Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Camera Preview: Fujifilm X-T1 with XF 10-24mm F/4 R OIS

iPhone 5S image. Shot and edited in-camera using VSCOcam and PS Express. Previously posted on my Instagram account.

I walked into a coffee shop in the hip part of town where the poorest neighbourhood in Canada meets industrial meets trendy hipster meets lawyers and architects zone. I prepared to sit down by unloading all my stuff from around my neck when I heard someone from behind me say, "Hey, is that the new Fuji X-T1?". I guess I shouldn't be surprised. This camera is creating a lot of buzz in the technology industry. Even people who aren't following the mirrorless trend has heard about this camera. Why all the interest? Is this camera really such a big deal?

From a technology stand-point, there really isn't anything ground breaking about the new Fujifilm X-T1. It has most of the inner guts of the recently released X-E2 (see my full review here), but the ergonomics and functionality of a modern DSLR, with a bit of retro styling and functionality of an old school film camera. Nothing new here folks. Olympus pulled off this combination recently with the release of the OM-D EM1 (successor to the EM5). It has great ergonomics, functionality, retro-styling, DLSR performance in a reasonably sized mirrorless body... but it has a micro 4/3 sized sensor. That in itself isn't a bad thing, but many serious photographers wanted everything that the OM-D provided but with a larger sensor. Sony came out recently with their A7 series of full-frame mirrorless, but it's awkward looking (ok, I know this is subjective and irrelevant to shooting ability, but its important to many), ergonomics is a bit odd, not many lenses available yet (except with adapters) and the performance (mostly AF) was below what people were expecting. Why couldn't someone make a camera that functions like the Olympus OM-D, but with a larger sensor size like the Sony A7? 

Then Fujifilm releases the X-T1 out of nowhere!! No, it's not full-frame, but it's close enough for most. I think we were all expecting an upgrade to the X-Pro 1, so the X-T1 really took most of us by surprise, including industry insiders. I guess we should have seen it coming since Fuji were creating more SLR range zooms (super wides and telephotos) for the X-series. I was a bit skeptical at first, with claims of having the fastest AF, the largest viewfinder, best EVF, etc. While I was testing the X-E2, I was convinced that it was basically the same camera with the EVF moved to the centre to look like a DSLR, and the extra ISO dial... and weather-sealing. No big deal. That's what I thought. I was so wrong. 


Another iPhone 5S image. Lens with hood is very big and front heavy as you can see by picture. The stock XF18-55 is better balanced. People must think I'm weird when I take these types of pictures from the sidewalk.

This camera is everything that all the hype built it up to be. This camera is a game changer (I hate to use this term since everyone is using it); and I think that companies that haven't invested into the larger sensor (APS-C and full-frame) mirrorless camera market (Canon, Nikon, Pentax) better beware. Although I highly respect the micro 4/3 system (amazing variety of bodies and lenses), I think many are now thinking about upgrading (sensor-wise) to the Fujifilm X series with their eyes on the X-T1.

I'll stop talking and get to my reporting since this is a preview. I've been shooting with this camera for almost 3 weeks and I'm convinced that this is the best blend of mirrorless compactness with DSLR functionality and performance. With an APS-C size sensor, many working pros and enthusiasts will be happy with this less-than-full-frame resolution. The Fujifilm X-series is a mature mirrorless system now, with lots of bodies and lenses (especially primes) to satisfy the needs and desires of an advanced photographer. I quickly went over my quick notes on my initial first impression of the X-T1, but I'll split it up into PROS and CONS for the preview. Here we go again:


PROS
-build quality is very nice. Major parts and components feel very solid (see CONS for exceptions)
-Very quick and accurate AF-C with high speed continuous shooting. If feels like a DSLR.
-manual focus improvements as well, including changing colours in focus peaking, and focus confirmation green box
-External dials. Dials on top of dials (drive modes below ISO dial and metering mode below shutter speed dial). You can see most of your settings without digging into the menus. I'm most happy with a dedicated ISO dial.
-EVF is the best I've ever used. The OM-D is really good too, but the X-T1 is better. Big, fast refresh, vertical mode, manual diopter control, dedicated EVF/LCD function button.
-The X-Trans CMOS II sensor. Either you love it or hate it, but I love it.
-Many improved functions from previous X-series bodies, including optional colours for focus peaking, dual screen mode for EVF and LCD, additional focus assist button, Wifi control
-articulating LCD screen is great for shooting from the waist (or lower) or shooting above your head. I didn't think I would use it much but I find it's really helpful. More on this in full review
-the clip-on pop-up flash flips up high above the body and lens and is powered by the body to keep it compact.

