Fuji X-T1

evaluating the Fuji X-T1 as a lightweight walk around camera / 4th Oct 2014

Mt Ventoux and French vineyard by Devon commercial photographer Damian Davies

IN BRIEF

– Great lightweight camera.
– Out of camera jpegs superb on the whole.
– Really fun to use.
– Poor battery life.
– Superb viewfinder.
– Needs a bit more work though.

PREAMBLE

With Canon seemingly increasing the price of their cameras exponentially – the 5DIII costing 50% more-or-less more than the 5DII and the G1XII costing £200 more than the G1X, it is now time to look at some of the other offerings on the table – particularly a lightweight camera for walk around stock image gathering.

Canon and the 5D series in particular will remain my main camera for imaging – they offer a variety of professional features and superb image quality that I rely on. However, Panasonic and Sony have broken through what appears to a Canon/Nikon video complacency in recent years with two amazing cameras (GH4/A7s) offering 4K, high bit-rates and, in the case of Sony, amazing low light performance. In the stills arena, Fuji is taking on the giants with its professional camera X series including the latest X-T1 which offers professional performance in a lightweight, mirrorless, camera. The X-T1 isn’t cheap but it is highly rated.

A number of reviews of this camera have shown only monochrome images which seems to miss the point of having Fuji’s film emulation. So all images are colour.

Image of the Devon seaside resort of Dawlish by Devon commercial photographer Damian Davies while testing the Fuji X-T1

A great example of the exposure latitude and colour palette of the X-T1. Bright, sunny day with deep shadows. This image was captured in PRO Neg.Std. If you want to chose another film version, opening any raw/raf using ACR offers a choice of emulation options for Fuji users from Velvia to Astia plus of course Adobe98

The introduction to market of these new cameras doesn’t diminish the quality of previous cameras and the 5DII especially produces great image quality. But the search here is on for a lightweight walk around camera. Partly a back-up camera and partly one that can be used for editorial stock and more.

Perhaps now would be a good time to preface this with the admission that I tried out the Fuji X100 and hated it. Well, hated all of it except the leaf shutter. More on that later. But technology develops and you cannot judge a company by just one camera. And with that over and done with – onwards…

Holidaymakers on Sidmouth seafront promenade, Devon. Commercial and editorial photographer Damian Davies working in Devon and the Southwest of England

1/455 sec / f/7.1 / ISO 200 / 46.3 mm (in 35mm: 69.0 mm) jpg recorded in PRO Neg.Hi with the XF18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS lens
Below, a crop of the above image

Professional editorial photography in Devon and the southwest by Damian Davies

INTRODUCING THE X-T1

I’ll admit to being a big fan of Zack Arias. He produces some great images and loves this camera. So I thought it was worth a look. Now, all technical details can be found elsewhere. This is a real world trial (more than a test). Can it produce what I need?

Calais pier in France with departing ferries. Commercial photographer in Devon, Damian Davies

THE GOOD
  • On the whole, this camera produces outstanding jpegs*. The quality is largely excellent. For editorial stock the image can easily go straight from camera to agency. The exposure latitude (dynamic range) is breath-taking – highlights often being easily recoverable when needed along with shadows. The ability to chose the type of jpeg is another great and well executed idea. From a digital Velvia, through Provia and Astia to my favourite, PRO Neg.Std – photos with soft gradations and exceptional skin tones (in Fuji’s words and I cannot disagree with them). * NB also see “The Ugly” below
  • For those of us that remember when Fuji was king of film stocks and we used Velvia for stunning landscapes, Provia for a lot of professional work and Astia for weddings and the like, those days are sort of back again. To be frank, nothing is going to beat a large or medium format transparency film except a medium or large format digital sensor. It’s something new and it’s something good.
  • The XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS kit lens is brilliant. Any chromatic aberration or distortion is superbly dealt with by the camera’s internal processing resulting in out-of-camera jpgs free from most of them. A little distortion at the edges. Very slight.
  • The camera is lightweight – great for carrying around. It’s very similar to cameras of old -cameras like the Olympus OM4Ti, Yashica FX-D, Minolta X700 etc. It feels like an SLR.
  • The EVF (electronic viewfinder) is (let me just use this word again) brilliant as is the rear LCD panel.
  • The rubber eyecup is ideal for glasses wearers.
  • And the camera can be used reasonably stealthily. That’s always a bonus for editorial work.
  • High ISO/ASA images have well controlled noise.

Beach huts and man eating in the shadows. Photography by Damian Davies and Lightworks media in Crediton, Devon

THE SO-SO

There are several things that don’t seem quite right at the moment.

Seagull on top of a flag pole flying the union flag. Photographed in Teignmouth, Devon by Damian Davies

Seagull and Union flag in Teignmouth, Devon
This is an example of the orange/red issue. Image from raw/raf processed in Adobe98 colour space. The camera in some seems to mute/alter the colour in this specific range. This can be fixed in Photoshop by changing the orange and red hue sliders.
  • The reproduction of orange and red hues as seen above. This is not an effect of film simulation – the above image being processed from raf/raw without film emulation.
  • In my experience in certain circumstances the camera struggle to achieve focus. I haven’t worked out why or when precisely. On the whole there is no problem – certainly more accurate and quicker than my current Canon offerings and a world away from the Canon G1X, my previous walk around camera. Generally, it’s also very fast. It’s just one or two things that throw it off balance occasionally. I’ve also noticed that sometimes it struggles to track objects.
  • Battery life. Struggled to last through one shoot. The battery seems to go from 2 bars (out of three) to a red one bar very quickly. So the first thing I’ve had to do is buy a spare. And not a Fuji one (which was prices at £40+). Good ones by alternative manufacturers available from £10.
  • Dynamic range. A double edged sword. While extra dynamic range is excellent in most situations, sometimes the out of camera jpgs are very flat and it takes a fair bit of post production to increase blacks and contrast to produce an acceptable image.

