Why I’m selling my Fuji X-Pro1
Wrestling with whether to keep one expensive camera or buy a different one doesn’t rate on the scale of real problems, but I’ve been torn recently about whether or not to keep my Fuji X-Pro1. I’ve finally decided to sell it, and here’s why
The bottom line is that I just don’t like using it very much. The autofocus is frustratingly unpredictable, even with the latest firmware updates, and to me the camera feels unresponsive and a bit of a struggle. It’s a testament to the quality of the Fuji X-Pro1 that it’s been a hard choice, and it’s a testament to its quirks and frustrations that it had to go.
The image quality it delivers when everything clicks is undeniable, but if you don’t enjoy using the camera and feel you’re missing shots, then even capturing great ones some of the time doesn’t help much in the end.
I appreciate its retro design, the simplicity of its layout and the lack of extra bells and whistles, but I draw the line at dodgy focusing and an all-round laggy feeling.
It came to a head in a well-lit cafe in Taos with my daughter. She was sitting across the table from me and had her back to a window about ten feet behind her. I lifted the camera to photograph her, and I got the red box of uncertainty as I tried to focus. I moved focus slightly, got it again, and then I tried an area of greater contrast, and then the lens went back and forth a couple of times, before it finally focussed for me. But by that time, whatever fleeting expression I’d wanted to capture had gone, and I didn’t want to take the photograph any more. I wanted to throw the camera on the floor.
This wasn’t an isolated incident, either. If you find yourself talking to your camera with a slightly incredulous “Oh, come on. Really?” tone to your voice, then things aren’t going well.
Feature lists aren’t real life
Online you can compare specs and sample files till the cows come home, but it’s very hard to get a sense of how a particular camera handles for you. Even people who shoot similar subjects to you might do so in a slightly different way, or be more proficient at certain techniques, or not even notice some things that will annoy you immensely.
I rented the X-Pro1 before I bought it, and its clear strengths are beguiling. To the point where I enthusiastically overlooked some of its weaknesses. Just walking around taking photographs of things, this camera performs brilliantly, and looks great doing it.
But walking around taking photos is only a small part of what I need a camera to be good at. When I photograph events, editorial projects, or children, I need the autofocus to be fast and reliable. I knew this, and hoped the X-Pro1 would work like that for me. It doesn’t – at least, it doesn’t do that enough of the time for me. At a couple of the events I’ve shot where I used it in addition to my DSLR, there were several times when the folks I’d asked to photograph had to stand there for an extra long time as their natural smiles turned forced while I waited for the X-Pro1 to sort itself out.
Which isn’t to say that others can’t and won’t do great work with this camera – Kevin Mulllins is doing excellent documentary wedding work with it, for example.
But if it’s not working for me in those circumstances, and I can’t trust it to deliver if people are paying me, then it had better be a fun walk around camera for the amount it costs.
Which again, for me, it wasn’t, because of the way that I like to walk around. When I shoot casually at home – family shots of whatever we’re up to – I’m after passing moments when my daughter’s looking a particular way, or reacting to something’s that’s just been said (I’m not going to pose her and ask her to hold still).
Some of the time I can be deliberate and patient: set things up and wait for the moment – which works with this camera – but some of the time I can’t, and I’ve missed that shot forever. (It’s worth pointing out of course, that you can be deliberate and patient with a faster camera if you want to, but you can’t be fast with a slower camera.)
Keeping the DSLR
My expectations of what was acceptable performance for me have been shaped by my experience with a bunch of DSLRs, and I was considering the X-series cameras as a replacement system for my DSLR. I’d imagined an X-Pro1 an X-E1, a couple of fast primes and a good zoom, and I’d be set.
There are weight and obtrusiveness benefits to this, but only if the Fujis can deliver a comparable level of performance and good handling in the areas I need them to. Right now, I don’t feel they can. Maybe the forthcoming lenses are faster, and it’s true that getting in at the beginning of a new system is always a risk.
If you’re slower and more methodical in your work, or excellent at manually focussing, or maybe all around a better technical photographer than me, then the X-Pro1 might be perfect for you.
Turns out I want all the help I can get. All the reviews that said that it doesn’t behave like a small DSLR were completely right – it just took me quite a while to figure out what that actually meant. Now I realise that I love a lot of things about DSLRs that I’d grown to take for granted – crucially, focus speed and responsiveness that let me photograph the moments I want to capture (and I currently use a Canon 5D Mk II – not known for its blazing performance compared to other DSLRs).
It’s not you, it’s me (OK, it’s partly you)
I can see why lots of people love the X-Pro1. It’s a good camera, but it’s not right for me. The best image quality in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t get the image in the first place. And great specs are worthless if you don’t actually enjoy using the camera.
So I’ve sold it, and bought an Olympus O-MD EM5 as a small walk around camera that doesn’t upset me and is more enjoyable for me to use (not to mention having a cheaper and broader range of lenses for what is decidedly my second camera system). And I’m looking at my DSLR gear more fondly now.