Music, mayhem and a Fuji X-T1

MC Black Daniels

MC Black Daniels

Fuji Nordic were so generous as to give me a present back in March 2014 – a Fuji X-T1. During summer in Copenhagen I worked for about 20 commercial music events and concerts using the X-T1 (and my old trusty Fuji X-pro1). How did the X-T1 fare with music, mayhem and me?

Music event shoot setup

For most of the events I used both my Fuji X-T1 and X-pro1. I can and have shot many events with just one camera, but since I had both cameras available I figured, why not bring them both. It is nice not having to swap lenses in a dark very crowded nightclub. So my setup usually looked like this:

  • Fuji X-T1 (90% of the time with the 35mm f/1.4 lens mounted)
  • Fuji X-Pro1 (90% of the time with the 14mm lens mounted on it)
  • Lenses: I always brought the 35mm f/1.4 lens and the 14mm f/2.8 lens. Often I would also bring the 23mm f/1.4 lens, and sometimes the quite awesome but slightly big and heavy 56mm f/1.2 lens (the 14mm, 23mm and 56mm lenses on loan from Fuji Nordic)

I use the X-T1 maybe 75% of the time and then grab the X-pro1 whenever I need an overall wide angle shot. It is a really nice way to work and I can work 8 hour events with a camera on each shoulder easily, they are so light it never gets tiring.

Questlove, Fuji X-T1, 35mm lens, 1/680 at f1.8, iso 2500

Questlove, Fuji X-T1, 35mm lens, 1/680 at f1.8, iso 2500

Music, mayhem and a Fuji X-T1

I have already written my general opinions on the X-T1 back in March 2014 so this is a follow up. My X-T1 has shot 10,000+ images over the Summer and been through some serious bass music, sweaty dancefloors, beer and drinks spillage, bumped into people, speakers, mixer desks, door frames, tour bus doors, dropped on floors and it never missed a single beat. It has been at outdoors events and in dungeons, basements, night clubs, raves on a train, raves in a strip club. It is quite a performance beast. So is the X-pro1, it did not miss a beat either.

Actually the cameras performed a lot better than the photographer, I had my share of bad luck, managing to almost break a toe, bend a few ribs falling off a van (camera was fine, me not so fine, it appears my parkour skills are in need of sharpening) and I got a nerve stuck in my shoulder for a week. So not a bad word about the cameras performances, me on the other hand, getting a bit old!

Slideshow of images

A small selection of Fuji X-T1 images from events in Copenhagen:

Random notes about the Fuji X-T1

  • The viewfinder. I mentioned it in my first review, but it is seriously amazing in a dark enviroment. It sees better than the human eye, I have shot in environments so dark I could barely make out what was happening. The viewfinder gives me night vision.
  • Focus peaking. I shoot most of this work on manual focus and the focus peaking coupled with the viewfinder means I can focus in dark environments where I cannot see and autofocus has given up a long time ago.
  • Performance. There is a huge difference in performance from the X-pro1 to the X-T1. The X-T1 is fast, snappy, responsive and that just means it “gets in the way” less than the X-pro1.
  • High iso performance. It is nothing short of amazing. So good I don’t even think about it and happily shoot an entire event at 3200 and 6400. Iso6400 shots are so good they’re delivered full size to Red Bull Music etc.
  • And it means…I never have to use flash. I hate flash. That’s just me. But you know what, a lot of the performers hate flash too. I see people setting off a big flash right in the face of an artist. That is so disrespectful to the artist. You try doing your job with a flash going off in your face all the time. It is not about you nor your shot, the performers always come first.
    I never use flash and my cameras are small, the performers love this as it never gets in the way of their job.
  • Stability. 20 events, 10,000+ images and not one single issue, no breakdowns, no errors, no hiccups, not a single problem ever. A tool to trust, completely.
  • ISO dial. This is a very handy dial to have in the darkness, although I still really wish it could be just turned without having to push down on that darn little button as well. My big fingers are not ideal for this. About half the time when trying to turn the ISO dial I manage to change scene mode as well. Then follows a scene of me, in the dark swearing at the camera as I can’t see what the heck I changed it to and how to change to it back.
  • Size and weight. My fingers and hands have become used to the X-T1 and I find the size just fine and ergonomical. I shoot it for 8 hours straight with no problem. Especially as the camera is so light, much lighter than the X-pro1.
  • View mode button – which I sorely missed on the X-E2 works very well. For the ideal view mode button I would like in the menu to be able to decide which view modes to cycle through as I never use the eye sensor. Just 2 settings for me please, EVF only or LCD only. That’s just me being a bit greedy. It would be nice though!
  • Back button focus. My thumb has learned the position of the AF-L button. But I would love to be able to assign the AE-L button to back button focus – firmware update request.
  • LCD screen. The flip feature is really cool, I quite often forgot that it was there being so used to the other Fuji cameras, but when I remembered I could flip out the screen it worked really well. And I haven’t broken it yet. Also the LCD screen is so exceptional in quality. Actually almost too good! The screen makes everything look perfectly in focus, even manual focus shots from the 56mm f1.2 look like a masterpiece (then I get home and view the RAW file and discover my Jedi manual focusing skills are not all that good, not really the fault of the screen!)
  • Battery lifetime. It’s not bad and it is improved on the X-T1 but…well it’s not good either. I carry 4 batteries, 2 for each camera and that gets me through the event. For events that last days, that’s a lot of batteries to have to recharge before the next day.
  • The coolness factor. Ok it’s a silly thing, but it’s fun. Fuji’s are cool. Small, light weight, retro looking – and cool! Makes for many fun conversations from interested artists and audience.
Throwing Snow

