Fujifilm X-Pro1 Review

4.5
March 15, 2012 | Mark Goldstein |

Introduction

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 is a new premium compact system camera. Building on the popularity of the X100, the retro, rangefinder-styled X-Pro1 offers a brand new sensor that's claimed to rival full-frame DSLRs, an improved hybrid viewfinder, and a new X lens mount with three prime lenses available on launch. Read our Fujifilm X-Pro1 review to find out if it can emulate the runaway success of the X100...

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 is a new compact system camera featuring a retro design that bears more than a passing resemblance to the Leica M-series. At the heart of the X-Pro1 is the 16.3 megapixel APS-C sized “X-Trans” CMOS sensor, which has a new type of colour filter array that mimics film grain and no optical low-pass filter for higher resolution images. The new X lens mount has a short flange-back distance of just 17.7mm, with three lenses available on launch - the XF 18mm f2 R, the XF 35mm f/1.4 R and the XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro - each of which features a traditional aperture ring and an iris diaphragm with rounded aperture blades. The X-Pro1’s Hybrid Multi Viewfinder cleverly combines an optical viewfinder and an electronic viewfinder together, with the former similar to those found in rangefinder-type film cameras but overlaid with vital shooting information and with variable magnification built-in to match lenses of any focal length. The Fujifilm X-Pro1 body-only costs £1399 in the UK and $1699 in the US.

Ease of Use

Clearly based upon last year's best-selling X100 fixed-lens compact camera, the new X-Pro1 expands Fujifilm's recently introduced X-series of serious digital cameras, which also includes the XS-1 bridge ultrazoom and the premium X10 zoom compact. The all-black Fujifilm X-Pro1 is a classically styled interchangeable lens camera that recalls film rangefinders from the past, with a stunning retro design that draws admiring glances from everyone that sees it. At the same time Fujifilm have incorporated a lot of modern technologies that help ensure that the X-Pro1 isn't simply a blast from the past.

With three lenses available on launch, the X-Pro1 is a more adaptable camera than the X100 with its fixed X100 lens, although it's important to note that all three are also primes, offering focal lengths of 28mm, 50mm and 90mm macro. Fujifilm have promised that a zoom lens will be released in the near future, and there's also talk of an adapter for Leica-M lens owners. For now, though, the X-Pro1 is still something of a niche product, with its prime lenses, comparatively large body, and the emphasis on a manual way of shooting that requires some experience on the part of the user. As with the X100, the X-Pro1 will particularly appeal to the street photographer, with the 27mm and 53mm lenses being appealing focal lengths, the oversized optical viewfinder crucially showing the subject before it moves into the frame, and the various dials making it quick and easy to control the camera while it's held up to your eye.

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 is another amazingly well-built X-series camera, with absolutely no flex or movement in its chassis thanks to the die-cast magnesium alloy top and base plates and machined control dials. At the same time, it's actually much lighter than a first glance might suggest, weighing in at 450g body only with the battery and memory card fitted, amazingly the same weight as the X100 (although of course that has a lens already fitted). Measuring 139.5 (W) x 81.8 (H) x 42.5 (D) mm, it's taller, wider and deeper than all other current compact system cameras. There are a few plastic buttons and controls on the X-Pro1, most notably the memory card / battery compartment door and the flap for the HDMI port, both of which wouldn't look or feel out of place on a cheap compact, but other that that the X-Pro1 offers excellent build quality.

The X-Pro1 has a subtle but effective hand-grip at the front and a space at the rear for your thumb, with your grip helped in no small part by the textured faux-leather surface that runs around the full width of the camera. Two small metal eyelets on either side of the body are used for connecting the supplied shoulder strap, which isn't quite as luxurious as the rest of the package. A metal tripod mount is positioned slightly off-centre from the lens and next to the memory card / battery compartment, so you'll have to remove the camera from the tripod to change either of them.

Canon PowerShot A2100 IS Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
Front Rear

At the heart of the X-Pro1 is the new 16.3 megapixel APS-C sized “X-Trans” CMOS sensor, with APS-C being a size that's more commonly used by the majority of DSLR cameras than by compact system cameras - Sony's NEX range and Samsung's NX series are the others. Fujifilm actually claim that the X-Pro1's sensor will deliver image quality that surpassses most APS-C DSLRs and even some full-frame ones, and as our test photos and sample images on the next two pages show , the X-Pro1 actually does live up to those claims. We won't say any more at this point other than to recommend that you take a look at our Sample Images for yourself.

