When I was asked for my opinions on version 4 of the X-T1 firmware I was a little scared and excited in equal measure. Excited because the opportunity to shoot in a more dynamic style is quite appealing. Scary because relearning shooting procedures is never easy. I’ve never been one to shy away from innovation and I’m certainly not a luddite when it comes to tech so I jumped at the chance. Here are my findings.
I decided to do a side by side comparison in each of my test situations and write up my findings. Writing up experiments and drawing upon the exif data really helps my learning process. I started with two X-T1 bodies running FW 3.11. I set all the parameters on both cameras to be identical and then did an upgrade to X-T1 firmware v4 on the black body only.
I found that firmware V4 affects many more elements than I had expected and it really is a step change not just an evolutionary upgrade. I’ll start with my summary for those of you in a hurry. If you read on past that list I go on to give advice based on the mistakes and experiences I’ve had with FW4. All the updates are positive with some features being more useful than others.
A summary of highlights
- 3D AF tracking of moving subjects comes to the X-T1 and happens best with an un cluttered background and with a single subject that is moving towards camera at between 5 and 45 miles per hour. This includes; skiers, mountain bikers, skateboarders, race cars in pit lanes, cyclists, runners, charging lions etc. This is quite a big deal because this area of photography has been dominated by SLRs in the past. Lenses that are faster at focussing will likely perform better than the rest especially with fairly close subjects.
- For slow moving subjects single point AF with AFc mode selected is still the best option.
- It takes practice to get the most from the system and it can be fiddly changing AF modes in the menus.
- Low light autofocus performance has been improved when focussing using the central area focus points especially with telephoto lenses.
- The auto macro function for close up shooting tidies up a system oddity and frees up a function button.
- The shutter speed can now be set in 1/3rd stop increments and used to trim exposure in the proper manner. It is set by the front command dial with the shutter speed dial set to ‘T’. The value set remains even if the camera is switched off then on again.
- Exposure compensation now works in manual mode with Auto ISO set.
- At last ‘Silent Mode’ has been renamed to avoid confusion but unfortunately the new name adds even more confusion. See below for the full story of all these upgrades…
- Firmware V4 Download link to the official Fujifilm website where you can download V4 now.
- The camera manual for V4 link.
Low speed autofocus tracking
My first shoot with firmware 4.0 on my X-T1 was for a health and beauty company based in London. One element of the brief was to capture various photographs showing a healthy looking woman enjoying beautiful rural settings. Light, bright, high key monochrome is perfect for their website and brochure material. I was expecting to shoot fairly static images but I thought this new firmware 4 might let me shoot Leela my model on the 50-140mm lens wide open at f/2.8 as she strolls through the wild flowers, poppies and woodland that I’d reccied for the shoot. The video clip (also for my London client) shows the pace of her movement.
The scene is set. I started out with wide zone AF mode, single shot mode and AFc set on the camera. I worked mainly at the tight end of the 50-140mm zoom lens and had it set to f/2.8. I set the shutter speed to 1/500th second and adjusted the ISO between 200 and 400 to trim the exposure as the light changed. I directed Leela to walk towards the camera and I just kept shooting to see exactly what the camera was creating. Unfortunately the camera wasn’t really sure what my subject was. At times it was quite happy giving me a cluster of focus points on the daisies to the right of frame rather than Leela. I tried the face detection on and off too and this helped but the camera still liked the daisies as a subject every now and then, especially the foreground ones. I think there must be some kind of foreground bias to the algorithm. I later learned that apparently, even when working in the wide zone mode with the predictive AF area covering the whole frame the placement of the focus point matters. I missed that at the time and it’s not mentioned on the Fuji Guys video that I’ve just seen on YouTube. Having said that, I think it is only relevant for the initial ‘lock on’ after that, the focus point setting is ignored. In my tests Leela was locked on in AFc wide tracking mode but the camera later decided to check out the daisies. More testing on my part is required so that I can fine tune my focussing settings for each situation.
I repeated the testing trying different combinations of wide area and zone modes at my next location, poppies.
We then went to the woods just as the sun came out. Even so it was dark in the woods with the occasional splodge of high contrast foliage on the woodland floor. This proved a real magnet for the focus engine. So after a few attempts at walking shots here I resorted to my usual focussing techniques to get the shots my client needs.
