Now that the Fujifilm XT3 is out, I should probably write my review of the XT2.
It’s a pretty good camera.
And that concludes my review. The remainder of this post is just my usage notes.
I bought the Fuji XT2 in the beginning of January 2018, and in eight months I've used it for fourteen thousand frames, which has produced about seven hundred reasonably good and distinct photos. For me that's a fair ratio, but does show that I've spend a fair bit of time with the camera in burst mode. I bought it with the 80mm macro lens, which joins the more recently aquired XF16mm lens as its defining optics.
The XT2 joins my X100F as my "main" cameras, and it replaced both my XT10 and my big Nikon D800.
I’ve never missed the Nikon. While the big D800 may have theoretically been the better camera, the practical differences between the two machines has been completely in the XT2’s favour. My main passions right now, night photography and niece photography, would have been prohibitively difficult if not completely impossible with that cumbersome, heavy, whackingly loud camera. Nope, don’t miss the Nikon. I’ve missed the XT10, though.
The XT2 is my “heavy” camera that I use with my biggest lenses and tripod, so I’ve permanently bolted on a tripod base plate that gives a better hand grip and vertical camera strap lugs. This all makes it, well, heavy. It’s exactly what I want when I’m dedicating hours to taking photos, but it’s not what I want when I might be incidentally taking photos while I’m out and about for hours. So while the XT2 initially replaced my XT10, I’ve since bought an XT100 to be my smaller ‘family’ camera. Paired with the 18-55 or 35/1.4 that’s an excellent little machine, and yes, the ‘selfie screen’ is part of its appeal. The XT2 can’t do that.
For night photography the XT2’s main strengths are the iso dial, flippy screen, and the ability to use the rear command dial to set timed exposures with the two- and four-minute durations that I like to use. (Being able to choose more nuance than full-stop jumps after one minute would be better, though.) Autofocus with a fast lens is fine at night, although when I'm away from the city and the moon has set I may need a flashlight or laser dot to help it out. Metering also works well under f/dark conditions, if a bit conservatively, but the XT2 has excellent pre- and post-capture histograms. And all of the iso range that I’ll use when seeking those two-to-four-minute exposures – up to about iso800 – are fine. Pushing to eight minute exposures is okay, if somewhat boring to take, but my few attempts at fifteen-minute exposures have been bad.
Really, the only significant fault for the XT2 at night is that it can’t use electronic shutter beyond thirty seconds, but I also can’t say that I’ve found shutter shock to be an issue with the length of exposures I prefer. (The XT3 can use electronic first-curtain, but not pure electronic shutter, for long exposures.) Its biggest minor flaw that it’s really bright. It flashes its self-timer lamp for the two-second countdown, the read/write lamp on the back is way too much, and the LCD backlight still puts out a lot of illumination even when the camera is taking a shot. Using a good cable release – from Canon – solves the first problem, black tape solves the second, and then I have to remember to pivot the screen upwards so that I’m not a beacon in the darkness.
Infant niece photography is all about the silent electronic shutter, which is able to work without rolling shutter artifacts. As she gets older and faster this might change, but at those ages being merely quiet instead of completely silent should be good enough. My other requirements for the camera are good high-iso quality, quick focus, and its associated skill, being able to quickly put the focus point where I want it. All of these are good, but better would be nice.
Better would always be nice.
But I also have to remember that little of the technical properties actually matter. A meaningful photo will remain meaningful even it it's noisy or soft; the photo I used for my banana bread post was at iso4000 and wide open with the 35/1.4 near its closest focus, all of which are "flaws". Should I have not taken the photo – maybe waited a couple of years until camera technology has advanced sufficiently?
I have no doubt that I'll own better cameras than the XT2, but I'm not going to wait until then. And meanwhile I'll take a certain comfort in knowing that technical flaws rarely make the top five of the complaints I hear about my images.
My lens collection is larger than I expected it to be. I have the beautiful Zeiss 35/2 and 50/1.5 ZM lenses with the Fuji M adapter, and despite the XT being really good at manual focus, I never use them. I should, I know, but I don’t. Instead I have the XF 16/1.4, 35/1.4, 50/2, and 80/2.8 primes, along with the 18-55 and 55-200 zooms.
The 16/1.4 is my favourite lens for nights, while the 80 Macro takes such beautiful pictures that I get frustrated when I need the extra reach of the 55-200 for hunting butterflies. Yes, the long zoom also does well, but the 80 has more magic. The 35/1.4 has a classic look to it; it’s my best lens for people photography, and the one I’m most likely to have on a camera for no particular reason. The XF35 and the 18-55 are the only lenses I put on the XT100, while the bigger XT2 is at home with all of them.
Oddly, despite being what I consider my favourite focal length – 75mm-e – I just don’t use the XF 50/2 for very much at all. But perhaps that’s just a summer thing, since its deep hood and perspective compression makes it a great lens for making bad weather look worse. Winter storms are coming soon, which will see the XT2 brought back into the daily no-particular-reason carrying rotation. Otherwise the 50/2 is what I choose when the 80 is a bit too long or way too big, and when its good close-focus is enough without needing true macro magnification.
The first two photos in this post were taken with the Fuji XF16/1.4. The ferry and the city was thirty seconds at f/13 and iso200; this close to the city I still needed an ND filter to stretch the exposure for that long. The second photo is also thirty seconds, but at f/11 and iso320, with one diffused flashlight to light the windmill ride sign and another longer-throw light to accent the top cars and spokes. The third photo is selectively using the thrower flashlight on the waves crashing against the wall in a four-minute exposure at f/8 and iso320 with the 35/1.4.
Since shifting my night photography to the Toronto Islands I've bought several incandescent flashlights for light painting. In my life everything can be a photographic accessory.
The little princess is photographed with the 18-55 lens, which I almost never use, but it works just fine. Shot at 30mm, f/5.6, 1/125s, iso1000. The monarch butterfly was caught in the wild at the gardens of Spadina House, very close to where I live, with the 55-200 at the long end of its range. Iso2000, 1/1000s, wide open at f/4.8. And yes, looking at those numbers, I could have made other choices, but I was also trying to photograph passing fighter jets in our annual air show at the same time.
The comic book cover below was taken with the 80mm macro, through glass, at iso4000, 1/125, f/4. It was fairly dark. I'll often take the 80 to the Royal Ontario Museum and use a rubber hood to be able to photograph through the display cases without reflection. And not to leave it out, the product shot was taken with my X100F, and shows what a good idea it was for the XT3 to move its cable release port to the right-hand side of the new camera.
But so what, right? Any contemporary camera could have taken these, especially if it had a flip-out screen – used for all but the butterfly photo – and could work in silence. And it's weather-resistant for the time when I was caught in the rain, has controls that are easy to use in the dark, and an excellent line of lenses.
Everything is a compromise, in photography equipment as in life. So since it’s not a matter of finding something Best in an abstract sense, I’m interested in knowing if there’s something that makes more suitable compromises. For what I do right now – night and niece photography – the XT3 would be a bit better in small ways. But making that trade would also mean spending several hundreds of dollars that could otherwise make bigger improvements elsewhere. There's nothing better than an XT2 right now at the price, and as it continues to be trailing-edge priced, that will probably hold true for a while.
Will I ultimately sell my XT2 and buy a newer camera? Of course, eventually. Next spring, maybe. Or later. Maybe it will be for the XT3, perhaps there will be a new XH, or even – although it's unlikely – it could be something from a different company.
Until then: the Fujifilm XT2 is a pretty good camera.