CONS
-most buttons are small and have very little travel, especially the 4 way controller on the back. The front and rear control dial is also small and difficult to turn. This is probably due to the weather-sealing
-the lower dials seem to shift easily (especially the drive mode dial). 
-the memory card slot has moved to the side, which is good, but the door feels like it can easily open, especially for a weather-sealed door. 
-The contact point for the vertical control grip on the bottom plate is also a bit scary, as its covered by a cheap rubber cap. This feels even more vulnerable and flimsy.
-the eye sensor is too sensitive when shooting from the waist as the LCD screen keeps blanking out, and there's no way to adjust sensitivity. Shut off eye sensor if you won't be using the EVF.
-flash compensation is buried in the menus! Create a dedicated flash comp dial below the exp comp dial, like the other two top dials with a lower dial function.
-custom function is not integrated very well, with few options to customize and inability to name each custom mode
-weather-sealing. Yes I said it. I'll explain further on my full report. Let's just say the advantages gained by weather-sealing does not compensate the loss of button travel and feel and overall ergonomics.  

There's a lot more I can say about each PRO and CON, and I will in my full report with images. Overall, I say the X-T1 is a success. The camera feels good in the hands, it looks good (doesn't it remind you of a Contax RTS?), and shoots very fast for those who want SLR performance from a compact mirrorless camera.

The new XF 10-24mm F/4 OIS lens is also a new direction for the X-series. This lens is not to be used with an optical viewfinder (X-Pro-1), since you won't see 50% of your field of view from 14mm and below. This super wide lens needs an EVF or the back LCD screen. It's a very complex lens since it's all internal zoom (the lens barrel doesn't telescope when zooming) and internal focus. At 72mm filter-thread, it's a large diameter lens, and feels very front-heavy on the X-T1. The XF 18-55mm actually feels better balanced on the X-T1 body. If you don't mind the extra weight and size, you can do amazing things with this new lens.


Fujifilm X-T1 with XF10-24 @ 10mm (15mm equiv). 1/450th sec F/8 @ ISO 400. 















I found that it wasn't so great for street photography, even though I thought it would be. Perhaps between 14-18mm (21mm-27mm equiv) it's fine, but any wider, and there's just too much distortion. As long as you centre yours subject it's fine, but once they start moving towards the edges, you get major distortion. That's just the nature of super-wides, and that's ok. What is this lens good for? I found that its great for abstract and artistic images. It distorts the way we see things naturally, so it's great for cramming a lot of things into your otherwise limited view of our surroundings. Tight alleyways, shooting up at tall buildings, juxtaposing objects or subjects, etc. I'll have more sample images on the full review, but here's a quick run-down on the PROs and CONs of this lens:

PROS:
-complex lens design with non-telescoping zoom and non-rotating front internal focus design
-reasonably fast constant F/4.0 aperture
-compact size compared to a DSLR equivalent, especially considering the constant aperture design
-quick and quiet focus
-very sharp in the centre wide open, stopped down 2-3 for edge sharpness.

CONS:
-considering the size of the X-series bodies, this lens is large and heavy, making the balance front heavy. But this is what you get for a pro spec lens.
-no aperture marking on the aperture ring. You have to always check screen. This is unfortunate
-the manual focus ring is reasonably dampened, but feels unnatural. You can tell its electronically focused
-This lens may be a varifocal lens instead of a true parfocal zoom lens. This isn't really a CON unless you do a lot of manual focusing. More on this in full review.

Overall, a great lens and a great addition to the already complete line up of lenses in the X-series. The size and weight is equal to the complexity of the design and performance of this lens. It's very addictive being able to shoot so wide, and I found myself just walking around and taking in the world at 10mm!! Ideally, I did find that I preferred shooting no wider than 14mm when shooting street.

So this is my very quick preview of the Fujifilm X-T1 and the XF 10-24mm F/4.0 lens. My full review is almost finished. I've finished picking all my images and I have all my finished notes down in writing. I just have to type it all out and write a final conclusion. I should have it up in about a week. Even this preview was a week late, but I did get an extension on keeping the camera so I spent more time playing with all the small details that many reviewers wouldn't bother with. 

Overall I'm very happy with this camera and would highly recommend this to anyone who already has committed to the X-series. If you already own an X-E2, it's a hard decision to buy this, unless you really need the weather-sealing (although there's no WS lenses yet) or the large EVF. If you're thinking of moving up (sensor-wise) from M43, it's also a hard decision to make. If absolute resolution is that important, then the APS-C format is definitely a step up from M43, but Fuji isn't the only option. If you have a DSLR and have been thinking about mirrorless, but there was never a mirrorless body that you felt was able to keep up with DSLR performance and functionality, the X-T1 will not disappoint. 

I will say one controversial statement that I will explain further in my full review, but I don't find the weather-sealing that important to me. I believe the small and short travel button and dial issues are directly related to the weather-sealing, and so I'd rather have buttons and dials that feel good and function properly (like on the X-E2) versus the odd times that I shoot in a downpour and really need weather-sealing. I'll leave it at that for now.

Full Review of the Fujifilm X-T1 and XF 10-24mm now posted here!

Thanks for viewing and we'll talk to you soon. Don't forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Happy shooting!


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