The evolution of the pro hybrid camera: X-T2 initial review

The evolution of the pro hybrid camera: X-T2 initial review

Now that the new wonder kid is officially heading for the stores, I thought it is appropriate for my initial user-review. I had the opportunity to have the camera, in a “virtually final” production form but with beta-firmware, for a limited amount of time, which I tried to take advantage of to answer most of mine, and, hopefully, my readers’ questions.

For this review, I decided to approach the camera from a number of different angles. First of all, as a Fuji user, which currently uses an X-Pro2; how the X-T2 compares (and, actually does it really compare) with the other Fuji flagship? Also, how it improves on the X-T1? Another angle was that of a former user of DSLRs and also a former Olympus OMD user: a line of cameras which share a similar design paradigm as the X-T2.

Somewhat surprisingly, there is also another approach, which will be dominant, at least in this part of the review (because more will follow in the next weeks). And that is the one of a stills photographer gradually expanding into the film-making discipline also. The X-T2 is the first Fuji camera with decisively upgraded video features, and this is a really big deal for the company. Let’s see then…

Externally and in the hand, the camera looks and feels like a much improved version of the original X-T1. The overall look and function are very similar but one can immediately find improvements in every area, both in construction/quality terms and ergonomically. It is somewhat (very little) heavier and larger, and feels very solid, which inspires confidence. The dials and doors look and feel of better quality than the X-T1 and, finally, the X-T line reaches the X-Pro quality level, construction-wise. The memory cards and battery door in particular are of a new “snap” design which I find very convenient. The grip is slightly more pronounced; it actually feels like a X-Pro2 with an added grip, which made the transition effortless. The dials on top can now be locked; a godsend for a lot of users, I would say. They carry the same function as those on the X-Pro2 of course, meaning, +/- 3 stops of exposure compensation plus custom mode, 1/8000” mechanical shutter option, extended ISO values, etc, but they are of the familiar X-T2 format. The wonderful AF selection joystick is, of course, present here too. The addition of a video option as a mode on a dial saves one function button and makes absolute sense.

I had the slightest difficulty adjusting to the layout although I had not used the X-T1 for a very long time. And here comes the first inevitable comparison with the X-Pro2. Well, I’d be honest in saying that, for my personal way of working, I still prefer the X-Pro2 layout after all. Yes, even the awkward ISO dial (sue me). The X-Pro2 gathers all photography specific controls on the right side (as I described in my original X-Pro2 review) which is something I like a lot. The X-T2 really needs both hands while operating, which is of course not a negative in any sense. Just a different way of handling; and I’d like to strongly emphasize how subjective this is.

As a former Olympus user, the X-T2 really reminded me of the E-M1 in that it gives the immediate impression of a perfectly designed tool, albeit following the Fuji philosophy, naturally.  I do believe users of this camera, and, indeed, of any semi-pro and professional DSLR body will have little trouble adjusting to the X-T2. The main exposure controls are analog-like, of course, but customization is easy and can make the camera work the way one likes. The only ergonomic difficulty I had was with the secondary dials, below the main ones (ISO and shutter), because the lever to use them is rather small and needs some getting used to. It will need some effort to operate with heavy winter gloves, for instance. A minor complaint perhaps but it should be noted.

I was skeptical of the innovative tilt screen but it makes sense in use. When shooting in portrait orientation it allows for a much more comfortable low or high-level shooting angle. The LCD is bright and detailed but, as with the X-T1, the EVF is the star. The X-T1 already had the largest EVF of any mirrorless camera, in fact, giving a larger viewing “window” than any pro DSLR. In the X-T2 it’s even better optically, with far higher refresh rate and is an absolute joy to use. The only one better at this point is the Epson-made high resolution EVF in the Leica SL; I’d much like this to be in the X-T2 but the cost would probably be prohibitive at this point. Remember about the EVF, because we will meet it again, talking about video.

As a stills camera, the X-T2 stays always responsive, fast and confidence-inspiring. Of course one could use it for anything but, in its heart, the X-T2 is, in my opinion, a sports camera. When it was initially announced, I always thought, and had voiced my opinion in online fora, that Fuji would make a sports-oriented DSLR competitor with this camera. It seems I was spot on. As it goes, I personally do little sports photography (i.e. motorsports assignments) so all I can promise is to test the camera the first chance I get, but with the add-on grip and final firmware.

I cannot emphasize that enough: the grip gives the camera a serious boost in performance and Fuji had already circulated not one but probably three beta firmware updates before the official release. Dear Fuji users, you can imagine what lies ahead; the X-T2 will become better and better with every new (official) firmware update. But the basic stuff is already pretty impressive.

For users of the X-T1, the 2 will feel like it was subjected to heavy doses of controlled anabolic substances. Everything is faster, to the point where, should you switch back and forth between the two cameras you might think that something is broken with the X-T1. This is technological evolution in practice. I have seen the exact same thing in the past, between the original Olympus OMD (E-M5) and the E-M1, especially after one or two firmware updates.

