Fujifilm's X-Pro1 - the company's first Compact System Camera - looks to be an impressive rangefinder-style camera. Does it deliver on its superior image quality claims? What Digital Camera's Fuji X-Pro1 review investigates...
The X-Pro1 has been through the WDC reviews mill, so does it live up to its big claims? The What Digital Camera Fujifilm X-Pro1 review investigates…
Fujifilm X-Pro1: Key specs:
1. 16MP X-Trans CMOS sensor
2. Unique colour filter array
3. No anti-aliasing filter for optimum sharpness
4. Fujifilm X-mount lenses
5. Hybrid Multi Viewfinder: optical & electronic viewfinder
6. 1,230k-dot, 3in LCD screen
7. Premium design; magnesium alloy body
8. Film Simulation modes
Fujifilm X-Pro1 review – Features
First and foremost is the X-Pro1’s brand new 16MP, APS-C size sensor. It uses a clever new colour array to remove the need for an anti-aliasing filter, which in turn should deliver far sharper results than conventional sensors can offer. For in-depth details about the X-Trans CMOS and how it works take a look at page two of this review – ‘What Is X-Trans CMOS And How Does It Work‘?
Add the brand new Fujifilm X-mount for the latest XF lenses and the sensor is paired up with some excellent quality glass. At launch there are three prime lenses available – an 18mm (27mm equiv) f/2, a 35mm (53mm equiv.) f/1.4, and a 60mm (91mm equiv.) f/2.4 macro. The initial lack of a zoom lens shows that Fujifilm’s approach here is more traditional, but also that the quality of the lenses is more measured and fitting to a specific style and shooting method. For rangefinder fans, this will be just what the doctor ordered. However, Fujifilm has declared that there will be more lenses in the not too distant future, including am 18-72mm f/4.0 zoom that’s due before the end of 2012.
Those familiar with the Fujifilm X100 will be aware of the impressive hybrid viewfinder technology. This marries together the best of optical and electronic technologies in a way that no other manufacturer has managed. This includes a larger-than-100% optical viewfinder, with an electronic viewfinder overlay to present crop marks and other shooting information, or an electronic-only display can be used with an exact 100% field of view instead. All this is served through the single viewfinder, described as a Reverse Galilean viewfinder with electronic bright frame display. The X-Pro1 adapts this technology by introducing a 0.6x magnifier that comes into effect when longer focal length lenses are added – this ensures a larger-to-eye preview.
On the rear of the camera there’s a 3in LCD screen with a huge 1,230k-dot resolution. When pared down to actual pixels this is a 3:2 ratio, 1280×960 pixel screen – but consider that this is more resolute than a 720p HD screen, making the Fujifilm screen the most resolute on any consumer camera to date (more so than the latest Canon 5D Mk III).
Able to shoot from ISO 200-6400 as standard (100-25,600 extended), or capture 1080p movie clips at 24fps, the X-Pro1 has plenty of premium features. Add film simulation modes to mimic classic Fujifilm negative and slide film, traditional aperture, shutter and exposure compensation dials and this is a classy-looking bit of kit. It won’t suit everyone for a number of reasons that we’ll address later in this review, but for knowledgeable rangefinder users there’s really not a lot missing from the features list.
X-Trans CMOS: What Is It And How Does It Work?
A conventional camera sensor uses what’s known as the Bayer filter array to decipher colour information. As light is made up of a spectrum of colours, each with different frequencies, it’s possible to filter out the prime red, green and blue colours, then use an algorithm (known as ‘demosaicing’) to calculate the colour at every site. However, the filter’s pattern is based on red, green and blue filters arranged in a repetitive 2×2 grid across the sensor’s surface which would cause issues with fine detail, colour artefacts and moiré patterning if it wasn’t for the use of a low-pass or anti-aliasing filter to ‘soften’ the light. However, such softening results in slightly softer images too.
