This review is based on using the Fuji X pro with the 18mm, 35mm and 60mm (although admittedly the latter is not really a typical street shooter’s lens).
Part 2 of the review (to follow) will be with the Fuji X Pro and a variety of M lenses.
Unlike most other areas of photography (even sports) street photography requires a camera that is fast enough to shoot almost instantly.
Many times you will see an expression or a gesture which will vanish in a few tenths of a second. Few cameras can be brought to the eye and triggered in that time period. My D700 and can do this and autofocus as well. The GXR can do it if prefocused as can the Leica M’s.
Any lag in the camera will lose photographs – not necessarily every day, but lose them you will (and as luck would have it it will be the really great shot that will be lost).
This really is a very demanding role – if you don’t specifically shoot like this, cat like reflexes in a camera are not really necessary.
Zone focusing is one way round this and I’ll discuss how this works on the X Pro later.
For this assignment I am in Santorini, Greece. The most used lens is the 18mm – its rendering is very nice indeed. People may criticise the sharpness wide open but I feel it approaches the very best Nikons in terms of clarity. As always the picture quality with all lenses on this camera is just astounding.
The Fuji was set to its fastest operating parameters – no power saving at all, and fast wake up. The only concession for maximising battery life was auto power off after 30 seconds. The firmware was the most recent update (1.01)
A word about shot to shot speed. Get a decent SD card – the difference between a Sandisk Extreme 45 mb/s and a generic card that came with the camera was startling. A Sandisk extreme pro (90 mb/s) was slightly quicker still, but probably not worth the price premium.
In terms of startup and waking from sleep, the camera was just about ok for the purpose of shooting on the street. Not as good as the D700 or Ricoh GXR which are my current “gold standard”, but good none the less.
With autofocus enabled, you have a camera that is reasonably quick for most purposes but not quite good enough for serious street work (by which I mean raising a camera to catch that split second gesture which will be gone before you even consciously process it). The D700 and similar DSLR’s are without peer in this respect.
I previously discovered the trick of pressing the shutter bottom all the way to capture fast moving objects but this method still incurs a half second penalty – not a problem if you’re photographing eg racing cars coming towards you where you can anticipate their approach, but not so great if you’re trying to catch a fleeting moment.
If you are going to use manual zone focusing then there is less excuse for slow response. The Ricoh GXR (in manual focus or snap mode) and Leica M’s are excellent in their responsiveness with these techniques.
A huge let down (currently) with the X Pro 1 in manual focus mode is the shutter lag. Sometimes there is very little, but at other times there is a discernible pause. Using the EVF adds at best another fractional pause. At worst the EVF can take a second or so to adjust from sleeping state to a scene filled with very bright light.
There are techniques that help such as half pressing the shutter as you bring the camera to your eye. However, this has the downside of making the exposure calculation at the moment you half press. Sometimes it’s fine but sometimes you’ve exposed incorrectly.
A further significant problem is the mechanical lens focus mechanism. With a Leica lens you select eg 10 feet as your distance and can reasonably expect the lens to stay at that distance all day unless the focus ring is firmly nudged. Perfect for selecting f8 and shooting away knowing you have a deep field of focus.
The 18mm lens has a wretched mechanical bug in that after setting it manually to eg 8 ft, no matter how carefully you cosset the camera, after 2 or 3 minutes the lens will have changed focus distance often by several feet. I found street shooting with the X Pro using manual zone techniques virtually impossible because of this one serious flaw.
It also baffles me how the software on this cameras was ever let out in the wild. A cynical person may suggest this is purely a marketing strategy so that Fuji can announce every few months *new* features and improvements.
Fuji sorted out the auto iso on the X100. And then blew it completely on the X Pro. How on earth did they manage this ?
The depth of field indicator is laughably inaccurate. Can they not at least tweak the formulas they use to make this feature useable ?
These failings in the camera software are all the more saddening given that the camera body, lenses and sensor are just fantastic.
It may be that using manual Leica lenses on the X Pro will get around the lag issue (certainly they will remain at the selected focus distance) so I will ditch the optically wonderful 18mm for a few days and see what happens…..
In the meantime, as an overall package the Fuji X Pro 1 and associated lenses lies third, behind the Ricoh GXR and D700 in terms of what I need in a camera for street shooting. It is pointless having wonderful quality picture taken a few tenths of a second too late.
And that is currently the X Pro’s Achilles heel.
1. I think part of the problem with the shifting focus ring is down to of all things, sunlight. I recall that the X100’s focus ring was also much more sensitive in bright sunlight. Santorini has huge amounts of sunlight reflecting off white walls. Now I’m back in dull England, the focus seems much more stable. I’ll investigate this more over the next few days.
2. In any event, thanks to Mike Kobal there is a work around for the shifting focus ring http://www.mikekobal.com/blog/?p=5007. There is even a dedicated supplier of lens bands here !