A couple of weeks ago I decided to try out a camera that wasn't the usual sort of Nikon DSLR that I primarily use and knowing some other photographers that use them I decided to get myself my first mirrorless camera in for form of a Fujifilm X-T1.
So what made me decide to try a different platform? In all honesty after a couple of recent jobs I was taking my usual kit but lugging it on train and tube wasn't ideal and a friend of mine who does an insane amount of travelling to shoot lots of motorsport racing around the work not long ago switched from his Canon kit entirely to Fuji and that's pretty much all he shoots now so felt it worth a try to see how I would get on with it photographing the sort of events I do.
So lets start this of by taking about the build quality and it is, well for lack of a better word, beautiful. It is a full cast magnesium shell and unlike basically all DSLR's it doesn't have additional plastic on top of that so has a proper metal finish apart from textured rubber around mid section and grip. While it is much smaller than my current primary Nikon D750 it still feels very sturdy and is fully weather sealed too. Because it is a smaller body I also got Fuji's battery grip so if feels more secure in the hand but also for shooting vertical and for an extra battery which is definitely required as being totally electronic with the EVF means it doesn't last as long as a DSLR battery.
The biggest difference between this and what I have shot so far will be that it uses an electric viewfinder instead of an optical one. So far the positives of it are being able to see where the focus is and there is virtually no lag on it which is good as it is one of the fastest EVFs in the industry but there is some pausing when shooting in burst mode but it is early days and there are more settings to play with.
There are several cool things that it can do that optical view finders can't, two of the most useful I've found so far is focus assisting where it will zoom in 100% allowing you to fine check your focus which is very handy if you are focusing manually or doing a fine adjust after an auto focus. The other is it can highlight what is in focus on the screen, this is called focus peeking and many professional and broadcast video systems have this as a feature so that the operator that will usually focus manually can tell exactly what in the frame is in focus without thinking due to a red highlight around what is in focus.
Another most visible difference is the numerous dials on top of the camera. These in conjunction with the aperture ring on the dial allow for direct control over the exposure triangle, I will go through what each dial does but first I wanted to mention the quality of the finish is fantastic, they feel like they are made from the same magnesium as the body with the details etched in and with a brushed finished which looks fantastic on the top surface. The aperture of the lens is controlled directly on the lens itself. On most cameras you have to do this on the camera body and is the case with many other retro style and mirrorless cameras however Fuji properly go back with this feature. One thing to note is although the aperture is controlled by the aperture ring on the lens it isn't direct, it controls the aperture blades electronically by wire. This means that there is an A setting on the aperture ring will let the camera control the aperture if you put the camera into P or S mode.
The dial to the left of viewfinder controls the ISO setting from L (ISO 100) and 200 up to ISO 6400 before H1 and H2 (which are configurable with ISO 12800, 25600 and 51200). The A setting activates the Auto-ISO feature where the camera will select the appropriate level to expose the frame as best it can based on your other inputs, the Auto-ISO can be set in the camera's menu setting by telling it the lowest and highest ISO you wish it to use and the minimum shutter speed you will allow before it then starts to raise the ISO up to your maximum set. Under it is a sub dial which controls the shooting modes.
To the right of the viewfinder is the shutter speed dial which goes from B (bulb - as long as the shutter is held down for) to 4000 (1/4000s). This is the fastest the mechanical shutter will do however it does have a very clever trick up its sleeve. The X-T1 also has an electronic shutter which will work all the way from bulb up to 1/32000s which is ideal for shooting very fast lenses wide open in bright daylight but also is completely silent (I will go into this more later). There is also a T mode on this dial, when set it means the shutter speed can be set in a slightly more convenient way for those shooting in very quick changing environments using the front control dial just below the shutter button like on most DSLR cameras. Also by setting A (auto) will enable the camera to pick a suitable shutter speed itself to correctly expose the frame. Under is a sub dial that picks the metering modes Spot, Multi Metering and Average (usually referred to matrix metering on DSLRs).
The last dial on the right is the exposure compensation dial which goes from -3 to +3 to allow you to quickly boost or decrease the exposure as desired without affecting the set controls as long as something is set to an auto mode somewhere, usually for me it will be Auto-ISO as the Aperture and Shutter Speed are usually manually set by myself.
The X-T1 has a 16mp X Trans CMOS sensor and it is an APS-C in size. In resolution terms it's lower than most modern DSLRs but is not to be snubbed at, Nikon's current flagship camera the D4s is a 16mp sensor and while it is a Full Frame size sensor the final image is the same size. Due to the sensor being smaller means that images have more less depth of field at the same aperture meaning more tends to be sharp in focus compared to full frame sensors. It also has had it's Anti-Alias filter removed which also aids in making images much sharper and this is indeed true, the photos I've taken so far have been pleasingly sharp.
