Fuji X-A1: First impression compared with Nikon V1

Discussion in 'Mirrorless Digital Cameras' started by lex_jenkins, Apr 12, 2014.

  1. I've been trying the Fuji X-A1 since Friday afternoon, and trying to write a comparison against the Nikon V1 that doesn't run 1,000 words. My first draft was 2,200 words. That's long even for my personal blog.
    An apt comparison finally occurred to me just now. But this will make sense only if you've driven a few different Porsches.
    Nikon V1 = Porsche 928
    Fuji X-A1 = Porsche 911
    I last drove those cars during the 1980s, so this is based on those models.
    The 928 was a brute - quick, fast, well built but with twitchy handling, especially in the wet. Exhilarating but not entirely satisfying.
    The 911 was built like a VW Beetle - a tinfoil car with incredible guts inside. Not nearly to the same quality of the 928 or 924. But it was so much nicer to drive. It wasn't as quick from a stop, but it was fast at the top end, tractable and an absolute charm to drive in any conditions - even snow and ice.
    For candid photography the V1 is better for my tastes, especially in decent lighting where the ISO is below 800. But even in dim light or at night I'd be tempted to rely on the V1 for the nimble reflexes, even if I had to compromise on IQ. The X-A1 has far superior low light, high ISO performance in terms of IQ, but the rear LCD is laggy, the AF can't compare with the V1 in dim light lock-on, and the multi-area AF isn't nearly as versatile or capable as Nikon's.
    If your candid photography scenarios and style leans toward a slower, more deliberate style and posed impromptu portraits, you'll probably prefer the Fuji's far better IQ above ISO 400. But if you're an intuitive, reflexive, action oriented photographer who enjoys the literally snap-shooting style (as I do), with little or no time taken to compose, you'll probably prefer the much quicker Nikon V1 or other 1 System model.
    If only someone would put together the V1's speed with the X-A1's image quality... for $500. Even if it was still as plasticky as the X-A1, which isn't bad - it's well made, just lightweight.
    Yeah, right. But, hey, a cheap photographer can dream.
    Incidentally, if you're on the fence about an X-A1 don't wait much longer. I'd been piddling around for two months before finally swapping some lenses and other gear toward an X-A1. Suddenly the past week or so the prices shot up for the X-A1 and X-M1 at some retailers. The advertised prices for the X-A1 shot up from around $450 to close to $600 some places, and the X-M1 from around $550 to around $700. The price changes may be due to MAP policies. Some dealers are advertising a "higher" price, but when you click the button to put it in the cart a lower price appears.
     
  2. Nice comparison! Nikon's V Series is known for great speed but seems to be put down regularly in the IQ dept. I was close on a Fuji X-A1, having good experiences with an X10 but wanting more IQ from a larger sensor. The X-A1's low light IQ is among the best in APS-C, but a speedster it isn't. I ended up with a very clean used Nikon DSLR kit for the same money. Fuji still needs to do some catching up in the speed area with their lower end X Series.
     
  3. I was strongly considering updating my current Nikon gear. I already had several Nikkors, but no stabilized lenses for the DX format. But the closest comparisons - a good used D5100 and one of the better VR zooms or third party zooms with stabilization - would have cost nearly double the X-A1 kit.
    The Fuji is an excellent value. My main concern was the IQ and high ISO performance, not speed. Fuji took an interesting route by putting most of the money into top notch image quality, while making reasonable compromises on build quality to do it at a price point.
    I do appreciate the V1 even more now for what it does really well. It's quick. And I'm still hoping for a fast 13mm.
     
  4. Based on your second post especially, you'd probably like the X-A1 very much.
     
  5. I like camera/car analogies. My Fuji XE1 reminds me of a "Porsche" 914 I once owned. Wants to be considered a player with the big boys but not quite up to the task in some departments.
     
  6. If past pricing is any guide, Fuji will probably offer deals, discounts and package specials over the next few months. I understand that Canadians will no longer be getting dollar parity pricing with US Fuji MAP--something that caused a minor stampede north when Fuji bundled the new X-T1+free battery grip for C$1299. Besides, the EVF-free Fuji X models don't appear to be moving and won't if the prices rise.
    Not sure about the Porsche analogy. Maybe closer would be the various "sport" models rummaged from the VW/Audi parts bins like the 924, Audi CoupeGT, and Golf GTI. 928 and 911 compared with those two MILCs? Still laughing...
     
