Why Fujifilm’s X-T1 Is Simply Irresistible
Not so long ago you’d have replaced your old D-SLR with a new D-SLR without a second thought, but now pro-level mirrorless cameras such as the X-T1 are providing an increasingly appealing alternative. Report by Paul Burrows.
While Fujifilm’s S5 Pro was one of the best D-SLRs of its day, using somebody else’s platform was never going to be sustainable as the market got more cut-throat. Fujifilm eventually quit D-SLRs, but it’s not been alone here over the last few years as the product planning emphasis for a number of camera makers has switched to mirrorless interchangeable-lens designs. Yet it’s also taken a while for anybody to come up with a truly credible CSC alternative to the D-SLR, partly because the early emphasis was on upgrading compact camera users and secondly because electronic viewfinders simply weren’t good enough.
Fujifilm’s solution to the latter was its hybrid optical/electronic arrangement, introduced in the original X100 and reprised in the X-Pro1. Subsequently, there have been all sorts of improvements to ‘pure’ electronic viewfinders – OLED panels being one of them – so it’s now possible to move away from the rangefinder-style cameras such as the X-Pro1 and Sony’s recently-discontinued NEX-7… the two models most notable for being clearly aimed at enthusiast-level or even pro users. Then came Olympus’s OM-D system with, most significantly, the flagship E-M1 intended as a direct replacement for Olympus’s last D-SLR, the E-5. Now Fujifilm is doing the same thing with the X-T1… it’s not just a high-end CSC, but also the spiritual successor to the S5 Pro. Ironically though, it’s even more SLR-like than its reflex ancestor thanks to its squared-off styling and a full suite of traditional control dials packed onto the top panel. If you didn’t know better, you’d hazard it was a 35mm SLR from the mid-to-late 1970s… there’s more than a hint of Contax’s RTS models in the looks. All that’s really missing externally – at least from front-on – is the old-style ‘Fujica’ badging.
Essentially, the basic ingredients of the X-T1 are the same as those of the other higher-end X Mount models – it has the same sensor as the X-E2 and X100S, the same AF and AE systems as the X-E2, and the same retro-inspired design philosophy that’s been applied across the range.
However, there are some important new ingredients which considerably spice up the recipe. Apart from the SLR-like styling – and, ironically, the X-T1 is better looking than any D-SLR on the market at the moment, including Nikon’s Df – there’s a fully weather-proofed bodyshell, the dial-based operations are expanded, the EVF experience has been further enhanced, the AF system is upgraded and various key specifications move up a notch or two – notably the maximum ISO setting and the continuous shooting speed. Importantly too, the little omissions which were niggling rather than serious – but annoying nonetheless – have been corrected. At the top of this list is white balance bracketing (at last!), but also notable is that the focus peaking display can now be set to different colours to work more effectively with different subjects and lighting. The choice is white, red or blue with the option of high and low intensities.
The X-T1 is accompanied by quite a few dedicated accessories, including a vertical battery grip – the VG-XT1 – which houses an additional battery pack, extending the camera’s range to 700 shots. There’s also a ‘passive’ handgrip similar to those
offered for the X-Pro1 and X-E2, plus a smart leather case for anybody who wants to go all the way with the classical look.
Fujifilm’s first weatherproofed X Mount lens, the XF 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 R OIS WR is due any time now and will be followed by the XF 16-55mm f2.8 R OIS WR and the XF 50-140mm f2.8 R OIS WR later in the year. Fujifilm has been pretty diligent about building its X Mount lens system as quickly as is possible and the current Fujinon line-up numbers 12 (although two are XC type lenses without an aperture collar and designed primarily for use on the consumer-level cameras). However, the XF models now include the recently arrived XF 10-24mm f4.0 R OIS wide-angle zoom and XF 56mm f1.2 R superfast short telephoto. There are also the Zeiss Touit models for those with deeper pockets.
