X-Pro – how much I love thee….
Certainly, amongst the throngs of mirrorless cameras out there these days, few have polarised opinion more than the Fujifilm X-Pro 1. In the UK we would call this a ‘marmite’ camera – you either love it, or you hate it. There is no grey area. It is one or the other. Period. See ya.
It seems the X-Pro’s days are numbered. In fact, they probably stopped making them a while ago such is the heavy discounting going on right now. Therefore, as an early adopter of the system (June 2012 to be exact) I figured it would be appropriate to write a few words in honour of this little beast – especially as murmurings of an X-Pro 2 are getting steadily louder.
It is also noteworthy to mention the current price of these bad boys – I paid about £1500 – is now at a ludicrously low level, tempting many more people to investigate the system. At £299 or thereabouts, this camera represents STAGGERINGLY good value for money. Read on to find out why…
To make things easier to follow, I have chaptered as below:
5) Look and Feel – Usability
1) Build Quality – Yes, its very good. No, it is not pro-level. It is NOT ‘built like a tank’ but it is well made. Being an old school film photographer, I was always surprised by that rather bold statement regarding build quality. For a start, X-Pro is not weather sealed (not a deal breaker for me anyway), but its more than that. It carries about a third of the heft of my Olympus OM-4, but its more than that too.
Its the ‘gaps’ that are visible when the grip has been added, little havens for gunk and crap. Its the monthly loss of sync caps, the yearly loss of dioptres – yes, bits fall off this camera. As a reliable camera, absolutely, X-Pro has not given me a wink of trouble. It has been no where near a service centre, and by all accounts this is the norm amongst most users – but pick it up. It doesn’t ‘feel pro’ – it feels ‘nice’, but it doesn’t feel pro. In fact, the XT-1 feels more pro…
I believe build quality will be a major marketing point of the X-Pro 2 when it appears. If you’re going to have ‘Pro’ in the name, make it ‘Pro’ in game too.
2) Focus & Performance.
Lets just put this out there – X Pro is somewhat clunky. If you’re coming to this camera with a DSLR background, the chances are you will struggle, and you will need to be patient. The rewards are there, but this is not to be used like a DSLR and if you bought this with that in mind, you were, and are, kind of silly. I’ll see you on Ebay.
Although NOT a rangefinder camera, the X-Pro was designed for that kind of photographer. Make comparisons with the Leica M series and Contax G series. Nothing else. If you like, or liked, those X-Pro is for you.
Auto focussing, while improved over the years with firmware, will always be this cameras Achilles heel. In medium to good light, its ‘fine’. Its fairly snappy with some lenses, bloody awful with others (the 60mm, while optically astonishing, is practically useless at focussing on this camera). In low light, switch to manual focus or set a hyperfocal distance. There is an AF illumination bulb, which does help a wee bit but I don’t like to use it.
Despite all this, once you know the camera well enough and feel confident in knowing what this camera CAN do, don’t let it stop you from having fun:
3) Image Quality
X-Pro’s stand out feature. Image quality is SUBLIME – let no one tell you different. Marry an X-Trans version one sensor to Fujinon prime glass and you are, as we say, ‘laughing’….
In my humble opinion, the original X-Trans sensor is the best APS-C sized chip still out there. I have an XE2, which has a the newer version II, and as good as it is I vastly prefer the files coming from the original. You would be absolutely right to assume sensor technology has advanced somewhat in the almost 4 years since the X-Pro came out – but to what end? Low light ISO performance and dynamic range? Sure – my XE2 has probably a whole stop’s worth of improvement in that area. Auto focus? Definitely – phase detect has been added, and that really does improve things, especially in low light. Pixel count? Again, yeah sure, although not on the current range of Fuji’s…but there is so much more to this argument.
X-Trans version one gives me what practically no other sensor can – beautiful, rich, organic ‘FILMIC’ files which are a joy to work with. XE2 files are fine, lovely, in fact. But to me they are TOO perfect, too pristine and more importantly – TOO DIGITAL. I like the element of chaos that the original chip gives me. Glorious grain, subtle noise, natural skin tones and a certain ‘realness’ I cant get anywhere else in digital photography. I shoot mainly RAW, but if JPEG is your thing (or you WANT it to be your thing) this chip performs WAY better than the XE2 in that regard. I would’ve liked the Classic Chrome preset you get with later models, but trust me, shoot mono JPEG on this camera….holy mother of god.
5000ISO!! REALLY!!! –
From a base level, X-Pro could be seen as lacking a bit here now. For its time, it was actually pretty loaded but we’ve moved on a bit now.
The 3″ screen, while very good still, looks a bit tired compared to what’s around now. Its fixed, obviously, and in truth a tiltable screen would be pretty sweet for me – the old knees are failing. There is no point in mentioning the auto focus again, although its really not as bad as people say it is. Including me. Increased latitude on the exposure comp dial is welcome on later models, but I never really struggled with plus or minus two stops in the first place. 5+ frames per second is fine for continuous I guess – but this camera was never really designed for that kind of shooting. Slow flash sync? Yes – but I’ve never used flash. I hate flash.
