Monday, January 16, 2012

First Thoughts: Fujifilm X-Pro1 System

As mentioned in my previous blog posting, I have not yet had a chance to handle the camera, which will hopefully happen in the next few weeks. However I have handled it "virtually", by carefully watching all the online preview videos that I could find. This blog posting will just be some of the thoughts I had after watching those videos, and considering that I have been an X100 owner and have used the camera extensively under many different conditions, I think I can draw some useful conclusion based on what I saw...

First off, some basic specifications in case you haven't read up on it yet...
  • 16 megapixel APS-C X-Trans CMOS Sensor (more on that below).
  • Expanded ISO from 100-25,600 with up 60 minute Bulb exposures.
  • Promises "full-frame" levels of noise and dynamic range.
  • New Fujinon 'X' Lens mount and XF lens system.
  • Hybrid Multi Viewfinder, similar to X100 but with 2 different optical magnifications.
  • Pro-grade body - 6fps shooting, large raw+jpeg buffer, PC flash-sync port.
  • Full HD 1920x1080 at 24 fps with stereo sound and 29min max recording time.
  • Three prime lenses to start: 18mm f/2.0, 35mm f/1.4 and 60mm f/2.4 Macro.
  • In 2012, we'll also see a 14mm ultra-wide (somewhere between f/1.4 and f/2.8).
  • Also coming this year is a Leica M-mount lens adapter!
For more detailed specifications, check out the links on my previous X-Pro1 blog entry to Fujifilm's website. Also, for some thoughts on rangefinder type cameras in general, see my personal blog entry on the X-Pro1.

So now on to my first thoughts on this exciting new camera, mostly good news but a little bad as well, all blended together. Hopefully you won't find this too confusing or disorganized!
  • Since this is a 1.5x crop APS-C sensor, the three lenses are 27mm, 53mm and 90mm equivalent in full-frame 135mm terms. This is a very nice range of primes to start with, and with Fuji's renowned image quality, I think we will see some very nice image quality indeed.
  • Looking at Fuji's online published samples, the 35mm and 60mm lenses are wicked sharp, corner to corner. I am less enthused by the corner sharpness of the 18mm samples, and for now I'll chalk that up to a preproduction issue (hopefully) or the fact that none of the shots were stopped down any more than f/5.6. It would be interesting to see what even the preproduction 18mm looks like at f/11?
  • Further to the above comment, keep in mind the online samples are out-of-camera JPEGs and Fuji tends to process these conservatively by default, in other words, with minimal in-camera sharpening. Bring the samples into Lightroom and apply just a little bit of very small radius sharpening (I'm talking 25% at 0.6 pixel radius) and they get nice and crispy! But still, the corners on the 18mm, well...
  • What is the X-Trans sensor? In short, it is a rectangular array CMOS sensor, but instead of the common Bayer-pattern for its colour filters, it uses a new Fujifilm-designed semi-random layout which promises to eliminate colour-moirĂ©. See here for an explanation. In short, Fujilfilm is confident enough in this sensor's anti-moirĂ© properties that they've left off the usual anti-aliasing filter that almost all digital SLRs have. What this means is the camera will have far higher resolving power and detail rendering ability than your run-of-the mill 16 megapixel DSLR. In fact, Fuji is saying this sensor will even out-resolve current full-frame cameras like the 5D Mark II. Very promising (and bold) claims, but we'll have to wait and see if this holds true. In any case, the levels of detail I see on the jpeg samples are very good indeed.
  • Fujifilm has stated that they are working with Adobe to ensure prompt support of X-Trans raw files in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. This is welcome news since the last time Fujifilm produced a camera with a non-standard raw file (from the EXR sensor in the S200EXR) it took Adobe pretty much a full year to support it! Hopefully we'll see support for the X-Pro1 soon after it starts shipping.
  • If you are familiar with the X100's Hybrid Viewfinder, then the X-Pro1 will be familiar, but with a nifty little internal magnifying lens that automatically slides into place for longer focal length lenses. That means that instead of the framing lines getting really cramped on longer lenses, they are still a reasonable size. Also, the current 27mm equivalent lens seems to have a lot of room around the frame, meaning that maybe, just maybe, the upcoming 14mm (21mm equivalent) will still be able to use the optical viewfinder and you won't be forced to switch to the EVF only to use it. However the 14mm might be too wide, but maybe an upcoming 24mm equivalent will fit? Too early to tell.
  • Further to the last comment, Fuji is planning a range of lenses, 9 total by sometime in 2013, including a 70-200mm f/4 IS! Obviously with that long a lens, you will likely need to use the EVF, but again for extreme focal lengths, at least you do have the option to frame accurately using an EVF... unlike more conventional rangefinder designs, like the Leica M9.
  • Sadly, it looks as though the supplied lens hoods, at least on the 18mm and 35mm lenses, will not reverse attach for storage. Yes they look cool and retro, but I might have preferred a slightly larger diameter allowing for reversal. But perhaps that's just me?
  • Of course, will Fujifilm's excellent Super EBC Multi-Coatings, maybe the hoods will be more of an option than a necessity! In any case, optional they are not as far as purchasing: each lens includes a hood, which is great!

