Fuji XPRO 1 - Lasting Impression

I recently got asked to write a review, my first serious review might I add. I wrote as the title suggests on my thoughts and impressions of the XPRO 1, I sent this piece to a  company which for now has to remain anonymous but whom I hope to have alot of dealings with in the near future.

I put alot of thought and effort into this one and thought it would be a shame if you guys didn't get a chance to read it!! Good luck working through it, its a big one!! I threw in a couple of my favourite Fuji shots amongst the mix to give your eyes a break once in a while.

FUJI X PRO 1 - Review

Shifting to a completely new camera system is a significant risk for any photographer. The transition period is much like any personal relationship, it can be a little rocky at first but with a little luck and patience hopefully you come out joined at the hip.

My XPRO 1 - Always ready to hit the streets

My XPRO 1 - Always ready to hit the streets

The day I bought home my X PRO1 and unfolded the superbly put together slick black packaging, which has enough jazz leaving even the most subtle to turn green with envy, I started thinking that any manufacturer who puts this much care into their packaging design and the first contact experience must surely build a product of outstanding quality. My expectations quickly grew exponentially.

After lifting the camera up and peeking through the optical viewfinder for the first time I distinctly noticed its deceivingly light feel. Looking over the camera body construction I found it hard to believe how a camera with a metal top/bottom plate could be so feather light. I don’t see anyone getting camera fatigue from working with this tool for extended periods of time, and this is key for my photography style and a major influencing factor in making a shift to the Fuji X system. I prefer to take my camera everywhere because you never know when you will bump into the next frame to make your portfolio selects, and the light weight unintrusive body design of the XPRO 1 allows me to do just that.

The compact form factor (slim enough to fit into almost any handbag) and black styling combines into an aesthetic stealth machine which immediately helped me blend into my environment when working on the streets of Auckland, New Zealand, creating candid portraits of passers-by. If anything the rubber grip is a little small and slippery when wet (yes, I have shot the camera in the rain on two occasions and it still lives). The optional hand-grip accessory is a must and does greatly improve the feel of the camera, however it would be great if this grip design became standard or there was a cut out allowing for direct access to the battery/SD card compartment when it is mounted. It also wouldn’t hurt if the LCD screen was mounted slightly within the body itself - I carry the camera on a strap and it ends up slipping and sliding across my jacket, slowly scratching away at the LCD. Embedding the screen slightly within the body would fix this and be a welcome change in future designs.

My only real concern with the current body design is the button layout. When working with the camera I like to have the ability to change the focus point without taking the camera away from my face, as it interrupts my workflow. I almost always work at large apertures and careful focus point selection is therefore crucial, changes must be easy to make on the fly. Unfortunate placement of the focus button makes it rather difficult, because my thumb ends up fighting with my nose over the real estate, which never ends pretty. It would be great to see the custom function button be programmable for selecting an alternative focus point. A simple firmware upgrade could fix this issue, which I hope is coming in the next release. Other than the focus button placement issue I find the buttons to have a positive click when engaged and the layout appropriately spaced for a comfortable, ergonomic experience.

Coming from a DSLR background the view and feel of the hybrid optical/electronic range finder framing method presented a steep learning curve. The optical finder has its place, but with the almost indistinguishable difference between the optical and electronic options I mostly rely on the electronic variant. I found a few back focus errors using the optical view finder when forgetting to switch the camera to ‘macro mode’ when getting up close to my subjects. The optical view finder doesn’t really lend itself to reliable large aperture photography and when working right on the line between normal and macro operation it is hard to tell where the camera has actually focused (subject or background). Therefore for all critical focus situations I have almost always been using the ‘eye sensor’ to activate the electronic view finder and accurately focus/frame my shots with the TTL approach (through the lens). Another small side point while I am on the topic of the view finder is that I would like to see o-ring sealing in and around the view finder in the construction . For a few cents extra the consumer will thank you for it and the sneaky dusties creeping into the view finder cavity will be kept at bay. Although this might just be my pedantic German nature, but it is the small things which matter the most in the long term.

