The problem with the X-Pro1

Fuji X-Pro1 with 35mm f1.4 lens

I had until very recently I had a fairly comprehensive Fuji X-series photography outfit comprising the X-Pro1 body, 18mm, 35mm, 60mm primes lenses, the 55-200mm zoom lens, EF-X20 flashgun and a few accessories such as a manual cable release and Grip for the X-Pro1. This was funded by a trade-in of my Panasonic Lumix kit, at the time the trade made sense and I thought that this was the right decision. To cut along story short it was not the right decision and the biggest regret in a Photography Gear trade that I have (ever?) made.

To answer why I need to explain the problems as follows:

Viewfinder
This camera has a rather unusual hybrid OVF/EVF viewfinder (OVF – Optical Viewfinder, EVF – Electronic View finder). The viewfinder that can be switched between the OVF or EVF mode as needed to shoot the situation and/or lens combination as required; the only other cameras to feature this are the Fuji X-100 and its replacement the X-100s. The optical or OVF mode part is prone to parallax errors as it is based on a viewfinder that is above and to the left of the lens axis when viewed from the rear of the camera. The error in correctly framing the subject due to parallax becomes greater the closer the subject is to the camera, in these cases the EVF mode is the better choice.

For subjects that are far away and/or for longer focal lengths an optical magnifier can be incorporated and is engaged by holding in the EVF/OVF switch on the camera. At first this was quite an interesting ability as you can use OVF to see subjects before they entered the frame lines of what the lens could capture. This is very useful in street and reportage style photography.

As good as this capability is, I found that the optical finder was only really useful for the 18mm, 35mm and 60mm primes and then only when you didn’t use the macro mode. I also found the EVF quite dark and lacked some of the features other electronic ones.

Focusing
I went into the system understanding the limitations of the focusing, whilst not as bad as it was when the X-Pro1 was released it still was probably the worst of the various mirror-less cameras out there with the exception of the Canon EOS-M. But the fix to end-all fixes of the Autofocus system was coming in a soon to be released major firmware update. When applied, the update seemed to make no changes to me but it introduced new problems.

Shutter/Aperture setting
Back in the “good-ole-film-days” the camera’s main settings were controlled by shutter speed dials on the camera body and an aperture ring on the lens. This was the case with my first camera a Praktica MTL-5B (a manual body with a screw-fit lens mount but it did have through-the-lens metering). Many of the following bodies that I upgraded to over the years also had this way of controlling these exposure settings. That was until I moved to my first autofocus SLR a Minolta 5000i (the one with the (SD-sized) control cards to add other functions to the camera), this eschewed these old fashioned controls and allowed very precise and non-standard shutter speeds and aperture values to be set. Every camera I have ever owned since then also had no aperture ring or shutter speed dial.

X-Pro-Top

When the X-Pro1 came out (including the X-100 before it) it re-introduced these ways of controlling these exposure settings. For a time the nostalgic notions of how great this would be clouded the problems that eventually arose. The aperture ring of the fixed-focal length lenses allows fairly precise apertures to be set as along with the various apertures that are marked on the lens (1.4, 2.0, 2.8 etc), they also have third stop settings. The problem is that the aperture ring is too loose (on all of the lenses). The slightest nudge will change the setting. The main problem is with the Shutter Speed dial; this also has whole stop markings (1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, etc) and to get to the intermediate settings you have to use the arrow keys on the back of the camera and hope that you can get what you want and that you don’t accidentally change something else.

I prefer the electronic button-and-dial method whereby I set the precise shutter speed and/or aperture value that I want and they stay fixed until I change them.

Macro- WTF?
For some reason to focus on objects that are very close you have to go into a macro mode. The FUJIFILM models are the only interchangeable lens cameras that I am aware of that need a Macro mode. I suspect that this decision was made in part due to the autofocus issues that the camera has. The problem with this was that quite often I would be in the wrong mode for the subject so I had to change the mode which takes a few seconds. In a few seconds you could miss the moment.

Firmware Update
Not long after obtaining the Fuji X-system camera and lenses they released their major firmware upgrade (Version 3). For the un-initiated in tech speak the firmware is the operating system installed upon the camera and it can be updated to fix bugs and sometimes add features. The version 3 firmware added a number of improvements but the main “headline” feature was further improvements to the autofocus capabilities of the X-Pro1 (and its sister camera the X-E1). This involved upgrading the firmware on the camera and most of the lenses too.

