Instead of walking the well-worn path of other photographers and penning a list of things to buy this holiday season, I am going to go the other way and offer up a list you can hand out to your loved ones to guide them as they try to find affordable things to give you this year. This is my first annual, "I Don't Wish For This List." Enjoy!Read More
Why are some photographers such assholes?Read More
When I penned my review of the Fujifilm X-T-1 camera several weeks back, I based my thoughts on a few months worth of shooting with the camera. I've kept at it and now I feel the need to follow up on my review with some additional thoughts and some honest adjustments to my previous opinions. First off, I want to address the issue I found with the foliage "smudging" in Adobe Lightroom. I found something interesting when I began looking at my raw files in both LR CC and Capture One Pro. Let me step back a couple of years first... When I began using Adobe Lightroom, I watched a video by Adobe evangelist Julianne Kost. In the video she made a strong case for converting raw files to DNG when importing into LR. I began doing just that and whenever I imported from my Canon camera I would convert the raw CR2 files into DNG. I could not find any obvious drop in image quality and I liked the idea that the file format would remain future proof. Fast forward to the Fuji. I set the camera up to shoot raw + JPEG and when I imported my files into LR I converted the raws to DNG like I always did with my Canon files. When I tried to open any of the converted DNGs from the Fuji in Capture One Pro, they were unusable. They simply looked like sepia toned junk. I then began to import directly into COP from the Fuji and retained the native Fuji raw format. The files looked great and processed well. To maintain my LR catalog, I then imported from the memory card to LR and converted to DNG on import. I then compared the raw files side-by-side in the two programs and the COP files looked much sharper with no smudging of colors. The LR DNGs looked smudgy and dull. I then tried importing from the SD card into LR and skipped the conversion to DNG. Behold! The files looked great. I think Capture One Pro does a slightly better job with sharpness, but Lightroom is what I would prefer to use and the difference isn't enough to warrant me using COP as my normal processing engine.
So, by keeping the Fuji files in their native raw format I get great results in Lightroom. They aren't prefect, but neither is my photography.
My other gripes about the X-T1 were tactile ones. I don't like the way the unmarked aperture rings on the Fuji XF zoom lenses spin too easily, but I have to say I have learned to accept them. I trust the brilliant minds behind the XF lens line have their reasons for the unmarked free-spinning rings. As for the mushy buttons on the back of the camera... my camera was one of the first sold and they have since fixed the issue. I now have a second X-T1 and the buttons on that unit are clicky and nice. I still used some Sugu to build up the buttons so I could find them without looking, however.
That leads me to a new observation. The more I use the X-T1, the more I find myself adjusting it on the fly, often without taking the camera away from my eye. I think the manual controls on the camera like the ISO and Shutter Speed dials, are intuitive and once you get the hang of them, they become effortless. For a camera that looks retro and "old-School", I am finding the ergonomics of the thing very progressive and simple in their elegance. I can change focus points, exposure settings, and even deeper settings like white balance and face-detection AF with a few simple button presses and spins of dials. Coming from the Canon system with their awesome thumb ring on the back, I am thrilled that a camera like the X-T1 has proven to be so easy to manage. I really wasn't expecting that.
Now let me talk about some of the features of the camera I hadn't fallen in love with when I wrote my review:
First off, let me set the stage for this story. It's my back yard and I have three Canon speedlites rigged on stands with umbrellas and a softbox. I am looking to take some family portraits to give to my grandfather on his 100th birthday. I have the X-T1 on a tripod with the 56mm lens. I have the Yongnuo Speedlite Wireless Transmitter YN-E3-RT on the camera. The YN-E3-RT is a clone of the Canon radio controller for the 600 EX-RT speedlites, but unlike the Canon, it works great with the Fuji. I have the speedlites on manual and I can change their power from the radio trigger. With my wife standing in for a minute, I get the lights dialed in and it's time for the family picture. This is where it gets good. You see we have two kids, a 3 year-old and a 4 month-old. I wanted a tight portrait, so I wanted to have my wife and I holding the kids. That means dad has no hands free to trigger the camera and running back and forth across the yard for the 30 or so shots I will take is not going to work. So I set the X-T1's interval timer for 5 seconds and the number of frames to 30. I hit the shutter button and went over and stood with my family as the entire setup fired away every 5 seconds. It worked very well. It worked so well, I tried it again a few minutes later for some self portraits. Only this time I set the camera to use face-detection AF. I stood in front of the camera for a few minutes as it fired off shot after shot in interval mode.
