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Fujifilm X-Pro1 review

Is beauty only skin deep?

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Fujifilm X-Pro1 hero (1024px)
Fujifilm X-Pro1 hero (1024px)

Fujifilm has a history of making beautiful cameras, particularly in its X series. The X100 and X10 are more than just pretty faces, too — both deliver gorgeous pictures and video. They're designed more as companions to a DSLR rather than your one and only camera, though, and the entry price is high for that kind of camera. In January at CES, Fujifilm stole the show by releasing a camera that could be your one and only: the X-Pro1, which pairs the company's flair for retro design with interchangeable lenses.

Technically speaking, there's a lot to like about the camera in addition to its lens mount or its good looks: a 16-megapixel APS-C X-Trans sensor that Fujifilm claims could rival many full-frame DSLRs, ISO range up to ISO 25,600, a hybrid optical / electronic viewfinder, a 1.23-million-dot LCD, and Fujifilm's fast EXR processor. It's beautiful inside and outside, but Fujifilm's latest won't come cheap: the body alone costs $1,699, and lenses cost upward of $600 apiece. It's no $30,000 Leica, but the X-Pro1 is clearly not for the the light of wallet. Is it worth the price? Read on.

Hardware / design

Hardware / design

Big and beautiful

Having used the X100 and X10 extensively, I'm accustomed to the looks and questions I get as I use the camera, but the X-Pro1 takes the phenomenon to a new level. The camera looks like a Leica to the untrained eye, and even to a discerning passer-by it looks incredibly high-quality. The all-black magnesium alloy and synthetic leather body is gorgeous, and the whole camera has a wonderful retro feel — even the left-set viewfinder is reminiscent of old film cameras. Rest assured: the X-Pro1 is a head-turner.

One thing I wasn't prepared for was just how big the X-Pro1 would be. At 5.5 inches wide and 3.2 inches tall, it's larger in both dimensions than my Nikon D7000 and far larger than the Olympus OM-D E-M5 I reviewed a couple of weeks ago, though because it doesn't have a hump for the flash or pentaprism it doesn't look quite as large. Other X Series models are designed to slip unnoticed into a bag next to your DSLR, but make no mistake: the X-Pro1 is the size of a DSLR, and you'll definitely notice its presence. At almost exactly a pound without a lens, it's not very heavy, and it feels nice as you hold it, but since the magnesium alloy body has only a tiny bump that barely counts as a "grip," it's harder to hold in one hand than a heavier DSLR. There's an optional $94.95 hand grip that you can attach to the bottom of the X-Pro1, and though it makes the camera a little taller and heavier, it at least adds enough of a grip that you can wield the X-Pro1 one-handed.

The left side of the camera is empty save for a well-hidden sync terminal; on the right, you'll find Mini HDMI and Mini USB ports underneath a hinged plastic door. The battery is accessed from the bottom, underneath the same door as the single SD card slot. The camera doesn't turn off if you open the door to swap memory cards, which is nice, but the single slot could be a turn-off for heavy or paranoid shooters who want backups. The front of the camera has a toggle for focusing mode and one for switching between viewfinders (more on the latter below), and there are more dials and buttons on the top and the back. There's no built-in flash on top, but there is a hotshoe so you could add one yourself.


The X-Pro1 features a brand-new lens mount, in a stunning twist called the X-Mount. The mount is designed to get the lens as close as possible to the sensor, which reduces focusing distance and potentially means sharper photos. The company introduced three lenses with the X-Pro1: the XF18mmF2 R, a 27mm f/2.0 lens; the XF 35mmF1.4 R, a 53mm f/1.4 lens; and the XF60mmF2.4 R Macro, a macro lens at f/2.4 and 90mm (I shot primarily with the f/1.4 lens). All have aperture control on the lenses themselves, and are incredibly well-made. Between the three there's some versatility, but there's no one-size-fits all lens here, and you'll be spending nearly $2,000 to buy them all. Fujifilm promises more lenses are coming, but for now the options are severely limited in comparison to the Nikon or Canon ecosystems, or the options available to owners of Micro Four Thirds cameras like the Olympus OM-D E-M5. Even Sony's NEX line has more lenses available, and the company has released a roadmap detailing more than a dozen new lenses coming in the next couple of years.



Viewfinder and LCD

A viewfinder for every need

A hefty chunk of the X-Pro1's body is taken up by the hybrid viewfinder, which is one of the best features of the camera — once you figure out how to use it properly. It can be used in two totally different modes: as an optical, tunnel-style viewfinder, or as a standard electronic viewfinder. The former mode is much like the X10's viewfinder, where you can see the lens through the viewfinder and have to frame the shot differently, which takes some real getting used to. The view through the viewfinder is different here than the one through the lens, so you have to frame a different shot than the one you're seeing. The X-Pro1 helps make that process easier, using the companion LCD to indicate when focus is locked and where in the frame your subject's actually located. Still, tunnel viewfinders are really only for those who've used them before.

