The Fuji X-T1 'Professional' Review - Part 1 of 3 - The Tools for the Job?

Sometimes when I go out shooting, I have no idea where I'll end up. With the erratic UK weather I may have to change my destination when I'm out, so making plans as to the choice of what I take with me isn't always possible. However, sometimes when I have a specific location in mind and I have the expectation that the weather will be as forecast I do select what I think are the appropriate "Tools for the Job.'

And so it was on Tuesday when I went to a spot in the Cotswold hills I'd found in the winter and wanted to return to when the weather was warmer and the fields would be full of crops. I knew that a wide range of focal lengths would be useful, especially some long telephoto options. So I chose my Fuji X-T1 plus 10-24mm and 55-200mm zoom lenses. 

The X-T1 is being touted as Fuji's 'professional' camera, the one that is capable of handling the kind of demands that a working professional photographer would encounter. Indeed, it's the case recently that hardly a day goes by where a 'pro' isn't sharing their conversion to the X system from a DSLR based Nikon or Canon system. Now these days, I shoot pretty much what I want, when I want, how I want and am able to select what I want to use either because I feel like it or because I think a particular outfit will best serve me in the location I'm planning to be, so I can be somewhat more 'flexible' in the gear that I use. However that doesn't mean that I don't have the same requirements for a 'professional' camera system that others do.

The Job.

The video at the top of the page isn't meant to show how good Fuji video is. In fact it proves rather the opposite. With it's low bitrate the quality is some way short of what my Panasonic m4/3 or Sony mirrorless cameras can produce. It was all I had with me however and was shot to give a good idea of where I was shooting and how that shaped what I took out with me and the kind of pictures I was looking to create. A sample of the images I came back with below the video link show that. 

The location was a ridge above a Cotswold valley, with views across billowing barley fields to the slopes in the distance. This was why I took the 55-200mm zoom with me. I needed that to 'pull in' the landscape and frame my compositions. It also came in handy as there was cloud coming and going and I could pick out the pools of sunlight as and when they occurred. And of course this range of top class lenses is one of the advantages the the Fuji X-T1 has. And the 55-200mm has another terrific advantage over other systems. The absolutely astonishing OIS lens stabilisation system. It's certainly the only telephoto zoom I've ever used hand held for video and got stable results.

So does the X-T1 and the Fuji lens range provide a 'professional' alternative? Does it have those 'tools for the job'?

Well for this particular 'job' the answer is a qualified yes. The lenses are certainly very good. The W/A zoom is one of the best out there and the 55-200mm is a remarkable lens. As I mentioned, great OIS and a consistency across the apertures and focal lengths that I have never encountered before. Basically I trust this lens to deliver under all circumstances. It's certainly better than my other alternative, the Panasonic 45-175mm power zoom, which is OK but suffers from the usual shortcomings of lenses of this type. Softness at it's longest end being the obvious example of this. No such problems with the Fuji, which is in fact very good fully extended.

The X-T1 is also quick and responsive. Not the fastest AF, but no slowcoach and up to now 100% accurate and reliable for me. However there are three things that still mean I have reservations as to the 'professional' capabilities of the camera. 

Firstly, the ridiculously low powered battery. I never leave home using a Fuji X camera without 3 full charged batteries. And yes I know that DSLR's don't have constantly running live screens and EVF's, but other similar cameras have excellent battery life, the Panasonic GH3 for example. Also having no battery meter with a % power left readout is certainly far from professional.

Secondly the video. With the lens OIS that Fuji have this is an ideal camera for hand-held video, at least it could be if Fuji offered a bit rate that was adequate. Under certain circumstances it can look OK as I found when I did some earlier tests. But it just can't handle movement. If you look at the barley blowing in the wind in the footage above you'll see what I mean.

Thirdly, the image quality, one of the Fuji X systems virtues is now a problem. When the X-Pro 1 first arrived it was pretty much the best APS-C sensor out there with it's high ISO performance and all-round ability. But this is coming up towards being a three-year old sensor and things change. Sony certainly haven't stood still and are coming up with some pretty remarkable results from their Bayers. Plus there is that ongoing problem of raw file conversion and the poor results that Adobe software produces for Fuji raw files. And that is important for pro photographers, because Photoshop and Lightroom is the most used software out there and the quickest in terms of raw conversion. Yes you can get good results from Photo Ninja and Iridient developer. But these slow down my workflow and even when I go through that my Sony a6000 jpgs. are sharper than anything I can get from my Fuji X raw files.

And then there are the Fuji X jpgs. A lot of the Fuji reputation for jpg. quality comes from the original X100 and it's non-X Trans sensor. And they were very good indeed. Somehow this reputation has transferred to the cameras with the different sensor and I believe it's undeserved. All my Fuji X camera jpgs. are soft and distant detail is very smeared.

Now I'm going to be addressing some of the issues around this in Part 3 of this review and there are circumstances in which the Fuji X image quality is an advantage. And it has to be said that in most circumstances it's fine for what I do. But the problem is I now have 'better' from other cameras and as time passes I find that the Fuji X results I'm getting suffer by comparison. There is no doubt that the image quality from these cameras is over hyped. Both in terms of sharpness, clarity, resolution and dynamic range there are now better alternatives. And while I'm prepared to concede that if the quality was good enough 2 1/2 years ago then it's probably good enough now. But then I've never really been someone for whom good enough is something I'm prepared to accept.

And to a large extent I believe that it's this image quality that is holding the system back. I've written before about the mouth watering prospect of the Sony a6000 sensor in a Fuji X body with Fuji X lenses in front of it. If that was the case I doubt I'd ever use anything else again. But it isn't going to happen so assessments have to be made on what's reality rather than wish fulfilment (or not!) 

So is the Fuji X-T1 the 'tool for the job' in my professional environment? Well yes, but with the proviso that it could be better. It's still a great camera to use and handle, one of the best I've used, but I just wish I could stop looking forward to seeing my pictures shot with it and always being slightly disappointed when I do.

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