TL;DR – To get the short-winded version scroll way down to the bottom.
Most of the images from all of our posts are shot with the x-T1 kit.
Prior to release, the Fuji x-T1 looked like a travel photographer’s dream. On paper it had everything you could ever want. It also promised to come in a neat and tidy little package, dressed up with all the analog controls any photographer could ask for. At that time our long-term trip to South America was only a faint glimmer in the future. But the x-T1 quickly became a main contender as the only camera I’d have with me for 9 months as we traveled through some of the most spectacular places on earth.
Just before the camera was released I had the chance to test drive one along with a few of Fuji’s spectacular lenses. I shot a beautiful winter wedding along the beach of Lake Ontario and fell in love. It was one of those rare times when a product lived up to its hype.
The choice was made. The Fuji x-T1 would be my travel companion for 9 months as we traveled through South America. (oh yeah, along with my new wife of course!) I liquidated my entire Canon kit and plunged head first into the pool of Fuji Film.
We have just passed the halfway mark on our journey; Six months in and I have no regrets.I must say that I usually don’t enjoy reading posts written by über fans that endlessly gush about a product. For that reason I almost resent Fuji for putting me in this position. If you feel the same then I apologize! I wanted to write an honest and balanced review. However if I am honest, there is nothing balanced about what’s to come.
In celebration of the launch of the x-T1’s little brother the x-T10, and just in time for the new firmware update, here are my thoughts on Fuji’s flagship body. There will be nothing incredibly technical about what I have to say. I have not been deeply pixel peeping, doing side-by-side comparisons with the competition or running extensive tests in a lab. I mean, we only have an Asus tablet thingy with us…What I have been doing is spending a whole lot of time, a long way from home, shooting out in the field. It’s likely that most of the things I share in this review have been said before. After all the x-T1 has been out for well over a year now and many photographers, gearheads and tech sites have written their thoughts on this tiny monster of a camera.
This is an anecdotal review from my perspective, as an adventurous travel photographer wandering around South America, speaking Spanglish and playing charades with people from all over the world.
When asked “Do you want the good news or the bad news?” I usually choose the bad news first. I like to get it dealt with and sorted before going on to anything else. And Since I wasn’t really able to find much to add to the list of cons, we might as well get them out of the way.
The single largest issue I’ve had is really more of a quirk. If I am out shooting and happen to fill a card and I don’t have another card with me, I’m screwed. Even if there is 5 mins to spare to go through the card and delete some shots to make room, the camera will not write any new images.
**Solution : I have found that if the images are deleted from the beginning of the card, I am able to write new images. The problem only seems to exists, if images are deleted from the end of the card. Still an odd quirk, but not a major problem. I left this part in, in case others are having trouble with this issue and need a solution. ..and there goes my biggest complaint about the camera!
The second largest issue I’ve had is that the battery is satisfactory. It’s not terrible, in fact it’s perfectly OK. The camera will typically shoot around 300 images per charge, while using all the wonderful features that are available. If I stick to the mechanical shutter, turn off the LCD screen, shoot in .jpeg, employ the auto power off and minimize playback I can squeeze out nearly 400 shots. (I have found auto off more efficient than powering on and off. Feel free to share your experiences with this!)
Typically this wouldn’t be much of a problem. If I were home, shooting over 600 shots in one day (using a spare battery) is not something that would happen often. But down here we often go days without seeing power. Typically we have no power because we’ve trekked out to see some incredible place in the middle of nowhere that lends itself very well to photography. So I have to be cautious of how much I shoot in environments that make me feel like a kid in a candy store. Film used to limit the shots we could take as photographers. I like to think of my batteries as giant 300 shot rolls of film. I understand there are limits to how much power can be stored at a time and larger batteries mean a larger and/or heavier camera. I also know that a downside to EVF cameras is the extra battery use. So until we have better tech in the battery department I will cart around these 3 batteries in my bag, wishing at times I had 6 and being certain I want the shot before I take it. (which I should be doing anyways, so thank you for the think-before-you-shoot training Fuji!)
On the topic of batteries, I wish I had a USB adapter for my charger. Then I could use the power pack I have to charge batteries while we’re out in the middle of nowhere. Generally this is a want, but I think as a traveling photographer it becomes a need.
Continuing on about batteries, I have read some complaints about the GIANT cable that comes with the charger. To be honest though I quite like it. It doesn’t weigh much and if you bundle it up nicely with a cable tie it doesn’t really take up much room. The length has been a great asset while travelling. We have been in many levels of accommodation and regardless of the class of room we stay in, one thing has been consistent. No hotel, hostel or public place seems to think people might need to charge something at some point. Especially in South America! So if you do manage to find an outlet, it’s usually 2.5 meters off the ground, or tucked under, around or behind something huge and awkward. So the length of that charger cable does come in handy. Trust me, the 40cm cable that comes with our tablet hybrid is THE WORST!
