Hands-on: Fujifilm X-T1 review

Retro is back and big business in the camera world. The Fujifilm X-T1 goes all in when it comes to delivering that old skool DSLR-like experience in a modern day interchangeable lens body.

Shifting a viewfinder from the side to the centre may not sound like much - and that’s the key difference between this model and its X-series cousins - but in the X-T1 it makes for a sensational change. And not just because of the position, but because of the sheer size and quality that’s been crammed into that finder.

When we first saw the X-T1 it gave us a sense of a company going full circle - but one that’s picked up new trinkets of technological goodness along the way. One picking up the pieces of a broken S-series DSLR and showing that it’s always been a champion imaging company, as the success of the X-series has proven year on year since its conception in 2010. At the turn of its 80th anniversary, Fujifilm is - and despite the "film" part of the name apparently taped on, a relic of a bygone era - a serious force in the digital market.

At its core the X-T1 is roughly a reflection of the current X-E2 model, meaning the same 16-megapixel APS-C X-Trans II CMOS sensor and EXR processor II along with the same autofocus system. Claims of the "world’s fastest" continue to fall short in our view, but even so that doesn’t relegate the system to standards below what’s necessary. It all works just fine, just like the X-E2.

READ: Fujifilm X-E2 review

We gave the X-T1 a whirl in central London. Next door to Central Saint Martins in a moodily lit arty bar the typical ISO 6400 setting at f/2.8 was a push to shoot at, but the camera succeeded in locking on to subjects no problem. Taken outside into the cold light of day and it was a far speedier affair thanks to the better conditions.

But the real sell is that electronic viewfinder. We just couldn't stop using it. It certainly does add physical size to the build, but for good reason: the physical size to the eye is huge thanks to 0.77x magnification. That puts it up there among the largest viewfinders available, delivering an all encompassing view onto the world complete with the reassurance of a 100 per cent field-of-view for accurate framing.

There are more claims of world’s fastest here too, as it’s the first electronic viewfinder with a 0.005second lag. Numbers, schnumbers - what we do know is that it's glorious to look at and there's far less lag then we've experienced from earlier viewfinder models. Although good, the 54fps frame rate did seem to dip when in the dimmer indoor conditions. Outside was the best place to appreciate it. That view is massive, giving a true point of difference to this model, with the 2.36m-dot OLED panel delivering bags of detail direct to the eye.

There are multiple viewfinder modes available too, including a "full" mode where the settings retreat allowing you to enjoy an edge-to-edge image dominating the view. For manual focus there’s the split image option available - although it only shows to the right hand side as a small section of the finder, not as a full image - and when flipping into vertical orientation the settings and positions adapt accordingly. All nice touches.

On the X-T1's rear there’s a 3-inch screen with ample 1.04m-dot resolution, but the big deal is it adopts a feature from the more budget X-series models: it’s mounted on a tilt-angle bracket. Great for waist-level or overhead work, it tilts around 45-degrees vertically upwards and around half of that in the downward direction. Still no touchscreen to be found here, but on a camera that’s choc full of physical mode dials there’s just no need for such functionality.

Those dials are an obvious key feature of the X-series mantra. The drilled aluminium construction complements the weather-sealed magnesium alloy body well, and Fujifilm has been listening as here we’ve got far stiffer dials and depressible locks to release the shutter speed and ISO mode dials. Just like the Nikon Df these dials lock into position when in their respective auto modes (A), and are free to rotate without pressing the lock release when outside of this option. The exposure compensation dial doesn’t have a lock but is considerably stiffer than it has been in all other X-series models - too stiff in this form, but Fujifilm was keen to point out that the pre-production sample was undergoing some final tweaks.

READ: Nikon Df review

That weather-sealed body isn't yet matched with a weather-sealed lens, but we've had the nod that there's one weather-sealed lens coming this year, with more to follow later down the line. Of course any XF lens is compatible with the X-T1, just none of the current models are as tough as the body is all.

All these manual buttons and dials haven't turned Fujifilm’s attention away from speed in the X-T1. The latest UHS-II SD cards are compatible, able to deliver an apparent eight frames per second (8fps) up to 47 consecutive frames, or 23 when shooting raw. Looks as though this company doesn’t want to be boxed into the "street photography" bracket made more common by the X-Pro1 and X100 models - although we’re still not as convinced by the X-T1's continuous autofocus system (which means a dip in burst mode) compared to an advanced DSLR.

It certainly makes a statement, and given it’s more affordable - and, we must say, larger - than the Olympus OM-D E-M1 compact system camera, we can see where the brand is coming from. Looks like a welcome celebration 80th birthday celebration, an apt marriage of old and new.

The Fujifilm X-T1 will be available in early February, priced at £1,050 body only, or £1,400 with the 18-55mm kit lens. Additional accessories, including a battery grip priced at £200, will also be made available.