When I imported the images into my computer I was thrilled to see that my self-portraits were all tack sharp and because I set the interval at 5 seconds, all of the speedlites had time to cycle. If you have a X-T1 and some speedlites, you really need to try this! Even if you aren't trying self-portraiture, the freedom you will have to engage with your portrait subject because the camera is focusing and firing for you will allow you get out from behind the camera. It's pretty cool.
That brings me to the crux of why I like this camera so much. I bought the first one to get me out of a rut. I wanted a camera that would make me think differently and try new things. The X-T1 is such a shift from the curvy world of DSLRs and the smaller size and lighter weight make carrying one or two of them a no-brainer. I find myself wanting to go out and shoot more because I can without dragging along a heavy kit. A friend of mine (Hi Patricia!) asked me yesterday if I still liked the X-T1 and the answer is a strong yes. She mentioned that she is finding herself carrying hers more and more because it's so easy to do. She isn't a big fan yet of the controls, but I bet she will come around in time.
I am excited about the Fuji camera and lenses. I love the 56mm F1.2 and 10-24mm F4.0 that I have. I have been sorely tempted to buy the new weather-sealed zoom, but I see on Fuji's lens roadmap that they will release a 50-200 F2.8 weather-sealed lens this winter. With that lens, I will find even more reason not to haul out the big Canon kit. I'm still not ready to sell off my DSLR gear, but I can now envision a day when I will.
And after shooting Canon for 30 years, that is saying something.
When I purchased my Fuji X100s last year I was looking for a camera that was handy. The X100s has proven to be perfect for the grab shots that I was missing with my Canon 5D Mark III zipped up in my bag. The little Fuji is a breeze to use and the images the APS-C X-Trans sensor creates are wonderful, especially shots of people. One of the reasons I chose the X100s was its fixed lens. I justified the purchase by reasoning that the fixed lens would not entice me into a new system. My working Canon kit was already more than I liked to carry, so why add a whole new family of bodies and lenses? With the X100s, I had a great little camera that was always close by, but never in the way. It’s simple, small, quiet and easy.
So why in the hell did I buy a Fuji X-T1?
The answer is complicated and shifty, and I’m not completely confident I’ve done the wise thing.
When I wrecked my knee last summer, the surgery and long recovery left me with a new tentativeness on my feet. I’m now a lot more careful when moving over uneven ground. Add a 45-pound photo pack and I get downright nervous. As much as I love my Canon gear and my hulking Gura Gear Bataflae pack, I am no longer enthusiastic about humping it up and down beaches and trails. So a smaller and lighter camera would be much kinder to my back, shoulders and knees.
Another thing my knee injury left me with was a lot of time off my feet reading photography blogs, looking at other photographer’s work, and scanning through the ceaseless stream of images on Google+, Flickr, and 500px. In my downtime, I also took a very long look at my own body of work. I have been focused on landscape work for the past several years and while I have really enjoyed getting out and exploring the natural world, my work lacks the spark that I want to see. When I was a photojournalist, I spent much of my time photographing people. I realized that my work was missing the human element that I find very compelling. A quote I read on a photography blog drove the point home for me. I’m paraphrasing a bit, I’m sure, but the blogger quoted an old photographer as saying, “People love pictures of the people they love, and the rest don’t amount to a hill of beans.” While that seems like the harsh words of a burnt-out old man, there is a message there. When you make images for other people to look at, and you endeavor to make art that people connect with, then you had better consider the elements that compel people to love art. In the firehose flow of gorgeous images on social media, I see a lot of the same shots over and over. Landscape photographers are like ants. When one forges a trail to a new waterfall, wildflower hotspot, or reflective mountain lake other photographers will soon follow, faithfully mimicking every aspect of the original work. How many shots have I made in the last few years are just like shots by other people?
