Lightning fast and responsive AF systems that take hundreds, if not thousands of shots on a single charge are a must have for many photographers. Typically such a combo is only ever found in high end DSLR systems that have a bulking mass, particularly when battery grips and the 'must have' 70-200 zoom lens are attached.
Prior to owning the FujiFilm XT-1 two of the most sought after pieces of information I Googled before purchasing it were how well it performed in fast-paced sports situations and whether or not the battery was as 'bad' as many proclaimed. Coming from a Canon rig (7D and 6D) I was used to very solid cameras that did well on the sports field and provided high IQ in low light and responsive focusing. So, with just over a week of experience into the very talked about XT-1, how has it performed so far in comparison?
In case you've not seen it, I documented my first and very awesome day with the XT-1 here. The next thing I really needed to knuckle out was how well this thing handled fight photography and similar fast action. What better place to test it than with my fellow training partners in MMA and Muay Thai.
EDIT 4 April, 2015: I have had a completely opposite experience to this recently using the 18mm F2 in Continuous focusing. I'll post about it soon.
I'll be straight up. The XT-1 and 56mm 1.2 didn't perform adequately or well enough to the point that I feel I could photograph an event thoroughly with enough images that were on point. This experience could've been exacerbated by the lens I'm using, since it has so many big heavy glass elements and simply isn't designed for such circumstances.
I've done a fair few different fight and sport shoots in my time and they were typically done with my Canon 7D and 135mm F2 lens, or my Canon 6D for indoor stuff like fight nights with my Sigma 35mm 1.4. Those combos always performed admirably and provided me with an extremely high keeper ratio. The XT-1 at a simple training session on the other hand simply missed focus far too often and its Continuous Focusing function was a sluggish and unresponsive headache. It was frustrating to see the camera focusing near and far despite only using the central focus-point at maximum size and often when I wanted to take the shot the delay was that split-second too late. As a fellow martial artist I'm pretty good at predicting when the hit is coming and I NEED my camera to be able to snap within that instant otherwise it's just a lousy post-hit shot.
That said, it wasn't all bad news!
I decided to mix up the focusing modes to see what it was like with Single-Focus mode and briefly dabbled in the manual focusing modes. I actually found Single-Focus to achieve better results because it was really quick and responsive between focusing and taking the shot. The PRE-AF mode also worked quite well here too and combined with high speed burst got some sound results. Overall though the 1-2 hour shooting experience left me feeling like the worst photographer in the world, particularly when looking at how many shots focused beyond the subject and in contrast to my previous experiences shooting with Canon gear in the same environment that went very well.
So how did the battery life perform in such a demanding situation where the camera had a busy time focusing?
Well, quite exceptionally! I managed to shoot ~650 shots without passing the 1/2 way mark (I know it's not technically halfway and probably closer to 1/3 or less) and deliberately kept the same low battery in there for another day, rounding out my single battery to...
782 shots! Yep. 782 shots on a single battery on the XT-1!
How did I achieve such black magic? I have the camera setup so it's EVF only with the eye-sensor but also run it in High Performance Mode. It sounds unbelievable but I've been able to achieve it twice now with similar results on one battery charge. Switching the camera off when not in use for extended periods may also prove beneficial.
So where does this leave me with the whole DSLR vs Mirrorless or Canon vs Fuji argument?
For now the Canon gear will stay until I can get a hold of something like the 50-140mm f2.8 and see if it performs any better than the 56mm on the XT-1. I will also be testing the XT-1 in some better lit settings that don't feature lots of background movement and objects that could be causing issues for the camera's focusing system.
The X-series is such a great system and the results I have achieved in other areas of photography have been nothing short of exceptional. I simply love the colours and how sharp the images are coming out of the XT-1 and shooting the 56mm 1.2 @1.2 a hell of a lot is a total blast!
Check them out below.
The XT-1 is an inspiring camera and a definite keeper!
It's rare to come across a new piece of gear that not only surprises and impresses, but also exceeds expectations. Oh, Fuji, you've won me over yet again and more than any other piece of camera equipment ever has.
