Real-World Review of the Fujfilm X-T1 for Street Photography

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Disclaimer: I was given the Fujifilm X-T1 as well as a 23mm f/1.4 Lens, a 27mm f/2.8 lens for free from Fuijfilm. I am not getting paid to do this review, and will try my best to give an un-biased opinion as possible. But note that because I was given to it for free, I will probably be a bit biased (either consciously or subconsciously). But after shooting street photography with the X-T1 for a week in Dubai, below are my experiences with the camera.

My introduction to the Fujifilm X-T1

fuji

I was very fortunate to be invited to Gulf Photo Plus 2014 this year, a huge photography convention in Dubai. I gave a talk: “How to Overcome Your Fear of Shooting Street Photography” and taught a series of workshops while I was there. I also had the opportunity to meet some incredible photographers including David Alan Harvey from Magnum, prolific photographer Joe McNally, David Hobby from Strobist, Zack Arias (super cool guy), legendary portrait photographer Gregory Heisler, Steve Simon (author of the Passionate Photographer), Sara Lando (a creative portrait photographer and total sweetheart), as well as many other talented photographers you can see here.

Also when I was there, I met some representatives from Fujifilm Middle East, three cool guys named Keitaro, Yuta, and Kunio. They were kind enough to give me a no-strings-attached Fujifilm X-T1 as well as a 23mm f/1.4 Lens, a 27mm f/2.8 lens for free. I knew a lot of street photographers were interested in the camera, so I decided to test it as thoroughly as I could during the week I was in Dubai.

What’s new with the Fujifilm X-T1?

xt-1

One of the big questions you’re probably asking yourself is what is the difference with the new Fujifilm X-T1 (compared to the x100s, X-Pro 1, XE-2, etc).

As I understand it, Fujifilm X-T1 is supposed to be their “DSLR killer” and their new flagship. Whereas the x100s is supposed to be an “affordable Leica.” The X-Pro 1 is supposed to be a more premium version of the x100. And the XE-2 is supposed to be a good all-around camera for the general photographer.

evolution
“Evolution” from using a DSLR to a compact Fuji

So technically Fujifilm is targeting the x100s for street photographers, and the X-T1 as a compact and lightweight DSLR replacement.

I’ve shot with the x100s and the X-T1, and I would say that I prefer the X-T1.

Why is that? The X-T1 has better controls (a dedicated ISO button helps hugely) and is more comfortable ergonomically (feels better in the hand). The X-T1 also has faster Autofocus and is more accurate than the x100s (a source of complaint with some x100s owners I know). The X-T1 also feels “snappier” and more responsive than the x100s as well. Having an interchangeable lens setup is a big plus as well.

Testing lenses with the X-T1 (23mm f/1.4 vs 27mm f/2.8)

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Size difference between the 27mm f/2.8 vs23mm f/1.4

My favorite focal length for street photography is 35mm. For me it is versatile in the sense that it is wide enough for most scenes, and if I need a portrait– I can just take a step closer. The only lens I own for my Leica is a 35mm f/2, and I’ve also shot more or less exclusively with a 35mm f/2 when I owned a Canon 5D.

So I’ve tested different lenses with the Fujifilm X-T1 over the week: with the 23mm f/1.4 lens as well as the 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens. The 23mm translates into ~35mm (full-frame equivalent), and the 27mm translates into ~40mm (full-frame equivalent). While I prefer having the lens a bit wider at 35mm vs 40mm, the difference wasn’t too big to notice in most situations.

The 23mm f/1.4 for street photography

The X-T1 paired with the 23mm f/1.4 Lens
The X-T1 paired with the 23mm f/1.4 Lens

The 23mm f/1.4 lens is a beautifully manufactured lens. Of course it isn’t as nice as a Leica lens, but it is solidly built, has aperture settings directly on the lens, and a great “push-pull” mechanism which allows you to quickly switch from Autofocus to Manual focusing. Also when you’re in manual focusing mode, it is great that it shows the depth-of-field scale, if you are shooting with zone-focusing at f/8-f/16.

The 23mm f/1.4 lens is quite big (at least compared to the 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens) and isn’t quite light either. It is a nice and solid weight, but personally I found when I had the 23mm f/1.4 lens paired with the X-T1 slung around my neck for long periods of time it hurt my neck.

