Fujifilm's X-T1 and 50-140mm f/2.8 - My Thoughts

I was hired to shoot a very major fundraising event last night, but since switching to Fuji, I had not had occasion to purchase an f/2.8 tele-zoom, and I knew that as versatile as the little XC 50-230mm lens is, it wouldn't be up to the task. I was also concerned that my X-E1 would let me down auto-focusing in poor lighting (I had no such qualms about my X-E2 with version 4 firmware). So, I rented the 50-140 and an X-T1 body for the shoot to work alongside my the X-E2 and the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4. Unfortunately, I won't be able to share any example images from last night's event, as they're for a client and I don't have a release to do so. I had wanted to shoot a little bit of a local duo performing last Friday night, but I didn't have the energy when I got home from the day gig to go out for the evening.

Fujifilm X-T1 with Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8 lens. This is some fancy kit, so I felt it deserved a posh, paisley background.

Anyway .... The box of goodies arrived right on time from the rental house, and I proceeded to unpack the gear. The company sent the body, battery, charger, and "pop-up" flash in a small camera bag, and the lens in a snug-fitting lens pouch, all wedged into the box with foam and air-pouches. When I took the camera bag out of the box, it was so light, I thought at first that they'd forgotten to put anything inside it! In fact, the camera and lens combined weigh less than a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS! Including the shipping box, camera bag, and pouch, the weight for the X-T1 package is 2.85 lbs. That Canon lens alone weighs in at 3.28 lbs.

Once I was over my initial "scare" that the box was empty, I set the X-T1 up to match, as closely as possible, the control and custom settings I use on my other X-series bodies, after making sure that the latest firmware had been loaded (the rental house I use is very good about this kind of thing, but I always like to be sure).

As usual with my "reviews" of products, this will not be a scientific article with loads of tests and numbers. It will be a very short description of my experience with the gear. Take that for what it's worth.

Fujifilm X-T1

Not a shot of my hands holding an X-T1, but it does illustrate the top-panel layout, and where all the controls fall. Of course, there are buttons and switches on the back and front of the body as well.

Not a shot of my hands holding an X-T1, but it does illustrate the top-panel layout, and where all the controls fall. Of course, there are buttons and switches on the back and front of the body as well.

The X-T1 body really feels good in my hand. As with the rest of the Fuji products I've used, everything pretty much falls under my fingers just the way an old fuddy-duddy like me expects it to. All of the controls operate with solid but smooth clicks or positive button presses. I didn't notice any of the issues others have mentioned with the weather-sealed buttons being hard to press or feeling spongy. The X-T1's electronic viewfinder is astounding. In fact, I'd rate it to be every bit as good as the EVF on the Sony A7-II-series cameras, which many consider to be the best EVFs on the market. With that said, because of my glasses, I still can't see all of the corners of the frame all of the time. The only camera I've tried in the past few years that has a viewfinder I can see all of is the Olympus OM-D E-M5.

I played around a bit with the X-T1 and my XF 18-55mm lens, and it's a fantastic walk-around combination. About the only thing that might be better for a walkabout might be the XF 18-135mm lens, except for 1-stop disadvantage that lens has over the 18-55. Of course, the "darling" combo lens for the X-T1 might be the XF 16-50mm f/2.8. Anyway, X-T1 and 18-55 make a nice, light, easy-handling combo. Of course, so would the X-T10 and the 18-55, for good bit less money.

Image quality from the X-T1 is identical to my X-E2, since the sensor and processor are exactly the same. And, in fact, the images are so good that although I shot raw and JPEG images, I didn't use any of the raw files when editing the pictures from the event.

So, what didn't I like? Typical of all "hump in the middle" DSLR-style bodies, the LCD (which, BTW, is excellent) falls right under my big, greasy, nose, and that means it gets smeary and slimy after shooting for a while. Once I get going and know I'm in the ballpark on a shoot, I don't chimp a lot, but when I do, I don't want to have to clean the LCD to see clearly. With my "rangefinder-style" X-E1 and X-E2 bodies, my nose never touches the back of the camera, so that's never a worry.

For the X-T1, Fuji have moved the SD card slot to the side of the body, and out of the battery compartment. While I like that they moved it, I don't like the cover. It's an odd "slide-and-fold" arrangement, and I'm not sure how sturdy it is. It feels like it might break easily.

I also don't like that there's no "pop-up" flash. Believe it or not, I use the micro-flashes on the X-E1 and X-E2. They don't provide any serious illumination, but they are sufficient to fill in eye-socket shadows and put a catchlight in the eyes if needed. The X-T1 ships with a little flash that slides into the hot shoe. It works just fine, but it's not as convenient as pushing the little flash button on the back when you need that little pop of fill-flash.

Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR

Moving on to the lens, which is officially called the XF 50-140mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR. That's a serious bit of alphabet soup, but then, this a serious lens, people. It's Fuji's answer to using an image-stabilized, weather-sealed, pro-grade 70-200mm f/2.8 lens on a full-frame body. It means business, and it feels like it. It also weighs like it. While, as I mentioned earlier, it's significantly lighter than a comparable lens for a Canon on Nikon, it's still heavy when compared to other Fuji lenses. I think the only heavier Fuji lens is the 100-400mm, which is their lens for serious wildlife photogs (it's apparently also an excellent lens for motorsports).

To say that the 50-140 is a sharp lens is an understatement. It's razor sharp, and focus is generally quite zippy on both the X-T1 and the X-E2. I didn't try it on the X-E1, though I suspect it would fare reasonably well on that camera as well. With that said, it did, on occasion, get lost. In a few cases, it would hunt before locking in, and in a couple of instances, I simply couldn't attain focus automatically. This is where lenses with focusing motors driven by the focus ring can be a both a help and a hindrance. While I could grab the ring and override the auto-focus without having to turn the automation off, the focus ring is not direct drive, and it's electronically "geared" such that it could take a lot of turning to get where I needed it to go. I subsequently missed a couple of shots. With all of that said, I don't think that the problem was any worse than any other system, and in most cases, the Fuji lens/camera combinations performed as well or better than our Canons did with the 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS lenses back when we used them to shoot weddings.

The 50-140 is an image-stabilized lens, and although I didn't perform any scientific tests, I did play a little bit to see how low I could go with the shutter and still get a sharp image. I was impressed, nay amazed, that I could easily hand-hold the 50-140 on the X-T1 down to about 1/30th of a second at 140mm, and when I actually applied myself, I could go down as far as 1/8 second. If you use the standard 1/(focal length * crop factor) formula to determine a safe minimum shutter speed for a lens, that means I should have to shoot at about 1/250. So, being able to shoot easily at 1/30 means I was getting 3-stops with ease, up to about 5 stops of image stabilization.

I started to mention that the 50-140mm is a relatively heavy lens, especially as compared to the body, and on occasion, I felt like the setup was a little nose-heavy, both on the X-T1 and the X-E2. It was never hateful, and it was never at all tiresome. But it sometimes felt just a little off-balance. And, any instability on my part was easily taken care of by the OIS function.

When am I going to buy one?

So, you're all wondering what the bottom line is, aren't you? How soon will it be before I run out and buy an X-T1? Honestly, unless I can find a barely-used one in near-mint condition for $500-600, I feel no particular need to own an X-T1 right now. I still generally prefer the rangefinder-style of the X-E1 and X-E2, and unless they drop that line, that's probably what I'll keep buying. I would, however, definitely rent the X-T1 again if the situation warrants.

The same holds true for the 50-140mm lens. It's not something I regularly need. For the vast majority of what I do, I don't even need the XF 55-200mm lens. The inexpensive XC 50-230mm still works just fine for me most of the time. I could become interested in the XF 100-400, were I to start shooting a lot of wildlife again. But again, for me, rental is my friend unless I find a really crazy good deal.

I should also mention that Donna tried the camera/lens combo for a few minutes and had to put it down. She was particularly impressed with the size and weight of the package, and she already knows about the image quality attainable with the Fuji cameras. She prefers the more DSLR-like styling of the X-T1 over the rangefinderesque X-E or X-Pro models. I think she was fighting urges to leave her Canon behind, at least for a moment (she actually started asking questions like, "how much does this cost?").

So there you have it. My impression of the Fujifilm X-T1 and XF 50-140mm lens. Really nice kit. If I were still shooting weddings, I'd say that Fuji cameras are close enough to ready for prime-time for me to use, with one exception. So, let's talk about that for a moment before I let you go.

Pop goes the flash! Or not.

Last night, I used my trusty, old, Nikon SB-800 flash on the X-T1, and the Fujifilm EF-20 on the X-E2. The SB-800 worked great in combination with the X-T1 and 50-140 lens. Plenty of power, as it always had. And, since it has the ability to work like an old Vivitar 283 "auto" flash, so as long as I was paying attention to what I was doing I could even get good results with automatic flash exposure. Unfortunately, I have to do this because Fuji still has yet to ship a truly professional speedlight. I've held on to the SB-800 for all these years specifically because it's relatively easy to use in almost any situation, with almost any camera.

Fuji have delayed their XF-500 flash (it's now slated for sometime this summer, instead of late this month), which is supposed to finally address the need for a professional flash system for select Fujifilm cameras.

Nissin's i60 flash features high power, TTL/wireless remote, and very simple controls, and works with Fuji's TTL flashes. There's also manual control, when you want it.

