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A Weekend of Extended Use With the Fujifilm X Pro 1 and Olympus OMD EM5 (Slightly NSFW)

by Chris Gampat on 10/03/2012

The two cameras above are my two current workhorses: the Olympus OMD EM5 and Fujifilm X Pro 1 (my 5D Mk II comes out only for the highest of paying gigs.) After firmware 2.0 came out for the Fujifilm X Pro 1 and 35mm f1.4 X, I put it to the test on the streets. After receiving some feedback from you guys, I went back out and shot for an entire weekend with the camera and one night with my highly trusted EM5.

So how did they perform? Let’s just say that both cameras have their strengths and weaknesses. This is the story of each.

Editor’s Note: You’ve been warned that this post is slightly NSFW.

2nd Editor’s Note: There have been questions about our coverage and reviews. Here’s my review of the X Pro 1, 35mm f1.4 x review, my impressions of firmware 2.0 (part 1), the Olympus OMD EM5 review, a cosplay shoot with the OMD, and my three way comparison including the Sony NEX 7.

Update: As of July 2013, the Fujifilm X Pro 1′s focusing has vastly improved. It still isn’t as fast as the OMD, but damn did they do an awesome job.

Gear Used

The 10th Anniversary of the New York Burlesque Festival

The New York Burlesque Fest was on a Friday night at Brooklyn Bowl, and after having used the X Pro 1 for an entire week, I felt the need to use something else. I hadn’t used the OMD and Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95 in extremely low light yet, so I decided to test it out there.

The Voigtlander lens is wonderfully sharp wide open at f0.95, but for this event the camera was set to ISO 6400 and aperture priority with the lens set anywhere to f1.4 or f2.8. This gave me extremely fast shutter speeds to capture all the hip-thrusting and dancing action of the performers.

Something special about the Voigtlander is that is can render images with an old-school film look due to the fact that the elements tend to give the photos a slight film grain look.

This grain was added to the grain already in the images at 6400 ISO from the Olympus.

In editing the photos, I discovered that the color depth isn’t as versatile as my Fujifilm X Pro 1 or my 5D Mk II (a testament to how good the technology was back then when the camera came out.) Using my knowledge of color theory, I tried recoloring almost all of my images. Some of them has the blues, reds or green clipping due to the fact that the lighting on the performers was just that bright. De-saturating a bit combined with color shifts saved the files a bit but created extra noise that couldn’t really be gotten rid of.

Otherwise though, if I had left the images the way they were in terms of color, the noise would have easily been eliminated.

Manually focusing the lens through the Oly’s electronic viewfinder was actually fairly simple. I’ve stated before in my review that when doing this and with the fast frame rate setting on, you get a type of focus peaking that can’t really be called peaking, but nonetheless assists with the focusing.

I know from experience that the autofocusing on the OMD would have been able to hit the spot nearly all the time in similar situations, so the autofocus performance of the camera didn’t worry me at all.

After six hours of shooting, the battery started to die due to the 5 way stabilization combined with shooting at higher ISO settings during the night for a while. To extend the life a bit more, I turned off the IS, turned off the LCD and also took off the playback review setting.

Still, I never thought that I would finally see the day where Olympus would be able to conquer the darkness due to the fact that they stuck to the same sensor technology for years. But after shooting with the Fujifilm X Pro 1 for a while and then going back to the OMD for one night, I was overjoyed at how it performed then and there. In editing, that’s another story due to the color depth and how much the files can be pushed. Despite the fact that they are better than before, I wish they could go further. Still, they aren’t bad; and they converted over to black and white even better than before.

Editor’s Note: The X Pro 1 is now a total joy to shoot with in the EVF mode, not so much in OVF.

Here are some other images that I shot and edited:

This is a conversion and crop. It still retains a lot of resolution.

Heavy color editing to this image.

Heavy color editing here as well.

Barely any color editing here.

The Dumbo Arts Festival and Travel Bazar

Travel Bazar

The X Pro 1 accompanied me to the Travel Bazar here in NYC; and only a couple of hours before the Burlesque Festival. I had a feeling that the event would have a lot of barely lit situations (as are most mini shows here in NYC). The X Pro 1′s high ISO image quality still continued to astound me though as the results were super clean.

Focusing indoors though was another story: it took two or three photos or attempts to get some subjects in focus with the 35mm f1.4 X lens. At varying apertures, it was sometimes painful to look through the viewfinder and read that red AF sign with an exclamation point next to it vs green box for confirmation.

The photo above took two attempts to focus on his eye successfully; which isn’t so bad. But when trying to capture a candid situation, I would have needed to stop down to ensure that I got the image. With other systems, I wouldn’t need to.

It only really suffered from that problem in very low light. Outside, the focusing was snappy and mostly accurate.

In fact, it even worked well with moving subjects but still seemed to perform best when using the center focusing point.

At that point, I still wanted to ensure that I had given it a thorough test and used different methods of focusing despite my initial findings. With that said, I ventured to the Dumbo Arts Festival bright and early the next day.

Dumbo Arts Festival

Every year in NYC, the Dumbo section of Brooklyn holds an Arts Festival all around the neighborhood. There are plenty of art installations all around the beautiful streets, in studios, in galleries, etc. Photographers, sculptors, painters and artists from all walks of life all emerge into the one area.

