FUJI X-T1: Has Mirrorless Finally Gone Pro?

fuji Jun 26, 2014

Fujifilm’s X-Series of cameras have set new standards for mirrorless camera systems. Combining a retro look and feel with cutting edge technology in an attempt to marry the old and new schools, Fuji’s latest entry, the Fujifilm X-T1 adds weather sealing, an industry leading EVF, truly outstanding lenses and pro level accessories packed in a small retro SLR package. Has the mirrorless camera finally gone pro?

My Fuji X-T1

To be honest, the idea for the retro styled mirrorless camera really goes to Olympus with the OM-D series. I have owned and tested both the OM-D EM-5 and EM-1 and both are very well built, but Fuji came along and ate their lunch with the X-series of cameras starting with the X100, the X-Pro1, X-E1 & 2, and now the X-T1. My review will not cover the technical features of the camera. There are plenty of those already out on the web. My review will be on real-world usage of the camera both in studio, out in the field and while traveling.

DISCLAIMER

These are my opinions and observations. I was not hired, aided or abetted by Fujifilm for this review. I purchased the camera with my own money (I don’t have credit cards anymore) along with lenses and accessories in order to really give a workout on my own terms. If you like this review or not, please help me out by clicking on the donate buttons to the right. This will help me greatly with getting the gear I need for my next review.

HANDLING

The X-T1 feels solid in the hand. This is due to its magnesium shell. The controls are fairly well placed and easy to learn. Following the retro design of the X Series of cameras, Fuji has opted for more traditional controls (dials, aperture rings, and switches) instead of more modern designs. The combination works well, but if you are coming from the DSLR world, you have to adapt to a couple of things:

  1. There is no mode dial. If you want Aperture Priority: take the lens off of A mode (switch), turn the shutter speed to A mode. Optionally, you can leave the ISO on A mode for Auto-ISO. Reverse for Shutter Priority. Set both to A mode for Program Mode. Take all off A for Manual Mode.
  2. There are locks on the dials, but they are inconsistent. Both the Shutter and ISO dials have locks (small buttons in the center that you have to press to turn the dial), but they operate differently. The shutter dial lock only applies to A mode. To get it out of A mode, press the button and turn the dial. After that, the dial turns freely. The ISO dial lock applies to all settings. You have to press it and hold it for all positions. This can get in your way if you are trying to manually set things in a hurry. Just underneath the ISO dial is a secondary dial that switches drive modes. This secondary dial has no lock. When fiddling with the ISO dial, fat-fingered me switched the drive mode to one of the “art modes” and all of a sudden my shots where in “Toy Camera” mode. This doesn’t help you look professional in front of customers, so double check all secondary controls after you modify the primes.
  3. Short battery life. The X-T1 is a small camera with a small battery. Fuji claims the battery is good for 350 shots but that depends on how much chimping you do. This is far cry from the battery life in my D800e + Grip or the Sony A99 + Grip that I have used professionally. I purchased the battery grip not only for my big, fat hands but for the additional battery it provides. You can pick up 3rd party batteries cheaply on Amazon or B&H. Wasabi and Watson are good brands.
  4. Electronic Viewfinder. This only applies to Canon/Nikon users as Sony users have been using EVF’s for a couple of years now. The X-T1 EVF does indeed live up to the hype. For general situations, you will be hard pressed to switch back to optical viewfinders. Give this technology another iteration or two and you will wonder why you ever used an OVF. That said, there are some more extreme lighting conditions where it performs OK but loses ground to the more traditional OVF. Like I said, give it another iteration or two and it will be a dream come true.

The camera can be a little on the smallish side as most mirrorless cameras are. The optional VG-XT1 battery grip ameliorates this and adds a second battery extending operating life. The Fuji X lenses are all very well made and their optics are superb. Fuji has opted for lens-based optical stabilization instead of sensor-based stabilization like the Olympus OM-D E-M1.

One other accessory that I like to add to small cameras is a soft release. This is an oversized button that usually screws into the shutter release button’s cable release threads and makes it easier to depress the shutter release without introducing shake. The snag here is that for all of it’s retro design cues, the X-T1 doesn’t support cable releases (unlike the rest of the X cameras). Enter a new company called Lolumina which has designed a soft release for just such cameras. Using an all aluminum design and some 3M VHB (Very High Bond) adhesive, the Lolumina soft release makes a perfect addition to the X-T1.

IMG_20140512_0102

SHOOTING

The X-T1 focuses very quickly and accurately. It may be a hair slower than the AF Champ (OM-D E-M1), but is no slouch. Odd was the shot that missed the focus. The hybrid AF system (phase and contrast detection) works.

Fuji uses their X-Trans sensor design in the X-T1 as well. This uses a 6×6 matrix of red, green and blue filters to gather color information instead of the traditional 2×2 Bayer matrix. This still gives some RAW file converters fits (most notably DxO who have not included any X-Trans sensor support to date) but Capture One 7, Apple Aperture, Adobe Camera Raw & Lightroom, Irident Developer and Photo Ninja all support the X-Trans sensor. Fuji also incorporated their knowledge of film formulation to include some rather excellent film emulations in camera. Velvia, Provia, and Astia plus a bunch of filtered and unfiltered monochrome modes are at your disposal. They can even be applied in-camera to RAW files after the shot. Very nice. The X-T1 has a very usable panoramic shooting mode.

