Prologue

Two and a half years ago, I reviewed the Fujifilm X-T1. It quickly became one of my favorite cameras of all time, and cemented my belief that the future of photography was mirrorless. It put a brilliant electronic viewfinder atop a classic SLR-style body loaded with real, physical controls. There was no touch screen because it didn’t need one. It actually felt like something a professional photographer would want to use, which, at that time, was a rare accomplishment for a mirrorless camera.

Yet a few nagging annoyances, like a noncommittal autofocus system and a video mode that was better left unused, kept me from purchasing one. Still, I said it provided a shooting experience that approached perfection.

The X-T2 may have reached it.

ONE:

Finding Focus

With the X-T2, Fujifilm rightly didn’t change up the formula that made the X-T1 a success. The control layout is a near copy of the original, but subtle enhancements make it even better. A dedicated autofocus point selector — hallelujah! — joins the rest of the direct access controls, which include ISO, shutter speed, exposure compensation, and aperture (on the lens).

On the back, the LCD screen now pivots 45 degrees to the right in addition to tilting up and down. It’s not another hallelujah moment, but it is nice for shooting in portrait orientation on a tripod or from a low angle.

The X-T2 now offers dual SD card slots, and unlike on the X-Pro2, both support the latest UHS-II standard. You’ll find a USB 3 port on the opposite side of the camera for fast transfer speeds if you prefer to not use a card reader.

One minor qualm, which the X-T1 shared, is that the camera can feel a little crowded. The design clearly prioritizes the controls you need the most, but lesser-used functions become a bit difficult to reach. In practice, it’s not worth complaining about, as the only real alternatives would be less direct control or a larger camera body, neither of which sounds like a good idea to me.

It’s also worth noting that not everyone is a fan of Fujifilm’s design ethos. Like its predecessor, the X-T2 forgoes the standard mode dial in favor of an Automatic position on each of the three exposure controls.

Personally, I prefer this approach, as I spend most of my time in manual mode, dropping into aperture priority on occasion. But if you tend to switch exposure modes often, especially if you use program or full auto, you may find Fuji’s method to be more complicated than a traditional mode dial.

While the body may look familiar, it’s bursting with new tech on the inside. It’s a combination of beauty and brains that further refines the X-T1’s excellent user experience.

This is also the first Fujifilm camera to take a serious stab at video, but more on that later. Fans of the X-Series can rest assured that the soul of this camera remains firmly rooted in still photography, and it will appeal to a broader range of photographers than any Fuji that’s come before.

One of the headline features of the X-T2 is the autofocus system, which is more-or-less the same as the one introduced on the X-Pro2. However, given that camera’s emphasis on slower, more methodical types of photography, X-T users may have more reason to get excited about it.

The system boasts 325 AF points, 169 of which use phase-detection. It’s easily the best AF of any X-Series camera, and it puts the X-T1 to shame. Every AF point is also sensitive down to an impressive -3 EV, although performance decreases in low light settings, as is normal.

In general, AF speed is very fast, but it is still dependent on the lens. Certain lenses, notably newer models, are faster than others. I tested the 10-24mm f/4, 35mm f/1.4, and 56mm f/1.2R APD. Of those, the 10-24mm focused the fastest. The 35mm, which uses fairly complex focusing mechanics, was mostly good, but would often hunt briefly before locking in. The APD version of the 56mm doesn’t support phase-detect AF, so it was a bit slower, but still very good when in sufficient light.

If you play the numbers game, 325 AF points may not seem impressive next to the competition from Sony (the A6300 and A6500 have a full 100 more). However, 325 is plenty. In fact, I kept the camera set to 91-point mode and found that to be easier when using single-point AF. The extra points will come in handy for tracking subjects in continuous AF mode, however, which the X-T2 does surprisingly well.

Fujifilm hasn’t forgotten about X-Pro2 users here, either, and has issued a firmware update for that camera to bring its AF performance in line with the X-T2.

As for image quality, the X-T2 borrows two more components from the X-Pro2: the X-Processor Pro and the 24-megapixel X-Trans CMOS III sensor. If you happen to have shot the X-Pro2, you know what this combination is capable of. Images have incredible detail and dynamic range, high ISO noise performance is among the best for the format, and the in-camera processing produces beautiful color. I cannot tell you how many times I took a picture, punched in to 100%, and went, “Wow.”

TWO:

Go Go Power Booster

Before we leave the topic of image quality completely, I’d be remiss to not bring up lenses. Fujifilm’s narrow focus on fast primes and high-end zooms is unique in the industry, and while the company does make cheaper options suited for entry-level cameras, these seem to be little more than afterthoughts. It’s clear that Fuji considers the enthusiast photographer to be its most valuable customer, and that’s very refreshing.

The 35mm F1.4 and 56mm F1.2R APD aren’t just great lenses, they’re something special. Sharp, even when wide open, with beautiful bokeh, they are two of my favorite portrait lenses on any system. (Oh yes, thanks for asking: My other favorites are the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4.)

