A Review of Fuji’s X-trans CMOS II Sensor and X-mount Lenses

A Review of Fuji’s X-trans CMOS II Sensor and X-mount Lenses

As a landscape photographer who hikes a considerable amount, I am always looking for ways to lighten my load on and off the trail. After switching to full frame DSLRs years ago, I had never considered the Fuji system due to the cropped (APS-C) sensor. Despite being convinced I’d never go back to a crop sensors, I couldn’t help my curiosity after hearing so many great reviews coming from Fuji converts. I decided to give Fuji a try and reviewed the following:

Note: All images are JPEGS straight from the camera unless otherwise noted.

X-T1

xt1         knobs

I immediately fell in love with the Fuji X-T1 camera after using it for just a few minutes. I was first taken by the ergonomics of the camera: small, light, and the grips are placed perfectly to where I never feel uncomfortable holding it. The multitude of dials allow the user quick access to adjust settings, and I was especially taken by the feature of having the ISO and shutter speed as dials. I’ve never shot with a rangefinder, but I now know why most love them, the knobs are fantastic! I have reviewed a slew of different bodies including Nikon, Canon, and Sony, but no camera I have ever picked up felt as natural as the Fuji. To compare it with the Sony a7, which feels like it was designed by engineers for engineers, the Fuji X-T1 gave me the impression it was designed by a photographer with class and style.

One of my concerns was not only with the APS-C sensor but also with whether or not mirrorless technology has advanced enough to fulfill my needs. The answer is YES! Looking through the electronic viewfinder reminds me of an HDTV: stunning clarity that, dare I say, is better than looking through a DSLR’s pentaprism system. The Fuji X-T1 boasts a OLED display with 2360k dots, which is visually striking.

Another very useful feature is Focus Assist. By manually adjusting the focus or hitting the button on the back side of the camera, the screen zooms to your selected focus point for easy fine tuning. Combine this with focus peaking and you can be sure to always have sharp focus.

The articulating screen seems gimmicky at first but after having this feature I can’t imagine going back. I took advantage of it in situations where the only way I could get a particular shot was by being to the side of the camera–for example, the time I had to place my tripod in a river and I simply popped the screen out and was able to compose with ease.

I found the autofocus to be extremely fast. I would rate it falling somewhere between being faster than ‘prosumer’ bodies, like the Canon 6D/Nikon D610, but not as fast as the Canon 1Dx/Nikon D4. For landscape photography, the autofocus works fine in relation to my needs and is fast enough for some wildlife photography as well. I did find that changing the focus points was a bit cumbersome but not enough to be truly annoyed. You select the points by first hitting the down button on (what I’ll call) the D pad, then you can select the focus point with the arrows; easier than a Canon but not as simple as a Nikon.

As a landscape photographer I’m always concerned with image quality, continually striving for the most megapixels and sharpness. So where does the Fuji stand in this field? Being only 16 megapixels, what self respecting landscape photographer would consider this body? Well, I would! Fuji has created something special with the X-trans sensor and their lens lineup. The images have stunning clarity and desirable colors. Leica shooters talk about a mystical feeling their photos have, almost a three dimensional look, and that’s the same feeling I experienced with Fuji for a fraction of the price. I personally feel that because of these characteristics the Fuji will stand up quite well to the megapixel monsters when enlarged, nor will you notice any major difference when printed and viewed at the proper viewing distance side-by-side with prints from a D800 or a7R.

I try to put myself in the shoes of a viewer of art, not just a photographer viewing a print. Most of us are concerned with the utmost quality and will not just pixel-peep but also point-peep, examining a large print from mere inches away. This is not the way a piece of art is meant to be viewed! You are meant to stand back and take in the whole photo at once, examining its content not its sharpness. The technically-minded photographers will disagree with this and that’s quite alright. This camera is not for you–you’ll want a Sony a7R or a Nikon D810.

X-E2

xe2

This X-E2 has the same X-trans CMOS II sensor as the X-T1, so you can shoot with it and get the same results as the X-T1. The main difference between it and the X-E2 is that the X-T1 has the added functionality of dials/controls on the body to control exposure without having to go into menus. The X-T1 also has a much better viewfinder, articulating screen, and faster autofocus for general use. The X-E2 is a fantastic camera, though, and is incredibly lightweight.

Fuji X-Mount Lenses

A handsome body does not mean much without a good set of lenses and Fuji does not disappoint. Every lens in their lineup is stunningly sharp and they are the only lenses I’ve seen come close to Sigma’s Art series or the Nikon 14-24mm. They are so good that I would put them above most of the lenses on the market now (I have zero technical data to back this up–just a feel from what I’ve used over the years).

Fuji is developing lenses for this system faster than any manufacturer in history, creating a new lens each quarter. For landscape photographers, the lineup is already complete! My preferred setup is the 10-24mm, 18-55mm, and the 55-200mm. The equivalent for full frame coverage is 15mm-250mm. The lenses are ultralight with optical stabilization that works exceptionally well. The lenses feel balanced on the small body, something the Sony a7 shooters struggle with because of the large full frame lenses it requires.

