Monday, March 19, 2012

Is the X-Pro 1 for you?

Fire! Fire!

There's a lot of anxiety about the pros and cons of the X-Pro 1 in that abode of hungry ghosts, the DPReview forums. I think most of that anxiety really boils down to one question—is it the right camera for you?

Thom at Sans Mirror:
Fujifilm X-Pro1 or Olympus E-M5? Still a little early to call, but initial impressions say E-M5 hands down. The X-Pro1 is a big camera, as big as a Leica M9. It has a limited (and expensive) lens set. It has poor autofocus performance. It has a large, eccentric sensor (APS, non-Bayer). It has a retro design with a hybrid optical/EVF viewfinder. The E-M5 is a smaller camera than it looks in photos. It has an extensive lens set. It has faster focus performance. It has the best of the m4/3 sensors so far. It has a very usable EVF. The problem I have with the Fujifilm is that it is really only great for one (slow) style of shooting, and it's doesn't take advantage of the size benefit that removing the mirror gives you. The hybrid viewfinder is fine, but it's a bit of a gimmick. A good EVF is enough, which is exactly what the E-M5 has. Bottom line: for less money you get a smaller camera that has a huge lens arsenal and very good autofocus performance.

I almost agree... even if I think I can smell a whiff of irrational bias there. How is a 'large, eccentric sensor' a disadvantage?

First, he characterizes the X-Pro 1's autofocus performance as "poor." It isn't. It's not as good as on the latest µ43 cameras, but it is not "poor" by any reasonable definition of the word. "Poor" means that it gets in the way of using the camera. The Sigma DP1 had poor autofocus. Most compact digital cameras before the Fuji F30 had poor autofocus. The EOS-10D had poor (as in inaccurate) autofocus. The X-Pro 1's AF is not poor. It's perfectly adequate for the one type of shooting where it truly excels.

That brings me to the second point. Thom calls that one type of shooting (slow). It's not slow. On the contrary, it's a very fast type of shooting. Timing is critical in it, and a slow camera will seriously get in the way. "Deliberate" is a better word, because the idea is that you stay a step ahead of the action and anticipate it. That's what the "gimmick" of the optical viewfinder is for, too. That's not just sugar-coating something; it's describing a real difference. Shooting with a view camera, for example, is a slow style of photography. It takes a lot of effort to set up every shot. But situational shooting with a rangefinder-style camera, whether it's a true rangefinder or something like the Contax G3 or the X-Pro 1, is not slow. Of course it would be nice to have AF as good as the OM-D's, but it would not change much about how the camera shoots.

However, I concur with the larger point: the OM-D does almost everything better than the X-Pro 1, does it for less money in a more compact package, and does a great deal more than the Fuji can do, at least with its current very small lens selection. This is true of any current µ43 camera. So if you do want an all-rounder, then the Fuji is not the right camera for you.

But if it so happens that you value the particular type of shooting the Fuji is made for, there really is nothing else out there that does it better. What's more, it's entirely capable of coping with types of shooting its antecedents simply couldn't do—close-ups and macro, for example, and once the telephoto lenses from the roadmap materialize, that sort of stuff too. Fuji's lens roadmap does suggest to me that they plan to extend the camera system with more general-purpose bodies as well. If the X system survives in the marketplace, it could evolve into something much more versatile. I hope it does. If the optical viewfinder goes the way of the dodo, something significant will be lost.

At this point, though, the answer to the "is it for you?" question is something like "If you have to ask, then no." The µ43 system is better for general photography. The Sony system—with focus peaking and better EVF's—is better for legacy lenses. Or, naturally, the Leica system, if you can swing the entry cost. But if you do inhabit the niche the X-Pro 1 serves, then hell yes, it is for you.

It's a bit like a road bike. If you have to ask, then it's not the right kind of bike for you—but there's nothing out there that reels up the miles on a twisting country road quite like one.


  1. Thom is bold as ever...
    I am amused by this diffused willing to compare two cameras that have very little in common.
    Nice to know that "slow" is one genre of photography. Must be huge, to say the least.
    These cameras are not one better than the other. They are two different cameras. It's difficult to imagine that, back in the old days, people tried to decide if a Leica M was better than a Rolleiflex...

    In theory, the E-M5 would better fit my needs. In practice, I like the X100 more than my m4/3 rig. Now I can't afford any of the two "contenders". Would buy both. And keep the X100 cause of its shutter, and keep the GF1 cause it's battered and ready for the battle... :-)

  2. I am attracted to the E-M5, as a complement to my X100. I've used nothing else for about 8 months now, and I love it. But I would like an E-M5 with 12 and 45 primes for certain shots. Probably the X-Pro1 with the 14 and 60 would be even better, but it is much more expensive, and that's important to me: I'm no pro.

  3. I have a lot of respect for Thom. Here, I agree with you a lot more. Also, for whatever reason, I can't stand EVFs. They're missing some connection to reality I crave.

    And I agree on the sensor. It looks really neat, and so far seems to live up to its promise.

  4. Me too. He's not afraid to speak his mind, he's smart, and he's well informed. He also admits when he gets it wrong. That's rare. I don't understand why he's been hating on the Fujis since the X100, though.

