Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fuji X-Pro 1 AF (Autofocus) speed and accuracy - Review and tips


It seems to me that speed and quality of the Fujifim X-Pro 1 autofocus is one of the hottest topics about this camera on the web. "Is it as fast as...?" "Is it capable of sports, action, etc...?"

I will focus (no pun intended) on this topic for todays post and give you my experiences and tips on how to get the most out of the X-Pro 1 in terms of focusing. As of today, I took more than 10,000 images with the X-Pro 1 in the past 4 month. That gives me a pretty good idea of what the AF can and what it can't do.

The X-Pro 1 AF will not rival the speed of the Nikon D4 or Canon 1D X - that should not be a surprise to anyone. But there are ways to make the AF of the X-Pro 1 perform fast enough for most situations.

Future Dirk Nowitzki? Fuji X-Pro 1
No, you don't have to fake it like this in order to take photos of moving subject with the X-Pro 1 ;)


The X-Pro 1 uses contrast detection autofocus (CDAF) compared to phase detection autofocus that is usually found in DSLR cameras. As I have shown in an earlyer post, I like to photograph at minimum aperture to create a shallow depth of field. And in those situations perfect AF lock is essential for good results. The advantage of contrast detection is, that it is very accurate when it locks onto the target. On my phase detection  DSLR camera I have gotten used to pushing the shutter half way for 2-3 times before I trust that the AF locked correctly onto the subject.

You can give this a try for yourself. Take your DSLR and your fastest lens - a 50mm lens with f/1.8 or faster would work great. Then open the aperture all the way and look for a subject  about 1 m (3ft) away. Now press you shutter (or designated AF button) once untill you get the focus lock feedback. Now do it again. Did you hear the AF in the lens moving (pumping)? And give it a third try. Still hear movement? If so you are hearing the lens readjusting every time.

I found that in those situations the contrast autofocus is usually spot on the first time while the phase detection AF needs a few pushes and a series of images to get a perfect result.

The advantage of phase detection AF is, that it is better at tracking subjects, especially if they move towards or away from you. The continious contrast detection AF on the X-Pro 1 did not yield good results for me when set to AF-C (continuous) mode.

So is the X-Pro 1 useless for moving subjects? Not at all! You just have to approach things differently to get good results! Here are my tips to get the best results from the X-Pro 1:



1. Learn what the X-Pro 1 AF needs:
Although the X-Pro 1 will generally focus without a problem in good light, there are situations where you need to aid the AF to lock onto your subject. These situations could be a very low contrast object like a plain wall, low light or backlight behind your subject.
In those situations you need to remember that the contrast autofocus of the X-Pro 1 does not focus like a cross type sensor. Think of the AF to work like a split screen focusing screen on a classic SLR camera. Therefore you should aid the X-Pro in horizontal orientation (landscape orientation) to find a vertical line on the subject for your AF point to focus on. In vertical orientation (portrait orientation) look for a horizontal line to focus on. It took me some time to figure this out, but you can give it a try on your white bathroom tiles as a hands on exercise to remember this.



There are situations where you might not find the edge or line in the correct orientation for the focus frame to aim at. In those situations I keep the viewfinder on my eye, tilt the camera slightly (maybe 25° clockwise or counterclockwise) an half press the shutter untill I get the focus lock confirmation. I keep the shutter half pressed, turn the camera back into the orientation that I desire, reframe and click!

Drive by Tourism - Fuji X-Pro 1
This car was driving parallel to me and the AF of the X-Pro 1 did not have any problems to lock focus on the first try


2. Focus points are your friends:
Choosing you focus point is critical. In electronic viewfinder mode (EVF) I set my focus point (focus frame) to its smallest size (push the AF button and turn command dial to the right). This way I reduce the potential for focus error in situations where the focus point covers too much of a subject. How annoying would it be if you focus at an eye, but the AF chooses the nose as it happens to be in your focus area, too?
A larger focus point will however increase the chance that it can focus on something in critical focus situations as described in 1. above. So there might be situations where it can be helpful to increase the size of your focus point.

