Fuji have just announced an updated X-T1 with a graphite finish. Those of us with the original black camera can look forward to a firmware update to give us the same upgrades. Since it's nearly six months since I bought my X-T1 and since I've used it extensively in that time both for my stock photography and professional commissioned work, I thought it an opportune time to present my experiences of using it over that period of time.
Fuji have pulled off something quite special here. With a few exceptions the X-T1 has the feature set, options and flexibility of a Pro spec. DSLR combined with the advantages of mirrorless, in a package that simulates the handling, size, weight and style of a 35mm film SLR of a few decades ago. And it is in fact lighter and handles better than those as well.
I've always had a nostalgic memory of those old cameras, but the reality is that what we have now is far superior in almost every way. Those retro film SLR's may look great, but in actual fact they weren't anywhere near as nice to use as they looked and of cause are significantly inferior in terms of image quality, durability, creative options and possibilities. While it's certainly true that film SLR's towards the end of their reign and many of the professional top end DSLR's we have these days were / are bloated monstrosities, Fuji and other companies have looked backwards and used the styling of a much more compact and usable style of camera.
But that is all is it, styling. The X-T1 is in every way a modern camera. There are a few dials and retro trimmings to give the illusion that somehow this is an old-school camera with what are assumed to be old-school virtues that are beneficial and good for our souls. But I've resolved that pining for the past is actually pretty pointless, because it wasn't anywhere near as wonderful as many of us, myself included, have made it out to be.
The X-T1 is a 2014 camera and has 2014 values and virtues. As far as I'm concerned it's time to embrace what modern cameras actually do rather that what they represent or stylistically copy. The bottom line is that this is a great camera and lets me create images quicker, easier and more creatively than any metal dialed film camera and a roll of Kodachrome ever did. The X-T1 is a great camera in it's own right and is far far superior in almost every way to any mis-remembered brute of a film SLR that I / we pretend somehow gave us the illusion that we were truer to the spirit of photography. It's time to get real.
The greatest complement I can pay the X-T1 is that after only a few minutes after it first arrived I'd completely forgotten that it was a new (to me) camera. By then I pretty much knew what was where and how to work it. I'd got used to the body and grip (smaller and lighter than I thought it was going to be from the pictures on the internet but very comfortable in practice) I'd sampled the EVF (very good but not quite the 'window into the soul' combined with an IMax cinema screen that many have described) and tried out the AF. (Very impressive, even with the sluggish 60mm Macro) I was, as I like to be, concentrating on making pictures. It is fast, it is very well built, it is, like the Fuji lookaleicas, VERY comfortable in the hand.
It's also, when fitted with the grip as big as I would want a camera to be. I hung it off my shoulder, hung it round my neck, carried it by the strap and walked about 2 miles in a strong wind and hardly noticed I was carrying anything. It responded quickly, accurately and it WILL improve my photography because it doesn't get in the way. I understand the 'psyche' of Fuji cameras now. I know what makes them tick and I know how to get the best out of them. All I have to do now is use this one to get the best out of myself.
Some people buy into the Fuji philosophy, some don't. If you are looking for the best image quality at low ISO's, look elsewhere, if you are looking for gadgetry and anything other than a perfunctory attempt to include networking options, look elsewhere. If however you want a go anywhere, shoot anything camera designed to put ease of operation at a premium and prioritise core values over headline grabbing geekery then this might be the camera for you. And there is nothing old-school about that. At least there shouldn't be.
The X-T1 is designed first and foremost to make creating still images as painless as possible. You can customise (or not) if you want to, you can use dials or the menu to select your options. Your choice. Somebody once wrote they they liked my no-nonsense approach to photographic gear and since the X-T1 is most definitely a no-nonsense camera, then you'll be unsurprised that I like it a lot. And if you like shooting in low light or hand-held with fast shutter speeds and narrow apertures then you'll probably like it too.
There really wasn't much chance that I wouldn't like this camera and I'm almost completely unsurprised by it and what it can do. And that is far from a bad thing. I doubt that it will sell in huge quantities but it will, I'm sure, be admired by people more concerned with the process of image creation than fiddling for fun. It is nothing less than professional mirrorless in my book. Professional because it is designed to let the photographer control it rather than it control the photographer. It offers choices and simplicity and is well-thought out and well implemented. Time to get real? I just did.
Above is a gallery of images shot with the X-T1.
