72 Hours with the Fujifilm X-T1

May 08, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Sometimes I wish photography were a more casual endeavor for me, that I could just pack a good quality point-n-shoot and be on my merry way. Instead, my usual DSLR travel setup involves around 7 pounds of kit plus my tripod. For a short time, that's no biggie. But at the end of a long day my back and shoulder ache terribly, not to mention the space required in my luggage. I could conceivably pack carry-on only but for my camera gear. With a six-week voyage to Italy on the horizon, the idea of carting all that around (solo no less) makes me balk. Add to that the inevitable attention drawn by a big camera with a big lens, and I've been searching for an alternative that won't require sacrificing the technical image quality or adaptability that have demanded my previous setup. I can live with one pair of shoes (okay, two) on a trip - but one lens? Not a chance.

I began eyeing the Fujifilm X-series when the X-E1 was released. But my Canon 7D had weather sealing, advanced autofocus, and a "real" viewfinder. Then came the X-T1, with its delightful mix of compactness, weather sealing, and raved-over EVF (and vastly improved autofocus): I had to try it! So I popped over to LensRentals and rented the X-T1 along with the 23mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2 - a little birthday treat for myself. Cold, hard tech specs of the Fuji X-T1 are easy to find, so I'll skip over those and move right ahead to my personal experience. For shooting and processing details on any image in this review, just hover over the photo. 

Ergonomics & Build

Oh my! Delightfully small, and so so light! The body and two lenses do have some heft, but the difference is dramatic coming from my previous setup. It is indeed tiny - I wouldn't want anything smaller. I have average sized hands, so someone with larger hands might find the controls too crammed for ease of use. The four-way controller is something I've read a number of complaints about, and I do prefer the control wheel of my old 7D, but by the end of the rental period I was getting accustomed to it. Just as I had to learn to use my DSLRs mainly by touch, I would expect that with time the X-T1 controls and heft would ultimately feel just as natural.

Fuji_xt1_backFuji_xt1_backThe camera is roughly the size of my hand from the base of my palm to the end of my fingers. fuji_xt1_sidefuji_xt1_sideThe camera rests in my hand with my thumb easily supporting the 56mm lens.

The need to press and turn the dials for ISO or shooting mode was a minor annoyance to me, since I'm accustomed to mostly right-handed one-finger wheel operation on my previous camera. One other minor niggle was that the button to release the lens is on the right (when holding the camera with the LCD facing you), in a small space, which made changing lenses feel less secure for me. Additionally, I usually leave my tripod plate on my camera - the more small bits in my bag, the easier they are to lose. But by leaving the plate on the Fuji, I had to remove it to get to the battery. If you're shooting for an extended period, you will need a spare battery: the technology in this thing really plows through juice. While the camera is indeed weather sealed and mostly magnesium alloy, the battery and memory card doors feel more delicate than they should on a $1300 camera. Otherwise, it feels appropriately sturdy for its size.

Image Quality

The image quality coming out of the Fuji X-Trans sensor is ridiculously good. I always shoot RAW, and did so with the X-T1. The files are REALLY big! My 18mp Canon 7D turned out RAW files in the neighborhood of 20-24mpx - the 16mpx Fuji files run upwards of 30MB! Why this may be so is beyond my technical expertise, but I found a great deal of latitude in the files for recovering highlights and shadows, as well as impressive sharpness. Moire and chromatic aberrations were, respectively, non-existent and minimal. Any chromatic aberration was extremely easy to correct in ACR, and only occurred in extreme contrast edges. I only noticed it when zoomed in, even in the corners. This is as much a testament to the quality of the lenses as it is to the sensor. Colors were also generally accurate, with textures and tones well rendered.

One thing I hated about my 7D is that shadows were extremely unforgiving, leading to ugly banding when trying to bring out details by any more than half a stop. I deliberately underexposed the X-T1 at ISO 3200 in soft window light. Even when pushing exposure by 2+ stops there was no banding! Of course noise increased as I pushed the exposure, but it remained exceptionally manageable. Color me impressed. Of course I like to get it "right" when I take the shot, but with travel photography sometimes you'll find yourself forced to underexpose in the interest of the right shutter speed to avoid motion blur - I'd rather deal with some noise over blur any day. Additionally, the noise of the X-T1 is very film-like and much lower than my 7D in practical use.

xt1_test_3200_2stopunderxt1_test_3200_2stopunderUnderexposed at ISO 3200, pushed by 2+ stops. Moderate noise reduction applied.

