Fujifilm X-T4 – A Canon Switcher’s Review
Our photographic journeys do not begin and end at the same point. It’s not a closed loop. The reasons you pick up a camera in the first place and take those first shots are going to be different to the reasons you carry on shooting. Our interests change, our style and tastes changes, our environment changes, our technical requirements evolve.
When I first picked up a camera again after a long hiatus, the first decent digital cameras were just coming onto the market. I was in the fortunate position of being in on the digital camera revolution from the very beginning because I used to work for ‘gadget’ and computer magazines in the UK and I used to write about those gizmos. From the very early Kodak digitals, through the beginnings of the all-conquering DSLR market and the arrival of alternative formats such as Micro 4/3rds I was lucky enough to have access to this technology. I watched the evolution of the big traditional Japanese camera manufacturers as the film epoch came to an end and I was also in on the era-defining revolution that was smartphone camera tech. When I left the magazine industry I bought myself a little Canon Powershot and I’ve been shooting digital on my own cameras ever since then. My photographic interests became much more serious when I got my first DSLR – a Canon 550D – 10 years ago. I’ve been with Canon for 16 years now and so I didn’t take the decision to switch teams lightly.
The End of the Affair
There are many reasons people switch camera brands and, before I get into my review of the X-T4, I thought I’d briefly explain mine. In no particular order they were: boredom, loss-of-confidence in Canon, costs and technical requirements. And while the technical side of things obviously had a great bearing on my decision, honestly the biggest reason was boredom.
Canon cameras are often referred to as ‘workhorses’ – solid, dependable and reliable. I’d say they’re dull too. I did not feel any excitement when I picked up my Canon 7D Mark II and, looking back, I’d say that was true from the first day I got it. I looked forward to the photographs I could take with it sure, but the actual photographic process, the A to Z of capturing an image, that bored me shitless. I looked at the new R6 (the logical next purchase for me if I stayed a Canon boy) and I was unmoved.
Somewhere along the way, from that first Single Lens Reflex camera which they released in 1934, Canon managed to successfully remove every last vestige of joy and fun from their cameras. They went from being tactile pieces of precision engineering to being anonymous black blobs – anodyne, inoffensive and bland. Some people like anodyne, inoffensive and bland but I came to realise that I did not.
And so, after months of deliberation and driving fellow photography geeks nuts, I bought a Fujifilm X-T4 and four lenses.
The Photographer’s Camera
My X-T4 looks far more like Canon’s original SLR from 1934, than it does my 7D Mark II and the irony of this is not lost on me. It looks like a camera that has been painstakingly engineered to great precision, not tested in wind tunnels for an aerodynamic profile and focus-grouped into oblivion. It has lines, where the Canons has curves. It has dials where the Canon has buttons. It demands that you pick it up and feel the strength of it in your hand. The dials invite you into the photographic process – they define the alchemy behind a photograph, the ingredients in the recipe. The Canon will smooth down your hair, wipe that smudge of food off your cheek and make sure your tie is straight and knot perfect. The Fuji will smack you on the arse, ruffle your hair up and switch the radio station from easy listening to drum-and-bass. In short, it’s the successful fusion attitude and purpose.
I absolutely love the way that Fujifilm have put the X-T4 together. It’s beautifully engineered with great precision and it feels like it’ll last a lifetime or more. Everything from the way that the lenses screw so decisively into place, to the little lock button inside the two main dials feels meticulous. Hell even the way the memory cards lock into place is exact and unambiguous.
Precise and Explicit
When I first got my X-T4 I looked on it for the aperture and exposure priority modes. On my Canon I shot most of my landscape images in aperture priority, switching occasionally to exposure priority for wildlife shots and manual for night-sky or other long exposure images. But on the X-T4 there was no mode dial. It was confusing. After some time spent with the manual I discovered that these modes do exist, you just don’t access them in the same way. This is because Fuji don’t hold your hand quite as much as Canon – they assume that you’ve got some understanding of photography and, if you don’t, the X-T4 makes a good case for finding out.
The modes on the X-T4 are determined by which of the main function dials you have set to automatic. For instance, to put the X-T4 in aperture priority mode, you set the ISO dial to ‘A’, the exposure dial to ‘A’ and the aperture switch on the lens to manual. It actually makes perfect sense. Similarly when you want to use exposure priority mode you set the ISO to ‘A’, the aperture switch to ‘A’ and the exposure setting to whatever speed you want. To go full manual just move everything off the ‘A’ automatic modes.
On the X-T4 the aperture is set (on many of the X-mount lenses) by rotating the aperture dial on the lens itself – an awesomely analog process. ISO and exposure also have their own dials, along with exposure compensation. Where a lens doesn’t have an aperture dial, you change it via the jog wheel on the front of the camera, though you can of course reconfigure this. There are buttons all over the X-T4. I’d owned mine for six weeks before I even noticed the View Mode button tucked away on the side of the viewfinder. You can also reprogram pretty much every button and dial on the camera to suit your own requirements. Hell you can even reprogram the screen if the mood takes you.
