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I don’t want this to be another why I use mirrorless post, yet I know that there are readers interested in my experimentation with Fujifilm cameras. This post is for those of you wondering why I switched from Canon to Fujifilm, especially if you’re thinking about moving to a mirrorless system yourself.
Limitations of my Canon gear
I believe that you should only think about updating your camera gear when you start to bump up against its limitations. My EOS 5D Mark II was my main camera for many years. It’s been around the world with me and I took many of my favorite photos with it. But it has limitations that frustrated me.
Autofocus (AF) system
The camera has nine autofocus points in a diamond shape array, but only one of those, the central one, is a cross-type AF point. It was the only one precise enough to use for focusing at apertures of f2.8 or wider.
I tested the camera’s AF points, using my 85mm lens set to f1.8 to shoot a portrait. When I took five photos using the central AF point to focus on the model’s eye, five out of five were accurately focused.
But when I switched to one of the outer AF points, the success rate dropped to one or two accurately focused frames out of every five. That’s not good enough, and it lead to some restricted compositions, where I framed the portraits so that the model’s eye was in the centre of the frame.
And as for tracking moving subjects – forget about it.
Those autofocus problems have been overcome on the EOS 5D Mark III and Mark IV, but that doesn’t help with the next limitation – size and weight.
Above: The model’s right eye is in the centre of the frame for a reason – I focused on it using the center AF point of my EOS 5D Mark II. It was the only AF point capable of focusing accurately at the selected aperture of f2.5.
Size and weight
The EOS 5D Mark II is a big camera. It’s too heavy to walk around with all day. I tried to lighten the load by buying a BlackRapid camera strap and using that on portrait shoots. But it didn’t make the camera any lighter, just somewhat easier to carry.
It’s also awkward to hold vertically for taking photos in the portrait orientation. I would have liked to buy a portrait grip for it, but that would have made it even bigger and heavier.
In mid-2015 I intended to travel to China and Europe from New Zealand and needed a kit that is light and easy to transport. Airports in New Zealand are exceptionally strict on the carry on luggage weight limit (7kg) and don’t have much sympathy if you’re over the limit.
The primary reason for switching to Fujifilm – size and weight
So when my local camera store had an offer on the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and Fujinon 34mm f1.4 lens kit in late 2014 I bought it.
I chose this model was because of the hybrid viewfinder. I genuinely thought that I wouldn’t like the electronic viewfinder much and wanted the option to switch to an optical one.
But to my surprise once I started using it I really liked the electronic viewfinder. Now I believe that good electronic viewfinders are superior to optical ones.
The camera was so light and easy to use (once I got used to it, which took a while). I didn’t need a BlackRapid camera strap for it (I’ve sold that too, since) – a wrist strap was more than sufficient.
Best of all, the image quality was really good. I did several shoots with both the X-Pro 1 and the 5D Mark II and compared the results. The results from the X-Pro 1 were better every time. Yes, that’s a camera with an APS-C sensor beating a (albeit older) full-frame one – easily. That really surprised me.
I was enjoying the X-Pro 1 so much that I decided to take it on a two week trip to the South Island and leave the 5D Mark II at home. I purchased a Fujinon f2 18mm pancake lens so I had a wide-angle lens for landscape work, a cable release and some extra SD cards.
I never missed the EOS 5D Mark II. I was just glad to be rid of the weight.
Image quality aside, the X-Pro 1 is a better tool for taking landscape photos. It has a built-in depth-of-field indicator that makes it easy to nail the hyperfocal distance. Plus it displays a timer on the rear LCD screen when you use Bulb mode. This simple feature made it much easier to time my long exposures.
I was so pleased with the performance of the X-Pro 1 that I bought a Fujifilm X-T1, a vertical grip and the Fujinon 56mm f1.2 lens when we returned. Which, by the way, were roughly the price of a single EOS 5D Mark III body. I knew at that point that I was going to sell my Canon EOS gear to fund the switch to Fujifilm.
Above: One of my favorite landscapes taken with the Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and 35mm f1.4 lens. This photo would have been much harder to take using my EOS 5D Mark II. I used it on the cover of Mastering Composition.
Nearly two and half years later…
Do I have any regrets? None at all. I love my new cameras and I’m continually blown away by the quality of the images that they produce.
These are some of the reasons that I like the Fujifilm system.
Size and weight. The Fujifilm X-T1 is a very small camera. I’m accustomed to using it with the portrait grip attached, and I’m still surprised by how small the camera body is when I remove the grip. Yet it’s still large enough to use comfortably.
Image quality. Superb. Fujifilm cameras don’t have an anti-aliasing filter and the resulting images have a sharpness and clarity that I never obtained from my Canon cameras.
Beautiful lenses. Fujifilm’s Fujinon lens range is well thought out. The quality of each lens I’ve bought so far is excellent. Some of the lenses, being built for APS-C sized sensors, are also smaller and less expensive than their Canon equivalents.