As a workshop leader, I have become all too aware of the gravitational pull of the iconic shots. On the Oregon Coast alone there are dozens of places that have been shot to death. Haystack Rock, Thor’s Well, Heceta Head Lighthouse, and even my beloved rocks of Bandon have become cliches. Simply getting up early to catch the sweet light at a place like Bandon isn’t enough. If I’m going to plop down in front of a rock that lines up well with another rock and leaves lots of room for the glorious sunrise sky, then that shot really needs to be special and new. I’ve become a grumpy landscape shooter. If the light isn’t epic, the scenery unique, and the opportunity fresh I just grimace and grumble knowing I’m about to make pixels that have been made before. Where’s the fun in that?
With my growing intolerance for redundancy in my photography, I found myself scrolling through my Lightroom catalog with a measure of disgust. So many of the shots I’ve worked very hard to get are unremarkable. They often have all of the elements required in a great landscape photograph; sharp focus, proper exposure, and compelling composition. The problem is they often lack the spark I’d like. I know I’m my harshest critic, but I can’t discount my frustration with my work as self-depreciation. The simple fact is, the vast majority of my shots fail to elicit emotional responses from those who view them. In the words of that old salty photographer, they aren’t worth a hill of beans.
So I was in a pickle. I had a big bag of great tools and plenty of the skills necessary to use them, but I was no longer satisfied with the work. I needed a shift in my focus. It was with this desire to shake up my work that I decided to engage in more people photography. Not just portraiture, but also street photography. In my newspapering days, I really enjoyed photographing people in their element. I learned that by capturing people where they were most comfortable, I would often capture them more honestly. When I could photograph them engaged in their work, play or other activity, they would usually forget that I was there and I could become the preverbal fly on the wall. I loved that. Back then I purchased a Canon A2E camera that was very quiet for a modern film camera. I would choose the A2E over my workhorse EOS-1 when I wanted to blend in and operate stealthily. The camera also featured eye-controlled autofocus which usually failed to work, but that’s another story. The A2E was smaller than the hulking EOS-1, and I found that people seemed more comfortable around me when I used the smaller kit. Other photojournalists have known this for decades, and the Leica rangefinder cameras have always been favorites of photographers hoping to become transparent to those around them. It’s common for me to get comments from people when I use my Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 70-200 F2.8 L lens. It’s hard to remain inconspicuous when you have a big, noisy, flashy camera. My Fuji X100S is perfect for people photography because it is tiny, silent and completely innocuous, but it’s wide fixed lens lacks the reach of a more potent portrait lens. The more I contemplated it, the more I wanted a small, light, stealthy mirrorless camera that generated amazing images like the X100S, but with interchangeable lenses and durability on par with my Canon DSLR.
When the Fuji X-T1 was announced, I read the initial flurry of opinions with a small bit of interest. My affinity for the X100s kept me interested, but I feared my malaise was fostering a bad case of G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). I reasoned that dumping my Canon gear for a Fuji system would be a costly move born of the wrong reasons. I liked everything that was being said about the X-T1. It’s brilliant electronic viewfinder, the weathersealing, the small form factor, and that sweet Fuji image quality; they all spoke to me. I began to consider my options. I looked at the Sony A7r, which had the smaller form factor I was looking for with a full-frame sensor. With an adapter I could also use my Canon glass with the little Sony. As soon as I got my hands on one, one shutter press convinced me it wasn’t the camera I was looking for. The slap of the shutter was shockingly loud. It almost seemed like I could feel the shutter snapping open and shut. I was surprised that such a highly-touted camera could get away with being so noisy. I also wondered how the camera’s shutter vibrations might impact longer exposures. A lot of photographers I respect were buying, using and raving about their Sonys, but I couldn’t shake the sound of that slap-happy shutter. I looked briefly at the Olympus micro 4/3s cameras. I have seen some amazing images come from those tiny sensors and the Olympus cameras are nice and small, quiet and well built. When I picked one up and thumbed through the menus and spun the dials, I just found it flimsy feeling. I won’t go so far as to call the OMD camera I tried toy-like, but it was in the neighborhood of toy-like. I pictured myself feeling compelled to baby it for fear of breaking it. I’m careful with my gear, but I like having the option of not being careful if the need arises, so the Olympus cameras were out. With Sony and Olympus off my list, I looked back to the X-T1 and the more I looked, the more I liked it. Now, how do I pay for it?
