Framing the X-T1- Firmware Version 4.00
Wandering Albatross, Kaikoura
Fujifilm X-T1, XF 16-55/2.8 @16MM
ISO 200, I/400S @ F16
If you haven’t already installed the much-anticipated new firmware 4.00, then do it now.
You owe yourself a new camera.
One of the great things (among many) about Fujifilm has been the support they provide once you have made your purchase and the way in which they keep making a great camera better and better. Firmware updates continue to come and, just when you think there is nothing left to add, they revision and repurpose the interface and create a new camera. I have often wondered if their thinking goes like this: Hmmmm, let’s make what we think buyers will love and get it out there. Then when users tell us what they like and don’t like, we will improve that. And then surprise them with something so radical they will maintain their love affair with Model X.
Kaizen (continuous improvement) is a Japanese philosophy after all, and I think it is this striving to make the best better, and a willingness to reshape and repurpose if necessary, that really sets them apart from other camera manufacturers.
The X-T1 is a fabulous camera with a wide range of stellar glass. It is light and provides files capable of being printed to A0.
So far so wonderful.
However I have never really liked the focusing system. Compared to the multiple focusing selection options on a Canon or Nikon, with their ranges of options for single and multiple points, the initial offering on the Fuji has been slow, clunky and counterintuitive, and selecting on the fly has required planning and forethought. Not the best for working crowds or events, where the Canonykons have had the edge. What is good on The X-T1 is the fact that you can move the focus point from one corner of the frame to the other, which the Big Boys don’t do. On the Nikon D810, for example, there are a lot of focus points but they are bunched in the middle, like sheep in a paddock. However until now, getting near the bottom of the frame, especially with the camera up the eye, meant locating the four-way control dial somewhere under your cheek, then tabbing to get there. Ugh. My answer was to use manual focus and rely on peak focusing to help me get to the right place. Not ideal.
However all that has changed with Firmware V 4.00. Now we have the option to select groups of focus points, or to use the new wide-area focus system, which pretty much uses any and all of them. At first these new options will take a bit of getting used to, but, obviously realising this, Fujifilm have come to the rescue, with a website dedicated to getting you up to speed more quickly.
Installation follows the normal pattern. You download the firmware from the Fujifilm site (about 40Mb), put it into the root directory of a memory card formatted in-camera, turn on the camera while holding down the Disp/Back button, and follow instructions. Note that the firmware will not install unless there is a fully-charged battery in the camera. Then you turn off the camera, switch it back on, and press the Menu key. The update retains all your old settings (finally!) and nothing looks much different until you go into the Menu and open up the AF section. Then the fun begins.
Under the Hood
Essentially you have a new AF system, with six different modes, 3 for AF-S, and 3 for AF-C. In addition to the single-point system we are all used to, there are now Zone and Wide Area modes, which can be used across the 77 points which cover the sensor.
The Zone mode allows you to group pixels in a 3×3, 5×3 or 5×5 array, which you can move around the frame to suit. This is particularly effective in AF-C mode, since it will lock onto a subject in the centre of the Zone and track subjects moving left/right, up/down and towards or away from you. AF-S + Zone is good for moving subjects, AF-C + Zone is particularly useful for handheld moving subjects.
Wide/ Tracking mode uses all 77 pixels (i.e. the entire viewfinder) and selects the subject, using multiple focus points where needed. Fujifilm recommend that you use AF-S + Wide/Tracking “for focusing on subjects with unpredictable movements, or multiple moving subjects”. AF-S + Wide/Tracking (supposedly) allows you define where a subject will appear, then the camera will lock on and track it across the frame. Remember that this latter is to be used with CL or CH shutter release. I can imagine this being really useful when shooting motorsport or horse racing, where you can predetermine where a shot is to start (at, say the apex of a bend) and follow it through.
There is a wrinkle however. The sensor incorporates PDAF (Phase Detection Auto Focus) pixels to enable faster autofocusing. However these are located in the centre of the sensor only, so if you want speed, then you will have to focus in the middle.
Manual mode is much as before, with the options for FIY (focus it yourself), Digital Split Image and Peak Focus, using the Focus Assist button. So, you ask? Well, you Manual Everything types haven’t been forgotten either. If you select Instant AF in the menu, then you can instantly switch from MF to AF by pressing the AF-L button on the camera.
But wait. There is more.
