Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gear Review - Field testing the Fuji X-T1

The Fuji X-T1 with the battery grip and 23mm f/1.4 lens
I've spoken before about my love for the Fujifilm x-series cameras. The idea of having a camera that produces good enough quality and usability without having to lug around DSLR really appeals to me, whether for day to day stuff or even on jobs. You can read my thoughts on the x100s and X-Pro1 here. Although I love them as cameras to use day to day I probably wouldn't be comfortable shooting a commercial gig exclusively on them. I tend to keep them as back-up and also as something to use for myself.

The Fuji X-T1 packed alongside the X-Pro 1, my X100S and my Medium Format Bronica SQ-AI
However when the Fuji X-T1 came out I was excited that it could be a potentially great set-up for traveling with and shooting editorial assignments - it was much closer to the DSLR setup I'm used to using but without the bulk. With this in mind I decided to take one away with me on some recent assignments to Croatia, Spain, Morocco and Sweden. I already own some x-series lenses (18mm, 35mm) and I was lent a few extra ones (27mm, 56mm, 18-55mm, 23mm) which gave me a fairly thorough set-up. 

Gullholmen, Sweden. XF 18-55mm, 1/400 at f/9.0, ISO 800
Gullholmen, Sweden. XF 23mm, 1/750 at f/4.5, ISO 400
Gullholmen, Sweden. XF 18-55mm, 1/320 at f/13
My initial reservations with the camera were with the fact that the viewfinder is obviously EVF rather than optical, something which in the past has always been a turn-off for me. I needn't have been too concerned however, the EVF is fast, bright and large.  Occasionally I found myself covering my other eye in bright sunlight but otherwise it was great and not a hinderance as I had first feared. The great thing about having EVF is that it exposure meters right in the viewfinder so you know straight away how your exposure is looking. For someone like me who shoots mainly in manual mode (out of habit rather than any deep reasoning) this is really useful, and it saves you 'chimping' shots.
Tangiers, Morocco. XF 23mm, 1/125 at f/2.8, ISO 400
Tangiers Morocco. XF 23mm, 1/180 at f/10, ISO 200
Tangiers, Morocco. XF 23mm, 1/180 at f/8.0, ISO 400
Tangiers, Morocco. XF 23mm, 1/320 at f/11, ISO 400
My first impression of the XT1 in the hand is that's its small. At first I actually kind of felt it was too small - I think if I were to get one of these I would definitely go with the battery grip. I imagine for some people the small size is the main draw, and the great thing with the grip is that you can always take it off if you want to travel with a smaller package, but for me the larger size just makes it a little more manageable to shoot with. It balances out the camera and feels more comfortable in my hand plus it gives you a bit more functionality with buttons for shooting in the portrait orientation. When Fuji bring out their 24-70 and 70-200 f/2.8 equivalents (read about the 50 - 140mm here) with image stabilisation - they will have produced a real contender for a full size DSLR but at a fraction of the weight and physical size. For travel jobs, this is all rather exciting because flying with kit is always a bit stressful and hand luggage limits can be less than generous.

Tarifa, Spain. XF 35mm, 1/500 at f/4, ISO 200
Tarifa, Spain. XF 35mm, 1/2000 at f/2, ISO 200
Real world tests

Shooting with this camera on assignments was interesting and highlighted a few gripes I had with the camera. Firstly I'm a creature of habit; for the last 6 years I have used the back button on my Canon DSLR to get focus, something I took up after being shown it by a seasoned pro - thus using my thumb rather than my shutter finger to get focus. You can set the Fuji up to do something similar (AF lock) but for me these buttons are just too small, and are not satisfying to press, they feel like they'd be easy to fumble and miss. However all is not lost, I did see a genius mod that involved using Sugru to physically modify the buttons on the camera. Had it been my own X-T1 I probably would have tried this myself - I'm not how pleased Fuji UK would have been with me if I'd given them back a hacked camera! 

