I’ve been using the Fujifilm X-Series almost exclusively now for around 4 years, ever since the X-Pro1 came out. I have dabbled with other cameras, but nothing has stuck for my day-to-day shooting. I know them intimately, and I enjoy shooting with them.
Part of the fun of photography for me is the geeky tech side of things and trying stuff out. If I’m perfectly frank, aside from lenses, Fujifilm haven’t released anything in quite a while now that has really pushed my buttons like the original X100 and the X-Pro1 did. Camera hardware has kind of stalled at the X-E2, yes firmware has made it quicker but we’ve not had anything all that interestingly different for me personally to get all that excited about. I have a feeling the X-Pro2 will address that, but until then we have to wait. The lenses from Fujifilm are amazing and always have been, we have a roadmap of what’s coming for a while unless they spring any surprises on us we know what is coming! What is there to say about the lenses from Fujifilm now – they haven’t made a bad one yet, even the cheapo “XC” lenses are really damn good! The only thing to choose between them is if you want OIS, and what focal length you want – you really can’t pick a bad lens from the Fujifilm line-up! That’s great and it genuinely is an amazing system that Fujifilm have built.
The thing is that I wanted to try something a different again. I’ve always been a Nikon fan, and I noticed the Nikon full-frame dSLRs are very reasonably priced these days on the second-hand market. The other factor is that I’ve built up a good relationship with Sigma UK recently and I’ve been a fan of their Art series of dSLR lenses for a while. I had the chance to try them out, but I needed a body to try them on! eBay brought up a D600 with a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 D lens for sub £600 – that’s actually cheaper than most second-hand X-T1 bodies go for, and you’re getting a full-frame 24Mpx dSLR!! Bargain!
That a Nikon D600 can easily be had for less than £600 got me thinking. A fairly modern full-frame Nikon dSLR for the same price as a Fujifilm X-T1. If I was someone who had the money to buy a new camera system, which would I actually choose? I decided that whilst I had one, a comparison of the two would be a good idea and make for an interesting article.
I’ve got to be up-front here. I had my conclusion already written out in my mind before I even picked up the D600. Anyone who has followed me for a while will probably think that I wanted the X-T1 to be the ‘winner’, but no, I wanted to write a totally unbiased piece. I had my own ideas of how it would go though. My pre-conceived conclusion went something like this. “As good as the X-T1 is, it simply cannot beat the focus speed and image quality of the Nikon D600, mirrorless cameras have improved, but dSLRs still come out on top if you’re after a professional tool.” I admit that my mind was already made up on this, and that despite improvements, I believed the D600 would come out ahead against the X-T1 when it came to day-to-day use. I mean a few of my friends have used Fujifilm, raved about them online and then quietly gone back to a dSLR and I wondered if there was something in it. Read on to find out what happened over the course of a few weeks using both, and what conclusion I came to.
I’ve found myself slightly infuriated with some pieces recently where some people just rave about Fujifilm and don’t appear to even touch on any negatives. I’ve always been up-front and honest here on PhotoMadd (and elsewhere!). As much as I truly love the Fujifilm system, I’m not going to say it is wonderful if it isn’t, or just ignore any negative points because it makes Fujifilm love me more!
This is an entirely subjective, yet unbiased, article – as mine always are. These are my own points of view on using the two cameras day-to-day. I’m probably going to miss loads out that you want to see covered. It isn’t a feature-by-feature, blow-by-blow account by any means – I don’t have time to do that! I’ve concentrated on the things that I find important in my own day-by-day shooting. If you disagree, that’s fine, I’m not going to argue! Everyone has their own opinion and their own style of shooting. I’m simply sharing my own experience over the course of a few weeks of shooting both cameras.
Let’s first just go through some of the benefits and drawbacks of each camera when compared against the other just running through the basic specs and information about the cameras. I’ve tried not to simply list opposites on the lists, unless something really is a strong negative on the other camera.
- Full-Frame 24Mpx sensor
- Dual SD card slots
- Battery life (900 shots)
- Optical viewfinder
- Discrete control buttons
- Huge selection of native lenses
- Excellent TTL flash system with wireless control
- Unique X-Trans sensor
- Compact & light fast lenses
- Marked manual control dials
- Excellent electronic viewfinder
- Tilting rear screen
- WiFi built-in with excellent App
- Ability to use a vast range of non-native lenses
- Heavy & bulky body
- Potentially large & heavy full-frame lenses
- Fixed rear-screen
- WiFi only via optional adapter.
- Limited support for XTrans RAW conversion.
- Relatively few control buttons
- Battery life
- Limited TTL flash solution.
Some of them may seem to conflict, for example where I say that the OVF of the D600 is a positive, but the EVF of the X-T1 is also a positive and you may think they can’t both be a positive point, but they do both have advantages and some people prefer one to the other.
Having run through those, this really shows very little about what it is like to actually use these two different systems day-to-day.
