Those of you who are regular readers of my columns know that I've been kinda sorta of shopping around for a new camera. My Olympus Pen E-P1 still works just fine and produces files of quite satisfactory quality. But after four years, camera technology has progressed enough that there are some attractive alternatives in roughly the same size range (for me), at various price points: the Olympus OM-D, the Sony NEX-7 and the Fuji X-Pro1. I haven't made up my mind that I will get a new camera, but I might.
Jeff Goggin was kind enough to lend me his Fujifilm X-Pro1. It pushes beyond the normal top end of my price range, but I'd heard good enough things about it that I felt I needed to give it consideration. I'm going to get three columns out of my experiences with it...none of which will be a review of the camera, for reasons that are quickly going to become apparent as you read this.
Let me make one thing very clear at the beginning. To borrow a friend's catch-phrase, this is all about me. It's not about you, it's not about the camera, it's about me. This week, egocentrism reigns. Just so you know.
Cut to the punchline. I hate this camera. I hate it so much that if someone offered one to me for free, I am not sure I would take it; there's a good chance it would sit on my shelf almost never getting used.
The eye level viewfinder is a letdown. I'm left-eyed, which means whenever I use that viewfinder I put a great big greasy nose print in the middle of the LCD screen. LCD screens are my preferred way to work. Having to whip out a microfiber cloth every time I use the eye level viewfinder is a severe discouragement to wanting to ever use it. The only eye level viewfinders I had used before were centered in the body of the camera, where my proboscis fit better, so I didn't realize what a problem this would be.
Then there's the lack or near lack of several important user interface features. Possibly I missed something reading the manual. If I'm wrong about this, someone correct me.
I get a choice of two screen layouts: a default one which is cluttered with all sorts of crap I don't want obstructing my view, and a customizable one which has much, much less crap, but isn't entirely free of it (can't figure out how to disable the "silent mode" and "slow shutter" warnings). I would prefer to be able to bring up a screen that has no garbage on it under any circumstance.
I also want to be able to bring up a live histogram so I can check exposures. There isn't a way, except to embed it permanently in the customizable screen, and it's buried so many levels of menu deep that it's not something I'd want to be turning on and off frequently. Forget that. Well, at least I can check the exposure after I make the photograph by looking at the histogram when reviewing my already-made photograph on the back LCD. Okay...I don't see any way to get histograms of photographs I've already made. That is not good.
What's my fallback? Turn on the shadow/highlight out-of-range warnings. Wait a minute—there aren't any, in live or review mode. So far as exposure goes I'm photographing blind. As Timprov put it, mildly sarcastically, "Gee, you might as well shoot film."
There's no way to zoom in by more than a factor of two when reviewing RAW photographs. That won't tell me if my focus is correct, if there's subject movement, or how noisy the photograph might be. It's barely enough to judge facial expressions.
Really, this is sounding more and more like using film, and I don't mean that in a good way.
If I capture RAW plus JPEG, I can zoom all the way in. It's kind of dumb, and I just waste time later throwing away the JPEGs (I have no use for them), but it works.
So, let's summarize: an eye level viewfinder that doesn't really work for me; no way to check the quality of the exposure; no way to zoom in on the results except to capture files I don't really need.
Now you understand why I hate this camera.
The lesson? I would have had no idea that this camera was so unsuitable for me if I hadn't had a chance to use one. Based on reviews, I could very well have bought it blind. On paper it sounds pretty fine. In my hands it's awful. (Remember what I said earlier: this is all about me. It's not about you, it's not about the camera, it's about me. Also remember: when you buy a camera, it should be all about you.)
Well, it's nice to be able to scratch the most expensive camera off my list, but it's going to make me leery of buying anything without testing it first. Good that I learned this lesson the easy way rather than the hard way:
Try before you buy.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by John Robison: "'Try before you buy.' Getting next to impossible for an increasing number of enthusiast photographers. We cannot even lay hands on most new equipment at a camera store. I live in South Puget Sound, Washington State. I might as well be on the moon."
Featured Comment by Roger: "I have an X-Pro1 and enjoy using it. However, it is without a doubt one of the best examples of why cameras manufacturers should open source their firmware. Or publish a set of APIs that permit others to adjust the camera's operation. Great image quality, build quality, and ergonomics (a shutter speed dial! Aperture rings!). All dragged down by really bad software engineering. Mine is in aperture priority mode and currently has a Konica Hexanon 40mm ƒ/1.8 lens mounted on it. Love it, warts and all."
Featured Comment by John Krumm: "Hmm, wonder if I could market nose covers to the left-eyed crowd...there's always a micro-niche for the savvy entrepreneur. I could make it out of micro-fiber cloth so the LCD actually becomes cleaner as you use the camera. Better check the patent office."
Mike adds: I could see Ctein wearing an eye patch (he already has the parrots!), but not a nose patch. Shades of Tycho Brahe.
Featured Comment by Bill Pierce: "As another left-eyed X-Pro user, I agree with much of what Ctein has to say about the camera. However, as an elderly rangefinder photographer with a love for bright-line viewfinders but little desire to spend the money for a brace of digital Leicas, the X-Pros (which do a good job with both their lenses and the longer lenses which might normally go on a DSLR) suit me well.
"Only one disagreement with what Ctein says. I, too, normally trash camera JPEGs. But the X-Pro JPEGs are very good. They are the only ones I save, whether as instant back up against the loss of the image; a quick, transmittable proof or, in rare occasions, the source of the final print when subtle but important color differences from what my processing programs can easily and quickly produce from the Raw files are important.
"The major problem I currently see with the camera is the processing programs available. The unique sensor pattern that replaces the conventional Bayer pattern has created problems for both Lightroom and the furnished program. But that's the subject of another thread. Ctein has the knowledge to comment on this intelligently—and that's the real reason I regret his moving on to other cameras.
"I think Ctein is a groundglass, LCD kind of photographer and I'm a wire-sports-finder, bright-line-finder kind of photographer. Each of us will have to live with less than perfect camera, and it will be interesting to see what he chooses."