Fuji X-T1 Review: The Best Mirrorless Camera Yet?

Fuji X-T1 Review: The Best Mirrorless Camera Yet?

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The Fuji X-T1 is a highly anticipated addition to the rapidly growing Fuji X-Series lineup. In many ways, the X-T1 offers new features that make it a superior option to the aging Fuji X-Pro1. Does this new mirrorless camera deserve the crown as the best Fuji X-Series camera? Read the comprehensive Fuji X-T1 review to find out.

This review was originally published by music photographer Todd Owyoung on his blog www.ishootshows.com.

Body & Design

The Fuji X-T1 breaks with rangefinder-styled archetype set out with the Fuji X-series and features a more SLR-like design with a viewfinder hump centered over the lens mount.

The style of the body design is simultaneously a nod to the SLRs of the past while also opening up additional real estate to the left of the viewfinder. Perhaps more to the point, X-T1 manages to balance old-school swag without becoming a caricature of what a hipsterfied retro camera should be (Nikon Df, I’m looking at you). This is a good looking camera.

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Controls

Holy dials, Batman. Overall, the Fuji X-T1 features a nice upgrade in terms of controls over the Fuji X-Pro1, but in terms of quality of input and quantity of dedicated controls.

In a first for an X-Series camera, the X-T1 adds a dedicated ISO dial with a collar to adjust the drive/shooting mode. This is on top of the dedicated controls for shutter speed and exposure compensation, and of course the aperture ring of the X-Series lenses.

Add in customizable buttons on the front and top of the camera, as well as the ability to customize all four of the camera’s D-pad buttons on the back, and Fuji has really given the X-T1 a fantastic level of personalization.

Between a plethora of fully dedicated controls and customizable options, the Fuji X-T1 offers a very fluid shooting experience with very little need to go into the menu settings. In fact, I almost never had to access any menu items except to format my cards.

Another positive change to controls of the X-T1 over the X-Pro1 is that the majority of the controls on the back of the camera have been consolidated on the right hand side of the body. A massive improvement over the X-Pro1, as this means never having to shift one’s hands from the normal shooting position (right-hand gripping the camera, left-hand under the lens.

The only true gripe against the X-T1’s controls — and that of all X-Series cameras — is the inability to fully control aperture and shutter speed from the front and rear command dials. This issue has been discussed at length among the Fuji community, but it’s worth noting again. For any DSLR shooter, the inability of the X-T1 to operate in this manner is mildly infuriating, but ultimately not a deal-breaker.

Overall controls of the Fuji X-T1 are excellent. From the increased dedicated dials to a more thoughtful layout and massive customization options, the X-T1 offers the best shooting experience yet with an X-Series camera.

Ergonomics

The ergonomics of the X-T1 are solid. The camera features a modest finger grip, but one that’s prominent enough that it does the job without adding significant bulk. Furthermore, there are grip accessories available for those who prefer a more substation finger grip.

While the camera body is compact compared to a DSLR, the controls of the Fuji X-T1 do not feel cramped in use. Overall, the X-T1 strikes a great balance between usability and compactness.

 (Todd Owyoung)

Electronic Viewfinder:

The electronic viewfinder (EVF) on the Fuji X-T1 is nothing short of excellent. Image/viewing clarity is so good that it’s easy to forget that it’s an electronic image at all, were it not for the momentary lag in the display refresh when the exposure is changed.

The “live preview” of exposure is both a blessing and a curse, though mostly the former. When shooting, you see the exact exposure of the image you’re shooting. This means that when your exposure is grossly underexposed or overexposed, the image in the EVF will be relatively useless. Of course, this effect is self-correcting — you either adjust exposure, or stop shooting because the lighting is just that bad.

For almost all other aspects of real-world shooting, the what-you-see-is-what-you-get experience is a boon. From 100% precise framing, easy access to focus peaking, live image magnification, live histogram, and more all in the viewfinder, the EVF in the X-T1 is awesome. Focus peaking in particular is a boon for achieving critical sharpness, and makes manual focusing a breeze.

