X-Pro 1 and event photography

Prior to February of this year, I lugged around a Nikon D800/D200 with 35/2 Zeiss lens, extra batteries, and SB700 strobe to HiFi events across Japan. To be honest, had Japan's events not been so crowded and hot, I probably would not have made the switch. 

But I did. 

This year's Fujiya Avic Spring show had more than 4.000 attendees in a single afternoon. All 40 hundred were packed into a space that Europeans would consider fit for no more than 500 people. 


Japanese love a good squeeze. I don't. 

Numerous times in one day I would bash my camera against someone's ribcage, or knock an expensive headphone off a table. Carrying the D800 was expensive. And hot. Through and through, I'm a sweater. Worrying the narrow corridors where there are no feet to trample whilst toting a brick and associated gear is rough.

The X-Pro 1 nearly changed all of that. Mostly. Let's get the bad out of the way first.

porridge: battery life

I get 150-300 shots per charge if shooting JPEG and a little less shooting RAW. By contrast, my Nikon D800 easily gets at least 800 shots no matter the shooting method, no matter how much I've used flash.

I carry three batteries with my X-Pro 1 to keep up all day.

porridge: WB under artificial lighting

In natural light, the X-Pro 1 produces beautiful skin tones and warm, vibrant colours. Under unnatural lighting, however, things tend to turn green, especially under fluorescent lighting. Changing WB isn't as quick as it is on the Nikon, either. 

porridge: flash

Firstly, because it has a proper hotshot, my SB700 works well. Despite being a little top heavy, it fires exactly when I want, and syncs perfectly with the Fuji. The hotshoe itself is robust enough to manage medium-weight flashes. I'm not anxious to fit the SB900 to the Fuji for fear the hot shoe would rip right off the camera.

The major gripe I have about flash use is the X-Pro 1's gawd awful slow sync speed. 1/125 is the limit, and while that is good enough for studio portraits, and the odd location report, busy, jostled rooms full of sweaty nerds and expensive gear doesn’t work that well. Not to mention earthquakes.

Generally, I stop my lens down to f/5,6, sometimes f/8 in order to get the important signage and details in. I’m not worried about creating artwork. Showing what’s what is paramount. With tall ceilings, bounce flash at 1/1 power will underexpose even at an ISO setting of 3200. Fortunately, the X-Pro 1 does a decent job at high ISOs. 

But supposing I wanted to blur the background while still creating a tack-sharp shot? 

I would much prefer 1/250 syncing in order to obviate camera shake- something my Nikons can do. I could invest in a Fujifilm flash. But I wont. Fuji’s flashes come with plastic feet, and these events are rowdy. I’ve bumped my SB700 quite severely several times. My SB28’s plastic foot cracked shooting HiFi events. The same thing would be true of the Fuji flashes. 

ohmage: size

Because I don’t have to lug around 2+ Kg of metal and plastic, I’m much less fatigued at the end of a day. I still meet bloggers and other event togs who carry D800 sized cameras to Japanese HiFi events. At the end of the day, their faces are dead while mine is only half dead. They complain of wrist ache, of shoulder pain, and of their camera getting bumped. I complain of some blurry shots. 

ohmage: fitting adapted lenses

Mind you, most of them are using fast, expensive zooms while I make do with an M39 Canon 35/2 LTM lens. One of the reasons I purchased the X-Pro 1 was its shallow flange depth. I can mount ANYTHING. 

I’ve used the 35/2 Canon for years precisely because it is small, light, and very sharp. With a Hawk’s Factory helicoid adapter, its usual 0,9 metre minimum focus distance shrinks to about 0,3 metres. That’s a lot of bang for less than 130 grams. 

I think it's time to return to the bad for a bit.

porridge: adapting Fuji’s lenses

Shallow flange depth has its drawback, however. X-mount users know this: Fuji’s lenses rock. They are sharp, produce great colours, and nice bokeh. Unfortunately, unlike M mount or L39 lenses, they only work on Fuji cameras whose flange depth is the shallowest in the APS-C industry. While anything can be mounted to an X camera, conversely, no X mount lens will work on an equivalent/competing camera without an adapter with a lens element that potentially could soften up the image. 