Throwing Snow

A few random notes about lenses

  • The 35mm f1.4 lens has become my main lens. It is small, light weight, super sharp even when used wide open, fantastic image quality and the 1.4 aperture is perfect for beautiful shallow DOF and fast low light photography in night clubs. The autofocus is slow but no matter, do not use it much anyway.
  • The 14mm f2.8 is quite good for event photography for the big epic crowd shot or getting shots in extremely small spaces. It is slow at f2.8 though and the upcoming 16mm 1.4 lens looks incredibly exciting for my work.
  • The 23mm f1.4 is one outstanding lens and I wish I owned one. It is often not quite wide enough for the purposes of event shooting though so I look forward to that 16mm f1.4.
  • The 56mm f1.2 is a brilliant lens, incredible image quality and beautiful bokeh. I used it at some events but it becomes a bit heavy to carry and is not quite as versatile as the 35mm lens of course. The 56mm is great though for putting on and making something different after I have covered all the must-have angles.

Return of the light and the music

If only I could perform as well and stable as the X-T1. It is an almost perfect camera for music event shooting. The main part of my commercial work takes place in Copenhagen during the mad summer festival season where every weekend seems to have at least 2 festivals taking place. Then everything hibernates during the long cold Winter – where this gypsy chooses to chase the sun somewhere warmer. See you next year when the weather is humane again, the light and the music – and I – return.

A massive thanks to all the artists and promotors, especially Red Bull Studios Copenhagen, Strøm, Yo Fok and Ohoi! – and a big thanks to Fuji Nordic.

At work at Strøm festival, picture by Charlene Winfred.

Hard at work part 1 – at Strøm festival, picture by Charlene Winfred.

Hard at work, 2 cameras (and a drink) at the ready. See you next year!

Hard at work part 2, two cameras (and one drink) at the ready. See you next year!


26 Comments on “Music, mayhem and a Fuji X-T1”

  1. ISO dial. I have given up using it altogether. Great idea (albeit not new), but poor implementation. The dial should work like te speed dial: push the button to get it out of the auto position, then turn it around unlocked. And what really drives me nuts is that they made that ISO dial smaller than the speed dial for no apparent reason. When you turn it, you can’t help but grab the scene mode ring underneath it…

    That’s the only real annoyance that i have with the XT1. The rest can be fixed by firmware.

    Oh, and lest i forget. Nice pictures!

  2. You really succed in bringing the atmosphere (and some of the sound level!) into your concert images. But I have to ask you – do you really focus the 35mm 1.4 manually? I have the same lens/camera and to me, the fly-by-wire manual focus of the lens is hopeless. There is no precision, no feel at all.

    And yeah, the locking dials are a small nuisance. The manual SLRs from which the X-T1 has borrowed its style never had locking dials, so why do we need them now?

    1. Hi Håkan,

      Thanks so much for your coment. Yes, I do focus the 35mm and all the other lenses manually. The so-called fly-by-wire isn’t ideal, but coupled with focus peaking you get used to it. I am not particularly good at it though, Charlene is an absolut master at manual focusing with the 35mm, she doesn’t even use the focus peaking.

      1. That’s impressive! I’ve been following both your blogs for a while. It’s a relief from all the gear-oriented, pixel-peeping photography sites. My best greetings to both of you!