In terms of it's low light performance the X-T1 is pretty reasonable. It has a normal ISO range from 200-6400 and extends down to ISO 100 and up to 51200 which is on par with many current camera's on the market. The only downside is the X-T1 stops capture in RAW at ISO 6400 and only captures over that in JPG which limits the ability to process the photos. While the images produced at 6400 is good it isn't quite as good as the D750 as you will see in the comparison pics. However if rumour is to believed the new X-T2 is to be announced around June and will likely have the same brand new 24mp X Trans sensor from the Fuji X-Pro2 whose ISO range is now 200-12800 and extends down to 100 and up to 51200 but this time with RAW capture across the range. Hopefully this will be more comparable to performance of the D750 if not an extra stop better by the time of its release.
One of the big features of the X-T1 is it's electronic shutter. While it still has a mechanical shutter like most other cameras this is limited to 1/4000s similar to other consumer cameras however most professional classed camera's tend to have shutters that will work at 1/8000s. No this is where Fuji impressed the world and showed up the rest of the camera manufactures by not only by implementing an electronic shutter which wasn't part of the original design through a firmware update but also gave it a maximum shutter speed of 1/32000. This means that you can use the fastest of Fuji glass (currently f1.2) wide open in bright sunlight and still get lots of lovely bokeh. The other key advantage of the electronic shutter is it is completely silent (if you turn off the electric shutter sound) which is going to be ideal for photographing wedding ceremonies, quiet music gigs and theatre performances, TV sets, movie sets or any other number of things where the noise of a shutter and mirror slap is distracting. The downside is the electronic shutter isn't too good with medium to fast moving subject as it creates a jelly/warped effect which doesn't happen using a traditional mechanical shutter, it's a downside but only a minor one.
Like most modern cameras now it comes equipped with WiFi to link up to a mobile device using Fuji's remote application, this not only allows you to download some quick photos for a quick share but also allows you to take a lot of remote control over the camera itself, in fact it's so good the live view via the app is almost as quick as live view on the camera itself. This proves very useful as I have a habit at events of setting camera's up for doing time lapses and still photos on top of masts, on trussing or in various other places. Down side is getting the camera to connect takes a little longer than it does with my Nikon's and their software and even my GoPro and it's software. It also misses (or at least I've not found it yet) a really useful feature my D750 has of pre-selecting photos on the camera to send over WiFi when I next connect them up meaning when I open the Nikon software it downloads just those where as with Fuji I have to browse all photos to select what to download.
When ever I purchase a camera I tend not to buy kit versions with included lenses as they are not normally that good so that's what I did with my X-T1, I purchased it as body only but I still needed a lens for it. One of my favourite lenses on my old Nikon D7000 which is also a crop camera was the 35mm f1.8 prime lens and I loved the images it produced so I decided to replicate that experience and got myself the Fujinon 35mm f1.4. Now this is a beautifully crafted lens, it is made from high quality aluminium and precision optics with a very smooth moving focus ring and a manual aperture ring that is very satisfying to operate. Now because it is a crop sensor means that it has a 1.5x crop factor making the lens equivalent to about 53mm and more like f2.1 than a f1.4 but the images it produces are fantastically sharp with lovely blurry bokeh.
I am also very fortunate to know one of the few Fuji X Photographers in the UK and he kindly lent me one of his Fujinon 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lenses to try the X-T1 out with. So on Sunday I took it along with me to Wollaton Hall and Deer Park in Nottingham to try my hat at taking photos of the wildlife they have freely roaming the grounds. Normally for this sort of thing I'd be shooting with my Nikon D750 in crop mode with my 70-200 f2.8 and a 1.4x tc and in crop mode which would give me the effectively a 420mm f4 at 16mp. With the X-T1 and 100-400 I get an effective 150-600mm f4.5-5.6 lens and it can still have a 1.4x TC added on (which I didn't have) to make a 210-840mm f6.3-f8 lens and can still autofocus. I had great fun taking lots of photos of the deer and some of the other wild life that was on site but it would be nice to see Fuji come out with some telephoto primes such as a 200mm, 300mm or even a 400 f2.8 or even faster like an f1.8/f2 due to the crop factor, maybe even an equivalent to a Sigma 100-300 f2.8 in crop form.
So my first impressions of the Fuji X-T1 after 5 days are very good and it has a lot of cool features that I am eager to use properly rather than just trying them but in some area's such as low light my D750 still wins out. I love the build of it and it's look but it is a little small but with the Fuji Battery Grip makes it much more comfortable to hold as well as providing extra power. I have also bought a couple of extra batteries just so I have some spares ready to go because it can eat through them quite quickly. I have even purchased the new Peak Design Slide Lite for it as it is designed for mirrorless cameras. I have three big gaming events with their lighting challenges that I will be shooting over the next 3 months as well as a wedding at the end of March so it will be getting a pretty good testing alongside my D750 where I will likely be purchasing another lens or two such as the Fujinon 18mm f2 R and Fujinon 10-24mm f4 R OIS for it. I am also looking forward to seeing what the Fuji X-T2 has and what it can do when it is hopefully announced in June according to the rumours.
Now the big question. Will I change all my Nikon kit to Fuji? It's too early to tell yet but I look forward to using the X-T1 alongside my Nikon cameras and seeing what it can do for what I shoot and the way I shoot it.