Review: Fujifilm X-Pro 1

The one dreaded question asked by anyone who is new into photography is: “Canon or Nikon?”. It’s a difficult question because in this day and age, it really has little to do with the camera brand any more. Heck, many of the amazing photographs we see these days come from various phones running Instagram. Even Time Magazine used one for the cover photo as well as to document Hurricane Sandy.

It really is how one uses the camera.

Which is why for this review I’d skip over the technicalities and specs, which you can geek over extensively on dpreview, complete with colour charts and all that stuff most human beings are likely to skip over. Suffice to say it has a 23.6mm x 15.6mm (APS-C) sensor that dishes out 16.3 MP. So I took it out with Laura Huntley and went around a shipyard construction site in Dubai. Thanks to @FujifilmME for giving me the camera for a spin.

 

The first thing you’d notice about the camera is how beautiful it is Really. It’s a work of art. And not only does it look good, but it feels good in the hand; it feels solid, yet fragile all at once. The exposure and shutter speed dials on the top of the body are firm; you won’t be accidentally changing settings. More importantly, they’re easy to reach without having to look at the camera, though of course it’s a matter of habit from one camera to another.

Most of my shooting was done through the old firmware, and I only got to test out v2.0 of the firmware on the last day. That said, the autofocus, while “slow”, wasn’t really as terribly slow as people complain about. Again, it depends on what photography you’re doing. Most of my testing consisted of portraits or inanimate scenery. My primary camera is a Canon 5D MKII, so probably that’s why I don’t see the X-Pro1 as particularly slow in focusing.

There were plenty of bells and whistles hidden in the menus. Panorama shots. Some bits and pieces of colour options and picture options and dynamic range options and the sort. The panorama mode was decent, though quite frankly the Fujifilm X10 performed better here. Not that the resolution isn’t good; it was a matter of the X-Pro not keeping up with my motion. So I’d be panning and after doing a 180 and stopping I could still hear the camera snapping and trying to keep up on the LCD panel at the back.

Anyway, there are plenty of settings to mull over, but shooting in a RAW file renders most of them pretty useless anyway. And what a RAW file it produces.

Beautiful.

I was actually quite surprised with how good the photo quality is. I mean, honestly, though this isn’t a 5D sensor, the photos are stunning. Very, very crisp. Sharp. I was shocked. Heck, I have trouble getting sharp photos with my 5DMKII. Not with the X-Pro. And the amount of detail I was able to retrieve from the RAW images was great, too. Again, I had zero expectations of what the X-Pro can produce. I’ve seen photos from other photographers, but it’s a different feel when you do your own shooting and your own processing. I enjoy processing photos so the RAW files from the X-Pro satisfied me.

One of the things which needs quite a while getting used to is the electronic viewfinder. It’s just… weird. If you have the wizardry off, you’ll get a plain, white rectangle that is supposed to be your frame. However, the viewfinder has a static view of the world, so you need to half-press the shutter, and as the camera focuses on your target, the white rectangle will change position to show you what will be in the frame. Then you recompose. It feels like guesswork most of the time.

The other option is to turn on the viewfinder wizardry and bring it to life. Basically, whatever is displayed on the back screen is projected on the tiny viewfinder for inspection. You also get the full frame shot so you can compose better. The colours are too saturated and crisp, so as far as usefulness of the viewfinder is concerned, it’s really just to see what you’ll be shooting. Turning this option on however drained the battery significantly. The batteries died on me after two or three hours of shooting. I’d be worried if I am out on a day trip with just one battery.

Will this replace my 5DMKII? Honestly, I don’t see why not, for the type of photography I do. Yes, the Canon is much more versatile because it has been around longer and the lenses cover an extensive variety of uses. As I explore my photography I find myself more gravitated towards street, street portraits, and candid shots — not much into landscape and nature as I used to be, though of course I do appreciate the amount of effort and the art involved.

Travelling to Nepal for holidays with my 5DMKII made me realise how much I miss the X-Pro. The latter is much, much lighter. The lenses are significantly smaller. They all have pretty wide apertures. Having walked over 50 kilometres during my trip, my shoulders and back were in massive pain. I almost bought an X-Pro from the airport on my way to Malaysia but didn’t have the budget for it then and didn’t want to deal with more weight and gear on me.

I needed the smaller camera body and smaller lenses to remove much of the intimidation from people as I took photos. For the first time, my 5DMKII felt like an impediment. And the urge to buy an X-Pro grows by the day.

It’s a beautiful camera. Is it worth the purchase? Depends on what you want to do. If you’re very new to the photography scene, then probably it’s better to stick to cheaper, entry-level DLR cameras from Nikon or Canon. If you’re looking for a camera you’d pick up and enjoy taking photos with – despite its quirkiness – then yeah, this one’s for you.