FujiFilm X-T1 Hands-on Review

Fujifilm has a new contender for the best mirrorless camera. On paper it looks impressive. Here's how it performed in real-world shooting.

FujiFilm seems to have managed the transition from film to digital better in the long run than their major rival, Kodak, has. Kodak was an early pioneer of digital but somewhere along the line got off on the wrong track. FujiFilm was fashionably late to the party, but in the past few years they’ve been putting out some excellent and innovative mirrorless cameras. Sure, they can be a little quirky at times. But they’re also very, very good.

The FujiFilm X-Pro1, X100S, and others in the FujiFilm X-series are damn good cameras, period. They’re rapidly closing the gap in image quality with a full-featured DSLR while being much smaller, lighter, and in some cases offering much better weather proofing. And it doesn’t hurt that that look great with their retro styling.

The latest addition to the X-series is the FujiFilm X-T1. I recently had the chance to put it through its paces by shooting with it for about a week. I tested it with the 18-55mm Fujinon kit lens. It’s also available as a camera body only and as a kit with an 18-135mm lens.

What I was most interested in was how it performed in real-world shooting. I’m much more interested in performance and handling than bells and whistles. Sure, the X-T1 has a lot of fun bells and whistles–built-in wifi with an official smartphone remote control and access app, in-camera RAW processing, multiple exposure mode, panorama mode, and dynamic range bracketing. Those are all nice, but in real-world shooting I don’t tend to use those much.

I’m much more interested in whether a camera helps me get the shot, and if it does, that the image quality is as high as I want it to be.

I was also interested to see whether it was something I could use as a backup to my main DSLR when on location. And I wanted to see whether it might even serve as a primary camera on some shoots where gear had to be kept to a bare minimum.

If poring over tone curve graphs, histograms, and technical lab tests are your thing, head over to DPReview’s exhaustive technical tests. This review doesn’t cover any of those things. But hopefully it gives you some idea of what it’s like to shoot with.

Highlights

Compact size. The FujiFilm X-T1 does away with the mirror of a DSLR. That allows the engineers to keep the size and weight down. And they’re getting remarkably good at packing an awful lot of processing and imaging power into that smaller package. It’s a bit bigger than your classic rangefinder but smaller than the average DSLR. But it does have an electronic viewfinder, which makes it a little bigger than the FujiFilm X-E2 and some of the others in the range.

Rugged, weather resistant design. The body is made of magnesium, and the dials are aluminum. The LCD screen is reinforced. It feels solid in the hand, not at all flimsy. The body is also weather proofed and when used with a similarly weather proofed lens like the XF18-135mm, FujiFilm claims that it is designed to deal with the cold down to -10C/14F and is dust-resistant and water-resistant. Here FujiFilm is going head-to-head with the Olympus OM-D E-M5. I didn’t put these weather proofing specs to the test, but it makes me wish I had had it with me on a recent trip kayaking in Antarctica.

Sensor. FujiFilm is known for, well, film. Turns out their sensors are pretty good too. This one comes with an APS-C CMOS sensor. The images that produces are 16.3MP, which is more than enough for the vast majority if photographic needs. If you need more than that, you’re more likely looking at something like the Nikon D800E or something in the medium-format class of camera.

Excellent Image Quality. The image quality that the X-T1’s sensor produces is excellent. The photos are sharp, have very good color rendering, and have good dynamic range. More on this below, along with some real-world image samples.

Handling

Focus, Shutter, & Controls

My main issue with the X-T1 has to do with its focusing. It’s a bit slower than I like, and I found myself fighting the shutter delay to get the shots I wanted when the subject was just sitting still. There are several different options you can use to affect the focusing mode, including prefocusing, but I didn’t find any of them to be as snappy as I’d like. The X-T1 has a hybrid of phase detection in the center of the frame and contrast detection across the frame, but it still has a ways to come before it gets as snappy and accurate as traditional phase detection that uses the mirror as in DSLRs.

