If you are interested in the upcoming Fuji X-T1 and if you happen to be in Tokyo, Fujifilm is showing off its brand new weather resistant X-mount camera at Midtown’s Fujifilm Square. It is there for anyone from the general public to play with, no need to be a professional Fuji photographer or a renown journalist. Actually, looking at all the previews popping out on the net, it seems that there is a high number of (probably pre-prod) X-T1’s in the wild, showing how confident Fujifilm is with its new baby, which is generally a good sign. But does the X-T1 really live up to those expectations?
To make up my own mind, I ran to Fuji’s showroom afterwork to get my hands on this highly anticipated new piece of technology. All in all, I spent around 30min with my hands on one of the prototypes displayed, shooting with the well-known XF18-55mm kit lens, but also with the upcoming XF56mm f1.2 prime and XF10-24mm f4 wide-angle zoom lens. I have to tip my hat off to the Fuji representative who assisted me during this time, answering honestly all my questions despite of my broken Japanese, and seemingly writing notes in a notebook when I was making remarks, good or bad.
Before going any further, a little disclaimer is probably needed: the opinions expressed below are only first impressions based on a limited time of use of the camera, in a closed and small environment. By no means what follows should be considered as a final review of a final product (this will come in due course… 😉 ).
A small step for photography, a giant leap for EVFs
It’s big, it’s crisp, and it allegedly refreshes faster than any other EVF currently on the market. For sure, it’s a big leap compared to the refresh rate of the EVF used on the X-E1 and X-E2. It’s pretty seamless in normal use even in low light, though you do get a drop in the frame rate when you start shaking (almost) violently the camera in random directions like only someone testing a camera rather than using it would do.
In “FULL” mode, the display is in fact so big that you almost have to stretch your eye out to make sure that your composition is clean in the corner of your frame. It’s the best looking display if you can take the time to really compose your image and explore visually each area of the frame, though the “NORMAL” display will probably more appropriate to daily use to my taste. The image is only slightly smaller, with the shooting informations taking the remaining space outside of the frame (instead of being overlaid above the image), but at least you can see clearly every corner of the frame in a single glance. Overall, the quality and size of the EVF are such that the LCD display feels small in comparison when you get your eye off the viewfinder, though it is the same size as the one of the X-E2…
The third display mode is the “DUAL” mode that will display 2 images at the same time in the EVF, one regular one and one being a zoom on your focusing point to help you nail your manual focus. The idea is great (and could be extended by displaying any kind of thing you might desire next to your framing), but the zoom on your focus point is shown in a smaller window, and I actually found it too small to my taste to adjust the focus to the perfection (speaking of manual focus, I found the focus ring of the XF56mm f1.2 a bit stiff for my taste, while it took too many turns of the ring to adjust the focus…). I still prefer to zoom on my focusing area in the “FULL” mode to be sure to nail the focus exactly where I want.
Another cool feature of the EVF is that when you turn the camera vertically the display of all the shooting informations will automatically adapt itself. However, just for your guide, I noticed that this is not the case when the screen is in “DUAL” mode.
One thing all users of the X-E1/X-E2 users know is that those camera are not really made for what you would call action or sport shooting. Despite tremendous progress made thanks to regular firmware update (and thanks to hardware upgrade with the phase detection pixels on the X100s and X-E2), their autofocus speed is still behind the one of many of their competitors. But also, things like shooting bracketing series of only 3 pictures for example will get your camera think while it writes on your memory card (and according to the law of Murphy it’s usually at that time that you will see in front you a unique picture opportunity while you are unable to take another shot…). How about the X-T1?
The X-T1 features the same sensor as the X-E2, with the same phase detection pixels, and though Fuji claims that some tweaks were made in the software and in the way the wires are arranged, there will not be much difference in auto-focus speed. Yes, if your focus point is in the center of the viewfinder, the auto-focus will be snappy and accurate thanks to the phase detection pixels on the sensor, and that’s what Fuji will show you in its ads or when it claims this is the fastest auto-focus in the world. But once you move your focus point to the contrast detection focusing area, the auto-focus will start hunting and take its time. As I mentioned before it’s still much better than the auto-focus of the first generations of Fuji mirrorless cameras though, but still it’s something to keep in mind…
The big difference of the auto-focus system of the X-T1 compared to its predecessors is a technology that will “predict” where to focus based on the speed and direction of the moving subjects within the frame, which should definitely help the X-T1 perform much better for action photography than the X-E1/X-E2. However, given my conditions of testing, I did not have the opportunity to really see the feature in action.