Without doubt, Fujifilm’s efforts with its X Mount lenses – and their impressive performance, both the zooms and the primes – has helped put some extra polish on the appeal of the X-E2 and now the X-T1. It’s also why the X-T1 is quite capable of breaching the D-SLR stronghold… these lenses are as good as anything on offer from Canon, Nikon or Sony, even in the full-35mm format.
In the flesh, the X-T1 is a lot more petite than illustrations might suggest. It is, in fact, marginally smaller in every dimension than the OM-D E-M1, but virtually the same weight. It’s only slightly bigger than the very petite OM-D E-M5.
The construction is all-metal – aluminium covers over a diecast magnesium alloy chassis – with a total of 80 seals to guard against the intrusion of dust and moisture plus insulation to allow operation in temperatures down to -10 degrees Celsius. The dials are all milled from solid billets of aluminium with engraved markings and now, as on the Nikon Df, include one for setting the ISO, as well as for shutter speeds and exposure compensation. As with these latter two dials (and the aperture collars on the XF lenses), switching the ISO dial to enable automatic setting of the sensitivity is simply a case of selecting its ‘A’ position. In this regard then, the X-T1 is even more old school than the deliberately
“Without doubt, Fujifilm’s efforts with its X Mount lenses – and their impressive performance, both the zooms and the primes – has helped put some extra polish on the appeal of the X-E2 and now the X-T1.”
retro Df… and it doesn’t need an exposure mode dial; it’s just a case of switching the shutter speed dial and aperture collar to whatever combination of ‘A’ settings is required. The shutter speed dial locks on its ‘A’ setting while the ISO dial locks on every setting – which include ‘L’, ‘H1’ and ‘H2’ for the extended sensitivities – presumably because accidental changes here could be more disastrous.
With the top panel real estate fully taken up with dials, and the need to keep the viewfinder housing’s size in proportion with the rest of the compact body, the X-T1 does without a built-in flash, but Fujifilm bundles in a small accessory unit. It has a metric guide number of eight at ISO 200 and, once fitted, provides all the same modes as the X-E2’s built-in flash (including remote triggering of photocell-equipped units). External flashes sync via the hotshoe or a PC terminal.
Beyond the main dials, there are selector levers for the drive modes and metering patterns… although Fujifilm still actually calls them dials. The former is located below the ISO dial and includes settings for the auto bracketing functions, a multiple exposure facility, the ‘Advanced Filter’ effects and ‘Motion Panorama’ shooting. Front and rear input wheels do most of the setting in conjunction with the main menus and a ‘Quick Menu’ control screen. The shutter release button loses the cable release socket that’s been a feature of all the higher-end X Series models to date.
In the hand, the X-T1 feels quite weighty and the handgrip is very comfortable. As we noted with the Nikon Df, it’s a case of unlearning some digital camera habits such as finding the ISO button or its menu. Commendably, the AE and AF locks have their own buttons (just like in the good old days) and the exposure compensation dial has some pretty solid click-stops to reduce the possibility of inadvertently changing settings. Six buttons can be customised with user-assigned functions; one each on the top and front panels, and the four navigator keys.
Of course, under the X-T1’s top panel ‘bump’ is an electronic viewfinder, but it’s partially more pronounced because of the improvements Fujifilm has made here. It’s the same 1.3 cm OLED panel with 2.36 million dots resolution as is used in the X-E2, but the magnification is increased to 0.77x and the angle-of-view to 31 degrees. Additionally, lag is claimed to be reduced to just 0.005 seconds. Put simply, it’s big and very nearly beautiful.
Built-in viewfinders are a big deal for Fujifilm and beyond its clever hybrid optical/electronic arrangements, it has worked to make the ‘pure’ EVF more acceptable. Consequently, the X-T1’s finder has a new display design which is more like that of a traditional optical finder in that all the read-outs are located outside the image area. These displays also automatically re-orientate when the camera is held vertically and there’s an interesting ‘Dual’ mode which, when focusing manually, puts the ‘Digital Split Image’ display (or a magnified image section) alongside the image area. Yes, there’s that much space in there. On both the X-E2 and X100S, the split image overlay rather gets in the way so this arrangement addresses this issue (it can also be done with the focus peaking display operating in the magnified image section).
