Fuji X-T1 Real World Review: Fuji Goes Pro

Discussion in 'Fuji X-Mount Cameras' started by napilopez, Jun 10, 2014.

  1. napilopez

    napilopez Contributing Editor

    27
    Dec 14, 2013
    NYC
    Napier Lopez
    Fuji X-T1 Field Review: Fuji Goes Pro

    Fuji X-T1 Field Review: Fuji Goes Pro

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    Fuji's X-T1 has probably been the most anticipated camera of 2014 so far. The X system has already established a strong following thanks to its old-school approach to photography, with a retro design and plethora of physical controls for exposure parameters, as well as quite possibly the greatest selection and roadmap of lenses for any new camera system ever. But as mirrorless bodies push forward from being solely consumer and enthusiast cameras to occupying to professional/semi-professional products that can take on DSLRs, Fuji had a large gap to fill.

    The X-T1, Fuji hopes, could change that. I've shot with it extensively over the past few weeks, and from the get-go it's obvious that this is the best camera Fuji has ever made. A humongous, high resolution viewfinder, 8fps with PDAF-based continuous autofocus, and more knobs and dials than you can shake a stick at guarantee that. Still, the camera does have its quirks and foibles, and with action-oriented competitors like the GH4 and A6000 building a presence of their own, how does the X-T1 fare in the fray?

    Hardware and Design

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    You really can't knock Fuji for its design; the X-T1 has quite possibly my favorite balance of of size, aesthetics, and functionality on the market. The black body is Fuji's first traditional SLR-styled product (as opposed to the usual rangefinder-like look), but other than the viewfinder hump, the design is very much in line with previous X-Mount cameras. The body remains refreshingly small, only being slightly larger than my E-M5, but featuring as many control points as my GH4. The hardware feels extremely solid too--metal throughout. The one knock on the build quality would be the side flaps, which do seem a little flimsy, but I doubt you have anything to worry about.

    Like Fuji's other high-end cameras, the X-T1 is designed to have your aperture, shutter speed, and exposure compensation available on physical dials, but this time they even include a ISO dial, as well as a new drive and metering dials. Basically, any setting related to your exposure can be previewed on the device without needing to look at the rear screen or viewfinder. This virtually eliminates a common complaint from DSLR migrants about the lack of a top-plate LCD screen to view settings before shooting. In fact, it one-ups DSLRs here by letting you check these settings without even having the camera on--something which has already saved me from accidentally starting a daytime shoot at ISO 6400.

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    The rear display finally tilts, which will make many street photographers happy, but the real stunner is the EVF. At a 0.77x effective magnification, it's larger than what you'll find on even the biggest DSLRs, and the fact that there is absolutely no lag (well, 0.05 milliseconds, if you're that picky, geez) means optical viewfinders are finding less and less things to claim as an advantage. The optics on the display are spectacular--clear, with no problems at all looking into the corners--and the round eye-cup is comfortable and worked well for shielding the screen from the sun.

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    The image can get quite grainy in low light, but I assume this is because Fuji doesn't want to devote any processing power to noise reduction in live view--a trade off that's well worth it. Besides, you can see more brightly in the dark than you would on an OVF anyway. I also don't think the EVF panel behind the optics is the highest quality (it's the same one on the X-E2), as I prefer the colors on both the GH4 and the E-M1's viewfinders, and the high magnification means it's not the absolute sharpest looking image, but that's just nitpicking. One significant note, however, is that there's no way to adjust the EVF image other than brightness, or by changing the JPEG settings for live-view. I find this mildly irksome, as OLED panels tend to be so contrasty as to crush shadows.

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    In hand, I think the X-T1 feels pretty great. I have pretty small hands for a guy my height, so the X-T1's size is pretty much perfect. The small front grip works surprisingly well, and I had no trouble holding it with the heavy 56mm F1.2 I was trying on it, though I do wish the thumb rest were a little bigger. The dials all feel solid, but I found the inconsistency of control a little annoying: you need to hold down a button to change the shutter speed dial from A mode, but it is free spinning otherwise, whereas on the ISO dial, you always need to hold down the button. and then again on the exposure compensation dial, there is no button, instead opting for added stiffness. I would have much rather these dials either be all free-spinning with decent resistance, or feature a clickable button like on the E-M1 and GH4's mode dial. Having to always fumble with a button to change the shutter speed from A mode discouraged me from manually setting shutter speed the way the X-E2 encouraged me too. Not a major hindrance at the end of the day, but I see no advantage to having three disparate mechanisms here.

