Having introduced their next-generation sensor technology with the X-Pro 2, Fujifilm doubled down on their quest to kill the DSLR.
With image quality in the bag, they focused their efforts on speed, and specifically the speed and accuracy of continuous autofocus — the last bastion of DSLR superiority.
The result is a camera that succeeds not only in granting the wishes of existing Fuji users, but also in attracting an entirely new set of customers for whom the final barrier to entry has been further eroded.
Design & Build
For the past year or so, I’ve been very happily shooting with an X-Pro 2 for all my work and personal assignments. While I came to Fuji from a DSLR and am thus more used to that form factor, I’ve come to appreciate the rangefinder-style layout. I even prefer it in a lot of ways.
I tend to agree with the notion that the X-Pro 2 is the camera Fuji wants to make, and the X-T2 is the camera they need to make. I say this because the X-Pro 2 feels tuned for pleasure. The X-T2 seems more utilitarian.
Physically, the X-T2 has gained a few grams as well as grown a few millimetres compared to its predecessor, but it’s still not a big camera by any stretch of the imagination. Its growth has left a bit of extra breathing room for controls, and allowed Fuji to reconfigure the back to include a focus stick like the X-Pro 2.
Besides being a better way to select focus points, this change frees up the use of the directional buttons for other things, meaning the X-T2 now has eight assignable buttons while maintaining easy focus point control. You may have noticed that the focus stick has taken the place of the Q button and that the Focus Check button has therefore been removed. Don’t worry though, it’s only the button that’s gone—the rear dial now inherits that functionality when pressed in.
The grip has also been adjusted. It’s a bit deeper, but the back thumb rest has been shifted over and smoothed out in a way that actually makes the camera less comfortable for me to hold than the X-Pro 2. The shutter release (now threaded like the X-Pro 2’s) is still in the right spot, but something about the way my hand fits around the grip feels like a step backward.
Gone are the shallow buttons from the original run of X-T1s, thankfully, replaced by sturdier and more satisfying ones here. The dials have also grown taller — a welcome change — and the standard eyecup for the EVF is now wider, offering more protection from outside light.
I consider the camera’s physical tweaks to be a net win, despite my individual issues with the grip. Even that is a subtle thing and not something that would stop me from using the camera.
But there’s another grip to talk about here, and that’s the separate Vertical Power Booster Grip.
Power Booster: It Goes to 11
Unlike your average vertical grip, Fuji’s companion to the X-T2 actually changes the camera’s functionality in meaningful ways.
The grip itself maintains the system’s dust and water resistance, and provides access to the usual shutter and AEL/AFL buttons, a rear dial, as well as a duplicated focus joystick — a wonderful decision. It holds two additional batteries and can charge both simultaneously, making it a sort of on-the-go charging solution.
Drawing energy from all three batteries (two in the grip and one in the camera) allows it to power about 1,000 frames per charge, as well as offer a shot of adrenaline to various aspects of the camera’s responsiveness.
Like past Fuji cameras, the X-T2 has both “normal” and “boost” operational modes. If you’re using only the body, enabling boost shortens AF acquisition speed from 0.08 seconds to 0.06 and catapults the EVF refresh rate from 60fps to a gorgeous 100fps.
That alone would be nice, but if you happen to enable boost mode with the new battery grip attached, you get a few additional benefits:
- Shooting interval goes from 0.019 seconds to 0.017
- Shutter lag goes from 0.05 seconds to 0.045
- Blackout goes from 130 milliseconds to 114
- Maximum burst rate goes from 8fps to 11
The latter is the most significant change (I honestly struggled to discern a difference between the rest), and one that virtually ensures X-T2 purchasers will add the $330 grip to their purchase. At that point, the X-T2 goes from being the cheaper and lighter option to being both significantly heavier and over $200 more expensive.
But that’s not a big deal in the professional context it’s intended for. Especially considering the X-T2’s newest selling point: 4K video.
Entering the Mirrorless Video Market
Fuji is taking video seriously — at long last — and it’s going to pay off in a big way.