Fujinon lenses come with lens hoods. This is a big deal. In my opinion all lenses should come with a lens hoods included. There is no excuse for camera manufacturers to leave them out.
The JPEGs are beautiful. I never liked the JPEGs created by Canon cameras. They have a kind of plastic feel, as if the in-camera algorithm used to create them smears detail. This never bothered me when I used Canon as I always shot in Raw. I still do, but it’s nice to know that with Fujifilm the JPEGs are high quality.
The Film Simulation settings are well thought out. Canon Picture Style settings (a different name for the same function) include options such as Standard, Landscape and Portrait. The idea is to choose the one most appropriate for the subject you’re shooting. While they are mainly aimed at JPEG users, they are helpful for Raw shooters too because when you get into Lightroom you can choose one of the camera Picture Styles and use that as the starting point for your processing.
Further reading: The Single Most Important Setting in the Lightroom Develop Module
Fujifilm has taken a different approach and named its profiles after brands of Fuji film. So the settings have names such as Velvia, Provia and Astia. But more importantly, they simply work better than Canon’s Picture Style settings. The Velvia setting brings out beautiful colors in landscape photos. Provia and Astia can be used for portraits and other subjects that suit more muted colors.
Fujifilm’s Contrast Detection autofocus works well. The Fujifilm X-T1 has 49 autofocus points laid out in a grid. I can choose any one of those to focus with when shooting portraits at wide apertures, without worrying about accuracy. It’s slower than the EOS 5D Mark II, but more accurate. Plus, as the camera reads the focus from the sensor there’s no need to calibrate lenses. The Autofocus Microadjustment feature found on higher end Canon cameras isn’t required.
I haven’t tried tracking moving subjects, but the latest firmware updates for the X-T1 promise a very good performance.
Smaller lenses mean I can use smaller filters. Good quality filters are expensive and smaller lenses means that I can buy smaller filters, which are cheaper. This applies to square graduated filters as well – Lee make the smaller Seven5 system aimed at mirrorless camera users.
Note that some Fujifilm lenses, such as the Fujinon 10-24mm f4 R OIS XF, require larger square graduated filters and aren’t compatible with the Seven5 system.
Fujifilm = Freedom
If there’s one word that sums up the benefit of using Fujifilm cameras it’s freedom.
I have the freedom to use whichever autofocus point I want, knowing the camera will focus accurately. In turn the 49 point AF array lets me compose photos any way I want.
The vertical grip on the X-T1 makes it just as easy to use the portrait orientation as the landscape one.
I can take the X-T1 wherever I want without worrying about the size or weight. It’s not as small as a compact camera, but it’s small enough, especially when coupled with a pancake lens.
I have freedom to travel without worrying about the weight of the camera and lenses. Two Fujifilm camera bodies and the four lenses I own don’t weigh much or take up much space.
I can process the photos more adventurously in Lightroom. The sharpness of the Raw files plus the beauty of the Film Simulation settings give me a better starting point and are leading to better results.
Will I upgrade to an X-T2?
At the moment I have no plans to upgrade to the Fujifilm X-T2. It’s a better camera than the X-T1, but I don’t need those extra features. I’d prefer to spend the money on a good lens or a trip away somewhere.
What happened to the X-Pro 1?
After I bought the X-T1 I stopped using the X-Pro 1. Plenty has been written about the merits of the designs of both cameras (the mini SLR form of the X-T1 and X-T2 versus the rangefinder design of the X-Pro1 and X-Pro 2). For me the design of the X-T1 works much better. But rather than sell the X-Pro 1 I had it converted to infrared (an article on that is coming soon).
The case for not changing to mirrorless
Let’s balance the article by looking at some of the reasons against changing to mirrorless.
Digital SLRs are best for wildlife and sports photography. It’s hard to beat the performance of a high-end SLR camera and a super-telephoto lens for sports and wildlife photography, or any moving subject. Fujifilm are working hard to catch up, and the autofocus system on its latest cameras is getting good reviews, but they are probably not there yet.
Remote tethering for Lightroom is enabled for Nikon and Canon cameras only. Fujifilm do have a plug-in for this but it isn’t free. If tethered shooting is part of your workflow, mirrorless might not be for you yet.
Canon and Nikon have the most advanced portable flash systems. While you can configure third party off-camera flash units to work in manual mode with Fujifilm cameras, the Fujifilm flash system is not as developed as those from Canon and Nikon. If portable flash is your thing, and you use E-TTL metering, then Fujifilm may not be for you at this stage.
Switching systems costs money. Especially if you are heavily invested in lenses, camera bodies and accessories for your current system. It may make more financial sense to stay where you are.
Canon has small digital SLRs and is developing the EOS M compact camera system. These cameras may solve the size and weight problem for you.
If you have any questions about my switch to Fujifilm cameras, please ask in the comments.
Here are some photos taken with the Fujifilm X-T1 camera in China.
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