Helping to keep the image quality high are the X-Pro1's fixed prime lenses. Instead of relying on a zoom lens, the X-Pro1's current lens range forces you to get up close and personal with whatever or whoever you're photographing, adding a level of intimacy to your photographs that is often missing when shooting with a zoom. We feel that if you had to choose just one lens, then the 53mm lens with its natural focal length and fast maximum aperture of F/1.4 is the one to go for, while the 27mm is particularly suited to landscape work and the 91mm lens is a good macro optic offering 0.5x reproduction. All three have aperture and manual focus rings on the lens barrel, which in conjunction with the shutter speed (now with a handy locking button for the A mode which prevents the dial being accidentally changed in a camera bag) and exposure compensation dials on top of the camera body makes it straight-forward to set the exposure. We did find though that the aperture ring on all three lenses is easily moved, particularly when taking the lens on and off the camera, so watch out for an incorrectly set aperture.

The Fujifilm X-Pro1's lenses have fast maximum apertures of F/1.4, F/2.0 and F/2.4, which in conjunction with the large APS-C sensor makes it easy to throw the background out of focus and achieve some really nice bokeh effects. The combination of the fast apertures and the extensive ISO range of 100-25600 makes the X-Pro1 very well suited to low-light shooting, allowing you to hand-hold the camera in places where you'd usually be reaching for a tripod (if allowed) or other support. The clever ISO Auto Control setting allows you to set a maximum sensitivity (up to 3200) and a minimum shutter speed (1/30th is a good starting point), with the camera over-riding your ISO choice if it thinks you're being too ambitious whilst maintaining a shutter speed that won't introduce camera shake.

With its focal-plane shutter, the X-Pro1 has a more adaptable top shutter-speed limit of 1/4000th second in all shooting modes than the X100's limiting 1/1000th speed. Consequently there's no built-in ND filter as on the X100, so if you want to use the 35mm lens at F/1.4 in very bright sunlight then it's a good idea to buy an actual glass ND filter (52mm). Annoyingly the X-Pro1 retains the same macro focusing quirk as the X100. Normal focusing is from 80cms to infinity, so if you want to get closer to your subject than that and still be able to auto-focus, you have to select the Macro mode (even with the 91mm macro lens fitted), which in turn prohibits the use of the optical viewfinder, instead relying on the electronic one. You then have to turn off the Macro mode to return to normal focusing beyond 2ms. It's not the steps that you have to go through that's problematic, but the 80cm distance, which you'll often find yourself on the cusp of when grabbing a candid shot. You can completely circumvent this by manual focusing, but it is annoying for us mere mortals who rely on auto-focusing.

Canon PowerShot A2100 IS Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
Front Top

Talking of which, the Fujifilm X-Pro1's auto-focusing speed isn't exactly the quickest in the world, especially if you're used to shooting with a DSLR. The X-Pro1 has 49 individual AF points laid out in a 7 x 7 grid, with the ability to change the size of the focus point via the rear command dial to achieve more precise focusing. Compact users will be well-used to the contrast-detection system that the X-Pro1 also employs, but DSLR owners accustomed to the quick reactions of their phase-detection cameras will likely find the perceptible delay of the X-Pro1 as it locks onto the subject slightly annoying. Of the three lenses available on launch, the 17mm is quickest to focus with a delay of around 0.2 seconds, then the 35mm and finally the ponderous 60mm macro. Note that all three are markedly slower when the X-Pro1's macro mode is activated, and that the 35mm lens has quite a noisy focusing mechanism. Again, more experienced users will opt for pre-focusing manually to be able to react in the quickest way possible, while for the rest of us the slightly sluggish AF speed is a mere blemish in the X-Pro1's performance, rather than a complete showstopper.

Manual focusing is activated by setting the focusing switch on the front of the camera to Manual and using the ring that encircles the lens to focus. The X-Pro1 lenses have an electronically coupled focus-by-wire manual focusing ring, rather than a physical one, which in practice is less responsive both in terms of feel and speed. It takes quite a lot of turns to focus from the closest possible distance to infinity, so many that as with the X100 it's still a much better idea to use the AFL/AEL button on the rear of the camera to set the focus automatically, then use the focusing ring to micro-adjust the focus manually, if required.