Pula, Croatia. XF 27mm, 1/1000 at f/5, ISO 400
Rovinj, Croatia. XF 27mm, 1/1000 at f/2.8, ISO 200
Rovinj, Croatia. XF 56mm, 1/4000 at f/2.2, ISO 200
Rovinj, Croatia, XF 56mm, 1/60 at f/2.5, ISO 200
With regards to the focus itself, it did not cause me any issues - I did not feel it was too slow, which is impressive as I'm pretty hard to please when it comes to such things. The other great thing about the large EVF though is that if you do feel unsure you can quickly check focus - zooming into the focus point whilst the overall image is still displayed. Coupled with the excellent Manual Focus peaking and you've got a good alternative to AF (One thing I'd like to see is some alternative colours for highlight peaking, rather just white).
London, England. XF 18mm, 1/80 at f/2.0, ISO 3200
The back screen is relatively good and the fact that it moves and swivels is a massive bonus. The previews it presents are quite punchy and if you're shooting RAW your image will have more dynamic range than the back display suggests. But having a flexible back display is great for getting into tight situations and angles with the camera. 

Amsterdam, Holland. XF 27mm, 1/60 at f/2.8, ISO 800
Amsterdam, Holland. XF 27mm, 1/80 at f/4.0, ISO 800
I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with the Fuji glass, a lot has been written, in a lot more depth, about the Fuji lenses but all I'm going to say is that I fell in love with the 23mm (35mm equivalent) and the 56mm* (85mm equivalent) - both fast primes, robustly built, that would certainly suit my style of shooting.

Seville, Spain. XF 35mm, 1/1000 at f/8.0, ISO 1000
Cadiz, Spain. XF 35mm, 1/500 at f/10, ISO 400
As for other features the in-built wifi and ability to control the camera through a dedicated app were very cool. I love being able to convert the RAW images in cameras and send direct to my phone for things like Instagram (if you use instagram my feed has a few shots from the camera marked with #fuji or #XT1). The remote too was something that I could forsee being useful for certain situations.

The Fuji app for smartphones which allows you to remotely shoot the camera. Both shots below were shot from the waist using the app.
Glasgow, Scotland. XF 27mm, 1/250 at f/5.0, ISO 400
Glasgow, Scotland. XF 27mm, 1/500 at f/5.0, ISO 400
The one thing that has prevented me from taking up the camera so far has been waiting to see what further lenses Fuji aim to bring out. If I do take on jobs I also find it difficult to do so with kit that I wasn't 100% familiar with. I would need to get very used to the camera before using exclusively on future jobs. The reason I enjoy shooting with the X-Pro1 and the Fuji x100s so much is that they offer a different experience to using an SLR - an off centre viewfinder etc. The thing with the XT1 is that is effectively trying to be an SLR but in a smaller mirrorless package, with some perks but also ultimately with some cut corners. The camera, and it's subsequent line, still excite me however, because of the potential of where it will lead. Any competition to Canon and Nikon is welcome in my view. And so far Fuji have shown that they are prepared to think outside the box a little, they have the room and flexibility as a smaller company to try different things and new approaches. If they continue to do this, whilst maintaining their legendary concern and interest in customer feedback then they could really change the field over the next few years and offer a very viable alternative to the SLR. 

*Fuji have just released an updated 56mm aimed specifically at portrait photographer. The updated lens includes a special coating which adds to the price tag but that also promises to produces better bokeh. This is certainly a sign that Fuji ares serious about capturing professional photographers - akin to Canon having a range of L lenses which most pro's tend to gravitate towards.


Ian said...

The X-t1 allows focus peaking in red and blue as well.

JP Manninen said...

what's your post processing workflow with the Fujis? You shoot raw, yes? Have you run into any issues with the Fuji noise reduction when shooting high ISO?

I've been a little bummed out about the watercolor-type smoothing effect when shooting 3200 ISO and up, and I'm not thoroughly convinced that having noise reduction at -2 resolves it completely. This has been an issue with X100/X100S and shooting jpg, naturally.

Oh, and a follow-up: did you use the Fuji lineup with the Le Mans gig?

Unknown said...

What bag is that? Looks a little like my beloved LowePro Omni Traveler which I can't buy in the USA anymore.

Unknown said...

I apologize. Just found the complete review on the bag. Thanks for making this info available.

Mendewesz said...

I really like the look of your photos, especially since we're talking about Fuji RAWS which are supposedly hard to post-process. Care to share your technique?

Greg Funnell said...

Hey Guys - I process RAW in lightroom often with VSCO presets or my own. Can't say I've really noticed the Noise issue myself. The Le Mans project was shot with Canon 5D mk II and III.