Fujifilm X-T2: The Good, The Hype and The Rant

Disclaimer: apart from the pictures of the X-T2, all the pictures in this blog post were taken with the X-Pro2, which remains a wonderful camera despite of all the hype you can read about other models 🙂

In my review of the X-Pro2, I concluded that if you could live without the hybrid viewfinder of the X-Pro2, then the X-T2 was probably worth the wait. This was before the official reveal of the specifications of the X-T2 on the 7th of July.

The Good

X-Pro2 or X-T2? That is not the question

The official specifications of the X-T2 have only reinforced this idea, as, on paper, choosing the X-T2 seems like a no-brainer. You get the same sensor and processor as in the X-Pro2, but with a few additional perks including:

  • Bigger and brighter electronic viewfinder, with less blackout periods between shots when shooting in continuous mode
  • Refined autofocus algorithms (coming to the X-Pro2 in October via firmware update), with customizable AF-C settings (think Canon autofocus menus) to better adapt to the situation (NOT included in the X-Pro2 firmware update at the time of writing this article)
  • Video mode: 4K video recording up to 10min in-body (30min with the battery grip), with a “standard” 3.5mm mic jack (vs a 2.5mm jack on the X-Pro2), although you unfortunately will need the battery grip to get a headphone jack
  • 2 UHS-II SD memory card slots, compared to 1 UHS-II + 1 UHS-I slot on the X-Pro2 (not a biggie for me as I am mostly using the second slot for JPEGs backups in RAW+JPEG mode, so don’t really need the UHS-II speed on the second slot)
  • Last but not least, a cheaper price than the X-Pro2

On top of that, you get the differences in design between the X-T series vs X-Pro series, which to my personal taste are positive points for the X-T1/X-T2:

  • Mode selection dial, instead of a “Drive” sub-menu. Whith the X-T2, the mode dial includes this time around a much needed position for the Video mode. Why there was none on the X-T1 is a mystery, as if you were not shooting stills in 16:9 JPEGs you could not frame your video properly before pressing the record button…
  • Articulated screen. Why the X-Pro2’s screen is not at least a minimum articulated to facilitate shooting from the hip is another great mystery…

The one (and only) reason that would make you want the X-Pro2 over the X-T2 is the hybrid viewfinder. If this is something that you really want, then the X-Pro2 was designed just for you! If you can leave without it, then getting the X-T2 is a no-brainer in my opinion.

The Hype

While Fujifilm has made (much needed but still relatively) fast improvements in its camera lineup, the company has also up its game in terms of marketing, especially on social networks. Via the Fujifilm X-Photographers programme, Fujifilm has quickly caught with other brands in building a group of talented photographers who became the best ambassadors of the brand.

Rui-chan Miko Cosplay

This is a brilliant marketing technique, because it means that during the (long) time between the X-T2 announcement and the actual release of the camera, the Internet buzz around the camera will be filled by people who:

  •  are not professional reviewers: they write about their personal experience with the camera but can’t draw any comparison with a wide variety of competitors
  • have a relationship with Fujifilm that would not be appropriate for a reviewer
  • even when forgetting about this relationship, they are a biased sample: they are Fujifilm users, which means they have already chosen Fujifilm over other brands for personal taste/reasons (well, of course anyone’s opinion on anything will be biased, but in this case Fujifilm selects them for their bias)
  • write all these previews and stories for free! What more could you ask for?

The downside of this strategy is that if you overdo it you can inflate a hype bubble – with the winds of “fastest auto-focus ever” and “finally better than DSLRs” – that could eventually backfire when the final product gets released, and the embargo on REAL reviews gets lifted. In my opinion we are getting close to the over saturation with he X-T2, I feel like they gave a pre-production version of this camera to way more people than they had ever done. You would think it is already out (fun fact: my X-E1 review is the most read article on my blog, because most of the photographers we hear praising Fuji today would not care to write about it at the time – with the exception of the few ones who jump into the boat from the start with the clunky X100). I do read all those previews, not because I want to hear how much better the ***insert any new camera here*** is, but I actually appreciate many of the X-Photographers for their personality (always nice and welcoming when you I met them despite of tight schedules) and their outstanding work. I would not love them less if they were not shooting Fuji.

