Fujifilm X-Pro1 interchangeable lens camera preview (video)

The interchangeable lens camera market grew by one this week, following Fujifilm's confirmation of its new X-Pro1. The 16 megapixel APS-C ILC may be in fact be a mirrorless model, but company reps prefer that you don't use "the M-word," insisting that the shooter stands alone in its own category as a "premium" interchangeable lens camera. And after spending an hour with the oversized, solidly-built ILC and viewing a variety of comparison samples, it's not difficult to confirm that the assessment may not be far off. The entire hands-on experience was in line with that premium claim -- from the white gloves we were required to use when handling the camera to the Japanese design lead taking care to make sure sample models were clean of markings and positioned just right, it's clear that Fujifilm is taking this launch very seriously, and you should, too. Join us past the break for an early CES look at what may very well be the sharpest mirrorless interchangeable lens camera to date.

In many ways, the X-Pro1 is simply an updated X100 with the incredible benefit of an interchangeable lens mount. To the untrained eye, the bodies look nearly identical, with a similar construction and finish, familiar dial location and control layout, and even a hybrid viewfinder and full-size flash mount. Though it has a similar height, the X-Pro1 is noticeably wider and thicker than the X100, which is to be expected given the need to accommodate swappable lenses. It towers over other ILCs, like the Sony NEX-C3 you'll see below, but with a demonstrated performance boost, implied durability and an estimated $1700 body-only price tag, one of the few things separating this from mid-range and even some high-end DSLRs is the mirror. The X-Pro1 includes a 1.23 megapixel 3-inch LCD and a 1.44 megapixel rangefinder-like Hybrid Multi Viewfinder, which offers either a data overlay or a full EVF - there's a dedicated dial to switch between the two.

The camera's new APS-C X-Trans CMOS sensor is without question the star of the show, capturing 16 megapixel images with quality that exceeds Sony's NEX-7 and even the aging Canon 5D Mark II -- at least according to Fuji's comparison sample images. A new 6-by-6 RGB pixel arrangement in the imaging sensor helps to eliminate undesired effects such as moire without the need for a resolution-hindering optical low-pass filter. This, along with a thinner (yet still quite durable) lens mount that allows the first element in each lens to be positioned closer to the sensor, helps to improve image quality overall.

Based on samples we saw today that were captured with a prototype camera, the sensor really shines with low light shooting -- the X-Pro1 can produce usable 16-by-20-inch prints even at ISO 25,600, which is the maximum supported sensitivity. Identical images shot with the 5D Mark II showed significant noise in shadow areas, while the Sony Alpha A77 (NEX-7) produced an image that you certainly wouldn't want hanging on a wall. The playing field was much more even at ISO 6400, where all three cameras captured usable images -- noise was still visible on both the Canon and Sony cameras, though it was indistinguishable in the Fujifilm print. Again, all of these samples were provided by Fujifilm, and were not the result of independent testing.

This isn't a sports camera by any means, but the X-Pro1 can capture stills at 6 frames-per-second, and has been confirmed to snap between 12 and 15 consecutive RAW + JPEG shots when used with a 35 MB/s card. Fuji reps expect that consecutive image count to jump when using a higher-performance card, of course. There are three lenses available at launch, including an 18mm (27mm equivalent) f/2, 35mm (53mm equivalent) f/1.4 and a 60mm (91mm equivalent) f/2.4 macro lens. Fujifilm opted to launch the camera with three prime lenses, rather than a zoom, in order to highlight the camera's image quality. A much wider selection of lenses is on the works, however, beginning with a 14mm f/1.4 prime and 18-72mm f/4 zoom lens later this year, followed by a 28mm f/2.8, 23mm f/2, 70-200mm f/4 and 12-24mm f/4 to come in 2013. All of the zoom lenses will include constant f/4 maximum apertures throughout the range, but may or may not ship with built-in optical image stabilization. The three launch primes are expected to sell for about $650 each when they become available in late February. A Leica M-mount adapter is also on the way.

The Fujifilm X-Pro1 is without doubt a very intriguing camera, offering image quality that appears to exceed some high-end DSLRs in a smaller (though not much smaller) body. It will no doubt be a hit with deep-pocketed X100 owners, but considering that the camera body alone is expect to run around $1,700 when it hits stores in late February, it'd be stretch the expect the X-Pro1 to fly off shelves and into the homes of amateur and even many advanced ILC-seeking photogs. Check back for a full review as we get closer to the X-Pro1's February launch date.

Update: We tested the autofocus system in a variety of lighting scenarios, and it performed equally well in both bright and low light, achieving focus in less than a second every time. We were only able to evaluate focus on-screen, however, since we were not permitted to take away the images we shot with the X-Pro1 prototype.