Recently I acquired another digital camera to add to my ever increasing number of mirror-less collection. The camera has been out for some time and in some ways has already been bested (in some areas) by a more consumer friendly camera in the same range.
The camera in question is the Fuji X-Pro1, a camera when first announced intrigued me right up until I read the first previews and reviews of the camera. This was partly due to my investment in the Sony NEX system believing that this is the system to use, a belief that has been damaged somewhat by the combination of the non-forgiving nature of the 24MP sensor in my Sony NEX 7 as when anything other than good glass is used the picture quality is mercilessly destroyed. I admit that I am over-exaggerating this but I have seen that when I used the 24mm Zeiss (and to lesser degrees the 50mm and the Macro 30mm) I can get good picture quality. When the 18-200 zoom is used the degradation is too much especially when you zoom in a lot. Maybe I am expecting too much of the lens but this and the 55-210mm zoom are the only tele-optics available. Both are very slow at the 200/210 end (f/6.3) and neither have excellent optics. Sony have spent so much time releasing and then re-releasing new variants of cameras that the good optics that are needed have suffered.
I apologise for going off-topic there but I don’t think that Sony get-it and from what I have read about the 35mm lens that is just about to come out isn’t much better and the 10-18mm zoom is way overprice for what it is – the lens was reviewed on Luminous Landscape back in November by Mark D Segal, you can read this here. He quite liked the lens but this was on a NEX 5N.
So what is it about the X-Pro1 that made me dismiss it when it was released but is now good enough that I now own it? I will admit that the final decision to actually purchase the camera was a bit of a gamble and I went on faith rather than any rational decision – this camera is not stocked anywhere locally allowing me to try it out before purchase (the local LCE is not one of the Fuji stockists although some of their stores are). It all started with a YouTube video posted by The Camera Store based in Calgary, Canada; the store has a natural presenter called Chris Niccolls (Chris is a cool name after all) and they have posted a number of video reviews, one of the more recent ones is a head-to-head of a Fuji X-E1 vs a Sony NEX 6 (both with their “consumer” zooms fitted). I watched the review because I was interested in how the Sony performed. What I found after watching the video (see below) was that the Fuji performed very well and some of the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) around the Fuji X-Mount system (X-Pro1 and the X-E1) was dispelled.
So I re-read the review of the X-Pro1 and the preview of the X-E1 on DPReview (the preview of the X-E1 has been recently updated with some actual shots with the camera) with an open-mind. I also quickly discovered that the forum’s posts were mostly useless occupied by Fuji fan-boys and trolls alike trying to upset the Fuji users (this I find common with most forum sites and is not specific to DPReview). However, I found some good information; a few that state the facts (more about this later) as well as some useful information and links to other sites with actual user reviews too. I also tried to find as many user based reviews as possible (these are what it is like to use the camera as opposed to a list of the various features); there are a number of these at Luminous Landscape – these are a very good read:
- Fuji X-Pro1 Review (Part One) by Nick Devlin
- Fuji X-Pro1 Review (Part Two) by Nick Devlin
- Fuji X-Pro1 Field Report, Havana-Cuba by Daniel Webb
- Fuji X-Pro1 Redux, Hands on by Michael Reichmann
- Fuji X-E1 Review by Nick Devlin
What I didn’t realise (and there is certainly a lot of FUD about this specifically) was that the sensor in the X system bodies (the same in both the X-Pro1 and the X-E1) is something special. Without going into the science behind it too much (see page 3 of the review on DPReview), nearly all sensors in digital cameras have an anti-aliasing filter in front of the senor (there are a few notable exceptions, Leica M cameras, the Nikon D800E and some of the Sigma Foveon sensor based cameras). The filter is designed to combat Moiré, which is caused by typically man-made constructions (buildings and certain garments) and the regular repeating pattern in the make-up of the sensor. The problem with the filter is that it causes a slight blurring and affects the absolute resolving power of the sensor. Some cameras simply do away with the filter (the aforementioned Nikon and Leica models) but Fuji has changed the makeup of the sensor so that the layout of the RGBG pixels are more randomised, this too has no filter and because of the randomisation there is no problem with Moiré.
Fuji have a lot more details about how this sensor works here.
This is where most of the FUD comes in: to obtain the best quality photographs, they are taken in RAW format; this format provides a lot of latitude for changes with less loss in quality too. There are arguably 3 products on the market that are used to edit RAW images: Camera Raw in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, Capture One and Apple Aperture (Mac only). Fuji provide a cut-down version of SilkyPix which is frankly terrible. Because nearly every camera on the Market uses the same type of sensor, a re-design of the RAW decoding engine will be required to obtain the best quality out of the images. Adobe have released updates for Lightroom and Camera Raw some time ago (last but one release in fact), Apple have yet to provide any support (they released their most recent Apple RAW update 4.03 on 13th December with no support, only the X100 is supported and was bask in Lion) and Capture one have no current support but have posted on this You-Tube video that they are working on it; they are not sure of the time-scales at the moment though.
Some of this is negated at the moment as the JPEG engine built into the Fuji cameras is one of the best out there; the auto-white balance is also very good so if you get the exposure right you have to ask is a RAW convertor needed?
