The new Fuji XT1 is Fuji’s best designed, highest performing X Series camera yet. It's the young buck on the block, a DSLR-styled body that’s turning heads left and right. It’s tiny, packs a huge punch and there is no doubt in my mind that it will be delivering a TKO to more than a few DSLRs. But is it really that good? I pushed this thing hard for a solid month to bring you the review, read on to find out.
So - Is The DSLR Dead?
The answer, on the one hand, is a resounding "no". On the other, its "maybe". Buying this thing might consign your DSLR to the scrap heap. It all depends on what you need from your camera. So much hype has surrounded mirrorless cameras ushering in the death of the DSLR, but I think we still have a little ways to go. What the XT1 will undoubtably do is be the transition camera. More serious, amateur and semi-pro's will probably look at it as a means to get great images without ever buying a DSLR. Professionals will look at it as a seriously good second body or travel/everyday camera.
For many professional photographers, and I include those that shoot events, sports, fashion, lifestyle, weddings, commercials and travel, there is no doubt in my mind you can shoot professional high end, quality work on the XT1.
Before we kick off, while this is a gear review, I don’t really do gear reviews. If you want a traditional gear review, to pore over charts and technical stats, please skip this review and head elsewhere because you won't find that here. I tried to push this camera in different scenarios to see how it performed in the real world, on real shoots and client jobs and while moving quickly around the city. I base my above statement on what I’ve shot with this camera in the last few weeks. To really test this thing, to really understand how much of a "replacement" it could be for a DSLR, I decided to test it across as many different scenarios as I could, including:
- low light nightlife events
- available light, day time private events
- behind the scenes candids (thanks to Lindsay Adler for the letting me test while on set)
- studio strobe fashion shots (thanks to Jeff Rojas for sharing his set with me to get these shots)
- headshots (available light and strobe)
- street photography and candid portraits
- urban landscape and buildings
But...It’s Not Even Full Frame!
The fact the X-Series runs on APS-C sensors just doesn’t matter, for me at least. My “day job” camera is a 5D Mk3. If you’re worried about the depth of field and bokeh, low light capability or lack of “full frame look”, then by all means stick to what you have but it’s quite possible to use this camera for your professional work.
I shot low light event work with this thing (ISO sensitivity at 5000 and 6400 was just fine, I was actually adding grain in before delivering files as they looked too clean coming out of camera).
I shot the new 56mm (85mm full frame equivalent) wide open and the bokeh looks gorgeous and the depth of field is razor thin (review coming shortly).
From my experience, clients generally don’t seem to care what you use, as long as we can get the shot (and obviously for certain shots, a high performing DSLR is a necessity, but at others times, it simply isn’t).
Getting The Shot
The XT1 is currently at the top of the Fuji X Series food chain and it’s easy to see why. While it has a few annoying niggles (we’ll come to those) the XT1 is the best designed X Series camera yet. - It has a small form factor, almost as small as the XE2, is light but with good weight to it, and feels incredibly natural to hold, much more so than the XE-2 which feels a little too small in comparison. It is a little heavier than the XE2 but for weightier lenses like the 56mm 1.2, this isn’t a bad thing, helping balance the load. I can’t emphasize enough how light it is though, especially in comparison to a full frame DSLR and lens. Working with the 5D and 70-200 on one shoulder and this on the other felt totally bizarre and unbalanced, but it was an interesting experience to see how much smaller and lighter you get with a small mirrorless APS-C camera.
- The dials are more than just aesthetically pleasing retro styled throw backs to please your inner hipster. By having access to drive, metering modes and a better designed Exposure Comp dial (up to +/- 3EV on the XT1 now, compared to only 2 on the XE2 and XPro 1) you can access what you need to without having to root around in menus or pressing all sorts of buttons. When you see what you want and need to shoot it, the time saved here can mean the difference between getting the shot or not.
- In principle, the weather sealing is great. Now Fuji needs to provide proper weather sealed primed lenses (current line up for weather sealed zooms includes the 16-55 f/2.8, 50-140 f/2.8 and 18-135 f/3.5-5.6).
