Back in late February 2012, Fujifilm Canada was kind enough to lend me a pre-production X-Pro1 and lenses to shoot the promotional images for their Canadian product launch. I enjoyed using the system so much (and loved the image quality even more) that I put down $3,500.00 (plus tax – hey, the government wants its share too) to purchase a complete system.
I also have a Fujifilm X100 and just love that little camera, despite its quirks. Actually, Fujifilm released a number of firmware upgrades in the past couple of months which resolved many of the issues I had with the camera. So, it is not as quirky as it use to be.
Part of my excitement with these cameras is that they are small in size (relative to DSLRs and their fast prime lenses) but big in the image quality department. I decided to put them to the test – I took them both as my primary cameras on a recent trip to China and Hong Kong. Specifically, I took:
This was the first time I was going to shoot commercially solely with compact system cameras. Gulp.
How did they perform? Read on to find out …
I won’t hide my enthusiasm for these cameras – overall, I am extremely happy with how they performed. I plan to write a detailed series of posts in the next couple of weeks on China, the sights and general camera/travel recommendations. The purpose of this article is to document some of my thoughts on the X100 and X-Pro1 – plus show you a small number of images of the many amazing things I saw.
My set up was as follows: the 60mm f/2.4 Macro lens was normally on the X-Pro1 (and easily accessible) in my bag with the X100 and its fixed 23mm f/2 lens alongside it. The other two lenses (18mm f/2 and 35mm f/1.4) were also in my bag in case I needed them.
Why did I choose this initial setup?
When I shoot with my Nikon DSLR’s (a D800 and D3s), the two prime lenses I use often are the 35mm f/1.4 and the 85mm f/1.4 – so it makes sense that the X100’s 23mm f/2 lens (35mm equivalent) and the 60mm f/2.4 (90mm equivalent) would be the ones I would likely use on this trip. And after analyzing my images in Lightroom, these are indeed the focal lengths I used the most.
One thing I just love about both of these Fujifilm cameras is the colour in the JPEG files, straight out of camera. The above image has had no post processing – the colours I got in artificial lighting (tungsten) were simply beautiful. This saves me a lot of time in post trying to tweak the colour.
When I acquired the X-Pro1 system, many people wrote to me as and asked if I would ever use my X100 again as I also had the 18mm f/2 lens (27mm equivalent). The short answer is, “Yes”.
I was surprised by how much I used the X100, but given how much I like the 35mm focal length, it doesn’t surprise me. One thing I really, really love about the X100 (other than its retro styling) is that is almost silent with its Leaf shutter – no one will ever know that you are shooting with it (if they do not see you, of course). Normally, one isn’t supposed to photograph guards, policeman, etc. while in China (and in many other countries), but with the X100, I was able to capture the above scene without drawing any attention to myself. Try doing that with a DSLR!
According to the lens roadmap for the X-Pro1, Fujifilm plans to release a 23mm f/2 lens (35mm equivalent) sometime in 2013. At this point, I am not sure if I will purchase one as I am very happy with the X100 and its fixed lens. Then again, I am planning to acquire a second X-Pro1 body in the future (as a backup and also, to mount a different prime lens) so I might change my mind on the upcoming 23mm f/2. Wait and see, I suppose.
Either way, I doubt I would ever sell my X100 as I just love using it. My X100 enables me to shoot in a simple way that is an absolute pleasure – and when I look at the quality of the output, I am always extremely happy with the results. It is a small, elegant and an accomplished little camera.
The lens I used the least was the 18mm f/2 … I used it for about 6% of my shots. It is not because this lens is bad – far from it, it is quite good. The 35mm f/1.4 and 60mm f/2.4 are some of the finest optics I have ever used on any camera, so they got a lot more use. Also, don’t forget that I always had the X100 in my bag and love its perspective. There is no doubt that if I did not bring the X100 with me, the 18mm f/2 would have seen more use.
One thing to note is that the 18mm f/2 is the weakest optically of the three lenses as it is soft on the edges when used wide open. They do sharpen up considerably as you stop down past f/3.6
Also, this lens suffers from chromatic aberration on the edges which can be easily fixed in post.
A small gripe – Fujifilm has supplied replacement rubber caps for the hoods on the 18mm f/2 and 35mm f/1.4 lenses. They are useless. Every time I took one of those lenses out of my bag, the rubber cap would always fall off. In fact, if it weren’t for a few very kind (and observant) people, I would have lost these caps. I have purchased some 52mm screw-in Leica style lens hoods that accommodate the original 52mm Fujifilm front cap supplied with each lens. These are a lot more secure and I don’t have to worry about them falling off.
