Monday, September 16, 2013

Review: Fuji X-Pro 1 (ver 3.0) & 14mm F2.8

14mm F/2.8, 1/500th sec F/9 @ ISO 800. Shooting sports with wide angle lens and scale focus


It seemed unlikely a few years ago that Fujifilm would join Leica in the world of digital ILC (interchangeable lens camera) rangefinders. Many manufacturers have dabbled in rangefinders in the past, but since the 1980's, most have decided to leave it to Leica to rule as king in this category and move on to SLRs, point and shoots.and other mixed categories. In recent years, many manufacturers have decided to create rangefinder-ish cameras with electronic viewfinders (EVF) in the ILC market, but many still prefer having a real optical viewfinder (OVF). That's why many offer the ability to mount an external OVF via the flash hotshoe; although there's no ability to see any exposure info, no focus, or parallax correction. 

Fuji's move into the digital rangefinder market (I know technically it's not a true rangefinder, but read below in comments for further discussion) has had such an impact, we forget that this system is still pretty new. Fuji's first digital ILC rangefinder-like camera was the X-Pro 1 back in March of 2012. This X-mount system doesn't feel like it's just over a year old, with 4 camera bodies, 8 lenses (3 more on its way), and lots of after-market support. Like any new system, the X-Pro 1 had some issues when it first came out, but most weren't too critical...but some were. Leica had 60 years to refine and define their M-mount cameras and lenses, so I think Fuji has done pretty well for 18 months. Much of the improvements were a matter of firmware updates and not hardware changes, as the X series cameras and lenses are pretty solid. Fuji's latest firmware update 3.0 for the flagship X-Pro 1 is suppose to be one the most significant updates thus far, and I had the pleasure of testing it out with the super awesome 14mm F/2.8 lens, as well as the 18mm F/2. Let's see how this camera and lenses performed.

Build Quality, Feel, Ergonomics

Like the X-100S and the XE-1 that I've recently tested, the X-Pro 1 feels solid and sure. There's no glaring faults, just small quirks. It's a lot lighter than the Leica M, but comparing it with other cameras in its class, it compares well. The position of the custom function button beside the shutter is perfect (best used as quick access to ISO), and even the ON/OFF switch built around the shutter button is natural and very Leica-ish. I felt the shutter button feel was a bit long, so a threaded shutter button extender would be a good accessory to get. The position of the exposure compensation was also very good, although a 2 exposure plus or minus in 1/3 stops seems a bit too narrow and precise. I think 3 to 4 stop plus/minus in 1/2 stop increments would be more practical for digital photography (1/3 stop exposure compensation was really meant for shooting narrow exposure-latitude slide film in the good old days).

XF 14mm F/2.8. 1/1000th sec F/8 @ ISO 800. Cropped image.


The biggest feature of this camera is of course the hybrid electronic and optical viewfinder that's also found in the X-100S (and previous X-100). If you're a Leica shooter, or a lover of the older manual film rangefinder cameras, you appreciate shooting through an OVF versus a pentaprism equipped single lens reflex viewfinder or an electronic viewfinder. What's the big deal about an OVF? You don't get screen blank-out at the moment of exposure, you can see outside your image field of view, and it works well in low light situations. Unlike an EVF that has image lag, the OVF sees the exact moment in the moment.

One minus of using the OVF with the XF14mm F/2.8 R lens is the 90 degree angle of view is so wide that the lens blocks 20-25% of the right hand side of your image. This is one of the limitations of a optical type viewfinder, and even the Leica 21mm lens comes with an external viewfinder to properly frame the image because of the same issue. This is where the hybrid viewfinder comes into play, since you can switch over to the EVF in these types of situations. I would say that shooting with the 18mm lens (27mm equiv) is probably as wide as you want to go if you want to use the OVF, while the XF 35mm lens would be the ideal lens to use on the X-Pro 1's optical viewfinder.


XF 14mm F/2.8. 1/500th sec F/5.6 @ ISO 2500. Cropped image.


Overall, the hybrid viewfinder is a great idea, and I'm sure Leica users wish they had similar technology on their M cameras too. It compensates for the weaknesses of using either the traditional optical viewfinder or the electronic viewfinder. In addition, you still have the rear 3" 1.23 million pixel screen for certain types of shooting situations as well. Options are great, and the X Pro 1 gives more built-in viewing options than any of the other competition. Let's see how the combination of build quality, ergonomics, and technology works when shooting with the X-Pro 1 on the street.

