Let’s see … I know I’m many months late with my impressions of the Fuji X-Pro 1. I’m sure there were “reviews” before the camera was even released. Even if there weren’t I’m sure there were thoughts – probably numbering in the thousands – on forum sites. Quite honestly, I didn’t read any of them.
Then again, I never really do. How is the experience of a retired engineer or a forum-whore-turned-blogger going to help me? They’re not.
I got the chance to play with the X100 when I was in Berlin last summer. Loved how quiet it was. I wasn’t, however, so happy with its AF focusing ability. It hunted like the old Nikon AF stuff I shot back in the day with D-series lenses. It wasn’t quite the same but it hunted. In daylight it seemed fine but I wanted more than fine. I compared – at the time – everything AF to the way my Canons performed. Now, since I’m shooting Nikon digital, I compare everything to that. And that’s pretty spectacular.
Interestingly I was having “issues” with my digital rangefinder, the venerable yet outdated M9. There was a time when the M9 was my ambient light body as an accoutrement to the Canons I was using. For some reason the SD cards would lock up. I’d get that annoying red “writing light” more than I cared to see it. Anyone that knows me knows it wasn’t because I was reaching the end of the buffer either. It’s one thing to happen when you’re shooting for yourself but I also shot that camera system for clients, too. If it weren’t for clients, I wouldn’t be able to make as many personal photographs. Each is important yet when someone’s paying you to shoot your equipment must work 100% of the time.
With the M9 that wasn’t exactly the case. I’m not an M9 hater. I’m not a Leica hater. I just think they’ve done boneheaded marketing moves but I still like the company. I mean … I was one of the original beta-testers of the M9 when it was the P864. I know I’ve made almost as many frames with that camera system as anyone on the planet. That folder has in excess of 100,000 photos in it. Personal street, stuff I shot at the request of engineers on the original design … and work stuff. The M9’s that went through my hands saw everything from street photos all over the world to Metalica to The Prince and Princess’ visit to California last year. Speaking of which I was overjoyed that the M9 worked flawlessly on that assignment.
It tended to do that when the light was good. When ambient (good CRI only) was 800 or higher and you were about halfway on a battery you’d get banding. Ya’ know … and even though they released firmware update after firmware update the response I got was “use older cards with it.” Nikon and Canon have never told me that. Then again, working photographers DEPEND on their cameras and most who shoot with Leica are more concerned that the strap matches their bespoke jacket and hat. ;)
Last summer my love affair with Leica digital ended. I started shooting my daytime street photography with my MP almost exclusively. The lab was happy. Now, though, the lab is sad because I’m souping my workflow. From USD22.00/roll to under a dollar. Way under a dollar. Forgot how much I loved doing my own analog workflow.
Besides … when I push the release on the MP I know I am making a photo and not possibly doing a battery-pull-reset on the M9 and losing a frame (s) I liked. I know some – and I used to say in the past – that digital street is heresy. Well, it’s not. It’s just different. I know it’s different for me. I missed having the ability to reliably shoot a digital rangefinder-ish camera. That was until this Spring. I got my hands on the Fuji X-Pro 1. My only memory of shooting anything Fuji – besides their lovely black and white and E6 film – was the X100.
When I first looked at the initial frames I thought “gone is the nicely rendered CCD colour images from the Kodak sensor.” They weren’t exactly gone because the Fuji looks different than my Canon and Nikon files. Not worse. Different. They were, again, different than what the M9 produces but … not worse of better. They’re just different. And I grew to love those files! Still do!
Admittedly, most of the colour files from the X-Pro 1 become monochromes via Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2. That was one of the things I credit the M9 with: It got me used to and enjoying street moments in colour. I like having the option. Besides … if I showed up to a shoot and told a client, “This camera only does black and white images” I think they’d look at me funny and tell me to use one of the others. Never quite understood the Leica mM as it’s a solution to a problem that didn’t exist in the first place.
Unless you’re rich and want the newest fetish in camera wear. Or, of course, that you really enjoy monochrome HDR images. You’d be an mM-man. I have no doubt they’ll sell every single one they make, though. Funny thing is I know more kids with Canon digital Rebels doing better work than 99% of the guys wearing a Leica.
