Fujifilm are a forward thinking company with ground-breaking ideas and I applaud that. While everyone sticks with a ‘normal’ sensor, Fujifilm tried and in my opinion succeeded in mixing it up a bit. Their latest iteration in the X-lineup is a masterpiece of all they have learned and listened to in the process, just as it should be.
The Fuji X-T1 has been extremely hyped in the months leading to its release. There were a load of rumours - some of which materialised on the final camera and others that didn’t - I’m still hoping for dual SD card slots… maybe one day. In a previous post (here), I outlined my initial impressions which were almost entirely positive. Since then, I have had the camera for a little longer and been able to use it in a larger number of varying situations. This post covers a more in depth look at the camera and how it handled over a weekend covering speed tracking, landscapes and general operation.
The X-T1 is an interesting mixture of old form and new technology. Aesthetically, it is beautiful and Fujifilm’s attention to detail is, as ever, excellent. There are however, a few areas where I was surprised by some oversights. While setting up the camera to head out along the coast, I attached my Manfrotto tripod plate. This is the standard one with the slightly spongey top bit to prevent the camera slipping about when it is attached. However, with a normal level of force on the screw, the compression in the sponge prevents the screen from be able to flip out - it’s held in place by the plate as it sits flush with the bottom of the camera. This is not a major issue, the solutions to which are either, a) buy the (expensive) grips or b) pull the screen out, attach the plate and leave the screen ajar. I have posted a couple of photos of the issue on my Instagram feed here and here. When shooting landscapes, I normally use the screen anyway, having it slightly out was no big issue but if I had tried to pull it out against the pressure of the place, I could easily anticipate it getting damaged or potentially having the hinges bent. This wasn’t a great start to the trip but I was on the way and the weather forecast was looking promising for the next 4 hours.
It wasn’t long before I found a small area to set up my tripod for my 1st image (shot 1 in the next set). It was a very windy day and luckily, having brought along my more weighty Manfrotto tripod, over the carbon Gitzo Traveller, this wasn’t such an issue - and being a wide human, I was able to shadow the set up a bit. The weight of the Fujifilm cameras is a huge advantage for almost everything but in this wind, the tripod nearly went over twice. Now, in my Billingham Hadley Pro bag, I am able to carry, an X100s and WCL, the X-Pro1, and the following lenses: Fuji 14mm, 18-55mm, 35mm, Olympus 135mm F3.5 and 200mm F4 and adaptor. Plus all the necessary batteries, card case, filters etc. This is a lot of kit in a small bag and a LOT lighter than my old equivalent Canon set of kit, for which I’d need a huge bag and a spinal brace! However, in the winds and especially gusty conditions, a bit of heft is useful as everything is a little more stable. Sadly, it was so gusty, any long exposures were out of the question, so after a brief attempt with my Lee Big Stopper, that was shelved as an option for the afternoon.
Now, I am aware that I have opened this post with a couple of possible negatives but I am purely being over critical in the interests of balance because finding anything relly wrong with this camera is really hard!
Practically, the layout is marvellous. The dials are great for work outside as they are easier to turn than buttons are to press when wearing gloves - and If you aren’t planning to use it in wet/cold enough condition for gloves, buy the X-E2 and save some money on the weather sealing. The lock on the ISO dial is both a blessing and a curse but in general, I like to have an extra memory jog to fix the ISO first and then work on the other variables. If you don’t like it, there is this available to preorder. The magnesium body is tough and sturdy but will make your hands cold - hence another reason for the gloves and reinforcing how useful the dials are again. They also look great (but that’s just a bonus). My only criticism that remains from my original posting is the back buttons. The direction pad is hard to feel and is too small and recessed against the back of the camera. I am planning a kind of fix to this at the moment but it’ll take a little while.
After a few hours of shooting, using a combination of tripod and screen or hand-holding and the viewfinder, I barely noticed that I was using an EVF at all. Even when watching waves and timing birds framing (like the image below), it performed faultlessly. The portrait rotation is great - meaning you’re still reading numbers the correct way up and when in MF, the extra side screen (available in options) is very useful. Resolution wise, it’s the best I have ever seen and the live exposure display in manual mode is incredibly handy - especially when using graduated filters as the display on the XP1 used to adjust itself, leaving a little guesswork in the filter’s best position.
I did find that I kept knocking the front fn button but that became less of an issue as I got used to the camera and its size. All other dials are stiff and well made - meaning that they are harder to knock out of place accidentally.
