We’d all like every photography discussion to be about art and personal interpretation (I’ll do another blog post soon on this subject to balance things up) but you can’t get around the fact that without cameras there is simply is no photography at all (unless you’re someone like Paul Kenny!) so to conveniently ignore this fact seems both futile and a bit silly. In fact you’d have to be blind to the equipment allegiances that we form as photographers, I maintain that my own quest is that of product and image quality over any particular brand – it just so happens to be that Nikon seem to provide almost everything I need in spades for landscape photography.

This particular piece centres on Fuji though and before they get around to releasing their much anticipated X-T2 I thought I would finish up a promise to put some words down about two periods of using an X-E2 and subsequently an X-T1. Obviously these are my own views, no doubt there will be one or two people who disagree with the underlying sentiment. Maybe, just maybe.

I’ve been known to spend a few £££s here and there on photography equipment. Let me start off by saying that I very much wanted my time with the X System to be successful. If you enter into a project with the wrong frame of mind it’s rarely if ever going to work out positively and on each occasion I opened the door to the Fuji X Series I did so with an open mind and the sole purpose that this could be the future. There remain many things to like about the X System, mainly its smaller size, general feel of quality equipment and design – these are pretty good starting points, but this is about as good as it has ever got for me.

In all fairness my experience with the usability of either the X-E2 or X-T1 was also positive. If you’ve used a DSLR you’ll be right at home, the user interface is pretty decent while the features and overall design of the X-T1 being particularly good (they finally made an electronic viewfinder with a usable refresh rate at least). Lenses too are growing into a decent range though the first Fuji releases have started to look a lot like Beta offerings now when compared to the rest of the line and they need to keep the whole line relevant while expanding it. No Tilt/Shift option remains a black mark for me, my Nikon 45mm f/2.8 PC-e might be pretty big and expensive but it’s a must for many scenes if you want any chance of avoiding distortion.

Third party lens support from the likes of Sigma and Tamron also remains absent and as far as I have read each have no plan to expand into the X-Mount. That means if you’re buying into Fuji, that’s pretty much what you’re doing lock stock and barrel. It’s up to individuals how important that last part is to them – I don’t own any Sigma or Tamron lenses with my Nikon system, the only one I was reasonably happy with being Sigma’s 35mm f/1.4 Art lens but ultimately this proved to be too big and bulky and I sold it earlier in 2016. It should be said that Nikon also have 50 years of lenses that fit even their latest full frame DSLR so it’s unlikely they haven’t got it covered (I also use a couple of Zeiss primes too).

So we have decent Fuji bodies and a reasonable lineup of lenses, what could possibly go wrong? Well my first experience with the Fuji X-E2 was during 2014 and while that may not sound that long ago, actually the lens lineup back then wasn’t that brilliant. A handful of pretty average primes existed at that time with more expensive and worryingly bulky options in the pipeline, I was using the Fuji 18-55mm f/2.8-f/4 which to be fair was a great utility standard zoom, paired with the highly disappointing Fuji 55-200mm f/3.5-f/4.8 which was slow and hunted in even reasonable light. I even tried the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 at the time too which was also slow, noisy and failed to render the sort of out of focus areas I’d become accustomed to with a full frame camera. The 50-140 f/2.8 wasn’t available yet (my go to 70-200mm f/4 full frame equivalent) and so options felt somewhat limited to me.

Bigger problems occurred when it came to process Fuji’s RAW files however. Adobe didn’t provide the best engine for getting optimum (or even reasonable) results out of Fuji’s X-Trans sensor and I felt way too much work was required to get the best out of each file, often with what I thought were less than special final frames. Only one outcome here, I decided that while Fuji were definitely onto something the overall system and software support was too immature and I sold the lot with the genuine hope they would develop the system further.

Fast forward to the start of 2016 and there were a lot more options available in a more realistically affordable price-stabilised state. I bought an X-T1 with the 18-55mm kit lens and this time got hold of second hand bargain buys in the Fuji 14mm f/2.8 (excellent), 23mm f/1.4 (excellent), 35mm f1.4 (why!), 56mm f/1.2 (not the bokeh it should have for its given aperture) and 90mm f/2 (in truth, fantastic). This gave me the full frame equivalent of 21mm to 135mm which easily covered the focal lengths I spend my time utilising. In particular I bought into these relatively fast primes to ensure that the creative elements of my photography could be replicated with the Fuji system. Or so I hoped anyway.

To try and drive a successful transition to Fuji I put away all of my Nikon full frame kit completely this time and used Fuji exclusively for two months straight for every photography situation. I even bought the highly praised Iridient Developer for my 5k iMac to try and settle the difficulties with processing Fuji’s X-Trans RAW files. But overall it still didn’t work. I couldn’t settle on this idea that this was everything it could be and it fell way too short of what my Nikon system gave me in terms of end results.

Three significant problems remained:

  1. Depth of field (far too much and poor rendering of out of focus areas most of the time). I want to feel like I paint pictures with my camera, there was just no magic at all in my X-T1 files.
  2. What I can only describe as brittle, crunchy X-files when processing possibly brought about from an overall lack-lustre performance in dynamic range and X-Trans interference.
  3. Fuji colours. Much celebrated by many, much maligned by me – the saturation bias and pop in the red channel being a constant irritation to me, in my view a departure from the real world and more akin to Velvia even in standard shooting modes.

Significantly, resolution wasn’t an issue. I’m qualified to say this on the basis that my Nikon Df which I use alongside my D810 and infrared converted D800 is of course 16MP, the same output resolution provided by the X-T1. Of course many will cry foul because the Df utilises an improved full frame sensor taken from the Nikon D4, a low light specialist that produces frankly beautiful files. The Df remains nearly three times the price of the X-T1 too. Apples and oranges? Maybe. But I was prepared to sell up from full frame land and go with Fuji entirely. I just can’t do it and even when the X-T2 comes along I know already it’s not going to happen – more resolution won’t solve those three key issues above so I won’t be parting with £1 for an X-T2, I’ll just be watching from the sidelines.

Lessons learned. And there definitely are some. Full frame remains my future, and clearly that’s going to be with Nikon for the foreseeable too. The one over-riding and endearing feature of the Fuji system was its size though I’m now discovering much smaller vintage options from the Nikon lens lineup instead, more on this in another post soon.

At least I took one image I was happy with…

Spring Evening Swan – Fuji X-T1 & 56mm f/1.2 @ f/1.2