The X-T1’s monitor screen is the same 7.62 cm LCD panel as is used on the X-E2, but with the
addition of a tilt adjustment and a reinforced glass faceplate. It also benefits from a faster refresh rate. Fujifilm still hasn’t embraced touch controls, but the ‘Q.Menu’ control screen provides quick access to a wide selection of capture-related functions.
A proximity sensor in the EVF eyepiece allows for automatic switching between the displays or it can be done manually via the ‘View Mode’ button.
Colour And Contrast
At the heart of the X-T1 is Fujifilm’s ‘X-Trans CMOS II’ sensor with its unique colour filter pattern that’s designed to minimise moiré patterns. The total pixel count is 16.7 million (16.3 MP effective) which doesn’t look particularly exciting by current full35mm D-SLR standards, but this sensor is a prime example of quality over quantity, leading Fujifilm to claim a ‘big sensor’ performance from its ‘APS-C’ format device.
A key aspect of this is the 6x6 filter pattern designed to reduce the occurrence of moiré pat- terns, but Fujifilm is also starting to tie together all the other elements it’s been releasing with subsequent X Series cameras into a more cohesive message about superior image quality. These include the ‘Lens Modulation Optimiser’ (LMO) processing – a power-hungry function derived from the ‘EXR Processor II’ chip which detects and corrects for diffraction blur – and the ‘Film Simulation’ picture presets. These have been around from the very beginning, but Fujifilm is starting to make more of them, exploiting the company’s long experience in colour management and reproduction.
One component of the Australian press preview of the X-T1 was a very enlightening explanation of how the colour processing is specifically tweaked for the Provia, Astia and Velvia presets; and the contrast for the Pro Neg Standard and Pro Neg High presets. It’s all about balancing colorimetric – or real colour – with expected or ‘memorised’ colour. So, for example, the saturation of blues and greens are
boosted – i.e. they’re made deliberately higher than the colorimetric value – because that’s how we tend to remember them. In general, the Astia preset is shifted slightly to yellow and Velvia is shifted to cyan (i.e. bluishgreen), but Provia stays close to the colorimetric values. The Pro Neg presets are all about accurately reproducing skin tones, particularly when using contrastier lighting such as studio flash.
Up to seven customised ‘Film Simulation’ presets can be created via adjustments for colour, sharpness, dynamic range and gradation. Additionally, for RAW shooters, the ‘Film Simulation’ profiles are now supported in the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw.
The effective pixel count remains at 16.3 megapixels, giving a maximum image size of 4896x3264 pixels. There’s a choice of 3:2, 16:9 or 1:1 aspect ratios with three JPEG image sizes in each and the choice of Normal or Fine compression levels. RAW capture is at 14-bits per RGB channel and the RAW+JPEG capture can be set to JPEG/large/ fine or large/normal. There’s a single card slot for the SD format, but importantly, it’s separated from the battery compartment and located on the handgrip so changeovers are easy to do with the camera on the tripod. The X-T1 is the world’s first camera with support for UHS-II speed SDXC cards.
The Mark II ‘X-Trans’ CMOS sensor incorporates dedicated pixel arrays for phase-difference detection autofocusing which is employed in conjunction with contrast detection measurements depending on the subject or situation. A key upgrade here is a ‘Motion Predictive’ capability when using the continuous AF mode which monitors a subject’s speed and rate of acceleration/deceleration to better determine the final focusing point.