AF setting options now give the ability to pinpoint and parameterize in great detail. Even with the beta firmware, the camera was a bit faster and more responsive than the X-Pro2 (with latest firmware) and certainly more accurate in obtaining focus in different scenarios. And the X-Pro2 is already a very capable camera, in my opinion, and according to my own experience and testing in the type of action photography that I happen to do. It is unfair trying to test in detail with the beta firmware: in the very near future I promise to do so with a finalized firmware version and the appropriate lenses. I will risk a prediction though: in the next couple of months, the X-T2 will become the best mirrorless action/sports camera and will give the best current DSLRs in this category a definite run for their money. This is perhaps the first camera which overall performance and features can beat high end DSLRs in this department: action/sports and, definitely, modern photojournalist use.

By “modern” I imply a type of use that includes video footage, often in the same session and back to back with stills. Photojournalism is heading that way and, with photographers in this genre having to compete in a very competitive environment, being able to create hybrid content, in a complete, integrated fashion, will probably make the difference in the near future. And having to deal with severe limitations in video performance will hinder results.

Which brings us nicely to the video features which, I’m sure, will interest many people. The X-T2 is the first Fuji-X camera with really high end video features and capabilities. Let’s take them from the top.

Beyond the video modes included with the X-Pro2 (i.e. all the usual 1080p modes) the X-T2 adds 4K video for the first time in a Fuji. Let me get things straight here: Fuji is definitely testing the waters here, but they are dead serious about video. This is no marketing gimmick.

4K is produced from a full sensor readout, meaning 6K originally. It is not the “cinematic” aspect, for which you’ll need a dedicated cinema camera, but the usual 3840X2160 resolution, at 29.97p, 25p and 24p. The add-on grip provides added functionality, by extending video recording to 30 minutes (from 10) and featuring a headphone jack. Of course, having two additional batteries doesn’t hurt either; video is very energy hungry.

I approached the video features, as I already mentioned, from a viewpoint of a, basically, stills photographer wishing to expand into film-making. And I’m here to tell you Fuji probably has a little gem in their hands. Video quality at 4K is superb; sharp and detailed in the same way Fuji stills are sharp and detailed: meaning without looking artificial and over processed. Even rolling shutter is totally acceptable and nowhere near the ridiculous performance of the Sony 6300 in this regard. There are improvements to the 1080p modes too: here, as well as in 4K, shadows are not blocked at all, as with the X-Pro2, which needs some work in post to get things right. This means the X-Pro2 basically has the same capabilities build in, and this is a subject we shall return below.

The codec in the X-T2 is 100mbs and looks very robust. A point of extreme interest is the capability of outputting a neutral f-log profile for post processing work, at this point only through HDMI, but my understanding is that they are going to allow internal f-log in a near future firmware update. Just a reminder though: fast codecs mean you definitely need fast cards. As fast as you can get them. I’d say 150mb/s speed cards would be the minimum and at least 64Gb capacity would be a good idea. Fortunately, with two internal slots, it’s rather easier to avoid running out of storage; by the way, they are both UHS-II now.

Here is where I’d like to tell you why I think the X-T2 can become an extraordinary Super 35 cinema camera. First of all, the whole package of sensor/processing engine, color science and availability of top quality glass, set the base for a promising end result. Fujifilm is not new to the cinematic universe; in fact, they started out making film for cinema all those decades ago. At this point, the hardware plus software side of things has very few disadvantages, compared to the competition. There is no small sensor inside the camera, making high ISO performance troublesome and requiring extra hardware, such as focal reducers, for shallow DoF circumstances. Although there are no cine lenses available yet, the X-system doesn’t struggle with limited lens selection. Adapting lenses is as simple as with any other mirrorless system and any cinema rig (including external power and HDMI monitor/recorder support) will work with the X-T2 + power grip. At this point I would say that Fuji starts at a much better point than m43, APS-C or FF antagonists did.

Then there is the form factor: smaller video-capable cameras are often plagued by overheating issues and are sometimes cumbersome to work with. Working with the X-T2 I found no heat issues at all, a fact that must be attributed to both the construction and the new improved batteries (and, of course, power management firmware). Then there is that glorious EVF, which is overlooked by many. It is that much easier to shoot through the EVF, at both run and gun and controlled environments.

As we all know, we have come a long way since the first steps of videography in digital cameras, started with Canon a few years ago. There was always hope that a mirrorless camera would offer an integrated solution, that would leave nothing missing for both stills and video work. The Samsung NX1 came quite close technologically speaking, but both technical system-specific, marketing and political issues led to its demise. I believe the X-T2 is the ideal base to cover all these present and future requirements. As long as Fuji provides an aggressive continuous upgrade path in the near future.

I have emphasized again in the past that, being an X-Photographer doesn’t mean I have to sugar coat anything; in fact, it is more of an obligation to pinpoint areas that need attention, in my opinion, and to provide honest feedback. And this is, I believe, what other X-Photographers or any influential blog/vlog people in the photographic community in general should do. Here is then a list of remarks targeted at the video capabilities of the camera, that I would like to see upgraded soon:

  • It’s really stupid that settings adjustment for still images aren’t available also for video also, e.g. sharpness, noise reduction, etc. This is something that, according to some info, would be fixed in a firmware update shortly.