Weight
As I eluded to before, weight is my biggest consideration. For example, a lightweight Canon kit would consist of the Canon 6D, a 16-35 f/4, a 24-70 f/4, and a 70-200 f/4, which weighs in at 6.05 lbs (2.745 kg). A comparable kit for Fuji would be the X-T1, 10-24, 18-55, and 55-200, which weighs 3.43 lbs (1.55 kg) total–nearly half the weight! An ultra-lightweight kit would be the X-E2, 10-24, and 18-135, which is only 2.75 lbs (1.25 kg).

Night Photography
You may know me for my night photography. I even wrote an eBook on the subject. In my book I explain how important full frame sensors are in order to avoid noise when shooting at ISO 6400. So why would I consider a cropped sensor to meet my standards? Honestly, my expectations were not too high. The cropped sensors of the Nikon D7100 and Canon 7D have come a long way but still not something I would consider using for the majority of my work. That being said, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the images created with the Fuji system close to rivaling that of the Canon 6D.

For this test I used the Fuji 14mm f/2.8, Fuji 18mm f/2.0 and the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8

Milky-Way

Canon @ 27mm, f/2.8, 20 secs, ISO 6400. Fuji @ 18mm, f/2.8, 20 secs, ISO 6400

The Fuji didn’t perform as well as the 6D, but for most people the outcome is very good and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it at night. The color and clarity aren’t as dramatic compared to the 6D and I am still learning how to process these files correctly as they take a different approach than a typical sensor.

Milky-Way-Detail

An enlarged view of the above image.

After color noise reduction was applied to the X-T1 image in Lightroom, I was pleasantly surprised to see the noise was reasonably acceptable. The grain is larger than the 6D and takes a different approach when applying luminance noise reduction. When processed correctly, the noise is nearly the same.

Night Dock

Taken with Zeiss 12mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 25 secs

Panorama

9 image panorama taken with Fuji 14mm, f/2.8, ISO 6400, 25 secs

Coma

Example of coma aberration

The above image shows the difference in coma aberration from the corner of each lens. The Fuji 14mm f/2.8 is an exceptional lens, sharp as can be with very little coma, and a fantastic lens to use at night. The Fuji 18mm f/2 performed decently but at f/2 there is some considerable coma. When stopped down to f/2.8 the coma goes away. As can be expected, the Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 performed very well and is sharp from edge-to-edge but it does exhibit some coma aberration in the corners. Because of this, and it’s high price tag, I would not recommend it for night photography.

Conclusions

The Fuji system exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds. Simply put, I genuinely fell in love with it so much so that since I did this review I have purchased the entire system as my main kit. Fuji has put a spark back into my photography; no longer do I lug around a brick (DSLR) with another brick attached to it (full frame lens). I’m light and nimble, I bring the camera out more often and enjoy shooting more. I’m creating more art that has meaning to me, which is the ultimate win. The best way to describe this camera is ‘sexy’ in the same sense of when you pick up a Martin guitar. Yes, it’s just a tool, but oh that tone! The only way to understand is to try it for yourself.

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David Kingham is a nature photographer and leader of photo tours at Exploring Exposure. His travels can be followed on Nomadic Destiny: Finding Purpose on the Road. Originally from Colorado, Kingham lives and travels full time around the American West, pursuing his passion for landscape photography.

6 Comments

  1. Great review David and my conclusions as well, I abs love the Fuji system!

    I also like the 10-24, 18-55 and 55-200 combo for travel and exploring. Just a clarification in your article, with these three lenses, you achieve FF equivalent range of 15mm-300mm. That’s impressive for such a small package. I recently acquired the 18-135 and wow, what a great travel lens too! For fast and light the 14mm and 18-135 make a sweet setup! Thanks for your insights and very nice photographic skills you have!

    Reply
  2. My Canon EOS5DmkII and 24-70mm F2.8 and 70-200mm F2.8 are not used sinse I own a Fuji X-T1 and 18-55mm; 10-24mm and 55-200mm Fuji lenses. The Canon might be fractional better sometimes but I shoot at least the same quality pictures using the X-T1. The color tone of the Fuji is more pleasing compared to the Canon. Totaly the Fuji pictures are more pleasing to look at.

    Reply
  3. I tried an X-T1 as a replacement for my Canon 6D, but I returned it. When the lights go out, the image quality just isn’t there. The X-T1 can’t beat the 6D in that department. There’s some heavy image processing going on in the Fuji and I don’t like it. It blurs details. I had high hopes for the X-T1, but I was disappointed.

    Reply
    • Hi Piet,

      The sensor in the X-T1 is capable of some awesome low-light performance, but the 6D’s larger size will give it an advantage. One thing though: because the X-T1 doesn’t use a standard Bayer pattern on the sensor, RAW converters often don’t do a good job with them. I’d try Capture One with your X-T1 if you’re interested in getting the max quality out of the RAW images you shot while you had the camera; they have a free trial available on their site. It might just get you to give that X-T1 another look.

      Cheers,
      Sohail

      Reply
  4. Thank you – very informative!

    I’m very eager to get my newly ordered XT1 with the 18-135mm lens.

    Reply
  5. In my experience, the Photo Ninja is better than Lightroom or Photoshop for processing the RAW from X-Trans sensor. Just share this information to you all.

    Reply

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