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

Is there a camera renouveau?

The world of digital cameras has been a bit boring lately. Not much innovation seen from the outside. Just a convergence of still and movie, and the mash-up of technologies, every increasing high ISO and image quality.

But is there a camera renouveau? Something that would reinvent the camera as we know it? Let’s see.

Convergence of still and movie is the added capability to shoot movies with a still camera. This feature has been around for a while on point and shoot cameras. Most of them have been shooting movies, low-res mostly, but increasing every now and then.

But the real break was when, after addressing the technical limitations, Nikon, then Canon, release DLSRs, the Nikon D90 and the Canon 5DMkII able to shoot video in HD. In 720p for the Nikon and 1080p for the Canon.

A lot of professional filmmakers got their hands on the 5DMkII, for good, as it represented an unprecedented image quality for a price point that was lower than dedicated video cameras. Second units, TV series, reporting were main consumers of this technology. Even after Canon released firmware updates to address most of the issues found the movie mode.

Nikon was first, Canon was best. This seem to have opened the gate for a flow of new DLSRs capable of video; now even the low end Canon Digital Rebel shoot at least 720p.

The mash-up of technologies came by way of the micro Four Third standard (m-43 for short). Not to be confused with Four-third. The 4/3 is IMHO doomed: a smaller sensor than the current line of DLSRs, marginally smaller camera size, as the low-end Canon Digital Rebel and Nikon have been getting getting smaller does not seem to make it a good alternative. Also it now seems to get less developments now from Olympus, and Panasonic seems to have stopped ; and this is probably because of its limited success. I’m purely speculating, but I do believe that 4/3 is gonna be phased out. I could be wrong.

On the other hand the m-43 seems to be taking speed. Take a point and shoot camera design, put a interchangeable lens mount, make it a standard, cook it with another manufacturer (or more) that will make lenses and body, and you have the micro Four Third standard. Olympus initiated it, as a spin-off of the 4/3, with the help of Panasonic. It represents a good trade-off between size and image quality: bigger sensor than in (almost every) point and shoot, interchangeable lens like a DSLR, it makes the almost perfect system in-between pocket cameras and DLSRs.

It even inspired Samsung with their own lens mount, and Sony with the NEX (featuring a bigger sensor, APS-C size and a slightly smaller body than Olympus or Panasonic) and the E-mount. Even more, Panasonic and Sony both have video cameras using their respective mounts ; same lenses as the still cameras but dedicated to video.

So what about the renouveau? I think it could be coming from a known player that, sometime, just come with very innovative products. And that would be FujiFilm, with the Fuji FinePix X100.

The Fuji FinePix X100 is a compact camera with a 23mm f/2 prime lens and an APS-C sensor. The photographyblog has a complete review with samples. You can also read Luminous Landscape review.

The originality for the X100 comes in the viewfinder. The trend in the recent years has been to remove the viewfinders, including on micro-4/3 cameras, to replace them with the back LCD. This has been bugging me personally and I still feel uncomfortable when using the back LCD. The alternative is the DSLR, which does not make for a pocket camera. That’s not the case of the X-100 that features a unique hybrid optical-electronic viewfinder. On paper it looks like the best innovation in viewfinders in recent times.

We’ll see if that’s the renouveau, the innovation that will invert the trend.