New beast | the X-Pro1 from an X100 shooter


It’s been 20 days.

20 days during which I’ve gone from “Whoa, this is incredible!” to “What the %{#}??” enough times to postpone and rewrite entire segments of this post/review. I think I’ve now finally settled in enough to write something that makes a modicum of sense.

So here goes.

X-Man

When Fujifilm announced the X-Pro1 - their first interchangeable lens camera for the X-series - I shrugged. While many had been decrying the X100’s fixed focal length, clamoring for a more expandable model… I was perfectly happy. Better than happy: I found my X100’s limits liberating. I was already invested in Nikon for anything else and the idea of adding an entirely new lens system didn’t even cross my mind. I was little more than slightly curious.

But then came the images. And Nikon’s 36MP move. And the realization that the one camera I truly cared about had a Fuji logo on its top plate.

So after months of gobbling up every bit of news I could find, discussing the camera at length with fellow photographers, looking at some of their files and gushing very publicly on this blog… I finally jumped in and bought the Fujifilm X-Pro1 with the 35mm f1.4 lens.

Pool I - 1/640, f/8, ISO 640

praise you

I had expected this post to almost write itself automagically: praise, wow, praise, awesome… Done. Sure, I knew there’d be a few quirks and oddities. But as I said earlier, it’s been a much tougher road than anticipated. I’ve really been struggling to find the right tone.

First, Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: this IS an AMAZING camera. That 35mm lens IS as awesome as everyone says. I have never, ever seen SOOC (straight out of camera) files this sharp and this clean. The contrast, the colors… Everything is simply breathtaking.

When I looked at my first few images it felt like someone had wiped a Vaseline coating off my screen. Seriously. I don’t know anything about brick walls or charts but I can tell you that whatever Fuji has done with this camera - that new X-Trans sensor array or the X-mount, or the glass - it works. Period. When you nail the focus wide open and look at a 100% crop… Good. God.

For this seasoned X100 shooter though, the slight caveat is in the execution.

dirt

When I wrote A Different Beast last year - my first account of shooting the Fuji X100 - it felt very different and beastly indeed. Not only was I dealing with a new camera, but also what was then for me an entirely foreign way of shooting. My limited rangefinder experience (as a kid with my father’s Electro 35) was years behind me and I found myself with a severe case of disorientation. A DSLR Shooter in King Fuji’s Court if you will ;)

But a lot of time and images have passed since then. I now have tons of X100 frames under my belt, ingrained reflexes born of its idiosyncrasies and a massive amount of respect for what it can do when properly mastered.

While the X-Pro1’s lineage is immediately obvious, I’ve been surprised to see how a number of small variations add up to form a very distinct and initially destabilizing experience. The Hybrid Viewfinder switch is upside down. This supposedly to prevent from inadvertent use - although that’s never happened to me on the X100.

The AFL-AEL button is placed on top of the new Q Menu button and is similarly flat, even slightly recessed. This feels odd. I can’t help but think it would’ve been better positioned under the command wheel, where the Play button now sits. Certainly more natural. I’ve brought up the Q menu instead of focussing a couple of times.

But those are niggles. Nothing muscle reflexes can’t eventually cure (and in fact have been during the course of these tests). No, by far the biggest head scratcher of all for me (considering I’m now perfectly comfortable with its little brother and not comparing it to a DSLR) has been the camera’s overall performance: it’s slower than today’s X100.

Before the last firmware update I’d written “dramatically slower” but we’ve now seen a slight jump in AF speed, even though it wasn’t listed officially. Yet I still find this performance gap surprising for a few reasons:

  1. Fuji is gunning for pros.

  2. It was the one serious negative of the otherwise highly praised X100.

  3. I was expecting performance on par or exceeding an X100 circa 2012, not early 2011.

2 is puzzling: why would Fuji repeat the same mistake twice? They must’ve been aware of the potential backlash. But the third point stings the most. Over the past year, the X100 has become a completely different camera thanks to a steady stream of firmware updates and I was, for some reason, expecting this to be the new baseline, the X-Pro1’s starting gate. Instead, it turns out we’re back to square one and need to walk that road all over again.

The main problem isn’t so much the AF speed itself (although it’s part of the problem) as it is a tendency towards random shutter lag in certain conditions… Notably when attempting consecutive shots. I’m not talking about burst mode but simply firing a steady stream of shots, for instance to catch someone’s changing expression during a portrait session. Even in full manual mode there is an obvious delay as the lens seems to wake up with each shot. The X100 does this as well but much, much quicker so most of the time it isn’t a noticeable problem. It’s much less apparent when using the OVF vs the EVF but on a camera in this price range, targeting the type of market it is, I shouldn’t need to wonder when the shutter will release depending on the VF mode I’ve chosen - it should just release when I tell it to. If it doesn’t, chances are I’ve missed something in the process. In fact, I know I have. Sometimes it just skips a beat and boom… the rhythm’s off.