  7. Nice review, Lex. FYI, it's still $449.99 at Amazon - an excellent deal.
     
  8. What a timely review! I have built up a small war chest for a small camera purchase, so the AX-1 was on my radar and I very nearly pulled the trigger Wednesday for Friday delivery. Imagine, Lex and I could have been evaluating the X-A1 at the same time! :)
    For me, the comparison would be with Canon's EOS M, which I currently adore, especially now that they're fixed the AF and the price has bottomed out. I'm tempted to buy a second EOS M body for a song, now that I have a pair of lenses and the EOS Lens adapter. I'm also torm as to whether it's worth it to save a little more and get Fuji's X-M1 instead. Anyone own that model? How's the build quality?
     
  9. >>> I'm also torm as to whether it's worth it to save a little more and get Fuji's X-M1 instead. Anyone own
    that model? How's the build quality?

    It's identical, as is the included 16-50 kit zoom. The only difference is the X-M1 uses Fuji's X-Trans sensor, while the X-A1 uses a Bayer pattern
    sensor.
     
  10. I like mine, Lex.
    1. Image quality and superb low light performance.
    2. Very light and small....fits into my jacket pocket.
    3. Superb lenses rarely challenged for image quality by any manufacturer. Hey, they make lenses for Hasselblad's.
    4. Very nice quality finish...guess what... virtually every cam is a mixture of metal and plastics. The Fuji X-A1 will probably survive impact a lot better than its more expensive cousins.
    5.Flip screen... I'm taking the photo while you are lifting your cam to eye level or trying to squint at a non flip screen.
    6. Fast for a lightweight camera with a APC size sensor with interchangeable lenses.
    7. The price.
    00cW5l-547173984.jpg
     
  11. Kit lens used for both photos.
    00cW5v-547175584.jpg
     
  12. Well, having toted the X-A1 to a nearby field last night for some nighttime photos, and slept awhile, I'm qualified to approve. Mostly because I didn't wake up today with an aching neck and back.
    In the past I'd have to crane my neck into uncomfortable positions, either to see the fixed screen on the V1, or to use the dSLR on a tripod. I was hoping the Fuji would replace both for unhurried photos where IQ mattered a bit more to me. I'm far from a pixel peeper, not allergic to noise and grain and sometimes even prefer the low-fi look of the Ricoh GX100, which is incredibly noisy even at ISO 200. I like the grunge for some stuff. But not for everything.
    While I would prefer a fully articulating screen for tilts with the camera held in the vertical/portrait position, the X-A1 is still a huge improvement in ergonomics for me. Looking forward to trying it again at night this weekend, if the weather cooperates.
    And, as most reviews and owners have affirmed repeatedly, the in-camera JPEGs look terrific. Fuji has hit a home run for folks who don't enjoy post processing everything from raw, or even tweaking another brand's inadequate JPEGs. Best looking in-camera JPEGs I've seen, alongside the teensy sensor Ricoh GRD4. And default sharpening seems optimized for printing. Way better than my Nikon's JPEGs, which I've rarely been satisfied with other than the V1's monochrome settings.
    It could be better only if Fuji added a few more options for b&w. And I don't mean those selective spot color things - ick. But there may be some additional tweaks I haven't tried yet, with the highlight/shadow options.
     
  13. .
    [​IMG]
    Cruising on Amtrak through Benicia, California • ©Brad Evans 2014
    .
    >>> ... the X-A1 is still a huge improvement in ergonomics for me.
    Same here. Back in December I rented an X-E2 to see what Fuji X cams were about. After a few days I decided I liked the system enough to purchase one.
    For my Amtrak train shooting I decided a tilt screen was important for shooting through the window in limited seating. The X-E2 has a great EVF, but a fixed rear display. The X-A1 has no EVF but nice tilt screen. The fact that the X-A1 was significantly less money than the X-E2 was icing for me.
     
  14. "I'm also torn as to whether it's worth it to save a little more and get Fuji's X-M1 instead."​
    Patrick, I was tempted by the X-M1 too. There are many conflicting opinions about the X-Trans image quality, but only dpreview seems to have provided sample photos using standard methodology. Every other set of comparison photos by other reviewers used inconsistent methodology - too many variations in exposures, lighting, composition, etc.

    My impression, including after downloading some RAF raw files for both the X-A1 and X-M1, converted to DNG: There isn't enough difference to justify the vehemence of some debates. They're both very good, and only slightly different.

    Also, the X-Trans raw file results seem very dependent on the raw converter. Nothing new there. I recall the same issues almost 10 years ago with the Nikon D2H, comparing raw conversions from Nikon's software, Adobe, Rawshooter, Bibble and everything else I could get my hands on, always trying to get the ideal compromise between sharpness and moire, between fine detail and noise reduction, etc.

