Parading Bull – The Fujifilm X-T2 Review

On January 15th 2016, Fujifilm launched the X-Pro2 as the long awaited successor to the X-Pro1. It was everything I had been waiting for, and so much more. As I wrote in my review back then, the X-Pro2 feels like a huge upgrade from the X-Pro1, but merely an evolution from the X-T1. Until the X-Pro2, the X-T1 had remained Fujifilms flagship camera in every technical aspect.

I firmly believe that the popularity of the X-T1 took Fujifilm by surprise. It was, and still is, the camera that really brought Fujifilm onto the radar of professional photographers who wanted a primary or secondary mirrorless system. Just by looking at the formfactor, it is obvious that the X-T line caters to the more DSLR/SLR savvy photographers.

And now it’s time! – A mere 6 months since the X-Pro2 marked the update to Fujifilms rangefinder line – Fujifilm announces the X-T2!

I have been so fortunate as to have been testing the camera since mid-april, producing images for Fujifilm for use in the campaign, giving feedback, and really just putting the X-T2 through its paces.

I had no doubt in my mind when I first saw, and handled it, that this camera was Fujifilms real stab at the working photographers camera. And I can without any hesitation say, that they succeeded in almost every aspect!

Let’s get a few things in place before I proceed with my writeup. Yes, I’m an official X-Photographer. No, I don’t get paid to write this, but yes I do get early access to the gear. Does this make me biased as hell? You bet! – This writeup will be all about my way of using the camera. It will be my subjective thoughts. My interpretations. Nothing more. Alright, now let’s get going.

I have never really liked the look of the faux-SLR hump that Fujifilm X-T1 and other mirrorless brands use. I always preferred the rangefinder look. Hence I was very hesitant in buying into the X-T system. This still hasn’t changed. – But that being said, the layout offers a much more refined workflow. So I have really come to appreciate the camera as a workhorse. The interface simply suits the working photographer MUCH better.

I had a lot of thoughts when conceptualising what I wanted to do with this review. I mean, I’m a documentary street photographer who also occasionally get paid to do portraiture and weddings. I’m not even a professional photographer. (To clarify, I HATE that term with a passion, but only when it’s not being used properly. A professional photographer per definition is a person that makes a primary living from doing photography. THAT’S IT. Nothing to do with skill). I make my living from being a doctor of medicine. Hence I’m an enthusiast/amateur.

So I thought to myself – “How could an enthusiast write a review of a camera clearly made for the professional photographer?” – Well, for starters I would try to get the camera going in all kinds of different scenarios. I wanted to test it as a nature photographers camera, as a music photographers camera, as a sports photographers camera etc etc.

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Nico & Vinz at Nibe Festival

So that’s what I did. I have been throwing myself into a multitude of different photographic disciplines trying to fit the X-T2 into the specific workflow of that particular photographic sub-speciality. Let me tell you that right away, that this was NOT an easy task! – But I did my very best, and hopefully this will show you the incredible versatility of the Fujifilm X-T2.

But first let me take you through some of the new, more technical, things the X-T2 has to offer. I know this will end up very gear-headed and geeky…. But since I’m a complete gear-nut myself, this is unavoidable 😛

DISCLAIMER: Please note that all the images in this review has been shot with a prototype of the X-T2. I didn’t upload full resolution files, since I don’t know if image quality is final. It probably is though 🙂 – All images has been edited in Lightroom CC. If you want straight out of camera jpegs this is not the review for you 😛 

Build

I got a message back in march. It was Mr. Löweberg of Fujifilm Nordic:

“How would you like to be a Taurus photographer?”

Taurus-photographer? Is that some collective thing in Sweden I should have known about? – I googled, and googled. Nothing came up. So I had to reply back:

“Sure thing, I think… – but what is a Taurus-photographer?”

“Oh, it’s a new camera…. what do you say?”