There's a handy blue distance scale along the bottom of the viewfinder (both the OVF and EVF) and on the LCD screen if you're using that for composition, with a red bar indicating the the focusing distance and a white bar showing the depth of field, which actually changes in line with the current aperture - very handy. In addition to the AFL/AEL button, the X-Pro1 has another trick up its manual focusing sleeve in the shape of the rear command control (the dial which sits under your right thumb). You can press this in to magnify the view in the electronic viewfinder and rear LCD screen, making it much easier to judge precise focusing.

The X-Pro1 utilises a focal-plane shutter rather than the leaf shutter that the X100 has, much like a regular DSLR camera. This results in slightly noisier operation and a much slower flash-sync speed of 1/180th second (versus the X100's 1/4000th second). To make the camera less obtrusive there's a Silent menu option which turns off the speaker, flash, AF-assist lamp and most importantly the artificially-created shutter-release sound, instantly making the X-Pro1 perfectly suited to candid photography.

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 offers not one, not two, but three ways of composing your images. In addition to the extremely high-resolution 3 inch LCD monitor on the back, which has 1,230,000 dots and offers 100% scene coverage, the X-Pro1 also features the much-talked-about hybrid optical viewfinder / electronic viewfinder system. Optical viewfinders are something of a dying breed amongst modern cameras, so it's very refreshing to see the reverse Galilean model on the X-Pro1, with a 0.37x / 0.6x magnification and low chromatic aberration and distortion. A parallax corrected framing rectangle shows roughly what the picture will include (about 90%), with the framing lines and focus point moving when the shutter button is half-pressed to show the correct framing for the current focusing distance.

Canon PowerShot A2100 IS Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
Side Side

So far, so good - but this is no ordinary optical viewfinder. Fujifilm have implemented an integrated prism for the electronic viewfinder onto the optical viewfinder, with the latter able to show the shooting frame and a variety of shooting data. So you get a large, bright optical viewfinder which shows a bigger area than what the camera actually captures when you take a photo, useful for seeing when moving subjects are about to enter the frame, overlaid with useful information including exposure compensation, shutter speed, aperture, focusing distance scale, an electronic level and histogram (there are 14 options in total) - even the focusing point is highlighted! And at the flick of the Viewfinder switch on the front of the camera, you can easily switch from the OVF to the EVF, which has 1,440,000 dots and provides the same exact 100% coverage as the rear LCD screen, plus a parallax corrected view, accurate preview of exposure and depth of field, and the ability to see all of the information that you can view on the rear LCD. We don't like the revised Viewfinder switch though, which has been inexplicably turned upside down and is subsequently too close to the handgrip and lens barrel.

As the X-Pro1 is an interchangeable lens camera, when an XF series lens is mounted the specific lens data is communicated to X-Pro1 and the viewfinder magnification (either 0.37x for the 18mm lens or 0.6x for the 35mm and 60mm lenses) and frame size (multiple steps) are automatically set. You can also manually set the focal distance and switch between viewfinder magnifications by holding down the switch lever on the front of the camera for 2 seconds. Using the optical viewfinder with the 60mm macro lens in particular does result in a rather small viewing area, so small that I preferred to switch to the electronic viewfinder when using this lens.

Written down, the hybrid optical viewfinder / electronic viewfinder sounds pretty complicated, but in practice it's actually very intuitive to use. The X-Pro1 has a built-in eye sensor so that you only have to hold the camera up to eye-level to switch between the rear LCD and the hybrid optical viewfinder / electronic viewfinder (or you can press the View Mode button). Then it's simply a case of using either the bright OVF or the slightly darker EVF. I used the former for 90% of the time, helped by the camera automatically switching to the EVF to instantly playback the image, with the latter as a backup for moments when more precise framing was required, when I wanted to make a menu selection or with the 60mm macro lens. Just make sure that you turn the electronic level on when using the OVF to help combat parallax error and keep your horizontals and verticals straight.

In terms of operational speed, the Fujifilm X-Pro1 has some real standout highlights, but also a few weak points. While we've already discussed the slightly ponderous auto-focusing, shutter lag is virtually non-existent on this camera, so once you have set the focus, you'll never miss the moment because the camera can't fire the shutter quickly enough. Continuous shooting speeds are also good, with a top rate of 6fps for around 40 JPEGs or 10 RAW files, depending on the speed of your memory card, with a slower 3fps speed also available. Note that both the focus and the exposure are set according to the first frame in each series, so it's not a particularly good system for tracking fast-moving subjects in varied lighting conditions, and also the camera locks up for a long time if you shoot the maximum number of images in a burst (well over a minute for raw images). Of greater concern for the X-Pro1's main target audience are the write speeds from pressing the shutter button to recording to the SD / SDHC / SDXC memory card. Shooting a single RAW + Fine JPEG takes about 8 seconds to record to the card, although thankfully you can take another shot almost straight away. We used a 64Gb SanDisk Ultra SDXC card for this review, which has a write speed of 15MB/s, not the fastest around, but not the slowest either.