This is where the X-Pro1’s X-Trans CMOS sensor gets clever. Instead of
using the usual 2×2 (4-part) grid, it uses a 6×6 (36-part) pattern where
colours aren’t ‘clumped’ together, ensuring that at least one red,
green and blue pixel each fall within both vertical and horizontal
paths. As the pattern isn’t repetitive – and Fujifilm claim’s it’s more
like traditional film – there’s no need for an anti-aliasing filter and,
therefore, shots should be that much sharper compared to standard
The only other sensor on the market to use a similar process
is the Sigma Foveon X3 sensor, which has three layers of red, green and
blue pixels mounted at different depths within a silicon sensor – this
provides full colour information to every site, and also doesn’t require
anti-aliasing. Good though the technology is at low ISO settings, it
can’t compare to the Fujifilm sensor at higher sensitivities.
Fujifilm X-Pro1 review – Design
The X-Pro1’s bold yet understated design makes it look like a camera from years gone by; yet it still looks rather elegant and contemporary.
The design may be bulky, but the camera feels great in the hand, buttons and dials are positioned well and the camera feels right whether utilising the viewfinder or rear screen to shoot.
The camera’s magnesium top and bottom are painted in a black finish that, while it looks the part, isn’t as hardy as it should be – after just a couple of days some of the paint was coming off due to knocking against other metal parts in a camera bag. To avoid this you’ll want to invest in the leather case and get soft pouches for any lenses.
As the camera is a rangefinder, the optical viewfinder doesn’t see exactly what the lens sees (known as parallax error). However, the Hybrid Multi Viewfinder has a clever way of solving this: when using the electronic overlay in the optical viewfinder, the camera will calculate the focus distance and adjust the position of the crop marks accordingly. Framing isn’t exact, in part based on the 90% field of view crop marks, but it’s the same method that the X100 uses which means interchanging between the two cameras will also feel natural.
Using the X-Pro1 isn’t anything like most modern designs; it’s akin to the Leica M9 or other similar rangefinder models. There’s no ‘mode dial’ to be found here: Instead each lens has a traditional aperture ring (each adjusts in 1/3rd stops as well with full stop markings) as well as an Auto or ‘A’ setting. Pair this with the shutter dial on top of the camera – which ranges from 1sec – 1/4000th of a sec, or there are Bulb, Time and Auto settings – and the camera can be set to full Auto, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or full Manual control by selecting a combination of the two. No menu digging required.
There’s also a +/-2EV exposure compensation dial to the rear of the camera, which is recessed into the body to prevent accidental knocks.
The three launch lenses, and to our knowledge all Fujifilm XF lenses to follow, do not feature leaf shutters as per the X100’s lens. Instead a standard focal-plane shutter limits flash sync to 1/180th second maximum, which rules out faster flash sync shooting opportunities.
Fujifilm X-Pro1 review – Performance
In use the X-Pro1 is decent, though the autofocus system isn’t quite as good as we’d have liked. There are ups and downs: the 49-point array has a wide spread that covers the majority of the frame; a single AF-point can be adjusted between five different sizes and located to anywhere within this array; plus accessing the AF modes and making adjustments is quick and easy thanks to the AF and Q buttons.
However it’s the speed that lacks. As the X-Pro1 will be compared to many interchangeable lens cameras, such as recent Compact System Camera releases, so too will focus speed come into question. With the likes of Panasonic and Olympus making significant progress in focus speed for contrast-detection AF systems, and Nikon creating hybrid contrast- and phase-detect systems, the X-Pro1’s AF just can’t compare. It isn’t slow, just not as fast as those three companies.
On occasion the camera also claims to acquire focus, showing the AF point as green, even if the camera has not found focus – as can be seen quite clearly by eye in the preview.
