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Fuji X-T1: First Impressions

Gear Talk

One of the most eagerly awaited cameras of the year arrived earlier this month, and I took some time to put it through its paces. A more detailed review will follow, but I’ve worked with it long enough to put forth a few first impressions. The tl;dr version of it is this: the Fuji X-T1 is the best camera Fuji has ever made, and is the best mirrorless camera on the market.

In my personal opinion, anyway.

Fuji X-T1. Image Courtesy Fujifilm.

Fuji X-T1. Image Courtesy Fujifilm.

I’ve been a Fuji fan since the X100s came out, and eventually started using the X-E1 and X-E2 as my primary stills cameras (with a D800E for specific projects requiring high megapixel images and the Canon 5D MKIII for video). When the X-T1 was first announced, I looked at the images leaking onto the web and my first impression was, “WTF??”

Looking at it, you can see that it kind of harkens back to retro SLR cameras. To me, it looks a bit like a blunt-top version of the Fuji STX series of film SLRs, and at least at first, it wasn’t something that caught my attention the way the rangefinder aesthetic of the previous X cameras did.

Then I got one in my hands and my first thought was, “uhhh… what…?”

On the one hand, this is most definitely a Fuji camera. It has loads of dials means you rarely have to drop into a menu once you set it up right. There’s a nice, firm heft to it that we’re used to with the X-E and X-Pro series. It’s small and light despite feeling dense. It is, in other words, every bit a Fuji.

On the other hand, it feels a bit “off.” It’s not until you spend a day or two with it that you realize why.

The Fuji X-T1 is a professional camera. It’s been designed as a professional camera. It even looks kinda sorta like a pro body. The DSLR look (albeit with retro flair) further reinforces that.

For a pro body, however, it’s tiny. Put a lens like the 56mm f/1.2 on it and you realize just how tiny it is. And that’s what throws you.

Fuji X-T1 with 56mm f/1.2, next to a Nikon D800E with 24-70 f/2.8 lens.

Fuji X-T1 with 56mm f/1.2, next to a Nikon D800E with 24-70 f/2.8 lens.

We’re so used to pro bodies being large (look at it next to a D800E, for example), we don’t associate something this size with being a “professional” camera. To be fair, Olympus did this with the OM-D E-M1, and I would argue that physically and specifications-wise, that is every bit as capable as the Fuji X-T1. Olympus, however has made the OM-D series very similar to their OM class of film SLRs.

Fuji, on the other hand, has drawn inspiration from their own film SLRs of the past, but has created something that is still substantially different enough from the old designs that it really does feel like something new. Once you get used to that, and learn to take the unusual design of the body in stride, you can sink your teeth into the meat of this camera and really go to town.

The Fuji Controls

The Fuji Controls. Image Courtesy Fujifilm

Fuji has always had manual dials for shutter speed and aperture control; with the X-T1, it extends that to metering mode, ISO, and drive mode. It uses the nested dials method to group some of these together, something old film SLR buffs will recognize right away, and the system works just fine. The dials are stiff enough that they don’t move accidentally, and it’s a real pleasure to not have to go digging through menu systems to flip from center-weighted to spot-metering mode, for example.

There are an additional two dials, one in the back and one in the front of the camera, which are contextual in nature. As shown below, for example, you can use the wheels to adjust the size of the focus point, or you can use it to adjust aperture in lenses with no aperture rings, or flip through photos in viewing mode.

You can use the command dials to adjust the size of the AF point.

You can use the command dials to adjust the size of the AF point.

A quick digression – having this sort of granular control over the size of the autofocus point is pretty darn cool. You can use it to get very precise with your autofocusing, something that Fuji has been constantly improving on.

The tilt screen is another very nice and welcome addition to the X-series, something we first saw in the X-M1. That’s coupled with the massive viewfinder that, in manual-focus mode, lets you split the screen between two windows, one that shows you a 100% crop of the object you’re photographing, while the other shows you your whole image. This is awesome for those of us who like using manual focus lenses like the Zeiss 135mm f/2 via adapters on the Fuji cameras. That viewfinder bears some further explanation on its own, which will follow in my full review of the X-T1.

There are tons of other improvements on the Fuji X-T1 that stand out as well; the SD card slot is now on the side instead of in the battery compartment, which means I don’t have to take my tripod plate off every time I want to take it out. The body is weather-sealed with compatible lenses, almost every button is customizable, and the ergonomics are just plain superb for me, even with my sausage fingers.

I have a few quibbles with it as well; the 4-way controller on the back feels a bit mushy, for starters. I don’t like that they did away with the shutter buttons that had the screw-in cable releases, either; I loved those. The video record button can’t be customized, and I keep hitting it because that’s where the function button is on the X-E1.

Yet those quibbles are just that – quibbles. They’re minor annoyances and just take getting used to. This is, in every way, the best mirrorless camera I’ve ever used, and in my full review, I’ll be covering image quality, that awesome viewfinder, as well as sample images and more.

How much do I like this camera? Well, I’ve got mine on preorder in two places already. Fuji, apparently, can’t make enough of them.

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+. You can find his portfolio on his website at sohail.me as well as on 500px and Flickr.

Comments

  • Fix says:

    Looks like a tasty little camera with pro features at a decent price! I noticed they are sold out on quite a few sites, so people have voted its popularity with cold hard cash. I think people buying out your product is the best recommendation you can have!

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