene, for example, the camera will show you a magnified live view with the lens set to a narrow aperture, which of course shows a relatively wide depth of field. But if you actually want to shoot at a wide aperture (f/2.4 for example), you can easily be looking at a scene element that appears sharp in the magnified view but sits beyond the depth of field at the taking aperture. In this case, you'll end up with an out-of-focus image, despite it looking sharp in the magnified focusing view in the EVF. For a camera that is so clearly geared to enthusiasts and professionals, this is a critical misstep.

There is a workaround to this problem, although it's far from obvious. If you configure the Fn button for Depth of Field Preview, pressing it before you adjust focus sets the lens to the taking aperture. At this point, clicking in the rear dial for magnified view will allow accurate manual focus. Rather curiously, when set to video mode the camera honors the taking aperture in both normal and magnified live view all of the time, giving full time depth of field preview. I don't see why the camera can't behave this way in still image mode.

When using the EVF or rear LCD in MF mode, you can view the scene at 100%... ...or press the rear thumb dial for a magnified view in order to adjust focus.

There's another frustration that carries over from the X100. Looking through the viewfinder set to either OVF or EVF operation, in MF mode you can press the AE/AF lock button to engage AF acquisition on a chosen AF area. Yet there is no focus confirmation. Your only clue is an audible one, in that you can longer hear the lens being adjusted. Whether the camera thinks it has achieved focus or not is never clear; all you know for sure is that is has stopped trying. 

Ideally, we'd like to see a firmware update that incorporated Sony and Ricoh-style focusing peaking in MF mode. After all, one of the potential benefits of a mirrorless camera design is a short flange back distance that permits the use of a range of lenses built for other systems, past and present. It's likely we'll see all sorts of third party adapters for the X-mount in the coming months, which could quickly broaden the selection of usable manual focus lenses. Improved MF capability could go a long way towards making the X-Pro1 an attractive option for owners of third-party lenses, but right now I don't think the manual focus experience has received the attention it deserves from Fujifilm.

Oddities and quirks

Fortunately, the X-Pro1 is free from the majority of the handling oddities, operational quirks and downright bugs that made the X100 such a painful camera to use when it was first released. Fujifilm appears to have taken some of the feedback to heart, with the result that the X-Pro1 behaves much more sensibly. It isn't perfect though - here are a few things that have bothered me during my time with the camera. 

When shooting in continuous mode, the resulting files get saved according to a completely different filenaming system, which can cause all sorts of issues if you like to name and sort images using any camera-generated titles. Another bit of maddening behavior comes when you review vertical images in playback mode. Should you want to magnify the view, the enlarged view remains constrained to the same vertical format, as shown below. The only workaround - and I use the term loosely here - is to disable the camera's auto rotation ability, which is far from ideal. This quirk is also inherited from the X100, but on that camera it's been fixed in FW 1.20.

Because the rear screen is in a horizontal format, vertical images occupy a much smaller screen area. Frustratingly, and for no good reason, this behavior carries over into the magnified view, resulting in a lot of wasted display area. 

Finally, although you have the option to display compositional grids in the OVF, this function is rendered much less useful than it could (and should) be by the fact that they are positioned relative to the entire viewfinder area rather than to the framelines for the currently-mounted lens. Unlike the framelines, the gridlines don't adjust for parallax on focusing either. This means that when using the 60mm lens in particular, the gridlines are of limited practical use as 'Framing Guidelines', which is what Fujifilm claims them to be.   

Click here to continue to page 5 of our article, First Impressions: Using the Fujifilm X-Pro1

Image quality

Fujifilm has a long history of pairing its cameras with unconventional image sensors. With the X-Pro1, the company introduces a 16MP X-Trans CMOS APS-C sensor featuring a  non-traditional color filter array. The headline feature of this new design lies in Fujifilm's claim that it can prevent color moiré without the need for an image-blurring low-pass filter. Traditionally, cameras without a low-pass filter boast greater resolution of fine detail than those of identical resolution that use a filter, but the trade-off is color moiré patterning in image areas containing high-frequency detail.

We certainly look forward to putting the X-Pro1 through our studio tests for a quantitative assessment, but in our real-world shooting experiences, everyone in the dpreview office is - so far - quite impressed with this sensor's performance. Fine details are rendered with clarity and I have yet to encounter scenes that generate significant amounts of color moiré.

This landscape scene includes areas of low-contrast detail at a focus distance of infinity. Rendering of this type of detail can be challenging for camera sensors. As this 100% crop shows, the X-Pro1 does an admirable job. Individual blades of grass are distinguishable as opposed to being rendered simply as an undefined green mush.

The camera's metering and white balance response have been consistently pleasing out in the field. It has typically been only in very high contrast scenes or when shooting back-lit subjects that I've had to reach for the exposure compensation dial.

