Monday, March 3, 2014

Fuji X-T1 - A Second Look

After slamming this camera in an earlier post, I have become interested in it again for two reasons. First, after seeing the stunning RAW still photos that David Taylor-Hughes is getting out of it over on Soundimageplus, I thought - there is something special about this camera. And second, a lot of people around the 'net wondered whether this camera was worth buying - and I was curious too. Is this a still camera that is so good that it can overcome its video challenges - especially for casual video shooters? I had to find out.

So I went online and rented the camera body from in Memphis and an 18-55mm f2.8-4.0 lens from in San Carlos, California. I've done business with borrowlenses a number of times and have had great experiences every time, but they didn't have the X-T1 yet, so I rented the body from lensrentals. Both companies are great, and I can recommend them without reservation.

I didn't intend to do a formal review - I just wanted to satisfy my own curiosity and answer a few questions from the community - but the X-T1 surprised me in several ways, both positive and negative, and I thought it deserved a blog post.  And yes, there are sponsored links and ads here to recoup the costs and time spent on these reviews - but nobody pays me to promote their cameras, and I do my best to point out both the pros and cons of every camera I write about.  Okay - enough of that, let's talk cameras.


Of course, this is a matter of taste, but this camera is a joy to look at and to hold. My first SLR was a 1974 Minolta SR-T 101. It was all-metal, had physical knobs on top and zero hand grip (besides the pebbled finish on the body). I learned photography with this camera and it will always hold a special place in my heart.

I think Fuji psychoanalyzed people like me and designed the X-T1 to hypnotize us into pulling out our wallets.  It has easy to understand physical controls with the weight and balance of a real camera, not a plastic toy.  There are manual settings if you want them - and easy to understand automatic settings if you don't.  There are no pictures of flowers or children on the mode dial - in fact, there is no PASM mode dial at all  (not a big loss - my Minolta didn't have one either).  Instead, there's a big, locking ASA, er...ISO dial on the left of the viewfinder, a big, locking shutter speed dial on the right of the viewfinder and a big +/- 3EV exposure compensation wheel on the far right.  Rental cameras don't include manuals, but I didn't need one. For anyone who considers him or herself a photographer, this camera is very easy to use, straight out of the box, without drilling down into a bunch of menus.  There were a couple of challenges over the course of the test - but they were easily resolved by looking up the answers on the Fuji site - which brings us to...


Once I had charged the battery and inserted the SD card (formatted on the Sony RX10 I tested a few weeks ago - that review is still in the works) I powered the camera up and was immediately impressed by the clarity of the LCD.  Very nice.  It was indoors after dark, and both the LCD and the EVF did a good job in my lamplit room.  There was a little grain, especially when I used the focus assist (magnification) feature - but it was not bad.  The big problem wasn't the EVF/LCD's brightness - it was its flickering in response to video screens.  I happened to have the TV on, and the effect was not confined to the screen - it was reflected across one whole side of the room.

I pulled out my trusty Panasonic GH2 for a comparison of the same scene, and there was no flickering on the LCD/EVF at all. Turning the TV off solved the Fuji's problem - but it was an annoyance when trying to compose still photos.  I was concerned that this would affect the quality of video recorded indoors when there were screens around, so I recorded a few seconds of video at 1080/60p.  Thankfully, the flickering stopped as soon as I hit record.  Still - this is something Fuji needs to address.

That said, I shot a quick JPEG that first evening with the camera indoors in low light, all neutral settings, and here's what I came up with right off the bat:

Fujifilm X-T1 w 18-55, ISO1600, f2.8 1/20th sec, +0EV w flash

Here is what I got from the GH2 with the Olympus 11-22mm f2.8-3.5:

Panasonic GH2 w Oly 11-22, ISO1600, f2.8, 1/13th sec, +0.66EV
I have been shooting JPEGs with the Panasonic for a couple of years, and have made a couple of custom color adjustments to compensate for the camera's weaknesses.  Without these adjustments, the GH2's color reproduction is horrible. The X-T1, on the other hand, produces very accurate color reproduction straight out of the box.

