Why buying and returning the Fuji X-T1 was the best thing that ever happened to my photography
My Fujifilm X-T1 real world review and thoughts...
"Buying the Fujifilm X-T1.. and returning it, could quite possibly be the best thing that has happened in my photography career"
ATTENTION: Update Nov 22, 2015 - The Fuji X-T1 has RETURNED to my hands after a year of separation. I have decided with all the updates, and the release of the new 35 f/2 to give it another look. This time I will focus on more personal work, rather than professional. My opinion is the system itself will still not be ready for weddings, but only time will tell now. I should have an update to this article within the next couple weeks. In the meantime, you can read my previous thoughts on the camera, when I tested it out last year!
ATTENTION: Update Sept 2015 - This article was written almost one year ago, before Firmware 4.0 - I have not yet tested the camera with the newest firmware so I am sure there has been some improvement to the autofocus capability. The majority of this review still remains the same, so it is definitely still worth a read, if you are considering switching to this system. ALSO there are some fantastic comments below of other user's experiences so be sure to check those out!
Ok, so I know my thoughts on this might start a bit of a debate, but hear me out. This is just one photographer's humble opinion, what may not work for me, may work great for you. First, a little backstory... When I began taking paying clients, I was shooting Nikon. I had a Nikon D600 because it allowed me to shoot full frame without breaking the bank for a D800 or D4. I had a solid collection of lenses and felt that I had most of my bases covered with whatever I may be shooting. Fast forward to the present and I am a proud Canon Photographer, with a phenomenal kit - pictured below :) If you want more details on that part you can check out my article on Why I Switched From Nikon to Canon here. The 5D mark iii is everything I could ever want in a camera and the images that it is able to produce are absolutely stunning. Now that is out of the way, lets move on.
Ok, so at this point, following the logical route, one may think... I have everything I need to be successful and there is no reason to continue researching and reading up on gear that I don't have and probably don't need... but WANT. That is where a logical person's mind would be... Not mine. I am sure I am not the only photographer who thinks that new gear will lead to new images and lighter/cooler/more featured/better looking/etc gear would have a major impact on my photography. You don't have to raise your hands, but you know you are out there.
Let's move this along because this article is going to be a little lengthy. So, I can't seem to shake the fact that the Fuji X-T1 would be a great addition/replacement to my "heavy, outdated, not-as-cool, intimidating, in-your-face, obtrusive, DSLR's" and no matter how many reviews I watch on YouTube or forums I read, I just can't seem to find the exact answers I am looking for. People seem to be using these mirror less cameras and LOVING them, raving about them, and shouting "THE DSLR IS DEAD." So of course I have to try this out. I need to know if this is an actual move I can make in my career. So, first step... I decide to rent a Fuji X100S for a family trip to Disney.
I know, this article is about the XT-1, not the X100S, just hear me out for a second. The reason I rented to X100S is because it is small, lightweight and has the same sensor as the X-T1 so I figured I could get a good idea of what the images were going to look like, if I decided to make the leap to Fuji. Without dragging this on, I will just tell you that the X100S was incredible. The images popped, the colors and contrast were great and overall I was extremely impressed with the camera, minus the slightly sluggish AF and battery life. Which is in one word THE WORST BATTERY LIFE EVER IN A CAMERA. (I know its more then one word, but the point needed to be proven). Moving forward, now that I was satisfied with the image quality and the X100S was back on its way to BorrowLenses, it was time to make the jump... The jump to mirror less, the jump to FUJI.
I am primarily a portrait photographer, so the only option in my mind was the Fuji XT-1 with the 56mm f/1.2 lens. I had a wedding and a portrait session planned and considering how horrible the battery on the X100S was, I bought the vertical grip with TWO extra batteries. I also feel I need to be prepared for everything, so along with that I got two new SD cards and the Fuji EF-42 speed light. Ok, I am covered, I have everything I need now. Mind you, this is a real life account of my personal experience with this camera. If you want the technical specs, other sites do it way better and I am not going to go over them here. You can watch one of the many Youtube videos or read all about the camera on B&H, Adorama, etc. You have probably done all this already so without further adieu, here we go:
Fuji XT-1 Test Shots:
So I break the camera out of the box and immediately start charging a battery. When the green light goes out (which is really confusing by the way.. one would think that the light turns green when the battery is charged.. like Nikon or Canon, but no, its green when it's CHARGING, and OFF (no light) when it's complete... this is stupid but whatever, I learned my lesson using the X100S on the first day thinking the battery was charged but wasn't... ANYWAYS...)
What better subject to test this camera on then my daughter. She loves getting her photo taken and she is absolutely gorgeous, (obviously getting her looks from my wife :) hehe) - Results.... Outstanding Image Quality, shallow DOF for a crop sensor and dead sharp! Yay!