Focusing gets its own little lever assembly enabling you to quickly and easily switch between single, constant and manual focus modes. As with the various camera modes I thought I’d find this annoying, but actually it’s great to use. Moving camera systems is a bit like learning a new language, but you only need to get the basics down before you can hold a conversation.
Screens and EVFs
After years of holding my Canon DSLR at ground-level, pointed hopefully towards an interesting foreground subject, and praying that it would be framed correctly and in focus, it’s bloody awesome to have a flip-out screen. I know Canon have their fair-share of flippy-screen cameras in their range, but the feature is new to me. If I have any gripes about that screen it’s that it gets in the way of the microphone cord if you have an external mic plugged in. Other than that it’s great.
The screen is of course perfect for vlogging since you can a) see if you’re in the frame and b) if the auto-focus is picking you up properly. I also like the fact that you can flip it over and hide it completely, which is cool if you want to embrace the retro-stylings of the X-T4 and use the EVF for all your shots.
The screen is of course endlessly configurable, just like everything else on the X-T4. You get to decide precisely what information you want on that screen and when you want it to appear. As it’s a touch-screen you can also use it for selecting the focus point, for taking the shot, for playback or, by swiping in one of four compass directions, trigger a function button.
The EVF is crazy good too. Absolutely crystal clear and nearly as configurable as the screen. I think the rubber eye piece deserves a special mention here – it’s so comfortable to rest against your eye socket that holding the camera in place for extended periods (if you’re waiting for wildlife to do something interesting for instance) is no problem.
Seeing the Menu
Fujifilm don’t have a brilliant reputation for their menu system – better than Sony’s sure, but not as loved as the ones found on some other camera systems. And I must admit that the first time I hit that menu button and started flicking through all the screens and sub-screens and sub-sub-screens I was a bit bewildered.
But actually the menus aren’t bad at all – if I had any issues at all it was with the terminology, rather than the functionality. For instance I had no clue what Lens Modulation Optimizer, D Range Priority and Photometry were, but I spent a bit of time with the manual and watched a couple of setup videos on YouTube and it all came together.
Like everything else on the X-T4, the menus are endlessly configurable and you can set a virtually unlimited number of menu options in the ‘Q’ quick menu system. You can also set that Q menu to have 4, 8, 12 or 16 slots to cater to everyone’s preferred set-up.
No camera is complete without custom modes and while the X-T4 does have them, there is one omission. You can set custom modes to control certain functions on the camera i.e. autofocus (setting tracking sensitivity, speed and zone area switching), ISO (setting up three sets of ISO ranges) and even custom styles. However what you can’t do is the equivalent of the Canon custom modes where a flick of a dial changes the camera to a whole range of settings such as specific shutter, aperture, ISO, drive-mode, auto-focus and even self-timer.
I used to use those custom modes all the time and found them awesome for when, for instance, you wanted to quickly switch from a landscape photographic set-up (small aperture, very low ISO, slow shutter speed etc) to a wildlife set-up (wide open aperture, automatic ISO, very quick shutter). To do the equivalent switch on the X-T4 involves several separate movements. I guess this ties into my earlier point about everything being much more deliberate on the Fuji and much more process-led and with less hand-holding. I can also see how it would be more difficult to implement with things like aperture rings on lenses.
In practice, taking photographs with the X-T4 is a lovely experience. I have found the auto-focus to be excellent. I set the auto-focus mode options to the button on the front of the camera so that I can quickly change between single point, zone and wide modes. I haven’t made much use of the AF-C custom modes yet but I dare say I will in the months to come.
I like having the focus modes on the front of the camera too. It already feels second-nature to me to flick between single, continuous and manual focus modes. I’ve found I’ve been using manual focus a lot more, not because the autofocus is bad, but just that the whole photo process seems much more considered and it feels right to use the zoom function and the manual focus ring to ensure that the image is totally sharp where you want it to be.
The camera feels great in my hand. I love the grip and the feel of the metal enclosure. I’m pretty sure I won’t bother getting the battery grip whereas that was one of the first things I craved on my Canon cameras. I ditched the Fuji camera strap for a Peak Design Slide, but all bundled camera straps are shit, so we won’t hold that against them.
One of the problems I always had with my Canon cameras was the colour science. There always seemed to be something quite Fisher Price about those colours, something cartoon-like. It had nothing to do with colour saturation, but was baked right into all of the photos. In fact I grew to dislike the Canon colour science so much that I used to shoot as flat as possible in RAW mode and 99% of the time bracketed so I could use LR/Fusion to blend exposures and get the colours looking better.
