• Photo by Michael Coyne.
    Photo by Michael Coyne.

To mark the official Australian launch of the Fujifilm X-Pro1, Andrew Fildes talks to one of the first people in the world to use the camera, legendary Australian documentary photographer, Michael Coyne.

One of the most eagerly anticipated cameras of the year, the Fujifilm X-Pro1 is a unique creature. The last camera like it was the brilliant film Contax G of the 1990s. The X-Pro1 was announced in early February and officially launched on the 27th, although there was little that was not known by that point.

The camera is a potential game changer: a premium mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera designed with professional and high-end amateur users in mind. If you’ve missed the articles on the camera to date, one of the highlights is a unique 16-megapixel CMOS sensor that’s been redesigned to remove the requirement for an optical low-pass filter. Low-pass filters are used in almost all digital cameras to solve moire issues. They do the job but it does come at the cost of image detail. Fuji appears to have solved the problem by altering the pattern of RGB pixels on the sensor.  Fujifilm claims the APS sensor is capabe of delivering resolution comparable to, if not superior to, a full-frame sensor.

Other key features include a hybrid electronic/optical viewfinder and a full suite of manual controls – including a dedicated shutter speed dial and a traditional aperture wheel on the  lens. Three prime (non-zooming) lenses have been announced so far and more are on the drawing board, including a telephoto zoom and a pancake lens. Australian pricing for the camera and lenses is yet to be announced.

There was a bit of a stir world wide when it came to light that two pre-production samples been handed over to Australian photographers Michael Coyne and Christian Fletcher to pre-test. This says a great deal about the way Fujifilm sees the camera – Michael is an eminent documentary photographer who lives in Melbourne and Hong Kong while Christian won the AIPP Landscape Photographer of the Year award last year. I caught up with Michael last week, hungry for a hands-on look at the new body. I also wanted to know about his experiences with it as a documentary camera. This is an unreliable transcript of a late afternoon café conversation in Cavallini’s:

Fujifilm X-Pro1
Fujifilm X-Pro1.

AF: The first and hardest question for me, Michael – should I sell my Leica M9?
MC: That seems a bit impulsive. It’s a similar form of camera at a much lower price but rather different in many ways and most dedicated Leica shooters are unlikely to shift. But we’re both of an age when autofocus becomes important – old eyes aren’t quite what they used to be and the reflexes slow. Oh, and your back becomes a problem too, especially hiking into some of the remote locations where I shoot so lightweight kit becomes very important.

AF: You posted images taken at 6400 ISO that were astonishingly clean. Was this typical and how important is this to you?
MC: They were so good that I was accused of cheating them by people in internet forums! Fuji and I took that as a compliment, that some people simply refused to believe that they could be that good. Good low light performance is extremely important to me. As a documentary photographer, a lot of my work has been in the third world, in places where people live with very little natural or artificial light. I’ve had to use some tricks to help with this, such as small, portable lights, so the good high ISO performance and wide dynamic range are extremely important to me.

AF: There was a lot of negative comment on the net. How do you respond to the criticisms?
MC: A lot of it was from what I believe are called ‘trolls’ – I hadn’t heard the term before. There were only two cameras put out for pre-production testing and they both came to Australia, to Christian and me. And yet some people were acting as if they had used the camera and found problems with it. None of them had shot a single frame with it but that didn’t seem to slow them down. Some were claiming that it was too expensive, weeks before the price had been announced. It’s all nonsense. As someone demonstrated to me, they come out of the woodwork for every major camera release and say almost identical things – it seems to be a sort of cyber-disease.

AF: For many years, Fujifilm has been producing high performance sensors with a quite different structure to other makers. They claim that the random arrangement of colour pixels in the X-Trans sensor gives a more film-like quality to images than a typical Bayer array. Do you agree with this claim?
MC: I don’t know a lot about the mechanics of it but that does seem a fair claim. The high ISO performance seems to bear that out. I was also surprised that there were several simulation modes that mimic Fuji films like Velvia and Astia – I spent much of my career shooting ‘trannies’ so it was interesting to experiment with them.

AF: Did you get to ‘play’ with any of the other features, like the panorama mode?
MC: Not really. It doesn’t really suit my style and I’m not too interested in ‘features’. I prefer to keep things simple with a camera, to shoot fast and light, so I tend not to go fiddling around in the odd modes and features that cameras often have.

You did shoot with the X100 last year, I believe. How does the new model compare? I found it very slow shot-to-shot, for example. Is that any better?
MC: Much better. The X100 is a great little camera but a bit frustrating at times. The exposure is hard to read in bright light for instance. The X-Pro is faster and there are improvements to the finder in line with some suggestions I made last year. The ‘Quick’ menu gave me fast access to the adjustments I need very quickly.

AF: It’s being released with three lenses – a standard, a wide and a short tele for portraits. Did you get to use all three?
MC: No, only the 35mm and the 18mm, which suited the way I work anyway. The portrait lens wasn’t available at the time. I found them fast focussing and the image quality from both was excellent.

AF: You seem to be pretty positive about your experience with it but nothing is perfect, especially a ‘first’. Was there anything you didn’t like?
MC: Only nitpicks really. The movie mode could be better but I don’t think you’d be buying it to shoot movies and I have a separate videocam for that anyway. The Q button is positioned under your thumb and I bumped it ocassionally when I didn’t want to.

AF: Not serious problems are they – just minor irritations?
MC: Absolutely. In fact, I should say that I don’t use an SLR kit much anymore – I relied on the X100 for most of last year and I’m planning to use the X-Pro1 from now on.
AF: Sounds great! Another flat white? 

UPDATE: Fujifilm has announced Australian pricing for the X-Pro1: $1799 (body only); $2499 (in a kit with the 35mm F1.4 lens). Lenses: 18mm (27mm equiv) F2.0 ($699); 35m (53mm equiv) F1.4 ($699); 60m (91mm equiv) F2.4 ($749.00). The camera is expected to go on sale late March.

Photo by Michael Coyne
Photo by Michael Coyne. Fujifilm X-Pro1 with 18mm f2 lens. Exposure: f1/250s @ f32. ISO 6400.

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