….Ok, ok. If I absolutely HAVE to…then alright…. 😛

About a month later the neat little anonymous black box arrived with my name on it. When I unpacked it, I immediately noticed the subtle changes to the dials. “This is going to be good”, I thought to myself. I still agree with that initial thought!

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X marks the spot!

Now, there has been leaks-a-plenty and even a stolen camera that was sold on eBay. So the looks of the X-T2 is hardly a secret any longer! The X-T2 builds on the already tried and proven recipe of its predecessor. But Fujifilm greatly improved some core features.

Lets start with the dials. The shutter speed and ISO dials now have “click/declick” locks, instead of the inhomogeneous locks on the X-T1. And it just works. Finally! The exposure compensation dial is very firm to turn, and it has been placed just a couple of millimeters inside the edge of the camera, so you will not accidentally turn it! Perfect. The dials are taller than on the X-T1, and as such, much easier to grip even with gloves. Same is to be said for the “bottom” parts of the dials. The right side dial still accommodates the photometry functions, where as the left hand side still selects the different drive modes. As a new thing, the movie button is no longer at the top plate, but you now have the function to the far left on the lefthand dial. Fujifilm put a function key close to where the old movie button was, but I still think they should have kept the old movie button and labeled it as an Fn2.

The back of the camera now has the focus point joystick/knob thingie, just like on the X-Pro2. This means that the focus assist button is removed, and the Q button is moved to its place. Instead you just press the scroll wheel like on the X-Pro2 when you want the focus assist function. Buttons have been raised slightly, so they’re easier to find by the touch. They should be raised even further imho.

The thumb grip is more pointy and less curved. It has been moved further to the right. This new placement works great for my hands.

The SD card door, which now covers a dual SD slot, has been redesigned, and now requires you to depress a little hinge. Its very sturdy. No “bendgate” here. Same with the hatch to the left hand side. No wiggly wiggly! – It covers a remote jack, a mini HDMI port, a USB port and a mic jack.

The standard eyecup is now much improved. For a glass wearer like myself, its perfect. It’s almost the same as the extended eye cup for the X-T1. I like this change a lot!

The screen is now a 3-axis tilt screen, meaning that in addition to landscape tilt, you can also do horizontal tilt. You can also combine the two, for weird angle stuff. The LCD panel is a 3 inch, 1040K dot display.

Fujifilm made the X-T2 slightly larger than the X-T1, but it’s such a small difference that you have to hold them both side by side to even tell the difference. It’s very minute.

Functions

The innards of the X-T2 is the same as with the X-Pro2. A 24.3mp X-Trans III sensor, and an X Processor Pro handles operations. I have already gone into great detail about the specifics of the new sensor and the new processor in my X-Pro2 review HERE,so I won’t be going through too many specifics.

It has incredible dynamic range, and native ISO goes from ISO200-12800, and extended ISO range from ISO100-ISO51200. Also as RAW files.

With the X-Processor Pro comes the ability to use the Acros® film simulation, and the grain control. I wrote about what the X-Pro2 does with noise control in Acros in THIS POST

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ISO 12.800 – Across jpeg – Pushed with some extra contrast.

One of the things that Fujifilm improved upon with the X-T2 is the already brilliant EVF of the X-T1. The new EVF has a refresh rate of 60fps in normal mode and a staggering 100fps in boost mode. In the 100fps setting it is incredibly fluid! – There’s hardly any lag. The screen is a 2.36 million dot OLED, with added brightness. And the framerate doesn’t drop when used in the dark. The EVF is truly outstanding. It’s still a 0.77x magnification.

A thing that is often talked about in regards to the EVF is the blackout period between shots. This has really been improved as well. Fujifilm doesn’t specify a number, but states that it’s below half of that in the X-T1. All I can say from my testing, especially in motorsports, is that the blackout is virtually nonexistent. It surely poses a non-issue for capturing fast paced action sequences.

