I have a lot to thank the Fuji X system for. Over a year and a half ago, I bought my first Fuji camera, the X-Pro1. Due to its rangefinder form that reminded me of my old Leica M cameras, optical/electronic hybrid finder, its lightweight, its range of great lenses, fantastic image quality and reasonable price, I was totally smitten with the X system. It made photography fun again for me.
But it wasn’t just the fun aspect, in using the Fuji X-Pro1 for street and personal photography. The ability to switch from the optical finder to the electronic finder made the camera completely relevant for my professional work too. The EVF allows me to see exactly what the lens is seeing. I can carefully line up elements visually, which I need to do for my real estate/architecture work and when I do corporate portraits. The camera’s EVF allowed me to get rid of my old and heavy Canon DSLR system, which I could never do if my only remaining system was the Leica M system.
The X-Pro1, however, is getting on in age. It was released in 2012, and was already overshadowed by its up to date sister, the fast focusing X-T1, when I purchased it in 2014. At over three years old and with its rumored successor, the X-Pro2, possibly being announced before the end of 2015, the flagship of the X system is looking very elderly.
With the high performance X-T1, the budget priced X-E2 and now the X-T10 all available, and the X-Pro2 around the corner, is the X-Pro1 still relevant?
It’s about the OVF
If there was one feature that still makes X-Pro1 relevant for me, it has to be the Optical Viewfinder. For street work and personal shooting, I much prefer using the optical finder to an Electronic Viewfinder (or an SLR, for that matter).
I’ve handled the X-T1 several times, and admire its huge EVF. But it’s still an EVF, and sometimes, for my purposes, I want to view the world as directly as possible. For me, the best way to do that is with an optical finder.
We’re a bit jaded with the X-Pro1’s optical finder, as it’s been around for over three years. But I believe it’s still a wonder of photographic technology. While my old, reliable Leica M system has languished for decades with its barely evolving optical viewfinder, the X-Pro1’s OVF made a huge leap beyond the M.
In addition to its ability to switch to EVF with an easy to flick switch, the features I love about the X-Pro1’s Optical Viewfinder are:
A bright, clear and real (no lag time) view of the world. Nothing to distract me from the scene and it doesn’t “manipulate” me (in the extreme view of the great street shooter, Gary Winogrand) the way any Through the Lens viewing, like an SLR or an electronic finder, does. While I don’t entirely subscribe to the legendary Winogrand’s extreme viewpoint, I understand where he is coming from.
Parallax-correcting frames. Although it doesn’t work exactly as the Leica M finder, where you can see the frame lines correcting as you focus (the X-Pro1’s frames jump into correct position upon focusing), this is a nice feature over using an accessory bright finder. It allows for accurate framing. Keep in mind, though, for carefully lining up visual elements within the frame, it’s still better to switch to the EVF.
Two magnifications for the OVF. I’ve wished for a Leica M with the ability to switch its optical viewfinder’s magnification for decades. Fuji did it with their first, interchangeable lens X system camera. It’s wonderful to have the lower magnification for my 18mm (28mm-e) lens. I can easily see the entire frame, even though I wear eyeglasses. Conversely, when I’m using my Zeiss Touit X 32mm (50mm-e), I can switch to the higher magnification (by holding the OVF/EVF switch on the front of the camera, for a few seconds to the right). The higher magnification helps to fill the frame with its 32mm view and makes it easier to compose with that lens in a split second.
Easy to view and frame in bright light. Both the LCD and sometimes even the EVF can be tricky to view in bright, outdoor light. This can be made worse by the fact that sometimes, I’ll accidently be wearing my prescription driving glasses, which are polarized. The polarization makes it impossible to see the EVF! But the OVF, with its simple glass view, can be easily viewed; no matter how bright it is and even if I’m wearing my polarized sunglasses. To be fair, in dim light, the opposite is true: I find viewing a scene with the EVF to be the superior choice.
Other aspects that keeps the X-Pro1 relevant for me
While the X-Pro1’s Optical Viewfinder is what makes it the choice for me, over other X cameras, there are secondary aspects that also contribute to that.
The X-Pro1 over the X-100S or T: The X-100 series has a great hybrid finder too and is one of the most stylish cameras I’ve seen in a long time. I’ve come very close to buying the S or the T several times, but two characteristics about it always makes me back off.
I actually find the X-100 cameras too small for my hands. I realize its compact size is one of its great features, but it’s of limited benefit, personally, to me. I don’t have huge hands, but I think it’s because I’m so used to the old form of the Leica M camera, that the size of the X-Pro1 feels much better to me than the tiny X-100 series body.
While the X-100 cameras have the option of attachable optics to turn its fixed, 35mm-e lens into a slightly longer or wider lens, it’s much more limited than a true interchangeable lens camera like the X-Pro1. Since the X-Pro1 is a true ILC, I was able to get rid of my entire Canon DSLR system for my professional work. I have access to all of the same focal lengths I was using on the old Canon. If I had gone with the X-100 series camera, it remains a camera only for my personal work, and I wouldn’t have been able to get rid of my heavy DSLR system.
The Rangefinder Form of the X-Pro1 over the SLR Form of the X-T1: no doubt about it, I’m most comfortable with the rangefinder form, after three decades of using the old mechanical Leica M system. After the benefit of its Optical Viewfinder, the X-Pro1’s rangefinder form is what keeps me from switching to the X-T1.
This isn’t a knock against the X-T1 at all, as I’ve experienced its fantastic focusing speed and amazingly large EVF. Even with all the firmware updates, the X-Pro1 is a step behind the X-T1’s performance. I’m hoping that the upcoming X-Pro2 will achieve or surpass the X-T1’s focusing speed.
But I’m really comfortable with the handling of the X-Pro1’s form. Having the viewfinder on the upper left of the camera deck, rather than the center, makes a big difference for me. This is especially true when I’m doing street photography. It’s more a psychological thing, but I feel it blocks my view of the world less, than when the finder is in the center of the camera.
The Build Quality and Feel over other X cameras: the X-Pro1 is considered by Fujifilm to be the flagship of the X line. Even though it’s now behind, technologically, the X-T1 and X-E2, I find its build quality and feel befits its position as the flagship camera.
The X-E2 is light and small, but to me, it feels a bit hollow and not sufficiently solid. Even the X-T1, which has a great build quality, doesn’t quite match the solid feel of the X-Pro1. It’s 95% there, but it’s the little things, like the battery door, which just seems to make the X-Pro1 slightly better built than the X-T1.
Well, those are my very personal reasons for still preferring the X-Pro1 to the other great Fuji X cameras, even today. While I’m looking forward to the eventual release of the X-Pro2, I’m still very happy with my choice of the X-Pro1 camera. It’s dependable and versatile as a professional tool, and its OVF makes it fun to use for street and personal work.