As Kodak fades, FujiFilm embodies a new generation of photographic technology driven by genuine innovation rather than strict adherence to marketing formulas. A powerful lesson is hidden in this story.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
First off, if this camera were an automobile, it’d be the strangest mishmash of BMW, Fiat, and Nissan that you could imagine. If that sounds schizophrenic to you, then congratulations. You’ve taken your first step to understanding this camera.
Previously I was wondering if there was a camera renouveau. The highly anticipated Fuji FinePix X100 could be one of the contenders with its innovative viewfinder. The problem is that following the earthquake in Sendai, the Japanese production of cameras in Japan has suffered, making the X100 harder to find. This does not seem to stop the enthusiasm.
Nonetheless, people still start getting their hands on it. No later than last week I saw one at a local camera store, unfortunately no demo model. Here is a couple of recent reviews:
Steve Huff ask “Does it live up to the Hype?”. Steve Huff is a Leica M9 shooter but will compare the X100 to the Leica X1 which is must closer.
[…] those who want the X100 are looking for something fresh, new, exciting, small and classic. As I recently found out for myself, the X100 is all of that and more.
His perspective is from the photographer taking pictures, and the result. He answered the question positively.
DCResource with their usual format will go through all the usual details and review all the features in the camera. You can compare images between their other tests, and doing this between the X100 and the Olympus E-P1 is making me drool even more.
All things considered, the Fuji FinePix X100 is a very impressive fixed lens camera, and I imagine that they’ll sell a boatload of them, despite the price. It offers superb photo quality, good performance (in most respects), a rangefinder-style body with a one-of-a-kind viewfinder, and plenty of manual controls. The camera does have its issues, mostly related to buffer memory and the user interface, but for a first generation camera, Fuji has done a great job.