Overall Handling / Specific handling issues

The X-Pro1 is in general a delightfully straightforward and intuitive camera to use. The combination of physical dials for exposure parameters, customisable Fn button, and on-screen Q menu for setting other functions means that pretty well all everything you need to access is at your fingertips.

The back of the X-Pro1 positively bristles with controls, but there's still sufficient blank space to provide a positive grip for your thumb. The controls are also well-arranged so that the exposure compensation dial, rear dial, four-way controller, and the Q and AE-L buttons can all be easily reached without having to shift your grip.

If we have a criticism, it's that the three buttons arranged down the left hand side of the X-Pro1 are relatively inaccessible with the camera to your eye, as you have to shift your left hand from its natural position supporting the lens and operating the aperture and focus rings. This means that moving the active autofocus point around the frame is somewhat slow and awkward - the temptation is to stick to the central AF point instead. This is a pity, as the X-Pro1's ability to use an off-center focus point in its optical viewfinder should be a unique advantage.

The X-Pro1's rear controls also feel somewhat under-utilised. The thumb dial does nothing at all directly during normal shooting - we'd love to be able to allocate it to change ISO. The dedication of the left/right keys of the 4-way controller to fine-tuning shutter speed means that they also are inactive in aperture priority mode (which we suspect many X-Pro1 owners will use most of the time) - it would be great to be able to use the controller directly to reposition the AF point (like on many SLRs).

Auto ISO Limitations

The X-Pro1 offers Auto ISO behaviour that's much more similar to Fujifilm's zoom compacts than to the X100. In its favour, Auto ISO can be accessed directly from the Fn button or Q menu, rather then being hidden in the menus. Sadly, though, it has a number of limitations that means that it goes from being extremely useful to highly flawed:

  • The maximum ISO available is 3200 - you can't access anything higher
  • Auto ISO is available in M mode, but doesn't honour exposure compensation
  • The camera always uses a minimum shutter speed of 1/[1.5 x focal length], i.e. 1/90 sec with the 60mm F2.4, 1/52sec with the 35mm F1.4, and 1/30sec with the 18mm F2.

The last of these is the biggest problem. It's based on the old '1/focal length' rule of thumb for getting sharp hand-held shots without obvious blur due to camera shake, but this really isn't sufficient with modern high-resolution sensors in the absence of any form of image stabilization. This is particularly problematic when using the rear screen for framing, which requires an inherently less stable shooting stance than the eye-level viewfinder.

This example was shot using the XF 60mm F2.4 Macro at F5.6; the Auto ISO program chose 1/90sec, ISO 400. The image is in-focus, but diagonal streaks on the highlights are a tell-tale sign of camera shake, and overall the image is unacceptably blurred. It would have looked much better if the camera had used a faster shutter speed and higher ISO.

As a result, we find that Auto ISO delivers more slightly-shaken shots than is really acceptable, simply because it always uses a shutter speed that's not quite fast enough. Likewise it's not well-suited for moving subjects, which are likely to end up blurred. We'd much prefer to be able to specify a minimum shutter speed like on the X100, or better still have the option of biasing Auto ISO towards higher shutter speeds while still taking the focal length of the lens into account (an approach that Pentax has used for years).

You can sort-of get around this by setting both your shutter speed and aperture manually. Auto ISO is still available, but because the exposure compensation dial is now inactive, you can't control the brightness of your image so have to rely on the camera's metering. (It's also worth noting that Fujifilm's lens roadmap suggests that upcoming zooms will include optical image stabilization, which should negate blurring due to camera shake.)

Other operational issues and quirks

The X-Pro1's firmware is clearly based on the X100's, and inherits a few of that camera's remaining glitches. There aren't all that many left, but there are still a few that can catch the unwary user. Here's a short list of some to look out for:

  • Autoexposure lock doesn't just lock the exposure, it locks the exposure values. For example, if you press AE-L with the aperture set to F4, then turning the aperture ring to F8 has no effect - the camera still insists on using F4. Likewise, turning a dial has no effect when the shutter is half-pressed. This behaviour makes no sense on a camera with analogue dials.
  • The live histogram doesn't work properly in manual exposure mode (it always represents a 'correctly metered' exposure regardless of your settings).
  • Changing the drive mode to one of the 'unconventional' bracketing options - DR, ISO, or Film Simulation - disables RAW file recording without warning.
  • Both program shift and manual focus count control operations beyond their limits, which have to be undone before the camera will respond again.

