Camera Review: Fujifilm X-T1

May 16, 2014

By Bob Rose

Fujifilm turned a lot of heads just a few short years ago when it re-entered the pro digital camera market. Introducing an APS-C sized CMOS sensor utilizing a new proprietary color matrix array, elegantly housed in a rangefinder-like, retro-styled, mirrorless camera body, the Fuji’s X-Series gained almost immediate cult status for a combination of great image quality, solid feel and controls, and, frankly, some very quirky operation.

As a natural progression, the line has expanded to include the Fujifilm X-mount with a full series of interchangeable lenses, a variety of bodies with different viewing options, a second generation imaging sensor, and now, in the form factor of a compact DLSR, the next step in the evolutionary chain, the X-T1.

What truly sets this mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera apart from its immediate predecessor, the X-E2, is the viewfinder. Fujifilm says they have improved the real-time viewing performance of their 2.36-megapixel OLED electronic viewfinder (EVF) and placed it just off center on the top, incorporating High Eye Point (23 mm) viewing with .77x magnification, built-in diopters and an eyecup, altogether adding that slight bulge and a standard size hotshoe so reminiscent of the traditional mirror pentaprism of an SLR camera.

Repositioning the viewfinder made room for a spacious 3-inch, rear mounted, tilt-able 3:2 aspect ratio, 1,040K-dot display, which, like the EVF, was designed to show almost 100% accurate viewing.

A lightweight, die-cast, magnesium body gives it a solid feel but also makes it easy to carry. Top mounted machined aluminum analog dials provide direct viewing and access to Shutter speed, EV compensation, ISO, Drive and Metering mode. Electronic controls complement the other extended functions which include more accessible video and Wi-Fi.

A reinforced LCD screen and claims of over 75 points of weather sealing means the camera body should be rugged, dust-resistant, water-resistant and freeze proof to -14°F. Unfortunately we couldn’t test some of this as the first two water-resistant lenses aren’t due out until later this year.

I’m familiar with Fujifilm X-cameras and only had a few days to play with the XT-1, but as a travel photographer who also shoots commercial, fine art and panoramic images. here’s what I thought about this much anticipated camera.

Traditional Controls
Looking down at the top of the camera, it’s quite clear the designers of the XT-1 were influenced by photographers who want the ease of viewing and direct access setting of traditional analog camera controls. Both the brand new sensitivity dial (ISO) and shutter speed dial are self-locking and the exposure compensation dial has an improved feel which is much less likely to accidentally shift settings as compared to the same control on previous models of X-cameras.

While I’m fine with self-locking controls it did take a bit of getting used to the fact that the concentric switches surrounding these two knobs could accidentally be set because they don’t lock. It wasn’t so much a problem for the metering mode switch surrounding the shutter speed dial, but I did find myself consciously checking to make sure I hadn’t switched the drive mode while changing sensitivity.

The only other control that caused problems for me is also on the top. A nice little red movie-record button was way too easy to trigger, so I learned quickly to keep my hands away from that spot.

Speaking of video, it’s great that Fuji no longer buries the record button deep in one of the menus, but the video performance of the X-T1 is nothing to get excited about and if your main reason to own a camera is to shoot video, this is not the camera for you.

In addition to a top mounted power switch surrounding the shutter button (which no longer accepts a standard mechanical cable release) there’s an assignable function button which come delivered pre-programmed to turn on the camera Wi-Fi, but more about that later.

Topping it all off (no pun intended) is the hotshoe which works with most standard flash units but is primarily for Fujifilm dedicated models, especially the camera powered folding mini-flash that comes packed with the X-T1. Note that a conventional PC connector is on the front left side of the camera.

Excellent Viewfinder
An articulating, 3-inch, 3:2 aspect ratio, 1,040K-dot display takes up the majority of real estate on the back of the X-T1. But the real excitement comes when you place the viewfinder to your eye. The oversized eyecup gives you an idea that something is special and Fujifilm’s claim at this point in time is that the “Multi Mode Viewfinder” has the world’s highest viewfinder magnification ratio of 0.77x, and the world’s fastest display with a lag-time of just 0.005 sec. This translates into the largest and most useful viewing space of any camera I’ve tried.