The lack of anti-alias filter indeed helps make for incredibly sharp images. Even at 200% most details look fantastic, avoiding the pixelation you sometimes see even at 100% and almost always at 200%. I accidentally zoomed in to 400% on one shot and didn't immediately realize it! This also make editing easier, especially when working with fine details. Everything was done with Photoshop CS6, which according to some is not as good at developing Fuji RAWs as other software. Seeing as I was very happy with my results, I can only imagine being giddy with even better processing options.

Fuji's film simulations do tend to clip shadows, but I either used Adobe's ACR profile or the Pro Standard Neg, which has the softest tone curve from what I saw. Highlight transitions are generally smooth, colors accurate, and skin tones appealing. With the 7D I would usually shoot to protect the shadows, as the RAW files are quite generous in recovering highlights. I found myself shooting to protect highlights a bit more with the Fuji, perhaps because it is so easy to draw details from the shadows without ugly consequences.

EVF & Focusing

xt1_test_200_56mm_wifi_profxt1_test_200_56mm_wifi_profUsing Wi-Fi functionality, x-t1 test shot at ISO 200 f/2 and the 56mm lens. Very narrow DOF, focused on eye - spot on! The last time I used an EVF was on my old Canon S3 IS, and I couldn't help but wonder how the Fuji's would stand up for someone accustomed to a traditional OVF. What a revelation! I noticed no lag, and manual focusing was easier with Fuji's EVF than the OVF of my Canon 7D. I tried both split screen and focus peaking, preferring the the split screen after fiddling with both a bit. Indeed, with the 7D I would only use manual focus when in Live View, never via the OVF. I found that shooting in dimmer light is actually better with this EVF reflecting your exposure, thus giving you a brighter view and making both composition and focusing easier. Customizing the information on display is also incredibly useful, especially being able to include focus distance.

With both my previous Canon bodies, I was plagued by issues with auto focus accuracy. After all, what good is locking focus if it's not accurate? I rarely use continuous AF, and didn't have good conditions to really try it out on the Fuji. Single shot AF was delightfully accurate, and with the 23mm lens suitably snappy for my use even in lower light. The 56mm lens struggled sooner as light levels dropped, and I'd say that AF in general was slightly but still noticeably slower overall with the Fuji than with DSLRs that I've used. Whether this would be severely limiting is difficult to be certain of, but I can imagine it leading to missing shots occasionally where timing is more critical. It's ultimately the opposite of my Canon issue: accurate but not always obtainable. Thus, how valuable is accurate focus if it can't be achieved quickly enough or even at all? Then again, few things are more rage-inducing than thinking you've nailed a shot, only to discover the focus is off by this-much.

 

Wi-Fi & Other Features

I've never had Wi-Fi on a camera, and being able to control the camera remotely with my phone sure sounded swell. It took me a little time with the manual to figure out how to connect the phone and camera, and it is a little bit of a cumbersome process. You turn on Wi-Fi in the camera, then pull up your Wi-Fi connection in your phone, selecting the Fuji. Then you open the Fuji app, and you're ready to shoot. You do NOT have to be in range of any other Wi-Fi, so this works no matter where you are.

You can control aperture and exposure compensation with the app, and select focus by touching the screen. I wish you could use the app in landscape view, using more of your screen real estate for seeing the image. Perhaps that functionality is there, but I couldn't locate it. I might actually invest in a stylus, as using my finger to select the focus point on 1/3 of my iPhone screen led to some frustration and really slowed me down.

xt1_test_400_BnWxt1_test_400_BnWFujifilm X-T1 test shot with 56mm prime shot at ISO 400 using Wi-Fi function and iPhone app for self portrait. ACR to process RAW and CS6 for B&W conversion.