So… Bummer, right?

Kinda. Except for one gigantic fact: the images are bloody stunning. A lot of people told me I’d be in for a treat seeing my own pictures come out of this peculiar machine and they were absolutely right. It’s not just a technical thing either: I’m seeing the same depth and richness that made me fall in love with the X100… But magnified. Tenfold.

Frankly it puts anything that’s ever come out of my D300 to shame, even fitted with glass worth the price of this entire kit. Damn you Fuji.

So now, even as I mentally curse my way through shoots at times, even as I struggle to steer this boat in the right direction against wind and hail… I can’t imagine shooting with anything else.

Memories - 1/125, f/1.4, ISO 200

Sharpness at f/1.4sharpness at f/8

It’s getting better all the time

My brother-in-law is a software engineer and we’ve had several discussions about the Agile methodology. Essentially, it’s an iterative process that allows a software product to evolve over time through several small, continuous updates. Instead of massive, monolithic releases you get faster, lighter, steady refinements.

Fuji appear to have adopted this type of development process. I’ve seen first hand their level of commitment with the X100 and I can’t imagine the X-Pro1 getting anything less considering its place on their long-term roadmap. This is phase one of a brand new platform. And while there are obviously growing pains, if the past is any indication these should subside soon enough.

Already we’ve seen two firmware updates of considerable importance. My camera was at version 1.0 when I first unboxed it so I got to hear what the chatter issue was all about. One simple update nixed it completely. Then version 1.10 was released with support for the upcoming M-Mount adapter… And a refinement of the zoom function in manual focus that changed everything. A small item on a checklist but a HUGE improvement in actual usability.

This feels like a camera with even more potential just waiting to be unlocked. If the X100 is any indication of the type of improvements Fuji has the ability of adding through firmware, we’re in for a very rewarding ride. I’m not even worried.

how low can you go?

Beyond basic performance though, the one issue that needs to be adressed quickly is the lack of a minimum shutter speed setting in Auto ISO. To be blunt: it makes it all but useless. Which is a crying shame given the stunning high ISO images this camera can produce. Yes, you can switch to manual and let Auto ISO compensate but there’s a serious problem with that solution: just like the X100, the X-Pro1’s metering is always gunning for an average reading, with a tendency towards over-exposure - which means Auto ISO will negate any exposure changes you make via shutter speed or aperture. This is why I shoot the X100 in aperture priority 99% of the time. In aperture or shutter priority the EV dial lets you tells the entire metering system what you want - including Auto ISO. I usually set my min. shutter speed to 1/125 and off I go.

With the X-Pro1 you can’t do that. Beats me why… But the hard reality is that the camera very quickly defaults to 1/52. That’s a little slow for many situations - certainly for street photography. So for now I don’t use the function. I just set an ISO that makes sense and work the way I usually do. But I’ll be happy when they fix this.

fini

I’m not sure if I’ve hit the right tone with this “review”. When I read back what I wrote last year on the X100 I realize I’m not waxing poetic this time around, but believe me: I’m absolutely thrilled about this camera and more so each day. Again: the image quality is amazing. But it’s a very different relationship, probably due to its size and the obvious modular nature of the system. The X100 is so… finite. For some reason this makes it a much more intimate, tactile object.

The X-Pro1 on the other hand is a system. It follows the same philosophy, begs for the same deliberate, zen-like thoughtfulness but it holds a different soul. 
The soul of a warrior.

All it needs now is to sharpen its blade.

Later.

P.S I have to thank Derek Clark and Robert Catto for giving me such useful information along the way. And a boatload of thanks to Morten Byskov for the many pictures, the soul searching and our ongoing conversation about this and every other topic we can think of ;)

Pool II - 1/850, f/5.6, ISO 640Multiple exposure - 1/850, f/1.8, ISO 200Notre-Dame & Sunlife - 1/1000, f/8, ISO 320

Giants - 1/1100, f/8, ISO 320

Native monochrome with slight contrast adjustment - 1/450, f/4, ISO 800

Lazy - 1/3000, f/2, ISO 800

Waffles - 1/420, f/1.4, ISO 800
Cereal - 1/900, f/3.2, ISO 800
Sangria - 1/150, f/1.4, ISO 1250Windblown - 1/550, f/2.5, ISO 800

Patrick