NIKON Df - FUJI X-T1. Can an APS-C sensor mirrorless camera really compete with a 'full-frame DSLR?'

In terms of performance at high ISO settings I've already written a post on the differences between the two cameras. To see that article CLICK HERE. I've put the comparison images in a gallery below as well.

From those tests it can be seen that the X-T1 is indeed pretty close to the Df in terms of clean, low-noise rendering of the image files. But that's not the whole story. Some photographers still haven't been seduced by the allure of the CSC and some Mirrorless enthusiasts have pronounced the DSLR dead and buried (though rumours of it's demise are still greatly exaggerated) Now I own both, use both and like both. For me it's what the camera does, rather than whether or not it has a mirror. So this is an article about the differences between each and how I use each camera and what I like and dislike about each.

VIEWFINDERS

This is a classic optical versus electronic difference. DSLR's still have optical viewfinders and that's what the mirror is for so that you 'see' through the lens. You can however still get information electronically in the viewfinder. There is no doubt that EVF's have improved significantly in recent times. And the one in the Fuji X-T1 is one of the best. It has the advantage of showing what the finished image will look like, whereas with the Df I'm always looking quickly at the screen to see how the image has turned out. So seemingly an advantage there. But there is an advantage to an optical viewfinder particularly with fast moving subjects and of course it's great advantage is that you can continue to see what's going on while the camera is taking pictures. Very handy with a motordrive burst rate going on. 

And I also like using an optical viewfinder in daylight. Now whether that has to do with the fact that I've used one for the majority of my photographic life I cannot say, but I still like 'looking at reality'. At night both have disadvantages. Looking through the Df's viewfinder in semi-darkness the image is..... well dark. The EVF 'brightens up' what is in front of the lens, but that comes at a price with smearing, noise and a delay. I really have no preference here with the current EVF's. Eventually. I'm sure they will get better, but as of now it's pretty much level in terms of which I prefer with these two cameras.

LIVE VIEW SCREEN

The Df has a live view screen? Get away. Now you would be forgiven for thinking that it doesn't, because like all DSLR's you have to press a button to see it. Now the Df doesn't shoot video so there's no loss there, but the screen is useful for tripod mounted shooting. And it's OK. Pretty clunky and using it slows down the AF. It's OK for things like still life, but I suspect most Df owners use it rarely, certainly that's the case with me. 

The X-T1 screen however, is very good. Really excellent and moveable (though only in the horizontal plane) Now it would be useful for video, if the X-T1 shot decent video, which unfortunately it doesn't. Whether the coming update improves that, who knows. However, it is obviously superior to the Df and indeed to most DSLR's which because they have to get the mirror out of the way for it to work, all have the same issues.

BATTERY LIFE

The above of course impacts on this. One of my major complaints about mirrorless in general and the Fuji X range in particular is the poor battery life. The battery in the Df goes on for ever. Well not exactly, but for days of shooting. I actually forget that I have to charge it up, because with all those manual controls and the screen flickering into life very rarely, the camera uses much less power than the X-T1. I've never yet gone below the full three bars on the battery meter even though I only charge it up every three shooting trips or so.

The X-T1 has very poor battery life and as far as I'm concerned is the reason it can't be considered a truly 'professional' camera. Sure I can carry spares, but that's no good if the battery dies when Usain Bolt is halfway down the 100 metre track!! Because the battery meter on the X-T1 is hopeless. One minute you have three bars, a few minutes later it's dead. Even with the battery grip attached and the extra battery it's still pretty poor. 

OVERALL 'FEEL' AND HANDLING.

Both cameras like a knob and a dial. And there is a lot of manual control possible with each. Now whether you like this on not and find it helps or hinders you is down to personal preference. Personally I like everything in one place and I'm just as happy with the Leica T and my phones which are all touchscreen as I am with the Df and to a slightly lesser extent the X-T1. Using a lot of cameras as I do, I do sometimes forget how to change something and I often can't remember whether there is a manual control somewhere on the body or whether I have to track it down in the menu. 

The Df is heavier than the X-T1, even with the grip, but it's still comfortable to use. Fitted with the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART lens it does push that a bit and there is no doubt that is a heavy combination. The grip on the Df is more pronounced, so that's helpful, but the X-T1 is still a comfortable camera to use. Though with the Fuji leather case for it that's not the case. It isn't a particularly good case, not helped by the fact that there is a flap to access the battery compartment, but not the SD card compartment or the connecting port.