Joining the Fuji family at a later stage in the XPRO 1 lifecycle a lot of the camera firmware quirks have already been ironed out (I am using – v2.03). The focus speed of the camera got frequent mention on blog posts and reviews which I came across while doing my own research on the X system. Using the camera primarily for portrait photography where my shots are 100% premeditated and controlled, focus speed never has been a a big issue for me. However, even when working dynamically on the street I haven’t found the camera to slow me down, hindering my ability to reliably create what I envision. I have yet to come across a situation where the focus speed of the camera with the updated firmware has given me grief, but maybe my slow and methodical shooting style couples nicely to the capabilities of this camera, either way the jury is still out on that one.

If I were asked what my single most favourite aspect of the camera is, it would definitely the colour reproduction. The simulated film styles and tones coming straight out of the camera makes portrait photography so simple. Skin tones are rendered beautifully and this takes a large chunk of my post-production hassles and throws them out the window. Balancing the reds and yellows to accurately represent the skin pigments is a challenging task, so when a camera system just gets it right without hours of post intervention fiddling with sliders in PhotoShop I am left a very happy man. After all, as photographers we would rather be out looking for the next shot and creating than sitting in front of the computer with the mind numbing task of post-production late into the night (no offense to those who enjoy this part of the creation process, but I prefer to create with my camera rather than my mouse). For example, when taking test shots during my first night playing with the camera I snapped a quick shot of my wife preparing dinner that evening, I showed her the picture on the back of the camera and without me mentioning a single thing she said “wow! my skin looks amazing”. This isn’t the only example I can give on the positive response I have had from my portrait subjects commenting on the cameras ability to render skin tones. Before I forget, the simulation modes I have been mostly experimenting with are ‘Velvia’, ‘Astia’ and ‘Black & White (RED or Green)’ which have been giving me the most impressive results for my portrait work.

To be honest when first learning about the new approach Fuji took to their sensor design to eliminate the Moiré effects, which typically manifest themselves without an anti-aliasing filter to smooth out the image, I was a little skeptical. On paper it sounds more like a marketing ploy to encourage sales, but in reality the results coming off this sensor are simply crisp, clear, clean and it definitely performs as advertised. At low ISO’s I can confidently say the image quality compared to a full frame Canon/Nikon camera are mostly indistinguishable. ISO performance for this APSC sized sensor is also very admirable and I don’t hesitate using the camera at image sensitivity settings pushing up to ISO6400. For a lot of the imagery I create I am not concerned with image grain, often adding extra in post production as a creative element which I feel contributes to the atmosphere and mood portrayed in a print. The ‘auto ISO6400’ setting is where I park the camera for almost all my shooting scenarios unless I happen to be working in a studio environment or playing with landscapes (in which case I suggest you stick to ISO200).

My favourite mode of operation to maintain a fluid workflow has always been aperture priority with compensation to achieve the envisioned exposure, and this task has been made incredibly intuitive with a dedicated dial for image compensation. When working in this mode I find that the camera selecting the appropriate ISO and shutter speed for hand holding the lens at 1/(focal length) s to be a very reliable feature. I know there has been a lot of online chatter about the exclusion of a minimum ‘auto ISO’ setting but in my experience I haven’t seen the need for it.  

Without trying to sound too cynical, no camera will ever be perfect, but in my opinion the FUJI XPRO 1 comes incredibly close and I truly believe the innovation and concept behind the X system will go far. It has many uses and while mine are primarily street and portrait photography, I have used it for landscapes and specific nature imagery also. The camera body is very capable and currently I only see it limited by its focus speed which will only improve over time, as seen with the recent release of the X100s. 

While I have the chance and hopefully still have your attention (after the last 1600 odd words making up my rambling), I lastly would like to mention the feeling this camera has left me with as a photographer. The Fuji X system has distilled a certain magic and has an aura surrounding the camera which has grown to become an addiction. Much like an addict I need my fix and as I write this I see the camera sitting next to me on my desk and with the urge to create it is becoming hard to stay focused. The X PRO 1, as a photographic tool, has left me with the freedom and control over the creative process, working with me in a friendly manner that perfectly suits my needs. I look forward to the next iteration of this product line and what FUJI is cooking up at headquarters. 

- Sven