Sure, there’s a lot of subjectivity in this analysis, but I think most would agree that the lens lineup is one of the greatest strengths of the X-Series. I don’t think there is any other APS-C lens lineup, mirrorless or otherwise, that can rival it. Of course, it helps that Fuji doesn’t have to split its efforts between multiple formats (well, other than the GFX now, I guess).

While great glass is nothing new for Fujifilm, the X-T2 shows that the company has put significant effort into improving speed and performance. Beyond the much improved autofocus, the X-T2 can churn out photos at 8 FPS, even with an eight megapixel bump in resolution over the X-T1. Live view can be maintained up to 5 FPS. Buffer depths have also improved, with the X-T2 able to record about 33 lossless compressed RAW files in a single, continuous burst. That’s about ten more than the X-T1, despite the larger file sizes.

But where things really get interesting is with the X-T2’s Boost mode and new battery grip, called the Vertical Power Booster. Burst rate jumps to 11 FPS and shutter lag and viewfinder blackout time are both reduced. The grip holds two additional batteries which will power the camera for well over 1,000 exposures, so you don’t have to worry about running out of juice in the field.

True, several other cameras in this class can match 11 FPS without requiring an extra grip, but speed still isn’t the X-T2’s main selling point. If you need it, though, it’s nice to know it’s there. Plus, who doesn’t want the opportunity to use something called a Power Booster?

Even without the grip, Boost mode can still improve performance. Like a turbocharger, it forces more power into the camera, raising the viewfinder refresh rate from an already respectable 60 FPS to 100. It also makes the autofocus even faster — but in my highly unscientific testing, it was hard to tell the difference. You won’t get the 11 FPS or shorter shutter lag without the grip, but Boost mode is still a neat feature, and the viewfinder looks noticeably better with it on.

Action photographers will also benefit from new customization options for continuous AF. Similar to what we’ve seen on sports-oriented DSLRs from Canon and Nikon, users can select different parameters to program the camera for certain types of subject motion. Five presets cover the gamut for just about anything you’d expect in sports and wildlife photography, but users can also set it up manually to tailor it to their needs.

To be clear, pro sports photographers shouldn’t ditch their Canon 1D Xs and Nikon D5s. The X-T2 isn’t quite ready for prime time on the sidelines. The buffer depth isn’t quite there, and live view being limited to 5 FPS might be a bit tough to work around. And of course, a pro DSLR will trump the battery life of a mirrorless camera every time, even with a battery grip as cool as the Power Booster.

The real takeaway here is that Fujifilm users no longer have to feel like they are buying a compromise camera. The X-T2 fits the bill for a variety of situations, and will hold its own in all of them.

THREE:

Fuji Goes to Hollywood

The no compromise approach extends to video, which is a huge first for Fujifilm. Out of nowhere, it decided to turn the X-T2 into a legitimate moviemaking machine. While the X-Pro2 introduced Fuji’s first 1080p mode that wasn’t horrible, the X-T2 takes things to an entirely new level.

For starters, this is the first Fujifilm camera to shoot in 4K. While this by itself would have been surprising, it gets better. 4K video can be captured at framerates up to 30p, but videographers will appreciate that both 23.98p and true 24p frame rates are available. This will help the X-T2 integrate into multi-camera workflows.

Uncompressed, 8-bit 4:2:2 video can also be output in 4K over HDMI with record start/stop control. It’s not the 10-bit video we’re used to with the Panasonic GH4 and high-end cinema cameras, but it does match the output of Sony’s mirrorless cameras.

But the biggest surprise is the F-Log gamma profile, which captures greater dynamic range in video compared to a standard profile. This is the last thing I would have expected from Fujifilm, as log gamma is a rare feature at this level, and is something that’s really only used by advanced videographers.

Despite the more complex demosaicing process of the X-Trans color array, 4K image quality is very good. The X-T2 takes a similar approach to that of the mighty Sony A6300, oversampling its 4K footage from a 6K region of the sensor. This crops the frame by 1.17x, but increases sharpness (and is still wider than what a 4K pixel-to-pixel crop would be).

Even with that slight crop, the active sensor area is actually a bit larger than that of the full frame Canon 5D Mark IV when in 4K mode. Yes, really. While we’re making this comparison, the 5D Mark IV also can’t output 4K over HDMI and doesn’t offer a built-in log profile. Like, what?

Granted, Canon has moved on to the Cinema EOS system and doesn’t seem to care as much about DSLR video anymore. Still, never before would I have thought I would recommend a Fujifilm over a Canon for video, especially not over the storied 5D line. This is… This is just… I don’t even know. Let’s move on.

 

Things like F-Log and clean HDMI output are windfall features to hybrid photo and video shooters like me. I loved the X-T1 for its image quality, styling, and controls, but needed the video features of something like a Sony or a Panasonic — and couldn’t afford both. It’s the closest thing yet to being the best of both worlds.

