Field Report: The Fuji X-T2

Field Report: The Fuji X-T2

Placing my order for the Fuji X-T2 when it was announced was a no-brainer. After cycling through multiple platforms for the last four years or so – Sony, Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Olympus, and Panasonic – I was finally ready to settle down with just one. For some time it looked like that would be the Sony a7RII, but I just could not bring myself to pull the trigger on it for a number of reasons.

Then, Fuji announced the X-T2. On paper, it checked off every item on my list.

  • It had a fantastic sensor and image engine (X-Trans and X-Processor Pro) whose color, sharpness, and fidelity was flat-out amazing, even on the much older X-T1.
  • 20+ megapixels of resolution. For me, I’d determined that this was my long-term baseline; although I had worked with and was reasonably satisfied with Fuji’s 16MP bodies, I found that for cropping and editing, a 20MP file was the base I wanted to work with. The X-T2 comes in at 24MP, which gives me a nice bit of breathing room.
  • Finally – FINALLY – great video features. With 4K in-camera (and a nice F-Log out to an external recorder), I could shoot video whenever I wanted without needing to switch to a different system.
  • Tactile improvements over the things that bothered me on the X-T1 a bit: knurled knobs, better locking mechanisms, and – this is a biggie – a joystick to shift focus points.
  • A much bigger area of the sensor is now covered with PDAF (Phase Detect Auto Focus) points. 40% of the frame is now covered with PDAF points.
  • To add to the X-T2’s focusing chops, it has an extremely customizable AF system, more akin to the kind of thing you’d find on Canon’s 1D series (though of course, the 1D series is still a faster system than any mirrorless camera out there).
  • Acros film emulation is included on this body. As an avid B&W shooter, the idea of having one of my favorite emulsions available as an in-camera tool is ridiculously exciting.

More than anything, the idea of divesting myself of the bulky gear and rigs I’d built up over the last few years was increasingly appealing to me. I am now in the midst of pruning down what I shoot with, with the eventual goal to bring my entire shooting system down to what I can carry in a single backpack, including lights, light stands, and tripods. Ditching the Canon/Sony hybrid system I’d been using until recently became increasingly appealing as I found it practically impossible to shoot outside my studio without an assistant. Now that I’m getting rid of my studio, the ability to function effectively as a solo, on-location shooter is even more important.

I've pared my shooting kit down to the barest essentials. I've got the X-T2 and the 35mm and 60mm lenses.

I’ve pared my shooting kit down to the barest essentials. I’ve got the X-T2 and the 35mm and 60mm lenses.

So I ordered the X-T2 and waited. Since my order was placed within seconds of B&H making it available on their site, I was one of the first recipients. Unfortunately, the first body I got was DOA, and I had to wait a while until I got a replacement.

When I finally got it, I made it a point to go with two Fuji prime lenses in the focal range I used the most: a Fuji 35mm f/2 WR lens (equivalent to about a 50mm lens on the APS-C sensor), and the Fuji 60mm f/2.4 Macro (90mm equivalent on this sensor). The Macro would pull double-duty as a portrait lens, though the 35mm f/2 often did this for full-length shots in the close confines of my small studio. In fact, I’ve come to like this lens so much, the 60mm Macro often stays home if I just feel like having the camera on me with nothing else weighing down a bag.

The XF 35mm f/2 is pretty-much glued to my camera; it rarely gets taken off.

The XF 35mm f/2 is pretty much glued to my camera; it rarely gets taken off.

And that is it: one camera, two lenses. If I absolutely want something in a longer focal length, I reach for my old Nikon film glass, for which I have an inexpensive adapter.

When the need for a longer focal length arises, I reach for my manual-focus Nikon 100mm f/2.8 lens.

When the need for a longer focal length arises, I reach for my manual focus Nikon 100mm f/2.8 lens.

With a working camera in my hands, I proceeded to put it through its paces, using it on a couple of shoots in-studio, taking it out for a series of shots for my Instagram feed (where the B&W Acros film emulation mode really shone), and shooting a bit of video with my Atomos Shogun. Here’s what I found.

Handling and Build

The X-T1, which I also own as a backup body, was a very nicely built body. I liked the way it fit in my hand and, as a long-time DSLR user, the form factor was more appealing to me than Fuji’s rangefinder aesthetic. The X-T2 keeps the same basic form factor, with a slightly thicker grip and thumb rest, along with a few other improvements.

One of the annoying things for me was the locking button mechanism on the X-T1. It was a “hold the button down and turn the dial” type of lock, which is a pain when you want to spin through the dials quickly. The X-T2 does away with this problem by including locking buttons on the shutter speed and ISO dials that act as toggles; you push to unlock, spin the dial, then push again to lock. I do wish that they had also included a similar locking button for the exposure compensation dial, since that is pretty likely to get jogged in the bag, but it’s not a dealbreaker by any stretch. The dial is reasonably stiff, so those events are rare.