There is also a built-in intervalometer setting, which is extremely useful for me, both for artistic endeavors and time-lapse work. You set the frequency of the shots (say, every 10 seconds) and the number of shots you wish to take. With my 7D, I used the IoShutter, which attaches your phone to your camera via cable and controls the camera with the app. That has worked very well for me, but it's nice to not have to leave my phone either dangling from the tripod or try and juggle the two in my hands.

The vari-angle screen also feels rather delicate, but I still yearn for a fully articulated screen. When shooting in landscape orientation, it's great if you're using it like a waist level finder or for extremely low/high angles. But if you're shooting in portrait orientation,  it effectively becomes useless. You could use the Wi-Fi and app, turning your phone into a viewing device; that would only be truly practical with a tripod, otherwise leaving you to juggle two items. The X-T1 is vastly easier to use with one hand than a traditional DSLR, so that wouldn't be impossible but certainly inconvenient.

I've also never had a camera with face detection, dismissing it anyway as a silly feature with no real value for me. Since it is offered on the X-T1, I decided I might as well give it a whirl. With wider lens, it actually works quite well for snagging a selfie when you don't want to hand your $2000-worth of kit to a stranger. If you do elect to hand it over, you're reasonably assured that the focus will be on you and not on some tree halfway in the distance.

xt1_test_1600_23mm_flashxt1_test_1600_23mm_flashtest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime using included flash at ISO 1600, ACR for color balance, contrast, and noise reduction (minimal). Skin smoothing, sharpening of eyes, and B&W conversion plus vignette and curves in CS6.

The included flash is essentially a pop-up flash, but good enough as such. It's suitable for a pop of fill in sunshine or backlight, though you are somewhat restricted by the max sync speed of 180th. You'll either need to stop down significantly or pop on an ND filter if you want to have a blurred but not blown out background. The metering with flash compensation and exposure compensation worked well, letting me use second curtain sync to achieve good subject exposure with ambient background exposure. You can also shoot completely manual to achieve the exact balance you want.

xt1_test_1600_23mm_flash_FDxt1_test_1600_23mm_flash_FDtest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime wide open at ISO 1600 using 2nd sync flash and face detection. Pro Standard Neg profile used, minor WB adjustment + curves and shadows lifted, slight NR to color and luminance all in ACR. Minor skin smoothing only in CS6

I only took a couple of video clips, just to see for myself how "bad" the video really is. I've never been a video user, even with my 7D. On the Fuji it does seem much less customizable, and I certainly wouldn't use it for serious video projects but for short clips here and there it appears serviceable.

The Lenses

I chose the Fujinon XF 23mm f/1.4 and Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 lenses for my rental period. Both lenses are extremely well made, and I actually really enjoyed having an aperture ring on the lens. Perhaps not more so than using dials to change it as I did on my 7D, but certainly no less. Focusing manually was smooth, with just the right amount of tension in the ring. The focusing mechanism is also reasonably quiet, and combined with the X-T1's much quieter shutter means drawing even less attention to yourself. Colors and tones rendered smoothly and accurately, with pleasant transitions into highlight areas. Chromatic aberration was minor and easily fixed with ACR. Additionally, distortion was was practically non-existent. I was also impressed with the sharpness of both lenses wide-open across the entire frame. The other bonus is that they share the same filter size, as do several other Fujinon lenses, which means I can mostly use one set of filters and not worry about keeping track of step-down rings. Fuji is providing terrific glass, and at very fair pricing.

Bottom Line

Fujifilm appeals not only because they're consistently innovating, both with cameras and lens offerings, but because they have shown thus far that they pay attention to their customers. Firmware updates have already improved previous models, rather than forcing people to either sit tight or scrape together upgrade funds. I'm optimistic that the focus system may be further improved via an update for the X-T1.

I did occasionally bump up against the max shutter speed of 1/4000th, but I usually have a polarizing filter on my lenses and also carry ND filters - which I did not have for the Fuji rental period. Over time, I've developed a habit of supporting my camera with my left hand under the lens, which on Fuji's lenses leads to accidentally changing the aperture. I wouldn't categorize that as a flaw, per se, but it will require adapting my physical technique. Part of the reason for my particular holding approach is the weight of my kit, which is largely solved by reducing weight by half.