In putting it through the toddler test (ie. a moving toddler), the X-T1 struggled. But then most cameras struggle–it’s one of the hardest focusing tasks for a camera to do. But when the focus locked on it locked on tight. It was sharp where I wanted it to be sharp. And there’s an assisted manual focus mode for when you need finer control and have the time to do it.

The shutter itself is very responsive, as you’d hope. To the extent whatever minimal lag there is can be measured, it’s apparently 0.05 of a second.

And I was particularly impressed with some of the manual controls that are right at your fingertips on the top of the camera, so you don’t have to go fiddling with menu options just to change the shooting settings. My favorite is the Exposure Compensation dial right next to the shutter. I use exposure compensation a lot when I shoot, and I found the way it’s laid out here to be very convenient.

LCD Screen & Menus

The 3-inch LCD screen is big and bright. LCD screens can often be unusable in bright sunlight, but the one on the X-T1 is bright and I had no problem using it even in direct sunlight. Sure, you can’t see the detail as well as you can in the shade, but it’s definitely bright enough to be useful. The menu items are laid out reasonably sensibly and aren’t as quirky as some earlier FujiFilm models.

The screen also tilts. It’s not fully-articulating–it only tilts in one direction, but I found that to be very useful when using the camera down low or up high for different perspectives.

FujiFilm X-T1 Viewfinder

I’m not a fan of electronic viewfinders. They’re too much like trying to use an old CRT television to compose the shot while on a slight delay. They’re still a long way from the the kind of quality you get from direct-vision optical viewfinders. But I’d much prefer a viewfinder to an LCD screen most of the time.

And as far as electronic viewfinders go, the one of X-T1 is a good one. It’s bright, contrasty, clear, and the FujiFilm engineers have found a way to reduce the annoying lag most electronic viewfinders have to essentially none. Some camera feels as though you’re watching the world as it was half a second ago, but there’s negligible lag with the X-T1.

There are also benefits to an electronic viewfinder. In terms of composition, what you see is what you get. With optical viewfinders, many of them don’t cover 100 percent of the scene. And often, even on the best cameras, the viewfinder and mirror are ever-so-slightly off-kilter, making getting perfectly aligned photos tricky.

The electronic viewfinder on the X-T1 has several useful overlays. One of the most useful I found was the horizon indicator. It shows you clearly how far off horizontal your framing is and lights up in green when you get it spot on. I wish that was an option when using the LCD screen, but it’s apparently only limited to the viewfinder.

Using the viewfinder is optional. You can set it so that it automatically detects when you put your eye up to it but otherwise uses the LCD screen.

Image Quality

The X-T1 uses an APS-C sensor. That’s not the largest sensor crammed into a mirrorless camera–Sony has that distinction with its Alpha A7, but it’s a big sensor by the standards of even a few years ago. APS-C is more typical in DSLRs, and it’s bigger than the one used in the MicroFourThirds system. It’s not full-frame, but it’s the next step down. If you’re used to the classic 35mm equivalent focal lengths on lenses, the APS-C sensor has a multiplier of about 1.5. So a classic 50mm lens becomes about 75mm.

The image quality that comes out of the X-T1 is excellent. I shot almost entirely RAW–as I would under normal shooting conditions–and the images had good dynamic range, were sharp, and had good color fidelity.

A bigger sensor means better low light performance and it helps with overall sharpness. Even images shot at up to ISO 6400 are impressive. They’re not as good as those that come out of something fancier and more expensive, like a Nikon D800 or Nikon D4S, but the high-ISO images from the X-T1 are very usable in most cases.

Full Resolution FujiFilm X-T1 Image Samples

Here are some full resolution image samples from the FujiFilm X-T1. These have gone through minimal processing in Lightroom–they’re not straight out of the camera (for that, see the RAW files below).

