A month has passed since part one of my review of the Fujifilm X-T1, the latest camera in the amazing X series Fuji lineup.
I have been using the camera for over a month now, but before I start I would just like to reiterate that I am not a professional writer being extremely dyslexic, but what I am is a professional photographer who takes pictures for a living, so I like to think I know what I’m talking about.
There is so much to like and so much to say about this camera, but I will start with what the X system has meant to me in the short time its been part of my image taking tool kit. Without going into too much history I've been shooting professionally for over 20 years, in that time I have used many cameras from film to digital and in the past few years cameras have become so heavy and bulky that it has become a chore to use them, their ability to produce amazing images is still there, but it’s just an annoyance to take them anywhere that you don't have to. What the Fuji has given me and it seems many others, is enthusiasm to just take pictures, to take a camera where ever I go, just like in my student days when I virtually slept with an Olympus om1. So if this is the only thing it can do for me, then that is enough, but read on, it gets better.
56mm f1.2, this is the latest lens I've added to my ever growing Fuji X lens selection. The majority of images in this review have been taken with it. My go to camera and lens pairing in the studio has been the canon 1Dx since its release, combined with the 85mm f1.2 II, they are an awesome combination. Now the Fuji 56mm is here to add to the X-T1, I have a smaller lighter system to use that gives the same focal length. The lens is super sharp, (most of the time), fast to focus and is built like a tank. Its size is perfectly balanced on the X-T1 with a built in grip.
I have found it does have issues in poor lighting conditions and while the X-T1 is better than the Xpro1, it still on occasions can hunt for focus, in these situations it also has a tendency to be a little inaccurate. For example the shot below was shot at a relative distance for the full length of the model, focus point over the nearest eye and settings of 1/125, f2.5 1600ISO, the camera struggled to lock to start and then out of all the images shot in this set only 2 were bang on focus, you may say, “But you’re at f2.5 so what do you expect?” Well I expect a better hit rate in accuracy. Moving in close it was fine, but at full length distance it struggled to be sharp where I wanted it to be. Although when it was on it was beautiful so I'm hoping a firmware fix will help. All in all the 56mm is a stunning lens.
This is much improved from previous versions of the X system lineup, given the right conditions it is fast possibly because it has added on chip phase detection. It is claimed to be the fastest AF system on the market, I don't think it is quite that, but it is pretty quick given the right lens and AF conditions. As mentioned before when close to subject say from 3/4 length to head and shoulders it is super accurate when moving the AF point around the chip and over the subjects eye (not focus and recompose). Where it can struggle at times is the accuracy at full length even when the focus point is moved to the optimal point where you want focus and even when the AF point is at it’s minimum size
In my Portrait and fashion work the AF point stays at its smallest size to give better accuracy to pinpoint focus. As mentioned previously I like to move the AF point around quite a bit. To enter AF point movement I've altered each of the multi pad buttons to enter this mode, one press of any of the four will instigate the AF point movement, you then continue pressing the relevant button to move the point around. These buttons are a little too small and sunken within the body of the camera, I presume for better weather sealing, but can be fiddly, I'm told by the Fuji UK that these buttons can be pushed up slightly from inside by Fuji Technicians.
On the whole the AF system is improved over previous versions and has a good level of accuracy with its on chip phase detect AF, it still has a few hunting issues when in low light which can have a knock on with accuracy.
Dynamic range :
I’m not one for scientific tech specs, more of a real world shooter, so I'm interested in the detail in highlight and shadows that the image can retain / resolve. The Fuji X trans II sensor is a bit of a freak, what I mean by that is its a bit special for its size, it may only be a 12 bit image but it seems to have a similar dynamic range to my Canon 1Dx. Below is an example of what the Fuji X trans sensor is capable of, what can be pulled back from the highlights and brought out of the shadows.
A few reviews I have read complain about a lack of fine detail from the Fuji X sensor, there is no getting away from it, it does have a smaller sensor than full frame cameras and that does have a few drawbacks, however the fine detail is still pretty good, but it depends massively on lens choice, ISO settings and maybe image taking technique, the image from the Swiss Alps above has masses of detail and was shot with the standard zoom XF kit lens. The image below of Red, my Dog was shot with the 56mm and although, if splitting hairs, the 85mm 1.2 canon may have more separation in the finer details (hairs) it is still pretty damn good. Ive also recently read that processing raw images in LR5 can destroy some of the finer details compared to phase capture one, tested this as I've used LR since its inception and have not found this to be true, very little difference between the two raw processors if any.
High ISO noise:
One of the things i get asked most is " How is the X-T1 at high iso?" After a few tests now I can tell you it is very usable upto 6400 iso. Since I'm a raw only shooter I won't push past 6400 unless my life depends on it, I’ve not had to go past that setting for quite sometime, and I have the Canon 1dx if I need to. What does seem odd though is that some manufacturer’s test images will show a 6400 iso image shot at f8 and 1/500th, people read the iso setting and think wow that’s great, but read between the lines, f8 1/500th = you don't need to shoot at 6400 because the light is pretty good in the 1st place.
