Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera review

The Fujfilm X-Pro1 Mirrorless Digital Camera has been around since January 2012 and during that period professional photographers have sung its praises. Certainly the build quality is second to none, the digital sensor is best in class, and the lenses are of traditional Fujifilm high standards.

With it’s hefty price tag, is it worth the cost for the amateur photographer, or is it meant for the professional seeking a standby camera used for candid shots?

Photography ran in my family for many years. When my great grandfather migrated from Ireland with his three brothers, one of them brought their cameras with. No one is sure which of the three was the avid photographer, but stories about them using home-built pinhole cameras as standby abounded.

Poring over old pictures they took instilled in me an appreciation of the technology and while my skills as a photographer might never match theirs, I had a love for it from a young age.

I took pictures with an old DLR camera when visiting my grandmother until it got stolen in a house robbery, and spent hours in a makeshift darkroom with an old Hasselblad Easel and enlarger. My mom eventually relented and allowed my teenage self to borrow her prized 10mm Kodac camera on occasion. With the advent of Digital photography, an era ended for me, and due to film development becoming too expensive for my pocket-money-fuelled hobby, I put the camera down at age 17.

“Who needs a plasticky DSLR anyway?”, I thought while secretly wishing I would one day own one.

Fujifilm X-pro1
Fujifilm X-pro1

When I heard the Fujifilm X-Pro1 was available for review I jumped at the opportunity. I had recently acquired a Canon EOS 600D, my first “real” camera in years, and the prospect of having a professional grade camera to play with for a few days appealed to me.

Holding it in my hands for the first time, something moved inside me. This camera is made of metal. This feels like a real camera, not a plasticky mass produced trinket. I won’t lie – I sniffed it. It smelled like my mom’s old camera. I could not believe my luck! I had read reviews of this camera, delved into technical specifications, and even felt a pang of regret for settling on the Canon DSLR, even though the Canon was only a third of the price.

So there I sat with this thing that reeks of darkroom and adventure in far away places, and marvelled at it. Switches go “click” when you move them, there is a satisfyingly industrial quality to it, even the scuff marks that this example had endeared it to me and gave it character.

Fujifilm has always made cameras that looked as much in place in the hands of a journalist covering the Normandy Landings as they might resting on a desk next to my Canon. I can imagine Frank Cappa peeking through the hybrid viewfinder to capture a moment of history with it.

With the X-Pro1, Fujifilm tried to make the best mirrorless camera on the market. A mirrorless camera has no mirror that redirects the image that the lens captures to your eyepiece. You view your image on the large LCD at the back of the camera, or peek through a viewfinder that is offset to the side. Aside from the LCD at the back you cannot see what the lens sees as you do with an SLR (single lens reflex) camera.

Fuji Film X-Pro 1
Fuji Film X-Pro 1

Mirrorless cameras as a class aim to fit in between your basic point-and-shoot cameras, and your top of the range Digital SLR Cameras. Some of them even surpass their SLR brethren in image quality and features, and come with price tags to match.

The X-Pro1 is one such camera, but there are some showstoppers.

I arranged with a friend to go on a photography expedition to the local cat shelter. We have a weekly appointment to go photograph the cats that are up for adoption, and it affords me the chance to get my eye in and sharpen my skills. We settled in, and out came the X-Pro1.

Immediately the main flaw with this camera became apparent; the autofocus is slow – in fact, it is horrendous. The honeymoon with this camera ended right there. I resorted to manual focus, and even that was finicky. Kittens are not known for sitting down and waiting for you to take their picture. They race around, or flop down to sleep. This camera is no good at taking quick photos. Other reviewers agree that even with the firmware update that came out last year, this camera has a serious problem with its focus speed.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 focus problems
Fujifilm X-Pro1 focus problems

Of the four shots in the strip above, only the one on the right has the kitten’s head properly in focus, achieved after I switched to manual focus.

Eventually I switched over to the 600D and we went back to the office.

That evening I sat and pondered my experience with the camera. How could Fujifilm build a camera so exquisite and yet the one thing that is important when taking a picture is the main problem with it?

I decided to do some comparative photography to get a better feel for where the Fujifilm’s strengths lay.

Fuji Film X-Pro1
Fuji Film X-Pro1

One of the great things about any mirrorless camera is that it is inherently compact. Remove the lens and the X-Pro1 will easily fit in a handbag or even a jacket pocket. Mirrorless cameras are supremely portable for the capabilities they offer. They really are ideal for those who want to be able to swap out lenses as the occasion warrants without needing to lug around the bulk of an SLR.

Every switch and button on the camera also falls easily at hand. The layout of the controls has definitely been well thought out. The camera feels well balanced and the screen provides all the information you need to take your pictures.

On the downside there are only three lenses available for the X-Pro1 at the moment. Fujifilm indicated that they would make 17 more available during 2013, but even that selection pales in comparison with the 160 lenses that are available for the EOS 600D.

Lenses currently available are; 18mm f/2.0 XF R Prime Lens, 35mm f/1.4 XF R Prime Lens and 60mm f/2.4 XF R Prime Lens. I had the 35mm lens and oddly two of the 60mm lenses to play with.

Another big negative for the amateur that hints at this camera’s aspirations as a professional tool is the lack of built-in flash.

Over the next few days I came to appreciate the ease with which you can take good pictures with this camera, granted you take care to plan your shots in advance to ensure perfect focus.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 Specifications
Size 140 x 82 x 42.5mm
Weight 450grams with battery
Battery Lithium Ion
Battery Charge Approx 300 Frames
Connectivity USB2.0, Mini HDMI
Storage SDHC/SD/SDXC
Viewfinder Hybrid Viewfinder
Screen LCD Screen, 100% Image Cover
Shutter Speeds 1/4 – 1/4000 sec up to60 Min (Bulb Mode)
Self Timer 10Sec or 2Sec
Sensitivity ISO 200 – 6400
Image Formats RAW, JPEG, JPEG & RAW
Image Size 16Megapixel,4896 x 32647860 x 2160 Panorama Stitch
Video Formats H264 .MOV Sterio Sound1920 x 1080 Full HD, 24FPS29Min Recording Time
Sensor APS-C 23.6 x 15.6 RGB
Lens Mount Fujifilm X-Mount(Currently only 3 lenses available)
Body Die-cast Aluminum Alloy

Conclusion

This brings me to my original question; is this camera for the beginner, the hobbyist that wants to get serious about photography or the professional?

At  R17,999.00 for the body alone, the Fujifilm X-Pro1 is priced out of reach of most amateur photographers, and indeed many hobbyists will baulk at paying that much for a mirrorless camera.

Yes, you get the best mirrorless camera on the market for your money, but you still have to get lenses, and you just don’t get the Flexibility that a DSLR offers. In the right hands this camera will be a wonderful tool, a device that can masterfully capture the world around you, but an amateur will never benefit from the richness it has on offer.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 Pros Fujifilm X-Pro1 Cons
Solid Construction Price (R 17,999 body alone)
High Continuous Drive Speed (6FPS) Slow and inaccurate auto focus
Compact Dimensions Only Three Lenses Available at present
Fantastic Image Quality Hybrid Viewfinder is great, but no substitute for SLR
Builtin Focus Motor No built-in flash

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Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera review