For the last couple of years, I’ve been on a quest to lighten my load. While I own and shoot a Canon 5D Mark III (and love the quality of it’s images), it can be a back breaker. Even with the Canon EF 50mm 1.4 lens (what I call the Goldilocks lens), it’s still a bit heavy to be carrying around all day.
For awhile, I turned to the Canon EOS M to serve as the travel camera. I took it to Japan with me and enjoyed it’s diminutive size as I traversed Tokyo. But the EOS M leaves a lot to be desired. I really thought Canon would nail it with the follow up, the EOS M2. Sadly, Canon decided the M2 would be an Asia only release. Then Canon decided not to bring the EF-M 11-22 lens to the Americas, and the writing was on the wall for the EOS M system.
So I began looking around for something that provided quality comparable to the EOS M, in a comparable body size/weight.
After a lot of reading and talking to other photographers, I settled on the Fuji X-T1.
The Fuji X-T1 is an APS-C mirror-less camera outfitted with an EVF (electronic view finder). The lack of a pentaprism is one of the main ways that the X-T1 reduces it’s size and weight. With no mirror, the camera uses a viewfinder that is really just another LCD with a high pixel density. If you have never used an electronic view finder before, you may find it an acquired taste. It offers up some advantages to the traditional optical viewfinder, like allowing for zoomed in magnification (helpful for manual focusing), and the ability for your status readout to change orientation when you switch from portrait to landscape. The trouble with most EVFs is that they can be sluggish or low resolution. Thankfully, the X-T1 is neither.
The body design of the X-T1 is, in my opinion, the sexiest of any digital camera I have ever seen. I’m sure the Nikon designers who were responsible for the Df took one look at the X-T1 thought, ‘that’s what we should have done’. It’s retro, but you can tell some thought went in to the placement of all the dials and buttons.
Camera ergonomics is a topic that you will get 5 different opinions on from five different photographers. That said, here’s what I love about the X-T1:
Having control of the aperture on the aperture ring around the lens instantly takes me back to shooting an old Canon FTb rangefinder. The 3 main dials on the top – ISO, Shutter speed, and Exposure Compensation – are large and easy to grasp and turn without needing to look at what you are doing. The ISO and Shutter dials have locking buttons on top. Each of these buttons has a lower tiered dial. The ISO button lower dial has a position for Bracket, Continuos Shooting, Single Frame, Multiple Exposure, Advanced Mode, and Panorama mode. The Shutter lower dial has the 3 metering modes. Rounding out the top buttons are your dedicated movie recording mode button, and the Wifi button, and of course, the shutter button with the on/off toggle lever.
While I love the position and the ergonomics of the top dials, I am not as thrilled with the lower level dials – drive mode and metering modes. In my usage, it was all too easy to knock these over to a different setting, and not notice they’ve moved until you’ve missed a shot due to the camera not being set the way you expected it to be. The Nikon D7100’s implementation of these dials on the lower level was much less prone to accidentally being moved.
Also on the top, to the right of the viewfinder, is a button that triggers which viewfinder is active. There are 3 modes – Eye Sensor, where when your eye is on the EVF it will active it, and when it is not, it will active the LCD camera back display. Then there is EVF only, and LCD only.
On the back of the camera are a Trash button and a Play button placed next to each other, for easy review and culling of shots taken. On the right side of the camera is a focus assist button that increases magnification 3x, a Q button to access all the settings in a quick setting screen, the menu button with a dial pad, and a Display Back button.
The placement of the back buttons is good, with the Focus Assist being located such that getting to it with your thumb is easy. The Menu button and the Dial Pad buttons are positioned well, but the feel of the buttons is such that my thumb would slip off of them from time to time. It’s definitely an area that Fuji could improve upon in the next iteration of this camera.
The LCD display is bright, clear and articulates, allowing you to shoot with the camera down low for inconspicuous street shooting. The lack of an articulating display was one of the big omissions from the EOS M. Odd considering that Canon pioneered the first articulating screen with the Powershot G2.
