Fuji X-T1 – A hands On, Multiple Exposures and Long Exposures

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Disclaimer: Fuji loaned me the X-T1 and a two lenses (10-24mm & 55-200mm) and a cable release for 3 weeks in October/November 2014 before the v3.0 firmware update was announced or made available. No direction was given on this article or any influence imparted on its contents positive or negative. To actually test the camera I did have to purchase an SD card and some step up rings for my 77mm screw in ND filters. 

Now as you will all know the Fujifilm X-T1 has been out for a significant time which many of you will have had a chance to use or at least hold. Elsewhere on the site is an in-depth review by Matthew Maddock – check that out if you are looking for a review. If you want to know how it handles in the more out of the ordinary styles of photography, and some unabashed opinions then this is for you!

Initially I was going to write this up purely as regards to the the X-T1’s performance for Multiple Exposure photography (ME) and Long Exposure photography (LE), but given the time I had possession of the camera and the less than helpful weather we’ve had for the last month (long exposures and rain drops on filters aren’t conducive to image making) I deemed it wise to also give my opinions on its performance generally.

If you follow me on twitter (@andrewsgray) you may have noticed some scathing comments about the Fujifilm X-T1 in the first few days as I transitioned from the 6 year old all-round solid workhorse that is my trusty Nikon D700 to this new small box of electronic tricks and gadgetry!

Fuji X-T1 review

The Fuji X-T1 and Multiple Exposures (ME)

…or maybe this should be Multiple Long Exposures (MLE) which is my chosen style of ME photography.

MLE’s incorporating intentional camera movement (ICM) is a style I’ve been shooting for just over a year, however with the Nikon’s restricted (no in-camera composition) capabilities in this field I revert to doing my blending of the exposures in post processing, so I was looking forward to at least having the opportunity to see what the camera was blending while out in the field. I was secretly hoping that a small more affordable camera had some of the tools that the market leader in this game the Canon 5D mk3 has, which allows artists such as Valda Bailey and Chris Friel to create their work mostly in-camera.

My first experiments with ME on the Fujifilm X-T1, while working well in its own limitations, once I got the files back to Lightroom was the first time I was utterly dumbfounded by Fuji’s choice of camera operation. The plain simple fact that for ME’s the Fujifilm X-T1 only saves the final captured file as a jpeg! There is no RAW file with its added data and range to work with meaning that recovering shadows gracefully with a RAW file just leaves you with a mess of horrible banding and compression that a jpeg file holds. Unbelievable! It turns out that this applies to all recent Fuji models too, the X-E1 being the last model to keep the function.

I discovered this when thinking I had a good but underexposed base of a combined shot from a murky evening by the Aln River below Alnwick Castle that I knew immediately how I would process it. I was very disappointed when I began working on the image (I didn’t notice the file extension). The nature of MLE incorporating the ICM style is that our hit rate is extremely low, easily we have to get scores of captures to find something interesting or workable and as the Fujifilm X-T1 also doesn’t save the individual exposures separately as RAWs, it means should one frame of the double exposure work brilliantly, we don’t have the option of using it or combine the exposures manually later in Photoshop and the like. Surely these issues are addressable via a firmware update, as without being a camera engineer, the only issues I can foresee are issues with temporary buffer and processing power.

Also without knowing how digital cameras operate, surely the choice Fuji made to only have double exposures available is a short sighted one and not one that is probably not a problem technically – my 6 year old Nikon happily handles 10 exposures AND gives me a RAW file to use! I thought these new mirrorless electronic marvels were forward thinking, not missing out old technology/functionality. Also there are no creative blend modes onboard. It’s the X-T1’s way or it’s the Highway! Blend modes have been part of image editing probably since layers were introduced into Photoshop years ago – and maybe even longer in other early software and therefore are bound to be simple commonly known mathematical equations (in visual software media development circles anyway) so why are not all cameras making them available to their users? Still only the Canon 5D mk3 (maybe also the new 7D mk2) has the full range of blend modes available in-camera. But that rant is for another day and another post!

