Fuji XT-1, The Low Down

It’s been about a week since I decided to take the challenge of shooting exclusively with a Fuji X-Series camera and EVF for the next six months. Since then I’ve been messing around with the XT-1 getting to know the ups and downs. Most of the exercise has been taking pictures of StupidCrap™. Typical of my M.O. before embarking using it on anything remotely real. Call it a quirk, psychologically I can’t bring myself to point a new camera at anything photo-worthy until I’ve got a good handle on it. Forget pointing it in the direction of people, I hate looking like I have no idea what I’m doing, fiddling with camera controls or cursing out loud.

So, what did RB decide to use for the next month to prove or disprove that the arguably best EVF out there would be workable or not workable for me? I did say I could be perfectly fine with an XE-1 or XE-2 and the 18-55 if push came to shove. All the other stuff like OVF, speed, etc are more nits than make or break for the vast majority of what I happen to make pictures of. Personal preference more than anything else. You’ve already figured out I chickened out on the XE series and went with the XT-1. If I’m going to get used to an EVF I may as well give it a fighting chance. As for the glass, I did get the 18-55 but also snagged the 60mm for macro as that was my rationalization in the first place. I figured I would also chuck the 23/1.4 and 56/1.2 into the mix as well.

The Glass

I’ve used the 60mm before. Fabulous lens but a little slow. No need to go into that. As for the 18-55mm, 23mm and 56mm I’ve shot with them as well but only casually on other people’s cameras. The 23 and 56 are gorgeous and worthy of the gushing praise they receive given the cost and IQ. Well at least at 16 megapixels, which for me is fine.

On the other hand the 18-55 is just so-so. It doesn’t have the same bite as the primes I have or used to have with the XPro-1. In my book it’s not even close. Sure it’s fine as a lot of other variables in real life will trump IQ differences but worse it happens to fall slightly on the side of I don’t like it of my arbitrary criteria. It just doesn’t have a look I like. No horrible flaws but there’s just something about it I’m not in love with when I look at images. Sort of like my Nikon 12-24… Meh, whatever.

Most of my ranting about Fuji is not about the company it’s about the user base. You can’t sort the wheat from the chaff. Every product that comes off the line is praised as if somehow miraculous. Take the 18-55; Any reviews out there that have a “meh” kind of opinion? I haven’t seen any from any of the usual suspects. Truly it’s meh… sure it’s a hair faster at the wide end than they typical $99 kit lens for APS-C and a stop faster at the long end. It’s not great close up, it’s kinda crappy at the long end, it extends to twice the length at 55 (I hate extending zooms). Performance wise it’s about on par with the lowly 18-55 Nikon VR II, maybe. Meh. One would think from all the horse shit that somehow it’s comparable in some way to the really great lenses Fuji puts out. It’s not. If you have the 23 or the 35 or the 60 or any of those kind of truly great lenses in terms of look/IQ trust me you won’t be at all happy with the 18-55. I cannot say that’s the impression I’ve got from reading the Fuji zealots opinions of that lens. It’s fine but then again what lens isn’t? Night and day compared to Fuji primes.

EVF

Hmmmm. This isn’t the first time I’ve looked through the XT-1 but it is the first sustained (week) where I’ve used one at least a little while every day. It is a reasonable apparent size looking through it. That’s a good thing I guess. I can see the pixels, which I’m not particularly ecstatic about. The XT-1 is definitely less sea-sickness inducing than the other X camera EVF’s. Definitely a good thing. We’ll see if it throws me off when shooting people next week as I’ve got a crap-ton of stuff lined up including a “people in motion” workshop… The XT-1 totally sucks working in bright sun, like all EVF’s (probably never going to get better).

I will say if you work in auto-exposure modes that evaluating highlight/shadow exposure trade-offs is a bit faster with exposure compensation an optical VF/chimp once you get used to how the EVF translates vs the actual image captured. Even the histogram that’s displayed live seems to be a bit different than the image captured. That’s annoying and begs the question of why, why, why… The real story of most of my annoyance with various camera gadgets and gear is really questions like those. When push comes to shove all cameras have those kinds of hang-ups somewhere. Doesn’t stop me from making pictures or using it effectively.

