I spent the entire last year on assignment photographing all 59 of the U.S. national parks with the Fujifilm X-T1. Photographing every single day in these beautiful parks over the course of the year, I shot over 275K photos (including time-lapse sequences). I beat the heck out of that camera, as well as the XF lenses, and after a full year it’s safe to say that I know the strengths and weaknesses of the Fujifilm system.
Now that the year is over and the new Fujifilm X-T2 has been released, I was excited to get my hands on it to see how it stacks up to the X-T1, in image quality, design, and function. A recent assignment in the Peruvian Amazon for Nat Geo proved a perfect opportunity to test this new camera.
Before I begin, a few notes.
First, this is not going to be a technical review. Pixel peepers have unlimited resources to view and learn about the minute details of this camera. Instead, I am going to give you my straight up impressions as a working professional travel and adventure photographer. Think real world shooting situations rather than technical specifications.
Second, I was provided this test camera by Fujifilm, and have been a Fujifilm X-Photographer for three or four years now. Fujifilm has always been very clear that they only want the truth from me, even if it is a bad review, and I have always promised to provide exactly that. I choose to shoot Fujifilm not because I get to test camera gear, but because the cameras most closely align with the way I like to shoot, and the image-quality-per-ounce-of-camera-weight is simply the best. In other words, for such a small and compact package, their cameras deliver top notch results, which is important to me when I am backpacking or in the backcountry. If that ever changes, I will switch brands. But for now, I am unabashedly a devout Fujifilm photographer, and make no bones about my allegiance. However, I still promise an honest review. This isn’t so much intended for those who are looking to switch from one of the Canikon brands, but more a comparison of the upgrades from the X-T1 and how they made a difference in how I photograph.
Lastly, the Amazon is a tough place to shoot. The wildlife is usually far away, oftentimes very high up in trees, and always with strong lighting variances. Animals aren’t dumb either….when it is 95 degrees out midday they are asleep in the trees, so it is imperative to be out very early in the morning when they are first waking up and most active. This means that I was often shooting far away subjects in low-light conditions. Not an easy thing for any camera, and a good test for this new X-T2. Just for reference, while photographing wildlife I was almost always shooting the XF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 R LM OIS WR lens. For walking around local villages I was usually shooting the XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR Lens or the XF 23mm f/1.4 R Lens.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s begin.
Taking the X-T2 out of the box was like seeing an old friend again. One of the things that initially attracted me to Fujifilm is the retro style of the cameras, and the X-T2 continues that cool, stylish, yet ultra-customizable and functional design.
AF Joystick and Button Customization
One of my favorite upgrade from the X-T1 is the new AF joystick. I had previously set the four-way pad on the X-T1 to AF select. This was not ideal, as those pads are not the easiest to feel when you are in the moment of shooting. The joystick is easy to find, and frees up the four-way pad for other customization. Brilliant.
For me, coming from the X-T1 where I had already set a lot of button customization, it was not a big learning curve. But I imagine the extreme level of button customization would take a bit of getting used to for first time Fujifilm shooters. However, once your hands commit to memory the different buttons and dials, it is a very comfortable and efficient way of photographing.
I never thought I would be so excited about something like this, but I find myself less and less wanting to lay down in the dirt to get the photo. That’s just the truth. The dual hinge LCD easily allows me to not only shoot landscape at ground level, but now portrait as well. I can think of so many times where this would have come in handy before and I didn’t have the ability. Laying down at the edge of a body of water, shooting in portrait mode and trying to squeeze as much reflection out of the scene as possible is just a real pain in the backside. This dual hinge LCD alleviates that issue.
24MP X-Trans Sensor
The 24MP X-Trans CMOS III sensor and Fujifilm’s latest image processor (X-Processor Pro) combine for a huge upgrade over the 16MP X-T1. Files are big, crisp, and beautiful. 24MP is a great file size….big enough to print but small enough to store and manipulate in post processing. I do have a medium format digital camera, and shoot it from time to time, but I truthfully don’t need anything more than 24Mp in the work I do. 16Mp was a bit too small for professional use, but 24MP is right in the wheelhouse.
The AF system has also been greatly improved upon since the X-T1 and had 325 total focus points (169 of which are phase-detect). This was probably one of the biggest gripes of X-T1 users, and Fujifilm has made a huge improvement to AF with the X-T2, especially in continuous mode. Once the camera locks onto the moving subject, it stays locked on about 98% of the time. It’s quite impressive. I will say that it sometimes still takes an extra half second or so for that initial lock-on, especially with fast moving subjects. But when it is locked on, it is deadly accurate. They’ve also added the ability to dial in AF based on local shooting conditions (much like Canon DSLR’s). If you know what you are going to be shooting (birds flying, athletes running, etc.) then this is a great feature. Because my subjects varied so much, I chose to go with a moderate setting that allowed for a variety of scenes, and was very impressed with the results.