The EVF is higher in definition on later models too – but also laggier in some. Lower res does in fact improve this and its very much the case on the X-Pro. Focus peaking is there too now, but its not so great. The EVF is pretty good, but a Leica Q it aint…
And video – yes – video blows pretty hard on this camera. But again, no one bought this bad boy for that.
What you DO get is an optical viewfinder. Still the only interchangeable mirrorless camera that has one. Is it good? It is for anything other than close focussing. Its not great with zooms, extreme wides or anything over 90mm focal length. But it is fun to use and pretty unique right now.
5) Look & Feel
The Fujifilm X-Pro 1 is gorgeous in this respect. Everyone has an opinion on this – but for those that bought one, its appearance was pretty high on the list. I know it was for me. I mean really…look at it:
Admittedly, I’ve over pimped mine (don’t judge) but even at its bare bones its sexy enough to make a Samsung jealous (not hard). Even a Contax G2 looks longer in the mirror these days.
Aside from this, it is also a highly intuitive and (most importantly) FUN camera to use. Having an aperture ring is fantastic, especially if you shoot mainly in Aperture Priority – its just QUICKER. Manual dials on the top plate are inspired (and solid) – and the Q menu is responsive and really easy to follow as well, if not very flashy. If you’re from the old school, this is your camera.
Note: Buy a third party grip if you have big hands – the Fuji one is expensive and not great – iShoot do a good one that is Arca compatible – awesome. Thumb grips are useful too. I promise, you’ll be checking the Exposure comp dial by the minute if you don’t get one. Trust me on this. Its a pain in the arse.
You’d have to be a real hard nose to not enjoy shooting on this camera. The amount of users that have had their love of photography re-ignited as a result of getting this camera is a testament to its design and user interface. Its my first camera of choice.
As a film maker by trade, I know glass. Fujinon glass is freaking awesome. If you only get into the X system for one reason – the quality of the lenses available to you should be top of the list. Sensor’s are important, but glass is more important. Great glass on a shit sensor will still give you an acceptable result. The same cannot be said for the reverse.
I have quite a few nice lenses – though this picture is a little out of date now, I have added to it since:
Firstly, there are NO BAD, OR EVEN AVERAGE, PRIME X LENSES. The 18mm gets a bad rap, but I have never understood why. Its lovely and small, snappy (for a Fuji) and mine is pin sharp. I can only assume there are bad copies out there, as my experience with it is anything but poor. Its also one of the cheapest to buy and a great way to start in to the system. Same can be said for the 27mm pancake.
The 60mm F2.4 is the most frustrating of the bunch – optically, its right up there. In fact, it could be the sharpest lens I own which is why I keep it around, but its AF lets it down. Badly. It is cheap though, especially used. Don’t write it off, just learn to use it in manual focus in bad light.
As for my favourites? The 23mm may as well be bolted on. I’m a street shooter, and this lens kicks ass in every way, centre, edge, wide open, closed down – its a dream street lens. The 56mm APD has a special place too, though only really for portraits and studio work. The 35mm 1.4 should really be the first lens you buy, purely as its so good it should be used as a yardstick for what kind of image quality you can get from this camera. I struggle to find fault with it optically, though it is a little noisy when focussing.
The zooms I own (18-55 and 55-200) are spot on (though not all that suitable for use with an optical viewfinder on the X-Pro). I don’t use zooms often, but I have total faith in these two if I have to opt for variable focal length optics. The short zoom, especially, is very sharp and the image stabilisation is excellent.
The X system is growing, and each new lens that comes out is normally followed by a plethora of five star reviews. And yes, I really do want the 90mm now. It looks spectacular.
Flash is still a weak point. I’m sure it will be addressed in the next generation of cameras, but its poor right now. Having mentioned previously, I do not like flash, so this doesnt affect me at all. And with the low light capabilities of every X-series camera, this shouldn’t hamper you either. Note: these cameras work terrifically with continuous studio lighting. see right here:
Samyang/Rokinon/Bowens/Walimex – They’re all the same lens, and many of them are excellent and great value alternatives if you cant justify the cost of a specialist Fujinon lens. The 12mm is excellent for interiors, the 8mm is fun to use and the 85mm is terrific for portraits. These lenses are manual in focus and aperture, but dont let that put you off – the super wide’s barely need any focussing at all, and the tele is worth the patience. Check them out. This was taken on the Samyang 12mm – almost too sharp:
So, should you still buy an X-Pro 1? At £300 body only, yes. YES. Available new, with a couple of primes its now only £600 – which is just plain daft.
Of course I am biased – I adore mine – but even a non fanboy has got to appreciate the image quality that few other cameras at this price range can even get near to. All those things you hear about – the Fuji colours, the Fuji skin tones, the Fuji glass, the Fuji focussing (see,I’ve got to stop gushing haven’t I?) is all here, and its a great way to get into one of the best systems available.
And no, Fujifilm don’t pay me. They don’t send me gear to test. My thoughts are my own – but that’s not to say I’m not tempted by free gear. Fuji, if you’re listening, I will say whatever you want me to for free gear. That includes your polo shirts… 🙂
And to prove it, here are some images from the 60mm which I have slagged off from the get go:
Thanks for reading.