    The buttons on the body all provide a tangible click, but they're all very much flush with the body. I got used to it pretty quickly, but on a camera that prides itself on its physical control points, I'd hope buttons were a little more raised. I can see it being more annoying for folks with larger hands, or when using gloves in colder climate.

    The body is also weather-sealed (as all cameras should be) though Fuji hasn't released any sealed lenses so far.

    In Use

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    On the whole, the X-T1 behaves like its little brother X-E2, on steroids. This has its pros and cons.

    As usual, my camera reviews aren't focused much on the sensor-based aspects of image quality unless relevanyt. It's still the wonderful X-Trans sensor, and it's still the top-notch image processor of the X-E2, so you shouldn't expect any significant differences there. What differentiates the images you'll get with X-T1 from those of its predecessors is purely the powered up performance and refined shooting experience.

    And there's definitely a lot to like. As mentioned, I love the overall design of the X-T1, as there's quick access to most of the features I need, and the body is small and light enough to comfortably carry all day. The EVF is rather glorious, and makes you realize just how far viewfinders have come since the earliest mirrorless models. Manual focusing on it, particularly using focusing aids like magnification or peaking, is far more pleasant than on any other viewfinder I’ve used, electronic or optical. I normally don’t even feel the need to use the aids at all, although the new Dual View feature is quite possibly the best MF tool there is. Seriously, it rocks, and I found myself wishing the other cameras I was trying out would have the feature too. It's particularly useful for portraiture.

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    Conversely, I’m somewhat bothered that Fuji hasn’t done anything to its menu and playback interface. It’s not that it’s bad or even annoyingly slow—most things are logically laid out—but it doesn’t feel quite as responsive navigating through the camera as it does on many other cameras of its caliber; Fuji could allow an option to get rid of animations, for example. I tend to make a lot of changes to settings on the fly, so I appreciate it when an interface reacts instantly to my actions. Also, like, on previous Fuji cameras, focusing makes the live view feed freeze up for a fraction of a second, which normally isn’t an issue, but becomes more annoying during intense shooting sessions where you are quickly and frequently refocusing.

    Performance

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    Probably the most important question for people will be how the X-T1 focuses. Well, again, it's like a beefed up X-E2, in S-AF at least. Focus is fast and accurate (I mainly tried it in high performance mode), but doesn't feel drastically faster than that on the X-E2, and still loses out to the Sony A6000 or most M4/3 kits. This is somewhat being picky though, as all of these cameras still focus very fast in the grand scheme of things. The 56mm F1.2 I spent most of the time using was also substantially slower than the kit 18-55, and generally slower than I’d expect from a modern mirrorless kit, but it is quite the heavy glass for a motor to be moving around.

    More importantly, continuous AF worked excellently, but there are some some notable caveats. The focusing portion itself worked fine—out of the GH4, A6000, D7000, and X-T1, the X-T1 probably provided the best hit rate of subjects headed straight toward me. Even using the relatively slow 56mm, my hit rate was pretty excellent in these scenarios. The camera provides up to an 8FPS burst rate in C-AF, although that is a bit of a stretch number in the field—the camera will slow itself down in order to ensure the photos are in focus. I don’t mind this at all—the GH4 does it too--but it’s worth noting that to get the highest possible frame rates, you should be using S-AF mode.

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    C-AF works great if you keep your subject relatively centered

    The real caveat for me, however, is that the C-AF is limited in its versatility. First of all, there isn’t really a “tracking” option. While you can follow a subject moving through a fixed point of the frame, it won’t do much to follow your subject around the frame, so you have to maintain your subject near the focus box, and the PDAF points only cover a tiny central portion of the frame. This is further exacerbated by my second issue—you don’t have live view when using the 8FPS mode. The camera will only display the last frame shot during the burst rather than a continuous feed, so following your subject around becomes difficult if its movement is quick and/or erratic.

