Could the Fuji XT2 Be the Best Camera Ever Made?
I’ll just answer that question with my somewhat informed opinion that, yes, the Fuji XT2 is the best camera ever made. Now before you roll your eyes and wonder what crazy train I rolled off of, let me make my case. First off, I realize that there are cameras with more resolution, faster cameras, cameras with more bells and whistles, better cameras for video etc. What makes this camera so special is that it does so many of these things amazingly well, is reasonably priced and is so darn fun to shoot!
To be sure, I’m not a professional camera tester. I am however a professional photographer who’s shot everything from high-end weddings, family portraits, ad campaigns for national ad agencies working for Fortune 500 companies, magazine editorials and contemporary art projects. (My commercial website here and art website here.) Since cutting my teeth with a used Nikon FM way back in the day, I’ve owned and worked with the Nikon 8008, Nikon F4, Mamiya RZ67, Horseman 4x5, Nikon D100, Fuji S2, Canon 20D, Canon 1D MII, Canon 5D Mark I and Mark II, Nikon D3s, Nikon D800, the Fuji XT1, and a host of other supporting cameras along the way. Presently, my camera bag contains the Nikon D810, Hasselblad H5 and the Fuji XT2.
(Note: Click on the photos below to view a larger version.)
As you can imagine, I’ve shot a lot of people, places and things and used a fair amount of gear in the process. But before I extoll the virtues of the XT2, let me provide some personal history about my ascent into the world of mirrorless cameras. It all started several years ago when I purchased the 24 megapixel Sony NEX 7. I liked the idea of a compact camera with a big resolution punch and the flexibility of interchangeable lenses so I jumped in and purchased the NEX 7 (and later the 6) along with several lenses.
Unfortunately, the Sony lenses were good but not great, the camera itself wasn’t anything special and the files were a bit noisy for my taste. When the Fuji XT1 came out in 2014, I decided to sell the Sony kit and jump in with Fuji. From the beginning, I preferred the files of the Fuji and enjoyed working with the old school format of the camera — changing the aperture on the lens and rotating knobs for ISO and shutter speed. Though nostalgia isn’t a priority, there is something comforting about a tool that at least feels mechanical.
Although I did use the XT1 for a number of client shoots, it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. The 16 megapixels wasn’t bad, but still a far cry from my D800’s 36 megapixels. The autofocus was slow and unsure while changing AF points proved tedious. The continuous shooting modes were awkward and the dial to change between them was easily moved so that I had to reset it each time I put the camera to my eye.
For me the XT1 was a great camera for travel or traveling light, but when it was time to get serious, out came the Nikon or the digital Hasselblad. With the XT2, however that’s no longer the case. Fuji is now ready for prime time.
First let’s start with the autofocus. The XT2’s focusing is head and shoulders above the XT1. It’s speedy and accurate. The eye detection is superb. Tracking is great. In shooting a woman with a horse walking to the camera, the XT2 locked in on the person’s eye — not the large horse head — and effortlessly nailed focus on the person on every single shot.
The XT2 added a little joy stick for AF selection that makes switching between points a snap. Instead of being limited to handful of AF points in the middle like the D800 series, with the Fuji, you can set focus pretty much wherever you wish. In short, the XT2’s autofocus works and works really well. Though I haven’t tested it for sports, the images I’m seeing of shooters working with it at sporting events convincingly show that this camera can focus on pretty much whatever you throw at it.
I personally like to shoot in manual focus mode and then use the rear button for autofocus. This works great for still or portrait subjects who aren’t apt to move much. When the subject starts moving, I’ll quickly pop it into the AF mode of my choice (ether single or continuous) and track it from there. Although I’m embarrased to admit this, I have to google how to do this each time I want to change AF modes with my D810. It’s a nonintuitive process so I rarely change from single to continuous modes — which keeps me from remembering how when I need to.
The other big improvement is in the continuous shooting modes. The XT1 would do a little blackout when shooting rapidly. The continuous low mode was just irritating and I never used it. Gone is the blackout in the XT2. Plus, now it excels in continuous low. When photographing people, I keep it in continuous low - which at 5 fps is faster than my D810 - and then snap off individual shots until I see the need to fire off a burst. It’s photographic bliss I tell you.
Next let’s talk about image quality. The first thing I did when I extracted my shiny new XT2 from its box was set up a lens test. Using a tripod, I did a series of still life shots to compare the XT2 to the D810 and the H5. With an 85mm equivalent lens (Fuji 56mm f1.2, Nikon 85mm f1.4G and Hasselblad 120mm f4) on each of the three cameras, I shot the same scene wide open with each lens and then stopped down to f5.6
Not surprisingly, the Hasselblad H5 killed the other two cameras. Stopped down to f5.6, the Nikon image appeared decidedly sharper than the XT2’s. But wide open — at f1.2 for the Fuji and f1.4 for the Nikon, the two were quite close with Fuji actually appearing sharper. One thing I’ve never liked about my fast Nikon lenses (the 85 and 50mm f1.4) is how soft they are wide open. The same thing went for my Canon 50mm f1.2. That latter lens was so soft, I rarely shot it at anything above f2.0 — which kind of defeats the purpose of having such a heavy, expensive piece of glass.
The other thing to mention about this test is that I had to reshoot the Nikon test because the focus was slightly off. Backfocus issues continue to plague DSLRs. When shooting wide open, I basically pray that the AF is where I hope it is. With the Fuji mirrorless, I don’t have to wonder — I can see and even zoom in on the focus right there in my viewfinder. When I absolutely have to nail the shot, the XT2 is my go to if only for that reason alone.
