Fujifilm’s digital camera renaissance continues with its first ‘mirrorless’ interchangeable lens model which also becomes the X-series flagship. What can we say? The X-Pro1 is simply gorgeous. Report by Paul Burrows.
Thinking outside the square in terms of camera design isn’t something that’s new to Fujifilm, but it’s only in the digital era that it seems to have been able to attract the attention it deserves. There have been many very worthy film cameras from Fujifilm, including a string of rollfilm rangefinders (in the 6x4.5cm, 6x7cm and 6x9 cm formats) and the fabulous 6x8cm SLRs. Let’s not forget also that Fujifilm was intimately involved in Hasselblad’s H1 and XPan projects, marketing both of these cameras under its own brand in Japan. However, you could probably have counted on one hand the number of pros using Fujifilm’s 120/220 film cameras (although, of course, there were a great many using the Fujichrome and Fujicolor films).
All this has changed with the FinePix X100 which has done more to bring Fujifilm cameras back into focus for professionals than any of its D-SLRs – even though the last-of-the-line S5 Pro was a very fine camera indeed – and now the X-Pro1 is going to build on this foundation. Fujifilm is actually currently offering four X-series cameras, although the X10 compact and the very interesting X-S1 superzoom model are primarily targeted at the enthusiast-level user. The X-Pro1 is Fujifilm’s first mirrorless model and so qualifies as a compact system camera (CSC), although it’s not especially compact because, the company emphasises, it’s intended to be a “first option camera” rather than a “second option camera”. In other words, unlike many CSCs, the X-Pro1 is intended to replace a D-SLR kit rather than supplement it. The pricing is going to have a lot to do with this too, as it zooms straight to the top of the class ahead of Sony’s NEX-7 – the other CSC with clearly serious pro camera credentials – by a handsome margin. It will be interesting to see, down the track, how influential the X-Pro1 is in switching the emphasis at a pro level from a D-SLR type camera to a mirrorless RF-style design… assuming others follow Fujifilm’s lead here.
At the camera’s Australian press launch, Hiroshi Kawahara – who is in charge of product planning at Fujifilm Corporation’s Electronic Imaging Products Division in Tokyo and essentially the ‘godfather’ of the X-Pro1 – revealed planning began three years ago and well before the X100 was launched.
“To build the brand we needed to come up with a professional camera,” he explains, “and what the X100 told us is that there are even more people looking for an authentic product with high quality than we had imagined.”
While Hiroshi Kawahara says the X-Pro1 “is the pinnacle of the X-series”, he also stresses, “This is not our last goal, but the beginning. There will be more X-mount products in the future”.
By this he means both camera bodies and lenses, although the immediate emphasis is on the latter, including at least one more this year.
A Sermon On The mount
The X-Mount is a new three-claw bayonet configuration with an all-electronic interface comprising ten contacts and lenses are fitted with a short, 45-degree clockwise twist. The flange back distance is only 17.7 mm so the lens can be mounted much deeper into the camera body – down to just 7.5 mm from the mount surface – which allows for a very short back focus distance of 10.2 mm. As a result, the rear elements can be made larger to enhance the centre-to-edge uniformity of both the optical resolution and the brightness can be improved. The flange back distance is that from the mount surface to the sensor while the back focus distance is that from the lens’s rear element to the sensor.
Fujifilm’s new X-Mount lenses are designated ‘XF’ and there are three models to start with, all three primes with fast maximum apertures. The system’s standard is a 35mm f1.4 and the alternatives are an 18mm f2.0 wide-angle and a 60mm f2.4 short telephoto that’s also a macro lens. As the X-Pro1’s sensor is ‘APS-C’ format, these are effectively a 53mm, a 27mm and a 91mm. All have manual aperture rings and focusing collars, although the latter is fly-by-wire rather than mechanical. They’re all shorter physically than a comparable 35mm rangefinder system lens, but the X-Pro1 itself is very similar in dimensions to the Leica M9 (and actually also quite similar in terms of its styling). Not surprisingly, one of the first new accessories for the camera will be an M-bayonet mount adapter, providing access to ‘legacy’ lenses from Leica, Voigtländer and Zeiss. On the way is a 14mm f1.4 ultra-wide (i.e. a 21mm) and a 28mm f2.8 ‘pancake’ lens (42mm equivalent.) and, supposedly, an 18-72mm f4.0 zoom (27-108mm). None of the existing lenses have optical stabilisation and the camera body doesn’t have sensor-shift stabilisation either, although the current focal lengths aren’t really long enough to make this a major omission.
While the X-Pro1 may be pricey by CSC standards, it’s dramatically cheaper than an M9, and Fujifilm is suggesting that the design of its all-new ‘APS-C’ format CMOS sensor helps make up important performance ground over a 35mm-sized imager. The key to this is the absence of any low pass filters made possible by devising a new colour filter array which employs 36-pixel arrays – i.e. in a 6x6 pattern – rather than the conventional Bayer filter with its 2x2 RGB arrays.