Fujifilm X-T1 Review; Bit of Sony A7R & Olympus E-M1 Thrown In

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On my desk, between the keyboard and my monitors are three goodies: the Fujifilm X-T1, the Sony A7R and the Olympus OM-D E-M1. Take the best of each, combine that and you’ll get the near-perfect camera. Fat chance of that happening, so I’ll forget that thought and focus mostly on the newest of the bunch, the Fuji.

I’ve been shooting with it only for a little over a week and only with one lens, the 35mm f/1.4. They’re both rentals. I picked the 35mm lens because it has a good reputation and because I have equivalent lenses for my Sony and my Olympus, so I could make some fair comparisons. More about that later.

I was really looking forward to the Fuji. It just looks right for a guy like me, who grew up with cameras that had dials for stuff that was important. Dials that meant something. More importantly, dials that did only ONE thing. In modern cameras, one dial can have multiple functions and you have to remember all of them.

So the Fuji looked right. The right size, the right color (I’m a big fan of black), the right dials, even some lenses with real aperture rings. Awesome. This looked like a camera I had been waiting for.

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So it was a bit disappointing to actually receive it. I like bigger grips, so this grip felt a little smallish. The top dials were fine, but the wheels embedded in the top plate are hard to turn, as they sit too deep in the body. Same for the four-way pad on the back: it’s not easy to use (someone online suggested putting electrical tape on the individual buttons to make them thicker, seems a good idea). It still looked good, but it didn’t feel like it should.

And then another bummer, an ironic one considering I like retro, and one that might not apply to you at all: I have weird eyesight. So my doctor tells me, at least. I can see okay far, but it helps to wear weak reading glasses (+1; apparently that’s rare); for computer distance I wear stronger reading glasses and for actual reading I wear +2.75 or +3. What that means for photography is that I can see just fine through a viewfinder and I can see my subject clear enough, but I need to put on glasses to read the dials on the camera. In other words, those retro dials don’t really help me anymore no matter how much I like them. As I said, your mileage on this one probably varies.

Michael Reichmann had another complaint about the dials and the absence of quickly accessible custom shooting settings, but I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never yet set up custom shooting settings on any of my cameras. I always think I should, but I never get around to it. Seems handy, though. And he’s right that you can’t do it with the Fuji. The only custom settings you can program in are things like dynamic range, etc. but not an overal shooting profile.

As I turned the camera on and looked through the viewfinder, I did notice that it’s a very nice viewfinder, but I also immediately noticed that the focus point is too large. Frustrating. The Olympus E-M5 had the same problem, one reason the E-M1 is better. On the Sony you can adjust the size of the focus point. On the Fuji, you can’t. A pity. (I stand corrected on this, per Felix’s comment below, apparently you can change the size of the focus point).

On the Plus Side

Now, this is about where the negativity ends. That’s because I really like the camera, despite these niggles.

Regulars know my reviews are really more like a series of quick impressions and I completely overlook things like video and art or whatever-they-call-them settings. I just look at the core functions of a camera. Please visit other sites for more thorough reviews, if you’re so inclined.

Moving on to the positives.

This Fuji looks great, is well-built, is fast, performs well and takes awesome pictures under virtual all circumstances. Autofocus is blazingly fast, at least with the lens I used with it.

And that viewfinder? Ever notice that us reviewers always tack on to one or more features that the camera maker touts as better than ever. For the Fuji, it’s retro, the best EVF viewfinder and the world’s fastest autofocus. We all doubt the latter claim, but the camera is clearly retro and it has a great viewfinder.

The dual view in manual focus is nifty, but didn’t do much for me in terms of making focusing that much easier. The rotating info panel in portrait mode is nifty and handy, period. Good move. In short, the EVF is a joy.

But, but… I actually don’t think it makes much of a difference with the EVF of the E-M1 or the Sony A7R. As a matter of fact, in some light, the fact that the rubber covers of the Olympus and Sony EVFs wrap around your eye, gave me better vision than the Fuji. Heresy, I know.

