A Novice’s Thoughts On Photography & The Fujifilm X-T1

This is a post of my thoughts on the Fujifilm X-T1 camera and my photography journey as a photography novice . It is not exactly a review but if you are new to photography like me and are considering buying into the Fujifilm camera systems, especially the X-T1 then perhaps this could provide you with some insight. No promise!

The Fujifilm X-T1
The Fujifilm X-T1

Getting Into The Hobby

I recently started photography as a new hobby. This is in fact not the first time I tried it. A few years ago I chipped in money with my cousin on a Nikon D7100 and a Sigma 18-250mm f3.5-6.3 lens. For some reason taking photos never stuck so the camera and lens spent most of its time staying in its bag inside a cabinet.I think I was just too busy with uni and work, amongst other things. Eventually I left the camera with my cousin and he took it with him when he moved away.

At the time I didn’t know much about photography; the technique, the theory and the gear. I still don’t know much about them now but I think I am off to a better start this time.

When I moved across the country last year for a new job and started a new life, I meet a lot of people and made some new friends. One eventually revealed that he was into photography. Since then the idea of photography as a hobby was glued to the back of my mind and lasted for the better part of the year.

After a while, I decided to bite the bullet and picked up photography. It just seemed like the perfect hobby for me to invest in. It should get a recluse like me out of the house a bit more, I thought. Bringing new opportunities to meet new people and make new friends. I think I am finally getting there.

Figuring Out What Gears To Get

As clueless as I was, I consulted my friend on what camera to buy. He threw a few names my way and informed me a bit about the different sensor types (full frame, APSC, etc.) and DSLR v.s. mirrorless cameras.

Canon, Nikon, Sony were the usual suspects. There were also Olympus, Panasonic and Fujifilm. Eventually I have my heart set on the Fujifilm cameras. Made in Japan, mirrorless and small. There was just something about those physical dials, buttons and switches that captured my attention. I felt that having the major camera settings in front of me at all times instead of being hidden under system menus and button presses will force me to think about these settings more. In turn, allow me to be better at controlling the camera. That thought still holds true.

That was a few months ago.  At the time my only consideration for a new camera system was that it should be relatively affordable. This was in case I decided photography just wasn’t my thing after all. The camera would also have to be somewhat resistant to the elements and be able to function below 0 degrees in the Canberra winter weather. Soon I learnt that those two things do not necessarily go together but the flagship Fujifilm X-T cameras did offer weather sealing and so were a lot of their lenses.

Getting The Camera And Other Bits

Eventually I decided to go the second hand route on the camera body. I purchased off eBay a used Fujifilm X-T1 that was still in its extended warranty period. I also ordered a Fujinon XF 16-55mm F2.8 lens off Ted’s Cameras in the same time. Both of those endeavours eventually resulted in disasters that took a lot of time to resolve.

The seller of the camera was non-responsive and less than delightful to deal with after the purchase. I was given the run arounds and a lot of hard time to obtain the advertised warranty documents and information required to transfer ownership of the extended warranty policy. The warranty proved to be very useful later as I will explain more.

The lens order became a back order with Fujifilm Australia as the supplier. It was just unending waves of “the order has been delayed by a month”. I cancelled the order after waiting what was probably 2 months. Ted’s web sales staff was nothing but a delight to deal with at the time. They gave me no dramas when I called up to cancel the order. In the mean time, I purchased a Fujinon XF 27mm F2.8 pancake lens as a stop gap. It held me over till I acquired a few more lens later on.

The Fujifilm X-T1

The Fujifilm X-T1
The Fujifilm X-T1

The Fujifilm X-T1 is a surprisingly light and compact camera. Being an APS-C mirrorless camera, I knew it would be quite small. But it wasn’t until I have received the camera in the mail and held it in my hands that I could fully comprehend its weight and form factor. Paired with the XF 27mm pancake lens. You can practically slide the camera into any jacket pocket.

Being a 3 year old camera since the time it was first announced, I didn’t feel that the X-T1 was old and obsolete in anyway. It helps that I pretty much had no expectation on how it should perform and behave considering I didn’t know much about photography gear in general.

