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Shooting the Fuji X-T1

I finally had a chance to shoot my Fuji XT-1 for an extended period – it was Cherry Blossom time. I like the size and love seeing the controls on top. It reminds me of film days in a really great way. The buttons are usable, and unlike its sister camera, the X-Pro1 with the rangefinder look, the exposure adjustment knob is not easily moved to an unwanted setting. The tilt LCD screen on the rear is useful and clear. There is even an ISO knob on top of the camera. Now, that’s retro.

But the main feature of the camera is how it feels in the hands and the pictures it takes. The X-T1 is styled as a mini, retro SLR.  And it works, it really does.  I customarily shoot large cameras – like the Nikon D4 and D4s. But the X-T1 is small and compact and performance is solid. The camera, like the Nikons, is weather sealed. Its performance is not in the territory of the Nikon D4 and D4s, but good. The sensor is great with skin tones and EVF screen is bright and clear. I don’t hesitate to send shots taken with the camera to clients.

 Sunrise at the Tidal Basin, Washington, DC

Sunrise at the Tidal Basin, Washington, DC

This is a mirrorless camera. No mirror or complex mechanisms to slow the camera down. But the viewfinder has to show you what you are taking a picture of. EVFs do have some compelling advantages. As mentioned, losing the mirror and pentaprism dramatically reduce size and weight.  An EVF also allows real-time histograms and image information to be displayed over the subject itself.  Lastly, in low light an EVF can often be brighter than a traditional OVF.  All of these can be real advantages.

The EVF on the X-T1 is about an 8 on a 0-10 scale. While most EVFs to date have not been good, this may be the best so far. It certainly is superior to the EVF in the X-Pro1. For one, the EVF in the X-T1 is HUGE.  It looks bigger and brighter than a standard 35mm optical viewfinder. In addition, the brightness, resolution and refresh rate are all good enough that the X-T1 is responsive and pleasant to use in almost all situations.   I admit to having problems when shooting manual exposure in the studio until I learned to turn OFF the exposure preview in the EVF when shooting in that mode.  If I didn’t, the exposure preview seen in the EVF was too dark to see what was being shot.  After the change, shooting the camera in the studio is a pleasure.

The autofocus is quick and accurate. It uses phase detection instead of the usual contrast-detection focusing systems most mirrorless cameras come with. Fuji claims “fastest in class” autofocus. I can’t say whether that is an accurate statement. I will say that the camera’s autofocus performs well.

The camera also has a very useful face detection system. And, it works. It finds the face and typically the eyes too. The X-T1 gets it right a high percentage of the time.

The Fuji lenses. Ahhhh.  The lens selection has filled out nicely, and now rivals the offerings of any other system.  The 56mm f1.2R lens is outstanding for portraits.  It offers incredible bokeh and excellent sharpness wide open.  The 35mm f1.4 XF R is less so, but still very usable.  For wide-angle work I love my Zeiss 12mm Tuoit f2.8 lens. Between this lens and the 56mm, I am in heaven. I have the Fujifilm XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 R LM OIS zoom lens, but I usually use the primes for most work with this camera. The zoom, however, makes the camera viable for sports use. (I haven’t used it to for any motor sports events yet, but I will soon. And, I will blog on how things went.)

The X-Trans may be the best APS-C sensor in the market. Other reviewers say it is rivaled only by Pentax’s AA-filter free K3 and K5-DII.  I have never shot with the Pentax, but I can say the image quality does not disappoint. In the last few weeks, Lightroom has finally been updated to support the Fuji film-simulation modes. The film-simulation modes are great. I now shoot RAW and jpes at the same time. The jpegs allow me to get good results out of the camera without making extensive settings changes. In other words, I don’t have to dial in the camera to get high quality results out of my jpegs. Using the jpegs (which require minimal processing) ensures that I can deliver photos to clients quicker. I usually shoot “Velvia” for the jpegs.

The in-camera white balance is accurate. I seldom have to spend much time in LIghtroom correcting the white balance. Although the camera tether directly to an iOS device via WiFi, I haven’t used that feature yet. I also haven’t used the associated camera control system (via WiFi).

The X-T1 is not perfect though.  I still dislike the four-way controller. It is too small, and why does the macro mode need to be activated by a small button directly above the controller? This is confusing at best. (It is the same on the X-Pro1.) Unlike the X-Pro1, there is no threaded cable release (which I prefer) and an electronic release has to be used instead.

 Washington Monument at Sunrise

Washington Monument at Sunrise

Too many buttons are needed to use the user-selected AF. A second button must be pressed to activate focus-point selection before the four-way is used to move between points.  Not good design.  The user should be able to configure the camera so that the four-way controller directly operates focus-point selection.  Fuji did keep its excellent "Q" Menu system. The "Q" button allows quick access to most key controls not directly attached to a hardware dial.

I have used the camera for studio work and landscapes. I have been happy with the shots taken in both situations.  The “X” series is maturing nicely with the addition of the X-T1. Being an X-Pro1 user, I can definitely see the improvements. This is Fuji’s best “X” body yet, and their new lenses are a pleasure to use. I use primes more and enjoy it! With the Nikons I find I typically reach for a fast zoom. The Fuji brings back memories of film days and the way we used primes. I like the return to the past, especially when the images are pleasant.  I like the small size and the fact that I am not always drawing attention to myself (the way I do with the Nikons) when shooting street scenes.  This camera is a real hit for Fuji, and deservedly so.