Continuous shooting with AF tracking is possible at up to 8.0 fps – compared to the E-X2’s 7.0 fps – and burst lengths are increased with the new UHS-II speed SDXC memory cards. The focusing modes are selected via a switch on the front panel which has settings for manual, continuous AF and single-shot AF. Additionally, a ‘Pre-AF’ function can be engaged from the shooting menu and this maintains AF operations at all times rather than just when the shutter button is pressed to its halfway position.
Similar to the X-E2, the AF system uses 49 measuring points arranged in a 7x7 array which covers a good part of the frame. The points are individually selectable in both the single-shot and continuous modes. Additionally, there’s a choice of three focus frame sizes – designated 50, 100 or 150 percent.
We’ve already mentioned a couple of the changes made to the manual focusing assists. When using the monitor screen, the dual mode is also available for both the ‘Digital Split Image’ or a magnified image section. As in the EVF, the latter can be combined with the focus peaking display. Alternatively, full screen magnification is available along with the focus peaking display which is particularly effective when set to red and high intensity. Because the main image area becomes smaller in the dual mode, the real-time histogram (if active) is located outside it, but the grid pattern and level display remain as before.
Exposure And Processing
The X-T1’s exposure control facilities are pretty much the same as the X-E2’s, but with the exception that the ISO expansion now steps up another stop to 51,200 due mainly to inherently lower noise in main circuit board (the native sensitivity range remains at ISO 200 to 6400). The Auto ISO control can be set to default ISO, maximum sensitivity and minimum shutter speed.
Like its immediate siblings, the X-T1 sticks with a standard set of ‘PASM’ exposure control modes and the usual selection of overrides – program shift, an AE lock, up to +/-3.0 EV of compensation and bracketing with up to +/-1.0 EV adjustment per frame. Metering is based on the 256-segment multi-zone system Fujifilm has been using since the X100 with the option of centre-weighted average or spot measurements. The exposure compensation dial, by the way, is click-stopped in one-third stop increments.
The X-T1’s focal plane shutter has a speed range of 30-1/4000 second as plus a ‘B’ setting with a maximum time of 60 minutes. The shutter speed dial is marked from 1/4000 second down to one second, so the slower speeds are accessed via a ‘T’ setting and selected via the left/right navigation keys. As on the X-E2, there’s a setting for the maximum flash sync speed of 1/180 second (marked as ‘180x’). There’s a choice of eight ‘Advanced Filter’ special effects which, as on the X-E2, are applied at capture. These are called Toy Camera, Miniature and Pop Colour, High-Key, Low-Key, Dynamic Tone, Soft Focus and Partial Colour (which can be set to red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple).
The white balance controls are also the same as those provided on the X-E2 with the automatic correction based on scene recognition analysis. There’s a selection of seven presets (including for daylight, warm and cool fluoro lighting types), provision for making one custom measurement, fine-tuning and manual colour temperature selection over a range 2500 to 10,000 degrees Kelvin. The fine-tuning is available for everything and applied over nine steps in the colour ranges of red-to-cyan and blue-to-yellow. Obviously this can be previewed both in the EVF and on the LCD monitor. As noted earlier, white balancing bracketing is now available and joins the other auto adjustments for exposure, ‘Film Simulation’, dynamic range and ISO. All operate over a sequence of three frames.
The X-T1’s dynamic range expansion processing can be set to Auto or to one of three manual settings – 100, 200 and 400 percent – with the latter two becoming available progressively at ISO 400 and 800 respectively. DR processing can’t be completely switched off. The auto correction is based on the brightness range in the scene and adjusts both the exposure and the tone curve as necessary.
Noise reduction processing can be manually set to one of five levels (Low, Medium Low, Standard,
Medium High and High) while the long exposure NR is simply switched to either on or off.
The X-T1 also has an intervalometer for shooting time-lapse sequences and in-camera corrections for lens distortion (both barrel and pincushion), colour shading (along cyan-to-red and blue-to-yellow ranges) and vignetting (a.k.a ‘Peripheral Illumination Correction’). The ‘Motion Panorama’ mode mentioned earlier captures multiple images while the camera is being panned. There’s the choice of 180 or 360 degree pans in either the left/right or up/down directions.
