No More Excuses – Fuji X-T1 review
Taking photos with the X-series cameras certainly has its flavour. One of them is walking into an SLR crowd. What an adventure it is! On one of our photo trips we arrived at a popular location and met a huddle of photographers. In bulk, they usually split into two camps setting up their tripods and cameras close to each other, of course along camera-brand lines.
As everyone waits for the morning light, stirring and chatting begins. It is almost a ritual to check out your neighbour’s camera just to make sure you are in the right spot. Of course, there is not much to be excited about. Sure, some people are proudly sweating after carrying a whole backpack of cameras and lenses while others occasionally gasp with envy at the sight of the entire camera store in one bag. In general, however, the atmosphere is non-combative. After all, there are only two teams on the playing field – Nikon and Canon – and the outcome is guaranteed.
And then, this heavenly mood comes to an abrupt end. Unfortunately for me, I am the cause of this disruption or rather my camera, to be precise. First I noticed a sea of onlookers secretly scanning every inch of my photographic tools. “Is this the new Fuji everyone is talking about it?” someone whispers to his neighbour. Others, visibly agitated, start listing some Internet gossip about why this new camera is no match for an SLR, loudly enough to make sure I can hear. The guy with the full bag of gear is especially upset, as no one is paying any attention to his expensive collection any more.
Then there is a break. Some brave soul comes up to me and asks, “How do you like this new camera? How does it compare to Canon or Nikon?” In such a partisan crowd it is close to impossible to answer such a question without the risk of causing a riot. The best course of action is to turn the discussion to the scene and politely make a point about how this camera helps a photographer to see and create great imagery.
Then others join the discussion. “If Fuji cameras had a faster AF…” someone shouts in my direction. “Did you hear about problems with the RAW files conversion…?” His friend fires another round of ammunition. Then to my surprise, those that found the most reasons why this camera is inferior to an SLR ask me to hand it over for a quick evaluation. Once the camera gets into people’s hands something interesting happens. Suddenly their eyes light up as if they are holding a camera they have always wanted but never thought existed. They enjoy the lightness, touch the knobs, adjust physical controls, play with the aperture dial on the lens, dive into the viewfinder and… I know their photography world is turned upside down.
Fortunately for me, the sun is coming up. The sky turns red and everyone sticks their eyes into the viewfinders. It is completely silent now – no more rumours, no more innuendos. No more bragging. Even the guy with a ton of equipment takes a photo, packs up and heads toward his car.
Fuji X-T1 & XF 56mm F1.2, processed in Iridient Developer.
You could be mistaken about how often I have witnessed a similar scene since I started shooting with the X-series cameras. It appears to me that after years of SLR-like cameras, many people have stopped asking for more. We all thought this was how it’s supposed to be. You go with Nikon or Canon, dive into a plethora of buttons and menus, carry a heavy bag, shut up and try to focus on photography. For me and many people I have met in the last few years, the Fuji X-series cameras changed it all.
There is a reason why so many photographers abandon their heavy, full-frame SLRs and “downsize” to the Fuji X-series cameras. From e-mails we receive, one word stands out – JOY. “My joy of photography is back.” “I never thought photography could be so engaging and fun.”
Why does shooting with the X-series series cameras connect so strongly with photographers?
I think part of the reason is that these cameras are designed to complement and work in tandem with a photographer, not to replace one. It is a tool that connects with you at a level unmatched by the SLRs.
Have you noticed how the latest SLRs come with so many automatic modes, so many functions and high-tech gimmicks to the point that creating a photograph has become a secondary endeavour? At the same time, the most important controls are hidden behind buttons and menus. Many SLR owners ask me to set up their SLRs so they don’t have to touch any settings again. It is frustrating and confusing for them. Many of them will never have a chance to learn the basic photography skills such as adjusting the aperture or changing the shutter speed.
I remember the first time I took the Fuji X-100 in my hands, it immediately felt different. I could change the aperture on the lens, turn a compensation dial and see all the changes in the viewfinder before I took an image. How engaging and liberating it was! Fuji carried this philosophy to the X-Pro1, XE1/2 and recently to the Fuji X-T1.
This latest addition to the Fuji X-series leaves no questions unanswered.
I have been shooting almost daily with the X-T1 for the last few weeks and in this review I am going to touch on the most significant developments purely from a photographer’s perspective. You will find plenty of technical details on other websites. All I care about is how this tool helps me to create beautiful imagery. Therefore, I will focus on aspects that, in my view, are most important in photography.
There is nothing more important than seeing. After all, we may sometimes forget that it is what you see, how you see it and how you feel when you see it that makes you a photographer. Pushing a shutter button is the end of this process, not the beginning.
JPEGs straight from the camera, XF 10-24 F4 R OIS, Velvia film simulation.
One of a kind, period! Many photographers, including myself, had rough beginnings with the EVF technology, and for good reasons. Early EVFs were slow, offered poor quality and acted more like technical trickery rather than being a real help. With the X-T1 Fuji took the concept of the viewfinder into a new era. In fact this is the first electronic viewfinder that could make optical viewfinders obsolete. First of all, it is huge, bright and superbly clear. There is no delay even when moving your camera. The EVF is of such size and quality that it provides a fundamental change in the way you compose and create a photograph.
First of all, you see your final photo before you take it. That’s not all. Any changes you made (exposure compensation or film emulation, etc.) you immediately see in your viewfinder. I found that the time spent checking out the final image on the back screen of your camera is gone. Once you get used to this kind of comfort, you never want to go back to the old ways.
This is especially crucial for students of photography. You focus on composition, light and your subject, and cut out the distraction of checking your final image on the back screen.
The design of the X-T1’s viewfinder has made headway in allowing photographers to pay attention to visual artistry.
