Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fuji X-Pro1 Review (with adapters and M-mount lenses)

Introduction

Fuji X-Pro1 w/ Fuji 18mm F2.0

Why I went with Fuji

After I tried Ricoh GXR, and witnessed the superiority of no-AntiAliacing sensor, I knew that this is what I want in my new camera. Moire never appeared to be the problem, but sharpness improvement was obvious. I also previously owned X100 and was very aware of Fuji capabilities and shortcomings. Yet, it was not an easy decision to go for Fuji X-Pro1. Competition of enthusiast mirrorless is heating up. Sony NEX-7, Olympus E-M5 present very compelling alternatives, I have have used NEX-7 and it has some very clear advantages - ability to use phase detection and a large array of lens from Alpha family (via adapter), great controls, built-in flash, Zeiss 24mm lens...

As much as I enjoyed using NEX-7 here are the shortcomings that made me look at Fuji:
  • Only one high quality dedicated lens - Zeiss 24mm F1.8 - and no extensive plans for more lenses
  • Despite the phenomenal resolution for APS-C sensor images lacked the crispiness of no-AA sensor
  • Absolute absence of quality wide angle options was basically a fatal flaw - M-mount lenses producing way too much color cast to be usable
  • I like flatter cameras. Sounds silly, but I pretty much do not care how wide the camera is as long as it does not extend too far with lens attached. Otherwise I have problems fitting the camera into a compact bag
Things I was concerned about when getting Fuji X-Pro1:
  • Every Fuji camera had some serious bugs that have been discovered after the camera was out. Be it focusing issues, white orbs or others. So when getting a Fuji you should expect serious issues to be discovered
  • Lack of manual focus assist - peaking.
  • I was buying into Fuji marketing statement that their sensor was better suited for RF wide angle lenses due to flatter construction. I did not know if that was true though
  • Focusing was an issue with Fuji X100 and I did not expect it to be solved in X-Pro1. It is slower and error prone. And of course it would not be competitive with phase detection option of NEX-7
  • I used NEX-7 very successfully for video and I was pretty sure X-Pro1 would not do such a great job
  • Lack of zoom lens option. Though primes deliver great quality, sometimes changing lenses takes too much time. But Fuji promised to deliver such a lens soon.
  • One hit wonder factor - Fuji makes a good camera, such as S5, and then decides to discontinue the family. X-Pro1 is a great start, but knowing Fuji there is no guarantee that I will not be stack with an obsolete body and unusable lenses few years down the road.
But the family of prime lenses, better compatibility with M-mount and style won me over...

Fuji X-Pro1 w/ Fuji 18mm F2.0

The big test

I often carry a camera with me. I take pictures of my son and anything that I find interesting. But being VP of R&D my photo opportunities do not amount to a great variety of shooting scenarios. During this low intensity shooting may issues with a camera may not become apparent for weeks. Vacation is a difference story - in one week I shoot about 1500 images in all kinds of situations and most of the issues that could come-up do so. This is why I was very excited to take X-Pro1 on vacation a week after I received it. Destination this time was Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. 

What I took with me is:
  • Fuji X Pro1 Body
  • Voigtlander 15mm (via Kipon adapter)
  • Fuji 18mm
  • Fuji 35mm
  • Contax Zeiss 90mm (via Kipon adapter)
  • Dumke bag, I think 700-51B - small!
  • Tripod and bunch of other small accessories
This was not it of course, I also took Olympus E-PL1 with underwater housing and lighting. But this is a different story.

X-Pro1 and Range Finder (RF) lenses

Fuji X-Pro1 w/ Fuji 18mm F2.0

 

RF lenses via Kipon Adaptes for Leica M and Contax G

Kipon is the only option at the moment for RF lenses on Fuji. Previously I have used Voigtlander, Metabones and bunch of cheap adapters for Leica M and Contax G before. Though Leica M adapter seems to be a pretty basic thing there is a surprising number of ways to get it wrong. Most crippling of course is the inability to focus to infinity. But also I had issues with mechanical release for the lens that would fail, adapter would have metal shavings inside that could damage one's camera and so on.