One of the great things about the X-T4 is that you can shoot in JPEG if the mood takes you. In fact there are so many excellent film simulations that you are actually encouraged to shoot JPEG instead of RAW. That means that you can eschew the often-lengthy post-processing sessions and just copy your images over to your computer. Initially I thought that these film simulations were a bit of a gimmick, something dreamt up for the Instagram-filter generation, but I couldn’t have been further from the truth. The film simulations all add a certain magic to an image that is really hard to nail with a Lightroom preset in post. If you want you can shoot in both RAW and JPEG at the same time so that if you find a particular film simulation wasn’t working for a scene you can just process the RAW file.
We can’t move on from this subject without talking about the X-Trans sensor in the Fujifilm X-series of cameras. These sensors fulfil all my dreams for the colour science that I wasn’t getting from Canon. The Fujifilm X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor that debuted in the X-T3 and was tweaked for the X-T4, gives amazing colour fidelity, greatly reduced moire and incredibly sharp images. It does mean that software such as Lightroom and Photoshop which is geared up to Bayer colour filters has trouble processing the images, but that’s a small price to pay for the resulting images.
Through the Looking Glass
Now the bottom line is that I never did have any truly great Canon lenses. I found the red-band lenses to be very over-priced for what they were and they seemed to be used as something of a snobby fashion statement by some Canon shooters who wouldn’t be seen dead without that red ring around their lens. And I have always been a bit of an anti-snob, so I made-do with the consumer glass. I had the cheap-as-chips f1.8 50mm and I had the EFS10-22mm and I had the kit lens zoom. I also used to treat those lenses like shit – throwing them in my bag, which was usually full of sand at the bottom and never cleaning them.
What I have found since moving to Fujifilm is that they make some spectacular lenses and they sell them at very reasonable prices. There are upper-tier lenses (usually rated WR for weather resistant) but to be honest there aren’t any really average Fuji lenses – they seem to be either great or fucking brilliant.
I have bought four lenses for my X-T4 now and I love them all – they’re the 18-55mm f2.8 (described by Ken Rockwell as “optically just about perfect”), the 50-230mm f4.5 (of which Ken said he was “astonished at how sharp is this lens, even wide open, at every zoom setting”), the 10-24mm f4 (Ken said, “the best-made APS-C ultrawide lens of any brand”) and the 100-400mm f4 (Ken said, “ultra sharp and its stabilisation system is superb”).
To be honest I feel like a kid in a candy shop. I have never had such beautiful glass at my disposal before and I feel guilty about not using whichever lenses I don’t have on my X-T4 at any given moment. So far my favourites are the 10-24 and the 100-400, but they are all amazing. I would also add that they all feel so wonderfully balanced when they’re on the camera, whereas my Canon lenses often felt like sticking a glorified Pringles tube on the camera body.
All of my lenses also have image stabilisation in the lens which works staggeringly well in conjunction with the IBIS (in-body image stabilisation) in the camera. The image stabilisation is so good that I’ve been shooting 1/4s exposures with the 10-24mm handheld! It’s just mind-blowing. Did I mention that the whole camera is quiet too. My Canon used to sound like someone playing the spoons next to my right ear, but often I don’t hear the X-T4 take a picture at all and have to double-check I got the shot.
I bought my X-T4 as a hybrid camera – something I fully intended to use for filming video and for my landscape photography. Therefore the video side of the camera was, of course, important to me. The quality of the footage I can produce on the X-T4 has been a revelation – beautiful colours, amazing clarity and incredible sharpness.
I’ve been shooting primarily in 4K/60fps mode but the 240fps 1080p mode is gorgeous. I love editing these images in Final Cut Pro because they’re in an entirely different league to the 4K I’ve previously shot on anything else. The X-T4 shoots 4K, 10-bit, 400mb/s which is, frankly, way better quality than I need for my little YouTube travel videos, but it’s so nice have such great archived raw footage. F-Log assist is brilliant too, since it lets you film in log but view a much more colour saturated image on the LCD screen and therefore get a better idea of the graded footage you’ll see in editing. Beware though that the ‘dense’ video files this camera produces will make even the most high-end editing computer struggle.
My only real issue with shooting video is that it’s a bit of a pain switching exposure to 1/48 or 1/120 when moving from 24 to 60fps or similar, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
Get the Picture
In case you haven’t guess by now, I love my X-T4. I love pretty much everything about it. I love the camera, I love the lenses, I love the photos I’m taking with it, I love the video I’m shooting with it and I love being part of the Fujifilm family.
It’s absolutely true that better equipment does not make you a better photographer, but switching teams can sometimes make the difference between going through the motions with your photography and rediscovering your love for it. I felt like I was in something of a rut with my photography and the Fuji’s got me out and then some.
The X-T4 is a photographer’s camera. It’s not a ‘workhorse’, though it can most definitely be used for work. It’s not all about the specifications, though it has all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a modern mirrorless. It is a thing of beauty, though it does not look like it was designed by committees and focus groups. It’s an enigma, an out-lier and a maverick and I wouldn’t have it any other way.