Friday, April 27, 2012

First Impressions: Fuji X-Pro1

Last night I had the opportunity to see and handle the new Fuji X-Pro1 camera with its 3 lenses. When this camera was first announced, it seemed to have the answers for most of what ails digital cameras these days. Well, after taking a closer look at it, that was probably an overly optimistic view of this camera. Honestly, I don't think any camera, whether film or digital, can be the perfect answer for any and all situations. Some just are better fits for some specific problems, not all of them. So let's break down what I saw and experienced. Bear in mind that I didn't get a chance to shoot any images. I was looking at images taken and supplied by Fuji, so these can be assumed to be best-case examples of what the camera can do. What it actually does may be quite different in the real world.

The X-Pro1 is a bit of a mixed bag. My first impression on looking at it is that it's kind of big for what it is. I'm talking about the camera body itself. Keeping in mind that it uses an APS-C size sensor, it's nearly the same size as a Leica M9 and not that far from a full-sized DSLR, minus the penta-prism hump, of course. I was surprised. When I picked it up, though, it was surprisingly light. Almost suspiciously light. I know the body is made of mostly magnesium, but it felt very light as if it was made of plastic. The larger-than-expected size coupled with the feather-like weight created a strange disconnect for me. I'm used to pro-oriented cameras having a certain amount of heft, a substantial quality to them and the X-Pro1 doesn't have this. Of course, who am I to complain about a light weight camera? Anyway, moving on.

On the other hand, the lenses are surprisingly substantial and well-made. Aside from Leica and Zeiss lenses, I haven't picked up a lens like these in years. Even the focusing is smooth and well-damped like a well-made manual focus lens. But, that's where the similarities end. The operation of manual focusing these lenses is frustrating and unresponsive. Seems like you turn the focusing ring forever without getting anywhere. I was told they were an improvement over the focusing in the earlier model, the X100. If this is so, wow. Really?

So enough complaining, what was good about the camera and lenses? Well, the images for sure. The 35mm f/1.4 was clearly the best of the three lenses, with the 60mm f/2.4 coming close to it. These two lenses have the ideal combination of fine detail and sharp images with creamy, smooth out of focus characteristics that manage to provide enough hints of detail for the out of focus areas to hang together and not fall apart. The out of focus backgrounds and foregrounds don't turn to mush or have weird, distracting highlights, they still have a lot of character. Not every lens can do this. Images from the 35mm lens were especially three-dimensional. However, the images from the 18mm f/2 lens seemed kind of flat in comparison. It wasn't nearly as sharp.

A lot of the image quality probably is due to two things, the X-Pro1's sensor and processor. I leafed through a large stack of images printed to 8x12 and most had enough similarities to draw some conclusions. Overall, I'd say the images from the X-Pro1 were more immediately film-like than most digital cameras produce. There was a smoothness in the tonal gradations without losing sharpness in the detail that I used to associate with medium and large format color images. The image quality is first-rate, as good or better than anything out there.

The operation of the camera is simple, direct, and refreshingly old school with a shutter speed dial on top of the camera and each lens having their own aperture rings. Both have "A" or automatic settings, too. Add the exposure compensation dial next to the shutter speed dial and the shutter release and you have all you need to control the shooting. The hybrid viewfinder is pretty nice, too. A bit of visual drag with the LCD option, but it's not bad at all. Very livable. Using the camera proved to be intuitive and fast.

Despite my concerns and complaints, I enjoyed the X-Pro1 quite a bit. Before seeing and handling the X-Pro1, I was even toying  with the idea of selling my Canon equipment and just jumping into the Fuji X-system, but now that I have seen it up close and got a chance to see how it works, I'm probably going to stay put. But I will keep my eyes open to see where Fuji takes this new camera system. I have the feeling that the X-Pro2 will be something really special.