Wednesday, 8 October 2014

POV: Fuji X-T1 Goes To Vietnam

Fuji X-T1/Zeiss 12mm f2.8-Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

"It is the photographer, not the camera, 

that is the instrument."- Eve Arnold

Well, this is the first time I travel on a photographic expedition without a DSLR (or two or three) since I started them in 2000 (or even earlier).

Yes, I traveled for almost 3 weeks to Viet Nam with two Fuji cameras and a Leica M9...and a bunch of lenses. I wrote about that in fuller details in a post titled The "Unbearable" Lightness of Fuji X Series. On my return, I tallied an estimate of my usage statistics, which are as follows:

Fuji X-T1 + Zeiss Touit 12mm f2.8: 75%
Fuji X-Pro1 + Fujinon 18mm f2.8 : 10%
Leica M9 + Voigtlander 40mm f1.4: 15%

And asked myself if I missed my Canon 5D Mark II and my panoply of primes and zooms?

Not once was the answer.

I've been a loyal Canon user since I've started photography, and I have nothing but praise for its cameras. I shall still retain my Canon 5DII and a bunch of lenses for as long as I can. However, I realized that my style of photography has evolved during the past few years...prompting me to splurge big time on a Leica M9, and not too long ago on a Fuji X-Pro1.

The evolution of my way of seeing, the lightness of these two cameras and the quality of their images laid the foundation for my being ready and very receptive for a DSLR replacement. Traveling to photograph Holi in India earlier this year, and having to hold the 5DII at shoulder-length to photograph inside temples and avoid color powder/water bequeathed me a short-lived tennis-elbow like pain, but it made me realize that DSLRs are really heavy computers with lenses attached to them.

And I only used a fraction of its menu settings. 

The arrival of the Fuji X-T1 on my radar screen was timely. As I said, I was ready, willing and able to replace the DSLR with a smaller tool...and there's no question in my mind, especially after my using it in Viet Nam, that it is a DSLR-killer for me. 

I am not a fan boy of anything. Cameras are nothing but sophisticated tools. I used Canon cameras, I use a Leica M9, a X-Pro1 and now a X-T1. They're all good cameras...there are no bad cameras in this day and age. They're all technologically very advanced, and it's largely a matter of choice, familiarity, and ergonomics what works for you and what doesn't.

Fuji X-T1/Zeiss 12mm f2.8-Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
I won't get technical in this POV. There are tons of bloggers more qualified than I am who have dissected the pros and cons of the Fuji X-T1, and from what I read, the large majority agree that the X-T1 is a game changer.

During my Viet Nam photography expedition, I've worked with the X-T1 on a daily basis. Shooting normally or shooting from the hip in the streets, it performed extremely well. The quality of its built is excellent, and it feels just right...its weight, its controls and its ergonomics are right.

I always say that the Leica M9's overall feel is just right. It's a thoughtful camera. So is the X T-1. Totally different cameras of course...but both are well built and well thought out.

It feels like cheating to be able to frame a scene, twiddle the exposure compensation knob (placed on top of the camera), and see what happens to it in the utterly brilliant LCD. Everything I need is on top of the camera. Yes, there are small annoying quirks...some are due to operator error, and some are of  the "it is what it is, so work with it" kind.

I sort of rolled my eyes when I learned that the X-T1 had a tilt-screen. Trust me, I don't do that anymore. It's quite useful for low shots and for shooting in the streets. The shutter is quiet. I was shooting with people who had Nikons...and they sounded like Big Berthas.

The CH is about 8 frames per second, and while there seems to (occasionally?) be a sort of grey-out between shots at that speed, it didn't bother me. I doubt if it's really 8 frames per second, but it's fast enough for me.

Fuji X-T1/Zeiss 12mm f2.8-Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved

The auto focus needs to get used to. The AF-S is pretty good. Maybe not as good as the Canon 5DII, but I learned to live with an occasional lapse. I have not used the AF-C yet, but my understanding is that it needs to be fiddled with in the camera's settings. 

What else? Ah yes. The battery life sucks. The LCD just sucks the juice out of these small batteries. So I was quiet happy to invest in a battery grip, and work in the field with two batteries in the camera. I had to rely on the "back-up" battery when I was out all day shooting...and I had an extra battery stashed away just in case. I also saved juice by turning off the display, and keeping my chimping to the absolute minium.

The X-T1 is weather-sealed. I photographed in the rain (steady rain-drizzle...not a monsoon downpour) and it was fine. I just wiped off the drops with my scarf and that was it.

The humidity was intense all through the trip, and I lost tons of water...but despite it all, the X-T1 didn't feel slippery. Really good grip...and good solid knobs (except for the four-way pad on the back).

I found that I had to really make sure that battery compartment in the grip was locked properly. It sometimes didn't...but it might also have been my error.

I'm not going to get sucked in a debate about the merits of full frame versus cropped sensors. Would I prefer that the X-T1 be full frame? Perhaps, provided the lenses still remained light and compact....and I don't think that's going to happen any time soon. And from what I've seen, the IQ of the X-T1 is really formidable, and its high ISO capabilities are impressive. So that debate is not for me.

I used the Zeiss Touit 12mm f2.8 lens on the X-T1 most of the time. Occasionally, I used the Fuji 18mm for street work, and the 18-135mm was only used during the fishermen photo shoot, and one time around Hoan Kiem Lake.

I very much like both the prime lenses I own. They're sturdy...workhorse kind of lenses, and they reflect my shooting and framing preferences. The 18-135mm zoom lens -while quite good and responsive- is nowhere close to the prime lenses as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps I've moved away from zooms. It's a very useful lens to have, and some may consider it the only lens they need for travel. I don't disagree that it is all that...but personally, I'm into prime lenses.

So far, much of my post-processed work from the Viet Nam photo expedition was in monochrome. I shot in B&W with the M9, and color with the X-T1 (and then both processed/converted to B&W using Silver Efex).

These photographs are featured on Hanoi Noir. Try guessing which are Leica and X-T1.

And the audio slideshow below is of the same photographs.