Monday, January 9, 2012

Fuji X-Pro 1 Impresses

Fuji has launched its new X Pro 1 camera. It is notable primarily because it is innovating with the sensor. The Foveon is the only other sensor on the market that deviates from the standard Bayer layout that all other companies have been addicted to.

I can barely describe how happy I am to see some actual innovation. Both Canon and Nikon have done nothing to push the market forward. As the undisputed champions, they are more than happy to simply lumber along, iterating small advancements every year, slowly milking their dominance for easy money.

If you have not yet read, Fuji's new layout relies on a 6x6 grid of RGB pixels instead of the usual 2x2. The larger layout of pixels will, so says Fuji, eliminate the moire pattern that is the bane of fashion photographers. This is very cool.

Sadly, Fuji thinks that they have a camera that is a poor-man's Leica and have priced it as such. I think that is a bad idea because Leica has a HUGE legacy behind it. People don't buy Leica for the photos, they buy Leica for the camera. Fuji simply doesn't have that cachet. At $1,700, the camera costs more than a Sony NEX-5n and Zeiss 24mm f/1.8, and only slightly less than the NEX-7 and similar lens. That is a difficult value equation to square.

The biggest difference between APS-C and Full-Frame cameras is the noise. There is simply more light being captured. So regardless of the layout of the pixels, their size and number is still dictated by the size of the sensor. And regardless of whatever hyperbole Fuji chooses to use to describe the new sensor, it is bound by these variables.

$1,700 makes this the most expensive APS-C camera on the market: not a place that Fuji wants to be. Only the Canon EOS 7D launched for the same price, and while it was a runaway success, I think is because it was the only APS-C camera in the world that took the enthusiast seriously in that market segment. The world is very different, today. The Nikon D7000, Pentax K5, Sony NEX-7 and A77, and whatever the hell Canon is cooking up all take enthusiasts very seriously and provide world-class image quality in the $1,000-$1,200 range. Some of these cameras are even outperforming FF cameras as regards dynamic range and color depth. In econ-101 terms, that's what we call competition, and Fuji's got it.

That said, the X-Pro 1 offers a beautiful body, assuredly good lenses and image quality, and a system that Fuji has confirmed, in no uncertain terms, will be strongly supported and squarely aimed at enthusiasts. That is certainly saying something, but it may not be enough. Considering the dedication that Sony has expressed for the NEX system, I think that the value equation, for me at least, doesn't equal out.

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