I found that I enjoyed looking at X-Pro 1 images and making them monochromes in post just as much as the files I saw from the M9. They were just different.
It always struck me odd that I would use a seven grand camera and have to manually focus it. Even though the X-Pro 1 was “challenged” in certain light to grab AF on a subject I found that it liked certain areas better than others. I also found if I used the EVF in the viewfinder it seemed to focus much quicker. I’m sure if you used this camera for a few days and didn’t know how to work it you’d be a bit frustrated. Cameras don’t frustrate me. I just learn their weak points and strong points and use them to the best of their ability.
I got pretty good with the X-Pro 1.
Never had a problem writing to any SD card either! Old cards. Newer cards. The little-ish Fuji wrote to them all (I use only Sandisk cards of the SD or CF variety but use Sony QXD cards in the D4) without the complaint of a batter-pull reset. In fact, I’ve never had to pull the battery on the X-Pro 1 to stop it from doing something I didn’t want it do. I heard people say they didn’t like the menus on the X-Pro 1. I get through them just fine. Their RAW conversion program is another story altogether, though. Saw it once and never launched it again.
In the back of my mind I always said, “Oh, but your favourite glass, man: it’s not gonna look the same.” My go-to lens on my Leicas is the 1.4/35 Summilux-M. With film I rarely go above 800. Funny that with the M9 one couldn’t go over 800 if they wanted useable photos. The closest lens on the Fuji system was the 18mm f/2.0 XF R. A stop faster than what I normally use for the ambient body. Having the ability to shoot the X-Pro 1 at 3200 and 6400 ISO made that extra stop irrelevant. I could actually shoot in situations I would have just put the M9 back in the bag and forgot about it.
I found that the 18mm f/2.0 XF R was faster focusing than the 35mm f/1.4 XF R. Could have been just me but seemed that way. Both of these lenses are fantastic. Are they less expensive than the Leicas? Totally. They performed every time I asked them to. The results are beautiful.
It seems Fuji has a pretty good idea how to make excellent lenses. Are they excellent? Well … for someone that actually uses them for work … they perform amazing. I’m not an MTF-freak. Both the Fuji 18 (about 28mm in full-frame parlance) and the 35 (about 50mm in full-frame) are in my opinion spectacular. When one factors in the cost associated with them and contrasting them with Leica lenses the difference is staggering. Is the performance difference staggering? Well … Fuji’s are AF and the Leicas will probably never be AF. Ya’ know …. Even though it’s 2012. Shoot a jumping puppy with an MF Leica digital and see if you can get what you want.
Another thing it seems to me is that Fuji designed a digital rangefinder-ish camera from the ground up instead of trying to appease a group of Leica owners who are older than those sitting on the Supreme Court. I think that Leica used to think of the photographer first before they became a lifestyle brand but I guarantee Fuji thought of the photographer first. You can tell by using the X-Pro 1.
I’m done with any digital system that isn’t AF. Digital should be AF. Why the hell would anyone want an MF-only digital camera in 2012? Not only that but when the M9 develops new problems and Leica starts to consider it a “legacy system” I have no doubt they’ll try to just up-sell the customer to their newest model instead of fixing it. I was genuinely concerned that my M9 would end up a paperweight instead of a viable camera. That’s one of the reasons I sold it. I'm not interested in mounting my Leica glass on the X-Pro 1 either unless it's the 2.0/75 Sumicron-M perhaps for tight portrait work.
I’ve gotten literally a hundred emails from guys who ditched their M9’s, bought the X-Pro 1 and have never looked back. A Leica and “passion for the perfect picture” doesn’t mean you’re going to make great photos. A camera is a tool. The photographer makes the photos. The camera just records what he/she saw. The X-Pro 1 does that exceptionally well.
