Fujifilm X–T10 user experience report
Following the now–mostly–forgotten attempts to build digital cameras based on Nikon SLR bodies that never got any serious traction, Fujifilm should be commended on the turnaround the company has pulled off with the introduction of the X–Pro1 camera in January 2012 and the slew of cameras and lenses that followed. This has now grown into a fairly extensive system popular among photographers and, as of early 2016, Fujifilm X–T10 is one of its latest offerings. When announced, it looked convincing enough to make me wonder whether mirrorless cameras had finally matured to be a smaller, lighter and yet equally powerful alternative to venerable DSLRs—enough so to bite the bullet and slap down the cash, again.
Fujifilm X–T10 camera (image courtesy Fujifilm). Yes, I chose the black, not silver, version.
I bought the camera with the Fujinon 18–55mm f/2.8–4 zoom* in August 2015. Since then, I have shot thousands of images dragging it all over the world from Western Europe to Russia, mountains in Western China and metropolises in the east of the country, Taiwan, Singapore and Bangladesh. I am not going to dissect all the specifications and features—other online reviews have done this exceedingly well. Instead, I would like to offer a straightforward summary of my extensive experience of using the camera in the field without beating around the bush.
You may wonder why I picked the X–T10 over so many other choices available in the mirrorless segment. To simplify things somewhat, I was looking for a camera with great connectivity in a broad sense, which in my mind boils down to high quality JPG output and robust Wi–Fi functionality that gets out of the way and just works. The X–T10 is reportedly very good at both and not much worse, if at all, than the competition in other areas. Although choosing a camera on the basis of these two "amateurish" criteria may sound heretical, there actually is a rhyme to it. On the one hand, I personally have nothing against JPG format where sharing is concerned—its only problem is that out–of–camera JPG images generally fail to be consistently appealing, which keeps us shooting RAW and post–processing before sharing**. On the other hand, to me, digital cameras have always been about convenience, and convenience of sharing is a big part of it. And of course, the retro look of the X–T10 together with real dials and knobs were also very heartening for someone who started photographing with a fully mechanical film SLR.
Somewhere over Russia
You may also ask why I chose the X–T10 over its bigger brother, the X–T1. In short, the X–T1 is not better than the X–T10 in all areas (see below), and whatever advantages it has over the latter are not worth paying a considerable premium in my book. More crucially, it is widely reported that the four–way controller of the X–T1 is smallish, almost flush with the back panel, and has very shallow travel; such a massive impediment in camera operation is a deal–breaker for me.
Those of you interested in the Fujifilm X–T10 are likely already familiar with its fundamentals: in a nutshell, it is an enthusiast mirrorless retro–style camera with a proven—albeit as of early 2016 past the best–by date—16MP X–Trans CMOS II APS–C sensor, 3" 920k dot tilting LCD, 2.36M dot OLED electronic viewfinder with 0.62x (equivalent) magnification, lots of external controls and customisable buttons, Wi–Fi connectivity and Fujifilm film emulations. Compared to the X–T1, it lacks weather sealing, features somewhat lower–speced LCD screen and EVF, and has non–lockable dials; there also are other differences but their overall balance may tilt one way or another depending on what is important to you (inbuilt flash, smaller size, lower weight of the X–T10 vs. larger buffer, dedicated ISO button, front– and top–plate Fn buttons of the X–T1).
The camera has the right size: not too large, not too small. The body is made of magnesium alloy and in all probability very solid, although we seldom stretch our cameras to the limits of their physical durability; when something breaks, it is likely something other than a structural damage of the body. The camera feels quite light, which is good if weight is an important consideration; however, it also feels somewhat hollow and does not have the density that would exude the feeling of a solidly built object. Front grip is very well designed and, in combination with the rubber hump at the back of the camera, gives a sense of steadiness and safety when holding and handling the camera. The Fujinon 18–55mm f/2.8–4 zoom feels a bit too large for the X–T10, pushing compactness and balance beyond comfort zone. Nonetheless, I imagine that smaller prime lenses would balance nicely and be perfects companions.
Tibetan prayer flags
North Yunnan Province, China
Not all is well in the camera handling department, though: I found the buttons and dials to be decidedly disappointing. Buttons are small and have mushy, unsure tactile feedback. Moreover, the ones on the top plate of the camera (Image Review, Delete, AF–E and AF–L) have a different feel than those on the back panel. You can barely feel the Movie Recording button by touch. Front and back command dial are very loose and turn at the slightest touch.
Another major drawback in camera operation is that responsiveness is very inconsistent. Start–up time is long: you switch the camera on and, although LCD screen lights up almost immediately, it is good three or four seconds before you can actually shoot or the image appears on the screen after you press the review button. Wake from sleep can only be done by firmly pressing the shutter release button—again, for a good couple of seconds. Autofocus is generally fast, but only after the camera is up and running and pre–focused. Initial focus acquisition can be rather leisurely. Overall, it feels a bit like a limping duck that is fast once flying but has a trouble getting airborne. Because of this, I have missed a great number of shots.
