Going Mirrorless with the Fuji XT-1

Some folks have been asking me for camera advice so I thought I might as well make a review of what I currently use. I used to own a DSLR from 2014 ‘til late 2016, but got a Fuji X-T1 late last year. I actually never thought I’d make the switch because I’ve been so used to a DSLR, using it for both work and play, but hey a girl’s gotta move on to lighter more compact things hehe.

While I honed whatever skills I have in photography using my previous Canon 60D, it came to a point when it just felt too heavy to bring with me on trips. To be honest, that would be my only beef with DSLR. It’s too heavy to bring while you’re doing lots of walking, hiking, and standing. Unless you don’t mind the exercise you’ll get carrying them weights. BUT, despite those weight issues, I still found it hard to give up my DSLR because my Canon 60D delivered stunning photos and the controls have been too familiar already.

Still, I did make the switch from Canon 60D to Fuji X-T1. Why the XT-1? I’ve known Fuji to be a stellar camera when it comes to photo quality, and while I was doing research, I was impressed with how tech praise have been consistently great for the XT-1 despite being out in the market for 2 years already. As for my actual use, a year of going mirrorless with the XT-1 and I’m still discovering lots of really nice things about it.

Why is it called mirrorless?

Here’s a quick rundown of how photography works within a DSLR, mirrorless, and SLR.

DSLR

Frame scene using the optical viewfinder –> Half-press shutter button to focus -> Full-press shutter button to capture -> Shutter opens to let light into the lens ->Mirror flips up and uncovers the sensor -> Sensor gets light according to your auto or manual settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.) -> Mirror reflects what’s on the sensor as the final image you’ll see on your screen.

Mirrorless

Use electronic viewfinder (EVF) to preview the digital photo of your chosen scene -> Press the shutter button -> Shutter opens to let light into the lens -> Sensor gets light according to your auto or manual settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.) -> Your final image is now displayed on your screen.

SLR

Use optical viewfinder -> Frame your scene -> Press shutter button to capture -> Shutter opens to let light into the lens -> Film gets light according to your auto or manual settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO, etc.) -> Take that roll of finished film out of your camera –> Process the films to develop your final photos.

In a nutshell, mirrors replaced films in traditional analog cameras and bridged the tech gap so that we can now have instant digital photos using DSLR (and subsequently, mirrorless cameras). You might wonder, why didn’t we just remove the mirrors when DSLRs were developed? Well, it all boils down to technology, as mirrorless cameras rely on sensors and chips to produce images. The minute you peek into the EVF, you’ll already see how your final image will look like. It was only in 2000s when this kind of technology has been honed and grew its potential to become the powerful mirrorless cameras we have today.

Films then, mirrors now

With that in mind, here are the really cool things I enjoy with my mirrorless Fuji X-T1.

Compact and unassuming

I’ll fire the biggest shot first and tell you that this alone is enough for you to consider a mirrorless camera. I can bring my X-T1 without using a camera backpack as I can stash it within my usual sling or shoulder bag. It’s also lightweight and comfy enough to be slung by itself, on my shoulder, or carried with its strap necklaced on me.

I also like how my black Fuji X-T1 looks unassuming. I think it would only catch the attention of fellow enthusiasts and camera lovers. But it does have a silver variant that may be a looker because of its vintage feel and, well, hipster style. It’s not for me though, as I don’t want attention when taking photos. I get more natural photos that way and it also makes it easier to capture scenes. It may not look much with its jet black color, but my Fuji X-T1 is a powerhouse of camera features. Some of it I easily miss myself because it’s that unassuming and humble haha.

Image Quality

While researching about mirrorless cameras, I noticed how reviews still put Fuji X-T1 as top choice even if it’s been 2 years since its release–which is also why I chose it. I’m already a fan of Fuji’s slide films as I’ve used them for lomography. I also had the chance to use an XT100, and our team’s been blown away by its sharpness that we almost traded our office Canon 6D for it. Considering all that, I decided to focus on Fuji’s revered XT-1.

Well, the X-T1 didn’t just meet my expectations. It actually exceeded them. No matter if you’re shooting white on white, or a blue sky, or high-contrast colors, the details would still come out using manual mode.

I love using the green auto-level line especially when taking architectural photos from a distance.
Portrait and low light

Such vivid colors…

What actually amazed me with all these photos is that I am just using a basic 18-55 mm kit lens yet I could easily do landscape, portrait, and even macro shots with it. So when I travel, I know I can take any kind of shot I want or need with just one equally lightweight lens on my camera. And If I’m already getting all these niceties with a basic lens, what more if I upgrade to a prime or zoom Fujinon lens?

As for the image itself, even though I was looking through an electronic viewfinder and seeing a digital representation of what I hope to capture, I still end up with photos only ever so slightly retouched to fit the JPEG format AND, ultimately, is the exact representation of what I hope to capture. There’s no oversaturation involved, and sometimes the JPEG files look better than the preview on the EVF. On a DSLR, it’s common for me to get digital files that look different from what I composed on the optical viewfinder or even saw on the LCD display. As someone who doesn’t post-process her photos, this is a godsend.