There are a few things that I really like and enjoy about the X-T1 when using it but there are also a few things I didn’t like or felt it could do better. They are lay down below in the next few sections.

X-T1 Thumbs-up: Physical Dials

The Fujifilm X-T1's Physical Dials
The Fujifilm X-T1’s Physical Dials

I mentioned before that I really like having the physical dials at the top of the camera and it was one of the main things that caught my eyes when I first discovered the Fujifilm cameras as a camera option.

The X-T1 has three main top dials for ISO, shutter speed and exposure compensation. Underneath the ISO dial, there is a sub-dial that let’s you select the different camera functions. There’s bracketing, continuous high, continuous low, single shot and a few other ones. Underneath the shutter speed dial you can select the which exposure mode to use.

Generally when some one’s shooting a raw photo, the main parameters they have to consider are the ISO, shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation. The reason I like the X-T1 physical dials is because they expose most of those parameters that I mentioned above right in front of the user. To me, they serve as a constant reminder of the main parameters that I have to consider when taking a photo.

Some people may disagree and prefer to have ISO, shutter speed and what not as software menu settings which they do in most camera brands. I think the dials work for me because back when I had the Nikon, I spent a lot of time on auto because I would panic and just want to take the shot. Now that the dials are in front of me, I tend to take my time and think about the output picture that I want to achieve and what parameters I need to deliver that. I am also more inclined to experiment with new settings and different features of the camera as they are all available at the turn of a dial or two.

X-T1 Thumbs-up: Film Simulations

The Fujifilm cameras offer something quite special. Their JPEG outputs are generated with a selected film simulation each time an image is taken. The film simulations mimics a variety of film types/brands, each with different characteristics. Think of them as different filters if you will. Some place emphasis on contrast, one gives more colour/saturation and there’s a few for black and white and more.

Selecting film simulations on the Fujifilm X-T1
Selecting film simulations on the Fujifilm X-T1

What’s also important is that the X-T1 does other things like lens profile correction and noise reduction when generating JPEG’s. A person who is more experienced can easily use the JPEG’s straight out of the camera and not worry about producing raw’s and post processing them.

Keep in mind the film simulation and other corrections are only applied to the JPEG outputs. When the X-T1 is outputting raw as well, the raw’s image data are not affected the selected film simulation and camera settings. They may contain the additional tags/data that can get picked up by a raw processing software.

At the time that I am writing this, I believe Lightroom is the only processor that also provides the film simulations as camera correction profiles. These are not developed by Fujifilm but approximations created by the Lightroom developers. After you imported the raw images into Lightroom, you have the option of selecting a simulation profile in the ‘Develop’ module. I normally start my editing of a photo by picking a film simulation profile first.

X-T1 Thumbs-up: Live Exposure Preview Everywhere!

This is got to be the most favourite and important feature for me. The X-T1 provides live exposure preview in both the EVF and the camera back screen! This is not exactly a X-T1 specific feature but one for mirrorless cameras in general. Exposure preview is basically a preview of how an image will turn out with the current camera settings when you press the shutter button. There’s no buttons or options to activate live preview. It is just always there.

On a traditional DSLR , live exposure preview is only available on the camera back screen and not the view finder as they are generally optical. Live view requires the mirror to be lifted so the sensor can be used. This is not an issue on a mirrorless camera because the view finder is just a digital display and there’s no physical mirrors in the way in front of the image sensor.

As a novice photographer, this is extremely useful. I don’t remember off the top of my head the appropriate manual settings for every scenarios that I am in. Having live exposure preview removes the need of taking lots of test shots. It is less of a problem when shooting aperture priority but being able to see what the camera sees and will give you before you take the shot can help with figuring out lighting so much easier.

To be honest, I took this feature for granted and thought it was something standard for every camera. I was surprised when my friend told me that his DSLR couldn’t quite do the same.

The feature is less useful when you are in a low light situation or you have your camera settings in such a way that it doesn’t naturally gather enough light. The camera tries to compensate by adding gain to the live view image feed which introduces a lot of noise and seem to reduce the displays’ frame rate.