I unzipped my camera bag and peeled the top back so I could survey every piece of gear in my kit. I had the two Canons: the stellar 5D Mark III and the wonderful Mark II. I rarely used the Mark II, but it held a special place in my heart as my first real DSLR. For lenses I had the workhorses: Canon’s awesome 70-200 f/2.8 L II ISM, the handy 24-105 f/4 L IS, and the valuable 17-40 f/4 L. Alongside I had tucked Canon’s amazing 100 f/2.8 L IS Macro, the two extenders for the 70-200, Canon’s 50 f/1.4, a Rokinon 14mm cine lens, and three Speedlite 600 EX-RTs with the super-cool wireless controller. Holding the place of honor in my bag was my beloved Canon 24mm TS-E tilt & shift lens. With filters, cords, loupes, batteries and other detritus, the whole kit was a swollen, heavy beast of a bag. I had chosen each of the components of my kit with much deliberation and research, so it wasn’t an easy task to cull out the things I could sell to fund my gear change. In the end I chose to shed the 5D Mark II, the 24-105 and the 17-40.
With my Canon kit pared down, I dropped some coin and ordered the X-T1. I was fortunate to snag one without a wait, but the lenses proved an exercise in patience. I had been reading the previews of Fuji’s upcoming 56mm F1.2 lens and I knew it would make a great portrait lens. Fuji already had several prime lenses that had won devoted followings, but the 56 looked to be a new classic, so I put in a preorder with several stores. I had in my sweaty hands the X-T1 body, but it wasn’t clear when I would be getting a lens. That’s a tough spot, and I found myself at my local camera store fondling the existing offerings for the Fuji X Mount. I purchased the 18mm lens, but after mounting it to my camera I realized I didn’t like its ergonomics or optics, so it went right back. I ordered the Rokinon fisheye lens for the Fuji system, and found it lacking as well so I sent it back. These jitters were due to my impatience, so I sucked it up and hid my credit card and waited for the 56. After three weeks it arrived and the moment I clicked it onto the camera I knew it was going to be amazing. The build quality of the lens is hefty and precise, like a really nice watch. Even my astronomically-expensive Canon tilt & shift lens feels inferior to the 56. Fuji’s attention to detail on the lens is only equalled by the details on the X-T1 itself. Mated, the lens and camera feel as if they were carved from a single block of alloy. The smooth metal is nicely anodized and the surfaces that fit within the hand are covered in rubber that feels clingy but not tacky, kind of like fine leather. The dials atop the X-T1 are properly-sized and carry on the substantial metal heft of the camera. With the X-T1 in hand, my fingers fall naturally on the shutter release, the thumb rest and the custom function button on the face of the camera falls perfectly under my middle fingertip. My left hand is left free to cradle the lens, which features a grooved focus ring that spins with a glassy smoothness. The only other ring on the lens controls the aperture and it’s marked clearly with the full F-stops of the lens’ range along with the scarlet A(for Automatic Aperture, not Adultery). While the 56mm lens’ focus ring feels solid and smooth, the aperture ring spins far too easily. There are clear stops at each F-stop, but it takes very little to spin the ring to and fro, which seems strange to me considering the camera’s top dials that control ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation carry measures designed to prevent accidental changes. The ISO and SS dials feature push button locks that really do take more effort than they should to disengage. The exposure compensation dial has no lock, but it is stiff enough to discourage inadvertent movement. So having an aperture ring that feels loose is a frustrating shortcoming in what is in all other respects damn near perfect lens. My only other gripe with the 56mm lens is the hood, which is plastic. I’m not asking for a metal lens hood, plastic is my preferred material for lens hoods as they will take knocks and absorb the force instead of telegraphing it to the lens. Plastic hoods are also lighter and will not dent and bend. My issue with the hood on the 56 is that the plastic tabs that engage the front of the lens when the hood is installed are prone to wear and after a couple of weeks my hood was already looking chewed up. Not the qualities you’d expect from a $1000 lens. The lens hood thing is really a nit-picky complaint, but the loose aperture ring is a more serious concern.
