Professional photographer Kevin Mullins was one of the first people to get his hands on the new Fuji X-T1. See what he makes of it in his full review.
So here we are again: another new Fuji X-Series camera. It seems like only six months ago we were drooling over the leaked specifications of the then unnamed model, and now it’s here I’ve been lucky enough to get to use one of the very first models off the production line.
As with all the X-Series cameras, there are some exceptional new features and some enhanced old features. Furthermore, it’s a camera that’s been touted in some quarters as the “DSLR killer”. So will it see off the DSLR? I’m not sure, but one thing for certain is that the Compact System Camera market is exploding with offerings from several manufacturers – and Fuji is taking the bull well and truly by the horns with the X-T1. Read on to find out about the new features and how well it performs.
Although the X-Pro1 remains Fuji’s flagship camera, the X-T1 is the most feature-rich model in the range today. It’s closely related to the Fuji X-E2 released last summer and shares the same APS-C-sized (1.5 x crop) 16MP X-Trans II CMOS sensor. This sensor doesn’t use an anti-aliasing filter, so it produces rich and highly detailed images.
The standout features of the X-T1 are the incredibly high resolution electronic viewfinder (EVF), weather-sealed body, improved AF system and the tilting screen. The EVF is simply gorgeous; I’ve been a fan of the optical viewfinder (OVF) in the Fuji X-Pro1, X100 and X100S since their inception and I missed an OVF in the X-E2. However, since using this electronic one in the X-T1 I have simply stopped craving the optical one.
The EVF in the X-T1 features a 0.5in, 2.36million-dot OLED panel, with a magnification of 0.77x (compared to 0.64x for the X-E2). The viewfinder really is a joy to use and is slightly larger than even that inside the Canon EOS 1D X. The 54fps refresh rate is also higher than before, and even in low light this rate remains the same; Fuji claims that it’s the world’s fastest real-time viewfinder, and I can actually believe that. There’s an eye-sensor for auto-switching with the rear LCD screen and a dioptre adjustment to the side of the finder too.
Because of the generous size of the viewfinder, you can opt for a “normal” or “full” view. One of the issues people had with the X-E2 was the shooting and exposure data overlapped the image in the viewfinder, so by introducing this option Fuji has found a useful workaround. Now, if you’re a manual focus type person like myself, you’re going to be extremely happy with the “Dual Mode” feature of the EVF; this allows you to see the large image as well as a focus-assist area side-by-side (Digital Split, focus peaking or magnification are the options here).
One of the concerns from people shooting with previous X-series cameras regarded continuous tracking and burst rates. More on the AF and tracking later, but the X-T1 now boasts an 8fps burst mode with an impressive burst rate of 47 frames! While this camera isn’t going to compete with DSLRs such as the Canon EOS 1D X for professional sports photographers, this burst mode does at least makes it a usable option for most photographers who need fast-action shooting. There’s also a new built-in intervalometer which allows you to make very cool time lapse image selections.
Design and handling
The X-T1 is aimed squarely at the professional and enthusiast markets, although I’m sure keen amateurs will also want to enjoy what the camera offers. It’s the first of the X-Series cameras to offer a central pentaprism which houses the viewfinder, a step forward for left- and right-eye people all around. Ergonomically the body feels wonderful and sturdy, with its magnesium-alloy construction weighing just 440g with the battery and card in place.
As the camera is now weather sealed, Fuji has recessed the main buttons a little. Some people will find it takes a little time to get used to the pressure required to push these in and the contours of the buttons. Fuji has re-introduced the View Mode button that mysteriously went missing from the X-E2, while six programmable function buttons are also included around the body, with a really handy visual configuration screen in the menu system. Personally, I would also have liked the AF-L button to have been swapped with the Focus Assist button – but this is a minor issue and something that my brain will remember in due course.
The camera boasts a manual look and feel across its top plate, with physical dials for ISO and shutter speed. Both these dials have secondary dials underneath (the ISO dial has the Mode selection and the Shutter Speed dial has the Metering selection). An exposure compensation dial has also been included, with a +/-3EV stop range available for adjustment, and there are Wi-Fi and video-record buttons across the top too. Unlike the X-E2 the X-T1 does not have a built-in flash unit, although Fuji has cleverly included the EF-X8 flash unit in the box. This battery-free unit has a guide number of 8m at ISO 100, with the flash sync speed still at 1/180sec.
The camera also has a multi-directional tilt screen, which is perfect for candid photographers. Coupled with the new wireless shooting via a smart phone I can see this being a great option for street photographers.
Once of my acid tests of a new camera is whether I can operate it without moving my eye away from the viewfinder — and with the X-T1 I have found I can do that quite comfortably. I’m aware that with larger zoom lenses, having the ISO dial on the left might be slightly more uncomfortable as it’s going to mean transferring the weight of the camera and lens to adjust the ISO, although pretty much everything needed for exposure control is now at available via physical buttons and dials. The menu system is also better than in previous X-Series models and the additional function buttons make it, all in all, a very pleasant shooting experience.
Fuji once again claims the X-T1 has the fastest autofocus of any camera in its class (when used with the XF14mm f/2.8 R lens in the High Performance mode). It’s true to say that when Fuji switched to the phase-detect focusing system, the X-Series was given a new lease of life when it came to autofocus. And here, in good to moderate light, the AF speed of the camera is exceptional — so I’d be likely to agree with Fuji regarding these claims.