The zoom's fly–by–wire control of aperture has a notable lag, too. Consequently, I often fly past the aperture setting that I want to use. As a result, you are not setting a particular aperture, but rather narrowing down to it in two or three steps of turning the aperture ring back and forth.
Phuket Island, Thailand
The X–T10 has a whooping number of customisable buttons—seven. Personally, I do not need seven customisable buttons, because I can remember perhaps only three, and in reality need only two, given that the camera already has enough buttons and knobs that provide direct access to main settings. In my mind, this is an area where feature creep has gone too far. Camera makers should stop jamming as many customisable buttons as can physically fit on a camera and come up with a balanced solution.
Menus are reasonably sorted out, although there are some items with cryptic naming. Thanks to the Q button at the back of the camera that provides direct access to main shooting parameters, though, one does not have to delve into menus all that often.
Some photographers swear by electronic viewfinders (EVF), others swear at them. I happen to belong to the latter category—at least, after my experience of shooting with the X–T10. This may sound surprising as many reviews praise the EVF of the X–T10. Perhaps this is a matter of perspective: if you come from smaller, coarser and laggier EVF of earlier digital cameras, then the EVF of the X–T10 may be a wonder to behold. If, however, you come from large, bright optical viewfinders (OVF) of film cameras—Hasselblad 503CW in my case—then the EVF of the X–T10 leaves a lot to be desired. It is still somewhat laggy, pixelated where tilted straight lines are present, and very choppy when focusing (this last bit is particularly unpleasant). Combined with the initial limping responsiveness, the experience of picking up the camera does not make me smile.
101 Tower at sunset
So does connectivity live up to my expectations? Overall, it is solid, but with a couple of caveats. First, the time the camera allows to establish connection with your iPhone is just enough to go through the necessary motions on the phone, so you had better go through the connection sequence swiftly. Second, convenience of connectivity depends on what file format you use during shooting and how often you transfer files to your phone. If you shoot JPG or RAW+JPG and download files to your iPhone en masse, then connectivity works just fine. If, however, you shoot RAW or want to transfer individual files as you shoot, then repeating the process of converting RAW into JPG (understandably, only JPG files can be transferred), establishing connection with the phone and transferring files via Fujifilm mobile application very quickly gets tedious.
Shooting RAW+JPG may seem to be the best option at first, but it creates an unsolvable dilemma: do you optimise exposure for the former exposing to the right, or for the latter exposing (mostly) to the left? I ended up just shooting RAW and living with the monotony of in–camera RAW conversion and file–by–file transfer. As painful as this may be, though, going back to a camera without Wi–Fi connectivity now seems impossible.
On the trail
Daocheng Yading, Western Sichuan Province, China
Speaking of in–camera RAW–to–JPG conversion, it is a trial–and–error process that takes many button presses and allows seeing the combined effect of the choices you have made only at the end after you press the Q (–create– in this case) button. If you do not like any aspect of the resulting image, you have to start over again. Personally, I find that it is easier to start with a straight, no–frills JPG conversion and then make further adjustments on the iPhone—at least you can see the effect of the changes as you make them. With this being said, if you take the time to get RAW–to–JPG conversion in camera right, JPG output is indeed beautiful; also, you get better at choosing suitable conversion options with time as you get familiar with them.
Image quality is very decent for a 16–megapixel sensor that is close to the end of its life cycle. Shadow and highlight headroom is quite good, although not exactly outstanding (particularly the latter). Some reviews suggest that resolution of the 16–megapixel X–Trans sensor is equivalent to that of 24–megapixel conventional Bayer sensors; looking at files from the 16–magapixel Ricoh GR, I disagree with this assertion: in my view, there is no notable advantage. Fujifilm claims that X–Trans sensors eliminate moiré, and I mostly agree with this contention. However, the X–Trans sensor of the X–T10 creates its own artefacts that conventional Bayer sensors do not have, so it really boils down to what artefacts you dislike more. All in all, the sensor produces a different, not better or worse, look that you may or may not like. Personally, I prefer the files from the Ricoh GR, even though they show moiré more often than I wish they did.
Sun and Moon Lake (日月潭)
All things considered, Fujifilm has made a camera that makes me feel conflicted again. There are many aspects that are well thought out and implemented, and yet I cannot say that the overall experience of using the camera is pleasant. I have taken a number of compelling images with it, but I feel that I managed to capture them in spite of the camera, not thanks to it. If anything, I feel the camera was designed to a list of features—perhaps greatly influenced by the marketing department—and without placing emphasis on the overall user experience. It checks out on all points that would be mentioned—and praised—in reviews, but disappoints with such less tangible fundamentals as consistent responsiveness, fast start–up, and buttons that inspire confidence of use. To paraphrase the Harvard Business Review business case called "The Truth about Customer Experience", individual features matter, but it is the full journey that really counts. Fujifilm has become a master of the former. Now it is time they figure out the latter.
*Primarily for two reasons. On the one hand, given my previous less–than–positive experience with the Fujifilm X100, I was not sure the camera and I would bond; buying the camera with a prime lens would make selling it considerably more difficult. On the other hand, I have not used zoom lenses in years, so revisiting the experience seemed quite fitting.
**If you are sensitive and picky enough.