You should also get very comfortable to use focus point selection. I get far better results when I select the focus point to be on the correct spot in the frame compared to focus and recompose - especially with the XF 18mm lens. I tend to get really close to my subject with the 18mm lens to get a shallow depth of field. And during the focus and recompose process a few centimeters movement can ruin the focus. So get that muscle memory in your fingers trained to press the AF button once and then select the focus area on the arrow buttons. When you want to quickly recenter the AF point afterwards, just push the AF button once and then click the "OK" button in the mittle of the arrow keys - voilá :)

Fuji X-Pro 1 - XF 18mm f/2
The best way to get this sharp result was to set the focus point to the top right of the frame onto the keyhole


3. Focus speed - Yes, it can!
Like I said in my introduction, the X-Pro 1 AF will not be your best choice if you want to use AF-Traking for fast action photography. However, I found the focus speed to be much better than I expected. But once again, you'll probably have to operate the AF differently to what you are used to.

To archieve the fastest AF speed on the X-Pro 1 set the AF to AF-S (single) and turn the power save mode off. Then adjust your focus point to be on the area of the frame where you want to lock focus on (if you constatntly don't get good results try to increase the AF point size for that situation). Now aim at your subject and quickly press the shutter all the way. Yes, you press it all the way without waiting for half press focus confirmation! It took me some time to learn this approach as I have done it properly differently for the past 8 years. But change is good if the results improve. Give it a try, you will probably be surprised :)

Decisive moment for a soccer striker - Fuji X-Pro 1
Contrary to Zack Arias review I found that the X-Pro 1 is suitable for kids soccer photography ;)


4. Fast action sports - Yes, you can!
There are however limits to what the X-Pro 1 AF can handle. Once you are getting into really fast or close action it is up to you! Kind of "Don't ask what your camera can do for you. Ask instead what you....." you get the idea ;)

Once you reach the limit of AF speed, and that is the case for any camera, you will have to rely on your own skill to capture the action. Believe it or not, before AF was invented photographers took fantastic action photos, too. The secret for good results is to lern how to manual zone focus.
First, you will need to anticipate the area of the scene where the action will take place and switch the focus mode to Manual. Secondly,  prefocus to the spot where you want to capture the action and stop the lens down to an f-stop that allows for enought depth of field (zone) where the subject will be in focus. The manual focus distance scale indicator in the viewfinder will show this depth of field zone (white line) in front and behind your focus distance indicator (red line).
Finally, you only need to set your minimum shutter speed to either freeze the action or to leave a bit of motion blur. Now let the subject walk (or run) into your zone of focus.

Hamburg Marathon 2012 Impressionen - Fuji X-Pro 1
Zone focusing the X-Pro 1 with 35mm at f/2.8 was the only way to get a good image this close to the action


5. EVF or OVF for best results?
To get the most accurat framing and focus spot you are best off by using the EVF. And for manual focus and macro photography the EVF is pretty much your only choice. I also prefer the EVF in dark situations as it amplifies the scene and makes it much brighter than in the OVF! Yet, some people don't like to use EVF as there is a bit of lag and the refreshrate can be too slow for some situations. But as you have probably guessed by now, there is also a trick to overcome the EVF display lag in critical timing situations.This will work best if you are photographing with your right eye on the viewfinder. We can take advantage of the X-Pro 1 rangefinder style layout by framing and pre focusing our shot with the right eye on the EVF and then opening the left eye, too in order to look "live" at your subject. Now you see the live "feed" of the scene with your left eye a bit faster than the scene through the EVF. And this can give you the critical edge in timing that smile you want to capture or simply avoiding closed eyes due to blinking of your subject. It takes a bit of practice to get used to it, but it works really well for me. For people who look through the viewfinder with their left eye this trick will only work in portrait orientation.
Naturally, you don't have the lag issue with the OVF. Due to the bigger field of view compared to the actual frame lines the lens/sensor combination captures, you can also better anticipate a subject before it walks into your capture frame. The drawback of the OVF is parallax error. As you are not looking through your lens like you would in a (D)SLR or EVF style camera, you need to compensate for the difference in position from your eye to your lens. This parallax error gets bigger, the closer you are to the subject!
The X-Pro 1 offers a setting in the menu (switch Corrected AF Frame to "ON") to show an estimation of the focus point and framelines shift according to the distance the AF measured. The adjusted focus point and framelines will appear after you half press the shutter to focus and then recompose to adjust the framing. Note that you can't reduce the size of the AF point in OVF mode (it would not be accurate enough). You can however move the focus point around.

