Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Fujifilm X-Pro 1 personal review

This describes my first experiences with Fuji X-Pro 1 camera. The review is purely subjective. After all, what works for me, does not necessarily work for anybody else.

I wanted X-Pro 1 to replace my D700 for all around photography, especially for travels. Smaller, more portable, but having not only an equal or better quality, but also psychological feature of not feeling to have any compromise by not taking a full frame camera with me. That was the objective. Read on to find out, if it was a successful choice.

I have been a user of X100 for about a year, and I expected to have already learned how to use such camera.

The decision to buy it was accelerated by the fact I left my X100 on the table before going on a long trip to Japan. Without any camera, but iPhone, I felt almost naked. So I did everything to secure the possibility to use the camera already on the first day of my stay in Japan. It was possible thanks to, and a nice local shop Akihabara Outlet Plaza.

Paradoxically, the cameras I buy over the years bring me better and better picture quality, but slower and slower performance.


The First: Cosina Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 Heliar Super Wide

By accident, the first lens I got to use was not a native lens, but M-mount Cosina Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 Heliar Super-Wide II. I decided to get this lens instead of Fuji XF 18mm, and ahead of the announced Fuji XF 14mm.
Cosina Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 Heliar Super Wide II
Cosina Voigtlander 15mm 4.5 Heliar Super Wide II, photo by uaru
Being an M-mount lens means it is fully manual. In practice, as expected, it did not present any obstacle.

The DOF of this lens is huge... It is so huge, it does not really need any focusing when stepped down, and rarely when full open at 4.5. The blur that appeared on some photos I  attributed more to not fast enough shutter speed, then incorrect focus.

Recently I started to shoot Auto ISO with my Fuji X100, to keep ISO as low as possible, but not giving up on shutter speed and not having to change the ISO value all the time, which is problematic in fast changing situations.  Unfortunately, lack of the possibility to set the minimum shutter speed is a big and famous problems with the current implementation of the  Auto ISO setting in X-Pro 1. Going back to hand picking the ISO setting before shooting is necessary to get sharp pictures.

With its huge DOF of 15mm lens, it is tantalizing to open it to 2 or even more. Unfortunately, this lens is not that fast. Even if I find myself liking to shoot it on the street, in the late evening it is becoming more difficult to handle.

My first test picture:

The Second Lens: Fuji XF 35mm 1.4

Everybody is praising the quality of this glass, and it was obvious I will get it, even if it would be my only original Fuji glass.

The lens itself is larger then I thought. It is my largest glass so far for X-Pro 1. Even so, it is much MUCH smaller than my almost equivalent Nikkor 50mm f1.4 G. It is beautiful.

Shallow DOF  at 1.4  was the reason I desired it. It is especially important for APS-C sized sensor. To understand how shallow the DOF can be with this lens, I present two photos. One shot at f8, the other at f1.4.

Demonstration of XF 35mm Depth of Field: F11
Demonstration of XF 35mm Depth of Field: F1.4 - DOF is really thin.
Demonstration of XF 35mm Depth of Field: F1.4 - DOF is really thin.

And my then standard "wall" picture:



The Third: Minolta M-Rokkor 90mm f4

I wanted to have a third lens, longer, for close-up portraits and some special cases, when the usage of "foot zoom" is not possible.

I considered many options. 
  • native Fuji XF 60mm macro f2.4
  • Voigtlander Heliar 75mm f1.8
  • Leica Elmarit 90mm f2.8
  • Leica Elmar 135mm f4

In a way, it would be nice to have all of them for some reason or the other. All the above lenses cost at least equivalent of 500 euro, and I was short on budget at this moment.

Not giving up hope, I hunted in second hand photography shops in Ginza for something in M-mount variety, which I could use for the assumed purpose. I could not find anything below the said price level from Leica glass. The cheaper Elmarits were at the level of e-bay auctions, and Elmars commanded even higher price.

The fate brought me to a shop which existence I completely forgotten, even if I already bought something before. In a really small shop in backstreet in Ginza, I noticed an inconspicuous lens, which was quite cheap and its specifics were just appropriate. The description was Minolta M-Rokkor 90mm f4, and the price was a fraction of what Leica glass cost.


I investigated a little on the internet. I found out, that this is probably the only case in history, that a German company manufactured something for a Japanese brand. The glass was made by Leica for the join project with Minolta: Leica CL/Minolta CL. Its other branding is Leica Elmar-C 90mm f4. It has some nice reviews:

I thought the specs are OK for the price and it is not a bad idea to give Rokkor a try.

The lens is diminutive for a 90mm lens. For X-Pro APS-C sensor, it is equivalent of 135mm, which is longer then traditional portrait lens, but I think it is still usable. The minimum focusing distance is 1m.

Here is the test "wall" picture:


Who knows, maybe I will be able to use it for some action as well, even if it is manual;-)

I saw some sports photos on Steve Huffs blog, which were shot with manual M-lenses, so it is perfectly possible.

Street shooting

The camera handles differently then any other camera I had used. The AF is really very slow. It is not that I shoot out-of-focus - it is that the camera often captures picture just after the subjects left the frame! It is necessary to prefocus it - but it also does not guarantee the camera will not start thinking before capture.