For everyone else, there's the EVF setting. With a flip of the toggle on the front of the body, the X-Pro1's viewfinder becomes just like every EVF you've ever used — it offers a lot of information about the photo you're taking, and shows a more directionally accurate picture than the tunnel viewfinder. It also does a nice job of brightening dark scenes, so you'll be able to frame shots a bit better at night. Switching back and forth is a perfect indication of the sacrifices, though: the EVF's color accuracy is much worse than the "optical" mode, and it's not quite as sharp either. Since you're looking through an LCD rather than a pane of glass, you're always getting basically a rendering of what you're seeing rather than a lifelike window. The LCD is very good, though, a 0.47-inch display filled with 1.44 million dots, and it's a better EVF system than many.

The hybrid viewfinder is a really clever system, and it makes the X-Pro1 a more versatile and accessible camera than some of Fujifilm's others. If you like the tunnel viewfinder, great; if you hand it to someone who doesn't know how to use it, just flip it to the EVF and you're set. The only persistent downside is that the viewfinder is set all the way on the left side of the camera as you hold it, so if you look with your right eye it's way off to the side of your face — it's not a problem, you just look kind of ridiculous.

Or, you could just ignore the viewfinder entirely and use the 3-inch LCD on the camera's rear. It wouldn't be a bad idea, either: it's filled with a super-sharp 1.23-million dots, is bright and accurate, and has good enough viewing angles that I almost didn't miss having a tilting or articulating display. (Almost.) A $1,700 camera had better have a best-in-class screen, and the X-Pro1's definitely qualifies — it's sharper and more detailed than many DSLR displays.


Interface and controls


Generally speaking, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras operate within the same paradigm — there's a mode dial, a series of buttons for the most commonly used features, and a clunky and ugly interface for managing settings and more hidden options. Fujifilm went another direction entirely. Instead of a mode dial, you get a large dial for controlling shutter speed, with spots for everything between 1/4000th and one second. It's a bit clunky to change, since you have to press down a button in the center of the wheel before it'll turn, but it's a really quick way to tweak shutter speed.

The other dial on top is for controlling exposure, another handy one to have. There's also a Function button, which you can set to quickly access any setting — ISO's a good one — as well as a button labeled "Q," which brings up a menu with 16 of the most-used settings, so you can easily change everything from white balance to dynamic range. The Drive button lets you shoot in a bunch of different bracketing modes, or shoot in continuous mode, or a number of other options. The aperture-control ring is actually on the lens itself, which makes a lot of sense — it's really easy to control on the fly, since your left hand is likely to be on the lens anyway, and it's where the aperture actually changes. There's a single scroll dial on the back for changing various settings, mostly in the Q menu.

Very few things are one tap away, but almost everything is two or three. It took a while to learn how to use the X-Pro1 as efficiently as possible, but once I figured out where everything was it seemed to be a remarkably well-designed system; a place for everything and everything in its place. The only thing I thought was missing is a dedicated video recording button, which is only accessible in the Drive menu — though that's another good use for the Function key.

The X-Pro1 does have an Auto mode, but Fujifilm clearly doesn't think you'll spend much time using it. To get into full Auto mode, you have to individually set ISO, shutter, and aperture to Auto — it takes longer than just figuring out the settings yourself.

The on-screen interface isn't exactly revolutionary, but it's fine. You get light text on a dark background, and scroll up and down to go through settings, and left and right to go up and down in the hierarchy. Since so many options and features are accessible through the Q button, you probably won't use the standard menu much anyway.

Get ready to teach a lot of people how to use it

Image and video quality

The X-Pro1 uses a brand-new, 16-megapixel APS-C sensor (the same size as most mid-range DSLRS) called the "X-Trans CMOS." The unique feature of the X-Trans sensor is the randomization of its colors; instead of a repeating RGB pattern, the colors are randomized, which should mean less moire — the wavy-looking patterns in many videos — and more accurate colors. The idea was inspired by the random arrangement of silver halide found in old film, and when paired with the new EXR processor means the X-Pro1 doesn't need a low-pass filter, so you can get the full resolution of your shots while still filtering away false colors and moire. Fujifilm says that makes the X-Trans roughly equivalent to a full-frame sensor, and though I don't necessarily agree with the math, the results are hard to argue with.

In good lighting, the X-Pro1 takes really remarkable pictures — especially when paired with one of the f/1.4 lenses, it's one of those cameras that makes every photo you take seems like a work of art. Quality isn't quite up to par with some of the full-frame cameras I've tested, but it's closer than I expected. Colors are extremely accurate and crisp, and pictures are really sharp throughout the frame — most cameras get softer toward the corners, but the X-Pro1's dropoff is incredibly slight. The most impressive aspect to me, though, was the level of detail captured in the photo. 16 megapixels isn't particularly high-res for a top-tier camera, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to read labels inside guitars from 25 feet away, or see speedometers on a motorcycle from a long way off.

