The Fuji X-T1. What a fantastic camera. Do a search online and that’s pretty much what you’ll find. But does it live up to all the hype?
Well, before I tell you about my experience with it so far, a little bit about me so you know where I’m coming from.
I moved (back) to the Fuji X system a couple of years ago. I’d previously used a Fuji S3 Pro DSLR before moving to a Nikon D7000 system with lenses such as the 70-200mm f/2.0 lens, a nifty fifty f/1.8 and various Sigma lenses. Back in 2012 I had some health problems which limited my mobility and I found that lugging my camera gear around with me was getting harder and harder. I was cursing myself for not bringing it when I saw something which would have made a great picture, but at the same time I was glad I didn’t have my Lowepro back (breaking) pack on. I had to do something.
At that time there was the Fuji X-10 which had a little optical (zoomable) viewfinder along with a rear LCD screen. I wasn’t sure about diving straight in and getting the much more expensive X-Pro 1 (which had an optical ‘hybrid’ viewfinder) so this seemed the ideal carry around camera for me. I wasn’t wrong – as usual Fuji’s colours were wonderful and I rediscovered my passion for photography. But it wasn’t long until I started to feel limited.
You see, the X-10 was a great little camera but there was no shooting information in the viewfinder, unlike the X-Pro1 which showed what I’d expect to see in a DSLR. I found myself shooting using the LCD screen on the back. It wasn’t long until I realised I was taking snapshots. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I felt my photography was suffering – I just can’t compose using an LCD. I was shooting on ‘auto’ a lot. So, I tried the X-Pro 1 and fell in love with it on the spot. I sold the X-10 and got the X-Pro1 (and later an X-E1 for my wife).
That was it. I was never going to change camera again. It did everything I needed. I sold my Nikon gear – the body, the lenses and the flashes and gradually got myself some good Fuji glass. The X-Pro1 came with the 18mm plus an offer for the 35mm f/1.4, the only lens which would give me pause for thought if I had to choose between taking a lens or the wife to a desert island. The 18-55mm lens came with the X-E1 and I slowly added the 60mm macro, 27mm pancake and the 55-200mm lens to my growing collection of lenses.
The EVF on the X-Pro1 was great for the zoom lenses and essential for macro photography. The optical viewfinder was a dream to use when paired with the prime lenses. Again, this was the system for me and there was no way I’d change again.
That is, until I tried the Fujifilm X-T1.
You see, the thing about an optical viewfinder is that, naturally, there’s no lag. That’s exactly why I liked the X-Pro1 – I had best of both worlds; the OVF for normal shooting and the EVF when I do macro shots or use a zoom.
But whenever I needed to use the EVF on the X-Pro1 there was still some ‘stuttering’ as you panned the camera around or when you go from light to dark areas. But I discovered that the X-T1 EVF makes it a different beast. I didn’t expect to like it over the OVF of the X-Pro1 because after all it is just another EVF with a faster refresh rate. Boy was I wrong. This thing is stunning. For a start, the size of EVF is massive, reminding me of the large OVF of my Nikon D7000. I panned it and there wasn’t a single ‘stutter’ – the colours didn’t wash out and the shooting information graphics have been updated making it (to me) less intrusive. Heck, the information actually rearranges itself when you change orientation from landscape to vertical. Why on earth no-one else had thought of doing this earlier, I don’t know.
Anyway, I was a little gobsmacked to say the least. I changed to an X-T1 and (reluctantly) put my X-Pro1 away for the time being.
So, now that I’ve got one, does it live up to the hype?
In my opinion, yes. Absolutely. Here’s why…
As you can already guess, I really like it. I mean, really like it. If you’re shooting JPEGs then what you see on the EVF is what you get. Its an actual WYSIWYG camera viewfinder. Make your changes to exposure and watch it affect the picture in real-time. Of course this doesn’t apply to RAW files (as I write Adobe hasn’t updated Lightroom to read X-T1 RAW files yet so I’m using RAW+JPG) but I don’t have a problem shooting JPEG. I normally shoot RAW in the more challenging circumstances when I think I’ll need to push or pull shadows and highlights.