However, videographers should be aware of a few things before picking up an X-T2. One, F-Log is only available when recording to an external recorder, at least at this time. Two, the minimum ISO in F-Log is 800, so keep some ND filters handy. Three, video is limited to 10-minute clips, but can be increased to 30 minutes with the Power Booster. (Presumably, recording externally should also bypass this limit, but I have not tested this yet). Four, if you record 4K internally, you’ll want at least a UHS U3-rated SD card.

While I have yet to shoot any real video on the X-T2, I have connected it to an Atomos Shogun 4K recorder, where I confirmed that, yes, F-Log really is a thing, and it’s quite nice. The footage looks really good, but rolling shutter definitely comes into play with any fast or erratic camera motion. This isn’t unique to the X-T2, by any means, and it’s probably not even the worst out there, but it’s still kind of a pain. So if you plan to shoot a lot of video, invest in a good tripod.

FOUR:

Chasing Perfection

With improved autofocus, faster shooting speed, and a surprisingly capable video mode, the X-T2 extends its usefulness to new types of image makers. Just last year, nobody expected Fujifilm to deliver a camera that could handle action photography and high-end filmmaking — those disciplines simply weren’t in the company’s wheelhouse.

It’s nice to see that Fujifilm has fleshed out the X-Series with the X-T2, but the bar of perfection is continually rising. For everything the X-T2 does well, it still leaves room for improvement. While some issues, like rolling shutter in video, are common among all manufacturers, there is one feature lacking from the X-T2 that’s hard to ignore.

Since the X-T1’s launch over two years ago, we’ve seen a dramatic rise in popularity of sensor-shift image stabilization. Olympus, Sony, and Panasonic all offer it on multiple models, but you won’t find it on the X-T2. This may not affect Fuji’s typical demographic of still photographers very much, but for video, in-body stabilization can be a godsend.

The only other real point against the X-T2 is its price. At $1,600, it approaches full frame territory. It’s also $200 above Sony’s recently announced A6500, which offers internal 5-axis stabilization and otherwise meets or beats the X-T2 on just about every technical specification (save the Fuji’s dual card slots).

Where the X-T2 earns its price is with its craftsmanship and usability, but these are not qualities that will necessarily appeal to every photographer. However, to the right user, they are make-or-break features. The X-T2 is a solid machine that feels professional grade through and through.

At the risk of repeating a line I’ve put into every Fuji camera review, the best part of the X-T2 is just how satisfying it is to use. The experience is incredibly engaging, and every control provides wonderful tactile feedback. This is something many manufacturers have trouble with, but Fuji has it absolutely dialed in.

The X-T2 remains a camera built for those who appreciate taking their time, but it doesn’t compromise on performance when you need it. It appeals to new users without alienating existing ones. It has fixed the problems of its predecessor, added features and functionality, and improved performance and image quality. By a fair margin, it is the most capable camera Fujifilm has ever made.

 

But like all X-Series cameras, the X-T2 isn’t sold by its spec sheet alone. It’s not really about megapixels and burst rate; it’s about the indescribable sense of passion you feel when you hold it. It may be a high-tech computer with a lens attached, but it feels analog. It calls back to a simpler time, when you loaded a fresh roll of film into your camera, grabbed your exposure log book, and stepped out into the light. It’s not the right camera for everyone, but it’s the perfect camera for someone.

Full disclosure: that someone is me. Yeah, I bought one.

Model: Sara Jane Stewart

Overall assessment

  • Studio 78%
  • Photojournalism 82%
  • Travel 77%
  • Casual 68%
  • Filmmaking 76%
Score explanation

This is our assessment of a camera’s usability based on both objective and subjective measurements in four categories. Each category’s score is a function of all measurements, but with different weights. In general, any score above 75% is considered very good.

Studio – A high rating in this category means a camera is well-suited to use in a studio environment, where size and weight don’t matter and lighting can be fully controlled. This score is most affected by resolution, while ISO sensitivity and cost are negligible.

Photojournalism – Cameras that perform well in this category are generally good for concerts, weddings, sports, and travel photography. This score is most affected by ISO sensitivity, build quality, and performance (AF and continuous shooting speed, battery life), while resolution is negligible.

Travel – Above all else, a good travel camera is one you can take with you anywhere. Size and weight matter most to this category, while build quality and ISO sensitivity are also important.

Casual – A casual-use camera is one that you can easily carry with you and is great for family pictures, vacations, hiking, etc. This score is most strongly affected by size, weight, and cost.

Filmmaking – This score looks at all the video features of a camera, such as video resolution, frame rates, and audio inputs and outputs. Keep in mind, this score is provided in the context of a camera being reviewed for its still photography first. A high score in this area does not necessarily mean you should shoot your next blockbuster indie skate rap video on this camera.

 

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