With the lack of RAW support I scaled back on experimenting with the onboard ME functions and carried on with my usual workflow of blending in post, through which I did make some very pleasing images so depending on your workflow all is not lost!

As I will note in the following Long Exposure section, the Fuji is excellent at controlling highlights which is extremely handy when shooting ICM’s in broad daylight with only a 6-stop ND filter, or less,  on the lens to allow the slow shutter of anywhere between 1 and 5 seconds to achieve the base results to work from. Also it renders textures in movement nicely whereas my D700 files can often leave me with just a mushy mess if there is little contrast in the scene.

Pros:

  • Ability to align 2nd exposure over 1st via EVF and LCD.
  • EVF gives a good impression of how the blend will work allowing change of exposure etc.
  • Nice texture in ICM captures.

Cons:

  • No RAW file for resulting ME.
  • Only double exposures are possible.
  • Doesn’t save each exposure separately.
  • No choice of blend modes.
  • Having to confirm each exposure is annoying and destroys flow, especially combined with the horribly designed selection buttons on the rear.
"Swan" by Andy Gray - Fuji X-T1 Multiple Exposure
Initial capture one of the few double exposures successfully made in-camera
Multiple Fuji X-T1 exposures layered and blended in post to make this image.
Multiple Fuji X-T1 exposures layered and blended in post to make this image of Sycamore Gap on Hadrian’s Wall

The Fuji X-T1 and Long Exposures (LE)

I shot a number of long exposures both at home in Northumberland and a few in the Lake District, where the bulk of my testing was supposed to be done, but the weather didn’t exactly cooperate.

The X-T1 easily performed well from the few second exposures I utilise for my ICM work to the multiple minute exposures where I use 16-stops of my B+W branded ND filters. A few things to note regarding the X-T1 though…

Firstly the X-T1’s base ISO is ISO200 with a selectable “low” setting that simulates ISO100. A problem with wanting to use this setting to give your exposure a chance to be even longer is that again Fuji do not give us a RAW file when this is selected, only outputting as a jpeg – immediately rendering ISO100 capabilities almost useless for the style of data capture required for fine art long exposure work.

Yes this is a simulation only of ISO100 achieved by software altering the base ISO200 captured file, probably by reducing highlights, but it would still be nice to have a RAW file for this setting even if it has been pre-processed in-camera. Again my D700 is only ISO200 natively but it still gives me a RAW file when you set it to the Low setting. Another head scratcher! Of course for LE photography the lowest possible ISO is preferred to allow longer exposures without adding more and stronger ND filters.

Another issue, dead pixels and noise. If you are a patient person then you will have no problems waiting for the in-camera long exposure noise reduction (NR) to carry out its work between frames, I though have no patience. If I’ve shot one exposure at 5 minutes I really hate having to wait another 5 minutes to shoot my next frame as the camera carries out the NR function – especially when shooting when the light is rapidly changing or just straight up beautiful! So I never shoot with that setting on. Yes my D700 has many dead pixels and some noise to clean up, but the X-T1 has much more in those dark areas on very long exposures. Therefore the LE NR really must be switched on when using the X-T1 to get a cleaner file unless your exposures are much shorter such as below 2 minutes.

Other than those issues the X-T1 performed admirably! Even with 16-stops of filter the LCD and EVF could still pick out edge detail in the scene – though not really enough to focus with, even using the otherwise excellent focus peaking.

Not a criticism of Fuji, but on all cameras that I’ve used – why give us a bulb mode but require us to use a shutter release or an app to get the time we want? Would it not be a good idea to allow us to set an exposure time of say 5 mins direct on the camera rather than make us pay for another piece of hardware?! I did enjoy that the X-T1 gives you a timer clock on the LCD during the exposure so not needing to time it myself was nice touch. Shooting in bulb mode on the D700 without a shutter release with a built in timer means I can’t leave the house without my iPhone and its stopwatch!