In the real world 6400 will likely be at f4 or below and 1/125th or below. I took the Fuji with me to a friends wedding and as there was no pressure for me to produce any images I was happy to shoot at a high iso which I had not tested before, not world beating images, taken intentionally for high iso, but what I did prove to myself was that I would be quite happy to shoot up to 6400 no problem, noise is well controlled and very even, I wouldn’t say filmic as that makes no sense, just a buzz word some people use these days. The detail it retains at high iso is remarkable, showing detail and sharpness right to 6400. Not as clean as my Canon 1dx, but holds it's own.
One area the Fuji is lacking is a decent flash system. Fuji’s own branded products are pretty bad, they know this and I'm told they are working on it. I’ve tested a few manual only systems and the ones I've found are very reliable and mimic what I was getting with the Canon 600ex. I used the Godox ving 850 and accessory ft16s trigger set. What this gives is radio control and trigger and the ability to remotely alter the power of each flash in the setup via the on camera transmitter. This setup so far is proving very reliable and has a faster recycle than the canon 600's, the build is similar to the standard system, but for a quarter of the price, it has a GN of 58 and zooms from 24-105, it is very easy to use and one thing I find a God send is the lithium ion battery pack, it is equivalent to 12 AA batteries and where the AA batteries would start to get hot when under load the lith ion stays cooler and so helps prevent thermal cutout.
A specific review of the Godox Ving 850 can be found Here.
Pictured below is the flash with the ft16s trigger with the receiver attached to the flash unit.
Full frame comparison:
When the 56mm f1.2 first arrived I did a quick detail and sharpness test at the studio using one of my vintage wooden boxes and the colour checker, not scientific I know but its real. Below are the comparisons between the Fuji and the Canon. Settings were the same, distance to subject, processed the same way, both have a small amount of sharpening added. I found the Fuji tends to come straight from camera a little flat (contrast) and needs sharpening. Colors as you can see are similar. Some say Fuji has great skin tones, it has but I don't find it any better than the Canon which I've always found to be excellent, sorry Nikon users but both the Fuji and Canon out perform you on this front. I think you will agree the Canon is a little bit sharper, has a little more detail, some of the finer details may be lost being on the web, but I think there is very little in it and would be happy to use the Fuji on a commercial job.
Where the new X trans II chip in the X-T1 excels is in the tonal gradations, this is one of the 1st tests that I do on any new camera and how it handles gradations between highlights and shadows and those areas in between which are often overlooked. You would think the Canon with it’s full frame and bigger chip size would be better but not always. The Canon raw file from the 1dx is pretty good but it can have issues, obviously the best is a true 16bit file from a Medium format camera, but I don't always have access to them. The Fuji for a 12 bit file is, like I mentioned earlier, a bit of a freak and handles drastic changes in tonal gradations very well, with minimal signs of tonal banding. This won't matter for many people as they don't push the limits of tonality. You could say I'm a bit of a freak like the Fuji sensor as I like perfection, I’ve never yet achieved it, but strive to get there one day.
This section will just be about my professional usage of the New Fuji X-T1. On the whole its all good with a few minor niggles. EVF as mentioned in the first review is great but its not all coming up smelling of roses. With extensive usage on a few X-T1 bodies I have found the EVF has a tendency to be approx 500K warmer than the rear screen, and unlike the wisdom of Sony in their EVF design the Fuji has no way to alter the colour temp / warmth of the EVF, not too much of an issue but it would have been good to have them match, also the rear screen technically has less pixels than the EVF but the image when viewed at 100% in the EVF can appear to be not as sharp as when viewed on the rear screen and yes I did have the diopter adjusted correctly for my eyes. A few of my students noticed both of these issues on a Fuji demo day we held at the studio a few weeks ago. What is great though is its size and its rotation of the details when turned to portrait mode.
Another minor EVF quibble becomes apparent when shooting in controlled lighting conditions in the studio. When shooting you should go into the menu and turn off preview in manual exp, this turns off wysiwyg so you are seeing an almost boosted image, a reason to do this would be if you were in a professional studio and were shooting at 1/125th f8 iso 200 you would get a very dark viewfinder if leave on preview in manual mode. Turning this option off causes no issues until you depress the shutter, what happens then is the lens stops down to f8 but the EVF trys to keep itself bright enough to see, thus creating a laggy viewfinder and lots of ants crawling around, the darker the studios ambient the worse this is. Many pro studios are on the dark side, so this could be an issue for some, a way around this is to use the back af-l button which will initiate focus but won't stop down the lens to f8, a minor drawback to this method is it slows down the shutter buttons action, it makes it a two fold action, being stop down and expose / shutter mechanism and the af-l button isn't in the best position for doing this, I think this is another thing that can be sorted in a firmware update, so fingers crossed.
I believe Fuji have aimed the X system at the natural light shooter, but with this latest edition of camera and it's features, I do believe that the studio shooter could ditch their big kit at times and use this quite happily.
