Fuji X-T1 - Quick Review by Dominic G Smith - Bridal Image Photography

January 19, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

At the outset I will hold my hands up and say that not only is this my first attempt at reviewing any of the cameras I have owned, but I have decided that my review will be about the usefulness of the X-T1 for my style of photography as opposed to a full, detailed technical review – basically because I am not technical and there are thousands of words in the wild discussing the technical capabilities of the camera.

First, a little history. Prior to buying the X-T1, I was (and to a large extent I still am,) a committed Nikon user, having owned an F300, F70 and F100 film cameras. I now own a D100, D2H, D300, D700 and a D5100. The D100 and the D2H are never used and are now virtually impossible to sell so just take up cupboard space. I also used to own a D2X but sold this some time ago to buy the D5100 as a backup and second shooter wedding camera (although in retrospect I should have sold the D300 and kept the D2X as the D2X was a lovely camera to use despite its none too clever performance at high ISO.) The D700, D300 and D5100 all have vertical grips attached. My main ‘goto’ lens is a 28-70mm f2.8, with an 18-85mm f3.5 for personal pursuits i.e. holidays. I also have a 28-300 Image Stabilised  zoom, but find this WAY too heavy for walkabout and not nearly good enough for wedding photography. There are also a 50mm f1.8, a 20mm f2.8 AIS and a Sigma 180mm f2.8 Macro around somewhere. I bought the Sigma (foolishly as it turned out,) thinking it would be a good midrange telephoto for my weddings. However, it is too slow to focus, fairly soft at f2.8 and I now barely use it.

Why did I buy the X-T1? Simple. Apart from the generally excellent reviews, I wanted something lighter and more portable for travel and walkabout photography than the Nikon D700 + Grip + 28-70mm f2.8 lens + SB800 flashgun that I use daily. The Nikon kit weighs in at a mighty 2.67kg excluding batteries and the only way I can “comfortably” carry this is using a Sunsniper/Black Rapid style over the shoulder strap. To be honest, this is best way to carry all cameras, although lighter ones don’t have the heft to stop the strap moving around on your left shoulder.  A similar Fuji X-T1 setup weighs in at around (440g + 308g + 220g + 200g) 1.17kg. This will hopefully make it ideal for an all day shooting session and great for travel photography where lots of walking is usually involved. All of the images in this post are Jpegs straight out of the camera with no adjustments made. I'll try and add exposure and lens details later when I have time.

DSCF0686Fuji X-T1Port of Barcelona photographed from the deck of Norwegian Epic Cruise Ship

I have now had the camera for around 10 weeks and it has been field tested in a number of environments, including a 1 week Western Med cruise, a wedding, some general walkabouts and at a gymnastics event where my company was actually providing a Green Screen setup. The ‘kit’ consists of a Fuji X-T1, an 18-55mm f2.8-f4 lens (bundled with the camera,) a small, hotshoe mounted flash that comes with the camera and a 55-200mm f3.5-f4.6 zoom lens bought separately. As with every new piece of kit there can be a steep learning curve and to a certain extent coming from a Full Frame DSLR with its press button and turn dial operation, the Fuji is no different, although I have to say that the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is superb.

Like most ‘know it alls,’ I thought that I my 35 years of SLR experience would allow me to dive straight in and set up the Fuji anyway I wanted. Huh! At one point it took me 10 minutes of front dial turning, various curses and a conviction that the damned camera was broken, before I remembered that you set the aperture the old fashioned way via that ‘uncommon’ aperture ring on the lens. The manual beckoned after this. The manual is a strange beast. It manages to cover the basics of the controls in a precise, functional manner which often takes Nikon and Canon at least double the number of pages to accomplish, but does it in a way that seems illogical to me. Some of the 'command' descriptions need a bit of thought to work out what they actually do. Example, there is an option for 'Image Preview in Manual Mode' which is set to ON by default. Makes sense you would think, as it allows for easier metering when using outside i.e. what you see in the EVF/Rear Screen is what the photo will look like. However, when used indoors with a flash at 'normal' settings of 400iso, f5.6 @ 1/60th sec, the image is usually too dark as the camera wants you to expose for the ambient light in the room. It just assumes the flash is not there. This setting therefore needs to be turned to OFF which then allows the camera in Manual Mode to perform more as you would expect, just like a DSLR with a pentaprism where you can actually see what you are about to shoot and the exposure is calculated when the flash fires, with any shutter dragging allowing some ambient light to come into effect. You can assess this roughly by looking at where the needle sits on the exposure line at the bottom right of the viewfinder. (See this DPReview thread for some additional insight.) http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/55063540.

The flash is also disabled when either of the continuous shooting modes are selected, meaning you cannot take a sequence of shots using flash indoors e.g. Dancing. I often set my Nikon D700 to a fairly slow shutter speed and using the flash, pan the camera across a groupe of people dancing or using a hand held zoom burst effect. Combined with rear curtain sync, this often gives interesting shots with light streaks through them meaning the photo has a more dynamic feel to it. (Example below.) Again I would have thought this could be resolved with a firmware update (or perhaps there is a hidden setting somewhere I have missed??.)