The locking mechanism is now a toggle instead of a push-and-hold system. When unlocked, it's raised and has a white ring visible.

The locking mechanism is now a toggle instead of a push-and-hold system. When unlocked, it’s raised and has a white ring visible.

Other small ergonomic touches are all over the camera. The four-way rocker buttons are more prominent, with a more satisfying feel to them. The dials are thicker, which makes them a bit easier to manipulate. The wide eyecup is now the default for the X-T2 (it was an additional purchase with the X-T1).

Then there’s the screen on the back. Well, “screens”, if we’re being accurate, since the viewfinder is also a small LCD display. That viewfinder is about the same as the X-T1, with one difference: it can now refresh up to 100 FPS in “boost” mode, which does require the Booster Grip. The articulating screen is a definite upgrade – however, it now boasts a 1.62M pixel resolution, as opposed to the X-T1’s 1.04M screen. Moreover, the screen now boasts a vertical articulation, which has proven pretty useful when shooting in the field. That vertical tilt is accessed by a convenient locking switch, which keeps it from being accidentally raised.

The vertical tilt on the LCD is extremely useful when shooting low to the ground.

The vertical tilt on the LCD is extremely useful when shooting low to the ground.

It’s also worth noting that Fuji carried over the weatherproofing from the X-T1 so the X-T2 is splash, dust, and freeze proof. This was handy during California’s recent showers (yay rain!) and the camera held up like a champ.

The most important improvement on the new body for me, though, is the new joystick. This was first introduced on the X-Pro 2 and was one of those “about darn time” moments for me (and a lot of Fuji shooters). Using the joystick, you can reposition the focus point quickly and easily.

The new joystick on the X-T2 makes cycling through the many focal points of the X-T2 - and the menu system - a breeze.

The new joystick on the X-T2 makes cycling through the many focal points of the X-T2 (and its menu system) a breeze.

It’s an 8-way joystick, so you can move diagonally across the focal points, which is useful since the X-T2 can be set to have as many as 325 points of focus. Clicking the joystick puts the focal selector back in the center of the array in Single and Zone Focus modes and also brings up the full array of focal points, in case you wanted to see that.

The full focal array on the Fuji X-T2.

The full focal array on the Fuji X-T2.

Performance

My relationship with Fuji cameras has been a bit uneven until recently. I loved the X100s; it was the only camera I took with me on my honeymoon (my wife was very appreciative) and I loved using it. I’ve owned and sold the X-E1, X-E2, X-T1, and the X100s, but never felt the kind of connection to those cameras that I felt with other brands.

A lot of that has to do with the small vagaries of Fuji cameras. Autofocus has been one of their weakest points, though that has improved drastically with each subsequent firmware update. They also never felt like snappy cameras to me, though to be fair, I was still comparing them to DSLRs.

With that background in mind, let’s look at how this camera performed in the field.

Responsiveness

The X-T2 turned a lot of my previous impressions of the Fuji platform completely around. This camera felt snappy from the second I got past the initial setup screens. Where the previous generations of cameras from Fuji have always taken a few seconds to respond after turning on, the X-T2 is ready to shoot by the time I grab it from its place on my camera strap, turning it on as I do, and taking off the lens cap. This is without the boost mode, too; with the Booster Grip and “Boost Mode” turned on, the responsiveness of the camera is even faster.

With the vertical booster grip attached, the X-T2 can be switched to a "Boost" mode for greater responsiveness.

With the vertical Booster Grip attached, the X-T2 can be switched to a “Boost Mode” for greater responsiveness.

Navigating through the menus is snappy, as is selecting options and working with the physical dials. There is still a bit of lag in one place: when turning the aperture ring on my 35mm f/2 lens, the aperture setting in the viewfinder doesn’t update as fast. It’s a surprising bit of lag, actually – one I hope that Fuji addresses in a future firmware update.

Autofocus

As I mentioned earlier, this has been something that Fuji has not managed to do well in. Other reviews of past models have touched on this ad nauseum, so I won’t belabor that point; instead I’ll get right to the point.

Autofocus on the X-T2 rocks.

Autofocus on the X-T2 can really be fine-tuned to the user's specifications.

Autofocus on the X-T2 can really be fine-tuned to the user’s specifications.

In every possible way, S-AF (Single-shot Autofocus) is every bit as fast and accurate as any mirrorless camera I’ve ever used, including the Olympus OM-D E-M1, which was my top performer in this mode until recently. It’s also as fast as any DSLR that I’ve used, with the exception of the pro-body 1D and Dx series from Canon and Nikon, respectively. Those cameras start at about $6,000 or more, so I think Fuji gets a pass for not competing with those bodies.

