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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.


New Camera(s). Wahooo!

Not one but two new cameras. Let’s go in order.

Since I have the Fuji X-Pro1, it was a natural that I also buy a Fuji X-T1; I have Fuji and Zeiss lens that will fit both. The X-T1 is a stunner. I love all the buttons on top. I like the articulated screen on the back. I really like the Fuji skin tones. The camera is also small and compact. The X-Pro1 is actually larger. I did not expect that. But the X-Pro1 and the X-T1 complement each other. I will use the X-Pro1 as my “street shooter” camera and the X-T1 for the rest.

The menu system in the X-T1 is similar to the X-Pro1 so setting up the X-T1 was easy. I checked the settings and fired off a few shots the night I got it. High ISO was not bad.

The first real test of the X-T1 was in the studio. (As a matter of fact, I used the other camera the first time then too.) There were no surprises during the shoot. The camera performed nicely. I did have trouble setting up the WiFi though. The iPad I wanted to see the pictures on wanted to switch to the office WiFi instead of staying on the camera WiFi. So this is something I have to look into. I used the 56mm f1.2 lens and it was great. This is the 85mm equivalent that I need for the Fuji system! This lens and my Zeiss 12mm f2.8 are my favorite lens for the Fuji system. I used the Zeiss extensively for my trip to the Porsche museum (see the other blog entry) and I think I will use the 56mm at least as much.

The other camera – a Nikon D4s. This camera replaced my Nikon D800. I now have a D4 and a D4s for my event, motorsports, and car photography. The differences between the D4 and D4s are subtle but the cameras are different. The feel in the hands is very familiar.

You will notice in the above that I haven’t said much about picture quality of the X-T1 and the D4s. I didn’t because Lightroom and Photoshop don’t support them yet! There is a release candidate available but that is in Beta. I think I will wait until Photoshop is updated. I’ll post more when I get Lightroom/Photoshop up and running.

Fuji XPro-1 Meets Europe - December 2013

After shooting for many, many years solely with Nikon equipment (currently a D800 and a D4, but soon with a D4), I decided to branch out. I am testing a Fuji Xpro-1. In December 2013 I left my beloved Nikon gear behind to see whether I could manage with the Fuji as my sole camera body and 3 lenses (Zeiss 12mm f2.8, Fujifilm 35mm f1.4, and Fujifilm 55-200 f3.5 to 4.8 OIS) on a trip to Europe. I figured it would at least give me a lighter camera bag to carry. Besides, the focus of the trip was to spend time with my daughter; it was not meant be a photo expedition. (She had a Nikon 3100 and several lenses with her anyway so a Nikon would be close.)

Fuji Xpro-1

Fuji Xpro-1

I arrived in Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport and went to meet my daughter. She wasn’t where I expected her to be. Now I understood the virtues of a light camera bag. But I still didn’t know how the Fuji would perform. I had done some shooting with it before I left home but nothing major. I searched for her and finally we found each other.

After listening to a pitch to take a Porsche at the car rental agency, we left on the Volvo we originally reserved. We set off for Maastricht, Holland. We arrived at a beautiful church that had been converted into a hotel. It was beautiful, especially with all the Christmas decorations. The rooms were very modern and unique. We went to the local Christmas market and I shot some street scenes. The camera, even with the large 12mm Zeiss lens mounted, was unobtrusive. No one noticed me taking pictures. Certainly, if I had pulled out the D4 they would have taken notice. Score a point for the Fuji over the D4.

The next morning we pulled out for the National War Museum in Luxembourg.  It was raining but the temperature was around 45 degrees. We travelled through Holland and Belgium. On the way we drove through Bastogne. Of course, we stopped at the 101st Airborne Museum there. After a short drive around town, we continued on our journey. It helped that the Volvo had a good GPS system. The National War Museum was a short drive away and contained numerous dioramas and displays. After a pleasant visit, we asked how to get to the touring trails of the Battle of the Bulge battlefield. After seeing all the wonderful displays we were ready to see the actual battlefield.

We set off, with the continuing rain, to find the touring trails. Before leaving home, I found an annotated map explaining what went on at each stop on the trail and I found out that the German trail was about 18 km long and the American trail 5 km long. We searched and searched and finally found a way into the American trail. But there was a sign we did not recognize. We had no Internet connection and no idea what it meant. We pressed on and entered the trail. It was narrow but passable. We saw two people walking and they told us the trail was muddy ahead and that we did not have the right tires on the car. We left the trail and drove around the area in the rain before leaving for Heidelberg, our next stop. It wasn’t until we got to Stuttgart that we learned that the sign meant no vehicular traffic. It was a walking trail.

The drive to Heidelberg was longer than I expected. But driving the autobahn was a pleasure. Heidelberg is a nice city on a beautiful river. There were not many people around because I was there on Christmas Day and the day after. I did not take many pictures here or in Belgium/Luxembourg due to the rain. The Fuji is not waterproof like the D4. Score a point for the D4. 

Porsche Museum, Stuttgart, Germany

Porsche Museum, Stuttgart, Germany

In Stuttgart, I began shooting in earnest. My first stop was the Porsche museum. Beautiful facility. It was indoors so I could shoot with abandon. I quickly noticed how nice the colors were with the Fuji. The sensor is very nice. Color tones are accurate and clean. I shot in both RAR (Fuji’s version of RAW) and JPGs. The JPGs allowed me to see what the shot would look like if printed on Fuji’s Velvia paper. I did not even notice that I was shooting with an APC size sensor. I liked that the camera was mirror less and noticed it mainly by how quiet the camera was when the shutter was fired. I can certainly see why the future is with mirror less cameras. I really want to see what the Nikon mirror less camera equivalent to the D4 is going to be like.

Shooting in the Mercedes museum was similar. The Fuji handled the different lighting levels with no issues. The sensor did not show much grain at high ISOs. I had been spoiled by the D4’s great low light capabilities and dreaded how noisy the Fuji would probably be. But the Fuji did not let me down. Noise was negligible. I took many, many shots. Of course my editor will mainly be interested in the shots at the Porsche museum.

In neither the Porsche nor Mercedes museums did I need the compact Fuji EF-X20 fill flash. This flash has low power but is perfect as a fill flash. Beyond that, the flash has too little power to be of much use.

Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart, Germany

Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart, Germany

All in all, it was a successful trip. The Fuji did exactly what I wanted it to do and I wasn’t disappointed about not bring the Nikons. The Fuji has earned a place in my bag.