But irrelevant to how much sympathy I have for them, their daily job is to produce beautiful pictures and not to review cameras (they will be the first ones to acknowledge that themselves when they write a preview). Consumers deserve real reviews to make an informed decision, and for their protection I would always call for professional and balanced reviews to be available earlier since the camera is already available for pre-order. Remember that when the X-T1 it had mushy buttons that had to be changed on the next batch of production. Something that you could (only?) read here before the release of the camera (and real reviews), amidst a sea of X-Photographers praising the X-T1 as a DSLR-killer (hum, sounds familiar).

Potential buyers who are being enticed by the HEAVY focus being put on the video capabilities of the X-T2 have nothing to lose waiting for real world balanced reviews to be out. No, the camera is not going to be out of stock forever if you don’t preorder. The video quality of the X-T2 might be awesome. I have no idea. But given the sub-par quality of the X-T1, there is no reason to blindly believe Fujifilm when they say they have suddenly  found the magic formula for video with the X-T2. Until the final camera is in the hand of independant reviewers, caution is advised.


The Rant

Again, I love the work of X-Photographers, I am just saying that consumers need to take a precautionary pinch of salt against the hype, and keep their expectations realistic. However, there is one thing that drives me crazy: reading interviews explaining that this camera did not get this feature available on another camera because the photographers using this camera told Fujifilm that street photographers don’t use this or that while this camera is targeting them… and then couple years later when this feature finally makes it on the successor of this camera the SAME people will write posts on how much this is fantastic!

This idea that you can put photographers in hermetic silos depending on what they shoot is plain stupid. If your camera designer does not want to put an articulated screen on the X-Pro series for design/cost reasons, obviously don’t put one. But if you are not doing it based on the fact  the tiny sample of street photographers you talk to never shot on a camera with one, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons: if they don’t want to move their screen, they can just leave it the way it is! Meanwhile different people could use the option extensively.

The current example of that is the lack of a touchscreen on the X-T2. Brainstorming meeting in Fuji HQ with a small sample of X-Photographers:
– Shall we put a touchscreen in the X-T2? 
– Nah, touchscreens are for amateurs and we are so scared that we could change a setting with our nose touching the screen that we cannot be bothered to turn the option off for ourselves while letting it available for the rest of the world to enjoy.

Fast forward to 2018, the X-T3 will come out with a touchscreen and the same people will start their previews on their blogs by saying how the touchscreen is a revolution and so intuitive because we have been using smartphones for 10 years…

Just a bit more patience

Anyway, in a week from now the wait will be over and the hype will slow down. The X-T2 will be shipping to my home. I have been using the X-Series for many years now, so my expectations are based on the previous products I have used. I am not expecting a game changer, a DSLR-killer, the fastest auto-focus in the world, etc… No camera is perfect, and spoiler alert the X-T2 won’t be. Just a camera… Find a brand/system that you like, whichever is good for you, so that you can only focus on what really matters. Shoot portraits, shoot landscapes, document your travels… Just focus on enjoying whatever camera you have and on having fun with it. Well, until it is time to fancy on the X-T3, and round and round we go 😉

Shiba Aura

1 Month with the Fujifilm XF 50-140mm f2.8: additional thoughts along the road

Hi folks,

What started as a short post aiming at showcasing a couple of videos/slideshows I uploaded recently on Youtube (->insert here an hypnotizing smiley that will get readers to subscribe to my channel<-) became some sort of mini-essay. So if you are a busy person or someone who does not like to read, let me summarize it for you: I love this lens, but I am not in love with it. If that makes any sense. Well, if it doesn’t, then i guess you have to read what follows to see what I mean 🙂

Thanks for your interest in this independent (aka I buy my own gear and I am not sponsored in any way so I remained to my own opinions) look at the latest member of the Fujifilm X-Series family. This is an opinion piece, so feel free to disagree entirely, no hard feelings 🙂

I have now been shooting with the Fuji XF 50-140mm f2.8 lens for roughly a month, which gave me more time to forge my opinion on the lens, while giving me opportunities to use it in various type of situations.

I used it in the controlled environment of a studio such as in this shoot with Akimoto Rui-san, where we also took the liberty to venture just outside of the studio for some natural light portraits as well:

But more than anything, I wanted to test this lens in a reportage/event situation, which I did while strolling within the Meiji Jingu vicinities on the Coming of Age Day (a Japanese holiday celebrating those who have turned 20 years old over the previous year as they have become “adults”). Busy crowd who has the right to enjoy their special day without obtrusive photographers getting the way, so being quick and effective is of the essence.

More samples on my Flickr page.