Fujifilm added a new boost mode to the X-T2. It uses more battery but in return cranks up all the cool speed functions. The function is a bit differentiated between using the camera with- or without the new Vertical Power Booster Grip (VPB-XT2).

What you get in the boost mode is the 100fps EVF refresh rate and continuous shooting up to 8fps with the mechanical shutter, and 14 fps with the electronic shutter. With the grip attached you get 11 fps with the mechanical shutter.

Now trust me when I tell you this. It’s INSANE! – The speed you get from the camera when in boost mode is right in DLSR territory! Combine the fast fps with the new improved AF, and you will get close to zero misses even when taking pictures of fast moving subjects. It’s not only fast, but it’s very precise.

The new drive mode enables you to choose between 3-, 4- and 5 fps in C-L mode, and depending on boostmode, battery grip, shutter type it will enable 8-, 11-, and 14 fps in C-H mode.

This brings me to the AF system. While the X-Pro2 certainly upped things in this department, the X-T2 takes it even further. You now have up to 325 autofocusing points, where 49 of them are PDAF points. It’s roughly 40% of the sensor area that is phase detection enabled.

Autofocus is very fast and very precise. I said it back in my X-Pro2 review, and I’ll say it again. The AF of Fujifilm cameras is no longer a showstopper. It’s precise and fast.

The new algorithms in the X-T2 allows for even better usage of the processing power, and results in greatly enhanced predictive AF. The Autofocus of this camera is downright incredible.

The AF-C mode now has different profiles with tunings in three basic parameters:

  • Tracking sensitivity, sets how sensitive the camera is to tracking and locking on to the moving subject
  • Speed tracking sensitivity, switches between sensitivity of decellerating/accelerating subjects and steady moving subjects
  • Zone area switching. enables the system to either follow or ignore appearing subjects in the frame where there’s already a subject being focused on.

It comes with 5 presets for different purposes, and a customisable profile, where you can make your own adjustments to the three parameters.

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“Light bender” – Dúné at Nibe Festival 2016. The new drive mode is perfect for erratic moving stage artists

Flash

Now, I’m not a studio photographer. Never have been, never will be (I think). But I do use strobes a lot for my product photography as well as my portraiture work. Both on-location and in doors.

Until recently the flash offering from Fujifilm has been close to non existing. But since announcing the EF-X500 they have really done some work to the overall flash interface in the X-T2.

It now feels like a mature system! The menus have been completely redesigned to give you a much clearer representation of what you have going on with your lighting.

I didn’t have a chance to test out the EF-X500 unit, so I have been trying out the improvements in either manual mode with my Cactus V5 triggers and my Nissin i40’s or with the complimentary fill flash unit EF-X8.

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Kristian and Tommy of Relic Motorcycles. A simple 2-light off-camera setup with two Nissin i40’s

You have TTL and TTL slow sync, both options with a choice of 1st and 2nd curtain sync. Just like always…..but now here’s the kicker… you can FINALLY have 2nd curtain sync when using flashes in manual mode.

Movie

The big news with the movie function is obviously that the X-T2 is the first camera from Fujifilm capable of recording in 4K resolution. It does so, in 24p, 25p or 30p. The optional accessory powergrip has headphones jack out so you can listen to the sound whilst recording, and the added battery life from the grip will allow you to record up to 30minutes of 4K video.

It does clean HDMI output for 4K video recording, and offers the “F-Log” log-gamma option. AKA it does some fancy tricks with the videofile in a fancy way.

I tried the video function. It looks good. I’m NOT a videographer. I don’t do video AT ALL. So if this is your main interest, you might want to read another review. – And that’s just about all I have to say about the movie part. I did make a small sample clip, that you can view below.

I used a Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 ASPH for this small sample clip. I have been told that you can see autoexposure and aperture changes. What can I say? I’m not a video guy.

I used the Acros filmsimulation and edited it in iMovie.

