As a former IT worker and all-around nerd, I was used to firmware updates having small changes to increase compatibility with new hardware and software; often allowing older BIOSes to support newer hardware, etc. Fujifilm's engineers have turned this concept on its head with their firmware updates, which have routinely introduced new features to existing cameras, and giving users the best that Fujifilm have been able to pull from their existing hardware. These changes have brought huge improvements to already great cameras. Fujifilm's new X-T1 Firmware 4.0 may just be the mother of all updates seen on an X-series camera yet.
After using the new firmware for just under 24 hours, on a job yesterday, and in the streets on the way out, I would like to share my thoughts on the changes so far.
The largest change -- and the one most users are excited about -- is the new auto-focus system. Let's first take a look at the updates to the existing auto-focus functions.
Single Point AF and Eye Detection
In single-point AF, the the central PDAF pixels have an improved detection range of 0.5EV. In practical terms, this means things snap into focus more quickly in good light, and the camera has a lot less trouble getting focus in poor light. I use my Fujifilm X-T1 a lot for event photography, and previously impossible situations for the auto-focus system, like candlelit dinners, are now handled much more easily. The parts we're all excited about though are the new AF modes – Eye-Detection AF, Zone AF, and Wide-Tracking AF.
Eye detection works reasonably well. In good light, it will find faces and then locate eyes, giving them priority for auto focus. This does tend to fall apart a little in low contrast light, however.
Zone AF is fantastic. You are able to select a grid of AF points, as the name suggests, and the camera will attempt to locate and lock onto a subject within that zone. In my experience, it will find my subject about 90% of the time when contrast between the subject and surrounding elements is significant. When contrast is lacking, or light is poor, single point AF is still the best choice. This mode also uses more of the auto-focus pixels in its calculation, and thus improves AF speed significantly, particularly with older lenses. The one that has had many X-T1 shooters talking is the Fujifilm XF 35mm f/1.4. This lens is well known for being quite slow to focus as it rocks back and forth before locking onto a subject. However, with Zone AF, that rocking is all but gone in most situations, and this lens has become much more usable because of it. Being one of my favourite lenses in the lineup, this has been a boon for me in low light shooting. The older XF 18mm f/2 seems to also be significantly quicker in Zone AF as well.
Continuous & Tracking
This is where you will see the biggest changes. Usable continuous auto focus was not something I thought I'd see until the next generation of Fujifilm cameras. But, the wizards seem to have sprinkled some fairy dust into the new firmware, because this works, and it works quite well. Some lenses are better than others with this mode, and I have found that wider lenses with their inherently deeper depth of field do the best job.
In continuous low shooting mode, you are able to use the entire 77 point auto-focus system to track subjects in three dimensions. In my experience with this system, the system was too slow. Even with release priority set in the auto-focus menu, the camera was only taking around one picture every second. This could use improvement to make the mode more usable.
The continuous high speed shooting mode is a different story. It limits you to the central PDAF sensors, but that's fine because they're the fastest and most accurate, which you need to keep up with the 8fps. Below are a few tests I did in the street nearby my home in Seoul to get a feel for how well the AF tracks. It's still nothing like using a DSLR like my D800. It takes quite a long time to get it's initial focus and even then it loses focus quite a bit with sharp contrast changes in the scene. It also tends to jump to nearby subjects when the contrast is greater. Below are some sample image sets.
When tracking this slow walking lady, the camera nailed 8 out of 8 frames in perfect focus.
With this gentleman, it did fine until the white truck drove behind him, when it missed 12 frames in a row, preferring to focus on the truck. The total here was only eight out of 24 frames.
The Yakult Lady was a little easier to track on her driveable refrigerator, coming in at 23 out of 28 in focus.
And finally, I may have a South Korean version of the firmware, as it tracks anti-MERS measures extremely well. This lady scored 22 out of 22 in focus frames.Excellent contrast between her and the background may have helped here.
Buses and cars at all speeds seemed to track extremely well, with very few missed frames. It will be interesting to test this with running children soon!
You can also check out Fujifilm's official guide to the new autofocus system.
Shutter Speed Dial
Of the other improvements, this one is the most noteworthy. Renaming silent mode and improved framing lines are not really significant enough changes to talk about. The shutter speed dial, however, now has removed the irritating need to switch back from T mode to either A or a specific speed when using a speed shorter than two seconds. The full range of shutter speeds now accessible via the front mode dial. This is great when in changing light, as there's no need to turn the shutter dial anymore, which often knocks the metering dial and could mean missing a shot.
What I Liked
The new AF modes have brought yet another dimension to the Fujifilm X-T1. The shutter speed dial fix is also a small, but significant improvement.
What Could Be Improved
The only thing that I feel could be improved in the usability of the new auto-focus system is the way the modes are elected. At present, single and continuous auto-focus selections are independent of the focus mode. So switching to "wide" AF in continuous mode stays constant when switching back to single AF mode. In single AF, it makes much less sense to be using this, as I would normally be using single point or area AF. It would be nice if the AF type were linked to the AF mode so one could easily switch between wide tracking constant AF and single point single AF.
All in all, this is a great update to an already fantastic camera. More and more, I'm excited to see Fujifilm's next generation of cameras. Fuji users, I'd love to hear your experience with the new firmware below.