Here's a post I have been looking forward to making since I heard the X-T2 was coming into existence, and boy I was not left disappointed.
In the lead up to the release of the X-T2 there were a few things I was looking forward to seeing improved upon, one being a more competent auto-focus system that followed my instructions a bit better, particularly when shooting my beloved XF56mmF1.2 R. I am well aware that on an ~85mm equivalent lens, AF speed and accuracy at F1.2 is not exactly an easy thing to achieve, and Fujifilm wasn't alone in this department when compared to Canon's 85mm F1.2 L behemoth.
Well, after almost 2 weeks shooting with the X-T2 and my XF56mmF1.2 R on numerous occasions and circumstances I can safely say that Fujifilm have made me a very happy camper. This new pairing is fast, accurate, and surprisingly tracks really well in continuous focus mode. That said, today's post is all about portraiture so you'll just have to wait for another day when I post about the X-T2 and its ability to capture action and fast paced, changing movement.
I had the pleasure of meeting the martial artist, model, actress and generally awesome human, Ann Truong, during some captures at my local Muay Thai gym. We met up in our local neighbourhood one Saturday afternoon recently for some impromptu portraits and I got to put my new camera through its paces, all whilst showing her and another friend some unique parts of the town centre. For this series I used the XF56mmF1.2 R with only a few noted shots on the XF35F2.
You can take a look at full size JPEGs at this link.
Fujifilm have improved their auto-focus system out of sight when comparing the new X-T2 to the X-T1. Yes, I loved my X-T1 (it's moved to a new home now) but at times it was like a disobedient child that you wanted to do one thing and it wanted to do... well, not what you wanted i.e. lock focus on this subject, not that piece of shrub in the background. The immediately noticeable difference is the focus acquisition speed and accuracy when shooting with all of my lenses, particularly the XF56mmF1.2 R @ F1.2. Even when shooting into heavily flared afternoon sunlight behind Ann, the camera and lens combo still hit the mark and didn't go off in the woods hunting! Hallelujah!!!!! In cases where I have shot between near and far subjects, it's quick to find focus and has proven to be a gem at this too during very dim light in my home environment. I will test this more in future though.
So what is there to be mindful of when using this combo?
Fujifilm have a great menu system that can readily be used to access features like face and eye detection. Heck! It can even be setup to choose left or right eye as a priority on the fly. So, if you've got a relatively settled/staged subject this feature is a god send for getting dead set focus on the eyes of your subject. Another thing to be mindful of is that this lens seems to really eat battery power. I am not sure what combo of the lens' motor and camera would cause this but I am certain that the camera would have to work overtime to acquire focus like it does at F1.2. Always pack an extra battery or two, or get the new vertical battery grip.
On a final note, if you're a Canon user and your 85mm 1.2 L is doing your head in with it's heft, awful purple fringing, and slow focus, seriously go and give this combo a test. If you're not this kind of person/user, just go and do it anyway!
There's no hiding the fact that I'm a big fan of FujiFilm and their current lineup of X-Trans mirrorless cameras. Between the X100S and the XT-1 they've become my shooters for 85-95% of assignments I undertake, leaving my Canon rig filling in when I need to shoot sports and flash photography. I'm sure that will change in the near future though once a solid flash system is available for Fuji users.
Looking back to only a few months ago, I scoured the web for posts about the XT-1 for weddings, low-light performance, concerts, and just general pointers about the system. With no local places offering the XT-1 for hire and having only limited in-store testing experiences with it, I decided to jump in and find out for myself. Since purchasing it I have tested just about every setting and style that I would typically shoot in and it has almost always surpassed my expectations. The ultimate test for me though was shooting the bulk of a wedding with only the XT-1 + XF56 & XF18 and the X100S. Did it pass? Or was it a stupid risk to shoot something as important as a wedding on a relatively new system that 'isn't pro'?
Before I go into further detail it's important to note that I had a second shooter on this wedding who shot with my Canon system (6D + Sigma 35mm & 135mm L) and took many incredible shots on a great camera system. I even ended up using it for part of the reception when I needed to use a flash since I haven't invested in a flash system for Fuji yet and the Yongnuo flash only works in manual on the Fuji Xt-1. My rig for the most part of the day consisted of the XT1 and XF56 slung over one shoulder and the X100s holstered using a knock-off version of the Spider Camera Holster, which for $5 performed without issue. You can see an integrated set of sample pictures from the day here.
Prior to the wedding festivities commencing I had my Fuji rig setup in silent mode - electronic shutter on the XT-1 and the super awesome leaf-shutter on the X100s. This allowed for complete discretion throughout the day and most importantly allowed me to move and shoot silently during the wedding ceremony. When you're in a space the has a lot of reverberation you very quickly notice the difference between a silent camera system and that of a typical DSLR shutter firing off nearby.
Switching between the XT1 and X100s was simple, easy, and effective, and I'm sure it contributed significantly in helping me not wear out at all across the 10 hour day and night. Well aware of the shortcomings of the batteries in the two cameras, I always had a spare full battery in my pocket, and thank the universe that I did because the first battery in the XT1 died on me just as the cake cutting was about to commence. Time to purchase the battery grip!
