26 June 2014
A month ago I posted an article regarding my impression of the Fujifilm X-T1 as a viable camera for music photographers, so some of you are probably going to think “why he’s doing a second review on the same camera?”. Well, since I got that camera in my hands, I had two questions in my mind. The first one was to know if that camera could potentially replace my DSLR for live music photography, and the second was to see how this camera is good for general shooting, so that’s why I want to make two articles, because the first one was specifically driven by the first question, if that was a good camera for music photographers, a very specific field of use, while this article I’m going to show if this camera is a good camera for the average Joe.
Now, as I said for my Fuji X-E1, this camera aim to some specific targets of audience. The main target of this camera, but I can say the same about any MILC cameras made by Fujifilm, is street photography, and it work well as for landscapes, portraits and, as previously said, music photography. So if you are a sport or nature photographer, just keep your DSLR and your 10kg 600mm tele lens, as this camera it’s not for you, and Fuji knows well that it’s absolutely pointless to fight in these two battle fields, so rather than make a camera to meet anyone desires and to possibly end up with another pointless product, they decided to target to the some specific areas of photography, to the people who wants a lightweight camera that doesn’t kill your neck after one hour but at the same time with a great image quality, a camera that doesn’t make you look like a terrorist with a bazooka or worst, a paparazzi, but one that lets you make great photos without terrifying your subject.
I had to make this point clear as this could justify why the camera has been made in this way, and you have to keep it in mind for the entire review, as it’s the focal point of this camera.
Design & Handling
When I saw the first pictures of this camera I got the impression that this camera was even smaller than my X-E1, by judging the promotional photos I thought it was even harder to hold than my X-E1, but then when I got the camera on my hands, I radically changed my first opinion. The camera does feel perfect in my hands, and the grip is much better than the Fuji X-E1, bear in mind that I don’t have huge hands, and if you a basketball player you might have some troubles with this camera, but to be honest it would be the same for most of the MILC camera on the market (sorry pal!).
I simply love the dial for the ISO on the top plate and the fact that I can change all the important settings without going into any menu, it’s just everything there, from the ISO to the drive mode to the exposure compensation, and for who’s used to DSLRs that’s vital, it makes everything fast to set.
The only problems I could find are the maybe the drive dial which was a bit too wobbly and often by changing the ISO you end up to change the drive mode as well, and the custom button just under the front dial, and because there’s no way to disable that button unfortunately, I often pressed it by accident only by holding the camera, and if I can suggest something to Fujifilm it would be to add the possibility to disable that button.
The screen unlike the X-E1/2 and X-PRO is a tilt screen as seen in many other cameras, it’s quite handy in some situations, but a bit limited as you can’t tilt it horizontally.
Overall the general feeling of this camera is great, it feels solid, and while even the previous models were very solid, you always got the feeling that you were holding something a bit plasticky. With the Fujifilm X-T1 is different, it’s a sturdy camera that can withstand to pretty much everything, maybe a pro DSLR still have the edge on this side, but it’s marginal, and unlike its predecessors is weather sealed, even if at the moment there are no weather sealed lenses, but they’ll come soon.
Another thing I really like of this camera is the placement of the memory card, finally they realized that the memory slot just beside the battery was a terrible idea, and now is on the side of the camera, much easier to access now.
I’m never been a fan of EVF, I’ve seen many of them and while I think that they are very handy in some occasions, as you can see plenty of info like the exposure histogram or focus peaking right into the viewfinder, they still lack of the image quality you get from a traditional optical viewfinder, but, there’s a but, while the gap was pretty obvious before, with the X-T1 they are reducing the distance. That viewfinder is a whole world, it’s huuuge compared to previous generations EVFs, and I have to say that Fuji did a marvellous job this time.
Focusing with manual lenses is not a problem, it’s so big and the focus peak and the digital split works so well that it’s pretty much impossible to miss the focus, and if it’s not enough for you, you can choose to split the image and see the overall image on the left and on the right you see a zoomed section of the image for fine focus tuning.
The autofocus is one of the big improvements of this camera from previous models, especially if compared with my Fuji X-E1, while it isn’t as fast as a DSLR, and while it might not be as accurate in low light conditions as I shown in my previous article, for general purposes, and for type of photography this camera was build for - and in case you already forget it, it’s for street photography - it’s very fast, and in decent light conditions it doesn’t miss a shot, and it proves that the gap with Pro DSLRs is getting narrower.
As this camera has a cropped sensor with a factor of x1.5 I’ve always compared the Fujis with my old Canon 7D, a semi-pro DSLR that after 5 years it still kicks asses in some fields, but after my experience with the X-T1 and the X-E1, I have to say that the X-Trans sensor it’s a kick on the teeth for many DSLRs, as the performances on High ISO are simply superb. As I shown on my previous article, the noise of this camera is beautiful, it’s always there, and there’s no escape from that for any cropped sensor cameras, but on the X-Trans has a film-like noise, no colour banding or similar, just a very nice noise.
