I started the year by switching away from my faithful Nikon D7100 for something much smaller and lighter. There was nothing wrong with the Nikon, but it was big and heavy compared to other cameras of comparable performance. With this in mind I made the decision to switch to a mirrorless system, the Fuji X-T1 in particular.
I chose this model for a few reasons. Firstly it fits the small and light criteria, it’s fully weather sealed, and it has an amazing lens system available with professional quality glass. It took less than a week from looking at one through the window of London Camera Exchange to returning, cash in hand, to purchase one.
Opening the box and picking it up for the first time a few things struck me. Firstly the weight of the camera body is exactly where you want it. Any lighter and you’d begin to doubt it, it would feel too light and too fragile; not like the piece of professional equipment that it is. It was also smaller than I had in my mind; the size and weigh compliment each other well to create a sold feeling body with its all-metal construction and the rubber covering the areas where your hand makes contact. The 18-55mm f/2.8-4 kit lens is exactly the same story.
The way this body is constructed is incredible. It feels solid. Unlike most cameras Fuji haven’t simply painted the controls on and left it at that; they’re engraved into the body so when you eventually wear the paint off you can still read the labels. This isn’t just on one or two of the main controls either: it’s on the lesser used controls on the camera body, as well as the constantly used control wheels for your exposure settings. This camera has been designed – from day one – to be a workhorse.
Unlike most manufacturers Fuji still do a few things the old way; this isn’t a bad thing, but is something which I was a little dubious about before purchasing.
The aperture is controlled by physically turning a dial on the lens just like in the days of film SLRs, albeit updated with the modern electronics to allow for features like auto aperture. Initially I wasn’t sure about this, having always shot Nikon cameras before, I was used to having this sat under my forefinger on the camera body itself. It makes sense though – it lets me keep the shutter release covered while adjusting settings as I need to on the fly, and while stabilising the lens. Ergonomically, it just works.
The aperture dial itself is a work of wonder. It has just the right amount of resistance; it’s easy to adjust without being done so by accident. The notches for each stop of adjustment are obvious enough that you know when it’s turned into the home position, but they’re not so stiff that it’s a fight, nor are they so loose that you’ll change it by accident. Personally, I think they’ve got this just about right. If I had to fault anything here it’s that it doesn’t feel like a mechanical interaction, which is something thats just that little bit more satisfying than letting electronics do all of the work.
The zoom and manual focus rings are no different. They’ve got a different texture to them, so you know immediately that you’ve not landed on the aperture ring just from the feel of them. You can then tell these two apart from the width of the ring, all without taking your eye away from the viewfinder.
One of the things that’s put me off switching to a mirror less system for the last year or so has been the viewfinders. All that I have tried have noticeable lag, but not so here. Even while shooting mountain bike shots with a friend the day after I got the camera there was nothing that I noticed.
The viewfinder is packed with features which are not traditionally available. You get live histograms, an in-view spirit level, and for those who like to manually focus you get dual-view mode with a 100% crop preview on the right, and the full-frame on the left. You can focus-peek as well, to dedicate the entire viewfinder to 100% crop for checking those really fine details. It provides everything you need, meaning you can shoot fewer frames for exposure checking, and have to throw less away at the end of the day.
The EVF is the part of the Fuji system I was most dubious about when switching, and it’s quickly become one of my favourite features of the camera. This is something they’ve clearly spent time on, and listened to the feedback on; it’s perfectly executed.
There’s more little details too, such as the countdown timers for long exposures and the stopwatch when shooting bulb. These both reduce the amount of things I have to think about, and save me from having to faff with the stopwatch on my watch the check exposure times.
With the viewfinder being electronic it’s really just a tiny little LCD display. What this means is all of these functions are available on the back LCD too. Its smart in the way it manages to two displays – each can be configured differently to the other, and when you place your eye against the viewfinder the camera intelligently turns off the back display and turns on the viewfinder display.
Size and Weight
This was one of my main motivations for switching away from Nikon, and over to Fuji. My Nikon with the Sigma lens I primarily used for shooting landscape came in at around 1300g, the Fuji X-T1 with the Samyang 12mm ƒ/2 prime lens I’m now using is just shy of 750g. That’s getting on for half the weight I was hauling before. What makes this even more impressive for me is the Samyang 12mm and the Fuji XF 18-55 ƒ2.8-4 that I’m using as a mid-zoom together with the body weighs less than just my old Nikon with its Sigma lens.
Let’s just reiterate on that; my entire setup now weighs less than my old body and a single lens.
The size difference here is just as impressive; the Fuji X-T1 body comes in about a third of the size of my old Nikon D7100. This is a significant difference for me, and will massively help reduce my pack size when heading out on backpacking and bikepacking trips. The size differences between both lenses and their past equivalents is pretty similar, and enough of a difference that I don’t have to think twice before adding a second lens for a shoot anymore.
Everybody says these are not camera bodies for pixel-peepers; they’re not wrong either. Photography is about so much more than details on an individual pixel level though – it’s about the overall image; the passion, and the story behind the image. It’s about what the photographer went through to hit the shutter release and capture that small moment in time.
The result from these lenses and this camera body are spot-on, they are sharp and the colour range is fantastic; they capture green tones better than anything I’ve seen before.
When you zoom into a 100% crop view not all of the details are quite as crisp as they were with the Nikon system, but I really don’t think that matters. We don’t spend our time looking at individual pixels, we spend our time looking at the image as a whole. There is plenty enough detail there for print, and that’s the real test for a photograph.
The image stabilisation is superb; I’ve successfully hand-held exposures around 1-second long and had perfectly sharp results; that’s easily the best I’ve seen.
It’s not perfect
It’s not perfect yet; there’s some features I’d like to see, and some that Fuji quality control has inspired.
One of the things I miss the most about having my Nikon is the dual SD card slots. The space is there behind the door, and the structure suggests that they thought about adding a second slot. With a bit of luck this will arrive on the much anticipated X-T2 which is rumoured to appear in June this year.
The cover doors on the body itself are the one detail that lets this camera down the most. They feel cheap and flimsy compared to the rest of the body. This is a real shame given the rest of it feels like it could survive a serious beating, and more so than any other camera I’ve used before.
I appreciate that this will be hard to accomplish on such a small camera body, but I’d like to see the tripod mount swapped with the bottom data connection. This would allow the fitting of a tripod plate on the bottom without covering the battery. This is important to landscape photographers such as myself who often have to change batteries quickly in subzero conditions, which is not a time when you want to be faffing with removing additional things just to change a battery. It needs to be done in seconds, and currently having to remove my tripod plate before changing the battery slows things down significantly.
I shoot regularly in low light at high ISO settings. In my opinion its short-sighted not to allow shooting in RAW above ISO 6400 as this is one of the times where I will want the most control in post. I’d expect this is one thing that could be fixed with a firmware update should Fuji choose to (and issuing new features in firmware updates is something they’re very good at).
The final thing really is a minor gripe, and I’m only saying this because they set such a high standard with the camera body. I’d like to see the control and setting labels engraved on the Fuji lenses as well as the body. They do have the zoom numbers engraved, but seeing the same for the aperture and image stabilisation would really round things off nicely.
It’s a loverly piece of kit; it feels nice to hold, and it’s a pleasure to use. I can see why there is so much hype around the Fuji cameras at the moment; they’re truly doing something different to build some of the best cropped-sensor cameras on the market. They’re a pleasure to use, and weight very little.
Time will tell over the next year or so as I really start to put the camera through its paces, but it looks like I may have found my perfect travel, adventure and landscape photography camera.