X-T1 Thumbs-up: Focus Assist Features

The other thing that I really like about the X-T1 are its focus peak highlight and digital split image functionalities when the camera is in manual mode. Both of these features are there to help you focus on your subject when you are shooting your XF lens in manual or you’re using a manual lens.

Digital split image on the Fujifilm X-T1
Digital split image on the Fujifilm X-T1

Focus peak highlight essentially highlights area that are in focus in a colour that you have selected. I normally use red. Digital split image on the X-T1 displays a monochrome rectangle in the centre of your screen that are split into four rows. As the subject area gets in focus, any visible lines in the subject in each row will align with lines in the other rows.

Focus peak highlight on the Fujifilm X-T1
Focus peak highlight on the Fujifilm X-T1. The red highlights are the in focus areas.

These two features are a huge life saver when I use my manual Venus Optics Laowa 60mm macro lens. Looks on the small camera displays can be deceiving. Without these features, sometimes the image will look sharp on camera but are actually out of focus when I look at it more closely on a computer screen.

X-T1 Thumbs-down: Display Resolutions

As awesome as the focus assist features that the X-T1 provides, sometimes they are hindered by the resolutions of its EVF and back screen.

Take shooting macro photography with the Laowa 60mm lens for example. It is a manual lens so I often have to switch between using focus peak highlight and digital split image. It can be a real struggle using these features to place a subject in focus when the subject is very small. The displays just do not provide enough resolution for me to really see the micro details. Often times it is not possible for me to tell that the image is out of focus until I put the photo up on a computer display.

Backyard Moss
This photo of some moss in my backyard was shot handheld using the Laowa 60mm lens and focusing was a pain. I can’t record what f value I used but it must have been quite small. I took about half a dozen shots and this one was the only one that turned out ok.

X-T1 Thumbs-down: Tripod Mount Alignment

The X-T1’s tripod mount is centre aligned relative to the camera body but it is actually off axis relative to the lens mount. This creates two issues. First, you can not transform the camera’s orientation on a tripod in a lens centre aligned manner without using a tripod mounting plate that’s big enough to offset the difference. Lastly, my tripod mounting plate (a small Arca-Swiss type plate) partially obfuscates the camera body battery compartment. This means I have to remove the tripod mounting plate every time I have to replace the camera batteries.

This issue is actually fixed on the Fujifilm X-T2 where the tripod mount is aligned to the lens mount and that provides more clearance for accessing battery compartment.

The bottom of the Fujifilm X-T1 camera.
The bottom of the Fujifilm X-T1 camera.

X-T1 Thumbs-down: Raw Processing Requires Good Converter

This was a problem that I didn’t realise existed until I was considering Lightroom and its alternatives. During my research my search results began turning up with people commenting that Lightroom’s Fujifilm raw conversion sucks big time. Turns out Fujifilm actually uses a different pixel layout on their X-Trans sensors which generated raw’s that required very different algorithms to read.

Fuji vs. Fuji has a nice article that compares the conversion quality of a large number of converters out there. The article is quite old but it does give you an idea of what is going on and compare the output between different converters. Most of them have had major improvements since that article but at least Lightroom’s conversion quality is still a bit undesirable.

Long story short, I ended up purchasing and using Iridient X-Transformer as part of my editing workflow. The raw files are converted to DNG via X-Transformer first before they are imported into Lightroom. The images are generally much higher quality that way.

Lens Selection and Availability

The small size and weight of the Fujifilm X cameras also extends to its selection of X-mount Fujinon lenses. The Fujinon lenses are generally smaller and lighter at the equivalent focal lengths when compared to lenses for other camera systems. All Fujinon lenses have auto focus. They also have manual focus by wire.

Before I continue. To any newbies who may have missed it, Fujinon (not to be confused with Fujifilm) is the brand of lenses made by Fujifilm. To be honest,  I was misreading Fujinon as Fujifilm for quite a while before I realised I was making the mistake. Silly me!

At the moment (2017 Jul), Fujifilm has about 20+ native lenses available for the X-mount. They cover the focal range from 10mm all the way up to 400mm (15mm – 60mm FF equivalent). There are lots of primes and a several zooms. All the zooms have OIS (optical image stabilisation) and there’s a whole range of weather resistant lenses.