When shooting RAW, your lowest available ISO is 200. Again, I'm not sure why, and I usually shot 200 and up on the Canon because it had the best dynamic range. But, with a lower max shutter speed on the Fuji, it would be helpful to have ISO 50 or 100 as a base option in RAW. Perhaps that may come in a firmware update down the line as well.

The images I've included won't be winning awards, but to me, I'm interested in a camera's performance in real world context. Shooting charts and brick walls just leads to obsessing and pixel peeping. Under perfected, ideal conditions you can get spectacular quality from even an iPhone. Life, especially in travel photography, doesn't exactly hand out perfect, ideal conditions to work with. I'm after a camera that can handle itself not just in the lovely golden hour, but in murky church light or harsh midday sun.

The lens lineup is already impressive, and with weather-sealed lenses and wide aperture zooms on the horizon, I don't worry about missing my favorite Canon lenses. In fact, I can actually afford insane primes like the 23mm and 56mm without resorting to living in my car, whereas I'd have to shell out over $3000 for similar Canon L-glass! Top image quality and a dramatically lighter/smaller package: who am I kidding? I daresay I'm sold!

xt1_test_200_23mm_BnWxt1_test_200_23mm_BnWTest image with X-T1 and Fujinon 23mm f/1.4 lens, ISO 200. Exposure and sharpness adjusted in ACR, converted to B&W plus burn/dodge and curves/levels.

