June 3, 2014

review: Fuji XT-1 camera

Pentax used to have a slogan that said simply, ‘Just hold a Pentax’. Such was their confidence that they could win you over with a Pentax SLR. Just hold it, feel it and you will already like it. A lot! For me, that mantle could be placed on Fuji these days. With the X-series cameras, they’ve built up a range of cameras that are very appealing. They look good. They feel good … and they give stunning results.

Yes, I am somewhat of a Fuji fanboy. But then, I love quality products. I’m a fan of that. My walkabout camera is the sexy Fuji X100s that I carry with me every where in my shoulder bag. I’ve been following the releases of every Fuji camera since the first X100. It was obvious Fuji was on a mission then.

And now we have the Fuji XT-1 – the latest in the Fuji X series. I immediately loved the camera. With this review of the Fuji XT-1 (vendor), I want to give an impression of the actual user experience.

The Fuji XT-1 (vendor) looks good. Ergonomically, the camera feels good in the hand. There’s a nice weight to it, but it isn’t all that heavy. It really just feels good. The buttons and knobs feel solidly made. The layout of the controls are fairly obvious, making this camera easy to use, straight out of the box.

The viewfinder is electronic – none of that “oh wow” awesomeness that is the Fuji X100s hybrid optical viewfinder. But lag with the Fuji Xt-1 viewfinder is surprisingly little. EVF cameras have come a long way!

 

Fuji XT-1 spec highlights

  • 16.3MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS II Sensor
  • 0.5″ 2,360k-Dot 0.77x OLED Viewfinder
  • 3.0″ Tilting LCD Monitor
  • Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 60 fps
  • Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity
  • Weather-Resistant Body Construction
  • Continuous Shooting up to 8 fps
  • Intelligent Hybrid AF and Focus Peaking
  • Includes EF-X8 Shoe-Mount Flash Unit

 

shooting with the Fuji XT-1

An available light shot of Anelisa, during a recent on-location lighting workshop.
1/1000 @ f/1.4 @ 400 ISO … photo from the adjusted RAW file
Manual exposure mode; available light.

The image at the top of this review article, was shot at exactly the same settings.

The sharpness of the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 XF R lens (vendor), is phenomenal. However, I have some reservation about the SOOC JPG. The image needs some coaxing of the RAW file to get the best out of it. (See later comments.)

1/1000 @ f/2.0 @ 400 ISO … photo from the adjusted RAW file
Aperture Priority with -0.3 comp; available light.

 

Chatting with Ed Verosky in his studio, after he did the interview with me.
1/400 @ f/2.0 @ 200 ISO …  sooc JPG; Manual exposure mode; AWB

 

1/2900 @ f/4.0 @ 200 ISO …  sooc JPG; AWB; Aperture Priority with -0.3 comp

 

1/140 @ f/11 @ 400 ISO … photo from the adjusted RAW file

 

1/680 @ f/2.0 @ 800 ISO  //  available light  //  photo from the adjusted RAW file

1/125 @ f/13 @ 1600 ISO  //  handheld video light  //  photo from the adjusted RAW file

I used the Fuji XT-1 at a wedding for the reception details. This was where I was first impressed with the clean-looking 1600 ISO files. The bottom photo of the rings and flowers were shot with a handheld video light, (in my left hand). The lack of a proper flash system though would hold this camera back for me for all-day wedding photo coverage.

 

Fuji XT-1 auto-focus performance

The camera’s AF was fine. It did feel like it hunted slightly more than I would want. I felt that the Fuji X100s was faster to focus than the XT-1, but that’s not entirely fair since the XT-1 has to move a lot more glass around. That said, the AF performance wasn’t an issue for me in the few weeks I had it.

The photo of the boy clowning around on the construction barriers on this Manhattan sidewalk, was one of a sequence of 4 images shot at f/2 … and all 4 images were crisply focused. Sure, this isn’t sport photography, but I’d say it would be typical of the kind of fast performance we’d accept for general photography – you see something, and the camera responds, and you get the image. And that is solid performance for me.  No complaints here.

 

Fuji XT-1 and high-ISO noise performance

The Freedom Tower in New York, disappearing into the mist, late at night.
camera settings: 1/60 @ f/1.4 @ 1600 ISO

I was very impressed with the high-ISO noise performance of the Fuji XT-1. However, I do think the camera approaches noise-reduction too aggressively, creating artifacting and some smearing of detail.. It’s that fine balance between high-ISO noise reduction and image sharpness. You win on the one, you lose on the other.