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Image Output

The Fuji’s high ISO is clean and dynamic range is pretty wide. It’s less than the Sony’s, but more than the Olympus’. On the other hand, when I did shoot the three cameras side-by-side, the Olympus opened up the shadows a bit more by default than either the Fuji or the Sony.

Like many others, I really like the Fuji colors. Some hate the X-trans sensor that Fuji uses, but I have no problem with it. I have a Fuji X100s with the same kind of sensor and of the many pictures I took with it, I have only one that clearly shows artifacts, and then only in one software program. Overall, the Fuji sensor delivers great image quality right out of the camera.

That said, in my three-camera comparison, the bag was a bit mixed as far as color rendition went. While the Fuji generally produced warmer images and could be counted on to deliver the most pleasing image off the bat, the Sony actually delivered the more realistic colors in challenging light. Note that this outing was limited, so it might just have been a fluke depending on the light and the colors.

As usual, the forums are full of people blasting away at the various brands and talking about switching systems, especially from Olympus to Fuji. One argument is that the Fuji has a larger sensor than the Olympus, APS-C versus Micro-Four Thirds.

It’s true. The sensor is larger. But it doesn’t really matter. I took the three cameras to Rye Playland, a county-run amusement park currently in winter mode. I like taking test images of the ticket booths. They provide various colors, straight lines, text, shadows and a background with colors and sky.

When I displayed the three identical shots at 100% on my monitors, the Sony blew away the other two with its 36mp resolution and sharp lens (the 55mm f/1.8). The Fuji comes next and fares a bit better than the Olympus (with PanaLeica 25mm f/1.4). So, yes, advantage FF and APS-C.

But when I printed the three files at 13×19 inches, you can’t see the difference. All three are tack sharp at that size, the largest size I can print at home and the size I most likely would use for display purposes. Logically, you could print the Fuji files a bit larger than the Olympus files and the Sony files a lot larger.

But in normal use, for my purposes and no doubt the purposes of many amateurs, it’s a wash.

The Fuji does perform better at higher ISOs than the Olympus, but again they come pretty close. The Olympus boasts an industry-leading in-body stabilization system, so one can shoot at lower ISOs with the Olympus than with the Fuji, at least when using non-stabilized lenses.

In terms of autofocus performance, both the Fuji and the Olympus are fast. They both track well enough. Others write the Fuji is faster a continuous autofocus than the Olympus. In my test they ended up about even, but such a test with a 50mm-equivalent lens is a bit limited. I wouldn’t draw strong conclusions from it.

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It’s All Good, Basically

Overall, where do I stand?

I do love the Fuji and think it’s a great camera. It feels and looks more like the cameras I grew up with and I appreciate that. Like the Olympus, it’s one mean photography machine. I wouldn’t hesitate to use it as my go-to system and main travel outfit.

But unlike many, I won’t ditch my Olympus gear for Fuji. For one, I really like the IBIS of the E-M1. I cannot imagine giving that up for a system without it. Further, those finicky buttons on the Fuji annoy me. I’m sure that Fuji will learn from this and improve this with the X-T2, just like Olympus dealt with it on the E-M1 after making similar mistakes on the E-M5.

I’m not really going to compare the Fuji with the Sony A7R. They’re completely different animals. The Fuji (and the Olympus) are fast cameras capable of tackling nearly every challenge, but only delivering 16mp. The Sony is far less capable as a camera, but shines with its image quality in situations where it does perform well.

In the end, pondering the Fuji against the Olympus E-M1 reminds me of my time as a starting photographer. I used Pentax, but often lusted after the similarly-sized Olympus OMD line. They both looked great, were decently priced and offered high quality for a reasonable price and in a relatively small package.

So it is now with this Fuji and this Olympus. You can’t go wrong with either of them and having one might not prevent you from still wanting the other.

