Thursday, March 29, 2012

X-Pro 1 Tips and Tricks: The Basics

Kuvia 1

I got a few requests for a "how-to" article on the Fujifilm X-Pro 1. When I started to write one, it quickly got out of hand. There's a lot to say about this camera. Too much for a single post. I think such an article is needed, though, because this is a bit of an unusual beast, and going by the talk on the DPReview forums, there are a quite a few people who are somewhat confused by it.

So I decided to write not one, but several articles. I don't know if I'll ever get around to writing the others, but here's one, anyway—the basic approach to getting to know the Fujifilm X-Pro 1. If you're considering this camera, this might be worth a read too, because it might turn out it's not the camera for you after all. It is a special-purpose instrument which excels at one thing and can handle a quite a few others, but there are cameras out there that are better suited for almost any of those other things.

If you're looking for a camera for situational shooting—discreet photography of human-scale subjects at moderate distances in their natural surroundings, where the limitation is usually precise timing—then read on. For most other purposes, you'll probably be better served by something else.

How it's meant to be used

The distinguishing characteristics of the X-Pro 1 are its optical viewfinder and its excellent, bright, compact, moderate focal-length prime lenses. No current digital camera below the Leica M9 offers this combination of features. So pop on the 18 or the 35, switch the viewfinder to optical, and go shooting.

You do need to understand the basics of photographic theory and technique to be able to use this camera effectively—the automation works great, but you won't be able to tame it if you don't know what it's doing. I'm assuming you know your way around exposure values, shutter speed, aperture, depth of field and such, and have solid basic camera technique (elbows to your sides, correct grip on the camera, exhale while tripping the shutter, etc.), and are fluent with the basic focus-recompose technique that works best in most circumstances on all autofocus cameras. If not, study up on those before even considering this box. Here, I'll just discuss some of the ways the X-Pro 1 makes you work differently than most cameras.

Here are the changes I've made to my settings—the rest are at factory defaults:
  • Dynamic range AUTO
  • AEL/AFL button set to AF only, tap to lock, tap to release
  • Image quality RAW + full-size JPEG fine
  • Corrected AF box ON
  • Viewfinder set to optical, LCD OFF
  • Display showing aperture, shutter speed, ISO, AEC, framelines, and nothing else
  • Quick start ON
The exposure controls—AE compensation, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO—are meant to be changed on the fly, according to circumstances. That's what the dials are for.

The optical viewfinder

The Fuji's raison d'être is the optical viewfinder. It's a good one. Among digital cameras, only the Leicas have better ones, and it compares quite favorably to many classic film cameras too. It's a bit smaller but optically better than the one on my Leica CL, for example. If you're new to this type of viewfinder—coming from an SLR, for example—it will take some getting used to.

The point of this type of viewfinder is that it puts you in the scene. Your face isn't hidden behind the camera. You can see through both eyes, and mentally alternate between the scene and the image. You're not looking at a picture projected or rendered on a surface; you're looking at the actual scene, sharp all through, with the minimum of hints floating on it that let you turn it into a picture. No other viewfinder permits as precise timing and as close a connection with the scene you're shooting.

However, there are trade-offs. You won't be able to frame precisely. The framelines are approximations. If you move your eye on the finder, they'll move too, relative to the scene. There's parallax error, because the lens isn't seeing quite what you are. You won't always get the photo you're expecting, although with practice you will get better. And it will make auto-focusing trickier, because the AF point won't always be where you expect either. More on that below.

If you don't want to shoot this way, and learn your way around this viewfinder, pick another camera. It'll almost certainly work out better.

The electronic viewfinder

The electronic viewfinder only looks kind of disappointing because the optical one is so good. In reality, it's a pretty good one, as such things go. There are one or two cameras on the market with even better electronic viewfinders, but a great many with worse ones. I picked up another Fuji the other day—the X-S1—and thought "Wow, that's a damn good viewfinder, shame they didn't put the same one on the X-Pro 1." Then I compared the two cameras side by side—and they did put the same finder on both of them. It's just that my perception of the finder was distorted by my expectations.

By the way, the auto white-balance on the camera is amazing. Under almost all lighting circumstances, the scene in the EVF matches the color of the scene I see with my other eye, and the EVF image is a close approximation of what goes into the box. Canon should sit up and take notice.

