Photography Re-Framed – The Fujifilm X-T2 Review
There is a commonly held idea that the camera doesn’t matter. Indeed, it is hard to find a brave person who would argue otherwise. Certainly, I am not one of them. Unfortunately, some people misunderstand this overworked adage.
Of course the primary tool you use every day matters! Have you ever met a musician who says that an instrument s/he is playing doesn’t matter? What the “camera doesn’t matter” maxim really means is that the camera is not the primary determinant of your photography skill – it is your creativity and seeing! You certainly agree, otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this article right now.
But there is a fly in the soup. It is the process of selecting a camera! Unfortunately, this important undertaking has been reduced to meticulous studies of technical details, columns and specifications. There are scores of websites offering you “help” with choosing a camera. It is common to show two cameras side by side comparing all possible technical particulars. Of course this technical carousel wouldn’t be complete without until-my-eyes-bleed 100% crop examination.
I disagree with this approach. As the tool with which I, the photographer, interact in the creative process, a well-designed camera should bolster me up to pursue my passion for seeing and make the mechanics of capturing visuals intuitive and fluid.
With this in mind, the process of choosing an instrument of seeing must include more than just studying charts and technical specifications. When I was given the opportunity to work with a pre-release version of the X-T2 camera I was thrilled. Unlike with previous cameras, I could shoot and bond (or not) with this new camera without all the Internet noise, without any prejudgments or expectations – I was just free to roam, create and see.
SEEING – AN UNOBSTRUCTED VIEW
Dorothea Lange famously said: “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” She was right! In fact during our workshops we encourage people to explore and learn to “see” even before touching a camera. The next step involves repeating the same process of seeing, composing and re-framing – this time using your camera’s viewfinder.
The X-T2 elevates the concept of EVF to another level. Early EVFs were slow and noisy – a sort of technical novelty rather than a real window to seeing. The X-T2’s huge, bright, super-fast viewfinder sorted out most issues and put the EVF at the centre of the mirrorless revolution.
The X-T2 window is much brighter than its predecessor. Even when shooting in the dark, the usual grainy mess is gone. Most importantly, the refresh rate has reached 100fps – very close to the human ability to recognize motion (around 120fps). An EVF of this size and quality transforms the way you compose and create a photograph. Having such a large frame to operate in, you naturally engage with the scene and are better able to rearrange the elements even in distant corners, which all leads to a better-thought-out image.
The X-T2’s EVF puts you in a comfortable visual chair – as if you were watching your favourite movie on the big screen. Then it projects your vision, but you haven’t even pressed the shutter button yet! In addition, any changes to exposure, white balance and depth of field can be assessed and re-examined by eye. Not only does this arrangement allow the photographer to achieve the desired look but it also eliminates the need for the time-consuming habit of scrutinizing the image on the back of your LCD.
If there was one challenge left for the X-T2’s EVF, it would be difficulty adjusting the EVF brightness. When we took photos we often found the scene too bright so we adjusted the exposure only to find that it was unnecessary. The brightness of the EVF tricked us. Mind you, we were working with a pre-release version of the camera and it may well be that the final version will deal with this issue. In addition, there is always a menu option available to adjust the brightness of the EVF to your liking.
After composing through the X-T2 viewfinder, there is no question in my mind that the days of the optical viewfinder are numbered. In fact, given the sophistication and quality of EVFs offered today, it is beyond my understanding why major SLR producers still stick with small, cramped, uninformative optical viewfinders.
BUILD AND MECHANICS REVAMPED
One thing that surprised us was the extent to which Fujifilm engages photographers in their development process. When talking with fellow photographers who shoot with the X-line, I hear many great ideas tossed around about how to improve a specific camera. Many of these ideas somehow find their way into new models. There is no question that Fujifilm listens and acts on constructive feedback.
For those of us who photograph daily, mechanics, build and the inner workings of a camera are of paramount importance. In general, the external design theme of the X-T2 has been carried forward from the X-T1 but not without some changes. Among others:
- The X-T2 is slightly larger than the X-T1 (although this is barely noticeable).
- The D-pad buttons have been vastly improved – they are more prominent and much easier to feel/press.
- The infamous “movie” button is gone! The FN button is in the same spot between exposure compensation and the ISO dials. Although getting rid of the movie button was a great idea, we are not sure about leaving the FN button in the same place. We often found it difficult to reach this button while shooting.
- The Focus Assist button at the back of the camera has been replaced with the Q button.
- The Exposure Compensation dial gained the “C” option, which allows you to adjust the exposure from -5 to +5. A welcome addition!
