Fujifilm Introduces Entry-Level XF Camera and Lenses

Fujifilm continues to broaden their mirrorless camera lineup, though in ways that are going to provoke a tiny bit of commotion from their most dedicated user base.

x-m1.jpg

The X-M1 becomes the new entry-level XF mount camera for Fujifilm. Basically take an X-E1, remove the electronic viewfinder (EVF), replace the rear LCD with a better and tilting LCD, add WiFi, remove the dedicated shutter speed and exposure compensation dials and replace them with a Mode dial and two Command dials, then make it all a little smaller, and you've got the basics of the X-M1. At US$700 for the body, US$800 for the body plus zoom lens, it gives Fujifilm a more affordable price point in the mirrorless game.

The controversy lies in the changes to the user interface. This has long been one of my pet peeves about camera designs within a single system: the entry models teach you one method of controlling the camera, while the high end cameras use a different one. One problem with this is in using a lower-end camera as a backup to your high-end body. The minute you pick up the lower-end body you have to adjust to the change of controls and this puts that ever so slight but sometimes problematic cognitive dissonance in your way. The big change here is where you set the aperture: with a top dial on the X-M1, with an aperture ring on the X-E1 and X-Pro1. (More on this in a moment when we discuss lenses, because it gets worse.)

Fujifilm has retained the retro 1970's look they've established as their design target. I should point out that this look is so retro I've had people come over to me and ask me why I was still shooting film when I've been out using the X-Pro1. You either like that, or you don't. But the X-E1 and X-Pro1 used that retro look to provide truly retro controls, too (see my article on UI on gearophile and note what I wrote about the Leica Vario X, which shares this trait). The X-M1 is basically a step forward of about a decade in terms of retro designs (the Mode dial is so 1980's).

The internals of the X-M1 are mostly the same as the X-E1: same X-Trans sensor and digital logic. Same shutter (1/180 top flash sync speed). Nearly the same shooting speed (down to 5.6 fps versus 6). Same smallish buffer (10 raw). We do get a WiFi capability with the ability to talk to a smartphone app, something new in the Fujifilm lineup. As part of the X-M1 announcement, Fujifilm also announced new firmware for the X-Pro1 and X-E1 that adds focus peaking (which is also in the X-M1).

The X-M1 will be sold as body only, body with 16-50mm lens, or body with 16-50mm and 27mm lenses.

In terms of those lenses, we have another potential discord to discuss: the new 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens (41mm equivalent) and the new 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 kit zoom (24-75mm equivalent) both lack aperture rings. Wait, what? How do we use these on the X-E1 and X-Pro1? Turns out that we need to update our firmware, and then we can use the Command dial on those cameras to control aperture.

The problem is that with just eight lenses Fujifilm has now given us threedifferent ways in which the aperture selection works: dedicated and marked aperture ring, aperture switch with unmarked ring, and now command dial. This means I have to think about what lens I have on the camera when setting apertures! Talk about your cognitive dissonance. This is exactly what good system design shouldn'tdo.

I understand how Fujifilm got to this decision: "It's an entry-level camera that should appeal to less sophisticated users, so let's give them a simpler and straightforward system rather than try to explain what the two A markings on dedicated dials mean and how they interact." The X-M1 does have all-Auto and Scene selections on the Mode dial, after all, and that entry user might just be in those most of the time. There isn't an obvious solution that's perfect to provide Scene modes with two dedicated setting rings, either. Still, this is a complication that we need to watch carefully in the future of XF. Three different aperture setting styles and two different basic UIs are already a bit much; any extension of this into yet-more-UI designs in the future really starts to undermine what Fujifilm did in the first place. You're either all-in with the retro thing, Fujifilm, or you're not. If you're not, find a single modern UI that works. If you are, you're already pushing the limits of what most users of your system will be comfortable with, so don't add more variations.

All that said, it is nice that we're getting additional options in the XF lineup. I'm not sure how much the camera will resonate without a viewfinder option—something I should point out that even Fujifilm's X compacts have—but the new lenses are highly welcome, especially if they're the caliber of all the previous entries. The 27mm is a pancake, which we've been lacking in the lineup. With the excellent low light capability of the Fujifilm sensors, the 16-50mm's slower aperture set isn't that much of a liability, so having a ~24-70mm option in the lineup to supplement the ~28-85 choice is also welcome.

I like the XF cameras and lenses. They are amongst the best mirrorless performers in about everything except focus speed (and that's been improved with firmware updates). Fujifilm seems serious about crafting a full lineup with plenty of options, though it's taken awhile to get to where I'd feel comfortable about making this my main or only system. We're now at the critical junction for XF. We're still missing a few critical lenses (a wide angle zoom and fast 85mm equivalent are promised), and I'm a little worried about the UI drift. 16mp will slowly seem a bit quaint, too, though I have no problems with that number of pixels, as it's more than enough for prints you can get from desktop inkjet printers.

Fujifilm started high, then slowly rolled downward with their offerings in XF. Rumors have it they'll go even lower than the X-M1. But this is why I say we're at a critical juncture. There's nothing wrong with filling out the lower levels of the lineup, but we have very little idea of what's in Fujifilm's mind at the top of the lineup. Given the naming it's clear there will be an X-Pro2 and an X-E2. How far can they push them? Will they compromise the things we like about those cameras in achieving the updates? Will those updates be modest iterations or real up-scale moves?

At this point, it's impossible to tell. I suspect I'll be writing the answer around the time of Photokina 2014. In the meantime, we now have three camera bodies and eight lenses (10 if you count the Zeiss Touits) to choose from. So far, all of these options are pretty high performance, too. Good on Fujifilm. Let's hope they continue the rollout with more products and some useful accessories, and without any other deviations from the standard UI they started with.


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