The combination of these two factors mean the X-Pro1 isn’t going to suit all. Fast-moving action isn’t the camera’s forte, and the slow-paced AF-C (continuous focus) mode utilises a centre-only cross point that cannot be moved. However, we never anticipated the X-Pro1 would be tailored for these kinds of users. Designed with traditional shooting in mind, the camera is more aimed at street photographers, portrait shooters and the like.
If close-up focusing is your thing then you’ll need to pay close attention to the X-Pro1’s macro mode. Activated by pressing the upward d-pad key, macro is available as an EVF- or LCD-only view. When activated it will allow the 18mm lens to focus at up to 18cms from subject, the 35mm up to 28cm and the 60mm macro up to 26.7cm.
Each lens also uses live aperture adjustment to control the amount of light entering the camera, which results in a clicking sounds in preview or during focusing. This, in combination with the focal plane shutter in the camera’s body, mean the X-Pro1 is not nearly as quiet as the near-silent X100 model.
Those keen to use manual focus will find the X-Pro1’s system proficient. Set into motion by selecting M from the S/C/M switch on the front of the camera, the camera can still quick autofocus using the AE-L/AF-L button (if desired) with manual focus ring adjustment also permitted. The display shows a focus distance indicator from 0.1m-infinty (or equivalent feet) that slides along the range as the lens’s manual focus ring is adjusted, plus a depth of field indicator displays in white based on the lens, aperture and focus distance selection. This is also visible in the OVF with EVF overlay or EVF-only viewfinder options, though the OVF is of less use and the 0.6x magnifier does not engage irrespective of the lens attached. For finer focus the rear thumbwheel can be pressed for an actual size preview at the selected focus point. At the closer focus distances the lens’ manual focus rings will require more rotation for finer focusing – the 60mm macro, for example, requires two full rotations to adjust the focus distance from 0.1m to 0.5m, whereas half a rotation will adjust from infinity to 3m.
One qualm we had with the X100 model was its relative slow startup time. This isn’t so with the X-Pro1: select the Quick Start Mode in the menu and the camera is activated from off to on in a near instant.
The X-Pro1’s movie mode is tucked away in the drive menu. We don’t anticipate that most users will find this a prime reason to purchase the camera, though it’s a capable option to have. 1080p HD clips are recorded at 24fps, though no aperture or shutter control is permitted over the exposure. Continuous autofocus or manual focus are the two AF types available – selecting single autofocus on the front switch does not have any impact in movie mode.
Battery life lasts out for around 300 shots per charge – similar to that of other Compact System Cameras on the market, and nowhere near many pro-spec DSLR cameras. This is quite the shame as it doesn’t sit in line with the X-Pro1’s ‘Pro’ name.
Fujifilm X-Pro1 review – Image Quality
X-Pro1 review: Sharpness & Detail
Here’s where the X-Pro1 really gets to show off. The level of detail in shots is substantial when using any of the three lenses – particularly the 60mm macro. This can be attributed to the X-Trans CMOS design and no anti-aliasing filter in the design.
But just how good are we talking here? Some sample shots have incredible crispness and the test chart images we recorded in the lab delivered results that, in conjunction with these lenses, outperform any other APS-C sensor we’ve seen. It’s very impressive.
X-Pro1 review: ISO Sensitivity & Image Noise
Not only are shots sharp, but the X-Pro1 handles image noise very well too. This makes it a camera that’s not only good for bright scenes, but great in low light too (ignoring the focusing system).
From ISO 200-400 are exceptional with little processing artefacts nor smoothing visible, while ISO 800-1600 are near-identical to their lower sensitivity counterparts, bar for some slight additional grain-like texture. Throughout ISO 200-1600 there’s little discernable difference to detail, and it’s only the cleaner, better gradations in the lower ISO settings that make the shots superior.
At ISO 3200 there’s a little jump in terms of overall softness and visible grain, but the setting is still more than usable. ISO 6400 is grainier still, though plenty of detail is still resolved.
The extended settings of ISO 12,800-25,600 are of less use, but still impressive all things considered.
