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 usedThe 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 optical viewfinderThe 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 viewfinderThe 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 techniqueMost 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.
- Enable corrected AF frame in the setup menu.
- Set the camera to AF-S from the switch on the front.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Holding the shutter button half-pressed, compose your picture, and take the shot.
Possible complicationsRecomposing 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.
- 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.
- 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 ISOThe 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.