Size and weight of the adapter is yet another factor - I commonly have a dedicated adapter for each lens and weight of those adapters can add up.

Kipon M-mount adapter does not appear as well made as either Voigtlander or Metabones. At the same time there are no functional issues that I have discovered. Just the fill of the steel. It worked fine with all of the lenses (though 15mm it is less likely to have infinity focus issues). 

Contax G is a significantly more complicated adapter - G lenes do not have manual focusing, so adapter has to provide a way rotate the screw-driver to manually focus the lens. I have used Metabones version of the adapter before (on NEX-7). Metabones provides nice and wide focusing ring, but as the result the adapter is heavier than the lens itself and adapter with the lens mounted takes much more space than the lens itself. Though functional, it is making mockery of the compact RF lenses concept.  

Kipon Contax adapter was designed quite differently. As the result is it much lighter and smaller, but focusing ring is only 3mm or so thick. My first few attempts to mount 90mm lens on the adapter failed. Lens did lock in place but I could not focus with reasonable amount of effort. I was about to call the adapter a dud and through it into trash, but on n-th attempt, for unknown to me reason it just started working. When mounted on the camera focusing was smooth enough not to be noticeable. The thin focusing ring turned out to be quite comfortable to use. Ability to focus to infinity is never an issue with Contax lens - these lenses will focus "to infinity and beyond!"

Fuji X-Pro1 w/ Fuji 35mm F1.4

RF lenses - focusing

Focusing RF lenses is better in some respects and worse than I expected. Mainly worse though...

Infamous moving aperture that plagues Fuji lenses in MF mode, is not an issue with fully manual M-mount lenses. Resolution of rear LCD is good enough to achieve critical focus; the same goes for the EVF. So much for the good stuff...

There are problems though... The most troubling one has to do with the sensor that automatically activates EVF when camera brought to the face - it does not work in bright light. It appears that camera has a problem detecting one looking though the EVF until face is pressed into the camera to the point that it is not usable. So in the situations when light is too bright and you cannot use LCD for focusing, one does not have an option... This was especially painful as I was balancing on the rocks trying not to scare aways the iguanas. 

Refresh rate of the EVF/LCD is not high enough to cancel out jitters of telephoto lens. This is not unique to Fuji, but it appears that it is still slower than that of NEX cameras. In good light it is still OK for 90mm, but would be a problem with any lens longer than that. In bad light 90mm is hard to focus.

Of course, unlike Sony, Fuji did not provide peaking. It better be a patent issue... But both Sony and Ricoh have the feature, so it is not clear to me Fuji did not join the club. The reason that I do not include this as the number one problem is that Sony peaking still worked worse than Ricoh GXR's and could not be counted on in all the situations. So as the result I did not get used to it as the primary indicator of critical focus. 

RF lenses - color cast

Color cast when using wide RF (under 20mm) lenses on NEX-7 was the main reason for the switch. Fuji marketing made it sound like X-Pro1 should be a great platform for RF lenses. Though I was not convinced, I assumed that it would be better than NEX-7, which exhibits about the worst case of color cast with wide RF lenses. Even NEX-5/5n would get a passing grade in my books. I was right - it is better than NEX-7, but does not appear to be much better than NEX-5n. Color cast is there in Voigtlander 15mm, it is visible, but images are usable (my point of view) without correction from. 

Fuji X-Pro1 w/ Contax 90mmF2.8

Is X-Pro1 a good option for RF lenses?

This is a hard question, more over this is when I will set all Fuji community against me. But here is my politically correct disclaimer: it depends what you are looking for. Roughly speaking I would classify cameras in three categories: 
  1. Specifically designed for RF lenses
  2. Have necessary features necessary for use with RF lenses
  3. Can be used but with serious limitation and omissions 
Category one would contain cameras like Leica M9 and Ricoh GXR. Those cameras are designed with manual focus RF lenses in mind. Though not perfect, they clearly accommodate most of the features necessary. Category two would include cameras like NEX-5. It performs well with RF lenses, has no major glaring problems, and has some features such as peaking. Category three would include cameras like NEX-7 - usable but with major issues, and considerations.  