Here are full-resolution images which you can download – the photos are of night-time Times Square. There are 6 files:  JPGs and RAW files at 800 ISO, 1600 ISO and 3200 ISO. Have a look and play around with the RAW files. See what you think.

 

Fuji XT-1 and Fuji 35mm f/1.4 image sharpness

This is where I came a little unstuck with the Fuji XT-1. Image sharpness. Looking at the back of the camera, and zooming in, I marveled at how sharp the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 XF R lens (vendor), was even when shot wide open. However, pulling the images into the computer, those same straight-out-of-camera (sooc) JPGs looked over-sharpened.

But looking at the same RAW files (at the default sharpness I use for my Nikon RAW files), the images looked soft. I had to crank up the sharpness to have the RAW file appear sufficiently sharp.

The photo above is an informal lunch-time portrait of my friend, Jessica J. You might remember her from the recent NYC boudoir photo session. (The posing & lighting was discussed in a separate Tangents post.)

The image settings for the photo above: 1/500 @ f/1.4 @ 640 ISO
Zooming into the photo on the back of the camera, I was stunned again at how sharp the   was, even wide open.

But let’s look at the 100% crops (not sharpened for web):
1. straight out of camera at default camera settings.
2. 100% crop from RAW file, (with Sharpness set to 40, Radius to 1.0 and Detail set to 25 for ACR / Lightroom)

 

Moving the crop area a bit to look at the out-of-focus areas:

1. Note how the eye that is out of focus, is over-sharpened with the out-of-camera JPG. You can see artifacting there that isn’t noticeable in the JPG derived from the edited RAW file.

2. This again is the 100% crop from RAW file, with Sharpness set to 40, Radius to 1.0 and Detail set to 25 for ACR / Lightroom

For best results, the sharpness will have to be turned down for the JPG, or, the best solution, shoot in RAW.

 

final thoughts

I loved this camera. It felt good in my hands. The controls were easily understood, and if you have prior experience of Fuji X series cameras, you’ll easily find your way around the menu as well.

The images looked superb, even with my misgivings about over-sharpened JPGs and the aggressive noise reduction. Even though Fuji is known for excellent skin tones, I would still recommend shooting in RAW to be able to fine-tune the images.

The Fuji X-T1 (vendor) is that perfect balance between small and light-weight, yet still being a serious machine capable of impressive images.

 

purchase the Fuji XT-1 and lenses via these links

 

 

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{ 28 comments. } Add a Comment

1 Paul d'Almeida June 4, 2014 at 9:29 am

Hi Neil,
I’ve been a fan since I started learning about photography!
Recently, I’ve made the switch from a DSLR to the X system. I’m shooting with a X-E1, but I believe that you may also apply this to the X-Trans II… When sharpening the X files :) I find that sharpening all the way from 80 to 100, radius to default of 1.0, detail dropped to 0 and a masking above 60, gives me excellent results. I also mainly shoot portraits (making the transition to weddings), so I’m basing these values to the field you’re probably more interested in…
You can check by yourself here : https://www.flickr.com/photos/124554776@N07/
Hope this will help you enjoy the Fuji even more than you seem to already be.

Warm regards.

Paul

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2 Mike Swiegot June 4, 2014 at 10:21 am

Hi Neil,

I’m a wedding photographer and was thinking of potentially switching in the future to this system. I’m wondering what are your thoughts on this?

Would you take that calculated risk? Is the AF fast enough to perform at a wedding?

I’m curious what your thoughts are.

Regards,

Mike

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3 Neil vN June 4, 2014 at 10:30 am

Mike .. the real obstacle is the lack of a flash system. I need flash for wedding photography – dark churches, dark reception venues, and night-time shooting.

With the Fuji X100s, (and I think this will be the same for the Fuji XT-1), the flash doesn’t give that deep-red auto-focus assist beam. So the Fuji X100s battled like crazy to grab focus during the one wedding reception where I tried it. The other alternative would’ve been to enable that harsh focus assist lamp on the camera itself.

I added two photos now of wedding reception details that I shot with the Fuji XT-1. I loved the quality of the photos, but as mentioned now, the lack of flash system pulls the Fuji down as a camera system that I could shoot weddings with.

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4 Mike Swiegot June 5, 2014 at 1:17 am

That’s a very good point regarding the flashes. I’m guessing since Fuji is listening to us photogs out there, they will probably implement a resolution to this problem sooner rather than later. I’m sure there are a lot of people like myself just waiting for that perfect moment to jump ship.

