Pros and cons of the Fuji X system

Fuji X-T1 with 50-140mm f2.8 zoom lens

Or why do I still keep my Canon equipment?

I have been using the Fuji X system for over two years now and have hardly used my Canon system in that time. So why am I still hanging on to it? Nostalgia perhaps as I have been a Canon user since 1976? Or is it perhaps because I have a more complete system than I have with Fuji?

I clearly need to make a decision. To help me I have done an analysis of the pro and cons of the Fuji X system. I set it out below and I will follow it up with a separate article doing the same for my existing Canon EOS outfit. I will then have analyse my photography and match the positive and negatives of the two systems against the sort of photography I am doing now and plan to do going forward.

So this article is the first part of a series helping me take a decision about best use of my resources that will provide a platform for my new photographic direction. Those resources are much more limited than in the past so I need to make sure I maximise return on investment; I need to make hard-nosed business decisions. I can no longer afford wishful thinking, emotion and nostalgia to play a part.

So here is my evaluation of the Fuji X system as far as I have got. Bear in mind that as a system the Fuji is still young and will continue to develop. Indeed a new generation of top end cameras are rumoured for 2016 and 2016 will also see the completion of the current lens roadmap. I am still choosing the bodies and lenses that I will use to meet my future photographic objectives.

Pros

Weight and bulk

My starting point with choosing a compact, mirrorless, camera system was to reduce the weight and bulk of my camera bag. The Fuji has been a triumph in that respect, I can now carry a comprehensive system in the bag that weighs no more than my basic walk around system with a professional Canon body and lens. I can get my X-T1 and 18-135mm (or a prime) lens in a small shoulder bag with, waterproofs, note bag and pen; as a result I now carry a serious camera with me pretty well wherever I go. As is so often said: "the best camera is the one you have with you"; I now always have one with me.

The small size does not mean there is any need to sacrifice build quality. With a couple of qualifications the Fuji X system is well built. I proved it when I dropped an X-T1 and 18-135mm lens down a flight of stairs. The lens was a write-off, it had been fully extended when I dropped it. I was able to continue to use the X-T1 body with another lens for a couple of days while I was covering the Nottingham Festival of Words. I sent it to Fuji as soon as I could and it only really needed to be checked that everything was still properly aligned—no mirror mechanism to be damaged of course.

Usability

The ergonomics and usability, especially of my X-T1, reminds me of my old manual cameras with all the important controls on dials at one's finger tips. Using it soon becomes second nature especially after it has all the other buttons and options configured to suit personal preferences. I bought the battery grip but only used it briefly and found, for me at least, that it provided no real advantage although I have kept it to see whether I need it with the 50-140mm (70-210mm 135 equivalent)  f2.8 zoom or the future 100-400mm which are bothsubstantial lenses.

The only real change I would like to see (on the X-T2?) is for the shutter button to be on the front of a deeper grip, like most of professional DSLRs, so I can use a hand strap. I would find it slightly more convenient but it is in no way a deal breaker

Nottingham Festival of Words - Jennifer MakumbiThe Fuji X-T1 is so quiet it is usable almost anywhere, I used mine in poetry and other author readings without any problem, even though I was only 10-12 feet (3-4m) away from the speaker. Speaking to the writers they heard but it was not obtrusive. That was before the firmware update that gave it a completely silent electronic shutter. The one event I did with the Canon was painful, it sounded deafening and as a result I used it very sparingly and get less good results. The only problem with a completely silent camera is being sure the exposure was made but one quickly gets used to it.

Quality

As already said the system is generally well built including the lenses. Although not really a problem they do seem to be a bit variable in the weighting of the controls, zoom, aperture and focus. From experience and other reports there does not seem to be bad lens amongst the Fujinon XF lens range. Even the more consumer oriented XC lenses have a good reputation but I cannot comment as I have not used any. I did have the XF 18-55mm f2.8-4 "kit" lens and it was that and the X-E1 body which won me over to the Fuji X system—the results straight out of the camera seemed to have something special, perhaps akin to that claimed by Leica buffs. Certainly the 18-55mm is optically excellent, better than the majority of so-called "kit" lenses which are often soon replaced with better optics. None of the Fujinon XF lenses I have used have disappointed me optically.

Image quality straight out of the camera, as JPEGS, is excellent, they have something that sets them apart from other cameras' images. Perhaps it is down to micro contrast from the innovative X-Trans sensor which does without an anti-aliasing filter to maximise sharpness with the more random colour filter supposed to minimise moiré, although I have had it on odd occasions. Moiré was easily corrected in Capture One Pro which has been my long time choice of raw converter and post process image editor. With it I never really experienced the "watercolour" effect on out of focus foliage of which many Fuji X users complained. It certainly seemed to be an issue with Lightroom's early support for  X-Trans raw files, it seems to have been largely resolved in more recent versions, certainly I hear fewer complaints. Fuji have always been an innovator when it comes to sensors as they often had a different, often better, approach with their previous Nikon based DSLRs.

For an APS-C format sensor the high ISO results are very acceptable, indeed above about ISO800 it is better than my older generation professional Canon 1Ds3 with its full frame sensor, with not so many more pixels. I happily use the X-T1 up to ISO3,200 but one needs to get the exposure spot-on otherwise bringing up the shadows produces too much noise (as with any camera). For small web uses and where it is necessary to get a picture at any cost ISO6,400 is definitely usable.