Clicking on a thumbnail will open a full resolution JPG photo. Shooting information for each shot is on the bottom. The files are rather large, so they might take a while to load.

FujiFilm Film Emulations

One of the unique features of the FujiFilm cameras are the film emulations of some of the company’s iconic film stock. As a longtime user of FujiFilm’s films back in the day, I was intrigued by this. The camera takes a digitally captured file and applies the same sort of unique exposure profiles of the films.

There are two ways to use this. The first, and most obvious, is do the emulation in camera when you shoot a photo. You can even shoot a rapid succession of photos bracketed by film exposure, which is an interesting feature.

But to do it in camera means shooting JPG. And I rarely shoot JPG–I much prefer shooting RAW. And the whole point of a RAW file is that it doesn’t have any processing applied to it so that you have maximum flexibility in adjusting that later.

But there’s a nice option for RAW shooters to use this as well. FujiFilm has created the same film emulations as post-processing camera profiles that are built in to Lightroom 5.4. So you can shoot RAW and still take advantage of this option. This isn’t the same thing as a develop preset. This is hard coded into the beginning of the process as a camera profile, and you can still have the usual control over the develop settings. These aren’t available with non-FujiFilm RAW files.

The film emulations, as well as some black+white presets with various filters, is available in Lightroom and Aperture. In Lightroom, pictured here, it’s under Camera Profiles.

The effect can be subtle. But it can also be distinctive. You can make those rich landscape colors of Velvia or those natural tones of Provia. There are also several black+white conversion options with various filters like green and red.

With the slider here, you can see how the profiles affect the same RAW image.

The left is the Adobe Standard, while the right is the FujiFilm Provia emulation:



The left is the FujiFilm Provia emulation, while the one on the right is FujiFilm Velvia:



The one on the left is FujiFilm Provia, while the one on the right is FujiFilm Astia:



Download Original RAW Files from the FujiFilm X-T1

If you’d like some sample RAW files to test out, you can download some below. FujiFilm’s RAW files come with a .raf extension.

[Right click and choose Save As]

Download 1 | Download 2 | Download 3

18-55mm Fujinon Kit Lens

Kit lenses are rarely anything to rave about. The 18-55mm is no different. Don’t get me wrong–it’s a good lens. It’s quite versatile. It’s quite sharp. With a variable maximum aperture of f/2.8 at 18mm and f/4 at 55mm, it’s quite fast. There’s not much chromatic aberration. And there’s not much vignetting. It has image stabilization. It’s relatively compact. And it’s light. As an everyday lens designed for a wide variety of shooting scenarios, it’s quite a good lens.

But there’s nothing about it that makes it a must-have lens. It does a lot of things quite well, but unremarkably. There are more impressive Fujfilm X-Mount lenses, although nearly all of them are more expensive than the 18-55mm. Standouts includes the 56mm f/1.2 and the 23mm f/1.4.

One issue I did have with the 18-55mm was with the aperture ring. It changes too easily for my taste. I found myself bumping it when carrying the lens around, so that when I went to shoot I’d accidentally changed the aperture. There is some tactile feedback as it rotates–just not as much as I’d like. And the only place that the current aperture is displayed is at the bottom of the LCD screen (or in the viewfinder) in small blue letters. I had to remind myself to keep checking that before pressing the shutter.

FujiFilm X-T1 Video Capabilities

I didn’t end up playing with the video features all that much because even a few attempts demonstrated that video with this camera is just okay. It’s really a stills camera will video tacked on. It does do full 1080p video up to 60fps, which is nice. But if you plan on doing a lot of video, there are much better options in the small form factor, like the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GH4.

Wrap-Up

There’s a lot to like about the FujiFilm X-T1–it’s a very good camera.

The image quality is excellent. It handles like a pro-quality, compact camera. It’s a tough little cookie that can handle some of the treatment that travel inevitably dishes out. And most importantly, it’s fun to shoot with. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that it’s in such high demand.