We used to go to Salcombe as a family. It is an amazing coastal town and incredibly picturesque, regardless of the weather conditions. All the images below were shot using the XT1 and XF 18-55mm with the exception of the last two which were shot using the Olympus E-Zuiko 135mm manual lens with adaptor. These images were all show on RAW and processed in Lightroom with the Mac DNG converter available from Adobe Labs here. As far as I am aware, this is the only place that will allow Adobe to make use of the RAF files from the XT1 as yet. I think it did a good job. I am not too interested in the debate behind who supports the sensor best - Lightroom is my workflow so until it’s supported in the application, I’ll be using the DNG converter.
Composing landscapes on the Fuji X-T1 using the screen and dials is excellent. It’s a little childish but they reminded me of the scenes in military films where snipers adjust their sights to allow for their conditions. By having such a large screen for composing or whether you’re in the EVF or using the back of the camera, your adjustments can be seen in real time with each click of a dial. My preference is to have the histogram showing while composing so I can ‘expose to the right’ but make sure not to lose detail in the whites. When in the viewfinder however, it would be better if the histogram could be moved to the bottom left of the screen, near the other settings otherwise it’s a little way off and you have to look over and back to the settings - a small thing but it would be nice. Also, if you were able to move the histogram, composing shots might be easier as it’ll be covering something important one day.
As I mentioned above, because of the tripod plate, the screen on my camera was just out for most of the day anyway but when low down and kneeling in the boggy mud, to be able to angle the screen was a real advantage. It can make framing adjustments a little harder as you’re looking at the screen on a different plane but all in all, a massive improvement and far better than having to lie down in the mud when only a few inches from the ground to see a fixed screen or use the viewfinder!
In terms of image quality, I shoot RAW so the LMO (I think) doesn’t make much difference and the quality of the files is much the same asthe other Fuji X-trans cameras that have come before it but there has been improvements in high ISO noise. With a maximum ISO now of 51200, personally, I think this is getting a little pointless. For many faster jobs, like weddings and family sessions where I intervene as little as possible, I’ll opt for Auto ISO and trust in the camera, using Aperture priority and the exposure compensation dial but I have no idea why the options in ISO go that high. I think it’s likely to be simply stat-wars with other manufacturers and feel that the 200-6400 range should really be enough for most people. I don’t allow myself more than 3200 normally, unless really in a tight spot. Having said that, all these images are taken at ISOs as low as possible as I was using a tripod and didn’t need the faster shutter speeds.
One of the drawbacks for many people and a considerable hurdle for Fujifilm has been the AF since the X-series’ conception with the Fujifilm X100 and the release in 2011. Personally, I have found the focus a little slow on occasion but I also had a 50mm 1.2 L lens from Canon that would hunt like crazy in some conditions. Where Fuji have been amazing is in the constant firmware updates and improvements which have, in time made the focus on all the cameras better and generally, across the board, they are now all good. The X100s was the first to incorporate phase-detection auto-focus (PDAF) pixels onto the sensor - making the focussing faster and supposedly more accurate. Regarding speed, it is noticeable - I also have the X-Pro 1 and that is slower. Not by much but it is noticeable. Regarding accuracy, I don’t know if I have a better strike rate to be honest. There small Fuji Cameras have changed the way I shoot altogether since I divorced Canon so I shoot less but reassuringly, keep more. Possibly because of the extra consideration I give focus and composition in camera leading to less wastage but that’s purely guessing. I was never a real ‘spray and pray’ shooter but I have noticed a change.
Now, onto the X-T1’s new AF system. Fuji say it is the world's fastest. This is a big claim and it might be, based on a specific category or some other perimeter. In my real world experience, it is faster than all the Fujis and fast enough for me. The PDAF is only on the central 9 AF points and that is noticeably faster when using them but the others are no better than the previous cameras like the XE2. There important addition to this one however is the predictive AF where Fuji claim the camera will judge the speed of an object to anticipate and predict where it is moving. Therefore, making tracking focus possible. This does sound complicated. I am sure it is but I thought the only way to get to know it was to have a go.
This has been a hot topic online, However, I couldn’t see many real world speed tests other than a few of slow-moving objects or small aperture conditions leading to potentially high inaccuracies being hidden but a big depth of field. I decided to call up a friend who has a working cocker spaniel called Barney. They are little and fast dogs so I thought it would be a good test.
First off, the camera behaves quite strangely. If you have it on continuous, and half-press on a stationary object, it rocks back and forth as if impatient to get onto a moving subject but it will adjust nicely when flipping between 2 distances. With a moving target, it isn’t that simple. It took a few runs to get the hang of the way the camera handles and some runs were totally shotless. This will be a combination of a few things. Firstly, sport is not my forte. I don’t do much high speed shooting and as such, am not in my comfort zone. Secondly, on the day, I was using a shutter speed of 250 and F4 with the ISO generally around 640-1000 and the 18-55mm lens. The UK sadly has had pretty poor weather of late and the time I had meant conditions weren’t ideal! I started to get some better hit-rates once I had got used to the way the camera handles but the weirdest thing was the way the display half shows the images you’re shooting and the live feed. It all happens so fast (8fps in high speed) that it’s hard to see how it really works but you can track an object of sensible size. It would be hard tracking a small bird or something like that unless it was pretty large in your frame.
