Shooting the Dusi with a Fuji X-T1 & Various XF lenses
The below are my opinions of what it was like to use the Fuji X-T1 and XF lenses to photograph the 2015 Dusi Canoe Marathon. All of the Fuji gear I have purchased myself, and I do not receive any payment from Fuji either in Cash or Equipment.
This past weekend I decided to photograph the Dusi Canoe Marathon with my Fuji X-T1 and several of my Fuji XF lenses. Whilst I normally photograph people with my gear I am also a sideline sports/event photographer capturing some of South Africa’s larger races for a company called Jetline Action Photo, and because of this I am well aware of what is achievable from the other big brands out there, especially Nikon. I didn’t capture a huge variety of work as I am already completely satisfied that the X-T1 would be amazing at PR type images. What I wanted to know was how it would handle faster moving subjects.
For those that have never seen or heard of the X-T1, it is a Mirrorless camera from FujiFilm with a rather unique sensor technology, and a very retro styled body. There are plenty of blogs out there highlighting just how good it is at weddings, portraits, and street photography, but I wanted to try something a little different. Some years ago I borrowed a Fuji S3 for a shoot and was amazed by its image quality, especially the dynamic range. It really was an interesting camera, but its biggest flaw for me was the autofocus. The S3 was essentially a Fuji sensor in a Nikon body, but it also had a Fuji autofocus system. This was probably because at the time if it had the same autofocus as the available Nikons, it would have been a better buy then almost everything Nikon had to offer. Sadly the autofocus was the cameras Achilles heel for me. It was very accurate, but slow and steady was its mantra!
Moving on many years and Fuji is at it again, this time with their own camera which is 100% Fuji! I liked everything about this camera for what I photograph, but I always had these lingering questions in the back of my head – had they improved the autofocus for faster moving subjects? Now some might say that this isn’t Fuji’s target market, but there was enough PR out there at the time of the cameras launch stating how incredibly fast the autofocus was. You can’t blow your own trumpet like that without people prodding around to find out more!
During the Dusi one of the lenses I had on my camera the most was my 55-200. There is a lot to like about this lens, but there are also things that frustrate me. I had so wanted to get my hands on a sample unit of the new 50-140 F2.8 that had just come out, but it just was not to be. My brief encounter with that lens at a recent Fuji Roadshow was all good. The focus was lightening fast, the image stabilisation was top-notch and the fixed aperture a welcome addition over the 55-200. Sadly I was left hanging and as such had to use the 55-200. I have complained before about the AF of this lens and again it wasn’t great. Although I have now noticed that if you increase the size of the focus point it does work a whole lot better than it did when I first received the lens. I was just trying to shoot on too small a point!
I had quite a few missed shots, despite being in AF-C shooting at a minimum speed of around 1/1000 of a second. I know from shooting events with the Nikon D300s I would have had a much higher hit rate, but I do think that a lot of my frustrations come down to the lens being used and not the body. In fact I’m pretty sure that the lens is 99% to blame. It is a great lens when it comes to sharpness of static subjects, edge to edge sharpness, contrast, and all those other things that make lenses great, but the AF performance makes it hard to recommend to anyone making a living from their photography, especially now that the 50-140 is out!
My 14mm got a bit of use during the Dusi, and as it has done in the past, impressed me no end. It really is a great wide lens. Typically when shooting wide I shoot in manual focus and preset my focus. As soon as the paddler hits the mark I hit the shutter. I did this without any issues. For those types of shots I couldn’t have done better, even with a kit 3x the price. Top marks to the 14mm!
There were however situations where the 14mm was too wide and so I opted to use the 23mm. My 23 mm lens is a gorgeous lens, I love that lens! There has never been a situation where I didn’t feel comfortable using it, but I did have some issues at the Dusi. I was using the above mentioned technique of pre-setting my focus as I would for the 14mm, but with the 23mm the focus ring is just not tight enough – it is just too easy to move it out of focus. As a result I ended up with a few soft images as I had obviously bumped the the focus ring. When I switched to AF-C all was well again, but I do now wish that the focus ring of the 23mm wasn’t so “loose”. Not quite top marks in this situation, but still an awesome lens!
On a whole I was happy with the performance of the camera, just not with the 55-200. I will definitely do a follow-up on this as soon as I get my hands on the 50-140 as I am pretty sure that that lens alone will make a huge difference. Needless to say Fuji has gotten its AF much better over the years and with a few more tweaks it really will be top class. This isn’t to say that it isn’t more than capable of shooting many, many things without you ever wishing for more. So if sport isn’t your thing, then the chances are that the X-T1 will be more than capable of whatever you throw at it.