- The larger and higher ISO dial gained a new 12,800 option. Yes, you can use it!
- The shutter and ISO dials gained a new lock mechanism at the top that can be pressed to lock/unlock the dials, preventing accidental change. It works great.
- In place of the Q button, Fujifilm put in the joystick, which allows you to control focus points, a solution first implemented in the X-Pro2. It’s one of the best design ideas for a very long time! We use the joystick all the time.
- The buttons have been enlarged, raised and tightened to the point that some of you may find them too stiff; however, there is no perfect solution here. For us they feel just right.
- The X-T2 gained a second slot for the memory card – backup, backup, backup!
- The door’s locking mechanism has been changed. I know personally many photographers who have had issues with the X-T1 door opening accidentally in the bag.
- The bottom of the camera has been rearranged. The tripod socket is placed further toward the centre. Unfortunately, the original grip for the previous model won’t work with the X-T2.
INNER WORKINGS REFINED
In observing the progress of the X-series line, it has become apparent that Fujifilm tries to unify button placement and menu items over all X-series cameras. Kasia and I often shoot with two or three X cameras at the same time, so continuity over the entire line is very important.
One area that we often hear complaints about, especially from the SLR-convert-to-mirrorless-crowd, is that the speed and accuracy of the X-series cameras’ autofocus system lags behind those of SLRs. It has never been a problem for us but our shooting style is slow and deliberate (we rarely photograph moving subjects).
The X-T2 has gained new options, which should improve the performance of its autofocus system. There is a new array of continuous autofocus settings allowing you to tune the system to certain situations. Here are the options (all self-explanatory):
- For accelerating/decelerating subjects
- To ignore obstacles and continue to track the subject
- For a subject that suddenly appears
- For erratically moving and accelerating/decelerating subjects
Although we entertained ourselves with these settings it is hard to draw any conclusion. We are sure you will find plenty of tests on the Internet done by photographers who use the continuous autofocus system more often than we do. However, we do prefer simplified menus and adding such an array of options might be detrimental to solving problems and would confuse the end-user, as many of the listed situations could overlap. The multi-purpose option should be enough but hey, this is just our angle.
IMAGE QUALITY – STANDING ON ITS OWN
I am sometimes perplexed by conversations about the image quality of a particular camera. In most discussions, the image quality is reduced to a hermetic blend of sharpness and resolution. In the meantime, there is an array of other characteristics that contribute greatly to final, real-life “image quality.” These include the “look” of the files, the tonality, the quality of lenses, the quality of grain (ACROS film simulation with “weak” grain settings), colour accuracy, etc. As the industry becomes more and more concentrated, the real world differences in sensor quality are most likely to continue diminishing between brands. The design, mechanics of the camera, film simulations, software, lenses, customer service (especially for professional photographers) and the “fun” factor will become a real identifier.
And so is the 24.3MP X-Trans APS-C sensor, which found its way to the XT-2 from the recently released X-Pro2. One of the advantages of the X-Trans sensor is the ability to capture light even if there is very little of it. The ISO performance of the X-T2 paired with the XF fast primes challenges some full-frame cameras with its capabilities (every six months we take many new cameras on the market for a ride, mostly FF, to stay in the loop).
The real standout feature of all Fujifilm X cameras is the JPEG processing engine. There is a growing spectrum of photographers who are sick and tired of spending hours before the computer trying to process images to their liking. For many, this element of digital photography causes the most frustration.
The X-series cameras, including the X-T2, tackle this problem head on. Backed by their in-depth expertise in film, Fujifilm armed JPEG photographers with a rich array of life-like film simulations. Fuji’s JPEGs not only look stunning straight from the camera but their skin tones are unmatched. Many develop-in-house film simulations such as ACROS (A) or Classic Chrome (CC) are truly standouts and they quickly became must-haves for many photographers, including us. Do it in-camera? Hell YES!
MOVIE – PLAYED
I will be blunt. I have zero interest in gaining any camera movie-making prowess. As a pure photographer, I always view movie buttons/settings as an unnecessary distraction. However, I do understand that the market views it differently and there is a growing number of photographers and videographers who want to have this capability. Here you go – the 4K has arrived!
Talking about movies, I had a chance to interact with actors from a new series “The Man in the High Castle.” It was a great experience to meet so many talented people. Make sure to check out the series currently available on Amazon Prime (see a trailer here). All images – the X-T2 and XF 35mm F2 lens, Classic Chrome (CC) and ACROS (A) film simulations.