23mm in hand

The manual-focusing mode of the lens is quite nice. Changing focusing manually is nice and smooth, and you can easily see what your distances are on the lens. Personally, I didn’t find myself using the manual focusing with the camera much I preferred using autofocus. Why? I use manual focusing on my film Leica because there is no other option. But if a camera has the technology of autofocus, I’ll use the autofocus.

If you are a street photographer who shoots at night a lot and don’t like using a flash– this lens will be a great option for you if you want to keep your ISO low and want to shoot at f/1.4. But frankly speaking I had no problem shooting with the camera at ISO 3200 the files looked quite clean and didn’t have much noise.

The 27mm f/2.8 Lens for Street Photography

The XT-1 paired with the 23mm f/1.4 Lens
The X-T1 paired with the 23mm f/1.4 Lens

I absolutely love the 27mm f/2.8 lens paired with the X-T1 for street photography. Why? It is super light, compact, and incredibly sharp as well. Granted that it doesn’t have aperture-settings directly on the lens or any fancy manual-focusing mechanism, but this didn’t really bother me.

The settings I generally used with this lens was essentially “P” mode– where the camera chose the aperture and shutter speed automatically. For most of the trip in Dubai I had my camera set to ISO 800 during the day, and bumped it up to ISO 1600 and 3200 at night time.

The lens focuses quite quickly, and all the files from the lens were incredibly sharp. Personally speaking, I could’t tell a difference in terms of image quality between this and the 23mm f/1.4.

I also had this lens with the X-T1 slung around my neck all day long, and couldn’t even feel it was there. I went to breakfast with the camera slung around my neck, to the cafe, and therefore found myself shooting a lot more photos. The times I had the 23mm f/1.4 on, it started hurting my neck– and I always switched back to the 27mm f/2.8 lens.

I think the 27mm f/2.8 lens is the ideal lens for street photography if you like having around a 35mm focal length.

23mm f/1.4 vs 27mm f/2.8 for street photography?

As sexy and well-built as the 23mm f/1.4 lens is, I still much prefer the 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens. The 27mm f/2.8 lens is much lighter and compact than the 23mm f/1.4, and I think that f/2.8 is fast enough for street photography.

Furthermore, the huge plus is that the 27mm f/2.8 lens is only $200 compared to the $800 of the 23mm f/1.4 lens.

Manual M-mount lenses + adapter for the X-T1?

leica adapter
Fujifilm X-T1 with my 35mm f/2 Summicron

Fujifilm also gave me a M-mount adapter for the X-T1, which allowed me to test out my Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron on the body. Because the X-T1 has a crop APS-C sensor, the 35mm translated into roughly a 50mm lens.

I was quite stunned how awesome it was to shoot street with a manually-focusing lens on the X-T1. Although I am not used to a 50mm lens on the streets, I had a blast. The EVF (will talk more about this later) allowed me to shoot with focus-peaking with the manual lens, which showed me what was exactly in focus. Considering that the EVF refreshes incredibly quickly, it is almost as good as an optical viewfinder.

I’d imagine if you really wanted an affordable body for street photography to use with a manually-focusing lens, this would be a great setup. If you wanted a roughly 35mm focal length on the camera, you could probably use a 28mm lens. For a bang-for-the-buck lens, I’d recommend the Voigtlander 28mm f/2 lens. For a roughly 50mm focal length, you can use a 35mm lens. I’d recommend the Voigtlander 35mm f/2.5 lens.

If you wanted a “poor man’s” Leica M (and preferred full-frame), you’d probably be better off getting a Sony A7 or Sony A7r with the M-mount lens adapter.

The ergonomics of the X-T1

I think one of the most important things of a camera is the ergonomics of it– how it feels in the hand, and how heavy and compact it is.

The very comfortable thumb rest for the X-T1
The very comfortable thumb rest for the X-T1

I’d have to say that the X-T1 is one of the most comfortable cameras I’ve ever held in the hand. This is because it has a nice “thumbs-up” like grip in the back of the camera in the upper-right (your thumb rests here comfortably), and the front grip of the camera comes out a bit which feels great.