 (Todd Owyoung)

General Shooting & Handling Impressions

The Fuji X-T1  is a joy to shoot with. While the manual controls and their layout allow for immediate access, they also promote a slower use of the camera as well. The fluidity of changing aperture and shutter speeds from command dials exclusively with one hand a la your DSLR is not an option. This operation nis annoying, but, to play the Devil’s Advocate, this forced slowdown is not altogehter a bad thing; if anything, it can make for more determined and focused shooting, forcing the photographer to anticipate camera settings for a given scene before shooting.

The X-T1 is compact, but with even a modest prime lens the package is still enough of a presence that it never completely melts away. Carrying the X-T1 around, you always know it’s there — it doesn’t quite reach the same level of invisibility as say, the Sony RX1.

When shooting, however, the comfortable size of the Fuji X-T1 is welcome; any smaller and the controls would feel cramped. More importantly, the Fuji X-T1 always feel like a tool — it’s got enough mass and volume that it feels satisfying to hold and use.

Shooting with the articulating LCD is great. The LCD allows for waist-level use of the camera for inconspicuous shooting, as well as some degree of overhead usability.

The EVF is simply excellent about 95% of the time, and when it’s not, the advantages of live focus peaking, live histogram, and all kinds of other awesome make the tradeoff worth it.

Camera Speed

Where it matters, the camera speed of the Fuji X-T1 is quite good. From boot time to shutter lag, this camera is quite fast. Continuous shooting mode, at 8 FPS, is actually awesome, and smokes my Nikon D800. The downside to this is that it can take quite a while for the camera to dump its buffer, but assuming that the high frame rate does its job, this minor annoyance doesn’t really affect real-world shooting.

 (Todd Owyoung)

AF Performance: Speed & Precision

The hybrid AF performance of the Fuji X-T1 is actually pretty amazing. Speed is excellent. DSLR users will not have anything substantial to complain about in terms of raw speed.

In terms of precision, in good lighting, the X-T1 is practically flawless. In low ambient light (think f/1.4 at ISO 1600), the camera tends to grab onto background elements, particularly if the subject is low contrast. Not enough to be a deal breaker, but annoying enough to miss passing moments/expressions to backfocus.

Aside from this issue with low contrast subjects in low lighting, the Fuji X-T1 nails focus in almost all other instances. No front or backfocusing, just bang on the rest of the time. Even continuous shooting, the AF tracks amazingly well.

 (Todd Owyoung)

Overall Image Quality

The image quality of the Fuji X-T1 is excellent. It uses a 16 megapixel X-Trans sensor of Fuji’s own design. On a pixel-per-pixel basis, the Fuji X-T1’s files are as easily good or better than any APS sensor I’ve processed. The lack of a low-pass (anti-aliasing) filter, coupled with Fuji’s amazing glass, results in a fantastic level of detail capture that belies the “lowly” 16 megapixel count.

If you normally shoot full-frame and are worried about a smaller sensor size, you shouldn’t be. As someone who shoots with the full-frame for everything, I found the image quality of the X-T1 pretty much flawless for real world use. I never really found myself wanting for shallower depth of field, and the overall high ISO performance of the X-T1 is great up to ISO 6400.

Yes, I wouldn’t mind more resolution, but for almost all practical uses, the resolution is appropriate and makes processing speed a snap.

Color and tone quality of the Fuji are excellent, and now that Adobe Lightroom supports camera standard profiles for the Fuji X-T1, RAW output looks fantastic. I found that high ISO files pushed quite well, and latitude for highlight recovery made these files a breeze to work with.

Fujinon 23mm f/1.4

All images in this review were shot with the Fuji 23mm f/1.4. This is excellent, excellent glass. It’s sharp out of the gate at f/1.4 in the center and where you want it, and the rest of the frame catches up very quickly. By f/2.8, edge-to-edge sharpness is fact.

For me, the Fuji 23mm f/1.4 is right up there with the awesome Fuji 35mm f/1.4. These lenses are so good in terms of sharpness and character that they’re literally reason enough to consider the Fuji X-Series.

The character of the 23mm f/1.4 is very nice. Out of focus elements are smooth, overall fits in well with the quality offered by the Fuji 35mm f/1.4.

