Fuji X-T1 Review

on Monday, November 3, 2014
Fujifilm X-T1 design and controls
Fujifilm's X-T1 represents a departure in design for the X-series, becoming the first X-mount with a DSLR-styled body and a viewfinder hump over the optical axis. I know the earlier X-Pro1, XE and XM models had their fans, but to me the X-T1 is by far the best-looking model in the range to date.
I reckon the body it most resembles is actually Sony's A7 / A7r, but again to my eyes it ends up looking much better. Indeed I'd say it's one of the most attractive cameras I've laid my eyes on for a while.
Measuring 129x90x47mm (slimming to 33.4mm at the thinnest point) and weighing 440g with battery, the X-T1 is almost exactly the same size as the Sony Alpha A7, and very similar to the Olympus OMD EM1 too, although the EM1 enjoys by far the deepest grip of the three. As such the OMD EM1 gives you the most to hold onto, and will be the most comfortable for anyone coming from a chunky DSLR, but in my view the X-T1 enjoys the most tactile grip surface of the three. I'm not sure what Fujifilm used to coat the X-T1's grip, but it boasts the stickiest texture (in a good way) and made for a body I really enjoyed holding.

Fujifilm has also taken a leaf from the earlier Olympus OMD EM5 and offers not one, but two optional grips for those who want more to wrap their fingers around. The traditional VG-XT1 battery grip accommodates a second battery and provides portrait controls, but if you just want a little more to hold onto without compromising the camera's compact dimensions, there's the optional MHG-XT handgrip which boosts the thickness of the grip while only adding a few mm to the overall height.
Both the VG-XT1 and MHG-XT also perform the welcome task of repositioning the tripod thread in line with the optical axis - as it stands, the X-T1's thread is off-axis and inconveniently located right next to the battery compartment door, blocking it when using a plate. Add the MHG-XT though and it becomes central, while also leaving a neat window for you to access the battery compartment. It's almost as if the X-T1 was meant to be used with it. Following previous Fujifilm grip extenders, the base of the MHG-XT is also shaped as a dovetail, allowing it to slot right into Arca-Swiss compatible quick release systems without the need to screw anything additional into it. Now that's really neat and the only thing that could make it better is if the dovetail curved 90 degrees round the side of the body turning the camera into an L plate.
The overall build quality of the X-T1 is excellent. The camera feels very solid and dense, but never heavy in your hands. It's also the first X-mount camera to officially enjoy weather-sealing: Fujifilm boasts there's 80 points of sealing and that it's dust and water-resistant, not to mention capable of working at temperatures down to -10 degrees Celsius. Like other weather-proof cameras though you'll need a sealed lens to go with it, and unfortunately none of the X-mount lenses available at the time of launch offered it. Fujifilm's announced three weather-proof zooms, but they're not due until the middle and end of 2014. This doesn't compare favourably with Olympus and Panasonic which both launched new weather-sealed lenses alongside their weather-sealed bodies in the past. That said, I did use the X-T1 with the non-sealed 18-55mm f2.8-4 kit zoom in steady drizzle without any ill effects.
Behind a door in the grip you'll find a single SD memory card slot. Like its rivals, Fujifilm's skipped the chance to equip the X-T1 with dual memory card slots, forcing people who want such a feature to seek out the handful of DSLRs which sport them. On the upside though the slot is one of the first to be UHS-II compatible, allowing it to write data very quickly to the latest cards.
On the opposite side of the body behind a small door are three ports: an external microphone jack which doubles as a connector for the optional RR-90 cabled remote control, a USB port, and a Type-C Mini HDMI port; annoyingly the microphone jack is only 2.5mm though, which means you'll almost certainly need to use an adapter to connect the most common 3.5mm microphone accessories.
Returning to the battery, the X-T1 is powered by the same NP-W126 Lithium Ion pack employed by the X-Pro1, X-E1, X-E2, X-M1 and X-A1, allowing you to use spares from any previous X-mount body - thanks Fujifilm! It's good for about 350 frames per charge and you'll be recharging the pack in the separate supplied mains charger.
Personally speaking I'd have preferred it to be rechargeable in-body over USB, like the Alpha A7 and A7r, although I realize I'm in the minority in this regard. I just find it so much more convenient when travelling rather than carrying multiple proprietary mains chargers and not being able to recharge until I find a mains outlet.