In the mean time, Nissin's i60 flash is expected in late June, and the price looks reasonable. If it works as promised, it could offer a better alternative to Fuji's offering, if for no other reason than it will work with other Nissin flashes equipped with their "2.4GHz Air" wireless communications system. Really, working TTL auto flash with an appropriate amount of power is good enough for me, and I'll very likely buy one in the late summer or early fall. I have other gear to use if I'm doing studio-type multi-flash setups.

Of course, the little EF-20 worked perfectly on the X-E2 with the 18-55. Every exposure was spot-on, just like on the X-E1 and on the X10 before that. I was really able to let the camera and flash make their own decisions, freeing me to worry about composition, which is as it should be.

Okay, with that out of the way, you're allowed to go read something else. Cheers!

A Little Night Music?

I've finally gotten around to adding some of the music pages. I've been procrastinating about this for quite some time, and another cancelled band practice opened up tonight -- so I did it! You can find it, should you desire, by clicking on the MUSIC tab in the menu.

Westminster Jazz and Flower Festival

We wandered "down town" yesterday to wander around at our local Jazz and Flower Festival. Of course, I carried my camera, and actually took a number of pictures. One might argue -- successfully, I might add -- that I didn't photograph the festival. Well, such is the way of things...

This is the JPEG version of this image, taken straight from the camera.

All but two of the pictures in the gallery were taken with my Fujifilm X-E2 (with version 4 firmware, which effectively makes it an X-E2s), and edited in Lightroom CC and Nik Analog Efex Pro. Those that weren't edited in Analog Efex are straight out of camera (with the possible exception of some cropping) -- Fujis make fantastic JPEGs in camera, which is one something I love about them.

 

Perhaps These Are the 'Droids I'm Looking For

Some of you may remember back when I had an Android phone, an HTC Thunderbolt. You may remember how horrid I thought the device was. It was horrid. It still is. However, purchasing the new Behringer XR18 digital mixer has had me looking at Android devices, because the better mobile apps for the mixer are on Android.

Digiland DL718M 7" Android tablet running Behringer X Air Edit app with a customized screen layout.

What I've found is pleasantly surprising.

The first surprise is that I can get halfway decent, small (7") Android tablets, running the current version operating system, for under $40. "Halfway decent" means quad-core processor, 1GB RAM, 8GB Flash storage, USB 2.0/charge port, a micro-SD slot, a capacitive IPS touch screen with fairly decent resolution, and almost no bloatware. The tablet is good enough, in fact, that I could probably run the full version of the mixer control app on the 7" tablet with a reasonable degree of comfort.

The current Android is version 5.1 "Lollipop" (6.0 "Marshmallow" is just starting to ship), and it is a vast improvement over "Ice Cream Sandwich". It doesn't crash. It loads apps quickly. Networking works. Through an OTG USB connection, I can connect a keyboard and mouse (!). Of course, I didn't get the little tablets to use as my actual tablet. I [should] stick with my iPad for that. These are to be used as monitor mix tablets that I can hand to musicians during gigs. This allows them to control their own monitor mixes. At under $40, if something happens and the tablet gets damaged, I won't be out an expensive device.

I do have a larger, 10.1" Android tablet on order which should arrive tomorrow afternoon/evening. It cost all of $80, and features an 8-core processor, 1GB RAM, 16GB Flash storage, a capacitive IPS touch screen with 1280x800 resolution, micro-USB and full-size USB ports, HDMI output, Bluetooth 4.0, and a separate charging port. It also runs Android 5.1, and the reviews indicate that this one will also be relatively free of unnecessary software.

Obviously, these are not even close to being the best Android devices available. But so far, these seem to be performing adequately. For my particular application, I really don't want to spend very much money, as I'm taking these into a hostile environment. I need low-cost devices that won't break the bank if I need to replace them suddenly. That's been a constant fear when using the Mackie mixer that relies solely on iOS devices -- there's just no such thing as an $80 iPad that works.

Mobile Word on the 7" tablet

Back to improvements in the Android experience, at least briefly. Of course Google's apps all run smoothly, and the range of "office" apps has improved to cover pretty much any business need. For those who just must have Word and Excel, the mobile versions for Android look, feel, and act like their Windows counterparts, albeit with a reduced feature set.

Android has come a long, long way, even since version 4. In some ways, I like the newer version more than iOS. If you're facing a phone upgrade and have an older iPhone, you might want to at least check out the current Android offerings.

Digital Audio Update

Didja ever notice I kind of go in spurts with posts? I guess that's kind of how my life goes... In little spurts. Anyway...