The image quality of this camera is really impressive, but to be honest I couldn’t notice any visible differences or improvements over the first version of the X-Trans Sensor mounted on my Fuji X-E1, it shares all the good and bad things of the previous generation, maybe it’s slightly better at High ISO, and you get 51,200 ISO while before it stopped at 25,600, but you get this ISO only if you shoot in JPEG, which is not my case, and these sensor are good until 3200, max 6400, but I wouldn’t ever use those extreme ISO settings to be honest.
As I said previously the details that these sensors with a non-Bayer array are quite impressive, but unfortunately the drawback that it’s still there, is that it gets messy when you have complex textures like grass, foliage, rocks, etc… Fanboys around the web they keep blaming software like LightRoom or Aperture, but I tried all the software I could find, even the ones who supposed to “fix” the problem, but I couldn’t spot any real difference, apart from the fact that those software were pretty useless to me, and I don’t understand why I need to use an external software only to create TIFFs, and the work with them on Lightroom, it would just double all my post-processing times, and that’s silly.
Another thing I’ve noticed on this camera, is the colour balance is much more accurate than the Fuji X-E1, which was clearly struggling more than once, but I had no trouble at all with the X-T1.
Anyway, I went to the same place where I tested my Fuji X-E1, and I took the same pictures, once again on a tripod and using the same settings, same ISO, same aperture, similar focal length, with my Canon 6D with the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 USM L, the Fuji X-E1 with the Fujinon XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS, and the Fujifilm X-T1 with another copy of the XF 18-55, and down here you can see the different pictures.
Fuji X-T1 (click to enlarge)
Fuji X-E1 (click to enlarge)
Canon 6D (click to enlarge)
Obviously in this way it's a bit hard to spot the differences, so I've took some crops of the areas marked in red.
Detail of the left middle of the frame, Canon 6D with Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 USM L on the left and Fuji X-T1 with Fujinon 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS on the right.
Detail of the center of the frame.
Detail of the center bottom of the frame.
Detail of the right middle of the frame.
As I said, the grass is a bit messy on both the Fuji, but on the other side the Fujis are way better on the borders and overall the image is sharp corner to corner, something that I can’t say about the Canon with the 17-40mm.
Once again, most of the times these are not real world problem, unless you are a pixel-peep and you watch all your images at 100% or more. I’m only disappoint that Fuji did nothing to fix the problem they had on the first generation of the X-Trans Sensor, and maybe there’s no fix for it, I don’t know.
The real problem of the Fujifilm X-T1, and to be honest that’s the problem of any mirrorless system, is the battery life. An optical viewfinder use almost no electricity apart from the basic info of the camera, while EVFs use constantly plenty of energy to work, and while the viewfinder is definitely one of the selling points of this camera, it quickly depletes the battery, and you can hardly make to the end of the day with only one battery. One day I went with my girlfriend to the reenactment of the Battle of Clontarf here in Dublin, and after 3/4 hours the battery was completely dead, and I didn’t even take that many photos, but more than once I forgot to turn off the camera leaving the EVF on, and that killed the battery. I have the sensation that the Fuji X-E1 does last a bit longer, possibly because it has a less energy demanding EVF, so it’s highly recommended to buy at least a second, or even a third spare battery.
I can’t blame Fuji for that to be honest, if you want an insanely good viewfinder you can’t pretend that the battery last longer, as we say in Italy, you can’t have your wife drunk and the wine barrel full.
- Great ergonomics, it has a dial for almost everything
- The viewfinder is simply magnificent
- Great image quality
- Lightweight and very solid and well build camera
- Hugely improved AF
- The focus peak/digital split makes manual focus a piece of cake
- Impressive High ISO performances and beautiful noise
- Very good light metering and white balancing
- The battery doesn’t last long
- Same problem with complex textures as the previous sensor generation
- The custom button in front of the camera really got on my nerves
When I tested this camera on a specific area, live music photography, it didn’t disappointed me, and as a general purpose camera it’s perfect. Again, it’s not a camera for every type of photography, it’s a camera made for street photographers and it works well in other fields, but if you are a sport photographer for example, just look somewhere else. The look and feel is great, the dials on the top plate are handy as hell and the image quality - apart a few glitches - is amazing.
DSLRs are still the king of the castle, but mirrorless cameras like the Fujifilm X-T1 are getting very close, and if Fuji will ever make a camera with this body and a full frame sensor, they’ll definitely get the crown. But for the moment, if you are looking for a lightweight alternative to a DSLR, this camera is a killer one, and definitely worth any cent you spend on it.
ISO 200 - f/11 - 18mm - 1/180
ISO 1600 - f/2 - 50mm - 1/250 with Canon FD 50mm f/1.4
ISO 200 - f/4 - 50mm - 1/500 with Canon FD 50mm f/1.4
ISO 200 - f/8 - 18mm - 1/500
ISO 200 - f/8 - 26.5mm - 1/250
ISO 200 - f/3.6 - 18mm - 1/180
ISO 3200 - f/3.6 - 37mm - 1/60
ISO 200 - f/9 - 18mm - 1/500
ISO 400 - f/4.5 - 55mm - 1/250
ISO 200 - f/2.8 - 50mm - 1/250 with Canon FD 50mm f/1.4