Looking on the LCD or through viewfinder is not enough: you must predict and prepare in advance. The old saying, that when you see it, it is already too late, has never been more true with modern digital cameras. It simply is no compare to the faster-then-thought reaction of Nikon D4, my D700, and even my old Panasonic GF1. 

To GUARANTEE the prompt reaction, it is necessary to go to manual mode. And here is a catch: manual focusing requires as much prediction as AF, much more skill and experience and on top of it, the current Fuji glass is quite slow in manual focusing.

Busy railway station
Just too slow... ;-)
To focus manually, I figure it is probably better to use a completely manual lenses, like M-glass, or any of the other manual lenses out there - one of the reasons for CV15.

I guess that by investing in M-glass you really cannot go wrong, given that it is currently supported by all mirror-less systems (including the awesome Ricoh GXR Mount, which I also considered). Manual focusing is not really that inconvenient, at the users of the aforementioned GXR prove… So it could be I should look into some 28mm/35mm M-glass for manual shooting, leaving the Fuji XF only to AF tasks?

All together, this camera is much more challenging to master then all the other cameras I used in the past. In a way, it is more challenging than the film cameras of old, which did not have any lag..

However, the X-Pro picture quality is awesome. I believe that when the camera usage is mastered, it is capable of extraordinary results.

And strangely, in spite of all the described problems, it is quite likeable. At least, I enjoy using it. I would like it to be better - but I do not feel like coming back to my old equipment.

The effort to predict how the situation in front of the photgrapher unfolds is also a demanding but good exercise. So I believe that using this camera will make one a better photographer altogether. And having captured a nice shot, I feel satisfaction.

Later, having exercised the clairvoyance and using ultra fast camera like Nikon D4 would produce miracles;-) Having said that, I would not bring Nikon D4 on any of those walks around the street.

Street shooting: Lenses

Which lens is my favourite? Surprisingly, CV15. It is the most reliable performance-wise. It is much wider then obvious 23mm (35mm in full frame equivalence), so I thought I cannot close to the subjects in normal street situation.

XF 35mm is however the best after dark. I cannot feel the right distance yet. It should be half a step further then with 23mm lens. But with practice, I still believe this lens has potential.

The most funny thing is, I am usually satisfied with the lens I have stucked to the camera at any given time. I went by for two years with one lens only for my Panasonic, even if I was thinking of buying other (which I never did).

X100 vs X-Pro 1

Here is the real contest, as those cameras are quite similar.

X100 has ultra quiet leaf shutter. I was afraid X-Pro to be too loud. In the street the difference is not really noticable, but it is, especially when you get close to subject (less then 1m). The camera click sounds nice, and even in a loud environment, like a street, I could feel exactly the moment, when the picture was taken.

There are circumstances however, I would not dare to take pictures with this camera, like in the absolute quiet room.

I must say yet, that currently X100 is much better companion for street shooting. Three main reasons for it are:

  • The lens of X100 is an equivalent of 35mm. This is perfect for street shooting - right now I do not have such lens for X-Pro 1.
  • The ultra quiet leaf shutter
  • The reaction for shutter press is faster. I have the impression it focuses faster then X-Pro with 35mm lens.

On the other hand, X-Pro 1:
  • the variety of lens makes it more flexible, with the notable exception of an equivalent of 35mm.
  • I always now, when I took picture, and if I took it at all.
  • I had better results with manual focusing

Considering all this, I prefer X100 for street photography at this moment.

The very good news is, that both X100 and X-Pro with one or two lenses are still lighter then D700 with just one bright zoom. An you have one camera as backup.

I am looking forward to yet not existing X200 - the camera with leaf shutter and lens of X100, and the sensor and some improvements of the X-Pro.

The grand test - Echizen Matsushima Aquarium

The ultimate test for me is how the camera works in aquariums. I bought this camera because I had a belief it could perform nicely.

If the focus is right, the quality is awesome. However, getting the focus right is a pain, especially with fast moving fish. Here we go again to manual focussing, like in the old days. In Nikon D700 I could do AF in 95% of situations.

Having said that, the photos came quite good. I am satisfied with the session. There are some types of photos I could not take with this camera, but I could take other, which I would not have taken with D700. With D700 I would not be forced to think how to compensate for focusing problems, so the photos might come more typical.
Hunting for prey in Echizen Matsushima Aquarium

Let us try, if we can swim out of this boring tank - a sea turtle (海亀) in Echizen Matsushima Aquarium.

Sneaky... an octopus in Echizen Matsushima Aquarium.

I still would like to go to an aquarium with D700, but this camera gets a passing grade. And it weighs so little, in some circumstances it surpasses D700 in practice.


I am not totally convinced I want to sell my Nikon D700 now (but mainly, because I feel attached to my tools). However, I am convinced, that normally I would use the X-Pro 75% of the time, with 22% going to Fuji X100. D700 would get the remaining 3% for special assignments. That means that Nikon D700 is almost obsolete for me at this moment, unless I will make photography into a job.

This review was written based on experiences in July, 2012. 


Andrew Sillett said...

Thanks for your review. Really interesting

Jeff roisman said...

Enjoy this very much. Have had similar experience with both cameras. Find x100 size a plus. also have em5 which is a simple pleasure with waist level finder ibis and 45mm. Forget about focus or auto ISO problems. But nothing beats the Fujis for fun and output when they're on. Worth every bit of the pain and learning curve.

Jeff roisman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Geeks said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)