Despite marketing claims and promise of an adapter, I would put Fuji in category three at present. There is really nothing that Fuji did to make the camera more usable for RF lenses. Viewfinder is not as good for focusing as NEX-7 or GXR, no focus peaking like NEX-7 and GXR, no lens profiles like GXR or Leica, slow refresh rate for EVF/LCD, and so on... Basically the only feature there is magnification in MF mode, feature that is available in all mirrorless cameras I am aware of. This is not enough in my mind to move to category two. The good news is that focus peaking would get it to the second category and this is a simple firmware update feature. So perhaps with the firmware 1.02? 

Fuji X-Pro1 w/ Voigtlander 15mm F4.5

Using the camera in the field

Despite the previous section which could make one think that RF lenses is all I care about, only about 5-10% of the pictures I took during the vacation were using RF lenses. By far most of what generated my impression with the camera was from using the dedicated Fuji lenses - 18mm and 35mm.


Controls

Style and controls are some of the best things about the camera (I will touch on image quality separately). I am one of those new generation of photographers that does not grow doe-eyed from word "Leica." So for me to say that controls are "Leica like" does not carry much currency. I believe that in the time of film cameras when aperture and shutter was all that there was to control Leica style made scene; now it may not. 

When I started using X100 it was irritating to me that I could not operate camera with one hand. I can do that with Nikon D3, D700, Sony NEX-7, Ricoh GXR - why one Fuji X100? Something had changed - probably me - X-Pro1 does not really bother me with the two handed operation. With the addition of quick menu button, recessed exposure compensation I found Fuji a joy to use. For 98% of the things I wanted form a camera I could do it with a direct dial or single button access. 

Once one has to go into menu this may get a bit involved with the long lists and a bit cryptic icons. But luckily this does not happen very often.

One of the features that surprised me is that in "M" mode exposure compensation is disabled; even though ISO is used to correct for exposure compensation in other modes. I find this a bit odd, inconsistent and unfortunate. I feels that in many cases ISO is exactly what I want to use to control image brightness. 


Viewfinder and LCD

I think if there was a single thing that Fuji marketing would like to tell people about X-Pro1 is that it has OVF! I have to say this is a cool feature but it was really not a major selling point for me - it is not like DSLR viewfinder. It is darker; it gives only approximate idea of the frame with dedicated lenses, no idea of the frame with MF lenses, no idea of the depth of field and focusing point is often off. It could be useful in bright light, but I do not use it too extensively.

On top of that there is a problem with frame lines, that are not visible on bright light (this feature supposed to be addressed in firmware 1.01)

LCD is good quality. I liked the look. Once shooting during the day, in bright light it appeared too dark, so I adjusted the brightness to the maximum. Brightness was no longer the problem. An hour later, once sun started going down I turned the camera on and took a picture - blown out. Another - blown out. Checked all the settings - could not find a problem. To make a long story short - LCD on maximum brightness appeared blown out, not just bright. Odd but true... Changed the setting images looked ok again. I am not crazy... At least I think I am not... I can tell the difference between bright and blown-out, or so I thought.

Fuji X-Pro1 w/ Fuji 18mm F2.0

AF performance

Fuji AF has been a known weakness of X100. X-Pro1 in general inherited those shortcomings. It is hard to say without explicit testing how do both compare. It is not as definitive as m4/3 cameras, but it is not horrible. Fine for most static subjects, and some slowly moving. Beyond that - pre focusing is the key. I did not find it too crippling. I almost always prefocus with fast moving subjects so differences is inconsequential.

It is interesting to note that AF in low light is actually pretty good.

All mirrorless cameras without exception tend to miss-focus from time-to-time, even when the main subject occupies the entire focusing square. While using Fuji, I found that this rate is somewhat higher than that of other cameras. To me this is worse than failure to focus since it is misleading. Instead of finding an alternative focal point or trying again one is likely to walkaway with unusable image. Given the operation speed of X-Pro1, sometimes it is not an option to spend extra time reviewing close-up of an image.

