Fujifilm X-Pro1 for Wedding Photography Review
It’s not often I get excited about camera gear as I’m a “it’s-not-about-the-camera” kind of photographer. However, the new Fuji X Pro1 has me giddy like a 7 year old on a third slice of cake! I’m not going to bore you with all the technical details that you can read on the camera geek websites; I’ll talk about why this camera is (or is not) suitable as a camera for professional wedding photographer use, image quality and overall feel. This definitely isn’t the kind of blog post that I normally do but there’s so little information and few quality reviews by working pros about this camera so I thought I’d share. I’ll post a more comprehensive review with sample images later. Note that at this time Lightroom does not support the RAW files from the X Pro-1 so I will be shooting jpeg and thus heavily relying on the in-camera processing. Also note I’m writing this between editing shoots so please excuse my poor grammar!
In a quest for higher pixels and easy use, camera manufacturers stopped including optical viewfinders on their small cameras in favor of choppy and delayed electronic viewfinders (EVF’s). This completely eliminates them from being practical for the working wedding pro as we need to see the action and capture that perfect moment. Camera controls were buried deep in menus and sensors were made smaller and smaller but Mega Pixels went up and up degrading quality. The only choice for wedding photographers became Canon or Nikon SLR’s that are bulky, heavy and just not that fun to use. I’d describe the best of them as a Porsche SUV in that they do everything really well but you better be ready for their size and weight. They are not subtle but they are sure to impress. Everyone knows when they are being photographed and everyone knows I’m the “wedding photographer” when I’m shooting it. Want to get beautiful images while backpacking, traveling or at your kids birthday? Better be ready to carry 10lbs of extra gear and a big “HEY-LOOK-AT-ME-I’M-A-PHOTOGRAPHER” bag! Image quality is superb but size, weight and subtlety all pay for that quality.
“Way back in the film days” (said in my best old man voice), Mamiya and Fuji made brilliant medium format rangefinders. Manual focus, but with fully manual controls, they were perfect travel camera’s as they gave professional results from small packages. Unfortunately, digital killed them off as users now want super fast auto focus and ISO 25,000 as a matter of course. For the past 8 years, the only alternative to the digital SLR for a pro has been Leica. As an owner of an M8 and a huge fan of rangefinder cameras in general, I can honestly say that they just aren’t good enough for heavy wedding use. I know; huge gasp from the Leica fanboys (who mostly are not pro’s), how could such blasphemy be said out loud?! Here’s my personal experience. My first time using the Leica M8 at a wedding the camera errored out because the file names rolled over at 100 shots from 9999 back to 9901 which locked up the camera as there was already a file named 9901! Yes, there’s a workaround (that required a computer) but the camera had been out for 2 years at that point and Leica hadn’t addressed that with a firmware update? On top of sensor quality that is years behind full size SLR’s and prices that are triple what a 5DMkIII cost, they haven’t been reliable enough for me. I loved the old film M6 but Leica really “lost it” in my eyes when converting to digital.
Enter the Fujifilm X100.
What a brilliant little camera! Retro rangefinder design, a real viewfinder, awesome f/2 lens and a great sensor. It was everything I wanted in a little camera except one: wedding usability. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the X100, one of my favorite cameras all time for me right along with the Mamiya 7, M6 and Contax 645 but the buttons are hard to use, menus are a bit odd and the AF is marginal at best. I’ve shot it at weddings plenty but it never once felt like it could replace my backup camera little alone be my primary camera. It’s my go-to everyday life camera but it is not a professional wedding photographer’s camera. Call it the girl next door; cute but no supermodel. I credit the X100 for saving the small professional camera as it proved that there is demand for small manually controllable high quality cameras (Fuji is said to have sold 1 million units in the past year) and lead to the release of the X-Pro1. I expect the X-Pro1 to be a game changer and anticipate Canon to respond with a similar system soon.
As I hardly pay any attention to the “Camera Games,” I was happily shooting weddings and commercial shoots while people argued on the internet about why the X100 isn’t any good vs. others who said it’s the second coming of the Leica. Sure, it’s quirky, but aren’t most revolutionary 1st generation products? There was plenty of speculation that there would be a removable lens version and news was leaked in January of the X Pro 1. Of course I had no idea until a wedding photographer friend mentioned it to me about 3 weeks ago so I promptly started reading technical camera-geek reviews and thought “Hmm, sounds ok.” Then I read what Zack Arias wrote about it and knew it was for me: flawed but genius. For the record, I’m only flawed, not genius.
My X-Pro1 arrived last week. I put it through its paces then took it to a rehearsal dinner. I’m certainly not ready to draw full conclusions after only 300 images but my biggest concern with the X100, usability, has been addressed. This feels like a professional camera! It is a joy to use; menus are easy to navigate, buttons are where they should be and are easy to press, AF is improved, a PC port for studio flash was added and the balance of the camera is superb. If you hand the X100 to a seasoned pro, they will fumble around with it for the first week of using it. Give them the X Pro-1 and the camera just gets out of the way and allows you to shoot. Add in the brilliant Fujinon XF 35 1.4 lens with amazing color rendition and gorgeous flare characteristics and I’m already 80% sold on this camera.
Of course one of the primary reasons to use this camera is its subtlety. With so little use I can’t draw any final conclusions but I can say this is a very stealthy camera, more so even than the Leica M8/9 or the X100. With the Leica, most people never noticed me (great) but then a Doctor/Lawyer/Inventment Banker Uncle who is an amateur photographer would take notice and ask me 100 questions about the camera taking me away from working. I’m happy to answer questions but not when I’m working; I’m getting paid to do a job. The X100 would draw even more comments. Everyone would ask about it, “Is that some old camera?” they asked skeptically; never good to have clients question if you know what you are doing! Others comment on how cute or cool it is. That’s all fine and good but at the end of the day, the point of a small camera is to not be noticed so you can get those great candid moments that brides (and prospective clients) gush over! The Fuji X Pro-1 is the most satisfying camera in this sense I have ever used. It’s very stealthy but on closer inspection it looks pro. Most people didn’t even notice me shooting them and the only comment was from a guy I know who said “I have not idea what that camera is but it looks cool!”
I know many of you who have found this review are scouring the internet with one question on your mind “Is the autofocus better than the X100?!” So far, I can say yes, very improved. I’ll get into my focus technique in my full review of the Fujifilm X Pro-1 but here’s the best evidence I have so far. With my 5DMkII of 100 shots, 95 are in focus. Generally it’s 100 of 100 in daylight with 90/100 in dark receptions. With the X100 I’m lucky if 70/100 are in focus even in daylight. With the X Pro-1 I’m so far averaging 90/100 in bright conditions and 60/100 in low light conditions. Perhaps I will get better with practice as focusing a shifting point because of parallax is a bit of an art in itself!
I’m going to put the camera through a couple weddings as a second camera to my Canon 5DmkII so I can really get the feel for how it works and if it’s truly as good as I hope it is. I will post my full review on it after I have enough use to draw definitive conclusions. So far I’m quite pleased though I expect to find a bunch of quirks as I go along. Expect and update later this week with plenty of example pics.
See Fuji X-Pro1 Review Part 2 Here