Front grip of the X-T1 is incredibly comfortable
Front grip of the X-T1 is incredibly comfortable

Not only that, but the camera is a nice weight– not too heavy, but not too light. The X-T1 paired with the 27mm f/2.8 lens is a tad bit heavier than the x100s, but not so much heavier that it was cumbersome to carry.

Top view of the dials on the X-T1. Note the dedicated dials
Top view of the dials on the X-T1. Note the dedicated dials

The dials of the X-T1 are brilliant. I’ve heard it likened to a “Mini Nikon dF.” Fuji x100 users I’ve known used to complain about the exposure compensation dial (which moved to easily). Fuji probably heard this feedback, and therefore stiffened up the exposure compensation dial (now you can’t accidentally bump it to another setting).

Furthermore, they’ve added a dedicated ISO dial on the top-left of the camera, which also has a lock on the top that you must push down to change. This is probably the best feature of the X-T1, especially if you find yourself changing your ISO’s often.

x-t1 top

The shutter speed dial also feels solid– the dial stays locked in Aperture-priority mode, but once you are shooting with a manual shutter speed–it moves freely.

An interesting feature they’ve also added were mini-dials below the ISO and shutter speed dial. Under the ISO dial, you can change the “drive mode” (bracketing, continuous high mode, continuous low mode, single, double exposure, etc). Under the shutter speed dial, you can change the exposure settings (spot metering, evaluative, area).

drive-mode

All the dials on the camera worked excellently, except the “drive mode” mini-dial. I found it to be knocked too easily when taking it in and out of my bag. A few times I accidentally switched the camera from single-capture mode to double-exposure. If you have the camera and don’t want the dial to move, I’d recommend putting a piece of gaffer’s tape over the dial to keep it held shut.

easily-moved
This dial in the front is easily moved– it changes the drive mode. Quite annoying. Perhaps cover it with gaffer’s tape

Another small thing to note is you can change the camera from autofocus to manual focus in the front of the camera with a small dial, in the bottom right-corner. This is also a nice little feature to have, which means you don’t need to hunt through menus to change the camera from AF to manual-focusing.

There are also dials for your thumb in the back of the camera, and for your forefinger in front of the camera (which can be used to change aperture and other settings). I never found myself using it when shooting street photography.

The viewfinder

viewfinder

One of the most important parts of a camera for street photography is the viewfinder. When I first heard that the X-T1 only had an electronic viewfinder (EVF), I thought that would be a deal-breaker. I’ve always preferred shooting with an optical viewfinder with my Canon 5D or Leica– as I never liked the lag of the EVF of a lot of cameras (especially in street photography, where every millisecond counts).

However one of the coolest things about the X-T1 is actually the EVF. It rocks one of the world’s fastest EVF’s and found it to be almost as good as an optical viewfinder. It was also quite cool because when I paired my Leica 35mm f/2 lens on the camera, I could use the focus-peaking mode to see what was in focus in the camera. For those of you who don’t know what focus-peaking is– the viewfinder shows red lines superimposed your subjects to show what is focused. It is a bit hard to explain it, you just have to try it for yourself.

Also the nice thing about the EVF is “you see what you get.” The downside of an optical viewfinder with a rangefinder is that you get “parallax error” when you are close to your subject. Meaning, when you are closer than 1.2 meters or 4 feet to your subject, your frame lines aren’t accurate. However with the EVF (similar to using a DSLR) you can frame perfectly.

The good thing about the EVF is also it shows you how the photograph is going to look (in terms of the color and exposure) before you take it. Meaning, you won’t need to chimp (check your LCD screen after taking a photo) to make sure your exposures look good.

So the bottom line is that the EVF on the X-T1 is excellent, and more than capable for street photography. I also personally changed the “View mode” to “Only EVF” when shooting on the streets.

The image quality

xt1 sensor

One of the things we always hear is people moaning that a camera isn’t full-frame. Full-frame is always considered superior to crop-sensor bodies, in terms of image quality, ISO performance, and focal length magnification.

I’ve used the Canon 5D (full frame) for several years when I started off in street photography– and I was blown away by the files of the Fujifilm X-T1. I would say the files of the X-T1 easily are superior than the original full-frame files of the Canon 5D. I haven’t shot with a 5D Mark II or Mark III so I can’t compare it to that.

