I’ve been shooting with a Nikon D4 which is an amazing camera but an incredible pain to haul around on trips. A few months ago I bought a Canon S100 which I think is the best pocket camera out right now but not really up to serious shooting. If it only had an optical finder. . . .
I started looking for an alternative travel camera and after researching dozens of models settled on the Fuji XPro1. I wanted a camera with interchangeable lenses, an optical viewfinder, high quality sensor, good low light capability and a quiet shutter. The Xpro1 fit that spec list and has been getting largely rave reviews on many sites and blogs. In October I took the camera to Santa Fe while I was attending a Writing for Photographers workshop to see what it would be like to shoot without a DSLR. It took some getting used to. I just got back from a three week trip to Greece and shot with the Fuji along with the new D600 (which will be another writeup). This is what I like and dislike about the XPro1:
- Size and weight: The camera feels good in my hand and doesn’t create shoulder or neck fatigue after a day of shooting. I added the Really Right Stuff hand grip which is essential for me to avoid the cramped hand position that this camera body requires on its own. Fuji makes a hand grip but it lacks the vertical Arca Swiss clamp for shooting panoramas and inexplicably covers up the battery and memory card compartment on the bottom of the camera. As usual, the Really Right Stuff option is well thought out and blends beautifully with the camera body. I use the Think Tank belt system and I can get the body/lens combo, the second lens, 2 spare batteries, Manfrotto 209 table top tripod with 492 ball head, cleaning kit, flashlight and a couple of other tidbits in the compact Skin Body Bag. This worked out well when I wanted to put the gear away while walking through a dicey neighborhood in Athens last week and let me keep the gear dry when we got caught in the rain.
- Sensor image quality. The new Fuji sensor with randomized pixels and no anti aliasing filter lives up to the hype of creating sharp images with no moiré. It makes me wonder why it took so long for a company to do this and I’m curious to see if this chip design shows up in other brands soon. The low light performance is just fantastic with low noise up to ISO 1600 and very useable images through 6400.
- Lenses: I bought the 18 and 35mm lenses, equivalent to a 27mm and 50mm on full frame. The 35 is just exquisite and I agree with all the other glowing reviews of this little gem. The 18 has a reputation for being soft at the edges which is true but not near as bad as I expected.
- Hybrid optical/video finder: This is a super cool bit of technology and one of the biggest attractions of this camera. Being able to see data overlaid over a live optical image is helpful and sets the bar for all other cameras of this type. The surprise for me was how often I used the EVF which I thought I would hate. It makes shooting in very low light not only possible but fun by offering a full brightness image in dark environments that are almost impossible to view and frame with the optical finder.
- Overall build quality: Fuji has done a great job putting together a solid looking and even more solid feeling camera. If you haven’t handled one of the models in this line you might be in for a surprise.
- Shooting style: Holding a rangefinder style camera really does make you see, think and shoot in a different way. It’s more deliberate and this camera tends toward a subtle picture making machine rather than the big artillery feel of a pro Nikon or Canon body. It’s a nice feeling.
- Slow focusing speed: This was the biggest criticism of the XPro1 before the firmware update in October but since the camera uses contrast detection instead of the faster phase detection on DSLRs, it just takes a little longer to focus. Often the lag is unworkable and results in lost shots.
- Shutter lag: Yes, there is a bit of shutter lag which goes against the street style shooting that this thing seems built for. I found myself trying to anticipate movement to get the moment I wanted but was often frustrated by the small delay.
- Battery life: After reading positive reviews for the Pearstone after-market batteries I bought two of them to supplement the Fuji battery that came with the camera. Both brands work about the same but I found myself using all three batteries some days with moderate shooting and some use of live mode and quite a bit of image playback. Battery life is definitely a problem for me.
- Placement of the Q, AF/EL and Focus buttons. The first two are just in a stupid place, right under the edge of your thumb and far too easy to hit accidentally which is a big surprise when the Quick menu pops up or your exposure is whacked because you inadvertently hit the Exposure Lock button. I got better at it but this is a major irritation with this camera. The Focus mode button, as many others have noted, is in the crazy position in the bottom left corner of the camera. So when you’re in shooting position you can’t really get to it to move your focus point without breaking the traditional and stable left hand cradling, right hand shooting posture. I usually shoot with just the center focus point active and was able to bypass this problem most of the time but when I needed to move the focus point it was difficult. There is a programmable FN button on the top deck right next to the shutter release which would be a great place for the Focus select but of all the things you can program it to do, Focus is not one of them.
- Price: This is an expensive camera. Body and one prime lens are $2,300. Yes, much (much!) cheaper than a Leica which I think it competes with and often bests, but still expensive. Disclaimer: I’ve never shot with a Leica so the above statement is based purely on trolling websites and reviewing specs. I know there is something special about Leicas but I’ll never know since I likely won’t ever pay that kind of money for a camera. I also drive a Toyota instead of a Mercedes or BMW.
- Lack of diopter adjustment and shallow eye relief: Fuji left off the diopter adjustment for some reason which meant that I had to buy a +2 screw in diopter to make the camera usable while wearing glasses. This mostly fixed the problem but when using the optical finder with the digital overlay the real image and the data image are not in the same virtual plane. If you have young eyes that are still flexible enough to quickly shift focus distance then this probably won’t bother you. If, like me, your eyes have a few years on them then the difference in the focal planes is at the least an irritation and for some will be a deal breaker. Add to this the fact that with glasses it is almost impossible to see the whole image at once because of very shallow eye point and the finder can be a real frustration. I did adapt after a couple of weeks but it is not anywhere as intuitive and natural as looking into a DSLR prism and focusing screen.
- Remote shutter release: Here’s where they took the old school idea too far. This camera has a threaded cable release which is kind of neat and a throwback to earlier film cameras. But to leave out an electric or infrared remote is just silly. I use the self timer set to 2 seconds for all tripod work but it would be nice to be able to trip the shutter with no physical interaction or vibration.
On the fence:
- Traditional lens aperture ring: When I first picked up the camera my old muscle memory came back from shooting for years with the aperture ring where God intended it, on the lens. So I was initially thrilled to have this feature again. But then I found myself accidentally changing f-stops when I picked the camera up and had to start really watching out for this. So maybe God was wrong about this. Nah, it’s probably me again.
- Prime lenses: This isn’t a Fuji thing at all. I was looking forward to the creative constraint of shooting with a pair of prime lenses. I’ve always believed and taught that limiting your tools puts you in a smaller creative box which makes you work that much harder and often yielding more interesting photos. I still believe that but, boy, I sure got tired of switching back and forth between just the two lenses I bought! Now I really understand the allure of the Fuji X100 with it’s single, non-interchangeable 35mm equivalent lens.
Lots of people stopped to talk to me about the Fuji. There’s huge interest in this size and style of camera and many other photographers are right where I am, wanting something of high quality but small size and quieter than a DSLR. I think and hope that Nikon and Canon will have to answer to this breakthrough camera and maybe in a year we’ll have something this good but faster and better laid out.
If you own one of these I’d be interested in your experience with this brilliant but frustrating camera.