Before I go on about my first day with the Fuji XT-1 and 56mm 1.2 lens, let's get a bit of background info out there so you all know where I'm coming from. I'm primarily a Canon user (7D/6D + Sigma 35, Canon 135 L, and other odds & ends gear) who bought into the Fuji game for the first time late in 2013 with the original X100, which was eventually sold off to fund more Canon gear. Fortunately I had the good sense of grabbing a Fuji X100s in the middle of 2014 and found myself gradually drifting towards the mirrorless side of life.
My first experience with the X100 and now the XT-1 are like chalk and cheese. Where the X100 felt confusing, slow, and way beyond my skill set at the time, the XT-1 has blown me away and made my Canon gear feel like it's a decade behind in terms of features, size, and aspects of performance. The X100s has been a staple part of my shooting for the past 6 months and comes with me just about every time I walk out the door. It's so beautifully portable, unimposing, hip, and produces outstanding images on my favourite focal length.
I've had the XT-1 and 56mm 1.2 for roughly 36 hours at the time of writing this and used the first day to charge batteries, update the software, configure the camera as I'd like it (previous Fuji experience really helps here) and catch up on some sleep after flying back from the west coast of Australia to moody ol' Melbourne.
I was interested in a few key elements on my first day testing the XT-1; AF performance, general image quality, sharpness at F1.2 (most if not all shots in this post are @ F1.2), and overall performance and usability, particularly with the new features from V3.0 firmware. Testing involved some shots from home, local streets, and then a full-blown concert by my favourite Brazilian artist, Seu Jorge!
I will say this to spare those of you wading through my writing for key info - The XT-1 performed and outperformed on just about all fronts. If you're sitting on the fence with your 'typical' DLSR gear thinking 'should I try this hyped up mirrorless Fuji stuff?' get out there and buy or hire one. Make sure you get the 56mm 1.2 though, it is a GLORIOUS piece of glass.
My first test shots were of my trusty 'benchmark' objects and creatures - guitars and my feline, Winston. As expected with relatively stationary things, the Fuji performed exceptionally with a responsive AF in filtered window light. One thing was clear though. At F1.2 this camera was SHARP and didn't display the light fall off and vignetting commonly seen at widest apertures in most other lenses and camera systems. Having such incredible focal isolation and none of the drawbacks that typically come with it is something I've never experienced. At this point in my day I had also setup the D-pad on the XT-1 to be focus point select (no mushy buttons on mine!), which made the whole experience a fluid joy.
Once the heavy rain started to clear up I took a trek out to my local barber and shot a bunch of random things along the way just to see how well the XT-1 handled midday light at F1.2. Being able to shoot at a maximum shutter speed of 1/32000 of a second (not used to that extent on this day) is incredibly useful and I found on a couple of occasions with motorized + electronic shutter engaged I was getting beautifully exposed images at F1.2 1/10000! Phenomenal! I can't wait to test this at an evening sunset shoot or even a midday beach shoot!
How about that AF? What kind of AF am I used to as my standard and how did the Fuji compare?
My go to 'speed' combo for action and fast AF is either my 7D or 6D mounted with the Canon 135mm F2 L lens. During the school year I shoot active kids a lot, and if you've ever watched a game of Australian football (AFL), which my kids play a lot, then that's what I'm used to capturing.
I'm yet to test the Fuji in an action setting but so far I can say that the XT-1 and 56mm 1.2 definitely meet my standards for consistent and quick auto-focusing. As you'll see in the pictures further down of Seu Jorge, the lighting was very typical of a live show and as a fairly active performer, the Fuji's AF performed exceptionally well.
That said, I'll get it down for some shots of my fellow martial artists and fighters during the week and let that be the proving ground for all you sports photography nuts.