Are there any up-sides. Any in addition to the over and over and over echoed “You can see exposure before you take the picture” which is far down the list of actually seeing the subject imho. So that up-side is really not a huge benefit to me (hey, film guy here give me a break). There is one thing I do like, EVF’s show a far better and completely accurate DOF as compared to modern optical viewfinders. That’s fantastic. See I’m a reasonable guy.

The real question is if I will learn to like a good EVF more than let’s say a mediocre OVF or at least gravitate towards a more neutral position. I don’t think I’ll ever like them more than a fabulous OVF like my Hasselblad. I may end up liking them as much or more than some tiny OVF on a crappy APS-C DSLR. That’s the mission.

Focusing

Have you ever heard me say anything horrible about any of the Fuji camera’s AF? Probably not, I don’t remember listing any of that as reasons they’re useless. I was okay with all of them, even the original X100. Of course they’re slower than the best DSLR’s out there but for the most part that doesn’t matter to me or my working method. I’ll experiment with working method where it makes sense over the next six months because mirrorless cameras in general do have different properties than DSLR’s. Better overall AF point spread. Super accurate when it does get a lock. Face detection with eye detection soon… I’ll play with those just to see what works and what doesn’t under various conditions.

While we’re on the topic I will say the whole closed-loop, cannot be misaligned absolute pin-point accuracy of mirrorless cameras is a plus. DSLR’s can do this in live view but that’s crazy slow; That’s an upside. We’ll see if I can put it to use and where it works vs. My typical working methods.

The Rest Of It

Is the XT-1 a good camera? Sure it is. Had to put that out there because the rest of this after having messed with it for a week is going to be all negative. The camera has been reviewed thousands of times. Most of the reviews are without context to the rest of the camera world. They exist entirely under the assumption that Fuji cameras are wonderful so they are only evaluated relative to the other Fuji cameras and we gat a bottom line of Wow this camera rocks. Of course there are a few out there that compare it to things like the Nikon Df. There are even comparisons to other DSLR’s or Micro 43. All of them seem to either compare IQ, or focusing speed, things like that. I’ll try to be as objective as possible and come at this from a non-koolaid drinker’s perspective.

Stupid Fuji Pet Tricks

What’s the prevailing Fuji-mob mantra? Fuji listens to photographers and makes changes and blah, blah, blah. Really? You could take that to mean that subtle nuances are carefully considered and integrated into products more and more. The other way you could interpret it is “Hey Fuji-guys, your cameras are totally fucked up and broken. Could you please fix the frigging thing”. Honestly it’s more the latter than the former. To bad in fixing things they totally bugger up the works for other things.

What am I talking about? Let’s take something EVF specific, one of the strong points of EVF’s like custom information overlays. Every single camera Fuji makes has a relatively quick way to switch between a clean VF and a VF with all the optional crap you have turned on. Every camera except the XT-1. I had to search the internet pretty hard to find out this is the case and I wasn’t missing something obvious. Maybe two reviews brought this up. Why the fuck are all the X-Photographers not castigating Fuji about this? This truly blows. Did all of them meet with Fuji and tell them to totally eliminate this? Did the ability to switch all the optional info on/off quickly somehow become a bad thing? You can do it for the back screen but you cannot for the EVF… WTF? Hell we’re coming up on version four point zero of the firmware. Why the hell isn’t this fixed? Yea, either Fuji listens to photographers is kinda bullshit or they’re listening to complete idiots.

The punchline is the completely useless extra button the XT-1 gained specifically for the EVF. It could be used for a dedicated info on/off but no… It switches between “full and normal” EVF. Does anyone use “normal”? The one or two people that do they probably never ever, ever use full. That should be in the menus rather than the optional overlays. WTF????