The X-T1 sure does excel in natural light, truly do I love it when using it outside. Where it falls short a little is with studio flash, it has a tendency to flatten it all out, I can't explain this in technical terms, but it just looses something when using under studio flash, my mind is telling me it is a white balance issue, unlike the canon which I can get bang on for all the modifiers I use which I had tested with a colour meter, using these same Kelvin temps does not give the same results with the Fuji. Obviously shooting raw we can get it back in post production, but I'm old school and want to get it right in camera.
Most of the camera controls are great and really makes you think about your image making, my only wish is they didn't put any auto modes in it but then many would be put off by this. One dial I wish could be slightly altered is the iso dial, make it behave like the SS dial with the centre button only locking on the A setting, then free move on the rest, it can be awkward to use this dial while at the eye and keeping hold of the camera / lens securely, just a minor niggle as it truly is a great design and it makes you think before you shoot. I have been informed of a re-fit new iso top plate to take out of action the push down button.
Although I wanted a smaller camera the battery grip is a must for me, I do like something to get my hands around. The grip is a nice design, a very secure fit and it feels great in the hand, the only minor gripe would be having both batteries in the grip so you didn't have to remove it to get to the batteries to replace and charge them.
I'm told there is a firmware to alter the button mapping, as the af-l button is a little low if shooting back button focus.
Lens design for the Fuji X system is quite astonishing, by that I mean very very nice, probably too nice as they make you want to just own all of them. My personal favourites are the new 56mm f1.2, the 23mm f1.4 and the 35mm f1.4 and the newly discovered by me 55-200 f3.5 f4.8.
Not at all being negative, just a finding coming from big canon L glass is when you want to remove some of the lenses quickly there is not many places to grab, take the 56mm, most of it is either the focus ring, the aperture ring, or the lens hood, so the focus spins, you end up moving the aperture to max or min which can be a pain when you want to replace the lens quickly and you find it at f16. I’m talking speed changes here so not a big deal to most. I also have got used to seeing on the lens the aperture setting, then you go to the 55-200 or 18-55 and no markings... duhh ok karl aperture quick where is it, oh yes now look in the viewfinder or on the back, my brain is getting old!! But Fuji, you do rock on your lenses.
From a usability point of view many things excel with the New X-T1, some are simple things that many often over look, like quick image review for sharpness, when using the fastest SD cards it is very quick to 100% zoom view, almost instantaneous, and I've got into a habit of shooting raw and jpeg fine, as it is then the jpeg that is checked for sharpness, I don't use these jpegs but for review speed I've found it very useful, a quick press of the focus assist button and its at 100% zoom, viewing images this way also gives a larger preview than viewing a raw file, the jpeg seems to allow a zoom to true 100% where the raw approx only 50%
The tilting screen is also helpful at times to save you lying in the dirt if taking low angle images, also when in spy mode and shooting like on and old Rolliflex looking down at a waist level finder, great for street shooting etc as when the camera is at your eye its amazing what you can shoot and people / subject haven't a clue. I would have liked it to have been able to flip both ways like the sony a99 which is an amazing articulated screen, but I'm told incredibly expensive to produce.
The X-T1's size and the ability to put a whole system in a small discreet bag is a God send for me and many other pros around the globe, it may not have the same image quality of the full frame camera (but not far off), it may have issues with other things compared to a mirrored camera, full frame or not, the question should be. Is it good enough? And my answer to that is a big fat YES, I would happily use the X-T1 for everything but the most exacting of my work, and coming from me, a total nit picking anal perfectionist, that is saying something and for those that know me will know, I never lie, I tell it like it is, I often upset people with my honesty and frankness, but like I've said before I'm old school, if its rubbish I will say its rubbish.
Some may read this and see some negatives with the X-T1, but this is the case with any camera as no one yet has made the perfect camera. In my mind there is not a camera to suit all jobs as each job has different guidelines and needs and as professional photographers we need to realise this and use the right tool for the job. What the Fuji X-T1 system gives to the Pro is a very capable camera, packaged in a lightweight body and backed up by a stella lens lineup and when paired together can achieve incredible results. Most of the niggles I have mentioned I believe can be solved in a Fuji firmware update and where Fuji excel is listening to its users and implementing changes very quickly. The X-T1 is a small system camera that gives the pro a viable option of a lightweight alternative to the larger DSLR's and a complete pro kit can be carried without risk of fatigue or annoyance. I would highly recommend the Fuji X system to anyone wanting a small system camera capable of creating amazing images. It is a system that gives its user many rewards and is a pleasure to use, to take anywhere and not just for work.
Below are a small selection of commercial work since taking on the Fuji X system into my image taking arsenal.
This image was shot for Notts County Cricket Club, having Puma as their new kit sponsor, this was an important shoot with some of their team members. These images are now printed A0 around the ground advertising the new kit available for sale. due to rights usage I'm not permitted to show too many from this shoot until mid way through the season.
These images were from a shoot for a luxury boutique lingerie brands new A/W 2014 collection, all were with natural light.