It’s probably coincidental but very fortuitous that Fujifilm always seems to announce a significant new camera at around the time I’m heading off for the annual TIPA Awards judging. Back in 2012 it was the X-S1 which proved the perfect camera for shooting on safari in South Africa when it wasn’t feasible to carry a full D-SLR kit. Then, last year, it was the compact X-20 which worked brilliantly when shooting on the crowded streets of Hong Kong. This year, the destination was Vancouver after which I was planning an excursion into the frozen landscapes of the
North West Territories. What better camera to take than the X-T1?
Snag was, so many other people wanted to get their hands on the X-T1, ‘loaner’ cameras were being strictly rationed and our test sample was due to be returned pronto. Some undignified pleading later and Fujifilm Australia graciously agreed to let me keep ‘my’ X-T1 for the Canada trip. Once again, travelling light(ish) was a priority and the X-T1 body plus the 14mm f2.8 ultra-wide it came with for testing, my own (really) 18-55mm zoom and a Voigtländer 75mm f1.8 fitted with an M-to-X mount adapter all packed neatly into a small bag along with a compact travel tripod. This exercise alone graphically illustrated why CSCs look destined to rule the world – my editorial last issue notwithstanding – but the X-T1, in particular, emphasised the point time and again over the next fortnight. Even for a dyed-in-the-wool D-SLR lover like me, the X-T1 delivers the same experience – and capabilities – in a smaller and quieter package. At no point did I ever think things would be better with a mirror, a pentaprism and a focusing screen. Now this is partially because the X-T1 works more like a D-SLR than many D-SLRs and partially because its EVF is just so good – in nearly every situation – you just don’t notice anything different. Tellingly, as we TIPA editors compared cameras (as you do), five of us had X-T1s… a count matched only by the number of Sony A7Rs brought along. One lone Nikon Df flew the flag for the D-SLR. Hmm.
Awards judging done (you can read all about it in the next issue), I headed north to give the X-T1 a real ‘real world’ test. Firstly, heavy snowfall challenged the bodyshell sealing, but without incident. Next came a sub-zero temperature torture test for both the camera (and the photographer). So, Fujifilm says the X-T1 is happy down to -10 degrees Celsius, but how about -25 Celsius? That’s what it was some kilometres out of Yellowknife in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, watching for the Northern Lights. We were there for three hours, shooting long exposures of up to 30 seconds, but the X-T1 didn’t miss a beat. The photographer was refuelled with hot chocolate, but the camera just stayed out in the cold without complaint. Snow and ice are, of course, a challenge for any metering system especially in sunny conditions, but apart from applying some exposure compensation (made easy by the dial), the X-T1 sorted everything out very competently, including the auto white balance. And, on a practical note, when you’re wearing thick gloves, dials are really the only way to travel… and the X-T1 allows you to do pretty well all the important in-the-field stuff this way. I’d packed the tripod as a precaution – well, obviously it was essential for exposures of 30 seconds – but otherwise, the camera’s high ISO performance rendered it redundant… ISO 1000 looks more like ISO 100.
In the past, I’ve questioned our obsession with ever-smaller cameras, reasoning essentially that, in photography, there’s often no gain without pain (i.e. making some effort). But the reality is that there are actually many situations where it just isn’t practical to carry a ‘big camera’ kit and, bottom line, the X-T1 is small without compromising either its capabilities or its performance. Photography may still involve some pain – getting up before dawn when it’s -15 degrees Celsius outside, for example – but you don’t necessarily have to go through torture to get a great picture. Crunching across a frozen Lake Louise with just the X-T1 wearing the 18-55mm zoom (and the 14mm tucked in a jacket pocket), I was able to enjoy the actual experience as much as the photography. I was alone except for a guy flying a GoPro on a drone and we both stopped shooting to marvel as the first warm rays of sunlight crept across the snow-covered peaks, contrasting dramatically with the icy cool of the frozen lake. It was a life-affirming experience and it needed to be witnessed first-hand as well as through the camera… and, in the end, this is why mirrorless cameras like the X-T1 will prevail.
They’re involving enough to allow for the practice of photography – both technically and creatively – but not to the point of distraction or obsession. The creation of an image, after all, first requires an appreciation of its subject matter and, funnily enough, you really can’t acquire this if all your attention is constantly focused through a viewfinder. Don’t get me wrong, the practice is all part of the process, but it’s the picture that really matters… and, equally, being there.
Paul Burrows, Editor