The importance of marked physical controls that can be seen and adjusted at glance is paramount in the process of creating an image. All major dials are manual and are placed at your fingertips. When I take photos, I limit the amount of information displayed in my EVF to a minimum. I want to focus my attention on the composition and my subject. Any distraction, even when I have to look at the bottom of the screen, takes away from my vision. Therefore I found having physical controls for exposure compensation, shutter speed and aperture not only useful but also obligatory. There is no excuse for hiding that crucial apparatus inside the menu.
Here is something for the techno-loving crowd. Yes, the X-Trans sensor is superb technology. On the Internet you will find tons of information about the design of this sensor. One of the advantages of this design is the ability to capture light even if there is very little of it. The ISO performance of the X-T1 is superb and exceeds many full-frame cameras in its capabilities. And yes, the detail is there.
You may ask, “Wait a minute, but is this a camera review!?” Any camera system must be evaluated as a whole and lenses are an essential part of this equation. A camera of such high image quality requires superb glass. One of the main reasons why we have started shooting with Fuji is their first-class prime lens offering. In a very short time Fuji managed to release lenses that are not only considered among the best in the industry but they are relatively inexpensive for what they offer. Get a superb 14mm F2.8, 35mm F1.4 and the latest gem 56mm F1.2 and that’s all you need to create stunning imagery. Your friends with super heavy “pro” zooms will have a hard time understanding how you got such a sharp photograph in such low light with so little equipment.
I have been a RAW shooter for a long time. I never thought I would come back to shooting JPEGs. Along with digital technology came the whole spectrum of image processing, which has advantages but it also carries a heavy burden, which for many kills the joy of photography. Recently, one gentleman introduced himself as a “Photoshop junkie” and I respected him because he was aware that he was not interested in photography per se but rather in digital alterations. Unfortunately, there are many people who are not aware of this addiction. We have moved away from observing and creating photographs to creating artificial “photo Frankensteins.” Of course, everyone needs to draw the line for him or herself.
The reason we didn’t shoot JPEGs before was they were never good enough. This changed with the Fuji X-series camera. This is especially true for photographing people. Fuji’s JPEGs not only look stunning straight from the camera but their skin tones are unmatched. On a few occasions I have tried to emulate the beautiful look of the skin in Lightroom 5 and it took me a very long time to get there. What’s the point if you can do it in-camera! Indeed, the JPEGs engine Fuji managed to design is state of the art.
JPEGs straight from the camera, XF 56mm F1.2, Provia (STD) & Astia (S) film simulations.
For some people it’s important; for others unnecessary. Given Vancouver’s tendency to rain for weeks without a break, this is a desirable feature. It also gives the camera a very tough feel.
BUILD, DESIGN AND QUALITY
I have to admit, I pay a lot of attention to design and quality. I think there is no excuse for any manufacturer to produce plasticy cheap products. If you think you bought something cheap, think twice. When you hold the Fuji X-T1 in your hands, it exudes superb quality and excellent materials. I am also glad to see a camera carrying the “Made in Japan” sign. For some reason it is always reassuring.
JPEGs straight from the camera (minor adjustments in Lightroom 5), XF 56mm F1.2, Provia (STD) film simulation.
CARE ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHERS
When working with Fuji cameras and following industry developments you have a sense that Fuji actually cares about real photographers. I have always believed that great customer service is the best advertisement.
Fuji is the only camera company I know that provides major improvements for discontinued cameras through software updates. Also, by following the history of those updates, it is clear to me that this company is all ears when it comes to photographers’ feedback. I trust that Fuji will maintain this care, even if their camera unit grows much bigger. For me as a photographer and a consumer, a great product always comes with a helpful live person along with it (not a machine).
Like any other camera on the market, the Fuji X-T1 has its shortcomings. But keep in mind this is my own grumbling; in fact for others some of those things could be positives.
I am a proponent of simple cameras. I wish Fuji would simplify X-T1 even more. There’s no need for video (sorry videographers). I wish menus were simpler too. For example, wouldn’t it be nice if when you choose to shoot in the RAW format only, all JPEG settings conveniently disappear? Also, double card slots would certainly ease my obsession with file security. Some buttons are quite small and operate a little bit stiffly for my taste but it could be the side effect of weather sealing. Finally, I wish the battery life were better and at least on par with many professional SLRs (an available battery grip solves the problem pretty well and is highly recommended).
JPEG straight from the camera, XF 56mm F1.2, Velvia (V) film simulation.
JPEG straight from the camera, XF 10-24 F4 R OIS, Velvia film simulation.
I have met many photographers who would like to transition from SLRs to the X-series cameras but somehow they are afraid to do so. Part of the reason could be gossip going around the Internet about certain issues such as the AF speed or file processing. Yes, with early Fuji cameras those who wanted to shoot hummingbirds playing hide and seek may well be better off with an SLR. Fortunately, the X-T1 addressed those issues. Another reason could be the unfamiliar look of the Fuji X-Pro1 and X-E1/2 for photographers who are used to shooting with SLR-like cameras. For them, the X-T1 offers a familiar look, superb handling and the best EVF on the market.
Most importantly, the “engaging and fun” factor has already far surpassed a traditional SLR. I am confident that if you give the Fuji X-T1 enough time, you will never go back to a traditional SLR.
Looking around, there are many photographers who once again find joy in photography by returning to the basics. Fuji proved that a modern camera doesn’t have to be a high-tech mess with a list of functions that have nothing to do with the art of seeing. The appeal of the X-T1 comes from a fusion of classic-style but proved-to-work controls with cutting-edge technology, which complements your photography process rather than complicates it.
Try it. After all, there are no more excuses.
JPEG straight from the camera, XF 10-24 F4 R OIS, B&W+R film simulation.
2014 © Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.