- The EVF is insanely good. As someone who personally hated the idea of EVF-only cameras 6 months ago, I am can honestly say I’d be happy to shoot with an EVF-only camera like the one on the XT1 full time. The refresh rate, size, magnification and night vision-like capability you get from it is insane. I remember walking down a dark street with it up to my eye not wanting to put it down because this thing sees way more than my eyes could. Very, very impressed with the EVF. - Other cool design features I liked included the articulating screen (actually came in useful for some shots where I didn’t want to be detected), the quick AF, dual screens for aiding manual focus and focus assist button to quick zoom in to see what you’re focusing on. Choice of color for focus peaking is nice, as is the option to use WiFi for transferring files (when it works – the Fuji app seemed to never want to connect from my phone).
The retro styled design is probably what Nikon seemed to be wanting to capture with their Df. Over the last month, at least half a dozen people asked if it was a film camera. If you care about retro styling, the XT1 gets it right where the Df got it wrong. People like the look of this thing, and I can’t really say I blame them. “Svelte”, is the word I’d use to sum up the styling.
This is where the camera just comes into it’s own. The performance of the camera, the sensor and the ability to shoot what I want when I want also leaves a palpable sense of intense satisfaction. Coupled with some nice Fuji glass and Fuji have knocked it out the park again. Personally I am past the point of being happy to carry a heavy full frame camera with me and a bunch of glass on my back for fun.
This camera, for it’s foibles, allows me to head out with a few lenses, or even just the 18-55mm zoom, and be set for the most part for the day. These are lenses you can just tuck into your pocket. For those of us having to walk, take public transport, get on planes and travel more than to and from their car to their office each day, the XT1 represents quite possibly the ultimate travel camera. The small size, weight count as huge pro’s and doesn’t compromise on image quality. The streets of New York was my testing ground for the last month, where fast reactions, quick wits and a faster eye are what are required.
For many of us, the ability to go unobserved when we travel and shoot is critical and the XT1 does a good job of helping us go undetected to capture candid street shots.
Not All Peaches And Cream
So that’s the good, what about the bad? The D pad has been a cause for concern for some. Apparently some early D pads suffered from light leak issues (none on the unit I tested). The problem I have is that the D pad buttons feel incredibly mushy. No satisfying click of the X Pro 1 or XE2. I’m not sure if this is due to weather sealing but for such a well designed and ergonomically sound camera, these feel like an after thought. I unintentionally hit the up arrow from time to time too. Could just be me but I never seemed to have that issue when testing the XE2. The card slot door is too thin and too easy to open accidentally (happened on one occasion). My data is too precious to have a card slot door like that on this camera that you can accidentally open.
The XT1 is in high demand but you can pick up a body only version for $1299 at B&H, with the kit version (with the 18-55mm lens) available for preorder at $1699.
If you are prepared to over look the few minor issues, this thing will knock the socks off of many other cameras on the market right now, DSLR or otherwise.
Fuji’s commitment to expanding the range of lenses it puts out, constant firmware updates to improve focus issues, as well as the great quality of the glass is enough to persuade many to move over entirely. While many of us might consider dropping our Nikon or Canon to move completely to Fuji, there is no denying that both of these manufacturers could learn a thing or two from the design principles and constant updates that Fuji have become known for with the XT1 in particular and their X Series line up as a whole.
If you are not shooting video (we’re still stuck with only 30 and 60fps, come on Fuji, what gives?), I can say the XT1 is more than capable of delivering shots that your clients will be happy with. Of course, it won't be producing billboard sized ads any time soon, but then i doubt you'll be shooting billboards with your DSLR either. This camera is not designed for that, obviously, but as a highly versatile tool, it is excellent.
Personally, I’m definitely picking up either this or the XE2 as a second body/travel/street camera for every day use. When you realize how the whole purpose of the XT1 is for it to just get out of the way, without compromising performance, to let you shoot what you want , when you want, and to allow you to do that in all sorts of weather conditions (weather sealed lenses permitting), you begin to see the possibilities of a new mirrorless world opening up before you.