 (Todd Owyoung)

High ISO Performance

The Fuji X-T1 does amazingly well for an APS-C sensor at high ISO, even for any shooter coming from a full-frame camera. Up to ISO 1600, the X-T1 renders extremely clean files that are full of detail and color saturation — there’s no reason not to shoot here. Even right up to ISO 6400 the X-T1 files hold together with good color fidelity and black levels, though fine detail gives way as digital noise increases.

Perhaps even more importantly, the files push extremely well. Need to push a full stop up from ISO 2000? The digital grain of the Fuji’s files is — yes — pleasantly film-like, and very tight when processing with Adobe Lightroom.

Additional Image Samples

Special thanks to my brother Chris Owyoung for shooting some of the samples in this review.

 (Todd Owyoung)

 (Todd Owyoung)

 (Todd Owyoung)

 (Todd Owyoung)

 (Todd Owyoung)

 (Todd Owyoung)

 (Todd Owyoung)

Fuji X-T1 Review Summary and End Notes

Overall, the Fuji X-T1 offers an extremely satisfying photography experience. The body represents a compact, responsive tool with uncompromising image quality with an arsenal of extremely high performance glass available to it.

While it doesn’t boast the highest performance marks in any given category — resolution, speed, compactness of size — the X-T1 truly feels like a photographer’s camera, rather than the result of what a marketing team thinks a camera should be.

As a result, it’s simply fun to shoot with the X-T1. It’s well built without feeling like it’s made out of precious metal mined from space rocks. The camera does what you want, when you want it. It’s fast. The RAW files are gorgeous. The lenses in the X-Series lineup are the kind of glass that beg to be shot wide-open.

The Fuji X-T1 is easily the best X-Series camera to date. It offers the most versatility, customizability, and features that trump even the excellent but aging Fuji X-Pro1.

Did we mention we’re currently giving away a Fuji X-T1? Enter to win before June 12th here, plus get tips to conquer the rest of 2014:

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There are 11 comments for this article
  1. Heather Moran at 11:24 am

    I love this camera, love the whole Fuji X Series line, the lenses are sharp and the camera’s are so easy to have with you at all times. I think what I love most is the pop-out viewfinder, when you lay it flat it’s like shooting with a Hasselblad or Rollei with the waist level finder.

  2. Bob Rockefeller at 8:34 am

    I definitely like the design of the X-T1 with the manual dials for settings. But I find it odd and disconcerting that FujiFilm doesn’t use the same aperture ring design on all their constant aperture lenses! That sees like a real design miss.

    For those lenses with variable apertures depending on zoom length, I can see that they needed to do something different. But why on the constant aperture lenses?

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  5. Rick Lewis at 9:38 pm

    The X-T1 is the mirrorless camera I was waiting for and it has not disappointed. I love all the physical controls and the Fujinon prime lenses are outstanding.

    I am anxiously waiting for the release of the X-Pro2. The two cameras will be a little different but Fuji keeps pushing the mirrorless envelope.

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  7. Chris Owyoung at 11:06 am

    Having tested this camera for this review and after using it on assignment, I have to say that the inability to fully control aperture and shutter speed from the front and rear command dials is actually a deal breaker for me. It basically means that there’s next-to-zero reason to pick up the X-T1 for any job that requires adjustment of aperture, shutter speed and ISO without taking your eye off the viewfinder.

    That said, I did love nearly everything else about this camera – I’d simply never consider it for my primary workhorse without full manual control from the command dials.

  8. David Bean at 3:19 pm

    I bought and returned the X-T1 within a month. The images that came out of mine were complete garbage. The shadows looked like mud, the images in general lacked detail.

    People said I may have had a “bad copy” of it. I don’t know, to me it had the image quality of a $300 point and shoot.

    And like Chris said the aperture ring is a pain in the butt. There’ a reason modern-digital cameras don’t use them. If it locked in place at every stop it would be one thing, but it’s so easy to accidentally change it.

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  10. Jay Farrell at 8:00 pm

    Great article….I now have 2 XT-1’s and love them, flesh tones and lenses are nothing short of amazing, better than my Canon DSLR’s I’m phasing out for my own use…..but I do find it hunts for focus when using AF….have found back button focusing and manual focus with peaking to be very helpful especially when shooting weddings or events. I only imagine the next firmware upgrade or next model will make it even better.

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