Fuji X-Pro1

Fujifilm has announced a bunch of new cameras at CES. Amongst them, one that had leaked a little while back and that is now official: the Fuji X-Pro1. In April, I was talking about camera renouveau, and I think it could have come.

The Fujifilm X-series was started with the Fujifilm X-100, a compact camera with fixed prime lens and an hybrid viewfinder. It came with mixed reviews, with clearly very good reviews from user that appreciate the viewfinder and the compact nature. The sore points are the firmware user experience, that as of today Fujifilm hasn’t addressed. Still even with that it remains a perfectly capable camera with a very good image quality, thanks in part to the decent size sensor.

The Fujifilm X-10 came second. It dropped the hybrid viewfinder, added a zoom with manual control, coupled to the optical viewfinder, and a smaller EXR sensor. But it remains an excellent camera, with decent low light performance. I had it in hand for 15 minutes and I really liked it.

I’ll skip the Fujifilm X-1 that just got announced directly go to the X-Pro1 that was announced Monday at CES.

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 is a “retro-styled” camera with interchangeable lenses, an hybrid viewfinder, and an APS-C sensor. So far, déjà-vu, almost.

Note: I will be talking about a camera without having actually tried it. I’ll try to provide the information based on what is publicly available. Mistake or omissions are not deliberate. I would love to be able to review it and when I can get my hands on one, I’ll review it. This could take a while though.

Interchangeable lenses

The new Fuji X-mount designed specifically for this camera. Nothing special except a shorter flange, more appropriate for shorter lenses on small sensors. And a completely electrical coupling like most modern systems.

One would think they could have used an existing mount, like m4/3. m4/3 would be impractical due to the sensor size, and there is no other mount they could use, short of the older mechanical mount like M or M42 or LTM that don’t carry elecronic.

The good news is, there will be a M mount adapter. Let’s hope there will be adapter for other mounts as well. I remain confident.

APS-C sensor

The size of the sensor matters much for image quality and we have seen that an APS-C sensor is good compromise.

The difference with that sensor is its color matrix. Instead of using a 2×2 it uses a 6×6 color pattern with alternating positions for the 3 colors. The claim from Fujifilm is that it should avoid the moiré effect and provide a more natural image. We’ll see what it actually does and I do believe RAW processing software vendor might have a fun time to support it. Fujifilm called this the “X-trans CMOS”.

The hybrid viewfinder

First, this is not a rangefinder camera. Nonetheless the viewfinder is the single feature that would drive the adoption of this camera within a certain segment of the photographer market.

The hybrid viewfinder of the X-Pro1 is an evolution of the X-100 viewfinder: optical viewfinder with electronic overlay, switchable to EVF. To manage the different field of view from the different lenses, there are two “mechanisms” in place.

The first one is a system of frame lines from the overlay, changing depending on the effective field of view (the focal length). This is not unlike a rangefinder camera. But the electronic natures do not preclude zooming.

The second one is an optical magnifier. The problem with frame lines is that the longer your lens is, the smaller the frame lines become. To compensate, there is a magnifier that slide in font of the viewfinder. This is not without reminding us of the Leica M3 goggles.

The firmware allow setting the focal length manually for the viewfinder, which clearly indicate that, like m4/3 cameras, older manual lenses will be able to be used. How the focusing will work using the EVF remains to be seen. But it can’t be worse than what m4/3 camera with the back LCD can do. Let’s hope.

Lenses

For now 3 prime lenses have been announced:

  • Fujinon Lens XF 18mm f2 R
  • Fujinon Lens XF 35mm f1.4 R
  • Fujinon Lens XF 60mm f2.4 R Macro

Wide, standard, short telephoto with macro. Quite a standard range to start with. Rumor has it that this is just an early set and more are to come.

There is no in-body image stabiliser, unlike in the Olympus Pen.

Price

The prices are rumored to be $1700 for the body, and $600 for each lens. Quite not low end, more than the average m4/3, but still largely more affordable compared to a Leica M9.

Fujifilm hands-on preview video

The Fujiguys from Fujifilm Canada have a couple of videos to show product. It gives you a good idea of what it does (but this is not an independent review) and give you a good overview of the overall ergonomics.

It seems to be clear that the gripes people have about the X-100 firmware have been addressed, at least to some extent, in the X-Pro1 as the hands-on preview shows.

Part 1 (view on YouTube)

Part 2 (view on Youtube)

Would I get it?

On the paper all of this sound really appealing. It seems to be the affordable digital rangefinder everybody has been waiting for, without being actually being a rangefinder.

My biggest concern is Fujifilm commitment to their customers. The lack of real update on the X-100 firmware is not encouraging ; it remains be seen how well they will do with the X-Pro1. We’ll see, maybe they will address the X-100 as well.

Still I remain tempted.

Sample Pictures

It is somewhat early for sample pictures. Fujifilm posted the mandatory demo pictures. Also, DCFever has its own set of pictures (in Chinese). And there is a set from hugo poon hp on Flickr (no full size pictures). But lot of other testers were not allowed to even take the pictures “home”.