As it is, the EVF is an extremely usable fallback for situations where you hit the OVF's limits. When using the EVF, you shoot the X-Pro 1 like any other AF camera, and it'll handle it just fine. You will need to use the EVF for:
  • Close-ups. The OVF gets more and more problematic the closer you get to your subject. Its minimum distance is about an arm's length, and at this point parallax error will be pretty significant—the photo will come out noticeably different than what you're looking at. So when shooting close up, switch to the EVF, or even macro mode. You might want to do this even before the camera makes you.
  • Precise framing. Landscapes, architecture, or such. It's much easier to level the camera and frame precisely off the EVF or LCD.
  • Longer or wider focal lengths. Not yet an issue for me, since I don't have the 60 mm yet—but I have a feeling I'll be shooting that one in EVF a lot. The upcoming 14 won't fit into the OVF without additional optics, and the zooms will also have serious usability issues. The OVF really is made for lenses between 18 and 35 or thereabouts.

Basic auto-focus technique

Most of the time, you'll be using basic focus-recompose AF technique in the optical viewfinder. Here's how it works on the X-Pro 1—almost like on any camera, but with a twist due to the nature of the optical viewfinder.
  1. Enable corrected AF frame in the setup menu.
  2. Set the camera to AF-S from the switch on the front.
  3. You'll see two boxes in the viewfinder, a solid one in the center, and a dotted-line one a bit to the right and down. The solid one represents the AF spot at infinity. The dotted one represents it at minimum focus distance.
  4. Estimate they distance to your subject. If it's near minimum focus distance—say a meter or so—aim with the dotted box. If it's near infinity—say four meters or more—aim with the solid one. If it's somewhere between the two, you know what to do.
  5. Half-press to focus. The camera will lock on. The framelines will snap to their corrected position, and a green box will appear at the correct position on the OVF.
  6. Verify that the AF locked on the right subject. It's easy to tell by the position of the green box. If it missed, try again.
  7. Holding the shutter button half-pressed, compose your picture, and take the shot.
Practice a bit. Pay attention to where the green box pops up, and pretty soon you'll be correcting mentally for parallax without even thinking about it. It's really a very intuitive, natural system.

Possible complications

Recomposing shifts the plane of focus. Think of the plane of focus as a rectangle hovering in front of your camera. When you yaw or pitch the camera, it'll rotate in space. This might put your subject out of the plane of focus. This is a practical issue with the 18 mm lens, when shooting subjects such as people close up with the lens wide-open.
  • Solution: Compensate by leaning back a little while rotating the camera. Learn your lens well, and you will be able to compensate for it. I don't yet know the 18 well enough for that, but I did learn to do this with the Sigma 20/1.8 on the EOS-5D so I know it's just a matter of practice. It's not a huge deal in practice though; your subject may not end up critically sharp, but if your photo is any good, few people will look closely enough to notice.
Your subject is moving. Focus-recompose won't work.
  • Solution: Zone focus. That's outside the scope of this article; perhaps I'll write it up later. Try figuring it out yourself though. Hint: switch to MF mode and use the AEL/AFL button to focus.
You want to snap a series. Highly annoyingly, the X-Pro 1 won't maintain the focus lock if you return the shutter release to half-pressed position after snapping a frame. It'll refocus when you snap the next one, most likely on something that's not your subject.
  • Solution: Set the AE-L/AF-L button to AF-L toggle (in the setup menu), and press it when you want to hold focus lock. Both boxes will turn green. Shoot away, and tap it again to release the lock.

Use of auto ISO

The X-Pro 1 uses the "1/f" rule of thumb to bump up ISO. It also bumps it up to 800 if dynamic range is set to AUTO and it determines there are highlights than need retaining. You need to be aware of this to make it work for you. When out and about in good light, I use ISO AUTO(3200) but in shutter-priority mode, usually at 1/250. This is fast enough to stop a walking person and get rid of camera shake almost all of the time. I move it from this setting as needed.

Since the 35 looks so wonderful wide-open, I often shoot it in aperture-priority mode as well. In daylight this gives a fast shutter anyway. When the light drops, I sometimes take manual control of ISO to keep fast-enough shutter speeds. At dusk, ISO and shutter go back to auto, and in really low light, I bump ISO up to 6400.

