By Bob Rose
While the recent 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (January 10-13) was the setting for a number of new camera introductions, Fujifilm decided to take a revolutionary step in their recent evolution by introducing a completely new interchangeable lens camera system.
The Fujifilm X-Pro1 was designed for wedding, portrait, commercial and fine art photographers, and follows closely in the retro styling made famous by the X100 and the X10 cameras—solid and well built.
The X-Pro1 is not a rangefinder but instead a step up for compact interchangeable-lens cameras offering an advanced Hybrid Multi Viewfinder providing your choice of both and Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and Optical Viewfinder (OVF).
Besides the unusually sturdy construction and extensive use of machined metal parts, the key to its quality is the completely new APS-C 16Mpxl “X-Trans CMOS” sensor.
As the only digital camera manufacturer with true film experience, Fujifilm looked deep into the structure and mechanics of the way digital images are most often created and determined that they could introduce a more “organic” and higher quality look by changing the rules a bit.
Most traditional image sensors use a 2×2 color array of Red, Green and Blue filters arranged in a tight, repeatable pattern. This is called a Bayer array (named after its inventory Dr. Bryce E. Bayer) and it is the most common way of providing color information to an essentially color-blind CCD or CMOS sensor. Complex calculations that we take for granted are handled in the various processing engines of cameras and read these pieces of information, interpolating them to provide us with what we consider to be a color photograph (or at least the file which we view and ideally share with others on screen or in print).
A big weakness of this design is that a moiré pattern or color fringing appears when this very regular array is superimposed with an image that also has a pattern (think fabric or numerous wires supporting a suspension bridge). And the way this is most often minimized is by incorporating a low-pass optical filter into the sandwich of elements that makes up an imaging sensor.
Fujifilm’s solution is to make the color array 6×6 and incorporate some more randomness into the color filters (very much like the randomness that makes film images so sharp and smooth, but also free of moiré). In doing so they were able to completely remove the low-pass optical filter from the system.
I have seen the results with my own eyes and it’s pretty remarkable. Sample comparison prints show a clear advantage of the “X-Trans CMOS” vs. a traditional Bayer CMOS (albeit with prototype cameras). Toss in some extra Fujifilm magic via the new EXR Processor Pro and the XPro-1 appears to out-resolve much larger sensors—at any ISO!
The XPro-1 features extensive capabilities to process in-camera using a wide selection of dynamic range and color settings, with a full simulation of essentially all of the Fujiflm film types. And while the camera will ship with Silkypix software I’m hoping Adobe and others will be able to deal quickly with this new color matrix so I can incorporate Raw shots from the XPro-1 into a more standard workflow.
Of course the best image sensor wouldn’t be worth much without some good optics and the Fujinon lens design team was able to put their best efforts into the development of the XF Lens system and X-Mount.
Starting with a fresh view, the engineers decided an extremely short lens flange to sensor distance would be critical. By reducing the spacing to a minimum, light transmission could be maximized, focus travel could be shortened (as would shutter lag time), and they could adjust lens designs for optimum coverage of the sensor.
Apparently nothing was taken for granted as there is generous use of exotic ED glass and aspheric element. They even went so far as to redesign the lens aperture to provide a smoother more circular shape with minimum refraction knife-edge blades. Plus, what looks like a light baffle inside the body actually also provides a step for each different lens to mate with and register so there is a greater physical connection than just the mount itself.
Ten gold plated contacts provide redundant transmission of data and power between the lenses and the body so that autofocus and exposure are precise (and future expanded communication is assured). The lenses feature full and 1/3 f-stops, and a matching milled-alloy lens hood is thoughtfully provided for each lens.
The initial launch (sometime in February or March of 2012) will include three fast but compact lenses: 18mm f/2, 35mm f/1.4 and a 60mm f/2.4 Macro (think 28/50/90mm full frame 35mm equivalents give or take a millimeter or three).
This brings us back to the viewing system. Obviously the image can be displayed on the bright 1.23Mpxl rear LCD, but placing the camera up to your eye not only helps you with your creative vision, it also adds that extra stability of a third point (including your two arms) to make sharp handheld exposures.
All pertinent exposure information can be seen through the eyepiece and, like a traditional optical viewfinder, it’s possible to see the frame line of the lens with some space all around to tell what’s moving into or away from the field of view of the lens. A dual magnification system and continuously variable frame lines give a good indication of what you’ll see in the final image.
But if you prefer greater framing accuracy (especially for near objects and when using the 60mm Macro up close) flip a lever and the optical viewfinder (OVF) switches to a 1.44 Mpxl electronic display (EVF). This is similar in design to the X100 but of higher resolution and with the extra features necessary to deal with multiple focal lengths.
Speaking of which, the internal menu already shows equivalent frame lines for a variety of other focal lengths plus the ability to manually adjust for anything in between. This will come in handy when the announced Leica M adapter is available (and given the dimensions of the X-mount system it’s conceivable that adapters could be made for almost any brand of lens).
To get maximum results, though, I’d suggest staying with the Fujinon lens system. Fujifilm has already announced plans for a 14mm (21mm equivalent) super wide and an image stabilized 18-72 f/4 (27-108mm equivalent) to be introduced later this year., and 2013 promises a 28mm f/2.8 pancake design and 23mm f/2 (42mm and 34mm equivalents respectively) for primes, and two more image stabilized zooms 12-24 f/4 and 70-200 f/4 (18-36mm and 105-300mm respectively). It’s possible some of the specs may change by the time these lenses are released and it’s not clear if the zooms will use the OVF in addition to the more practical EVF.
Both the mechanical controls and the menu access are very direct, and to make it even easier to navigate, the XPro-1 has a “Q” quick menu button that does just that—it opens up a series of twelve of the most often used menu features which can be selected and adjusted without having to dig deep.
A bit larger than I expected, the body itself is still smaller than a DSLR and the lenses are much smaller than their 35mm equivalents. I found it easy to hold but especially so when I added the optional HG-Xpro1 Hand Grip.
Dedicated accessory flash units common to the other X-series cameras work and a new EF-X20 flash was designed just for this camera. In addition, a hot shoe on the top and a PC connector on the side provide compatibility with other flashes and flash triggering devices.
Fujifilm has been very responsive to photographers worldwide with respect to the development of this camera system and refinements with firmware upgrades to the other X-series cameras. I know I am one of many looking forward to the final shipping version to test and see how the XPro-1 really delivers.
Pricing TBD. For more information go to: http://www.fujifilm.com/products/digital_cameras/x/fujifilm_x_pro1
Sample images are available at: http://www.fujifilm.com/products/digital_cameras/x/fujifilm_x_pro1/sample_images