  3. I recently tried to use my X-E1 with my 55-200 lens on a concert that was really dark and I had many out of focus shots since the focus seemed to always be fishing around a lot. I shot at 6400iso auto, 250 shutter and iso 400 at shutter priority in raw. Would like to know what is going wrong. I mostly shot around 100mm. Can you enlighten me on what was your setting would be for extremely low light environments.

    1. Hi Cary,

      Your settings are fine, there are a few other challenges: The 55-200 is not a lens that is ideal for autofocus in very dark environments, a zoom with that range needs a good amount of light to autofocus. I use manual focus most of the time when shooting concerts, dark concerts and night clubs it is an extremely difficult environment for autofocus to function so manual focus is the way forward.
      A hint for autofocus: The Fuji autofocus looks for contrast, so try not to autofocus on a dark face but on the edge of the face, somewhere contrasty.

  4. Hi great article.
    I like to shoot shows (my hobby). Currently shooting with a Canon 5DmkII, 85f1.4 and a 16-35 f2.8 for concerts. I’m looking at selling the 16-35 to fund my purchase of the X-T1 just as I’m sick of lugging big gear around. In the first instance I shall use the XT-1 and a 14mm f2.8 along with my 5D and 85mm… Just wondering did you get rid of a full frame kit to go to the Fuji system?

    1. Hi Shane, and thank you !

      Yes, back in 2012 I did sell off my Canon 5D mk II and all my lenses – only way I could afford to switch. At the time, I was so tired of lugging big gear around, and I have never missed my DSLR, I never want to go back to big heavy dslrs and lenses again!

  5. This was an incredibly helpful article. I have just started out as a concert photographer (1 year) and had been using a Mark III set-up. That equipment became unavailable to me and I couldn’t afford to buy one of my own and so opted for the X-T1. I purchased the 18-55mm lens that came with the body and have had decent luck with it, but not great. My question is what lens do you think would be the next one to get?

    1. Hi Annie, thanks for your comment and congrats on your purchase. In my opinion, the X-T1 is amazing for concert photography. The 18-55 is a great all-round lens but not especially good for concert photography. What are your main problems with it?
      I would say, look into getting something that has a lower aperture, either buy a set of primes such as the 35mm f1.4 and the 14mm f2.8 for example (or the upcoming 16mm f1.2 looks very interesting for concert photography). Or try the new 16-55mm f2.8 zoom – I have just tested this for Fuji, here’s some pictures:

      1. Truly I believe it is aperture…just not a fast enough response time in the low light and movement going on on the stage. I have been researching these lenses and they all look amazing. I think I am going to rent for my next gig and see how they work for me. Love, LOVE the video you did on the new 16-55mm, looks crisp and versatile.
        Again, thanks for the post and more importantly the willingness to answer questions and lend advice. GREATLY appreciated.


        1. I am always happy to help! And yes, I am sure your problems are aperture. Try going out shooting with the 23mm F1.4 and 35mm F1.4. And if you can rent the 56mm F1.2 that is also fantastic. Having these small primes with super fast aperture makes a big difference.

          I love the 14mm and you should try that too, but it’s only F2.8 and can’t wait for the 16mm F1.2 – that’s going to be killer for club photography!

          Glad you like the movie that Charlene made!

          1. So I’ve now shot two shows with the 35mm and am really digging it. It’s so quick to respond and it produces crisp images! The only challenge I am having now is dealing with motion blur. Some of these acts are jumping and running on stage that it feels near impossible to capture them. So that’s my next question…Is this a shutter speed problem? That’s what I am guessing it is. I shot most of these at 1/15 or 1/60. Thoughts?

            1. Hi Annie, glad you are enjoying the lens! But yes, 1/15 to 1/60 is too slow when there’s a lot of movement. To freeze movement you probably need to be at at least 1/125 and sometimes faster. You need to experiment on that, bump up the iso a bit more so you can get faster shutter speed.

  6. Very informative. Thanks for all the good info. I am most interested in musicians portraits with instruments. I have been shooting mostly at informal jam sessions, some private and some in clubs. Light levels are usually extremely low. I am using mostly the Fujinon 56mm 1.2 with ISO at 3200. Or even 6400. I do get mor noise then I would like. Any suggestions? How do you process your low light work —the lack of noise is impressive.
    Larry Selman

    1. Hi Larry. Thanks for the comment, glad the post was of use to you. Like you say, the light levels are usually extremely low, same for the nightclubs I work in.

      I do not mind a bit of noise/grain at all, I feel it adds character and atmosphere and I regularly use iso6400 all night long. Your picture looks fine to me. For the very noisy files I will do some noise reduction in Lightroom, with the Luminance slider to 20-30 and the colour to about 30-40.

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