Fuji X-Pro 1
When I bought a Fuji X100 a year ago I realised that within a few months I was using it far more often than my Leica M9. Probably not surprising because my first Leica since an old M4 was, frankly, a disappointment. The Leica’s white balance and metering for such an expensive camera is poor and whilst the ultimate quality at low ISO settings is excellent its low light performance is mediocre.
Leica handling has always been straightforward and that has been the biggest success of the M9 but aspects such as the removable bottom plate to change battery or memory card are a nuisance. (The option on the Fuji is not much better)
Latterly the disaster with the loss of Data on memory cards left me regretting one of my most expensive ever camera purchases having lost some important shots because of the problem. The first time since I began using Digital Cameras 13 years ago this has ever happened to me. It does defy belief that Leica
a) Had the problem in the first place
b) Seemed to look on the problem as a minor mishap
Not only did the Fuji X100 look good but the results even with a smaller sensor were almost on a par with the Leica its only real failing being the fixed focal length and dodgy autofocus (although this did improve with software and firmware updates)
In fairness the Fuji’s biggest failing, its poor autofocus is the area where the Leica scores, not autofocus, of course, but the ability to achieve spot on focus with the best rangefinder system I have ever used.
When the X-Pro1 was announced with the promise of an improved sensor and interchangeable lenses, I ordered one immediately, reckoning that I could use my Leica lenses with an adaptor and still have the option of Autofocus.
Two months on the question is, do I regret selling my Leica buying the Fuji and pocketing a couple of thousand pounds?
Fuji (as with the X100) has gone for quality presentation, boxes etc. are not quite at Leica quality but it is clear that they have had a close look at the competition. Out of the box the Camera seems very lightweight compared to the Leica, but on close inspection is well built and the weight is probably a reflection of the lightweight (but strong) Magnesium alloy used in its build.
The camera sits well in the hand and all in all feels like a quality piece of kit, it is slightly less retro in appearance than the X100 which is a plus and a minus depending on where you are shooting.
One of the negative aspects of the Leica was battery life; I ended up with 4 batteries, a reflection of running out of power on more than one occasion. The X100 was excellent I would guess on initial use that the X-Pro1 will end up close. Given the fairly frequent use of the EVF on the X-Pro1 this is a good result. So far I haven’t run out of power on a full days shoot with 2 batteries.
The Fuji is a far more complex Camera than the Leica and therefore there is more to learn. Without the manual it is nevertheless intuitive and works well with everything set to Auto.
Once you do get into the menus the options are profuse, ranging from choosing your favourite film (as long as it’s Fuji) to whether you shoot in HDR (max 3 exposures in intervals from 1/3 to 1 stop). Once the system becomes familiar changing settings is very easy using the option button on the rear of the camera in conjunction with a scroll wheel, located just under the shutter speed dial. There are also multiple Custom settings which can be saved with favourite set ups.
One of the most useful features is the EVF (Electronic View Finder) which can be easily switched between normal (optical viewfinder mode) and EVF.
The EVF is far more important with this camera than the X100 which had a fixed Focal length lens. The option of different focal lengths plus the ability to use a whole range of non-Fuji lenses opens up numerous possibilities, which are not served by an optical viewfinder. Again an edge on the Leica viewfinder which whilst hi tech in 1960 is old hat today.
Incidentally I did buy a Nikon adaptor (also Kipon) but haven’t actually tried it so can’t report on its performance.
There is also a View Mode, which allows switching using Eye Sensor technology where as you lift your eye to the viewfinder the rear screen switches off. The Leica of course has no live view.
On the left side of the rear are a Drive, AE and AF button which allow quick selection of drive modes, Still, Continuous, AE Bracket, ISO Bracket, Film Simulation Bracket, Dynamic Range Bracket, Panorama and Movie. The bracket modes add considerably to save times but are a good way of getting to know how the various options work.