  • As far as I can tell, there is no capability to extract 4K snapshots frames in-camera. This is offered by some other brands and should be easy to implement.

  • While shooting video, regardless of the focusing method, there should be an option for a custom AF button (even in Continuous mode, to “force” the focus). The AF-lock is an obvious choice. In general, most current Fujinon lenses hunt a bit while doing video C-AF. I understand this is lens specific, and, to be honest, many videographers will work manually most of the time. But it’s a crucial point making snappy video AF a priority, against a heavy competition. From what I understand, from discussion with Fuji sources, AF behavior will be greatly improved with the grip and final firmware.

  • In video, manual focus tools work but work correctly only when you start shooting video (e.g. the peaking). Other aids should be added with video shooting, such as zebras, as well as use of other Fuji features such as magnification and even split image.

Some additional (secondary) points:

  • Ability to use Slot 1 for video only and Slot 2 for stills. Important in a flowing, hybrid environment.

  • It would be very helpful, if the camera recorded additional (selectable) metadata to the video stream, specific to Fuji features. For example, film simulation used, lens data, WB, etc.

In short, this is what I think: the X-T2 needs what amounts to an official version of what Magic Lantern was for the Canon ecosystem, some years ago. The cameras themselves had much more capabilities than Canon wished to implement (which would hurt their cinema-camera market, no doubt, and a philosophy they seem to continue with a video-crippled 5D mkIV). Fuji should follow a no holds barred approach; exhaust hardware capabilities to deliver spectacular features and performance.

I wouldn’t forget coming back to the X-Pro2 at this point. A camera that, in a nutshell, could be virtually as capable as the X-T2, in a different format and with different aspirations. It would be almost criminally negligent from Fuji, if they didn’t update the video features of the X-Pro2 in a future firmware release, including 4K capability and most of the proposed features mentioned above. The only limitations should be overall performance, including continuous shooting time: as a suggestion, even 3-4 minutes in 4K would be enough in my opinion. Just consider: most users interested in video will buy the X-T2 sooner or later, why not having their X-Pro2 acting as a b-roll camera or backup, with very similar features?  

There is also the (far?) future. Where Fuji implements a touch rear screen in all their cameras, for instance. And where there are Fujinon cine lenses available that not only rival the competition but remind of the company’s extraordinary broadcast video offerings. But let’s take this one day at a time.

Below, you can find a short 4K video reel from the camera, with various lenses and in several shooting environments. It doesn’t claim to be a serious cinematic work so please judge it accordingly. In most cases it is footage directly out of the camera, so one can have an idea of results concerning detail/sharpness, dynamic range,  possible moire and similar artifacts, etc. There is also some low light footage and a couple of cases where post processing was applied, in one case pulling a lot of detail out of shadows. All these are annotated in the video. Finally, there are a couple of examples where you can see how AF works; successfully or not that much. E.g. in the first two clips, the AF seems to hunt in the first one (with the pins), while on the second it fixes focus quickly in a much more difficult case (from the bird to the cage wire). The camera was set to 4K, 24fps and uncompressed video output.

All footage was handheld; by the way Fuji lens IS does work well in video too, as I found out. Again, all that was shot and edited in a matter of a couple of days, so it just gives a rough idea of what a completely new user could expect from the camera, out of the box (reminder: beta firmware).

Well, it’s time to close this introductory review. What are the take home messages from my viewpoint:

  • The X-T2 will be, for the foreseeable future, the best overall hybrid camera in the market, bar none. This is an assessment based on all relevant elements: overall image quality, construction quality, ease and speed of operation, overall features and ecosystem.
  • The X-T2 will become a force to be reckoned with, in the mirrorless videography department. First, existing Fuji users shall realize that they perhaps don't need to invest in a separate system to cover their videography needs. At a later stage, as firmware updates iron-out any initial wringles, I can see a lot of new users entering the system.
  • The X-T2 is no “better” or “worse” than the X-Pro2 and there is no point arguing on “what to choose”. If you’re asking this question, you don’t know enough about neither camera, or Fuji in general, so you need to start reading and trying out for yourself.
  • The X-T2, particularly for demanding photography or video work, shall not be cheap, if you consider it as a system. This is a professional camera and, in fact, it will be more and more difficult to find cameras at the state of the art in the consumer/prosumer segment, in the future. Sure, it’s easy to make a 1000 euro camera, featured with 4K and “lighting fast AF” bells and whistles from its more expensive brothers; good luck making it weather sealed, giving it a proper form factor, good battery life and avoiding overheating.

You will definitely read more about the X-T2 in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, I hope you found this introductory report useful and informative. As always, many thanks go to Fujifilm Hellas and especially the tireless Vangelis Psathas for making this and other Fuji reviews possible.


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