As I said previously, the shooting info changes orientation when you shoot vertically – it takes a bit of getting used to as you expect to read the exposure info sideways but its now the right way up. Where it should be. Genius!
Next, manual focusing. To me this is essential since I dabble with macro photography where auto focus is your worst enemy (especially when shooting insects etc). Use auto focus and as soon as you hit the shutter button the lens hunts back and forth by which time your subject has either (a) flown off, (b) lost focus or (c) been squashed.
Fuji introduced focus peaking (also available in the X-Pro1 and X-E1) and its incredibly useful when you’ve got 18mm focusing distance and want to focus-stack images. Watch the crisp pixels move as you slowly focus the lens so you know what part you have in focus. Great. But even better is that Fuji have added a depth of field button to the camera, just like the one you get on most DSLRs. A press of the front function button and you see exactly how much detail your aperture is capturing. Could it get any better than this? You guessed it… yep, it does.
I remember the old film rangefinders where you had a central circle in the viewfinder which was split horizontally. As you focused the lines between top and bottom gradually became equal until you couldn’t see the split, which meant that your picture was now in focus. Guess what? Yes, Fuji have added a similar feature to the X-T1.
You can have it appear in the centre of the EVF where it takes the form of a black and white rectangle which you slowly bring into focus. The EVF is so big you can even make it appear as a separate, smaller window which appears to the right side of the main image. This is one heck of a camera. And it gets better.
The X-Pro1 and X-E1 had their shutter and exposure compensation dials on the top of the body whilst the aperture is controlled directly on the lenses in the form of a ring which you turn to increase or decrease the aperture (apart from the 27mm pancake where the ring has been omitted to make the size smaller and is therefore controlled by the thumb dial on the back of the camera body). The X-T1 takes this a step further by adding the (now infamous) ISO dial. Why do I say ‘infamous’?
Well, the shutter dial has a little button in the middle which when pushed down and twisted once unlocks the ‘auto’ setting and allows you to select your shutter speed manually. The ISO dial works in a similar way but with one major difference. With the shutter dial, once unlocked it remains unlocked until you turn it back to ‘auto’ which is when it locks again. This means you don’t need to press it again to adjust your shutter speed. The ISO dial, however, requires that for every turn of the dial the button be pressed (and held) down. To me this isn’t a great deal but to many its become an annoyance as we’re not all super dexterous and I’ll admit it can be awkward when you’re holding the camera with your right hand, holding the lens and adjusting the aperture with your left hand and then you need to creep your hand up, push the button down with one finger and twist it around with two other fingers (its too stiff to turn with just your thumb).
In my opinion this is something I’m happy to live with since I’d hate to take my shots thinking I was on ISO200 when in reality I’d accidentally turned it to ISO3200. There’s a chap who has come up with a metal disc which sticks to the top of the ISO dial and by way of some super strong sticky tape holds the button down so that you can turn it with your thumb (or two fingers depending on how stiff the dial is). As I say, this doesn’t bother me too much but if you like changing your ISO regularly its something to think about.
Back to the dials in general. This is actually a camera which you can set up without even turning on – you can set your aperture, shutter speed and ISO directly, turn it on and start taking pictures. Only with zoom lenses will you need to check your EVF since the aperture ring on them doesn’t have any markings. This is because the zoom lenses (to-date) are all of a variable aperture type. This means that (as an example) at 18mm your maximum aperture will be f/2.8 but when you zoom to 55mm your maximum aperture becomes f/4.0. With primes the focal length doesn’t change so you’ll have markings around the lens barrel so you can see exactly what aperture you’ve set without referring to the EVF.
With the shutter speed dial, you set your main speed on it but if you want you can also change the speed in small increments via the thumbwheel on the front of the body – really handy since it means you don’t need to keep tweaking the dial if you want to increase/decrease the speed a tiny bit.