A truly legitimate complaint though is the tripod thread which as I mentioned earlier is right next to the battery compartment, making it not only off-axis, but also blocking access when mounted on a plate. Fit the optional MHG-XT grip though and it'll relocate the thread to the optical axis, while also providing a window to access the battery and a dovetailed base that slides right into Arca-Swiss quick release systems. Yes I know I mentioned this a couple of paragraphs earlier, but it's so cool it deserves repeating.
There's no built-in flash, but there is a hotshoe to mount the supplied EX-F8 mini flash or optional EF-X20, EF-20 or EF-42 flashguns, along with a PC Sync port on the front surface. Fujifilm nerds will notice there's five small contacts in the shoe compared to the usual three on previous models. What's going on there I wonder? Is it for some as-yet unannounced hotshoe-mountable accessories? Your guess is as good as mine. (Thanks to Hireacamera's Guy Thatcher for spotting this).
Moving onto the controls, the X-T1 embraces retro like no other modern camera, except perhaps the Nikon Df. The X-T1 is literally adorned with dials, with no fewer than five on the top panel alone, dedicated to the ISO, drive mode, shutter speed, metering mode and exposure compensation. The ISO and shutter speed dials are two-tiered with the drive and metering mode dials on the respective first floors; the ISO dial has a lock button which must be pushed to release it, while the shutter speed dial's lock button only needs to be pressed when taking it out of A mode. In addition to these are front-finger and rear-thumb dials, along with a small dial on the front surface for the AF mode; I guess the collar around the shutter release to power the camera on and off could also qualify as a dial too, and of course the X-mount system also supports aperture rings on the lenses. Put it this way, there's no shortage of things to turn.
What the X-T1 doesn't have is an exposure mode dial. Like earlier models - and the much older film SLRs which inspired them - the exposure mode is defined by the position of the aperture ring (or a switch on the lens barrel) and the shutter speed dial. With both set to A, the X-T1 is put into Program mode and will set both the aperture and shutter speed automatically. Leave the shutter dial at A and turn the aperture ring and you're in Aperture Priority. Leave the aperture ring at A and turn the shutter dial and you're in Shutter Priority. Turn both away from A and you're in Manual. As someone who used film SLRs for two decades prior to digital cameras, I find this way of working familiar, but even if you're new to it, I still think it's pretty intuitive. There's even an A option on the ISO dial, which is self-explanatory.

