ON TRIAL FUJIFILM X-T2
While the X-T2 has quite a lot in common with the X-Pro2, the two are very different animals and are targeted at different users.
While Fujifilm’s X-Pro2 is probably an acquired taste for some photographers, the X-T2 is much more mainstream, but equally capable and a really credible alternative to a high-end D-SLR.
The X-Pro2 is a very special camera, but Fujifilm knows full well that it’s not for everybody. The uncompromising rangefinder-style design complete with hybrid optical/ electronic viewfinder make the X-Pro2 unique among mirrorless cameras, but it also means it may not be everybody’s first choice when it comes to switching from a D-SLR. This is where the X-T2 comes in.
As with its predecessor, Fujifilm is heavily promoting the X-T2 as a D-SLR alternative and, what’s more, a pro-level D-SLR alternative. Traditionally a conservative lot, working photographers have been slow to jump on the mirrorless bandwagon, but they’re getting the message now and the potential reductions in the size and weight of a full kit have the same attractions for pros as they do for everybody else. The significance with the X-T2 here is that it’s an ‘APS-C’ format camera, allowing even more of a reduction in bulk as aptly illustrated with the recently-released Fujinon XF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR telezoom – equivalent to a 150-600mm, but a fraction the size of a comparable lens in the full-35mm format.
At the X-T2’s Australian press launch, professional motorsport photographer Andrew Hall talked about his experiences of using the system at the Le Mans 24 hour race, and he was certainly convinced he wouldn’t be going back to a D-SLR.
It’s a tad ironic, of course, that the X-T2 is more SLR-like than just about any D-SLR thanks to its 1970s styling – there’s more than a passing resemblance to the Contax RTS – and dial-based control layout. They’re big dials too, especially the ones for setting the ISO and the shutter speed which both have locking buttons. Both these dials also have selector switch below them – for setting the drive modes and metering modes respectively – which is really old
school. And, as has been the case on all the higher-end X Series cameras, Fujifilm retains a cable release socket in the shutter button. There’s no mode dial because, also as before, the shutter speed dial and lens aperture collars have ‘A’ settings which switches them to auto selection. Just pick the required combination. The ISO dial also has an ‘A’ setting, although obviously the range – and there’s the option of predetermining up to three Auto ISO configurations – has to be set via the menu system. As on the X-Pro2, the exposure compensation dial is marked to +/-3.0 EV (in 1/3-stop incrments) and then has a ‘C’ position which gives access to +/-5.0 EV, with these extra settings selected via the front input wheel.
The contemporary controls are, of course, the front and rear input wheels (the front one is pressed in to change the function), a joystick for AF point selection (as introduced on the X-Pro2) and the navigator key cluster which are also customisable function buttons (giving a total of eight in all). The joystick can also be used for navigating the menus.
It all integrates surprisingly well, a testimony to the reality that dials are still a very efficient way to operate a camera… and the setting read-outs are exactly where they should be.
Unlike X-Pro2’s fixed panel, the X-T2’s monitor screen is tilt adjustable, and not just in the horizontal plane, but vertically too. Yes, a screen with a swing adjustment can essentially be tilted in the vertical too, but it’s then offset from the back of the camera whereas Fujifilm’s arrangement keeps it in exactly the same positioning as when tilted horizontally. The resolution is 1.04 megadots and Fujifilm is still staying away from touch controls.
However, the X-T2 does have the revised menu design introduced with the X-Pro2 which is both better graphically and logically. As with the top-end D-SLRs, there’s a chapter devoted entirely to the autofocus settings and Fujifilm has added yet more refinements to this camera which we’ll get to shortly. Alternatively, there’s a ‘Quick Menu’ display which provides direct access to the commonly-used capture and camera setting adjustments (16 in all)... either as a ‘base bank’ or corresponding to the seven custom shooting set-ups. Additionally, a customised ‘Quick Menu’ can be created, selecting from a bank of 24 functions. The EVF uses the same 2.36 megadots resolution 1.3 cm OLED panel as its predecessor, but with a number of improvements comprising a display lag time of just 0.005 seconds and a 100 fps frame rate when the X-T2 is switched to its ‘Boost’ mode. This also reduces false colour in the EVF display. There are a couple of facets to the ‘Boost’ operations, namely the incamera tweaks just described, but some quite serious turbocharging when the camera is fitted with the optional Vertical Power Booster Grip, a.k.a. the VPB-XT2. Like the camera body itself, the vertical grip is fully weather sealed and insulated, and it houses two extra battery packs which not only deliver an extended range – particularly useful when shooting video – but also a number performance enhancements; the most significant being an increase in the maximum continuous shooting speed from 8.0 fps to 11 fps. Additionally, the shooting interval time is almost halved (from 370 milliseconds to 190), the shutter lag is reduced (from 50 ms to 45) and the black-out time is also shortened (from 130 ms to 114). There’s some smart thinking going on here because if you don’t need the extra speed, you don’t need to pay for it… and you can have a more compact camera package. If you do want 11 fps – which permits the X-T2 to play with D-SLR big boys – chances are that you’ll also need the vertical grip and the extended battery life, but you’ll still be getting a camera that’s significantly smaller than either the Canon EOS-1D X II or Nikon D5.