So we’ve established that there’s something special about the sensor, what else is there to like? Have a look at the image above and although this is from an X-Pro1 but it is almost the same for the X-E1. Yes that is a Shutter speed dial, the lenses also have Aperture rings; they both have “A” positions so Manual, Aperture Priority Shutter-speed priority and Program can be used – no more PASM mode dials :). You can also see from this picture that there is a physical switch for exposure compensation with + and – 2EV. The “Fn” button can incidentally be programmed for almost whatever you want but by default it is set to ISO adjustment – genius!
It isn’t to you look at the front of the camera that you notice the main difference between the X-Pro1 and the X-E1 as the front of the X-E1 below shows:
Both the X-Pro1 and the X-E1 are “range-finder-style” cameras and have the following shared features:
- Fujifilm-designed 16MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor
- Novel colour filter array to suppress colour moiré, no optical low-pass filter
- EXR Processor Pro image processor
- An ISO range of 200- 6400 (Standard Output Sensitivity), 100, 12800 and 25,600 in extended mode and an Auto ISO with a 400, 800, 1600 or 3200 upper limit
- Analogue dials for shutter speed and exposure compensation on top of camera
- Focal-plane shutter, 1/4000 sec max speed
- On-screen ‘Q’ control panel and redesigned tabbed menu system
- All-new, fully electronic X lens mount; 17.7mm flange-to-sensor distance
- Prime lenses have traditional-style aperture rings (1/3 stop increments) and large manual focus rings
- Built-in stereo microphones
- HD Video (1920 x 1080 Full HD, 24fps : 1280 x 720 HD, 24fps : 29 minutes max recording time : H.264 MOV format : Stereo sound
However the differences are as follows:
- The EVF is a 2.36M dot OLED unit, vs the X-Pro1’s 1.44M dot LCD finder
- The X-Pro1 has a Dual-magnification hybrid optical / electronic viewfinder
- The X-E1’s rear screen is a 2.8″ 460k dot LCD vs the X-Pro1’s 3.0″ RGBW 1.23M dot LCD
- The X-E1 has a built-in pop-up flash
- The X-E1 has a 2.5mm stereo microphone socket that doubles as a socket for a wired remote control
- The X-E1 is available in silver or black
- The X-E1 is smaller then the X-Pro1 of 129(W) x 75(H) x 38(D) mm vs 139.5(W) x 81.8(H) x 42.6(D) mm
- The X-E1 is lighter than the X-Pro1 at a weight of 350g vs 450g
The final difference was that the XE-1 was released with improved firmware that amongst other things improved the focusing speed over the X-Pro1. However, not long after the XE-1’s introduction Fuji released v2.0 firmware for the X-Pro1 which fixed some of the early issues and also improved the focusing speed. This is the 2nd FUD items for the X series system cameras – they are really slow at focusing to the point where they are unusable. This is not true and whilst the X-Pro1 that I purchased came with v2.0 of the firmware already installed the focusing is not as bad as everyone would have you believe, to me is reminds me of some of the early NEX system cameras (NEX 5 particularly).
When launched back in June 2012, three ‘XF’ lenses were available as follows:
Since then 2 further lenses were announced:
- XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R OIS LM (available now and as a kit with X-E1)
- XF 14mm F2.8 R (available January 2013)
The following video goes through each of these lenses:
Although these lens are not Leica quality (although the 35mm f1.4 gives them a good run for the money), they are all very good. As stated the 35mm is the best optic in the range, they are all very good and match the 16MP Fuji sensor very well. This is in stark contrast to the way that Sony developed their NEX system – consumer bodies and lenses first and then worry about the pro later, I feel that this starting to pay dividends but where are all of the good optics? Here, Fuji started with a Pro model and 3 prime lenses and then added a more consumer friendly body with a zoom lens. I have to say that this “kit” lens outs all of the others out there to shame, the other manufacturers are going for f3.5 to f5.6 18-55mm zoom lenses whilst Fuji is f2.5 to f4.
After all of the reading I made a decision to purchase a Black X-E1 camera with the 18-55 (2.8 to f4.0) lens. However the camera-lens kits (particularly the black variants) are still quite scarce and were not available from my usual sources (WEX, Amazon or LCE-Lincoln). It was whilst looking around the WEX Photographic site that I notices that there was an offer on the X-Pro1 whereby purchasing this with any lens (i.e. one of the 3 primes or the 18-55 zoom) allowed the purchaser either the 18mm or 35mm lens for free. Although I wanted the wanted to buy the X-Pro1 with a 35mm lens, the only one available was the 18mm f2 lens so I got this combo and sent off for the 35mm f1.4 lens which I am unfortunately still waiting for 😦
I ordered the Fuji X-Pro1 and 18mm f2 lens from WEX (next day delivery) and I was surprised to find that both items are packed in an “Apple-esque” manner. Rather than describe this, it would be easier to point you towards one of the many un-boxing videos out there. The one below is one of my favourites and is from Jared Polin aka “FroKnowsPhoto”. He has many videos out there from tutorials to un-boxing videos and he also performs a sniff test when he does his un-boxings:
The Fuji system gives me what I want a small and light (with respect to Digital SLRs) system with good optical lenses (at reasonable prices) that match the sensor well and I also gain direct manual controls (Shutter speed and Aperture). As I use the system (I have had this for just over a week now) I keep finding niceties of the design (along with some “why on earth did you do it that way”, the camera does have its fair share of quirks.
There will be second post with some test shots from the camera in a subsequent post (this one has gone on long enough).