At times, there was a slight overcast in the lighting but for the most part the sun was shining as bright as can be. Well lit situations like this are where any camera should succeed. The X Pro 1 indeed did very well here and was often able to nail the pre-selected focusing spot with little to no issues even when shooting wide open to f2. Although there were surely times where I would tell it to focus on a selected spot but it would focus somewhere else. Those moments were the most frustrating.

When shooting this particular art installation, the kids (and people who decided to paint on human canvases) all moved around pretty fast. Using the single focusing method, the camera was able to once again, nail the focus with very few problems. I was very impressed with the accuracy in this situation, but it still couldn’t beat the offerings from Sony or Olympus. And once again, my 5D Mk II would focus quicker in situations like this. I keep bringing that up because the 5D Mk II isn’t a camera that was exactly known for the best focusing; but combine that tidbit of info with the fact that DSLR lenses are larger and heavier and you’ve got an interesting melee.

What really impressed me this time around was the focusing performance with the outer focusing points. In lower lit situations, this camera worked best with the center focusing point, if at all. But in well lit areas, the focusing worked well providing there was enough contrast. Additionally, this particular photo was shot using the LCD screen vs the optical viewfinder. I’ve found the electronic viewfinder and the LCD to just work faster.

Still though, I felt at the end that I haven’t tested it thoroughly enough or that I was still doing something wrong. At this point, I went to 500px.com, the internet and Flickr.com to look for awesome street photography candids done with the X Pro 1. In my search, I found them to be rare and far in between.

Editor’s Note: The X Pro 1 once again focuses like a champ now in EVF mode, and not so well in the OVF. We recommend that for the best performance, switch to the EVF.

The Atlantic Ave Street Fair and Union Square

Union Square

Union Square is an iconic area of NYC and always bustling. It’s a great area to shoot, and in a future test, I will be putting the camera into the hands of a bunch of NYC street photographers who I’ve befriended over the years.

Despite it being bright and sunny, the camera still misfocused at times and only stopping down to f5.6 sometimes saved it.

At certain points, I decided to default to the center focusing point and then just decided to crop my images later on. I don’t always like cropping, but I understand and know that it is necessary in many situations. It saved me tons of times when I was a paparazzo.

After playing with the camera a lot, I also decided that the screen can be misleading sometimes. Now, granted, I knew this from using my 5D Mk II for a while but it can be even more so with the X Pro 1 because of just how little you can zoom in to see if your images are sharp or not.

To get this shot above, I wanted to test the camera’s ability to focus on the dog’s eyes at f1.4. I caught this moment right before he moved, but even then it didn’t hit the correct focusing spot.

The Atlantic Ave Street Fair

The Atlantic Ave Street Fair happens once a year; and it is massive at around one mile long. It is often extremely crowded and there are street performers and people that come from all walks of life: which means that it is ripe for street photography.

The event presented itself with a lot of different situations. First off, it rained at one point–which can throw off the focus even more. Second, people moved in and out of your field of view when you try to get a photo–so you need to be quick and sometimes even stop down heavily to around f5.6 or f8. I don’t like adhering to the, “F8 and be there” policy because at this point, I feel that it is outdated.

The camera, at this point, caused more frustrations than before. It often didn’t lock focus at all and it also couldn’t get the right subject in focus when I asked it to. At this point, I felt it to vary way too much in terms of focusing.

One minor hack to make shooting through the viewfinder to be faster is to turn off the LCD screen/eye sensor altogether and just use the viewfinder. When switching the camera to full autofocus without needing to select a focusing point, I felt that the focusing just got worse. It couldn’t focus on my subject based on composition. But that’s a problem with just how smart the focusing is, not the speed.

Here are some other images from the walk:

Final Thoughts

At this point, I believe that I’ve tested the Fujifilm X Pro 1 quite a bit after firmware 2.0. I still think that the focusing needs to be much better tuned if you’re shooting wide open: which is what these lenses were designed to do (at least that’s how I feel.)

However, I will be meeting with other street photographers and consulting with them about this camera. Maybe it is just me; but after this much testing, I doubt it.

Some other quirks: the battery life gets drained very fast now. The camera would last me a very long time before, and now it can be all finished within a period of half a day. I figure that it is the focusing revamp.

Additionally, the speed of the AF is significantly faster in the EVF mode vs the OVF mode. And the OVF also shows parallex correction. But there’s the weird thing: when you look through the finder, the frame lines are one way. When you focus, they change. But when you are all done taking the photo, the frame lines return to the way they were without the lens changing its position. From my experience with Leicas and Voigtlanders, the frame lines should stay in the same place because the lens is not refocusing somewhere else.

After one night spent street shooting with Simon Garnier, a local street photographer here in NYC, he agreed with me that the focusing was a bit bonkers. And at this point, I can only say that one of the reasons why the XE-1 will be faster is because of the EVF vs the OVF.

UPDATE 11/23/2012: With Fujifilm’s latest firmware updates, the speed is improving again, but still not up to standard with Olympus. Still it is very usable.

Update July 2013: Fujifilm continues to update its firmware and they still are not as fast as Olympus. But we commend them for showing more commitment to their products than Olympus does. The X Pro 1 has focus peaking, but the OMD doesn’t.

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