A couple of weeks after the 56mm lens arrived, I took delivery of Fuji’s new 10-24mm F4 R OIS zoom. I love wide zooms. My first truly great lens was the original Canon EF 20-35 F2.8L. I used that lens day after day for years until the rubber grips peeled off the zoom and focus rings. I still have that lens. It’s an expensive and sentimental paperweight now, far too soft for my 5D Mark III. Fuji’s 10-24 is every thing my old 20-35 lens was and more. On the X-T1’s APS-C sensor, it’s actually a 15-48mm zoom, which makes it as wide as the new Canon 16-35 F4 L IS. At its widest, the 10-24 pulls in an amazing 110 degrees of view. While that is pretty stunning, the lack of distortion at this width is absolutely incredible. Barrel distortion is there, but it’s not obvious. I love how the wide shots from this lens look. The build quality of the 10-24 is on par with the 56. Fine metal finishes and smooth focusing and zoom rings scream precision. As with the 56, the aperture ring is far too easy to spin. In a move that makes no sense to me, Fuji opted to leave the aperture ring unmarked, so in addition to spinning freely, you have no idea what aperture is set until you fire up the camera and look at the screen or viewfinder. For a camera that embraces analog aesthetic, this omission is puzzling. The 10-24 lens’ zoom ring is right up against the aperture ring, with only a small ridge of metal separating them, so I assume Fuji decided to keep it simple and leave off the aperture markings in hopes of eliminating confusion, but the result is a frustrating lack of information. Behind the aperture ring lies the optical image stabilizing system on/off switch and a switch to engage the manual aperture ring or automatic aperture mode. The IOS switch makes complete sense, but the whole aperture ring perplexes me. Give me a smooth, clicking aperture ring with markings please.
Along with the 10-24 zoom, I added Fuji’s VG-XT1 battery grip. With the grip installed, the X-T1 fits comfortably in hand. The grip adds a vertical shutter release and a smattering of buttons that come in handy when shooting vertically. I appreciate the grip’s solid feel. Many vertical grips feel hollow and plastic (hello, Canon!). Another great feature in the grip is the addition of a second battery bay. When installed, the second battery in the grip powers the camera, with the in-camera battery playing backup. Since the X-T1 eats batteries like candy, it’s great to have twice the juice on board. I often find myself exhausting the grip battery and working into the onboard battery before I have a chance to swap out the dead cell. The CG-XT1 does add some serious bulk to the X-T1, and for the first two months I used the camera I kept the grip on. At that point I was carrying the camera and two lenses around in a Timbuk2 messenger bag with a small camera insert. This allowed me to keep the camera with me wherever I went, while leaving room for my “dad stuff” like diapers, wipes, snacks and my iPad Mini. While I liked having the camera kit in my everyday carry bag, I had trouble pulling the camera in and out of the bag without snagging on flaps and pockets. The X-T1 is a bumpy mess with all of the dials and such. The stout rubber eye cup is wonderfully functional when I need it, but it is in the perfect spot to snag on everything. When snagged, the little eye cup is prone to slip up a bit, which covers the eye sensor just below the viewfinder eyepiece. When the sensor is covered, it thinks you have your eye up to the camera and turns off the rear LCD screen. There’s nothing like powering on your camera and not having it come to life. There you are punching at buttons in a mild panic wondering why your precious camera has decided to die, only to realize the damn eye cup has activated the EVF. Despite having this happen many times, it gets me every time.
To mitigate the snagging issue I’ve done what any good photographer would do, I bought a new bag. I now lug my X-T1, lenses and assorted accouterments in a delightful Lowepro Photo Hatchback backpack. The camera gear lives safely in the lumbar compartment while the daddy gear goes in the top compartment. There’s even a front pocket for the iPad. Look for a review soon. The new backpack is nice and compact, which allows me to carry it anywhere. The downside is it’s too shallow for the X-T1 to fit with the big battery grip attached. So my $80 camera bag that doesn’t snag my camera has caused me to buy a $130 plate/grip for the camera. You see how these problems keep coming? The base X-T1 body is very small, and in my meaty hands the little standard grip is too small. With the MHG-XT grip installed I get a really comfortable grip and an Arca-Swiss bottom plate. The design of the MHG-XT is really ingenious, and a testament to Fuji’s engineering prowess. Thanks to the considerate people at Fuji I can grip my camera with confidence, enjoy easy tripod mounting and still access the battery compartment. The MHG-XT adds only about a ¼ inch to the height of the camera, so it fits perfectly in the Lowepro bag. If I need to engage in prolonged sessions of vertical photography, I can always detach the MHG-XT and install the VG-XT1. I like those options.
