35mm, f/1.4, 1/1700th, ISO 400
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Fuji releases a delightful camera that’s not quite like anything else out there, but it comes with all sorts of quirks.
A lot of you will remember that the same thing could have been said about the X100, but honestly you can say the same of all of Fuji’s professional digital camera line-up, going back more than 12 years to the “frankencameras,” S1 and S2 Pro, which had great technology at the time but also felt like welded-on digital backs for the Nikon F60 and F80, respectively. They’re weird, they’re wild, and generally I love them for it. I ground the S2 Pro into fine dust from overuse, and the S5 Pro helped see me through the dark days of Nikon bodies with terrible high-ISO quality.
So now Fuji has merged its dormant line of professional interchangeable lens cameras with the aesthetic of the X100. It brings the retro styling and — most importantly to me — the fantastic hybrid viewfinder that turns from optical to EVF with a flick of a switch, and allows you to use a variety of lenses. Fuji released three at launch, the wide-angle 18mm f/2, the “normal” 35mm f/1.4, and the telephoto macro 60mm f/2.5 (the sensor is DX-sized, so each lens is cropped 1.5x the focal length equivalent to a 35mm frame). It’s a nice high-level kit, made even more interesting with the lenses coming down the pike. f/2.8 ultrawides? f/4 constant aperture zooms with IS? This all shows a focus on making an advanced compact kit with a great deal of versatility — in contrast to, say, the Sony road map, which is dotted with variable aperture zooms. They also have an adapter for M-mount lenses, and companies are now coming out with third party adapters for all sorts of other lenses — versatility that is an advantage of any sort of interchangeable mirrorless system.
I’ve played briefly with all of the lenses, but I’ve gotten to use the X-Pro 1 with the 35mm for a while now thanks to B&H. My friend Sam Hurd had me come along with him to a wedding, which gave me the opportunity to test this camera in ways I couldn’t do as a primary shooter. I have more than enough information to write a review as it is now, but from the start I need to make two caveats:
1) Virtually no third-party software, not even Adobe, supports the X-Pro 1 RAW files yet. I don’t know why the delay is so long. I can open the files in Fuji’s recommended Silkypix, but Silkypix is, in a word, terrible. Every company needs a RAW converter that at least will open up a file that looks like the JPEG the camera took, but in Silkypix out-of-the-box the files look much, much worse than the camera’s JPGs, so most of these are edited JPG files.
Luckily, the camera takes phenomenal JPEGs.
2) Fuji is becoming known for releasing half-basked cameras and then fixing problems in firmware. I know they’re already working on solutions to the biggest problems. But given that it took a full year to make the X100’s autofocus better, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
As you can see, the X Pro-1 is significantly larger than the X100, but much, much smaller than my normal big, honking’ DSLRs. In fact, it’s almost exactly the same size as the Leica M9, which is full-frame (but also in a complete other price class). It’s also much larger than the camera that competes most with it on specs, the Sony NEX-7.
In practice, while you’re not sticking this in any sort of pocket, it feels quite nimble. The ergonomics are great for a square body, with a nicely modeled grip, and the exposure compensation wheel is extremely easy to nudge with your thumb without taking your eye away from the viewfinder. In aperture mode, the EVF will mimic the proper exposure, so you can very quickly and easily use the exposure compensation dial to expose your photos just the way you want to even in changing light. X100 shooters will be frustrated that they’ve flipped the OVF/EVF switch upside down, but that takes approximately 30 seconds to get used to. The shutter and aperture controls are the same retro dials as the X100, and a pleasure to use.
It’s much easier to change settings on the XPro 1 than the X100 in general, since important things like auto-ISO can be customized to not be so deeply buried in menus and a “Q” button brings up pretty much any setting change in two clicks that can’t be found on a top dial.
It’s a good looking camera, but it definitely needs some styling on the top plate. Put on a plastic red Leica dot and quadruple its cost, perhaps?
Battery life was decent as long as you don’t use the back panel or continuous focus all that much. It lasted me through a wedding and well into another shoot (though it wasn’t my only camera).
I love the viewfinder and use that about 95 percent of the time, but it’s nice to have the option to quickly switch to the LCD display live view, giving angles that are not always easy to get, like the lively legs of this father-daughter dance:
35mm, f/1.4, 1/125th, ISO 1250
And a 6 fps mode allows you to quickly capture action and the perfect moment, although after any use it throws the buffer into overdrive:
Autofocus is a mixed bag, particularly in low-light. With a fast lens it could lock on to targets even in terrible lighting, but it takes a while at all times. Operation is a little faster in continuous focus mode, but it’s annoying to hear the camera constantly whirring away, and probably not great for the battery.
It’s not as responsive as is ideal, and I often felt like I was struggling against it instead of working with it, but as you adapt it can work well in a variety of situations, including strong backlight and at distance:
35mm, f/2, 1/450th, ISO 800
35mm, f/1.4, 1/850th, ISO 800
Even though I can’t use a proper RAW converter yet, the images from this camera are phenomenal for a DX sensor. First of all, noise is extremely well-controlled. This is ISO 12,800 in an extremely dark restaurant:
35mm, f/1.4, 1/100th, ISO 12,800
But better yet, Fuji has always had a keen understanding of color, and skin tones in particular. That’s what makes the JPEGs out of this camera so good. Without any tweaking you can get great portrait tones right out of the camera:
35mm, f/1.6, 1/60th, ISO 2000
The best thing I can say for it? When Sam saw me looking over the photos after the shoot, it took him a while before he realized they were from X-Pro 1. He thought they were the shots I took with the $6K full-frame Nikon D4.
One Big Problem and provisional conclusion
As has been reported many other places, the XPro 1 chitters like an Ewok when you point it from dark to light or vice-versa. This is a huge problem for my usage. I want this camera to be as silent as possible, not call attention to itself, and allow me to make people comfortable more quickly than I can with a giant DSLR. I can’t do that when it’s clicking like a spider-monkey. It’s audible, and it’s annoying. Now, this won’t really affect casual usage, vacation shots, even most street photography, but it does affect what I do. I know they’re working on a fix in firmware right now, and I’m eager to see what happens with that (and with RAW support), because I love the files from this camera so much. In the meantime, my X100 is working better than ever, because despite their quirks, Fuji has shows that they do care about continually improving their existing products and customer experience. That goes a long way.
Click here to buy the Fuji X 35mm f/1.4
More sample photos:
35mm, f/2, 1/350th, ISO 400
35mm, f/1.8, 1/1100th, ISO 800
35mm, f/1.4, 1/640th, ISO 400
35mm, f/2, 1/480th, ISO 800
35mm, f/1.6, 1/60th, ISO 2000
35mm, f/1.8, 1/60th, ISO 200
35mm, f/1.4, 1/52nd, ISO 800
35mm, f/1.6, 1/52nd, ISO 320
35mm, f/1.4, 1/125th, ISO 1000
Click here to buy the Fuji X 35mm f/1.4