With my eyes, the files of the X-T1 were amazing. They were sharp, had great contrast, and the color-reproduction was beautiful. The colors were vibrant, nicely saturated, and the skin tones looked accurate to life.

In terms of the sensor, the X-T1 has the new “APS-C X-Trans sensor II (16MP)” which is the same as the x100s and the XE-2. The X-Pro 1 has the older APS-C X-Trans sensor I (16MP).

High ISO

ISO -1
Shot at ISO 12,800
ISO
100% crop at ISO 12,800

Furthermore the high ISO capability of the camera is superb. I’ve shot at ISO 1600 without any real discernible noise. You start seeing a bit of image degradation at ISO 3200 but the images are totally usable. I even shot some photos at ISO 12,800 which looked fine to me. But when I shot in the streets, I never found the need to increase my ISO above 3200.

The menus

One of the things I hated about the original x100 were the menus. They were a disaster– you had to scroll quite a bit to change any little setting.

With the x100s and the X-Pro 1, Fuji made it a lot easier by adding a “Q” button which allows you to easily access settings (like ISO, AF mode, image quality, film simulation types, etc).

The X-T1 also has a Q button– which made it easy to change the most commonly needed things in a menu. However once I set all my settings, I rarely needed to access the Q button (as the X-T1 has a dedicated ISO button, which the x100s and X-Pro 1 don’t have).

They’ve also simplified the menus in the X-T1 quite a bit, and I had a pretty easy time changing all my settings.

The settings

settings

The settings I used with my X-T1 were the following in street photography:

  • Drive Mode: Single (I’ve used continuous-low, which makes the camera shoot at several frames per second– but it shoots a little too much frames per click).
  • ISO: 800 (during the bright days in Dubai). 1600-3200 at night.
  • Aperture-priority
  • “P” mode (meaning the camera automatically chooses the aperture and shutter speed for me).
  • Autofocus setting: Area (I also expanded the square to the biggest setting, which can be changed with the thumb dial). This is crucial, as the AF of the camera is quite slow and inaccurate when you use the “Multi” setting, or the Area mode with a small selection point.
  • Face Detection: Off (I experimented with it on, and it made the AF a bit slower in street photography).
  • Instant AF Setting: AF-S (found it more accurate than AF-C)
  • Pre-AF: Off (tried it on, found it annoying, as it makes the camera focus all the time)
  • AF Illuminator: On (I know having a little bright light is annoying when it is dark, but it dramatically improves AF accuracy and speed at night. If you want to be more discrete, I’d recommend turning it off)
  • Film simulation: PRO Neg. Hi (found the colors of this to look the best)
  • Dynamic Range: Auto (always gives you the best dynamic range in any lighting situation)
  • Color: +2 (adds a nice pop)
  • Sharpness: +1 (don’t want over-sharpened photos)
  • Highlight/Shadow tone: 0 (you can always adjust this in post-processing after)

Flash

2014-03-18 14.34.40
Flash disengaged
2014-03-18 14.34.50
Flash engaged

The X-T1 also comes with a little pop-up flash (EF-X8) which you can mount to the top of your hotshoe. I found the TTL automatic setting to be quite accurate– and when shooting street portraits, it gave me a nice little light to fill in the shadows of my subjects. Also the skin tones look excellent on the X-T1 when using this little flash.

Photos shot with a flash:

These are two photos I shot with the little pop-up flash, to give you a sense of what they make the photos look like:

Dubai Fuji-1-2 Dubai Fuji-1

Fuji also makes an external flash (EF-X20) which is small and compact, and allows you to use either TTL or manual. I tried using it and it worked quite well. The TTL mode is accurate and there are nice dials to control it manually. I found one small annoyance is that it only accepts AAA batteries. Not only that, but the recharge time was a bit slow and the batteries die relatively quickly.

flash fuji
The X-T1 with the EF-X20

The upside of using the pop-up flash included with the X-T1 is that it is easy to turn on and off (you just flip it up or down)– and it uses the batteries of the X-T1. This means you won’t worry about running out of batteries when shooting with it.

Personally I shoot a lot of street photography with flash, and I prefer the little pop-up guy at the end of the day.