    1. He was not a great fan of m43 early on either. He is very bright and generally wants you to know that. He is arrogant more often than not. I would like to believe that it should be more about image quality and camera handling. I use both the Fuji x100 and the pro 1 and every body and lens Olympus has made for m43. They are all great as are most cameras today but the Fuji is exceptional. I have used both of my Fuji cameras under many conditions and have had no problem stopping action as one of those conditions. Is it a Nikon d800 fast camera. No. Neither is the Olympus with its EVF only option. At least the Fuji has an optical finder. And by the way Thom does not always admit when he gets it wrong.

  5. Because he's a kind of sceptical and conservative person, with a touch of arrogance here and there. I'm not into his writings a lot, but I would easily bet he didn't appreciate m4/3 too.

  6. One huge disadvantage not mentioned by Thom, is the inherent noisier performance of m43, usually 1-2 stops. For me anyway, that is one of the most important factors in camera selection.

    It only took several years for Olympus to make a camera that focuses relatively quickly--so many prior iterations without real improvements, like changing the curtains while the house is on fire. But even Thom states that the current m43 cameras ain't so good at focusing.

    I can also compile a large list of things wrong or weak with m43 compared to FF or APS-C or anything else for that matter (even a sandwich) and judge it the winner (my bologna sandwich wins!!!!).

    The cynic in me feels that maybe, just maybe, Thom is leaning toward m43 because of his new website, and that's where the monet is. But maybe I'm just cynical.

  7. BTW, thanks for the write-up. Hit it right on the head.

  8. It' clear to me Hogan hates Fuji.

    I just ignore him. I don't go to his sites anymore.

    1. if thom hates fuji zack arias loves it so much. i recently followed zack in his blogs as he is type of a photographer that doesn't push others to get pro gear but to be creative on the craftsmanship of photography.

  9. Absolutely agree with you Petteri, the X-Pro1 promotes a deliberate style of shooting, just randomly popping away shots and expecting the camera to 'face detect' is not the way to go with this camera.

    I just sold my Sony NEX 5N and got my X-Pro1, even though, technically speaking, the Sony is a more advanced camera than the X-Pro1, AF is fast, accurate and totally silent, it has a ton of functions and features and all manner of scene modes... but at the end of the day, it felt more like a mini computer than a camera. I still like the Sony though but I prefer the X-Pro1 (and can't afford to keep both!)

    I think the OM-D is not an alternative to the X-Pro1, it is doomed by its small sensor to start with, the APS-C/FF crowd will not settle for a sensor so much smaller.

    My photos/experiences with the X-Pro1 (after 4 days of ownership) are detailed in

    1. Adrian, how you found the transition from sony to fuji using manual (or even better vintage) lenses?

  10. Mine really should arrive today...! ;-)

    I like Thom on Nikon but I agree that he can be a tad arrogant sometimes and also if I hear how the sun shone from Galen Rowell's every orifice just one more time...!

    I agree with you Petteri: the X-Pro 1 is not everyone's cup of tea. However, what camera is? Surely we have more choice in cameras now than at any time in the history of photography and it is past time to stop reviewing them from the standpoint that the camera being reviewed must do everything or it is a bad camera.

    Does anyone think, for example, that a Leica M9 is a bad camera? No, of course not - far from it. Yet it is the cost of a small car, cannot be used to shoot sports very well, is not much cop as an underwater camera and is useless for telephoto wildlife photography.

    There are cameras that do many things passing well - any mid range DSLR will cover most bases. Cameras are a Bell Curve - things like the X-Pro 1, M9, Nikon D4 and so on exist at the ends of the curve. The Nikon D7000, EOS 7D etc are in the middle.

    As a walk around travel camera, for example, I think the X-Pro will be a great tool. Easy to fly with, light to carry, superb IQ.

    I think some of the initial quirks will be ironed out soon in firmware as well.

  11. I have not read the comments yet; I am commenting only on your initial comment on Thom's comment (the beginning of possibly endless recursion here).

    I think Thom is using the term "eccentric" here incorrectly; I believe he means "novel". Eccentric has two basic meanings: off-centre (engineering) or weird—neither of which fit here. For me at least, if the non-Bayer sensor means that moiré does not appear despite no AA filter, then "eccentric" is not accurate; 'innovative" or "novel" is, though, given the history of the DSLR.

    I handled one of these yesterday in a camera store in Torino: superb build quality.

    I have not looked at the new Oly yet, because despite having owned pretty much all the µ4/3rds bodies—and wanting to love them—the sensor is too small for the look I like. The XPrp1 is the bottom limit, size-wise (so far). I use a GXR now with the M mount, and I will be trying out a NEX 5N, but these have the same sized sensor as the XPro1.

  12. "It's a bit like a road bike. If you have to ask, then it's not the right kind of bike for you—but there's nothing out there that reels up the miles on a twisting country road quite like one."

    As a long-time road biker, your description closed the case for me in a way conventional photographic terminology never could! Nothing else I have read anywhere about the XPro1 was as convincing as your one short sentence. I'm 100% sold. Thanks!

  13. I was expecting another "pro X-1 Pro" post...refreshing, Olympus get's it's due...I have sold several "fine art" prints made with an EP-1 pretty much sooc for what ever it's worth.