Enough with the talk of grips, bags and lenses. Let me tell you about the X-T1. First off, it’s solid. Even though it’s compact, it feels substantial in hand. The fit and finish are elegant and classy. The dials atop the camera sit astride the viewfinder hump, which has a diopter adjustment knob on the left side. I’ve decided to tape the diopter knob down so I don’t bump it. I’ve looked through the EVF too many times alarmed that my aging eyes can’t focus only to learn that I had knocked the diopter adjustment knob. With a small turn of the knob the world snaps into focus and I feel 20 again. On the right side of the EVF hump is the view mode button, and it’s perfectly small so you can only hit it when you want to. With it you can select the rear LCD, the EVF, the eye sensor, or off, which is nice if you’re using the Fuji wifi app on your iPhone or iPad to control the camera. The big ISO dial is to the left of the EVF hump, and it has that lock button that you must depress while turning the knob. A lot of people hate the button lock, but I don’t mind it. It can be used one-handed and since the ISO knob is so big, it’s nice to know what you set will stay put. Under the ISO knob is the drive selector, which is a ring that rotates around the base of the ISO knob. A little lever on the front side of the ring makes turning it a breeze. The X-T1 has options for single, continuous low, continuous high, bracketing, and interval modes. The bracketing mode is nearly useless as it only provides +1 and -1 stops range, but I don’t mind as I find myself manually adjusting shutter speed to bracket anyway. The interval timer is sweet, but I haven’t played with it a lot. Timeplapsers will love it. I usually keep the camera on single mode, but I have bumped it up to CL from time to time to enjoy the 3 frames per second motoring. CH is nuts at 8 FPS. I use it occasionally, but it’s really too fast for most situations. The camera’s AF system is good, but not 8 FPS good. Really, how many times do you need to capture the world at 8 FPS? If you do, perhaps you should be looking at the Nikon F4s or Canon 1DX. Seriously. That said, the CH mode does sound pretty cool and it impresses people at parties.
On the right side of the EVF hump is the shutter speed dial. Another big, metal knob, this one also has the button lock. Again, not a big deal but many people like to bitch about it. The X-T1 can shoot up to 1/4000 second, but not 1/8000, which is a bit of a problem when you are using the 56mm F1.2 lens. In daylight at F1.2, 1/4000 isn’t fast enough to cut down the light. I have to carry a ND filter just for such occasions. 1/8000 would have been cool. The bottom end of the shutter speed range goes to 30 seconds, but the dial only goes down to 2 seconds. To drop slower, you must use the small front control wheel near the shutter button. No big deal, really. The control wheel will adjust shutter speed anytime, which affords finer control than the full-stop intervals on the SS dial. The problem I have is when you change the shutter speed using the wheel, it still shows the original speed on the dial on top. I find myself wanting to stick to full stop intervals with my aperture and shutter speed, so I rarely use the wheels. My preference there, not a problem with Fuji’s control approach. Other analog-style cameras like the Nikon DF have much more convoluted and silly relationships between dials and control wheels. In case you are wondering, the X-T1 was a bulb mode, which is selected with the SS dial just as it should be. Beneath the SS dial is the metering mode ring, which mimics the function of the drive mode ring on the other side. Same lever and everything. The X-T1 has the usual spot, evaluative and center-weighted metering modes we’ve all come to expect. I tend to favor the center-weighted mode, but I have been known to wander to the other two for kicks.