Image Quality

As I mentioned, the innards of the X-T2 are the same as with the X-Pro2. You get 24.3 MP files with a resolution of 6000x4000px. Dynamic range in this new sensor is very good, and the flexibility  in post processing is quite marvellous. I have been shooting the X-Pro2 since november 2015, and now the X-T2 since april. I have gotten quite familiar with sensor and its output by now.

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The Dyrhólaey lighthouse in Iceland. Great colors, great dynamic range. Thats the X-Trans III

Even though a lot can be recovered, you still have to watch your highlights on this sensor. Rather you underexpose a bit, and pull the shadows. – It’s an ISO-less sensor, so you can dial in exposure in the field, or you can do it after the fact when doing post-processing. It’s up to you. Your noise levels will not differ. – A lot of articles has been written on this subject, so I won’t add further to that discussion 😉 – Again, if you want my complete run-down of the image quality of this sensor, check out my X-Pro2 review HERE

Usage

Now, as I mentioned in the beginning of this write-up I really wanted to test the camera in different scenarios that would fit the bill of different types of photographers. So during the last 3 months I have carried and used the X-T2 everywhere. The only sub-ideal thing about this was that I constantly had to carry both the X-T2 as well as my X-Pro2. For keeping up my social media appearance, I had to shoot a a lot of pictures twice!

N.B. Remember to click the galleries to get to the image carrousel. 

Landscape/nature

Just a week after receiving the X-T2 test unit, I had a trip planned to Iceland with some fellow danish Fujifilm photographers. I thought it would be a golden opportunity to test out the camera right away with harsh weather and beautiful sceneries requiring the absolute best in dynamic range  and weather sealing.

The trip was an absolute success. My travelling companions must have figured me as a complete manic, since I always flew out the bus as the first one. I only did it so I could set up the X-T2, take the shots, and put it back in the bag before anyone noticed.

Weather sealing sure came in handy. The weather in Iceland is everchanging. Ranging from -2 degrees celcius to +14 degrees within an hour is nothing unusual. The weather sealing works. I put it within 3 feet of waterfalls. Put it into misty falloffs as well as accidentally dropping it into a small puddle. No issues what so ever!

The new portrait oriented tilt mode is fantastic for tripod usage when doing vertical landscape shots. It really came in handy in so many situations!

The image quality is fantastic. I can pull details from shadows, retain highlights and get incredible shots of the rapidly changing lighting conditions. It really is quite something!

Portraits/Commercial

During last year I have developed a great relationship with local danish motorcycle builders “Relic motorcycles”. They build bratstyle caferacers from old Hondas, BMW’s etc. We had been having some talks for a while about doing a proper session where I could photograph some of their bikes, their clothing line as well as general portraiture images for their upcoming website.

We ended up using the area around Aarhus harbour. For the driving shots I was hanging out the trunk of my family wagon, while staying as close to the asphalt as possible.

For the night time images of the bikes I used lightpainting techniques, while exposing at 30s on a tripod.

But this was really a test of the flash capabilities of the X-T2. I used my two Nissin i40 strobes in various setups with my Cactus V5 triggers. I really like how intuitive the new flashmenu is. It’s MUCH easier to work with and changing settings on the fly. Even when in manual mode.

We shot for 3 hours. I shot around 800 shots, and changed the X-T2 battery once. I can definitely live with that!

I really like how the filmsimulations can be used in these conditions. Especially around sunset the yellow/purple gradients in the sky look fantastic using the Velvia simulation, and the roughness of the industrial areas is easily enhanced using Classic Chrome. We had a blast and the X-T2 performed flawlessly.

Motorsports

I was fortunate enough to get an accredited spot as a photographer at the annual Classic Car Race Aarhus back in June. The test version of X-T2 had just been updated with the new firmware containing the new enhanced Autofocus and drive settings. So it was the perfect place to test out the highspeed, high performance aspects of the camera.

