Snow days | a second look at the X-T1.
Those of you familiar with this blog know that I often pick out something from our weekends and turn it into some sort of mini essay. Not today. Instead, I've created several series from our country outing and I'm including them all here, in a single post, along with a few remaining technical notes about the X-T1. You can think of this as part 2 of the camera review.
When I posted said review last week, my friend Robert Boyer commented via Twitter. His response had the merit of being succinct: "Meh." Robert can be grumpy; especially during the winter months. I know the feeling so I didn't take offense. In fact I can understand his reaction: this isn't a new sensor, it isn't a revolutionary new processor and the benefits can seem superficial at first glance. In fact it could be argued that the X-T1 brings back a DSLR design Fuji had seemingly been going against with the X series. To an OVF shooter, even the stellar giant EVF might seem less than enticing.
But I think it's important to see this camera within the context of the entire system, because this is now where we are with the X series. It's no longer just a couple of rangefinder-like cameras with great primes. In barely three years Fujifilm has built an entirely new camera ecosystem from the ground up, and when you stand back and look at this big picture the X-T1 not only makes perfect sense, it's a spectacular addition. It really is. For many of us, the X cameras are also no longer just an add-on, something to use in our off-time or as a curiosity on a shoot; for photographers, like me, who have moved entirely to Fujifilm, every gain in performance, every single refinement counts. Having used the X-T1 for over a week now I can say with absolute certainty that this is no small release: if you earn a living with these cameras, you owe it to yourself to try it out — Everything is faster, more direct, more accessible. Having said that, if you're an X camera owner who's also still shooting DSLRs in parallel, then the benefits may not be as obvious to you. It all comes down to what you're looking for.
One more thing I want to make absolutely clear: when I write about these cameras I'm never doing so against other brands or systems. I'm not negating what other lenses or cameras can do. As enthusiastic as I am about the X series, I know we're not dealing in magical unicorns here... There are other highly performing systems out there. So I'm just basically talking about my system of choice, my corner of the universe. That's all.
This weekend that universe mainly revolved around snow; lots and lots and lots of snow. I gotta say: I'm not at all into winter this year. In fact, truth be told I'm extremely miserable and having a hard time dealing with it. I pretty much don't want to be here and I'd like it to be over... Yesterday. But the kids were ecstatic, my brother-in-law brought his snowmobile and with the proper clothes on I have to admit it wasn't half-bad. Photographically speaking it was even rather pretty; and it was a chance to test the X-T1 in the cold, with fast moving subjects in varying light conditions.
Saturday, PM. -3ºC.
The snow started around lunchtime and by the time we left the house it was falling non-stop. But it It felt downright balmy and I was able to leave my gloves off without risking frostbite. I decided to use the 18-55mm zoom for a change, to see how it felt on the camera but also to allow me to change point of view without having to wade through thigh-high snow... Running to get the shot? Not in this you don't.
waiting for the ride
Sunday, AM. -10ºC and falling.
Weather out here is basically a race car: we can go from 0 to -25 in a heartbeat. Fortunately, we haven't gone too far down the rabbit hole this morning but it's still much, much colder; A big, bright sun can be deceiving. I've switched to the other zoom today, the XF 55-200mm — Another field of view, another way to see. I shoot birds through the window for kicks. Back inside I slip on the XF 35mm.
blue = cold
in = warm
Notes on tracking.
I never made frequent use of focus tracking when I shot Nikons, so I haven't missed it all that much. But with all the hoopla surrounding the X-T1's ability to do a better job with continuous shooting, I was curious to test it out — And a snowmobile felt like a pretty good start. I have to say the results did in fact surprise me, even if the actual shooting experience could at times feel a bit erratic. What caught me off guard was the nervousness of the focussing mechanism: it constantly evaluates the scene, pumping in and out without pause even if everything in the shot is perfectly still. So if you point at a chair for instance, half-pressing the shutter will make the camera go in and out of focus like some sort of drunken... Something. But once it gets going at 8fps, it works pretty darn well. A couple of examples:
Not bad at all. My problem is that it's not all that obvious that it's working *while* you're shooting, mainly because you can't really tell where the camera is focussing — there aren't any moving focus points on screen to let you know what's happening. So I wasn't sure it was all that impressive until I got home and saw the images full-size, side by side. Would I trust a big, paying job to it? Probably not. Right now it demands a bit of a leap of faith. But we've come a long way in a short time and this certainly shows a lot of potential. I intend to keep experimenting.
notes on remote control
There are quite a few reviews of the new Remote Control app out there, so I won't repeat what's already been said. Chris Dodkin has a nice look at it if you're interested. I'll just say this: it's useful. It really is. Browsing images off the card on my iPad Air while away from my computer was a surprisingly nice experience, certainly something I'll be getting used to very quickly. The one thing to keep in mind is that the camera is locked down when using wifi: you can't change or activate any of its controls. Not a problem when you're simply browsing images but definitely something to be aware of if you intend to use the remote control function. Namely... Make sure you've set the camera to AF mode otherwise you won't be able to focus, using either the remote OR the focus ring on the lens. Manual focussing doesn't work with the app. You also can't change exposure modes once the connection has been established. So basically the idea is to get everything right beforehand — then change what can and needs to be changed from the remote application.
notes on battery life
When using wifi the camera creates its own ad hoc network, meaning you can use this in the middle of the desert. I was expecting a huge battery drain from this function and much to my surprise, it doesn't seem to be a problem. In fact I used a single battery for most of the weekend and only changed before going out on Sunday as a precaution — it had lost a bar but wasn't even dead. Given that I was using WiFi, shooting bursts through that big a*@ EVF and out in the cold... That's rather impressive, especially for the X series.
notes on a quirk
I'll need to check with Fuji on this: I noticed that hitting AE-L in AF mode causes the camera to re-acquire focus before locking it down. This threw me for a loop because that's rarely (never) what you need; the idea with AF lock is to lock the focus you already have. Basically the camera button behaves as it does in manual mode before locking down. The other bodies don't behave this way.
I've been asked several times if the X-T1 is better than the X-Pro1. In certain ways it certainly is. But when you look at the X100S and the X-Pro1... Which one is better? There's no answer to that. What's exciting about Fuji's lineup is that the differentiation doesn't lie in cheaper bodies or artificial tech limitations for the sake of promoting the higher end. Beyond the natural evolution of the products, these are simply different cameras for different needs. There's no good or bad here.
The X-T1 is obviously the latest and greatest Fuji has to offer and it shows. After this weekend I'm over the moon about this camera. But the truth is we are absolutely spoiled for choice these days.
How can we not be thrilled about that?