So as soon as the v3.00 firmware was available, I downloaded this and the various updates for the lenses that I had. After the installation I tried to see if I could see any improvements in the autofocus speed and acquisition. If there were any improvements, they were minimal.

However a number of problems have been encountered.

  1. Not log after the release of the firmware an error was found that could affect the movie functions of the camera so it was withdrawn. The FUJIFILM site had an eerie statement that you may need to contact one of their service centres if you went through with the upgrade. Not good.
  2. Issue 1) was resolved in a few days and v3.01 of the firmware was released, fortunately I could upgrade to this version and no visit to a FUJIFILM centre was required. It is evident that Fuji need to do more testing on their firmware because the problems that could have happened with v3.00 should never have occurred.
  3. Not long after the upgrade I started to experience occasional lock-ups, switching the camera off and back on made no difference and I had to remove and reinsert the battery to get the camera to function again. However, this was always very awkward as the grip had to be removed first because it blocked the battery chamber. I was also not the only one experiencing the issue either, lots of people has the same problem too. It was suggested that I restore the camera back to factory settings – which seemed to fix the camera and I did not experience this again. This left me unsure about the camera and I knew that I could not rely on it being OK.
  4. The most annoying problem was that my favourite lens, the 35mm suddenly became the most audibly noisy lens that I have ever used. Previously the camera focus sound was negligible and now I cannot stand the noise produced from my favourite lens! In a quiet room this noise is not welcome.
  5. The focusing algorithm has a lot of room for improvement; When using the EVF you can see the focus go past the sharp focus point and then return back. When going from one extreme (or near extreme) of the focus distance to the other it actually takes longer because of this new algorithm.

XF 35mm f1.4 R

Other problems
The other things that I disliked were as follows:

  • The memory card shared the battery chamber – my previous camera (GH3) had a dedicated slot for the memory card.
  • The tripod socket is not on the same axis as the lens.
  • The battery can go into the battery/SD card chamber in any one of 4 ways (only 1 of these works of course).
  • The X-Pro1 has to use a manual cable release (which negates any remote shooting).
  • There is no microphone socket
  • The video is very basic (I was spoilt by the Lumix GH3 and the EOS 5D-MkIII)
  • You don’t want to do any manual focusing do you – an exercise in frustration awaits you.
  • This supposed focus peaking, I am not sure what I am meant to be seeing?

Lens Issues
There are some issues with a couple of the lenses that I have:

The zoom ring if the 55-200mm lens is way too stiff and if you change the focal length the whole camera moves.

You cannot use the Macro lens to take pictures of anything moving and because of the manual focusing issue, it is difficult to focus quickly. The fact that there are no macro flash guns also compounds the problem.

OK so what do I do now?
After much research (and ever decreasing funds) I have taken the decision to go back to the Panasonic Lumix GH3. There I said it; I made a mistake I should never have let nostalgia take over and get an inferior product. Yes the “heft” of the X-Pro1 was nice, the pictures that came out of the camera were very good, although I didn’t see the special quality of the latest images, there were not as good as I remember – nostalgia again maybe? The quality of the FUJI glass was also excellent too. But that all said the negatives (for me) far outweighed the positives.

Lumix GH3-Front

So I sold the FUJIFILM gear to MPB Photographic along with the LEE Filter system (that was never used, not even once) and the proceeds were used to go back to the Lumix GH3. Fortunately for me there were many offers on the FUJI gear that I had purchased so I did not loose too much money. Also the price of the GH3 (with 12-35mm f2.8 lens) had dropped slightly and there was an offer for a free battery grip in place so this saved some additional money. I found another Panasonic 100-300mm lens for a reasonable price (PC World of all places), the second battery had 10% off and I managed to re-acquire my Panasonic MS-2 Microphone for a small fee (thank you LCE).

So what have I lost? The only missing item from my previous kit is the 35-100mm f2.8 lens but I didn’t use this lens as much as the 100-300mm lens which was more practical for me when shooting wildlife. So I have a big hole from 35mm to 100mm and I do see that I will need to get one of these lenses in the future; maybe Panasonic will do an offer for one in the next few months.

35-100mm f2.8 Lens

So after a frustrating (and expensive) nostalgia trip I am now back shooting with a GH3 and I couldn’t be happier! 🙂

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