To Africa with the Fuji X-T1

In GEAR, News & Stuff, SEE THE WORLD, Travel by David41 Comments

My conversion to, and love affair with, smaller cameras is about as complete as it can be now. If the social media I’m reading is to be believed, it’s complete for many others as well. Photographers seem to be jettisoning their heavy DSLR gear in favour of smaller mirror-less cameras, and while I doubted I’d be doing so as quickly, when I get on the plane to Kenya for two weeks of assignment work tomorrow, I won’t be taking a DSLR.

My transition has been slow. I took my Fuji X-E1 to Italy 2 years ago, but I was teaching and not worried about the consequences of coming home  without the images I expected and having fallen out of love with the Fuji. That, of course, didn’t happen, and there was so much I loved about it, not just the images it gave me but the way it lightened my load. Then I went to Ethiopia and Kenya, and took my Leica M(240) and the same X-E1, and that put the final nails in the coffin; so impressed was I with the performance of those two cameras I decided my days traveling with my DLSR gear for this kind of trip were over.

Of course I haven’t sold my Nikon gear. It just spends more time than it once did in its Pelican cases. I’ll use it for now when I need the long lenses for wildlife, or if I need the file size of the D800, but it won’t soon be doing travel, street, cultural, or landscape work, which is the bulk of what I do. And with the newer Fuji X-T1, which I was so impressed with, I bought two, and the new dive housing from Nauticam, I can use my mirror-less cameras underwater.

My bag going to Kenya has two X-T1 bodies, and 3 lenses: a 10-24mm, 56/1.2, and 55-200. Each body has a Really Right Stuff L-plate. And I’ve got 4 batteries for each (small batteries don’t last as long using these EVF cameras, so take a few), and eight 64gb cards. That kit, along with cleaning gear, my 11″ MacBook Air, and assorted bits and pieces, like the DeLorme inReach Explorer I’m hoping to use to map and share my journey, all fit into a very small Think Tank Photo Airport Essentials bag with room to spare.

Cameras by other brands have similar benefits, but I only know the Fuji, and here’s what I love about the X-T1, especially. It’s light and small, you know that. The focus is getting much faster and as I don’t photograph sports, it’s now as fast as I need it for this kind of work. The weather-sealed body is tough. The EVF (electronic viewfinder) is so useful I don’t know what I did without it, and the flip out screen is brilliant for waist-level, or over-the-head work. The wifi functionality is excellent and makes it easy to upload photographs to my iPhone or iPad mini, make some tweaks and be showing the client in the front seat of the Land Rover before we’re at our next location. The ergonomics are solid and the manual dials for ISO and shutter speed mean I can shoot even faster because even after all these years, the muscle memory for dials is more easily recalled than it is for the buttons that move here and there with every new camera. Aside from my Leica M, this camera gets out of the way faster than any camera I’ve owned since the Pentax Spotmatic 35mm I had when I was a teenager. And on top of all that the image quality is excellent, it blows me away every time. As good as the Leica I love so much, not quite, no, but for 1/4 of the price, it’s a hell of a deal.

I’ve got a couple more things to throw into the duffle bags and I’m on a flight tomorrow. I’ll check in as I can, but it could be a week or two, the locations for this assignment are some of the most remote I’m ever in. I’ll update Facebook and Twitter with some waypoints and text updates from the inReach Explorer.

Excited about traveling with smaller mirrorless cameras? You’ve got a few more days to get my latest eBook, SEE THE WORLD, 20 Lessons for Better Travel Photographs, for only $15 and at the same time be entered automatically to win a new Fuji X-E2 and 18-55mm lens. We’ll be sending this great little camera to one randomly chosen reader as soon as I get back from Kenya on March 03 or so.



  1. Hi David,

    Thanks for your article. Just a quick one; whats the brand and model of the bag in the photo above? Im after a small duffel shoulder bag for walking around with my gear and this interests me.


    1. Author

      Hi Matt – That’s a Filson bag, I think they now call it the 24-Hour Tin Briefcase. $350 or so. Not cheap but incredibly well made.

  2. Hey David…have a great trip. I’d love to hear about how the fujinon lenses hold up with all the dust of the savana. I’ve had some issues with my fuji lens getting sand inside. I’m planning for a safari trip for the fall and don’t want to invest in anything that will fail on me. Thanks and take care from Cowtown.