When you pick up the Nikon D600, especially when it is attached to one of the f/2.8 zooms, or the Sigma f/1.4 Art lenses, you really can’t ignore the weight of the thing! Personally the bulk doesn’t bother me too much as I actually quite like something to get hold of and feel secure in my hand, but after shooting with the Fuji’s for a long time, it really does weigh heavily on you when you’ve carted a D600 and a couple of extra lenses around all day! I didn’t expect to feel this way. I had obviously forgotten just how the weight adds up in your bag and on your shoulder! Switch back to the X-T1 and a couple of the primes and it just feels like such a relief, not only that, but the fact that can you fit the same setup in such a smaller bag. I know this does sound really obvious, but I really hadn’t appreciated before I got the D600 just how much bigger and heavier it would turn out to be. I know with the new Fujifilm f/2.8 zoom lenses (16-55 and 50-140) they are getting fairly heavy and bulky, and that does change things somewhat, but I’m taking about a body and a couple of f/1.4 prime lenses here. The X-T1 with XF35mm f/1.4 is 627g in total where the Nikon D600 with Sigma Art 50mm f/1.4 is 1665g – quite a difference, nearly 1Kg more in fact! Add in a couple of extra f/1.4 lenses and that difference really adds up.
This is a hard one because it really is very subjective. When I look at images from the D600 straight out of the camera they look a little blurred. They need some work to bring the crisp images that seem to come straight out of the camera on the Fujifilm system. That’s not to say with a little work they can’t become crisp and sharp, but that does add an extra step of work. The other thing is that I’m more than happy in many circumstances to use the Fujifilm JPEG files either directly, or with some minor tweaks. The D600 files, I always shoot RAW and have to process them as I’m not a fan of the Nikon JPEG processing. That’s a personal thing and really down to the individual though.
Where the D600 does shine is in the highlights. I was pleasantly surprised as to how much detail I could pull back from an over-exposed D600 RAW file. I’ve been so used to the Fujifilm files that if I wouldn’t normally have even bothered trying to pull back detail from what looks like a blown out image and I only actually did it out of desperation because it was an image I shot for a client that I really liked and wanted to see if I could rescue it! I can’t share that image yet, but some examples are below. Once the highlights are gone in an X-Trans file, they really are gone and you just get this messy goo!
On the flip-side, you can often pull out a huge amount of detail from the shadows from the Fujifilm X-Trans RAW file, so they simply have to be shot differently. You can still pull quite a bit out of under-exposed areas in the D600 files, but even at ISO 100 you tend to get quite a lot of colour noise that you don’t seem to get with the X-Trans.
You can see the colour noise in the Nikon file at ISO 100, where the Fujifilm file, whilst it does show noise, has far less colour noise and is therefore much easier to process and remove that noise. Yes ok, these may be extreme examples, but it does demonstrate quite clearly the difference between the two cameras and that is what I wanted to show here.
You can work around these things on both cameras by just shooting slightly differently. On the Nikon you shoot slightly overexposed and on the Fujifilm you shoot slightly underexposed to get the right balance for the final image.
The image quality out of both cameras is excellent. With 24Mpx the Nikon can perhaps pull out a bit more detail, but the Fujifilm JPEGs are superior in my opinion and I’ll happily use them where I’d want to edit the Nikon RAW files. This is quite subjective though. I’ll post up a couple of examples below and you can make your own mind up!
Nikon on the left, Fujifilm on the right.
I don’t want to go into loads of detail here because frankly both cameras product excellent results, just slightly differently. I can’t honestly say one is significantly better than the other, you would be happy with both. They give a slightly different colour signature, but that isn’t a problem for me unless you’re shooting both on a job because then if colour is important, you have to get them to match otherwise you get two different ‘looks’. For me, the fact that I am happy with the JPEGs straight from the Fujifilm gives it the edge because it means less work in post.
OVF vs EVF
I’m sure this will run and run! When I first looked through the D600’s viewfinder I thought it looked amazing, very bright and useable. I liked it a lot. However as I began to use it more, I really started to miss the instant feedback of the EVF from the X-T1. The ability to set and check exposure before shooting has such an enormous benefit that I believe shooting with a mirrorless camera with an EVF is a far superior experience, not least of which is that it totally eliminates the need to ‘test’ shots and chimping. On the D600 I was finding that I’d have to shoot the same image 2 or 3 times before I had the exposure where I wanted it to be as you have no feedback at all as to how the camera has metered the scene. When you’re shooting a model for example, if you keep having to stop and check exposure then it really does break up the rhythm of the shoot.
The other thing about live view on mirrorless is that you can use the rear screen much more effectively, especially if it is tilting. You can shoot your subject without having to hide behind the camera. I much prefer this style of shooting these days. Yes, you can switch the D600 to live view and use the rear screen, but then unlike the X-T1 where nothing changes, the auto-focus suddenly becomes clunky and dim-witted.
For me the instant feedback on the screen/EVF is a huge plus point for the Fujifilm X-T1. I find it so much easier to shoot knowing I’ve got the exposure correct when you press the shutter button that it makes a shoot flow much better, and even more, I don’t have a load of test shots that I’ve got to delete when I import into my computer.