The other dial atop the camera is the exposure compensation knob, which has no lock. It does take some effort to spin, so I haven’t had any problems with accidental changes. It’s a big improvement over the X100s’ Exp. Comp. knob, which seems to chance on its own. Next to the Exposure Compensation dial is the wifi mode button. I’ll get to the wifi thing in a while. The shutter button on the X-T1 is nice and responsive. Around it is the power switch, which is a levered ring. I find it far too easy to power up and shut down the X-T1. It’s a problem with me and not the ergonomics of the camera. The X100S has the same switch and I’ve gotten into the habit of turning on the little camera to take a shot of one of my kids, then I power it right down. Handy, right? The switch being right there makes it so easy to just flip it. With the X-T1, I’ve run into issues when I’ve taking continuous shots with the CL or CH drive mode. I’ll motor off a bunch of frames, then out of habit I’ll flick the power off. Meanwhile the little elves inside the camera are busy trying to push my images onto the SD card. They get really pissed when I turn off the lights and they make a little orange warning light flash on the thumb rest. I see the light and flick the power back on but no, the camera won’t power up. I’m in the penalty box for what seems like minutes while the little orange light blinks at me. It’s frustrating and I’m trying to retrain myself not to play with the power switch. I have a 90 mb/s SD card in the camera and I know I could use the new 280 mb/s cards, but I’m going to wait for the prices to drop on those crazy things before I buy one, so I will put up with the angry buffer issue for now.
The only other control on top of the camera is the movie on/off button, which is placed right alongside the shutter release. I don’t think the X-T1 is a great movie machine, but I can see using it occasionally to grab some video. Having the button handy makes sense, but it’s close proximity to the shutter release is troubling. I like like Canon’s placement of the video button on the back of the camera. I hear Fuji is going to give us a firmware fix for this issue soon, so I look forward to turning that button into a custom function button then. Speaking of custom function buttons, the X-T1 is festooned with them. I really appreciate Fuji’s flexibility on this. In the setup menu you can assign a large variety of jobs to the custom function buttons on the front and back of the camera. I have the one on the front set up to preview depth of field. The four surrounding a central select button on the back of the camera are dedicated to AF functions, face detection, macro mode, and white balance. In addition to the custom buttons on the back you’ll find a Focus Assist button, which when pressed in manual focus mode zooms the EVF or LCD image to 100% for focus check. Awesomesauce, Fuji. Truly nice. In Continuous or Single AF mode, the focus assist button allows you to cycle through the assist modes at hand. You can choose to have a digital split image like an old-time SLR, you can select focus peaking which is really nice, or you can opt for standard mode which simply zooms in. All of the modes have their merits, but I tend to use focus peaking. Another button on the back of the camera gives you view options for the LCD and EVF. You can choose to see a variety of information overlaid on your image, or none at all. Another groovy option gives you a 100% zoom image in black and white alongside your full frame image. With the sensational EVF, this mode is amazing when manually focusing. Truth be told, I tend to keep the X-T1 in manual focus mode. I’ve programmed the AF-Lock button on the back of the camera to act as an AF on button, so I can either manually focus or hit the button and AF. I’ve been a back-button focuser for years, so this is natural for me.
Let me take this opportunity to talk about the electronic viewfinder (EVF). The thing is amazing. It’s big and clear and bright. On shiny daylight days you can look into the EVF and enjoy absolute clarity. You can overlay all kinds of information in the EVF: level, grid, histogram, you name it. It makes bright-conditions shooting so easy. I love it. The LCD is also clear and bright and with the screen’s ability to swivel out from the camera I can shoot high or low without issues. I have been shooting at waist level a lot lately. I wish every camera had the option to pivot the screen, everyone’s photos could use some time off eye level.
One more button worth mentioning on the back of the camera is the Q button. When pressed, you can select and change most of the camera’s settings on screen just like Canon’s Q button. It’s a nice option when shooting from a tripod and you can’t see the top dials. Other than that, I don’t use it much.
The buttons on the X-T1 have received a load of criticism, and it’s completely deserved. The buttons on my X-T1 are flush with the back of the camera which makes them less likely to be pressed accidentally, but they are too hard to find and press, especially in the dark. Add to that the lack of clear “clickiness” of the buttons and they really are a pain in the ass. I’ve mitigated the issue my making my buttons more prominent with a crazy rubber paste called Sugu. This stuff comes in little foil packets and when opened you roll the putty into little balls and press them onto the buttons. Wait 24 hours and you have rubberized buttons that won’t come off unless you work at it. I like the stuff so much I added some to the shutter button. Given enough Sugu, one could probably form a full camera housing. It would look ridiculous, but it would be seriously stout.