Read more

The Online Photographer: Shooting with a Fuji X100

The Online Photographer has a guest post by Robert Plotkin: Shooting with a Fuji X100.

Plotkin has a lots of gripes against the focusing system:

The imprecise focusing takes an unusually long time. It is like waiting for a cashier to incorrectly manipulate an abacus and hand you the wrong change.

He also have issues with the usability. But in the end:

Shooting the Fuji X100 is like driving a vintage Ferrari: bugs in your teeth, pebbles ricocheting off your goggles, double-clutching straight cut gears, applying opposite lock to correct a slide—and coming out of the corner neck-and-neck with a soccer mom in a black Escalade of an SLR.

Read it thoroughly. I still want to get one.

Nikon 1

Nikon 1 is the just unveiled Nikon mirror less system. It seems to be a trend. First, m4/3, then Samsung NX, Sony Nex, Pentax Q and now Nikon 1.

2 cameras:

  • Nikon J1: 10.1 megapixel “CX-sized” sensor (x2.7 crop), electronic shutter, pop out flash, 1080p HD video, lot of colors. $649 with the 10-30mm.
  • Nikon V1: more advanced that the J1. No flash, accessory port, built-in EVF, higher resolution LCD, mechanical shutter, stereo microphone input, fewer colors. $899 with the 10-30mm.

The camera feature interchangeable lenses, SD card (high capacity), PSAM exposure modes, autofocus, etc. And NEF raw files.

4 lenses, 1 prime, 3 zooms:

  • Nikkor 10mm F2.8 pancake
  • Nikkor VR 10-30mm F3.5-5.6
  • Nikkor VR 30-110mm F3.8-5.6
  • Nikkor VR 10-100mm f/4.5-5.6

Two accessories for the V1: a flash and a GPS unit for $149 each. According to DPReview there will be a F-mount lens adapter coming as well. The availability in the US will be 20th of October 2011.

More at Nikon USA.

(Price are US list prices in USD)

My opinion, without having seen it. The new mount and the small sensor are two things that could hinder the camera success. The sensor, “CX size”, smaller than the one of m4/3, but still bigger than the one of the Pentax Q, make it more difficult to contain the noise at high ISO. I haven’t see samples yet to make myself an opinion. Also the new mount means that the lens will be specific to the system. I do believe Nikon could have benefited from joining the m4/3 gang instead and could have introduced Nikon lenses to the mix for the variety. It is one of the reason m4/3 cameras are popular.

On the other hand, the GPS accessory, while a bit overpriced, seems to be a welcome addition that virtually no other maker has. It is not Nikon’s first attempt.

Leica factory visit

The kind people at Luminous Landscape have an article about a Leica factory visit in Solms, Germany (by Nick Rains).

These [Leica S2 and M9] are hand made products – quite literally. It’s why they are desirable in the first place and the process can only proceed so fast. I’m told it takes 8 hours to assemble an M9 body and having seen the care and precision with which they are assembled, I can certainly believe it.

This should explain why the quality is at the top along with the price.

The liberated camera

John Kennerdell wrote for The Online Photographer a two part essay called “The Liberated Camera” about freestyle photography.

Part 1 is making a strong case for the back LCD as a camera viewfinder. Here is how John introduce it:

I’d like to talk about another approach: the handheld camera as an extension of the hand, or simply as an unobtrusive device off to the side as we engage directly with the scene before us, both eyes wide open.

And he is damn right. It is just a different shooting style. Not a replacement, albeit most camera force you to view that what.

I have issues with LCD as viewfinder. Maybe most of them are unfounded and linked to the fact I taught myself to shoot with a SLR and therefor with a camera brought to the eye… which was the case of every film camera. Habits die hard, and using my E-P1 actually made me change my mind despite not being in my total zone of comfort.

“No serious photographer,” announced one online guru at the time, “would ever compose on a screen held out in front of him.” Er, why not? The biggest criticism seemed to be that it didn’t “look professional.” That of course immediately suggested a fine reason to try it.

Also the discretion: most modern compact digital camera don’t have a viewfinder, thus when shooting, people use the back LCD as a viewfinder. This makes you look like a tourist, instead of the person with the obnoxious camera.

This is not without ignoring other complaints like steadiness when holding close to the body, or the useability in full sunlight.

The second part is about another gadget: face detection.

It sound like a gadget, but it actually is a useful tool for freestyle photography, where you can’t control the focus precisely or have the time to do so.

In a word, it was a slam dunk. OK, that’s two words, but seriously: I got hundreds of shots that I probably wouldn’t have without it. By the end I was attempting things I wouldn’t have even considered without it, and a lot of those worked out too. It wasn’t perfect of course, but it raised my percentage. Ultimately, what more do you want?

You get it. It is a tool that helps the chances of getting a good a picture. It does not frame or compose for you but it helps the auto focus system to determine what your subject is: people. Off course it might be convenient to disable it, and I can on my E-P1.