You have probably read about it. You may have a friend who bought one. You may have noticed it on the streets. You have most certainly seen one in a camera store window. The Fujifilm X-T1 is currently one of the most popular mirrorless cameras, and is the model that is persuading many people to leave their DSLRs, be they enthusiast or professional photographers. For the past six months, I have been using it in various situations to discover exactly why people have fallen head over heels for Fujifilm’s high-end model.
Dials versus menu system
I began using the X-T1 during a trip in April to Cinque Terre, Italy. The first aspects you notice about the design are its manual control dials inherited from SLR film cameras. (The X-T1 itself was inspired by the Fujica.) If you are familiar with film cameras, you most certainly already know this type of layout. If, like me, you mostly shoot digital, it is something you can learn to appreciate.
Most of the time I shot in aperture priority so I didn’t use the shutter speed dial much. The same went for the ISO dial, which I kept at 200 during the day and set to Auto with a limited maximum value in low-light situations. At first, these manual dials seemed more like a tribute to the past than something that could benefit my shooting.
Then, on the last day in the Cinque Terre, I decided to use the camera strictly in manual mode. That is where I started to appreciate the difference. Walking through the hills and coloured towns, I started to memorize the ideal settings for each situation. Normally I would check the metering on either the LCD or the EVF (electronic viewfinder) to see if the picture was under or overexposed but the more I used these dials, the more I remembered which shutter speed I had used in a similar situation.
Seeing your settings marked on physical dials rather than on a digital screen helps you remember them better. Once you get used to it, you will start to set your exposure even before composing your image. The advantage is that you can concentrate on your composition. It takes some practice but it is something you will enjoy once you gain confidence in your abilities.
Most Fujifilm XF lenses have an aperture ring. Used in tandem with the dials and sub-dials of the X-T1, you can change all the most important settings without ever having to check the LCD/EVF or dig into the Quick Menu.
The only complaint I have is that Fujifilm doesn’t physically mark the aperture values on all of its lenses. Some like the 35mm f/1.4 have them, but the XF 10-24mm f/4 I bought with the camera does not.
The second great moment I had with the X-T1 was in May when I tested the XF 56mm f/1.2 lens. I used it for a portrait session in natural light. This particular example helps me summarize the great image quality this system can deliver. The X-Trans APS-C sensor found in the X-T1 wasn’t something new to me because I had already used the X100s and the X-Pro1. What I like about this sensor is the colour palette rendition. The way in which the colours are reproduced is less digital in comparison to other cameras. They aren’t necessarily better; they are just different. They don’t exactly emulate film, even though Fujifilm likes to call its profiles Film Simulation Modes. My favorite is Astia/soft as it maintains a vivid tone but with softer rendering and less contrast.
During this portrait session, I also appreciated working with the ProNeg presets, especially now that they are included as camera profiles in Adobe Lightroom. This allowed me to use the RAW files and keep the original colours produced by the camera. I also love the delicate skin tone renditioning, and the vast dynamic range.
If you like cameras, you probably like lenses even more. Often the glass in front of the sensor is as important, if not more important, than the camera. Shooting with the 56mm f/1.2 showed me that Fujifilm cares as much about its cameras as it does lenses. The quality of Fuji’s primes is top-notch and I can understand why many photographers have started to use the X-T1 and 56mm combo for weddings and portraits. The gear is light, yet gives you quality that is as good as a DSLR system. My other favorite lenses are the 35mm f/1.4 and the 14mm f/2.8. The zoom lenses also deliver great performance, including the kit lens.
An aspect for which Fujifilm cameras have been criticized is the autofocus. When the X-Pro1 was released, it was slow but they gradually improved it with firmware updates. The X-T1 represents the best of what Fujifilm has to offer in the autofocus department at the moment. To test it properly, I shot bike races and a marathon in June with the 10-24mm f/4 and the XF 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8.
If you’ve ever tried shooting a marathon runner coming towards you with a long focal length, you’ll know just how challenging it is to keep him in the centre of the frame. Why is this important on the X-T1? Because even though it has continuous autofocus, it doesn’t include real autofocus tracking that is capable of following a subject within the frame like other compact system cameras and DSLRs. This means that you have to keep the AF point on the runner at all times. In general, I’ve found that the X-T1 works better in AF-C with a single large focus point and the 7.5 fps (frames per second) Continuous High shooting mode selected.
Overall, the camera performs really well for action photography. It passed the test for marathon runners, bike races and bike polo. It even worked at a contemporary dance rehearsal, a challenging low-light situation. In the end, it is simply a matter of understanding the best settings for the AF system and helping the camera with the composition.
In June I also used the X-T1 for a couple of events. For one of them, the opening of a new shop in Turin, I decided to take some shots by manually focusing with the 35mm f/1.4. I love this lens but being one of the first releases for the system, it also has the slowest autofocus speed. What’s more, while the AF-C is very efficient on the X-T1, I sometimes find the AF-S unpredictable, sometimes it won’t even lock in ideal shooting conditions.
Thankfully, the X-T1 possesses the best electronic viewfinder on a digital camera. The lag time is almost non-existent (0.005s), and the magnification is 0.72x, making it the biggest EVF on the market. If you wear glasses like me, you will find it easy to use, especially with the X-T1’s various manual focus assist options. You get the standard magnification and peaking, as well as two unique features called Digital Split Image and Dual Mode. The latter is my favourite because it displays a magnification of the focus area on the right next to the frame. It is the feature I found the most efficient when manually focusing with the X-T1. The EVF is actually so big with so much resolution (2.360k dots) that I often find myself manually focusing without using any of the MF assists.
Further testing and usage
By this time, I had already tested the most important aspects of the camera, so the following months were pure pleasure for me. I didn’t shoot much with it in July but my partner used that to her advantage and shot some architecture and public events in Turin.
I started using the X-T1 once again in August while on holiday in Wales and my impressions were no different than before; a simple, straightforward camera that is a real pleasure to use. During that month, I also experimented with long exposures and star trails, taking advantage of the clear night skies. Creating this kind of shot is very easy with the X-T1. If you want to try it yourself, I highly recommend the Triggertrap dongle for your Android or Apple device.
September was very busy between work and Photokina. I used the X-T1 to test some new Fuji lenses, and back home, it was my second body for a wedding. This brings us to the current month, the sixth I’ve had with the camera.
I’m going to be totally honest with you and say that my favourite Fujifilm camera is still the X100s. That said, I can understand why so many people are falling for the X-T1. It is Fujifilm’s most mature camera and a good example of how the X system, as young as it is, is evolving to perfection.
Are there aspects I don’t like? Yes, but they are minor complaints. Some buttons could have been bigger and easier to press, the grip is limiting with larger lenses, and the somewhat flimsy SD card door sometimes swings opens. The battery life could also be better, and when you mount a tripod plate, it blocks the battery door.
Updates and the future
One last point I’d like to make regarding the constant updates Fujifilm makes to its X series cameras. Have you ever experienced the satisfaction of returning to the same camera store and being treated with courtesy and attention because the owner recognized you as a returning customer? Well, with Fujifilm you get something like that via its firmware updates. Even for cameras that are more than two years old, you have the possibility to receive updates that enhance functionalities and add new features. At the end of the year, the X-T1 will receive a massive update that will bring a silent mode, electronic shutter, a new picture profile and better video capabilities, a weak point on all Fujifilm cameras. If you would like to own a camera that doesn’t grow old after six months, this is something extra that Fujifilm does very well indeed.