Being the impetuous type, I downloaded V 4.00, installed it, had a quick play, and, against the cautious advice of my friend David, took my “new” X-T1 out on a real job, shooting PR portraits. I put on the 56/1.2 APD (which I prefer over the regular XF 56/1.2 for studio portraiture), and set Face Detection ON. I then turned on Eye Detection Auto. In this mode the camera automatically finds the face and then identifies the chosen eye. In Auto it usually detects the closest eye, however you have the option to select either the right or left eyes. And it worked faultlessly. Astonishing. Eye Detection is, to the mind of this working photographer, one of the best features of the new firmware update.
And there is even more. In no particular order…
The frame lines are now thinner and less obtrusive in the viewfinder.
There is the option to turn on Pre-AF, which speeds up focusing by beginning to do so, even before you have half-pressed the shutter.
The Macro Mode has gone. You now have Auto Macro. Yay. One less mistake to make/thing to remember.
Silent Mode has been renamed to Sound and Flash Off. Thank goodness. In the old Silent mode, the flash would not work with Silent on. I learned that the hard way. Logical I suppose, since if you need stealth mode, you wouldn’t be using a flash.
The Shutter speed can now be set in 1/3 stop increments. You switch the dial to T and then use the front dial to adjust them. This is really cool, especially when you combine it with Exposure Compensation in Manual Mode. Here you can determine the aperture AND shutter speed you want, and, provided you have selected Auto ISO, can then use the compensation dial to adjust your histogram.
Last and not least, low light performance has been improved. Well, sort of. It will now detect subjects in 0.5 EV light rather than the previous 2.5EV, provided you have your subject covered by 1 or more of the 9 Phase Detection pixels in the middle of the viewfinder. So if you intend to photograph Colombian drug dealers in a smoky bar in Bogota, you will need to point your camera right at them. Good luck temporary citizen…
Adjusting to all these new options is going to take time. It will be important to think through the things you shoot and figure out what settings to apply. Rather than tabbing through the menu (not a good look on a job), I have reprogrammed the Q menu to include the AF selection button. And while it isn’t a very guy thing to do, you may want to RTFM (Read the Flaming Manual). Suspecting you may well want to do this, Fujifilm have rewritten sections of it to incorporate all the new features. You can get it here.
I knew that V4.00 was supposed to be big, but not this big. Somehow Fujifilm took away my trusty, slightly battered X-T1, rebuilt it and returned a new camera, all for the cost of a 40Mb download.
Now if only they could give me a shutter that required less travel and give me a 4-channel histogram… Or perhaps I am being greedy.
The proof is in the eating as they say.
I was in Kaikoura, New Zealand, on assignment and, with that finished, I took the opportunity to try out the new features while out on the ocean on an albatross encounter, one of the amazing tours run by Albatross Encounter. If you haven’t done it yet, then you are missing something really special. It seemed the perfect opportunity to put V4.00 to the test. Now I confess I am no bird photographer, but the thought of getting up close to an albatross? Hell yes.
Because I am still getting my head around the feast of options V4.00 has unleashed upon us, I looked up the website and selected AF-C+Zone, which, according to the website, is the perfect choice for photographing moving subjects while shooting handheld. They even recommend the lens of choice, the XF 50-140. I followed the instructions and headed out onto the water. I opted for Continuous High and burst shooting, and switched the stabiliser on.
And I discovered a number of things.
Firstly, boats on the ocean do NOT make stable shooting platforms.
Secondly, Albatrosses fly really fast and keeping them in frame isn’t easy.
Thirdly, even when I did manage to do so, the tracking wasn’t that brilliant. On a burst of seven shots about 50% were sharp.
The X-T1 needs a bigger buffer or I need even faster cards (I was using Lexar Pro 400x cards).
And I need to do more bird photography and practice getting to know all these new options.
However the albatrosses are really friendly here, and it was when we stopped the boat that I was able to change gear (literally) and take a different approach. Garry, our skipper, put some food over the side and in they came. These are wandering albatrosses, which will happily fly 1200km there and back for takeaways, and one female came particularly close, so close in fact that she had a nibble on the lenshood of the XF 16-55/2.8 I had switched to. I employed the same AF-C+Zone technique and used the flip-out screen, holding the camera just above the water, and using 16mm as my focal length. In almost all cases the camera achieved accurate focus. There wasn’t time to explore different options, and it may be that I should have used different shooting choices.
V4.00 is an extraordinary leap forward in terms of focusing options, with the range of choices quite encyclopaedic. They will take you some time to master. My own experience has been brief, and I imagine it will take time to understand all the wrinkles and interdependencies, since the Fujifilm GUI is interlocked in ways that take time to master. One menu choice here can affect options there. However, by and large it has made the X-T1 into what is effectively a new camera, and like all new cameras, it takes time to become seamless and intuitive in your choices.
Anyway who doesn’t like the idea of a new camera for zero dollars?