The inside story starts with the next-gen ‘X-Trans CMOS III’ sensor which is the same up-rated ‘APS-C’ device as is used in the X-Pro2. The effective pixel count is 24.3 million, giving a pixel pitch of 3.91 microns.
The key design features include a ‘Floating Diffraction Amplifier’ to reduce noise and reshaped microlenses to enhance sensitivity. The read-out speed at 4000x6000 pixels is 28 fps which is partially achieved by replacing the traditional aluminium wiring tracks with copper to reduce resistance (similar to Sony’s latest full-35mm sensors). Copper also allows for thinner wiring which helps reduce noise. The native sensitivity range is equivalent to ISO 200 to 12,800 with a two-stop ‘push’ to ISO 51,200. In case you’re new to it, the ‘X-Trans’ name refers to Fujifilm’s unique 6x6 RGB colour filter
IT’S A TAD IRONIC THAT THE X-T2 IS MORE SLR-LIKE THAN JUST ABOUT ANY D-SLR THANKS TO ITS 1970S STYLING AND DIAL-BASED CONTROL LAYOUT.
groupings – as opposed to the standard 2x2 RGBG Bayer pattern – which employs a principle called aperiodicity to lower the frequency at which a moiré effect will occur with repeating patterns. Fujifilm was first with the idea of finding another way to deal with moiré other than the conventional optical low-pass filter (which throttles resolution), and ‘X-Trans’ sensor remains the most elegant solution.
The sensor is matched with Fujifilm’s dual-core ‘X Processor Pro’ engine which delivers that 8.0 fps shooting speed and, for the first time on an X Mount camera, 4K video at the Ultra HD resolution (see the Making Movies panel for a full run-down of the X-T2’s video capabilities). There’s also a big enough buffer memory to enable bursts of up to 83 best-quality JPEGs or 33 RAW files when shooting at 8.0 fps, but switch to the camera’s sensor shutter and you can step up to a very snappy 14.0 fps for bursts of 42 JPEGs or 28 RAWs. RAW files can be captured either as 14-bit uncompressed files or with lossless compression if you have a need for speed as the file size essentially halves. The JPEG capture options comprise two levels of compression, three image sizes and three aspect ratios – 3:2, 16:9 and 1:1. There are dual memory card slots for the SD format – both now with UHS-II speed support – and a range of file management configurations, namely ‘Sequential’ for automatic overflow, ‘Back Up’ which records files simultaneously to both cards, and RAW/JPEG which separates the RAW+JPEG captures to slot one and slot two. You can also specify which card is used specifically for video recording.
When shooting at either 8.0 fps or 14.0 fps, the autofocusing and metering are locked to the first frame, and if you want continuous adjustment you have to slow down to 5.0 fps (but obviously the burst length increases) which is a handy 2.0 fps faster than the X-Pro2.
The 24.3 MP ‘X-Trans’ CMOS sensor incorporates dedicated pixel arrays for phase-difference detection autofocusing which is employed in conjunction with contrast detection measurements depending on the subject or situation. The number of focusing points is further increased on the
X-T2 to a total of 325 – arranged in a 25x13 pattern – of which 169 are phase-detection arrays. The extra points comprise two columns of 13 contrast detectors added to each side of main cluster which gives a wider coverage than with the X-Pro2, and Fujifilm says the AF processing power and speed have been increased too.