Where does the Fuji X-T1 fit in?
Above is a gallery of images. To proceed through the gallery click on the images.
So where does the Fuji X-T1 fit in to the overall photographic marketplace? Well pretty much anywhere I would suggest. It is a great all-rounder having added a few nice features to the X-Trans systems headline high ISO performance. The AF is now pretty solid and quick. Fast enough for a skilled and experienced photographer to shoot in any situation, including sports. For a spec. bragging gadgeteer, who knows. The viewfinder is very nice, but don't believe the hyperbole that some are writing about it. It's nice and big and it has a fast refresh rate, but that's it. Lets just say it makes composition pretty easy and as you might expect it's very good indeed for focusing lenses manually.
The dials on the top of the camera are useful. I usually find myself making most adjustments manually without going into the menus. Now I don't make that many but I was changing ISO in the top plate of the camera and adjusting apertures with the dials on the 18-55mm and 55-200mm lenses I was using.
I would mention here the latest lens firmware updates from Fuji have improved the already impressive OIS performance from the lenses. I believe the Fuji lens stabilisation is the best I've used. This is the exif data for the couple with dogs shot in the gallery above.
As you can see, sharp at 1/10th. sec. handheld with the telephoto lens is undeniably impressive. Though of course you will get motion blur with moving subjects as above. Pretty good though. I shot a whole series of images like this as tests and they were all equally sharp. Add this in to that high ISO performance and you have a great low light and indoor camera. Which, for me, makes it pretty much the best all-round mirrorless sysyem. m4/3 can't compete with this, and neither can anything Sony have available.
Low ISO outdoor performance in good light does suffer by comparison. And this is where the other systems show their worth. Having said that, it is possible to get a very decent high-resolution low-noise file from the X-T1 at ISO 200-640. And no it doesn't compare with the wonders of the Sony A7r + 55mm lens or the Nikon Df with pretty much anything, but then not much else does that anyway.
Now I'm not your average jobbing pro. any more, but for my occasional indoor event then this is usually my camera of choice, usually combined with the 23mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2. And back in the days when I ran my own portrait studio and worked at a model agency shooting portfolios, I would have loved to have the X-T1 at my disposal. And the nice thing is that there is now a decent system in place from Fuji. True, there is no worldwide support and dealer network that Canon and Nikon can offer, but the lens range is getting pretty serious. By the end of this year we should have 3 standard zooms, including a f/2.8 throughout version, 3 telephoto zooms, again including that f/2.8 option and a W/A zoom with OIS. Plus a selection of fast primes from 14mm to 56mm. This is a pretty impressive line up particularly when you take account of the build and optical quality and the mostly reasonable pricing of those lenses.
And though many disagree with me, I like the improved Photoshop support. I'll leave aside the fact that I think the latest ACR update is the latest to exhibit incremental improvements, but the addition of the lens and film simulation profiles is nice to have. This makes workflow much faster and easier. Plus those ongoing firmware updates mean that constantly buying and selling cameras to get the latest features doesn't have to happen. Now Fuji might not get more sales by doing it this way, but they are certainly building up a lot of customer loyalty, which in the long run may prove more important.
These days in the camera market there is of course a lot of discounting going on and as many observers have written, many looking to buy a new 'serious' camera can't fail to be impressed by deals on twin-lens Nikon and Canon outfits, which can be had for a few hundred pounds / dollars / euros these days. But mirrorless isn't going away anytime soon and as I've argued constantly neither is the DSLR.
To a certain extent Mirrorless is becoming the more advanced option these days. High-resolution images, ultra-fast AF, 4k video etc. haven't made it to low-end DSLR's yet and when they do the mirrorless engineers will be offering something equally spectacular anyway. The simple truth is that you can offer more with a camera that doesn't have a movable mirror. What we also see happening is the re-styling of mirrorless cameras making them visually indistinguishable from DSLR's. And I can see that continuing. The X-T1 being a prime example of this.
And it does bear out what I and others have been writing and saying for years. Many mirrorless cameras are just too small, too lowest common denominator and too gadget and gimmick ridden to gain anything other than a small audience. If it wasn't obvious before it surely is now, that many people are pretty much happy to use their phones for snapshots but when they want a 'better', more serious camera they want something that looks the part. And the vast majority of those people who want that serious camera really don't care whether it's mirrorless or not, how much it costs is still the overiding factor.