You can read the camera specs off of Fuji’s X-T1 promotional page. I won’t rehash what has already been established. What I will say is this: I don’t know if it is truly the world’s fastest auto focus, but it focuses fast. The camera sensor produces very accurate color renditions, and very sharp JPEGs. That matters little to me, because I shoot RAW. The RAW files don’t come out of the camera as nice as the JPEGs, but with a few tweaks in Lightroom they look as good or better. That’s pretty much standard fare for digital cameras these days. The manufacturers tailor the JPEGs to use algorithms that produce pleasing photos, but you lose your ability to process them in the sense that any digital photograph can truly be processed.
One area that I wish was improved on the X-T1 is the megapixel count. I know megapixels don’t matter for sharpness or actual picture quality, but they do matter when it comes to how big you can blow them up to. I regularly will print 16×24 images from my Canon 5D Mark III. And of course, having more megapixels allows for creative cropping. With 24 megapixels being the new normal, having 16.3 megapixels at this price point was something I had to get past for this purchase. The good news is that the image quality is superb, and the level of noise at higher ISOs is low.
More than the sum of it’s specs
What I like most about the X-T1 is that the camera is more than the sum of all it’s specs. Fuji pays attention to the details. The camera is not without it’s faults, but the shooting experience it provides is very enjoyable.
Speaking of the faults, here’s what I would list as my biggest gripes with the X-T1.
1. Native ISO is 200. You can shoot at a lower (ISO1000), but only to JPEG. Additionally you can only shoot in RAW up to ISO6400. The two higher ISO modes are only available in JPEG as well.
2. You can only bracket a maximum of 3 shots automatically.
3. Right side door that houses SD card is spring loaded and locks. Left hand size that covers USB, HDMI and the Audio Jack is flimsy and prone to being knocked open.
4. Lower ISO and Shutter dials are easily knocked to a different setting. Same issue applies to the exposure compensation dial.
5. Camera WiFi was flaky in testing with both iOS and Android devices. But this is a universal truth with any in camera Wifi I have ever used, so it’s par for the course.
6. Like all mirror-less cameras, battery life is highly subjective and nowhere near as good as DSLRs. With using the EVF primarily and taking quick, high shutter shots, I was able to get up to 400 shots on one fully charged battery. The good news is that the batteries are comparatively small and light (3rd party batteries can be had for under $25/each).
7. For the features/specs, the camera is priced a little high. Not Leica high, but it’s definitely a premium purchase.
Now for the things I like the most above the X-T1.
1. The XT-1 feels great in the hand. It has a good weight (not to heavy, not too light) and size.
2. The camera writes are very fast. Shooting continuous high speed, it wouldn’t start to slow down until around 8-9 shots in. And even when it had to catch it’s breath to finish writing to the SD card, it never took more than a second or two at most for it to be ready to start shooting again. This is much faster than the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D7100. Of course, these tests are dependent upon the speed of your SD card.
3. The EVF and LCD setup, and the ease of toggling between the two is great. The articulating screen is super handy for getting low or high, or just using it to shoot inconspicuously in street settings.
4. AF-L (Auto Focus Lock) button is perfect placed.
5. Aperture ring on lens allows for two handed action in getting camera settings just right.
6. Camera software allows for bracketing of exposure, ISO, film simulation or white balance. I’m not sure why you’d ever want to use anything other than exposure, but OK.
7. Focus assist button is placed in a very easy to access location for one handed shooting. This makes shooting with a manual focus lens a realistic endeavor. I’ll have more on this on a later review of using the X-T1 with non Fuji lenses.
While I’d still love to see Fuji up the ante with a 24 megapixel body, until that happens, there’s a lot to love with the X-T1. I find it best suited for street photography, portraiture and editorial/lifestyle shooting. Sports shooters probably won’t give the X-T1 a second look, though it does have very quick autofocus and extremely fast write speeds.
I give the X-T1 my hearty recommendation. I really like how Fuji has delivered extra value to their cameras by constantly improving them post sale with firmware updates that add new features. After owning a camera that was abandoned by it’s manufacturer very early in it’s life (EOS M), it’s refreshing to see Fuji extend the life of their cameras by adding new features via firmware updates years after their original release. Only time will tell if the X-T1 will receive as many useful updates as the other Fuji cameras have, but Fuji’s track record here is second to none.
In short – if you are primarily an editorial/portraiture/street photographer, the X-T1 has a lot to offer.