Fuji X-Pro1 w/ Fuji 18mm F2.0

Image post processing

At present (4/30/2012), the main photographic software I use - Photoshop - does not support X-Pro1. And based on the unique sensor architecture, it is likely to be a bit longer than usual before Adobe implements it.

This means that for now SilkyPix RAW converter is the only option for X-Pro1 files. It is a decent piece of software. I did not find any bugs in it so far. At the same time it is an unwelcomed overhead of learning the controls, and it is still limiting in what time of processing is feasible.

Some proprietary software is surprisingly good in working with the native files. The software that ships with Sigma DP cameras is one of those cases. Yes, Adobe will open Sigma files, but then they loose a lot of the brilliance. I have not found traces of that with SilkyPix. It seems to do a good job but nothing that would make me take a special notice. 

Fuji X-Pro1 w/ Fuji 35mm F1.4

Image quality

I am very happy with the image quality. Sensor is very sharp, especially when combined with excellent lenses such as Fuji 35mm or other RF lenses. I feel that Ricoh still manages to get higher sharpness out of their no-AA system, but this is just speculations since I have not done any formal test. It is clear that overall image qaulity leaves very little to be desired. There is little doubt that this is a professional quality sensor.

Out of the five lenses I have used, here are my observations:

Fuji 35mm - excellent lens. I found it sharp and color rendering excellent. It is also compact and appears well built.

Fuji 18mm - also excellent color, also compact and well built. As far as image quality it appears to be great in some images and OK in others. I think it has to do with focusing distance. But still a good lens overall. I prefer wide angle lenses, so for me 18mm is the main lens for Fuji camera.

Voigtlander 15mm - excellent color and built. Pleasure to use. Sharp. There is some noticeable vignetting and color cast. To the point to be that they are clearly noticeable in most cases but not to the point that I would not use images uncorrected.

Contax/Ziess 90mm - good overall lens. A bit softer than the others. Color is a bit cooler than I would like. Images are OK, but do not blow my mind with their quality.

Zeiss 50mm F2 - excellent lens, built, color. No noticeable artifacts. 


Video quality

This is not a camera for video. It is OK, and in a pinch will do, but focusing is likely to wonder all over the place and end-up anywhere but not on the subject it should. Aside from that major problem it seems OK, but I do not even know how to judge quality of video output.

video

Conclusion

In general in my reviews I tend to come off too negative. I prefer this is to the alternative - sounding like a fool in-love, who sees only the beauty. Nevertheless, I am excited about the new camera as much as any other... I feel very positive about any new camera that I try. Fuji is no exception. I found IQ to be among the best I have seen (if not the best), and for most photographers this is a unique compact camera that offers professional quality in a compact and affordable package.

The fact that I so far failed to generate any great images with it is by no means the fault of the camera, but the photographer. I hope to actually demonstrate what the camera is capable of in the near future.

Additional Notes

Flash

I did not have Fuji flash while on vacation, but I do have it now... This is a bit complicated. Controls are great, and fit very well with overall idea of the camera. It is also compact and in that sense also fits the concept. Lever operated defuser is also very easy to use.
Bad thing is that for over $200 I would expect articulated flash, flash that can control and can be operated as remote flash, flash that is quick to start. This is not what you get here. Basically it is a plastic external flash, that has the functionality of built-in flash, with extra oomph. It is bar none - the lowest flash to start-up once your batteries are not fresh. It drives me crazy... It takes something like 20 Sec to start when batteries are slightly used; meanwhile you lose all ability to take any pictures. This would be not so bad if this was it. But there is something gravely wrong with the power button, once again when betties are somewhat drained. Sometimes it takes me 5-10 tries to turn the flash on. I would just prefer an indicator saying that better is dead.
So this experience is a bit different from Nikon SB900 and QFlash that I usually use - their buttons are working, they have that down.


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