    1. Author

      I had no issues. Everything can fail you, even the so-called pro gear. But this gear, on this trip, worked perfectly. And I’d use it again in a heartbeat 🙂

  3. David, as good as mirrorless cameras are today, I feel they are about one generation away from being called pro quality. I do feel the lenses are already there both in build & optics but the bodies are not quite up to the standards that pros require. I think I know what i’m talking about, having used both the Fuji that you have & now the Sony A7II. I am in Mexico shooting a story & had to shoot some of the Lucha Libre wrestlers at a well lit indoor venue & also some ethnic dancers outdoors in San Miguel. In both occasions the Sony had extreme difficulty focusing. In the indoor event it missed it could not keep up to the action in the ring & outdoors the twirling dancers were to hard for the auto focus to keep up. It had a hit rate of about 30%. I borrowed a friends Nikon D800 & had a huge increase in pictures the were perfectly in focus, probably about 85%. The Sony was at its max ISO capabilities in the low light at 6400, and even then showed a lot of digital noise, while the Nikon had superb files at that speed. I won’t talk about the flash system of all three systems because there is no comparison of the Sony or Fuji to Nikon’s flash & until Fuji & Sony come out with comparable flash, I don’t consider them up to pro standards. That being said, both the Sony A7II & the Fuji X-T1 are great systems in all other respects. I do think that I one wants to lighten their load & still retain all the benefits a true pro system has to offer, one could opt for Nikon’s new D750 & a few of their f1.8 lenses. A couple of their SB700 flashes or even their new SB-500 flashes & you have a relatively light DSLR system to shoot any type of story around the world.

    1. Author

      I guess it all depends on what you mean by “pro-quality” which is a bit of a moving, if not irrelevant, target. I’d consider a Leica M6 to be pro-quality and it’s fully manual. I’d consider an old Nikon D3s pro-quality and it’s not brilliant at high ISO. Etc., etc. The problem is that people keep hoping the cameras are going to be good enough that they’ll do the work for them. You gotta pick the tools that work for you. I’m a pro in, I hope, most senses of the word, and the Fuji X-T1 works for me, producing pro-quality (again, what does that even mean?) images. That’s all that matters. For others it won’t be enough. For still others, it’s more than enough and they’ll happily produce “professional” work with a 30 year old Hasselblad 500 C/M or 60 year old 4×5 view camera. Pick the saw that cuts what you need it to, and fits in your hand.

      1. Or you take what you already have, stop wasting time and energy and start making images. Which is the conclusion I arrived at after some of my own fretting and then reading all of this banter (my own included).

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  6. David,

    Great post!

    I also have the X-T1 (and the X-M1 and X-100s), and the lenses you are taking. I too love the system and it’s quality. But I find while the camera is beautifully light, the lenses are really heavy. Like DSLR heavy. The weight of the full system you described is 2157g (1 camera, 3 lenses, 2 batteries).

    I’ve just taken delivery of a Nikon D750 to replace my D600. That camera, plus theNikon 16-35, and 85 1.8, and the Tamron 28-300 weighs in at 2314g. The full frame system is only 160g heavier than the ‘lightweight’ Fuji! But you get a vastly better focusing system, better low light, higher resolution, and a selection of 1.8 primes that are all much lighter (and cheaper) than the Fuji equivalents. For example the 50mm Nikon is 223g, the Fuji 35 is 522g. That difference almost eliminates the difference between the camera weights.

    If NIkon can shave a hundred grams or two off future full-frame systems, it will be a true wash on system weight. Net of all this is that I think the game is not over between DSLR and mirrorless!

    1. I have been doing alot of weight comparisons as well. And I agree with you; the difference in weight alone is just not enough to justify the switch for me, because it is pretty slight.
      I think the key is to just take LESS stuff.

      The thing that strikes my fancy about the Fuji X-T1 is that viewfinder; it articulates and has various practical and helpful modes.

    2. Author

      It’s all about preference and knowing what kind of tools you work best with, isn’t it? It’s great Nikon’s getting competitive with this stuff, but ultimately I don’t think of this as a game or battle so much as a widening of the options. I’ll let others duke it out over which is best, etc., I just want to take my cameras further and see the world with them. 🙂

  7. Hi David,

    I bit in doubt about fujis because of the problems with RAW processing.
    I find many discussions in Internet regarding the lack of definition of Fuji RAW files processed by Lightroom when compared with other RAW processing software, even with lightroom 5.7.

    What is your opinion about this? Do you feel you lack some definition due to lightroom?
    Would it be possible for you to share how you process your photos and how you sharpen them in lightroom?

    Thank you very much!

  8. Considering to get the XT-1 as backup for an upcoming trip to Iceland. Any experience with the Fujinon XF 23mm F1.4 R?

  9. Pingback: To Africa with the Fuji X-T1 | photodj

  10. Hello David
    Thanks for sharing your experience with Fuji system.
    I understand you need a wide angle zoom (10-24mm) and a tele zoom (55-200mm) for landscape pictures. But I don’t understand why are you also carrying a 56mm prime : landscape in low light ? animals in low light ? human portrait with nice bokeh ?

  11. why you didn’t take the leica M with you, or its maybe unpractical for such trip?

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  14. Thanks for sharing so much great info David. I often share your blogs with my photo students-especially the ones about ways to be a better photographer by striving to be a better person.
    I too am experimenting with the XT1 and the X100s as an alternative for our photo students at the university- and yes they are replacing a lot of my time with the Canon glass and the 5DMKIII. I am also heading to Kenya later this year on a leadership missions trip and excited to see more images and read your comments on using mirrorless in Africa.
    Peace and safe travels.