Shooting RAW was also a pleasure, as I’ve noticed that there’s very little difference between them and their JPEG counterparts. However, shooting RAW takes more time to save on the SD card, uses more battery life, and requires more fiddling with the controls. Still, I was quite impressed with how accurate the RAW photos turned out based from the settings I used and how they appeared on the EVF.

RAW
JPEG using manual settings

Ultra-fast shutter speed

My XT-1 is actually faster than my Canon 60D. It’s remarkable how it takes like a nanosecond to focus then open-close the shutter, allowing me to capture exactly what I saw on the EVF. It’s so fast the only other gadget I can compare it with it is, surprise, a flagship smartphone. But unlike a smartphone, you can be sure there’s no blur and focus is on point, especially on manual mode. It’s easier to shoot different action scenes with it and I get ample time to anticipate getting another action shot.

My DSLR days taught me this half-press method when focusing on subjects: aim the focus on your subject, do a half-press on the shutter button to activate autofocus, then fully press the shutter button to capture the photo. While it may seem tedious, it taught me how to properly time my photos and choose which area to focus on landscape scenes. But since I’ve already learned that, it didn’t hurt to let go of the half-press step. I just have to do two things now with my X-T1: choose subject and capture.

Software and physical controls

Surprisingly, Fuji’s control screen was pretty straightforward that I don’t have to consult a user guide to fiddle with it. I was amazed how easy the learning curve was, considering I’ve been exposed to Canon all this time. I also like how it can be paired with a smartphone for transferring photos using its own Fujifilm Camera Remote app.

The OIS (optical image stabilization) and distortion correction are also on-point. I don’t have to worry about having unsteady hands and taking sharply-cornered shots. Had I still been taking photos of internal parts of a computer, these features would have been too good not to use I won’t hesitate using my cam instead of the office camera hehe.

I also find the dials on top of the camera functionally stylish, now I know why rangefinders have them. I could easily adjust the aperture switch and even the shutter speed using just my right index finger, while keeping an eye on my subject. I also like how it limits me from changing ISO settings too much so that I don’t get grainy photos and instead focus on using the aperture.

You might be wondering, what’s this aperture thing I’ve been blabbing about? Well, it’s the hole through which light travels into your camera lens. It’s what allows you to capture photos in the first place. The bigger it is, the more light comes in but there’s also risk of overexposure. The smaller it is, the fewer light comes in but there’s risk of darker photos. A mentor told me that if you learn how to master aperture, everything else will follow. And if you know your aperture settings, you don’t even need Photoshop except when taking portrait photos as everybody wants pimple-free outtakes.

If I can give you just one photography tip, it’s this: the secret to taking sharper photos is, first and foremost, getting your aperture right. If it ends up too dark, you can brighten it up through post-processing later, and the details will still be there. And you will always get your bokeh if you know your aperture settings. In the world of professional photography, this method is also known as aperture priority.

And, speaking of bokeh…

Fantastic DOFs

Another reason to know your aperture is to properly utilize depth of field or that much-coveted bokeh. Arguably, the magic of bokeh is greatly dependent on your lens but a good camera must harness the power of that lens so you can unleash such magic. The Fuji XT-1, paired with the lens kit, is usually enough for me to get an amazing mix of DOFs and bokeh.

Depth of Field and Bokeh are actually two different things. Funny thing is, marketing have abused “bokeh” so much that anything that’s blurred in the background is now referred to as such. Uh, nope. That blur in the background is generally just a shallow DOF or Depth of Field. You need to have DOF to get bokeh, but you may not always have a bokeh even if your photo has DOF. Bokeh is a kind of blur that looks “artistic” as they are points of light that were out-of-focus and are often orb-like.

A shallow DOF is often used on portraits and uses a large aperture setting. No bokeh here though.
See those circle orbs on the lower-right corner? They’re actually light points that’ve been blurred. They’re everywhere in the shallow DOF of this photo.

I also love how the EVF reflects an accurate image of how my DOFs would come out. It does save me some time when focusing and zooming on my subject. The bokehs that usually come with them are the pleasant surprises that await me as I download and and view the outtakes on my laptop.

Any cons so far?

I have to admit that there are a few cons that still make me miss my Canon 60D, and they are:

Battery life – I always have to bring an extra lithium battery because the EVF (electronic view finder) eats up battery life. A DSLR uses an optical viewfinder so it doesn’t have to spare some juice for that.

No built-in flash – There’s a separate flash bundled with my XT-1, but I have to place it in the hot-shoe so I can use it. I like how my Canon 60D has both a hotshoe and a foldable built-in flash that pops out when needed. So since last year, I haven’t used flash in any of my photos because I always forget to attach it.

Learning curve on the dials – While I do appreciate how the dials looked like, I have to admit that they weren’t that easy to learn. I had to watch YouTube videos before I could use them as I’ve never used a rangefinder before. But, after a few videos, I’ve already been able to play with it as I used to with the manual controls of my Canon 60D.

Still, these cons are basically just nitpicking. Overall, I would still recommend a mirrorless camera for travelers who are interested to play with lenses, and it’s also a very able professional camera. Had I still been doing product shots, this would be it for me as it’s less heavy. If you do have the budget for it, go for the XT series. I think the XT-1 is cheaper now, given the release of the XT-2. But feel free to try other brands as well, like Sony and Olympus, as they too have their own mirrorless features worth discovering.

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