In The Field: Street Shooting

After shooting for about a hour, I realized I preferred shooting with the 14mm (21mm equiv) over the 18mm (27mm equiv) lens. I always felt that the 24-28mm lens was ideal for street shooting, but I was getting amazing images with the 21mm equivalent lens. The build quality of the 14mm lens was also much better than the 18mm, including a proper focus and depth of field scale on the lens barrel. I did find it unusual that the on-screen focus distance and DOF scale wasn't available for the 14mm lens since it's already on the lens, but I think that's a mistake. I sometimes like using the back screen to quickly see exposure, DOF, and focus distance, and Fuji has the best layout for this. It's an easy firmware update to include this feature for the 14mm lens, so I hope Fuji will change this.


XF 14mm F/2.8.  1/1000th sec F/6.4 @ ISO 1600.


Speaking of firmware, I was shooting with the new 3.0 update that many were anxiously anticipating. The big features are improved autofocus and the addition of focus peaking. Although seeing these improvements on a wide angle lens is less effective versus a standard lens, I definitely did notice a difference. I found the autofocus much improved over the XE-1, which had similar autofocus performance, or lack there of. Not only was the focus faster, but it felt more solid and sure once it locked on to the subject. With the 14mm lens attached to the X-Pro 1, the focus was zippy and precise. Sure it could have originally come with faster autofocus, but Fuji was committed to the camera and continually updated the firmware instead of just coming out with a new camera like many other manufacturers would have done. The focus peaking feature is also a nice addition, making manual focusing faster and more precise as well. I hope Fuji will add the split image screen focus option that's on the X-100S as well in a future firmware update.

How was shooting with the X-Pro 1 on the street? Fantastic. I had a great time. The hybrid viewfinder performed brilliantly, as I switched between the two when it suited the shooting situation. In fast moving and lower light situation, I avoided the lag and higher gain of the EVF and switched to the OVF. When I needed more accurate framing or manual focused, I used the EVF. When I wanted to be discrete and just peak down at my numbers (exposure, focus distance, DOF, settings, etc.), I used the rear LCD screen. This is a very powerful feature and why this camera is a popular choice for street photographers, as I run across many X-series cameras while I'm out shooting. I would say the X-100S, XE-1 and the X-Pro 1 are the most common tools of street photographers that I've come across recently. And remember, these cameras have been out for less than 2 years!

XF 14mm F/2.8. 1/1000th sec F/4 @ ISO 800. Shot without lens hood so lots of flare!


Some issues I had while shooting are the same issues I had with the X-100S and XE-1. It takes time for the camera to wake from sleep mode, up to 4-5 seconds. The way I dealt with it was I would press the shutter button down half way once in a while to wake it from sleep mode. Another trick is to keep the camera turned off until you need to shoot, as it takes less time for the camera to get ready to shoot from dead sleep than from sleep mode (about a second). Because I set focus distance (only with lenses with proper focus distance scale on the lens), aperture and shutter speed manually, the camera is ready to shoot as soon as its turned on, so it works great for me. Not so great if you're relying on the camera to choose exposure and autofocus, or if the lens doesn't have a proper focus scale.

Another issue is with the shutter button. The travel of the shutter is a bit long, and when using my thumb to press down while shooting discretely with the camera strap around my neck and shooting blindly, sometimes the shutter doesn't work. It's not that there's anything wrong with the shutter button, since it's optimized to shoot with your pointing finger, not your thumb. I would suggest getting a shutter button extender (is that what its called?) for those who shoot blind and use their thumb to press the shutter, or you'll miss a few shots.


XF 14mm F/2.8. 1/1000th sec F/5 @ ISO 1600
You can see by my pictures that I did get a lot of great shots, lots of great street images. The 14mm lens has such a great depth of field, shooting at F/5.6 and setting the distance to 4-6ft, pretty much everything is in focus. There's no need to autofocus. Just point and shoot. Just remember that people will appear smaller if you're use to shooting people at 6-8 feet away with a 28 or 35mm lens; so allow the subject to get closer to you before you take the shot. If you do make the mistake of pulling the trigger too soon, all you have to do is crop the image, as I did with many of my pictures. If I had to take one lens out to shoot street photography, I have to say that my new favourite lens is the XF 14mm. I wish Fuji would make a similar XF 16mm F/2 lens (24mm equiv), but my guess is that they'll save that focal length in their upcoming zoom lenses.

XF 14mm F/2.8. 1/1000th sec F/16 @ ISO 1600
Moving on, I was pretty surprised with the battery life of the X-Pro 1, easily getting a full day of shooting in before the battery dropped to low. If you're shooting all day with the LCD however, you probably will need a second battery. If you use the OVF or shoot blindly like me, expect similar battery life (5-6 hours).