  15. Marco, I guess it all depends on your definition of ‘fast’ and what your needs are. I so rarely need anything like the speed of my Nikon D3s on trips like this. Even on safari, my primary interests aren’t predation. Remember, photographers used to do all this manually and still pull it off 🙂

  16. Have a great trip.

    I’d be very curious to hear how well the X-T1’s AF works out for fast critical focus.

    I forget the article, but, IIRC someone took a X-T1 on safari and had issues with fast focus that his DSLR gear would have nailed.

  17. After shooting with Canon DSLR’s, currently the 5DMiii, I recently bought a Sony a7 full frame mirrorless. I like the camera, but am having second thoughts because of the paucity of lenses (I just got the 24-70 f4). I want a telephoto, but the 70-200 is huge and costs $1500. I am reconsidering, and thinking about the Fuji XT1 or the Olympus M1 (or the new M5ii that is coming soon looks really interesting). For either of these I could get a wide zoom for travel, which was my objective, and the cost would not be much more for camera and lens than the price for the Sony tele. Any thoughts?.

    1. Author

      Not really, Dave. This is one of those questions I find so hard to answer. Only you know your needs. Do you need the 24mp of the Sony? Is full-frame important to you? Does the Fuji line-up give you what you need? For some of us the answer is multiple systems, for others the Fuji does what they need. I wish I could just tell you if that’s so for you, but I can’t. Sounds like good thinking on your part. Best thing to do now is get a Fuji in your hands and see if it suits you.

  18. Since you are using L plates on your cameras I assume you are also bringing a tripod. if that is correct, can you tell us which one and if you selected it specifically for your lighter weight cameras?

    1. Author

      Jim – Thanks. Yes, I am bringing a tripod. It’s a medium weight Gitzo basalt series. Not sure the model off the top of my head. I have lighter tripods but they never stand tall enough for me and though I use them for other trips, I’m already hauling some other gear on this trip – two 6×6 scrim jims – so a slightly beefier tripod wasn’t adding much more. Still, you’re right in saying the lighter cameras allow lighter tripods. My favourite travel tripod is the Gitzo Ocean Traveller, though if I were looking for one now I’d just find one of the regular Traveler series that worked for me.

  19. Pingback: To Africa with the Fuji X-T1 | David duChemin

  20. David, I’m interested in your opinion on how the X-T1 handles in low light? Is the focus still fast and sharp?

    When you say the camera is quick enough for sports photography, is it because of shutter lag or the inability of the camera to focus quick enough?

    I’ve been considering the camera, but I do a lot of candid photography in-doors, and I need something that can focus quickly in low light.


    1. Author

      Hi Tom – No, no shutter lag, but I don’t know that it’s as fast as, say, my D3s cameras. But I don’t do sports so I don’t know for sure. It’s just fast enough for me and so far it does exactly what I need it to, even in pretty low light. But the best I can suggest is get one in your hands and see if it suits you.

  21. Judging by the 30 pound load of 2 DSLR bodies, 16-35, 24-105, 70-200, 24 TSE, flashes, external drives, filters, Macbook, and assorted other junk that I carry in my Airport Essentials, you must have a ton of extra space with just a couple of X-T1 bodies and a few lenses.

  22. I look forward to hearing how things go with your X-T1’s. Last summer I bought an X-T1 w/ 14, 23, 56, and 55-200 as a second system to supplement my Canon 5D3. I liked it so well that I haven’t used my Canon system since. A few weeks ago I finally decided to “burn the ships” and sell off my Canon gear.

    The only thing the X-T1 can’t do is keep up with my son’s 6th grade basketball games. And, as you kind of alluded to, I’m waiting rather impatiently for Fuji’s supertelephoto “wildlife” zoom that has now been pushed back to 2016. But the Fuji XF glass that is available is really really nice. I find the 23mm F1.4 to be particularly gorgeous. It is on my X-T1 75% of the time.

  23. I am using the Oly EM-1 almost exclusively now and love it.

    Have you ever tried the Blackrapid straps? I love them as well, use two on two bodies, one with wide angle, one with long lens and it works great, and so much lighter now that I have gone mirrorless.

    Have a great, fun and safe trip.

  24. I may be over stepping my bounds when I ask this but who hires you to go out on these assignments to these remote locations?

    1. I know that David has been involved with one or more NGOs in Africa for some time now. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was connected to that.

  25. I have not used the Fuji cameras because I am so impressed with the Olympus m43 system (E-M1 and EM5) and all the amazing glass available for them. I did a trip through Southern Africa last year, crossing between Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe before heading home to South Africa using only a ThinkTank Retro 50 that held everything, including my MacBook Pro.

    People coming out here on safari with big DLSR’s and lenses now might be facing a big problem with the newly enforced hand luggage restrictions on domestic flights here. Not more than 7kgs of hand luggage allowed on economy class. You’re either going to have to wear your gear or check it in.

  26. Have a great trip. Your experience with the X-T1 is the same I have with my two OM-D’s. I only pack one small bag to bring doubel equipment, and I never worry about quality.

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