Pros:

  • Excellent control/recovery of highlights.
  • Onboard timer display during exposure.
  • Possibility of using a phone app as a shutter release.

Cons:

  • Excessive dead pixels/noise on 3 min+ exposures in dark areas without LE NR switched on.
  • Low dynamic range for recovering shadow detail.
Noise and dead pixels example from corner of file on a 7 minute exposure without noise reduction switched on. and the same corner after processing to recover shadow areas.
Noise and dead pixels example from corner of file on a 7 minute exposure without noise reduction switched on. and the same corner after processing to recover shadow areas.
"Barnacle Rock" by Andy Gray
5 minute long exposure
"A Submerged Jetty on Windermere" by Andy Gray - Fuji X-T1 Long Exposure
7 minute exposure of Windermere using 16 stops of ND filters
"The Bathing House at Howick, a November Sunrise" by Andy Gray
5 minute long exposure shot at dawn.

More thoughts on the Fuji X-T1 in general

Unfortunately it took over two weeks to realise that the Autofocus isn’t up to scratch (compared to my current gear) especially in slightly poor light and also when mainly using the 55-200mm lens. This was a pity as through my trip to the Lake District I almost exclusively used the Autofocus, and thus I have even less perfect workable files than I intended even given a quick discharge of the single battery I had one day, and inclement weather keeping all my gear securely in my bag at other times. However on further testing, once I returned home and starting manually focussing exclusively, the camera began to really shine!

It was at this point I realised why so many landscape photographers were so keen on it. It suits the pace. You need to stop, you need to be still, you need to be patient. Settings changes and composition need to be considered and done with thought. You will not (well I couldn’t anyway) be changing settings on the fly with your eye to the EVF. Most of the important stuff is changed using the dials on the top of the camera and thus you need to be looking at them and checking none have moved as you position your camera. I found it far too easy to catch the exposure compensation dial (the only one without a push lock on it) with it being directly next to the shutter and your finger naturally rests against it. The exposure dial would have been much more intuitive without the lock in my eyes – or if the scroller on the front which allows incremental changes of exposure, overrode that dial and allowed you to quickly access the full range exposure times from blub to 1/8000.

It’s a choice of the manufacturer and one that many love, but I found having aperture controls on a ring on the lens a backward step that again could be easily moved unintentionally. Also that lag between turning the aperture ring and the feedback in the EVF to be frustratingly just a little too long. Something that I hope would be worked on in future generations of this model. With the issue of a lag between the real world and the EVF combined with the autofocus issues, unless it is much better on the significantly pricier glass of the primes or new zooms, this is not an action camera! And by action I mean pretty much anything that isn’t a rock. Hats off to anyone that can use these for weddings etc. you have at least 10x the reactions and skill than I ever dream of having! …well, admittedly I am rubbish at video games.

This next point comes from someone who shoots exclusively in RAW mode. During shooting, chimping away at the LCD or EVF as I love to do, you’d think that each shot is a competition winner! The dynamic range is massive, its bright, colourful contrasty and also soft in the right places. But when importing into Lightroom and even applying the now configured X-T1 modes in the camera configuration module the images just don’t look like they did on the EVF! I’d heard great things about the straight out of camera jpegs from this camera so I also shot RAW + Fine Jpg for a time, but even these jpegs (although very nice as I’d been told) still weren’t a patch on what the EVF and LCD showed me. During shooting I always felt great and confident that the images would be good, but after 3 weeks of continued disappointment I just had to learn not to get too excited and realise there was a lot of work in post to get the beauty of the EVF’s view back.

Muscle memory and being able to feel the right settings after a decade of exclusively shooting Nikon DSLRs, this old dog has got used to how things are done on Nikon bodies, so my short time with the Fuji was very alien. I’ve always shot underexposed, usually because the highlights are easily blown and the shadow recovery from Nikon RAWs are great! The shadow recovery on the X-T1 was less so. With advancing technology I was expecting it be better in this regard than my old D700 but I found that it just wasn’t. However as I said earlier its control of highlights was magnificent! So you can easily shoot more to the left and you’ll have wonderful files to work from.