Incidentally, the camera meters extremely well. It nails most scenes, and is very predictable about backlit or bright subjects—they need about as much AEC as you'd expect, so the handy dial gets some use. As any camera, you need to learn the way it meters to use it effectively. I can't explain it to you; you need to get a feel for it.

Conclusion

That's about enough for one blog post. The X-Pro 1 is a brilliant camera, quirks and all. Explore its capabilities and make the most of it. And do shoot that 35 wide-open—it renders the most boring and mundane subjects so gorgeously it's almost not funny. And people complain about aperture chatter. Bah!

Mietteliäs Shosta

39 comments:

  1. Amazing Petteri. I'll dig into this later. Thanks Rob

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    Replies
    1. hi Petteri, thanks for reviewing and sharing.
      Have you any experience with the X Pro1 and any Leica lens?
      I've just tested my Summicron 50 with a Kipon lens adapter, got 2 problems:
      the shutter is blocked unless you set menu option "shutter without lens" to ON
      the OVF is not working anymore, just going the EVF.
      Do you think that's correct?
      thank you in advance
      marco

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  2. I found your blog through DPR and your great advice on that forum. I REALLY enjoyed this article. We are still awaiting our X Pro's here in the US but I will be following this blog. Thanks again!

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  3. Thanks for the Tips & Tricks, a good place for me to start with my studies of the XPro1.

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  4. Petteri, Thanks very much. This is excellent.
    Well written too.
    -Framus

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  5. Thanks for posting this - it is well written and contains a lot of useful information.

    All the best.

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  6. Kiitos / Thank you!

    This made me even more excited about my new camera. :D

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  7. Replies
    1. Nice article Thanks!

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  8. Informative and useful.
    And it could be adapted to using my X100, too.
    Thanks so much.

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  9. Hi Petteri,

    Thanks for sharing your breakdown of the X-Pro1. I've been enjoying mine so far but I could never have broken down all the various points as succinctly and methodically as you have. My thoughts are all scattershot and all over the place!

    I'm absolutely loving the 35mm as well, it accounts for 90% of my usage so far, with the 18mm being somewhat ignored.

    I'm wondering if the 60mm will come in handy as well ... (I haven't bought that yet)

    Again, thanks for sharing,

    Adrian

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  10. Very good, thanks for your time

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  11. Fantastic article, really helped with my new XP1. If you can find the time (and need!) to write some more then it would be welcome. Maybe you could cover the continuous focus mode?

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  12. Thanks for the encouragement, everybody.

    @Anon at 12:09, I'm probably the wrong person to write about continuous focus, because I don't think I've ever used it other than out of curiosity even on SLR's where it works reasonably well.

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  13. Ahem... Does the X-Pro, as the X100, miss the possibility to decouple focusing in AF? I mean AFL to directly focus, shutter to shoot only?

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    1. I understand it's the same as the X100—it works this way in MF mode, but in AF mode, focus by half-press only.

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    2. Thank you.
      It's my most hated quirk: to have focusing decoupled you must use MF+AFL, thus missing parallax corrected and resizable aiming box, and also green confirmation.

      Half press AF + AF lock is awkwad when compared to the universally adopted AFL direct focusing we have in almost any other camera.

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    3. here, http://www.fujix-forum.com/index.php?/topic/3904-new-x100-fimware-120/page__view__findpost__p__43633 , a good synthesis that could be valid for the X-Pro1 too.

      Delete
  14. Awesome and inspiring article to get a X-Pro1. Will wait for your zone focusing article...

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  15. A must read for any potential X-Pro 1 owner! Thanks a million Petteri!

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  16. Most enjoyable and informative! Thanks for your trouble, Petteri. Hope you continue to observe, evaluate, and write to us.
    I'm thrilled with my (black) X-100, and get more pleasant moments than frustrated ones. I think and feel nature - and take my time.

    I dream of a second X, an X-Pro1 with the 35mm f1.4, but the outlay .....?

    Love the forums (fora?), Tony Englishman

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  17. Excellent tips and report. Thanks!

