Fuji X-T1 Review

April 15, 2014  •  1 Comment

It has been well over a month since the long-awaited-for Fuji X-T1 arrived at my doorstep. I can now safely say that I will keep this camera (and hopefully for a good while). The X-T1 is part of the Fuji X-series of cameras that were first introduced a few years ago and include both compact fixed-lens and interchangeable-lens cameras. At the heart of most of these cameras is an APS-C-sized sensor that has a different pixel arrangement than the sensors used in most other cameras today. Fuji called called the pixel arrangement X-Trans. From the start the X-series cameras were widely praised for their high image quality, close to that of full-frame cameras, but roundly criticized for being slow and quirky. Back then, an X-camera made great photos if you were able turn it on without a firmware crash, get the lens to focus, dig deep into a maze of menus to make adjustments, and your subject stood still while all this unfolded. But that was then and this is now. The just released Fuji X-T1 is a solid performer in every respect when compared to other mirrorless cameras.

Control Layout

Most X-series cameras follow a traditionalist approach to the control layout which I like very much, and the X-T1 takes it to a new level. Most importantly, each one of the three main exposure settings - aperture, shutter speed, and ISO - has a dedicated physical dial. There are also dedicated switches for metering, autofocus, and continuous shooting modes. No fumbling with button-wheel combinations (Canon) or diving into menus. In this regard there is nothing on the market quite like the X-T1, except maybe for the Nikon Df (which is bigger, heavier, and $1400 more expensive). To many people this retro-style design is appealing because it brings back memories or simply looks cool…but I was not into photography during the analog age, so for me this is not about nostalgia. This is about practicality. I like this design because it makes it easier for me to locate my controls. Without even turning on the camera, I can set my exposure. None of this makes my photos better but it does make them easier to take, and I prefer a camera to be this way. Others may not like it because the dedicated dials slow them down (read Michael Richman’s review on Luminous Landscape for a different perspective). For me, the dedicated dials actually speed things up.

Size & Ergonomics

The X-T1 is not a super small camera (it does not fit into your pocket), nor is it large like a DSLR. The size is perfect for my hand and makes shooting comfortable, even for long periods of time. For reference, I have skinny hands and medium-long fingers. My husband has same length hands and fingers, but much wider. He finds the grip comfortable, but not as comfortable as I feel. Lastly, the X-T1 is just small enough to shoot discreetly, without drawing too much attention, unless you are using a large lens.

Performance

Start-up time is fast (faster than the Sony Alpha NEX-7 I used to own), but not as fast as my Canon DSLRs. DSLR startups are pretty much instantaneous, meaning you can shoot the moment you turn it on. Mirrorless cameras seem to require longer startup times, maybe because the entire imaging pipeline is needed to view the scene, not just to take photos. With the X-T1, you do have to wait a short moment before you can start shooting. To me, it is no big deal.

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) is clear and big. In the Fuji X-T1, I found three huge advantages of EVF over an optical viewfinder (OVF): 1) Composition does not need guessing work. You see exactly what the sensor sees. 2) Exposure setting in your camera is reflected in what you see in the viewfinder. This saves times. I don’t always have to look at metering and the histogram, 3) You can see post-processed results through the EVF. For example, when you change film simulation to monochrome, you will see black and white only through the EVF. Basically what you see in the EVF is the final product. Exposure preview in the viewfinder can be turned off so that the viewfinder shows the scene in normal brightness even if exposure changes. This is useful and necessary when using flash along with the X-T1. Finally, the EVF’s refresh rate is excellent, fast enough that I forget I am looking through an EVF instead of an OVF. If you give the camera a big jolt or shake it violently, you will some flickering. But then I don’t use my camera this way, so it doesn’t affect me. The biggest disadvantage of an EVF is that it drains battery; an OVF doesn’t.

The last but not least (actually the most important for me) feature to discuss is autofocus. This has been a sore point on all my cameras, even my Canon DSLRs. I have yet to find a camera that has an autofocus system I am satisfied with; perhaps I have unrealistic expectations. Most cameras usually autofocus super well in broad daylight; but when the light gets low, they struggle. The Fuji X-T1 is no exception. If anything, the X-T1 is subpar compared to other cameras of it kind. In my experience, the autofocus hunts more often than what I am comfortable with. The good news is that when the camera does lock focus, it does it with excellent accuracy. My portrait shots usually turn out tack-sharp in the eyes, where I want it to be. Autofocus tracking also works well but cannot be compared with DSLRs in terms of speed. If subject is moving fast enough towards the camera, focus-tracking will have a hard time keeping up.