Aside from an instance of the XT-1's battery dying at an inopportune time, there was also one other peculiar instance where a dodgy eBay battery caused some pretty scary issues. We'd just finished shooting the main bridal party photos when the EVF on the XT-1 froze and flickered rapidly. The camera was effectively dead and I was devastated. I immediately took out the battery and let it cool down since I'd been firing off quite a few snaps on the cheap battery. I didn't have a backup XT-1 at the time so
I jumped across to my extra Canon gear and X100s for a while. Thankfully, with a new good quality battery and a bit of cool down time, the XT-1 came back to life and didn't skip a beat right through the reception. I have since tried to replicate the issue by firing off a hundreds of shots (more than this instance) in short succession but thankfully it hasn't happened again.
So what can be said about shooting with the XT-1 and X100s that hasn't been said in my previous blog posts? For one, people didn't think I was the primary or hired shooter for the wedding since my cameras were 'so small' and 'film like'. Do I have an issue with this? Certainly not, because if anything it made people more relaxed when I was present and let the moment be the moment. When I switched across to my 6D and flash combo the weight difference was tremendous and made me all the more grateful for the small form factor and mass of the XT-1 and X100s.
But the Fuji's aren't Full Frame!!! You can't be pro without Full Frame!!!
Go take a look at the wedding blog and tell me which pictures are Fuji and which ones are Canon.
I purchased the XT-1 shortly after Firmware 3.0 came out, which brought in a tonne of new features that I use frequently, such as: electronic shutter, 1/32000 max shutter speed, silent mode, AF point selection using the cross pad, and linked AF point and spot-metering. These were features that sealed the deal for me and the responsiveness of the XT-1's focusing system has been an absolute treat in low-light settings.
My next wedding is in the south west of Ireland and I plan to shoot the entire event on Fuji's with a Nissin i40 flash included. I have absolute faith that this rig will serve mine and my client's needs perfectly as a discrete, efficient, and professional photographic rig.
BONUS! Here are a few pics from Hayley and Dave's second pre-wedding shoot in an Australian bushland setting, all shot on the XT-1.
I'm about to make quite an about-face opinion on my experience with the XT-1 and its ability to be used in fast paced sports photography with continuous focusing mode engaged. For those who are familiar with my previous posts I have been quite critical of the XT-1's ability to function well in continuous mode with the XF56 1.2 for sports shooting. Upon reflection I have been really quite biased in my evaluation of that combination given the size of the lens, elements/glass involved, and the crazy F1.2 aperture I was shooting in for most shots. After shooting the same circumstances except with the XF18 instead I can see why I was setting very unrealistic expectations for the XT-1. Heck, how many Canon shooters out there use the 85mm 1.2 behemoth for sports shooting with such an insanely shallow depth of field? Not many if any.
As per usual, let's talk shooting specifications. For this bit of casual shooting I was using the XF18mm in Continous mode CH burst, set to ISO1600, varying the shutter between 1/200-1/500sec, and mixing the aperture up between F2.8-F4. These were all shot in JPEG normal with my beloved Chrome setting followed up with some quick tweaks of my own and some radial filters. For a tiny lens this thing produces some darn sharp images that have a beautiful 3D pop to them and awesome resolution that allows for some pretty heavy crops.
So in case you're a bit new to focal lengths, aperture, and their effect on depth of field (DoF), let's look at a comparison of the XF18 and the XF56 and the average aperture I was using on each occasion, and why the XF18 performed substantially better for very logical reasons.
XF18 @F2.8 at a subject distance of 8 feet = 8.23 feet of depth of field
XF56 @1.2 (because that's what you buy the lens for!) at a subject distance of 8 feet = 0.29 feet of depth of field
These two distinctively different levels of DoF explain a lot, particularly why I found continuous focusing mode to be so frustrating in the past. The XF18 didn't hunt around like the XF56 because it didn't have such a dramatically shallow DoF to work with so naturally continuous focusing mode is going to perform considerably better. That said, the XF56 did work well in single shooting mode and even if I shot at an aperture of F2.8 I'd only be getting a DoF of 0.69 of a foot = struggle town for focusing.
Something else that I found quite remarkable though when using the XF18, which probably has a lot to do with how much glass had to be moved around or rather not, is that with 619 photos on a single battery, the indicator hadn't even dropped to the less than 50% remaining mark!
Read that again!
619 photos on a single battery! And plenty more to spare.
After a solid browse through the 619 photos I took, I also noticed that the across bursts the XT-1 DID NOT miss focus mid shot. Amazing!
So why can't the Fuji perform well for sports shooting at wide apertures like my Canon 6D and 135mm F2?
The Canon 135mm F2 L has been my go to sports lens for a while now and was the first lens I owned on my 7D and continued to use on my 6D as well for various purposes. It's well documented that the 135mm F2 L is an exceptional fast focusing lens, and the most underrated piece of L series glass around, so naturally, comparing a Fuji XF56 lens to it is probably unfair. I know from experience that the 85mm 1.2 won't keep up with the Fuji though. I guess I'll just have to wait until the XF90 F2 arrives and see if it'll be the Canon killer!
My recent experiences with a borrowed XF18 lens (sorry Luis! I'll get it back ASAP!) have convinced me yet again that Fuji are making an exceptional product that meets all my needs as a photographer. The fact that I can walk around the streets with the XT-1 and XF18 inconspicuously yet use it to shoot close-quarter sports like Muay Thai, MMA, and BJJ demonstrates its versatility. It's truly hard to fault it as a camera system, particularly being able to use the EVF to get real-time exposure previews across different settings. I think it may be time to sell my X100s to fund a second body with my own XF18 lens or similarly wide lens.
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!