Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Year with the Fujifilm X-Pro1

A year ago, I’ve bought a second-hand Fujifilm X-Pro1 to a pro photographer who himself had just found a sweet deal for a Leica M9.

There isn’t much point in writing a review at this stage so I’ll just sum up my experience with the camera and address the criticism it is still facing, some of it relevant, some of it misplaced.


Just like the X100, a lot of misguided comments has been made on the X-Pro1’s performance.

The burst rate is more than adequate given the type of camera and the handling is easy enough.

But more importantly, the idea that the X-Pro1 is slow to go from OFF to being able to shoot the first picture is absolute bunkum. You just have to know how to use it!

1: The “Quick start” mode should obviously be switched on
2: The Economy mode should be switched off
3: Always use a SD card formatted by the X-Pro1. If your card has been into another device, format it within the X-Pro1 before use.
4: Use the fastest SD card available, especially if you’re shooting RAW (well, you should do that anyway regardless of the camera). I use the Sandisk Extreme Pro 95Mb/s.

When these simple conditions are met, the X-Pro1 is as quick to draw as any similarly priced DSLR I’ve used.

Optical viewfinder (OVF)

This is, of course, a big part of the raison d’être of the X-Pro1, and the only edge this camera has over its sibling XE-1. That leads to the inevitable question : does the OVF justify the price differential (as of today, 400$)? Well, like mentioned, I did buy mine second-hand for pretty much the price of a XE-1, but would I buy a brand new X-Pro1 over a XE-1?

My personal feeling is that I wouldn’t buy any of the two, because : 

1: 400 bucks is just too steep for an optical viewfinder, no matter how amazing it is
2: I can’t stand electronic viewfinders. Mind you, the XE-1’s viewfinder is a decent one, but the technology just isn’t mature. When electronic viewfinders are indiscernible with optical ones, I’ll revise my opinion. In the meantime, I’ll pass.

That said, the X-Pro1’s viewfinder is outstanding. Of course, you’ve got to put up with the inherent limitations of an optical viewfinder (mainly the parallax error). More problematic may be the relative lack of precision of the framelines, which you have to get used to. But overall it’s a joy to use. While the EVF is ok (and the XE-1 sports a refined version of it), I only use it when I'm too close to the subject or to manually focus my 3rd-party lenses. It's only a temporary solution. In my opinion, the real Fuji X experience is using the optical viewfinder.


Ha, here’s the hot topic!

Speed: This, I have to say, is not an issue in itself. Sure, the X-Pro1 isn’t as quick as some powerful DSLRs. It’s just not that type of camera. If you want to shoot racing cars or monkeys chasing each other in the trees, you might miss some shots. If you use it as a street photography, portrait, landscape camera, the AF’s speed is more than sufficient. And as you see, I've managed to do some animal photography, and that's using manual focusing, because there is no Fujinon zoom lens yet.

Accuracy: Here’s the real problem. While things have improved thanks to firmware updates, the AF’s ability to put the subject in perfect focus, especially in low light conditions, still leaves to be desired. Mind you, it’s not catastrophic: I rarely miss a shot because the AF went astray. But when it does it’s still annoying considering the price. Accuracy in low light is better when you use the assistance light, but that also means switching off the silent mode. Given that the X-Pro1’s shutter sound is less noisy than on a DSLR (but a lot more than the silent X100), it’s a bit of pity to have the camera make beeping sounds.

That said, some AF mistakes are not technical issues, but a misunderstanding of how the camera operates.

For instance, it has been reported that the AF is consistently wrong when shooting a close subject with the OVF. There are two explanations for this. First, you’ve got to switch to macro if you’re too close (automatic macro might be a good idea, Fuji). Second, you have to remember that using the OVF creates a parallax error. It isn’t a flaw, it’s the nature of optical viewfinders. That means that while you think you are focusing on a certain object in the OVF, the lens is actually looking at another object, due to the parallax effect. Therefore, when shooting a close subject, always switch to the EVF.

All in all, the AF is good enough, but remains the area in which Fujifilm must make progress.

Image quality

The X-Pro1, like the X100 before, don’t boast a huge number of megapixels, but its innovative sensor is simply excellent. While it isn’t full-frame, my personal experiments have shown that it nearly matches the Canon 5D mkII in terms of resolution.