We left the woods after about 20 minutes and it was a wrap. Not bad for a morning’s work. I’m really happy with the existing focussing systems in the X-T1 and my experiments here are to determine for myself what circumstances I can use the new options that we have been given. After all the sample video put out by Fuji looked like it was shot at f/11 or f/16 so everything in the frame looked sharp anyway. I wanted to shoot at f/2.8 and see just what is possible.
The conclusion I drew from my first testing of slow moving subjects was that for slow moving subjects I will continue to use single area focus. I scoot it over to the correct position using the D pad and either use AFc of AFs depending upon the direction and amount of movement.
High speed autofocus tracking
Next up that evening was a shoot with a Ducati 899 Panigale. Riders of Bristol, the local Ducati dealership kindly lent us the bike to do some high speed AF testing. My mate Len arranged a safe industrial location for us to shoot in and Jez came along too to help me test the new X-T1 firmware in it’s target role.
We got the firmware testing underway first. We had a good hour of sunlight left at our location so we set up a circuit route for both bikes, a Ducati 899 Panigale and a rare Yamaha SZR 600 single.
There are now a lot more autofocus options to consider and here are a few of them:
- AFs, AFc or MF
- Wide tracking, zone or single point
- Size and position of zone, size and position of single point
- Face detection on or off
- Eye detection auto, left priority, right priority or off
- Release/ focus priority for AFs or AFc each set to either FOCUS or RELEASE.
- Pre AF on or off
For the past 3 years I’ve been used to using just one setup; AFs with a small single point, scooting it around as required. It is now going to take me some time to really master these new autofocus features that the X-T1 now has to offer. Camera craft is becoming increasingly more involved, it’s a bit like driving a formula 1 car I suppose with many more buttons, knobs, dials and menus to negotiate than there used to be. Some people will just choose to carry on as before, others will fully embrace this new technology as it continues to evolve.
Face Detection and Eye Detection
I find the X-T1 face detection often takes a while to find faces in anything wider than head and shoulders shots especially if they are wearing glasses or are in profile. When it does find a face and locks on it then can take a moment to sort out eye priority. Eye priority is only an option in AFs mode. When combined with a touch screen on a future camera the face detection feature will work as well as it does on smartphones where you can touch the LCD to tell the camera what face you want your focus priority on. Until then it’s going to be the trusty single point AF without face recognition for me. I expect hobbyist photographers with more patience and less time constraints will find this improved face and eye detection feature useful.
Exposure compensation now available in manual mode with Auto ISO
This is another feature that has been on the cards for a while that will be well received by photographers the world over. When the aperture is set to a value other than A, the shutter speed is set to a value other than A and Auto ISO is activated the exposure compensation dial can be used to adjust the exposure.
Why am I happy? I’m happy because I tend to set my aperture to a distinct value and it’s nearly always wide open. I set my shutter speed to the lowest value that I can use to get camera and subject movement free pictures and I manually adjust my ISO to taste to get the exposure. Now the camera will do the ISO dial twiddling for me while leaving me in fine control of the exposure via the exposure compensation dial. This will be great for changing light situations at a wedding for instance.
Most of the time I will stay in manual mode but having this function available direct from the ISO dial without having to go into menus is fabulous.
Shutter speed can now be set throughout the range in 1/3rd stop increments
This has been a big ask but now it is here. If you are used to having all the shutter speeds available on a command wheel (SLR style) now they are here on the X-T1. They stay where you leave them even after switching the camera off and on again. Just pop the shutter dial to the T position and away you go. You can now set the shutter speed from the from the front dial.
Why is this important? Many years ago we had distinct single stop shutter speed dials like the one on the X-T1. The looked cute but had the limitation of not being able to set 1/3 increments. This soon changed in the early 90s and from then on the shutter speed was set by a command dial and the value set was displayed on the LCD top plate of the camera and in the viewfinder. This meant that the shutter speed could be used to set exposure with 1/3 stop accuracy and now that function has arrived on the X-T1.
I will certainly be using this feature on a day to basis. Well done Fujifilm.