Battery life

Fujifilm introduced a new battery for the X-T1 which is a lot better than that of the x100s. First of all, it lasts a lot longer. I’ve been able to get up to 500 photos (RAW+JPEG) on one fully-charged battery. I’ve been able to shoot a full day with only one battery. If you shoot a lot, you might need 2 batteries tops.

Responsiveness

back view

Start-up time

The camera powers on pretty quickly (around half a second). I personally haven’t missed any shots because the camera didn’t turn on quickly enough.

Autofocus

I shot primarily with AF with the X-T1, to test the autofocusing abilities. To sum up, it is quite fast and accurate (much improved over the x100s and X-Pro 1). But it isn’t as fast or accurate as the Olympus OM-D in my opinion. But it is quite solid and quick overall.

I think the AF on the X-T1 could be hugely improved if there was the ability to expand the focusing area a bit larger– with multiple focusing points (I forget what this is called, but it is available on the Olympus OM-D and Sony a7). I hope the AF selection option can be improved with a firmware update.

I’d probably give it a 7.5/10 in the autofocus department.

However if you switch the camera into manual focusing mode– there is no discernible shutter lag or lag in-between taking photos. If you hate camera lag, I’d recommend using a manual lens with the M-mount adapter.

Shutter lag

I didn’t feel much of a shutter lag when I hit the shutter and when the camera took a photo which is excellent.

However there is a slight lag after you take your first photo (when you are in single-shot mode). There is almost no lag in-between shots if you use continuous-high or continuos-low mode but I find it to take too many frames when I hit the shutter. So I preferred to just kept it on single-shot mode.

But there were some shots in which I was “working the scene” taking multiple shots in a short period of time. In those moments, I used “continuous low” as a drive setting– to take more frames, quickly.

LCD Screen

The LCD screen on back of the camera is large, colorful, and bright. There is also a new “swiveling” function for the LCD screen, which allows you to view it from different angles. I’ve seen some street photographers use the X-T1’s LCD screen to make it look like they were using a Rolleiflex or a Hasselblad.

Ability to swivel the LCD screen
Ability to swivel the LCD screen

Personally I think shooting with the LCD swiveled down is a bit sneaky I’d recommend just using the EVF. But instances where you might want to be more discrete or if you want to shoot with the camera on the ground– it is a cool option to have.

Build quality

xt1 body

The X-T1 feels incredibly well built, and is also dust and water-resistant (the x100s isn’t). This is ideal if you want to shoot street photography in the rain or dusty areas.

You can also shoot in very cold conditions, as the camera is rated to -10 degrees Celsius (which is 14 degrees Fahrenheit). So if you shoot street photography in a cold area, this camera is ideal for you.

X-T1 vs x100s?

Fuji has been quite prolific with their X-series cameras. There are so many models out there now, it might be difficult to choose an “ideal” camera for street photography.

I’d say the only 2 “real” competitors for street photography are the X-T1 and the x100s. Why not the X-Pro 1? Well, it is pretty much like an older version of the X-T1 and has really slow autofocus.

I’m going to try to list the pros/cons of the X-T1 and the x100s to help you make a better decision when deciding which one to get:

xt1-black

X-T1 Pros:

  • Interchangeable lens options
  • Dedicated ISO dial
  • Faster / more accurate AF

X-T1 Cons:

  • No optical viewfinder (if you prefer an optical finder)

x100s in black

x100s Pros:

  • Smaller form factor
  • Lighter
  • Optical viewfinder

x100s Cons:

  • Slower and less accurate AF
  • Lack of interchangeable lens (if you like a 35mm focal length, then this isn’t a con)

So pretty much at the end of the day this is how I would make my decision:

If you absolutely need an optical viewfinder, get the x100s. Otherwise, I’d get the X-T1.

Why? The X-T1 is the newer, slicker, more capable, and powerful camera. Not only that, but the AF is far better in the X-T1 than the x100s. Also you can use different lenses (even manual M-mount lenses), and quickly change the ISO with the top dial.

The X-T1 is slightly more expensive than the x100s, but barely. The X-T1 body ($1300) + the 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens ($200) equals $1500. The x100s retails for $1300. But frankly speaking, I’d rather just spend the extra $200 for the X-T1 including the pancake lens.

Fujifilm X-T1 vs the competition?