In every situation I threw at it, from low light to harsh backlight, it nailed focus almost 100% of the time. On a few rare instances it missed and that was mostly because of me trying to make it fail by switching focus back and forth between infinity and objects 2 feet away very rapidly. In everyday shooting, it performed like an absolute champ.

Even in low light and back-lit scenes, the X-T2's AF system performed like a champ.

Even in low light and back-lit scenes, the X-T2’s AF system performed like a champ.

Part of this was the fact that I was shooting primarily with one of Fuji’s newer lenses, the 35mm f/2. Switching to the 60mm f/2.4 Macro lens made things a lot slower but that was to be expected. The 60mm Macro lens is known for having absolutely horrid autofocus performance, so it was a nice surprise when that lens suddenly began focusing noticeably faster on the X-T2 than it does on my X-T1.

I didn’t get to try the C-AF (Continuous Autofocus) mode, but when I do, I’ll update this review.

Film Emulation

This is without question one of those things that is a selling point for all Fuji cameras but is even more so for the X-Pro 2 and the X-T2. In addition to the standard Provia, Astia, Velvia, and Classic Chrome modes, there is a new Acros emulation mode for Black and White shooters. This mode is a bit special; it is limited to the X-Pro 2 and the X-T2 only, as only these two bodies have the processing power to accurately emulate the response curves and grain of Fuji’s Neopan Acros film.

This Acros mode is different from the standard B&W emulation of past Fuji cameras. In fact, I can vouch for the fact that the results are substantively different from what I’m used to. The new Acros mode seems to render images more smoothly and has a better rolloff from light to dark.

The Acros film simulation (seen here on the left) has gentler rolloffs from dark to light than the standard monochrome simulation (seen on the right).

The Acros film simulation (seen here on the left) has gentler rolloffs from dark to light than the standard monochrome simulation (seen on the right).

Acros also tends to be slightly less contrasty than the basic B&W emulation, which I think contributes to its success with skin tones. In the shadow areas, it seems to hold more detail, while the highlights tend not to blow out as hard as standard B&W. This makes for images that have less “punch” than the standard B&W emulation, which is actually based off a monochrome rendering of Provia film, but the image holds more detail to my eyes. Compare these images for yourself here and here.

The grain pattern, too, is different according to Fuji. Apparently, it is only the resolution of the X-Trans III sensor and the X-Processor Pro that makes this emulation mode possible, so it’s not likely to come to other Fuji cameras.

The Classic Chrome mode was added via firmware update to past cameras and is very reminiscent of older positive films from Fuji. If I shoot color then that’s the one I default to; it has the most pleasing color to my eyes.

The Classic Chrome simulation is reminiscent of older, more faded films and is perfect for understated landscapes.

The Classic Chrome simulation is reminiscent of older, more faded films and is perfect for understated landscapes.

Battery Life

This one surprised me. Fuji are using a new battery type with this camera that’s identical in form to the old ones, but has an “S” designation to it. I’ve found that this new battery, combined with the X-T2, can last for a surprisingly long time. I had it in my camera for over three weeks, doing only some sporadic shooting over that time, and it still lasted me a long time when I took the camera out and shot with it extensively over two days, putting in almost 300 frames before I needed to swap it out. I think people are going to be happy with battery life on this body.

Image Quality

I’ve never had complaints about Fuji’s image quality and the X-T2 gives me no reason to change that. The RAW files are every bit as detailed and dense as I expect and want and I absolutely love the resolution boost to 24MP. At high magnification, the Fuji files hold together surprisingly well, as you can see from this 600% shot of an overhead Emirates A380 flying over San Francisco.

It's admittedly a bit silly, but it's nice to see detail like this from the X-T2's images.

It’s admittedly a bit silly but it’s nice to see detail like this from the X-T2’s images.

Having the extra megapixels means that I can crop in more and, therefore, have more options for reframing shots. 20MP would have been enough; 24 is turning out to be an absolute sweet spot.

The images also retain a lot of shadow detail even when underexposed. The image below is a before/after of a shot I pushed the exposure on by 4 stops in Capture One. Not only is the detail there, the file holds up nicely when you push it in post.

The photo on the right has the exposure pushed by 4 stops in Capture One.

The photo on the right has the exposure pushed by 4 stops in Capture One.

Other Niceties

  • Using the camera in-studio, I discovered something very cool: the X-T2 has a flash sync of 1/250th of a second!
    • Okay, “discovered” is a misnomer since that info is right there in the spec sheet and marked as such on the shutter dial, but I’m used to my X-T1’s 1/180th or my 5D Mark II’s 1/200th sync speeds, so this was a nice surprise I had clearly missed when reading the specs and reviews.
  • The PC sync port on the front is another nice-to-have; I was able to use some old Elinchrom lights with a PC cable to great effect.
  • Fuji have restored the shutter button with the threaded release port, which I regretted not having on the X-T1. This allows you to use an old-fashioned threaded release cable to trigger the shutter.
    It may be retro, but the re-introduction of a threaded shutter button means you can now use these old cable releases on your X-T2.

