Fuji X Pro1 and Shadow Recovery

My first “serious” digital camera was a Fuji S2 Pro. It was a beast of a camera. Fuji developed a great sensor, but didn’t have a camera body to put it in so they bought entry level Nikon cameras and bolted their sensor and electronics onto it. This camera was loved for its image quality but hated for just about everything else.

It seems that Fuji has done it again. They have developed a remarkable camera sensor. This time they didn’t bolt it into a Nikon camera they developed their own camera - the X Pro1 along with a new lens mount. And guess what….this camera is getting a lot of press about its image quality and even more about people hating it for everything else. I have had an X Pro 1 for only 3 days, but with all the mudslinging that is going on about it I thought that I would add my 2 cents.

I already have 2 other cameras that I am very pleased with. A Nikon D700 that I use in the studio and when doing “serious” photography out in the field and a Panasonic Lumix G3 that I try to keep with me most of the time for capturing those images that I would have missed when not lugging around the Nikon D700 and all its big and heavy full frame lenses. Since getting the G3 last year I have become a convert of the mirrorless concept - having a small light camera by my side most of the time has allowed me to broaden my horizons and learn a lot. I have also got some nice results from it. If the Flickr “interestingness” score is anything to go by, my G3 images are considered more interesting than the D700 ones as 4 out of my current top 5 most interesting were shot with the G3.

Mirrorless cameras do not shoot like DSLRs. It takes some time to ween yourself off the optical finder, learn to recharge the battery after every shoot, work with menus and tiny buttons instead of beefy analog controls and accept that there are things that it just doesn’t do as well as a DSLR - most notably continuous AF for fast action. I also learned to work with the smaller sensor that makes it harder to produce shallow depths of field. How about image quality? Actually the image quality is really good on the G3 when shooting with low ISO’s as I do on both cameras even though the D700 is renowned for its high ISO performance. As good as it is at ISO 800 and even ISO 1600, it is much better at ISO 200.

What (other than GAS) compelled me to look at yet another piece of gear when I am happy with the 2 I own? I only had one thing in mind. The images on the G3 look great at ISO 200 until you start doing any major exposure or contrast adjustments - when you do this noise creeps in that results in really unnatural texture. I feel that the camera is very underrated. Olympus seems to steal of the micro 4/3s thunder. I wanted a small camera to use out in the field that gives me more headroom to make natural looking exposure and contrast adjustments. If it came close the the full frame, performance of the large pixel light slurping D700 I would be happy. If not…I would return it….then stick to the G3 and continue to work happily within its constraints until something significantly better came along.

I must say that the Fuji X Pro1 has delivered a whole lot more that I thought it would. Instead of just coming close to the D700, it actually beats it convincingly in its ability to recover shadows from underexposed areas.

The image included in this post compares the shadow recovery of the 3 cameras. I will explain what I did and then let you decide which is which.

I photographed a window-lit bent piece of paper. The paper has stripes in various colours. It is bent so that one half is in shadow. This is a 100% crop showing the transition area between shadow and highlight in one of the coloured bands. The paper is painted with acrylic paint so it has a bit of texture but the tone is flat. The ideal reproduction of this transition is a flat gradient. I shot with each camera at ISO 800 and underexposed by over 2 stops. I then simulated shadow recovery by changing exposure by +2EV in post production. I used Lightroom for the D700 and G3 images, and in camera raw processing for the Fuji as there is no support for the X Pro1 in lightroom yet. I resampled all images down to D700 resolution and then grabbed the same segment of each image and put them together. I turned off noise reduction for the D700 and G3 and set it to low for the X pro 1 as you cannot turn it off.

I go after an analog look in my images - try to keep them free of any digital looking artefacts like chunky transitions or noise reduction smearing. Although none of these transitions is perfect and none of the colours are very accurate I find the middle one very smooth and the other 2 decidedly chunky.

I am sure that you have figured out that the top band is the Panasonic G3. It is very noisy and granulated. The second the is the Fuji. It is a very different rendering to the other two. Perhaps there is something to Fuji’s claims that they modeled the sensor to produce images like analog film. The last is the D700.I find it lot more convincing than the G3 in that the variations in grain suggest a gradient, but it is really not accurate. There is no grain like this in the original painting. The grain is an artifact of digital reproduction.