The other big plus for the Fuji X-T1 (and my earlier X-E1) is how well it keeps the sensor free of dust. I rarely have to clean dust spots before submitting images to libraries or for printing, even at large sizes. Occasionally I do get dust but a switch off and back on and the sensor cleaning does the job—in over two years I have never cleaned the sensor, I used a blower on it a couple of times when I noticed a spot in the viewfinder. Far better than any Canon DSLR I have used, that said I have not used the latest models.

Understanding photography, and photographers

Fuji have long tradition in professionally photography even though they have been out of it for some years. With the X system Fuji have shown real understanding of photographers' needs. There is tremendous commitment to continuous improvement, kaizen, with regular firmware releases including in many cases for discontinued cameras. Fuji have not just corrected performance issues and fixed bugs but added significant and useful new capabilities through firmware; to the extent that it is often like having a new improved camera—for free! As a result there has not been a need for new model every 6-12 months The Fuji designers are clearly photographers, or at least understand photographers, they are not just camera or electronic equipment makers.

As a new entrant Fuji showed their commitment to building a system rather than just producing a me-too camera by giving visibility of the XF/XC lens roadmap. Now they have all but completed that original vision, and more besides, as there is only 100-400mm and 120mm macro still to be launched. The 100-400 is widely expected to be announced in January 2016; it is the lens I most want to try. The macro lens is expected a little later in mid-2016 so hopefully the road map will be updated soon.

New equipment is launched when Fuji is ready and there is a significant step in capability to be made. Fuji do not launch minor upgrades to cameras every year to feed a consumer treadmill. Those minor upgrades come through new firmware;  long may it continue to be that way.

Cons

Autofocus

My main issue to date has been autofocus speed, or lack of it, especially with some lenses. Important to me as for many years I was primarily a sports photographer; that said I managed fine with manual focus cameras in my earlier career. For me, the 55-200mm was far too slow and so I replaced it with the new, wider aperture, 50-100mm f2.8 zoom. I need to do more testing but my first impressions are that is considerably better and may even be usable for sport. Fuji are clearly working at improving AF as my X-T1 is both faster and focusses better in low light than my original X-E1. I expect the next generation of the top end bodies, the X-Pro2 and X-T2 (or whatever they will be called), will be better still. At the end of the day it Is not simply the autofocus speed but some photographers seem to have an unreasonable expectation of what AF can achieve, there is a technique to using AF, get that right and it can do much to mitigate the apparent limitations.

Update: I may have not done the X-T1 AF justice when used with the right lenses and in the right mode with the latest firmware. Since writing this I have had a brief chance to test continuous autofocus (AF-C) with the Wide/Tracking mode that was introduced with version 4.0 of the camera firmware using the 50-140mm f2.8 zoom. It looked very promisiing but sailing dinghy racing was not the toughest challenege, but I could not find any football (soccer). Adopting my usual AF technique for sport seemed to work ("lock on" on to subject for a split second before allowing camera to track the subject)—I will do more testing and write up my experience as soon as I can. See the update: Experimenting with Fuji X autofocus.

The AF performance is the principal reason I have not got rid of my Canon kit. I tried using the Fuji and Canon alongside each other for sport but it was no contest—Canon won by a knock-out in the first round. That said I have shot very little sport in the last eighteen months. For news on the other hand the Fuji was fine and much more discreet than my large Canon. I suspect, with the newer fast zooms the Fuji will be an ideal news photography system, at least for the softer, local news that I tend to cover.

Flash

Although I am not a big user of flash, on a couple of occasions, judging by reviews and comments the Fuji flashguns are of somewhat mixed capability. So I have not bought a Fuji flash so I have had to revert to my Canon when I needed flash. There is still a lack of serious flash guns from Fuji, but I have added a Nissin i40 to my outfit and it is awaiting evaluation. I suspect it will meet my occasional need for an on-camera or portable flash unit.

Other issues

I mentioned that there was a build quality qualification. The Fuji X-T1 is supposedly water resistant but I have two issues with mine that would compromise that. First the door covering the various connectors such as for the remote control, HDMI and USB has bowed, a common problem it seems, and would let water in. I don't use them so I could tape it up. Also the seal on the door of the SDHC card compartment is breaking up, again reducing the  resistance to the wet. I have not been a heavy user as I have essentially taken a sabbatical during 2015 so there should not have been a lot of wear and tear. I intend to be much busier in 2016 so I hope a service and the next generation of the X-T1 will correct such design faults.

Finally

For me the electronic viewfinder (EVF) is not an issue one way or the other, although I feel that getting away from a flapping, mechanical, mirror has to be a step forward in camera design. A long time ago I learnt to keep both eyes open so that one had peripheral version outside the viewfinder (my first SLR did not have an instant return mirror) so I hardly notice the blackout on EVF or with an SLR. If television broadcast camera operators can use EVF, as they have for decades, so can I.

Finally, some may view as negative the fact that the Fuji X is not full 135 format, but not me as it would make the camera heavier, and the lenses especially would be bulkier and weightier. My feeling is that for most purposes the Fuji X is a good balance between size and the technical limitations on picture making, such as reduced differential focus. With proper awareness most of such issues can be worked around. As far as handling and weight is concerned the Fuji X system is the nearest thing to the size of manual focus film cameras which fitted the hand so well.

So why have I not got rid of my Canon kit? A good question, to answer it I need to repeat this exercise for my Canon system, that will be a another article: For and against Canon EOS for my photography.

 

 

Comments

No Avatar
Vikas S (not verified) on Tue, 05/01/2016 - 08:47

If I should invest in easy to carry and use fujifilm x-t1 full system to replace my canon. Or just Buy x-100T as add on camera for my travel and street photography needs.

My primary use is family pictures, some events, travel.

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