PRICE – LESS IS MORE
When assessing the price of a camera the following logic prevails: “Camera Y has 4k/(put here any function you want) and Camera X doesn’t, therefore the X should be less expensive.” Many agree that the prime determinant of the price is the number of features a camera offers.
We beg to differ. Leaving out some options, avoiding clutter and resisting the do-it-all mantra is a very difficult time-and-money consuming process. I don’t mind paying a premium price for a product that is beautifully designed, does one thing well and saves me from a plethora of choices. I only hope that Fujifilm will avoid the temptation of entering the never-ending we-too-offer-this-option race. Photography is the art of creation, awareness and deep thought. Clutter and technical overload contradict this state of mind.
XF LENSES – THE WHOLE PACKAGE
The X-T2, even with all its advancements, would be just a box if not paired with great glass. Fortunately, photographers have access to first-rate lenses. Not only are they well built (metal!) but most importantly they are fast and sharp. The majority of XF lenses, especially the primes, feel perfectly balanced on the X-T2 camera. Sure, some zooms such as the excellent XF 50-140mm F2.8 could feel a bit heavy but with an optional battery grip this imbalance could be reduced.
X-T2 – MIRRORLESS – RE-FRAMED
Barring less expensive models such as the X-T10, Fujifilm now offers two flagship cameras, the X-Pro2 and the X-T2. Although the image quality is identical, there are major differences in approach and design.
- I found the X-Pro2 design cleaner, less cluttered.
- The X-Pro2 has both the EVF and Optical. The XT-2 has the EVF only.
- The X-T2 EVF is much brighter, bigger and faster than the X-Pro2.
- The X-T2 EVF is placed centrally while the X-Pro2 EVF is located on the left of the camera. I personally prefer the latter placement.
- Both have a joystick to select the focus point.
- The X-T2 can shoot 4K video; the X-Pro2 cannot.
- The X-T2 has a dedicated ISO dial while the X-Pro2 uses a wheel solution. Unlike most X-shooters, I don’t mind the latter.
- The X-T2 has a much firmer grip.
- The X-T2 offers an additional brand new grip, which holds two extra batteries. There is no such option for the X-Pro2.
That’s great, Olaf, but which one should I get?
I personally prefer the X-Pro2. Interestingly enough, Kasia prefers the X-T2 – look for her perspective in one of our upcoming posts. It is not that one camera is better than the other; it is a matter of preference and a way of shooting.
We strongly recommend trying out both cameras. The preference is highly personal. You may well prefer the X-T2 to the X-Pro2. Those of you who come from the traditional SLR camp may find the X-T2 a more natural companion.
With the introduction of the X-Pro1, the X-T1 Fujiflm re-framed the conversation about digital cameras. With the fusion of the latest technology advancements such as EVF, traditional proven-by-time controls and particular film simulations, Fujifilm put forward a very different idea as to how a camera should look and how a photographer interacts with it while creating an image.
Once this new design philosophy was put in place, Fuji needed to polish their flagship X-series cameras. A few months ago Fujifilm did just that with the X-Pro2. Now the X-T2 has received a similar treatment. The latest high-tech improvements have been implemented (higher resolution sensor, vastly improved EVF, 4K), the majority of rough edges smoothed out (button design and placement, two memory cards, doors, etc.) and new ideas transplanted (the joystick!).
The X-T2 has taken on a much more grown-up persona. As a package, with an amazing line of prime lenses, gorgeous EVF, one-of-a-kind solutions (joystick), manual controls and exclusive film-like simulations, the I-am-still-shooting-SLR crowd should feel no remorse leaving the traditional SLR world behind.
We present you with an array of imagery from our weeks of working with the X-T2. Most of the images were shot with the XF 35mm F2 lens. We also worked with the XF 14mm F2.8 and the XF 50-140mm F2.8.
Please make sure to check out reviews/thoughts of fellow Canadian X-photographers (just to clarify – I am not an official Fujifilm X-photographer):
Watch this space for more coverage.
We have never believed in so called “objective” reviews and we don’t even pretend to write one. A camera is such a unique and personal tool that pretending total detachment from it appears to us foolish and naive. Every year we handle many cameras from different brands and our only rationale for choosing a camera is how we bond with it and how it helps us to facilitate our way of seeing. We never choose cameras solely on image quality or resolution. It is much more personal than that.
At the same time we are 100% independent. We do not receive any compensation for stating certain opinions. We don’t accept any ads or kickbacks (look around on our blog!). Sometimes, we do receive cameras for review as in the case with the Fujifilm X-T2 but with no conditions attached. We can say and write whatever we want. Period.
2016 © Kasia & Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.