Weighing in…

How the Fujifilm X-T1 measures up for work

Definitely the first photographer in the world to shoot a Throne Speech
in Canada with the Fujifilm X-T1

I had the use of the X-T1 and XF56mm lens for a couple of weeks, just in time for a very busy period of work photography. Last week was the beginning of the legislative assembly, which is opened by the Lt. Governor delivering the Speech from the Throne. This week, the provincial budget was tabled. The major photographic opportunity for this is the budget lockup. I document both events for government communications and they are perfect examples of the type of work I shoot and a good test of any new equipment. In between these two events, I shot a few portraits too, using the XF56mm lens and the X-T1.

Let me start off by saying that XF56mm lens is truly a beautiful piece of glass that anybody with an X-series camera and the need for an 85mm-equivalent focal length lens will want to have. I fell in love with it from the first and look forward to having my own in the near future, as it’s more than just a portrait lens. There really is no need to write anything further. It is that good.

On to the X-T1

The Internet is full of glowing review of this camera, which are justified. It is faster, tougher and more DSLR-er than all of the X-cameras that preceded it. That’s the short and sweet of the review, so many of you can stop reading now.

For those of you who want to know about my personal experiences of using the camera and the “however,” read on.

For the Throne Speech, I shot with the X-T1 and X-E2, with a variety of lenses. Part of the event is outside and part is inside, where having a fast lens is a real bonus. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the XF50-140mm f/2.8 lens later this year. In the meantime, I used my XF55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 lens and relied upon optical stabilization and great high-ISO performance to get me through the indoor shooting.

How was the X-T1 to work with? Well, I have mixed feelings about the camera and it comes down to handling for me.

The image quality is on par with the X-E2, so there are no complaints there. The X-T1 confirmed for me, once again, that I can rely upon OOC JPEGs from any of the X-cameras for nearly every type of job I shoot. I love the external dials and controls on the top of the camera. It is such a treat to be able to modify ISO, frame mode, exposure mode, shutter speed and EV without having to even turn on the camera. No menus are needed for any of those controls. It is how all cameras should be. At least in my opinion.

The placement of the SD card slot on the side of the camera body is a welcome change. I would love to see this on all X-camera bodies going forward. The EVF is really very good and thank you Fujifilm for returning the view mode button to the camera body. The ability to program interval shots is also a welcome addition to the X-series. In fact, I created a time-lapse video from shots I made with the X-T1 at the budget lockup.

Time-lapse video shot with X-T1 (be sure to increase the quality settings on your viewer).

Oh, this camera is fast! It is fast at just about everything. Image processing. Burst mode. Auto focus. EVF refresh rate. You name it and this camera kicks just about every other camera’s butt out there, including the stately old X-Pro1. I think it kicks the butt of a few pro-level DSLRs too, but that comes down to what you shoot and how you shoot, so I will not pursue that claim any further. Just putting it out there.

It would be unfair not to mention the new Camera Remote app from Fujifilm, with which you can control shooting remotely (hence the name) from a smartphone or tablet using the X-T1. Without going into details, it is pretty cool. For now, I’m calling it the Selfie app. I shoot a lot of portraits for work and test the lighting setups on myself. (We run a lean government in B.C., so there is no budget for a photo assistant to stand in for portrait clients when testing lighting!) Well, with the Selfie app and the X-T1, I shot and shot and shot, testing lighting and exposure variables to my heart’s content. Very useful. After shooting, you can review the images on your device and/or import them. The app worked best on the iPad. On my iPhone, I lost the WiFi connection a lot.

However…

In short, the only, small issues for me with the X-T1 are size and back-of-the-camera controls.

The camera is very close to being too small for me. I wouldn’t mind if it were just a bit larger. The grip on the body goes a little way to offset the size issue; it feels quite good in the hand. With the three new weather-sealed lenses in the XF lineup, good camera/lens balance will be an issue with any of the X-series bodies. These lenses won’t be DSLR-big, but they will be the largest and heaviest in the XF-lens lineup. They will have to be to provide the optical quality and fast aperture promised. To correctly balance those lenses, the camera bodies need to be the proper size to optimize handling.

With an additional grip, handling can be improved. But, I really don’t want to see future X-cameras getting even smaller. Let me repeat that: please don’t make the cameras any smaller. In fact, I think that the X-Pro1 is the perfect size and I hope that any future X-cameras stay that size.

The next issue for me is the size, shape and placement of the back of camera controls. The D buttons and Menu button are more recessed than on the X-P1 or X-E2, and therefore difficult to activate. Annoyingly so. The shape and size of the rest of the buttons on the back have also been modified, making them more difficult for me to locate and push. I’m sure I will become accustomed to them with practise, but I missed a few shots as I hunted for the Focus Assist and the AF-L (back-button-focus) buttons. Argh!