Handling

The XT-1 distinguishes itself as having most hateful buttons and button placement of any Fuji X-camera. Now that’s saying something. I know everyone has different sized hands but I cannot imagine any adult sized humans that won’t find the button placement awkward and cumbersome compared to any DSLR. Ever read the absolute non-sense and off-handed remarks by more than a couple of reviewers saying things like “The XT-1 is the Nikon Df done right”? Any implication that the Fuji XT-1 handles in any way better for any of it’s controls is pure bullshit. I take that back, the exposure compensation on the XT-1 is slightly more convenient than the Nikon Df.

  • Why would you put the AF-Lock/AF-On button on the opposite side of the newly designed place your thumb sits?
  • ISO dial lock on the top vs the side/edge? Not a great idea given how slim that dial is. Changing it quickly there’s an 80% chance you’ll also change the drive mode to a random position as well.
  • Why would you want to reach over the trash button to hit the playback button. You’d think the trash button is more used than the playback based on ease of access and placement.

I could go on and on but the XT-1 is not a camera that handles well if you need to change things beyond shutter/aperture/exposure comp frequently. Thankfully I don’t but it’s perplexing how anyone could compare the handling of this camera to the Df in any positive way given similar goals let alone a well evolved DSLR. The only real annoyance that may or may not pass in my use is probably the focus point adjustment if I happen to find the increased point spread/AF useful. Definitely the placement of the AF-lock/AF-on is terrible for back-button focus use in combination with the new thumb rest. That may be something that continually grates on me in the real world. The rest are intellectual annoyances like most comparisons. I don’t switch around the way cameras work much. So for my purposes there are only a few things I can see as impediments — I’ll probably get used to those, I hope. At least the on/off switch is reasonable.

  • Bad placement of AF-on
  • Hateful, tiny, hard to use, awkward D-Pad
  • No easy switch EVF extra info on/off
  • Accidentally changing drive move on half of ISO changes

This brings us to menus etc. I still don’t get it. I still cannot grasp why the fanboy crowd goes goo-goo eyed over the Q-menu. Does everyone but me futz with the JPEG settings and fine tuning a lot? Like every shot? There’s two or three things in there that are useful on a regular basis. The flash crap and the WB stuff. What’s worse is that when I heard it’s now customizable I was like “cool, now I can put useful stuff in there”. Nope, not really. You can customize it to either have one set of mostly useless stuff in terms of things that you may want to change up case by case or a bunch of other mostly useless stuff.

I’ll explain. Most of the way the camera functions rather than the way the JPEG’s look cannot be put in the Q-menu. Example: You cannot put any of the EVF optional info in there… see what I mean. Same goes for “Custom settings” who the hell needs three dozen mostly JPEG look setups they can change between quickly? How do Nikons work? Well, in contrast every single solitary custom function can be saved in a custom setting menu bank. Every flash option (tons), every AF mode, every custom button setup, everything the camera can do. As in the way the camera operates. Hell, the camera even tells you what bank you’ve got selected. Oh yeah you can do that for JPEG output shit too. Independently. Comparatively the Fuji Q-menu, the custom settings stuff, etc just blows. Unless of course you really do like messing with JPEG settings every other shot.

Bottom Line

It’s a perfectly fine camera. It makes fine pictures. It’s not as slow as previous X-series bodies. The primes are fantastic for the price. Easily as good or better than Nikon/Canon equivalents at an affordable price. I’ll update as my six month experiment progresses. I’m cheating a bit because I already know it will be fine. My requirements in terms of camera performance and handling are basic… shutter/aperture/focus/shutter-lag and I’m good. I already know that will be fine. The real question is if I can really live with an EVF or not. Preliminary information is that I probably can but will I actually want to after a sustained cold-turkey immersion without going back to a decent OVF? We’ll see. I may get a bonus and find a couple of new working methods with the increased AF point spread and other mirrorless (live-view all the time) functionality. If not my old ones will be fine.

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