It also means Fujifilm was able to add some new features. Taking advantage of the large viewing area, exposure information has conveniently moved off the image to the top and bottom of the screen.  If you’re an eyeglass wearer and you don’t want to utilize the built-in variable diopter control you can select between Full and Standard screen modes so as to see the slightly smaller image in its entirety with our without glasses.

However, my favorite tweak comes when you rotate the camera into vertical orientation, with the exposure information moving into proper orientation as well. No more sideways numbers: it’s a whole new shooting experience!

Two features that followed along from earlier X-series cameras are available in a single view as well (if you wish); these are an electronic split image focusing aid and focus peaking. I found both useful for manual focusing but prefer focus peaking by far as the way to truly set focus. (Peaking can be viewed in any one of three colors).

Other controls on the back of the camera will be familiar to Fujifilm X-series users and provide internal menu navigation for access to deeper levels of control and features. It’s worth noting that the X-T1 maintains the excellent “all-in-one” Q menu button and you can also now get more direct access options on some of the selector menu buttons.

The layout is very comfortable for my hand and I must say that I don’t often change these settings while shooting so it’s convenient to have my most used controls on the top of the camera as well as the top series of buttons on the back. But the tactile experience on most of the back button controls is something Fujifilm should improve on, especially if it’s intended to be a freeze proof camera which implies it is to be operated with gloves.

Nice Extras
Since this is Fujifilm’s best effort to date they included some new features which although not necessary novel are especially appreciated in the X-T1. In no particular order:

• Color coded electronic level in the display
• Onboard Intervalometer
• Auto bracketing (not just by exposure but also by ISO, film simulation type, dynamic range and white balance)
• Panoramic mode (horizontal and vertical)
• Multiple exposure mode
• Advanced filters (fourteen modes – not to be confused with ten types of film simulation)
• B/T exposure setting (and timed exposures up to 30 seconds)
• Optional Remote Release (plus the ability to alternatively use some third party releases through the microphone input)
• One button Wi-Fi – FUJIFILM Camera Application for iPhone/iPad lets you fully control the camera, download images and share images via standard 802.11b/g/n (also can Geotag image files after the fact which make that feature almost useless)

In use I found the Fuji X-T1 to be exactly what it looks like: a compact, pro-quality camera.

It’s so compact that I opted to attach the accessory Hand Grip MHG-XT, which added a nice firm contour to hold, and an Arca-Swiss compatible tripod mount – as well as a conventional ¼”-20 thread which is centered on the optical axis of the camera. The design is smart enough to have a cutout so the battery can still be changed without having to remove the grip.

There are supposedly other size grips coming in the near future. If you can live with the extra weight though, the Vertical Battery Grip VG-XT1 offers the added benefit of doubling the battery power, while also providing a vertical shutter release and duplicating some other key camera body command controls.

I carried a set of three zooms, the new superwide 10-24mm f/4, the standard kit 18-55mm f/2.8-4.0, and the slightly bulky but very convenient 55-200mm f/3.5-4.8. In total it gave me an effective range of approximately 15mm to 300mm in 35mm camera equivalents. They all incorporate their own Optical Image Stabilizing (OIS) and also benefit from individual Lens Modulation Optimizer (LMO) technology in the body processing and external software.

The sharpness, freedom of distortion and angle of view of the two extreme zooms was so good that I rarely found myself using the standard 18-55mm. The only complaint I can make is that it seems like every lens Fujifilm offers requires a different size filter, so it’s a bit of a nuisance to deal with since I do use polarizers quite a bit.

The X-T1 is one of the first cameras that can accept the new SDXD UHS-II memory cards and while I had hoped to have a sample in time to test I had great results using Lexar Professional SDHC UHS-I 600X cards. Shooting two or three rapid bursts at CH (spec 8fps) I never had to wait for the card in order to continue shooting (Editor’s Note: just prior to going to press I was able to test a Kingston SDXC UHS-I U3 which did edge out the Lexar slightly on write speed. I also found after averaging a series of high speed runs that the camera/card combos could shoot up to 24 frames at about 5.5fps before taking a break to write to the cards – fully in 16 seconds but still allowing 2-3 frame bursts while writing).  