    It may be retro, but the re-introduction of a threaded shutter button means you can now use these old cable releases on your X-T2.

  • The video record button is gone. This is a good thing; it was useless and poorly placed on the X-T1. Instead, you switch the camera to video mode and use the shutter to start recording.
  • This one is a biggie, folks: Dual SD card slots! This is kind of a must on a pro camera, which is what this body is aimed at.
  • 4K Video! I won’t say anything about this here; come back soon for our full video shooting report on the X-T2, including shooting F-Log to an external Atomos Shogun.
    Fuji have finally made a very capable video shooter. More to come on this...

    Fuji have finally made a very capable video shooter. More to come on this…

Conclusion

The X-T2, as I mentioned at the start of this report, checked off a number of items on my camera wishlist on paper. In the field, nothing changed to dispel that initial impression; the camera is solid, dependable, and nearly perfect for all my needs. The adaptability of mirrorless to take on Nikon, Canon, Leica, and even Hasselblad lenses means a lot of my old gear is being repurposed for when I need something other than the 35mm f/2 that’s practically bolted onto the front of my X-T2. The camera is lightweight, compact, and an absolute joy to shoot with; it’s the most fun I’ve had since I shot with the Olympus Pen-F a few months ago.

The addition of a competent, even beautiful, video mode on the X-T2 basically rounded off my wishlist. My whole kit now fits in a small shoulder bag and if I expand that to a rolling photo bag then I have my entire portable studio ready to roll. It’s a massive relief to downsize to the Fuji platform and find out that the reduced size does not mean a reduction in capability. But don’t just take my word for it. You can rent the Fuji X-T2!

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Sohail Mamdani is a writer, filmmaker, and photographer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Follow him on Twitter or find him at anymedium.com.

10 Comments

  1. Nice review, but I doubt the author will be settling down. I seems he likes to keep changing gear..

    Reply
    • I cycled through a lot, its true. Did a whole series here where I did my first switch from Canon to Nikon, but I am starting to not feel the same gear itch I did a while back, so here’s hoping this sticks…

      Reply
    • Gordon, every Fuji flagship has been solid at high ISOs. You will not get Sony A7S-level performance but I would stack this up against any other APS-C sensor out there. I would also put it up against some of the lower end full frame sensor’s. Bottom line is that at anything at or below ISO 6400, you will get perfectly usable shots. My sweet spot is ISO 3200 and below.

      Reply
  2. Can it be rented with a nikon lens adapter?

    Reply
    • Jordan, the Nikon lens adapter is available for rent separately. We also have a Metabones speed booster adapter that gives you one extra stop of light, and decreases the focal length multiplication factor introduced by the APS-C sensor.

      Reply
  3. Loved your review! What do you think about XT2 as a Safari camera? I used the XT1 with 100-400mm Fuji lens + 1.4x Fuji Teleconverter during a recent trip to Costa Rica. I found the auto-focus difficult in low light conditions in the rain forest or the cloud forest. I am thinking of taking the XT2 with 100-400mm lens and not rent the teleconverter. Or do you suggest I take a different brand lens and converter – any suggestions for that? I am also looking at the Cotton Carrier Steadyshot with Harness to make it easy to carry the long lens as well as to stabilize it. Any thoughts on that?

    Reply
    • Hi Saibal,

      I would absolutely take the X-T23 and the 100-400 – and take the teleconverter too. The teleconverter will likely affect your autofocus in low light, but in good light, the better AF included in the X-T2 will make it worth the extra weight. Either way, that 100-400 is about 600mm on the long end, so by itself it is pretty good, and the X-T2’s advanced C-AF features should cover you for most use cases.

      Cheers,

      Sohail

      Reply
      • Thanks for the reply, Sohail. I checked with a friend who uses Canon 1D + 70-200mm lens and he felt that all his shots on the Canon full frame were taken with that combo as the animals are very close to the vehicle. Only for the Cheetah shots, he had to use his 500mm telephoto. Since the equivalent magnification with the cropped sensor of XT2 would make the 100mm equivalent to 150mm, I would be better off with the 55-200mm lens in most cases (equal to 83-300mm on XT2) and with the 2.0x teleconverter, my max tele range goes to 600mm! I have purchased the Cotton Carrier vest with the steadyshot and mounted a Manfrotto Ball mount to mount and quickly release the camera. I want to reduce the amount of gear weight I carry as I will be a doing a few walking safaris. So, avoiding taking two lenses, else a combo of 100-400 and 16-55 would have been great!

        Reply
  4. For those who don’t know, maybe wedding photographers that want to make the switch … the battery life is even better than you think on the X-T2 🙂

    Reply

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