    If I had the budget I wouldn't have hesitated to get the X-M1 instead, but then I'd have waffled around trying to talk myself into the X-E1 and kit zoom, which was also an incredible value earlier this year. So I stayed strictly within my budget based on the gear I had available to trade.
     
  15. " I'm taking the photo while you are lifting your cam to eye level or trying to squint at a non flip screen".Allen
    For fast snapshots which is why you like the Nikon......Lex.
    I'm faster, a lot faster with my Fuji for the above reasons.
     
  16. "It could be better only if Fuji added a few more options for b&w"
    P/S, in camera is very limited.
     
  17. If I had the budget I wouldn't have hesitated to get the X-M1 instead"
    Hmm, methinks you have been sold on hype.
    00cW6f-547177284.jpg
     
  18. nice to see you've joined the Fuji brigade, Lex. it really is refreshing that they've taken a photographer-centric approach, rather than a marketing-driven approach like some other companies.
    i picked up a J1 at fire sale prices before getting an XE1. maybe the V1 has more control options, but it seemed like the J1 was a camera that didnt know what it wanted to be. the small size was great, as was the fast AF, but the external controls are extremely minimal and the menus are very sparse. i couldn't help thinking that the camera would be better without interchangeable lenses, but then it would be an RX100, or with a fast fixed-focal, but then it would be a x100 or Coolpix A wanna-be. the Nikon 1 series doesnt shoot hi-ISO well at all, and besides the J1's limited AF modes (no selectable AF point), puzzlingly, the J1 's auto-ISO setting has 100-800 and 100-3200, but no 100-1600. you have to wonder if anyone ever shot with the camera before releasing it into the wild, as 1600 is really about as high as you can go without getting significant grain. if you're shooting in manual with auto-ISO, it's kind of a pain to only be able to select 1600 as a defined, rather than variable, value. so to me the J1 was much quirkier than the Fuji system. i cant see going much further with nikon 1, although i may add the 30-110 telephoto at some point.
    it's hard to see how the V1 could be a porsche with the limited lens selection nikon has for it. (maybe a porsche engine, but it's missing the right set of tires.) OTOH, fuji's compact, light, high-IQ primes really fit the candid/street aesthetic. the XE1 with the 27mm pancake is a very capable street combo, especially in dim-light conditions. havent tried the 16-55, but the 18-55 is excellent for a kit zoom. and while the nikon 1 series can do super-fast AF, the XE1 is 6fps, which is faster than my older nikon DSLRs, the d80 and d90. yes the focus accuracy can be hit or miss, but i've started taking the fuji set-up for PJ assignments and even shot fast action with the xe1 and 35/1.4. the J1 doesnt play in the same league, as the small sensor relegates it to snapshots and not much else.
     
  19. "Hmm, methinks you have been sold on hype."​
    Nah, I was mostly curious to try the X-Trans and decide for myself. Forum debates webwide reveal more hairsplitting and interest in arguing for the sake of arguing than shedding any light on the actual differences, which appear to be practically insignificant.

    But I'm a pragmatist and the X-A1 was within my budget.
    "...you have to wonder if anyone ever shot with the (J1) camera before releasing it into the wild..."​
    Eric, that's been my assessment of the Nikon 1 System all along. It's the product of some mad geniuses locked in a basement who built a racing engine and never talked to any drivers. The J1 and V1 even look like prototypes rather than finished products. But at those blowout prices, I ain't complaining.
    "...i cant see going much further with nikon 1, although i may add the 30-110 telephoto at some point."​
    Ditto. I'm not excited about fast primes without stabilization - although a 13mm f/2 or faster... maybe. But the 30-110 VR would have been handy for the happy snaps I've been taking of my neighbors' dogs playing outdoors in daylight. That's good enough for my needs with the V1.
    "...the J1 doesnt play in the same league, as the small sensor relegates it to snapshots and not much else."​
    Suits me. That's why I got the V1 and why I'm still satisfied with it. It's a great snapshot machine and after getting accustomed to the quirks, I find the quick reflexes offset the quirks for my purposes.
     
  20. BTW, I just noticed the folks at Picture Code have tweaked Photo Ninja to handle Fuji X raw files. I always liked Noise Ninja so I'm going to try Photo Ninja to see how it handles the RAFs. Otherwise I'd need to use Adobe's DNG converter to edit in Lightroom 4, which I did try a couple of months ago with downloaded samples for the X-A1 and X-M1.
    But I'm hoping to be too busy taking photos to mess with editing raw files anytime soon.
     