The rest of my cons list is really just a collection of things that would be nice. I had heard about the flaps that cover the card slot and the cable inputs being dreadful to keep closed but they haven’t been a big problem for me. I notice one may pop open every now and again, but then I close it and move on.
If you have a small bag like I do and the camera fits snugly, you may notice your dials move about on you when you remove or put away your camera and that can be a pain at times. Also not a game changer for me. What I would like to see is a push button on each dial that locks when you click it in and unlocks for free movement when you click it out…all dial problems solved!
I have a similar wish for the aperture ring. I would really like to see a lock there too. It would make shooting in aperture priority much, much better.
The WiFi option for app devices is awesome. The WiFi option for computers is janky as all heck. It works fine, most of the time, but I just find the program awkward and clunky. Another small thing in the grand scheme of things. (Because I’m limited to 1 USB port on our tablet thingy this program has come in handy. But only if there’s good WiFi access and I have loads of time.)
Now, on to the good stuff! I have been traveling with this camera for 6 months now and I have no regrets.
The best thing about the Fuji x-T1 is it’s compact size combined with absolutely incredible image quality. In fact I would say the sensor Fuji put in this thing is one of the best aps-c sensors on the market. It blows away my old Canon that’s for certain. The colours I’ve been getting are outstanding. They feel more true to life than anything I’ve used before. The images are so beautifully clean at high ISOs that I never even question if I should go to 3200 or even 6400 ISO. If the shot needs it, do it! H1 (12,800 ISO) H2 (51, 200) are even viable options should you need them, but that it’s very rarely needed.
The most obvious travel benefit to this camera is the size. The x-T1 is small, compact and unassuming. It looks like an old film camera and generally doesn’t draw much attention. Especially if I am only using the viewfinder to shoot. When it does catch someone’s eye it’s usually because they are a photographer not a thief and we can strike up a conversation. It looks more like I borrowed Mom’s old film camera, then I’m toting around the latest flagship camera. Because the camera is so small and light I can bring it anywhere without causing much hassle for myself. The entire camera bag, with accessories fits inside my carry on bag along with all the other crap I have in there.
Since the Fuji family is based on an aps-c sensor it also keeps the size and weight of the glass to a minimum. From the tiniest little pancake lens to the new 50-140mm, in comparison to the competition you are looking at a fraction of the size with 100% of the quality.
I have with me the 18-55mm, which is by no means a “kit” lens. This well-built little workhorse is an excellent travel option. Quick apertures mean shooting indoors is no problem. Having a range from f/2.8-4 gives you a pleasing bokeh through the entire lens and most of the time I have this one mounted to the camera. The colour and quality of the images are outstanding and I have pretty much stopped using my polarizer unless I need to cut reflections of some sort.
If I want to get all artsy and need something just a little sweeter, then the 56mm f/1.2 comes out to play. What a lovely lens! I have been so happy to have it with me. This fast piece of glass really highlights Fuji’s talent when in comes to making a great lens. For portraits, detail shots or simply blowing out the background all to heck this sweet little scoop of ice cream is as smooth as it gets.
If I could carry a little more with me (as well as a bigger budget!) I would probably have added the 10-24mm or swapped it with the 18-55mm. Unfortunately the 16-55mm lens hadn’t arrived by the time of our departure. From what I hear though that lens is fantastic and in a perfect world I’d likely have it as my workhorse. As for the 50-140mm lens, it may still be a bit big for my travel tastes and I’ve only used it once or twice before. For me the 56mm does very well. But I am very excited to give the tele-zoom a go from the comfort of home…which won’t be for a few months still.
Dials dials everywhere! I absolutely love the analog design. Everything I need to adjust exposure is right at my finger tips. The addition of locks on the dials and aperture rings would bring the design of the system up from excellent to perfect. Even with my large hands I find the camera very comfortable and easy to navigate. I like the button placement and quite like the easily customizable “Q” button. It gives quick access to every setting I need to change on the fly. The camera has become like an extension of my hands.
Just as a footnote to the build portion of my thoughts here, I want to mention that in the five months that I have been down in the various landscapes of South America, I have cleaned the sensor once. And I’m not even sure it was necessary. But prior to trekking across the Inca Trail I figured it was a good idea. I think that speaks a lot to the build quality and weather sealing of the camera…even without weather sealed lenses!