I will also offer a quick word about the other characteristics of the Fuji X Pro 1 - the subjects of all the mudslinging. I am doing this not to entice more mudslinging (which I am sure I will), but to talk about its characteristic in terms of what it actually means to my shooting.

When I was thinking of buying the X Pro 1 I almost crossed it off the list because of all the bad press (like I did with the X100 when purchasing the G3). I think this would have been a mistake. 

AF - AF speed will take you back to the dark ages of SLRs. I don’t shoot moving subjects much and when I want to I will make sure I bring along the D700. For subjects that don’t move the AF speed on the X Pro 1 is more than adequate. Some people have also reported that they have problems with hunting and failure to lock. I don’t find this at all. Of the 3 cameras, the most pleasurable AF experience is the G3 with PL 25 1.4. It focuses really fast and is able to lock even when there appears to be nothing of contrast to lock onto. The Fuji is almost as good, but perhaps 1 time out of 30 when shooting indoors you will give it something contrasty to focus on, but it doesn’t lock. Sometimes you just try again in the same spot and it locks. The D700 with Nikon 50mm 1.4 D is actually the least likely to lock of the 3. It requires the most contrast and because it has less depth of field is more likely to find something behind the subject to lock on to.

The most worrying part about AF on the Fuji is sometimes it locks falsely. Over the last 3 days it has only happened 3 times, but it could cause major disappointment if you think you got an absolute killer shot and then find it was out of focus.

Manual Focus - is perfectly workable to me - better than the G3 because you have a distance indicator and a button that you can press to AF in manual mode. I use manual focus quite a lot and was really apprehensive about buying the focus by wire Panasonic 25 1.4 for the G3. I almost got the manual focus Voigtlander 25 .95 instead. The Voigtlander feels so good in the hand, but I have a bag full of Nikon lenses that will only manual focus on the G3. I wanted an AF lens for people shots. In the end I found I was worrying for nothing. It takes longer to focus by wire, but it is really precise using the zoomed in display. I would rather manual focus by wire using the Panasonic 25 1.4 or Fuji 35 1.4 than with the real focus ring of the Nikon 50 1.4 D. The AF Nikon has such a short throw that it is difficult to be precise when focusing manually.

Chattering sound - I have the 35 1.4 and mine makes this sound when I move it around and exposing it to extreme changes in brightness. It doesn’t bother me in the least. Some people must be more averse to chatty cameras than others.

EVF - I became and EVF convert with the G3 and find the Fuji’s even better. No complaints from me.

Size and weight - I can’t believe that some people complain that it is too light. I want to carry this thing with me as much as possible so it has to be small and light. It is heavier than the G3, but not a major bother. The size is nice. I got used to the tiny buttons on the G3, but it took a lot of getting used to. The larger size of the X Pro 1 means that you don’t need to struggle with buttons.  Although it is a lot bigger than the G3, it seems just as easy to pack. The protruding EVF on the G3 and size of the PL 25 1.4 can make it a bit awkward to pack.

Squashed hood - I am happy that the hood is metal and fits nice and securely and I didn’t have to pay $100 for it. I like to use the hood for protection and the plastic petal ones don’t protect. My favorite hood is the round metal one on the Nikon 85 1.4…..everybody else with that lens hates the hood. I guess I have different taste in hoods.

Features - lots of reviews say a con of this camera is that it has less features than other cameras. I think they put this in the wrong section. It is a pro for me.

Sloppy aperture ring - make sure that you confirm aperture regularly because if you pick up the camera by the lens, you can inadvertently change the aperture. Other than that, it feels good to me - much prefer it changing aperture on the body.

Fixed screen - Anybody who likes shooting close to the ground and will appreciate that fact that you can stay clean, dry and comfortable using a camera like the G3 with its articulating screen.  I wish Fuji had put one on the X Pro 1.

Overall I am very happy with the camera. It is certainly not a beast like the S2 was. I find it a pleasure to use as well as I am not attempting to shoot  moving subjects. After 3 days of playing I am now looking forward to find out what I can really do with it.

  1. gearramblings posted this