  21. im actually thinking of getting a second XE1--used prices are around $400 or less-- for an ultralight 2-camera kit, necessitating less lens changes. a tilt screen would be nice, but the XE1's build is very reassuring, and i like the external shutter dial. composing with the LCD, rather than the viewfinder, doesnt bother me as much as i thought it might.
    00cW78-547177684.jpg
     
  22. Anyway, on to more important considerations: what colour is your cam?
    Mine is a red/pinky colour. Cheerful, cheer up, colour, after all the rain we have had in the UK.
     
  23. One for the fun of it....
    00cW7J-547177884.jpg
     
  24. "Anyway, on to more important considerations: what colour is your cam?"​
    Basic black, although I was tempted by the blue. But if I keep it I might cover it with Vaughn Bode comic characters from Cheech Wizard.

    I've done weirder stuff. I once used metallic paint markers to paint my 10 meter airgun pistol in a paisley pattern. And I'm thinking of painting Andy Capp on my old Nikon D2H, because it only works when it wants to.

    It's been interesting to revisit some familiar neighborhood subjects with the X-A1 to compare results.

    [​IMG]
    Fuji X-A1, 16-50 kit zoom at 28mm (actual), ISO 2500, 1/15th sec @ f/4, in-camera Velvia setting, pop-up auto-flash.
    Resolution of fine detail in the sticker and bar code seem pretty good for high ISO.

    00cW8m-547181684.jpg
     
  25. There are several other low light and after-sunset pix here. These were all auto-resized by photo.net's uploader, not maximum resolution. Nothing fancy, just some stuff around my neighborhood. The skies look clean and noise reduction doesn't seem to lose any critical detail. Hoping to test the X-A1 a bit further later this month at an annual outdoor street arts festival that runs late at night.
    This is the sort of thing I primarily wanted from a camera with the capabilities of the X-A1 - good low light performance and stabilization for handholding. If it handles snapshots of people as well, so much the better, but I'll probably keep toting the Nikon V1 for that. While the V1 isn't significantly smaller than the X-A1 and weighs a bit more, the 10-30 kit zoom is smaller and handier for my smaller bags. And the lack of EVF/LCD lag suits me better for quick snaps. And the V1's optional electronic shutter is silent and a nice alternative when I'm taking candid photos for a medical documentary project - folks know I'm taking photos, but the lack of clicking sounds minimizes disruptions in conversations. But the X-A1 is much nicer than the V1 from ISO 400 on and for low light photos.
    Default sharpening in-camera may be a bit high for web viewing, but it's probably optimized for good print results from minilabs or home printers. So Fuji probably has the right idea with the default settings in auto-everything mode. And unless you're shooting stuff like this with foliage silhouetted against a dark sky, you may never even notice the slight halos visible in the maximum magnification views.
    Right click to see the larger view of these. They're resized to 1500 pickles max by photo.net's uploader, which also imposes a slight bit of posterizing in skies. Fuji's original in-camera JPEGs are blissfully free of posterizing in skies - can't say the same of some other model in-camera JPEGs.


    As I was composing this shot I noticed a few balloons floating by in the far distance - those black specks mid-frame and to the left are balloons, not birds or dust. The shapes seemed slightly bulbous, indicating they might have been large manned balloons with baskets, but they were so far away I couldn't be certain.

    [​IMG]
    X-A1 & 16-50 kit zoom at 38mm, ISO 200, 1/50th @ f/5.3.
    An aircraft entered the top left as I was handholding this at a slow shutter speed to test the lens stabilization. The aircraft trail seems to indicate I wiggled a bit, but the tree outline seems fairly sharp.
    [​IMG]
    X-A1 & 16-50 kit zoom at 26mm, ISO 800, 1/3rd sec @ f/5.
     