By the way, all the photos in this post are taken with the Fuji XT-1 using the 56mm f/1.2 lens in RAW and edited in Lightroom. I know Fuji is known for their JPEGS but I am a true Jared Polin - FroKnowsPhoto follower and I SHOOT RAW, always, not sometimes, always... Not for only paid work, always... not for everything other then family stuff... ALWAYS. Every photo I take is important, ESPECIALLY family photos. Moving on... Ok IQ is good to go, I set all the menus to where I want them, check YouTube for all the quick tips such as High Performance mode and a few other tweaks to make sure the camera is working it's hardest for me.
Step 2 - Studio Test:
I decided I would test this baby out in the studio which I happened to be going to a few days before the wedding I was planning on shooting it at. The Fuji performed very well and exceeded my expectations. I was extremely pleased with the image quality and using my studio lights and with a controlled setting, I actually saw no difference in IQ between this little guy and my Canons. No need to linger on this topic, as this is not my bread and butter. Lets move on to wedding day, shall we?
Fuji X-T1 Wedding Day:
Ok let me say a few things first, so people don't think I'm crazy, or irresponsible, or both. Clients obviously book me to shoot their wedding because they love my images. I am not going to sacrifice image quality or missed shots because I want to try a new camera out. I am not going to jump in feet first and buy two or only bring the fuji or only have access to the fuji or whatever the scenario may be. I am going to play it safe and using my Holdfast Gear Moneymaker I will have both my Fuji and 5D mark iii ready to be utilized at any moment.
And so it begins... One side of me... Fuji XT-1 with the 56mm, other side.. 5D3 with my workhorse Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART / Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L II IS and we are getting our beautiful bride ready. Switching back and forth between cameras, I am noticing the Fuji handles great but has MAJOR trouble focusing on a back lit subject. The bride is getting ready in front of a large window. Shooting with her back to the window the 5D3 blows the fuji out of the water. Switching sides and shooting the other way, the Fuji is fine (still slower at focusing mind you) but fine. (also note the chromatic aberration on the photo of the wedding dress, this is a common theme with backlit images, but I never noticed it as much with the Canon images.)
So a couple hours in, where do I stand right now...? Just from looking at the back of the screen, the images out of the fuji look great. The focusing... slow. Really slow? no, but slow, definitely not on the same level as the 5D3. Things I am loving... the EVF, OHHH THE EVF on this camera is to die for. People say its amazing, and they are right. It is SOOO much better than an optical viewfinder. Weight and handling.. EXCELLENT. I would love to carry around two of these with a couple of primes for 10-12 hours, that would be heaven on my back. Coolness factor for having one one hanging from my beautiful moneymaker camera strap.. 10! This camera looks amazing and I think it might actually win the award for the BEST looking camera on the market right now. BUT, I have to keep going back to AF. I've read that it is fast... maybe to some people it is (lower end DSLR users or older generation DSLR users), but not me. Maybe I have been spoiled by the AF speed on my 5D3, but this AF doesn't hold up against Canon's full framers. Moving on a little in the day to some outdoor stuff...
I am finding myself reaching for the XT-1 a little more at this point because I am getting comfortable with it, and am just enjoying the EVF so much outside with great light. It allows me to see my shot before I take it, and even though the AF is slower, that actually speeds up my workflow because I don't have to chimp as much, or at all if you activate the image preview in the viewfinder, getting a glimpse of the image for 0.5 secs right after you press the shutter. This is a nice touch. In the moment, I am thinking that this camera could possibly work for me. Did I mention the shutter is almost completely silent, and FULLY silent if you set the camera to super stealth street photographer mode. This is a huge plus in wedding photography. But this didn't matter for this particular ceremony because it was on the beach and the birds were chirping louder then my camera shutter, even on the Canon. The weather was beautiful and the sun was setting so spectacularly behind the couple. Which camera handled this lighting scenario better...? The 5D3 without a doubt. For review purposes I have kept the images in this article strictly the XT-1, so you will just have to believe me when I say that I think the canon images look a tad bit better, but that's not what the point is here. Even if all were equal and the images looked identical after being edited. The rate of keepers was much higher with my Canon and it also focused much better with such harsh back lighting.
