Beauty and the Beast - A very personal assessment of the Fuji X-Pro 1

For the whole Fuji X-Pro 1 Review and user experience click HERE

Fuji X-Pro 1 35mm f/1.4

So how come I end up buying a camera I've been somewhat rude about?

It all started with Chris's (CMHHK) samples. I don't know whether to thank him at this point or curse him for beginning the process that made me part with close to £2000 that I can't really afford!

Chris's samples showed me that, unlike the other dire samples that were posted (including the unimpressive stuff on Fuji's website at the time) that this camera and sensor might have something. However Chris's images weren't really similar to what I do, so I thought nice shots, great high ISO, but maybe not for me. However a few days ago I came across more samples that were very close to what I shoot. Landscapes, in good light, at narrow apertures. They quite simply blew me away. Absolutely stunning. At the same time I learnt that my local Jessops had them in stock and I couldn't resist. I bought the camera plus the 35mm f/1.4.

Fuji X-Pro 1 35mm f/1.4

THE BEAST.

Lets get rid of all this faux rangefinder nonsense. I haven't changed my opinion of the build quality and feel of the camera. This isn't a rangefinder. It doesn't feel like one. Its nicely chunky, and I like that and about the same size as a Leica M8/9. However thats were the similarities end. It isn't the same build quality as a Leica, and yes it has knobs and dials but these feel quite fragile and cheap to me. The battery / card compartment cover is nasty and feels like an accident waiting to happen. It came with two strap holders that I had to fit onto the camera and a pretty cheap strap that I changed for one of my own. 

The camera didn't remind me of a Leica or a rangefinder at all, but felt just like a smaller version of the Panasonic "brick" The 4/3 L1. And if you think you are getting a Leica, Zeiss or Voigtlander m type lens, forget it. The 35mm f/1.4 is a light plastic lens, with a ridiculous cap and a somewhat lightweight aperture ring. There is a provided hood + snap-on rubber cover which is OK, but the lens is no better constructed than most kit zooms.

It is also worth noting that the aperture ring doesn't mechanically change the aperture. Take the lens off the camera, turn it and nothing happens. In effect its a switch which communicates with the camera to tell it what aperture you are using. The manual focusing ring is the same. So you have cosmetically a "retro" type lens, but in essence its a modern electronic lens very similar to NEX & m4/3 lenses. This is not to say that it isn't good quality, in fact it is VERY good indeed. However I can't help but feel that the whole thing is a bit of a con and intended to just add a bit of "retro chic".

The camera slow to start up, even in fast start mode (why do we need a "fast start" mode? shouldn't it just do this anyway?) and yes the AF is as slow as everybody says it is. I missed a few shots, and just why a 2012 camera finds it impossible to lock on to a narrow boat on a canal travelling at 5mph is beyond me! Plus the grinding and clunking when its focusing is a little disconcerting.

The menus are thankfully easier than the X100, and there is less of them which is good. The EVF viewfinder is reasonably good, but no more than that. The optical viewfinder is useful if you like that kind of thing. I'm not a fan. By the way neither work with polarised sunglasses. The framelines disappear when wearing a pair and the EVF goes completely black!!

It has the ridiculous dual controls fror screen and viewfinder inherited from the X100 that make no sense and make the whole process of viewing images uneccessarily complicated.

Oh and finally the lens has the "rattlesnake effect" - clicking aperture blades, which open and close constantly and is VERY annoying. Setting the aperture ring doesn't make any difference seeing as it doesn't actually change the aperture.

Personally how Fuji have the nerve to put PRO into the name with all of these "peculiarities" is beyond me. 

Fuji X-Pro 1 35mm f/1.4

THE BEAUTY.

But then I looked at a file. 

Fuji X-Pro 1 35mm f/1.4

At ISO 200 and f/11 the images that this thing produces are astounding. Absolutely gorgeous. They are so clean. There is no "graininess" or luminance noise visible anywhere. None, not a bit. Colours are clean and beautifully rendered, there is an incredible definition and clarity in the images that I've never seen before. The images are beautifully sharp and raw files developed in the Silkypix software need no extra sharpening at all. The jpgs. are mind boggling, they are almost perfect. I can get slightly improved results from the raw files but its only marginal. 

I've seen nothing better than this. There are other cameras that provide sharp files, but they all have something "extra". The foveon technology of the Sigma SD cameras has odd colours and only produces its magic at the lowest ISO's. The big Sony APS-C and full-frame sensors have AA filters which neuter the images, and the Leica M9, despite probably producing very slightly sharper files, has moire and luminance noise. The X Pro 1 has none of this. 

Fuji X-Pro 1 35mm f/1.4

Fuji X-Pro 1 35mm f/1.4

Fuji X-Pro 1 35mm f/1.4

Fuji X-Pro 1 35mm f/1.4

Fuji X-Pro 1 35mm f/1.4

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I uploaded some straight out the camera unaltered jpgs. to a picture library. With every camera I've used I always have to change the levels in Photoshop to get a "balanced" image. To this end I use Auto Contrast. In the majority of the Fuji shots I took, this made no difference. The files come out of the camera mostly perfectly balanced.

There's also this 3-D effect which is because of the extraordinary colour separation. There is a real sense of depth in the images. This is what digital photography should have produced from the start, and no I don't understand the "gobbledygook" about the new sensor array but it works.

So this is what I paid all that money for. In my opinion unsurpassed image quality. I upsized the files to NEX-7 size and they still looked better than the Sony images. The NEX-7 images are good at base ISO, don't get me wrong, its just that the Fuji images are cleaner, sharper, better defined, punchier, more accurate in terms of colour and overall much nicer to look at. I should of course add - In my opinion.

What however immediately occurs to me is that this is a camera I can use for a lot of what I do, but not for everything. If I envisage a situation when I'm going to need a fast response and for it to focus quickly and accurately, then I simply won't use it. However if I'm out shooting and I have settled weather and the time to work then its going to be ideal. I wrote yesterday that this is going to be an adventure, because I can see frustrations ahead, but I can also imagine what the images are going to be like. I'm not going to be doing a review as such but you will obviously get the benefit of a "user experience". I have the feeling that this will probably be a camera / lens combination that I'll both love and hate and I imagine it will make for interesting photography and hopefully interesting reading. 

My final thought is that the possibility of an Olympus / Fuji partnership is something I will be getting the prayer flags out for.

Fuji X-Pro 1 35mm f/1.4

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