Video clips are recorded in either the Full HD 1080 or HD 720 resolutions – at either 30 or 60 fps with progressive scan – in the MOV format with MPEG 4 AVC/H .264 compression. At 1080/60p, the bit rate is an impressive 36 Mbps. The X-T1 has built-in stereo microphones and a non-standard 2.5 mm stereo audio input for connecting an external mic (it’s otherwise the remote controller’s socket). Audio recording levels are manually adjustable.
Among the functions available for shooting video are continuous AF, the ‘Film Simulation’ presets and +/-2.0 EV of exposure compensation. There’s now a dedicated recording start/stop button (a first on an X Mount camera). Apertures and shutter speeds need to be preset. The X-T1 isn’t alone in terms of CSCs offering fairly limited video functionality and, consequently, it isn’t going to challenge the leaders in this area, headed by Panasonic’s Lumix GH4 and Sony’s new Alpha 7S.
Fujifilm continues to improve the functionality of its wireless connection which was pretty rudimentary at the start. It now extends beyond simple file transferring – both stills and video clips – to live view and camera controls using the new Fujifilm Camera Remote app on a compatible smartphone or tablet. This functionality includes ‘Touch AF’ and the capacity to apply settings such as the ‘Film Simulation’ presets.
Making A Display
Both the EVF and the monitor screen can be switched between standard and customised dis-
“Built-in viewfinders are a big deal for Fujifilm and beyond its clever hybrid optical/ electronic arrangements, it has worked to make the ‘pure’ EVF more acceptable.”
plays, or all info can be switched off. The custom display is pre-configured from a checklist (accessed via ‘Screen Set-Up’ in the Set-Up Menu) which includes exposure preview (in manual mode), a distance/depth-of-field scale, a real-time histogram, superimposed grids (either 3x3, 6x4 or HD video), a single-axis level indicator, plus a big choice of read-outs or icons for, among other things, white balance, the ‘Film Simulation’ preset, the DR setting, exposure compensation, metering mode and battery power level. All the items in the custom display are switchable so any desired combination can be created.
The Screen Set-Up menu also allows for changing the highlight or background colour for the menus, and the choice is silver, gold, blue, yellow, green or white. This also changes the colour of a few other display items such as the level indicator.
The monitor has a third display mode for info only and is mainly designed to be used in conjunction with the EVF. It provides an AF point grid and a selection of capture function indicators, including an exposure under/over scale.
The replay/review screen can also be set to configurations, including a thumbnail accompanied by capture data, highlight warning and a brightness histogram. There’s also a set of ‘Photo Information’ screens – similar to those provided on Nikon’s D-SLRs – which are viewed via the up/down naviga- tion keys. The slide show functions include fades, zooms and multiple images displayed together. The playback modes include a variety of multiimage displays as well as straight pages of nine or 100 thumbnails, zooming on the focus point and Fujifilm’s ‘PhotoBook Assist’ feature which allows for up to 300 images to be organised for reproduction in a photo book.
Speed And Performance
With our reference memory card – Lexar’s Professional 600x 64 GB SDXC UHS-I speed device – the X-T1 recorded a burst of 34 JPEG/l arge/fine frames in 3.973 seconds which represents a continuous shooting speed of 8.56 fps. This is slightly faster than the quoted maximum and, although slightly off the quoted burst length, the reality is that few users are ever going to want a
sequence of over 30 frames. For the record, the test file sizes were around 6.4 MB on average. The buffer memory empties very quickly indeed with a UHS-I card so presumably it’s lightning fast with a UHS-II device as the data writing speed essentially doubles.