FujiFilm X-T1 Key Specs

Here are some of the key specs. You can find the full specs with all the asterisks on FujiFilm’s website.

  • Image sensor: 16.3 megapixel APS-C X-Trans CMOS II
  • ISO Sensitivity: 200 – 6400 (extended to 100, 12800, 25600, 51200)
  • Sensor Cleaning System with Ultra Sonic Vibration
  • Memory Cards: SDHX / SDXC memory cards / Class 10 (not included)
  • Still Image File Formats: JPEG, RAW (RAF format), RAW+JPEG
  • Movie File Format: MOV / H.264 / Linear PCM Stereo
  • Lens mount: FUJIFILM X mount
  • Image Stabilizer: Supported with OIS-type lenses
  • Exposure Control: TTL 256-zone metering, Multi / Spot / Average
  • Exposure mode Programmed AE / Shutter Speed priority AE / Aperture priority AE / Manual exposure
  • Synchronized shutter speed for flash : 1/180 sec. or slower
  • Continuous shooting Approx. 8.0 fps (JPEG : max. approx. 47 frames)
  • Approx. 3.0 fps (JPEG : up to the capacity of the card)
  • Focus Modes: Single AF / Continuous AF / MF Distance Indicator type Intelligent Hybrid AF (TTL contrast AF / TTL phase detection AF), AF assist illuminator available
  • Weight Approx. 440g / 15.4 oz. (including battery and memory card)
  • Battery Life for Still Images: Approx. 350 frames under “normal” shooting conditions.

Buy At

UPDATE: The FujiFilm X-T1 is now out of production and has been superseded by newer models, so your best bet is to pick up an affordably priced used copy.

View Comments

  • Well, I have been using the X-T1 for two years now, only having vintage manual P6 lenses on it, and have been shooting at the ISO range from 100 up to 6400. For me, the Low ISO 100 setting produces the best dynamic range, even though Fujifilm might suggest the ISO 800 setting for 400% DR gain. Perhaps their advice might work for Fuji lenses, but definitely not for P6 lenses.

    I shoot mainly short range landscapes with Zeiss Biometar 80mm, Zeiss Flektogon 50mm and Arsat 30mm, all Pentacon Six medium format lenses. For all lenses I use a Zhongyi Turbo II adapter to preserve FOV comparable with FF cameras.

  • I note that most of the images you too with the 18 to 55 are with it at 18mm and some at 55 and little showing less performance in between.

  • The Fuji X-T1 has autofocus problems for sure. I bought the camera before going on a family vacation and 80% of my photos were out of focus. What a disappointment! The camera looks nice and and feels economically good, but if it can't focus accurately then it's worthless to me. Another problem is that the shutter also seems super slow. I'll be sticking with my 5D Mark III, the X-T1 is just more premature released tech junk at this point as far as I'm concerned, I feel ripped off!

    • It works just fine for me... and I have had three. It is true that over its 'model currency' and indeed beyond, Fuji released many updates to the firmware, enhancing capabilities and correcting minor issues. I think it the only company in the market that tries to bring their older models up to the capabilities of their latest, via firmware updates, rather than have you constantly chase the latest model? My trusty original X-T1 is now at firmware release 5.5.1 . !! I also have their X-E2 an X100 and an X-H1 and all have seen considerable enhancements since i purchased them.

    • I purchased an XT1 to take on a Caribbean cruise, and of the 1000 pictures taken, over 80% were in focus. I even had 16x24 prints made of one of the jpegs I took! I carried 4 lenses and my kit was sooo lite! JBO, if you had so many issues, I'm going to assume your issues must have been user error, not equipment error. It's good you have your Canon. Doesn't make sense to be confused by a mirrorless camera!