Overall, a great shooting experience in the field with the X-Pro 1. The lens balanced well with the body, and the camera was just the right weight to have around my neck all day. It wasn't too heavy, but solid enough to feel confident that it could handle being worked hard all day. I'm happy they made the camera all black and discreet, perfect for street photographers or anyone who doesn't want extra attention while shooting. The shutter was quiet, the control layout was conducive to quick adjustments (including the Q-button feature), and the screen layout was logical and easy to understand. 

Conclusion: a Keeper or a Has-Been?

I guess when anyone buys into a system camera, they worry if the camera body will last? Will you regret your purchase a year or two later? Will it become a cult classic? I know the X-Pro 1 price has dropped from it's original $2,000 (with lens) from a year ago, and some were upset. Was it a bad investment? I think not. With new bodies being introduced, new lenses being added, the X-series is a serious system and I don't think it's going anywhere anytime soon.


XF 14mm F/2.8. 1/500th sec F/8 @ ISO 1600.
Perhaps I'm being biased here by saying that I like understated cameras: all black, discreet, solidly built. The Leica M Monochrom, Ricoh GR series, and the X-Pro 1. These cameras feel professional to me because they look so utilitarian and purposeful, and they are exactly that. It's not trying to wow you with red dots and shiny metallic finishes. The fact that Fuji puts the word "Pro" into the name gives us a hint of who Fuji was trying to attract to the top of the line X-system camera body: serious photographers. Is it just a name with no substance? Far from it. Between the X-100S, X-E1 and the X-Pro 1, I felt the X-Pro 1 was the better photographic tool. I was able to capture images faster and more confidently with the X-Pro 1 versus it's siblings.

Like the Leica M, the X-Pro 1 puts you in the mood to take pictures. I even like the fact it has some Leica-like physical features, such as the on/off switch wrapped around the shutter button, the goofy strap lugs (I actually prefer this style), shutter speed dial on the top, and of course the typical rangefinder look. You won't mistake it for a Leica (especially when you pick it up!), but it's a nice alternative. 


XF 14mm F/2.8. 1/1000th sec F/8 @ ISO 800.
The XF 14mm F/2.8 lens was fantastic to shoot with, and I hope Fuji will come out with more prime lenses like this (I know the new XF 23mm F/1.4 has been announced and is similar in design and build). I like the quick access to manual focus mode by pulling back the focus ring to reveal the hidden focus and DOF scale underneath (although its focus by wire...and it feels like it too). The standard 18-55mm F/2.8-4 zoom lens is a very, very solid lens, but I'd still take the 14mm lens over the zoom for its properly labelled aperture ring, focus scale and DOF scale. I found the build quality of the 18mm lens a bit puzzling. The focus ring feels rough and artificially damped. I tested a few of these lenses at camera shops and they all feel the same. The optical quality is great, but it's not fun to use manually. The best lenses for the X system is probably the 14mm, 23mm (new), 35mm, and the 18-55 zoom.

Let's do a quick PROs and CONs before we conclude this review:

PROs:
-solid build, ergonomic design, multiple external controls and dials
-revolutionary hybrid viewfinder (OVF, EVF) making it into a hybrid-digital rangefinder
-nice rear 1.23 million pixel LCD screen and nice information layout and options
-updated firmware 3.0 has improved AF speed and accuracy to compete with competition
-focus peaking is improvement on manual focusing. Perhaps they can add split view as well
-understated design and stealth looks, great for street photographers
-awesome jpegs, great dynamic range, best in class ISO performance

CONs:
-slow from waking up from sleep mode (same as X-100S and XE-1)
-long shutter button travel, easy to miss shots if using thumb to press down on shutter
-limited range exposure compensation dial (+/- 2 stops)
-EVF lag and slow AF in low light situations. No problem in daylight

I've mentioned this in my X-100S review, but I'll repeat this again: most of us can not afford to buy into a Leica M mount system. I've tested the M Monochrom and I have an upcoming review of the latest and greatest Leica M type 240. As a street photographer, I would take either of those bodies in a heartbeat. If I include a 21mm, 28mm, 35mm and a 50mm lens, I'm easily over $20,000. Yes, I would have the ultimate street photography kit with a full-frame system and the best optics money can buy; but I would also be kicked out of my house and living on the streets once my wife caught wind of my photographic spending tendencies...

It's shamelessly obvious that Fuji has modeled the X-Pro 1 and the X-system after the Leica M system, and I think Leica should be honored. Like a little brother looking up to a big brother, Fuji has looked up to Leica; not only for design cues, but also their business model for camera body life-cycle (longer life cycle with more support via firmware updates). Fuji isn't trying to be a Canon or Nikon when it comes to design or business strategy. I like that, and I think many Fuji users appreciate this as well. 