Overall the X-Pro1 is suitable for use in all manner of conditions, and low light in combination with fast aperture lenses, mean shots from ISO 100-1600 needn’t cause any concern to final image quality. It might not outperform larger-sensor DSLRs in this department, but there’s no doubting just how good this sensor is.
X-Pro1 review: Tone & Exposure
The 256-area metering system includes Multi, Spot and Average metering modes. While in some Fujifilm models further down the range overexposure can be an issue, we found no such concerns with the X-Pro1. Exposures are well considered, and the inclusion of the physical exposure compensation dial makes for quick adjustments when required. Some frames did need a boost of +0.7-1EV to bring out foreground detail, but on account of a more unusual scene composition rather than to the fault of the camera.
We’re also pleased to report that the APS-C sensor did not reveal any ‘white disc’ issues as per the 2/3in sensor found in the Fujifilm X10 and X-S1 cameras.
TZ30 review: White Balance & Colour
Auto White Balance does a good job and is consistent from frame to frame and throughout the ISO range. As well as manual control there are a variety of presets.
If you’ve used Fuji colour film in the past, then you’ll be pleased with the X-Pro1’s in-camera options that mimic the best of the classics. By default Provia/Standard is selected, though there’s also Velvia for vivid shots as per the original slide film; Astia for ‘soft’ portraits; and the inclusion of Pro Neg S and Pro Neg H make the camera all the more appealing to professionals. If you’re unsure which to use, then you can set the X100 to bracket the film modes, saving different versions of the same shot. There’s also a handful of Black & White settings, including standard, Sepia toned or even individual red/green/yellow filters for different contrast effects.
Value & Verdict
Fujifilm X-Pro1 review – Value
When we first saw the X-Pro1 we anticipated a lower price point than its £1429 body only retail price. However, expensive though this may sound – and each of the lenses cost between £550-600 a piece – the final images, overall build quality and unique technologies more than make up its worth. It’s cheaper than a full-frame DSLR, outpaces the Sigma SD1 camera in performance and price, and will more than give Leica a run for its money.
Speaking of which, a Leica adaptor is also due for launch. Full details aren’t available as yet, but we anticipate the inclusion of Leica glass coupled with the X-Trans CMOS sensor could be mighty impressive. We’ll test this out as soon as we have the relevant kit to do so.
Fujifilm X-Pro1 review – Verdict
The Fujifilm X-Pro1 is a staggering camera. It’s not going to suit all tastes and is far from a mainstream consumer camera, but those seeking a digital rangefinder will find very little to moan about.
The camera’s images are exceptional, delivering on the claims that it can match up to existing full-frame sensor’s abilities (in many, though not all respects). The hybrid multi viewfinder is also a joy to use and a real unique feature to Fujifilm – though adjusting for the parallax and 90% field of view EVF crop marks can take a little getting used to.
There are downsides though: the focus speed is ok but hardly great, battery life ought to be longer, and there are only three lenses available at launch. However, we anticipate growth in the range to deliver other classic focal length lenses of equally good quality.
For the target audience the X-Pro1 delivers in droves. It’s image quality that’s the real winner for a sensor of this size, but add great build quality, decent manual focus control, an exceptional HD-quality LCD screen, so much potential when considering the Leica lens adaptor and there’s little more we could ask for. The X-Pro1’s a knockout for demanding users those in the know.
The Top Gear photographer, Justin Leighton, reveals why he’s hooked on Fuji’s rangefinder-style Compact System Camera.
About Justin Leighton
A regular freelance photographer for Top Gear magazine, Justin Leighton is based in Oxfordshire.
Working in the industry for 25 years, Justin has travelled all over the world documenting history. After setting up a magazine with a few friends at the age of 18, Justin developed a passion for photography. The magazine didn’t last, but Justin’s eye for editorial images did. He went on to establish a career in photojournalism, documenting such historical events as the Balkan conflict, The Good Friday Agreement, the fall of Communism in eastern Europe and three general elections.