  • Good job. Your review was spot on
    I shoot a Sony a 7 and it can miss shots a lot
    I shoot landscapes and macro
    The full frame lens are very large and heavy
    And Sony is slow to send up dates my feeling
    The body is poorly made vs the Fuji gear
    Will you send along a review macro lens

  • There are a couple things missing before I consider replacing my Nikon D800: an RGB histogram, a threaded cable release socket, 5 bracketing shots (3 is silly, especially with only +/- 1 step), a second SD slot, and a battery icon with the % remaining displayed.

  • Thanks for this review...it is a big decision to more to mirrorless but after three weeks of hauling my big 5diii around New Zealand I am ready from smaller, lighter gear. Now for the walk around lens....I see I could go 18-55 or 18-135. I am always cautious about 'kit' lenses especially one with such a big range. I would be most grateful for you views on which 'kit' lens to go for.

  • Thank you for your review. I had purchased the XT-1 and the XF 50-140mm lens to see if I would be able to shoot an event like I do with my D3 & 70-200.

    I loved the size of the XT-1 and XF 50-140mm, with my Nikon I have a monopod attached to the lens to help with the weight of a full 8hr day of shooting. The XT-1 was a blast as I had it attached to just a rapid strap over my shoulder and I didn't get tired of just hand holding after a day of shooting.

    The one thing that frustrated me was focusing. I had shots where I would get the focus confirmation beep but everything was out of focus. I even had issues where I couldn't lock on focus and I would have to keep changing what I was trying to focus on till it would grab focus and confirm.

    As this was not a paying gig I had only brought my XT-1 and didn't bring my Nikon so it was frustrating loosing a bunch of shots due to this. I'm not sure if it was due to the cold, the temp was 27F and warmed up to 35F at the peak of the day. It was my first time shooting completely with the 50-140mm so I'm not sure if it might have been the lens. I did find a site with suggested settings for focusing after the I was finished the event shoot so it could have also been settings on the camera such as setting "High Performance Mode".

    How is everyone else's experience?

    Thanks,
    Darren M. Fitzgerald

    • Hi Darren, Thanks for your detailed report, and sorry to hear that it complicate paying gig--that's never fun. My experience is much like yours. I really enjoy shooting with it, and it takes great photos. But my main criticism is with the focusing. I tried all the different focusing modes available and couldn't get it to be as responsive and reliable as I'd like for moving subjects or something like event photography. I find that it's a recurring issue with all of the mirrorless cameras I've tried thus far because contrast detection autofocus still hasn't caught up to old-fashioned phase detection that DSLRs use that relies on having an optical mirror. The current generation is much better than older models, but it's still not as good as with a good DSLR/lens combination.

      • Hi! Great review, I also have issues with the AF on the X-T1. Hopefully it will be better with the new firmware update that is scheduled for June. However, you got some facts wrong. Although the X-T1 has contrast detection AF all over the frame, there are phase-detect pixels in the center as well. So, unfortunately the slow AF is not ONLY because of contrast-detection AF.....:)

      • Check out the focus on the FZ1000 sometime.

        The focusing on the FZ1000 is as really as good as my Nikons (D600, and D7100, though I'm not a sports or toddler shooter). It has DFD focus technology and really, If more cameras adopt it, there won't be an issue for mirrorless anymore.

        I just bought the XT-1 to have a smaller ultrawide option than my Nikons allow. While I'm still testing the Fuji, it's done pretty well focusing with the 18-135. It's not as fast as the FZ1000, but it's acceptable. The 10-24 isn't much of a challenge in any case, but seems fine. From what I've read, it's some of the Fuji lenses in particular that are slow.

        I did put the XT-1 in continuous once and I couldn't get the 18-135 to focus at all. I am still playing with it, so I'll reserve judgement. Otherwise, as you say, the image quality is great and I've been playing with the dynamic range of the RAW files and they seem as good as the Nikons! I think I'll miss the extra dettail of 24MP, but I haven't really been that happy with the D7100 low light performance.

  • okay this is one hell of a great in depth review for an awesome camera and i think this is going to be in my bag very soon :D

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