By TAN KIT HOONGbytz@thestar.com.my
Fujifilm's X-Pro1 hides some interesting modern twists under its retro exterior.
LET ME just get this out of the way - at RM5,688 for just the body, the Fujifilm X-Pro1 is a very expensive camera.
It's not available as a kit, so if you buy it together with say, the 35mm f/1.4 which lists for RM2,288, the entire shebang will set you back RM7,976 - certainly not chump change.
Based on the classic rangefinder look which the company started with the X100, the X-Pro1 is obviously aimed squarely at the Leica luxury camp, where the X-Pro1 would look like a budget camera compared with the Leica M9.
However, underneath the retro camera body is a bunch of very interesting technological advancements that are in some ways more advanced than most professional DSLRs out there.
Better than Bayer?
With only one or two exceptions throughout the years, image sensors are generally made up of red, green and blue photo sensors arranged in a specific pattern called the Bayer pattern.
This pattern was invented by Kodak in 1976 and has been used in image sensors ever since.
The problem with the Bayer pattern is that the regular arrangement of RGB photosensors gives rise to a phenomenon known as moiré when shooting textiles or images with a very regular, fine repeating pattern.
To avoid moiré, camera makers usually put in a low-pass filter which blurs detail at the limits of the image sensor's resolution, thus sidestepping the problem of fine patterns causing moiré patterns in most cases.
However, this also means that with the low-pass filter in place, the image sensor is not actually capturing all the detail that it is theoretically capable of.
Fuji's answer to this is the X-Trans CMOS sensor, which has a completely new RGB pattern that is a little less regular in pattern than the Bayer pattern, thus potentially avoiding moiré.
In fact, Fuji is so confident of its new X-Trans sensor that the X-Pro1 does not come with a low-pass filter at all, and thus is theoretically capable of capturing detail all the way to the limits of the sensor's resolution.
We put Fuji's claim to the test and we were impressed, although with a slight caveat.
First things first - the controls on the X-Pro1 are virtually identical to the X100, so if you're familiar with that or even old rangefinder cameras, then the X-Pro1 should be no problem for you.
One carry over from old cameras that I really like is the simplicity of switching between full auto, aperture-priority, shutter-priority and manual exposure modes.
You get an aperture ring with aperture settings and an "A" (for auto) and a shutter speed dial with shutter speeds and an "A" setting - leave both the aperture ring and shutter dial at their respective "A" settings and the camera will be on full auto.
Twist the aperture ring out of "A" to any of the aperture settings and you get aperture-priority or, conversely, switching the shutter dial out of "A" to any shutter speed setting and you get shutter-priority.
Of course, if you switch both the aperture ring and shutter speed dial out of "A" and you get manual exposure.
The other big carry-over from the X100 is the excellent hybrid rangefinder that can switch from an optical rangefinder to an electronic viewfinder (EVF) at the flick of a switch.
There's not much to say about the EVF except that it's pretty good, but the optical viewfinder is really something special - you can have digital information overlaid on top of it from aperture and shutter settings to a histogram and even an electronic horizon!
Since the X-Pro1 has interchangeable lenses, a bright line frame will also be overlaid in your optical viewfinder at all times, showing you where your frame actually is depending on the lens you're using.
Yes, since the optical rangefinder doesn't change focal lengths as you switch lenses, a bright line frame will instead appear depending on the lens showing you the actual frame lines for that lens.
There is an exception, however - if you put on the 35mm f/1.4 or the 60mm f/2.4, an additional lens element will slide into place to change the focal length of the rangefinder to be slightly more telephoto, so the projected frame lines won't be unmanageably small in the frame.
Autofocus on the X-Pro1 is acceptable, but it certainly won't win any awards for speed - autofocus in bright light was ok, but tended to hunt quite a bit in low-light.
The X-Pro1 has a video mode and while it's good, it's nothing to write home about - it shoots 1080p movies at up to 24-frames-per-second using the H.264 codec and offers some film simulation modes as well as a black-and-white movie mode and that's about it.
As far as still image quality goes, the X-Pro1 - coupled with the three fixed focal length lenses launched together with the camera, image quality from the X-Trans sensor was excellent, producing pin sharp images with an extremely high amount of detail.
Let's deal with ISO performance first - in our tests, we found the X-Pro1 had very well-controlled noise all throughout its normal ISO range from 200 to 6400.
In fact, we really wouldn't have any qualms about shooting at ISO6400 - it's that good.
It's only at the two ISO boost settings of 12,800 and 25,600 that there is significantly more noise and a major loss of detail.
Now in terms of resolution and detail, the X-Pro1's lack of a low-pass filter really shows in images which have very fine detail.
We pitted images shot on similar lenses using the Nikon D7000, which has a similar megapixel count and APS-C sensor, and we found the X-Pro1 able to eke out a little bit more detail than the D7000.
We also tried out best to produce moiré without success, although the X-Pro1 does have some strange pixel patterns when shooting moiré-inducing patterns.
To check out our comparison shots, download the images from http://goo.gl/qZyZZ.
Battery life was only so-so - while it would probably last you a day of heavy shooting, you'd probably have to recharge the battery before your next photoshoot.
Despite autofocus that's a bit on the slow side and its retro looks, the X-Pro1 really does stand toe-to-toe with the best 16-megapixel cameras from any of the big manufacturers in terms of image quality.
Handling is great and so is the weight and feel of the controls.
The only problem is that you're paying a lot - sure the X-Pro1 can get a little bit more detail at the limits of resolution than the Nikon D7000 and is pretty resistant to moiré, but you're talking about a camera that's almost twice the price of the D7000 with kit lens.
Of course, if you're even considering the X-Pro1, you're not merely buying it for features but for its admittedly very cool retro design and the build quality, which are top notch.
What I'm saying is that the X-Pro1 is not for everyone but owning one will give those who can afford it a solid camera which backs up its design with some very high quality optics and technology.
Pros: X-Trans CMOS sensor is very resistant to moiré; lack of a low pass filter captures more detail than any other APS-C sensor we've tried; controls are logical and well designed.
Cons: Pretty expensive; autofocus is slow especially in low light.
Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera
SENSOR: 16-megapixels X-Trans CMOS (4,896 x 3,264-pixels)
VIEWFINDER: 3.0in TFT LCD (1.23-million dots)
SHUTTER SPEED: 30sec 1/4,000sec
ISO RANGE: 200 to 6,400 (up to 25,600 in ISO boost mode)
SHOOTING MODES: Program, Shutter-priority, Aperture-priority, Manual
VIDEO MODE FORMAT: H.264 1080p 24fps (1920 x 1080pixels)
BATTERY: 1260mAh lithium-ion
STORAGE: SDXC memory card
INTERFACE: USB 2.0, mini HDMI
DIMENSIONS (W X H X D): 139.5 x 81.8 x 42.5mm
PRICE: RM5,688 (body only)
Review unit courtesy of Fujifilm (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, (03) 5569-8388