XF 14mm F/2.8. 1/1000sec F/8 @ ISO 1600.


The top-of-the-line Fuji X camera is still at the top of the hierarchy when it comes to build quality, features, and image control and quality. The X-E1 is a nice choice if you don't want the hybrid viewfinder system; but the larger X-PRo 1 feels better in the hand and has a much better 3" 1.23 million pixel RGBW LCD screen (X-E1 has a 2.8" 460K pixel screen). Compared to the X-100S, the versatility of having the ability to change lenses will sway many towards the X-Pro 1, especially when the new XF 23mm F/1.4 lens is released. Attached to the X-Pro 1, you'll basically have a tank-like version of the X-100S with the same 35mm equivalent view but with improved optics, a stop faster, and built in focus and DOF scale. Awesome!

Would I buy the Fuji X-Pro 1? I'll be honest, I've been thinking of switching systems for over a year now. I've been loyal to my full Sony/Minolta system since 1996, with most of my lenses being the Minolta G-series pro lenses. I love my D-SLR system, but it's big and heavy. I use to shoot professional sports and weddings, and at that time, I needed this type of system. Now that I no longer shoot weddings or sports, my kit is collecting dust. I think I'm not alone in this predicament. I am presently looking to sell everything off and starting fresh. Number one on my list is the Fuji X system, number two is the Sony NEX system. If I had to choose right now, I'd choose Fuji and I'd buy two X-Pro 1 bodies, 14mm, 23mm, 18-55mm, and the 35mm lenses to complete my kit.


XF 14mm F/2.8. 1/500th sec F/4 @ ISO 800. Shot through bus window, Quick focus with wide lens


The X-Pro 1 deserves to be at the top of the Fuji X series cameras. As part of the overall system, the X-Pro 1 camera works very well. Happily, Fuji is continually improving on their cameras by updating firmware support (10 updates so far!), giving current owners peace of mind that their cameras aren't quickly out-of-date. The improved AF and manual focus options has made the X-PRo 1 that much better, and Fuji is committed to continue support as they expand the X-series cameras and lenses with additional features and functions. I'm excited for those who are part of the Fuji X series eco-system, with awesome lenses coming down the production line, and some pretty cool entry level bodies as an economical or weight saving backup options.


XF 14mm F/2.8. 1/500th sec F/5.6 @ ISO 1600. Cropped image.


To conclude, a camera's worth comes down to image quality, and the Fuji X-Pro 1 does not disappoint. Like the X-100S, I didn't bother shooting RAW because the jpegs are so awesome, and I never shot under ISO 800, and at ISO 1600 to 3200, the images are class leading. Dynamic range is also ahead of most of the competition, and with Fuji's unique X-trans sensor with no need for an AA filter, the resolution from the 16mp sensor is equivalent to an AA filter equipped 24mp APS-C size sensor. 

If it's all about the image, you will be thoroughly impressed with the Fuji X-Pro 1. Combine this with great ergonomics, the industry only hybrid viewfinder, and super sharp legendary Fujinon XF lenses, I think you have a winner. I thank Fujifilm Canada for loaning me the X-Pro 1 camera, and I look forward to testing more Fuji cameras in the near future. Happy shooting!

8 comments:

  1. No, Fuji has not joined Leica in building a RF. You should know better than that.

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    1. Hey Ecaton, thanks for your comment. You bring up a very good point. Technically, the Fuji X-Pro 1 (and X-100S et al) is not a true rangefinder camera because it should provide a manual focusing aid while in optical viewfinder mode.

      However, I would argue that since it offers scale focusing via the lens and via viewscreen, it is pretty darn close. Consider the Fuji GA645, Contax G1&G2, Konica Hexar. All these cameras aren't technically rangefinders since they are scale focus cameras when in manual mode; but we all classify them as rangefinders because everything else about their design and use points towards a rangefinder. I think the fact that all these cameras offer an optical viewfinder allows them to be classified with "true" rangefinder cameras.

      What do you think? Your thoughts?

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    2. For the Fuji X pro 1:
      Is there another lens made by other brand with excellent optical performance for 18mm (Zeiss? with use of the Leica M mount).

      Thanks.