Not surprisingly, the joystick control makes point selection a lot quicker and easier than using the conventional up/down and left/ right keys (although these are still available for this if you prefer). In the Zone and Wide/Tracking modes, the number of available zones increases from 49 to 91 (49 of which use phase-detection measurement) and focusing is via a 3x3 points cluster which is moved manually in the former and shifts automatically in the latter. Larger clusters of points – either 5x5 or 7x7 – can also be selected, depending on the size of the subject. New is an ‘AF-C Custom’ menu which presents a number of scenarios for fine- tuning focus tracking; five in all which vary three parameters to suit the type of subject movement. The five options are called Multi Purpose, Ignore Obstacles & Continue To Track Subject, For Accelerating/Decelerating Subject, For Suddenly Appearing Subject and For Erratically Moving & Accel/Decel Subject. Additionally, there’s a custom setting which allows you to manually adjust the three control parameters which are Tracking Sensitivity, Speed Tracking Sensitivity and Zone Area Switching. All this, of course, is very similar to the tracking adjustments available on the topend Canon and Nikon D-SLRs… which is most definitely deliberate. AF performance remains one of the few areas where the pro D-SLRs are still ahead of mirrorless cameras, but Fujifilm has worked every angle on the X-T2 to close this gap. Incidentally, with the exception of tracking scenarios, most of the X-T2’s AF enhancements are available for the X-Pro2 via a firmware upgrade.
Switching between continuous and single-shot AF operations is performed manually via, as before, a switch on the front panel and this also selects manual focusing. The assists for manual focusing comprise a magnified image, a focus peaking display (with a choice of colours and levels) and Fujifilm’s ‘Digital Split Image’ panel which is superimposed over the centre of the image and can be either transparent (i.e. colour) or in mono which helps it stand out better. There are three splits which are mis-aligned when the subject is out of focus and focusing the lens brings the four sections together… just like the old optical split-image rangefinder. However, as we noted with the X-Pro2 the digital version doesn’t work nearly as well. The splits are quite hard to see unless you have very contrasty vertical edges – although there’s a slight improvement with the X-T2 – and you really need to be a long way out-of-focus to notice the offsets. You can zoom in when using either EVF or monitor screen
AF PERFORMANCE REMAINS ONE OF THE FEW AREAS WHERE THE PRO D-SLRs ARE STILL AHEAD OF MIRRORLESS CAMERAS, BUT FUJIFILM HAS WORKED EVERY ANGLE ON THE X-T2 TO CLOSE THIS GAP.
which helps a little, but using the focus peaking display is actually far more effective in practice.
FASTER AND FLASHIER
The X-T2 has same 256-segment metering system as the X-Pro2 with the choice of multi-zone, centre-weighted average, fully averaged or spot measurements. Usefully, the spot meter can be linked to the active focusing point (or points cluster).
The focal-plane shutter is Fujifilm’s new 1/8000 second speed assembly which is tested to 150,000 cycles, but as noted earlier, there’s also a sensor shutter which has an extended speed range of 30-1/32,000 second and, of course, operates silently.
The maximum flash sync speed is 1/250 second and, while the X-T2 doesn’t have built-in flash, it’s supplied with a handy little accessory unit called EF-X8 and which has a metric guide number of eight at ISO 100, 11 at ISO 200. The flash modes include auto TTL, fill-in, red-eye reduction, slow speed sync, first/ second curtain sync and manual (adjustable down to 1/64 of full power). Flash compensation is available over a range +/-2.0 EV. There’s also a ‘commander’ mode, but as we’ve noted with earlier X Series cameras, this is limited to the remote triggering of photocell-equipped units and doesn’t extend to wireless TTL control. That said, full wireless TTL control is now available from the new EF-X500 accessory flash unit – but you’ll obviously need more than one – which has a metric guide number of 50 at ISO 100 and tilt/bounce/ zoom head. It’s also fully weather sealed. External flash units sync via either a hotshoe or a PC terminal.
Auto white balance control is supplemented by seven presets (including one for underwater) and provisions for creating three custom measurements. Finetuning and auto bracketing are also available. As on the X-Pro2 there are five auto bracketing modes – all operating over sequences of three frames – the additional options being for exposure, ISO, dynamic range and the ‘Film Simulation’ presets. The X-T2 has the full complement of current ‘Film Simulation’ presets – which now number a total of 15 – including the Kodachrome-lookalike Classic Chrome and the extra ACROS (named after Fujifilm’s famous fine-grained B&W negative film) B&W settings. As we noted in the X-Pro2 road-test, the standard monochrome ‘Film Simulation’ preset is actually based on Fujichrome Provia minus any colour, but ACROS is designed to have a tonality curve which emphasises detail in the highlights and mid-tones, but gives enhanced smoothness in the shadow areas as a balance. The noise reduction algorithm is also different and actually processes the noise to look like film grain. And the effect varies with the ISO setting. Just in case you’d like to do this with the other ‘Film Simulation’ presets, there’s now a ‘Grain Effect’ function with the choice of Weak or Strong settings. As with the standard B&W ‘Film Simulation’ presets, there’s a choice of additional ACROS settings with yellow, red or green contrastcontrol filters.
