Imagine walking the streets of Paris, or any other city for that matter, with a light weight & compact camera system that is both subtle in looks and impressive in performance. Imagine being able to smartly & quickly change settings, blend in to the crowd and get the results you want. What does this camera look like? I'll cut right to the chase and state it's the Fuji X-T1.
Having recently switched from shooting Nikon DSLRs to Fuji mirrorless I was admittedly somewhat apprehensive taking a photo intensive trip without my trusty DSLR. I'd grown quite accustomed to shooting Nikon for nearly 10 years and wasn't quite comfortable yet with the X-T1 before hopping on our flight to Paris. This trip would be an excellent opportunity to both further my familiarity with the X-T1 and determine if it really is a replacement of the tried & true DSLR. I brought along two prime lenses, the Fuji XF 23mm f/1.4 and the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 for going wide. The simplicity and sharpness of shooting with only prime lenses would prove to be a great test of the camera's abilities.
There are several good reviews out there for the Fuji X-T1 so I won't spend time rehashing what you may have read already, listing boring specs or worry about pixel peeping. Instead I'll focus on what my main concerns are for real life shooting, favorite features and whether or not the X-T1 qualifies as 'professional' in my book. And perhaps more importantly, is it really the DSLR killer?
Handling & Aesthetics
Much of the hoopla and draw to the X-T1 has been its retro styling and more importantly its light weight, small size, and ease of use (actual dials on the outside!). The more rational side of a photographer of course should fancy the latter bit of qualities but I'm a sucker for good aesthetics and design. I must admit when I first got my hands on the X-T1 it was love at first sight. The mixture of superb design, metal body, and thoughtful use of the various metal dials felt like pure picture making magic in my hands.
From the ISO dial to the comfy grip to the programmable function buttons this camera invites the user to be confident and just take good photos. All this without the need to dig into complex menus for various settings which you hardly ever use.
Granted the 'flippy screen' has a technical name of 'tilting LCD', but I still like referring to it as the former. I was admittedly apprehensive and thought the flippy screen was a bit of a gimmick that was more deserving of a cheaper camera not of a pro-caliber camera. Well, I was wrong. The ability to rotate the LCD screen and use live view whether you are lifting the camera up high or down low to compose a shot is actually quite handy. Beyond handy actually, I'll call it superbly useful. Gone are the days of having to lie in a mud puddle to get that fresh perspective or grasping to a fence to get a better view and hoping you get the shot. Simply rotate the LCD screen the desired direction, frame your shot and take the picture. While not earth shattering or always useful I have really enjoyed using this feature.
Image Quality & Performance
The ability (or lack thereof) of the Fuji X-T1 to keep up with traditional DSLRs was one of my biggest questions going into this transition. Could it replace a Nikon or Canon DSLR (full frame or APS-C) for my style of shooting? Like many before me, my journey of learning who I am as a photographer has spanned many genres of making photos. I've shot cycling races, various action sports, weddings, portraits, landscapes, travel etc. Nowadays I fancy myself a pretty decent landscape & travel photographer that is focused and ready to make good on my past experience. So does the X-T1 meet the criteria I need?
In short, yes. The ISO performance is nothing short of amazing up to 6400 (who really needs more?). The RAW files have the detail and depth I need to push & pull shadows/highlights or print big. The in camera JPEGs (when exposed properly) are simply amazing straight out of the camera. I no longer have any reservations and image quality and overall performance for my needs. Professional level indeed.
I'll keep this section short, but the fact this this camera is so very well sealed is a nod to Fuji's engineers & attention to detail. Combine this with one of the Fuji weather sealed lenses and you can operate in some gnarly conditions without worrying too much about ruining your gear. This camera is apparently so well sealed that projects such as shooting in the Oneonta Gorge in Oregon could be done quite comfortably. I wouldn't dunk it or shoot in a heavy rain storm but it should hold up well in most situations.
Along with the the aforementioned 'flippy screen' I wondered why or when I might utilize such a feature before trying it out. Turns out, it is darn handy. Fuji's iOS app is well thought out with the ability to remotely capture pictures and change multiple settings with ease. I do wish that it could function in bulb mode, though that should be a fairly easy software/firmware update down the road. Otherwise I can imagine myself working on a new set of street candids while operating the shutter from my phone vs. being behind the camera itself. Not to mention you can wirelessly transfer images from the camera to your mobile device to quickly share on whatever social media platform you choose.
As you can likely surmise to this point, I'm a fan of this camera. Yet I do need to point out a few flaws that should be addressed in the next flagship iteration:
- The D-pad on the back of the camera honestly sucks. Others have pointed this out and I agree. The buttons are too small and not easy to utilize. Especially with gloves on. I haven't used the X-100T but from what I hear Fuji should have stuck with that setup. Why they changed it I have no idea.
- The sensor. To this point I'm impressed and ecstatic on the performance Fuji has squeezed out of a 16MP crop sensor. Though I wouldn't complain about more performance to be honest. Fuji is rumored to be working on pushing the X-Trans sensor to higher performance while not necessarily going full frame. I'm ok with this, in fact excited that Fuji isn't resting on their laurels and not caught up in full frame mania.
- Autofocus is actually very good, though it remains a bit below top end DSLR performance. If you are shooting sports or weddings you might still want a DSLR setup though several working pros are having great success with the X-T1 in these areas. All of my sports shooting now is geared more toward environmental type shots where the athlete is a part of the scene and not dominant in the frame therefore I don't need hyper-speed focusing. Simply using pre-focus is always an option with X-T1 if you are having trouble shooting fast moving subjects.
- Battery life is fairly short, but simply carry an extra battery or two and you should be set for most daily shoots. I do hope Fuji refines the battery meter at some point as once it starts to go downhill you get little warning.
So it the DSLR killer as I'd hoped? Mostly yes and just a wee bit of no.
Yes, to the point that for my needs & desires it fits the bill and then some. For landscape, street and travel photography I have yet to feel I need 'more' camera. Sure, higher megapixels on a full frame could help in printing huge images but few working photographers actually need such a thing. My own work consists of images for magazines, printed fine art and digital media. You can easily push a Fuji RAW file to over 50MB for some impressive viewing results & sharpness if needed. There are many other goodies that I didn't cover such as the Q menu, film simulation modes, countdown timer for long exposures, amazing EVF, phenomenal auto white balance, the list goes on.
No, to the point that it wouldn't quite be my go to camera for shooting sports on the sidelines or working a big bike race. Also Fuji's lens lineup isn't quite 'mature' yet though it's getting very close. Once the XF100-400mm and XF120mm Macro come out later this year the lineup will nearly be complete for most professional and amateur photographers alike.
If you've been hesitating to make the switch to the X-T1 or purchase one to supplement your DSLR setup, hesitate no longer. You might even find your DSLR spends more time on the shelf than you ever thought possible. Professional level indeed.