The new sensor that Fuji has put together is phenomenal. The X-Trans II sensor changes the game from your standard Bayer Pattern Array and produces extremely lifelike colours. The new sensor also allows Fuji to join the high performance ranks of Nikon’s D810 (among a few others) in removing the low-pass filter. This keeps images sharper and colours cleaner. By creating such an effective sensor, with strong image results and combining it with beautiful filter reproductions of their glorious film days Fuji has a winning mixture. I quite enjoy employing the black and white filters. It’s a classic way to work with lines and composition. And I am in love with the Velvia and brand new Chrome filters. (An homage to Kodak’s Kodachrome)
With all of these options, plus in-camera noise reduction, shadow and highlight adjustments I am shooting more and more in .jpg mode only. No need for post processing allows me to shoot more and edit less. A feature I quite like since I’m shooting such a higher volume of images while traveling. There are also some shooting modes that are fun to use when the mood strikes, like miniature, dynamic, panoramic and toy camera modes.
When post processing is required there are many options available for all of us shooters. I use Adobe’s Lightroom software. They have worked together with Fuji to ensure that we get the best possible image from the digital negatives. (raw files) As I said there are many options and we all have our own style when it comes to post processing, but there is an excellent blog post from Pete Bridgwood that describes some really great sharpening techniques for any Fuji shooter, no matter their preference. If you’re shooting Fuji, it’s a must read.
Since the camera provides such clean shots at high ISOs I have found myself shooting in really low light. When there is simply not enough ambient light to use auto focus, the digital focus meter really comes in handy. I have found it especially helpful when trying to shoot the insane starscapes down here in South America.
There are a lot of settings, options and features packed into the little x-T1. I have come to love a few of them that I had not given much attention to when I was researching the camera.
The first one I knew would become very useful later when I returned to shoot events and weddings, is the Silent Mode. Because the camera employs an electronic viewfinder it’s truly a silent mode. Not the “silent” modes other brands offer, which really just mean a “tiny-bit-less-than-loud”. This has made street photography super stealthy for me. I am still terrible at speaking Spanish and I don’t have to explain myself so much if no one can hear that I’m taking photos. Also, I can be really really sneaky in museums. I don’t really expect to do much with museum photos, but it’s a great way to remind us of all the cool stuff we’ve seen. (High ISO helps here too! ) And with a quick firmware update the electronic shutter also now provides speeds of up 1/3200 of second which really makes shooting wide open a lot of fun any time of day. (As of today 4.0 has just been released. I’m still checking it out)
The second feature I’ll mention is the customizable view modes. More specifically an empty screen except for the image and the level. I have become addicted to the level. Normally I dislike too much stuff in the viewfinder or on the screen. It starts to look like a Heads Up Display from a jet fighter or something. But since I can remove anything I want, and the exposure settings are done manually anyways I have really come to enjoy that sweet little level.
The third little surprise is the tilting screen. It really saves my knees and back! I don’t have to lay on the ground as much or hunch over the tripod anymore. Just a quick tilt of the screen and Bingo! I’ve got the angle I want. And if required I can use the level to make sure the shot looks the way I want it to from any bizarre position I may be in. Even for overhead shooting it comes in handy. Whether it be crowds, tourists, police or protesters I can get the paparazzi angle without compromising composition.
The last thing I’ll mention is the WiFi app. I had avoided it until now because it’s a kind of touchy subject for me. My phone was pickpocketed in La Paz, Bolivia. But I was using Fuji’s app on my android device and loving every second of it! Sure there are images that I really want to put my time and effort into, but there are also a ton of great snap shots along the way. The app allows me to instantly pop the pictures online so I can share with friends and family back home or post directly to Instagram. You can also use your device as a handy little remote. Actually just prior to leaving on our trip I used the remote app to be my own assistant. With the camera set up on a tripod I was able to hold my reflector on the subject and take the shot from just out of frame. The clients thought it was hilarious!
When it comes to compact cameras we are spoiled with options. Sony has some fantastic gear and Olympus and Panasonic are doing really great things with their micro 4/3s sensors. Even Nikon and Canon are dabbling in the arena of super compact high quality cameras. (not that they’re really worth mentioning)
But in my opinion the design, innovation, lens selection, image quality, customer support, and the X-photographer community all combine to make Fuji the absolute best option for today’s travelling photographer. Or any photographer for that matter. You get the most bang for your buck, these little guys punch well above their weight and I have absolutely no regrets in joining the world of Fuji Film.
(*There is tons of room in the comments section, so feel free to ask anything you like!)