But for me all is not well with the dedicated dials. The shutter speed dial offers exposures of 1 second to 1/4000 in 1EV increments, but what about finer increments or exposures longer than one second? No problem, in Aperture Priority the camera itself can deploy any shutter speed it wants from 30 seconds to 1/4000 (1/4 to 1/4000 in Program) in very fine increments. Meanwhile in Shutter Priority and Manual, you can use the front soft dial to fine-tune the shutter speed (from the value selected on the shutter speed dial) by +/-0.6EV in 0.3EV increments - so it's like you get five different shutter options for every position on the dedicated dial. If you want longer exposures, either choose B for Bulb and keep the shutter pressed for up to 60 minutes, or select T and again turn the front soft dial to choose between 2 and 30 seconds with 12 steps in-between. But if you're having to use the soft dial to adjust the shutter speed in some situations, why not just use it all the time? If I want to deploy exposures longer than one second in Shutter Priority or Manual, why do I have to first turn the dial to T, then use the soft dial to select the desired speed? I realize this will only impact those who want to use long exposures, but wouldn't you agree it's easier to just keep turning a single dial until you get the speed you want?
The ISO dial has a similar problem. It offers 200 to 6400 ISO in third stop increments, plus L for 100 ISO and H1 and H2, which by default set the X-T1 to 12800 and 25600 ISO. So far so good, except that the X-T1 also offers a further extended sensitivity of 51200 ISO and no way to access from the dial it unless you reconfigure the H1 and H2 positions via a custom menu, thereby losing direct access to either 12800 or 25600 ISO. In short, the X-T1's ISO dial is missing a notch, and even if you rarely or never use one of the extended sensitivities, it's hard not to wonder why Fujifilm didn't just squeeze in an H3 position on the dial. It's like the design and sensor teams weren't communicating properly.
Then there's the exposure compensation dial which may offer quick access to this setting, but I found it had often turned after removing it from my (admittedly tight) bag; unlike the ISO and shutter speed dials, there's no lock on this one. Or what about the drive mode dial which may give direct access to the continuous shooting, bracketing, multiple exposure, filter effects and panorama mode, but neglects to offer the self-timer, for which you'll need to enter the menu unless you configure one of the function buttons. Actually I'll cut the X-T1 some slack there as it means you can trigger the bracketing using the self timer - and better still, it'll fire all the frames itself in a row - but with their various operational caveats I still feel the dials are more about style than function.
Now this is a very sensitive and personal issue. A camera is more than a tool, it can also be a very personal accessory for many photographers, so there's nothing wrong in having controls that deliver on style and feel as well as actual function. But while the dials really do give the X-T1 a great look, I personally felt they were limited in function and sometimes forced me to complement them with an additional turn of a soft dial - at which point they're slowing rather than enhancing my photographic experience. The bottom line is they simply didn't work as well for me as a more modern mode dial coupled with front and rear dials for making adjustments.
I'm ducking right now from all the projectiles being flung in my direction from the Fujifilm fan club. I know there are some photographers for whom the X-T1's controls are a dream come true, and one of the things I love about cameras is that we don't all desire the same designs control systems. So you may love the X-T1's controls, but I didn't. It's just my personal opinion, don't shoot me!
I also realize the X-T1 sports front and rear dials, but these too didn't feel right to me. They were too small and indented, forcing me to hold the camera with both hands to turn them comfortably, and even then they felt like something you'd find on an upmarket point-and-shoot rather than a flagship interchangeable lens camera. Try turning them with even thin gloves on and you'll struggle. I shot with the X-T1 alongside the Olympus OMD EM1 and simply felt the EM1's larger twin dials felt better and fell more naturally beneath my thumb and index finger, allowing comfortable and easy adjustment even one-handed. Do I think the EM1 looks as nice as the X-T1? No, but I do find it quicker and easier to control, even going back to when I first started testing it.
This extends to the size and feel of the buttons too. The OMD EM1 employs large chunky buttons that are tactile when pressed even when wearing thin gloves. But the X-T1's buttons are small with shallow presses; the difference is particularly evident when comparing the cross keys on both cameras. They're just too small on the X-T1, and real-estate shouldn't be an excuse as the EM1 squeezes much larger ones into much the same body size. I'd urge you to pick up both cameras and compare the controls for yourself.
I will give credit to Fujifilm for its function buttons though: there's six on the X-T1, one on the front, one on the top, and the four cross keys on the back. Yes they're small, but in a triumph of user interfacing, if you press and hold any of them for more than a second, you'll be presented with the menu to customise it. No need to delve into any custom menus, just push and hold, then reconfigure. Very neat, although you'll still need a button press before you can adjust the AF area position, unlike the EM1 which can get straight onto it with the default configuration.
I also liked the Focus Assist button which immediately magnifies the active AF area to fill the screen for confirmation - great for manual focusing and I'll talk more about this later. I additionally liked the way the AF-L button could perform a quick AF in manual focus mode. Fujifilm's engineers have clearly put a lot of thought into the control system, and even though I personally felt the dials were often retro for retro's sake, there's still a lot of great ideas on the X-T1.
I should however note that despite embracing retro styling, Fujifilm has sadly abandoned the threaded shutter release of the XE models, preventing you from using a cheap cable release with the X-T1. Instead you'll need to buy an electronic cable release accessory.
Ultimately the ergonomics, styling and control system of a camera add up to a very personal choice. What works for me might not for you, and the X-T1 is certainly quite different from most rivals. Once again there was a lot I liked about the controls, but equally much that I didn't for my style of photography and way of working. Unless you're a fan of the retro dial system and aren't bothered by the limitations I mentioned earlier, I strongly recommend you pick up and try and X-T1 in person to see how it feels in your hands. I'd love to hear what you think.


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