It is no secret that the image quality (IQ) is nothing short of stellar on both of these cameras. This has always been Fujifilm’s strength. I used an 11 inch Macbook Air to sort and catalogue my images – but when I finally saw them on a calibrated 27 inch IPS monitor, my jaw dropped to the floor. The image quality was better than I thought it would be. Having IQ this good straight out of camera is going to save me a lot of time in post processing.
A funny note about noise – many photographers (including yours truly) are often obsessed with having low noise in their images. But when we want our images to transport us back in time by giving them an “antique” or “sepia” treatment, we add noise back into the image. I had to chuckle when I did this to the images above and below.
Just as I left for China, Fujifilm released a firmware upgrade for the X-Pro1 body and lenses. One of the complaints I initially had after purchasing my X-Pro1 was regarding “aperture chatter” – the apertures blades adjust to the lighting conditions and constantly move, thus creating an audible “ticking” sound. This firmware upgrade solved this problem and I am happy to report that the aperture chatter is gone.
One additional benefit of this upgrade was that battery life improved – I have shot up to 400 images (JPEG + RAW) on a single charge and the battery meter still showed “full” (3 bars). Needless to say that battery life was not an issue on this trip (even though I always had a spare one with me).
I normally shoot RAW files with most of my cameras but on the X100 and X-Pro1, I shot both JPEG fine and RAW – the “Astia” film setting was the one I used most. At the time of writing this, X-Pro1 RAW (RAF) files are not supported by Adobe Lightroom (my RAW converter of choice), but since the JPEG images are so good out of camera, this was not an issue. I did keep the RAW images just in case I wanted to process them when Lightroom ultimately provides support for the X-Pro1 RAF files.
I probably won’t end up using the RAW files as the JPEG images straight out of camera are amazing. Also, the Auto White Balance on all Fujifilm’s “X” series camera is accurate and it is difficult to fool it.
The X100 has had a series of firmware upgrades which has dramatically improved the autofocus (AF). When using the EVF, OVF or rear LCD, AF was fast and accurate. Kudos to Fujifilm for this.
The X-Pro1’s AF was usually quick – except in bright sunlight using the EVF. There are times when I wanted to see the exact framing of my image so I would use the EVF instead of the OVF – but in bright sunlight, the image would “jump” (after half pressing the shutter release to lock focus) and the AF would struggle a bit. This was never a problem when using the OVF or shooting in low light, which I found strange. I hope Fujifilm can remedy this as I did find it to be a pain at times.
When the X-Pro1’s AF locked onto the subject (using all 3 X mount lenses), it was extremely accurate yielding pin sharp images.
I found myself missing the longer focal lengths (i.e. greater than 90mm) since I love compression in my images. I did have an X-S1 with me (courtesy of Fujifilm), however, I really wanted some long, fast glass for the X-Pro1.
I know Fujifilm plans to introduce a 72-200mm f/4 with Image Stabilization (a 108-300mm equivalent) in 2013 according to a leaked lens roadmap. I would love to see some longer, fast Fujinon primes (like a 90mm and a 135mm) for this system released in the future.
I noticed that even though I was shooting fewer frames with the X100 and X-Pro1 (than I normally do with my other cameras), my “keeper rate” went up substantially. Both of these Fujifilm cameras are not speed demons, so it really requires the photographer to shoot with even more “intent” than usual. When using these cameras, I felt as though I was transported back in time to when I first learned photography almost 40 years ago. I found myself concentrating even more on imaging basics such as lighting, exposure, perspective and composition.
By taking the time to slow down and really concentrate on what I was “seeing”, the X-Pro1 and X100 rewarded me with some very memorable images.
I did miss a few shots because of the AF hesitating in bright sunlight, but overall, I am quite pleased with the results from both cameras.
In closing this post, I am extremely happy with how my X100 and X-Pro1 performed in China. I am planning to purchase a second X-Pro1 body this summer and look forward to Fujifilm releasing additional X mount lenses for this system. The X100 will always have a special place in my bag as it is a unique little camera.
Knowing that I can get first rate image quality out of these small cameras and lenses means I will be taking them with me on all of my assignments – both at home and abroad.
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As I mentioned earlier, I will document our entire trip to China in the next couple of weeks. Until then, I will leave you with a very small collection of images that I shot during this trip.
If you ever get the chance to visit – do it. To say it was an amazing experience is an understatement.
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