The drive mode which I use most often (apart from single shot) is the ISO Bracketing mode which saves 3 files at different exposures, avoiding the usual problem of HDR which is ghosting caused by 3 or more individual exposures shot in succession. When shooting HDR on my Nikon’s I would normally opt for 5 exposures but the lack of ghosting is compensation for the 3 shot limit.
AE allows selection of Multi, Spot and Average metering modes and AF allows selection of Autofocus area.
There is a Macro select function and a combined Display, Back button which depending on the mode allows selection of the display mode or acts as a back button for the Menu selector.
Rear buttons are finished off with a combined AE, AF lock button.
On the top plate we have the on/off switch, the Shutter Speed dial the Function Control and + or – 2 stop exposure control.
On the front is the Focus Mode switch and the switch for selecting the EVF or Optical Finder. Also in evidence is the focus confirmation light.
A big improvement on the X100 is the addition of the shutter speed lock although the same benefit could have been included in the design of the Exposure control dial that is easily moved, not a problem if using the rear screen or EVF for viewing, but can be if shooting and not reviewing using the Optical Viewfinder.
Please see my comments on the Lenses for the biggest annoyance of this camera.
I’ve broken handling into two parts, simplicity and flexibility.
When I sold my M9 I didn’t sell my Leica lenses because one of the attractions of the Fuji is the ability to use my (small) collection of Leica glass. The question is would I need to?
When I ordered the Fuji I also ordered the 60mm Macro so initially I was intending to use the Leica lenses with a Kipon Adapter $79 from EBay.
Fuji are promising their own adaptor later in the year, the only reason for buying it over the Kipon would be if it gives any extra functionality for example recognising chipped Leica lenses.
If I say that I now own the other 2 Fuji lenses (the 18mm and 35mm) it suggests two things, manual focus on the Fuji is not brilliant, and the Fuji Lenses are superb.
The process of focusing is a bit tedious and involves pressing the thumbwheel below the shutter speed dial and focusing on the centre of the screen.
In fairness the 90mm Leica is slightly easier to focus than the Wider angle Leica lenses.
When the Leica lens on the Fuji body is in focus it has to be said the results are excellent, as to whether they are better than Fuji’s own lenses is debateable. Bear in mind this is being written by someone who actually uses these cameras for photographs not Lens Charts, I have no doubt that someone much better qualified will prove that the Leica lenses are better, but in real life use you would be hard pressed.
Having purchased all three lenses the reality is that now I have a reasonably comprehensive kit and the good news is the Fuji lenses are cracking. All are decently fast and in a sense there is no reason to be surprised bearing in mind that some of the best Movie and Video lenses are made by Fuji.
There is of course an element of the Emperor’s New Clothes about Leica, how dare any upstart suggest that anyone can make lenses as well as Leica, but the bottom line is, far more Pros in the past 40 years have made their living from non-Leica glass.
On the negative side, how in their trials could Fuji not realise that their lenses require an Auto lock. Even the act of removing or inserting a lens in my camera bag resulted in on numerous occasions knocking the setting off Auto, but even when using in Manual Mode the Aperture Ring is far too sloppy. For me that element knocks quite a few points of the score. Also there must be Technology, which could create a real or electronic Rangefinder, which would immediately propel this camera into a different league.
The lenses themselves seem well made although again surprisingly light but do have a very ridged focusing ring, which catches all the detritus of usage very easily. The grip because of this is great but at the end of the day since manual focusing is naff why bother? The rubber or plastic lens caps pop off too easily, I would certainly suggest some sort of lens cap retention system or leave the lens cap off, you will lose them.
Value for money
The Leica, as mentioned produced good results at low ISO’s and decent Daylight conditions, otherwise it was iffy. The reason I immediately took to the X100 was the excellent White balance, Auto and Manual, and its low light performance. In addition the general handling was at least as good as the Leica and the X-Pro1 develops on that concept.