Manual focus problems

With its rangefinder-inspired looks and prominent manual focus rings on each lens, you might expect the X-Pro1 to be an excellent camera for manual focus work. Unfortunately this isn't the case at all - due to a combination of hardware and firmware issues, manual focus is instead decidedly problematic, to the point of being almost unusable.

In principle, the X-Pro1 offers three different methods of working when the focus mode switch is set to M. You can use the AF-L button as a 'one shot' autofocus acquisition, use the viewfinder distance display for scale or zone focusing, or used magnified manual focus with the EVF or LCD. Unfortunately all three methods are flawed, to a greater or lesser extent:

  • When using the AF-L button, the camera provides no visual confirmation of focus (i.e. the focus box doesn't light up green), and doesn't show the corrected AF frame in the optical finder either. So you don't know for sure whether the camera has achieved focus or simply given up, or precisely what it's focused on.
  • When using the distance scale, the indicated depth of field is far too conservative to be usable for zone focusing.
  • In normal live view operation, the aperture stops down uncontrollably (presumably to regulate the light reaching the sensor), even in the magnified focus check view. This makes critical manual focus impossible in bright light, as the depth of field at the viewing aperture can be much greater than at the taking aperture. In turn, this means that the subject can look in-focus in the viewfinder when it will be out-of-focus in the final image.

This is shown below, using manual focus in the center of the frame. The lens was set to F2.8 but the X-Pro1 stopped down further for focusing, which means that the resultant image is out-of-focus despite looking perfectly sharp in magnified live view. And this is just an illustrative example in not-particularly-bright light.

XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro @ F2.8 100% crop

To be honest, we find this unforgiveable an camera that lays claim to the 'Pro' label. Photographers know full well that lenses should be focused with the aperture wide open, so it's inexplicable that manufacturers sell cameras that don't open the aperture properly in manual focus mode (and it's not just Fujifilm; Olympus and Pentax have the exactly the same problem with their mirrorless offerings). Tellingly, the X-Pro1 doesn't autofocus with the aperture stopped-down like this; instead it uses the taking aperture or larger.

A further problem is that Fujifilm's implementation of 'focus by wire' simply isn't very refined, and is a far cry from state-of-the-art implementations from the likes of Panasonic. The lenses' manual focus rings don't feel very responsive, and require multiple full turns to cover the focus range. This makes focusing slow and awkward, which is a particular problem with the 60mm F2.4 lens for macro shooting.

All of this is compounded by the fact that the camera also registers any rotation of the focus ring beyond infinity, and requires it to be reversed before the focus groups will move again. This is worst with the 35mm lens, and means you can reach a point where rotating the focus ring through 90 degrees and back has absolutely no effect. Again, this isn't really acceptable on a 'Pro' camera.

Manual focus workaround

As it happens, it's entirely possible to force the X-Pro1 to give a magnified live view display at the taking aperture, using the Fn button to activate DOF preview. Here's how you do it:

  1. Set to Fn 'Preview Depth of Field'
  2. Set lens to maximum aperture
  3. Press Fn to engage DOF preview (OVF will switch over to EVF)
  4. Press-in rear dial to magnify live view
  5. Focus
  6. Half-press shutter to return to normal viewing
  7. Set lens to taking aperture and and shoot

The effectiveness of this approach can be seen below, compared to the example above. Forcing the lens wide open has enabled accurate manual focus.

XF 60mm F2.4 R Macro @ F2.8 100% crop

This works absolutely fine, even shooting wide open in bright sunlight, which begs the question as to why the camera can't just open the aperture up for manual focusing automatically. As a workaround, though, it's clumsy and really shouldn't be necessary. We can't see any reason why the camera can't just set the aperture correctly the moment it detects the manual focus ring is being turned.

Hope for the future?

While we've identified certain flaws with the X-Pro1, it would be remiss not to mention the good work Fujifilm has done in providing firmware updates for the X100 that have transformed it from a quirky, buggy, infuriating camera to an excellent photographic tool. This commitment to updating and improving products, sometimes adding new functionality in the process, can only be applauded.

Fujifilm has already issued updates for the X-Pro1 to mitigate the 'aperture chatter' problem that annoyed early buyers, and provide improved functionality for users of adapted manual focus lenses. We've every reason to believe that the company will continue listening to users and reviewers alike, and improve the X-Pro1 based on the feedback it receives.