What really killed the D600 for me though was the very last thing I expected. AF performance. I expected the D600 to absolutely walk away from the X-T1 in AF performance.
In perfect light, the D600 with the right lens probably does just have the edge, but what I found amazing was just how much the mirrorless cameras have caught up, Fujifilm in particular. If you get the chance to try them side-by-side with similar lenses on then I think you will be surprised at just how good the X-T1 is now.
I recall when I started using my X-Pro1 how terribly slow it was compared to my D300S at the time, how many times I swore at it whilst trying to focus! How things have changed now though. In most situations I shoot in, the X-T1 actually out-performs an even a more modern dSLR than the one I was using back then when I first got the X-Pro1.
In low light, the X-T1 absolutely wipes the floor with the D600. I was asked to shoot an event in the early evening and into the night not long ago. By the end of the event I had totally given up using the D600 because it either struggled badly, or simply refused to focus on anything. To the point that it actually became embarrassing where I had people stationery in front of me and I could not get a shot even after 5-10 seconds of trying. This wasn’t with some cheap kit lens, this was with a 70-200 2.8 zoom. The X-T1 simply worked! I’m not saying the X-T1 is totally perfect, and it did miss focus on the odd shot, but for the most part it was absolutely spot on, and without that camera I would have come away with significantly fewer useable shots than if I had only taken the Nikon. Thank goodness I put it in my bag! My only frustration was that I only had the 35mm lens with me, which made getting wide shots near impossible. In the same situation again I would have absolutely no hesitation going and shooting the event with the X-T1 and the 16-55mm f/2.8 lens (even the 18-55 with OIS) and not even worry about it. I’d happily carry the X-T1 with a zoom and the X100T or X-T10 and a fast prime as a second camera.
Where the Nikon does perhaps lead is in the larger number of buttons and controls on the camera, and the ability to access far more from the rear of the camera without having to resort to the menu. Having said that, I have to say that I have not really found anything missing from the X-T1 that I actually need to access quickly on the move, and certainly nothing that I cannot assign to one of the customisable Fn buttons. I can’t find for my own use that there is anything extra on the D600 that I genuinely miss on the X-T1. Perhaps a dedicated control for changing the position of the AF, but even then, it’s pretty quick to do that on the X-T1 these days with improved usability brought in from firmware updates.
The D600 does feel like it would take more knocks than the X-T1, but personally I don’t feel this is an issue for me as I rarely use the camera in an environment where it would be knocked around.
The Fujifilm X-Mount now has quite a solid selection of lenses, and aside from a long telephoto lens, which is coming later, there isn’t a lot missing. The Nikon has the advantage of a very long history and well-developed lens range with far more choice, and a strong selection of 3rd party lenses too. The advantage there has to go to the Nikon. I would say though that every lens in the Fujifilm line-up is spectacular and there isn’t a bad one amongst them, that cannot be said for the Nikon range! There are other obvious benefits of the Fujifilm lenses in that they are considerably smaller and lighter for the same equivalent in the Nikon range.
If you’ve got around £1000 to spend on a 2nd hand camera and good lens combination, the D600 seems like incredibly good value given what you’re getting, and it would surely be ‘better’ than an X-T1. Better AF, better image quality, better controls, more robust etc. I can think of many reasons it appears to trump the X-T1 on paper. However, having used them both side-by-side and individually over the course of a number of weeks, the X-T1 (& X-T10) both have so many advantages to me that towards the end I was starting to really dislike using the D600, the excitement of trying something new out soon faded.
So what about those friends who’d gone full into Fuji and then gone back to their dSLR? My own opinion here is two-fold. Some people just prefer the dSLR, they have been using it for so long they don’t want to change, or they need some very specific feature of a dSLR for their type of photography – that’s fine, I understand that. The other side is that I feel some people just don’t give it enough of a chance and try to keep shooting the way they did before. It does take time to learn to shoot a little differently with a mirrorless camera, but I 100% believe that for a large proportion of the things we shoot that a mirrorless camera can bring significant benefits if you take the time and make the effort to learn how to use them just that bit differently from a dSLR.
At the end of the day it is what works for you personally, but I see so many advantages of the Fujifilm system that I actually found it a difficult and awkward experience shooting with a dSLR again, and I am a Nikon fan believe me – I’d been shooting with them for nearly 20 years! When I first went to Fujifilm it was all about reducing weight, and at the time that was one of the few benefits, but as time has gone on I’ve really found that the experience with a mirrorless camera suits my way of shooting much better than a dSLR. On top of that, Fujifilm have now improved their cameras to such a point that I believe they are on a par with a modern dSLR for the majority of things that you will use them for in a day-to-day situation, and in some cases they are actually better. I didn’t think that was something I’d ever say having owned the original X100 and X-Pro1!
I can honestly say that I will probably never buy another dSLR again. The D600 and lenses are now sold and I’m back to a Fuji only camera system!