In terms of speed, one of the advantages of the X-T1 is that it will accept UHS-II SD cards, which are much faster than the ones we are used to use currently. Though I was not allowed to open the memory card compartment, the Fuji representative confirmed to me that it was one of these faster cards that was in the camera, and indeed the camera felt fast and responsive, whether shooting in high speed burst mode or bracketing, and then switching back and forth between shooting and reviewing the images.
The new EVF and the addition of this “predictive auto-focus” technology are more examples of the way Fuji has been improving its X-camera line-up generation after generation, and which explains why this new model is highly anticipated. However, I have to say that for me the jury is still out, as I am not totally convinced by the ergonomics of the camera.
Firstly, while not awful, I don’t find the switches below the ISO and shutter speed dials really nice to use. While I don’t really mind for the metering method switch that I will probably rarely use, I wish the shooting mode switch (that replaces the infamous “drive” menu of the other X-series cameras) would be a bit more “clicky” and convenient to use.
Secondly, and this is my biggest concern, ALL the function buttons on the back of the camera have been entrenched within the body, meaning that your fingers cannot feel where the buttons are, which is a major inconvenience when you don’t want to take your eye off your viewfinder or off your subject to find out where the button you are looking for is. For sure, to be efficient with your tool you need to learn your camera, to be able to know in the dark where every button and function is, but this becomes mission impossible when your fingers can’t feel where the buttons are. This problem is also true for the four selectors buttons, so you run into the problem even when all you want to do is to move your cursor within the frame… It is also impossible to just feel with your finger where the button to magnify the focus area while manually focusing is, as this function is now assign to one of the customizable buttons (the “focus assist” button by default), as the rear dial is not clickable like it is on the X-E1 and X-E2 for instance. For me it is a major flaw, and I am surprise not to see it appear in the previews from the people who had early access on pre-production units. Still, keep in mind I only had the camera 30min in the hand, so I need to confirm if you start to feel more where every button is when you get more used to the camera after a longer use.
Something less important, and that will probably depend on everyone’s preference, I would have preferred that the “play” button and the “delete” button had been switched with each other, as for me it would have been more natural to have the “play” button on the left corner since it’s closer to your finger and most of the times you are going to hit it first before you start deleting images, so I actually clicked a few times the delete button by mistake while all i wanted was to review my images.
In terms of ergonomics, I also found that the buttons that were squeezed between the dials on the top plate are too close to the dials, and therefore they are hard to reach, especially when you have big fingers like me. You will still be able to get the button pressed. It’s probably psychological, but it feels weird to press a button almost from the side since you can’t do a big old nice press right into the middle of the button because the dials get in the way of your fat fingers.
Also, and this is true with all the X-series camera so not only an X-T1 issue, I wish there was finally an option to be able to move the cursor when shooting directly with the selectors button, instead of having to press first a function button to get into “cursor move” mode (and I will wish again and again and complain about that to all the Fuji employees I meet until this is done…)… And once this is done, please go on and get rid of the macro mode as well and enable the full shooting range by default, this is a trick for pocket camera that is absolutely frustrating when you are trying to focus on something but can’t and then suddenly remember you have to go into macro mode first…
For me the jury is still out. The EVF makes a big impression, the camera is fast and responsive, but clearly I have been spooked by the lack of relief of the back buttons of the camera. So far it seems to me that If you already own an X-E2 (or were planning to buy it), don’t shoot action and don’t mind the big EVF, you don’t need to upgrade (or spend the extra money). Anyway, I will leave definitive conclusions for after a real test in real life. I should get my own production sample in 10 days (“I love it when a plan comes together”, fingers crossed), so if you want to hear more about the X-T1 and how it performs in real-life, stay tuned : you can leave a comment below with what you would like to see, subscribe to this blog, share the love with your friend with the share icons below, and follow me on Twitter @greenbalbo. Talk to you soon.