The concept of leaving off the Moiré Filter and introducing a random RGB Pattern sensor is interesting and as far as I can see works. The bare bones files from the Fuji certainly bear out the concept as being valid. Although I have not carried out a genuine side by side comparison with the Leica I can see nothing that suggests that one is better than the other, quite a testament to a camera which ultimately has a significantly smaller sensor. I can guarantee that if you compare APS film with 35mm on a like by like basis there is absolutely no way that the APS film would begin to bear comparison. The fact that files from the Fuji are on a par with the Leica is testimony to the progress which has been made in Sensor design in the past two years.
The level of flexibility offered by the Fuji in terms of image presentation i.e. the amount of tweaking means that almost any shooting style is catered for. I always shoot raw files as an ultimate backup, but if I can get away with a good JPEG then I will. The quality of JPEG if you decide in advance on your parameters is stunning.
There is no doubt that Leica has a cachet, which with the current turnaround in Leica fortunes is unbeatable. For the wealthy photographer justifying the cost of an M9 is easy, for the serious photographer less so given the weaknesses in the current offering. I do look forward to seeing what the M10 has to offer given the flaws in the M9, but don’t hold out an awful lot of hope with the introduction of a Black and White Leica, are there really folk daft enough to buy into this? Emperors New Clothes again?
It is difficult to understand why Leica refuse to incorporate extra options, which will probably cost peanuts in development costs. The purists will of course complain, but then there are folk from the Flat Earth Society who would like a Leica with no LCD Screen and this is enough to trigger a serious discussion on the merits of such an option on the Leica Forum? Leica almost went bust once before by failing to acknowledge progress (the R series) hopefully they won’t make the same mistake twice.
The Fuji on the other hand is a second step towards what could become a superb system. I have no worries about specification or the quality of lenses but they do need to do something about manual focus. The Leica’s biggest strength is the Fuji’s biggest weakness. Fuji also need to pay attention to the silly omission’s, why would they include a Shutter Speed lock on the Camera and no Lock on the Lenses? I am sure they could also speed up the operation of the Autofocus, it is much better than the X100 but why should Autofocus on a non-DSLR be slower than its DSLR equivalent, it is difficult to understand why a technically simpler camera costing as much as a medium/high end DSLR should have a significantly inferior AF System.
When I bought my first Nikon D1 I would probably have ranked it 10 out of 10, today it might reach 4 when considering my ranking please bear the effect of time on any rating.
Do I regret selling my Leica, without reservation, no? The Leica has many merits but it is not worth almost £5000, I achieve day-to-day results from my Nikons (old and new) which are superior. This comparison is not with a Nikon, it is with a Camera which I would take for a Weekend trip to New York, Rome or Berlin, to capture the essence of the trip. In the main this can be achieved without an SLR (or DSLR) and the Fuji in my view fits the bill better than the Leica. I like HDR Photography and the Fuji executes the HDR process extremely well. I am not a fan of using non video cameras for video but using the new Nikon D800 is converting me, the Fuji does this well the lenses are sharp and the tweaky options are extensive.
You will appreciate I am not a purist, I am however old enough to have done all the things that if digital photography had been invented first we would never have done, darkroom processing, putting bits of gelatin in cameras, guessing at the outcome, keeping our fingers crossed, waving bits of stick (dodging) under enlargers to do in hours what a decent computer can do in seconds. I am 61 years of age and love the digital era, I probably have less time left for my photography than many who might read this blog, don’t waste your time, take pictures make sure that your computer and printer(s) are as fast as they can be. Note to anyone thinking of buying the B&W Leica, try Silver FX and a Canon Pro1 for Black and White, cracking combination, even works with an IPhone and gives you anything you can think of in film simulation.
In conclusion Fuji have included most of the currently available technology, the choice to use it or not is yours, personally I have enjoyed trying out techniques which add to my enjoyment of Photography, Fuji are to be commended for making real progress from the X100 (which remains a cracking option especially at its new price of £700 or thereabouts.)
I look forward to a decently ranged zoom.
PS I gave away my LP’s as well