Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lifestyle photo session shootout with a Fuji X-T1 and Nikon D750

For the past year I have been going back and forth on my choice of camera to use for lifestyle photography. For me this has always been the domain of high speed Nikons like the D3 and D4. They focus quickly and accurately and can follow the action at a blindingly fast speed. This past year mirrorless cameras like the Fuji X-T1 have progressed to a point where they are quick, accurate, and are now supported by superb optical systems. On top of this it produces highly competitive image quality from a smaller sensor that makes the whole system smaller, lighter, and more convenient to use on location. For these reasons I find myself slipping my X-T1 into lifestyle shoots that were previously the exclusive domain of my Nikons.

With the introduction of the Nikon D750, I have also begun using it as my main lifestyle camera instead of a D4. Having 24mp to work with helps, as does the tilt-screen, wifi control,  and smaller, more portable size, as does the faster, 6.5fps frame rate -- plenty fast enough for most lifestyle situations. Ever since the D750 came out I have been using it and a Fuji X-T1 for all my lifestyle shoots, choosing one over the other based an handling differences. Bottom line is that I no longer have any qualms at all about relying on my X-T1 for shooting lifestyle, or anything else for that matter. This decision  has been spurred along by the continuous support Fujifilm has provided in the way introducing new lenses that are every bit as good as any top flight, full frame, pro optical system -- maybe even better than most. The recent introduction of a f/2.8 16-55mm zoom to complement the already well-received f/2.8 50-140mm rounds out the system to professional requirements.  All that is missing now are some extremely long focal lengths, and they are already in the works.

The samples in this post were taken over the course of a week during two lifestyle shoots in out studio using both the Nikon D750 and Fuji X-T1 cameras. This image was taken with the X-T1, but just as easily could have been taken with the D750. The results would have been close enough to equal to negligible. 

Response time is critical in lifestyle shooting. The photographer must be ever ready to jump on a spontaneous moment when it occurs, and the camera has to be capable of fast reaction and continuous follow through if necessary. As good as the mirrorless cameras, like the X-T1, have become, I would still give the edge for this feature to a fast DSLR. The refresh rate of the viewing screen in any mirrorless camera, no matter how good, is still an artificial way of looking at a scene. Once the motor drive keeps going as the action progresses, I find it much easier to follow it with a DSLR.

That said, there is a something an X-T1 finder can deliver that is very helpful. Because you are viewing a digital interpretation of the scene instead of the real scene you also get to see the actual digital effects of your exposure without moving your eye from the finder to look at a preview. In a sense, the image you are currently viewing and taking is actually the preview. When the light is changing rapidly or the subject is moving in and out of light and shadow areas, I can easily adjust the X-T1 to compensate as I proceed with capturing the scene. With a DSLR I have to take my eye away from the finder and look at a preview of the last image to check and then adjust the exposure.

At close or even moderately close distances using the 85mm f/1.2 lens on the D750 with the aperture set anywhere between f/1.2 and f/1.6 is dangerous in terms of achieving sufficient focus on the subject.  The depth of field is so shallow at that aperture that you might wind up with the eyelashes in focus and the eye itself out of focus -- not a very flattering result.  For this reason, I try to limit myself to a maximum opening of f/2 on a full frame camera. On the X-T1, on the other hand, I don't have the same problem. Even wide open with the equivalent lens, which would be the 50mm f/1.2, I achieve a much higher percentage of pleasing in-focus images while still maintaining the selective focus effects I like.

In this shot taken with the X-T1 and 56mm lens set to f/1.2 the plane of focus is sharp and sufficiently deep even at this close-up range. Shots like this are much more difficult to get looking right with the equivalent lens and aperture on a full frame DSLR. I would expect to have to stop down to f/2 or f/2.2 to achieve the same results. This was not a static scene with the model locked in one position. I had her moving her head back and forth from the computer screen to the cell phone and then point at the screen. She kept repeating this action. I set up mini-scripts like this to coax nuances of action from the models gestures to add some life in otherwise static situations. With a lens set to f/1.2, in as close as I am in this scene, the camera/lens combo has to be very good to keep the eye of the model in constant focus as she moves about. The X-T1 can do this -- but so can any top Nikon camera. 

We put a scrim over the window to eliminate all the detail from the outside scene. In this way, the scrim and bright daylight is producing a similar light to a studio soft box.  This window light provided all the illumination for this scene. There was no fill to bounce light back into the shadows.  The dynamic range of modern digital pro cameras is good enough to hand such a harsh scene without blowing out the  highlights or losing detail in the shadows. The X-T1 with 56mm lens was used for this shot. 

When composing through the viewing screen of the D750 I find myself often having to take advantage of the larger 24mp sensor by pulling back far enough so I can place a focus point on an important area near the edge of the image. With the Fuji's smaller APS-sized sensor I try to avoid cropping because I don't want to sacrifice any more quality that I have to. Fortunately, the focus points on the X-T1 pretty much cover the entire screen so I can always reach into a far corner to focus. This allows me to always use the full X-T1 sensor and not have to give up precious pixels by cropping the image. 