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There are a number of ways to set up the Electronic Eye View Finder and the rear view screen, all done fairly simply by pressing a small butting to the right of what I would normally call the Pentaprism. My normal method of operation is to have the View Finder set up to be eye activated, which means that it only comes one when it detects that your eye is pressed to the view finder. However, if you have set the camera to go into sleep mode after a period of time, the only way to wake it up again is to press the shutter button. Most other cameras wake up when any button is pressed, so perhaps this is something that Fuji could (should) work on as a firmware upgrade.

When I first started to use the camera, I found that stray light coming in from either side of the EVF made it difficult to clearly see what you were trying to photograph. I had to set the brightness level of the X-T1 up to its maximum of ‘2’, but I understand that there might be an eye cup available that should make it easier to use and place less power drain on the battery. As I mentioned earlier, the EVF is superb. Basically what you see is what you get, so if it looks underexposed in the camera it will be underexposed on your PC. Recovery options for under/overexposed files are very good using either the supplied Silkypix software or the upgraded Adobe Camera Raw, which does give you some control over the various camera options. You need to convert to Adobe DNG to use your files in Lightroom below version 5.0.

But as photographers, we use our cameras to take quality photographs, and the 16 MP images (about 36 MP) on the card are superb. The little flash works great outdoors for some fill in, but does drain the battery somewhat. See the attached images for quality examples. They say lots more than words ever could. Some form of lossless compression would however be appreciated as cards fill up very quickly.

If you do buy this camera and associated kit then I would really advise you to invest in a number of extras. Get at least two 16GB SD cards, as if you shoot like me, you will easily fill these in a day. And buy at least one but maybe even two additional batteries as the camera/flash/chimping combination eats them like you do popcorn at the movies. The grip is not a ‘must have’ but it balances the camera when using longer lenses and as I have been using all my other cameras with grips for years I miss it when it isn’t there.

The dials and buttons which are the main ‘feature’ of the camera, are well placed and generally easy to use – if you have smaller, slim fingers. My smaller chubbier fingers meant that occasionally it was a little difficult to accurately turn the dial I wanted and the button press needed to turn the ISO dial can be a bit of a pain. You also need to keep an eye on the dial used to change metering patterns as I noticed that this easily moved when removing the camera from the bag,

Focusing is generally very accurate and as I am a centre point focus fanatic (probably going back to split image prisms,) I haven’t pushed it with other focus patterns. Metering is generally good, but like all other cameras can be fooled by bright/dark areas in part of the frame, especially the sky. The compensation dial is good to have, but I prefer to use the AE button on the rear of the camera to get the exposure I am after if in any mode except manual, and then hold this until the photo is taken.

Is this the best EVF APS-C camera ever made? To date in my opinion it certainly is. Lens distortions (which are all minimal anyway,) can be dealt with in the camera. You can shoot everything in Velvia mode if you want, but for people shots Astia or Provia are much better and they can be changed either in camera or via software. It is light and easy to carry, so light in fact that I sometimes forgot it was there and had to constantly check it hadn’t been half inched (pinched.) It is the perfect quality walkabout camera which can and will give you superb images IF you know what you are doing, What it is not is a novice camera, even if it does have the green ‘Professional’ mode (which works well actually.) I have used APC sized ‘Professional’ cameras for a long time now (since the days of the D100) but I still love the high ISO image quality from my D700 which I use for all of my weddings. That said, the high ISO of the Fuji is not too bad either.

I use fill in flash as I love catch lights in the eyes and at the minute, the X-T1 does not really have a flash that suits, although Nissin have just brought out a small but powerful flash that works with the camera. Would I use it for shooting a full wedding? Not yet as I don’t know enough about it but hopefully one day next year I will when I can get the Nissin flash. Some of the pics in the review were taken at a wedding where I used it as a second camera so there is a comparison.

What are the benefits? Well, I think I have listed most of them above. The only real down sides are that the function buttons are just a little too small.  When switched to ‘silent mode’ it disables the flash. When using continuous shooting it also disables the flash (as I said earlier, something I hope Fuji can fix with a firmware upgrade.)

There are probably a number of other quirks that will crop up over the next few months that I will try and update on, but at the minute it is a camera that I love using. I haven’t tried to undertake a technical review but have used the camera in mainly ‘practical’ situations to see how it performs. One point though, if you use anything below Lightrooom 5, you need to convert all of your files to DNG’s using Adobes free convertor. Seems to work well but don’t know exactly what effect it has on the overall file quality.

Also I haven't had time to upgrade to the latest Firmware which has just been released so can't comment on any effects it might have.

A wee quick update. At the World Athletics Championships held recently at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow we were employed to provide a Green Screen Photography Service. We normally use a D300 for this which works fine with the ambient lighting available, so whilst my colleagues were busily working away, I took a little time out to find out how well the X-T1 would perform as an action camera.

I was using the 55-200 f4 lens wide open at 6400 iso giving me a shutter speed of around 1/500 sec, not quite fast enough to stop the quickest movement, but I did not want to push the ISO much higher than this. To my surprise, he results were actually pretty good.

I still haven’t figured out all of the focus options (too lazy to read the manual properly,) but for the sequence of images of the vaulting horse I pre-focused on this and waited until the athlete began his jump. I zoomed out for this as I wanted to try and capture a start to finish sequence and it worked out not too badly. Some of the other shots were not just as good and some of the girls on the asometric bars are a bit out of focus, but I think it performed very well.

Runner_Slide _Show

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