Fujifilm X-T1 Review: Initial Impressions

“Are you excited?”, Chris asks me as he struggles with the new POS system.
There is a pause.

“No. Not really.” I say with a shrug.  “I suppose I would feel better if there were a crowd of people applauding me for my purchase, but I suppose that store is around the corner.”
We share a laugh.

Following on from my Olympus OMD EM1 review (thank you 43rumors.com for featuring my article), I picked up my two Fuji X-T1 bodies earlier today from digiDIRECT. I had pre-ordered them a few days ago, along with the Fujinon 14mm f/2.8, 35mm f/1.4R, and the much anticipated 56mm /f1.2.

I should preface this Fujifilm X-T1 review (a mere initial impression) with a disclaimer. I am a wedding photographer. I am not learned in the areas of writing technical reviews. I base all my comments and opinions on how I have come to use my camera equipment. I have not been paid by Fujifilm or any other third party to write this article. All items mentioned in this article were purchased by myself (although I welcome any sponsorship or ambassador opportunity).

For your reference, all images displayed here were taken by me, in my office, on a Fuji X-T1 and Fujinon XF35mm f/1.4R. Although I shot in jpeg + raw, as of this moment, I cannot seem to get OSX Mavericks to recognise the RAF file or have Lightroom 5 import them. As such, I am using the jpegs that were created at the time of shooting; imported and edited into LR5 using vscoFILM’s standard Fuji 400H preset (with grain removed). I should also mention that I deliberately turned off half of the overhead office fluorescent lights and all photos were taken at ISO1000. No noise reduction has been applied.

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As mentioned in my OMD review, having used an interchangeable mirrorless camera system for the past two months for professional paid work has led me to believe that mirrorless is the way forward. Nikon just announced their latest flagship, the Nikon D4s and whilst I am sure it is yet another improvement beyond the D4, it offers me little satisfaction. And because I am predominantly a small business owner, I must take into account the ROI of any capital that is acquired for the business. As a wedding photographer, I have always shot with two cameras. Towards the beginning of my career, the DSLRs were different models (except for dual D700s). In 2011 when I was shooting with Nikon, I could afford a D3 and a D700. By 2012, this became a D3s and D3 combo. When I switched back to Canon in 2013, I had mirrored 5D Mark 3′s. Apart from redundancy, two cameras means less lens changes which in turn equates to the minimalisation of missing shots. While the 5D Mark 3 did a fantastic job (for the most part), it left me a bit irritated with Canon; a crippled SD slot meant any benefit of having a second memory card slot was made redundant.

Technology has the power to make our lives much easier. It is my opinion that that is the sole purpose of technology. Otherwise, what’s the point? From a business perspective, I suspect that consumer product lines are much more profitable for manufacturers and as such, more investment is poured into the R&D of such product lines. That is why I believe that mirrorless is the next thing. And above all else, mirrorless (apart from Sony) are significantly smaller and lighter (when combined with a lens). My typical wedding assignment starts at a minimum of 9-hours and extends to 15-hours. Two 3-6kgs on each shoulder can add its toll when compounded yearly.

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My first introduction to the Fuji line was with the very first x-series camera; the x100. It was the ultimate hipster prop. It had sexy retro lines and screamed of rangefinder. But at the time (before all the subsequent firmware updates), it couldn’t focus to save its own life. When the successor, the x100s was released, I was a bit hesitant. In fact, I did not buy one until many months after its official release. After careful reading of reviews, and getting the sense that the AF was improved, did I fork over my hard earned money. It was a nice camera. The AF certainly was much better than the original, but to use the x100 as a benchmark is pretty pointless.

I took that x100s to Vanuatu as a fun camera to use. I was there for a wedding. I kept the x100s for exploring and my serious DSLRs for my paid work. I did thoroughly enjoy that x100s in Vanuatu and the fond memories of editing those raw files is why I am here today, AU$5,500 poorer. I saw something promising; not quite mature, but with much potential.

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Having only tried the X-T1 for no longer than 15-minutes, the following comments are superficial and may change over time. I don’t know when Adobe will update Lightroom to include the X-T1 profile but I hope it will be soon as I want to see how the raw files handle. This was after all, one of the compelling reasons why I have moved away from micro four thirds: sensor size. And as you can see from these jpeg images, ISO1000 is child’s play for the X-T1. Admittedly, I haven’t pushed the exposures, but I have bumped shadows and blacks up slightly. And apart from user error in focusing (such as the immediate image above), I cannot see any cracks yet. I am sure time will tell as I use the X-T1 more over the coming weeks and months.