A ‘focus assist’ button instantly zooms your EVF to @ a 100% crop so you can see if you’re in focus. Its also handy when you’re playing back your images – scroll through them with the direction pad and press it to see your 100% crop. Turn the thumbwheel to slowly zoom back out/in.
Oh, the rear LCD screen tilts too, but you knew that didn’t you? No? Well you do now. Its not a touchscreen which I know has been commented on (and compared to the Olympus MD-5 etc) but we’re talking about a camera which is a gem for manual/semi-manual shooters. Who needs a touchscreen? When I was a kid, touchscreen was what you did to remove a fleck of dirt off your television.
You can also see that the shutter dial has a sub-dial which controls your metering mode, whilst the ISO dial has a sub-dial which controls your shooting and bracketing modes.
The X-T1. There’s an app for that.
With the new weather sealing on the body the thread has been removed from the shutter button which means that you can’t use your cable release anymore. Booo. Now, you can get a release which plugs into the camera body but because the X-T1 has wifi built-in, Fuji have gone one better and released a free app which you can download onto your phone/tablet which lets it connect to your camera. And its good. Really good.
The app connects to the camera and lets you control pretty much everything. Set your ISO, shutter speed, aperture and the timer etc or browse and download pictures to your phone/tablet. It really is a well thought out app and I can see it actually being of use to me rather than just another app you download and forget about.
I’ve tried it a few times with my macro photography and it worked really well. My only complaint applies to the iPhone – the screen is too small to see some of the changes you make. The iPad app works the same way but obviously the display is a lot bigger so this means I’ll be using it on the iPad most of the time.
When we’re on holiday I can see the iPhone app being very useful since I can set the camera up on a wall, walk back to the missus and see exactly how we’re framed before taking the shot. No more setting it up and running back to beat the timer.
For those of you who like taking selfies you’ll be able to prove to your followers that you actually have two arms and don’t need to salute all the time.
To flash or not to flash.
The X-E1 has a handy little pop-up flash, nothing special but in the event you need a little fill-in flash it can make all the difference. The X-Pro1 dispensed with the built-in flash, as has the X-T1. The thoughtful people at Fuji have listened to those who miss it and have bundled in a little pop-up flash which runs from the camera’s battery via the hotshoe. What nice people!
Of course its no replacement for a proper flash but for those times when you need that little bit of fill-in flash it does the job reasonably well. When you slide it onto the hotshoe, you flip it up which means that the actual flash stands up about 2”. Factor in the distance between the lens and the hotshoe and you’ve got a total of 3” from lens to flashhead. This should give marginally better results than you’d normally get with an on-camera flash, hopefully resulting in less ‘startled-looking-devil-worshipper-with-red-eyes’ pictures.
The good, the bad and the ugly.
No system is perfect. We always complain about things. If we did actually have the perfect camera which did everything we wanted, we’d still end up complaining that there’s nothing to complain about. But don’t worry, the X-T1 does have a few things which may get up your nose.
On the plus side, thank goodness they’ve moved the SD card from the battery compartment to the side of the camera, its so much easier to access.
Unfortunately that still leaves… the battery. Yes, battery life is still so-so. Go out with one battery and be prepared to kick yourself. You need to take two with you, three if you can. What about the warning symbol? Yes, its the same as the X-Pro1 and X-E1. There you are, shooting away with three bars in your battery icon and then it drops to two. I don’t think Fuji like two bars being displayed on their battery icon as they don’t leave it there for very long – within a matter of minutes it turns red and goes to one bar and then turns off. So, as soon as you drop to two bars get ready to change the battery pronto-tonto.
One thing I think may have helped eke out a bit more battery life is the EVF sensor. Previously you could set the camera to display the viewfinder image on either the LCD or the EVF, or turn on the sensor which shows the LCD until you bring your eye to the viewfinder which is when it turns the LCD off and the EVF on. Well, they’ve gone one further now and you can set it so that both displays are off when the camera is on but the EVF will only display when you bring the viewfinder to your eye. It can be a little irritating if you pull your eye away a bit (perhaps trying to grip that bloody ISO dial) and the EVF goes off and then on again when you pull it back towards you, but on the whole I’ve found it quite useful and I think (although I’m no rocket surgeon) that its given me a touch more battery life.