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    3. The problem with the APS-C sized sensor is that you need ultra-wide 35mm lenses (20mm and wider) to get medium wide angle of view of 28-35mm equiv for your cropped sensored camera. 18mm lenses in 35mm mount is very rare. Most were 16mm (fisheye) and then jumped up to 20mm (some were 15mm to 21mm). These lenses were reasonably expensive back then, and still demand a premium now. It wasn't a popular focal length, so most companies didn't spend much time or effort to produce amazing super wideangles. Most had vignetting and barrel distortion issues, which would be less noticeable on a cropped sensor camera since you will only see the center portion of the lens. Even then, most of these lenses had no multi-coating technology, so you will have serious flare and contrast issues when shooting with backlight.

      If you're looking for older 35mm lenses to mount on your X-Pro 1 that gives you medium wide angle of view, I would recommend not using an M-mount for the reason of selection and price. Get a Nikon or Canon FD mount adaptor, or to save a bit of money get a K-mount (Pentax, Ricoh, etc.) or Minolta MD mount adaptor. Remember you will be competing with the collector crowd and the new film camera shooters hunting down rare 35mm lenses, which includes the wide angles. The prices have steadily been rising over the years. I would argue that cost-performance ratio is not really that great anymore.

      The best option is the Fuji XF 18-55mm F/2.8-4 zoom lens. At 18mm, this lens is bright and very sharp. How about the upcoming XF 10-24 F/4 lens which has an awesome 35mm equiv focal length of 15mm-36mm? Finally, since Zeiss has started making their Touit line of lenses for the Fuji X-mount, they may come out with more lenses in the future (they have a 12mm and 32mm lens so far). I hope this info helps. Happy shooting!

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  2. What a loss! Using a X-Pro 1 to take this bunch of dull pics!

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    1. I'm sorry you feel that way. Show me what you want to see. Perhaps I can get a link to your pictures so I can see not-dull images? Remember, I'm taking pictures, but also doing a review. Most DPReview images are pretty dull as well, but they're informative. Shooting people on the street is less dull than a studio set-up shot with a bunch of props to test a lens or a camera, don't you agree?

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  3. Thank you for the review, which I found very helpful. I generally have little or no brand loyalties, but Fuji has done remarkably well to foster these in me, with its policy of continuous improvement to existing and in some cases superseded models of cameras and lenses. So I've recently bought both an X100 and X-Pro1 more than a year after their original release to find products that are now far better (and cheaper) than when they were first introduced.

    But above all, I've bought into the system because it shows a considerable commitment to high quality and this provides for sharpness, interesting colour and impressive contrast in image making. Even at low resolution, your own pictures demonstrate all of these qualities. I'm into landscapes and believe that the 14mm Fuji lens on the X-Pro1 currently offers the best I can afford and therefore it's probable that I will soon be adding to my lens collection.

    Incidentally, although comparisons have been suggested by you and many others with Leica products, I think that a far more meaningful comparison as regards the lens should be made with the Olympus 12mm f2 lens for MFT, which I already own and highly recommend. Unfortunately, I don't have a camera that does full justice to it and as I move away from both the MFT and Pentax systems, it seems increasingly unlikely that I'll be getting one.

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    1. Hi Michael,

      Thanks for your comment, and I appreciate your opinion very much. The 14mm lens is my favorite out of all the Fuji X series line-up and would not hesitate to buy it. You can easily scale focus with it, and the macro ability is actually quite impressive, and without having to switch to macro mode. I wasn't a fan of the original X-100, although I did test it with the original software. The X-Pro 1 is an amazing camera, and I would not hesitate to buy into the Fuji X system. Good choice!

      As for your other point, I respect and I am impressed with MFT and what they've done with it, but I think the resolving technology is close to peaking. I don't think they can squeeze much more performance out of such a small sensor. I think the MFT is great as a compact system and I hope that it will continue to exist, but the APS-C and full-frame format is the way to go for those who are serious about photography and serious about absolute resolution. This is one of the reasons why others and myself often compare the Fuji cameras with Leica, biased as it is. However, I am impressed with the latest MFT bodies with amazing autofocus, continuous shooting, image stabilized capabilities which will destroy most APS-C format mirrorless bodies. However, as you mentioned, if you're not shooting sports or have a need for insane low-light performance; but are into landscape or street style photography, the Fuji system is great.

      I think the best combination of wide angle shooting, great resolution, and compact size is the new Ricoh GR with the 21mm wide angle adapter. In fact, this is what I've ordered for myself and will be doing a review as soon as I come back from my Japan trip.

      That being said, the compact all-in-one market is exploding with great cameras, such as the Sony rX100's and Ricoh's GR. I think if Olympus and Panasonic design a MFT compact all-in-one P&S with a decent zoom range of 24-90, I think it'll be a hit.

      I'm excited with all the new cameras coming out from all different categories and I look forward to testing them in the near future. Thanks again for your comment!

      BHT

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