The Fujifilm XT1, almost as good as film

Unless you have been living in a cave the last couple of years, you have at least heard about the mirrorless camera movement. Honestly I hadn’t taken it too seriously being a die-hard Nikon fan for years. The last couple of years though Nikon has been leaving me a bit cold with their offerings and downright frozen to death with their pricing on their products. With Nikon and Canon it seems for anything of professional quality it’s go big (as in full frame) or go home. I’ve been shooting the Nikon DX format since it’s beginning and my D300s has served me well but it was getting long in the tooth and the time to upgrade was fast approaching. Nikon for all intensive purposes, was ignoring the professional DX market and putting all of their R&D into full frame and I have never been able to warm up to the small button/menu system of the Canons.

With no solution in immediate sight I had instead, been working film cameras back into my workflow and enjoying it immensely. All of my film cameras, whether large format, medium format or 35mm are limited in functionality compared to a modern DSLR. That was ok with me. Those very limitations forced me, as a photographer, to take control of my photography instead of having the camera control it for me. It forced me to think out of my comfort zone and come up with different ways to photograph the image that I wanted while remaining within the constraints of a particular camera. You know what, I loved it! My creativity and enjoyment of photography went through the roof. I was using twin lens reflex cameras with their single built in lens or Mamiya 645s with their top shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. I didn’t find it limiting but rather freeing because it forced me to think outside of the box and it resulted in better photographs.

The other benefit from shooting these cameras was weight. Even though they were all metal machines, film camera kits were a lot lighter than my digital kit. So much so that I would carry two film cameras as my everyday camera kit and the Nikon kit was left in it’s case until called upon for an assignment.

One day I was looking at my Nikon F2 and wondered why some camera manufacturer couldn’t come out with a professional digital camera in a similar size with control dials on the top and smaller lenses compared to the bazookas that Nikon and Canon were producing now. All within a decent price point too. It will never happen I thought.

Enter Fujifilm, or more specifically the XT1. Fujifilm had been having some success with their rangefinder cameras and photographers like David Hobby and Zack Arias were jumping on board but I was never a rangefinder kind of guy. I liked SLR cameras. Well an opportunity arose where KEH was having a buyer in my area and if you bought new equipment in the hosting store, the store would add 10% value to the KEH voucher. So this was going to be like trading in your old jalopy and seeing if you would get enough for the shiney new sports car.

My wife watched nervously as I left the house with years worth of Nikon gear in two very large camera cases. Long story short I returned home with two very small shopping bags. I could tell my wife had her doubts about this decision and to be quite honest I wasn’t too sure about my sanity either. How could such a small camera kit match up to the old Nikon armaments. The answer is quite well!

I shoot portraits and fine art photography for the majority of my work. I do some corporate work and did some weddings but have recently retired from that gig. For the type of photography that I do, this camera works exceptionally well. In fact image quality and colors from the files blow my Nikon gear out of the water. The files are almost film like which is a plus for me and speaking of film, their film simulation modes are gorgeous. The high ISO qualities trump anything that I was getting off of my Nikons and the resolution of the files rivals my colleague’s Canon full frame camera.

The Fujifilm XT1 has the control dials I had wished for on a film sized SLR type body. They even brought aperture rings back! Woohoo!!! It has a tilt screen that allows me to shoot from the same vantage points as my twin lens reflex cameras. This is huge for me. As for lenses, the Fuji lenses are small little metal marvels. They are incredibly well built and sharp at all apertures. I purchased the 10-24mm, 56mm and the 18-55mm kit lens. Speaking of kit lenses, if all kit lenses were built this well, they wouldn’t get such a bad rap. I’m already drooling over a couple other Fuji lenses and they keep coming out with new ones that are more in line with professional requirements.

So everything is perfect right? Well no. The Fuji flash system is weak. To compete professionally they need to come up with a TTL flash with bounce and swivel and focus assist built in as a bare minimum. Wedding photographers would want this yesterday! Now to be fair I think Fuji set out to make their cameras natural light dynamos and they have succeeded but sometimes you need a high quality flash to get the job done. Rumor has it that they are working on this.

Then there is the focusing speed and tracking of moving objects. I would have to say Nikon wins here. The XT1 is no slouch but in dim light, like at a wedding, it is a challenge for the focus to lock on and then track the subject. Not a deal breaker for me because as I mentioned earlier I retired from weddings, plus just like my film cameras, it forces me to think out of the box and come up with different solutions. That is perfectly fine by me. The rest is nit picky stuff that doesn’t overly bother me.

On a final note here is another huge plus for Fuji. The little fact that Fujifilm listens to their customer base. Nikon and Canon could get a good schooling here. Not only does Fuji listen but they provide firmware updates which keep your camera viable for years. Canon and Nikon expect you to buy a whole new camera! This is huge people! In fact this month my XT1 will get a firmware update which in a lot of ways will make it a new camera all over again. What is not to like?

So goodbye Nikon, it’s been fun. My new everyday carry and professional camera is the Fujifilm XT1. Let the photographic adventures begin! Happy wanderings.

(In case you were wondering the above photographs were shot using my Mamiya 645 on Ilford FP4 film.)