There is an official roadmap of all the lenses that are available now and what’s coming.

I mentioned earlier that I started with the XF27mm pancake lens. I have since acquired the XF14mm and the XF56mmAPD. They are all very good lens and they cover the focal lengths for most of my photography scenarios.

The Fujinon XF 27mm
The Fujinon XF 27mm

The Fujinon lenses are generally not cheap but they are of very high build quality and will provide you with very good quality images. However, purchasing them can be difficult, depending on where you are located. Here in Canberra, Australia, it can be hard to purchase a Fujinon lens from a physical store as they are generally not in stock. They are either very popular or have very low demand. All of my lenses so far have actually been purchased online from either Melbourne or Sydney.

The Fujinon XF 56mmAPD
The Fujinon XF 56mmAPD

Third Party Lenses

The third party lens ecosystem for Fujifilm X-mount is minuscule compared to what is available for other camera brands. There are only a handful of third party lens makers that produce lenses for the X-mount and Sigma is not one of them. Samyang/Rokinon is probably the most popular option AFAIK. There’s also Mitakon/ZhongYi. They offer a wide variety of quality third lens at decent prices.

Just remember, lens mount adapter is your friend if you can not find an X-mount lens to do what you want! The Fujifilm mirrorless cameras have a very short flange distance. It allows the cameras to adapt lots of lens mount as long as you can find the right adapter. You can get one for Canon EF, Nikon and Sony E mount. You can even get them for vintage lenses like the m43 mount. I have a Laowa 60mm macro lens in Canon EF mount that I have adapted to my Fujifilm camera with a focal reducer (a fancy adapter that gives you all the light the lens intended to direct to a sensor in its native mount.

As of 2017 Jul, the only problem with the third party lens options is that they are all manual focus only. With the only exception being a few Zeiss Touit lenses and their XF equivalents are just as good and cheaper. The lack of AF lens options for the X-mount appears to be a combination of Fujifilm not making the AF protocol available or easily accessible, plus the big third party lens makers refusing to make them due to smaller current market share of X-mount cameras.

Pixelated Woes

They say all good things must come to an end, and so was the X-T1. Soon after getting the camera and the XF 27mm lens, I went to the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve with a friend and his family for some trail walking. I bought the camera along with me and made my first attempt at taking some ‘good’ photos. I discovered a problem with the camera sensor after getting home started going through the photos in Lightroom.

The camera was producing images that consistently had these clusters of white pixels in the same locations. The issue is easy enough to fix in Lightroom most of the time. All I needed was to apply the healing/clone adjustment brush in the problematic spots. But it does get annoying having to do it in every single photo.

A cluster of hot pixels
A cluster of hot pixels. Very jarring in most photos.

Soon I learnt that some digital cameras like Canon’s have built in pixel remapping functionality that can remap hot pixels.Essentially, the remapping would automatically detect problematic pixels and soft disable them. These pixels will have their values interpolated from surrounding pixels when a picture is taken. The bad news was the Fujifilm X-T1 did not have that feature. 

Anyway, it took me a while to figure out what my options were and this was when the extended warranty came in handy. I lodged a warranty claim and soon sent the X-T1 to a repair centre. The repair centre ended up replacing the ‘optical block’ in the camera. The repair would have costed me $500+ but I was covered under the extended warranty. Thank the universe for extended care!

Meet The New Family Member

The X-T1 took roughly a month before it returned home good as new with some new guts. During the excruciating wait I decided to take advantage of an eBay sale and a Fujifilm Australia cash back program and pulled the trigger on a new Fujifilm X-T2 and XF14mm. I think it will be potatoes and crackers for the next few months…

Fujifilm X-T1 and X-T2
The Fujifilm X-T1 and X-T2

Closing

This post took me a long time to write, partly thanks to my inability to write anything in one sitting.

If you got here after reading the entire post then congratulations and thanks for reading! Hopefully you found my story interesting and got some useful info out of it.

Have a good day!

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