IMG_20140425_1954

A Day at the Beach

One of my vertical panos is hanging in the Coral Gables Museum.

Biltmore Hotel Vertical Pano

The X-Trans sensor does rather well in low-light and contrasty situations. The RAW files it produces are very flexible and can tolerate a lot of post processing. Here are some samples:

Biltmore Hotel Lobby

Parliament of Clouds

IMG_20140424_1901-Edit

IMG_20140424_1904

IMG_20140425_1986

Wooden Expression

All of these images are shot handheld. The combination of optical stabilization and great high ISO performance leads to a lot of keepers. Even non stabilized lenses benefit from the X-Trans great low-light capabilities:

Eighth at Sunset

This was shot with the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 lens for Fuji X-mount (courtesy of Carl Zeiss AG).

IN THE STUDIO

Professionals do not always work outdoors. Sometimes work happens indoors in our fancy-shmancy studios. (I am working on a fancy-shmancy studio. Right now, my studio is in two bags that I haul out to my patio.) Fuji wants this camera to be picked up by pros, so I decided to give the once over in the studio environment.

Track Star

This shot was inspired by the works of Joel Grimes. As such, I shot the background separate from the subject. The background image was shot handheld and processed in Topaz Adjust to bring out the colors. The subject (my son) was shot in my patio studio with a white backdrop, a monolight + softbox aiming up at 45 degrees and a second fill light with a beauty dish lighting his hair. I processed his image with my usual sauce plus some clarity to bring out the skin details.

To make this happen with the Fuji X-T1, I had to dive into the menus and change some settings. Most notably, I had to deactivate the exposure preview in manual mode. The awesome electronic viewfinder tries to preview the shot in the viewfinder, but since we are in manual mode and the camera has no idea that strobes will be adding light to the shot, the EVF will display inky blackness instead of the image. By turning this feature off, the EVF display what is in front of it regardless of settings. The other challenge to studio work is the X-T1’s rather slow sync speed of 1/180th of a second. Most of us are used to speeds of 1/200-1/250th of a second and even faster with High Speed Sync (HSS), but the Fuji has none of this. Hopefully your strobes will be enough to freeze any motion.

TRAVEL

The X-T1, like most other mirrorless cameras are quite a bit smaller than DSLRs. This makes them ideal for traveling. Here are my two cameras side-by-side:

D800e vs XT1

Some stats:

  • Nikon D800E is 13% (17 mm) wider and 37% (33.2 mm) taller than FujiFilm X-T1.
  • Nikon D800E is 75% (34.8 mm) thicker than FujiFilm X-T1.
  • Nikon D800E [1000 g] weighs 127% (560 grams) more than FujiFilm X-T1 [440 g] (*inc. batteries and memory card).
  • Nikon D800E dimensions: 146x123x81.5 mm (camera body only, excluding protrusion)
  • FujiFilm X-T1 dimensions: 129×89.8×46.7 mm (camera body only, excluding protrusion)

See more at: Camerasize.com

The X-T1 weighs less than half the weight of the D800e and this is before you mount lenses on them! This may not seem like much when you are filled with youth and exuberance, but as you succumb to the ravages of time, it will. That, or always have an obedient, exuberant youth handy to carry your DSLR kit. Just remember, exuberant youths can eat their body weight of food daily, so factor that into your travel budget.

The most flexible lens configuration for travel with this camera (if money is no object):

Three Lens Kit:

  • FUJINON LENS XF10-24mmF4 R OIS
  • FUJINON LENS XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS
  • FUJINON LENS XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS

Two Lens Kit:

  • FUJINON LENS XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS
  • FUJINON LENS XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS

One Lens Kit:

  • FUJINON LENS XF18-135mmF3.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR

This last lens is a new arrival despite the fact that it was announced with the X-T1. It is a great lens for a one lens travel kit with an effective focal length of 27-206 mm and is weather resistant which activates the weather resistance on the rest of the camera (the camera has weather seals, but it’s kind of pointless if the lens does not and this is Fuji’s first weather resistant lens). The lens is optically stabilized as well.

X T1 Front Left 18 135mm WhiteBK

CONCLUSION

At the start of this I asked whether mirrorless has finally gone pro. With the X-T1, it has mostly. Yes, the launch was plagued with some light leaks and quality control issues, plus some folks complaining about the D-pad on the back not having enough tactile response and don’t get me started about the truckers’ strike in the Port of Vancouver gumming it up for a bunch of us who were trying to take advantage of some sweet deals from Fuji Canada and favorable USD-CAD exchanges.

But what exactly is a pro camera? Is it one you make money with? Yes. Does it have to be super-expensive? No. Does is have to be able to keep up with what you are doing? BIG YES. Does it need weather sealing? Depends on what you are shooting. Does it need two card slots? That is always a plus so you can have a backup of the shots you are being paid to take, otherwise, you will have to have a bit more discipline in your workflow (and probably an assistant).

The Fujifilm X-T1 pretty much hits all marks except for the dual card slots. I have used it successfully in the field and in the studio. Gotten paying gigs with it and even have four photos taken with it hanging in a museum this summer. So to answer the original question, “has mirrorless finally gone pro?”

To me, it has.

Well done, Fuji.

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