Off I went with the X-T2, Powergrip, Batteries gallore, XF10-24, XF50-140, XF16, XF23, XF35, and the XF90. Everything fit snug into my shoulder bag. No huge DSLRs here. The weight was perfect! – After 10 hours of constant walking, standing and shooting I didn’t even feel tired in my shoulders and back. THAT’S what mirrorless is all about!

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Now let me just get it out there. The X-T2 is fast! It’s made for this kind of shooting. Racing cars going directly towards me at 200+ km/h was easily captured in burst mode with focus being locked on the car throughout the series. 3 fps through the trees and bushes didn’t fail once. It just locked on, and STAYED on. The extremely short blackout time makes it incredibly fluid to shoot fast paced scenes. I used the AF-C type 3 function for accelerating/decelerating  subjects while in Zone focus mode. Switched between bursts of 11 and bursts of 3-5. It just works!

For panning shots I used manual focusing, set the aperture to A and shot at 1/15th to 1/60th. I can say with absolute certainty that with the hit rate I got from this event I can’t imagine a DSLR in my hands could be easier, or get me better results. Fujifilm has really stepped up to the plate in this area.

Wedding

I attended a wedding of some of our very good friends, and even though I wasn’t the primary photographer I couldn’t help but bring my gear along. For the documentary type of wedding photography that I usually do, the capturing of the fast fleeing moments is ever important. Having your camera fail in locking focus and being slow just makes your life as a wedding photographer a lot harder!

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I only used prime lenses for this event. XF23mm, XF35mm and XF56mm APD.

Yet again, the small formfactor of both the X-T2 and the optics allowed me to attend as a guest and staying discreet about taking pictures.

Music/Concert

Being a huge music lover, looking at concert images always brings a smile to my face. I love it when you get to see the emotional register of the artists as they perform their art. During 2015 I did a concert test of the X30 as well as bringing my XT10 to the Smukfest festival. – Both events was shot while I was a regular member of the audience. This summer I had a great opportunity to be part of the internal photography team at the Nibe festival in Denmark. (Incredible team!!)

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Danish act Dúné at Nibe festival 2016

Seeing that it was my first time in the pit with proper access, I was a bit nervous as to how it would turn out.

The X-T2 did an amazing job. The fast paced sequences where the artists usually deliver great photogenic statures was easily captured with the AF-C mode set to track “Erratic moving subjects”. Focus was spot on. Mostly I used a 3 fps CL burst.

The flipscreen was very very handy here as well. For shooting above the edge of the stage, above the audience, ground level audience shots and so forth.

In addition, the small size really made it a breeze to carry the camera over my shoulder all day.

I really loved how it transformed from a big mean rapid fire stageshooting beast with the XF50-140mm, to being a completely discreet audience reportage camera with the XF35mm. Incredibly versatile!

Street/Documentary

Although my main camera choice for street photography would be the rangefinder’esque X-Pro2, the X-T2 certainly brings quite a few welcome features

For one the amazing EVF. It is like using a big screen TV for framing. I suddenly see a lot of tiny details much more clearly. I do miss the hybrid viewfinder component, but overall the big EVF is a great thing. The other thing that is great for street photography is the tilt screen. I really use this a lot for low angle framing. Also, when I look at the flip screen at waist level, the lack of possible eye contact makes my appearance much less noticeable. With the X-T2 I can even do this in portrait mode. It’s genius!

The new focus system is so snappy and precise, that missing fast paced moments is getting quite hard.

Conclusion

The X-T2 is the absolute best camera Fujifilm has to offer for the working photographer. It has great speed, great controls and great image quality. It really is a fantastic allround camera that will work very well no matter the situation you put it in. It marks a very effective top of the line in the X-T series. While 4K video has been added and revamped, it still feels like a still-photographers tool first and foremost. If you’re a photographer making a living from your pictures, and want to try out a mirrorless system, the X-T2 would be a great place to start looking.