Hamburg Marathon 2012 Impressionen - Fuji X-Pro 1
I looked with my left eye past the camera to time this photo and with my right eye through the EVF for general framing. If I would have relied only on the EVF for timing, the lag would have caused me to push the shutter a fraction of a second too late.


Conclusion:
There are certainly limits to what the X-Pro 1 AF can do, but I find the performance of the AF and MF to be very usable. I sometimes read that people (probably not so experienced photographers) are unhappy with the AF performance of the X-Pro 1. But you'll have to do some things differently than what you might be used to in order to get the best results with this camera. There is no face detection or object tracking on the X-Pro 1 - so if this is what you have been used to in your previous camera you now have the perfect opportunity to learn more photography techniques that will put you in charge of the results. Try it, it can be very rewarding. After all, who likes to be only on the passenger seat all the time? ;-)

DSCF5670
A friendly Sony NEX-5n photographer wanted to return the favor and take a photo of me with my X-Pro 1. I guess he never photographed without face detection AF before ;)
Click on the image to read the whole story on this unsharp photo.


If you have any further questions leave a comment below or Twitter me @HamburgCam

p.s. Most of these tipps will also work on the Fuji X100 and Fuji X-E1

And if you liked my post I am always happy if you spread the word and retweet, like or google +1 it :-) 

51 comments:

  1. At the last picture most faces are in focus - so AF works correctly ;)

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    1. That's an interesting way to look at it ;)

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    2. I don't quite get the joke. With face detection, the shot would have been almost instantly correctly focussed.

      Furthermore, the 5n in that case changes exposure taking into account correct skin color brightness as it is the major subject.

      Does the X1 lack this feature or do I misunderstand something here?
      Regards,
      Chris

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    3. Chris, the guy who took the picture of me was the owner of a NEX-5n. I took a picture of him with his NEX-5n and he took the photo of me with my X-Pro 1 which does not have face detection. You need to focus at your subject with the X-Pro 1 as this camera does not assist you.

      This is how I learned (analog) photography, but with todays technology, there is a new generation of photographers that let the camera do most of the technical things for them.
      That is not a bad thing, just an interesting observation and a reason why the X-Pro 1 is not for everyone :)

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    4. OK, now I understand :-).

      I am impressed with the skin color rendition of the female runner. Did you do color correction/WB on this shot or is this straight OOC?
      Br, Chris

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    5. Chris, the Fuji X-Cameras have the best in camera AWB I have ever seen in a camera. It seems like they meter especially for skin tones. Now, there are situations in mixed light where even the Fuji will give you incorrect results, but i.e. my Canon 5D MK II is much worse!

      The runner photos have the AWB and Color OOC. In daylight the Fujis are almost always spot on :)

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  2. Those are fantastic tips. I started using my Xpro as a second camera on commissioned work. I last used it for a birthday party in a dark lit room. I've missed a few shots and over all quite happy with results. I love shooting rangefinders and this camera is quite a remarkable addition. I suffer more with color correction. Great tips keep them coming!

    Regards,
    Sergey

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    1. Hey Sergey, I guess my X-Pro 1 has become my primary camera now. And the X100 my second and the 5D MK II my third camera ;)

      Actually I have to do more color correction on my Canon than on my Fujis...

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  3. Thanks so much for this posting. It is one of the best accounts of using this fabulous camera that I have read to date.

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    1. Thank you Jim!
      I am just trying to share my experiences and findings with other photographers. If others can benefit from my tips, they can spend more time photographing and less time doing trial and error. And photography is what it's all about!

      Keep on coming back and tell others about this blog. Visitors and feedback keeps me motivated :)

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  4. Thank you for sharing, I am new to digital photo and have been having problem with the AF but I really like the camera

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  5. Thank you so much for these tips. I was not aware of the focus size feature in this camera. I am off to the Busker Festival in Ottawa, Canada. Your tips are appreciated and I plan on using them to the max!

