Hands On With the New Fujifilm X-T1

Fujifilm X-T1 with XF 56mm f/1.2
Fujifilm X-T1 with XF 56mm f/1.2

For a long time, I didn’t think I’d be tempted with a new camera. Most of the cameras released were cool and all, but it lacked the “X Factor” to tempt me. Full frame, more megapixels, faster AF, Wifi, etc weren’t enough to get me to buy one. I am quite happy shooting my Nikon D7000.

That is, until I attended the Fujifilm hands-on session organised by a few Fujifilm dealers in Singapore to let potential buyers check out the newly released XT-1 camera. Like the Sony A7/A7R, the Fujifilm XT-1 is a highly anticipated camera and many were keen to check it out. Following the trend of retro-inspired designs started by the legendary X100, the XT-1 continue to have the knobs and dials that many will like (and surely some will hate it as well).

YS: Alas I came down with a cold right on the day itself, so I was not able to attend. So you will have to go on CK’s word for this one!

CK: One of the most touted features of the X-T1 is the large EVF (Electronic View Finder) and it didn’t disappoint. Looking through the X-T1’s viewfinder is like looking through a full-frame camera. With a magnification of 0.77x, it looks bigger than the viewfinder of the Sony A7 and according to some reviews, even bigger than that of the Canon EOS 1DX! Unlike most other EVFs, the X-T1’s viewfinder also has a very high refresh rate. Panning with the X-T1 produces much less streaking compared to the other EVF’s I’ve seen. Together with the 2.36m dot resolution, it’s a joy to use. And did I mention it’s HUGE?

The XT-1 EVF in landscape mode. This is shot through an iPhone 5, so it doesn't do justice to how beautiful it is to look at.
The XT-1 EVF in landscape mode. This is shot through an iPhone 5, so it doesn’t do justice to how beautiful it is to look at.

Another unique feature that Fujifilm has built into the EVF is that in portrait mode, the information display rotates to the horizontal orientation, so you don’t have to read it sideways like all the other cameras. There’s also a dual mode which displays a magnified portion of the main image to the side, letting you see the whole frame as well as letting you manual focus without obstructing your composition.

The X-T1 EVF in portrait orientation.

YS: As I mentioned before, that is a really clever bit. It is a tiny LCD after all, why should it not rotate, like your smartphone? Kudos to Fujifilm for this very simple and common sense approach, thereby proving that common sense is also not very common.

CK: Fujifilm claims that the X-T1 has the world’s fastest AF and it’s indeed pretty snappy to lock focus on the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 kit lens and the XF 10-24mm f/4 wide angle zoom. The brochure mentioned that the claim is based on the XF 14mm f/2.8 though. When I tested it with the XF 56mm f/1.2 and the XF 35mm f/1.4, it’s not that fast anymore. That said though, the AF speed is generally quick and should be enough for most people. This is a big improvement over the X100’s infamously slow AF which has fortunately greatly improved upon by Fujifilm in various firmware updates. Kudos to Fujifilm for taking care of their existing customers. Other camera makers should definitely learn from them in this area.

According to Fujifilm, the X-T1’s AF system is able to continuously focus and tracking subjects even when shooting at 8fps. However, I was unable to test this at the event location as there are no fast moving subjects to shoot.

In terms of handling, the X-T1 is very well-built with a weather-sealed die-cast magnesium body which feels good in the hands. Adding the optional VG-XT1 vertical battery grip improves the handling a bit more, especially for people with large hands and provides you with another battery slot to power the camera for a longer time. Like other battery grips, the VG-XT1 also provides a vertical shutter release button for easy shooting in the portrait orientation. There’s also a normal hand grip known as the MHG-XT without the additional battery compartment.

Fujifilm X-T1 with VG, XF 10-24mm f/4 and bundled EF-X8 external flash.
Fujifilm X-T1 with VG-XT1 vertical battery grip, XF 10-24mm f/4 and bundled EF-X8 external flash.

The X-T1 uses SD memory for storage and Fujifilm claims it’s the first camera in the world to support the high-speed UHS-II SD cards, giving you a much faster writing speed for continuous burst-rate shooting. However, I felt the SD card door is rather flimsy compared to the competitors. One good thing is that the card door is on the right hand side of the camera, so when it’s mounted on a tripod, the SD card is still accessible.

As mentioned before, the X-T1 uses traditional dials and knobs for controlling settings like shutter speed, exposure compensation and ISO. Like the Nikon Df, the ISO and shutter speed dials both has a locking button which needs to be engaged before it can be changed. The shutter speed dial will lock once it reaches the “A” position, other positions are not locked. The ISO dial however, requires the lock button to be pressed before it can be changed, which can potentially get in the way if you need to quickly change the ISO. Setting the shutter speed dial to “A” lets you use the command dials to set your shutter speed in 1/3 stop increments, just like the Nikon Df.

Fujiflilm’s X-series cameras have always been excellent in the colour and image quality department and the X-T1 is no exception. The out-of-camera JPEGs have excellent colour, detail and dynamic range. I wasn’t able to properly test out the high ISO performance as the event venue is not that dark. We hope to get a review unit from Fujifilm so that we can do more testing with it in more varied conditions, but we are confident that the X-T1 will deliver the goods.

I’ve always wanted to have a mirrorless camera which is as good as a DSLR but without the associated weight and bulk but most fall short in some way or another, especially with their less-than-stellar EVFs. The Fujifilm X-T1 may just be the one to pull me over. In fact, Fujifilm is offering a pre-order of the X-T1 with the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4, XF 27mm f/2.8, XC 55-230mm f/4.5-6.7, Toshiba 16GB UHS-II SD card and a bag for “just” S$2,499 for attendees and I am quite tempted.

Here are some sample images I’ve shot with the demo units. As there are many people clamouring over them, I didn’t have much time with the body. All the images are straight out of the camera JPEGs with no additional processing.

X-T1 Sample
X-T1 with XF 10-24mm f/4 @ f/4,  1/60, ISO 320.
X-T1 with XF 56mm f/1.2
X-T1 with XF 56mm f/1.2 @ f/2.5,  1/800, ISO 100. The X-T1 has very good dynamic range and is able to handle highlight and shadow details very well in this shot.
Indoor shot using the X-T1 and XF 10-24mm f/4 @ f/8, 1/40, ISO 1600. Again, the dynamic range is well handled, and the lens exhibits very little barrel distortion even at 10mm.
X-T1 with XF 10-24mm f/4 @ f/8, 1/40, ISO 1600. I’ve accidentally left the camera at ISO 1600 after taking an indoor shot, but even at this ISO the colour, detail and noise handling is excellent.
XF 10-24mm again, this time at ISO 400. Being a restaurant in a park, there is a lot of greenery which renders pretty well on the X-T1’s X-Trans II sensor. This reminds me of the days of shooting Fujifilm’s slide films like Provia and Velvia.
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