The JPEG rendering is excellent but you might want to shoot RAW in order to maximize the level of detail. The rendition of colors, a respected Fuji trademark, is outstanding and provides a great basis for future processing if you want to (see following examples). But I’ve rarely met a camera that provides such beautiful texture and colors straight out of the camera.

This goes in pair with top-notch ISO performance. I had a mental barrier at 800 on my previous DSLRs. I don’t mind pushing up to 3200 on the X-Pro1, and you’re probably still safe about image quality up to 6400.

Speaking of JPEG, the various film simulation options work pretty good, although I still prefer to post-process on the computer. The monochrome simulations are decent, but can’t match smart post-processing in keeping detail and contrast. Velvia is a bit too oversaturated to my taste, but in some cases it might fit. The Negative Std and Hi simulations are the most interesting to me. They really provide for a special look that I haven’t seen on other cameras’ built-in presets.


I have a great time with the X-Pro1 and never miss my DSLR. The X-Pro1 is more compact, discreet, delivers top quality shots all the time. The only thing that would make me regret buying it is... the X-Pro2, granted it provides more accurate AF.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Fujifilm X-Pro1, Sigma 70mm Macro.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Thoughts on the Analogness of Things

Analog instruments are doing fine, judging from high-tech exhibition NAMM.

As usual there were lots of comments about how one couldn't justify the cost of analog when there's so much software around.

Like I probably mentioned before, I used to be in that party as well, thinking that digital emulation had evolved to the point that real analog was obsolete. When comparing two isolated sounds back to back, it's often true that the tonal differences are insubstantial or not worth noting. So for instance, if you use virtual analog for a lead sound or a pad in a rock song, that'll usually do the trick.

But when you begin to stack up synth sounds, it's another matter altogether. There is a thickness, richness, warmth that derive from the juxtaposition of analog sounds that you just don't obtain with virtual analog.

I had this revelation when I bought the Little Phatty. At this point I was still a believer in the "software is good enough" theory, but I thought the instrument was too beautiful to pass on. Then I did an experiment. I re-recorded one song I had done with Gforce's Minimoog emulation, but this time using only the LP trying to program similar sounds. The result was amazingly different. It was deeper, warmer, more musical. The software version sounded dull and sterile.

Oh yes, analog is a luxury, there's no doubt about it. It's like photography... you can do a good photo with a shitty compact but when you've got specific expectations about the rendition, it comes at a cost. I don't think most people see the technical difference between photos shot with this or that sensor, but when you expect a certain quality, you do notice. But you can make do with almost anything if you're talented.

But anyway, analog is no longer a niche for the old school purist and/or the wealthy. It is clearly a market on its own, with plenty of exciting new products.

1) Moog's new synth, the Sub Phatty (gee, those names...).

A terrific design, all retro-futuristic and metal, reminding me of the old EMS synths, with more knobs than the Little Phatty, which is certainly commendable (one thing that always bothered me about the LP is that the same knob controls filter cut-off and resonance, which is possibly the worst design ever for filter control).
The Sub Phatty is basically a modified Little Phatty, with a smaller keyboard and no LCD screen.
Judging from the (not-too-interesting) videos, the Sub is smaller than the Little Phatty, but bigger than what the official photos have you expect. I had wished it was a very portable Moog. It's stilly somewhat bulky.
Its main advantages over its bigger brother are a multidrive mode that deliver a more agressive yet warm tone (these very distorted, controlled sounds, you can't easily do that with the Little Phatty), and the added presence of sub osc making an obvious difference on the low end.

2) Korg's MS20 reissue

At an expected price of 599€, this is amazing news and I've duly pre-ordered mine.
I have no doubt that self-proclaimed analogue purists will argue about how close this is to the original, but I couldn't care less. I would get the Mini even if they'd name it Korg SXW48. Just the fact that it's a rather complex, semi-modular (pseudo-modular?) monosynth with a very characterful filter is enough.

3) DSI Prophet 12

While sticking to his talking point that the Prophet 12 was his best synth ever, analog hero Dave Smith has kept a somewhat low profile on the fact that it doesn't feature analog oscillators. That came as a big suprise to me, and my 2 cents is that an instrument in that price range should offer analog oscillators besides digital ones. That said, much of the sound depends on the filters, and they, for one thing, are analog. All in all, I can't say that I was blown away by the demos, but I'm sure that it's a pretty powerful beast.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Madame Perrin

From an old recording of a demented neighbor.
Korg Wavestation, Doepfer Dark Energy, Korg Monotron.