ETHICAL STATEMENT: I am not an employee of any of the manufacturers mentioned in the following article. All of my opinions are based on personal experience.
For years I have been on the road with mainly DSLRs. They are unequivocally magnificent tools, but not only because DSLRs are relatively compact and not very heavy, making them extremely handy and the ideal travel companion. But I decided to shop around. The array of suitable cameras is vast and the numerous reviews don’t tend to help further a decision, especially if you don’t know what you want, or even better, what you need. After intensely deliberating and appraising, I finally arrived at the following “Wish List”:
- Full Control: I began photography when there were scarcely any digital cameras. Even today I love analog photography, which is why I am a bit old fashioned. I want to determine lens opening, shutter speed and film speed myself, as well as where I lay my focus. My camera must have an operating concept which allows these four options to be quick and easy.
- Portability: The best camera doesn’t get used if it stays at home. Therefore it must not weigh more than 1kg, including equipment, and at the same time be comfortable to wear/carry.
- Picture Quality: The picture quality should at least be 1600 ISO. Because I’m not very fond of using the flash, I predominantly work with natural light. Above all I prefer to shoot at night – so that’s a must. With an appropriate lens provided, the sensor size should enable the fixture with the focus depth, whereon I put much more value in the elimination of a lowpass filter.
- OVF: For six long years I only had an electronic viewfinder (EVF), which sometimes really pissed me off. An optical viewfinder is therefore high up on my wish list.
- Feel: It may just be a quirk of mine, but I expect technical gadgets to be decently built. What the specifics are, I can’t really describe. It’s more of a subjective feeling one formulates (or not) when considering equipment, holding it in their own hands. Hard plastic, for example, seldom complies with this requirement. The device must be solidly built and sit well in the hands.
Initially my choice fell with a Leica M9. I’ve dreamt of this camera for years, but the price always made me quickly stop and think. I wanted to give the Leica a chance, so I borrowed an M9. I was excited by the Leica, in fact a lot for me. So of course there was a 9,000 Euro start up cost, with only a 35mm lens. After intense consultations with my conscience and lots of sorrow on my brow, I came next to the M9 and engaged with the mirrorless system cameras. There were a good amount of cameras on my shortlist, which is rather unusual for me to have so many, and one of them was the Fuji X-Pro1. One of the chosen models had a decided advantage: it can use a Leica lens via an adapter. That opened up the possibility to just change the camera case after five more years, which actually brought Leica gradually to the forefront of the line.
After ages of deliberation, I finally chose the Fuji X-Pro 1, a “Leica for the Poor”, if you will. This should sound anything but derogatory, as I am only referring here to the manifold humbler price of this in comparison to the M9. So I am also now such an owner of an X-Pro 1. For my needs it’s sufficient enough for a lens to come out completely, and it’s here I turn to the Fujinon 35(52)mm f l.4. Now I have a case with my lens for a total price, which I never once received for the Leica 35mmfl.4 ASPH.
UNWRAPPED – THE FIRST FEEL AND USAGE
The X-1 is not a Leica. You shouldn’t compare the two cameras, regardless if you once had the M9, and then determine that the X-Pro1-Case is almost the same size but with only half the weight, ca. 440g. After you’ve been familiarized with the light weight, it’s already okay. The camera lies very well in my rather large hands, the controls for exposure, frame and focus are situated exactly where I, for 15 years, learned they were. With a Q button one adjusts via a quick choice further important functions, such as film simulation, resolution or speed. This is, in my eyes, a quite accomplished operational concept and an ergonomic vision. The hybrid viewfinder is absolutely brilliant. This innovation would have been capable of coming from Leica. An optical viewfinder with a light and clear viewfinder image, in which all the information one needs is displayed. The optional connectable electronic viewfinder is a welcome addition, especially in the dark. With this camera one can actually see in the dark! A particular highlight is the eyepiece magnifier. I also photograph very often with manual focusing. With a bit of pressure from the thumb, a 10x magnification will activate, and it’s with this help that I can significantly specify focus as with every hybrid viewfinder. The ring of focus of the Fujinon Lens is in all honesty an electronic control that causes rotation which will shift the lens over the AF motor.
I bought the 35mm fl.4 with the camera. My claims were that I’d be more than satisfied with this lens. The imaging power is incredible. The provided lens hood can suggest equally in two respects, since the lens doesn’t like direct flare and the mechanical cover of the front lens is also secured. The frame and focus rings facilitate the idea that it is handled here by mechanical lenses, which is not the case. Focus and frame are electronically controlled, the dials are rotary switches, which to me is unimportant because in the practical handling they function like “real” mechanics. What really surprised me, though as a positive eye-catcher, is the fact that despite its robust workmanship out of metal, the lens weighs only 220g. So in total, the case AND the lens weigh 660g. That is extremely surprising and quite pleasant, if one mostly runs around with a X-kilo heavy DSLR equipment through the district.
An innovative CMOS works inside the camera– Picture Sensor in APS-C-Format (23.6 x 15.6mm) with a 16.3 megapixels resolution. The color filter of the sensors are intermittently arranged. They are in 6×6 RGB-Pixel-Units. This so-called Bayer Filter is divided by conventional camera sensors in 3×3 or 5×5 units. This brings us to one of my priorities – the sacrifice of a lowpass filter. As a result there is indeed an elevated risk of Moirés, but at the same time increases the image sharpness. The color rendering in the JPGs is subjectively very good, which also lies more as to the exact automatic white balance. Whoever wants can activate diverse film simulations in the camera’s menu, such as old chemistry films and more black-white modes. In an effect mode one could apply even automatically three of these film simulations on a theme and save it in three different JPEG files. Raw data can subsequently also work like this and already be converted into JPEGs in the camera. Up to a photosensitivity of 3,200 ISO, small structures are also easy to recognize and the noise performance is modest. The quality is also acceptable for larger prints. However in dark areas, the noise increases noticeably when the operator engages more than 5,000 ISO. Whoever activates the Auto ISO mode should therefore engage as the maximum limit 1,600 ISO and at roughly around the same time the short exposure times are enabled, so that the danger of blurriness is minor.
WHAT STRIKES ME AS NEGATIVE
The tripod socket belongs in the lens axis. It’s really ridiculous, because one can’t quick-release screw in and out. As a result the battery compartment doesn’t come out anymore. This leads to the next trouble spot: battery and memory card are in the same bottom compartment. The battery itself doesn’t have a secure mistaken identity form, meaning one notices first while it’s plugged in that it’s been incorrectly inserted. The slot for the memory card is another great minus point. I suppose that one forgets the usability test here or has taken up making delicate origami butterflies with nimble fingers. It’s miserable to grope around and pull the memory card out from directly under the hatch and I can’t believe that a responsible designer tried that out on the prototype. The rotary switch for the exposure compensation is unfortunately not secured. It’s already happened to me that I accidentally misplaced the cog while handling it.
If you’re looking for a camera where after unpacking it you can easily snap a shot, then you will be disappointed by the X-Pro1. This camera demands a lot of experience and is primarily geared towards experienced photographers. The rest will fall into despair here – that I can guarantee. For my needs, the Fuji X-PRO 1 pretty much replaced my DSLR. It is small, convenient and has a stunning picture quality. I have addressed a few points of criticism, which in practice, especially in my day-to-day, don’t create any major hindrances. Let it by all means live with them. This “Leica for the Poor” will remain with me for quite a while – I wouldn’t like to do without it.