As a side note it looks like there was space reserved for two memory cards on the X-T1 but something didn’t work out. Fujifilm if you’re listening and all it takes is a few more dollars and millimeters, this body is small enough to handle the extra weight of dual slots so please bring it on.

One of the big advantages of the 16.3 Megapixel X-Trans CMOS II sensor is how it can be used with the EXR Processor II to speed up autofocus and also provide predictive focus of fast moving subjects, or as Fujifilm call it, Intelligent Hybrid Auto Focus. This is why they can make claims such as “World’s fastest AF speed of 0.08 sec.” I had no way in my travels to test this spec but I can say that under most of the lighting conditions encountered the X-T1’s focus was snappy and precise.

As mentioned earlier, a compact shoe mounted flash EF-X8 is included with the X-T1. It has its moments but is really not powerful enough (GN8 @ ISO 100) for general work and I’d much rather save the camera battery which the flash draws from and use a more powerful unit like the Fujifilm EF-42. But either way it seems like you have to go through a menu setup whenever using flash so that’s a bit clunky operation and hoping they can fix it with firmware.

Speaking of firmware, Fujifilm, more so than any other camera manufacturer, has provided ongoing small (and sometime big) fixes to the X-series cameras and lenses. So it’s very much appreciated when a simple online download and in-camera upload improves performance and even adds new features. They’ve been known to even offer firmware for discontinued cameras, which is nice.

The Bottom Line: Image Quality
All of the above would not be worth talking about if the X-T1 didn’t deliver good quality images. And because its imaging system is already based on the highly regarded lineage of X-cameras I got what I was expecting to see, great images.

Fujifilm said when the first X-cameras were introduced that it looked deeply into the structure and mechanics of the way digital images are most often created and determined that they could introduce a more “organic” and higher quality look to image capture by changing the rules a bit.

With 80 years of photo film research, Fujifilm’s solution to color reproduction was to switch from a traditional 2 x 2 Bayer color filter array on the sensor to a 6 x 6 array, incorporating more randomness into the color filters. (They argue that it’s this randomness that makes film images so sharp and smooth, but also free of moiré).

In doing so, Fujifilm was able to completely remove the low-pass optical filter from the X-Trans CMOS I and II. (Note: The low-pass filter shouldn’t be confused with the IR filter, which is still incorporated and essentially helps image quality but suppresses any IR-exclusive imaging.)

This new color filter array requires a new method of processing, and in the X-E2 and X-T1 cameras this is done very well by the camera’s EXR Processor Pro II, which produces well balanced, ~5MB JPEGs in camera and Raw image files that are ~32MB.  Fujifilm still continues to provide a copy of SILKYPIX software in the box for processing RAW image files, however it’s not software used in anybody’s workflow that I know of.

Fortunately for most users, Adobe stepped up to the challenge originally with a level of RAW processing in Adobe Camera Raw 7.1 for Photoshop CS6 / Lightroom 4.1. But even better, they’ve completely revised their handling of the RAW files and are also including film type simulation and lens profiles in Camera Raw 8.4 for Photoshop CC / Lightroom 5.4.

As I’ve done in the past, to check on the promise of extra sharpness without aliasing effects I went out of my way to photograph subjects with fine lines, details and complex patterns. With a rare exception, I couldn’t see any negative effects resulting from the elimination of the low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter.

ISO 200 is still native on the XT-1 and gave the best results but it was easy to shoot at 400 and 800 without compromising the image. While I experienced some noise at 1600 and ISOs above that (you can shoot at up to ISO 51200 in extended mode – in JPG only), results showed tight, sharp and pleasing “electronic grain” and impressive dynamic range.

Overall you can expect the Fujifilm X-T1 to deliver great flesh tones, natural colors and excellent sharpness. And that’s the most important thing about this camera and why we recommend it: image quality exceptional.

Pros: Compact, lightweight pro DSLR camera; fun retro-style controls; weather resistant design; extremely high-quality images; excellent skin tones right out of the camera; additional system lenses available and more coming soon

Cons: Questionable mechanics of buttons/controls; tough to access some controls with gloves; just adequate video capabilities; no GPS

Price: $1,299.95 (body only). $1,699.95 as a kit with an 18-55mm FUJINON lens