The camera is one of the first to offer support for the super-fast UHS-II SDXC cards which will allow extremely fast shooting and buffering of images and video. When you couple the camera with the modern lenses like the superb XF23mm f/1.4, XF56mm f/1.2 and the kit lens option of the XF18-55 f/2.8-4, it’s snappy, responsive and an absolute pleasure to use. Some of the older lenses, most notably the 60mm f/2.4 macro lens, still fail to fly in the autofocus stakes – although the AF is greatly improved generally.
Crucially, the continuous focusing (AF-C) is hugely improved. Fuji has addressed this issue, and it must be applauded as it’s a phenomenal improvement. You will need to use the central focus points, but the camera can now track at the fastest shutter speed of 8fps, which means that even the most energetic of kids running around should be a breeze to shoot.
Fuji had already introduced Wi-Fi functionality to previous models but that only stretched as far as image transfer. With the latest software on your smartphone or tablet, however, you can remotely operate the camera, setting the exposure, focus and so on. This is pretty easy to configure as the camera and software operate over a local Wi-Fi connection (which means you can set up secure names etc without the need for passwords).
While the camera doesn’t offer full-scale tethering, the option to transfer images to tablets and smartphones is quick and reliable. You should make sure you have the latest version of the Fuji File Transfer app on your smartphone if you want to take advantage of this.
Fuji is renowned for its film colour and quality, and the Fuji engineers have migrated all of that knowledge and experience to the X-Series. You get the ubiquitous Provia, Velvia, Astia, Pro Neg. Hi, Pro Neg. Std, and five variants of Black and White and Monochrome film simulations. You can also have fun with the Advanced Filters, which give you thirteen different filter effects to choose from such as Toy Camera, Miniature and Dynamic Tone.
The camera has a base ISO range of ISO 200-6,400 and extended range of ISO 100-51,200 (these are only available in JPEG mode). Even at ISO 12,800 the camera produces great JPEG images with little post production necessary, and up to the native level of ISO 6,400 the images produced are sensational. The images shown here are JPEGs shot straight out of camera and the lack of noise, even at ISO 6,400 and beyond is quite amazing. Fuji does, however, seem to have an aggressive noise reduction algorithm in the JPEG processing engine, so I always set my cameras’ Noise Reduction setting to -1 to alleviate this. At this setting, I find the JPEGs produced at high ISO are clean, crisp and with very little loss of contrast.
The details and sharpness of the images are pretty much what you would expect from a second generation X-Trans sensor. I’ve been shooting with a XF23mm f/1.4, XF56mm f/1.2, XF10-24mm f/4 and the XF18-55 f/2.8-4 kit lens and I’ve not noticed any issues in terms of sharpness across the lenses. The XF56mmf/1.2 in particular seems to be pin sharp even at its widest aperture. Because the image quality created by the X-Trans sensors is so good, I tend to shoot mostly in JPEG these days. Of course, shooting like this means you need to concentrate on white balance a little more and the X-T1 offers a wide range of white balance options beyond auto, such as Shade, various Fluorescent settings and even an Underwater mode. I can honestly say the X-T1 does a far greater job of getting white balance correct based on the preset that any of my Canon cameras, and it’s part of the reason I’m happy to shoot JPEGs alone.
I’m a big fan of spot metering when necessary and I’m pleased to see the metering option now has its own dial. In terms of metering the scene, the X-T1 seems to nail it pretty much each time. It will always meter from the central point but I’m very confident in allowing the in-camera meter to dictate the exposure accurately – even under harsh lighting conditions.
Overall the Fuji X-T1 is certainly the camera I have been most excited about from the X-Series. Apart from some very minor ergonomic niggles, the camera feels and performs amazingly well. The stand-out features aside, there are other little things such as side-loading SD card (which means a grip can be used without having to block the memory card access) and Auto Rotating shooting data in the viewfinder which make this a very well thought out camera.
If you want a weather sealed camera that’s light and produces amazing images – and that gives you access to a range of optically brilliant lenses – then you can’t look much further than the Fuji X-T1. Will I buy one and shoot with it professionally at weddings? Absolutely.
Some people claim Fuji has nailed it with this camera and I tend to agree. The previous X-Series cameras have all had their charms in equal measure but I think with the X-T1 Fuji has really aligned all of the features, ironed out any quirks and (most importantly) listened to photographers to create a camera that is simply excellent.
- Excellent image quality, even in JPEGs
- Improved AF system
- Accurate auto white balance
- Highly customisable
- Aggressive noise reduction as standard
- Slight ergonomic quirks
Fuji X-T1: Specifications
- 16.3MP X-Trans CMOS II APS-C sensor, no low-pass filter
- Fuji X mount
- ISO 200-6400 (expandable to ISO 100 and 51,200 equivalent)
- EXR II Processor
- Built-in Wi-Fi
- Full HD video, H.264 compression
- Real Time OLD viewfinder, 2.36million dots
- 1.04million-dot, tiltable LCD screen
- Die-cast magnesium body with aluminium dials.
- Water and dust-resistant (when used with weather-resistant lens)
- 8fps continuous shooting
- Approx. 440g (including battery and memory card)
- 129 x 89.8 x 46.7mm
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