Justin was also part of the British-based collective, Network Photographers, a group of 25 of the most reputable reportage photographers. His work has been published across hundreds of national newspapers and magazines.
In 2006, Justin decided to put his news photography on hold and pursued the opportunity of documenting a long-held personal interest: automobiles. As well as undertaking a range of commercial work, Justin now works on a freelance basis for BBC’s Top Gear, shooting both stills and most recently video for the TV show, magazine and website.
Top Gear photographer Justin Leighton was one of the first photographers to get his hands on the X-Pro1: Fujifilm’s first rangefinder-style Compact System Camera. With a sensor that delivers film-like results that will rival some full-frame DSLRs for quality, a hybrid viewfinder and a set of high-quality fast prime lenses available for it, how has the X-Pro1 fared in the hands of a working pro?
How long have you been using the X-Pro1? Did you have a pre-production sample?
I think it is about six or seven months now. I started with a pre-production sample as I was working with Fujifilm on a project for Focus-On-Imaging for the X-Pro1.
What have you been shooting with it and how has it performed?
It’s been my work rest and play camera. I have been shooting a few bits as part of a few personal projects; used it as my recce camera; taking pictures of family events; and for a few magazine features too. Performance is very good. I use it personally and professionally to make me money.
What other photographic gear do you use and how does the X-Pro1 fit in?
I use anything that fits with what the job requires, from Alpa/PhaseOne medium format cameras and backs to my iPhone. My personal camera kit comprises Fuji and Nikon gear. I wanted a modern rangefinder and the X-Pro1 came along.
Have you used all three prime lenses and if so, which do you tend to shoot the most with?
Yes, I have used all three primes, although I just recently got the 60mm so I haven’t used that lens much yet. The 35mm is my favourite because it’s equivalent to a focal length of 50mm.
Would you consider the newly announced Leica M-mount adapter to use with it?
No but if you have investment in those lenses then it’d be a good thing to do. Now an R-mount, I might be interested in that….
Is the AF quicker enough or do you tend to focus manually?
The AF is quick enough for how I use the camera.
How do you find the hybrid viewfinder? Do you use the EVF or optical display more?
I use both all the time. I am still a bit addicted to flicking between the two. It’s when one uses the 60mm, that it really comes into its own. Maybe Fuji could do a 300mm!
How does it stand up to day-to-day use? Is the build quality up to it?
I hammer my kit. To me, cameras are work tools. I really care about build quality. As of today the X-Pro1 hasn’t let me down. That is all I can ask for.
Are you pleased with the results from the X-Pro1? Does it compare with a full-frame camera?
I don’t really compare my Nikon D800 and my Fuji X-Pro1 because I regard them as different tools.
I use the X-Pro1 for work and I put my name to the pictures I shoot on it. I am very happy with it. Especially now that Photoshop has caught up with ARC.
What’s the thing that’s impressed you the most about the X-Pro1?
The X-Pro1’s EVF and the sensor are both fantastic. And the Fujinon glass is very, very impressive too.
Are there any little quirks or major omissions that you’d like to see changed on the next generation?
The one thing I would like is a lock on the exposure comp dial. I tend to knock it off the setting.
Can you sum up your thoughts on the X-Pro1? Would you recommend it?
It’s a rather special camera; small, light with a lovely film-like sensor. Great glass. It can be just a great compact camera that you can change lenses on one day, and your main workhorse on a big magazine feature the next. It’s the sort of camera you get really attached to. It sits in my bag (when I can stop my assistant ‘borrowing’ it for weeks at a time) and is always with me. The X-Pro1 made me enjoy just shooting for fun; like its brother the X100. If you like taking pictures, you’ll find something you like with this model. As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you. The X-Pro1 is small, light and versatile enough to be in your bag or over your shoulder at all times.