All of the X-T1’s cool dials and buttons don’t mean anything if the camera can’t produce great images. I wouldn’t put up with the silly buttons and loose aperture rings if the camera wasn’t really, really sharp. The image quality of my X100S is stellar, and the X-T1 is a notch above. The JPEGS that the camera generates are incredibly sharp, clear and richly-colored. Fuji has designed JPEG styles that mimic their film stocks, so you can select the saturated tones of Velvia or the subdued colors of Astia. The camera’s black and white modes produce brilliant JPEGs that rival any processing I can muster with Lightroom. I prefer to shoot in raw, so I can control the tones of images later on the big screen of my iMac. The Fuji raw files that the X-T1 produce are really nice, but I have had problems getting some of them to play nice with Lightroom. If I shoot images of people, the raw files look great. Truly wonderful. I didn’t expect anything but great raw files until I made some shots at Crater Lake National Park a few weeks ago. I used the X-T1 with the 10-24mm lens and a polarizer. The lake was as blue as ever and the skies clear. On the LCD screen the shots looked deeply saturated and crystal clear. When I imported them into the computer later I was shocked to zoom in to 100% and find the foliage and other fine details of the images looked smudged. They looked like I had applied the Photoshop Oil Painting filter they were so smudged. I zoomed out and then back in but the smudging was obviously not my eyes. I Googled the issue and found a lot of people complaining of the same thing. Most pointed to Phase One’s Capture One Pro software as a solution. I downloaded the trial version and imported the Crater Lake raw files. In Capture One Pro they looked great. Nice and crisp detail in the foliage and accurate color in the water and sky. I was bummed. I have 95,000 images in my Lightroom catalog. I have been managing and processing my work with Lightroom for years. Now I’m learning that I won’t get good results with the industry standard digital workflow solution. I will need to maintain a separate catalog of landscape images in anoth
er program! Shit, I say. Shit.
So I’m stepping back and taking a long, hard look at the situation. I have become a photographer with a foot in two ecosystems. On one side I have a stellar camera with incredible lenses and speedlites. My Canon kit is perfect for landscape and nature work. The 24mm tilt and shift lens is so incredibly sharp and fun to use. The 70-200 F2.8 always gives me great shots. The 5D Mark III’s AF system hits more than it misses, even with crazy birds in flight and kids in full-tilt fun mode. The 600EX-RT Speedlites work flawlessly with the radio controller. I have stacks of filters, pouches of batteries, and all of the assorted remotes, covers, LCD loupes, and flaptrap to keep that system humming along. When it comes to landscapes and nature work, I’d have to go to medium format to beat it. On the other side I have a little camera with two lenses that all fit in a little red backpack with room left for lunch, a jacket and diapers (for the baby, not me!). The camera is a joy to use, the images flawless as long as they don’t include foliage. I can carry it all day and never tire of using it. It has wifi, so I can travel with it and an iPad and leave the laptop at home. It eats batteries, but they are small and cheap. It has silly buttons and aperture rings, but they aren’t so bad. For most of what I want to do, the Fuji is my camera of choice. It’s far from perfect, but it just might be perfect for me right now. That Canon bag is so damn heavy!
Here’s where I stand. I’m a Canon shooter and I may always be. When I need big, clear files with crisp detail and dead-on color it won’t fail me. It works well in the weather. I know every button and menu item without thinking. It is an extension of my will, but it’s big, heavy, noisy, distracting and expensive. When I take it out to photograph people I feel like a tool. “Look at me with my big lens!” When I take out the Fuji, no one bats an eye. I can pop off frames and every one is fun. I can control the thing from my phone. I can carry it for miles, shoot great photos, push a button and send them to my iPad. Moments later I can post them to my Google +, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram and 500px pages. The Fuji has problems with foliage, but it loves people. The Canon flusters people but loves foliage. It looks like I’m in a Jack Sprat situation.
So for the time being I’m wearing my Canon shirt with a Fuji hat. I like to compare photography to music, and right now I’m thinking I need two guitars to play the songs I love. There will be my axe-grinding electric guitar tunes and my strumming acoustic ditties. They will all rock. I hope.