Better autofocus performance in low light
Another of the highlighted features of firmware 4 over all the previous versions is a better low light autofocus performance in AFs and AFc modes. This is because the phase detect micro pixels that reside on the Xtrans11 sensor are now set to work at a threshold of 0.5 EV instead of the previous 2.5 EV threshold.
What does this mean? This means that in the central 9 AF zones of the sensor (now highlighted in white when you move the AF point around) the phase detect part of the focus system can work in two stops less light than it could before.
EVs or Exposure Values, are an old measure of shutter speed/ aperture combinations that for all intents and purposes died out in the 1980s simply because they are independent of ISO and don’t relate to photometric exposure.
With firmware 3, the phase detect AF function started to contribute to the focussing effort at 2.5 EV. The Xtrans sensor has a base ISO of 200 so 2.5 EV equates to an exposure of ISO 200, 1 second at f/1.8 or more likely setting of ISO 3200, 1/15th second at f/1.8. This is a pretty dark environment but one I find myself in quite often. I use my monopod when working at a 1/15th of a second and have no problem using ISO 3200 if I need to.
With firmware 4, the phase detect AF function starts right down at EV 0.5. That’s a whole two stops darker. How have they managed that? I don’t know, but it will certainly be useful. Here are the threshold exposure settings for 0.5 EV: ISO 6400, 1/15th second at f/1.2. Now that really is dark. The sort of dark where your eyes have to adjust. Useful if like me you shoot in dark cellars or out on the street at night.
Does it work? The test: I locked myself in a darkened room with both of the X-T1 cameras and the XF16mm lens (the newest glass I own). I tested the focussing speed of both cameras on various subjects and I struggled to find a difference. Both of the cameras were remarkable at hitting focus about 4 out of 5 times in very dark situations. There were moments where I struggled to see which camera was the Graphite Silver model and which was the black body. I tried different light levels from black hole to murky via dingy and neither camera performed noticeably better than the other using AFs mode with a small square set to the centre position. I switched off face detection for this test because the Fuji is great at seeing ghosts. Every now and then a big box indicating a face found would appear in the blackness at the edge of my frame and scare me just a bit. Now, as the phase detect pixels occupy the central portion of the sensor and they work best when finding vertical edges I concentrated my focussing tests on some upright features. I did notice that the fw4 camera was quicker at locking on with less hunting but the differences were not remarkable.
So without a lot of evidence of improvement I contacted the tech team at Fuji UK to discuss matters further and they suggested using a longer focal length so I repeated the experiment with the 35mm f/1.4 and 56mm f/1.2 lens and voila! The difference became quite obvious.
When either camera wasn’t happy that it had achieved focus it showed a red box and there was no beep so at least I knew. I love the fact that the X-T1 gives the lens a little nudge back and forth each time whatever the situation even if I focus on the same subject twice. My Canon was lazy in this department it would just sit there nearly in focus and not budge even just a bit. I often had to focus away then focus back again. Those dark days are gone for me now though.
Any improvement to low light autofocus performance is always welcome even when the camera performs as well as the Fuji X-T1.
Q & A:
- Does the new phase detect threshold affect shooting in normal or bright conditions? No.
- Can I use AF to photograph a black cat in a coal cellar with wide angle lenses? Yes, just as before.
- Can I now use AF to photograph a head shot of a black cat in a coal cellar ? Yes especially if the cat has white stripes on it’s forehead.
Silent Mode renamed
One last point of note is the ever so confusing “SILENT MODE” has finally been renamed after three years of confusion. It is now called “SOUND AND FLASH OFF”. Unfortunately this adds to the confusion and doesn’t really help. It now has two states ‘sound and flash off on’ and ‘sound and flash off off’. So to switch the sound off you have to select on. No doubt the error will be picked up soon and I expect by FW4.1 it will have been changed to “SOUND AND FLASH” then it can be ‘sound and flash on’ or ‘sound and flash off’.
All in all X-T1 firmware v4 delivers a great set of features that Fujifilm have added to a camera that is already 16 months old and it goes to show Fujifilm’s commitment to its existing user base. I hope this review and my findings have been a worthwhile read. Please feel free to join the discussion, tell me where I went wrong, or leave a comment below.
Here is the official Fujifilm web page where you can now download the firmware. Do not download it from anywhere else online as there are a few copies of beta versions floating around that claim to be V4 but aren’t.