  26. the ISO 2500 shot looks very clean, Lex. in my experience, you can push the Fuji sensors past 3200; combined with the 35/1.4, it's a killer combo for indoor or low-light photography. even with the kit zoom at max aperture and stabilized, good shots are possible.
    i take people photos all the time with my Fujis (also have an x100). only thing i have to remember is to switch film sim mode from velvia to provia, which is easy with the Q menu on the XE1 and slightly more involved with the X100. i really dont see any advantage to the nikon 1, other than it's a bit more compact with the kit zoom, but actually less compact than the XE1 w/ the 27/2.8 (which i recommend for street). once the XE1 locks focus, i can shoot at 6fps with an imperceptible shutter. in practice, i havent found the J1 to improve on this.
    i dont really like the ergonomics of the 10-30 kit zoom i have on the J1. the lock button kind of throws me off--i want to just be able to twist the zoom ring and be ready to shoot, but there's an extra step in my way--and in doing so, the lens protrudes more, making the package less compact, and more vulnerable to dings if just walking around.
    also, i'm not really sure what the point is of having ISO 3200 on a camera which 400-800 is the [real world] noise limit, unless Nikon was trying to create unrealistic expectations. A pity, because the compact size is a boon for PJ work and street, but the UI is just too point-and-shooty and too dependent on good light. the IQ is ok and better than camera phone, but nowhere near what the x100 or XE1 is capable of. for $200 i really cant complain. i'm sure i could produce good work with it, but overall, i feel like i'm fighting with the camera much more than with the Fujis.
     
  27. Yeah, the high ISO shots are very clean. Maybe too clean for my taste, other than in the sky. I might fiddle with the settings a bit. I don't mind a little more texture from luminance noise, especially if it avoids the peculiar painterly look that sometimes occurs in areas with lots of subtle natural texture but no real fine detail.
    I'll probably stick with the Astia lower saturation mode for color. High saturation gives me the willies in most photos. I like it okay when other people do it well, but I can hardly ever find a scenario where high saturation looks right for my own photos. On the flip side, I can't seem to get enough contrast and grit for b&w. No accounting for taste.
    I'm trying Photo Ninja right now from Picture Code, the folks who made Noise Ninja. I still like NN for some chores, so I'm curious to see how Photo Ninja handles the X-A1 RAFs.
     
  28. Interesting following your comments. I currently own a V1 with both zooms, and a XE-1 with kit zoom.
    The Nikon definitely has the edge on autofocus, but I'm coping with the Fuji. While I agree the Nikon is a nice street cam, mine is mostly used for video these days. I do plan on keeping both systems though. Both have their uses and appeal.
     
  29. My impression, including after downloading some RAF raw files for both the X-A1 and X-M1, converted to DNG: There isn't enough difference to justify the vehemence of some debates. They're both very good, and only slightly different.​
    This appears to be true of 98% of the debates one sees on photography forums. I'm shooting with an Olympus E-M5 and am skeptical that there are substantial differences between it and any of its mirrorless peers, including APS peers.
     
  30. asa late-comer to the nikon 1 system. i'd like to comment.
    my 30yr interest has been mainly served by leica m.
    due to disablement, unable to load film, focus safely, so on seeing a v1 in a shop window, curious.
    toinserte my sd card, tested, and was impressed enough to buy, it came with 10mm -fx equiv 27mm - about my favourite m-lens focal length - 28mm.
    the wrong way around, researched on internet, and discovered quite a lot of v1 lovers.
    the jpeg files it producesare excellent, the automated systems seem well implimented.
    with a good degree of manual control. mine came withe dedicated bounce flash and nikon grip, both useful and effective add-ons.
    in an interview the designerresposible, highlighted the reason for performance. compared to their top dslr - the d3, at the time of the v1 launch, the v1 leap-fogged technically. having the a d conversion doneon the imaging chip. then transferred to the spu on 24 channels. - faster and less noisy. the d3 used 12 channels of low-level analogue sgnal.
    the v1 uses 2 pipelines, faster again, so writing to card and ievf-lcd magesimultaneously fast.
    it feels like a III series leica in solidity, size and shape. as dslrs large size is a legacy from film era slrs, nikon made the right move, its a classic,I use adr on, all nr off, mostly on apeture priority, f4.5, where the lens performs optimally.gives highish shutter speed. base iso of 100 available, which I like. going higher gives a still good result, at 3200 sort of tr-x film-like, when shooting BW , but with less grain. nice big battery. movie mode excellent.intervalometer works well.
    the camera is inconspicuous, quiet. switching from the mechanical shutter to the electronic shutter, it is silent, of course. an act of faith , after having a dud film FA and 2 indifferent lenses, I am glad I own the V1. sports, landscape,people all genres seem to benefit from its colour rendition, overall performance. printing to A4. mostly. by now current, good dslrs have its same technical inovations, so performance gap must exist, but in travelling, the V1 is tops. photography is about enjoying it, not being a ^'packhorse'
    differentiating DOF needs forethought, and is limited. Oscar B, if he were alive, would be mightily impressed.
    I am only interested in end results,
     

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