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Monday, March 17, 2014
FUJI X-T1: THE NEW X-FACTOR - An In-Depth Real World Review by Chris Dodkin / f-sunny.com
As an existing X Series user (X100, then X-Pro1) I eagerly awaited Fuji's new model. I dreamed of an X-Pro2 perhaps, or a digital version of the classic Fuji MF rangefinders.
As the new year dawned, the rumor sites online were full of clues, so I hopped on a plane to Las Vegas, and the CES show, to get a sneak preview.
I got ten whole minutes in a locked room with the new Fuji model, but that was enough to get me hooked - It was no X-Pro2, nor a medium format X-Trans camera, but I placed my order for the Fuji X-T1 the same day.
When I look back at my CES preview, it strikes me as a similar experience to someone discovering the camera for the first time at a camera store.
You get ten minutes or so to pick up and try the camera, and make up your mind if you like what you see, and if you'll buy it.
And in this respect the X-T1 scores way ahead of it's predecessors.
The first impression is that the camera is smaller than you expect. We're all so accustomed to the size of a DSLR that we automatically assume the X-T1 is built to the same scale. It's not.
As you pick the camera up you get the next impression, this thing is really well built, it's solid and beautifully finished. The rubberized skin grips your fingers, and the dials on the top plate ooze an engineering quality that's been missing from cameras for the last 20 years. Nikon could learn a thing or three from this camera, this is what the Nikon Df should have looked like.
You feel the weight in your hand - even with the grip attached and a hefty lens like the 56mm f/1.2, the whole package is considerably lighter than the Canon 5DII I was used to carrying. Another plus for Fuji.
You click the familiar Fuji power selector to ON, and put the camera up to your eye, and BAMN! You're reaching for your credit card.
The EVF in the X-T1 is a game changer - it's huge, bigger than my reference Canon OVF in fact. And bright, clear, vibrant, and smooth.
It's so good, that I've seen people pick up and use the camera for the first time, and not realize they were using an EVF.
Now if they really stopped to think about it, they'd realize it of course, but the over all user impression is that there's nothing between you and the live scene - and that's a stunning achievement.
As your eye wanders around the huge EVF, you see the new head up display, (HUD), and as you tip the camera to shoot portrait, the HUD information rotates with you - pure genius!
With your eye still on the viewfinder, your right thumb falls naturally onto the exposure compensation dial, which has a reassuringly positive click to it, yet is still easy to adjust back and forth.
The EVF provides immediate feedback to the exposure adjustments you're making, getting that exposure right in camera has never been easier.
Shooting a backlit subject, I can see through the EVF that the camera's metering has seen the bright sunlight and adjusted the exposure, the subject's face is too dark.
My thumb clicks the exposure compensation dial up, and I make the call on when I hit the ideal exposure based purely on the EVF display.
You pull the camera away from your eye, and review the image you just shot on the rear LCD. The image looks great. Not just sharp and clear, but the colors look rich and appealing.
Fuji's secret sauce, the thing that sets them apart from everybody else in my opinion, is their legacy of film color.
They have 80 years of experience instilled into this camera, to get you colors that you'll love, straight from the camera.
No one else comes close. The shot above uses their Astia film profile, and brings out rich dark tones in the hair and eyes, whilst delivering wonderful skin tones.
You look a little closer at the LCD, and see that it's articulated, and can be flipped out from the body to view at a variety of angles.
This is a new feature for the X-Series, and will become a firm favorite for folks shooting at both high and low angles.
It's going to save your knees getting down low to get those shots of the kids, and also provide you the perfect perspective with the camera up high on a tripod, shooting above your head.
You run your thumb over the controls on the rear of the camera, next to the LCD - they are more recessed than on previous models, presumably as a result of the camera's weather sealing.
This takes a little getting used to, so don't let it throw you on the first impression. Like all things, there's a learning process involved with adapting to a new camera, and one month into my time with the X-T1, it's no longer something I even have to think about.
Your eyes wander over the camera and alight on the ISO dial - at last we have a manual dial for setting film speed. You can move this one handed, pressing the lock button on the top with your pinky finger whilst gripping the dial between thumb and middle fingers. You don't have to take your eye away from the viewfinder to do this, and the ISO setting is clearly displayed in the HUD. No more menu diving required!
Under the ISO dial, you see a control for setting the drive mode, and another game changer for the X-T1. You have an option for 8fps shooting.
That's 8fps with continuous auto focus tracking. This is DSLR territory!
With the drive set to CH (Continuous High), and the Auto Focus set to Continuous (C), the new Phase Detection AF on the X-Trans will track a moving target, allowing AF adjustments between each frame at 8fps. The result is the first X-Series which can deliver DSLR levels of tracking AF.
And the great news is, it works as advertised. I'm immensely impressed with the progress of the AF on the X-Series. The X-T1 is head and shoulders above all other X models, and their miror-less competitors in this respect.
Looking right, across the top plate, you spot a button labelled WiFi.
Now, I have to admit, that my first impression was that WiFi was a gimmick on a pro camera. But having used it for a while, I can now see that this is a great feature to have, and something I will use a great deal.