Given the X-T1 has essentially the same digital ‘drive train’ as the X-E2, the image quality is comparable which means it’s very good indeed. There is little doubt Fujifilm’s ‘X-Trans CMOS II’ sensor is one of the best ‘APS-C’ imager in the business, if not at the very top of the class. It continues to surprise us with just how well it performs even compared to bigger sensors.
Definition and detailing, the colour fidelity across the whole spectrum, the contrast and the tonal gradation are all excellent. The best quality JPEGs look sensational straight out of the camera, especially with the Velvia ‘Film Simulation’ preset which beautifully replicates the distinctive ‘punch’ of the much-loved Fujichrome transparency film. The low light performance is equally impressive and noise simply isn’t an issue even at ISO 1600 where the colour saturation and sharpness actually look no different than at ISO 200. Everything still holds together pretty well at ISO 3200 and 6400, but with some colour noise evident in areas of uniform tone.
Both the push settings exhibit increased noise, but are still useable if only small-sized reproductions are needed.
Operationally, the X-T1’s hybrid autofocus is both fast and accurate, and the tracking works very effectively. Fujifilm quotes a speed of just 0.08 seconds with the 14mm f2.8 lens, which is claimed to be currently the world’s fastest for a camera with an ‘APS-C’ size sensor (or larger). Start-up is virtually instantaneous and shutter lag is quoted at just 0.05 seconds which, not entirely surprisingly, is the same as the X-E2.
The X-T1 is really the sum of everything Fujifilm has learned since launching the X-Pro1 – particularly in terms of AF operation, improving the ‘pure’ EVF and refining a dial-based operating system for the digital age. Still a very fine camera two years on, nevertheless the X-Pro1 is an acquired taste while the X-T1 is designed to have more mainstream appeal with its SLR-like configuration.
The styling and design exhibit a lighter touch than that of Nikon’s Df, helped of course, by the fact that the X-T1 is much smaller, but there’s a cohesion and balance here that makes this a very special camera indeed. Add the intuitive control layout, a best-in-class EVF, a solid feature set, strong camera performances (AF, shooting speed, etc) and the capabilities of the ‘X-Trans II’ sensor, and Fujifilm’s X-T1 is the most compelling and cohesive argument yet for ditching the D-SLR.
The X-T1 is the first Fujifilm X Mount camera with a weather-proofed bodyshell, including insulation to allow shooting in sub-zero temperatures.
Hotshoe is supplemented by a PC flash terminal.
The Focus Assist button engages the various assist displays for manual focusing plus a magnified image autofocusinHotshoeview when using g.
Front (right) and rear input wheels – Fujifilm calls them ‘Command Dials’ – perform a wide range of selecting and setting duties.
Test images are best quality JPEGs taken with either the XF 14mm f2.8 wide-angle or XF 18-55mm f2.8-4.0 zoom. Image quality is exceptional all the way up to ISO 1600. The Velvia ‘Film Simulation’ preset in particular delivers luscious looking images. Fujifilm’s ‘X-Trans CMOS II’ sensor very much illustrates the point that IQ is not so much about the number of pixels, but what’s done with them. Detailing and definition are superb, as is the colour fidelity and the smoothness of the tonal gradations. The camera performed flawlessly in temperatures as low as -25 degrees Celsius.
The four navigator keypad’s buttons can be customised to activate other functions. The X-T1 has a total of six customisable buttons.
The X-T1 doesn’t have a built-in flash, but comes bundled with a small accessory unit which, when folded down, is quite compact.
The customisable buttons – this is Fn1 on the camera’s front panel – are assignable from a huge selection of functions, including bracketing, the ‘Advanced Filters’ special effects and the ‘Film Simulation’ presets.
Wireless functionality is expanded to include remote control of various camera settings.
The X-T1’s menu is clearly laid out and easy to navigate. Progressive right-clicks access sub-menus and settings.
Live view screen can be configured to show a realtime histogram, level display, guide grids and a variety of read-outs
‘Quick Menu’ control screen provides direct access to a wide selection of capture functions.