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    1. Enjoy the Festival and let us know how the tips worked out for you.

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  6. Thank you for sharing all those tips. I have found REALLY REALLY USEFULL this one: "you should aid the X-Pro in horizontal orientation (landscape orientation) to find a vertical line ..."

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  7. Thank you very much for sharing. Excellent tips!

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  8. Thx, as a not so experienced photographer, this was very helpful to me!

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  9. Thanks, do you have any tips for getting a contrasty black & white jpeg?

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  10. Wonderful article. Very useful to me as an X100 user. Thanks!

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  11. thank you, excellent Article! makes me like my xpro-1 even more!

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  12. I have bookmarked this and will refer to it loads so thank you very much! I agree that the camera is a tool worth working with to get best results - also yours are really clearly described tips. Thankyou.

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  13. Very clearly described tips. I have bookmarked this immediately as i love my x pro 1 and agree that you have to work with the camera. Thankyou very much for such a helpful article.

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  14. Thank you for this, very much needed. I've been shooting with the X-Pro1 for about 2 months now and when it all comes together it's an amazing camera but auto-focus issues have meant that I've missed as many shots as I've gotten. Going to start practicing with your tips right away!

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    1. I hope that the focus gets more consistent for you with these tips. The X-Pro 1 is better than a 50-50 hit or miss camera

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  15. I find the "push the button all the way" technique very unpredictable. You never know how long it will take the XP1 to take the photo. Its kind of try and error instead of a controlled shooting style. More luck than talent I would say.

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    1. My experience has been different. I get really good and predictable results with this technique. It has worked much better for me in motion situations than AF-C or the half push for focus confirmation and then full push to take the image.

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  16. Nice article. I've been personnally a very happy user of the X-Pro1 for 2 months and I love it so far.
    I just wish I could set the Fn button to what the AF button is for, I mean highlighting the Focus Point, so it can then be moved to an area of Focus, using the Arrow buttons.
    That way, you wouldn't have to use your left hand to press the AF button, which I find hard to do very often, especially for vertical shots.

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    Replies
    1. To program the Fn button as AF selector is a very clever idea! Fuji, are you listening?

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  17. This is a great article, I keep on looking at great pictures from the X-Pro1. I have been looking at the usual options from the 2 big brands and I would be happy with a few of those models but few are as inspiring as the X-Pro1. This AF issue is just scaring a bunch of us away... I would like to get my hands on one to try it out.

    Question: Have you tried the X-Pro with studio lights or flashes. I would like to have an ability to take portraits and I hope that there is some experience here in regards to lighting with the X-pro1!

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    1. I have not tried the X-Pro 1 with studio lights yet. The min. flash sync time is "only" 1/180s, so you might have to turn the flashes down, stop aperture down and/or use a ND filter to not blow out the scene. The base ISO of 200 vs. 100 in other cameras is also a small draw back for studio work. But I have seen people getting good results.

      As for system flash I think that is one of the weak spots in the Fuji line. The EF-20 and EF-X20 are nice and small but only turn up 90° in landscape orientation - not in portrait orientation. The EF-42 does turn both ways but is big and I have heard mixed results with it attached to the X-Pro 1.

      And there is no off camera system that supports remote E-TTL for Fuji :(

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  18. Does anyone have any experience with lighting with the X-Pro1? Sync to strobes or flashes?

    I keep on seeing great photos from the X-Pro1 and I am getting very interested in investing in an X-Pro1 system. This is a great article, settles my concerns re: AF performance quite a bit.

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  19. Thanks for the education!
    I'm seriously considering a Fuji X cam, and these tips will be helpful, even though I shoot more stationary objects than moving ones. :)

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  20. Excellent tips! The XPro1 is a camera that brings you back to your roots in photo. From the first days I used this camera as an original SLR, taking a little extra time as it use to be.
    Focusing on a vertical subject in horizontal pane is the way to go. I do this and never have a problem. I found out by mistake how to frame close subjects using the OVF. When I did the initial setup I turned "corrected AF frame to on". This will provide a green frame (secondary) that indicates the proper parallax correction! I use this frame as you compose and your subject will be in the middle...works great.