And like in my younger years, I wouldn’t give bigger Canon or Nikon DSLRs any attention unless you need something that only they can deliver, like fast full frame or a wide selection of lenses and accessories.

 

You can buy the X-T1 – and help this site – right here:

B&H: Fujifilm X-T1 Mirrorless Digital Camera (Body Only)

Amazon: Fujifilm X-T1 16 MP Compact System Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD (Body Only)

Comments

  1. I’ve gone through every Olympus and Fuji X camera (other than XT1 but I had XE2). I took XE2 on vacation and shot extensively alongside Sony A7r in every possible condition. To me, the Af on all of these cameras are just adequate for an amateur. However, when you have to grab that shot on a red carpet, talking about real world, I tried these cameras and they all often fail in AF when any Canon or Nikon full frame camera, focuses instantly, painlessly and to to the point. So for serious photography, or when it matters, these mirrorless cameras are just not there yet.

  2. I like your way of testing. I decided for Olympus and Nikon, since I think both systems, FF and m43 complement each other perfectly. Olympus still offers a smaller package than Fuji or the new Sony FF is possible to supply, especially if you go to fast zooms or tele. Maybe if I only had to consider a single system, Fuji would be my choice, although good glass and x-t1 would be expensive. But considering the size advantages the new 300mm/4 would bring to m43 in the future, this cannot be bet. However, I don’t hold to your opinion that Nikon/Canon should be a less viable option that the new Sony/Fuji/Olympus. I tried the Sony and found to many quirks which didn’t work for me. Especially when shooting for longer times I like the size of a DSLR with its grip perfectly fitting my hand, the easy way of accessing buttons and dials. I think there is a minimum size cameras should have to comfortably hold and use them. I don’t find a D610 with the 1.8 primes too heavy, to the contrary, it feels right. But I wouldn’t want to use a 70-200mm/2.8 with them, but that’s where a 35-100mm on m43 shines. The huge lens selection is another plus. Look what you have to pay for a good 85/1.8 50/1.8 and 28mm/1.8 equivalent for Sony or Fuji, with AF. Sure, the Zeiss 55mm/1.8 is awesome, but as you nicely put it, I don’t print that large that I am in need for one (but I want the shallow DOF possible with FF).
    I hope Nikon though will add a mirror less FF option in the future, this would boost the mirrorless market. Continue the nice work, it’s fun reading your site.

  3. “On the Sony you can adjust the size of the focus point. On the Fuji, you can’t. A pity.”

    From the X-T1 manual (available on-line), page 45:

    In focus modes S and C, you can choose the size of the focus frame by pressing the function button and rotating the rear command dial. Rotate the dial left to reduce the frame by up to 50%, right to enlarge it by up to 150%, or press the FOCUS ASSIST
    button to restore the frame to its original size.

    • Thanks Felix. I don’t have the camera anymore, but rechecked the manual. I must have missed this, because Fuji calls the focus frame what I call the focus point.

  4. Stephen Scharf says:

    Nice review, but in my personal opinion, the “flaw”, so to speak with this review is that you used the 35/1.4 as a measure of responsiveness, and it’s one oldest lens designs with a slower AF motor. To get a more accurate and respresentative assessment of AF performance in the X-series of lenses, you really need to evaluate the 18-55 zoom, the 55-200, or the 14mm or 23mm primes. These lenses have an all-new AF motor design and are notably quicker to focus than than the original 35/1.4. Also, I am glad to read that you found out that you can change the focus point size. This has been a feature of all the X-cameras, including the little X-10.

    • My reasoning behind using it with the 35/1.4 was simply because it’s the only lens equivalent to lenses I own for my Olympus and my Sony. I’m glad to hear that other Fuji lenses are faster than the 35mm, but I had no complaints about this lens either.

      So many of today’s comparisons are theoretical at best. I try to just focus on things that actually make a real difference and both the Fuji and Olympus are plenty fast.

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