First of all, build quality feels solid (waiting for clumsy people to change this feeling into certainty), as you would expect from a highly priced weather-sealed lens. The lens is a beast by “mirrorless” standards, so not one for those who desire to remain conspicuous, people will notice you. On the other hand, the system as a whole remains compact enough so that after a moment of doubt you are put in the “non-threat” category by most people.

In terms of weight, if you jumped into mirrorless for the higher portability and all you have been carrying around so far is a XF 35mm f1.4, well, this lens is in a completely different league. I will say that though: I have been carrying this lens throughout entire days and always reached the evening ready to do the same thing all other again on the following day, while all I can think after an hour of running and gunning with a full frame DSLR with a 70-200mm f2.8 is that I really need a break. Yes, a comparison with a 70-200mm f4 would be more fair, duly acknowledged, but I never had any of those (the same way I would go for the faster version if Fujifilm had a zoom faster than f2.8).

Moving on to the most important part: image quality. Let me say this first, in this day and age, there is not a single manufacturer that produces lenses that are not “sharp” or with distortion such that you can’t circumvent it in post. Some though, still go a little extra further than most, and this zoom justifies its price tag with very limited distortion at both end of the zooming range, and a sharpness that will make anyone go “I think I just cut myself” the first time they load on their screen an image taken with this lens.

This might sound like a fanboy praise, but in fact it is quite the opposite. My prints don’t go onto giant billboards, and like any sane photographer I don’t spend my days shooting brick walls while putting the detail I want to be the center of attention of my photo right into the corner of the frame (no offense if that is what to do, diversity is a gift). While utterly impressed by the technical qualities of the lens, I don’t need that much optical perfection, and would have happily traded some of it for a smaller size or a cheaper price. The one thing I wish was better with this lens is the bokeh quality. The bokeh circles can look very harsh at times, with in some cases thin but dark circles around the edges of the lighter color discus, which can make your eye wander away from the main subject of the picture in order to investigate what is this contrasty cluster. Isolating your subject with the combination with the combination of the zoom (more often than not I will be at 200mm equivalent) and blurry background is what I am (personally) looking for with such zoom. The weird thing though, is that you still get some separation with the background because the subject looks so super sharp (call it personal taste, but I’d rather have a less sharp subject and a less ominous bokeh than the opposite). But it feels at time that Fujifilm is trolling so much the idea of making sharp lenses that even their booked is sharp…

Granted, from the get-go this zoom designed for a cropped-sensor could not shine beyond reason with its bokeh, when our eyes are now so used to the smooth and silly backgrounds we are abounded with the f2.8 full-frame lenses. Yet, I feel like this lens could have used a little bit more of sensitiveness and delicacy instead of going all out in a blaze of technical perfection glory. What can I say, that’s the Bon Jovi side of me perhaps 😉

This should not come as a surprise though, so can’t complain, as the firm has been very clear about its strategy: no compromise on the optics quality. The company even used this as the reason behind the size of the upcoming XF 16-55mm f2.8 and why the lens will not have OIS. Speaking of OIS, as we are used to now it works wonderfully. I have done some shots at 1/20 @ 200mm equivalent (not willingly to be honest, but by pure thoughtlessness…) and OIS saved the day.

This lens is definitely excellent – from an optical point of view that is, while aesthetic would be better if the bokeh was less “contrasty”. This lens is a must-buy for its purpose: weather-sealing and zooming versatility. It is a great piece of glass, there is no doubt about that. But… While the 70-200 zoom was attached to my body 75% of the time back in the days before I transited into the X-series cameras, I feel like this XF 50-140mm is a technical beast with a massive built that I will only use when there is no alternative (which is still a lot, mind you). My thoughts will go on what primes I have at my disposal first, and I see myself using the 56mm more than I thought, even in cases where 56mm does not sound like the most flattering choice of focal length, at least until the 90mm f2 is out (my interest in this one has grown up, while initially I doubted I’d need it in my bag. I wish it was designed with a faster aperture though, it would make the choice even more obvious). Conversely, my interest in the soon-to-be-available 16-55mm f2.8 is at record low. Image quality will be even better technically (and I can see why you would want a fixed aperture if you have a lighting setup in your studio and don’t want your exposure to change every time you move the zoom, compared to the “kit” lens), but while I tip my hat to the technical prowess, my mind is respectfully currently set in a different direction. I love that lens, but I am not in love with it. I hope it makes sense now.

Here you go freedom of speech! We all are Charlie…

Yours truly.