Review: Fuji X-T2

pic_additional_01After my rant last night about the lack of meaningful exposure aids on the Fuji X-T2, I’ve settled down a little, and had my first opportunity to actually go out and grab a few clips with it, along with the Fujinon 16-55mm f/2.8 lens. It’s been drizzling all day, so I couldn’t do much shooting. Where should I begin? Let’s start with the body – while other manufacturers boast of a magnesium alloy body, some of them are housed in shoddy plastic that makes them feel like Fisher Price toys made in China: because the knobs and buttons aren’t engraved metal, the lettering wears away with time; buttons feel mushy and don’t give reassuring feedback when pressed. The X-T2, on the other hand, looks and feels as though it was sculpted out of one solid block of metal. The buttons are all ‘clicky’ and will probably give years of dependable service. While I seldom use it since most of what I shoot is video, the sound of the mechanical shutter and the sensation of the shutter button when depressed is positively thrilling compared to the rather pedestrian implementation on my GH4. The LCD screen is supremely clear and bright, and with magnification enabled, those with better eyesight than mine may feel peaking while manually focusing is altogether unnecessary.

Still, some filmmakers will deplore the retro physical controls on the Fuji because their sound will be picked up by the microphone. And touchscreen is not an option. Even for those with small hands, the grip may feel inadequate, especially for someone coming from the Lumix G85. Switching between stills and movie mode is slower on the X-T2, and unlike the Panasonic, which saves the settings for each mode separately, the settings on the Fuji must be changed each time the shooting mode is changed. Disappointingly, on the Fuji, while up to seven sets of custom camera settings can be saved in stills mode, no custom settings are available in video mode. Same goes for custom white balance, which infuriatingly is inoperative for filmmaking. And battery life is abysmal: while online reviewers are practically unanimous in singing the praises of the optional vertical power booster, why should users have to shell out upwards of $400.00 USD to get a mere 30 minutes of recording time, when the GH4 can run four hours on a single battery? For that kind of dough, it should at least include built-in stabilization. 🙂 Not only that, but once one battery in the power booster is depleted, the camera will stop recording and must be restarted. It’s finally beginning to dawn on me that if there is a link to a merchant below a review, the reviewer is not to be trusted. Regrettably, the metering and drive dials, as well as the focus mode selector are very awkwardly placed; and the camera settings displayed in the viewfinder are absurdly small and difficult to read comfortably without eyestrain: not at all unlike going to the optometrist and being asked to read the very first row of letters. That goes for the EV meter as well; and I still entertain the hope that Fuji will release a firmware update enabling the histogram in movie mode.

Vloggers may very well decide to go with one of the Panasonic cameras, such as the G85, because it has a fully articulating LCD screen. But though the Fuji does not have a swivel screen, with the Fujifilm camera remote app, you can view yourself, start and stop video recording, adjust white balance, change ISO settings and shutter speed and even choose between the different film simulation modes. And while the Fuji doesn’t have face recognition in 4K mode like the Panasonic, its continuous focusing capabilities are much faster and more accurate than the G85. Finally, from a few feet away, I have difficulty seeing the screen on the Panasonic anyway, so having a smartphone nearby while using the Fuji app would be more convenient. However, when using the app, the screen on the camera goes black, and the dials no longer function. So if, for example, you inadvertently left the exposure compensation dial at +1, you have to disconnect, change the camera setting, and relaunch the app.  And as if that weren’t bad enough, the maximum resolution when using the remote is 720p, making it completely unsuitable for vlogging. If only Fuji could somehow enable 4K video and touch focus on the remote, it would be a killer app.

For my first lens, I decided to go with the closest equivalent to a full frame 24-70mm with constant f/2.8 aperture (which every manufacturer has in their catalogue, and none of them are dogs) because I really can’t tolerate variable aperture kit lenses. Shooting 4K video (which crops the image a further 1.17x), the zoom range is more like 27-94mm, meaning it will be good for everything from street photography to portraiture. One thing I find peculiar is that some of the very same people in video forums who are always complaining about low light sensitivity are perfectly willing to settle for a kit lens whose widest aperture at the long end is f/4. Like the camera body, the lens is made of metal and weather sealed, and it even has an aperture ring (!), something which many other manufacturers have bewilderingly concluded photographers no longer need. Edge-to-edge sharpness is far better than I’d expected from just reading the benchmarks, in fact, it’s f*** incredible. At the same time, the lens does not have OIS, so filmmakers will either have to have nerves of steel or use a monopod. And the lens is monstrous, so you many need to purchase an L bracket just in order to mount it to your tripod.

All the clips were shot using AWB, which I’ve never trusted the Lumix to get right, but which the Fuji handles superbly. Not having to assign white balance for my most frequently encountered lighting situations to the custom menu like I am compelled to do on the GH4 is one less hassle I have to deal with. And while the Fuji sensor has no AA filter, aliasing and moire are very well controlled. If you look closely at the power lines in the shots below, you’ll see traces of aliasing. The final shot in my room was taken at ISO 1600, which would be utter folly to attempt with my GH4. Being able to shoot clean video at ISO 6400 or above allows me to work in dimly lit interiors where the GH4 would be all but unusable. It must be said, however, that the actual measured ISOs of both the Panasonic and Fuji cameras are considerably lower than their settings would indicate. Unlike the micro four thirds system, which practically necessitates fast glass or focal reducers to shoot in low light, the Fuji can easily get by with higher ISOs and f/2 or f/2.8 lenses.

Is the Fuji X-T2 for you? The list of shortcomings can seem daunting. If initiating recording while looking through the EVF, the LCD turns off, and vice versa. There are no histogram, custom white balance settings or zebras in movie mode. (The histogram has been enabled and EVF functionality has been addressed in a firmware update). When using the battery grip, the camera will stop recording when one of the batteries dies. The camera remote app won’t capture 4K, only 720p. Battery life is abysmal. There is no articulating LCD screen. Log must be recorded externally. In AF-C, the camera changes focus points abruptly, which can be jarring. The handgrip is unnecessarily small. Focus points cannot be made small enough in video mode. And on and on. Are any of these limitations insurmountable? I’d say if you’re a vlogger, this camera may not be for you. Nor would it be the ideal camera for long interviews or for capturing live performances because of the battery issue. But I think there is a place for it in documentary filmmaking, portraiture, weddings, narrative work, fashion, in a studio environment, nature and anywhere else where image quality is of paramount importance.

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