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  18. Great article, educative and inspiring too. Well done Petteri and thanks for your very useful tips. Like many other photographers - readers, I am waiting for more. I have been shooting with X100 for over a year. The X-Pro1 landed in my hands only 3 days ago and I am already enjoying it immensely.
    Best regards
    Tom

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  19. Great article, can you add the following tips to your post or in your second article so XP1 users get to know about it too:

    XP1 Aperture Chatter Noise - Using the Optical View Finder only, and turning off the live view screen, stops the aperture blades clicking and cuts out the somewhat loud noise the camera makes when switching between the two. Even turned off the instant replay/live view function, and that cut out noise also. Turn on power save would also help.

    And this chattering noise only happens with the 35mm 1.4 lens.


    And in OVF, you need to turn on Corrected Af Frame(in menu), to see exactly where the camera is focusing on

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  20. Hi, Long P. Vo —

    (1) Switching to OVF and switching off live view and instant replay does not affect the aperture chatter. Switching on power save mode does help, but that makes AF prohibitively slow.

    (2) The chatter does occur also with the 18 mm lens. There's a bit less of it because of the wider field of view (less change in scene brightness because there's more scene, which averages out).

    (3) The focusing technique related to the corrected AF frame was the main topic of the article, and I mentioned switching it on twice.

    In sum, I appreciate the thanks, but I would also appreciate it if (1) you checked that your advice works before offering it, and (2) actually read the article before commenting on it. Thanks.

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  21. As you wrote "So I decided to write not one, but several articles. I don't know if I'll ever get around to writing the others," I got a bit worried. Please try to write the others as I learned more from the first one about my new x-Pro1 than i have from all the reviews so far (belive me I have read them all).

    Again, thank you.

    Otto
    Oslo

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  22. "If it's somewhere between the two, you know what to do."

    I don't actually, can you elaborate?

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    Replies
    1. You aim somewhere between the two boxes.

      Just practice a bit and pay attention to where the box pops up. You'll be aiming right without even thinking about it soon enough.

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  23. Petteri,
    Thanks this is an excellent resource.

    I'm puzzled how to zone focus my Xpro-1. Please, please, pretty please continue with your articles on the camera. ;>)


    I was hoping that the range of focus indicator would be useful in this regard but it seems that Fuji have chosen a very conservative COC for the indicator.

    Cheers,
    rasterdogs

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    Replies
    1. I'm working on it. I want to do more shooting with this technique myself before trying to explain it to others. The DOF scale is really very conservative, but that doesn't matter much.

      The trick is to learn how stuff looks at a few preset focus distances, and alternate between those. Say, at 1, 2, and 4 meters. The 1-meter zone will work for "close" people pictures, say over the table; the 2-meter zone will work for "street" people pics, and 4 meters will work for "scenes" with no particular person in the foreground. Find the f-stops on each of your lenses that work with these zones, and practice with them.

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  24. Hi Petteri,
    Great article.

    I know that X-pro1 isn't meant to be used with manual focus, but how can you get a correct frame when you use it with OVF and focus manually (power save mode 'on')? As far as I know, the parallax correction doesn't come up if you use OVF and manual focus, and the framinglines doesn't move like in true RF camera does.

    Thanks,
    Nooh.

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    Replies
    1. My word, you're right—they don't and you can't. What a bizarre omission. I do hope they'll sort this out in an update.

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    2. That is a bizarre omission.

      I also wish they gave an EVF zoom so you could zoom in on the image to get a higher degree of accuracy (maybe it's there and I haven't found it yet).

      BTW - while you're undoubtedly right about your focus/recompose technique, in my experience with people photos both photographer and subject are usually unstable enough that it's pretty much a shot in the dark that you'll be dead on regardless...

      Good article - thanks for putting it together...

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    3. They partially addressed this in the 1.01 firmware update: now the framelines pop into place when you half-press the shutter. Still doesn't make much sense IMO; since the focus distance is known, the lines should stick to that, the same way as on a manual rangefinder camera.

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  25. Very useful information Sir!


    The Zeitgeist...

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  26. Many, many thanks for your post.
    Really useful and clever.
    All the Best fro Paris

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  27. Thanks so much Petteri -
    I came across your article last night after having purchased the XPro and reading through the dpreview forum - really helpful and practical advice. You have helped me understand the very different focusing techniques that work with this camera compared to what I had the Nikon D90 - and taken the mystery out of this for me using the optical viewfinder - I do hope you might write further re zone focusing - as you write so clearly and concisely - Thank you for writing in such an informative way - look forward to the next article.

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