Image quality

Size is one of the two main reasons I bought the camera; image quality is the other. Images are sharp and crisp. The colors are very pleasing to the eye if you choose the right film simulation (my favorite is Pro-Neg Std for skin tones and Velva for landscape). Even in very dark situations where high ISO is need, the JPEG images come out clean. I cannot comment on RAW since I haven’t processed any yet. I would say that the JPEG is awesome up to ISO 1600, and extremely usable up to ISO 6400. It probably still usable past ISO 6400 but I haven’t tried and don’t plan to. I’m not a fan of using extended ISO’s in general. At sensor sensitivity past ISO 1600, you will see strong noise-reduction applied by the in-camera JPEG-engine, which causes the image to lose some detail; however the camera does allow you to turn down the noise-reduction if want more details and don’t mind the grainy look.

Paired with one of the super-fast XF lenses, the image quality of the X-T1 never left me wishing I had our full-frame Canon EOS 5D Mark II instead. That’s a pretty strong praise for a camera much smaller and lighter than the mighty Canon. I have never felt that way before about any other cropped-sensor camera.

Video

The Fuji X-T1 does have a video mode; however it is severely limited in multiple ways. For family videos, the X-T1 is totally usable; but for anything more serious it is probably a no-go. For example, the camera does not allow you to adjust speed, aperture, or ISO while recording a video; in other words there is no manual control. The only thing you can do is set the camera to the desire aperture before you begin the shoot. After the recording begins, the camera will adjust exposure automatically as the scene brightness change; you can also modify the change by turning the exposure compensation dial. For those who need video autofocus like me, continuous autofocus does work in video mode but it is slow. If you want to track a moving subject, it will probably work as long as the the subject is not running fast towards the camera. Also, autofocus is pretty loud; so if you don’t have an external microphone attached, you will hear the lens moving in and out (while it is trying to achieve focus).

Flash

Fuji sells a few different flashes for the X system, of which only the largest one comes anywhere close to what I expect from a modern flash (bounce, swivel, and have enough power). If you want to use the flash (or flashes) off-camera, you will have to use a third-party flash system with the X-T1 in manual mode. I used a Canon EX-580 off-camera with an Interfit external radio trigger on my X-T1. It worked beautifully, except that I found that (with the Interfit trigger) the sync-speed slower than the Fuji standard flash sync-speed of 1/180s. For me, the fastest sync-speed was 1/125s. With shutter speed 1/180s, the light doesn’t quite reach the bottom of the frame at full power. There is no dark band or anything like that, but you can tell the bottom of the picture is darker at 1/180s than at 1/125s.

Shortcomings

As I already mentioned in my Fuji X-T1 Preview, there are two things I that annoyed me immediately when I began using the camera: the lock on the ISO dial and the 4-way controller buttons. The lock on the dial slows me down tremendously whenever I change the ISO setting, and the 4-way buttons are not responsive enough. I can never tell (without looking carefully) whether I actually pressed the button or not.

In term of user-friendliness, I would like to see the Q-menu changed. The Q-menu, which give quick access to change the camera settings, is a great idea; however too many options that are hidden deep in menus are missing from the quick menu. For example, macro mode is a function I often use, but I ran out of function buttons to assign it to; since it is not in the Q menu, I have to dig deep into the camera menus to switch between macro mode and normal mode. However, the most important setting missing from the Q-menu is probably flash compensation. What is sad is that it is not only missing from the Q-menu, you also cannot set it as a function button. This is an obvious oversight by Fuji camera designers. It would be best if the Q menu were customizable - the user could decide which settings are accessible through it. All this can be easily fixed by a firmware update.

Lastly, the autofocus speed can be improved by a large margin. This improvement would make me more happy than anything else. In fact, if there was only one thing I am allowed on my wishlist, it would be this. Why does the lens need to hunt so much? I find that the lens moves excessively while it is achieving focus. It would be great if Fuji can implement a more efficient algorithm where the lens doesn’t have to hunt so much.

Conclusion

Even though the Fuji X-T1 is no where near perfect (if there is a such thing as a perfect camera for me), I enjoy using this camera very much, period. Look at it this way, I have taken over 6000 exposures in just one month (and I didn’t go on any kind of vacation). This tells you how much I like it. I take it everywhere with me. It has become a part of me. I hope this is not just some kind of temporary excitement from buying a new camera; rather I hope to continue using this camera as often as when I first bought it, taking my photography skills to new heights faster than ever before.

 

 

Fuji X-T1, XF 23mm

 

 

Fuji X-T1, XF 23mm

 

 

Fuji X-T1, XF 56mm

 

 

Fuji X-T1, XF 35mm

 

 

Fuji X-T1, XF 35mm

 

 

Fuji X-T1, XF 56mm

 

 

Fuji X-T1, XF 56mm

 

 

Fuji X-T1, XF 35mm

 

 

Fuji X-T1, XF 56mm

 

 

Fuji X-T1, XF 35mm

 

 

Fuji X-T1, XF 35mm, Canon Speedlite 580EX & 550EX

 

 

Written by Jessie Langfelder


Comments

2.Franky2step(non-registered)
Thanks for the comprehensive and honest review of the XT-1
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