Mt Ventoux at dusk, France, photographer Damian Davies photographing in Britain and throughout Europe.

Shooting directly into the setting sun on Mt Ventoux to test lens flare.
1/400th f11 ISO/ASA 400
THE UGLY

I hesitated before adding this. This is a really nice camera to use but there’s one increasingly annoying issue…the “watercolour” effect. Now this is a big issue. It only seems to happen on certain objects/scenes and occasionally.

Image of Bormio church testing the Fuji X-T1 for the watercolour effect

Out of camera jpg top and raw file below processed in Photoshop. 1/320th f11 ISO 320 – 100% crop.
The mountains and church bell tower in the jpg have a “painterly”, mushy effect.
WISH LIST

1. The exposure compensation dial which I knocked on several occasions needs a lock!
2. I personally didn’t find the d-pad to be too bad – though others have complained about it.
3. The battery door could do with some kind of auto locking mechanism
4. The flash PC sync socket cover on the front of the camera needs to be fixed to the camera somehow to stop it being lost. Yes, mine’s gone already!
5. Better battery. Battery life is poor.
6. A built-in neutral density filter would be a real bonus.
7. It’s a shame Fuji didn’t manage to equip the X-T1 with the leaf shutter the X100 had. A leaf shutter is the holy grail as far as working with flash in strong sunlight is concerned. Now that would be worth an extra hundred in anyone’s money.
8. XF10-24mmF4 R OIS. The kit lens (XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS) is so much more than a kit lens – it’s part of Fuji’s professional line-up of lenses and feels like it. All the same 18mm on this sensor equates to about 27mm on a full frame camera and for me is not quite wide enough at times. The 10-24mm = 15-36mm in full frame terms and is most definitely on the wish list.
9. Larger sensor. Yes, size does matter!

Photographer in Devon, Damian Davies. Ice cream van on Plymouth Barbican

OTHER THOUGHTS

What can I do to make light of this dull, dull day? One of the most trying times, when using a camera and attempting to produce some professional and publishable results, is when the weather is playing down and dirty while you are shooting using only natural light. A baptism of fire then for the Fuji X-T1 on the day it was bought (and without reading the manual in any great depth). The location was Paignton and the rains began and never really stopped. How would the camera fare in these conditions?

Testing out the Fuji XT-1 on Paignton seafront, Devon, by Devon commercial photographer, Damian Davies.

Flat light, storm clouds and rain, Paignton seafront, Devon, during a brief respite from the “liquid sunshine”
24.3mm (51mm full frame equivalent). 1/350 sec @ f/11 ISO 400

The conditions the image above was taken in is always a good test to see if the camera is able to lift the images in totally flat light with dark clouds and heavy rain. The ISO (or ASA) was pumped up to 400 and, while evaluating the XF18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS lens, an aperture of f11 was chosen to find the “sweet spot” for images. A little pincushion distortion at 24.3mm (see left hand side of image) but nothing too bad. The image was processed from raw (or raf in Fuji’s terms) with exposure and highlights altered a little (+0.95/-78), shadow and whites up to +9 and +12 for clarity and +18 for vibrance. No saturation increase.

JPEG & RAW

The out of camera jpgs are great. The internal processing of the image file is very good. So what about raw/raf? These need a little work in Photoshop to compensate for chromatic aberration etc. From raw/raf you have the option to apply a Fuju film picture style or leave the image as is and process as Adobe 98 or sRGB image.

Beach huts on Paignton seafront photographed by Devon commercial and editorial photographer Damian Davies

Extreme pixel-peeping. At 300% chromatic aberration is evident in the lamp post in the raw file (left), showing green on one side and red on the other, but can be quickly dispensed with in Photoshop. The out-of-camera jpeg exhibits the “clean” results of CA processing (right) with a slight halo. Let me, again, say this is at 300%!
CONCLUSION

It’s a superb camera. There are a few niggles, some minor some not so minor, but on the whole it’s a joy to use. There are times I wished I’d used my full frame camera for a shot and then realised that I would only have been carrying a small, lightweight camera around, not the larger beast.

Photographers searching for one camera that fits all briefs will be disappointed. Is there ever one camera that can offer everything? I think not. I do think that it is the start of a great camera and at this stage it’s doing very well. But I want it to do better! And I hope Fuji are taking on-board these comments, from me and others, to make the necessary improvements and wish lists.

As it is, yes I’m pleased to have it because there are a whole lot of shots I would not have got without it. This camera excels at images of people with excellent skin tones. However Fuji, focus tracking and the “watercolour” effect need to be addressed.

Sunbathers feet on Sidmouth beach photographer Damian Davies specialising in commercial and editorial photography in Devon, Somerset and the southwest of England

Damian Davies is a commercial and editorial photographer working in Devon and throughout the UK and Europe. With occasional forays elsewhere… get in touch
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