    The "jpeg" color engine in the XPro1 is the best I have seen in any camera so far by a great margin! I also agree the AWB in daylight is spot on on skin tones and better than my D300. Overall the IQ that this camera produces is superb.

    Thanks again for these great tips.

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  21. hi
    just going back to a previous question which i don't think was answered
    do you have any particular settings for getting punchy contrasty b/w jpegs ooc.i used to get great results from the settings on panasonic gf1 but am struggling with finding a good combination on the x-pro 1. amazing camera.

    many thanks
    very informative article
    thanks
    shane

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  22. Thanks for the informative read! Some great tips...
    Finally an article on how to overcome the AF obstacles of the X-Pro1 instead of more complaining... Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  23. One question. How do the X-Pro1 compare to the X100 in terms of AF accuracy?

    I never use face detection. Sometimes when you focus on a subject it just wont focus. Specially on faces and dim light.

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    1. I think that the X-Pro 1 AF is overall a bit mor reliable and faster (with 18mm lens) than the X100. But the new X100s should be even better.

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  24. Excellent tips. Your experience with this great camera mirrors mine. Thanks for taking the time to post such a detailed explanation of the focus aspects of the X Pro 1.

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  25. Hi, thank you very much for the tips. I find the press shutter all the way to be something new and very interesting for me. And best of all, it works :)

    Usually I also press the AF button again after selecting focus point. Now only need two buttons.

    Last but not least the knowledge of using vertical line is also new for me
    Havent really tried it but good knowledege indeed.

    Many thanks for the tips :)

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    1. I am glad this info was helpful for you :)

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  26. Thanks for the great tips how to deal with the camera. I think that your statement about accurate phase detection focus may vary as it used to be pretty accurate on my Nikon d7000. However the x-pro 1 seems to be fast and accurate since your tips really work well. Also I'm not missing theface detection, it starts to loose it's effect as soon as your in a crowd of faces and the camera misfocuses because it simply lacks human brains. The only thing that strikes me is that infrared focus systems like on the konica hexar af became so unpopular these days. I've never missed my shot with that camera as it focussed without directly without pumping and in very very dark situations.

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    1. I think that the new Fuji X100s combination of contrast and phase detection is the answer for good and reliable results in compact mirrorless camera systems. So I am looking forward to even better AF results in the Fuji X-Pro 2 :)

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  27. This probably my the first very useful review I have ever found for my Fujifilm X-Pro 1, specially the AF thing.. Thank you very much Sir!

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    1. I am glad that you found this info useful :)

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  28. My X100LE is slow from pressing shutter button to taking picture. This is in both manual and ad-s modes I tried. I prefocus and then looks like that extra time is needed to set exposure. Do you have the same observation?

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    1. No I don't. Have you checked if all of your energy saving modes are turned off in the menu? And did you install the latest firmware?

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  29. Would you buy the X E1 or the X-Pro 1 today if you had it to do over again?

    Thanks for the great information on this site.

    Ron

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    1. Hey Ron, I would buy the X-Pro 1 and X100S again, any day!!! :)

      My full frame DSLR has been sitting at home for more than 90% of the time since I have the Fuji X camera(s)!

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  30. Thank you so much for sharing this knowledge. I just bought a X-E1, from the Olympus switched to X-E1, focusing was a challenge. By the way, like your photos on your blog, and found you on Flickr as well. Thank you again!!!

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  31. Would you be kind enough to point me to some info on the X-E1's AF-C function? How does that work? I heard different versions of how it works: 1) it keeps focusing at all times, and then it locks (just like AF-S) at half-shutter press, but starts refocusing when the shutter is then half-released (but it didn't work like it for me when I tried it at the shop)? 2) in Continuous Drive mode, it focuses on the first shot in the series only? 3) it somehow works better than AF-S in low light?

    I basically don't understand the difference between AF-C and AF-S as implemented in X-E1.

    Many thanks for hlep!

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  32. Using back button focus on my Canons, I have learned to appreciate face detection and focus from the Sony RX100.
    I would like to have it on every camera, because most of the time the face has to be sharp.
    And can be turned off if necessary.
    My 2 cents.
    Alex, Austria

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