The colour saturation, sharpness, highlight and/or shadow tone (i.e. contrast) and noise reduction can be adjusted for each preset. Up to seven customised shooting presets can be compiled from a total of nine adjustments; including Film Simulation, Grain Effect, white balance, dynamic range and noise reduction plus the picture parameters.
There’s a choice of three manual settings for dynamic range expansion processing – called 100%, 200% and 400% – or an automatic correction which assesses the brightness range in the scene and tweaks both the exposure and the tone curve accordingly. The X-T2 also has Fujifilm’s ‘Lens Modulation Optimiser’ (LMO) processing which detects and corrects for diffraction blur, an intervalometer (for up to 999 frames), a multiple exposure facility (technically still only a double exposure facility) and a selection of eight ‘Advanced Filters’ which includes all the usual suspects – Toy Camera, Miniature, Soft Focus, Partial Colour and Pop Colour – which probably aren’t a big priority on a camera like this, but the Dynamic Tone, High-Key and Low-Key settings may have more potential.
IN THE HAND
Compared to its predecessor, the X-T2 has bulked up a bit – although it’s still much smaller than a comparable D-SLR – and has a bigger, better-shaped grip so it’s more comfortable to handle. It also feels better balanced when fitted with a bigger, heavier lens. In addition to the four navigator keys, another four buttons can be customised from a list of 31 functions (or disabled completely). Similarly to Canon’s D-SLRs, you can also create a customised ‘My Menu’, comprising up to 16 regularly-used functions which can also be ranked in importance.
The viewfinder works exceptionally well and there’s now a much more substantial eyecup to keep out extraneous light. The display can be configured with a guide grid, level indicator, focusing distance scale (with a depthof-field indicator) and real-time histogram. It’s also adjustable for brightness and colour balance, as is the LCD monitor screen. The main display here can also be set to show the same elements as the viewfinder plus, when focusing manually, there’s an option which adds a small additional panel that’s essentially a simplified version of the X-Pro2’s ‘Electronic Range Finder’ (ERF). This provides the manual focus assists separately from the main image display which some users may find easier to work with.
The main monitor also has info-only display which is primarily designed to be used in conjunction with the EVF. It provides a host of information including an AF point grid, a real-time histogram, exposure settings and a bank of 15 capture settings.
The image replay/review screens include a thumbnail accompanied by capture data, a highlight warning and a brightness histogram. The in-camera editing functions include RAW-to-JPEG conversion, Fujifilm’s ‘PhotoBook Assist’ feature (which allows for up to 300 images to be organised for reproduction in a photo book) and direct printing to an Instax instant print device via WiFi. However, the X-T2 doesn’t offer the convenience of NFC connectivity.
In addition to wireless file sharing, the Fujifilm Camera Remote app has a ‘Remote Control’ function which covers a wide selection of camera operations – including focusing, exposure settings, the ‘Film Simulation’ presets and the self-timer. Remote file browsing is also available, and images can actually be geotagged from a smartphone’s GPS.
SPEED AND PERFORMANCE
With our reference memory card – Lexar’s 128 GB SDXC UHS-II/U3 (Speed Class 3) Professional – loaded up, the X-T2 (using the focal plane shutter) captured a burst of 77 JPEG/large/ fine files in 9.451 seconds, giving a shooting speed of 8.12 fps. This pretty well matches Fujifilm’s quoted specs; a little faster in terms of actual speed, but a little under the burst length… the latter undoubtedly because the average test file size was a healthy 13.8 MB.
The autofocusing is the fastest yet in the X Mount family with a noticeable improvement in the responsiveness of the continuous operation with Zone AF and the accuracy of the tracking… even without the scenario-based finetuning. Nikon’s D500 (and D5) set the benchmark here, but there’s no question that Fujifilm has made up a lot of ground, especially since the X-T1. There’s no question that the X-T2 is now one of the fastest focusing mirrorless cameras on the market, as evidenced by the amount of motorsport photography being shown in test reports… fast-moving racing cars remain the ultimate challenge for autofocusing systems and this camera looks to
THE X-T2 HAS BULKED UP A BIT – ALTHOUGH IT’S STILL MUCH SMALLER THAN A COMPARABLE D-SLR – AND HAS A BIGGER, BETTER-SHAPED GRIP SO IT’S MORE COMFORTABLE TO HANDLE.
be up to the job. The 256-segment metering system isn’t new, of course, but it’s proven reliable on previous X Mount models – including the X-Pro2 – and it continues to work reliably here.