Moving on to the reception. Fuji is not known for their flash system, they will even tell you that when asked directly, but I wanted to be able to shoot TTL so I bought the Fuji EF-42 speed light and put it on the camera for the reception. Ok so lets stop here for a second. One of the biggest advantages of these mirror less cameras is their size and weight correct? Well let me just tell you that when you have the XT-1 body, with the vertical grip, lens, two batteries, and the flash on camera, IT'S NOT THAT LIGHT. It's also not that small. I actually didn't see or feel much of a difference between that setup and my wife's 6D, 100L macro and speed light. Of course, it is lighter on a scale, but in real-life the difference was negligible with this configuration. Now my next peeve... the speed light is LOUD. What? I don't know what you mean.. please explain. I didn't realize that speed lights made noise at all actually. The nikon and canon equivalents I have used have never made a peep... but the fuji does. It has a high pitched ramp up screech during the refresh between flashes. I actually never read that in a review, but I tell you, it is definitely true... and with the music playing yeah thats not a big deal, but I use my flash sometimes when the bride is getting ready and in that scenario, no Fuji, its NOT cool.
Here is another thing. My favorite thing about the XT-1 is its brilliant operation in their version of Aperture priority. I only shoot manual on the Canon's but the ease of doing it on the Fuji led me in that direction while testing it. Side note: I LOVE the aperture ring on the lens. It really makes you think about your next shot more when you look down and choose the aperture with a manual dial. So anyways, I am using aperture priority with the auto ISO maxed at 6400 and the minimum shutter speed locked at 1/125. Hold on, I just said locked. You would be led to believe that would mean that the SLOWEST shutter speed you could possibly shoot at would be 1/125 of a second. That my friend, is not true. During the reception, using TTL with the flash, the camera wanted to sit around 1/10 - 1/30 of a second..... W H A T ??? OK I don't usually shoot in Aperture priority so this definitely could have been a mistake on my part, but I made the switch to manual on the Fuji at this point and locked it at a safe 1/160 of second for the dancing shots. Problem solved, crisis averted.. but man that was not cool. Keep in mind of course this whole time I have my trusted 5D3 capturing all the important moments, as to not let them pass by in a blurry mess, like the Fuji would have allowed me to do.
Finishing out the night and packing up my gear in the corner, I told myself that the Fuji was a great camera. Even with its quirks, it was producing stunning images, maybe the best crop sensor images I have seen. I told myself that this camera might be exactly what I need for say, a portrait session at sunset with some good light and a prime lens or two in my bag, but I cannot say that it would work for me at weddings, though I agreed to reserve final judgement until the images were brought into lightroom. The battery life is beyond atrocious. I shot the entire day on my 5D3 with one battery - around 1200 images. My wife shot the whole day on her 6D with one battery - around 900 images. The Fuji fired off 400 images, using not 1, or 2, but 3 BATTERIES. The batteries are rated at 350 shots each.... ummm no. 400 images, 3 batteries. The math doesn't add up here..
Ok, wedding complete, approx amount of images delivered to clients = 1000. approx amount of images delivered from the 5d3 = 600. 6D = 300... From the Fuji, a mere 100 images. Don't get me wrong those 100 images I delivered were fantastic. I don't deliver images that I wouldn't put my name on. They are good, they are GREAT. But 100 out 1000 doesn't help me much as much as a I need it to on wedding day.
Fuji XT-1 last chance - portrait session:
So, we are back from the wedding and I have a portrait session lined up a couple days later. I think to myself, before I throw in the towel on the Fuji, let me give it another shot on a portrait session. Result - same story. The IQ is great, the camera handles beautifully, this time I leave the vertical grip at home and WOW is the camera small, a little front heavy with the 56mm, but much smaller and lighter then my 5D3 with the Sigma 35 hanging from my camera strap on the other side. I am finding that I am becoming more comfortable with the camera moment by moment and learning how and when it focuses, and where it struggles so I am keeping that all in mind during the shoot, which is a planned portrait session and I have control over the environment, so its significantly easier, calmer, and less stressful then wedding day mind you. Still, the camera has trouble focusing QUICK ENOUGH (Oh so frustrating). I have to keep re-iterating this, the camera focuses quick, but not quick enough for me and it wants to focus on the background, forcing me to release and repress the AF-L button to re-focus. Do I need Canon 1D-X auto-focusing system, no... but I need at least AF on the Canon 6D, or else why would I sell it for something the camera I am buying can't do as well for me.
Are the images sharp? Yes. Are the colors, contrast, highlights, shadows, tones great? Yes. Do these images look similar, if not as good as my full frame Canon images... almost, yes, maybe. But in the end, even with the form factor and coolness of the mirror less Fuji, I would have to say that a special, fleeting moment, can be missed with this camera, and that is when I determined that it is not for me. Could I bring this camera with me and get great results from it. Yes. Could I do the same, if not better with my current DSLR setup? Absolutely.