Dynamic range is almost always one of my biggest complaints with a camera. If you shoot with a bright background (like a blue sky), all too often you either get a blown-out background (the sky becomes white) or a too-dark subject. The X-Pro1 doesn't mitigate that problem entirely, but it does a remarkable job of properly lighting both foreground and background. It helps, too, that there's a dynamic range bracketing mode two taps away in the Q settings menu.

Even when there's not much light to speak of, the X-Pro1 keeps on rolling. The camera's native ISO range goes up to ISO 6400, and can be extended up to ISO 25,600; I wouldn't hesitate to crank the ISO as high as you need it. You'll see basically no noise up to ISO 1000 even at 100 percent crops, and at small to medium sizes you won't notice any all the way up to ISO 5000. Beyond that point, photos are noisy any way you look at them, but I only worried about shooting at ISO 25,600 — even ISO 12,800 produced images I wouldn't mind uploading to Facebook or Flickr.

Superhero-like night vision

Focusing problems rear their ugly head

All three of the X-Pro1's available lenses have fast apertures (from f/1.4 to f/2.4), and that helps a great deal as well. Shooting with slow shutter speeds is the last thing you want to do in low light, and with the ability to freely shoot at ISO 12,800 and at f/2.0, you'll rarely run into a situation the camera can't handle.

The one thing I never got used to doing was changing the shooting mode from regular to Macro, which you have to do to get anything closer than about 18 inches in frame. Theoretically, a switch to make any lens a macro lens is a nifty feature, but in practice all it does is bring the minimum focusing distance down from 18 inches to about 12 — and you'll need to manually switch the X-Pro1 to Macro mode to get that close even when you're using the "macro" f/2.4 lens. Most DSLRs have compatible macro lenses that you use for close up shots (and that let you get way closer than 18 inches), and the alternative here doesn't quite measure up.

You can record video in 1080p at 24 frames per second, for up to 29 minutes at a clip (given that 1080p footage fills about 120MB per minute, you likely won't be able to record much more than that anyway). Video looks great, with similarly impressive color reproduction, accuracy and detail. You can autofocus during video recording, but it hunts more than I expected, even after it's found focus — every few seconds, it seems to check to make sure it's in focus, so you get occasional moments of blurriness. Shooting with manual focus solved that particular problem, but successfully maneuvering through manually focused video is its own challenge. There's also a lot of moire in footage despite the X-Trans sensor (look at the necks of the guitars in the video above), but that's unfortunately par for the course, and in general I was really happy with the quality of the X-Pro1's video.

The stereo mics are solid, capturing relatively clean audio, though there's not much dynamic range or power to speak of.


Performance and battery life


On its best day, the X-Pro1 is really fast, but it doesn't always seem to have good days. Startup times typically hovered in the two second range, but the camera apparently felt lethargic every once in a while and took as long as six seconds to snap to attention. Fast startup was far more common than slow, but there were a disconcerting number of times that I wasn't sure it was turning on at all.

Once the camera's on, it does most things very quickly. There's virtually zero shutter lag, and even in single-shot mode I could shoot about a photo a second. In continuous mode, the X-Pro1 can shoot up to six frames per second — it took 20 pictures at that speed before the buffer on my SanDisk Extreme card filled up and the camera needed about three seconds to process all the photos.

Autofocus wasn't quite operating at the same blistering pace, unfortunately. In good light it's very fast, though it does seem to hunt a bit too often — it'll go past the focus point as if making absolutely sure it found the right one, before coming back to a sharp spot. In low light, it's even worse, hunting before every shot and loudly whirring as it tries to find the optimal spot.

I work a camera pretty hard when I'm testing it, and most cameras die at least two or three times in the course of my review period. The X-Pro1 died only once, after almost 800 pictures and 15 minutes of video. The X-Pro1 won't last forever, certainly, but it's a camera you won't have to worry about. I'm spoiled by my Nikon D7000, which lasts for well over a thousand shots, and the X-Pro1 is right there with it.

There's a lot to like, but the price is tough to swallow when the competition's so good

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 does almost everything right: it's a beautiful (if enormous) camera, it takes great pictures and video, and once you take the time to learn its controls and systems it's as capable a shooter as I've tested.

The price is the only sticking point: at $1,699.99 for the body alone, and $600 or more per lens, buying into the X-Pro1 is a difficult sell. The ecosystem is brand new and the first lenses are extremely high quality, but it's still small in comparison to Nikon's or Canon's selection of lenses, and even pales next to the range available for Micro Four Thirds shooter. Make sure you spend some time with the X-Pro1 before taking the plunge, though if you like the viewfinder style and the camera's build quality you'll be very happy with your purchase.

Still, it's difficult to recommend the X-Pro1 over a mid-range DSLR like the D7000, and for most people shopping for a nice-looking camera it's also hard to pitch the X-Pro1 over the far less expensive Olympus OM-D E-M5, a simpler camera that produces similarly great images.