I still might use a FF sensor for portraits due to the shallow DoP, but for the reception and ceremony it would be nice to lug around something lighter.

To be honest, I really hope Fuji comes out with a FF or a MF camera. We’ll just have to see what they have up their sleeve. They’ve been good so far.

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5 Erik Colonese June 4, 2014 at 10:42 am

Hey Neil, Love this review. You described perfectly why I decided to get the xt1. :)
One thing about the autofocus. There is a setting under power management to enable High Performance. Supposedly that will speed up autofocus a little.

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6 Mavritivs June 4, 2014 at 11:06 am

Hello Neil,

I am curious about your thoughts on whether you would consider moving to mirrorless anytime soon.
I would also like to know your thoughts on the current market trend of mirrorless such as the fuji’s and sony’s.

Cheers.

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7 Neil vN June 4, 2014 at 11:12 am

It would depend on what kind of photography field you’re working in. As mentioned now in the text I added, the lack of a flash system is a real obstacle for me for wedding photography. I work too often in dark places where using a flash is necessary.

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8 Justin Goodson June 4, 2014 at 11:19 am

Thank for the review, Neil. I’m intrigued by the Fuji cameras and would consider switching, but from what I’ve read, there’s little/no support for off-camera TTL flash. Have you found differently?

Thanks,

Justin

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9 Bart van der Mark June 4, 2014 at 11:20 am

Neil,
I have heard that Lightroom is not the best RAW processor for Fujifilms X camera’s… Perhaps when you try Capture One pro for the RAW conversion you will get sharper results.

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10 Jorge June 4, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Looking at your images I think you are nitpicking. And, that’s a-ok I do it as well. I think ALL these images are totally acceptable as far as sharpness and clarity go.
I shoot with the X-E1, X-T1 and a D800 with Nikon Glass. Personally: The X-T1 is my go-to whenever I can.

Great article, well done. And again, these images, out of camera to my eyes are great.
J

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11 Jorge June 4, 2014 at 12:10 pm

Oh. I forgot to mention I use LR 5.x for “most” of my images but when I want to extract the MAX detail from the file I use the raw file, and process it in Iridient Developer. Heck, I’ve even used Silkypix!
LR to me still does not do the Xfiles justice in every situation.
J

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12 Mark June 4, 2014 at 12:19 pm

I, too, have added the X-T1 to my photography arsenal (which includes the Nikon D600). I’m loving it, not only for the quality JPGs it produces but for the minimal amount of post-processing work needed. This translates to more time shooting and less time in post (compared to Nikon DSLRs). My family is happier because they get to see the photos sooner than later due to the lower post times.

I am interested in what after-market products can be used with the Fujis to drive off-camera flash. I agree that Fuji’s options are limited in this regard, but certainly others have devised some workarounds.

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13 Jay Loden June 4, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Neil,

If you are going to continue shooting Fuji + Adobe products,
you may find Thomas Fitzgerald’s X-trans sharpening presets for Lightroom helpful:

He also has a more in depth method using Photoshop posted on his blog that produces even better results. I’ve been using them a few weeks now and find these sharpening presets for LR to be a big improvement for my X-trans files (tested on X-T1, X-E1 and X100S files so far) in getting sharp output without banging into artifacts and over-sharpening.

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14 gavin wallace June 10, 2014 at 6:36 am

I find the presets from Thomas Fitzgerald closely resemble the ones I have discovered myself and which seem to get the best out of RAF files. If you are playing around with the Detail sliders it’s worth remembering to hold down the Alt key (PC) or Command key (Mac) while moving them, especially the Radius, Detail and Masking sliders; doing this gives a whole new insight into what they do. This is the trick recommended by Jeff Schewe in his book “The Digital Negative”.

I also find that RAF files won’t stand too high a setting for the Amount slider. This probably makes sense because the X-trans files have not been softened by an anti-aliasing filter (there isn’t one on X-trans cameras) which means they should already be sharper than a typical Bayer-sensor file; however, there are also lens correction issues with some XF lenses which may soften parts of the image. I wish Lightroom would allow the automatic correction to be disabled (as noted by Sean Reid in his X-trans reviews in http://www.reidreviews.com)

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15 Neil vN June 13, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Jay, thank you for that link. It does look like he has a handle on things.

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16 JC Crafford June 4, 2014 at 1:12 pm

Hi Neil.