Canon PowerShot A2100 IS Canon PowerShot A2100 IS
Memory Card Slot Battery Compartment

One area in which the Fujifilm X-Pro1 excels is its handling, thanks in no small part to the numerous external controls that make changing the key settings a breeze, especially when holding the camera at eye-level. Surrounding each lens is a circular aperture ring, with 7 or 8 markings from the maximum to minimum aperture and an Auto setting in case you want the camera to take control. This dial also allows you to choose third-stop apertures, a big improvement on the X100's full-stop lens. On top of the X-Pro1 is a large, tactile control dial for setting the shutter speed, with settings ranging from 1 second to 1/4000th second, an Auto option, a T setting for longer exposures (2 to 30 seconds, set via the circular command wheel) and a Bulb mode for exposures up to a whopping 60 minutes in length. Alongside the shutter speed dial is another tactile dial for changing the exposure compensation (+-2EV) - together these three controls make it extremely easy to set the exposure.

Three other controls complete the X-Pro1's top-plate. The small but responsive shutter release button is encircled by the On/Off switch, which in turn has a thread for a very traditional mechanical cable release - there's no need to buy an expensive dedicated accessory for this camera. Alongside is the Fn button, which by default provides quick access to the ISO speeds, but can be customised to suit your own needs from 12 different settings. Further customisation is available via the 7 Custom Menu options, which let you create, save and recall up to 7 sets of user-defined settings. Finally there's an external flash hotshoe for suitable dedicated external units - note that unlike the X100, the X-Pro1 has no built-in flash.

The X-Pro1's LCD screen is large at 3 inches and of very high resolution (1,230,000 dots)) to match the rest of the camera's high specification. I actually found myself using it much less than with a DSLR, due to the ability to use the menu system and review images via the electronic viewfinder, and you could conceivably turn off the LCD altogether to help eke out the 300 shot battery life even further. The LCD screen does have a handy Info view which presents all of the key settings at once, or you can switch to the Standard or Custom Live View modes, with the latter offering 14 customisable options (these are also used for the electronic viewfinder).

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 can record full HD 1080p movies at 24fps with stereo sound, with the option for turning this mode on curiously buried at the bottom of the Drive menu (you can, as with most things on the X-Pro1, customise this and assign the Fn button to the movie mode). It's fair to say that the X-Pro1's movie mode isn't overly advanced. You can set the aperture and shutter speed before recording begins, but not during, and you can also set the Film Simulation mode, so black and white footage is possible. Continuous auto-focusing is possible, although it tends to hunt around a lot before locking onto the subject, and manual focusing is also available (with the same caveats as for stills). There is a HDMI port for connecting the X-Pro1 to a high-definition TV, although as usual there's no cable supplied in the box. Also missing is a paper copy of the otherwise helpful manual, which is supplied on CD-ROM instead, along with the consumer MyFinepix software the slow and rather unintuitive RAW convertor (essentially a specially customised version of the commercial Silkypix application).

The X-Pro1 has a logical rear control layout. There's a vertical row of three buttons on the left of the LCD screen for choosing the drive mode, exposure mode and focusing point. Above the LCD is the View Mode button for manually switching between the LCD and the OVF/EVF and the activity LED, and to the right are the rear control dial, customisable AFL/AEL button, image playback button and the new Q button. This provides quick access to 16 frequently used shooting settings including the ISO speed, White Balance, File Size and File Quality, with the 4-way controller and command dial used to quickly change them. The 4-way controller is also used to change the shutter speed and aperture and toggle the macro mode on and off. In the middle of the controller is the Menu button, which accesses the Shooting and Set-up menus. Underneath is the Disp/Back button which is used for changing the LCD display or going back.

Entry Tags

3 inch LCD, 1080p, 16 megapixel, lens, camera, csc, prime, 35mm, retro, compact system, digital, 18mm, rangefinder, x-pro1, 27mm, 60mm, Fujifilm X-Pro1, 91mm, Fujifilm X-Pro1 Review, 53mm, fujifilm x-pro1 review, fujifilm x-pro1, x-pro1 review

Tracker Pixel for Entry