Nineteen months ago today, I made the move to a digital "board" for mixing live music. At the time, I chose the Mackie DL1608. By-and-large, I've been happy with the Mackie, but there have been a couple of annoyances, most notably the inability to set, save, and recall pre-amp levels from the control application. If you read my earlier post, you'll notice that I knew that going in. So far, my work-around has been to take snapshots of the gain settings for each gig, print them out on a 4x6 card, and keep them in my mixer case. That allows me to set a good starting point for each gig I do with a particular band. But if a pre-amp needs tweaking during a show, I have to run up to the stage and make the adjustment. That's inconvenient for me, and distracting to performers and audience members. Another issue it that Mackie have never come out with control apps for Windows, MacOSX or Android -- not everyone owns an iPhone or iPad.

Other people will be quick to tell you of other shortcomings of the Mackie DL mixers, but really, the pre-amp thing was the part that I found the most troublesome. For instance, I think the reverb and delay, while certainly basic, sound just fine in the real world. And, I've never once had any of the random noise or random disconnect issues that others claim. From day one, the thing has just worked, and worked well, despite its limitations.

image courtesy Behringer

Fast forward all these months. Behringer have finally shipped the mixer I really wanted from the start (X-Air X18), as well as a whole host of companion mixers that, better still, are rack-mountable. The control applications have become fairly robust and run on iPads, Android tablets and phones, and also on Windows, MacOSX, Linux, and even on Raspbian! Yes, even on a Raspberry Pi, you can run Behringer's control application. Of course, Raspbian isn't a huge stretch, since it is a fork of Debian. But still. There it is. There may be more about the Raspberry Pi thing at a later date.

Mackie's not been completely asleep at the switch, though. They've put out numerous updates to the Master Fader and My Fader apps, which have added a number of features. But, they do seem to have hit the limitations of the hardware in the DL1608, and even to some extent, the DL32R.

Behringer X Air Q app on an HTC Thunderbolt. Note how small the faders are.

So, I've picked up an XR18 on loan from my friendly nearby Behringer rep./audio gear pusher for evaluation. I've spent about two hours with it so far, and have been really impressed. I've tested with two different laptops running Windows 10, an ancient Dell running an oddball build of Ubuntu Linux, as well as an iPad Air 2, an el-cheapo Android tablet, an el-cheapo Windows 10 tablet, and a couple of rooted and tweaked HTC Thunderbolt Android phones. All have worked flawlessly (though the controls are a little tricky to see and use on the tiny phone and Windows 10 tablet screens).

I like that I can control phantom power individually for each input, as well as choose pre- and post-fader sends on a per-channel-per-aux basis. The general audio quality seems to be excellent (it ought to, as the pre-amps were design by the folks at Midas). And, the effects are pretty stellar.

Behringer X-Air App for Windows

Behringer X-Air App (default layout) on a small Android tablet

My impression is that Behringer has done a lot of work on the Android and computer app functionality since I first looked at the demo versions of the app on the iPad almost two years ago. While the Android and computer apps are not as pretty as the iPad variant (nor quite as intuitive as Mackie's Master Fader iPad app), they 've become quite functional, and the current versions mostly make sense.

This is one deep mixer, especially for one that retails for around U$700. I could ramble on for page after page about all the stuff that's crammed into this little box that aren't crammed into Mackie's offerings, but I won't.

You can Google all the tech and comparison stuff, or you can look at this chart that I snagged that sorta shows some of the differences:

There are a lot of things this chart misses, such as the 18 USB returns from the computer which, along with the 18 USB sends to the computer, allow the XR18 (or X18) to act as a full audio and MIDI interface for recording -- at the same time as you're mixing with it. The best you can do for recording with the DL1608 is a two-channel mix, and you have to record to a docked iPad. It also doesn't mention that it's impossible to connect any kind of hardware control surface to the smaller Mackie (they do have a control surface for the DL32R on the way), where any "teachable" control surface (or one that knows Mackie HUI protocols) can connect via MIDI to the Behringer mixers.

One thing that may, or may not, be a sticking point is that there is no app for the iPhone, nor does it look like one is on the horizon. How the heck they let that go by is beyond me, especially given that they support pretty much anything else with a screen. Many of my clients use iPhones, and have gotten used to being able to handle their own monitor mixes. I guess that, since I can get nice, cheap Android tablets for under U$40 each, I could just pick up a few to hand out at gigs. In some ways, that's actually a better scenario, as I can be sure that all the devices being used match the system firmware, and that everything will "play nice".

I'm going to spend another couple of days evaluating, but at this point, I'm thinking that I'll be moving to the Behringer very soon, unless I discover something I just can't live without. I've already got an offer on my DL1608, as well as a couple of other bits of extra gear, so I could probably do this with my only cost being a handful of cheap tablets and another rack (which I've been wanting anyway).