The next morning, I changed lenses on the Panasonic.  The rest of these comparisons are between the Fuji X-T1 with the 18-55 kit lens, and the Panasonic GH2 with the 14-140 video-optimized kit lens (I would have shot this comparison with the GH3, but it has been at the Panasonic Service Center for a month(!) - more on this later).

When I tried to shoot a few pictures, however, I ran into my second challenge with the X-T1.  The numbering system on the Sony-formatted card started in the 900s - so the Fuji quickly ran out of file numbers and displayed a "Fuji Frame No. Full" message across the LCD.  A quick search of the Fuji support and contact center came up with this method for resetting the file numbers, so the problem was solved in 5 minutes.

This was completely my fault for not reformatting the card, not the camera's - but it was good to know that problems like this are fairly easy to solve.

For the rest of the weekend, I carried both cameras everywhere I went and found the X-T1 to be a joy to use. I didn't exercise every feature (e.g., burst shoting, wi-fi), but I did shoot both stills and video (I'll post the video samples later). Here are a few more comparisons of its still image quality with the Panasonic.

One of the landmines my son puts on the carpet to keep me from walking around barefoot in the dark:

Fujifilm X-T1 w 18-55, ISO800, f4.0, 1/5th sec, +0EV

Panasonic GH2 w 14-140, ISO1600, f5, 1/10th sec, +0.67EV

Conspicuous consumption at the local plaza:

Fujifilm X-T1 w 18-55, ISO800, f3.2, 1/45th sec, +0.67EV

Panasonic GH2 w 14-140, ISO800, f4.5, 1/25th sec, +0.67EV

Fujifilm X-T1 w 18-55, ISO800, f3.6, 1/50th sec, +0.67EV

Panasonic GH2 w 14-140, ISO800, f4.5, 1/30th sec, +0.33EV

Ducks trying to stay warm:

Fujifilm X-T1 w 18-55, ISO200, f4.5, 1/125th sec, +0.33EV

Panasonic GH2 w 14-140, ISO200, f5.6, 1/100th sec, +0.33EV

Ready to shoot video with "still" cameras:

Fujifilm X-T1 w 18-55, ISO800, f3.2, 1/50th sec, +0EV w flash

Panasonic GH2 w 14-140, ISO800, f4.5, 1/50th sec, +0.33EV w flash


In full auto mode, this camera is a fast shooter that produces great color and image quality. For manual shooters, it is very easy to customize - and, although I didn't use them much, the menus are well-organized and straightforward.

But lots of other cameras have fast autofocus, good lenses and great color. Some even have well-organized menus. What makes this camera different? Well, for me, it's the great APS-C X-Trans sensor in a conveniently-sized, solid body with a great viewfinder, a tilt-screen and "real photographer's" controls. If I were a still-only shooter, this would easily be my favorite modern camera.

But, sadly, I'm a hybrid still/video shooter, and, for video, this camera leaves a lot to be desired. Although the 1080/60 progressive frame rate is nice, it is limited to 14 minutes of continuous recording. Other limitations: there's no audio meter on screen while recording, there's no 1080/24p option and, in 2014, there's no excuse for this camera's non-standard 2.5mm mic jack. Good thing I had a couple of Hosa GMP-467 3.5mm to 2.5mm right angle adapters left over from when Panasonic cameras were saddled with this same foolish design decision.

Overall, this camera is a 9+ for stills and a 7 for video - fantastic for still shooters who want X-Trans color straight out of the box - and who want to control their cameras without drilling down through a bunch of menus.

But still/video hybrid shooters should probably wait for the GH4 . That's what I'm going to do (although it was a little sad to pack the X-T1 up for shipment back to Memphis). So long, little buddy, it was fun while it lasted. I'm going to miss you.

If you're primarily a still shooter, and this review has helped you to make a buying decision, please click on one of the links above or the display ad below.  It won't cost you anything extra, and it will help to keep these blog posts coming.  Thanks!

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