Fuji provide a number of Apps to work with the camera over WiFi, from desktop Apps that will allow wireless file transfer, to a new Remote Control App, which allows you to link a smartphone or tablet to the camera, get a live view of what ever the camera is seeing, and remote control the key settings on the camera. You can then remotely trigger the shot, and even review files from the camera, in the field, on your smart device.
I took the Remote App for a spin on a cold morning shoot - setting up my X-T1 on a tripod to shoot sunrise at the San Luis Rey Mission, and retiring to my nice warm car to wait for the perfect lighting.
The WiFi link to my iPad mini gave me full visibility of the scene, in real time, and allowed me to make changes to camera set-up, all whilst staying warm, and enjoying my latte.
When the light was perfect, I triggered the camera and got my shot. I can see landscape and wildlife photographers loving this capability. And what about sports shooters, with a remote camera trackside, or behind the goal at a soccer game.
I've used the Remote App in the studio as well. Shooting flat artwork for a client, I was able to show her the live view from the iPad, making adjustments to crop, comp, and exposure, to exactly meet her requirements. This really put her (and me) at ease, and made for a really interactive and productive session.
I know tethered shooting has been around for a while now, but this is an unexpected game changer for the X-Series.
So your ten minutes is almost up - you've had a chance to hold and shoot with the X-T1, you've been able to see and use some of the new features - the question is, do you buy it?
In my case, the answer was yes, and I think many people will feel the same way, even folks who didn't like the previous X models from Fuji.
The X-T1 takes the X-Series to the next level, and the instant appeal is stronger than with any previous Fuji model - Fuji have clearly done their homework, and I think the camera's sales will reflect that.
So now you're at home with your new purchase, you've gone for one or more of the excellent Fuji lenses - Is there any buyers remorse?
The only negative so far, has been an early model serial-number issue with 'flare' - light leaking into the camera if the USB door is left open.
This is a somewhat esoteric issue, it could impact folks doing long exposure photography in bright light, using deep ND filters - but only if they have the USB door open, perhaps for a remote control cable.
Fuji have recognized the problem, a dislodged light seal behind the USB and Mic port, and repair will be free at any Fuji service center.
I'll send mine in at some point, but it's a low priority for me, as I can't see myself shooting that scenario.
Otherwise, the experience has been overwhelmingly positive. The camera has consistently delivered great image quality, and the improvements in speed and functionality have also improved the usability and fun factor when shooting.
The existing X Series lenses all appear to have faster AF on the new body, and this may be attributed to the more advanced AF system, and the faster processor in the camera.
There is also a High Performance Mode available, which adds a turbo boost to the standard performance, at the expense of shorter battery life.
I like the fact that this feature is available to use as required, and I find myself switching it on for high speed AF tracking, and off for more standard static shooting.
I can walk around with the camera at waist level, shooting covert street photography, and be sure that the AF will snap to focus without me having to break stride.
I've found the vertical grip to be perfect for me, making the camera easier to hold and shoot with. It's not for everyone, but I suspect many users will opt for this grip, or maybe the smaller standard grip extension, to make the camera ergonomics more suitable for larger (male) hands. People with smaller hands in general, will no doubt welcome the smaller standard size of the camera, and of course the lower weight when compared to a DSLR.
The extra set of controls for portrait shooting make for easy and comfortable studio and location work, and a happy photographer takes better photographs.
I'm loving using the tilt screen - again, something I'd though of as a rather low-end gimmick before actually owning the camera.
It's given me the opportunity to shoot better angles, with greater accuracy for composition, it's positively impacted the images I'm getting every day.
The out of camera JPEGs have continued to impress, in fact for the first few weeks, I shot 100% JPEG as the RAW conversion software from Adobe was unavailable.
This is great news for many potential customers, as they will only ever shoot JPEG, and the ability for this (and other) Fuji cameras to deliver sumptuous images without the need for editing, will really sell the system.
In-camera Velvia mode (below) is just gorgeous!
The addition of RAW conversion software for the X-T1, (currently in Beta from Adobe), adds that extra dimension of control for the pro or pro-am shooter, and Fuji have worked closely with Adobe to include their film simulation conversions in the new ACR 8.4 RC.
I can now select a Fuji film profile for my RAW files, and get that instant classic look, with the added bonus of being able to tweak it from there. Best of both worlds would be a good description.
A Velvia film simulation from RAW delivers velvety deep color for dawn over San Francisco Bay, with huge dynamic range, a precision control.
I keep testing the AF tracking, and it keeps on delivering for me. This has been the biggest single upgrade to the Fuji X system, and will open the door for sports and wildlife photographers who would previously have avoided mirror-less models.
Even with challenging lighting and fast moving targets, the X-T1 was able to provide sharp images, shooting surfers from the Oceanside pier in CA.
I could never have imagined that this would be possible, just three years ago when I purchased my X100.
The pace of innovation at Fuji is simply stunning.
The system is clearly maturing, the range of lenses is compelling, and the X-T1 is capable of capturing images that will rival, and in some cases surpass, images from traditional DSLRs.
It's an exciting time to be buying a camera - and I suspect it heralds a sea-change for the camera industry.
Mirror-less is finally starting to deliver on it's potential.
And the Fuji X-T1 is the king of the hill.
Chris Dodkin - f-sunny.com
Click here to see the user reviews for the Fuji X-T1 on Amazon
Fuji X-T1 First Impression by Mike Villa