The X-T1 fits into a somewhat specialised market. Mostly hobbyists, enthusiasts and those who generate all or some of their income from photography. None of the X-Trans sensor interchangeable lens cameras are going to go mass-market. According to figures I saw recently Fuji have yet to sell a million of their entire X range. Considering that Canon are about to make their 70 millionth EOS camera alone gives an idea of just where Fuji are in this marketplace. But that doesn't mean that they can't exploit their own unique niche. They make classy stuff that looks good and now, after some hiccups, pretty much deliver high-class performance and image quality. And if they choose to position themselves in that 'Leica values on a budget' area then they may well, if not take over the world, at least prosper. Certainly the X-T1 is one of the most 'chattered' about cameras I can remember and there don't seem to be many who haven't reviewed it in glowing terms. And those plaudits are well deserved in my opinion.
Above is a gallery of images shot with the Fuji X-T1 and using the Nikon lenses above manually focused via a Metabones adapter.
Manual Focus and Handling
The Fuji X-T1 is the best mirrorless camera I've ever used for manual focus. When fitted with my Nikon 28mm f/1.8G lens + Metabones Speed Booster and Nikon 85mm + Metabones Nikon > Fuji X passive adapter I got incredibly sharp images. The best I've so far seen from any Fuji X-Trans camera I've used.
Like my other Fuji cameras the X-T1 is also a dream to handle. So why is this? Well it seems to me that with their retro design ethic, Fuji are putting together cameras that use past designs that have been around for a long time and actually work. Making camera bodies with a layout that has been road tested by photographers over the decades gives them an advantage. They seem not to need to be 'different' or to have some kind of standout design feature that may get nominated for awards but actually doesn't fulfill the primary goal of any design, that the item in question should be fit for purpose. And the X-T1 is certainly that. It just works for me and using it is non-problematic and therefore a pleasure.
Returning to the manual focusing it's not that surprising that this should be a superb camera for that. As has been well documented the screen is one of the best, if not the best, EVF's out there. Since manual focusing is dependent on how well we can see the point of focus then this obviously gives the camera a real advantage. Add in the souped up super-contrasty peaking facility and it's not hard to see why this is such a great camera for MF. It's quick, it's accurate and with practice it should take not much longer to focus than using AF.
The above has mostly been reprinted from my early posts about the X-T1 and the reason for repeating what I wrote then is because in all that time little has changed. There are two major areas which I think could be dramatically improved. One is the poor battery life and the lack of a % read out display. For a camera with supposedly professional aspirations this simply isn't good enough. The low powered batteries Fuji use make an accurate metering system even more essential. I was hoping to see this addressed in the major firmware update coming in December, however it seems it's not going to be.
The second is the poor video implementation. It's been suggested that this is because of the X-Trans sensor but I have no evidence either way to confirm or deny this. Whatever the reason the bit rate is just too low. Which is a shame because the footage the camera produces is actually very sharp. The firmware update promises some higher frame rates and we will have to see if the bitrate improves as well.
ASSESSMENT AFTER 6 MONTHS OF USE.
The X-T1 is a fine camera. Yes it could be better if the battery life / meter and video issues are addressed in future updates. I also personally, because of what I shoot, have some issues with the rendition of certain types of foliage and the poor raw file conversion offered by Fuji and Adobe. However, if I have the time, I can use the excellent Photo Ninja or Iridient Developer, both of which produce excellent, very sharp files. These do show what the sensor is capable of. Hopefully Fuji will eventually get the message that their SilkyPix software and what they have cobbled together with Adobe are still unsatisfactory.
But the X-T1 scores big in two important areas. It's a great camera to handle and use and the lens range, in terms of consistency and lack of any also-rans, is arguably the best out there. It's also quick, versatile and with care and time can produce quite astonishingly good files in virtually any lighting conditions. I'm looking forward to seeing what the firmware update brings and hopefully we will get a battery power power meter and a higher video bitrate. Are you reading this Fuji?? But there's no doubt that this is a camera that is turning heads and people question why they are carrying huge DSLR outfits around. Fuji don't get everything right, but they are better than most at making their cameras 'photographer friendly'. The X-T1 is without doubt one of the best mirrorless / CSC / E.V.I.L cameras I've ever used, if not the best. And this is because of it's all round functionality and lens choices available. And an X-T2 should certainly be something to anticipate.
To see all my posts on the Fuji X-T1 over on my Blogger site CLICK HERE.