Another thing that used piss me off about the M9 is the shutter sound. An MP it definitely is NOT. The X-Pro 1 is a whisper compared to the M9. I like being as inconspicuous with my camera as possible. The Fuji may be a bit bigger but … it’s way more silent. The Fuji is way lighter, though. Does lighter make it more prone to break? No way. So far the X-Pro 1 has fallen from the backseat of a car to the ground (2 feet), knocked off my shoulder by the gf (about 3.25 feet to concrete) and a couple feet to a wooden floor. It's still making fabulous frames and hasn't complained. It's also been knocked into door jams. Not on purpose, of course. I can tell you that when you knock a Leica hard it's going in for an RF adjustment.
I’d spent more than a few months with the X-Pro 1, gotten used to its AF quirks and still loved what I was seeing. Then … the engineers did the 2.0 firmware upgrade. They unleashed a beast. Fuji makes you update camera firmware AND lens firmware. Whatever the hell they did made the AF really really good. I mean … almost great. I switch back and forth between the optical viewfinder and the EVF and find that they both perform way better than before. The files write to the cards faster. I was used to Leica updates and being wholly underwhelmed.
This update was OVERwhelming. So nice to see a company actually care about people who want to make beautiful photos instead of appeasing people who wear a camera.
The wake-up time has drastically improved as well.
I couldn’t be happier shooting the X-Pro 1. When I just “grab and camera” and go I either get the X-Pro 1 or the MP … or lately a Nikon F100 with the 2.0D/35. If I’m purposefully going to make street photographs I use both the MP and the X-Pro 1. One of the bodies is normally in my bag, though. They are nice accoutrements to each other. Both wholly different but … they’re both amazing in their own ways.
I couldn’t have been happier exiting from the Leica digital upgrade path. Spending 7K every time they upgraded their lagging technology wasn’t something I was interested in doing. I’m a photographer; I’m not a fanboy; I’m not into looking like I’m a discerning picture taker. I was in a Sur La Table in L.A. one day and a check-out clerk seeing the MP says, “Nice camera. Do you actually use it or carry to be cool.”
Honestly, I don’t care if it’s a Leica or a Fuji on my shoulder when I want to make photos. I make photos because it’s one of the reasons I live not just because I want to look cool wearing a Leica as the king of dilettantes likes to say.
I just want to make the photo I want to make when I push the button. The X-Pro 1 allows me to do that every single damn time. Not to mention really silently! I have more confidence picking up the X-Pro 1 more than I ever did when I wanted to make a photo with the M9.
The only caveat with this camera is that for some reason Apple hasn’t released a Camera RAW update for it. All of the photos I’ve posted in this entry were processed through Lightroom 4. I know. Heresy for a diehard Aperture user. Perhaps someday… I mean they've never ignored a camera but ... seriously ... wtf?
Beyond having to use Lightroom 4 when doing post on the X-Pro 1 files this is the digital rangefinder-ish camera of choice for me. My last Leica M9 has a nice new home and I hope that guy is making lovely photographs with it.
In the eyes of the Kool-Aid drinkers, though, seeing that Fuji on my shoulder must mean that I don't know how to make proper photos ... and that if I could possibly like an affordable camera ... I'm not as cool as they are. That's all good. Let them think that ... It's all good with me.
The Fuji does a better job at street photography than the M9 could ever dream of doing. I have a feeling that the market segment that used to only use Leica will "see the light" as it were sooner or later when they're tired of chasing an upgrade path that costs as much as a car.
And if you're a red-dot-Kool-Aid drinker and see the Fuji and think I'm less of a photographer than you are, well, go ahead and keep that "passion for the perfect picture" going on in your head.
Oh, yeah, buy the X-Pro 1 grip-thing, too. It's way better with it. And, I'd also get at least one extra battery. I don't know if it was the battery that was originally sent with it but ... I wasn't too stoked on its performance. The crappy M9 battery almost seemed good compared to it. The second battery I ordered seems to be way better. Funny when you look at those prices. The battery is half of what Leica would charge and it's probably a better battery. Who the hell knows what a grip would cost for a Leica but I'm positive the Fuji's grip is at least a cheaper by 80%, too. ;) Sorry red dot ... the Kool-Aid is starting to taste a bit overly sugary yet rancid.
Cheers from La-La-Land. Best wishes for making nice photos!
p.s., check out my homey Rinzi's work on his blog ... he's uses the X-Pro 1 well.