So lets finalize this and recap:
Fuji XT-1 with 56mm f/1.2 lens, vertical grip, Fuji EF-42 flash kit pros:
- Coolness factor = 10
- Light weight, small, portable, lower back and shoulder friendly
- Performs brilliantly in a studio and controlled setting
- Features (WiFi, focus peaking, EVF, tilty screen, etc) = AWESOME
- EVF gets second bullet point of it's own because I LOVE IT SO MUCH!
- Capable AF and stunning image quality (even for a crop sensor)
- A manual focus shooter's DREAM camera
- Fujifilm is an amazing and innovative company with great customer service
- One day mirror less cameras will be the type of cameras we all use... but not yet..
Fuji XT-1 with 56mm f/1,2 lens, vertical grip, Fuji EF-42 flash kit cons:
- Possibly becoming a hipster because the camera you are carrying is really cool
- AF not making the cut when the moment needs to be captured
- AF not making the cut when you have a back lit or low contrast subject
- OK, you get the point about the camera not focusing as fast or accurately as a DSLR
- Battery life = 1, not 0 because the battery actually works, but barely.
- One SD card slot. I know the camera is small, but there is enough room for 2.. Come on
- Flash system is not ready for the big leagues yet. Fuji can't even argue here.
- If you are already invested in a system, very expensive to basically start from scratch.
- Without even going into detail, the video quality is horrible on this camera. Period.
Enough with the bullet points lets get down to who this camera is actually for, shall we: just kidding, more bullet points:
- If you are a portrait photographer who has the ability to control the settings around you and don't mind the slightly slower AF system with difficulty lit subjects, the XT-1 is for you
- If you are never going to shoot fast action, wildlife or sports, this camera is still for you.
- If you do not, and I stress do not! care at all about video other then the occasional capturing of not-so-important moments in motion, this camera is still for you
- If you want outstanding image quality and some pretty awesome features, including the best EVF you could possibly have, this camera is for you
- If your budget for this camera/lens/accessories combination is around $3,000 - $4,000 this camera is for you
- If you are looking to drop the weight and size of your kit, and are completely okay with going prime only lenses. (the new 50-140mm totally defeats the mirror less size and weight advantages, basically you are back to a DSLR)
- If you shoot a lot in manual focus, this camera is definitely for you!
Who the Fuji XT-1 is NOT for:
- Sports, wildlife, action photographers
- Wedding photographers who have a fast action shooting style, relying on your camera to respond when and how you want no matter what the lighting situation or scenario
- Photographers who are completely content with the gear they have currently and are just looking for something new to spice up their setup (I put myself in this category)
- Someone who thinks that this is a budget system that won't break the bank... This is definitely not true. The kit I bought was in the $3,000 range and thats only with one lens. A serious photographer is going to need an entire kit, not just the camera and kit lens. (Though, I hear their "kit" 18-55mm lens is actually really good)
Conclusion, and the reason you all probably read this article in the first place:
The Fujifilm XT-1 camera is a glimpse into the future of photography. All cameras should have the features this camera has. The EVF is the best thing I have ever put my eye up to and the retro look and styling of the body is hipsterific (in a good way). Zack Arias is huge on these Fuji cameras. This is for good reason, they are amazing. I am a huge fan of Zack, but we all know he falls back on his medium format Phase One to get the job done when it counts. These mirror less cameras will reign supreme VERY soon, maybe in the next generation or two, but for now (maybe just because I have great gear already), they fall just a tad short where I need them to shine the most for me, and that is on wedding day. Due to the single card slot, the horrendous battery life, the quick, but not quick enough AF and the fact that people kind of give you a weird look when you show up with this on your side and Uncle Bob thinks his semi-pro DLSR, hanging from the strap around his neck, is a more expensive camera... I had to do the unfortunate thing, and carefully pack each item back into the box they came in, and send them on their way. They are now safely in transit back to where I got them from, with words "The DSLR is not dead... Yet" proudly written across the box.
Last words & the reason I am so happy this happened:
The reason this week with the Fuji X-T1 was so important in my career is the revelation I had during my time with it. Many photographers take years to come to the conclusion that they can produce amazing results with the gear they already have, some never come to this conclusion. For those out there, like me, searching for the next best thing, I can tell you that Fuji is ever-so-close. A few refinements, and over time, this camera will stand with sword in hand, ready to take down any DSLR dragon in its way. That day is not here yet. The dragon is still doing a great job guarding the treasure at the moment. But today is the most important day in MY photography career to date. Today is the day that I feel content with my gear, and that is a good feeling.
Thanks for reading, thank you Fujifilm for a wonderful (although short-lived) experience, and most of all, thank you Canon for standing your ground and reminding me that you might not be the most innovative company in the game right now, but you are damn good at what you do, and that's good enough for me.