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Fujifilm X-Pro1 Review

The ultimate device for old-school hobbyists who crave the style and mechanical control of classic cams.

May 23, 2012
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Introduction

The brand new X-Pro1 is Fujifilm's flagship digital camera, the ultimate device for old-school hobbyists who crave the style and mechanical control of classic cams. Do not be fooled by the retro design: performance is absolutely state of the art. This camera lit up our labs with some of the best scores of the year, solidifying the X-Pro1 as far more than a mere toy for enthusiasts. It is, rather, a legitimate contender to the very top of the line.

Announced and released alongside the X-Pro1 were three prime lenses to fit the camera's new X-mount. We tested two of them, the 18mm f/2.0 and the 35mm f/1.4, and did some sample shooting with the third, a 60mm f/2.4 macro. All three seem to have been constructed with the same precision and care as the camera itself, leaving us with a very satisfying, albeit very expensive package.

Design & Usability

The retro design touches look great, but handling could be better.

For many, this camera's physical design will be its primary selling point. Iconic leatherette encircles the body, its dimpled surface grounding us in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Physical control knobs are found on the top plate, and each new XF-mount lens has a manual aperture ring, allowing for completely mechanical adjustment of shooting variables. Many design cues have been lifted from the Fujifilm X10 and X100, but the larger body means more empty space and a slightly empty look up front. Even so, this is an eye-catching camera, even in an already-unique lineup.

While we love the physical appearance of the camera, handling the body presents a few problems. The attractive dimpled surface does little to actually improve grip. Fujifilm has included a raised, rubberized area on the right hand side of the front panel, but this embellishment is too shallow to aid handling very much. Things are worse on the rear panel. Although there is sufficient empty space to rest the right thumb (barely), not one, but two important buttons have been placed directly on the adjacent lip, making it nearly impossible to pick up the X-Pro1 without accidentally pressing one. For AE-L / AF-L that's not a big deal, but if you accidentally turn on the quick menu and, say, change white balance or resolution settings, that could ruin your next shot.

The quick menu uses icons that only veteran Fujifilm users will be familiar with. Tweet It

Fuji's menu interface isn't perfect either, but it's far from the worst we've seen. The main menu is a simple tabbed list, divided between recording options and system preferences. If you don't know exactly what you're looking for, some aimless scrolling will be necessary, but such is life with a camera so rich in photographer-friendly detail. The quick menu uses a grid system and a set of icons that only veteran Fujifilm users will be familiar with. There are no written descriptions, so beginners may need a few hours with the manual before they can operate this menu effectively.

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Features

A dynamite package of form and function, the X-Pro1's hybrid viewfinder is one of our favorite features on the market.

The Fuji X-Pro1 is an exemplary package, combining high-end hardware, a beautiful new hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder, a very nice rear LCD, and the new X mount, with access to three fantastic prime lenses at launch. Inside, the X-Pro1 has a 16.3-megapixel APS-C image sensor, which has a "random" color array and no optical low-pass filter, designed to maximize resolution. With the ability to also push ISO to 25600, the Fujifilm X-Pro1 offers some excellent low light capabilities.

Our favorite trick is still the ability to switch between the offset optical finder and the electronic version, which offers 100% frame coverage. Tweet It

As with the Fuji X10 and X100, however, the hybrid viewfinder is the X-Pro1's crown jewel. Fuji has updated their finder technology so that it can now adjust magnification on the fly, depending on which lens you attach to the camera—from 0.37x with the 18mm lens to 0.60x with the 60mm macro lens. It's an interesting feat, but our favorite trick is still the ability to switch between the offset optical finder and the electronic version, which offers 100% frame coverage. A 3-inch 1,230k-dot rear display is available as well.

Perhaps most importantly, we're happy to report that Fujifilm is rapidly improving their autofocus capabilities. Autofocus was extremely fast, though like all contrast-detection AF systems, it struggles with moving subjects. The fact that Fuji has at least caught up to the field in this regard is the biggest improvement over the original X100.

Performance

The X-Pro1 provides incredible image quality, but video is clearly not a priority.

Aside from a hint of oversharpening, the X-Pro1 boasts some of the best image quality around. Between the extremely accurate new sensor and the precise, versatile selection of lenses, owners can expect to produce some amazing images in almost any shooting environment. We also found focus to be extremely snappy, with great color accuracy, very low noise at base ISO speeds, and excellent dynamic range.

The decision to remove the optical low pass filter did enhance sharpness in still photos, but the X-Pro1 has an ugly level of moire in our test video footage. Tweet It

Fuji claims that the X-Pro1 is capable of up to 6 frames per second of continuous shooting. This is mostly true, though over a five-shot burst you're only going to average around 5.21 frames per second. Our one real area of concern with the Fuji X-Pro1's performance is video. The decision to remove the optical low pass filter did enhance sharpness in still photos, but the X-Pro1 has an ugly level of moire in our test footage. The shots are relatively sharp, but any sort of repeating pattern will be accompanied by a rainbow of aliasing errors.

Still, we should reserve special praise for the three XF lenses that Fuji has released alongside the X-Pro1. The 18mm f/2.0, 35mm f/1.4, and 60mm f/2.4 Macro lenses are all spectacular—and rather inexpensive too, compared to what similar lenses cost on competing systems. With the X-Pro1 debuting at a body-only MSRP of $1,700, this helps make up for a high cost of entry. Either way, these are three of the best lenses you'll find in the mirrorless camera market, producing spectacularly sharp images at three very useful focal lengths.

Conclusion

Fuji's X-Pro1 is excellent in all the ways that will matter to camera enthusiasts.

It's no longer true to call the X-Pro1's retro inspiration "groundbreaking." After all, Fuji has already found success with its X100 and X10 cameras, not to mention similar efforts by the Olympus PEN series and the OM-D E-M5. However the X-Pro1 is certainly the best of this new generation of old-school cameras, thanks largely to the performance of three new X-mount lenses: one for macro or portrait photography, one for wide angle landscapes, and one for a bit of both. We were consistently amazed by the razor-sharp detail produced by each lens, all of which are primes (meaning a single focal length) and therefore less flexible, but more compact.

But if there's one feature that symbolizes the X-Pro1's fusion of classic and cutting-edge, that's got to be the new hybrid-viewfinder. While it's possible to frame your shots using the no-frills optical finder, an alternate and much cooler method is the heads-up display that overlays relevant data, sort of like a fighter jet cockpit. Just about everything on this camera is controlled by a mechanical lever, or manual dial, or rotating ring. That's what makes the X-Pro1 so much fun. While the phenomenal images are certainly rewarding in their own right, actually getting out there to shoot with this camera is as empowering as it is convenient. Photography purists will fall in love.

Photography purists will fall in love. Tweet It

No camera is perfect, obviously, and neither is this one. We had some trouble handling the body thanks to an overcrowded rear panel with some ill-placed buttons. Ugly video footage is the most significant drawback of all, though.

Ultimately the Fujifilm X-Pro1 is an exemplary marriage of form and function, at once taking advantage of both proven, traditional manual control, and modern technological advances. Although the asking price is steep at $1,700 for just the body, that money goes to quality, not novelty; and the lenses are sharp enough to easily justify their $600-650 cost. We enthusiastically recommend the X-Pro1 for anyone longing for some hands-on photography or, for that matter, anyone interested in sharp, gorgeous pictures.

Comparisons

Fujifilm X-Pro1 Vs. Olympus OM-D E-M5

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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