THAT MIRROR

So what exactly have people got against the SLR mirror? Sure it's a bit clunky and you can hear it when you press the shutter, but Nikon have been making camera like this for years, so they have got it working pretty well. Plus DSLR's do have these incredible burst rates and the Df can 'machine gun it' with the best. The X-T1 starts off OK but grinds to a halt and then takes a while before it can go again. So certainly if you need that speed and multi frame capture, a DSLR still does the business. And I have to say I do like the Nikon's positive shutter. The X-T1, like many mirrorless cameras, has this flaccid shutter action that seems to comprise of 2 clicks very close to each other. m4/3 cameras do it as well, though my Sony's seem to be more 'positive'. 

So in terms of mirror on not, I'm actually not that concerned. The Fuji is a quieter camera, but I seem to get the precise moment I'm trying to get with the Nikon.

AF SPEED

The Nikon Df is slightly different with how it focuses. Nikon's have always 'glided' into focus, whereas most mirrorless cameras 'jump'. Now they can of course focus very quickly indeed, but the Nikon always seems to do it more smoothly and therefore appears to quicker. But the thing about mirrorless cameras is that they often focus very quickly, but there is a slight delay on the shutter tripping, so it's probably a case of swings or roundabouts here. Certainly I have no problems with the Nikon and the whole focusing / pressing the shutter activity seems quicker and more affirmative. Now it may well not be as quick, but it certainly feels it.

SO HOW DO THEY COMPARE?

Well, there is a distinct difference in terms of how each camera works in the 'real world'. The Df has that 'old-school' you know when you've taken a picture feel. And certainly there is something reassuring about that. Plus it is a hard camera to miss!! Inconspicuous it's not. Now regular readers will know that I've never been anti-DSLR. I can see lot's of advantage to mirrorless and eventually I can see DSLR's fading away. But that time certainly isn't here yet.

Nikon and Canon, as well as Pentax and other manufacturers keep churning them out and I'm always somewhat bewildered by how some on various sites seem to regard DSLR's as the 'enemy.' Now I see no reason for this, particularly as they are in the minority. The vast majority of cameras bought, from phones to compact cameras to CSC's are mirrorless. DSLR's are a small part of the whole camera marketplace, but in terms of the professional / enthusiast / serious amateur hobbyist demographic they are a much higher % in terms of cameras bought. And perhaps this is where the conflict arises.

For some time now, 'aspiration' cameras have been DSLR's. These are the ones the pro's on our TV screens use. Plus if someone in a movie is portraying a photographer or is using a camera, then chances are it's a DSLR. So there is a misconception that somehow these are 'real cameras.' But the Fuji X-T1 is every inch that as well. If it had a more powerful battery life and better video, then it would be hard not to regard it as a top of the range pro workhorse. Because what it does it certainly does very well. And that smaller APS-C sensor, doesn't seem to hold it back.

I know a wildlife photographer who won't go near 'full-frame' because on APS-C his lenses are longer. And Fuji have certainly proved with the smaller sensor that low noise high ISO shooting is possible. The Df / D4 sensor may be the low-light champion, but the X-T1 isn't far behind. The Df does have spectacular dynamic range and all the Fuji X cameras don't have this as a strong point. But processing from raw using either Lightroom or Photoshop makes that less of an issue. 

So yes, I think that the APS-C sensor Fuji X-T1 can be compared favourably with a 35mm film size / full-frame camera such as the Nikon Df and the Fuji X-T1 is certainly a well-specified, versatile camera capable of pretty much everything I ask of it. It's nice to handle and use and of course has that top class Fuji lens range. But then the Df has virtually the entire Nikon range, old and new, AF and MF at it's disposal which allows for an incredibly wide choice of quality and specialist optics. 

Which do I prefer? Well it's the Df because it's a special camera. But the X-T1 is a fine picture making machine as well. It's lighter, smaller and more 'discreet' than the Nikon while still having the capacity to work quickly and efficiently. And Fuji are slowly but surely creating their own history and their own special place in the camera / lens marketplace. The X-T1 is the latest example of this and it rightly deserves all the fuss that has been made of it. So if you are planning to change from a DSLR, you won't go far wrong if you choose a Fuji X-T1. It has it's own identity as well. And these days in a world of similarly performing polycarbonate clones, that is something to be applauded.

 

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There is an interesting article on the BBC website HERE, which deals with many of the issues above.

Many Thanks

David Taylor-Hughes