I am a RAW shooter through and through – I have been since day one of Digital! Very few, if any, of the commissions that I do need images turned around instantly and as such I just prefer to shoot RAW so that I can extract the maximum image quality out of the camera. However, I do understand that there are times when clients/editors literally need the images right after you captured them……literally! Think of Usain Bolt winning the 100m at the Olympics. Somewhere in the world there was an editor holding back his paper to drop in a photo of Bolt crossing the line. He didn’t have time to wait for the photographer to apply his finishing touches to the images in Photoshop prior to them being sent. In times like that Jpeg is the way, and a camera’s ability to produce great Jpeg’s right out of camera is something that many photographers need.
On the final day of the Dusi I shot quite a few images in Jpeg only mode, but I did take the time to set up the camera properly before hand. I used my trusty ColorChecker Passport to preset the white balance, I chose my preferred profile for the situation (Velvia), and made sure that my exposure was spot on. Now I have heard that the Jpeg’s straight out of camera on the X-T1 are amazing, but I didn’t realise they were this good! They really are top-notch and to be honest there are few reasons to shoot RAW for some of the shoots that I do – they really are that good! Prior to shooting with the X-T1 I was a Canon shooter and I could never get the Canon Picture Styles to give me what I wanted. On the Fuji’s it is a whole other ball game! Are they as good as the RAW files……no, but they sure do come close which is really impressive.
Just a note on the RAW files – I am still not convinced by Adobe Lightroom for processing the Fuji Xtrans files. My biggest issue is the sharpening, but overall I am just not happy. I am in the process of trialling Capture One 8 which I believe is much, much better for the Fuji files. To be honest if outright quality is your thing then Capture One is probably the best out there, it is just that its asset management hasn’t been up to the task which is why so many go with Lightroom. Also from my own first impressions, it doesn’t seem as intuitive, but more on that in another post!
Other odds & ends
All in all I enjoyed my three days shooting sport with the X-T1. It honestly performed better than I thought it would, and once again on the whole the lens quality blew me away. There were one or two other niggles which I had, none of which are huge, but whilst I’m at it I thought I should mention them.
Fuji’s Q menu is a great feature, but it is one that is hampered by the inability of the photographer to truly customise it to his or her needs. I wanted to shoot Jpeg only I couldn’t get the White Balance to preview in the viewfinder. It took, what seemed like ages to remember, and then find, the setting where I turn off when shooting RAW. A similar irritation, although not this weekend, is how when shooting in the studio you have to turn off the exposure preview. This is simple enough, but the setting is buried away in the menus. I really wish the custom functions could be setup taking all settings into account, and not just the few that Fuji has selected. Thankfully this is something that can be changed via firmware, and I hope they do!
Flash also remains the overall Achilles heel of the Fuji system. Don’t get me wrong, you can shoot with flash, and the results are great, but there are just too many niggles. I had my camera set to continuous low and had a speedlite on camera for a small amount of fill. I have done this a 1000 times with other brands, but for some reason Fuji feels that you should only be shooting with flash in single frame mode! Again a firmware change should fix this, and again I hope they do. Also since the introduction of the electronic shutter the camera does not fire the flash when set to electronic shutter only, or a combination of electronic and mechanical shutter. I understand why this is for the electronic shutter, but I wish that it would fire when the camera is using the mechanical shutter in the “combo” mode. Fuji please, please fix this!
I thought I was going to run into battery problems, but thankfully I didn’t. I did not use more than 2 batteries on any one of the three days. Yes they are small, but they performed perfectly for the job at hand. Battery-life also seems to have improved with the latest firmware update, but I’m not sure if that is actually the case, or if it is just me imagining things! All in I have 6 batteries for the X-T1 – probably overkill even for the largest of weddings.
Then there is the grip, which for me, is just too small! I’m not talking about the vertical grip, but the standard grip that is part of the body. I know that Fuji is trying to keep the camera as small as possible, but I feel this could be increased without compromising on size or comfort. Olympus have an awesome grip on their flagship OM-D body and Fuji really needs to have a look at that as a reference. The vertical grip is great, but again I would rather have two batteries in the vertical grip which would make for quick changing of both batteries. I’m not sure if that would be possible without compromising on size, but it would be worth looking into!
My last issue had nothing to do with the X-T1 and everything to do with me being cheap. The Sandisk cards I was using just weren’t fast enough! Admittedly I don’t have a need for fast cards for my normal work, but I really could have done with them here. If you are looking to shoot fast-moving action with the X-T1 then get the fastest cards you can afford. The camera is compatible with the fastest of SD cards so there really in no excuse!
So that was the Fuji X-T1 in a nutshell at the Dusi Canoe Marathon, as well as a few of the XF lenses that I used. Not a standard review, but I hope that it gives you a bit of an insight into the Fuji system for sport and other fast moving subjects. If there is anything in particular you would like to know then please feel free to hit me up in the comments sections below.