X-T1 and XF56mm lens, using the supplied EF-X8 flash for fill.
Supplied EF-X8 flash:
Upon arriving at work on Monday, I received a media advisory that meant that I would be photographing the Minister of Finance at a local business, in an hour. I needed to take flash with me, but didn’t want to stick the huge, work SB900 on the X-T1, so I grabbed the EF-X8 and stuck it on the hotshoe. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it worked for fill flash in the mixed lighting situation. It definitely worked better than expected; a good option in a pinch.

I was reminded how much I love the handling of the X-Pro1, when I picked it up to shoot the budget event this week. I know that I am accustomed to the location and size of the back-of-the-camera controls, but it feels just right. And, it also illustrated for me that I really prefer the shape and handling of rangefinder-style bodies; I am not a big fan of DSLR-style cameras. How many times did I put the left corner of the X-T1 up to my eye? Old dog, not so good with new tricks, I guess.

Since the rest of the world seems to love DSLRs, the X-T1 will be a big hit. It has so much going for it (as the countless, glowing reviews indicate), that there is little reason for anybody to hesitate in buying one. Since I don’t use AF much, AF speed has never been much of an issue for me. But the world also seems to love fast AF, so they will love the X-T1 for that too.

When it comes right down to it, I might not be the ideal photographer for this camera, although I suspect that the X-T1 will be an ideal camera for many, many photographers. However, I realize that the benefits of the X-T1 are too numerous to ignore, particularly for my work photography, so I have one on order plus the battery grip. To put this into perspective, I am paying for the camera to use in my work photography, although I have two full-frame DSLRs provided for me by government.

In the words of world-renowned, photo blogger grEGORy Simpson, the X-T1 is a great destination camera. The camera that gets the shots you have to get because all of the technology that has gone into it will make it so. Since I also want to have a journey camera, to enjoy the process of making images along the way, I will probably keep the X-Pro1 for my slow photography, such as portraits and long-exposures.

 

Whichever way you want to take your photography, it’s great to have camera options that measure up.

Notes: Throne Speech photos shot with the X-T1 and X-E2 with XF18-55mm, XF56mm and XF55-200mm lenses. Budget time-lapse photos shot with the X-T1 and XF18mm lens. Budget event photos shot with the X-E2, with the XF55-200mm lens, and the X-Pro1, with the XF35mm lens. BTW, that was a joke about being the first photographer to shoot a Throne Speech…

6 Comments

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  1. Super review and images. Thanks for taking the time and effort.

    • Thanks Juice,
      Glad you liked the review. After I returned the camera, I shot a job with my X-E2 and I used a Nikon D600, with a long zoom, as my second camera. I really missed having the X-T1 instead of the Nikon. The high ISO images from the X-cameras are SO MUCH BETTER than from the full-frame D600. No comparison, really.

  2. OK. I know you’ve just written a (very fine) camera review, and that this review is probably what I should be commenting on… but I’m going to ignore that whole aspect. Instead, I want to comment on the quality of your budget meeting “timeline” presentation. As someone who once worked as a government photographer myself, I know how difficult it can be to balance our own aesthetic & storytelling demands with the truly insipid expectations of our employers. Frankly, I wasn’t sure it could even be done, but you’ve proven me wrong. Anyone that can make photojournalistic magic out of a budget meeting deserves high praise. Maybe one day you’ll share with us how you convinced them to allow the use of B+W images? I was never able to succeed at being that convincing. Kudos, too, for whatever that music is you chose to accompany the “stakeholder interview” section — sounds like something out of a mod mid-60’s Cinecittà film. Who knew the British Columbian gov’t was so swanky?

    Oh, and thanks for the “shout out,” but I think you’ve just substantially devalued the phrase “world renowned.”

    • Egor, thanks for making me laugh. You almost always are able to do that. So, thanks.

      And thanks for the comments on my documentation of the budget lockup. You ask a lot of questions I’m not sure I have the answers for, but I will try. As you can imagine, having shot such events in the past, that there are only a couple of shots from the event that are really necessary or even desired by the client. That leaves me a lot of time to explore other options (we can’t leave for the entire 6 or 7 hours). A few years ago, I started to introduce more behind-the-scenes photos from these events and to differentiate them from the actual money shots, I converted them to BW. Over the past couple of years, the appetite for those type of shots has grown, as long as I get the colour podium shots. So, as long as I’m encouraged to shoot this way, I will enjoy the freedom.

      As for the music choices, they, like much of what we do, were driven by budgetary constraints. In other words, I used what I could find for free or we already owned from stock. You can guess which is the stock muzak and which I was happy to locate. I wanted to create a little tension between the two types of music and it definitely made me smile. The uptake on the time lapse was pretty good, so I suspect I’ll be doing something similar again.

      And remember, you have a world-wide reputation, which means you are world renowned!

  3. Did you get to play with the video capability at all?

    • Sorry, I didn’t shoot any video. We have that covered, one might say we are saturated with video, at my work. So, I stick to stills. That said, I have to agree with Canadian X-Photographer Patrick La Roque that I wish the dedicated movie button was somewhere else and not occupying such a prime location.

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