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    This makes me feel ambivalent about the X-T1's true viability as an action camera relative to its competitors. If I’m shooting cars or cyclists coming straight at me, I have no issue tracking them--their paths are predictable and the X-T1 does a bang-up job of following movement along the Z-axis. But when trying to follow my dogs or doing any sort of panning with quicker subjects, the experience was often a lot less pleasant. It doesn’t matter how good your focusing system is if you can’t keep your camera on the subject in the first place.

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    To be fair, most mirrorless cameras suffer from this. The A6000, NX30, and E-M5 do. But the X-T1 is up against DSLRs, which naturally don’t have an issue here, and the E-M1 and GH4, both of which can provide around 6-7 FPS with a live view feed between frames. This may not matter to some of you, but when mirrorless cameras are trying to cement themselves as bona fide DSLR replacements, I think this type of subtle difference can have a huge impact on your number of keepers.

    Battery life was another con; I shot a wedding with the GH4, E-M5, and X-T1 side by side, and the X-T1 was the first one to go by a noticeable margin (the GH4 seemed like it could go on for another day). Again, I was using high performance mode on the X-T1, but it’s somewhat ironic that the times when you’ll most want to use high performance mode are likely the times you’ll need the most battery life. Of course, you can always get a battery grip, and you should be carrying around extra batteries anyway for that type of shoot, but it’s something to keep in mind.

    Verdict

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    I’ve been a bit hard on the X-T1. It’s a camera that’s been universally praised, and with good reason. But with it having been out for a while, I thought I'd focus on some real issues you might encounter on the field, particularly for people looking to use it for action and sports photography. The camera doesn’t exist in a vacuum, after all, and I did have some issue with it for some of its intended uses relative to mirrorless and DSLR competitors.

    Some things just didn’t fully jive with me in the field. Sometimes the interface felt just a bit slow, the battery often felt too meager, and the C-AF wasn’t as versatile as I’d hoped. I never felt these issues with the X-E2, but that’s simply because I didn’t even try to push that one like I did the X-T1; the target audience is different. The X-T1 also suffered from being reviewed at the same time I tried out the more expensive GH4, which is one of the most responsive cameras I’ve ever used. Like I said, the X-T1 is an X-E2 on steroids, but there's more to making a camera feel "pro" than adding features and bumping up the specs.


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    But all that doesn't stop the X-T1 from being a great camera. In all, its biggest strengths over its competitors still lie in the uniqueness of the system: the X-Trans sensor and JPEG engine are still top-class, the body design is unlike anything else out there, and virtually every single lens for the system is a spectacular performer. The X-T1 simply lets you use those strengths in more scenarios than any X camera before it.

    If you like the X-E2 and are already happy doing work with it, you’ll absolutely love the X-T1. If you’re an X mount user looking for a more action-capable body, it’s a no-brainer. If you can work around the X-T1’s C-AF weaknesses, you’ll have a great action camera. And at its price point, it provides a very capable balance between features, IQ, and performance.

    For my uses, I don't think the X-T1 has quite sorted out enough kinks for some of the more technically demanding work, but I'm sure it will for plenty of people (after all, it's still so hard to find one!). As always with cameras, it's about what works best for you.

    You can get the X-T1 for $1300 from B&H, or $1700 with the 18-55mm F2.8-F4.

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  2. Phoenix

    Phoenix Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    797
    Jan 31, 2013
    Melbourne, Australia
    Phoenix
    Great write up Napier, it sure sounds like a sweet camera.
     
  3. ean10775

    ean10775 FujiXspot Top Veteran

    886
    Feb 13, 2013
    Cleveland, OH
    Eric
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences. In the admittedly very, very short time I spent evaluating the camera I also found the C-AF with predictive focus to be more underwhelming than I had hoped for.
     
  4. Lightmancer

    Lightmancer Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Feb 2, 2013
    Sunny Frimley
    Bill Palmer
    Well written and informative, thank you. I've also found battery life surprisingly short; I'm glad I have the grip with the extra power it provides, albeit I'm not confident that the combination would last all the way through a "heavy" day...
     
  5. romi.gilles

    romi.gilles FujiXspot Top Veteran

    654
    May 17, 2013
    back in Crooklyn
    it definitely doesn't.