This might sound a very negative opinion of the camera but it is not, its just negative words come through louder and things I liked I took as a given that is how a brand new camera should perform in 2014 and thus I wasn’t blown away by much it did. Now that the X-T1 loan camera is back in Fuji UK HQ, I have already missed shooting with it and some of the onboard toys it had that made shooting with it easier and with more instant feedback. Focus peaking I thought was revolutionary and I will now be calling for it on every single camera from here on in, whether mirrorless or DSLR! The zoom of Focus Assistance was also really useful (even if it was a little annoying when it appeared if you just touched the focus ring on the lens) and something I’ve missed when trying to focus accurately using my own kit since.

Once the focusing issue was sorted and a change of exposure style was employed the Fuji X-T1 produced some lovely files, so much detail captured on its 16.3mb APS-C sensor. It seems it was built just for damp autumn English woodlands! Some have complained about the mushy nature of the files when processing, I did think the same when first viewing my first images but over time, adapting shooting style and the timely article by Pete Bridgwood on sharpening of X-Trans sensor images in Lightroom helped alleviate those initial concerns enough not to be put off entirely.

For some (including me) it seems there is a long learning curve with this camera to get the best from it. It can take a lot of time before you are comfortable with it’s nuances and being able to capture the files it is truly capable of. I was just getting close to that stage when Fuji wanted their camera back. Had I kept it any longer then I’m sure I would be hankering to get into debt to purchase this or another X series camera, or al least waiting with baited breath for the 2nd generation of this model where I’d hope Fuji would continue to refine and improve features and maybe add in some of the things I’m looking for in a camera.

Other random thoughts…

  • Should I really need to ask on twitter how to focus to infinity for night sky photography?
  • Why do these mirrorless cameras have to be so small? They are tiny in my hand. They don’t need to be heavier, just taller so I can hold it using the whole of my hand rather than just 2 fingers!
  • The image stabilisation is amazing with the Fuji OIS lenses!
  • It has a mind of its own. It seemed to change important settings randomly. Like go from RAW capture to jpg with (I think) no deliberate input from me.
  • Why are certain image viewing options only available if you shoot in either jpg or RAW + jpg?
  • I actually had to read the manual before trying it! Never a good usability sign.
  • The buttons on the back are terrible. Badly located, too flat and unusable without looking.
"Alnwick Castle - Dusk" By Andy Gray
After some work in post processing, even on my first day with the camera I managed to get one nice image – Alnwick Castle at Dusk
The Fuji X-T1 is perfectly capable of handling epic wide landscapes keeping plenty of detail.
The Fuji X-T1 is perfectly capable of handling epic wide landscapes keeping plenty of detail.
"Howick Rage" by Andy Gray
Apart from an unsteady hand and the X-T1 burning through my 8GB SD card in 10 minutes shooting these waves – My first wave images of winter came out really well!
This is where the X-T1 can really shine, the English woodland! A lightweight general walkabout camera system that delivers quality, rich imagery with plenty of data in the files to still print big ...they just take some work.
This is where the X-T1 can really shine, the English woodland! A lightweight general walkabout camera system that delivers quality, rich imagery with plenty of data in the files to still print big …they just take some work.

When it comes down to it the Fuji X-T1 is a sub £1000 camera body, it is not a £2500 full frame billion megapixel heavy behemoth like the Nikon D810 and so it should not be considered a rival to it or even comparable to. This camera is perfect for the day you don’t want to carry around 6lbs of DSLR and lenses ever again, or as your second system that is lighter to take up the side of a mountain or on an all-day trail, or to just generally downsize but still want quality images that render detail well, capture colour beautifully and can still be printed big if you want to!

Would I buy one if I had the money? I’m not sure, I’ve heard that some much prefer the X-Pro1 over the X-T1. I’d have to give that camera an extended test first to see if I agree. But I certainly loved the Fuji system’s weight in my bag!



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