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How is the Fuji X-T1′s autofocus? It seems snappy. But I am coming from a world-class AF system; the Olympus OMD. It would not be a fair comparison. I mean, all I had to do was tap on the rear LCD screen of the EM1 and it would achieve focus and activate the shutter almost instantaneously. But with such a high benchmark, perhaps I can comment on my initial perception of the X-T1 autofocus. Equipped only with the XF35 (50mm f1.4 equiv.), I had set up my X-T1 to have the smallest AF-box size possible (you achieve this by holding the DISP/BACK button and shuffling the front dial). Similar to my experience on the OMD, whilst the AF point size is smaller and thus perhaps more accurate for tiny details such as pupils/eyelashes, the causes more strain on the AF system. In English, this translates to a slightly slower process to achieve successful focus. And similar to my experience on the OMD EM1, the smaller AF boxes means that the distance between AF points across the sensor are larger. Compositionally this will take some time to adjust to. I typically frame things towards either the left or right third of the frame (aka, rule of thirds). I did encounter some AF errors when I was either too close to the subject and/or when I was blocking a lot of the available light since I was leaning over the subject with not a great lot of ambient light available. The AF-assist beam did seem to work quite well. At this juncture, I do not know whether the AF-assist beam helps in more real-world situations such as a dark room, at subject more than 2 meters away.

The X-T1′s ISO is managed solely through the dial you see on the left. Whilst it is electronic, one must manually and mechanically move the ISO wheel with their left hand (assuming that you’re holding the camera with their right). This could be problematic. Or perhaps it will just take time to adjust to.

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I see a few UHS-II cards available at B&H, but none that I know of are available to buy in Sydney, Australia. I’m not sure if I want to pay for UHS-II. But I definitely will need to upgrade from my current Sony UHS-1 cards as they are too slow. But at least I don’t have to wait for the entire buffer to write to the card before reviewing the jpeg renditions. Even with my slow Sony UHS-I cards, the wait is a few seconds at most (if I take a burst of shots).

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Ah, the rear four-directional D-pad. Fuji, I am not a fan. The buttons are incredible recessed into the camera body. The buttons are smooth and have almost no tactile competitiveness to its surroundings. As someone who adjusts AF point constantly to compose photos, this is going to be a huge problem for me to overcome. FYI, I have set all four directional buttons (up, down, left and right) to activate AF point selection. Compared to the OMD, I am going to struggle with this.

I also find that the front dial is quite hard to find with my index finger. It seems to be oddly placed. Perhaps the X-T1 requires an additional grip to either lengthen the gripping surface area (to fit the entire palm), or something that makes the grip more substantial in depth. Ergonomically, I must say that Olympus’ OMD EM1 fits my hand extremely comfortably. I find the X-T1′s in-camera grip to be too shallow.

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I can’t comment on battery life just yet. Just to be sure, I have an additional NP-W126 per X-T1. I think I will need at least 3 extra batteries per body since the capacity is relatively low compared to pro-grade DSLRs.

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Up until today, I had never held a Fujifilm X-T1. Never. I pre-ordered, put down my 20% deposit and that was it. I missed the hands-on preview but my gut reaction was to believe in Fuji. As you will know, the X-T1′s EVF has received a lot of positive coverage on the internet. Everyone has praised the size of the EVF, the crispness and brightness of the EVF, and the almost imperceivable non-existent refresh lag. Now, to be very honest with you, when I first look through the X-T1′s EVF, I was not blown away. Why? Because the Olympus OMD EM1 is no slouch. That is all I can say at this moment. Further usage may shed some further insight.

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With just one lens (the XF35mm), there is only so much I can do. But since this is the exact focal range that I am very unhappy with with the EM1 (due to my Panasonic 25mm), I am going to really put the XF35 and X-T1 through its paces in the following days on wedding assignments. And whilst I have only scratched the surface with this 35mm, I must say that shooting wide open at f/1.4 was awesome.

My initial impression is of mixed results. I didn’t have extremely high expectations – I recognise hype when I see it. I won’t say that I am disappointed in the X-t1; quite the contrary. In fact, my primary reason for leaving the Olympus OMD EM1 was due to its ISO sensitivity due to its small sensor size. With a APS-C sensor, I can already see how the extra physical size of the sensor will benefit me. These ISO1000 jpeg files reflect almost no noise to me.

Give me a few months and I’ll let you know. As with my OMD EM1 review, it takes time to get used to a new system and to fully appreciate it for what it is. I hope that this brief insight has helped you. Whilst not technical at all, it sheds some of my thoughts based on how I use my cameras. Priced at enthusiasts, it is not exactly cheap. But with Fuji’s track record, another 6-12 months will see a significant price drop. For now, I am content with my purchase. I certainly do not regret it. I guess I will come to grips with the features I find quirky and just work with it. After all, no system is perfect. Technology is a mere tool to make your life easier. And cameras are just that, tools.

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Author’s edit: I have spent a good 8-hours in the field with the X-T1 now. You can read my updated views here: Fuji X-T1 Review: 8 Hours Later.