In order for the Fuji to really meet and surpass my standards it had to perform well in low-light conditions with a fair bit of movement, as well as produce usable high ISO images. I realise that ISO 6400 isn't exactly 'high ISO' nowadays, particularly with the incredible stuff Sony has on their mirrorless cameras, but 6400 for me is about the cut-off limit for 'usable' or image without getting horrible colour bleeding and noise, at least when it came to my Canon 6D.
Yet again, the XT-1 and 56mm 1.2 met and surpassed my expectations for focusing in low-light and the few images I did take at ISO 6400 were of a much cleaner standard than what I was used to with my Canon 6D. Honestly, I didn't expect the Fuji to focus as quickly and consistently as it did at the concert. What I loved about it was when taking photos in succession, the camera re-focused quickly and didn't do the usual shuffle in and out that I was used to from my Canon rig. I didn't even have the face-recognition switched on. I did run into a very stupid user-error around 1/3 of the way into the concert. I'd only brought an 8gb card and had it in RAW and JPEG mode! Yep. Real rookie mistake right there, but then again, I didn't plan to shoot this performance at all. Fuji's RAF files are pretty darn big! Thankfully I had a few shots from earlier in the day I could delete and shot the remaining part of the concert in JPEG only with Classic Chrome on. Oh boy I love that film mode!
To say that the Fuji XT-1 has impressed me is an understatement. It has truly blown me away.
My Canon kit has certainly served me well and it was a tough call breaking my rule of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it', but the Fuji approach has brought in a different level of joy and confidence to shooting.
Sure, it's early days and I could find myself eating my words (highly doubt it), however I'm more than willing to go out on a limb after yesterday's experiences. Fuji simply have a much more modern approach to photographic equipment. The electronic viewfinder is outstanding and going back to the 6D's optical viewfinder seems dated. It's more than just that though. There's an overall tremendous amount of flexibility to be had in the Fuji system, and I can understand why that freaks Canon and Nikon users out - it's different and requires a bit of retraining and familiarization.
Rather than ramble on with different adjectives and 'OMG Fuji' stuff, I'll finish up with some pointers, big positives and some niggles.
When getting into the Fuji XT-1 or Fuji system for the 1st time:
- Switch on 'high performance' mode.
- On the XT-1, if you want to save battery, switch it so it only uses the EVF and make it so it only illuminates using the eye-sensor. That way it's off at other times when not in use!
- If you love the AF point selector stick on the 7D/5D/1D series, change the rear D-pad buttons to AF-select points. It's incredible being able to focus to any point on the frame AND have have spot-metering match that point.
- Don't be afraid to shoot in JPEG only. They can take a fair bit of editing/tweaking and more importantly look incredible straight out the camera.
Big positives about the Fuji XT-1 and 56mm 1.2 combo:
- It's light and small! ~850g with the 56 1.2. I'm not even going to bother to find what a 6D and 85mm 1.2 Canon lens would weigh in comparison, but it sure as hell wasn't fun when I had one.
- The EVF is simply awe-inspiring. Get to a retailer and try it out.
- Silent mode is just as useful to me as it is on the X100S. Can't wait for my upcoming wedding shoots!
- The combined motorized + electronic shutter mode is brilliant! No ND-filters needed to shoot at F1.2 in daylight.
- The Wi-Fi connectivity is fantastic! I loved it on my 6D and Fuji made it even easier and more reliable.
- Split-screen manual focus mode... dear God/Fuji genii, what a magnificent innovation.
The very minor negatives so far:
- Occasionally when changing the ISO I also knocked the shooting mode out of place since the dial sits directly below it. No biggie.
- Battery? Not sure if this is an issue yet with the way I've the camera setup. I managed to fire off 459 shots and still have the battery indicator at 3/4 full.
I've a pre-wedding shoot with a lovely couple coming up this weekend in some Victorian bushland. I think a nice small sling backpack with my XT-1 and X100s will suffice. I'll keep you posted.
Massive thank you to Seu Jorge and his band for putting on an incredible show! I never imagined seeing you guys in my home country and of the four times I've been to Brasil, I always managed to miss you guys playing by a day or so! Muito Obrigado!