xt1_test_200_23mm_dockxt1_test_200_23mm_docktest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime lens wide open at ISO 200, modest adjustments made for contrast, color, levels. High Pass 3px soft light, approx. 55% opacity. xt1_test_200_23mm_dogxt1_test_200_23mm_dogtest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime ISO 200 wide open, slight exposure and WB adjustment plus sharpening in ACR, cropped with levels adjustment and slight vignette in CS6 xt1_test_200_23mm_fishingxt1_test_200_23mm_fishingtest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime. Shot wide open and underexposed to test RAW file tolerance with more extreme exposure adjustments, both local and global. ACR and CS6, final step of High Pass 20px, soft light at 45% opacity. xt1_test_200_23mm_guysxt1_test_200_23mm_guystest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime lens wide open at ISO 200, modest adjustments made for contrast, color, levels. xt1_test_200_23mm_flowerxt1_test_200_23mm_flowertest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime at ISO 200 wide open. High pass applied to flower in focus, modest burn and dodge on flower. Slight vignette applied. Exposure reduced in ACR with adjustments to highlights and blacks to recover detail in white petals. xt1_test_200_23mm_greenxt1_test_200_23mm_greentest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime wide open at ISO 200. Exposure reduced, slight fringing removed, and image sharpened in ACR. Dodge and burn, curves, and 2 sets of high pass for sharpening and local contrast applied in CS6. xt1_test_200_23mmxt1_test_200_23mmTest image with Fujifilm X-T1 and 23mm lens at f/4, image processed in CS6 to bring out detail in shadows, sharpness enhanced with 2px high pass filter at approx 50% opacity. Levels and curves applied to bring highlights down and further enhance mid-tones and shadows. xt1_test_200_56mm_flowersxt1_test_200_56mm_flowersTest image with Fujifilm X-T1 and 56mm at f2 ISO 200 in bright sunlight. Shot at f/8, sharpness and minor contrast adjustments in ACR, curves/levels + 5px high pass, soft light blend approx 55% xt1_test_800_23mmxt1_test_800_23mmtest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime lens in low light at ISO 800, exposure pushed by approximately 1 stop, developed from RAW in CS6 xt1_test_800_23mm_lowlightxt1_test_800_23mm_lowlightExtremely difficult lighting situation: halogen, tungsten, daylight, and colored fluorescent! Converted with ACR, exposure pushed, modest noise reduction, individual color adjustments. 5px high pass under 50% with soft light. Very slight vignette applied. xt1_test_200_23mm_pierxt1_test_200_23mm_piertest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime at ISO 200 f/5.6 with adjutments for color, contrast, & sharpness in ACR then CS6 xt1_test_800_56mm_capxt1_test_800_56mm_captest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 56mm prime wide open at ISO 800. Autofocus did lock quickly on Fuji lettering of lens cap. Great color and tone. Minor exposure/color adjustments with light sharpening in ACR. Curves and 10px high pass in CS6 with masking. xt1_test_200_23mm_aprilxt1_test_200_23mm_apriltest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime at ISO 200 f/1.8 adjusted for color, contrast, and sharpness with ACR then CS6. Mild green CA on tree right side not corrected in ACR. xt1_test_200_56mm_april_2xt1_test_200_56mm_april_2Test image with Fujifilm X-T1 and 56mm at f2 ISO 200 in bright midday shade, ACR for exposure adjustment and sharpening, levels/curves & High Pass 3px soft light 70% in CS6 xt1_test_200_56mm_aprilxt1_test_200_56mm_aprilTest image with Fujifilm X-T1 and 56mm at f2 ISO 200 in bright midday shade, ACR and burn/dodge + levels in CS6 xt1_test_200_23mm_lobsterxt1_test_200_23mm_lobstertest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime at ISO 200 f/1.8 adjusted for color, contrast, and sharpness with ACR then CS6 xt1_test_200_23mm_salmonxt1_test_200_23mm_salmontest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime at ISO 200 f/1.8 adjusted for color, contrast, and sharpness with ACR then CS6 xt1_test_200_56mm_longexp2xt1_test_200_56mm_longexp2test image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 56mm prime at f/16 for 7.5 seconds to test long exposure. WB and sharpening in ACR, levels and 8px high pass, soft light 85% xt1_test_200_56mm_longexpxt1_test_200_56mm_longexptest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 56mm prime at f/11 for 30 seconds to test long exposure. WB and sharpening in ACR, curves/levels and 10px high pass, hard light 30% xt1_test_200_56mm_wifi_hikeyxt1_test_200_56mm_wifi_hikeyTest image with Fujifilm X-T1 and 56mm at f2 ISO 200 using Wi-Fi function. Shadows lifted and sharpening in ACR with minor tweaks to color in red/orange/yellow. Surface blur on skin at 25%, hair color enhanced and slight vignette applied. xt1_test_200_56mm_wifi_portxt1_test_200_56mm_wifi_portTest image with Fujifilm X-T1 and 56mm at f2 ISO 200 using Wi-Fi function. ACR using pro-neg std profile, slight color adjustments and sharpening. CS6 for skin work, further sharpening of eyes, and levels/curves. xt1_test_200_23mm_boatxt1_test_200_23mm_boattest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime at ISO 200, modest adjustments made for contrast, color, levels. 9x px high pass at soft light, approx 70% opacity. xt1_test_200_23mm_riverpierxt1_test_200_23mm_riverpiertest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime at ISO 200 f/5.6 with exposure and color tweaks in ACR, high pass selectively applied for sharpening and local contrast with neutral gradient at soft light for sky.

xt1_test_200_23mm_aprilriverxt1_test_200_23mm_aprilrivertest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime at ISO 200 f/2, blues/cyans darkened, adjustments for shadows/highlights. xt1_test_200_23mm_texturesxt1_test_200_23mm_texturestest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime at ISO 200 f/4 1/40th. Contrast and sharpness in ACR, levels/curves + burn-dodge in CSG plus high pass at soft light. Converted to B&W. xt1_test_400_56mm_treesxt1_test_400_56mm_treesest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 56mm prime at f/16 for 0.6 sec, minor exposure adjustments in ACR, B&W plus exposure and curves layers in CS6 xt1_test_6400_23mmxt1_test_6400_23mmtest image made with Fujifilm X-t1 camera and 23mm prime at ISO 6400 f/2.5. Exposure and color lumonisity & saturation plus slight sharpening and moderate noise reduction in ACR. Exposure layer with masking in CS6. All photos are Copyright 2014 Raffaella De Amicis.

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