When Fujifilm announced its new X-T1 (MSRP $1,299) mirrorless camera ahead of this year's CP+ trade show, the biggest news was its SLR-style design. It was a real break from tradition for Fuji: All previous X-series cameras had used a rangefinder-style layout, similar to Leica film cameras. Their electronic viewfinders were positioned in the upper left of the bodies, and the bodies themselves had a simple, rectangular shape that's alien to habitual DSLR shooters.
The switch to a center-mounted "prism" EVF and the addition of a real hand grip up front were clearly designed to broaden Fuji's user base by luring in users who trained on DSLRs. And the plethora of manual control dials—not unlike the control scheme of the new Nikon Df—speaks to the company's cachet with enthusiast shooters.
We've had the opportunity to spend some time with the X-T1 at CP+ in Yokohama, and from our brief hands-on, we think Fujifilm might really be on to something with its newest X.
A new old paradigm for Fujifilm
Let's be clear: Fujifilm has made plenty of SLR-style cameras... it's just been a few years since the last one rolled off the line. In fact, its Fujica 35mm SLRs are cult cameras beloved of many enthusiasts, and the new X-T1 follows very carefully in their footsteps.
In terms of looks, the X-T1 manages to stand out from key rivals like the Olympus OM-D E-M1 despite sharing many of the same fundamental design choices. The prism hump is a little more blunt, the grip is a bit less pronounced, and in general it's just a bit more Fuji. The materials are identical to those used on rangefinder-style models like the X-E2 and X-Pro1, including the aggressively textured faux-leather covering and high-quality, all-metal body.
The grip isn't particularly deep, but it's plenty deep enough for the compact, lightweight X-T1. The camera is well balanced, even without the optional vertical battery grip or "assist grip." (The latter is a simple metal extender that adds some extra depth to the existing front grip area.)
The X-T1 screams of quality, with a real sense of density and seamless construction. That said, the X-T1's locking dials feel a little cheaper than we've come to expect from our favorite X-series models. They turn easily and offer definite click-stops, but there's just something a little off about the weight of their rotation. It feels as though the designers were aiming for ease of use, but in the process made the dials slightly too loose. The e-dials are also a tiny bit too recessed for our tastes, but this is admittedly an even more minor complaint.
More of everything you want, less of things you don't
At its heart, the X-series has always been about providing photographers with more manual control. We've seen a huge wave of cameras embracing this concept since the X100 shook things up back in 2011, but the X-T1 goes further than any previous X—and indeed almost any other camera on the market—offering a total of five dials on the top plate.
Those five dials include shutter speed, exposure compensation, ISO, drive mode, and metering. The premium XF lenses, of course, offer an on-lens control dial, while XC lenses are controlled via the rear e-dial. As with other Fuji cameras, the Q menu provides direct access to dozens of other settings with two or three clicks, and AF-L/AE-L buttons flanking the rear dial provide added customizability of exposure and focus.
The optional VG-XT1 battery grip has a suite of buttons of its own, replicating the AF/AE-L and Focus Assist keys from the body. There's also a secondary shutter button and a lock ring to disable it when you're shooting in landscape. The grip itself is unusually tall—most likely an intentional choice to make the camera-plus-grip fit an average hand better in both orientations. It looks a little ungainly, but feels great in practice.
Fujifilm made headlines with its innovative hybrid EVF/OVF and digital split image focusing in past models, but the quality of the viewfinder was never the big news. With the X-T1, Fuji at last has a top-of-the-line display. In terms of pixel count and size it's comparable with the units in the OM-D E-M1 and Sony A7/A7R, and in use it's just as strong as either of those. Add in the fact that the OLED display rotates to follow the orientation of the camera and you have one of the best screens on the market.
On the CP+ show floor we saw some flicker under fluorescent lighting, but on the whole, the panel was quick, responsive, and impressively clear. Combined with Fuji's great suite of focus assists, the EVF should make this a fantastic camera for legacy lens users who need precise focus with fast glass.
For those who prefer more modern optics, Fujifilm staked a claim to the "world's fastest AF" at just 0.08 seconds—only to be "bested" a few weeks later with the 0.06-second AF of the Sony A6000. A dim trade show floor isn't exactly the best place to test either company's claim, and the resulting hundredths of a second probably won't matter in the AF war. What's important is that the camera is impressively quick, we were able to lock on to moving subjects with ease, and the continuous AF mode worked a treat. That's all thanks to the phase detection pixels baked into the 16.3-megapixel X-Trans II sensor, backed up by an EXR II image processor. It's a combo that works wonders in the X-E2, so it's no surprise to get such great results from the X-T1.
Full weather and dust sealing is another great addition, though it's actually quite useless without any similarly sealed lenses in the Fuji lineup. Fortunately, the company aims to release three sealed zooms in 2014, including a walkaround 18-135mm. Advanced WiFi features are present, too, though we weren't able to test them out at CP+. The new Camera Remote app finally allows you to use your smartphone or tablet as a viewfinder, which is a feature Fuji has needed for some time.
Fujifilm's most ambitious digital camera yet
Like the Olympus OM-D E-M1, the Fujifilm X-T1 is strong evidence that a good mirrorless camera can do pretty much anything a good DSLR can do—and often more. Early X-series cameras struggled with operational quirks and sluggish controls, but Fuji has really ironed out the kinks over the last couple years and the X-T1 is by all appearances a beast of a camera.
The X-Trans sensor and EXR processor are already well-known for their imaging chops, but the whole package is what's truly so impressive. This is a camera that's fast, responsive, packed with control, and remarkably rich with features.
But unlike Olympus, Fuji hasn't yet cracked the broad consumer market. The X series has thus far relied almost entirely on enthusiast appeal; thanks to its retro styling and manual control, the best of the X series has cornered a market of camera nerds. These are photographers that are willing to tolerate certain flaws in the name of ultimate image quality or a more pleasurable shooting experience. With the X-T1, there's a real opportunity to expand the audience to working pros and everyday DSLR users, so it'll be interesting to see whether the X-T1 is embraced by those outside the bounds of internet camera forums and Pop Photo subscriber lists.
The X-T1 will hit store shelves in the next month or two for a body-only price of $1,299 ($1,699 w/ 18–55mm kit lens). We can't wait to get one into our labs, so keep an eye out for our full review coming later this year!
Meet the tester
Ben is an experienced industry journalist who formerly served as Senior Editor of News and Features at Reviewed. He now contributes as a freelance writer and editor. Most recently hailing from the vast wilds of the American southwest, he is an avid photographer who is deeply disturbed by the lack of wide open landscapes in Boston.
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