June 15, 2012 • 10:34 am 0
June 15, 2012 • 9:39 am 0
March 8, 2012 • 1:27 pm 4
There are times when I wish I didn’t have to use a camera to capture the images around me. At such times, as I reach into my camera bag I mutter a small prayer to the great provider that there will one day exist a way of making quality images without having to resort to a large DSLR. Now, I know, I’m not alone in this, so I have some good news, for many of us, that day may just of come.
Now, This is my first ever camera review, possibly my last, so firstly let me provide you with some context. My work mainly consists of documentary projects, news, PR and the occasional corporate event. To be honest my Canon kit will still be used for much of this work. My DSLR kit is part of a tried and tested system, which I’ve been using for years and it produces quality images that satisfy the needs of my commercial clients. I find that occasionally clients also like to see the big guns, it makes them feel they’re getting their moneys worth. What it means for me tho is lugging 6-8+kg of kit from one place to another via trains, planes, tube and the occasional landcruiser, which without an assistant or Sherpa has become somewhat of an acquired art.
When shooting breaking news I often find myself grabbing only a single body and a lens and dashing to locations as quickly as possible. Most of the time I’m using a 5DmkII with a 50 f/1.2 for most things, I love the quality I get and it’s a tough little package that does what I need it to do, but at the cost of nearly 2kg of bulky obtrusive equipment. Pervious to the 5DmkII, I was using the Leica M6 and 35mm f/2 Summicron (German made) back to back in the same bag as a Canon G9. This setup worked very well and could take it everywhere, but the G9 was a dust trap and 35 images from the M6 would take at least an hour and a half to process and scan to an acceptable level of quality.
The issue of quality is of course a primary concern when considering a new camera system, as is functionality. It’s no good having incredible high quality if you can’t use it effortlessly in the first place. Physically I require a camera to be light, unobtrusive and adamant. No matter how much black tape I cover my 1&5 series DSLRs as they still manage to attract attention, and in situations were I’m photographing on foreign soil with unfriendly governments or on the streets of my native London covering civil unrest I really don’t need it. In some situations it’s also better if people don’t see me as a professional photojournalist, better a tourist or passer-by. With this in mind I’ve been considering digital compact system cameras for a while but nothing has really interested me, until now.
When Fuji announced the X100 there was a flurry of excitement in the photographic community, a number of us rushed to get hold of one and many were greatly impressed with the camera. I too was pleased to see at at last a camera with a viewfinder that worked, it even had AF and a silent shutter, hurray! we could now go dancing in the streets etc. However, after a few months or so it became apparent that all was not well with the little camera, so much so that Fuji started offering a platinum service upon purchase, meaning that if you shutter blades did jam or your software crashed they would repair it extra quickly in only a couple of days. It has to be said that this is great customer service from Fuji, but what if you’re a day away from the nearest road, let alone a Fuji service centre? Sadly I could not take the X100 seriously, I’d also worked out it might be a nightmare to cover in black tape, far to many silver catches and buttons for my liking.
By the end of last year there was only one contender in my mind, the Sony NEX-7. It seemed to have a lot going for it, EVF, small, discreet, black. However, due to floods and factories closing release and availability became a waiting game. Only in the last few weeks have units of the camera started for arrive on these shores. I had a Sony rep give me a demo and show me around the camera, from what I could tell it simply wasn’t up to the job, the EVF is slow and laggy, if it had the Nikon One’s display I have to say it would of been a lot more interesting than it is. As with all Sony compacts the menu interface is awkward and confusing, the colour balance in the EVF is simply wrong and the build feels like an old walkman I once had and not something I would ever consider taking out in the rain. Even when the camera was first released I was little bit concerned that this was the only CSC that seemed to fit my requirements, and I simply knew it wouldn’t live up to the hype.
Luckily, for the photographic world and myself, in January Fuji announced the X-pro1 or X Pro-1 depending on where you got your information. This was the X100 grown up and what a result, it was black! Hurray (yet more dancing in the street) I did feel sorry for all those camera club members who do like to admire a bit of silver ‘bling’ (I’ve seen it’s in the works), but Fuji had now delivered to us exactly what working professionals had been asking for, a solid, compact purposeful photographic tool. For some reason I was not as sceptical about this camera as I had been about other manufactures offerings, as this one just felt right. Now, I’m not going to reel off lists of tech specs as I’m supposing that if your reading this your probably going to know them better than I, but I do know enough about camera technology as to give an informed opinion on some of its functions.
A major concern with this type of camera is AF, well the X-Pro1 does have AF and it works, it works very well, better than expected. It did have a quirk tho, which meant I had to use the EVF rather that the optical to focus when attempting close distance, but the EVF worked great, not that I’ll be using it that often, and yes it was a pre-production sample. On further investigation we discovered that it was possible to change the size of the AF point, this was very useful and allows for finer AF focusing on a single point. When I first started to make pictures with the camera using the viewfinder I would get a 1.5sec review flash up, I thought this might be the AF and that was my lot, but no! you can switch it off, and then things really changed. Using the camera is just like using your standard compact rangefinder, fast and responsive with no trace of lag from the shutter or buffer, the only operational difference is of course the focusing which has a few different modes. Each mode changes the display, there’s probably more customisation you could do here, but we set it to as clear and functional as possible.
In S-AF (One shot) you get a little green box in the centre, this can be re-scaled by holding the AF button and rotating the thumb wheel. The AF-Continuous gives you a central crosshair whilst MF has a focusing scale. The MF is very exciting. My Canon lenses lack any useable information when hyperfocal focusing, which I think is a great shame, especially at night, with flash, or when your not wanting to bring the camera fully to your eye to acquire an AF lock. The X-Pro1 allows you to pre-focus, using a distance scale in the EVF/OVF. Not only does it provide distance tho, it also features a depth-of-field marker, much like you can find on some older Hasselblad lenses. But instead of mechanical needles we have an expanding white bar within the distance scale that sits neatly at the bottom of the viewfinder just below the frame lines. When you rotate the aperture ring on the lens you see the white bar expand, allowing you to accurately calculate focus. This is great news, and a very welcome feature.
Other features include solid build, the lenses are also metal and very well made. I’m not going to talk about image quality other than to say there are numerous samples on-line and that when you first make pictures at large apertures you will be smiling from ear to ear at the out-of-focus highlights and colour rendition. So, basically it works, but please try one before you buy, as I’ll not be held accountable for any angry photographers! On a cautionary note, It has been suggested that due to the pattern of the bayer sensor that Adobe RAW, Lightroom and Aperture may have problems with their conversion and processing algorithms, as they’re configured for the regular bayer array, hopefully this has been or is being addressed in the next update and upon shipping files from the X-Pro1 will be easily integrated into ones workflow with little trouble. I shall finish now, this my first (and possibly last) camera review. Very much looking forward shooting with the X-Pro1 over the coming year, I hope you are too.