Although the X-T2 has an expanded exposure compensation range of +/-5.0 EV, in practice you rarely need more than an adjustment of 2/3-stop… and this is usually only to counter slight underexposure. High contrast situations are handled surprisingly well.
Straight out of the camera, the best-quality JPEGs look superb with excellent colour fidelity, extremely crisp definition and a wide dynamic range. Fujifilm’s vast experience with colour reproduction is put to good use in the ‘Film Simulation’ presets which have been designed to balance colorimetric colour – or real colour – with expected or ‘memorised’ colour. The Standard/ Provia preset’s colour, but Vivid/ Velvia punches up the saturation without compromising tonal gradations and really replicates the eye-popping look of Fujifilm’s much loved transparency film. And B&W aficionados will love the ACROS presets – which we explored extensively when testing the X-Pro2 – as they deliver stunning contrast (especially with Red ‘filter’ applied) without compromising dynamic range or tonality. The good news for RAW shooters is that the ‘Film Simulation’ presets are proper profiles so the parameters can be adjusted post-capture.
The X-Pro2 delivers excellent high ISO performance, but if anything the X-T2 does a little better overall, a testimony to the fact that the correction algorithms are continually being refined. Consequently, noise just isn’t an issue all the way up to ISO 3200 and is minimal at ISO 6400 although there’s a hint of graininess in areas of continuous tone. This becomes more noticeable at ISO 12,800, but neither saturation nor sharpness are significantly diminished so this setting is more useable than is often the case with an ‘APS-C’ size sensor. Not surprisingly, the expansion settings are a last resort, although ISO 25,600 is possibly useable if you only need a small-sized image… definition is definitely reduced, but the colour saturation is still surprisingly good.
Given the similarity in price, you could well end up with both the X-T2 and X-Pro2 on your shopping list, but they’re actually very different cameras. The X-Pro2 is definitely more rangefinder-like in its overall characteristics so it’s a more considered purchase, and its professional applications are more suited to landscapes, documentary work or street photography (although, of course, it can actually do a lot more). On the other hand, the X-T2 is unashamedly designed to make mirrorless converts of high-end D-SLR users, and particularly those in the market for a ‘sports’ camera.
Beyond the traditional SLR-type styling and control layout – big attractions in themselves – the X-T2 is an absolute power house thanks to its sensor and processor, with the option of turbocharging some key specs via the optional booster grip… 14 fps continuous shooting takes it right up to Canon’s vastly more expensive EOS-1D X Mark II, for example.
The upgraded autofocusing system gives the X-T2 real potential to also match it with the best D-SLRs in this area, and Fujifilm is becoming increasingly competitive when it comes to high-performance lenses too. But it’s not just the ‘big picture’ aspects that Fujifilm has got right with the X-T2, but a myriad of smaller details – the monitor’s clever tilts, the dual memory card slots, the joystick control and vast scope for customisation of controls and menus. It all comes together in one gloriously capable and workable camera. And then there are the minuses which are actually plusses… less size, weight and dollars. It all adds up to something quite special.
X-T2’s styling is straight out of the 1970s… at least as far as the top panel is concerned. Long live classic dials!
The selector below the shutter speed dial sets the metering mode. The menu system has been redesigned – as introduced on the X-Pro2 – and is more logical in both its arrangement and navigation. The new joystick control allows for the quicker and easier selection of focusing points/zones. It can also be used to navigate the menus. The monitor screen has tilt adjustments in both the horizontal and vertical planes. The all-metal bodyshell boasts a total of 63 seals to prevent the intrusion of dust and moisture. It’s also insulated to allow operation in sub-zero temperatures down to -10 degrees Celsius.
The ISO dial has an ‘A’ setting for selecting auto sensitivity adjustment. The range is preset via the menu system. Note the selector at the base of this dial for setting the drive modes, bracketing function, self-timer and ‘Advanced Filter’ effects. The shutter speed dial is marked down to one second, while the ‘T’ setting accesses speeds down to 30 seconds. Another flashback to the 1970s; Fujifilm continues to provide a cable-release socket on its higher-end X Series cameras, although the X-T2 can also be fitted with an electronic trigger. As on the X-Pro2, the exposure compensation dial is marked for up to +/-3.0 EV, but the ‘C’ setting accesses a wider range of +/-5.0 EV.
Two pages are devoted to the various autofocusing functions, including a set of ‘AF-C Custom’ scenarios for fine-tuning tracking.
The ‘Quick Menu’ display provides direct access to a large selection of capture-related functions and can be customised.
The replay screen options include a thumbnail with a brightness histogram and detailed capture info.
The live view screen can be configured with a real-time histogram, guide grid, level indicator and focusing distance scale.