Tomorrow, Fujifilm will announce its new DSLR-like mirrorless camera in the X-series. From the teaser and the leaked pictures, the camera (rumored to be called X-T1) will have a retro design with dedicated dials for key functions. Just like the Nikon Df. Coming on the heels of a highly controversial camera like that Df, the question will be whether Fuji got retro right. It largely did, at least design-wise, with the X100 and the X-Pro 1, but both these cameras had/have drawbacks in their first iteration. The X100 apparently had a very slow autofocus, at least until Fuji released a firmware update that addressed it to a certain extent. The X-Pro1 apparently lagged a bit as well compared to its mirrorless peers.
On the other hand, the Nikon Df, which I have used for the past two weeks, is overall a very capable camera with a versatile sensor, but didn't get retro 100% right. If anything, the Df has too many dials and tiny little locks to deal with. What should have been simple is instead a jumble of analog and digital controls.
Plus, the Df misses a key retro feature, which is a good viewfinder focusing screen for manual lenses. It's great to be able to mount really old Nikkor glass on a modern DSLR, but those lenses are really hard to focus.
I have a Nikkor 55mm f/1.2 manual lens that my father-in-law used to shoot with many years ago. I can't use it on my D800e. I can use it with an adapter on the Canon 5DIII, but have a hard time focusing it. I can easily mount it on the Df, but find it real hard to achieve critical focus where it matters, it f/1.2.
It's actually easier to mount that Nikkor with the Canon adapter on a metabones Canon to Sony NEX adapter and use it with focus peaking and magnifying on the Sony A7R, hardly a retro camera.
On the other hand, the Df is very capable under most circumstances and produces the best high-ISO files I have ever seen. But those high-ISO results are the only advantage from my perspective over the Nikon D800e, which seems just as capable otherwise and gets you 20 more megapixels for roughly the same price. In short, the Df is not for me. Many others have voiced the same conclusion.
Hopefully, Fuji will not put a premium on retro and hopefully this camera gets it right from the get-go. It's going to be interesting to see how it compares with the Olympus OM-D E-M1 and it begs for Ricoh Pentax to come up with a Pentax ME-like competitor.
Still, I cannot help thinking that camera manufacturers are adopting the behavior of the computer industry, rolling out products that we as consumers have to beta test so the next version will be right.
The Olympus OM-D E-M5 was good, but the E-M1 that followed was what the E-M5 should have been. The Fuji X100 was interesting, but the X100s fixed its shortcomings. The Sony A7/R have great sensors, but suffer from many shortcomings that hopefully Sony will address. The Nikon D600 had a problem that the D610 fixed.
Here's hoping that Fuji will get this one right. On the other hand, if they don't get it right, I won't want it and that's easier on the wallet.
By John van Rosendaal
All Images: Nikon Df