There are a lot of capable cameras out there for street photography. I feel the most competitive cameras for street photography (besides the Fuji ones) include the Leica M, Sony A7, Olympus OM-D EM-1, the Olympus OM-D EM-5 and Ricoh GR. Below are the cameras listed in price:

Assuming you had a lens (I added my personal lens recommendations), this is what it would cost:

I think in the ideal world, we would all buy the most expensive camera. But of course, we all have budgets based on our income levels.

This is my personal recommendations regarding cameras:

  • If you have enough money to afford 2 Leica M’s (in cash) and prefer using a rangefinder, I’d go with the Leica M. Don’t take out a loan or put a Leica M on your credit card if you can’t afford it.
  • If you are strapped for cash (or want a small and pocketable camera), I’d go with the Ricoh GR.

The 3 cameras which are in around the same price range include the Sony A7, the Fujifilm X-T1, and the Olympus OM-D EM-1.

I’d choose the Fujifilm X-T1 over the Olympus OM-D EM-1 because of the larger sensor size and better image quality (although the X-T1’s autofocus isn’t as fast as the OM-D EM-1). But if you want the fastest autofocus out there, I’d recommend the Olympus OM-D EM-1 (or the cheaper EM-5).

If you have the cash, I’d recommend the the Sony a7 ($2500) + 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss ($800) versus the Fujifilm X-T1 ($1500) + the 27mm f/2.8 Lens ($200). Why? I think the a7 is the superior camera to the X-T1, as it has a full-frame sensor and more accurate autofocusing capabilities. But note that the total setup for the a7 will set you back around $2500 compared to the $1500 of the Fuji ($1000 more).

But in terms of bang-for-the-buck, you can’t beat the Fujfilm X-T1 paired with the 27mm f/2.8 lens compared to the competition in street photography.

And of course, don’t forget that it doesn’t matter too much what camera you use in street photography. Just use the camera you are most comfortable with.

Should I upgrade my camera to the X-T1?

thumbs-up

If you own a x100s, I’d stick with it (wait for the x200). If you own an x100 and the AF is driving you nuts, I’d recommend the upgrade to the X-T1. If you own an X-Pro 1, I’d wait for the X-Pro 2 (or even the x200). If you own an Olympus OM-D or any other micro 4/3rds cameras out there, I’d stick with the camera you currently own.

If you own a DSLR and want a smaller camera for street photography, I’d highly recommend the X-T1.

Also I’d consider the price of upgrading a camera. $1500 is still a lot of money, which can allow you to buy 30 excellent photo books (at $50 a pop), 250 rolls of film (priced at $6 a roll), or a round-trip ticket to somewhere in the world. Buying a new camera won’t make you a better photographer– although it is necessary to have. At the end of the day, I’d invest my money in experiences, rather than material things.

I have more thoughts on buying cameras in these articles below:

Video Review of the X-T1

Photos with the X-T1

Of course the most important thing is the photos by the X-T1. Below are some of my favorite photos shot with the X-T1 during my week in Dubai:

Dubai Fuji-1 Dubai Fuji-2 Dubai Fuji-3 Dubai Fuji-4 Dubai Fuji-5 Dubai Fuji-6 Dubai Fuji-7 Dubai Fuji-8 Dubai Fuji-9 Dubai Fuji-10 Dubai Fuji-11 Dubai Fuji-12 Dubai Fuji-13 Dubai Fuji-14 Dubai Fuji-15 Dubai Fuji-16 Dubai Fuji-17 Dubai Fuji-18 Dubai Fuji-19 Dubai Fuji-20 Dubai Fuji-21 Dubai Fuji-22 Dubai Fuji-23 Dubai Fuji-24 Dubai Fuji-25 Dubai Fuji-26 Dubai Fuji-27 Dubai Fuji-28 Dubai Fuji-29

At the end of the day, this is just my review of the X-T1. To see how you really like it, I’d recommend renting it for a weekend and giving it a go!

One question I was asked is whether I’m switching to digital from film. I’m still doing my serious long-term project work with film, with Kodak Portra 400 on my film Leica. But I have enjoyed shooting with the XT-1 a lot, and I might use it more for fun street snapshots, especially while traveling.

If you have any other questions about the X-T1, leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to answer as many as of them as possible!

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