Now, comparing performance and operation to the X100...
  • This camera has a focal-plane shutter folks. Sorry, but no dead-silent shooting, like you can with the X100. It really is too bad that Fuji has not made any mention of leaf-shutter lenses since if they were planning to introduce any, they likely would have mentioned it already. Bummer. Hand on to your X100 if you need a silent camera... I know I will!
  • Since it has a focal-plane shutter is also has a much more pedestrian flash-sync speed of 1/180 second. Oh well.
  • One the plus side, the focal-plane shutter means that all shutter speeds are available at all f-stops, something that was not possible and can be just a tad awkward to manage on the X100 at times.
  • No more labyrinthian menus! Unlike the X100, the X-Pro1 has a clear and concise set of paged menus. In addition, a Q-button on the back gets you to a Quick Menu which allows you to set many of the most commonly used functions very quickly indeed.
  • Options that logically go together, now do! For example, to get to auto-ISO settings, just access the ISO menu! It is not in a separate settings page you have to dig for like the X100.
  • Want to switch between raw, jpeg or raw+jpeg? It's all there in one easy to find Q-button menu!
  • The buttons on the left of the rear LCD, below the viewfinder, are spaced downward further, so you'll have a better chance at operating them when your eye is up against the viewfinder.
  • The exposure compensation dial is recessed and the shutter speed dial has a lock in the 'A' setting, meaning accidental control movement should be much reduced compared to the X100.
  • There is now a large thumb ridge below the exposure compensation dial, and a slightly larger front grip, which should both improve handling substantially over the X100.
  • The AEL/AFL button is now on this thumb-ridge, so it should require much less of a "thumb-move" to find, again improving efficiency of operation.
  • Every lens now has 1/3 f-stop increments on the aperture ring. Hurray! I always found it very awkward and non-intuitive to dial in third stops on the X100 using the rear rocker switch instead of the aperture ring. I would have been happy with 1/2 stop clicks even, but thirds are great!
  • Speaking of the rocker switch, I never liked it much and the X-Pro1 has replaced it with a scrolling wheel. As long as it has decently firm detents, this should be an improvement.
  • The X-Pro1 still has a threaded cable-release socket on the shutter release, which is welcome, but honestly I also would have liked to see an electronic remote socket for easier automated camera control. That way, for example, you could get an electronic timer-remote for time-lapse operation... which I do not believe is a built-in function of the X-Pro1 either.
  • No more locking up of the camera when the camera is writing its buffer to the SD card. Hurray! On the X100, you could fire in rapid succession until the buffer was full, but if you needed to change a setting in a menu, the camera was locked up until the buffer finished flushing to the card. What a pain. From the video previews, it looks as though the X-Pro1 will essentially have pro DSLR levels of responsiveness in that respect, especially with a fast UHS SDHC card.
  • Autofocus and manual focus performance is still unknown. Some have said it is similar to the X100, but some Fuji interviews have claimed substantially improved AF. We'll have to wait and see. Not that I ever had a problem with the X100's AF mind you, but its MF was unbelievably frustrating compared to, for example, my Panasonic bodies, who's servo operated MF feels almost exactly like a conventional mechanical focusing ring.
  • In general the buttons and 4-way controller on the back of the X-Pro1 look larger and have wider spacing than those on the X100, which likely means easier and less error-prone operation.
  • The new Hybrid-Multi-Viewfinder does not have a diopter control, rather you will need to purchase screw-in diopter filters! I honestly do not know why this was really necessary and it is a shame to be honest. Heck, I don't even know what diopter I require...
  • Looking at the JPEG image samples, it looks as though Fujifilm's excellent colour, beautiful smooth tonality and superb demosaicing of raw data for in-camera JPEGs are all still there and inherited from the X100. The X100 is one of the few cameras, from a detail resolving standpoint, where it is hard to see any improvement by processing the raw files in Lightroom or Photoshop. Yes, you have far more control over white-balance, exposure and tonality (and I always shoot raw of course), but X100 JPEGs always had extraordinary amounts of detail, once you compensated for the nonaggressive sharpening the camera does. The X-Pro1 looks very similar to me, and that is a good thing!

Anyway, those are my first impressions on the camera, based on what I've read and seen in video previews. Hopefully I'll get a chance to prove (or disprove) these observations in a few weeks once I have an opportunity to actually use an X-Pro1 sample myself.

Prices have not been set my Fujifilm Canada yet, but I anticipate the body will cost somewhere between $1,300 and $1,800. The lenses will likely come in at somewhere between $500 and $700 each. But remember, I am just guessing on those prices! The system is set to start shipping at the end of February. We already have a waiting list, and yes, my name is on it too. Give me a call at Beau Photo if you have any specific question about this camera, and I will do my best to find out...

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