It seems strange that until as recently as a few years ago, we'd come to associate Fujifilm primarily with masses of middling point-and-shoot cameras. But the company has come quite far in a short time, thanks to its premium X series of cameras, which deliver strong image quality in striking vintage designs. Its X-Pro1 interchangeable-lens model now sits at the top of that line, packing a lot of innovative and promising technology into a really retro and mostly well-designed -- if a bit large -- body. While it doesn't win any points for its autofocus performance or bare-bones feature set, the stunning photo quality (for its class) does a lot to make up for that.
The X-Pro1 uses a new sensor, the X-Trans, which in combination with mostly intelligent JPEG processing delivers excellent photo quality across low- and midrange ISO sensitivities, and in combination with the sharp XF lenses, very good detail resolution, color, and tonal range.
The typical Bayer color filter array on the top; Fujifilm's X-Trans array on the bottom.
In a typical sensor color filter array, each pixel is responsible for capturing a single color intensity (red, green, or blue), while most of the detail falls to the periodically spaced, more sensitive green pixels. Then the camera (or software) performs what's called demosaicing to build the image out of the pattern of RGB values. The demosaicing process can also result in image artifacts, which is inevitable given that the software essentially has to "guess" at the image detail and color for intermediate pixels. In addition, the more regular the pattern of the array, the more likely it is to combine unattractively with any regular patterns in the scene, an artifact known as moiré. Most sensors apply a low-pass filter to the image in order to remove any potential moiré, which can reduce perceived sharpness. The X-Trans sensor uses a different pattern for its CFA, one that has a few more green pixels as well as more irregularly spaced red and blue ones. Fujifilm claims this arrangement obviates the need for a low-pass filter to prevent moiré and results in fewer false-color artifacts and a sharper image.
|Original photo samples |
Click to view/download
|ISO 200 ||ISO 800 ||ISO 6400 |
In practice, the X-Pro1's JPEG photos showed exceptional detail at low ISO sensitivities, and the sensor itself had a large latitude in that I was able to shoot a couple of ISO stops down from where I might normally be in low light and get clean images. While you can see some mushiness in the flat areas from the noise and consequent noise-reduction algorithms starting at about ISO 1600 in low light, there's very little loss of sharpness and I ran into many instances where the ISO 6400 shots looked very good for a camera under $2,000. In night shots the high-ISO-sensitivity images did look more traditional, soft and grainy with hot pixels, but the fact is with the X-Pro1 you don't need to shoot at those settings as often as usual.
The camera produces consistent and appropriate exposures, and with one exception the colors are both accurate and vibrant. As with the Fujifilm FinePix X100, I saw hue shifts to orange and blown-out highlights in extremely bright, saturated, natural reds (example); but unlike the X100, the X-Pro1 seems to only have problems in the JPEG versions. Reds in the raw files are completely different, and I was able to recover some of the blown-out detail as well. Unfortunately, that means you have to use raw if you shoot flowers, landscapes, and the like. Also, as far as I can tell there isn't a lot of recoverable detail in light-colored, blown-out areas; what makes the sensor so good in low light overwhelms it in bright. However, I'm not confident enough with my Silkypix skills to state that with 100 percent certainty; it's possible there's some technique I don't know about to maximize highlight detail. I do know that saving as 16-bit TIFF and processing using Adobe Camera Raw didn't work.
Which brings me to the downside of the X-Trans sensor. Because it uses a nonstandard CFA, the raw-processing algorithms need to be redesigned for optimal results. Adobe's seemingly in no rush to support the X-Pro1 in Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw and Apple tends to be even slower on the uptake. Other raw software developers tend to devote their resources to the more popular models. That means for raw you're stuck with the bundled Silkypix software, which is slow, with a clunky, almost impenetrable user interface. More important for some people, having to use yet another program breaks your work flow, or at least slows you down as you use the converter to save as a 16-bit TIFF for editing elsewhere.
The video is a mixed bag. It's very sharp, with bright colors, and in low light the noise looks pretty good. But otherwise it displays a cornucopia of aliasing, moiré and rolling shutter artifacts. While the autofocus has trouble staying locked, the lenses are nicely designed for manually focusing.
There's no way around it: the X-Pro1 is disappointingly slow, thanks to sluggish image processing and a finicky autofocus system. The most frustrating aspect is that the better lens, the 35mm, is much slower to focus than the 18mm lens, which simply isn't as sharp. We did our lab tests with the 35mm, since I think it's the more desirable lens, so our performance numbers reflect its slower AF.
It takes about 1 second to power on, focus, and shoot; slower than many cameras, but still adequately fast. Shot lag in bright conditions is 0.5 second and 0.8 second in dim, which just isn't what I expect from a camera in its price range. Two sequential JPEGs run 1.4 seconds, while raw takes that up a bit to 1.5 seconds. While all of those times aren't pull-your-hair-out slow, it can get a little frustrating for street shooting. In a studio you might not mind so much.
Ironically, the continuous-shooting performance is pretty good. It's relatively fast at 5.2 frames per second, and the hybrid viewfinder means zero lag for framing while panning. You do need to use a fast SD card for a sustained burst: I noticed a significant difference in the number of shots it could take before slowing between the 30MBps SanDisk Extreme III and 95MBps Extreme Pro cards.
And the battery life in this entire class of cameras is sad.