The X-T2 can record UHD 4K with 1.3x oversampling. It records at a healthy 100Mbps at 4K and 1080p resolutions, dropping to 50Mbps for HD and below. It also allows moving of the focus point while recording, and features built-in audio recording and monitoring.
This all sounds great, but as someone who works with mirrorless cameras in a professional video context (the Panasonic GH4 is our weapon of choice), some of these improvements are lost on me. For instance, I would never trust onboard recording for anything more than reference audio, even with a different mic attached. Still, it’s going to be fine for run-and-gun situations where all you have with you is the camera and a hotshoe-mounted shotgun mic.
More importantly, these improvements distract from some remaining issues. One of the most problematic is the inability to record clips longer than 10 minutes to onboard storage. Unless, of course, you buy the power booster grip, which gets you to the usual 30 minute limit. Recording to an external device like the Atomos Shogun will of course remove any recording limit beyond the size of your attached hard drive, but once again we run into a slight problem.
The HDMI output required for external recording remains an 8-bit stream with 4:2:2 chroma subsampling, unlike the GH4’s 10-bit output. And whether you’re recording internally or externally, you can’t adjust the compression settings for recording (choosing between All-I and IPB for example). On the bright side, Fuji does promise an ‘F-LOG’ flat colour profile for better flexibility in post-production colour grading, but the GH4 has several such profiles and its richer footage is likely to remain more malleable in post.
That being said, for shooters who don’t intend to do much (or any) colour correcting, none of this matters, and in fact it’s important to keep in mind that all of Fuji’s beloved film simulations are useable in video mode as well, meaning you can get pleasing footage straight from the camera as long as you know what you’re doing.
At the end of the day, Fuji has made the X-T2 a contender in the mirrorless consumer video space, which is a great step forward. I suspect it was too much to expect that they’d come out of the gate with something to rival established video stars like the GH4 and Sony A7S Mark II.
I was hoping that we’d be able to adopt Fuji as our system of choice for both stills and video, but with the X-T2 already lagging behind the GH4, and the GH5 just around the corner, that looks like a dream for next year’s model.
Still, Fuji’s history of listening to feedback and issuing significant firmware improvements keeps me optimistic about the X-T2’s future video capabilities, and even today’s functionality is more than enough for a huge swathe of consumer and semi-professional videographers.
Continuous Autofocus & Tracking
Fuji may be developing better video functionality, but we all know their true love is photography, so let’s get back to talking about the X-T2’s new stills improvements.
The most important is the speed and accuracy of their autofocus. Since the later firmware updates on the original X-T1, I’ve felt that the AF performance was good enough for the majority of my shooting needs, especially with newer lenses. The X-Pro 2 pushed autofocus to a whole new level, and now the X-T2 builds on that.
With the new 2.00 firmware for the X-Pro 2, the baseline autofocus speed and C-AF tracking performance is actually identical between the two flagships, but what remains exclusive to the X-T2 for the time being is the ability to customize the C-AF tracking algorithm for tracking different kinds of moving subjects.
Much like the equivalent functionality on action-focused DSLRs, the new C-AF menu allows you to adjust sensitivity to things like sudden changes in subject position, or how reactive it will be about subjects that have unpredictable patterns of motion. The ability to fine tune these parameters does lead to more keepers in high-speed scenarios, but not without effort.
My first outing to test the new C-AF functionality was a simple one: tracking the family dog running around in the backyard. It took me quite a while before I was able to find the right arrangement of settings to yield reliably in-focus bursts, but the need to experiment applies to any camera you attempt this kind of shooting with.
I found that using a 5×5 zone for focusing and keeping the tracking sensitivity to moderate levels yielded the best results.
Once you get the algorithm’s behaviour under your fingers, it works very nicely and feels like a definite step up over other mirrorless options, but I’m sorry to say it’s still got a ways to go before it can dethrone the best of the DSLRs.