I am always looking for an unusual angle on a scene so here I am under an office desk with the camera resting right on the floor thanks to the X-T1 tilt-screen. The camera is focused on the face of the model in the back. One reason I like working with the Fuji X cameras is that the focus points extend to the very edges of the viewing area. In this case I had no trouble putting a focus point right on the model's face. A D750 viewfinder could not do this at all, and moving the focus point around on its tilt-screen is not as easy as on the X-T1. 

Shot in a gym with the Fuji X-T1, 56mm lens at f/1.6 and ISO 800 using available light from overhead fluorescent fixtures plus some added front fill into the model's face from a white reflector. I wanted the camera sitting right on the floor. The tilt screen on the X-T1 always made it my first choice for this severe angle. Now the D750 also has a tilt screen. So that is one advantage the X-T1 no longer has. 

One of the interesting observations that has become apparent when shooting the Fuji X-T1 side-by-side with a Nikon DSLR is that the exposure needed to achieve the same results has been differing by around 2/3 of a stop -- sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less. In other words, while I am able to capture a correct exposure on the Nikon at, say, 1/500 second, I may need 1/320 second on the Fuji for the exposures to be equal. Since most of the time I am working at what I consider the lowest limits of a hand held camera in terms of aperture and shutter speed, I often have to make the compensation using the ISO. This is not very desirable especially considering that the Fuji is already handicapped with a smaller APS sensor size that is going to make it more susceptible to noise than the full frame Nikon.

This back lit scene was taken with the Nikon D750 and 85mm lens set to f/2. The ISO was 400 and shutter speed 1/640 second. I used the Fuji X-T1 on the same scene, but it needed a shutter speed of 1/400 second to achieve the same results. That is a 2/3 stop difference. 

I have been in this profession long enough to remember when shooting like this would have been impossible, even with the best Nikon F film cameras available. The digital revolution of the past decade has dramatically expanded the range in which a camera can see and operate. Now the mirrorless revolution is taking this another step by shrinking the size of the equipment to a smaller, more comfortable level. 

I depend upon photography, and by extension photography equipment, for my livelihood. I also shoot a very broad category of subjects from lifestyle, to still life, landscape, travel, and food, to name some of them. For this reason I have always tried to stay on top of the changes in equipment -- a task that has become all the more daunting as the digital race continues.

Using the word, "shootout" in the title of this blog might be a misnomer. I am really no longer comparing the two systems. The Fuji X-cameras have proven themselves to me with their results. It had become more a matter of "both/and" as opposed to "either/or". The Fuji X-series no longer has to prove itself to gain admittance. It is already there. 

I am constantly introducing new technology into my workflow to see if it will improve the results and make my job easier. I began using the Fuji X- cameras with the first X-Pro1 when I realized I was witnessing a significant advance in digital photography. Over the past few months I have integrated the X-T1 into our regular photography workflow as an option on par with the other equipment I use. In my mind the testing phase is over. Now I reach for the X-T1 as I would for the D750 or any other high end camera, for what it can do best given the task at hand. Basically, this is a "right tool for the right job" philosophy. Works for me. 


  1. Great write up and photos as usual. I just pulled the trigger, with your link, on a X-T1 with the 18-135mm. Already have the 14mm and 27mm lenses.

  2. Awesome post. Thanks. I have been enjoying my D750 and XT1. Sony sent me the A7II and some lenses to try. I did not "want" to like it but did. Except for a lack of lenses and the lack of a silent shutter I liked the Sony more. Have you tried it? Focus is faster, the EV in low light is better and high ISO is much better. I'm not sure what my next move will be. I had planned to fill out my Fuji lenses but now I may wait to see what Fuji's next body brings. Thanks for an awesome blog.

  3. You are really digging' that x-T1 huh? I LOVE mine! It gets used so much more than my D800. This weekend I shot two Christenings back to back, and event though I had the D800, flashes,and pocket wizards with me, I chose to use the X-T1, with the 18-55, 35, and my new 56mm 1.2 (which I'm returning today) as the venue (a new church) had wonderful natural light flowing in.
    With regards to the 56 I just packed it up to send it back; even though it's clear, contrasty, and darn sharp it was waaaaaay to slow even in good light. I've decided to hold off and pickup the 50-140 later in the spring.
    Great images here as well. Love it when you use the X

  4. Fantastic shots here, I am particularly impressed with your eye for unique composition. You seem to go beyond the average shot and think up interesting ways to frame your work. I too have been using the X-T1's for my professional work and have come to rely on them. Though I do also use a Sony A7S for ultra low light wedding venues here in the UK. Keep up the great posts.

  5. Such photo shoots are great and I enjoyed watching the pictures. For my wedding I had my wedding photo shoot at event space San Francisco which was also my reception venue and it was great.