That, and despite sporting aperture rings and manual focus rings, Fuji’s lenses are completely electronic. It’s all faux the best you might say. Sure, it makes the lenses cheaper to build. For the performance there isn’t probably a cheaper range of lenses on the market. But without being attached to a camera, Fuji’s lenses are useless. You can’t even properly free lens with them. 

Cost cutting always has drawbacks. And sharpness alone isn’t worth it in my opinion. I’m not going to buy into the Fuji lens line. I’m in it for the bodies. 

The other drawback to Fuji’s line of lenses is that they are SLR style and large, if not heavy. Had they been made with rangefinder style optics, they could be made much smaller. Had they been made with proper helicoids and geared apertures, they would have been useful both off and on camera, and M43 users could enjoy superior optics. 

porridge: the viewfinder

Admittedly, half the reason I purchased the X-Pro 1 was that it looked decidedly not like a typical digital camera. I’ve been shooting fixed lens and interchangeable lens rangefinders for years. My current favourite is the Canon P for no other reason than: it’s cheap and has a great 1:1 viewfinder. 

I’ve been harping against the X-Pro 1 since the beginning for one reason: the viewfinder is chintsy. But, it’s much better than the EVF. Their is now way to accurately focus either with adapted lenses without leaving the full view. Fuji built a great hybrid system and forgot to include the most important point: a focus overlay in the optical viewfinder. Adapted lens users: you have to use the EVF. And the EVF refreshes slowly. Even in slow paced environments like FitEar’s earphone/dental factory, I had to stand extremely still in order not to trip the slow-refreshing EVF. Fast-paced environments like Fujiya Avic’s headphone festival are rather difficult to keep up with. 

Under daylight conditions, long lenses such as the Nikkor 10,5/2,5 LTM work well. When the light goes down, my opinion changes. It’s the lag that kills this system. 

Until Fuji make a focus overlay for the OVF, I can’t recommend the use of adapted lenses for any serious event photography. Blogging, light event recording, etc., that’s okay. Any more and you either need to purchase Fuji’s lenses, or invest in a different system.

Since it's no good to end on a bad note-

ohmage: geek cred

Especially among event bloggers, mirrorless cameras have caught on. At a glance, Fujiya’s Spring event was photographed first, by point and shoots, and secondly by mirrorless system cameras. DSLR cameras were by far outnumbered. 

Fuji’s system takes a premium spot among mirrorless camera systems. Carrying one is like carrying a Leica. Or driving a Porsche. Or not wearing sneakers. If you’re tired of snapping endless amps and headphones and speakers, you can catch a breather with other tired bloggers and geeks. The Japanese aren’t renowned for sparking up conversations with strangers, but tote a ‘premium’ camera, and you is the man. This spring was like Canada in Japan. While no one asked where I got my trousers, complete strangers would point at my camera and lens combo and ask why I chose the Fuji, where I got the adapter, and how I liked the system overall. I ran the above paragraphs in a few sweaty points. 

Being geeks, they got the gist.

Looking ahead

I won’t immediately get th

e X-Pro 2 upon release. I’ll wait. I nabbed the X-Pro 1 when its price in Japan dipped to less than 800$. The price is back up to over 1.000$ or so. The system isn’t promising as a real pro system. Repair facilities are few and far between and loaners aren’t available. 

I’m extremely negative about the X-Pro 1 but I love it. I no longer consider the D800 when just going out and about. If I have time and don’t need to shoot on reflex, the X-Pro 1 it is. If not, my 50/2 and D800 go out. If I need AF, the 28-70/2,8 ED goes with me. But no longer for interviews. X-Pro 1 does a good enough job of capturing geek events that I’m left smirking at DSLR users. 

However, had I invested in a more robust system like the Olympus OMD-EM5, I might be smirking at Fuji users. Who knows. For now, I’m looking forward to what the system offers. Perhaps Fuji will release high built quality flashes. More third party manufacturers are bound to pop out of the woodwork creating proper mechanical lenses. And, eventually, the terribly tiny OVF and slow EVF will be fixed. Eventually. Till then, I’ll grip my X-Pro 1 tightly, breath shallowly, and pray.