I’ve shot 21 weddings now with the XT-1 as my only camera. I use the Cactus flash system and love using it with my Fujifilm’s

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17 Neil vN June 4, 2014 at 2:02 pm

JC – exclusively the XT-1 at those weddings? No other camera like a DSLR? You’re a braver photographer than I am!

I guess this depends on style and location. I heavily rely on TTL flash for a large part of the day. It would be quite an adjustment to adapt away from that. Also, I see you’re in South Africa, and that means much more light than we see here in NYC and NJ in the winter. But mostly it’s a style thing.

BTW, I had a look at your website. Solid work!

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18 Rob June 4, 2014 at 11:54 pm

Hi Neil

I like your review. I too have joined the Fuji tribe and now shoot predominantly with it. I agree a good TTL system would be really helpful for weddings and off camera situations. I tend to use Yongnuo 560 on manual combined with their triggers and it works fine. But I’d love to see someone create an affordable off camera system for Fuji that offers TTL.

Regards
Rob

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19 Rob June 5, 2014 at 7:52 am
20 Ash June 5, 2014 at 9:23 pm

Hi Rob,

The Nissin flash looks good but it will not provide off-camera TTL flash any more than the Fuji branded flashes do.

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21 Doug June 6, 2014 at 6:00 am

Nice write up. I use LR as my DAM but process keepers through PhotoNinja. It destroys LR in interpreting FUJI RAW files, there is no comparing the two. You can try all the sharpening settings you want in LR you’ll still never pull the true performance out, and you get some crazy artifacts particularly on foliage. You’ll get none of this with PhotoNinja, the sharpness of the files is amazing. Iridient is very good also (better than LR), but Mac only. Capture One would be number three (but probably the best color).

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22 Pete Gebhardt June 8, 2014 at 9:22 am
23 Pete Gebhardt June 8, 2014 at 9:27 am

And I agree with Neil – Xt-1 is my walkaround/daylight session camera. I would not try to shoot a reception with it.

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24 Christopher June 10, 2014 at 10:07 pm

Fuji cameras have been on my radar for awhile, wanting to work with more compact gear than my Nikon system. But I’m surprised that one particular issue is rarely raised by other photographers – dual memory card slots. Shooting with pro camera bodies & lenses for many years, I greatly appreciate that 2nd card capturing immediate backup images. There’s an incredible peace of mind in knowing you’ve got duplicates ready, if needed. The lack of that feature has, to this point, been a deal-killer in adding a Fuji camera to my arsenal.

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25 John M June 17, 2014 at 9:52 am

I’ve made the move from D700s to XT-1s (with battery grips) for weddings. All the Nikon gear has gone.

I don’t regret it at all and in particular love the lack of shutter noise during ceremonies. People are less intimidated, the viewfinder is a joy and the reduction in weight is greatly appreciated whilst the prime lenses are a match for virtually anything. As you say though, the flash system is the big achilles heel. Battery use has tripled (quadrupled?) but the battery grips help here.

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26 wooster June 27, 2014 at 6:59 am

Good review Neil. I have the X-Pro 1 which I love. It’s slow and the AF isn’t snappy by any means but I use it for portraits very successfully. I have used LR mostly but I’m about to experiment with Photo Ninja for some RAW files just to see how much of a difference it makes.

The flash thing is a problem for TTL but I shoot manual flash with a Canon mini PW transmitter on the camera shooting either Canon or Yongnuo manual speedlites. It works well using it that way.

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27 wooster June 27, 2014 at 7:06 am

Ooops forgot the main point of my post – Doh!

Re the sharpening, I have heard good things about the sharpeners mentioned above and will probably give them a go shortly as well as Photo Ninja. TBH, even though there are issues visible at the pixel level, as you say, the images in real world use are stunningly good IMHO. I love the fuji look so that helps of course.

Anyway, I intend to buy an X -T1 this year – unless Fuji pull out a whopper of an X Pro 2 of course

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28 DaveG November 26, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Thanks for the review. I just picked up an XT-1 (my fifth Fuji X camera). I am loving everything about this camera except for the buttons and their layout. The AF-L/AE-L, Focus Assist and Q buttons are flat and flush with the body and nearly impossible to feel if your hands are like mine (callused). In MF mode, it’s tough finding the AF-L button or Focus Assist if you need it. I’m looking for some small stick on buttons to help. Hopefully with the new graphite firmware, we’ll have more options with button re-assignment.

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