Prints from the XT2
Ok, so the XT2 can hold its own when shooting wide open... What about shooting landscapes at f11 and then printing the photos? How much detail can it capture relative to its big megapixel brothers? The easy way to answer these questions is to shoot and then compare the test images on screen. Pixel peeping however is not how we look at images in the real world. Instead, we either look at the images at 72 dpi on a computer screen or we view them as finished prints.
Since any camera file can be made to look decent on a screen, I opted for a series of test prints. First I started with an 8x10 from each of my three test cameras: the XT2 with a 14mm f2.8 (effectively 21mm), the D810 with a 24mm f3.5 ED PC-E (Nikon’s current tilt-shift lens) and the H5 with a 28mm f4 (effectively 21mm). I lugged all three with me as I attempted to avoid (unsuccessfully) the desert cactus of Joshua Tree while I photographed the park’s beautiful rock formations.
On returning home, I printed several 8x10 prints. Not surprisingly, all of the images looked pretty much the same when it came to apparent resolution. The Fuji won by virtue of its more pleasing color (no surprise here for Fuji camera owners). I then printed the images at 18x24 on my Epson 9800 at 1440 dpi on Canson baryta paper (a smooth, semi-gloss art paper).
Here’s where things get interesting. When you look closely at the prints slipped in next to each other, the H5 definitely shows more detail — but not much more. When each print is viewed individually, a viewer would be hard pressed to state their preference. Likewise, when each print is viewed from a normal viewing distance of three to four feet, the differences vanish. (By the way, noise was not an issue with any of the three cameras.)
Odds and Ends
The XT2 features a top ISO of 12,800 which is double that of the XT1. As witnessed in the example below, the maximum ISO is noisy, but it’s eminently usable.
The XT2 has added another SD card slot for a total of two slots. To be honest, I’ve gotten so used to the little SD cards that now the larger CF cards seem clunky to me.
Tethering to a computer is now possible via a plugin that can be purchased from Fuji for $29. Why they’re charging is beyond me. Tethering is plug and play with Lightroom for my other cameras. It’s an irritation but now tethering is finally here for all those photographers wishing to use the XT2 for commercial shoots.
One little detail that often goes overlooked with the XT1 and XT2 is that both have the option for a regular mechanical shutter and an electronic shutter. The mechanical shutter goes to 1/8000 sec which is fine for most uses — except when you want to shoot in full sun with your 56 f1.2 lens at maximum aperture. For that, you can seemlessly slip into electronic shutter mode and set the shutter at up to 1/32,000 sec where you’ll have no problem shooting wide open no matter how blinding the sunlight.
The other thing I like the electronic shutter for is street shooting in tight quarters. In the XT1, the electronic shutter is virtually silent and sounds nothing like a shutter being released. The XT2 however is completely silent. No shutter noise at all comes in handy when shooting in locations where no cameras are allowed (such as when I snuck a series of shots for a commercial shoot in a library) or where any sound would be a distraction (no sound blimp needed for movie sets). When paired with the free smartphone app that can focus and fire the camera, you can be completely unobtrusive when photographing strangers (if such is your thing).
On the downside, there’s no great TTL flash solution for the Fuji system. I mostly use off-camera flashes these days so I’m only repeating what I’ve heard from my peers. Sadly, being great is not the same as being perfect.
As I mentioned before, there are higher-resolution and faster cameras with great capabilities than the XT2. My Hasselblad outperforms the XT2 on resolution and sharpness — but does it do so to an extent that justifies the extra $12,000 in expense? Or does the lightening fast AF of the Nikon’s flagship, the D5, justify the $6,500 price tag? If you’re a specialized working pro who has clients who will pay for that extra little bit, perhaps. For everyone else, of course not!
The Fuji XT2 costs $1,600. The Nikon D810 comes in around $2,500 while the hotshot Sony A7 rii costs $3,200. Meanwhile, the latest Nikon 70–200 zoom lens costs about $2,700. To get outfitted with fast, quality glass in either system is going to end up costing about $8,000 to $10,000 depending on your tastes. Going the Fuji route, you can cut those costs in half.
One more thing, lest you think you’re cutting back on quality, think again. Fuji actually manufactures the Hasselblad H lenses and cameras. Not only is the glass superb, but the lens bodies are made from actual metal — something you won’t find on most lenses these days.
Then there’s the weight issue: the XT2 is a fraction of the weight and size of its big brothers. Where the Hasselblad is a cumbersome, wrist-breaking brick, the XT2 is so light that I almost don’t notice it. Especially for wedding shooters who spend long days on their feet, the feather weight of the Fuji camera is a dream.
Finally, the Fuji XT2 is actually greater than the sum of its parts. Yes it works great, it’s lightweight and affordably priced. More than that however, the XT2 is a true joy to shoot with. It feels great in the hand. The buttons and knobs are placed in intuitively welcome locations. The soft click of the aperture rings on the lenses are comforting. The LCD viewfinder with histogram guarantees that I’ll nail each exposure every time. The color and look of the files are fantastic. More than any other camera I own — or have owned — this is the camera I want to shoot with.
Simply put, the XT2 is the best balance of price, weight, performance and usability that I’ve experienced in my 26 years of professional photography. If you’re a lifestyle, wedding, portrait or serious enthusiast photographer, the Fuji XT2 camera will serve you well and without excuse.