So, my findings were as follows (once I had realised 250th was not really enough).
1. Tracking a fast-moving object is possible and the results are on the whole, good.
2. An object coming towards the camera is the hardest for the camera to keep up - but this was the same with my Canon 7D.
3. Spaniels are really fast and following them from standing can be tricky!
There was a lot of wastage in terms of shots missed or where I rattled off 5 before he moved and then couldn’t catch up etc but on the whole, I was impressed with the AF performance from the X-T1. It is not built for sports, it can’t be with a 350 shot battery. Also, until the long 2.8 lenses come out, the range of telephoto lenses are quite slow and you’d need a lot of light for 500th at F4.8or 6.7 (at the long end of Fuji’s telephoto offerings).
The images below are the best of the bunch from Barney’s exercise class. The 6th image is a 100% crop of the 5th shot. I am convinced that with some more light (up to the universe) and a little more practice (up to me), this new Fujifilm camera would be able to track most objects well. If you expect the same results from the Fuji as a sports camera, you are looking at the wrong kit. You want the AF system from a Canon 1DX? You’d better start saving!
For the money, form factor and build, this is a good result from a manufacturer who are listening to their customers.
On Sunday (1st March 2014), I was up at 5:15 to reach the top of Sheepstor in Dartmoor for some landscape photography and I was hoping for a challenge but some nice conditions. As I pulled up, it looked like rain was on the menu but luckily, it never really committed and all I had to put up with was a few drops. This was not a worry as the camera is weather sealed. The lenses aren’t however, but it’s a start. Incidentally, you do get a £250 off the 18-135mm lens with the camera at the moment. Hopefully, that lens will be as good as the others that have come before it. So armed with my Lee filters and tripod, I set off, only to fall over on some ice and snap my Big Stopper on my way down, making what should have been a cheap morning’s photography cost about £75 in damage! That was a bad start. I could ignore the grazed shin and cut knee. The filter made me very grumpy. However, up I went, with a bit of a limp to watch the sunrise from the top of one of Dartmoor’s many rocky tors. It was a short climb - I had driven as far as I could by road and the view from the top was great. The sunrise was brief but worth while and once it was over, I trudged around the moor for a few more hours before returning for breakfast. It was extremely cold. there was ice on the ground. The car had said 0-3 degrees celsius most of the way. The camera performed well (although the battery did die a little faster than normal but that’s to be expected). Again, the back buttons were frustratingly small and recessed especially in the very cold conditions and even with fingerless gloves, pressing them without looking got harder and harder as I got colder and colder.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record but I can honestly say, the buttons and the screen/tripod plate contact are the only real annoyances on the X-T1. There are a few characteristics that are different to other cameras but they are just that, characteristics. The ISO dial won’t suit everyone but nothing ever does. They are not faults or mistakes or the result of bad planning, Fuji clearly have listened to to voices of their real-world users. From the well-known voices like Zack Arias or David Hobby in the US and Kevin Mullins from here in the UK to the rest of us who hopefully vote in the Fuji Rumors polls and make suggestions when asked. There will always be people to pick holes in something and be negative about anything. That’s the way it goes. All I know is that there are people who will be producing different images and in a lot of cases much better pictures than me - often with older and less advanced kit but at the same time, some people have some simply staggering equipment but have no idea how to use it. Finding the kit that suits you and your style of shooting is paramount.
My conclusion on the Fuji X-T1 is simply this and it extends to the ethos of their camera division too, not just the camera itself:
OK, it isn’t a budget camera and it can’t focus like the worlds best sports cameras but it is a bloody good range-topper to a growing niche in the camera market where a lot of people are finding solace in a simpler method of dials and a more traditional approach. It isn’t perfect. Nothing is. It is close though. When all things are considered; the lens lineup (and roadmap), the size and weight, styling, price and quality, and also, Fuji’s experience in film and imaging experience mean that there are no-doubt more interesting versions to come in due course. I have not regretted any purchase in the Fuji line-up at all. This has never been the case with anything else. With Canon, I wish I had bought the 50mm 1.4 instead of the 1.2 and had a holiday (which I could have done with the money saved). With Apple, I should have waited for the iPhone 5s instead of acting on impulse and so on. The Fuji cameras and lenses feel well considered and thought out. There are little things that can niggle from time to time but in my opinion, that’s what makes an object appealing.
What are these photos about?