CES/PMA 2012: Fujifilm X-Pro1 Hands-on Preview

January 19, 2012

By Bob Rose

(Editor’s Note: Last week we provided a first look at Fujifilm’s new mirrorless compact system camera, the Fujifilm X-Pro1. After a Fujifilm press conference at the CES show in Las Vegas to unveil the X-Pro1, writer Bob Rose got some hands-on time with this retro-style camera, which accepts interchangeable lenses and uses a new APS-C size sensor about the size of what’s in an entry-level digital SLR. He filed the following report.)

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 is designed for wedding, portrait, commercial, fine-art and street photographers and follows closely the retro-styling made famous by the X100 and the X10 cameras: It’s solid and well-built and reminiscent of the rangefinder cameras of another era.

But the X-Pro1 is not a rangefinder; it’s a step up for compact interchangeable-lens cameras offering an advanced Hybrid Multi Viewfinder providing your choice of both and Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and Optical Viewfinder (OVF).

Besides the unusually sturdy construction and extensive use of machined metal parts that felt hefty but comfortable in my hands, the focus of the X-Pro1 is Fuji’s completely new APS-C 16-megapixel “X-Trans CMOS” sensor.

As a digital camera manufacturer with true film experience, Fujifilm says it looked deeply into the structure and mechanics of the way digital images are most often created and determined that they could introduce a more “organic” and higher quality look by changing the rules a bit. Fujifilm’s solution is to switch from a traditional 2×2 Bayer color filter array on the sensor and construct a 6×6 array incorporating more randomness into the color filters (very much like the randomness that makes film images so sharp and smooth, but also free of moiré). In doing so, Fuji was able to completely remove the low-pass optical filter from the X-Pro1’s system.

Shooting with the X-Pro1
While I was not able to shoot with the camera outside of a conference room at CES, images from the X-Pro1 that Fuji shared with me looked pretty remarkable. Sample comparison prints showed the advantages of the “X-Trans CMOS” vs. a traditional Bayer CMOS (albeit with prototype cameras).
Fuji has also added some “secret sauce” via the new EXR Processor Pro and the X-Pro1 seemingly out-resolves much larger sensors at a range of ISOs. Once we get our hands on a testable version of the X-Pro1, we will see if those results hold up. In the meantime, you can check out Fuji’s sample images shot with the Fuji X-Pro1 here.

During the time I spent shooting with prototype versions of the X-Pro1, it was clear the camera was almost ready for prime time, though it still needed some fine-tuning. For instance, the lens focus was noisy and the aperture ring rotated roughly.

Furthermore, not all the X-Pro1’s controls available through the menu were fully functional in the prototype cameras and some features (such as the manual focus indicator) weren’t yet implemented. Fujifilm officials I spoke with said all these issues would be fixed by the time the camera ships in February or March 2012.

On the positive side, the models I handled responded quickly with fast snappy autofocus and were capable of bursts of more than six frames (providing you use at least a Class 10 SD card).  

Both the mechanical controls and the menu access are very direct, and to make it even easier to navigate, the XPro-1 has a “Q” quick menu button that does just that: it opens up a series of 12 of the most often used menu features which can be selected and adjusted without having to dig deep.

A bit larger than I expected, the X-Pro1’s body is still smaller than a DSLR and the lenses are much smaller than their 35mm equivalents. I found it easy to hold but especially so when I added the optional HG-Xpro1 Hand Grip.

Dedicated accessory flash units common to the other X-series cameras work and a new EF-X20 flash was designed just for this camera. In addition, a hot shoe on the top and a PC connector on the side provide compatibility with other flashes and flash triggering devices.

New Lens System
Of course the best image sensor wouldn’t be worth much without some good optics in front of it. To that end, the Fujinon lens design team has created the XF Lens system and X-Mount for the X-Pro1, determining that an extremely short lens flange to sensor distance would be critical to the design.

According to information I gathered while meeting with Fuji officials, by reducing the spacing between lens and sensor to a minimum, light transmission is maximized, focus travel is shortened, and shutter lag time is decreased. Subsequently, Fuji was able to adjust lens designs for optimum coverage of the sensor.

In the new lens system, there is generous use of exotic ED glass and aspheric elements. Fuji even went so far as to redesign the lens aperture to provide a smoother, more circular shape with minimum refraction knife-edge blades. Again, until we can fully test the camera, we can’t offer a definitive review of the results but it seems promising.

What looks like a light baffle inside the X-Pro1’s body actually also provides a step for each different lens to mate with and register so there is a greater physical connection than just the mount itself.

The initial launch of the Fujifilm X-Pro1 will include three fast but compact lenses: 18mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4 and a 60mm f/2.4 Macro (think 28/50/90mm full frame 35mm equivalents give or take a millimeter or three).

Here is a breakdown of future lenses in the X-Pro1 system:

•    14mm (21mm equivalent) super wide
•    18-72mm f/4 (27-108mm equivalent) image stabilized zoom    
•    23mm f/2 (34mm equivalent) wide
•    28mm f/2.8 pancake design (42mm equivalent) normal
•    12-24mm f/4 (18-36mm equivalent) image stabilized zoom    
•    70-200mm f/4 (105-300mm equivalent) image stabilized zoom    
NOTE: It’s possible some of the specs may change by the time these lenses are released and it’s not clear if the zooms will use the OVF in addition to the more practical EVF.

Hybrid Viewfinder
All pertinent exposure information can be seen through the eyepiece of the X-Pro1’s unique Hybrid viewfinder. Similar to using a traditional optical viewfinder, with the Hybrid, it’s possible to see the frame line of the lens with some space all around to tell what’s moving into or away from the field of view of the lens. A dual magnification system and continuously variable frame lines give a good indication of what you’ll see in the final image.
But if you prefer greater framing accuracy (especially for near objects and when using the 60mm Macro up close) flip a lever and the optical viewfinder (OVF) switches to a 1.44MP electronic display (EVF). This is similar in design to the X100 but of higher resolution and with the extra features necessary to deal with multiple focal lengths.

First Impressions
Though we’re not ready to offer any kind of official word on the X-Pro1 since we only played with prototype cameras, we were impressed with what we’ve seen so far. Fujifilm seems to have responded to professional photographers worldwide with respect to the development of this camera system and refinements with firmware upgrades to the other X-series cameras. I know I am one of many looking forward to the final shipping version to test and see if the X-Pro1 really delivers.

No official pricing for the Fujifilm X-Pro1 has been set but Fuji has estimated that the X-Pro1 camera body would sell for $1,700 and the lenses would go for $650 a piece. Pricing is expected to become official in late January.

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