What else? Another plus is that the camera is weather sealed (shame my lenses aren’t but a little splash here and there won’t really harm them – I can always pop a clear sandwich bag over the lens if the rain gets heavier). Anyway, possibly because of the weather sealing, many people have complained about the directional pad on the back being a bit ‘squidgy’ but I can’t really say its that bad. I believe the early models had a light leak where light shone into the EVF via the little door on the left side which is where the sockets are for the cables. People who got replacements mentioned that the buttons on the back seem to ‘click’ better so maybe that’s been ironed out now.
What I’ve not tested… yet
As I’ve mentioned previously, I mainly do macro photography so I’ve not really been able to see how good the continuous focus works. I believe its a lot better than the X-Pro1 but I couldn’t say for sure what the difference is, but what I do know is that the autofocus is a lot snappier (pardon the pun) and it doesn’t hunt anywhere near as much as on the other bodies. One exception would be the 60mm lens, but the focus on that is known to be a bit of a dog – luckily I only manually focus with it since its my main macro lens which is amazing when coupled with the Raynox 250/Raynox 505 lenses (more about them in another article).
I don’t think you should expect DSLR focus performance from this camera but it is certainly a lot better than the X-Pro1 and X-E1. The 8fps shooting mode is really fast, reminding me of my old Nikon D7000.
The additional grip looks good for those who shoot vertically which will most likely be of use to landscape or wedding photographers. It certainly gives it that DSLR look but I don’t think its something for me since I like the smaller form factor of the Fuji system and this would defeat the entire point of me getting it. Saying that, it would still be a lot lighter than a DSLR with grip (I recently sold the grip for my Nikon D7000 and when I attached it to the chaps camera which also had a 70-200mm lens attached I almost dislocated my shoulder).
Movie recording. My stance is as follows. I buy a camera to take pictures. Still pictures. I personally have no intention of making any movies with it unless there’s (a) an uprising in the UK, (b) an alien invasion or (c) a cute marmot doing a handstand whilst playing a banjo. Seriously, when I have tried using it (on the X-Pro1) the continual focusing in and out drove me nuts so unless it becomes law I’ll use something else more capable. Like my iPhone…
If you’ve got this far then you know that this isn’t a technical review, nor is it a professional review, its simply the thoughts and opinion of someone who’s changed to the Fuji system and been totally blown away by their camera bodies and lenses.
One thing I’ve discovered about Fuji over the last few years is that they’re one of the few companies who actually listen to their customers. Not only that, but they continually roll out firmware updates for older cameras, rather than make you get the next version of the camera. Focus peaking – the X-E1 and X-Pro1 didn’t have that functionality when it was released but once it arrived on the (if I recall correctly) Fuji X-100 everyone called for it to be added to the X-Pro1 and X-E1. Lo and behold, Fuji delivered a month or so later. Commendable.
So, to sum up – if you like shooting manually, if you like taking time with your photography, or if you just want to rediscover your photographic experimentation mojo,then I’m sure you’ll fall in love with the Fuji X-T1 and its range of spectacular lenses. Just like I did.
The proof is in the pudding
All of the above is my review of the camera itself but what about the image quality? It goes without saying that the quality of the images from the X-T1 is on a par with the X-Pro1 and X-E1. That is, top notch. Splendid stuff.
Now most of the photography on my site was taken between the X-Pro1 and the X-E1 since I’ve not had enough time to thoroughly put the camera through its paces. However, here’s some images from a trip to Tenerife (from the 18-55mm lens which I’ll be reviewing shortly) along with some macro images taken when I was testing out the Raynox DCR-250 and Raynox MSN-505 close-up lenses to give you an idea of the amazing quality of images the X-T1 produces.