As we found in our review of the X100, Fujifilm's JPEG processing for the X-Pro1 is generally outstanding, with little to be desired in terms of sharpness, noise reduction and color balance. In low-color temperature lighting scenarios, such as those typically found in home interiors, images shot at the highest ISO of 25,600 do suffer in terms of color accuracy, with noticeable color bleeding, horizontal banding and blotchy colors in shadow areas.

This ISO 25,600 image was shot under very low light levels illuminated by a low-color temperature household bulb located around a hallway corner. White balance, noise reduction and sharpening were left at the camera's default values.
As this 100% crop demonstrates, the sensor captures usable detail that is well-suited for display on the web and small prints. Color noise is well-controlled without an overly aggressive amount of noise reduction being applied. Color accuracy suffers at this ISO and you can clearly see color bleeding from the orange text on the book's spine.

Yet, as you can see in the examples above, the files are hardly unusable. My only significant complaint is that the extended ISO settings of 12,800 and 25,600 (as well as ISO 100) are JPEG-only options, unavailable when shooting Raw. 

Drawing directly on its longstanding analog photography heritage, Fujifilm provides a choice of several film simulation modes with the X-Pro1, as shown in the image rollover below.

Provia Velvia Astia Pro Neg Pro Neg (Hi)

Provia is the default film mode and proves pleasing and realistic colors. Much like in its film heyday, Velvia is an option too tempting to pass up, at least at the beginning. And just as its chemically-based namesake did, this mode boosts color saturation and contrast. In portrait work, I found, not unsurprisingly, that the Astia film mode usually provided the most pleasing colors among a range of skin tones. The Pro Neg film mode offers subdued colors and simulates the low-contrast look of color negative film. A Pro Neg (Hi) option is available if you desire slightly more contrast.

Of course, one of the downsides to using a sensor that requires non-standard demosaicing algorithms is a paucity of support from third-party raw manipulation software. At the moment, X-Pro1 users shooting in raw mode are limited to using SilkyPix, a copy of which is included with the camera. And based on the default color rendering we've seen so far in SilkyPix, we're not convinced we're looking at the most optimal demosaicing settings. Silkypix isn't the most user-friendly software out there either - in my experience of using it to manupulate the X-Pro1's raw files it takes quite a bit of work to produce a raw file that looks as pleasing as a typical 'straight from the camera' JPEG. I've actually been opting for the X-Pro1's capable in-camera raw conversion ability when I want to convert raw files instead of using Silkypix. I anxiously await what I hope will be forthcoming raw support from Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw, which I use daily.

But don't take my word for it. Below I've provided some real-world samples in raw format, alongside their corresponding in-camera JPEGS for you to download. Current Raw support is limited primarily to SilkyPix Developer Studio, which is available for a 30 day trial. Use this or any other compatible raw developer and edit the files as you see fit. You can share your findings in the Comments section below this article.

Raw and JPEG files for download

The zipped files below each contain a raw file and its corresponding camera-generated JPEG for comparison.

Click here to continue to page 6 of our article, First Impressions: Using the Fujifilm X-Pro1

Summary

You needn't have read this piece from start to finish to see that I'm very impressed with the X-Pro1. From what I've seen so far it looks like Fujifilm has avoided re-introducing any of the more egregious oddities of the X100. And while we've yet to subject it to our rigorous testing methodology, we've not found flaws of the type that plague the X10. On balance I think it's safe to say that the X-Pro1 is a camera that gets much more right than it does wrong.

Operation and handling in the field are simply superb. This is a camera that gets out of your way and lets you devote your attention to making pictures. My chief complaints at this stage really revolve around the need for an improved MF implementation and better AF speed with the heavier 60mm f/2.4 lens. Whether either issue can be improved via a firmware upgrade remains to be seen. 

The X-Pro1 delivers outstanding images with a JPEG processing engine that produces very pleasing color, excellent detail and a highly effective combination of sharpening and noise reduction. And I must admit that with its limited third-party raw conversion support, I don't feel I've yet to see the best of what this camera can produce. All of us in the dpreview office look forward to putting the camera through its paces in our testing studio to dig a little deeper. Our first impressions are very positive though, and I hope this article will reassure and encourage anyone that has been watching the X-series and waiting for Fujifilm to 'get it right'. 

Samples Gallery

There are 30 images in this review samples gallery. Please do not reproduce any of these images on a website or any newsletter / magazine without prior permission (see our copyright page). We make the originals available for private users to download to their own machines for personal examination or printing (in conjunction with this review), we do so in good faith, please don't abuse it.

Unless otherwise noted images taken with no particular settings at full resolution. Because our review images are now hosted on the 'galleries' section of dpreview.com, you can enjoy all of the new galleries functionality when browsing these samples.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 Preview Samples - posted April 2nd 2012

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