Dual SD Card Slots
This is one of the improvements that puts the X-T2 in the professional camera body realm. Data security is one of the most important things a professional photographer needs to stay on top of. I use the second memory card as a backup of my original raw files, and it provides a peace of mind that is essential to today’s photography professionals.
I’m also psyched to see that they’ve added a “C” position for the exposure comp, which extends the range of the EV from ±3EV to ±5EV. This was handy when shooting high up into the trees with dark canopies back dropped with bright sun behind (high variances in scene lighting), and exposing for the subject. I needed that extra latitude more than a few times.
Fujifilm seems to have taken photographer’s feedback on small improvements as well. For example, the new toggle lock button on the ISO and shutter speed dials solves the problem of accidentally knocking them to an unwanted setting. I am rough with my cameras, often throwing them in backpacks, laying them at the bottom of boats, and in the dirt. These dials on the X-T1 got accidently turned more often than I liked. Not a huge deal, but big enough for me to notice.
I am not a video shooter, as I don’t think you can do both stills and video well while on assignment. If my assignment is for stills, I’ll shoot only stills and focus my entire attention on that. But I do relish the ability to grab video from time to time, and I recognize that 4K has been the standard now. So the ability to shoot 4K video right from the X-T2 is fantastic. And from what I can tell, it looks really impressive.
Battery Grip (VPB-XT2)
I really love the addition of the battery grip as well. Not only does it hold one more battery than the X-T1 battery grip (for a total of three batteries) but it also adds a power boost mode that significantly improves AF speed, burst speed (14 frames/second!), extends 4K recording time, and reduces shutter lag. I was consistently shooting 1000 or so images a day while on assignment, using power boost mode most of the time, and I still had lots of juice left on the batteries. I could probably have gone three days shooting this way. I will say that I have a habit of turning off the camera when I am not shooting, and I save a lot of battery time that way. If you leave your camera on all the time then this will be significantly reduced. But once again, these added benefits put this camera more into the professional realm than the prosumer area.
I travel a lot and am always struggling with charging batteries while in the field. It might seem silly, but having USB charging capability is a godsend to someone like me. This means that I can take an external battery pack into a 5 or 6 day backpacking trip and make it through without having to carry 10 extra batteries. Or, in an extreme case where I have my laptop but no ability to plug in a cord, I can charge the batteries from my laptop. I can think of a thousand scenarios where having the extra ability to charge the batteries via USB would come in handy.
Room for improvement?
There’s always room for improvement. And while the X-T2 ticks all the boxes for me, I can still see a few areas where I’d like to see changes.
For one, I found it difficult to lock onto a subject in low light while the subject (or I) was moving. This happened quite frequently in the very early morning hours, when the forests of the Amazon were dark and the birds quick to take flight as we approached in a skiff. I had to be extra careful to take the time for the initial lock-on autofocus, because if I couldn’t lock-on from the get-go, I was only able to lock on while the motion was happening about half the time. In fairness, I think this is particularly evident in low-light situations (like a dark forest canopy) while using a long telephoto lens like the XF 100-400mm. The X-T2 has come a long way with AF, but in low light situations with long telephoto lenses I think there is still some room for AF improvement. One thing that I love about Fujifilm is that they are always upgrading and improving the firmware, so I expect this to be fixed in the coming months.
I also found myself hitting the buttons on the battery grip, changing dials, more than I would like. I think this was partly my fault, as I hadn’t locked off the dials on the battery grip, but perhaps the ergonomics don’t fit my hands as well.
Lastly, although it is not necessary, I would like to see a touch screen display. Perhaps it’s just because I am used to being able to manipulate images on screens with my fingers (too much iPhone usage), but for the next iteration I’d like to see a touch screen display.
As a professional travel and adventure photographer, I (and my clients) hold a high standard for the gear I use in the field. The X-T2 is the camera that most closely fits my style of shooting and the demands I ask of a camera. Lightweight, weather sealed, fantastic image quality, customizable setup, beautiful design….this camera has it all. The upgrades of the AF joystick, the articulating LCD screen, the 24MP sensor, dual memory card slots, and improved Autofocus really bring the APS-C camera into the realm of the professional photographer. If this camera can handle the difficult lighting situations in the Peruvian Amazon, then it can handle pretty much any shooting situation. The X-T2 will be my go-to camera body for a long time to come.
Jonathan Irish is a professional outdoor, adventure, and travel photographer based in Washington, DC and represented by National Geographic Creative. He specializes in shooting active/adventure lifestyles, landscapes, and cultures abroad. Clients worldwide, including National Geographic, National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times, BBC, CNN, and many others, have published his work. Jonathan is a proud FujiFilm X-Series photographer.
Follow Jonathan as he shares his National Parks series on Instagram.