Most of this comes down to reliability. The X-T2’s C-AF tracking is still…quirky, for lack of a better term. It works well only with Fuji’s newer lenses (like the magnificent XF 50-140mm ƒ/2.8 I was using) as the older ones are just too slow to keep up with its demands.
Performance also settles back down into normal mirrorless territory when the light levels drop, meaning that wildlife shooters wanting to capture crepuscular critters at play should probably hang on to their DSLRs for now.
Nevertheless, each step forward for mirrorless performance captures more photographers whose needs can now be met by the newer technology. With the X-T2, Fuji has cast a wider net than ever, allowing them to snag all but the most demanding action shooters.
DSLRs should be worried, but they’re not redundant just yet.
There really isn’t much to say about the X-T2’s image quality that hasn’t already been said about its sibling flagship, the X-Pro 2.
The cameras share the same X-Trans III sensor and processor, so output is identical, as you’d expect. You’ll have access to the lovely Acros film simulation (alongside the existing favourites like Classic Chrome and, my personal go-to, Pro Neg Hi), as well as the beloved Fuji colour palette that makes their JPGs so appealing.
RAW shooters, especially those coming from the previous generation sensor, will appreciate the improved dynamic range and the bump in detail that those extra 8 megapixels bring to the table. I’ve found myself able to push and pull X-Trans III files a lot more than I could X-Trans II, especially in terms of highlight and shadow recovery.
Unfortunately, X-Trans is still the neglected stepchild of the pixel array family, meaning you’ll have to contend with subpar demosaicing in almost every RAW processor on the market. Lightroom, the most popular choice, still does a poor job of handling Fuji files. Yes, you can crank the detail slider to help recover some sharpness, but zoom in and you’ll see all your foliage turn into a mess of worm-like squiggles. Keep fiddling to find a sweet spot and you’re still left dealing with slower import and processing speeds as Lightroom struggles to make sense of the X-Trans files.
If you’re willing to switch RAW processors, Iridient Developer retains detail best (at the expense of interface quality and cataloguing), RawTherapee gives you the absolute highest quality and processing fidelity across the board (at the expense of ease — it is monstrously complicated and difficult software), and Capture One is probably the best balance, giving you a better rendering than Lightroom with similar cataloguing capabilities and a familiar interface.
The idea of switching around your entire workflow to ensure maximum output quality from your quirky camera system is a tough pill to swallow though, and it’s made many photographers — yours truly included — question the real-world benefits of X-Trans versus standard Bayer arrays.
On the other hand, obsessing over these sorts of things is a slippery slope into pixel peeping madness, and we all have better things to do with our time — like take photos!
2017 is shaping up to be a competitive year for mirrorless cameras, and Fuji is clearly bringing their A-game.
The X-T2 didn’t capture my attention though. It offers only a small improvement over its X-Pro 2 sibling for photography, and doesn’t yet have what it takes to dethrone my video setup of choice. Taking into account the ergonomic step backward too, the X-T2 turned out to be much less tempting than I was expecting it to be. I won’t be trading in my X-Pro 2 for it.
That hardly detracts from its appeal for most shooters though, especially those without an existing X-Trans III-equipped camera. If I were buying a Fuji flagship from scratch, I would very likely buy the X-T2 just to have access to that 4k video and additional C-AF flexibility, even if I didn’t end up using them very often.
Most photographers will be fine without the grip, but they’d do well to choose their lenses carefully. Fuji’s lens line-up is uniformly excellent from an optical perspective, but the older lenses are really showing their age in autofocus performance.
The X-T2 delivers the most impressive continuous autofocus of any mirrorless camera I’ve encountered, with adept, configurable subject tracking and extremely quick target acquisition with newer lenses. Performance has reached a point where it delivers enough horsepower to meet the needs of almost all kinds of photographers, professional or otherwise.
This is the Fuji camera that most people have been waiting for. Its feature-packed firmware updates and increasingly healthy ecosystem ensure that the Fuji X-T2 will sell well and establish itself as a capable, reliable tool for years to come.
If you’re buying a Fuji camera today, this is almost certainly the one you should pick.