I’ve had my Fujifilm X-T1 for over a week now, and during that time, I’ve shot over 1,200 frames with it, covering a variety of subject matter, including landscapes, people, action, travel and the Northern Lights.
NOTE: The Fuji X-T1 with 18-55mm lens is on sale right now for $100 off.
I’m incredibly impressed with this new camera in so many ways, but perhaps the most significant advancement over the other Fuji X cameras is that the X-T1 was designed with 9 phase detect AF points on the sensor and a new predictive autofocus algorithm that locks on and tracks moving subjects at up to 8 frames per second.
This is HUGE, especially for an outdoor action shooter like myself. However, since the X-T1 has only been in the hands of few people, (I’m the first person to own one in the US), there have not been very many image examples of how well this camera’s AF system really performs. As I read some of the other blogs and forums, this seems to be the biggest concern and question for people who are otherwise interested in the X-T1, or who question whether it’s really that much better than the X-E2.
After a solid week of testing in Iceland, I’m here to tell you that YES, the new Fuji X-T1 AF system really tracks. Quite well indeed. This is what sets the X-T1 apart from the rest of the lineup. Whereas the X-100S and X-E2 both focus very fast and will even acquire moving subjects, they won’t track past the first frame. The X-T1 will.
Here are three image examples that I feel represent the capabilities and limitations of the X-T1 autofocus system. These are real world situations which would present a challenge to any camera, even a top shelf DSLR.
1. Biker – Moving Directly Away From the Camera
This is the first test that I did, using the Fuji XF 55-200mm lens. Shooting a subject that’s moving directly away from you in dim, winter light is a hard thing to capture, no matter what camera you’re using. These were shot at ISO 800 with a zoom focal length of 83mm at 1/240, f/3.5 on Continuous High mode at 8 frames per second.
I have to say that the first time I put the X-T1 on CH mode, I was blown away. 8 fps is VERY FAST! It’s as fast as any DSLR that I’ve ever owned. One thing to note, even though the X-T1 has 49 AF points, according to the manual, when you put the X-T1 on AF-C and CH mode, the camera focuses using the 9 point phase detect sensor array that’s laid out in the center part of the frame. I’m not sure if this is only for initial acquire or for full tracking, this is something that I want to ask my contact at Fuij.
In this instance, the X-T1 was able to track quite well, and I think that in the one second burst of 8 frames, it only missed one or two, (not by much) before locking on to the back fender again. Overall, pretty good. Even though the XF 55-200mm lens is not a particularly fast lens, it did pretty well during my test on the streets of Reykjavik.
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2. Glacier Hiking – Subject Switching Directions
I shot this series in bright sunny conditions with the XF 14mm f/2.8, which is a fast, fixed, ultra wide angle lens. It’s my favorite Fuji glass. (Read my full review of this lens here). Exposure details are ISO 200, 1/350 at f/8.
Following really close right behind the hiker, I set the AF point so that it would grab his right foot, which was swinging back and forth with every step. This is a really good test, because when it’s planted, it’s moving much more slowly in relation to the camera position, but when he takes a step, it picks up, switches direction and moves forward in a much higher rate of speed against the camera.
In other words, it’s asking an awful lot of the camera to lock on and track a subject like this, but in the this 9 frame series at 8 fps, the X-T1 did an amazing job. It’s not 100% perfect, sometimes it grabbed the flying snow, sometimes it missed by just a bit or else grabbed the pants instead of the boot or crampon, but I have extensive experience shooting stuff like this, and considering the conditions, it did awesome.
3. Flying Birds – Erratic Movement with Defined Background
When I was reading the forums this week, a few people wanted to know how well the X-T1 would work tracking something with erratic movement like flying birds. In my test, it did about as well as any pro camera that I’ve used, which means that it was totally hit or miss. Sometimes it grabbed, sometimes it didn’t. Plus, shooting with a long lens, it’s extremely hard to even find the bird in your lens, let alone keep in there to track.
Birds against a blue sky are tough, especially when you’re using a long lens, because if it misses, the lens usually goes seeking in a sea of blue and you’ve lost the shot. Shooting against a busy background can be just as hard, because it’s easy for the lens to give up and just grab that nice, contrasty beach.
In this example, which I shot at with the XF 55-200mm lens zoomed to 123mm, ISO 400 and an exposure of 1/2200 at f/4.5. In this six frame series shot at 8 fps and varying levels of background contrast, the X-T1 nailed every single frame. Once it locked on, it stayed right there and didn’t get temped by those nice high contrast waves on the black sand beach in the background.
In addition, if you’ll notice, while the first frame has the bird close to the center of the frame, by the last shot, it’s well outside where those 9 phase detect points are located, which seems to indicate that the X-T1 will continue to track, even when the subject leaves the coverage of the phase detect array.
Final AF Analysis
For everyone who is wondering if the hype about the X-T1 predictive AF system is true, the definitive answer is yes. The X-T1 will track moving subjects and it will do it under a variety of conditions, light levels and lens choices.
Is it perfect? Hardly, but neither is my DSLR and my brand new Nikon AF-S 70-200mm f/4G ED VR Telephoto Zoom Lens. I miss frames with that setup too. Sometimes, in AF-C mode, especially in dim light when you don’t have a clearly definable subject, the AF system “breathes” a little bit as it searches for something to lock onto. When it finds a subject, though, it grabs pretty well, and it locks really quickly in AF-S mode.
Newer mirrorless cameras have at least some phase detect points that are placed right on the image sensor in addition to the regular array of contrast detect sensors. This makes the AF systems on today’s top mirrorless cameras really fast, but until now they didn’t track. However, phase detect only works well in bright light. When things go dim, the contrast detect sensors take over.
In my mind, this is why the X-T1 is such an awesome camera and why it’s so usable for outdoor photographers who shoot things like action, sports, adventure, wildlife and people. When Fuji brought me in the loop before the X-T1 was announced, I was pretty impressed. Now that I have one in my hands, I’m blown away by what this compact X camera can do.
Check out my X-T1 full review and field test. It’s a very detailed post with lots of information and more full size image samples. Also, read this other AF tracking post where I shot dog sledding teams coming straight towards the camera.